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Newsline - March 9, 2005

Aslan Maskhadov was killed on 8 March during a special operation in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt, north of Grozny, Russian media reported, quoting Major General Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for the Russian federal forces in the North Caucasus. Maskhadov, who was born in exile in Kazakhstan in 1951, was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot that both Russia and the international community recognized as free and fair. NTV Russian television on the evening of 8 March broadcast footage of what appeared to be Maskhadov's body lying on the ground, AFP reported. Maskhadov's envoy in London, Akhmed Zakaev, confirmed the reports of Maskhadov's death in an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on 8 March (see End Note below). LF

At least three versions have emerged of the circumstances of Maskhadov's death. Shabalkin told journalists in Grozny that Maskhadov's whereabouts were betrayed by "members of the local population," and that the Federal Security Service (FSB) blew up the concrete bunker under a house in Tolstoi-Yurt in which he was hiding together with three close associates. Moscow-backed Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov said it was a Chechen militant captured in Nozhai-Yurt, in eastern Chechnya, who informed federal forces that Maskhadov was in Tolstoi-Yurt. Kadyrov told ITAR-TASS that the FSB hoped to capture Maskhadov alive, but that one of Maskhadov's bodyguards shot and killed him by accident. Zakaev similarly told AFP that Maskhadov's death "was an accident," but did not specify precisely how he died. The website quoted unnamed members of Kadyrov's entourage as saying that Maskhadov was killed on 6 March by members of Kadyrov's so-called presidential security service. The website on 8 March claimed that Kadyrov participated personally in the operation to kill Maskhadov, but decided not to publicize his involvement because taking responsibility for Maskhadov's death would have brought him "eternal shame." LF

FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev met with Putin on 8 March at the Kremlin and told him during part of their meeting broadcast by RTR, ORT, and NTV television that FSB special forces in Chechnya "destroyed" Maskhadov, adding that his body had been identified by experts. Putin told Patrushev to see that another identification of the body is conducted to ensure that the body is Maskhadov's. If this is confirmed, Putin said, all participants in the operation should receive state awards. "There is still a lot to do in Chechnya," Putin told Patrushev. Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Kadyrov said on 9 March that he "knew Maskhadov well" and is certain that the dead man in question is Maskhadov, ITAR-TASS reported. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov officially said on 9 March that, in accordance with laws pertaining to combating terrorism, Maskhadov's body will not be handed over to his relatives and will be buried in a secret location. First Deputy Prime Minister Kadyrov had said on 8 March that Maskhadov's body would be handed over to his relatives if they formally asked for it, Interfax reported. VY

Duma Defense Committee member Colonel General Arkadii Baskaev, who in 1995-96 headed the military administration in Grozny, said that "Maskhadov's death is not good news, " Ekho Moskvy radio reported. Baskaev said he knew Maskhadov personally, and that he "was a man with whom one could come to agreement." Now, Baskaev said, only "irreconcilable militants" remain in the ranks of the resistance leadership. Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov said on 8 March that the last three leaders of the Chechen resistance have been killed -- President Djokhar Dudaev (April 1996), (acting President) Zelimkhan Yandarbiev (February 2004), and now President Maskhadov -- as has the head of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov (May 2004), but none of the killings has brought victory to either side. He said that a poll of more than 6,000 of the station's listeners showed that 82 percent now expect a significant radicalization of the Chechen resistance. "Following the death of Maskhadov, who headed some hierarchy in the resistance ranks, the Chechen fighters may turn into a swarm-like, atomized, and faceless radical network akin to Al-Qaeda," Venediktov said. VY

Pavel Krasheninnikov (Unified Russia), a former justice minister who currently chairs the Duma's Legislation Committee said that "Maskhadov's death is a symbolic event, although it would have been ideal had Maskhadov faced a court," Ekho Moskvy reported. He added that it would be naive to believe that Maskhadov's death will end the Chechen conflict. "We should not forget that people like [radical field commander Shamil] Basaev remain in Chechnya," Krasheninnikov said. "We all want justice to be served. But if there is a problem in bringing [those responsible] to justice, let the special forces work -- as they did this time." In the spring of 2000, Krasheninnikov announced the creation of an independent Russian public commission on Chechnya to be headed by himself and by former presidential candidate Ella Pamfilova, who leads the movement For Civic Dignity. Krasheninnikov told journalists that the new body will "assess the situation in Chechnya impartially," siding "neither with the military nor with those who are branded as 'bandits,'" and will draw up "new recommendations for our society and our state" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 21 April 2000). VY/LF

