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Newsline - April 19, 2007

An unspecified number of journalists beaten by police while attempting to cover the recent opposition marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg will take legal action against the Interior Ministry OMON police, the daily "Novye izvestia" reported on April 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 16, 17, and 18, 2007). Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky said on April 17 that there should be an internal investigation into police actions "in relation to journalists" during the protest. But Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Sukhodolsky argued that OMON forces "acted professionally and within the law." Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika made similar comments on April 16. Interior Ministry officials nonetheless refused on April 17 to make public the "internal" rules and regulations governing the conduct of police in such circumstances. Mikhail Fedotov, secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, argued that "no law can be in force unless it has been published.... All those references to some sort of confidential documents cannot apply if it's a matter of human rights. They can't use secret instructions as grounds for beating people." Photo journalist Anatoly Maltsev said on April 17 that during the St. Petersburg protest, he "was taking pictures of OMON police knocking people down and hitting them with truncheons, when I myself was struck on the head with a truncheon, from behind. What's more, I was wearing a special jacket with "PRESS" written on the back in big letters. Those jackets were issued to us on the instructions of Governor Valentina Matviyenko." On April 19, Ekho Moskvy posted on its website what it said are recordings of blunt conversations between OMON men in Moscow on April 14, reported. Some of the quotes are: "take them all and haul them off," "grab all of them and [opposition leader and former Prime Minister Mikhail] Kasyanov too," and "what should we do with 30 pensioners? Grab them?" PM

On April 19, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said in Tula that the legislature, which is controlled by pro-Kremlin parties, wants to investigate the origins of the protests, Interfax reported. "A working group will be formed to investigate who is behind these provocative acts and who is the sponsor," he added. The Federation Council is planning an investigation of its own, Interfax reported on April 19. Acting investigation head Vladislav Grib said that it is "obvious that the rights of citizens and journalists were breached, and provocative acts took place during the marches. However, statements by law enforcers and [governing] party members were hasty. The events require more profound analysis." First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted by Britain's "Financial Times" on April 19 as saying that any foreign-funded attempts to "destabilize" Russia's 2008 presidential election would be "money thrown into the wind.... Nothing will come of [it]. The economic and political situation today is very stable." PM

The Duma voted unanimously on April 18 to amend the Criminal Code to provide for up to three years' imprisonment for politically or ideologically motivated vandalism, Interfax reported. The legislation enables the authorities to punish participants should opposition protests turn violent. Critics have long charged that legislation against "extremism" is deliberately vague to enable the authorities to use it against most any opposition groupings. The amendments also provide for stiff fines for those selling or manufacturing products with Nazi symbols, and raise the maximum prison sentence for desecrating graves or human bodies from three years to five years. PM

On April 18, a group of opposition politicians and liberal economic experts presented a social program for a future opposition presidential candidate, "The Washington Post" reported on April 19. Irina Khakamada, who is politically close to opposition leader and former Prime Minister Kasyanov called the program "an attempt to create a basis for a neo-liberal social course." The program maintains that the government has not devoted a sufficient share of growing energy revenues toward improving health care, social insurance, and education. Most Russian media ignored the event. The opposition has become largely marginalized under President Vladimir Putin and lacks a credible presidential candidate. Kasyanov does poorly in the polls, while opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov has indicated that he is not interested in running. First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is in charge of the so-called National Projects, which involve making radical improvements in agriculture, education, health care, and housing. PM

First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov said at a meeting of military-industry personnel in Yekaterinburg on April 19 that Russia is regaining its "leading position" as an arms exporter, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 24, 2007). He added that Russia is entering new markets and that buyers are attracted by the "competitiveness" of its products. "Nobody would buy our hardware just to please us," he said. Ivanov added, however, that domestic arms contracts have become "more beneficial" than export deals, which often involve large risks. He said that Russian firms should stop conducting business in dollars and use a basket of currencies, including rubles, instead. "Let's help our national currency and its globalization in the good sense of this word," he argued. PM

On April 18, Britain's "The Independent" wrote that U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Matthew Bryza has accused Gazprom of "seeking to buy up European utilities like a player of the board game Monopoly swooping on key properties" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20, 2006). On April 19, Britain's "Financial Times" published an interview with First Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov, in which he denied that Russia is engaging in "energy imperialism." Ivanov argued that Moscow is simply selling its energy resources according to market rules. "You taught us how to be economy. We learned our lesson," Ivanov added. He also said that "we will not enter into another Cold War. We stepped on that rake once and will not repeat our mistake ever again." He repeated the long-standing Russian assertion that the proposed U.S. missile-defense system is directed "only against us" and not against Iran or North Korea, as Washington maintains. On April 18, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant General Henry Obering, who heads the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, said in Warsaw that the United States is "prepared to show the [proposed missile-defense] site [in Poland] to the Russians so that they could check for themselves that it has no offensive character," reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, 2007). PM

The International Air Transport Association said in a study released on April 18 that Russia and the CIS countries led the world with 8.6 air accidents per million flights in 2006, the daily "Kommersant" reported on April 19. This is 13 times greater than the world average of 0.65 per million and higher than Africa, which stands at 4.31 per million. PM

