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Newsline - March 15, 2005

Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 14 March that Moscow views the dispute between China and Taiwan as a domestic matter, ITAR-TASS reported. Moscow "has understanding for the considerations for which the Chinese parliament passed the bill on opposing activity to break up the country," Yakovenko said. "Russia invariably adheres to a principled stand on the matter. We believe there exists only one China, and Taiwan is an inseparable part of it." He praised the Chinese parliament's initiative as emphasizing "the unconditional priority of peaceful methods of the country's unification...and its proclaimed readiness to show the maximum of goodwill for the sake of this." RC

The leadership of Unified Russia will meet on 18 March to consider allegations by party co-leader and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov that the charter the party registered with the Justice Ministry is not the same as the one adopted at a party congress, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005). Luzhkov said that regional party representatives objected at the congress to a charter provision that all candidates in regional elections must be approved by the party's central leadership, but that provision was not removed from the registered text. He called for an investigation, punishment of those responsible, the reregistration of a revised charter, and an extraordinary party congress. RC

Several liberal youth organizations, headed by the Yabloko party youth movement, have united to form Oborona (Defense), Interfax reported on 14 March. "Oborona is a nonparty coalition," Yabloko youth movement leader Ilya Yashin said. "It sees its purpose not in supporting a party or a presidential candidate but in defending civil rights and freedoms, ensuring honest elections, and defending their results." Oborona will be formed by members of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) youth group, the Ya Dumayu students' association, and several other clubs and associations. Yashin denied media reports that Oborona is a project of the pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi. RC

The Justice Ministry on 15 March announced that it is creating an experimental legal-consulting service for the poor, Interfax reported, quoting Justice Minister Yurii Chaika. Chaika said the program is being set up in several federation subjects in order "to improve the effectiveness of the system of providing legal assistance and the access of the population to legal help." He added that reducing the state's influence over the legal profession in recent years has not led to improvements in the quality of legal consulting or in public access to legal defense. He said that complaints from the public about the actions of lawyers have been increasing and that the situation must be corrected by boosting the oversight of the ministry's Federal Registration Service. RC

An 11 March session of the government commission drafting the federal budget for 2006-08 decided to freeze tax rates for the entire period, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 March. It had previously been reported that Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, who heads the commission, favors reducing the value-added tax (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2005). The daily described the commission's decision as a "mutiny" by the cabinet against Fradkov and said that Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin publicly criticized "Mikhail Fradkov's approach" to medium-term economic planning. The commission also decided to raise the cutoff level for oil prices from $20 per barrel to $23 per barrel. Revenues generated above the cutoff level are automatically diverted to the so-called stabilization fund; raising the cutoff level will increase government tax revenues and enable it to increase spending, the daily reported. According to the daily, there is some evidence that the Russian economy is "overheated." Gross domestic product grew in 2004 by 7.1 percent and the inflation rate was 11.7 percent. RC

The Moscow Oblast home of an unidentified aide to State Duma Economic Policy Committee Chairman Valerii Draganov (Unified Russia) was robbed on 14 March and items worth 600,000 rubles ($20,000) were reported stolen, RIA-Novosti reported on 15 March. According to the report, police detained an unidentified 29-year-old unemployed man in connection with the investigation. RC

The State Duma on 11 March rejected a bill that would have revised the law on local self-government to make municipal-level executive-branch heads appointed rather than directly elected, "Izvestiya" reported on 14 March. The bill was submitted by the State Assembly of Bashkortostan, and the daily reported that the Kremlin is drafting a similar bill of its own. Congress of Municipal Formations President Oleg Sysuev told the daily that eliminating the direct election of mayors is "unconstitutional." "This is a full 180-degree swing away from a civil society, democratic principles of constructing the government, and European administrative standards," Sysuev said. He said that the natural conflicts between mayors and regional governors serve as a useful check on arbitrary power that should not be eliminated. "The entire system of government in civilized countries is built on this -- there is competition, there is conflict, one branch keeps track of the other and makes public statements about its activities," he said. "Our problem is that we are afraid to delineate powers.... It seems to us that to govern from the center is the most reliable option. But experience shows it is an unpromising, deadly option." RC

Residents of the Tver Oblast town of Bezhetsk have complained of a law-enforcement operation in the town that they say was similar to an operation conducted in Blagoveshchensk in December, Ekho Moskvy reported on 15 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2005). National Anticorruption Committee Chairman Kirill Kabanov told the radio station that agents of the Federal Antinarcotics Agency on "the eve of 8 March" carried out the Bezhetsk operation. He said two busloads of agents arrived in the town, burst into cafes and restaurants, and forced male residents to strip naked and kneel with their hands on their heads. Kabanov alleged that at least two shots were fired during the raid, and he added that police conducted a similar operation in the same town in September. A spokesman for the Federal Antinarcotics Service told the radio station that he has no information about any operation in the town. "But if such an operation did take place, well, so what?" he said. reported on 15 March that police in Krasnoyarsk conducted a raid on 12 March in which they detained all young people they found on a particular downtown street. A total of about 70 people were detained, and police informed their parents that the youths intended to seek out and beat up people from the Caucasus. According to the report, some of those detained complained that police beat them, threatened them, and forced them to sign statements saying that they are skinheads. RC

