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Newsline - April 8, 2005


PRIME MINISTER, OPPONENTS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT'S ECONOMIC PROGRAM
Economic Development Minister German Gref presented his scenario for Russia's economic development through 2008 at a cabinet meeting on 7 April, polit.ru and other media reported. According to Gref, Russia will continue to have a budget surplus for the next three years, although its rate of economic growth will be lower than previously expected. Russia does not have any more reserves of economic growth to be derived from high global oil prices, said Gref. Moreover, the high oil prices led to an increase in the money supply and inflation, he added. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov criticized Gref's program because it does not include the goal of doubling GDP, as called for by President Vladimir Putin. Fradkov asked Gref to revise the plan "toward a more optimistic scenario." Sergei Glazev, the leader of the For A Decent Life party and himself the economy minister in acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar's government from 1991-1993, said that the level of Gref's program "is not higher than a graduate student's diploma work." He added that "it cannot be the subject of serious discussion as it has no practical sense," glazev.ru reported on 8 April. TV-Tsentr commented the same day that "everything is bad for Gref: when there is no money and when there is too much of it." VY

KHODORKOVSKII LAWYER ASKS FOR ACQUITTAL OF EX-YUKOS HEAD
Concluding defense arguments at the trial of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii in Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court on 7 April, Genrikh Padva asked for an acquittal of his defendant on all charges, "Komsomolskaya pravda" and other media reported. "I hope that on the day of the verdict the iron gates will open and the watchmen will release Khodorkovskii into freedom," he said. Meanwhile, chairman of Committee 2008 and world chess champion Garri Kasparov, who visited the court the same day, said "for me, as a person used to logic, it is painful for me to see the defense trying to defend charges when the prosecution has none of any substance," "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported. VY

COMMUNISTS SAY REFERENDUM COULD CONSOLIDATE OPPOSITION TO PUTIN
The deputy leader of the Communist Party, Ivan Melnikov, told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 7 April that regional initiative groups in his party have begun submitting lists of possible referendum questions to the Central Election Committee (TsIK) (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 6 April 2005) on President Putin's political course. Although the TsIK rejects most referendum questions, some of them, like the issue of canceling elections from single-mandate districts, should be registered under current laws, he said. The goal of the action is to gain support from all opposition forces for the holding of a referendum. "We do not want the resignation of [Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail] Zurabov and others; we want Putin's resignation," Melnikov said. "This year Russia will have lost 10 million people [from its total population] since the beginning of the reforms and we believe Putin should take responsibility for this course. And, at the same time, we will continue demonstrations and street protests as...the Kremlin understands only the language of force." Asked if Communists would ban RFE/RL again if they were to come to power, Melnikov said: "More than the other parties we learned from the Soviet experience that monopoly on power and the mass media leads to a collapse. RFE/RL would continue to work." VY

AIR DEFENSE COMMANDER PROMISES TO SHOOT DOWN THREATENING AIRCRAFT
Colonel General Yurii Solovev said on 7 April that his forces will shoot down any suspicious aircraft near Moscow during the upcoming celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, even if the planes have passengers onboard, newsru.com and other media reported. Solovev is responsible for the air defense of Moscow. He said: "I will not allow anything to crash into Moscow. Besides, if I do not shoot down an aircraft with terrorists [and passengers], they will put me in handcuffs, and if I do do it, they will [also put me in handcuffs]. So, I already made my choice." He added that during the celebration, more than 20 fighters will patrol the skies. Meanwhile, Duma Defense Committee Chairman Vladimir Vasiliev said on 7 April that the possible destruction of a passenger aircraft with terrorists onboard will soon be incorporated into the Russian law on terrorism. VY

POPE'S SEARCH FOR RAPROACHMENT WITH RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH RECEIVES NO RESPONSE
Writing in "Argumenty i fakty," No. 14, former Russian Ambassador to the Vatican (1995-96) Vyacheslav Kostikov, said that Pope John Paul II told him constantly about his desire to visit Russia, though he understood that despite invitations from Soviet and Russian Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Vladimir Putin, he could not go due to objections from the Russian Orthodox Church. The pope also wanted to meet with Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II in Moscow if impossible but if not than on neutral soil, Kostikov said. "During my term there were attempts to organize such a meeting in Slovakia or in Vienna, but they failed," Kostikov said. Meanwhile, the head of the Foreign Relations Department at the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitian of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, said that relations between his church and the Vatican are as bad as they were in the worst years of the Cold War, 40 years ago. VY

LICENSE-AUCTION CANCELLATIONS WORRY FOREIGN COMPANIES
The Natural Resources Ministry has cancelled a group of expected oil-and-gas development-license tenders in a move that is being interpreted as a government effort to prevent foreign companies from acquiring the licenses, "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 April. According to the daily, an auction for a Kemerovo coal field that was being contested by an Italian company and that was scheduled for 7 April was canceled without explanation on 6 April. "Izvestiya" reported on 7 April that license tenders for oil-and-gas fields in Krasnoyarsk Krai had also been canceled "on state orders." The daily reported that state-owned Rosneft asked the government to postpone the auction until it could raise the necessary cash to bid. Troika Dialog analyst Kakha Kikinavelidze told the daily that the actions are directed against foreign companies, despite recent assurances by Natural Resources Minister Yurii Trutnev and other officials that there would be no such discrimination except in cases of "strategic" deposits. "What has changed is that the government is now openly saying, 'We will not allow foreign-controlled companies to participate in certain auctions,'" Kikinavelidze said. RC

