SECURITY OFFICIAL REAFFIRMS OFFER TO HELP REACH SETTLEMENT WITH NORTH KOREA...
Oleg Chernov, deputy secretary of Russia's Security Council, said in an interview with Interfax on 25 April that Moscow is "ready to do everything it can to promote a constructive solution of the North Korean problem by political means" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). Chernov said the issue is "a cause for concern." "I wouldn't want to make any pessimistic predictions," Chernov said. "We are counting on the reasonableness and good will of the leaders of the relevant countries." He expressed hope that negotiations will result in a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and safeguard its security. Meanwhile, an official at Russia's Meteorological Center warned that, given prevailing winds over North Korea, any aboveground nuclear tests there would probably result in fallout in Russia's Primorskii Krai and southern Sakhalin Oblast, RTR reported on 25 April. SS
...AND VOWS TO DEFEND RUSSIAN ECONOMIC STAKE IN IRAQ
"We will defend our economic interests in Iraq," Security Council Deputy Secretary Chernov said in the same 25 April Interfax interview. He noted that Moscow stands to lose $12 billion as a result of the crisis in that country. Chernov said this sum includes the $8.5 billion debt that Baghdad owes Moscow, Russian exports to Iraq that have amounted to $180 million-250 million per year under the oil-for-food program, and various deals worth more than $2 billion. In response to a question asserting that Washington does not want Russia involved in Iraq's reconstruction, Chernov said Moscow is in negotiations with the United States, Great Britain, and the United Nations, among others. He stressed that the UN -- under UN Security Council Resolution 1472 -- is responsible for the implementation of the oil-for-food program. "We need firm commitments from the UN itself regarding all humanitarian-program contracts in Iraq that are being carried out by Russia," said Chernov. SS
POLL FINDS APATHY TOWARD HUSSEIN, STRONG OPPOSITION TO WAR
The Russian public's view of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein grew more negative between March and April, but Russians continued to support the Kremlin's opposition to the U.S.-led military operation in Iraq. That is the outcome of a national poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation on 19 April among 1,500 respondents, RosBalt reported on 26 April. The proportion of Russians who expressed approval for Hussein dropped from 22 percent in March to 10 percent in April, while the 17 percent who had a negative view in March increased to 29 percent in April. Almost half -- 47 percent, which is almost unchanged since March -- said they are indifferent toward him. Regarding the military campaign against Iraq, the vast majority of Russians -- 74 percent -- support their government's antiwar stance, while 11 percent disagree with the Kremlin. Only 10 percent regard U.S. soldiers as liberators, while 70 percent consider them conquerors. SS
U.S. SUBMARINE ESCORTED FROM RUSSIAN WATERS
Russian forces conducting exercises off the eastern coast of Kamchatka spotted an unwelcome spectator -- a Los Angeles-class U.S. nuclear submarine -- and escorted it out of Russia's territorial waters, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 April. Russian military sources believe the submarine was trying to spy on the command-and-staff exercises that were being conducted under the command of Admiral Viktor Fedorov, commander of the Pacific Fleet. The exercises included 10,000 military personnel, 5,000 civilian specialists, 15 surface vessels and submarines, 10 support vessels, and 20 aircraft. Fedorov gave high marks to the exercises, which were designed to display the results of last winter's combat training. SS
ECONOMIC UNION OF FOUR CIS STATES TO BE DRAFTED BY SEPTEMBER
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov reconfirmed on 25 April that Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan will form a "joint economic space," "Vremya-MN" reported on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February and 17 April 2003). Kasyanov, speaking at a Moscow meeting of the heads of government of the CIS states, said that a basic framework for the union will be ready by September and that the other CIS countries can join if they meet certain conditions. But Russia still has a couple of issues to iron out with Ukraine. Kyiv has not yet transferred the hard-currency bonds it has promised as repayment of its debt to Gazprom, and little has been done to implement last year's agreement to create a natural-gas consortium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 October 2002). In addition, Russia's trade with Kazakhstan declined in 2002. Kazakh Prime Minister Imanghali Tasmaghambetov attributed the drop to the vagaries of market conditions, but he asked Moscow to reexamine its stiff excise taxes on tobacco and vodka. "Vremya-MN" commented that an economic union would deliver more positive than negative results, especially an expansion of market opportunities for its members and, therefore, healthier growth. SS
FORMER FSB OFFICER: SLAIN DEPUTY WAS PROBING FSB LINK TO THEATER SIEGE
Former FSB Colonel Aleksandr Litvinenko believes that State Duma Deputy and Liberal Russia co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov, who was shot dead in Moscow on 17 April, might have been killed because he received evidence that the Federal Security Service (FSB) was involved in the hostage taking by Chechen fighters at a Moscow theater in October, lenta.ru reported on 25 April. In a press release, Litvinenko stated that during a meeting in London at the beginning of April, he gave Yushenkov information about a former FSB agent named Khanpasha Terkibaev, who was with the Moscow theater hostage takers and who left the theater shortly before it was stormed by Russian special forces. According to Litvinenko, Terikbaev specialized in penetrating Chechen rebel groups to organize provocations and even worked in the press service of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov at the end of 2000. Terikbaev, Litvinenko claimed, is currently in the entourage of Malik Saidulaev, a pro-Moscow Chechen leader who is close to Russia's special services, and he allegedly accompanied Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) to a 31 March session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. "I handed over to Yushenkov definitive data on Terkibaev, and he [Yushenkov] intended to verify that information upon returning to Moscow," Litvinenko wrote in the press release. "I am convinced that they disposed of him for that investigation." Immediately after Yushenkov's slaying, Litvinenko, who has made many of the allegations against the FSB concerning the 1999 apartment-building bombings, told "Vremya novostei" that he met Yushenkov in London shortly after last August's murder of fellow legislator and Liberal Russia co-founder Sergei Golovlev and that Yushenkov was "clearly frightened" that he might be the next victim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). JB
NORWAY TO SEEK UN HELP IN KEEPING RUSSIAN TANKERS AWAY
The Norwegian government, concerned about possible oil spills from increasing Russian tanker traffic, said on 25 April that it will ask the United Nations' help to force Russian oil tankers to pass far from Norway's coast, Reuters reported. Oslo will ask the UN's International Maritime Organization to declare the Barents Sea a "particularly sensitive sea area" (PSSA), a status that would ban ships from coming within 93 kilometers of Norway's coast. The sea is one of the world's richest fish spawning grounds. The Russian government confirmed last week it is developing a plan to build an oil-export terminal in Murmansk, in an effort significantly to boost oil exports to the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2003). About 200 Russian tankers a year already pass near Norway. Two Russian tankers broke down near Norway last year, but they were able to restart their engines before drifting aground or spilling oil, according to the World Wildlife Fund. PSSA status has to be approved by a consensus of the IMO's 162 member states, and Norway's application is unlikely to be considered before next year. SS
POLL FINDS MANY SOLDIERS MENTALLY UNPREPARED TO FIGHT
A survey conducted by the Russian military has found that about 20 percent of service personnel are psychologically unprepared to repel a foreign enemy and about 40 percent are unprepared to take part in combat operations inside Russia, "Kommersant-Dengi," No. 16, reported on 28 April. The Defense Ministry said the numbers are considerably lower among soldiers in the North Caucasus, most of whom are already involved in combat. On the whole, the ministry's sociologists say, the psychological state and morale of officers and enlisted men is gradually improving and is currently rated "satisfactory, but insufficiently stable." Indicators of instability include the high level of dissatisfaction among officers and enlisted men with their financial situation (up to 75 percent), living standards (up to 70 percent), and recreational and leisure conditions (80 percent). In addition, about 80 percent of respondents were dissatisfied with the government's social policy toward the armed forces and the overall situation in the army. SS
LIBERAL FACTION PREPARES FOR NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE...
Yabloko will ask the State Duma to hold a vote of no confidence in the government of Prime Minister Kasyanov after the Victory Day holidays, Interfax reported on 26 April. The decision to introduce a no-confidence motion was made by the leadership of the party's Federal Council, which met on 26 April outside of Moscow. Yabloko released a statement signed by party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii that accuses the cabinet of failing to provide security for Russia's citizens or to curb crime, of allowing "the collapse of the most important economic reforms," and of pursuing an "antisocial policy" and protecting the interests of "large monopolies and oligarchic structures." The statement also takes the cabinet to task for essentially rejecting military reform and proving incapable of carrying out administrative reform. At a press conference later on 26 April, Yavlinskii enumerated other complaints, particularly regarding the government's approach to reforming federal housing policy, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 28 April. Earlier this month, the Duma passed a bill on reforming the payment system for communal housing and public utilities over the objections of Yabloko and the Communist Party of Russia (KPRF) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). JB
...BUT CRITICS DISMISS IT AS PUBLIC RELATIONS
During his 26 April press conference, Yavlinskii said Yabloko's no-confidence initiative is realistic, given that even members of pro-Kremlin factions such as Unity and Fatherland-All Russia have criticized the cabinet's performance. Leaders of other parties and factions, however, think otherwise. People's Deputy faction leader Gennadii Raikov told Ekho Moskvy on 26 April that Yabloko's plans are an "empty undertaking" and "propagandistic," given that 90 votes are required to begin the procedure for initiating a no-confidence vote and Yabloko has only 17 seats. Likewise, Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) head Boris Nemtsov dismissed the Yabloko initiative as "election rhetoric," Interfax reported on 26 April. KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov welcomed Yabloko's decision to initiate a no-confidence vote but called on the party to join with the Communists and Agrarians, who tried unsuccessfully to put a no-confidence vote on the Duma's agenda in June and again in January, Interfax reported on 26 April. It is necessary to "do some serious work and not engage in public relations," Zyuganov said. Not surprisingly, Aleksei Volin, deputy head of the government apparatus, predicted on Ekho Moskvy on 26 April that Yabloko's no-confidence initiative would not have "the slightest influence on Russia's political life." JB
PUTIN ASKS THE FEDERATION COUNCIL TO BABY-SIT THE DUMA...
