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Newsline - April 12, 2005

Russia's business elite, headed by former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, used the Russian Economic Forum in London on 11 April to level harsh criticism at the government for the slow pace of reform, "The Moscow Times" and other Russian media reported on 12 April. Kasyanov accused the government of "drawing a rosy picture" of the economy and said "the asymmetric action of tax officials are forcing businesses into the gray," the daily reported. "Uncertainty factors are accumulating," Kasyanov said, according to Interfax. "It is this uncertainty that serves as the reason for the worsening of the investment climate." Alfa Bank President Petr Avon told the forum that reforms have been stalled. "We are essentially at the same place that we were a year ago," Avon said. "Without making any forecasts, popular support [for reforms] might disappear. The government must make reforms in the shortest possible time." One "influential member of the business community," who asked for anonymity, told "The Moscow Times": "The Russian government made a major political mistake in deciding not to attend [the forum]. They're making Russian business look like the political opposition, when all business wants are the right economic policies." RC

Presidential economy adviser Andrei Illarionov told the London forum on 11 April that there is a danger the government could turn away from economic reform and move toward nationalization, Prime-TASS reported. He said that some within the ruling elite "are tempted to nationalize key industries." Arkadii Dvorkovich, who heads the presidential Experts' Department, told RIA-Novosti on 11 April on the sidelines of the forum that the government must do more to improve macroeconomic "stability and predictability." "Investors must understand what the state's taxation and customs policies are going to be so that they can make their plans based on this knowledge and any subsequent measure will not come as a surprise to them," Dvorkovich said. Aleksei Novikov, head of research for Standard & Poor's in Moscow, told "The Moscow Times" on 12 April that "there are two faces to the Russian economy." "The other face is unpredictability with regard to the direction that the government will be following in the nearest future," Novikov said. "It will be interesting to see to what extent the people here can influence government decisions going forward." RC

The government's claim against TNK-BP for taxes and penalties due from 2001 now exceeds $1 billion, "The Moscow Times" reported on 12 April. TNK-BP spokesman Peter Henshaw told the daily that the company received an additional claim for $786 million last week. "This is a big sum that may significantly impact the company's results," TNK-BP co-owner Viktor Vekselberg was quoted as saying on the sidelines of the Russian Economic Forum in London. "I don't want to believe that this can be another Yukos story." Al Breach, chief strategist at Brunswick UBS, told the daily that TNK-BP will likely face a total cumulative bill for back taxes of $4 billion, but that this will not be crippling for the company, which is worth an estimated $29.5 billion. RC

Amnesty International on 12 April issued a press release decrying the "political motivation" behind the prosecution of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, reported. The organization has sent letters to the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office raising a number of questions about the arrests, detentions, investigations, and trials of the two men, as well as the cases against former Yukos security chief Aleksei Pichugin and Yukos lawers Svetlana Bakhmina and Yelena Agranovskaya. Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion court is expected to announce verdicts in the Khodorkovskii and Lebedev trial on 27 April. RC

Writing in "Izvestiya" on 11 April, Russian Academy of Sciences political scientist Fedor Burlatskii said that former President Boris Yeltsin and the rest of the so-called "Family" should leave the country in order to minimize the danger of a "colored revolution" in Russia. "There is a firm opinion that the 'Family' is still trying to put pressure on the country's leadership for the purpose of continuing the former social policy," Burlatskii wrote. "The voluntary departure of the 'Family' would be a guarantee of its safety in case a protest movement breaks out in Russia. At the same time, this action would untie the hands of the Russian authorities to undertake a new course directed at overcoming poverty...and the arbitrary rule of the bureaucracy and a murderous criminal class." He said that President Vladimir Putin "bears the burden of an inheritance derived from the bureaucratic and political elite of a bygone era" and that "without a change in the elite, it is not possible to implement a new policy." RC

Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko has said that the country's youth movements, including the newly formed Nashi movement, "lack a constructive element" and are not doing enough to help young people plan for the future, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 April. Nashi press spokesman Ivan Mostovich told the daily: "Formally, analogs to foreign radical movements could appear in Russia as well. However, we believe that those kinds of organizations would not have a future. Pora and Kmara! were created from the outside and had a specific mission: to carry out a coup and, what is more, an anti-Russian coup." He added that Nashi's goal is "to modernize the country by training free and responsible young people," adding that "the movement's task is to create the conditions for young people to develop effectively." RC

The State Duma will not vote on a motion of no confidence in the government during its 13 April session devoted to a consideration of the government's social-benefits reforms, RIA-Novosti reported on 12 April, citing Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov. Gryzlov said the legislature will hear reports from Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov, Transport Minister Igor Levitan, and Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev. He said that following the reports, the Duma will adopt a resolution, the text of which has already been prepared. "It contains some fairly harsh evaluations of the government's work," Gryzlov said. Earlier, Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) said the legislators will call for Zurabov's dismissal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2005). RC

Speaking to journalists in Germany on 10 April, President Putin said that although the constitution prohibits him from running for a third term in 2008, it does not constrain him from seeking the presidency again at some later date, RIA-Novosti reported on 12 April. "I will not change the basic law," Putin said. "According to the constitution, it is not possible to be elected to three consecutive terms." He added that although the constitution does not ban more than two nonconsecutive terms, "I am not sure that I would want that." In December, Putin said during a press conference that he does not plan to run for president in 2008, 2012, or 2016. Our Choice leader Irina Khakamada told Ekho Moskvy on 12 April that the Kremlin is considering a number of possible ways of maintaining power after 2008. One of them, she said, would be for Putin to secure the election of a loyal follower while himself taking a public position or heading a political party. "In this way, by maintaining his popularity rating, after a break he will again come to power," Khakamada said. RC

Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller said in Hannover on 11 April that construction on a northern European gas pipeline will begin this fall and be completed by 2010, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002). The German firm BASF will own a 49 percent stake in the pipeline. According to Miller, the new pipeline "will allow increasing reliability and stability of [Russian] gas deliveries to Europe." RC

The supervisory board of the weekly newspaper "Moskovskie novosti" has published an open letter to Menatep shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, who owns the paper, asking him to transfer ownership rights to the board, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported on 12 April. Nevzlin announced earlier this month that he will cease financing the troubled paper in the wake of a dispute between Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev and many of the paper's leading journalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005). "In a situation when the owners of 'Moskovskie novosti' cannot continue financing the newspaper, we are prepared to offer our plan for getting out of the crisis," the open letter states. "We are asking the owners of the newspaper to consider transferring their rights to the supervisory board." The board comprises Yegor Yakovlev, Lyudmila Alekseeva, Yurii Afanasev, Aleksandr Gelman, Yurii Levada, Yurii Ryzhkov, Aleksandr Yakovlev, and Yevgenii Yasin. RC

On 12 April, "Izvestiya" published an open letter to President Putin signed by some two dozen leading cultural figures calling on him not to allow the erection of a monument to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in Volgograd. The letter says that the city, which was called Stalingrad during the war and was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting of the entire war, plans to erect a composition including Stalin, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that was designed by controversial sculptor Zurab Tseretelli. The letter says that the inclusion of Roosevelt and Churchill is just "a transparent trick to cover up this blasphemous tribute to Stalin." "For the first time since Stalin's crimes against humanity were exposed, there is an effort in our country to erect a monument to him -- and it is happening on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of victory [in World War II], which would have cost our nation far fewer victims if not for the Stalinist purges of the military, if not for the gross miscalculations of his policies and strategies," the letter states. RC

Robert Kocharian announced on 11 April that the series of popular uprisings that have ushered in new governments in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan are unlikely to be repeated in Armenia, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Kocharian, addressing students at Yerevan State University, explained that the key differences between Armenia and those states are a "strong and efficient government" and a much stronger economy. RG