The head of the Defense Ministry's press service, Vyacheslav Sedov, warned Georgia on 9 March against resorting to "ultimatum, blackmail, and pressure" regarding the closure of Russian bases in Georgia, reported 8 March. A Georgian parliament committee has drafted a bill saying that all Russian bases in Georgia should be closed by 1 January 2006, or they will be declared illegal. "We cannot simply withdraw our troops to an open field, as we did in recent history removing them from Germany," remarked Sedov, in reference to the withdrawal after the fall of the Berlin wall. In addition, Sedov said, the issue of withdrawing the troops is not subject to a decision by Georgia's parliament, but by a special Russian-Georgian working group. VY

Speaking to journalists in Torino, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said that President Putin does not understand the present situation in the CIS, reported. "Putin has no interest in human rights or democratic norms," Yavlinskii claimed. "Therefore, he does not understand how the things that occurred in Ukraine came about" -- situations in which the people "show they can fight election machinations." According to Yavlinskii, Putin thought he had the upper hand in the former Soviet states and that the international community would turn a blind eye to any actions he took there. However, Yavlinskii said, the events in Ukraine showed Putin that this is not so -- and as a result he has no other option than to accept the situation. VY

National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii said in an interview with on 7 March that President Putin has exhausted his influence as a national leader and that the political system he created is on the verge of disintegrating. Belkovskii said he believes Putin will have to leave office much earlier than in 2008. Belkovskii said many, including regional elites, are anticipating Putin's fall and only superficially demonstrate their loyalty. According to Belkovskii, these people lost faith in Putin's Russia, just as many stopped believing that the Soviet project could provide them with a better economy, education, culture, and security than in the West. In a separate interview with Ekho Moskvy on 6 March, Belkovskii said that another sign of erosion of the Putin political system is former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's recent hints that he is not ruling out running for president in 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 February 2005). "Kasyanov is a part of [Putin's political] system and a very cautious person, and if he is not afraid to state his ambition publicly, it shows that the erosion of Putin's power is apparent to everybody," noted Belkovskii. In answering a question about Kasyanov's chances of becoming president, Belkovskii said: "Today he has almost none of the attributes that would make him the country's leader, but it is does not means that he will not become the one." VY

Vasilii Likhachev, deputy chairman of the Federation Council's International Relations Committee, said on 8 March that Estonian President Arnold Ruutel's and Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus's decisions not to attend celebrations on 9 May commemorating the 60th anniversary the victory over Nazi Germany (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005) will harm Russia's relations with the European Union as a whole, RIA-Novosti reported. "One can assume that that these forces do not want to see Russia's relations with the EU advance," Likhachev said. "We knew there are such forces both in the European Commission and the European Parliament, [and they] will cite the statements by the Estonian and Lithuanian presidents to increase anti-Russian demagoguery." He added that the Russia government leaves the door open to its counterparts in Tallinn and Vilnius. VY

Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksei Arbatov, who also directs the International Security Center of the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said on 8 March that the Baltic states "forget" that they owe their independence to "democratic Russia," Ekho Moskvy reported. "If in 1991 the Russian Federation itself had not chosen the democratic way, the Soviet Union would have crushed the independence [movements] of the Baltic states or they would have paid for them with huge losses and bloodshed," Arbatov said. He added that when the Soviet Union tried to crack down on the independence movements in Riga and Vilnius in 1991, democrats in Russia demonstrated in Moscow against the action, and that most ethnic Russians living in the Baltic states supported their independence. However, according to Arbatov, the nationalistic elite that subsequently came to power in the new republics made the ethnic Russian population the scapegoat for the crimes committed by Stalin's regime, which was largely composed of leaders from all regions of the Soviet empire. VY

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 5 March marked the first anniversary of his appointment as head of the government, Russian media reported. Analyst Maksim Shilov wrote on on 5 March that the most important achievement of the new government has been closer cooperation between the federal center and the regions, although "the regional aspect of government policy in many respects still remains in the sphere of wishful thinking." Shilov also praised Fradkov for forcing the government to define its social policies rather than focusing exclusively on economic issues. He credited Fradkov with being the driving force behind development plans in science, education, high technology, energy development, agriculture, and transportation. However, Shilov noted that the government shares power to an unprecedented degree with the presidential administration. "Therefore we have returned to the old Soviet situation where the Council of Ministers coexisted with the Central Committee of the [Communist Party of the Soviet Union].... During Fradkov's tenure we have returned to the very situation we abandoned when the Soviet Union collapsed," Shilov wrote. RC

