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Newsline - April 29, 2004


PUTIN SUGGESTS REDEFINING THE NORTH
President Vladimir Putin addressed an extended meeting of the presidium of the State Council on 28 April in Salekhard in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Russian media reported. The topic of the meeting was the problems of the northern territories, and Putin called for modernizing and diversifying the economy of the north. According to Putin, the previous model for developing the North required massive injections of cash, which were wasted, Radio Rossii reported. He called for establishing a precise definition of which areas belong to the North and for developing a system to conserve, as well as to consume, the North's natural assets. Currently, some 70 percent of the country is defined as the Russian North. Sakha (Yakutia) Republic President Vyacheslav Shtryov addressed the presidium and harshly criticized the government's tax-reform efforts over the past two years, NTV reported. According to Shtryov, "the hopes placed on the fund for providing financial support to the regions have proven to be misguided, as the discrepancy between the standard budget expenditures established by law and the real expenditure significantly reduces the level of financial support for northern regions' budgets." JAC

FOREIGN MINISTRY CALLS FOR CONTINUED TALKS ON CYPRUS REUNIFICATION...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 29 April that "raising the level of economic development in the north of [Cyprus] would help overcome existing discrepancies in the socioeconomic levels of the two communities," ITAR-TASS reported. He stressed that efforts to reunite the divided island should continue, but only "within the framework of UN resolutions" and "under the aegis of the UN." The Russian media has generally lauded Russia's 21 April veto of a draft UN Security Council resolution on Cyprus. "Profil," No. 16, described the move as a step toward restoring Russia's "lost superpower status." Politcom.ru commented on 23 April that the veto, Russia's first in 10 years, was "a demonstration" that Moscow "from now on intends to conduct a more energetic, even aggressive, foreign policy." "Izvestiya" on 23 April said that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will be "more assertive and more aggressive" than was former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. RC

...WHILE SOME MEDIA SPECULATE THAT UN VETO WAS A SIGN OF WEAKNESS
"Vremya novostei" and "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 April cited a report in Austria's "Der Standard" newspaper on 25 April that Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou had prompted Russia's UN Security Council veto by "hinting" at the possibility of an investigation into Russian offshore companies. REN-TV on 25 April said there was "an economic calculation" behind the veto, while "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 April wrote that "the blocking of the resolution could have been payment for the safekeeping of Russian money and property even after the country joins the EU." RC

BILL ON RESTRICTING MEDIA COVERAGE OF TERRORISM WITHDRAWN
Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Valerii Komissarov (Unified Russia) withdrew from Duma consideration on 28 April a set of controversial draft amendments to the law on the mass media that would have regulated coverage of terrorist incidents, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 29 April. The amendments would have banned media from covering terrorist incidents without the prior approval of the authorities. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 28 April that "we have a sufficient legal framework for mass media to respond correctly to situations connected with terrorist acts," ITAR-TASS reported. He said that during and after the October 2002 seizure of a Moscow theater by Chechen fighters, "there were no actions that could have been construed as a violation of the law on the mass media." RC

STATE MOVES TO SEIZE SIBERIAN HYDROELECTRIC PLANT
The government has ordered the seizure of the Sayano-Shushenskaya Hydroelectric-Power Plant in Eastern Siberia, Reuters reported on 28 April. The dam and power plant, which are located in the Republic of Khakasia, were transferred to the control of Unified Energy Systems (EES) in 1993, but that deal was overturned earlier this year by a regional court following a complaint from Khakasia President Aleksei Lebedev. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov on 23 April ordered Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref to implement that court decision immediately. Seventy-five percent of the huge complex's electricity is used to power a massive Rusal aluminum smelter. "This is the beginning of de-privatization," an unnamed EES source told the news agency. EES is planning to appeal the Siberian court's decision. RC

EX-BANKRUPTCY TSAR MURDERED
Former Federal Bankruptcy Service Director Georgii Tal was shot dead in Moscow on 28 April, RTR and other Russian media reported. He was struck by four bullets fired by an unidentified assailant and died several hours later at a Moscow hospital. Tal headed the service from 1998 until 2001, "Delovoi Peterburg" reported. Most recently, Tal headed the Crisis Management Center, a project of the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists (RSPP). An unidentified police source told RTR that the authorities believe Tal was killed because of his "commercial activities." RC

CHECHEN FIGHTER GETS LIFE FOR DOWNING RUSSIAN HELICOPTER
The Rostov Oblast Court on 29 April convicted Chechen fighter Doku Dzhantemirov of the August 2002 downing of a Russian military-transport helicopter near Khankala and sentenced him to life imprisonment, Interfax and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2002). The Mi-26 was shot down by an Igla shoulder-launched antiaircraft missile, killing 127 of the 147 service personnel aboard. At his trial, Dzhantemirov denied that he is a "terrorist" and described himself as "a soldier of the state of Ichkeria," newsru.com reported. RC

AFTER GETTING THEIR DISMISSALS, MORE GOVERNMENT MINISTERS RETURN...
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov appointed 10 assistants on 28 April, Russian media reported. They include former Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok, former Education Minister Vladimir Filippov, former Transportation Minister Sergei Frank, and former Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev. Other assistants are former director of the government secretariat Aleksandr Rybas, former State Statistics Committee Deputy Chairman Sergei Kolesnikov, former prime minister's secretariat official Sergei Vinokurov, government Financial Markets Department Director Vladimir Milovidov, Army General Andrei Nikolaev, and former deputy director of the prime minister's secretariat Boris Frenkel, RosBalt reported. Also on 28 April, Fradkov named Aleksandr Kozlov as deputy agriculture minister, gazeta.ru reported. JAC

...AS COLD WAR HAS REPORTEDLY DEVELOPED AMONG TOP APPARATCHIKS OVER ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM
"Novye izvestiya" argued on 28 April that government apparatus head Dmitrii Kozak, whom some analysts consider the "real" prime minister, does not necessarily have the upper hand over Prime Minister Fradkov, who is often called "the technical prime minister." According to the daily, Fradkov is "an experienced bureaucratic player, who can sense new 'impulses' from the presidential administration." Vladimir Alikhimenko of the Center for Political Research at the Institute for Government and Law noted that Kozak has up to now been the stronger player in the White House, but the "natural preconditions for the strengthening of Fradkov's position are ripening." Right now, both are trying to establish the rules of the game, according to Alikhimenko. Political analyst Stanislav Belkovskii, on the other hand, said he is not inclined to exaggerate the conflict between the two officials. He believes that the temporary tension has arisen because at this stage of organizing his work, Fradkov is "oriented toward Kozak's enemies." JAC

