PUTIN SUBMITS SWEEPING ELECTION-LAW CHANGES...
President Vladimir Putin on 14 April submitted to the State Duma a raft of amendments to Russia's law on elections and referendums, NTV and other Russian media reported. Under the changes, candidates for elective office would be denied registration and referendum initiatives would be nullified if election authorities find 5 percent of the supporting signatures submitted to be questionable or invalid. Presently, that figure is 25 percent. In addition, Putin is proposing that legislators who attempt to change parties or factions will lose their mandates. The amendments would also bar the formation of electoral blocs to compete in elections. Another proposed change would establish a single election day for all elections from the local level to the federal. RC
...THAT WOULD STRENGTHEN MAJOR PARTIES
"Kommersant-Daily" wrote on 15 April that the overall effect of the Kremlin-backed amendments would be to strengthen considerably the position of those political parties that are already represented in the State Duma -- Unified Russia, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and Motherland. Newsru.com wrote on 15 April that the proposal for a single election day will make it very difficult for small parties to compete, since voting will be held across the country simultaneously. The change would also greatly increase the power of the state-controlled national media to influence election campaigns. Gzt.ru wrote on 15 April that the Duma will consider the amendments in their first reading on 19 April. RC
LATVIA TO RENOUNCE TERRITORIAL CLAIMS AGAINST RUSSIA
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 14 April announced that the Latvian government has decided to renounce all the country's territorial claims against Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Latvia is prepared to renounce its claim, based on a 1920 agreement between Latvia and the Soviet Union, to the Pytalovskii Raion in Pskov Oblast in order to reach a border agreement with Russia. "Finland lost Karelia," Vike-Freiberga said on Lativan television. "I imagine that Estonia is also approaching such a realization soon. It is necessary to make pragmatic decisions about what is good for the country, and it is necessary to make a courageous political decision." She added that she does not consider it necessary to hold a national referendum on a border agreement with Russia, as the Latvian opposition has been insisting. RC
FORMER YUKOS SECURITY OFFICIAL FACES NEW MURDER CHARGES
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 14 April presented new charges of murder and attempted murder against former Yukos security chief Aleksei Pichugin, Ekho Moskvy and other Russian media reported. Pichugin, who was sentenced last month to 20 years' imprisonment on similar charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 30 March and 4 April 2005), now stands accused of the 1998 murder of Feniks trading firm Director Valentina Korneeva and of twice attempting to kill East Petroleum President Yevgennii Rybin. Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Natalya Vishnyakova told RIA-Novosti on 14 April that prosecutors allege that Pichugin acted on the orders of Menatep shareholder and former Yukos executive Leonid Nevzlin. Nevzlin, who now lives in Israel and who has denied the accusations, said earlier this month that he will reveal all he knows about corruption in the Kremlin if former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii is convicted of fraud and tax evasion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005). RC
ANOTHER RUSSIAN OIL MAJOR EXPECTING TAX CLAIMS
LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov told journalists in St. Petersburg on 14 April that it is possible his company will face tax-arrears claims as a result of a government audit now being carried out for the years 2002 and 2003, RIA-Novosti reported. He said that if there are any such claims, they "will not be catastrophic." Alekperov outlined the company's plans to expand its presence in the Northwest region's retail gasoline market. At present, LUKoil controls about 35 percent of that market, and it plans to purchase or open as many as 200 new gas stations in the next two years. Alekperov also announced that the company has signed cooperation agreements with the State Russian Museum, the Institute of Russian Literature (Pushkin House), and the Russian Academy of Sciences. RC
RUSSIA'S NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS ASK PROSECUTORS TO LOOK INTO NASHI
The National Bolshevik Party (NBP) has appealed to the Prosecutor-General's Office asking it to declare the new pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi an extremist organization, Ekho Moskvy reported on 14 April. The NBP claims that Nashi activists have twice attacked its Moscow headquarters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005). The NBP charges that these incidents and the beating several days ago of an NBP member followed statements in the press by Nashi leader Vasilii Yakemenko that Nashi was launching a campaign against the NBP. An NBP lawyer told the station that if Nashi is declared an extremist organization, it would be disbanded and its leaders could face up to six years in prison. The Russian government has repeatedly refused to register the NBP. RC
BASHKIR OPPOSITION, ADMINISTRATION STEP UP WAR OF WORDS
The political opposition in Bashkortostan on 14 April announced plans for stepping up its protests against the administration of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 April. Opposition leaders Ramil Bignov and Anatolii Dubovskii told journalists that protests will be held in 15 Bashkortostan cities on 16 and 17 April and that a "revolution" will begin on 1 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2005). On that date, a massive demonstration will be held in Ufa and an "orange-colored" tent city will be constructed about 9 kilometers from the republican administration building. Administration spokesman Ruslan Sharafutdinov told the daily that the opposition is actually quite weak and that most of the unrest in the republic in recent weeks was caused by discontent over the federal government's social-benefits reforms. "If not for the social reform, they wouldn't be able to bring anyone out into the streets," Sharafutdinov said. Rakhimov's press spokesman, Rostislav Murzagulov, was also dismissive. "We don't give any significance to those people," Murzagulov said. "They have no political strength." RC
NEW KORYAK GOVERNOR CONFIRMED...
