PUTIN PROMISES TAJIKISTAN HELP IN PROTECTING BORDERS
President Vladimir Putin told journalists on 6 April following talks in Sochi with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov that Russia will continue to help Tajikistan protect its border with Afghanistan after Russian border troops hand over responsibility for areas they currently monitor to Tajik troops, RTR reported. Putin said Russia will continue to train Tajik border troops and to provide them with military equipment, as they face "real aggression" due to increased drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Putin and Rakhmonov also discussed bilateral economic relations and Russia's pledge last year to invest $2 billion in Tajikistan, gzt.ru reported on 6 April. Meanwhile, in Dushanbe, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov signed an agreement with his Tajik counterpart Sherali Khairuloev on the transfer to Russia of a strategic Soviet-era radar station in Nurek that monitors airspace south of the Russian border, gzt.ru reported. VY
PUTIN OFFERS RUSSIAN ASSISTANCE TO NEW KYRGYZ LEADERS
President Putin said during a press briefing in Sochi on 6 April that Russia will provide any assistance it can to ensure a "legitimate transfer of power" in Kyrgyzstan, RTR reported. "We hope that very soon Kyrgyzstan will legitimize the organs of power and the government," Putin said. "We are in contact with the Kyrgyz parliament...and are ready to provide any help to stabilize the situation." VY
LDPR DEPUTY UPSET BY EXTENSIVE COVERAGE OF POPE'S DEATH...
Aleksei Mitrofanov, deputy head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Duma faction, on 6 April asked the Duma to review the Russian media's coverage of the 2 April death of Pope John Paul II, gazeta.ru and other media reported. He said that it is wrong in a country whose citizens mainly profess the Russian Orthodox faith to have such broad coverage of the Roman Catholic pontiff's death. "Information about the pope should not be primary news," Mitrofanov said. "Catholicism is neither a traditional, nor a main religion of Russia." The Duma did not support Mitrofanov's proposal. Pavel Krasheninnikov (Unified Russia), chairman of the Duma's Legislation Committee, said the Duma cannot intervene in individual media outlets' editorial policies, adding that the pope "was a great citizen of the world and Russians deserve to know all about him," NTV reported. VY
...AND RUSSIAN OFFICIALS' ATTENDANCE OF PONTIFF'S FUNERAL CEREMONIES
Mitrofanov wrote in a letter published by "Izvestiya" on 6 April that he considers the rank of Russian officials slated to attend Pope John Paul II's 8 April funeral service "unacceptably high." Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov is heading the Russian delegation attending the funeral. "Why should we send a prime minister to the pope's funeral -- especially one who is Jewish?" Mitrofanov said. He argued that the level of level of representation should be proportionate to the role Catholics play in Russia. "Say, the chairman of the Duma Committee for Religious Matters, would be enough," he wrote. Meanwhile, "Izvestiya" wrote in its 6 April editorial that President Putin's decision not to attend the pope's funeral is a message. "Russia, which complains that the West does not understand it and distorts its image, is putting itself in a special position," the daily wrote. "If Putin has serious reasons to not attend the funeral, he should present them publicly." VY
U.S. EXPRESSES CONCERNS ABOUT RUSSIAN LAW ON MINERAL WEALTH
U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow met with Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) President Arkadii Volskii on 5 April to discuss the prospects of U.S.-Russia energy cooperation, finmarket.ru and rusenergy.ru reported. Vershbow expressed U.S. investors' concern about a provision in Russia's revised natural-resources law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2005) that restricts foreigners' access to new mineral deposits. Another matter of concern is the Russian interpretation of the notion of "strategic deposits," Vershbow added. Vershbow and Volskii also discussed Russia's possible supply of liquefied gas to North America, with Vershbow stressing that the United States sees Russia as a key supplier if it decides by the end of this year to participate in the project. Vershbow also said that Russia should quickly decide whether to go ahead with the construction of an oil pipeline to Murmansk that would facilitate exports. "If Russia delays this decision, potential [foreign] investors will simply go away," Vershbow said. VY
FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES NORWAY WANTS RUSSIA OUT OF SPITSBERGEN
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists after meeting with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen on 6 April that Norway is not trying to "squeeze Russia out of Spitsbergen, " RosBalt reported. Spitsbergen is an island in the Arctic Ocean that is administered by Norway. Under the terms of the Svalbard Treaty, citizens of any signatory country may exploit mineral deposits and other natural resources on the island, and Russia and Norway are currently the only countries to make use of this right. Russian media have repeatedly suggested this year that Russia could lose its right to inhabit Spitsbergen because Moscow is curtailing its financing of research activities and the exploration of mineral resources on the island. "We never heard such talk from our Norwegian partners," Lavrov said. "There is a mechanism for bilateral cooperation and all issues can be reviewed." VY
LIBERALS' UNIFICATION TALKS BREAK DOWN, KASPAROV TO CREATE OWN PARTY