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office announced on April 18 that prosecutors in Amur Oblast on the Chinese border have opened a criminal case against Governor Leonid Korotkov on charges of abuse of office, Russian media reported. He is suspected of ordering hikes in electricity prices in December 2003 to cover the $1.75 million costs of a local soccer club, which he had buried in the electricity budget. On April 19, Amur Oblast prosecutor Vladimir Chistov said that four cases have been brought against Korotkov, whose offices Chistov's colleagues recently searched, reported. He added that the content of the charges, which will soon be sent to the relevant court, remain secret for the meantime. Korotkov is reportedly in Moscow but expected back in Amur Oblast on April 20. The daily "Vremya novostei" noted on April 19 that criminal cases against top officials do not usually lead to resignations or trials. According to, Korotkov reportedly enjoys the confidence of President Putin. PM

"Forbes" magazine has named Roman Abramovich Russia's richest man for the third consecutive year, news agencies reported on April 19. Abramovich topped the magazine's annual survey of the 100 richest Russians with an estimated fortune of $19.2 billion. He acquired his wealth in oil, but it is now based mainly in steel. He also owns Britain's Chelsea soccer club. Abramovich is the governor of Siberia's remote Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, a post he has held for six years, and is reportedly politically close to the Kremlin. The "Forbes" survey counted 60 Russian billionaires, 16 more than last year. The combined wealth of the 100 richest Russians was $337 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13, and March 9, 2007). PM

The State Duma passed in the first reading on April 18 with 343 votes in favor a bill drafted primarily by lawmakers from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia that would empower republic heads to dissolve parliaments on the basis of a court ruling should the legislature not convene for its maiden session and begin functioning "effectively" within 30 days of its election, the daily "Kommersant" reported on April 19. That bill was, according to the daily, prompted by the boycott by legislators from the Russian Party of Life (RPZh) whose election last October to the Great Khural of the Republic of Tyva (Tuva) was annulled by a Kyzyl court. The RPZh, which constituted a majority in the Great Khural, declared a boycott, effectively preventing the parliament from convening for six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007). "Kommersant" quoted Viktor Kuznetsov (KPRF) as branding the bill "purely political" and part of the ongoing power struggle between Unified Russia and the A Just Russia party headed by Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov. Nikolai Pavlov (A Just Russia) argued for his part that it would only serve as grist to the mills of those Western politicians who consistently argue that Russia is becoming an authoritarian state. "A person who has not been elected [meaning republic heads, who have since late 2004 been appointed by President Putin, not directly elected] will acquire the right to dissolve a parliament that citizens have elected," Pavlov protested. The North Caucasus website on April 18 solicited comments from regional parliamentarians that proved overwhelmingly negative. Stavropol Krai duma speaker Mikhail Kuzmin termed the bill "yet another act of stupidity" on the part of the national legislature and advocated "consigning it to the trashcan." Adam Bogus, a member of the Republic of Adygeya State Council, argued that the concept of "effectiveness" is subjective. He added that only the Russian president, who is directly elected, should have the power to dissolve a regional parliament. Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, chairman of the lower chamber of the Chechen parliament, said the bill ignores the "the existence of such a concept as federalism" and gives the impression that its authors acquired their education not in Soviet schools, but in London or Washington. LF

Ramzan Kadyrov issued a series of decrees on April 18 naming members of the new government, and the Chechen Republic website reported. Eli Isayev (finance), Khasan Taymaskhanov (agriculture) and Abdulla Magomadov (economic development and trade) were all reappointed to the posts they held in the previous cabinet. Olguzur Abdulkarimov was named industry and energy minister, replacing Amady Temishev. Khasan Lechkhadjiyev, Lyoma Dadayev, Shaid Akhmadov, and Akhmed Gekhayev were named respectively ministers of property and land relations, education, health, and construction. LF

Addressing a meeting in Nalchik on April 18 of senior Interior Ministry personnel, Deputy Minister Eldar Sabanchiyev said that the percentage of crimes solved, especially serious crimes, rose during the first three months of this year by 12 percent compared to 2006, but did not cite specific figures, RIA Novosti reported. But Interior Minister Yury Tomchak assessed the overall performance of the police as unsatisfactory, especially with regard to combating "terrorism" and "religious extremism," reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 22, 2007). Prime Minister Andrei Yarin, who also attended the meeting, criticized the failure of the police to curtail tax evasion and the embezzlement of budget funds. The systematic oppression of young practicing Muslims by police during the tenure as minister of Tomchak's predecessor, Khachim Shogenov, is widely regarded as one of the causes of the October 2005 attacks by young militants on police and security facilities in Nalchik (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 13 and 14, 2005, March 20, 2006, and February 2, 2007). LF

Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov met late on April 18 in Belgrade with the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group to resume their discussion of the basic principles for resolving the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani media reported. Noyan Tapan quoted Oskanian as having told the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on April 17 that in the 14 years he has been involved in negotiations, the two sides "have never been so close" to reaching a solution as they are now. LF

State Chancellery head Petre Mamradze and Khatuna Gogorishvili, who heads the majority National Movement-Democrats parliament faction, denied separately on April 18 that Zurab Noghaideli will be replaced as prime minister, Caucasus Press reported. Noghaideli, 42, who traveled to the U.S. last week, was scheduled to undergo open-heart surgery in Houston on April 19. Mamradze said that surgery was not urgent, but that Noghaideli decided not to postpone it; Gogorishvili commented that "anyone can have health problems." Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze will take over Noghaideli's duties during the two weeks he is expected to be incapacitated. LF

