MOSCOW CITY DUMA BACKS FIFTH TERM FOR MAYOR
Andrei Metelsky, head of the faction of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party that controls 28 of the 35 seats in the Moscow City Duma, has said he and his fellow deputies would unanimously back Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov for a new term, "The Moscow Times" reported on April 10. The daily "Vedomosti" reported on April 9 that Luzhkov might seek the Kremlin's blessing for another four years in office. "The Moscow Times" quoted Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies as saying that the idea of Luzhkov remaining for another mayoral term might have originated with the Kremlin, which fears that in Luzhkov's absence, "one Kremlin clan" could get control of the capital and "destroy the balance among the clans" in the run-up to the State Duma and presidential elections set for December 2007 and March 2008, respectively. The daily "Vremya novostei" on April 10 quoted Council for National Strategy co-Chairman Iosif Diskin as saying it would be "very dangerous" for the Kremlin to replace Luzhkov, who "traditionally leads Unified Russia in the elections and his rating significantly exceeds the rating of Unified Russia in Moscow." Diskin said that Luzhkov will play a useful role in "precluding a wave of passion about the presidential elections" and promoting "calm" in the face of protests by Other Russia and other opposition groups. JB
NEW ELECTION COMMISSION HEAD SAYS PUTIN WILL STEP DOWN IN 2008...
Russia's new Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir Churov said in an interview published on April 9 that President Vladimir Putin will leave office when his term ends in 2008. "A third term...is impossible for him, it seems to me," the daily "Kommersant" quoted Churov as saying. "It is his enormous load, the enormous work that has been done over the past eight years, which makes him consider some sort of change in occupation." Churov added that Putin himself has ruled out remaining in office beyond the end of his second and final constitutionally mandated term. On March 30, Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov called for the constitutional limit to be extended to three terms, each of which would be for perhaps seven years instead of the current four (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30 and April 2, 2007). On April 3, Moscow Mayor Luzhkov said Putin should be allowed to serve a third term, the BBC's Russian service reported. JB
...WHILE TULA TAKES UP ISSUE OF DROPPING PRESIDENTIAL TERM LIMITS
Tula Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Dudka told Interfax on April 8 that the Tula Oblast Duma will take up Federation Council speaker Mironov's call to remove the constitutional limit of two consecutive terms for Russian presidents. "I see no reason why our deputies would not discuss this issue; after all, it is not a matter of taking any concrete legal decisions," Dudka said, adding that Mironov simply wanted the idea to be "considered in the format of an informal discussion." The proposal, he said, could become a matter of discussion "both at the federal and the regional levels, since introducing corresponding amendments to the Russian Federation Constitution is possible subject to their approval not only by the State Duma and Federation Council, but also by the legislative bodies of the [federation] subjects." JB
MOSCOW OFFICIALS AGAIN DENY PERMISSION FOR PROTEST...
Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alekseyeva and For Human Rights movement leader Lev Ponomarev tried unsuccessfully on April 9 to convince the Moscow authorities to allow a "Dissenters March" to take place in the city on April 14, the daily "Kommersant" reported on April 10. According to the newspaper, Alekseyeva and Ponomarev met in the offices of the Kremlin administration with Moscow Deputy Mayor Valery Vinogradov, Moscow security department chief Nikolai Kulikov, Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin, and Ella Pamfilova, head of the presidential Council for the Support and Development of Civil Society, but the city officials again refused to grant permission for the march, and Lukin and Pamfilova "admitted they were incapable of helping the oppositionists." "Kommersant" also reported that the three activists of the Other Russia opposition umbrella group who requested permission to hold the Moscow demonstration -- Aleksandr Averin, Denis Bilunov, and Sergei Udaltsov -- were barred entry to the meeting despite having been invited. "Kommersant" reported on April 3 that the city authorities denied opposition organizers permission to hold a march in central Moscow on April 14 because the Young Guards (Molodaya gvardia), Unified Russia party's youth movement, plans to hold a rally in the same area the same day. JB
...BUT ORGANIZERS VOW TO HOLD IT ANYWAY
AP on April 9 quoted "Dissenters March" organizer Averin, who is an activist of the outlawed National Bolshevik Party, as saying that the protest will be held as planned on April 14 regardless of what officials decide. It also quoted opposition leader and former world chess champion Garri Kasparov as describing Russia as "a police state which violates its international obligations" and as calling on other opposition leaders to step up street protests. During the first "Dissenters March," which was held in St. Petersburg on March 3, police beat protesters and detained over 100 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5, 2007). An attempt to hold a "Dissenters March" in Nizhny Novgorod on March 24 was thwarted by police. Around 20,000 Interior Ministry personnel, including units from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vladimir, Chuvashia, and Tatarstan, were mobilized to prevent the Nizhny Novgorod demonstration, "Kommersant" reported on March 26. Meanwhile, about 600 people attended a rally in Moscow on April 8 organized by the nationalist Eurasian Youth Union, whose chief ideologist, Aleksandr Dugin, has close ties to the Kremlin, "The Moscow Times" reported on April 9. Rally leaders vowed to fight an "Orange Revolution" in Russia, with Dugin calling for "guarantees that Putin will stay for a third term or secure the continuity of his course." JB
HUNDREDS GATHER TO REMEMBER ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA...
A demonstration was held in memory of Anna Politkovskaya on April 7, exactly six months after the award-winning correspondent for the biweekly "Novaya gazeta" was killed in Moscow. Ekho Moskvy radio reported on April 7 that around 400 people took part in the gathering on Pushkin Square in central Moscow. According to newsru.com, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinksy told the gathering that the slayings of Politkovskaya, journalist Dmitry Kholodov (in 1994), Russian Public Television head Vladislav Listyev (in 1995) and newspaper editor Larisa Yudina, who headed Yabloko's branch in Kalmykia (in 1998), like "many other well-known and obscure political murders," were "never investigated." Yavlinsky told journalists covering the event that "from the political point of view, the press in Russia is very restricted" and that "serious political censorship exists on some television channels." Newsru.com reported that some of those who attended the gathering also expressed support for and conveyed 50th birthday greetings to Mikhail Trepashkin, the former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer jailed in 2004 for allegedly revealing state secrets. Prior to his arrest, Trepashkin probed the 1999 Moscow apartment-building bombings and suggested the FSB may have been involved in those attacks. JB
...AS PRESS-FREEDOM NGO DEMANDS THAT HER MURDER BE SOLVED
Press-freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in an April 5 press release that it is waiting with "the utmost impatience" for Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika to reveal the findings of his office's investigation of Politkovskaya's murder. "Statements praising his department's staff offer no guarantee that this horrible crime is being solved," the RSF press release stated, referring to comments made by Chaika on March 29 hailing the work done by those in charge of the investigation. "The passing months must not result in any weakening in the campaign on Politkovskaya's behalf. We must continue to press for justice to be done in this case and for an end to impunity in Russia." RSF added, "If the authorities fail to produce concrete and conclusive evidence, the creation of an international commission of enquiry or a Russian parliamentary commission of enquiry could prove necessary." At the same time, RSF quoted Sergei Sokolov, an editor of "Novaya gazeta," the newspaper for which Politkovskaya wrote, as saying, "For the time being, we have no criticism to make about the work of the prosecutor's office." According to RSF, Sokolov refused to divulge any details about the case on the grounds that "a leak could have a disastrous effect on the investigation." JB
RUSSIA DECLINES ABKHAZ OFFER TO HOST RADAR STATION
Moscow is not giving serious consideration at present to the proposal by President Sergei Bagapsh to locate a Russian radar station on Abkhaz territory, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov told journalists in Moscow on April 3, Interfax reported. Bagapsh made that offer in Moscow on March 29 in response to reports that the U.S. plans to locate such a radar station in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 29, 2007). Speaking in Tbilisi on March 29, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza again denied that Washington has any such plans, Caucasus Press reported. LF