President Kocharian reiterated on 11 April that Armenia holds no territorial claims on Turkey, Noyan Tapan reported. In response to a question regarding the implications from the possible Turkish recognition of the Armenian genocide, Kocharian told the Yerevan State University audience that Armenia has never raised the issue of territorial claims against Turkey. He noted that "the issue of the international recognition of the Armenian genocide is on our agenda," but stressed that "we should be realistic" in our approach to relations with Turkey, Mediamax reported. In a reference to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Kocharian also reaffirmed his commitment to the peace process, stressing that "we must accept that compromises for the conflict's resolution are inevitable," according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. With the Armenian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers set to meet on 15 April in the latest round of peace talks, both President Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian have in recent weeks stressed their flexibility in the Armenian approach to the negotiations. RG

In another sign of internal division within Armenia's ruling three-party coalition, the leader of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party (HHK) accused Parliamentary Speaker Artur Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir party on 11 April of illegally influencing teachers ahead of local elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The accusation was leveled by Galust Sahakian, the Republican Party's parliamentary faction, and interpreted as an attack against the Orinats Yerkir party. Sahakian criticized the "politicization of schools" stemming from efforts to turn schools into "party offices," with teachers recruited to join partisan activities to promote a particular party. The issue is especially sensitive, as a significant number of polling stations are normally located in secondary schools and administered by school teachers and administrators. RG

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev met on 11 April with the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, Miklos Haraszti, in Baku, Turan reported. The OSCE official, on an official four-day visit, expressed concern over the state of press freedom in Azerbaijan and sought an official briefing on the status of the investigation into last month's murder of prominent opposition journalist Elmar Huseinov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2005). Haraszti is also scheduled to meet with Azerbaijani government ministers, parliamentarians, and several independent media outlets and organizations. RG

A delegation of several senior U.S. diplomats arrived in Abkhazia on 11 April to meet with senior Abkhaz officials, Civil Georgia and the Caucasus Press reported. The U.S. delegation was led by Senior Adviser for Caspian Basin Energy Diplomacy Ambassador Steven Mann, who also serves as the special negotiator for Nagorno-Karabakh and Eurasian Conflicts, and included U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles. Meeting with Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, the U.S. diplomats reaffirmed Washington's position that talks between the Abkhaz and Georgian sides are the only way to resolve the Abkhaz conflict. The visit of the delegation comes in the wake of recent talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bagapsh and South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005). Following the meeting, Bagapsh and Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab departed on 11 April for a week-long visit to Moscow, Rustavi-2 TV and the Caucasus Press reported. RG

While on a visit to Brussels, Georgian Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burdjanadze met on 11 April with senior NATO and EU officials, the Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 TV reported. In a meeting at NATO headquarters with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, Burdjanadze reviewed Georgia's implementation of its Individual Partnership Action Plan, a framework document outlining the prerequisites for Georgia's eventual membership in the NATO alliance. The Georgian speaker also met on 11 April with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and discussed the Georgian role within the EU's European Neighborhood Policy for engagement in the South Caucasus. RG

Askar Akaev told RIA-Novosti in an interview on 11 April that his return to Kyrgyzstan is "impossible" as long as the current leadership is in power. The ousted president, who is currently in Russia, said, "They have done everything to create an atmosphere that militates against my return to the homeland." Akaev said that it would be possible for him to return only after a new presidential election, scheduled for 10 July. He said, "I will probably be able to return only after presidential elections, depending on the situation and the authorities -- whether they respect the laws, human rights, or whether they base everything on violent actions." DK

Acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev issued a decree on 11 April creating a state commission to investigate the circumstances that led to the events of 24 March, Kabar reported. The commission, which will be headed by National Security Council Secretary Miroslav Niyazov, will complete its examination of the issue by 15 May and will present both conclusions and recommendations for stabilizing the country. Niyazov commented, "The commission includes representatives of the government, parliament, and civil society, with five persons from each group," Interfax reported. DK

Usen Kudaibergenov, a well-known Kyrgyz stuntman, was murdered in Bishkek on the night of 10 April, reported the next day. Kudaibergenov, who helped to organize citizens' defense groups to prevent looting on 24-25 March, was shot to death by gunmen in his apartment. Kudaibergenov had also made efforts in recent days to put an end to a spate of land seizures in Bishkek (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005), Russia's "Vremya novostei" reported. At a news conference in Bishkek on 11 April, the leadership of a recently formed civil-defense group called on acting President Bakiev and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to take control of the investigation of what they termed a political killing, Kabar reported. noted that Kudaibergenov was considered a political ally of presumptive presidential candidate Feliks Kulov, head of the Ar-Namys party. DK

