MINISTRY PRESENTS SURPRISE BUDGET PLAN FOR 2006-08
The Finance Ministry has presented a surprisingly austere budget plan for 2006-08 to the government's budget-planning commission, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 April. The daily reported that it had secured a copy of the ministry's plan, which reflects significantly less government spending than had been expected. Although the plan includes funding for the government's stated goal of doubling public-sector wages by 2008, it does not include funding to double pensions, to increase military spending, to finance the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway, or to finance improvements to St. Petersburg's transport infrastructure. Under the plan, government expenditures are indexed by 7 percent, less than the anticipated inflation rate. The plan reportedly includes the creation of a 100 billion-ruble ($3.33 billion) investment fund, a project supported by Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref. The newspaper commented that the Finance Ministry's plan will increase pressure from some in the government and from the public to use the so-called stabilization fund to boost public spending. RC
GOVERNMENT FEELING THE PINCH OF LOST LAWSUITS
Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov on 11 April chaired a government meeting at which ministers discussed the problems the government faces in coping with a wave of lawsuits against it, "Izvestiya" reported on 12 April. Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov told the meeting that the government paid out 523 million rubles ($17.5 million) in judgments in 2004 and that this year the figure will reach at least 1.2 billion rubles. The government expects a wave of lawsuits from veterans of the effort to cleanup the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear-power-plant disaster, since the government increased benefits to them by 8 percent as of 1 January and many analysts predict the courts will demand a greater increase. There are an estimated 1.5 million Chornobyl veterans in Russia. RC
PROSECUTOR-GENERAL GIVEN SECOND TERM
The Federation Council on 13 April confirmed President Vladimir Putin's nomination of Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to another five-year term, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The vote was 141 in favor, with none opposed and one abstention, and came just one day after Putin submitted the nomination. Ustinov's first term as prosecutor-general was to have expired on 17 May. Ustinov told senators on 13 April that he is working hard to root out corruption in his agency. "In this matter, there can be no compromises," he said, according to RIA-Novosti. Many analysts noted that Ustinov is known for his extreme loyalty to the Kremlin and that his office has played a key role in the Yukos affair and in efforts to reign in regional executive-branch heads. RC
TNK-BP OFFICIALS CONTINUE ASSAULT ON GOVERNMENT AT LONDON FORUM
TNK-BP CEO Robert Dudley sharply criticized the Russian government at the Russian Economic Forum in London on 12 April, "The Moscow Times" reported on 13 April. The presentation came just one day after media reported that the government has presented the company with claims for more than $1 billion in taxes due from 2001 and after former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov attacked the government at the same forum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2005). "The state has progressively asserted its influence over the commanding heights of the economy," Dudley said. "Russia is becoming inadvertently more difficult to navigate for Russian and foreign investors." He said that although the business climate in Russia has worsened since the landmark $8 billion deal that formed TNK-BP in 2003, the company remains "positive about Russia" and plans to invest another $1.8 billion in the country this year. RC
GAZPROM, ROSNEFT MERGER TO BE DONE BY 24 JUNE
The merger of state-controlled Gazprom and state-owned Rosneft will be completed by 24 June, RBK reported on 13 April, citing Gazeksport CEO Aleksandr Medvedev. Medvedev told the Russian Economic Forum in London that the merger will be finalized before Gazprom's scheduled 24 June shareholders meeting. Under the deal, the state will increase its share of Gazprom to a controlling 51 percent in exchange for Rosneft. Yuganskneftegaz, formerly the main production subsidiary of Yukos which is now controlled by Rosneft, is expected to be formed into an independent company that will be headed by current Rosneft CEO Sergei Bogdanovich. RC
PUTIN SIGNS OFF ON MERGER OF THREE SIBERIAN REGIONS
President Putin met in Moscow on 12 April with Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, Evenk Autonomous Okrug Governor Boris Zolotarev, and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Oleg Budargin to discuss plans to merge the three regions, RTR and other Russian media reported. Putin expressed his support for the plan, saying "the aim of these transformations should be to improve people's lives." Khloponin told RTR that the governors have worked closely with the Economic Development and Trade Ministry and the Finance Ministry to develop a plan for the merger that includes "major federal investment projects" in the new region. "Vedomosti" reported on 13 April that Putin had signed a decree allocating up to 7 billion rubles ($233 million) for the territories if they merge. The newspaper commented that the order "might be used to convince the residents of the regions" to vote "yes" in the 17 April referendums on the merger. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, who participated in the 12 April meeting, told RTR that the level of federal subsidies for the three regions will not be increased if they merge. RC
STUDENTS RALLY IN MOSCOW, NIZHNII NOVGOROD
About 4,000 students demonstrated in Moscow on 12 April to protest education reform, low stipends, and rising tuitions, Russian media reported. About 2,500 students held a similar rally the same day in Nizhnii Novgorod. The demonstrations were organized by the Communist Party, the Motherland party, and various student trade unions, ITAR-TASS reported. Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko told the news agency that representatives of his ministry met on 12 April with a delegation of protestors to hear their demands. He said that "it is impossible...right now" to meet students' demands that stipends be increased above the official subsistence level. "Even in Soviet times student grants never exceeded the subsistence level and hardly ever reached that index," he said. RC