During a meeting with the heads of the Federation Council on 25 April, President Putin sharply criticized the State Duma, asking the parliament's upper chamber to "keep an eye on" Duma deputies during Russia's upcoming parliamentary-election campaign, gazeta.ru reported. According to the website, Putin met for two hours with Federal Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and his four deputies, together with the heads of all of the council's committees and their deputies. During the public portion of the meeting, Putin heaped praised on the council, saying that it had worked "without interruptions and malfunctions" and "effectively" in the nearly 18 months since it was restructured. The reformed upper chamber, he said, had become "a serious filter, not only passing important laws, but also rejecting certain bills." As a rule, Putin said, election campaigns "significantly hinder the legislative process" and sometimes lead to the passage of "populist laws" that are financially inexpedient. The president urged senators to understand their "mission" -- to veto parochial and "corporative" legislation. Mironov was blunter in his criticism of the Duma, saying its effectiveness has decreased with the approach of the December elections and that in some cases it has promoted "purely populist" bills. JB
...WHILE THE DUMA AMENDS CUSTOMS, TAX CODES
The State Duma acted on a number of bills on 25 April, ORT reported. Deputies passed in its third reading a new version of the Customs Code that forbids customs officials from impounding goods for undefined periods, from seizing documents from importers and exporters, or from dictating at which customs posts shipments must be processed. Still, the new version of the code leaves the State Customs Committee with a large number of important "control functions," including operational-investigative functions, currency- and monetary-control functions, and antiterrorism functions. The Duma also passed in all three readings a bill amending the Tax Code that raises the interest rate above which ruble bank accounts may be taxed from 13.5 percent to 18 percent. The bill is retroactive to 1 January, meaning that some account holders will receive refunds. In addition, the Duma passed in its first reading legislation amending the laws governing life insurance for military personnel, polit.ru reported. In particular, the legislation mandates insurance payments to military personnel who have committed suicide if those servicemen have been in the armed forces at least six months and if a court proves they were driven to take their own lives. Some 300 servicemen commit suicide each year and, according to Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Nikolai Bezborodov (Russian Regions), around 70 percent of these suicides take place in the period between six months and two years of military service. JB
CHECHEN SECURITY CHIEF DENIES RUMORED ATTACK ON KADYROV
Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev rejected on 25 April as untrue a report posted on kavkazcenter.com and chechenpress.com that administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov was severely injured in an attack on his car the previous evening, Interfax reported. Kadyrov has survived numerous assassination attempts over the past few years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2001, 25 June and 8 November 2002, and 4 March 2003). LF
RUSSIAN, ARMENIAN PRESIDENTS MEET IN MOSCOW
Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow on 27 April with Armenian President Robert Kocharian to review plans for the implementation of several bilateral accords signed during a visit by the Armenian president to Moscow early this year, according to RIA-Novosti. The discussions centered on bilateral trade and economic cooperation, with a specific focus on nuclear energy. The meeting follows the 27 April decision granting Armenia "observer status" in the Eurasian Economic Community (EEC). The EEC consists of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Armenia became the third country, after Moldavia and Ukraine, to receive the EEC observer status. RG
ARMENIAN COURT RULING REJECTS OPPOSITION CHALLENGE AGAINST REGIONAL ELECTION COMMISSION
A Yerevan district court on 25 April dismissed a lawsuit by opposition Union of Constitutional Rights head Hayk Babukhanian challenging the decision of the regional election commission to deny him registration as a candidate in next month's parliamentary election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2003), according to Noyan Tapan. Regional Election Commission Chairman Levon Oghanganian defended the decision not to register Babukhanian's candidacy, explaining there were a number of discrepancies and omissions in the paperwork required for the candidate-registration process. The court also recently upheld a similar denial of candidacy on the same grounds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003). RG
ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL BODY REJECTS COURT'S CALLS TO ADDRESS ARRESTS OF OPPOSITION SUPPORTERS
A special presidential judicial oversight body rejected on 25 April the recommendations of Armenia's highest court to investigate the judicial sanctioning of the mass arrests of opposition activists and supporters in recent months, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The Constitutional Court's recommendations stem from its recent ruling on a court challenge brought by failed opposition presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, and call on the presidential Justice Council to investigate the mass arrests of opposition supporters, which the court said "contravene the European Convention on Human Rights." The ruling also asks the council to "consider punishing the judges who handed down rulings denounced as illegal by human rights groups." The 16-member Justice Council, empowered to both nominate and dismiss the vast majority of judges, rejected the Constitutional Court's ruling and contended that it is acting outside its constitutionally defined powers. The Justice Council added that it is not subject to orders or recommendations from the Constitutional Court. The defiance follows a similar incident last week when state prosecutors publicly rejected a Constitutional Court order to investigate reported instances of ballot-box stuffing and other voting irregularities. RG
ARMENIANS EXPRESS DISMAY OVER U.S. PRESIDENT'S STATEMENTS ON ARMENIAN GENOCIDE
In a statement timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Armenian genocide that left more than 1.5 million Armenians killed in Ottoman Turkey in 1915, U.S. President George W. Bush failed to categorize the mass killings as "genocide," sparking sharp criticism from Armenian groups on 25 April, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Armenpress reported. Bush's statement used weaker terms such as "horrible tragedy" and "appalling events" in reference to the genocide, apparently to avoid angering Turkey. The move follows a statement by President Kocharian on 24 April promising to pursue international recognition of the Armenian genocide (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," 24 April 2003). Leading groups in the Armenian diaspora denounced Bush's statement, with the Armenian National Committee of America specifically criticizing Bush for breaking a "February 2000 campaign pledge to recognize properly the Armenian Genocide" and all expressing disappointment with the Bush administration's failure to confront Turkish denial of the genocide despite Turkey's recent refusal to allow U.S. troops to use bases in Turkey for the war on Iraq. RG
AZERBAIJAN APPROVES RUSSIAN LUKOIL SALE
Azerbaijani authorities on 24 April gave their go-ahead for LUKoil's sale of its 10 percent stake in a consortium led by British Petroleum (BP) to develop the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli offshore oil field, according to Reuters and Turan. According to officials of the Azerbaijani State Oil Company SOCAR, LUKoil is selling its share to the Japanese firm Inpex for $1.375 billion. LUKoil first sought to sell the stake to Inpex late last year, but the Azerbaijani government demanded the Russian company first pay state taxes of up to $100 million. The sale was approved by Azerbaijan after LUKoil executives agreed to modify the terms of another of its oil projects in Azerbaijan instead of paying taxes. That modification included a $40 million Russian payment to increase from 60 to 80 percent LUKoil's share in the Yalama oil field, including a $20 million disbursement to be made this month. RG
AZERBAIJANI HUMAN RIGHTS FIGURE ASSAILED AFTER RETURNING FROM NAGORNO-KARABAKH
Eldar Zeynalov, the head of the Azerbaijani Human Rights Center, was detained for questioning on 24 April after returning from a visit to Nagorno-Karabakh, Turan and the newspaper "Ekho" reported. The arrest followed a heated confrontation between Zeynalov and a group of 50-60 demonstrators picketing outside his Baku office to protest his trip. The demonstrators pelted the office with eggs and trash after Azerbaijani state television aired accusations that the activist is "of Armenian origin" and alleged that his acts are "treasonous." RG
OPPOSITION PAPER ASSERTS AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT'S HEALTH WORSENING...
Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev's health is "worsening and deteriorating" in the wake of his recent collapse (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003), according to the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" on 24 April, as cited by Groong. The newspaper report, which is unconfirmed by the authorities, contends that although the president is receiving medical care, he is weak and continues to suffer from low blood pressure. RG
...AS AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT FAILS TO MEET WITH ODIHR DIRECTOR...
