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Newsline - March 25, 2005

Speaking to journalists in Yerevan, President Vladimir Putin said on 25 March that he was not surprised by the events in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. "They are the results of the weakness of the previous government and the accumulation of social and economic problems." Putin said Russia regret that the Kyrgyz opposition used "illegal" means to achieve its aims. "Unfortunately, once again in the former Soviet Union, political problems were solved in an illegitimate way and were accompanied by pogroms and casualties," Putin added. He said that he believes Russia can work with the new Kyrgyz leadership. "These are people we know very well and we hope they will restore order there very soon," Putin said. Putin also said Russia has no objection if former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev would like to live in Russia, Ekho Moskvy reported. VY

The Foreign Ministry on 24 March issued a statement saying that Russia will not intervene in Kyrgyzstan, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 25 March. "We regret that there have been victims there and call for a return to legal means," the daily quoted Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said on 24 March that "any intervention from outside Kyrgyzstan would be very unwelcome." "The Kyrgyz should regulate the situation themselves," Gryzlov said, according to ORT. Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov told ORT that "it is most important that Kyrgyzstan remain a secular state and avoid the establishment of a regime such as the one the Taliban set up in Afghanistan." Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov said the administration of Kyrgyz President Akaev created the conditions for the current unrest. "The law must not be violated neither during elections nor at any other time," Mironov said, RBK reported on 24 March. RTR reported on 24 March that the situation at the Russian military base near Kant, Kyrgyzstan, and at the Russian Embassy in Bishkek is "normal." ORT reported the same day that it had "absolutely reliable information that Kyrgyz President Akaev is in Kazakhstan." VY

Duma Security Committee Deputy Chairman Mikhail Grishankov (Unified Russia) said the Kyrgyz events remind him of the recent revolution in Georgia, RBK reported on 24 March. "I am deeply convinced that the organizer of these two events should be sought in the same place -- the United States," Grishankov said. One of Russia's main goals in Kyrgyzstan now is "to neutralize the negative impact of outside countries, especially Europe," he added. Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin said on 24 March that Moscow should warn all parties that Russia might use force if necessary, reported. "One must not forget that China has territorial claims against Kyrgyzstan," Rogozin said. "Without Russia's support, [Kyrgyzstan] could not exist." Deputy Duma Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) head Vladimir Zhirinovskii said that Russia should step in decisively "to stop the tulip resolution." ORT commentator Mikhail Leontev, known for his vocal anti-Americanism, said on 23 and 24 March that the United States is behind the events in Kyrgyzstan and that Washington has decided "to obliterate all Russia influence in the post-Soviet space." "There is no such thing as a 'velvet revolution,'" Leontev said. "A revolution always means self-sacrifice, victims, and blood. If someone orchestrated mass disturbances to restore power to a bunch of disgraced former ministers and senior bureaucrats, that is not a revolution." VY

Konstantin Zatulin, director of the CIS Institute, told TV-Tsentr on 24 March that Russia has no legal or formal grounds to intervene in Kyrgyzstan and that the collective security treaty, to which both countries are signatories, does not have any provisions covering the current situation. He noted that there was no foreign aggression against Kyrgyzstan and that President Akaev did not ask for Russian assistance. Zatulin said the uprising was a domestic crisis caused by uneven economic development and the unfair distribution of wealth and power. Zatulin, who usually espouses national-patriotic views, was extremely mild in describing the Kyrgyz situation. "It would be a mistake to call Akaev a pro-Russian figure and to say the opposition is controlled from abroad," he said. "We see no traces of America or anybody else there. All the events have a local character." Zatulin added that Russia might intervene in the future if the situation in Kyrgyzstan gets out of hand or if the new government asks for assistance. VY

Analyst Zatulin also told TV-Tsentr on 24 March that the CIS is not only an organization but a geographic entity that cannot be changed. He added that there is no reason to think the new Kyrgyz administration will be more anti-Russian or anti-CIS than former President Akaev's was. He said that there is a limit to how much Russia's influence in the region can be reduced. "Whatever happens, Russia will remain the strongest, biggest, and most resource-rich country in the region," Zatulin noted. VY

Speaking to students at Moscow State University on 22 March, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov that the public unrest prompted by the government's social benefits reform "could lead to another 1917 situation, when revolution smashed Russian capitalism," reported on 23 March. "We are facing new challenges and threats as new reforms of education, health care, communal services, and land sales are looming," Luzhkov said. "In 1899, Vladimir Lenin wrote his book 'The Development Of Capitalism In Russia.' Although I am not a fan of Lenin's, this book closely describes the situation in Russia today. All this has put our society into a state of anxiety. At the same time, the government is not dealing with the real economy. Instead, it is permanently busy reforming, merging, transforming, and reinventing itself, a process that has consumed all the government's time and resources." Luzhkov also announced that he will not seek another term as mayor when his current term expires in 2007 and he does not plan to run for president of Russia in 2008. VY

