Accessibility links

Newsline - April 19, 2004


FOREIGN MINISTER CAUTIOUSLY SUPPORTS SHARON'S 'DISENGAGEMENT PLAN'...
Sergei Lavrov said during a 15 April news conference that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for Israel's unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is "a step in the direction in which the 'road map' approved by the quartet of mediators -- the United States, the EU, Russia, and the UN -- is proceeding," Russian media reported. "We consider that this step could be useful, on the condition that this is not the only step but just a start," he added. Lavrov reiterated Russia's commitment to the "road map" during his 16 April talks in Moscow with Palestinian Prime Minister Nabil Sha'th, saying the document is the "only alternative" for settling the situation in the Middle East, RosBalt and RIA-Novosti reported. Lavrov said the quartet will meet soon to discuss the situation. VY

...AS MINISTRY CONDEMNS ISRAEL'S ASSASSINATION OF HAMAS LEADER
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 18 April condemned Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz Rantisi's assassination, which was carried out by Israeli special forces on 17 April, Russian media reported. "We do not question Israel's right to self-defense from terrorist attacks or measures to defend its citizens," Yakovenko told a news conference. "But this right must be exercised within the framework of international law, including Article IV of the Geneva Convention." VY

FOREIGN MINISTER GIVES HIS INTERPRETATION OF SITUATION IN IRAQ
Foreign Minister Lavrov told ORT on 18 April that while coalition forces will eventually suppress the ongoing violence in Iraq, doing so will not resolve the crisis or end the resistance. Therefore, he said, a political solution should be found that will involve the permanent members of the UN Security Council, countries neighboring Iraq, and the various political forces in the country, including opposition members whom "the coalition is now hunting for." Lavrov also said Russia views the taking of hostages as an unacceptable method of conducting warfare and as a "form of terrorism." He said Russia categorically rejects negotiating with terrorists, even to save hostages' lives. "We do not want to give them any possibility, or even the hint of a possibility, that they can reach their political goals in such a way," Lavrov said. VY

SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY SPEAKS ABOUT RUSSIAN ON TRIAL IN QATAR
Igor Ivanov, who is currently on a tour of the Gulf states, met on 18 April in Doha with his Qatari counterpart Hamid bin Jasim bin Jaber al-Thani to discuss the trial of two Russian security-service employees who stand accused of carrying out the assassination of former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 April 2004), ITAR-TASS reported. "Russia respects the Qatari court and the decision it will make," Ivanov said, Interfax reported. The news agency also cited Al-Jazeera as reporting that in the course of Ivanov's discussions in Doha, a compromise was reached under which the two Russians will be pardoned by the Qatari emir in the event they are found guilty. Ivanov, who is accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Saltanov, was scheduled to proceed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to discuss the situation in Iraq. VY

RUSSIA MONITORS UKRAINIAN ELECTION CAMPAIGN
President Vladimir Putin told Ukrainian presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk at the Kremlin on 16 April that Russia is watching developments in Ukraine closely and hopes that the programs initiated by the country's pro-presidential majority in parliament are realized, strana.ru reported. Speaking about the possible outcomes of Ukraine's presidential elections in October, Putin said Russia "will accept the will of the Ukrainian people and will work with any Ukrainian government," but would prefer to preserve continuity in its relations with Ukraine. Putin noted the good relations he has with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and said they remain in close contact. Some analysts have commented that Ukraine's presidential election is not much less important to Putin than his own re-election in March, because the results of Russia's recent assertiveness toward the CIS states is dependent on its outcome. VY

PUTINS CELEBRATE GERMANY CHANCELLOR'S BIRTHDAY
President Putin and his wife Lyudmila on 16 April flew to Hannover to attend German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's 60th birthday party, Russian and Western media reported. RosBalt reported that Putin was the only European leader to attend the jubilee, and that he used the opportunity to discuss the situation in Iraq with Schroeder. Putin's unexpected visit can be seen as an effort to support the German leader, with whom he has close relations and whose popularity is at an all-time low. VY

RUSSIA REPORTEDLY PREPARES TO LINK RUBLE TO EURO
Deputy Central Bank Chairman Konstantin Korishchenko has announced that Russia plans to implement a new method of determining the ruble-exchange rate by linking it to the euro as well as to the U.S. dollar, izvestiya.ru reported on 14 April. According to Korishchenko, the rate will be formulated based on a "two-currency basket" that will have a dollar-to-euro ratio of 90:10. The euro share will gradually be increased until it reaches parity with the dollar in the basket. The newspaper commented that the new system will make it easier for the Central Bank to cope with two conflicting goals: curbing inflation and preventing an excessively strong ruble. VY

COURT FREEZES YUKOS ASSETS
The Moscow Arbitration Court on 16 April froze assets of and shares in Yukos worth more than 99 billion rubles ($3.47 billion), Russian media reported. The Tax Ministry requested the action on the grounds that the oil giant owes back taxes plus penalties. The frozen assets constitute about 10 percent of the company's capital, NTV reported on 16 April. Yukos spokesman Aleksandr Shchadrin said that the court decision will not affect the company's obligations to its customers and partners. Meanwhile, Yukos representative Pierce Gardner said on 16 April that Yukos will appeal to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that the Tax Ministry is attempting intentionally to cause financial damage to the company, izvestiya.ru and Interfax reported on 16 April. VY

TRIAL OF JAILED OLIGARCH'S COLLEAGUE BEGINS
The preliminary hearing of Platon Lebedev's trial began on 16 April after a Moscow district court turned down the defense team's request that the head of Yukos's financial arm Menatep be released from custody, strana.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). The court ruled that Lebedev might "escape justice" if he were freed. Lebedev faces charges of fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion. Elena Liptser, one of Lebedev's lawyers, told RFE/RL that the court also refused to remove several special-forces troops from the courtroom, on the basis that their presence was necessitated by the "threat of terrorism." Liptser also said the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights has accepted a complaint regarding alleged procedural violations in the case, and considers it a matter of priority. It is possible that the prosecution is preparing a severe sentence against Lebedev with the intention of pressuring jailed former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, who faces similar charges. VY

BUSINESS LEADER CALLS FOR 'TAXES ON DISHONESTLY ACQUIRED PROPERTY'...
Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) President Arkadii Volskii has called for legitimizing 1990s-era privatizations "through the payment of taxes on dishonestly acquired property," "Vedomosti" reported on 19 April. He said that revenues from such "taxes" could be used to combat poverty in the country. The daily reported, citing the Audit Chamber, that the Russian government received just $9.7 billion for the privatization of 145,000 enterprises under former President Boris Yeltsin, which is roughly the amount of money that Russian tourists spent abroad in 2003 alone. Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin said the chamber's probe into privatization has been completed and its report will be issued in June. Audit Chamber auditor Vladislav Ignatov told "Vedomosti" that the government should not focus on revising past privatizations but should concentrate on effectively managing property that remains in state control and on maximizing state revenues from the privatization of land. RC

...AS FORMER PRIVATIZATION TSAR DEFENDS HIMSELF
In an interview with the "Financial Times" of 16 April, Unified Energy Systems CEO Anatolii Chubais, who was the main ideologue of the 1990s privatizations, admitted that the government did not do everything "correctly," but said privatization was "the only possible way of creating private property and avoiding the complete collapse of the Russian economy." He acknowledged that the oligarchs "brought much harm by corrupting the political and judicial processes," but said that they also "restructured Soviet factories and got them working again." "The economy is working, and it is working according to our plan," Chubais said. Commenting on recent statements by jailed former Yukos CEO Khodorkovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March and 16 April 2004), Chubais said, "I'd rather that Khodorkovskii atoned for his own sins and left mine to me." RC

