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Newsline - April 28, 2005

Speaking during a joint press conference on 27 April with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, President Vladimir Putin said the positions of both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict coincide, and he proposed that the co-sponsors of the "road map" peace plan for the Middle East (the United States, Russia, European Union, and the United Nations) hold a conference this year in Moscow, Russian and international media reported. Putin also noted that Russian specialists are beginning to return to the Middle East, including Russian oilmen to Iraq, where they hope to take part in the restoration of the country's petrochemical industry. VY

During his 27 April press conference in Cairo, Putin said that "democracy cannot be a matter of export from one country to another," ITAR-TASS reported. "In this case it at once becomes an instrument of pressure by one country upon another," he added. "It is only through internal development that democracy can be achieved." President Mubarak said the process of democratization in the Middle East is restricted by "natural reasons" and that democracy can be realized only in accordance "with historical traditions of every given country." Russia and Egypt have the same understanding of democracy and do not want to see it imported, TV-Tsentr commented on 27 April. Meanwhile, NTV mentioned on 27 April that Egypt continues to live under a state of emergency that was introduced after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981. VY

President Putin, who arrived in Jerusalem on 27 April for a three-day visit that represents the first to Israel by a leader of Russia or the Soviet Union, met the same day with members of the Moscow Patriarchate mission in Israel, RTR and other news agencies reported. Putin was scheduled to hold talks on 28 April with Israeli President Moshe Katzav and later with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Putin is to meet on 29 April with Palestine Authority President Mahmud Abbas. "The Jerusalem Post" on 27 April commented that the main purpose of Putin's visit is to restore, at least in part, Russia's influence in the Middle East. The paper continued that Putin, like other European politicians, believes he can improve his country's relations with Washington by improving ties with Jerusalem. During his talks with Sharon, Putin is expected to hear Israeli concerns about the sale of Russian missiles to Syria, Russia's continued nuclear cooperation with Iran, and growing anti-Semitism in Russia, according to on 27 April. Putin might request the extradition of major Yukos shareholders Leonid Nevzlin, Mikhail Brudno, and Vladimir Dubov, all of whom reside in Israel and have had international arrest warrants issued against them. Sharon has previously said he is categorically opposed to extraditing Israeli citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). VY

Meanwhile, Nevzlin said on 27 April that the postponement until 16 May of a verdict in the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii proves that Russia is a country where authorities can interfere in the judicial process, reported. "By shifting the court verdict to after 9 May, when U.S. President George W. Bush and other world leaders will visit Moscow, Vladimir Putin is showing the world that he keeps his political adversaries hostage to his power ambitions," Nevzlin said. "A country in which the justice system is a subdivision of the presidential administration is not a democratic country." Nevzlin is the main owner of the Gibraltar-based Menatep Group, which owns 61 percent of Yukos shares. Meanwhile, Khodorkovskii's lawyer, Evgenii Baru, said on 27 April that he cannot exclude the possibility that new accusations will be made against Khodorkovskii and his colleagues in the event that a "soft" verdict is handed down on 16 May, Ekho Moskvy reported. VY

Mike Cave, vice president/general manager of airplane programs for Boeing commercial airplanes, announced on 27 April during his talks in Moscow with Deputy Industry and Energy Minister Andrei Reus that Boeing plans to invest from $2.5 to $3 billion in Russia's aviation sector over the next five years, RIA-Novosti reported. Cave said Boeing has invested $2.1 billion in Russia since 1991. Boeing is currently involved in a number of projects in Russia, including a medium-distance aircraft, the development of Boeing's future Dreamliner class of passenger aircraft, and the production of Titan missiles in Russia. VY

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko, and Toyota Senior Managing Director Tokuichi Uranisi on 26 April announced the signing of a memorandum of intent for the construction of Toyota's first automobile plant in Russia, RosBalt reported. The plant, which will be located near St. Petersburg, will have an initial production capacity of 50,000 mid-size automobiles, according to a company press release. Toyota will initially invest $142 million in the plant, which will employ 400 and begin production in 2007. VY

Legislators in Koryak Autonomous Okrug voted at a special session on 27 April to reject plans to merge their region with the larger, neighboring Kamchatka Oblast, REN-TV and reported. The legislators voted unanimously against the unification. According to, the deputies did not care for proposals for arranging budget relations between the two entities, plans for social policies for the new subject, and they criticized the lack of attention to the problems of the numerically small ethnic groups. Dmitrii Oreshkin of the Merkator Group commented that the "local elite has apparently not forged an agreement with the Kremlin.... The Koryaks decided to show their character but the region is [economically] depressed and strongly dependent on [federal] budget transfers, so sooner or later an agreement will be made all the same." JAC

