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Newsline - April 13, 2004

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Federation Council's International Relations Committee, suggested that the upper house would "emphatically" back a proposal to send Russian troops to Iraq with a United Nations mandate and if President Vladimir Putin submitted such a proposal, ORT reported on 10 April. Noting that it is "up to the president and the Federation Council to make decisions on sending Russian troops abroad," Margelov said, "If the president sends the chamber such a request, we would emphatically recommend that he do so." Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) signaled cautious agreement. "If a UN-sponsored plan eventually emerges on what to do in Iraq, if this plan is accepted by the majority of the Iraqi population and neighboring countries, [and] if such a plan has a real chance of being realized, Russia should not stand aside and would accept the burden," Kosachev told NTV. The leader of the left-patriotic Motherland bloc in the Duma, Dmitrii Rogozin, said during the same broadcast: "Today I am telling you a strange thing: We should fear a U.S. defeat in Iraq, because if they experience ultimate defeat there, Islamic extremists might draw the wrong conclusions. They [might] expand the area of their actions and threaten our security as well." VY

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the question of whether to assist the United States in Iraq is a "legitimate" one, but he stressed that Moscow can best help the United States through "political and diplomatic means," RTR reported on 11 April. Ivanov mentioned specifically the adoption of appropriate UN resolutions or participation in the reconstruction of the Iraqi economy "when that becomes possible." VY

In the same RTR interview on 11 April, Defense Minister Ivanov suggested that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "succeeded" in keeping the Iraqi population safe from terrorism. The terrorist threat emerged in Iraq only after U.S.-led coalition forces appeared in the country, Ivanov added. "In the days of Saddam Hussein, nobody heard about terrorists in Iraq," he said. "He hated Al-Qaeda [and] did everything to ensure that there were no terrorists from this group on his territory. And he succeeded." Ivanov continued: "But now Iraq has become a magnet for international terrorists; they are coming there like bees to syrup." VY

A municipal court in Doha launched the trial on 12 April of two Russian security-service employees accused of organizing the February car bombing in Qatar that killed former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2004), according to and The trial was adjourned until May on a request by the defense after both suspects -- identified in Arabic media as Anatolii Belashkov and Vasilii Bokchov -- pleaded not guilty at their hearing. Western media have reported that the two Russians admitted their guilt to Qatari investigators. Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement by its intelligence services in the slaying, but conceded that the two suspects work for a Russian security agency and insisted on their release without trial. The Qatari daily "Al-Raya" published an article on the eve of the trial that accused Defense Minister Ivanov of personally ordering Yandarbiev's assassination. VY

President Putin on 12 April spoke out against a bill restricting public demonstrations that passed in its first reading in the Duma on 31 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004), Russian media reported. "Why should anyone today need to limit the rights and freedom of citizens to protest and march?" Putin said, according to RIA-Novosti. Presidential human-rights commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova was quoted by dpa on 13 April as calling the bill "a masterpiece of red tape that shields bureaucrats from the people." The bill, which would restrict public protests near many government offices, embassies, and other public buildings, has been widely criticized since it was discussed in the Duma, and Duma leaders -- including Speaker Boris Gryzlov -- have said that it will be amended before its second reading. RC

Moscow city authorities have refused Yabloko permission to hold a 1 May demonstration called "Civil Society Against A Police State," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 April. According to the report, this is the first time in recent years that the party has been refused permission to demonstrate. The planned 1 May action was to be held in cooperation with the Union of Rightist Forces, Committee 2008, the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Committee of Soldiers' Mothers, and other groups. According to organizers, approximately 6,000 people were expected to participate in the demonstration on Lubyanka Square. Nikolai Kulikov, who heads the city's security department, told Ekho Moskvy on 11 April that permission was denied for several reasons. "The time of the demonstration was not indicated. There was no protocol about the meeting or a statement as to who would be responsible for security. There is a format for submitting a protocol and they know it. Therefore, we rejected it for procedural reasons," Kulikov said. RC

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow on 12 April, Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov dismissed rumors of the imminent release of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Prime-TASS and reported. The speculation followed the publication of a commentary titled "The Crisis Of Liberalism In Russia" in "Vedomosti" in late March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2004). Khodorkovskii will face trial and responsibility just like any other Russian citizen, Kolesnikov said. The prosecutor added that Khodorkovskii's trial will begin after the indictment has been properly studied by the defense. A lawyer for Khodorkovskii, Yurii Schmidt, said at the same news conference that his client's trial will begin in June. Schmidt said Khodorkovskii maintains his innocence on all 11 charges he faces, adding that the jailed oligarch is a "political prisoner." Glasnost Foundation President Aleksei Simonov, meanwhile, announced that his group will create a Khodorkovskii defense fund because it believes the charges are politically motivated, Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 April. VY

According to a national poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) released last week, Russians are primarily concerned with combating poverty, corruption, and drug abuse, "Rodnaya gazeta," No. 14, reported. More than 42 percent of respondents said the government should concentrate on reducing poverty, while 41.2 percent named combating corruption and curbing the bureaucracy. Just over 36 percent said that "bringing order" to the country should be the government's chief concern, while 35.6 percent named fighting drug abuse and alcoholism, and 29.2 mentioned improving living standards. Improving medical care and access to education were also frequently mentioned. Among the possible priorities that were less popular were the renationalization of enterprises (10.6 percent), combating terrorism and destroying "bandit formations" in Chechnya (7.8), attracting foreign investment (2.6), and developing democratic institutions such as independent media and public organizations (2.1). RC

Duma Deputy Gennadii Semigin (Communist), who is considered a rival within the Communist Party to party leader Gennadii Zyuganov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2004), is forming a new national political movement called Patriots of Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 April. The movement will be based on the Patriots of Russia congress held in Moscow on 20 March, at which a political committee for the movement was created. Fourteen leftist parties and 52 public organizations participated in that congress, reported on 9 April. The movement will hold its founding congress and apply for registration with the Justice Ministry this fall. Although representatives of the Motherland bloc participated in the March congress, they are not helping to organize the new movement. "Kommersant-Daily" wrote that Motherland leader and State Duma Deputy Rogozin views Motherland as the locus of any left-center coalition. RC

