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Newsline - April 27, 2005


COURT DELAYS KHODORKOVSKII VERDICT
Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court has postponed the announcement of a verdict in the case of the former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii from 27 April to 16 May, Russian media reported. No official explanation was given, but some observers believe the Kremlin wants to avoid a big international reaction to the case on the eve of ceremonies marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II to begin in Moscow on 9 May. Khordorkovskii attorney Genrikh Padva told RFE/RL's Russian Service: "I expected that this might happen because in my opinion it would have been impossible to complete the verdict in such a big case in such a short period of time.... I was saddened that the court had set such a short deadline; I was under the impression that the verdict had already been written. In this sense, I feel glad rather than sorry that the verdict is postponed...as it means that the court will take a more serious and thorough approach to writing it." Meanwhile, Khodorkovskii's wife, Inna, told "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 27 April that she believes that "according to the law my husband should be released." "But based on what I know about this court, I expect a guilty verdict and a six- to eight-year prison term for Misha and [Menatep Chairman] Platon Lebedev," she added. VY

PUTIN BEGINS MIDDLE EAST TRIP...
President Vladimir Putin arrived in Cairo on 26 April for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and other politicians, Russian and intentional news agencies reported. Putin and Mubarak will discuss the extension of bilateral trade and military cooperation, according to Putin's foreign affairs aide, Sergei Prikhodko, strana.ru reported. Russia hopes to resume supplying military equipment and spare parts to the Egyptian Army, to build a nuclear power station, to expand cooperation in other energy sectors, and in space. Putin is accompanied by a large delegation that includes Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Chamber of Commerce and Industry Director Yevgenii Primakov, and directors of Russia's space, nuclear energy, and defense export agencies. Putin will also meet in Cairo with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Musa. Egypt is the first stop in a four-day trip by Putin to the Mideast during which he will also visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority. VY

...AS EXPERT SAYS RUSSIA WANTS MORE INFLUENCE IN REGION
Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov, who is accompanying Putin on his trip, told state-controlled ORT on 26 April in Cairo that "a new Mideast policy is an important part of Russia's mission in Eurasia." Margelov said Egypt is the key state in the Arab world and that Russian oilmen, defense contractors, and other specialists "in those areas, where Russian industry is competitive," have increased their activity in the region. On Russian-Israeli relations, Margelov said he visited Jerusalem ahead of Putin's visit and tried to assuage the concerns of members of the Israeli intelligence community of Russia supplying Syria with antiaircraft missiles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005), ORT reported. Margelov also called for increased Russian influence in Israel, where over 25 percent of the population emigrated from former Soviet states. "Before 1917 up to 40 percent of the land in British-mandated Palestine belonged to the Russian crown. There was even a term 'Russian Palestine.' It is necessary that this term be restored," Margelov said. VY

DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES RUSSIAN MISSILE DEAL WITH SYRIA THREATENS ISRAEL
Sergei Ivanov said on 26 April in Moscow that the announcement by President Putin that Russia will sell SA-18 antiaircraft missiles to Damascus "will not change the balance of forces in the Middle East," RTR reported. He said that the air-defense missiles have a range of only 5 kilometers. "Besides, according to our information, the Israeli military potential is much stronger than Syria's," Ivanov said. He added that the SA-18 is mounted on trucks and cannot be removed. "Our military explained that [fact] in great detail to their Israeli counterparts," Ivanov added. Despite his assurances, Israeli military specialists are still concerned that the shoulder-launched Igla missile that is part of SA-18 system will be taken off the trucks and will find its way into the hands of terrorists, international media reported. VY

INVESTIGATION LOOKS FOR NEW SUSPECTS IN CHUBAIS ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
The Prosecutor-General's Office, investigating the 17 March assassination attempt on Anatolii Chubais, the head of Unified Electrical Systems, is looking for five additional suspects said to belong to the national-patriotic military organization Tropa (Path), newsru.com reported on 25 April. They are the son of arrested GRU colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, Aleksandr; Ivan Mironov his friend and aide to Duma Deputy Tatyana Mukhina, (Motherland); and Aleksandr and Ivan's wives. Investigators also want to talk with Ivan's father, Boris Mironov, who under President Boris Yeltsin was briefly a press minister and whom officials have accused of disseminating xenophobic and anti-Semitic propaganda. Mironov has been at large for several years. Tatyana Mukhina and Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin said that although their faction has harshly criticized Chubais, it had nothing to do with the attempt on his life, lenta.ru reported on 25 April. Meanwhile, Kvachkov's lawyers announced that experts have not found any fingerprints from their defendant at the place where Chubais's car was attacked, Ekho Moskvy reported. VY

NEWSPAPER LOOKS AT GOVERNMENT'S RECORD IN FULFILLING PUTIN'S PREVIOUS REQUESTS
"Kommersant-Daily" published a table in its 26 April issue showing how well the government fulfilled the tasks outlined by President Putin in his 2004 address to the Federal Assembly. The table shows a mixed record. For example, Putin said that "only economic growth can provide a reliable basis for the long-term resolution of the social problems and the struggle with poverty." On 31 December, Putin signed a law raising the minimum monthly wage, and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov announced on 31 January 2005 that people's incomes had grown by 9 percent in 2004, but GDP growth had slipped to 6.9 percent in 2004 compared with 7.3 percent in 2003. In another example, Putin called for lowering the single social tax and the value added tax. As of 1 January, the single social tax was lowered from 35.6 percent to 26 percent; however, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced on 5 April in the State Duma that despite the president's recommendation, the government has decided to keep the value-added tax at the same level. JAC