BOMBERS STRIKE DORMITORY FOR FOREIGNERS
An explosion outside a Moscow dormitory on the evening of 18 April left 19 people injured, Russian media reported. The building belongs to the Moscow Transport Engineering Institute, but the section where the bomb exploded was leased to a commercial organization that used the premises primarily to provide housing for citizens of Vietnam, newsru.com reported on 19 April. Moscow police spokesman Kirill Mazurin told newsru.com that the explosion is not being investigated as a terrorist incident and that there is no evidence to suggest that any skinhead organizations were involved. Twelve people were hospitalized following the explosion, all but one of them Vietnamese citizens. RC

FORMER RIGHTIST LEADER DENOUNCES GROWING 'AUTHORITARIANISM'
Speaking on NTV on 18 April, former Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-leader Boris Nemtsov said that Russia is entering "a period of authoritarian modernization." He added that no authoritarian regime has ever succeeded in combating poverty and predicted that official corruption will flourish, as the public is now too frightened to complain. Asked about his resignation as an SPS leader, Nemtsov said in an apparent reference to President Putin that, "only one politician remains." He criticized the recent restructuring of the government and the presidential administration, noting that the number of government structures has grown from 56 to 76. RC

KHRUSHCHEV LAUDED AS HERO OF RUSSIAN LIBERALISM
Former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev did more for Russian liberalism than any other figure of the post-Stalin era, Political Science Association President Fedor Burlatskii said on 17April, strana.ru reported. Burlatskii was speaking at a conference dedicated to the 110th anniversary of Khrushchev's birth. Burlatskii lauded Khrushchev for attacking the cult of personality around Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, for giving passports to Soviet peasants who were in "a semi-feudal state," and for visiting the United States and beginning to normalize relations with the West. Burlatskii said that Khrushchev was removed from power in 1964 because his reforms led to conflicts with Communist Party, state, and military bureaucrats. "He was removed by those closest to him, as is always the case," Burlatskii said. RC

PEOPLE'S PARTY SELECTS NEW LEADER
Duma Deputy Gennadii Gudkov (Unified Russia) was elected head of the People's Party on 17 April, replacing Duma Deputy Gennadii Raikov (Unified Russia), ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Raikov had asked the party to replace him, saying that he was too busy with his work as head of the Duma's Mandate Commission. At the same extraordinary People's Party congress, Motherland faction head Dmitrii Rogozin called on the party to merge with Motherland, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the news agency, Gudkov said the People's Party intends to form a left-centrist coalition including Motherland, but the party does not intend to sever its relations with the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. The People's Party won less than 1 percent of the vote in the 7 December Duma elections. RC

UNIFIED RUSSIA FIGURE DISASSOCIATES HIMSELF FROM DEMOCRATIC ALTERNATIVE
Federation Council member Mikhail Margelov, who is a member of Unified Russia's Political Council, has denied that he is a member of the newly former club Democratic Alternative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004), "Izvestiya" reported on 17 April. Margelov said that he heard that he was listed as a founding member of the club from media reports. Democratic Alternative organizer and independent Duma Deputy Nikolai Ryzhkov told the daily that he discussed the project with Margelov and that Margelov agreed to participate actively in Democratic Alternative. "If Margelov is talking this way now," Ryzhkov said, "that means he has changed his mind." RC

PUTIN NAMES HEAD OF ANALYTICAL CENTER
Former Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Arkadii Dvorkovich has been named head of the presidential Experts Department, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 19 April. The Experts Department is responsible for preparing analytical reports for President Putin. Dvorkovich was considered one of the most liberal economists in the government and a close ally of Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Dvorkovich's candidacy was supported by presidential aide Igor Shuvalov. Before joining Gref's ministry, Dvorkovich was head of the Economic Experts Group within the Finance Ministry. RC

MOSCOW TO BOOST SECURITY IN THE METRO
The Duma's Security Committee on 16 April authorized a two-year, 2.5 billion-ruble ($87 million) program to install metal detectors and gas-detection equipment in all tunnels and stations of the Moscow subway system, gzt.ru and newsru.com reported on 19 April. The program will also include the creation of a passenger-safety unit within the subway. Last month, Moscow subway Director Dmitrii Gaev announced that within two years all 4,221 subway cars in the system will be equipped with video-surveillance cameras. RC

STUDENT WHO WAS INVESTIGATING POLICE RAPE ALLEGATIONS REMAINS IN CRITICAL CONDITION...
A flash mob demonstrated briefly outside Moscow's Sklifosovskii Institute on 18 April in support of 19-year-old student German Galdetskii, REN-TV and other Russian media reported. Galdetskii was shot in the head on 25 March, apparently from his own gun, which was loaded with rubber bullets. He has been in critical condition since then and is reportedly paralyzed. "Novaya gazeta," No. 24, on 8 April published a long interview with Galdetskii, in which he described his private investigation into allegations that police in the Moscow subway have been illegally detaining young women and, after threatening them, have sexually abused or robbed them. Together with the website nelegal.ru, Galdetskii was gathering testimony from victims and witness of such incidents. According to news reports, the attack on Galdetskii was likely not related to his investigation. A video camera captured the incident, and reportedly shows Galdetskii drinking with two men. When an argument broke out between them, Galdetskii pulled a pistol and fired it at the men without hitting them. One of the men grabbed the weapon from him and fired into his head at close range. RC

...AS INTERIOR MINISTRY BEGINS PROBE INTO HIS ALLEGATIONS
Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev has asked Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin to investigate Galdetskii's allegations, RFE/RL and other media reported on 16 April. "In my opinion, a completely unacceptable situation has developed. All complaints against police personnel must be thoroughly investigated and, when necessary, the harshest possible measures must be taken in response," Nurgaliev told journalists, according to newsprom.ru. "Citizens must view police officers as their defenders." RC

PROMINENT ARAB FIELD COMMANDER KILLED IN CHECHNYA
Abu al-Walid, the Arab-born militant who played a key role in the Chechen resistance following the death of fellow field commander Khattab, was killed by a bomb while at prayer at an undisclosed mountain location in Chechnya on 16 April, chechenpress.com reported on 19 April, citing a source in the Chechen military command. Speaking to Reuters on 18 April, al-Walid's brother confirmed that "he has been martyred," but said he does not know details of his death. However, ITAR-TASS on 18 April quoted Chechen Interior Minister Colonel Alu Alkhanov and an unidentified Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman saying they cannot confirm that al-Walid has indeed been killed. LF