The South Ossetian contingent of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) tasked with monitoring developments in the South Ossetian conflict zone issued a statement on April 18 demanding that Tbilisi withdraw armed military personnel allegedly deployed there in violation of agreements Tbilisi has signed, reported. Specifically, the South Ossetian side insists on the withdrawal from the village of Kurta, where pro-Tbilisi unofficial leader Dmitry Sanakoyev has his headquarters, of a detachment of 25 armed men, who allegedly form the nucleus of a proposed 150-man armed guard that will include 50 rapid-reaction personnel. On April 19, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze traveled to Tskhinvali to attend a JCC meeting at which he is expected to call again for the signing of a memorandum on the non-use of force and demilitarization of the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Kazakh Interior Ministry spokesman Bagdat Kojhakhmetov announced on April 18 that police have opened an investigation into the disappearance of a reporter who has been missing for nearly three weeks, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Investigative journalist Oralgaisha Omarshanova was last seen on March 30 after publishing an article on recent violence in the village of Kazatkom in southern Kazakhstan in which several people were killed. In comments to reporters in Astana on April 18, colleague Mukhit Iskakov said Omarshanova had told him that "she had received several threats by telephone," prompting her to purchase "a weapon to protect herself." Omarshanova worked for the "Law and Justice" newspaper and has written a number of stories on leading businessmen and corruption. A group of Kazakh parliamentarians led by Alikhan Baymenov also appealed on April 18 to the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the National Security Committee to "take special charge" of the investigation, Interfax reported. RG

Several thousand opposition demonstrators staged another rally on April 18 in Bishkek in support of demands by leaders of the opposition United Front For A Worthy Future for Kyrgyzstan and the For Reforms movement for the president's resignation, early elections, and constitutional reform, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 2007). In an attempt to calm the situation, President Kurmanbek Bakiev nominated three new judges to the Constitutional Court on April 18. The court appointments could help end a delay over the opening of parliamentary consideration of a set of new constitutional amendments formulated by a special working group led by Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 13 and 18, 2007). RG

Visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs Evan Feigenbaum called on April 18 for all parties engaged in the "political debate" over the future of Kyrgyzstan to "conduct themselves in a way that is peaceful and nonviolent, legal, [and] constitutional," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Interfax reported. In addition to meeting with President Bakiev and parliament speaker Marat Sultanov, Feigenbaum also met with former Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, who now heads the United Front For A Worthy Future opposition alliance. Following the meetings, Feigenbaum stressed that "the people of Kyrgyzstan are free to decide their own future and to resolve the political situation on their own," according to AKIpress. He further added that the United States has no intention of acting as a mediator between the Kyrgyz government and opposition, according to the website. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Dushanbe, Tajik Foreign Minister Hamrokhon Zaripov called on April 18 for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to prioritize a greater economic focus for activities in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Hailing 2007 as a year marking "a qualitatively new stage of cooperation between Tajikistan and the OSCE," Zaripov said that the OSCE should "change its course" by adopting more economic projects, in line with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon's commitment to "radically changing the economic situation in the country" within five years. He also recommended that the OSCE place greater emphasis on the problem of regional water resources, noting that while "over 60 percent of the region's water resources" come from Tajikistan. RG

Justice Ministry official Davlat Sulaymonov announced on April 18 that the ministry has formally appealed to the Supreme Court to suspend the opposition Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan, Avesta reported. Sulaymonov said the ministry "was forced to turn to the court" to seek a six-month suspension after the party failed to submit mandatory financial and political reports and violated the law in other ways. He said that Social Democratic Party leader Rahmatullo Zoirov was informed of the allegations but failed to address the "existing violations." Officials suggest the ban could become permanent if the party does not fulfill its reporting obligations, RFE/RL reported. The party's original registration was revoked in 1999; it was reregistered in December 2002 after addressing an open letter of complaint to the president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 20 and December 23, 2002). RG/LF

Education Minister Alyaksandr Radzkou said on April 18 that there is no need for "European information centers on human rights and democracy" at schools of higher learning in Belarus, Belapan reported. Radzkou was responding to a proposal by opposition politician Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who suggested earlier this week in Strasbourg that "Belarusian young people should have the opportunity to obtain firsthand knowledge about Europe and Europeans, human rights, and democracy." Milinkevich's project, "Democracy, education and Europe in Belarus," would provide for the establishment of such centers at all schools of higher learning in Belarus. Their activities would be coordinated by representatives of the Council of Europe or the EU. "We have a special course -- even at school we study this subject in the framework of the 'Man, Society, State' course," Radzkou said. "We believe that this is enough at the current stage," he added. AM