The Central Election Commission (TsIK) has proposed changing existing rules so that State Duma deputies can no longer change factions, TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Radio Mayak on 27 April. According to Veshnyakov, the change is consistent with draft legislation abolishing electing deputies from single-mandate districts. The State Duma recently passed such legislation in its second reading (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2005). Under the current system, a legislator can be elected to the Duma from a party list but he or she can leave that party's faction after joining the Duma. Recently, two deputies from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction announced that they were leaving that faction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). JAC

Banks and businesses took a record $19 billion in capital out of the country in the first quarter of this year, Russian news agencies reported on 27 April, citing the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. According to the ministry, Russian private sector investment in foreign shares surged in the first quarter. The ministry noted that "the Russian economy is still not able to digest the intensive dollar influx of currency for current operations." According to Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Aleksei Ulyukaev on 27 April, capital outflow from Russia dropped to just an estimated $1 billion in the first quarter of 2005, Interfax reported. JAC

Garri Kasparov, former world chess champion and co-chairman of the Committee-2008, announced on 27 April that his group has postponed plans to form a political party, reported on 28 April. "I do not see any kind of tragedy in this and do not doubt that we will return to this question," he said. According to, at the committee's last session in March, representatives of SPS suggested that former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov could serve as leader of the democratic opposition. However, Yabloko representatives objected and committee co-chairman Vladimir Ryzhkov said that in his opinion Kasyanov is not an obvious choice for the role of a uniter. Ryzhkov announced earlier this week that he has joined the Republican Party of Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). JAC

Federation Council members voted on 27 April to approve amendments to law on the status of State Duma deputies, which curtail the privileges of parliamentarians, RosBalt reported. The vote was 139 in favor to one against and one abstention. The law monetizes certain social benefits such as free transportation, telephone use, and reduces annual leave from 48 days to 42 days. A vacation subsidy equivalent to two months' salary was cancelled. Last summer controversy arose when President Putin signed into law a bill on the civil service that gave the country's 2 million state bureaucrats the kind of in-kind social benefits that had just been taken away from the population (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2004). JAC

A court in Volgograd sentenced on 26 April seven young men to prison terms of four to 10 years for their role in the killing of three men from Central Asia in October 2002, RFE/RL's Volgograd correspondent reported. Two Tajiks and one Uzbek were killed in three separate incidents from 2 to 8 October. According to the prosecutor in the case, the youths gathered in the center of Volgograd and their leader would pick a victim. The young men would then engage their target in conversation to see how fluently he spoke Russian. The leader would then give a sign at which the young men would swoop down and methodically beat the victim, reported on 27 April. Although the investigators confirmed that the killings were based on nationalist enmity, the court did not deem the youths skinheads or members of extremist organizations, a judgment which would have required stiffer terms. JAC

Republic of Ingushetia Prosecutor M. Kalimatov has summoned parliament deputy Musa Ozdoev for questioning in connection with a letter Ozdoev addressed to the Nazran municipal authorities informing them of his intention to convene a protest meeting in Nazran on 30 April, reported on 27 April. Kalimatov claimed that Ozdoev failed to include all the necessary information, including the time at which the meeting will end. But Ozdoev told that his letter of notification contained all the information required under the relevant legislation. He said Kalimatov's summons is an attempt to prevent the planned demonstration taking place, and he pointed out that as a parliament deputy he nonetheless has the right to convene a meeting with voters. Also on 27 April, Rustam Archakov, one of the leaders of the Youth Movement of Ingushetia engaged in organizing a parallel meeting on 30 April in Magas, again ruled out the possibility that participants will resort to illegal or unconstitutional actions, even if the authorities try to provoke them to do so. LF

Deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Aleksandr Pochinok told Adygeya republican radio on 26 April in Rostov-na-Donu that no one has proposed or is making plans to combine the regions of southern Russia, and no threat to their sovereignty exists, reported on 27 April. He added that the region has "more than enough" real problems without creating "mythical" ones and then proposing a solution to them. Taus Djabrailov, chairman of the interim Chechen legislature, argued last week that a merger of south Russian republics would be economically advantageous (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). On 27 April, Abrek Chich, spokesman for Republic of Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen, stressed the need for a single economic space comprising Krasnodar Krai and the Republic of Adygeya (which constitutes an enclave within the krai), and for closer cooperation between those two federation subjects' respective governments and local authorities, reported. LF

