DEPUTIES GIVE INITIAL APPROVAL TO BILL UNDERCUTTING GENERAL STAFF...
The Duma approved on 29 April a bill on the management of the military, Russian media reported. The bill amending the law on defense was approved in its first reading, with 424 votes in favor and one against, Interfax reported. If adopted, the bill will significantly reduce the role of the General Staff in managing the operations of the Russian armed forces. The draft stipulates that the defense minister, working through the Defense Ministry, exercises control over the Armed Forces. According to gazeta.ru, under Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's plan for reforming military administration, the General Staff will become the "brain" of the army, an "intellectual center for the military-administration system." The website also reported that Ivanov has clashed repeatedly with General Staff chief General Anatolii Kvashnin since Ivanov took over the Defense Ministry. Kvashnin, who was a close associate of former President Boris Yeltsin, also had public conflicts with former Defense Minister Igor Sergeev. JAC
...OKAYS BILL EASING ADMINISTRATIVE REFORMS...
Also on 29 April, legislators approved in their first reading amendments to the law on government, Russian media reported. The bill, which was sponsored by the presidential administration, was supported by 425 legislators, with one vote against, RIA-Novosti reported. Presidential envoy to the State Duma Aleksandr Kosopkin explained that the bill gives the government the right to redistribute functions within executive bodies during reforms of government structure. It also updates legislation to reflect the new names of various federal agencies. The Duma's next plenary session will be on 12 May. JAC
...AND LAUNCH INTERNAL CORRUPTION COMMISSION
A 15-member commission to investigate corruption within the Duma will begin operating soon, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 29 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004). Among the issues the commission is expected to probe is lobbying by large corporations that have allegedly purchased influence by financing legislators' election campaigns. The case of former Duma Deputy Leonid Maevskii (Communist), who purchased a 25.1 percent stake in the mobile-phone company Megafon while he was chairman of the Duma Communications and Information Subcommittee, is one example of the activities the commission will examine, according to the daily. Unified Russia faction deputy head Mikhail Bugera recently sent an inquiry about Maevskii to the Prosecutor-General's Office, the daily reported. Maevskii was expelled from the Communist Party faction last year after charging that self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii was financing the party in full (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003). JAC
CHUBAIS CALLED TO ACCOUNT FOR EES PR SPENDING
Unified Energy Systems (EES) CEO Anatolii Chubais will have to account to the EES board for the company's spending for "public relations" and "government relations," "Vedomosti" reported on 29 April. EES board member and Base Element holding company Vice President Devid Dzheovanis has asked EES board Chairman Aleksandr Voloshin to include Chubais's report in the agenda for the next board meeting. "We have read in the media that the company is paying journalists to write well of EES. We have also heard that the company financed a recent press campaign against Rusal," Dzheovanis told the daily. "We want to know if this is true. And if it is, we want this practice stopped." Another ESS board member, who asked not to be named, told the paper that "it is simply comic when Base Element accuses someone else of paying off journalists." Last year, the Yabloko party accused Chubais and EES of financing a public relations campaign aimed at discrediting the party and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 8 August and 16 September 2003). RC
COURT DENIES REQUEST TO COMBINE KHODORKOVSKII, LEBEDEV TRIALS
Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court on 29 April denied a defense motion to combine the trials of Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev and of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Russian media reported. The defense argued that since Lebedev and Khodorkovskii are charged in connection with identical alleged crimes, the cases should be tried together, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 30 April. Prosecutors countered that it was still uncertain when Khodorkovskii's case would be transferred to the courts, since the defendant is still reviewing the case materials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2004). Lebedev's lawyers said they will continue to seek the unification of the two trials and on 29 April they submitted an appeal to the court asking that Lebedev's trial be postponed until Khodorkovskii's case is submitted to the courts, the daily reported. RC
DID PROSECUTORS QUESTION POTANIN?
A spokeswoman for the Interros holding on 29 April denied media reports that Interros President Vladimir Potanin was questioned earlier that day by the Prosecutor-General's Office, ITAR-TASS reported. Ekho Moskvy, newsru.com, and "Russkii kurer," all citing unnamed Interros sources, reported the interrogation, adding that Potanin left Russia for Israel immediately after being questioned. The Prosecutor-General's Office refused to comment on the reports. Interros shares fell by 6.5 percent on 29 April on the strength of the rumors, strana.ru reported on 30 April. However, "Gazeta" reported, citing unnamed Interros sources, on 30 April that Potanin was indeed questioned, perhaps in connection with the 28 April murder of former Federal Bankruptcy Service Director Georgii Tal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004). Tal headed the bankruptcy agency during a 1998-1999 conflict between Interros and the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) over the firm Sidanko. In 1998, Interros was the major shareholder in Sidanko, but after a three-year battle in which TNK succeeded in having two Sidanko subsidiaries declared bankrupt, Interros sold its Sidanko stake to TNK in 2001. Less than a year later, TNK announced a major merger deal with British Petroleum (BP). RC
DRUG AGENCY WANTS TO CLEAN UP THE UNIVERSITIES?
