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Newsline - April 27, 2006


GERMAN-RUSSIAN SUMMIT OPENS WITH 'VERY INTENSIVE' DISCUSSIONS...
After arriving in Tomsk with a 20-strong delegation of government ministers and business executives on April 26, German Chancellor Angela Merkel began a two-day summit with talks with President Vladimir Putin, German and Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 7 and 26, 2006, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," January 17, 2006). She later told reporters that "our conversation was very intensive and very open. This shows that both sides want to cooperate, and that our partnership really can be called strategic." "Our first discussions were unusually intense," Putin noted. Following a dinner, substantive political and business negotiations are scheduled to take place on April 27. Merkel has frequently spoken in friendly terms of a "strategic partnership" with Russia, whose trade with Germany is valued at $50 billion. She has nonetheless avoided the close political association with Putin and bonhomie that characterized German-Russian relations under her predecessor Gerhard Schroeder. PM

...AS GAS ISSUES LOOM...
Unnamed German executives in the energy field told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" in Tomsk on April 27 that they consider Russia a reliable supplier of natural gas despite the often acrimonious exchanges of words between Russian and European officials in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 20, 25, and 26, 2006). But shortly before Merkel arrived in Tomsk, Putin declared that "we know well that we often run into unfair competition on world markets. Despite the large demand for energy resources, we face limits from the north, south, and west," Russian media reported. He called on Russian business to turn to Pacific Rim countries instead. Elsewhere, Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said that Russia's tough line in recent days "appears to have paid certain dividends," "The Moscow Times" reported. He did not elaborate. PM

...AND BOTH SIDES STRESS THE POSITIVE
President Putin said in Tomsk on April 27 that one of the priorities of the current Russian presidency of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries is energy, news agencies reported. "We hope that the continuation of our energy dialogue will enable us to launch prospective joint energy projects that will contribute to a steady global progress of economic and social development both for Europe and the rest of the world," he added. Merkel stressed that "the attendance of the [large and high-level] delegation here that traveled with me shows the importance of our relations with Russia. The demand for Russian culture and investment in Germany is very strong. [The large volume of trade] is not just an indication of the competitiveness of German products. It also shows that the Russian economy is steadily modernizing, and I believe we have a big interest in that." PM

PUTIN WARNS AGAINST 'APOCALYPTIC FORECASTS' FOR SIBERIA...
Before meeting with Chancellor Merkel in Tomsk on April 26, President Putin said that the demographic situation in Siberia is serious but not disastrous, Russian news agencies reported. "The exodus and reduction of the population is a phenomenon common to all parts of the country. It is a glaring problem, one of the most complicated and acute ones Russia has experienced over the past 15 years. The excess of deaths over births is a terrible problem for us," he added. Referring explicitly to Siberia, Putin argued that "further reduction of the population may reduce domestic economic production in the first stage, exacerbate creeping ethnic expansion [of unnamed peoples] in the second stage, and pose a major potential threat to the integrity of the state in the third stage." He stressed that such "conclusions are true for Siberia and for Russia in general.... Siberia has a tremendous potential, and apocalyptic forecasts will not necessarily materialize. We have the opportunity to reverse current trends and are obliged to do this." PM

...AND ANNOUNCES PLANS TO PAY OFF DEBT
President Putin said in Tomsk on April 27 that "this year we plan to fully cancel our liabilities to the Paris Club," which is an informal grouping of 19 governments that have large financial claims on various other governments, RIA Novosti reported. He added that he hopes "that Germany and other countries will be able to take advantage of our offer." In 2005, Russia paid off $15 billion of this debt ahead of time. It plans to pay off an additional $12 billion in 2006. Germany, however, in 2004 converted its $6 billion share of the debt to three- and five-year notes and 10-year bonds that cannot be repaid before maturation, the Russian news agency added. The Russian Finance Ministry says Russia's aggregate debt to the Paris Club stood at $29.8 billion as of October 1, 2005. Russia took on the Soviet Union's entire foreign debt, which came to $107.7 billion in January 1992, under an agreement with the other former Soviet republics, according to RIA Novosti. PM

PUTIN KEEPS OPTIONS OPEN ON IRAN
President Putin said in Tomsk on April 27 that Russia wants a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear dispute but noted that "a diplomatic option includes various ways to react. We will discuss this issue with our European partners, the United States, and the international community as a whole," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 19, 21, and 25, 2006). He did not explicitly rule out the possibility of sanctions in the run-up to April 28, when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is slated to make a report to the Security Council. He told reporters that "we will cooperate with all our partners. But today it is too early to say what decisions we can come to. The most important for us now is that whatever decisions are made they should be coordinated." The German government previously informed the Russian authorities that Berlin wants the international community to maintain a common position in its dealings with Iran, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on April 27. PM