SPEAKING FROM LONDON, TYCOON-IN-EXILE ADVISES STREET ACTIONS...
In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 28 April, speaking from London where he now resides, former oligarch Boris Berezovskii called on Russian liberals to take to the streets to demand the immediate release of jailed former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii. "Action alone can save those who call themselves liberal leaders," Berezovskii said, calling on Russian society to "overcome the barrier of fear." Commenting on Berezovskii's call, former presidential candidate Irina Khakamada said in an interview with the station that Berezovskii's proposal will hurt Khodorkovskii. She called instead for an "amicable" resolution of the case. Former Soviet-era dissident and Democratic Union head Valeriya Novodvorskaya questioned the appropriateness of Berezovskii casting himself in the role of an organizer of social demonstrations, noting that nothing he has done since his exile has helped Russia. In an article in "Vedomosti" published the same day, Berezovskii repeated his call to take to the streets and also outlined a point-by-point response to the article on the crisis of Russian liberalism published on 29 March by Khodorkovskii. In his article, Berezovskii repeats his charge that President Putin is a "convinced autocrat" who "will never voluntarily give up supreme power in Russia." JAC

...WHILE PUBLIC THINKS GOVERNMENT, YUKOS WILL WORK THINGS OUT
Twenty-eight percent of respondents in a recent poll by the Yurii Levada Analytical Center said that the government and Yukos will "come to an arrangement" regarding the ongoing conflict between them, newsru.com reported on 29 April. Seventeen percent said the matter will end with "the disintegration of Yukos and the flight of [former CEO] Khodorkovskii abroad," while 16 percent said the case will end with a "show of force by the authorities and the prosecutors." Forty-nine percent of respondents said the Yukos affair is "a demonstration case," while 25 percent said that other, similar cases will follow. Thirteen percent of respondents described the case as the beginning of "a massive campaign by the authorities against the oligarchs." RC

ARMS-EXPORT AGENCY GETS NEW HEAD
As expected, Sergei Chemezov, former Rosobornoksport deputy general director, was named general director of the state-controlled weapons-export agency, Russian media reported on 28 April. Former Rosoboronoeksport General Director Andrei Belyaninov was named director of the Federal Defense Procurement Service earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2004). JAC

CITY OF MOSCOW EXPERIENCES MINI BABY BOOM
In the first three months of 2004, 25,000 babies were born in Moscow, a jump of 2,000 from the number born during the same period last year, Ekho Moskvy reported on 28 April. Experts are predicting that the city's birthrate for the year as a whole will be the highest in 20 years. Meanwhile, city authorities are concerned about a shortage of preschool establishments for the newborns, since the city already does not have enough places, and one in every five city schools has too many pupils. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov blames the shortage on the federal authorities, who in recent years either sold or reclassified as commercial property many kindergartens that were located on the grounds of state enterprises, "Vremya novostei" reported. Luzhkov intends to ask the Audit Chamber to check the legality of using such premises for commercial purposes. JAC

RUSSIA TAKES MEASURES TO PREVENT INFLUX OF SARS CASES
The chief state medical doctor for the transportation sector in the Russian Far East, Vladislav Fisenko, announced on 28 April that measures will be taken to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from China to Russia, regions.ru reported. Officials at airports, for example, will take the temperature of all passengers arriving from China. In Kamchatka, border controls have been tightened, and doctors have up-to-date equipment capable of diagnosing SARS within six to 12 hours, according to ITAR-TASS. On the same day in southern Siberia, the chief medical official of the Altai Republic, Leonid Shchuchinov, said controls over people arriving from Mongolia will be increased. JAC

FORMER CHECHEN MINISTER'S WHEREABOUTS A MYSTERY
On 28 April, chechenpress.com quoted respected Chechen field commander Rizvan Chitigov as saying that former Chechen Defense Minister Magomed Khambiev, who surrendered to the pro-Moscow Chechen authorities last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 March 2004) was killed several days earlier in a shootout with members of the armed guard of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov's son Ramzan. Chitigov claimed that Khambiev opened fire on Ramzan Kadyrov, wounding him in the head, whereupon Kadyrov's guards shot Khambiev dead. A correspondent for RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reported on 28 April that footage of Ramzan Kadyrov was shown on Chechen television the previous day, suggesting that Kadyrov is alive and unharmed. That RFE/RL correspondent was informed by a member of the Chechen government that Khambiev, who told the Grozny paper "Vesti republiky" in March he is ready "to work honestly," has been named to head the local police in Nozhai-Yurt, southeast of Grozny, but all attempts to contact him at police headquarters in Nozhai-Yurt have failed. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFERS TO MEDIATE IN ARMENIA
Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer appealed on 28 April to the Armenian authorities and opposition to resume the dialogue broken off the previous day, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). Schwimmer told journalists in Strasbourg that the council has successfully sponsored such dialogue in other countries, and that his permanent representative in Yerevan, Natalia Voutova, is prepared to mediate in such talks. Schwimmer also condemned the recourse by the Armenian authorities to excessive force to disperse opposition protesters in Yerevan earlier this month. But at the same time he urged the opposition to "return to parliament" rather than persist with its campaign to try to pressure the country's leadership by street demonstrations. Later on 28 April, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a resolution that similarly condemned the use of force in Armenia while calling for a resumption of dialogue. In related news, the Karabakh newspaper "Azat Artsakh" published a statement on 28 April by the government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic dismissing as untrue persistent rumors circulating in Yerevan that police units from the unrecognized republic participated in the brutal crackdown on demonstrators in Yerevan early on 13 April, according to Groong. LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENTS MEET
Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev met on 28 April in Warsaw on the sidelines of the European Economic Summit to resume their discussion of approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Turan reported. The two-hour talks were preceded by a brief conversation with the three co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group. Speaking to journalists afterward, Aliyev characterized his one-on-one talks with Kocharian as "constructive," and said that they both reaffirmed their commitment to resolving the conflict peacefully. Kocharian for his part concurred with Aliyev's comments adding that "we will try to promote the more active involvement" of the two countries' foreign ministers in seeking a solution to the conflict, according to Azertaj as cited by Groong. Kocharian added that the foreign ministers will meet again next month, but did not disclose a venue or precise date. Neither president gave any hint of when their ongoing dialogue will be continued. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION POSTPONES PLANNED STREET DEMONSTRATION
Mustafa Hadjibeyli, a spokesman for the 16 October movement formed to protect the interests of leading oppositionists arrested for their imputed role in the clashes in Baku on 16 October to protest perceived falsification of the outcome of the Azerbaijani presidential election, told journalists in Baku on 28 April that the movement has postponed from 28 April to 15 May a planned public demonstration, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 28 and 29 April, respectively. Baku Mayor Hadjibala Abutalibov refused to grant permission for the 28 April demonstration, at which participants intended to demand that the Azerbaijani authorities release those detained on 16 October, whom they consider political prisoners, and implement proposals made by international human rights organizations in the wake of the disputed presidential ballot. LF