Oleg Kozhemyako was confirmed as governor of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug on 15 April, newsru.com reported. He was sworn in immediately following his confirmation by the okrug's legislature. Kozhemyako has been acting governor of the region since former Governor Vladimir Loginov was dismissed by President Putin on 9 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2005). RC
...AS TWO MORE INCUMBENT GOVERNORS RENOMINATED
President Putin on 14 April nominated Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev and Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin for additional terms, ITAR-TASS reported. RC
OREL LEGISLATORS CALL FOR REHABILITATION OF STALIN
The Orel city legislature on 13 April adopted a resolution asking the government to rehabilitate Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, arguing that Stalin's responsibility for the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens has never been proven, "The Moscow Times" reported on 15 April. Thirty-three of the legislature's 35 members signed the appeal. "The idea belongs to Deputy Mikhail Vdovin, who said that veterans' groups had urged him to demand historical justice for Stalin and to ask that people stop smearing his name," a spokeswoman for the legislature told the daily. Local human rights advocate Vladimir Krayukhin told the daily that in 1993 the city legislature adopted a resolution commemorating 11 September as the anniversary of the 1943 killing of some 150 local political prisoners by Stalin's secret police. He added, however, that no city official has showed up at commemorations of the day in the 12 years since the resolution was passed. Earlier this month, a group of cultural figures published an open letter to President Putin asking him to stop the installation in Volgograd of a statue of Stalin, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2005). RC
MILITARY OFFICIALS SAYS CHECHENS WILL BE DRAFTED THIS SPRING
The Defense Ministry plans to draft about 150 young men from the Republic of Chechnya in this spring's call-up, RIA-Novosti reported on 14 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005). Colonel Yevgenii Maksimov, head of the North Caucasus Military District's mobilization directorate, told the news agency that Chechen conscripts will serve in the republic. "They will be sent to infantry units, mostly to guard facilities, military commandants' offices in particular," Maksimov said. Earlier this month, Chechen Military Commissar Major General Saidselim Tsuev said that no Chechen citizens would be drafted this year. There has been a two-year draft hiatus in the war-torn republic. RC
INDEPENDENT ARMENIAN TV STATION VOWS TO FIGHT EVICTION ORDER
A prominent Armenian independent television station vowed on 14 April to fight a decision by the Armenian Economic Court upholding an eviction order that would force it from its state-owned offices, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The independent A1+ television channel faces eviction from offices that the station has leased for ten years from the Armenian Academy of Sciences. Tigran Ter Yesayan, an attorney for the A1+ station stated on 14 April that he intends to fight the ruling before the Court of Appeals. The eviction order also effects two non-governmental organizations that rent office space in the building. The 1+ station, well known for its consistent criticism of the Armenian leadership, was forced off the air in April 2002 after the authorities revoked its broadcasting license and all subsequent attempts to resume broadcasting have failed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 April 2002 and 12 June and 15 and 18 July and 14 October and 30 December 2003). RG
ARMENIA REPORTS SHARP DECREASE IN HUMANITARIAN AID
Simon Ter Simonian, the head of a state commission responsible for managing international aid, reported on 14 April that the total amount of humanitarian assistance to Armenia last year decreased by nearly 35 percent, to 18.4 billion drams ($41 million), according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Arminfo. The annual level of international humanitarian aid to Armenia, over 70 percent of which comes from the United States, has been declining for several years. With slightly more than half of humanitarian supplies in 2004 consisting of drugs and medical equipment, the impoverished Armenian healthcare sector is especially vulnerable to the decline. RG
COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONVENES SEMINAR ON AZERBAIJANI MEDIA...
A three-day seminar on the Azerbaijani media opened on 14 April in Baku, Turan reported. Organized by the Council of Europe, the seminar includes representatives from the government, non-governmental organizations, and journalists from state-run, opposition, and independent media outlets. The participants say bureaucratic obstacles impede the development of the non-state media. They are seeking to formulate a set of recommendations designed to encourage the expansion of the public and independent media and to safeguard rights to free press and other media freedoms. RG
...AS NEW AZERBAIJANI REGIONAL TV NETWORK IS LAUNCHED
U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish and Azerbaijani presidential administration official Ali Hasanov participated in the 15 April launch of the new Azerbaijan regional Television Network (ARTN), "Baku Today" reported. The launch is marked by the establishment of the first of several new regional television transmitters in the city of Sumgait, with another six regional televisions stations to follow. The project is a U.S. government-funded media program in Azerbaijan "aimed at improving the quality of broadcasting of the regional televisions." RG
OSCE APPROVES NEW TRAINING PROGRAM FOR GEORGIAN BORDER GUARDS
The OSCE Permanent Council approved on 14 April a new training program for Georgian border guards, Civil Georgia and the Caucasus Press reported. According to Ambassador Roy Reeve, the head of the OSCE Mission in Georgia, the new training program, to be launched on 18 April, includes specific technical assistance from OSCE military observers and seeks to endow Georgia with the capacity to police its borders. The training program is to run through the end of 2005 and aims to fully train some 800 Georgian border guards. RG
GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ANNOUNCES BAN ON DEMONSTRATONS DURING VISIT OF U.S. PRESIDENT
Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili announced on 14 April that all demonstrations and public rallies are to be banned during next month's visit by U.S. President George Bush, the Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. The interior minister made the announcement after learning of plans by opposition Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili to stage a demonstration in front of the Georgian parliament to coincide with the Bush visit to Tbilisi on 10 May. The Labor Party leader has been increasingly active in confronting President Mikheil Saakashvili in recent weeks and has openly challenged the Georgian president to a televised debate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005).RG
COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARY-GENERAL HOLDS TALKS IN GEORGIA
Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Adams arrived in Tbilisi on 14 April and met with Georgian Parliamentary Chair Nino Burdjanadze and senior deputies, the Caucasus Press reported. In comments on the first day of a three-day official visit, Davis reaffirmed the Council of Europe's commitment to assisting Georgia in strengthening democracy and reiterated the need for a peaceful solution to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. Davis is also scheduled to meet with President Saakashvili, Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli, Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, and the Georgian delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. RG
FORMER HEAD OF KAZAKH ELECTION COMMISSION BECOMES JUSTICE MINISTER
President Nursultan Nazarbaev signed a decree on 14 April appointing Zagipa Balieva as minister of justice, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Balieva was replaced on 13 April as the head of the Central Election Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2005), a position she had held since January 1996. DK
U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS KYRGYZSTAN
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld visited Kyrgyzstan on 14 April, meeting with acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev and U.S. military personnel at the U.S. airbase outside the Kyrgyz capital, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. At a press conference after meeting with Rumsfeld, Bakiev said that his government will continue to honor all agreements with the United States, akipress.org reported. He added, "I feel that there is no need to have additional armed forces from other countries in Kyrgyzstan." Bakiev also said that the issue of deploying AWACS surveillance aircraft to the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan was not discussed in his talks with Rumsfeld. For his part, the U.S. defense secretary told Kyrgyzstan's new leadership that "the United States is wishing them well in the important work that they're engaged in, in building a stable and modern and prosperous democracy," American Forces Press Service reported. DK
DAUGHTER OF OUSTED PRESIDENT RETURNS TO KYRGYZSTAN
Bermet Akaeva, the daughter of ousted President Askar Akaev, made a surprise appearance at a session of Kyrgyzstan's parliament in Bishkek on 14 April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. She said that she had arrived to occupy the seat she won in recent parliamentary elections but agreed to leave after Speaker Omurbek Tekebaev convinced her that it would be best to wait until the Central Election Commission rules on alleged voting irregularities in her election, Kyrgyz Television reported. Akaeva said that she returned to Kyrgyzstan from Moscow, where her family fled after 24 March, because she is concerned at the situation in the country, akipress.org reported. She added that her brother, who also won a seat in parliament in recent elections, plans to return as well, although she did not provide a date. The NGO Coalition For Democracy and Civil Society condemned Akaeva's return as a "provocation" and an attempt to destabilize the country. But acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev stressed that his government had not tried to block Akaeva's return, adding that he also saw no obstacles to the return of her husband, who holds significant business interests in Kyrgyzstan. DK
TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTRY SEEKS INFORMATION ON FOREIGN CONTACTS WITH CIVIL-SOCIETY GROUPS
In a briefing on 14 April, Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattorov asked foreign organizations to provide advance warning of meetings with various civil-society groups in the country, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. An official copy of Sattorov's comments made public by the BBC's Persian Service read, "The Ministry has asked all foreign diplomatic missions and offices of international organizations accredited in Tajikistan to inform in a timely fashion the Foreign Ministry of the date and subject matter of public meetings with representatives of Tajikistan's parties, public associations, and media." The Ministry said that the advance warning was necessary because some local organizations have used such meetings to "distort the strategy and tactics of Tajikistan's state policy." Muhiddin Kabiri, deputy head of the Islamic Renaissance Party, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that it if the Tajik government does not want meetings between foreign and local groups to become forums for criticizing government policy, officials would do better to take part in such meetings than to try to prevent them. DK
UN RIGHTS COMMITTEE BLASTS UZBEK EXECUTION
The United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a press release on 14 April harshly criticizing the execution of Akhrorhuzh Toliphuzhaev (Ahrorkhuja Tolibkhujaev) on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2005). Noting that the Committee had issued a request to the Uzbek government not to executive Tolibkhujaev, the press release said that the Committee received news of his execution on 7 April. Chairperson Christine Chanet "expressed dismay and utmost concern" to Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry and "requested prompt explanations from the government." Stressing that Uzbekistan has carried out several death sentences despite requests for interim measures of protection, the Committee emphasized that it "has consistently affirmed that non-respect by a state party of requests for interim measures of protection constitutes a grave breach of the state party's obligations." DK
UZBEK TELEVISION GETS NEW DIRECTOR
Abusaid Kuchimov was removed from his post as the director of Uzbekistan's Television and Radio Company on 13 April, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported the next day. He was replaced by Alisher Khujaev, a physicist by training, who was most recently deputy director of the country's Communications Agency. Kuchimov will now direct radio operations as the deputy director of the Television and Radio Company. Independent observers queried by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service said that the change came as a surprise and noted that Khujaev is a virtually unknown figure among Uzbekistan's journalists. DK
