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Newsline - April 10, 2003

Sergei Ivanov has canceled a scheduled three-day trip to the United States that was due to begin on 13 April, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 April. Ivanov was to have held talks with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. An unnamed Defense Ministry spokesman said the visit had been arranged before the beginning of the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq and, now that the military phase of that operation is coming to an end, it is no longer necessary, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 April. He also commented that one should not draw hasty conclusions from the cancellation, which came immediately following a visit to Moscow by U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. The newspaper speculated that Rice might have discovered more serious disagreements over Iraq than she expected. The daily also speculated that Moscow might be experiencing doubts about the international antiterrorism coalition. Finally, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" speculated, the cancellation might stem from the Kremlin's displeasure over Washington's public accusations that Russia provided sophisticated military equipment to the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 March 2003). Other analysts believe that the Kremlin might be playing "good cop, bad cop," with President Vladimir Putin playing the former role and Ivanov the latter in U.S.-Russian relations. VY

Speaking upon his arrival in Seoul on 10 April for talks on bilateral military cooperation, Ivanov said the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq has led to a marked increase in global demand for Russian weapons systems, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. U.S. accusations that Russia supplied arms to Iraq have led to increased orders for Russian conventional weapons, Ivanov said. "We can thank the Americans for the free publicity," he added. He also said that the conflict in Iraq has further stimulated the arms race on the Korean Peninsula and that Russia is ready to provide security guarantees to North Korea if it renounces its nuclear-weapons program. VY

Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) spokesman Boris Labusov refuted on 9 April rumors that his agency tried to smuggle the archives of deposed Iraqi President Hussein's secret services out of Iraq in the Russian ambassador's motorcade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 April 2003), ORT and RTR reported. Such rumors are complete fiction "and have no basis whatsoever," Labusov said. SVR Colonel Yurii Perfilev, who was a Soviet intelligence resident in the Middle East in the 1980s, said that such statements are interesting, but cannot be verified, TV-Tsentr reported on 9 April. Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii, whose reputed ties to the KGB are frequently mentioned in the media, said he personally spoke with Hussein last year and offered to evacuate the archives, but Hussein responded that "there is no need for this," reported on 10 April. Zhirinovskii claimed that part of the archives were destroyed and the rest removed to Syria, Yemen, and Sudan. VY

Russia will withdraw its 970 peacekeepers from Bosnia and Kosova, an unidentified Defense Ministry spokesman told the Military News Agency on 10 April. "We think that they are needed more at home, and the fund saved...will be better spent for training soldiers at home," the spokesman was quoted as saying. ORT political commentator Mikhail Leontev, who is known for his hostile attitude toward the United States, said on 8 April that Russia's participation in the UN-sponsored operation "was a mistake from the very beginning and lost all sense after the events in Iraq." VY

The State Duma approved in its third reading on 9 April a bill on reforming the system for payment of communal housing and public utilities, Russian news agencies reported. Under the law, an individual can be evicted if he/she fails to pay for housing for six months, RTR reported. The vote was 238 in favor with 181 votes against, reported. Yabloko and the Communist factions voted against the bill, as they did in the previous readings (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 26 March 2003). Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said the law is certain to lead to rate hikes, and that all the mechanisms in the current system that allow monopolies to inflate prices for housing and utilities have been preserved, TVS reported. About 70 Yabloko activists held a protest against the bill outside the Duma, RosBalt reported. The same day, deputies rejected a bill that would have given soldiers the right to deferment if their wives are pregnant, reported. The bill garnered just 120 of the necessary 226 votes. JAC

Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev announced on 9 April that he is recalling his representative to the Federation Council, Rafgat Altynbaev, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. He will be replaced by Filza Khamidullina, a state councilor on socioeconomic issues, who has for many years "shown her absolute loyalty to Shaimiev." The daily speculated that the reason for Altynbaev's dismissal could be Shaimiev's displeasure with his activities as co-chairman of the Russian Party of Life. Shaimiev is a co-chairman of a competing political party, Unified Russia. However, Shaimiev's apparatus declined to officially provide an explanation for Altynbaev's recall. Altynbaev is a former mayor of Chally and his appointment in 2001 was interpreted by some political analysts as an attempt by Shaimiev to co-opt his potential competition in the republic's 2001 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2001). JAC

The Federation Council on 9 April confirmed Nikolai Bychkov, a former YUKOS executive in charge of refining and sales, and Boris Shpigel, the president of Biotek pharmaceuticals, as representatives in the upper legislative chamber, ITAR-TASS reported. Bychkov replaces Leonid Nevzlin, another former Yukos executive, as a representative of the executive branch of the Republic of Mordovia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). Shpigel replaces Aleksandr Bespalov, the former chairman of Unified Russia's General Council, as a representative of the governor of Penza Oblast. Bespalov was named head of Gazprom's information-policy department in February and served less than a year as Penza's representative (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2002). JAC

The Media Ministry issued on 9 April an official warning to the St. Petersburg-based television company Peterburg, RosBalt reported. The company failed to provide the ministry with the broadcasting materials it requested, according to the news agency. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 April that this is not the first warning the company has received. The company's television license will expire in July and its radio broadcasting license in June, and because of the warnings the station is in danger of losing those licenses, which can be put up for tender. Such a tender could take place just several months before the spring 2004 gubernatorial campaign in St. Petersburg, although it is also possible that the elections will be held in December to coincide with the State Duma race. The St. Petersburg city administration currently owns a controlling stake in the company. First Deputy Media Minister Mikhail Seslavinskii confirmed that the warnings "could influence the procedure for prolonging the company's licenses," the daily reported. JAC

During an 8 April evening news broadcast, the Peterburg television station broadcast the results of a recent poll in which it asked its viewers: "Who should have a more decisive activities on the result of the future gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg -- the citizens or the Moscow leadership?" according to RosBalt. The agency cited unidentified experts who claimed that this poll is evidence that the political struggle in the city has entered a new, sharper phase. JAC

Omsk Oblast's Chamber for Trade and Industry has refused to meet with a U.S. trade delegation in protest against the United States' policies in Iraq, "Vremya novostei" reported on 9 April. According to the daily, the meeting, which was scheduled for the middle of April, will not take place because members of the chamber reached a unanimous decision to cancel. This is not the first such action by local authorities -- on 21 March, they reportedly refused to arrange transport to the local airport for Edward Kulakovskii, a cultural attache at the U.S. Embassy, "as a sign of protest against the war in Iraq." JAC

Aleksandr Kudryavtsev, head of the Justice Ministry's department for public and religious affairs, told Interfax on 9 April that just half of the Islamic religious organizations active in Russia are officially registered with the ministry. Kudryavtsev said more than 3,000 Islamic organizations are registered, but some 6,000-7,000 exist. "The threat of spreading extremism via religious organizations is serious," he said. "We will toughen control over their activities." Under the 1997 law on religion and freedom of conscience, religious organizations were required to register with the Justice Ministry or risk being banned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 1999). JAC

Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov is facing the possibility of not being able to seek a third term, "Kommersant-Daily" and reported on 9 April. There is little doubt that the oblast legislature will cancel a law that made it possible for Titov to seek more than two consecutive terms, according to the daily. The law was passed in June 2002, but was declared invalid by the Supreme Court. On 8 April, oblast legislators introduced in the agenda of the legislature's next session the question of canceling the law. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 March that a kind of "velvet revolution" occurred during the latter half of March when two factions in the oblast legislature, Unified Russia and People Power, managed to re-elect the chairpersons of three of the legislature's six committees, ousting three of Titov's supporters. Titov competed in the last presidential elections and is co-chairman of the Social-Democratic Party of Russia. JAC