Ramzan Kadyrov told journalists in the village of Tsentoroi on 27 April that he has conducted an independent investigation into the terrorist bombing on 9 May 2004 that killed his father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, and has determined both who planned the blast and who actually planted the bomb, Russian media reported. He claimed that almost all those involved have since been killed, except for the person who planted the bomb and Chechen radical field commander Shamil Basaev, who subsequently claimed responsibility for the blast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004). LF

The Armenian government has asked the Constitutional Court to declare unconstitutional the right of the ombudsman to request any documentation from Armenian courts, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 27 April. Justice Minister David Harutiunian has argued that prerogative threatens the independence of the judiciary, but the parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs rejected that argument. Committee Chairman Rafik Petrosian told RFE/RL that "the human rights offender cannot be isolated from the courts." At the same time, he admitted that Larisa Alaverdian, who currently occupies that post, "overstepped her rights in some cases." Testifying to the Constitutional Court on 27 April, Alaverdian said most of the complaints her office receives are about court rulings that citizens consider unfair. She claimed that the judiciary "is dependent on the executive branch." Alaverdian has made public her assessment of human rights in Armenia for the period March-December 2004, Noyan Tapan reported on 27 April. LF

The penultimate sentence of the 27 April "RFE/RL Newsline" item "Armenian President Rejects Turkish Genocide-Study Proposal" should read: "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 as 1.2 million, and the number of those subsequently deported at 924,158."

Elmar Mammadyarov met in Frankfurt on 27 April with the French, U.S., and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, Turan and reported. Speaking to RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Mammadyarov characterized the talks as the continuation of discussions begun in Prague one year ago, and said they could constitute "a step forward." He said he would try to ascertain from the co-chairs why his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian did not also come to Frankfurt to meet with the co-chairs. According to, the talks focused on the recent cease-fire violations, the recent OSCE report on the extent of Armenian settlement on occupied Azerbaijani territory, and a possible date for a meeting between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev. Oskanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 21 April that during their previous talks with the co-chairs in London on 15 April, he and Mammadyarov were asked separately to specify "the one or two most important issues" that should be addressed at such a meeting of the two presidents. Oskanian explained that he and Mammadyarov "don't need to arrange a meeting between the two presidents" in order to secure their approval of something they have already agreed upon. "On the contrary, it is the issues on which we failed to reach agreement that will be put before the presidents so that they can try to find a solution," Oskanian added. LF

Saday Nazarov, who was detained and charged with treason on his return to Azerbaijan in mid-January, was permitted to leave Baku on 27 April for the Czech Republic, where he was granted political asylum in 1997, CTK reported. Nazarov served from 1993-94 as an aide to then Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, who was accused of plotting a coup against then President Heidar Aliyev in October 1994. The charges against Nazarov were lifted last month, but he was barred from leaving the country on 25 April on the grounds that his papers were not in order (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January, 2 and 15 February and 18 and 26 April 2005). LF

Representatives of some 50 organizations and NGOs representing Georgia's ethnic minorities have addressed an open letter to President Mikheil Saakashvili criticizing the approach adopted by his administration to issues that impinge on the rights and sensitivities of national minorities, including revision of internal district borders, reform of the election process, and providing educational opportunities for members of ethnic minorities. Visiting Georgia on 27 April for the fifth time in three years, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus met with Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava, OSCE Mission head Roy Reeve, and with Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for the Abkhaz conflict, to discuss the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts, the situation of the Greek and Armenian minorities, and the prospects for the repatriation to southern Georgia of the Meskhetians deported in 1944. Also on 27 April, Georgian Education Minister Kakha Lomaya announced to journalists the creation of a special school in Kutaisi to train 200-400 civil servants annually, primarily Armenians and Ossetians, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The Georgian authorities have launched an appeal for international aid to alleviate the aftermath of floods that devastated large areas of western and northern Georgia in recent days, but caused no casualties, Caucasus Press reported on 27 April. President Saakashvili, who toured the worst-affected regions on 27 April, estimated that it will cost 15-20 million laris ($8.22 million-$10.96 million) to repair damaged highways alone, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Interim Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev stated on 27 April that although he supports constitutional reform in Kyrgyzstan, the branches of power must be granted greater authority if such reforms are to be effectively implemented, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In an exclusive interview in Bishkek with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, Bakiev stressed the need for balanced governance to prevent a dangerous concentration of power in any one branch of government. Bakiev said that as president, Akaev initially contributed to the country's economic and political reforms, but eventually became "more and more authoritarian." Bakiev also criticized the current parliament for its excessive "politicized activities," and called on deputies to work with the interim government. RG