The State Council of Tatarstan on 14 March passed in their third and final reading amendments to the republic's constitution that bring it into conformity with federal legislation on the selection of the executive-branch heads of federation constituents, RBK reported. The changes abolished the direct election of the republic's president and established a system under which the legislature approves for a five-year term a candidate nominated by the Russian president. Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev told reporters in Kazan on 11 March that he met on 9 March in Moscow with President Vladimir Putin, who asked him to serve another term as head of the republic, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 March. "I would say this was not only a wish, but an urgent request," Shaimiev said. Shaimiev said that he asked Putin to submit his candidacy as soon as the Tatar Constitution is amended rather than waiting for his current term to expire next March. According to the daily, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko told Tatarstan television that he is pleased with the decision. "I myself wanted to have the pleasure of proposing his candidacy to the president," Kirienko said. RC

The Buryatia branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) has reportedly seized secret maps from the computers of the Geo-Ecological Research Center of the Eastern Siberian State Technical University, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 March. The press service of the FSB released a statement saying that a criminal case on charges of exposing state secrets has been opened. Center Director Sergei Shapkhaev told the news agency that he believes the maps were placed on the computers accidentally by a client who had access to them. According to the report, the center's main activity is studying the territory around Lake Baikal, and it was involved in designing a project proposed by Yukos to construct an oil pipeline from western Siberia to China. RC

In his first address to the Chechen people, posted on 14 March on, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, who was identified last week as the legitimate successor to slain Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, said the latter's death will not change the Chechen leadership's commitment to "the total restoration of the country's independence from Russia." Sadulaev said that "the Chechen people are capable of demolishing the pride of its foe in the person of the Russian empire and forcing it [to accept] peace." He added that "we do not accept every conceivable form of violence against innocent people," but went on to qualify that statement by adding that "we have the right to act against the enemy using the methods that are acceptable to God." Similarly, Sadulaev affirmed the Chechens' willingness to act within the framework of international law, but added that Chechens' respect for democratic values should not be abused in order to impose on the Chechen people "laws that contradict our national values." Sadulaev spoke at length and in respectful terms of Maskhadov's role as president and military leader, and he appealed to the Chechen people to demonstrate "watchfulness and patience" in the ongoing struggle against Russian forces. LF

Some 100 residents of Ingushetia and of the disputed Prigorodnyi Raion, currently part of neighboring North Ossetia, met on 14 March in Nazran with Makhmud Sakalov, chairman of Ingushetia's People's Assembly, and with Issa Kostoev, who represents Ingushetia in the Federation Council, to argue once again the case for amending the draft law on municipalities to stipulate that Prigorodnyi Raion is Ingushetian territory, reported. Prigorodnyi Raion was transferred to North Ossetian jurisdiction following the abolition of the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR in the wake of the deportation of Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia in 1944. A law enacted in 1989 that called for a return to the territorial-administrative borders that existed prior to the World War II deportations was never implemented, but Article 11 of the constitution of the Republic of Ingushetia adopted in a referendum in February 1994 defines the campaign for the return of Prigorodnyi Raion to Ingushetia as "a task of the greatest state importance." The Ingushetian parliament passed the law on municipalities in the first reading late last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 20 December 2004 and 9 March 2005). Sakalov and Kostoev both argued on 14 March that persisting with the campaign for the return of Prigorodnyi Raion could fuel tensions with North Ossetia and thus endanger the lives of Ingush still living in Prigorodnyi Raion. Kostoev further predicted that if the Ingushetian law were amended to designate Prigorodnyi Raion as part of Ingushetia, Moscow would declare it illegal. LF

Ali Aliyev was again elected chairman of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party (AMIP) at a congress on 13 March, receiving 160 votes from the total 282 delegates present, reported on 15 March. Aliyev was elected to that position on 6 February, but rival candidates protested that on that occasion he received less than two-thirds of the votes of all delegates attending the congress (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 2005). Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 14 March, Aliyev said the AMIP will remain an opposition party and support the current leadership only on three key issues: the Karabakh conflict, strengthening Azerbaijan's armed forces, and aspects of Azerbaijan's international image. He said the AMIP is prepared to work with other opposition forces committed to election law reform. Aliyev said the AMIP has not been invited to align with three other major opposition parties -- Musavat, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party -- that are discussing the formation of a bloc to contest the parliamentary elections due in November 2005. LF

Up to 250 citizens of Azerbaijan have applied to serve in the Russian armed forces on a contract basis, and 45 of those applications have been approved, the online daily reported on 12 March, quoting a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry. That spokesman said at present only one Azerbaijani is serving on a contract basis with the Russian military, but that the number of applications from persons wishing to join the Russian Army has risen sharply since the passage by the Russian State Duma of legislation making it easier for citizens of other CIS states serving in the Russian armed forces to acquire Russian citizenship. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Ramiz Melikov told the online daily that Azerbaijani laws bar men of conscription age from serving in the Russian Army, and an independent expert, Alekper Mamedov, argued that the Azerbaijani government should draft a law specifying under what circumstances Azerbaijani citizens may serve in foreign armies. LF

