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Newsline - April 26, 2004


GOVERNMENT AGAIN FLOATS IDEA OF AMNESTY FOR OLIGARCHS
Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, speaking at the Russian Economic Forum in London on 20 April, again floated the idea of an amnesty for big business if it plays by new rules, RTR reported on 25 April. First, Kudrin said, big business should honestly pay taxes and not try to evade them through offshore zones. Second, big business should be actively involved in philanthropy, although Kudrin stressed that the payment of taxes should come first. Finally, the oligarchs should "support all the political forces that care about the country's development and democratization." Kudrin added that more companies now pay taxes in full and on time, RTR reported. Analysts polled by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 April said that the oligarchs no longer have any possibility of resisting the government in an organized way. "As soon as organized resistance appears, the dogs are called in, people are publicly punished, as happened with [former Yukos CEO Mikhail] Khodorkovskii," said Merkator group Director Dmitrii Oreshkin. "Therefore I expect not a political reaction but an economic one." "There can be no opposition," said independent Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov. "This is impossible because if it wants to the government can destroy any business. And this very atmosphere of fear, of course, is hampering economic growth." VY

RUSSIA TO REPAY IMF DEBT IN TWO YEARS
Finance Minister Kudrin, speaking at a press conference in Washington on 24 April, said he is hopeful that Russia will pay off all its debts to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by 2006, ITAR-TASS reported. Kudrin is in the U.S. capital attending a meeting of finance ministers and bankers from the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries and IMF and World Bank sessions. At the beginning of 2003, according to Kudrin, Russia owed the IMF $6.5 billion. In 2003, Russia paid back $1.5 billion and this year it will pay back $1.7 billion. Since Russia joined the IMF in 1992, the country has borrowed $22 billion from the institution, he said. VY

PUTIN SAYS RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE BROADCASTING IN UKRAINE NOT AN ISSUE
President Vladimir Putin, speaking to journalists after meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Crimea on 23 April, said he does not think that the issue of Russian-language broadcasting in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004) is an issue for confrontation, ITAR-TASS and RTR reported on 23 April. "We should not panic. I do not want to talk [about the issue] too much as it is an internal matter for Ukraine," Putin said. He also said the Single Economic Space treaty, which was ratified by Russia's Federation Council on 22 April, will pave the way for both countries' entry into European and world markets. "We should take a decent place there. We do not want to sell only oil and gas, just as Ukraine should not sell just beets, especially if nobody needs them," Putin said. VY

PUTIN APPROVES SECURITY COUNCIL MAKEUP
The Russian president on 24 April signed a decree approving the composition of the Russian Security Council, RTR and ORT reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the council met on 25 April. The council includes Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov; the speakers of both chambers of parliament, Boris Gryzlov and Sergei Mironov; Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov; Foreign Intelligence Service head Sergei Lebedev; Federal Security Service Director Nikolai Patrushev; Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev; presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev; and Russian Academy of Sciences President Yurii Osipov. Putin is the chairman of the council, and the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts are also members. VY

RUSSIA REPORTEDLY REQUESTS CLOSED TRIAL IN QATAR
A Qatari court reportedly granted a Russian request and ordered that the trial of two Russian nationals accused of assassinating former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev in February be closed to the public (see, "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004), NTV reported on 25 April, quoting a lawyer for the defense. Lawyer Dmitrii Afanasiev said the defendants have pleaded not guilty and distanced themselves from confessions that were extracted in Qatari police custody as having been given "under torture." Asked whether the men are agents of Russian military intelligence (GRU), he said he has "no such information." Afanasiev added that he "did not find any mention [of the purported involvement of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, as some media reports have speculated] in the court materials," NTV reported. VY

RUSSIA PROVIDES AID TO NORTH KOREA
The Emergency Situations Ministry on 26 April began providing humanitarian assistance to North Korea in the wake of a 22 April train explosion that left at least 161 people dead and 1,300 injured, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia will provide 10 tons of medicine, 1,000 blankets, tents, and other supplies in an airlift operation, while a train from Khabarovsk with additional supplies is being prepared. RC

GLAZEV REGROUPS HIS MOVEMENT...
The Motherland election bloc, headed by Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev, on 24 April changed its name to For a Worthy Life at an organization congress, Russian media reported. The move was necessitated after former Glazev ally and fellow Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin renamed his Party of Russian Regions as Motherland and got it registered as such by the Justice Ministry in March. Glazev said that he will conduct talks with the other constituent members of the old Motherland bloc about their possible participation in For a Worthy Life. He added that he is open to the possible involvement of the Communist Party, but only if Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov is removed, ITAR-TASS reported. In an interview with gazeta.ru on 23 April, Glazev said that "building plans for a political future is very difficult because the political technologies being used by the authorities render public politics senseless." "We have to acknowledge that today President Putin and his entourage decide who will head parliamentary parties, who will be given the right to head one or another political movement. Politics has become senseless. The presidential administration is trying to turn politics into theater, and politicians into actors," Glazev said. RC

...AS SPLIT AMONG COMMUNISTS CONTINUES
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 26 April, People's Patriotic Union Executive Director and Duma Deputy Gennadii Semigin (Communist) blamed the Communist Party's leadership for the party's failure in the 7 December Duma elections and its poor showing in the 14 March presidential race. Semigin, who has long been seen as a rival to Communist Party leader Zyuganov, blamed Zyuganov for trying to monopolize the left wing of the political spectrum instead of forming a loose, broad-based coalition with a platform emphasizing a new plan for Russia's socioeconomic development. He said that if the party fails to replace Zyuganov at its party congress this summer, it will experience "stagnation" for the next four years. RC

EX-DUMA DEPUTY BECOMES PREMIER'S MILITARY AIDE
Former Duma Deputy and Army General Andrei Nikolaev was named on 22 April military and naval adviser to Prime Minister Fradkov, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 April. Nikolaev will coordinate the work of the Naval Collegium, which is formally headed by Fradkov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004). The daily speculated that Nikolaev's influence will be minimal, since Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov is one of President Putin's closest allies. RC

MAN REPORTEDLY CONFESSES IN CASE OF ARKHANGELSK EXPLOSION
An unidentified former municipal-gas-company worker in Arkhangelsk has reportedly submitted a written confession saying that he was responsible for a 16 March natural-gas explosion in an apartment building that left 58 dead, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004). Arkhangelsk Oblast Interior Ministry official Colonel Vladimir Lobanov said on 23 April that the man confessed to removing fittings from gas feeder lines in three city buildings to revenge himself against company managers who fired him. The authorities originally believed the explosion was caused by homeless people who they thought removed the fittings to sell them for scrap. RC

RADAR TOWER SOLD FOR SCRAP?
Police in Vladimir Oblast are investigating the disappearance of a 30-meter, top-secret radar antenna that they believe was cut up and sold for scrap, NTV reported on 24 April. According to the report, only the legs of the tower remain. According to NTV, officials are taking measures to protect similar installations around the country from thieves. RC