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told journalists on 9 April that he opposes the state sale of forestland entailed in the draft Forestry Code adopted recently by the State Duma ("RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2004), RosBalt and reported on 9 and 10 April. Forestland comprises more than half of Russian territory. The new code would allow investors to purchase forestland after they have leased the property for at least 15 years. "I do not see a need to give forests to somebody, particularly after the possibility of such long-term rent, " Fradkov said. He added that he opposes the privatization of pipelines, for which a number of oil majors have lobbied heavily. President Putin effectively backed Fradkov's position, telling Natural Resources Minister Yurii Trutnev at a cabinet meeting on 12 April not to hurry with legislation on forests to avoid having to "revise or cancel it in the future," RTR reported. VY

With the national elections completed, the Kremlin is now looking to replace some regional leaders during the 2007-08 election cycle, Political Forecasting Center Director Konstantin Simonov wrote in "Rodnaya gazeta," No. 14. Simonov argues that local elites are suffering from "the wearing out of their legitimacy" and that recent local elections show that the public is looking for change. Moreover, he notes that having gained control of the legislature and the government, the Kremlin needs only solid support in the regions to solidify its hold on political power. However, the current regional elites, as a rule, formed their political views 30-40 years ago and continue to advocate greater state intervention in the economy. Simonov argues that successful businesspeople and State Duma deputies might be recruited to serve as regional governors in order to break the grip on power of local elites. He also said that "silovik" governors such as Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov and Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov have "not recommended themselves in the best manner, and [military governors] cannot be viewed as a personnel reserve for the future." RC

Political scientist Andrei Ryabov, writing in "Gazeta" on 12 April, noted that in the 15 years since the collapse of communism the country has failed to develop a system for renewing its political elite. He noted with concern the recent election of entertainer Mikhail Yevdokimov as the governor of Altai Krai as an indication that the public is tired of the generation of "governor-stabilizers" and that the political system is unable to offer suitable alternatives. Likewise, Ryabov writes, the 7 December Duma elections produced a rejection of the long-time leaders of the liberal and rightist movements but no real substitute for them. Ryabov writes that in a developed democracy this role is played by political parties, while in Russia the political elite is renewed through the federal and local bureaucracies. As a result, the elite is conservative, and the first thing a leader does after reaching a senior post is make sure no viable competitors can emerge. RC

Five people, including NFQ advertising company President and founder Boris Goldman, were killed on 12 April in what appears to have been a contract murder, and other Russian media reported. Goldman was riding in a Volvo sedan with three other people when a man on a motorcycle pulled up alongside and placed a backpack on top of the car. The backpack exploded almost immediately, killing everyone in the car and the motorcyclist. Interfax reported that Goldman was the target of a similar attack on 20 October 2003. Both attacks took place on the street where NFQ's offices are located. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 April that police have arrested four men in connection with the case. RC

Arjan Erkel, a Dutch staffer of Doctors Without Borders who was abducted in Makhachkala in August 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2002 and 1 April and 20 November 2003), was rescued early on 11 April in a joint operation by the Daghestan branch of the FSB and Daghestan's Interior Ministry, Russian agencies reported. He flew to Moscow the same day before going on to the Netherlands. Valentin Velichko, a spokesman for the Foreign Intelligence Service veterans' organization, told Interfax in Moscow on 11 April that members of his organization also participated in the operation to free Erkel, for whom no ransom was paid. Velichko said Erkel's abductors belonged to different nationalities, but declined to name them. LF

In a statement posted on, Shamil Basaev said he masterminded the 6 April car-bomb attack that narrowly missed killing Ingush President Murat Zyazikov, according to on 12 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2004). Basaev said a Chechen military court sentenced Zyazikov to death in late February "for his connivance in the genocide" of the Chechen and Ingush peoples. Basaev earlier claimed responsibility for the Moscow theater hostage taking in October 2002, a truck-bomb attack on the government building in Grozny in December 2002, and two suicide-bombings in Mozdok and Grozny on 5 and 21 June 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 23 June 2003). LF

Movladi Udugov, who is a close associate of and spokesman for Basaev, has rejected as "lies" an article reportedly published by the "Financial Times" that quoted an unidentified French intelligence official as alleging that international terrorists with links to Al-Qaeda are currently in Chechnya, where they are conducting "experiments" in preparation for launching a chemical-weapons attack in Europe, reported on 12 April. LF

Special police armed with batons, water-cannons, and stun grenades launched an attack at 2 a.m. local time on 13 April on some 2,000-3,000 demonstrators who were halted by barriers the previous day when they attempted to march to the parliament building and presidential palace in Yerevan to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Dozens of people were reportedly injured in the clash. Police then raided the Yerevan headquarters of the National Accord Party, the People's Party of Armenia, and the Hanrapetutiun party, smashing office equipment and detaining party activists, including at least three parliament deputies. LF

The leaders of those three parties -- Artashes Geghamian, Aram Sargsian, and Stepan Demirchian -- convened protest demonstrations in Yerevan on 9 and 10 April to demand that Kocharian resign on the grounds that the February-March 2003 ballot in which he won reelection was falsified and therefore illegal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 April 2004). They had set a deadline of midday local time on 12 April for the authorities to agree to hold a nationwide referendum of confidence in Kocharian, a demand rejected by a majority of parliament in a 9 April statement reported by Noyan Tapan. Organizers estimated the number of participants in the 9 April demonstration at 30,000, of whom up to 60 were subsequently arrested. RFE/RL reported attendance at the 10 April rally at 10,000, and in the 12 April march at 15,000. Both Sargsian and Geghamian vowed on 13 April to convene further protest demonstrations and predicted that "all Armenia will rise up" and overthrow Kocharian. LF

The three parties aligned in the Armenian coalition government -- the Republican Party of Armenia, Orinats Yerkir, and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun -- issued a joint statement on 12 April announcing their intention to boycott that day's parliament session in order to "avoid artificial tensions" in the run-up to the planned mass opposition protest, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Some observers in Yerevan construed that move as intended to prevent the Prosecutor General's Office from bringing criminal charges against arrested opposition lawmakers. Under Armenian law, parliamentarians have immunity from prosecution that can be lifted only by a majority vote in the legislature, and in the absence of such a vote they can be held in custody for no longer than 72 hours. LF

