MOSCOW WORRIED MOLDOVAN ELECTION WILL CREATE 'ORANGE BELT' AROUND RUSSIA
The Russian Embassy in Moldova asked the Moldovan Foreign Ministry on 5 March to explain the halting at the Moldovan border of a train with more than 100 Russian "observers" and "human-rights activists" who were traveling to the Moldovan capital of Chisinau to "monitor" the country's 6 March parliamentary elections, ORT and RTR reported. Moldovan police said the train from St. Petersburg was stopped and sent back because some were "spinmasters" and people with no reason "to stay in Moldova," NTV reported. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" wrote on 4 March that regardless of the results of the Moldovan elections, Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has already agreed with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to create "an orange belt" around Russia and to reinvigorate GUUAM, the regional alliance made up of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. "Russia is unable to formulate a strategy and policy regarding Moldova because Russia has no state interest there, it only has the personal business interests of Gazprom managers and some members of its government," RosBalt commented on 5 March. VY
...AS LEADER OF EURASIAN YOUTH MOVEMENT SAYS HE WILL STOP 'ORANGE REVOLUTION'
Speaking at a roundtable devoted to Russian political youth subculture, Pavel Zarifulin, leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, said on 4 March that the main goal of his organization is "to prevent an Orange Revolution in Russia," RosBalt, the organizer of the roundtable, reported. Zarifulin said his organization -- which is the youth branch of the Eurasia movement led by Aleksandr Dugin -- is an organization of "direct action" that is a counterpart to the radical left National Bolshevik Party, led by Eduard Limonov. Zarifulin said the Eurasian Youth Union will use "coercion" when needed. Oleg Bondarenko, the leader of the Motherland youth organization; Darya Mitina, leader of the Communist Party youth organization Komsomol; Iliya Yashin, the leader of Yabloko's youth division; and Roman Dobrokhotov, the head of the Moscow branch of the youth group Walking Without Putin, also attended the roundtable and discussed their organizations' programs. VY
DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WILL NOT WITHDRAW ITS NAVY FROM SEVASTOPOL...
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 5 March in Sevastopol that Russia has no plans to move the main base of its Black Sea Fleet from the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, RTR reported. At a ceremony introducing the new commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Aleksandr Tatarinov, Ivanov said "there is a lot of speculation in the mass media about the future of the Black Sea Fleet." Russia rents the Sevastopol navy base from Ukraine in accordance with an agreement that is valid until 2017. The new Ukrainian government "has said it is not going to revise it," Ivanov said. "Yes, we are building a second navy base for the fleet in Novorossiisk, but the command and the core of the Black Sea Fleet will stay in Sevastopol," Interfax quoted Ivanov as saying. "By 2013 we are planning to launch talks with Ukraine about prolonging the Sevastopol lease," Ivanov added. On the same day Ivanov met near Sevastopol with Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatolii Hryshchenko and agreed to hold talks in Moscow on bilateral military cooperation, strana.ru reported on 5 March. VY
...AND MENTIONS GEORGIA IN CONTEXT OF 'ANTITERROR PREEMPTIVE STRIKES'
Speaking to journalists on 4 March in Florence after talks with his Italian counterpart Antonio Martino, Sergei Ivanov said that Russia reserves the right to strike terrorist bases outside of its territory and to do so without any warning, RIA-Novosti reported. "This right is codified in a resolution by the United Nations adopted after the tragedy in Beslan," Ivanov added. He added that he is surprised the Georgian government construed this statement as a threat to strike purported terrorist camps in Pankisi Gorge in Georgia. "I am surprised by the regularity with which Georgia's leadership raises this issue. Although we never mention Georgia as a particular target, I can comment on this with the Russian idiom that says 'a thief always exposes himself,'" Ivanov added. VY
PUTIN WILL VISIT UKRAINE
The Russian ambassador in Ukraine, Viktor Chernomyrdin, announced in Kyiv on 4 March after talks between Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko that President Vladimir Putin will visit Kyiv on 19 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Ivanov said that Yushchenko told him about his desire to develop good relations with Russia and that there is "political will from both sides" on this, RIA-Novosti reported. At the same time, "there are a number of problems that we are obliged to solve in the nearest future," Ivanov added. He also said that Ukraine has a sovereign right to join the European Union and "if such a choice is made, it will not touch on our bilateral relations." VY
RUSSIA LEANS TOWARD U.S., FRENCH POSITIONS ON SYRIA
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with the BBC on 3 March that Syria should implement UN Resolution 1559 and withdraw its troops from Lebanon, "Izvestiya" and strana.ru reported on 3 March. "Russia abstained from voting on this resolution; however, this decision should be accepted and fulfilled. Syria should leave Lebanon," Lavrov said. He spoke before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced on 5 March a redeployment of Syrian troops in Lebanon. This sudden change in Moscow's position toward Syria can be explained as a gesture toward Washington, "Izvestiya" commented on 3 March. The Kremlin's foreign policy is increasingly influenced by the position of France, which also insists on a Syrian withdrawal, "Izvestiya." France is a key ally of Moscow in the EU. VY
OFFICIAL URGES DEPOLITICIZATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS...
Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin told ITAR-TASS on 5 March that the human rights situation in Russia "is more complex than the West thinks." He said improving the public's legal education and awareness is the most important goal for long-term improvement in the human rights situation. Lukin also urged that the fight for human rights be "intensified and depoliticized." He added that about one-third of the complaints received by his office relate to alleged abuses by law enforcement personnel. Lukin also announced on 5 March that Bashkortostan's Supreme Court has invalidated 172 police protocols related to the detentions of civilians in Blagoveshchensk during a December police operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2005). The court has recognized 120 people as victims of police excess during the operation, Lukin said. RC
...AND CALLS FOR PROSECUTION OF HIGH-LEVEL OFFICIALS IN BLAGOVESHCHENSK CASE
Lukin added that it seems officials in Bashkortostan are trying to blame the incident on low-level officers, and he said "those really responsible, the people who gave that sort of order or did not properly control the implementation of their correct orders, must be punished," RBK-TV reported. RBK-TV also reported that Blagoveshchensk police have threatened to hold a 10-day strike to protest what they call violations of their civil rights. Such a strike is illegal under a federal law that forbids police and other civil servants from taking such actions. RC
GOVERNMENT RELEASES STATISTICS ON 2004 BUDGET...