RUSSIA SUFFERS ANOTHER LOSS AT EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Tamara Rokhlina, who stands accused of the 1998 murder of her husband, Duma Deputy and General Lev Rokhlin, has won a case against the Russian government at the European Court of Human Rights, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Rokhlina was convicted of the murder in 2000, but that verdict was overturned in 2001 and a new trial was ordered. She has been in custody since 2001 and her trial has been repeatedly delayed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2003). The European court ruled that the European Convention on Human Rights insists on the right to a speedy trial and on the right of defendants to remain at liberty during their trials. The court said there was "insufficient grounds" to justify imprisoning Rokhlina during her trial. The court ruled that the Russian government must pay Rokhlina 8,000 euros ($10,300) in damages. Russia has lost several cases in the European Court of Human Rights in recent months, including a group of cases decided in February involving Chechens who were ruled victims of indiscriminant violence by Russian troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 25 February 2005). RC

MINISTER BLAMES CONFLICTING ELITES FOR BENEFITS-REFORM DIFFICULTIES
Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov said on 8 April that the government's benefits-reform program has largely been a success so far, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported. In a long interview, Zurabov said the only aspect of the reforms that was problematic was the replacement of the right to free public transportation with cash payments that turned out to be nonexistent or insufficient. This failure, he said, was the main reason for the overwhelming majority of public protests so far, adding that only a small percentage of those who receive benefits actually participated in demonstrations against the reforms. Zurabov added that "a conflict within the elites" has exacerbated the implementation of the reforms and that "the population is being held hostage" to that conflict. "[The people] suffer every time a conflict within the elite arises," Zurabov said. He said that forces including Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Yarolslavl Oblast Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn, former Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubstev, the Motherland party, Yabloko, and the Party of Pensioners are trying to gain political capital from the unrest. The Duma is expected to review the benefits reform on 13 April. RC

DUMA HEAD SPEAKS OUT AGAINST LEGISLATIVE POLICE
Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 8 April that he opposes the creation of an internal Duma marshals' service to keep order during legislative sessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2005). "Deputies should sort out for themselves any conflict situations that arise during plenary sessions," Gryzlov was quoted as saying. RC

BASHKIR OPPOSITION BRINGS PROTEST TO MOSCOW
Some 200-300 Bashkir opposition activists gathered on Moscow's Lubyanka Square on 8 April to call for the resignation of republican President Murtaza Rakhimov, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2005). Protest leader Ramil Bignov told journalists that the purpose of the demonstration is to draw Moscow's attention to the oppressive situation in the republic and to affect a peaceful, constitutional regime change there. The demonstration is part of an ongoing series of protests and other opposition activities against Rakhimov. RC

ALTAI RESIDENTS COME OUT TO BACK GOVERNOR
Supporters of embattled Altai Krai Governor Mikhail Yevdokimov have sent to Moscow 47,000 signatures calling on President Putin to ignore calls for Yevdokimov's dismissal, RIA-Novosti reported on 8 April. A group called Probuzhdenie organized an 8 April demonstration in Barnaul to back Yevdokimov, in which some 1,000 locals participated. The actions are a response to a 31 March no-confidence vote in Yevdokimov that was adopted by the krai's legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005). Yedokimov told Ekho Moskvy on 8 April that he will not ask Putin to reappoint him as governor sooner than in one year. "I know perfectly that I am working well, because I don't know how to do anything in the life badly," Yevdokimov said. RC

RUSSIANS CONFUSING DEMOCRACY WITH STABILITY?
The Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) has published the results of a recent poll, according to which many Russians believe that society under President Putin is more democratic than under all other Soviet and Russian leaders, "Komsomolskaya pravda" and other media reported on 7 April. According to a FOM poll conducted on 26 and 27 March among 1,600 respondents, 29 percent believe that "there is more democracy" under Putin, while 14 percent believe there was more under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Eleven percent say life under Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was the most democratic, 9 percent under Russian President Boris Yeltsin, 5 percent under Soviet leader Yurii Andropov, and 2 percent under both Josef Stalin and Nikita Khruschev. The daily asked rhetorically: "Do Russians perceive the Putin and Brezhnev times as 'free; because they confuse real democratic values with a feeling of stability?" VY

ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER TRYING TO SECURE RELEASE OF SOLDIER IN AZERBAIJANI CUSTODY
Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian confirmed on 7 April recent media reports that an Armenian soldier deserted his military unit near the border with Azerbaijan last week and was subsequently seized by Azerbaijani forces, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Arminfo reported. The spokesman added that Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian is "personally dealing" in work to gain the soldier's release. The incident is the latest in a series of soldiers being captured by both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides that usually ends in a prisoner exchange. The most recent case involved four Armenian servicemen who were released from Azerbaijani custody after being captured near Nagorno-Karabakh in November 2004. But a group of three Azerbaijani soldiers who were taken prisoner after crossing into Armenian-controlled territory northeast of Karabakh have yet to be released. RG

ARMENIA TO CONSTRUCT TEMPORARY HOUSING FOR THE HOMELESS
The deputy head of the Armenian Ministry of Labor and Social Issues' Department on the Disabled and Elderly, Anahit Gevorgian, announced on 7 April that the Armenian government has allocated 89 million drams (nearly $194,000) for the construction of new temporary housing for the homeless, according to Noyan Tapan. The government plans to use the new housing to provide shelter for the homeless for a period of a few months to facilitate psychological and medical examinations prior to their placement in state-run institutions. Although official statistics compiled by the police show only 100 homeless people in the Armenian capital Yerevan, most independent surveys have placed the number of homeless much higher. According to Nane Makuchian, the chairwoman of the nongovernmental organization the Center for Social Assistance, there are approximately 800 homeless people in the Armenian capital, with almost none having access to state assistance, Noyan Tapan reported. RG