UN REITERATES DEMAND THAT BELARUS ALLOW ENTRY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ENVOY
The UN Human Rights Commission, meeting in Geneva on 14 April, asked Belarus to agree to a visit from a special UN envoy to investigate numerous allegations of human rights violations, Reuters reported. According to the news agency, the commission expressed "deep concern" that senior government officials had been implicated in the disappearances of three political opponents in 1999 and a journalist in 2000. The resolution was supported by the EU, United States, and Ukraine but opposed by Russia and China. Last year, the United States and the European Union co-sponsored a similar resolution, which raised concern about the disappearance of political opponents, electoral irregularities, and the beating and detention of demonstrators and journalists after the October 2004 parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 19 November 2004). JAC
BELARUSIAN SURVEY FINDS RESPONDENTS EXPECT ECONOMIC STAGNATION
According to a survey conducted in March, slightly more than 40 percent of the more than 1,500 people polled believe that Belarus's economic and social situation will not change within the next few years, Belapan reported on 13 April citing the Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies. Only 29.7 percent of those polled believed that an improvement is possible. Almost 17 percent thought the economic situation will deteriorate. Speaking with Belapan on 12 April, the head of the institute, Aleh Manayew said that he expects the Supreme Court will side with the Justice Ministry in a pending case and close his institute down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 April 2005). JAC
UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS CHARGES LIKELY AGAINST YANUKOVYCH
Ukraine's Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko said during an internet conference on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www.pravda.ua.com) on 14 April that criminal charges will probably be brought against former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Lutsenko said, "It looks like we've found the main vein which was feeding the pro-power candidate's presidential election campaign -- the so-called charitable foundations." According to Lutsenko, the charges that are likely to be filed against Yanukovych are not connected exclusively with improper financing of his presidential election campaign. Asked about whether charges will be brought against President Viktor Yushchenko in the bankruptcy case of Ukrayina Bank, Lutsenko said such charges are not ruled out "but are within the competence of the Prosecutor's Office." Yushchenko, speaking to reporters in Dnepropetrovsk on 14 April, said that he is prepared to initiate a case on the bank, with which he "had four years of professional and honest work." JAC
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN AGREEMENT WITHOUT MEDVEDCHUK
The leaders of four opposition parties, Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych, Progressive Socialist Party head Natalya Vitrenko, Derzhava party leader Hennadiy Vasylyev, and New Democracy party leader Yevhen Kushnaryov, have signed a communiqué outlining the principles under which they will seek to form a wide coalition of opposition forces, Interfax-Ukraine and proua.com reported. According to the document, the leaders charge that "persecution of uncooperative media, administrative pressure on businesses and the use of the courts, the prosecutors, the Security Service, and the Interior Ministry to attack opposition politicians and citizens" are all currently ongoing under the present administration. According to Interfax, United Social Democratic Party (SPDU-o) leader Viktor Medvedchuk did not sign the communiqué as the press service of the Progressive Socialist Party had reported earlier. Aleksei Mustafin, a member of the SPDU-o's political council, said that party's politburo will possibly examine this question but he doubted the party will join the effort. JAC
UKRAINIAN REPRIVATIZATION POSSIBILITY WHETTING APPETITE OF RUSSIAN CAPITAL
"Fakty" reported on 14 April that the prospect of reprivatization of some Ukrainian enterprises is attracting the interest of a number of Russian financial-industrial groups. For example, Dmitrii Chernyavskii, chairman of the Russian investment firm, Avrora Capital, told reporters in Kyiv recently that the Russian companies Severstal and Evrazholding are potential competitors in any new tender for shares in Kryvorizhstal steel mill. Severstal is also reportedly interested in obtaining the Dnepropetrovsk Metallurgical industrial complex, Zaparozhstal, and other enterprises. Evrazholding is interested in Pavlohradugol, Ukrstalkonstruktsiya, and Luhanskugleavtomatika. In February, Yushchenko said that in the coming weeks the government would review the privatizations of 30 to 40 enterprises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2005). JAC
KOSOVAR SERB LEADER SAYS IT WAS MISTAKE TO BOYCOTT ELECTIONS...
Oliver Ivanovic of the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 14 April in Prishtina that he and some of his colleagues met with parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci to discuss their return to the legislature's working groups dealing with decentralization and Serbian-Albanian dialogue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). Ivanovic said the Serbs' return to the parliament and Kosovar institutions will depend on receiving the green light from Belgrade. He noted that "the climate among the Belgrade leadership is changing, and more and more people realize that the boycott of the [2004 general] elections was a mistake and that we must try to repair the damage, even if not everyone will yet say so in public." PM
...AND BELGRADE SEEMS TO AGREE
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Belgrade on 14 April that he sees nothing wrong in the Serbs' return to the working groups but warned that a full-fledged return to the elected institutions might give a false impression that the international community's standards have been implemented. Elsewhere, Serbian President Boris Tadic told RFE/RL that he supports "everything that our citizens in Kosovo and Metohija decide [to do]." At present, Kosovar Minister of Returns Slavisa Petkovic is the only Serb in the Prishtina government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 14 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 18 February 2005). He told RFE/RL on 14 April that Kostunica's hard-line policies have hindered the return of Serbs to Kosova, which, Petkovic argues, is the main interest of the province's Serbs. PM
SERBIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES TO SEND GENERAL TO THE HAGUE...
