Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - April 20, 2004

President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of the cabinet on 19 April that the time has come to reform the so-called silovik agencies -- including the Interior, Defense, and Foreign ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the Foreign Intelligence Service -- in the same spirit in which the government and presidential administration were recently restructured, RTR and RBK reported. Putin said his administration has begun working with those agencies to implement changes that will place them in compliance with the letter and spirit of ongoing reforms. He also announced that he has submitted to the State Duma appropriate amendments to the law on government. commented that the amendments should easily pass owing to the majority held by pro-Putin factions in the Duma. VY

"Versiya" on 19 April reported on rumors that the reform of the silovik agencies includes merging the country's domestic-security organization, the FSB, with the country's foreign-intelligence body, the Foreign Intelligence Service, into one organization, as was the case during the Soviet era when both intelligence bodies were part of the Committee for State Security (KGB). Further changes could include transforming the newly formed organization from a military into a civilian service and creating a federal investigations service that would take over some of the functions currently performed by the FSB and the Prosecutor-General's Office, the newspaper reported. However, "Izvestiya" reported on 19 April that the silovik reform will not be so radical, and will be limited to reducing the number of ministerial deputies, similar to the reduction of such personnel in the earlier government restructuring. The interior minister currently has 11 deputies, the FSB director 12, the defense minister six, and the foreign minister 12, the newspaper noted. VY

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 20 April issued a decree on the restructuring of state coordinating and other bodies that liquidated 146 government commissions, RTR and other Russian media reported. Under the decree, commissions such as those overseeing foreign trade, the status of women, public health, railways reform, toponyms, the restoration of Chechnya, and the status of the Black Sea have been abolished. In addition, ABN reported that Fradkov named himself the chairman of six remaining commissions: the Federal Military-Industrial Commission, the Federal Intellectual-Property Commission, the Naval Collegium, the Federal Economic Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship Commission, the Federal Economic Integration Commission, and the Federal Commission on the World Trade Organization and Other Economic Cooperation Organizations. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov will head the Federal Legislation Commission and the Federal International Humanitarian and Technical Aid Commission. Government apparatus head Dmitrii Kozak will chair the Federal Administrative Reform Commission, and Culture and Mass Communications Minister Aleksandr Sokolov will head the Federal Religious Organizations Commission. RC

Prime Minister Fradkov and government-apparatus head Kozak met on 18 April to discuss plans for furthering reforming the structure of the government, "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 April. The two confirmed that the Federal Statistics Service will be removed from the purview of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry and subordinated directly to the prime minister. Presidential economics adviser Andrei Illarionov made that announcement in St. Petersburg on 12 April, saying that the move was dictated by the need for ensuring that the government receives objective economic information, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 13 April. Fradkov and Kozak also reportedly agreed that the new Federal Financial Markets Service, headed by Oleg Vyugin and subordinated to the prime minister, should be given the right to issue normative acts. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 April that Fradkov would like to grant the service greater independence, seeing it as "a second Central Bank." "Vremya novostei" also reported that in mid-May the government will present President Putin with a plan to shift control of all federal inspectorates from the ministries to the prime minister's office. RC

The ongoing restructuring of the government has Russia's tourism industry concerned, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 April. Under the new system, responsibility for developing tourism will rest with the Federal Sports and Tourism Agency, which is part of the Health and Social Development Ministry. The former Tourism Department of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry has been abolished. The daily noted that only the governments of Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Belarus, and Djibouti have combined responsibility for sports and tourism into a single entity and that Russia is now the only country in the world where tourism development is the responsibility of a health ministry. Federal Sports and Tourism Agency Director Vyacheslav Fetisov has declined to comment on the developments, saying that he has not yet named a deputy responsible for tourism and his agency has not yet developed any tourism-related plans. "One gets the impression that tourism is being intentionally shunted aside, and that more and more problems for its development are being created," Russian Tourism Union Vice President Vladimir Kanotovich was quoted as saying. RC

Economic analysts believe that the recent appointment of former Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Arkadii Dvorkovich to head the Expert Department of the presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004) signals a major victory for Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref over presidential economics adviser Illarionov, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 April. "Dvorkovich's appointment shows there is a need for a systematic approach to reforms and, more importantly, for rethinking them anew," Development Center Executive Director Andrei Klepach said. "New ideas are needed and Dvorkovich is a person with systematic vision within the framework of a liberal approach." The daily noted that Dvorkovich, like Gref and Illarionov, is a person who does not shun publicity and "is not shy about defending his views in public." RC

The annual Russian Economic Forum, which assembles Russian and Western businesspeople, officials, and politicians, opened in London on 19 April, Russian media reported. Among this year's approximately 1,500 participants are several Russian oligarchs, including Severstal head Aleksei Mordashov, Rosneft CEO Sergei Bogdanchikov, Tyumen Oil Company-British Petroleum board member Viktor Vekselberg, and United Machine Building Works General Director Kakha Bendukidze. Also taking part in the forum are Deputy Prime Minister Zhukov, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, and Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais. Sibneft owner and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, whom the "Sunday Times" named this week as the richest person in the United Kingdom (see below), is also attending the forum, reported on 18 April. All expenses for the organization of the forum came from private sources in Russia, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 April. VY

Deputy Prime Minister Zhukov said in his address to the forum that Russia should achieve economic growth of 5 percent-6 percent this year, adding that the government has the ambitious goal of maintaining high economic growth over the next few years as it reduces its dependence on energy exports, RIA-Novosti and RosBalt reported. He said the government will follow a strategy of strengthening the ruble, while preventing it from rising excessively against the U.S. dollar. High oil prices have allowed the government to set up a stabilization fund that should reach 500 billion rubles ($17.85 billion) by 2005, Zhukov said. In general, the government wants to increase Russia's competitiveness in the global economy by creating efficient economic institutions, maintaining political and economic stability, and reducing the bureaucracy. Zhukov also told the audience that "de-privatization will never take place," and that the upcoming trial of Mikhail Khodorkovskii, the jailed former CEO of the oil giant Yukos, will cause "no serious impact on the economy." VY