TYVA PARLIAMENT APPROVES PUTIN'S NOMINATION FOR REPUBLIC HEAD
The Great Khural (parliament) voted on April 6 to endorse Sholban Kara-Ool, the candidate proposed by President Putin to succeed Sherig-Ool Oorzhak as republic head, despite having appealed earlier to Putin to nominate Oorzhak for a further term, regnum.ru reported. Oorzhak's term in office was due to expire on April 11. Both Oorzhak and Kara-Ool are members of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Kara-Ool is regarded as a compromise candidate acceptable not only to Unified Russia and A Just Russia, but also to the Russian Party of Life, whose deputies have been boycotting the work of the Great Khural since October 2006 to protest perceived fraud during the parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007). Kara-Ool, who is 40, has served as parliament chairman and, since 2002, as deputy prime minister. Also on April 6, the Great Khural elected as its new speaker former oppositionist Vasily Oyun, regnum.ru reported on April 9. LF
FIERCE FIGHTING REPORTED IN SOUTHEASTERN CHECHNYA
Between 40-50 members of the Sever (North) pro-Moscow Chechen battalion have been killed during three days of intensive fighting in the village of Gordali in Nozhai-Yurt Raion, kavkazcenter.com reported on April 9. In a telephone call interrupted by automatic fire, a Chechen resistance fighter told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on April 8 that the pro-Moscow Chechen administration has deployed up to 1,000 additional forces to the district. LF
ANOTHER CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER KILLED
Suleyman Imurzayev, aka Amir Khayrulla, died on April 4 during a special operation in Vedeno personally planned by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, regnum.ru reported, quoting Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Adam Demilkhanov. Imurzayev was born on April 8, 1974, in Daghestan's Novolak Raion. The daily "Kommersant" on April 5 identified him as a former member of radical field commander Shamil Basayev's personal guard and as one of the perpetrators of the May 9, 2004 terrorist bombing in Grozny that killed Kadyrov's father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. In September 2006, Chechen Republic Ichkeria President and resistance commander Doku Umarov named Imurzayev commander of the southeastern front (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 2, 2006); in that capacity, according to "Kommersant," he commanded some 50-60 men. Umarov named him a deputy prime minister last month. The resistance website chechenpress.org confirmed Imurzayev's death on April 9; Amir Aslanbek has been named to succeed him as commander of the eastern front. Imurzayev was the second senior field commander to be killed in recent weeks: Amir Tahir, commander of the northeastern front, died in a shoot-out with federal forces last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, 2007). LF
DAGHESTAN'S NEW PARLIAMENT ELECTS SPEAKER
The parliament of Daghestan elected on March 11 convened on April 4 for its first session and elected as its speaker Magomed Suleymanov, mayor of the town of Izberbash, regnum.ru reported. Suleymanov's name was one of two proposed to Moscow for approval; the second was Magomedsalam Magomedov, speaker of the outgoing parliament. Magomedov was quoted on April 4 by regnum.ru as saying he declined the offer to remain in his post in order to run as a candidate in the December 2007 elections to the Russian State Duma. But regnum.ru also quoted political commentator Akhmednabi Akhmednabiyev as saying that Magomedov's father Magomedali, who stepped down one year ago as Daghestan's president, flew to Moscow to plead for his son to retain his post as parliament speaker, but to no avail. Suleymanov, like the Magomedovs, is a Dargin, the second-largest ethnic group in Daghestan; President Mukhu Aliyev is an Avar, the largest ethnic group. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT PRAISES NEW PREMIER
Robert Kocharian presented newly appointed Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian to the interim cabinet on April 5, praising him as hard working, honest, consistent, and politically experienced, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian stressed Sarkisian's contribution as defense minister over the past seven years to strengthening Armenia's armed forces. Also on April 5, First Deputy Defense Minister and Chief of General Staff Colonel General Mikael Harutiunian was named acting defense minister, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Harutiunian, who is 61, was born in Azerbaijan and made his career in the Soviet military, returning to Armenia in 1992 to serve in the newly formed army. He was named chief of staff and first deputy defense minister in 1994. LF
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION CAMPAIGN BEGINS
Three of the 24 parties (plus one election bloc) that succeeded in registering for the May 12 parliamentary election unveiled their manifestos in Yerevan on April 9, one day after the election campaign officially opened, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, which is a junior partner in the coalition government, and the opposition Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) and National Accord parties all pledged to strengthen the rule of law and devote greater attention to solving social and economic problems. Orinats Yerkir also pledged to cut taxes. Parties competing in the elections may spend no more than 60 million drams ($167,131) on their respective campaigns, Noyan Tapan noted on April 9. Also on April 9, Armenia's Interior Ministry inaugurated a hotline for voters to report inaccuracies and omissions in the voter lists that the Central Election Commission posted on its website (http://www.elections.am) on April 2, Noyan Tapan reported. Opposition parties claimed during earlier elections that thousands of known opposition sympathizers were deliberately excluded from such lists. LF
ARMENIAN WAR VETERANS' PRETRIAL DETENTION AGAIN EXTENDED
A Yerevan court on April 5 remanded Zhirayr Sefilian and Vartan Malkhasian in pretrial detention for a further two months, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The two men were arrested in December 2006 -- days after establishing an Alliance of Armenian Volunteers uniting veterans of the Karabakh war -- and charged with plotting to overthrow the authorities in the run-up to the May 12 parliamentary elections. They have both rejected those charges as politically motivated. Their initial two-month pretrial detention was extended in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 11 and 12, 2006; and January 3 and 25, February 8, and March 7, 2007). LF
ARRESTED AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENTARIAN'S PARENTS APPEAL TO PRESIDENT
The parents of wealthy Azerbaijani businessman and independent parliament deputy Huseyn Abdullayev have addressed a second appeal to President Ilham Aliyev in connection with what they term his illegal arrest, day.az reported on April 6. Abdullayev was detained by police in Baku on March 19, three days after coming to blows in the parliament chamber with pro-government deputy Fazail Agamali; his fellow deputies voted later on March 19 to strip him of his parliamentary immunity, after which he was charged with hooliganism and assault and remanded in pretrial detention for two months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 19 and 20, 2007). Abdullayev's parents said that it was Agamali who struck the first blow; they also stressed their longstanding support for Aliyev and for his father and predecessor as president, Heydar Aliyev. On April 10, the online daily zerkalo.az published an open letter from Abdullayev criticizing Agamali for allegedly thwarting "a normal discussion" of the cabinet's annual report to parliament. Abdullayev stressed that he and his constituents continue to support President Aliyev's political course and distanced himself from unspecified attempts by unnamed media outlets to misrepresent the circumstances of his arrest for their own "dirty political interests." LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT BACKS PRESIDENTIAL PLAN FOR SOUTH OSSETIA
The Georgian parliament approved in the first reading on April 5 by a vote of 165 in favor and two against President Mikhail Saakashvili's bill on creating a "provisional" administration in the breakaway region of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. That bill is intended to legalize the position of Dmitry Sanakoyev, whom the minority Georgian population of the region elected last November as an alternative leader to de facto President Eduard Kokoity. The international community did not recognize his election as legal and valid. Saakashvili met with Sanakoyev last month, days after announcing he planned to begin talks with him in an attempt to resolve the tensions between the Georgian authorities and the predominantly Ossetian population of South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 30, 2007). Speaking on April 5 after the parliament vote, Saakashvili said "we are taking a step that will, on the one hand, help us to establish and institutionalize the right to autonomy of the Ossetian population of Georgia and, on the other hand, will protect Georgia's territorial integrity and put a stop to attempts at interference from outside," Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN COURT JAILS RENEGADE WARLORD'S SISTER