The Federal Antinarcotics Agency has put forward a proposal under which all students at state institutions of higher learning would have to undergo drug testing or face expulsion, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 April. The initiative reportedly came from the agency's Primorskii Krai Directorate and has been approved by the agency at the federal level. "Institutions of higher education have the right to demand of their students -- no drugs," Federal Antinarcotics Agency Deputy Director Aleksandr Mikhailov told the daily. "Either you inject, or you study." Mikhailov, however, told newsru.com that the "Izvestiya" report is not true. "No such initiative from the agency has been put forward or could be put forward," Mikhailov was quoted by the website as saying. Moscow lawyer Mikhail Lyabakh told "Izvestiya" that it is illegal in Russia to divulge publicly the results of drug tests, meaning that it would not be possible to expel students who failed them. RC
THREE SENTENCED FOR MURDER OF INTERNET JOURNALIST
The Moscow Municipal Court on 30 April sentenced three former Moscow Oblast police officers convicted on 28 April of the brutal January 2003 murder of Internet journalist and computer programmer Vladimir Sukhomlin, newsru.com and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2003). Ivan Goncharov was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment. Denis Melikhov was convicted of the same charge and sentenced to 14 years in prison. Denis Vorotnikov was convicted of participating in a crime and intentionally causing severe bodily harm and was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. The same jury that convicted the three men acquitted Dmitrii Ivanychev, who had been charged with ordering the murder. RC
AGRARIAN PARTY EXPERIENCES DRAMATIC SHAKE-UP
Altai Republic President Mikhail Lapshin was unseated as head of the Agrarian Party at the party's congress on 28 April, Russian media reported. Party delegates voted to replace Lapshin, 69, with Deputy Vladimir Plotnikov (Unified Russia), deputy chairman of the Duma's Agriculture Committee. Lapshin's ouster had been predicted in wake of the party's poor showing in the 7 December State Duma elections. Plotnikov told reporters on 29 April that the party will cooperate more closely with the Agro-Industrial Union, which is headed by Communist Tula Oblast Governor Vasilii Starodubtsev, and with the Russian Agrarian Movement, which is headed by Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev. Gordeev is also a member of Unified Russia's Supreme Council. "Vremya novostei" concluded that the Agrarian Party has ceased to exist as an opposition force. JAC
WAGE ARREARS SWELL
Duma Labor and Social Policy Committee Chairman Andrei Isaev (Unified Russia) has called on law enforcement officials to pursue more aggressively managers of enterprises that do not pay their workers on time, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. According to Isaev, criminal cases have recently been filed against five plant directors in Saratov Oblast for nonpayment of wages. Mikhail Shmakov, head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, said on 28 April that more than 5 million Russian continue to receive their wages late. According to Shmakov, wage arrears dropped by 20 percent to 24.4 billion rubles ($813 million) in 2003, but jumped to 28 billion rubles by March. "The problem of back wages has become protracted at enterprises, especially in industries fulfilling state contracts," he said. JAC
HUMAN RIGHTS NGOS RAISE ALARM ABOUT POSSIBLE NATIONWIDE PRISON STRIKE
Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin sent a telegram to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov on 28 April asking him to look into the prison situation in Chelyabinsk Oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 April. As of 21 April, around 500 prisoners in the oblast had declared a hunger strike, the daily reported, citing information from human rights groups. About the same number of prisoners have begun a hunger strike in Irkutsk Oblast. In February, hunger strikes occurred in prisons and in pretrial detention centers in St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast. Human rights activists are concerned that the "draconian policies of the Main Penal Administration (GUIN) could lead to a nationwide prison strike." Boris Pantaleev, director of the St. Petersburg branch of the Committee for Human Rights, noted that such strikes occurred in 1991. JAC
FORMER SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY GETS NEW POSTING
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has signed an order appointing former Russian Security Council Secretary and former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo as CIS executive secretary, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 29 April. Kuchma is currently the head of the CIS States Council. Rushailo replaces Yurii Yarov, who was named executive secretary after then-President Boris Yeltsin dismissed Boris Berezovskii in 1999 from his position as Security Council deputy secretary and CIS executive secretary. JAC
CHECHEN LEADER DEPLORES ACQUITTAL OF RUSSIAN SERVICEMEN
Pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov condemned on 29 April the acquittal earlier that day by the Rostov-na-Donu Military Court of six Russian special forces troops who in January 2002 opened fire on a truck near Shatoi, killing six Chechen civilians, Interfax reported. Kadyrov said the acquittal of men who are "guilty of premeditated murder" is likely to undermine Chechens' confidence in his administration. LF
RUSSIA SIGNALS READINESS TO ALLOW COUNCIL OF EUROPE VISIT TO CHECHNYA
State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) was quoted by ITAR-TASS on 28 April as saying Moscow is prepared to facilitate a visit to Chechnya by a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation to study the situation there. Kosachev said such a delegation could determine whether the situation is improving in the wake of last year's referendum on a new constitution and the election of a new republican head. Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who was named PACE special rapporteur on Chechnya in July 2003 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 July 2003), told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on 29 April that since his appointment he has not been permitted to travel to Chechnya, which is why no report on Chechen developments was submitted to the current PACE spring session. Gross reaffirmed his support for the beleaguered Chechen population. He said he continues to formulate possible settlement plans for Chechnya and hopes that as President Putin has now successfully been re-elected, he will be willing to take "the most courageous steps" toward resolving the conflict. LF
PACE THREATENS ARMENIA WITH SANCTIONS
In its 28 April resolution in response to recent developments in Armenia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe criticized reprisals against opposition demonstrators earlier this month as "contrary to the letter and spirit" of its earlier recommendations to the Armenian leadership, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 29 April. It called on the Armenian authorities to abolish "unjustified restrictions" on peaceful demonstrations; to release persons detained for participating in recent protests; and to investigate "human rights abuses" and report to the PACE the findings of that investigation. It further called for the Armenian government to submit by June a written report listing measures taken in response to the PACE demands or risk the suspension of Armenian parliamentarians' accreditation with the PACE. The resolution did not endorse or reject the Armenian opposition's demand for a nation-wide vote of confidence in President Robert Kocharian, but appealed to both the authorities and opposition to "engage in a dialogue without preconditions." LF
OSCE EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER ASSAULTS ON ARMENIAN OPPOSITIONISTS
In a 29 April letter addressed to Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, the head of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, Ambassasdor Vladimir Pryakhin, expressed concern at the lack of progress in identifying and bringing to justice the persons responsible for the assaults over the past month on Armenian Helsinki Association Chairman Mikael Danielian, opposition parliamentarian Viktor Dallakian, and opposition politician Ashot Manucharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 23 April 2004). Pryakhin also condemned police violence against participants in antigovernment demonstrations and against journalists seeking to cover those protests. LF
JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES AGAIN REFUSED REGISTRATION IN ARMENIA
An application for formal registration submitted by Jehovah's Witnesses to the Armenian Justice Ministry was rejected several months ago as the cult's activities violate certain aspects of Armenia's legislation, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 29 April quoting Hranush Kharatian, who chairs the Armenian government board for ethnic and religious minority affairs. She explained that the Armenian government disapproves of Jehovah's Witnesses' house-to-house proselytizing, stressing at the same time that the cult's opposition to military service was not behind the rejection of the most recent registration application. Kharatian also noted that Armenia has not enacted legislation on the rights of minorities, Noyan Tapan reported on 29 April. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ADDRESSES PACE
