PUTIN PAYS TRIBUTE TO DECEASED PONTIFF...
In a statement prompted by the 2 April death of Pope John Paul II, President Vladimir Putin called him "an outstanding figure of the modern era whose name will always be linked with whole epoch," lenta.ru reported on 3 April. Putin said that Russia and the Vatican restored diplomatic relations and established a political dialogue during this pontificate. "I have the warmest memories of meeting with the pope and I am sure that the role of John Paul II in history, as well as his spiritual and political heritage, will be fully recognized by mankind," Putin said. Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, who heads the Moscow Patriarchy's foreign relations department, announced that he will head the Russian Orthodox Church's delegation to the pope's funeral. Kirill said the pope's main contribution was "that he helped to restore Christian traditions to the modern world." Although Kirill did not mention that the Russian Orthodox Church for many years objected to efforts by the pope to visit Russia, he said that he hopes the churches will be able to establish even closer relations during the next pontificate. VY
...AS GORBACHEV PRAISES POPE FOR ROLE IN ENDING COLD WAR...
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the first leader of the Soviet Union to meet with a pope, declared on 2 April that "a great humanist has passed away," Interfax reported. "In my opinion, John Paul II played an enormous role in ending the Cold War," Gorbachev said. "Not a single acute conflict remained without his attention. And, of course, he did not stay on the sidelines when the world found itself under a nuclear threat." JAC
...AND CATHOLICS ACROSS RUSSIA MOURN
Catholic churches across Russia held masses to mark the pope's passing in 10 different languages, newsru.com reported on 3 April, citing Igor Kovalevskii, general secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Russia. More than 1,000 people attended a Mass at Moscow's Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, led by Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, the head of the Catholic Metropolitan See in Russia, according to NTV. Pope John Paul II had hoped to visit Russia in 2004 and to return personally a sacred 18th-century copy of the Kazan Mother of God (Our Lady of Kazan) icon to the Russian Orthodox Church, but failed to receive the Orthodox Church's approval for his visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004). JAC
EXPERT PREDICTS SOME CIS REGIMES WILL USE FORCE AGAINST UNREST
CIS Institute Director Konstantin Zatulin said on 31 March that although there are many causes of potential social unrest in practically all the CIS countries, that does not mean that revolutions will occur there, polit.ru reported. "For instance, in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan there are no fewer social problems than there are in Kyrgyzstan, but Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Uzbek President Islam Karimov will not hesitate for a moment if they need to use force," Zatulin said. He added that the revolution in Kyrgyzstan came as a surprise to both Moscow and Washington and that therefore it will not have serious consequences for the CIS. Zatulin added that "Ukraine is not lost for Russia, as the struggle there is not yet finished." As for Georgia, he said "we cannot lose Georgia because we never had it." "[In that country] one pro-Western force is struggling with another, even more pro-Western force," he said. Echoing comments by President Putin in Yerevan on 25 March, he concluded by saying that the CIS was never designed to be "an integrator," but rather was a product of "divorce." Therefore, it can exist indefinitely as long as it doesn't disturb anyone, he said. VY
DEFENSE BEGINS FINAL STATEMENT IN KHODORKOVSKII TRIAL...
The trial of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, and Volna General Director Andrei Krainov reached a new stage on 1 April when defense lawyers made their closing statements, newsru.com and other media reported. On 30 March, prosecutor Dmitrii Shokhin asked the court to sentence Khordorkovskii and Lebedev to 10 years' imprisonment each and Krainov to 5 1/2 years. After the prosecutor's statement, defense lawyer Genrikh Pavda asked for a recess to prepare a rebuttal. However, the court ruled that this was a ploy to "drag out the trial" and rejected the request, newsru.com reported. VY
...AS LAWYERS EXPRESS HOPE FOR AN AMNESTY
Pavda told journalists on 1 April that the best hope for Khodorkovskii and Lebedev is to be released under a planned amnesty connected with the May commemoration of the 60th anniversary of victory in World War II, NTV reported on 1 April. State-owned RTR commented on 3 April that there is no way that amnesty would be extended to cover the Yukos case. Newsru.com commented on 1 April that the 20-year sentence handed down to former Yukos security chief Aleksei Pichugin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 30 March 2005) is a warning to Khodorkovskii. During the closed-door trial of Pichugin on murder and attempted-murder charges, Khodorkovskii's name was mentioned repeatedly, the website noted. VY
PROSECUTOR PLANNING NEW CHARGES AGAINST CONVICTED FORMER YUKOS SECURITY CHIEF...