Walter Schwimmer met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Interior Minister Ramil Usubov, Foreign Minister Elmar Mamedyarov, and journalists and human-rights activists during a two-day visit to Baku last week, Turan reported. At a 9 April press conference prior to his departure, Schwimmer hailed the pre-term release from prison of several Azerbaijanis whom the Council of Europe considered political prisoners, but advocated amending Azerbaijan's criminal code to preclude any further sentences on political grounds. He also urged changes to the system of local self-government and the adoption of a program to target corruption and of measures to ensure judiciary independence. He further stressed the importance of freedom of the media. LF

Chairing an 8 April session of the editorial board responsible for compiling a new encyclopedia of the history of Azerbaijan, President Aliyev criticized contributors for a lack of principle and political apathy, Turan reported on 9 April. Specifically, Aliyev took issue with the use of the toponym Stepanakert, with the exclusion of unnamed political figures, and with the characterization of the 1970s and 1980s (when his father Heidar was first secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan) as one of "stagnation" both in Azerbaijan and in the USSR as a whole. Aliyev then demanded that Ismail Veliev, the academic responsible for the edition, leave the session, and tasked the remaining board members with preparing a new and "correct" version. In a 10 April interview with the opposition paper "Yeni Musavat" summarized by Turan, Veliev described President Aliyev as a brave and intelligent man who "is not familiar with our work." LF

Azerbaijani Interior Minister Usubov told Turan on 7 April that Ayaz Mutalibov, who has lived in Moscow since fleeing Baku in May 1992 in the wake of an abortive comeback attempt, will be arrested if he returns to Azerbaijan. Usubov said Mutalibov is charged with planning a terrorist act, creating illegal armed formations, treason, and dereliction of duty in connection with the February 1992 killing of several hundred Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh village of Khodjali. On 12 February, reported that Mutalibov was waiting for the Azerbaijani parliament to adopt a law on the status of former presidents, after which he planned to petition President Aliyev for permission to return to Baku. Mutalibov told Turan on 10 April that he cannot understand what prompted Usubov's statement. He said his return to Baku would bring "enormous political dividends" for the president, but that Aliyev is apparently "guided by people who push him towards confrontation, rather than reconciliation." LF

Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, imam of Baku's disputed Djuma Mosque, was released from a Baku district courtroom on 2 April after receiving a five-year suspended sentence for his alleged participation in clashes on 16 October in Baku between police and opposition supporters protesting the falsification of the outcome of the previous day's presidential election, Turan reported. The trial was the 12th in a series in which 26 opposition supporters have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to six years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 16, and 26 March 2004). In a 10 April interview with the Russian language daily "Ekho" summarized by Turan, Ibrahimoglu claimed he was targeted by the authorities for his human-rights activities. He said that together with OSCE election observers he witnessed, but did not participate in, the 16 October violence (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 30 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March and 1 April 2004). LF

Mikheil Saakashvili warned on 9 April that he will dismiss Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze unless Abashidze disarms illegal armed groups loyal to him, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili claimed Abashidze has at his disposal military hardware valued at $50 million, including two T-72 tanks, heavy artillery, helicopters, and armored personnel carriers. On 12 April, Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze said Abashidze has not yet complied with Saakashvili's demand. On 13 April, Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania said before leaving for Batumi for talks with Abashidze that the Georgian government will pay 500 laris ($250) for each submachine gun surrendered and has earmarked some 1 million laris for that purpose, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Former Batumi Mayor Tengiz Asanidze was released from prison on 9 April on the orders of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Abashidze, Caucasus Press reported. Abashidze was acting in compliance with an 8 April ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004). Asanidze was sentenced in 1994 to 13 years' imprisonment on charges of misappropriating funds and planning to assassinate Abashidze. He was pardoned by then Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in 1999, but Abashidze refused to release him. Asanidze left Adjaria immediately after his release for Tbilisi, where he met on 9 April with President Saakashvili, but told journalists on 10 April that he will resume his political activities and plans to return to Batumi at an unspecified future date. Asanidze was one of five candidates who ran against Shevardnadze in the April 2000 presidential election but, according to official returns, polled less than 1 percent of the vote. LF

Abashidze said on Adjar television on 11 April that his Union for Democratic Revival (DAK) has appealed to the Georgian Supreme Court to overturn a 9 April decision by a Tbilisi district court rejecting a suit by the Union of Young Lawyers of Georgia arguing that the Central Election Commission exceeded its powers when it annulled the results of the 28 March parliamentary election in the Adjar districts of Khulo and Kobuleti, Caucasus Press reported. Initial returns suggested that the DAK won a majority of votes in both districts, but nationwide it failed to garner the minimum 7 percent of the vote required to win parliamentary representation. The CEC has scheduled repeat voting in Khulo and Kobuleti for 18 April. LF

Alibala Askerov, chairman of Heyrat, an organization that represents Georgia's estimated 500,000-strong Azerbaijani minority, told Caucasus Press on 6 April that the Georgian authorities are planning to deprive Azerbaijani schools of state funding in the wake of an allegation by regional Governor Soso Mazmishvili that they provide instruction in Islamic fundamentalism. Askerov said Azerbaijanis in Georgia are "profoundly insulted" by Mazmishvili's "populist" statement, which, Askerov continued, was intended to deflect attention from his incompetence, but only reflects his ignorance of the region and the psychology of the Azerbaijani population. LF

Vazha Shengelia, head of the opposition Labor Party's Tbilisi branch, was found on 3 April on the highway to Tbilisi airport, Caucasus Press reported. He said he was abducted five days earlier by unidentified persons who tortured him and demanded money (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2004). LF

Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council has approved a draft law that amends the country's basic law on elections, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 9 April. President Nursultan Nazarbaev sent the draft law, which has already garnered parliament's approval, to the council on 2 April to check its compliance with the Kazakh Constitution. Council member Anatolii Kotov commented on the ruling, saying, "[The draft law] expands openness in all stages of the election process and ensures its financial transparency." He concluded that the draft law's provisions "do not run counter to the constitution either in content or in the procedure in which it was adopted." Critics have charged that the draft law does not contain sufficient measures to prevent administrative interference in the electoral process; opposition politicians have urged the president to veto it. DK

