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Newsline - April 1, 2005


MOTHERLAND, COMMUNISTS DEMAND PUBLICATION OF DOCUMENTS ON ZHRINOVSKII'S TIES WITH KGB...
Following the fistfight in the Duma between Deputy Speaker and of Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii and Motherland deputy faction head Andrei Savelev (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 30 and 31 March 2005), the Motherland and Communist factions announced on 31 March a boycott of Zhirinovskii, grani.ru reported. In their joint statement, both factions demand that Speaker Boris Gryzlov (Unified Russia) strip Zhirinovskii of his position as deputy speaker and his parliamentary immunity. They also called on the media to boycott Zhirinovskii and said that members of both parties will not appear anymore on television or radio shows with Zhirinovskii. Finally, Motherland and the Communists demanded the publication of documents from the KGB archives "shedding light on the role of provocateur Zhirinovskii played during the emerging multiparty system in the former Soviet Union," grani.ru reported. In his memoirs published in 2002, the late Soviet political adviser Aleksandr Bovin wrote that in 1990, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev asked KGB Chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov to find a "good leader for the opposition." Several days later, Kryuchkov brought in Zhirinovskii and soon he appeared on the Soviet political scene, Bovin recollected. VY

...AS COMMUNISTS WANT TO INITIATE REFERENDUM ON PUTIN'S POLICIES
Ivan Melnikov, first deputy chairman of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), announced on 30 March that his party proposes holding a national referendum on the policies of President Vladimir Putin and has drafted 16 questions for it, according to the party's website (http://www.kprf.ru). Melnikov cited examples of the questions, such as: "Do you support the direct election of governors by the public?" or "Do you agree with holding the Russian president legally responsible for the reduction of public living standards and quality of life?" Meanwhile, KPRF Duma faction member Viktor Tyulkin asked the Duma to check information that the Federal Security Service (FSB) and other law-enforcement agencies were ordered to probe the political parties, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 31 March. Tyulkin revealed that his faction obtained a document according to which the Justice Ministry asked the FSB to carry out a complete probe of the personnel and composition of political parties to check out their "capabilities." VY

IS PUTIN'S OFFER OF PRIVATIZATION AMNESTY ONLY A PROMISE?
President Putin's proposal to reduce the statute of limitations on property transactions from 10 years to three (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 25 March, 2005) is nothing more than a gesture, Union of Entrepreneurs and Tenants head Andrei Bunich said, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 13, reported on 30 March. In fact, this is already incorporated in the Civil Code, he added. What is important, however, is that the biggest deals through which the Russian oligarchs accumulated their fortunes were made during loans-for-shares deals, which strictly speaking cannot be considered privatization, he added. Therefore, the biggest Russian oligarchs, who fear the expropriation of their assets, will continue to do so, Bunich concluded. "Argumenty i fakty" stressed that Putin during his 24 March meeting with Russian business leaders refused to lower the statute of limitations on tax evasion. VY

STALIN MONUMENT TO BE ERECTED BY V-DAY
Speaking to journalists in Moscow, Volgograd Mayor Yevgenii Ishchenko announced that two-thirds of his city's residents rejected the proposal of national-patriotic forces to rename the city Stalingrad, Ekho Moskvy reported on 31 March. However, the city administration approved the building of a monument to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, whose name the city bore during World War II, and has already selected the site for it. The monument, designed by sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, is a composition, with Stalin sitting surrounded by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). It is to be erected by 9 May, when Russia celebrates the 60th anniversary of victory in World War II. Answering concerns that the project could mean rehabilitating Stalin, Tsereteli said, "It is not monument to him, but to an epoch." VY

YOUNG MEN SEEKING ALTERNATIVE CIVILIAN SERVICE DROPS...
Russia's annual military conscription campaign opened on 1 April, Russian news agencies reported. Colonel General Vasilii Smirnov told reporters in Moscow that about 155,000 young men will be conscripted into the armed forces during the campaign. Smirnov added that 186 men have submitted applications for alternative civilian service, down from 318 in the fall 2004. Of these, 72 were not fulfilling their duties, he added. Colonel Igor Klykov, deputy head of the Armed Forces General Staff's organizational and mobilization directorate, suggested, "The main reason for the dramatic reduction in the number of those opting for alternative civilian service is that citizens have finally realized that this is a kind of service which needs to be fulfilled." JAC

...AS MILITARY ENLISTMENT OFFICES GO TO ANY LENGTH TO FIND THEIR RECRUITS
Military conscription committees often go to great lengths to find drafted men, Sergei Krivenko, executive secretary of the coalition For Democratic Alternative Soldiers Service and the Union of Soldiers' Mothers said in an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 31 March. In one instance, a member of a military registration and enlistment office gained access to an apartment where he thought a recruit was hiding by dressing in civilian clothes and knocking on the apartment door at 5 a.m. pretending to be a downstairs neighbor who had a leak. "When the grandmother opened the door, the police burst in looking for the truant," Krivenko said. In another case, a young man was in the hospital recovering from an operation. He went downstairs to buy something from a stall when the military officers seized him for the spring call-up. JAC

ONE SIBERIAN LEADERS SURVIVES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE...
Altai Republic President Mikhail Lapshin survived a no-confidence vote in the republic's legislative assembly on 31 March, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Lapshin complained that "unfortunately, groups of politicians have emerged in individual regions who are inspired by all of these 'orange' and 'tulip' revolutions." The vote was 22 against the vote of no confidence with 13 in favor. Lapshin's term expires in October. JAC

...WHILE ANOTHER LOSES...
Also on 31 March, Mikhail Yevdokimov, head of Altai Krai, lost a vote of no confidence by a large margin with 46 in favor and five against, NTV reported. State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent), who was elected from the Altai Krai, told Ekho Moskvy that Yevdokimov, a former TV comedian, allowed the situation in the krai to deteriorate. According to Ryzhkov, Yevdokimov, who was elected last April, broke "every campaign promise he had made." Housing and utilities bill have risen by 70 percent, while industrial growth plummeted, Ryzhkov said. President Putin is now expected to either endorse Yevdokimov or replace him. Earlier in March, the leaders of 21 political parties and social organizations -- including the Communist Party, Unified Russia, the Union of Rightist Forces, and the Agrarian Party -- sent a letter to Putin complaining about Yevdokimov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2005). JAC

