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Newsline - April 6, 2005


MOSCOW ASKS OSCE TO FOCUS LESS ON CIS AFFAIRS
Speaking to journalists in Sochi after a meeting between President Vladimir Putin and European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana on 5 April, presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said that Russia wants to reform the priorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), strana.ru and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July, 16 September, 20 October, 16 November, and 6 December 2004 and 14 January 2005). Yastrzhembskii said Putin supports the organization itself, but wants to refocus its activities. "In recent years, the OSCE has focused on the problems of the post-Soviet region, not paying any attention to the rest of Europe," he said. "We dislike this one-sided approach." Moscow has clashed with the OSCE in the past over Kremlin policies in Chechnya. Council for Foreign and Defense Policy President Sergei Karaganov told RIA-Novosti on 5 April that "the Russian political elite believes that Russian-EU relations are in a hidden crisis. There is no long-term constructive agenda for bilateral relations, and differences in Russian and European political values are becoming more acute." The next Russia-EU summit is scheduled to be held in Moscow on 10 May. VY

PRESIDENT MEETS WITH ABKHAZ LEADER
Vladimir President Putin met in Sochi on 5 April with Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, "Vremya novostei" reported on 6 April. No details of their talks were made public. LF

RUSSIA, CHINA REACH ACCORD ON OIL SUPPLIES
Presidential aide Viktor Ivanov said on 5 April during a visit to Beijing that Russia and China have resolved the uncertainty regarding Russian oil supplies to China, RIA-Novosti and other media reported. Ivanov said that there was some tension regarding this question sparked by the Yukos affair, since Yukos was the main Russian oil supplier to China, but that these concerns have now been allayed. According to the agreement, Russia will supply up to 10 million tons of oil by rail this year. The planned construction of a new pipeline from Irkutsk Oblast to the Far East coast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005), with a branch to China, will enable Russia to increase supplies in the medium term to 20 million to 30 million tons, Ivanov said. After the pipeline is completed, Russian oil supplies to China, including supplies delivered by tanker, could reach 80 million tons annually. Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Yevgenii Primakov, who accompanied Ivanov to Beijing, has announced that an agreement has been reached with the Chinese on expanding cooperation in the electricity-generating sector, RIA-Novosti reported on 3 April. Under the agreement, Chinese companies will allowed to build power plants in Russia independently, using Russian engineering products. VY

MINISTERS PROMISE FURTHER DIFFICULT REFORMS...
In a speech at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow on 5 April, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov said the ongoing administrative reforms and the reform to convert in-kind social benefits to cash payments are only the beginning of the administration's reform plans, polit.ru reported. He said that major reforms of education, health care, and housing and communal services are also set to be launched soon. Zhukov admitted that the government had done a poor job of explaining the monetization reform to the public and that it was poorly implemented. He added that people are tired of reforms in general. "People do not like the word 'reform' and we should change it to, say, 'improvement,'" Zhukov said. Speaking at the same conference, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said it will be difficult for Russia to maintain its current rate of economic growth and that, most likely, that rate will decline. "There are no more easy and popular reforms," Gref said. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said there are indications the Russian economy is overheated and that inflation could be accelerating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2005). VY

...AS INFLATION BEGINS TO ACCELERATE
Speaking at a convention of the National Association of Banks on 5 April, Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev said that the inflation rate for the first quarter of this year was 5.3 percent, compared to 3.5 percent for the same period last year, RIA-Novosti reported. He said that the annual inflation rate this year will likely exceed last year's. According to the Federal Statistics Committee, the inflation rate in Moscow during the first quarter was 5.6 percent and in St. Petersburg, it was 6.3 percent, RBK reported. VY

PUTIN TRIP TO ISRAEL ANNOUNCED
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced on 5 April that President Putin will visit Israel and the Palestinian Autonomy during a two-day trip to the Middle East beginning 27 April, newsru.com reported. The website commented that the trip and Putin's scheduled meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israeli President Moshe Katsav indicate that bilateral relations have not been harmed by media reports that Russia planned to sell antiaircraft missiles to Syria. VY

ELECTION CHIEF REJECTS REFERENDUM PROPOSAL
Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 5 April that the national referendum on President Putin's reform policies that was called for by the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005) is impossible because the law does not allow referendums on budgetary issues, pravda.ru reported. He said that many countries have similar restrictions on referendums. Vishnyakov did not comment on the questions on the proposed referendum concerning political and social issues such as the elimination of the direct election of regional governors, the maintenance of draft deferrals, and the access of the political opposition to state-controlled media. VY

BASHKORTOSTAN REPORTEDLY ON BRINK OF REVOLUTION...
Bashkortostan opposition leaders told reporters in Moscow on 5 April that they are preparing a protest in central Moscow against the Bashkir government on 7 April, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Ramil Bignov, chairman of the coordinating board of an umbrella opposition coalition, said the aim of the protest is to draw Moscow's attention to the republic's problems and to call for the resignation of Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov. Marat Khairullin, a reporter for "Novaya gazeta" and a member of the public commission investigating a controversial December police operation in Blagoveshchensk, told gazeta.ru that Bignov is a well-known businessman with his own financial resources. According to Khairullin, a revolution could occur in Bashkortostan at any moment. "If you saw the last demonstration on 27 March [in Ufa], you would have seen a real show of the opposition's strength. They gathered 20,000 people, who could have seized the [Bashkir] White House. There were calls for such a seizure, but Bignov stopped this," Khairullin said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005). On 1 May, Bashkortostan's opposition plans to erect a tent city near the presidential administration building in Ufa as part of its continuing campaign of protests in the republic. JAC

...AND OPPOSITION LEADER HAS TIES TO PRESIDENT'S SON
According to "Novaya politika" on 28 March, Bignov is a long-time business partner of Ural Rakhimov, President Rakhimov's son. According to the weekly, Ural Rakhimov hopes to hold on to his property in the republic while forcing his father to resign. Last month, "Kommersant-Daily" quoted an unidentified senior official in the Bashkir government on 2 March as saying President Rakhimov long ago concluded that he had given his son too much economic power in the republic and believes his son manages assets inefficiently. "Ural Rakhimov pursued business interests that constantly contradicted the interests of the elder Rakhimov as a state official," the source said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February and 9 March 2005). JAC

