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Newsline - April 22, 2004


PUTIN SAYS TALKS WITH CHECHENS WOULD BE AKIN TO EU NEGOTIATING WITH BIN LADEN
President Vladimir Putin said during a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Lipetsk on 21 April that the European Union's calls for Russia to open negotiations with Chechen fighters are comparable to advising European officials to meet with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, RIA-Novosti and AFP reported. "Now, as before, we are being urged to start talks with people whom we and our partners in Muslim countries consider to be terrorists," he said. "Terrorist No. 1, bin Laden, made a truce proposal to Europe that, as far as I know, was rejected." Putin added that while Russia takes criticism seriously, "Moscow does not think everything in the criticism of Russia concerning the situation in Chechnya is constructive." Expounding later on his comments, Putin said: "If they [Europe] do not want to begin negotiating with bin Laden, they have no right to make us start negotiating with his followers, people who have been trained in his camps," Interfax reported. "They are always there to lecture, but when it comes to anything that concerns them, they want to come away looking clean and pure." VY

PUTIN PRAISES RUSSIAN-ITALIAN ECONOMIC RELATIONS
During his news conference in Lipetsk with Prime Minister Berlusconi on 21 April, President Putin hailed the countries' economic relations, noting that Italy was Russia's second-largest trade partner last year with turnover of nearly $11 billion, Russian media reported. Putin said that while Russia welcomes EU expansion, he remains concerned about the impact it could have on Russia's economy. In Lipetsk, Putin and Berlusconi attended an air show and the opening of a washing-machine manufacturing plant built by the Italian company Merloni. VY

POLICE AGAIN RAID YUKOS HEADQUARTERS
Law enforcement authorities on 22 April carried out a major search of the Moscow offices of oil giant Yukos, Russian media reported. A Yukos employee told newsru.com that "several dozen police officers, having presented a warrant, have entered the premises of the company." According to the source, the warrant specified that the police are looking for documents relating to Yukos subsidiaries Tomskneft, Samaraneftegaz, and the Kuibyshev, Syzran, and Novokyuibyshevsk oil refineries. RC

PUTIN PROMISES FURTHER REORGANIZATION OF GOVERNMENT
President Putin told RIA-Novosti on 21 April that he will make further "corrections" to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's cabinet. "Such proposals are in preparation and they will be accepted very soon," Putin said, adding that the changes will likely come together with his previously announced reorganization of the power ministries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004). "The initial decree on the appointment of the new cabinet [on 9 March] was a basic reorganization, and now that we can see how the cabinet is working it is clear that we overlooked some things and improvements must be made," Putin said. By law, the government must resign after Putin's inauguration on 17 May. VY

INTERIOR MINISTRY'S REFORM PLANS MADE PUBLIC
Duma Security Committee member Aleksei Rozuvan (Unified Russia) told "Argumenty i fakty," No.16, that an existing Interior Ministry reform plan calls for security units known as "militsiya" to be transformed into federal police. The members of the newly established federal unit will perform various functions, including as economic, immigration, traffic, and transport police. The Interior Ministry's internal troops will be transformed into national-guard units. In addition, a federal investigations agency will be formed from the investigative divisions of the Interior Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Prosecutor-General's Office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004). Meanwhile, President Putin told RIA-Novosti on 21 April that the public should not expect "revolutionary changes" to the power agencies. VY

ANTICORRUPTION COMMISSION TO TACKLE CORRUPTION WITHIN DUMA
The primary task of the Duma's reformed Anticorruption Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004) will be to counter illegal lobbying in the Duma and to ensure that submitted bills do not have loopholes that could lead to corruption, the Open Economy website (http://www.opec.ru) reported on 21 April. To this end the commission has recruited an array of former FSB and KGB officers, and will be headed by Deputy Mikhail Grishankov (Unified Russia), an FSB lieutenant colonel. Among the Unified Russia deputies on the commission are former Rostov Oblast FSB chief Valerii Dyatlenko; Valerii Bogomolov, a former colleague of Putin's in the KGB's foreign intelligence; former Sverdlovsk Oblast FSB officer Igor Barinov; former Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov; and Aleksandr Khinshtein, a journalist who is reputedly closely associated with security bodies. Representing the Communist Party on the commission is Viktor Ilyukhin, a former attorney with the Soviet Union's prosecutor's office. The Motherland faction will be represented by Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, a former chief of the KGB Analytical Directorate. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER TOUTS RUSSIAN-CHINESE MILITARY COOPERATION
Speaking in Beijing after his talks with his Chinese counterpart Cao Gangchuan on 21 April, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov stressed the importance of bilateral military cooperation, noting that China remains a key purchaser of Russian weapons, RTR and ORT reported. He also touted the development of cooperation between the two states' militaries, citing as an example the thousands of Chinese cadets studying in Russian military academies. Ivanov said that during his talks in Beijing an agreement was reached to increase the volume of Russian arms exports to China, but he refused to provide details for what he called "understandable reasons." Ivanov also told journalists that Russian-Chinese military ties are not directed against third countries, but are intended to maintain stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Following their discussions, Ivanov and Cao, who is a graduate of a Soviet military academy, visited the Shoalin Temple, home of the martial art wushu. VY

MINISTER INDICATES SUPPORT FOR NAKHODKA PIPELINE
Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said on 21 April that it is "highly likely" the Russian government will back a proposal to build an oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to the Far Eastern port of Nakhodka, the Japanese news agency Jiji Press reported. Khristenko's comments came following a meeting in Moscow with Tokyo Gas Chairman Kunio Anzai. Khristenko did not entirely rule out development of a rival project favored by China to build the pipeline from Angarsk to the Chinese city of Datsin, but said that regardless of the decision on that project, the Nakhodka pipeline -- which is backed by Japan -- is "highly likely" to be approved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2003). RC