Kamil Kashaev, who served as prosecutor in the Pichugin case, has said that prosecutors will likely bring more murder charges against Pichugin, RTR and ORT reported on 2 and 3 April, respectively. According to papers filed with the court, Pichugin's work at Yukos centered on "dealing with people who could hamper the development of the company." He was subordinated to former Yukos executive Leonid Nevzlin, Kashaev said. Pichugin was assisted by Sergei Gorin, who allegedly established contacts with "perpetrators of contract killings." Prosecutors argued that Pichugin and Gorin tried to organize the killing of former Yukos executive Olga Kostina and that Gorin was involved in the preparation of several other contract killings. At one point, prosecutors say, Gorin began to blackmail Pichugin and Yukos, demanding control over a number of gasoline stations as the price for his silence. Gorin allegedly discussed the blackmail with Khodorkovskii's father, Boris, although Boris Khodorkovskii told journalists on 1 April that he could not recall such a meeting, NTV and newsru.com reported. Rusenergy.ru reported on 1 April that Pichugin might be charged with the 1998 murder of Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 1998). VY
...AS DEFENSE READIES APPEAL TO EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Pichugin's lawyer, Georgii Kaganer, has said that he will appeal Pichugin's conviction to the European Court of Human Rights, polit.ru reported on 1 April. Kaganer said that Pichugin maintains his innocence and that the case against him was fabricated. Political analyst Leonid Radzikhovskii wrote on politcom.ru on 1 April that the Pichugin case was motivated "in the best Soviet tradition." He noted that the corpses of the victims have never been found and that prosecutors relied on circumstantial evidence and the testimony of hardened criminals. He also mentioned presidential aide Igor Shuvalov's recent statement that the Yukos case should serve as a warning for the business community (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2005). Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Ludmila Alekseeva told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 29 March that Pichugin was selected as a target because he is a former KGB and Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, from whom the authorities hoped to obtain compromising materials on Khodorkovskii. When he refused, the authorities decided to make an example of him, Alekseeva said. VY
PARTY OFFICIAL CALLS FOR TRANSFORMATION OF PARTY OF POWER
Unified Russia General Council member Mikhail Margelov, who is also chairman of the Federation Council's Foreign Relations Committee, has said that his party faces serious internal problems because it has neither its own platform nor a distinct ideology, polit.ru reported on 1 April. "The unlimited devotion to the authorities that Unified Russia demonstrates now cannot be considered an ideology," Margelov said. He noted that the party has a socially oriented left wing and a more conservative right wing, adding that he hopes this will not develop into a split but will instead prompt a discussion and transformation. "If we do not transform Unified Russia into a European-style conservative party, we will be a party of a Third World state, with results that are well known," Margelov said. VY
ANOTHER YOUTH MOVEMENT EMERGES?
Members of the youth branches of Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces and a new movement called Oborona (Defense) held a rally in central Moscow on 3 April, REN-TV and lenta.ru reported. About 150 people marched along Tverskoi Boulevard carrying signs saying "Enough Dictatorship," "Enough Censorship," and "Russia Without Putin and Oligarchs." "Novye izvestiya" on 4 April reported that Oborona is an umbrella group for a number of youth organizations that includes Yabloko's youth movement, the student organization I Think, and other groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2005). According to the daily, Oborona is "trying to extend 'orange' technology to Russia." The group's website published instructions on how demonstrators should conduct themselves. It also announced a competition for the best photograph of the protest. According to REN-TV, rally organizers told police the protest was authorized by Moscow city authorities. On 31 March, "Kommersant-Daily" reported it could find no evidence of the existence of another new youth organization called Golos (Voice), which Interfax reported earlier, citing an unidentified law-enforcement official. The official said that organization has not been registered anywhere as yet, but it maintains close links with activists from Georgia's Kmara! and Ukraine's Pora. JAC
COURT REFUSES TO BAN U.S. CARTOONS FROM AIRWAVES
A court in Moscow rejected on 1 April a suit by Moscow attorney and concerned father Igor Smykov, who was seeking either to move the animated television series "The Simpsons" and "The Family Guy" to a later time slot on REN-TV or to ban them outright, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau and Radio Rossii reported. Smykov was also seeking 300,000 rubles ($10,000) in damages. Smykov charged that the series advocate "violence, cruelty, drug addiction, and homosexuality" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2005). REN-TV President Irena Lesnevskaya praised the decision, commenting, "We did not doubt that we're in the right, but were afraid the court might have gotten an order from someone." The bureau noted that the television series is not yet in the clear, since a Duma inquiry issued by LDPR Deputy Yelena Afanaseva to the Culture and Mass Communications Ministry is still pending. JAC
...AS SURVEY FINDS SUPPORT FOR MORE TELEVISION STATIONS
A survey conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) on 26-27 March of 1,600 persons found that a majority of those surveyed support the creation of specialized television channels, Radio Rossii and wciom.ru reported. Eighteen percent of those surveyed support a children's entertainment channel; 16 percent want an educational channel; and 13 percent want another news channel similar to Euronews or CNN. The survey also found that ORT and RTR remain the most important sources of political information for Russians, although the share of those surveyed who consider ORT a "very important" source for information on political subjects dropped from 79 percent in 1999 to 67 percent this year. RTR rose from 64 percent to 66 percent, NTV's share dropped from 54 percent in 1999 to 51 percent. The share of respondents who consider regional and local television channels important sources of political information rose from 35 percent to 43 percent. JAC
PROSECUTOR SAYS BODYGUARDS KILLED CHECHEN LEADER
Chechen President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov was shot dead by his bodyguards at his own request in order to avoid capture, Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel told journalists in Vladikavkaz on 1 April, Russian news agencies reported. Initial reports of Maskhadov's death on 8 March suggested that he died in an exchange of fire with Russian special-forces troops who stormed his hiding place in a house in the village of Tolstoi-Yurt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2005). Shepel also said DNA analysis has established beyond doubt that the man killed in that shootout was Maskhadov. He said all materials pertaining to Maskhadov's death will be handed over to the officials tasked with investigating the September 2004 Beslan school hostage taking, given that Maskhadov has been charged with organizing it. Maskhadov condemned the hostage taking at the time and denied any role in it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 September 2004). Shepel reiterated earlier Russian statements that, as a "terrorist," Maskhadov should be buried in an unmarked grave, Interfax reported. LF
ARMENIAN JOURNALIST BLAMES LOCAL GOVERNOR FOR ARSON ATTACK
Samvel Aleksanian, editor of the weekly "Suniyats yerkir," which is published in the southeastern region of Kapan, issued a statement on 1 April accusing regional administrator Surik Khachatrian of instigating an arson attack that totally destroyed Aleksanian's car early that morning, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Aleksanian claimed Khachatrian was angered by an interview Aleksanian gave to a Yerevan newspaper last month. Aleksanian similarly blamed Khachatrian for an attack on his paper's premises last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 October 2004). LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT VISITS GEORGIA
In the course of an unofficial two-day working visit to Georgia, Robert Kocharian met on 1 April at the mountain resort of Gudauri with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili for what Georgian National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili termed "intensive talks" focusing on bilateral relations, regional issues, and relations with Russia, Georgian and Russian news agencies reported. Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, who also met with Kocharian, lauded his refusal to comment on the closure of the two remaining Rusian military bases in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. One of those bases is in a region of southern Georgian predominantly populated by Armenians. Kocharian said the closure is a domestic Georgian political issue. Saakashvili denied on 4 April that Kocharian came to Georgia at Russian President Vladimir Putin's behest, Caucasus Press reported. LF
OSCE CHAIRMAN VISITS AZERBAIJAN...