FEDERAL REGISTRATION SERVICE GIVES PARTY MEMBERSHIP LISTS TO POLICE
Aleksei Zhafyarov, who heads the department of the Federal Registration Service dealing with political parties, told the Moscow daily "Vedomosti" of April 26 that the service started verifying the parties' membership numbers in November 2005, and that checks will continue into summer of 2006. He added that around 20 out of 36 parties still have to be checked. Legislation that took effect on January 1, 2006, requires legally constituted parties to have 50,000 members instead of the previous 10,000. The service is using the police to confirm membership figures by having Interior Ministry personnel visit homes of people across Russia to confirm that someone there is indeed a member of the party that claims that person as one of its own. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) has protested the practice, saying that it leads to law-enforcement officials intimidating its members into denying that they belong to the KPRF. The police deny any wrongdoing, saying that they are simply helping the registration service do its work. PM

ARMENIAN SPEAKER MEETS WITH FRENCH OFFICIALS
Armenian parliamentary Chairman Artur Baghdasarian met on April 26 with French officials during an official visit to Paris, Noyan Tapan and Arminfo reported. Baghdasarian met with the chairman of the French Senate, Christian Poncelet, and reviewed measures to further develop parliamentary cooperation. Poncelet was instrumental in organizing a special "Year of Armenia" exhibition in France. In a separate meeting on April 25, Baghdasarian also met with NATO Parliamentary Assembly President Pierre Lellouche and discussed cooperation between the Armenian National Assembly and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. RG

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN WASHINGTON...
Ilham Aliyev arrived in Washington on April 26 on his first official visit to the United States as president of Azerbaijan, Turan reported. Aliyev's itinerary includes a series of meetings with senior U.S. officials, including national-security adviser Stephen Hadley, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, members of Congress, and senior State Department officials. A tentative meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was canceled due to the secretary's foreign travel. Aliyev is scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush in the White House on April 28. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov explained that Aliyev will specifically discuss the issues of energy security, the war on terrorism, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and the situation in Iran, ITAR-TASS reported. U.S. officials have said that they will also address human rights and democratic reform in Azerbaijan, noting that the 2003 presidential and 2005 parliamentary elections were both marred by serious voting irregularities. New York-based Human Rights Watch released a statement on April 25 calling on Bush to "press for concrete progress in Azerbaijan's poor human rights record." RG

...AND REJECTS ANY AZERBAIJANI ROLE IN POSSIBLE MILITARY ACTIONS AGAINST IRAN
Speaking in a public address in Washington, President Aliyev rejected on April 27 any possible Azerbaijani support or participation in a possible U.S. military action against Iran, according to "Baku Today" and ITAR-TASS. Aliyev explained that his country is bound by "a bilateral agreement with Iran, under which the territory of one country cannot be used for any threat against the other one." Commenting on the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Aliyev said that any possible resolution must be on the basis of international law and Azerbaijani territorial integrity. Addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, he added that Baku remains engaged in a "peaceful" effort to resolve the conflict, but warned that the patience of the Azerbaijani people might run out, according to Turan. RG

AZERBAIJANI HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS CALL FOR RELEASE OF JAILED MINISTER
A group of prominent Azerbaijani human rights activists appealed on April 26 to Azerbaijani President Aliyev to release the jailed former minister of economic development, Turan reported. The human rights campaigners cited Farhad Aliyev's deteriorating health and argued that there has been "no serious investigation" of the case in the past five months. Aliyev, no relation to the president, remains in custody after his arrest in October 2005 on charges of plotting with exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31, 2006). RG

GEORGIAN PREMIER PROMISES ECONOMIC GROWTH...
Speaking during a televised press conference in Tbilisi, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli promised on April 26 that Georgia will continue to enjoy "double-digit economic growth," Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 TV reported. Noghaideli added a reassurance that the combination of the recent Russian ban on Georgian wine exports and the price increase for supplies of Russian natural gas only represented an impact equivalent with "about 1 percent of our gross domestic product." RG

...AND DEFENDS PRICE INCREASE FOR ELECTRICITY
Prime Minister Noghaideli was joined by the Georgian state minister in charge of economic reforms, Kakha Bendukidze, at an April 26 press conference to defend the government's planned increase in electricity prices, Rustavi-2 TV reported. Noghaideli and Bendukidze explained that the price hike was "a necessary step to ensure stability and create a good investment climate in the country's energy sector" and asserted that the increase was both "the price of our energy security" and "the price of our independence." Energy Minister Nika Gilauri also commented on the country's energy security, reporting that "the development of hydropower resources was the main direction of the government's energy policy" and noted that efforts are now under way to secure alternative supplies of natural gas from Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Central Asian suppliers. RG

