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Newsline - April 21, 2004


ITALIAN PRIME MINISTER SEEKS RUSSIA'S ASSISTANCE TO SECURE HOSTAGES' RELEASE
President Vladimir Putin met in the Kremlin on 20 April with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and discussed the plight of the three Italians who are being held by insurgents in Iraq, Russian media reported. Berlusconi sought Russia's assistance and expertise in obtaining their release, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 April. One Italian captive was killed last week, and Berlusconi said his talks with Putin left him optimistic about the fate of the remaining three hostages. Berlusconi and Putin also discussed bilateral economic cooperation and Russia's relations with the European Union, RTR reported. As a goodwill gesture, Berlusconi announced that Italy has decided to grant some Russian citizens, including students and businesspeople, five-year visas free of charge. VY

PUTIN MEETS WITH KAZAKH PRESIDENT TO DISCUSS ANTITERRORISM MEASURES
President Putin told Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev during their meeting in the Kremlin on 20 April that "Russia is concerned about the developing situation in Central Asia regarding the struggle against terrorism," RTR and ORT reported. Nazarbaev and Putin also discussed the ongoing delimitation of the border between the two countries and bilateral trade, as well as regional security issues. Strana.ru reported on 20 April that Nazarbaev's visit to Moscow came on the heels of an official trip to Germany that he cut short after Kazakhstan's human rights record was criticized. Noting that the Kazakhstan has been criticized by the United States for corruption in its government, the website speculated that Nazarbaev is looking to improve relations with Moscow. A press release issued by the Kazakh Embassy after the leaders' meeting stated, "President Nazarbaev stressed that Kazakhstan unwaveringly supports a further deepening of the mutually beneficial partnership with Russia." VY

DUMA RATIFIES AGREEMENT ON SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
The Duma on 20 April ratified by a vote of 408-7 with one abstention an agreement on the creation of a Single Economic Space signed by the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus in September, RIA-Novosti and newsru.com reported. The agreement calls for the formation of a free-trade zone comprising the four states and a high level of the political coordination of their economic and financial policies. Ukraine and Kazakhstan also ratified the agreement on 20 April. VY

RATIFICATION OF ACCORDS WITH UKRAINE LEADS TO WALKOUT...
During its 20 April session, the Duma approved two contentious accords with Ukraine, RTR, gazeta.ru, and strana.ru reported. The first, which stipulates that the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait are internal waters of both Ukraine and Russia, passed by a vote of 311-1 with one abstention, and a border agreement passed by a vote of 310-2 with one abstention. Representatives of the left-nationalist Motherland bloc and the Communist Party walked out of the session after lobbying against the bills, and did not participate in the vote, strana.ru reported. Motherland faction head Dmitrii Rogozin argued that the treaties should not be approved until Ukraine rejects a recommendation by its National Council for Television and Radio that state television halt its broadcasts of Russian-language programs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). The Communists opposed the measures because they believe it will pave the way for Ukrainian accession to NATO. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii said before the vote that the border treaty would "return Russia to its 17th-century borders." VY

...AS FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS ACCORDS WILL REMOVE OBSTACLES
Sergei Lavrov said on 20 April that the new accords will remove "several irritants" and allow Ukraine and Russia to coordinate their positions on important international issues, strana.ru reported. Lavrov said Russia is not satisfied with all aspects of its relations with Ukraine, singling out Ukraine's closer relations with NATO, but he said that bilateral relations have nonetheless become increasingly stable. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER ARRIVES IN CHINA FOR MILITARY-COOPERATION TALKS
Sergei Ivanov arrived in Beijing on 20 April for a three-day visit to discuss the two countries' strategic partnership in the 21st century, in particular military-technical cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. Ivanov was scheduled to meet with Central Defense Council Chairman Jiang Zemin, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan, and other officials. Ivanov was also to discuss with Chinese leaders the situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and North Korea. Federal Military-Technical Cooperation Service Director Mikhail Dmitriev, a member of the visiting delegation, said that in June Russia will finalize the supply of S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to China. Dmitriev also said that Russia, as the biggest supplier of weapons to China, might soon encounter competition from Europe. Some EU member states are pushing Brussels to lift the arms embargo it introduced against China after the suppression of student protests in Beijing in 1989. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER OUTLINES REFORMS, DISCUSSES IRAQ
Defense Minister Ivanov told journalists during his flight to Beijing on 20 April that the Defense Ministry will be "streamlined" under the restructuring of the power ministries announced the previous day by President Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004), ORT reported on 20 April. Ivanov said the restructuring will reach the top levels of the ministry and will lead to a reduction in the number of his deputies, although he will likely retain more than two of his current six deputies. As regards Iraq, Ivanov said: "The loss of control over the developments in Iraq isn't in Russia's interests. We don't want a U.S. defeat in Iraq," ITAR-TASS reported. However, he noted that Russia repeatedly warned Washington that its tactics there will lead to "tangible losses, not only human, but political ones," ORT reported. VY

AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD GIVES SOME OLIGARCHS A CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH
Speaking on RTR on 20 April, Sergei Stepashin named several major companies that, according to an Audit Chamber study to be released soon, did not commit any significant privatization violations and have properly paid their taxes, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 April. Stepashin named the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Plant (controlled by its general director, Viktor Rashnikov), Norilsk Nikel (controlled by Mikhail Prokhorov and Vladimir Potanin), Severstal (controlled by Aleksei Mordashov), the Novolipetsk Metallurgical Plant (controlled by Vladimir Lisin), and the Ford Motor Company plant in Leningrad Oblast. "For these people," Stepashin said, "and particularly for foreign investors who are working actively here today, I must say: friends, the talk of de-privatization is finished." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that Stepashin failed to make any mention of Alfa-Group's Mikhail Fridman, LUKoil's Vagit Alekperov, Surgutneftgaz's Vladimir Bodganov, and Tyumen Oil Company's Viktor Vekselberg. RC

DUTIES WITHIN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION DETERMINED
Presidential administration head Dmitrii Medvedev on 21 April signed an instruction on the responsibilities of the presidential aides, strana.ru reported. Under the document, Medvedev will be responsible for organizational and analytical work on major foreign- and domestic-policy issues, and preparing documents for President Putin and for the president's schedule. Deputy administration head Igor Sechin will be responsible for similar work on lesser issues. Sechin will also oversee the chancellery and the Kremlin information department and will be responsible for dealing with state secrets. Deputy administration head Vladislav Surkov will oversee regional and federal policies; relations with the Federal Assembly, political parties, public organizations, and trade unions; and the presidential press service. Presidential aide Viktor Ivanov will oversee personnel issues, judicial appointments, and state awards. In all, the decree covers the work of 19 presidential aides and advisers, in addition to Medvedev and his two deputies. RC