Committee-2008 Chairman Garri Kasparov and State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) have decided to form their own liberal political party after unification talks with the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Yabloko, and other liberal groups broke down, Interfax and other Russian media reported on 7 April. "We view the key issues differently," Kasparov told journalists following a Committee-2008 meeting devoted to the subject of unification. "Ryzhkov and I are not going to fight with these parties. We are going to go out ourselves and fight for the support of voters." Kasparov said that details about the new party will be announced later this month. He added, however, that the liberal parties had agreed to conduct joint protests against government policies beginning in May, although he did not give any other details. RIA-Novosti reported on 7April that Menatep shareholder Leonid Nevzlin has offered to finance Kasparov's party, but Kasparov told journalists that he will reject this offer. "So far, we don't have any money," he said. "But there are quite a few people who are ready to help us. But we will not take Nevzlin's money." RC
DUMA LOOKING AT WAYS OF PREVENTING DEPUTIES FROM FIGHTING
The State Duma is planning the creation of an internal marshals' service to police the Duma chamber and prevent deputies from fighting with one another, RIA-Novosti reported on 6 April. Duma Regulations Committee Chairman Oleg Kovalev (Unified Russia) told journalists that the service will be created in response to a 30 March scuffle during a Duma session between LDPR deputies, including Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii, and Motherland faction deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 March 2005). Kovalev said the new service would comprise three to five "intellectually and physically well-developed men" wearing "clothing that inspires respect." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that both Zhirinovskii and Motherland deputy faction leader Andrei Savelev have filed complaints with the Prosecutor-General's Office about the 30 March incident and that investigators are questioning Duma deputies. Duma Ethics Committee Chairman Gennadii Raikov (Unified Russia) told the daily that his committee is studying international practices for disciplining legislators for misbehaving during Duma sessions. RC
NASHI FOUNDER ISSUES MANIFESTO...
"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 7 April published a long essay by historian Boris Yakemenko, a founder and organizer of the new pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi. Yakemenko laments the growing global influence of the United States and writes that Russia is in danger of becoming "a colony." "We will learn how to answer every question with 'Yes, massa'; we will do what we are told; the 'conditional unit' [the system of pricing goods in Russia in the ruble equivalent of the U.S. dollar] will become unconditional; and another star will appear on the U.S. flag," Yakemenko writes. He writes that Russia is weak and rich and that it is naive to think that Americans will invest in the restoration of the Russian economy rather than simply taking what they want. The answer, he argues, is neither a return to communism nor "liberalism." "[We need] a technologically Western economy, a thoroughly Russian ideology, strongly pro-Russian authorities, Western-style democratic norms, and the strengthening of Russian traditions and culture" Yakemenko writes. "In other words, the modernization of the country, pro-Russian models of civil society, and talented and worthy people in authority." He says that "by 2008 we will create a system of selecting and preparing talented young people -- we know they are out there; we only need to find them. We will prepare them, instruct them, show them, convince them." RC
...AS ANALYSTS DISCUSS EMERGING ROLE OF NASHI
Political Research Institute Director Sergei Markov commented in the same issue of "Komsomolskaya pravda" that Yakemenko's article "is not an article but a declaration." "It is a declaration of the new Nashi movement," Markov said. "The goal of this movement has been announced: to defend the sovereignty of the country during a possible political crisis that could develop in Russia using the techniques of the so-called colored revolutions." Eurasia party head Aleksandr Dugin told the daily that "this declaration corresponds with the demands and form of the Nashi movement." "The author lays out in the language of young people the general discourse of the political elite in the Putin era, in which to the Yeltsin-era terms 'democratization' and 'modernization' the terms 'patriotism,' 'isolationism,' and 'anti-Americanism' have been added," Dugin said. RC
BASHKIR PROTESTORS ARRIVE IN MOSCOW AFTER DELAY IN UFA
An airplane carrying a group of Bashkir opposition protestors arrived in Moscow on 7 April after being delayed for about five hours by authorities in Ufa, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. The protestors intend to present President Putin with more than 150,000 signatures calling for the resignation of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov. The also intend to participate in a demonstration on Moscow's Lubyanka Square under the banner "Bashkortostan Is A Political Gulag." Newsru.com reported that there were about 220 activists on the flight. Bashkir State Council Deputy Gennadii Shabaev, who was on the flight, told the website, "We regard the delay of the flight as a provocation designed to complicate or prevent the planned 7 April demonstration in Moscow." Opposition figures in the republic have launched an ongoing series of mass demonstrations intended to force Rakhimov's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005). RC
A 6 April "RFE/RL Newsline" item entitled "Gubernatorial Appointments Analyzed" incorrectly identified Vasilii Starodubtsev. He is the former governor of Tula Oblast.
ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER PLEDGES TO 'DEEPEN TIES' WITH NATO
Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian reaffirmed on 6 April that the expansion of Armenia's ties with the NATO alliance are not in conflict with its strategic ties to Russia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The defense minister explained that although Armenia "will deepen relations with NATO," it will not be at the expense of the country's close military relationship with Russia. The comments, made during a joint news conference with visiting Lithuanian Defense Minister Gediminas Kirkilas, follow recent moves to increase Armenia's role within the NATO Partnership for Peace program and to seek closer links with the European Union. Armenia is also set to codify its NATO activities in a new "individual partnership action plan" later this year, after a flurry of recent visits by NATO officials and the deputy commander of U.S. forces in Europe, General Charles Wald (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2005 and 27 April 2004). RG
FORMER RUSSIAN MEDIATOR ADVOCATES 'GRADUAL' SETTLEMENT FOR NAGORNO-KARABAKH
In comments to reporters during a visit to Yerevan on 6 April, the former lead Russian envoy for Nagorno-Karabakh, Vladimir Kazimirov, argued for a "gradual" resolution of the conflict and called on Armenia to end its insistence for a comprehensive "package" peace deal, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kazimirov's call for a new, more flexible approach was supported by Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who offered that concessions could be made in return for security guarantees. The Russian diplomat was in Yerevan after being invited to testify at a hearing on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict convened by the Armenian parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee. Kazimirov formerly served as the senior Russian representative to the OSCE Minsk Group peace talks that seek a negotiated settlement of the conflict. The Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers are scheduled to hold another round of mediation talks in London next week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005). RG
ARMENIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH WORLD BANK DELEGATION
Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian met on 6 April with a visiting World Bank delegation led by Armenia chief Roger Robinson, Arminfo reported. The delegation noted the rate of consistent economic growth over the past several years, but stated that it must be sustained by moving on to a second stage of reform. The Armenian prime minister was presented with several recommendations, including a specific call for greater reform targeting the country's system of corporate governance. RG
CONSTRUCTION OF NEW GEORGIAN MILITARY INSTALLATION LAUNCHED
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili attended a ceremony on 6 April marking the start of construction of a new military installation in the western Georgian town of Senaki, Civil Georgia and Rustavi-2 TV reported. Construction of the new $9 million facility is to be completed by November and is to serve as the base for the new 3000-strong Senaki brigade. RG
RUSSIAN DELEGATION HOLDS TALKS WITH GEORGIA ON MILITARY BASES
A Russian delegation led by Foreign Ministry special envoy Lev Mironov arrived in Tbilisi on April 6 to discuss the outstanding issue of Russian military bases in Georgia, Civil Georgia reported. The Russian delegation is to hold two days of preparatory talks with Georgian officials prior to the planned reconvening of high-level negotiations on 14 April. The latest round of Georgian-Russian talks held in Moscow in late March ended in stalemate over the proposed time frame for the withdrawal of the Russian military bases in Batumi and Akhalkalaki (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2005). RG
KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER ATTENDS ASIAN MINISTERIAL MEETING IN PAKISTAN
Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev attended the fourth ministerial summit of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue group in Islamabad on 6 April, Interfax reported. In addition to the Kazakh delegation, representatives from China, Japan, Mongolia, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam, discussed proposals for expanding regional cooperation and reviewed specific plans for energy security in Asia. Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian state within the 25-country group, which also includes India, Kuwait, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea. RG
KYRGYZ COURT ANNULS PAST CONVICTION OF OPPOSITION LEADER
Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court issued a ruling on 6 April annulling one of two criminal charges against prominent opposition figure Feliks Kulov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The court overturned the conviction of Kulov on a charge of abuse of office while he was serving as Kyrgyzstan's security chief. The court is set to consider on 7 April an appeal of a second conviction, for embezzlement during the period that Kulov was mayor of Bishkek. Kulov, the leader of the Ar-Namys party, was freed from prison on 24 March and has long maintained that the charges were politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). The annulment of the past convictions is widely seen as a move to allow Kulov to run for president in the presidential election set for June. RG
KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT AGAIN DELAYS CONSIDERATION OF FORMER PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
For the second time, the Kyrgyz parliament delayed on 6 April its consideration of the resignation of former President Askar Akaev, according to ITAR-TASS and akipress.org. Citing unspecified "technical reasons," deputies voted to hold the session on 7 April. The parliament was set to review Akaev's resignation petition on 5 April but postponed the session after failing to secure a quorum of the new 75-seat parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005). RG
ACTING KYRGYZ PRESIDENT VOWS TO COMBAT CORRUPTION AND REDUCE POVERTY...
Acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced on 6 April that the main tasks of the new government are to combat corruption and reduce poverty and unemployment, according to Interfax. In a meeting with the World Bank country director for Kyrgyzstan, Chris Lovelace, Bakiev noted that the new Kyrgyz government has been able to "stabilize the situation" in the country and pledged that the coming elections set for June "will be held in strict compliance with the law," Interfax reported. RG
...AS DEMONSTRATORS SEIZE REGIONAL ADMINISTRATION OFFICES
A group of about 300 demonstrators seized on 6 April the building housing the regional Naryn government offices in eastern Kyrgyzstan, akipress.org reported. The demonstrators, consisting of supporters of parliamentary candidate Karganbek Samakov, are demanding that the Naryn regional court overturn its decision to annul Samakov's election. RG
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST GOES ON TRIAL FOR LIBEL
A district court in Minsk on 6 April started closed-door hearings on a case against the 39-year-old opposition politician Andrey Klimau, who is accused of defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in three books and leaflets disseminated in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. If found guilty, Klimau could face a huge fine or prison sentence. Klimau already spent four years in prison in 1998-2002, convicted on embezzlement charges that were widely regarded as politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2005). "This trial is indicative of the fact that, thank God, the times have already passed when scores with opposition politicians were settled through banal killings," Klimau told RFE/RL. "This trial testifies to the fact that the authorities are weak today." Two leaders of Belarusian vendors, Valery Levaneuski and Alyaksandr Vasilyeu, are now serving prison terms for defaming Lukashenka. Three journalists -- Mikola Markevich, Pavel Mazheyka, and Viktar Ivashkevich -- have been imprisoned after they were found guilty of libeling the Belarusian president. JM
RALLY TO COMMEMORATE MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST DISPERSED
Police on 6 April broke up a demonstration in downtown Minsk in memory of opposition politician Henadz Karpenka, who died six years ago under mysterious circumstances, Belapan reported. Police reportedly made no arrests among some 50 demonstrators. Karpenka died at the age of 49 on 6 April 1999, failing to regain consciousness after being hospitalized on 31 March with a cerebral hemorrhage and an unsuccessful operation on 1 April. Many in Belarus consider his death suspicious. His wife, Lyudmila Karpenka, believes his death was a well-planned and sophisticated murder. Henadz Karpenka had been an outspoken opponent of President Lukashenka for many years. He refused to recognize the controversial constitutional referendum of 1996 or to join the new legislature handpicked by the Belarusian president. Before his untimely death he worked to unite the Belarusian opposition and planned to run for the presidency in 2001. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES JOINT SESSION OF U.S. CONGRESS
In his address to a joint session of Congress on 6 April, Viktor Yushchenko promised to bring the rule of law back to Ukraine, punish those who were leading Ukraine to a split after the December 2004 election, and punish the killers and those "who ordered the killing" of Heorhiy Gongadze, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Yushchenko asked that Congress expedite the lifting of Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions on Ukraine and help the country enter the World Trade Organization and NATO. "We do not want any more walls dividing Europe, and I'm certain that neither do you," Yushchenko said, evoking memories of U.S. President Ronald Reagan when he challenged the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall. RK
HEAD OF UKRAINIAN REGIONAL COUNCIL DETAINED
Borys Kolesnykov, head of the Donetsk Oblast Council, was detained on 6 April by the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office and held, a Prosecutor-General's Office spokesperson told Interfax. Kolesnykov had been summoned for questioning in conjunction with an investigation on calls for separatism in the region after the presidential elections of November-December 2004. However, according to the spokesperson, Kolesnykov was being held on criminal charges of extortion. Kolesnykov was one of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's most prominent supporters, and his arrest immediately evoked protests from the Donetsk branch of the Party of the Regions and from Yanukovych himself, who told Interfax that the arrest was "politically motivated." According to Ukrainian law, prosecutors can detain a suspect for 72 hours without filing any formal charges. RK
SERBIAN MINISTER STICKS TO VIEWS THAT STATE SHIELDS WAR CRIMINALS
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said in Belgrade on 6 April that he has not changed his belief that the security services know the whereabouts of war crimes indictees despite recent criticism of his position by an intelligence chief, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 April 2005). Draskovic stressed that when the intelligence services claim they do not know where fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Nebojsa Pavkovic is, it is nothing less than "an obstruction of state interests." PM
ANOTHER PROTESTANT SITE DESECRATED IN SERBIA
Unknown people desecrated crosses and other symbols on a Protestant church in Zrenjanin on 6 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The vandals covered the walls with graffiti, including messages such as: "[Serbian] Orthodoxy or death," "Here they serve the devil," and "Serbia for the Serbs" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February, 23 and 25 March, and 5 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004). The incident is the latest in a series of incidents across Serbia directed primarily against ethnic and religious minorities, which began after the strong electoral showing by the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in December 2003. Some commentators have linked the latest incidents to the general elections widely expected in the course of 2005. PM
CROATIA TO GO TO THE POLLS IN MAY