Tajik Prosecutor-General Bobojon Bobokhonov announced at a press conference in Dushanbe on 11 April that his office considers Russia's decision to refuse the extradition of Democratic Party head Muhammadruzi Iskandarov a "mistake," RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Bobokhonov stressed that the weapons and embezzlement charges Iskandarov faces in Tajikistan remain in effect, noting that Iskandarov has also been charged with complicity in a coup attempt by Ghaffor Mirzoev, the jailed former head of the Drug Control Agency, Avesta reported. Describing Iskandarov as a "terrorist," Bobokhonov said that Tajikistan will seek his extradition through Interpol if the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office is unwilling to hand him over. Iskandarov was released in Russia on 3 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2005). DK

Turkmenistan's Communications Ministry has refused to extend the licenses of international shipping firms DHL, FedEx, ASE, and others, Reuters reported on 11 April. A government source told the news agency that the Turkmen postal service could provide cheaper and more reliable service. The Turkmen opposition site described the decision as yet another measure to isolate Turkmenistan from the outside world. DK

The Belarusian Justice Ministry has taken its case against the Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI) to the Supreme Court, requesting that the court close down that institution over a number of alleged irregularities, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 11 April. The ministry accuses the NISEPI of failing to provide documents and renting offices at a different location from its registered address. Official pressure on NISEPI intensified following the constitutional referendum on 17 October. NISEPI cooperated with Gallup/Baltic Surveys on an exit poll that suggested authorities rigged the referendum to lift the constitutional two-term limit on the presidency and allow President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to remain in office (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 26 October, 5 November, and 29 December 2004). "We have not violated any laws or norms," NISEPI Director Aleh Manayeu told RFE/RL. "Our to promote the formation of civic society, democracy, and market reforms in independent Belarus by way of sociological surveys. This is exactly what has become the main irritating factor for the authorities after the 17 October referendum." JM

A district court in Minsk on 11 April awarded 10 million rubles ($4,500) in damages against Iryna Khalip, deputy editor of the privately owned "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" newspaper, and 50 million rubles ($22,500) against the newspaper for defaming Arkadii Mar, editor of the New York-based newspaper "Russkaya Amerika," Belapan reported. Mar, whose newspaper reportedly comes out twice a year and focuses on Central Asian dictators, interviewed Lukashenka in mid-February and vowed to devote 12 pages in a special edition to the Belarusian leader. Khalip ran a story in late February claiming that the aim of interviewing Lukashenka was to cheat money out of the Belarusian authorities by exploiting their desire for positive coverage in the foreign press. Khalip wrote that Lukashenka was the third state leader to be cheated in that fashion. The judge rejected a defense request to ask the U.S. Embassy in Minsk whether Mar is actually the editor of "Russkaya Amerika" and refused to hear Khalip's arguments in the case. JM

The Prosecutor-General's Office on 11 April charged Donetsk Oblast Council head Borys Kolesnykov with extortion accompanied by a threat of murder, Interfax reported. A conviction is punishable by imprisonment of seven to 12 years and confiscation of property. Last week's arrest of Kolesnykov -- a close political ally and business partner of former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Rynat Akhmetov, Ukraine's wealthiest industrialist -- have sparked protests of opponents of President Viktor Yushchenko in Kyiv and Donetsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005). Yanukovych, leader of the opposition Party of Regions, has threatened to lead a national strike and civil disobedience campaign. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko met with his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski as well as with Prime Minister Marek Belka and Sejm speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz in Warsaw on 11 April, PAP reported. The politicians discussed progress in implementing the Polish-Ukrainian Odesa-Brody-Plock pipeline project, the chances of integrating the Polish and Ukrainian power grids, and cooperation in Polish natural-gas storage in Ukraine. Kwasniewski confirmed to Yushchenko that Warsaw supports Kyiv's NATO and EU aspirations. "We are decidedly in favor of the closest possible cooperation between Ukraine and NATO. We are absolutely certain that Ukraine's rapprochement with European structures should, in a dozen or so years, bring about Ukraine's EU membership," Kwasniewski said. Yushchenko reportedly assured the Polish side that the controversial issue of the Polish Eaglets' cemetery in Lviv will be settled. The cemetery, with graves of young Polish cadets killed by Ukrainians in the Polish-Soviet war in 1918-19, was to have been opened several times but the Lviv City Council refused to give its consent, claiming that the Polish glorified the victims at the expense of Ukrainians. JM