AZERBAIJANI MEDIA ANNOUNCE ARRESTS IN CASE OF MURDERED JOURNALIST
For the second time since the 2 March unsolved murder of Elmar Huseinov, the editor of the opposition journal "Monitor," Azerbaijan's Lider-TV reported on 7 April that a number of arrests have been made in the case. Citing unnamed "official sources," the Lider-TV report claimed that a group of six people, including Georgian citizens, have been detained in the case. The report provided the names of the suspects, including two of the victim's co-workers at the "Monitor." Earlier media reports claiming arrests in the case were refuted by the authorities but lacked the specific details provided in this report (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2005). The investigation is being run by the National Security Ministry and is being treated as "an act of terrorism." RG

YELTSIN ARRIVES IN AZERBAIJAN ON PERSONAL VISIT
Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin arrived in Baku on 7 April at the start of a four-day personal visit to Azerbaijan, Turan and the Caucasus Press reported. Yeltsin accepted a personal invitation to visit the country extended by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. The former Russian president was quoted as saying that although he will meet with Azerbaijani officials during his stay, the main purpose of his visit is "to see the country," Turan reported. Activists from the militant Karabakh Liberation Organization staged a demonstration on 7 April protesting the visit, citing Russian support for Armenia during the fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh in the early 1990s, Interfax reported. RG

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH VISITING BELGIAN DELEGATION
President Aliyev met on 7 April with a visiting delegation of Belgian parliamentarians, Turan reported. The Azerbaijani president discussed Baku's desire for greater integration with the European Union and asked for a more active role within Europe by Belgium in support of Azerbaijan's position on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Belgian deputies also met with leading members of the Azerbaijani political opposition parties and stressed that Azerbaijan's path to Europe is "through democracy, protection of human rights, and economic reforms." Aliyev also met on 7 April with a visiting Greek delegation led by Minister for Tourism Dimitros Avrampulos. RG

GEORGIAN SOCCER CHIEF ARRESTED FOR EMBEZZLEMENT
The president of the Georgian Soccer Federation, Merab Zhordania, was arrested on 7 April for embezzlement, Rustavi-2 TV and Imedi TV reported. Georgian Financial Police Chief Davit Kezerashvili explained that Zhordania is accused of improperly transferring roughly 1.3 million Swiss francs (about $1 million) from Tbilisi's Dynamo soccer club's account in Switzerland into his personal account. Zhordania was imprisoned for a month last year for tax evasion but was freed after paying almost 742,000 lari (about $344,000) to the authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2004). He was then questioned for a second time last month by the Financial Police and refused the offer of a deal to pay an additional fine in return for dismissal of all pending criminal charges. RG

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION LEADERS ACCUSE POLICE OF ROBBING PARTY OFFICE
The leaders of the Georgian opposition Conservative Party accused the police on 7 April of being involved in the break-in and robbery of their party offices the night before, Rustavi-2 TV reported. According to Conservative Party leaders Koba Davitashvili and Zviad Dzidziguri, the police were attempting to intimidate them after they released tape recordings implicating Financial Police Chief Davit Kezerashvili in illegal activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005). In comments to reporters, Dzidziguri also implicated Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili in the incident. RG

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT NIXES OUSTED PRESIDENT'S PRIVILEGES...
Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on 8 April to amend the law on guarantees to the president, effectively stripping ousted President Askar Akaev of privileges he had previously been guaranteed, akipress.org reported. Sixty of 63 deputies present voted to narrow the scope of immunity to exclude members of the president's family and to delete from the law the section on the status of the first president. Acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Nazarov commented to RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, "He [ousted President Akaev] has been stripped of his status of the first president which was given to him at one time. Besides, we have cancelled some of the state privileges that were given to his family members under the law on former presidents." DK

...AND FAILS TO REACH DECISION ON OUSTED PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION...
Kyrgyz deputies failed on 7 April failed to reach a decision on the resignation petition of ousted President Akaev, akipress.org reported. Three main positions emerged from the debate, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported: accepting the resignation petition Akaev signed on 4 April along with the guarantees provided in the law on ex-presidents; accepting his resignation while changing the law to remove guarantees for members of Akaev's family; and rejecting his resignation and beginning impeachment proceedings. Acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov advocated the third view, saying, "I suggest we reject Akaev's resignation and institute legal proceedings against Akaev," Kyrgyz Television reported. Parliament will continue its discussion of the issue on 8 April. DK

...AS HIS 'FINAL' ADDRESS IS HEARD
Former President Akaev touted his achievements in a video address that was recorded in Moscow on 4 April and played before Kyrgyz parliamentarians and broadcast on national television on 7 April, akipress.org reported. On his legacy, Akaev said, "Our Kyrgyzstan was a prosperous, peaceful country before 24 March 2005. I am convinced that chroniclers will consider the Akaev period a bright period in our country's history." Stressing that his final order was "not to shoot," Akaev commented, "I feel that at the most difficult moment of my life, I made the only correct decision. I prevented a civil war and did not stain my hands with the blood of my fellow countrymen." He went on to say that he had been planning to hand power over on 30 October 2005 to "a legitimate successor elected in nationwide elections," Kyrgyz Television reported. DK