On the final stop of his tour of the South Caucasus, Slovenian Foreign Minister and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman in Office Dmitrij Rupel met in Baku on 2 April with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev; Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov; and Nizami Bahmanov, the head of the Azerbaijani community that fled Karabakh in the late 1980s, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. Rupel stressed the need to ensure that the parliamentary elections due in November are fair and transparent and said the OSCE Office in Baku is ready to contribute resources to combat money laundering in Azerbaijan and to uphold human rights and press freedoms there, ITAR-TASS reported. Rupel also met with the leaders of nine of Azerbaijan's most prominent opposition parties, Turan reported on 2 April. LF
...CALLS FOR PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO KARABAKH CONFLICT
OSCE Chairman in Office Rupel told journalists in Baku on 2 April following his talks with Foreign Minister Mammadyarov that the latter outlined several "interesting ideas" concerning how to resolve the Karabakh conflict, ITAR-TASS and Turan reported. He did not elaborate, but stressed his hope that the conflict will indeed be resolved by the end of this year, and added that a settlement must be exclusively peaceful. Mammadyarov for his part said that he will meet in London on 15 April with his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian to continue the talks under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group on approaches to resolving the conflict that began last year in Prague. In what appears simultaneously to be a concession and a proviso, Mammadyarov said that "if we continue the talks" and unspecified results are achieved, the Armenian leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic could join them. Azerbaijani officials have hitherto ruled out any such participation, arguing that the conflict should be resolved through talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan. LF
OSCE CHAIRMAN DISCUSSES SOUTH OSSETIA WITH GEORGIAN LEADERS
Slovenian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Rupel met in Tbilisi on 1 April with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli and Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili, Caucasus Press reported. Topics discussed included the South Ossetian conflict, the now discontinued OSCE monitoring of the Georgian-Russian border, Georgia's willingness to cooperate with Russia in cracking down on terrorism, and the opening of a joint UN/OSCE office in Abkhazia's Gali Raion to monitor the human rights situation there. LF
OPPOSITION IMPLICATES GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN SMUGGLING...
Pikria Chikhradze of the New Conservative Party (aka the New Rightists) told journalists in Tbilisi on 1 April that a journalist in Gori has established that Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili and his close associate, Shida Kartli Governor Mikheil Kareli, patronize several groups that engage in smuggling cigarettes, wheat, oil and other commodities from Russia to Georgia via the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The entire top police leadership in Shida Kartli was fired last month on suspicion of involvement in such smuggling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2005). LF
...AS HE EXONERATES OFFICER ACCUSED OF BRUTALITY
Okruashvili has ruled that a captain who made Private Arkadi Kukava stand naked outdoors in the snow for a violation of military discipline acted correctly, Caucasus Press reported on 4 April. "The army is not a kindergarten and soldiers must do what their commander tells them," Okruashvili said. Kukava contracted acute pneumonia after being disciplined by his commander, Captain Gela Lomsadze. Kukava and several of his colleagues staged a violent protest on 1 April, after which Lomsadze was suspended from duty, Caucasus Press reported on 2 April. An official from the Georgian ombudsman's office said that Lomsadze should be brought to trial. LF
FBI CONFIRMS GEORGIAN PREMIER DIED OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
Experts from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who have been assisting in the investigation of the 3 February death of Zurab Zhvania told journalists in Tbilisi on 1 April that they found no evidence that Zhvania was killed deliberately, rather than succumbing to fumes from a faulty gas heater, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 February 2005). But veteran politician Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia repeated on 1 April her conviction that Zhvania was murdered, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 8 February 2005). She accused the FBI and the Georgian authorities of conspiring to conceal the true cause of Zhvania's death. LF
SELF-EXILED RUSSIAN OLIGARCH PAYS FLYING VISIT TO GEORGIA
Boris Berezovskii, who has lived in London since leaving Russia in 2000, arrived in Tbilisi late on 2 April where he met briefly with fellow oligarch Badri Patarkatsishvili, Interfax and newsru.com reported. Berezovskii left later that night. Berezovskii paid a similar brief visit to Tbilisi in early December 2003, entering Georgia on a British passport in the name of Platon Yelenin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 8 December 2003). LF
ABKHAZ PRIME MINISTER SURVIVES SECOND ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Aleksandr Anvkab escaped unhurt but his driver sustained bullet wounds when gunmen opened fire on Ankvab's motorcade late on 1 April as he was driving from Sukhum to his home in Gudauta, Georgian and Russian media reported. The assault took place at the same location as a previous assassination attempt in late February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2005). Ankvab and Abkhaz Interior Minister Otar Khetsia told journalists on 2 April they believe both shootings were perpetrated by the same mafia group in response to Ankvab's announced threat to crack down on crime, ITAR-TASS and yufo.ru reported. LF
WORLD BANK TO GIVE KAZAKHSTAN $35 MILLION FOR AGRICULTURE
Representatives of the World Bank and the government of Kazakhstan signed an agreement on 1 April to undertake a $96.1 million project to support agriculture in Kazakhstan, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The World Bank will provide $35 million for the project, which is intended to support agriculture development and raise standards of living in rural areas. The current project marks the second stage of a post-privatization agriculture-support project begun in 1998. Kazakh Finance Minister Arman Dunaev noted that the second stage differs from the first in that the Kazakh government is now providing the bulk of financial support. DK
KYRGYZ PRESIDENT AGREES TO RESIGN...