President Aliev failed on 25 April to attend a previously announced meeting in Baku with Ambassador Christian Strohal, the director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Turan reported. On 26 April, the presidential press service reported that Aliev cracked a rib and sustained bruises to his back when he passed out and fell on 21 April while delivering a speech (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003), Reuters and Turan reported. The press service said Aliev "feels well" and is undergoing medical treatment at his home for those injuries. LF
...AND OPINION POLL SUGGESTS VOTERS ARE NOT CONVINCED HE WILL BE REELECTED
The independent Bilik Dunyasi agency conducted a poll of 1,500 people in Baku, Sumgait, and the Gyanja and Lenkoran-Astara regions of Azerbaijan between 28 March and 6 April, the findings of which were summarized by zerkalo.az on 26 April. Thirty-four percent of respondents agreed that President Aliev has the best chance of victory in the presidential election due in October. Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov ranked second with 18.1 percent, followed by exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev (12.9 percent); President Aliev's son, Ilham (12.2 percent); Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar (10.1 percent); and Ali Kerimli, leader of the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (5.2 percent). A presidential candidate must win 50 percent plus one of all votes cast to win in the first round. Asked to name a politician whom they consider enjoys a spotless political reputation and defends national interests, only 15.6 percent named Aliev, compared with 24.3 percent for Sabir Rustamkhanli, chairman of the small opposition Civic Solidarity Party. LF
AZERBAIJAN CONFIRMS FIVE ISOLATED WITH SUSPECTED SARS
Five people have been hospitalized in Azerbaijan with suspected severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), an unnamed Azerbaijan Health Ministry official told Reuters on 26 April. One of the five is a man who worked in China and recently returned to Azerbaijan via Turkey. On 25 April, a Health Ministry official denied that a passenger arriving the previous day in Baku from Urumqi had been diagnosed as suffering from SARS and hospitalized together with his fellow passengers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION PARTY DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR GRENADE ATTACK
The Batumi-based opposition Revival Union denied on 25 April any responsibility for a hand-grenade attack earlier that day outside the apartment of Christian Democratic Union leader Nato Imnadze, Caucasus Press reported. The unknown perpetrators left a warning to Imnadze not to travel to Batumi, where she planned to hold a meeting of party members on 5 May. LF
KYRGYZ MILITARY OFFICIAL EXPECTS INTEREST IN RUSSIAN MILITARY CONTRACTS
Kyrgyz Defense Ministry press service head Merbek Koilubaev predicted that Kyrgyz citizens will want to serve in the Russian armed forces on a contract basis now that Russia has decided to accept volunteers from other CIS countries, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 25 April, citing Interfax. Koilubaev was quoted as saying he expects the Russian air base that is being set up at Kant in northern Kyrgyzstan will attract Kyrgyz military pilots. He said he expects there will be volunteers from other branches of the military as well. He added that it will not be difficult for Kyrgyz citizens to serve in the Russian military, presumably because they already speak Russian, and the two countries have already taken steps to ensure that Kyrgyz wishing to enter into such contracts will legally be able to do so. BB
PUTIN VISITS TAJIKISTAN, ATTENDS EURASIAN COMMUNITY SUMMIT...
Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a state visit to Tajikistan on 26-27 April, holding talks with his Tajik counterpart Imomali Rakhmonov on economic cooperation, particularly in the field of energy, in which the Tajiks are seeking foreign assistance to develop their hydropower resources, Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax reported. Putin also met with Tajik Supreme Mufti Amonullo Nematzoda and urged greater contact between Tajik and Russian Muslims. On 28 April, Putin opened a meeting of the CIS Collective Security Council that is being held in Dushanbe and handed over chairmanship of the council to Rakhmonov. BB
...AND SAYS MOSCOW TO BEEF UP CONTINGENT IN TAJIKISTAN
President Putin on 27 April told commanders of 201st Motorized Infantry Division during a visit to Russia's military base on the Tajik-Afghan border that the Kremlin will soon bolster its military presence in Tajikistan, RIA-Novosti reported. Russia is believed currently to have about 10,000 troops in Tajikistan, Reuters reported, and it was unclear from initial media reports exactly how the Kremlin plans to boost that presence. "Lately our special services, including the Defense Ministry, have reported a significant increase in activities and a rebuilding of Taliban structures, Al-Qaeda's structures and so on," Putin said. "As a result, the efforts of the international coalition fighting the terrorist threat must be upgraded and stepped up.... A truly peaceful and stable Afghanistan is still a very long way away." Putin said that President Rakhmonov endorsed the plan at a meeting the previous day. The two countries are expected to sign an accord before the end of May that will formally elevate the Russian military installation to a base. After his closed-door meeting with the commanders, Putin mingled with the division's troops. SS
EEC COUNCIL SETS PRIORITIES FOR 2003-06
A presidential session of the Eurasian Economic Community's (EEC) Interstate Council held on 27 April in Dushanbe endorsed a program of priority activities for the next four years, EEC Chairman and Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev told a press conference on 27 April following the meeting, Interfax and khabar.kz reported. According to Nazarbaev, these priorities include creating a common customs area, developing energy resources, accelerating the establishment of a transport union, setting up a common agricultural market, pooling efforts to combat drug trafficking, devising a common migration policy, and coordinating dates of accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Considerable discussion was devoted to the last point, according to Russian President Putin, who told the press conference he is convinced the individual members of the EEC will be able to obtain WTO membership "on decent terms for our economies and producers if we act in coordination." During the meeting Armenia was admitted to the group as an observer, joining Ukraine and Moldova. BB
TAJIK PARTY CALLS FOR CANCELLATION OF REFERENDUM
Saying that if Tajikistan's Constitution can be changed so can decisions of the parliament, the Tajik Democratic Party has issued a statement calling for the cancellation of the referendum on constitutional amendments scheduled for June, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 25 April. The Majlisi Namoyandagon (parliament) approved holding the referendum on a series of amendments that are supposed to modernize the constitution but which have generated a storm on the political scene. The most controversial of the amendments would lift the restriction that a president may serve only one seven-year term in office. Various opposition figures and political commentators have made dire predictions about the probable effect of the referendum and the proposed amendments on the still-fragile peace in the country. The Democratic Party statement repeats these fears and notes that since the majority of voters will be unable to participate in the referendum because they are outside the country, their constitutional rights will be violated. The statement adds, according to Asia Plus-Blitz, that some of the proposed amendments contradict one another and asserts that if the president and parliament do not accept the Democratic Party's proposals, its leadership will call on party members and supporters not to vote in the referendum. BB
TURKMENISTAN'S ETHNIC RUSSIANS REPORTED TO BE IN PANIC OVER VISA RESTRICTIONS
The Russian-speaking population of Turkmenistan is reported to be in a panic over President Saparmurat Niyazov's 22 April decree that revokes dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship and also revokes the right of individuals with dual citizenship to travel to Russia without visas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2003), centrasia.ru reported on 26 April on the situation, using information provided by Memorial. An NGO activist from Ashgabat who managed to get to Moscow told Memorial that housing prices dropped dramatically in the Turkmen capital after the announcement of the 10 April agreement between Niyazov and Russian President Putin on revoking the dual citizenship agreement. An apartment costing $9,000 in March could be bought for only $3,000 in April. According to Memorial, as of 23 April airline offices refused to sell tickets to people with dual citizenship who intended to leave the country using their Russian passports, telling them that after 25 April they would have to have exit visas. Reportedly hundreds of people are besieging the Russian Embassy in Ashgabat, where the staff is refusing to accept any more applications for Russian citizenship, saying they are waiting for instructions from Moscow. Some political observers in Moscow have criticized the Russian government and the Russian media for ignoring the situation in Turkmenistan. BB
UZBEK PRESIDENT GRANTED IMMUNITY FROM PROSECUTION
One of the draft laws adopted by the Uzbek parliament at its 27 April session would give the president of the republic immunity from prosecution after he leaves office, uzreport.com announced on 27 April. Under the law, former presidents become members of the Senate, the upper house of parliament, for life. The report asserted that this provision would make it possible for the legislature to take advantage of a former president's knowledge of state affairs, adding that this practice is used in some democratic countries. Otkir Hoshimov, chairman of the parliamentary committee for information and the press, was quoted as saying that borrowing this international practice would promote Uzbekistan's development. Also on 27 April, the Oliy Majlis (parliament) approved the appointment of a new chairwoman of Uzbekistan's Supreme Court. She is Faruha Muhiddinova, formerly deputy chairwoman of the Oliy Majlis. BB