PROTEST IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA THREATENS TO DELAY RUSSIAN MILITARY WITHDRAWAL...
After a demonstration by local residents on April 25 to protest the withdrawal of Russian troops from their base in southern Georgian, the Russian Foreign Ministry called on Georgia to "provide security," Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin warned of a possible delay in the process for withdrawing military hardware from the Russian base located in the predominantly ethnic Armenian district of Akhalkalaki, according to Interfax. Kamynin added that under the agreement signed by Tbilisi and Moscow last month, Georgia is committed to ensuring the safe pullout from the base, as well as the safe transfer of Russian military hardware and personnel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 2006). RG

...BUT IS DISMISSED AS 'CIRCUS' BY GEORGIAN MINISTER
Commenting on recent protests by local ethnic Armenians in southern Georgia, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili on April 26 dismissed the protest as "circus performances" and downplayed their significance, according to Civil Georgia and Caucasus Press. The April 25 protest was organized by local Armenian residents to protest the closure of the Russian military base at Akhalkalaki. The base is crucial to the local economy, providing a large number of service-related jobs and economic activity in the impoverished Samtskhe-Djavakheti region. RG

POLICE BREAK UP MEMORIAL MEETING IN KAZAKHSTAN
A detachment of riot police broke up a rally in Almaty on April 26 and detained 20-30 demonstrators and journalists, Reuters and Navigator reported. The rally, which drew up to 100 people, was held in honor of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev, who was killed in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006). Those detained included two of Sarsenbaev's brothers and correspondents of several Kazakh newspapers, Navigator and a press release from the opposition party Naghyz Ak Zhol reported. Navigator put the number of riot police at 300 and said that they used clubs to disperse and detain demonstrators. DK

BIRD-FLU CASES REPORTED IN KAZAKHSTAN
The deaths of at least 10 hens in Kazakhstan's Karaganda province have been attributed to bird flu, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on April 26. A representative of the Emergency Situations Ministry said tests confirmed the presence of avian flu, but the report did not say whether it was the H5N1 strain that can be dangerous to humans. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT WARNS ORGANIZERS OF UPCOMING DEMONSTRATION...
President Kurmanbek Bakiev told a briefing in Bishkek on April 26 that the authorities will take strict measures to prevent any efforts to seize government buildings during a planned April 29 demonstration, akipress.org reported. Bakiev also warned parliamentary deputies involved in organizing the rally that they will bear responsibility for any disturbances, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "Those who are leading [preparations for upcoming rallies] -- [Omurbek] Tekebaev, [Kubatbek] Baibolov, [Temirbek] Sariev, and [Melis] Eshimkanov -- may be held responsible if there is a big conflict [during the rallies]," Bakiev warned. "We are saying to those who claim there was not any dialogue [between the Kyrgyz government and the opposition]: What was there, if not dialogue, a few days ago?" The demonstrators plan to call for immediate constitutional reform and a stepped-up fight against corruption and crime. DK

...SAYS RUSSIA COULD INVEST UP TO $3 BILLION...
Bakiev, who recently returned from a two-day visit to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2006), said that Russia is prepared to invest $2.5 billion-$3 billion in the Kyrgyz economy, Kabar reported on April 26. Bakiev said that the bulk of the investment will go to the construction of the Kambar-Ata 1 and 2 hydroelectric power stations. He noted that Russia is also looking at the possibility of building an aluminum smelter in Kyrgyzstan. DK

...AND URGES HASTE ON BASE TALKS WITH U.S.
Bakiev told journalists on April 26 that Kyrgyzstan wants "faster consideration of our proposals" in talks with the United States on a new agreement for the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS reported. Bakiev also said that the "negotiations on the U.S. air base at Manas Airport in Bishkek that have been going on for 10 months should not drag on," Interfax reported. Bakiev, who told Russia's "Kommersant" in February that Kyrgyzstan would like to raise the annual lease on the base from $2 million to $207 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2006), recently set a June 1 deadline for reaching a new agreement on the facilities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2006). DK

COURT CLEARS KYRGYZ OFFICIALS ON CASH HANDOVER TO EX-PRESIDENT
A court in Bishkek ruled on April 26 to acquit former National Bank head Ulan Sarbanov, former Accounting Chamber Chairman Medet Sadyrkulov, former Finance Minister Sultan Mederov, and former Central Treasury Director Anarbek Satybaldiev on charges that they illegally transferred $420,000 from the state budget to then President Askar Akaev in December 1999, Kabar reported. The judge said that their actions were not criminal. The defendants had argued that they gave the money to the president legally to cover the costs of a military operation against an extremist incursion, ferghana.ru reported. Prosecutors said that they intend to appeal the ruling. DK