Approximately 5,000 people demonstrated in Almaty on 10 April to demand the release of imprisoned opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Serikbolsyn Abdildin, leader of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, spearheaded the initiative to hold the demonstration, which was also attended by leading figures in Aq Zhol and the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan. A Deutsche Welle correspondent estimated the number of participants as "more than 5,000" in a 10 April report. Speakers also used the opportunity to criticize President Nazarbaev. Deutsche Welle quoted Abdildin as saying, "If Nazarbaev continues this policy of thievery, corruption, and disdain for the people, he should not remain in the post of president." Zamanbek Nurqadilov, the former chairman of the Emergency Situations Agency who was fired after calling for Nazarbaev's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2004), also spoke at the rally. Zhaqiyanov is currently serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power; his supporters allege that the charges were politically motivated and they consider him a political prisoner. DK

Emil Aliev, deputy chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Ar-Namys Party, told on 12 April that imprisoned party leader Feliks Kulov will be released on 1 June, the news agency reported the same day. According to Aliev, 1 June is the last day when Kulov can file a petition for early release. Aliev added, "And that's without taking into account the time he served before trial." Kulov was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment on 22 January 2001 for exceeding his authority as minister of national security. In May 2002, a Bishkek district court sentenced him to 10 years' imprisonment on three separate charges of embezzlement, and barred him from holding any government office for a further three years after completion of his prison term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2002). Kulov pleaded not guilty to the charges, which he claims were politically motivated. DK

More than 20 members of an unregistered religious party have been arrested in Tajikistan's Soghd Oblast on suspicion of committing murders, attempted murder, and arson, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 10 April. The party is called Bay'at, Arabic for "oath of allegiance." The arrested include eight members of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP). RFE/RL's Tajik Service quoted an unnamed official as saying that party members are suspected of committing 60 murders, including the killing of Sergei Bessarab, a Baptist evangelist in the region. Abdusattor Boboev, a local IRP leader, told RFE/RL, "At present, eight members of the party...are being interrogated. We're confident that they'll prove their innocence." The source also noted that the Bay'at party was formed seven years ago. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov met with OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi on 9 April, Turkmen TV reported the same day. The report noted that Pasi praised Turkmenistan's "steps toward strengthening democracy and improving the performance of law-enforcement bodies and strengthening law and order in the country." The two also discussed bilateral cooperation between Turkmenistan and the OSCE, regional security, and the situation in Afghanistan. DK

Prosecutor-General Rashid Qodirov briefed journalists on 9 April on the results of the investigation by Uzbek authorities into the violent events of 28 March-1 April, Uzbek Radio reported on 9 April. Qodirov said that 54 people have been detained on suspicion of involvement and 45 have already been formally charged. Authorities also seized a large quantity of firearms and homemade explosives. The alleged terrorists belong to a religious extremist group that has been active in Tashkent and Bukhara since 2000, Qodirov said. The prosecutor-general noted that "the ideas of the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement -- reinforced with elements of the radicalism of the terrorism Islamic Movement of Turkestan and other Islamist extremist currents -- were used as the basis of their religious outlook." (According to some reports, the Islamic Movement of Turkestan is the new name for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.) Qodirov added that the militants underwent military training abroad with Arab instructors in the same camps that prepared Al-Qaeda fighters. DK

Belarusian National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich on 9 April told the Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house of parliament, that Russia's new cabinet has not lived up to his expectations regarding the monetary integration of both countries, Belapan reported. "The essence of our differences is that the Republic of Belarus speaks in favor of the introduction of the Russian ruble and the implementation of the 2000 agreements and the [1999] union treaty, but we want this action to produce a highly efficient result for our economy," Prakapovich said, adding that the monetary union would not be effective without equal economic conditions in Belarus and Russia. Prakapovich said Belarus insists that the adoption of the Russian ruble should follow the formation of "a common economic space." Pyotr Kalaur, Prakapovich's deputy, said on 12 April that no economic conditions have been created for the introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus on 1 January 2005. Kalaur stressed that the equal economic conditions mean primarily equal prices for gas, oil, and other energy resources in both countries. JM

Some 1,000 mostly elderly people gathered outside the Verkhovna Rada building on 13 April for a rally organized by the Communist Party to demand higher pensions, UNIAN reported. The demonstrators also want the government to pull out the Ukrainian military contingent from Iraq and protested Ukraine's announced intention to join NATO. Meanwhile, the legislature was hearing a report by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet on the situation of pensioners in Ukraine. Pension Fund head Borys Zaychuk told lawmakers that the average pension in Ukraine is currently 185 hryvnyas ($35), up from 135 hryvnyas in 2003. JM

Journalist Volodymyr Boyko has claimed that he was beaten by two police officers in a courtroom in Donetsk during the hearing of a case against Mykhaylo Haladzhi, head of the Kyiv-based "Svoboda" newspaper's local office, Interfax reported. According to Boyko, the judge ordered him to leave the courtroom but he refused to do so, arguing that the trial was open and he was performing his journalistic duties by covering the trial for "Svoboda." The policemen allegedly manhandled Boyko, inflicting numerous injuries on him. JM

Unidentified Iraqi militants on 12 April kidnapped eight employees of the Russian company Interenergoservis in Baghdad, including five Ukrainian citizens, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 13 April, quoting the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. The eight were released on 13 April, international media reported. Lieutenant General Valeriy Frolov, Ukraine's Land Forces deputy commander, told journalists that the captured Ukrainians had no relation whatsoever to the 1,600-strong Ukrainian military contingent in Iraq. JM

Russian President Vladimir Putin told Mart Laar during a nearly hour-long conversation in Moscow on 9 April that Russia should sign a border treaty with Estonia, BNS reported the next day. The talks took place in the context of the international conference "A Liberal Agenda for the New Century: A Global Perspective" organized by the U.S.-based Cato Institute in cooperation with the Institute of Economic Analysis and the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. Laar told BNS that Putin mentioned that relations between Russia and Estonia have been steadily improving of late and while talking about the situation of Russians living in Estonia did not use the word "discrimination." Laar also said that they briefly talked about their countries' bilateral relations after Estonia becomes a member of the European Union. SG

