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Newsline - April 26, 2005


IS PUTIN PROCLAIMING A 'RIGHT-LIBERAL' ECONOMIC COURSE?
Russian President Vladimir Putin's state-of-the-nation address (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005) made some far-reaching economic proposals that could pave the way for a new "right-liberal" economic course, strana.ru and polit.ru, quoting Russian analysts, reported. First, Putin proposed a de facto amnesty on capital by suggesting that wealthy Russians could "repatriate" their assets from abroad -- regardless of their origin -- if they pay a 13 percent income-tax rate and put their money in Russian banks. Second, Putin suggested legally recognizing the privatization of apartments, other real estate, and property that millions of ordinary Russians have privatized ad hoc over the last several years. Finally, Putin offered to abolish the inheritance tax. Finance Minister Aleksei Kurdin said on 25 April that Putin's proposals will give "a powerful drive to developing the market in Russia," the TV station RTR reported. But the head of the Moscow-based Institute of Globalization, Mikhail Delyagin, said he does not believe that an amnesty on capital will work, Ekho Moskvy reported on 25 April. An amnesty will simply lead to the legalization of criminal capital because after the repatriation and legalization of the money within a Russian bank, "criminal money" can return to an offshore or foreign account, Delyagin said. VY

PRO-KREMLIN ANALYST SAYS PUTIN WILL NOT REPLACE FRADKOV GOVERNMENT
State Duma First Deputy Speaker (Unified Russia) Lyubov Sliska said that she believes that "some remarks that the president made about the government hint that a possible reshuffling of Mikhail Fradkov's cabinet may be coming," Interfax reported. However, Political Studies Institute Director Sergei Markov said on 25 April that President Putin has no plans to replace the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, as some analysts inferred from Putin's address, TV-Tsentr reported. "This government is composed of technocrats who, in general, have followed his instructions," Markov said. But within the government is a group headed by Finance Minister Kudrin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref who "are loyal not only to him but also to 'an international liberal consensus,'" Markov said. Putin continues to rely on them despite opposition to the policies of Kudrin and Gref and growing demands for their sacking, he said. "Putin himself will never send them into retirement, unless the opposition proposes a better unified team of reformers with their own ideology and concept," Markov added. Unless this happens, Putin will continue to work with Kudrin and Gref, as well as ex-Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar; the head of Unified Energy Systems, Anatolii Chubais; and the rector of the Higher Economics School, Yevgenii Yasin, all whom support the government intellectually. VY/JAC

KREMLIN POLITICAL ADVISER ON PUTIN'S ADDRESS
Gleb Pavlovskii, director of the Effective Politics Foundation and a former Kremlin political consultant, said in Moscow on 25 April that Putin gave a definite "no" to attempts to divert Russia to "a non-democratic path of development or impose external control [over it]," RosBalt reported. Although Putin never mentioned the word "revolution" he did, in fact, imply it in several places during his speech, Pavlovskii said. Putin made it clear that he will confront the so-called "democracy of direct action" and that any attempt to implant such a democracy in Russia will meet a tough response, Pavlovski said. As far as businesses are concerned, they got a green light to work in the marketplace but were banned from interference in politics, Pavlovskii said. "Big business will no longer be allowed to be a sponsor of a political party or a politician," he noted. On other matters, Pavlovskii said that the Kremlin has decided to relax its grip on the mass media. "The epoch of the struggle against oligarch censorship ended in victory and there will no longer be as many recommendations to the television stations," he said. Putin's political goal is to consolidate his supporters and add more supporters to his about 30 million base, mainly from among the growing Russian middle class and educated youth, Pavlovskii concluded. VY

RUSSIA HINTS IT COULD BEGIN TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM GEORGIA BY END OF YEAR
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Moscow on 25 April after talks with his Georgian counterpart, Salome Zourabichvili, that Moscow is ready to start withdrawing its troops from Georgia later this year "if an accord is reached," RTR and other mass media reported. Lavrov did not specify how long the withdrawal process would take, but Zourabichvili, for her part, told Ekho Moskvy that Tbilisi would consider it "ideal" if the withdrawal were completed by 1 January 2008, rustavi2.com reported on 26 April. She said the three main issues -- the starting date for withdrawal, the deadline for competing it, and the interim stages -- have nearly been resolved. Speaking in Tbilisi on 25 April, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli similarly said that late 2007 is an acceptable date for completing the closure of the Russian bases, Interfax reported. Visiting Tbilisi last week, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov proposed the 1 January 2008 deadline, but Georgian Parliament Speaker Nino Burdjanadze said the process should be completed earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). VY/LF

SOME ANALYSTS WELCOME NEW PROPOSAL REGARDING GUBERNATORIAL APPOINTMENT PROCEDURE
President Putin's annual address on 25 April elicited a range of reactions from Moscow-based analysts and policymakers, Russian news agencies reported. During his speech, President Putin suggested that the "State Council consider ways of clarifying the new procedure for appointing the heads of the executive [branches] in regions of the federation, so that the president might nominate for the post a representative of the party that won the regional election." Kirill Polyakov, chairman of Leningrad Oblast's legislative assembly, called Putin's suggestion a "democratic step, because if the residents of a region express their trust in a party, then in this way they are trusting the party's representatives to express their interests in the political arena," regions.ru reported on 25 April. Leonid Gozman, secretary of the Union of Rightist Forces Political Council, said that "if this idea is implemented then Russia will actually have parliamentary sub-republics. This is good if the elections are held openly and fairly." JAC