Addressing the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on 29 April, Ilham Aliyev said Azerbaijan is working to build a democratic state with a developed economy and which respects human rights and the rule of law, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the Azerbaijani media are free, and that the authorities are open to dialogue with the opposition which, however, has ignored all invitations to participate in such a dialogue. Aliyev said that the Azerbaijani leadership has studied, in order not to repeat them, the mistakes of other oil-exporting countries that have not invested oil revenues in raising the living standards of the population, Interfax reported. He said Baku anticipates attracting over $10 billion in investment in the oil and gas sector over the next three years. Aliyev reaffirmed his preference for a phased solution to the Karabakh conflict in which the first step would be the withdrawal of Armenian forces from seven districts bordering on the Karabakh, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
ADJAR VILLAGERS DEMAND RELEASE OF GEORGIAN AID
Villagers in Adjaria's mountainous Shuakhevi Raion staged a protest on 29 April against the refusal by Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze to distribute fertilizers dispatched by the central Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported. Abashidze explained that the trucks transporting the fertilizer and other aid sent by the Georgian government were halted on the internal border after a search established that the cargo included explosives, the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. LF
ADJAR LEADER SAYS HE WILL NOT RESIGN
Abashidze on 29 April again called on Tbilisi to resume talks "in a calm and constructive atmosphere" on resolving the differences between them, Caucasus Press reported. But in Tbilisi, parliament deputy Giga Bokeria said the only topic the Georgian leadership is prepared to discuss with Abashidze is the conditions under which he is prepared to resign, Caucasus Press reported. Bokeria said that the Georgian authorities are prepared to guarantee the safety of Abashidze and his family if he steps down voluntarily. But ITAR-TASS quoted Abashidze saying in an interview with the Imedi television station that he will not resign before his term in office expires in 2006. The Georgian Foreign Ministry denied on 29 April that it has advised foreigners to refrain from travelling to the Adjar capital, Batumi, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
TRADE SECRETARY LAUDS U.S. INVESTMENT IN KAZAKHSTAN
U.S. Trade Secretary Donald Evans told attendees at a 27 April conference in Washington, D.C. that he expects American companies to increase their investments in the Kazakh economy, KazInform reported on 29 April. "The $6 billion that American companies have invested in Kazakhstan in the form of foreign direct investment is an impressive figure," Evans said, "and we expect that it will rise." Presidential advisor Grigorii Marchenko, Trade and Industry Minister Adilbek Jaksybekov, Economy and Budget Minister Qayrat Kelimbetov, and KazMunaiGaz president Uzakbai Karabalin represented Kazakhstan at the conference, which focused on new business opportunities in Kazakhstan. U.S. First Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage also spoke at the conference. DK
NEW KAZAKH PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS
The Democratic Party of Kazakhstan held its constituent assembly on 29 April in Astana, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Maksut Narikbaev, rector of the Kazakh State Legal Academy and head of a movement for legal reform, is spearheading the new party's formation. He said that within two to three weeks the Democratic Party will have the 50,000 members required for official registration with the Justice Ministry. DK
TAJIK PARTIES JOIN FORCES TO PROMOTE FREE ELECTIONS
Representatives of the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), Social-Democratic Party, and Socialist Party signed an agreement on 29 April to form a coalition "for free and transparent elections in Tajikistan," Asia-Plus Blitz reported the same day. IRP Deputy Chairman Muhiddin Kabiri was chosen to lead the coalition for one month. The coalition's coordinating committee will meet on the 1st and 16th of each month. The news agency quoted Kabiri as saying, "This is in no way a strategic political coalition." He stressed that the coalition is a tactical one and its purpose is solely to ensure free and fair elections. DK
CONFERENCE FOCUSES ON TAJIK LABOR MIGRANTS
Labor and Social Security Minister Mamadsho Ilolov told participants in a conference on 29 April that labor remittances from Tajik labor migrants in 2003 totaled more than $256 million, or 20 percent of the country's GDP, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The remarks came at a two-day international conference on international labor migration that opened in Dushanbe on 29 April. Ilolov said that up to 420,000 Tajik citizens have traveled abroad to earn a living, with more than 90 percent of them going to Russia. The news agency quoted him as saying, "Labor migration is vital in supporting virtually the overwhelming majority of families in Tajikistan." Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Zuhurov noted at the same conference that the phenomenon of illegal migration contributes to other security threats such as terrorism, weapons and narcotics smuggling, and human trafficking. DK
TURKMENISTAN 'SURPRISED' AT RUSSIAN MINISTER'S COMMENTS
Turkmen officials expressed "surprise" on 29 April at Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's recent voicing of concern over the rights of Turkmenistan's Russian minority, turkmenistan.ru reported the same day. A spokesperson for Turkmenistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Lavrov's comments "do not match the real situation, about which the Russian side has already received detailed information." The spokesperson termed "strange and inexplicable" Lavrov's assertion that the Russian-Turkmen commission on citizenship, which has not met since the summer of 2003, will soon renew its sessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). According to the spokesperson, Turkmenistan has made several official requests to the Russian side to conduct commission sessions in Ashgabat. The spokesman also disputed other comments by Lavrov concerning the teaching of the Russian language in Turkmenistan and the fate of the Pushkin Theater in Ashgabat. DK
UZBEK PRESIDENT DISCUSSES TERRORISM, RUSSIAN RELATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS
President Islam Karimov told journalists at a 29 April press conference that militants from Pakistan's southern Waziristan province were behind the recent spate of violence in Uzbekistan, Uzbek Radio reported the same day. Karimov said that the information was obtained from numerous confessions and confiscated maps. He said that the terror suspects would go on trial in the late summer or early fall of 2004, Uzbek Radio reported. Karimov stressed that "the trial should be open...so that journalists, primarily foreign journalists, are given the maximum opportunity to communicate and attend the trial." Karimov also spoke about Uzbek-Russian relations, calling them "of a long-term strategic nature," ITAR-TASS reported. The Uzbek president noted that a $1.4 billion joint project with Russia's Gazprom and a $966 million joint project with Russia's LUKoil are in the offing. Finally, in an address before parliament, also on 29 April, the president criticized Western human rights groups for spreading false reports and ignoring local history and values, Uzbek Radio reported. DK
U.S. AMBASSADOR TO EU WELCOMES ENLARGEMENT
In a statement released in Brussels ahead of the 1 May EU enlargement, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Rockwell Schnabel, said the enlargement "extends peace, stability, democracy and prosperity to a part of the continent that just 15 years ago enjoyed none of those things," AFP reported. Schnabel said that "those who believe the new EU member states must decide between loyalty to Europe or the United States are posing a false choice. One can be a good European and fully support the transatlantic relationship." He also said the U.S. "would welcome the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, and later accession of the Balkan states and accession negotiations with Turkey," if EU leaders decide "by the end of this year that Turkey has fulfilled the requisite political criteria." MS
BELARUSIAN KGB CLAIMS TO HAVE CAUGHT POLISH DIPLOMAT SPYING
Belarus's State Security Committee (KGB) said it caught Colonel Kazimierz Witaszczyk, defense attache at the Polish Embassy in Minsk, red-handed on 27 April while he was receiving documents with classified information from an unidentified person, Belarusian Television reported on 29 April. "[The documents] pertained to the defense capabilities of our country, in particular, to the structure and armament of individual units and subunits of the Belarusian army," the station said. A KGB officer told the station that one classified document concerned the recent redeployment of the 302nd Surface-to-Air Missile Brigade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004). The KGB also said that Witaszczyk left Belarus within 12 hours of his detention. The Polish Defense Ministry said on 29 April that Witaszczyk was recalled to Warsaw for consultations. Belarusian Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski cancelled his planned visit to Warsaw to attend the European Economic Summit on 29 April, Belapan reported. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS 'CLEAR' SIGNAL FROM EU...