The government passed on 8 April amendments to the law on land reform in cities that abolish restrictions on EU citizens and businesses purchasing land in cities from 1 May, when Latvia officially becomes a member of the EU, BNS reported. EU citizens were granted the right to purchase agricultural land in Latvia during Latvia's negotiations to join the EU. The amendments will go into effect without the approval of the parliament, which is now taking an Easter recess. The amendments provide for a transition period between May 2004 and May 2011 during which EU residents will be able to buy land in Latvian cities if they are doing business in Latvia and as long as their main field of activity is not in the agricultural or forestry sectors. SG

Acting President Arturas Paulauskas signed a decree on 9 April setting 19 September as the date for the next parliamentary elections, ELTA reported. Earlier that day Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told reporters that he did not support the proposal to amend the constitution by setting the second Sunday of October as the date for parliamentary elections. Brazauskas suggested that the elections should be held in March so that the newly elected parliament would have enough time to prepare the upcoming year's budget. He noted that a government formed in November after parliamentary elections in October would in practice have to work its first year with the budget formed by the previous government. SG

Prime Minister Leszek Miller said on Polish Radio on 13 April that Polish troops will stay in Iraq despite the recent outbreak of violence, dpa reported. Miller claimed that stability is slowly returning to Iraq's "south-central" zone that is under Polish command. Miller emphasized the need to find a political resolution of the conflict in Iraq and to turn over political control to Iraqis. He also called on the United Nations to take on a greater role in Iraq and for a NATO presence in the Polish-controlled zone. JM

Two Czech Television journalists and one state-radio correspondent are missing in Iraq and presumed kidnapped, CTK and local media reported on 12 April. Reporter Michal Kubal and cameraman Petr Klima disappeared after hiring a taxi to drive them from Baghdad to Jordan on 12 April, Czech Television reported. The taxi company reported the abduction, saying it took place near Taji, some 30 kilometers north of Baghdad, and said the kidnappers released the driver. Also missing is Czech Radio's Vit Pohanka, who was due to fly from Amman to Prague on 12 April. A senior Czech Radio representative said all contact with Pohanka has been lost but declined to comment on the possibility that he might have been kidnapped. Meanwhile, Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda said on 12 April that he has issued instructions for Czech nationals working in Iraq who spent the Easter holidays at home not to return to that country for the time being. MS

Defense Minister Juraj Liska told TASR on 9 April that his ministry is preparing a bill aimed at enabling the more rapid deployment of Slovak troops abroad. Under current legislation, deployments must be approved by parliament. Liska said the envisaged bill would allow for the speedy deployment of troops after cabinet approval. Liska said government approval is sufficient to allow for troop deployments abroad among most of NATO's 19 other member states. "It might happen that, in one or two months, we are asked [by NATO] to deploy troops anywhere around the world," he said. MS

Eighteen Slovak political parties and movements nominated more than 200 candidates to compete in elections to the European Parliament slated for 13 June, TASR reported on 11 April. The deadline for submitting candidate lists in Slovakia expired on 9 April. About one-quarter of the candidates are women, many of whom head or are highly placed on party lists. Women head the party lists of the opposition Smer (Direction) party, and the junior coalition Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) and Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), and the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO). The senior coalition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union placed former ice hockey star Peter Stastny at the head of its list and architect Zita Plestinska third. The opposition People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) list is headed by former Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik, with Irena Belohorska in the third slot. MS

The news portal reported on 9 April that the ruling Socialist Party's campaign adviser, Ron Werber, described the campaign for the European parliamentary elections a "war" and labeled the opposition FIDESZ grouping a "fascist party." An journalist reported attending a campaign-training session of the ruling Socialists last week at which Werber and the party's executive director, Jozsef Tobias, asked Socialist supporters to disregard "electoral ethics," saying that "no fair-play award will be given at the end of this game." The opposition Hungarian Democratic Forum issued a statement on 12 April in which it asks Hungarian voters to reject politics of hatred based on "warlike logic" purportedly being promoted by the Socialists, "Magyar Hirlap" reported the next day. FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Laszlo Kover has asked the government to dissociate itself from Werber and Tobias, the daily added. Gabor Kuncze, the chairman of the junior coalition Free Democrats (SZDSZ), suggested that such purported tactics were behind the Socialists' refusal of an electoral code of ethics recently initiated by his party, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. MSZ

Candidates in the 14 April Macedonian presidential elections wound up their respective campaigns on 12 April, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 9 April 2004). Polls suggest that Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the governing Social Democratic Union is the favorite in a field that also includes Sasko Kedev of the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE); Gezim Ostreni of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration; and Zudi Xhelili of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians. Crvenkovski's main opponent is Kedev, but ethnic Albanian votes could be decisive in a second round of balloting if neither Crvenkovski or Kedev wins a majority on 14 April. Election organizers chose a Wednesday for the first round in hopes of attracting a large turnout because 50 percent of all registered voters must cast their ballots for the election to be valid. Some observers are already taking a Crvenkovski victory for granted and concentrating their attention on the jockeying to succeed him as prime minister. PM

A spokesman for the opposition VMRO-DPMNE on 9 April repeated his party's claim that the government has added some 220,000 voters to the national voters list for the 14 April presidential elections, "Dnevnik" reported. The VMRO-DPMNE says that according to the latest census, there are about 1.47 million citizens who are eligible to vote, but that there are 1.69 million registered voters. Justice Minister Hixhet Mehmeti said on 8 April that the voters' list includes Macedonian citizens who have been living abroad for more than one year and hence are not counted in the census. Macedonian commentators say that the opposition claims are part of campaigning, adding that during the 2002 parliamentary election campaign, it was Mehmeti who accused the Interior Ministry of padding the voters lists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2002 and Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). UB