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT ANNULS DECISION ON 26 JUNE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION...
Parliament voted on 7 April to annul a 24 March decision by an emergency session of the upper house of Kyrgyzstan's previous parliament to hold presidential elections on 26 June, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Deputies voted to annul the decision because, they claimed, the "old" parliament's mandate had expired at the time and because President Akaev had not yet resigned, Kabar reported. Lawmakers will return to the question of when a presidential election should be held after they resolve the issue of the ousted president's resignation, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Some legislators on 7 April spoke out in favor of holding elections on 30 October, as had been planned before the tumultuous events of 24 March. DK

...AS ANOTHER CANDIDATE READIES RUN
Almaz Atambaev, leader of the Social-Democratic Party, announced at a press conference in Bishkek on 7 April that he intends to seek the presidency, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Atambaev declared himself a supporter of a parliamentary system of government, saying, "Kyrgyzstan should have a parliamentary system of government, since a presidential system concentrates power in the hands of a single individual. Parliament is a balanced institution where all regions are represented." Atambaev is the sixth person to declare his candidacy. The others are acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, former TV journalist and current parliament deputy Adakhan Madumarov, businessman Nurbek Turdukulov, former Emergency Situations Minister Temirbek Akmataliev, and Feliks Kulov, former vice president, Bishkek mayor, and the leader of the Ar-Namys Party. DK

PROTESTORS CONTINUE TO OCCUPY GOVERNMENT OFFICES IN KYRGYZ TOWN
Up to 800 supporters of parliamentary candidate Karganbek Samakov occupied local government offices in Naryn on 7 April to protest a court decision annulling Samakov's victory in recent parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. By the night of 7 April, Samakov's supporters left the regional administration building, although they continued to occupy the provincial administration building in Naryn, akipress.org reported. The protestors are demanding the reversal of a 5 April court decision that pronounced Ishenbai Kadyrbekov the winner in parliamentary elections in Naryn. DK

RUSSIA REFUSES TO EXTRADITE TAJIK PARTY HEAD
Anna Savitskaya, a lawyer representing Democratic Party of Tajikistan leader Muhammadruzi Iskandarov, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 7 April that Russian authorities have refused a Tajik government request to extradite him. Iskandarov, who had been arrested in Moscow at the request of Tajik authorities in December 2004 on corruption and weapons charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004), was released from a Moscow detention center on 3 April. Savitskaya told Avesta, "The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has refused a request from the Prosecutor-General's Office of Tajikistan to extradite him." Savitskaya did not provide any further information on Iskandarov's current location, RFE/RL reported. DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS FULLER CONTROL OVER MOBILE-PHONE OPERATORS
Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 7 March that the government should manage Belarus's three cell-phone operators by appointing top executives and monitoring their financial and other affairs, Belapan reported, citing official sources. Lukashenka demanded the replacement of the chief executives of the cellular operators Velcom and MTS. "It should be clearly understood that the two mobile operators -- Velcom and MTS -- are stock companies whose controlling stakes are held by the government," he said. "The third one, BeST, is fully controlled by the government. We must manage them by implementing personnel policies and monitoring their financial condition, modernization, supply orders, and development." "The country lacks foreign investment and the government aims to make up for it by taking full control of the most efficient industries and taking all their profit," Belarusian economic expert Alyaksandr Patupa commented on Lukashenka's demand. JM

BELARUSIAN INVESTIGATORS RESUME PROBE INTO JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 7 April informed Volha Zavadskaya, the mother of missing journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, that prosecutors reopened an investigation into the disappearance of her son, Belapan reported. Zavadski, a Belarusian-based cameraman with Russia's ORT television network, disappeared on 7 July 2000, presumably during a trip to Minsk International Airport, some 40 kilometers east of the city, where he was to meet an arriving colleague. His car was found parked outside the airport building, but the 28-year-old journalist was never seen again. At a March 2002 closed-door trial, the Minsk Oblast Court sentenced Valery Ihnatovich and Maksim Malik, former members of Belarus's elite Almaz police unit, to life imprisonment after finding them guilty of kidnapping Zavadski. The trial, condemned by the Zavadski family as a farce, gave no answer to the question of what happened to the journalist after he was abducted. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST FINED FOR SPEAKING AT UNAUTHORIZED RALLY
A district court in Minsk on 7 April fined opposition social-democratic politician Mikalay Statkevich 3.8 million Belarusian rubles ($1,670) for addressing an unauthorized rally of protesting vendors in Minsk on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Statkevich argued that the court should also punish Deputy Prime Minister Andrey Kabyakou, who spoke at the same rally as well, but the judge took no heed. "I think this is simply an attempt to create unbearable conditions for me and force me into emigration," Statkevich commented on the verdict. Statkevich's monthly military pension on which he lives is equal to some 10 percent of the imposed fine. JM

BELARUSIAN TAXI DRIVERS STAY ON HUNGER STRIKE OVER EXORBITANT FINE
Mikalay Autukhovich, a manager of a small taxi company in Vaukavysk, Hrodna Oblast, entered the 24th day of a hunger strike on 7 April over the local authorities' demand that his company pay a fine of some 2.1 billion Belarusian rubles (nearly $1 million) for allegedly not possessing a license to provide taxi services, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Some 40 other people, including taxi drivers employed by Autukhovich, have subsequently joined his strike. Autukhovich claims that he provides taxi services legally. According to doctors, Autukhovich's health has deteriorated dangerously because of the strike. JM