Two Ingush from a village in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodnyi Raion went on trial on 9 April at the Supreme Court of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania on charges of perpetrating bombings in the central market in Vladikavkaz in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1999, 10 and 11 July 2000, and 29 April 2002). They are also accused of maintaining contacts with Chechen fighters and involvement in the incursion into Ingushetia in the fall of 2002 by Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev. LF

Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii and Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin have both made clear their displeasure with the resolution on human rights violations in Chechnya submitted by the EU to the UN Commission on Human Rights on 8 April. Interfax quoted Yastrzhembskii as saying that the 23 March constitutional referendum in Chechnya has induced "hysteria" among Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe deputies. Rogozin said it is "absolutely unreasonable" for the UN to focus on Chechnya after it refused to debate human rights violations in Iraq. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov similarly noted that the EU should focus on Iraq and the destruction of monuments there, Interfax reported. Kadyrov added that it is inappropriate for EU representatives to formulate resolutions on the human rights situation in Chechnya on the basis of impressions received during visits that last only a couple of days, Interfax reported. LF

Colonel Yurii Budanov has begun a hunger strike to protest his repeat trial on charges of killing a young Chechen woman in March 2000, Interfax reported on 9 April, the day the trial was scheduled to open in Rostov-na-Donu. Last month Budanov, who pleaded temporary insanity during his earlier trial, demanded a jury trial (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). LF

Robert Kocharian was sworn in for a second five-year presidential term at a ceremony on 9 April, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The presidential oath obliges the incumbent to abide by the country's constitution, respect human rights and freedoms, and guarantee the country's freedom and territorial integrity. Opposition lawmakers boycotted the ceremony, as did former President Levon Ter-Petrossian and defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian. Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian expressed regret at the opposition deputies' failure to attend the ceremony, commenting that their presence would have helped to demonstrate to the world that "we are a civilized and democratic country," Noyan Tapan reported. In his benediction, Catholicos Garegin II noted that Armenia survived "difficult days" during the election and said, "We still have a path to travel before we achieve full-fledged democracy," Noyan Tapan reported LF

Addressing parliament after taking the oath of office on 9 April, President Kocharian said the February-March presidential election was "tough and uncompromising," and that it gave rise to a "confrontation between political forces [that] partly turned into a confrontation within society," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Acknowledging that the situation provides "food for thought," Kocharian pledged to reform "the entire state system," to crack down on corruption, and to "report to the public on a regular basis" in order to prevent the rift between the government and the population from widening. At the same time, Kocharian again denounced as "irresponsible" ongoing street protests by Demirchian supporters who claim the election outcome was falsified and should therefore be annulled. LF

Meanwhile, police armed with truncheons, interior ministry troops and regular army troops armed with machine guns clashed on 9 April with thousands of protesters who tried to march on the government building where the inauguration ceremony took place, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Several demonstrators were injured, including Albert Bazeyan, one of the leaders of the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, and an unspecified number arrested. After 40 minutes, opposition leaders called on the demonstrators to disperse. LF

Addressing a discussion in Yerevan on 9 April, economist Karine Danielian said membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will lead to a deterioration in the socioeconomic and ecological situation as domestic products are replaced on the internal market by cheaper foreign imports, Noyan Tapan reported. Academician Mikhael Gyulkhassian similarly predicted that the imposition of value-added tax (VAT) on agricultural produce beginning in 2009 is likely to lead to the decline of that sector. Armenia was accepted into the WTO in February. LF

Heidar Aliev has dismissed Eyvaz Babaev, the mayor of Gyanja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, and named Eldar Azizov, mayor of Baku's Nizami Raion, to succeed him in that post, Turan reported on 9 April. The reasons for Babaev's dismissal are unclear, but Aliev criticized Babaev personally and conditions in Gyanja in general when he visited the city last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 September 2002). Aziz, 45, served as a secretary of the Central Committee of the Azerbaijani Komsomol in the 1980s, and later within the Baku municipal administration. LF

Former Baku Deputy Mayor Eldeniz Laidjev was arrested on 8 April, Turan and the independent newspaper "Halg cephisi" reported the following day. Unconfirmed reports say Laidjev is to be questioned in connection with an investigation by the Prosecutor-General's Office into the disappearance of more than $1 million intended for compensation payments to Baku residents whose homes were demolished to make way for the expansion of the U.S. Embassy complex. LF

Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev met on 9 April in Baku with Admiral Shahid Navaz, who heads Pakistan's National Defense College, Turan reported. Navaz reportedly gave a positive assessment to the ongoing training of Pakistani officers at military academies in Azerbaijan and offered unspecified assistance to Baku in liberating Azerbaijani territories currently occupied by Armenian forces. The two countries signed a military-cooperation agreement during a visit by Abiev to Karachi last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002). LF

After talks with President Vladislav Ardzinba, the war veterans union Amtsakhara has decided to postpone a mass protest demonstration planned for 10 April, Caucasus Press reported, quoting the movement's chairman, Merab Kishmaria. Meanwhile, the Abkhaz parliament has proposed the creation of a Forum of National Reconciliation on which all political parties and movements would be represented, Caucasus Press reported on 10 April. The forum would draft a short-term plan for improving the political and economic situation, together with amendments to the constitution and to existing legislation on parliamentary and presidential elections. Ardzinba has still not named a new prime minister to succeed Gennadii Gagulia, whose cabinet submitted its collective resignation on 7 April. LF

Editors of the independent Kazakh newspaper "SolDAT" conducted a roundtable discussion on 9 April in the Almaty office of the Republican People's Party in what Editor in Chief Ermurat Bapi said was an effort to provide citizens with more information about the latest developments in the scandal popularly known as Kazakhgate, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Republican People's Party Executive Board Deputy Chairman Amangeldy Kerimtay told RFE/RL that few media outlets in Kazakhstan have been covering the latest developments, and he believes that information about Kazakhgate should be available to the population. Interest in the three-year-old scandal -- which is widely believed to involve President Nursultan Nazarbaev, his family, former Prime Minister Nurlan Balghymbaev, and other senior Kazakh officials -- was revived with the 30 March arrest of U.S. businessman James Giffen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2003). Giffen, a former economic adviser to Nazarbaev, faces charges of violating the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by having allegedly organized the payment by major U.S. oil firms of millions of dollars in bribes to senior Kazakh officials. When the scandal first became public, it caused a political uproar in Kazakhstan, including allegations that the president and his family had huge sums salted away in Swiss bank accounts. BB

A 30-year-old businessman has been placed in an isolation ward in Pavlodar, and he is being treated for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Interfax reported on 9 April. The man traveled to Thailand in March, returning to Pavlodar via Moscow and Omsk on 17 March, and became ill after his return home. All persons who have been in contact with him since then are being examined, and 16 medical personnel who treated him before the diagnosis of SARS was confirmed have been placed in isolation. No cases of SARS have been reported in other Central Asian states, but Uzbekistan has created a crisis team and introduced additional checks at Tashkent Airport, according to on 7 April. LF