PRESIDENT DENIES BELARUS SOLD ARMS TO IRAQ
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 25 April told journalists that Belarus has never sold weapons to Iraq, Belapan reported. "Had our weapons been in Iraq, the war there wouldn't be over yet," he added. Lukashenka was commenting on recent reports of a letter found in Baghdad suggesting that a Belarusian tank-repair plant offered training and other services to Iraq under deposed President Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2003). Lukashenka said, however, that third countries might have bought Belarusian weapons to subsequently resell them to Baghdad. JM
BELARUSIANS MARK ANNIVERSARY OF CHORNOBYL DISASTER
Some 2,000 people participated in an annual march organized by Belarusian nongovernmental groups and opposition parties in Minsk on 26 April to observe the anniversary of the explosion at Ukraine's Chornobyl nuclear-power plant in 1986, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Police detained two activists of the United Civic Party, despite official authorization for the demonstration. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS NAVY COMMANDER
President Leonid Kuchma on 25 April dismissed navy commander Mykhaylo Yezhel after visiting a number of military units and facilities in Crimea earlier the same day, Interfax reported, citing presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. She said the president criticized the living conditions of servicemen in the units he visited, adding that much of the property at the units has been ransacked. The next day, Kuchma appointed Vice Admiral Vyacheslav Sychov to assume Yezhel's post. JM
UKRAINE MOVES TO AVOID HIGHER BREAD PRICES
Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych requested on 26 April that the Foreign Ministry, the Economy Ministry, and other executive bodies "provide conditions" for grain purchases abroad to avoid significant increases in domestic bread prices, Interfax reported. "I believe today it is necessary to focus on the mobilization of bread-grain resources, [and] on its import from Russia, Kazakhstan, and other countries," Yanukovych said. He said bread prices might be pushed up by a possible poor grain harvest this year. Yanukovych said Ukraine lost more than a half of its winter crops owing to bad weather. UNIAN reported the same day that Agriculture Minister Serhiy Ryzhuk proposed that Ukraine drop duties on 1 million tons of imported grain until 31 July in order to avoid "eating up our seed-grain resources." Ukraine's current import tax on wheat is 40 percent. JM
COMPENSATION TO ESTONIA FOR SOVIET OCCUPATION REMAINS SENSITIVE ISSUE
The widespread belief in Estonia that the country should be compensated for damages resulting from the Soviet occupation remains an issue of contention with Russia. Prime Minister Juhan Parts told parliament on 23 April that Estonia intends to include the issue of compensation for the Soviet occupation on the agenda of the Estonian-Russian intergovernmental commission, BNS reported. Two days later a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Parts's remarks were "devoid of all logic" and were likely to harm Estonian-Russian relations. Estonian parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Marko Mihkelson told BNS on 26 April that "such a reaction was perfectly predictable" and that receiving compensation from Russia is not likely in the near future, but is possible in the long term. SG
LITHUANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS
Juozas Bernatonis submitted his letter of resignation to Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas on 25 April, BNS reported. Brazauskas on 28 April presented Bernatonis's resignation to President Rolandas Paksas and named Interior Ministry Secretary Virgilijus Bulovas, who headed the ministry in 1996, as his nominee to replace Bernatonis. Bernatonis's decision came as a result of a report issued by a parliamentary ad hoc commission two days earlier that stated that Bernatonis unlawfully suspended Police Commissioner-General Vytautas Grigaravicius on 9 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003) and that his charges that Grigaravicius unlawfully collected information about high-ranking officials were groundless. The commission's report made void the apparent settlement of the dispute between the two officials that was reached several days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). SG
LATVIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER VISITS PORTUGAL
Ingrida Udre flew to Lisbon on 24 April to participate in a meeting of the parliamentary heads of the 10 EU candidate countries, LETA reported. The next day she took part in an official lunch hosted by Portuguese parliament President Joao Bosco Soares Mota Amaral, who shared Portugal's experience in integrating into the EU. On 26 April, Udre discussed with her Portuguese counterpart the development of tourism between the two countries and the need for better bilateral cooperation. She also spoke at a conference organized by the Portuguese parliament on the future EU and held talks with the parliamentary leaders of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, and with Slovenia's deputy speaker and the leader of Poland's Senate. SG
POLISH PREMIER PROCLAIMS INNOCENCE IN 'RYWINGATE' AFFAIR
Premier Leszek Miller on 26 April testified before the special parliamentary commission set up to investigate the so-called Rywingate bribery scandal, Polish media reported. The commission is probing allegations by "Gazeta Wyborcza" that film producer Lew Rywin in July sought a $17.5 million bribe from Agora, the newspaper's publisher, on behalf of Miller's Democratic Left Alliance in return for changes to a media bill to benefit Agora. Miller said he did not send Rywin to solicit a bribe from Agora. "From the very start, the whole matter seemed to me to be so absurd that it did not seem to merit serious attention," Miller said in his testimony, which was covered live by Polish Television. Miller said there was no need to send Rywin to solicit a bribe from anybody in July 2002, since the government and Agora had already agreed on a compromise version of the media bill. Miller's interrogation is to continue this week. JM
SOLIDARITY STAGES VIOLENT PROTEST AGAINST POLISH UNEMPLOYMENT
Police in Warsaw used gas, batons, and water cannons to pacify a demonstration on 25 April of some 20,000 Solidarity members protesting the country's nearly 19 percent unemployment and demanding unpaid wages, Polish media reported. Clashes ensued after demonstrators began tearing down barriers around Premier Miller's office, where they gathered after marching from several locations in the capital. JM
WASHINGTON REPORTEDLY WANTS POLAND TO SEND UP TO 4,000 TROOPS TO IRAQ
Quoting a Pentagon official who reportedly asked not to be named, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported on 28 April that the United States wants Poland to contribute some 4,000 troops to a peacekeeping force in Iraq to oversee the installation of a democratic government there. "[We] would be happy if Warsaw agreed to send up to 4,000 troops," the official told the daily. "Gazeta Wyborcza" also said Poland could take command of one division in Iraq, which would also involve a British force (see also Hungarian item below). JM
CZECHS, POLES REPORTEDLY AMONG PARTICIPANTS IN IRAQ CONFERENCE
The Czech Republic and Poland are among the six "victors" of the war in Iraq, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" asserted on 28 April, saying officials from both countries are among those invited to participate in an interim Iraqi leadership conference in Baghdad the same day (see today's "RFE/RL Newsline Part III"). The other participants reportedly include the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Spain. Czech Deputy Defense Minister Jaroslav Skopek said his country received the invitation as a result of its participation in the war effort "from the very beginning," including maintaining anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical troops in the region. The Czech Republic will send around 20 people to Baghdad in the next two weeks, the daily reported. The Czech invitation to participate in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq came from the United States, the paper added. AH
CZECH PRESIDENT CALLS EU REFERENDUM FOR MID-JUNE...
Vaclav Klaus on 25 April officially called for a Czech referendum on EU membership to take place on 13-14 June, in line with a recommendation from the country's parliament, Reuters quoted the presidential office as saying the same day. A TNS Factum poll released on 25 April suggested that nearly four in five Czechs who say they are likely to turn out will vote in favor of accession to the EU, the news agency reported. Support is considerably weaker among the population at large, with just 52 percent of Czechs in favor, 20 percent against, and 28 percent still undecided, Reuters added. AH
...AND CONVOKES 'EU 8' MEETING THAT INCLUDES COMMUNISTS
President Klaus has summoned Czech political leaders to a 7 May meeting on European Union membership that will likely include the heads of both chambers of parliament and the leaders of the five parties represented in the lower house, CTK reported on 25 April. Invitees include the chairman of the unreformed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), Miroslav Grebenicek, signifying a clear break with presidential policy over the past decade, when former President Vaclav Havel steadfastly refused to invite representatives of the KSCM to meetings with the head of state. Klaus, who owes his election victory on 28 February in part to KSCM support, has said he will maintain "formal" relations with that party. AH
CZECH PREMIER RESPONDS TO PRESSURE WITHIN PARTY...
