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Newsline - April 8, 2003

U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice met briefly in the Kremlin on 7 April with President Vladimir Putin, RIA-Novosti reported, citing presidential press spokesman Aleksei Gromov. Rice reportedly conveyed to Putin a message from U.S. President George W. Bush in which Bush expressed his desire for the further development of bilateral relations. The purpose of Rice's visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003) was to coordinate the U.S. and Russian positions as the U.S.-led military operation against the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein enters its final phase, NTV commented on 7 April. Although there was no official statement concerning the topics discussed during Rice's meetings with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, and other senior officials, NTV reported that her most important meeting was with presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin. Washington believes that Voloshin, who shuns publicity, was the main force behind Putin's efforts to develop closer relations with the United States following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks there, NTV reported. Voloshin traveled to Washington shortly before the beginning of the military operation in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003), where he was received at the White House and reportedly presented with some tempting economic proposals, especially in the oil sector, NTV speculated. The channel further commented that Rice's visit could be a response to Putin's comments that Russia does not want to see U.S. setbacks in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2003) and that Rice intended to confirm the offers made to Voloshin in Washington and to attempt to restore the amicable personal relations established by Bush and Putin before the Iraq crisis. VY

Russian Ambassador to Iraq Vladimir Titarenko told journalists in Damascus on 7 April that U.S. forces deliberately fired on a convoy that was evacuating him and his staff from Baghdad, RTR and ORT reported. He said that all the bullets found in the vehicles and those removed from a wounded Russian diplomat were fired from U.S. M-16s. RTR military correspondent Aleksandr Minakov, who is a retired lieutenant colonel and who was riding in the motorcade at the time of the 6 April incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003), speculated that the U.S. troops fired on the motorcade in order to clear the way for a U.S. tank column that was proceeding along the road. This is standard military practice, Minakov said. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said that the United States had been in contact with the Russian government concerning the ambassador's motorcade. "We provided our military with detailed information about the vehicles and the personnel involved, as well as the route that they planned to follow," Reeker said. However, he claimed, the convoy took a different route from the one about which they had informed Washington. VY

Controversial military correspondent Vladislav Shurygin, who is believed to be the person writing about the Iraqi operation in many Russian publications under the name of "Ramzai," said on 7 April that U.S. troops might have suspected that the ambassador's convoy was attempting to smuggle pieces of secret U.S. military equipment out of Iraq, TV-Tsentr reported. Shurygin said that among the Russian journalists working at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar, there are rumors that Russian intelligence agents working out of the Baghdad embassy had intercepted and jammed U.S. military communications, much to the displeasure of U.S. military authorities. "U.S. intelligence officers have many questions for their counterparts at the Russian Embassy," Shurygin said. VY

Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) said that the Russian diplomats themselves are to blame for the incident, RosBalt reported on 7 April. "They chose the wrong time and the wrong place by being the last ones to leave Baghdad," Zhirinovskii said. Zhirinovskii claimed that he spoke to people at the embassy in Baghdad when he was last there and that he was surprised that they intended to go to Syria, which is a seven-hour drive from Baghdad, instead of going to Iran, which is a two-hour drive. Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that the motorcade deviated from the route agreed to with the U.S. government and that this put the diplomats in danger. "At the same time, I cannot exclude that it was a U.S. provocation," Margelov said. VY

Retired General Aleksandr Rutskoi, who was former President Boris Yeltsin's vice president from 1991-93, said that Russia should cancel its military-reform plans and instead begin improving its military capabilities, TV-Tsentr reported on 7 April. "Anyone can see that we must forget the demagoguery of armed-forces reform and begin to restore our defensive and offensive might," Rutskoi said. This is the only possible conclusion to be drawn from events in Iraq, and the Russian leadership will see this, Rutskoi predicted. VY

In the same interview, Rutskoi expressed surprise that Iraq was so ill-prepared to defend itself against the U.S.-led military coalition despite its militant rhetoric. He said he believes that Iraqi President Hussein thought until the last moment that he would be able to forestall a military operation with the help of "world public opinion." Speaking on the same program, journalist Shurygin said that Iraq made a mistake by concentrating on defense and completely handing over the initiative to coalition forces. He said the Iraqi leadership was most surprised by the coalition's rapid advance from Karbala to the outskirts of Baghdad and its swift seizure of the city's international airport. VY

Sakha (Yakutia) Republic Prosecutor-General Nikolai Polyatinskii traveled on 7 April to the village of Sydyi Bal to launch a criminal investigation into a school fire that killed 22 pupils and a teacher and injured 10 other children, reported. President Putin pledged all necessary assistance "both to the leadership of Yakutia and to the victims' families directly," and a fact-finding team led by Deputy Emergency Situations Minister Valerii Vostrotin left Moscow to inspect the site. The Yakutia administration also dispatched a trauma specialist, a neurosurgeon, a psychotherapist, a burns specialist, and medications. The fire at the school broke out on the morning of 7 April in the school, and by the time firefighters arrived from the district center of Vilyuisk, which is 29 kilometers away, the two-story, wooden structure had burned to the ground. SS

The Transport Ministry has tightened measures aimed to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) into the country from Asia, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 April. Teams of doctors in protective garb are boarding all freight and passenger trains from the Far East, inspecting the cars and checking the condition of train crews and passengers. After they reach the yards, trains are disinfected. Sanitary stations have been set up at major terminals, stations, and small railroad stops throughout the country. Special "sanitary railroad sidings" have been allocated, and hospitals are prepared to examine passengers with potential symptoms of SARS and to treat victims. A ministry official said every conductor has instructions to isolate any passenger suspected of carrying the virus and to quarantine the car until specialists arrive. SS

A pensioner who had a lung removed due to cancer in 1999 has sued a Japanese-owned cigarette subsidiary in St. Petersburg for 2.5 million rubles ($80,000) in damages, reported on 7 April. Pensioner Ivan Prokopenko contends that smoking the Belomorkanal cigarettes made by the Petro factory caused his cancer. He is also arguing that the mandatory health warning on cigarette packaging is "barely noticeable" and fails to provide full information about the possible consequences of smoking. An expert panel appointed by the court found no link between Prokopenko's cancer and Petro's product, noting that he smoked Bulgarian cigarettes as well and spent much of his life working in unhealthy factory conditions. Prokopenko has requested a new panel on the grounds that the first one didn't include an oncologist. "The American fashion of suing cigarette manufacturers has reached Russia," comments. "Experts believe the St. Petersburg law firm representing the pensioner is trying to make a name for itself, and ideally, to set a precedent that would serve as the basis for thousands of similar lawsuits." SS

Billboards and other outdoor advertising space in the capital will cost 30 percent more beginning 1 July, RIA-Novosti reported on 7 April. The fee increase, which was announced by City Advertising Committee Chairman Vladimir Makarov, was still less than the 50 percent hike originally planned, which was to go into effect at the end of April. That amount, which would have raised the billboard rate from 9,800 rubles ($313) to 14,700 rubles per square meter, provoked a squall of protests from advertisers and advertising agencies, who claimed their average net profit from a typical billboard would be cut by half to $38. The committee said the increase is designed to "make advertising operators shift from the proliferation of advertising media to lowering the cost of their product and introducing new technologies in the advertising business." SS

In a survey commissioned by Moscow advertising agencies, 51 percent of respondents said they change channels or leave the room during television advertisements, reported on 7 April. The poll, conducted by Komkon-media, indicated that another 33 percent leave the channel on during the commercials but distract themselves with other activities. Only 16 percent, mostly children and pensioners, watch the entire advertising block. Experts suggested that kids find the commercials entertaining, while the elderly often have old television sets without remote controls and find it hard to get up to change channels. SS