FSB OFFICER NAMED TO HEAD DUMA ANTICORRUPTION COMMISSION
The Duma on 20 April voted to create a new Anticorruption Commission to be headed by Deputy Mikhail Grishankov (Unified Russia), who is also deputy chairman of the Duma Security Committee, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 21 April. Grishankov, a Federal Security Service (FSB) lieutenant colonel, formerly worked in the Chelyabinsk Oblast FSB Directorate and was a member of the Anticorruption Commission in the last Duma. Grishankov told "Izvestiya" that the new commission's mandate has been strengthened sufficiently to allow it "to carry out quality work in all spheres of anticorruption activity." RC

BROADCAST LICENSING CHIEF NAMED...
Boris Boyarskov, a vice president of Yevrofinans bank, on 19 April was named to head the new broadcast-licensing department within the Culture and Mass Communications Ministry, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian media reported on 20 April. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Boyarskov is considered "a creature of the St. Petersburg siloviki" and was put forward by deputy presidential administration head Sechin. The daily reported that neither presidential media adviser Mikhail Lesin nor Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency Director Mikhail Seslavinskii was consulted concerning the nomination. The fate of the former Media Ministry's Federal Tender Commission (FKK) remains unclear. "I think that there should be fewer bureaucrats on the commission," FKK member Manana Aslamazyan told "Vremya novostei. "And new members should be suggested by the media community. I don't know what Boyarskov thinks about this." RC

...AND HIS BIOGRAPHY RAISES EYEBROWS
"Kommersant-Daily" on 20 April noted that there is a gap in Boyarskov's biography between his military service in the 1980s and when he began working for Imperial bank in 1994. Writing that this could indicate that he worked in the KGB at this time, the paper reported that "several years ago" Boyarskov was considered a leading candidate for the post of Central Bank security-service head. At Yevrofinans, Boyarskov handled the group's media-investment projects. The company owns nearly 30 percent of NTV, a blocking stake in St. Petersburg's Peterburg television channel, an unspecified stake in the Prime-TASS news agency, and is in the process of forming a media-holding partnership with Gazprom-Media. Yevrofinans has denied persistent rumors that it owns a stake in ORT (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 9 April 2004). RC

NEWSPAPER EDITOR COMES TO DEFENSE OF HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE
Irina Grebneva, editor in chief of the Far Eastern newspaper "Arsenevskie vesti," on 21 April began a hunger strike outside the office of the Primorskii Krai prosecutor's office in Vladivostok, Regnum and grani.ru reported. Grebneva is demanding the release of local human rights activist Ilya Komlev, a 74-year-old man who was arrested on charges of attempted murder on 29 March. According to the report, a man who appeared to be homeless approached Komlev on the street near his home and asked for a cigarette. When Komlev declined, the man knocked him to the ground and struck him several times. Komlev hit his attacker back and was immediately arrested by police who showed up on the scene. Komlev has claimed that he was beaten by police, Regnum reported. Komlev is a lawyer and a member of the human rights organization Justice and the Law, according to kolkol.ru. Regnum reported that several "Arsenevskie vesti" readers, at least one member of the Primorskii Krai legislature, and several other people have joined Grebneva's hunger strike. RC

FORMER CHECHEN DEFENSE MINISTER SHEDS LIGHT ON CAUSES OF WAR
In an extensive interview published in "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 15, Magomed Khambiev, who served for several years as Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's defense minister before surrendering to the current pro-Moscow Chechen authorities last month under circumstances that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 March 2004), shed light on the events that precipitated the resumption of hostilities in Chechnya in 1999. Khambiev claimed that renegade Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev launched his attack on Daghestan in August 1999 in defiance of Maskhadov, who sought to avoid a new war with Russia. He said Maskhadov asked without success for help, including weapons, from Moscow, Georgia, and from the neighboring North Caucasus republics of Ingushetia and Daghestan, but that Basaev had more funds at his disposal, some of which he received from oligarch Boris Berezovskii and from Aleksandr Voloshin, at that time head of the Russian presidential administration and a member of the Security Council. Khambiev said that Maskhadov also asked Ingushetia's then-President Ruslan Aushev to convene a conference of presidents of North Caucasus republics to discuss the Basaev threat. Khambiev said that Aushev can confirm that "Maskhadov wanted to say: 'If what is required is to capture Basaev, or destroy him, whatever you want, we will do it, just don't send troops into Chechnya.' If someone had said, 'Get rid of Basaev and there will not be a war," Maskhadov would have fulfilled that condition." LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DENIES GOVERNMENT WILL BE DISMISSED
Speaking to journalists in Yerevan on 20 April, Robert Kocharian dismissed rumors that he plans to deflect continuing opposition calls for his resignation by either replacing the present prime minister or dissolving parliament and calling new elections, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian stressed that "we can work effectively with this political team. We are going to work together at least until the next parliamentary elections," which are due in 2007. In an interview published on 20 April in the daily "Haykakan zhamanak," Prime Minister Andranik Markarian warned that if he were dismissed, he would join the opposition. Kocharian met later on 20 April with Markarian and the leaders of the other two parties that form the ruling three-party coalition to discuss the tense political situation. LF

ARMENIAN COALITION PARTIES GIVE OPPOSITION THE COLD SHOULDER
Representatives of Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia and of its coalition partners, Orinats Yerkir and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, failed on 20 April to attend a meeting at the parliament building with opposition party representatives mediated jointly by members of the intelligentsia and former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Five minutes before the scheduled start of the meeting, coalition representatives telephoned the organizers to say they would attend only if the opposition first withdrew its demands for the release of opposition activists detained by police early on 13 April and for the punishment of police responsible for beating and injuring protest participants, Noyan Tapan reported. The A1+ website, as cited by Groong, on 20 April quoted National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukian as saying that he has the impression that President Kocharian will not allow the coalition parties to attend the planned meeting. U.S. Ambassador to Yerevan John Ordway met separately with opposition party leaders Stepan Demirchian (People's Party of Armenia) and Artashes Geghamian (National Accord Party), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. No details of those talks were divulged. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS' TERM OF PRE-TRIAL DETENTION EXPIRES
Several opposition party activists arrested in October for their alleged role in the clashes with police in Baku in the wake of the disputed 15 October presidential election demanded on 18 April to be released after their second consecutive three-month term of pre-trial detention expired, Turan reported. On 20 April, an official from the Prosecutor General's office rejected the detainees' demand, even though they have not been formally remanded in detention for a further period. LF

AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS DENOUNCE LOCAL LEADERSHIP
Residents of the village of Hoylukend in Geranboy Raion, central Azerbaijan, told a Baku press conference on 20 April that local officials have commandeered all available water resources in order to irrigate their private land plots, Turan reported. The villagers said that numerous complaints they have addressed to the presidential administration have been ignored. The tensions between villagers and local officials escalated into open confrontation on 16 April when some 150 police attacked protesting villagers and arrested 11 of them. LF