Serbian President Tadic told the Berlin daily "Die Welt" of 15 April that he and Prime Minister Kostunica agree that there must be a "solution" to the problem of fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Nebojsa Pavkovic before EU foreign ministers decide on 25 April whether to start talks with Belgrade on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). Tadic said this means that Pavkovic will be "one way or another in The Hague,... either voluntarily or as a prisoner." The president blamed the Interior Ministry for failing to arrest Pavkovic sooner. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted Pavkovic in connection with his role in the 1998-99 Serbian ethnic-cleansing campaign in Kosova. He recently went underground or left Serbia from what had been a high-profile existence. He disappeared before police could deliver a summons for him to appear in a special Serbian court in connection with the 2000 abduction and killing of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic and an assassination attempt on Serbian politician Vuk Draskovic, who is now foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March, and 4 and 11 April 2005). Draskovic said recently that the intelligence services certainly know the whereabouts of indictees like Pavkovic. PM
...BUT THE GENERAL MIGHT BE WILLING TO GO
Ljubisa Zivadinovic, who is former General Pavkovic's lawyer, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Belgrade on 15 April that his client is prepared to go voluntarily to The Hague. Zivadinovic said that Pavkovic will go as soon as the materials necessary for his defense are ready, adding that his client told him to "work day and night" to gather the documents as soon as possible. The lawyer said that he must first talk to many of Pavkovic's former military colleagues as "witnesses." When asked whether everything will be ready by 25 April, Zivadinovic said that he hopes so, adding that he has already lost more than one month's working time because of what he called the authorities "impatience" in dealing with his client. PM
HAGUE TRIBUNAL TO SEND SOME HIGH-LEVEL SERBS HOME TO AWAIT TRIAL
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal announced on 14 April that former Serbian President Milan Milutinovic, former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic, and former General Dragoljub Ojdanic will be allowed to return to Belgrade to await trial, dpa reported. The tribunal's prosecutors had no objections to the decision, noting that Serbia's cooperation with the tribunal has improved greatly in recent months, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. It is unclear whether the prosecutor's office has agreed to a similar recommendation by the tribunal to allow former General Vladimir Lazarevic, who turned himself in voluntarily in February, to go to Belgrade pending the start of his trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January, and 4 and 8 February 2005). In related news, former Bosnian Serb Colonel Vujadin Popovic arrived voluntarily in The Hague on 14 April to face war crimes charges stemming from his alleged role in the 1995 massacre of up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb forces. PM
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE IN BOSNIA ACKNOWLEDGES HIS OFFICE MIGHT BE TOO POWERFUL
International community High Representative Paddy Ashdown told the "Financial Times" of 15 April in Brussels that his office in Bosnia-Herzegovina has not yet "outlived its usefulness," as some critics have charged. He nonetheless suggested that "the time is close upon us" when the post might not be needed, adding that "there's a danger that the [office]...takes up so much oxygen that elements of civil society could be stunted." Ashdown, who plans to leave Bosnia in November, said his successor should continue to have the power to dismiss elected officials but that this right should be phased out by the time that general elections are held in 2006. A central dilemma of the international community's protectorate in Bosnia is that the unelected high representative has often ousted duly elected officials in the name of protecting the constitution and democracy (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 March, and 1 and 15 April 2005). PM
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PRESSURES MACEDONIA OVER U.S. PACT
The European Parliament adopted a resolution on the state of regional integration in the western Balkans on 14 April, explicitly calling on Macedonia to annul the 2003 bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States, which prohibits the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), according to the parliament's official website (http://www.europarl.eu.int) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 June and 2 July 2003). The resolution says that full support for the ICC "is a basic element of cooperation between the EU and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." The parliament also "points out, in this respect, that in view of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's application for [EU] membership, the so-called 'exemption treaty' between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the U.S.A., signed in 2003, should be annulled." In related news, the European Parliament rejected a draft resolution sponsored by the parliamentary group of the Greens that called on the EU to recognize Macedonia under its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, rather than under the term the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the private A1 TV reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March and 13 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). UB
MOLDOVA'S PARLIAMENT APPROVES GOVERNMENT REFORM...
The Moldovan parliament passed legislation aimed at streamlining government on 14 April, reducing the cabinet from 16 ministries and 15 departments to 15 cabinet-level ministries, Infotag reported the same day. The government has billed the reform as a move to bring the country's structures closer to European standards. The changes are part of a broad government-reform plan proposed by Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev. "The government's new structure ensues from the tasks set to it by President Vladimir Voronin at appointing Mr. Tarlev candidate for Prime Minister for a new term of office," Voronin's Legal Adviser Arthur Reshetnikov said, adding that the changes aim to create "an up-to-date, dynamic central executive power organ." BW
...AND OPPOSITION CALLS NEW GOVERNMENT PRESIDENTIAL 'PUPPET'
The opposition Our Moldova Alliance released a statement on 14 April saying that the country's new government will be "President Voronin's puppet," Infotag reported the same day. The 23-member faction's deputy chairman, Dumitru Braghis, said the new government structure passed by the 101-member parliament was proposed not by Tarlev but by President Voronin, adding that is was "designed to ensure certain ministerial portfolios to certain persons. It does not meet the country's interests whatsoever." Braghis said he suspects the government restructuring was a pretext for a sweeping government purge, throwing out "uncomfortable people" and replacing them with obedient bureaucrats. BW
MOLDOVA RATIFIES THREE GUUAM AGREEMENTS
The Moldovan parliament ratified three agreements of the GUUAM regional group ahead of that organization's summit meeting in Chisinau, Infotag reported on 14 April. In addition to ratifying the GUUAM Charter, which was signed in July 2001 in Yalta, lawmakers passed an agreement aimed at creating a free-trade zone and one creating an Information Bureau, both of which were signed in July 2002. GUUAM comprises Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. "Regional cooperation within the GUUAM framework is an element of globalization and is not aimed against other countries," Deputy Foreign Minister Zinaida Chistruga said. In the wake of revolutions that overthrew pro-Moscow governments in Georgia and Ukraine, some observers believe GUUAM could become a counterweight to the Moscow-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). BW
BREAKING CENTRAL ASIA'S INFORMATION STRANGLEHOLD
The news media are under severe duress in virtually all of the countries of the former Soviet Union. In the former Soviet republics of Central Asia this condition is particularly acute.