ARE BASHKORTOSTAN'S LEADERS REALLY WORRIED ABOUT INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM?
Authorities in the Russian republic of Bashkortostan have declared plans to minimize political activity in the region during the upcoming May holidays, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Bashkortostan's Interior Ministry spokesman, Ruslan Sherefetdinov, released a statement on 25 April saying the ministry has asked the republican law-enforcement agencies to reduce political activity to a minimum from 1-9 May because of a "high risk of terrorist acts," RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported. Sherefetdinov said the measures are being taken by local authorities across Russia in connection with the antiterrorism campaign Operation Whirlwind. Local political opposition groups had earlier declared their intention to hold wide-scale protests against the regime of Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov on 1 May, and see the latest announcement by the government as a means of curtailing their protests. JAC

RUSSIAN ENVIRONMENTALISTS REMEMBER CHORNOBYL
On the 19th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster in Ukraine on 26 April, Russian environmentalists held protests in various cities, such as Moscow, Kaliningrad, and Voronezh against Russia's policy of secrecy regarding the disposal of nuclear waste, RFE/RL's Yekaterinburg bureau reported. Activists from the environmental organization Ekozashchita have submitted inquiries to 14 branches of the Emergency Situations Ministry asking for information on the ministry's plans for evacuating the population in case of a radioactive accident, and ministry officials in six of the 14 cities said the information was classified. In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau, Lidiya Popova, director of the Center for Nuclear Ecology and Energy Policy, said that although a law on defending the population against radiation requires that enterprises that could be locales for a radiation accident are to keep local officials informed, such companies are not doing so. JAC

SPS FINDS A NEW LEADER
The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) announced on 26 April that the party's political council is recommending Perm Oblast Deputy Governor Nikita Belykh for the post of chairman of the party, sps.ru reported. Party delegates will be asked to formally elect Belykh, 29, at a party congress at the end of May. In an interview with strana.ru, Belykh said that he will try to use at the national level his experience in Perm forming a single bloc with Yabloko to compete in local elections. During the State Duma elections, SPS received 9 percent of the vote in Perm Oblast, which was more than twice the level the party achieved nationally, according to "Vremya novostei" on 25 April. The daily also reported that Belykh is the youngest deputy governor in Russia. JAC

GENERAL DENIKIN'S DAUGHTER WINS CITIZENSHIP
President Putin has signed a decree granting Russian citizenship to Marina Antonovna Denikina, the daughter of General Anton Denikin, a leader of the White Guards who fought against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War, Russian news agencies reported on 26 April. Denikina was born in Krasnodar Krai in 1919 and settled with her family in France in 1926. Denikina is the author of several Russian history books, including "My Father -- General Denikin," "Investigation into the Murder of the Romanovs," and "Rasputin." Denikina said that during an earlier meeting with Putin in Paris, Putin agreed to allow her father, who died in 1947, to be reburied in Russia. JAC

KAMCHATKA LEGISLATURE INITIATES UNIFICATION PROCESS WITH NEIGHBOR
Kamchatka Oblast's legislative assembly voted on 26 April to approve an appeal to President Putin to initiate the process of its merger with Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Regnum and RIA-Novosti reported. The new unit would be called Kamchatka Krai. The Koryak legislative assembly will consider the issue on 28 April, and on 3-4 May a group of Koryak officials will visit Petropavlovsk, Kamchatka's capital, to begin negotiations on a merger, according to Regnum. Last month, Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev reversed his opposition to the union and called for the unification of the two territories (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). JAC

INGUSHETIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY WARNS AGAINST HOLDING OPPOSITION PROTEST
Acting Ingushetian Interior Minister Colonel Beslan Khamkhoev has written to Ingushetian parliament Deputy Musa Ozdoev recommending that the opposition abandon its plans to stage mass protests on 30 April to demand the resignation of republican President Murat Zyazikov, ingushetiya.ru reported on 26 April. In accordance with republican legislation, opposition leaders have informed local authorities in advance of the venues for the meetings, the protesters' demands, and the anticipated number of participants. Khamkhoev referred in his letter, which was posted on ingushetiya.ru, to the "complicated" crime and security situation in Ingushetia, as reflected in the sporadic sightings of illegal armed formations and discoveries of arms caches. Khamkhoev said his ministry has information suggesting that illegal armed formations plan to take advantage of the planned 30 April protests to commit terrorist acts using car bombs and suicide bombers. He warned Ozdoev that if the opposition proceeds with its plans to stage protests and such terrorist acts do take place, responsibility for the casualties will lie with the opposition, and he appealed to Ozdoev as a parliament deputy to put the security of the population above all other considerations. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS TURKISH GENOCIDE STUDY PROPOSAL...
Robert Kocharian formally rejected on 26 April Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's proposal that the two countries form a joint commission to assess whether the killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915-18 constituted a genocide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Arguing that "responsibility for the development of bilateral relations is borne by governments, and we have no right to delegate it to historians," Kocharian proposed instead that Turkey abandon its preconditions for establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia. In a statement on 24 April, U.S. President George W. Bush had expressed the hope that Yerevan would accept the Turkish proposal. Also on 26 April, the Turkish daily "Hurriyet" published what it claimed are excerpts from a notebook kept by Ottoman Turkish Interior Minister Talaat Pasha in which he estimated the Armenian population of Ottoman Turkey in 1914 at a minimum of 2 million, and the number of those subsequently deported at 924,158. Most Turkish historians have hitherto claimed that there were no more than 500,000 Armenians in Turkey before World War I and that some 300,000 died as a result of reprisals and mass deportations. LF