ADJAR LEADER BLAMES GEORGIA FOR CRISIS IN RELATIONS
In an address broadcast on Adjar television, Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze blamed the ongoing tensions in his relations with the central Georgian government on the behavior of the latter, Caucasus Press reported on 21 April. Abashidze said Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has exceeded the bounds of the acceptable by making groundless allegations against him and his ministers. The independent television station Rustavi-2 quoted Abashidze as telling the BBC that the Georgian central government is conducting a propaganda war against him and deliberately misinforming the population about the situation in Adjaria. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DENOUNCES RENEGADE OFFICER
President Saakashvili said in Tbilisi on 20 April that Major General Roman Dumbadze, the commander of the 25th Motorized Brigade who two days earlier pledged his loyalty to Abashidze, is a traitor who must be dealt with accordingly, Caucasus Press reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office issued a warrant the same day for Dumbadze's arrest. Speaking in Batumi on 20 April, Dumbadze for his part denied that he is a traitor and claimed that Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili's order to dismiss him from his post was illegal, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004). Adjar Senator David Mumladze rejected on 20 April as untrue allegations by the opposition movement Our Adjara that Dumbadze will be named to head an Adjar Defense Ministry, Caucasus Press reported. On 21 April, Colonel Viktor Mikeladze, named to succeed Dumbadze as acting commander of the 25th Brigade, told journalists that at least 200 of the brigade's 300 officers and servicemen have left Batumi, either for Tbilisi or to return to their families. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT HOLDS TALKS IN TBILISI
U.S. Ambassador Steven Mann, who recently succeeded Rudolf Perina as special envoy for conflicts in the South Caucasus, met in Tbilisi on 20 April with President Saakashvili to discuss approaches to resolving the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts, and also measures to safeguard oil and gas pipelines from Azerbaijan via Georgia to Turkey, Georgian and Russian news agencies reported. LF

EBRD TO INCREASE CENTRAL ASIAN ANTIPOVERTY PROGRAMS
European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) President Jean Lemierre said on 19 April that the bank plans to boost investment in the seven poorest countries in which it operates. In a press release issued on 19 April, the EBRD said the so-called "early transition countries" (ETCs) are Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Moldova. In these countries, where more than 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, the bank will provide private-sector credits of 500,000 euros to 2 million euros ($593,000-$2.4 million) to develop the banking sector and aid the growth of small and medium-sized businesses. To this end, the EBRD is appealing to donors to provide additional funds that would allow the bank to increase investment in the seven ETCs from the current 90 million euros to 150 million euros. DK

KAZAKH PUBLISHER ON HUNGER STRIKE
Vladimir Mikhailov, the jailed founder of the "Diapazon" newspaper, has gone on a hunger strike to protest delays in his appeal process, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 20 April. Mikhailov began the hunger strike when a hearing scheduled for 19 April was postponed until 26 April because the prosecutor-general requested additional time to study the case. Mikhailov is currently serving a one-year sentence for failing to implement a court decision in the course of a property dispute. Mikhailov claims that the dispute arose when he refused to surrender control over his newspaper. DK

KAZAKH PARTY APPLIES FOR REGISTRATION
Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan has officially applied for registration with the Justice Ministry, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 20 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). Now that the opposition party has submitted the necessary documents, the ministry will have 10 working days to make a decision. DK

TURKMENISTAN VOWS TO LOOK AFTER RUSSIAN MINORITY
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov said on 19 April that Turkmenistan has promised to take steps to ensure the rights of its Russian-speaking minority, Interfax reported. According to Fedotov, it was in this context that Russia abstained from a 15 April vote in which the UN Human Rights Commission condemned human rights violations in Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2004). Noting that Russia prefers country-to-country diplomacy to sweeping resolutions, Fedotov said, "We received assurances that the appropriate steps will be taken to improve the position of our fellow countrymen in Turkmenistan." DK

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES BORDER ACCORDS WITH RUSSIA...
The Verkhovna Rada on 20 April voted 352-16 to ratify a treaty on the state border with Russia, Ukrainian media reported. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc did not participate in the voting. Subsequently, the legislature voted 274-59 to endorse an accord on the joint use with Russia of the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and Our Ukraine refused to vote. The accord stipulates that the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait are internal waters of both Ukraine and Russia. Under the accord, ships of third countries will be allowed to transit the Kerch Strait and enter the Azov Sea only following the invitation of one of the signatories and permission of the other. The accord leaves the delimitation of the Russian-Ukrainian border in the Azov Sea for a future bilateral agreement. JM

...AND AGREEMENT ON SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE OF FOUR CIS COUNTRIES
The Verkhovna Rada on 20 April also ratified an agreement on the creation of a Single Economic Space of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Ukrainian media reported. The agreement was approved by a vote of 265-60, following a dozen abortive attempts by lawmakers from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and Our Ukraine to vote it down. In particular, the agreement calls for the formation of a free-trade zone of the four states and a high level of political coordination of their economic and financial policies. Opponents of the agreement argue that its full implementation, which entails the creation of a full-fledged customs union of the four states, will deprive Ukraine of any prospects of joining the European Union in the future. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT INSTRUCTS PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO PROBE MAYORAL ELECTION
President Leonid Kuchma has instructed Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev to investigate, jointly with the Ukrainian Security Service, possible irregularities in the 18 April mayoral election in the town of Mukacheve, Transcarpathian Oblast, Interfax reported on 20 April, citing presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. According to Hromnytska, the alleged irregularities may include the beating of lawmakers, the disappearance of election documents, dismissals of government employees, and illegal actions by law-enforcement officers. Earlier the same day, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko met with Kuchma to demand the dismissal of the interior minister, the presidential-administration chief, and the Transcarpathian Oblast governor over what he described as gross violations in the Mukacheve election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004), UNIAN reported. Yushchenko reportedly presented documentary proof to Kuchma that Our Ukraine candidate Viktor Baloha was robbed of a decisive victory over Ernest Nuser, who was supported by the head of the presidential administration. Yushchenko claims that according to polling station records, Baloha received 19,385 votes, that is, 5,500 more than Nuser, whom the local election commission pronounced the winner JM

ITALIAN PRESIDENT BACKS ESTONIA'S BID FOR EU BORDER AGENCY
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi told his Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel in Tallinn on 20 April that he will support Estonia's efforts to have the headquarters of the new EU border-control agency located on its territory, BNS reported. The EU decided to establish the new agency in November 2003 and its main task will be to work out and implement common border-control principles and surveillance measures. The agency will help member states to train border guards, but there are no plans to create an EU-wide border-guard force and the actual guarding will be left to each member state. Other states expressing interest in hosting the agency's headquarters are Hungary, Malta, Poland, and Slovenia. The two presidents also discussed their countries' cooperation both bilaterally and within the EU. SG