ADJAR LEADER SAYS GEORGIAN MILITARY AGGRESSION WILL BE REPULSED
Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze said on Adjar television on 28 April that the republic's armed forces would defend its constitution and people against any military aggression by the Georgian central government, Caucasus Press reported. He claimed that the international community has made clear to the Georgian government that it would not approve the use of such force. On 29 April, Apsnipress quoted Astamur Tarba, first deputy prime minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, as telling journalists in Sukhum that there is no truth to Georgian media allegations that Abashidze has tried to solicit military support and to buy weaponry from the Abkhaz government. LF

ADJAR AUTHORITIES TARGET OPPOSITIONIST
Adjar security officials halted a train en route from Tbilisi to Batumi on 28 April and forced Tamaz Diasamidze, leader of the Adjar opposition movement Our Adjaria, to leave the train at gunpoint, Georgian media reported. Diasamidze proceeded to Batumi by car following a brawl between his bodyguards and Adjar security officials that was broken up by Adjar Interior Minister Djemal Gogitidze. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER REJECTS RUSSIAN PRESSURE OVER ADJARIA
The Russian State Duma adopted on 28 April by a vote of 329-1 a resolution expressing concern that the Georgian leadership plans to use military force in Adjaria, Russian and Georgian media reported. Acknowledging that relations between Tbilisi and Batumi are Georgia's internal affair, the resolution nevertheless termed the anticipated use of force inadmissible and called on the Georgian parliament to spare no effort to resolve the ongoing standoff peacefully by means of political dialogue. Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze told journalists in Tbilisi late on 28 April that the Duma resolution merely reflects deputies' personal opinions, adding that it was "more restrained" in its choice of terminology than some earlier Duma resolutions on events in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

TURKEY WARNS AGAINST ABOLISHING ADJAR AUTONOMY
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 28 April, Turkish Ambassador to Russia Kurtulus Tashkent said Ankara hopes that the Adjar Autonomous Republic will retain its current autonomous status within Georgia, Russian agencies reported. Tashkent added that the Turkish government is in contact with both the Georgian government and the Adjar leadership, and hopes the two sides will prove able to resolve their differences peacefully. LF

KAZAKHSTAN SUPPORTS SPEEDY CASPIAN RESOLUTION
Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Qayrat Abuseitov said on 28 April that a delay in the resolution of the Caspian Sea's legal status does not serve the interests of any of the littoral states, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. The comments came at an international conference in Astana attended by Abuseitov, Deputy Foreign Ministers Khalaf Khalafov of Azerbaijan and Viktor Kalyuzhnyi of Russia, and the ambassadors of Iran and Turkmenistan to Kazakhstan. Abuseitov noted that the issue of the Caspian's unresolved legal status is becoming "more and more pressing" in light of the "strategic significance" of the region's hydrocarbon reserves for the littoral states. For his part, Iranian Ambassador Morteza Safari stated that Iran continues to insist on either a "common ownership" approach or a division that would give each of the states a 20 percent share of the seabed, KazInform reported. In a thinly veiled reference to existing bilateral and trilateral agreements, Safari also counseled against "unilateral and provocative measures that do not serve the interests of neighborly relations." DK

KAZAKH PRESIDENT SIGNS LAW ON SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a law on 28 April confirming Kazakhstan's ratification of the treaty on a Single Economic Space (SES), Khabar Television reported the same day. The SES encompasses Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine and aims to harmonize legislation in order to boost trade ties. Belarus is the only country that has not yet ratified the treaty, which was signed by the countries' presidents on 19 September. DK

KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER ASKS FOR INTERNATIONAL DISASTER AID
Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev appealed to international organizations on 28 April for assistance in dealing with the consequences of the natural disasters that regularly afflict Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Kyrgyzstan's topography and climate subject it to an annual toll of floods, mud slides, landslides, and other natural calamities. Tanaev noted that the evacuation of people from dangerous areas will require $20 million, while measures to deal with rising groundwater in Osh Oblast will require $200 million, RIA-Novosti reported. The prime minister stressed that scant resources make it extremely difficult for the country to bear this burden alone. Kyrgyzstan suffered 293 mud slides in 2003. Most recently, a mud slide claimed 33 lives on 26 April. DK

EEC MAY FUND KYRGYZ, TAJIK HYDROPOWER PROJECTS
The Integration Committee of the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) agreed in Dushanbe on 28 April that member states will ready proposals by 1 June to finance the building of hydroelectric power plants in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 April. Vladimir Grigorev, Belarus's ambassador to Russia and his country's permanent representative to the EEC, said that Belarus is extremely interested in participating in projects to make use of the water resources in the Syrdarya and Amudarya river basins, RIA-Novosti reported. The news agency reported that EEC Secretary-General Grigorii Rapota will conduct negotiations with Uzbekistan, which is not a member state, on that country's role in the project. The session also discussed the possibility that Tajikistan might soon join an agreement that already joins Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia and simplifies procedures for acquiring citizenship. The EEC member states are Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. DK

SUPPORTERS OF FORMER TAJIK MINISTER ASK FOR HIS RELEASE
The relatives, friends, and supporters of Yaqub Salimov, the former Tajik interior minister currently awaiting trial on charges of treason, sent an open letter on 27 April asking Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to pardon and release Salimov, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported the same day. Asia-Plus Blitz quoted the letter, which garnered 1,627 signatures, as saying, "Certain unscrupulous politicians inside and outside the country are trying to harm the president's policies by infusing Salimov's case with an aspect of political haggling." Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov told RFE/RL that he does not know anything about the letter. Salimov was arrested in Moscow in June and extradited to Tajikistan in late February. DK

FURTHER POSTPONEMENT FOR UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S TURKMEN VISIT
A planned 4 May visit by Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to Turkmenistan will not take place as scheduled, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 April, citing a Turkmen government source. The two leaders were to have signed a 25-year agreement on the export of Turkmen natural gas to Ukraine. This is at least the fourth time the visit and signing have been postponed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2004). DK