BELARUSIAN LOWER HOUSE APPROVES VISA ACCORD WITH POLAND
The Chamber of Representatives on 7 April ratified a Belarusian-Polish travel agreement, Belapan reported. Under the accord, Belarusian and Polish citizens are not required to have an invitation from someone in the other country to receive a visa to that country. Belarusians traveling to the states that are parties to the EU's Schengen agreement, as well as to the Czech Republic, Ireland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom via Poland will not be required to have Polish transit visas. Belarusian citizens aged under 16 and over 65, students and teachers, and those who have their close relatives buried in Poland will be entitled to free Polish visas. Meanwhile, Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin told Belapan on 7 April that consular fees for Belarusian tourist visas issued to U.S. citizens were reduced by 50 percent to $50 as of 1 April. Yesin said U.S. citizens may obtain Belarusian tourist visas at the reduced fee in all Belarusian consular offices, except for the Minsk National Airport's consular office where visa fees remain unchanged. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER THREATENS NATIONWIDE PROTEST OVER ARREST OF ALLY...
Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the opposition Party of Regions, has announced that his party will initiate a "nationwide, general political strike" unless the authorities release Donetsk Oblast Council head Borys Kolesnykov, who was arrested on 7 April on charges of extortion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2005), Ukrainian media reported on 8 April. "Persecutions, unlawful arrests, pressure on various-level politicians, businessmen, and ordinary citizens who supported me during the last presidential elections have became an everyday norm," Interfax quoted from Yanukovych's letter to Ukraine's law-enforcement bodies. Some 7,000 people rallied in Donetsk on 7 April to protest Kolesnykov's detention, which they believe to be politically motivated. Kolesnykov is one of Yanukovych's most prominent allies; his name has often appeared in the media in connection with calls for separatism in eastern Ukraine during the 2004 presidential election campaign. JM

...AS AUTHORITIES SAY ARREST WAS LAWFUL
Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko told the Verkhovna Rada on 7 April that there were no political motives behind the arrest of Kolesnykov, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. "This case is purely criminal," Lutsenko said. "The investigation established that the head of the Donetsk Oblast Council of Deputies, Kolesnykov, threatened certain people with murder unless they transferred company shares they owned to him and some other persons." Lutsenko reiterated his stance in the parliament on 8 April, where he and Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun were summoned by deputies to provide additional explanations in the Kolesnykov case. Some 400 adherents of the opposition Social Democratic Party-united and Party of Regions staged a picket in front of the parliamentary building on 8 April in support of Kolesnykov, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. JM

KYIV COMMENTS ON YUSHCHENKO'S DECLARATION TO PROMOTE FREEDOM IN BELARUS, CUBA
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 7 April that Ukraine cherishes "friendly cooperation" with Belarus and Cuba, Ukrainian media reported. "However we proceed from the notion that true friends can always frankly speak about existing problems," the statement adds. The ministry was reacting to concerns voiced by both Minsk and Havana in connection with a joint declaration signed by President Viktor Yushchenko and his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush in Washington, D.C., on 4 April. "We also commit to work together...to support the advance of freedom in countries such as Belarus and Cuba," Yushchenko and Bush declared. "We are surprised by this [declaration]. We stand for constructive and close relations with Ukraine and the United States, but not at the expense of Belarus", Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin commented on 5 April. A Cuban government delegation that was in Kyiv on 4 April cut short its visit and Havana issued a protest to Kyiv over the Yushchenko-Bush declaration. JM

EU BROKERS END TO CRISIS OF LEGITIMACY OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S PARLIAMENT
EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana negotiated an agreement in Belgrade on 7 April with government leaders from the republics of Montenegro and Serbia, as well as from the joint state, to renew the mandate of the joint legislature, which expired recently, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The new mandate of a deputy will last until the next general elections in Montenegro or Serbia, depending on where that deputy is from. Under the agreement, any republic organizing a referendum on dissolving the union, which the Montenegrin leadership wants, must observe "democratic standards" and "cooperate with the EU" in implementing them. The Montenegrin leadership has balked at holding elections for the joint parliament on the grounds that the referendum should be held first to determine if there will indeed be a joint legislature in the future. The joint state came into being in early 2003 as a result of strong EU pressure. Wags have dubbed the state "Solania" after its primary architect. PM

DANES CITE PROGRESS ON REFUGEE RETURNS FROM SERBIA TO CROATIA
In Belgrade on 7 April, members of the Danish Council for Refugees and Serbian and Croatian NGOs discussed problems in the return to Croatia of ethnic Serbian refugees who fled during the 1991-95 conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and Hina reported. Steen Norlov of the Danish organization said that 65 refugees will leave for Croatia on 11 April, adding to the total of about 4,000 returnees whom the Danish group has helped go home since 2000. The chief problems the returnees face are restoring their housing and property rights. PM

CROATIA WANTS BETTER SHAKE FOR EASTERN EUROPE IN UN
Croatia's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Ivan Nimac, told the General Assembly on 7 April that his country backs the UN reforms proposed recently by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Hina reported. Nimac added, however, that Croatia is critical of any reform of the Security Council that does not grant an additional nonpermanent seat to Eastern Europe. He stressed that many new countries have emerged in that region over the past 15 years, necessitating an increase in Eastern Europe's role in the council. PM

MACEDONIAN PREMIER ANNOUNCES CHANGES TO ELECTION LEGISLATION
In response to international criticism of the electoral process during the first two rounds of the local elections on 13 and 27 March, Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski said on 7 April that all political forces should work to change the election laws in order to avoid similar problems during the general elections in 2006, the private A1 TV reported. Buckovski's statement came one day after the ambassadors of the NATO member states in Skopje called on the prime minister to offer concrete proposals for improving the electoral process. Voters will go the polls in 11 administrative districts on 10 April to repeat district-council elections and second-round mayoral elections at a number of polling stations where irregularities occurred during the first two rounds, according to the State Election Commission (http://www.dik.mk). In nine other districts, only the second-round mayoral elections will take place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 23, 25, and 28 March 2005, "RFE/RL Newsline," End Note, 18 March 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 April 2005). UB