ETHICS COMMISSION BANS FORMER LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT FROM STATE SERVICE FOR THREE YEARS
The Chief Public Service Ethics Commission ruled unanimously on 20 April that recently impeached Rolandas Paksas cannot work in state service for three years, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. The Central Election Commission had requested the ruling the day before (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004) after Paksas applied to run in the special presidential elections on 13 June. The ethics commission said that according to Article 15 of the law on conflict of interest in state service, "persons working in state service released from state service for violating the regulations of the same law (including the president as a state official) cannot be accepted into state service for three years." The ruling of the ethics commission is only a recommendation to the election commission, which can still decide to register Paksas. Central Election Commission Chairman Zenonas Vaigauskas noted that the law applies to people hired for state service, while the president was not hired but elected, and said he expects Paksas to appeal the decision to the Supreme Administrative Court, where it could be overturned. SG

POLISH PARLIAMENT ELECTS NEW SPEAKER
The Sejm on 20 April voted 189-185, with one abstention, to elect Interior Minister Jozef Oleksy as the new speaker, Polish media reported. Prior to the vote, Oleksy was widely seen as the main rival to Marek Belka in replacing Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who is to step down on 2 May. Oleksy was already parliamentary speaker in 1993-95 and prime minister in 1995-96, but resigned the latter post over allegations that he was possibly a KGB informer. Oleksy will replace Marek Borowski, who resigned last month after quitting the ruling Democratic Left Alliance and launching a new party, Polish Social Democracy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004). JM

POLISH PREMIER REJECTS RESIGNATION OF INTELLIGENCE CHIEF
Prime Minister Miller on 20 April rejected the resignation of Intelligence Agency head Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, who was recently accused of having misinformed legislators about the controversial arrest in 2002 of Andrzej Modrzejewski, president of state-controlled PKN Orlen, Poland's largest oil refinery and fuel company, Polish media reported. The parliamentary Commission for Special Services has decided that it is necessary to appoint a special investigative commission to examine the circumstances of Modrzejewski's detention. According to former Treasury Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek, Miller ordered the State Protection Office, which was headed by Siemiatkowski in 2002, to arrest Modrzejewski in an attempt to expedite his ouster from PKN Orlen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004). JM

ACCUSED PLEADS NOT GUILTY IN POLAND'S BIGGEST BRIBERY TRIAL
Film producer Lew Rywin told a court in Warsaw on 20 April that he is not guilty of soliciting a bribe of $17.5 million in 2002 from Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza," in exchange for lobbying favorable amendments to a media law, Polish media reported. Earlier this month prosecutors demanded a three-year sentence for Rywin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). Rywin claims that he was the "victim of a provocation" by Agora, adding that Agora drew him into its "intrigue" by exploiting his gullibility. "I am convinced that somebody in my place who was less gullible would have seen through this intrigue and not allowed himself to be dragged into it," Polish Radio quoted Rywin as saying. JM

CZECH PARLIAMENT POSTPONES VOTE ON CONTROVERSIAL TAX BILL
The lower house on 20 April postponed for two days the vote on a controversial bill on value-added tax (VAT), to allow injured Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda to take part in the vote, CTK and AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004). Svoboda, who was hospitalized after a car accident, is expected to be released on 22 April. The bill cuts the main rate of VAT from 22 to 19 percent as of 1 May and raises VAT on some items and services from 5 percent to 19 percent. It was vetoed by President Vaclav Klaus and the ruling coalition wants to override the veto. For this purpose, it needs the support of all 101 deputies representing the ruling center-left coalition. MS

CZECH COMMISSION EYES PROJECTS FOR REBUILDING IRAQ
A Czech public-private commission has endorsed 11 projects for rebuilding Iraq proposed by Czech companies, dpa reported on 20 April, citing the Ministry of Trade and Industry. The proposed projects are in the oil, electric power, water, and construction sectors. If the government approves the recommendations, as expected, the companies will receive about 179 million crowns ($6.6 million) in grants as part of Prague's effort to support postwar reconstruction in Iraq. So far, the Czech government has earmarked 520 million crowns for reconstruction projects. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT DISCUSSES TIBET WITH CHINESE OFFICIAL
President Vaclav Klaus, currently on a visit to China, on 20 April discussed the situation in the neighboring province of Tibet with Sichuan provincial Communist Party branch secretary Zhang Xuezhong, CTK reported. Zhang previously served as a Communist Party official in Tibet. Klaus said that he and Zhang "exchanged views" on the situation in that province and that Zhang said he is convinced that China grants Tibet the appropriate level of cultural and religious autonomy. Klaus also said Zhang was "well informed" about the Czech position on Tibet and the fact that Tibetan flags are annually displayed in some Czech towns in protest against the Chinese occupation. MS

IS MECIAR'S SUPPORT IN THE LS-HZDS WANING AFTER SLOVAK ELECTORAL DEFEAT?
Unlike its chairman Vladimir Meciar, who refused to congratulate Slovak President-elect Ivan Gasparovic, the People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) on 20 April sent Gasparovic a congratulatory telegram, TASR reported. The telegram was signed by LS-HZDS parliamentary group leader Viliam Veteska, who said the party "respects the independent decision of [Slovak] voters" and wishes Gasparovic "health, courage, and a sense of justice in exercising the duties of the office of Slovak president." The "Pravda" daily wrote on 20 April that a number of LS-HZDS lawmakers disapprove of Meciar's behavior and said that Veteska expressed dismay at the statements made by Meciar after the election result. Veteska was quoted by TASR as saying that the party will discuss its future course soon and "We shall see what Mr. Meciar comes up with" when that discussion takes place. Meanwhile, according to CTK, Meciar has blamed journalists for his defeat, accusing them of distorted reporting, and has refused to grant interviews he earlier promised. MS

SLOVAK PREMIER BLAMES POLLSTERS FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION OUTCOME
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said in Strasbourg on 20 April that pollsters played a prominent part in Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan's failed presidential bid, TASR and CTK reported. Kukan ran as a candidate of Dzurinda's senior ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) and failed to make it to the runoff. Dzurinda said that as polls were consistently showing Kukan as the leading candidate, "they lured our voters into believing that Kukan is sure of advancing [to the runoff] and [people] did not bother to vote in the 3 April first round," according to CTK. Dzurinda traveled to Strasbourg to introduce the SDKU's four leading candidates in the June European Parliament elections. The list is headed by former ice hockey star Peter Stastny. The prime minister also reiterated that Slovakia does not intend to withdraw its contingent from Iraq. MS