PACE WANTS TO CUT TIES WITH BELARUS OVER DISAPPEARANCES...
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 28 April adopted a strongly worded resolution calling on member states of the Council of Europe to apply a "maximum of political pressure," including sanctions, on the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka until it launches a credible, independent investigation of the alleged involvement of high-ranking Belarusian officials in the disappearances of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, and Anatol Krasouski as well as journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, the council's website (http://assembly.coe.int/default.asp) reported. The resolution says such an investigation needs to be launched following the resignation of Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, who has been accused of orchestrating the disappearances and their subsequent cover-up in his former function as Security Council secretary. The resolution also recommends that the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers consider suspending the participation of Belarus in various Council of Europe agreements and activities, as well as any contacts between the council and the Belarusian government on a political level, until sufficient progress has been made in the postulated investigation. JM

...AND CONDEMNS CRACKDOWN ON MEDIA IN BELARUS
PACE also adopted a resolution on 28 April condemning the "systematic harassment and intimidations" by the Belarusian government of journalists and editors who are critical of the Belarusian government, the Council of Europe website reported. "The current controlled media landscape does not provide for the freedom of information through the media necessary for the preparation and conduct of democratic parliamentary elections in autumn 2004," the resolution says. PACE appealed to member states of the Council of Europe to no longer "tolerate" the current situation in the media sphere in Belarus, and recommended that the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers "take into account this resolution while deciding on action concerning Belarus." JM

UKRAINE LOSES TWO MORE SOLDIERS IN IRAQ
Two Ukrainian soldiers died in Iraq on 28 April, bringing that country's death toll among Ukrainian peacekeepers to six, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Kostyantyn Mykhalev was killed when his patrol came under attack, while Yaroslav Zlochevskyy died of injuries sustained in the attack. Also on 28 April, the Communist Party called for an emergency parliamentary session to pass a bill on the withdrawal of Ukraine's 1,600-strong military contingent from Iraq. President Leonid Kuchma told journalists later the same day that some politicians resort to "brazen cynicism" in "speculating" on the troops' withdrawal from Iraq. He stressed that last year some 23,000 people died in Ukraine in road accidents or because of drug and alcohol abuse. In addition to that, Kuchma said, 143 people died in accidents in the Ukrainian military in 2003. "Our troops are not occupying Iraq and are not taking part in military action against Iraq," Kuchma noted. "Our position remains the same." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES PARLIAMENT TO RETURN TO CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM...
President Kuchma told a news conference in Kyiv on 28 April that it could be legal for the Verkhovna Rada to consider during its current session the two constitutional-reform bills that have been approved by the Constitutional Court but not submitted for debate (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 23 December 2003), Interfax reported. Kuchma expressed his hope that parliament will vote on these bills, which cut presidential prerogatives, next month. "The [constitutional] reform is necessary, I support the desire of [pro-reform] parliamentary forces to pass it before the presidential election," Kuchma said. JM

...AND REMAINS UPBEAT ABOUT YANUKOVYCH AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
President Kuchma on 28 April said he has no doubts that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych will be confirmed as the presidential candidate of the pro-government coalition by upcoming congresses of all the political parties in this coalition, UNIAN reported. Yanukovych was proposed as a presidential candidate earlier this month by leaders of pro-government groups in the Verkhovna Rada (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004). Commenting on the reported announcements that some pro-government parties want to field their own presidential candidates, Kuchma said, "It's only a game to show off their own significance." Kuchma said he is sure that Yanukovych's previous criminal record will not impair his presidential bid. According to press reports, Yanukovych was sent to a corrective colony for juvenile criminals in 1968 and convicted to two years in prison in 1970 for inflicting injuries of "medium severity." JM

ESTONIAN EURO-SKEPTICS CALL FOR BOYCOTT OF EU ACCESSION FESTIVITIES
Research Center Free Europe Director Mart Helme called on the public on 28 April to boycott the official functions connected with Estonia's joining the EU, BNS reported. Helme, who was ambassador to Moscow in the 1990s and is a candidate of the People's Union for the European Parliament elections, said that the boycott was a protest against what he called the EU's acquiescence to Russia by agreeing to have a declaration accompanying the extension of the EU-Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) to new member countries. According to Helme, the declaration not only calls for supporting Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization, but also undermines Estonia's citizenship and language policy by agreeing that the PCA will not be extended before the EU "presents its action plan for the solution of the so-called minorities problem." Although the declaration does not directly mention Estonia, Helme claimed that Brussels will bring fierce pressure to bear on Estonia and Latvia in the name of "common European interests." SG

LITHUANIAN SOCIAL LIBERALS TO FIELD OWN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
The presidium of the New Union (Social Liberals) voted unanimously on 28 April to nominate acting party Chairwoman and Social Security and Labor Minister Vilija Blinkeviciute as their candidate for Lithuania's president, ELTA reported. The decision, which is expected to be approved by the party's council meeting on 1-2 May, was an apparent compromise. It did not support the proposal of acting President Arturas Paulauskas, who has temporarily suspended his leadership of the party, to back former President Valdas Adamkus, or of its coalition partner, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP), which has nominated its Deputy Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas for president without any previous consultations. Blinkeviciute said that the decision to ignore Paulauskas's recommendation was due to opposition from local chapters and the realization that all political parties would not have a common candidate. The head of the LSDP election staff, Gediminas Kirkilas, noted that the decision of the Social Liberals not to back Jursenas would not affect the stability of the ruling coalition, but would end cooperation for the parliamentary elections in the fall. SG

POLISH FIRST LADY RULES OUT RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT
Jolanta Kwasniewska, the popular wife of Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, said on 28 April that she is not planning to run in the 2005 presidential election, Polish media reported. "Politics is now conducted in such a style that I haven't the slightest desire to take part in it," PAP quoted Kwasniewska as saying. The possibility of her presidential bid has been discussed by Polish media since September when a poll found that she would have won such an election with 34 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2003). JM

WARSAW HOSTS EUROPEAN ECONOMIC FORUM
The three-day European Economic Forum opened in Warsaw on 28 April with the participation of some 1,000 corporate-business representatives and politicians, including a dozen European heads of state and government, Polish media reported. The first day's discussions reportedly focused on the imminent EU enlargement and European-security issues. The forum is taking place under tight security, with police units patrolling nearly empty streets lined with metal barricades in the city center to prevent any violence from expected antiglobalization demonstrations. JM