Former Vice President and head of the opposition Ar-Namys Party Feliks Kulov, sentenced to a lengthy prison term after being convicted of abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2001 and 9 May 2002), was transferred from a temporary detention cell in a National Security Service preliminary-investigation facility to prison on 8 April, and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the following day. Kulov and Ar-Namys had been demanding the transfer. According to Kyrgyz law, Kulov should have been transferred after the Bishkek City Court upheld an earlier verdict in October 2002. Kulov's party insists the charges against Kulov were politically motivated. Some of his relatives were forced to emigrate and party members complain of harassment by the authorities. Kulov tried to run against President Askar Akaev in the October 2000 presidential election, and was considered to be Akaev's most credible opponent. Kulov remains a figure popular with the opposition, which periodically demands his release. His lawyer told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that it remains unclear how much of his 10-year sentence Kulov still has to serve, since his term was cut by one-third under an amnesty. He is one of the opposition leaders who strongly supports the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq. BB

A new political party, Novoe vremya (New Times), is being formed in Kyrgyzstan, reported on 9 April. According to a report on the Djalal-Abad Oblast constituent conference, participants included raion and municipal executive-branch officials, heads of local government agencies, and other government officials. The conference was conducted by Djalal-Abad Deputy Mayor Farida Yuldasheva. Constituent conferences are a required step in the process of forming new political parties in Kyrgyzstan. The report indicated that similar conferences have already been held in other oblasts. commented that the most striking difference between existing parties and the new one is its call for parliamentary government. BB

The head of the Djalal-Abad office of the National Security Service, Marat Imankulov, was quoted by on 9 April as asserting that there are 2,000 members of the banned Islamic extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir in southern Kyrgyzstan's Djalal-Abad Oblast alone, and that number is growing. Imankulov claimed that in the last year oblast law enforcement agencies have seized and destroyed more than 1,000 Hizb ut-Tahrir leaflets and 200 books, as well as two guns, ammunition, five grenades, and some 90 videocassettes with "extremist" content. Twenty-three criminal cases have been initiated, of which 17 have been handed to the courts, according to Imankulov, who complained that the population of the oblast has been passive in the struggle against extremism. In recent months, human rights activists and Kyrgyzstan's ombudsman have questioned how dangerous to the country Hizb ut-Tahrir really is. The group's ideology rejects violence in pursuit of its aims, which include establishing an Islamic state in Central Asia. Kyrgyzstan's security services insist that the group poses a serious threat, one that justifies the arrests of its adherents for distributing literature. BB

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and his visiting Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, signed an agreement in Dushanbe on 9 April on economic cooperation for the period 2003-12, ITAR-TASS reported. Among possible fields in which economic cooperation could be expanded, Rakhmonov specifically mentioned hydro-engineering and the processing of agricultural produce, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 9 April. During talks on 8 and 9 April, the two presidents discussed bilateral relations; regional issues, including the situation in Afghanistan; the war in Iraq; and cooperation within the framework of international organizations, including the UN, the OSCE, and the CIS. Representatives of the two governments signed on 9 April several bilateral agreements on cooperation in science, health care, banking, mutual protection of confidential information, and combating drug trafficking. LF

The oil multinational Royal Dutch/Shell Group intends to close its offices in Turkmenistan because the company sees no prospects for taking part in realistic oil-and-gas projects in the country, Interfax reported on 9 April. Reportedly, the staff in the Ashgabat office has already been reduced to two people. Royal Dutch/Shell Group had been interested in taking part in building the Trans-Afghan gas pipeline, but the company has decided the project is "too risky," a staff member was quoted as saying. Shell has been working with the Turkmen government on locating and developing the country's oil-and-gas resources, and headed a consortium to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran. The United States rejected that project, and the trans-Caspian pipeline in which Royal Dutch/Shell Group would have been a participant was never started, at least partly because of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's demand for a down payment of $1 billion for permission for the project to begin. AFP quoted an official in Shell's Ashgabat office as saying the company would be closing down in Turkmenistan. ExxonMobil closed down its operations in the country in 2001, citing limited prospects for future projects. BB

A report on the outcome of local elections on 6 April was aired on Turkmen state television on 9 April, focusing on a meeting of the Central Election Commission held that day to discuss election results and register the candidates who were elected. According to commission data, 99.8 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. At least two candidates were registered in each constituency, but according to sources in Turkmenistan who must necessarily remain anonymous, the candidates were not popularly selected. Unofficial observers within the country also asserted that far fewer voters appeared at the polls than the turnout the authorities would claim. BB

The European Parliament on 9 April overwhelmingly approved expansion of the European Union to accept all 10 candidate states on which the vote was taken, international news agencies reported. The invitees, expected to complete the accession process by mid-2004, are: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. "It is the defining moment of a very long process," European Parliament President Patrick Cox said before the vote, according to RFE/RL. "We've all had the chance to weigh the arguments, and now we are called upon, on the record, before our public, and I think also before history, to take our stand on this issue." Separate votes were taken on each new entrant, with Lithuania and Slovenia receiving the strongest endorsements -- 522 votes in favor and 22 against. The Czech Republic received the weakest backing, garnering 489 ballots in favor and 37 against, due to German and Austrian objections to the postwar Benes Decrees, according to AFP and CTK. The parliaments of the current 15 EU members must still endorse the expansion, and each of the 10 candidate countries must put membership to a referendum. Maltese and Slovenian voters have already backed accession, and Hungary will conduct its plebiscite on 12 April. MS

Leading Russian breweries Baltika (St. Petersburg) and Afanasii-Pivo (Tver) have suspended beer deliveries to Belarus, and the Union of Russian Brewers (URB) has requested that the Russian government introduce import quotas on Belarusian goods, Belapan reported on 9 April. The steps came in apparent response to the enactment by Belarus on 1 April of new regulations that oblige all foreign beer suppliers to have special stamps on documents accompanying beer shipments and to deliver beer only through warehouses included on a special list by Belarus's Taxation Ministry. "There are currently neither the special stamps nor instructions on their use at Belarus's warehouses," the Afanasii-Pivo press office said. "According to Belarusian wholesalers, they are expected to appear no earlier than late April. Thus, the Belarusian government has in fact isolated its market from Russian-made beer for almost a month." JM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 9 April said he has approved a military exercise for October codenamed "Clear Skies" and aimed at training forces to fend off a "mass attack" like that under way in Iraq, Belapan and Belarusian Television reported. "The exercise will be modeled approximately in such a way as the war in Iraq is developing today, in order to resist such a mass attack by a possible enemy," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying at an aircraft-repair plant in Baranavichy. "I'm not telling you that we are going to fight," Lukashenka said. "I'll tell you straight away: We are not going to fight...because nobody wants to fight us. All that chattering organized around our state -- about who will be the next and so on -- comes from the minds of insane people.... They deliberate today in such a way so as to pressure the leadership of our country and to spread some anxiety among our people." JM

Gerhard Schroeder assured Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych in Berlin on 9 April that he backs associate EU membership for Ukraine in the near future, dpa reported. "We fully support the process of bringing Ukraine closer to the European Union," Schroeder said at a joint news conference with Yanukovych. "In the not-too-distant future, there must be the possibility of associate EU status for Ukraine." Schroeder's comment follows a blunt rejection by German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer last month of Ukraine's hopes of becoming a full-fledged EU member "now or in the foreseeable future" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). JM

Polish National Security Bureau Secretary Marek Siwiec, accompanied by Ukrainian presidential-administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, visited Volyn Oblast in northwestern Ukraine on 8-9 April, Interfax reported. Siwiec and Medvedchuk discussed with local authorities and activists from cultural, educational, and religious organizations ways to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the so-called Volyn massacre (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 March 2003). Polish and Ukrainian Presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski and Leonid Kuchma agreed in February to organize joint commemoration of the massacre (see RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). In particular, Poland wants Ukraine to let Poles to visit sites of the tragedy in July. PAP quoted Kwasniewski as saying on 9 April that he and Kuchma are planning commemorative events and preparing political declarations for the occasion. JM

