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Newsline - March 14, 2005

The Foreign Ministry on 12 March issued a statement saying that it is closely monitoring global reaction to the 8 March slaying of Chechen resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov, reported. The ministry statement said that Maskhadov was "a figure of the same type" as radical field commander Shamil Basaev. The statement said that the "liquidation of Maskhadov" has activated the enemies of normalization in the Chechen Republic, including "emissaries and abettors of terrorism who at present are abroad and using the information tribunes of a number of foreign governments." The ministry criticized unspecified foreign media outlets for transmitting terrorist "threats" that are aimed at creating nervousness in Russia and "sowing in the population a feeling of defenselessness and fear." The ministry called on foreigners to avoid "double standards." "In words, many come out for an active struggle against international terrorism, while the liquidation of one of the most odious international terrorists is greeted by expressions of regret," the statement read. RC

Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak and Russian military spokesman Major General Ilya Shabalkin both denied on 11 March that orders were issued to kill Chechen President Maskhadov rather than capture him alive, Russian media reported. Shabalkin denied that orders are ever given to eliminate a criminal; he said special forces are told to detain criminals so they can be brought to trial, ITAR-TASS reported. Maskhadov's body was taken to Moscow on 11 March for further forensic tests to eliminate the last residual doubts about his identity. Also on 11 March, a senior official in the pro-Moscow Chechen administration, State Council Chairman Taus Djabrailov, argued that Maskhadov's body should be handed over to his relatives for burial, Interfax reported. Other Russian officials have argued that under Russian law, Maskhadov as a "terrorist" should be buried in an unmarked grave, the location of which should not be divulged to his family (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2005). LF

The military collegium of the Supreme Court on 14 March upheld the 10 June 2004 acquittals of all six defendants in the case of the 1994 murder of investigative journalist Dmitrii Kholodov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004), RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The court rejected appeals of the acquittals filed by prosecutors and by Kholodov's relatives. "Inasmuch as incontrovertible proof of the guilt of the accused was not presented by investigators, the court was justified in delivering an acquittal," collegium Chairman Lev Zakharov said during the hearing. Irina Aleshina, the Prosecutor-General's Office representative in the case, told journalists following the verdict that the government has no further avenues of appeal in the case. Kholodov's parents have stated that they will file an appeal with the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights. RC

"Forbes" magazine, in its issue dated 28 March, published its annual listing of the world's billionaires, including 27 Russians. That total put Russia in the No. 2 spot after the United States, which has 341 billionaires, according to the list. The richest Russian on the list is Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, who ranked 21st with an estimated worth of $13.3 billion. Last year, former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii was the richest Russian, while he fell from No. 16 to No. 292 this year. Five of Khodorkovskii's associates at Yukos and Menatep fell off the billionaire list altogether, "The Moscow Times" reported on 14 March. Alfa Group Chairman Mikhail Fridman was the second richest Russian, ranking 60th globally, tied with Russian steel magnate Vladimir Lisin. RusAl owner Oleg Deripaska ranked fourth among Russians, with a worth of $5.5 billion, followed by TNK-BP Director Viktor Vekselberg at $5 billion. Yelena Baturina, construction magnate and wife of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzkov, became the first Russian woman to make the list, with an estimated worth of $1.3 billion. According to "The Moscow Times," the 27 Russians on the "Forbes" list control 17 percent of the country's gross domestic product. RC

The number of Russians living below the official poverty line fell to 20.8 million in the last quarter of 2004, the State Statistics Committee reported on 11 March, according to Prime-TASS. That figure represents 14.6 percent of the population. The official poverty level is 2,451 rubles ($81.70) per month per person. According to the report, the official cost of a standard selection of basic consumer goods was 2,308 rubles during this period, up just over 2 percent from the third quarter of 2004. RC

World chess No. 1 Garri Kasparov, who is head of the opposition Committee-2008, announced on 10 March that he is retiring from professional chess to focus on politics, Russian and international media reported (see today's End Note). "I did everything that I could in chess, even more," Kasparov said following a tournament in Spain. "Now I intend to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics." "The Moscow Times" on 14 March quoted Kasparov's assistant Denis Bilunov as saying that Kasparov and Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) plan to tour at least 10 regions of Russia in the near future to make a series of political speeches. Kasparov has been aligned with numerous liberal political movements since the early 1990s, including the Democratic Party of Russia, the Liberal-Conservative Union, and the Congress of Russian Communities. RC

Former Moscow Municipal Court Judge Olga Kudeshkina, who was stripped of her post in May 2004 for publicly criticizing Municipal Court Chairwoman Olga Yegorova, has written an open letter to President Vladimir Putin charging that the judicial branch is becoming increasingly dependent on the executive branch, "Gazeta" reported on 11 March. Kudeshkina repeated her allegations that Yegorova was appointed "in gross violation of the law" and charged that she "has been trampling on standards of legislation and judicial ethics." Kudeshkina said that Yegorova "doesn't even try to hide" that she is influenced by officials within the presidential administration. She estimated that more than 80 judges have stepped down since Yegorova took office four years ago. She said that one judge in 10 is a former Interior Ministry employee and one in nine is a former state prosecutor. "If this situation is allowed to continue, the accusatory bias of our administration of justice will certainly predominate over the triumph of justice," Kudeshkina wrote. RC