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SWORN IN FOR SECOND TERM, PLEDGES TO LOOK WEST...
Vladimir Voronin took the oath of office as Moldova's president on 7 April, promising "a brand new period" in Moldova's history, international news agencies reported. "For the first time, the presidential election became an occasion for unity and the consolidation of various political forces," Voronin said in his inauguration speech to a joint session of parliament and the Constitutional Court, Reuters reported. "The imperative of joining the European Union obliges us to put aside old grievances and revive new Moldova together," he added. Voronin also paid tribute to popular revolts that over the past two years have installed pro-Western governments in Ukraine and Georgia, saying these developments inspired change in his own country. "The fresh breeze of European revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine has put new wind in the sails of Moldovan democracy. Today Moldova is not alone on its path to Europe," he added. BW

...REAPPOINTS PRIME MINISTER...
After taking the oath of office, Voronin reappointed Vasile Tarlev as prime minister and instructed him to form a government, ITAR-TASS and Infotag reported on 8 April. Tarlev's cabinet needs to win a simple majority of 52 votes in the 101-member parliament for confirmation. Press speculation had been focusing on Tarlev and Moldova's pro-Western Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan as top candidates for the post (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 5 April 2005). There was concern that naming Stratan, who has openly called Russian troops in the breakaway region of Transdniester an occupation force, would have severely damaged relations with the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). BW

...AND SAYS MOLDOVA'S CLOSER TIES WITH EUROPE WILL HELP RESOLVE TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT
President Voronin also said closer ties with Moldova's "European friends" will help Chisinau resolve its 15-year conflict in the separatist Transdniester region, Reuters reported on 7 April. "They will help us to reintegrate the country...to rid the Dnestr people of their primitive and humiliating regime," Voronin said. A former Russian ally, Voronin has bitterly criticized Moscow for refusing to withdraw its troops from Transdniester. He has persistently appealed to the United States, European Union, and neighboring Romania to join in negotiations to find a settlement to the dispute. BW

MOLDOVA RECEIVES GRANT FROM EUROPEAN COMMISSION
The European Commission will give Moldova a 9.2 million-euro ($11.77 million) grant to support its budget, reduce poverty, and enhance economic growth, RBC reported on 7 April. The grant, provided under an agreement signed by Prime Minister Tarlev and European Commission Chairman Francesco de Angelis, will be used to improve public finance management, social services, and for projects in the agricultural sector, Infotag reported on 8 April. "We hope these projects will be realized successfully, and will have a positive impact on our citizens' living standards," Infotag quoted Tarlev as saying. BW

KYRGYZ DEMOCRACY GETS SECOND CHANCE
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev signed his resignation on 4 April, adding this small and mountainous Central Asian country to the list of post-Soviet autocracies transformed by people power. Yet, while it is tempting to draw parallels between the dramatic events in Kyrgyzstan and the recent revolutions in Ukraine and Georgia, Kyrgyzstan's future may prove considerably more difficult and uncertain. Competing ethnic and regional identities divide the Kyrgyz population and, in the absence of collective leadership, these divisions threaten to reignite the many animosities that have convulsed this strategic Central Asian country in the past.

In June 1990, riots between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan left more than 300 dead. A sudden breakdown in Soviet authoritarian rule and growing economic and political grievances sparked the deadly clashes. Kyrgyzstan today finds itself in a similar situation. Poverty has worsened over the past 15 years and ethnic Uzbeks, who make up one-fifth of the population, remain markedly underrepresented in the newly ascendant opposition just as they were during the Akaev regime.

Kyrgyzstan's pronounced regionalism has the potential to heighten these already strained ethnic tensions. Under Akaev's rule, Kyrgyzstan's northern elite monopolized national politics while gingerly attempting to placate the south's divided Uzbek and Kyrgyz populations. Akaev's arbitration of the south's ethnic feuds, though imperfect, did maintain relative calm. With the appointment of Kurmanbek Bakiev as acting president, however, power has begun to shift to the southern Kyrgyz elite. Should Bakiev win the presidential elections scheduled for 26 June and begin to play favorites with his southern Kyrgyz supporters, economic grievances could once again spell violence for this troubled country.

A far more desirable outcome -- democracy -- is also possible. True, there has been much hand-wringing about the fact that Kyrgyzstan does not have a united political opposition, that in contrast to the Ukrainian and Georgian choruses of "Yu-shchen-ko" and "Misha-Misha," there is no one person Kyrgyz support. Uncertainty, however, though often a source of conflict, also provides foundations for compromise. And compromise that stresses coalition building rather than one-man rule is what Kyrgyzstan needs after a decade and a half of Akaev's heavy-handed autocracy.

Encouragingly, signs of coalition building are already present. The Kyrgyz opposition, now the acting government, has distributed political offices with an eye to more equitable regional representation. Importantly, the opposition has also reached out to the Uzbek minority. The confirmation of Anvar Artykov, an ethnic Uzbek, as governor of the southern Osh region provides a welcome bridge between the titular elite and Kyrgyzstan's Uzbek population.