During a hearing in the Verkhovna Rada on 9 April, leaders and representatives of the Our Ukraine, Communist Party, Socialist Party, and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary caucuses spoke out against President Leonid Kuchma's draft bill intended to reform Ukraine's political system (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2003), Interfax and UNIAN reported. "Isn't it strange that the political-reform proposals were made by the authority that won a mere 6 percent of support in the [2002 parliamentary] elections, and has 17 months until the end of its term in power?" Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said. He added that the real aim of the proposed reforms is "to illegally prolong [Kuchma's] mandate." "These amendments to the constitution practically destroy the parliamentary system, [and] tame the government and judges," Yuliya Tymoshenko noted, asserting that Kuchma's real aim is to prolong his term until March 2007. Meanwhile, Leonid Kravchuk, head of the Social Democratic Party-united's parliamentary caucus, said constitutional reform needs to be implemented before the next presidential election. Kravchuk argued that if this is not done, the future head of state might refuse to restrict his powers. JM

Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun on 9 April confirmed to Interfax that he has ordered "several investigations" into publications considered "defamatory" toward the president and other politicians. Piskun was commenting on presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska's statement of 4 April, in which she said a criminal case has been launched against a number of media outlets that publicized "defamatory materials aimed at creating obstacles to the president's execution of his duties and at undermining the president's reputation." Piskun pledged to provide details of the investigations in the near future. JM

Arnold Ruutel on 9 April approved the appointment of Prime Minister Juhan Parts's cabinet, BNS reported. Res Publica Chairman Parts, along with his coalition cabinet consisting of five ministers from the Reform Party and four ministers each from Res Publica and the People's Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2003), are expected to be sworn into office in parliament on 10 April. Parts also announced that Alo Heinsalu, the administrative director of the parliament's chancellery, will be his chief of staff and Res Publica Political Secretary Ott Lumi will be his adviser on domestic affairs. SG

Education and Science Minister Karlis Sadurskis told a meeting of the parliament's Education, Culture, and Science Commission on 9 April that the planned transition to Latvian as the primary language of instruction in schools will take place on 1 September 2004 and, "Nothing can change that," LETA reported. He predicted that 90 percent of schools will be prepared to use Latvian as the primary instruction language, but that schools that are not prepared for the language change will be allowed to teach certain subjects in minority languages. State Education Inspection head Zigfrids Grinpauks said that 12 schools, most of them in Riga, have already stated that they will not be prepared for the language change. SG

The Vilnius City Council on 9 April elected Social Democrat Gediminas Pavirzis over incumbent Arturas Zuokas as the new mayor of Vilnius by a vote of 27 to 24, ELTA reported. The result were unexpected, as the deputies from the Liberal Union, Modern Christian Democratic Union, Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania), and Polish Election Action signed a coalition agreement last month with 30 of the council's 51 members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). However, Polish Election Action changed its position and agreed to join a new five-party coalition with the ruling left-of-center coalition of Social Democrats and Social Liberals, the right-of-center Liberal Democrats, and the Lithuanian Russian Union. Liberal parliament deputy Aleksandras Poplavskis filed an appeal to the Vilnius District Administrative Court asking that the City Council session be declared invalid since three parliament deputies participated in it, which he argues is a violation of the December Constitutional Court decision forbidding simultaneous membership in parliament and local councils. SG

Three military medical officers and 10 logistics specialists flew on 9 April to Frankfurt, from where U.S. aircraft were to transport them to Kuwait, ELTA reported. The deployment was mandated by parliament last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). A fourth doctor traveled to Kuwait last week to finalize the details of the planned activities of the Lithuanian doctors. Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius participated in the send-off ceremonies at the Zokniai airport in northern Lithuania. All the participants in the mission, which is expected to last up to six months, are volunteers. The servicemen are to serve in "a humanitarian mission" and are not to take part in any military action. SG

The Sejm on 9 April rejected two no-confidence motions aimed at Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik, one submitted jointly by Self-Defense and the League of Polish Families (LPR) and the other by the Civic Platform and Law and Justice (PiS) parties, PAP reported. The former motion was supported by 166 lawmakers and the latter by 202 lawmakers; ousting Janik from the cabinet would have required 231 votes. Self-Defense and the LPR wanted to dismiss Janik for the "brutality" with which social protests were put down during Janik's term in office, while the Civic Platform and PiS said he was politically responsible for the death of two policemen and injuries suffered by 15 other officers during a recent shootout with gangsters near Warsaw (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003). JM

Maciej Plazynski resigned the leadership of his Civic Platform at a meeting of its parliamentary caucus on 9 April, and lawmakers immediately elected Donald Tusk as his successor, PAP reported. The head of the Civic Platform parliamentary caucus is simultaneously party chairman under its statutes. Speaking after his resignation, Plazynski told journalists the Civic Platform, contrary to his expectations, is more centrist than right-wing. "There was no desire in the Civic Platform to widen its electorate, while there was a desire of a large part for a stabilization in the center. That is a difference of ideas," Plazynski said, adding that Poland needs a "popular, broad-based, right-wing party that is not associated with just one circle." He pledged, however, that he will remain in the Civic Platform. JM

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla, reacting on 9 April to the European Parliament's EU-expansion vote the same day (see item above), said that while the decision is "an important step," it still must be followed up by ratification by the parliaments of the 15 EU current members, CTK reported. Vladimir Lastuvka, chairman of the Czech Chamber of Deputies' Foreign Affairs Committee and a member of Spidla's Social Democratic Party, criticized German and Austrian parliamentarians who opposed Czech accession due to lingering resentment over postwar expulsions. Lastuvka said those parliamentarians displayed a preference for "local utilitarian interests" rather than a "united Europe" and "joint European values." The opposition Civic Democratic Party's (ODS) shadow foreign minister, Jan Zahradil, said it is "sad" that German and Austrian representatives "mix their very marginal, internal political problems with a historical project of the dimensions of the EU's enlargement." MS

Czech Deputy Defense Minister Jan Vana told journalists on 9 April that Washington has agreed to partly finance the deployment to Iraq of a Czech field hospital, CTK reported. The move was approved by the Czech cabinet on 1 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April 2003), and both houses of parliament are to vote on the decision on 17 April, according to CTK. Vana said U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has signed an agreement on the partial financing, whose exact details are to be worked out at a later date. The opposition ODS proposed on 9 April that the Czech anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit currently deployed in Kuwait be allowed to accompany the field hospital staff into Iraq for the purpose of protecting it. The resolution under which the NBC unit was dispatched to Kuwait does not allow it to enter Iraq without a further UN resolution or unless Iraq employs weapons of mass destruction against the U.S.-led coalition. Also on 9 April, the Chamber of Deputies approved a resolution under which 170 million crowns ($5.7 million) originally allotted for the deployment of a field hospital to Afghanistan will be used to finance the Czech NBC unit's stay in Kuwait. MS

Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik on 9 April said the military-intelligence structures within his ministry will be merged into a single service by 1 May, CTK reported. The ministry's Committee for Intelligence Activities headed by Deputy Defense Minister Jaroslav Skopek will have oversight of the new structure. Josef Proks will direct the new unit, with Jiri Giesl, the current head of the ministry's intelligence service, serving as Skopek's deputy. Tvrdik emphasized that he appreciates Giesl's service to the ministry, but CTK speculated that Giesl might be forced out along with others involved in military-intelligence activities before 1989. Tvrdik reiterated that all personnel who worked for the secret services under the communist regime will have to leave military intelligence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2003). The restructuring is expected to take between two and five years and will result in a considerable reduction of personnel. MS