A Moscow jury on 25 March found Aleksei Pichugin, the former head of Yukos's economic-security department and a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, "completely guilty" of murder and attempted murder charges against him, Russian and international media reported. Pichugin was convicted of the 1998 attempted murder of Olga Kostina, a former advisor to jailed former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, and of the murders of Sergei Gorin and his wife (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 31 July 2003 and 13 February, 26 May, and 22 July 2004). The jury also ruled that there were no mitigating circumstances surrounding the crimes. Prosecutors argued during the trial that in 1998, Pichugin sought Gorin's assistance in contracting Kostina's murder. Gorin allegedly provided help, but Kostina survived the attempt on her life, reported on 27 July 2004. Later, the perpetrators of the attempt were arrested for other crimes and in 2002, investigators began to uncover links between them and Gorin. At that time, Gorin and his wife were summoned for questioning, but police found them murdered in Tambov. Prosecutors argued that Pichugin acted on the orders of major Menatep shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, who is now living in Israel. VY

Pichugin's lawyer, Georgii Kaganer, said on 25 March that Pichugin maintains his innocence, reported. Nevzlin told "The New York Times" on 21 March that the case was fabricated by the FSB "from beginning to end" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2005). A 24 March Yukos press release repeated this claim, Interfax reported. Prosecutors on 25 March asked the court to sentence Pichugin to life in prison, and the court is expected to pass sentence next week. VY

President Putin met on 24 March with representatives of Russia's primary business organizations, the Russian Union of Entrepreneurs and Industrialists (RSPP), the Chamber of Trade and Industry, and the OPORA and Delovaya Rossiya associations, Russian media reported. Putin proposed that property rights be guaranteed by reducing the statute of limitations on property transactions from 10 years to three, ORT reported. Putin also pledged to reduce the bureaucratic barriers to opening small businesses, according to An RSPP representative delivered a report on tax policy that criticized the government for unpredictability. Putin responded that the government will examine the issue of reducing tax rates, but the role of the tax service in controlling entrepreneurs will remain considerable, reported. JAC

Speaking at the meeting on 24 March, President Putin also expressed dissatisfaction with the current rate of economic growth, RIA-Novosti reported. "In the last year, GDP increased 7.1 percent, while the real disposable incomes of the population [rose] by 7.8 percent," he said. "This is not bad, but the structure of the growth and the structure of the economy cannot suit us." JAC

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published new data on rates of infection of tuberculosis, and the situation is starting to improve in most of the world except for Africa and the CIS countries, reported on 24 March. In Eastern Europe, the rate of tuberculosis infection has stabilized after reaching its peak in 2001. The CIS countries have not comprehensively adopted the treatment program recommended by the WHO, according to the website. According to the WHO report "Global Tuberculosis Control 2005," the number of cases registered among Russia's prison population has declined, but the number of cases among the general population has increased, particularly among children. Russia ranks 12th in the world in terms of tuberculosis cases; Afghanistan is first. According to the report, 6 percent of new cases are multi-drug resistant. In some regions, the rate is even higher; for example, in Tomsk Oblast, the drug-resistant rate is 13.7 percent. JAC

As he promised earlier, Motherland Duma Deputy Aleksandr Krutov has sent a new letter to the Prosecutor-General's Office asking that a number of Jewish organizations in Russia be banned, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2005). In January, Krutov was the primary author of a letter signed by 20 Duma deputies from the Communist and Motherland factions that charged that certain Jewish organizations are "provoking anti-Semitism in Russia and spreading Jewish extremism." According to Ekho Moskvy, other signatories of the most recent letter are chess champion Boris Spasskii, writer Vasilii Belov, and academician Igor Shafarevich. Baruch Gorin, press secretary of the Federation of Jewish Associations in Russia, called on the Prosecutor-General's Office to take a firm stand against the letter. "As we all remember, the prosecutor-general said this matter was better left alone," Gorin said. "I think the appearance of this new letter shows he was wrong and that if we do leave it alone, if we don't sort it out, the stench will get stronger and stronger." JAC

Political scientist Igor Sutyagin, who was convicted of espionage and sentenced in April 2004 to 15 years in prison, has expressed his willingness to sign a pardon plea written by more than 150 prominent scientists and human right activists, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 25 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004). However, Sutyagin will not admit any guilt. According to Sutyagin's attorney, Anna Stavitskaya, the law does not require an admission of guilt to apply for a pardon. However, a week after she asked Sutyagin to sign the appeal, an official from the Prosecutor-General's Office called and said Sutyagin must confess in order to seek a pardon. She speculated that President Putin might decide to pardon Sutyagin and the siloviki want an admission of guilty in order to save face. In May, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will discuss Sutyagin's case, and the European Court of Human Rights is scheduled to hear his case before the end of the year. JAC

The Sverdlovsk Oblast prosecutor has opened a criminal case against an unspecified number of police officers in Yekaterinburg for alleged illegal use of force and the unlawful detention of the Russian Orthodox scholar Aleksandr Dvorkin and Father Vladimir Zaitsev, the director of the missionary department of the Russian Orthodox Eparchy in Yekaterinburg, "Pravoslavnaya gazeta" and reported on 24 March. The alleged beating took place on 23 March. Dvorkin, who is an expert on religious sects, was supposed to lecture to locals about a "Pentecostal sect" called New Life. Father Vladimir said that about 15 police officers, including a captain who was drunk, arrived at the school where the lecture was supposed to take place, "Pravoslavnaya gazeta" reported. The police then allegedly twisted the mens' arms, dragged them to the ground, and beat them without any explanation. JAC