The Minsk Regional Bar Association on April 18 accepted the resignation of Ihar Rynkevich, a lawyer for imprisoned former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, as a member of the bar, Belapan reported. Rynkevich explained he resigned from the bar because of pressure the authorities exerted on his colleagues, and which he linked to his work for Kazulin. "Before my dismissal, I managed to perform all the missions that Kazulin assigned to me," Rynkevich said, adding that he will continue to represent the interests of imprisoned politicians in other ways. AM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on April 17 in Cardiff that he might suspend his decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada and scheduling early parliamentary elections for May 27 in order to enact a number of bills essential for organizing the elections, Interfax reported on April 18. "We may agree that I suspend the decree as regards the date for the elections. Then...we decide, for instance, that the decree should be suspended for 20 days. We pass amendments to the laws and hold three or four Verkhovna Rada sessions in these 20 days. Once we have built the legislative base, the decree should be resumed," Yushchenko said. His announcement was welcomed by lawmakers of the Party of Regions caucus Vasyl Kyseliov and the caucus's leader Raisa Bohatyriova. Kyseliov and Bohatyriova stressed that political forces should seek a compromise on the basis of the Constitutional Court's ruling. Kyseliov also said that the Verkhovna Rada is prepared to pass bills essential for organizing the early elections. AM

Andriy Shevchenko, a lawmaker from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc in the Verkhovna Rada, said on April 18 that deputies of his faction have signed statements giving up their seats, Interfax reported. Shevchenko did not disclose how many of the caucus members have signed such statements, but said that the move is a signal of readiness to give the Ukrainian president an additional argument to dissolve the Verkhovna Rada. The presidium of the opposition Our Ukraine People's Union also adopted a decision ordering caucus's members to give up their seats. According to the Ukrainian legislation, the work of the Verkhovna Rada becomes illegitimate when 150 deputies vacate their seats. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine caucuses have 125 and 77 deputies, respectively. AM

Michel Platini, the president of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), announced on April 18 that the joint bid by Ukraine and Poland has won the contest for organizing "Euro 2012", the European championships in soccer in 2012, Ukrainian and Polish media reported. The matches will take place in the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv, Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, and Lviv, and the Polish cities of Warsaw, Gdansk, Poznan, and Wroclaw. "The 'Euro 2012' finals will make us better-known in the world and help our capabilities grow. I believe there will be more such victories for the sake of our common European success," Ukrainian President Yushchenko said. AM

A UN commission set up in the wake of a bloody clash between police and demonstrators in February said on April 17 that an interim report found "there is a reasonable suspicion" that the shootings of two protesters were "crimes under Kosovo law," according to a news-conference transcript released by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). The prosecutor leading the probe, Robert Dean, said that "those crimes would be murder and the various types of murder, attempt to commit murder, and inflicting grievous bodily injury." Dean said there is "a substantial basis on which to conclude that Romanian gunners" fired the bullets, since the rubber bullets found in the bodies were "of the type used exclusively by the Romanian gunners." However, Dean said there was too little evidence to bring charges against specific officers. Responsibility for the decision to open fire will be determined in the second phase of the investigation, he said, adding that the deaths were "unnecessary and avoidable." Dean said that "in light of the above, UNMIK, the United Nations, and the government of Romania may consider initiating appropriate procedures for compensation for the surviving family members of those fatally shot and for those seriously wounded." AG

UNMIK's police chief, Richard Monk, said on April 18 that Romanian police used bullets that were at least 12 years out of date, according to a UNMIK transcript of the press conference. Monk said the bullets were smaller and faster than other types, and were manufactured in 1991. Their shelf life was three years. "Probably the rubber hardened over time, which, given the muzzle velocity, would make them even more risky to use at close range," he said. The Romanian police contingent fired 59 rounds during the incident. Neither Monk nor commission head Dean gave their conclusion about what triggered the violence, though police commanders have previously said it began when protesters tried to enter government buildings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12, 2007). The controversy over the events has so far cost Kosova's interior minister and the UNMIK's police chief their jobs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13, 14, and 15, 2007). Local anger was subsequently fueled by Romania's decision to rotate out some of the troops involved in the incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 26 and April 5, 2007). Commenting on Romania's cooperation, Dean said that "up until the point that [the Romanian police officers] left, it appeared to be professional as we wanted it to be." Subsequent protests have passed peacefully, though the protest's organizer, the radical Self-Determination movement, has retained a controversial high profile in its bid to put pressure on the international community to leave Kosova. In the latest incident, on April 13, 19 of its members were arrested as they daubed slogans on the walls of UNMIK's headquarters, local media reported. A UNDP "Early Warning" report issued on April 12 found that perceptions of the incident run along ethnic lines, with Albanians overwhelmingly blaming the UN police and Serbs overwhelming pointing the finger at Self-Determination. AG

Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Hui Liangyu said on April 18 that Beijing opposes any imposed solution for the UN-administered but nominally Serbian region of Kosova, Serbian and Chinese media reported the same day. Hui's statement, made at the end of a one-day trip to Belgrade, essentially reiterates the Chinese line, as does his opposition to a deadline for any talks. The position of China on independence for Kosova is a key concern for Serbia, as it has the power to veto any proposal brought before the UN the Security Council. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in Belgrade at the same time. There is no indication that Lavrov, Hui, and Serbian officials held collective talks, and Lavrov, whose visit is for two days, has yet to make a statement. According to the news agency FoNet, other items on Hui's agenda in Belgrade were agreements on agriculture, on a grant to the Serbian government, and on the supply of Chinese computers. AG