SECURITY COUNCIL HEADS MEET IN TAJIKISTAN, URGE 'POLITICAL SOLUTION' TO IRAN ISSUE
The Security Council secretaries of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan met in Dushanbe on April 26 for talks on regional security issues, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Russian Security Council head Igor Ivanov told journalists that he and his colleagues agree on the need for a political solution to the issue of Iran's nuclear program, Interfax reported. "We are unanimous in thinking that the Iranian problem must be settled politically," Ivanov said. Other options could have a negative impact on Iran's neighbors, the Middle East, the Caucasus, and other regions." DK

TAJIK OFFICIAL DENIES INDIA MIG-DEPLOYMENT REPORT
Ramil Nodirov, chief of staff of Tajikistan's armed forces, told Avesta on April 26 that reports that India will open a military base in Tajikistan are "complete nonsense." Nodirov's comment comes after the website DefenceIndia.com reported that India will deploy 12 MiG-29s to Tajikistan by the end of 2006. "The Guardian" reported on April 26 that "Jane's Defence Weekly" has also reported an upcoming Indian deployment of 12 Indian MiG-29s to Tajikistan. Igor Sattorov, a spokesman for the Tajik Foreign Ministry, told "The Guardian" he could neither confirm nor deny the information, reportedly saying only, "Let's be cautious about this." DK

TURKMEN PRESIDENT APPOINTS GAS-COMPANY HEAD
President Saparmurat Niyazov has issued a decree appointing Bagtiyar Hajigurbanov head of state-owned gas company Turkmengaz, Turkmen television reported on April 26. DK

INDIA LOOKS TO GAS, OIL EXPLORATION IN UZBEKISTAN
India and Uzbekistan signed memorandums of understanding on April 26 for India's Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Gail, an Indian gas company, to conduct oil and gas exploration in Uzbekistan, UzA and UPI reported. The agreements came as Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Tashkent and held talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov. Uzbekistan will allow for exploration on the condition that future profits are split on a parity basis, India's PTI news agency reported. "Uzbekistan, based on its cooperation with a number of countries, particularly China, South Korea, Russia, and some countries of the European Union, is ready to allocate geological territory to Indian companies to explore the resource of gas, oil, and other hydrocarbons," Karimov said. He also expressed "resolute" support for India's bid to gain a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. DK

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION MARKS CHORNOBYL ANNIVERSARY WITH ANTIPRESIDENTIAL MARCH...
An estimated crowd of 7,000-10,000 mainly young people took part in the Chornobyl Way rally organized by the Belarusian opposition in Minsk on April 26, Belarusian and international news agencies reported. The rally was permitted by the authorities who, however, warned demonstrators to stay away from October Square, which was the site of protests last month against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's reelection. "If we stay together, we can defeat a dictatorship that denied the Belarusian people a choice and kept them from electing the president legally," Milinkevich told the crowd from the steps of the Belarusian Academy of Sciences building. "We will destroy this regime through acts of peaceful disobedience. We will not wait for the next election in five years. We can overcome the dictatorship in the next two years, perhaps sooner." Milinkevich called on people to join the newly created civic movement For Freedom. Belarusian Television reported in its main newscast in the evening that the rally was attended by "several hundred regulars for whom going to meetings is a favorite hobby." JM

...WHICH LEADS TO ARREST OF SOME OPPOSITION LEADERS
Several men in civilian clothes arrested Belarusian Popular Front leader Vintsuk Vyachorka in Minsk on April 26, immediately following the Chornobyl Way rally, Belarusian and international news agencies reported. Vyachorka is believed to remain in police custody, although his whereabouts are unknown. Earlier the same day, State Security Committee (KGB) officers reportedly arrested United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, who was handcuffed, had his head covered with a jacket, and was subsequently driven around the city for several hours. Later he was taken to the KGB office and questioned by two investigators. The investigators said the interrogation was part of a criminal case initiated under an article carrying punishment for "terrorism." Lyabedzka was released at 10:30 p.m. after the Chornobyl rally had ended in Minsk. He told RFE/RL's Belarus Service that he was beaten during his detention and the interrogation. On April 27, police arrested opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich; Belarusian Party of Communists leader Syarhey Kalyakin, head of Milinkevich's presidential campaign; and Labor Party leader Alyaksandr Bukhvostau. JM

