Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - March 29, 2005

Speaking at a cabinet meeting on 28 March, President Vladimir Putin ordered the Emergency Situations and Agriculture ministries to help Kyrgyzstan with the reconstruction of the Bishkek infrastructure and with preparations for the spring sowing season, RTR reported. "The political process there is developing very tumultuously and we do not need to make any comments about that," Putin said. "The people controlling the situation there have asked us for help and we should extend it." Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov reported to Putin that planned joint military exercises of Central Asian countries who are signatories of the Collective Security Treaty will go ahead as scheduled this week in Tajikistan and that Kyrgyz units will participate as planned. VY

Effective Politics Foundation head Gleb Pavlovskii told journalists on 28 March that the events in Kyrgyzstan are "a good lesson for the Russian political class in the context of the recent fashion for experimenting in revolution," ORT and RTR reported 28 March, and "Novye izvestiya" reported on 29 March. Pavlovskii said Russia faces no threat of the kind of revolution seen in Georgia and Ukraine because President Putin does not plan to remain in power indefinitely and the elections in 2007 and 2008 will be "completely transparent." However, if a force emerges in Russia that endorses what happened in those countries and runs on a similar platform, that party should be barred from participating in the election, Pavlovskii said. VY

. Pavlovskii added that Russia must not allow any demonstrations against election results, ORT and RTR reported on 28 March and "Novye izvestiya" reported on 29 March. "If anyone challenges an election, as happened in the other post-Soviet states, then force will be used against them, because not using force against criminal elements means the government is not fulfilling its duty," Pavlovskii said. He added that President Putin must protect the country from unrest by preventing divisions within the ruling class and stopping the activities of foreign foundations "that have organized the wholesale buyout of [Russia's] humanitarian elite." "Russia cannot allow even the hint of such instability, because the last time it happened [1991] we allowed the collapse of our state and it led, in fact, to the collapse of the entire world order," Pavlovskii concluded. VY

Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) said on NTV on 27 March that the major contributing factor to the revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan was the concentration of power in those countries in the hands of single clan that was riddled with corruption and unwilling to develop a democratic succession mechanism. She added that in Russia, former President Boris Yeltsin was far-sighted enough to choose President Putin as his successor. Nonetheless, she said, Russia faces the problems of power-sharing and combating corruption. "In this context, I would ask President Putin, 'Please, get angry and tear the heads off the ministers responsible for the monetization reform,'" she said. Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin, appearing on the same program, then interrupted Sliska and said: "How can you fight corruption if your own party is a creature of it? How can you defeat yourself?" VY

Presidential aide Igor Shuvalov said on 29 March that the Yukos case should serve as a warning to other Russian companies, Interfax reported. Speaking at a Moscow conference, Shuvalov said: "If it hadn't been Yukos, then some other company would have appeared that would have had to explain how the company used schemes to avoid paying taxes to the budget and thereby restricting the government in the fulfillment of its social obligations." He said no one wants a repetition of the Yukos case, but "if necessary we will use the exact same methods in the future, even if they have a negative impact on the investment climate in Russia." Shuvalov acknowledged that Russia's image has suffered as a result of the Yukos affair but said "that situation is changing." RC

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 25 March announced that it has filed an indictment against retired military intelligence (GRU) Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov in the case of the 17 March assassination attempt against Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). Kvachkov's son, Aleksandr, is also being sought in connection with the case. Kvachkov's lawyer, Vladimir Levin, told journalists that an eyewitness in the case failed to identify Kvachkov, "Vremya novostei" reported on 24 March. "Izvestiya" on 24 March published an interview with Kvachkov from jail in which he said he is "absolutely indifferent" to Chubais and denied all involvement in the case. He added that, from a professional's point of view, the attempt against Chubais was "very clumsy work." Nadezhda Kvachkova, Kvachkov's wife, told RTR on 27 March that she first heard about the assault on Chubais on television and that her husband was at home at the time. She said that she mentioned the incident to her husband, but he showed no particular interest in it, and left shortly afterward on business and was arrested shortly thereafter. VY

Moscow's Taganskii Raion Court on 28 March convicted Sakharov Museum Director Yurii Samodurov and his deputy, Lyudmila Vasilovskaya, of instigating religious and ethnic hatred with a 2003 exhibition at the museum titled "Caution, Religion," Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 January 2004). The two were ordered to pay fines of 100,000 rubles ($3,300) each. Artist Anna Mikhalchuk, who created a work of art featured in the exhibition, was cleared of all charges in the case. Prosecutors had sought a three-year term for Samodurov and two-year terms for the other defendants and had asked the court to order that the works that had formed the exhibition be destroyed, "The Moscow Times" reported on 29 March. Samodurov said he will appeal the convictions through the Russian court system and, if necessary, to the European Court of Human Rights. "The church is a civil institution," Samodurov said, according to "The Moscow Times." "This verdict means that this area is off-limits to criticism. Modern art has virtually been ruled criminal if it doesn't correspond to religious dogmas." In 2003, a Moscow court dismissed charges against six Orthodox believers who defaced the exhibition, ruling that their religious sensibilities had been offended. RC