Riding the crest of high global oil prices, Russia's trade surplus in January and February jumped 57 percent over the same period last year to $11.8 billion, as exports rose 40.9 percent to $18.7 billion, Interfax reported on 7 April. Foreign trade overall increased by 34.7 percent to $25.6 billion, according to the State Customs Committee. According to the Central Bank, the nation's foreign-currency coffers grew by $2.5 billion to $51.8 billion in March, a 4.6 percent gain. Since 1 January, Russia has added $7.7 billion to its gold and foreign-currency reserves, which now total $55.5 billion. SS

Five Chechen police officers were killed when their car drove over a mine hidden under a manhole cover in Grozny during the afternoon on 7 April, Reuters and Russian agencies reported. The blast occurred not far from the site of an explosion earlier the same day that caused no injuries. LF

More than 2,000 women congregated on 7 April outside the Constitutional Court building in Yerevan to express their support for defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian and to demand that the results of the February-March ballot be annulled, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In a written statement, they also demanded that women be granted greater representation in government and parliament. LF

Lawyers for Demirchian completed on 7 April their presentation to the Constitutional Court of arguments that the elections were marred by legal, procedural, and constitutional violations and should therefore be annulled, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003). Constitutional Court Chairman Gagik Haroutiunian said the court will sit daily in order to deliver a ruling on the appeal by the legally stipulated 16 April deadline. LF

The Russian natural-gas exporter Itera has increased gas supplies to Armenia to the normal level of 6 million cubic meters per day after cutting them by half last week, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 7 April, quoting Armenian government sources. The reason for the reduction in supplies remains unclear, but Armenian officials have suggested it might be a reflection of disagreements between Itera and Russia's Gazprom. LF

Ambassador Roy Reeve, who heads the OSCE office in Yerevan, said on 7 April that Armenia should adopt as soon as possible a law providing for the creation of the office of ombudsman, Noyan Tapan reported. Of the post-Soviet states that are members of the Council of Europe, Armenia is the only one that has not enacted such legislation. LF

Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, whom the opposition Democratic Congress selected last month as its candidate for the presidential election in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003), told journalists in Baku on 7 April that the Democratic Congress has set about drafting the program of an election alignment named New Azerbaijan that comprises the nine parties aligned within the Democratic Congress, Turan reported. Gambar also expressed qualified approval for the proposal by human rights activists Leyla Yunus that the opposition should select and support a single presidential candidate who would be not a representative of any political party but a member of the intelligentsia. Yunus made that proposal in an open letter published in the independent newspaper "Zerkalo" on 5 April. Writing for on 8 April, a commentator predicted that while most opposition party leaders have expressed support for Yunus's proposal, none of them is likely to withdraw from the ballot in favor of a joint candidate from the intelligentsia. LF

The Turkish government has asked Azerbaijan to provide unspecified "assistance" in providing accommodation for any refugees from Iraq who enter Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan's Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov told Turan on 7 April. Sharifov also said he does not know whether international organizations have formally invited Azerbaijan to participate in postwar reconstruction in Iraq. LF

Romanian Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu assured his visiting Azerbaijani counterpart Colonel General Safar Abiev in Bucharest on 3 April that Romania will act as advocate for Azerbaijan in that country's bid for NATO membership, Turan reported. Abiev also met with Romanian President Ion Iliescu to discuss the development of bilateral military cooperation and bilateral relations in general, and with the Romanian parliament's Committee on Defense and Security Issues, according to "Baku Today" on 6 April, as cited by Groong. LF

Eduard Shevardnadze said on 7 April during his regular Monday radio interview that he intends to head the recently established For a New Georgia election bloc, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003). He again affirmed that he will not permit the constitution to be amended to enable him to seek a third presidential term when his second term expires in 2005. Speaking at a press briefing later on 7 April, Shevardnadze said he doubts any major progress in resolving the Abkhaz conflict will occur before the 2005 presidential election, although he anticipates that Georgian displaced persons will return to Abkhazia by then, Caucasus Press reported. Shevardnadze also said that the 220th anniversary of the 1783 signing of the Treaty of Georgievsk, under which the kingdom of Eastern Georgia became a part of the tsarist Russian empire, will not be celebrated as lavishly as the bicentenary, Interfax reported. As first secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia, Shevardnadze presided over those bicentenary celebrations, during which the treaty was hailed as a progressive move that heralded the eternal friendship of the Georgian and Russian peoples. LF

President Shevardnadze also said at his 7 April press briefing that the bilateral agreement on military cooperation with the United States that the Georgian parliament recently ratified does not provide for the establishment of U.S. military bases in Georgia, and there are no grounds for Moscow to feel threatened by that agreement, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze likewise denied that Tbilisi plans to send to Iraq any of the Georgian commandos trained under the U.S. "Train and Equip" program, ITAR-TASS reported. He said those battalions will be used in "antiterrorism" operations on Georgian territory. But in his radio address earlier on 7 April, Shevardnadze said he has offered to send Georgian specialists to Iraq to participate in postwar reconstruction, ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze noted that prior to the collapse of the USSR, hundreds of Georgian engineers and construction workers worked in Iraq and know that country well. LF

A court in Batumi has acquitted two air-traffic controllers charged with negligence that resulted in the crash of a Russian military aircraft near Batumi in October 2000 with the loss of over 80 lives, Caucasus Press reported on 7 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 October 2000). The court attributed the crash to pilot error and negligence on the part of air-traffic controllers in Tbilisi and ruled that the Russian Defense Ministry should pay compensation to the families of the victims. LF

In a 7 April statement addressed to President Vladislav Ardzinba, the Abkhaz government offered to resign, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The statement explains that offer in terms of the "aggravated political situation," noting that "certain political powers try to show their real face and achieve their evil aims that endanger the future of the young state." Abkhaz Prime Minister Gennadii Gagulia admitted last week that the unrecognized republic is "in crisis," but at the same time vowed that his government would not resign. The opposition movement Amtsakhara, which represents veterans of the 1992-93 war, had demanded its resignation in late March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March and 1 April 2003). Interfax on 7 April quoted unnamed sources in Sukhum as commenting that Ardzinba may reject the offered resignation. LF

Also on 7 April, the opposition political movement Aitaira (Revival), most of whose candidates were barred from contesting last year's parliamentary election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2002), issued a statement calling for a meeting between President Ardzinba, parliament and representatives of all political parties to discuss ways to improve the political situation and tackle urgent social and economic problems, Caucasus Press reported on 8 April. The statement warned that "simply reshuffling the government will not help." It also called for amending the law on the president and the law on parliamentary elections to ensure that future ballots are fair and democratic. Aitaira warned that if its requests are ignored, the population is likely to take to the streets. Amtsakhara reportedly backs Aitaira's demands, according to Caucasus Press on 8 April. LF

Nine men, all of them sentenced to death, escaped on 7 April from Sukhum Prison after allegedly bribing guards, Caucasus Press reported. They include one Georgian guerrilla and four Chechen fighters from field commander Ruslan Gelaev's detachment captured during the abortive October 2001 incursion into the Kodori Gorge. The remaining four were convicted in connection with the September 1995 murder of Abkhaz Deputy Premier Yurii Voronov, according to (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 13 September 1995 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2000). The men are reportedly not armed. Prime Minister Gagulia commented at a cabinet meeting that "somebody was bribed and somebody betrayed us" in a move he claimed was intended to compound instability in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 8 April. LF

Gulam Mazanov, who represents former Energy, Industry, and Trade Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov, told journalists in Astana on 7 April that Abliyazov will send an appeal for a pardon to President Nursultan Nazarbaev within the next 10 days, and Interfax reported. Abliyazov, a co-founder in late 2001 of the opposition movement Democratic Choice for Kazakhstan (DVK), was sentenced to six years' imprisonment in July 2002 on charges of abuse of office and financial crimes that most observers consider politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2002). He is serving that sentence in a severe regime camp where conditions are so harsh that his supporters fear his life is in danger. Mazanov also appealed to the media not to publish materials about Abliyaov that are untrue, singling out the opposition newspaper "Sol-Dat" which, Mazanov said, has printed what it claims are Abliyazov's recollections. Those materials shed light on the background to the creation of DVK and the events that preceded Abliyazov's arrest. LF