The Croatian government announced on 7 April that local elections will take place on 15 May and campaigning will start on 24 April, dpa and Hina reported. The vote is widely seen as an important test for the center-right government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. A recent poll suggested that his Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) would take 27 percent of the vote nationwide, while the opposition Social Democrats led by former Prime Minister Ivica Racan would get 25 percent. PM
GERMAN MINISTER CALLS FOR 'CONSENSUS' ON KOSOVA
On a one-day visit to Kosova, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said in Prishtina on 6 April that the international community must reach a consensus on the future status of Kosova, German media reported. He made his remarks after meeting with several political leaders, including President Ibrahim Rugova, Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi, opposition leader Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK), Serbian minority leader Oliver Ivanovic, and Larry Rossin, who is deputy chief of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005). Fischer did not give his opinion as to what that decision will be but stressed that 2005 will be a decisive year for Kosova, including a long-awaited review of whether the international community's standards have been implemented there. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" noted that Belgrade and Moscow seem to have dropped their previous opposition to starting talks on Kosova's final status. "Die Welt" stressed that the international community appears united on the need to change the province's status if only because administering it as a UN mandate has proven too costly. The daily added that Berlin rules out the full independence demanded by all ethnic Albanian political parties in Kosova as well as an ethnically based partition, which many Serbs favor (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 16 April and 17 December 2004). PM
ROW EMERGES OVER STATUS OF FORMER ALBANIAN REBELS IN MACEDONIA
Both the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) and the office of Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski have denied reports that the governing coalition is preparing a draft law on the future status of the former members of the National Liberation Army (UCK), which fought the security forces in 2001, "Dnevnik" reported on 6 April. The denials came in response to a statement by BDI lawmaker Fazli Veliu, who also heads the Association of UCK War Veterans. Veliu had told "Dnevnik" earlier that the state must regulate the status of the UCK veterans since they deserve to be honored for what he called their merits in support of the constitution. The veterans demand state support for their reintegration into society as well as benefits for invalids. Buckovski's office dismissed Veliu's statement as "disinformation." The conflict ended with the signing of the Ohrid peace agreement in August 2001, which provided for constitutional and legal amendments aiming at improving the situation of the 23 percent Albanian minority (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001). UB
MOLDOVA'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT VALIDATES PRESIDENT'S REELECTION...
In a ruling published on 6 April, the Constitutional Court confirmed Vladimir Voronin's reelection as president, BASA reported the same day. After announcing the decision, which is final, Constitutional Court Chairman Victor Puscas congratulated the president and expressed hope that he will ensure the "prosperity of every Moldovan citizen." The court's ruling clears the way for Voronin to be inaugurated on 7 April. BASA quoted unidentified sources as saying that no foreign heads of state will be invited to the ceremony, but that "local and foreign officials, including former Presidents Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi will be invited." BW
...AS PRESIDENT DENIES HE HAD RUSSIAN CITIZENSHIP
Voronin denied allegations that he holds Russian as well as Moldovan citizenship, BASA reported on 6 April. If such an allegation were true, it would be cause for impeachment. Speculation that Voronin has been a Russian citizen since the early 1990s, when he was a student of the USSR Academy of the Interior, appeared in the Moldovan media in early 2005. Moscow has neither confirmed nor denied the reports. The Constitutional Court, in verifying Voronin's reelection as president, "found no shortcomings that might fail to meet electoral requirements," BASA reported on 6 April. BW
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION LEADER PLEDGES TO FIGHT ON...
Serafim Urechean, leader of the Our Moldova Alliance parliamentary faction, said he will lead "an active, but not constructive" fight against President Voronin and his government, BASA reported on 6 April. Urechean told a news conference the previous day that he "will be active, critical, will disclose all the mistakes of the ruling coalition, and will notify...international organizations over violations of power." Urechean's faction was formed from lawmakers elected from his Democratic Moldova Bloc, which has suffered 11 defections since parliament convened, and now has 23 members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 25, and 31 March and 5 and 6 April 2005). Urechean, who is the mayor of Chisinau, has not revealed whether he will resign that post to take up his seat in parliament. BW
...AS CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC LEADER ACCUSES MOSCOW OF BRIBE PLOT
Iurie Rosca, leader of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) accused Moscow of attempting to bribe his party to hold antigovernment protests, UPI reported on 7 April, citing Interfax. "After the elections, operatives in certain Russian structures asked me how much money was needed to make the PPCD set up a tent camp in the center of Chisinau again, the way it did in 2002. I realized that this was an attempt to set us against President Vladimir Voronin so that somebody could benefit from that," Rosca told Moldova's PRO-TV, according to the report. The PPCD leader added that the attempt had the opposite effect, leading the party to support Voronin instead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005). BW
POLITICS AS USUAL IN MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
Following the revolutionary events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, any election in the ex-Soviet republics is now regarded as a potential crisis of government power.