State-controlled ORT television on 28 March began showing a four-part prime-time series called "Brezhnev: Decline Of An Empire," and other media reported. The film about former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev is based on a new book by Valentin Chernykh, author of the screenplay for the Oscar-winning Soviet-era film "Moscow Does Not Believe In Tears." The movie focuses on the last years of Brezhnev's rule and a purported relationship with his nurse, and features many leading actors. Sergei Shakurov plays Brezhnev; Vasilii Lanovoi plays KGB Chairman Yurii Andropov, and Vladimir Menshov plays Defense Minister Vladimir Ustinov. Commentators who have seen the film say that Chernykh and director Sergei Snezhkin try to "humanize" Brezhnev, who is more frequently treated with satire and derision. When he began working on the film, Chernykh was skeptical about Brezhnev, reported, but as he spoke to people who knew the Soviet leader, he began to view him more sympathetically. reported that the filmmakers don't want to rehabilitate the Soviet leader but just "to reconstruct his personality." But the participation of so many stars in such a high-profile project could be evidence of a more ambitious aim, some analysts feel. VY

By a vote of 89-34, Tatarstan's State Council on 25 March approved Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev for another five-year term of office, Russian media reported. "I value the trust that the deputies of the republic have demonstrated toward me," Shaimiev said after the vote. Shaimiev is a strong Kremlin ally and a leader of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. "Tatarstan is under Shaimiev's control," INDEM think-tank analyst Yurii Korgunchuk told "The Moscow Times" on 28 March. "Even if the Kremlin had not wanted to pick him, they had no choice. He is too powerful in his region." Shaimiev, 68, was first elected president of the republic in 1991. RC

Nazran Mayor Abukar Sultygov refused permission on 27 March to convene an opposition demonstration the following day to demand the resignation of President Murat Zyazikov and the return to Ingushetia of the disputed Prigorodnyi Raion of neighboring North Ossetia, reported. The authorities deployed police, troops, and armored vehicles on 28 March to block access to the venue for the protest, and detained 70-year-old Boris Arsamakov, one of the leaders of the opposition movement Akhki-Yurt, on his way to lead it. An unspecified number of people convened nonetheless at a monument on the Magas-Nazran highway, where oppositionist Musa Ozdoev persuaded them not to storm the police station in Nazran where Arsamakov was being held. Arsamakov was released later on 28 March. LF

The website inferred on 29 March that a revolution in the republic is imminent as the impoverished population is no longer prepared to tolerate the incompetence, corruption, and venality of President Zyazikov's regime. But Zyazikov told Interfax on 28 March that he has no intention of resigning, and he claimed that the republic's economy is on the upswing. In an interview the same day with Ekho Moskvy, Zyazikov blamed the abortive 28 March protest on unnamed forces that he claimed seek to destabilize the republic and the entire south of Russia. Taymuraz Kusov, an aide to North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov, told that the protest in Ingushetia was an attempt to undermine Russian statehood. Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak told Interfax in Kislovodsk on 28 March that Zyazikov informed him by telephone that the situation in Ingushetia is "absolutely calm." LF

Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 25 March at the end of a two-day visit to Armenia, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a positive assessment of bilateral relations, which he described as developing steadily in all spheres, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Putin said he reached agreement with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian on encouraging further Russian investment in Armenia, and he also reaffirmed Moscow's readiness to help resolve the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. Kocharian, for his part, argued, as he has done in the past, that economic cooperation between the two countries should become as close and intensive as defense cooperation, Interfax reported. Kocharian described his talks with Putin, which according to the A1+ website lasted almost two hours longer than originally scheduled, as "friendly and constructive." LF

Commenting on 28 March on the overthrow four days earlier of Kyrgyzstan's President Askar Akaev, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian said he considers such a revolution unlikely in Armenia as the situation there differs considerably from that in Central Asia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Markarian claimed that democracy "is developing" in Armenia, and that "we have no problems with the economy." Therefore, Markarian reasoned, "I see no grounds for people to take to the streets, overthrow the government, and go on a rampage." In related news, a candidate for Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia was reelected on 27 March to a third term as mayor of the northeastern town of Izhevan, defeating his rival by a narrow margin of 346 votes, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

On 25 March, opposition parliamentarian Viktor Dallakian told journalists that the Armenian authorities should draw the appropriate conclusions from the revolution in Kyrgyzstan, Noyan Tapan, and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He recalled that the opposition has repeatedly sought to persuade the incumbent leadership to relinquish power peacefully, and he predicted that its persistent refusal to do so could culminate in a regime change as a result of a popular uprising. LF

The Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) held its third congress in Baku on 26 March, Turan, and reported. Executive Secretary Ali Akhmedov told the 1,771 delegates that membership has increased since the previous congress in November 2001 from 230,000 to 360,000. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev told delegates that the parliamentary elections due in November will be free and democratic, and he predicted that YAP will win them in the absence of any serious opposition challenge. He also warned that if opposition forces seek to "destabilize the country" as he claimed they did following the disputed October 2003 presidential ballot, they will "receive an appropriate response." In apparent violation of the 1992 law on political parties that stipulates that the head of state may not lead any political party, delegates unanimously elected Aliyev as party chairman. His wife Mehriban was elected a member of the party's Political Council. On 29 March, quoted parliament deputy speaker Ziyafet Askerov as explaining that the 1995 constitution does not contain any prohibition on the head of state's political affiliation, and therefore Aliyev's election as YAP chairman is legal. Askerov added, however, that the law on political parties will be amended to bring it into conformity with the constitution. LF

