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Newsline - April 23, 2004


RUSSIA VETOES UN RESOLUTION ON CYPRUS
The Russian delegation in the UN Security Council on 22 April blocked the adoption of a resolution on Cyprus that outlines security arrangements for the island should its citizens vote for reunification in an upcoming referendum, Western and Russian media reported. The twin referendums in the Greek and Turkish parts of the island will be held on 24 April. Russia used its right of veto for the first time since 1994 and was the only member to vote against the resolution. Gennadii Gitalov, Russia's deputy ambassador to the UN, said Moscow saw the resolution as an attempt to influence voting. According to opinion polls, more than 60 percent of the island's Turkish community supports the idea of reunification, while 65 percent of the Greek community is against the proposal, gazeta.ru reported. If voters in either part do not approve reunification, only the southern, Greek part of the island will join the European Union on 1 May. Russian businesses have a strong presence in the Greek part of the island. VY

RUSSIA AND EU DISCUSS EU ENLARGEMENT ISSUES...
European Commission President Romano Prodi said after a 22 April meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow that most of the problems concerning Kaliningrad and EU enlargement have been solved, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin said an agreement was reached "on the extension of the movement of our goods to Kaliningrad and the common EU customs procedures," ORT and RTR reported. The Russian president added, however, that "some details still have to be clarified." Putin said that in general Russia would like to develop cooperation with Europe in the economic, energy, security, and humanitarian sectors and that these topics will be discussed at the EU-Russia summit in Moscow on 21 May. Prodi also said the European Commission will recommend that EU members make bilateral agreements with Russia to facilitate the issuance of visas for Russian citizens traveling to the EU. VY

...AND WTO ACCESSION
Also on 22 April, Prodi met with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to discuss Russia's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), ABNews.ru and RTR reported. Under discussion were Russia's subsidized rates for domestic gas and electricity and the restricted access of European companies to the Russian market. Prodi said these issues will be solved by the 21 May Russia-EU summit in Moscow and that, while a number of questions remain, "the political will is there," "The Moscow Times" reported. VY

UPPER HOUSE SIGNS OFF ON CONTENTIOUS UKRAINE ACCORDS
The Federation Council ratified two treaties with Ukraine on 22 April on the Sea of Azov and the border between the two countries, Russian and Western media reported. On 20 April, the Duma approved the contentious accords -- one of which stipulates that the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait are internal waters of both Ukraine and Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). The Federation Council also approved a third accord on the Single Economic Space that was signed by the presidents of Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus in September and ratified by the Russian Duma on 20 April. Meanwhile, President Putin flew to Crimea, where he exchanged ratified treaties on 23 April with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. VY

RUSSIANS STILL FOND OF LENIN
On the birthday of the founder of the Soviet state, Vladimir Lenin, the ROMIR-Monitoring polling agency published on its website (http://www.monitoring.ru) on 22 April the results of a poll on the role of Lenin in Russian history. The poll interviewed 1,610 people in 106 cities and villages of the Russian Federation. Of the respondents, 63 percent believe that Lenin was good for Russia, and 24 percent said he was bad for the country. Among people between the ages of 18 and 24, only 44 percent believe in the positive role of Lenin, the same number believe he has a negative role, and 12 percent of people have no opinion. According to a February ROMIR-Monitoring poll, Lenin was the fourth most popular Russian leader since 1917 after President Putin, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, and Soviet Communist Party General-Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. The polling agency did not reveal the precise level of support for Stalin and Brezhnev in that poll. VY

DUMA AND FSB CLAMP DOWN ON ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION
The Duma adopted in its first reading on 21 April a bill that increased the penalties for assisting illegal immigration into Russian territory, ORT reported. Addressing the Duma, Russian Federal Security Service First Deputy Chairman Colonel-General Vladimir Pronichev said that illegal immigration and human trafficking results in annual profits of about $7 billion for criminal syndicates. Federal Migration Service Director Mikhail Kravchenko said there are more than 200 companies openly producing fake immigration documents and work permits in downtown Moscow. VY

OLIGARCH SAYS HE'S READING AS FAST AS HE CAN
Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii told a Moscow court on 23 April that he has read 209 of the 227 volumes of the case against him, RBK reported. Khodorkovskii was speaking at a hearing regarding a prosecution request to set a 15 May deadline for the defense to acquaint itself with the case. His lawyers have read no more than 70 volumes, Khodorkovskii said. Prosecutors argue that Khodorkovskii has been intentionally slowing down the process of reviewing the case materials, saying that he has studied several volumes more than once and that some of his lawyers have been spending "not more than an hour a day" on the matter. Khodorkovskii told the court that he has worked on the materials every weekday since 25 November and that now he is prepared to work on Saturdays and without lunch breaks in order to accelerate the process. He said the accusation that he is delaying the process is slanderous. Khodorkovskii has been in custody since 25 October. RC

MOSCOW, PETERSBURG MAYORS URGE PRIVATIZATION OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, speaking to reporters in Seoul on 23 April, said that he supports a proposal made earlier this week by St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko that historic buildings now belonging to the federal government be privatized so that they can be renovated, newsru.com reported. Matvienko said on 20 April that her administration is preparing legislation under which many downtown buildings could be sold off at 50 percent of their value to owners who would pledge to restore them and ensure some level of public access. Local Art Institute Director Aleksei Komech told Ekho Moskvy that 400 of St. Petersburg's 500 downtown palaces and mansions are in desperate need of repair. "I consider this idea correct," Luzhkov said, "but the transfer of historical monuments must be accomplished with a whole series of conditions under which they must maintain their historic appearance." RC

ARREST MADE IN CASE OF ARKHANGELSK APARTMENT BLAST
Police in Arkhangelsk have arrested an unidentified 26-year-old former municipal-gas-company employee in connection with a 16 March natural-gas explosion in an apartment building that killed 60 people, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 19 March and 2 April 2004). Prosecutors accuse the man of removing fittings from the building's feeder line because "of a conflict with the former management of Gorgaz," according to Arkhangelsk Oblast police chief Vladimir Lobanov, RIA-Novosti reported. Earlier, officials believed the fittings had been removed by homeless people seeking to sell them for scrap. RC