Premier and Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Vladimir Spidla went on the offensive on 25 April, fighting off a public challenge from within his own party and accusing the opposition of preparing for early elections, CTK reported. Spidla called "unfortunate" comments from the recently elected head of CSSD's parliamentary group, Petr Ibl, cited in the daily "Pravo" of 25 April. Ibl suggested Spidla is incapable of uniting the party or accomplishing its goals and left the door open to backing a challenge even before the next party conference. Spidla said such criticism "was understandable before the party's March conference, to a certain extent. Now, after the conference, it is irresponsible and it strongly undermines the party's authority," according to CTK. Ibl is widely regarded as an ally of CSSD's second in command, Interior Minister and party Deputy Chairman Stanislav Gross, who some observers argue is preparing a challenge to Spidla's leadership. AH
...AND ACCUSES OPPOSITION OF PAVING WAY TO EARLY ELECTIONS
Spidla also said on 25 April that the right-wing opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the KSCM are actively working for early elections, according to CTK, which cited the premier's remarks to a meeting of his CSSD party's leadership. "If we observe the ODS's current behavior in parliament, it is clear that together with the KSCM they have formed an unofficial coalition whose goal it is to bring about early elections," Spidla said. He said those parties are working as a "non-constructive opposition" to defeat his government, which is clinging to a one-vote majority in the 200-seat lower house of parliament. The next elections to the lower house are scheduled for 2006. The ODS stepped up pressure recently when it announced its deputies would not abstain in equal numbers from votes in which ruling-coalition deputies are absent due to official business. That tactic proved key when the opposition scuttled a government-backed judicial-reform bill in mid-April, in part because Czech officials were in Athens to sign the EU Treaty of Accession. AH
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT OPTS NOT TO LIFT OPPOSITION DEPUTY'S IMMUNITY
Lawmakers voted 86 to 13 with 28 abstentions on 25 April to return a criminal complaint against Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) deputy Viliam Sobona to the chamber's Mandate and Immunity Committee, TASR reported. A former health minister, Sobona has rejected as politically motivated allegations of impropriety in connection with a casino in the spa town of Sliac. Sobona requested that his immunity be lifted to allow him to clear his name. But deputies appeared swayed by arguments that Sobona's legal counsel had not been given a chance to appear before the Mandate and Immunity Committee to answer the charges. Mandate and Immunity Committee Chairman Lubomir Lintner, a deputy for the Alliance for a New Citizen, opposed lifting Sobona's immunity, sparking speculation that the opposition HZDS and coalition ANO parties allied to defeat the proposal. AH
SLOVAK NATIONALISTS FAIL TO FILL CHAIRMAN'S POST
Delegates to an extraordinary congress of the Slovak National Party (SNS) failed on 26 April to elect a chairman amid bitter infighting, local media reported. SNS representatives were unable to agree on candidates to fill leadership posts amid continuing attempts to consolidate the fractured right-wing nationalist vote, with the meeting descending into vicious personal attacks during some 12 hours of debate. Anna Malikova, who has stood at the head of the party but could not muster the votes to defeat her primary challenge from Jozef Prokes, conceded afterward that the meeting was marked by "much hatred," according to the daily "Sme" of 28 April. AH
U.S. ASKS HUNGARY TO PARTICIPATE IN PEACEKEEPING IN IRAQ
The United States on 25 April officially asked Hungary to send peacekeepers to Iraq, Foreign Ministry Spokesman Tamas Toth told Hungarian media. Toth declined to discuss the content of the communique that the U.S. Embassy delivered to the ministry, as he said it must first be presented to the parliament. The government is formulating plans to send a 300-member military unit to Iraq, but the proposal is opposed by the Democratic Forum and FIDESZ reportedly has not yet announced its position. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said the mission could cost 2 billion-4 billion forints ($8.5 million-17 million), though the United States has offered to fund half of the costs of the mission, Hungarian radio reported. MSZ
HUNGARIAN POLITICIAN FIGHTS TO KEEP OLYMPIC COMMITTEE POST
Pal Schmitt, who recently accepted nomination to a deputy chairman's post in the opposition FIDESZ party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2003), told "Nepszabadsag" on 27 April that he will not resign as chairman of the Hungarian Olympic Committee (MOB). Schmitt said he has asked for a vote of confidence at next week's meeting of the MOB leadership, and he insists there is no danger of a "partition" developing in the MOB leadership as a result of his political activities. Socialist Party politicians have argued that if Schmitt chooses a political career, he should resign his other social commissions -- which they insist require that he be unaffiliated with any party. MSZ
ACCUSATIONS FLY REGARDING SERBIAN LEADER'S ASSASSINATION
Nenad Canak, the speaker of Vojvodina's parliament, told the Novi Sad daily "Dnevnik" of 26 April that the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic was part of an attempted coup by nationalist and antireform forces backed by supporters of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March 2003). "The coup probably would have succeeded if Kostunica had still been [in office and] in control of the military," Canak added, according to dpa. For his part, Kostunica told the "Frankfurter Rundschau" that Djindjic's own supporters had close links with the criminal "Zemun clan," which allegedly carried out the killing. The former president added that "the government is thus indirectly responsible for the assassination." PM
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR SAYS BELGRADE HAS NOT SOUGHT EXTRADITION OF PROMINENT SERBS
Russian Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro Vladimir Ivanovskii said in Belgrade on 26 April that his government's Interior Ministry has received no extradition request for either Mirjana Markovic or Marko Milosevic, who are believed to be in Moscow, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003). Serbia and Montenegro Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic visited Moscow recently, prompting Serbian media to suggest that the extradition of the wife and son of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is probably high on his agenda. Ivanovskii also said the planned withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Bosnia and Kosova does not mean that Russia has lost interest in the Balkans. PM
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS HIS DECISION TO PARDON INTELLIGENCE CHIEF
Addressing the parliament on 25 April, President Boris Trajkovski defended his recent decision to pardon Intelligence Agency Director Dosta Dimovska prior to her first court hearing in connection with a 2001 wiretapping scandal, dpa reported. Trajkovski said consultations with legal experts indicated that Dimovska could not be held legally responsible for the bugging. He added that the charges against her constituted an attempt to "discredit and eliminate a competent head of a crucial security institution, which would have put the whole security system under the control of one center of political power," namely that of the governing coalition. In reaction to Trajkovski's speech, coalition lawmakers indicated that they might seek to impeach him (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 April 2003). Both Trajkovski and Dimovska belong to the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). UB
CROATIA PONDERS THE CASE OF 930 MISSING PASSPORTS
Interior Ministry officials said in Zagreb on 25 April that a Croatian passport found recently in Belgrade in the name of alleged "Zemun clan" leader Milorad Lukovic-Ulemek "Legija" is one of 930 passports that "disappeared" from the Croatian consulate in Mostar in 1999, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Prime Minister Ivica Racan said the next day that the apparent theft of 930 passports is a serious criminal matter. Regional media have suggested that Legija has managed to evade a Serbian police dragnet in the Djindjic case thanks to the help of Croatian hard-liners in Herzegovina who are his former comrades-in-arms from their days together in the French Foreign Legion. PM
HERZEGOVINIAN CROATS RALLY
Barisa Colak, whom the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) of Bosnia-Herzegovina recently elected president, told party officials at their convention in Mostar on 26 April that the HDZ will continue its traditional policies, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Convention delegates elected Dragan Covic, Niko Lozancic, and Anto Spajic vice presidents. Many speakers criticized the present Croatian government and contrasted its polices to those of the late President Franjo Tudjman and Defense Minister Gojko Susak, who led the "Herzegovinian lobby" in Zagreb for many years. Ivic Pasalic, who heads the hard-line Croatian Bloc that broke away from the Croatian HDZ, told delegates that the coming months will witness a clarification of attitudes in Croatia about the country's recent past. Pasalic and many of his backers are of Herzegovinian origin. Representing the Croatian HDZ, Andrija Hebrang appealed to delegates to remember that his party is their "sister party" across the border. PM
U.S. CALLS FOR DEVOLUTION OF POWERS IN KOSOVA
Reno Harnish, who heads the U.S. Office in Prishtina, said in a statement on 25 April that the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) should transfer all powers not specifically reserved for UNMIK by the UN Security Council to elected Kosovar authorities by the end of 2003. "The situation in Kosovo continues to be of great importance to the United States, as evidenced by the recent visit of Secretary of State Colin Powell to Belgrade," Harnish added. "Among the issues that continue to concern us are organized crime, witness intimidation, interethnic tensions, and extremist violence" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 7 April 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 August 2002). PM
ROMANIAN PREMIER COMMENTS ON NEGOTIATIONS WITH EUROPEAN COMMISSION
Premier Adrian Nastase on 25 April said the biggest task Romania faces on its path to EU integration is completing accession talks with the current European Commission, an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported. Nastase said "the greatest problem" is not posed by efforts to accede to the EU in 2007, but in completing the negotiations by mid-2004. He said accession talks will probably be much more difficult with the new commission to be established by 2005. He added that he intends to visit Italy in the second half of this year to discuss the accession negotiations. Italy will take over the rotating EU Presidency in July. ZsM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT EVALUATES GENERAL STAFF
President Ion Iliescu said at the annual evaluation of the army's General Staff that the living conditions of army personnel must be improved, human-resources policies need to be changed, junior officers are under-trained, and laid-off personnel are not cared for adequately, Romanian media reported. He also expressed his appreciation of the army's role in securing Romania's invitation to join NATO and stressed the need to continue reforms even after Romania joins the alliance. Premier Nastase said at the same meeting that Romania needs to adapt its military strategies to the new the global security situation. ZsM
IMF APPROVES NEW LOAN INSTALLMENT FOR ROMANIA
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on 25 April approved the disbursement of a $76 million tranche as part of a $413 million standby agreement signed with Romania, Romanian media reported. This is the fourth tranche and Romania has this far received $186 million in installments. An IMF press release signed by Deputy General Director Anne Kruger praised Romania's economic performance in 2002 and recommended adopting measures to reduce the losses of state-owned companies and to further progress in the privatization process. ZsM
FRENCHMAN IN ROMANIA SENTENCED ON PEDOPHILIA CHARGES
A court in the southern Romanian city of Urziceni on 25 April sentenced French citizen Michel Sounalet to four years' imprisonment for "sexual corruption" and "sexual relations" with minors, Mediafax reported. Sounalet has the right to appeal the ruling. Sounalet was arrested in October after five minors accused him of sexual abuse. He has traveled to Romania extensively over the past six years as part of a humanitarian mission to help orphans in the northern village of Popricani, near Iasi. Three of the five minors retracted their claims and are now being investigated for making false statements. ZsM
OSCE MISSION CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF ACTIVITY IN MOLDOVA
The OSCE's Mission to Moldova stated in a 25 April press release signed by mission chief William Hill that it hopes there will be no need for its services in the country in 10 years, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. The statement said members of the mission enjoy living and working in Moldova, but that achieving this goal would be the clearest sign of the success of their activities. Hill also said the mission has contributed to the general development of Moldova and has "crucially" contributed to a reunified Moldova, for which there is now a real hope. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin congratulated the mission and Hill personally for their "invaluable contribution" to helping resolve the Transdniester conflict. ZsM
OSCE TO MONITOR MOLDOVAN LOCAL ELECTIONS
The OSCE's Mission to Moldova said in a 25 April press release that the organization's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has set up a body to monitor Moldova's 25 May local elections, Flux reported. The body, led by Michael Wyant, includes 16 election experts and observers from 12 OSCE member countries. Some 120 additional observers from OSCE member countries are expected to participate in the monitoring of the elections. Wyant headed the OSCE's Mission to Moldova from 1994-95. Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau said during a meeting with Wyant on 25 April that the government will "do everything" in its power to ensure that the local elections are organized according to "European standards." ZsM
MOLDOVA SIGNS INFORMATION-PROTECTION AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA
Moldovan Information and Security Service (SIS) Director Ion Rusu met with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev in Moscow on 24 April and signed an agreement on the mutual protection of secret information, Flux reported. The document also defines the process of bilateral information exchanges in the political, military, economic, and scientific spheres. ZsM
BULGARIA'S TOP COP RESIGNS...
