PUTIN, EUROPEAN LEADERS CALL ON IRAN TO ADHERE TO NONPROLIFERATION STANDARDS...
At an 18 March press conference in Paris following a summit with French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, and Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, President Vladimir Putin said that summit participants had agreed that Iran's nuclear program must not violate international nonproliferation standards, RTR and Euronews reported. "At the same time, we are looking for a solution to this problem that does not harm Iran's interests in the peaceful development of nuclear energy. Israel and the United States oppose the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran for fear that Tehran is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. VY
...AND SAYS RUSSIA READY TO COOPERATE WITH EUROPE ON ARMS SALES TO CHINA
At the same 18 March press conference, Putin raised the issue of revoking a European embargo on the sale of arms to China, Russian and international media reported. Washington also opposes such a move, "Russia supplies a lot of weapons to China and the fewer competitors we have in this market, the better," Putin said. "But if the Europeans decide to come in, we will cooperate with them and we have some interesting ideas about such cooperation." Russian media noted that Russia, Germany, and France originally organized themselves as a bloc in opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and this year they met on the second anniversary of the beginning of that operation. This year, the group expanded to include Spain's prime minister "in order to help him withstand Washington's pressure over Madrid's opposition to the military operation in Iraq," TV-Tsentr commented on 19 March. VY
FRANCE, RUSSIA AGREE TO JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES
President Putin met in Paris with French President Chirac on 18 March and the two leaders visited a top-secret strategic-operations center in Taverny, ORT reported. Putin was the first foreigner ever to visit the center, which came as a reciprocal response to Chirac's tour of a similar center in Krasnoznamensk last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2004). The presidents agreed to hold joint military exercises in the fall. VY
PUTIN PLEASED BY KYIV TALKS
President Putin visited Kyiv on 19 March for talks with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Russian and international media reported. At a press conference, Putin said he was pleased by his talks with Yushchenko, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, and Verhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, RTR reported. "In my original statement, I had the phrase that we have different view on some issues, but now I retract it," Putin said. "We have different approaches, but the same understanding of the issues." Russian media generally downplayed the tension between Putin and Yushchenko and Tymoshenko, which came to the fore during last winter's presidential campaign in Ukraine. RTR highlighted Tymoshenko's pledge to Putin that Ukraine will cooperate with Russia in developing the Single Economic Space and that "Russia can rely on Ukraine's government." VY
CHUBAIS SAYS HE KNOWS WHO TRIED TO KILL HIM...
In 20 March interviews with ORT and RTR, Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais said he "knows for certain" who ordered the 17 March attempt on his life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March 2005). He said that he has divulged this information to investigators and to President Putin, adding that he cannot disclose the information publicly except to say that the suspect lives in Russia. Chubais rejected any possible economic motivation for the crime. "The period of the most difficult discussions of EES reforms within the government is already behind us," Chubais said. "Therefore, this issue is no longer acute." Chubais added that "simple hatred" could be the motive for the attack on him. Asked whether the attack will have any impact on his activity, Chubais said "I will now much more intensively and aggressively work within EES and for the consolidation of the democratic forces." VY
...AS MOSCOW COURT SANCTIONS ARREST OF SUSPECT...
Moscow's Basmannyi Raion Court on 18 March sanctioned the arrest for 10 days of retired Russian military intelligence Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, who was arrested late on 17 March in connection with the Chubais incident, NTV and other Russian media reported. Kvachkov, who owns a country house next door to Chubais's house in a village outside of Moscow, is a highly decorated officer who commanded a special-forces brigade in Afghanistan during the Soviet war there and who has lectured since his retirement at the General Staff, newsru.com reported. He also played himself in a movie about Afghanistan called "Black Shark" and has written a book called "Russia's Special Forces" ("Spetsnaz Rossii"). VY
...WHILE DOUBTS ABOUT HIS INVOLVEMENT CONTINUE
An anonymous law enforcement source told strana.ru on 18 March that it seems unlikely that a specialist of Kvachkov's caliber would have made so many mistakes in carrying out such an assassination attempt. The source mentioned that Kvachkov allegedly used his wife's car to commit the crime and then left it in its usual parking spot. "Don't expect that investigators will tell journalists the truth," the source said. They have simply arrested the first person who came to hand in order to demonstrate their vigilance while they look for the real perpetrators, the source said. In his interview with ORT and RTR, Chubais said he does "not want to comment on the alleged involvement of the GRU officer." VY
NEW PROTESTS OF SOCIAL REFORMS HELD IN MOSCOW, TOLYATTI
The Motherland party held a rally in central Moscow on 19 March to protest various social reforms, including the monetization of in-kind benefits and the introduction of compulsory car insurance, lenta.ru reported. Party organizers claimed that some 9,000 people, mostly pensioners and youths, took part. Interfax put the total participants at 3,500, while Moscow police said 2,000. Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin told the crowd that the "main problem facing Russia is not [Al-Qaeda leader Osama] bin Laden or [radical Chechen field commander] Shamil Basaev, but a corrupt bureaucracy." Also on 19 March, some 2,000 people gathered in Tolyatti in Samara Oblast to protest the monetization policy. That protest was organized by the "national-patriotic movement" National Alliance, VolgaInform reported. Similar protests were held in Tolyatti and Samara in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 January 2005). JAC
POLLSTERS FIND BLAGOVESHCHENSK INCIDENT INCREASING FEAR OF POLICE
A survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation (fom.ru) on 5-6 March found that 41 percent of respondents are afraid of becoming victims of police violence, the foundation's website reported on 17 March. Forty-six percent of youthful respondents said they are afraid, compared with 31 percent of the elderly. Respondents who knew about the police raids in December in Blagoveshchensk were more afraid than those who didn't; some 17 percent of respondents knew about the alleged police violence there. Fifty-six percent of those who had heard about the incident believe that similar events could take place in their regions. The survey was conducted among 1,500 respondents in 44 regions. JAC