The Federal Statistics Service on 5 March released data about the 2004 federal budget, Prime-TASS reported. According to the service, the 2004 surplus was 730.7 billion rubles ($26.4 billion), up from 227.6 billion rubles in 2003. Transfers from the federal budget to the regions totaled 401.3 billion rubles, or about 15 percent of all spending. RC
...AND RAISES INFLATION FORECAST FOR 2005
The Finance Ministry on 5 March raised its 2005 inflation prediction from 8.5 percent to 10 percent, RIA-Novosti reported. As recently as 3 March, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told journalists that the government would not revise the 8.5 percent figure that it used to calculate the 2005 federal budget. According to government figures, inflation was 3.7 to 3.9 percent in the first two months of the year, driven primarily by increases in the costs of housing and communal services, the news agency reported. RC
TV HOSTS DEBATE QUOTAS FOR WOMEN IN THE DUMA
In a special 5 March broadcast in the run-up to International Women's Day on 8 March, ORT considered the question of why there are so few women in Russian political life and what should be done about it. Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov defended his agency's proposal that the election law be amended to require that at least 30 percent of the candidates on party lists be women. He stated that countries with larger percentages of female legislators, such as in Scandinavia, have "better" social policies. Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov argued against quotas, saying it is more important to address the underlying reluctance of voters, including women, to vote for female candidates. An unscientific poll of the studio audience found that 64 percent favor quotas for women, while 36 percent oppose them. RC
OFFICE OF RADICAL PARTY RANSACKED
About 25 young men on 5 March burst into the Moscow headquarters of the radical leftist National Bolshevik Party (NBP) and ransacked it, RIA-Novosti reported. The raiders used baseball bats and metal bars to break down the doors and destroy office equipment before leaving a videotaped message in which they said they had "settled scores" with the party. They also injured several party members who tried to resist the attack. Police refused to confirm reports that some suspected attackers had been arrested, the news agency reported. The party's website (http://www.nbp-info.ru) features a 6 March statement blaming the attack on the new pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi. The NBP office was similarly attacked on 29 January, in an incident that party activists say was instigated by the Kremlin. RC
SURVEY FINDS ATTITUDES TOWARD STALIN CHANGING LITTLE
In a survey timed for the 52nd anniversary of the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) found that 50 percent of Russians positively evaluate Stalin's historical role, strana.ru reported on 5 March. That figure is virtually unchanged from a similar poll two years ago. About 36 percent of respondents assessed Stalin's contribution negatively, a figure that is also virtually unchanged from two years ago. According to the survey, middle-aged respondents were most likely to view Stalin negatively, while older respondents and those aged 18-24 were most likely to approve of Stalin. Forty-two percent of respondents said that Russia needs a figure like Stalin, while 52 percent disagreed with that statement. Sixty-one percent of respondents said they oppose returning the historical name Stalingrad to the city Volgograd, while 23 percent said they support such a move. RC
CHECHEN RESISTANCE LEADER SAYS BRIEF MEETING WITH PUTIN COULD END WAR
Responding on 4 March to written questions submitted by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said he believes a 30 minute face-to-face meeting with President Putin should be enough to enlighten the latter about the true situation in Chechnya, which Maskhadov believes Putin's aides are deliberately concealing from him, and to convince Putin to end hostilities. Maskhadov made the same point in an interview with unspecified international media that was posted on chechenpress.co.uk on 4 March. He said in order to end the war it is necessary to clarify precisely what Moscow wants from Chechnya, to provide firm guarantees that the Russian troops will not continue killing Chechen civilians, and that Chechnya will respect Russia's regional and defense interests in the North Caucasus. LF
POLICE OFFICER KILLED IN SHOOTOUT IN DAGHESTAN
A traffic policeman died late on 6 March of injuries received in a shootout earlier that day with militants who opened fire from a bus at a checkpoint in the village of Novyi Kyakhulai, on the southern outskirts of Makhachkala, Russian media reported. Two of the militants were injured and the remaining three apprehended. Daghestani Interior Minister Adilgirei Magomedtagirov identified the gunmen as belonging to a group subordinate to Rasul Makarsharipov. LF
POLL SUGGESTS MANY ARMENIANS DOUBT FAIRNESS OF 2003 ELECTIONS
The independent Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) unveiled at a seminar in Yerevan on 4 March the findings of an opinion poll conducted among 1,500 respondents across the country, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. More than 75 percent of respondents said they consider the outcome of the 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections questionable; almost 40 percent identified money, and 36.8 percent "administrative resources," as the decisive factor in determining an election outcome, rather than the personality of a candidate or the program of a political party. The poll further revealed that only 50 percent of respondents are familiar with the constitution and election legislation, and fewer than 10 percent know precisely what proposed amendments to the constitution are to be put to a nationwide referendum later this year. LF
KARABAKH SCHEDULES PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, signed a decree on 5 March scheduling parliamentary elections for 19 June, ITAR-TASS reported. Since the adoption of a new law on political parties, three new political parties have been established: Armenia Is Our Home, Movement -88, and the center-right Free Fatherland, according to Arminfo on 31 January and Noyan Tapan on 7 February as cited by Groong. In addition, the former Democratic Liberal Union renamed itself at a recent congress the Democratic Party of Artsakh, according to "Azat Artsakh" on 4 February as cited by Groong. Under a new election law passed in December, 11 of the 33 deputies are elected from party lists and the remaining 22 in single-mandate constituencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 December 2004). LF
RSF WANTS INTERNATIONAL PROBE OF AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST'S SLAYING
Reporters without Borders Secretary-General Robert Menard has written to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev requesting a meeting to discuss setting up an international investigation of the 2 March murder of Elmar Huseinov, editor of the opposition journal "Monitor," Turan reported on 7 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 March 2005). An RSF fact-finding mission is to visit Baku on 8-11 March to meet with senior officials, including Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev. President Aliyev is scheduled to leave Baku on 8 March on a three-day official visit to Saudi Arabia. Five Turkish Interior Ministry experts arrived in Baku on 6 March to participate in the investigation into Huseinov's murder, Turan reported on 7 March. LF
AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA GIVE GREEN LIGHT TO FREIGHT TRAFFIC
Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli met in Baku on 4 and 5 March with his Azerbaijani counterpart Artur Rasizade and with President Aliyev to discuss various aspects of bilateral relations, Georgian and Azerbaijani media reported. According to zerkalo.az, it was agreed that the several hundred freight cars that have been backed up on the Azerbaijani-Georgian border for up to three months will be permitted to proceed to Georgia, which has agreed not to forward cargo to Armenia. Noghaideli and Aliyev also discussed Georgia's Azerbaijani minority, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil export pipeline, and the prospects for reviving the GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Moldova) alignment. Noghaideli's aide, Nika Lagidze, told Caucasus Press on 5 March that an agreement was also reached on the resumption of talks on the delimitation of the border between the two countries. LF
ADJAR LEADER FIRES TV CHIEF
Levan Varshalomidze, the government chairman of Georgia's Adjar Republic, dismissed republican television head Zaza Khalvashi and his deputy on 5 March and named Yevgenii Tavdgiridze to replace him, Caucasus Press reported. Varshalomidze also ordered that the 14 journalists and technicians who resigned from the station to protest censorship and harassment by Khalvashi be permitted to resume work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2005). LF
UKRAINE STATE SECRETARY VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
Oleksandr Zinchenko met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Astana on 4 March, Khabar reported. Their talks focused on bilateral trade, with Zinchenko saying that the two countries can raise trade volume to $2 billion a year from the current level of $1 billion, Kazinform reported. Zinchenko noted that he proposed "a number of projects that could soon give bilateral relations a full slate," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Zinchenko stressed that the primary areas of cooperation between Kazakhstan and Ukraine are energy transport corridors and the extraction and processing of oil from Kazakhstan's Tengiz oil field. DK
FLOODING FORCES EVACUATIONS IN SOUTHERN KAZAKHSTAN
Flooding from the Syr Darya River in southern Kazakhstan could force the evacuation of more than 100,000 people, Kazakh TV1 reported on 5 March. Khabar reported on 5 March that 28,000 had already been evacuated from the Kyzylorda Oblast, where floodwaters from spring thaws and the overflowing Shardara Reservoir have created an emergency situation. DK
TWO KAZAKH CITIZENS FACE TREASON CHARGES FOR ALLEGED AID TO AL-QAEDA
Kazakh citizens Dilmurat Shayusupov and Rakhim Sultangaziev face treason charges for allegedly helping Al-Qaeda, Khabar television reported on 5 March. The defendants, who are on trial in Zhambyl Oblast, are charged with attempting to set up an Al-Qaeda training camp on a farm in Kazakhstan. The charges carry the death penalty, although Kazakhstan has declared a moratorium on capital punishment. DK
ELECTION PROTESTS CONTINUE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Protests took place in a number of regions of Kyrgyzstan from 4 to 6 March in the interim period between the 27 February first-round parliamentary elections and 13 March runoffs, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In the city of Jalal-Abad, some 1,000 protestors gathered on 4 March to support parliamentary candidate Jusupbek Bakiev, brother of People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan leader Kurmanbek Bakiev, and condemn election fraud and pressure by the authorities. Demanding the resignation of President Askar Akaev, demonstrators occupied the provincial administration center in Jalal-Abad on 4-5 March. Up to 3,000 antigovernment demonstrators protested in Jalal-Abad on 6 March. Smaller pro-government demonstrations took place nearby on 5-6 March; some scuffles were reported. Demonstrations also took place in Naryn Province on 6 March to protest the 5 March disqualification of parliamentary candidate Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, akipress.org reported. Naryn Governor Shamshybek Medetbekov, who was briefly detained by protestors on 6 March and later released, promised a timely review of the decision to pull Kadyrbekov from the race. DK
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR PRE-TERM PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
At a demonstration in Jalal-Abad on 6 March, Kurmanbek Bakiev, leader of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, called for an emergency session of parliament to review the tense political situation in the country and examine the possibility of holding presidential elections before the currently scheduled date of October, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev, who is in a second-round runoff election on 13 March, told a crowd of some 3,000 protesters in Jalal-Abad that President Akaev is attempting to inflame political tensions in the country to create a pretext to declare a state of emergency and cancel October's presidential elections. Bakiev, a former prime minister who has long harbored presidential hopes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2002 and 29 September 2004), said that it would be better to hold presidential elections before parliamentary elections. DK
KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES PROMISE TO PUNISH ORGANIZERS
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev told a press conference on 5 March that the government is playing a "waiting game" with protestors, but warned that the instigators will be punished, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Tanaev as saying, "The organizers of these actions will be brought to account and we will not slip a single case of violation of the laws of this country." Bolot Januzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration, told a news conference in Bishkek on 5 March that the protests were a pre-planned power grab by the opposition and claimed that demonstrators were paid to participate in protests, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. DK
KYRGYZSTAN DISPUTES U.S. ENVOY'S COMMENTS ON AWACS
In a statement on 4 March, Kyrgyzstan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the U.S. embassy in Kyrgyzstan had directed an official request to station AWACS surveillance aircraft at the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, Kabar news agency reported. U.S. Ambassador Stephen Young told a news conference on 17 February that the question had not been raised (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2005), although Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov had stated only days earlier that Kyrgyzstan had declined an American request to deploy the aircraft in Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2005). The Foreign Ministry noted that not only the U.S. embassy, but also NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer had made a request to station AWACS in Kyrgyzstan. The ministry ascribed the U.S. envoy's comments on the issue to a "misunderstanding." DK
TAJIK PRESIDENT REPLACES TOP OFFICIALS, ORDERS NEWS CONFERENCES
Imomali Rakhmonov signed decrees on 4 March replacing a number of ministers and high-ranking officials, RFE/RL's Tajik Service and Tajik Television reported. Transport Minister Abdujalol Salimov was removed and replaced by Abdurahim Ashurov. Education Minister Safarali Rajabov was removed and replaced by Abdujabbor Rahmonov. Munim Kholiqov, head of the State Statistics Committee, was replaced by Mirgand Shahbozov. A number of deputy ministers and district heads were also replaced. The president also signed a decree obligating ministers, department heads, and local officials to give quarterly news conferences, Avesta reported. DK
TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTIES CONTINUE ELECTION PROTESTS