Analyst Aleksei Zudin, head of the political science department of the Center for Political Technologies, told on 5 March that Prime Minister Fradkov's government has been slow to get down to work because of the administrative reforms that it has undertaken over the last year. This delay has been exacerbated by the fact that the government has not yet determined what its economic policy will be: "whether it will continue along liberal lines or whether dirigiste methods will dominate." Zudin said that Fradkov was appointed as a "technical prime minister" but has evolved into "a much more authoritative and autonomous figure," having eroded the authority of Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref. Now, however, Fradkov is in danger of becoming "a political figure," as happened to former Prime Ministers Viktor Chernomyrdin and Mikhail Kasyanov. "This inevitably occurs on account of the fact that in a non-party government the process of transition from prime minister to political figure is just a matter of time." Zudin added that he believes President Putin should intervene because "the prime minister's excessively rapid rise in authority needs to be tempered." He said the person in charge of day-to-day management should not also be in charge of strategic policy development. RC

Union of People for Education and Science (SLON) party leader Vyacheslav Igrunov wrote in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 March that his party is in consolidation talks with the Development of Entrepreneurship party, the Democratic Party of Russia, and Our Choice. He said the party has also spoken with unidentified individual members of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and the Party of Life. Igrunov said that the new law on political parties and the ban on election blocs has forced the leaders of small parties to put aside their personal ambitions and consider merger proposals. He added that a combined rightist party should not be seen "as the moving force of an Orange Revolution," although people on that end of the political spectrum are "filled with alarm" over what is happening in Russia today. However, Igrunov wrote, the solution is "the formation of counter-elites" to compete with the current ruling elite, which he described as "depressingly incompetent." RC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 5 March wrote that Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov has made concessions to the Kremlin in exchange for being allowed to remain in office until the end of his current term in 2008. Among these concessions are the revocation of a lucrative contract with the Bashkir Fuel Company, which is headed by Rakhimov's son, and the opening of proceedings to restore to republican ownership shares in some questionably privatized enterprises, according to the daily. The latter initiative came in response to an Audit Chamber probe that was completed about 18 months ago, the daily reported. Last month, Rakhimov publicly criticized "the fuel lobby" in the State Council. The lobby is widely believed to be headed by his son, Ural Rakhimov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). The daily noted that the concessions might not be enough, as a vocal group of citizens has been calling for Rakhimov to step down and the scandal around alleged police brutality in Blagoveshchensk continues to evolve. RC

Representatives of the public organization Akhki-Yurt, which includes some survivors of the 1944 deportation, and of the Ingushetian chapters of the People's Party of the Russian Federation and the Russian Party of Peace have issued an appeal to the Ingush people in connection with the controversial new draft law on municipalities, reported on 9 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 20 December 2004). That draft law, passed in the first reading last November, does not include in the list of Ingushetian municipalities parts of Prigorodnyi Raion that were transferred to North Ossetia following the abolition of the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR in the wake of the 1944 deportation. The Ingushetian government and prosecutor's office subsequently ruled that the draft law should be amended to include a mention of Prigorodnyi Raion, but presidential administration head Alikhan Dudarov then pressured National Assembly speaker Makhmud Zakalov to ignore that recommendation, reported on 4 March. The appeal by Akhki-Yurt and other political organizations stressed that if the Ingushetian parliament fails to adopt the draft law by the end of March, Ingushetia's municipalities will be determined at the federal level in accordance with the Russian Law on General Principles of Local Self-Government. In that case, Ingushetia would permanently lose any claim on the disputed territories, which should have been returned to Ingushetia under the provisions of the Russian federal laws on the rehabilitation of oppressed peoples and on the creation of the Republic of Ingushetia. LF

In an interview with the Armenian weekly "Yerkir" summarized by Arminfo on 7 March and posted by Groong the following day, Vladimir Kazimirov, who served from 1992-96 as Russian co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, said that the international community would harshly condemn whichever side first resumed hostilities in a bid to resolve the Karabakh conflict by military means. Kazimirov recalled that Council of Europe Rapporteur for Nagorno-Karabakh David Atkinson argued in January that Azerbaijan should be expelled from the Council of Europe if it attempts to restore its hegemony over Nagorno-Karabakh by military means (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2005). Kazimirov noted continued "revanchist" calls from Baku for a new war to win back Karabakh, and said such rhetoric is at odds with international obligations given by the Azerbaijani leadership and "hinders the resumption of serious negotiations" on resolving the conflict. He said delaying a peaceful solution does not benefit any of the parties to the conflict. LF