Following a 13 March meeting of the National Security Council, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili dismissed the entire top leadership of the police department in Shida Kartli on 14 March, accusing them of conniving directly or indirectly with the government of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia to engage in smuggling, Caucasus Press reported on 14 March. Several of the police officers involved have been arrested. Saakashvili ordered Gori Governor Mikheil Kareli and Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili to "restore order" in Shida Kartli. Opposition Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili told journalists in Tbilisi on 14 March that he believes Saakashvili is trying to shield Kareli, while the opposition New Rightists openly accused Kareli of involvement in smuggling and demanded his dismissal, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 14 March, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili denied that the scandal has given rise to tensions between himself and his predecessor, Irakli Okruashvili, Caucasus Press reported quoting the independent television station Rustavi-2. Several of the disgraced police officers were appointed to their posts in Shida Kartli during Okruashvili's tenure as interior minister last year. LF

Three female students were slightly injured on 14 March when police forcibly dismantled tents erected outside the parliament building by hunger-striking students from the Tbilisi Medical College, Caucasus Press reported on 15 March. Some 575 students from that college began the hunger strike to protest the authorities' refusal to waive the new law on higher education and admit them to the state Medical University without taking the required entrance examinations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 14 March 2005). LF

Vagit Alekperov, president of Russia's LUKoil, and Timur Kulibaev, vice president of Kazakhstan's state oil and gas company KazMunayGaz, announced at a news conference in Moscow on 14 March that the two companies have set up a parity joint venture to develop Kazakhstan's Khvalynskoe oil field, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an agreement three years ago on the division of Khvalynskoe and two other oil fields in the northern Caspian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2002).The project may require more than $1 billion in investment and should begin production in 2010, Alekperov said. Alekperov also stressed that the project will involve strict adherence to environmental standards. On a related issue, Kulibaev noted that Kazakhstan is waiting for a decision from Russia's Gazprom to create a joint venture to process gas from Kazakhstan's Karachaganak field at Russia's Orenburg refinery, Prime-TASS reported. Kulibaev said that while Gazprom's management has "made up its mind," a number of legal details remain to be worked out. DK/LF

According to results available for 71 of the 75 seats in Kyrgyzstan's new unicameral parliament, the opposition will only control about 10 percent of the legislature, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 14 March. Moreover, preliminary results of the 13 March runoffs indicate that former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, an opposition leader who has already declared his intention to run in the October presidential elections, failed to win a seat. Opposition leaders pointed to numerous violations and questioned the legitimacy of the elections. Viktor Chernomorets, the leader of the Democratic Movement opposition party, told RFE/RL, "I have never seen such dirty elections." Other opposition representatives echoed his comments. But presidential spokesman Abdil Segizbaev said that the results simply reflected a lack of popular support for the opposition. DK

At a press conference in Bishkek on 14 March, Lubomir Kopaj, head of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission that monitored both the first and second rounds of voting, said that while the "right to assembly was more fully respected in the period between the two rounds of elections," numerous flaws noted in the first round were repeated, a 14 March OSCE press release ( reported. Those flaws included a "lack of effective voter access to diverse sources of information, bias in the media, continued de-registration of candidates on minor grounds,... and inaccurately and poorly maintained voter lists." DK/LF

Preliminary results from the 13 March runoffs sparked protests on 14 March in Uzgen, Osh Oblast, and elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In Uzgen, more than 1,000 supporters of Adakhan Madumarov took over local government offices, reported. Early results had put Madumarov behind his opponent, Mamat Orozbaev, but the annulment of results from three polling stations put Madumarov in the lead later on 14 March, RFE/RL reported. In the Alay district of Osh Oblast, supporters of Marat Sultanov blocked roads after initial results put Sultanov behind his opponent, Abdygany Erkebaev, reported. And in Talas Oblast, up to 5,000 supporters of Ravshan Jeenbekov blocked roads and protested in front of local government offices when preliminary results showed him losing, Interfax reported. Central Election Commission Chairman Sulaiman Imanbaev criticized protesters for "backtracking on democratic and legal principles," but said that commission members has been sent to Uzgen and Alay district to review complaints, ITAR-TASS reported. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service also reported protests in Jalal-Abad, Batken, and Talas. DK

Rahmatullo Zoyirov, head of Tajikistan's Social Democratic Party, told a news conference in Dushanbe on 14 March that Tajik police have arrested two party members in Soghd Province, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. In a statement published the same day by Avesta, Zoyirov said that Nizomuddin Begmatov, a candidate in the 27 February parliamentary elections, and Nasimjon Shukurov, Begmatov's representative, were arrested on 12 March and charged the next day with defamation and hooliganism. Likening the event to the Stalinist repressions of 1937, Zoyirov said that the party members were targeted on trumped-up charges for attempting to stand up for their rights and the rights of others. He demanded that the authorities free the two men, drop the charges against them, and file criminal charges against the local authorities who harassed them. The Social Democratic Party, which did not win a single seat in recent parliamentary elections, has alleged fraud, joining three other parties in a complaint to the Central Election Commission and a demand for new elections in Dushanbe. At the 14 March news conference, Zoyirov said that his party will ask for permission to stage a protest if the complaints "are not dealt with in accordance with the law," Avesta reported. DK