According to, the director of the school where the talk was to be held called at the last minute to cancel it. Local police charge that they were called to the scene by the school director. When they arrived, they told people to disperse and detained those who refused. According to, the 1,000 member New Life church has long been in conflict with Russian Orthodox Church authorities, who complained when city authorities transferred a building on the outskirts of town to the group free of charge. Father Vladimir told "Pravoslavnaya gazeta" that "bribability of some among the raion police's leadership has flourished with the Pentecostals." JAC

The owner of the house in Tolstoi-Yurt where Russian federal troops surrounded and killed Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov on 8 March has been found dead, Russian media reported on 24 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005). His body reportedly bore signs of torture. Also on 24 March, a Grozny city council official told Interfax that it would be "unethical" to provide funds to rebuild the house, which was destroyed several days after Maskhadov's death. LF

A bomb exploded on 24 March outside the State Customs offices near the parked car belonging to Armenian customs chief Armen Avetisian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The blast slightly injured two customs office workers who were near the building entrance, but Avetisian's expensive BMW was not seriously damaged. Treating the blast as an attempt on Avetisian's life, Armenian President Robert Kocharian convened an emergency meeting of his top law-enforcement officials and ordered them to take "all necessary measures to solve the incident." Investigators revealed that the blast occurred only minutes after Avetisian entered his office and was caused by a device planted under a tree in direct proximity to the place where Avetisian regularly parks his vehicle, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. RG

President Kocharian and other senior officials met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 24 March, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Putin arrived in Yerevan late on 24 March on a one-day official visit timed with the opening of a special "Year of Russia" cultural commemoration in Armenia. Kocharian and Putin reviewed the planned acceleration of Russian investment related to the "assets-for-debt" deal which transferred several strategic Armenian enterprises to Russia in exchange for the cancellation of roughly $100 million in Armenian foreign debt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2002). Putin is also expected to discuss bilateral military relations and the implications of the natural gas pipeline under construction between Armenia and Iran. Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov made clear on 21 March that Gazprom opposes the recent proposal by Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli to extend that pipeline to permit Iran to export natural gas via Georgia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 21 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2005). RG

Armenian parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasarian met on 24 March with several Yerevan-based ambassadors from European Union member states, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Noyan Tapan reported. The six European ambassadors and two EU officials discussed several issues related to political reform, including proposed amendments to the Armenian constitution and the status of reforms to the country's electoral code and the law on public gatherings. Each of these reform issues relates to Armenian obligations to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). RG

Armenian Finance and Economy Minister Vardan Khachatrian signed an "action plan" related to Armenia's participation in the Millennium Challenge program on 23 March with U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Evans, Arminfo reported. The 30-point action plan was formulated during the meeting of the Armenian-U.S. bilateral working group on economic cooperation and provides a guide for targeting specific areas of bilateral cooperation. This agreement identifies the areas of fiscal policy, banking, corruption, and agriculture as main priorities. RG

Officials of the U.S. Exxon Mobil energy firm announced on 24 March the company's withdrawal from a project to develop the Zafar-Masal offshore Caspian oil field after test drilling failed to discover any significant oil deposits, Turan reported. The decision was announced following a meeting with Azerbaijani State Oil Company (SOCAR) President Natik Aliev to negotiate the terms of the financial penalty resulting from the withdrawal. Exxon Mobil withdrew in 2002 from a second contract to develop the Oguz field after similarly failing to find oil in commercially viable quantities after drilling two trial wells (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002). RG/LF

A special three-week training course run by Turkish specialists for Georgian border guards ended on 25 March, Caucasus Press reported. The training course, held at the Lilo training center, was offered to 16 senior Georgian border service officers and was part of the overall program of Turkish-Georgian military assistance. RG

The prime ministers of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Tajikistan and Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Kubanychbek Zhumaliev met in Astana on 24 March with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev to discuss the proposed simultaneous admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan, Interfax and reported. Kyrgyzstan was admitted to the WTO in 1998. Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov said the positions of the five countries with regard to WTO membership coincide, but that more than 15 issues must first be addressed, of which the most important, according to Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, is introducing unified customs tariffs. Akhmetov expressed concern that fewer than half the 42 cooperation agreements signed last year by EEC member states have been systematically implemented, Interfax reported. LF

Kazakh Prime Minister Akhmetov told journalists in Astana on 24 March that the Kazakh government supports Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's proposal, voiced during a visit to Turkmenistan earlier this week, that Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine should establish a consortium to export gas via Kazakhstan and Russia, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). "We think this project has good potential," Akhmetov commented, adding that "the export of Kazakh gas beyond the CIS is of major economic interest to Kazakhstan." Akhmetov said the proposal will be discussed in depth during a visit to Kazakhstan next month by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, and that a decision will probably be made by the end of April. LF