The deputy chairman of the Association of Exiled and Displaced Serbs, Goran Savovic, on April 17 called on Serbian refugees to march toward Kosova's borders on April 25 to draw the UN's attention to their demands that Kosova remain a part of Serbia, the Serbian radio station Kontakt Plus reported on April 17. The demonstration is timed to coincide with a fact-finding mission to the contested region by a delegation from the UN Security Council, which is to decide whether to back a UN-drafted proposal granting Kosova supervised independence from Serbia. The decision to visit Kosova was a victory for Serbian diplomats, but the mission's itinerary has roused local anger, as the delegates will not visit Serbian enclaves in northern Kosova. A moderate Kosovar Serb leader, Oliver Ivanovic, told the Serbian broadcaster B92 on April 18 that the mission will, as a result, be a "tourist" trip. The demonstrators hope that they will encounter the UN mission at a crossing point, Jarinje, Kontakt Radio reported. Serbian reports give no indication how many people are expected to participate; Radio-Television Kosova on April 17 quoted Savovic as saying 250,000 people will be involved, a figure that coincides with estimates of the total number of Serbian refugees given in Serbian reports by a hard-line Kosovar Serb leader, Milan Ivanovic, on April 17. A 2005 estimate by Kosova's statistics office put the number of ethnic Serbs in Kosova at 126,000-140,000, or around 7 percent of the population. The last official census, in 1991, found 194,000 Serbs in Kosova, or roughly 10 percent of the population. AG

The Belgrade-based daily "Glas javnosti" on April 16 highlighted the results of a survey showing a continuing decline in public support for army. However, the newspaper did not give figures for the actual level of support. The statistically representative poll, which "Glas javnosti" conducted itself in the second week in April, found that 19 percent of Serbs said that the main reason for their poorer relationship with the army is Serbia's developing links with NATO. The Western alliance bombed bridges, power plants, as well as military sites across Serbia and Kosova in 1999 to end hostilities in Kosova. Another 33 percent said it was one of a combination of reasons, including poor conditions, leadership, and morale and -- most prominently (31 percent) -- a string of scandals highlighting all these faults. Forty-one percent oppose any role in peace missions abroad. Serbia joined NATO's Partnership for Peace in December 2006. Just under half of Serbs (49.5 percent in a recent Politikum poll) oppose the idea of Serbia joining NATO. "Glas javnosti" dates the decline in the army's popularity to October 2000 and the fall of the regime of former President Slobodan Milosevic. Prior to that, the army, it says, was consistently the state's most popular institution through both the communist and Milosevic eras. AG

The same "Glas javnosti" poll found that 55 percent of Serbs do not believe the army would be able to defend Serbia if it were attacked by Kosovar Albanians. A large number, 41 percent, argue that the combat-readiness of the armed forces has been intentionally weakened. "Glas javnosti," a right-wing paper, was lambasted in mid-March by the Independent Journalists' Association of Serbia for deciding to "relativize" and deny that genocide was committed against Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 15, 2007). AG

A former member of Croatia's parliament, Branimir Glavas, was arrested on April 18 for ordering the murder of 10 ethnic Serb civilians in 1991, according to local and international media. Glavas walked into a police station in Osijek late on April 17 dressed in his general's uniform, a day after a court in the eastern town leveled charges of war crimes against him. Glavas was arrested in October on charges relating to another case but was released in December after doctors ruled a hunger strike had put his life at risk. His renewed detention was ordered on the grounds that the new charges against him are too serious for him to remain free. Glavas is the most senior figure to be accused of war crimes in Croatia itself. Glavas was indicted together with six others, all of whom are currently in detention. Glavas is viewed as the mastermind of the slaughter. The incident is commonly known as the Sellotape case, as the victims' mouths were covered with adhesive tape. Glavas subsequently became a parliament deputy for the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) before being pushed out in 2005, two years after the HDZ gained power. He then set up his own party. One of the key witnesses against Glavas, Vjenceslav Bill, died on April 9 after a long illness. AG

Croatia's leading politicians, President Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, called on April 16 for Australia to extradite a man viewed as the second-most-powerful Serbian paramilitary leader in the war between ethnic Serbs and Croatia in the early 1990s, the news agency Hina reported the same day. Dragan Vasiljkovic was arrested in Australia in January 2006. The calls follow a Reuters report on April 16 that said Australia's Serbian community has raised $416,000 to help Vasiljkovic fight extradition. Sanader said Croatia expects Australia's justice minister to make a decision "soon." Vasiljkovic is accused of torturing and murdering Croatian soldiers and police in separate incidents in June and July 1991 and February 1993, of expelling the local population, and of killing civilians, including a foreign journalist. Citing a 1994 UN report, Hina reported that the only person in the self-declared Republic of Serb Krajina more powerful than Vasiljkovic was the paramilitary leader Zeljko "Arkan" Raznatovic. AG

On April 16, about 50 people left Srebrenica to set up a tent camp in Sarajevo to draw attention to demands that include improved living conditions and a special status for their hometown, local media reported. April 16 was previously set by leaders of the protest movement as the date for a collective exodus from Srebrenica unless their demands were met. The idea of a special status for Srebrenica gained prominence in the wake of a judgment by the International Court of Justice on February 26 that the massacre of thousands of Muslim males in the eastern Bosnian enclave in July 1995 constituted genocide, and was met by an offer from the authorities of the Bosnian Serb entity to designate Srebrenica a special economic zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and 28, and March 2, 7, 15, 21, and 27, 2007). The offer was seen as insufficient by many Bosnian Muslim leaders, who argue that the Republika Srpska is the product of genocide and should be abolished (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1, 5, 13, and 21, 2007). The continued employment by local authorities, including the police, of people suspected of involvement in war crimes is a key grievance of Muslim returnees. Political and community leaders in Srebrenica are threatening to collectively leave the town, to which many only returned from wartime displacement a few years ago; the group currently in Sarajevo expects that the number of protesters will grow in coming days. TV