OIC WELCOMES CLOSER TIES WITH RUSSIA
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said on 22 April that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) welcomes a statement last week by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying the Kremlin welcomes any opportunity to work more closely with the OIC, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. The OIC is currently holding an emergency congress to discuss the situation in Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. President Putin addressed an OIC congress in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2003). Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov said in Ufa on 22 April that his republic must do more to strengthen economic ties with OIC member states, RosBalt reported. RC

VLADIVOSTOK ELECTION DATE SET DESPITE STANDOFF IN CITY LEGISLATURE
The mayoral election in Vladivostok will be held on 4 July, regions.ru and RIA-Novosti reported on 23 April. The local election commission was obliged to set the date after local legislators were unable on 19 April to agree on one in their fourth consideration of the matter. Deputies from the Freedom and People Power bloc, which supports former Vladivostok Mayor and State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov (independent), continued to boycott the work of the legislature, as they have since it was formed on the basis of elections held on 7 June 2003. The city duma is sharply split between Cherepkov's supporters and those of Vladivostok Mayor Yurii Kopylov. It took the legislature five ballots and a court hearing before it was able to confirm a speaker, and it has not yet passed a single significant bill, including the city's 2004 budget, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 April. RC

RUSSIA WARNS AGAINST RISK OF PLAGUE
The chief health inspector in Russia, Gennadii Onishchenko, has sent a directive to regional medical bodies warning them of the need to increase measures at the country's borders with Central Asia to prevent the spread of epidemics, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 April. Although no cases of plague have been registered in Russia since 1979, the risk of a plague epidemic is high because of porous borders with Central Asia, an unnamed government source told ITAR-TASS. Onishchenko asked health inspectors on the borders with China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan to provide early-warning measures for the detection of plague and other infectious diseases. VY

POLICE SHOW NO INTEREST IN ETHNIC TOLERANCE
The Moscow city government and the nongovernmental group Ethnosphera organized a course of lectures on ethnic tolerance for police officers, but not a single one showed up for the voluntary course, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 April. The 72-hour course was specially designed "for employees of the public-security police and other city Interior Ministry workers," according to an Ethnosphera statement, but only employees of local prosecutors' offices and passport offices attended, the website reported. RC

INGUSH OPPOSITIONIST APPEALS TO PUTIN
Musa Ozdoev, the author of an article detailing how the Russian State Duma election outcome was falsified in Ingushetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004), addressed an open letter to President Putin on 22 April warning him that the situation in Ingushetia is "explosive," ingushetiya.ru reported the following day. Ozdoev enumerated his criticisms of Murat Zyazikov's actions since Zyazikov's election two years ago as president of Ingushetia. Ozdoev said the falsification of the outcome of the 7 December State Duma elections served to compound popular disenchantment, which was reflected in the unprecedented low turnout (between 5-10 percent) in the Russian presidential ballot on 14 March and a recent wave of protest demonstrations. Official data gave turnout as 98.2 percent of registered voters (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 22 April 2004). Ozdoev appealed to Putin to create a special commission to investigate the situation in Ingushetia. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITIONIST ASSAULTED, INJURED
Ashot Manucharian was hospitalized on 22 April with a fractured jaw and a possible concussion after being attacked and beaten on the street in Yerevan, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Manucharian rose to prominence in 1988 as a member of the unofficial Karabakh Committee that campaigned for the transfer from Azerbaijani to Armenian jurisdiction of the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast. He served as security adviser in the early 1990s to then President Levon Ter-Petrossian, but joined the opposition in 1994 and ran against Ter-Petrossian in the 1996 presidential ballot. Since 2000 he has opposed the present Armenian leadership, but has made no public statements to that effect over the past 18 months and is not affiliated with any major opposition party. LF

ARRESTS OF ARMENIAN PROTESTERS CONTINUE
Beginning late on 21 April, police launched a new wave of arrests of opposition activists and participants in an unsanctioned mass protest rally in Yerevan earlier that day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 22 April. A police spokesman said 76 people were arrested, of whom 23 were sentenced to up to 15 days detention. Opposition sources, however, estimated the number of arrests at over 200 in what National Accord Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian called "a manhunt." Speaking at a roundtable discussion in Yerevan on 22 April, Council of Europe permanent representative Natalia Voutova said the council's Venice Commission has concluded that an Armenian draft bill regulating the conduct of rallies and other public gatherings does not meet European standards, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Parliamentary deputy speaker Tigran Torosian rejected that criticism as "unacceptable" and "politically motivated," implying that the Council of Europe is siding with the opposition in its ongoing campaign to force the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. LF

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS ARMENIA
During a brief visit to Yerevan on 22 April, Joschka Fischer urged President Kocharian to find a peaceful solution to the ongoing standoff with the Armenian opposition, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The two men also discussed the Karabakh conflict and Armenian-Turkish relations, according to the presidential press service. Echoing comments he made to Azerbaijani leaders in Baku the previous day, Fischer told journalists he hopes Armenia will step up the pace of reform and expand the parameters of media freedom. He expressed concern at the Armenian leadership's refusal to decommission the aging Medzamor nuclear power plant, which provides some 40 percent of the country's electric power. LF

U.S. DIPLOMAT DISCUSSES KARABAKH CONFLICT WITH AZERBAIJANI LEADERS
Ambassador Steven Mann, who was named earlier this month as U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, met in Baku on 22 April with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 22 and 23 April, respectively. Mann said he will do all he can to achieve a swift and fair solution to the Karabakh conflict within the norms of international law, and that the United States will support any such solution that is acceptable to the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Mann also told journalists that during his meetings in Yerevan the previous day, the prospect was raised of a second meeting between Presidents Aliyev and Kocharian to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict. LF

AZERBAIJANI APPEALS COURT UPHOLDS MOSQUE RULING
Azerbaijan's Appeals Court upheld on 22 April a 1 March ruling by the Sabayil District Court that the unregistered congregation of the Djuma Mosque in Baku's old town must vacate the building, Turan reported. The Sabayil court suspended its own decision on 11 March in the wake of criticism by both the U.S. State Department and Azerbaijan's top Muslim cleric, but the organization responsible for the upkeep of historical buildings appealed the suspension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 10 and 11 March 2004). Norway's ambassador to Baku, Steinar Gil, commented on 22 April that the Appeals Court ruling "contradicts international conventions," Turan reported. LF