PUTIN RENOMINATES SAMARA HEAD...
President Putin has submitted the name of the incumbent Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov for the post of governor, Interfax reported on 25 April citing the presidential press service. According to gazeta.ru, Titov's term officially expires in July, but he formally appealed to Putin on 19 April for the president to express his confidence in him. Citing an unofficial source in the oblast administration, the website reported that Titov already has the president's approval as well as that of local Duma, and all that stands in the way of his assuming a third term in office is Putin's signature on a decree. Titov has headed Samara Oblast since 1991 when he was appointed by President Boris Yeltsin. JAC

...AS OREL LEGISLATURE CONFIRMS FOURTH TERM FOR STROEV
Orel Oblast's legislative assembly voted on 23 April to confirm incumbent Governor Yegor Stroev for a new term, ITAR-TASS reported. Stroev was nominated by Putin on 15 April. Stroev won reelection for his third term in October 2002 with more than 90 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 October 2002). JAC

MORE FISSURES EMERGE AMONG LIBERALS...
Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov has announced that he has joined Vladimir Lysenko's Republican Party, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 April. According to the daily, Ryzhkov would neither confirm nor deny that he has severed ties with former world chess champion Garri Kasparov, with whom he launched the Committee-2008 in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2004). However, Ryzhkov told Interfax that he and Kasparov differed over "party building principles and mechanisms of this process" during negotiations on reorganizing Committee-2008 into a unified party. Earlier this month, Kasparov and Ryzhkov announced that they had decided to form their own liberal political party after unification talks with the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Yabloko, and other liberal groups broke down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2005). JAC

...AS REPUBLICAN PARTY OF RUSSIA WINS NEW CONVERTS, UNIFIED RUSSIA LOSES
Also joining the Republican Party are State Duma Deputy and former Krasnoyarsk Governor Valerii Zubov and independent State Duma deputies Mikhail Zadornov and Svyatoslav Nastashevskii, gazeta.ru reported on 25 April. Zubov is a former member of Unified Russia's faction and Zadornov was a former member of Yabloko's faction in the previous Duma. Zubov told gazeta.ru that many of his colleagues in the Unified Russia faction are thinking about leaving. Zubov told Ekho Moskvy on 24 April that Unified Russia party leader Boris Gryzlov said that parliaments are not places for discussion. Earlier in the month, State Duma Deputy Boris Vinogradov said he was leaving the Unified Russia faction and that he did not agree with the party's policy on the monetization of in-kind social benefits, Amur Oblast's Alpha TV reported on 8 April. Vinogradov told Ekho Moskvy on 24 April that if Unified Russia is going to be considered a presidential party, then the president should officially be known as the head of it, as was the case in the Soviet Union, and take responsibility for it. JAC

NOT ENOUGH VOTERS SHOW UP FOR DUMA BY-ELECTION
Results from the by-election held on 24 April for a State Duma seat from a single mandate district in Bryansk Oblast were invalidated because of low voter turnout, ITAR-TASS reported. The deputy head of the regional election commission, Viktor Filippov, told the agency that only about 23.6 percent of the electorate took part, just missing the necessary 25 percent minimum. According to the oblast election commission's website, eight candidates were registered, including former Communist Deputy Vasilii Shandybin. The seat became vacant after State Duma Deputy (Unified Russia) Nikolai Denin was elected governor of the oblast. JAC

'THE ECONOMIST' PLANS RUSSIAN EDITION
The Russian publisher ID Independent Media announced on 25 April that the first issue of the Russian-language edition of the London-based weekly "The Economist" will hit the newsstands this autumn, Russian agencies reported. "The Economist" will join "Newsweek," "Forbes," and "National Geographic" as well-known international magazines that have launched Russian-language editions in recent years. VY

LOCAL ADMINISTRATORS WITHDRAW SUPPORT FOR INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT
Almost 50 percent of all local administration heads in Ingushetia have signaled to the opposition Operational Staff their readiness to join the opposition to President Murat Zyazikov, whose ineptness and corruption they say they can no longer tolerate, the opposition website ingushetiya.ru reported on 25 April. An unspecified number of those local administrators have written to the website to deny that they signed a statement made public in the name of all the republic's local officials affirming their support for Zyazikov. The opposition plans to stage mass demonstrations on 30 April to demand Zyazikov's resignation. LF

GOVERNOR SAYS KRASNODAR-ADYGEYA MERGER NOT A PRIORITY
Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev told journalists on 25 April that the issue of subsuming the Republic of Adygeya into surrounding Krasnodar Krai is not currently on the agenda, www.kavkazweb.net reported, quoting RIA Novosti. Tkachev said that he is prepared to discuss a possible merger if and when the issue becomes relevant, but at present his region has enough problems of its own. Some 10,000 people took to the streets in Adygeya on 22 April to protest the planned abolition of the republic's status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 7 January and 22 April 2005). LF