Kyrgyz Minister for Ecology and Emergencies Temirbek Akmataliev and border guards commander Kalmurat Sadiev were dismissed on 27 April by presidential decree, ITAR-TASS reported. Akmataliev has been replaced by former Kyrgyz Forestry Service chief and parliamentarian Janysh Rustenbekov, and former Defense Minster and parliamentarian Myrzakan Subanov has been named as Sadiev's successor, Interfax reported. RG

The dismissals follow the announcement on 27 April in Bishkek by acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov that both men are subjects in a widening criminal investigation, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. The investigation has reopened the criminal case related to the March 2002 shooting of unarmed demonstrators that resulted in the death of five protesters (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 12 September 2002). Akmataliev served as interior minister and Sadiev was his deputy at the time. The move is linked to the previous day's dismissal of Kyrgyz Ambassador to Turkey Amanbek Karypkulov, the former chief of the presidential administration, who is also accused of complicity in the incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005). RG

A group of about 80 demonstrators stormed the Kyrgyz Supreme Court building in Bishkek on 27 April, ITAR-TASS reported. With another 100 picketers outside the building, the demonstrators threaten to set fire to the building unless the entire court resigns. Supreme Court Chairman Kurmanbek Osmonov had already submitted his resignation but it was not accepted by interim President Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 April 2005). RG

Another group of over 150 demonstrators staged a rally in front of the main government offices in Bishkek on 27 April, AKIpress reported. The demonstrators, most of whom were residents of the town of Kara-Balta, demanded the dismissal of the acting head of the Kyrgyz National Security Service, Tashtemir Aitbaev, after security forces arrested and allegedly assaulted four local residents of the town on the night of 22 April. Although the detainees were reportedly armed with weapons and grenades, they were released on 25 April after more than 100 relatives and supporters marched on the National Security Services headquarters in Bishkek. Aitbaev, a former head of the Interior Ministry from 2000-02, was appointed national security minister late last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005). RG

Belarusian courts on 27 April punished five Ukrainians, 14 Russians, and eight Belarusians who were arrested the previous day for their participation in an unauthorized rally near the presidential-administration building in Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005), ITAR-TASS reported. According to the agency, the Russians were jailed for terms varying from five to 15 days. Belapan reported that they include a reporter of the Russian edition of "Newsweek" (10 days) and a correspondent of "Moskovskii komsomolets" (eight days). Meanwhile, the Ukrainians were jailed for terms varying from nine to 15 days, Ukrainian and Belarusian news agencies reported. RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported that two Belarusians, Zmitser Dashkevich and Syarhey Lisichonak, were jailed for 15 days and 10 days, respectively, while Maryna Bahdanovich, head of the Minsk branch of the opposition United Civic Party, was fined some $2,000. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying that the Belarusian authorities violated the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by denying opportunities for proper legal defense to the Ukrainian detainees. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on 27 April ordered that the cabinet of Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko compile within the next 10 days a list of privatizations that have been conducted under questionable circumstances, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. According to Yushchenko, the compilation of such a list has "dragged" since he announced in February that his government would review the privatizations of 30 to 40 enterprises (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2005). "Business is paying heightened attention. We have 10 days to close this question and lay the list on the table," Yushchenko said at a cabinet meeting. Economy Minister Serhiy Teryokhin told journalists the same day that some companies that were privatized under objectionable circumstances will be asked to pay the difference between the sale price and the real value of their assets. JM

President Yushchenko also said at the cabinet meeting on 27 April that he will draft 17 decrees within the next two weeks to implement 17 programs for reforming Ukrainian society, Interfax and UNIAN reported. "We are speaking about 17 steps, 17 key goals for 2005, which will be reflected in decrees [drafted] within the next two weeks after their mutual finalization," Interfax quoted Yushchenko as saying. UNIAN reported that the postulated goals will include increasing people's incomes, rendering support to children from their birth to the end of schooling, reducing the shadow-economy sector, attracting foreign investment, furthering Ukraine's integration with Europe, and developing oil- and gas-transport routes. JM

Prime Minister Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv on 27 April that the Cabinet of Ministers was not behind last week's decision by the National Bank of Ukraine to strengthen the national currency against the U.S. dollar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005), Interfax reported. "This [establishing the hryvnya's exchange rate] is a prerogative of the National Bank of Ukraine and no talks of the government [with oil traders] influence such decisions," Tymoshenko said. Some Ukrainian experts have suggested that the hryvnya revaluation, which reportedly caused significant losses for depositors of U.S. dollars in Ukrainian banks, was connected with a recent reduction in the price of oil products in Ukraine and followed an agreement between the government and oil traders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). JM