The highest-ranking American in the Office of the High Representative (OHR), Principal Deputy High Representative Raffi Gregorian, visited Srebrenica on April 14 and met with representatives of returnee associations and local officials, according to local media. In a statement published by the OHR, Gregorian called on the Bosnian authorities and those in the Republika Srpska to "focus additional attention to create a secure environment in Srebrenica and investigate the possible implication in war crimes of police officers and other public officials." The statement also said that the search for missing persons and the identification of human remains needs to be stepped up. Gregorian told the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" on April 16 that Srebrenica's constitutional status as a part of the Republika Srpska should not be touched, and he called on Muslim returnees not to abandon the town, describing the threat as a "cry for help." The OHR is now convening a task force that will propose, in a matter of weeks, ways to address the most pressing grievances of returnees to Srebrenica, including the war crimes issue. TV

Macedonia's parliament on April 17 voted to introduce religion into school curricula, the news agency MIA reported the same day. The bill, which needs the president's signature before it can become law, anticipates a one-year course, in the fifth grade. Students would have a choice between courses of religious instruction (in Orthodox Christianity and Islam only) and the history of religions, followed, in the sixth grade, by a choice between civics and ethics. The classes will be begin in the 2008-09 school year. The majority of Macedonians (66 percent) are listed as Orthodox, with 30 percent being Muslim. The religious divide largely reflects the country's ethnic composition, with Macedonia's various Slavic communities being predominantly Orthodox Christians, while its Albanian minority is primarily Muslim, though some are Catholics. AG

In the first U.S. suggestions that the Iranian government might be helping antigovernment fighters opposing Kabul's and NATO's efforts to bring security to Afghanistan, U.S. officials on April 17 and 18 expressed concern at the possibility that Iran might be moving to support the Taliban.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher said in Brussels on April 18 that Washington has seen what he called "a series of indicators that Iran is maybe getting more involved in an unhealthy way in Afghanistan." He said these included reports of arms supplies to the Taliban and involvement in what he called "political areas."

Boucher's remarks follow a similar assertion on April 17 by the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace. Pace said that Iranian-made mortars and explosives were intercepted in the Afghan province of Kandahar, on their way to the Taliban.

Pace and Boucher avoided linking the arms directly to the Iranian government. Pace said all that is known is that the material was made in Iran and was captured on its way to the Taliban. Pace acknowledged that the United States does not know "with the same clarity [that] we know in Iraq who is delivering those weapons, who is involved."

U.S. officials have frequently accused Iran's Islamist regime of supporting fellow Shi'ite insurgents in neighboring Iraq with sophisticated explosive devices and training. Five Iranian nationals whom the U.S. suspects of being agents are currently being held in Iraq. But this is the first hint from Washington that Iran could be supporting elements now waging a fierce campaign against NATO and Afghan government forces.

Peter Lehr, an expert in Afghan-Iranian relations at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, says that such a major policy shift is unlikely on the part of the Taliban. "There was always a big distrust, or rather hatred, [by the Taliban] of the Shi'ites in their midst," Lehr says. "The Taliban is very Sunnite, and Pashtun, which means it is a very fundamental form of Islam, and they treat Shi'ites as heretics. So I don't see any warming up [of Iranian-Taliban relations] so far."

Lehr says there is the possibility that either the Iranians or the Taliban have decided that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." Such thinking could prompt them to join in common cause against Western forces in Afghanistan. But he finds this scenario pushed "a bit far."

But Lehr also says weapons can be moved around and traded without the knowledge of the government. "There is organized crime, there are the usual smuggling routes, trucks are going from Afghanistan to Iran [with their cargoes] to be exported via Russia to Europe, so why not arms the other way, as a means of paying for the trucks?" Lehr says. "But that does not necessarily mean that the [Iranian] government is behind it."

In Tehran, the Iranian ILNA news agency quoted an unnamed official with Iran's Foreign Ministry as calling Pace's remarks baseless and aimed at obscuring U.S. and British failures in Afghanistan.

For Iran to support the Taliban would also represent a considerable change in policy. When the Taliban were in power in Kabul, Shi'ite Iran threw its weight behind Taliban opponents, such as the warlords of the Northern Alliance, who were the key to ousting the Taliban after the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Iran came close at one point to itself invading Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, because of the pressure being exerted on the Shi'ite Afghan minority by the militia. Tehran's role in helping to establish a UN-backed government in Kabul following the removal of the Taliban regime was also widely praised.