...AND URALS GOVERNOR PETITIONS PUTIN FOR THIRD TERM
Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin has sent a letter to President Putin asking the president for an expression of confidence in him, "Vremya novostei" reported on 31 March and uralpolit.ru reported on 30 March. According to the daily and website, Sumin met with Putin on 11 March to discuss the governor's future. With Putin's assurance that he would appoint him to his post, Sumin took the more formal step of asking for the president's trust. According to "Vremya novostei," no one doubts that the local legislature will confirm Sumin's candidacy. Sumin's second term is due to expire in December 2005. JAC

PRO-KREMLIN PARTY TAKES A STAND
The leadership of Unified Russia in the State Duma "has dared to rewrite a bill submitted by the president," "Itogi," No. 13, reported. According to the weekly, Unified Russia has several objections to the new bill on State Duma elections that is scheduled for a second reading in the middle of April. Valerii Bogomolov, secretary of the party's General Council, said that his party does not want there to be limits imposed on the amount of money in a party's campaign fund. "Election campaigns should not be open to newly formed parties," he said, adding that parties should have existed for at least a year before being allowed to participate in an election. He also opposes the bill's stipulation that if a winning candidate declines to serve in the Duma, then the seat should be given to a candidate from another party. In the December 2003 election, Unified Russia included dozens of regional governors on its regional party lists who never intended to serve in the Duma. JAC

ANOTHER DAILY NEWSPAPER CLOSES ITS DOORS
The daily "Russkii kurer" issued its last publication on 31 March, Igor Yakovenko, secretary-general of the Journalists Union and director-general of the printing house that publishes "Russkii kurer" announced the same day, Ekho Moskvy and lenta.ru reported. Yakovenko said that there is "no market demand for sociopolitical quality dailies," adding that he had been trying to keep the newspaper afloat for two years. The newspaper's editor in chief, Igor Golembiovskii, said the reason for the closure was purely financial and not political. Golembiovskii started the publication after leaving "Novye ivestiya" in April 2003. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Aleksei Simonov of the Glasnost Defense Foundation noted that the Russian press has lost another publication with a "distinctly liberal bent." JAC

FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS AL-JAZEERA'S COVERAGE OF CHECHNYA
The Foreign Ministry's Department for Information and the Press posted a commentary on 31 March on the ministry's website, mid.ru, asserting that that satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera's reports and documentary films about Chechnya "fully distort the truth of the situation in the Chechen Republic." The channel "ignores the consistent efforts of the federal and local authorities to restore the economy and normalize public and political life." One gets the "impression that successful Arab-Russian relations and the growth of the prestige and authority of Russia in the Arab world would not be to someone's liking in certain circles abroad," the statement continued. "Therefore, in the case of Al-Jazeera, materials appear that have clearly been ordered from above, aimed at creating a false impression of Russian policies, including toward Chechnya, and thus poison the atmosphere of our relations with Arab countries. We are sure that this [effort] will not be successful." JAC

PUTIN CONFERS WITH INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT
President Putin met in Sochi on 31 March with Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, warning him to react swiftly to "lawful demands" and to address the needs of the population, Interfax and ingushetiya.ru reported. At the same time, Putin also impressed on Zyazikov the need to create a "firm and insurmountable" barrier against any manifestations of "extremism." Zyazikov claimed that the political situation in Ingushetia is "on the whole normal" despite efforts by "some individuals" to "destabilize the situation," but he conceded that the high level of unemployment remains a serious problem. Ingushetiya.ru concluded that Putin has finally realized that Zyazikov, whose popularity has plummeted since he was elected three years ago, is becoming a liability. In an interview published in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 1 April, Zyazikov said that his republic needs a "targeted federal development program," and he expressed the hope that it will be designated a free economic zone, ITAR-TASS reported. Ingushetia enjoyed that status for several years under Zyazikov's predecessor Ruslan Aushev. LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT INTRODUCES MODEST PENSION INCREASE
Armenian Labor and Social Affairs Minister Aghvan Vartanian announced plans on 31 March to introduce a slight increase in the monthly pension payments to senior citizens, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The planned increase, to take effect on 1 April, would raise the average monthly pension for retirees by 10 percent to roughly 10,500 drams ($23). Vartanian said that the move stems from an increase of nearly 35 percent in the collection of social-security taxes for the first quarter of 2005. Even with the planned increase, the average pension is still below the official poverty line of about 13,000 drams per person. RG

ARMENIAN LEGAL GROUP FACES COURT INQUIRY
An Armenian district court opened a hearing on 31 March to examine a dispute over the results of an election for the leadership of a group of Armenian lawyers, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The recently reorganized group, the Chamber of Advocates, was formed in January 2005 after a new law called for the merger of two separate legal associations. Officially empowered to assist in the development of an independent Armenian judiciary and to strengthen the rule of law, the group faces an internal split over the 20 March election of Yenok Azarian as its new leader. The election was contested by prominent Armenian attorney Ruben Sahakian, who lodged a legal challenge of the vote, alleging serious procedural violations. Azarian is supported by the Yerevan office of the American Bar Association, which has been closely involved in the formation of the group. RG

MUNICIPAL AUTHORITIES CANCEL PLANNED ARMENIAN CONCERT OF CONTROVERSIAL RUSSIAN SINGER
Authorities in Yerevan cancelled on 31 March a series of concerts of popular Russian singer Filip Kirkorov after significant pressure from Armenian youth groups, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Yerkir. The furor over the planned concerts stems from allegations that the Russian singer is "anti-Armenian" and routinely sings Turkish songs in his concerts. The protesters also argued that the timing of his concerts in Yerevan coincide with the April commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide and are, therefore, "immoral and intolerable." The pressure to revoke the singer's invitation to Armenia was led by a student youth group affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, a junior member of the ruling, pro-government coalition. Kirkorov, whose father is of Armenian descent, was set to perform at two concerts in the Armenian capital on 8 and 9 April. RG

VISITING OSCE OFFICIAL MEETS WITH ARMENIAN PRESIDENT...
Armenian President Robert Kocharian met in Yerevan on 30 March with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) chairman in office, Arminfo and Mediamax reported. Rupel discussed the course of the OSCE mediation of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict and noted that the Karabakh conflict is a "special case" that can not be "compared with other frozen conflicts." He also expressed "serious concern" over recent violations of the cease-fire agreement in place and warned against "aggressive rhetoric" over the Karabakh issue. Kocharian added that the establishment of regional cooperation and the inclusion of Karabakh in the negotiations would contribute to the mediation process. Foreign Minster Vardan Oskanian also informed Rupel that the next meeting of the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents is planned for May, in either Warsaw or Moscow. RG