Serbian President Boris Tadic on 11 April demanded a full investigation into an article published that day in the Belgrade daily "Danas" suggesting that the Serbian military until recently protected leading war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 February, and 5, 6, and 11 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). Elsewhere, Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic said that the information that "Danas" published is incorrect and constitutes an "organized attack on the [national] defense system." In related news, Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic said the authorities have no information on the whereabouts of war crimes indictee and former Serbian General Nebojsa Pavkovic, who disappeared in March shortly before police were to come to his home and issue him a summons. Media reports and Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic suggested recently that Pavkovic had official support in going underground or possibly leaving Serbia for Bosnia. PM

Eight former mayors of Sarajevo called on the authorities of Bosnia-Herzegovina to lobby the international community to appoint former Slovenian President Milan Kucan as high representative when Paddy Ashdown steps down in November, "Oslobodjenje" reported on 12 April. The mayors said the time has come for Bosnians to participate in picking a high representative, who has virtually unlimited powers in their country (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 October 2004, and 25 March and 1 April 2005). The mayors argued that Kucan is familiar with Bosnia's conditions and traditions, adding that he made a favorable impression in Bosnia during his years as Slovenia's leader. It is unclear whether Kucan is interested in the job, which has so far been filled only by Western Europeans. PM

EUFOR peacekeepers announced in a statement in Sarajevo on 12 April that they and the border police of Bosnia-Herzegovina seized 52 kilograms of heroin during a routine vehicle check at the Pavlovica Most border crossing with Serbia the previous day, dpa reported. Bosnian authorities took several unidentified suspects into custody. This is the largest heroin haul in Bosnian history and has an estimated street value running into the millions of dollars. PM

Croatian President Stipe Mesic told Bosnia-Herzegovina's outgoing ambassador to Croatia, Zlatko Dizdarevic, in Zagreb on 11 April that he hopes that Sarajevo will soon name a new ambassador who will be "as welcome as you" in Croatia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service. This is the first clear indication that Croatia has rejected Branko Kesic, whom Bosnia named to succeed Dizdarevic several months ago and who has been waiting for Zagreb to approve his nomination. Kesic is a Serb from Banja Luka who many in Croatia believe played a role in the eviction of Croats from their flats in that city when he was an official there during the 1992-95 conflict. Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic recently told "Oslobodjenje" that he will ask the Bosnian Presidency to name a new candidate for the post if Croatia rejects Kesic, who declined to comment on the matter. PM

On 11 April, the authorities returned a statue of former Yugoslav communist dictator Josip Broz Tito to its place in front of the house where he was born in Kumrovec, near the Slovenian border, dpa reported. Unknown perpetrators destroyed the statue with a bomb on 27 December, requiring three months of restoration work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 December 2004). Under communist rule, thousands of tourists and school groups regularly flocked to Kumrovec to see the house and the statue, which shows Tito in a thoughtful pose during his days a Partisan leader during World War II. The Yugoslav successor states have taken differing views of Tito and his legacy, which can also vary from region to region within any post-Yugoslav republic. In Croatia, sentiments are torn between criticism of him as a communist and a dictator and recognition that he was an important historical figure from Croatia. Some former Yugoslavs remember him as "The Old Man" and look back at his rule from 1945-80 as something of a golden age, whereas others see the era of "Broz" as a time of missed opportunities and neglected problems that ultimately produced the wars of the 1990s. PM