Addressing businesspeople in Astana on 25 March, President Nazarbaev said the fall of the Kyrgyz leadership the previous day was the consequence of its failure over a period of years to address economic and social problems, including poverty and widespread unemployment, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The "weakness" of the Kyrgyz leadership was also instrumental in "enabling rioters and thugs to act as they please," Nazarbaev added. He said that, in contrast to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan has "taken the right course," and that "our successful economic policy has become the basis for the growing well-being of our people." Veteran human rights activist Petr Svojk, who is a member of the political council of the banned opposition party Kazakhstan's Democratic Choice, told RFE/RL on 24 March that the most important aspect for Kazakhstan of Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev's overthrow is that the Kazakh leadership "must have realized very clearly that election manipulations will not work, period, and that they will not succeed" in manipulating the outcome of the December 2006 presidential ballot to enable Nazarbaev to serve a further presidential term. LF

President Akaev and his family reportedly fled to neighboring Kazakhstan on 24 March following the storming of the government building in Bishkek by opposition supporters on 24 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and news agencies reported. Kurmanbek Bakiev, leader of the opposition Coordinating Council, and Constitutional Court Chairman Cholpon Baekova both said on 24 March that Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev has resigned, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev and Security Minister Kalyky Imankulov, who were briefly trapped by protestors in the government building and later released, were similarly reported to have offered their resignations, but Bakiev said they would continue to perform their duties, presumably until a new government can be formed, reported. Akaev's whereabouts remain unclear, but Kyrgyzstan's ambassador to the United States, Baktybek Abdrisaev, said on 24 March in Washington that Akaev "is in a safe place," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. DK

In a live address on state television on 24 March, Ar-Namys party head Feliks Kulov called on President Akaev to "address the people, explain the situation and his position, and ensure a peaceful, constitutional transfer of power." Kulov, who was freed from prison earlier in the day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005), promised that the opposition will guarantee Akaev's safety. Kulov described the day's events as a "popular uprising," adding, "Many of our compatriots have been looking forward to seeing this day for a long time." DK

Kurmanbek Osmonov, the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court, announced on 24 March that the court has annulled the registration of Kyrgyzstan's newly elected parliament, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Osmonov said, "Thus, the mandate has been returned to the bicameral parliament, the powers of which expire on 14 April 2005." Osmonov stressed that the court ruling, which he described as both a "political" and a "legal" decision, does not represent a cancellation of the results of 27 February and 13 March parliamentary elections. DK

An emergency session of parliament on 24 March named former Prime Minister Bakiev acting president and acting prime minister, reported. Bakiev is head of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan and leader of the opposition's Coordinating Council of Popular Unity. Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, whom initial reports had identified as acting president, was named parliament speaker. On 25 March, Bakiev unveiled his government, which includes Kulov as security minister and opposition Ata-Jurt leader Roza Otunbaeva as foreign minister, AFP reported. Bakiev said that his interim government will remain in power only until elections are held for a new president, which according to the Kyrgyz Constitution must take place within three months. Bakiev pledged to "work honestly for the Kyrgyz people," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He said he will not tolerate corruption or chaos, or permit the division of Kyrgyzstan's people into "south and north." LF

Some 3,000 supporters of deputies elected in the 27 February and 13 March elections, which RIA-Novosti noted were effectively invalidated by the Supreme Court ruling on 24 March, attempted to storm parliament on 25 March, reported. Acting President Bakiev succeeded in calming the crowd and persuading the protestors to move away from the building. DK

Looting and violence in Bishkek on the night of 24-25 March claimed at least three lives and left hundreds injured as of 7 a.m. on 25 March, reported. The Health Ministry reported two dead and 360 injured, with 173 hospitalized, but parliamentary deputy Temirbek Sariev announced on television on 25 March that three people were killed -- one woman who fell from the third floor of a shopping center, one person run over by a car, and another shot by guards during looting at a shopping center. Looters ransacked many of the capital's largest stores during the night of 24 March, and reported. They also targeted cafes and a number of ATMs and currency exchange points. A police officer told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service: "We are all here just observing from a distance. We are working but just looking at [what is happening]. There was an order just observe the events." DK

Ar-Namys leader and former National Security Minister Kulov, who has been put in charge of law-enforcement agencies in the interim government, announced in a televised address on 25 March that all law-enforcement personnel must return to work in order to restore order, reported. Kulov also said that he has met with high-ranking officials at the Interior Ministry to coordinate plans. Kulov asked people to cooperate with police, and suggested that they form local committees to guard their homes. DK

Imomali Rakhmonov met on 24 March in Dushanbe with visiting OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus, ITAR-TASS and Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Rakhmonov praised the work of the OSCE in averting ethnic conflict. At the time of Ekeus's previous visit in July 2003, the leader of Tajikistan's Russian community noted that Tajikistan does not yet have any legislation on national minorities, who constitute some 20 percent of the country's 6.3 million population. Rakhmonov's press secretary, Abdulfattokh Sharipov, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 25 March that the Tajik authorities have drafted a state program on nationalities policy with the help of the OSCE Center in Dushanbe. LF