Tajikistan's Democratic Party, Communist Party, Social-Democratic Party, and Islamic Renaissance Party have submitted an 85-page document to the Central Election Commission (CEC) detailing violations in support of their demand to annul the results of 27 February parliamentary elections in Dushanbe, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 5 March. Social-Democratic Party leader Rahmatullo Zoirov said that if the CEC does not take action, the parties will take their complaint to the Supreme Court. If they are not satisfied with the verdict from the Supreme Court, the parties will refuse to recognize election results throughout the country and will withdraw from the Public Council, Zoirov said. DK
PAKISTANI PRESIDENT PROMISES EXTRADITION AGREEMENT WITH UZBEKISTAN
Parvez Musharraf met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on 6 March for talks focusing on trade relations and the fight against terrorism, official Uzbek news agency UzA reported. At a news conference after their meeting, President Musharraf said, "Some terrorist groups of Uzbek origin have been operating in parts of Pakistan. We are now working on an extradition agreement. I have assured President Islam Karimov that Pakistan will not allow the use of its soil by any terrorist groups," Uzbek Television reported. Musharraf also said that Pakistan would like to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan). President Karimov said that Pakistan's "efforts and bravery against fugitive terrorists from Uzbekistan...are winning the respect of many nations." Officials from the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint council on fighting terrorism, and the two presidents signed a document to expand bilateral cooperation, PTV World reported. DK
BELARUSIAN VENDORS CONTINUE PROTESTS OVER VAT ON RUSSIAN IMPORTS
Small retail traders continued their strike for the sixth consecutive day on 6 March to protest the introduction of an 18-percent valued-added tax on imports from Russia, Belapan reported. According to Alyaksandr Lapotka, deputy chairman of the Perspektyva business association, some 80 percents of all market vendors stayed out in the provinces on 6 March, while in Minsk, where pressure by law enforcement agencies and market administrations on protesting vendors was stronger, some 60 percent of vendors returned to work. Lapotka also said a group of protesters is planning to deliver a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, addressed for U.S. President George W. Bush, describing the social and economic situation in the country and citing instances of official pressure on small entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, a court in Hrodna on 4 March jailed journalist Andrey Pachobut for 10 days and human rights activist Mikalay Lemyaneuski for 15 days for their alleged roles in unauthorized street protests by vendors in Hrodna last week. JM
MOLDOVA EXPELS BELARUSIAN ELECTION MONITORS
Authorities in Moldova on 4 March expelled 47 Belarusian citizens who arrived in this country as observers from the CIS Election Monitoring Organization to monitor the 6 March general elections, Belapan reported. The authorities reportedly said the Belarusians lacked the Moldovan Central Election Commission's permits for monitoring the vote. The carriage with Belarusian monitors, which arrived in Chisinau in the evening of 4 March, was shunted to a siding and hitched on to a return train to Minsk a few hours later. Meanwhile, some 50 Belarusian observers, mostly members of the opposition United Civic Party (AHP), were able to monitor the 6 March elections, according to AHP Chairman Anatol Lyabedzka. JM
FORMER UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTER APPARENTLY COMMITTED SUICIDE...
Ukrainian Security Service chief Oleksandr Turchynov said on 5 March that preliminary findings show that former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko committed suicide at his dacha on 4 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2005), Ukrainian media reported. According to Turchynov, Kravchenko shot himself twice, apparently trying to kill himself with a shot through his lower jaw the first time. "But his hand might have faltered at the last moment, and the bullet passed through his mouth," Turchynov said. "This wound was far from being fatal; it was not even serious. After that, he fired into his right temple." JM
...AND LEFT NOTE ACCUSING KUCHMA OF 'POLITICAL INTRIGUES'
Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko told journalists on 5 March that Kravchenko had left a note before killing himself on 4 March, Ukrainian media. According to Lutsenko, the note reads: "My dear ones, I am not to blame for anything. Forgive me. I have fallen victim to political intrigues of President Kuchma and his entourage. I'm leaving you with a clear conscience. Farewell." Meanwhile, Security Service chief Turchynov said on 5 March that Kravchenko's note provides "a lot of information for the investigation" in the kidnapping and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, according to Interfax. "The note concerns particular people who are also suspects in the case," Turchynov said. "It provides investigators with a chance to plan the further direction of the investigation." JM
FORMER UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT RETURNS TO KYIV, DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN GONGADZE'S DEATH
Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 5 March returned to Kyiv from Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic where he had stayed for spa therapy since 15 February, Ukrainian and international media reported. "Before God, before the people, I have a clear conscience," Kuchma told reporters on 4 March, referring to the allegations linking him and former Interior Minister Kravchenko to Gongadze's assassination. Kuchma said during a funeral service for Kravchenko in Kyiv on 7 March that he does not believe that Kravchenko was guilty of ordering Gongadze's murder. "Under no circumstances will I believe that he [Kravchenko] could give such a felonious order," Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying. The so-called Melnychenko tapes suggest that Kuchma may at least have inspired Kravchenko to abduct Gongadze in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 6 March 2005). JM
PRO-PRESIDENTIAL PARTY EMERGES IN UKRAINE
More than 6,000 delegates gathered at a congress in Kyiv on 5 March to set up a party called Our Ukraine People's Union, which will provide political support to the government of President Viktor Yushchenko, Ukrainian media reported. The congress elected 120 delegates to the party's council, chose Deputy Premier Roman Bezsmertnyy as head of the council and Yuriy Yekhanurov as head of the party's executive committee. The congress also made Yushchenko honorary chairman of the new party. Lawmaker Oleh Bilorus from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc declared at the congress that his bloc is ready to form a coalition with the Our Ukraine People's Union for the 2006 parliamentary election. It is not clear for the time being how political parties constituting the pro-Yushchenko Our Ukraine bloc in the 2004 presidential election will react to the emergence of the new pro-presidential party. JM
EU PRESSES CROATIA TO COOPERATE WITH HAGUE
Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, which holds the the rotating presidency of the EU Council, said after a meeting on 4 March with the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla Del Ponte, that only days remain for Croatia to prove its cooperation with the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Asselborn stressed that full cooperation with the tribunal is a precondition for the European integration of all Balkan countries. The EU Council will decide on 16 March whether to start membership talks with Croatia the following day or to postpone them, depending on Del Ponte's opinion on Croatia's cooperation with the ICTY. A spokeswoman for Del Ponte said the chief prosecutor's opinion on Croatia's cooperation with the tribunal remains unchanged since indicted former Croatian General Ante Gotovina is not yet in The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 22 February and 2 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 January 2005). UB