Commenting on the 10 April repeats of district elections and second-round mayoral races, Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski said on 11 April that he is "very satisfied with the electoral process," Makfax news agency reported. Buckovski said the vote can serve as a model for future elections. "There was excellent coordination between the election authorities and the [Interior Ministry, and] there was not a single incident in the more than 860 polling stations with over 660,000 voters," Buckovski said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 11 April 2005 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8 April 2005). The prime minister added that he hopes the successes will help Macedonia improve its reputation. Representatives of the OSCE-led international election-observation mission noted that the elections took place in a peaceful atmosphere. However, they also registered irregularities such as group voting -- in which the oldest male casts ballots for all family members -- and ballot-box stuffing in a number of polling stations. "Many of these irregularities were observed in previous rounds, and the authorities did not take adequate measures to address them and to safeguard the integrity of the process," the OSCE said in a press release. UB

A growing number of Moldovan children are being trafficked to Russia and forced into physical labor and prostitution, Infotag reported on 11 April, citing a recent international report. The authors of the "Trafficking in Human Beings in South Eastern Europe: 2004 - Focus on Prevention" report stressed the need to combat factors that make children vulnerable to trafficking. The report recommends preventive measures that include support for parental-education programs, specialized services for victims of child abuse and neglect, and the establishment of youth centers. Infotag cited international experts as saying that Moldova's western border with Romania is better controlled and less susceptible to trafficking than the country's eastern border with Russia and Ukraine. The report was published by the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). BW

Police detained Moldovan Deputy Labor and Social Protection Minister Valeriu Mostovoi on suspicion of soliciting a bribe from a 68-year-old pensioner, Infotag reported on 11 April. Mostovoi is suspected of extorting six boxes of chocolates and two bottles of champagne from the retiree in exchange for arranging a stay for his wife -- who had just undergone surgery -- at a sanatorium. After the ministry refused the pensioner's request, Mostovoi allegedly wrote down a specific list of candy and champagne for him to buy. The pensioner reported the incident to Moldova's Center for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption, which arrested Mostovoi, who could serve up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. BW

Moldova and Hungary plan to increase cooperation to combat illegal migration, smuggling, money laundering, arms trafficking, and terrorism, Infotag reported on 11 April. After a meeting between Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and Layos Galambos, director of Hungary's National Security Department, the two sides agreed to share intelligence and coordinate law-enforcement and security operations. Both Voronin and Galambos stressed that Moldova's Transdniester conflict needs to be resolved as soon as possible to enhance regional stability. BW

Iurie Rosca, leader of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), said his party will consider joining the government of Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev, Infotag reported on 11 April. "Everything will depend on the government composition and on what...Tarlev is going to offer," Rosca said. Explaining why his ardently anticommunist party backed Voronin and is considering joining the government, Rosca said the country and the president have changed. "Vladimir Voronin has considerably changed," Rosca said. "It is not Rosca or his faction who have betrayed their principles. It's the country's course that has changed. It's not Rosca who has taken Voronin's positions or vice versa. We both have made steps toward each other -- in the Republic of Moldova's interests," he said. Rosca added that Russian President Vladimir Putin's "mistakes" have united the government and part of the opposition in Moldova "on the grounds of national interests." BW

The 10-month trial of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, and former Volna General Director Andrei Krainov came to a close on 11 April, with Khodorkovskii giving his final statement to the court. A verdict will announced on 27 April, Russian media reported.

In his closing remarks, Khodorkovskii said that he "didn't make a good oligarch," and that he had not fled Russia despite being repeatedly advised to do so. He said that Yukos was the target of "greedy bureaucrats" and that he was imprisoned to prevent them from ransacking the oil giant. Khodorkovskii maintained his innocence on all charges. "I sincerely tried to work for the good of my country, and not for my own pocket," Khodorkovskii said. "All that I have left is an awareness that I was right, my business reputation, and the power of my will."