DUMA TO CONSIDER NEW BILL ON COSSACKS
President Putin on 12 April submitted to the State Duma a new draft law on the service of Russian Cossacks, RIA-Novosti reported. Under the bill, the list of tasks delegated to Cossacks would be expanded to include combating terrorism, assisting during natural disasters, protecting the environment, and maintaining public order. In addition, Cossacks would be used to provide patriotic education to draftees and to help prepare young people for military service. RC
SURVEY REVEALS SHIFT IN ARMENIAN PUBLIC OPINION
According to the results of a public opinion poll released on 12 April, a significant proportion of Armenians are increasingly willing to accept the idea of territorial concessions to Azerbaijan, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The public opinion poll, consisting of a random survey of 1,900 people throughout the country, found that 50 percent of those polled did not object to the return of Armenian-controlled territories in Azerbaijan proper. The findings revealed a greater level of acceptance for the need for some compromise in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Regarding the future status of the enclave, over 84 percent of those polled strongly indicated that any potential peace plan must result in either a fully independent Karabakh or its incorporation into Armenia proper. A mere 2.6 percent of respondents expressed support for its return to Azerbaijani rule. The survey was conducted by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS), an independent think-tank in Yerevan founded by former Armenian Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian. RG
ARMENIAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER COMMENTS ON MILITARY REFORM PLANS
Armenian Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian announced on 12 April that Armenia is planning to launch a comprehensive military reform program, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Mediamax reported. Speaking at a Yerevan conference on Armenia's expanding role within the NATO alliance, the deputy defense minister explained that the reform plan will be a multiyear effort conforming to NATO standards, and reflecting a long term goal of developing a modern armed forces capable of meeting "new challenges." Aghabekian also pledged that the Defense Ministry is committed to achieving "more active participation of civilian elements in defense issues" and greater "democratic oversight" of the armed forces. Armenia is currently working with NATO experts to develop a formal framework, known as an individual partnership action plan (IPAP), to guide its deepening relationship with NATO's Partnership for Peace program, (PfP). The Armenian Defense Ministry is also expected to unveil a new national security strategy and a revised military doctrine in the coming months. RG
NEW AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION BLOC FORMED
A new opposition electoral bloc was formed on 12 April by a group of prominent political and civic figures, according to Turan. The new group, known as the "New Policy" bloc, is led by Lala-Shovket Gadjieva, the leader of the National Unity Liberation Movement; Eldar Namazov; former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Masimov; former Azerbaijan National Independence Party leader Etibar Mamedov; and the head of the Movement of the Intelligentsia, Eldaniz Guliev. The group is comprised of several influential and well known personalities, as both Gadjieva and Namazov are former presidential advisors, and Mamedov was the main opposition candidate in the 1998 presidential elections. The bloc advocates a "non-violent transition from a corrupt, authoritarian clan-society to a democracy" and plans to field a number of candidates in the coming parliamentary election set for November 2005. Initial efforts to form this new electoral bloc capable of challenging the Aliev government began late last month (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 April 2005). RG
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN PAKISTAN...
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev arrived in Pakistan on 12 April at the start of an official two-day state visit, Turan reported. The Azerbaijani president met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, discussed plans for the expansion of bilateral ties, and requested diplomatic support for Azerbaijani efforts to raise the issue of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the United Nations. The two leaders also formally signed a set of eight new bilateral agreements. RG
...AS U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ARRIVES IN AZERBAIJAN
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld arrived in Baku on 12 April, Turan reported. Secretary Rumsfeld, in Baku after a surprise visit to Baghdad, held talks with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev and Prime Minister Artur Rasizade. Rumsfeld's visit -- the third in a year -- is widely seen as reflecting the expanding military relationship between Azerbaijan and the United States. Rumsfeld reviewed security plans for the Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline and discussed ongoing counter-proliferation efforts along Azerbaijan's borders with Russia and Iran. RG
EUROPEAN COURT FINDS GEORGIA GUILTY OF VIOLATING HUMAN RIGHTS OF EXTRADITED CHECHENS
The European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling on 12 April finding Georgia guilty of violating the human rights of a group of 13 armed Chechens arrested near the Georgian-Russian border in August 2002, the Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. The ruling held that the Georgian authorities denied five of the Chechens the right to appeal the Georgian decision to extradite them to Russia and imposed a fine of 80,500 euros ($103,630) against the Georgian government. The Strasbourg-based court also found the Russian authorities guilty of human rights violations and imposed a lesser fine for their treatment of the Chechens. Georgia extradited five of the Chechens to Russia despite a protest by the European Court of Human Rights at the time. The Georgian authorities subsequently freed the other Chechens, although two were later arrested by Russian security forces. RG