Alluding to the mass protests in Kyrgyzstan that culminated in the flight of President Askar Akaev on 24 March, prominent Belarusian opposition politician Andrey Klimaw warned Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenko to resign and "give up his intention to run in the 2006 election," Belapan reported on 24 March. Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party, noted that people in Kyrgyzstan were just defending their choice. "The same thing may happen not only in Belarus, but also in any other post-Soviet country," Lyabedzka told Belapan. "Something that two years ago was thought to be impossible has become a reality." "Everybody expected a revolution in Moldova, but it happened in Kyrgyzstan instead," said Uladzimir Nistsyuk of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (People's Hramada). House of Representatives member Vasil Khrol ruled out the possibility of a Kyrgyz-style revolution in Belarus, saying he does not expect any revolution to occur in Belarus in the next 20 years, Belapan reported on 24 March. RK

Viktor Yanukovych, the leader of the Party of the Regions and the loser of the 2004 presidential election, told Interfax on 24 March that the "scenario in Kyrgyzstan was similar to that in other post-Soviet states," except that the Ukrainian revolution was nonviolent. "The election observers from the CIS came to one conclusion [in Kyrgyzstan] and those from the OSCE came to a different one, and in this way duplicated the Ukrainian example," Yanukovych told Interfax. Communist leader Petro Symonenko told Interfax on 24 March that in Kyrgyzstan, as in other post-Communist countries, "authoritarian regimes allowed for the enrichment of small segments of society, enraging many citizens." Symonenko blamed the United States for the unrest in Central Asia. "I am convinced that the hand of the Americans is visible in Kyrgyzstan. The Americans are defining their strategic interests and surrounding Russia as if it were a bear caught in a trap, and placing little flags denoting that this geopolitical territory belongs to them," he said. RK

Ukrainian officials have lashed out at Russia in connection with an incident in the vicinity of the Crimean town of Feodosia on the evening of 23 March when a Russian landing vessel assigned to the Russian Black Sea fleet landed 142 assault troops during a training exercise without informing the Ukrainian authorities beforehand. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Boris Tarasiuk told the Ukrainian television station Channel 5 on 24 March that the incident constituted a serious violation by Russia of the lease agreement regulating the activities of the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. He added that Ukraine has often stressed that the Russian fleet should not use Ukrainian territory for any training purposes. Ukrainian Security Service head Oleksander Turchinov told Ukrainian television on 24 March that the stationing of the Russian Black Sea fleet on Ukrainian territory runs counter to Ukrainian national interests. RK

The investigating judge for Belgrade's Special Court for War Crimes ordered banks and other financial institutions on 24 March to "temporarily freeze" the assets of 13 men indicted for war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal who are still at large, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The 13 include former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, former Croatian Serb rebel leader Goran Hadzic, and former generals Nebojsa Pavkovic and Sreten Lukic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). The government's council for cooperation with the tribunal is preparing legislation to make it easier to freeze fugitives' assets. PM

Unknown vandals on 23 March defaced with anti-Croatian slogans a monument in Kragujevac dedicated to 7,000 school children and other Serbs killed there by German forces in 1941 in retaliation for guerrilla attacks on German personnel, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 24 March. The monument was a gift from Croatia about 20 years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February and 23 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004). The incident is the latest in a series across Serbia directed primarily against ethnic and religious minorities in the wake of the strong electoral showing by the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in December 2003. Some commentators have linked the latest incidents to the general elections widely expected later this year. PM

Members of the small Liberal Alliance agreed at a special conference in Podgorica on 24 March that their party has ceased to function, but that individual members should continue to work for its ideals, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The party is a long-time supporter of independence, but fell out a few years ago with then President Milo Djukanovic, whom the alliance accused of taking its support for granted. In recent years the party has led what many consider a quirky existence as a pro-independence organization working with pro-Serbian parties against a pro-independence government. PM

A poster five meters high and five meters wide depicting fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina appeared in the night of 24 March in Sisak, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Smaller posters showing Gotovina with the word "Croat" went up elsewhere in the town. Representatives of a local association of veterans of the 1991-95 conflict said they do not know who is behind the posters. Many Croats, especially war veterans, regard Gotovina as a hero despite his indictment by the Hague-based tribunal for atrocities allegedly committed against Serbian civilians in 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004 and 17 and 23 March 2005). PM

The coalition of the ethnic Albanian opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) and the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) has announced that those two parties will boycott the 27 March second round of the local elections, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 24 March. PDSH Deputy Chairman Menduh Thaci said the coalition wants to "protect citizens" from possible election day violence on the part of "various criminal groups" which he did not name. Because of irregularities registered during the first round on 13 March, the vote must be repeated in 19 administrative districts, seven of which are in Skopje. Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski has urged the ethnic Albanian opposition coalition to participate in the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, 16, 22, and 23 March 2005, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2005). UB