BUSINESSMAN SEEKS RELEASE OF ARMENIANS IMPRISONED IN EQUATORIAL GUINEA
Moscow-based Armenian businessman Ara Abrahamian told journalists in Yerevan on 25 April that he has proposed a deal to the government of Equatorial Guinea that he hopes will culminate in the release of six Armenian aviators sentenced last November on charges, which they deny, of plotting to overthrow that country's leadership, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 7 December 2004). Abrahamian disclosed no details of the planned deal, although he said it would be beneficial to the government of Equatorial Guinea. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian traveled to the country's capital, Malabo, in late February in an unsuccessful bid to secure the Armenians' release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2005). Amnesty International reported on 13 April that the airmen are being held in appalling conditions and risk starving to death. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SAYS PREELECTION SITUATION IN AZERBAIJAN 'ALARMING'
A statement released on 25 April in the wake of last week's visit to Baku by Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) rapporteurs Andreas Gross and Andres Herkel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2005), the PACE Monitoring Committee decried the absence of many basic preconditions for ensuring that the November parliamentary ballot is free, fair, and democratic, Turan reported on 26 April. The committee noted restrictions on the freedom of assembly and on freedom of expression that deprives the opposition of the ability to convey its message to the electorate; the almost total absence of dialogue between authorities and opposition; the lack of pluralism on television channels; and obstacles faced by independent journalists. It called for amending the Electoral Code in line with recommendations by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and the OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights to reduce the representation on those committees of members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party and persons loyal to or affiliated with it. LF

AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES REFUSE TO ALLOW FORMER PREMIER'S AIDE TO LEAVE COUNTRY
Officials at Baku airport prevented Saday Nazarov, who in 1993-1994 served as an aide to then Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, from leaving Azerbaijan on 25 April on the grounds that his passport was not in order, CTK reported on 26 April. Nazarov left Azerbaijan in 1994 and was granted asylum in the Czech Republic. He was arrested on his return to Azerbaijan three months ago and charged with treason, but those charges were dropped earlier this month and he was released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January, 2 and 15 February, and 18 April 2005). LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT HINTS AT VISIT TO MOSCOW
Mikheil Saakashvili told the Israeli television channel RTVi on 25 April that he will travel to Moscow to attend the celebrations on 9 May to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II if bilateral relations with Russia improve, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili told Ekho Moskvy in Moscow the same day after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that if an agreement on the gradual closure of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia could be finalized by early May, then Saakashvili could go to Moscow to sign it on 8-9 May, Interfax reported. Saakashvili further told RTVi that Georgia will not host any military bases after the Russian pullout, and that its armed forces will be the smallest in any of the post-Soviet states. He said Georgia is ready to establish "small but effective" joint antiterrorism units with Russia. LF

RUSSIAN MILITARY DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR ABKHAZ KILLING
The Military Prosecutor for the North Caucasus Military District has denied that Russian peacekeepers deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone were responsible for the death of a young Abkhaz man in Gali Raion on 20 April, Caucasus Press reported on 25 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 April 2005). Representatives of Russia, Georgia, the peacekeeping force, and the UN Observer Mission will jointly investigate the circumstances of the young man's death, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told journalists in Moscow on 25 April after his talks with his Georgian counterpart Zourabichvili. Lavrov claimed the young man died when a weapon he was trying to seize from one of the Russian peacekeepers went off accidentally; local witnesses said a Russian peacekeeper shot the victim during a drunken brawl. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION JOURNALIST RELEASED IN RUSSIA
Irina Petrushova, the editor of the Kazakh opposition newspaper "Respublika," was released by Russian authorities in Volokolamsk, outside Moscow, on 24 April, Navigator reported. Petrushova, who is a Russian citizen, had been detained on 23 April when she came to pick up her foreign passport at the Volokolamsk passport office, Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 April. Russian police detained her on a warrant issued by Kazakhstan's financial police in 2002. Her detention prompted a demonstration in front of the Russian Embassy in Almaty on 25 April, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Aleksandr Petrushov, Petrushova's brother, told the radio station Ekho Moskvy on 25 April that he feared that Kazakh security forces might try to abduct his sister if she were released. Petrushova, whose journalistic activities have brought her into frequent conflict with Kazakhstan's authorities, has resided in Russia since late 2002. She was briefly detained and released in St. Petersburg in 2004, also on charges from Kazakh financial police. DK

FORMER KYRGYZ PRESIDENT DENIES WRONGDOING ALLEGATIONS
In an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 25 April, former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev denied charges that documents discovered in his office tie him to illegal meddling in recent parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 April 2005). "I had no bookkeeping, and could not have had it," he said. "If [the current Kyrgyz leadership] has such documents, they should show them to the people and an analysis should prove their veracity." Referring to a list of 42 businesses in Kyrgyzstan currently under investigation for ties to the Akaev family (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20-22 April 2005), the former president said that he has a link only to the presidential library. Akaev accused the current leadership of attempting to cover for its own failings by discrediting its predecessor, saying that he believes the list of his alleged business interests will be used to dispossess their rightful owners. The former president took a grim view of the country's new leaders, saying: "I feel real pain today when I see that Kyrgyzstan's interim leaders are more concerned with dividing power among themselves and satisfying their political and financial ambitions rather than taking care of the interests of the people. All of this of course is leading the country towards an inevitable economic crisis." DK