MINISTRY SETS UP ANTICORRUPTION BODY
The Emergency Situations Ministry on 26 April announced that it is creating an internal anticorruption commission, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission will be headed by Deputy Emergency Situations Ministry Yurii Vorobev. "A major, persistent effort to remove conditions begetting corruption and abuse of power is under way within the ministry system," an Emergency Situations Ministry press release stated. RC

JUSTICE MINISTRY OFFICIAL REJECTS IDEA OF CRIMINALIZING WAHHABISM
The Justice Ministry opposes efforts to criminalize adherence to Wahhabism, Interfax reported on 24 April. Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov called on Duma deputies on 13 April to consider such legislation, but Aleskandr Kudryavtsev, head of the Justice Ministry's department on nongovernmental and religious organizations, has said that "persecuting people for religious beliefs means violating the constitution and other laws," the news agency reported. People should be prosecuted for specific actions and violations of the law, Kudryavtsev said. RC

NONSTATE TELEVISION NETWORK REPORTEDLY UP FOR SALE
Unified Energy Systems (EES) is in talks to discuss the possibility of selling its 70 percent stake in the national television network REN-TV, "Izvestiya" and lenta.ru reported on 26 April. According to the reports, EES will sell 21 percent to a company belonging to REN-TV President Irena Lesnevskaya and her husband, Dmitrii. Lesnevskaya already owns 30 percent of the network, so she would become the majority owner. EES will reportedly sell its remaining 49 percent of the company to the German media giant Bertelsmann AG. "We have been watching the market and it is developing positively," EES senior manager Andrei Trapeznikov told "Izvestiya." "It is a good thing that we didn't sell our stake a year ago. Now we can get more." According to lenta.ru, the deals to sell the EES stake are worth $70 million to $100 million, and Alfa-Bank and Yevrofinans have also shown interest in the talks. RC

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DEPLORES REPRISALS AGAINST OPPOSITION
Speaking to journalists in Yerevan on 23 April, Artur Baghdasarian condemned the authorities' decision to open a criminal case against the Artarutiun opposition alliance in connection with its ongoing demands for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Baghdasarian further denounced the police raids on the headquarters of several opposition parties in the wake of the violent dispersal of protest participants early on 13 April. He did not, however, explicitly condemn the recourse by police to violence, noting only that "innocent people" suffered during the breakup of the peaceful rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004). Baghdasarian reiterated earlier calls for a dialogue between the authorities and the opposition, inviting "all political forces" to gather at the parliament building on the evening of 26 April for a roundtable discussion of the political situation. LF

U.S. CITIZEN ARRESTED FOR PARTICIPATION IN ARMENIAN PROTESTS
The Prosecutor-General's Office has ordered the detention and questioning of Artur Vardanian, a former Armenian citizen who obtained U.S. citizenship in 2002, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported on 24 April. Vardanian faces charges of participating in the recent protest demonstrations in Yerevan, which the authorities allege were aimed at overthrowing the present leadership and seizing power by force. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY WELCOMES CANADIAN RECOGNITION OF GENOCIDE
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian expressed satisfaction and gratitude on 23 April at the passage on 21 April by the lower chamber of the Canadian Parliament of a resolution condemning as genocide the killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, Noyan Tapan reported. The Canadian upper chamber adopted an analogous resolution in June 2002. On 24 April, President Kocharian, Armenian government ministers, and foreign diplomats laid wreaths at the memorial to the genocide victims, Armenian and Russian agencies reported. Kocharian in his address to the nation reaffirmed Armenia's willingness to establish "normal relations" with all its neighbors, including Turkey. LF

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER REJECTS CALL FOR KARABAKH COMPROMISE
During talks on 23 April in Baku with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev, U.S. Ambassador Steven Mann, who is the U.S. co-Chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, said that Azerbaijan should make concessions in the interests of reaching a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported on 24 April. Mann pointed out that the situation in both Armenia and Azerbaijan will remain "grave" if the search for a settlement drags on for years. Abiev for his part argued that Armenia, as "the aggressor," should be punished, and that it is unacceptable that the international community apply "double standards" by intervening militarily in former Yugoslavia (to protect the Kosovar Albanians) but failing to do so over Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry press service quoted Abiev as saying that "Azerbaijan will not make any concessions." LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS WAR AGAINST ADJARIA
Speaking on 24 April in Tbilisi at a military parade to mark the conclusion of the two-year U.S.-funded Train and Equip program for the Georgian armed forces, President Mikheil Saakashvili claimed that Georgia "faces the threat of disintegration," and that he will not hesitate to use the armed forces to preserve the country's territorial integrity, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. "We will not allow anyone to intimidate and blackmail the government and people of Georgia," he said. That threat was clearly addressed at Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, who is fighting to retain control over taxes and customs duties levied in Adjaria but at the same time disclaims any intention to declare his republic independent of the rest of Georgia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 19 March and 22 April 2004). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON ADJARIA...
Deputies adopted on 23 April by a unanimous vote of 172 in favor a resolution expressing concern over human rights violations in the Adjar Autonomous Republic and the defiance by that republic's leaders of the Georgian Constitution, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution called on the Georgian government to ensure compliance with the constitution, to arrest persons responsible for human rights violations, and to take measures to disarm illegal armed formations in Adjaria. Adjar parliamentarians in Batumi condemned the resolution on 24 April as couched in threatening language and heralding an attempt by the Georgian authorities to overthrow the legitimate leadership of Adjaria, Caucasus Press reported. They also voted on 24 April to reimpose the state of emergency lifted late last month to permit voting in the 28 March Georgian parliamentary election. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania said on 24 April that the declaration by the Adjar parliament of a state of emergency was illegal as only the president of Georgia is empowered to do so. LF

...NAMES ONE DEPUTY SPEAKER, COMMITTEE CHAIRS
Also on 23 April, Georgian lawmakers approved the nomination of Mikheil Machavariani, a member of the majority National Movement-Democrats faction, as one of the deputy speakers, Caucasus Press reported. They also approved the chairpersons of the parliament's 13 committees, six of whom represent the National Movement, six the Democrats, and one the Majoritarian faction. Deputies also adopted a resolution on 23 April amending the constitution to remove the requirement that police must seek parliament's permission before detaining or arresting a parliament deputy or conducting a search of his home, office, or vehicle. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION CONDEMNS ARREST OF FORMER OFFICIAL
David Gamkrelidze, who heads the Right-Wing Opposition parliament faction, asked fellow legislators on 23 April to summon Prosecutor-General Irakli Okruashvili who, Gamkrelidze claimed, violated the law by sanctioning the arrest of former Audit Chamber head Sulkhan Molashvili without requesting prior permission from the legislature, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. Speaker Nino Burdjanadze rejected that demand as premature. Also on 23 April, a Tbilisi district court remanded Molashvili in pretrial detention for three months. He is suspected of extortion and other financial irregularities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004). LF