FOUR GUNMEN KILLED IN SHOOTOUT WITH POLICE IN INGUSHETIA
Four gunmen died on 17 April when Ingush police and Russian Interior Ministry troops stormed a house in the Ingush village of Ordzhonikidzevkaya where they were holding several hostages, Russian news agencies and the website ingushetiya.ru reported. Two police were wounded in an exchange of fire when they first surrounded the building. A Russian military spokesman claimed that the four gunmen were loyal to radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, and that one of them, Magomed Khazhiev, was responsible for the car-bomb attack on the FSB headquarters in Magas last September, and a second bombing in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September 2003). Basaev last week claimed responsibility for the 6 April car bombing that narrowly failed to kill Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 13 April 2004). LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION STAGES NEW DEMONSTRATION
Some 6,000 people attended a protest demonstration in Yerevan on 16 April convened by the opposition Artarutiun alliance and the National Accord Party, Reuters and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Artarutiun leader Stepan Demirchian, who is also chairman of the People's Party of Armenia, told participants that the brutal police intervention to disperse protesters early on 13 April was "a crime that will not be forgotten or forgiven" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004). A second leading Artarutiun member, Hanrapetutiun party Chairman Aram Sargsian, vowed that the opposition will continue to stage further protest demonstrations with the aim of forcing the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. On 15 April, police charged former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, who was arrested on 13 April, with calling for the violent overthrow of constitutional order and with publicly insulting officials, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Harutiunian did not address any of the recent opposition rallies. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMAN COMMITS SUICIDE
Vram Galstian, one of the five gunmen sentenced in December 2003 to life imprisonment for their role in the October 1999 parliament shootings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2003), was found hanged early on 16 April in his cell in Yerevan's Nubarashen high-security prison, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Galstian, the uncle of the gunmen's leader Nairi Hunanian, had asked several days earlier to be transferred to solitary confinement, according to a Justice Ministry official. LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov met in Prague on 16 April to discuss, first together with the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group and then tete-a-tete, approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, according to Azerbaijani media cited by Groong. No details of the talks were divulged and no subsequent statement released. RIA-Novosti reported on 16 April that although Oskanian initially promised to make a statement to Armenian journalists, he said after the talks that the two sides decided not to make any statement to the press. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TO WIN OVER ADJAR POPULATION
Addressing a government session in Tbilisi on 16 April, President Mikheil Saakashvili said he believes it is still possible to resolve peacefully the tensions between the central Georgian government and the leadership of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili said he will order that food and agricultural fertilizers be distributed to the population of Adjaria circumventing the region's leadership. He apparently did not explain how that could be done if Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze refuses to let motor transport cross the internal border between Adjaria and the rest of Georgia. Saakashvili also said on 16 April he considers "standoff" an inappropriate term to describe to the crisis in relations between Tbilisi and Adjaria insofar as 90 percent of Adjar voters support him, and the sole problem in relations in Abashidze himself. Abashidze for his part told journalists on 17 April that he will comply with Saakashvili's demand to disarm armed "volunteer" groups only after mutual trust is reestablished between the central and the regional leaderships, Caucasus Press reported. LF

FINAL GEORGIAN ELECTION RESULTS ANNOUNCED...
Central Election Commission (CEC) spokesman Dimitri Kitoshvili announced at a press conference in Tbilisi on 18 April the final results of the 28 March elections for deputies elected to parliament under the party-list system. Caucasus Press reported on 19 April. He said only two parties received the minimum 7 percent of the vote needed to win parliamentary representation; the National Movement-Democrats polled 66.24 percent of the vote and will have 135 of the 150 party lists seats, and the Industrialists-New Rightists, who polled 7.56 percent, won the remaining 15 seats, giving the two parties a total of 152 and 23 seats, respectively. Kitoshvili said the Labor Party garnered 6.1 percent; the Tavisupleba bloc headed by Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, son of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia 4.39 percent; and the Union for Democratic Revival (DAK) headed by Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Abashidze 3.86 percent. Voter turnout was estimated at 1.89 million, which is approximately 82 percent of the 2.34 million registered voters. The DAK and the Labor party, which respectively have six and three deputies elected in single-mandate constituencies, rejected the final returns as falsified and said they will appeal them, ITAR-TASS reported. The six DAK deputies said they will boycott parliament sessions, Caucasus Press reported on 19 April. LF

...AFTER REPEAT VOTE IN ADJARIA CANCELLED
The CEC annulled on 16 April its decision to hold repeat voting in the Adjar districts of Khulo and Kobuleti on 18 April, Caucasus Press reported. The CEC earlier claimed the outcome of the vote in those districts was falsified in favor of Abashidze's DAK. On 14 April, CEC Chairman Zurab Chiaberashvili was prevented from entering Adjaria to check on preparation for the repeat vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004). Chiaberashvili submitted his resignation on 19 April, Caucasus Press reported. LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN CONSULTATIONS RESUME
Representatives of the governments of Russia, Georgia, the Republic of North Ossetia (which is part of the Russian Federation), and Georgia's breakaway unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, together with the head of the OSCE Mission in Georgia, Roy Reeve, met on 16 April in Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, Georgian media reported. The talks were the first since the ouster last November of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, and focused primarily on measures to improve the socioeconomic situation in Tskhinvali. The EU allocated 2.5 million euros ($3 million) in February for that purpose. Participants also discussed the possibility of creating a body to liaise between the Georgian and South Ossetian Interior ministries, but failed to agree on its composition, as the South Ossetians demanded that it also include representatives from North Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY READY TO REGISTER
A spokesman for Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) announced on 16 April that the opposition party is ready to register with the Kazakh Justice Ministry, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Asylbek Kozhakhmetov told a briefing, "A total of 83,000 people have become members of DVK to date, and 1,200 more applications for membership have been submitted." Kozhakhmetov said he is confident that the party will be able to register. Under Kazakh law, political parties must have no fewer than 50,000 members to obtain official registration with the Justice Ministry. DK

FORMER KAZAKH EMERGENCY SITUATIONS AGENCY HEAD URGES PRESIDENTIAL IMPEACHMENT
Zamanbek Nurqadilov urged Kazakh parliamentarians to impeach President Nursultan Nazarbaev in an appeal published on 16 April in "Respublika-Assandi Times." In his appeal, Nurqadilov charged that Nazarbaev violated the constitution with his public support for the Otan Party and possibly disclosed state secrets to James Giffen, a former consultant currently on trial in the United States for allegedly making illegal payoffs from U.S. oil companies to high-placed Kazakh officials. Nurqadilov was dismissed in early March after he publicly accused President Nazarbaev of corruption, and called on him to resign. DK

CIS PREMIERS END MEETING IN KYRGYZSTAN
The heads of government from the CIS states met in Cholpon-Ata on 16 April for a session of the council of CIS prime ministers, akipress.org reported. Council members discussed economic and military cooperation, terrorism, illegal migration, and crime. The heads of government supported a Kyrgyz initiative to set up a CIS Reserve Fund to provide assistance to member states in the event of natural disasters, Kabar news agency reported on 16 April. Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov stated that other CIS states, such as Kyrgyzstan, could possibly join the Single Economic Space, which currently comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported. The council elected Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev to chair its next session, which will take place on 15 September in Kazakhstan's capital, Kabar reported. DK

TAJIK MIGRATION SLOWS
Participants in a 15 April seminar on Tajik labor migration concluded that Tajikistan's improving economy and Russia's increasingly stringent immigration laws are reducing the number of Tajiks who travel to Russia in search of work, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 16 April. According to Jamshed Quddusov, who heads the employment department at Tajikistan's Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, 200,000-250,000 migrants, or 7 percent of Tajikistan's able-bodied workers, traveled abroad annually in 2001-03, with 90 percent of them seeking work in Russia. Quddusov said that only 15 percent of the migrant laborers were working legally in Russia, despite the fact that most of them were employed in state-sector enterprises. Saodat Olimova, who heads the Sharq research center, said that labor migration peaked in 1998-99, when almost 800,000 people left the country. She went on to note that "from 2000 labor migration started to decline, and at the moment it has plunged considerably." Seminar participants stressed that many Tajik migrant workers in Russia remain ill-informed about their rights. DK

TAJIK EXTREMIST LEADER ARRESTED
Tajik security forces have arrested a man alleged to have led an extremist religious movement in northern Tajikistan, RIA-Novosti reported on 16 April. Tajik officials said that Hodi Fattoyev, former senior imam at a mosque, headed the Bay'at movement, an extremist group that allegedly engaged in arson and murder. An Interior Ministry source said that Bay'at was headquartered in the town of Chorkuh in the Isfara District of Tajikistan's northern Sughd Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. The source claimed the group was responsible for "arson attacks on mosques, the beating of people of other religions, and the murder of the local Baptist leader, Sergei Besarab." Twelve members of the group are currently under arrest. DK

U.S. AIR FORCE CHIEF VISITS UZBEKISTAN
James Roche, secretary of the U.S. Air Force, was in Uzbekistan for an official visit on 15 April, "Pravda vostoka" reported the next day. Roche met with Uzbek Defense Minister Qodir Ghulomov to discuss bilateral military cooperation, regional security, the fight against international terrorism and drug trafficking, and the stabilization of Afghanistan, uza.uz reported on 15 April. DK