On a three day visit to Astana and Almaty on 3-6 April, Leszek Miller met with Kazakhstan's President Nazarbaev, Prime Minister Imangaly Tasmagambetov, and the speakers of both chambers of Kazakhstan's parliament to discuss bilateral relations and ways to expand economic cooperation, Russian media reported. Miller told journalists after his meeting with Nazarbaev on 4 April that they discussed the planned Odessa-Brody-Gdansk oil pipeline, in which Kazakhstan expressed an interest, ITAR-TASS reported. Tasmagambetov encouraged Polish businessmen who accompanied Miller to invest in Kazakhstan's chemical and pharmaceutical sectors. Trade turnover between the two countries in 2002 amounted to $400 million, almost double the level for 2001. Miller also met with representatives of Kazakhstan's 48,000 Polish community. LF

Petr Svoik, one of the most prominent opposition leaders in Kazakhstan, has welcomed President Nazarbaev's proposed changes to the country's election legislation, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 7 April. Svoik, a member of the Political Council of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan group, was quoted as saying the government can no longer ignore proposals from the OSCE and the opposition on improving election legislation in order to avoid falsification. Svoik also found "correct and reasonable" Nazarbaev's proposal that political parties should have the exclusive right to nominate candidates for the Majilis, the lower house of parliament. "Politics is the domain of political parties, not trade unions," Svoik said. But whether the president's proposals will be realized without the government finding a way to preserve its ability to manipulate elections is another matter, Svoik told Interfax. BB

Kazakhstan's Ombudsman Bolat Baykadamov gave an account on 7 April of the work of his office in the first six months of its existence, and "Kazakhstan Today" reported that day. According to Baykadamov, his office has received 226 inquiries have been received since October 2002; 159 of them in the first three months of 2003. In 11 cases, the office was able successfully to respond to complaints of civil rights violations. However, Baykadamov was quoted as saying that most cases concern social issues, particularly pensions and social benefits. His office has also received complaints about law enforcement agencies and about failures to comply with court decisions. A September 2002 presidential decree mandated the creation of the ombudsman's office, which is authorized to investigate individual cases and make recommendations concerning their resolution and also to monitor the human rights situation in the country and conduct educational work. Baykadamov was quoted as saying that sometimes he must reject appeals. His office has limited authority, he said, but so far it has been adequate to resolve many of the complaints that have come to it. Branch offices are expected to be opened in the oblasts "in the near future." BB

Askar Akaev told journalists on 5 April that the constitutional reforms approved by a 2 February referendum have caused a reduction in political and social tensions, Interfax reported on 7 April. Akaev laid most of the blame for those tensions on the political elite, which he said is greedy for power. Akaev specifically mentioned that parliamentary deputies want more influence over the government and the judicial system. Asserting that political stability has been achieved in Kyrgyzstan, Akaev was quoted as saying now it is time to concentrate on rapid economic development. Traditional industries such as machine building are no longer profitable, and the country needs to develop new ones, such as telecommunications, he said. BB

President Akaev's appointment of former Prosecutor-General Chubak Abyshkaev to head the Chu Oblast court is drawing sharp criticism from the opposition, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 7 April, citing sources in the Kyrgyz human rights community have reported. Abyshkaev was dismissed amid allegations that he was implicated in the March 2002 police shooting of demonstrators in southern Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 October 2002). Abyshkaev insists that he was not involved, but the opposition sees the Abyshkaev appointment as evidence of the government's bad faith. BB

Zuura Umetalieva, a prominent human rights campaigner and civil-society advocate in Kyrgyzstan, has been appointed to represent the country's ombudsman in Naryn Oblast, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 7 April. Umetalieva has played a major role in oblast politics, helping to found the Naryn branch of the Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan in 1990 and later joining the Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party. Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu was leader of the party until he gave up his membership after his selection in November 2002 to the newly created ombudsman post. BB

In his annual report on the state of the nation to a joint session of Tajikistan's parliament on 4 April, Imomali Rakhmonov said that economic independence is the foundation of true independence and gave his assessment of the country's economic development, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 7 April. Rakhmonov called for the development of an information policy and a security concept for the country, and defended the proposed constitutional amendments that are to be put to a referendum in June. According to Rakhmonov, growth is being reported in all branches of the economy, and the country must maintain a growth rate of at least 6 percent and keep the inflation rate at no more than 7 percent. A top priority, he said, is finding investors to finance the construction of hydroelectric facilities, which he expects will provide the basis for Tajikistan's economic independence. A large share of government investment in 2003 will go to education and health, Rakhmonov promised, adding that poor families are to receive government subsidies to help them cope with steep increases in electricity and gas prices this year. Electricity prices are reported to have risen 200 percent since the beginning of the year and gas prices have risen 30 percent, causing major hardships in a country where most of the population lives in poverty. Speaking about the proposed constitutional amendments, Rakhmonov claimed that no other country limits its president to a single term, but he did not intend that the dropping of the constitutional restriction on the number of terms a president may serve should provide the basis for a personality cult. BB

Many Turkmen students studying abroad are having to return home because their parents have been forbidden to buy convertible currency at reasonable rates in order to finance their studies, reported on 8 April. This outcome was expected when President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree in February prohibiting the purchase of foreign currency at subsidized rates to finance private study abroad. The report quotes observers inside Turkmenistan who said the move was motivated less by economic considerations than by Niyazov's desire to further isolate the country from the outside world. An unnamed source was quoted as saying that Niyazov told the Council of Ministers meeting at which he announced the measure that there is no reason to help students studying abroad privately, because they had lost their national spirit and there was no telling what they would be like when they returned. BB

The United Civic Party (AHP) has accused Belarusian authorities of exerting pressure on AHP activists through tax inspectors, Belapan reported on 7 April. Nearly 40 AHP activists have been subject to tax inspections in the past two months in what the AHP believes to be a "politically authorized campaign in order to exert psychological pressure" on those who make financial contributions to the party. "AHP members are [being] required to provide information on financial matters that are already six years old," the AHP said in a statement. AHP leader Anatol Lyabedzka also fell victim to a tax inspection that discovered his failure in 1997 to pay some 840 Belarusian rubles in income tax. Lyabedzka now must pay a penalty amounting to 133,000 Belarusian rubles ($65). JM

President Leonid Kuchma has appointed Ivan Tkalenko as minister for ties with the Verkhovna Rada, Interfax reported on 8 April, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kuchma created this post last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). Tkalenko was a lawmaker of the Ukraine's Regions caucus in the preceding parliament. JM

President Kuchma on 7 April instructed the government to increase pensions in Ukraine, UNIAN reported. Speaking at a meeting with regional executive leaders in Kyiv, Kuchma said such an increase should be based on a "real economic foundation." The State Statistics Committee reported the same day that Ukraine's industrial output in the first three months of 2003 grew by 10.7 percent, year-on-year. JM

UNIAN reported on 7 April that sham posters and leaflets apparently intended to discredit Our Ukraine head Viktor Yushchenko have appeared in Rivne, northwestern Ukraine, and the Vasylkiv Raion of Kyiv Oblast. The posters in Rivne depict Yushchenko with Kuchma at a rally and bear the inscription: "Look, father, the fascists are coming." The leaflets in Kyiv Oblast are in the form of Yushchenko's open letters to voters, in which he purportedly pledges to distribute land among private farmers after he becomes president. "The mass scale of similar actions and the audacity with which they are conducted, as well as the lack of any positive results in investigating [who was responsible for] them, testify to the fact that this is being done with the knowledge of the authorities," Our Ukraine lawmaker Serhiy Oleksiyuk commented. In mid-February, unidentified people and/or institutions disseminated in several Ukrainian regions a bogus letter "signed" by Yushchenko and touching on his relations with opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 25 February 2003). JM