KHODORKOVSKII CALLS FOR COMPROMISE AT AN EMBATTLED WEEKLY
Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii called on "Moskovskie novosti" Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev and the seven leading journalists that he fired earlier this month to find a compromise, RIA-Novosti reported on 18 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2005). Speaking through his attorney, Khodorkovskii said he is grieved that people he sincerely respects cannot come to an agreement. He called on the parties to forget their resentments and negotiate a compromise. On 18 March, the fired journalists issued a publication entitled "MN bez [without] Kiseleva." On the front page of the publication, the journalists published an open letter to Khodorkovskii, whom they called the main proprietor and spiritual leader of the journalists' collective, Ekho Moskvy reported. JAC
ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON AZERBAIJANI DIASPORA LEADER FAILS
An unknown assailant on 18 March fired bullets at a car carrying National Cultural Autonomous Federation of Azerbaijanis in Russia leader Soyun Sadykov, RIA-Novosti and gazeta.ru reported. Sadykov was not injured, but his driver received gunshot wounds to the shoulder and head. Sadykov is also the chairman of the Karabakh charitable fund, which assists Azerbaijani refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh. The vice president of Sadykov's organization, Dzhamil Sadykhbekov, told newsinfo.ru that Sadykov has been planning a celebration on 14 May of the 200th anniversary of the joining of the Azerbaijani khanate with Russia. Sadykhbekov said Armenia does not look favorably on this celebration. He denied that there is any kind of internal struggle within the Azerbaijani diaspora. Gazeta.ru reported that Sadykov's banking activities also might have attracted hostility. He was chairman of the board of directors of Moszhilstroibank, which lost its license in 2004 and has had trouble repaying its creditors and customers. JAC
KAMCHATKA GOVERNOR UNDER PRESSURE
Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev collapsed because of an asthma attack on 18 March while conducting an oblast administration meeting on fuel-supply problems, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported. Mashkovtsev's press secretary said the governor's doctors attributed the collapse to "chronic fatigue" brought on by working 12-14 hours a day without ever taking a day off. The previous day Mashkovtsev appealed to Kamchatka residents to support a referendum merging Kamchatka with Koryak Autonomous Okrug. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 March, Mashkovtsev previously did not support such a merger. The daily speculated that Mashkovtsev could be concerned about two new criminal cases that have been launched against him. Politcom.ru noted that the recently appointed acting governor of Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Oleg Kozhemyako, participated in the last gubernatorial election in Kamchatka Oblast with the support of the presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2004). JAC
STATE COUNCIL MEMBERS ROTATED
President Putin appointed on 17 March new members of the State Council's presidium, ITAR-TASS reported. The seven members serve six-month terms. The new members are Penza Oblast Governor Vasilii Bochkarev, Kalmykia President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, Amur Oblast Governor Leonid Korotkov, Tuva President Sherig-ool Oorzhak, Komi Republic President Vladmir Torpolov, Khanty-Mansii Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Filipenko, and Kostroma Oblast Governor Viktor Shershunov. JAC
NEW ARMENIAN AMBASSADOR TO WASHINGTON APPOINTED
Armenian President Robert Kocharian appointed Tatul Markarian on 19 March as Armenia's new ambassador to the United States, Mediamax reported. The 41-year-old Markarian previously served as a senior Armenian diplomat in Washington for four years in the mid-1990s and has been a deputy foreign minister since June 2000. He has significant experience in mediation talks with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. RG
COMMITTEE REJECTS PROPOSED LIMIT ON POWERS OF ARMENIAN OMBUDSMAN
The Armenian parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee rejected a proposal on 18 March that would have curtailed the powers of the country's ombudsman, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Larisa Alaverdian was appointed to the post of ombudsman, a senior position empowered to monitor and enforce state compliance with human rights standards, by President Robert Kocharian last year as part of Armenia's obligations as a member of the Council of Europe. The proposal, drafted by Justice Minister David Harutiunian, would have sharply restricted Alaverdian's right of full access to court documents. RG
AVOWED ANTI-SEMITE SENTENCED BY ARMENIAN COURT
An Armenian district court handed down a three-year suspended sentence on 18 March to self-avowed anti-Semite and leader of the marginal Armenian Aryan Union, Armen Avetisian, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Arminfo. Avetisian was arrested in late January for "inciting racial hatred" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 January 2005). Judge Gayane Karakhanian imposed a lenient sentence due to the defendant's lack of a criminal record. RG
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ISSUES PARDON FOR POLITICAL PRISONERS
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on 20 March pardoning 115 prisoners, Turan and Interfax reported. The prisoners, including 53 who are considered by the Council of Europe to be political prisoners, include three leaders of the opposition Musavat party and leaders of two other political opposition parties. The release of the political prisoners follows a demand by a Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly delegation that was in Baku last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2005). RG
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH CHINESE LEADERS
In Beijing on a state visit, President Aliyev met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and other senior officials on 18 March, Turan and "Baku Today" reported. Aliyev discussed plans for expanding cooperation and increasing Chinese investment in the Azerbaijani energy, transport, and agriculture sectors. The Chinese agreed to send a commercial delegation to Azerbaijan next month. RG
GEORGIAN COAST GUARD DETAINS RUSSIAN TANKER
Georgian Coast Guard units detained a Russian tanker late on 19 March outside the port of Batumi for "violating navigation rules," ITAR-TASS reported. The ship's 15-member crew was allowed to go ashore, although the owner must pay a 50,000 lari ($27,000) fine before the vessel is released. The Georgian coast guard has detained more than 30 foreign vessels for similar violations over the last two years, including another Russian ship in June 2004. RG
GEORGIAN HUNGER STRIKERS HOSPITALIZED
Ten medical students participating in an ongoing hunger strike in Tbilisi were hospitalized late on 19 March, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The students from the Tbilisi Medical College were demanding an exemption to the new law on higher education to admit them to the state Medical University without the required entrance examinations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 14 March 2005). RG
U.S. EXTENDS NEW AID TO GEORGIAN POLICE...