A court in the west Georgian town of Zugdidi sentenced Nora Kvitsiani on April 5 to 6 1/2 years' imprisonment on charges of creating an illegal armed formation and illegal possession of weapons, Caucasus Press reported. She was also required to pay 75,000 laris ($44,344) for damage inflicted on state property. Kvitsiani's brother Emzar called last summer for the overthrow of the Georgian government, which deployed troops to the Kodori Gorge in an unsuccessful attempt to apprehend him. Nora Kvitsiani was arrested shortly after that abortive operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21 and October 25, 2006 and March 16, 2007). LF
FORMER GEORGIAN OFFICIAL RELEASED FROM JAIL
As a result of plea-bargaining, Simon Kiladze, a former presidential administration official who was jailed last year on charges of espionage and treason (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28 and 29, and April 13, 2006), has been released from jail and his remaining five-year sentence suspended, Caucasus Press reported on March 31. LF
ABKHAZ PRESIDENT HOSPITALIZED
De facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, 58, was hospitalized in Sukhum(i) on April 9 with high blood pressure, apsny.ru reported, and on April 10 he flew to Moscow for further medical treatment. A planned summit in Sukhum(i) on April 10-11 of presidents of unrecognized republics has been postponed sine die, but the foreign ministers of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester began a parallel meeting in Sukhum(i) as planned. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT URGES CENTRAL ASIAN UNION, GRADUAL POLITICAL CHANGE
In an interview with national television stations broadcast on April 9, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev again voiced support for the creation of a union of Central Asian states and urged the implementation of gradual political reforms, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. On the creation of the union, Nazarbaev said, "It's God's will -- a population of 55 million, complementary economies, a single space with transport and energy ties," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Nazarbaev has raised the idea of a union before (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2005 and 18 April 2005), and he said, "To this day, I cannot understand why we can't manage such a union." On the need for gradual reforms, Nazarbaev said, "The problem is how in this turbulent and increasingly global world to maintain stability in Kazakhstan, making it a respected, liberal, and democratic state," Interfax reported. Nazarbaev cited the weakened presidency in Ukraine as an example of unsuccessful political reform, arguing that President Viktor Yushchenko "cannot act as a guarantor of stability in the state," and deploring Yushchenko's standoff with the Ukrainian parliament. "This is being repeated 100 percent in Kyrgyzstan." DK
KAZAKHSTAN BOOSTS DEFENSE BUDGET
Kazakhstan's 2007 defense allocations reflect a 74 percent increase over 2006 spending, the country's Defense Ministry said in a statement on April 8, Interfax-AVN reported. Kazakhstan's 2007 military spending is 142.56 billion tenges ($1.1 billion), with 53.6 billion tenges, or five times more than in 2006, earmarked for the modernization of existing weapons systems and buying new weapons. DK
PROSECUTOR WARNS KAZAKH JOURNALISTS ON ETHNIC TENSIONS
The office of Kazakhstan's prosecutor-general issued a statement on April 5 warning journalists that they could face criminal charges for reports that offend the "national dignity" of citizens through references to ethnic strife, Channel 31 reported. The statement was issued in response to coverage of a deadly clash in the village of Malovodnoe on March 18-19. A number of media outlets described the violence as a dispute between Kazakhs and Chechens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007). DK
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATIONS BEGIN...
Opposition demonstrations numbering from several hundred to around 1,000 people took place in various places in Kyrgyzstan on April 9 in preparation for a mass opposition rally in Bishkek on April 11, akipress.org reported on April 9. The news agency noted that reports varied on the numbers of participants, adding that the United Front For A Worthy Future opposition movement said that protests took place in Talas, Kochkor, Cholpon-Ata, Balykchy, and other cities in northern and central Kyrgyzstan. "Opposition rallies are being held without breaches of the peace, and no provocations or unrest have been reported," the Interior Ministry's press service told Interfax on April 9. Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev said on April 9 that the government "has passed a resolution ordering the Interior Ministry to strictly warn its personnel involved in ensuring public order and security not to use firearms against civilians during the protests," Kabar reported. Meanwhile, Azamat Kalman, a spokesman for the United Front, said, "We are sure that about 50,000 people supporting us will arrive in the Kyrgyz capital" for the April 11 rally, news agency 24.kg reported. DK
...AS OPPOSITION STICKS TO DEMAND FOR PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
Spokesman Kalman said on April 9 that a joint session of the United Front and the For Reforms opposition movements has presented President Kurmanbek Bakiev with a "transitional constitution" outlining their main demands, akipress.org reported. The demands are Bakiev's resignation and the formation of a coalition government that would rule until new presidential and parliamentary elections can be held. But presidential press secretary Nurlan Shakiev told RFE/RL on April 9 that with a task force on constitutional reform finishing its work, the opposition's demands are unjustified. "There is no reason for holding early presidential elections," Shakiev said. "It is strange that, even though the opposition forces understand that, they are still pursuing such demands." DK
TAJIK PRESIDENT VISITS UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon met with Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayid al-Nahyan, ruler of the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi on April 9 to discuss bilateral cooperation, gulfnews.com reported. Tajik television First Channel noted that a key goal of Rahmon's visit is to attract investment in Tajikistan's economy from the UAE. DK
TURKMEN PRESIDENT DENIES GAS RESERVES OVERSTATED
In remarks broadcast by Turkmen Television on April 6, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov said that the country has sufficient gas reserves to honor all of its international obligations. "Some media like to spread unconfirmed information that Turkmenistan's gas reserves are not known, and that it is doubtful that Turkmenistan will be able to meet international agreements, but none of them is right," Berdymukhammedov said. "In response to such self-interested publications, I can easily say that Turkmenistan has huge reserves of oil and gas." He added, "Our gas fields and rich oil reserves were known before the collapse of the Soviet Union. There are new ones which are being opened now." DK
TURKMEN PRESIDENT SACKS INTERIOR MINISTER, BLASTS CORRUPTION WITHIN MINISTRY
President Berdymukhammedov sacked Interior Minister Akmammed Rakhmanov on April 9 for alleged incompetence, turkmenistan.ru reported. The report quoted official news agency TDH as saying that Berdymukhammedov fired Rakhmanov for "serious deficiencies in [Rakhmonov's] work, an inability to lead his ministry, insufficient demands made on the workers of agencies subordinate to him, and loose discipline." Berdymukhammedov has appointed Khojamurat Annagurbanov, formerly deputy interior ministry, to replace Rakhmonov. Berdymukhammedov also harshly criticized the Interior Ministry for corruption in remarks delivered on April 9 to a meeting of the ministry's leadership, turkmenistan.ru reported. "The internal affairs organs have been afflicted by such vices as graft, cover-ups, and contacts with the criminal world, not to speak of the low professional level of personnel," Berdymukhammedov said. "Corruption has struck virtually all parts of the Interior Ministry, including the section for fighting economic crime, the penitentiary system, and even those structures that are responsible for fighting terrorism and extremism." DK
PRESIDENT ASSURES BELARUSIANS HE IS IN CONTROL
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on April 8 during Easter services in Minsk's main Orthodox church that he is in "full control" of the situation in Belarus, Belapan reported on April 9. "Believe me," Lukashenka said, "nothing has changed during this year. The president is standing firm and is in full control of the situation in the country." Lukashenka said Belarus will defend its freedom and independence. "They want us to resign ourselves, to bow," he said. They want "most of us to get down on our knees. This won't ever happen. We are a proud, freedom-loving, independent people that lives on its own land. And this will always be the case." In reference to Russian price hikes for gas exports, Lukashenka said the Belarusian economy has recovered from a "powerful blow." "We are able to get back on our feet," Lukashenka said, "we have done this." AM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT INSISTS ON SIMULTANEOUS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS...