FORMER GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ARRESTED
Temur Khachishvili, who served as interior minister from 1992-93 under Georgian leader Eduard Shevardnadze, was arrested at his home in Rustavi on 25 April on charges of illegal possession of weapons, ITAR-TASS reported. Khachishvili denied that charge to journalists and claimed that his arrest was illegal. Khachishvili was arrested in September 1995 on suspicion of involvement in the attempt to assassinate Shevardnadze one month earlier, and sentenced in 1998 to 15 years' imprisonment; Shevardnadze pardoned him in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 November 1998 and 8 July 2002). Shortly after that pardon, Khachishvili publicly implicated then parliament speaker Zhvania in the September 1994 death in obscure circumstances of former National Bank Chairman Demur Dvalishvili (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ OFFICIALS MEET
Georgian and Abkhaz government delegations headed by Minister for Conflict Resolution Gogi Khaindrava and Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, respectively, participated in discussions on 22-23 April organized by the Geneva Center for Security Policy, Caucasus Press reported. The talks, attended also by Russian officials and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Abkhazia, Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, focused on confidence-building measures and the provision of security guarantees for Georgians who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war and wish to return permanently to their abandoned homes. Caucasus Press on 23 April quoted Shamba as telling RIA-Novosti that the new Georgian leadership has abandoned the approach espoused by its predecessor of seeking to negotiate from a position of strength. LF

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS GEORGIA
Joschka Fischer met with Georgian President Saakashvili in Tbilisi on 23 April on the final stage of his tour of the South Caucasus, Georgian media reported. Echoing earlier comments in Yerevan and Baku, Fischer noted the strategic importance of the South Caucasus to Germany and the EU. He also stressed the need to establish stability and democratic values in Georgia, adding that an increase in German investment in the Georgian economy is contingent on improving the business climate, Caucasus Press reported. LF

NATO WANTS KAZAKH COOPERATION, NOT MEMBERSHIP
Jean Fournet, deputy secretary-general of NATO, announced on 23 April that Kazakhstan's widening cooperation with the alliance should not be construed as paving the way for eventual membership, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. The news agency quoted Fournet as saying, "Kazakhstan's joining NATO is not on the agenda today." NATO will provide grants to Kazakh scientists for antiterrorism research in the framework of the "Security Through Science" program, Khabar Television reported. The research will focus on ways to combat chemical and biological weapons and hazardous radioactive substances. Fournet also noted that NATO does not see itself as competing with the Collective Security Treaty Organization or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. DK

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES CRIME-FIGHTING EFFORTS
Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev addressed deputies of Kyrgyzstan's lower house of parliament on 23 April in the course of a discussion of crime-fighting efforts, Kyrgyz TV reported the same day. Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov and Prosecutor-General Myktybek Abyldaev also spoke to legislators on the subject, noting that imperfect legislation and corruption have contributed to a recent rise in violent crime. Deputies expressed the view that the government needs to do more to fight crime, akipress.org reported. President Askar Akaev recently sacked two deputy interior ministers for their failure to contain rising crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004). DK

FOUR SENTENCED FOR PLANNING KYRGYZ TERROR ATTACK
A Kyrgyz court handed down lengthy prison sentences on 23 April to three Kyrgyz citizens and one Kazakh citizen for planning a terrorist attack against the Ganci air base, Kyrgyz TV reported the same day. Convicted ringleader Ramis Berdaliev received a 13-year sentence; his coconspirators received 10-year prison terms. According to the prosecution, the four men are members of the banned extremist group Hizb ut-Tahrir and underwent military training in Iran and Pakistan. They were arrested in September for planning to attack a U.S. base near the Kyrgyz capital used to provide support for antiterrorist operations in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. The men denied involvement in any terrorist activities, claiming that they traveled to Iran and Pakistan for religious instruction. Their lawyers, who charge that the men were beaten during their interrogation, said that an appeal will be forthcoming, RBC reported. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ENDS JAPAN VISIT
President Akaev wrapped up a visit to Japan on 23 April, Kabar reported the same day. Akaev met with Japanese Emperor Akihito and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to discuss regional security in general and the reconstruction of Afghanistan in particular. Akaev also met with Sadako Ogata, the president of Japan's International Cooperation Agency (JICA). According to Ogata, JICA plans to support the development of small and medium-sized businesses in Kyrgyzstan, health care, and agriculture. DK

ISLAMIC DEVELOPMENT BANK TO FUND UZBEK HEALTH CARE
Uzbekistan's Agency for Foreign Economic Relations announced on 22 April that the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) will provide $25 million to supply regional branches of the National Intensive Care Center with specialized equipment, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Overall, the IDB has allocated $60 million for Uzbekistan in 2004, and a total of $456.5 million for 16 projects for the period 2004-2007. DK

CENTRAL EUROPEANS TO DOCUMENT WWII-ERA EXPULSIONS
One week before the planned EU enlargement, six Central European countries agreed in Berlin on 23 April to put behind them lingering disputes over people displaced before, during, and after World War II, Reuters reported. Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia agreed to create a network of documentation centers on displaced people. "Together with our eastern neighbors, we have today set in motion a process of understanding," said German Culture Minister Christina Weiss. "For the first time since 1945, we have been able to put the debate at a political level over expulsion and forced refuge in the 20th century into a European framework." Plans announced last year by the Sudetendeutsche Landsmannschaft, which unites ethnic German expellees and their families, to set up a center against expulsions prompted outrage among Germany's neighbors, who said their people also suffered as a result of the war. MS

FINLAND, ITALY TO PROTECT LABOR MARKETS FROM ACCESSION STATES
The Finnish parliament voted on 23 April to restrict access to the country's labor market for at least two years for citizens from all eight of the postcommunist states due to join the EU on 1 May, AFP reported. Citizens of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia will thus need work permits to work legally in Finland. Such permits may be granted only if the job in question cannot be filled by a Finn, and the government may extend the protection on an annual basis after the initial two-year period is over. On 25 April, AFP reported from Rome that measures restricting access to the Italian labor market are planned there as well. A decree reportedly prepared by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's office would limit the number of jobs available to citizens of the same eight postcommunist countries to 20,000, beginning immediately. MS

BELARUSIAN INTELLIGENTSIA FORMS 'COMMITTEE FOR FAIR ELECTIONS'
A congress of 176 representatives of Belarus's intelligentsia decided in Minsk on 25 April to set up a "national committee for fair elections" and register their coordinating body -- the Council of the Belarusian Intelligentsia -- with the Justice Ministry as a nongovernmental organization. The first nationwide congress of the All-Belarusian Assembly of Intelligentsia was held in Minsk one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003). JM

MORE THAN 4 MILLION BELARUSIANS REPORTEDLY PARTICIPATE IN SUBBOTNIK
More than 4 million of Belarus's 10 million citizens reportedly took part in a national subbotnik -- a day of voluntary, unpaid labor that dates back to the Soviet era -- on 24 April and contributed more than 7 billion Belarusian rubles' ($3.2 million) worth of work, Belapan reported, quoting government sources. The funds are reportedly to be channeled into the social, educational, and cultural sectors. JM