In the same open letter to President Putin, former Judge Kudeshkina lambasted the recent appointment of Anton Ivanov as chairman of the Supreme Arbitration Court, "Gazeta" reported on 11 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). Ivanov was formerly first deputy general director of Gazprom-Media and his candidacy was widely believed to have been lobbied by presidential administration head and Gazprom board Chairman Dmitrii Medvedev. Kudeshkina wrote, "I link Anton Ivanov's appointment to the fact that right now Russia's arbitration courts are considering a great number of cases connected with Gazprom or its structural subdivisions." "Ivanov was appointed to this high position only because he was very close to the head of the presidential staff," Kudeshkina wrote. In a commentary published in "The Wall Street Journal" on 4 February, Committee-2008 Chairman Kasparov wrote that the appointment of Ivanov was "a move akin to Caligula's naming a horse to the [Roman] senate." RC

The 13 March edition of TV-Tsentr's "Moment of Truth" program argued that jury trials have been a failure in Russia so far. Host Andrei Karaulov concluded that such trials have become "a sure way for any criminal to avoid justice." On the program, Moscow city prosecutor Maria Semenenko showed a photograph of jurors dining in a restaurant with a defense lawyer in the case of a businessman accused of smuggling cigarettes. Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev was quoted as saying that jurors are not qualified to make legal decisions, while Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) said that Russia had adopted jury trials prematurely only in response to international pressure. Deputy Gennadii Gudkov (Unified Russia) said that corrupt judicial officials have been known to reveal private information about jurors to defendants. RC

The Communist Party on 12 March held a plenum at which members pledged to step up efforts to get their message out to the electorate, NTV and ITAR-TASS reported. Communist Party deputy head Ivan Melnikov told ITAR-TASS "we must act more harshly, more energetically, and louder even in the State Duma." "And we may consider as well using some methods of street protests in the lower house," he added. The plenum declared that the government is waging an "information war" against the party and resolved "to act as aggressively and offensively in terms of propaganda as possible," the news agency reported. NTV reported that Melnikov argued during the plenum that the party must use unorthodox methods such as text messaging on cellular telephones "in order to draw attention to specific events." RC

"Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev on 11 March fired seven leading journalists from the liberal weekly after they signed a letter urging Kiselev to step down, ITAR-TASS and other media reported. Kiselev fired First Deputy Editor in Chief Lyudmila Telen, Deputy Editor Mikhail Shevelev, Executive Secretary Dmitrii Starovoitov, Deputy Executive Secretary Tatyana Yakhlakova, News Editor Irina Serbina, columnist Tatyana Skorobogatko, and correspondent Dmitrii Pushkar. Following the dismissals, employees at the paper sent a second letter to Kiselev urging him to reconsider his actions. Kiselev, who was named editor in 2003 shortly after the paper was purchased by Menatep (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2003), was accused by staffers of "authorizing the practice of publishing political and economic promotional materials under the guise of editorial articles." ITAR-TASS reported that "Moskovskie novosti" supervisory board head Aleksandr Yakovlev, a former Politburo member who was the main ideologue of perestroika, described the firings as a step "on [the paper's] path toward collapse and a serious blow to the democratic press." Ekho Moskvy on 11 March quoted Kiselev as saying that he had been forced to decide whether "to leave things as they are or to inject new blood." On 13 March, the paper's supervisory board issued a statement saying that Kiselev had demonstrated "egocentric and haughty intolerance of criticism." Leonid Nevzlin, who owns a controlling stake in Menatep, told "Gazeta" on 14 March that he will not interfere with the paper's editorial policies. RC

Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii told journalists on 12 March that the heating-fuel crisis in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug is under control, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2005). "Thanks to energetic measures, we are past the threshold of concern in [the okrug]," Pulikovskii said. "Today we have a good store of fuel in all Koryak villages." Pulikovskii also expressed confidence in the newly appointed acting Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, saying "I am confident that Kozhemyako's management qualities will contribute to the improvement of the social and economic situation in [the okrug]." RC

North Ossetia's Supreme Court has passed judgment on four men accused of organizing a suicide bombing in June 2003 that killed 19 people at the Russian military base in Mozdok, Interfax reported on 11 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 June 2003). Rustam Ganiev, a Chechen, was sentenced to life imprisonment; Magomed Kozdoev, an Ingush from Nazran, to 25 years; and Issa Iliev, an Ingush from North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi Raion and Arkadii Arakhov from Nalchik in Kabardino-Balkaria to 11 1/2 years each. At the time of that attack the Federal Security Service laid the responsibility for it on Maskhadov. LF

During a two-day visit to Yerevan on 11-12 March, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli met with his Armenian counterpart Andranik Markarian to discuss bilateral trade and cooperation in the energy sector, Georgian and Armenian agencies reported. Bilateral trade grew by 51 percent in 2004, reaching $78 million, Caucasus Press reported on 12 March. Noghaideli raised with Markarian the possibility of Georgia and Ukraine importing Iranian gas exported to Armenia via the gas pipeline currently under construction, ITAR-TASS reported. Initially that pipeline was planned exclusively to supply Armenia with gas, but Interfax on 4 March quoted Armenian Energy Minister Andranik Manukian as saying a second leg could be built to transport gas to Europe. The Russian-Armenian company Armrosgasart is to undertake construction, which will begin next month, of the Armenian section of the pipeline. LF