POLITICIANS SPARE NO EXPENSE TO GO FOR THE GOLD...
The MIBS travel agency on 21 April released the names of leading national and regional politicians who have purchased berths on a luxury cruise to the Olympic Games in Athens, Greece, in August, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 22 April. Tickets for the cruise aboard the liner "Westerdam" cost from 10,000 euros ($11,800) to 26,000 euros per person, newsru.com reported. According to the website, MIBS spokesman Markos Shiapanis said that Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov and Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin have purchased the most expensive tickets for themselves and their wives. Others who were named as having booked for the cruise include Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev, Belgorod Oblast Governor Yevgenii Savchenko, Sakha (Yakutia) Republic Governor Vyacheslav Shtyrov, Duma Deputy Speaker Artur Chilingarov (Unified Russia), and Duma Deputy Gennadii Raikov (Unified Russia). Gordeev is the chairman of the Russian Judo Federation. RC

...AS QUESTIONS LINGER AS TO WHERE THEY GOT THE MONEY
According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Governor Savchenko filed an assets declaration in December in which he declared that he earned 367,332 rubles ($12,700) last year and had no savings or other assets. Deputy Raikov similarly declared that he earned 289,365 rubles last year and had no savings. The daily also noted that German Bundesbank President Ernst Welteke resigned on 17 April after it was revealed that he accepted a gift worth 7,600 euros ($9,000) from a German bank. President Putin on 14 April signed a decree significantly raising the wages of ministers and other senior federal officials, a measure intended to combat corruption and encourage them to take their responsibilities more seriously (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). RC

DUMA POSTPONES CONSIDERATION OF CONTROVERSIAL MEDIA BILL...
The Duma on 21 April voted to postpone indefinitely consideration of a controversial bill that would amend the law on the mass media to restrict coverage of terrorist incidents, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 April. Under the amendment, only security and law enforcement agencies would have the right to disseminate information about such incidents, and most experts, including Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency Director Mikhail Seslavinskii, have denounced the bill as an unnecessary restriction on freedom of the press. RC

...REJECTS BILL TO HOLD GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABLE FOR PUBLIC WELFARE...
Deputies on 20 April rejected a bill sponsored by Deputy Sergei Glazev (Motherland) that would have required the president to dismiss the government if it failed to ensure sufficient public economic well-being, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 21 April. According to the daily, 133 deputies voted in favor of the bill, which required 226 votes to pass. Under the bill, a special commission comprising Duma deputies and representatives of the government, political parties, and trade unions would have determined the economic well-being of the public each year by assessing 16 factors such as GDP per capita, inflation, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line, and others. If the results were deemed inadequate, the president would be obligated to dismiss the government. During the debate, deputies attacked the proposal as populist and said that the formula for calculating well-being was arbitrary, the daily reported. Among Unified Russia deputies, only one supported the bill, while 60 voted against it and 244 abstained. RC

...AND REJECTS QUOTAS ON SHOWING FOREIGN FILMS
The Duma on 21 April voted against a bill that would have established quotas for the showing of foreign films in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Only 106 deputies voted in favor of the bill, which was submitted by Deputy Valerii Galchenko (Unified Russia). The bill would have required that no more than 80 percent of films shown in cinemas be made abroad and would have reduced that amount by 10 percent every other year until the quota reached 50 percent. The Duma's Culture Committee urged the legislature to reject the bill, arguing that the domestic film industry is not producing enough films to make the quotas realistic. The government also opposed the bill. RC

NEW FSB DIRECTORATE HEAD NAMED FOR TATARSTAN
FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev met in Kazan with Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev on 21 April to present FSB Major General Yevgenii Vdovin, who was recently named the agency's new chief in the republic, ITAR-TASS reported. Vdovin, who has served in Orel, Magadan, and Bryansk oblasts, most recently headed the FSB directorate in Udmurtia. Tatarstan's previous FSB directorate head, General Aleksandr Gusev, was recently elected to the republic's legislature. RC

YOU HAVE TO HAND IT TO THEM
The arms of some of the atlantes decorating the facade of St. Petersburg's landmark 18th-century Beloselskikh-Belozerskikh Palace on Nevskii Prospekt have fallen off as a result of shoddy reconstruction work carried out in the run-up to the city's tercentennial celebration last summer, "Izvestiya" reported on 22 April. Local residents have taken to calling the statues "bearded Venus de Milos," the daily reported. RC

PRESSURE ON INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT MOUNTS
Ingushetian parliament Deputy Musa Ozdoev has formally signaled his opposition to President Murat Zyazikov by publishing an article detailing the falsification of the results of the voting in Ingushetia in the 7 December Russian State Duma elections, ingushetiya.ru reported on 21 April. According to the official returns, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia garnered 57 percent of the party-list vote (see "RFE/RL Political Weekly," 8 January 2004). Ozdoev, together with Zyazikov's cousin Musa Zyazikov, who failed in his bid to win election to the Duma from Ingushetia's sole single-mandate district, has demanded that President Zyazikov admit to the falsification and have the election outcome annulled. LF

PRESIDENTIAL ENVOY CRITICIZES CHECHEN GOVERNMENT
Vladimir Yakovlev, who was named last month as Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, accused Chechen ministers at a government session in Grozny on 21 April of failing to take their responsibilities seriously, ITAR-TASS reported. Specifically, he criticized delays in the reconstruction of Grozny, Gudermes, and Argun, noting that developing the construction-materials industry would help to solve this problem and create new jobs. Yakovlev also criticized low yields in the agricultural sector, noting that last year's grain harvest was only 140,000 tons. In 2002, the harvest was 350,000 tons, according to ITAR-TASS on 12 March 2003. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION STAGES NEW PROTEST DEMONSTRATION...
Despite heavy rain, some 20,000 people participated in an unsanctioned protest march in Yerevan on 21 April to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Former Prime Minister and opposition Hanrapetutiun party Chairman Aram Sargsian urged participants to gather again on 27 April for a further "decisive" protest. Addressing the protest participants, Viktor Dallakian, a leading member of the opposition Artarutiun bloc, listed the opposition preconditions for accepting the ruling three-party coalition's offer of dialogue. Those preconditions, which the coalition rejected as "ludicrous," include the release of all "political prisoners," an end to government "repression" against the opposition, and the dismissal of Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian and of Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian. The daily "Hayots ashkhar" on 22 April quoted presidential adviser Garnik Isagulian as alleging that the radical opposition is being influenced and directed by the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement. LF