In a special ceremony, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli and U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles signed an agreement on 18 March on the terms of a new $4 million U.S. aid program for Georgian law enforcement agencies, Civil Georgia and Rustavi-2 television reported. The U.S. aid will be used to purchase advanced communications equipment and to fund special operations and training for the Georgian Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and Justice Ministry. RG
...AND TO GEORGIAN COAST GUARD
The United States also announced on 18 March that it will provide additional aid to the Georgian Coast Guard, Civil Georgia reported. The $160,000 in U.S. aid is to be provided under the Georgian Border Security and Law Enforcement Program and will finance the construction of a modern radar post in the village of Anaklia on the Black Sea coast. The new radar station, to be supplemented by another station to be constructed in Adjara next month, will be linked to another monitoring facility near the port of Supsa and will provide the Coast Guard an expanded surveillance network of Georgian territorial waters. RG
POLICE RESTORE CALM IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA
Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili announced on 18 March that police have restored calm in a southern Georgian village after ethnic clashes erupted the day before, Rustavi-2 television reported. More than 14 people were injured in clashes in the village of Avralo, near Tsalka, between local Armenian and Greek residents and Georgians who were resettled in the area from Adjara (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2005). Merabishvili stated, "we are in control of the situation," and added that tension was defused after the arrival of a special-purpose police detachment that was deployed in Tsalka. RG
KAZAKH PREMIER VISITS FLOOD-STRICKEN SOUTH
Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov visited flood-stricken regions of southern Kazakhstan on 18 March and promised displaced residents that the government will rebuild their homes, Kazakh TV1 reported. In South Kazakhstan Province, Akhmetov noted that 900 people have lost their homes in flooding and ordered the construction of new dwellings within three months. The prime minister also said that water accords are needed with neighboring Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to prevent flooding in the future. A regional commission estimated damage from flooding in Zhambyl Province at 2.3 billion tenges ($17.7 million), Khabar Television reported; Kazakh TV1 reported that damage in Qyzylorda Province exceeds 800 million tenges ($6.5 million). DK
U.S., KAZAKH FORCES FINISH ANTITERRORISM EXERCISE
Kazakh Defense Minister Mukhtar Altynbaev participated in the official closing of the Balance Assistance-2005 joint Kazakh-U.S. military exercises at the Ile firing range on 19 March, Kazinform reported. The 1-18 March exercises involved Kazakh airborne units and U.S. special forces and focused on planning and reconnaissance during antiterrorism operations. "These training exercises are useful because U.S. forces have been involved in fighting and they are experienced," Altynbaev said "They showed in detail how to use modern telecommunications devices and trained our military specialists," Khabar television reported. The exercises took place under a five-year Kazakh-U.S. military-cooperation plan signed on 12 September 2003. DK
KAZAKH OPPOSITION SELECTS SINGLE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Representatives of Kazakhstan's opposition selected Zharmakhan Tuyakbai as the single opposition candidate at a meeting in Almaty on 20 March, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The meeting also approved the creation of a bloc of democratic forces called For a Just Kazakhstan, to be headed by Tuyakbai. The bloc's 57-member managing body includes opposition leaders Akezhan Kazhegeldin and Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov. A total of 590 delegates took part in the conference that selected Tuyakbai, who was a member of the ruling Otan party and an ally of President Nursultan Nazarbaev until October 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19-21 October 2004). The presidential election is officially scheduled for December 2006, although there has been considerable speculation that it might be held early (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2005). DK
KYRGYZ POLICE STORM PROTESTORS IN JALAL-ABAD, OSH...
Early on the morning of 20 March, Kyrgyz riot police stormed provincial administrative offices in Jalal-Abad and Osh to evict protestors who had occupied the buildings, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Antigovernment demonstrators demanding the resignation of President Askar Akaev and the holding of new parliamentary elections had seized the offices in Jalal-Abad on 4 March, and in Osh on 18 March. At an opposition rally in Osh on 19 March, Anvar Artykov, a representative of the opposition bloc Ata-Jurt, was named "people's governor"; a similar gathering was held earlier in Jalal-Abad. The official Kabar news agency initially reported no casualties during the police operation to retake the government buildings, but a local human rights activist told fergana.ru that at least 50 people were injured in Osh. Police arrested and later released Anvar Artykov, fergana.ru reported. Although initial reports by akipress.org said that nearly 200 protesters were detained, it remained unclear whether any protestors were still being held later on 20 March. DK
...SETTING OFF VIOLENT REACTION IN JALAL-ABAD...
After police regained control of provincial administrative offices in Jalal-Abad and Osh, a crowd of more than 10,000 protestors gathered in Jalal-Abad on 20 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Protestors seized and burned local police offices and later took control of the mayor's office and the airport, akipress.org and RFE/RL reported. Fearing the arrival of additional government forces, protestors blocked the runways at the airport, akipress.org reported. Police fired warning shots into the air, but did not fire at demonstrators, RFE/RL reported. Subsequent reports on fergana.ru indicated that by the end of 20 March, Jalal-Abad was largely under the control of the protestors. DK
...AMID CONFLICTING REPORTS ON CASUALTIES
Several unconfirmed reports said that 4-10 people were killed during the violence on 20 March, but government spokesmen denied any fatalities, news agencies reported. Interfax quoted an anonymous law enforcement source in Jalal-Abad as saying that up to 10 people were dead, and a report on lenta.ru, citing an anonymous source in Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service, claimed that demonstrators had beaten four police officers to death. But in televised comments on 21 March, Bolot Januzakov, deputy head of the presidential administration, and State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov denied all reports of fatalities during the events on 20 March, akipress.org reported. Reports of injuries varied. Aziza Abdrasulova, head of the Kylym Shamy NGO, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that 30 people were hospitalized with injuries after clashes in Jalal-Abad and Osh on 20 March. DK
KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT, OPPOSITION DISCUSS TALKS...