Sporadic shooting was reported on 11 March for the fourth consecutive day on the Line of Contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces east of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2005). The NKR Defense Ministry issued a statement on 11 March blaming the exchanges of fire on repeated attempts by Azerbaijani forces to penetrate behind Armenian lines. A spokesman for the NKR Defense Ministry said one Armenian soldier has been killed and two wounded in recent days; one Azerbaijani serviceman was reported wounded in the head on 11 March. LF

Speaking to journalists on 12 March after a ceremony to mark the 13th anniversary of the forming of Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry troops, President Ilham Aliyev said Baku will not change its negotiating position with regard to resolving the Karabakh conflict, and he excluded any compromises by Azerbaijan in the course of the negotiating process, according to Azertaj as cited by Groong. Aliyev said Azerbaijan's negotiating position has become much stronger as a result of unspecified political and diplomatic successes. He termed the recent ceasefire violations a "provocation" on the part of Armenia. Speaking earlier at the anniversary celebration, Aliyev said Azerbaijan "does not want a war" over Nagorno-Karabakh, but added that Azerbaijan's patience "is not boundless" and the country will never reconcile itself to the loss of Karabakh. LF

Responding on 12 March to a journalist's question, President Aliyev said he sees no threat of a revolution in Azerbaijan comparable to those that took place in Georgia and Ukraine, according to Azertaj as cited by Groong. He argued that such revolutions occur only in countries where the population has no trust in the leadership, or when the economic and social situation deteriorates which, he continued, is not the case in Azerbaijan. Aliyev added that his popularity rating is currently even higher than at the time of the October 2003 presidential ballot, in which according to official returns he polled 76.8 percent of the vote. LF

In his address at the celebration to mark the 13th anniversary of the Interior Ministry troops, Aliyev condemned as "monstrous" the series of abductions perpetrated over the past decade by a group headed by an Interior Ministry official, according to Azertaj as cited by Groong (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2005). Aliyev confirmed earlier media speculation that the group in question was also responsible for several high-profile murders that have never been solved. But Aliyev subsequently told journalists that he has no intention of firing Interior Minister Ramil Usubov. He said the abductions and murders do not detract from the "enormous work" undertaken by the Interior Ministry to combat crime. LF

Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists late on 11 March that he continues to hope for a "civilized agreement" with Russia on the swift closure of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia that will neither harm Russia's interests nor undermine Georgia's territorial integrity, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. He described as "somewhat harsh" the nonbinding resolution unanimously adopted by the Georgian parliament the previous day demanding that Russia agree by 15 May on a timetable for withdrawing its troops by 1 January 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2005). LF

President Saakashvili also told journalists on 11 March that he can provide guarantees to the Armenians currently serving at the Russian base in Akhalkalaki that they will not suffer from losing their livelihood when the base is closed, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 11 March 2005). But on 13 March, some 4,000 Akhalkalaki Armenians staged a demonstration to protest the planned closure of the base, according to ITAR-TASS and Civil Georgia as cited by Groong. The protest was coordinated by a new movement named United Djavakhk established on 10 March to protect the interests of the local population. LF

President Saakashvili also reaffirmed on 11 March his desire for a peaceful solution to the long-running conflict with the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. At the same time, he warned that he intends to achieve such a settlement before his presidential term expires (in early 2009). He noted that "we have made some remarkable proposals" for resolving the conflict, which meet all the demands that the South Ossetian leadership has ever made. That statement is not strictly true insofar as Saakashvili has offered nothing more than autonomous status for South Ossetia within Georgia, while the region's leadership aspires to unification with the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, which is a subject of the Russian Federation. LF

Some 575 students of the Georgian Medical College began a hunger strike on 14 March outside the Georgian parliament building to protest the government's refusal to admit them to the Georgian Medical Institute without passing the required entrance examinations, Caucasus Press reported. The students have also demanded the resignation of Education Minister Kakha Lomaya, the author of an educational reform that abolished the provision under which Medical College graduates could automatically enroll as students at the Medical Institute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005). LF

Kazakhstan's Ak Zhol opposition party held two rival party conferences on 12 and 13 March, "Kazakhstan Today" and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. At a conference on 12 March, co-chairmen Bulat Abilov, Altynbek Sarsenbaev, and Oraz Zhandosov called for "a moratorium on holding congresses and sessions of the central council until the party's internal disputes are solved," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. But chairpersons Alikhan Baimenov and Lyudmila Zhulanova held a separate conference the next day, noting that "two lines in the Ak Zhol party's understanding of the party's role and place in society and its essence as a political organization" came to light after September 2004 parliamentary elections. They went on to assert that Abilov, Sarsenbaev, and Zhandosov believe that "a party means leaders and money." Baimenov and Zhulanova defined their own approach as "maintaining constant interaction between party activists and the regions, and is mostly predetermined by the mood of society and party activists." A split appeared in the party in mid-February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 23 February 2005). DK