The UN Security Council passed a resolution in March banning all Iranian arms exports. However, Britain's "The Daily Telegraph" reported on April 18 that the Iranian Defense Industries Organization nevertheless has an exhibit of weapons at an international arms fair starting today in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

(Breffni O'Rourke is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

More than 100 journalists gathered in front of the Afghan parliament on April 18 to condemn a police raid on a private television station in Kabul that was ordered by Afghanistan's attorney general, RFE/RL and AP reported the same day. About 50 armed policemen raided the Kabul office of Tolo TV on April 17 after Attorney General Abdul Jabbar Sabet ordered them to "summon" reporter Hamed Haidary for allegedly misquoting him. Tolo aired purported calls by Sabet for the hanging of a number of convicts, although Sabet denies having urged such action and claims to have been quoted out of context. Tolo has stood by its report and replayed video of Sabet's comments throughout the evening of the raid. Protesting journalists called on April 18 for Sabet's suspension. Afghanistan's parliament is expected to debate soon a proposed media law that would make it illegal for journalists to report stories that "affect the stability, national security, and territorial integrity of the country." JC

Police say Taliban militants shot dead the headmaster of a girls' school in the Khost Province in southeastern Afghanistan on April 17, AFP reported the next day. Kundi girls school head Ghulam Haider was killed while on his way to mosque for morning prayers, according to police official Wazir Padshah. The Taliban are also blamed for the shooting death of another headmaster in the Khost's Gorboz district on April 15. Taliban attacks have killed more than 40 Afghan teachers in the past year, Afghan Education Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar said. The majority of attacks on teachers have taken place in southern Afghanistan, where Afghan and NATO-led forces continue to battle a violent Taliban-led insurgency. A recent Human Rights Watch report claims militants are increasingly targeting civilians, noting that roughly 700 civilians have been killed in insurgent-linked violence since the start of 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 17, 2007). JC

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told a crowd in the town of Mehr in the southern Fars Province on April 18 that Iran wants dialogue and friendship with other states but is firm in pursuing its nuclear program, IRNA reported. Iranians will not retreat as much as a "pinhead" over the nuclear program, he added. The UN Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions on Iran since December in a bid to stop the manufacture of nuclear fuel-making activities that could be used to produce a nuclear bomb. "The world's countries should know that [Iranians] wish to use all the potentials of nuclear energy," Ahmadinejad said. VS

Iranian Defense Minister Mustafa Mohammad-Najjar said in Shahr-i Rey, south of Tehran, after a military parade to mark Army Day on April 18 that Iran's armed forces have the "most effective and latest" equipment and hardware, IRNA reported. Mohammad-Najjar told reporters that the parade showed just some of the products made by his ministry and affiliated firms. He said Iranian experts and technicians have, in spite of international sanctions on Iran, "designed and built" hardware for the various armed forces, including electronic warfare, telecommunications, and ballistic equipment. Iran is peaceful but would give a "crushing answer" to any attack, he said. Mohammad-Najjar added that the parade showed Iranians their armed forces' state of readiness and that Iran is "a balancing anchor" in the Middle East. Among the items made by Defense Ministry industries are pilotless planes to be used for reconnaissance and "operations" by the army's naval force, IRNA quoted the head of the army naval force, Sajjad Kuchaki, as saying in Shahr-i Rey on April 18. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has a separate navy. Kuchaki said the aircraft can be launched from ships and have a flying range of "more than 500 kilometers," IRNA reported. VS

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi discussed laws and Iran's privatization program at an evening gathering with 100 legislators in Tehran on April 17, and he said different perspectives on privatization among senior officials are hampering the program's implementation. Iran is to carry out a large-scale privatization drive pursuant to the provisions of Article 44 of the post-1979 constitution, which officials have said has been generally neglected. Shahrudi told the legislators that he thinks government branches have different interpretations of Article 44 and other long-term development policies, and "sometimes they implement policies completely at odds with ratified policies," ISNA reported. He said the three branches of government should hold meetings to "examine" and resolve these differing interpretations, and set the limits of privatization. "Right now we see a sharp difference of opinion among senior state officials on Article 44 policies, and we...must reach a consensus in this regard." He said privatization will also require changing some laws, ISNA reported. VS

The Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced two women's rights activists to imprisonment on April 17 after their convictions on charges relating to their participation in a June 2006 Tehran protest against gender-biased laws (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007), Radio Farda reported on April 18, citing Iranian media. The court gave Fariba Davudi-Mohajer a four-year sentence and Soussan Tahmasebi a two-year term. One year and six months, respectively, of their sentences were mandatory, and the remainder of their terms were suspended. Another participant in the 2006 protest was recently sentenced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 17, 2007). The Tehran Revolutionary Court separately examined charges on April 18 against activist Bahareh Hedayat, who also took part in the 2006 protest, Radio Farda quoted her lawyer Nasrin Sotudeh as saying. Sotudeh told ILNA that Hedayat is charged with acting against national security and disrupting the public peace. She said separately on April 17 that 11 other women's rights activists have in recent days been summoned to a special security branch of the Tehran Revolutionary Court for questioning, Radio Farda reported on April 18. They have probably been questioned over protests in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5 and April 17, 2007). VS

Iranian police chief Ismail Ahmadi-Moqaddam said in Tehran on April 18 that "those" who criticize police for enforcing public decency and Islamic dress codes in Iran should be publicly interrogated or "impeached," "Etemad" daily reported on April 19. He did not specifically identify any politicians or officials, but some politicians have apparently urged "cultural" work -- presumably education and publicity -- as a more effective means of promoting morals and piety in Iran. Iran's Islamic laws require Iranians to behave modestly in public, and especially require women to wear headscarves or body-length veils. Ahmadi-Moqaddam said critics of police enforcement are trying to garner votes for parliamentary elections, due in about 10 months. "Who do you think you are?" he asked a public audience. He said police critics were sleeping and have "now woken up and are talking out of turn." "Moral security" is a matter of national security, Ahmadi-Moqaddam said. He added that police confiscated 4 million liters of illegal alcoholic drinks in the Persian year to March, and this, he added, was "between 25 and 30 percent" of the amount smuggled into Iran, "Etemad" reported. VS