In the prosecution's concluding statement on 29 March, prosecutor Dmitrii Shokhin asked the court to convict Khodorkovskii and Lebedev and to sentence them to 10 years' imprisonment on fraud, embezzlement, and tax-evasion charges, reported. Shokhin told the court the defendants "deserve" severe punishment because they have refused to admit their guilt. He charged that Lebedev "repeatedly demonstrated his disrespect to the court" and that Khodorkovskii deserved particular severity because he had "organized a criminal group." Shokhin also asked the court to confiscate the assets of Khodorkovskii and Lebedev that have already been frozen, including a 60 percent stake in Yukos and a 30 percent stake in Sibneft that belong to Menatep, "to compensate for harm they caused the state." He also asked the court to make the men ineligible to hold senior public or managerial posts.

Shokhin asked the court to give Krainov a 5 1/2-year suspended sentence because of his "repentance and partial admission of guilt."

Defense lawyers asked the court to acquit their clients on all charges. Lebedev's lawyer, Yevgenii Baru, said that "enough evidence has been presented for any competent, independent court to acquit Lebedev," reported on 6 April. Khodorkovskii lawyer Genrikh Padva said Khodorkovskii not only did not commit the crimes ascribed to him but that "no crimes were committed at all." In his statement, Padva meticulously went over all the prosecution's arguments in an effort to demonstrate that there is no evidence of "the slightest signs of criminal activity."

Padva paid particular attention to the charge that Khodorkovskii and Lebedev had formed a criminal group. He denied the existence of any such group, saying that the prosecution had not shown "what the composition of the group was or what were the roles of its members, and so on." "The joint maintenance of a business cannot be proof of a 'criminal group,'" Padva told the court on 7 April.

"I hope that on the day the verdict is pronounced, the iron gates will swing open and the watchmen will release Khodorkovskii into freedom," Padva said.

Another Khodorkovskii lawyer, Yurii Shmidt, told RFE/RL on 10 April that prosecutors and the public continue to view Khodorkovskii and other rich Russians as "criminals by definition." In the case of Khodorkovskii, he added, they are ignoring the fact that he owes his fortune not only to his hard work and managerial skills, but also to the fact that he invested his money into the loss-making Yukos in 1996 when oil was selling for about $8.50 a barrel.

Shmidt added that it will not be easy for the court to deliver the verdict that the Kremlin expects. He noted that Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov said in October 2003, well before the trial began, that Khodorkovskii should be sentenced to 10 years in prison, the very term that prosecutors at the trial are seeking. However, Shmidt said, it will be difficult for the court to convict without violating the law.

Karina Moskalenko, another Khodorkovskii lawyer, said on 7 April, according to "This case will not be decided in the court, or the Moscow Municipal Court, or the Supreme Court, or the European courts. It will be decided in the court of history, and the court of history will be harsh with all of us."

Throughout the trail, the Kremlin and the state-controlled media did a lot to boost the perception that Khodorkovskii and his colleagues are criminals. The arrests of Lebedev and Khodorkovskii in July and October 2003, respectively, came in the wake of a scandalous report by the National Strategy Council that asserted that the oligarchs were plotting a quiet coup in Russia.

In September 2004, just as prosecutors began presenting their case in court, NTV screened a documentary called "A Terrorist Act, Paid In Advance," which charged that Khodorkovskii used profits from the sale of Siberian oil to provide material aid to Chechen "terrorists." The film included references to some events that happened as early as 1995, before Khodorkovskii took over Yukos.

On 30 March, NTV showed a documentary called "Brigade From Yukos," in which Menatep shareholder and former Yukos executive Leonid Nevzlin was directly accused of organizing paid killings and Khodorkovskii was implied to have been involved. The film linked Khodorkovskii to former Yukos security chief Aleksei Pichugin, who was convicted of murder and attempted murder on 25 March. The documentary included footage of Khodorkovskii, Nevzlin, and Pichugin shooting rifles during a hunting trip or similar outing. The information in this documentary was repeated on state-owned RTR the same evening.

Moscow human rights activists have long argued that the case against Pichugin, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, was manufactured to pressure him into revealing compromising information against Khodorkovskii. The first jury in the Pichugin case was released after it asked the court to dismiss the charges against him, and a second jury was later convened, which convicted him.