EUROPEAN INTERIOR MINISTERS REJECT PURPORTED AL-QAEDA TRUCE OFFER
Meeting in Vienna on 16 April, interior ministers and Interior Ministry officials from current EU members France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Spain along with future EU members Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia, rejected a truce offer attributed last week to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, AFP reported. They said the taped offer was a ploy, and French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin said the terrorists seek to drive a wedge between European countries and that "as interior ministers, our response must be to mobilize and confirm that we stand together." Austrian Interior Minister Ernst Strasser presented to the forum a six-point plan aimed at improving regional security. The plan includes joint access to a European finger-printing databank, exchange of information about visa-applicants and travelers, improved cooperation between Interpol and its European equivalent Europol, new biometric information in passports and standardized security at EU airports. MS

MINSK SLAMS UN RESOLUTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh said on 16 April that last week's UN Human Rights Commission resolution on human-rights abuses in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004) is politically motivated and includes false accusations, Belarusian Television reported. "Belarus has always demonstrated in practice its commitment to protecting human rights," Savinykh noted. "This resolution was adopted under unprecedented pressure from the U.S. and the EU, and is a manifestation of the policy of double standards regarding our state, which conducts an independent foreign policy." In particular, the UN resolution expresses concern about "reports from credible sources" implicating Belarusian government officials in the disappearance and execution of three political dissidents and a journalist. It also points to a "fundamentally flawed" electoral process in Belarus as well as reports on the harassment and closure of nongovernmental organizations, independent media outlets, trade unions, and opposition parties. JM

BELARUSIAN COURT LIQUIDATES ANOTHER NGO
The Supreme Court on 16 April ordered the closure of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Novaya Gruppa for using an unregistered office, Belapan reported. Novaya Gruppa Executive Director Elada Husakova told the news agency that the organization, which has 320 members, will continue to operate without official registration. The Justice Ministry moved to liquidate Novaya Gruppa last month, finding it guilty of using an unregistered name and irregularities in its legal address (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2004). JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS ELECTION MORE IMPORTANT THAN CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM...
Leonid Kuchma said on 16 April that the primary task of the pro-government coalition that has proposed Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as its single presidential candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004) is winning the presidential election in 2004, not pursuing constitutional reforms, Interfax reported. Kuchma added, however, that Ukraine needs constitutional reforms and stressed that the pro-government coalition is supporting such reforms with "both hands." Kuchma harshly criticized the opposition for blocking the constitutional reforms and not proposing any development programs for the country. "Unfortunately, those who were shouting for democracy and a change of the power system for a long time have proved to be impotent," Kuchma said. JM

...AS LAWMAKERS MUSE ON NEW REFORM PUSH
Viktor Musiyaka from the pro-government Ukraine's Regions parliamentary caucus wrote in the "Kievskii telegraf" weekly on 17 April that the Verkhovna Rada can prepare a new constitutional-reform bill "very soon." According to Musiyaka, lawmakers may take as a "basis" for their new reform push one of the two constitutional reform bills that have already been endorsed by the Constitutional Court (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 December 2003). Musiyaka believes, echoing parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, that it is impossible to hold a repeat vote on the bill that was voted down on 8 April (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 13 April 2004). Meanwhile, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz said in an interview with the same weekly that it is legally possible for the Verkhovna Rada to bypass a first-reading procedure and adopt another constitutional reform bill -- which is authored by him -- already within its current session which closes this summer. JM

'OUR UKRAINE' WANTS PARLIAMENT TO LOOK AT CONTROVERSIAL MAYORAL ELECTION
Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko on 19 April called on the leaders of caucuses in the Verkhovna Rada to investigate the bitterly fought 18 April mayoral election in Mukacheve, Transcarpathian Oblast, Interfax reported. "[The election in Mukacheve shows] that bandits and authorities are one and the same," Yushchenko said. According to Yushchenko, the election was won by Our Ukraine candidate Viktor Baloha, but the head of the local election commission announced that the winner was Ernest Nuser, a member of the pro-government Social Democratic Party-united. Yushchenko added that after a group of Our Ukraine lawmakers in Mukacheve demanded an explanation of the decision, a police riot unit beat six of them. According to an exit poll reported by Interfax and UNIAN, Baloha was supported by more than 19,000 votes, while Nuser received some 14,000. UNIAN reported that the Central Election Commission has not yet received official results of the vote from the election commission in Mukacheve. JM

ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR GREATER EU ROLE IN IRAQ
Kristiina Ojuland told an informal meeting of foreign ministers of the current and future EU countries in Tullamore, Ireland on 17 and 18 April that the EU should play a greater role in the reconstruction of Iraq, BNS reported. According to Ojuland, the "European Union has valuable experience both in the construction of democracy in Europe as well as in the regulation of crises during the past decade" and could thus play an important role in helping determine the future of Iraq. At the meeting, the ministers expressed the need to pass a new UN Security Council resolution to regulate activities in Iraq after the 30 June handover of power. The ministers also discussed the possible role of the EU in the Israel-Palestine conflict and the situation in Kosova. SG

FORMER LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER CRITICIZES HIS SUCCESSOR'S GOVERNMENT
Einars Repse told a conference of regional leaders of the New Era party in the western Latvian town of Tukums on 17 April that the current government of Indulis Emsis is corrupt and incompetent, BNS reported. "The government's actions are brutal and corrupt. What we started has been left to go to seed," Repse said. He expressed the hope that the current government will not last for long and said it is unable to carry out needed reforms in three areas -- the demographic situation, ensuring internal and external stability, and fostering commercial growth. He spoke favorably about the activities of the government he led between November 2002 and February 2004. The conference participants also discussed New Era's need to raise funds before the June European Parliament elections and local elections in 2005. SG

SOME PARTIES DECLARE THEIR CANDIDATES FOR LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT
A congress of the Lithuanian Liberal Democratic Party in Vilnius approved on 17 April the nomination of recently impeached Rolandas Paksas as the party's candidate in 13 June presidential elections, BNS reported. The result of the vote was 353-0 with two abstentions. A number of other parties also chose their candidates on 17 April. The council of the Social Democratic Party named party First Deputy Chairman and acting parliamentary chairman Ceslovas Jursenas as its presidential candidate. A congress of the Union of Peasants and New Democracy Parties selected the union's leader Kazimiera Prunskiene as its candidate. And the presidium of the Homeland Union announced that the party will not nominate its own candidate, but will back an independent candidate such as former President Valdas Adamkus or the country's chief EU negotiator Petras Austrevicius. Adamkus, who has been supported by the Liberal and Center Union, has not formally announced whether he will join the race, but said that Paksas's decision to run "is an impudent challenge to the democratic and patriotic Lithuania." SG

POLISH OPPOSITION PARTY WITHDRAWS SUPPORT FOR AUSTERITY PLAN
Prime Minister Leszek Miller and Finance Minister Jerzy Hausner argued in the Sejm on 16 April that Poland's economy is witnessing a revival and may even move into a "boom" if the austerity plan -- referred to as the Hausner plan by the media -- is not wrecked, Polish Television reported. However, the opposition centrist Civic Platform, which has so far declared its readiness to support Hausner's financial overhaul, said the same day that it will not support a bill on pensions and annuities, an important part of Hausner's austerity package. "What might have had some sense two months ago, is today pure senselessness," Civic Platform leader Jan Rokita said. " There is no Hausner plan, there is no government, there is no rescue of the public finances, so what is it that we are supposed to support?" Meanwhile, Marek Belka, a candidate for prime minister, has been continuing negotiations to form a new cabinet. "Each day confirms in me the conviction that this government will be created and that it has opportunities to do something good for the country," Polish Radio quoted Belka as saying on 17 April. JM