Distributing offices within the executive administration alone, however, will not guarantee a lasting and democratic peace. Crucially, to ensure power sharing persists, Kyrgyzstan's interim leaders must be encouraged to give the parliament jurisdiction equal to or greater than that of the presidential branch. Democracy and strong presidencies have yet to prove a viable combination in the former Soviet Union. In the early 1990s, President Boris Yeltsin defeated Russia's nationalist and Communist legislators by crippling the parliament through a constitutional referendum. Central Asian leaders, also faced with backward-looking parliaments, pursued similar strategies. Problematically, this cure proved worse than the disease -- no longer balanced by parliaments, the Kyrgyz president, like his Uzbek, Kazakh, Turkmen, and Tajik counterparts, quickly gave in to the allure of unchecked executive power.

In the early 1990s, the United States and other Western governments supported post-Soviet executives in their struggle against retrograde legislators. These deputies, often holdovers from the communist period, were real obstacles to political and economic change. Kyrgyzstan's current parliamentary crisis similarly threatens to slow political reform. After days of confusion, opposition leaders have reluctantly agreed that the new parliament -- though stacked with old regime loyalists and although its flawed election sparked the revolution -- must be confirmed. It would be a mistake now, just as it was in the early 1990s, for Kyrgyz democrats and their Western supporters to back presidential rule as a fix to the Kyrgyz parliament's temporary ills.

If anything, the Kyrgyz parliament must be strengthened. Whereas unchecked presidentialism is zero-sum -- whoever controls the office controls the spoils of state -- parliaments encourage compromise. A strong parliament will reward legislators who can transcend narrow ethnic and regional identities, legislators who can build winning coalitions that are broadly representative of Kyrgyz society. Equally important, a strong parliament will constrain presidential power and ensure that Kyrgyzstan not slide back to the authoritarianism of its Central Asian neighbors.

Eric McGlinchey is a professor of political science at Iowa State University.

NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM OF DOWNING U.S. HELICOPTER IN AFGHANISTAN QUESTIONED
The claim made by the neo-Taliban on 6 April that the militia shot down a U.S. helicopter in south-central Ghazni Province has been rejected by the provincial governor, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 7 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2005). Asadullah Khaled told AIP that bad weather caused the crash, in which the deaths of 16 passengers have been confirmed while two are still unaccounted for. He added that the neo-Taliban claim of having shot down the helicopter "is completely without foundation." Eyewitnesses in Ghazni, however, claim to have seen smoke coming out of the helicopter before it crashed, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 7 April. According to one eyewitness, the helicopter's rotor blades lost their balance as flames appeared in the rear of the aircraft. AT

NEO-TALIBAN SAYS SIX AFGHAN 'SPIES' KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN...
Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi told AIP in a telephone interview on 7 April that the militia has shot dead six people in the Zamburi village in Oruzgan Province on 5 April on charges of spying for the United States. "In the course of interrogation from the accused it was proved that they were spying for the Americans," Hakimi said. While Hakimi did not provide the names of the alleged victims, he said anyone who is caught "spying" for the United States will see a similar fate. AT

...AND FORMER LOCAL COMMANDER ATTACKED
Spokesman Hakimi claimed on 7 April that the neo-Taliban on 6 April attacked "commander [Mohammad Naim] Garanay, a prominent supporter of the Americans," in Kandahar Province, AIP reported. "We do not know whether he [Garanay] is dead or alive, but he was attacked," Hakimi added. According to the report, Garanay was an important pro-government regional commander operating in Kandahar, and neighboring Oruzgan and Zabul provinces. Garanay was second in command of the Kandahar military corps that was disbanded recently under the UN-led Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program. AIP confirmed that Garanay was wounded in an attack and taken to the U.S. airfield in Kandahar for medical treatment. AT

SUSPECT ARRESTED IN KILLING OF BRITISH CITIZEN IN KABUL
An Afghan man identified as Omara has been arrested in connection with the shooting death of Steve MacQueen in March, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 7 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005). MacQueen, who worked with the Afghan Ministry of Rehabilitation and Rural Development, was shot in his car in Kabul. Omara is also suspected of masterminding the kidnapping of three UN employees in October who were released unharmed amidst confusion in November (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 18 November and 3 December 2004). At the time, a self-proclaimed breakaway faction of the neo-Taliban, calling itself Jaysh al-Muslimin (Army of the Muslims) claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. Omara's possible motive for killing MacQueen was not reported. AT

AFGHAN LEADER TO ATTEND POPE'S FUNERAL
President Hamid Karzai left Kabul for Rome on 7 April to attend the funeral ceremonies for Pope John Paul II, Tolu Television reported. Karzai is the first Afghan leader to ever attend the funeral of a pope. AT

IRANIAN SCHOOL HOSTAGE INCIDENT DEFUSED
A 25-year-old man armed with an AK-47 rifle held students at the Razi boys school in northern Tehran hostage for several hours on 7 April, Radio Farda reported. He gave up after speaking with his mother and police officers. The hostage taker was wearing military fatigues, and one of the young hostages told Radio Farda that the name on the uniform was Mahmud Rahimi. The man complained of mistreatment by his superiors, according to a hostage. Dr. Hamedian, the school's principal, said the hostage taker complained that financial and personal difficulties led to his actions. Several students told Radio Farda that the hostage taker was very sympathetic and gentle, and they indicated that they felt sorry for him. One student said all but two of the teachers fled, and the two who remained spoke with the hostage taker and calmed him down. BS

IRANIAN JOURNALIST APPEARS IN COURT
"Sharq" newspaper's managing director, Mehdi Rahmanian, appeared at the prosecutor's office on 6 April to face 32 complaints, ILNA reported. He faces accusations of trying to agitate the public by publishing lies. BS

CARPET WORKERS DEMONSTRATE IN TEHRAN
Police dispersed employees of the Alborz carpet company, which is in Sari, Mazandaran Province, who were demonstrating on 6 April against the factory's recent closure, ILNA reported. BS