In negotiations that took place in the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow on 3 April, ousted President Askar Akaev met with a delegation headed by speaker of parliament Omurbek Tekebaev and agreed to step down from the presidency, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In accordance with a protocol signed after the 3 April talks, Akaev will officially resign in Moscow on 4 April after delivering a televised address to the Kyrgyz people, RIA-Novosti reported. The ousted president initially insisted on returning to Kyrgyzstan to deliver the address, but changed his mind after failing to obtain security guarantees from the country's new leadership, a source close to Akaev told the Russian news agency. The protocol that was signed on 3 April contains four points, akipress.org reported: Akaev's resignation of the presidency, the unconditional observance of all laws with respect to the president, pre-term presidential elections, and guarantees of the preceding points provided by Russia and Kazakhstan. DK
...AS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT HEAD ADDRESSES CHANGES TO BASIC LAW
Cholpon Baekova, chairwoman of the Constitutional Court, announced on 2 April that recent events in Kyrgyzstan necessitate a constitutional conference to discuss possible changes to the country's basic law, Kabar reported. Baekova said the conference would have to "fully review the constitution, since contradictions could arise." Noting that the conference should include political parties, civil society representatives, members of parliament, judges, and the media, Baekova said changes to the constitution can be made either by parliament or through a referendum. On the presidential election now set for 26 June, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service quoted Baekova as saying: "The election will be held in any case. At least [the individuals] who held a meeting today in the Constitutional Court discussed this question and clearly stated that the elections will be on 26 June, regardless of any announcement [by ousted President Askar Akaev]." Baekova concluded that "this new page in the history of the Kyrgyz Republic should begin with the development of transparent and comprehensible mechanisms for building a system of government and society in which corruption, poverty, and appointments based on tribalism are a thing of the past. This puts the necessity of holding a constitutional conference at the top of the agenda," akipress.org reported. DK
COMMITTEE TO REVIEW CASE OF JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER
Acting Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva announced on 1 April that Prime Minister and acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev has signed a resolution to set up a commission for the rehabilitation of Feliks Kulov, Kabar reported. Otunbaeva called Kulov, who heads the Ar-Namys party and who was freed from prison on 24 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005), a political prisoner. Also on 1 March, an Ar-Namys spokesman said the party sent a letter to the Prosecutor-General's Office on 28 March asking for an expedited review of Kulov's case, but it had not yet received an answer, gazeta.kg reported. The spokesman said the party plans to send another request to the Prosecutor-General's Office within six days, akipress.org reported. DK
ANOTHER KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE EMERGES
Journalist Melis Eshimkanov announced at a news conference in Bishkek on 1 April that businessman Almaz Atambaev plans to seek the presidency in the 26 June presidential election, akipress.org reported. Eshimkanov and Atambaev are members of the Social-Democratic Party. Atambaev joins an increasingly crowded field that includes current Prime Minister and acting President Bakiev, parliamentarian Adakhan Madumarov, businessman Nurbek Turdukulov, and former Emergency Situations Minister Temirbek Akmataliev. Kulov is also widely expected to run. DK
MILITARY EXERCISES BEGIN IN TAJIKISTAN
The Rubezh-2005 command-control military exercises involving forces from the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO, which comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Russia) began in Tajikistan on 2 April, Avesta reported. The exercises, which will last until 6 April under the command of Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev, involve service personnel from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan and focus on the CSTO's Collective Rapid Deployment Forces in Central Asia. Khayrulloev told ITAR-TASS the war games will demonstrate the "preparedness of CSTO land forces for an adequate response to challenges and threats to stability in the Central Asian region." Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 April that one scenario for the exercises, which will involve up to 3,000 service personnel, includes the quelling of election-fueled disorder similar to recent events in Kyrgyzstan. Russia's Defense Ministry, however, has denied any link between the exercises and recent unrest in Kyrgyzstan. DK
TWO OFFICIALS FOUND SLAIN IN TAJIK CAPITAL
Asadullo Mazoriev, an investigator for Tajikistan's Interior Ministry, and Sherafgan Saidov, an official in the Customs Service, were found shot dead in Dushanbe on 1 April, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. A source in the Tax Ministry, which includes the Customs Service, told the news agency, "Sherafgan Saidov was the son-in-law of Mirzokhoja Nizomov, who used to hold the post of head of customs service as part of the 30 percent quota given by the government to the opposition [in the late 1990s]." An investigation into the case has begun. DK
BELARUSIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS MEET ON BLACK SEA COAST
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 4 April in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, Belapan reported. The meeting focused on the situation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the results of economic, security, and cultural cooperation between the two countries in 2004. The two men also discussed preparations for celebrations on the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany on 9 May and an international conference on the Chornobyl nuclear disaster scheduled to take place in Minsk in 2006. RK
BELARUSIAN LEADER SENDS CONDOLENCES ON POPE'S DEATH
President Lukashenka sent a message of condolences to the Vatican on 3 April on the death of John Paul II, Belapan reported on 3 April. "The news of the death of His Holiness Pope John Paul II was received with deep sorrow in the Republic of Belarus," Belapan quoted him as saying. "He who has passed away was a great figure of the Roman Catholic Church who devoted his entire activities to a responsible apostolic mission aimed at the strengthening of the Christian values, faith, good, and mercy, and the ideals of peace and tolerance," the message said. "Belarus is mourning together with all nations of the world." RK
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT LEAVES FOR UNITED STATES
Viktor Yushchenko left for a five-day working visit to the United States on 3 April accompanied by his wife Kateryna, State Secretary Oleksandr Zinchenko, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, Economy Minister Serhiy Teryokhin, and Transport Minister Yevhen Chervonenko. Yushchenko is scheduled to meet with President George W. Bush on 4 April. On 5 April, Yushchenko is to receive the John F. Kennedy Freedom Award in Boston and on 6 April he will address a joint session of Congress. RK
UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS
The Social Democratic Party (united) held its 19th congress in Kyiv on 2 April and elected the head of former President Leonid Kuchma's presidential administration, Viktor Medvedchuk, as chairman and parliament deputy Nestor Shufrych as his first deputy, Interfax reported. The party declared itself in opposition to the Yushchenko government and intends to use the same tactics of mass protests that Yushchenko's supporters used during the presidential elections in November-December 2004. Medvedchuk told delegates that 16,000 members have left the party in the last five months and that in January-February 3,000 new people joined. The party presently has 395,000 members. The party intends to oppose Ukraine's entry into NATO and work towards strengthening Ukrainian-Russian relations and Ukraine's membership in the Single Economic Space. RK
CROATIA MOURNS POPE JOHN PAUL II...
Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in Zagreb on 3 April that Pope John Paul II was "a proven friend of Croatia and the Croatian people, and an advocate of our right to freedom and independence and our integration with the European family of peoples," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "We will cherish forever his visits to Croatia. The messages he left during those visits as a religious leader and statesman have been and will remain a permanent landmark on our path of development," Mesic added. Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said that the pope was not only the head of the Roman Catholic Church but also "the leading moral authority in today's world." The pope visited Croatia in 1994, 1998, and 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 5, and 9 June 2003). About 87 percent of Croatia's 4.5 million people are at least nominally Roman Catholic, while about 1.3 percent are of Islamic heritage. The head of the Islamic Community in Osijek-Baranja County, Imam Enes Poljic, said on 3 April that "the world has lost its greatest moral authority, the man who worked with great sincerity and dedication to building ties between all religions and religious communities," Hina reported. "The Muslims in Osijek had prayed that his suffering be eased and we know that all of us are walking the same path towards the same end," Poljic added. PM
...AS DOES KOSOVA...
Mark Sopi, who is the Roman Catholic bishop of Kosova, said in Prishtina on 3 April that Pope John Paul II had shown great interest in solving problems and urged dialogue in Kosova, Hina reported. Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova said that "the news on the death of the holy father, a great pope who dedicated his life to peace, freedom, and mutual understanding, has deeply saddened me." Rugova also called the pope "a great friend, a father who prayed much for Kosova. We should pay credit to him for the freedom, independence, and democracy of Kosova," he added. Most Kosovar Albanians are Muslims, but there is an influential Roman Catholic minority. Relations between those two religious groups are generally good. PM
...WHILE BOSNIA SENDS CONDOLENCES...
Cardinal Vinko Puljic, who is Europe's only ethnic Croat cardinal and the first cardinal in Bosnia-Herzegovina's history, said in Sarajevo on 3 April that Pope John Paul II served as a bridge between religious faiths, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "We can rightfully say that he was a great pope, certainly the man of the century and the man who led the church from one millennium into another," he added. Borislav Paravac, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency and its current chairman, called the pope a true friend of Bosnia and the entire world. Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Islamic Community, said that "Pope John Paul II's departure from this world leaves a huge void. It will be difficult to find such a moral figure." The Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje" noted that on his 1997 visit to Bosnia, the pope said that "one should be able to ask forgiveness and to forgive." The pope also visited Bosnia in 2003, when Serbian Orthodox officials gave him a chilly reception in the Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). Bosnia's 4 million people are estimated to be about 40 percent Muslim, 31 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 15 percent Roman Catholic. PM
...AND SERBIA PAYS ITS RESPECTS
Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle sent a message on 3 April in his name and that of the church to the Roman Catholic clergy and believers, in which he wrote that he shares their grief and hopes that the soul of the pope may rest in peace, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica also extended their condolences. Serbia and Montenegro is one of the few countries that Pope John Paul II was unable to visit during his reign, reportedly due to the opposition of the Serbian Orthodox Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2003). About 65 percent of the country's 10.8 million people are Orthodox, while only 4 percent are Roman Catholic, mainly in Vojvodina and Montenegro's Kotor Bay region. PM
SERBIA LAUNCHES MANHUNT FOR FUGITIVE GENERAL...
Serbian police launched a "massive manhunt" on 2 April for war crimes indictee and former General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who disappeared recently before police could deliver a summons for him to appear in a special Serbian court in connection with the 2000 abduction and killing of former Serbian President Ivan Stambolic and an assassination attempt on Serbian politician Vuk Draskovic, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2005). Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said the search began after a Belgrade court issued an arrest warrant for Pavkovic for failing to receive the summons. In addition, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted him in connection with his role as commander of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces in the 1998-99 Kosova conflict. The European Union has warned Serbia and Montenegro to improve its cooperation with the tribunal soon if it wants to receive a green light for talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. PM
...WHILE SECOND GENERAL LEAVES FOR THE HAGUE...