The 4 April presidential election by the Moldovan parliament was also viewed in this manner. But it was only the much-speculated inability of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) to garner a constitutional majority for their presidential candidate in the aftermath of last month's parliamentary elections that fashioned the appearance of such a crisis. In addition, the opposition's initially firm goal to boycott the presidential vote in parliament concerned incumbent President Vladimir Voronin, the PCM chief, and his intention to seek reelection. It took a second ballot to decide the fate of the man who has dominated Moldovan politics the past four years and steered his party to a repeat electoral victory, increasing its political significance.
The period between the two votes was characterized by the communists' intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering to secure the remaining five votes among the opposition for Voronin's reelection. An obvious target for possible defectors was the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD). Lacking a political identity and a strong leader capable of uniting a heterogeneous coalition like the BMD, many analysts predicted its eventual downfall due to internal strife and pressure from the communists. Hardly anyone, however, envisaged it would be so swift. The BMD split just two weeks after the 6 March parliamentary elections.
At the inaugural session of the newly-elected parliament on 24 March, Democratic Party (PD) leader Dumitru Diakov announced his party's withdrawal from the BMD coalition and the formation of a separation faction comprising eight deputies. While Diakov referred to advancing the PD's social-democratic identity in the legislature as a reason for his departure, the real intent was switching to Voronin's camp. The votes of the PD faction were reflected in the selection of PCM's candidate for the post of parliamentary speaker, Marian Lupu. Lupu received 65 votes (nine more than the communists' 56 mandates), although a simple majority of 52 votes would have sufficed.
The selection of the parliamentary speaker was seen as a rehearsal for the presidential vote. It showed that co-opting opposition deputies did not represent a goal in itself for the communists. Rather, it was used as a means to enhance the legitimacy of the country's top politicians nominated by the PCM. A young, highly educated and nonpartisan member of the communist faction, Lupu embodies leadership and professional qualities likely to amass support from the opposition. He even managed to gain passage of a declaration emphasizing all-factions' commitment to European integration and resolution of the Transdniester conflict, among other important policy objectives, shortly after his election.
The communists cleared another hurdle when they nominated a necessary alternative candidate shortly before the 29 March deadline. In order to have a valid vote, Moldovan legislation provides for the participation of at least two contenders proposed by factions of no less than 15 deputies. Since Diakov's and Iurie Rosca's PPCD (Popular Party Christian Democratic) factions fall short of the required minimum and the BMD refused to put forward one of their own, Gheorghe Duca was registered to face Voronin. A former environment minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and currently the president of the Academy of Sciences, Duca was a spurious choice intended only to secure Voronin's victory.
As the voting day drew closer it looked like even the defiant BMD faction (26 remaining deputies) would take part in the voting. However, their conditions, such as Moldova's immediate exit from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transdniester, were not only unrealistic but also unacceptable to many members of Voronin's party. They most likely were a provocation, as many conditions ran counter to the BMD's electoral pledges to maintain close ties with Russia. Also seen as provocative was the authorization by BMD leader Serafim Urechean, the Chisinau mayor, for a rally of Transdniester war veterans on election day. The veterans planned to disrupt the voting by blocking the entrance to parliament by opposition deputies suspected of conspiring with the PCM. Worried of having a possible Kyrgyz scenario with protesters in front of parliament, Urechean decided to revoke the approval for the rally the day before.
The vote was an overwhelming victory for Voronin: an absolute majority, 75 deputies representing the PCM, PD, and PPCD factions, as well as three members of Oleg Serebrian's Social Liberal Party (PSL) -- formally still part of the BMD -- supported Voronin's candidacy. He managed to forge a pro-Western alliance behind his commitment to firmly keep Moldova on the path of European integration during his second term. More importantly, this mandate carries more legitimacy as he was supported only by communist deputies in 2001.
Voronin also pledged to introduce a constitutional amendment that would exclude the possibility of a party leader also serving as president. During his first term, Voronin effectively exploited a legislative loophole following the switch to a parliamentary democracy in June 2000 and successfully combined the two positions. His "electoral dictatorship" often elicited vehement criticism for excessive partisanship and an inability to fairly arbitrate political battles -- an important role for a head of state in a parliamentary democracy.
The BMD, however, proved incapable of managing the challenges of disintegration. Following Diakov's departure the PSL deputies split from the BMD over a dispute on returning to the coalition's original name, the Our Moldova Alliance, which was decided by a majority on 2 April. In fact, the BMD ceased to exist, thus confirming the political unsustainability of electoral alliances in Moldova and underscoring the place of strong political parties instead. The need of a center-right party, for instance, is crucial for effectively competing against the communists in the 2009 elections.
Voronin's reelection is equally significant for his ability to keep Moldovan electoral politics within normal confines. Extraordinary politics that characterized peaceful (Ukraine, Georgia) and semi-violent (Kyrgyzstan) mass protests was, to Voronin's credit, avoided in Moldova. His timely decision to distance Chisinau from Moscow and join the club of regional revolutionaries may be seen by other leaders in the post-Soviet space as necessary for staying in power.