...AS POLL GAUGES SUPPORT FOR ARMENIAN OFFICIAL POSITION
A poll of some 1,900 Armenians conducted by the private Armenian Center for National and International Studies (ACNIS) showed that almost 40 percent of respondents support an unconditional normalization of relations with Turkey, while 29 percent think such relations should be contingent on Turkish recognition of the events in 1915 as a genocide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 26 April. Almost one-third of respondents (31 percent) were undecided. But 80 percent of respondents believe that the Armenian government should continue with its efforts to induce Turkey to acknowledge that the killings were genocide, and almost two-thirds believe Turks are still capable of such actions. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL NOT ALLOW OPPOSITION TO PROVOKE 'CRISIS...'
Speaking to journalists on 26 April during a visit to Shemakha, west of Baku, where he opened a state-of -the art sports complex, Ilham Aliyev declined to answer questions about possible amendments to the election code, saying such decisions are the prerogative of the parliament, zerkalo.az and echo-az.com reported on 27 April. But he recalled that the opposition representatives on the Central Election Commission voted in 2003 against his registration as a candidate for the presidential ballot in October of that year, and argued that if the opposition is empowered to block CEC decisions, it "will abuse that power for its own ends." Therefore, Aliyev reasoned, "we must ensure that those forces that are interested in worsening the situation in Azerbaijan do not acquire any levers that they could use to sabotage the ballot or precipitate a crisis." LF

...DOUBTS FINANCIAL AMNESTY WOULD PROVE EFFECTIVE
Aliyev also told journalists in Shemakha on 26 April that the experience of other CIS states suggests that declaring a financial amnesty in the hope that businessmen would return to Azerbaijan funds they had transferred abroad would not have the desired effect, zerkalo.az and Turan reported. "No one will risk legalizing money [earned] illegally," Aliyev pointed out. LF

ABKHAZ PRESIDENT VOWS CRACKDOWN ON SMUGGLING
Meeting with senior officials, Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, warned that endemic crime in the republic's southernmost Gali Raion poses a direct threat to the safety of the population, kavkazweb.net reported on 27 April, quoting regnum.ru. He accused criminal formations operating in Gali of engaging in blackmail and murder, and castigated local law enforcement bodies for failing to take adequate measures to combat crime. Two Abkhaz customs officials were shot dead in Gali on 21 April; their killers have not been apprehended. LF

LOCAL MILITIA ACCUSE GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER OF TREASON
The estimated 400 members of the Monadire (Hunter) battalion have protested the 26 April decision by Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili to subordinate them to the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz Interior Ministry-in-exile, Caucasus Press reported on 27 April. Announcing that decision, Okruashvili said the members of Monadire, whom he referred to as "bandits," will undergo additional military training. The volunteer battalion was formed in 2003 by local residents of the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge, which is the only tract of Abkhaz territory still under Georgian control. The Monadire members accused Okruashvili of planning to cede control of the region to the Abkhaz. On 26 April, rustavi2.com quoted unnamed Russian news agencies as reporting that the UN Observer Mission in Georgia and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone have reached agreement on resuming joint patrols of the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge as soon as weather and road conditions permit. LF

KAZAKHSTAN ANNOUNCES NEW PRIVATIZATION PLAN
Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov announced in Almaty on 26 April a plan to privatize more than 800 state-run enterprises, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Economy and Budget Planning Minister Kairat Kelimbetov, the privatization plan stems from the findings of a government commission that studied roughly 4,000 enterprises found to be in financial difficulty, Khabar-TV reported. Kelimbetov added that the state will retain control of hospitals and other health care facilities and day-care centers. RG

FORMER KYRGYZ FIRST LADY SUBJECT TO PROBE
Acting Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov announced in Bishkek an investigation on 26 April looking into the activities of the Meerim foundation run by Mairam Akaeva, the wife of former President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A number of parliamentarians have demanded the public disclosure of all people involved in the network of some 42 companies controlled by the former president's family (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20-22 April 2005). The former president's daughter, Bermet Akaeva, may also be the subject of an investigation by the Prosecutor-General's Office into electoral bribery, following a recommendation by the Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). RG

INTERIM KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT DISMISSES AMBASSADOR TO TURKEY...
Interim Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev dismissed Kyrgyz Ambassador to Turkey Amanbek Karypkulov on 26 April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Ambassador Karypkulov, the former chief of the presidential administration, is accused of complicity in the March 2002 shooting of unarmed demonstrators in the Aksy District of the Jalal-Abad region, which resulted in the death of five protesters (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 12 September 2002). RG

...BUT DECLINES TO ACCEPT RESIGNATION OF SUPREME COURT CHAIRMAN
President Bakiev refused, however, to accept the resignation of Kyrgyz Supreme Court Chairman Kurmanbek Osmonov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 26 April. Osmonov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he submitted his resignation in an attempt to "stabilize the situation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). RG

OSCE WELCOMES 'READINESS' OF KYRGYZ OFFICIALS FOR POLITICAL DIALOGUE
Alojz Peterle, the personal representative of the OSCE Chairman-in-Office Dimitrij Rupel, welcomed on 26 April the "readiness" of Kyrgyz officials to participate in a political dialogue brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), according to a press release posted on the OSCE website (http://www.osce.org). Peterle said in the release that "the OSCE is ready to facilitate a dialogue between all political forces in the country in order to ensure fairness and objectivity in the election called for 10 July." The OSCE also welcomed the Kyrgyz parliament's formation on 25 April of a 114-member Constitutional Conference empowered to establish a mechanism for constitutional reform (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). After arriving in Bishkek on 25 April, Peterle met with various political leaders and potential presidential candidates to prepare for the planned political dialogue, Interfax reported. RG

TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER ARRESTED...
Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojan Bobokhonov convened a press conference in Dushanbe on 26 April to announce the arrest on 22 April of opposition Democratic Party of Tajikistan leader Muhammadruzi Iskandarov, Asia-Plus and RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The opposition leader, although facing charges of terrorism and other crimes, recently announced plans to run for president. Iskandarov was arrested by Russian security forces last December at the request of Tajik authorities but was released on 3 April due to insufficient evidence for extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 12 April 2005). Officials of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan reported on 15 April that their leader was "missing," although the Tajik authorities revealed that Iskandarov was arrested in Dushanbe. Rakhmatullo Valiyev, the deputy chairman of the Democratic Party of Tajikistan, confirmed the arrest and stated on 26 April that the party leadership will convene a meeting and "will take appropriate steps," according to RFE/RL's Tajik Service. RG

...AND FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER SENTENCED TO 15-YEAR PRISON TERM
Speaking at the same press conference, Prosecutor-General Bobokhonov announced on 26 April that former Interior Minister Yakub Salimov was sentenced by the Tajik Supreme Court to a 15-year prison term for treason, Asia-Plus and RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Salimov, extradited from Russia in February 2004, was convicted in a closed trial that lasted five months. RG

NEW UZBEK-KYRGYZ ENERGY DEAL REACHED
During a state visit to Tashkent, acting Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva signed on 26 April a new energy agreement between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, Kyrgyz TV reported. The agreement calls for the bilateral exchange of natural gas and electricity supplies. An additional accord on regional water resources is also expected to be finalized during a meeting of Kyrgyz, Kazakh, and Tajik energy officials next week. RG

BELARUSIAN POLICE DISPERSE RALLY ON CHORNOBYL ANNIVERSARY
Riot police dispersed a demonstration staged by several hundreds of Belarusian opposition activists as well as youth-movement activists from Russia and Ukraine in downtown Minsk on 26 April, the 19th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear disaster, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The demonstrators wanted to hand a petition to the Belarusian presidential administration requesting that the authorities report on what they are doing to solve the Chornobyl-related problems and that they stop producing food in areas contaminated by radiation. According to an official report, police arrested five Ukrainians, 14 Russians, and 13 Belarusians during the rally. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS WEST FAILED TO HELP DEAL WITH CHORNOBYL AFTERMATH
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told journalists on 26 April in Vetka Raion of Homel Oblast, an area seriously contaminated by fallout from the 1986 Chornobyl accident, that Belarus has always dealt with post-Chornobyl problems on its own, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. "The opposition was insisting that the West would help us, but the West helped no one. We knew that we would not get humanitarian aid, just like Russia and Ukraine," Lukashenka said. He added that the few people from abroad who offered help in health care and other areas were rewarded by the Belarusian government. "They [the West] promised then to give us money when the Chornobyl power plant is shut down. They have given us nothing so far. We rejected old rags and clothes, we do not need them," Lukashenka noted. "There is not a single clinic or hospital in Belarus that has not received humanitarian aid from abroad," Henadz Hrushavy, head of the For Children of Chornobyl humanitarian fund, commented to RFE/RL. "It is simply dishonest to hurl such an invective -- we don't need your old rags and clothes -- on behalf of the Belarusian people at all those who have helped Belarusians." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT LISTS SUCCESSES OF FIRST 100 DAYS...
President Viktor Yushchenko said at a local-government forum in Kyiv on 26 April that his government has managed to bring to fruition a majority of his election promises during its first 100 days, which elapse on 3 May, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko said that since his inauguration, freedom of speech and independent media have begun to become a reality in Ukraine. Second, the president claimed that the state budget has been "oriented toward the people," adding that 70 percent of the budget is being "consumed by the poorest part of the population." Third, Yushchenko noted that the first group of Ukrainian peacekeepers returned from Iraq in March, and the others will return before the end of the year. He added that the term of military service was cut to 18 months in the navy and 12 months in the land forces, also in accordance with an election pledge. Yushchenko also said Ukraine during the first 100 days of his government has signed accords on 2 billion euros' ($2.6 billion) worth of investment credits, adding that "this is more than during the past five years taken together." JM

...AND PLEDGES NOT TO DIVERGE FROM POLITICAL REFORM
President Yushchenko said at the local-government forum in Kyiv on 26 April that he will stick to the constitutional reform passed by the Verkhovna Rada in December in a package with other bills in order to resolve the election deadlock at that time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004), Interfax reported. Yushchenko was commenting on a recent statement by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, Yushchenko's coalition partner in the government, who said that it would be inadmissible to cancel the constitutional reform. "Don't worry, Oleksandr Oleksandrovych [Moroz]," Yushchenko said. "The [relevant bills] have been passed and signed, so if Bill No. 3207-1 is not adopted now, Bill No. 4180 will take effect not on 1 September but on 1 January 2006." Under the 8 December package of agreements, the power shift in Ukraine -- from the president toward the prime minister and the parliament -- will occur on 1 September if the Verkhovna Rada approves a bill on local self-government (No. 3207) in the second reading prior to that date, or, failing such passage, the political reform (Bill No. 4180) will automatically go into effect on 1 January 2006. JM

FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER BLASTS GOVERNMENT FOR ECONOMIC DECLINE
Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych, who was prime minister in 2002-04, said at a meeting with EU ambassadors in Kyiv on 26 April that the Yushchenko government is sacrificing the country's economic development for temporary social benefit, Interfax reported. According to Yanukovych, the government's policies will lead to the curtailment of investment programs and a slowdown of economic growth. Yanukovych noted that the new government has failed to maintain the pace of economic development achieved in 2004, adding that "practically all macroeconomic indicators" have worsened. Yanukovych claimed that Ukrainians now have to pay three times more for food and other necessities than in 2004, while an inflation jump "has devoured the pension and wage increases that were thoughtlessly introduced by the new authorities." JM