Finance Minister Kudrin said during a 19 April news conference in London on the sidelines of the Russian Economic Forum that it is premature to speak about the government's possible claims against Yukos, RIA-Novosti reported. Referring to the Moscow Arbitration Court's 16 April decision to freeze Yukos's assets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004), Kudrin said the company's property may be expropriated only if it does not have enough funds in its coffers to settle any tax debts. However, he said, the case must first be heard in court. VY

The Tax Ministry has decided to investigate the financial activities in 2003 of Open Russia, a charity foundation created by Yukos in 2001 to support cultural, educational, and human rights projects, reported on 19 April. The Tax Ministry previously investigated the foundation's 2002 financial activities, but found no violations. The popular foundation spends an estimated 400 million rubles ($14 million) per year to support various humanitarian projects. Chess Grandmaster Garri Kasparov, who is a staunch critic of the Kremlin, alleged on 19 April that the investigation is the result of a "direct command from Vladimir Putin to take Khodorkovskii out of the political game," reported. VY

Roman Abramovich topped the list of Britain's 1,000 wealthiest people published by the "Sunday Times" on 18 April, with an estimated net worth of 7.5 billion pounds ($12.8 billion). The newspaper's "Rich List" ranking measures "identifiable" wealth, including real-estate holdings and other assets, but not bank accounts. Abramovich was ranked 25th this year in "Forbes" magazine's annual list of the world's wealthiest people, and was listed as the second-richest person in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004). Abramovich was considered eligible for the "Sunday Times" listing because of his ownership of the Chelsea Football Club and the significant amount of time he spends at his large estate in Sussex, according to the newspaper. VY

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told President Putin during the 19 April cabinet meeting that the Foreign Ministry and the Emergency Situations Ministry are prepared to carry out the second stage of the evacuation of Russian citizens and employees of Russian companies in Iraq if "the need arises," ITAR-TASS reported. Lavrov also told Putin that the first stage of evacuation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 April 2004) "did not break economic contracts that Russian companies signed in Iraq." He assured the president that "Russia will return to [Iraq] as soon as the situation allows." Meanwhile, RTR and ORT reported on 16 April that about half of the more than 800 Russian and CIS citizens working for Russian companies in Iraq opted against the first evacuation, which was voluntary. VY

Federal Atomic Energy Inspectorate spokesman Valerii Rozhnov on 19 April said that his agency is concerned about the safety of nuclear facilities in Moscow, ITAR-TASS and reported on 19 April and 20 April, respectively. He noted that there are 11 active research reactors in the capital. Many of them are on the territory of academic institutions, which "makes it relatively complicated to create conditions for effectively controlling the production of radioactive materials," Rozhnov said. He said that such materials would present a threat if they fell into the hands of terrorists. Agency spokesman Nikolai Shingarev told that the physical security of such facilities is "insufficiently funded" at present. RC

Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov (Unified Russia) told TV-Tsentr on 17 April that Russia supports many U.S. foreign-policy objectives, including the fight against international terrorism, not because it is blindly following the United States but because these objectives coincide with Russia's interests. "We have, it could be said, a 'marriage of convenience' with the United States," he said. However, TV-Tsentr political commentator Aleksei Pushkov, who is also a member of the influential Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, told "Izvestiya" of 19 April that if this is the case, Russia "is playing the role of a naive wife" who is committed to her marriage while the United States believes he is free. VY

In an interview for publication in "Izvestiya" circulated by his press service, President Robert Kocharian characterized the wave of opposition demonstrations that began earlier this month as "a temporary phenomenon" based on the mistaken perception that the so-called Rose Revolution that toppled Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze last November can be repeated in Armenia, AFP and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian warned that while the opposition has the right to stage sit-ins and rallies, police will intervene to restore order if future opposition protests block highways or interfere with the work of state institutions. At the same time, Kocharian vowed that the government will "work more energetically" to reduce poverty, eradicate corruption, and improve the economic situation. LF

The use by police of brute force to disperse protest participants in Yerevan early on 13 April was justified because "this was a coup attempt, and the authorities must take appropriate reactions within the legal framework," Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 19 April. Markarian reaffirmed the offers of dialogue with the opposition made in recent weeks by the three-party coalition government, but at the same time categorically rejected the opposition's repeated calls for a nationwide referendum of confidence in President Kocharian. LF

The founding meeting of the Armenian-Russian Business Partnership Association took place in Moscow on 16 April, Noyan Tapan reported on 19 April. The organization's objective is to expand mutually beneficial bilateral cooperation with the aim of countering the effects of the Turkish blockade of Armenia and creating new jobs there. The association's chairman is former USSR Council of Ministers Chairman and current Russian Federation Council member Nikolai Ryzhkov, who is profoundly revered in Armenia for his work organizing emergency relief to Armenia following the December 1988 earthquake. LF

Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists in Yerevan on 19 April that during their talks in Prague on 16 April, he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov agreed to meet again in mid-May to continue their discussions of approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, AP reported. He did not specify the venue, or the precise date. Oskanian characterized the 16 April meeting with Mammadyarov as "very useful," but said the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group, with whom the two ministers also met, did not present any new proposals for resolving the conflict. However, the Azerbaijani daily "525 gazeti" on 20 April quoted Russian Minsk Group co-Chairman Yurii Merzlyakov as saying that the co-chairmen did unveil a new peace proposal, details of which the two ministers will now present to their respective presidents, Turan reported. LF

Ambassador Steven Mann, who was named earlier this month as the new U.S. Minsk Group co-chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004), met in Yerevan in 19 April with President Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Mann told journalists his meeting with Kocharian was "very useful and warm," but declined to divulge details, saying he wants "to preserve the confidentiality of our diplomatic dialogue." Also on 19 April, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told the Anatolia News Agency that he anticipates three-way talks between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey within the next few months on resolving the Karabakh conflict, Reuters reported. LF

Major General Roman Dumbadze, whom Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili dismissed on 3 April from the post of commander of the 25th Armored-Mechanized Brigade based in Batumi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2004), said on 19 April that he will take orders only from Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze to whom, Dumbadze said, the brigade is subordinate, Caucasus Press reported. Dumbadze added that he would defend Adjaria in the event of an armed attack by forces loyal to the central Georgian government. Caucasus Press on 20 April quoted Bezhuashvili as condemning Dumbadze's statement as "high treason," adding that it may have been made under pressure or in response to blackmail. Also on 20 April, 17 of the 53 officers of the 25th brigade arrived in Tbilisi, where they told journalists their fellow officers were prevented by "technical reasons" from leaving Batumi with them, according to the website of the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2. LF