Runoff elections to Kyrgyzstan's parliament took place in 39 districts on 13 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. As of 10:00 p.m. local time, the Central Election Commission put turnout at 54.51 percent nationwide, slightly lower than the 60 percent turnout in first-round voting on 27 February, reported. The highest activity was in Talas Province, with 71.5-percent turnout, and the lowest in Bishkek, with 47.24 percent. Interfax reported that with 90 percent of ballots counted, 37 winners emerged, including Bermet Akaeva, daughter of President Askar Akaev, and opposition figures Dooronbek Sadyrbaev, Omurbek Tekebaev, and Bolotbek Sherniyazov. In the Tong District, where first-round elections had been postponed until 13 March after protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2005), elections results were pronounced invalid after a majority of voters cast their ballots "against all," Kabar reported. Runoffs in two districts are set for 20 March, and elections in the Kochkor District, where a majority voted "against all" on 27 February, will be run pending a court decision. Thirty-two candidates were elected in first round elections on 27 February. DK

Protests in Osh, Jalal-Abad, and other regions of Kyrgyzstan formed the backdrop to 13 March parliamentary runoffs, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Approximately 4,000 protestors gathered in Jalal-Abad on 11 March demanding the resignation of President Askar Akaev and a pre-term presidential election. On 13 March, 2,000 protestors in Jalal-Abad and 500 protestors in Osh advanced similar demands. Osh Governor Kubanych Joldoshev met with demonstrators, promising to convey their complaints about irregularities in 27 February parliamentary elections to President Akaev, reported. Rights activist Tursunbek Akun told on 12 March that up to 30 people were arrested during protests in Naryn. DK

Presidential spokesman Abdil Segizbaev told journalists on 11 March that illegal protests demanding the resignation of President Akaev and pre-term elections could force the president to confirm his power through a referendum, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "Taking into account that, according to the constitution, the president's term is over at the end of this year, I personally wonder whether the opposition with its demands is pushing the president to turn directly to the people to confirm his authority for another term," Segizbaev said. Azimbek Beknazarov, an opposition deputy in the outgoing parliament, responded that the president is simply looking for a pretext to extend his stay in office with a referendum. DK

The Paris Club has decided to write off $124 million of Kyrgyzstan's sovereign debt and reschedule an additional $431 million, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March. President Askar Akaev greeted the $600-million debt relief package, Kyrgyz Television reported. Akaev commented on 12 March that "The decision by the Paris Club of creditors was the result of hard, systematic, and diplomatic work, which required much strength and energy." Noting that the decision coincided with parliamentary elections, Akaev called the write-off evidence of international support for the country's democratic reforms, reported. As of December 2004, Kyrgyzstan's total foreign debt stood at $1.5 billion. DK/LF

Second-round parliamentary elections took place in the Asht, Hisor, and Maschoh Districts of Tajikistan on 13 March, Avesta reported. Members of the ruling People's Democratic Party won in all three districts, adding to the party's decisive first-round victory on 27 February, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005). DK

Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) has sent a letter to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka asking him to release "immediately and unconditionally" Mikhail Marynich, who was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison in a bizarre case that is widely believed to be Lukashenka's revenge for the former diplomat's switching to the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 14 March. Amnesty International has declared Marynich a prisoner of conscience. "By continuing to detain Ambassador Marynich, blocking his family's access to this physically ailing man, and denying him proper medical care, the Government of Belarus is engaging in very serious human rights abuses," McCain wrote. Marynich, who was transferred from Minsk to a prison facility in Orsha, Vitsebsk Oblast, earlier this month, was reportedly hospitalized last week after suffering a minor stroke. JM

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin told Belapan on 12 March that the European Parliament's recent resolution branding the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a "dictatorship" and urging it to release political prisoners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2005) calls for "the most dead-end and fruitless policy." According to Yesin, the resolution degrades the role and significance of the European Parliament and raises doubts about "its ability to be an important factor in modern European politics." Yesin stressed that Belarus "is ready for cooperation on the basis of an equal dialogue, [but] not on the basis of pressure." JM

Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv on 13 March that if parliament continues to block reformist bills submitted by her cabinet, people will resort to street protests similar to those during the Orange Revolution last year, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. "The Orange Revolution has not come to an end," Tymoshenko noted. "It will continue until we introduce order in every cell of society." Tymoshenko was referring to the government's amendments to the Customs Code that were rejected by the Verkhovna Rada earlier this month, as well as changes to the 2005 budget law that her cabinet is preparing to submit to the legislature later this month. "In the event of difficulties, the government will appeal to the Maydan [the Independence Square rallies in Kyiv during the Orange Revolution]," Tymoshenko said. JM

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk met on 11 March with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and congressional leaders in Washington, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Tarasyuk reportedly discussed a wide range of political and economic issues, including the pullout of the Ukrainian contingent from Iraq, a memorandum on bilateral market access related to Ukraine's accession to the World Trade Organization, Ukraine's gaining of a market economy status, and the lifting of the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment by Washington with regard to Ukraine. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko is expected to meet with President George W. Bush in Washington on 4 April, the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv announced. JM