MINSK REPORTS INDUSTRIAL BOOM IN 2004 DESPITE RAMPANT LOSS-MAKING
The Belarusian Ministry of Statistics and Analysis reported on 25 April that the country's industrial output rose by 13 percent year-on-year in the first three months of 2004, Belapan reported. A day earlier, the same ministry reported that the proportion of unprofitable enterprises in Belarus had increased to 46.3 percent of the total by the end of February. Loss-making companies in February accounted for 47.9 percent of all enterprises operating in the industrial sector and 54.9 percent of those in the agricultural sector, the ministry reported. JM

UKRAINIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS HAIL ACCORDS ON BORDER, JOINT ECONOMIC AREA
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met in Crimea on 23 April to exchange ratification documents of the Ukrainian-Russian border treaty and an accord on the joint use of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait, Ukrainian media reported. Both agreements were ratified last week by the Verkhovna Rada and the Russian legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). Kuchma and Putin called the accords -- along with a recently ratified agreement on a Single Economic Space that comprises Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan -- crucial events that open new opportunities for developing political dialogue as well as economic and cultural cooperation. Putin said the agreement on the Single Economic Space should now be developed into "an economic-cooperation charter to regulate the procedures for our joint work in the areas of transport, tariffs, communications, [and the] movement of people and goods." JM

CHORNOBYL VETERANS MARCH IN KYIV TO PROTEST CUTS IN BENEFITS
Thousands of veterans of the cleanup operation following the Chornobyl nuclear accident of 1986 took part in a march in Kyiv on 25 April to mark the 18th anniversary of the disaster and to demand compensation for their hard labor and ailing health, ICTV Television reported. "It is important for Ukraine to adopt a national program for minimizing the results of the Chornobyl disaster," Ukraine's Chernobyl Union head Yuriy Andreyev said. "Now we see that the opposite is happening. The revenues side of the budget is growing, but the spending on Chornobyl is decreasing from year to year." UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called on the world community to provide moral and financial aid to the victims of the Chornobyl accident, Interfax reported on 26 April. The UN is reportedly carrying out 12 international Chornobyl projects estimated at $6 million. JM

ESTONIAN OPPOSITION DECRIES EU-RUSSIA AGREEMENT
Former Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves of the opposition Social Democratic Party said on 23 April that the government's EU policy is a failure, and he predicted that the soon-to-be-signed EU-Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) will contain references to the issue of Russian speakers in Estonia and Latvia, BNS reported. Opposition Pro Patria Union Chairman Tunne Kelam said that the addition of such references would make the agreement similar to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Germany and USSR in 1939. Prime Minister Juhan Parts rejected the charges, saying the PCA will not have a separate point dealing with minorities in Estonia. On 24 April, parliamentary Constitutional Committee Chairman Urmas Reinsalu accused Ilves of scaring people with false allegations, adding that the text of the EU-Russian PCA has not yet been determined and Ilves's statements were only part of his election campaign for the European Parliament. SG

LATVIA EXPELS RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT
Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins summoned Russian Ambassador to Riga Igor Studennikov on 23 April and informed him that a Russian diplomat "had taken actions incompatible with the diplomatic status" and had to leave the country within 72 hours, BNS reported. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga noted that this was the first time in history that a foreign diplomat was expelled from Latvia. The name of the diplomat was not revealed, but the daily "Diena" reported the next day that he was embassy Second Secretary Petr Urzhumov. According to the newspaper, Urzhumov had shown excessive interest in Latvia's NATO military infrastructure and was "gathering compromising materials." Lithuania and Latvia expelled three and two Russian diplomats, respectively, in February and March, citing similar reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 22 March 2004). SG

MORE CANDIDATES FOR LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT ENTER RACE
The number of candidates for the presidential elections on 13 June rose to six on 23 April when former chief EU negotiator Petras Austrevicius and parliamentary deputy Julius Veselka submitted registration documents, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Even though both the Homeland Union and the recently formed Labor Party have expressed support for Austrevicius, he declared that he would remain an independent candidate. He also said that he might withdraw his candidacy if former President Valdas Adamkus decided to run. On 24 April, Adamkus sent a letter to the board meeting of the Liberal and Center Union saying that he will register as an independent presidential candidate, BNS reported. That day, supporters of Social Democratic Party candidate Ceslovas Jursenas presented lists with 34,000 signatures to the Central Election Commission, far more than the required 20,000. SG

POLISH FILM PRODUCER GETS 2 1/2-YEAR SENTENCE IN 'RYWINGATE' TRIAL
The Regional Court in Warsaw sentenced film producer Lew Rywin to 2 1/2 years in prison on 26 April in the bribery case known as "Rywingate" in Poland, PAP reported. The court found Rywin guilty of fraud rather than the influence peddling that prosecutors were seeking (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). The court also ordered Rywin to pay a fine of 100,000 zlotys ($25,000). Rywin was accused of soliciting a bribe of $17.5 million in 2002 from Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza," in exchange for lobbying favorable amendments to a media law. The defendant sought an acquittal, claiming that he was the "victim of a provocation" by Agora (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). JM

OUTGOING POLISH PREMIER UPBEAT ABOUT ECONOMIC GROWTH
Prime Minister Leszek Miller, who is to step down on 2 May, said in a televised address to the country on 25 April that he risked his career "to start mechanisms of economic growth" in Poland. "Economic factors are showing that soon we will be able to become the fastest-developing country in Europe," Miller said. "Twenty-four percent growth in production is the best result in the entire 15-year period of Polish transformations. Six-percent growth in GDP is an object of admiration for many European countries." JM

POLISH LEFTIST PARTY ELECTS NEW LEADER
A congress of the junior coalition Labor Union elected Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka as its new chairwoman in Warsaw on 25 April, PAP reported. She will replace Marek Pol, who is infrastructure minister and a deputy prime minister in Miller's outgoing cabinet. The Labor Party rules in coalition with Miller's Democratic Left Alliance. JM

POLISH PREMIER'S CHIEF ADVISER DENIES BEING MILITARY-INTELLIGENCE AGENT
Grzegorz Rydlewski, the head of Prime Minister Miller's team of advisers, said in a statement to PAP on 24 April that he "never was, is not, and does not intend to be an officer or collaborator of the Military Information Services (WSI)." Rydlewski was reacting to an article in the 24 April issue of "Rzeczpospolita" claiming that a "dozen or so" officers of the WSI are active "undercover" in the circles of the prime minister and president. The article mentions Rydlewski specifically in that context. JM

CZECH DIPLOMAT TO EU IDENTIFIED AS FORMER SECRET-POLICE AGENT
Czech Radio reported that diplomat Petr Mooz, who was recently appointed to the EU Council's Political and Security Committee while still serving at the Czech Embassy in Vienna, is a former communist-era secret-police (StB) agent, CTK and dpa reported on 23 April. Mooz told the station that he poses no risk, adding that he received security clearance in 1992 as part of the standard "vetting" procedure aimed at preventing former senior communist officials and StB agents and collaborators from holding sensitive government positions. But Czech Radio said it obtained documents identifying Mooz as an StB collaborator with the codename "Rudolf." The documents purportedly show that Mooz met with StB agents in Moscow several times between 1983 and 1987. Former Czech counterintelligence chief Stanislav Devaty told Czech Radio that Mooz "undoubtedly poses a security risk" to the EU. MS