President Aliyev signed a decree on 23 March on transforming the state-run radio and television company into a joint-stock company that will initially be 100 percent state-owned, Turan and reported on 25 and 26 March respectively. The state will sell a 49 percent stake in the company at an unspecified later date. Media analysts noted that while the Council of Europe demanded that state television and radio be abolished following the creation of a new independent public broadcaster (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 30 September 2004), the transformation of state television and radio into a state-owned joint-stock company simply perpetuates the state's monopoly on broadcasting. They predicted that when a stake in the company is sold, it will be acquired by people close to the incumbent leadership. LF

Talks in Moscow on 23-25 March at the deputy-foreign-minister level failed to resolve the dispute between Russia and Georgia on the timeframe for the closure of Russia's two remaining military bases in Georgia and the creation of a joint antiterrorism center, Caucasus Press reported. Russian officials said prior to those talks that they would unveil a new proposal, Interfax reported on 23 March, but Georgian reports of the talks did not mention any new Russian initiative. On 24 March, Caucasus Press quoted unidentified Georgian diplomats as saying that Tbilisi is prepared to extend the deadline for the Russian pullout to 1 January 2009 provided that no new military hardware is deployed and no maneuvers scheduled in the interim. Georgian officials earlier said the bases should be closed within three years. ITAR-TASS on 26 March quoted Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as saying he hopes a final decision will be reached at the next round of talks, which will take place in Tbilisi in mid- April. LF

Protests have taken place in Tbilisi and other Georgian towns in recent days against energy shortages resulting from new damage to the power line linking Georgia and Russia, Georgian media reported. In addition, the Inguri hydroelectric power station has been closed for three months' repairs, and Turkey and Azerbaijan have suspended power supplies to Georgia to protest the non-payment of outstanding debts for electricity. Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli warned on 25 March that the current crisis will last "for some time," Interfax reported. Some districts of Tbilisi have been without power or water for a week; Interfax on 28 March quoted protesters as saying the situation is worse now than it has ever been since 1992. LF

The Astana City Court ruled on 28 March to recognize Hizb ut-Tahrir as an extremist organization and to ban it in Kazakhstan, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The ruling came in response to a request from the Prosecutor-General's Office. The court noted in its decision that Hizb ut-Tahrir, which officially eschews violence but aims to establish an Islamic caliphate throughout Central Asia, calls for anti-constitutional actions. The plaintiff now has 15 days to appeal the verdict to the Supreme Court. Under Kazakhstan's new law on extremism, the Astana City Court is empowered to decide whether or not an organization can be considered extremist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 22 February 2005). DK

Kyrgyzstan's "new" unicameral parliament confirmed Kurmanbek Bakiev, a former prime minister and the leader of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, in the post of prime minister on 28 March, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Fifty-four of 58 deputies present voted for Bakiev. Parliament has a total of 75 seats, but disputed 27 February and 13 March elections did not produce official winners in all constituencies; Bakiev noted on 28 March that up to 20 races may go to the courts, although he stressed that this does not undermine the new parliament's legitimacy, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 28 March, the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society presented a list of 19 constituencies where it believes significant violations took place during elections, reported. At the same time, the coalition called for the recognition of the new parliament as the legitimate legislature. DK

Upon being confirmed as prime minister, Bakiev announced that he will put a stop to arbitrary personnel changes in the executive branch, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He said, "It's gotten to the point where they've started picking people in the National Security Service... I'm not scaring [anyone], but I warn everyone that those who are appointing themselves will be brought to heel." On 28 March, published an appeal from Interior Ministry veterans to Prime Minister Bakiev and Feliks Kulov, overseer of law-enforcement agencies, asking them to review the recent replacement of top Interior Ministry officials in Osh and Jalal-Abad provinces. Underscoring the sensitivity of the personnel issue, ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu appealed to Kulov on 26 March to "cleanse the Interior Ministry, National Security Service, Prosecutor's Office, courts, and customs and tax agencies" of officials involved in rights violations, reported. DK

The appointment of new management at the National Television and Radio Corporation (NTRK) on 28 March prompted a protest from employees, reported. The state secretary introduced Sultan Abrakhmanov as president and Kadyr Koshaliev and Beishenbek Bekeshev as vice presidents. At a press conference the same day, a number of leading television journalists denounced two of the new appointees as followers of radical Islam and charged that current employees were not consulted on the move, reported. They alleged that the new appointments reflect "tribalism and personal sympathies" and appealed to Prime Minister Bakiev to reverse the "hasty decision." DK