...AS MINISTER WARNS OF ECONOMIC REPERCUSSIONS
Energy Minister Armen Movsisian warned on 21 April that a continuation of the opposition protests to demand President Kocharian's resignation could jeopardize the implementation of key energy projects, including the construction of a multimillion-dollar pipeline to import natural gas from Iran and securing a $140 million loan from Japan to finance reconstruction of a thermal power plant in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Movsisian did not explain how political tensions might affect those deals, arguing only that the protests negatively reflect on Armenia's international reputation. LF

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER PRESSURES AZERBAIJAN OVER HUMAN RIGHTS
On a one-day visit to Baku on 21 April, Joschka Fischer said the Azerbaijani leadership must put an end to human rights violations and implement economic reform in order to improve its relations with the EU, dpa reported. During talks with President Ilham Aliyev, Fischer characterized Azerbaijan's economy as the strongest in the South Caucasus and affirmed the shared interest of both Germany and the EU in expanding bilateral economic cooperation, according to Turan. Fischer further expressed the hope that Azerbaijan and Armenia will "take decisive steps" toward resolving the Karabakh conflict, and pledged Germany's assistance as a member of the OSCE Minsk Group in reaching a peace settlement. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS DESIRE TO FUNCTION AS 'CONSTRUCTIVE OPPOSITION'
Ayaz Mutalibov, who has lived in Moscow since fleeing Azerbaijan in May 1992 after an abortive comeback attempt, said in an interview published on 20 April in "Vremya novostei" that recent threats by Azerbaijani officials to arrest him are without foundation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004). Mutalibov again affirmed that the Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan of which he is co-chairman is prepared to support reforms implemented by President Aliyev while reserving the right to function as a "constructive opposition." Mutalibov suggested that the threats to arrest him emanate from conservative figures within the power ministries who oppose any such reforms. LF

AZERBAIJANI MINORITY IN GEORGIA PROTESTS REPRESSION
The online daily zerkalo.az published on 22 April extracts from a letter received the previous day from representatives of Georgia's 500,000-strong Azerbaijani minority detailing systematic reprisals by the new Georgian leadership. The six signatories, three of them journalists, solicited support to halt reprisals against the staff of the Azerbaijani-language newspaper "Yeni dusunje" and to prevent the anticipated closure of Milli Heyrat, an unofficial organization that defends the interests of the Azerbaijani community, and reprisals against its leaders, who include former Georgian parliament Deputy Zumrud Gurbanli. They further protest systematic repression by local Georgian officials that, they claim, resulted in clashes on 18 April in an Azerbaijani-populated village in Bolnisi Raion. zerkalo.az noted that it was unable to reach by telephone any representatives of Georgia's Azerbaijani minority, including Gurbanli, to ask them to confirm and comment on the allegations. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN PLEDGES TO LIBERATE ADJARIA
Addressing the first session of the new Georgian parliament, Mikheil Saakashvili vowed on 22 April to free the people of Adjaria from the "criminal" leadership of Aslan Abashidze, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili again appealed to journalists and politicians not to describe the crisis in relations as a confrontation or standoff between the central government and the periphery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). He spoke dismissively of political figures who have tried to mediate with Abashidze, accusing them of pseudo-pacifism and pseudo-patriotism, and concluded that "a moment comes when there is no way to retreat. And such a moment has obviously come." The daily "Alia" on 22 April quoted unnamed parliament deputies as saying that following the opening session, the Georgian leadership intends to mobilize the population in a march on Adjaria. LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY COMMANDER PLEDGES LOYALTY TO ADJAR LEADER
Colonel Murad Tsintsadze, who commands the 3rd Division of Adjaria's Interior Ministry forces, announced on 21 April that in response to what he termed psychological pressure from the Georgian authorities, he and his division will in future take their orders only from Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Abashidze, Reuters and Georgian media reported. Tsintsadze described as "a hero" Major General Roman Dumbadze, who has been pilloried by the Georgian press for his analogous decision earlier this month to pledge loyalty to Abashidze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 21 April 2004). LF

KAZAKH LOWER HOUSE RATIFIES SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE TREATY...
The Majilis, or lower house of parliament, on 21 April ratified a previously signed treaty to form a Single Economic Space (SES), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The treaty now heads to Kazakhstan's Senate, or upper house of parliament, for approval. Russia and Ukraine ratified the treaty on 20 April, and the fourth signatory to the SES, Belarus, is expected to address the issue of ratification soon. The SES is intended to harmonize customs and other legislation to facilitate trade and macroeconomic development among member states. DK

...AND CONTINUES TO DISCUSS PEACEKEEPER ISSUE
Majilis deputies appealed to Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov requesting that the ministers of defense and foreign affairs appear before parliament to answer questions about the continued involvement of Kazakh peacekeepers in the reconstruction of Iraq, Kazinform reported on 21 April. Deputy Valeryan Zemlyanov said that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated recently. "There's a war going on there," he said, adding that it is high time to bring "our kids" home. Prime Minister Akhmetov assured deputies that the two ministers will be invited to the 12 May session of parliament to answer questions about the peacekeeping mission. Kazakhstan maintains a contingent of 27 peacekeepers in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004). DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MEETS WITH JAPANESE EMPEROR
Askar Akaev met with Emperor Akihito in Tokyo on 21 April, akipress.org reported. President Akaev praised Akihito's efforts to unify Japan as a nation, expressed the hope that Kyrgyz-Japanese relations will continue to deepen, and thanked Japan for the help it has provided Kyrgyzstan since the country gained its independence. The two also discussed the question of aid for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Kyodo News reported. Akaev stressed that a stable Afghanistan is an indispensable component part of Central Asian security. Akaev is in Japan for a three-day visit. DK

TAJIK PRESIDENT, CHINESE ENVOY DISCUSS COOPERATION
President Imomali Rakhmonov met with Chinese Ambassador Wu Hongbin on 21 April to discuss the future of bilateral relations, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Ambassador Wu told journalists after the meeting that he sees a chance in the near future for dynamic development and a strengthening of economic ties. The two also discussed the current state of Tajik-Chinese joint ventures, agreeing that "many Tajik-Chinese joint ventures do not function effectively enough." DK