Prague police said on 9 April that Italian businessman Giuseppe Roselli, who vanished during the financial turmoil that accompanied the collapse of a Czech bank, claims he was kidnapped for one day before being released unharmed, dpa reported. The chairman of Union Group, which controls 75 percent of the shares of collapsed Union Banka, reported that he and his bodyguard were kidnapped on 7 April by unknown abductors and separately released the next day. The Italian group Invesmart, which controls Union Group, bought the Ostrava-based bank in the fall of 2002 but closed it in February following reports that it was at risk of insolvency. The investors demanded a bailout to cover bad debts, and when the Czech government refused, they retaliated by closing all its 100 branches and freezing deposits. The Czech National Bank threatened to cancel Union Banka's license but later decided to wait for Roselli and his associates to map out a restructuring plan for the bank. The investment firm Goldman Sachs is working with Invesmart on a rescue or sale package. MS

President Rudolf Schuster met on 9 April with his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush at the White House, TASR reported. After the meeting, Schuster said Bush praised the unequivocal attitude displayed by Slovakia toward the conflict in Iraq, underlining that Slovak support is all the more important in light of the policy rift with other European states. Schuster also said Bush reiterated his support for NATO enlargement. The U.S. president asked Schuster to convey his greetings to the joint Czech-Slovak NBC unit deployed in Kuwait, and added that he counts on Slovak support for Iraq's postwar reconstruction. In response to a journalist's question after the meeting, Schuster said Slovakia is prepared to host U.S. bases on its territory, CTK reported. Schuster also met on 9 April with Commerce Secretary Don Evans, discussing ways to boost Slovak exports to the United States. He also held talks with senior members of Congress on the expected ratification of the treaty on NATO enlargement. MS

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda on 9 April welcomed the European Parliament's decision to approve Slovakia's accession to the EU, TASR reported (see item above). Dzurinda said the vote demonstrated the broad support Slovakia enjoys in the EU and is a further step toward signing the Accession Treaty. The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia's (HZDS) chairman, former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, also welcomed the outcome of the vote, saying the HZDS will continue to back the country's pro-European path, CTK reported. Meciar's government was widely regarded as a serious brake on Slovak integration into Western European institutions. Slovakia's chief negotiator with the EU, Jan Figel, a member of the Christian Democratic Movement, told journalists the outcome of the vote demonstrates that Slovakia is considered to be one of the stronger candidates. MS

Parliament on 9 April overrode the veto by President Schuster of a law that would oblige Slovaks to cover part of their own hospitalization and medical costs, TASR and CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 26 March 2003). Seventy-seven deputies backed the override, so the president must now promulgate the law. Schuster sought to enlarge the categories of those who would be exempt from the payment, citing the country's difficult economic situation. The law will come into force on 1 June. MS

Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs on 9 April welcomed the European Parliament's vote to admit new applicants into the European Union (see item above), saying the event marks a new step toward Hungary's EU membership, the MTI news agency reported. Kovacs said the next important step will be Hungary's 12 April EU-membership referendum, which is crucial to the country's future. Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told European Parliament President Cox by phone that it is encouraging and reassuring to see such clear-cut support for EU expansion, the agency reported. MSZ

Medgyessy, President Ferenc Madl, parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili, and the leaders of Hungary's four parliamentary parties on 9 April held a final EU-accession campaign event in parliament, urging voters to confirm Hungary's bonds with Europe, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Szili expressed thanks to the four parties for pursuing politics in the course of the campaign in a "civilized, European way." Madl said "in our wishes and our best moments, we have never been completely apart from Europe, neither [during the anti-Soviet revolution] in 1956 nor in our more difficult past centuries." Medgyessy said Hungary has paid its dues for European membership in the past 13 years, adding, "Our investment can now turn a profit." Opposition FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Janos Ader said, "Accession is not a political issue, and Hungarians do not have to make a political decision on 12 April," the daily reported. MSZ

The Culture Ministry is requesting detailed information on the exhibition titled "Soldiers of Miklos Horthy -- Arrow Cross People of Ferenc Szalasi," which opened on 19 March at the Jurisics Chateau in the western Hungarian town of Koszeg, the Culture Ministry's Erzsebet Szentpeteri Koczian told "Nepszabadsag" on 9 April. She said experts have been asked to give a professional evaluation of the exhibition, which commemorates Hungary's World War II-era regime, led by long-time monarchist and Nazi collaborator Horthy and later by Szalasi, leader of the anti-Semitic and fascist Arrow Cross party. The same day, Koszeg Mayor Ferenc Kuntner released a statement expressing shock over a recent statement released by the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities (MAZSIHISZ) in Hungary, which holds local town leaders responsible for allowing the exhibition. Kuntner said the museum is not a municipal institution but is maintained by the Vas County Council, and he insisted that no responsibility rests with the town for the exhibition. MAZSIHISZ Executive Director Gusztav Zoltai described the exhibition as "insolent, primitive, and provocative," adding that he can only make a statement full of emotions, as he lived through the horrors of the Arrow Cross regime as a child, the daily reported. MSZ

NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Sarajevo on 10 April that he wants to "reemphasize NATO's commitment to stability, security, and safety in this country," dpa reported. He added that he has "come with a strong message about a necessity to reform military structures in Bosnia-Herzegovina." Robertson stressed that "it is intolerable in this age that there should be a military setup like the one that we have here," under which three separate military establishments exist in the same country. Robertson told his Bosnian hosts that "common command and control are absolute prerequisites for Bosnia-Herzegovina joining the Partnership for Peace" program of the Atlantic alliance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2003). PM

Leaders from Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Turkey attended the annual meeting of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) in Belgrade on 9 April, dpa reported. The leaders failed to agree on a joint statement on Iraq but stressed that the Balkans has become a center of cooperation and harmony, which is what the EU expects of the nine states in their respective bids to join the Brussels-based bloc. Svetozar Marovic, who is president of Serbia and Montenegro, said: "I want to send a message that all challenges we face today will get a clear and determined regional response.... We should not forget the past, but we should put it behind us." Croatian President Stipe Mesic argued, "The time of the irrational fear that regional cooperation threatens our freshly won independence is a thing of the past." For his part, European Commission President Romano Prodi noted, "There are no shortcuts to EU membership, no political agreement [has been made] to soften entry criteria. But [the] EU is with you in the process [toward membership] and will help you with expert advice and financially" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2003). PM

At the SEECP summit in Belgrade on 9 April, Marovic told RFE/RL that democratization has made regional cooperation and prosperity a reality. Mesic argued that cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal is the only way to ensure that guilty individuals are punished and that entire nations are not blamed for wartime atrocities. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic said the countries of the region can make a special contribution to all of Europe by putting an end to the Balkan criminal trade route. Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic noted that the region is now beginning "to speak with one voice." He added that the leaders agreed on concrete steps to combat crime and promote free trade, as well as joint infrastructure and energy projects. Bosnia has succeeded Serbia and Montenegro as SEECP chair for the next 12 months. PM

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in a Belgrade television interview on 8 April that Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj ordered the "physical elimination" of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic shortly before Seselj left for The Hague in February, according to Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 February 2003). Covic did not provide evidence to support his charges, but he and Seselj are bitter rivals. Covic also suggested that the possible roles of the security services and of two recently arrested aides to former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica should be investigated in the Djindjic case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003). Elsewhere, Kostunica said the arrest of his aides is part of an attempt by his political rivals to settle scores with him, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski on 9 April dismissed Colonel Stojce Deskovski from his positions as dean of the Army Academy and commander of the Goce Delcev barracks in Skopje, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Buckovski's move came in response to an incident in which three armed, drunken civilians entered the barracks, cut the telephone lines, and beat up several recruits. On 10 April, "Dnevnik" quoted the ministry's official statement as saying that "reports that only Albanian soldiers were mistreated are gross falsehoods." Police arrested two of the suspected perpetrators on 9 April, while a third is still at large. UB