Parliament on 7 April gave Res Publica Chairman Juhan Parts the powers to form a new government by a vote of 60 to 27, with six abstentions, BNS reported. In a speech prior to the vote, he outlined 10 main points that will serve as the goals of the coalition formed with the Reform Party and the People's Union. The first three points were assuring good education for all children, increasing public security, and lowering the tax burden by increasing the size of the monthly tax-exempt income and lowering the income-tax rate. Parts will present his cabinet choices to President Arnold Ruutel, who will likely appoint them officially on 10 April. According to the coalition agreement, the Reform Party will select five ministers, while Res Publica and the People's Union will select four each. The parties' nominees were announced earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2003). SG

The parliament faction and board of the New Era party decided to nominate its recently elected parliament deputy Ingrida Circene, 48, as a candidate for health minister on 7 April, LETA reported. Prime Minister Einars Repse fired Health Minister Aris Auders in March after the Corruption Prevention Bureau decided to initiate a criminal case against Auders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2003). Parliament is expected to officially approve the nomination of Circene, who is a gynecologist by profession, later this week. Her seat in parliament will be taken over by Olita Augustovska, an adviser to the New Era secretary-general. SG

Leni Bjorklund paid a short visit to Vilnius on 7 April, primarily to hold talks with her Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevicius, ELTA reported. They discussed bilateral military relations, cooperation in the Baltic region, and international security matters. Sweden is among the countries that have provided the most military assistance to Lithuania in terms of both equipment and training. It has donated three radar systems for sea and coastal surveillance as well as weapons, ammunition, and other supplies to equip three battalions. Some 80 Lithuanian officers have completed studies at Swedish institutions since 1993. Although Sweden does not plan to become a member of NATO in the near future, it has pledged to continue to develop mutual cooperation within Partnership for Peace projects after Lithuania becomes a NATO member. Bjorklund also met with parliament's National Security and Defense Committee Chairman Alvydas Sadeckas and other committee members and visited Lithuania's Crisis Management Center. SG

Jacek Kaczmarek from the public Polish Radio and Marcin Firlej from commercial TVN 24 news were apprehended by armed Iraqis near Kerbala, south of Baghdad, on 7 April and spent a night in captivity, Polish media reported. Maciej Woroch, a journalist for private TVN television who managed to escape the Iraqis, told Polish Radio that the convoy of cars that they were driving in accidentally entered an area controlled by Iraqi forces. On 8 April, Kaczmarek and Firlej returned to relative safety with coalition forces. They told TVN 24 on 8 April that one of their captors returned their car keys, allowing them to go free after U.S. aircraft began to bombard the area. JM

President Aleksander Kwasniewski told Polish Radio on 8 April that he does not regret his decision to send Polish troops to Iraq. "I am convinced that we have taken a politically proper decision that Poland should be a member of this antiterrorist alliance and cooperate with the U.S.," Kwasniewski said. "In the long run, it will be beneficial to us, as this builds Poland's credibility and gives us a sense of security.... I am convinced that if, in this complex world not free of threats, Poland would have to count on someone apart from itself, then we could count on those allies with which we are together now." Poland has sent some 200 troops to Iraq and the Persian Gulf region. JM

The Bohemian and Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (CMKOS), the Czech Republic's largest alliance of labor groups, launched a "get out the vote" drive on 8 April aimed at securing a "yes" vote in the June referendum on EU accession, CTK reported. CMKOS unions hope membership will bring wage growth, increases in productivity and a 30 percent rise in purchasing power within three years, the agency noted. The group also argues that the implementation of EU directives will ensure labor-management parity in the future. The CMKOS campaign will include regional meetings and the publication of an "Employee's Guide to the European Union." AH

Czech cabinet ministers on 7 April voted to send some 3 million crowns' (roughly $102,000) worth of chemical-protection suits and equipment to Turkey within the framework of NATO, CTK reported. The shipment comes in addition to the previous delivery of 5 million crowns' worth of similar supplies, plus tents, blankets, and other humanitarian goods, and is a response to Turkish fears of fallout from the conflict in neighboring Iraq, the news agency said. AH

A local court in western Slovakia on 7 April issued an international arrest warrant for Mikulas Cernak, CTK reported, increasing the chances the reputed organized-crime boss will be extradited to complete a sentence for racketeering and related charges. A Slovak Justice Ministry spokesman confirmed the warrant was issued, and said the Bratislava government will "address, as quickly as possible, the Czech Justice Ministry over his extradition to Slovakia." Slovak authorities have 40 days to file their extradition request with their Czech counterparts, CTK reported. Cernak was captured by Czech police on 5 April in Prague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003). AH

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 7 April told the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Slovak parliament that his government will not sign the bilateral treaty on the implementation of the Status Law outside Hungary's borders, the Hungarian daily "Nepszabadsag" reported the next day. Kukan said that while the Slovak Foreign Ministry is still studying the draft amendment to the Status Law that was sent by Hungary on 14 March, there are still elements in the changed documents that are discriminatory and therefore unacceptable to Slovakia. He also said that if the Hungarian parliament chooses to pass the draft law despite Slovakia's objections, his government will take appropriate measures to prevent its implementation. MSZ

Parliament on 7 April unanimously passed what has been dubbed the "glass pockets" legislative package, which seeks to make the use of public funds more transparent, Hungarian television reported. One essential element of the program is expanding the role and authority of the State Audit Office, which will now be authorized to follow the path of public funds, including within private companies that have concluded contracts with state or local governmental bodies. Contractors in the private sector also will no longer be allowed to argue that the state contracts with which they have been entrusted constitute "business secrets." The law clearly states that all government contracts involving sums over 5 million forints ($22,000) must be made public. MSZ

Hungary's Romany Radio, which operates in Budapest under the name "Radio C," stopped its broadcasting of everything but music on 7 April due to a lack of financing, "Magyar Hirlap" reported the next day. The station released a statement on its website ( that says it does not have the money to cover the cost related to its news and cultural programming. In February, the station successfully applied for 6 million forints ($26,000) in state funding, but has yet to receive any of that funding, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Radio C received international attention when it began broadcasting in October 2001. According to a survey carried out last year, some 60 percent of Budapest's Roma are regular listeners of Radio C, the daily reported. MSZ

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 7 April that a "certain number of current and former politicians" were directly or indirectly involved in the recent assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003). "The killing of a prime minister cannot be simply the act of a criminal group," he added. Elsewhere, unnamed "sources close to the murder investigation" told a regular briefing session of Belgrade journalists that recently arrested former Croatian Serb leader Borisav Mikelic introduced two leading members of the criminal "Zemun clan" -- Milorad Lukovic "Legija" and Dusan Spasojevic "Siptar" -- to two top aides of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica -- General Aco Tomic and Rade Bulatovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2002). The contacts allegedly began at an unspecified time during the past two years. For its part, Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia said in a statement on 7 April that the government is using the investigation to side with one group of criminals against another and to maintain its hold on power. PM

Legislators opened discussions on proposed anticrime legislation on 8 April, dpa reported. The new measures will permit authorities to detain suspects for a longer period of time without pressing charges. The proposed legislation also provides for tougher penalties for illegal possession of weapons or explosives, and more closely regulates the appointment and removal of judiciary officials. In New York, Human Rights Watch recently called on the authorities not to extend the length of time that detainees can be held incommunicado. The NGO also pointed to what it called important infringements of human rights under the terms of the present state of emergency, which is linked to the investigation of the Djindjic slaying. PM