NEVZLIN PULLS PLUG ON FUNDING LIBERAL WEEKLY
In an interview with "Vremya novostei" on 5 April, self-exiled Menatep shareholder Leonid Nevzlin revealed that he has decided to suspend financing the weekly "Moskovskie novosti." Nevzlin said he thinks the newspaper "is better now than it used to be." "Its English edition and website have improved," he said, but the newspaper has not begun to show a profit or reduce its dependence on subsidies. "Moskovskie novosti" spokeswoman Tatyana Blinova told Interfax that Nevzlin's plan to cease funding the paper will not affect its operations and a new issue will be out on 8 April. On 3 April, the weekly's supervisory board recommended that all employees whom Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev fired last month be rehired, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2005). The board also confirmed Kiselev as general director of MN publishing group. JAC

RUSSIA TO HAVE A NEW MAN IN MINSK
Former Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has announced that he will be appointed Russian ambassador to Belarus, "Komsomolskaya pravda v Belarussii" reported on 5 April. According to the publication, Ayatskov told World War II veterans in Saratov on 31 March that President Putin has already made this decision. Ayatskov told the daily he has already visited Belarus and that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told him he is hoping Ayatskov will be Russia's last ambassador to Belarus as the countries move toward integration. Also on 5 April, Saratov Oblast's new governor, Pavel Ipatov, was inaugurated, RFE/RL's Saratov correspondent reported. According to the correspondent, Ayatskov plans to take up his post in Minsk in May. JAC

GUBERNATORIAL APPOINTMENTS ANALYZED...
Writing on politcom.ru on 5 April, Mikhail Vinogradov, director of the political consulting department of PRopaganda, concludes that there is no discernible "unified logic" to the appointments made by the presidential administration during the first three months of operating under the new system of appointing governors. For example, Vinogradov wrote, the communist governor of Tver Oblast, Vasilii Starodubtsev, was replaced, but communist governors in Kursk and Vladimir oblasts were retained. At the same time, according to Vinogradov, "the continuation of the responsibilities of Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin and the appointment of Oleg Kozhemyako to head the Koryak Autonomous Okrug show that the federal center is not too concerned about the necessity of improving the reputations of regional administrations. The only cleansing Kremlin has undertaken was the removal of Governor [Vladimir] Butov in the Nenets Autonomous Okrug." JAC

...AS FIVE REGIONS CONSIDERED VULNERABLE TO ORANGE REVOLUTION
According to Vinogradov in the same politcom.ru article, there are five regional leaders, who face significant public and elite opposition locally and whose reappointment could trigger scandals or possible "orange" revolutions: Bashkortostan President Rakhimov, Ingushetia President Murat Zyazikov, Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Karachaevo-Cherkessia President Mustafa Batdyev, and North Ossetia President Aleksandr Dzasokhov. JAC

FAR NORTHERN REGIONAL OFFICIALS FIND LOTS OF REASONS TO RETIRE?
Ten officials in Koryak Autonomous Okrug have tendered their resignations, ostensibly because they have reached retirement age, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported on 5 April. However, members of the okrug's parliament claim the officials want to resign because of their involvement in the okrug's energy crisis. Last month, President Putin dismissed okrug Governor Vladimir Loginov because of the crisis, and Loginov's deputy, Mikhail Sokolovskii, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for abuse of office in connection with the heating-fuel shortage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 14, and 16 March 2005). Presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii said at the time that more trials could be expected. Regnum noted that on 4 April the okrug parliament passed amendments to a local law that canceled a bonus of five monthly wages paid to bureaucrats when they retire. The amendments come into force on 14 April. JAC

CHECHNYA REVERSES DECISION ON RUSSIAN MILITARY DRAFT
Young men of draft age will not be inducted into the Russian armed forces from Chechnya during this year's spring call-up, ITAR-TASS quoted Chechen Military Commissar Major-General Saidselim Tsuev as saying on local television on 5 April. Tsuev did not give any explanation for that decision, which runs counter to pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov's announcement on 27 January that after a two-year hiatus, young men from Chechnya will again be drafted into the Russian armed forces in 2005. Alkhanov added that the Chechen draftees would serve in construction and railroad battalions, and could also be drafted into the border troops to serve on the Chechen section of the Russian-Georgian border, according to ITAR-TASS on 27 January. Tsuev estimated the number of draft-age men in Chechnya at approximately 7,000. LF

CHECHEN ARRESTED FOR MURDER OF AID WORKERS
A 31-year-old Chechen, Adam Dzhabrailov, has been arrested and is being interrogated in connection with the murder in December 1996 of six Red Cross medical personnel in the village of Starye Atagi, south of Grozny, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 April, quoting Chechen Prosecutor General Vladimir Kravchenko (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 17 and 18 December 1996). Dzhabrailov was apprehended during a sweep operation in the village of Mesker-Yurt, Interfax reported on 5 April quoting an unnamed police spokesman. LF

RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT CONFIRMS DATE FOR NEXT MEETING OF ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTERS
Yurii Merzlyakov, who is the Russian co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, announced in Moscow on 5 April that Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov will meet in London on 15 April under the Minsk Group aegis to continue their talks on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Merzlyakov added that the co-chairmen will unveil new proposals for resolving the conflict that will require major concessions from both sides, but gave no details of those proposals. A planned meeting between Oskanian and Mammadyarov in Prague in early March was postponed because Oskanian fell ill with pneumonia. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT AFFIRMS READINESS FOR DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITION...
Responding to comments by U.S. Ambassador to Baku Reno Harnish in a recent interview with the daily "Gun" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005), Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov said on 5 April that the authorities and opposition should give "serious thought" to resolving their differences at the negotiating table, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 5 and 6 April, respectively. Parliament deputy Fazail Agamaly of the pro-government Ata Veten party likewise called for a "civilized dialogue at the negotiating table." But Agamaly also expressed the hope that the opposition will shelve its plans to hold a mass demonstration in Baku on 10 April, a statement that raises the question whether, if the opposition goes ahead with those plans, the authorities will blame them for sabotaging the proposed dialogue. LF