The Verkhovna Rada unanimously adopted with the 258 votes of the ruling coalition an address to the Ukrainian people on April 9 in which it said it will agree to early parliamentary elections if they are held concurrently with a presidential election and a referendum on Ukraine's accession to NATO, Interfax reported the same day. "If elections are the only way to settle the conflict, we will insist on simultaneous presidential elections and a referendum on Ukraine's NATO entry," the address read. The parliamentarians who participated in the vote reiterated their stance that the president's decision to dissolve parliament is based on dubious grounds. President Viktor Yushchenko "is trying to blackmail the constitutional and other courts, disrupt the activities of the parliament and push the government into taking unlawful steps," the address claimed. According to the parliamentarians, the security service and the armed forces are being constrained to take unconstitutional and illegal actions. They also alleged that deputies, government members, Central Election Commission representatives, and Constitutional Court judges are under surveillance. The parliamentarians warned "Yushchenko and everyone involved in the incitement to confrontation about the possible consequences." AM
...AND CONDEMNS PRESIDENT'S 'UNPRECEDENTED' PRESSURE ON CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
The Verkhovna Rada adopted by a vote of 256 coalition deputies in favor and two abstentions a declaration on April 9 saying that President Yushchenko is exerting "unprecedented" pressure on Constitutional Court judges, Interfax reported. The legislature noted that 53 lawmakers have submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court requesting that the lawfulness of the president's decree on the dissolution of parliament be examined. According to the authors of the decree, Yushchenko is acting illegally, whereas the Verkhovna Rada is observing the law and respecting the independence of judges. "The Verkhovna Rada considers the president's pressure on the Constitutional Court one of the factors toward legitimizing unconstitutional acts of the president and those political forces that drive him to do this," the declaration read. AM
PRESIDENTIAL SECRETARIAT ACCUSES UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT OF FUELING TENSIONS
Presidential chief of staff Viktor Baloha has accused parliamentarians who continue to work despite the president's decree on the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada of fueling political tensions in Ukraine, Interfax reported on April 10. Baloha also said that "any statements or moves by the Verkhovna Rada have no legal force and are only private opinions." Baloha denied allegations that President Yushchenko is exerting pressure on the Constitutional Court and other state bodies. "Such actions are unthinkable for politicians who swore to respect the country's democratic choice," Baloha added. AM
UN COURT ACCUSED OF ALLOWING SERBIA TO WITHHOLD EVIDENCE FROM GENOCIDE CASE
The controversy sparked by the ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Serbia was not guilty of genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina was reopened on April 9 by an article in "The New York Times" that quoted lawyers in The Hague and Belgrade as saying the UN's top court acquiesced to a Serbian request not only to keep some of its records out of the public eye, but also to keep some documents from the court itself. On the grounds of national security, Serbia was allowed to black out passages in some documents allowed into the public arena. Lawyers and judges in the case were able to see these passages. However, the daily also reported that Serbia was allowed to withhold some documents from the court and that when, after two years of negotiation, Serbia handed over some documents to The Hague, it "made it clear in letters to the tribunal and in meetings with prosecutors and judges that it wanted the documents expurgated to keep them from harming Serbia's case" at the ICJ. The 20 lawyers and court officials interviewed for the report, none of whose names and employers were given, said that the ICJ failed to press for full access to Serbia's files. They believe that, if the ICJ had done so, Serbia might have been found guilty of genocide. The report quoted the lawyers and others as saying that Serbia was pursuing a broader strategy of preventing the ICJ from seeing Serbia's full archive. The paper reported that, after the tribunal judges approved Belgrade's request to keep sections of the military archives secret, Vladimir Djeric, a member of the Serbian negotiating team, told lawyers there that "we could not believe our luck." According to the report, the court nonetheless believed it had enough material on which to reach a conclusion, rebuffing a Bosnian request that it demand full access on the grounds that the tribunal already had ample evidence. However, in its final ruling, the ICJ concluded that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Bosnian Serb forces were acting under Serbia's "direction" or "effective control" in the war or at Srebrenica, an acknowledged "act of genocide" in which as many as 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred. One ICJ judge who dissented from the majority position, Awn Shawkat al-Khasawneh of Jordan, said that "it is a reasonable expectation that those documents [not available to the ICJ] would have shed light on the central questions." The ruling has prompted criticism from Bosnian Muslims, some of whose leaders argue that it reflects a general Western bias against Muslims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1, 2007). Even the relatively limited nature of the ruling has been enough to prompt a major political debate about the future of the ethnic Serb autonomous region created on the basis of the agreement that brought peace to the country in 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1, 5, 13, 15 and 21, 2007). AG
BOSNIAN SERBS' SPECIAL ECONOMIC DEAL FOR SREBRENICA UNVEILED
The prime minister of the Bosnian Serbs' autonomous region, Milorad Dodik, and local officials on April 5 agreed on a plan to provide 16.2 million convertible marks ($11.1 million) to help develop the economy of Srebrenica, the site of Europe's worst massacre since 1945. Bosnia-Herzegovina Radio 1 reported that the money will chiefly be spent on developing the municipality's road and energy infrastructure. Srebrenica will also have access to a general fund with 100 million marks ($68.6 million) earmarked for the Republika Srpska's eastern region. In the wake of the ICJ's ruling on February 26 that the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica was an "act of genocide," national and local Bosnian Muslim leaders have demanded autonomy for Srebrenica, but Dodik has been prepared only to offer the town a special economic status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and 28, and March 2, 6, 7, 13, 15, 21, and 27, 2007). The dispute is related to a broader dispute about the future of the Republika Srpska, which Bosnian leaders argue was the product of genocide and should therefore be dissolved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1, 5, 13, 15 and 21, 2007). A leader of Srebrenica's Muslim community, Camil Durakovic, told the newspaper "Oslobodjenje" on April 5 that the special funds for the municipality will not dissuade a large group of Muslims from leaving the area on April 16. In March, the group pushed back the deadline for a decision on their departure until April 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 13, 2007). The group, which wants Srebrenica to be granted autonomy from the Republika Srpska, alleges that Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica are subject to routine discrimination and that previous promises of economic assistance have never been implemented. AG
KOSOVA'S PARLIAMENT BACKS UN PLAN...