The troubled state of Central Asia's news media is put into perspective by data from Freedom House's annual survey of press freedom. All of these countries fall into the category of "not free." Most disturbing, however, is the countries' trajectory. All of these lands, save Tajikistan whose ratings have improved since the end of that country's violent civil war, now enjoy less press freedom than they did a decade ago.
The tools of media manipulation and control range from the subtle to the brutal. Already marginalized independent media confront a range of obstacles, from unusually vigilant tax inspectors to physical violence, including the killing of journalists.
This systematic abuse results in a massive information gap that warps the development of these societies and deprives its citizens of the free flow of information that can bring about democratic progress.
It should therefore come as no surprise that the state television broadcast facility was of particular interest to protesters in Kyrgyzstan, who last month jettisoned the regime of then-President Askar Akaev. The protesters' taking of the airwaves released the information spigot that had been all but closed to the opposition during campaign leading up to the recent flawed parliamentary elections.
The authorities in Tajikistan, which also held parliamentary elections in February 2005, undertook their own campaign to rein in media. Citing alleged tax violations, the authorities shut down several newspapers, including "Adolat," "Odamu Olam," and "Ruzi No." Peter Eicher, chief of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, said of the Tajik authorities' treatment of the news media that "it seems to represent a pattern of government interference with independent media and this has an effect which undermines democratic elections."
On the heels of recent events in the neighborhood, Uzbek authorities have reportedly initiated criminal proceedings against Internews, a media assistance organization, signaling another effort to limit independent media development in that highly closed country.
Turkmenistan, among the most repressive states in the world, is sui generis. The government controls all media, which is used principally as an instrument to promote the personality cult of the country's president, Saparmurat Niyazov.
The authorities in these countries seek to manage the news and deny information to their citizens with good reason. Without exception, the news on these regimes' governance performance is not good. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the authorities in all five former Soviet Central Asian republics have been mired in corruption and unable to deliver essential political goods to their people.
Shining a light on these problems would of course have a salutary impact. A free flow of news and information could precipitate a demand for greater responsiveness to societal needs. Such responsiveness is, however, something Central Asian leadership has shown little capacity or willingness to entertain. As events in Georgia, Ukraine and, now, Kyrgyzstan tell us, average citizens already have come to expect better governance from their leaders, despite the best efforts of these very same leaders to keep them in the dark.
The main features of media control include deep involvement of presidential family and close associates in ownership and management positions at broadcast and print news organizations.
In Kyrgyzstan, independent broadcasters have been virtually all owned or under the control of forces close to President Akaev, including his son-in-law and other family members. The print press has been a similar story, frequently practicing self-censorship in its political coverage.
Kazakhstan boasts a more modern media landscape, but print and broadcast outlets of import are owned or controlled by financial interests and parties affiliated with the regime. President Nursultan Nazarbaev's daughter, Dariga Nazerbaeva, controls major television channels. She also exerts significant influence over several major newspapers.
To meet the range of serious challenges that loom - corruption, economic development and security among them - Central Asia needs its own information revolution, which would be a key catalyst for moving forward the democratic reform process. Events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan suggest that the democratic impulse has real traction. Despite the best efforts to control information, word of mouth and new technology is inexorably conspiring to spread the word about democratic developments, even to the most remote corners of the former Soviet space.
Unlike in the Middle East, the citizens of Central Asia do not enjoy access to the dynamic and catalytic media outlets the likes of Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya that are beamed via satellite into households throughout the politically repressive Mideast region.
This suggests that Central Asia's media reform will need to take root from within.
Toward this end, on 1 April 2005 Kyrgyzstan's media and NGO community made a public appeal for the creation of a working group that would draft legislation to establish independent public television and radio. The transformation of the country's state-controlled National TV and Radio Corporation into a genuinely independent, public station would set a valuable precedent in the region.
In Kyrgyzstan, expectations are very high, perhaps unreasonably so, for achieving swift and comprehensive reforms. Kyrgyz citizens and the outside world alike should hold no illusions about the magnitude of this challenge. The recent turn of events in Kyrgyzstan, as regards the media sector, could represent an important first step and sorely needed breath of fresh air on what is now a grim information landscape.
(Christopher Walker is director of studies at Freedom House.)