A Bulgarian Interior Ministry spokesman said in Sofia on 27 April that police arrested Colonel Cedomir Brankovic of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro while on an official visit to Bulgaria as part of a military delegation, dpa reported. He was arrested on the basis of a 1999 Croatian Interpol warrant issued because a Croatian court was investigating Brankovic for alleged war crimes committed in Croatia, including Slavonia, in 1991. The Croatian news agency Hina quoted several Croatian officials as saying that Brankovic commanded the former Yugoslav People's Army's 265th Motorized Brigade and allegedly ordered it to attack civilian targets, including Roman Catholic churches, leaving 13 people dead. The Bulgarian police spokesman said on 27 April that unnamed officials in Sofia contacted unnamed "Serbian diplomats" before making the arrest in order to "avoid a diplomatic scandal." But the BBC's Serbian Service reported on 28 April that official Belgrade is outraged at the arrest of a member of a military delegation, the composition of which was reportedly known to the Bulgarians in advance. A Bulgarian court will decide soon whether to extradite Brankovic to Croatia. PM

Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told the German publication "Spiegel Online" of 27 April that his country will work for independence even against the opposition of the EU as well as that of Belgrade (,1518,353474,00.html) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 26 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 October 2002, 27 August 2004, and 11 February 2005). Arguing that Montenegro can make better progress alone on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration, Djukanovic said that "we do not want to help carry Belgrade's burdens any longer." He stressed that his country has no intention of remaining what he called "a hostage of Serbian policies." The prime minister noted that Montenegro has a better international credit rating than Serbia or Turkey and that there are no practical obstacles to its functioning as an independent state. PM

Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker of Luxembourg, which currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, said in Luxembourg on 27 April that a "long road" lies ahead of Serbia and Montenegro on its way to eventual EU membership, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). Turning to Kosova, he called it the most difficult issue in Europe, adding that it is still too early to resolve Kosova's final status. "I'm not convinced the moment has come to solve the question of the status of Kosovo in a definite way," Juncker argued. It is not clear whether his comments also reflect the views of his close allies in Paris and Berlin. The United States and some members of the international community hope to launch status talks later in 2005 if Kosova meets certain international standards by then. An unofficial international commission recently suggested that the EU extend explicit prospects of EU membership for an independent Kosova that would, however, be a EU protectorate for at least several years. Most leading Serbian politicians publicly oppose independence for Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 January, 18 February, and 25 March 2005). PM

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said in the Bulgarian capital Sofia on 27 April that there are a number of reasons to introduce visas for citizens of Kosova, MIA news agency reported. Crvenkovski's statement came in response to a recent announcement by the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) that it will introduce a visa requirement for Macedonian citizens on 1 May. "We have more reasons than they do to [require visas], and this way we can introduce a tighter control over the border." He stressed that introducing visas will facilitate "the fight against the infiltration of individuals and groups with an extremist and militant background, as well as a more efficient fight against crime and illegal trade." Crvenkovski added that Macedonia need not wait for Prishtina to make the first move. In recent weeks, the Macedonian media have reacted nervously to unconfirmed reports that the Kosovar government has decided to levy a seasonal 25 percent customs tariff on Macedonian agricultural products. UB

Albanian Prime Minister Fatos Nano of the governing Socialists and his archrival, former President Sali Berisha of the opposition Democrats, signed a pact in Tirana on 27 April promising a fair campaign in the run-up to the 3 July legislative elections but declined to seal it by shaking hands or clinking glasses, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). President Alfred Moisiu hailed the agreement, saying that "Albanians need to leave behind once and for all the problem-ridden and contested elections to reach a new milestone on the great road of democracy." Apparently with an eye toward EU and other international criticism of most past Albanian elections, he added, "With this code, we send today a message of hope and understanding to our citizens and society, to show we are able to rise above anything that can become a barrier to the progress of Albania." The news agency noted that similar pacts in past elections did not put an end to acrimonious behavior. Both Nano and Berisha have figured prominently in charges of irregularities and other questionable activities surrounding past elections. PM

William Hill, the head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Mission in Moldova, lauded a proposal from Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to resolve the conflict in Transdniester, Flux reported on 27 April. "The OSCE welcomes the proposal of the Ukrainian president" to expand negotiations to include the United States and the European Union, Hill said. "In the near future, the OSCE will examine possibilities to modify the current format of negotiations," he added. Yushchenko presented a blueprint for his plan at the GUUAM summit in Chisinau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, meanwhile, decried what he called more than a decade of fruitless talks, and called for a fresh approach. "The experience of the 12-year-long useless talks on [the Transdniester] conflict settlement has demonstrated the inefficiency of the current negotiations format," he said. BW

The OSCE's Hill also said a clear-cut separation of powers is necessary to resolve the conflict in the breakaway Transdniester region, Infotag reported on 27 April. Speaking at a conference in Chisinau titled "Moldova and Europe: Consolidation of Relations," Hill also proposed tighter monitoring of the Transdniester section of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border, demilitarization of the region, and a withdrawal of Russian troops and weapons. Additionally, he called for the reform of Transdniester's security services, a reduction of the military presence on both sides, and a new type of peacekeeping mission. BW

Menduh Thaci, who is the deputy chairman of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), announced on 20 April that his party was pulling out of parliament once and for all. The move marks a watershed for his once-powerful party and begs questions about its political agenda.