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev announced on 20 March that he had spoken with Bektur Asanov, an opposition leader in Jalal-Abad, and agreed that the government and opposition will hold talks, Kabar reported. But opposition leader Kurmanbek Bakiev said on 20 March the opposition will only agree to talks on the condition that President Akaev take part in them, lenta.ru reported. Ishenkul Boljurova, deputy chairperson of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told Interfax on 21 March, "on the afternoon of 20 March, a letter was given to the [Kyrgyz] leadership through OSCE representatives on holding talks." A number of opposition sources claimed on 20 March that Akaev had left the country, but officials later denied those reports, Kabar and akipress.org reported. The Coordinating Council of National Unity, an umbrella opposition group, issued a statement on 20 March on its website (http://www.unitedcoalition.org/) condemning Akaev's "war against his own people" and calling on the people "to act everywhere against Akaev's clannish, corrupt, mafia regime." DK
...AND INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CALLS FOR RESTRAINT
The OSCE and U.S. State Department have expressed concern over recent developments in Kyrgyzstan and called for restraint. In a statement on 20 March published on the OSCE website (www.osce.org), Markus Muller, head of the OSCE Center in Bishkek, stated, "it would be wrong to believe that the demonstrations are without certain real justifications." But he added, "The OSCE Center in Bishkek invites both the authorities and the opposition to engage in such a dialogue aimed at understanding the situation and identifying a viable solution to the present differences within the framework provided by the law." In a 20 March statement (http://www.state.gov), the U.S. State Department expressed concern at the violence and called on all parties in Kyrgyzstan to "engage in dialogue and resolve differences peacefully and according to the rule of law." DK
TAJIK ELECTION COMMISSION REJECTS REPEAT ELECTIONS, OPPOSITION LEADER SAYS
Rahmatullo Valiev, deputy head of the Democratic Party, told the BBC on 18 March that Tajikistan's Central Election Commission (CEC) has rejected the party's call for repeat elections. The Democratic Party, Communist Party, Islamic Renaissance Party, and Social-Democratic Party had filed a complaint with the CEC citing violations in 27 February parliamentary elections and asking for repeat elections in Dushanbe. The newly elected parliament, in which the ruling People's Democratic Party holds a commanding majority, held its first session on 17 March. DK
RIGHTS GROUPS ASK UN TO APPOINT SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON TURKMENISTAN
In a 17 March letter, a group of NGOs asked Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn to introduce a resolution to the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights condemning Turkmenistan's human rights record and calling for the appointment of a special rapporteur. The letter, which was published on the website of Human Rights Watch (http://www.hrw.org), was signed by representatives of Human Rights Watch, the International Helsinki Federation, the International League for Human Rights, Memorial Human Rights Center, the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation, and other NGOs. Stating that the "extent of Turkmenistan's noncompliance with the international human rights instruments to which it is party is appalling," the letter concludes: "With no significant positive response by Turkmenistan to the series of resolutions already passed, and developments such as the hospital closure announcement opening up new areas for grave concern, the international community must show that it is now prepared to step up the pressure." DK
REPORTS INDICATE UZBEKISTAN REFUSES U.S. INSTITUTE ACCREDITATION
Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry has denied accreditation to the U.S.-based International Republican Institute (IRI), RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 18 March. Although there has been no official announcement, a Justice Ministry spokesperson did not deny the report when contacted by RFE/RL. If confirmed, the denial of accreditation would add IRI to a list of international organizations no longer active in Uzbekistan. In 2004, the Soros Foundation and Internews were also denied registration in Uzbekistan. DK
CIS COUNCIL OF FOREIGN MINISTERS MEETS IN MINSK
Delegations of the Foreign Ministries of the 12 member countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) gathered in Minsk on March 18 to hold a session with 21 items on the agenda, Belapan reported. The delegations of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Moldova were led by deputy foreign ministries; Uzbekistan was represented by an acting permanent representative to the CIS; the other six delegations were led by the foreign ministers. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who met with the CIS delegations before their forum, suggested revising the agreement on the CIS formation and identifying CIS cooperation areas once again. "[The CIS has turned into] something incomprehensible," Lukashenka said. "We make decisions, but none of them is in fact executed." JM
BELARUSIAN VENDORS' LEADER ACCUSED OF HOOLIGANISM
Police have charged Anatol Shumchanka, leader of the Perspektyva association of small retail traders, with hooliganism for allegedly beating his cellmate, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 18 March, quoting Shumchanka's lawyer, Alyaksandr Haliyeu. Shumchanka, who was jailed for 10 days on the charge of organizing an unsanctioned protest of vendors against an 18-percent value-added tax on Russian imports on 1 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2005), was not released after 10 days but placed in a pretrial detention center. Shumchanka claims that the new charge, which may carry punishment of up to two years in prison, is a provocation by the authorities. "He [Shumchanka] says he had no conflict with his cellmate," Haliyeu told journalists. JM
BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES SAID TO DISRUPT OPPOSITION CONVENTION
Some 200 delegates to a merger congress of the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly) and Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly were denied booked rooms to hold the forum in a state-run motel outside Minsk on 19 March for "technical reasons," Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The delegates were subsequently bussed to an entertainment complex in downtown Minsk to have lunch but were again barred entry. Former Belarusian State University Rector Alyaksandr Kazulin, who was expected to be elected chairman of a united party (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2005), accused the authorities of deliberately disrupting the convention. "They are simply afraid of us, [they] are even afraid of serving us meals," he noted. Kazulin added that the two parties will hold a new merger convention in a couple of weeks. JM
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT MENDS FENCES WITH KYIV...