Georgia's National Security Council ruled on 16 April that the holding of a women's World Chess Championship in Batumi in late May or early June is inexpedient because the presence in Adjaria of illegal armed formations poses a threat to participants, Caucasus Press reported. Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze reached agreement on 15 April with Kalmyk President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who heads the World Chess Federation (FIDE), on hosting the championship. Georgian Minister of Culture and Sport Giorgi Gabashvili told journalists on 19 April that the Georgian government has proposed to FIDE that the championship be held elsewhere in Georgia. Zurab Azmaiparishvili, who is Georgian Chess Federation president and FIDE vice president, argued on 17 April that holding the tournament in Batumi would contribute to defusing tensions between Abashidze and the Georgian central government, Caucasus Press reported. Azmaiparishvili met on 19 April with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania to discuss the issue, which Zhvania asked for two days to resolve. LF

Georgian Prosecutor-General Irakli Okruashvili said on 19 April that the Interior Ministry is doing little to combat drug smuggling, and those measures it has taken are ineffective, Caucasus Press reported. On 16 April, President Saakashvili had stressed the need for a reform of the Interior Ministry, and for its personnel to improve their image, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Vano Zodelava was dismissed without prior warning on 19 April from the post of mayor of Tbilisi that he has held for several years, Caucasus Press reported. Zodelava said he will not retire, but continue his engagement in politics and may run for the post of Tbilisi mayor if that office becomes elective. Also on 19 April, President Mikheil Saakashvili named former Central Election Commission Chairman Zurab Chiaberashvili to succeed Zodelava, giving him six months to demonstrate his competence in that post by, among other things, halting illegal construction, installing new traffic lights, and introducing a cheaper municipal bus system, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Georgian Sugar General Director Tengiz Gogichashvili, who was elected to the Georgian parliament on 28 March on the list of the opposition Industrialists-New Rightists bloc, was stripped of his parliamentary immunity on 17 April at the request of the Prosecutor-General's Office, which suspected him of failing to pay 89,000 laris ($43,790) in value-added taxes, Caucasus Press reported. Leaders of the bloc denounced that ruling at a press conference the same day, accusing the authorities of staging "a cheap show" to distract public attention from their own failures, Caucasus Press reported. On 19 April, Gogichashvili agreed to pay some 233,500 laris to the state budget in order to avoid being remanded in custody; he continues to deny the charges against him. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi on 17 April, Nugzar Birkaya of the Georgian Barristers' Association criticized as a violation of the law the authorities' penchant for releasing from custody detained businessmen suspected of financial crimes in exchange for a sizeable payment to the state budget, Caucasus Press reported. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Berlin on 19 April, dpa reported. The two leaders discussed ways to increase trade between Kazakhstan and Germany, following up on a December 2003 meeting during which Schroeder expressed the hope that bilateral annual trade could be doubled from its current level of 1.8 billion euros ($2.16 billion) over the next three years. At the opening of a forum on the Kazakh economy earlier on 19 April, Nazarbaev noted that investors will pump more than $80 billion into his country's oil industry over the next 15 years, Kazinform reported. Nazarbaev urged German investors to join Caspian Sea projects and to consider strategic investments as Kazakhstan continues to privatize large enterprises. DK

Yurii Khitrin took the opportunity during his annual address to parliament on 19 April to criticize law-enforcement authorities for violating the constitution, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The Constitutional Council chairman said that investigators commonly detain people in order to obtain information from them. Khitrin also noted that 6,657 law-enforcement officials were disciplined in 2003 for various infractions. "Some supervisors insist that their subordinates achieve better results, but they don't care how they achieve this," Khitrin concluded. DK

President Askar Akaev signed an amnesty bill on 19 April in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of the Kyrgyz Constitution, Kabar news agency reported the same day. Kyrgyzstan's parliament originally passed the bill on 24 April, but the president later sent it back for changes. The amnesty applies only to certain categories of prisoners, such as veterans, women over the age of 50, prisoners with less than a year left to serve, and others. In all, the amnesty will grant some 700 prisoners their freedom and reduce the sentences of about 1,000. DK

President Imomali Rakhmonov met on 19 April with deceased King Hussein's widow Queen Noor, who is in Tajikistan as a UN goodwill ambassador, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Rakhmonov noted that Tajikistan considers relations with the Arab world a high priority and intends to make an active attempt to improve Tajik-Jordanian relations. The two also discussed ways to expand cooperation between Tajikistan and the UN Development Program, as well as the issues of AIDS and drug trafficking. At the closing of a conference on antipersonnel mines in Dushanbe on 16 April, Queen Noor urged all Central Asian states to join the Ottawa Convention, which bans antipersonnel mines, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. To date, among the Central Asian states only Tajikistan and Turkmenistan have acceded to the convention. DK

Tajikistan has signed an agreement with Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) to export 1.4 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity per year to southern Russia for five years beginning in 2004, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 19 April. Tajikistan's Norak hydroelectric power station will generate the electricity. Tajik Energy Minister Jurabek Nurmuhammedov, who signed the agreement for Tajikistan, told the news agency that transit has been arranged with Kazakhstan and that negotiations are continuing with Uzbek officials. If the latter talks are successful, the first power exports could begin on 10 May. Tajikistan exported 188 million kwh of electricity to Russia in 2003. DK

Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry has denied registration to George Soros's Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation (OSIAF), reported on 19 April. An OSIAF spokesperson told, an independent online newspaper funded by the Open Society Foundation, that the Justice Ministry reached its decision on 14 April, claiming that the OSIAF provided educational institutions with materials that "discredit government policy." quoted Soros as saying: "The authorities' latest actions show how much the government of Uzbekistan is resisting reforms. How can you claim that the country respects human rights when it won't even pretend to take steps toward a more open society?" The OSIAF has provided $22 million in aid to civil-society development programs in Uzbekistan since 1996, including $3.7 million in 2003. The OSIAF says that it plans to pursue all possible official channels to reverse the decision. DK