NEW GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS SPEAKER
At its opening session on 22 April, the parliament that was elected on 2 November and 28 March elected Nino Burdjanadze as its speaker, Georgian media reported. She also held that position in the outgoing legislature. The new parliament has four factions, of which by far the largest is the National Movement-Democrats (139 deputies). The Majoritarian and Independent Majoritarian factions each have 20 deputies and the Right-Wing Opposition, which comprises primarily deputies from the Industrialists-New Rightists bloc, has 17. There are 22 independent deputies. Four of the six deputies representing Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze's Democratic Revival Union attended the 22 April session, even though all six had earlier announced they would boycott the proceedings. The parliament on 22 April confirmed the mandates of 217 deputies, but not of those of the 10 deputies elected in 1991 to the Abkhaz parliament, and who since the 1992-1993 war have represented that breakaway republic in the Georgian parliament. The new legislature's mandate commission will rule on the legality of extending their mandates. LF

ADJAR LEADER ACCUSES TBILISI, BUT MAKES MINOR CONCESSION
Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Abashidze accused the Georgian authorities on 22 April of planning to assassinate him, Georgian media reported. He said he has written to U.S. President George W. Bush asking him to prevent any such attack, and will address a similar request to the Russian leadership. Also on 22 April, Abashidze issued orders for the abolition of Adjaria's State Security Ministry, having shrugged off Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's threat last month that the Georgian parliament would adopt a bill on doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2004). Abashidze said that the ministry will be replaced by two separate agencies subordinate to him, one that will combat terrorism and the second drug trafficking. In his address to the opening session of the Georgian parliament on 22 April, President Saakashvili echoed Baramidze's allegations that Abashidze himself is implicated in drug trafficking; Saakashvili branded him a "narco-baron." LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA SIGN NEW BORDER PROTOCOL
Georgian State Border Department head Badri Bitsadze and Russian Federal Border Service Deputy Director Viktor Pronichev signed a protocol in Tbilisi on 22 April on cooperation between their respective services, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze told journalists following the signing ceremony that such cooperation is especially important during the summer months when cross-border mountain passes are free of snow, making it easier to cross the border into Russia undetected. LF

POLICE ARREST FORMER GEORGIAN OFFICIAL
Police arrested former Audit Chamber Chairman Sulkhan Molashvili in Tbilisi late on 22 April, Georgian media reported the following day. A Tbilisi prosecutor told journalists that Molashvili, who resigned in January, is suspected of large-scale financial irregularities, including turning a blind eye to tax evasion by various companies in return for 30 percent of the taxes they should otherwise have paid. LF

KAZAKH MEDIA LAW DEEMED 'UNCONSTITUTIONAL'
President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced on 22 April at the third Eurasian Media Forum in Almaty that he has decided to let stand a ruling by Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council that a draft law on media violates the constitution, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Nazarbaev said he learned on 21 April that the council found portions of the bill unconstitutional. Darigha Nazarbaeva, the president's daughter and organizer of the forum, expressed her approval, saying, "It turns out that the Kazakh president today defended the rights and interests of Kazakh journalists," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The ruling effectively kills the law, which had drawn harsh criticism from media watchdogs and opposition political parties. DK

KAZAKH PEACEKEEPERS IN IRAQ WANT ADDITIONAL SECURITY
Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told journalists on 22 April that the continued participation of Kazakh peacekeepers in Iraq's reconstruction will depend on security conditions, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Toqaev said that Kazakh authorities have asked the coalition's leadership to provide additional security for Kazakhstan's 27 peacekeepers, adding, "This will determine whether they will continue to stay there." Amid the ongoing debate, Kazakhstan has won praise from U.S. officials for its contribution. On 22 April, Richard Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board, met with President Nazarbaev in Almaty, saying, "We thank [Nazarbaev] for the active position Kazakhstan is taking on the international arena," KazInform reported. Additionally, Elizabeth Jones, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told journalists on 21 April, "We highly rate the enthusiasm, professionalism, and fidelity of the Kazakh field engineering battalion [in Iraq]," Khabar TV reported. DK

UN GROUP DISCUSSES TAJIK MEDIA AHEAD OF 2005 VOTE
Representatives from the UN's Election Assistance Group (EAG) met with journalists in Dushanbe on 21 April to discuss the role of the media in Tajikistan's 2005 parliamentary elections, Asia-Plus Blitz reported on 22 April. Local journalists suggested that the Washington-based International Foundation for Election Systems help to train media to provide better coverage. Vladimir Sotirov, head of the United Nations Tajikistan Office of Peace-Building, stressed the importance of free media for elections, adding, "The UN experts have been impressed by the democratic processes underway in Tajikistan, but more needs to be done. We want the upcoming elections to be transparent and fair." UN EAG representatives Scott Smith and Francisco Kobus Floris arrived in Tajikistan on 14 April and will depart on 24 April. DK

KAZAKH, UZBEK PROSECUTORS-GENERALS SIGN ACCORD
Kazakh Prosecutor-General Rashid Tusupbekov signed a cooperation agreement with his Uzbek counterpart Rashid Qodirov in Almaty on 22 April, KazInform reported the same day. The agreement, which was prompted by the recent outbreak of violence in Uzbekistan, makes it easier for law-enforcement officials in the two countries to exchange information and conduct joint investigations. The two also discussed cooperation in ongoing investigations of the recent events in Uzbekistan. DK

TURKMEN PRESIDENT FIRES MINISTERS, TOP OFFICIALS
President Saparmurat Niyazov fired two ministers and a number of other officials on 22 April for "serious deficiencies in their work," turkmenistan.ru reported the same day. Yazguly Kakaliyev was dismissed from his posts as economy and finance minister, head of Turkmenistan's Khalkbank, and director of the State Service on Foreign Investments. Niyazov blamed Kakaliyev for wage arrears to state employees. Education Minister Mammetdurdy Sarykhanov and his deputies were also sacked. Khydyr Saparliyev was appointed the new education minister. Also fired were Altymurat Rejepov, chairman of the Turkestan Bank; Sonagul Ataev, chairman of Garashsyzlyk Bank; and the directors of the Altyn Asyr and Miras television networks. DK