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on 13 March that Croatia is not fully cooperating with the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), thus failing to meet the precondition to start membership talks with the EU, Reuters reported. "According to the tribunal and other well informed organizations, Croatia is not cooperating fully for the moment. Croatia is therefore getting more time to fulfill the conditions (for EU entry)," Rehn told the Swedish daily "Svenska Dagbladet." In an allusion to the failure of Croatian authorities to arrest and hand over indicted former Croatian General Ante Gotovina, Rehn added: "The country must cooperate fully with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, not only on one particular general, but on how the whole Croatian state apparatus follows the principles of justice and its international duties." Rehn also made it clear that he trusted ICTY Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte's word more than Zagreb's when it came to discussing Croatia's efforts to deal with war crimes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, and 10 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 January 2005). In response to the latest criticism, Croatian President Stipe Mesic proposed that Croatia seek a delay in the start of the membership talks in order to save face, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 14 March. UB

Family members, former members of his government, and thousands of citizens visited the grave of late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, where they lay flowers and lit candles on 12 March, commemorating Djindjic's assassination on 12 March 2003, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro Vuk Draskovic laid wreaths at the site of Djindjic's killing outside the government building. Also on 12 March, Serbia and Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic decorated Djindjic posthumously with the country's highest order, the Nemanja order first grade. Marovic presented Djindjic's widow Ruzica with the order (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 March 2003). UB

The international KFOR peacekeeping forces, UN police forces and the Kosova Police Service have reduced the security level in Kosova from the highest level to medium level, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 13 March. The decision was taken because the situation in the internationally administered province has remained calm after the indictment by and subsequent voluntary surrender to the ICTY of Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj. Germany and Britain had sent 1,100 additional troops to Kosova to reinforce KFOR in case of violent protests against Haradinaj's indictment. A protest meeting of former members of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK) against Haradinaj's indictment scheduled for 11 March was postponed. Also on 11 March, one person was injured in a bomb explosion in the center of Prishtina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 9, and 10 March 2005). UB

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), offered on 11 March guarantees so that the ICTY might release indicted former Kosovar Prime Minister Haradinaj on bail, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. ICTY prosecutors charge Haradinaj with crimes against humanity on 17 counts, including deportation, murder, rape, destruction of property, and 20 counts of violations of law or customs of war, including cruel treatment, murder, and rape, according to the ICTY's official website ( During his first appearance before the tribunal on 14 March, Haradinaj and two other former members of the UCK, who arrived at The Hague together with Haradinaj, pleaded not guilty, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UB

The Serbian government has offered similar guarantees for the Republika Srpska's former interior minister, Mico Stanisic, who surrendered to the ICTY on 11 March, Tanjug reported. Stanisic is charged with crimes against humanity, including persecutions, murder, and torture as well as violations of the laws or customs of war, according to the ICTY's website ( (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2005). On 14 March, indicted former Bosnian Serb military police commander Gojko Jankovic left for The Hague in order to surrender to the ICTY, Tanjug reported. Jankovic was also a commander of the paramilitary units in the Foca area during the war in Bosnia, FENA reported. UB

In nationwide elections, voters elected mayors and members of the district councils in 84 administrative districts and the capital Skopje, Makfax and MIA news agencies reported. Sources from the governing coalition of Social Democratic Union, Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration claim that the coalition has won the elections in 14 districts and leads in another 31. The conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) claims that it leads in 22 districts. However, it also seems likely that incumbent Skopje Mayor and LDP Chairman Risto Penov was defeated by Trifun Kostovski, a wealthy businessman who ran as an independent candidate but was supported by the VMRO-DPMNE (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). UB

Corneliu Vadim Tudor, the founder of the nationalist Greater Romania Party, resigned as party president to pursue an academic career, Reuters reported on 13 March citing a senior party official. "Vadim chose to step down and become our honorary president to have more time for his academic career: he must finish four books and needs to focus on his Ph.D. diploma in Sociology of Religions," said Corneliu Ciontu, the party's new leader. After winning 20 percent in the 2000 elections, the Greater Romania Party has seen its popularity plunge to 12 percent in polls conducted late last year. BW

Former Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat was arrested on suspicion of defrauding the government of $10 million in the sale of military aircraft to the United States, international news agencies reported on 12 March. Pasat, now an advisor to the Russian electricity company United Energy Systems, was detained the previous day after he arrived in Chisinau from Moscow. He is being held on suspicion that he defrauded the state of $10 million from the 1997 sale of 21 MiG-29s to the United States, AP reported on 13 March, citing deputy prosecutor Valeriu Gorbulea. BW

The Russian Embassy in Moldova is investigating the circumstances surrounding Pasat's detention, RIA-Novosti reported on 13 March, citing foreign ministry spokesperson Aleksander Yakovenko. "We are taking into consideration the fact that Mr. Pasat is a high-ranking official of a large Russian state-owned company," Yakovenko said the previous day on Russian state television. Meanwhile, Anatolii Chubais, chief executive officer of Unified Energy Systems, has called for Pasat to be freed, spoken to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin about the matter and hired local lawyers, Interfax reported on 12 March. In Moscow, about 100 people, many of them Moldovan citizens, protested outside the country's embassy, holding posters and shouting slogans defending Pasat and calling for Voronin to resign, RIA-Novosti reported on 13 March. BW