CHIEF BANKER SAYS HRYVNYA REVALUATION BENEFITS UKRAINIANS
Ukrainian National Bank head Volodymyr Stelmakh told journalists on 27 April that last week's strengthening of the national currency, the hryvnya, against the U.S. dollar has benefited the poorest segments of Ukrainian society, Interfax reported. "The poor people gained from the hryvnya strengthening, since they do not have dollars, nor do they suffer from psychological dilemmas [connected with the hryvnya reevaluation]; second, they have preserved the purchasing power of their pensions, stipends, and the like," Stelmakh said. He also commented on benefits of the hryvnya's new exchange rate for richer Ukrainians. "Ukrainians have not lost anything," Stelmakh asserted. "Simply, they will now have to pay 505 hryvnyas for $100, not 530 hryvnyas [as before]. Their trips to Europe will be less expensive. Where do you use the U.S. dollar on the domestic market?" On 21 April, the Ukrainian National Bank set the hryvnya's exchange rate against the U.S. dollar at 5.05 hryvnyas, compared with 5.25 hryvnyas a day earlier. President of the Association of Ukrainian Banks Oleksandr Suhonyako said on 25 April that depositors of Ukrainian banks who saved their money in U.S. dollars lost 1.2 billion hryvnyas as a result of this revaluation. JM

EU URGES CROATIA TO COOPERATE WITH WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL...
Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn of Luxembourg, which currently holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, reiterated in Luxembourg on 26 April that the EU is ready to open accession negotiations with Croatia as soon the EU observes Croatia's full cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, eu2005.lu reported. "Cooperation with the ICTY is a clear and unavoidable precondition," Asselborn said. "Such cooperation goes through The Hague, not Luxembourg or Brussels. The keys for opening accession negotiations are in the hands of the Croatian authorities." The EU recently decided to postpone the start of membership talks with Croatia, which were originally scheduled for 17 March. Brussels insists that Croatia hand over fugitive former Croatian General Ante Gotovina, while Croatia says it does not know where Gotovina is (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 23 March and 20 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004). UB

...AS CROATIA PRESENTS NEW PLAN TO IMPROVE COOPERATION
Croatian President Ivo Sanader presented a plan to improve his country's cooperation with the ICTY during a meeting in Luxembourg on 26 April with EU representatives and Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the ICTY, the German weekly "Der Spiegel" reported on its website (http://www.spiegel.de). EU diplomats reportedly said the Croatian plan includes the improvement of border controls, a restructuring of the security forces, and a public relations campaign. Del Ponte said Gotovina is in Croatia but also goes to neighboring Bosnia from time to time, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. Sanader rejected Del Ponte's claim that Gotovina is within the reach of Croatian authorities. UB

MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION WALKS OUT OF PARLIAMENT
Montenegrin opposition legislators walked out of the parliament in Podgorica on 26 April after the ruling majority rejected a request by the opposition People's Party (NS) to interrupt the ongoing parliamentary session and to discuss a controversial government document on the media, Tanjug reported. The document, which was recently sent by the Montenegrin Foreign Ministry to Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and parliament speaker Ranko Krivokapic, called on the government to manipulate the media in support of Montenegrin independence. The opposition demands that Djukanovic and Foreign Minister Miodrag Vlahovic take responsibility for the document and resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, and 26 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). UB

KOSOVAR GOVERNMENT RULES OUT DIRECT TALKS WITH BELGRADE
A spokesman for the Kosovar government said in Prishtina on 26 April that there will be no direct talks with Belgrade on the future status of Kosova, because the direct talks on technical issues have not yielded any results, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The spokesman said that does not exclude the possibility of mediated talks on the sidelines of international conferences and meetings. Earlier this month, Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova also rebuffed Serbian President Boris Tadic's call for direct talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March, 13 and 21 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 7 and 28 January and 18 February 2005). Prishtina and Belgrade have held on-and-off talks in recent years under international mediation on technical but not on political issues. UB

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL HELP FOR FLOOD VICTIMS
Foreign Minister of Serbia and Montenegro Vuk Draskovic on 26 April called on the international community to help the victims of the flooding in the Banat region in northern Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In a letter to international relief organizations, Draskovic called the flooding a regional "tsunami," asking the organizations to provide tents, mobile kitchens, medicines, and clothes for the victims. UB

MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT PRESENTS PLAN TO TRANSFER POWER TO LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENTS
The Macedonian government officially presented a detailed plan on 26 April that provides for the transfer of powers, property, and responsibilities from the central state administration to the local level, MIA news agency reported. Under the decentralization plan, the district administrations will take over responsibility for about 27,000 officials who previously worked for the central administration. The decentralization plan also strengthens the districts' powers in the fields of tax collection, education, and urban planning (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 February 2005). The decentralization of the administration was a key element of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement that ended the armed conflict between ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the state authorities. UB

FORMER MOLDOVAN TRADE MINISTER ARRESTED FOR FRAUD
A former government minister has been detained on suspicion of fraud, Infotag reported on 26 April. Moldovan border guards apprehended Grigore Triboi, who served as the country's industry and trade minister from 1997-98, as he tried to leave the country. The Center for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption had been investigating Triboi for alleged fraud committed from 1999-2003 while he headed Moldova's largest pharmaceutical company, Farmaco. Triboi is suspected of creating "ghost" positions at the company for relatives and his mistress, and fraudulently paying them salaries resulting in $8,000 in lost revenues. BW