Zivkovic said in Belgrade on 7 April that Serbian National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic does not have a mandate to issue banknotes and might be fired, London's "Financial Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003). Zivkovic added that the Serbian National Bank "does not exist" and that those issuing banknotes in its name are issuing "counterfeit banknotes." He added that no governor of the national bank may also be a member of a political party. Dinkic, who heads the G-17 Plus political party, said he is "shocked" by the comments. He also called on the authorities to arrest him if they indeed believe that he is a counterfeiter. A government spokesman told reporters, "The prime minister wanted to say that legally we don't have a National Bank of Serbia. He was not commenting on Mr. Dinkic personally." The "Financial Times" noted that the legal ambiguity raised by the formal continuation of the National Bank of Yugoslavia -- even though that state has ceased to exist -- has caused "headaches for bankers and international financial institutions." PM

Macedonia's Romany minority is marking the Day of the Roma with a protest march on 8 April and a call for their better integration into society, "Dnevnik" reported. Romany and human rights activists have warned of the negative effects for the minority posed by a bipolar society divided into the Macedonian majority and the large Albanian minority. Azbija Memedova of the Center for the Roma of Skopje told "Utrinski vesnik" that the biggest problems are state authorities' "negative and ignorant attitude" toward the problems of Roma such as illiteracy, unemployment, and poverty. She also noted frequent police brutality against Roma and the problems Roma have in defending their rights in court and before officials. The Roma account for up to 7.5 percent of the Macedonian population, or 150,000 people, according to Memedova, although official statistics put the figure at 2.2 percent, or 44,000 people. Some experts suggest figures ranging from 5-7.5 percent of the total population. UB

The ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) appealed in a statement on 5 April to young ethnic Albanian males to join the army when they receive their draft notices, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The BDI stressed that the Albanians can take their first step toward equal participation in the security forces by joining the military (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 January 2003). In previous years, many Albanians did not respond to their draft notices, but more have answered the call-up since the August 2001 Ohrid peace settlement was concluded. PM

The city administration of Slovenia's capital decided on 7 April to begin building 30 kilometers of tramlines at a cost of over $800 million, Hina reported. The first trams are expected to begin running within three years. Ljubljana opened its first tramline in 1903 but scrapped trams in favor of buses in the 1960s, when gasoline was relatively cheap. The new trams are considered more environmentally friendly than buses. PM

In Bucharest on 7 April, visiting French Culture and Communications Minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon told Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase that the source of their good-neighborly relations stems from cultural exchanges, Romanian Radio reported. Aillagon and Romanian Culture Minister Razvan Theodorescu initiated a series of joint cultural projects at their meeting. In Paris the same day, Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana met with his French counterpart Dominique de Villepin and said Romania "has learned the lessons" of the last few months and wants to be part of a powerful Europe, Mediafax reported. Referring to strong bilateral ties, Geoana said French authorities are "the most efficient champions" of Romania's interests in Europe. French President Jacques Chirac in February harshly criticized Romania and other East-Central European countries for supporting the United States on the Iraq issue. ZsM

Socialist International (SI) Chairman Antonio Guterres congratulated Premier Nastase and his ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) on the PSD's expected admission to the SI as full member, Romanian media reported. He added that the SI fully supports the PSD's economic- and social-reform efforts and counts on the PSD's help to unite the entire social-democratic family in the region. President Ion Iliescu decorated Guterres, who said he loves Romania and that "Europe needs Romania more than Romania needs Europe." Guterres also said the SI encourages the dialogue between the PSD and the opposition Democratic Party, a longtime SI member, while respecting their autonomy. In response, Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu said the decision on uniting social-democratic parties lies with the respective parties, and not with "external structures." ZsM

Health Minister Daniela Bartos said on 7 April that she is prepared to resign her post, but that such a gesture would not solve the health system's financial crisis, Mediafax reported. Her comments came in the wake of a 1,000-strong march in Bucharest on 6 April in which protestors accused the health system of "genocide." Bartos said the problem is the result of a lack of funds, and that conditions can only be improved through better financial management and organization of the entire system. She also said the ministry allocated 2 trillion lei (over $58 million) to pay for free prescription drugs and reimbursements. Over the past few months, pharmacies have stopped handing out free prescription drugs or those subject to reimbursement because of a lack of funds. ZsM

At the end of last month, the Romanian government decided to impose a travel ban on Transdniester leaders, including President Igor Smirnov, Supreme Soviet Chairman Grigorii Marakutsa, and other government members, Mediafax reported on 7 April. The decision says exceptions can only be made if Transdniester authorities are traveling to the country to participate in negotiations regarding a resolution of the Moldovan-Transdniester conflict. In February, the European Union and the United States imposed travel bans on Transdniester authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February and 10 March 2003). ZsM

Opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova said in a press release on 7 April that she does not believe what President Georgi Parvanov says regarding Iraq, nor does she trust the stance taken by the Socialist Party (BSP), which was formerly headed by Parvanov. Mihailova's attack came in response to Parvanov's invitation to participate in a 7 April discussion on the impact the Iraq war will have on the Bulgarian economy. Mihailova accused Parvanov, who is an opponent of the U.S.-led war on Iraq, of thwarting an opportunity for Bulgaria to speak with one voice on this issue and of having sparked anti-American sentiment. "Bulgaria needs a clear vision for the democratization and the reconstruction of Iraq," Mihailova said. "The political behavior of the [BSP] and of President Parvanov show that they cannot be part of this vision." UB

Leading managers told President Parvanov during a 7 April meeting to discuss the impact the Iraq war will have on the Bulgarian economy that they do not share the government's optimism regarding participation in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, bnn reported. "The presence of France and Germany in postwar Iraq is much more possible than that of Bulgaria," Cooperative Bank President Stoyan Aleksandrov said. Roseksim Bank head Emil Kyulev said Bulgarian banks will not finance projects of Bulgarian companies in Iraq because of the military risk and the government's inability to grant financial guarantees for such projects. Ivo Prokopiev of the Employers Union added that the war will have a negative effect on exports to countries neighboring Iraq, which account for about 11 percent of Bulgaria's exports, reported. UB

In response to a recent agreement over judicial reform that was reached by the political parties represented in parliament, President Parvanov told a press conference on 7 April that the Constitutional Court should be asked for its position on the immunity and irrevocability of magistrates, "Sega" reported. "Regardless of who will ask the Constitution Court, be it the president or the parliament, it will be necessary," Parvanov said. He added that his recent consultations with high-ranking representatives of the judiciary showed that their proposals should at least be heard, if not taken into account (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003). UB

Ukraine's current "party of power," the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), is suffering the "gravest crisis in its history," a commentary in "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" on 15 March concluded. The SDPU-o, led by presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, is being increasingly challenged by a reformist wing led by deputy parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Zinchenko.

The SDPU-o was a small party until it was taken over by the Kyiv oligarchic clan in the mid-1990s and its leader, former Justice Minister Vasyl Onopenko, was pushed out. Onopenko went on to create the Ukrainian Social-Democratic Party, which was a member of the liberal Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc during the 2002 elections.

The takeover of the SDPU-o occurred at the same time that Ukraine's former "sovereign communists" began transforming their political influence into economic wealth after President Leonid Kuchma launched his economic reforms in 1994. These new centrist oligarchs sought political cover from established political parties to legitimize their newfound wealth.

In 1998, centrist parties made their first appearance in parliament, accounting for four of the eight parties that crossed the 4 percent threshold in the proportional half of the elections. In addition to the SDPU-o, they included the Green Party and the all-Ukrainian "party of power," the Popular Democratic Party (NDP), headed by Prime Minister Valeriy Pustovoytenko.

The SDPU-o came in last of those that crossed the 4 percent threshold in both the 1998 and 2002 elections. In the 2002 elections, the party garnered 6.27 percent of the vote, a marginal improvement over the 4.01 percent it polled in 1998, which gave it 19 seats. Another 12 SDPU-o members were elected in single-mandate districts and seven as independents, making the SDPU-o the third-largest centrist faction.