BELARUS RATIFIES ACCORD ON SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
The Chamber of Representatives on 23 April ratified an agreement on the creation of a single economic space comprising Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, Belapan reported. Belarus was the last signatory of the agreement to ratify it. Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan endorsed it earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). JM

TWO MORE BELARUSIAN NGOS DISSOLVED
The Supreme Court on 22 April liquidated two more nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the Belarusian Center of Constitutionalism and Comparative Legal Studies and the International Institute of Political Studies (IIPS), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The Belarusian Center had cooperated with the Council of Europe, held several conferences on human rights, and published some 30 books during its seven-year existence. The IIPS studied security issues, international relations, and the political situation in Belarus; its experts often provided commentaries for independent media. Both NGOs were banned following a move from the Justice Ministry, which said it had found "irregularities" in their registration documents. Alyaksandr Fyodarau of the IIPS told RFE/RL that the authorities' campaign to liquidate NGOs is because of the October parliamentary election and what could turn out to be a referendum on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's possible third term in power. "The authorities would not like any independent organizations to watch over [these political events]," Fyodarau said. "Because this could affect the results and provide people with information not desired by the authorities." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DEEMS RESOLUTION ON MANDATORY BROADCASTING IN UKRAINIAN UNCONSTITUTIONAL...
Leonid Kuchma said on 22 April that the National Council for Radio and Television's recent resolution obliging all national and interregional broadcasters to start broadcasting only in Ukrainian as of 19 April (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 23 April 2004) is unconstitutional and "should be brought in line with the current constitution," Interfax reported. "We need to read this resolution carefully -- it has no legal force, it only proposes what should be done," Kuchma added. JM

...AND SAYS TROOPS IN IRAQ TO STAY 'UNTIL THE END'
President Kuchma also pledged on 22 April that the Ukrainian contingent in Iraq will remain there until the conclusion of its mission, Interfax reported. "Ukraine went to Iraq on a peacekeeping mission," Kuchma said. "We are ready to fulfill our duty until the end. We will not run away." Kuchma added that there are no plans to increase the size of Ukraine's 1,650-strong contingent in Iraq. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT ORDERS PROBE INTO MUKACHEVE ELECTION
The Verkhovna Rada on 22 April voted by 250-52 to approve a resolution instructing the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the Security Service to investigate all circumstances around the controversial mayoral election in Mukacheve on 18 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004) and submit relevant reports to the legislature, Interfax reported. The resolution was proposed by the pro-government coalition following an abortive motion by the opposition to request that President Kuchma sack presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk, Interior Minister Mykola Bilokon, and Transcarpathian Oblast Governor Ivan Rizak over the Mukacheve election. "By all accounts, there was manifestly fraudulent manipulation of the voting results [in Mukacheve]," the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv said in a statement the same day. JM

ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES EU'S LINE IN TALKS WITH RUSSIA
In an interview with the independent online news service EUobserver (http://www.euobserver.com) on 22 April, Kristiina Ojuland criticized the EU's policy toward Russia. She expressed concern about the trip that day by a delegation of European commissioners, including commission President Romano Prodi, to Moscow to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the extension of the EU-Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to the 10 new EU states. Ojuland noted that the Council of EU Foreign Ministers had initially clearly stated that the PCA should be extended automatically, but Russia refused to do so unless 14 issues, including the rights of Russian minorities in the Baltic states and trade concerns, were dealt with first. Among the Russian requests are that Estonia and Latvia simplify their naturalization procedures, grant citizenship to retired military personnel of the former USSR, continue to provide funding for secondary education in the Russian language, and give official status to the Russian language in regions with large Russian-speaking populations, BNS reported. SG

IMF URGES LATVIA TO LOWER PLANNED BUDGET DEFICIT
Latvian Finance Minister Oskars Spurdzins said after talks in Riga with a visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission on 22 April that the IMF recommends that the planned budget deficit for 2004 be reduced from 2 percent to 1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), BNS reported. The IMF expressed concern that the budget deficit would slow down the fast pace of business development in the country. Economy Minister Juris Lujans noted that the budget deficit is not the only factor affecting development, and that a larger deficit is permissible for developing countries if the funds are used for investment and promoting development. He also mentioned that the planned deficit for 2003 had been 3 percent of GDP, but turned out to be only 1.8 percent. The Bank of Latvia has also urged the government to reduce the budget deficit to 1 percent to help prevent the economy from overheating. SG

IMPEACHED PRESIDENT REGISTERED AS CANDIDATE FOR LITHUANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
The Central Election Commission decided by a vote of six to two on 22 April to accept the registration documents of recently impeached former President Rolandas Paksas for the presidential elections on 13 June, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The commission thus ignored the recommendation of the Chief Public Service Ethics Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004) that Paksas should not be allowed to run because the Constitutional Court had ruled that he violated the law on conflict of interest in state service and was thus barred from working in state service for three years. Election Commission Chairman Zenonas Vaigauskas said that the lack of any article in the constitution and election laws barring dismissed officials from running convinced him to accept Paksas's registration. The Homeland Union is expected to ask the Supreme Administrative Court to reverse the commission's decision. The registered candidates still have to present to the commission lists with the signatures of at least 20,000 Lithuanian citizens backing their candidacy by 8 May. SG

POLISH PARTY WANTS EARLY ELECTIONS IN EXCHANGE FOR SUPPORT TO NEW CABINET
The Polish Social Democracy (SdPl) party, which split from the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) last month, will support a new, "transitional" cabinet headed by Marek Belka if the Sejm sets early parliamentary elections in October at the latest, Polish media reported on 22 April, quoting SdPl Chairman Marek Borowski. Belka, who was nominated by President Aleksander Kwasniewski last month to lead a new government after Prime Minister Leszek Miller declared he will resign on 2 May, is seeking parliamentary backing for his cabinet. According to Polish commentators, he is most likely to obtain such support from the SLD (158 deputies), the SdPl (33) or, alternatively, the Peasant Party (37), the Labor Union (15), the Federative Parliamentary Club (15), and a group of independent deputies. A new cabinet in Poland is appointed by an absolute majority of votes (50 percent plus one vote) in the presence of at least half of the Sejm's 460 deputies. JM