General Boyko Borisov, who was the Interior Ministry's chief secretary in charge of the country's police forces, resigned on 25 April. Borisov, who handed his resignation to Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski immediately after the premier returned from an official visit to Moscow, declined to comment on his resignation. It is widely believed that the resignation stems from the fallout from a recent Interior Ministry report that alleged ties among politicians, magistrates, and the underworld. "His resignation has been prompted specifically by statements -- which he made, maybe, somewhat hastily -- and he, himself, decided that this is an adequate reason to resign from such a responsible position," BTA quoted Saxecoburggotski as saying on 27 April. In opinion polls, respondents regularly ranked Borisov as Bulgaria's most popular public figure. Borisov has repeatedly criticized politicians' unwillingness to curb organized crime and corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). UB
...AS OPPOSITION EXPECTS MORE RESIGNATIONS TO FOLLOW
In a first reaction to Borisov's resignation, conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova said those bringing bad news are always the first to be sidelined, mediapool.bg reported. In her view, the resignation is less important than the answer to the question whether the current government has ties to organized-crime structures. SDS lawmaker Asen Agov said it is clear that sooner or later either Borisov or Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov had to resign, as the relations between them were very bad. Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) leader Sergey Stanishev said Borisov's resignation will lead to a further fall of public support for the government, as Borisov was one of the government's pillars. Stanishev added the Interior Ministry was not very successful in combating organized crime as a result of Borisov's work. UB
BACK TO THE USSR? UKRAINE HOLDS SOVIET-STYLE 'DISCUSSION' OF POLITICAL REFORM
In several CIS states -- especially Russia, Belarus, and Moldova -- there is increasing evidence of nostalgia for the former USSR and a resurgence of Soviet-style attitudes and political culture. One aspect of this trend is the use of elections not as vehicles for free democratic competition, but to legitimize ruling elites and their "parties of power."
Opposition parties and civil society are increasingly seen in a negative and distrustful light as "extremists" or "destructive forces." Legislation is selectively applied, especially against the opposition, while deception is deeply ingrained. Soviet political culture is especially evident in the discrepancy -- as in the USSR -- between official rhetoric and policies in the pursuit of reform, the struggle against corruption, and the achievement of foreign-policy goals. Most importantly, the executive branch and the "party of power" seek to exercise monopoly control over parliament, civil society, the media, and the economy.
Why is this occurring now, more than a decade after the USSR collapsed? In some cases, this is in response to political crises and the growth of opposition activity (e.g., Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Kazakhstan). More broadly, the ruling elites feel stronger domestically after having converted their Soviet-era political power into economic wealth and then back into political control. In addition, in Russia they have a strong external ally with whom they can exchange domestic assets in return for political support (e.g., Belarus, Ukraine, and Armenia).
When presidential proposals have been blocked or ruling elites wish to prove their "democratic" credentials, referendums are held to demonstrate the "popular will" in which the proposals in question are endorsed by wide margins. Belarus (1996), Ukraine (2000), Uzbekistan (2002), and Kyrgyzstan (2003) all resorted to this tactic. According to audiotape recordings in the possession of former presidential guard Mykola Melnychenko, the Soviet-style overwhelming endorsements of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's four questions in the 2000 referendum were the result of outright falsification. Kuchma has denied the authenticity of the Melnychenko tapes.
On 6 March, Kuchma introduced to parliament the political reforms he first proposed in August 2002. A two month "national discussion" was duly launched, with Kuchma threatening to hold a referendum if his proposals are not implemented by parliament. Referendums "with legally binding results," Kuchma claimed in his 15 April state-of-the-nation address to parliament, "are the highest form of people power."
Threats by the Ukrainian executive to hold referendums are nothing new. In 1996 they helped unblock five years of discussions surrounding a post-Soviet constitution, although not in Kuchma's favor. In 2000, a referendum was actually held. Our Ukraine deputy Mykola Tomenko has predicted that a referendum could be held either in the summer or by December, at the latest.
Why is Kuchma again threatening a referendum? Two analysts from the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies pointed out in the 5-11 April edition of "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya" that the ultimate aim of the executive is to control parliament, toward which Kuchma -- in the manner of most CIS leaders - has always been intolerant and impatient. Interviewed in "Moloda Ukrayina" on 2 April, two-time former parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch explained that the executive branch views parliament as a rubber-stamp body that should be told what to do and what to sign -- just like the former supreme soviets of the constituent Soviet republics.
Kuchma's reforms would reduce the size of the lower house of parliament from 450 to 300 deputies, elected proportionately, and create an appointed upper Council of the Regions. Presidential power would be therefore enhanced at the expense of parliament. Writing in the 12-18 April "Zerkalo nedeli/Dzerkalo tyzhnya," Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz said an upper house would mean the "liquidation of [the parliamentary system] as such, the final subordination of the Verkhovna Rada to the president and his administration." In a speech to parliament during discussions of the reforms, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko also defined the real purpose of the executive in proposing the changes as extending "power unlawfully" and ensuring its "self-preservation."
Although Kuchma called for roundtables and the involvement of think tanks in the discussion of his proposed reforms, this has not occurred. The opposition's call for televised debates has also gone unanswered, and state-run Channel 1 and oligarch-controlled channels 2 and 3 are not permitting a free debate. As in the Soviet era, there is merely an imitation of "free discussion," the purpose of which is merely to rubber-stamp official policies.
In a September 2002 secret instruction (temnyk) that was leaked to Mykola Tomenko, head of the parliamentary committee on freedom of the press and information and reprinted in a new Helsinki Watch report on censorship in Ukraine (http://www.hrw.org/reports/2003/ukraine0303), the presidential administration recommended to television stations that they ignore opposition discussions of executive plans for political reform. The temnyk requested that television "exclude from broadcasts any theses that cast doubt on the seriousness of the president's initiatives."
The organization of the "nationwide discussion" harks back to the era of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. The Odesa branch of Our Ukraine described the fake discussion as a "repeat of the depressing experience of the Soviet era." In Plyushch's Chernihiv electoral district, he was told that official protocols endorsing the president's reform proposals were handed out to organizations that were then ordered to sign them.
The presidential website (http://www.reforma.org.ua/regions) features numerous Soviet-style endorsements of his proposals by "workers" and "peasants' collectives" from throughout Ukraine, who are supported by state institutions and pro-presidential parties. Suspiciously, the proposal most supported is the one to hold all elections in the same year, thereby postponing the 2004 presidential elections and holding them concurrently with the 2006 parliamentary elections, which would give Kuchma two additional years in office.
But some observers, even pro-presidential ones, have cautioned that the referendum could backfire, as the situation in Ukraine today is radically different from that in 1996 or 2000. They point out that authoritarian regimes are most vulnerable during periods of transition, citing the examples of former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet, who held a referendum in 1998 to extend his term in office, and of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who called an early election in 2000 hoping to win the Yugoslav presidency. Both of them lost power.
Dr. Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow at the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Toronto.
BROAD-BASED TALKS UNDER WAY IN BAGHDAD...
U.S. postwar administrator in Iraq Jay Garner facilitated a meeting of more than 250 Iraqis from across the political spectrum in Baghdad on 28 April to discuss the formation of a post-Saddam Hussein government in Iraq, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) reported. The meeting took place on the 66th birthday of the deposed Iraqi president. "Today, on the birthday of Saddam Hussein, let us start the democratic process for the children of Iraq," Garner told participants, Reuters reported. Shi'ite and Sunni clerics, Kurds, businessmen, and Arab tribal leaders attended the meeting, the news agency reported. Garner added that security is a top concern and announced that a town-hall meeting will be held on 29 April in Baghdad to discuss the issue. KR
...AS SHI'A PROTEST
Hundreds of Iraqis, mostly Shi'ite Muslims, protested outside the Baghdad meeting on 28 April, Reuters reported. Protesters argued that Shi'ite clerics from the shrine city of Al-Najaf were not properly represented at the meeting. Specifically, the Al-Hawzah Shi'ite seminary reportedly went unrepresented. "The Shi'ite parties do not represent the Al-Hawzah at Al-Najaf," a cleric told Reuters, while a banner stated, "The Al-Hawzah in Al-Najaf must participate in the conference because it represents the people's opinions," Reuters reported. KR
SCIRI ATTENDS SECOND IRAQI OPPOSITION MEETING
The Iranian-backed Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) did not attend the mid-April opposition meeting near Al-Nasiriyah but it did attend the 28 April U.S.-sponsored meeting of Iraqi political leaders in Baghdad, according to a CENTCOM news release (http://www.centcom.mil). SCIRI spokesman Mohammad Asadi said on 25 April that SCIRI leaders were meeting in Tehran to consider the invitation, AP reported on 26 April. "If they [the United States] are going to respect our rights according to our last campaign in London, we will participate surely," he said. It was decided at the December meeting that SCIRI would get to choose all the Shi'a candidates to an opposition leadership council. BS
TEHRAN-BASED DA'WAH OFFICIAL PESSIMISTIC ABOUT BAGHDAD MEETING
Abu Bilal al-Adib, who heads the political bureau of Al-Da'wah Al-Islamiyah's Tehran branch, said in a 27 April interview with ISNA that his party has been invited to the Baghdad meeting of Iraqi political figures but, "We have not made any decisions on participating in the Baghdad conference yet." Al-Adib said the U.S. Defense Department is organizing the event, but Al-Da'wah believes the Iraqis should organize it. He does not think the event will be successful under current circumstances. Al-Adib also said he believes that several such meetings will take place until there are approximately 1,000 participants, and this would become analogous to Afghanistan's Loya Jirga and would elect a government. BS
BAGHDAD'S SELF-STYLED 'MAYOR' DETAINED BY COALITION FORCES...