David Grant, director of the International Business Council, announced on 28 March in Bishkek that the damage from 24 March looting in the Kyrgyz capital totaled $100 million, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Grant said large stores were the primary victims, noting that police and citizens' patrols succeeded in restoring order to protect banks and other strategic locations. Grant said the unrest could imperil the $80 million that the council had planned to invest in the country's economy in 2005, Kabar reported. At a news conference on 28 March, National Bank Chairman Ulan Sarbanov announced that the banking system came through the past week's chaos intact and that banks are now functioning normally, although there are some delays in transactions in Jalal-Abad Province, Kabar reported. DK

Omurbek Tekebaev, the newly elected speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament, said on 28 March that the legislature will soon create a commission to conduct negotiations with ousted President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Tekebaev said talks with Akaev are necessary to resolve the issue of presidential elections, now scheduled for 26 June. The speaker added that parliament also plans to change that date; lawmaker Isa Omurkulov described the recent decision to set elections, originally scheduled for October, for 26 June as "illegal." The OSCE has termed the June date "unrealistic." Akaev's exact whereabouts are unknown, although he is widely reported to be in Moscow. He has not yet officially resigned his position. DK

Rahmatullo Zoirov, head of Tajikistan's Social Democratic Party, announced on 28 March that his party will demand that parliament discuss the legitimacy of the recent parliamentary elections, Avesta reported. Zoirov also stated that his party has no trust in the Central Election Commission. Zoirov had told Avesta on 25 March that his party, along with three others, plans to submit new complaints to the Central Election Commission in connection with the 27 February elections because the commission failed to respond to earlier complaints by issuing an official resolution that addressed specific legal issues. DK

Uzbek President Islam Karimov discussed the recent developments in Kyrgyzstan with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev by telephone on 28 March, official Uzbek news agency UzA reported. The report stressed that the two sides hold identical positions on the "causes and factors that led to the mass protests by the population and, in sum, the storming of the seat of government and change of regime." The conversation ended with an agreement to pursue "constructive cooperation" in resolving the problems that now face Kyrgyzstan, the report stated. DK

Police arrested 31 demonstrators out of some 1,500 who took part in a rally in downtown Minsk on 25 March to protest President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's possible third presidential term, Belapan reported. On 28 March, four protesters -- Vyacheslau Siuchyk, Yury Fabisheuski, Karen Akopau, and Andrey Baranau -- were sentenced to 15 days in jail each, while others received sentences ranging from three days to 10 days in jail. Another three were fined 1.2 million rubles ($560) each. Opposition politician Andrey Klimau, who organized the 25 March protest and who had called for a "revolution" to begin on that day, evaded arrest. Next week, Klimau is scheduled to stand trial in Minsk on charges of defaming President Lukashenka in three books and a leaflet. Klimau was arrested in February 1998 and sentenced to six years in prison two years later for alleged embezzlement and forgery. Domestic and international human rights groups viewed the sentence as politically motivated, linking it to Klimau's role in the Supreme Soviet's impeachment motion against Lukashenka in 1996. Klimau was released from prison in March 2002, following a court ruling commuting his prison term to "corrective labor." JM

The Central Election Commission on 25 March declared Syarhey Maskevich, rector of Yanka Kupala Hrodna State University, the winner in a parliamentary by-election held in Hrodna on 20 March, Belapan reported. Maskevich, who officially garnered 65.3 percent of the vote while running against two opposition candidates, filled the only vacant seat in the 110-member Chamber of Representatives. JM

President Lukashenka has signed a decree ordering that the government increase pensions by an average of 8 percent as of April, Belapan reported on 28 March. The average pension is expected to increase to 187,300 rubles ($87). JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 25 March voted overwhelmingly to approve a revision of the 2005 budget prepared by Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko's cabinet, Ukrainian media reported. Revenues were set at 108.5 billion hryvnyas ($20.5 billion) and spending at 115.3 billion hryvnyas, while the deficit was reduced from 2.2 percent of gross domestic product to 1.56 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 January 2005). Tymoshenko, who addressed the legislature before the vote, said the budget will help curb inflation, predicting an inflation rate of 9 percent in 2005, compared with 12.3 percent in 2004. The primary beneficiaries of the revised legislation will be the country's 10 million pensioners and employees in the budget sectors, notably teachers and doctors, who are expected to receive substantial increases in their monthly payments. JM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his Georgian counterpart, Mikheil Saakashvili, urged the OSCE in a joint statement in Kyiv on 26 March to prevent violence in Kyrgyzstan, Ukrainian news agencies reported. "We were deeply concerned by the news that the situation in Kyrgyzstan is assuming threatening signs of violent confrontation," the statement reads. "We laud the courageous step of the former president of the country [Askar Akaev] not to order the use of force against his own people in the first days of the public uprising." Yushchenko and Saakashvili also urged Akaev to "immediately influence his supporters so that they show high responsibility for the sake of peace and calm in the country." In a joint declaration on strategic partnership, the two presidents announced that their countries will support each other's aspirations regarding NATO and the EU. They also underscored their mutual interest in developing transit capacities to supply Caspian oil and gas to Europe. Saakashvili arrived in Kyiv on 25 March to inaugurate the "Year of Georgia" in Ukraine. JM