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE ANNOUNCES REVIEW OF DISMISSAL OF BOSNIAN OFFICALS
High Representative Paddy Ashdown told a news conference on 4 March that his office is to begin reviewing its decisions to remove officials from office or participation in public life for obstructing the peace process and the administration as a whole between 1998 and 2003, according to a statement by Ashdown's office (http://www.ohr.int/ohr-dept/presso/pressb/default.asp?content_id=34139). Ashdown stressed that initially only a very small number of sacked officials will be included in the process. During the review, it will be asked whether the removed officials are likely to obstruct the administration again and whether the reasons for their removal are still in place. The review process does not pertain to decisions to remove officials taken by SFOR, EUFOR, or the UN police forces, Ashdown said ("RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 January 2005). UB
NATO ANNOUNCES EXERCISE IN KOSOVA
NATO's Allied Joint Force Command in Naples issued a statement on 4 March officially announcing that 600 additional troops from Germany were deployed to Kosova on 6 March for a routinely scheduled exercise "to ensure NATO troops and the Reserve Forces Headquarters are prepared to respond to any crisis in the Balkans," according to NATO's official website (http://www.nato.int) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2005). The exercise is dubbed "Determined Effort 2005" and will end on 13 April. UB
PRESEVO VALLEY ALBANIANS JOIN COORDINATION BODY FOR SOUTHERN SERBIA
Representatives from the municipalities in the Presevo valley region in southern Serbia signed an agreement in the offices of the OSCE mission in Belgrade on 3 March to participate in the work of the Serbian government's Coordination Center for Kosova and southern Serbia, Belgrade's private radio B92 reported. Jonuz Musliu, who heads the ethnic Albanian Movement for Democratic Progress (LPD), said the Presevo valley Albanians have now gained what they have been demanding for some time. In January, ethnic Albanian lawmakers from the Presevo district parliament had demanded that Belgrade demilitarize the region, open additional border crossings to Kosova and Macedonia, and reduce the size of the border security zone from 5 kilometers to 200 meters as preconditions for their participation in the coordination center (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005 and see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 January 2005). The agreement was mediated by representatives of the United States, the EU, and the OSCE. UB
OSCE REPRESENTATIVE SAYS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO SHOULD OPEN SECRET SERVICE FILES
Maurizio Massari, head of the OSCE mission to Serbia and Montenegro, said in Belgrade on 5 March that it is important to open the secret service files, according to a statement (http://www.osce.org/news/show_news.php?ut=2&id=4757). "The question is not if, but when and how to address the issues and resolve them for the sake of democracy and justice," Massari said, adding that no post-authoritarian state can avoid the issue of opening such files. Massari said opening the secret service files should be accompanied by the establishment of effective parliamentary control over the secret services, full implementation of the legislation on free access to information and work of independent courts. UB
ORTHODOX PATRIARCH PRAYS FOR POPE DURING VISIT TO ROMANIA
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, prayed for Pope John Paul II in a Romanian church on 6 March, praising the pontiff's courage, AP reported on the next day. "I pray wholeheartedly for his health. He has been very courageous in his life.... Courage is characteristic of him. I think and I pray that he will overcome this difficult time of (his) life and will continue for many years to come his life in service of Christ and...peace in the world," AP quoted Bartholomew as saying. Bartholomew, who was on a three-day visit to Romania, attended a Sunday service at St. Spiridon Church in Bucharest together with Teoctist, the patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church. BW
COMMUNISTS LEAD IN MOLDOVA VOTE, BUT LOSE GROUND...
With all the votes counted, the governing pro-Western Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) won a parliamentary majority, although it fell short of securing enough seats in parliament to reelect President Vladimir Voronin, international news agencies reported on 7 March. The PCM won 46.1 percent of the vote, down from the 50 percent they won in 2001. The Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD), which seeks closer ties with Russia, won approximately 28.4 percent. The center-right Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), which favors closer relations with Romania, won nearly 9.07 percent of the vote. Twelve other parties failed to clear the 6 percent threshold necessary to win seats in parliament. The PCM are projected to win 55 or 56 seats in the 101-seat parliament, enough to form a government but five seats shy of the 61 necessary to reelect Voronin president. The legislature has 45 days to elect a president. If it fails, new parliamentary elections must be held. Turnout in the election was 65 percent of Moldova's 2.3 million voters. BW
...AS OPPOSITION PARTIES VOW TO BLOCK PRESIDENT'S RE-ELECTION...
Both the BMD and the PPCD have vowed to block Voronin's re-election as president, international news agencies reported on 7 March. BMD leader Serafim Urechean told the Infotag news agency he is considering an alliance with the PPCD, Reuters reported the same day. He said his bloc will be guided by "the people's interests rather than by group or personal interests." BMD is expected to secure 34 or 35 seats in parliament and the PPCD are expected to take 10 or 11 mandates. Urechean and PPCD leader Iurie Rosca said on 7 March that their parties will boycott the presidential vote in parliament in an effort to force early elections, AP reported. The PCM were hoping to lure defectors from BMD in an effort to reelect Voronin, AP reported. BW
...AND ELECTION COMMISSION SAYS VOTE WAS FAIR AND VALID
The secretary of Moldova's Central Election Commission said the results of the national election were valid and free of irregularities, Reuters reported on 7 March. "As far as we know, there were no serious irregularities which could have affected the outcome. Most complaints were about voting procedures," Valentin Vizant said. "The elections were valid. They were conducted in a democratic and transparent fashion." The Social Democrats, who failed to reach the 6 percent threshold, accused the ruling PCM of fraud shortly after an exit poll was published on 6 March showing the ruling party leading but falling shy of a majority. "Having failed to achieve the required results with the help of state funds, the Communists have started open falsification of the results," the party said in a statement quoted by Reuters on 7 March. The exit poll gave the Communists 40 percent, Democratic Moldova 29 percent, and the Christian Democrats 14 percent. BW
RUNNING AGAINST WASHINGTON
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who is one of President Vladimir Putin's closest confidants and who is regularly mentioned as a possible successor to Putin in 2008, made some uncharacteristic political statements in a 1 March interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets." "Only democrats, with their split personalities, could believe that we might get help from abroad," Ivanov said. "Nobody will help us except ourselves. Therefore we should be powerful and capable of guaranteeing our national security in any situation."'