SEMINAR EXAMINES GEORGIAN PLANS TO COMBAT TORTURE
Meeting in Tbilisi, a group of Georgian government officials and foreign experts participated in a seminar on 12 April to review the implementation of Georgia's "national action plan against torture," Civil Georgia reported. The seminar, organized by the OSCE Mission to Georgia, is part of a broader OSCE initiative to strengthen Georgian capabilities in preventing torture. The Georgian plan to combat torture was originally developed by the country's national security council, with significant assistance from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the OSCE Mission to Georgia. RG
KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY URGES PRESIDENT TO VETO ELECTION LAW CHANGES
Alikhan Baimenov, chairman of the opposition party Ak Zhol, announced at a news conference in Almaty on 12 April that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev should veto recently passed amendments to the country's election law, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Baimenov said that Ak Zhol's proposed changes to the election law, intended to bring it into line with OSCE standards, should be brought before parliament by 1 June 2005. The amendments recently passed by parliament have drawn criticism for their ban on demonstrations during elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005). DK
KYRGYZ POLL SHOWS KULOV LEADER FOR PRESIDENCY
A poll conducted among Bishkek resident's shows that Feliks Kulov, leader of the Ar-Namys Party, is the leading contender in upcoming presidential elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Conducted among 630 Bishkek residents on 5-7 April by Sotsinformbyuro with the help of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the poll asked respondents whom they would vote for if elections were held on the nearest Sunday, akipress.org reported. Kulov garnered the support of 52.2 percent of those polled, with acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev running a distant second with 18.3 percent. Other candidates polled less than 5 percent. DK
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH URGES NEW FOCUS FOR KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT
In an open letter dated 12 April, Human Rights Watch urged acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev to inaugurate a new era of respect for human rights in Kyrgyzstan. The letter, signed by Acting Executive Director of the Europe and Central Asia Division Rachel Denber and published on the organization's website (http://www.hrw.org), welcomed the decision to hold presidential elections on 10 July and advised holding new parliamentary elections shortly thereafter. It also proposed concrete measures to ensure free and fair elections, such as complete and up-to-date voter lists. Other topics covered by the letter included the personal security of political candidates, freedom of assembly, media freedom, the treatment of ethnic minorities, and judicial reform. The letter also urged the assignment of responsibility for events in Aksy in 2002, when police shot and killed six demonstrators, applauded the recent voiding of corruption convictions against Feliks Kulov, and proposed the establishment of "a commission to provide for the rehabilitation of other victims of politically motivated repression under the Akaev government." DK
ASIAN DEVELOPMENT BANK ALLOCATES $110 MILLION FOR TAJIKISTAN
Neeraj Jain, director of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) office in Tajikistan, told a news conference in Dushanbe on 12 April that the bank has allocated over $110 million for projects in Tajikistan over the next three years, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Jain said that $30 million will go to the reconstruction of the Dushanbe-Jirgatol highway. Another project is the reconstruction of the Norak hydropower station, Avesta reported. Jain noted that the current ADB portfolio in Tajikistan consists of 17 preferential loans totaling $265 million. DK
TURKMEN, IRANIAN LEADERS OPEN DAM
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami attended the official opening of the Friendship Dam on the border between the two countries on 12 April, turkmenistan.ru and IRNA reported. Constructed at a cost of $168 million with investments by both countries, the complex consists of a dam and reservoir. President Niyazov called the complex a symbol of Iranian-Turkmen cooperation and raised the prospect of future joint energy projects on the Caspian shelf and of Turkmen electricity exports to Iran, turkmenistan.ru reported. In a meeting with the Turkmen president the same day, President Khatami also praised the dam as a sign of close relations, IRNA reported. In other remarks, the Iranian president stated that his country will not give up its right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. DK
UZBEKISTAN SENDS AID TO KYRGYZSTAN
Uzbekistan dispatched 60 railroad cars containing $600,000 worth of humanitarian aid to Kyrgyzstan on 12 April, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The aid consisted primarily of seeds, fertilizer, and fuel. At a ceremony at the Andijon rail station in Uzbekistan, Abdumalik Anorboev, Kyrgyzstan's acting minister of agriculture, expressed his country's gratitude for the aid, which he said will allow spring planting in Kyrgyzstan to proceed on schedule, UzA reported. DK
DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST TRIALS IN UZBEKISTAN
Demonstrators gathered outside the presidential administration in Tashkent on 12 April to protest the sentencing of a religious extremist the day before, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Relatives of 21-year-old Shuhrat Abdurahmonov, who was sentenced to 7 years in prison on 11 April for involvement in the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, asserted the young man's innocence and charged that he was tortured in custody. They demanded Abdurahmonov's release and charges against the police officers who allegedly tortured him. Protestors said that 21 young people from the Hamza section of Tashkent are now going on trial on similar charges. A government official met with protestors and heard their demands. DK
BELARUS-RUSSIA UNION OFFICIAL LAMENTS DIVERGENCE IN RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN MEDIA COVERAGE...