...AND WITH ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER
OSCE Chairman in Office Rupel, also met on 31 March with Armenian parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasarian to review the status of legislative reforms, Arminfo reported. Rupel stressed that Armenia must accelerate the process of reforming the Electoral Code and legal system, and introduce deeper reforms of local government. He also stressed that Armenia's proposed constitutional amendments are crucial for providing guarantees for protecting human rights, and to balance the powers of the three branches of government, including the independence of the Armenian judiciary. RG

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER REVIEWS ENERGY SECURITY PLANS WITH TURKISH NAVAL COMMANDER
Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev met on 29 March in Baku with Turkish naval commander Admiral Ozdem Ornek to review plans for bilateral cooperation in energy security, Turan reported. Ornek presented a detailed plan to provide security for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and to protect Baku's offshore energy fields. RG

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT IN POLAND ON STATE VISIT
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met on 31 March with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski in Warsaw during a two-day state visit to Poland, Turan reported. Aliyev discussed the Polish proposal to extend the Odesa-Brody-Gdansk pipeline to include oil from Azerbaijan. Several bilateral agreements on cooperation in the areas of agriculture, defense, education, and trade were also signed during the visit. Ukrainian Ambassador to Baku Anatoliy Yurchenko told journalists on 31 March that Germany has offered a 2 billion-euro ($2.59 billion) credit towards the cost of renovating Ukraine's pipeline system, including restoring the original direction of the Odesa-Brody pipeline and extending it to Gdansk, echo-az.com reported on 1 April. RG/LF

ARMENIANS IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA DEMONSTRATE AGAINST RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL
Nearly 3,000 ethnic Armenian residents of the southern Georgian Djavakheti district held a demonstration on 31 March protesting the possible withdrawal of the Russian military from its Akhalkalaki base there, Rustavi-2 TV and Arminfo reported. The demonstrators also reiterated a list of demands submitted to Georgian authorities at an earlier demonstration on 13 March. Those demands included an end to the ban on teaching Armenian history in local schools, the adoption of new legal guarantees for the rights of ethnic minorities, and the official recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Georgian government. The protesters also warned against any change to the region's demography that would "reduce the native ethnic Armenian population of Djavakheti." A smaller demonstration was held in Batumi on 31 March, with about 500 local residents protesting against the Russian withdrawal from their base in Adjara, Caucasus Press reported. RG

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT WELCOMES RUSSIAN INVESTMENT
Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh announced on 31 March that the Abkhaz leadership is committed to promote greater Russian investment and commerce in Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS reported. The Abkhaz leader added that "an investment economic group is being formed" to work directly with potential Russian investors. The Abkhaz leadership has already initiated negotiations with Russian companies over a $40 million project to reconstruct telecommunications in Abkhazia, and is currently seeking Russian financing for the reconstruction of the Inguri power plant and the restoration of a railway route. RG

JOINT UN-RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING PATROLS TO RESUME IN ABKHAZIA
The commander of the CIS peacekeeping force deployed along the border between Abkhazia and Georgia, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Yevteev, announced on 30 March that joint patrols of Russian peacekeepers and UN military observers will resume in the Kodori Gorge, Interfax reported. The joint patrols were suspended almost two years ago after Georgian officials refused to provide adequate security guarantees for the mission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2002). RG

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev held talks on bilateral cooperation and energy issues in Astana on 31 March, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Saakashvili said after the meeting, "We are interested in purchasing Kazakh gas because we are tackling our energy problem." Nazarbaev told journalists, "We are interested in using the transport potential of the Caucasus, including Georgia," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" suggested in a 31 March article that the possibility of transporting Kazakh oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in the future would likely form the crux of closed-door talks between the two leaders. In other remarks, Saakashvili praised Kazakhstan for "the most dynamic economic growth rates in the post-Soviet region," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He also said that Kazakhstan's role in Central Asia is that of "a stabilizer, a country which has outstripped neighboring countries in terms of development." "We have much to learn from Kazakhstan," Saakashvili concluded. DK

KAZAKHSTAN REOPENS BORDER WITH KYRGYZSTAN...
Kazakhstan has reopened its border with Kyrgyzstan as of 30 March, Kazinform reported the next day, citing a spokesperson in Kazakhstan's National Security Committee. The spokesperson said that Kazakhstan closed its border from 25 March to 30 March after unrest broke out in the Kyrgyz capital on 24 March. DK

...AS KAZAKH PRESIDENT DESCRIBES KYRGYZ EVENTS AS 'BANDITRY'
Speaking at a joint press conference with Georgian President Saakashvili in Astana on 31 March, Nursultan Nazarbaev said that "what happened [in Kyrgyzstan] cannot be called a revolution," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He continued, "Even according to the current rulers [of Kyrgyzstan], it was banditry and looting." Nazarbaev pointed to economic hardship as the cause. He said that the roots of the unrest lay in the "extremely low standard of living. When some 90 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, these processes can take place." Stressing that the most important task at present is to bring events back within the framework of the constitution, Nazarbaev said that Kazakhstan will work with the president "whom the Kyrgyz people legally elects." DK

KYRGYZ SPEAKER SAYS PRELIMINARY TALKS UNDER WAY WITH OUSTED PRESIDENT...
Omurbek Tekebaev, the speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament, said on 31 March in Bishkek that preliminary talks have taken place with ousted President Askar Akaev to pave the way for full-fledged negotiations, akipress.org reported. Tekebaev said: "It would be desirable for these talks to take place in Bishkek, since Akaev would then have the opportunity to address his people directly. But if he picks another country, we're not against it." Akaev, who is currently in Russia, told Britain's "The Guardian" in a 31 March interview that he expected talks to begin on that date. He stressed, as he had to Russia's ORT in a 29 March interview (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2005), that he is ready to offer his resignation in return for "guarantees of security." DK