Dosta Dimovska said in Skopje on 9 April that objections by the governing Social Democrats (SDSM) to her recent pardon by President Boris Trajkovski are politically motivated, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003). Dimovska added that the SDSM hoped to make political capital out of possible legal proceedings against her, to which the pardon has put an end. The news agency reported, however, that public opinion generally agrees with the SDSM's view that Trajkovski pardoned Dimovska to prevent political damage to the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), of which they are both members. PM

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has lifted its arrest warrant for former Croatian General Janko Bobetko because of his poor health, "Vjesnik" reported on 9 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 February, 26 March, and 4 April 2003). PM

More than 30 engineering corps troops are currently undergoing "tough training" and will leave for Iraq after the end of the war there, Mediafax reported on 9 April. The agency quoted Major Didi Miler, spokesman of the Braila-based 10th Engineering Brigade, as saying: "Our boys will go there to build, not to destroy. They will clear minefields, restore communications systems and bridges, and help the civilian population." MS

The South East European Cooperation Process (SEECP) summit that ended in Belgrade on 9 April accepted a Romanian proposal to include Moldova in the organization as of 2004, when the next SEECP summit is scheduled to be held in Sarajevo, Mediafax reported, citing Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana. Bosnia and Herzegovina took over the SEECP's rotating presidency after the summit, and proposed Romania as its successor in 2004. Geoana met in Belgrade with his Greek counterpart George Papandreou, with whom he discussed the 16 April EU meeting in Athens in which the 10 new EU members are to sign the EU Accession Treaty. Romania is not among those members, and hopes to join the EU in 2007. Geoana also met in Belgrade with European Commission President Romano Prodi, to whom he handed a letter from Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase and Hungarian Premier Peter Medgyessy in which they asked the EU for help in constructing a highway linking their countries' capitals. MS

NATO Deputy Secretary-General for Political Affairs Guenter Altenburg, meeting on 9 April with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on the sidelines of the annual South East European Cooperation Process summit in Belgrade, said NATO is prepared to participate in the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, Infotag and Flux reported. After Voronin reviewed the problems his country is currently facing, Altenbourg told him that NATO will soon border Moldova and is therefore interested in eliminating instability in the vicinity of its frontiers. Voronin also met in Belgrade with European Commission President Prodi, who promised to back Chisinau's efforts to prevent smuggling from Transdniester by setting up joint Moldovan-Ukrainian customs posts on the Ukrainian side of their common border. Voronin also held talks with Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov and with Mirko Sarovic, the former Serbian member of the tripartite Bosnian presidency. MS

EU spokesman on foreign affairs Diego de Oyeda, in an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service, said on 9 April that the EU intends in the near future to become more involved in efforts to resolve the Transdniester conflict. He said EU officials will discuss with Russian officials the issue of the withdrawal of Russian troops from the separatist region and will insist that Moscow withdraw both its arsenal and soldiers stationed in Transdniester. Diego de Oyeda also said Moldova can "get no better offer" from the EU than that currently under elaboration as part of the union's "New Neighbors" policy. He said that for economic, political, and geographic reasons, Moldova has no chance of becoming a full member of the EU in the next 10 years. However, he said that under the policy the EU is currently developing as regards its neighbors following the union's expansion, Moldova stands to benefit from nearly all of the advantages of full-fledged membership. In order to do so, however, Moldova must, in turn, implement EU regulations, he said. MS

Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer on 9 April told RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service that Moldova will take over the rotating chairmanship of the organization's Committee of Ministers in May, "even if it still faces flaws in its democratic functioning." Schwimmer said Moldova must be treated as a European country and as a full-fledged member of the Council of Europe. He spoke during a two-day visit to Chisinau, after attending a meeting of the so-called Standing Roundtable. At that meeting, opposition parties' representatives accused the Moldovan government of infringing on the independence of the judiciary and on local autonomy, as well as of continuing to control the electronic media. Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca, quoted by Flux, said Moldova has been turned into a "second Belarus" and that Voronin has become a "second Lukashenka." MS

A recent opinion poll carried out by Alpha Research established that Bulgarians strongly support constitutional changes regarding the judiciary and local self-government, reported on 9 April. Two-thirds of the respondents believe the planned judicial reform must be based on constitutional amendments and that the citizens should participate in a broad discussion on the reforms. Sixty-five percent of the respondents support lifting the irrevocability of magistrates and 69 percent would welcome the restriction of judges' immunity. Sixty-eight percent favor the strengthening of local self-government, while 80 percent would welcome the introduction of direct elections for the oblast councils. Fifty-one percent of respondents support strengthening the constitutional rights of the president. UB

A joint venture of the Italian electricity supplier Enel, the U.S.-based Entergy Corporation, and the Bulgarian National Electricity Company (NEK) on 9 April launched the upgrade of a thermoelectric-power plant, BTA reported. Four 840-megawatt units of the Maritsa Iztok III coal-fired power plant will be modernized and upgraded with de-sulfurization filters. Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski said the project is of particular importance for the national economy and a clear signal to international investors. He also stressed that it is the country's "first large project of environmental importance meeting European standards" and is "important for the lives and health of the people in Bulgaria." UB

Iraqis face a momentous task as they begin the process of rebuilding their country after decades of war, sanctions, and neglect by Saddam Hussein's regime. Iraq today finds itself with a shattered political system based on a corrupt ideology. Old divisions and political rifts are sure to come to the fore. Not only will Iraqis need to come to terms with the political situation on the ground, so to speak; they will also have to fuse the wants and ideas of an opposition that has itself been historically divided in its vision of a post-Hussein Iraq.

In addition, its once-vital economy shows the wear of 12 years of sanctions, stagnated development, and environmental damage so extensive that only time will allow the country to become again sustainable.

Ba'athist ideology was the cornerstone of the Iraqi regime. The brainchild of a Greek Orthodox thinker, Michel Aflaq, Ba'athism was based on an idea of Arab nationalism that transgressed state boundaries. The Hussein regime transformed that ideology into one of Arab superiority, one in which Saddam Hussein placed himself at the top, seemingly as a "father" of the Arab nation. He later co-opted a vision of Islam into his secular ideology, blurring the distinction between secular Ba'athist ideology and Islam. Iraqis seeking to rise through the political or military ranks were required to subscribe to this ideology, and the top echelon of the Hussein regime and its security apparatus was staunchly Ba'athist. In fact, no other political party was allowed to operate in Iraq under Hussein.

The Ba'ath Party under Hussein infiltrated and controlled every aspect of Iraqi life. The neighborhoods of every major city had their own Ba'ath Party headquarters, and the party's hierarchal structure effectively obstructed infiltration at the upper levels. In order to attain full membership, each member was required to pass through four levels: sympathizer, supporter, nominee, and trainee. Each member belongs to a cell, which itself consists of a handful of members, with only one member linked to the next level. The structure bred corruption and secrecy, as members were encouraged to spy on their neighbors and report any threats to the regime.