In the same "Yerkir" interview, Kazimirov argued that the Karabakh conflict cannot be resolved without the participation in the negotiating process of representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR). He proposed that the three parties (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the NKR) should first agree that the subject and the object of the conflict is Karabakh, and then affirm their readiness for "historic reconciliation." Kazimirov said the three sides should then begin trilateral talks aimed at reaching a solution in which there would be neither winners nor losers. He said that if the three sides fail to reach agreement on whether the NKR should be independent or a part of Armenia or Azerbaijan, "this should be determined by the people in a democratic way" in a referendum. LF

A NATO delegation arrived in Tbilisi on 7 March to review Georgia's compliance with its Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), which was finally adopted after fundamental revision last October, Georgian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2004). On 4 March, Givi Targamadze, who heads the Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee, told journalists that certain requirements of the plan have not yet been met, and on 5 March Caucasus Press quoted him as saying that he will push for the resignations of the officials responsible for that failure, whom he did not name. But on 7 March, Chief of General Staff General Levan Nikolaishvili said the plan is being successfully implemented, and Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli conveyed the same message to the visiting NATO experts on 8 March, adding that he hopes Georgia will soon fulfill the requirements of the IPAP and move to a Membership Action Plan intended to pave the way for Georgian NATO membership. LF

Noghaideli and President Mikheil Saakashvili both stated on 8 March that the Georgian authorities will not make any concessions to would-be medical students who have been picketing the Georgian parliament building for several days, Georgian media reported. The students, who are graduates of the State Medical College, argue that in line with an agreement between that institute and the State Medical University they are entitled to enroll in the State Medical University without taking any entrance examinations. That privilege was abolished by the new Education Law passed last year. During talks on 8 March between the students, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, and Education Minister Kakha Lomaya the students rejected a compromise proposal. Opposition parliament factions expressed support on 9 March for the students, while Lomaya called for the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate the State Medical College, reported. Lomaya implied that the college sold diplomas to its graduates. LF

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev in Bishkek on 8 March to discuss bilateral relations and trade issues, Kyrgyzstan's official Kabar news agency reported. Musharraf said that Pakistan's Karachi and Gwadar ports could provide access to world markets for Kyrgyz goods, PTV World reported. President Akaev noted that Kyrgyzstan is working to reconstruct the Bishkek-Osh-Kashgar road to open the way to Pakistan eventually via the Karakorum road, ITAR-TASS reported. Musharraf also said that his country is interested in purchasing electrical power from Kyrgyzstan, Kabar reported. A bilateral commission will examine the technical details of power transport, and Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev noted that exports could pass through Tajikistan and Afghanistan or through China. The two presidents also stressed that they hold common views on the need to fight international terrorism. Officials from the two countries signed a number of minor accords. DK

Protests related to the first round of Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary elections continued in various parts of the country on 8 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Three hundred supporters of Duishenkul Chotonov, who lost in the 27 March elections in Karakulja District, marched toward Osh. The marchers met with Roza Otunbaeva, co-chairman of the Ata-Jurt bloc, in Uzgen, where 500 supporters of second-round parliamentary candidate Adakham Madumarov continued to demand the resignation of President Askar Akaev. Protests continued in Jalal-Abad for a fourth day. And Bektur Asanov, a member of the outgoing parliament, said that 40 legislators now support the opposition's initiative to hold an emergency session of parliament on 10 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 March 2005). DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov has signed decrees appointing a number of ministers, Turkmen Television reported on 8 March. The president appointed Jumaniyaz Annaorazov minister of the economy and finance, Asyrgeldi Gulgaraev minister of justice, Magtymguly Akmuradov minister of the environment, and Bibitach Vekilova director of the National Institute of Statistics. Vekilova was also relieved of her post as acting minister of economy and finance. DK

Nearly half of all non-food market vendors in the provinces and 30 percent in Minsk continued on 8 March their nationwide strike over value-added tax (VAT) on Russian imports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2005), Belapan reported. Alyaksandr Lapotka, deputy leader of the Perspektyva small business association that called the strike, told Belapan that many vendors have refused to pay not only the controversial VAT tax but also the so-called single tax (fixed sum irrespective of profits). In an attempt to stave off losses and lure the striking vendors back, market administrations have reportedly allowed them to reopen their stalls without paying the taxes. JM

Viktor Yushchenko met with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Berlin on 8 March, during the first day of his two-day trip to Germany, Interfax reported. Yushchenko told the German television channel ARD that the meeting focused on obtaining Germany's support for Ukraine joining the World Trade Organization, receiving a market-economy status, and forming a free-trade zone with the EU. Yushchenko also said they discussed prospects for a simplified visa regime between Ukraine and the EU. Yushchenko declared that Ukraine is ready to allow non-visa travel for EU citizens in the near future. According to dpa, Yushchenko told German journalists on 8 March that he hopes Ukraine will achieve EU membership "certainly before the year 2016." JM