FRENCH SENATE CHAIRMAN, SLOVAK PRESIDENT AGREE NOT TO GIVE IN TO TERRORISM
Visiting French Senate Chairman Christian Poncelet and President Rudolf Schuster agreed on 20 April in Bratislava that "it is wrong to give in when confronted with terrorism," CTK reported. Presidential spokesman Jan Fuele said the agreement was reached despite the fact that the two countries have different views on the presence of coalition forces in Iraq. Poncelet also met with Foreign Minister Kukan and with parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky. MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LAWMAKER DEMANDS ABOLITION OF BENES DECREES
Opposition parliamentary deputy Sandor Lezsak (Hungarian Democratic Forum) on 20 April called on the Czech Republic and Slovakia to abolish the 1946 Benes decrees, CTK reported. "We do not believe that any of our neighbors will be able to accede to the EU if their legislation includes discriminatory and anti-humanitarian laws at variance with the legal and moral standards of the EU. It is not only in Hungary's national interest, but it is also its moral duty to fight for the Benes decrees to be abolished," Lezsak said. He also called on the Hungarian government to provide compensation to Slovak Hungarians who were resettled from Czechoslovakia to Hungary in population exchanges after World War II. Lezsak said that the deadline for the compensation set by the Hungarian Constitutional Court in 1996 runs out on 30 June. Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Andras Barsony said in reaction to Lezsak's demands that after 1 May, when all sides will become EU members, they will have to agree on a solution convenient to all countries within the EU. MS

EUROPEAN COMMISSION RECOMMENDS MEMBERSHIP TALKS WITH CROATIA
On 20 April, the European Commission recommended that the EU open membership talks with Croatia, dpa reported. Commission President Romano Prodi said that "Croatia has made major efforts to advance along the road to EU membership," adding that a decision to open talks with Zagreb "will hopefully encourage the other countries of the region to redouble their efforts to make progress toward European integration" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February and 20 April 2004; and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2003 and 16 January 2004). EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten said, however, that Croatia must still help arrest fugitive former General Ante Gotovina, whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted, Britain's "The Times" reported. Patten added that Croatia must still improve its performance in the fields of minority rights, refugee returns, regional cooperation, judicial reform, and anticorruption measures. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Zagreb that the European Commission's decision means that the EU recognizes Croatia as a "mature democratic country," adding, however, that EU membership will not solve all of Croatia's problems. EU leaders are expected to formally decide in June to invite Croatia to begin admission talks. PM

SLOVENIA GETS FIVE NEW MINISTERS
Slovenian Prime Minister Anton Rop named five nonparty new ministers late on 19 April to fill three vacancies created recently when the Slovenian People's Party (SLS) left the coalition and two vacancies created when the respective ministers left to take European-level posts, Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 21 April. Matej Lahovnik becomes economy minister, Marko Pavliha transportation minister, Milan Pogacnik agriculture minister, Milan Cvikl minister for European issues, and Zdenka Cerar justice minister. The choice of Cerar led to yet another clash between Rop and Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, both of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDS). Rupel argued that Cerar has been too controversial in her current post as state prosecutor to be an acceptable nominee to head the Justice Ministry. After announcing Cerar's appointment, Rop hinted that he might sack Rupel if the foreign minister does not cooperate with her. PM

MACEDONIA TO KEEP ITS TROOPS IN IRAQ
Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said on 20 April that the government has no intention of following the Spanish example by withdrawing its troops from Iraq, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Buckovski added that the United States has not asked Macedonia to step up its military presence. At present, 39 Macedonian troops of the crack unit known as the Wolves are stationed in the so-called Sunni Triangle north of Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September, and 12 and 25 November 2003; and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 27 June 2003). In related news, the Defense Ministry asked parliament to agree to a $80 million package to finance participation in peacekeeping missions led by the UN, EU, NATO, or OSCE, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. UB

UN QUESTIONS JORDANIAN POLICE OFFICERS IN CONNECTION WITH SHOOTOUT IN KOSOVA
Stefan Feller, who heads the UN's police mission in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 18 April that an investigation has begun into the recent shooting incident at the Mitrovica prison, which occurred when at least one of five Jordanian police officers fired at a convoy of 24 U.S., Turkish, and Austrian correctional [correct] officers who were leaving the prison after a training session, UNMIK's website reported (www.unmikonline.org/news.htm) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). One Jordanian police officer, who reportedly opened fire on the convoy, and two U.S. correctional officers were killed in the incident. A UN police spokesman said on 19 April that the four surviving Jordanian police officers' "immunity has been lifted, and they have been formally interviewed by investigators," Reuters reported. He did not elaborate. On 20 April, the "International Herald Tribune" quoted an unnamed Jordanian police commander as saying on condition of anonymity that the dead man had acted alone, adding "nobody here has any idea why he did this." Unnamed UN officials said that there was no communication between the Jordanians and Americans before the incident. Details of the incident remain sketchy. PM

RECENT FATAL INCIDENT UNDER INVESTIGATION IN THE REPUBLIKA SRPSKA
On 20 April in Banja Luka, Bosnian Serb police chief Radomir Njegus suspended three unidentified police officers involved in a recent incident in Visegrad in which one man died as a result of an unsuccessful attempt by police to arrest his two brothers, whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). The parliament's committee that monitors the activities of the defense and security forces began an investigation into the incident, which the parliament is expected to discuss soon. About 2,000 people demonstrated in Visegrad against what they called police brutality. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S DEFENSE MINISTER WANTS TO TALK TO WAR CRIMES INDICTEES
Prvoslav Davinic, who is Serbia and Montenegro's new defense minister, said in Belgrade on 20 April that he plans to "invite in for a talk" four former top Army and police officers whom the Hague-based tribunal has indicted for war crimes, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He noted that the government is obliged to cooperate with the tribunal, but did not say specifically what he wants to tell former Army Chief of Staff and General Nebojsa Pavkovic, former General Vladimir Lazarevic, and former police Generals Vlastimir Djordjevic and Sreten Lukic. Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic recently called on all indictees to go to The Hague voluntarily to clear their names (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). PM

ROMANIAN ELECTION COMMISSION AGREES ON REPRESENTATION PRINCIPLES
The ad hoc parliamentary commission tasked with drafting legislation for the fall 2004 parliamentary elections agreed on 20 April to maintain the 5 percent threshold for parliamentary representation, Mediafax reported. The commission also agreed to maintain the current system for the distribution of parliamentary mandates and to shorten the election campaign from 45 to 30 days. Commission Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc (Social Democratic Party) said the number of parliamentary mandates resulting from the 2004 election would shrink by some 5-6 percent as compared with 2000, due to the population decline shown by the 2002 census (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2002). Commission member Emil Boc (Democratic Party) said that under the new rules for parliamentary representation of national minorities other than Hungarian, parties representing a minority would have to garner four times as many votes as in 2000 to be represented in the lower house (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2004). MS

ROMANIAN LOWER HOUSE AMENDS LAW ON OMBUDSMAN
The Chamber of Deputies on 20 April amended the law on the ombudsman, extending the ombudsman's term from the current four to five years, Mediafax reported. The lower house also decided that the ombudsman will be elected by a joint session of the parliament's two chambers. Under the previous legislation, the ombudsman was elected by the Senate alone. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER SUES PRM LEADER
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 20 April filed a civil suit against Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, charging Tudor with libel, Mediafax reported. In a press release on 18 April, the PRM leader said Nastase was a "criminal" and accused him of having amassed a $2 billion fortune and of having intentionally fired at Agriculture, Forestry, Water, and Environment Minister Ilie Sarbu last December, in what was later presented as a hunting accident in which Sarbu accidentally shot himself (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). MS