UZBEK MINISTER VOICES HOPES FOR SHANGHAI ORGANIZATION
Foreign Minister Sodiq Safoyev told journalists on 21 April that Uzbekistan considers economic cooperation in the rebuilding of Afghanistan a priority for members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Interfax reported. Safoyev's comments came on the eve of a Moscow meeting of foreign ministers from SCO member countries. Safoyev also stressed the SCO's role in combating terrorism and "developing a unified approach to the creation of a common regional market." A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on 21 April that the SCO is entering a new stage of development and beginning to function as a full-fledged international organization, RIA-Novosti reported. Aleksandr Yakovenko said that the 22-23 April meeting will "examine the implementation of decisions from the SCO summit in Moscow in May 2003 and prepare for the meeting of SCO heads of state to be held in Tashkent in June." The SCO member states are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and Uzbekistan. DK

IMF WARNS AGAINST WIDENING DEFICITS IN NEW EU COUNTRIES
In its twice-yearly World Economic Outlook Report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 21 April warned that widening current account deficits in many of the 10 countries set to join the EU on 1 May are not sustainable and might unsettle financial markets, AFP reported. The IMF said that "firm action is needed to re-establish budgetary discipline." At the same time, it acknowledged that such discipline would have to be applied at a time when additional government spending will be needed in connection with EU membership, as well as membership in NATO. Projected 2004 deficits in the current accounts of the 10 acceding countries range from 0.6 percent of GDP in Slovenia to 11 percent in Estonia. MS

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS RESETTLEMENT AFTER CHORNOBYL WAS MISTAKE
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 21 April began a 10-day tour of areas in Belarus that suffered from radioactive fallout following the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident, Belarusian Television and ITAR-TASS reported. Lukashenka told local residents in Petrykau, Homel Oblast, that the decision by the Soviet-era government to resettle people on a mass-scale from areas affected by the Chornobyl accident was a mistake. "Everyone was doing politics on this [accident]," Lukashenka said. "Instead of helping people, they began to shout and scare people. They resettled them.... That resettlement has ruined your oblast, and half of Mahilyou Oblast as well." JM

BELARUS MOVES ANTIAIRCRAFT UNIT WESTWARD
Belarus's air-defense commander, Aleh Paferau, has ordered that the 302nd Surface-to-Air Missile Brigade, deployed in Maryina Horka in Minsk Oblast, be moved westward to Damanava, some 90 kilometers from Belarus's border with Poland, Belapan reported on 21 April. The first train carrying the brigade's hardware and personnel has reportedly arrived at the new location. The brigade is armed with Osa surface-to-air missiles that have a maximum range of some 10 kilometers. No reason for the move was given though it is in line with Lukashenka's anti-NATO rhetoric. JM

BELARUSIAN HIGH COURT LIQUIDATES YET ANOTHER NGO
The Supreme Court has ordered the closure of the Belarusian Union of Young Politicians, one of the oldest nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 21 April. The organization was founded in 1992 and reregistered under its current name in 2000. The court agreed with the Justice Ministry's charges that the organization did not have a legal address for two years and used an unauthorized stamp, finding these charges sufficient for banning the NGO. Over the past year, Belarusian courts have reportedly outlawed 54 NGOs. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS MOVE TO DISMISS OFFICIALS OVER MAYORAL ELECTION
The Verkhovna Rada on 21 April rejected an opposition-sponsored bill asking President Leonid Kuchma to sack presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk, Interior Minister Mykola Bilokon, and Transcarpathian Oblast Governor Ivan Rizak for their alleged involvement in illegal activities during the controversial mayoral election in Mukacheve on 18 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004), Interfax reported. The bill was supported by 214 deputies, 12 votes shy of the majority needed for approval. Meanwhile, some 10,000 people took part in an unauthorized rally in Mukacheve the same day to support Our Ukraine mayoral candidate Viktor Baloha who, according to the opposition, was robbed of a decisive victory in the 18 April election. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES CONTINUITY AFTER 2004 ELECTION
Kuchma on 21 April said Ukraine's current policies must be continued even after the October presidential election, Interfax reported. "While admitting the inevitability of a correction of the state policy in connection with a new president's program and ideological aims, we must do our utmost to secure continuity of the state course," Kuchma said. He also spoke against a "new round of property distribution" in the country. "I'm against a witch-hunt," the president stressed. "A new round of property distribution in Ukraine cannot be allowed. On the contrary, we should increase the class of private owners." Kuchma said Ukraine should finish privatizing state enterprises by 2008, cutting the size of the public sector in the economy to 8-10 percent. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS REARRANGE FACTIONS
A new parliamentary group called Center has emerged in the Verkhovna Rada, Interfax reported on 22 April, quoting deputy speaker Adam Martynyuk. Center has 16 deputies, including Oleksandr Omelchenko and Taras Chornovil, former members of the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus. Moreover, the Industrialists and Entrepreneurs/Labor Ukraine caucus has dissolved itself and created a Labor Ukraine parliamentary group consisting of 28 deputies. According to Interfax, the current array of forces in the 448-member Verkhovna Rada is as follows: Our Ukraine -- 100 deputies; Ukraine's Regions -- 66; the Communist Party -- 59; the Social Democratic Party-united -- 38; Labor Ukraine -- 28; the Socialist Party -- 20; the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- 19; People's Power -- 18; Democratic Initiatives -- 17; the Agrarian Party -- 16; Center -- 16; Popular Choice -- 13. The legislature is to close its current session on 2 July, a week earlier than planned, in connection with the reconstruction of the session chamber. JM

ESTONIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR GREATER NATO ROLE IN IRAQ
Juhan Parts told visiting Italian President Carlo Ciampi in Tallinn on 21 April that in view of recent developments in Iraq it is necessary to increase the role of NATO in reconstructing the country, BNS reported. They agreed that there was no convincing alternative to the cooperation of NATO and the European Union for ensuring security and confronting terrorism in the world. Ciampi expressed concern about the current situation in Iraq and stressed that the establishment of a stable security situation in the country is a key priority. The leaders also spoke about the future of the EU, expressing the hope that an acceptable agreement will be reached about the draft EU constitution in June. Parts thanked Italy for supporting Estonia's efforts to join NATO and the EU and said that bilateral relations between the two countries will become closer due to their cooperation in these two organizations. SG