Kosova's parliament on April 5 voted overwhelmingly in favor of a UN plan to grant Kosova supervised independence from Serbia, local and international media reported the same day. Nineteen members of the 120-seat parliament abstained, while one -- a representative of Kosova's roughly 35,000-strong Bosnian Muslim community -- voted against the motion despite supporting independence. The resolution calls the plan drafted by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari "a balanced and right solution that is in accordance with the will of the people of Kosova," promises full implementation of the obligations laid out by the author, and "welcomes with no reservation" the proposal that a European Union-led mission should oversee the implementation of the deal. Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on April 5 that, through the vote, "we want to show to the entire world, to the international community and also to those countries that are doubtful of Ahtisaari's proposal and independence of Kosova, that behind Ahtisaari is...the vast majority of the people of Kosova." Serbia and its chief ally, Russia, are pushing for new talks headed by a new mediator and on April 4 appeared to take a step closer to that goal when the current chairman of the UN Security Council, British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry, said that he expects that "in the month of April there would be a Security Council mission to Belgrade and Prishtina" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2007). Following talks at the Security Council, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said on April 5 that "Serbia has thwarted Ahtisaari's plan at the Security Council session using strong and unassailable arguments." Both Kostunica and Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu emerged from the talks claiming that there is enough support in the Security Council, in Kosova's case, to pass the Ahtisaari plan and, in Serbia's case, to block it. AG
...AND EU PROMISES HALF A BILLION EUROS TO KOSOVA
The EU's representative to Kosova, Torbjorn Solhstrom, on April 5 pledged that the union will spend 500 million euros ($660 million) on helping Kosova in the three years following the resolution of its status, according to reports in the international media. This is an increase on the sum pledged earlier, 200 million euros. The EU has already spent some 2 billion euros ($2.6 billion) in helping Kosova since the Serbian province became a UN protectorate in 1999, primarily on rebuilding infrastructure and housing damaged during the 1998-99 conflict between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas and the subsequent intervention by NATO. The new money will be plowed into developing the institutions of the region, which is currently run by the UN but which would be granted supervised independence from Serbia under the plan drafted by UN envoy Ahtisaari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5, March 12, and April 5, 2007). If the plan is approved by the UN Security Council, the EU would supervise the plan's implementation. Sohlstrom's comments came shortly after EU foreign ministers met for informal talks in Germany about the future of Kosova. At the meeting, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn put the cost of an EU-run international presence in Kosova at some 1.5 billion euros over three years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 14, March 29, and April 2, 2007). AG
SERBIA UPHOLDS SENTENCE ON FORMER ALBANIAN GUERILLA
Serbia's Supreme Court on April 5 upheld a sentence handed down by the country's war crimes tribunal on Anton Lekaj, a former member of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), the news agency FoNet reported the same day. Lekaj was sentenced in September 2006 to 13 years in prison for his role in the rape, torture, and murder of civilians in 1999, toward the end of the conflict between Serbian forces and ethnic Albanian guerrillas in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). The case centered on the ambush in June 1999 of a wedding party, mostly comprised of Roma, four of whom were subsequently killed. Lekaj was arrested in 2004 in Montenegro, which at the time was part of a "state union" with Serbia. Most Kosovar Albanians accused of war crimes fall outside Serbia's jurisdiction. AG
CHILD MORTALITY IN KOSOVA APPROACHING AFRICAN LEVELS
Speaking on the eve of the UN's World Health Day, the chief representative of the UN Development Program in Kosova, Frode Mauring, on April 6 said that the child mortality rate in Kosova is closer to African than to European levels, the news service KosovaLive reported the same day. Mauring said that 69 out of every 1,000 children born in Kosova die before their fifth birthday, and that the number of children who die before the age of 1 is rising. The figure currently stands at 44 in every 1,000 births. Mauring also singled out tuberculosis as a health issue of particular concern in the area. AG
SERBIAN ARMY SLASHES NUMBER OF TANKS
Serbia will reduce the number of tanks in its armed forces from 1,000 to 250, a member of its General Staff told the news agency Beta on April 9. Major General Dragan Kolundzija, who heads a department in the General Staff, said that most of the country's tanks are obsolete. The reduction in hardware is part of a broader plan to reform the military. Other aspects of the reform include an end to conscription and a reduction in the size of the army. Kolundzija said that the tank battalions will be organized along the British model. Serbia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace in December, a program under which countries establish individual forms of cooperation with the Western military alliance. AG
MACEDONIA PLANS TO OPEN DOOR TO FOREIGN BANKS
Macedonian Finance Minister Trajko Slaveski on April 5 presented a bill that, if passed into law, would enable foreign banks to set up branches in the country, the news agency MIA reported the same day. Only banks with international credit ratings of BBB or higher would be allowed to enter the Macedonian market. The bill also envisages changes to regulations across the banking sector, requiring new banks to have registered capital of at least 5 million euros ($6.7 million) -- up from 3.5 million euros ($4.7 million) -- and freeing banks to invest in other financial institutions. Slaveski said his bill is intended to stabilize the banking sector and to bring Macedonian law into line with European legislation. Macedonia hopes to begin EU preaccession talks in 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 1, 9, 15, and 20, and March 26, 2007). AG
ALBANIA EASES RESTRICTIONS ON ARMS TRADE
Albania's parliament voted overwhelmingly on April 5 to end the state's monopoly on arms trading, the newspaper "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on April 6. Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu said the law, which permits licensed private companies both to import and export arms, is fully in line with EU legislation. The law was nonetheless opposed by seven members of parliament, while another 22 abstained. Sixty voted in favor. AG
GOVERNOR OF MOLDOVA'S GAGAUZ-YERI REGION LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
As policymakers search for lasting solutions to Kosova and unresolved conflicts in the former Soviet Union, many overlook the example of Moldova's semiautonomous region of Gagauz-Yeri. The southern Moldovan region, populated by a Turkic Christian group that fled the Russo-Turkish wars of the 19th century, launched an independence drive in 1994.
But unlike the region of Transdniester, which fought a short war of independence with Moldova in the early 1990s that remains unresolved, Gagauz-Yeri managed to bridge its differences with Chisinau and now enjoys wide-ranging autonomy. The region's recently elected governor, Mihail Formuzal, speaks about the history, current problems, and future prospects of Gagauz-Yeri.
RFE/RL: How long have you been involved in politics? What positions have you previously held?
Mihail Formuzal: For the most part, I have never been involved in politics as such, nor do I have much desire to be in the future. Instead, I consider myself to be first of all a manager and an administrator. All of the positions that I have held have been related to working with people. In the army, I served in many positions of authority, just as I have held many supervisory posts in civilian life. As deputy mayor and then mayor of the city of Ceadir-Lunga, and now as governor [baskan] of Gagauzia, I have worked and will continue to work with people. I think that not every person can boast of such a record of service and such work experience as I can.
RFE/RL: Why did you seek the position of governor? What are your priorities for Gagauzia?
Formuzal: I will try my best to answer this question without the unnecessary rhetoric that so many people use while responding to similar questions. I am fully aware of the profound crisis in which Gagauzia finds itself today -- and I am fully capable of leading Gagauzia out of it. I am a hard-working person who knows his goals. Furthermore, I am confident in my strengths and it will undoubtedly help me to achieve my objectives. As for priorities, it is clear above all that my priority is economic growth, combined with ensuring a sufficient standard of living for the people of Gagauzia.
RFE/RL: Did you encounter any problems during the election process? Were the elections in December free and fair?
Formuzal: Of course, there were some problems. However, these difficulties lie in the past, and I do not want to recall them. Moreover, the new authorities do not under any circumstances intend to carry out any investigations, prosecutions, etc. We simply do not have time for it. Today we face much more important tasks. And as they say, let bygones be bygones. [We] have derived some useful lessons and are going to move forward.
RFE/RL: What was the role of the United States and other Western countries during the elections under which you were elected?
Formuzal: Without a doubt, the United States -- along with other Western countries -- played a very significant role in these elections. Let me remind you that the second round of elections was greatly distinguished from the first one by the far freer atmosphere that prevailed. The second round complied with all the standards of democratic elections. Above all, we link this fact to the visit of foreign ambassadors and representatives of the OSCE Moldova mission to Gagauzia. In fact, there were two visits. The first one took place on November 7. Particularly, it was this day and this visit that became a turning point in conducting fair, free, and democratic elections in Gagauzia.
RFE/RL: Does freedom of speech exist in Gagauzia? What is the situation with the mass media?
Formuzal: Once again, let's not talk about the past -- instead, let's focus on the situation we encounter today. The first step taken by new government was the reorganization of all media in Gagauzia from the state to the public sphere. This means that all journalists no longer feel the pressure of self-censorship; they can now allow themselves to write and speak in accordance with their convictions. Let me give you an example: the new director of the Gagauz television and radio company is someone who worked in the election headquarters of my opponent -- to be exact, my principal opponent. Allow me to underscore the fact that he attained his new position on my initiative -- because this person is a good professional. Clearly, I could have instead tried to promote to that post someone from my own team!