President Yushchenko said on 26 March that he is not planning to attend the Victory Day parade in Moscow on 9 May, to which he was invited by Russian President Vladimir Putin, but will stay in Kyiv for a local V-Day parade on that day and visit Moscow on 8 May, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "As we cannot postpone commemorations that will take place in Ukraine on 9 May, including a parade and other events, I would feel most uncomfortable if war veterans are gathering here and I am on a reviewing stand elsewhere," Reuters quoted Yushchenko as saying. "I think the Russian president, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, and our other colleagues can easily understand that," Yushchenko added. Meanwhile, Yushchenko's spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko told journalists on 28 March that his official schedule for 9 May has not yet been set. "I'm not ready to answer the question [of whether Yushchenko will go to Moscow on 9 May]," Herashchenko said. JM

Macedonia's State Election Commission announced on 28 March that the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and its allies won the second round of mayoral elections in 25 districts the previous day, the MIA news agency reported. The opposition coalition led by the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) won in 17 districts; the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) in seven; the VMRO splinter party VMRO-NP in three; and the opposition Albanian coalition of the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) and the Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) in one. Independent candidates were elected mayor in three districts. Following irregularities during the first round on 13 March, the vote had to be repeated in a number of districts. The latest election results indicate that the VMRO-DPMNE-led opposition coalition proved stronger in the larger cities -- including Skopje, Bitola, and Prilep -- while the SDSM won in smaller towns and rural districts. The BDI confirmed its position as strongest ethnic Albanian party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 15, 23, and 25 March 2005, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2005). UB

The OSCE-led international election observation mission stated in a press release on 28 March that Macedonia's second-round mayoral elections failed again in some areas to meet key OSCE and Council of Europe standards ( The irregularities included the theft of ballot papers, ballot-box stuffing, intimidation, multiple voting, and group voting, in which the oldest male casts ballots for all family members. The OSCE observers criticized the government for failing to adequately address the problems registered in the first round on 13 March. "The continuing lack of more decisive intervention by the relevant authorities against intimidation of voters and election board members has lead to a culture of impunity in some municipalities, undermining confidence in the rule of law and the ability of election bodies to protect the legality of the process," the statement said. These were the first mayoral elections under the government's decentralization program that greatly enhances the powers of local authorities. It is considered the final step in implementing the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement that, among other things, promised ethnic Albanians more control over their own affairs. UB/PM

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian mission in Kosova (UNMIK), said in Belgrade on 28 March that talks on the final status of Kosova will begin before September, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 7 January 2005). He also denied unspecified Western and regional media reports suggesting that he will soon leave UNMIK to lead the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Jessen-Petersen made his statement after meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who did not comment on the status talks, and Serbian President Boris Tadic, who called for the restoration of contacts between Prishtina and Belgrade "as soon as possible." Tadic also criticized the recent maneuvers near Vushtrri of the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK) as "unacceptable" and called on Jessen-Petersen to hold an "urgent" meeting of NATO-led KFOR representatives and officers of the Army of Serbia and Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 18 February and 25 March 2005). Tadic and Kostunica are arch-rivals who have been using the Kosova issue in recent months in anticipation of the general elections widely expected later in 2005. PM

Scheduled flights of Serbia's JAT Airways resumed on 27 March after mechanics from Tunisia arrived to service the planes, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Scheduled flights had been grounded for 10 days by a strike of JAT's own mechanics to demand back pay and better working conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). JAT's management has meanwhile begun mailing dismissal notices to strikers' homes, union leader Dragan Bogdanovic said. On 28 March, the strikers announced that they will resume their protest on 2 April unless management begins talks and reinstates suspended or sacked mechanics. It is not clear what the mechanics will do prior to that date. PM

The Romanian government has offered Ukraine help in sealing Transdniester's border in an effort to halt smuggling, BASA reported on 25 March. Romanian Foreign Minister Mihai-Razvan Ungureanu discussed the issue with Ukraine's Prime Minister Yuliya Timoshenko and Foreign Minister Boris Tarasyuk during an official visit to Kyiv. Under a Ukrainian program titled "Stop Smuggling," security and customs controls on Moldova's borders with Ukraine and Romania will be tightened. Smirnov meanwhile has proposed international controls on Moldova's administrative border with Transdniester, Infotag reported on 28 March. "We proposed that European experts come and examine on the site who really goes in for smuggling here. That is exactly why we insist that such monitoring be carried out on the Moldovan border as well," Smirnov said, adding that such controls are "the only possible way to put an end to Chisinau's trumpeting that [Transdniester] is, allegedly, a black hole for trafficking in human beings, arms, and drugs." BW

Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov called for the resumption of talks on the disputed region's status and accused Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin of trying to exclude Russia from the negotiations, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 March. "In recent years our relations have become more tense. We should resume talks to normalize them," Smirnov said. Voronin has said the existing formula of talks including Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Transdniester, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is ineffective and called for expanding the negotiations to also include Romania, the European Union, and the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March 2005). Smirnov called the suggestion an attempt "to expel Russia from the Dniester region." Negotiations over the breakaway territory were suspended last summer after Tiraspol authorities closed Moldovan schools that used the Latin alphabet, prompting Chisinau to withdraw from the talks. BW