Loyal Dnipropetrovsk oligarchs took over the small Labor Ukraine party, while the Donbas oligarchs created the Party of Regions. The first "party of power" in Donetsk, the Liberals, went into decline after Yevhen Shcherban -- the local governor, a parliamentary deputy, and a high-ranking Liberal Party member -- was assassinated in November 1996.

"Parties of power" that are no longer on good terms with the executive have been forced to ally themselves with the center-right opposition. Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party merged into a single party with longtime nationalist and former dissident Stepan Khmara's Conservative Republican Party. The Liberals, meanwhile, joined former Premier Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine.

The SDPU-o entered the 2002 elections separately from the For a United Ukraine (ZYU) bloc, which united regional "parties of power," because it is the only centrist party to have invested resources in building a party structure. The SDPU-o claims 350,000 members -- a figure that should be taken skeptically -- organized into 780 district and city branches. The largest branches are in Transcarpathia, Zaporizhzhya, and Kharkiv. The SDPU-o has its own publishing house and issues 12 newspapers, including Kyiv's weekly "Nasha Hazeta Plyus" with a circulation of about 500,000.

A major problem for the SDPU-o -- or any "party of power" -- is Ukraine's inherited ethno-cultural and regional cleavages. Eastern Ukraine is dominated by oligarchic centrists and the Communists. The only oblast where ZYU came first in the proportional half of the 2002 elections was Donetsk, where Our Ukraine failed to cross the 4 percent threshold.

In western and central Ukraine, on the other hand, oligarchic parties with roots in those areas -- SDPU-o and the Agrarians -- are unpopular. The former disgraced head of Naftohaz, Ihor Bakay, who is allied to SDPU-o sympathizer Oleksandr Volkov, ran in western Ukraine in the 2002 elections but was defeated.

The then-head of the Kyiv branch of the SDPU-o, Hryhoriy Surkis, was roundly defeated in the May 1999 mayoral elections by current popular Mayor and Yushchenko ally Oleksandr Omelchenko. It is not coincidental that Kyiv city's SDPU-o branch, which was until last month headed by Surkis, experienced the worst decline in membership of any SDPU-o branch in 2001-02. The Kyiv clan's SDPU-o barely scraped past the 4 percent threshold in the city of Kyiv in the 2002 elections when it obtained 4.85 percent, compared to the 8.48 percent it obtained in the 1998 elections. In local elections to the Kyiv City Council held at the same time as parliamentary elections last year, the SDPU-o fared even worse.

Although it finished last in the proportional half of the 2002 elections, the SDPU-o nevertheless succeeded in placing its members in many senior leadership posts. "Ukrayinska pravda" on 28 February claimed that the SDPU-o controls one-third of Ukraine. The head of the presidential administration and two of his deputies are SDPU-o members, as are two ministers, the head of a state committee, and three governors. In addition, the party has 10,000 elected representatives at all levels, including the deputy parliamentary speaker and the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council.

Why then is there a crisis in Ukraine's newest "party of power?" Six factors account for the SDPU-o's crisis.

First, the ruling elite is close to panic as the Kuchma era draws to a close. Immunity from prosecution for Kuchma will not necessarily help the oligarchs escape prosecution for corruption unless they ensure that a Kuchma loyalist is elected to succeed him in next year's presidential elections.

Second, when he became head of the presidential administration in May 2002, Medvedchuk closely linked the SDPU-o's fortunes to a highly unpopular president. As "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" pointed out, "Everyone realizes that the party's close links with the authorities are harmful to its image and ratings." Zinchenko's argument that making the SDPU-o the "party of power" "gives credit and adds prestige to the organization," is simply not convincing.

Third, interviewed in "Nasha Hazeta Plyus" on 14 February, sociologist Yevhen Holovakha advised the SDPU-o that democratization in Ukraine is regressing and under threat. Ironically therefore, by supporting this regression in its role as the "party of power," the SDPU-o is undermining its own party prospects within Ukraine's electoral democracy.

The fourth contributing factor is the creation of a new information policy directorate under Medvedchuk that is headed by SDPU-o sympathizer Serhiy Vasylyev. Vasylyev is responsible for the introduction of censorship through "temnyky," or instructions to television stations. News programs on the 1+1 and Inter television channels -- two of Ukraine's largest broadcasters, both of which are controlled by the SDPU-o -- have the least degree of public trust, according to a Ukrainian Democratic Circle poll conducted in February. The same is true of the daily newspaper "Kievskiye vedomosti," which is also controlled by the SDPU-o and half of whose copies are regularly returned unsold. Vasylyev has also reverted to Soviet-style rhetoric in denouncing and ridiculing complaints by international organizations and NGOs about media harassment.

Fifth, the "quality" of party cadres is mediocre. Many people join the SDPU-o in the same way as they joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the Brezhnev era -- not for ideological, but for careerist reasons. This problem exists among all centrist, ideologically amorphous parties, but the SDPU-o thought -- mistakenly -- it had overcome this by investing in an ideological profile (social democracy).

Finally, Medvedchuk is at odds with practically every other political group in parliament as a result of his aggressive attempts at forging a pro-presidential majority, "black" operations aimed at discrediting Yushchenko (e.g., fake Our Ukraine leaflets), and his demand for the Prosecutor-General's Office to reopen criminal charges against Tymoshenko.

Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies, University of Toronto.

"At a cement factory and rock quarry on the northwest side of Baghdad, an Iraqi Al-Sumud 2 missile has been sitting on a launcher out in the open for at least several weeks -- covered only by a tarp -- but undetected by UN weapons inspectors," and another Al-Sumud 2 missile is nearby, an RFE/RL correspondent "embedded" with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division reported on 8 April. Soldiers from the 1-15 Task Force of the 3rd Infantry Division discovered the missiles during a 7 April battle in Baghdad. The UN in February decreed that the missiles should be destroyed because their range exceeds 150 kilometers (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 February 2003). Task Force commander Lieutenant Colonel John Charlton told RFE/RL that his soldiers have found five other Al-Sumud 2 missiles near Baghdad in the past week. Other Task Force personnel told RFE/RL that the missiles and the launchers were ingeniously camouflaged. BS

Coalition forces uncovered substances at an Iraqi military training camp that military sources said might contain banned chemical agents, Reuters reported on 7 April. Initial tests on the substances proved positive for the nerve agents sarin and tabun as well as lewisite, a blister agent. "If tests from our experts confirm this, this could be the smoking gun," U.S. Major Michael Hamlet of the 101st Airborne Division said, adding, "It would prove [Iraqi President Saddam Hussein] has the weapons we have said he has all along." Hamlet cautioned that further testing is needed to determine the validity of the initial findings. KR

Russian Ambassador to Iraq Vladimir Titarenko told journalists in Damascus on 7 April that U.S. forces deliberately fired on a convoy that was evacuating him and his staff from Baghdad, RTR and ORT reported. He said that all the bullets found in the vehicles and those removed from a wounded Russian diplomat were fired from U.S. M-16s. RTR military correspondent Aleksandr Minakov, who is a retired lieutenant colonel and who was riding in the motorcade at the time of the 6 April incident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003), speculated that the U.S. troops fired on the motorcade in order to clear the way for a U.S. tank column that was proceeding along the road. This is standard military practice, Minakov said. In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said that the United States had been in contact with the Russian government concerning the ambassador's motorcade. "We provided our military with detailed information about the vehicles and the personnel involved, as well as the route that they planned to follow," Reeker said. However, he claimed, the convoy took a different route from the one about which they had informed Washington. VY