I have to say that, [since] my first day on the job, I have been receiving a great deal of criticism. I must say these critical remarks have been heard from my very first days in office. I have been working for only a month and a half. This also testifies to the fact that freedom of speech is secure. Yet, I have been entirely at ease with this criticism, since it is such an integral part of the democratic political process. It is true that such criticism sometimes disappoints me, as it is directed not at the policies and activities of my new government, but instead at me personally. Surely you will agree that this does not speak in favor of those who criticize me.
RFE/RL: To what degree is the Gagauz language protected? On what level and how often is it taught in schools? Is the Gagauz language the language of communication among the population and also in government bodies?
Formuzal: I must acknowledge that the Gagauz language is currently protected only to a small degree. The state does not allocate resources to its development. In schools, the main problem is that there are not enough books -- and, in some cases, there are no methodological materials [or] handouts necessary for studying the Gagauz language at all. In daily life, the population primarily uses Gagauz, especially in villages. Still, one can often hear Russian, Moldovan, and Ukrainian as well. However, one must admit that Gagauz society is very tolerant in this respect.
Regarding the use of Gagauz in government bodies, unfortunately it is rarely heard.
[Editor's Note: This suggests a precipitous decline in the number of speakers of Gagauz since the 1979 Soviet census. At that time, 89.3 percent of those who regarded themselves as Gagauz also identified Gagauz as their native language.]
I know that the European Union has a great number of programs that provide assistance to national minorities. The new administration will work hard to get involved and to cooperate with these programs. We also would like the EU to devote attention to developing the Gagauz language. During the past century, 70 nationalities vanished from the face of the Earth. The world thus lost 70 languages, 70 cultures, and 70 [sets of] customs and traditions. The world has become poorer in terms of cultural heritage -- and we do not want the Gagauz people to become the next in this sorrowful list. Since after all, we are not numerous, there being only 150,000 of us in the world. The Gagauz people are unique, since the language itself belongs to the Turkic language family, while the overwhelming majority of citizens are Orthodox believers. We want this language to be preserved and secured.
RFE/RL: What is Turkey's role in supporting and promoting the Gagauz ethnic, linguistic, and cultural identity?
Formuzal: It is difficult to overestimate the role of Turkey in these issues. We believe that the existence of our autonomy was made possible thanks to a great deal of support and assistance given to us by the Turkish Republic. It is Turkey that played a decisive role in acknowledging Gagauzia as autonomous, and in resolving this international conflict peacefully. So I do esteem Turkey's contribution.
RFE/RL: To what degree does Turkey support Gagauzia economically?
Formuzal: More than any other state, Turkey has granted us economic assistance. Since the founding of our autonomy, our Turkish friends have worked to help us solve economic problems, and have provided valuable assistance in the social sphere. For example, the principal credit in providing the water supply system of Gagauzia also belongs to Turkey. Our nation will always appreciate and remember this help and attention. However, this economic assistance is not a one-way cooperation. On our part we are trying to create a favorable investment environment so that the Turkish side can invest funds in the economic development of Gagauzia as well as create new places of employment. For this purpose, we have freed them from all kinds of taxes for five years.
RFE/RL: Does Greece play an active role in Gagauzia?
Formuzal: Greece holds a certain interest for us, and for this there are natural reasons. As you know, in Greece, there are many communities and villages where the residents are Gagauz or Greeks of Gagauz origin. In some villages, people...still speak Gagauz. Here in Comrat, there is an active Greek-language study program established with the direct assistance of the Greek government. Greece is financing a number of social projects in Gagauzia. Quite recently we finished the implementation of the first stage of our cooperation, regarding constructing a number of infrastructure improvements. Greece has been very helpful to us.
RFE/RL: How close are your ties with Gagauz communities outside of Gagauzia, especially in Ukraine?
Formuzal: With other Gagauz communities, including that of Ukraine, we enjoy close relations. We are always glad to receive visits from our brethren who live in other countries. Our doors are always open to them. We try to maintain close relations with overseas Gagauz communities in the fields of education, culture, and economics. These are three primary vectors of our cooperation. Practically all our intellectuals maintain close contact with that of Ukraine and these relations are extremely strong and lasting.
RFE/RL: Many have argued that Gagauzia is a model for conflict resolution elsewhere, particularly for the Caucasus, the Balkans, and Transdniester. What, in your view, are the most important lessons for other contested territories?
Formuzal: Indeed, in the middle of the 1990s, Gagauzia and Moldova served as an example to the entire world. At that time, the wisdom of the Gagauz and Moldovan peoples demonstrated that far better results can be achieved when one is armed not with automatic weapons, but with sober minds and political will. For many, it was an important lesson. The leaders of many so-called separatist republics realized that it was not a losing move to undertake dialogue at the conference table -- instead, it's simply a different strategy, one that is often a more effective way of protecting their own interests.
However, the positive achievements of the talks today are being lost to a significant degree. Unfortunately, in recent times we have had cautious relations with Chisinau that lacked trust. These relations were expressed most notably by the center's continuous fear of losing control over Gagauzia and, as a result of this fear, by its constant striving to thrust a leader upon us. It is superfluous to say that such behavior of the central authorities had a reverse effect, and contributed to inflaming tensions in the autonomy itself. However, it is possible to return to trust-based relations. Today, the new leadership of Gagauzia has taken several steps to meet Chisinau halfway. We have clearly announced that we are ready for open, honest, and constructive dialogue.
Our degree of readiness and openness to undertake talks is exemplified in particular by our policy regarding government employees. Approximately 20 percent of the members of our Executive Committee are Moldovans, and among them are high-ranking officials and members of the ruling councils of Moldovan political parties. We do not differentiate among people in terms of their nationality or political affiliation. Examples are not hard to find. The finance minister is an ethnic Moldovan, as is the interior minister.
Two weeks ago we approved the candidacy of the Communist Party representative for the position of deputy head of the regional administration, which is a rather high position -- even though I am not a Communist supporter. Our main criterion is professional aptitude. And in this respect we would like Gagauzia to become a place of innovation where the benefits of this approach can be exemplified. It goes without saying that we are waiting for an adequate reaction on behalf of Chisinau. We would like the higher leadership of the country to understand that they can work more effectively with us than with the previous government. There is only one principal condition: that Chisinau get rid of its harmful political phobia regarding the alleged "separatist republic" of Gagauzia.
RFE/RL: Some have argued that Gagauzia lacks real autonomy and that Chisinau calls the shots. Is this true? How is power divided between Comrat [the capital of the Gagauz-Yeri autonomous region] and Chisinau?
Formuzal: We do have the full legislative basis necessary for the existence and functioning of the autonomy. Insofar as the autonomy does not exercise its full powers, it is first of all our fault and only then the fault of Chisinau. From time to time, Chisinau causes some complex difficulties for us, but this is quite understandable. The actions of the central authorities are dictated by the same obsessive fear of losing the southern region of the country. However, the very fact that we in Gagauzia are letting others restrain our own autonomous rights can neither be justified nor explained. We ourselves have not [yet] enjoyed those possibilities provided by our law.
There is no distinct division of powers between Chisinau and Comrat. This delimitation is partially provided by the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova, the Code of Gagauzia, as well as the Law on the Particular Legal Status of Gagauzia. There do exist certain discrepancies between Moldavian and Gagauz legislation. Yet, we hope that in the near term the bilateral Moldovan-Gagauz commission established to eliminate these inconsistencies will [remedy] this problem.
RFE/RL: How would you characterize Russian-Gagauz relations?
Formuzal: Gagauzia has always enjoyed friendly and close relations with Russia. Throughout its history, our people have experienced many reversals of fortune, and fate has led us to live among many different nations. With the Russian nation in particular, we have been very closely connected. Above all, we are thankful to Russia for the land on which we continue to live to this day. We are also grateful for the education that the majority of our nation has obtained. Today, we continue to receive valuable interest, attention, and support from Russia.
RFE/RL: What was the effect on Gagauzia of the growth of tension between Russia and Moldova? How did Russia's ban on Moldovan wine imports affect the region's economy?