Vojislav Kostunica told Russia's TVT television on 12 April that all of Kosova is becoming a center of "global terrorism," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February, 26 March, and 2 April 2004). He charged that "Albanian terrorism" seeks to drive all Serbs from the province. Kostunica said that it is not certain that Al-Qaeda is operating openly in Kosova adding, however, that it is possible that Al-Qaeda is using unnamed religious or charitable organizations as fronts for its activities. He did not provide evidence to substantiate his charges. During the rule of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the media frequently used hate-speech to describe ethnic Albanians as criminals and terrorists. Most Kosovar Albanians are of Islamic background, but like much of former Yugoslavia, theirs is a highly secularized society. PM

General Vladimir Starcevic told the Belgrade weekly "Vojska" that his branch of the military has not received sufficient fuel or spare parts "for years," which threatens both the lives and morale of his pilots, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 13 April. He stressed that years of neglect have left the air force "on its knees." PM

Several days of heavy rains have caused the Vrbas, Sana, Pliva, Lasva, Una, and some other rivers in central and northwestern Bosnia to overflow their banks, prompting hundreds of local residents to flee, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 13 April. About 400 people abandoned their homes in Srbac alone. Some districts of Banja Luka are flooded, and Jajce is without drinking water. A state of emergency has been declared in Travnik, Vitez, Bugojno, Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje, and Jajce, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Many roads and highways in both the Republika Srpska and the Croat-Muslim federation are closed to traffic. PM

A Romanian citizen was killed and another was wounded on 11 April in an ambush near Al-Hillah, not far from Baghdad, according to an official communique of the Romanian Foreign Ministry released the next day. Both were employees of a private security company operating in Iraq under a contract with the Iraq's Coalition Provisional Authority. According to Mediafax, the two Romanians served in an eight-man force dispatched to Iraq by the BIDEPA company. Mediafax also said the wounded Romanian was operated on and his life is not in danger. Mediafax also cited a Defense Ministry communique that said that no member of the 1,500-strong Romanian military contingent serving in Iraq was involved in the incident. MS

In a separate press release dated 9 April, the Romanian Foreign Ministry expressed "concern" over last week's incidents in southern Iraq and the attacks on coalition forces by militias loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The ministry said the events have an "extremely negative impact" on the "security environment" in the country and added that it "firmly condemns the actions of groups that intend to take control over some Iraqi towns." Such "violent actions contradict the interests of the Iraqi people and impede the implementation of the Transition Administration Law political agenda agreed upon on 8 March 2004," the communique said. It also added that the ministry backs efforts aimed at "creating a sovereign and prosperous Iraq, in which all political and ethnic-religious groups would be democratically represented." MS

Zsolt Nemeth, deputy chairman of Hungary's main opposition FIDESZ party, said on 12 April in Sfantu-Gheorghe, Romania, that Hungary must back the efforts of Transylvanian Hungarians to achieve autonomy, Mediafax reported. Nemeth, on a private visit to the Transylvanian town, said the national state "typical of the 19th century" had been entrenched in "enclosure and poverty," whereas the 21st-century state would be based on autonomy, which "ensures the free association of different communities." Nemeth said that in three weeks, Hungary will become a EU member, whereas Romania "has yet to make important steps toward integration in the EU." He said that while Hungary should support Romania's integration, the Romanian state that would join the EU should be one that has granted its Hungarian minority in Transylvania "territorial and cultural autonomy." MS

Georgi Parvanov and the chief of the general staff, General Nikola Kolev, told relatives of soldiers stationed in Karbala, Iraq, that preparations are under way to move the Bulgarian contingent to a safer location inside Iraq if the situation escalates in Karbala, "Sega" reported. About 40 relatives of soldiers presented more than 500 signatures demanding the withdrawal of Bulgarian troops from Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 April 2004). Some of the relatives demanded that Bulgaria's political leadership follow the example of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and visit the troops in Iraq to raise the soldiers' motivation. In related news, a commentator for "The New York Times" of 11 April criticized the quality of the Bulgarian and Ukrainian coalition troops. "It is hard to accept the deaths of young men and women when all the world's other military powers, save Britain, have chosen to sit this one out. The ill-prepared troops who form the contributions of places like Ukraine and Bulgaria seem to need protection themselves," the commentator said. UB

Opposition Socialist Party Chairman Sergey Stanishev said on 10 April that the security of the Bulgarian soldiers in Iraq must have priority, but added that he opposes any withdrawal of troops, BTA reported. Stanishev said that if Bulgaria withdraws its contingent it will lose its credibility as a reliable partner. Stanishev also repeated his party's position that a new political framework for Iraq, which would be acceptable for the Iraqi people and political representatives, should be sought. He added that actively engaging the UN in the political process in Iraq would help ensure the support of countries that have thus far not joined the coalition. UB

The short campaign for the 14 April presidential election is in full swing in Macedonia. Four candidates are touring the country, meeting with voters in several towns every day: Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union, Sasko Kedev of the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), Gezim Ostreni of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), and Zudi Xhelili of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH).

An opinion poll carried out by the Skopje-based Institute for Social, Political, and Legal Studies between 20 and 27 March predicted that Crvenkovski will easily win the first round of the 14 April presidential elections, "Vreme" reported on 31 March. Just over 21 percent of the 1,200 respondents said they will vote for Crvenkovski, 13.2 percent vowed to cast their ballots for Kedev, and Ostreni is expected to garner 9.7 percent of the votes. The poll also included candidates who later decided not to run or were barred from the race: 6.5 percent of respondents favored Arben Xhaferi of the PDSH, while 4.2 said they will vote for hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who had planned to run as an independent candidate.

For 27.4 percent of respondents, the personality of the candidate plays the biggest role; just over 21 percent said the candidate's program is most important; and 15.1 percent the candidate's party affiliation is the deciding factor.

The respondents also had the opportunity to say what they consider the most important task for the next president. Somewhat surprisingly, almost 37 percent of the respondents said the future president should improve Macedonia's international image. For about 24 percent, the president should concentrate on the country's security. And 21.6 percent of respondents felt that the president should work to improve the interethnic relations within Macedonia.

Media reports on the election campaign suggest that both Crvenkovski and Kedev know what the voters are thinking. That is why the VMRO-DPMNE made the country's dire economic situation the central issue of its campaign. Kedev -- whose campaign managers promote him as a "new face for Macedonia: justice, security, and success" -- accuses Crvenkovski of having led the country into a deep economic crisis. Europe's highest official unemployment rate and a sharp drop in the country's industrial production of more than 40 percent in January provide Kedev and VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski with enough ammunition to use against Crvenkovski.