CZECH LOWER HOUSE OVERRIDES PRESIDENTIAL VETO ON TAX BILL
The ruling center-left coalition on 22 April just managed to get the 101 votes needed to override the veto by President Vaclav Klaus on the bill cutting the main rate of value-added tax (VAT) from 22 to 19 percent and raising VAT on some items and services from 5 percent to 19 percent as of 1 May, CTK and dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 April 2004). To ensure the 101 votes Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda was flown to Prague by helicopter from the Brno hospital where he is undergoing treatment for injuries he sustained in a car accident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004) and later flown back to the facility. MS

CZECH PRESIDENT SAYS EU MEMBERSHIP EQUALS LOSS OF INDEPENDENCE...
In an article titled "Let's Not Be Lost In The EU," published in the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 22 April, President Klaus wrote that the Czech Republic will cease to exist as an independent country on 1 May when it joins the EU, CTK and Reuters reported. The self-described "Euro-skeptic" head of state said that in this situation, Czechs "must do everything we can so we are not lost in the EU, so that our unique existence over 1,000 years will not crumble and be lost." MS

...IS REBUKED BY IRISH PRIME MINISTER...
Visiting Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on 22 April addressed the Czech Senate, calling on all EU members states to show flexibility in accepting the pending European constitution, CTK and international news agencies reported. Ireland currently holds the EU rotating presidency. Ahern said he would "seek a spirit of compromise and flexibility from all the participants so we can achieve our objective by the June deadline," according to AFP. Before addressing the Senate, Ahern met with his Czech counterpart Vladimir Spidla. In an apparent allusion to President Klaus, Ahern said he "fully rejects" the view that new EU members will "surrender" sovereignty to Brussels. "In an age of globalized trade and media, sharing sovereignty in agreed areas does not represent a loss [but] quite the opposite," dpa and CTK cited him as saying. MS

...AND MEETS CHINESE LEADERS IN BEIJING
President Klaus, currently on an 11-day visit to China, met separately in Beijing on 22 April with Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jibao, CTK reported. Klaus said after the meeting that much of the discussion dealt with human-rights issues in China. Hu called on the Czech Republic to take part in a planned EU-China dialogue on human rights. According to Klaus the talks on human rights were "very frank" and Chinese leaders are aware of their problems and failures in respecting those rights. Klaus also said that his visit opened a political dialogue between the two countries and that plans are being made for a visit to the Czech Republic by Wen. He said he has also invited President Hu to visit. Klaus and Wen attended the signing of several agreements on economic and cultural cooperation and on the protection of the environment. MS

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES CHARGES OF BEING A SECRET-POLICE COLLABORATOR
Foreign Ministry spokesman Juraj Tomaga on 22 April called "outrageous and full of lies" allegations that Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan collaborated with the communist secret police (StB), CTK reported. The anonymously sent allegations were recently published in the daily "Sme" and came from someone claiming to have studied with Kukan. He said Kukan was recruited by the StB when he studied at the Institute for International Relations in Moscow. Slovak National Security Office (NBU) head Juraj Puchy said in reaction to the allegations that an investigation has been opened to check their accuracy and Slovak Intelligence Service spokesman Vladimir Simko said the NBU has asked it to assist in the investigation. Kukan told TASR on 22 April that he "doubts these procedures are appropriate." He pointed out that the allegations were made during the recent presidential campaign, in which he finished third. Kukan admits being a member of the Czechoslovak Communist Party but insists he never collaborated with the StB. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT-ELECT TO BE INTERMEDIARY BETWEEN STATE AND CITIZENS
Ivan Gasparovic told journalists on 22 April that he does not intend to interfere in the daily management of politics, which he said is the government's task, TASR reported. Gasparovic said he sees his role as being one of "arbiter on the domestic political scene" and, above all, an intermediary who helps build consensus between state institutions and its citizens. Gasparovic pledged to use his veto prerogative "responsibly." He also said that he will defend Slovak national interests in the international arena, seeking to promote the country's integration into Europe, CTK reported. He said he is neither a "Euro-skeptic" nor a "Euro-enthusiast." MS

GERMAN PRESIDENT ENDS VISIT TO HUNGARY
On the last day of his three-day visit to Hungary, German President Johannes Rau told students at Budapest's German-language Andrassy University on 22 April that Europe has never wanted to become a "melting pot" and the EU's forthcoming expansion will add to the continent's diversity, Hungarian dailies reported. The same day, Rau said after meeting Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy that Germany will continue to support Hungary's economy after the country joins the EU on 1 May. Rau convened with his Hungarian counterpart Ferenc Madl on 20 April and told him that German fears of a flood of workers from Eastern Europe are "natural but probably unfounded," the MTI news agency reported. Rau also participated in the opening of an international book fair in Budapest where the guest of honor was Germany's 1999 Nobel Prize winner for literature Guenter Grass, and visited the Holocaust Memorial Center, which was opened last week by Israeli President Moshe Katsav (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). MSZ

NATO CHIEF CALLS ON KOSOVA'S LEADERS TO SHOW MORE RESPONSIBILITY...
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, leading a delegation of 26 member-state ambassadors, said in Prishtina on 22 April that he is "disappointed" with Kosova's leadership, Reuters reported. "I expected to see more responsibility, rebuilding, stronger language, and more ambitions. I must say that I'm disappointed," he said. De Hoop Scheffer argued that there has been "no progress" since his previous visit after the March violence. "We cannot accept a wait-and-see approach by the leadership of the majority community.... Being a political leader means you have to lead, you have to take decisions, you have to take responsibilities -- and I don't see that, unfortunately," he noted (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March, and 2 and 23 April 2004). In Belgrade, representatives of the United States, EU, and NATO called for renewed and intensified dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina after meeting with Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. In Vienna, OSCE media representative Miklos Haraszti said that "reckless" and "sensationalist" reporting by many Kosovar Albanian broadcasters was a major factor in the March ethnic violence, according to a new OSCE report. In Prishtina, several broadcasters denied the charges and criticized the study, Reuters reported. PM