He also criticized Russian liberals for viewing Russia only as "a money-making enterprise." Recent Russian media reports indicate that the Kremlin has ordered acceptable candidates to succeed Putin to increase their visibility and predict that figures such Ivanov, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, and Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu will be making more pronouncements of this sort in the future. And the platform they seem to be developing is clearly anti-American.
Even as Putin was shaking hands with U.S. President George W. Bush in Bratislava on 24 February and emphasizing the myriad shared interests of Russia and the United States, a surprising wave of seemingly Kremlin-inspired anti-Americanism was sweeping through Russian domestic politics. Commentators, officials, and others began speaking in chorus about purported U.S. designs to install a pro-Western leader in Moscow, accusations that were buttressed by charges that the CIA had already done as much in Tbilisi and Kyiv.
When former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov appeared at a 25 February press conference with harsh criticism of the Putin administration's policies -- accusing Putin of abandoning the path of democratic development -- Putin supporters latched onto Kasyanov's admission that he had recently held talks with unnamed officials in Washington. Federation Council Chairman Mironov told TV-Tsentr on 28 February that Kasyanov has no chance of winning because he is "a pro-American candidate."
Political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii told RFE/RL on 1 March: "[Kasyanov] should tell by name who it was who endorsed his views. Let the electorate listen and decide whether they want Senator [John] McCain [Republican, Arizona] approving the views of a candidate for president of the Russian Federation." State-controlled television broadcast numerous variations on this theme, leading "Kommersant-Daily" television critic Arina Borodina to conclude to RFE/RL on 1 March that "of course there was a campaign" to discredit Kasyanov.
In his TV-Tsentr comments, Mironov went even further, saying a candidate "endorsed by Washington does not have the slightest chance of becoming president of today's Russia." He seemed to be indicating that anti-American and anti-Western sentiments are rampant among the Russian electorate.
At the same time, the pro-Kremlin youth movement Walking Together has been transforming itself in recent weeks into a new national organization called Nashi (Ours) that has an overtly anti-American ideology. The architect of the new initiative is deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, who oversees domestic politics for the Kremlin. Surkov is a staunch anti-Westerner who in a major interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" in September said that decision-makers in the United States and Europe "are living on the phobias of the Cold War and see Russia as a potential enemy." "They take credit for the nearly bloodless collapse of the Soviet Union and want to further that achievement." He added that these external enemies are working in Russia through a "fifth column" of "pseudo-liberals and Nazis" who share "a common hatred of 'Putin's Russia,' as they call it, and common foreign backers." He specifically said that the 2008 presidential election will be a key moment in the fight against these enemies.
The events surrounding the Ukrainian presidential election have definitely given impetus to this thinking in the Kremlin, although the general trend was already in place. Walking Together organizer Vasilii Yakemenko has been touring the country for the last few months, agitating among students in the regions to organize local chapters of Nashi. According to "Moskvoskii komsomolets" on 24 February, Yakemenko told a group in Kursk that "previously [Ukraine] was a Russian colony and now it is an American colony." He added that the United States now intends to make Russia its "colony."
Russia's only major nonstate television network, REN-TV, on 2 March interviewed a number of Nashi activists in Nizhnii Novgorod and found them echoing the ideology of Surkov's interview. "We think that America is Russia's main enemy," student Dmitrii Shvabinskii said. "One must remember that we always have had enemies." Fellow student Dmitrii Lyashchev said the goal of the movement "is to stop Russia from becoming a subsidiary of the United States and a supplier of raw materials."
Several of the Nashi activists interviewed by REN-TV highlighted their selfless devotion to their new ideology, emphasizing that Russia's enemies are only interested in profit and personal gain. "Some people don't think about their country," music student Maria Bystrova said. "They only think how to eat well. Such people can sell all the secrets they know." Fellow student Kseniya Baburkina added "we must work for the idea, not for money."
ORT political commentator Mikhail Leontev, who is notorious for his anti-American pronouncements on the main state television network, wrote a 2 March commentary in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that summed up the new anti-Americanism. "The United States is not our reliable ally in any area in which it declares itself one, and has never been our ally," Leontev wrote. He added that, as they did in Ukraine, U.S. politicians intend to finance "subversive organizations" because "they dislike the political system existing in Russia." "It is no secret that so-called nongovernmental organizations are now openly financed not only by foundations and suspicious private individuals with very peculiar political views," Leontev wrote. "They are also directly financed by the U.S. Congress."
Most analysts agree that the Kremlin was genuinely shaken by the events in Ukraine and the administration fears that such a scenario could occur -- or be provoked -- in Russia. The Kremlin's preemptive measures -- including the creation of Nashi; the discrediting of Kasyanov; the creation of controlled leftist and, possibly, rightist political movements to "compete" with Unified Russia; and others -- are indications that the Putin administration is sparing no effort to make sure that the 2007 Duma elections and the 2008 presidential race are managed to its liking. And that there is no need for the kind of crude falsification that stoked the unrest in Ukraine.