Serbian government officials told Reuters on 4 April that former police General Sreten Lukic left Belgrade that morning on a flight to The Hague. He will surrender there to the war crimes tribunal that indicted him in 2003 for his role in the 1998-99 Kosova conflict, during which he commanded Interior Ministry paramilitary forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 25, and 30 March 2005). PM
...WHERE FORMER MACEDONIAN MINISTER PLEADS 'NOT GUILTY'
Former Macedonian Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski pleaded "not guilty" during his first hearing at the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal on 1 April, "Dnevnik" and other Macedonian media reported. Boskovski faces war crimes and murder charges in connection with the killing of 10 ethnic Albanians during a police operation in the village of Ljuboten in August 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 17, and 24 March 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 August 2004 and 26 March 2005). "I am absolutely innocent," Boskovski said. Asked by the judge whether he wanted to add anything, Boskovski replied, "I do not know whether it is allowed at this point, but I want to warn that the indictment is not based on evidence." Boskovski claimed the charges are copied from reports of the U.S.-based organization Human Rights Watch, which first reported about the events at Ljuboten. Boskovski added that it is not he who stands accused but Macedonia. "I will defend my honor and innocence as well as Macedonia's honor," Boskovski said. UB
POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR RESIGNATION OF TRANSDNIESTER LEADERSHIP
Poland's Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld said the Transdniester conflict can only be settled if the separatist region's leaders resign, BASA reported on 1 April. The previous day, Rotfeld, who was holding talks with Moldova's leaders on behalf of the Council of Europe, told a press conference that the "population in the Transdniestrian region is hostage of the Tiraspol administration and we must do our best to sack it as soon as possible." Rotfeld added that while Transdniester should be granted "full self-government" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005), this should take place within a "sovereign, independent, and unitary Moldova." BW
MOLDOVAN PROSECUTOR OVERRULES CHISINAU MAYOR ON OPPOSITION RALLY
Chisinau prosecutor Vasile Paskar has revoked a decision by the mayor's office allowing an opposition group to demonstrate near parliament during the 4 April presidential elections, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 April. Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean, who also leads the opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD), had granted the Moldovan National Union of Transdniestrian War Veterans permission to hold the rally to protest the results of the 6 March parliamentary elections. Paskar said the protest was an illegal attempt "to exert pressure on the newly elected legislative body despite the decision by international observers and the Constitutional Court" declaring the elections valid. On 2 April, 20 members of the Chisinau City Council asked Urechean to revoke the group's permission to hold the protest, BASA reported the same day. BW
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION LEADER REAFFIRMS DEMANDS ON RUSSIAN TROOPS, CIS...
BMD leader Urechean reaffirmed his demand that President Vladimir Voronin withdraw Moldova from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and expel Russian peacekeepers from Transdniester, Infotag reported on 1 April. "There is nothing extraordinary in that," Urechean said. "During the election campaign, some forces tried to portray us as a pro-Russia organization. But we are not. Nobody wished to notice that our electoral platform was targeted at secession from the CIS and at integration into Europe," he said. "For Moldova, it is much more important to get integrated with the European Union than to remain in the CIS -- a dead organization," he added. "We see that nothing has happened to Ukraine, although that country has not till now ratified documents on its CIS membership." The demands were part of a 22-point list of conditions the BMD made for supporting Voronin in the 4 April presidential elections in parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005). BW
...AND VOWS TO BOYCOTT ELECTION AS MORE CRACKS EMERGE IN BLOC
Serafim Urechean said the BMD has decided not to take part in the 4 April presidential elections, Infotag reported on 1 April. The BMD leader made his comments after meeting with the two candidates, incumbent President Voronin and Academy of Sciences President Gheorghe Duca. "We were disappointed with those meetings. We shall not vote for the Communist candidates. We promised that to our voters, and we shall keep our word," Urechean said. But Oleg Serebrian, head of the Social Liberal Party, which is part of the BMD, said the three lawmakers from his party might consider participating in the vote. "It is true that we declared we will pick up our vote ballots, but we did not yet decide if we will vote or not," Serebrian said. BW
PUTIN'S REGIONALIZATION PLAN SPARKS TERRITORIAL DISPUTES
Russian President Vladimir Putin's plan to reduce the number of subjects of the Russian Federation from the current 89 by combining some of the existing ones has had the unintended consequence of reopening several old territorial disputes among the regions, and sparking new demands by some regions for transfers of territory.
Last week, voters in the far-northern Taimyr Autonomous Okrug began voting on a proposal to fold the Taimyr and Evenk okrugs into Krasnoyarsk Krai. Voting in that referendum, which is expected to pass easily, will be largely completed on 17 April (http://www.nr2.ru/siberia/21146.html).
That vote, like an earlier one in Perm Oblast, has attracted attention to the question of just how many federal districts will exist when this process is completed and what their borders will look in the end. So far, however, Putin has not provided any specifics of an overall plan and that, in turn, has led many in the regions to make their own demands.
An article in "Novye izvestiya" on 29 March argued that Putin's approach has "sharpened territorial disputes" across the country. The one that has attracted the most attention to date has been the very public demand by the Republic of Ingushetia that the Prigorodnii Raion -- which was was transferred to the Soviet-era North Ossetian ASSR after the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR was abolished following the mass deportation of Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia on Stalin's orders in February 1944 -- be returned to them.
The parliaments of the two republics involved recently appealed separately to Moscow to specify just where the border between the two republics should be. But the history of this area suggests that whatever decision Moscow makes is likely to be contested on the ground, quite possibly with violence.
Other challenges to existing borders are heating up as well, "Novye izvestiya" reported.
A group of Adygeya leaders have organized to demand the creation of a single Cherkess (Circassian) Republic, which they believe should include, in addition to the Adygeya Republic, the territory of Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and about half of Krasnodar Krai, whose leader in turn is pushing for the absorption of the Adygeya Republic into his territory.
Nearby, long-simmering disputes have reemerged over the Kalmyk Republic's borders with Astrakhan Oblast and Daghestan.
Krasnoyarsk officials, meanwhile, are making demands for border adjustments with the neighboring Republic of Khakasia, whose leader, Aleksei Lebed, said a few days ago that he hopes to resolve these issues "via dialogue between the governments of the regions."
But the daily reported that might not be possible. Some in Krasnoyarsk are urging that their krai absorb all of Khakasia, as well as the neighboring Republic of Tyva. Indeed, referendum supporters in Krasnoyarsk have distributed a map showing their territory including both and extending from Mongolia to the Arctic.
In Primorskii Krai, ethnic Koreans, with the support of a group of South Korean businessmen, are pushing for the creation of a Korean autonomous formation that would encompass some 850,000 hectares and ultimately have a population of 250,000.