Smirnov also said that Transdniester's full return to Moldova "is absolutely out of the question," Infotag reported on 28 March. "Yes, there may be a normalization of bilateral relations between us but only as between two countries, and we are ready to negotiate this question in the existing five-sided format," he said, referring to talks involving Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Transdniester, and the OSCE. Additionally, Smirnov accused Chisinau of attempting to use coercion to resolve the issue, pointing to Moldova's economic blockade of the region. "Since last August, we have incurred $65 million in losses due to the blockade," Smirnov said. He also called Russia's military presence in Transdniester, which the Moldovan government wants ended, "one of the most important physical guarantees of maintaining peace and stability in the region." BW

Moldova's Foreign Ministry called on the international community to "resolutely condemn" the 27 March local elections in Transdniester, Infotag reported the next day. Moldova branded the poll "non-constitutional and illegitimate -- like the separatist self-styled leaders themselves" and called on the international community "to resolutely condemn the pseudo-elections." Transdniestrian officials called the statement a provocation. Vitaly Ignatiev, an official with Transdniester's self-styled "foreign ministry" called the statement "a new PR action aimed at discrediting the Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic in the international community's eyes," Infotag reported on 28 March. "Such a stance of the Moldovan leadership's explicitly indicates its unwillingness to move towards a peaceful and soonest-possible settlement of Moldovan-Transdniestrian differences," Ignatiev said. BW

Moldova's jailed former Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat has ended his hunger strike, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 March, citing his defense attorney Gheorghe Amihalachioaie. "The elderly parents of the former Moldovan defense minister, who were allowed to see their son on Monday, told me they had talked him into giving up his hunger strike," Amihalachioaie said, adding that Pasat had not eaten for 18 days. "He was receiving treatment intravenously for fear of kidney failure," Amihalachioaie said, adding that he would meet with Pasat later in the day to find out more about his condition. BW

The Iranian Foreign Ministry reacted cautiously when asked about the recent ouster of Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, who fled Bishkek following the storming of government offices by protesters. Spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said Iran is monitoring developments and added, "We hope conditions in Kyrgyzstan will return to normal as soon as possible," IRNA reported on 26 March.

Tehran has worked hard in recent years to strengthen its relationship with the Akaev administration, but the Iranian government cannot be expected to openly protest the democratic aspirations of the Kyrgyz people. Nevertheless, some Iranian officials have attributed the events in Kyrgyzstan to the United States, which reflects their concern about the large U.S. presence in the region.

Commercial relations between Iran and Kyrgyzstan -- which has a population of 5.4 million -- are insignificant. The Central Asian state mainly exports agricultural goods (cotton, wool, meat, tobacco), minerals (gold, mercury, uranium), energy (natural gas, hydropower), and manufactured goods (machinery, shoes) to the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Russia, Kazakhstan, Canada, and China. Kyrgyzstan imports oil, gas, chemicals, food, and manufactured goods, mostly from Russia, Kazakhstan, China, the United States, Uzbekistan, and Germany.

However, Tehran is eager to become a larger trading partner and a number of official delegations have exchanged visits recently.

Iranian First Vice President Mohammad-Reza Aref-Yazdi, Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari, and Health Minister Masud Pezeshkian met with Akaev and other officials in Bishkek in October 2004. At this time the two sides signed four memoranda of understanding on health, electricity transmission, and trade. Shariatmadari led another delegation to Kyrgyzstan in May 2004.

Significantly, Akaev's December 2003 visit to Iran yielded an Iranian government allocation of $10 million for investment in the Kyrgyz economy. The two sides signed seven memoranda of understanding -- on trade, tariffs, and trade centers; visa regulations; legal affairs; cultural and artistic cooperation; and housing and urban development. Akaev met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, then-Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is demonstrating every day growing interest in developing and expanding its relations with Kyrgyzstan, in particular in the economy," Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov said on 26 December 2003, Kyrgyzinfo reported.

The two countries also interact in multilateral fora. Both Kyrgyzstan and Iran are members of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), and Khatami and Akaev met on the sidelines of the September 2004 ECO summit in Dushanbe. Foreign Minister Kharrazi visited Kyrgyzstan in June 2003 to participate in a meeting of ECO foreign ministers.

Although the Iranian foreign ministry was restrained in its reaction to developments in Kyrgyzstan, the country's leaders have expressed a great deal of concern about the expanding U.S. presence in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Persian Gulf. Some official comments, therefore, reflect this concern.

Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani saw Kyrgyz events in the context of what is taking place in Lebanon and Iraq. He said during his Friday Prayers sermon on 25 March, which was broadcast by state radio. "You can see what America's mischief is doing in Lebanon. A country that was managing itself competently is now in crisis. You can see what they have done in Kyrgyzstan. You can see how they are toying with the people of Iraq." Hashemi-Rafsanjani continued: "We are faced with a creeping move designed by America aimed at dominating other countries and plundering their natural resources. We hope to repel America's evil intentions by relying on God and the revolution, holding fast to the covenant of God, which is Koran, and vigilance."