Speaking at the European Economic Forum in Warsaw on 29 April, President Leonid Kuchma urged the EU to clearly define Ukraine's European integration prospects, Interfax reported. "Only God knows where Ukraine is today, even though we have chosen a strategic direction towards Europe long ago," Kuchma said. "We are not asking much from the EU today, we just want to know one thing -- whether the EU would like to see us part of the union.... Over the last few years we have not received any clear signals that Ukraine is welcome in the European Union." JM
...BUT GETS 'NEGATIVE' ONE...
President Kuchma told journalists in Warsaw on 29 April that the Ukraine-EU Troika meeting at the level of foreign ministers in Dublin earlier the same day sent a "negative signal" by failing to make a decision on granting Ukraine market-economy status, Interfax reported. "The decision was not made," Kuchma said. "They are still chasing the hare around." The same day in Kyiv, Kuchma compared Ukraine's relations with the EU to a bullfight. "This whole thing reminds me of a corrida, where Ukraine is a young bull running after the red cloth while [the EU] is standing still," Ukrainian Television quoted him as saying. "[However], the red cloth has somewhat faded in the sun and is not as bright as it used to be, so we are not rushing so eagerly towards it." JM
...AS OPPOSITION LEADER BLAMES HIM FOR EU INTEGRATION FAILURE
Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said in a statement on 29 April that Ukraine's absence among the new EU members and even among candidates to join the EU in the foreseeable future is the most "eloquent" outcome of President Kuchma's 10 years in office, UNIAN reported. "Everything possible and impossible has been done to make the regime's domestic policy a formidable challenge to the European community, because it contradicts basic European values," Yushchenko added. According to Yushchenko, Kuchma is trying to make up for the "resounding failure of his European policy" by pursuing the Single Economic Space (SES) project with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia. "The text of the [SES] treaty shows that this project is political populism, which is economically disadvantageous for Ukraine, or a political bribe to secure [Russia's] support during the presidential campaign," Yushchenko said. JM
ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER FORESEES BETTER RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA
Juhan Parts said in an interview in the Russian-language daily "Molodezh Estonii" of 29 April that Estonia's membership in NATO and the EU will help improve relations with Russia, BNS reported. He expressed hope that the Russian administration would cease protesting about the problems of Estonia's Russian speakers and choose a more constructive approach toward improving relations between the two states. Parts rejected suggestions that the EU would force Estonia to give citizenship to all its permanent residents, noting that the country has been meeting all international citizenship standards for many years. He admitted that something must be done to encourage the more than 100,000 noncitizens to apply for citizenship, but pointed out that citizenship involved not only rights, but also duties and in a normal society no one expects that citizenship be granted on a silver platter. He called on noncitizens to take the first step and try to learn the language of the country in which they are living as this could only benefit them. SG
RUSSIA EXPELS LATVIAN DIPLOMAT IN TIT-FOR-TAT MOVE
Latvian Ambassador to Moscow Normans Penke was called to the Russian Foreign Ministry on 29 April and told that embassy First Secretary Juris Poikans had to leave Russia within 48 hours, BNS reported. The expulsion was not a great surprise since on 23 April Latvia ordered Russian Embassy Second Secretary Petr Urzhumov to leave the country within 72 hours for "actions incompatible with the diplomatic status" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2004). He was charged with excessive interest in Latvia's NATO military infrastructure and "gathering compromising materials." Although Latvia had barred diplomats from entering Latvia in the past, this was its first diplomatic expulsion in history. Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins said that the expulsion of Poikans, who served as the head of the ministry's Baltic and Nordic States Department before being assigned to Moscow in September 2003, was "absolutely groundless." SG
LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW SECURITY CHIEF
The parliament approved on 29 April the appointment of State Security Department Deputy Director Arvydas Pocius as the department's new director by a vote of 64 to one with 11 abstentions, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. He was nominated by acting President Arturas Paulauskas on the recommendation of retiring Director Mecys Laurinkus. Laurinkus is to be appointed Lithuania's ambassador to Spain. Pocius graduated with a law degree from the University of Vilnius and served as the chief prosecutor of the Marijampole District before being appointed deputy security director in 1999. His appointment was supported by both ruling and opposition parties, with deputies from the Liberal Democratic Party abstaining on the grounds that the appointment should be made by the new president to be elected on 13 June. SG
POLAND WANTS TO REDUCE TROOPS IN IRAQ AFTER ELECTIONS
Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said on 29 April that the subsequent rotation of Polish soldiers in Iraq after elections there will be significantly smaller than the present contingent, but gave no details, Polish Radio reported. "After direct and free parliamentary elections [in Iraq] we shall certainly want to reduce our presence in a significant way because the political situation should then be different, as should the situation concerning security in Iraq," Szmajdzinski said. JM
ANTIGLOBALISTS DEMONSTRATE DURING ECONOMIC FORUM IN WARSAW
Some 4,000 globalization protesters from Poland and other European countries staged a peaceful demonstration in Warsaw on 29 April to coincide with the European Economic Forum in the city, Polish media reported. The forum was holding a session called "Europe Beyond the European Union" with the attendance of the presidents of Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Ukraine, and Georgia, as well as EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. JM
CONTROVERSIAL CZECH BILL PRAISING BENES TO BECOME LAW
President Vaclav Klaus on 29 April decided against vetoing a controversial bill praising former Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes, in which case the bill would become law, CTK and AFP reported. Klaus refrained, however, from signing the bill, though his signature is not absolutely necessary for it to become law. The bill was approved by the lower house, vetoed by the Senate, and subsequently reapproved by the Chamber of Deputies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February and 14 April 2004 ). Presidential spokesman Petr Hajek said the split of opinion between the two chambers showed the legislation was a "very atypical and special bill, on which the opinions of the Czech public and politicians differ considerably." Hajek added that Klaus believes each citizen is free to form an opinion about historical events. "There is no need to certify these opinions through a law, therefore the president did not think it necessary to sign the bill, though he resolutely rejects attacks on ex-President Edvard Benes, as waged in some neighboring countries, and unfortunately in our country as well," Hajek said. MS
CZECH SENATOR DEMANDS POLICE INVESTIGATE PUBLICATION OF NAZI BOOK
Senator Daniel Kroupa told CTK on 29 April that he intends to bring charges against historian Jan Hlavac, who recently published a translation of a dialogue between Adolf Hitler and Nazi-daily "Volkischer Beobachter" Editor in Chief Dietrich Eckhart about Jews, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004). Kroupa said the book is "quite simply a piece of overt anti-Semitism" and police would have to investigate it. Hlavac told the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" the same day that he "strongly disagrees with the book's main idea that Jews are behind every evil" and has said that in his introduction in the book. Prague Jewish community head Tomas Jelinek said his organization does not intend to file charges, "because we see that as conducive to the book's popularization." MS