OPPOSITIONIST WANTS SLOVAK TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ
Robert Fico, chairman of the opposition Smer (Direction) party, said on 23 April that he would withdraw the 100-strong Slovak engineering contingent from Iraq if he became prime minister, TASR reported. Fico said the troops were deployed to Iraq in breach of international law and without a mandate from the United Nations. Vladimir Palko, deputy chairman of junior coalition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), said in reaction to Fico's statement that a debate about the duration of the Slovak military mission in Iraq should be held as soon as possible. A public-opinion poll released by Dicio on 23 April suggested Smer would win parliamentary elections if they were held now, garnering 22.9 percent of the vote, TASR reported. Fico's party has been leading in the polls for several months. Slovakia's next parliamentary elections are slated for 2006. MS

ARE COALITION PARTNERS TURNING THEIR BACKS ON SLOVAK PREMIER?
The KDH and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) said on 25 April that they have accepted an invitation from the Free Forum to hold talks on the current political situation in Slovakia, TASR reported. The recently established Free Forum is led by former members of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) whose departures cost the ruling coalition its majority in the parliament. The Free Forum has also invited another junior coalition party, Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO), to talks. The SMK recently proposed that the Free Forum return to government but that a ministerial seat be granted to it at the expense of the SDKU. Representatives from both the KDH and the SMK have suggested Dzurinda might have to resign to solve the current crisis. MS

SLOVAK ELECTION COMMISSION DENIES REGISTRATION TO NATIONALIST ALLIANCE
Slovakia's election commission refused on 23 April to register an alliance of three Slovak nationalist parties for the June elections to the European Parliament, TASR reported. The alliance is headed by Jan Slota and includes his supporters in the Slovak National Party (SNS) and in the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS), as well as the Slovak National Unity (SNJ), which is a fringe nationalist formation. The commission said the SNS and the PSNS are not represented by politicians who are recognized by the Interior Ministry as the rightful representatives of those parties. However, on the same day, the Slovak Supreme Court overturned the Interior Ministry's decision of 5 January to register Slota rivals Petr Sulovsky, Miroslav Kotian, and Petr Lisy as the SNS's rightful representatives, thus complicating the situation. The SNS, led by Anna Malikova, and the PSNS, headed by Slota, merged in 2003 with Slota as SNS chairman. However, Sulovsky claims he is the rightful SNS leader. A similar situation exists within the PSNS, where Jan Sitek was registered by the Interior Ministry as the rightful representative of that formation. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CELEBRATES ORTHODOX DAYS IN BUDAPEST
Visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana asked the Hungarian government on 24 April to "take good care of the few remaining ethnic Romanians in Hungary, as they represent a bridge between the two [neighboring] countries," Hungarian dailies reported. "A historic reconciliation between the Hungarian and Romanian nations requires the participation of churches," Geoana told an "Orthodox Days" ceremony in Budapest, the MTI news agency reported. Geoana said the Romanian delegation was in Budapest to commemorate Emanuel Gojdu (Mano Gozsdu in Hungarian), "the greatest representative of Romanian Orthodoxy in Hungary," the founder of a cultural foundation that supported the education of Orthodox ethnic Romanians in the second half of the 19th century, Mediafax reported on 25 April. MSZ

CROATIAN PREMIER RE-ELECTED AS PARTY LEADER
A party congress of the conservative governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) overwhelmingly re-elected Prime Minister Ivo Sanader as its chairman in Rijeka on 24 April, the "Southeast European Times" reported. Sanader reiterated the HDZ's commitment to EU membership, which was given new momentum by the European Commission's recent recommendation to open accession negotiations with Croatia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). UB

FORMER BOSNIAN CROAT LEADER REMAINS IN CUSTODY
The Bosnian Constitutional Court ruled on 24 April that Ante Jelavic, a former leader of the HDZ and former Croatian member of Bosnia's three-seat presidency, remain in custody, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Jelavic is charged with embezzling funds from Hercegovacka Banka. He was arrested on 23 January together with former Bosnian Defense Minister Miroslav Prce and businessman Miroslav Rupcic, who is a former director of insurer Hercegovina Osiguranje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004). Jelavic announced on 22 April that he will launch a hunger strike to protest a court decision to prolong his custody for another two months. Former High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch sacked Jelavic as the Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency in March 2001 because of his allegedly separatist agenda, which Petritsch said violated the 1995 Dayton peace agreement. UB

SERBIAN DELEGATION REACHES DEAL WITH IMF
Speaking in Washington on 25 April, Serbian Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic said his delegation has reached a preliminary agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to unblock financial aid for Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The agreement of the IMF's board is still required. Serbia would be issued two tranches of credit worth a combined $140 million. UB

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO OFFICIAL EXPECTS ECONOMIC BOOST FROM NATO PARTNERSHIP
Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic told "Vijesti" of 25 April that membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace will have a positive effect on the state union's economy. Davinic said member countries of the Partnership for Peace represent a huge market for Serbia and Montenegro's arms industry, arguing that those countries cannot purchase large amounts of arms in countries that are not members of the program. UB

MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE REJECTS U.S., EU CALLS FOR PARTICIPATION IN ELECTIONS
Sasko Kedev, the presidential candidate of the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), said in Gostivar on 23 April that Macedonia's president will be elected in Macedonia, and not in Washington or Brussels, "Dnevnik" reported. Kedev was responding to calls by U.S. and EU representatives for Macedonian voters to participate in that country's 28 April presidential elections. In related news, hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who was barred from the presidential race by the state election watchdog, repeated his call for an electoral boycott, "Dnevnik" reported on 24 April. Boskovski said former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, the VMRO-DPMNE's honorary chairman, also supports a boycott. Boskovski called U.S. Ambassador Lawrence Butler's exhortation for voters to participate in the elections a "gross interference in the internal affairs of Macedonia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March and 6 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 16 April 2004). More than half the registered voters must cast their ballots for the elections to be valid. UB

EUROPEAN COMMISSION URGES ALBANIA TO CURB CRIME
Following talks with the Albanian government in Tirana on 23 April, a visiting European Commission delegation issued a statement saying that Albania is still far from achieving EU integration standards, the "Southeast European Times" reported. The government must curb organized crime and corruption, the statement said, adding that political instability is still a substantial obstacle on the country's road to European integration. UB