KYIV WANTS TO SEE OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS ON ROSUKRENERGO AUDIT
The Secretariat of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko wants to obtain the official documents an April 26 "Izvestia" article cited in listing two Ukrainian businessmen as the stakeholders of RosUkrEnergo, a company that controls Ukraine's gas imports, Interfax-Ukraine reported on April 26. "Izvestia" on April 26 cited an audit by PriceWaterhouseCoopers in reporting that Kyiv basketball club owner Dmytro Firtash and Ivan Fursin, owner of a Ukrainian bank, own 90 percent and 10 percent, respectively, of a company called Centragas Holding AG. Centragas in turn owns a 50 percent stake in RosUkrEnergo, which is the monopolist of gas supplies to Ukraine according to a deal concluded between Kyiv and Moscow in January. The other half of RosUkrEnergo is owned by Gazprom. The Austrian bank Raiffeisen Zentralbank on April 26 announced that it is holding the stake on Firtash's and Fursin's behalf. Yushchenko has repeatedly defended the January gas deal, which increased the gas price for Ukraine from $50 to $95 per 1,000 cubic meters and introduced the secretive Swiss-based intermediary RosUkrEnergo as the monopolist supplier. JM

PRESIDENT WANTS CHORNOBYL TO RETURN 'TO THE FOLDS OF UKRAINE'
President Yushchenko on April 26 addressed a meeting in the town of Chornobyl to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the disaster at the nearby Chonobyl nuclear power plant, Ukrainian media reported. "Chornobyl has to return to the folds of Ukraine, has to return not to be protected but to be developed. Together with the United Nations organization, together with European Union member states and our other international partners, we will prove that there are neither black holes nor blank spots of territorial exclusion in Ukraine," Yushchenko said. He predicted that Ukraine will soon begin construction of a new sarcophagus over the reactor that exploded in 1986. He also repeated his support for a controversial plan to convert part of the Chornobyl exclusion zone to a holding facility for spent radioactive fuel from other Ukrainian nuclear reactors, dpa reported. JM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS EU ON KOSOVA
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic warned on April 26 that independence for Kosova would damage Belgrade's relations with the EU and usher in a "period of turbulence" in the Balkans, AFP reported the same day. "What could threaten the European path is the proclamation of an Albanian state on Serbian territory," Draskovic said in Paris. "Some say that the Albanian majority in the province could create conflict if it does not get independence. But how would the Serbian people react everywhere -- in Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Germany -- if Kosovo got independence?" he said. "It would be seen as a humiliation...Kosovo is the spiritual cradle of the Serbs." BW

SERBIA SHUTS DOWN EMBATTLED TYCOON'S TELEVISION STATION
Authorities in Serbia have temporarily closed Bogoljub Karic's BK Television station following allegations that it violated broadcasting laws, dpa reported on April 26, citing local press reports. According to the daily "Politika," police entered the television station around midnight on April 25 and ordered that it cease broadcasting. Serbia's broadcasting authority has accused the station of bias during the 2004 presidential election for giving Karic, whose family owns the station, more time than other candidates. The station has 30 days to change its programming policy or face a permanent shutdown. Investigations into the Karic family's business dealings have resulted in 20 criminal indictments, including of Karic and his brothers Sreten and Zoran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 8, 9 16, and 21, 2006). BW

EU ENVOY FEARS MONTENEGRIN REFERENDUM 'HEADED FOR CONFRONTATION'
The EU envoy to Montenegro's independence referendum, Miroslav Lajcak, said on April 26 that he is concerned about rising tensions between unionist and independence forces, AP reported the same day. Lajcak said he is "worried and disappointed" in the wake of an incident that saw three supporters of maintaining the union of Serbia and Montenegro arrested and released (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25 and 26, 2006). The three, including a member of the commission organizing the May 21 referendum, were accused of falsifying voter lists. "On one side, we have a commission member detained, which is not European," Lajcak said. "On the other, a member of the commission is engaged in falsifying [voting-list] data, which is unheard of in Europe." Lajcak made his comments after meeting with pro-independence Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic and unionist opposition leader Predrag Bulatovic to express "concern over the mood which seems overly headed toward confrontation." BW

KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER REVIVES BORDER DISPUTE WITH MACEDONIA
Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on April 26 that Kosova's border with Macedonia needs to be renegotiated, Reuters reported. Speaking in the border village of Debelde, Ceku said a 2001 agreement signed between Serbia and Macedonia deprived Kosova of 1,200 hectares of farmland. He called that agreement, which the UN Security Council endorsed, invalid. "Serbia doesn't have any right to sign anything related to Kosova because they have no authority over Kosova," Ceku said. "Macedonia must start realizing they have a new neighbor. Kosova is Macedonia's new neighbor." Macedonia hoped to persuade Ceku to accept the 2001 agreement at a meeting scheduled for May 5 in Skopje. But Ceku is insisting that border demarcation not begin until Kosova's status is decided and Prishtina can renegotiate the agreement. Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said he has "no intention of renegotiating." BW