Controversial military correspondent Vladislav Shurygin, who is believed to be the person writing about the Iraqi operation in many Russian publications under the name of "Ramzai," said on 7 April that U.S. troops might have suspected that the ambassador's convoy was attempting to smuggle pieces of secret U.S. military equipment out of Iraq, TV-Tsentr reported. Shurygin said that among the Russian journalists working at U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in Qatar, there are rumors that Russian intelligence agents working out of the Baghdad embassy had intercepted and jammed U.S. military communications, much to the displeasure of U.S. military authorities. "U.S. intelligence officers have many questions for their counterparts at the Russian Embassy," Shurygin said. VY

Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) said that the Russian diplomats themselves are to blame for the incident, RosBalt reported on 7 April. "They choose the wrong time and the wrong place by being the last ones to leave Baghdad," Zhirinovskii said. Zhirinovskii claimed that he spoke to people at the embassy in Baghdad when he was last there and that he was surprised that they intended to go to Syria, which is a seven-hour drive from Baghdad, instead of going to Iran, which is a two-hour drive. Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said that the motorcade deviated from the route agreed to with the U.S. government and that this put the diplomats in danger. "At the same time, I cannot exclude that it was a U.S. provocation," Margelov said. VY

Saying that Europe has entered a new phase, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin on 7 April called for European states to work to form a more unified stance, AFP reported the same day. "There will be...steps ahead of us which will give us the opportunity to discuss, to bring our points of view closer together, and to act together, because the world needs action," Villepin said. He added that European states are united on the issue of Iraqi reconstruction, saying, "We've been having very close contacts with all of the Europeans, including the British, and one thing we share is that there should be a common effort by the international community, a common effort by the UN and the Europeans." Villepin called the UN the "best tool" to reinstate an international order. KR

The British government has reportedly offered amnesty to an imprisoned Iraqi brigadier general who provided British forces with key information about the Hussein regime, "The Times" of London reported on 7 April, quoting unnamed senior British military sources. The officer, described as the most senior Iraqi officer in southern Iraq, asked British forces to rescue his family, which was in hiding from Iraqi Ba'ath Party forces in Al-Basrah, "The Times" reported. The general reportedly provided British forces with numbers and positions of regular Iraqi Army troops, as well as Ba'ath Party activities in Al-Basrah. He also told the British that he defied a Ba'ath Party order to push his troops south at the beginning of the conflict and took them into Al-Basrah instead in an attempt to protect them, the daily reported. KR

Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters on 7 April that he will seek a strong UN role in postwar Iraq, the UN News Center reported the same day. Annan said discussions are under way between U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on the role of the UN, adding that the European Union has expressed firm support for a UN role in postwar Iraq. "I do expect the UN to play an important role, and the UN has had good experience in this area," Annan said, adding, "We have done quite a bit of work [in the past] on reconstruction, working with donor countries and with other UN agencies." Specifically, he cited the UN's experience in human rights and rule-of-law issues. "Above all, the UN involvement does bring legitimacy which is necessary...for the country, for the region, and for the peoples around the world," Annan said. Annan was meeting with UN Security Council members to discuss current developments and postwar planning. He told reporters he has appointed Rafeeuddin Ahmed as his special adviser on Iraq; Ahmed has been assisting Annan on Iraqi issues since February, the secretary-general noted. KR

Colin Powell told reporters en route to Belfast on 7 April that he has spent much time in recent days in discussions with Annan on a role for the UN in postwar Iraq, Reuters reported the same day. "There isn't as much debate and disagreement about this as you might read," Powell said. "There will be a role for the United Nations as a partner in this process." Powell added that U.S. officials will be discussing a role for the UN when President Bush meets with Tony Blair and other U.K. officials on 7 April in Northern Ireland. Powell added that the United States is anxious to set up an interim Iraqi authority consisting of Iraqi citizens and exiles. "We'll be sending people over this week to begin the process of bringing together a group that would constitute the authority," Powell said. KR

U.S. military aircraft on 4 April began ferrying Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmad Chalabi and soldiers with the Free Iraqi Forces from northern Iraq to southern Iraq, "The Washington Post" reported on 7 April, and they are now living in a camp on the edge of Al-Nasiriyah, which is 175 miles southeast of Baghdad. An anonymous "senior Pentagon official" told the Washington daily that this development reflects a desire to have a greater number of native Iraqis working in the cities. The INC says the force numbers some 700 people, whereas an anonymous "senior Pentagon official" said the number is closer to 500, "The New York Times" reported on 7 April. The INC said the force will serve under U.S. Central Command chief General Tommy Franks and will perform humanitarian and law-and-order functions. This development has been interpreted as a Pentagon effort to enhance Chalabi's standing in postwar Iraq, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 8 April, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department fear that this could reduce the willingness of Iraqis who have stayed in the country during Saddam Hussein's rule to embrace a new government. BS

Nor is this the first group of Free Iraqis to appear in the south. The U.S. Army's 354th Civil Affairs Brigade commander Colonel David Blackledge said in a 4 April Defense Department briefing that some Free Iraqi Force personnel are helping to reestablish aid-distribution networks in the Umm Qasr area ( Blackledge said that they have local knowledge and have been "critical in establishing the trust with the local people,... to identify the people that we needed to work with to get distribution back up and going." The Free Iraqis also have worked as translators, Blackledge said. Requests for Free Iraqi Forces personnel are pouring in at Task Force Warrior in Kuwait, according to a 7 April report from the Army News Service ( Task Force Warrior is the unit that trained "dozens of Iraqi exiles" in Hungary. BS

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 7 April declared that the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq (SCIRI) and the Badr Corps, SCIRI's armed component, are "Iraqi bodies and have nothing to do with the Islamic Republic of Iran," IRNA reported. He said that both institutions "perform according to their decisions" and that Iran does not "interfere in their attitudes and policies." Assefi's remarks appear to reflect Tehran's concerns over U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent warning to Iran to keep the Iran-based Badr Corps away from the battlefields in Iraq. SCIRI, a Shia exile organization headed by the Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim, has been based in Tehran since the early 1980's, when Tehran promoted it as Iraq's "government-in-exile." The Badr Corps, consisting of at least 5,000 Iraqis trained by Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, attracted international media attention in February when it increased its presence in Kurdish northern Iraq. SF

World Health Organization (WHO) spokeswoman Melanie Zipperer said on 7 April that Iraq is at risk of a cholera outbreak if access to food and water are not improved, AFP reported the same day. "The hospitals in Baghdad are completely overflowing and could run low on medication or medical equipment. If the situation gets worse, we will have to face a humanitarian crisis," AFP quoted Zipperer as telling France's LCI television. Zipperer said the WHO has requested that a corridor be opened to transfer food and supplies from Jordan, Kuwait, Syria, and Turkey. Cholera outbreaks typically appear when there is a lack of proper sanitation -- which can come with a lack of water. Meanwhile, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman Florian Westphal said on 7 April that Iraqi hospitals are overburdened and are having trouble keeping up with the number of patients, adding that one hospital in Baghdad received over 50 casualties in five hours on 7 April. Westphal added that the ICRC delivered drinking water to five hospitals and established bladder tanks at three hospitals on 6 April. Westphal added that hospitals, particularly those that perform surgery, require large amounts of water. KR

President Aleksander Kwasniewski told Polish Radio on 8 April that he does not regret his decision to send Polish troops to Iraq. "I am convinced that we have taken a politically proper decision that Poland should be a member of this antiterrorist alliance and cooperate with the U.S.," Kwasniewski said. "In the long run, it will be beneficial to us, as this builds Poland's credibility and gives us a sense of security.... I am convinced that if, in this complex world not free of threats, Poland would have to count on someone apart from itself, then we could count on those allies with which we are together now." Poland has sent some 200 troops to Iraq and the Persian Gulf region. JM

Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said at the beginning of the 6 April legislative session that the United States and United Kingdom have attacked Iraq in an effort to dominate the region, control its oil resources, and guarantee Israel's security, Iranian state radio reported. Karrubi accused the United States of censoring its news. "Our country and the world can observe that American democracy, as well as that of other countries, is a sham," he added. Karrubi also accused the United States of, in IRNA's words, "waging atomic warfare." BS