...AS OSCE HEAD VISITS KYRGYZSTAN TO AID TRANSITION...
OSCE Chairman in Office Dimitrij Rupel visited Bishkek on 31 March for talks with Kyrgyzstan's new leadership, the OSCE announced in a press release the same day. Rupel met with Prime Minister and acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva, parliamentary speaker Omurbek Tekebaev, and Ar-Namys party head Feliks Kulov. Rupel commented, "Our joint focus must now turn from the events of last week to the months ahead, running up to the presidential election set for 26 June." In separate remarks, Rupel said that he stands behind the Kyrgyz parliament's initiative to negotiate with ousted President Akaev in order to secure the latter's official resignation, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

...AND GEORGIAN, UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS PLEDGE SUPPORT
Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk visited Bishkek on 31 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. They met with speaker Tekebaev, acting Foreign Minister Otunbaeva, and Central Election Commission Chairman Tuigunaaly Abdraimov. A meeting with acting President Bakiev was also planned. Zurabishvili and Tarasyuk stressed that the purpose of their visit was to share their countries' experience with the postrevolutionary return to normality. They also noted that Georgia and Ukraine would be willing to act as intermediaries in talks with ousted President Akaev, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DETAILS CORRUPTION, LOOTING CASES
The Prosecutor-General's Office released a statement on 31 March announcing that it has begun investigations into a number of cases involving illegal privatization and misuse of government funds, akipress.org reported. But Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov told journalists at a news conference in Bishkek the same day that Kyrgyz authorities will not reverse privatizations or allow any encroachment on private property, Kabar reported. Noting that some individuals are exploiting the current situation for their own ends, Beknazarov stressed that all property disputes must be resolved through the courts. He also said that prosecutors have opened more than 100 criminal cases in connection with 24 March looting and other investigations continue. Beknazarov added that ousted President Akaev "could testify on a number of criminal cases," noting that recently discovered documents allegedly belonging to Akaev are now being examined. DK

ALLEGED MEMBERS OF EXTREMIST GROUP GO ON TRIAL IN TAJIKISTAN
Eight residents of Tajikistan's Isfara district went on trial in Sughd Province on 31 March for membership in the extremist organization Bayat, murder, and other crimes, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Among the accusations is the 2004 murder of Sergei Bessarab, a Baptist missionary. A lawyer for the defendants said that they maintain their innocence and claim that during the investigation they provided confessions under physical duress. DK

LEADER OF BELARUSIAN VENDORS RELEASED FROM JAIL
Anatol Shumchanka, leader of the Perspektyva association of small retail traders, was released from jail on 31 March after prosecutors terminated a criminal case against him, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Shumchanka, who was jailed for 10 days on a charge of organizing an unsanctioned protest of vendors against an 18-percent value-added tax on Russian imports on 1 March, was placed in a pretrial detention center instead of being released after 10 days. Shumchanka was charged with hooliganism for allegedly beating a cellmate. "[The hooliganism charge] was a foul provocation," Shumchanka told journalists on 31 March. "That man [cellmate] was detained for drinking vodka on the street and swearing at policemen. He was apparently blackmailed and forced to write that charge." JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT VOWS TO END INDUSTRIAL SUBSIDIES
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 31 March that the government will stop offering financial assistance to industrial enterprises in 2006 and tighten eligibility criteria for preferential treatment, Belapan reported, quoting official sources. "This is the last year we are discussing the matter," Lukashenka said. "Any financial assistance to enterprises should be out of the question. They must work and earn for themselves." Lukashenka added that state support may be provided only for new projects and emerging enterprises. JM

UKRAINE SCRAPS VISAS FOR EU, SWITZERLAND FOR FOUR MONTHS
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has signed a decree abolishing visa requirements for citizens of the EU and Switzerland from 1 May to 1 September 2005, Yushchenko's personal website (http://ww2.yuschenko.com.ua) reported on 31 March. The decree says the measure is intended "to ensure the truly open nature of Ukrainian society, implement Ukraine's strategic course of integration into European community, and create proper conditions for attracting investment" as well as to contribute to the "proper preparation and organization" of the 2005 Eurovision song contest that Ukraine will host on 21 May. JM

UKRAINIAN TROOPS LIKELY TO LEAVE IRAQ BY MID-OCTOBER
President Yushchenko told U.S. journalists in Kyiv on 31 March that Ukraine might withdraw its entire military contingent from Iraq by mid-October, Yushchenko's personal website reported. "This will be mid-October, but I do not rule out that days may be changed according to [the pullout] schedule," Yushchenko said. "Our conceptual position is that our soldiers should leave Iraq this year." JM

UKRAINE'S FIRST LADY RECEIVES UKRAINIAN CITIZENSHIP
Kateryna Chumachenko, the wife of President Yushchenko, has obtained Ukrainian citizenship, Ukrainian media reported on 31 March, quoting presidential spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko. Herashchenko added that an official statement on this matter will be made in the near future. Chumachenko's parents, who were born in Ukraine, met in Germany during World War II and married in 1945. They subsequently immigrated to the United States. Chumachenko, who has been living in Kyiv since 1999, has held U.S. citizenship. JM

EUROPEAN COURT TO CONSIDER CASE OF GONGADZE VERSUS UKRAINE
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has declared admissible an application lodged in the Gongadze v. Ukraine case in September 2002 by Myroslava Gongadze, the wife of slain journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, the court announced in a press release on 31 March. Gongadze was kidnapped and executed in September 2000. Myroslava Gongadze argues that under Article Two of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to life) that the death of her husband was the result of a forced disappearance and that state authorities failed to protect his life. She also complains that the state failed to investigate the case in a coherent and effective manner. JM

BOSNIAN SERBS INVESTIGATING 892 STATE EMPLOYEES FOR WAR CRIMES LINKS...
The Republika Srpska government said in a statement from Banja Luka on 31 March that the prosecutor's office will investigate 892 employees of the army, police, and various state bodies to determine if they played any role in the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males in Srebrenica, Reuters reported. The statement did not identify those under investigation or say what role they might have played. After the statement was issued, Dragan Cavic, who is president of the Republika Srpska and the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), said that any SDS member whose name appears on the investigation list will be dropped from the party rolls, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Bosnian Serb authorities have been under international pressure for years to investigate and bring to justice anyone involved in the massacre. The Republika Srpska first acknowledged and apologized for the killings in November, having tried to deny or conceal the massacre for nearly a decade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2004). PM