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CUTS CZECH VISIT SHORT AFTER PRESIDENTIAL SNUB
Kamal Kharrazi cut short a visit to Prague on 28 April after Czech President Vaclav Klaus refused to meet with him, CTK reported the next day. Kharrazi canceled a planned meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout after the snub, saying his agenda was full before leaving for the airport. Earlier that day, Kharrazi met in Prague with Czech Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, briefing him on Iran's nuclear-development program, CTK reported. Kharrazi told journalists after the meeting that "we are briefing different members of the EU on the nuclear issue in Iran," according to an RFE/RL correspondent. The Czech Republic joins the EU on 1 May, and it has a representative in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Spidla said Iran must commit itself to respecting international treaties on the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons and join conventions ensuring control over nuclear programs in different countries, according to government spokeswoman Anna Veverkova, who was quoted by CTK. MS

CZECH OFFICIAL HAILS SWEDISH REJECTION OF LABOR RESTRICTIONS FOR ACCESSION COUNTRIES
Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Kohout welcomed the Swedish parliament's rejection of a government proposal to restrict access to that country's labor market for citizens of the eight postcommunist countries set to accede to the European Union on 1 May, the Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 29 April. "We hope that other countries are inspired by the Swedish decision," Kohout said. Swedish lawmakers rejected the Social Democratic government's proposal in voting on 28 April, AFP reported. The government did not include citizens of Cyprus and Malta among those who would have been affected by the bill. The legislature instead voted to allow the free movement of labor for all citizens in the enlarged EU. Sweden thus became the first current EU member to opt against introducing any special restriction whatsoever on accession countries. Prime Minister Goeran Persson called the outcome of the vote "regrettable" and "irresponsible." MS

CZECH CABINET DISCUSSES LEGISLATION TO CURB FEARED FLOOD OF SLOVAK ROMA
The cabinet on 28 April began discussing legislation proposed by Interior Minister Stanislav Gross (Social Democratic Party) aiming at coping with the alleged threat of mass migration by Slovak Roma to the Czech Republic, CTK and dpa reported. The legislation would allow police to search the homes of foreigners in order to find whether more people than those officially registered as living there are to be found in those dwellings. Last week, Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Mares (Freedom Union-Democratic Union) visited eastern Slovakia to gauge the possibility of mass Roma migration to the Czech Republic. MS

TRANSLATION OF HITLER INTERVIEWS UPSETS CZECH JEWISH COMMUNITY
A Czech translation of dialogues between Adolf Hitler and Nazi daily "Volkischer Beobachter" Editor Dietrich Eckhart has stirred protests within the Czech Jewish community, CTK reported on 28 April. Titled "Bolshevism From Moses to Lenin," the translation was commissioned by historian Jan Hlavac. Hlavac also wrote a preface in which he said Eckhart's allegations about Jews might be mostly correct. Prague Jewish Community Chairman Tomas Jelinek said that if the Czech-language publisher of Hitler's "Mein Kampf," Michal Zitko, has been put on trial, the same should obviously apply to the publisher of Eckhart's book, which he said is more anti-Semitic than "Mein Kampf." Eckhart was hanged at Nuremberg after being sentenced to death by an international tribunal. MS

SLOVAK COALITION FAILS TO PUT ITSELF BACK TOGETHER AGAIN
The parties in Slovakia's ruling coalition failed on 28 April to agree on a solution that would reinstate the coalition's lost parliamentary majority, TASR and CTK reported. The senior coalition member, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), rejected a proposal that Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda be replaced. The Free Forum, whose deputies left the ruling coalition earlier this year, conditions its return to the government on Dzurinda being replaced. The four-party, center-right coalition's leadership was only able to agree to continue searching for support in parliament among deputies who left the ruling coalition. At an earlier meeting between Free Forum Chairwoman Zuzana Martinakova and leaders of the junior coalition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), Hungarian Coalition Party, and Alliance for a New Citizen, Martinakova proposed that Dzurinda be replaced as prime minister by KDH Chairman and parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky. She said that if such an agreement is reached, her party will back the government without demanding cabinet posts. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT DECIDES AGAINST RETALIATING OVER EU LABOR POLICIES
The cabinet decided on 28 April that Slovakia will not introduce reciprocal measures in retaliation for restrictive measures imposed by current EU members on the free movement of labor within the EU, which Slovakia is to join on 1 May, CTK reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Juraj Tomaga said the decision is based on the belief that current EU members will rescind these measures as soon as they realize that there is no threat posed to their markets as a result of EU expansion. Of the countries about to join the EU, only Hungary and Poland have introduced retaliatory measures against current EU members. MS

HUNGARY'S OPPOSITION PARTIES FAIL TO AGREE ON COOPERATION
The chairman of the opposition FIDESZ party, former Prime Minister Viktor Orban, failed on 28 April to persuade Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF) Chairwoman Ibolya David to agree to field joint candidates for the 13 June European parliamentary elections, Hungarian media reported. Orban told reporters that he wants to create a right-wing unity in Hungary that can work together for Christian-democratic values, Hungarian television reported. David countered that she does not believe in a unity that includes all the political forces "from the radical right to left-wing." Maintaining such broad unity, David said, would "sooner or later require a power-enforcement organization," "Nepszabadsag" reported. The meeting between Orban and David was the second one since the coalition of their two parties lost the parliamentary elections in 2002. MSZ

MACEDONIAN PRIME MINISTER WINS PRESIDENCY...
Preliminary results of the second-round presidential runoff on 28 April show that Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) won 62.66 percent of the vote, while his opponent, Sasko Kedev of the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), garnered 37.34 percent, MIA reported. State Election Commission head Stevo Pendarovski declared the elections valid, saying voter turnout exceeded the required 50 percent of registered voters. "Today, Macedonia has shown that it is a real European country; it has passed the test of democracy," Crvenkovski said, declaring victory. "There are no winners and losers. Kedev has not lost, [and] neither has the leadership of the VMRO-DPMNE. The losers are those who called for an electoral boycott" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 16 April 2004). UB

...BUT OPPOSITION WANTS ELECTION NULLIFIED
Opposition presidential candidate Kedev responded to the early results by accusing the governing parties of electoral fraud, calling it a "shameful act" and the "biggest falsification of elections in the history of independent Macedonia," according to MIA. VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski said the State Election Commission must declare the elections void because of gross manipulations and violence. Former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of the VMRO-DPMNE, who was barred from participating in the elections by the state election watchdog and who had called for an electoral boycott, accused Gruevski of trying to manipulate party members and demanded that Gruevski resign as chairman. Menduh Thaci, the deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), claimed the elections must be declared invalid because they are "illegitimate." Incidents such as group and family voting or ballot-box stuffing occurred in a number of polling stations, according to election observers at nongovernmental organization MOST, "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" reported. UB