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM REJECTED IN BOSNIAN PARLIAMENT
The lower house of Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament failed on April 26 to muster the votes necessary to pass a landmark constitutional reform aimed at strengthening the central government, Reuters reported. Political leaders from Bosnia's ethnic communities agreed to the constitutional reform in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2006). But the changes won the support of just 26 deputies in the 42-seat parliament, two shy of the necessary two-thirds majority. "On the behalf of the U.S. government, I would like to express my profound disappointment for the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina tonight," said U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Douglas McElhaney, who mediated the reform talks. The agreement to transfer power from Bosnia's ethnic-based "entities" to the central government was dealt a blow when four of the five parliament members from the main Croatian party, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), formed a splinter group opposing the reform. BW

TURKEY URGED TO SEEK IRAQ'S HELP IN DEALING WITH KURDISH MILITANTS
Despite Turkey's suspicion of the largely autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq, Iraq's Kurds could play a positive role in improving Ankara's relations with its own Kurdish minority.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in Ankara on April 25 as Turkey was amassing troops on its border with Iraq in preparation for a possible large-scale military incursion to eliminate Turkish-Kurdish fighters from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) hiding out in Iraq. Both the United States and Turkey have labeled the PKK a terrorist organization.

Despite weeks of press reports suggesting that the United States has given tacit approval for a Turkish military operation, Rice maintained in remarks to reporters that any such action could threaten to destabilize Iraqi Kurdistan. "We need to work with the new Iraqi government and we will do that. We've had a trilateral mechanism on this issue and I hope that we can reinvigorate it when there is a new Iraqi government" in place, Rice said.

Meanwhile, Gul quietly criticized the U.S. approach to terrorism. "Taking one [terrorist] organization more seriously while showing greater tolerance to another creates a weakness in the field of counterterrorism and in the international arena," he told reporters.

But Gul denied that any operation is in the works, saying that the troop buildup is an annual spring exercise by Turkish forces. "Our security forces are taking measures because with the arrival of spring the terrorists have become active and are infiltrating our borders," he said. "This is what is being done, and there is nothing new."

Rice confirmed to reporters in Ankara on April 25 that the United States has stepped up its cooperation with regard to the PKK by sharing intelligence information with Turkey. "We believe that it is important that we make joint efforts through information sharing and other means to prevent any vacuum for being used as a way to inflict harm here in Turkey," she said, according to the State Department website.

Istanbul-based NTV reported on April 21 that the United States was providing Turkey with "pinpoint" intelligence, adding that all of the PKK's communications have been placed under observation. The United States is also reportedly working with Turkey to cut off the PKK's financial support.

Meanwhile, some Turkish media have maintained that the United States has given Turkey the green light to carry out reconnaissance missions inside Iraq. The Turkish media has fueled rumors in recent days about preparations for a large-scale operation. Istanbul's "Ortadogu" reported on April 23 that the Turkish armed forces deployed two brigades to the Iraqi border in preparation for the operation, which would include air strikes against six PKK camps in the Qandil Mountains sheltering an estimated 6,000 militants.

The report contended that Iran and Syria were briefed on the operation, which planned to extend some 100 kilometers inside Iraq, and both countries gave their support. Iran has been carrying out its own operations against Kurdish militants from the Kurdistan Free Life Party, an offshoot of the PKK, along the Iran-Iraq border in recent weeks. Both Iran and Syria have large Kurdish minority populations.

Iraq's Kurdish leaders have been critical of Turkish behavior in recent months, and have raised speculation that Turkey aims to destabilize Iraqi Kurdistan. Relations between Ankara and Kurdistan had been tense since the overthrow of the Hussein regime, particularly because of Turkish support for Iraq's Turkoman population and its claims over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

The tensions were exacerbated when transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari visited Ankara without notifying President Jalal Talabani or Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari (both Kurds) in February. Kurds interpreted the visit as a threat by al-Ja'fari, following their calls for him to give up the nomination to the premiership due to his poor performance in the transitional government.

More recently, Kurds have taken offense to the fact that Ankara has not included Kurdish leaders in the dialogue on the PKK issue, but rather sought exclusive talks with the United States, according to some media reports. This stance is more broadly linked to a Kurdish demand that Ankara recognize the legitimacy of the regional government in Kurdistan.

But, the Turkish-Kurdish division has much more to do with Turkey's relations with its minority Kurdish population than with the Kurdistan region in Iraq.

Attacks on Turkish cities attributed to the PKK or its splinter groups have risen dramatically in the past year, with at least eight bombings since January. For Turkey, the PKK is not only an obstacle to EU accession, but to democratic advances in the country. According to turkishdailynews.com on April 21, the Turkish-Kurdish divide is widening, and nationalist sentiment is on the rise. In some areas of the country, campaigns are under way to encourage businesses not to employ Kurds, the website reported.