Thaci's announcement came after the governing majority of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) rejected a PDSH request that a draft bill on local elections be put on the parliamentary agenda. The bill would seek to annul recent elections in 16 administrative districts in western Macedonia where ethnic Albanians predominate. Both the PDSH and the opposition ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) argue that the governing coalition is responsible for ballot irregularities.

Thaci also harshly criticized parliamentary speaker Ljupco Jordanovski when he announced the parliamentary boycott. "We announce that the parliamentary group of the [PDSH] will boycott the parliament's work once and for all," Thaci said, "because the behavior of the speaker and of this parliament is right out of the 15th century, and because apart from stealing votes from us [in the local elections], you do not allow the opposition to speak out."

Zamir Dika, who leads the PDSH's caucus, added: "The governing majority will not succeed [in silencing the opposition], because the debate on the electoral fraud will continue outside the [democratic] institutions."

It is not the first time that the PDSH has boycotted parliamentary proceedings. The daily "Utrinski vesnik" recalled on 21 April that PDSH legislators stayed away from parliament between April and June 2003 to protest the slow implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement. PDSH Chairman Arben Xhaferi subsequently said his party was obliged to return to the legislature because it was the only party representing the "real interests" of the country's 23 percent Albanian minority.

Thaci's boycott announcement came as no great surprise. One week before the parliamentary majority rejected the draft election bill, Xhaferi had warned that his party might resort to civil disobedience if the bill was defeated.

In an interview with "Utrinski vesnik" of 23 April, Xhaferi explained how his party would react to the rejection of his bill. "In a democracy, you have the possibility of acting outside the institutions if the institutions [do not respond] to the demands and ideas of individual political parties," Xhaferi said. "This does not mean that we now take to the mountains and start shooting. We will act outside the institutions but democratically -- that is, without violence, with various demonstrations, contacts with international representatives, with NATO, the EU, etc."

The smallish PPD, which left the coalition it had formed with the PDSH ahead of the local elections, announced that it would remain in the parliament. PPD Chairman Abduladi Vejseli told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service recently that his party would continue to support the democratic institutions because "it is difficult to resolve problems outside those institutions."

In the eyes of the BDI, the PDSH's decision to boycott was merely an attempt to find an excuse for its poor showing in the local elections. The BDI has replaced the PDSH as the strongest ethnic Albanian political party since it was founded in 2002 primarily by members of the former UCK. In the recent local elections, the PDSH lost much of its remaining political power on the local level.

But boycotting the parliament is not the only way the PDSH has gained public attention of late. Xhaferi recently raised another contentious issue that is likely to enrage the Macedonian public: the question of Macedonia's national symbols, such as the future of its coat-of-arms, flag, and national anthem.

Xhaferi has argued that neither the flag nor the anthem reflects the country's multiethnic character. Thus, he said, they contradict the spirit of the Ohrid peace agreement, which defines Macedonia as a multiethnic state. According to Xhaferi, all "ethnocentric codes" -- including references to ethnic Macedonian traditions in the hymn and state symbols -- must be removed.

While the other ethnic Albanian parties at least partly support Xhaferi's demands for a change of state symbols, most Macedonian observers reject them. Former Interior Minister Ljubomir Frckovski, who was one of the authors of the agreement, told "Dnevnik" that a review of the state symbols was not part of the peace deal, adding that nobody has the right to interpret the agreement this way.

In the past, Xhaferi has repeatedly but unsuccessfully sought to gain attention with its tough talk. It is unlikely that his latest statements will help the PDSH regain the confidence of Albanian voters.