...WHILE ALBANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CLARIFICATION OF STATUS
Speaking in Prishtina on 22 April, Albanian President Alfred Moisiu warned that delays in defining Kosova's status will strengthen extremists in the region, RFE/RL reported. Moisiu said Kosova's status should be resolved in accordance with the will of the people and help of the international community. All parties representing Kosova's more than 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority favor independence and seek a clear timetable to that end (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March, and 2 and 23 April 2004). PM

MACEDONIAN WOMEN'S ORGANIZATION DEMANDS MORE EQUAL REPRESENTATION
The Union of Women's Organizations in Macedonia (SOZM) demanded on 21 April that the law on local elections be changed to guarantee more equal representation of women among candidates, MIA reported. According to SOZM's proposal, both genders should be represented on the candidate lists with at least 40 percent for each group; and one of the first three, two of the first five, and three of the first eight candidates on the lists should belong to the gender that is in the minority on the list, SOZM proposes. "The successful development of Macedonia must not ignore the abilities, skills, and creativity of women, but must include them on an equal basis in...decision-making on all levels," SOZM said in a statement. At present, women make up 51 percent of the Macedonian population but only 18.4 percent of legislators in parliament, 8.4 percent of city and municipal council members, and 3 percent of mayors. Local elections are due in fall but could be postponed because the parliament is likely not to pass the necessary decentralization legislation in time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 April 2004). UB

EXPLOSION ROCKS MACEDONIAN TOWN
A strong explosion took place in Tetovo, which has a large ethnic Albanian population, late on 22 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. No injuries were reported, but there was unspecified damage to the court building, the local offices of the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), and some other unspecified buildings in the area. It is not clear what caused the blast. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER IN GERMANY
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase met separately in Berlin on 22 April with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and with Social Democratic Party Chairman Franz Muntefering, Mediafax reported. Nastase presented to both politicians his government's plan for EU integration. In an interview with dpa, Nastase said Schroeder told him there are no political problems with Romania's 2007 accession target, but the Romanian government must put in place revamped structures to pave the way for membership in the EU. "My understanding is that the German government will support Romania if we meet the criteria," Nastase said. A spokesman for Schroeder said the chancellor views it as "right and desirable" that Romania join the EU in 2007. MS

ROMANIA'S ANTICORRUPTION BODY CHARGES LEGISLATOR...
The National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) announced on 22 April that it is charging ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) Senator Vasile Duta with accepting bribes to have charges against a businessman dropped, Reuters reported. The PNA said Duta asked for $10,000 to intervene on the businessman's behalf and received $3,000 from him. Duta told Reuters, "It looks like a scapegoat was needed and one had to be found," asking rhetorically whether it is he who is responsible for Romania's large-scale corruption. If found guilty, Duta faces a prison term of between two and 10 years. MS

...AND APPEALS 'LENIENT' SENTENCE AGAINST FORMER GOVERNMENT ADVISER
Fanel Pavalache, a former adviser to the government's Secretary-General's Office, was sentenced on 22 April by a Bucharest court to four years in prison, Mediafax reported. Pavalache was found guilty of accepting a $20,000 bribe to influence court proceedings in a bankruptcy case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 October 2002). The PNA said it is appealing the sentence, considering it to be too lenient. MS

MOLDOVAN LAWMAKERS EXCHANGE PUNCHES
An altercation erupted in the Moldovan parliament on 22 April between deputies representing the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and those representing the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), Infotag and Flux reported. The brawl broke out as the PPCD deputies displayed posters saying "Resign!" and "Down with Corruption." The PPCD deputies have been demanding for several days the resignation of parliamentary speaker Evgenia Ostapciuc on grounds that money collected from the public for the reconstruction of a monastery is unaccounted for. They are also alleging that President Vladimir Voronin's son is involved in illicit dealings. PCM lawmaker Yurii Stoikov demanded that parliament regulations be amended to include emergency procedures to allow police to intervene against deputies who obstruct parliament business. Ostapciuc said the proposal will be placed on the agenda of the legislature's next meeting. MS

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES DE-PENALIZATION OF LIBEL
Parliament on 22 April approved President Voronin's proposal to strike out of the Penal Code an article providing for prison terms for those found guilty of libel, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March and 8 and 9 April 2004). MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO STICK WITH NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
President Georgi Parvanov, speaking in the northern Bulgarian town of Belene, said on 22 April that the construction of a nuclear power plant outside that town should begin again as soon as possible, BTA reported. The construction of the plant began in the late 1980s under the communist regime but was later halted due to financial problems and protests by environmentalists. In 2002, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski announced that the construction will continue, but, so far, no decision has been made as to which technology should be used for the plant -- the Russian VVR-1000 or the Canadian CANDU technology (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2003). Parvanov said that the country's energy and tourism sectors must be the main locomotives for economic development. In related news, opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Deputy Chairman Rumen Ovcharov, who was one of the most active opponents of the government's decision to close down the older blocks of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant under EU pressure, said on 22 April that his party would welcome greater financial compensation for the decommissioned blocks, mediapool.bg reported. UB

BULGARIAN PARTIES HALF-AGREE ON IRAQ
Members of the parliament's Foreign Policy Committee agreed on 22 April that the current mandate of the Bulgarian military contingent stationed in Karbala, Iraq, must not be changed nor the troops withdrawn, mediapool.bg reported. Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov, Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, and Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev reported to the committee. However, the conservative opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS), led by former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov, repeated their demand for a new parliamentary decision that would describe the troops' mandate in greater detail. The ODS also demanded that NATO and the UN be involved in the stabilization of Iraq. Four deputies from the BSP-dominated coalition have called for the contingent to be withdrawn from Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004; and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). UB

GEORGIAN LEADERSHIP SENDS MIXED SIGNALS OVER ADJARIA
Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze said in a recent interview with "Novye izvestiya" that while she and other members of the Georgian leadership frequently argue among themselves until they are hoarse, in the end they always reach a consensus.