Russian President Vladimir Putin met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, in Kyiv on 19 March, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. It was Putin's first visit to Ukraine following last year's Orange Revolution that lifted Yushchenko to the presidency in a dramatic battle against Moscow-backed presidential hopeful Viktor Yanukovych. "Our meeting today demonstrates our common desire to see our bilateral relations be constructive," Yushchenko told journalists. "Widening our bilateral cooperation will depend in large part on how successful we are in forming a Single Economic Space," Putin said. "I am convinced that if we can effectively implement this idea, it will give our countries more opportunities for developing trade and mutual investments in order to strengthen the competitiveness of our economies." Apart from the Single Economic Space, both leaders discussed a common gas transportation project, the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, common energy projects, border issues, military and technical cooperation, the Transdniester conflict, and humanitarian and cultural issues. JM
...AND INVITES CONTROVERSIAL PREMIER TO MOSCOW
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko has said Russian President Putin invited her to pay a visit to Moscow during their meeting in Kyiv on 19 March, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 21 March. According to Tymoshenko, the visit will contribute to developing cooperation between both countries on the level of state leaders and governmental commissions. According to Interfax, Putin assured Tymoshenko that Ukraine's participation in the planned Single Economic Space with Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan would not contradict Kyiv's aspirations to join the EU. Russian prosecutors reportedly issued an international arrest warrant for Tymoshenko last year, suspecting her of bribing Russian Defense Ministry officials when she headed Ukraine's Unified Energy Systems from 1995-97. JM
PROSECUTORS SAY UKRAINIAN MISSILES WERE SMUGGLED, NOT EXPORTED TO IRAN, CHINA
The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office dismissed as untrue in a 18 March statement a "Financial Times" report on the same day that quoted Prosecutor-General Svatoslav Piskun as saying that Ukraine exported 18 cruise missiles to Iran and China in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2005), Interfax reported. According to the statement, the missiles in question were smuggled out of Ukraine without official approval. The Security Service of Ukraine, the statement adds, has launched a criminal case against V. Yevdokimov, director of the Ukraviyazamovlennya company, who is suspected of involvement in the smuggling. JM
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY CALLS ON MEMBER OF BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY TO RESIGN
Ambassadors of the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC) on 20 March called on Dragan Covic, who is the Croatian member of the joint Bosnian Presidency, to resign due to corruption charges leveled against him, FENA reported. The PIC is the top body charged with overseeing the 1995 Dayton peace agreements. The embassies of the United States and Canada, as well as the local EU representative, have issued separate statements calling for Covic's resignation, FENA reported. In related news, the Constitutional Court of Bosnia has ruled that its head, Mate Tadic, who is also charged with corruption in the same case as Covic, cannot be dismissed, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 19 March. The court cited legal provisions according to which judges can only be dismissed before the end of their term if they are sentenced to prison terms. On 10 March, the Bosnian Supreme Court had confirmed the indictment of Covic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 March 2005). UB
EU CONSIDERS REDUCTION OF PEACEKEEPING FORCE IN BOSNIA
Luc Frieden, who is the defense minister of Luxembourg, said after an informal meeting of the EU's defense ministers in Luxembourg on 18 March that the ministers discussed the future of the 6,300-strong EU-led EUFOR (aka Althea) peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, according to the official website of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the European Union (http://www.eu2005.lu). "We are very satisfied with this mission, which is a test for the European Union," Frieden said. "The fact that it has functioned well allows us to draw some lessons from this operation for other future interventions, and in the months to come we will see, in view of the changes in Bosnia, but also in the region, if it will be necessary to maintain operation [Althea] at this level. For now it is functioning well and will remain in place in its current form." UB
BOSNIAN SERBIAN WAR CRIMES INDICTEE SURRENDERS
Vinko Pandurevic, the former commander of the Bosnian Serb army's Zvornik brigade, reportedly surrendered to the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal on 20 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported, quoting Serbian government sources. Pandurevic is indicted for war crimes in connection with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre of up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males. Pandurevic's decision followed several days of negotiations with representatives of the Republika Srpska government and with Republika Srpska Interior Minister Darko Matijasevic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2002 and 13 and 14 December 2004). UB
KOSOVAR PRESIDENT NOMINATES NEW PRIME MINISTER
Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova nominated on 18 March acting Environment Minister Bajram Kosumi as new prime minister of Kosova, the "Southeast European Times" and KosovaLive reported. The move was necessary since Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj resigned on 8 March following his indictment by the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Haradinaj himself had proposed that Kosumi succeed him. Kosumi is also the deputy chairman of Haradinaj's Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK). It is expected that the AAK will continue to govern together with Rugova's Democratic League of Kosova (LDK). Kosumi has yet to be elected by the parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 9, and 10 March 2005). UB
KOSOVARS SIGN PETITION FOR FORMER PREMIER'S RELEASE
More than 130,000 Kosovars have signed a petition demanding that the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal release indicted former Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj until the trial against him begins, RFE/RL South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 20 March. UB
PROSECUTORS CHARGE MOLDOVA'S EX-DEFENSE MINISTER
Moldova's Prosecutor General on 18 March charged former defense minister Valeriu Pasat with abuse of power in connection with the 1997 sale of 21 fighter jets to the United States, Reuters reported the same day. "The Prosecutor General indicted...Pasat, who is in detention," the prosecutor said in a statement. "He is charged with abusing his authority, which resulted in considerable damage to public interests." Pasat was detained on 12 March when he arrived in Chisinau from Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newswire," 14 March 2005). BW
COMPENSATION FOR MOLDOVA'S WAR VETERANS IRKS MOSCOW
Russia sharply criticized Moldova on 19 March for suggesting that all of its World War II veterans should receive state compensation regardless of which side they fought for, AP reported the same day. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin had asked his Cabinet to look into the compensation issue last week as the country prepares to mark the 60th anniversary of victory over the Nazis. "This step by the Moldovan leadership is an insult to the memory of millions of people who paid a huge price for the liberation of the republics of the former Soviet Union, including Moldova, from fascist enslavement," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement. "Apparently some in Moldova have a very short memory." BW
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST EU DELAY ON MEMBERSHIP...