AR-NAMYS PARTY HEAD TO SEEK KYRGYZ PRESIDENCY
Feliks Kulov, the head of the Ar-Namys Party, announced on 25 April that he will seek the presidency in the 10 July elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He said that he made the decision in the hope of "stabilizing the situation, defending the population, ensuring interethnic harmony, and preventing the flight of the Russian-speaking population." Kulov said that if he is elected, he will offer the post of prime minister to current acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, who also plans to run for president. Kulov identified the main elements of his platform as a move from a presidential to a parliamentary political system, as well as the conduct of administrative, judicial, and law-enforcement reforms. Saying that the current government has "no authority" and "no credibility," Kulov proposed the formation of a committee of national salvation, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENT CONFIRMS CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL
Kyrgyzstan's Parliament voted on 25 April to confirm a constitutional council to prepare changes to the country's basic law, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The 114-member council will include 37 legislators, 10 representatives each of the executive and judiciary, and 57 representatives of political parties and NGOs. Speaker Omurbek Tekebaev will chair the council, which is set to hold its first meeting on 27 April. The council is expected to present its initial recommendations for constitutional reform before the 10 July presidential elections, so that candidates can comment on them. DK

HEAD OF KYRGYZ SUPREME COURT STEPS DOWN
Kurmanbek Osmonov, the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court, submitted his letter of resignation to acting President Bakiev on 25 April, Interfax reported. Osmonov told journalists, "If my resignation will help to stabilize the situation in the country and lead to the adoption of decisions on elections, I, as the chairman of the Supreme Court and as a political figure, deem it necessary to resign." Protesters and civil-society activists had recently called for Osmonov's resignation, charging that he aided and abetted election fraud in parliamentary elections under former President Akaev. As recently as 20 April, however, Osmonov said that he would not resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005). DK

EU REPORTEDLY MULLS OPENING OFFICE IN MINSK
British Ambassador to Belarus Brian Bennett said on 25 April that the European Commission may open its mission in Minsk, Belapan reported. Bennet said the European Commission has so far administered its TACIS program in Belarus through its office in Kyiv. "Unfortunately, [the office] is a long way away," he added. The ambassador also noted that the EU needs a mission in Minsk to "follow developments, understand what's going on, and coordinate [actions] with people like us." JM

BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL PRAISES LAST SUBBOTNIK
Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Drazhyn said on 25 April that Belarus's "subbotnik" on 23 April, a day of voluntary unpaid work dating back to Soviet-era tradition, involved nearly 3.7 million people and provided 9.2 billion rubles ($4.3 million) to the state treasury, Belapan reported. Under a directive by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, half of this sum will be used to renovate World War II memorials and graves, while the remainder will be transferred to the Finance Ministry and spent in the social sphere. Drazhyn especially praised industrial giants for their contribution to the subbotnik. In particular, he noted that the Minsk Tractor Works assembled 47 tractors, the Atlant factory manufactured 560 refrigerators, and the Kamunarka company produced 40 tons of candy on that day. JM

ITALIAN BANK LENDS BELARUS $90 MILLION
Italy's Mediobanca has decided to increase a credit line for Belarus from 20 million euros to 70 million euros ($90 million), Belapan reported on 25 April, citing the press office of the Belarusian Cabinet of Ministers. An agreement to this effect was signed in Minsk last week between Francesco Ripandelli, head of the Rome branch of Mediobanca, and Heorhiy Yahorau, chairman of the board of Belarus's Belzneshekanambank. Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski told journalists that most of the credit, which is given under government guarantees, will be disbursed in tied loans for purchases of equipment. "This credit line will allow us not only to buy new equipment, but also to invest money in Belarus's economy and establish new advanced manufacturing companies," Sidorski added. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REINSTATES NATO, EU GOALS IN MILITARY DOCTRINE
President Viktor Yushchenko issued a decree last week reintroducing the declarations in Ukraine's military doctrine about the country's need to prepare for full-fledged membership in NATO and the EU, Interfax reported on 25 April. The declarations were removed from the military doctrine by former President Leonid Kuchma in July 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2004). In its current wording, the doctrine states that Ukraine needs to pursue a "policy of Euro-Atlantic integration with the final goal of joining NATO." In another amended passage, the document states, "Proceeding from the fact that NATO and the EU are guarantors of security and stability in Europe, Ukraine is preparing for full-fledged membership in these organizations." JM

UKRAINIAN INVESTIGATORS PUBLICIZE LISTS OF THOSE CALLED TO TESTIFY
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry on 25 April published a new list of former and current officials who are to be summoned this week to testify in ongoing criminal investigations, ITAR-TASS reported. This new practice of making public lists of witnesses questioned in criminal probes was reportedly introduced by the Interior Ministry a month ago. The new list includes, among others, three lawmakers -- Nestor Shufrych, Anatoliy Kukoba, and Valeriy Horbatov -- as well as former Odesa Mayor Ruslan Bodelan and former Mykolayiv Oblast Governor Oleksiy Harkusha. Shufrych, who is a lawmaker from the opposition Social Democratic Party-united caucus, commented that such "public invitations to an interrogation" are a "farce and clownery," Interfax reported. JM

WILL UKRAINE HOLD PLEBISCITE ON POLITICAL REFORM?
Ukrainian political scientist Vadym Karasyov told Deutsche Welle on 26 April (http://www2.dw-world.de/ukrainian/ukr_nachrichten/2.101231.1.html) that President Yushchenko's administration is planning to hold a referendum in order to "change the essence" of the constitutional reform passed by the parliament in December 2004 as a political compromise intended to break the then election-campaign impasse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). In particular, the constitutional amendments, which are to take effect no later than 1 January 2006, limit significantly the president's powers in favor of the prime minister and the parliament. Objections to introducing the political reform in its current form have recently been voiced by Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh, and State Secretary Oleksandr Zinchenko, who heads the Presidential Secretariat. "There is a need for a national referendum on some issues [of the constitutional reform]," Zinchenko told a forum of political scientists in Kyiv on 15 April, according to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua). "The president should possess factors [leverage] that are provided for by the nonamended version of the constitution." JM