Conflicting statements by senior Georgian officials about the ongoing crisis in relations between the central Georgian government and the leadership of the Adjar Autonomous Republic and the optimum approach to resolving it call Burdjanadze's assertion into question, however. Those contradictory pronouncements also suggest that the Georgian leadership has no clear strategy for coping with Abashidze and is uncertain how best to counter the perceived threat to stability he poses.

Tbilisi's ultimate objective with regard to Adjaria is clear: President Mikheil Saakashvili has repeatedly said that he aims to replace the "feudalistic" and authoritarian regime headed by Adjar State Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze with a democratic leadership that would work together with, rather than at cross-purposes with, the central government in seeking to improve living conditions for the region's population. (Among the traits Abashidze shares with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov is a penchant for building grandiose but useless public edifices rather than spending budget funds on improving basic infrastructure, health care, education, and other services.)

But since Abashidze has cracked down on the domestic political opposition, the prospects of removing him by either a rerun of the "Rose Revolution" that brought Saakashvili to power in Tbilisi last year or by democratic elections are remote. (Abashidze's term of office expires only in 2006.) And a military incursion to overthrow him, even if successful, would tarnish the new Georgian leadership's democratic credentials.

As an interim compromise measure, the Georgian leadership demanded during talks with Abashidze last month that he cede control over the revenues from the port of Batumi, which he has allegedly been milking for the past decade. According to "The Moscow Times" on 31 March, some 12 million tons of oil is exported annually via Batumi. Abashidze agreed to Saakashvili's demand to yield control over the customs posts at Batumi and the Sarp border crossing with Turkey, but then almost immediately insisted that in return he be allowed to appoint representatives to monitor customs procedures elsewhere in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 23 March 2004).

It is not clear whether Abashidze's choice of tactics in his standoff with the central Georgian government was dictated by desperation, or whether he anticipates a protracted war of attrition in which his position will be gradually strengthened by virtue of demonstrating to the population of Adjaria and of Georgia as a whole, and also to the international community, the limitations to Saakashvili's power. Nor is it clear who precisely is supporting Abashidze. "Novye izvestiya" on 15 April quoted Georgian political commentator Giorgi Khutsishvili as saying that the business interests of several groups, some local and some international, intersect in Adjaria and that Abashidze is, in effect, their pawn. Many observers have concluded that although Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has affirmed his support for Abashidze, the Russian leadership has decided to remain neutral -- possibly in the anticipation that Saakashvili will compromise himself by some rash and incautious step.

Faced with Abashidze's unpredictability and duplicity, Georgian officials have responded with a combination of blatant threats, accusations of corruption, attempts to take the moral high ground, and appeals to the international community for support for and approval of their actions. Georgian politicians' statements with regard to Adjaria have also, as noted above, been confusing and less than consistent. While President Saakashvili said last week in an address to the population of Adjaria that rumors he intends to abolish the republic's autonomous status within Georgia are "filthy lies" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004), Republican Party Chairman David Berdzenishvili, who is also a leading member of Saakashvili's National Movement, was quoted by "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 April as saying that the new Georgian parliament will adopt a constitutional law in May on Adjaria's status. The present Georgian Constitution adopted in 1995 fails to clarify the precise relations between the central Georgian government and the autonomous regions pending the restoration of Tbilisi's hegemony over the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That did not deter the newly elected Georgian parliament from scheduling a vote at its first session calling for Adjaria to comply with the requirements of the Georgian Constitution. On 19 April, Berdzenishvili called for the abolition of the post of Adjar president, ITAR-TASS reported. On 10 April, Saakashvili threatened to dissolve the Adjar legislature unless Abashidze complied with his demand to disarm illegal armed formations. Both Saakashvili and Georgian Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze have publicly accused Abashidze of presiding over and profiting from drug-trafficking.

Other Georgian officials, most notably parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, have been more restrained in their public criticisms of Abashidze.

It is not clear whether the seeming inconsistency in official Georgian pronouncements reflects individual temperament or a deliberate and coordinated attempt to wrongfoot, and to maintain pressure on Abashidze. Abashidze's position has been seriously weakened by the outcome of the 28 March parliamentary ballot: his Union for Democratic Revival has only six deputies in the new Georgian legislature. Assuming that, as suggested above, he is indeed constrained by commitments to dubious financial partners, he would seem to have little option but to continue to brazen it out in the hope that the Georgian leadership compromises itself in the eyes of the international community by resorting to military force.

It is presumably in order to preclude any such debacle that Tbilisi is demanding so insistently the disarmament of Abashidze's cohorts. But here again diverging pronouncements have blurred the issue. Saakashvili alleges that Abashidze has spent millions of dollars acquiring heavy weaponry and armor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 April 2004). Georgian media accuse him of seeking to acquire further arms from Belarus. Georgian ministers claim that Abashidze maintains a private army of over 1,000 men, some of them former criminals, armed with heavy weapons, grenade launchers, mortars, and assault rifles. Abashidze for his part admits only to having distributed arms to the population a decade ago to be used in self defense. He has conceded that those arms should be confiscated -- but only once mutual trust is reestablished between Tbilisi and Batumi.

AFGHAN AND ISAF FORCES CAPTURE MEMBERS OF SUSPECTED TERROR CELL IN KABUL
Forces belonging to the Afghan National Directorate of Security, with support from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), arrested 17 suspects in separate operations on 21 and 22 April in Kabul, according to a 22 April NATO press release. The arrests "brought to a close an ongoing surveillance operation that successfully identified, tracked, and apprehended the individuals before a suspected terrorist act could be perpetrated," the statement added. It did not specify the identity, affiliation, or intended targets of the suspects. AT

TWO SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Two people suspected of belonging to neo-Taliban forces were killed on 21 April in fighting with U.S. forces in Zabul Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 22 April. General Ayyub, head of the Zabul police department, said the incident took place in the Tangi Mountains, which he described as a neo-Taliban hideout. There were no casualties on the U.S. side. AT

NEW RECONSTRUCTION TEAM ESTABLISHED IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHAN PROVINCE
A new Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) began its operations in Zabul Province on 22 April, the official Afghan Bakhtar News Agency reported. The PRT in Zabul will help reconstruct some 230 kilometers of roads from the Zabul provincial capital of Qalat to Spin Boldak, a town in neighboring Kandahar Province. The Zabul PRT is led by the United States. AT