LITTLE HOPE FOR JOINT CANDIDATE FOR LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT
Acting President Arturas Paulauskas met with former President Valdas Adamkus on 21 April to discuss the possibility of the major political parties backing a single candidate in the presidential elections to prevent recently impeached Rolandas Paksas from being elected president again, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. Although the Liberal Union and Center Union as well as the Homeland Union have said that they would support Adamkus for president, he has not announced whether he intends to be a candidate. After meeting with Paulauskas, Adamkus said that he would not run if Paksas was not also competing. The Social Democratic Party (LSDP) has nominated acting parliament Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas as its candidate for president. Upon returning from vacation that day, LSDP Chairman and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas confirmed that there is no possibility that Jursenas would withdraw his candidacy for president and invited other parties to back him. Thus, it appears clear that if Paksas is permitted to run, candidates from both the left and right will also compete. SG

POLISH PREMIER URGES POLITICAL RESOLUTION OF IRAQ CONFLICT
Outgoing Prime Minister Leszek Miller said on 21 April that the Iraq conflict must be resolved by political means rather than military force, PAP reported. "Today I am unable to say when [Polish troops will pull out from Iraq]," Miller added. "However, I'm sure the new prime minister will unveil more details about this in his expose." Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said the same day that Warsaw hopes to reduce the presence of its troops in Iraq in 2005. Szmajdzinski added that Polish and U.S. commanders are now working on a new organization of the Polish-led multinational division in Iraq after Spain, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic announced plans to withdraw their troops from Iraq (Norwegian troops are also leaving on 30 June). JM

CZECH CIVIL SERVANTS STRIKE AGAINST WAGE CUTS
Civil servants in the Czech Republic staged a one-hour strike on 21 April, temporarily closing schools, courts, and hospitals, CTK and dpa reported. According to a trade-union spokeswoman cited by CTK, more than 300,000 people joined the strike. They protested against cuts made by the government this year within the framework of economic reforms, which are designed to reduce public debt and help qualify the country for the euro currency. The cabinet trimmed the civil servants' so-called 13th salary by 90 percent, effectively reducing annual wages by 6 percent. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT-ELECT'S POPULARITY RISING AFTER ELECTION
The popularity of Ivan Gasparovic rose from 6.4 percent to 12.1 percent over the past month, CTK reported on 21 April, citing a poll conducted by the UVVM polling institute. The country's most popular politician continues to be Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico, followed by People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Chairman Vladimir Meciar, who lost to Gasparovic in the 17 April presidential runoff. Fico enjoys the support of 23.1 percent of the respondents and Meciar of 19 percent. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda is supported by only 4 percent of the respondents in the survey. In related news, European Commission President Romano Prodi on 21 April congratulated Gasparovic on his election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). MS

SLOVAK HUNGARIAN PARTY LEADER REJECTS PREMIER'S ACCUSATIONS
Bela Bugar, the leader of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), a junior partner in the government, on 21 April rejected accusations by Prime Minister Dzurinda that he is the cause of tension within the ruling coalition, TASR reported. Bugar said Dzurinda is "making mistakes" by making those "misleading" allegations and that he would be well-advised to reflect on who started the problems in the coalition. Bugar's comments are in response to an interview with Dzurinda in the daily "Narodna obroda" the same day in which the premier said Bugar's behavior has changed since Slovakia and Hungary signed an agreement in February that resolved differences over the Hungarian Status Law. Bugar said recently that only Dzurinda's resignation would allow the return to the coalition of the Free Forum Party, whose deputies broke from Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union and caused the government to lose its majority in parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). MS

U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER THANKS HUNGARY FOR LEAVING TROOPS IN IRAQ
Condoleezza Rice on 21 April thanked Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs for Budapest's decision not to withdraw its troops from Iraq, dpa reported, citing the Hungarian MTI agency. Rice met Kovacs in Washington ahead of his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Rice said that Hungary provided support and stability in Iraq despite the difficult security situation and Washington will not force Hungary to choose between allegiance to the United States or the European Union. Kovacs said Washington would have "an extra friend" in Europe on 1 May when Hungary joins the EU. Hungary currently has 300 soldiers in Iraq as part of the U.S.-led coalition force. MS

HUNGARY RECIPROCATES ON EU RESTRICTIONS ON FREE MOVEMENT OF LABOR
The Hungarian government on 21 April ordered reciprocal measures against current EU members that do not allow Hungarian citizens access to their labor markets, AP reported. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal said the accession treaty with the EU "allows us to apply the principle of reciprocity." He said workers from the 10 new EU member states will be able to work in Hungary without restrictions as of 1 May, but the cabinet will consider imposing restrictions on them if their numbers threaten employment for Hungarians. Citizens from EU members imposing some restrictions that are still more favorable than pre-enlargement labor rules (Great Britain and Ireland) will have to apply for a work permit. In a third category, people from current EU member countries whose labor markets are more closed to Hungarians than before the enlargement will need a work permit, and their applications will be submitted to a job-market study to determine whether any Hungarians are available to fill that job. MS

BALKAN SUMMIT ENDS IN BOSNIAN CAPITAL
The heads of state or government from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Turkey concluded a one-day summit in Sarajevo on 21 April with a declaration calling for more regional cooperation, dpa reported (see item below). The South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) was founded in 1996 as a regional initiative to promote peace, stability, and cooperation, and is often associated with Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 October 2003). At the summit, Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano said that his government will work to promote dialogue between ethnic Albanians in Kosova and the Serbian minority. Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic stressed that it is the responsibility of the SEECP countries themselves to determine how quickly they will "join Europe," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He also noted that his country is aware of its obligation to arrest indicted war criminals. Reinhard Priebe, who is responsible for the Western Balkans at the European Commission, praised the participants for "taking ownership" of the regional-cooperation issue. There is a long tradition in the Balkans of each country paying more attention to its relations with the major powers than with its neighbors. PM

NATO PEACEKEEPERS SEIZE 10 ANTIAIRCRAFT MISSILES IN BOSNIA
A SFOR spokesman said in Banja Luka on 21 April that peacekeepers have completed a search for illegal weapons in the Prnjavor area, finding two hidden arms caches that included 10 SAM-7 portable antiaircraft missiles in their original packaging as well as 24 antitank rockets, some small ammunition, and some mortar shells, ONASA news agency reported. PM

BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT WANTS AN INVESTIGATION OF FATAL INCIDENT
The Bosnian Serb parliament demanded that the government conduct a full investigation of 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 and 21 April 2004). The parliament also called for a full report outlining responsibility for the incident. Police chief Radomir Njegus said that the police raid was legal, adding that the death was the result of an unfortunate combination of circumstances. He noted that Lukic was not armed at the time of the raid, "Nezavisne novine" reported. Opposition leader Milorad Dodik said that the tragic incident was the fruit of long-standing policies that fostered the image of indicted war criminals as national heroes. PM

MACEDONIAN MAYORS COMPLAIN OF POLITICAL PARALYSIS
Goran Angelov, who heads Macedonia's Association of Local Self-Governing Units (ZELS), Struga Mayor Romeo Dereban, and Kicevo Mayor Vlado Korunovski complained on 21 April that the ongoing presidential-election campaign has stalled the public debate on the government's redistricting plans and held up work on draft legislation on local self-government, "Vreme" reported. The mayors say that Finance Minister Nikola Popovski and other unnamed ministers, as well as some unnamed mayors have been concentrating on the election campaign rather than on working on the draft legislation. The Albanian-language weekly "Lobi" warned on 9 April that delaying the adoption of the decentralization legislation could lead to a postponement of the local elections that are due in fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 20 February 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February 2003). UB

ROMANIA TAKES OVER SEECP CHAIR
Romania on 21 April took over from Bosnia the rotating chair of the South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) at that organization's summit in Sarajevo, Mediafax and AFP reported. The SEECP was created in 1996, after the disintegration of former Yugoslavia, and aims at building stability and cooperation in the region. President Ion Iliescu said in his speech that Bucharest hopes that during its year of chairing the SEECP, Croatia -- which now has observer status -- would become a full member of the organization and Moldova would be granted observer status. Iliescu proposed changing the organization's name to Central-Southeast European Cooperation Process, pointing out that the region in which Romania is geographically located is not in southeastern, but in Central Europe. He said the "genuine" Southeastern Europe is located between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and includes such states as Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BILL AGAINST POLITICAL MIGRATION...
The cabinet on 21 April approved a draft bill aimed at stopping elected representatives from moving from one party to another, Mediafax reported. The draft stipulates that if a lawmaker or local government official resigns from the party on whose list he or she was elected, he or she would automatically lose his or her mandate. The bill is to be submitted to parliament for approval. The opposition Democratic Party-National Liberal Party alliance said on 20 April that parliament should first debate a draft bill submitted earlier by the alliance on the same issue. MS

...AND AMENDS LEGISLATION AIMED AT CURBING CORRUPTION...
The government approved on 21 April an emergency ordinance amending a package of laws approved last year that seeks to curb corruption, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March and 21 May 2003). According to the new stipulations, all persons running for the office of state president, legislator, county or municipal councilor, or mayor would have to declare their assets in a written statement submitted to either the central or the local election commission. Government and local officials would have to declare accounts of more than 5,000 euros ($5,932) in Romanian or foreign banks. The previous stipulation required that only bank accounts of over 10,000 euros must be declared. Officials would also have to indicate if they own any real estate in Romania or abroad and when it was purchased. MS

...AS PNA SAYS STATE INSTITUTIONS UNABLE TO COUNTER CORRUPTION
The National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) said on 21 April in its annual report to parliament that state institutions are unable to cope with growing corruption and that corruption is penetrating ever more spheres of life, Mediafax reported. The PNA said that despite corruption's growing dimensions, relatively few people were punished in court for corruption in 2003. It said that "state organs are incapable of identifying corrupt acts promptly, of intervening against them, and of countering them through the justice system." The PNA said corruption "has a direct impact" on Romania's economic and social development and is "wrecking the benefits created by the free-market economy." MS

NAZI-HUNTER ORGANIZATION CRITICIZES ROMANIA'S LACK OF PURSUIT OF WAR CRIMINALS
The Simon Wiesenthal Center said in its annual report on 21 April that Romania has failed to take practical steps to investigate war crimes and refused to cancel pardons granted in 1997 and 1998 to two former colonels convicted for involvement in those crimes after the end of World War II, Reuters reported. Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel branch, said he is especially concerned by the lack of response from Romanian Prosecutor-General Ilie Botos to the center's request to annul the pardons granted to Colonels Radu Dinulescu and Gheorghe Petrescu. Last year in Romania, the center launched Operation Last Chance, which offered a $10,000 reward to anyone providing information leading to the prosecution of war criminals. A similar operation exposed several war criminals in the Baltic states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003, and 30 January and 3 February 2004). MS

BULGARIAN LEGISLATORS DEMAND THAT CONTINGENT BE WITHDRAWN FROM IRAQ
Four legislators of the Socialist-dominated opposition Coalition for Bulgaria demanded on 21 April that the Bulgarian contingent stationed in Karbala, Iraq, be withdrawn, vsekiden.com reported. The four legislators belong to a faction within the opposition coalition that opposes Bulgaria's accession to NATO. A Socialist Party spokesman said the party does not support the calls for a withdrawal. Upon his return from Kuwait on 21 April, Bulgarian Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev backtracked from an earlier statement and said the withdrawal of Spanish troops will not affect the security situation in Iraq and will not lead to an increase of tasks performed by the Bulgarian contingent, mediapool.bg reported. Kolev declined to comment on reports that the Polish government is considering reducing its troop presence in Iraq (see Poland item above). Speaking in Sarajevo on 21 April, President Georgi Parvanov repeated his call for NATO and UN to become involved in efforts to stabilize Iraq, vsekiden.com reported (see End Note "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). UB

BULGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER WITHDRAWS CANDIDACY FOR IMF HEAD
In response to the EU's endorsement of former Spanish Economy Minister Rodrigo Rato's candidacy as new IMF managing director, Bulgarian Finance Minister Milen Velchev on 21 April withdrew his candidacy for the position, mediapool.bg reported. Velchev cited "long-term ambitions in politics," adding that he feels that he can contribute to Bulgaria's efforts to join the EU in 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). UB

DAGHESTAN'S JEWISH AND MUSLIM COMMUNITIES EMERGE FROM SOVIET-ERA REPRESSION
At first glance, it seems that the experiences of Daghestan's Muslim and Jewish communities have varied inversely in recent years. As one group has expanded the other has contracted. Yet beneath the surface there are similarities stemming from their shared Soviet legacy, and there are differences arising from new opportunities for travel abroad and from the complexities of contemporary geopolitics.