A 25 March Iranian state television commentary said events in Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia show that these countries are "the focus of foreign powers' attention." Western and particularly American interference is responsible for events in Kyrgyzstan, it claimed. The commentary claimed some 50 nongovernmental organizations that were established in Kyrgyzstan recently "played a fundamental role in the crisis." It said the United States wants friendly governments in these countries because they possess energy resources, uranium, and nuclear technology.

Iranian state television also played the religion card, albeit inaccurately. It is "noteworthy," according to the commentary, that "such developments have occurred in countries [in which] the majority of the inhabitants are Muslims, which clearly shows the process of the expansionist and hegemonic policies of America." Islam is the majority faith in Kyrgyzstan (Muslim 75 percent, Russian Orthodox 20 percent, other 5 percent), but not in Moldova (Eastern Orthodox 98 percent), Ukraine (mainly Ukrainian Orthodox), or Georgia, where over 80 percent of the population is Georgian Orthodox.

The situation in Bishkek has calmed down since last week. During the current Noruz holidays in Iran, furthermore, most politicians are on vacation and newspapers are not being published. Unless the emerging Kyrgyz government makes some blatantly anti-Iranian comments or takes actions that seem hostile, it is likely that the two countries' relations will continue along the same path.

The Afghan Counternarcotics Ministry and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) announced on 27 March in Kabul that poppy cultivation is expected to decrease this year in three provinces (Helmand, Nangarhar, and Oruzgan) that jointly accounted for more than half of the land being used for poppies in 2004, Radio Afghanistan reported. The UNODC report, titled "Afghanistan Opium Poppy Rapid Assessment Survey," reveals "a falling trend in opium poppy cultivation in the majority of the 34 provinces, mainly because farmers refrained from planting." The survey expects an increase in poppy cultivation in five provinces in 2005. According to the report, farmers are refraining from planting opium poppies out of respect for the Afghan government's ban and for fear their crops would be destroyed. Some farmers said their decision to decrease the planting of opium poppies was due to lower yields in 2004, coupled with higher yields for wheat. AT

In a statement on 27 March, President Hamid Karzai welcomed the UNODC survey. "I'm extremely pleased to note that the people of Afghanistan have responded positively to the call for jihad against the evil of narcotics," Karzai is quoted as saying. Karzai said he hopes the international community also fulfills its responsibility, "by providing assistance toward alternative livelihoods" for the farmers. Faced with his country's growing narcotics problem, Karzai in December declared a holy war, or jihad, against drugs (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 December 2004). AT

A U.S. military vehicle was destroyed in Logar Province on 26 March when it hit a land mine, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Initially, a spokesman for the Logar administration said they could not confirm the report. In a different report on 26 March, AIP quoted Cindy Moore, a spokeswoman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, as confirming four U.S. servicemen had been killed in a mine blast. She said that while the incident is under investigation, the U.S. military thinks the mine "had been planted some time ago." It was also the deadliest incident for U.S. soldiers serving in Afghanistan in the last 10 months, "The Indianapolis Star" reported on 27 March. The four soldiers were attached to an Indiana National Guard unit. AT

Protesters estimated in the hundreds marched in Hayratan in Balkh Province on 28 March demanding the removal of Mohammad Sa'id, commander of the border forces, and Habibullah Qorayshi, security commander of Kaldar District, AIP reported. Hayratan is the main town in Kaldar and the main crossing point between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The demonstrators accused the two officials of involvement in killings and other brutalities. In a 28 March report, state-run Radio Afghanistan said 3,000 people marched in Hayratan. Demonstrators say they have complained to Balkh Governor Ata Mohammad Nur, but that he has not taken any action. Earlier, a demonstration in Balkh's provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, called for the removal from office of Nur himself (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2005). AT

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 27 March an Egyptian court's ruling, in which it found an Iranian diplomat and Egyptian national guilty of espionage, is ridiculous, IRNA reported. Earlier that day, a court in Cairo sentenced the Egyptian, Mahmud Id Dabus, to 35 years in prison for spying for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. Iranian diplomat Mohammad Rezadust, who was tried in abstentia, received a 25-year sentence. Dabus reportedly collected intelligence on targets in Saudi Arabia and participated in the planning for an attempt on the life of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 December 2004 and 7 March 2005). Assefi said, "The court session has been held with an aim of appeasing the Zionist regime." BS

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami reconfirmed Ebrahim Sheibani as governor of the Central Bank of Iran in a 28 March decree, IRNA reported. BS

Tehran legislator Alaedin Borujerdi, head of the National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said on 28 March that the United States is to blame for the lack of progress in nuclear discussions with the European Union, ISNA reported. He said, "Our main problem at negotiations with the Europeans is America." He went on to advise against talking to Washington, saying, "Negotiating with the Americans will not only not help us, but will create more obstacles in terms of achieving our aim, which is to gain access to nuclear technology." Another committee member, Hamid Reza Haji-Babai, also questioned the value of talking to Washington, ISNA reported. "Direct negotiations with America are a premature and emotional thought and beyond the scope of Iran's general policies," he said. Jiroft parliamentary representative Ali Zadsar said on 25 March that Iran should end its talks with the EU, Fars News Agency reported. He explained, "Putting our trust in the agreements and accords of European countries that are heavily influenced by America stretches credulity." He accused them of wanting to "eradicate the Islamic system of Iran and achieve their colonial aims." BS