...WHICH CONTINUES TO PREPARE FOR MASS PROTEST
Also on 5 April, the leaders of the opposition Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) met to discuss preparations for the 10 April protest, zerkalo.az and echo-az.com reported. AHCP leader Ali Kermimli told journalists that they have proposed to the Baku municipal authorities four alternative routes for a march through the city, and will go ahead with the protest even if the city council fails to grant permission for it. LF

SUPREME COURT REJECTS AZERBAIJANI CLERIC'S APPEAL
Azerbaijan's Court rejected on 5 April in a six-minute hearing an appeal by Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, imam of the unregistered Djuma mosque in Baku, of the five-year suspended sentence handed down to him by the Court for Grave Crimes one year ago, Turan reported. Ibrahimoglu was found guilty of helping to organize the protests in Baku in October 2003 against the apparent falsification of the outcome of the presidential ballot (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report, " 30 January 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March and 1 and 13 April 2004). On 4 April, border guards at Baku airport prevented Ibrahimoglu from boarding a flight for Geneva to testify before the UN Commission on Human Rights, Turan reported. The border guards said they have orders not to allow Ibrahimoglu to leave Azerbaijan. He was similarly barred from leaving the country on four separate occasions last year. LF

OPPOSITION LEADER CHALLENGES GEORGIAN PRESIDENT TO TELEVISED DEBATE
Speaking on 5 April at a protest outside the Georgian parliament building convened by the opposition Labor Party of which he is chairman, Shalva Natelashvili challenged President Mikheil Saakashvili to a televised debate, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. The demonstrators criticized the Georgian leadership's policies as "destructive" and "anti-national." LF

GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER QUESTIONS AUTHENTICITY OF MATERIALS INCRIMINATING SUBORDINATE
The daily "Rezonansi" on 6 April quoted Finance Minister Valeri Chechelashvili as saying he believes tape recordings incriminating Financial Police head David Kezerashvili in illegal dealings involving automobiles were fabricated, Caucasus Press reported. The tape recordings, which were made public by the opposition Conservative Party, appear to register a conversation between Kezerashvili and his friend and former deputy, Zurab Tserodze, who was fired for alleged drug addiction. Conservative Party leader Zviad Dzidziguri told the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 4 April that the government pressured the independent Imedi television station not to air the tapes the previous day. LF

CORRECTION:
The opinion poll conducted by the Gorbi research institute, the findings of which were summarized in "RFE/RL Newsline" on 5 April, was not undertaken at the request of the Georgian government. The opinion that several government ministers are not the most appropriate people for the positions they currently occupy was the finding of a separate poll conducted among 500 respondents by the weekly "Kviris palitra." LF

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT FAILS TO GATHER QUORUM TO ACCEPT PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION...
Kyrgyzstan's parliament, which had planned to review ousted President Askar Akaev's resignation petition on 5 April, rescheduled the session for 6 April after failing to gather a quorum on 5 April, akipress.org reported. Fifteen of the legislature's 75 deputies were absent, Kabar reported. According to Deputy Speaker Bolot Sherniyazov, the seven-member parliamentary delegation that had held talks with Akaev in Moscow did not manage to return to Bishkek in time for the session. DK

...AS ACTING PROSECUTOR-GENERAL URGES IMPEACHMENT
Acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov announced on 5 April that parliament should initiate impeachment proceedings against ousted President Akaev, who is currently in Russia, for his flight from the country after the 24 March unrest, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "Impeachment and the acceptance of a voluntary resignation are two different things," Beknazarov said, according to akipress.org. "I propose rejecting Akaev's resignation and impeaching him, since he fled." A number of NGOs and political parties held a demonstration in Bishkek attended by 70 people on 5 April calling for Akaev's impeachment, RFE/RL reported. For his part, Akaev commented: "It is in the interests of the authorities to accept my resignation in accordance with the constitution at a session of parliament. Otherwise, they will complicate an already complicated situation." DK

FREED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID
Feliks Kulov, the leader of Kyrgyzstan's Ar-Namys party, told Deutsche Welle in an interview on 4 April that he plans to run in 26 June presidential election, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the next day. "If the issue of my vindication is resolved, I'll run," Kulov said, according to akipress.org. Kulov had been serving a prison term on corruption charges widely viewed as politically motivated when he was freed by anti-Akaev protestors on 24 March. He said that the Prosecutor-General's Office is preparing a motion on his case for the Supreme Court. In the interview, Kulov said he feels it would be best if ousted President Akaev returned to Bishkek to submit his resignation. Kulov criticized the current government led by acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, saying, "certain ministries are headed by nonprofessionals and non-opposition figures." He stated that Bakiev, who also plans to seek the presidency, has yet to define his political program. Kulov described his own program as "fairly simple." "We are supporters of a market economy, democratic transformations, and friendship with all of our neighbors," he said. DK

NEW FIGURES LOWER KYRGYZ LOOTING DAMAGE
Interior Ministry spokesman Nurdin Jangaraev announced on 5 April that preliminary estimates of damage from looting on the night of 24 March are 641 million soms ($15 million), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Jangaraev warned, however, that the eventual total could be considerably higher. An earlier estimate had put the damage at $100 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2005). Jangaraev said that 58 people are currently in custody in connection with the looting and 165 criminal cases have been opened, akipress.org reported. DK

ACTING KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MAKES FURTHER APPOINTMENTS
On 5 April, akipress.org published a list of appointments to top government posts by Prime Minister and acting President Bakiev on 4-5 April. They are: Alevtina Pronenko, acting minister of labor; Cholponbek Abykeev, presidential adviser; Miroslav Niyazov, secretary of the Security Council; Abdimalik Anarbaev, acting minister of agriculture and water (replacing Aleksandr Kostyuk); Avazbek Atakhanov, presidential spokesman (replacing Abdil Segizbaev); and Turgunbek Kulmurzaev, governor of Chuy Province. DK