At the same time, the Kremlin clearly appreciates the realpolitik orientation of the Bush administration, something that Russian commentators emphasized during the 2004 U.S. presidential race. The Putin administration clearly believes that Bush values stability in Russia more than democratic development and that Putin can only improve his international stature by appearing to be the most reliable bulwark against a seething tide of anti-Western sentiment among the Russian public. If the West accepts this notion, Kremlin analysts might well be thinking, it will ease up on criticism of Russian domestic policies -- including Chechnya, the curtailing of media freedoms, and the elimination of real political competition -- and not use economic levers such as membership in the World Trade Organization to influence Russia's domestic affairs.
By encouraging the broad perception that the events in Ukraine were nothing but a CIA-sponsored coup d'etat, the Kremlin hopes to transform its humiliating setback in Kyiv into tangible domestic and international gains.
AFGHAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS LIKELY IN SEPTEMBER
An unidentified source close to the UN-Afghan Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) said on 5 March that the electoral body has proposed holding both parliamentary and provincial elections on 17 September, Reuters reported. The already delayed elections had been slated for a date before 21 May, but the head of Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission, Besmellah Besmel indicated that the elections would be delayed by three months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005). NATO sources had earlier stated that if the elections could not be held by the first week of July, when the next rotation of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) takes place, then it would be better if they are held in September or later (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 February 2005). The source said "mid-September is the soonest" the polls can take place. Contentious district elections, meanwhile, are to be postponed to a later date, pending a parliamentary debate on district boundaries. Afghan presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin told Reuters that he is not aware of the 17 September date, but added that government "would live with" any date picked by JEMB. AT
EDITORIAL CRITICIZES INCLUSION OF WARLORDS IN AFGHAN GOVERNMENT
In a commentary on 5 March entitled "Spread of Distrust," Herat News Center said that inclusion of warlords in the Afghan government would weaken the progress of human rights in the country. Afghans will lose their confidence in their government if warlords are employed as part of the administration; however, "this is happening," the editorial added. The commentary questioned how with the appointment of warlords to official posts, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission can carry out its investigation into charges of war crimes committed by some of these individuals during the Afghan civil war. The commentary did not name any specific warlord, but from the timing of the editorial, it is possible that General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was appointed to a high military position 1 March and who has been criticized for his human rights record, might be the intended focus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005). AT
AFGHAN PRESIDENT SAYS GAS PIPELINE WOULD BENEFIT REGION
During a radio question and answer session on 4 March, President Hamid Karzai said that the proposed Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan Natural-Gas Pipeline Project (TAP) would benefit the entire region, not only Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai said that natural gas requirements for India and Pakistan are increasing and the TAP project would fulfill the needs of both countries. "Naturally, there is regional competition," Karzai said, but he added that is normal. Afghanistan has been urging New Delhi to look favorably at the TAP project; however, beyond India's choices questions remain on the size of Turkmen natural gas fields and Moscow's reported opposition to the project (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 February 2005). AT
AFGHAN OFFICIAL SACKED FOR ALLEGED ADMINISTRATIVE CORRUPTION
Afghan Health Minister Sayyed Mohammad Amin Fatemi has sacked the head of the country's blood bank, Mohammad Noman Hekmat, for dereliction of duties, Tolu television reported on 5 March. Nader Hasas has been named as Hekmat's replacement. Fatemi has sacked other officials in his ministry to prevent administration corruption, the report added, without naming the officials. Hekmat has denied the reasons for his dismissal and has alleged that he was removed by Fatemi so that the minister can appoint his preferred people, charges which Fatemi denied. AT
IRAN SAYS IT WILL NOT END URANIUM ENRICHMENT...
Iran's Supreme National Security Secretary Hassan Rohani said in Tehran on 5 March that Iran will pursue uranium enrichment, and he accused Western states of bearing Iran "ill-will" and undermining nuclear nonproliferation rules, news agencies and dailies reported. "The issue of suspension will be temporary, so our talks with Europe cannot take too long," Rohani said after a nuclear technology seminar. Rohani added that for Iran, only "international regulations," including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and its additional protocol, can govern international relations and non-proliferation, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 March. "America and certain Westerners are weakening, not strengthening the NPT." Iran wants no confrontation with Western states, Rohani added, but if that happens, "they will lose out." If "our case is referred to the [UN] Security Council, we shall end the additional protocol and begin enrichment," he said. VS
...AND IS DISPLEASED WITH ITS EU-3 TALKS
Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Tehran on 6 March that Iran is displeased with ongoing talks with the three European states on its nuclear program, and "if our rightful expectations are not met, then...we shall not have the same situation as before," IRNA reported the same day. Iran suspended uranium enrichment after a 14 November 2004 agreement, and began talks in December (See "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 November 2004). Rafsanjani said Iranians are not happy with the suspension, which should not last longer than six months from December. The talks have made no "palpable progress" after three months, he said. Separately, Supreme National Security Council member Hussein Musavian said on 6 March in Tehran that European negotiators are not sure they can guarantee political and trade cooperation with Tehran in exchange for concessions on its part, without U.S. cooperation in the negotiating process, IRNA reported. He said this "strengthens the need for American cooperation." Recent requests for a full cessation of enrichment, he said, violate the November 2004 deal, and could spell the "death" of talks. Iranian and European negotiators are to meet in Geneva on 16 and 17 March, AFP reported on 6 March. VS
COURT JAILS IRANIANS WHO PROTESTED ELECTION RESULTS
The revolutionary court in the southern town of Izeh has jailed some 200 local people who violently protested against the results of Iran's controversial parliamentary polls in February 2004, Radio Farda reported on 6 March (See "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 March 2004). Conservatives won control of parliament in those elections, but nationwide voter turnout was reduced, and thousands of hopefuls, including many reformers, were barred from standing as candidates. The court jailed defendants for 10 to 15 years, and exiled an unknown number for 30 years to other parts of Iran, after they were convicted of rioting and damaging public property, Radio Farda reported, citing Mohammad Hussein Ahmadpur, a defendant from Izeh. Ahmadpur has appealed the sentence, and said he was not in Izeh when the riots happened. In February 2004, he said, as "the government was delaying [results], people came out and burned banks and government offices, and caused destruction." But this court, he said, has sentenced the innocent and guilty alike. VS