Khudaiberdy Orazov, a former Turkmen deputy prime minister and now an exiled opposition leader, told Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in a 14 March interview that change will come about in Turkmenistan only if the international community exerts heavy pressure on Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Orazov criticized the United States for lacking a "thought-out policy" on Turkmenistan and noted that such U.S. companies as General Electric, John Deere, and Boeing do business in the country. Orazov said that Russian policy, which he described as a conscious effort to ignore the plight of Turkmenistan's Russian minority in order to maintain energy cooperation, is "short-sighted and doomed to fail." Nevertheless, Orazov said the "harsher tone of recent statements" by U.S. officials pointed to a " American policy" indicative of a harder line on Turkmenistan. But he concluded, "When we speak of the need for pressure from the United States, we remember that the removal of Niyazov from political life is the task of the Turkmen people." DK

Robert Simmons, NATO's special representative to Central Asia and the Caucasus, ended a visit to Uzbekistan on 14 March, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Simmons, who arrived on 11 March, met with Defense Minister Qodir Ghulomov to discuss the fight against terrorism and the reconstruction of Afghanistan, as well as NATO-Uzbek cooperation. Simmons noted that Uzbekistan was one of the first countries in the region to express a desire for cooperation with the alliance. Simmons also stressed that NATO places importance on the basic values of human rights, free speech, and democracy. DK

Alyaksandr Kazulin, a former rector of Belarusian State University, has become a member of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party-National Assembly (BSDP-NH), Belapan reported. Kazulin, who took part in a joint convention of the BSDP-NH and the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly last month, is reportedly the most likely candidate to lead a unified party of Belarusian social democrats. Kazulin also leads the Will of the People movement launched last month and is expected to challenge President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in the 2006 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2005). JM

Ukraine has suspended its participation in the CIS Election Monitoring Organization, UNIAN reported on 15 March, quoting Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Dmytro Svystkov. Svystkov said Ukrainian observers did not participate in CIS monitoring missions in the recent parliamentary elections in Moldova and Kyrgyzstan. Svystkov explained that Kyiv's reluctance to work with CIS election monitors is due to serious discrepancies in the assessment of the 2004 presidential election in Ukraine between CIS and OSCE observers. According to Svystkov, all OSCE members countries, including those from the CIS, should stick to the same criteria in assessing electoral processes. JM

The parliamentary caucus of the Ukrainian Communist Party has called on the president and the government to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the victory in World War II this year at the "top state level," including holding a "parade of victors" in Kyiv, Interfax reported on 14 March. The caucus said in a statement that it protests the government's attempts "to nullify the celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Victory and thus to degrade the historic significance of the Great Victory [and] degrade the role of the victorious Ukrainian people." Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko said earlier this month that the government, following an initiative by President Viktor Yushchenko, is planning to mark Victory Day on 9 May by gathering Ukrainian war veterans and government officials for a joint ceremonial dinner at tables set along Khreshchatyk, Kyiv's main boulevard. JM

Finance Minister Viktor Pynzenyk told journalists on 14 March that the previous cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych "hid" nearly 17 billion hryvnyas ($3.2 billion) worth of budget revenues in 2004, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. Pynzenyk also said Yanukovych's cabinet gave guarantees for substantial loans to sponsor dubious projects last year. "These are $700 million to build a bridge over the Dnieper in Kyiv, $480 million to reconstruct the Kyiv-Odesa highway, and $107 million to credit the Pivdenmash [rocket-building plant]," Pynzenyk specified. "The government is now investigating what has become of these sums." JM

An explosion damaged a car carrying Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova in Prishtina on 15 March, RFE/RL, Reuters and BBC World TV reported. A police spokeswoman said the blast hit Rugova's car, which was part of a convoy. At least one person was injured in the explosion, an RFE/RL correspondent in Prishtina reported. The cause of the blast was not immediately clear. Rugova was on his way to meet EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana. UB

The Council of Europe's Venice Commission -- a body of experts on constitutional affairs -- recommended in a hearing of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 11 March that the constitutional framework in Bosnia be drastically reformed, arguing that the present arrangement is neither rational nor efficient or even sustainable, according to the council's website ( The experts recommended that the powers of the state be strengthened; that the powers of the cantons within the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina be curtailed or these cantons abolished; that political and administrative structures be simplified; and that decision-making processes at all levels be streamlined and ethnic vetoes reduced. PACE had also asked the experts to comment on the powers of the High Representative in Bosnia. Acknowledging that the far-reaching powers of the High Representative were necessary in the past, the commission said that these powers should now be gradually reduced and replaced by new legal safeguards. The current constitutional framework was set up under the 1995 Dayton peace agreement (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 October 2004). UB

Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said in Belgrade on 14 March that Serbian authorities will arrest former Chief of General Staff General Nebojsa Pavkovic and former police General Sreten Lukic if they do not surrender voluntarily to the ICTY, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The ICTY has charge both Pavkovic and Lukic with war crimes against Albanians during the Kosova conflict of 1998-99 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January and 4 February 2005). UB

The Foreign Ministry of Serbia and Montenegro announced on 14 March that Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic fully supports China's new law against separatism, Tanjug reported. The statement came after Chinas' ambassador to Belgrade, Li Guobang, informed the ministry about the new law. UB

The UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague has indicted former Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, charging him with violations of law or customs of war in connection with a police operation in the village of Ljuboten in August 2001, during which 10 ethnic Albanian civilians were killed, MIA news agency reported on 14 March. A court in the Croatian town of Pula in February charged Boskovski, who holds Macedonian as well as Croatian citizenship, with murder in connection with the killing of six Indians and one Pakistani outside Skopje in March 2002 (see "RFE/RL 27 May and 1 September 2004 and 28 February 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 May 2004 and 14 January 2005). Together with Boskovski, the ICTY also indicted Johan Tarculovski, a former bodyguard of late President Boris Trajkovski, in connection with the Ljuboten case. Macedonian police arrested Tarculovski on 14 March. UB

The State Election Commission announced in Skopje on 14 March the preliminary results of the 13 March local elections based on the finalized count in 71 of the country's 85 election districts, MIA news agency reported. Mayors were elected in the first round in only 16 districts. Mayoral candidates of the Social Democrat-led governing coalition won in 10 districts, the conservative opposition led by the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization won in one district. The governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) won the mayoral race in three districts, the ethnic Albanian opposition bloc of the Democratic Party of the Albanians and the Party for Democratic Prosperity won in one district, and one candidate supported by a group of voters in one district. The mayors in the remaining districts will be elected in a second round slated for 27 March. Voter turnout was around 58 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). UB

A Moldovan court ordered on 14 March that former Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat be held on remand for 10 days pending formal fraud charges, international news agencies reported on the same day. Pasat, a senior manager for the Russian electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems, was being held for 72 hours, which expired on 14 March. He is suspected of defrauding the Moldovan government of $10 million in the sale of 21 MiG-29 aircraft to the United States in 1997. He was arrested on 12 March, after arriving in Chisinau from Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2005). Pasat's arrest was ordered based on evidence "of suspicion of abuse of authority during his tenure as defense minister," Reuters quoted a statement from the Moldovan Prosecutor-General's office as saying. "This concerns the illegal sale of 21 MiG-29 aircraft as a result of which Moldova's budget sustained millions of dollars in damages." BW

Pasat's lawyer Georgy Amikhalakioaye called his client's arrest a "political order" by Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March. Prior to Moldova's 6 March parliamentary elections, Pasat had actively cooperated with the opposition, ITAR-TASS reported. He also presided over a meeting of Moldovan guest workers in Moscow in February in which he criticized Moldova's ruling Communist government and expressed support for the pro-Russian Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD). Citing BMD leaders, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March that Pasat was planning a meeting of the party on 12 March when he was arrested. Moldova's special services, meanwhile, say they were not involved in Pasat's arrest, RIA-Novosti reported on 14 March. "The arrest and investigation were carried out by the Moldovan Prosecutor General's Office and Interior Ministry," Information and Security Service spokesman Vitalii Burzakovskii said. BW

Pasat's lawyer says his client has fallen ill since his detention and is refusing to take food because he fears he may be poisoned, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March. "On Monday, Pasat did not feel well, and an ambulance was called in twice. He has a cold, and it is very chilly in the cell," Amikhalakioaye said, adding that he will bring a personal doctor to visit his client. The Prosecutor-General's Office, however, said Pasat's condition gave no reason for concern. "Pasat is receiving all necessary medical attention," Deputy Prosecutor-General Valeriu Gorbulya said. "Doctors are watching him and giving necessary consulting. He has undergone medical examination, and his condition is satisfactory," he added. BW

Dimitrij Rupel, the chairman in office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said he hopes recent elections in Ukraine and Moldova will create momentum for a settlement in the Transdniester region, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March. "The OSCE is committed to an idea of working out a peaceful political solution to the Dniester problem by preserving Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity and granting the Dniester region a special status," Rupel said during a visit to Moldova the same day. During his visit, Rupel met with President Voronin, opposition leaders, and Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov. Rupel said he "supports Moldova's wish to introduce an effective and transparent control over the Moldovan-Ukrainian border, primarily on the Dniester section." He also called on Tiraspol authorities "to refrain from unilateral actions, which can heighten tension, and [to] guarantee members of the OSCE Mission free movement over the region." BW

Negotiations between the United Iraqi Alliance and Kurdistan Coalition lists reportedly reached an impasse on 12 March, just one day before the two groups were expected to formalize a preliminary agreement reached on 10 March for the formation of a transitional government. Despite last-minute talks on 14 March, the two sides look unlikely to reach agreement on the composition of a new government before the transitional National Assembly holds its first session on 16 March. The impasse will effectively leave the interim cabinet of Iyad Allawi in power until an agreement can be reached.