MOLDOVAN MEDIA WATCHDOG CHAIRMAN CRITICIZES OSCE MISSION
Audiovisual Coordination Council (CCA) Chairman Ion Mihailo said on 20 April that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Moldova has other tasks than interfering in Moldovan political life, Flux reported. Mihailo said that the OSCE mission has repeatedly offered its views on the case of Chisinau's Antena C radio station and the Euro-TV television station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 10 February, 22 March, and 1, 7, 8, and 9 April 2004). He also said that "sometimes diplomats serving in Moldova forget that the country is in a transition period," but this is wishful thinking that overlooks the fact that Moldova has not reached the standards of developed democracies. Mihailo also said that the opposition Our Moldova alliance has tried to build political capital over the conflict and has "started its [2005] election campaign far too early." He said the case of the two stations received exaggerated coverage in the media and despite claims to the contrary, the suspension of the two media outlets had nothing to do with politics. MS

TELERADIO MOLDOVA COUNCIL APPOINTS NEW RADIO, TV DIRECTORS
The Council of Observers that oversees Teleradio Moldova's broadcasting appointed at the end of last week Sergiu Batog as executive director of the company's radio broadcasting, Flux reported on 20 April. Batog was previously media adviser on President Vladimir Voronin's staff. The Council of Observers also appointed Victor Tabarca as executive director of the company's television broadcasting. Tabarca has been working for Moldovan Television since 1970. The council approved the resignation of Victor Moraru from the position now occupied by Tabarca. MS

BULGARIAN TROOPS TO REMAIN IN IRAQ, BUT PRESENCE WILL NOT INCREASE
In the wake of Spain's announcement that it is withdrawing its troops from Iraq, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said on 20 April that his government will not pull out Bulgarian forces, mediapool.bg reported. Asked whether Bulgaria will increase its troop presence in Iraq, Saxecoburggotski said, "By no means, we have our agreements, and this is how we went to Iraq." Saxecoburggotski expressed the hope that the UN Security Council will soon pass a new resolution on Iraq, but declined to comment on whether Bulgaria's position on Iraq might change if attempts to pass such a resolution fail, "Sega" reported. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi informed U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell about Bulgaria's position during a 20 April telephone conversation. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Plamen Panayotov said the same day that it is not necessary to change the mandate of the Bulgarian contingent stationed in Karbala, Iraq, BTA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 20 April 2004; and End Notes "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January and 16 April 2004). UB

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT ASKS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT TO RULE ON EU-RELATED AMENDMENTS
President Georgi Parvanov officially asked the Constitutional Court on 20 April to rule whether the constitutional amendments necessary for Bulgaria's EU accession can be made by the current 240-seat parliament, or whether a constituent, 400-seat Grand National Assembly must be called, "Sega" reported. The president also asked the Constitutional Court to draft a timetable to be followed to implement the amendments. Parvanov opposes the idea of calling a Grand National Assembly, arguing that the EU-related amendments do not affect state institutions or administration, in which case the assembly would have to be called (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004). UB

UKRAINIAN PRO-GOVERNMENT COALITION APPOINTS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The leaders of pro-government groups in the Verkhovna Rada decided at a meeting on 14 April to field Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych as their joint candidate in the presidential election slated for 31 October. The decision was communicated to the public by Stepan Havrysh, coordinator of the parliamentary pro-government coalition.

"There were no long discussions, and the decision was made unanimously," Havrysh said, adding that the meeting was attended by Yanukovych and President Leonid Kuchma, along with the leaders of the Agrarian Party, the Popular Democratic Party, the Party of Regions, the Industrialists and Entrepreneurs/Labor Ukraine caucus, the Social Democratic Party-united, the Democratic Initiatives group, the Popular Choice group, and the People's Power group. Havrysh also said Yanukovych was selected as the joint candidate of "democratic forces" on the condition that he will finalize the constitutional reform that suffered a setback in the Verkhovna Rada on 8 April.

The rather inconspicuous nomination of Yanukovych has spawned a lot of disparate comments in the Ukrainian media, all of which, however, include the same explicit or implicit question: is this true? Has President Kuchma really decided to throw his support behind Yanukovych in the presidential race? Have other heavyweights of the pro-Kuchma camp really decided to relinquish their political ambitions and back the presidential bid of the "Donetsk don," as some nonstate media refer to the Ukrainian prime minister?

One explanation for Kuchma's move may be his intention to react in a politically impressive manner to the discouraging rejection of the constitutional-reform bill by the Verkhovna Rada on 8 April. By fielding Yanukovych for the presidential race and making him pledge to push for a political reform despite the recent failure, Kuchma may have wanted to show that he still knows what to do and remains in control of the political game in Ukraine.

Likewise, by making Yanukovych a "guarantor" of further reformist efforts Kuchma may want to prevent the pro-government parliamentary coalition from splitting up and, possibly, fielding an uncoordinated number of presidential candidates to challenge Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko. The threat of such a split became clearly visible on 8 April, when the constitutional-reform bill promoted by Kuchma was supported by 212 deputies from the pro-government opposition, which was significantly below the majority of 226 votes required to adopt most decisions in the Verkhovna Rada. Besides, Ukrainian media have reported that an unspecified number of pro-government coalition lawmakers elected under a first-past-the-post system in 2002 decided to set up a separate caucus in the legislature.

If Kuchma is serious about promoting Yanukovych as a joint candidate of the pro-government coalition, not as a tactical figurehead who may be dumped at some moment in the future, then of course Kuchma has made a reasonable choice. Yanukovych, with surveys giving him nearly 15 percent support among the electorate, is by far the most popular politician in Kuchma's entourage. And the post of prime minister is widely believed to be the best springboard for launching and conducting a highly efficient election campaign in Ukraine.

The behavior of Yanukovych's potential allies -- oligarchs from the pro-Kuchma and, in theory, pro-Yanukovych coalition -- is a different question. One of them, former Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko, has already announced that he does not like Yanukovych as a presidential candidate. Pustovoytenko, who leads the Popular Democratic Party, suggested on 19 April that his party may field a different presidential candidate. "I think that a joint candidate [of the pro-government coalition] should be the one who is supported not by individual party leaders and political figures but by the overwhelming majority of Ukrainian citizens," Pustovoytenko said in a public statement on 19 April.

Thus, there is a big question mark over Yanukovych's political fate. Most parties that belong to the pro-government coalition will reportedly decide whether to support Yanukovych in the presidential election during their congresses planned for June. And they may simply refuse such support if they are instructed by Kuchma to do so.

By supporting the government's action plan for 2004 last month, the pro-government parliamentary coalition has stripped itself of the right to vote Yanukovych out of his office within the next year and thus deprive him of administrative leverage in the presidential election campaign in the event he decides to run on his own, without the support of coalition allies. But Kuchma may sack both Yanukovych and his cabinet any time he likes, without consulting anyone on such a step. In other words, Kuchma still remains the crucial political figure in the country and determines the rules of the game, despite an apparent glitch in his constitutional-reform efforts.