Matthias Wissmann from the opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU), who is chairman of the Bundestag's European Affairs Committee, told journalists on 8 March that Ukraine's EU membership is "unreachable in the foreseeable future," dpa reported. According to Wissmann, such a prospect is unlikely because of Ukraine's "enormous shortfalls in its economic development." Instead of full EU membership, Wissmann called for Ukraine to be given what he termed "a privileged partnership" with the EU, which would include a free-trade accord and expanded economic and security ties. Meanwhile, Gert Weisskirchen, spokesman for the Bundestag faction of the ruling Social Democratic Party (SPD), told "Frankfurter Rundschau" on 8 March that Ukraine should be first satisfied with an "EU associated status." Weisskirchen noted that Turkey, which held such a status for decades, is due to begin talks aimed at full EU membership later this year and is not expected to join the EU before 2015. JM

The Prosecutor-General's Office has officially charged the recently arrested suspects (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005) with killing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported on 8 March. Following his meeting with German President Horst Koehler in Berlin, President Yushchenko announced this news but did not elaborate. Last week Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun said that two police officers of the rank of colonel were arrested in the Gongadze case. Some reports suggested that the Security Service of Ukraine detained three people in the Gongadze case, two colonels and one general. JM

Speaking after an urgent session of the government, during which he announced his resignation, outgoing Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj said on 8 March that he is innocent, Reuters and international media reported. "I am a person of Kosovo and I willingly sacrifice myself for my country. I accept this burden," Haradinaj was quoted as saying in "The Guardian." He also called on the ethnic Albanian population in Kosova to remain calm. Haradinaj, 36, a former commander of the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), resigned after the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague informed him that he is indicted for war crimes. Details of the indictment will be made public as soon as Haradinaj appears before the tribunal. Haradinaj has said he will travel to the Netherlands on 9 March. Deputy Prime Minister Adem Salihaj will be acting prime minister until parliament elects a new premier. Haradinaj has proposed that Bajram Kosumi, the deputy chairman of Haradinaj's party, the Alliance for the Future of Kosova, succeed him, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UB

Commenting on The Hague indictment, Haradinaj said on 8 March that he believes the ICTY's move is the "result of a trade-off that some have made with the Serbian government," "The New York Times" reported. Under this alleged deal, Belgrade has agreed to extradite high-ranking Serbian war-crimes suspects in exchange for his indictment, Haradinaj said. UB

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said on 8 March that he welcomes Haradinaj's decision to surrender to the ICTY, saying that Haradinaj was a "close partner and friend" who "will leave a big gap," according to a press release issued by his office. "Thanks to Ramush Haradinaj's dynamic leadership, strong commitment, and vision, Kosovo is today closer than ever before to achieving its aspirations in settling its future status," Jessen-Petersen said. Reuters quoted U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher as saying that Haradinaj's actions "demonstrate his deep concern for the future of Kosovo and its people." EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Haradinaj has made a "bold and right" decision, Reuters reported. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer praised Haradinaj's move as a "responsible approach." UB

Kosovar parliamentary speaker Nexhat Daci said on 8 March that he is convinced that Haradinaj is innocent and called the indictment an intervention in Kosova's political process, KosovaLive reported. Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova called Haradinaj a distinguished figure during the 1998-99 Kosova conflict and in the political life of Kosova. He said there will be no power vacuum following Haradinaj's resignation. Agim Ceku, who heads the Kosova Protection Corps (TMK), said the indictment is a "big injustice and insult made to Kosova, to the UCK's just war, and also to the Haradinaj family, which has sacrificed so much for Kosova." Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said all involved parties must act constructively and cooperate to guarantee stability in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian President Boris Tadic called for "calmness and restraint," Beta reported. UB

Vladimir Voronin said he plans to try to form a government of professionals and technocrats and that members of the opposition will be welcome in the new government, BASA reported on 7 March. Voronin added that Vasile Tarlev can keep his job as prime minister, and that the new government will focus on European integration, development of democratic values, and modernization of the economy. The pro-Western Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) is "ready to negotiate with the opposition, but it will make no political coalitions with any of parties that succeeded to the parliament," Voronin said. " If the opposition refuses any cooperation...then we are ready to hold repeated elections," he added. Voronin's PCM is expected to hold 56 seats in the 101-member parliament, enough to form a government but not enough to elect a president (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 March 2005). BW