Prior to perestroika there were approximately 40,000 Jews in Daghestan. During the last two decades, most of these have departed for Israel, the United States, or other Russian regions. Today fewer than 7,000 Daghestanis regard themselves as Jewish. Almost 3,000 of these live in the capital city, Makhachkala. Approximately the same number live in the ancient coastal city of Derbent, and 1,000 Jews live in other towns and villages. Because the Tats, or Mountain Jews, are native to Daghestan, synagogues once operated in many Daghestani towns. Today Daghestan has four Jewish synagogues located in Makhachkala, Derbent, Buinaksk, and Khasavyurt.

A hundred years ago there were five synagogues in the capital. Only one of these remains, housed in an undistinguished one-story building. Eighteen months ago, construction began on a new four-story building, financed largely by the chairman of the Makhachkala Jewish community, Shimi Dibiaev. There has also been help from the Daghestani government, which recently allocated 3 million rubles ($104,000) as compensation for religious buildings destroyed and confiscated in various periods. Yet, when the new synagogue is completed next month it will be without a rabbi.

At 14 years of age, David Agarunov currently presides during regular services, as well as at funerals and weddings. The Makhachkala Jewish community regards him as their only member who correctly recites prayers in Hebrew. The boy plans to relocate to Israel in the near future to attend a religious school, but says that he will return to Makhachkala to serve in the new synagogue.

At the beginning of February, an explosive device detonated in the courtyard of the synagogue in Derbent. There were no casualties, but windows of the synagogue were damaged. Derbent's chief of police said that a criminal investigation had been opened, but suggested that members of the Jewish community might have been settling accounts with one another.

Yet according to Marta Alikyan, head of the office of the Makhachkala synagogue, there has been no harassment or persecution of Daghestan's Jewish community, apart from occasional vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and some anti-Semitic graffiti. She said that Daghestan's Jews have no problems with the Muslim community.

On the day that the Soviet Union collapsed there were 27 mosques in Daghestan. Much like Makhachkala's Jewish community, the city's practicing Muslims were limited to a single mosque that was virtually indistinguishable from the low, dilapidated buildings that surrounded it. In 2002, the building was renovated and equipped with a handsome new facade.

Since 1996, Makhachkala's skyline has been dominated by a grand new djuma (cathedral) mosque, constructed with Turkish funding. Several smaller mosques have also been built in Makhachkala. Yet these are just a few of the 1,697 Sunni mosques and 20 Shi'ite mosques now operating throughout Daghestan. These figures are considerably higher than in any of Russia's other Muslim regions.

Despite this rapid expansion, or perhaps because of it, there are also shortages of religious leadership in Daghestan's Muslim communities. Only 17 percent of Daghestan's imams have graduated from a religious institution. Of the remaining 83 percent, 29 percent attended madrasahs, and 54 percent received an elementary Islamic education in mosque schools. Five percent of Daghestan's imams hold a graduate degree from a secular institution, 59 percent have undergraduate degrees, and 39 percent have a basic education. The Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of Daghestan offers courses for any imam who feels a need for further training.

As with Makhachkala's Jewish community, decades of Soviet religious repression are reflected in a current shortage of religious expertise within both religious communities. Daghestan's Muslims have responded by establishing 52 Islamic institutions of higher education. Many of their students are young men from economically disadvantaged backgrounds who might have no other opportunity for advanced education.

In addition, many young Muslims seek religious education abroad. By various counts, somewhere between 450 and 1,200 Daghestani students have enrolled at Islamic centers in countries such as Iran, Turkey, and Egypt.

However, the situation has presented Daghestan's religious and political leaders with a dilemma. On the one hand, foreign Islamic institutions might help to overcome the current lag in spiritual expertise. On the other hand, they fear the students might be introduced to radical interpretations of Islam that are alien to the republic's traditionalist Muslim community.

Robert Bruce Ware is an associate professor at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville.

EXPLOSION IN SOUTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCE KILLS TWO
Two people were killed in an explosion that occurred on 21 April in Spin Boldak, Kandahar Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. The explosion apparently targeted Kandahar Governor Mohammad Yusof Pashtun, who was in the area at the time. The daughter of the head of the Spin Boldak District and a security guard were killed and two others were injured. According to Radio Afghanistan, while no one has claimed responsibility for the incident, officials in the province have accused "terrorists," implying the involvement of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban." Two Afghan soldiers were killed in the explosion, according to a 21 April report by the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press. AT

KABUL DAILY CALLS GOVERNMENT DOWNSIZING A NECESSITY
The Kabul government-run daily "Anis" wrote in a 22 April editorial that "downsizing the [Afghan] cabinet has become a prime necessity." In Afghanistan there are ministries, departments, and agencies that are "not effective and cannot render any services," the editorial said. Some of these government departments are "so similar that their activities and affairs are often confused," "Anis" added. At the end, "Anis" wrote that the people of Afghanistan "urge" Chairman Karzai to "review the present cabinet and appoint professional people" in a restructured cabinet. Karzai has already announced his intention to reduce the size of his cabinet, which is comprised of 29 ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). AT

AFGHANISTAN EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER ASSASSINATION OF HAMAS LEADERS
The Foreign Ministry of the Transitional Administration of Afghanistan said in a press statement on 20 April that it is concerned by the assassinations of "two Palestinian political activists" by Israeli forces. The killing of Hamas leaders "Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantissi...is a cause of concern to Afghanistan," the statement added. According to the statement, targeted assassinations "will not help the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East." At the end the Afghan Foreign Ministry said, "in principle, Afghanistan condemns all terrorist activities," as such activities "perpetuate the cycle of violence." Yassin and al-Rantissi were killed on 22 March and 17 April, respectively. AT