Iraq's Kurdish leaders could play a key role in ameliorating Turkey's relations with its own Kurdish population. And it is likely that Iraq's Kurdish leaders would welcome the opportunity. Such a request from Ankara would signal its recognition of the positive role that can be played by Kurdistan's regional government.

Moreover, it is in the interests of Iraq's Kurdish leaders to maintain solid relations with their northern neighbor, in order to reinforce stability in the region and boost the region's economic development.

Turkey has always expressed the concern that Iraq's Kurdistan government would spur calls at home for greater Kurdish autonomy. But Iraq could also play a mediating role between Turkey and its Kurdish population. It could be to Turkey's benefit to recognize what Iraq's Kurds could bring to the table through such dialogue.

AFGHAN, PAKISTANI BORDER GUARDS CLASH IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Four Afghan policemen were injured in a clash between Afghan and Pakistani border forces in the Spina Shaga area of Paktiya Province on April 25, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on April 26. The governor of Afghanistan's neighboring Khost Province, M'erajuddin Patan, told AIP on April 26 that the conflict erupted "when Pakistani forces wanted to build a border gate inside the Afghan territory." However, the report added that Paktiya Governor Mohammad Hakim Taniwal has been quoted by other sources as saying that the clash occurred when Pakistani forces attacked Afghan border police. The report did not include any casualty figures on the Pakistani side. Kabul has consistently refused to recognize the joint border ("RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," August 7, 2003, and February 28, 2006). AT

WEAPONS DEPOT DESTROYED ALONG AFGHAN-PAKISTANI BORDER
Afghan border police in southeastern Afghanistan along the border with Pakistan destroyed a weapons depot on April 26, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. The depot was discovered in Paktika Province and contained antitank mines and rocket-propelled grenades. The report makes no reference to who might be behind the cache. AT

TV COMMENTARY IN NORTH CALLS AFGHAN CABINET VOTE A VICTORY FOR PRESIDENT
Sheberghan-based Aina Television on April 24 described the legislature's recent vote of confidence for a majority of Hamid Karzai's cabinet nominees a victory over his main opposition rival, lower-house speaker Mohammad Yunos Qanuni (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 21, 2006, and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," January 16, 2006). The commentary suggested that the cabinet confirmation "compensated" for Qanuni's blow in winning the speaker's post in the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga). The commentary went on to assert that the five ministerial nominees who were rejected did not enjoy Karzai's support. AT

UZBEK PRESIDENT LAYS DRUG BLAME ON AFGHANISTAN
Uzbek President Islam Karimov has called for increased efforts to combat drug trafficking from Afghanistan, Interfax-AVN reported on April 26. Speaking during a two-day visit to Tashkent by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on April 25-26, Karimov said that "as long as sources for the production of drugs in Afghanistan are not eliminated, all other moves can be regarded as lame." Karimov called Afghanistan the main source of drugs in the region. AT

CLERIC, LEGISLATOR EXPRESS CONCERN OVER WOMEN'S PRESENCE AT SPORTS EVENTS
Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's source of emulation, on April 26 expressed his opposition to Ahmadinejad's April 24 initiative to allow women to attend sports events featuring the national team, ISNA reported. Mesbah-Yazdi's opposition was conveyed to the president, and the cleric went on to advise people to "perform their religious duty as they understand it." The cleric's announcement appears to be an attempt to encourage vigilantes to intervene against female sports fans. Conservative Tehran legislator Imad Afrugh said Ahmadinejad's decision was hasty and deserved greater study, the hard-line "Jomhuri-yi Islami" daily reported on April 26. The same decision by any of Ahmadinejad's predecessors would have sparked a great deal of criticism, Afrugh added. Ahmadinejad reasoned that "contrary to what some people imagine and say, experience has shown that the mass presence of families and women in public places has imposed a healthy morality and decorum in those places." An editorial in "Jomhuri-yi Islami" on April 26 criticized Ahmadinejad's action and said sports venues are not proper places for women, adding, "Let it be known that the condition of those places -- minus women -- is already so unethical, immoral, and vulgar that one has to weep." BS

SUDANESE OFFICIALS URGED DURING IRAN VISIT TO HELP STRENGTHEN NONALIGNED MOVEMENT
President Ahmadinejad and visiting Sudanese President Umar al-Bashir attended the signing in Tehran of a cooperation document on April 26, Republic of Sudan Radio reported. The Sudanese delegation arrived in Tehran on April 24. Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told his Sudanese counterpart, Lam Akol Ajawin, on April 26 that ties between the two countries should be strengthened through more frequent official visits, IRNA reported. Mottaki went on to mention the upcoming Nonaligned Movement meeting in Havana, Cuba, saying that Tehran and Khartoum should try to strengthen that organization. An editorial in the independent "Khartoum Monitor" on April 18 had questioned the wisdom of the Sudanese visit to Iran and recommended its cancellation. The newspaper said President Ahmadinejad's "provocative and isolationist policies" could "rub off" on Sudan if the countries become too close. Referring to Ahmadinejad's anti-Israel statements, the newspaper said, "A man who talks of letting other people disappear is not worth having as a friend." The editorial concluded: "We cannot have people who preach destruction of fellow human beings as friends. Such people should be called by their real names, terrorists. You never visit terrorists. Have you ever tried to call on Osama bin Laden?" BS