Serafim Urechean, leader of the opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BDM), rejected any cooperation with the governing PCM, AP Flux reported on 8 March. "We reject any alliance with the Communist Party and we plead in favor of early parliamentary elections," Urechean said. The BDM leader added that if Voronin thinks he can find enough BDM defectors to win reelection, then "he is wrong." Urechean's BDM, which favors closer ties with Russia, came in a strong second in Moldova's 6 March elections winning 28.4 percent of the vote. BW

Iurie Rosca, leader of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), also categorically rejected any alliance with the PCM, BASA reported on 7 March. Rosca said an eventual alliance with the BMD is also unlikely because "to be friends against the Communists is interesting, but unproductive." The PPCD, which favors closer ties with neighboring Romania, won 9.7 percent of the vote in the 6 March elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 March 2005). Rosca said his goal is to dissolve the newly elected parliament and hold new elections. According to the Moldovan Constitution, parliament has 45 days to elect a new president. If it fails, new parliamentary elections will be scheduled. BW

Romanian Prime Minister Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said his country will continue to support Moldova's bid to enter the European Union and he hopes Chisinau will continue on a pro-European path when a new government is eventually formed, AP Flux reported on 8 March. "Romania is supporting the European aspirations of the neighbor state," Tariceanu said. He added that Moldova staying on a pro-EU path is "more important than the results of the elections." BW

Chechen President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov was killed on 8 March in a special operation in Tolstoi-Yurt, north of Grozny, Russian agencies reported, citing Colonel Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for the Russian federal forces in the North Caucasus. Maskhadov's envoy in London, Akhmed Zakaev, confirmed Maskhadov's death in a telephone call to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service later on 8 March.

The Chechen State Defense Committee of which Maskhadov was chairman has issued a statement, posted on, saying that it assumes full executive and legislative power in accordance with the Chechen Constitution. AFP on 8 March quoted Zakaev as saying that the committee will meet within days to name a new chairman. quoted Zakaev as explicitly excluding the transfer of power to radical field commander Shamil Basaev, the next in seniority and experience after Maskhadov, and the commander most qualified and able to coordinate and control future resistance activities in the North Caucasus. Zakaev pointed out that Basaev is no longer a member of the State Defense Committee, but he added that it is essential to take into account Basaev's authority with the various resistance detachments, which are capable of operating autonomously for months at a time. Zakaev denied that any split in the ranks of the resistance is imminent, pointing out that a similar situation arose in 1996 following the death of then Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev.

But regardless of who assumes overall command of the resistance forces, Maskhadov's death effectively demolishes the last remaining hope that the ongoing conflict in Chechnya can be resolved peacefully, at the negotiating table. While Maskhadov sought repeatedly to obtain Russia's consent to a peace settlement that would guarantee the security of the Chechen people within the Russian Federation, Basaev has made it clear that he has no interest in peaceful coexistence with Russia. Moreover, it is possible that other, as yet unknown or little-known figures will emerge in the months to come to challenge Basaev for that role, or to operate independently of him.

Talks with those new potential resistance leaders, according to former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, who negotiated with one of them in Beslan during last September's hostage taking, would be "incomparably more difficult" than with Maskhadov and his associates -- even assuming that the Russian leadership would agree to any such talks. Aushev went on to warn, in an interview published in "Novaya gazeta" last month, that it would be wrong to dismiss the new generation of fighters as savages; he described them as "politicians with a young and aggressive ideology behind them...they are well-informed and armed with sophisticated technologies." More to the point, radical Islam is a far more compelling motivating force to the new generation of militants than it was for Maskhadov.

Maskhadov's death also removes the last constraints and inhibitions about attacks on Russian civilians and extending the war beyond the confines of Chechnya. Until very recently, Maskhadov had insisted that his men abide strictly by the Geneva Conventions of warfare, that they refrain from killing civilians, and that they desist from terrorist attacks elsewhere in the Russian Federation. It was only in his most recent communication last week with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, that Maskhadov hinted that he might relax the prohibition on extending fighting into other North Caucasus republics as the sole means of upping the pressure on Russia to end the war. He pointed to the emergence of autonomous militant formations in Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria. Those formations all maintained links to, and some were trained by, Basaev, who has claimed responsibility for numerous acts of terrorism, including the Beslan hostage taking, the Moscow theater hostage taking in October 2002, and the killing of pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov in May 2004.