ADB TO GIVE $50 MILLION POWER PACKAGE TO AFGHANISTAN
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced plans for a $50 million aid package to Afghanistan aimed at improving power supplies in rural areas, AFP reported on 14 April. The aid package will include a $26.6 million soft loan to build a transmission network and $23.5 million grant for the construction and repair of power-distribution systems, the ADB said. Slated for completion in June 2008, the project will bring affordable power supplies to 1.2 million people, the bank said in announcing the initiative. Currently, just 9 percent of the population in Afghanistan has access to electricity, according to the bank. MR
AFGHAN OPIUM FARMERS VOW TO PROTECT CROPS
Afghan opium growers vowed to protect their poppy crops from an ongoing eradication campaign, AP reported on 14 April. "We have decided we won't let them eradicate our poppies," said Attaullah, a poppy farmer from the Kandahar area. "That's our collective and final decision. We have nothing else to lose." A group of six tribal leaders from the Kandahar area met with regional governor Gul Agha Sherzai to discuss the government crackdown in the area. Earlier this week, government forces moved to destroy poppy fields west of Kandahar but were turned back by an angry mob. Afghan officials say the eradication campaign, which is backed by U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, will continue despite resistance from poppy growers who rely on their crops for income. "If they destroy my poppies, I will throw my children into the river," said Sardar Mohammed, a poppy farmer in the Kandahar area. "If they bring the tractors, I will lie down in front of them. They will have to kill me to get into my field." MR
UNITED STATES DENIES NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM ON BOMB ATTACK
The U.S. military said an explosion last month that killed four American soldiers was an accidental detonation of an old antitank mine and not a guerrilla attack, AP reported 14 April. Neo-Taliban forces initially claimed responsibility for the blast when it occurred on 22 March outside Kabul. The explosion ripped through a U.S. military vehicle scouting in the area. "There are no indications that the mine was deliberately set for or designed to target the soldiers," the military said in a statement, saying an official investigation had ruled the incident a mishap. The statement added that explosives experts believed the mine "was likely left from previous wars and may have shifted during the recent rains." MR
AFGHAN OPPOSITION GROUP QUESTIONS ELECTORAL PROCESS
A coalition of opposition political parties in Afghanistan has challenged the credibility of the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body, the "Kabul Times" reported on 14 April. "The opposition alliance, National Understanding Front, insists that the election commission should be formed in consultation with opposition parties, otherwise the commission's reliability can be questioned," said Front spokesman Syed Mohammad Ali Jawed. The National Understanding Front is a coalition of 12 parties launched two weeks ago. Its leader is Mohammad Yunos Qanooni, the former education minister and chief rival of President Hamid Karzai for the presidency. The group has called on the United Nations to ensure the transparency during parliamentary elections slated for this fall. Critics of the group accuse some of its members, including Qanooni, of being involved in human rights violations during Afghanistan's past conflicts. MR
IRANIAN PLEADS GUILTY TO SENDING ARMS FROM U.S.
Radio Farda reported on 14 April that businessman Ahmad Tavakolian pleaded guilty in Baltimore, Maryland, in the northeastern United States, to trying to send parts for F-4 and F-14 fighter aircraft to Iran. He also pleaded guilty to money laundering charges. He was caught by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. Tavakolian's son-in-law, Hussein Vaezi, is wanted in connection with the case but he is at large and believed to be in Iran. It is unclear whether either man has connections to the Iranian government, Radio Farda reported. The U.S. government has expressed deep concern about the transfer of such technology to Iran. BS
IRANIAN AUTHORITIES CONFISCATE SATELLITE DISHES
Whenever there is a political crisis in Iran, Radio Farda reported on 14 April, the state makes it more difficult to have access to free and independent news sources. The authorities recently initiated a round-up of satellite dishes, which are illegal, in Tehran, Markazi Province (literally "Central" Province). The dishes were thrown from their roof-top perches and the owners were fined. Radio Farda linked these developments with the pending presidential election, which is scheduled for 17 June. BS
U.S. CONGRESS CONSIDERS LEGISLATION ON IRAN
Radio Farda reported that the Middle East Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives discussed legislation relating to Iran on 14 April in Washington. The legislation -- the Iran Freedom Support Act (HR 282) -- calls on the White House to support pro-democracy forces that oppose the Iranian regime. The legislation is supported by 140 members of the House of Representatives and is stricter in some ways than the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act of 1996. The bill calls for mandatory sanctions for those who help Iran's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, Radio Farda reported. The legislation also says that independent expatriate Iranian broadcasters should receive funding. BS
IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER MEETS WITH STUDENTS
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with members of two student organizations -- the Office for Strengthening Unity and the Islamic Association of Universities -- in Tehran on 14 April, IRNA reported. He said U.S. statements about promoting democracy in Iran reveal that Washington has a specific timetable in mind (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2005). Khamenei said anonymous "certain individuals" should not be allowed to help what IRNA termed an "interventionist conspiracy." Khamenei also praised the student movement as responsible, innovative, and pioneering. BS
IRAN AND SYRIA RESUME CONSULTATIONS
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is paying his second visit to Syria this month, and on 14 April he met with President Bashar al-Assad and Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara, Syria's SANA news agency reported. They reportedly discussed Lebanese developments and an upcoming conference on Iraq in the Turkish city of Istanbul. They reportedly also discussed bilateral relations. Kharrazi told reporters when he arrived in Damascus that the failure of Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami to form a government is a matter of great concern, IRNA reported. "The political vacuum in Lebanon does not serve the interest of Lebanon and the entire region," he said. "The friendly states should find a way out of the current situation." Kharrazi added that the current meeting is meant to prevent Israel's "taking advantage of the current situation in Lebanon," in IRNA's words. One day earlier, the "Washington Post" cited anonymous "U.S. and European officials" who said that most Iranian military personnel have left Lebanon. Those who remain are military advisers and/or military attaches at the Iranian Embassy. UN Resolution 1559 calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. BS
IRAN CONTINUES ISLAMIC OUTREACH IN AFRICA
Javad Torkabadi, the Iranian ambassador to Nigeria, presented religious literature and computers to a Muslim umbrella organization called the Jama'atul Nasril Islam (JNI) on 12 April, state television reported. The ceremony took place at the JNI headquarters in the northern city of Kaduna. The donation included copies of the Koran, two computers, computer disks with Hadith (the Prophet Mohammad's sayings and teachings), and other materials. The Iranian official said this contribution should help propagate Islam in Nigeria and that more should be expected. Fifty percent of Nigeria's 137,253,133 people are Muslims, 40 percent are Christians, and the remainder practice indigenous beliefs. BS
MILITARY ARRESTS SUSPECTED INSURGENTS IN BAGHDAD SWEEP...