Members of the Iraqi opposition and the U.S. government agree that it will be necessary to allow many technocrats from the Hussein regime to remain in place, and, indeed, the experience and expertise of technocrats would be an asset in the effort to ensure a smooth transition to a post-Hussein government by keeping government offices and public works running. But one must ask whether they will, in the end, also perpetuate a corrupt system.

As they struggle to rebuild a political system in the post-Hussein era, the new Iraqi leadership must also build a new sense of nationalism, one which transcends ethnic and religious boundaries. A cohesive national identity rests at the very core of the issue.

An overhaul of Iraq's economy is also needed. While Iraq possesses enormous natural resources, reviving the economy is not simply a matter of opening the oil taps. Oil revenues, however, will surely contribute to rebuilding efforts. Under the UN's oil-for-food program, Iraq exported 12.7 million barrels during the week of 8-14 March alone, which translated into $340 million in revenues. As oil-for-food is revised (and eventually eliminated) and the oil infrastructure revamped, Iraq's earnings in that sector will skyrocket. But the results will be far from immediate. Decades of neglect, war, and sanctions have taken a toll on the oil sector -- just as they have on other vital sectors, such as water and telecommunications.

Opposition members have worked out a plan for economic restructuring that includes rebuilding the neglected oil infrastructure, upgrading the telecommunications system, converting Iraq's vast military-industrial complex for civilian use, developing a new currency, reforming the banking sector, and addressing foreign debt incurred by the Hussein regime. Iraq's health-care sector is also in urgent need of improvement. Providing jobs for Iraqis will constitute a major challenge. It is unclear how many of the 26 million Iraqis are employed, but in the newly liberated areas, unemployment is surely a problem. In addition, economic revitalization will be most important in the areas oppressed by the regime, namely in Shia-dominated southern Iraq. A massive job-works program is one way of meeting the needs of a crumbling infrastructure while providing jobs to Iraqis, 41 percent of whom are under the age of 14 and nearly 56 percent is between the ages of 15 and 64, according to U.S. government estimates.

Severe environmental degradation has occurred in Iraq over the past 30 years. Public-works projects initiated under Hussein have resulted in the destruction of 90 percent of Iraq's lakes and marshlands in the lower Tigris-Euphrates river valley, according to the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) website ( Iraq's forests have been reduced from 4 percent of land in 1948 to just 0.02 percent today. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) study, Iraqi agriculture uses 95 percent of all available water resources to produce 30 percent of the country's food requirements. In addition, the USDA reports, "Land degradation, salinization, declining crop yields due to mismanagement of land resources and lack of inputs are serious problems, especially in the irrigated lands." Although the country is situated at the heart of the "fertile crescent," mismanagement, poor planning, and years of conflict have caused serious damage to the environment.

Many also warn of the effects of depleted uranium from years of conflict in Iraq. The UNEP released a statement on 6 April calling for a study of the effects of depleted uranium in Iraq. "Although our assessments to date, under conditions prevailing in the Balkans, have concluded that [depleted-uranium] contamination does not pose any immediate risks to human health or the environment, the fact remains that depleted uranium is still an issue of great concern for the general public," UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said. "An early study in Iraq could either lay these fears to rest or confirm that there are indeed potential risks, which could then be addressed through immediate action."

The challenges ahead are enormous, but Iraq is better placed than many states that have faced a similar task. Iraq has a state system, an infrastructure, and an economy. All are in dire need of revitalization. The opposition boasts that hundreds of Iraqis from the diaspora are prepared to lend their expertise in a number of sectors -- from telecommunications to judicial reform -- to rebuild the state. In addition, the United States and the international community are committed to helping Iraqis achieve that goal.

Iraqis met U.S. tanks with cheers in central Baghdad's Paradise Square on 9 April, international press reported the same day. A small crowd celebrated as U.S. troops helped Iraqis topple a towering bronze statue of Saddam Hussein. Iraqi men trampled on the fallen statue before decapitating it and dragging the statue's head through the streets. The event followed a morning in which Iraqis were reported by international media to be looting government offices and the UN's Baghdad headquarters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003). Meanwhile, U.S. forces continued to face sporadic fighting in the Iraqi capital. As night fell, troops were engaged in a pitched gun battle with Hussein loyalists at Baghdad University. KR

As U.S. troops worked to secure Baghdad on 9 April, U.S. intelligence outlets that monitor the Iraqi leadership reported that nearly all of Iraq's top officials have disappeared, "The Washington Post" reported on 10 April. "All of a sudden, all communications ceased and the regime didn't come to work," a senior U.S. administration official told the daily. Senior Ba'ath Party and Republican Guard leaders, government officials, and military personnel appeared to have vanished. "There was no sign of any leaders, anywhere," another administration official was quoted as saying. If Hussein was not killed in a 7 April bombing by coalition forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003), he might have gone into hiding or relocated to his hometown of Tikrit, a stronghold of the Hussein regime. Many other senior officials might have accompanied him, while others could have attempted to flee the country to Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003) or simply gone into hiding inside Iraq. Asked about the whereabouts of Hussein, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters on 9 April, according to "The Washington Post," "We don't know. And he's not been around. He's not active. Therefore, he's either dead or he's incapacitated, or he's healthy and cowering in some tunnel someplace, trying to avoid being caught." KR

Iraqi Ambassador to the UN Muhammad al-Duri told reporters in New York on 9 April, "The game is over, and I hope the peace will prevail," international media reported on 10 April. Al-Duri is arguably the most visible senior Iraqi official in the public eye. Asked if he will defect, al-Duri told AP that he will remain in his position at the UN, adding, "Defecting from who? I think the government has already defected. There is no more Iraqi government to be defected from." Al-Duri told reporters earlier in the day that he has had no contact with the Iraqi regime for some time, saying "I have no communication with Iraq. I am here, so I know nothing about what is going on there," Reuters reported. It is unclear what al-Duri's status might be in any new Iraqi government. He has served in the Hussein government since 1999, having spent the previous 30 years as a professor of international law at Baghdad University. KR

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Sa'ud al-Faysal told reporters at a 9 April news conference that the events in Iraq have reached a "decisive and critical stage," Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. Al-Faysal pointed to reports of widespread "lawlessness, looting, and chaos in a number of Iraqi cities," saying a continuation of the current situation might result in a humanitarian crisis. He called for the protection of innocent civilians, adding, "The kingdom emphasizes the need to bear in mind the special status of Baghdad, the city of peace in Arab and Islamic history, and to protect its historic and cultural landmarks." Al-Faysal also stressed the need for "giving the Iraqi people the opportunity to choose the way they see fit to run their affairs themselves." He called for coalition forces to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible. KR

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a summit of the heads of state of the South-East European Cooperation Process in Belgrade on 9 April that the Iraqi people should not be punished for the sins of the Hussein regime, Ankara Anatolia news agency reported the same day. Erdogan told summit participants that Turkey envisages a free Iraq, adding: "Iraq should preserve its political and territorial integrity. All members of the Iraqi population, including its founding members Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, and other nations, have to take a place in the administration of their joint state and benefit from the rich natural resources in this country." Erdogan said he hopes all Middle East states "record similar progress on the same path." KR

The London-based "Al-Zaman" daily announced on 9 April that it began distributing papers the previous day in southern Iraqi cities. According to the announcement, the "Al-Basrah Edition" of "Al-Zaman" is distributed in Al-Basrah, Al-Zubayr region, Umm Qasr, Al-Faw, Al-Tanumah, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Samawah. "The newspaper's aim is to reach all Iraqi regions, and reporters in Al-Basrah have already started supplying the newspaper with news items and creative writings from Al-Basrah," the announcement noted. The daily is headed by the former editor of the Iraqi daily "Al-Jumhuriyah," Saad al-Bazzaz. The Al-Basrah edition boasts 20 color pages. KR