SLOVENIA, CROATIA OPEN NEW BORDER CROSSING
The presidents of Slovenia and Croatia opened a new border crossing between Jelsane in Slovenia and Rupa in Croatia on 28 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Slovenia will have to carry out controls of EU entry visas (the so-called Schengen visas) after it joins the EU on 1 May. UB

BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT CALLS ON PUBLIC TO AID SREBRENICA INVESTIGATION
The Republika Srpska government on 28 April called on its citizens to provide information about possible mass graves of victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The government has set up a telephone hotline that individuals can call anonymously. A joint commission set up to investigate the killings said cooperation with the Republika Srpska's Defense and Interior ministries has functioned on a "satisfactory" level since High Representative Paddy Ashdown recently slammed Serbian obstruction of the investigation, the "Southeast European Times" reported. The investigating commission comprises five Serbs appointed by Banja Luka and one Muslim war crimes investigator named by Ashdown (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). UB

BELGRADE PROPOSES PLAN FOR KOSOVA
The Serbian government has drafted a plan that would provide for the formation of five Serbian-dominated administrative districts in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Under the scheme, the details of which remain unclear, Kosovar Serbs would be granted administrative and territorial autonomy with legislative, judicial, and executive rights and duties in the new districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 26 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 13 and 20 February 2004). UB

UNMIK HALTS INVESTIGATION INTO FATEFUL KOSOVAR DROWNINGS
A spokesman for the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) told a news conference on 28 April that UN investigations into the March deaths of three Kosovar Albanian boys -- an event that triggered the biggest outbreak of violence in the province in several years -- have been suspended due to lack of evidence of any crime, UNMIK's official website (http://www.unmikonline.org) reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 17 and 18 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March and 2 and 16 April 2004). The spokesman cited inconsistencies in the account of the only eyewitness to the incident, a 13-year-old Kosovar Albanian boy. The public prosecutor, the investigating judge, and the investigator concluded that "the evidence does not currently support a grounded suspicion of the commission of a criminal act against any individual or individuals," according to the press release. The statement added, however, that, "should any further credible evidence be uncovered in the future, the investigation will be revived." UB

ROMANIA SIGNS DEAL ON IMPROVING MILITARY
Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu and Thomas Fintel, vice president of U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman, signed an agreement at the Romanian Embassy in London on 28 April under which Northrop Grumman will provide services to the Romanian Defense Ministry, Mediafax reported. Pascu said the U.S. company will help Romania improve the infrastructure of its military bases, starting with those in the Black Sea region of Dobrogea. Romanian dailies said the day before that the contract with Northrop Grumman is an indication that U.S. bases will be located in Romania. Northrop Grumman intends to base in Romania the headquarters of its new offices for Eastern Europe, which would also have branches in Bulgaria, according to Defense Ministry spokesman Gelaledin Nezir. Pascu also met in London with British Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon to discuss bilateral military relations, Romania's new status as a full-fledged NATO member, and the participation of Romanian soldiers in a multinational division in Iraq that is under British command. MS

UDMR RUNNING OWN CANDIDATE IN CLUJ LOCAL ELECTIONS
The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) nominated Andras Mate on 28 April as its mayoral candidate in the June local elections in Cluj, Mediafax reported. UDMR Cluj branch Chairman Sandor Hamar Konya said his party might withdraw Mate's candidacy if an agreement is reached with the Social Democratic Party (PSD) ahead of the elections. According to Konya, such an accord would be contingent on the PSD agreeing to several UDMR conditions that include the opening of two Hungarian-language faculties at Cluj's Babes-Bolyai University, ending archeological excavations around Cluj's Hungarian Roman Catholic cathedral, and displaying official bilingual and trilingual (Romanian, Hungarian, and German) street signs in Cluj. Controversial Cluj journalist Sabin Gherman also announced on 28 April that he will run for mayor as a candidate of the Christian Democratic Party. Gherman is the author of a 1998 manifesto calling for the dismemberment of the unitary state and for enlarged regional autonomy. MS

BRIGITTE BARDOT SAYS ROMANIA NOT WELCOME IN EU
On the eve of Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's visit to France, French actress and animal rights activist Brigitte Bardot said in an open letter to Nastase that "the European Union certainly does not need a country like yours," Reuters reported on 28 April. She said no country that abuses animal rights deserves to join the EU. Bardot was protesting against a meeting of the International Hunters Association which started in Bucharest on 27 April. Nastase is chairman of the association's Romanian branch. "You have made yourself the defenders...of a massacre [of hunted animals], which gives your country a backward and bloody image," she wrote to the prime minister. The Romanian Hunters Association said Bardot was acting on partial and misleading information, according to Mediafax. MS

BASIC DIFFERENCES PERSIST IN RESUMED TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATIONS
William Hill, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Moldova, said after the end of the first round of resumed negotiations on 28 April that both Chisinau and Tiraspol back the settling of the conflict on the basis of a federal state, but they view the envisaged federation differently, Infotag reported. Hill said that while Tiraspol insists on a classic model of a federation based on two equal subjects, Chisinau favors an asymmetrical federation, in which the center has more powers than the federation's components. Hill said that several rounds of further talks would be necessary to determine on which aspects the two conflicting sides agree and on which they differ. The next negotiation round is to take place in Chisinau on 25-26 May. MS

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON BALKAN HISTORY
Speaking in Warsaw on 28 April at a conference on the European Economic Forum, Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov underscored the necessity of good trans-Atlantic relations after EU enlargement, mediapool.bg reported. Parvanov said the EU must play a more active role on the international scene, but as a partner rather than a hegemon or superpower. The Balkans have always suffered as a result of tensions between Europe and the United States, Parvanov said, so the region can only gain from good trans-Atlantic relations. The president also called on European countries to increase investments in Southeast Europe to help ensure civil and interethnic peace in the region. Parvanov said Bulgaria supports the planned European constitutional treaty because the EU needs flexible and efficient institutions. UB

BULGARIAN MINISTER SAYS LARGER EU IS 'UNPREDICTABLE'
Minister for European Affairs Meglena Kuneva warned on 28 April that Bulgaria's accession negotiations could be delayed by the upcoming enlargement of the EU, mediapool.bg reported. "I believe that Bulgaria can finalize the negotiations by the end of June, but this does not mean that there are guarantees of that," Kuneva said. "For us, the EU really becomes somewhat unpredictable after 1 May [when 10 new members join the union]." Kuneva said Bulgaria has presented Brussels with the technical information on the four chapters of the acquis communautaire that remain open: on financial and budgetary provisions, regional politics, agriculture, and competition. Kuneva said Bulgaria's accession talks should be finalized under the current Irish EU Presidency or by October, when the current European Commission's term ends. Bulgaria hopes to sign the EU accession treaty in the first half of 2005, Kuneva said. UB

LOCAL UKRAINIAN BALLOT COULD FORESHADOW TROUBLE
The mayoral election in the Transcarpathian city of Mukacheve (with a population of about 100,000) on 18 April has become the hottest political topic in Ukraine. The election pitted opposition Our Ukraine bloc lawmaker Viktor Baloha against Ernest Nuser, who was supported by the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) and presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk.