ROMANIAN PREMIER EXPLAINS POSTPONEMENT OF ANNOUNCEMENT ON PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY
In an interview with the Swiss daily "Neue Zuercher Zeitung," Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 22 April that if he were to announce his candidacy for the presidency, he would have to resign as chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Mediafax reported. Nastase said that this, in turn, would create "rivalries" in the PSD to succeed him as head of the party. He said his decision on whether or not to seek the presidency depends on the outcome of the June local elections. The statement generated speculation in the media the next day that Nastase is signaling to President Ion Iliescu that he is not ready to let Iliescu return as the head of the PSD once he ends his presidential term in the fall. Iliescu said in reaction on 23 April that there is no legal impediment to Nastase announcing his candidacy and remaining as head of the PSD and the cabinet. The president explained that Nastase would have to give up party membership only upon assuming the presidency, according to the constitution, Mediafax reported. MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER ATTENDS INAUGURATION OF 'RECONCILIATION PARK' IN ARAD...
Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy attended the inauguration on 25 April of the "Reconciliation Park" in the Transylvanian town of Arad, Mediafax and AP reported. The park includes the reerected Liberty Monument in memory of 13 Hungarian generals executed by the Habsburgs in 1849. Romanian nationalists opposed the reerection of the monument, saying the generals massacred 40,000 ethnic Romanians. Medgyessy said, "Europe will win through this...reconciliation" and added, "We know history is not rational, but we want a better world [of] rich and successful European nations." The Romanian government sent only Culture Minister Razvan Theodorescu to attend the event, at which EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele was also present. Theodorescu's speech was booed by a few dozen people shouting "traitors!" and waving the Romanian flag, according to Mediafax. Some 7,000 people, mostly ethnic Hungarians, attended the ceremony. MS

...WHILE SZEKLERS PUSH FOR REFERENDUM ON AUTONOMY...
The ethnic Hungarian Szekler National Council (SZNT in Hungarian, CNS in Romanian) agreed in Targu-Mures on 24 April to demand that a referendum on autonomy for the lands historically inhabited by this part of the Hungarian minority be held after the June local elections, Mediafax reported. It also adopted a resolution stipulating that it will ask the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg to elaborate an addenda to the European Convention on Human Rights dealing with collective rights of ethnic minorities. The council also said it intends to ask the European Parliament to make granting autonomy to the Szeklers a condition for Romania's joining the EU. Addressing the forum, Bishop Laszlo Tokes, the former honorary chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), said he remains a member of the UDMR "for the sake of its large masses, and not for that of the [current] communist nomenclature of some few hundred" that leads the organization. MS

...AND ROMANIAN ELECTION COMMISSION DENIES REGISTRATION TO HUNGARIAN CIVIC UNION
The Central Election Commission refused on 24 April to register the Hungarian Civic Union (UCM) -- a rival of the UDMR -- for the June local elections, Mediafax reported. The registration was denied on the grounds that the UCM did not follow the procedure stipulated for the verification of the signatures gathered in its support. UCM Deputy Chairman Attila Tulit said his organization will appeal the decision and if need be, complain to the Constitutional Court and even to the ECHR. MS

U.S. OFFICIAL TELLS ROMANIANS TO 'LET YOUR CHILDREN GO'
In an article published in the "International Herald Tribune" on 24 April, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage wrote that the administration "is gravely concerned" over the 15 April decision of the Romanian Senate approving a law on adoptions "that would all but foreclose the possibility of inter-country adoption" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February and 12 March 2004). In his article "Let Your Children Go," Armitage wrote that institutions "should be only way stations to the placement of abandoned children in families -- in Romania when possible, but otherwise in loving homes wherever they are located." He said that if the lower house also approves the legislation, this "will deprive Romania's abandoned children of the better lives they deserve." Armitage said the U.S. government understands why Romania placed a moratorium on the international adoption of children in June 2001 and its efforts to "stop profiteers from manipulating a weakly structured adoption system." Unfortunately, he added, "not enough Romanian families are able or willing to take in all of Romania's abandoned children, and many foreign families, including Americans, simply want every child to be given the best chance in life." Romania adopted the new restrictive law under EU pressure. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS TRANSDNIESTER PROBLEM NOT LIMITED TO MILITARY DIMENSION
Romanian Prime Minister Nastase said on 23 April in Berlin that the Transdniester conflict is not limited to military aspects and the presence of Russian troops in the province, Mediafax and Flux reported. Addressing an international forum, Nastase said that with the possible exception of Kosova, which has special status, Transdniester is the only region in Europe that is totally isolated from the country's central government and is acting entirely on its own. Nastase said Europe cannot remain indifferent to the situation in which one of its states cannot fully exercise sovereignty. MS

U.S. OFFICIAL SAYS CURRENT TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATION FORMAT IS 'OPTIMAL'
Visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Steven Pifer told journalists in Chisinau on 23 April that the current five-sided Transdniester negotiations format is "optimal" and the United States is cooperating with Russia to encourage the mediation process, Infotag and Flux reported. Pifer added that Russia should resume the process of withdrawing its military equipment from Transdniester. He said that Washington objected last year to the Russian-proposed plan for Moldova's federalization, the so-called Kozak memorandum, because the plan left unclear the prerogatives of the Moldovan central government and threatened to create a "nonviable government." Pifer also said that he does not see a role for NATO in the Transdniester negotiations, but following the alliance's enlargement, it is naturally becoming more interested in the region. He also announced that U.S. President George W. Bush has allocated $50 million for Moldova to help it fight human trafficking. During his three-day visit, Pifer met with President Vladimir Voronin and opposition leaders. MS

MOLDOVAN JEWS PROTEST VANDALIZATION OF TIRASPOL CEMETERY
The Association of Moldova's Jews and Moldova's Jewish Congress on 23 April called on the government to take appropriate measures in view of the vandalization of the Jewish cemetery in Tiraspol last week, Infotag and Flux reported. Vandals painted over 70 tombstones with Nazi symbols and anti-Semitic inscriptions and destroyed 30 tombstones beyond repair. The groups said that other Jewish cemeteries in Moldova have also been desecrated recently, leading to the conclusion that these acts were premeditated and well-organized. "This outrage...should be viewed as an open form of anti-Semitism and as a direct challenge to the Jewish community not only in Moldova, but on a worldwide scale," the statement said. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VISITS TROOPS IN IRAQ...
President Georgi Parvanov and Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev paid a surprise visit on 25 April to the Bulgarian contingent stationed in Karbala, Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. During his meeting with Bulgarian troops in a Polish camp outside Karbala, Parvanov said Bulgaria has no intention of withdrawing its troops any time soon. He also held talks with General Mieczislaw Bicniek, the commander of the coalition forces in the Polish zone of command. Meanwhile, in Sofia on 24 April, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov described the situation in Karbala after the killing of one Bulgarian soldier on 23 April as "difficult but under control," according to BTA. During the visit, Parvanov's convoy came under attack by armed assailants. A Defense Ministry spokeswoman said no one was hurt in the attack. National Security Service (NSO) head General Dimitar Vladimirov, who was in the convoy, accused unspecified Polish media of having leaked information about the visit, bTV reported. UB

...WHILE FOREIGN MINISTER CONSIDERS STRATEGY FOR IRAQ
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said in Sofia on 24 April that Bulgaria has worked out its strategy for the stabilization of Iraq, BTA reported. "First, we aspire towards the adoption of a new resolution by the UN Security Council that should regulate the central role of the UN in the conflict and that should open the doors to broader international presence in Iraq," Pasi said. The second point in the Bulgarian strategy is to hand over power to the Iraqis step by step in individual towns and cities rather than in a single move for the whole country. The third point, according to Pasi, is the holding of free and democratic elections in Iraq. UB

REFERENDUMS ON EU CONSTITUTION COULD PROVE TRICKY
When British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a referendum on the planned constitutional charter of the European Union on 20 April, he not only "wrong-footed" the British opposition Conservative Party, as London's "Independent" put it the following day. He also -- probably unwillingly -- highlighted the fact that a number of current EU members, as well as some of the new member states, which are to join the union on 1 May, will also hold referendums. In addition, Blair's move led some media to ask what would happen if any of the EU members rejects the EU constitution in a referendum.