Albania's central bank announced on 23 March that emigrants sent $972 million home in 2004, which is 25 percent more than the previous year, dpa reported. Albania's second largest source of foreign exchange was international assistance valued at $46 million. Hopes for major earnings from tourism remain unfulfilled, largely due to poor infrastructure. PM

Moldova's parliament accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and scheduled a presidential election for 4 April, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 March. The legislature also elected Marian Lupu as its new speaker. "Until the cabinet is sworn in, the government will continue to rule public affairs," incumbent President Vladimir Voronin said the same day. Voronin would not reveal whom he plans to nominate as prime minister if he wins a second term. In the past, Voronin said he wanted to keep Tarlev as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005). But a source in the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) told the news agency that two candidates will bid for premiership -- Tarlev and Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan. BW

At the new speaker's initiative, the parliament also unanimously passed a resolution on political partnership and European integration on 24 March, BASA reported. The declaration calls for "joint efforts for the implementation of the European Union's Action Plan for Moldova." It also advocates the "creation of an independent judiciary in line with the European standards." Regarding Transdniester, the resolution calls for a negotiated settlement "in cooperation with the United States, the EU, Romania, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe" aimed at the "demilitarization, decriminalization, and democratization of the region...and the withdrawal of foreign troops from Moldova." As speaker, Lupu pledged to represent all parties in the legislature, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 March. "I am going to be the speaker not of a certain party but of all the deputies so that the legislative body will work for the benefit of the country," Lupu said. BW

Due to a schism in the opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD), the new legislature will have four factions, BASA reported on 24 March. The ruling PCM, led by former parliamentary speaker Eugenia Ostapciuc, will hold 56 seats; the BMD, led by Serafim Urechean, will have 26; the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), led by Iurie Rosca, will have 11; and the Democratic Party (PD)-- a new faction led by Dumitru Diacov that split from the BMD -- will have eight mandates. Diacov's announcement that he has formed an independent faction fueled speculation that he has cut a deal with Voronin to secure the latter's re-election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2005). Diacov, who was elected to parliament on BMD list and was the co-chairman of this bloc, said he took part in elections with his "own message," BASA reported on 24 March. BW

BMD parliamentary faction leader Urechean said Diacov's decision to form a separate faction did not come as a surprise, BASA reported on 24 March. "The decision of Dumitru Diacov to create a separate parliamentary faction neither surprised nor disappointed me. I do not believe that the Democratic Moldova Bloc has lost anything," Urechean said, adding, "if Mr. Diacov votes for Vladimir will be clear why he decided to create a faction of his own." Urechean added that his faction will boycott the 4 April presidential election. With 56 seats in parliament, the PCM have enough votes to form a government, but fall shy of the 61 required to re-elect Voronin president. BW

Meanwhile, lawmakers from the opposition PPCD said Diacov's move was illegal, AP Flux reported on 24 March. The PPCD deputies claim that since Diacov was elected on the BMD list, he cannot form his own faction. PPCD lawmaker Gheorghe Susarenco said that if deputies failed to recognize the illegality of Diacov's move "the parliament will start with its left foot." Likewise, Stefan Secareanu, another PPCD deputy, said Diacov can form an informal deputies' group, "but it cannot be a legally formed parliamentary faction, because no PD list and no program existed during the electoral campaign. We are not to admit the illegal creation of a parliamentary group as some want. Because with this gesture, Diacov is cheating on BMD electors." Ion Creanga, head of the legislature's legal department, disagreed, saying lawmakers are free to join factions regardless of which lists they entered parliament on, AP Flux reported. BW

As the situation in Kyrgyzstan slowly stabilizes, four key issues have already emerged to frame subsequent events -- stability, the leadership of the opposition, the opposition's political program, and the effect of Kyrgyzstan's revolutionary change on its Central Asian neighbors.

As a new government emerges, its most urgent task is to establish control over the country and to prevent any slide into disorder. While the takeover of government buildings in Bishkek occurred after scuffles that left several dozens injured, no confirmed fatalities were reported, as was the case with the previous seizure of provincial administrative offices in Jalal-Abad and Osh.

Nevertheless, the extent of opposition leaders' control over the crowd was not entirely clear. According to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Kurmanbek Bakiev, leader of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told protestors after the takeover: "We didn't have the slightest idea [that things would turn out this way]. Just today in the morning we had no idea that people would take the White House."

As night fell in Bishkek on 24 March, looters took to the streets, ransacking shopping centers (many of which belonged to members of the Akaev family) and targeting bank machines and currency-exchange points. The ensuing mayhem claimed three lives, reported. Opposition leaders have delivered televised calls for restraint and promised to restore order, and the first crucial test the former opposition faces as it assumes the duties of power is to ensure that its calls are heeded and its promise kept.

The second issue involves the formation of a new government. At an emergency session late on 24 March, lawmakers from the previous parliament -- the newly elected parliament having lost its powers after the Supreme Court revoked its mandate -- selected Ishenbai Kadyrbekov, an opposition candidate in recent parliamentary elections whose disqualification sparked protests, to be acting head of state. But on 25 March, parliament named Former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, head of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan and leader of the opposition's Coordinating Council of Popular Unity, acting president and prime minister, reported.