RENEWED BALUCHI THREATS IN SOUTHEAST IRAN
The ethnic Baluchi group known as Jundullah has announced that "it will smash the mouths of those Sunni religious scholars who say anything against them," the official "Iran" newspaper reported on April 25. Jundullah claimed responsibility for a March 16 attack on a motorcade traveling between the cities of Zahedan and Zabol in which more than 20 people were killed and another seven were injured, and in early April it released a videotape in which it claimed to have killed an officer in the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," March 29 and April 18, 2006). Baqer Kurd, who represented Zahedan in the sixth parliament (2000-04), discussed continuing insecurity in the province in an interview that appeared in "Etemad-i Melli" daily on April 18. "The government must pay greater attention to creating employment in the province, and allow native forces to have greater involvement in the border control provided by the police and security forces," he said. Kurd called on the government to allow greater involvement of "local elders" and "greater participation by the region's elites and clerics in public, security and social issues." BS

IRANIAN LEADER FOCUSES ON WORKERS' CONCERNS
With International Workers Day (May 1) approaching, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in an April 26 speech to workers in Tehran that their role in the 1978-79 revolution was "critical," state radio reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, 2006). Their importance, Khamenei continued, remains unchanged. He said the government will continue to deal with workers' concerns: "The issues identified by government officials in relation to workers and their welfare, dignity, skill, or job security, should be closely looked into. The problems related to temporary contracts, social security and similar things, and the weakness of management which leads to the unemployment of workers, should be wisely and patiently removed." BS

GUNMEN KILL IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT'S SISTER
Unidentified gunmen shot and killed Maysun Ahmad Baqir al-Hashimi, the sister of Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, on April 26, international media reported. Police captain Jamil Husayn said that al-Hashimi and her bodyguard were killed as they were leaving her home in the capital. The vice president's brother Mahmud was killed in Baghdad on April 13. Gunmen assassinated the brother of Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi in Baghdad last year. KR

THREE ITALIAN SOLDIERS, ONE ROMANIAN KILLED IN IRAQ
Three Italian soldiers and one Romanian were killed in the southern city of Al-Nasiriyah on April 27, Reuters reported, citing the Italian Defense Ministry. The soldiers were killed when a roadside bomb struck their convoy. A fourth soldier was seriously wounded in the attack, the deadliest against Italian troops since 2003. Italian Major Marco Mele, spokesman for Italian forces in Iraq, called the attack a "knockout blow," adding, "But we will rise above it." Italy has some 2,600 soldiers in Iraq, while Romania has 860 soldiers stationed there. KR

IRAQ'S PREMIER-DESIGNATE: CALL ME NURI
Prime Minister-designate Jawad al-Maliki has announced that he no longer wants to be known by his nom de guerre and from now on will be known by his real name, Nuri Kamil al-Maliki, cnn.com reported on April 26. The Shi'ite leader said that he began using the pseudonym Jawad after he and other opposition members fled Iraq in order to help protect his relatives still living there from retribution attacks by the Hussein regime. Al-Maliki said on April 25 that he hoped to have his cabinet in place within two weeks; according to the constitution, he has 30 days to form a government. KR

RADICAL IRAQI SHI'ITE GROUP MOVES HUNDREDS TO KIRKUK
Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army is sponsoring the move of hundreds of Shi'ite families from southern Iraq to the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, the Kurdish newspaper "Awena" reported on April 25. The report quoted unidentified officials from Jalawla and Qaratapa (in Kirkuk Governorate) as saying that more than 600 Sunni and Shi'ite families have come to their region. Kirkuk police Brigadier General Sarhad Qadir said that al-Sadr's influence has grown in several districts of Kirkuk city. Saddam Hussein first moved hundreds of Shi'ite families to Kirkuk as part of his Arabization plan in the 1980s. The Kurds have laid claim to Kirkuk and want to include it in the Kurdistan region, while hundreds of Shi'ite militiamen have arrived in Kirkuk in recent weeks, vowing to fight any attempt by the Kurds to take control of the city, U.S. commanders, diplomats, local police, and politicians have told "The Washington Post," the daily's website reported on April 24. The Al-Mahdi Army has sent at least two companies of about 120 fighters each to Kirkuk, a U.S. Embassy official said. KR

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