Earlier this year, Yanukovych reportedly asked Kuchma to replace several regional governors. This is quite understandable -- the premier wants to have his own people in the provinces for the upcoming election campaign. Kuchma has so far not reacted to Yanukovych's request. That may be an indicator that he has not yet decided whether Yanukovych is the right man for the presidential job. At any rate, closely watching Kuchma's behavior in the following month or two seems to be a more sensible and enlightening task than reading the plethora of speculations, assumptions, and rumors carried by the Ukrainian press in connection with political reform and the upcoming presidential ballot. For the time being, nobody seems to know anything for sure in Ukraine, Kuchma included.

KARZAI PLANS AFGHAN CABINET SHAKEUP
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has announced plans to reduce the size of his cabinet, which he said was oversized and ineffective, AFP reported on 20 April. "I have come to the conclusion that the size of the cabinet is too large for effective delivery of services," Karzai said while meeting with regional delegates attending an economic cooperation conference in Kabul. Karzai said the cabinet's 29 members are hindering "creation of the necessary regulatory authorities to promote...the private sector as the key engine of our growth." Karzai told top Afghan officials to prepare a plan for reducing the size of the cabinet within two weeks, AFP reported. To date, the makeup of the cabinet has reflected Afghanistan's ethnic mix of Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, Pashtuns, and Nuristanis. But Tajik commanders of the Northern Alliance head the powerful Defense and Foreign ministries, creating resentment among Pashtuns and Uzbeks in the government. MR

MILITANTS THREATEN VOTERS, WOMEN AHEAD OF AFGHAN ELECTIONS
Neo-Taliban fighters have threatened to kill Afghans who participate in the country's elections scheduled for September, AFP reported on 20 April. The threats were contained in pamphlets distributed in the Logar Province, about 70 kilometers southeast of Kabul, according to a source only identified by the agency as an "intelligence official." "We advise all Afghans not to risk their lives attending the elections," the pamphlets said, according to the official. "Women especially will face the death penalty if they try to take part in the elections. Husbands are responsible for the blood of their wives if they fail to stop them voting in elections." Remnants of the ousted Taliban regime have vowed to disrupt the September ballot, in which Afghan voters will elect a president and a parliament. Already, insurgent activity in the south and southeast of the country has forced delays in voter registration. The elections were initially slated for June but postponed until fall largely because of security problems surrounding voter registration. MR

U.S. AMBASSADOR CALLS FOR INCREASED DISARMAMENT EFFORTS IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has called for the government to step up efforts to disarm some of the country's 100,000 militia fighters, AP reported on 20 April. Khalilzad said disarmament is vital to the security of the country and must proceed ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for September. "Realistically, it is very difficult to do, but it is a necessary thing to do," Khalilzad said. "As long as there are multiple armed forces under multiple commands, rivals, there is always the risk of instability and war and conflict." The government has plans to disarm about 40,000 militia fighters by the end of June, but some observers doubt whether this will be possible. "It is a very difficult process," Khalilzad said. "It is hard for people to give up their weapons. It is hard for people to change their way of life." MR

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS AFGHANISTAN
Joschka Fischer arrived in the northern Afghan city of Kunduz on 20 April, his first stop in a country tour, AP reported. Fischer's plane touched down in Kunduz midmorning with some 300 German peacekeeping soldiers and the provincial governor looking on. "It is the duty of the world community to help Afghanistan," Fischer told troops. "Extending reconstruction outside Kabul is an important step." After the brief visit to Kunduz, Fischer traveled to Kabul for talks with Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai. Fischer thanked Karzai for Germany's contributions to the U.S.-led peacekeeping force and for hosting an international donors conference in Berlin at the end of March that led to $8.2 billion in pledges for reconstruction funds. "The effort Germany put in for the success of [the] Berlin [conference] is something that our people will remember forever," Karzai said. MR

IRAN'S CABINET RESHUFFLE AIMED AT COHESION
Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 20 April that the "principal aim of the cabinet reshuffle is to give it cohesion and create greater coordination in the government's economic team," IRNA reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). "The government is considering these changes to attain its economic aims in the remaining year and a half of activity." The Economic Affairs and Finance Ministry, he said, has faced problems over "the provision of basic laws on how to collect revenues and allocate resources," whence the nomination of a new candidate, Safdar Husseini, currently labor and social affairs minister. Ramezanzadeh described Husseini as "educated in economics" and with "a successful record of executive experience" in various state bodies. The head of the Management and Planning Organization will not change, he said. "The cabinet reshuffle may be considered as over." Parliament must approve the president's nominees. VS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS BELGIUM, FRANCE
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with his Belgian counterpart Louis Michel on 20 April and called on Europe to recognize Iran's right to develop nuclear power, iribnews.ir reported the same day. "Iran has had a sincere and fully transparent cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and Europe, and expects the opposite parties to recognize and respect Iran's rights." The agency cited Michel as saying that Brussels "will cooperate with Iran at the next session of the [IAEA] board of governors." Iran has promised to allow UN inspectors to check its nuclear activities, which the United States and Israel fear might be used to make nuclear bombs. Iran insists its program is peaceful. Kharrazi was expected to visit France on 21 April for talks with the French president and foreign minister, mehrnews.com reported, citing AFP. The agency cited a French official as saying that "Paris will this week ask Tehran to increase its cooperation with the IAEA. That is the best response to America's growing criticisms." VS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER OPPOSES U.S. PLANS FOR REGION
Parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi on 20 April expressed Iran's opposition to stated U.S. plans to democratize the Middle East and said it must leave Iraq, IRNA reported. The "current American government" has shown its hostility to the Islamic world, he said, adding that "any of its plans are against the interests of regional peoples and governments, and we have explicitly declared our opposition to these plans." Karrubi warned U.S. forces not to enter the "sensitive, important, and sacred" Iraqi city of Al-Najaf in pursuit of Shi'a insurgents. "The occupiers have been warned to be careful lest there is a crisis in this and other holy cities in Iraq. Any unfortunate consequences of [entering the cities] will concern the American occupiers, who have complicated matters with their aggression." Karrubi is currently visiting Syria, a strategic ally since the 1979 revolution in Iran. He repeated Iran's backing for Palestinians fighting Israel. "Tehran's clear and transparent policy is the formation of an independent Palestinian state and the return of refugees to their real homeland." VS