The vaguely worded preliminary agreement did not provide the Kurds with the guarantees they were hoping for in the transitional government. The sticking points in the negotiations reportedly centered around issues related to the status of Kirkuk; the peshmerga control over northern Iraq; and the distribution of ministries. Kurds have also reportedly demanded control over oil revenues from Kirkuk in addition to 25 percent of the central government's budget.

The preliminary agreement worked out last week reportedly calls for postponing a resolution to the Kirkuk dispute until after the ratification of a permanent constitution, but it appears that the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurds have contradictory interpretations on how to implement Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law. The Kurds have called for the repatriation of Kurds displaced from the city under the "Arabization" policy of the Saddam Hussein regime, and for the eventual inclusion of Kirkuk into a federal Kurdistan.

Article 58 (b) of the law states that the Presidency Council should make recommendations to the transitional assembly to remedy the "unjust changes" of administrative boundaries imposed by the Hussein regime. If the council cannot unanimously agree on a set of recommendations, it should appoint a neutral arbitrator to carry out the task. Should the Presidency Council fail to agree on an arbitrator, it should ask the UN secretary-general to appoint an international official to be the arbitrator. Clause C of Article 58 states, "The permanent resolution of disputed territories, including Kirkuk, shall be deferred until after these measures are completed, a fair and transparent census has been conducted, and the permanent constitution has been ratified."

Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Mas'ud Barzani has claimed, however, that an agreement should be reached on Kirkuk before the constitution is ratified. He told Al-Arabiyah television in an 11 March interview: "We must reach agreement on these issues, mainly the issue of Kirkuk, now. The issue of Kirkuk cannot at all be postponed" until after the constitution is ratified. When pressed by Al-Arabiyah, Barzani contended: "Historically and geographically, Kirkuk is part of Kurdistan. We are not demanding anything that is not legal or realistic. Kirkuk is an Iraqi city but with a Kurdish identity. We demand the implementation of Article 58 of the law."

Kurds have also demanded that the Iraqi Army seek permission from Kurdistan's parliament before it enters Kurdish areas. Barzani told Al-Arabiyah: "If Kurdistan is exposed to a foreign threat or a threat that is greater than the power of the internal security forces in the Kurdistan region, the Iraqi Army can certainly come and help." Jalal Talabani addressed the demand in the context of Kurdish suffering at the hands of the Hussein regime, telling Al-Arabiyah on 13 March: "This is an outstanding demand endorsed by the Kurdish parliament due to our bitter experiences. If there are no dangers posed to Iraq, such as a danger of foreign invasion or an enormous terrorist danger, there is no justification for the arrival of the army to Kurdistan without obtaining an approval by the Kurdistan National Assembly."

Shi'ite leaders call the demand extreme, adding that the central government has the right to dispatch the military to all parts of Iraq. "We told them that this is against federal law anywhere in the world," quoted Islamic Al-Da'wah party negotiator Jawad al-Maliki as saying on 14 March.

The parties also failed to agree on the distribution of ministries in the transitional government. In addition to the presidency, Kurds reportedly want to control two of the five most powerful ministries (foreign, oil, interior, finance, defense), a sticking point for the Shi'a, who say that the Kurds had a disproportionate share of posts in the interim government.

Interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told Al-Sharqiyah television in an 11 March interview that the Kurdistan Coalition has a "clear stance on the ministries," adding, "We believe [that] we have the necessary qualified people who can serve this country." Salih confirmed that Kurds want to maintain control of the Foreign Ministry (Kurdish leader Hoshyar al-Zebari is the interim foreign minister). He would not confirm reports, however, that Kurds are vying for appointments in other ministries, saying, "I will not reveal our cards in the negotiations."

Kurdish and United Iraqi Alliance officials have given divergent views on the seriousness of the current impasse, with many saying they expect an agreement to be reached in the coming days. If the issue is not resolved, public support for the transitional government will deteriorate. A number of Iraqi newspapers last week cited the public's growing frustration over the delay in forming the new government. Elected candidates have also voiced concern over the delay. On 12 March, a number of United Iraqi Alliance members threatened to collectively resign from the transitional assembly if the alliance and the Kurds failed to agree on the formation of the government within 72 hours.

The alliance won a majority of the vote in the 30 January's National Assembly elections, but will need the Kurds to secure a two-thirds majority in parliament. The Kurds, for their part, do not want to miss what they view as a historic opportunity to obtain rights denied to them under previous Iraqi governments. As negotiations continue, the Kurds have said that they will work to bring other groups into the negotiations, in an apparent effort to gain support for their demands. In return, the Kurds could lend their support for Sunnis to assume some high-level posts in the transitional government.