...AS HIGH REPRESENTATIVE OFFERS ENCOURAGEMENT
High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Banja Luka on 31 March that the Republika Srpska is making good progress in cooperating with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, adding that the issue of police reform might soon be the Bosnian Serbs' only remaining hurdle to European integration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1, 8, and 11 February 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 September and 22 October 2004). Ashdown added that he was impressed by the seriousness of discussions in Banja Luka. PM

MAIN BOSNIAN CROAT PARTY CALLS ON HIGH REPRESENTATIVE TO QUIT
The Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina's governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) issued a statement on 31 March in Mostar calling on High Representative Ashdown to resign following his recent decision to sack Dragan Covic as the Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 April 2005). Covic is a member of the HDZ. Barisa Colak, who heads the HDZ presidency, said that Ashdown's move was illegal and harmed Bosnia's international reputation. "The latest decision of the high representative caused a crisis in the work of Bosnia's presidency and brought into question the functioning of one of Bosnia's highest constitutional institutions and made it possible for the crisis to [affect] other levels of the authority in Bosnia," Colak added. PM

CROATIAN PREMIER EXPRESSES CONCERN ABOUT SACKING OF TOP HERZEGOVINIAN CROAT...
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Zagreb on 31 March that "Croatia will not and does not want to meddle in Bosnia's internal affairs," referring to High Representative Ashdown's recent sacking of Covic from the Bosnian Presidency, Hina reported. Sanader added: "However, we cannot but voice concern about the fact that a Bosnian Presidency member from the ranks of the Croat people has been replaced for the second time, Covic after Ante Jelavic," whom then-High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch banned from public life in 2001, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 9 March and 11 December 2001, and 31 March 2005). Sanader suggested that Ashdown's decision was politically motivated and could have what the prime minister called negative political effects. He stressed that Covic must be presumed innocent until proven guilty, adding that politics should not be allowed to affect Covic's trial. PM

...WITH WIDER IMPLICATIONS
Croatian Prime Minister Sanader said in Zagreb on 31 March that it was good that High Representative Ashdown did not ban Bosnian Presidency member Covic from all political activity, Hina reported. The prime minister stressed that Zagreb remains concerned lest the Croats in the neighboring state not be treated the same as the more numerous Serbs and Muslims. "We would like Bosnia-Herzegovina to become emancipated, to join the EU and NATO," Sanader said, adding that Croatia will help Bosnia to do so. Most of the political leadership of the Croats of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who make up about 18 percent of that country's population, has long complained that the Croats are in fact at a disadvantage despite their full equality under Bosnian law. Sanader and most of his cabinet belong to the Croatian HDZ, which helped set up the Bosnian party of the same name before the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in 1991. Since the death of President Franjo Tudjman in 1999, the Zagreb authorities have distanced themselves from the largely Herzegovinian, nationalistic leadership of the Croats in the neighboring state. Sanader, however, has been quicker to address Herzegovinian concerns than has President Stipe Mesic, whose relations with Herzegovinian Croats are cool. PM

AT LEAST FOUR REPORTED DEAD IN U.S. MILITARY PLANE CRASH IN ALBANIA
Albanian police officials said on 1 April that four bodies have been recovered from the wreck of a U.S. military C-130 cargo plane that crashed the previous night in poor weather near Gramsh in south-central Albania while taking part in joint U.S.-Albanian military exercises, dpa reported from Tirana. An additional five people are believed to have been on board. Villagers said they heard a huge explosion when the plane crashed in a mountainous area with snow up to two meters deep, Reuters reported. A police spokesman told the news agency that air-traffic controllers at Tirana's Rinas Airport noted that the plane "moved in an irregular way while it was flying over a valley" before the crash. The U.S. military authorities are investigating the crash. PM

RENEWED PROTESTS AFTER SECOND-ROUND LOCAL ELECTION IN MACEDONIA
Several hundred supporters of the opposition coalition led by the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) blocked the road between Prilep and Makedonski Brod for a second day on 30 March, after the district election commission of Dolneni decided that the recent local elections must be repeated at several polling stations due to irregularities, the private A1 TV reported. The previous day, followers of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) had blocked the same road to protest the narrow election of the candidate of the opposition coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 April 2005). The opposition accuses the commission of having given in to pressure from the BDI and announced that it will challenge the decision before the Supreme Court. On 31 March, several hundred VMRO-DPMNE backers protested outside the district administration in Sopiste, accusing the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) of vote rigging in the village of Ciflik. UB

ROMANIA AND BULGARIA AGREE TO EU STANDARDS
Romania and Bulgaria have signed a treaty agreeing to adopt European Union standards in their bilateral relations, dpa reported 31 March. The neighbors agreed to cooperate on issues of EU integration, NATO, the economy, and the building of transport infrastructure. They will also adopt EU-style border regimes with joint police and customs cooperation and freer movement of people and goods. "We have the same vision and the same wish -- to become full members of the EU in 2007," Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said after the signing ceremony and talks with Romanian counterpart Calin Popescu-Tariceanu. The two countries are seeking to enter the EU in 2007 and are scheduled to sign the EU Accession Treaty on 25 April. BW

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN CALLS FOR IRAQ PULLOUT
With three journalists still being held hostage in Iraq, Romanian opposition politicians made a rare call for the withdrawal of their country's troops, dpa reported on 31 March. Victor Ponta, a lawmaker from the opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD), said he favors the European Union's position on Iraq over that of the United States, adding that Romania does not always have to "stand at attention" for Washington. So far, there has been scant public criticism of Romania's deployment of an estimated 730 Romanian troops in Iraq. The former PSD government, which lost the 2004 elections, supported the U.S. policy in Iraq, as does the current liberal government of President Traian Basescu. Meanwhile, Basescu's crisis-management group was examining videotape showing three Romanian journalists abducted on 28 March in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005). BW

OPPOSITION CALLS ON MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TO PULL OUT OF CIS...
The Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) has demanded that President Vladimir Voronin withdraw from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and oust Russian peacekeepers in the breakaway Transdniester region, Russian and international news agencies reported on 31 March. The BMD, the largest opposition faction in Moldova's new parliament, made the demands as part of a 22-point list of conditions for their support of Voronin in the 4 April presidential election. The main BMD demand "is the immediate adoption of a bill to outlaw Russian troops stationed on Moldovan territory" and the replacement of Russian peacekeepers in Transdniester with United Nations, European Union, or NATO forces, Interfax reported. The faction, according to Interfax, also called for constitutional amendments "which will cancel Moldova's neutrality, and the official proclamation of a policy of integration with Euro-Atlantic organizations." BW