The European Union on 19 April praised the environmental cleanup efforts of new members slated to join the organization on 1 May, Reuters reported. Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom told journalists in Brussels that "all the new member states are for the most part on track" and that the EU is "very happy" as a result. She said they all had to "make big efforts." A report released the same day by the European Commission said Poland has halved sulfur emissions since the 1990s, while the Czech Republic has shed its dependence on heavy industries such as mining, steel, and chemical manufacturing. The report said key air pollutants have declined by 60 percent to 80 percent and toxic metals by 50 percent in the region, while organic-matter pollution in water fell by as much as 80 percent. Wallstrom said some problems remain for the newcomers as they improve environmental standards, naming waste management, industrial pollution, and establishing nature-protection sites as outstanding issues. MS

The UN's International Labor Organization (ILO) commission investigating alleged violations of trade-union rights in Belarus met with the leaders of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) on 16 April, Belapan reported on 19 April. BKDP President Alyaksandr Yarashuk reportedly informed the commission about authorities' interference in the affairs of the Belarusian Union of Agro-Industrial Complex Workers, which he headed for many years, and about violations of trade unions' rights by the government after his election as president of the BKDP in November 2002. The commission will stay in Belarus until 24 April. It is scheduled to meet with representatives of other trade unions, employers, and the government. The ILO set up its "commission of inquiry" into allegations of serious workers' rights abuses in Belarus in November 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003). JM

Lawmakers from the Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary caucuses on 20 April blocked the Verkhovna Rada's rostrum, demanding the dismissals of presidential administration head Viktor Medvedchuk, Interior Minister Mykola Bilokin, and Transcarpathian Oblast Governor Ivan Rizak, as well as an honest vote count in the 18 April mayoral election in the Transcarpathian town of Mukacheve, UNIAN and Interfax reported. Both opposition groups claim that the mayoral election was won by Our Ukraine candidate Viktor Baloha and accuse the local election commission and authorities in Mukacheve of falsifying the vote in favor of Edvard Nuser, who was supported by Medvedchuk's Social Democratic Party-united (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). Our Ukraine also claims that a riot-police unit beat six of its lawmakers who were observing the election in Mukacheve. The Verkhovna Rada was scheduled on 20 April to consider -- simultaneously with the Russian State Duma in Moscow -- the ratification of an agreement on the creation of a Single Economic Space with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, as well as accords on the border with Russia and the joint use with Russia of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait. JM

President Leonid Kuchma on 20 April once again expressed his support for the constitutional reform that suffered a setback in the Verkhovna Rada on 8 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2004), UNIAN reported. "The political reform is intended to end the post-Soviet epoch in Ukraine [and] create space for deepening the democratization of society and accelerating the process of European integration," Kuchma told a forum on the country's economic strategy in 2004-15. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said at the same forum that he is sure a political reform will be implemented irrespective of who will be elected president in the 31 October election. Last week, Yanukovych was appointed a joint presidential candidate of the pro-government parliamentary coalition on the condition that he finalize the constitutional reform initiated by the pro-presidential camp (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 20 April 2004). JM

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told Ukrainian President Kuchma in Kyiv on 19 April that the Ukraine-NATO Action Plan adopted in November 2002 at the NATO summit in Prague is "fairly ambitious" and "includes everything [necessary] to bring Ukraine and NATO closer to each other," Interfax reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. "The main goal of my visit to Ukraine is to confirm my personal commitment, as well as that of the alliance, to our strategic partnership with Ukraine," de Hoop Scheffer reportedly added. "We want to stress with our fixed plan of actions and peacekeeping operations that we are going to move toward NATO seriously," Kuchma said. JM

Res Publica Chairman and Prime Minister Juhan Parts on 18 April accused the Center Party of seeking closer ties with Russia rather than developing cooperation with European partners, BNS reported the next day. He said that Center Party Chairman and Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar during his recent visit to Moscow sought to complete a cooperation agreement with the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Res Publica's top candidate in the upcoming European Parliament elections, Urmas Reinsalu, charged that the Center Party is seeking closer ties with Russia while remaining passive toward the country's membership in the EU. Savisaar replied by saying that Res Publica had attacked the Center Party out of jealousy because it sought and failed to establish ties with important Russian parties. The parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee has invited Savisaar to give an account of his trip to Moscow, and several parliament deputies asked the Foreign Ministry whether Savisaar informed it about his visit. SG

Although Rolandas Paksas told reporters before entering the Prosecutor-General's Office on 19 April that he was prepared to answer all questions, he emerged less than an hour later and left without comment, BNS reported. It was revealed that Paksas refused to give any evidence when prosecutor Mindaugas Duda attempted to videotape his testimony. Paksas presented a written statement explaining that he would not testify if it was recorded, as many of his past statements had been illegally publicized. The law gives the prosecutor the right to decide on the method of recording the testimony of a witness, who, however, is also granted the right to ask that his testimony be videotaped. There are no legal provisions for refusing to testify for this reason. Paksas would likely have been questioned about whether his main financial supporter, Russian businessman Yurii Borisov, threatened him, as the former president made conflicting statements on 17 November 2003 and 25 March 2004 on the issue. SG

Central Election Commission Chairman Zenonas Vaigauskas decided not to accept the documents of former President Paksas to register as a candidate for president on 19 April, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. His decision was prompted by the statement by Algirdas Meskauskas, the chairman of the Chief Public Service Ethics Commission, that Paksas is not eligible to run for president now because the Constitutional Court has ruled that he violated the law on conflict of interests in public service, which bars violators from public service for three years. Vaigauskas asked the Chief Public Service Ethics Commission to present an official position on whether Paksas can be a presidential candidate. Vaigauskas predicted that a lawsuit will be filed against the commission's position in either case and it is likely that the Constitutional Court will have to make a final decision on whether Paksas will be allowed to run for president again. SG

Polish government spokesman Marcin Kaszuba told PAP on 19 April that Poland respects the sovereign decision of the Spanish authorities to withdraw its troops from the Polish-led multinational division in Iraq. Kaszuba was commenting on new Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's announcement on 18 April that Madrid will pull out its 1,300 troops as soon as possible. Kaszuba stressed that Polish soldiers in Iraq will continue performing their tasks but added that Warsaw is not going to increase its contingent in Iraq to compensate for the Spanish withdrawal. "At the military level we are holding all the necessary talks so that this process takes place as safely as possible and without affecting the state of security in our zone," Polish Radio quoted President Aleksander Kwasniewski as saying the same day. "We are working on the appropriate mode of replacing the Spanish soldiers in their tasks." JM