Imomali Rakhmonov arrived in Kabul on 27 April for his first official visit to Afghanistan, international news agencies reported. Rakhmonov met with his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai and the two leaders signed a number of agreements on border cooperation, joint counternarcotics efforts, and power-distribution projects, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on 27 April. Rakhmonov and Karzai agreed that government authorities from the two countries will be able to travel between Afghanistan and Tajikistan without visas. "Expanding relations between the two friendly and neighboring countries," was the most important discussion between two presidents, Rakhmonov said. Karzai and Rakhmonov also had a private one-on-one meeting, Tajik Radio 1 reported on 27 April. AT

Suspected neo-Taliban militants ambushed the convoy of the Dishu District police chief in Helmand Province, killing six police officers, AFP reported on 27 April. Helmand intelligence chief Dad Mohammad said that the policemen were the police chief's bodyguards. The police returned fire with rockets, but the assailants fled, Dad Mohammad said. "We don't know if any of them were hurt," he added. Southern and eastern Afghanistan has been scene of increased sporadic violence recently with the neo-Taliban being blamed, and often accepting responsibility for attacks (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4, 11, 19 and 27 April 2005). AT

Neo-Taliban militias attacked the security commander of Arghandab District in Zabul Province on 27 April, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Arghandab District head Abdul Qayyum told AIP that when the security commander's forces came under attack, more forces from the district went to their aid, "but they themselves came under attack" as well. Claiming to speak from "an ambush position" Abdul Qayyum said that "fighting is still going on." In a separate report on 27 April, AIP reported that Abdul Qayyum told them that after a number of U.S. and Afghan National Army troops came to Arghandab, the fighting between neo-Taliban and district forces ended. Four neo-Taliban were reported to have been killed in the battle and three policemen, including Abdul Qayyum's brother, were injured. AT

Commenting on the recent reactivation of the Shari'ah Zhagh (Voice of Shari'ah) radio by the neo-Taliban, the "Kabul Times" wrote on 26 April that while the Afghan government is not worried about the radio station, U.S. military officials have vowed to find and destroy the transmitters. The newspaper says that no radio station can operate without the assistance of professional engineers, and since the neo-Taliban as "a bunch of mullahs...are completely ignorant about engineering," it asks who is helping them technically and financially with their radio station. Then the paper speculates that Pakistani military intelligence, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), must have answers to these questions as "it has been dealing with the Taliban since their inception." The "Kabul Times" adds that since Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has consistently declared his resolve to fight terrorism, the ISI "is expected to fall into line and find out" about the Shari'ah Zhagh. The neo-Taliban radio station began limited broadcasting to southern Kandahar Province in mid-April (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 April 2005). AT

The Afghan Transport Ministry has banned Kam Air's internal operations, Tolu Television reported on 27 April. Feda Mohammad Fedawi, the airline's deputy director, told Tolu that there is no legal basis for banning Kam Air's flights. "We have done nothing illegal and the matter has not been evaluated by a legal source," Fedawi added. The Transport Ministry has not commented on the ban. Kam Air, Afghanistan's first privately owned airline, began operating in late 2003. In February, a Kam Air flight originating in western Herat city crashed near Kabul, killing all aboard (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 February 2005). It is not clear if the ban on Kam Air is related to the crash. AT

The U.S. State Department has replaced its annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report with one called "Country Reports on Terrorism 2004," but as it has in the past, Iran earned top billing as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2004" ( The reports asserts that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and the Intelligence and Security Ministry are involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts. It notes the Iranian role in anti-Israel activity, and it refers to Iranian support for Hamas, Hizballah, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The report says that Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan militants are in Iran, and it refers to intermittent Iranian aid to the Kongra-Gel (aka Kurdistan Workers' Party, PKK). The report also says that Iran refuses to identify senior Al-Qaeda personnel it claims to have detained, will not provide information on purported trials, and it will not extradite them. Alleged Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs is noted as well. BS

The Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), a group that is opposed to the Iranian regime, is identified in the U.S. State Department report as a foreign terrorist organization. Also known as the National Liberation Army of Iran, People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, National Council of Resistance, National Council of Resistance of Iran, and Muslim Iranian Students' Society, the MKO killed Americans working in Iran during the 1970s and it supported the 1979 seizure of the U.S. Embassy, according to the report. Since leaving Iran in the early 1980s, the MKO has conducted many attacks against Iranian officials and assets. More than 3,000 MKO members are at Camp Ashraf in Iraq, although some have returned to Iran. The MKO received most of its financial assistance and all of its military aid from former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime, and it "has used front organizations to solicit contributions from expatriate Iranian communities," according to the report. BS

The Association of Islamic Iran Azeris announced on 27 April that it supports the candidacy of reformist Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, ILNA reported. The association's statement noted the constitutional articles that refer to ethnic rights and said their implementation will bring about an "Iran for all Iranians" and contribute to unity and national solidarity. BS