EU FOREIGN MINISTERS AGREE TO START TALKS WITH SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
EU foreign ministers agreed in Brussels on 25 April to call on the European Commission to prepare for negotiations with Serbia and Montenegro on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, which could possibly begin in the fall, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). The ministers noted that the speed with which the states of the western Balkans will qualify for integration into the EU depends on how quickly they introduce necessary reforms and meet their international obligations, including and especially cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The ministers also called on Croatia to improve its cooperation with the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March and 20 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004). Some Serbian politicians have already begun speculating that their country should seek an accelerated "fast-track" admission process to the EU, but Brussels insists that all countries seeking membership must complete all the requirements. In the 1990s, Hungary in particular sought a "fast track" but was told that EU rules are binding on all applicants. PM

MONTENEGRIN LEADER SAYS HE'LL QUIT POLITICS IF HE LOSES ON INDEPENDENCE
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told the Podgorica daily "Republika" of 25 April that he will quit politics if a majority of citizens do not vote for independence in an upcoming, long-planned referendum, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A new poll suggests that 43.4 percent of respondents back independence while 40.9 percent oppose it. At the core of the "Montenegrin question" is the fact that there has never been a clear consensus among Montenegrins as to whether they are a distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 October 2002, 27 August 2004, and 11 February 2005). Some Montenegrins believe that their country could qualify for EU membership faster if it did not have to wait for Serbia to meet all the requirements. Other Montenegrins argue that independence makes no sense because tens of thousands of Montenegrins live and work in Serbia, especially in Belgrade. PM

INTERNATIONAL WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL RETURNS CASES TO MACEDONIA
Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, announced on 25 April that the documentation regarding four cases of alleged war crimes dating from the 2001 interethnic conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian security forces will be handed over to the Macedonian authorities, MIA news agency and the private A1 TV reported. Del Ponte said the tribunal was prompted to do this because the UN Security Council has told it to wrap up its own investigations by the end of 2004. The four cases include the kidnapping and alleged killing of 12 Macedonian civilians in the Tetovo area; the alleged torture of road workers; the shutting down of the water supply for the city of Kumanovo; and unspecified charges against the UCK leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 13 August 2001, 4 March and 11 November 2003, and 19 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 16 November 2001). Del Ponte's announcement came after a meeting with Macedonian Justice Minister Meri Mladenovska-Gjorgjievska and Public Prosecutor Aleksandar Prcevski. UB

ALBANIA TO VOTE IN JULY
Albanian President Alfred Moisiu announced in Tirana on 25 April that the long-awaited parliamentary elections will take place on 3 July, Reuters reported. He stressed that "these elections are extremely important for Albania's European integration and development." The EU and the United States have frequently criticized vote-rigging and other irregularities in past Albanian elections. The governing Socialists are led by Prime Minister Fatos Nano, and the opposition Democrats are chaired by former President Sali Berisha. Both men have figured prominently in charges of irregularities and other questionable behavior surrounding past elections. Former Prime Minister Ilir Meta will contest the election at the head of a party that broke with the Socialists in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August and 7 September 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). In addition, there are numerous smaller parties. PM

UKRAINE PLEDGES TO TIGHTEN TRANSDNIESTER BORDER SECURITY...
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk pledged that Kyiv will strengthen controls on the Transdniester section of its border with Moldova, Infotag reported on 26 April. "This is a border after all, not a 'black hole,' and, therefore, it should be treated as such," Tarasyuk said at the GUUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova) summit in Chisinau. "We don't want our national boundaries to be open to smugglers. As of recently, Kyiv has taken certain measures to establish order in this section of the national border; these measures are far-reaching," he added. Tightening border security was one of the key points in a blueprint for Transdniester peace presented by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko at the summit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). BW

...AND PRAISES 'NEW CHAPTER' FOR GUUAM
Ukrainian President Yushchenko also praised the GUUAM summit in Chisinau, which he said "has written a new chapter" in the organization's history, Infotag reported on 25 April. "The GUUAM organization rests on three whales -- democracy, economic development, and security and stability," Yushchenko said. The Ukrainian president lamented that "hot spots" like Transdniester still threaten stability in Europe, and pledged that Ukraine will unveil a final draft of its settlement proposal for the region within three weeks. BW

ROMANIA SUPPORTS EXPANSION OF TRANSDNIESTER TALKS
Romanian President Traian Basescu said Bucharest is prepared to participate in negotiations aimed at settling the Transdniester conflict, Infotag reported on 25 April. Speaking to reporters at the GUUAM summit on 22 April, Basescu said he supported a Ukrainian proposal to expand the negotiations, which had previously included Russia, Moldova, Ukraine, Transdniester, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. "We stand for the amendment of the existing five-party format, implying involvement of Romania, the United States, and the European Union," Basescu said. "We're delighted to see that official Chisinau shares this point of view. We believe that a broader format of these negotiations would make them more efficient." he added. BW

ARMENIANS APPEAR TO BE GAINING GROUND ON GENOCIDE RECOGNITION
As they mark the 90th anniversary of the most defining and tragic episode in their long history, Armenians around the world appear closer than ever to getting the international community to recognize the mass killing of their people in Ottoman Turkey as genocide.

Decades of Armenian campaigning and lobbying have raised international awareness of the events of 1915 to an unprecedented level, with a growing number of countries describing them as a genocide.