Iran's around-the-clock Arabic-language news television network, Al-Alam (, began regular broadcasts to Iraq in March, "Iran News" reported on 6 April. According to "Iran News," Al-Alam opposes Operation Iraqi Freedom and Iraq's Ba'athist regime, shows extensive footage of dead Iraqi civilians, and refers to a "war of occupation." Iranian reformists have been quite critical of state media's one-sided war coverage (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 April 2003). Iran's Sahar television network also broadcasts in Arabic, and a visit to the website ( reveals a similar bias. BS

"Dozens" attended a rally outside the British Embassy in Tehran to protest the war in Iraq and to demand the expulsion of British diplomats from Iran, Fars News Agency reported on 7 April. The Iranian Students News Agency, however, claimed that some 350-400 people attended, mainly to chant slogans to protest recent arrests of students, although it was unclear why they did so at the British Embassy. The official news agency IRNA the same day reported the event as a half-hour sit-in by 50 clerics, which reached a dramatic highpoint when they set fire to a paper British flag. They protested the "sacrilegious invasions of holy sites in Iraq by coalition forces," but IRNA in the same report said that the holiest cities, Najaf and Karbala, are calm and that people there lead a normal life and are able to visit the holy sites. Similar rallies were staged elsewhere in the country, IRNA reported, apparently in response to calls over the weekend that the country's seminaries close down for a day of protest on 7 April. SF

With the three-week Norouz holidays finally over, Iranian authorities are able to get back to cracking down on journalists. The editor in chief of the reformist daily "Yas-i No," Mohammad Naimipur, was summoned on 7 April, according to IRNA. Naimipur said the complaints against him were for printing reports on the trial of the editor in chief of another reformist daily, "Noruz," and for interviewing the president's brother, Mohammad-Reza Khatami. Also, an editor of the Persian daily "Toseh," Seyyed Hussein Sajjadi, was summed to Judge Said Mortazavi's press court on 7 April for unspecified reasons, according to IRNA. IRNA also reported on 7 April that former Minister of Islamic Culture and Guidance Ataollah Mohajerani is expected to appear in court on 9 April to explain why he allowed the daily women's newspaper "Zan" to continue publishing in 1999 despite a ban by the Islamic Revolution Court. "Zan" Managing Editor Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, is to appear in court the same day. IRNA, describing Mohajerani as a "man of the pen," revealed its partiality to him by expressing gratitude for his "meritorious service in promoting freedom of expression and respect for journalists." SF

On the occasion of World Health Day, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai on 7 April said that "Afghanistan's need for health services is deeper than any other country's," UN's Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN) reported. Karzai said Afghanistan's health sector lags behind those of neighboring countries by 30 to 40 years, and that the Afghans "should try to catch up this distance of several decades in around 10 years," AFP reported on 7 April. According to Karzai, the average life expectancy in Afghanistan is 45 years, IRIN reported. Edward Carwardine, a spokesman for United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said on 6 April that the infant-mortality rate in Afghanistan is 165 per 1,000 live births, IRIN reported on 7 April. According to UNICEF, Afghanistan "ranks as the fourth-worst country in the world" in terms of mortality of children aged five and under. Afghanistan has never enjoyed a high standard of health care, and whatever few hospitals and doctors there became victims of the wars of independence against the Soviets and the ensuing civil wars. AT

The Kabul daily "Hewad" in a 3 April commentary noted that, at times, the media have more power and are more effective than the legislative, judicial, and executives branches of the government, particularly in connecting the people with their government. "Hewad" added that this important role of the media, which has been noted by Constitutional Drafting Commission Chairman Nematullah Shahrani (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 April 2003), should be protected by legislation and be included in the new Afghan constitution that is expected to be adopted in October. The commentary also called for the inclusion of freedom for women in the new Afghan code of law, in order to allow Afghan women to be productive partners in the "fields of education, politics, social affairs, etc.," of their society. AT

In another commentary on the future Afghan constitution, "Hewad" on 6 April warned that the idea of a federal system for Afghanistan that has been floated by "some people" will only serve the enemies "who have long been trying in different ways to weaken the centralism in Afghanistan, divide the segments of the people under different pretexts, and finally abolish the integrity of the country." "Hewad" said some high-ranking officials at the provincial level are "just as suspicious" as foreign enemies, and "may violate the rules of the central government as soon as a federal system is enforced"; thus ending the unity of Afghanistan as a state. The paper added that the reason Afghanistan has not had an accepted political system or a functioning constitution in the last few decades is because people in power imposed their "will on the people" and did not consult the public on important national decisions (for more on this subject, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 January and 3 April 2003). AT

The oil-and-gas ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan were to meet on 8 April for a two-day meeting in Manila, Philippines, capital for the Fifth Steering Committee Meeting to discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project (TAP Project), according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The meeting was to consider the report on the market study for Turkmen gas in Pakistan and northern India, and might formally invite India to join the project. Yoshihiro Iwasaki, the director-general of ADB's South Asia Department, said the TAP Project "has significant potential for enhancing stability and improving living standards in South and Central Asia," and can set a precedent for developing other large-scale infrastructure projects that would connect the countries of Western Asia, ADB reported. Muhammad Tusneem, the director-general of ADB's East and Central Asia Department, and that the project "can also demonstrate to the nations of Western Asia that a major cross-border initiative can be launched if there is strong political will and commitment to move forward." So far there has been no indication that New Delhi is interested in participating in the proposed pipeline project, and without Indian markets the plan to build the pipeline will not be economically feasible. In addition, the security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan could hamper the pipeline plans (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003). AT

ISAF Commander Lieutenant General Norbert van Heyst told Inforadio Berlin-Brandenburg on 8 April that the security situation in Kabul remains stable despite last week's rocket attack on the ISAF headquarters. Van Heyst added, however, that the security situation in the rest of the country might be deteriorating, as former Taliban fighters and followers radical Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar could try to destabilize Afghanistan using the "window of opportunity" that was opened by the Iraq war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 2 April 2003). Van Heyst said he does not believe the war in Iraq will erode international support for ISAF, as the international force is led by countries that are not participating in the war against the Iraqi regime. UB

Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Sayyed Fazl Akbar said on 7 April that the recent measures adopted by the authorities of Kandahar Province to oust government officials who worked under the Taliban regime are against the general amnesty issued by the Transitional Administration, Hindukosh new agency reported. That amnesty was granted to foster national solidarity. Akbar added that low-ranking government officials who were working under the Taliban have the right to live and work freely in any part of the country and that only those people who have been found guilty can be dismissed from their jobs. Kandahar was the birthplace of the Taliban in 1994 and many of low-ranking government officials -- both in that province and elsewhere -- worked under the Taliban and for previous regimes. No information is available on the measures taken by the Kandahar Province authorities or on the identities and numbers of people who have been dismissed from their jobs. AT

According to a four-point communique dated 7 April from governors, religious scholars, and elders of Kandahar, Helmand, Oruzgan, Zabol, and Farah provinces: All mullas (preachers), talibs (seminary school students), and other people "previously linked with Al-Qaeda" are ordered to evacuate Kandahar city in two days or face penalties under the law, Hindukosh reported. In addition, the communique says: All "citizens" of the provinces named, other than Kandahar, should evacuate Kandahar Province; These people can only live in Kandahar Province if people in the locality in which they reside can guarantee that they are not members of Al-Qaeda; and that all mullas and talibs who lead prayers in mosques in Kandahar city and province should carry identification cards issued by the Religious Council of Kandahar Province. Hindukosh added that a similar announcement was issued on 3 April that gave a deadline of 10 days for people to act, but the new announcement changed the deadline to 7 April. According to Hindukosh, Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai has endorsed the provisions of the communique. AT