Bakiev lost no time proposing a provisional government. It included a number of prominent opposition figures, such as Roza Otunbaeva, acting minister of foreign affairs; Adakhan Madumarov, acting deputy prime minister; Ishengul Boljurova, acting minister of education; and Azimbek Beknazarov, acting prosecutor-general. With the latest reports indicating that Bakiev, as acting president, has the right to issue decrees, it appears that the provisional government will not require parliamentary approval. As it sets about the first-order task of restoring order, the fragmented former opposition will have ample opportunity to show that they can work together effectively.

Bakiev, who has increasingly taken on the mantle of opposition leader during recent protests, also announced on 25 March that presidential elections will take place in three months, in accordance with the constitution, RIA-Novosti reported. Bakiev himself will likely be the leading contender for the presidency, but former Vice President and long-time opposition figure Feliks Kulov's sudden release from prison on 24 March introduces another heavyweight into the political equation. Although Kulov has already said that he does not intend to run for president, the rapidly changing situation precludes any certainty on this count.

Once the new government is in place, its members will face a dilemma familiar to all political figures who have defined themselves in opposition to an entrenched regime. When the regime's hold on power is firm enough to stymie real political competition, the out-of-power opposition's program inexorably devolves to a rejection of the status quo. Now that the status quo has changed so suddenly and so radically, the opposition, left to its own devices without the foe against which it has framed itself for so long, faces the task of fashioning concrete policies to govern a country that faces in pressing social, economic, and political problems.

Finally, while it is difficult to gauge the regional implications of events in progress, 24 March in Kyrgyzstan is already setting in motion a regional paradigm shift. Even after momentous changes in Georgia and Ukraine brought to light unexpected possibilities in post-Soviet politics, Central Asia seemed immune to spontaneous popular uprisings. Kyrgyzstan now finds itself at the beginning of a road paved with uncertainties, but it has at least demonstrated the power of unexpected possibilities in a region where they have too long been denied.

At a news conference in Kabul on 22 March, Ali Ahmad Jalali explained provincial administrative changes following riots in the southern city of Kandahar earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2005), Afghanistan Television reported. Jalali explained that some of the complaints he heard from residents of Kandahar were that the "administration had changed from a government and national administration to a tribal administration." This problem is not limited only to Kandahar, Jalali explained. The first step to rectify this problem is to replace the heads of departments, as has been done in Kandahar. Jalali added that a 400-member police force was dispatched from Kabul on 21 March to ensure that the administrative changes in Kandahar are implemented. He listed several other provinces, including Herat in the west and Balkh in the north, where similar administrative reforms will be implemented. Jalali blamed the system, not individuals, for the problems, adding that "the purpose of replacing individuals [therefore] is to establish a [new] system." AT

Afghan presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin on 22 March dismissed rumors that Jalali will be dismissed as interior minister, the "Kabul Times" daily reported on 24 March. "The government has no program for changing or dismissing the interior minister," Ludin told a news conference. Rumors of Jalali's dismissal began to circulate after the riots in Kandahar and complaints about the deteriorating security situation. AT

The Chief Prosecutor-General's Office summoned the editor in chief of "Arman-e Melli" on 23 March and interrogated him, the daily reported on 24 March. Mir Haydar Motahar, who also owns "Arman-e Melli," answered all the questions posed, according to the report, and the paper plans to publish all the questions and answers in future issues. The interrogation of Motahar is being carried out at the request of the Commission for the Evaluation of Violations of the Mass Media Law, which was established by the Ministry of Information and Culture, the report added. The report does not elaborate on any possible charges against Motahar. AT

Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi and Rural Rehabilitation Minister Hanif Atmar discussed the role for developmental district councils in counternarcotics efforts at a news conference in Kabul on 24 March, the Hindukosh News Agency reported. Such councils have already identified district-level development priorities in eastern Nangarhar, Konar, and Laghman provinces, the two ministers said (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report" 7 March 2005). District development councils, which also will determine local-level economic-development priorities, are also being planned for northeastern Konduz, Takhar, Baghlan, and Badakhshan and southern Kandahar, Helmand, and Oruzgan provinces. Qaderi said the Afghan government is determined to eradicate narcotics and to help farmers switch to alternative crops, and he added that the district development councils can play an important role in the implementation of these policies. "Personal desires and individual priorities should not undermine development priorities," Atmar recommended. According to Atmar, 2.2 million Afghans, in addition to opium farmers, earn their livelihood from narcotics. Of the estimated $6 billion annually generated by Afghanistan, $2.8 billion is generated from opium trade. AT

Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai told activists in Andimeshk, Khuzestan Province, on 24 March that he intends to be a candidate in the 17 June presidential election no matter what, IRNA reported. Other candidates have said they would withdraw in favor of Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, should he decide to run. Rezai, however, said Hashemi-Rafsanjani's decision will not affect him. He went on to say the two of them have differing views on economic and management issues. Rezai, a former commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, identified himself as a member of the extreme right (osulgarayan), and he criticized the use of armed forces resources in the election campaign. On 17 March, the Baztab website reported that the IRGC has established links with the conservative Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, although the involvement of military personnel in the campaign is prohibited. Rezai spoke approvingly of government accountability. BS