But how far all of this will take the Armenians in their decades-long pursuit of historical justice remains to be seen. Some of them think that pro-Armenian resolutions by foreign parliaments will not mean much until Turkey itself admits to genocide.

The process gained momentum in 2001 when France passed a special law defining the mass killings as a genocide. Eight other member states of the European Union, including Italy and Poland, have followed suit since then, making genocide recognition a potential condition for Turkey's membership in the EU. Germany, hitherto impervious to Armenian demands, is expected to add to the pressure by urging Turkey face its troubled past and even apologizing for its failure to stop the slaughter of up to 1.2 million Armenians during World War I.

"In the course of the accession negotiations [with Turkey], France will ask for a recognition of the tragedy at the outset of the 20th century," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier declared last December. Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the EU's executive European Commission, likewise promised a "frank and sincere discussion" with the Turks.

The U.S. government, meanwhile, seems increasingly reluctant to continue to block Armenian-sponsored congressional resolutions calling the 1915 mass killings and deportations genocide -- a politically charged term that the administration of President George W. Bush has so far been loath to use. Washington's ambassador in Yerevan, John Evans, signaled a possible shift in U.S. policy on the issue last February when he repeatedly and publicly referred to the Armenian massacres as "the first genocide of the 20th century." However, in his annual 24 April message to Americans of Armenian descent, Bush said, "This terrible event is what many Armenian people have come to call the 'Great Calamity.'"

The wave of recognitions has prompted predictably angry protests from the Turkish government that have only heightened international interest in the subject. There have arguably been more genocide-related reports in the Western media in the past five years than during the preceding decades.

More importantly, the topic is no longer seen as taboo in Turkey, where a growing number of civil-society representatives openly question the official Turkish line. "The genocide allegations have now become an international political issue," Mehmet Ali Birand, a prominent Turkish journalist and a proponent of the denial policy, wrote in the "Turkish Daily News" on 16 April. "It is almost impossible to prove we are in the right by producing photos and documents."

So are the Armenians finally close to securing a universal acceptance of their tragedy after investing so much energy and so many resources in the endeavor? "I wouldn't say we are close," said Van Krikorian, the former chairman of the Armenian Assembly of America, a lobbying group that has for decades been fighting for genocide recognition.

Krikorian argues that the United States and other world powers have their own national interests and foreign-policy goals that they will never subordinate to the Armenian cause. Their "trade-offs" with Turkey have already left the Armenians empty-handed in the past, he said.

"I think one lesson we have learned from history is that international recognition is important but can not be counted on for long," he explained. "Efforts at international recognition, in my opinion, do not really get Armenians to where they need to be unless they can also get Turkish recognition."

While Turkey's ruling establishment and mainstream media continue to flatly deny the genocide, they are clearly tolerating growing domestic discussion of the sensitive subject that is exposing ordinary Turks to facts hitherto hidden from them. One of Turkey's most famous novelists, Orhan Pamuk, shocked many of his countrymen when he admitted in a recent newspaper interview that at least 1 million Armenians were wiped out in the dying years of the Ottoman Empire.

Another Turkish writer, Fethiye Cetin, caused a similar stir with a book that presented her ethnic Armenian grandmother's harrowing accounts of Ottoman soldiers slaughtering Armenian men in her native village and forcing their wives and children on a death march to the Syrian desert.

Writing in the pro-establishment "Turkish Daily News" on 17 April, columnist Elif Safak described how elderly women in her family feared openly talking about their fond memories of their erstwhile Armenian neighbors. "We need to listen to the suppressed memories of the Turkish grandmothers," Safak concluded. "For, unlike the Turkish nationalists who keep reacting against every critical voice in civil society by systematically propagating collective amnesia, these elderly women do remember."

Equally unusual was the participation of three Turkish scholars in an international conference in Yerevan dedicated to the 90th anniversary of the start of the genocide. "Without recognition of the genocide, there can be no solution for Turkey on its path toward the European Union and in its relations with Armenia," one of them, Taner Akcam, said in a speech.

David Phillips, a U.S. scholar who chaired the former Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission (TARC), sees very important changes in Turkish society. "Five years ago, you couldn't raise Armenian issues in any circles of Turkey and get any Turk to respond," he said in a recent RFE/RL interview. "Now it's a constant topic of conversations not only among civil society groups but among Turkish officials."

Official Ankara proposed to Yerevan in March to form a Turkish-Armenian commission of historians who would look into the 1915 massacres and determine whether they were indeed a genocide. The Armenian government rejected the idea, saying the genocide is a proven fact that cannot be called into question. Most Armenian observers believe that the Turkish offer was aimed at offsetting the worldwide commemorations of the genocide anniversary. There are also those who see encouraging signs in the move.

Krikorian, for example, feels that the Turkish government for the first time indicated its readiness to admit that "their historians may not be right and that there might have been a genocide." "I thought it was a kind of signal," he said. "There are clearly policy changes in Turkey."

Fear of Armenian territorial and financial claims is widely seen as a major factor behind the Turkish denial policy. The Armenian position on the issue is rather ambiguous. The authorities in Yerevan say that they recognize Armenia's existing border with Turkey and have no intention to seek any reparations from the latter. "We are not talking about compensations, this is only about a moral issue," President Robert Kocharian told Russian television on 23 April.