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS TAJIKISTAN...
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov arrived in Tajikistan on 5 April to observe the final stage of the Rubezh-2005 military exercises on 6 April, Interfax-AVN reported. He met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov to discuss bilateral cooperation, Avesta reported. Ivanov also met with Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev to sign documents transferring the Nurek space-surveillance facility to Russian ownership, Interfax-AVN reported. Ivanov told reporters that Russia plans to invest 1.12 billion rubles ($40.27 million) in its military base in Tajikistan over the next two to three years. DK

...AND SAYS RUSSIA WAS PREPARED TO EVACUATE CITIZENS FROM KYRGYZSTAN
Defense Minister Ivanov told reporters on 5 April that Russia was ready to evacuate its citizens from Kyrgyzstan during recent unrest, Interfax-AVN reported. "After the outbreak of vandalism and looting in Bishkek late on 24 March and early on 25 March, I made the decision to send four military transport planes to the Kant airbase, which is a Russian territory, to evacuate Russian citizens and possibly citizens of other states," Ivanov said. Ivanov stressed, however, that Russia had no plans to intervene in what he termed a "strictly internal conflict," akipress.org reported. "The internal political processes in Kyrgyzstan are not yet finished, but the main crisis is already over," he said. DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO INDIA
Islam Karimov held talks on economic cooperation with a number of high-ranking officials on the second day of a three-day visit to India on 5 April, news agencies reported. Karimov met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, and Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Uzbek Television reported. Karimov invited India's Oil and Natural Gas Commission and Gas Authority of India Limited to explore investment opportunities in Uzbekistan's energy sector, All India Radio reported. A spokesman for India's External Affairs Ministry told a 5 April briefing that Uzbekistan will also open a trading house in India, the ministry reported on its website (http://meaindia.nic.in/). The spokesman cited a common concern with terrorism and a desire to increase trade as the main themes of the visit, noting that bilateral trade volume last year was $150 million. Twelve cooperation agreements are expected to be signed during the visit. DK

UZBEKISTAN LAUNCHES CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST U.S.-BASED MEDIA-ASSISTANCE GROUP
Uzbekistan's Prosecutor-General's Office has launched a criminal case against the U.S.-based media-support group Internews for allegedly working in Uzbekistan without a license, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 5 April. Svetlana Ortiqova, a spokesperson for the Prosecutor-General's Office, said, "Internews network carried out its activities without a license, and a criminal case has been opened against it. Prosecutors are investigating the case now." The head of the Internews office in Tashkent said the organization has not yet received any official notification of the charges. Josh Machleder, Internews' regional program manager for Central Asia, told RFE/RL that Internews is the latest international organization to experience problems in Uzbekistan. In 2004, George Soros's Open Society Institute lost its registration in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004) and the registration of Internews' Tashkent office was suspended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 September and 29 October 2004). DK

BELARUS OPPOSITION FIGURE WAIVES RIGHT TO LEGAL COUNSEL AT TRIAL
Andrey Klimau, an opposition activist who intends to run for president in 2006, has waived his right to legal counsel in his trial scheduled to begin on 6 April. He is accused of slandering Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in three books and a leaflet he authored. A statement released by state investigator Alyaksandr Pikaraw and cited by Belapan, notes that Klimau, "being an active opponent of the government system in the Republic of Belarus, guided by personal interests, seeking to fake opposition activities through provocative means and aiming to publicly defame the president of the Republic of Belarus, authored, arranged the publication and distribution of books and leaflets containing insults and knowingly false, humiliating information with regard to the president of the Republic of Belarus..." In an interview with Belapan, Klimau stated "I have deliberately rejected the help of attorneys. I know whom I'm up against, [I know] that I'm a state criminal for the Belarusian court and I have no illusions about the trial. That's why I'm ready to talk to these people from any viewpoint, but not from the point of view of the Belarusian laws because it is useless." RK

U.S., UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS AGREE TO SUPPORT DEMOCRACY IN BELARUS
The United States and Ukraine will support the advance of freedom in Belarus, declared U.S. President George W. Bush and Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in a joint statement released on 4 April. "We also commit to work together to back reform, democracy, tolerance, and respect for all communities, and peaceful resolution of conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, and to support the advance of freedom in countries such as Belarus and Cuba," the statement said. "We share a goal to spread freedom to other nations," said Bush, according to Belapan. Belarus leaders have not yet commented on the declaration. RK

YUSHCHENKO'S TRIP TO U.S. CONTINUES
Ukrainian President Yushchenko's visit to the United States continued after his meeting in Washington with U.S. President Bush on 4 April, with Yushchenko flying to Chicago where he met with local businesspeople and urged them to invest in Ukraine. He also spoke with members of Chicago's large Ukrainian-American community and thanked them for their efforts on behalf of their ancestral homeland. Yushchenko's wife, Katerina Chumachenko, was born in Chicago. Yushchenko is scheduled to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress on 6 April. RK

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL RENEWS CHORNOVIL INVESTIGATION
The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 5 April that it has begun a new investigation into the 1999 death of the former leader of the Rukh party, Vyacheslav Chornovil, Interfax reported. Chornovil, a Soviet-era political prisoner known for exposing political arrests in Ukraine in the 1970s via samizdat, was killed in a highway accident when the car he was riding in collided with a Kamaz truck on 25 March 1999. At the time many of his supporters claimed that he was the victim of an "arranged collision" and blamed the administration of then President Leonid Kuchma for his death. That same year, Yevhen Marchuk, the former head of the security service, announced he had been given a video recording of police officers claiming they were ordered to arrange Chornovil's death. Afterwards Marchuk said he had lost the video. RK