Election observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) accused the Moldovan government of rigging the country's 6 March parliamentary elections, Interfax reported the same day. "The offenses committed by the authorities in organizing and carrying out the elections enable us to say that they were capable of exercising a substantial effect on the results of the elections," said Aleksei Kochetkov, head of temporary mission for the CIS Election Monitoring Organization. Kochetkov said the observers "were alarmed by a ballot paper game" where more than enough ballots were brought to a village that actively supported the Communists but less than enough were brought to villages where "revolutionary sentiments predominate." The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United States and the European Union all said that Moldova's 6 March elections largely met democratic standards, although they expressed concern over a pro-government bias in state-owned or influenced media coverage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 March 2005). BW

Newly elected members of parliament from the opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BDM) signed a written statement on 12 March pledging to boycott the election by the legislature of the country's next president, Interfax reported on the same day. In the statement, the BDM deputies called for "the de-communization of the country and the development of Moldova along the path of democracy and European integration." Interfax reported, however, that not all of the BDM deputies signed the statement, saying some were ill and others were abroad. Meanwhile, the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) has been intensively lobbying opposition lawmakers to garner enough votes to re-elect Voronin as president. The PCM will hold 56 mandates in the 101-seat parliament, the BDM will have 34 and the Popular Party Christian Democratic will have 11. The PCM holds enough seats to form a majority government, but is shy of the 61 necessary to elect the president. If the parliament fails to elect a president within 45 days after it convenes, the legislature must be dissolved and new elections held. BW

For the last two decades, one man -- Garri Kasparov -- has dominated the world of chess. But now the world's number one says he has played his last professional game, and he's going into politics instead.

Kasparov had just won another chess tournament on 10 March when he made his announcement. The former world champion says he'll continue to play -- but only for fun, not professionally. "I have done everything in chess that I could, even more," he says. "Now I intend to use my intellect and strategic thinking in Russian politics."

Aleksandr Roshal, editor in chief of a popular chess magazine, says Kasparov realized he could no longer compete at the same level as when he was young man. "Garri finally understood that there was [no longer] a direct route [to victory], only bypasses. But he didn't have the time [or the patience] for round-abouts. [He has] no desire. And don't forget that he will be 42 years old in a month. He won more than 40 super tournaments. And he could win more professional chess matches, but what else could he do other than what he has already achieved before?" Roshal said.

At 22, Kasparov became the youngest world champion ever. He repeatedly defended his title and suffered only two real defeats in his career. The first was in 1997 when he lost to a computer -- IBM's "Deep Blue." And in 2000, he lost his world title to the younger Vladimir Kramnik. But Kasparov is still ranked number one by the World Chess Federation.

In national politics or in the politics of chess, Kasparov's record has not been as victorious. Kasparov twice tried to launch alternative world chess associations, but both folded. And in Moscow politics, Kasparov has frequently picked the losing side. In 1991, Kasparov made his political debut when he participated in the creation of Nikolai Travkin's Democratic Party of Russia. That party foundered, and Kasparov later hitched his star to the Congress of Russian Communities, whose party list was topped by the late General Aleksandr Lebed and Dmitrii Rogozin. That party failed to enter the Duma.

More recently, Kasparov together with independent State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov launched the Committee-2008. The group aims to ensure that President Vladimir Putin steps down by the end of 2008. Kasparov says Russia under President Vladimir Putin is moving in the wrong direction. At the group's launch last year, he spoke of what he said was the growing threat to democracy. "We see a clear danger, a clear and present danger, for the current constitution, for our democratic rights and that is why we are bringing [together] all different people, citizens, on the basis of our citizenship, that believe in democracy as an institution," Kasparov said.

Meanwhile, some of Kasparov's old chess associates wonder if he has the right temperament for a career in politics. Roshal believes that so far Kasparov has displayed just enough control over his incendiary nature. "His impulsiveness is such that he never quite goes over the edge. If he can [continue] to do this in the future, then his good fortune will continue," Roshal said.

Neo-Taliban insurgents said they killed five U.S. soldiers on 12 March in fighting on the outskirts of Jalalabad in northeastern Afghanistan, the Afghan Islamic Press reported on 13 March. "The Taliban attacked a convoy of U.S. soldiers in Shinwar District of Nangarhar yesterday evening and the clash lasted for one hour," said Qari Mohammad Esmail, who in a telephone interview with the Pakistan-based news agency said he was a spokesman for the group. "Five U.S. soldiers were killed in the clash, and one of their jeeps was destroyed. The Taliban escaped from the area unhurt." Sixteen neo-Taliban fighters were involved in the attack, Esmail said. He also said guerillas would step up assaults on U.S. forces and their Afghan allies when warmer weather melts snowfall currently covering much of the area. A U.S. military statement said two U.S. soldiers were wounded in a skirmish north of Jalalabad but reported no deaths. The Taliban spokesman said the fighting that left the five U.S. troops dead was south of Jalalabad. MR

Afghan authorities have ended their search for the remains of more than 100 people killed last month when an airliner went down during a snowstorm, AP reported on 13 March. Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Zahir Azimi said the final death toll from the crash could rise to 106, two more than originally announced. One or two small children were apparently on board as well, Azimi said. "They were only marked by an 'x' on the passenger list," Azimi told reporters in Kabul. The Boeing 737 slammed into a snowy mountainside 30 kilometers east of Kabul on 3 February. More than 20 foreigners were among the passengers, including six Americans, nine Turks, three Italians and an Iranian. The six-person crew was apparently made up of several Russians and a Canadian citizen. MR