Romanian President Traian Basescu said on 21 March that his country was determined to join the European Union on schedule in 2007, and warned against any delays, dpa reported the same day. "If we do what we have to do at home, all European countries will be happy to accept Romania on January 1, 2007," Basescu told dpa in an interview. Romania is scheduled to join the EU in 2007, but some European officials have suggested that problems with corruption and judicial reform could delay entry until 2008. Such a decision, Basescu said, could harm Romania's international reputation and cause a backlash at home. "A lot of countries will not trust Romania anymore," Basescu said. "It will be difficult to explain to the Romanian people that we were not accepted. The people don't understand yet that each one has to pay the costs of the integration process," he said. BW
...AS HE STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF U.S. PARTNERSHIP...
Despite Bucharest's commitment to the EU, Basescu also stressed his country's firm pro-American stance and opposition to turning Europe into a counterweight to Washington in world affairs, dpa reported on 21 March. "We have for years had a strategic partnership with the U.S. and the United Kingdom," he said, adding that Romania's main security goal was to consolidate ties with both countries. "We have a foreign policy allowing us to ... have a very powerful transatlantic relationship and at the same time, as EU members, we will have to respect the rules of the European Union," Basescu said. "I am convinced that Europe and the U.S. must continue their partnership in order to guarantee security." BW
...AND CALLS FOR LARGER EU ROLE IN TRANSDNIESTER
Basescu also called for a larger EU role in ongoing efforts to defuse the crisis in the neighboring breakaway Transdniester region, dpa reported on 21 March. Located between Moldova and Ukraine, Transdniester is ruled by a pro-Russia regime and Moscow has about 1,300 troops and an estimated stockpile of 50,000 weapons and 40,000 tons of ammunition. "We are strongly interested in having the huge quantities of armaments and ammunition ...removed," Basescu said, urging the EU to take on an expanded role on the issue. Basescu ruled out any merger of his country with Moldova, even though it was part of Romania until being made part of the Soviet Union after World War II. "It is our policy to respect the independence of Moldova," the Romanian president said. "If...we are together we will have to be together in the European Union." BW
CAN GEORGIA FORM AN EFFECTIVE OPPOSITION?
It took Mikheil Saakashvili a little over two years from the time he resigned as justice minister in the late summer of 2001 to emerge as the leader of an opposition alignment that succeeded in tapping popular disaffection with the corrupt and inept Georgian leadership and forcing the resignation of President Eduard Shevardnadze. Numerous prominent members of the former leadership are now disgraced or in pretrial custody. But a handful of them have recently joined forces with other opposition bodies with the aim of duplicating Saakashvili's success by precipitating the ouster of what they term a government of "dilettantes" and holding pre-term parliamentary and presidential elections.
In December 2004, former parliamentarian Irakli Batiashvili (who served in the early 1990s as head of Georgian intelligence, and later chaired the parliament Defense and Security Committee) and former Imereti Governor Temur Shashiashvili (who ran unsuccessfully against Saakashvili in the January 2004 presidential ballot), announced the establishment of a new opposition party named Forward, Georgia! that Batiashvili said will fight what he termed "attempts to impose authoritarian rule" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004).
In the less than three months since its foundation, Forward, Georgia! has attracted several other prominent former officials, including former National Bank Chairman Nodar Djavakhishvili and economist Gia Maisashvili. A former close associate of Saakashvili, Maisashvili split with him in early 2004 and subsequently founded an NGO named Government of the Future (MM). Maisashvili spent the second half of 2004 lecturing in the United States. He returned to Tbilisi in late December and announced his intention to try to unite "healthy political forces" to get rid of a government he branded as ambitious, stupid, and incompetent. In mid-February, Maisashvili expressed sympathy with Forward, Georgia! and its objectives, but he added that it was too early to consider aligning with it.
In late February, the leaders of Forward, Georgia! and opposition Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili held initial consultations with Maisashvili, former National Bank Chairman Nodar Djavakhishvili, and former Socialist Party leader Zakari Kutsnashvili on the prospects for uniting to create a single opposition movement, Caucasus Press reported on 1 March. A second round of discussions followed on 2 March. Natelashvili told journalists after those talks that the opposition will unite behind the idea of forcing the present government to resign by using exclusively peaceful and constitutional means, according to rustavi2.com. But he said that the various opposition parties and movements would not establish a formal alliance to that end.
On 16 March, Natelashvili, Maisashvili and Batiashvili met at the editorial office of the "Georgian Times" and subsequently announced the creation of a "coordinating center" that will work to bring about regime change. "We shall unite every healthy opposition [force] and launch intensive activities against the government. From now on, there are two poles in Georgia, the government and the opposition," rustavi2.com quoted "Georgian Times" Director Malkhaz Gulashvili as saying. Natelashvili told journalists that a formal announcement of the coordinating center's creation and objectives will be issued within days. Whether it will prove as effective in galvanizing popular discontent as Saakashvili's National Movement remains to be seen. Saakashvili remains by far the most popular political figure in Georgia, with an approval rating of just over 60 percent, according to the newspaper "Kviris palitra" on 17 January. Natelashvili ranked second with 6 percent, and Maisashvili in fourth place (after parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze) with 3.3 percent. Moreover, the new alignment does not have any representation in parliament -- a handicap that Saakashvili did not have to contend with when he embarked on his opposition activities in late 2001.
Meanwhile, a second former close associate of Saakashvili, Conservative Party co-leader Koba Davitashvili (whose efforts to create his own opposition parliamentary faction have so far proven unsuccessful) has expressed his readiness for dialogue with the anticipated Labor Party/Forward, Georgia! alliance, the daily "Akhali taoba" reported on 4 March. But Davitashvili ruled out the possibility of his party joining that alliance.