HUGE TRUCK LINES CLOG POLAND'S WESTERN BORDER AHEAD OF EU EXPANSION DATE
Lines of trucks dozens of kilometers long have jammed Poland's border with Germany, Polish media reported on 17 April. Drivers are reportedly eager to carry as many goods as possible in both directions so as to take advantage of beneficial tax regulations that are to disappear after Poland enters the EU on 1 May. The line of trucks on a road leading to the Swiecko border crossing on the Polish side stretched for 45 kilometers on 17 April, PAP reported. JM

ABDUCTED CZECH JOURNALISTS RELEASED, RETURN TO PRAGUE
The three Czech journalists abducted in Iraq on 11 April were released on 16 April and arrived in Prague two days later, CTK and international news agencies reported. They said they do not know who abducted them or why, but that they were treated well by their abductors. According to CTK, a meeting between Czech Ambassador to Iraq Martin Klepetko and Sunni clerics, a letter sent to Iraq by Czech Muslims requesting the release, as well as the fact that the Czech military had treated Iraqi civilians in a field hospital were all factors that contributed to the release. Czech Television reporter Michal Kubal said on 16 April that the Iraqi taxi driver who was supposed to take them from Baghdad to Amman -- either by mistake or intentionally -- turned off the designated route and "drove right into the hands of local gunmen," dpa reported. MS

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER INJURED IN CAR ACCIDENT
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda suffered neck injuries in a car accident on 16 April when his driver crashed near the eastern city of Brno, CTK reported. Svoboda was traveling from the Moravian city of Olomouc to Prague when his car skidded off a highway under repair and hit a concrete water collector. Svoboda underwent surgery on 17 April and will have to spend some time in hospital, doctors cited by dpa said, adding that his injuries were not life-threatening but might have long-term effects on his health. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT STARTS CHINESE VISIT
Vaclav Klaus said in Shanghai on 18 April that the Czech Republic is interested in developing relations with that city, which is among the fastest growing in China, CTK reported. Klaus met in Shanghai with Mayor Han Cheng. On 16 April, Klaus -- who is the first Czech president to ever visit China -- met in Hong Kong with Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa and invited him to pay a visit to the Czech Republic. The next day Klaus toured the former Portuguese colony of Macao which, like Hong Kong, benefits from a special status in China. There he met with Executive Council Chairman Edmund Ho and said after talks that he believes it would be possible to "create a special relationship between Macao and the Czech Republic" and that Macao could facilitate the access of Czech goods to the Chinese market. MS

GASPAROVIC WINS SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL RACE...
Ivan Gasparovic, leader of the extraparliamentary Movement for Democracy (HZD), defeated three-time former Prime Minister and leader of the People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Vladimir Meciar in a presidential runoff of 17 April, international news agencies reported. Gasparovic won by a convincing margin of nearly 60 percent as against slightly more than 40 garnered by Meciar. Gasparovic is to take office on 15 June, six weeks after Slovakia joins the EU. Turnout was 43.5 percent, according to CTK. According to TASR, Gasparovic won in all of Slovakia's eight regions. Upon learning of his victory, Gasparovic pledged to try to find common ground with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and said he wants Slovakia's EU integration to be smooth. Dzurinda congratulated Gasparovic, according to TASR. The premier said he will "strive to have a good relationship with the president because this is in Slovakia's interests," Reuters reported. Parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky said the electoral outcome signifies "the final defeat of Meciar's policies." All leaders of the four-party center-right coalition stayed away from the poll, saying there is "no lesser evil" to chose from. MS

...BUT MECIAR PROVES BAD LOSER
Meciar said on 18 April that he sees no reason to congratulate Gasparovic, TASR reported. "He's the president. I am a free man, and therefore I am more than he is," he said, adding, "A person who lies and calls me a liar in public might sit on seven presidential chairs, but remains the same in my eyes." Gasparovic said in reaction that Meciar "is incapable of doing anything else," adding that this is his way of coping with defeat. MS

SLOVAK CUSTOMS OFFICERS WOUND TWO REFUGEES
Two illegal Asian migrants were wounded on 17 April by Slovak customs police, and one of them is in critical condition, TASR and CTK reported. The incident occurred near the Hungarian border in the village of Krasnohorska Horka. A van raised the suspicion of the customs officers, who ordered it to stop. When the vehicle failed to do so the officers fired warning shots at it and then shot in its direction. Twenty-five men from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan were traveling in the van. The critically wounded refugee was shot in the head and, according to TASR, is not expected to survive. The van's driver managed to escape. MS

ALLEGED SAUDI ARABIAN 'TERROR' ORGANIZATION FUNDED BUDAPEST MOSQUE
A Budapest mosque led by Saleh Tayseer, the Palestinian dentist arrested by Hungarian police last week for planning to blow up a Jewish museum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2004), is alleged by some Hungarian officials to have received money from the Saudi Arabian organization Al-Haramain, AFP and Hungarian dailies reported on 16 April. Zoltan Bolek, chairman of the Hungarian Islamic Community, told police during his hearing on 15 April that Saudi Arabian religious leaders have visited Tayseer's mosque and brought "suitcases of money" with them to support the "extremist dentist," "Magyar Hirlap" reported. According to "Nepszabadsag," Hungarian police knew that the mosques recently received some 150 million forints ($720,000) from Al-Haramain, a Saudi organization which has been blacklisted by the U.S. State Department for its support for terrorism. MSZ

KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER WARNS AGAINST STALLING ON FINAL STATUS
Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi told the "Financial Times" of 19 April that his government will probably call for a referendum on independence from Serbia if the international community does not make clear progress on preparing Kosova for independence by mid-2005. "If we wait until September 2005 and we see they are buying time, probably we will unilaterally move for a referendum on independence or a declaration of independence," he said. The prime minister noted that he would prefer a gradual transition to independence in agreement with the UN and its civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK). Rexhepi warned, however, that he detects signs of "unwillingness" on the part of the international community to move toward independence, preferring instead to continue the UNMIK protectorate for "another five or 10 years." Several of Kosova's top leaders told "RFE/RL Newsline" in November that war could result if Kosovars gained the impression that UNMIK intends to stay on beyond 2006. One Kosovar journalist asked "RFE/RL Newsline" on 16 April why unrest in Iraq has prompted many in the international community to want to leave that country while unrest in Kosova has prompted them to want to stay on (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 2 April 2004). PM

ATTACK BY JORDANIAN POLICE ON KOSOVA INTERNATIONAL POLICE CONVOY LEAVES THREE DEAD
On 17 April, five Jordanian members of Kosova's international police force opened fire on a convoy carrying 21 U.S. police officers, two Turks, and one Austrian as they left a training session at Mitrovica prison, Reuters reported. Two U.S. policewomen were killed in the ensuing gun battle, as was one of the Jordanians, whose four colleagues have been detained. Ten Americans were wounded, including five women, as was the Austrian. UN Police Commissioner Stefan Feller of Germany called the incident a "reckless attack," adding that "we don't know the motive." One unidentified U.S. policeman told the news agency that the attack was "organized." Some unconfirmed media reports suggested that the attack followed a verbal dispute between the Americans and Jordanians over U.S. policies in Iraq. PM

ETHNIC ALBANIAN COALITION PARTNER TELLS MACEDONIAN PREMIER ITS PRICE FOR SUPPORT IN PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Ali Ahmeti, the chairman of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), and Gezim Ostreni, who ran in the first round of the presidential elections for the BDI, have outlined their conditions for supporting Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski in the second round on 28 April, "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Ostreni told "Dnevnik" of 17 April that he will advise his backers to vote for Crvenkovski in the second round because the programs of the BDI and Crvenkovski's Social Democratic Union (SDSM) are very close. However, Ostreni also said that it is time for an ethnic Albanian to become parliamentary speaker. In a separate interview with the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore" of 17 April quoted by "Dnevnik," Ahmeti said the position of vice president should be introduced in Macedonia, clearly signaling that this position should be filled by an ethnic Albanian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, and 16 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 9 April 2004). UB