Neo-Taliban insurgents said they destroyed a truck carrying supplies for U.S. forces in a bomb attack in southeastern Afghanistan, the Islamic Press news agency reported on 13 March. "The Taliban destroyed a lorry carrying some material to the U.S. forces in an explosion in the Esmail Khel area of Khost today," said neo-Taliban spokesman Mofti Latifollah Hakimi, who offered no other details. Khost security chief Mohammad Ayub said a driver was wounded in the attack. "The enemy planted a mine under the saddle of a bicycle," Ayub said. "It went off as the lorry was passing and wounded its driver." Ayub added: "The lorry that had taken some material to our friends, the U.S. forces in Khost, was on its way back to Kabul when this incident took place." Local authorities have begun an investigation but so far no one has been arrested in connection with the attack, Ayub said. MR

Villagers in northern Afghanistan have called for emergency food aid, saying harsh winter weather has left thousands at risk of starvation, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 13 March from Herat. "All roads have been closed as a result of rain and heavy snow," said Mohammad Yusuf, a spokesman for the district of Parchaman. "Some 5,000 families live in this area, and they are in dire need of food and facing widespread famine. We call on the esteemed president of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as well as the international community to launch emergency aid programs and help the people of this area." Disease, food shortages and freezing weather have reportedly killed 104 people in the area. "The people need immediate help," said Mohammad Rahim, head of the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance health team who visited the region. "It was extremely difficult for us to reach this area, as we had to carry some medicines as well. The residents of the district are suffering from many hardships, including famine, poverty and hunger. If they are not helped promptly, my guess is that inevitably there will be a humane catastrophe." MR

Iranian officials have not warmed to U.S.-proposed incentives intended to prompt Iran to renounce fuel production for its nuclear program (see The U.S. must be "hallucinating" if it believes Iran will abandon enrichment in return for economic incentives, Reuters quoted Cyrus Naseri, an Iranian diplomat as saying on 13 March. Iran insists the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] allows it to make fuel. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 13 March that Iran will wait for the next round of talks, due on 23 March, before drawing a conclusion, IRNA reported. But he said Iran is not considering the "question of ending enrichment, [only] providing objective guarantees," that it will respect all non-proliferation engagements. Assefi said the EU would rather not refer Iran to the Security Council, as it has threatened, as that might push oil prices up. Iran has sufficient capabilities "to run itself," if referred, he said. Supreme National Security Council member Hussein Musavian told IRNA on 13 March that Iran will pursue further talks if there is "palpable progress" at the 23 March meeting, which is to assess the state of the Iran-EU talks so far, otherwise there is a "serious" chance that it would not. VS

Parliamentary Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said in Tehran on 13 March that "we shall not submit to force and pressure" to abandon "peaceful nuclear activities," IRNA reported the same day. Iran's right to run a nuclear program is "not a right America has given it, so it cannot take it away." He said in parliament that European states negotiating with Iran must "respect the rights of" Iranians. "Do not follow America," he urged them, IRNA added. The demand to halt uranium enrichment, he said, is a violation of Iran's rights in the NPT. The same day, State Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Tehran that "it is not acceptable" to ask Iran to halt its program, and while the U.S. could refer Iran to the Security Council, that "would take a long time," IRNA reported. In Caracas, President Mohammad Khatami was reported as saying on 12 March that Iran might postpone enrichment activities as a temporary confidence building measure, Sky News reported on 13 March. "We are ready to cooperate with the world to give more certainty that Iran is not moving toward the creation of nuclear arms," Sky reported him as saying. VS

"The Sunday Times" of London reported on 13 March that Israel has made plans to strike "targets in Iran," if "diplomacy fails to halt" its nuclear program, adding that the United States will likely approve its move, as a last resort. If all efforts to stop Iran's bid "to produce nuclear weapons" fail, an unnamed "Israeli security source" told the newspaper, "the U.S. administration will authorize Israel to attack." The paper's correspondents said they witnessed a strike by Israeli troops on a mock target in the Negev desert that was reportedly a replica of a facility at Natanz, south of Tehran. Israeli forces have been practicing strikes for months, the report added. "One more full rehearsal has been scheduled for next month," it stated, citing "senior Israeli intelligence sources last week." Israel has repeatedly warned that it will not let arch-foe Iran gain access to nuclear weapons. According to the report, Israeli officials believe strikes will not be feasible once Iran is able to start processing uranium at its installations, perhaps "later this year," as that would cause extensive environmental damage. VS

An unspecified number of students staged a sit-in at the Amir Kabir University on the 12 and 13 March, to protest against the imposition of a "security climate" on universities, and the presence there of "rogue elements" or militiamen affiliated with the revolutionary guards corps, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on 13 March, citing Mehdi Hariri, a student. "We are in the second day...[and] not planning to stop...yet," Hariri told Radio Farda. He said the Basij militia active on campuses is intended "to oppose the real demands" of students. The militias are financed by "outside powers," parliament, and "certain other bodies inside universities," he told Radio Farda. The Office to Consolidate Unity, an umbrella student group, has issued a statement backing the students, and members recently met with the higher education minister, Ja'far Tofiqi, to convey certain student grievances, including the increasing difficulty of holding gatherings inside universities, Radio Farda reported. Separately, a group of part-time teachers gathered outside parliament on 13 March to protest their work conditions, reported the same day. VS