Ilian Cashu is a Ph.D. student in political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University who specializes in postcommunist social policy.
U.S. HELICOPTER IN AFGHANISTAN CRASH CLAIMS LIVES...
At least 16 people are confirmed to have died on 6 April when a U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in the south-central Ghazni Province, "The New York Times" reported. Initial reports blamed the crash on bad weather. Cindy Moore, a spokeswoman for the U.S. forces, said that 18 people were listed as having been on board the aircraft but it is unclear if the two people unaccounted for had actually boarded when the helicopter took off. Moore did not have information on the identity of all of the passengers or whether they were all military personnel. Ghazni police chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang said that the crash was "most probably" caused by bad weather with very low visibility. AT
...AS NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY
Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban, said that the militia shot down the U.S. helicopter in Ghazni, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 6 April. Speaking to AIP, Hakimi claimed that the neo-Taliban fired an 82-millimeter round at the helicopter, causing it to crash. The neo-Taliban have in the past also taken responsibility for actions that were either accidents or done by other groups. AT
NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM KILLING OF AFGHAN SOLDIERS IN SOUTH
Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi in a telephone interview on 6 April claimed that the militia has killed five Afghan government soldiers in Zabul Province, AIP reported. According to Hakimi, the soldiers were killed when the neo-Taliban attacked their convoy on the Kabul-Kandahar highway. Hakimi said that the militia destroyed one vehicle and took another one with them. An unidentified official in Zabul's security command confirmed to AIP that a clash took place on the highway, but said that he did not have further information. AT
AFGHAN OPPOSITION PARTY OBJECTS TO CALLS FOR EXTENSION OF U.S. ENVOY'S TERM IN KABUL
The newly formed National Understanding Front objected on 5 April to an open letter sent by Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari requesting U.S. President George W. Bush extend the term of Zalmay Khalilzad as U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Tolu Television reported. The opposition party's spokesman, Sayyed Mohammad Ali Jawed, described Shinwari's request as "undiplomatic and unreasonable," adding that the judiciary should be neutral. Despite Shinwari's request and reportedly Karzai wishes for Khalilzad to remain in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced on 6 April that Khalilzad will be nominated as the next U.S. envoy in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 April 2005). Shinwari reiterated his call for an extension of Khalilzad's term on 6 April and defended his action by saying that he is not only the chief justice, but also the head of the Ulema Council and his comment was made in this capacity, Pajhwak News Agency reported. The objection to Shinwari's letter is the first public act of the new opposition party. AT
IRANIAN JUDICIARY BLAMES SOCCER DEATHS ON AUTHORITIES
Daily newspapers in Tehran reported on 6 April that the security forces were responsible for seven deaths after the Iran-Japan World Cup qualifier in Tehran on 25 March, Radio Farda reported. Citing judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad, the newspapers reported that there were 120,000 spectators in the stadium, whereas it only has room for 100,000 people. Moreover, a helicopter was used to channel spectators into an exit hall that was 60 meters long but only 7 meters wide. Citing exile dissidents, "The Washington Times" reported on 6 April that the Tehran incidents developed into nationwide unrest. BS
IRAN'S DEVELOPERS VAGUE ON PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENCES
A recent Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami) press conference turned out to be something of a bust, "Etemad" and "Eqbal" newspapers reported on 5 April. The many reporters at this event expected to learn something about the conservative organization's preferences in the upcoming presidential election, but Developers' spokesman Mehdi Chamran, who is a member of the Tehran municipal council, was not very specific. Previously, Ali Larijani appeared to be their favorite, but Chamran said a choice has not been made yet and added, "We support all those who adhere to fundamentalist thinking." He continued: "If they [the candidates] select a particular candidate among themselves, we will support their choice. We do not wish to act as a council that selects the candidate. We want the people to make the final choice." He said the Developers were created at a stage when the fundamentalists were "in a state of despair and uncertainty." Chamran described his organization as "an ideology and an intellectual movement." BS
IRANIAN JOURNALISTS GUILD CHIEF'S DEPARTURE BARRED
Journalists Guild head Rajabali Mazrui was prevented from leaving the country to attend a conference in Denmark, ISNA reported on 6 April, citing guild Secretary Masud Hushmand. A reason for the ban was not provided, Hushmand added, and he opined that this will prompt an adverse reaction from the international press community. Hushmand demanded an explanation from the relevant authorities. BS
IRAN WORKERS HAVING PROBLEMS