RIGHTS BODY TAKING MUNICIPALITY TO COURT
The Society of Defenders of Human Rights (Kanun-e Modafe'an-e Hoquq-e Bashar) is taking the Isfahan municipality in central Iran to court for building a high-rise tower block next to a 17th-century complex of buildings, considered a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO, Radio Farda reported on 6 March. The municipality is hastening construction despite complaints by Iranians, and UNESCO, and two court orders to stop the building, Society member Mohammad Ali Dadkhah told Radio Farda. He said the judge who had ordered the construction stopped has been replaced by a judge who overturned his ruling. Dadkhah said the action being taken against municipal authorities, the provincial governor's office and the provincial prosecutor-general, "will certainly get somewhere, though it may take time." The building would have to be reduced by three stories, he said. Separately, Harvard University experts are to visit Iran in May or June to study antiquities in Golestan Province, near the border with Turkmenistan, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 6 March. The university has signed an agreement with the state heritage organization, it added. VS
MILITANTS KILL AT LEAST FIVE IRAQI NATIONAL GUARDSMEN IN BA'QUBAH CLASHES
Militants clashed with Iraqi National Guardsmen in Ba'qubah, north of Baghdad on 7 March, killing five soldiers, Reuters reported. Two policemen were also killed when a car bomb targeting a convoy of police vehicles responding to the scene as backup detonated, the news agency reported. Eight policemen and four civilians were wounded. Al-Jazeera television reported that 12 Iraqis were killed in the fighting and subsequent car bombing, including seven National Guardsmen, four policemen, and one civilian. The satellite news channel said the fighting broke out at a checkpoint near the Teachers neighborhood in the southern part of the city. According to Reuters, Tanzim Al-Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility for the attacks. KR
HIZBALLAH NEWSPAPER SAYS SYRIAN GOVERNMENT PROVIDED U.S., IRAQ, WITH INFORMATION ON AL-ZARQAWI
Citing unidentified sources in Damascus, Iraq's Hizballah Party weekly "Al-Bayyinah" reported on 5 March that Syrian security forces have given the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Iraqi interim government lists that include the names of groups affiliated with Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and the location of their hideouts in Iraq. CNN television broadcast what it identified as possible recent photos of al-Zarqawi on 7 March. Military sources told CNN that the images were found in a video camera confiscated during a raid several weeks ago. AFP reported on 7 March that Iraqi and U.S. forces have stepped up military operations in Samarra, north of Baghdad in search of al-Zarqawi. "We have information that Zarqawi may be hiding in Samarra or this region and this operation is aimed at checking that out," a senior Iraqi security official told AFP. Meanwhile, several Arab and Iraqi media outlets continue to contend that al-Zarqawi was arrested weeks ago. KR
IRAQ GOVERNMENT SAYS PARLIAMENT TO CONVENE NEXT WEEK...
Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih announced on 6 March that the transitional National Assembly will hold its inaugural session on 16 March, Al-Jazeera television reported. The session has reportedly been delayed in order to allow further negotiations among political groups on the shape of the transitional government. Iraqi Islamic Party Secretary General Muhsin Abd al-Hamid announced on 6 March that his party will not participate in the new government, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on the same day. The announcement came after the party met with six other Sunni groups and all decided to reject offers of secondary posts for Sunnis in the transitional government. Sunnis will reportedly demand a Sunni be appointed to the post of deputy prime minister, as well as to two other high-profile posts, Al-Sharqiyah reported. KR
...AS TWO MEMBERS OF WINNING SHI'ITE LIST DEFECT
Two members of the United Iraqi Alliance list have resigned in protest of the continuous delays in convening the parliament. Hizballah Party head Abd al-Karim al-Muhammadawi told nytimes.com that he withdrew from the Shi'ite alliance because it hasn't even held a meeting to choose a transitional president, the website reported on 5 March. Ali Hashim Yusha, the head of the Unified National Coalition, also resigned. "The other members of the [transitional] assembly are still negotiating and dividing the government's posts. We are not interested in the posts. We want to start resolving the problems of the people and writing the constitution," Yusha told washingtonpost.com, the website reported on 6 March. The defections will leave the alliance controlling 138 seats and a one-seat majority in the 275-seat assembly, according to the website. KR
ITALIAN JOURNALIST RELEASED, DEMANDS EXPLANATION FOR ATTACK ON VEHICLE
Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena was released by her captors in Iraq on 4 March after exactly one month in captivity, only to have her vehicle come under U.S. fire while transporting her to Baghdad International Airport, injuring her and killing an Italian secret service agent, international media reported on 5 March. The U.S. Defense Department said multinational forces had fired at the car when it approached a checkpoint at high speed, Reuters reported on 5 March. The occupants of the vehicle were not known, the statement said. Meanwhile, writing in her leftist daily "Il Manifesto" on 6 March, Sgrena said she believed that she may have been targeted by U.S. forces, who she says are opposed to negotiations for the release of hostages. She also denied that her vehicle was speeding at the time of the incident. Asked by French La Chaine Information TV if she thought that U.S. forces had deliberately targeted her, she said: "I'm not saying that the Americans targeted me deliberately. I'm saying that I cannot understand what happened when my car...was riddled with bullets." KR
ITALIAN DAILY REPORTS ON NEGOTIATED RELEASE
Rome's "La Repubblica" reported on 5 March that Sgrena was released as part of a negotiation in which Rocco Buttiglione, Italian minister of EU policies, said he would testify on behalf of former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, soon to tried on a number of charges relating to his role in the deposed Ba'athist regime. A spokesman for Buttiglione said on 3 March reportedly said he will "go to the trial and testify to the moderating role that Aziz played in relation to Saddam Hussein and about the efforts he made to avert the last two wars in Iraq," Reuters reported. KR
NINAWAH GOVERNORATE COUNCIL MEMBER ASSASSINATED
Unidentified militants gunned down Ninawa Governorate Council member Hana Abd al-Qadir in Mosul on 6 March, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. The attackers reportedly fired on Abd al-Qadir from a car they were traveling in, the television said. He is the second governorate council member to be killed; the first was Nahlah Aziz al-Isa, who was kidnapped and later assassinated by militants last year, Al-Sharqiyah reported. Militants in Al-Dawrah assassinated police Lieutenant Akram Hasan Muhammad on 6 March outside his home south of Baghdad, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. KR