BALKAN FOREIGN MINISTERS GET EUROATLANTIC PERSPECTIVE...
The foreign ministers of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia-Montenegro discussed regional cooperation in Durres, Albania, at an informal meeting on 5 April, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" and dpa reported. Their special guest was German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who encouraged the countries to promote regional integration and economic cooperation in preparation for EU and NATO membership in what he called a "Euroatlantic perspective." Fischer stressed the need to cooperate fully with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and pledged to work for a solution of the Kosova status question that will be acceptable to the Serbs and Albanians alike (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004 and 25 February and 25 March 2005). In Berlin, opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP) member of parliament Rainer Stinner criticized Fischer in a press release on 6 April for not stressing that the EU must take an "unmistakable leading role [in Kosova] in the near future," and that Germany should provide leadership to that end. PM

...IN A SLOW WAITING LINE
Before the foreign ministers met in Durres on 5 April, Albanian Foreign Minister Kastriot Islami told Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service that the countries of the region have made great progress in recent years in political and diplomatic cooperation and now need to concentrate on economic matters. Croatia is farthest advanced of the five countries in its bid for EU membership but is held up primarily by the government's failure to find and arrest fugitive war crimes indictee and former general Ante Gotovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2005). Albania began negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement over one year ago but has made little progress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002 and 26 May 2004 and 2 February 2005). Macedonia has formally applied for EU membership, but many in Brussels consider the move premature (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 October 2004 and 25 February 2005). Bosnia has yet to start talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, while Serbia and Montenegro awaits a feasibility study on starting such talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 30 December 2004 and 25 January and 8 and 11 February 2005). PM

SERBIAN SECURITY CHIEF REBUKES FOREIGN MINISTER
In response to Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic's recent assertion that the Serbian authorities are protecting fugitive war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, Serbian intelligence agency (BIA) head Rade Bulatovic told the 6 April "Financial Times" that Draskovic is simply seeking to score points in a turf war with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. Bulatovic called Draskovic's charges "ridiculous" and added that the BIA deserves not criticism but rather credit for encouraging war crimes indictees to turn themselves in to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal voluntarily (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005). Bulatovic is a close ally of Kostunica. PM

MACEDONIA HAILS POPE JOHN PAUL II AS 'AN ALLY'
Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski has sent a letter of condolence to the Vatican and to Macedonian Catholic Church head Bishop Kiro Stojanov, the state Information Agency (http://www.sinf.gov.mk) reported on 5 April, saying the entire world will miss the moral authority and humanity of the late Pope John Paul II. "His Holiness was not only a religious pontiff but a restless fighter for better relations among peoples, states, civilizations, and religions [which] has brought him respect of millions of people," Buckovski wrote. The prime minister noted the pontiff's good relations with Macedonia and the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC), which is not recognized by other Orthodox churches as a separate church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 27 September and 13 October 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 July 2002 and 23 January and 6 August 2004). "[Macedonia] has lost an ally and supporter of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Macedonian Orthodox church lost its friend, a person who primarily respected its autonomy status," Buckovski added. In a similar letter, the MPC leadership also underscored John Paul's II respect for that church and its autocephalous status. After the pontiff's death, Macedonian media recalled the frequent visits of Macedonian politicians to the Vatican (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005). UB

KOSOVA'S SERBS PRESENT DIFFERING IDEAS ON STATUS TALKS
The representatives of those Kosovar Serb parties that took part in the 2004 parliamentary elections generally want to participate in talks on the province's future status, while those parties that followed Belgrade's call to boycott the vote want the Serbian authorities to negotiate for them, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service broadcasters reported on 4 April (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 18 February, and 25 March 2005). Oliver Ivanovic of the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija told RFE/RL that Kosova's Serbs must take part in the negotiations that will determine their future, even though Belgrade will also be involved. Kosova's Minister of Returns Slavisa Petkovic, who is the only Serb willing to serve in the current Kosovar government, said that Kosova's Serbs must take their future into their own hands because they and Belgrade have different interests. But Marko Jaksic of the Serbian National Council (SNV) said that the right to negotiate is "exclusively Belgrade's." PM

MOLDOVA TO STEP UP ANTITRAFFICKING MEASURES
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has announced plans to open an antitrafficking center to curb human smuggling, BASA reported on 5 April. Vornonin made his comments following meetings with Jean Fournet, NATO's deputy secretary-general for public diplomacy, who was in Chisinau for an official visit. Voronin also requested some form of international monitoring of the Transdniester section of the Moldova-Ukraine border. International controls there "would put a barrier to smuggling, trafficking in people and weapons so typical of that region," Voronin said. Voronin also said his country wants to upgrade its participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, which Chisinau joined in 1994, and to continue joint research projects with the alliance. BW

MOLDOVAN DEFENSE MINISTER PLEDGES TO REFORM ARMED FORCES
Valeriu Plesca said Moldova intends to upgrade its armed forces to European standards, BASA reported on 5 April. "Moldova has strongly declared its stance to promote a firm policy on integration in the European Union. The reformation of the national security system is part of this policy," Plesca said the same day. NATO Deputy Secretary-General Fournet, who met with Plesca, said the alliance is prepared to initiate an Individual Action Plan for Moldova aimed at deeper cooperation with the bloc. "The door of NATO is open to countries which want to participate in a dialogue with us and, personally, I will support the dialogue with Moldova, but the biggest responsibility for construction of these relations rests with your country," Fournet added. BW

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CIVIL SERVICE UPGRADE
President Voronin said on 5 April that Moldova must upgrade and reform its civil service and public administration systems to bring it in line with European standards, Infotag reported the same day. In a message to an international conference in Chisinau on civil service in newly independent states, Voronin wrote that Moldova needs a well-trained corps of civil servants capable of promoting the values and principals of democratic governance. He added that a reformed civil service is also necessary for Moldova's integration into European institutions. BW