Bus drivers in Semnan Province went on strike on 6 April and gathered at bus terminals and the provincial transport department, ILNA reported. They were protesting one company's decision to use chartered buses to take riders outside city limits. Labor House Secretary Alireza Mahjub on 3 April denounced a recent meeting of the Supreme Council for Labor, ILNA reported. The meeting was held to discuss a minimum wage, he said, but the government and employers' representatives did not stand by their obligations. Mahjub said that in the last few years workers have not received their wages or their bonuses, and this appears to be customary. Mahjub said the labor minister ignored a requirement that the minimum wage must exceed the poverty line by 1 million rials (about $122), and he also ignored adjustments for inflation. Therefore, Mahjub said, the minimum wage for office workers is 2 million rials and 1.22 million rials for laborers. Mahjub said laborers should receive at least 2 million rials. Some Iranians, meanwhile, lack employment altogether. On 4 April, "Iran Daily" reported that many female residents of the earthquake-stricken city of Bam need jobs. About 4,000 women are the sole breadwinners in their households, and charity from the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee and the State Welfare Organization does not meet their needs. BS
IRANIAN WAR GAMES BEGIN IN NORTHERN PERSIAN GULF
The Morvarid war games in the northern Persian Gulf have commenced, state television reported on 6 April. Submarines, missile boats, and troop carriers, as well as aircraft, are participating in the two-day exercises. BS
IRAQ'S KURDS CELEBRATE TALABANI'S ELECTION AS PRESIDENT
Iraqi Kurds celebrated the transitional National Assembly's election of Jalal Talabani to the presidency on 6 April, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Kurds took to the streets in celebration in Kirkuk, Mosul, and Al-Sulaymaniyah, where Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) is based. For Kurds, the ascension of Talabani is a landmark event. The Kurds were long oppressed by the Hussein regime, and see the current environment as their best opportunity to gain rights under a new constitution. Asked by reporters on 6 April what the presidency meant to him, Talabani said: "It presents for me a national mandate from the Iraqis to carry out a national duty.... And it's a big honor for the Arab and Kurdish liberal movements who struggled" against Saddam Hussein, RFI reported. Concerning the status of the Kurdish peshmerga forces, he said: "The peshmerga forces struggled to liberate Iraq and to reach the day that we all could meet together in a democratic Baghdad. So, the peshmerga are the forces for the Iraqi people and the peshmerga liberated a part of Iraq and sheltered all the Iraqis who escaped from the dictatorial regime and this liberated part was a safe haven for all the Iraqi political groups." KR
IRAQI SUNNI PARLIAMENTARIAN CALLS ELECTION 'VICTORY,' BUT RAPS POLITICIANS
Sunni parliamentarian and United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) member Fawwaz al-Jarba told LBC Satellite television on 6 April that the transitional National Assembly's election of Talabani was a "victory for Iraq," but criticized the current political environment for being dominated by the same figures that dominated the Governing Council and interim administration. "Those who left through the door jumped back in through the window, meaning that nothing much has changed. The same faces we saw earlier are back, and there is talk of accord between the United Iraqi Alliance list, the Iraqi list, and the Iraqiyun list, which consists of five or six people and has already won two authoritative positions," al-Jarba said. "I do not think this is a true democracy, it is a process of allocating shares, reaching accords, and so on," he added. The Shi'ite-led UIA attempted to nominate al-Jarba for parliamentary speaker. Shi'ite parliamentarian Abd al-Karim Muhammadawi also criticized what he called an emerging quota system, AFP reported on 7 April. "This is how this next government is being formed and it looks like it will even be enshrined in the permanent constitution," he said. KR
SADDAM HUSSEIN WATCHED IRAQI PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ON TV
Iraqi Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin told reporters on 6 April that former President Saddam Hussein watched the transitional National Assembly's election of Jalal Talabani to the presidency on videotape (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005), Reuters reported the same day. Amin said Hussein "was clearly upset," adding: "He realized that it was over, that a democratic process had taken place and that there was a new, elected president. It's not just the fact that there was a new president but that the president was a Kurd." Hussein viewed the tape alone in his cell; 11 of his senior lieutenants in custody at Camp Cropper watched the video together, Amin said. He added that Hussein may be allowed to watch Talabani's swearing-in ceremony on 7 April and the swearing in of Ibrahim al-Ja'fari as prime minister, which is expected to take place on 8 April. "We wanted the former dictator to know that Iraq has moved on, that there's a new Iraq, and that he is not part of it." CNN quoted Amin as saying that his ministry may give a more detailed report on the viewing of the videotape, perhaps including comments by the former regime members, on 7 April. KR
EXPATRIATES ENCOURAGED TO INVEST IN IRAQ
Iraqi Chamber of Commerce head Hamid al-Aqabi has called on Iraqi expatriates to invest in Iraq, "Al-Zaman" reported on 6 April. Al-Aqabi said expatriates had "the experience and the money" needed to reconstruct the country. "The chamber seeks to have the expatriates return home. They are now owners of huge capital abroad and the experience necessary to do the job." He added that the government is working on private-sector development by making laws to lure expatriates home. "Iraq has huge potential in manpower, national resources, as well as the means and the geographical position to elevate its standing to that of developed nations." KR