SLOVAK PREMIER DOES NOT FEAR POLITICAL INSTABILITY
Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists on 29 April that there are "no risks" posed by the fact that Slovakia will accede to the EU without having a government that has a parliamentary majority, TASR reported. "Had there been any risks," Dzurinda said, "we would not have been invited to become an EU member." He also said he will continue to try to persuade independent lawmakers and members of the Free Forum party (who left his Slovak Democratic and Christian Union) earlier this year, that political "stability is better for Slovakia than an early election." MS
LARGE SLOVAK MAJORITY SUPPORTS EU MEMBERSHIP
Nearly four out of five Slovaks (77.6 percent) support Slovakia's accession to the EU and only 17.5 percent oppose it, TASR reported on 29 April, citing a poll conducted by the polling agency Focus. Accession is particularly welcome by those under 35, secondary school and university graduates, people in larger towns, and supporters of the four-party, center-right coalition. It is strongly opposed by respondents over 55, people living in towns with less than 2,000 people, manual workers and pensioners, and supporters of the opposition People's Party/Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and of the Communist Party of Slovakia. MS
SLOVAKIA SETS UP ANTIGRAFT BODIES
Parliament on 29 April approved legislation providing for the setting up of the Special Court and the Office of Special Prosecutor, two new bodies aimed at combating organized crime and corruption, TASR reported. The new bodies are to start their activity on 1 September. MS
VOJVODINA HUNGARIANS EXPECT BETTER PROTECTION FROM EU-MEMBER HUNGARY
Jozsef Kasza, the chairman of the Federation of Vojvodina Hungarians, said in Budapest on 29 April that: "Hungary's diplomatic weight increases with its EU membership, therefore it can pressure Serbia to stop ongoing atrocities against ethnic minorities," MTI reported. Kasza made his statements after meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy. EU-member Hungary will continue to pay special attention to the well-being of ethic Hungarians abroad, including the Vojvodina Hungarians, Medgyessy said. Budapest intends to contribute to the stability of the region also by strengthening economic cooperation with neighboring countries, particularly in border regions, the Hungarian premier said. Kasza and Medgyessy agreed that Hungary will set up a working group to investigate ways of improving the situation of Vojvodina Hungarians and thus stop their emigration to Hungary, the news agency reported. MSZ
HUNGARY OPENS ITS LABOR MARKET TO SWEDISH CITIZENS
The Hungarian cabinet decided on 29 April to allow Swedish citizens free access to the Hungarian labor market, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The decision came one day after the Swedish Parliament voted down a government proposal to impose restrictions on job-seekers from the countries joining the EU on 1 May. Sweden is the only current EU member state that will give immigrants from new member states unconditional access to its job market and welfare benefits. Last week Hungary took reciprocal measures against EU members that do not allow Hungarian citizens access to their labor markets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004). MSZ
BUDAPEST DEPRIVES STALIN OF HONORARY CITIZENSHIP
The Budapest municipal council voted unanimously on 30 April to wipe Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's name from the city's list of honorary citizens, AFP reported the next day. Mayor's office spokesman Balazs Endrenyi told the agency that "Stalin committed horrible crimes against humanity, against Europe, against Hungary and the Hungarian people, as well as against Budapest and its citizens, and does not deserve to he one of its honorary citizens." Stalin was made an honorary citizen of the Hungarian capital on 7 November 1947. MS
PACE URGES COOPERATION IN KOSOVA...
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 29 April adopted a resolution urging the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), Kosovar Albanian institutions and politicians, as well as Serbian politicians in Kosova and Belgrade to cooperate and implement the "Standards for Kosova" program and to help create a democratic and multiethnic Kosova, the Council of Europe's website (http://www.coe.int) reported. UNMIK head Harri Holkeri, who participated in the PACE session, said that October parliamentary elections "might prove to be more difficult than we have expected before the March violence." He added, "Before the elections, we want to see that the political parties encourage reconciliation between communities. The Council of Europe has provided us a highly valuable service in sending observation missions to the three elections Kosovo has had so far. We commend your involvement in the 2004 elections" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March and 29 April 2004; and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March and 2 and 16 April 2004). UB
...WHILE BELGRADE PLANS AUTONOMY FOR KOSOVAR SERBS
Serbia's parliament on 29 April unanimously approved a government plan envisioning the introduction of a system of double autonomy for the Serbian minority in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004). According to the plan, territorial autonomy will be granted to those districts, municipalities, and settlements, where Serbs were in the majority before the 1999 Kosova conflict. Serbs living scattered among the majority Kosovar Albanian population will be granted personal autonomy. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said he will discuss the plan with the ambassadors of the Contact Group countries (the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United Kingdom). British Minister for Europe Denis MacShane said the Kosovar Serbs must play a bigger role in the local authorities, but he warned that proposals from Belgrade must not obstruct the dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UB
NETHERLANDS TO CONTINUE RATIFYING EU-CROATIA AGREEMENT
The Dutch Foreign Ministry announced on 28 April that the Netherlands will complete ratifying the Stabilization and Association Agreement between the EU and Croatia "within weeks," the "Southeast European Times" reported. The Dutch parliament ratified the agreement, but ratification was halted by the government because it was dissatisfied with Croatia's lack of cooperation with the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 April 2004). UB
INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS CALL MACEDONIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS FAIR, BUT NOTE IRREGULARITIES
The international election observation mission organized by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said in a 29 April press release that the presidential elections of the 28 April were "generally consistent with OSCE election related commitments," the OSCE's website (http://www.osce.org) reported. OSCE/ODIHR mission head, Ambassador Friedrich Bauer, said the problems identified in the second round of the elections were more extensive than in the first round. They included group and proxy voting and ballot stuffing. "Regrettably, the State Election Commission [DIK] rejected all the complaints received from the parties after the first round, regardless of merit. In so doing the DIK missed an opportunity to send a message that such irregularities would not be tolerated," Bauer said, adding that, "In certain areas, serious incidents cast a shadow over the election. One of the most serious being a member of parliament entering polling stations and disrupting polling" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004). UB
...AS OPPOSITION CONSIDERS CHALLENGING THE RESULTS
The conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) is reportedly considering whether to challenge the results in 120 of the more than 2,700 polling stations, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The VMRO-DPMNE says in these polling stations, ballot stuffing and voter intimidation by armed groups occurred on election day. According to the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission, these incidents might have been encouraged by the legal provision that voter turnout must be over 50 percent for the elections to be valid. The mission therefore recommended to consider lifting that provision. In related news, Skopje-based representatives of the OSCE, NATO, EU, and the United States issued a joint statement on 29 April urging the State Election Commission "to take seriously all appeals and complaints, to investigate them promptly, and to act if they are found to have merit," the OSCE's official website reported. UB
ALBANIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES KOSOVA WITH COUNTERPARTS
Alfred Moisiu held separate talks on Kosova with his counterparts from Poland, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, Aleksander Kwasniewski, Ivan Gasparovic, and Georgi Parvanov, respectively, on the sidelines of the European Economic Forum in Warsaw on 29 April to discuss the future of Kosova, the "Southeast European Times" reported. During the talks, Moisiu expressed his concern about the province's instability (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 April 2004). UB
POLL SAYS ROMANIAN PREMIER, PSD WOULD WIN ELECTIONS
According to a public-opinion poll conducted by the IMAS polling institute, Adrian Nastase would receive 39.8 percent of the vote in the fall presidential elections and his currently ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) would win parliamentary elections, with a backing of 48.2 percent. National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan follows Nastase in the presidential race with 17.7 percent and Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor would be third with 11.4 percent. According to the poll, the PNL-Democratic alliance would follow the PSD in parliamentary elections with a backing of 25.3 percent, then the PRM, with 13 percent. No other party would cross the 5 percent threshold, according to the IMAS poll. MS
PNA LAUNCHES INVESTIGATION OF ROMANIAN PSD 'BARON'
The National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) said on 29 April that it has launched an investigation of Gorj County Council Chairman Nicolae Mischie, Mediafax reported. Mischie, one of the so-called PSD barons dominating politics in that county, is suspected of involvement in corruption. His supporters in Gorj County descended on the PSD party headquarters in Bucharest on 28 April, demanding that Mischie remain at the head of PSD lists in the forthcoming June local elections. PSD Executive Chairman Octav Cozmanca said on 29 April that Mischie will not be on the PSD lists and might be expelled from the party following the decision of the PNA to launch an investigation of him. In early March, Romanian dailies reported that Mischie had been appointed a university professor, in what is alleged to be one of his many instances of influence peddling. MS
REPORTERS WITHOUT BORDERS DEPLORES STATE OF ROMANIAN MEDIA...
In a report issued on 29 April, the international media-freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that in Romania "press freedom does not yet occupy the position it deserves between the old habits inherited from the dictatorial period and the strides actually made towards implementing European standards," AP reported. The report said Romanian authorities must step up the investigation of a series of assaults on journalists and take steps to prevent the intimidation of reporters before the elections slated for late 2004. Reporters Without Borders said Romanian journalists resort to self-censorship due to intimidation by the authorities, while owners of media outlets hinder independence of journalism because "they are trying to protect their economic and political interests." The report also criticized the lack of pluralism in broadcasting and "the attempts to manipulate information within the state-owned media, especially on the national radio." MS
...WHILE FREEDOM HOUSE SAYS MOLDOVAN MEDIA FREEDOM DECLINING
In its annual report "Freedom of the Press 2004: A Global Survey of Media Independence," Freedom House, the U.S.-based human rights and democracy monitor, said liberty of expression dramatically declined in Moldova last year, Flux reported. According to Freedom House, Moldova now belongs to the category of "unfree states," whereas in last year's report it was still rated as a "partially free" country. MS
TRANSDNIESTER LEADER SAYS NEGOTIATIONS WITH MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT POINTLESS
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov said on 29 April that as long as Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin is in office, there is no chance of successfully concluding the Transdniester negotiations, Flux reported. Smirnov said he is ready to negotiate with "any responsible [Moldovan] political regime and any responsible leader," but has "justified doubts" that the negotiations can be successful under a Voronin administration. MS
PPCD, PCM LAWMAKERS TUSSLE AGAIN IN MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT
Deputies representing the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) sought on 29 April to block access of ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) lawmakers to the parliamentary podium, and the clash ended again in scuffles between the sides, Infotag reported. The PPCD says it has no choice but to make use of this form of protest, as its demands that the ruling PCM declassify documents allegedly proving PCM involvement in illicit deals are being ignored by the ruling party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004). MS
LARGE-SCALE CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS LEVELED IN BULGARIAN ENERGY PROJECT
The Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), which is one of the prospective contractors for the construction of the new Bulgarian nuclear power plant in Belene, received a letter accusing the company and Bulgarian officials of involvement in a large-scale corruption scheme, Toronto's "Globe and Mail" reported. According to the anonymous writer, Bulgarian officials wanted some $40 to $80 million in bribes to approve AECL's project for the plant. The AECL management has handed over the letter to the Canadian police and to the "Globe and Mail," a spokesman said, adding that this was the company's standard procedure. "It's all very, very preliminary right now," he said. "We're pursuing an opportunity there, but we haven't made a bid." Bulgarian Energy Minister Milko Kovachev dismissed the accusation as an attempt to discredit AECL as a possible bidder, mediapool.bg reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 27 April 2004). UB
PRESS FREEDOM DECLINING IN BULGARIA
According to a survey published by Freedom House on 28 April, Bulgaria was listed among 10 countries where press freedom is declining. "Bulgaria's status declined from Free to Partly Free in order to reflect increased governmental influence over public media outlets as well as a rise in the use of libel suits against journalists and publishers," the report says. "The most pronounced problems in the Bulgarian media landscape are political control over state broadcasters; a politicized process of allocating licenses; and manipulation of advertising, which threatens the position of independent media, especially at the local and regional levels. Pressures on the press come from both the government and criminal organizations." UB
EU WELCOMES NEW MEMBERS, BUT WHERE IS THE ENTHUSIASM?
Ten new countries will join the European Union on 1 May: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In figures, the event means the addition of some 83 million new EU citizens to the current 378 million, making the 25-member union a huge, complex, and economically powerful global player that accounts for about one-quarter of the world's economic output.