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed that a Baghdad-based delegate of the humanitarian organization was killed in crossfire, according to a 9 April press release on the ICRC website ( Vatche Arslanian had been missing since 8 April, when a car he was traveling in got caught in crossfire, presumably between coalition and Iraqi forces. The ICRC reported that 13 people were killed in the incident, in which seven vehicles were hit. The ICRC suspended its deliveries in Baghdad as a result of the fighting, AFP reported the same day. ICRC spokeswoman Nada Doumani told reporters that deliveries will resume after a reassessment of the situation. "Our colleagues are shocked; there were just six foreign workers," Doumani said, adding, "But all of them are staying in Iraq, they want to stay and are convinced they are saving lives." The ICRC provides vital relief to hospitals and residents in the Baghdad area. KR

Iraq's oldest Shia opposition group, Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call), in a 9 April statement congratulated the Iraqi people on the downfall of the Ba'athist regime, Hizballah's Al-Manar television reported. Da'wah noted that this coincides with the anniversary of the Ba'athist regime's execution in 1980 of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and his sister Bint al-Huda. Meanwhile, Da'wah representative Adnan Ali explained his organization's role in Iraq's future during a London press conference with other oppositionists. He said Da'wah would not join a "local administration imposed by the coalition forces," London's "Al-Hayat" reported on 9 April. "The Iraqi people contributed to the process of overthrowing Saddam's regime by not joining the resistance against the American and British troops," he added. BS

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 9 April expressed the belief that the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) should have "a significant role in Iraq," Reuters reported, citing IRNA. SCIRI has been based in Iran since 1982 and is viewed by some Iraqis as an extension of the Iranian government. Kharrazi also questioned Washington's motives in liberating the Iraqi people. "America has not come to the region to rid Iraq of Saddam. There are other goals beyond this attack," he said. On the American plan to appoint a retired U.S. general to head Iraq's interim administration, Kharrazi said, "It will be a strategic error if America decides to put a foreign person in charge of Iraq, even for a short period," Iranian state radio reported. BS

SCIRI chief Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim was quoted by the 10 April "Jomhuri-yi Islami" newspaper as saying that the SCIRI would confront the leadership of a U.S. military officer in Iraq's post-Hussein interim administration, IRNA reported. Al-Hakim expressed concern that the U.S. plan could trigger a civil war in Iraq, and he called on the Iraqi opposition groups to meet and debate Iraq's future. BS

Some 3,000 Iraqi refugees poured into the streets of Tehran on 9 April to celebrate the advances by U.S. troops into the heart of Baghdad, Reuters reported. Gathering mainly in the poorer districts of south Tehran, they shouted anti-Saddam slogans, but apparently were careful not to appear to praise the United States. Some in the crowd carried posters of SCIRI leader Ayatollah Baqir al-Hakim. SF

A group of students gathered outside the British Embassy in Tehran on the evening of 9 April to protest against Operation Iraqi Freedom, Iranian state radio reported. The protestors chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Britain." Members of the Office for Strengthening Unity, the country's main student organization, also held a sit-in outside the Swiss Embassy, which represents U.S. interests in Iran because the Iranian government refuses to permit a U.S. diplomatic presence in the country. BS

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told a 9 April meeting of Health Ministry officials that U.S. objectives in Iraq are the control of its oil resources and safeguarding of Israeli interests, IRNA reported. He said nobody will agree to a retired U.S. general governing Iraq, and he added, "History will never forgive [the] Americans." Parliamentary Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi told reporters on 9 April that problems will arise if the United States does not let the Iraqi people run their own affairs, IRNA reported. He denigrated U.S. accomplishments, saying, "U.S. success on the ground is not something big given its edge over Iraq in high-tech military hardware and the propaganda machine it enjoyed." Vice President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi said that the forces invading Iraq intend to extend their influence throughout the region, so other countries should be prepared, IRNA reported. BS

Former Deputy Interior Minister and reformist politician Mustafa Tajzadeh, in an interview given to IRNA on 8 April and carried the following day in the newspaper "Aftab-e Yazd," said the anti-U.S. sloganeering of some political groups in the context of the Iraq war only served the interests of U.S. "warmongers." "It is not important how many anti-American slogans this group comes up with.... Their behavior, as in the case of the behaviors of Saddam and bin Laden, provides America with the best pretext and opportunity for carrying out its adventurist actions." Repeating a theme increasingly common among reformists lately, he said the only way to safeguard the country against a U.S. attack is to allow free, democratic elections. That is because, he reasoned, the countries Washington threatens the most are those "ruled by closed political systems in which there are no free elections." Whether this is an effective argument against the unelected conservatives' grip on power is open to question. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, in a joint session of the cabinet and the Iranian parliament on 9 April, warned political groups against using the current U.S.-led war in Iraq to their own factional advantage, Iranian state television reported. SF/BS

Forces loyal to Jamiyat-e Islami under the command of General Ata Mohammad clashed in Faryab Province on 8 April with the Junbish-e Islami forces of Deputy Defense Minister Abdul Rashid Dostum, Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 April. Eight people -- including two civilians -- were killed in the fighting, and 10 fighters were injured, according to the report. In January, clashes between forces loyal to the Jamiyat-e Islami party, which is headed by former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Dostum's forces took place in Faryab Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). Unconfirmed reports have indicated that Ata Mohammad has recently sought the help of General Abdul Malik, who is from Faryab Province and collaborated with the Taliban in ousting Dostum from Northern Afghanistan in 1997. AT

The U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition in Afghanistan has come under rocket attack in the past week in separate incidences near the cities of Gardayz, Asadabad, and Shahanah, Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 April. The coalition recently stepped up its efforts to counter Taliban and Al-Qaeda operations in eastern and southern Afghanistan. According to report, the coalition forces did not suffer any casualties and discovered and captured some ammunition depots in Khost Province. Two people who were smuggling arms on donkeys were arrested in Khost city, the report added. AT

Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan on 9 April signed a joint letter to formally invite India to participate in the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan Gas Pipeline Project (TAP Project), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) announced. The three countries invited India to participate in the TAP Project, "both as an investor and as a major purchaser of gas," the report added. The invitation letter asks New Delhi to invite the ADB to "make a presentation on the project and related issues." The next meeting of the TAP steering committee is scheduled to be held in Ashgabat in May and will review the Host Country Agreement drafted by the ADB. There has been no indication that New Delhi is interested in participating in the proposed pipeline project. Without Indian markets the plan to build the pipeline will not be economically feasible, and the security situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan could also hamper the project (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003). AT

The oil multinational Royal Dutch/Shell Group intends to close its offices in Turkmenistan because the company sees no prospects for taking part in realistic oil-and-gas projects in the country, Interfax reported on 9 April. Reportedly, the staff in the Ashgabat office has already been reduced to two people. Royal Dutch/Shell Group had been interested in taking part in building the Trans-Afghan gas pipeline, but the company has decided the project is "too risky," a staff member was quoted as saying. Shell has been working with the Turkmen government on locating and developing the country's oil-and-gas resources, and headed a consortium to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Turkey via Iran. The United States rejected that project, and the trans-Caspian pipeline in which Royal Dutch/Shell Group would have been a participant was never started, at least partly because of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's demand for a down payment of $1 billion for permission for the project to begin. AFP quoted an official in Shell's Ashgabat office as saying the company would be closing down in Turkmenistan. ExxonMobil closed down its operations in the country in 2001, citing limited prospects for future projects. BB