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla failed on 19 April to convince the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) to support overriding in the lower house the veto by President Vaclav Klaus of a key bill, CTK reported. The bill would raise value-added tax on some services from 5 to 19 percent and lower it on most sold products from 22 to 19 percent. The cabinet needs all of its 101 party deputies to override the bill, but Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda (People's Union-Christian Democratic Party) and Social Democratic Party parliamentary deputy Miroslav Vlcek are hospitalized and cannot attend the vote, slated for 20 April. On the other hand, independent lawmaker Petr Kott, who last year was expelled from the ODS, has promised to support the bill. MS

The Sudeten German Landsmannschaft said in a statement on 19 April that when the Czech Republic accedes to the EU on 1 May it should be able to "prove that it is worthy of membership in the Western legal and moral community," CTK reported. The organization representing the interests of ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia after the 1946 Benes Decrees said the Czech Republic must "renounce its position of justifying the robberies and property-confiscation from its former German and Hungarian fellow-citizens." The organization appealed to the governments of Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, and Hungary to back its demand. In related news, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 19 April that a proposal by Czech Deputy Prime Minister Peter Mares (Freedom Union-Democratic Union) to provide compensation to former minority Germans that performed forced labor after World War II is not backed by a majority in the cabinet and is opposed by Prime Minister Spidla. MS

In a letter to Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, U.S. President George W. Bush on 19 April thanked Slovakia for its "support and determination to establish peace and democracy in Iraq," TASR and CTK reported. Bush also praised the strength and courage of Slovak troops in Iraq. He said that "our common effort to strengthen security is continuing and prevailing...but there is still a lot to do." A 105-member Slovak engineering unit is serving in Iraq and is mainly engaged in mine-clearing operations. MS

President-elect Ivan Gasparovic on 19 April announced he is resigning as chairman of the Movement for Democracy (HZD), CTK and TASR reported. In an interview with the daily "Sme," Gasparovic said that after winning the presidential elections "I don't want to be the president of a political party, but of all citizens." In the interview, Gasparovic admitted that his "personal political philosophy" is very close to that of the leftist Smer (Direction) party, but claimed he has no personal commitment to that party, which backed his candidacy in the election. In related news, incumbent President Rudolf Schuster said on 18 April on German state television that the voters have spoken and he intends to leave politics after failing to make it to the 17 April runoff. Schuster said history will judge his contribution to Slovak politics but it's "too early" to do so now. He also said that if Gasparovic asked for help he would be willing to give it, especially to advise him on foreign-policy matters. MS

European Commission spokesman Reijo Kemppinen told journalists in Brussels on 19 April that the commission has "taken note of the outcome of the Slovak presidential election and fully respects it as the choice of the Slovak people," TASR and CTK reported. Asked why EC President Romano Prodi has not congratulated Gasparovic on his election, Kemppinen replied that the matter is "not urgent" and Prodi will do so after he returns from a trip to Rome. MS

Three men and a woman calling themselves the "Ahimsa Group" on 19 April entered the parliament chamber and threw leaflets from the gallery and held up an orange banner saying "Get out of Iraq!" Hungarian media reported. Shortly after the incident, the group was removed from the chamber by security guards and turned over to police. The group, whose name is an Indian word meaning "nonviolence," told reporters in front of the parliament building that their protest was an act of civic disobedience, and they do not represent any political party, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Most of the Hungarian parliament's sessions are open to the public, and the protesters entered the building with valid daily passes. Parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili said the incident is unprecedented and she will initiate a review of the existing regulations for visitors, the MTI news agency reported. MSZ

Sasko Kedev, the presidential candidate of the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), said on 19 April that he will not bargain for the support of the voters of the opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) in the 28 April second round of voting, "Dnevnik" reported. Kedev reacted to a statement by the PDSH's first round presidential candidate, Zudi Xhelili, who said he will advise his supporters to vote for Kedev if Kedev agrees to a clear timetable for the full implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace accord and to the introduction of the position of vice president for an ethnic Albanian. "[The presidency] must not be subject to bargaining and must not be tied to any conditions," Kedev said, adding that the presidential elections must be the free expression of the citizens' will (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, and 19 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 9 April 2004). UB

A majority of the judges at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal agreed on 19 April to reduce the sentence for former Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic from 46 to 35 years in connection with his role in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males lost their lives, RFE/RL reported. The majority of judges also agreed to "set aside...his conviction as a participant in a joint criminal enterprise to commit genocide, count one, and find, Judge Mohamed Shahabuddeen dissenting, Krstic guilty of aiding and abetting genocide," which is a lesser crime. The majority ruling said that "conviction for genocide can be entered only where that intent has been unequivocally established. There was a demonstrable failure by the trial chamber to supply adequate proof that Radislav Krstic possessed genocidal intent." The tribunal's conviction of Krstic for genocide in 2001 was its first conviction for that crime. In Bosnia, many Srebrenica survivors and relatives of victims expressed anger at the decision to reduce his sentence, saying that Krstic should receive a life sentence, which was the maximum possible, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 August 2001). PM

On 19 April, Spanish police released Sanel Sjekirica, a Bosnian citizen who reportedly fled Spain following the 11 March Madrid bombing attacks and recently turned himself in at Madrid's Barajas Airport, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). Police told him that they have no further questions and that he need not report back to them. PM

The United Kingdom's Minister for Europe Denis MacShane told "The Guardian" of 20 April in Zagreb that his government has dropped its opposition to starting EU accession talks with Croatia. The United Kingdom had previously insisted that the Croatian authorities first arrest former General Ante Gotovina, whom the Hague-based tribunal has indicted for war crimes. The Croatian authorities maintain that Gotovina is not in that country. MacShane stressed to "The Guardian" that "Gotovina no longer remains an obstacle to saying [that] Croatia can start accession talks" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2004; and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 December 2003 and 16 January 2004). The European Commission is expected to announce its decision on talks with Croatia on 20 April. PM

Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu said on 19 April that the decision of new Spanish Prime Minister Jose-Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to withdraw his country's forces from Iraq represents a "sovereign Spanish decision" that did not come as a surprise, Mediafax reported. Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana discussed the Spanish decision with U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation. Geoana said that during that discussion he again expressed support for the Romanian Supreme Council for National Defense's 15 April decision to maintain the military contingent serving in Iraq. He also said the Spanish decision represents an "important political moment" for the coalition and that Romania must "have its say" on the future command structure of the force protecting the UN mission in Iraq. MS

Democratic Party Executive Chairman Emil Boc and Ludovic Orban, leader of the Bucharest branch of the National Liberal Party (PNL), challenged the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) on 19 April to take them to court, Mediafax reported. The two politicians were reacting to the announcement made on 16 April by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase that the PSD has hired lawyers and will sue anyone who claims that the party intends to rig the fall parliamentary elections. The Democratic Party-PNL alliance has claimed on several occasions that the PSD intends to falsify the election returns. MS

Popular Action party spokesman Mugur Ciuvica on 19 April issued a press release claiming that Greater Romania Party (PRM) parliamentary deputy Dumitru Dragomir is in breach of legislation obliging lawmakers to resign from either the parliament or as managers of companies, Mediafax reported. According to Ciuvica, Dragomir continues to be manager of the Palas Hotel company, although he has not resigned his parliamentary seat. Dragomir said in reaction that he has transferred his shares in the company to his son and wife and is no longer its manager. Chamber of Deputies secretary Tudor Mohora said that in accordance with standing procedure, the lower house's secretariat will demand that Dragomir provide documents to support his claim. MS

Romanian Foreign Minister Geoana on 19 April discussed the current state of the negotiations on the Transdniester conflict with William Hill, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Moldova, Mediafax reported. Geoana stressed that Romania has a "fundamental interest" in seeing Moldova evolve in the direction of becoming a democratic European country. He said Bucharest would see in the EU's joining the negotiations an "important development and a good omen." Geoana also said Romania "appreciates" the participation of French and German experts from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission in consultations on possible solutions to solving the dispute. He added that the coming months will be of utmost importance in view of the approaching June NATO summit in Istanbul and the deadline set for the withdrawal of Russian weapons and troops from Transdniester by the OSCE's Porto 2002 summit. "We continue to hope that Russia would respect its obligations...and consider that the approaching NATO summit could provide an opportunity for the Russian Federation to act more decisively in that respect," Geoana said. MS

Opposition Socialist Party (BSP) Chairman Sergey Stanishev said on 19 April that this is the last chance for the government to reopen talks with the EU on the closure of blocks No. 3 and No. 4 of the controversial nuclear power plant in Kozloduy, reported. Slightly changing the BSP's position on this issue, Stanishev warned the government to tread carefully in its relations with the EU and to avoid confrontation. The BSP has to this point categorically opposed the closure of the reactors, accusing the government of working against the interests of the Bulgarian people. According to observers cited by the news agency, Stanishev's change of heart is due to his party's ambition to present itself as a reliable partner to the EU member states ahead of next year's parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 20 February 2004 and End Note "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2002). UB

Newly elected Supreme Administrative Court head Konstantin Penchev during his meeting with President Georgi Parvanov on 19 April proposed a number of amendments to the constitution intended to increase judiciary control over the country's administration, reported. Penchev demanded that citizens and legal entities should be able to challenge all administrative decisions in court, with the exception of those by the National Security Service. Penchev said it is not necessary to elect a constituent Grand National Assembly to implement his proposals. Like Penchev, Parvanov opposes calls for the election of a Grand National Assembly, which could introduce constitutional amendments necessary for the country's EU accession. UB

It may be too early to gauge the long-term effect of the recent violence in Kosova, but one thing is certain: Belgrade has sought to play it for all the propaganda value it can. Where this may or may not lead is another matter.

On 12 April, in the wake of the interethnic violence of 17-18 March, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica charged that Kosova has become a source of "terrorism" and that Al-Qaeda may be active there. NATO quickly refuted his claims as unfounded.

Harsh rhetoric from Kostunica and other politicians -- including Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova -- is nonetheless likely to continue, given that Serbian politics remain unstable, the nationalist atmosphere is very heady, and raising Kosova-related issues enables politicians to avoid dealing with Serbia's real problems, which are poverty, crime, corruption, and institutional decay.

Meanwhile in Serb-controlled northern Mitrovica, Professor Branislav Milutinovic, who heads the Philosophy Faculty there, told the Belgrade daily "Vecernje Novosti" of 14 April that political Islam and fundamentalism are on the march in Kosova, which includes "likely" links to Al-Qaeda. He added that "it is not excluded that they will start kidnapping and killing, as in Iraq, as they had already announced."

This is not the stuff of which multiethnicity is made. In any event, it is difficult to imagine that the political class in Belgrade or even in northern Mitrovica seriously expects that all of Kosova will return to a joint state with Serbia, which all ethnic Albanian parties reject. Serbia unsuccessfully tried in 1998-99 to control Kosova by force, and it is hard to see how Belgrade could now expect to deal with 2 million Kosovar Albanians who have experienced and fought brutal repression and "ethnic cleansing" (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 8 and 15 April 2004).

Even before the most recent violence and Belgrade's subsequent rhetorical campaign, Kostunica angered many among Kosova's ethnic Albanian majority by calling for the "cantonization" of the province to ensure autonomy for the Serbian minority, which makes up less than 10 percent of the population. He stressed that cantonization would not prejudice the final status of Kosova, and linked cantonization to administrative decentralization, which many in the international community and in the region consider necessary to break up unwieldy administrative units dating from communist times.

Both the ethnic Albanian leadership and the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) have rejected Kostunica's proposed cantonization as an unacceptable form of ethnically based partition. And as the Prishtina daily "Zeri" noted on 15 April, relations between Albanians and Serbs have worsened since the March violence, giving rise to growing concern among Albanians that an eventual decentralization program would amount in practice to a partition.

But even if one were to accept the idea of partition, things are easier said than done. Serbs live in several enclaves of various sizes scattered across Kosova. To protect all of them in order to meet the local Serbs' security concerns would require a large international armed presence for perhaps many years to come. Is NATO, or anyone else, prepared to make such a commitment?

Even Serbia's most vocal supporter, Russia, has made it clear that it will not send troops back to Kosova, which it considers a matter for police. And most observers recognize that any return of Serbian security forces would only make matters worse because they would act as a magnet for armed Albanian extremists.