...AS REPORT QUOTES PRESIDENTIAL AIDE DISMISSING DEMANDS
An official in Voronin's office accused the BMD of making demands that would be impossible for the president to meet, Interfax reported on 31 March. Voronin, a longtime Russian ally, is now trying to move Moldova closer to the West but would risk a fierce response from Moscow if he pulled out of the CIS and ousted Russian troops. "The opposition has made deliberately unacceptable demands in order to justify its refusal of participation in the presidential election," Interfax quoted an unidentified official in Voronin's office as saying. The ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) has a majority of 56 seats in the 101-member parliament, shy of the 61 votes necessary to elect a president. In order to secure a majority, Voronin must garner votes from opposition factions. BW

MOLDOVAN PARTY LEADER ALLEGES THAT MAIN OPPOSITION 'DIRECTED BY FOREIGN FORCES'
Democratic Party leader Dumitru Diakov charged on 31 March that the BMD's campaign for the 6 March parliamentary elections was funded from abroad, Infotag reported the same day. Diakov's eight-member parliamentary delegation was elected as part of the BMD but split from the bloc to form its own faction. "One of the reasons for our leaving was the unhealthy atmosphere in the bloc," Diakov said. "We felt discomfort there. At a certain moment, it became known that the bloc was directed, manipulated, and financed by foreign forces." Diakov did not specify Russia particularly, but the BMD was widely believed to have close ties with Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005). BW

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR TRANSDNIESTRIAN AUTONOMY
Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld proposed on 31 March that Moldova resolve its conflict over the Transdniester region by granting it autonomy, Reuters reported the same day. "The solution should be based on recognition of full self-government of Dnestr within an integral Moldovan state," Rotfeld told a news conference in Chisinau. He was holding talks with Moldovan leaders on behalf of the Council of Europe. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has led efforts to find a settlement to the conflict, with Russia and Ukraine helping mediate. Moldovan President Voronin has called for a different approach, seeking to get Romania, the United States, and the European Union directly involved in the process. BW

YOUTH MOVEMENT COMPOUNDS PRESSURE ON INGUSHETIA'S PRESIDENT
In the three months since its foundation in late December, the Youth Movement of Ingushetia (MDI) claims to have recruited some 20,000 members in a region whose total population numbers only 314,900. Unlike comparable organizations elsewhere in Russia and the CIS that have taken to the streets to demonstrate their desire for regime change, it has maintained a low profile, eschewing public rallies. Instead, it has made extensive use of the Internet, in particular the opposition website ingushetiya.ru, to publicize its aims.

Initially, the MDI said it would focus on nonpolitical activities, primarily sport. But on 12 January, it announced its intention of convening a congress within the next couple of months in order to elect its leading officials, "young leaders...who will subsequently be able to contribute to the flourishing of our republic and help to rid it of the present generation of dirty, cowardly bureaucrats who are mired in corruption and who have reduced the republic to a state of economic collapse."

By 1 February, the MDI had already formed a number of regional organizations. In late March, unnamed members of the movement met in Moscow with Musa Ozdoev, a deputy to the Republic of Ingushetia's parliament and an unofficial leader of the Ingushetian opposition whose repeated complaints about violations during the elections in December 2003 to the Ingushetian parliament and the Russian State Duma failed to elicit any response from the republic's leadership. Participants in those talks reached agreement on the need to preserve stability in Ingushetia in the anticipation that President Murat Zyazikov's administration will "collapse," after which they intend to "take control" of developments in the republic.

Also in late March, the movement posted on ingushetiya.ru an appeal to Zyazikov to resign of his own volition rather than risk the "shame" of being deposed in a violent uprising. Zyazikov has not yet publicly responded to that ultimatum. (Ingushetiya.ru launched an online petition last fall similarly calling on Zyazikov to resign; as of 30 March, 973 people have signed it.)

The MDI convened its most recent meeting in Nazran on 29 March to assess the impact of the previous day's standoff between police and security forces and opposition demonstrators. The authorities deployed police and armored vehicles early on 28 March to block access to a monument on the Nazran-Magas highway to victims of Stalinist repression where oppositionists planned to hold a meeting to demand Zyazikov's resignation and the return to Ingushetia of Prigorodnyi Raion. That district was incorporated into the North Ossetian ASSR following the abolition of the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR in the wake of the mass deportation of Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia in February 1944. When those two peoples were allowed to return to the North Caucasus in the late 1950s and the Checheno-Ingush ASSR was reconstituted, Prigorodnyi Raion remained under the jurisdiction of North Ossetia.

Survivors of the 1944 deportation formed an unofficial group named Akhki-Yurt to lobby for the return of Prigorodnyi Raion to Ingushetia, and in recent months have stepped up their campaign prior to the adoption by the parliament of the Republic of Ingushetia of legislation formally listing the administrative districts it comprises. Police detained the chairman of Akhki-Yurt, 70-year-old Boris Arsamakov, on 28 March in a bid to thwart the planned protest demonstration. Ozdoev and members of the MDI succeeded in dissuading angry would-be participants, including "representatives of radical youth," from storming the police headquarters in Nazran where Arsamakov was being held; he was released later on 28 March.

Whether or not the 28 March standoff would have escalated into a popular uprising but for the intervention of the MDI, as one anonymous commentary has argued, is impossible to assess, as is the degree of authority the MDI commands. It is, after all, only one of several opposition movements in Ingushetia, and one of at least three factions vying for the sympathies of the younger generation. The others are the "radical elements" who advocated violence on 28 March, and those young Ingush who, alienated by official corruption and even more by the systematic reprisals and abductions conducted with impunity in recent years by Russian police and security forces, are flocking to fight under the banner of radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev.

Zyazikov, however, is apparently so unnerved by the emergence of the MDI and the role it has played in calling for his resignation that he has ordered the creation of a counterweight youth organization, the leader of which pledged its support for Zyazikov in a television broadcast on 30 March, ingushetiya.ru reported.