However, influential nationalist groups in Armenia and the diaspora, notably the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun), want Yerevan to keep the door open for future territorial claims. Earlier this month Dashnaktsutiun condemned the Bush administration for allegedly trying to have the Turks acknowledge the genocide "without any consequences."

Critics point out, however, that none of the genocide resolutions adopted by about two dozen countries to date calls for any consequences. They say Dashnaktsutiun itself welcomed a 1987 resolution by the European Union that stressed that "neither political nor legal or material claims against present-day Turkey can be derived from the recognition of this historical event as an act of genocide."

The controversy highlights a lack of debate in Armenia and the diaspora on what exactly would constitute international recognition of the genocide and what should follow it.

"Debate is definitely needed and I think it has to include Turks," Krikorian said. "It's always easy to negotiate with somebody who is not in the room. But when the person you are expecting something from comes to the room, it's a different situation. I think that discussion ought to take place more and more with Turkish officials, at the government-to-government level as well."

Emil Danielyan is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Yerevan.

ALLEGED AFGHAN DRUG KINGPIN ARRESTED IN U.S.
Authorities in the United States have arrested and indicted Bashir Nurzai in New York, international media reported on 25 and 26 April. According to U.S. authorities, Nurzai has been at the center of a multimillion-dollar illicit narcotics operation. A U.S. federal court indicted Nurzai on 25 April with conspiracy to import 500 kilograms of heroin worth about $50 million. In 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush named Nurzai as one of the world's most-wanted drug traffickers. Nurzai allegedly has been at the helm of a large drug operation, controlling opium-poppy fields, laboratories, and trafficking operations both in Afghanistan and in neighboring Pakistan. U.S. Attorney David Kelley said that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was aware of Nurzai's plan to visit the United States and it "seized the opportunity and the individual." Speaking on 25 April, Kelley said: "In case there is any doubt about the relationship between the Taliban and the Afghanistan drug lords, the indictment also alleges that Nurzai and the Taliban had a symbiotic relationship. Between 1990 and 2004, Nurzai and his organization provided demolitions, weaponry, and militia manpower to the Taliban. In exchange, the Taliban permitted Nurzai's business to flourish and served as protection for Nurzai's opium crops, heroin laboratories, and drug-transportation routes out of the country." AT

POLICEMAN INJURED AFTER COUNTERNARCOTICS OPERATION IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
In a clash between unidentified armed men and police, one officer was injured in Achin District of Nangarhar Province, the official Radio Afghanistan reported on 25 April. The police were returning to provincial capital of Jalalabad after seizing 5 kilograms of heroin and destroying a drug laboratory, when they were attacked. As the Afghan government's counternarcotics program has increased its activity, there has been more resistance and violent efforts to protect Afghanistan's immense narcotic industry. This follows an earlier clash reported between police and poppy framers in Achin District in March (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 29 March 2005). AT

'HUNDREDS' DEMONSTRATE AGAINST U.S. MILITARY CONDUCT IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
People from four districts of Nangarhar Province demonstrated in Jalalabad on 25 April against the searches of residences by U.S. military personnel, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Several hundred representatives from Khogiani, Sherzad, Hesarak, and Pachir wa Agam districts staged a rally in front of the governor's office, according to AIP. The demonstrators said U.S. military personnel should only conduct searches of homes after coordinating their plans with the provincial governor, district heads, and the local security departments. A resident of Khogiani asked why when the people in the four districts are "abiding by the law of the government," and have destroyed poppy fields, U.S. soldiers "raid" their homes. Police were present, though no clashes were reported. Nangarhar's governor has reportedly decided to hold talks with the demonstrators. AT

ROMANIA SUSPENDS PATROLS IN AFGHANISTAN
The chief of staff of Romanian armed forces, Eugen Balan, said on 25 April that his country has suspended patrols in Afghanistan after the death of a soldier in a land-mine explosion, AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). "Romanian soldiers are authorized to participate in all other missions, except patrols," Balan told reporters in Bucharest. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi has claimed responsibility for the explosion. AT

FORMER IRANIAN PRESIDENT MAY BE READY TO DRINK 'BITTER MEDICINE' OF PRESIDENCY
Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said at a meeting of agriculture, animal husbandry, and biotechnology specialists in Tehran on 25 April that he may soon take the "bitter medicine" of running for the presidency, Radio Farda reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani served as president for two terms, from 1989-97. In recent months he has consistently denied having an interest in serving as president again, saying that he prefers to see new faces at the country's helm. He said the problem lies with the weak parties that do not do a good job of promoting candidates. Radio Farda pointed out that this is not the first bitter taste Hashemi-Rafsanjani has encountered -- he withdrew from the February 2000 parliamentary race when it appeared that he would not be among the top 30 finishers in Tehran. Serving as president and Expediency Council chairman simultaneously could make Hashemi-Rafsanjani the country's most powerful official. Radio Farda reported that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei would only approve of another Hashemi-Rafsanjani presidency if neither of his preferred candidates, Ali Larijani or Ali Akbar Velayati, has a chance. BS

CONTROVERSY OVER IRAN-TURKEY CELLULAR DEAL CONTINUES
The legislature amended on 25 April a bill on the establishment of a cellular-telephone network in Iran, Radio Farda reported. In the original February 2004 contract, Turkcell's Iranian affiliate (Irancell) had a majority stake and license to operate Iran's second mobile-phone network. In February 2005, the legislature approved a bill that would reduce from 70 percent to 49 percent the Turkish firm's share of the network, but the Guardians Council, which must approve all legislation, sent the bill back. Initial concern about the deal related to close Israel-Turkey relations and Iranian allegations that this could undermine the country's security, according to Radio Farda. BS