According to Our Ukraine, Baloha won a decisive victory -- winning 19,385 votes to Nuser's 13,895 votes. However, the city's election commission allegedly robbed Baloha of his victory, instead awarding Nuser 17,416 votes and Baloha 12,297 votes.

The Mukacheve ballot promised to be exciting because of the bitter rivalry that has been developing between Our Ukraine and the SDPU-o, in general, and between their leaders, Viktor Yushchenko and Medvedchuk, in particular -- especially in the past several years. However, it seems that none of the approximately 80 Ukrainian lawmakers or dozens of journalists and foreign observers who were in Mukacheve on 18 April were fully prepared for what happened there. All were shocked by what they saw, and some of them were brutally beaten.

Our Ukraine sent two parliamentary deputies as observers to each of Mukacheve's 36 polling stations. The vote itself seemed to take place in a relatively peaceful manner, observers said, even though groups of hooligans -- with shaved heads, leather coats, and combat boots -- moved around the city in packs or stood in front of polling stations, intimidating voters. When the election ended, those groups reportedly attacked, burglarized, and even destroyed some polling stations in apparent reaction to the publicized results of an exit poll that predicted a landslide victory for Baloha. According to various reports, many local police officers were either too scared to react to the attacks or turned a blind eye. Notably, none of the rampaging hooligans was arrested.

Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Polishchuk, an academic and well-known neurosurgeon who was an observer in Mukacheve on 18 April, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 19 April that the attacks intimidated some polling-station commissions to the extent that they were unable and/or afraid to sign polling-station protocols for several hours. However, judging by the results authorized by the protocols from 35 polling stations, the Our Ukraine observers at midnight were all but certain of a Baloha victory, and even began to celebrate. Several hours later, they were informed that the city's election commission had announced Nuser the winner.

A group of Our Ukraine lawmakers tried to obtain information on the decision at the city's election-commission headquarters, where they were met by riot police; six lawmakers were reportedly beaten there. "I am absolutely sure that what is now taking place in Mukacheve has been authorized by the presidential administration," Polishchuk said. "This is being done by the SDPU-o, which has a fascist orientation in its actions." In the end, all the protocols from polling stations disappeared from the election commission's office.

President Leonid Kuchma instructed Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev on 20 April to investigate, jointly with the Ukrainian Security Service, possible irregularities in the Mukacheve election. According to presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska, alleged irregularities might include the beating of lawmakers, the disappearance of election documents, dismissals of government employees, and illegal actions by law-enforcement officers. Earlier the same day, Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko met with Kuchma to demand the dismissal of Interior Minister Mykola Bilokon, presidential-administration chief Medvedchuk, and Transcarpathian Oblast Governor Rizak over what he described as "gross violations" in the Mukacheve election. An opposition-sponsored motion in the Verkhovna Rada to request that Kuchma sack those officials fell 12 votes short of the required majority.

Some commentators in Ukraine believe the Mukacheve hullabaloo on 18 April was orchestrated by the SDPU-o and Medvedchuk as a sort of "dress rehearsal" for the presidential vote due on 31 October. According to this line of argument, Medvedchuk tested the way both the Ukrainian public and the international community might react to large-scale election fraud. Judging by the reaction of the domestic public, no significant group apart from independent journalists and commentators, opposition lawmakers, and voters in Mukacheve itself has shown any real interest in what happened in that city on 18 April. Foreign commentators were more vociferous in protesting the Mukacheve ballot, but it remains to be seen whether Kyiv will heed their pronouncements. Primarily, it is unclear whether the official probe into the Mukacheve controversy will provide any tangible results.

What can be concluded ahead of the results of any official investigation into the Mukacheve scandal is that European electoral watchdogs -- including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institution and Human Rights -- should immediately start mobilizing and training as many monitors as possible for the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine. The sheer numerical force of foreign and domestic monitors will hardly intimidate the most influential cliques in Ukraine, but it could reassure voters and individuals responsible for signing polling-station protocols.

NEO-TALIBAN BLAMED FOR DEATH OF CLERIC IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Unidentified gunmen on 27 April assassinated Mawlawi Abdul Bari, a member of the Ulama Council of Kandahar, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 28 April. According to the report, security officials in Kandahar Province have blamed the neo-Taliban for the killing. Abdul Bari is the third member of the Ulama Council of Kandahar to be assassinated since the council issued a fatwa rejecting resistance against the coalition forces in Afghanistan. The report did not specify when the fatwa was issued. The neo-Taliban have demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces in Afghanistan and have threatened to kill Afghans who collaborate with the coalition. AT

FUTURE OF NEW PROVINCES TO BE DETERMINED BY PARLIAMENT...
Jawed Ludin, the spokesman for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, said on 26 April that the future Afghan parliament, which is to be formed after the September general elections, will have to discuss the issue of the two newly established provinces in the country, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Karzai's administration elevated the Daikondi District, formerly in Oruzgan Province, and the Panjsher District, formerly in Parwan Province, to the status of provinces in March and April, respectively (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 and 28 April 2004). Armed clashes have been reported in both Daikondi and Oruzgan related to those decisions (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 28 April 2004). Ludin claimed that Panjsher was not linked to any province because the late Afghan commander Ahmad Shah Mas'ud independently administered it, therefore Karzai decided to make it a province to honor Mas'ud. AT

...AS SHINWARI TRIBESMEN DEMAND NEW PROVINCE
Elders of the Shinwari tribe living in the eastern Afghan Nangarhar Province have demanded that their area be designated a separate province, the Peshawar-based daily "Shahadat" reported on 26 April. The Shinwari elders brought their case to Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, on 25 April. They argued that with 11 districts, the Shinwar region meets the criteria for becoming a province. The Shinwaris want the creation of the Shinwar Province with its administrative capital at Ghani Khayl. The delegation said that the change of status would solve many unspecified problems faced by the Shinwaris. The Shinwari elders indicated that they will present their demand to Chairman Karzai. AT