The constitutional charter is to provide a new framework for decision-making processes, the structure of the EU's institutions, and the basic rights for the enlarged EU. The charter is to replace the old, complex, and ponderous system of treaties. Its main achievement, some observers contend, is that democracy within the EU institutions will be strengthened by granting greater powers to the European Parliament and the parliaments of the member states. Moreover, the constitution could also help foster a European identity, as authors such as Christine Landfried of Hamburg University believe.

Of the current EU members, Britain, Denmark, Ireland, and Luxembourg have already decided to hold referendums.

There are three countries in which a decision on a referendum has not yet been made, but which appear set to give the people a say on the constitutional charter: the Netherlands, where a referendum would be purely consultative and not binding for the government, and, among the new EU members, Poland and Latvia.

Although Estonia has not adopted any official position thus far, it may possibly join the countries holding referendums -- but only if a parliamentary majority decides to do so.

The group of countries that have not yet decided whether to put the EU's new basic law to popular vote or not include Austria, France, Portugal, and Spain among the old members, and the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia among the new.

Many Western European newspaper commentators agree that Blair's decision in favor of the referendum has drastically increased the pressure on French President Jacques Chirac to do the same. Other leaders, like Austria's Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, have said they prefer "the right moment" to decide on the EU constitution.

In the Czech Republic, a public debate on a possible referendum on the EU constitution ended without result. Hungary, Slovakia, and Slovenia are also still undecided on how to ratify the union's future constitution. In 10 countries -- Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Finland, and Sweden of the current members, and Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, and Malta of the new -- it will be up to the parliament to ratify the constitution. Despite traditional reservations about plebiscites, some smaller German parties have already signaled that they would prefer the people to ratify the constitution rather than the parliament. However, the alliance of such divergent parties as the governing Green Party and Bavaria's ruling Christian Social Union is unlikely to succeed in convincing the vast majority of German politicians to let the people have a say.

Since the populations of many current and future EU members remain skeptical of the EU and its benefits, it might well be that, if given the chance to do so, they would refuse to ratify the EU constitution. And it is just as likely that the British, Danes, or Poles will go the same way.

In that case, as Joachim-Fritz Vannahme wrote in the Hamburg weekly "Die Zeit" on 22 April, the "cryptic" Article IV-7 of the EU constitution would apply: "If, two years after the signature of the treaty amending the Treaty establishing the Constitution, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter shall be referred to the European Council." (For the full text of the draft constitution see http://www.europa.eu.int/futurum/constitution/index_en.htm.)

Because of this article, Hans-Gert Poettering, the chairman of the conservative European People's Party group in the European Parliament, demanded on 20 April that a provision be added to the draft constitution stipulating that member states that vote against the constitution must leave the union.

Vannahme described two possible scenarios. If only one or two member states fail to ratify the constitution, it will be up to the European Council to decide whether to go ahead without those states, "But only [if these states are small countries like] Denmark or Estonia, and not France or...Britain."

However, if six or seven EU members fail to ratify the constitution, it would not be worth the paper it was written on and the EU would be facing a major crisis, Vannahme wrote. He added that this perspective is not as unlikely as it may sound today. Given that a number of countries holding referendums have populations prone to Euro-skepticism and the possibility of shifting majorities in some parliaments, it may well be that the EU will go on functioning without a constitution for some time to come, using the old system of treaties. This system may be ponderous, but it has the advantage of not completely dividing the union, Vannahme wrote.

On the other hand, a "no" vote in a referendum need not necessarily mean a definite "no." After all, Ireland voted twice on the Treaty of Nice, while the Danes approved the Maastricht Treaty on the second attempt.

AFGHAN LEADER TRAVELS TO KANDAHAR...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai traveled for a two-day visit to his native city of Kandahar on 24 April for the first time since narrowly escaping assassination there in September 2002, "The New York Times" reported on 26 April. Karzai, accompanied by several cabinet ministers, said the purpose of his visit was "just to go and see the country, see what's happened." The visit is unrelated to the presidential elections scheduled to take place in September, Karzai claimed. The Afghan leader also warned of "an increase in terrorist activities" designed to disrupt the election process in the country. He added that his administration is prepared to take steps to curb destructive activities, which he vowed will not disrupt the election process, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 25 April. AT

...AND CALL ON FORMER TALIBAN TO TAKE PART IN ELECTIONS
During his visit to Kandahar, Chairman Karzai called on members of the former Taliban regime to give up fighting and join in Afghanistan's election process, Kabul-based Kelid radio reported on 26 April. "Our problem is mainly with the top Taliban -- who may number no more than 150 people -- who had links with Al-Qaeda," Karzai said, according to the BBC on 25 April. "Those people are the enemies of Afghanistan, and we are against them." Karzai acknowledged that his administration has been holding talks with moderate members of the former Taliban regime in order to find ways to end insurgency by neo-Taliban elements, Kelid reported. As for ordinary members of the ousted regime "who are doing jobs and tilling the fields," Karzai said, "We want to welcome those Taliban." AT

KARZAI REPORTEDLY TARGETED BY ATTACK IN KANDAHAR
Afghan security officers detained a man in Kandahar on 25 April who they believe was preparing a suicide attack on Chairman Karzai, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. The suspect was carrying a hand grenade and a pistol, and was detained near the route of Karzai's motorcade. Unidentified security sources were quoted as alleging the man was a would-be suicide attacker. A source close to Karzai described it to AFP as a "minor incident," the BBC reported on 25 April. Some Afghans have criticized Karzai for traveling too little within his own country and allowing himself to be protected by foreign security guards. AT

NEO-TALIBAN PRISONERS ESCAPE IN AFGHANISTAN
Three senior commanders and two other suspected neo-Taliban fighters escaped from a prison in the southern Afghan Zabul Province on 23 April, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 24 April. Afghan authorities confirmed the escape but put the number at just three neo-Taliban members. The identity of the escapees was not immediately available. Operations to recapture the prisoners have thus far failed, the Iranian broadcaster reported on 25 April. More than 40 neo-Taliban prisoners managed to escape from a prison in the neighboring Kandahar Province in October, a case that some believe involved bribery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2003). AT