U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested 17 suspected terrorists and seized cash and weapons during search operations in western Baghdad, dpa reported on 15 April, quoting a U.S. military statement. "Iraqi army soldiers of the 307th Iraqi Army Battalion played a key role in the operation, finding eight AK-47 rifles in a mosque suspected of harboring anti-Iraqi forces and supporting terrorist activities," the statement reads. U.S. troops confiscated bomb-making materials, ammunition, $2,200, and anti-Iraqi forces propaganda during the search, which was conducted on 14 April. BW
...AS WAVE OF IRAQ BOMBINGS CONTINUES...
Bomb attacks on U.S. and Iraqi forces on 15 April killed at least four people and wounded seven others, international news agencies reported the same day. A bomb targeting Iraqi National Guard troops in eastern Baghdad killed one civilian and wounded three; another car bomb intended for a U.S. convoy passing through the capital's Mansur neighborhood killed at least one person and wounded five; and a roadside bomb near the northern city of Samarra killed two Iraqi soldiers, Reuters reported. Reuters quoted U.S. military commanders as saying that the number of insurgent attacks has fallen by approximately one-fifth since Iraq's 30 January elections but the scale and sophistication of militant operations has increased. A twin suicide car bombing in Baghdad on 14 April that killed at least 15 people was the worst single attack since February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2005). BW
...AND AL-ZARQAWI GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR IRAQ CAR BOMBINGS
Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated group claimed responsibility for two suicide car bombs that killed at least 15 people near an Interior Ministry building in Baghdad on 14 April, international news agencies reported the same day. "Two lions from the martyrs' brigade...launched themselves -- one attacked an apostate police patrol guarding the office of the apostate minister, while the second hit the rear end of a nine-car patrol," Reuters quoted an Internet statement purportedly from al-Zarqawi's group as saying. Al-Zarqawi's group, the Al-Qaeda Organization for Holy War in Iraq, said the bombings were a message to U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick that the insurgency cannot be quashed. Zoellick paid a surprise visit to Iraq on 13 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 April 2005). "Yesterday, the lieutenant of the Jews and Christians declared that the fires of the blessed jihad in Iraq could be extinguished, but this coward has been defeated and disappointed," the statement said. The group also claimed responsibility for a bombing near a residence for foreigners on 14 April in Tikrit, dpa reported the same day. BW
PRISONERS RIOT AGAIN AT IRAQ'S CAMP BUCCA PRISON
Detainees at Camp Bucca, the largest U.S.-run prison facility in Iraq, rioted on 14 April for the second time in less than two weeks, AFP reported the next day. The riot reportedly occurred after one man was killed by a fellow inmate, triggering a fight that left 12 wounded. "The fight was confined between the detainees in one compound and was not directed at U.S. forces," the U.S. military said in a statement. "The guards regained control of the compound and immediately began rendering medical treatment to 12 other detainees who were injured during the fight." The military said that the slain prisoner's remains will be handed over to the Iraqi government and then returned to the family following an autopsy. On 1 April, 12 prisoners and four U.S. guards were wounded in a riot at Camp Bucca, the country's largest detention facility with 6,000 inmates, as detainees burned tents and hurled rocks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005). BW
OIL OFFICIAL SAYS IRAQ CAN INCREASE CRUDE EXPORTS
Dhi'a al-Bakkaa, the head of state oil-marketing company Iraqi State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO), said improved security could help boost the crude exports that are vital to efforts to rescue the country's struggling economy, Reuters reported on 14 April. Al-Bakkaa said Iraqi exports could potentially reach 2 million barrels per day by the end of September, an increase of one-third from the current 1.5 million barrels per day. "With improved security and investment, we can reach exports of 2 million barrels per day by the end of the third quarter," he said. Insurgent attacks on Iraq's northern export pipeline to Turkey have undermined efforts to increase oil production, transport and sales. BW