Pavel Lysau of the Information Department of the Belarus-Russia Permanent Committee told reporters in Minsk on 8 April that the fact that Russian and Belarusian media report the same events in different ways "is detrimental for the cause of union-building and Belarusian-Russian cooperation," Interfax-Belarus reported on 12 April. Speaking at the same conference, Mikalay Syarheyew, deputy director of the Minsk-based Public Press Center, noted that many Russian and some Belarusian journalists regard Russia and Belarus as "foreign" states. "However, the president of Belarus and an overwhelming majority of the population do not consider Russia a foreign state," he said. JAC
...AS BELARUSIAN MEDIA EXPERTS PREDICT NEW CRACKDOWN ON INDEPENDENT PRESS
"Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," No. 1518, quoted Zhanna Litvnina, head of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, saying that the Belarusian authorities are seeking "a total cleansing of the information field." Yelena Ravbetskaya, chairwoman of the Fund for the Development of Regional Presses, told the weekly that the pressure on non-governmental mass media in Belarus is not a new round of counterpropaganda but a continuation of an old trend. She said, "Now there is the practice of throwing newspapers out of stores.... The next step, in my view, is for the printing presses to refuse to publish independent newspapers and for Belsoyuzpechati to [refuse to] distribute them." She concluded, "I am absolutely sure that by 2006, the nongovernmental press that writes about politics will no longer exist." JAC
UKRAINIAN REGIONAL GOVERNMENT REOPENS ISSUE OF RELOCATIONS NEAR CHORNOBYL
The Homel Oblast administration has submitted to the republican government a plan for resettling residents of sparsely populated rural areas with radioactive pollution above one curie per kilometer, Interfax-Belarus reported on 12 April citing Halina Akushko, head of the radiation safety department for the oblast administration. The contaminated areas include 188 small villages with 410 families. Most of the residents are elderly people who refused to be evacuated after the 1986 blast at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. Last month, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka called for a revision of the relocation program adopted following the 1986 disaster, because many people demanded relocation for the sole purpose of improving their material position (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2005 and 22 April 2004). Meanwhile, opposition activists announced on 12 April that they will depart from the years-long tradition of commemorating the 26 April anniversary of the disaster with a march in downtown Minsk because the authorities oppose such demonstrations and end up dispersing them, according to Belapan. JAC
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES HANDS OFF DONETSK CRIMINAL CASE
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told reporters in Warsaw on 12 April that he will not intervene in the legal case against Donetsk Oblast council head Borys Kolesnykov, UNIAN and Interfax reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 11 April charged Kolesnykov with extortion accompanied by a threat of murder, prompting complaints from his political allies such as former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2005). Yushchenko said that he will never tell the court, prosecution, or other legal bodies how to do their work. Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko said the government is not taking much interest in the case, adding that all those who are guilty of "robbing the country must be punished." UNIAN reported that organizers of the tent city established in Kyiv to show support for Kolesnykov said that 100 more people arrived in Kyiv from Kharkiv, Odesa, and Dnepropetrovsk. The encampment is decorated with the flag of the Party of Regions and signs saying "Boldedan, Kolesnykov, who's next?" On the same day, "Ukrayina moloda" reported that the tent city had no more than 100 participants. JAC
CASE CONNECTED TO DONETSK JOURNALIST'S MURDER REOPENED IN UKRAINE
Deputy Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokhin has confirmed the reopening of the investigation of the death of a homeless man, Yuriy Veredyuk, who had been convicted and then later acquitted for lack of evidence of murdering opposition journalist Ihor Aleksandrov in July 2001, "Segodnya" reported on 12 April. Veredyuk died on 19 July 2002 a month after he was acquitted from what was then deemed a heart attack, but some sources have later suspected was poisoning. According to glavred.info on 11 April, President Yushchenko held a news conference in Donetsk in which he promised to take personal control over the investigation of Aleksandrov's murder. In an interview with glavred.info, Aleksandrov's wife, Lyudmila, said that Yushchenko sent her an attorney to represent her family's legal interests at the beginning of March. JAC
UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY HAS QUESTIONS ABOUT KUCHMA CHARITY
Ihor Surkis, president of the Dynamo joint stock company, spent four hours on 12 August in the office of the Interior Ministry's Directorate for Fighting Corruption and Organized Crime, "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. Ihor is the younger brother of Hryhoriy Surkis, head of Ukraine's football federation and a political and business partner of former presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk. Surkis was asked about his transfer of 6 million hryvnyas (more than $1 million) to the foundation of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. Surkis told journalists outside of the directorate's office that the foundation has either returned or intends to return the money. According to Kanal 5, some 42 million hryvnyas were transferred from offshore accounts to the fund, and the Interior Ministry is conducting an audit of what happened to this money. JAC
EU CALLS FOR TALKS WITH SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO...
The European Commission recommended on 12 April that the EU begin talks with Serbia and Montenegro on preparing a Stabilization and Association Agreement for that country, international and regional media reported. The negotiations could begin in 2005 and last about one year. "This is the beginning of the European road for Serbia and Montenegro," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said. "The country has achieved a great deal over the past few years and it is time to move on." Turning to the main issue that has held up Belgrade's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions, namely Serbia's failure to arrest and extradite people indicted by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, Rehn argued that "Serbia and Montenegro has finally made significant progress in cooperating with the Hague tribunal," having encouraged about a dozen indictees to turn themselves in since the start of 2005. But some commentators suggested that NATO, for its part, is still unlikely to admit Belgrade to its Partnership for Peace until all indictees are in The Hague. Former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic and former Serbian commander in Kosova General Nebojsa Pavkovic are still at large (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 February, and 5, 6, 11, and 12 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). PM
...AS THE LAST OF THE GROUP...