SMOKING BAN IMPOSED AT IRANIAN SCHOOLS
Iran's Education Ministry will ban smoking in schools, and the ministry will seek to promote "sports and cultural activities" to fill young people's time and prevent drug abuse, Fars News Agency reported on 20 April, citing a ministry official. Another official from the state counternarcotics agency said on 20 April that there are 2.7 million drug addicts in the country. Hamid Saremi, who runs the agency's cultural department, said the addicts should not be treated like criminals and there should be a "cultural approach" to fighting drug abuse. He admitted that there is widespread drug use in prisons. "Certain prisoners swallow the drugs and bring them into the prisons," farsnews.com cited him as saying. Parliament, he added, will debate stiffening antidrug laws "in coming months." Morteza Bakhtiari, the head of the prisons organization, complained on 20 April that prison budgets, set by provincial planning departments, "are not realistic," according to ILNA. VS

MULTIPLE CAR BOMBINGS TARGET IRAQI POLICE STATIONS IN AL-BASRAH...
In near-simultaneous explosions, car bombs detonated outside three Al-Basrah police stations on 21 April, while a fourth detonated in the nearby town of Al-Zubayr, international media reported. "All four attacks seem to have been carried out by suicide bombers," Reuters quoted a British Defense Ministry spokeswoman in Al-Basrah as saying. However, British Squadron Leader John Arnold called the explosions "vehicle-based improvised explosive devices," possibly implying that the bombs were remotely detonated. Al-Basrah Mayor Wa'il Abd al-Hafiz blamed Al-Qaeda for the bombings. He said that 68 people, not including the bombers, were killed and about 100 wounded in the attacks. International media reported some 200 casualties, however. "I saw a minibus full of children on fire -- 15 of the 18 passengers were killed and three badly wounded," Al-Basrah resident Amin Dinar told Reuters. KR

...AS IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER CONDEMNS ATTACKS
Iraqi Interior Minister Samir al-Sumaydi'i condemned the bombings in a 21 April press briefing in Baghdad broadcast live on Al-Jazeera. "The Iraqi government strongly condemns this criminal act. It underlines its full determination to prevail over this cancer, which they call resistance. Terrorism in Iraq will not succeed in stopping the Iraqi people's march toward stability, construction, and the supremacy of law," al-Sumaydi'i said. Asked whom he thought the perpetrators of the attacks might be, he said: "Information indicates that the operation was carried out using booby-trapped cars. As for the perpetrators, I believe that the fingerprints of terrorism are clear, pointing to the same perpetrators of other massacres in Iraq, including the massacres in Irbil, Karbala, and others areas." He added that an investigation into the bombings is already under way. KR

FIGHTING BREAKS OUT IN RESTIVE IRAQI CITY
Clashes erupted in the city of Al-Fallujah on 21 April, just one day after coalition officials announced the signing of a joint communique to bring hostilities to an end in the city after some two weeks of fighting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004), international media reported. Khalil Ramadan, a member of the Al-Fallujah local council, told Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television that two U.S. helicopters were shot down in the fighting. Ramadan claimed that U.S. forces advanced towards the Al-Julan and Al-Shuhada neighborhoods in the early morning hours of 21 April and opened fire on the neighborhoods. He further claimed that Iraqis had not instigated the clashes. "It was the occupying forces who started the firing, and then the residents of Al-Fallujah responded." Asked whether the fighters in the city remained heavily armed, Ramadan said: "Those who are alleged to be fighters are the people of Al-Fallujah. Are they not allowed to defend their city before this big force?" Meanwhile, an Al-Jazeera correspondent in the city reported that U.S. helicopters bombed four houses in the Al-Mu'tasim and Al-Julan neighborhoods. Residents told Reuters that six unarmed civilians were killed and 10 wounded by U.S. fire. Coalition officials have declined to comment on that claim, Reuters reported. KR

MILITANTS ATTACK IRAQI PRISON, KILLING 21 PRISONERS
Militants launched a mortar barrage on the U.S.-run Abu Ghurayb prison in western Baghdad on 20 April, killing 21 detainees and wounding 100, Reuters reported, citing U.S. military officials. Officials also reportedly said that those killed in the 18-shell barrage were either former members of Saddam Hussein's government or militants who participated in attacks on coalition forces, washingtonpost.com reported. Meanwhile, Iraqi Civil Defense Corps forces killed four militants and seized three cars packed with explosives during a raid on a guerrilla hideout in Kirkuk overnight on 20-21 April, Reuters reported. KR

DOMINICAN REPUBLIC PULLS TROOPS FROM IRAQ
The Dominican Republic's secretary of the armed forces, Lieutenant General Jose Miguel Soto Jimenez, announced on 20 April that President Hipolito Mejia has decided to withdraw Dominican troops from Iraq "as soon as possible," Reuters reported. "The president has decided on the withdrawal of our troops in Iraq as he believes there is no need to run unnecessary risks," Soto Jimenez said. Meanwhile, Honduran Defense Minister Federico Breve said on 20 April that 370 Honduran troops will depart Iraq within "six or eight weeks." Both national contingents served under the Spanish-led contingent, stationed in south-central Iraq. Spain announced on 18 April that it will withdraw its 1,400 troops from Iraq. Some 115 Nicaraguan troops, which also served under Spain, departed Iraq as part of a normal troop rotation and have not returned to Iraq, due to a lack of money, Reuters reported. El Salvador has not said whether it will withdraw its forces as well. Meanwhile, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said on 20 April that he would withdraw some 450 medical and engineering personnel from Iraq if they are attacked, but the Thai Senate voted the same day to keep the troops in Iraq, international media reported. KR

IRAQI TRIBUNAL APPOINTS JUDGES, PROSECUTORS TO TRY FORMER REGIME MEMBERS
The Iraqi tribunal established to try former members of the deposed Hussein regime has appointed seven investigative judges and five prosecutors whose names will not be released, international media reported on 21 April. "They cannot be named due to security concerns," said Salem Chalabi, the nephew of Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmad Chalabi, who has been named director-general of the tribunal. INC spokesman Entifadh Qanbar said on 20 April that the location for the trials has also been selected but declined to give details, the BBC reported. The tribunal has been allotted a budget of $75 million for 2004-05, but has not set a date for the commencement of prosecutions, he added. The judges and prosecutors still need to undergo training on international law, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, Qanbar said. KR

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTRY ANNOUNCES UNDERSECRETARY APPOINTMENTS
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced the appointment of four new undersecretaries, Al-Dustur reported on 20 April. Sa'id Jasim al-Hayani will serve as undersecretary for administrative duties and consulates. He previously served in the Foreign and Agriculture ministries under the Hussein regime until his retirement in 1988. Labib Abbawi will serve as political planner. A former member of the Iraqi opposition, Abbawi served on the foreign relations committee of the Iraqi Communist Party and headed the committee from 1993 to 2000. Hamid al-Bayati will oversee bilateral affairs. He is a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and served as SCIRI representative in the United Kingdom from 1992 until returning to Iraq following the fall of the Hussein regime. Bassam Kubba will develop multilateral relations. A career diplomat, Kubba also served on the steering committee that ran the ministry after the fall of the Hussein regime, and is the ministry's most senior career diplomat, according to the Coalition Provisional Authority website (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). KR

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