Insofar as Maskhadov's death will almost certainly lead to an upsurge of resistance activity across the North Caucasus, it may enhance Moscow's reliance on the pro-Russian Chechen military formations, including the so-called special presidential guard subordinate to First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's son and probably the most feared and most hated man in Chechnya. Russian President Vladimir Putin already apparently regards Ramzan Kadyrov as the most credible and reliable source of "objective" information about the "true" situation in Chechnya. The news of Maskhadov's death impelled Kadyrov to affirm on 8 March his intention of capturing Basaev, whom he pledged two weeks ago to kill.

Born in exile in Kazakhstan in 1951, Maskhadov returned to Chechnya with his family in the late 1950s and proceeded to make a career in the Soviet armed forces, serving in the Soviet Far East, Hungary, and the Baltics. He retired in 1992 with the rank of colonel and returned to Grozny, where he joined President Dudaev's government. Maskhadov was without doubt the lynchpin of developments in Chechnya for most of the past decade -- certainly since the killing of Dudaev in April 1996. It was Maskhadov, in his capacity as Chechen Army chief of staff, who negotiated with then Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed the two agreements that put an end to the 1994-96 war and paved the way for the withdrawal of Russian troops and Maskhadov's election in January 1997 as Chechen president. But almost from the outset, Maskhadov was challenged and deliberately undercut by more ruthless and less principled rivals, including Basaev, whose ill-advised incursion into neighboring Daghestan in the summer of 1999 furnished the Kremlin with the rationale for launching a new war.

Ali Ahmad Jalali arrived on 8 March in the southern city of Kandahar as the head of a delegation to investigate the security situation there, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said that Afghan President Hamid Karzai "was very concerned about recent abductions [and] insecurity," which led to the demonstration that took place in Kandahar on 7 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005). Mashal added that Karzai instructed Jalali to "personally investigate" the situation in Kandahar. According to unidentified sources speaking to AIP, the lack of security in Kandahar has deeply concerned Kabul and major changes are to be expected in the city and province. Kandahar is the native city of Karzai and is also the birthplace of the ousted Taliban regime. AT

Balkh Province Governor Ata Mohammad Nur, in an interview with the state-run Balkh Television on 7 March, said that those who staged a demonstration in the provincial capital of Mazar-e Sharif were "stupid people" who were misusing democracy. Between 500 and 1,000 protestors staged a demonstration in Mazar-e Sharif on 7 March demanding Nur's resignation for allegedly taking people's land, and also called for the dismissal of a senior health official, Sayyed Habib, who according to the demonstrators illegally fired a number of doctors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 2005). In his interview, Nur dismissed the land-grab charges and said that the doctors who have been dismissed were lazy. Nur contended that the demonstrators came from neighboring provinces and have "links with thieves" from Mazar-e Sharif. "This demonstration will never ever affect us," Nur added. AT

A man identified as Steve MacQueen was shot dead in downtown Kabul on 7 March, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 8 March. Sher Agha, a police source in Kabul, said that the Briton worked as an adviser to the Afghan Ministry of Rehabilitation and Rural Development and was killed in his car near the Dutch Embassy. According to Sher Agha, two vehicles blocked MacQueen's car and he was killed with a single shot. The two cars escaped the scene of the crime. Abdul Rahim Zarin, speaking for the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Rural Development, told RFE/RL that the killing will have a negative impact on the work of the ministry. AT

Latifullah Hakimi, speaking on behalf of the neo-Taliban, claimed responsibility on 8 March for the assassination of the British adviser in Kabul, IRNA reported. "Our mujahedin carried out the attack last night, which shows that Taliban attacks have not been reduced," Hakimi said. U.S. Lieutenant General Eric Olson said on 7 March that attacks by the neo-Taliban have dropped sharply since spring 2004. Referring to Olson's comments, Hakimi said that "we have given them a response in practical terms." An unidentified official from a Kabul security command under the Interior Ministry has said, however, that while the killer of MacQueen has not been identified, the attack was probably carried out by a Westerner, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 8 March. The official speculated that MacQueen was killed because of an argument. AT