EU Enlargement Commissioner Rehn said in Brussels on 12 April that "this feasibility study [about starting talks leading to a Stabilization and Association Agreement] is a positive signal at a critical moment when we need to engage Belgrade in constructive discussions on the future status of Kosovo. The progress of Serbia and Montenegro will help to stabilize the region and work for the security of all of Europe," international and regional media reported. Montenegro's policies have generally not been an issue in the joint state's pursuit of Euro-Atlantic integration. Croatia is the furthest advanced of the five western Balkan countries in their bids for EU membership but is held up primarily by the government's failure to find and arrest fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2005). Albania began negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement over one year ago but has made little progress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2002, 26 May 2004, and 2 February 2005). Macedonia has formally applied for EU membership, but many in Brussels consider that move premature (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 October 2004 and 25 February 2005). Bosnia-Herzegovina has yet to start talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement but a feasibility study, like the latest one for Belgrade, has already called for talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2005). PM
...AS SERBIAN LEADERS WELCOME THE NEWS
The results of the European Commission's feasibility study were received in Belgrade "with satisfaction but without euphoria," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "We are now on the ground floor of the building, and it depends on us alone when we will get to the top floor [of full EU membership]...and whether we will slowly take the stairs or use the elevator," Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said, "We have arrived at the European road that will take us to EU membership." He noted that this path will not be easy but stressed that Serbia is up to the task. "I am convinced that we as a state have enough strength and maturity...to work together to protect Kosovo and Metohija, to strengthen the joint state [of Serbia and Montenegro], to work for the fastest possible membership in the EU, [and to develop]...our political and economic system," Kostunica added. He argued that "Serbian citizens are unreservedly oriented toward the EU...and we regard the EU as our common home." Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said that the feasibility study will lead to quicker and better access for Serbian goods to EU markets. PM
KOSOVA'S PRESIDENT RULES OUT DIRECT TALKS WITH SERBIA
Serbian President Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 12 April that he plans to invite Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova to talks in the Serbian capital as a prelude to the multilateral negotiations on Kosova's final status that are widely expected to start this year, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Prishtina, Rugova adviser Muhamet Hamiti said that "there can be no direct political talks with Belgrade," Reuters reported. "If there is eventually an international meeting to finalize the issue of Kosova's independence, neighbors can take part but without a right to veto," Hamiti added. The two sides have held sporadic talks in recent years under international mediation on technical but not on political issues. All Kosovar Albanian political parties support independence based on self-determination and majority rule, arguing that Serbia lost any right to the province by its brutal behavior there in 1998-99. Tadic recently paid a controversial visit to Serbian enclaves in Kosova but did not meet with any ethnic Albanian officials (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 February 2005). PM
SOLANA CALLS ON MACEDONIA AND GREECE TO RESOLVE NAME DISPUTE
EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said after a meeting with Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski in Brussels on 12 April that Macedonia and Greece should have resolved their dispute over the name of Macedonia long ago, MIA news agency reported. Solana said he hopes the issue will be resolved in the coming months. Greece does not recognize the constitutional name of Macedonia -- the "Republic of Macedonia" -- arguing that the name implies territorial pretensions toward the northern Greek province also called Macedonia. Under Greek pressure, the UN and other international institutions recognize Macedonia under the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) rather than under its constitutional name (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February and 8 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 June 2003 and 12 November 2004). Solana's statement followed the latest exchange between Athens and Skopje, in which Macedonia rejected a UN mediator's reported proposal to use the name "Republika Makedonija -- Skopje" in its international relations. UB
EU ENVOY SAYS BRUSSELS READY TO HELP IN TRANSDNIESTER...
The EU's special representative for Moldova, Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged, said on 12 April that Brussels is prepared to assist in the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, although he offered no details, Infotag reported the same day. "We are ready to help in this," said Jacobovits de Szeged, who was concluding a two-day visit to Chisinau. "I will not be present here permanently but will be coming to Chisinau frequently. Besides this, I will be in consultations to learn the opinions of Moscow, Kyiv, Bucharest, Washington, the OSCE, [and] European Union member states." Jacobovits de Szeged, who plans to return to Chisinau on 26 April, said that while the EU currently has no plan for settling the dispute, it expects to formulate proposals. BW
...AND PRAISES MOLDOVA'S PROGRESS
Jacobovits de Szeged also praised Moldova for the "radical change" that has taken place in that country in recent years, Infotag reported on 12 April. Specifically, the EU special representative praised Chisinau's efforts at democratization and adoption of pro-European policies. "This is an essential step forward," Jacobovits de Szeged said. He added that the EU will open an office in Chisinau. Jacobovits de Szeged said Moldovan relations with the EU will depend on how efficiently an "action plan" between Brussels and Chisinau is implemented. BW
MOLDOVA'S PRESIDENT ACCUSES TRANSDNIESTER OF PROVOCATIONS...