Ali Larijani, who is considered the leading candidate of the conservative Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, met with voters in Quchan, Khorasan Razavi Province, on 24 March, ILNA reported (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). He identified smuggling and youth unemployment as major problems that require attention. He criticized U.S. support for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, spoke out against the subsequent U.S. policy of dual containment, and added: "Currently, in conjunction with Europe, America is trying to keep Iran's power, contrary to the wish of the people, at a minimum, because America cannot stand powerful states." Larijani said the president of Iran has many responsibilities, "but the important thing is that the president must come to an understanding with the people so he can resolve their problems." BS

New York City Comptroller William Thompson said on 24 March that Halliburton, a U.S. oil services company, has agreed not to do any more business in Iran, AFP reported. Three New York City pension funds submitted a shareholder resolution calling for the decision because of their unhappiness with firms that do business with "terrorist-sponsoring nations." Thompson said he hopes other companies follow Halliburton's lead. The letter from Halliburton Vice President Margaret Carriere said the company "will take appropriate corporate action to cause its subsidiaries not to bid for any new work in Iran." Halliburton announced earlier this year that it would discontinue future activities in Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 January and 1 February 2005). BS

A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle at a checkpoint east of Al-Ramadi on 24 March, killing 11 police commandos and wounding nine police officers, two U.S. soldiers, and three civilians, Reuters cited the U.S. military as saying on 25 March. Checkpoints were set up at entrances to the volatile city in February in an effort to crack down on insurgents there, the news agency reported. "This was an attack on Iraqi security forces who have sworn an oath to protect the citizens of Iraq," said U.S. Brigadier General Joe McMenamin, assistant commander of the 2nd Marine Division. He added the attacks will not deter the soldiers and Marines in Al-Ramadi from accomplishing their mission of driving out insurgents. Meanwhile, five women -- four of whom worked for the U.S. military -- were found shot dead in a bullet-ridden car in western Baghdad, Reuters cited the U.S. Army statement as saying on 25 March. No further details were released. KR

Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir told Abu Dhabi television on 24 March on the sidelines of the Arab Summit in Algiers that the issue of Kirkuk will be settled by a committee established to examine the issue. "The Kirkuk issue is dealt with by the [Transitional Administrative Law], which is our interim constitution. There are steps that must be taken -- legal steps." He added that the committee will examine the issue of citizens displaced from the city, as well as ownership disputes related to people settled in Kirkuk by the Hussein regime. "According to the law, this [committee] must be activated. Nobody in Iraq is at the moment in a position to give prejudgments. This is left to the committee set up to deal with it," al-Yawir said. Meanwhile, the Anatolia news agency reported on 24 March that Ammar al-Hakim, son of Shi'ite leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, told Turkish Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gul on 24 March that Iraq's transitional government will work to protect the rights of Turkomans in Iraq, and will not cede the city of Kirkuk to any one party. KR

Iyad Allawi implied in a 24 March interview with LBC satellite television that the transitional National Assembly is wasting time with political wrangling over ministerial posts instead of getting to work on drafting a permanent constitution. "One major task of the current National Assembly is to write the constitution and to determine the nature of the political process," Allawi said. "Regrettably, it seems that things took a different course. Now the focus is changing into how and who will be a minister, a president, or a prime minister, thereby diverging from the principal issue; namely, writing the constitution." Allawi warned of "grave consequences" for Iraq in delaying the drafting of the constitution. "The constitution is the safety valve that will move society and the country forward. Therefore, I believe this is a major issue that must be the main concern of the National Assembly," he said. KR

Hundreds of power workers demonstrated in the Iraqi capital on 24 March in protest of attacks that have killed dozens of their colleagues, reported on 25 March. The demonstrators shouted "No, no to terror!" as they carried a black banner listing the names of their slain colleagues, and demanded an end to attacks on electricity stations and oil pipelines. Repeated insurgent attacks on infrastructure projects have slowed the reconstruction process in Iraq. KR

U.S. military officials told reporters on 24 March that no insurgent bodies were found at an apparent training camp attacked by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces on 22 March when American troops arrived on the scene after the fighting, reported on 25 March. Iraqi Interior Ministry officials had earlier claimed that some 80 insurgents were killed in the battle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2005). An AFP reporter who visited the camp on Lake Tharthar on 24 March reported seeing between 30 and 40 insurgents still on the premises; one insurgent told the reporter that 11 of his comrades had been killed in the fighting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). U.S. Major Richard Goldenberg of the 42nd Infantry Division told "I cannot confirm the estimate" given by the Iraqis on the number of dead, adding that it appeared insurgents "were able to recover their casualties and take them with them" before U.S. troops arrived on the scene on 22 March. Regarding the estimates on the number of dead, Goldenberg said: "I would tell you that somewhere between 11 and 80 lies an accurate number." Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim played down the incident on 24 March, saying: "I wouldn't call it a major incident." KR