In the loftier language of the EU, the enlargement is "a historic opportunity to unite Europe peacefully after generations of division and conflict," which "will extend the EU's stability and prosperity to a wider group of countries, consolidating the political and economic transition that has taken place in Central and Eastern Europe since 1989" (see http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/enlargement/faq/index.htm).
The new union's architects also hope that by pushing its borders beyond the former Iron Curtain, the EU will not only achieve peace and stability in Europe but also gain global influence. Such a union could eventually meet the challenges of both economic globalization and global terrorism, the enlarged EU's crafters hope.
At present, it is impossible to know whether the EU will eventually grow into a federal state or remain a family of sovereign states that are bound together by common economic rather than political interests. Early enthusiasm for enlargement and the visionary period appear to have been eclipsed by popular reticence.
Recent opinion polls suggest that public support for the enlargement is waning among current and acceding member states alike. One such poll was conducted in March by Austria's IMAS polling institute and included 6,000 respondents from Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. It concluded the following:
* 42 percent of Poles are convinced the enlargement will benefit their country, while 33 percent remain unconvinced of the advantages.
* In Hungary, 34 percent are optimistic and 27 percent regard the expansion with skepticism.
* In the Czech Republic, 35 percent of the public is optimistic and 33 percent skeptical about the benefits of expansion.
* 46 percent of Austrians are skeptical of expansion and 24 percent favor it.
* Germans are even more critical, with 47 percent skeptical of the enlargement and 20 percent supporting it.
The IMAS poll highlights two aspects of the EU enlargement. For representatives of the governments and the economic sectors among older EU countries, enlargement is widely regarded as a major opportunity for economic expansion. But for the broader populations so often influenced by the low-brow reporting of tabloid newspapers, the opening of the borders presents a threat to their jobs -- and not only among states bordering the acceding countries, such as Austria or Germany. Ed Vulliamy noted in "The Observer" of 11 April: "Suddenly, our new partner citizens in the EU -- those same people whose deliverance from Communism, wrought by their own bravery, we celebrated 14 years ago -- have become potential 'benefit tourists' (Daily Mail), agents of 'social upheaval' (Financial Times), a 'menace' (the Mail again) to our social services, a horde of gypsies, or a 'flood tide' (Daily Express) of 'millions of immigrants' (the Mail again). Government talk is not of liberty or union, but of 'habitual residence requirements' and 'employment registration certificates.'"
But it is not only the largely unfounded fear of immigrant flows that has prompted some politicians in the older member states to turn populist. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder recently slammed calls by German industrial leaders to move facilities to the future member states as "unpatriotic." To avert such moves, he called on acceding countries not to seek to attract investments through low corporate tax rates. He also warned the newer EU members not to spend the taxes paid in the large industrial countries, such as Germany, on infrastructure projects in the less-developed new member states.
On the other hand, the growing skepticism in the new member states about the enlargement is mainly due to such attempts by the larger members such as France or Germany to bully them into giving up their economic advantages and their sovereignty on foreign-policy issues.
Negotiations on a European constitutional treaty have presented another sobering reminder for new EU members. Poland, the largest country joining the EU on 1 May, felt cheated by the EU's big players when the voting rights that it was granted by the 2001 Treaty of Nice were again restricted in the draft constitution. Although a new double-majority system might ensure to some extent that the EU's smaller countries are not so easily outvoted, many Poles still feel betrayed. No wonder, then, that anti-EU populists such as the radical leader of the Self-Defense party in Poland, Andrzej Lepper, are doing so well in the polls.
There are also the Euro-skeptic torchbearers like Czech President Vaclav Klaus, who in an article for "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 22 April claimed that EU membership entails a loss of independence for the Czech Republic. Czechs "must do everything we can so we are not lost in the EU, so that our unique existence over 1,000 years will not crumble and be lost," Klaus wrote.
While there is little basis for such fears, they hint at what an enormous challenge it will be for the EU to integrate new members. Integration might be easy in the EU's core sectors, such as the economy, tax policy, or customs. However, a significant dream of some current members will remain a dream for some time to come -- creating a joint EU foreign and security policy for all 25 members. The rift between much of "old Europe" and "new Europe" over Iraq has clearly demonstrated the difficulty of attaining one of the main aims of a joint foreign and security policy for the EU: creating an effective counterweight to the United States.
This is a question of political unity and of military power. Neither will the new EU members, from the Baltics to the Balkans, surrender their view that the United States is a necessary safeguard against Russian pretensions; nor will the EU reach U.S. levels of military expenditure anytime soon.
In other words, at least for the time being, EU enlargement will bring about less change than one might have expected.
NEO-TALIBAN BLAMED FOR KILLING OF MILITARY COMMANDERS AND BODYGUARDS...