Since the candidates' characters matter most for the voters, Kedev accused Crvenkovski of immoral behavior, saying that the prime minister must not be granted the presidency as a perk. "Nobody in Europe recognizes leaders who do not care for their citizens independent of their ethnic, religious, and political background," Kedev said in Veles on 4 April. "This country needs a man who will solve its problems, who prepares it for foreign investments, and who knows the spirit of Europe," Gruevski said, implying that Crvenkovski lacks the experience of having lived abroad like Kedev, who worked in Italy and the United States.

Although both Kedev and Crvenkovski concede that the president cannot influence the government's economic policy, they stress that they would do their best to attract foreign investment.

To this end, Crvenkovski pledges to promote Macedonia as a good place for foreign investments. And he wants to help the government resolve the pressing economic problems by taking care of noneconomic issues. "All Macedonian governments spent a large part of their energy on so-called noneconomic problems. If the president...takes over part of these problems, the government has much more opportunity to take on the resolution of the economic questions and the...problems of the citizens," Crvenkovski told "Dnevnik" of 3 April.

The differences between the two ethnic Albanian candidates, Ostreni and Xhelili, are more striking than the differences between Kedev and Crvenkovski.

Ostreni, a former commander of the ethnic Albanian National Liberation Army (UCK), presents himself as a moderate. Even if he occasionally addresses the country's economic problems, which he wants to resolve with "decisive action," his main platform plank remains the equal representation of Albanians in the state administration and the army, as well as the full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement.

Xhelili and the PDSH, for their part, are trying to split the governing coalition of SDSM and BDI by calling for a joint platform of all Albanian parties. Only such an alliance could ensure all collective rights of the Albanian minority envisioned in the constitution, the PDSH leaders say. The BDI has rejected this proposal.

General Abdul Rashid Dostum denied on 8 April that militiamen loyal to his Junbish-e Melli party were responsible for the recent crisis in Faryab Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 April 2004), Jowzjan Aina television reported. According to Dostum, participants in a spontaneous public uprising on 8 April demanded the dismissals of Faryab Governor Enayatullah Enayat and the province's military commander, General Mohammad Hashem Habibi. Dostum accused the two men of being involved in the "heroin and poppy business" and of carrying out "some ominous activities [and] creating tension in the province." Dostum, who officially holds the title of special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, said he has told the Afghan leader to prevent the activities of individuals such as Enayat and Habibi, and to "stop sending inexperienced and self-interested officials" to the province. AT

Also on 8 April, Dostum dismissed accusations by some Afghan officials that he or his party was involved in inciting the crisis that began on 6 April and resulted in Enayat's and Habibi's ousters, Jowzjan Aina television reported. Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali on 8 April accused Dostum of misusing the Afghan National Army by mobilizing troops from Jowzjan Province, which he said represents an infringement of the Afghan Constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004). Dostum called the accusations "inaccurate propaganda [that] cannot have any other aims." Jalali and Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim are involved in the creation of problems in northern parts of the country, Dostum charged on 8 April, accusing Habibi of having ties to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. On 10 April, Deputy Defense Minister Rahim Wardak said, "A lot of these warlords, before 11 September [2001], did not exist or had no power," according to the "Los Angeles Times" of 11 April. "They were created by the United States after [11 September 2001], and it is their responsibility to deal with them." Wardak added, "He, Dostum, will get tamed.... All the shrews get tamed eventually." AT

Former Planning Minister Mohammad Mohaqeq said on 10 April that interference by coalition forces and the international community in the Faryab crisis is detrimental to the Afghan people, the Kabul-based daily "Erada" reported on 11 April. Mohaqeq reportedly said Dostum has played a significant role in fighting terrorism, adding that "slapping" him "is an action that would hurt a thousand faces." Mohaqeq is a presidential candidate who heads a faction of the Hizb-e Wahdat, which is based in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif. Mohaqeq and Dostum fought each other prior to the collapse of the communist regime in Kabul in 1992, but since then they have allied against the Taliban and at times against the Jamiat-e Islami-dominated mujahedin rule in Kabul. AT

A supporter of Dostum's Junbish-e Melli was killed in an apparent attack by Jamiat-e Islami supporters in the Kod-e Barq District of the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e Sharif on 10 April, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported the next day. That and other reports also suggested that three Dostum supporters have been abducted. A house belonging to Dostum was plundered in the attack, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 11 April. Dostum's forces have been involved in a number of clashes with rival commanders, mainly from the Jamiat-e Islami party, since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May and 5 June 2003). It was not immediately clear whether the 10 April incident was related to the crisis in Faryab Province (see above). AT

Ousted Faryab Governor Enayatullah Enayat arrived in the Afghan capital on 11 April, AIP reported (see above and "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 April, 2004). Enayat said he is in Kabul at the request of the central government to discuss the situation in Faryab. "All the important places have been occupied by the militia loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum," while the Afghan National Army is "only patrolling Maymana," Enayat said. In a 9 April announcement, the Afghan Defense Ministry said the National Army is in Faryab to "ensure security and restore public order; prevent clashes between willful armed groups; revive and restart government offices in Faryab Province; and to enhance the central government's influence," Afghanistan Television reported. AT

Five inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) arrived in Iran on 12 April, Mehr News Agency and AP reported. The IAEA personnel are scheduled to meet with representatives of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization and to supervise the suspension of uranium enrichment and of the manufacture of uranium centrifuges, Mehr reported. AP added that the inspectors intend to confirm whether or not Iran has a covert nuclear program. BS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 12 April said that U.S. criticism of the Iranian human rights record is "invalid" and its definition of the terms "human" and "rights" is at odds with that of the rest of the world, IRNA reported. He said the United States is not qualified to comment on human rights issues because its actions in Palestine, Iraq, and elsewhere cost lives and make people miserable and homeless. A 12 April commentary on Iranian state television said that while "American forces are busy mercilessly slaughtering the Iraqi people in front of the eyes of the world, and while the regime occupying Jerusalem [Israel] is also continuing its barbaric and inhumane crimes against defenseless civilians in the occupied Palestinian territories," the United States has published a "repetitive" report on human rights violations in Iran. These are presumably references to a U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor and Bureau of Public Affairs fact sheet titled "Iran: Voices Struggling To Be Heard" and dated 9 April ( The report says that unelected government institutions are rebuffing and trying to stifle Iranians' calls for respect for their beliefs. BS