Even as the Kremlin moves to reduce the number of federation subjects, officials in Moscow are concluding that territories controlled by the country's Atomic Energy, Defense, and Justice ministries already represent a sort of 90th subject of the federation. Dmitrii Oreshkin, who heads the mapping center in the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geography, placed the blame for this on the Soviet past. Until 1991, he told the paper, "if the state in the form of its administrations -- the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry, or the KGB -- wanted to build or move something, it just did so" with little or no regard for borders.
Now, territory has become important because land has value, Oreshkin continued. But unfortunately, the Russian Federation today has neither accurate nor agreed-upon maps, and that in turn means that "for the immediate future, territorial disputes will only become more intense."
This is only one of the problems that Putin's plan, precisely because of the Kremlin's failure to specify exactly what it intends, has intensified. (For a useful survey of the entire issue of why expanding regions is likely to be dangerous and counterproductive, see Vladimir Kaganskii, "Ukrupnenie regionov?" at http://www.russ.ru/culture/20050305_kag-pr.html). But as these disputes continue to bubble up around the Russian Federation -- and there is no indication that any of them will subside soon -- it would seem impossible to disagree with the conclusion offered in the title of the "Novye izvestiya" article: "Ambiguity Of Administrative Borders Is A Threat To Russia's Stability."
(Paul Goble, former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)
AFGHAN LEADER CALLS POPE'S DEATH MAJOR LOSS...
President Hamid Karzai's office released a statement on 3 April calling the death of Pope John Paul II on 2 April a major loss, Radio Afghanistan reported. Karzai expressed his personal grief over the death of the pope, adding that the Afghan people respect his efforts for peace, coexistence, tolerance, and understanding among the world's religions. "We remember" the pope's support for the Afghans following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Karzai is quoted as saying in the statement. According to Karzai, while the pope was the leader of Catholics, he "showed concern for all human beings." Karzai expressed the condolences of the Afghan nation to the world's Catholics. AT
...WHILE NEO-TALIBAN REMAIN AMBIVALENT
In a 3 April telephone message, neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi said that the pope's "moderation and his championship of peace is worth appreciating," Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Hakimi, however, said that the pope was the leader of the Catholics, "which is not the one true religion" and Catholics "are determined in their enmity toward" Islam. The neo-Taliban statement called on Christians to "give up oppressing others," and to replace the pope with a figure "who could lead them towards the true path of deliverance." The fact that the neo-Taliban have issued a statement regarding the pope's demise is part of their determination to be seen as a political organization. AT
AFGHAN PRESIDENT WELCOMES NEW OPPOSITION FACTION
In a statement released on 1 April, President Karzai welcomed the formation of the new opposition alliance announced by former Education Minister and presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni on 31 March, the National Understanding Front (Jabha-ye Tafahom-e Melli) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005). Karzai's statement said that he "appreciates" Qanuni's initiative to establish an opposition front to the government "within the democratic framework" and he regards the move as "an important step towards strengthening democracy" in Afghanistan. Karzai wished Qanuni and his colleagues success. AT
NINE MILITARY PERSONNEL KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
In an attack by the neo-Taliban on the headquarters of Deshu District in Helmand Province, nine Afghan security personnel were killed and three injured, AFP reported on 3 April. Deshu District head Mohammad Rahim told AFP that a group of neo-Taliban stormed the district headquarters on 2 April and took control of the headquarters for two hours before being forced out. Mohammad Rahim said on 2 April that as a result of the attack, the head of Deshu administrative affairs and two policemen were killed and four others were injured, AIP reported. "Blood at the scene shows that nine Taliban were killed in the clash," Mohammad Rahim told AIP. However, neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi told AIP that only one of their number was injured. According to AFP, there was no word on neo-Taliban casualties. Commenting on the increasing activity attributed to the neo-Taliban in recent days in southern Afghanistan, a Western source on the condition of anonymity attributed the unrest to opium-poppy eradication programs, AFP reported. AT
TEHRAN EXPRESSES CONDOLENCES ON POPE'S DEATH
In a 3 April message, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami expressed his condolences on the death of Pope John Paul II the day before, IRNA reported. Khatami met the Holy Father in March 1999 in a symbolically important meeting of the heads of the Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Roman Catholic Church (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 15 March 1999). BS
TEHRAN REJECTS ASYLUM SEEKER'S TORTURE CLAIMS
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi and judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad on 2 April rejected an Iranian physician's statements in Ottawa about the torture and death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in Tehran in June 2003, IRNA and ISNA reported. Assefi said Baghiatollah Hospital officials deny that Shahram Azam was on their medical team, and Karimi-Rad said the coroner's report does not include the information on physical injuries that Azam described at his 31 March press conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005). BS.
IRANIAN CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE DISCUSSES ECONOMIC POLICIES
The conservative Coordination Council's likely candidate for the 17 June presidential election, Ali Larijani, described the economic policies of his prospective government during a 31 March press conference in Mazandaran Province, Fars News Agency reported. He said he would encourage privatization by issuing shares in state-owned enterprises, and he would reduce economic activities that take place through officials' connections. Larijani said the government must be streamlined so it can meet public-sector workers' needs and still fulfill its role. Larijani said his government's economic policies would be based on Islam and public participation. BS
IRAN'S CONSERVATIVES HAVE CHOSEN THEIR CANDIDATE...