Formuzal: The worsening of Moldovan-Russian relations has affected us in the worst way possible. Our economy -- which, even before the ban, was underdeveloped -- was practically paralyzed after [ the ban was enacted.] After all, our region's earnings from the most part come from wine making, tobacco growing, and horticulture. And I remind you that, following the ban on wine imports, there were similar bans imposed on fruit and tobacco. It is difficult to explain the upheavals that Gagauzia has experienced. All of these industries remain in dire straits. But we believe that in the short term we will be able to overcome these problems.
RFE/RL: What has the impact of increased natural-gas prices been on the Gagauz people?
Formuzal: Obviously, it has been very severe. In one sense, there was a reprieve, at least for many of our citizens, as the unexpectedly warm winter allowed them to reduce gas consumption. However, notwithstanding even this, the new gas prices are out of reach for the majority of our population. Many of our elderly are forced to freeze to death in their own unheated homes. Some elderly people have told me that they put bottles [filled] with hot water in their beds. It was certainly a severe upheaval for people. Wages and prices should certainly grow faster than energy prices. Yet for the time being, prices for services are surpassing growth in wages as well as pensions.
RFE/RL: What is the ultimate outlook for Gagauz-Yeri? Do you believe that things are getting better or worse overall?
Formuzal: Not only do I believe that things will get better -- I know it for sure! The new government will do everything in its power so that people will be able to feel positive changes within a year . Increasing people's quality of life is our highest priority. To achieve this change, we [already] have all that we need. We have fertile land, hard-working people, a professional management team, a well-developed action plan and, most importantly, a tremendous will to work for change. We do believe we can change people's lives for the better.
(Emmet Tuohy is a Fulbright research fellow in Kyiv, Ukraine, and assistant director of the Center for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C. Melinda Haring is a former Freedom House staffer who now works as a freelance writer based in Kyiv, Ukraine.)
AFGHAN PRESIDENT VOWS 'NO MORE HOSTAGE DEALS'...
At a press conference in Kabul on April 6, Afghan President Hamid Karzai declared that the Afghan government will make no further prisoner-exchange deals with the Taliban, the Bakhtar News Agency reported on April 9. Karzai said the recent release of five Taliban members in exchange for Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007) was an "extraordinary" situation and there will be "no more hostage deals with anyone." Taliban leaders reportedly hailed the prisoner exchange as a victory, arousing fears that the Taliban might continue to resort to kidnapping to secure the release of their own members. Shortly after the release of Mastrogiacomo, Taliban members abducted five Afghan Health Ministry staffers, and recently threatened to kill one of them if Kabul does not negotiate. The Taliban also claims to have captured two French humanitarian-aid workers and three Afghan citizens in recent days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 5, 2007). CJ
...AND TALIBAN MILITANTS REPORT KILLING AFGHAN HOSTAGE
Afghan journalist Ajmal Naqshbandi was killed by his Taliban captors on April 8, after more than a month in captivity, news agencies reported the same day, quoting a purported Taliban spokesman. Naqshbandi was kidnapped along with "La Repubblica" reporter Mastrogiacomo and driver Sayyed Agha in Helmand Province on March 6. Agha was reportedly beheaded by his captors, while Mastrogiacomo was eventually released as a result of a prisoner swap (see item above). Shahbuddin Atal, a spokesman for the Taliban, said Naqshbandi was executed because the Afghan government refused to negotiate another prisoner exchange. According to Pajhwak Afghan News, Naqshbandi was killed 48 hours before the negotiation deadline that was originally set by his Taliban captors. CJ
CANADIAN, OTHER ISAF SOLDIERS KILLED BY ROADSIDE BOMBS
Six Canadian soldiers serving with NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) were killed and one soldier was injured when their vehicle detonated a roadside bomb west of Kandahar city on April 8, Reuters reported the same day. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the news during a visit to France to mark the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. CTV reported that the incident brought the death toll for Canadian soldiers to 51 since 2002, with one Canadian diplomat also killed in the same period. AP suggested it was the "biggest single combat loss for foreign troops" in Afghanistan since June 2005, when 16 U.S. troops died in a helicopter crash. Canadian troops have played a significant role in Operation Achilles, a major ISAF offensive against the Taliban in southern Afghanistan. CTV noted that there are about 2,500 Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan, most of them in the restive south. A separate roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan reportedly killed one NATO soldier and wounded two others on April 8, with no initial word of the soldier's country of origin. CJ
IRANIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS IRAN, EU MIGHT RESUME TALKS
Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani said at the Natanz nuclear facility on April 9 that he might meet "in the future" with EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana to resume talks on Iran's nuclear activities, IRNA reported. Larijani also repeated that Iran will continue to pursue its nuclear program. He spoke as Iranian officials publicly announced the start of larger-scale uranium enrichment in Natanz, presumably through the operation of the 3,000 centrifuges Iran has reportedly installed there. Exact details were not given. The centrifuges spin to enrich uranium hexafluoride, producing fuel for power stations or, at higher levels of enrichment, material that could arm a nuclear weapon. Iran says it will only produce fuel, but many in the West, suspicious of its activities, want enrichment activities halted. Larijani said that Solana proposed new talks in an effort to reach an agreement. Iran says it has a legal right to make fuel. "We shall continue our peaceful program, because there are no [nuclear] weapons in our security doctrine, but if they continue this conduct, they will damage" the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), he said, referring to Western backing for UN sanctions against Iran's program. He implied that Iran does not wish to change the nature of its program, but said officials may be pressured by parliament to "take other decisions" in response to Western states' "bad behavior and big words," IRNA reported. VS
TEHRAN CLAIMS ENRICHMENT PROGRESS
Larijani confirmed on April 9 that Iran has injected uranium hexafluoride gas into the Natanz centrifuges, IRNA reported. But the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization for international affairs, Mohammad Saidi, said the same day in Natanz that UN inspectors will clarify in a report due in 20 days the number of centrifuges into which hexafluoride gas has been injected, IRNA reported. Saidi stressed, however, that Iran has entered the phase of industrial-scale fuel production by going beyond the pilot or experimental phase that involved the operation of two cascades of 164 centrifuges each, IRNA reported. A full-scale enrichment program at the plant would involve 54,000 centrifuges, Reuters reported on April 9, although 3,000 functioning centrifuges would allow Iran to make combustible material for a bomb in a year, it added, citing unspecified Western experts. Saidi said in Natanz that Iran will "continue" its plans to install more centrifuges to "mass produce" fuel, ILNA reported. VS
IRAN'S REFORMISTS PREPARING GRAND COALITION
Reformist parties have reportedly begun consultations to form a single coalition for parliamentary elections due in about 10 months, "Kargozaran" daily reported on April 10, quoting reformist politicians and the Reformist Front Coordination Council. The council's members are reportedly to meet at an unspecified date with Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, former President Mohammad Khatami, and former parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi, who are often seen as mentors for the reformist movement. "Kargozaran" quoted Mohammad Reza Khatami of the reformist Participation Front as saying at an unspecified date that his party has begun "preliminary" measures to form a coalition. Mohammad Salamati, the secretary-general of the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization, another reformist grouping, told ILNA on April 9 that his party will not insist on its own list or on specific candidates, and will make "every effort" to contribute to a coalition. VS
PRESS COURT FINDS IRANIAN EX-PRESIDENT'S BROTHER GUILTY OF SOME CHARGES
A press-court jury found Mohammad Reza Khatami guilty of some of the charges he faced as editor of the now-banned daily "Mosharekat" (Participation), ISNA reported on April 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 2007). He is the brother of ex-President Mohammad Khatami. Mohammad Reza Khatami was acquitted of charges of insulting religious dignitaries and engaging in propaganda against Iran's polity but found guilty of proffering calumny against some officials and of publishing false reports, ISNA reported. It did not state when he will be sentenced. VS