Muhammad Muhsin al-Zubaydi, the Iraqi exile who declared himself the appointed head of a Baghdad Administration Executive Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003), has been removed from Baghdad by coalition forces, CENTCOM announced in a 27 April press release on the CENTCOM website (http://www.centcom.mil). "Al-Zubaydi was detained and then removed from Baghdad to prevent his continued misrepresentation of his authority as the mayor of Baghdad in the aftermath of the regime's defeat," the press release stated. "Specifically, al-Zubaydi sent letters to individuals and organizations telling them not to go back to work at utility plants (power, water, sewage) and banks, unless he approved it." The release also stated that al-Zubaydi "purported to fire" power-company employees and attempted to place his top aide, General Jawdat al-Ubaydi, as head of the power authority. The CENTCOM statement added that the two men obstructed the "normal means of governance for their own self-interests." Al-Zubaydi and seven members of his organization were taken into custody by coalition forces, according to CENTCOM, although five were later released. Al-Zubaydi declared himself the mayor of Baghdad to the Iraqi public and international media on 17 April and ignored repeated warnings by U.S. officials to desist his activities, CENTCOM stated. KR
...AS HEAD OF MONARCHY MOVEMENT CONDEMNS DETENTION
Sharif Ali bin al-Husayn, head of the opposition Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM) group, has condemned the arrest of al-Zubaydi, Al-Jazeera reported on 28 April. Husayn reportedly called the detention "arbitrary" and accused the United States of not wanting independent Iraqis to take part in the rebuilding of their country. Al-Zubaydi was a strong supporter of the CMM (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). The group seeks the return of the monarchy in Iraq. Al-Husayn is the cousin of the late King Faysal II, who was assassinated during the 1958 "Free Officers" coup in Iraq. He said the removal of al-Zubaydi from Baghdad will not prevent his group from participating in the 28 April Baghdad meeting of the U.S. administrator and Iraqi individuals and groups (see item above). KR
'KEY' IRAQI WEAPONS MONITOR SURRENDERS TO COALITION FORCES
Iraqi Lieutenant General Husam Muhammad Amin al-Yasin, who headed the Hussein regime's National Monitoring Directorate (NMD), surrendered to U.S. forces on 27 April, AP reported on 28 April. Amin was responsible for liaising with UN weapons inspectors and has been labeled a "key figure" in the Hussein regime's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program by coalition forces, who believe he might be able to lead them to proscribed weapons. Amin was 49th on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the Hussein regime. KR
AMMUNITION CACHE EXPLODES IN BAGHDAD NEIGHBORHOOD
Members of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division were attacked while guarding a cache of captured Iraqi ammunition outside Baghdad on 26 April, CENTCOM said in a press release on its website. The unknown assailants fired an incendiary device at the cache, causing it to explode and resulting in four civilian deaths and six injuries, according to the CENTCOM statement. One U.S. soldier was injured. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reported on 26 April that more than 40 civilians were killed in the incident, which it said occurred in the Al-Za'faraniyah neighborhood of Baghdad. KR
SADRIYUN ADMINISTERING EASTERN BAGHDAD
Shaykh Muhammad al-Fartusi, whose detention on 21-22 April led to demonstrations in Baghdad, has been identified as the cleric tasked by Qom-based Iraqi-born cleric Kazim al-Ha'iri with the administration of eastern Baghdad, according to "The New York Times" on 26 April. Al-Ha'iri reportedly issued a religious edict that was distributed among Shi'a clerics in Iraq that calls on them "to seize the first possible opportunity to fill the power vacuum in the administration of Iraqi cities." "We hereby inform you that Mr. Muqtada al-Sadr is our deputy and representative in all fatwa affairs," al-Ha'iri's decree adds. "His position is my position." Al-Sadr's followers, who are known as Sadriyun, are believed to be responsible for the 10 April slaying of Washington-backed cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoi when he visited Al-Najaf. Thousands of people chanted their support for Al-Sadr as they went to hear him at the Friday prayers at an Al-Najaf mosque, Reuters reported on 26 April. BS
POSSIBLE LINKAGES BETWEEN SADRIYUN AND TEHRAN
Al-Ha'iri had a close relationship with the Shi'a Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah party, but later there was a split because al-Ha'iri was excessively pro-Iranian and called for the party to respect the guidance of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Beirut's "Al-Mustaqbal" reported on 24 April. Al-Ha'iri is an advocate of Velayat-i Faqih (Guardianship of the Supreme Jurisconsult), upon which Iran's theocracy is based. According to the Lebanese newspaper, al-Ha'iri was a schoolmate of Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, the father of Muqtada al-Sadr, and of Iranian judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi and one-time Lebanese Hizballah spiritual leader Ayatollah Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah. Al-Ha'iri's involvement in Iraqi politics could have a profound impact. According to "Al-Mustaqbal," he is the point at which the Sadriyun, SCIRI, and Da'wah converge. BS
IRAQI OPPOSITION LEADER REJECTS CLERICAL LEADERSHIP IN IRAQ
Akram al-Hakim, a founding member of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), told "El Pais" that Iraqis will not support a central government in the hands of clerics, such as that in Iran, the Madrid-based daily reported on 27 April. "What the Americans don't know is that there are many differences between the Shi'a in the two places," al-Hakim said. "Neither the [Iraqi] opposition nor the people accept an Iranian model whereby the state is led by a religious leader who holds a monopoly on power. This is not an option in the Iraqi scenario." Al-Hakim said Iraqis are against a theocratic government but support a government that "respects religion, which allows worship and rites, and which respects Islamic doctrine with regard to licentiousness, obscenity, and those kinds of things." Al-Hakim was in Madrid to attend the 25-27 April meeting of Iraqi opposition groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). KR
IRAQI FARMER RECANTS CLAIM OF SHOOTING DOWN APACHE
The Iraqi farmer who told the international media that he shot down an Apache helicopter at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom has recanted his story, Abu Dhabi's "Al-Ittihad" reported on its website on 26 April (http://www.alittihad.co.ae). "My friend, I did not shoot down the Apache or anything else," Ali Ubayd Minqash told "Al-Ittihad." "They [Hussein regime] asked me to say so and I did." Iraqi officials on 24 March claimed that Minqash shot down an U.S. Apache helicopter using his Czech-made Brno rifle (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 March 2003). KR
LONDON PAPER CLAIMS DOCUMENTS LINK HUSSEIN REGIME TO BIN LADEN
London's "The Sunday Telegraph" published three documents on its website on 27 April that it claims prove a link between terrorist Osama bin Laden and the deposed Hussein regime in Iraq (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/). One document dated 19 February 1998 and marked "top secret and urgent" was purportedly signed by the director of an unidentified Iraqi Mukhabarat intelligence section. It requests "official permission to call Khartoum station to facilitate the travel arrangements for the above-mentioned [unnamed] person to Iraq. And that our body carry all the travel and hotel expenses inside Iraq to gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his envoy an oral message from us to bin Laden...about the future of our relationship with him and to achieve a direct meeting with him." The document reportedly goes on to note, "We [Iraq] may find in this envoy a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden." KR
CZECHS, POLES REPORTEDLY AMONG PARTICIPANTS IN IRAQ CONFERENCE
The Czech Republic and Poland are among the six "victors" of the war in Iraq, according to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 28 April, saying officials from both countries are among those invited to participate in a Baghdad conference the same day on an interim Iraqi government. The other participants reportedly include the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Spain. Czech Deputy Defense Minister Jaroslav Skopek said his country received the invitation as a result of its participation in the war effort "from the very beginning," including maintaining anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical troops in the region. The Czech Republic will send around 20 people to Baghdad in the next two weeks, the daily reported. The Czech invitation came from the United States, the paper added. AH
IRANIAN JUSTICE DEPARTMENT DENOUNCES PARLIAMENTARIAN'S REPORT TO UN HUMAN RIGHTS TEAM...