President Mohammad Khatami returned to Tehran on 13 March, a day after he left Venezuela, the last stop in a three-country trip, IRNA reported on 13 March (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 March 2005). In Venezuela, Iranian and Venezuelan representatives signed 25 cooperation accords in industry, housing construction, sea transport, farming and oil, EFE and Venezuela's reported on 12 March. Khatami inaugurated a joint-venture tractor construction plant on 12 March in Ciudad Bolivar, south of Caracas, which should make 5,000 tractors a year, EFE reported. The two states agreed to build the plant in December 2003, when President Hugo Chavez went to Tehran, AFP reported. The two countries are also to build a cement plant, set to produce one million tons of cement a year from 2006, EFE added. A statement signed by the presidents backed Iran's peaceful nuclear program and bid to enter the WTO, and praised the visit as boosting the "strategic alliance" of the two states, EFE reported. VS

An agreement set to be finalized on 13 March between members of the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan Coalition lists stalled when the two groups announced the meeting would be postponed, international media reported. Each side gave varying accounts of the reasons behind the postponement, with some reports indicating that agreement could not be reached over the status of Kirkuk. Kurds want to incorporate the city into the Kurdistan region. Another contentious issue is the Kurdish demand that the Iraqi Army obtain permission before entering the Kurdistan region. Islamic Da'wah Party member Jawad al-Maliki told the demand "is against federal law anywhere in the world." Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani told Al-Arabiyah television on 13 March: "As for the Iraqi Army, this is an outstanding demand endorsed by the Kurdish Parliament due to our bitter experiences. If there are no dangers posed to Iraq...there is no justification for the arrival of the army in Kurdistan without obtaining an approval by the Kurdistan National Assembly." KR

Kurdish leader Fu'ad Ma'sum told Kurdistan Satellite television in a 13 March interview that the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan met to discuss their position vis-à-vis the new government. "Good progress has been made," he said, adding: "Nevertheless, it [the agreement with the United Iraqi Alliance] may need further redrafting." Ma'sum said that the Kurds will seek to bring other political groups into the talks in order to form a unity government. Asked about the issue of Kirkuk, interim Vice President Rowsch Shaways, told the news channel: "The issue of Kirkuk is a complex one...We in Kurdistan are bound by the State Administration Law and are insisting that the articles [of the law] must be implemented." KR

A national conference on federalism was held in Baghdad on 13 March, Al-Arabiyah television reported. The meeting focused on the definition of federalism, which State Minister for Governorate Affairs Wa'il Abd al-Latif described as achieving equilibrium between power sharing and territorial integrity. Participants examined the political, administrative, financial, and social aspects of the federal model. "Federalism today is synonymous with preserving Iraq's unity and territorial integrity, ensuring the legitimate rights of its people and their cohesion, and guaranteeing their adoption of democracy," Communist Party head Hamid Majid Musa told Al-Arabiyah. Iraqis List member Husayn al-Sadr reportedly lent his support for a regional grouping in southern Iraq under federalism at the conference. Several Iraqi cabinet members and newly elected transitional National Assembly members attended the event. KR

Six members of Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group led by Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, were arrested in al-Want, near Karbala on 12 March, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Police spokesman Rahman Mashawi said the six confessed to carrying out two car bombings, abducting two policemen, and assassinating a member of the Badr Corps. Information from alleged terrorists already in custody led to the detention of the six. Meanwhile, three Afghan nationals were arrested on 12 March in Baghdad. The satellite news channel reported that the men confessed to being en route to join militants in the northern city of Mosul. They were arrested at a checkpoint, after it was discovered that they were carrying no documents and could not speak Arabic. Soldiers from the Iraqi Army arrested a would-be Saudi suicide bomber at a checkpoint one kilometer from the Kiwan Base north of Kirkuk on 13 March. The bomber's vehicle was packed with 100 kilograms of explosives; he told interrogators that he had intended to detonate the vehicle once inside the military base. KR

U.S. forces raided the home of Muslim Scholars Association head Harith al-Dari on 12 March, according to a statement issued by the association in "Al-Quds Press" on 13 March. The cleric's home has been raided on at least two previous occasions. Al-Dari was not at home at the time of the raid. The statement said that the house was searched thoroughly, but no reason was given for the search, and it called the raid "another flagrant provocative measure" by U.S. forces. The association said such raids "will not deter it from its determination to continue on the path it has chosen to reject occupation." The U.S. military has not released a statement about the raid. Al-Dari claims to have an avenue of communication with insurgents in Iraq. KR

Ukraine has begun the first phase of redeployment of its 1,650-member contingent from Iraq, international media reported on 13 March. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry announced on 12 March that 150 of its troops based in Al-Suwayrah departed Iraq on that day, AP reported. Ukraine said last week that the redeployment will be completed by October. The contingent is the sixth largest in the coalition of multinational forces. The second redeployment phase is expected to be completed by 15 May, with the withdrawal of another 550 troops, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. Meanwhile, Poland announced on 11 March that it will withdraw its troops from Iraq during the first half of 2006, Polish media reported on the same day. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told reporters in Rome on 11 March that Italian troops will be withdrawn "gradually, as Iraq's ability to use its own men to defend public order comes into its own," "La Stampa" reported on 12 March. KR