AFGHAN FLOODS KILL 24, HUNDREDS MISSING
Floods in Afghanistan have killed at least 24 people and left some 200 missing in recent days, AP reported on 20 March. Following one of the harshest winters in recent memory, flooding rains have washed out hundreds of houses in the central province of Uruzgan. Running through southwest Afghanistan, the Helmand River overflowed in the Deh Rawood district, washing over two villages. "The villages are very close to the river and all the houses have been damaged," local police chief Rozi Khan said. He said no bodies had been found yet but added: "Some of them must surely have been killed." On 18 March, U.S. military helicopters airlifted some 200 villagers stranded on an island in the middle of the swollen river. U.S. troops and UN officials have been distributing relief supplies, including tents, food, and blankets for the displaced. UN officials said more than 100 houses were destroyed in floods in western Farah Province as well. Authorities expect more flooding as warmer weather and seasonal rain melts the deep snowfall that covered much of the country during the winter. MR
AFGHANS ARRESTED SUSPECTED SUICIDE BOMBER
Afghan authorities arrested a Pakistani man suspected of planning a suicide bomb attack on U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, AFP reported on 20 March. "We arrested a Pakistani national, Shahbaz, on Friday near Khost city after a tip off that some foreign suicide bombers have entered the province," said Almar Gull Mangal, commander of border forces in the area. "Shahbaz has confessed to coming to Afghanistan with a five-member group four days prior to his arrest and was looking for coalition and high-ranking Afghan targets to carry out suicide attacks." Shahbaz, who apparently goes by one name like many in the region, reportedly lived in the eastern Pakistani city of Sialkot. He was arrested on the outskirts of Khost, about 140 kilometers southeast of Kabul. "The bomber speaks fluent Punjabi, Urdu and Pashto. He had a 2,300 U.A.E. Dirham check on him and was arrested in the evening in a mosque," Mangal said. "We are looking for another four (suspected) bombers who are in Khost province and they might have some Afghan allies as well who have guided them in the province." MR
NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM ATTACKS IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
Neo-Taliban forces claimed responsibility for two separate attacks in eastern Afghanistan in recent days, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported on 20 March. "The Taliban attacked three vehicles carrying equipment for U.S. forces in Khost Province," said Taliban spokesman Mofti Latifollah Hakimi, who spoke to the news agency by phone. He said the attack took place on the road linking Khost and Gardez, an area where neo-Taliban forces are thought to be active. "The Taliban fired rockets at the vehicles and detained the drivers for some time and then freed them." Hayagol Solemankhel, the security chief for Gardez, denied the incident. "This is baseless," Solemankhel said. "Such an attack has not been carried out here. An untrustworthy source has released this report." Qari Mohammad Esmail, who identified himself as a spokesman for neo-Taliban forces in Nangarhar province, told the Pakistan-based news agency that insurgents killed four Afghan government soldiers in the Wazir area of Nangarhar province on 19 March. Esmail said three other troops were wounded in that fighting, including two U.S. soldiers. The claim could not be verified. MR
INDIA PLANS TELEMEDICINE LINKS WITH AFGHANISTAN
India plans to link up to 10 hospitals in Afghanistan to facilities in India via satellite to improve health care in Afghanistan, the Hindu reported on 20 March. The initial effort will involve establishing a so-called telemedicine link between the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi and the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health in Kabul, the Indian daily newspaper reported. The Indian Space Research Organization will set up the communications link for the pilot project, which is expected to be completed in a year. "We plan to set up similar telemedicine networks in Khandahar, Jalalabad, Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, and other provinces in the country's northern parts to provide the latest healthcare to people in villages and remote areas," said Abdul Salam Jalali, the director of the hospital in Kabul set to get the first satellite tie to India. MR
IRAN BEGINS YEAR OF 'SOLIDARITY' AND 'PARTICIPATION'
Last year was the Year of Accountability, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in his 20 March No Ruz address, according to state television. The slogan for the coming year (21 March 2005-20 March 2006) will be, he said, "national solidarity and public participation." Khamenei said this will be an important year because of the presidential elections scheduled for June and because it is the first year of the 20-year plan. Beginning this year, the Five-Year Plans will be based on this macro-plan, as will the annual budget. Khamenei said officials from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government should use the 20-year plan for guidance. "The important thing for both the people and officials is cooperation, national unity, and solidarity," Khamenei said. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT REVIEWS HIS PERFORMANCE
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 20 March that this will be his eighth and final No Ruz message as president, state television reported. During this time, he said, he and the people have enjoyed success and endured failures. He noted industrial and agricultural growth and a reduction in the overall unemployment rate to 10.3 percent despite the growth of the workforce and the increased demand for jobs. Youth unemployment has dropped from 21 percent to 18.7 percent, he said, and female unemployment is down to 17.9 percent. Nevertheless, Khatami said, "Unemployment is a huge problem in our society." Inflation adversely affects those with low incomes, he said, and the system of subsidies is flawed and does not help those who need them the most. Khatami went on to say that the country's emergency management system needs improvement. "Foreign threats aimed at preventing Iran from growing and becoming the most powerful and peaceful democracy in the region, are another problem," Khatami said. He predicted the people could overcome all these problems. BS
IRAN'S MISSILE INVENTORY A 'POTENTIAL THREAT'
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun says his country sold 12 KH-55 (aka AS-15) cruise missiles to Iran in 2001, FinancialTimes.com reported on 17 March. The missile has a 3,000-km range. Defense Intelligence Agency Director Vice Admiral Lowell Jacoby testified about the Iranian missile threat on 17 March to the Senate Armed Services Committee. He said cruise missiles could pose an "increased threat" to deployed U.S. and allied forces, and he speculated that Iran is "expected to develop or import" cruise missiles. "We judge Iran will have the technical capability to develop an ICBM by 2015," Jacoby said. The Shihab-3 medium-range ballistic missile has a 1300-km range, and Tehran claims it is developing a 2000-km version. Jacoby described Iran as one of the "Nations of Interest," and he added, "Its expanding ballistic missile inventory presents a potential threat to states in the region." BS
EVIDENCE ON IRANIAN NUKE PROGRAM 'COMPELLING'
Director of Central Intelligence Porter Goss testified about Iran's nuclear program to the Senate Armed Services Committee on 17 March. He noted that Iran has renounced the possibility of suspending its uranium enrichment program. Enrichment technology can produce nuclear fuel, he said, "but we are more concerned about the dual-use nature of the technology that could also be used to achieve a nuclear weapon." "The Wall Street Journal" reported on 18 March that evidence about the Iranian nuclear program is "compelling," but it also is "circumstantial." Thousands of pages of Persian computer files and other data about Iran's missile program serve as what U.S. officials believe is "the best evidence yet that Iran is pursuing an ambitious nuclear weapons program." But this is not definitive proof, and although Washington has shared this information with Bonn, London, and Paris, it does not know how to present it to the public. Washington has rejected an IAEA request to be briefed on the missile information. BS
IRAN REPORTEDLY CREATING NUCLEAR ENGINEERING FACULTY
An anonymous "Western intelligence source" told AFP on 20 March that a secret nuclear engineering faculty will be established in Iran within a year to support the country's military program. The source added, "The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran has received approval from the regime for the ministry of education to establish a secret faculty of applied nuclear engineering and materials engineering." The source claimed Iran would try to hide the faculty from the International Atomic Energy Agency's oversight. BS
IRAQ-JORDAN DISPUTE DEEPENS AS AMBASSADORS RECALLED...