IRANIAN OIL MINISTER TALKS OF FALLING PRODUCTION
Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh told a gathering of Iranian diplomats on April 7 that Iran produced 4.3 million barrels of crude oil a day "last year" and its production falls about 250,000 barrels per day each year, Fars reported, without saying where he was speaking. It was not immediately clear if he was referring to the Persian year to March 20, 2007, or the year 2006. He was addressing Iranian ambassadors posted in East Asia and Pacific Rim states. He said steps taken by the present government have allowed Iran to produce 53,000 barrels a day more than its planned production volume "last year." He revealed that Iran in that year exported about $60 billion worth of oil-related products, including $9 billion worth of petrochemicals. Iran also invested $14 billion in its oil industry in the year cited, the minister said, adding that he expects this to yield "considerable" financial returns in the future and create jobs. He was also hopeful that ongoing projects to expand Iran's oil refining capacities might end by the Persian year 2011-12 Iran's need to import petrochemical products. Vaziri-Hamaneh said Iran's daily gas-production capacity is currently 460 million cubic meters, although he said most of that is used inside Iran, Fars reported. VS
ACTIVISTS SEE GROWING LABOR DISCONTENT IN IRAN
Activists and observers have commented to Radio Farda on the variety and frequency of worker protests in Iran in the past year, describing them as primarily motivated by economic demands but also indicating a growing consciousness among labor groups, the broadcaster reported on April 8. One activist, Mohammad Ali Amui, told Radio Farda that such labor protests have been scattered and principally concerned with wage-related issues, but he said "the considerable number of assemblies and protests" will increase if workers in Iran are allowed to form independent unions. "Beside these labor protests, there is a daily increasing awareness among the working class," he said. He said the state's response has been to repress protests, and he cited examples of undated protests in Tehran and Kermanshah by car mechanics from the state carmaker Iran Khodro, which he said the government immediately labeled political protests. Jafar Azimzadeh, a spokesman for a grouping called the Nationwide Union of Expelled and Unemployed Workers, told Radio Farda on April 8 that "the most important characteristic" of labor protests in the Persian year to March 2007 "was their expansion, and they were much more frequent than in previous years." VS
IRAQI OFFICIAL SAYS EGYPT CONFERENCE SHOULD FOCUS ON IRAQ ONLY
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in an April 9 interview with "The Guardian" that the upcoming international conference on Iraq, to be held in Egypt in May, should only focus on Iraq's security situation and not be used as a forum to settle disputes between the United States and Iran and Syria. "We are saying keep your quarrels and fights away; we have enough on our plate," Zebari said. "We are getting caught in the middle and the tensions are affecting us immediately and directly." On April 7, the Iraqi government announced that Egypt will host an international conference on the situation in Iraq on May 3-5 at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. "As a forum, as a platform, there may be opportunities for breaking the deadlock which would be helpful to my country because we need a conducive, supportive regional environment for us to succeed," Zebari said. Among those states expected to send representatives are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, Iran, and Turkey, as well as Bahrain, Egypt, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and members of the Group of Eight leading industrialized economies. SS
BAGHDAD UNDER CURFEW AS FALL OF IRAQI CAPITAL IS OBSERVED...
The Iraqi government imposed a 24-hour curfew in Baghdad on April 9, the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, in an attempt prevent insurgent attacks, international media reported the same day. The government announced it would ban all vehicles, including motorcycles, from 5 a.m. on April 9 until 5 a.m. the next day. "There will be protests marking the fourth anniversary," Brigadier General Qasim al-Musawi told state-run Al-Iraqiyah television on April 8. "We don't want to give the terrorists a chance to use this opportunity." SS
...WHILE THOUSANDS OF IRAQIS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST U.S. IN SOUTHERN IRAQ
To mark the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, tens of thousands of Iraqis loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr gathered in the holy city of Al-Najaf on April 9, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. The demonstrators started in Al-Kufah and headed toward Al-Najaf carrying Iraqi flags and calling for unity, while at the same time denouncing the U.S.-led occupation. Salah al-Ubaydi, a senior al-Sadr official in Al-Najaf, described the rally as a call for liberation. "We're hoping that by next year's anniversary, we will be an independent and liberated Iraq with full sovereignty," al-Ubaydi said. In an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television on April 9, Nasr al-Rubay'i, the head of al-Sadr's political bloc in parliament, said the demonstration was a response to the occupation targeting the dignity of the Iraqi people. "There are daily raids on the homes of Iraqis and flagrant human rights violations," al-Rubay'i said. "These masses want Iraq's independence, a real independence, not one on paper. They want Iraq's sovereignty, a real sovereignty." Al-Sadr was not present at the demonstration, but he issued a statement on April 8 calling on Iraqis to unify their efforts against the U.S. occupation. "The occupation forces led by the biggest evil, America, is working to sow dissent either directly or through its agents," he said. SS
TURKEY ISSUES WARNING TO IRAQI KURDS
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan issued a warning to Iraqi Kurds on April 9 to avoid interfering in Turkey's internal affairs or "pay a heavy price," "The Anatolia Times" reported the same day. Kurdish regional President Mas'ud Barzani on April 7, who said Iraqi Kurds could intervene in Kurdish-majority cities in Turkey if Ankara continued to oppose Kurdish ambitions to annex oil-rich Kirkuk. "A northern Iraq that neighbors Turkey is gravely wrong in the way it is currently acting and this could result in a very heavy cost for them afterward," Erdogan said. "I advise them not to say words they cannot live up to and to know their place, because they could be later crushed under those words." Following Barzani's remarks, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdallah Gul expressed his displeasure to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "Barzani's words are extremely disturbing, unacceptable and are considered a provocation," the "Turkish Daily News" quoted Gul as telling Rice. SS
SUNNI LEADER DENIES HE HID WEAPONS IN HIS HOME
Khalaf al-Ulayan, the leader of the Sunni-led Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, on April 9 denied accusations that he was illegally storing weapons and accused the Shi'ite-dominated government of trying to discredit him, international media reported the same day. "The government stands against anyone who speaks the truth or dares to speak out against its policies and actions," al-Ulayan said. "I always talk loudly. I say that the government harbors terrorism and terrorists. They don't like that. So they accuse us of being terrorists." On April 3, a joint Iraqi-U.S. raid found a large cache of weapons in his home, including 33 Kalashnikov rifles, three pistols, one hand grenade, 2 kilograms of TNT, and 13 82-mm mortar rounds. The U.S. military said in a statement that eight 57-mm rockets and 5,000 rounds of ammunition were also seized, along with photographs of burning British soldiers and U.S.-flag-draped coffins. As a parliamentarian, al-Ulayan has immunity from prosecution, but U.S. military spokesman Major General William Caldwell said on April 8 that the United States will not back away from taking action against him. "Any time we find someone operating outside the law, not following the rules that have been set by this government, they are subject to being detained and arrested," Caldwell said. SS
U.S.-RUN PRISONS IN IRAQ 'BREED EXTREMISTS'
Sa'd Sultan, an official at the Iraqi Human Rights Ministry, announced on April 8 that U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq have become breeding grounds for extremists, international media reported the same day. He said extremists at the detention centers recruit detainees and, in certain instances, kill those deemed informants for the occupation. "It looks like a terrorist academy," Sultan said. "And we protect them, feed them, give them medical care. The Americans have no solution to this problem." As U.S. forces continue to battle the insurgency, the inmate population in U.S.-run prisons has increased from 10,000 in 2003 to currently 18,000. U.S. military officials acknowledge they are battling extremists in the prisons to win over the hearts and minds of the detainees, but rejected the notion that they have lost control of the facilities. SS