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS WAR CRIMES INDICTEES SHOULD TURN THEMSELVES IN...
Shortly after his confirmation by the parliament as Serbia and Montenegro's foreign minister on 17 April, Vuk Draskovic said in a statement that Serbs who have been indicted for war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal should voluntarily surrender to that body, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "If someone thinks he is a hero, then he should act like one and go to The Hague. There he can heroically defend Serbia and stop hurting the country and its people" by bringing them in disrepute abroad. "Failure to fulfill our international obligations directly damages our national interests," he added. Draskovic noted that bringing indicted war criminals to justice is the business of the government and those who control the means of coercion. He said that Kosova will be his most difficult problem, adding that Belgrade will have to talk to Kosova's Albanians as well as to the international community. Draskovic note that his top priority is obtaining membership for his country in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, as well as cooperating with the EU, NATO, and other major powers including Russia, China, and Japan. His deputy, Predrag Boskovic, said that he will represent Montenegro's interests without hurting those of Serbia. PM

...BUT AT LEAST ONE HAS NO INTENTION OF DOING SO
In his statement of 17 April, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Draskovic referred specifically to four top-ranking army or police officers whom the Hague-based tribunal has indicted for war crimes in connection with the 1998-99 Serbian crackdown in Kosova: former Army Chief of Staff and General Nebojsa Pavkovic, former General Vladimir Lazarevic, and former police Generals Vlastimir Djordjevic and Sreten Lukic, Reuters reported. Djordjevic is believed to be in Russia, but the others live openly in Serbia. For his part, Pavkovic told the Podgorica daily that anyone who tries to extradite the other three generals "is signing his own death warrant." He did not elaborate, but noted that he will not allow anyone to extradite him. Responding to Draskovic's remarks, Serbian Prime Minster Vojislav Kostunica said that cooperation with the tribunal is an international obligation of the Serbian government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

ONE DEAD IN BOSNIAN SERB POLICE ATTEMPT TO CATCH INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS
Bosnian Serb police killed Novica Lukic in Visegrad on 18 April in an apparently unsuccessful attempt to arrest his brothers Milan and Sredoje, whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted in connection with their alleged roles in the murder of 150 Muslims in Visegrad in 1992, Reuters and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A Bosnian Serb court in Srpsko Sarajevo issued the arrest warrant for Milan and Sredoje Lukic. Oleg Milisic, who is a spokesman for High Representative Paddy Ashdown, said that the operation was the "first serious" attempt by Bosnian Serb police to catch indicted war criminals without SFOR support. Controls on the border between the Republika Srpska and Serbia and Montenegro were tightened after the operation. Visegrad Mayor Aleksandar Savic called the killing "tragic," adding that there are "more civilized ways" of making arrests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). PM

BOSNIAN TERROR SUSPECT SURRENDERS TO SPANISH POLICE
Sanel Sjekirica, a Bosnian citizen who reportedly fled Spain following the 11 March Madrid bombing attacks, surrendered to Spanish officials in Madrid's Barajas Airport on 16 April, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004). His relatives later told Sarajevo media that Spanish police want to talk to him not as a possible suspect but as someone who may be able to help with their investigation into Islamic extremists circles in Spain. PM

U.S. PRESIDENT THANKS ROMANIA FOR IRAQ HELP...
U.S. President George W. Bush, in a letter to Romanian President Ion Iliescu, thanked Romania in the name of the American people "for the unhesitant Romanian determination to bring peace and democracy to Iraq," Mediafax reported on 16 April. Bush wrote that the recent terrorist attacks on coalition forces in Iraq represent "a direct and deliberate provocation" against that country's "democratic future, which we all support." Bush also praised the Romanian military contingent in Iraq, saying it has displayed "skill and bravery" and "we are all thankful for their effort." MS

...BUT ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DISPLAYS SIGNS OF UNEASE
President Iliescu, in a televised interview on 15 April, said that the "failure" of coalition forces in Iraq is due to the attempt to export a democratic model to a country that has a different value system, Mediafax reported the next day. "The cause of the failure in Iraq stems from the rigid manner" and belief that "if we wave the flags of liberty, people would applaud us," Iliescu said. "The situation requires more profound thinking," he added. Asked whether he regrets the decision to have Romania join the U.S. forces in that country, Iliescu replied: "It is difficult to deal with 'what would have been if' questions. The existing situation cannot be changed." MS

RUSSIA'S GAZPROM WITHDRAWS FROM ROMANIAN PRIVATIZATION TENDER
The Russian energy giant Gazprom has decided to withdraw from a tender for a 33.34 percent stake in Romania's Petrom oil company, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 April, citing Romanian Economy and Trade Minister Dan Ioan Popescu. Gazprom is the fourth major corporation to withdraw from the tender, after Polish Orlen, Greek Hellenic Petroleum, and Swiss Glenkor. Hungary's MOL, Austria's OMW, and the U.S. Occidental Oil and Gas company have presented bids. The deadline for the tender was 16 April and the winner will be announced by the end of July. MS

ROMANIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY REJECTS MINERS' LEADER PARDON REQUEST
The Justice Ministry on 16 April recommended that President Iliescu reject the pardon request submitted last year by miners' leader Miron Cozma, Mediafax reported. The ministry can only advise and the decision must be taken by the president himself. Cozma, who is serving an 18-year sentence for his role in the unrest that brought down the Petre Roman government in 1991, asked Iliescu to pardon him in July 2003. He has since been sentenced to additional prison terms of 10 years for his role in the failed January 1999 attempt to organize a march on Bucharest, which resulted in the injury of over 200 people and the death of one police officer, and of seven years for his role in the 1999 clashes at Stoenesti-Olt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July, 15 and 18 December 2003). MS

MOLDOVAN SUPREME SECURITY COUNCIL APPROVES STRATEGY AGAINST CORRUPTION
The Supreme Security Council on 15 April approved the National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Corruption, Flux and Infotag reported the next day. The document will now be sent for debate and approval by parliament. President Vladimir Voronin told the council that corruption in Moldova has become so widespread that the damage it inflicts on the state is estimated to be several times larger than the state budget. MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS STATUS OF 'EU NEIGHBOR' IS INSUFFICIENT
Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan told journalists on 16 April that Moldova would not be satisfied with the status of "EU neighbor" and will continue to strive to achieve the status of EU associate member and eventual full membership, Flux reported. Stratan said that these objectives belong to a more distant future and that "for now, we must do our homework," namely to "ensure stable economic growth and create an investment-friendly business environment [as well as] advance along the path toward a solution of the Transdniester problem." MS

TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATIONS TO RESUME ON 21 APRIL?
Experts from the OSCE mission to Moldova, quoted by Infotag on 16 April, refused to confirm that an agreement has been reached to resume negotiations on the Transdniester conflict on 21 April. Earlier on 16 April, Transdniester leader Vladimir Smirnov said in Moscow that such an agreement has been reached that five parties will take part in the talks, the two rival sides and mediators Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. Smirnov also said that Tiraspol will insist that any agreement be based on the so-called Kozak memorandum, which Chisinau refused to sign last year. MS

FORMER BULGARIAN PREMIER ACCUSES ETHNIC TURKISH LEADER OF BLACKMAIL
Former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov said in Lovech on 18 April that Ahmed Dogan, the chairman of the governing Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), is blackmailing Bulgaria, "Sega" reported. Kostov claimed that Dogan is demanding "economic ransom" in return for interethnic peace. In an apparent allusion to a recent statement by U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March and 5 April 2004), Kostov said even Western diplomats have come to believe that the country's large Turkish minority must not follow one party and one leader alone, vsekiden.com reported. Kostov warned that the current model of representation could lead to the introduction of group rights for the minority, adding that democracy could be harmed if the Bulgarian majority were to demand group rights as well. Kostov also said one of the reasons he broke with his former party, the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), was the exchange of compliments between Dogan and SDS Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2004). UB

OPTIMISTS, PESSIMISTS, AND THE SLOVAK PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
Optimists believe we live in the best possible world and pessimists agree. To a large extent, this old joke sums up the outcome of this weekend's Slovak presidential elections.