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION LEADER SLAMS DEFECTORS OVER VOTE
Opposition leader Serafim Urechean sharply criticized the politicians who won election to parliament with his Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) and then defected to vote for Voronin's reelection as president, AP Flux reported on 5 April. Dumitru Diacov, leader of the Democratic Party and Oleg Serebrian of the Social-Liberal Party split from the BMD in moves Urechean described as "betrayal" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 25, and 31 March, and 5 April 2005). "They used us to get into the parliament, understanding that their parties could not have gotten there on their own," Urechean said. "This behavior proves that Diacov and Serebrian are looking for positions in the [framework] of the future administration." Urechean added that "the Communists proposed the position of vice president of the parliament" to the BMD "in order to vote for Voronin, but our electors voted for us not to be for sale," Urechean said. The faction representing the remainder of the BMD in parliament, which Urechean leads, is called the Our Moldova Alliance. BW

CHOICE OF IRAQI PARLIAMENT SPEAKER REVEALS SUNNI DISCORD
Iraqi Sunnis successfully nominated fellow parliamentarian Hajim al-Hassani as speaker of the National Assembly on 3 April. The choice followed several days of internal friction and disagreements with the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) over a Sunni candidate. Such friction suggests a growing fissure between mainstream Sunnis and the Muslim Scholars Association, a group that claims to represent some 3,000 mosques in Iraq.

Shi'ite leaders had supported the first Sunni nominee, interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir. But al-Yawir declined to accept the nomination, which he considered a demotion from his current position. Al-Yawir's decision left the 17 Sunni parliamentarians scrambling to find a nominee who was acceptable to them and to the Shi'ite and Kurdish lists that together constitute a majority in the parliament. The events that followed demonstrated the diversity within the Sunni constituency, as their representatives struggled to find a compromise candidate who would represent both secular and Islamist Sunnis, as well as all of Iraq's citizenry.

After the Sunnis failed to nominate a new speaker at the 29 March session, Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc head Mish'an al-Juburi proclaimed himself the new Sunni nominee on 1 April. Veteran Sunni politician Adnan al-Pachachi confirmed the nomination, saying Sunni leaders participating in the National Forces Front (also called the National Front and Dialogue Council) had agreed on al-Juburi. The front reportedly represents Sunni religious, political, and tribal groups including the Iraqi Islamic Party, the Council of National Dialogue, the Ifta Council, and the Shura Council of Ahl al-Sunnah wa Al-Jama'ah, as well as Sufi and Salafist groups. "This front is considered the ultimate authority for approving or choosing the candidates who are reserved for the Sunni community," said Pachachi, according to a 2 April report by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI). Some members of the Muslim Scholars Association also belong to the front, although the association does not officially participate in it.

Shi'ite leaders quickly made it known that they would not accept al-Juburi, a former Ba'athist and associate of Saddam Hussein's family, as speaker. They contended that the al-Juburi nomination did not represent all Sunni groups and therefore could not be considered. Thousands of Iraqis reportedly demonstrated in Tikrit on 2 April in favor of al-Juburi's nomination. But in an effort to pressure Sunnis to find another candidate, Shi'ite leaders fired back, threatening to nominate their own speaker. The Sunni party Constitutional Monarchy Movement also expressed dissatisfaction with the al-Juburi nomination, claiming instead to support United Iraqi Alliance candidate Fawwaz al-Jarba for the position.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi public expressed growing frustration over the delay. The frustration was brushed off however, by United Iraqi Alliance leader and prime ministerial candidate Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, who told washingtonpost.com on 3 April: "The reason it took time to reach this first stage is because there's a difference between dictatorship and democracy. Dictatorship takes a short time. Democracy takes a longer time, because people need to negotiate with each other to get the best results." Al-Juburi meanwhile, accused the United Iraqi Alliance of attempting to establish "hegemony" over the Sunni choice by driving a wedge between Sunni groups.

The United Iraqi Alliance's threat put Sunnis on the defensive but nonetheless produced the desired effect. Al-Hassani was nominated and elected speaker. United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) candidate Husayn al-Shahristani and Kurdistan Coalition candidate Arif Tayfur were elected deputy speakers.

Speaking to RFI on 3 April, al-Juburi said of his withdrawal: "I find it to be in the national interest that the political process is successful, [and] I believe that doctor Hajim [al-Hasani] is a convenient [candidate] too, and that he will fulfill the same role that I had expected myself to fulfill. He is a person able to represent the interests of the people who elected me and chose me for this post." Al-Juburi added that he did not want to give the impression of craving posts and titles, and consequently informed prime ministerial candidate al-Ja'fari, interim President al-Yawir, and acting assembly speaker Dari al-Fayyad of his decision.

Al-Juburi told Al-Jazeera in a 4 April interview that the United Iraqi Alliance offered to withdraw its candidate for the post in exchange for al-Juburi's withdrawal from the race. "Our position...has been that we objected to the UIA naming one of its members [a reference to the UIA's Sunni candidate, Fawwaz al-Jarba,] who won votes of the Shi'ite list and the Shi'ite voters as a representative of the Sunni Arabs to assume one of the primary positions. We had what we wanted. Therefore, we made them withdraw this candidate." Al-Juburi said that he accepted al-Hassani as the speaker and conceded that his own nomination would not have been accepted. "I adopt anti-de-Ba'athification principles and I talk about liberation. I denounced terrorist operations, but I support the noble national resistance, which targets the Hummer, the occupation. I believe these principles are unacceptable to others."

The internal friction among the Sunni groups is best reflected in the growing realization by some Sunnis that they should distance themselves from the Muslim Scholars Association led by Harith al-Dari, which has served as the leading proponent of the "resistance." One example of the friction is the recent issuance of a fatwa, or religious edict, by 64 Sunni clerics calling on Iraqis to join the army and police to protect citizens' lives, property, and honor. The intention of the fatwa appears to be more of an attempt to temper the Shi'ite and Kurdish domination of the security services than an offer of Sunni reconciliation or a contribution to Iraq's democratic development. Hardly a full-fledged endorsement of the new government, the fatwa said in part, "The army and police are the safety valves [of Iraqi society] and they are the army of the entire nation and not militias of a special faction or party." Nevertheless, it sparked outrage among some members of the Muslim Scholars Association, which issued a statement denying its support of the edict.