GERMAN LAWMAKER PRESSURES MOLDOVA ON REFORM
Volker Ruehe, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Germany's Bundestag, said Moldova must accelerate political and economic reforms in order to integrate into Europe, Infotag reported on 26 April. In a meeting with Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev in Chisinau, Ruehe said that Berlin is committed to assisting Moldova's European integration efforts. For his part, Tarlev warned that the separatist Transdniester region could become a "destabilizing element" for all of Europe if the conflict is not resolved. "Arms manufacturing and trade, trafficking in human beings, and smuggling flourish in the separatist region," Tarlev said. BW

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WILL MARK WORLD WAR II ANNIVERSARY IN CHISINAU
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin will attend an informal summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Moscow on 8 May, Flux reported on 26 April, citing the president's press service. After the summit, Voronin will return to Chisinau the same day to participate in ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Moldova. Russia has invited leaders from 58 countries to attend the 9 May ceremonies in Moscow. Voronin had been considering attending, but said he thought he should remain in Moldova when the anniversary is celebrated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2005). BW

UKRAINE ASPIRES TO LEADERSHIP ROLE IN REVITALIZED GUUAM
Following Viktor Yushchenko's election late last year as Ukrainian president and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's espousal of an unequivocally pro-Western foreign policy orientation, many observers anticipated that the long-awaited summit of the GUUAM alignment in Chisinau on 22 April would herald a new era in that body's activities.

Speaking for the three other presidents of member states who attended the summit, Yushchenko redefined GUUAM's priorities, highlighting democratization and eventual membership of NATO and the EU. But at the same time, the discussions between participants revealed at least one major strategic disagreement.

GUUAM first evolved in 1997 as GUAM -- the brainchild of the then presidents of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine (Eduard Shevardnadze, Heidar Aliyev and Leonid Kuchma) -- on the basis of their shared pro-Western orientation, mistrust of Russia, and the desire to profit jointly from the export of at least part of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil via Georgia and Ukraine. Moldova's inclusion, formalized on the sidelines of a Council of Europe summit in Strasbourg in October 1997, resulted partly from concern over the anticipated impact of the revisions adopted in May 1997 to the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe; those amendments increased the amount of weaponry Russia is allowed to deploy in the Transcaucasus, Ukraine, and Moldova. Moldova was also interested in the TRACECA project to create a coordinated transport corridor from Central Asia via the Transcaucasus and Ukraine to Europe. In April 1999, Uzbekistan was formally accepted as a member of GUAM, but its participation has never been anything but half-hearted, and in June 2002 Tashkent "suspended" its membership until further notice.

From the organization's inception, Moscow has harbored fears and suspicions that its primary rationale is to undermine the CIS and Russia's claim to a leading role within that body. Two ongoing trends have fueled those misgivings. The first is discussions of a possible military-security component for GUUAM in the shape of either a joint peacekeeping battalion or a security force to guard the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. (The defense ministers of the GUUAM member states have met more regularly than have the presidents.)

The second is the keen interest, and later financial support, given to GUUAM by the United States, which in late 2000 allocated $45 million to the alliance's five members to be spent as they considered appropriate. Senior officials from GUUAM member states have consistently sought to allay Moscow's concerns. For example, speaking in May 2000 in Washington, Moldovan Ambassador to Washington Ceslav Ciobanu stressed that "our organization was never designed to be oriented against any other country."

While GUUAM's members made no secret of their desire for closer cooperation with Euro-Atlantic and European structures, the advantages of closer economic cooperation were touted as the locomotive for GUUAM's development. In August 2000, Yushchenko, then Ukrainian prime minister, proposed creating a GUUAM free-trade zone. That idea was endorsed by all five presidents at a meeting in September 2000 on the sidelines of the UN Millennium Summit in New York.

In June 2001, the five GUUAM presidents met in Yalta and adopted a GUUAM charter outlining the organization's basic goals and principles, which included economic cooperation, developing transport links, strengthening regional security, and cooperating in the fight against organized crime and international terrorism. But they did not sign Yushchenko's proposed agreement on establishing the free-trade zone, which Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov termed "premature." Karimov did not attend the next summit, in Yalta in July 2002, at which the other four countries gave the green light for the free-trade zone. By that juncture, Moldova too was signaling its disenchantment with GUUAM; President Voronin was quoted by Caucasus Press on 19 July as saying GUUAM's future prospects are unclear.

The planned free-trade zone and transport corridors figured on the agenda of the next summit, in July 2003. But only two of the five presidents attended -- Karimov stayed away in line with Uzbekistan's "suspended" membership, and the presidents of Azerbaijan and Moldova were absent due to illness. And only the Ukrainian parliament ratified the agreement on establishing the free-trade zone.

For much of 2004, GUUAM appeared to have lost momentum: a summit planned for Batumi in June was postponed indefinitely for reasons that were never made clear. But GUUAM leaders did agree in September 2004 to establish an interparliamentary assembly.

Yushchenko's election as Ukrainian president, and the close convergence of geopolitical interests between Ukraine and Georgia, engendered hopes that the organization could be revitalized, with Ukraine as the largest committed member playing a leading role. On 18 April, Azerbaijani presidential-administration official Novruz Mamedov predicted that the summit would give GUUAM its "second wind," while Georgian National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili told Caucasus Press the same day that member states have agreed to coordinate their efforts to secure membership of NATO and the EU.

Addressing this month's Chisinau GUUAM summit, President Yushchenko advocated transforming GUUAM into "a large-scale regional organization" committed to democracy, economic development, and regional security and with its own headquarters and secretariat. Although Yushchenko did not say so, the security dimension would serve to underscore the difference between GUUAM and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, the activities of which GUUAM might otherwise risk duplicating. "The idea is to create a coalition of states on the basis of GUUAM that would become the stronghold and guarantee of democratic reforms and stability in the Black Sea-Caspian region," Interfax quoted Yushchenko as saying -- a formulation that implies that Uzbekistan no longer figures in the equation.