President Vladimir Voronin accused the breakaway Transdniester region of "systematic provocations" that he said are part of an effort to legitimize the Russian military presence, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 April. "The Moldovan leadership won't be dragged into this escalation of tensions," Voronin said during a meeting with EU Special Representative Jacobovits de Szeged the previous day, according to the president's press service. Voronin said tighter monitoring of Moldova's border with Ukraine according to EU standards will help settle the dispute. "Moldova is counting on the help of the European community on this issue," Voronin said. BW
...AND IS UNDECIDED OVER WORLD WAR II CELEBRATIONS IN MOSCOW
President Voronin said he is unsure whether he will participate in festivities in Moscow to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. Voronin said he has not ruled out the possibility of going to Moscow, but said he thought he should remain in Moldova when the anniversary is celebrated. "The president of the country should always be with his people on such historic days," Voronin said. "That is why we are still thinking how to participate in the festivities in Moscow." BW
KYRGYZSTAN HIGHLIGHTS FAILURE OF MANAGED DEMOCRACY (Part 1)
When Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev visited the United States in May 1993, President Bill Clinton promised U.S. assistance to Kyrgyzstan in that country's transition to a democratic system. A White House spokesperson said at the time that President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore "singled out Kyrgyzstan as a model for the other new independent states, praising President Akaev for his government's bold pursuit of macroeconomic stabilization and democratic reform," according to AP.
Less than 12 years later, on 24 March 2005, President Akaev fled his country amid protests that began over alleged improprieties in parliamentary elections but quickly focused on a key demand: the ouster of President Akaev. As Kyrgyzstan's opposition celebrated the end of what it condemned as a corrupt and undemocratic regime, observers looked to similar events that felled long-ruling regimes in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine in 2004 and asked: Is a wave of democratic change sweeping through the former Soviet Union?
The White House's optimism about Akaev and Kyrgyzstan in 1993 was not unfounded; it rested on encouraging signs and genuine hopes. But the eventual failure of those hopes to come to fruition -- a failure sealed by Akaev's ignominious fall and flight on 24 March -- serves to warn us against undue exuberance in the face of the latest changes. Once again, we encounter encouraging signs. But we should be wary of concluding that democracy is finally on the march, much as we might hope for that outcome. Instead, we should take a hard look at the one indisputable lesson to be drawn from events in Georgia, Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan: The post-Soviet political systems in each of those countries failed a crucial test. What was the test, why did they fail, and what lessons do their failures hold for other countries in the former Soviet Union?
In Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, the test that the existing political system faced and failed was the test of free and fair elections. In all three countries, allegations of electoral fraud sparked protests that eventually led to political changes so significant that they call to mind the word "revolutionary."
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights monitored all of the elections in question and produced detailed reports. An OSCE postelection interim report on Georgian parliamentary elections in late 2003 stated that "the election process was characterized by a clear lack of political will by the governmental authorities to organize a genuine and democratic election process." The OSCE's assessment of the second-round Ukrainian presidential election in November 2004 was similarly harsh.
The OSCE's evaluation of first-round parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan struck similar notes: "The 27 February 2005 parliamentary elections in the Kyrgyz Republic, while more competitive than previous elections, fell short of OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections in a number of important areas. The election displayed some limited improvement, including the fact that voters were offered a real choice among contesting candidates in many constituencies. However, the competitive dynamic was undermined throughout the country by widespread vote buying, deregistration of candidates, interference with independent media, and a low level of confidence in electoral and judicial institutions on the part of candidates and voters."
Managed "democracy" is what happens when a ruling elite feels obliged to hold elections but does everything in its power to control their outcome. In the post-Soviet world, managed democracy is the brainchild of a political elite that grudgingly accepts elections as a precondition for legitimacy yet retains a Soviet understanding of politics as a dark art of manipulation. The practice of managed democracy amounts to a grab-bag of dirty tricks and a playing field that is anything but level -- state-controlled media serve up puff pieces to promote favored candidates and smear campaigns to denigrate undesirable ones, election commissions ignore gross violations and punish minor ones, duplicate candidates confuse voters. The list is long and sordid. But its purpose is short and sweet: to reduce the necessary evil of elections to a predictable exercise that allows elites to devote the bulk of their time to more pressing pursuits, mainly the exploitation of public office for private gain.
Though it has its roots in a Soviet idea -- that politics is at once material and ethereal, administered with payoffs and adjusted with propaganda -- the managed democracy we find in post-Soviet states should not be confused with the system that came before it. Through all its permutations, the Soviet system had a strong totalizing streak that led it to try to control all things in society. Its successors are, in at least one sense, genuinely more democratic, for they focus on the majority. They jealously guard state-run television, with its nationwide reach and demographically average viewers, but are not overly concerned if the numerically insignificant chattering classes air their discontent in newspapers with limited readership. (Managed democracy comes in a variety of forms, however, and some regimes -- in Central Asia, for example -- "manage" the political process so closely that they reduce the role of "democracy" to window dressing, producing systems more accurately described as "authoritarian" or even "dictatorial," although they contain elements of managed democracy.)
But while this system offers undeniable advantages to elites more concerned with the perquisites of power than the perils of accountability, it is fatally flawed. The flaw is twofold -- first, the lack of accountability reduces the incentive for the elite to communicate with constituents and base governance on the electorate's real concerns; and second, as issues properly treated in the public political realm are left to fester or are resolved through back-room deals, the inevitable popular dissatisfaction creates an incentive for the elite to intensify its management of the political process. The result is a vicious cycle in which the political process becomes dysfunctional. In other words, managed democracy is not democracy at all.