IRAN SAYS IT HAS SUPPLIED 'COMPLETE' NUCLEAR INFORMATION
Iranian officials announced on 24 April that the country has provided UN nuclear inspectors with "complete" explanations of recent discoveries that prompted Western suspicions over Tehran's controversial nuclear program, AP reported the same day. Mohammad Saidi, who is in charge of international affairs for the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, said his country has given full explanations for the discovery of traces of weapons-grade uranium on equipment and of research documents for advanced centrifuges that could be used in the making of bombs to five inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), AP reported. The inspectors arrived in Iran on 12 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004) to supervise the suspension of uranium enrichment and centrifuge manufacture and departed on 23 April. Saidi said another group of international inspectors arrived in Tehran on 24 April for "routine" inspections, AP reported. Iran has denied it is seeking nuclear-weapons technology and offered last October to allow thorough checks of its installations. IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei is scheduled to present a report on Iran's nuclear activities to the agency's governing board in June. VS

TEHRAN EXPECTS EUROPEANS TO HONOR THEIR PLEDGES
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 25 April that his country will continue to allow UN inspections of its nuclear activities but urged France, the United Kingdom, and Germany to honor their purported pledges to help end international scrutiny of Tehran's nuclear program and ease restrictions on Iranian access to relevant technology, AFP and Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting reported on 25 April. The arrival of inspectors on 24 April is "within the framework of a working program between Iran and the agency to clarify certain questions," iribnews.ir cited Assefi as saying. "These negotiations will continue...and inspectors will inspect the sites...[that] they consider necessary." But Iran expects Europe and the agency to honor "their commitments over our country's nuclear affairs," Assefi added. "Mutual respect will mean greater cooperation and resolve ambiguities." Iran insists it has a right to engage in peaceful nuclear research and energy generation. VS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES MINISTERIAL NOMINEES
Parliament has approved President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's nominees to head the Economic Affairs and Finance and the Labor and Social Affairs ministries, news agencies reported on 25 April. The reshuffle is ostensibly aimed at boosting coordination within the cabinet's economic team (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 April 2004). Safdar Husseini, the new finance minister, promised that his ministry will "work with the government with greater interaction and cohesion," mehrnews.com reported. His stated goals include an annual 8 percent economic growth rate, keeping a lid on inflation, currency stability, "efforts to reduce poverty and inequality, a fair distribution of incomes and assets," and encouragement of domestic and foreign investment. Naser Khaleqi, a legislator from Isfahan, is the new labor minister, AFP reported. Khatami told parliament that he has not accepted the resignation of Mohammad Satarifar, the head of the Management and Planning Organization, mehrnews.com reported on 25 April. Khatami said he has asked Satarifar to stay on until the fourth five-year development plan becomes law. Parliament will begin debating the fourth plan on 26 April, mehrnews.com cited legislator Majid Ansari as saying. VS

IRANIAN POLICE CHIEF SAYS FORCE MUST SATISFY THE PUBLIC
Iran's top police official, Mohammad Baqir Qalibaf, has said the police must ensure that "people feel safe with the presence of this force...and constantly need our presence," "Entekhab" reported on 25 April. The force must "reduce its mistakes and create a sense of satisfaction" among the public, he told a group of police graduates. Every organization has its "ugliness and beauty," he said, urging recruits to "disregard the ugliness and learn the merits" of the police and rely on "faith, piety, and patience." Separately, the Interior Ministry said it is ready to hold the second round of last February's parliamentary elections on 7 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004) but has asked the Guardians Council, which oversees elections, to postpone the Tehran polls to coincide with the next presidential elections "to save extra costs," the daily "Jaam-i Jam" quoted ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani as saying on 25 April. "I am still not informed of the Guardians Council's reply, and we are waiting for [its] response in this regard," Khanjani said. VS

U.S. FORCES POSTPONE ATTACK ON AL-FALLUJAH INSURGENTS
The U.S. military has postponed plans to mount an attack against Iraqi fighters in Al-Fallujah and will instead try to regain command of the city without a full-scale offensive, international media reported on 26 April. Under a new plan agreed on by U.S. forces and Iraqi representatives, senior U.S. military and civilian officials said they have decided to confront the Sunni Muslim rebels who have effectively taken over the city by having U.S. troops begin patrols with Iraqi security forces. Reuters reported that Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN special envoy to Iraq, has urged the United States to act carefully to avoid alienating the population. This new strategy, reached in conference with the White House, represents an effort by U.S. officials to avoid a military attack that could involve heavy civilian casualties and a wave of retaliatory attacks outside Al-Fallujah. MH

IRAQI CHILDREN, U.S. SOLDIER DIE IN GUN BATTLE
A gun battle in Baghdad on 25 April killed Iraqi civilians, including several children, AFP reported. The children were caught in the crossfire of a gun battle that followed a roadside-bomb blast, a U.S. military spokesman said. According to Lieutenant Colonel James Hutton, spokesman for the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division, one U.S. soldier was killed and three were wounded in the same exchange of gunfire. He added that numbers of Iraqi civilian casualties were impossible to gauge as bodies were being quickly removed by other Iraqis. MH

NEW IRAQI GOVERNMENT TO EXCLUDE GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBERS
According to "The Washington Post" on 24 April, the United States has decided to exclude from the interim Iraqi government a majority of those who have served on the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council over the last year. Citing unnamed U.S. and UN officials, the newspaper claimed that an entirely new Iraqi government will be picked to assume power on 30 June. One candidate likely to be discarded is a former Pentagon favorite for leadership in the new Iraq, Iraqi National Congress head Ahmad Chalabi. On 23 April, according to the newspaper, Chalabi angered the administration when he compared a recent U.S. decision to reinstate former Ba'ath Party officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004) to returning Nazis to power in Germany after World War II. MH

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT VISITS TROOPS IN IRAQ...
President Georgi Parvanov and Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev paid a surprise visit on 25 April to the Bulgarian contingent stationed in Karbala, Iraq, mediapool.bg reported. During his meeting with Bulgarian troops in a Polish camp outside Karbala, Parvanov said Bulgaria has no intention of withdrawing its troops any time soon. He also held talks with General Mieczislaw Bicniek, the commander of the coalition forces in the Polish zone of command. Meanwhile, in Sofia on 24 April, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov described the situation in Karbala after the killing of one Bulgarian soldier on 23 April as "difficult but under control," according to BTA. During the visit, Parvanov's convoy came under attack by armed assailants. A Defense Ministry spokeswoman said no one was hurt in the attack. National Security Service (NSO) head General Dimitar Vladimirov, who was in the convoy, accused unspecified Polish media of having leaked information about the visit, bTV reported. UB

...WHILE FOREIGN MINISTER CONSIDERS STRATEGY FOR IRAQ
Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said in Sofia on 24 April that Bulgaria has worked out its strategy for the stabilization of Iraq, BTA reported. "First, we aspire towards the adoption of a new resolution by the UN Security Council that should regulate the central role of the UN in the conflict and that should open the doors to broader international presence in Iraq," Pasi said. The second point in the Bulgarian strategy is to hand over power to the Iraqis step by step in individual towns and cities rather than in a single move for the whole country. The third point, according to Pasi, is the holding of free and democratic elections in Iraq. UB

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