Yushchenko also unveiled at the Chisinau summit a new seven-point initiative aimed at resolving the long-running Transdniester conflict. That step-by-step peace proposal would entail holding free and democratic elections in Transdniester under the aegis of the EU, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United States, and Russia, and the replacement of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Transdniester with international military and civilian observers. Yushchenko hinted that that model might subsequently be applied to other unresolved conflicts on the territory of GUUAM member states, meaning those in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh.

But Yushchenko's peace plan failed to win the support of other participants; Romanian President Traian Basescu objected that holding elections in Transdniester under the auspices of international organizations would serve to legitimize the existing separatist regime. At the same time, Basescu called for the swift withdrawal of all Russian troops from Transdniester and expanding the current five-sided format for mediating a solution to the conflict. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin for his part said he was not informed in advance of Yushchenko's proposal, according to the "Neue Zuercher Zeitung" on 25 April.

The presence at the Chisinau summit of both Basescu and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus served to highlight the possibility -- to which Yushchenko alluded -- that other states might apply to join GUUAM. In the past, Romania, Bulgaria, and Latvia have also been mentioned as potential new members.

But in the final analysis, the organization's potential and future influence, and hence its attractiveness to outsiders, might depend largely on its members' success in resolving long-running territorial conflicts that will otherwise continue to drain those countries' modest economic resources.

AFGHANISTAN WELCOMES ARREST OF ALLEGED DRUG KINGPIN
In a statement released on 26 April, the Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry welcomed the arrest of Bashir Nurzai "on U.S. territory." The statement added that the Afghan government is committed to fighting narcotics and is striving to reform local laws, the judicial sector, and the detention facilities so that "more and more people like Bashir Nurzai are arrested, prosecuted, and imprisoned" in Afghanistan. Nurzai has been accused by the United States of being at the center of a multimillion-dollar drug operation and was added in June 2004 by U.S. President George W. Bush to the list of overseas drug barons targeted by special sanctions. U.S. Attorney David Kelley said that Nurzai was arrested in New York on 23 April (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 June 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline" 26 April 2005). Some analysts have questioned why Nurzai would travel to the United States knowing that he was on a most-wanted list there. AT

AFGHAN GOVERNOR PROMISES TO ADDRESS COMPLAINTS AGAINST U.S. MILITARY PERSONNEL
Nangarhar Governor Haji Din Mohammad on 25 April promised to address the complaints of demonstrators who had gathered in front of his office to protest against house searches by U.S. military personnel, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). According to AIP, hundreds of demonstrators from four districts in Nangarhar called for an end to unannounced residence searches by U.S. forces. Din Mohammad said that he has meet with six representatives from the group and will meet with a "leader of foreign forces" and inform the district representatives about the outcome of his discussions. "If these searches continue, then the problems will undoubtedly increase. I am aware of that. This is why we want the problems to be resolved so that the people can live in peace and calm," Din Mohammad told journalists. One of the district representatives said his side wants local officials present when U.S. personnel are carrying out searches of private houses. AT

WOMAN STONED TO DEATH IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN...
A woman, identified as Amina, was stoned to death on 21 April in Badakhshan Province after being accused by her husband of committing adultery, the Mazar-e Sharif daily "Baztab" reported on 24 April. Amina reportedly confessed to the charges against her, but claimed that she had been forced to commit adultery to support her children while her husband Sharafat was absent for five years, living in Iran. According to the report, the order to stone Amina to death came from a local mullah without any government involvement. Italian Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Margherita Boniver described the news as "horrendous," adding that the EU will not "tolerate this barbarism," "Corriere della Sera" reported on 25 April. Italy is in charge of reforming Afghanistan's judicial system in the post-Taliban period. According to Boniver, her country has trained 750 judges since 2002, though she described the process as "slow-going." AT

...AS PROVINCIAL OFFICIAL BLAMES FATHER
Badakhshan Deputy Governor Sham al-Rahman on 24 April blamed Amina's father, Mohammad Akram, for the killing of his daughter, AIP reported. Denying reports that a court had ordered Amina's stoning, Shams al-Rahman claimed that her father killed Amina after learning for her adulterous activities. A delegation has been sent to the village of Gazam to investigate the case and security forces have been ordered to arrest Mohammad Akram "as soon as possible." The deputy governor told AIP that he had no information how Amina was killed, he only knew that after her death, "she was buried." AT

IRANIAN-ARAB JOURNALIST ARRESTED
In the midst of conflicting reports about the restoration of calm in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, Iranian authorities arrested Iranian-Arab activist and journalist Yusef Azizi Bani-Torof at his home in Tehran on 25 April, international news agencies reported. His wife, Salimeh Fotuhi, said, "These agents appeared at our house at about 2 p.m., and after they ransacked the entire apartment, they took away my husband and some boxes filled with documents and manuscripts that they found in his office," Adnkronos International (AKI) reported. "The agents said that the arrest warrant was in relation to recent incidents that had taken place in the south of the country." On 26 April, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for Bani-Torof's immediate release. "We strongly deplore the arrest of [Bani-Torof], who was simply expressing his personal opinion in articles and in interviews given to other newspapers," it said. RSF said Bani-Torof is being held at an unknown location, but it assumes he is at Evin Prison with other journalists. BS