Many discussions have been held over the years about the possible partition of Kosova. Since the 1998-99 conflict, most models have tended to emphasize a need to concentrate the enclaves to provide better security, which would require thousands of people to give up their homes, in addition to stationing a large number of foreign troops.

The extreme version of the partition model calls for concentrating all of Kosova's Serbs north of the Ibar River boundary that runs through Mitrovica, leaving dozens of historical and religious monuments behind under some sort of international protection and supervision.

From this model, it is one step away to an outright division of Kosova, with the northern area -- and its mines -- being annexed to Serbia. Some Albanians claim that what really interested Belgrade all along was not the medieval cultural sites but the valuable mines. Other observers note that such a division already exists in practice, although the enclaves continue their precarious existence to the south of Mitrovica.

The problem -- or virtue -- of partition is that it would most likely involve not just Kosova but every state in the region. Kosovar leaders have said that partition could lead to war, and in any event, would prompt them to demand the annexation to Kosova of "eastern Kosova," or southern Serbia's Presevo Valley with its large ethnic Albanian population.

In fact, if carried to its logical conclusion, partition would mean setting up a Greater Serbia, Greater Albania, Greater Croatia, and smaller Muslim and perhaps Macedonian states. Montenegro would go it alone, as may happen in any event.

The Kosovar, Macedonian, and Albanian Albanians would find themselves in a single state, despite great differences between their respective societies, outlooks, and political cultures. It is worth noting that few, if any, serious ethnic Albanian politicians anywhere in the Balkans include setting up a Greater Albania as a realistic goal in their party platforms.

Critics charge that the partition model in Kosova or elsewhere would vindicate the results of previous ethnic-cleansing campaigns, set off new ones, and preclude any attempt at multiethnic statehood -- which is the basis of the standards-before-status approach of UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) chief Harri Holkeri, the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement in Macedonia, and the 1995 Dayton agreement in Bosnia.

All three multiethnic projects are strongly backed by the international community, although voices can frequently be heard calling for a reexamination of whether multiethnicity is really workable. Such observers argue that the future lies with ethnically based partition whether one likes it or not, and that it would be best for all concerned to get the matter over with sooner rather than later.

In the 29 March issue of "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung," Leipzig University's Professor Stefan Troebst writes that, once ethnically motivated violence has been used in a multiethnic environment, one cannot speak of restoring what had been, but only of building something new in its place. He sees possibilities for this in Bosnia, albeit less so in Macedonia.

Troebst rules out any new multiethnic society in Kosova, however, for the reason that the Albanians and Serbs did not have true multiethnicity even before the 1998-99 conflict. As many observers have noted, in Kosova, unlike in Bosnia, the major ethnic groups do not in any sense speak the same language.

Afghan police and international peacekeepers in Kabul have arrested eight men believed to have ties both to Al-Qaeda and renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, AP reported 19 April. A man thought to be a senior member of Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami group was among those captured in a joint raid, U.S. commander Chris Henderson told reporters in Kabul. Henderson did not disclose the names or nationalities of those arrested, but said authorities seized weapons as well as documents that linked suspects to both groups. "This was a very successful operation that has...removed from the streets of Kabul a number of people who were deemed to pose an imminent threat to security here in Afghanistan," Henderson said. The security forces raided a compound near Kabul's main stadium in the second such operation in the city in the past two weeks aimed at militants thought to be loyal to Hekmatyar. Henderson said the early-morning raid caught the suspects sleeping and caused no casualties. MR

Ethnic Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum arrived in Kabul on 19 April to meet with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai following clashes in northern Afghanistan involving the strongman's militia forces, AFP reported 19 April. "General Dostam is in Kabul, he will meet President Karzai this evening," said Akber Bai, an aide to Dostum. Dostum met with U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad as well, Bai said without offering details. Dostum's forces were at the center of factional fighting that began on 6 April in northern Afghanistan that left at least four dead. Dostum's militia moved into the northwestern Faryab Province, where the government-appointed governor was forced to flee with the help of British troops based nearby. The fighting marked another setback in Karzai's efforts to rein in warlords across the country and extend the U.S.-backed government's powers. Tensions between Dostum's forces and rival militias loyal to Tajik commanders have persisted in the area around the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif since the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001. MR

The UN called on Pakistan to close 15 refugee camps housing 200,000 refugees along the Afghan border within four months, saying the settlements are too close to areas rife with insurgent activity, AFP reported 19 April. UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers, who spoke to reporters in Islamabad, Pakistan, said: "We are convinced we have to be...more clear on the need to close down certain camps.... and say 'Close them down by the first of September,'" Lubbers said. He added that the situation is "not good for the people, it's not good for Afghanistan, it's not good for Pakistan." Lubbers, who visited Afghanistan before going to Pakistan, delivered the message to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Zafarullah Jamali, and Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri during talks on 19 April, AFP reported. MR

Guerilla fighters launched five rockets at a U.S. army base in the southeast Afghan border city of Khost, though no one was hurt, AFP reported 19 April. The attack came late 18 April at the Khost airport, 10 kilometers from the city center. "Five rockets landed at a distance from the Khost city airport, there were no casualties or serious damage," provincial police chief Abdul Sabor Allahyar said. Khost, 150 kilometers southeast of Kabul, has been a hotbed of insurgent activity, with U.S.-led coalition forces coming under frequent attack from guerrillas believed to be operating across the nearby Pakistani border. The area was a former stronghold of the ousted Taliban regime and remains volatile, with U.S.-led forces continuing to conduct antiguerrilla operations against remnants of the regime, who are believed to be operating along the border with Al-Qaeda fighters. MR

Kamal Kharrazi was in Rome on 19 April to discuss Iraq, Iran's nuclear program, and bilateral ties with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, news agencies reported. The principal aim of the visit, Kharrazi told IRNA, was to "inform Italian authorities of Iran's peaceful nuclear program and our expectations that Europe meet its commitments in this regard." Tehran has asked Europe to help it gain access to the latest nuclear technology in exchange for a pledge it made to three European foreign ministers last year to open its nuclear program to UN inspections. "Tehran has undertaken all necessary cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] and now naturally expects the Europeans to work to normalize Iran's dossier at the [IAEA] and initiate nuclear relations with Iran," IRNA reported. Kharrazi also urged the United States to leave Iraq and blamed "the apartheid policies of the racist [Israeli] regime and the support it receives" for Mideast "instability and insecurity," IRNA reported the same day. VS