The Tehran Justice Department has denounced an Iranian parliamentarian's allegations that two pollsters have been tortured, IRNA and ISNA reported on 27 April. The department said that remarks that Tehran MP Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeni made on arbitrary detention to a UN team visiting Tehran in February were "false and harmful to national interests." Musavi-Khoeni told the team that Hussein Ali Qazian and Behruz Geranpayeh, jailed for publishing a poll that found that most Iranians favored the normalization of ties with the United States, were held in a secret location and made confessions under torture. As a result, the justice department complained, the UN team prepared a draft resolution that "aimed at putting pressure on Iran" at the very time that "the Americans were active in international forums in an effort to prepare the ground for condemning...the dear and honest Iranian nation." BS
...AND PARLIAMENTARIAN REJECTS SUMMONS
The complaint against Musavi-Khoeni was filed by the Inspection Department of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' Joint Chiefs of Staff, IRNA reported on 26 April. Musavi-Khoeni refused to show up after being served a summons by the Tehran Justice Department, according to IRNA and ISNA. Pollsters Qazian and Geranpayeh issued statements from Evin prison denying that they had been mistreated. Geranpayeh thanked prison guards for treating him respectfully and politely and pointed out that they had given him desserts such as dates, fruit, and milk during the month of Ramadan. He complained that the "false and irresponsible" statements by the Tehran parliamentarian only served to "undermine the position and prestige of the Islamic Republic in international forums," according to the justice department's account of testimony by Geranpayeh. SF
GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN CHARGED WITH INSULTING GUARDIANS COUNCIL
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said he will report to an appeals court in Tehran on 28 April to respond to charges made by the public prosecutor that he insulted the Guardians Council, Tehran's "Iran Daily" reported on 27 April. The paper's murky account of the charges indicated that they stem from an interview regarding the cancelled results of the 2000 parliamentary elections in two provincial towns, which led to a complaint against Ramezanzadeh by the Guardians Council. He was sentenced to a six-month prison term, according to "Iran Daily." SF
AMIR-ENTEZAM BACK IN JAIL
Abbas Amir-Entezam, a deputy foreign minister in the 1979 provisional revolutionary government who spent most of the last 24 years in prison after being convicted for espionage and treason in 1979 before being released last year on bail for medical reasons, is back in jail, "Iran Daily" reported on 27 April. He was ordered back to Evin prison on 26 April after making a speech at Tehran University calling for a referendum on whether Iraq should remain under clerical rule, according to "Iran Daily." SF
IRANIAN LEGISLATOR CRITICIZES EMERGENCY JOB-CREATION PLAN
Marand and Jolfa parliamentary representative Baqer Emami said the government's emergency employment plan is a waste of money, "Iran Daily" reported on 27 April. Emami said the government has allocated 30 million rials ($3,760) for creating each new job, whereas creating an industrial job costs at least 200 million-300 million rials and an agricultural job would cost at least 100 million-120 million rials. Emami said import-export regulations should be reconsidered and brought into line with international standards. The current laws discourage foreign investment and lead to corruption, he said. BS
SATELLITE-JAMMING SOURCE LOCATED IN IRAN
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi on 22 April issued a directive calling for identifying and taking action against those responsible for jamming satellite broadcasts, and legislators referred to "a certain military organization" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 April 2003). Parliamentarian Musavi-Khoeni, who is the deputy chairman of the legislature's Telecommunications Committee, announced in the 26 April issue of the "Abrar" newspaper that the source of the jamming signals has been identified, IRNA reported. He said the Ministry of Post, Telegraph, and Telephone has traced the source and added that parliamentarians have decided not to name the offending organization so the issue does not become politicized. If the jamming does not stop, he said, the organization will be named. Musavi-Khoeni added that several government institutions are looking into the possible public-health impact of the jamming signals. BS
TWO U.S. SOLDIERS ARE KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN'S PAKTIKA PROVINCE
Two U.S. soldiers were killed and an Afghan and two U.S. soldiers were wounded on 25 April in a daytime clash with suspected Taliban fighters in Shkin, Paktika Province, very close to the Afghan-Pakistan border, the BBC reported on 26 April. Colonel Roger King, the spokesman for U.S. forces based in Afghanistan, said approximately 20 of the fighters escaped and headed for the Pakistani border. King said the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition forces have "made no secret of the fact" that the border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is the "highest probability of contact," adding that the "more active you are, the more possibility you have of running into enemy elements." Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service last week reported that a clash involving U.S. forces took place in Shkin on 24 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). AT
U.S. SHIFTS POLICY FROM COMBAT TO STABILITY PHASE IN AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 27 April that he will announce a formal shift of focus for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan from a "major combat" phase to one of "stability," the "Financial Times" reported on 28 April. Rumsfeld was to make the announcement during his scheduled visit to Afghanistan on 27 April. However, a technical problem with his aircraft forced the postponement of the trip, for which no new date has been announced. The stability phase of the Afghan campaign is to be centered on Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) comprising military and civilian personnel (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). Three PRTs are currently operating in Afghanistan and more are scheduled to be activated, the "Financial Times" added. Rumsfeld said on 26 April that the theory behind using PRT's is that the bulk of Afghanistan is "permissive and secure," as "much as a country like that's going to be," according to the U.S. Defense Department. Thus, with the assistance of a number of agencies and countries, the PRTs will demonstrate "an ability to make...life better for the Afghan people," Rumsfeld said. AT
NEW MOVEMENT DECLARES JIHAD ON FOREIGN FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN
A hitherto unknown group calling itself the Devoted Movement of Martyrs' Sons sent a statement on 27 April to newspapers in Peshawar, Pakistan, warning Afghans that a war led by the United States and Great Britain has been launched against them to "take revenge" on Muslims, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 28 April. The statement says the country is experiencing a "civil war," which "ignorant Muslims still call...a war against terrorism," and that the new group has launched a holy war against foreign forces in Afghanistan and invites the Afghan people to join in the struggle, AIP reported. The statement claims that the new movement is independent, with no links to the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Another mysterious group calling itself Tanzim al-Fatah Afghanistan (Afghanistan Victory Organization) on 10 February called for a holy war against U.S. troops in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2003). AT
ARMS CACHE SEIZED FROM AFGHAN NATIONAL IN PAKISTAN
Pakistani officials recovered a large number of mortar shells, remote-controlled bombs, and Russian-made rockets on 27 April from the home of Bahdur Khan Kharuti, an Afghan national living in the village of Mata Sangar, "Dawn" reported on 28 April. Ninety-nine missiles, 40 mortar shells, and six remote-controlled bombs were confiscated by Pakistani forces and Kharuti was arrested. AT
AFGHAN CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION FORMED...
Nematullah Shahrani, former head of the Constitutional Drafting Commission (CDC), said on 25 April that a 35-member Constitutional Commission has been formed to begin a national public educational and consultation process on the preliminary draft of Afghanistan's future constitution (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 10 and 24 April and 1 May 2003), AFP reported. Shahrani will head the new commission, which includes seven female members and will study the draft for one month before touring Afghanistan's provinces to inform the public and gauge their reactions. The "constitution document is not a goal in itself, the goal is the implementation by and for the people," AFP quoted Knut Ostby, a senior deputy director for the UN Development Program, as saying. AT
...AS AFGHANISTAN'S TURKMEN CALL FOR REPRESENTATION ON THE COMMISSION
Omar Qol Elahiyari, a representative of Afghan Turkmen in the June 2002 Loya Jirga, criticized the fact than no Turkmen were named to the commission, IRNA reported on 27 April. Elahiyari said Turkmen have played a significant role in Afghanistan's reconstruction, but are now being excluded from having a say in the development of the constitution. He said the Turkmen will stage protests if they are not offered representation, IRNA reported. AT
AFGHAN CHAIRMAN APPOINTS COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE MASUD'S DEATH
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has established a special commission, headed by Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali, to investigate the killing of Afghan anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Masud, RFE/RL reported on 27 April. Masud was killed on 9 September 2001 by two suicide bombers posing as journalists. It is believed they were carrying out orders from Al-Qaeda leader bin Laden, who was then living in Afghanistan under the protection of the former Taliban government. The formation of the commission is largely seen as a gesture to honor Masud, as the perpetrators died during the attack. AT
MOSCOW TO BEEF UP CONTINGENT IN TAJIKISTAN
Russian President Vladimir Putin on 27 April told commanders of 201st Motorized Infantry Division during a visit to Russia's military base on the Tajik-Afghan border that the Kremlin will soon bolster its military presence in Tajikistan, RIA-Novosti reported. Russia is believed currently to have about 10,000 troops in Tajikistan, Reuters reported, and it was unclear from initial media reports exactly how the Kremlin plans to boost that presence. "Lately our special services, including the Defense Ministry, have reported a significant increase in activities and a rebuilding of Taliban structures, Al-Qaeda's structures and so on," Putin said. "As a result, the efforts of the international coalition fighting the terrorist threat must be upgraded and stepped up.... A truly peaceful and stable Afghanistan is still a very long way away." Putin said that Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov endorsed the plan at a meeting the previous day. The two countries are expected to sign an accord before the end of May that will formally elevate the Russian military installation to a base. After his closed-door meeting with the commanders, Putin mingled with the division's troops. SS