Jordan temporarily recalled its charge d'affaires to Iraq, Dilmay Haddad, on 20 March after a week of mounting protests across Iraq following an apparently fictitious news report in a Jordanian daily that claimed a Jordanian family celebrated their son's martyrdom in a suicide bombing in Al-Hillah (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2005), Jordanian news agency Petra reported on the same day. The situation escalated after Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), praised demonstrators in Baghdad on 18 March in a speech outside the Jordanian Embassy, and criticized the Jordanian government for supporting former president Saddam Hussein throughout his rule, and harboring former Ba'athists and members of Hussein's family today. Al-Hakim also criticized Jordan's King Abdullah II for a recent trip to the offending newspaper, "Al-Ghadd." Al-Hakim said the daily "fosters terrorism and encourages its elements," in his 18 March speech, posted on the SCIRI website (http://www.sciri.ws). KR
...AS JORDAN ATTEMPTS TO RESTORE GOOD RELATIONS
Jordanian Charge d'Affaires Haddad told Al-Arabiyah television in a 19 March interview that the Jordanian government has repeatedly condemned terrorism, in Iraq and elsewhere, adding: "Celebrating terrorists and their acts is denounced by all segments of the Jordanian people." The Jordanian government also issued an official response to SCIRI in a 20 March statement, saying: "We have cooperated and still cooperate with the Iraqi brothers through our national institutions to destroy this plague which does not distinguish between Jordanians and Iraqis, Shi'ites and Sunnis, and which aims to sow the seeds of sedition between the two fraternal peoples. Bahraini Ambassador to Iraq Hasan Malallah al-Ansari attempted to mediate a meeting between al-Hakim and Haddad, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Jordanian Foreign Minister Hani al-Mulqi told Al-Arabiyah television on 21 March that Iran was responsible for the current debacle. KR
AL-JA'FARI SAYS HE WILL DO MORE TO SEAL IRAQ'S BORDERS...
Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, a candidate for prime minister, told Germany's "Der Spiegel" in an interview published on 21 March that he will work to seal Iraq's borders to prevent terrorist infiltration during the transitional phase. "We must hermetically seal the borders of Iraq and by all means prevent the terrorists, those behind them, and their helpers from being able to travel in and out unhindered. We must totally isolate them, cut off their re-supply from other countries and dry them out in their hiding places," he said. Al-Ja'fari told the daily that the terrorists have come from Yemen, Sudan, and Egypt as well as neighboring Syria, Jordan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Asked if hundreds of kilometers of border could really be sealed, he said: "In any case, more must be done than in the past." Al-Ja'fari contended that Syria is now cooperating with Iraq on border infiltration, but Iran, "remains a transit country for terrorists." KR
...AND DISCUSSES SHI'ITE PLAN FOR TRANSITIONAL PHASE
Al-Ja'fari told "Der Spiegel" that although he would like to see Iraq as an Islamic state, neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia should serve as its inspiration. Asked about the imposition of Shari'a law to Iraq, he said he supports it "but only as one of several sources of jurisprudence." Asked about freedom of religion for Christians, he said: "All [Iraqis] will have the same rights, including the members of smaller religious communities..."I will fight for the right of every citizen to express his opinion even if I don not share it." Al-Ja'fari also told "Der Spiegel" that women will not be forced to wear veils, saying, "That remains their free decision," and said alcohol will not be forbidden. "We will not order anything from the top, for we are democrats," he said. "Decisive will be what the people's representatives decide in a free vote." KR
IRAQ FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS DEAL COULD BE REACHED BY MONTH-END
Hoshyar al-Zebari said on 21 March that he expects a deal to be reached between the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) and Kurdistan Coalition lists on the formation of the transitional government by month-end, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Meanwhile, media reports of tension among UIA members continue to circulate. Alliance member Jawad Sumaysim, of the Independent National Bloc told Al-Jazeera television in a 19 March interview that the bloc has threatened to withdraw its 24 members from the UIA list. Sumaysim contended that Shi'ite negotiators have not consulted all UIA members on developments in the negotiations, despite the complaints of other members. "We presented our demands more than once...However, we did not see any practical implementation of this; nothing changed. Ready-made solutions were presented to us. Therefore, if this situation continues and if our demands are not met, we will withdraw and form an alliance with other groups," Sumaysim said. KR
AL-QAEDA-LINKED TERRORIST KILLS POLICE OFFICER IN BRAZEN ATTACK
A suicide bomber from Al-Qaeda-affiliated Tanzim Al-Qa'idat fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn walked into the offices of the Mosul police anti-corruption department on 20 March and blew himself up, killing department head Brigadier Walid Kashmula, international media reported on the same day. Two other policemen were killed in the attack, and a third officer was wounded, Al-Jazeera reported. A subsequent Internet statement attributed to the terrorist organization, led by Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, called Kashmula a "top American agent" adding, "This will be the fate of those who stand by the polytheists," Reuters reported. Gunmen later fired on Kashmula's funeral procession, killing two people and wounding 14 others, the news agency cited police as saying. KR