SPECIAL POLICE FORCE FORMED TO PROTECT HISTORICAL SITES
The Afghan Interior Ministry has formed a special police force to protect the country's historical sites, Afghanistan Television reported on 28 April. Major General Mohammad Harun Asefi, a police commander, said that initially 84 officers will be deployed to "protect historical sites in Logar and Kapisa provinces" near Kabul. The plan is to increase the strength of the force to 500 officers and expand its area of operation, Asefi added. The geographical area of modern Afghanistan is home to numerous Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic historical sites. Some of these sites have been excavated. In the past 25 years, much of Afghanistan's historical treasures have either been stolen or destroyed in the name of religion. AT

IRAN DENIES IT HAS NUCLEAR SECRETS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected as "insignificant" and "without evidence or reason" the latest charges by the United States that it is secretly developing nuclear bombs, IRNA reported on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). Iran, he added, is pursuing a "constructive" cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and "America is not a competent authority to comment on others respect for nonproliferation rules." The United States "deceitfully tries to create a security cordon for Israel, so [its] unsupervised installations and nuclear reserves, which are a serious threat to the region, are hidden from sight," IRNA quoted him as saying. Iran's envoy to the United Nations in Vienna, Piruz Husseini, stated on 28 April that Iran has no nuclear secrets, Reuters reported that day. Iran is doing its "utmost to cooperate" with the IAEA, he said, and is to provide the agency with a full declaration on its program by mid-May, Reuters added. VS

JUDICIARY CHIEF ORDERS END TO TORTURE IN PRISONS
Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi ordered on 28 April an end to the torture of detainees, Reuters and local newspapers reported that day. In a 15-page directive to judiciary, police, and intelligence officials, he wrote that "Any torture to extract confessions from the defendant or coerce [them] to other ends is forbidden, and confessions extracted thus lack religious or legal validity," "Keyhan" quoted the document as saying. Torture is banned by Iran's Constitution, but critics said that the directive shows that it exists, Reuters reported. "Questions must be useful and clear and pertinent [to the charge] and curiosity into personal or family secrets, inquiries into past offenses, and attention to matters [irrelevant to] the case should be avoided," the directive stated, adding that interrogators must not take defendants to "unknown places" for questioning, "Kayhan" reported. Critics have accused the judiciary of holding closed trials and dispensing with juries, mostly for journalists or political detainees. VS

IRANIAN GENERAL WARNS OF ALLEGED U.S. PLANS TO CONTROL MUSLIM WORLD
Yahya Rahim Safavi, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said on 28 April that the U.S. has "diabolical" designs to control Saudi Arabia and the Muslim world after conquering Iraq, "and if [Saudi] Arabia is taking its distance from America now, it is for this reason," ISNA reported that day. He said that the United States is hostile to Iran for its "rejection of injustice and fight against lies and heresy." The U.S., he said, is concerned that the "spirit of the Lebanese Hizbullah and Shi'ite resistance fighters," will spread to Iraq. "The [U.S.] occupation of Iraq will fail and they will meet a far more disgraceful defeat in Iraq than in Vietnam," ISNA quoted him as telling a conference in Tehran. "The Americans have come to Iraq so they may support [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon more easily, or give greater assistance to the shameful existence of the Israelis." VS

TEHRAN COURT FINES U.S. FOR 'CHEMICAL CRIMES'
A Tehran court fined the United States $600 million for encouraging Iraq in its 1980-88 war with Iran and "supplying the Ba'athist regime...with chemical bombs and facilitating their use against...defenseless [Iranians]," ISNA reported on 28 April. Branch Three of the Tehran judiciary ordered the fine to be paid to a group of veterans harmed by chemical attacks in that war, ISNA stated, adding that the court has already fined the U.S. government $1.8 billion for similar charges. The ruling was sent to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which handles U.S. interests in the absence of Iranian-U.S. ties. Meanwhile, the Tehran city council has ordered the mayor to place "within 15 days" a plaque outside the German Embassy in Tehran commemorating the victims of chemical attacks from the same war, "Iran" reported on 28 April. Iran accuses Western powers, including Germany, of having sold Iraq chemical weapons in the war. The move is seen as a response to a plaque placed outside a Berlin restaurant last week that accuses Iran of murdering dissidents there in 1992. VS

POLL SHOWS IRAQIS SPLIT OVER COALITION PRESENCE IN IRAQ
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released on 28 April indicates that almost half of Iraqis interviewed believe that the U.S.-led war was more harmful than helpful, international media reported on 28 April. However, 61 percent of respondents believed that the removal of Saddam Hussein from power was "worth" any hardships they have endured. With regards as to how they view U.S.-led coalition forces, 71 percent of Iraqis said "mostly as occupiers," while 19 percent said "mostly as liberators." The interviews were conducted between 22 March and 9 April, mostly before the latest wave of violence across Iraq. MH

TALKS PLANNED IN AL-FALLUJAH, U.S. MARINES POSTPONE JOINT PATROLS
CNN reported on 28 April that talks in Al-Fallujah are to take place on 29 April involving city leaders, Sunni leaders from all over Iraq, coalition representatives, and Iraqi authorities. The talks are intended to prevent more violence in the already besieged city. As coalition forces continue to retaliate against insurgent forces there, U.S. Marine commanders postponed plans to conduct joint patrols of the city on 29 April with Iraqi policemen and civil-defense troops, washingtonpost.com reported on 28 April. The patrols are now planned to begin on 30 April, a senior Marine officer said. The patrols will be centered in sections of the city that are not currently under U.S. control. MH

PENTAGON REPORT FINDS LINK BETWEEN HUSSEIN, TERRORISTS IN IRAQ
According to a report released by the Pentagon on 28 April, many of the terrorist bombings against coalition forces in Iraq, as well as the attacks in Al-Fallujah, are products of Saddam Hussein's secret service, known as M-14, "The New York Times" reported on 29 April. The report includes findings based on interrogations with high-level officials from M-14 who are now in American custody and documents discovered and translated by the Iraq Survey Group. The report says that in Al-Fallujah, an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 insurgents are receiving tactical guidance from these former M-14 members. "We know the M-14 is operating in Fallujah and Ramadi," "The New York Times" quoted a senior administration official as saying. MH

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