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi rejected on 19 April an Italian newspaper report that said Iran is asking Italy to mediate between Iran and the United States, which severed diplomatic ties after Iran's 1979 revolution, ISNA reported. "There has been no request from Italy for mediation," ISNA cited him as saying in Rome. Better ties, he said, "depend on a change in Washington's methods and need no mediation." The agency cited a report in the daily "Corriere Della Sera" on 19 April about an Iranian promise to exert its influence on Iraqi Shi'a in exchange for Italian mediation with the United States. Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi reportedly asked Iran on 18 April to help resolve problems in Iraq and the Middle East, and accepted an invitation to visit Iran, ISNA reported the next day, citing AFP. VS

Parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi on 19 April met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, where he described the Islamic Republic's ties with Syria as "strategic and inviolable," IRNA reported the same day. He said that U.S. backing was the cause of "Israeli crimes against the innocent people of Palestine" and urged the U.S. to leave Iraq. "The only way for peace and security to return to Iraq is for occupying forces to leave that country and help to be given to the Iraqi nation to determine their country's fate." Separately, Iraqi Immigration Minister Muhammad Jassim Khudayr reportedly pledged the expulsion from Iraq by June of an Iranian rebel group, the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), reported on 19 April. "While certain international organizations have pressured us not to expel [MKO] from Iraq, they must leave Iraq on 30 June," the agency cited him as saying at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad. The MKO, which seeks to topple Iran's government, enjoyed the support of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. VS

Iran has held four days of naval exercises in the northern Persian Gulf to "raise its marine capabilities and preparedness for defending the country's naval frontiers," reported on 19 April. Warships and marine units from the regular army participated in the second war games Iran has held in the gulf's northern waters in two months, according to the state broadcasting body's website. They included a land and sea assault on "territory occupied by an imaginary enemy," attacks on "the imaginary enemy's naval equipment," and the "heavy bombardment of enemy positions in coastal regions," as well and stop- and search-operations on vessels. Iran disputes the ownership of three Persian Gulf islands with the United Arab Emirates. VS

The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq posted on its website on 19 April ( the text of a joint communique reached between Iraqi leaders in Al-Fallujah and an Iraqi Governing Council/coalition delegation to bring hostilities to an end in the city after some two weeks of fighting. The communique recognized the improved situation in Al-Fallujah and the commitment of all parties to implement a full and unbroken cease-fire. The coalition committed to allowing unfettered access to the Al-Fallujah General Hospital, and to delay the start of curfew by two hours to allow Iraqis to fulfill their religious duties by attending evening prayers. Civilians -- 50 families per day -- will be allowed to reenter the city beginning on 20 April. Both parties called on citizens and groups to turn in all illegal weapons to the coalition, and agreed to work to reform the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps and police. Both parties also committed to expelling foreign fighters, criminals, and drug users from the city. The Iraqis will investigate and prosecute those responsible for the killing and mutilation of four U.S. contractors in the city this month (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 8 April 2004). KR

Ahmad al-Shahwani, a spokesman for anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television on 19 April that al-Sadr's outlawed Imam Al-Mahdi Army has blocked all entrances to the holy city of Al-Najaf in an effort to keep out U.S. troops stationed on the city's outskirts. Al-Shahwani claimed that the Badr Corps, a militia belonging to the Shi'ite political group Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), is working with the Al-Mahdi Army to "coordinate work and establish security checkpoints," apparently in the city. "The enemies [U.S.] are threatening the Shi'ites that explosions will take place and that many [Iraqis] will be killed. This approach is similar to the one Saddam [Hussein] the destroyer employed in the past," al-Shahwani claimed. "All criminals, unjust people, and tyrants are afraid to enter Al-Najaf because they know that [they] will be killed by the Al-Mahdi Army fighters," he added. KR

U.S. President George W. Bush nominated current United Nations Ambassador John Negroponte to be the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, international media reported on 19 April. Negroponte will head the largest U.S. mission in history, with a staff of over 3,000 Americans and Iraqis, reported on 20 April. "He is somebody that's coming out of several years of service to the UN, so he knows the UN world. He knows the international community," U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said of the new ambassador. Negroponte will work closely with the UN to coordinate the political transition after the 30 June transfer of power, including national direct elections and the drafting of a permanent constitution. KR

In an address to the British Parliament on 19 April, U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a central role for the United Nations in Iraq to be secured through a new UN Security Council resolution, the BBC reported the same day. "We will hold absolutely to the 30 June timetable for handover of sovereignty. We will work with the UN secretary-general's representative, Mr. [Lakhdar] Brahimi, and all members of the UN Security Council to secure a new Security Council resolution to set out the new arrangements," Blair said. "That is the vision. We will stay the course until it becomes the reality. I hope that the whole international community will come together to support it," he added. KR

Honduras followed Spain's lead (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004) and announced on 19 April that it will withdraw some 370 soldiers from Iraq, international news agencies reported. In an address broadcast on radio and television, Honduran President Ricardo Maduro said, "I have told the coalition countries and other friendly countries that I have decided that the Honduran troops are going to return from Iraq." The announcement was likely no surprise to the United States, since the Honduran government said on 16 March that it would not seek authorization from lawmakers to keep its troops in Iraq past 30 June (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 March 2004). KR

Polish government spokesman Marcin Kaszuba told PAP on 19 April that Poland is respects the sovereign decision of the Spanish authorities to withdraw its troops from the Polish-led multinational division in Iraq. Kaszuba was commenting on new Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's announcement on 18 April that Madrid will pull out its 1,300 troops as soon as possible. Kaszuba stressed that Polish soldiers in Iraq will continue performing their tasks but added that Warsaw is not going to increase its contingent in Iraq to compensate for the Spanish withdrawal. "At the military level we are holding all the necessary talks so that this process takes place as safely as possible and without affecting the state of security in our zone," Polish Radio quoted President Aleksander Kwasniewski as saying the same day. "We are working on the appropriate mode of replacing the Spanish soldiers in their tasks." JM