Negotiators from Iran, Britain, France, and Germany met in Geneva on 8 March for talks intended to persuade Iran not to produce fuel for its nuclear program, AFP reported, citing a diplomat "close to the talks." The first day of talks focused on political cooperation; the "key nuclear issue," most likely the cessation of uranium enrichment, will be discussed the following days, AFP reported. In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said "talks in the next few days will be...decisive [for] Iran's...dossier," IRNA reported on 8 March. He said the European response to Iranian proposals will determine if Iran will talk any further. The current talks are the last before a higher-level steering committee is to meet at the end of March, AFP reported. Supreme National Security Council member Hussein Musavian told ISNA on 8 March that Iran is only negotiating over uranium enrichment because it wants to proceed with this key phase of fuel production in an environment of "international peace and confidence." He said Iran will wait for the steering committee to meet and reconsider negotiations "if there is no progress." VS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani told a gathering in Anzali, northern Iran, on 8 March that Iran is determined to pursue plans to generate electricity from nuclear power and the United States "should not scare and worry the world" over Iranian intentions, ISNA reported the same day. "The Islamic Republic not only does not need an atomic bomb, it has no intention of fighting any country. We [want] to defend our national interests," he said. "Our logic is the logic of defense: no attack. Should we not access advanced technologies with that logic?" he asked. "Oil will end one day." Iran's parliament is currently considering legislation that would lead to the construction of up to 20 nuclear power plants, ISNA reported. VS

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami arrived in Bosnia-Herzegovina on 8 March to discuss cultural and economic cooperation, IRNA reported the same day. Khatami met with the current chairman of the Bosnian presidency, Borislav Paravac. The Iranian president said that Iran is ready to provide Bosnia with help and advice in building dams and hydroelectric power stations, IRNA reported on 8 March. Meanwhile, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmad Azizi arrived in Damascus on 8 March and met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on 9 March, IRNA reported. According to the report, Azizi conveyed an oral message on regional developments from President Khatami. Azizi reportedly told al-Assad on 9 March that Khatami believes U.S. pressures on Syria and regional states are intended to resolve "the Middle East problem to [Israel's] advantage," IRNA reported. VS

Iranian workers have appointed a committee to lobby for the rights of workers to form free labor associations, Radio Farda reported on 8 March. The committee recently issued a statement signed by 5,000 workers, addressed to the Iranian Labor Ministry and the International Labor Organization (ILO), stating that it does not recognize agreements signed between the Iranian government and the ILO because Iranian workers had no independent representatives at the talks. The government has not made good on its pledge to implement ILO protocols governing the formation of independent labor unions, Radio Farda reported. Iranian workers have criticized official unions as being too close to the government, and some workers have already written to the government asking permission to engage in union activities, Radio Farda reported. Iranian workers can currently form unions following rules set by the Labor Ministry. VS

The bodies of 19 Iraqis were found shot dead in a village near Al-Qa'im on 8 March, international media reported on 9 March. All of the dead, including one woman, were wearing civilian clothes, Al-Qa'im Hospital Director Hamdi al-Alusi said, according to Reuters. An unnamed doctor told the news agency that a police identification card was found on one of the dead. Militants shot and killed Al-Furat Hospital Director Adil Abd al-Karim in Baghdad on 9 March, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Abd al-Karim was gunned down on the way to work. Meanwhile, a farmer discovered the bodies of two decapitated people in Al-Latifiyah on 8 March, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. The bodies reportedly belonged to a police officer and a translator working for multinational forces. KR

A suicide bomber driving a garbage truck detonated his vehicle outside the Al-Sadir Hotel and Agriculture Ministry in central Baghdad on 9 March, killing at least two and wounding more than 20 people, international media reported. Al-Jazeera television reported that the hotel is used by Iraqi and foreign security forces, while AP reported that it is used by Western contractors. Police told AP that militants disguised as police shot and killed a guard at the ministry's gate, allowing the truck to enter a compound the ministry shares with the adjacent hotel. Guards then fired on the truck, which subsequently blew up in a parking lot, creating a large crater, AP reported. KR

Reuters reported on 9 March that Tanzim Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, the militant group in Iraq led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, claimed responsibility on an Islamist website for the attack, saying it targeted a "hotel of the Jews." The group claims to be Al-Qaeda's wing in Iraq. "The mujahedin opened fire on the police and guards protecting the Jews and when the entrance was clear, the hero...blew up the infidels," the statement said. It added that the attack was timed to avoid harming any Muslim passers-by, Reuters reported. The group also claimed responsibility for the 8 March killing of Major General Ghazi Muhammad, head of the Interior Ministry's citizenship and immigration department, in a statement posted to an jihadist website ( KR

The Iraqi judicial council has reportedly accused the Interior Ministry of violating enforced laws and legal procedures in the arrest and detention of citizens, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 8 March. Ghadanfar Humud al-Jasim, the council's head prosecutor, criticized the detention of citizens without legal basis or authority, telling the press that the Transitional Administrative Law and the National Safety Law both state the inadmissibility of detaining citizens without a warrant issued by an examining magistrate. Al-Sharqiyah reported that a number of political parties have also denounced the apparent violations and expressed concern that the executive authority in Iraq will continue to operate outside the framework of the law. KR