Ardabil parliamentary representative Nureddin Pirmoazen said on 28 March that neither Russia nor Europe is trustworthy and that Iran should end its nuclear negotiations with them, Fars News Agency reported. Pirmoazen described the Russians as "more deceitful" than the Europeans and the Europeans as "more cunning" than the Americans. Direct negotiations with the United States, he said, would resolve many problems and reduce mistrust. He said the United States dominates Europe and Russia with its wealth and power, and in turn they are manipulating Iran's national interests. BS

Iraqi border guards have closed the border to Iranian pilgrims ahead of the Arba'in commemorations, Fars News Agency reported on 28 March. Arba'in marks the 40th day after the anniversary of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his brother Abbas in a battle over Islamic leadership in 680 A.D. Officials in Khorramshahr, near the Iraqi frontier, confirmed that the border was closed five days ago and said Iranian border guards would deal with those who try to cross illegally. BS

The transitional National Assembly held its second parliamentary session on 29 March without electing a speaker and two deputies, following an announcement by interim President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir that he will not accept the post of assembly speaker, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Dari al-Fayyad, the chairman of the session, told attendees that the postponement came at the request of the main lists, who are seeking more time for consultations. The session will instead address the drafting of the assembly's bylaws, he said. Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders had proposed the appointment of a Sunni Arab, possibly al-Yawir, to the speaker position. An unnamed spokesman for al-Yawir told Al-Sharqiyah television on 28 March: "The post was frequently offered to Sheikh al-Yawir, but he refused to assume this post. He has not changed this stand." Al-Yawir's refusal to accept the post of speaker has reportedly left parliamentarians scrambling to find another Sunni for the position. At least two assembly members called on al-Fayyad to explain the delay, but some 13 minutes into the session, al-Fayyad asked journalists to leave the assembly hall, claiming that members wanted to hold a "secret session." KR

Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) official and Kirkuk water department head Abd al-Qadir Zanganah escaped an apparent assassination attempt on 29 March when his convoy was targeted in a bomb blast, AFP reported. A rigged vehicle parked on the street was reportedly detonated by remote control as Zanganah's convoy passed by; it was the second assassination attempt against a KDP official in three days, according to the news agency. Eighteen people were wounded in the bombing, Al-Jazeera television reported. Zanganah was not hurt in the attack. Meanwhile, in Al-Basrah, South Oil Company Director Jabar al-Adi escaped a similar attack on 29 March, Reuters reported. Colonel Abd al-Karim Fahid, head of the Balat al-Shuhada police station in the Al-Durah neighborhood in southern Baghdad, was killed along with his driver on 28 March, international media reported. Al-Qaeda-affiliated Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility for the killing in a 28 March statement posted to the website. Fahid "was a known police chief and a fighter against God and his messenger, notorious for infidelity and immorality, and a violator of Muslims' sanctities in Al-Durah," the statement said. KR

Karbala police commander Major General Abbas al-Hasani announced on 26 March that a traffic curfew will be imposed in the city beginning 31 March, during the Arba'in holy day, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on the same day. Al-Hasani said bicycles and motorcycles will be included in the curfew. Some 3 million visitors are expected in Karbala during the day's events. Al-Hasani said special monitoring centers were set up at the city's entrances on 24 March, adding that multinational forces will be deployed to assist Iraqi security forces on Arba'in. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan announced on 26 March that 130 terrorists were arrested for plotting attacks on Karbala, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. He declined to say where the men were arrested, but said the action was the result of intensive surveillance by military intelligence. KR

UN envoy Ashraf Qazi met with Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on 27 March to discuss the envoy's attempts to engage political groups toward national reconciliation, UN News Center reported on 28 March. "Ayatollah al-Sistani told me he was a religious man and not a political one, and he did not get involved except when necessary, particularly during periods of crisis," Qazi said. The Supreme Council for the lslamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) posted a fatwa by the ayatollah on its website on 28 March ( The ayatollah was asked whether it is permissible for Iraqis to cooperate with "agencies assigned with preserving security and stability" in Iraq. Al-Sistani answered in an 18 March edict: "Yes, it should be done as a collective duty, taking into consideration religious principles." KR

Al-Sistani's office also responded to a request for comment on the new two-day weekend in Iraq, in a statement posted to the cleric's website ( on 28 March. "The decision to declare an additional holiday in a country like Iraq and select Saturday for this purpose should have been more carefully studied and discussed. We hope that this decision will be reviewed by the elected National Assembly," the statement said. Some Iraqi personalities and the media have criticized the imposition of a two-day weekend since the interim government made the change in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2005). KR

Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan has agreed to the establishment of a security force in the volatile city of Samarra following meetings with local tribal leaders and clerics, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 26 March. The force will reportedly be comprised of local residents who previously served in the Iraqi army. The force will operate under the command of the Seventh Regiment of the Iraqi Army in the Al-Anbar Governorate, and will take over the duties of National Guard members who were previously tasked with maintaining security in the city. KR