Optimists would point out that the second failure by Vladimir Meciar to be elected to the highest state office indicates that Slovaks are determined to say "goodbye" to the populist-nationalist, three-time former prime minister's policies. And they are right. The last thing Slovakia or, for that matter, its new partners in NATO and the EU would have needed was to have the unpredictable maverick preside over what his former policies had nearly managed to wreck accession to NATO and the EU.

Optimists would also emphasize that the surprisingly large margin with which Ivan Gasparovic won the 17 April runoff against Meciar (59.91 percent to Meciar's 40.09 percent) is proof that Slovaks are capable of distinguishing between a greater and a "lesser evil" in spite of what they are told by their political leaders. Indeed, politicians from the ruling four-party center-right coalition had said that there is no "lesser evil" and that the choice on 17 April was nonexistent. While these leaders stayed away from the polling stations to demonstrate their point, the senior coalition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) party and junior coalition Alliance for a New Citizen even advised their supporters to boycott the runoff.

Had Slovaks listened to their government, it is more than likely that the name of the country's next president would have been Meciar, for he commands a faithful following upon whom he can count on under any circumstances. Taking into consideration that in the 3 April first round Meciar had a 10-point lead over Gasparovic (32.7 percent to 22.3 percent), the latter's victory is indeed impressive. Gasparovic, on the other hand, squeezed into the runoff with less than 4,000 votes ahead of the SDKU candidate, Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan.

But this is precisely the point, pessimists would counter, and they would be right, too. Gasparovic is no Kukan. Having been Meciar's faithful lieutenant for many years, the law professor who considers himself to be the father of the Slovak Constitution presided over its parliament as speaker between 1992 and 2002, when several corruption scandals linked to privatization shook Slovakia. He is not known to have stood up to Meciar on either these matters or on Meciar's foreign policy, though during the electoral campaign he tried to distance himself from both. Furthermore, Gasparovic left Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and founded his own Movement for Democracy (HZD) in July 2002, not over any disagreement on policies or principles, but because Meciar intended to demote him in the party hierarchy.

If Gasparovic owes his victory to anyone, it is above all to the Smer (Direction) opposition party and its leader, the populist-nationalist Robert Fico, whose influence on the Slovak political scene is likely to increase greatly. This is hardly good news for Slovakia, where Fico tops popularity polls. Furthermore, Gasparovic himself refused to distance himself from the extreme nationalists of the Slovak National Party when they voiced support for his candidacy.

The post of Slovak president is far from being merely ceremonial. As demonstrated by outgoing President Rudolf Schuster, the head of state may make life difficult for the cabinet by repeatedly casting vetoes that slow down the legislative process, even if they do not necessarily bring it to a halt, since parliament can override the vetoes with a simple majority. Would a self-described "left-of-Meciar" Gasparovic, owing so much to Fico, make less use of those powers? And one more point: in line with constitutional provision, the president's prerogatives include foreign-policy affairs. Schuster had delegated those prerogatives to the cabinet, but there is no guarantee that Gasparovic will follow his example. And that could create problems for Slovakia's new allies and EU associates.

The 63-year-old Gasparovic will assume his new office in June. He might well find himself in a situation in which his powers will be greater than he wishes. The government is notoriously divided and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's survival as premier may be at stake. Indeed, were it not for these incessant squabbles which caused the cabinet to lose its majority in parliament, coalition leaders should have been able to agree on a joint candidate and secure his or her election. They were incapable of doing so, having contributed more than any Slovak voter to electing a head of state neither optimists nor pessimists really expected.

AFGHAN LEADER SAYS COUNTRY NEEDS FOREIGN TROOPS FOR NEXT DECADE
In an interview with the German news magazine "Der Spiegel" of 19 April, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said his country will likely need foreign troops for "about 10 years, I think." "That's the time we will need to have a completely operational army and police force," Karzai told the magazine, as cited by AFP in a 17 April article previewing the interview. Karzai said that establishing a professional administration would likely take "20 years." Karzai also vowed to crack down on drug traffickers, even if those involved in the opium trade have ties to government officials. "Whoever is involved in drug trafficking cannot be an honorable man," Karzai said. "He will face action whatever position he holds." German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer is to visit Kabul next week. MR

AFGHANISTAN HOSTS REGIONAL ECONOMIC CONFERENCE
Representatives from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan gathered in Kabul to discuss regional trade at the country's first international conference in some 20 years, AFP reported on 18 April. The two-day meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization began on 18 April. In opening remarks, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai said the conference signified progress for Afghanistan and that the country is set to play a role in improving the region's economy. "Our country has a great history of trade. Afghanistan has been at the crossroads of regional and international trade for hundreds of years," Karzai said, alluding to ancient trade along the Silk Road. "We do all we can to open up our borders and to renew our infrastructure to become a nation" that facilitates trade for its neighbors, Karzai said. MR

TEACHERS KIDNAPPED IN SOUTHEAST AFGHANISTAN
Suspected neo-Taliban militants kidnapped five schoolteachers in southeastern Afghanistan, AFP reported 18 April. According to AFP, Zabul provincial spokesman Alhaj Ghulam Rabani said kidnappers abducted the five on 16 April in the province's Shajoy District, where insurgents are known to operate. "The government has no control over the districts of Zabul Province. [The] Taliban rule and threaten villagers not to register for elections," Rabani said at a disarmament seminar in Kabul, calling on the Afghan government to send forces to the area. Neo-Taliban insurgents are suspected of burning nonreligious schools in southern and eastern Afghanistan. Rabani said few schools are operating in Zabul. Meanwhile, the top UN refugee official, Ruud Lubbers, called on the U.S.-led peacekeeping force to ensure security in Afghanistan to facilitate refugee return, according to AFP on 18 April. Lubbers made his comments at the end of a four-day visit to Afghanistan on 18 April. MR

GUNMEN ATTACK CHECKPOINT IN SOUTHWEST AFGHANISTAN
Suspected neo-Taliban guerillas are reported to have killed Afghan government soldiers with rockets and machine guns in a nighttime attack on a checkpoint in the southwest of the country, AP reported 18 April. Disguised as travelers, the gunmen approached a checkpoint in Nimroz Province in three vehicles, leaping from the cars and opening fire when guards approached them, according to provincial Governor Abdul Karim Baravi. The attack came on 16 April at the last checkpoint before neighboring Farah Province, roughly 750 kilometers southwest of Kabul. "This is a terrible attack because they killed innocent soldiers who were only serving the people," said Baravi, who added that the attackers got away. Also, suspected neo-Taliban forces launched three rockets into Sharan, the capital of southeastern Paktika province bordering Pakistan, Deputy Governor Sado Khan said on 18 April. Kahn said that attack on 17 April caused no injuries. MR