Unidentified gunmen assassinated Commander Abdul Razaq and five of his bodyguards on 29 April in the southern Afghan Kandahar Province, AFP reported on 30 April. Khan Mohammad, a provincial military official, told AFP that the assassinations were the "work of Taliban and Al-Qaeda." The killings occurred in Panjway District where, on 26 April, a nongovernmental aid agency was attacked and three aid workers and a guard were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). According to a Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press report on 30 April, a total of five people were killed in the attack and one person was injured. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. AT
...WHILE IT DENIES POISONING GIRLS
Latifullah Hakimi, claiming to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, denied reports that his group has poisoned schoolgirls in the southeastern Khost Province, AFP reported on 30 April. Three schoolgirls were reported to be in critical condition after eating biscuits offered to them by a man on 28 April. Khialbaz Khan, the military commander of Khost, alleged that the girls were offered biscuits laced with poison by the neo-Taliban in order to "deter" them "from going to school." The girls in question were attending the only school in the province that accepts female students. Under the Taliban regime, girls were banned from attending schools, but in conservative and traditional areas such as Khost the local tribes discouraged female education even before the emergence of the Taliban. AT
NEO-TALIBAN REPORTEDLY IN CONTROL OF PARTS OF SOUTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCE
An unidentified spokesman for the neo-Taliban has claimed that militant group has control over mountainous regions in Zabul Province, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 30 April. The spokesman has claimed that the neo-Taliban gained control of these territories, which he has not identified, after clashes with Afghan forces loyal to the country's central government. In the past, officials in Zabul have indicated that parts of the province have been in the control of the neo-Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July and 13 November 2003). AT
AFGHAN INTERIOR MINISTER DEFENDS DECISION TO FORM TWO NEW PROVINCES
Ali Ahmad Jalali has defended the decision by the Afghan Transitional Administration to elevate Daikondi District, formerly a part of Oruzgan Province, and Panjsher District, formerly in Parwan Province, to the status of provinces in March and April respectively (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 1 and 28 April 2004), Radio Afghanistan reported on 29 April. Jalali said that Panjsher has had an independent administration for the past 23 years while Daikondi has a large population and is connected by roads to its three neighboring provinces of Ghor, Oruzgan, and Bamiyan. Since early April armed clashes have occurred that were reportedly related to or triggered by the elevation of Daikondi to provincial status and people in Oruzgan have protested Kabul's decision regarding Daikondi. According to the report, because of these two administrative changes, people in Adnkhoy, Khogiani, Shinwar, and Orgun are demanding that those districts be elevated to provincial status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004). AT
CHIEF JUSTICE SAYS IRAN HAS NO POLITICAL DETAINEES
Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said in Tehran on 29 April that "we have no political prisoners in Iran" because Iranian law does not mention such offenses, IRNA reported that day. His statement contradicts President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's earlier admission that dissidents have been jailed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). "The world may consider certain cases, by their nature, political crimes, but because we do not have a law in this regard, these are considered ordinary offenses," IRNA reported. The judiciary, he said, has sent to parliament a bill governing political offenses, but it was rejected as "incomplete," IRNA reported. The judiciary believes a similar bill presented by parliament and the Interior Ministry "has a legal problem, because the law stipulates that it is the judiciary's duty to draft a [political offenses] bill." Shahrudi said the judiciary will soon propose a bill to downgrade financial offenses from criminal to civil offenses, and is drafting a bill on "electronic offenses" governing Internet use, IRNA reported. VS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS IRAN THE BEST ENERGY-TRANSIT ROUTE
President Khatami in Neka on 29 April stressed that Iran is the "cheapest, easiest and most secure" transfer route for Caspian Sea energy resources "to the world's free waterways...and there can be no doubt about that," IRNA reported that day. Speaking at the inauguration in northern Iran of the first phase of a project to pipe oil from Caspian littoral states to Iranian refineries, he criticized "inappropriate strictness and pressures" on Iran by the United States, which has opposed Iran as an energy transfer route. These "hostile policies have failed," he said. The project will allow an increase in swap deals, with Caspian oil flowing to Iranian refineries and Iran delivering Iranian oil to set clients from Persian Gulf terminals, the "Tehran Times" cited Reza Kazayizadeh, the head of a state oil-engineering firm as saying on 28 April. Oil Minister Bizhan Namdar-Zanganeh stated at the inaugural ceremony that Iran can now drill for oil in deeper waters of its section of the Caspian Sea, with the delivery of floating drilling platforms to support the drills, Farsnews.com reported on 29 April. VS
STATE DEPARTMENT NAMES IRAN AS TOP TERROR SPONSOR
The U.S. condemned Iran on 29 April as the leading "state sponsor of terrorism" in 2003, accusing it of fomenting terror attacks in the Mideast, AFP reported the same day. The State Department's annual report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism," stated that Iranian intelligence agents and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps have participated in the planning or supporting of terrorist acts, and that Iran has not honored pledges to confront the Al-Qaeda terrorist group or hand over Al-Qaeda suspects, AFP added. Iran, the report stated, has also had a "high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli activity" by such groups as Hamas or the Lebanese Hizbullah, which the U.S. has listed as terrorist groups but Iran considers legitimate resistance groups. The report also suggests that Iranian elements have stoked discontent among Iraqi Shi'ites and helped terrorists evade coalition forces, AFP added. Iranian officials habitually describe Iran as a victim of terrorism and have stated that the country supports global efforts to fight terrorism. VS
IRAN EXPORTS MORE FOOD PRODUCTS
Iran saw a 21.5 percent year-on-year rise in food exports in the year ending 20 March 2004, earning just over $210 million, Mehr News Agency reported on 29 April. Exports included chocolate, cookies, pasta, rose water, vinegar, mineral water, and soft drinks, the agency cited Ahmad Qasemi, head of exports at the Ministry of Mines and Industry as saying. The export of chemical products in the same period, worth some $147 million, jumped 48.1 percent year-on-year, and petrochemical exports, worth $434.3 million, rose 12.4 percent, Mehrnews.com cited Qasemi as saying. Separately, the EU has given Iran 40 days to act to resolve a fungal infection of pistachios, a key export that earned Iran $800 million in the year ending 20 March 2004, AFP reported on 29 April. The fungus can cause cancer, AFP added. VS
U.S. FORCES PULL OUT OF AL-FALLUJAH...
U.S. Marines have begun to withdraw from positions in the southern part of Al-Fallujah, international news media reported on 30 April. On 29 April, Lieutenant Colonel Brennan Byrne confirmed that an arrangement has been made to exchange U.S. forces for an all-Iraqi police force which will take control of security in the city. CNN reported that a group of former Iraqi generals offered on 29 April to build a security force that would consist of up to 1,000 men from the Iraqi police forces and the former Iraqi army. U.S. officials hope this move could end the ongoing siege of the city. MH
...AS 10 U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN LAST TWO DAYS
According to Pentagon officials, 10 U.S. soldiers were killed in Iraq on 28-29 April, AFP reported on 29 April. In Mahmudiyah, about 30 kilometers south of Baghdad, eight soldiers were killed in a car-bomb attack, and four more were seriously wounded. Two others died in separate incidents. Since the war began over a year ago, this has been the deadliest month for the United States, as a total of 126 U.S. troops have been killed in hostile incidents in April. During the six weeks of major combat in 2003, 109 soldiers were killed. MH
U.S. SOLDIERS ACCUSED OF ABUSING IRAQI PRISONERS TO BE DISCIPLINED
An investigation into alleged abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers has resulted in a recommendation for disciplinary action, international media reported on 29 April. The seven officers who are charged with abuse include Brigadier General Janice Karpinski, who was in charge of the prison at the time. The officers have already been suspended from duty. CBS TV showed pictures of the abuse in Abu Ghurayb prison in western Baghdad, where deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein humiliated and tortured inmates. MH
U.S. FOREIGN AID FOR REBUILDING IRAQ REMAINS UNSPENT
Less than 5 percent of the $18.4 billion in U.S. foreign aid to Iraq has been spent, and officials are trying to shift some of the resources from reconstruction to administration and security costs, washingtonpost.com reported on 30 April. The Iraqi reconstruction efforts have been going slowly, according to reports from the Coalition Provisional Authority, due to increasing security issues with rebel insurgents. AFP reported that on 29 April, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz requested more flexibility in spending from a U.S. House appropriations subcommittee for security assistance programs in Iraq. MH