The conservative speaker of parliament, Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, said on 27 April that the fundamentalists (osulgarayan) do not oppose the possibility that Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani will be a candidate in the 17 June presidential election, IRNA reported. Former two-term President Hashemi-Rafsanjani hinted on 25 April that he may announce his intentions soon. The mainstream conservative organization, the Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, has put its weight behind Ali Larijani, a close associate of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei reportedly does not care for the prospect of another Hashemi-Rafsanjani presidency. Hojatoleslam Rasul Montajabnia, who is a leading member of the country's cleric-dominated reformist party, the Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), said on 26 April that Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy would encourage voter turnout, Mehr News Agency reported. He also noted that this would lead to a runoff in which Hashemi-Rafsanjani and the reformist candidate compete. Montajabnia runs clerical affairs for reformist candidate Karrubi's campaign. BS

The Norwegian Aker Kvaerner company has won a four-year project-management contract worth $25 million in Iran, "The Norway Post" and IRNA reported on 27 April. Among the services provided by Aker Kvaerner are exploration and production consultancy; field development, maintenance, and operations; marine operations; and well intervention. The company will work with Pars Oil and Gas Company in developing two phases of the South Pars gas field. This will include building two platforms, two pipelines, and a gas-treatment terminal, which on completion will produce 57 million cubic meters of gas a day. Norway's Statoil is working on three other phases of South Pars. BS

Despite some vacancies in key posts, the transitional National Assembly overwhelmingly approved Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's cabinet list on 28 April in a vote broadcast live on CNN. Al-Ja'fari will temporarily act as defense minister, while Ahmad Chalabi will work as acting oil minister in addition to his duties as deputy prime minister. Kurdish leader Rowsch Shaways was also appointed a deputy prime minister; two other deputy prime-ministerial seats remain empty. Former Housing Minister Bayan Jabr has been appointed interior minister, Ali Abd al-Amir Allawi will head the Finance Ministry, and interim Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari will retain his post in the transitional government. "I have worked night and day to form a government that will focus on action and that reflects the ethnic and religious diversity of Iraqi society," al-Ja'fari told parliamentarians before the vote. He anticipated that the cabinet appointments will be completed in the next few days. KR

Insurgents launched attacks against Iraqi officials and multinational forces on 28 April, the birthday of deposed President Saddam Hussein. A suicide car bomber attacked a joint U.S.-Iraqi patrol in Tikrit, Hussein's hometown, wounding five Iraqi National Guardsmen and four civilians, Reuters reported. Deputy Interior Minister for intelligence Major General Muhsin Abd al-Sadah was gunned down in the Al-Dawrah area of Baghdad, Al-Jazeera television reported. A ministry official with the passport office, Lieutenant Colonel Ala' Khalil Ibrahim, was also gunned down en route to work, Reuters quoted ministry officials as saying. Interior Ministry official Brigadier General Sabah al-Lu'aybi survived an assassination attempt in Baghdad on 27 April that killed two of his guards, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility for the attack on a jihadist website ( A mortar attack on a garage in Al-Musayyib killed four and wounded 19, and a roadside bomb killed two police and wounded five in Samarra on 28 April, Reuters reported. Both cities are insurgent strongholds. Twenty kilograms of TNT was found outside the home of Irbil's Bneslaw district security head Major Muhammad Salim, "Khabat" reported on 27 April. KR

The 28 April attacks came one day after parliamentarian Lamiya Abd al-Khaduri Sakri was gunned down outside her Baghdad home when she answered the door, international media reported on 28 April. Sakri was a member of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's Iraqi List. She had survived an earlier assassination attempt last year, according to Fellow parliamentarian Hamdiya Ahmad told the newspaper that parliamentarians are vulnerable to attacks by insurgents. "None of us are safe. Everyone is exposed to danger. There should be immediate measures to provide security for the members or they'll be finished by the end of the year," she said. Ahmad has survived two assassination attempts, the most recent of which left her driver dead. The website reported that a handful of parliamentarians now stay away from parliamentary sessions because of reported death threats or assassination attempts. KR

Vladimir Putin told reporters in Cairo on 27 April that Iraq will only be stabilized once foreign forces withdraw from the country, Interfax-AVN reported the same day. "Agreements must be reached on the terms and timing of the withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq," he said, adding, "Iraq's own security agencies need to be reinstated" alongside a coalition pullout. "Unless these [and other] issues are resolved, the conditions for terrorism to remain concentrated in Iraq will not be eliminated," he said. Putin noted that Russia is concerned about terrorism in Iraq, and claimed there is an increased need for international diplomacy on Iraq, which he said will contribute to the resolution of broader Middle East issues. Putin was in Cairo for a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak. A joint communique issued by the two presidents affirmed their commitment to Iraq's unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 April. KR