Association members Harith al-Ubaydi and Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i (the imam who announced the fatwa) have reportedly left the association and joined the Iraqi Islamic Party. National Assembly Speaker Al-Hassani was a member of the party but withdrew his membership last year after party leader Muhsin Abd al-Hamid ordered all members to withdraw from the interim government. The party later expressed regret for following the association's lead and boycotting January's elections.

The association, meanwhile, has launched accusations at Sunni leaders Pachachi and Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn (Constitutional Monarchy Movement) and at Shi'ite leader Ahmad Chalabi, claiming all three men have attempted to ride the wave of resistance in order to achieve personal gains, "Al-Hayat" reported on 4 April. All three men have claimed to have established contacts with members of the resistance interested in taking part in the government. Association member Khalid Fakhri al-Jumayli told the daily, "They want to deceive the resistance and are giving promises they cannot fulfill in an attempt to extinguish the political program of the resistance." He added that certain positions taken by the association have also "helped split the Arab Sunni's political rank and weaken their representation in the parliamentary elections process."

Sunnis are pressing for a more equitable distribution of cabinet posts, a demand that might be resisted by Shi'ites and Kurds. "We will not accept only four ministries for the Sunni Arabs. We want as many ministerial portfolios as designated for the Kurds. This is how things were during the first and second governments," Pachachi told Al-Jazeera on 1 April.

Ali al-Rubay'i, spokesman for Ayatollah Muhammad Ishaq al-Fayyad, told washingtonpost.com that Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has advised the United Iraqi Alliance to give the Sunnis control over either the foreign or defense minister posts, with the other post going to the Kurds, the website reported on 3 April. The United Iraqi Alliance would retain control over the Interior Ministry and intelligence services -- posts that some Sunnis believe they have a right to administer.

SOUTHEASTERN REPRESENTATIVES CRITICAL OF AFGHAN PRESIDENT
Elders from Paktiya Province have criticized Hamid Karzai for not addressing the problems of their province, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 5 April. Malak Modir, identified as a tribal elder, complained at a community gathering that Paktiya is not represented in the Afghan government and officials from Kabul ignore the provincial problems. Wakil Gol Mangal and Aminullah Zazi told the gathering that 94 percent of the voters in Paktiya supported Karzai's presidential bid, but "he hasn't even given 40 percent of his time and efforts" to address the problems of the Paktiya region. A female attendee at the gathering, Sharifa Zurmati Wardak, discussed the issue of women's rights and warned that "old habits from the past eras," such as forced marriages, are returning to Paktiya. Paktiya supported Karzai's candidacy with 95.6 percent of votes, second only to Khost Province, south of Paktiya. AT

AFGHAN LEADER RECEIVES JAPANESE FOREIGN MINISTER
President Karzai on 5 April received Nobutaka Machimura, who is on a short visit to Kabul, Afghanistan Television reported. Machimura said his country will continue to support Afghanistan's reconstruction projects until the country stands on its own feet. Since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001, Japan has provided $900 million to Afghanistan. Karzai expressed his gratitude for Tokyo's policies toward his country and indicated that Afghanistan supports Japan's ambition for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, Jiji Press reported on 5 April. AT

NORTHERN AFGHAN WARLORD MEETS U.S. ENVOY
General Abdul Rashid Dostum on 4 April met with Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad in Kabul, Jowzjan Aina Television reported. Dostum, who was recently appointed as the chief of staff of the High Command of the Armed Forces of Afghanistan, discussed the country's armed forces with Khalilzad. According to the report, Dostum is expected to begin his new position "in the very near future." When Karzai appointed the controversial Dostum to the largely symbolic post in March, human rights activists questioned the move (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 March 2005). Despite his government appointments, Dostum has thus far refused to leave his northern stronghold and relocate to Kabul, even when he was officially deputy defense minister. AT

WOMEN ATTACK GERMAN SOLDIERS IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan women and children attacked vehicles carrying German soldiers on 3 April in Qara Moghol village, Badakhshan Province, the Kabul daily "Cheragh" reported on 4 April. The angry crowd hurled stones at the vehicles, breaking windows and injuring two Germans attached to the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) based in Fayzabad, the provincial capital. Afghans claimed they attacked the Germans for taking photographs of women returning from a wedding party -- an act in contradiction with traditional Afghan culture -- while the Germans deny that claim. Leaders from Qara Moghol and other villages in Badakhshan called on Governor Abdul Majid to assure that local representatives or members of the Afghan security forces travel with the German-led PRT when it goes to the area. Abdul Majid met with representatives of Qara Moghol and assured them there will be no more problems. He said the Germans traveled to the village without notifying local authorities beforehand. AT

IRANIAN POLICE CHIEF'S RESIGNATION ACCEPTED
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accepted police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf's resignation, ISNA reported on 5 April. Qalibaf resigned so he can run in the 17 June presidential election. The daily "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 5 April that Qalibaf will be succeeded by his deputy, General Ali Abdullahi, and it questioned Abdullahi's ability to meet the position's responsibilities for counternarcotics efforts and intercepting smugglers. "Siyasat-i Ruz" urged Qalibaf not to leave the police force and to continue to serve the country. BS

REFORMIST CANDIDATE WARNS HIS SUPPORTERS
Reformist presidential candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said in a late March meeting with officials from his election headquarters that in recent years he has warned of the military's involvement in political affairs, the daily "Etemad" reported on 3 April. "[I] have repeatedly condemned it and have openly criticized them," he said. Karrubi said it is a mistake to ignore the actions of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, the Basij, the Guardians Council, the Judiciary, the Special Court for the Clergy, and agencies affiliated with the supreme leader. Karrubi said his attitude toward these institutions includes "strong reactions" when he was not in office and a "respectful but firm stance" when he was speaker of parliament. "I am confident that if people elect me I will solve many of the existing problems by making use of the same methods," he said. BS