Sooner or later, something has to give. Elections are a flashpoint because they put the spotlight on the machinery of managed democracy even as they raise the very issues the dysfunctional political system has neglected. The particular course of events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan was in each case a product of local circumstances. However, the unifying thread was that a virtual political system that maintains the appearance of democracy but disdains its essence collided with the real political concerns of millions of citizens. The collision revealed that the emperor had no clothes, and he was soon forced to exit the scene.
The causes of Kyrgyzstan's revolution are not difficult to divine. They include a widespread perception that the Akaev government was massively corrupt, that the distribution of whatever economic benefits had accrued to Kyrgyzstan in the post-Soviet period was grossly inequitable, that the Akaev-led ruling elite was actively manipulating the mechanisms of democracy in order to prolong its rule, and that state-controlled media were distorting the real situation in the country. The specific grievances that gave rise to protests were election-related. But the government's refusal to respond to demonstrators' concerns, and the decision to bring into play pro-government provocateurs, exacerbated an already critical situation and opened the floodgates for an outpouring of popular dissatisfaction that brought down the regime.
(Part 2 will explore the outcome of the Kyrgyz revolution. Excerpted from RFE/RL analyst Daniel Kimmage's testimony on 7 April before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe [Helsinki Commission] on the causes and consequences of Kyrgyzstan's revolution.)
RANKING AFGHAN OFFICIALS SENTENCED FOR CORRUPTION
An Afghan court ordered jail time for two deputy ministers and six other senior officials convicted of corruption, dpa reported on 12 April. Deputy Hajj Ministers Atta-ul-Rahman Salim and Sayyed Ahmad Jamal Mubari were convicted on graft charges and face both prison sentences and fines, an official for the Afghan Supreme Court said. "Both deputy ministers have been sentenced to three years in jail, and each has been [ordered] to pay 13 million Afghani ($265,000)," the court official said. Four other officials were sentenced to two-years jail terms, while two others face a year in jail in addition to fines. All of the convicted officials were charged with misuse of government funds meant to aid Afghans journeying to Mecca last year for the Muslim religious pilgrimage known as the hajj. Thousands of Afghans who made the trip late in 2004 said the ministry failed to offer proper assistance to pilgrims. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has often complained about government corruption, welcomed the sentencing through a spokesman. "It is an important decision and warning to those who want to misuse and misappropriate their official position," said Karzai spokesman Jawed Ludin. MR
DRUG SHOOTOUT KILLS ONE, INJURES SEVEN IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Opium farmers and counternarcotics forces traded gunfire outside Kandahar in a gun battle that left one dead and seven injured, AP reported 12 April. Fighting erupted when hundreds of protesters torched cars and blocked a main road as Afghan counternarcotics authorities entered the area as part of an ongoing drug crackdown. "The poppy-eradication team came under fire from several directions," said deputy police chief Salim Khan. "They fired, and six people were injured and one killed. One of the team was also injured." Khan said the authorities have halted their operation and launched talks with protest leaders. Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammed Daoud said the operation in Kandahar Province was the first of its kind this year. It remained unclear whether Afghan authorities would continue their raids in the area, a former Taliban stronghold. Daoud said more counternarcotics operations are planned in the western Farah Province. MR
AFGHAN POLICE ARREST THREE FOR ATTEMPTED KIDNAPPING
Afghan police on 11 April arrested three suspects thought to be behind a botched kidnapping plot against an American in Kabul, AFP reported the next day. Police arrested the suspects near the location where attackers forced a young American into a car on 10 April, said Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal. "Police arrested three men armed with AK-47s, hand grenades, pistols, and fake license plates in a Toyota four-wheel drive vehicle as they were preparing for another kidnapping attack on [11 April]," Mashal said. Two of the men arrested wore military fatigues, while the third wore street clothes. "They have not confessed, but we think they were behind the [10 April] kidnapping attempt," Mashal said. The American escaped his abductors, who stuffed him into the back of the vehicle, by forcing open the hatch of the moving car and calling for help. "The abduction of a U.S. citizen in Kabul on 10 April demonstrates the potential remains great for attacks against U.S. citizens," the American consul in Kabul, Russel Brown, wrote in an open letter after the incident. Attacks on civilians have not been limited to Americans. Gunmen shot a British development worker as he drove through downtown Kabul last month. Kidnappers abducted three UN workers from Kabul in October but released them one month later. MR
FORMER IRANIAN POLICE CHIEF LAUNCHES PRESIDENTIAL BID...
Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who headed the national police force from June 2000 until his retirement in the first week of April, launched his presidential campaign on 11 April, Mehr News Agency reported. Qalibaf said he sees no impediments to the restoration of relations with the United States, adding that discord with Washington is no panacea for the country's difficulties. He said the United States and other countries are not responsible for mismanagement and other issues. Qalibaf defended Tehran's stand on the nuclear issue, saying the country should pursue nuclear technology while gaining the international community's confidence regarding the program's peaceful nature. Iran should not submit to pressure, he said. Qalibaf also said he would choose his cabinet on the basis of merit and expertise, and he expressed confidence in the country's youth. Qalibaf identified drugs, prostitution, and hooliganism as society's biggest problems and said violence is not the solution. Turning to the economy, Qalibaf advocated privatization and said state subsidies should be better targeted. He said fighting unemployment would top his agenda, and he pledged to create jobs, control inflation, and boost purchasing power. BS
...AS ANOTHER PROSPECTIVE CANDIDATE BIDES HIS TIME
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who served as president from 1989-97, said on 12 April in Isfahan that he will decide within three weeks whether to launch a presidential bid, IRNA reported. He said he will serve if he must but prefers to see new people leading the country. BS
IRANIAN INFLATION RATE CLIMBS
A recent report from the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran says that inflation rose to 15.1 percent in the 11 months ending in 20 January, IRNA reported on 12 April. BS
RETIRED CIVIL SERVANTS DEMONSTRATE IN TEHRAN
Approximately 300 retired employees of the Iranian monarchy's intelligence and security service (Sazeman-i Ettelaat va Amniyat-i Keshvar, or SAVAK) demonstrated for two hours outside the Ministry of Intelligence and Security to protest the failure to pay their pensions, Baztab website reported. BS
TEHRAN REFUSES TO REPATRIATE CANADIAN'S REMAINS
Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad told reporters in Tehran on 12 April that Iran will not send the remains of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi to Canada, IRNA reported. Kazemi was beaten while in custody at Evin Prison in June 2003 and subsequently died of her injuries. Karimi-Rad said the Canadian request is illegal. BS
VISITING DANE MEETS IRANIAN NUCLEAR OFFICIAL
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani told visiting Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller on 11 April that Iran is not interested in pursuing nuclear weapons because this would divert from the country's 20-year development plan and because the supreme leader's religious decree against nuclear weapons is far more important than international agreements like the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Mehr News Agency and IRNA reported. Rohani said Iran expects "practical and tangible security, political, and economic guarantees" from Europe, as well as "access to modern European technology." BS
U.S. BOOSTS SUPPORT FOR IRANIANS' DEMOCRATIZATION EFFORTS...
Pursuant to a $3 million Congressional appropriation, the U.S. State Department is soliciting proposals from "educational institutions, humanitarian groups, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals inside Iran to support the advancement of democracy and human rights," according to "USA Today" on 11 April, citing the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. According to "USA Today," the U.S. government already spends approximately $15 million per year on Persian-language broadcasting to Iran. Iranian Ambassador to the UN Mohammad Javad Zarif denounced the U.S. effort as a violation of the Algiers Accords (which prohibit interference in Iranian internal affairs) and hinted at referring the United States to an international tribunal, "USA Today" reported. BS
Iranian state radio commented on 12 April that Washington already supports "isolated and rejected groups or elements" but that this only leads to embarrassment for the United States or these groups. It added that not only have U.S. efforts to cause "anarchy and domestic unrest" in Iran over the last 20 years failed, but they have in fact caused "increased public anger and hatred against America." The commentary concluded: "It seems that the American officials have thrown themselves in a fatal abyss by financing opposition Iranian groups." State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 11 April that "none of the activities that are mentioned in the announcement or the ["USA Today"] article are inconsistent with our commitments to the Algiers Accords," according to the State Department website (http://www.usinfo.state.gov). "Supporting democracy and human rights around the world is something the United States does everywhere," Boucher said. "It's not an attempt to decide somebody else's internal affairs." BS
U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE VISITS IRAQ...
In the second visit in two days by a top U.S. official, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick made a surprise trip to Iraq on 13 April, international news agencies reported the same day. After arriving in Baghdad, Zoellick traveled to al-Fallujah to meet with U.S. troops. He was scheduled to hold talks in Baghdad with transitional President Jalal Talabani and acting Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari. "We are obviously, in the aftermath of this election, in a key period of political formation," Reuters quoted Zoellick as saying in reference to the 30 January elections. "This is a process of political transition, the formation of Iraqi democracy." U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Iraq on 12 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2005). BW
U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY WON'T SET TIMETABLE FOR IRAQI PULLOUT
During his visit to Iraq on 12 April, Secretary Rumsfeld said U.S. troops would eventually need to be withdrawn from the country, but he declined to set a timetable, international news agencies reported the next day. "The presence of [U.S.] security forces is not going to be something that is going to go on forever," Reuters quoted Rumsfeld as saying. Rumsfeld said an American pullout is contingent on Iraq's political course and the readiness of Iraqi forces being sufficiently trained by the U.S. military. "We don't really have an exit strategy. We have a victory strategy," Rumsfeld said in remarks reported by AFP. "We are here for a mission to set the country on the path of democracy, freedom, and representative government." The United States has approximately 140,000 troops in Iraq. Poland announced on 12 April that its 1,700-strong force will pull out at the end of this year. BW
...AS VIOLENCE FLARES AGAIN
A roadside bomb exploded near Kirkuk as Iraqi oil guards tried to defuse it on 13 April, killing nine people and wounding four, Reuters reported the same day. All of those killed worked for the Northern Oil Company, Kirkuk police chief Major-General Torhan Yusif said. The guards had successfully deactivated a roadside bomb in Bajwan, eight miles northwest of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, but a second bomb exploded when they later tried to defuse it, Reuters reported. In Baghdad, meanwhile, four separate explosions wounded four civilians and left U.S. military vehicles in flames on 13 April, Reuters reported the same day. BW