TEHRAN CONDEMNS KILLING OF HAMAS LEADER...
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 18 April denounced as a "cowardly act" and "state terrorism" the killing one day earlier by Israel of Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi, ISNA reported. "The constant and unqualified support of the White House and recent personal support of that country's president for the abominable crimes of [Israel] are undoubtedly the main factor" for Israel's continuing "policies of murder and suppression," Khatami said. The reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front warned on 18 April that the killing will bring Israel nothing but "a repetition and spread of violence and bloody clashes," IRNA reported. Iran does not recognize Israel, which in turn accuses Iran of helping terrorists and meddling in the Mideast peace process. VS

...BLAMING U.S. AND SAYING KILLING MAKES SITUATION LESS STABLE
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi also condemned the killing of al-Rantisi on 18 April, saying that such measures undermine stability and will not resolve the basic problems Israel faces, IRNA reported. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani condemned "Zionist state terrorism" that seeks to "physically eliminate" Palestinian leaders "in the shadow of America's appalling support," IRNA reported on 18 April. More than 160 legislators also condemned "this crime and the Zionist and White House criminals," IRNA reported. BS

SUPREME LEADER REPEATS: IRAN NOT MAKING NUCLEAR BOMBS
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced on 18 April international suspicions over Iran's nuclear ambitions as nothing but "the profound concern of the arrogant" over Iran's "startling scientific progress, especially in nuclear technology," ISNA reported on 18 April. "Those provoking a scandal in this regard know very well that we have not sought, nor do we seek, nuclear weapons, and it is in fact Iran's technological and scientific capabilities that really worry them," he told a group of military cadets on a surprise visit to their barracks. He observed that there are "bonds of affection between the people and army" in Iran. "Some armies in the world are either drawn up against their own people or, like the American army, used to suppress other nations and fill the pockets of oil companies." VS

TWO NEW IRANIAN CABINET MEMBERS INTRODUCED
In a letter to the speaker of parliament, President Khatami introduced two new cabinet members, IRNA reported on 18 April. Khatami named Safdar Husseini to replace Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri. Husseini currently serves as labor and social affairs minister. Isfahan parliamentarian Nasser Khaleqi was introduced as Husseini's successor as labor and social affairs minister. Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ali Abtahi added that in addition to the economic affairs and finance minister, the president will replace the head of the Management and Planning Organization, Mohammad Satarifar, to ensure "cohesion in the economic sector" in the last year of his presidency, Fars News Agency reported on 18 April. "The interior minister stays in his place," Abtahi said, dispelling earlier rumors of the minister's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004). But government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh denied on 18 April that the president will dismiss Satarifar, according to ISNA. VS/BS

FOURTH IRANIAN LEGISLATOR RESIGNS
The Iranian parliament on 18 April approved the resignation of another legislator dissatisfied with parliamentary elections last February, IRNA reported. Lawmakers accepted the resignation of Behzad Nabavi, a Tehran representative and deputy speaker, one of some 120 parliamentarians who wish to resign following the extensive rejection of reformist candidacies before the last elections. There were 154 votes in favor of his quitting and 22 votes against it. VS

IRAN TO SPLIT LARGEST PROVINCE INTO THREE
Iran's parliament voted on 18 April to divide its largest province, Khorasan, into three parts to improve budget allocations and make the government of the province more efficient, local news agencies reported. Located in the northeast of the country bordering Afghanistan and Turkmenistan, it is to split into Northern, Southern and Razavi Khorasan, aljazeera.net reported. Talk of such a move provoked violence in 2001 and 2002 by residents fearful of losing benefits, aljazeera.net added. But "necessary measures have been set out to prevent clashes," ISNA cited the deputy governor of Khorasan for police and security affairs as saying on 18 April. Hussein Ansari-Rad, a legislator from Khorasan, told parliament on 18 April that creating new provinces will upset people and increase bureaucracy and costs, ISNA reported. VS

IRAQI DEFENSE MINISTRY ANNOUNCES APPOINTMENT OF TOP GENERALS
Iraqi Defense Minister Ali Allawi announced the appointment of three top generals to the Iraqi armed forces on 18 April, according to a Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) press release posted on the organization's website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org) on the same day. General Babkir al-Zibari, a Sunni Kurd, will serve as senior military advisor. Al-Zibari served in the Iraqi Army until 1973 when he joined the Kurdish peshmerga and reorganized the Kurdish resistance movement into a regular military force. General Amr al-Hashimi, a Sunni Arab from Baghdad, will serve as the chief of staff of the Iraqi armed forces. Al-Hashimi served as a major general in the former Iraqi Army. He retired in 1997 and subsequently served as a member of the Baghdad City Council. As chief of staff, he will act as commander of the Iraqi armed forces, the press release said. Lieutenant General Daham al-Asal, a Shi'a Arab, will serve as deputy chief of staff. He formerly served as a major general under the Hussein regime. The CPA also announced the reestablishment of the Iraqi Air Force in a 17 April press release. KR

NEW SPANISH PRIME MINISTER ORDERS TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ...
Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said on 18 April, one day after being sworn in as Spain's new prime minister, that he has ordered the withdrawal of Spanish forces from Iraq, international media reported the same day. "This morning...I gave the order to do what was necessary for the Spanish troops stationed in Iraq to come home in the shortest possible time and in the greatest possible safety," Reuters quoted Zapatero as telling Spanish television on 18 April. He said that he came to the decision because he did not expect a planned UN resolution to be adopted "that conforms with the conditions we have set for our presence in Iraq." The prime minister said earlier that he would withdraw troops unless the UN took over responsibility for administering Iraq from the United States. Meanwhile, Polish defense officials are considering "various" options to make up for the shortfall in Spanish troops, which are under Polish command in south-central Iraq, dpa reported on 19 April. "For the moment, new countries are not stepping forward, but perhaps a new [UN] resolution will encourage other countries to take part in the Iraq mission," Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said, according to dpa. KR

...AS U.S. APPEARS UNFAZED
U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on 18 April that the U.S. administration expected Zapatero to pull Spanish troops from Iraq, international media reported. Rice maintained, however, that the coalition in Iraq remains strong. "We know that there are [countries] who are going to have to assess how they see the risk [of staying in Iraq]. But we have a vibrant and robust coalition on the ground," Rice said. Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister John Howard called Spain's planned withdrawal "a bad decision" that would "give heart to those people who are trying to delay the emergence of a free and democratic Iraq." A U.K. Defense Ministry spokesman said the ministry regrets but respects Spain's decision, while the U.K. Foreign Office declined to comment, Bloomberg reported on 18 April. KR

SOUTH KOREA REMAINS COMMITTED TO SENDING TROOPS
A South Korean military survey team returned to Seoul on 19 April following a 10-day trip to determine a location for the dispatch of some 3,600 troops, due in Iraq by June, Yonhap news agency reported the same day. "Both Sulaymaniyah and Irbil have respective merits and demerits as deployment sites," Major General Song Ki-seok, head of the survey team, said in a 19 April press briefing. Song said that the fact-finding mission assessed the security situation, basic infrastructure, and weather in the potential deployment sites. The final decision will come after discussion with the United States, he said. KR

AL-FALLUJAH, AL-NAJAF TALKS APPEAR STALLED
CPA head L. Paul Bremer said on 18 April that militants in Al-Fallujah and anti-coalition cleric Muqtada al-Sadr "must be dealt with," adding that it is necessary to bring an end to the standoffs in both cities, nytimes.com reported on 19 April. U.S. military officials said on 19 April that they will allow more time for talks in Al-Najaf, Reuters reported. Colonel Dana Pittard, commander of the 3rd Brigade Task Force, stationed outside the holy city, said "Because of where negotiations are right now, we can wait," adding that he still wants Iraqis to solve the problem. Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, who heads the delegation negotiating on behalf of al-Sadr, told Al-Jazeera television on 18 April that efforts were underway to restart the negotiations, which had stalled in the preceding days. "We...believe that a solution is still possible," he said. KR

XS
SM
MD
LG