ETHNIC AZERIS, ARMENIANS CLASH IN TEHRAN
A number of people were injured when Iranian-Armenians commemorating the killings and mass deportations of hundreds of thousands of their ethnic kin in Ottoman Turkey 90 years ago clashed with Iranian-Azeris who were protesting the deaths of thousands of Turks at the same time, Azerbaijan's ANS radio station reported on 26 April. World Azerbaijani Congress official Ahmad Obali said police beat some of the Azerbaijani students to stop the clash but did not act against the Armenians. BS

IRANIAN LEADER DISCUSSES UNITY
Iran is currently commemorating Islamic Unity Week, which is the anniversary of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei discussed unity and other subjects in a 26 April speech to Iranian officials in Tehran, state radio reported. He said Islam's enemies are trying undermine Muslim unity by exploiting "ethnic and factional" divisions. "One can clearly see the enemies' hand, the enemy conspiracy, and the enemy plot behind every plan to divide us." He said that "organized conspiracies" are acting more aggressively than ever against the Islamic community, and "global arrogance" fears Islamic unity. Khamenei accused the United States and Israel of being against Islam, said they are trying to drive a wedge between Islamic governments, and added that they want to dominate the Islamic world. BS

IRAN WILL SET NUCLEAR TERMS
One of Iran's top nuclear negotiators, Cyrus Nasseri, said on 26 April that discussions with Europe will only continue if the Europeans accept Iran's right to possess nuclear technology, state radio reported. Nasseri said global need for nuclear fuel will increase in the next decade, so Iran must be able to export it. Turning to the negotiation process and Washington's stance, Nasseri said, "We are the ones who will set deadlines and make decisions. And the Westerners have come to the conclusion that they must come to terms with Iran." BS

TRANSITIONAL IRAQI CABINET ANNOUNCEMENT IMMINENT
Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Ja'fari appeared set to present his new cabinet to the Presidency Council and transitional National Assembly on 27 April, nearly three months after national elections were held, international media reported. The assembly session opened with no mention of the cabinet announcement, but officials said the cabinet will be presented later in the day. "Parliament will be asked to vote today, and if the list is approved the government will start work tomorrow," Jawad Maliki, a member of al-Ja'fari's Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, told AFP. Al-Ja'fari's proposed cabinet reportedly calls for three deputy prime ministers -- one each from the Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions, AP reported on 26 April. The post of defense minister will reportedly go to a Sunni Arab, Al-Jazeera reported on 27 April. The satellite news channel said that the Presidency Council led by Jalal Talabani has already signed off on the proposed list, as required under the terms of the Transitional Administrative Law. Once the council signs off on the list, the National Assembly must approve it by simple majority in a vote of confidence. KR

THREE SUNNI MEMBERS WITHDRAW FROM IRAQI SHI'ITE LIST
Three Sunni members of the Shi'ite United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) list -- Mudar Shawkat, Sheikh Fawwaz al-Jarba, and Abd al-Rahman al-Nu'aymi -- withdrew from the alliance because of differences over the formation of the government, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 26 April. Shawkat, who is deputy head of the Iraqi National Congress, told Al-Arabiyah that members of the UIA charged with running the alliance's affairs view the alliance "as a pure Shi'ite bloc rather than a bloc that encompasses all spectrums and sects of the Iraqi people." "Personally, I am an Iraqi citizen who does not believe in Sunni or Shi'ite affiliations," he said. "I am a person who seeks national unity. I do not believe in sectarian quotas and do not accept being part of a body that speaks about the bloc and the Sunni sect." He added that as a Sunni member of the Shi'ite-dominated alliance, he was not consulted about issues related to Iraq's national unity, saying, "I feel that I and my [Sunni] brothers were marginalized." KR

IRAQI KIDNAPPERS EXTEND DEADLINE FOR KILLING OF ROMANIAN HOSTAGES
The Mu'adh Ibn Jabal Brigades, which are holding three Romanian journalists hostage in Iraq, extended the deadline for their killing by 24 hours, Al-Jazeera television reported on 26 April. The group demands that the Romanian government withdraw its troops from Iraq in exchange for the release of the journalists. The hostages were last seen in a videotaped recording sent to Al-Jazeera on 26 April, pleading with the Romanian people to continue demonstrations in an effort to pressure the government to meet the hostage takers' demands. The kidnappers conveyed a message from journalist Marie Jeanne Ion and her cameraman Sorin Miscoci to their employer Prima TV on 26 April, Antena 1 television reported. Prima TV news director Dan Dumitru told the press he believed the call signaled a willingness by the kidnappers to continue negotiations. U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told Romanian TV on 26 April that the United States has been working with civilian authorities in an effort to save the hostages. Regarding whether Romania should heed to the kidnappers' demands, he said, "Romania must establish alone what its national interests are." The United States staunchly opposes any negotiations with terrorists. KR

U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY SAYS FINAL REPORT NOT OUT ON KILLING OF ITALIAN AGENT IN IRAQ
Donald Rumsfeld told reporters at a 26 April Pentagon press briefing (http://www.dod.gov) that a final report has not been issued from the joint U.S.-Italian investigation into the killing of an Italian secret-service agent at a U.S. checkpoint during the rescue of kidnapped journalist Giuliana Sgrena (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005). International media reported on 26 April that the report had exonerated U.S. troops for negligence in the shooting that killed the agent, Nicola Calipari. "My latest information is that they have not come to a final agreement on a joint report.... It's an investigation. It was done together, intimately, and I think that we'll just have to wait and see what they come out with," Rumsfeld said. Asked whether U.S. troops would be punished as a result of the report's findings, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers told the same press briefing, "It's not final yet, so we can't say." He added that he hasn't seen the report, which is now in the hands of General George Casey, commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq. Myers said that Casey will soon announce the reports findings in Baghdad. KR

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