AFGHAN OPPOSITION FIGURES FORM ALLIANCE
A dozen Afghan political personalities have formed a political alliance that was announced on 31 March in Kabul, international news agencies reported. The National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli) is led by former Education Minister and presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni and three deputies: Mohammad Mohaqeq and Ahmad Shah Ahmadzai, both former presidential candidates, and Najia Zhara, Tolu Television reported on 31 March. Former Transportation Minister Sayyed Ali Jawed is the alliance's spokesman. "A government without a parliament or opposition will drift towards dictatorship," "The New York Times" quoted Qanuni as saying on 31 March. According to Qanuni, the goal of the alliance is "not war against the government," but to establish a "legal body, and [to] monitor and serve as a check on the government as a political bloc." The most important aim for the alliance, he added, is to try to change the strong presidential system enshrined in the Afghan Constitution into a parliamentary system in order to create a more representative governing system (for more on Afghan elections, see http://www.azadiradio.org/en/specials/elections). AT

KARZAI INAUGURATES ROAD PROJECT IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
In a rare trip outside Kabul, President Hamid Karzai paid a short visit to Herat Province on 31 March to inaugurate the reconstruction project of the Herat-Kandahar road, Sada-ye Jawan Radio reported. "We hope that all Afghanistan's roads will be reconstructed," Karzai said. The 557-kilometer road is to be rebuilt at a cost of $250 million, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 31 March. AT

'FAMOUS' FORMER TALIBAN COMMANDER SIDES WITH GOVERNMENT
Abdul Wahed, who is described as a "famous" Taliban commander, has accepted the Afghan government's reconciliation program and will support the government, AIP reported on 31 March. Abdul Wahed, who is also known as Ra'is Boghran, on 30 March voiced his support for the Afghan government in the southern Helmand Province. According to the report, Abdul Wahed is "without a doubt the most important Taliban" to have accepted the government's peace offer. AT

NATIONALIST PASHTUNS IN PAKISTAN DEMAND ABOLITION OF DURAND LINE
Speakers at a political gathering in Peshawar, Pakistan, called on 30 March for the abolition of the border separating Pakistan from Afghanistan, known as the Durand Line, Karachi-daily "Dawn" reported on 31 March. The Pakhtunkhwa Qaumi Party, which organized the gathering, advocates a single homeland for all Pashtuns living on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 August 2003). Mufti Kifayatullah, a representative of the Muttahida Majlis-e Amal party, spoke against the abolishment of the Durand Line, saying that such a move would be tantamount to the breakup of Pakistan. AT

IRANIAN PHYSICIAN: CANADIAN PHOTOJOURNALIST TORTURED, RAPED
Former Iranian Defense Ministry physician Shahram Azam said at a 30 March news conference in Ottawa that he examined Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi four days after her June 2003 arrest for taking pictures outside Evin prison, "The Globe and Mail" reported on 31 March. "Her entire body carried strange marks of violence," Azam said. He described "a big bruise on the right side of her forehead stretching down to the ear.... The membrane in one of her ears had recently burst, and a loose blood vessel could be seen...deep scratches behind her neck.... The right shoulder was bruised, and on the left hand two fingers were broken. Three fingers had broken nails or no nails." Kazemi's legs were flogged and a toe was crushed. There was severe bruising on her abdomen, "stretching over the thigh down to the knees," and a female nurse who examined Kazemi ascribed the bruising to "a very brutal rape" and said that "the entire genital area had been damaged." In July 2004 a Tehran court acquitted a security official for the "semi-intentional" killing of Kazemi (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 and 21 July 2003 and 9 August 2004). Azam is seeking asylum in Canada. BS

INTELLIGENCE COMMISSION'S FINDINGS ON IRAN CLASSIFIED
The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, which released its report for President George W. Bush on 31 March, discusses Iran's development of a nuclear capability (http://www.wmd.gov/report/). The commission studied intelligence reports and interviewed various weapons experts. But because the intelligence community's work on this topic is classified, the commission's assessments are not carried in the publicly available unclassified version of the report. Anonymous "officials who have been briefed on the panel's work" say it found there is inadequate intelligence on Iran's weapons program, "The New York Times" reported on 26 March. The commission is a nine-member panel organized by Bush in February 2004. BS

U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY PERCEIVES IRANIAN THREAT
A new U.S. Department of Homeland Security report warns that Iran continues to be a potential threat to the United States, "The New York Times" reported on 31 March. The threat from other state sponsors of terrorism -- Cuba, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria -- is described as a "diminishing concern." "Only Iran appears to have the possible future motivation to use terrorist groups, in addition to its own state agents, to plot against the U.S. homeland," according to the report. For the most part, the report asserts, "countries do not appear to be facilitating or supporting terrorist groups intent on striking the U.S. homeland." BS

U.S. COMMITTEE WORRIES IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Ali Larijani, the leading conservative presidential candidates, said during a 31 March visit to Babolsar in northern Iran that the United States has a new strategy on Iran, Fars News Agency reported. The strategy of the Committee on the Present Danger -- a U.S. bipartisan organization "dedicated to building a national consensus for a strong defense," according to its website -- Larijani said, initially "smells like war" but will end with a U.S. request for an embassy in Tehran. "In this way, they want to have an influence in Iran. The committee's policy paper (http://www.fightingterror.org/newsroom/CPD_Iran_policy_paper.pdf) describes Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as "a fundamental threat to peace" because of his pursuit of nuclear weapons, while the Iranian people "are our allies" and they want democracy. In addition to opening an embassy, the policy paper calls for support for "Iranian democrats and dissidents," sanctions that target Khamenei, and the allocation of at least $10 million a year for Internet, radio, and television. The paper calls for a direct dialogue with Tehran. BS

WORLD'S SHI'A COMMEMORATE ARBAIN
Shi'ite Muslims around the world commemorated Arbain on 31 March, international news agencies reported. Arbain is the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas at the hands of Yazid in Karbala in 680, as they fought over Muslim leadership. IRNA reported that visitors and mourners packed the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini at Tehran's Behesht-i Zahra cemetery. In Karbala, "The Washington Post" reported on 31 March, there were "sorrowful chants for Hussein, pounding drums, laments crackling from rickety speakers and the shuffle of thousands of feet converging on the city." Self-flagellation also took place. BS