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN FRANCE
Kamal Kharrazi discussed Iran's nuclear activities with his French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier in Paris on 21 April, IRNA reported that day. Iran is concerned, Kharrazi said, "that Europe will not honor its commitments [in which case] continuing cooperation with Iran will face difficulties." Iran promised three European foreign ministers last October to allow UN inspectors to fully check its nuclear program in exchange for access to the latest technology. Barnier urged Iran's "transparent cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA]" to remove suspicions, adding that France wants Iran's dossier to be normalized "in the shortest possible time." "Europe will remain faithful to its commitments to Iran because it considers Iran a trustworthy partner and colleague." Separately, Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi denied a report that agents have arrested Iranian scientists for passing nuclear secrets abroad, Reuters reported on 21 April. The weekly "Ya-Lesarat" carried the report on this issue but did not state to whom secrets were allegedly passed, Reuters stated. VS

UNITED STATES VIEWS IRAN WITH NUKES AS 'INTOLERABLE'
U.S. President George W. Bush said on 21 April that it would be "intolerable to peace and stability in the Middle East" if Iran has nuclear bombs, as its "stated aim is the destruction of Israel," Reuters reported the same day. He warned that Iran would be "dealt with, starting through the United Nations," if it pursued nuclear-weapon ambitions. "The development of a nuclear weapon in Iran is intolerable, and a program is intolerable," and this "message is getting delivered to" Iran's rulers, Reuters cited him as saying. Separately, the U.S. government announced on 20 April that it will extend a temporary suspension of certain sanctions against Iran, initially designed to ease relief efforts after an earthquake there in December that killed thousands (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 January 2004), Reuters reported on 21 April. This decision was "matter of fact, not political," Reuters cited an unnamed State Department official as saying. The two countries severed formal ties after Iran's 1979 revolution. VS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT DEPLORES VIOLENCE IN IRAQ
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 21 April that Iran wants peace in Iraq and "we consider incorrect any activity that disrupts order and creates instability in Iraq," ISNA reported the same day. "What we approve in Iraq are the policies and methods of [Grand] Ayatollah [Ali al-Sistani].... We have recognized the Governing Council and approve of their policies," ISNA cited saying at a press conference. He urged the speedy departure of the coalition forces, which he termed "a provocative source" for recent violence. "Remove the source of provocation, we told them in a message, and the disorders will automatically subside." Any attack on the Iraqi cities of Al-Najaf and Kerbala by U.S.-led forces "means suicide for the occupying forces and provoking the feelings of the entire Islamic and, especially, Shi'ite world against them." Asked if Iran will talk to the United States, he said, "there are no plans for any meeting with the Americans nor do we need to talk to America." VS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT CLARIFIES CABINET RESHUFFLE
Khatami said on 21 April that he has reshuffled his cabinet because of a "lack of coordination" between the Finance Ministry and the Management and Planning Organization, and because "coordination between government members is very important" in the government's remaining term, news agencies reported on 21 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 21 April 2004). He said Management and Planning Organization chief Mohammad Satarifar wanted to resign and was not dismissed, according to mehrnews.com. The president will create two new vice presidencies, according to ISNA. He said he is satisfied that his government has unified the country's multiple exchange rates and also curbed inflation. "When I came to office [in 1997] this was 21 percent and in [the year to 20 March 2003] this inflation became 11.4 percent." VS

U.S. PLANS 'LIMITED SOVEREIGNTY' FOR IRAQ
Senior U.S. Defense and State Department officials reportedly told Congress this week that the new interim Iraqi government will have only "limited sovereignty" when the coalition transfers power on 30 June, washingtonpost.com reported on 22 April. The interim government will have no authority over the U.S. and coalition forces inside the country, according to testimony by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. The coalition will continue to operate under the transitional law approved by the Iraqi Governing Council and UN Security Council Resolution 1511 ratified in October. Wolfowitz depicted the interim government as "purely temporary" in his testimony, saying it is there to "run ministries...but most importantly, they'll be setting up elections." He added that the Iraqi government will be in charge of Iraqi police, "but in coordination with CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command], because this is not a normal police situation." KR

RESTIVE IRAQI CITY REMAINS QUIET
International media reported on 22 April that calm has been restored to Al-Fallujah following clashes between Iraqi militants and U.S. forces in the city. A senior U.S. official told Reuters, however, that Iraqis in the town have thus far not adhered to their commitment under the terms of a 19 April agreement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004) that calls for militants to turn all heavy weapons over to the U.S. military. "It's lackluster, not terribly encouraging, not what we could consider demonstrating an effort to comply fully," the official said. Meanwhile, Ahmad Hardan, who headed the Al-Fallujah negotiation team, told Al-Jazeera television on 21 April that weapons have been collected. "We agreed that heavy weapons will be handed over to [the] Al-Fallujah police center. These weapons were collected and placed in the houses of some tribal leaders and city figures over the past two days before handing them over...." He added that the Al-Fallujah Police Directorate has set up a committee to examine and classify these weapons." KR

NORWEGIAN TROOPS TO DEPART IRAQ
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said on 21 April that his country will withdraw its troops from Iraq on 30 June, Oslo's "Nationen" reported. "I envisage we will not have the engineer troops in Iraq for the second half of the year. I cannot hide the fact that there are good arguments for continuing to keep them there, but it is also important to see to it that it is possible for Norway to do its job in Afghanistan," Petersen said, adding that Afghanistan was Norway's "first priority." KR

ANNAN NAMES PANEL TO INVESTIGATE IRAQ OIL-FOR-FOOD ALLEGATIONS
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced on 21 April that he has appointed an independent panel to investigate allegations of corruption within the UN's now-defunct oil-for-food program in Iraq, the UN News Center reported (http://www.un.org/news). Paul A. Volcker, the former chairman of the board of governors of the U.S. Federal Reserve System, will chair the panel. The panel's other two members are Justice Richard Goldstone, a South African and a former prosecutor of the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and Mark Pieth, a Swiss national who is a professor of criminal law and criminology at the University of Basel. Pieth is an expert in money laundering. The panel will reportedly investigate whether UN procedures for the administration and management of the program were violated, and determine whether any UN officials, personnel, agents, or contractors engaged in any illicit or corrupt activities in the course of their roles within the program. The panel will also determine whether the accounts of the program were maintained according to UN rules and regulations. KR

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