Latifullah Hakimi, a neo-Taliban spokesman, said the militia will continue its insurgency despite a slowdown in violence in recent months, Russia's RIA-Novosti reported on 14 March. "As soon as the weather changes, the snow melts, and the cold season is over, our attacks will be intensified," Hakimi said in a telephone interview with the news agency. Hakimi said Taliban spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar still heads the movement. "We believe that our campaign is quite a success, and intend to achieve better results. The resistance to the pro-American authorities is mounting," Hakimi said. Hakimi also said that efforts by the Afghan government and U.S. military forces to negotiate a peace with guerilla groups did not involve fighters loyal to Mullah Omar. "We did not initiate any talks with the pro-American government of Afghanistan and did not delegate anyone to negotiate on our behalf," Hakimi said. "The people who are allegedly in talks with the pro-American government in reality represent themselves only." MR

Afghan authorities arrested three suspected neo-Taliban insurgents after a gunfight in southeastern Afghanistan, AFP reported on 14 March. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi identified the three as Esmatullah, Mullah Jan Mohammad, and Mullah Abdul Karim. The three men were captured on 14 March in the Arghandab District of Zabul Province, Azimi said. "They were Taliban. When they were arrested they were armed," he added. Azimi said Afghan National Army soldiers have "cleared the area" of insurgents but offered no further details about the incident. Two civilians were reportedly wounded in the clash. MR

Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said Afghanistan will not legalize opium production for medicinal use despite proposals to do so, AFP reported on 14 March. "We cannot just legalize it," Jalali said. The Senlis Council, a drug-policy think tank, urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai in December to consider allowing opium production for use in medicines. Afghanistan is already the world's leading producer of opium. "Changing this and legalizing it from my view is not that easy and is not possible," Jalali told reporters in Kabul. He added that drug money "finances crime, terrorism, and also using this money some groups form private militia." According to UN statistics, Afghanistan produces 87 percent of the world's opium. An estimated 2.3 million Afghan farmers grow poppies, which can be worth up to 10 times more than other crops. Countries such as Australia, France, Turkey, and India produce opium legally under a UN licensing program. MR

President Karzai launched a road-reconstruction project on 14 March in the Panjsher Valley, north of Kabul, AP reported. "I've been waiting for this moment for a long time," Karzai said, addressing more than 100 elders from the valley and neighboring provinces at an outdoor ceremony near the road. "God will help us to carry out this kind of project all over the country." The U.S.-funded project will resurface the 70-kilometer-long road into the Panjsher Valley, where largely ethnic Tajik forces of the former United Front (aka Northern Alliance) opposed the Taliban regime throughout its rule of Afghanistan. The inauguration ceremony for the project reflected an effort by Karzai, an ethnic Pashtun, to reach out to the area, which largely voted against him in the October 2004 presidential election. Karzai allied himself with ethnic Tajiks from the Panjsher Valley when he headed the Transitional Administration, but he distanced himself from the group during his presidential campaign, and local leaders accuse Karzai's government of withholding reconstruction aid. MR

President George W. Bush on 10 March extended the "national emergency with respect to Iran" because of Iran's support for terrorism, its active opposition to the Middle East peace process, and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, according to the State Department website ( (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 March 2004). The national emergency regarding Iran was declared in Executive Order 12957 of 15 March 1995. It is distinct from the national emergency declared by President Jimmy Carter on 14 November 1979 by Executive Order 12170, "to deal with the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States constituted by the situation in Iran" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 November 2004). Extension of Executive Order 12957 continues the ban on U.S. investment in Iran's energy sector. BS

The Iranian legislature at its 9 March session approved a special budget for discovering and countering U.S. plots and attempts to interfere in the country's domestic affairs, IRNA reported. The size of the budget was not disclosed. The legislation permits the cabinet to dispense up to 9 billion rials (approximately $1.14 million) to any foreign country or organization that acts in accordance with the objectives of the law. The budget can also be used for informing the public about the American "cultural onslaught," filing complaints against the United States in international courts, and filing complaints on behalf of victims of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War. The "Los Angeles Times" reported on 4 March that the White House is trying to determine how to use a $3 million budget to foster opposition activities in Iran. BS

Two hundred employees of a refrigerator assembly factory in Luristan Province demonstrated in front of the governorate in Khoramabad on 14 March, Radio Farda reported. The workers complained that since the factory was privatized in 2003 they have not received their wages or benefits on a regular basis and now it is five months since they were paid. The workers said that the factory does not get raw materials, so it cannot manufacture refrigerators. One of the workers, Morad Davudi, urged the government to pay attention to their demands. There have been several incidents of labor and student unrest in Iran in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 March 2005). BS

Former President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani continues to hold off on making a firm commitment to running in the June 2005 presidential election, saying on 14 March, "I have complete readiness for candidacy in the elections, but I believe it is [too] early to make a decision," IRNA reported. He predicted that viable candidates will emerge and he will not need to run for the post he held from 1989-1997. He said on 13 March, "As we are getting closer to the election, I feel my responsibility is getting heavier," Mehr News Agency reported. BS

Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, chief of Iran's national police force, announced on 12 March that he is considering running in the June 2005 presidential election, IRNA reported. He identified three areas he would focus on -- the economy, foreign affairs, and "social capital." Referring to the economy, he said, "The people's buying power has not seen suitable growth; we have even seen stagnation in certain areas." Turning to foreign affairs, he said, "Given Iran's outstanding geo-political weight and the role which the country can play at the regional and global level, we have not properly tapped these capacities." And regarding the issue of "social capital," he said, "And in the area of protecting our social capital, we face challenges which make us lose our productive role in the fields of science, politics, economy and wealth as well as our social identity." Qalibaf said he would run if he could fulfill his objectives in these areas. BS

Some 51.3 percent of the 7,100 people polled in East Azerbaijan, Fars, Hormozgan, Isfahan, Kermanshah, Khorasan, Khuzestan, Mazandaran, Sistan va Baluchistan, Tehran, and Yazd provinces said they will "definitely" vote in the June 2005 presidential election, "Iran" newspaper reported on 13 March. The Islamic Republic News Agency conducted the poll, in which 38.2 percent said they favor the reformists, and 37.4 percent said the president's political tendency is irrelevant to them. 56.6 percent said they do not care if the president is a cleric. According to the same survey, IRNA reported on 13 and 14 March, the favorite candidates are Hashemi-Rafsanjani, former parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. None of the candidates would win an outright 50 percent or more, however, and this would necessitate a second round in the election. BS

Representatives of the United Iraqi Alliance and Kurdistan Coalition lists reportedly held last-minute talks on 14 March in an effort to reach agreement on the composition of the transitional government ahead of the transitional National Assembly's inaugural session this week, international media reported on 15 March. Media reports on 13 March had indicated that the parties would not meet again until after the convening of parliament. Commenting on the talks, Kurdish negotiator and interim Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih said, "The basic Kurdish demands are not about the Kurds only but the whole of Iraq, we are working for an Iraqi process -- a coalition government that respects the constitution," AP reported. Kurdish leader and presidential nominee Jalal Talabani said the Kurds are "not interested in the government posts" and instead are "more interested in Kurdistan and Iraq's interests." Alliance member Husayn al-Shahristani expressed optimism over the talks: "The specified document has been agreed upon. Some simple linguistic changes have been general our stances are extremely similar, previous agreements remain in place, and everyone is looking forward to going to the National Assembly." KR

The interim government announced on 14 March that security forces have arrested several relatives of Qusay Hussein in an 8 March raid in Tikrit, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on the same day. Among the arrested are Abdallah Mahir Abd al-Rashid, brother-in-law to Hussein, and Abdallah's cousin, Marwan Tahir Abd al-Rashid, who is a former bodyguard of Saddam Hussein. The two are accused of financing terrorist operations and launching attacks on Iraqi security forces. The arrests were based on information provided by Iraqi citizens. KR

One hundred fifty Dutch soldiers returned home on 14 March in the first phase of a complete pullout, AFP reported on the same day. The Netherlands currently has some 1,400 troops in Iraq. They will be replaced by British troops in the Al-Muthanna Governorate. The pullout is expected to be completed by mid-April. About 7,000 Dutch soldiers have rotated through Iraq since 2003, AFP reported. KR

A U.S. Government Accounting Office (GAO) audit has determined that U.S. commanders and administration officials have inflated the number of trained Iraqi security forces, reported on 15 March. The latest Pentagon figures said that 142,000 Iraqis had been trained as police and soldiers. The GAO said these numbers include tens of thousands of policemen who had left their jobs without explanation, the website said. The GAO report also said that the State Department stopped providing government auditors with information about the number of Iraqi troops who have been issued flak jackets, weapons, and communications equipment six months ago. GAO Director of International Affairs and Trade Joseph A. Christoff told the House Government Reform subcommittee on international relations on 14 March that unreliable data coming from Baghdad makes it difficult to accurately account for the billions of dollars being spent on the training of Iraqi security forces. "Without reliable information, Congress may find it difficult to judge how federal funds are achieving the goal of transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqis," Christoff said. KR

Four Iraqi civilians were killed and seven were wounded when a car bomb targeting a U.S. military convoy detonated on 15 March near a road leading to Baghdad International Airport, Police Captain Thamir Talib told AP, adding that two of the wounded were police officers. Unconfirmed witness reports said some U.S. troops were also wounded. A second car bomb detonated at the scene as U.S. forces attempted to evacuate the wounded. That blast reportedly wounded more troops, witnesses said. A U.S. military spokesman said he is looking into the reports. Earlier, a car bomb targeted an Iraqi army patrol in the area of Bab Al-Mu'azzam in Baghdad, international media reported. Al-Jazeera television said four people were wounded in the blast, while AP reported that one child was killed, in addition to the bomber. Police Colonel Muhannad Sa'dun said the bomber targeted a traffic police patrol but crashed into a tree by accident. Bab Al-Mu'azzam contains a compound of several hospitals, Sa'dun said. KR