VIGILANCE DISCUSSED AT IRANIAN-LEBANESE MEETING
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with Sheikh Abd al-Amir Qabalan, deputy head of the Supreme Islamic Council of the Shi'a Community in Lebanon, on 25 April in Tehran, IRNA reported. Kharrazi warned his guest that there are plots afoot to undermine Shi'a-Sunni unity, and he called on the Lebanese people to be vigilant. Qabalan told his host that Lebanon's enemies are trying to bring about discord, but the people will be vigilant. This is just the most recent high-level meeting between Iranian and Lebanese officials at a time when Syrian troops are withdrawing from Lebanon in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1559. Also on 25 April, an Iranian Foreign Ministry official relayed a note from Kharrazi to Syrian Foreign Minister Faruq al-Sha'lan, SANA News Agency reported. The contents of the note were not disclosed. BS

IRAN, TAJIKISTAN SIGN DEFENSE AGREEMENT
Iranian Defense Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani and visiting Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev signed a memorandum of understanding on defense issues on 23 April in Tehran, Iranian state television reported. Khayrulloev was in Iran for five days. Shamkhani said the agreement focuses on the provision of equipment, as well as training for Tajik military personnel. Khayrulloev underlined the importance of the relationship with Iran, saying: "It is very important when the great Iranian nation and government help Tajikistan. If anyone even thought of betraying Tajikistan, he will think about Tajikistan's supporter first. Its supporter is Iran, it is Mr. Shamkhani." Khayrulloev met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 22 April, IRNA reported. BS

IRAQIS CONTINUE TO NEGOTIATE TRANSITIONAL POSTS
Iraqi politicians continued to negotiate cabinet posts on 26 April, one day after the expected announcement on the transitional cabinet by transitional Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, international media reported. National Assembly speaker Jawad al-Maliki announced the delay at the 25 April session, saying that agreement over government posts had not been reached, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Much of the delay had to do with demands by Sunni Arabs for at least nine cabinet posts. Al-Ja'fari had earlier offered Sunni Arabs four posts. A compromise was reportedly reached late in the day when al-Ja'fari's United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) and the Kurdistan Coalition both agreed to cede one post to the Sunnis, raising their number of posts to six. Meanwhile, Sunnis dropped their demand to include former members of the Ba'ath Party in the cabinet, AP reported on 26 April. UIA member Sa'd Qandil said that no decision on the appointments is expected on 26 April, AP reported the same day. KR

IRAQI LIST MEMBER INSISTS LIST STILL IN CABINET NEGOTIATIONS
Iraqi List member Husayn al-Sadr told reporters at a 25 April news conference broadcast on Al-Sharqiyah television that the list, led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, has not withdrawn from negotiations over the transitional cabinet posts. Calling the reports "absolutely untrue," al-Sadr said that comments about the list's withdrawal came from persons not belonging to the list. "The Iraqi List has the feeling that some brothers in the [United Iraqi Alliance] do not want it to participate in the government. We, however, take pride in the position of our Sunni Arab brothers and our brothers in the Kurdistan Coalition because they insist that the Iraqi List must participate in the anticipated government," he added. Al-Sadr claimed that the Iraqi List has the support of UIA member Fawwaz al-Jarba, as well as Kurdistan Democratic Party head Mas'ud Barzani, who reportedly threatened to vote against the new government unless the Iraqi List is included in it. KR

IRAQI AL-QAEDA HEAD REPORTEDLY ESCAPED U.S. CAPTURE
A senior U.S. military official said that Al-Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi narrowly escaped capture by U.S. forces on 20 February, abcnews.go.com reported on 25 April. Using information obtained from a reliable source inside the al-Zarqawi network, the covert military unit Task Force 626 set up checkpoints throughout Al-Ramadi in an effort to grab al-Zarqawi as the fugitive terrorist headed to a meeting that day. Predator drones flying overhead also tracked movements in the city. Just moments before the scheduled meeting, a car was stopped at a military checkpoint. A pickup truck traveling 800 meters behind quickly turned around and fled in the opposite direction. U.S. forces pursued the vehicle but when the truck was pulled over several kilometers later, the terrorist leader was not inside. The military later learned that al-Zarqawi had jumped from the pickup as it passed under an overpass and made his way to a safe house in Al-Ramadi. His driver and bodyguard are now in custody. The official said that al-Zarqawi's computer and 80,000 euros ($104,000) were found in the truck. The computer reportedly had recent photographs of al-Zarqawi. KR

CIA CLOSES PROBE INTO IRAQ'S WMD
Top CIA arms inspector Charles Duelfer, who heads the Iraq Survey Group, said in a addendum to his 2004 report on Iraq that the investigation into Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) had "gone as far as feasible," AP reported on 26 April. The 92-page addendum, released on 25 April, recommends that detainees held in connection with the investigation be released, saying there is no point in keeping them in custody because of their knowledge of Iraq's former weapons program. The investigation also concluded that there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein sent weapons to Syria for safekeeping, washingtonpost.com reported on 26 April. Investigators "found no senior policy, program, or intelligence officials who admitted any direct knowledge of such movement of WMD," the website quoted the report as saying. Investigators were, however, "unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials," the report said. Investigators were unable to complete an investigation into reports that a Syrian security officer had discussed collaboration with Iraq on weapons, the website reported. KR

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