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE LOOKS SOUTH FOR SUPPORT
The South United organization will back the candidacy of Mohsen Rezai, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 7 April, citing an unnamed parliamentarian. According to the newspaper, there are 11 million potential voters in the southern provinces, and the organization is being created to garner their support for Rezai. Presidential candidates increasingly are trying to gain the support of provincial voters. BS

IRAN WATCHES LEBANESE DEVELOPMENTS
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in the 7 April issues of France's "Le Monde" and London's "Al-Hayat" daily that Syrian forces are withdrawing from Lebanon and agreed that France and Iran can influence events there. He was adamant that external interference in Lebanese affairs must be avoided and outsiders should not try to fill the vacuum left by Syria. The disarmament of Hizballah, as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1559, is a form of external interference, he said. It is too soon for Hizballah to disarm, Kharrazi said, because of the continuing Israeli threat. Kharrazi visited Damascus before coming to Europe, and he said Syria is serious about the withdrawal. The Lebanese opposition, as well as U.S., European, and UN officials, asserts that covert Syrian assets in Lebanon are working to ensure that Syrian domination will continue after the withdrawal, "The Washington Post" reported on 31 March. BS

IRAN, IRAQ SIGN AGREEMENT ON PILGRIMS, BUSINESSPEOPLE
Foreign Minister Kharrazi met with Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Sa'd al-Hayani in Tehran on 7 April, IRNA reported. The two signed consular documents on the exchange of pilgrims and on facilities for businessmen and industrialists. They also discussed the future signing of agreements on cultural and religious cooperation. BS

TEHRAN WELCOMES TALABANI ELECTION
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami congratulated Patriotic Union of Kurdistan leader Jalal Talabani on his election the day before as Iraq's president, IRNA reported. Khatami said this development shows that Iraqis are determined to run their country without outside interference, and he added that Iran is ready to cooperate with and assist Iraq. In Iran, joyful young Kurds in Mahabad and Piranshahr celebrated in the streets on 6 June by igniting fireworks and displaying Kurdish flags, the Baztab website reported. Fifteen police officers were injured in resulting clashes, and 40 demonstrators were arrested. The Student Movement for Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran reported that demonstrations and clashes also occurred in Baneh, Marivan, Saqez, and Sanandaj. Security forces allegedly used rubber bullets and tear gas against the demonstrators, who were shouting antiregime slogans. BS

TALABANI TAKES OATH AS IRAQ'S PRESIDENT
Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani took the presidential oath of office on 7 April, becoming the first non-Arab to lead an Arab state, international news agencies reported. "I swear by God the great that I will work with devotion to preserve the independence and sovereignty of Iraq and to preserve its democratic and federal system," Reuters quoted Talabani as saying at a ceremony inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, which houses the Iraqi government buildings and the U.S. Embassy. "I will work to preserve all freedoms and the independence of the judiciary, and respect all laws, as God is my witness." Political and religious leaders gave Talabani a brief round of applause and the newly inaugurated president briefly raised his arms in triumph, Reuters reported. Shi'ite Adil Abd al-Mahdi and Sunni Arab tribal elder Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, who was previously the interim president, were sworn in as vice presidents immediately afterwards. BW

AL-JA'FARI NAMED IRAQI PRIME MINISTER
Ibrahim al-Ja'fari was named Iraq's prime minister on 7 April and said he would name a cabinet within the next two weeks, international news agencies reported. "Today represents a big step forward for Iraq and a big responsibility for me," Reuters quoted Ja'fari as saying. Al-Ja'fari said interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi had resigned but would continue to serve as a caretaker until al-Ja'fari worked on naming his cabinet. His appointment had long been expected and agreed to among the major parties, but was held up for weeks due to bargaining over other posts, Reuters reported. Ja'fari, a moderate Islamist, has said he backs a U.S. military presence in Iraq until the country's own security forces can battle the Sunni-led insurgency on their own. BW

IRAQI PRESIDENT, PRIME MINISTER DIFFER ON EXTENT OF AMNESTY
In his acceptance speech, President Talabani offered an amnesty for insurgents who have mounted daily attacks against U.S. troops, Iraqi security forces and civilians, international news agencies reported on 7 April. The insurgents "should be invited to participate in the democratic process and be given the chance to benefit from the acquired freedoms, even if they call for the withdrawal of foreign or occupation forces, as they call them," AFP quoted Talabani as saying. Prime Minister al-Ja'fari proposed a more limited amnesty for Iraqis who had been linked to Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party, but not for those he termed insurgents and criminals. "We will deal with each suspect according to the gravity of the crime, but as we announce an amnesty for those who may qualify for it, we will be merciless with those that raped our women in Mosul and killed them as you saw on television," he said. BW

IRAQI PRESIDENT APPEALS TO SUNNIS TO JOIN POLITICAL PROCESS
After taking the oath of office, Talabani appealed to Iraq's Sunnis to engage in the political process, Reuters reported on 7 April. "It's about time that our Arab Sunni brothers took part in building the new Iraq and we are very hopeful that they will participate with us in doing so," Talabani said. Sunnis make up approximately 20 percent of Iraq's population, but hold just 17 out of 275 seats in Iraq's transitional National Assembly, since most boycotted the election in January or were intimidated out of voting by insurgents. In his acceptance speech, Talabani also stressed the need for peaceful coexistence with neighboring Arab and Islamic countries. Iraq is bordered by largely Shi'ite Iran; and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Kuwait, and Turkey. BW

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