RESISTANCE TO AL-JUBURI NOMINATION FOR IRAQI NATIONAL ASSEMBLY LEADERSHIP POST EMERGES...
A number of Iraqi parliamentarians have voiced their opposition to the proposed nomination of Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc leader Mish'an al-Juburi for the speaker's post in the transitional National Assembly, according to international media reports. Al-Juburi is a former Ba'athist who once had close ties to former President Saddam Hussein's late son, Uday. Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, head of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party, told Al-Jazeera on 31 March that al-Juburi represents some, but not all, Sunnis. Sunni Endowment head Adnan al-Dulaymi and Constitutional Monarchy Movement member Sheikh Bunayyan al-Jarba have each thrown their support behind Sunni parliamentarian Fawwaz al-Jarba, according to Arab media reports. Al-Juburi told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that he has the support of the "national resistance and the Ba'athists, Islamists, democrats, and tribes," the daily reported on 31 March. KR

...AS AL-JA'FARI EXPLAINS SHI'ITE POSITION
Prime ministerial contender and Shi'ite leader Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told Al-Arabiyah television that any National Assembly speaker should reflect the desire of the majority. Shi'ite leaders hinted earlier this week that they might bypass Sunnis and nominate a speaker of their choice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005). "Although the view of our Arab Sunni brothers is taken into consideration vis-a-vis the potential candidate, it remains a general parliamentary affair," al-Ja'fari said. "Hence, any candidate -- whether brother Mish'an al-Juburi or anyone else -- must enjoy the majority of votes whereby agreement in the parliament would be ensured before he is nominated." He added that any Sunnis nominated for the speaker's post will be scrutinized by the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance to "make sure the personality nominated enjoys the respect of various Sunni groups inside and outside the assembly, as well as the respect of non-Sunni Arabs." KR

IRAQI INTERIOR MINISTER CLAIMS DROP IN TERRORIST ATTACKS
Falah al-Naqib told Al-Arabiyah television in a 31 March interview that efforts by Iraqi security forces have contributed to a decline in terrorist attacks in recent months. "The battle with the terrorists is still continuing," al-Naqib said. "As you notice, sometimes the battle subsides, while at other times it escalates. However, in general the Iraqi Interior Ministry and security forces have managed to capture many terrorist pockets.... We have managed to achieve great success in this sphere." Al-Naqib said that security forces are making progress "in the field" and through "good intelligence action." "The battle with terrorism is not over yet, but I am certain that victory is close," he added. Meanwhile, officials in Kirkuk announced the arrest of four members of a terrorist cell purportedly responsible for the assassination of the local branch of the Islamic Scholars Association, the deputy police chief of the Miqdad police in Kirkuk, and the deputy commander of the National Guard in the city. The arrests led to the eventual capture of the cell's alleged leader, Muhammad Armiz Abd Isa, also known as Muhammad Hawijah. KR

U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ ANNOUNCE CAPTURE LAST YEAR OF AL-ZARQAWI AIDE
U.S. forces in Iraq reportedly captured a senior aide to Al-Qaeda-affiliated Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, AP reported on 31 March. The unidentified aide, who has U.S.-Jordanian citizenship, was captured in late 2004, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs Matthew Waxman said. Waxman described the aide as a personal associate of al-Zarqawi and an emissary to insurgent groups in several Iraqi cities. Waxman added that the aide is suspected of helping to coordinate the movement of money and insurgents into Iraq. The U.S. military has labeled the man an "enemy combatant," a move that it believes exempts him from prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions. He has however, been visited by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, AP reported. KR

ITALY ANNOUNCES IRAQ TROOP REDUCTION; BULGARIA TO PULL OUT
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced on 31 March that his country will withdraw some 300 troops from Iraq in September pending coalition and Iraqi government approval, theaustraliannews.com.au reported the same day. Italy is the fourth-largest contingent in Iraq with some 3,300 troops stationed in the south. The Bulgarian government has said that it will ask parliament to support a full troop withdrawal from Iraq, bbc.co.uk reported on 31 March. The Bulgarian parliament is expected to vote on the withdrawal by June, with troops gradually departing Iraq by December. Bulgarian government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev told reporters on 31 March that the withdrawal is contingent on approval by the coalition and the Iraqi government but said he expects the cabinet to ask parliament to authorize the Bulgarian contingent to carry out its mandate in Iraq until 31 December, in conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 1546, the BBC's website reported. KR

UKRAINIAN TROOPS LIKELY TO LEAVE IRAQ BY MID-OCTOBER
President Yushchenko told U.S. journalists in Kyiv on 31 March that Ukraine might withdraw its entire military contingent from Iraq by mid-October, Yushchenko's personal website reported. "This will be mid-October, but I do not rule out that days may be changed according to [the pullout] schedule," Yushchenko said. "Our conceptual position is that our soldiers should leave Iraq this year." JM

COURT MARTIAL FINDS U.S. SOLDIER GUILTY IN DEATH OF IRAQI
A U.S. military court martial in Wiesbaden, Germany, found Captain Rogelio Maynulet guilty of assault with intent to commit manslaughter on 31 March, bbc.co.uk reported the same day. Maynulet initially was charged with assault with intent to commit murder in the 2004 death of a seriously injured Iraqi, Karim Hassan, which following an assault by U.S. troops on his vehicle (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005). The manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Lieutenant Colin Cremin testified at the hearing that members of the unit involved in the incident, including Maynulet, said that Hassan "had half his brain hanging out, [and] there was nothing more that could be done for him" when he was found alive by U.S. troops. Maynulet fired two shots, killing Hassan in what he described to the court as a mercy killing. The prosecution in the case said Maynulet "played God" when he killed the Iraqi. "This combat-trained life saver prescribed two bullets. He didn't call his superiors for guidance, didn't consult with his medic," Major John Rothwell said. KR

REPORT SAYS PREWAR ASSESSMENTS 'DEAD WRONG' ABOUT IRAQI WMD
A report by the Commission on Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction told U.S. President George W. Bush in a letter presenting its report that the intelligence community was "dead wrong in almost all of its prewar judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction," adding, "This was a major intelligence failure." The commission identified the principal causes of the errors to the "intelligence community's inability to collect good information about Iraq's alleged [weapons-of-mass-destruction] programs, serious errors in analyzing what information it could gather, and failure to make clear just how much of its analysis was based on assumptions rather than good evidence." The recommendations made to the president by the commission include empowering the Office of the Director of National Intelligence with broad powers over the 15 intelligence agencies, bringing the Federal Bureau of Investigation "all the way into the intelligence community," and demanding more from intelligence analysts. (The full report can be found at http://www.washingtonpost.com.) KR

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