The Guardians Council has agreed to an Interior Ministry proposal to hold the second round of the parliamentary elections on 7 May, state television reported on 12 April. An Interior Ministry official had announced previously that the second round would take place between 20 and 30 April (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 April 2004). The first round of the elections took place on 20 February, and a Guardians Council member explained in late March that there will be a second round of voting in 39 constituencies where candidates did not receive a sufficient number of votes to win outright. Sixty-four candidates will be elected in the second round, and the seventh parliament will be seated on 27 May. BS

Farshid Yazdani, director-general of the social and economic planning department at the Social Security Organization, said on 12 April that the number of unemployed in Iran has doubled in the past four years, "Iran Daily" reported on 13 April. Yazdani attributed this increase mainly to mismanagement, and he added that management shortcomings are ignored and problems are blamed on the workforce instead. Yazdani added that the government's industrial-renovation plan will make another 30,000 people jobless. BS

Ghasem Rezaiyat, who heads the association of tea factories in northern Iran, said in the 13 April issue of "Entekhab" newspaper that the factories do not have enough money to buy green tea from the growers. Gilan Province tea factories have a 150 billion-toman (about $187.5 million) debt, he said. Meanwhile, Iran is planning to export tea to Germany, Japan, and Kuwait, "Iran Daily" reported on 13 April, citing the previous day's "Sobh-i Eqtesad." The article described the creation of a tea factory in the northern city of Lahijan, and it quoted tea-industry official Abdosamad Gharavi as saying that exports would begin once the factory becomes operational. Gharavi said the factory would produce 5,000 kilograms of tea essence, 1,000 kilograms of tea powder, and 200,000 tea bags during the first phase, which should go on stream in a month. BS

The number of foreigners kidnapped by Iraqi militants has risen dramatically in recent days, international media reported on 13 April. Five Ukrainian and three Russian nationals were kidnapped and subsequently released by their captors on 13 April, Reuters reported. Al-Jazeera reported on 13 April that the Russians were kidnapped in Baghdad. More than 40 foreigners from 12 countries have reportedly been kidnapped in recent days, AP reported on 13 April, including two U.S. servicemen. Seven Chinese nationals abducted in Al-Fallujah were released on 12 April following one day in captivity, but the fate of three Japanese civilians kidnapped last week is unknown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004). Meanwhile, nine truck drivers of various nationalities taken hostage while traveling in a military supply convoy were released on 12 April. Seven U.S. contractors working for Kellogg, Brown & Root remain missing after their fuel convoy was ambushed near Abu Ghurayb, west of Baghdad, on 9 April. Three Czech reporters were also reported missing on 12 April, Reuters reported. KR

An aide to anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was detained by coalition forces at a Baghdad hotel on 13 April, Reuters reported. Hazem al-Araji, a cleric and aide to al-Sadr, was detained after an interview with Italian journalists at the Palestine Hotel, although CNN reported that he was subsequently released. Al-Sadr remains holed up in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf. His Imam Al-Mahdi Army reportedly took steps to withdraw its forces from Al-Najaf on 12 April and return control over the city to Iraqi police forces. His militia had controlled the city as well as nearby Karbala and Kufa for several days. Meanwhile, U.S. forces have broken the group's hold over Al-Kut, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Hillah in the past few days, U.S. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez told reporters at a 12 April press briefing in Baghdad, according to the transcript posted on the Coalition Provisional Authority website ( U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander General John Abizaid told the same briefing that Iraqis are not supporting al-Sadr in the south. KR

Shi'ite officials in Al-Najaf met with al-Sadr in his offices on 12 April to help negotiate a settlement to the conflict, despite CENTCOM commander Abizaid's insistence to reporters that "the mission of the U.S. forces is to kill or capture Muqtada al-Sadr." Muhammad Rida al-Sistani, son of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, led the delegation, which included the sons of two other Iraqi grand ayatollahs and other prominent leaders from Al-Najaf, international media reported on 13 April. Meanwhile, Shi'ite members of the Iraqi Governing Council are reportedly pushing for a delay in arresting al-Sadr, until after the 30 June transfer of power to an interim Iraqi government, reported on 13 April. Council members said al-Sadr might be more willing to dissolve his militia at the order of an interim government; the cleric has already refused to adhere to U.S. demands to disband the militia. Delaying the arrest of al-Sadr "will be more legitimate in the eyes of Iraqis," the website quoted council member Ahmad al-Barak as saying. U.S. Lieutenant General Sanchez told the press on 12 April that the Governing Council would take action against al-Sadr, but conceded, "I think it will probably end up being a uniquely Iraqi solution." KR

The restive Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah remained calm on 13 April after U.S. military officials announced a temporary suspension of operations on 9 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004) to allow for negotiations there. More than 700 Iraqis have been killed in fighting in the city and some 1,200 injured over the past nine days, Al-Jazeera reported on 13 April. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt said at a 12 April press briefing in Baghdad that U.S. Marines stand ready to restart the operations to eliminate the insurgence there. "We are, at this point however, working a political track and we look forward to the fruitful discussions that can come about to achieve the ultimate end state, which is to restore legitimate Iraqi control of that city," he added, RFE/RL reported. Kimmitt said that 70 coalition soldiers have been killed in Iraq so far this month. KR

Prime Minister Leszek Miller said on Polish Radio on 13 April that Polish troops will stay in Iraq despite the recent outbreak of violence, dpa reported. Miller claimed that stability is slowly returning to Iraq's "south-central" zone which is under Polish command. Miller emphasized the need to find a political resolution of the conflict in Iraq and to turn over political control to Iraqis. He also called on the United Nations to take on a greater role in Iraq and for a NATO presence in the Polish-controlled zone. JM