IMAM KHOMEINI AIRPORT TO REOPEN THIS MONTH
Deputy Roads and Transport Minister and Civil Aviation Organization Chief Nurollah Rezai-Niaraki told Iranian state radio on 5 April that the Imam Khomeini International Airport will reopen on 30 April. All flights to and from the United Arab Emirates will begin using the airport on that date, and other international carriers will be invited to use the airport after that date. Domestic flights will continue to use Mehrabad Airport. Islamic Revolution Guards Corps personnel closed the Imam Khomeini airport on its first day of operation in the spring of 2004 on the grounds that the role of a Turkish firm -- TAV -- in operating the facility posed a security risk (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 April and 17 May 2004). The legislature interpellated Roads and Transport Minister Ahmad Khoram after the airport's closure concerning the giving of the contract to the Turkish company. Current Roads and Transport Minister Mohammad Rahmati said on 5 April that the cabinet has not decided what to do about the TAV contract, Iranmania.com reported, citing ISNA. After the airport reopens, he said, Iran Air and another firm with majority Iranian shareholders will operate it. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT WILL ATTEND POPE'S FUNERAL
Iranian Ambassador to Rome Bahram Qassemi confirmed on 5 April that President Mohammad Khatami will attend the funeral of Pope John Paul II on 8 April, IRNA reported. In Iran, Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi has expressed condolences over the pope's death and encouraged members of all faiths to work for peace and justice, "Etemad" reported on 5 April. BS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES UNESCO IN PARIS...
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami attended a meeting at UNESCO headquarters in Paris on 5 April, international news agencies reported. Khatami gave the opening speech at the International Conference on the Dialogue among Civilizations, Cultures and Peoples, according to the UNESCO website (http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=26761&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html). The terrorist attacks of September 2001, Khatami said, proved that "dialogue among civilizations had become a political and economic emergency." Khatami said "dialogue" implies an active process of communication. "Dialogue is at once beautiful, moral and a guarantor of truth," Khatami said. He added: "As a Moslem, I have a firm conviction that the beauty of religion stems from justice...any understanding of religion that, in one way or another, justifies injustice stands against the true sense of religion." He condemned violence. Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika spoke after Khatami, and said that, "dialogue among civilizations is one of the motors of progress." He said terrorism is not part of Islam. BS

...THEN DISCUSSES NUCLEAR ISSUES WITH FRENCH PRESIDENT
After addressing the UNESCO conference, Khatami met with French President Jacques Chirac, Radio Farda reported. The main topic of the meeting was the nuclear impasse. Khatami told reporters afterwards that Iran and the European Union have made progress in their discussions on this subject, saying, "I think we have taken steps forward." He also said that the ultimate agreement between Iran and the EU must recognize what Iran sees as its right to develop nuclear power. Tehran insists on mastery of the complete nuclear fuel cycle, whereas Europe and the U.S. want Iran to forego the enrichment of uranium. Khatami said he hopes serious progress will be made at a 29 April meeting of officials from Iran, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Also in Paris on 5 April, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and his counterpart, Michel Barnier, discussed the nuclear issue, AFP reported. BS

TALABANI ELECTED IRAQ'S TRANSITIONAL PRESIDENT
The transitional National Assembly elected Patriotic Union of Kurdistan head Jalal Talabani as Iraq's transitional -- and first Kurdish -- president on 6 April, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. A reported 227 parliamentarians voted for the list, which included Sunni leader and interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir and Shi'ite nominee and interim Finance Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi as vice presidents. Talabani addressed the assembly after the election in a speech broadcast on Al-Sharqiyah television, saying the presidency will contribute to "democratic rule that will provide our people with liberties, ensure public and individual human rights, and seek to eradicate criminal terrorism, rampant corruption, and the mismanagement of the people's funds." He said that the presidency will work to "complete national sovereignty" that will lead to the withdrawal of coalition forces, "who thankfully contributed to the liberation of Iraq." Talabani added that he hopes Iraq will "be a model of freedom, democracy, and national unity to liberate the peoples of our East from tyranny and oppression and to spread democracy and the principles of coexistence, good neighborliness, and amity." He said Iraq looks forward to building good relations with its neighbors, but warned: "We befriend whomever befriends us and antagonize whomever antagonizes us." KR

TURKEY WELCOMES SELECTION OF TALABANI
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said on 6 April that the interim Iraqi National Assembly's election of Jalal Talabani as president will help secure the country's territorial integrity, dpa reported, citing the Anadolu news agency. Gul said Talabani is "an experienced politician" who is "No. 1 when it comes to giving importance to the territorial integrity of Iraq." Regarding Talabani being an ethnic Kurd, Gul said: "First of all, everyone [in Iraq] is an Iraqi. [And] I'm certain the idea of everyone considering themselves Iraqi will only get stronger." Turkey feared that the ousting of Saddam Hussein's regime would lead to Iraq's Kurds forming an independent state, which could cause Turkey's large Kurdish population to agitate for independence as well. The Turkish military says there are up to 5,000 pro-independence Kurdish guerrillas hiding in Iraq. PB

ROMANIA ARRESTS BUSINESSMAN IN CONNECTION WITH KIDNAPPED JOURNALISTS IN IRAQ
Romanian-Syrian businessman Omar Hayssam was arrested on 5 April in Bucharest for alleged involvement in the kidnapping of three journalists in Baghdad, Reuters reported. Romanian presidency official Adriana Saftoiu added that "other related actions are under way in Bucharest and Baghdad." Saftoiu denied reports by some Romanian media outlets that the journalists, abducted on 28 March, have been released. NATO-member Romania has about 800 troops in Iraq. About one-third of those kidnapped in Iraq have been executed. PB

U.S. TAPS NEW AMBASSADOR TO BAGHDAD
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced on 5 April that Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, has been selected to be Washington's top diplomat in Baghdad, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005). At a Washington ceremony announcing the choice, Khalilzad said, "I will work with all Iraqis, all sects, all ethnic groups, men and women, to accelerate success in Iraq." He defined success as Iraq "[standing] on its own feet in terms of providing security for its people, controlling its borders, delivering basic services...and creating the framework for a prosperous private sector." U.S. President George W. Bush must formally nominate Khalilzad and the U.S. Senate must approve him before he may assume the post. PB

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