RESIDENTS PROTEST CLASSIFICATION OF AFGHAN DISTRICT AS NEW PROVINCE
Thousands of residents in the Gazab District of the central Afghan Oruzgan Province protested on 20 April against a decision by Kabul to designate Daikondi District a new province, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported on 21 April. Demonstrators demanded that the Afghan Transitional Administration solve people's problems instead of expanding administrative structures, and asked that Kabul reverse its March decision to designate Daikondi a province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004). According to "Erada," dozens of people have been killed in the region in recent months in fighting between rival commanders trying to gain control of the new province. In fighting that erupted on 9 April, an unspecified number of people were reported to have been killed in Daikondi Province when commanders loyal to Afghan Commerce Minister Sayyed Mostafa Kazemi engaged forces supporting Abdul Karim Khalili, a deputy of Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2004). AT

FRANCE CRITICIZES IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM...
President Jacques Chirac criticized Iran on 21 April for not fully disclosing its nuclear activities, as it promised last October, and warned it must do so before a "decisive" meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in June, "The New York Times" reported on 22 April. The daily cited an unnamed French official as calling the Iranians "clever cheaters," who make pledges to uncover their controversial program and then "try to find ways around them." The IAEA has criticized Iran's selective revelations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 7 April 2004). Chirac met with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi in Paris on 21 April. Kharrazi then went to London on 22 April where he held "very good" talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, IRNA reported that day. He said Iran has "worked intensively" with France, Britain, and Germany to "respond to doubts over our nuclear activities." "Great steps have been taken in this respect and we hope that what both sides had agreed on will be implemented, and [doubts] completely resolved at the next session of the [IAEA] board of governors." VS

...AS IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REJECTS U.S. NUCLEAR CHARGES
Kharrazi rejected as "deluded" what he said are U.S. charges that Iran seeks to produce nuclear weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004), IRNA reported on 22 April. "The Americans make a charge and then draw conclusions from that baseless charge." Iran "definitely" does not plan to make nuclear bombs, he told IRNA in London, "and such a program is basically not a part of our security strategies." He said that the IAEA "has confirmed that no evidence has been found to confirm American claims." Iran's nuclear program is "for peaceful purposes and we consider it our right within the bounds of our commitments [to the IAEA] to have peaceful activities." He denied a report by an unnamed U.S. newspaper that his meeting with Chirac on 21 April was less than cordial, IRNA reported. "Naturally the Americans are dissatisfied with the expansion of Iran's ties with European states, especially France, which is why they make these baseless claims." VS

GENERAL SAYS IRAQ ABUSED IRANIAN WAR CAPTIVES
The head of Iran's prisoners of war commission, Brigadier-General Abdullah Najafi, said on 22 April that "there are no Iraqi prisoners whatsoever in Iran" from the 1980-88 war with Iraq, ISNA reported. He said Iran's "Islamic and humane" treatment of prisoners led to 7,634 Iraqis staying in Iran, where "they currently live as Iranian citizens...and those who returned preached the Islamic religion to their families." But the Foreign Ministry "is gathering evidence to take legal action against Saddam [Hussein] because most Iranian prisoners were subjected to torture that was illegal and inhumane," he said, adding that "a number of" Iranian captives who sought asylum in Iraq were given to the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), an Iranian rebel group. "According to our reports, after the fall of the Saddam regime, these asylum seekers remain in the barracks under [MKO] guard and are not allowed to leave." Najafi accused U.S. occupying forces of preventing the Red Cross from visiting them to ask if they wish to return to Iran. VS

IRAN REPORTS 2 MILLION DRUG ADDICTS
Ali Hashemi, the head of Iran's counternarcotics agency, said that there are 2 million drug addicts in the country, contradicting an earlier figure of 2.7 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004), though he admitted the number is imprecise, "Iran" reported on 22 April. He said the country hopes to maintain the figure at 2 million over the next decade, the daily added. "Iran" also reported on 22 April that between 25 and 30 percent of Iranians suffer from "psychological illnesses" and 6 percent have "acute depression," but only 1 percent receive any treatment. The daily cited unspecified research as showing that 2-3 percent of Iranians are schizophrenics, while depression, stress, obsession, sexual problems, and sleeplessness are far more prevalent. VS

U.S. WILL REINSTATE SOME FORMER BA'ATHISTS
Some senior Iraqi officials removed after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein will return to their former duties, Reuters and dpa reported on 22 April. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the change in this long-standing occupation policy would allow some former members of Hussein's Ba'ath Party to join the interim Iraqi government being put together by the United Nations. There has been extensive criticism that the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council went too far in rejecting experienced former senior Ba'ath Party members. "The idea is that punitive action doesn't need to be taken against people who have clean records and who are in jobs where membership in the party was a job requirement," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said. MH

IRAQI KURDS ARREST 20 ANSAR AL-ISLAM MILITANTS
Twenty members of the Islamic militant group Ansar Al-Islam who were allegedly planning attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces have been arrested in northern Iraq, according to Kurdish officials, AFP reported on 22 April. "The detainees are Kurds from Al-Sulaymaniyah," said Sarkut Hassan, a security official in Al-Sulaymaniyah Province. He added that "large quantities of arms and explosives were seized from those people, who were planning terrorist attacks." At the same press conference, Hassan said that the 20 members were arrested between 14 April and 19 April, and they had planned to attack public institutions and coalition forces. On 22 March, the United States added Ansar Al-Islam to its official list of terrorist organizations, maintaining that it is linked to Al-Qaeda and has mounted attacks against U.S.-led forces in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2004). MH

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL DENIES INC ANNOUNCEMENT ON TRIBUNAL
Al-Jazeera reported on 22 April that the Governing Council denied announcements by Iraqi National Congress (INC) spokesman Entifadh Qanbar that lawyer Salem Chalabi, the nephew of INC head Ahmad Chalabi, was named director-general of the special criminal court that is to try former members of the Hussein regime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). Salem Chalabi was not nominated as the head of the special criminal court but as its administrative director, Al-Jazeera reported, citing the Governing Council. MH

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