A series of bombings in Baghdad on April 18 killed up to 189 Iraqis and wounded more than 250, in the deadliest day of violence since the start of the Baghdad security plan, international media reported. The worst attack occurred in the predominantly Shi'ite Al-Sadriyah district in central Baghdad, where a car bomb exploded near a marketplace, killing at least 140 people and wounding more than 150. Local officials said the market was recently rebuilt after being destroyed by a bombing on February 3, which also killed more than 130 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 5, 2007). Elsewhere in Baghdad, a car bomb at a security checkpoint in Al-Sadr City killed 35 and wounded 45; in the Al-Karradah neighborhood, a car bomb near a hospital killed 11; and in Al-Shurja, two people were killed when a bomb exploded on a minibus. In an interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television, Farid Sabri of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party said the attacks are an indication that the Baghdad security plan has failed. "The problem is it is not just a matter of security, it is a matter of political reform, of security reform, of reconciliation," Sabri said. "The rebuilding of the microeconomics, the restoring of services for the Iraqi people, all this has to really accommodate and come with the security measures," he added. SS

British forces formally handed over security responsibility for the southern Maysan Governorate to Iraqi troops on April 18, international media reported the same day. Speaking during a handover ceremony in Al-Amarah, Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i said the handover is an important step that will eventually lead to the gradual withdrawal of foreign forces. "Maysan...will be followed by the three Kurdish governorates, a month from now," al-Rubay'i said. "After that, Karbala and Wasit [governorates]. Then it will be governorate by governorate until we achieve [this transfer] before the end of the year," he added. Speaking in London, British Defense Minister Des Browne described the handover as a milestone. "The progress made in transferring responsibility of these governorates demonstrates the sheer hard work and dedication of the Iraqis, the U.K. forces, and our coalition partners in southern Iraq," Browne said. The handover of Maysan leaves British forces in control of only Al-Basrah Governorate. Last July, British forces handed over Al-Muthanna Governorate, while Dhi Qar Governorate was handed over in September, and Al-Najaf was transferred to Iraqi control in December. SS

The two-day international conference on the humanitarian crisis in Iraq organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) ended on April 18 in Geneva with an agreement that more needs to be done to assist Iraq's growing refugee problem, the UNHCR said in a statement. "You have underlined the urgency of meeting the humanitarian needs of some 1.9 million internally displaced persons inside Iraq and 2 million refugees abroad, especially of women and children, confirming international recognition of the gravity of the situation," UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres said. He also said the nearly 450 delegates welcomed the approval of a strategic framework that calls for expanding humanitarian assistance inside Iraq. Humanitarian work in Iraq has been difficult due to the poor security situation. In addition, Guterres welcomed Iraq's announcement to pledge $25 million to assist displaced Iraqis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 2007). SS

Iraqi leaders met in Dubai on April 18 to begin discussing a draft of Iraq's oil law, Reuters reported the same day. "This is one of a series of technical workshops that we are holding to discuss the oil and gas law," Iraqi Oil Minister Husayn al-Shahristani said. On February 26, the Iraqi cabinet approved a draft oil and gas law, which needs to be ratified by parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27, 2007). Earlier this month, al-Shahristani said it was "achievable to pass the [oil] law within two months since all political parties are in favor". Meanwhile, the "Financial Times" reported on April 18 that Iraq could have oil reserves almost twice as large as previously thought. The British daily said that an independent survey by the consultant firm IHS found that Iraq's western desert might hold an additional 100 billion barrels of oil, theoretically making the country the second-largest source of oil after Saudi Arabia. SS

Nine Kurdish political parties called in a joint statement on April 14 for the implementation without delay of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, "Hawlati" reported on April 18. They said that the Kurdish people will otherwise ask for a referendum under a UN mandate. Saman Majid, a member of the Democrats Party of Kurdistan, said: "We believe that Article 140 will not be implemented on time; therefore, all of us should have a stance. Our stance in this regard is to warn [Prime Minister] al-Maliki's government." Article 140 calls for a three-step process of normalization, a census, and finally a referendum, to determine whether Kirkuk is to be integrated into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. The referendum is scheduled to be carried out by the end of 2007. The statement also condemned "Turkish threats and intervention in the Kirkuk issue." The nine parties are the Kurdistan Toilers Party, the Democrats Party of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Solution Party, the Kurdistan National Party, the Kurdistan Liberation Party, the Democratic Member of the People of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Leftists Party, the Kurdistan Independent Labor Party, and the Communist Union of Kurdistan. SS

The U.S. military announced in a statement on April 18 that it has killed one Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist and detained eight others who were suspected of being involved in chlorine-bomb attacks. One terrorist was killed and five others were arrested in Al-Taji, while three others were detained in Mosul. "This capture disrupts a threat to the people of Iraq as well as coalition forces," U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver said. "Terrorists continue to disregard the safety of all Iraqis, and we will persist in dismantling their networks that undermine the security of the Iraqi people." SS