Conservative legislator Mohsen Kuhkan was quoted by "Mardom Salari" on 3 April as saying that there probably will be three different conservative groupings -- Larijani's supporters, the Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami), and the coalition of "fundamentalist" candidates (Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, Mohammad Qalibaf, Mohsen Rezai, Ahmad Tavakoli, and Ali Akbar Velayati). Kashmar representative Ahmad Bloukian said the Coordination Council informed its provincial offices that Larijani is its candidate and began activities on his behalf. Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a leading member of the Coordination Council, said that the main conservative group will announce its candidate on 21 April, "Mardom Salari" reported on 3 April. "The final decision has already been announced inside the organization and the name of our final candidate has been submitted to the Coordination Council of the provinces." He added, "Although we have chosen our candidate, the opinion polls will continue until the final days." BS
...AND WILL CONTINUE OPINION POLLS
Guilds and Bazaar Association Secretary-General Ahmad Karimi-Isfahani said on 3 April that Ali Larijani is the leading candidate in the conservatives' opinion polls, ISNA reported, but there will be more polls. BS
IRAQI PARLIAMENT ELECTS SPEAKER, DEPUTIES
The transitional National Assembly elected Hajim al-Hassani speaker of parliament on 3 April, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Husayn al-Shahristani from the Shi'a-led United Iraqi Alliance and Kurdish politician Arif Tayfur were named deputy speakers. In his first address to the parliament, broadcast on Al-Sharqiyah television, al-Hassani told fellow parliamentarians: "It is time for this patient people to win their natural right to a decent life, map out the future of their coming generations, and be a pillar of good and become part of the edifice of mankind.... We have honored every human being, whether the Muslim, the Christian, the Sunni, the Shi'ite, the Arab, and the Kurd, the Turkoman or the Chaldo-Assyrian under a free, democratic, federal, and pluralistic state and in a state administered by justice and governed by men and women whose only concern and yardstick is to serve this people." He reminded parliamentarians of their responsibilities in the rebuilding of Iraq and called for the elimination of corruption and nepotism in state institutions, adding, "We must give chances to the efficient, loyal, and capable people, and have loyalty to the nation and the people, and not [let] loyalty to the party, sect, or national group be the yardstick." KR
VETERAN SUNNI FIGURE ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY FOR IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT
Sunni politician Adnan Pachachi announced his candidacy for the post of vice president at a 2 April press briefing in Baghdad, RFI reported. Pachachi told journalists at the briefing that he found "a lot of support from a wide spectrum of political, religious, and tribal groups." He called on Shi'ite and Kurdish parties to allow Sunnis the opportunity to appoint one of their own to the post, saying that Sunnis "alone have the right to nominate and choose whoever they believe is qualified to have this post." He added that Sunnis will ultimately decide whether he is worthy of serving as vice president. "Eventually, I leave the matter to the Front for Iraqi National Forces, which has been established recently, that includes most of the religious, political, and tribal groups in the Sunni community, among them the [Iraqi] Islamic Party as well as the Council of National dialogue. This front is considered the ultimate authority for approving or choosing the candidates that are reserved for the Sunni community. I myself will accept any decision they make in this regard." If elected, Pachachi vowed to "do all I can for the good of the people of Iraq in all its sections and segments." KR
IRAQI PARLIAMENTARIANS OBSERVE MINUTE OF SILENCE FOR POPE, AS SHI'ITE LEADER ISSUES CONDOLENCES
The transitional National Assembly opened its 3 April session by observing a minute of silence in honor of Pope John Paul II, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Meanwhile, Shi'ite leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim extended the condolences of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) to the world's Christians and to Iraq's Catholics over the death of the pontiff in a 3 April statement posted to the SCIRI website (http://www.sciri.ws). "Pope John Paul II exerted huge efforts to establish a platform for dialogue among religions and civilizations, something that our human societies need more than ever. We hope that his successor will continue along the same path," the statement said. Regarding Iraqi Christians, al-Hakim said, "We share their sorrow today, and we put our hands in the hands of the rest of the Iraqi people to confront terrorism, those who label people as infidels, and religious extremists whose confrontation makes the Iraqi people pay a high price on a daily basis." KR
IRAQ INSURGENTS LAUNCH BRAZEN ATTACK ON ABU GHURAYB PRISON
Insurgents struck multiple locations at the Abu Ghurayb Prison complex in a brazen two-hour attack on 2 April, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a 4 April press release (http://www.centcom.mil). Between 40 and 60 insurgents launched the evening attack. "Using the cover of the mortar fire and the intense fire on the guard towers, the terrorists launched a [car bomb] to penetrate the wall near the southeastern guard tower. Marines defending the base returned fire and the [car bomb] exploded before it reached the perimeter," it added. Marines manning the tower were forced to evacuate as the attackers, "using residential areas for cover and concealment, then conducted a ground assault" towards the tower. Marines and soldiers held off the terrorists as Apache helicopters and artillery fire targeted the remnants of the attackers. The military estimated 50 insurgent casualties as a result of the fighting. Seven U.S. troops were wounded; sixteen other soldiers sustained minor injuries, but returned to duty. Thirteen detainees were wounded by indirect fire, the statement said. Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda affiliated Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility for the attack in an Internet statement, Reuters reported on 3 April. KR
U.K. TO WITHDRAW MORE THAN 5,000 TROOPS FROM IRAQ
U.K. defense chiefs are reportedly planning to reduce the number of British soldiers on the ground in Iraq from 9,000 to 3,500 in the NEXT? 12 months under a phased withdrawal, London's "Sunday Telegraph" reported on 3 April. The first phase of the withdrawal will reportedly be completed by April 2006, the newspaper said. Senior U.S. and U.K. military officials have said that they expect to have enough trained Iraqi military personnel in place by then. Lieutenant General James Conway earlier said that U.S. Marines might begin withdrawing along the same timeline because Iraqis are "starting to take control of their own situation." Meanwhile, the United Kingdom plans to increase its military contingent in Afghanistan. The "Sunday Telegraph" quoted on 2 April an unnamed Defense Ministry spokesman as saying: "Troop numbers in Iraq are continually kept under review and we will remain in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi authorities to provide security assistance for the Iraqi forces. We are not going to speculate on future troop levels and timescales." KR