The cases against Yukos and Khodorkovskii are a pivotal moment in the history of post-Soviet Russia. When Khodorkovskii was arrested by the Alfa special-forces unit in Novosibirsk on 25 October 2003, Russia was a different country. Mikhail Kasyanov was the prime minister and Aleksandr Voloshin was the head of the presidential administration. Both were viewed as oligarch-friendly holdovers from the regime of former President Boris Yeltsin. Many in Russia and the West continued to believe cautiously that President Vladimir Putin was leading Russia gradually but perceptibly toward a more democratic future. Some believed that Putin was sincere in his desire to combat corruption.

Putin's policies in the ensuing period have cast such claims in serious doubt. Many of those who believed Putin was combating corrupt oligarchs have come to believe now that he was merely fighting his political opponents and those who financed them. Many of the old oligarchs have not only kept their properties, but have seen their fortunes increase steadily during Putin's administration. At the same time, new oligarchs have emerged from the bureaucracy and the secret services. As a result, Russia had the second-largest number of billionaires (27) on the "Forbes" magazine list of global billionaires that was released in March.

The U.S. military has announced plans to build a bridge over the Oxus River to link Afghanistan with Tajikistan, Xinhua News Agency reported on 11 April. John O'Dowd, the head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the bridge will promote trade and mutual integration, and enhance long-term security. "This bridge will serve as a vital link connecting the Central Asian region with outside markets," O'Dowd told reporters in Kabul. Italian firm Rizzani de Eccher won the $28 million contract in March, O'Dowd added. MR

U.S. air strikes killed 12 suspected neo-Taliban fighters in eastern Afghanistan, AFP reported on 11 April. Fighting erupted in Paktia Province 11 April, with U.S. helicopter gunships and jets firing on suspected insurgent positions in retaliation for an apparent neo-Taliban assassination attempt on a former Afghan military official. General Khial Baz, the former military chief of neighboring Khost Province, escaped that attack without injury. "Afghan forces chased the attackers in the mountains and the fighting began. It lasted until late afternoon," said Paktia commander Ghulam Nabi Salem. U.S.-led military air support was then requested, Salem said. Afghan forces subsequently found the bodies of 12 suspected insurgents, Salem said. "We recovered the bodies of 12 Taliban in Shiwak's mountains," Salem said. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mullah Abdul Latif Hakimi told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press agency that the rebel force lost "only one fighter." MR

The Afghan government has issued three new denominations of coin as part of its ongoing effort to bolster the country's currency, AFP reported on 11 April. "It is a source of great pride that today we introduce the one-, two-, and five-afghani coins to the market to meet our people's needs," said Noorullah Delawari, the head of the Afghan central bank. The coins replace banknotes of the same denomination first circulated nearly three years ago. Produced in France, the steel coins are covered with copper, bronze, and stainless steel. When the Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, the afghani was essentially worthless and much of the money used inside Afghanistan at the time came from neighboring countries. In October 2002, the newly seated Afghan government renewed the currency with paper notes; the afghani has since held at 45-50 to the U.S. dollar. MR

Afghanistan's top election official said Afghan refugees living in neighboring Iran and Pakistan will have no chance to vote in the upcoming Afghan parliamentary elections, Iranian state radio reported on 11 April. In an interview with Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the chairman of Afghanistan's Independent Electoral Commission said registration difficulties put the Afghan refugee populations in Iran and Pakistan out of reach. "Unfortunately, due to logistical and technical problems, the elections will not be held for the refugees in Iran and Pakistan," said commission chief Besmellah Besmel. Slated for this fall, the parliamentary elections could draw as many as 10,000 candidates, Besmel said. "We expect around 10,000 candidates to register for the parliamentary elections," Besmel said. "We are sure that the people will participate in the parliamentary elections as broadly as they did in the presidential elections." Besmel added that the commission needs census figures from the government to move the registration process forward in Afghanistan. "According to the electoral law, the government has to provide estimate or precise figures on population in each district of the country," Besmel said. "So far, the Independent Electoral Commission has not received any census figures. We are waiting for the figures so that we can take the process further." MR

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Alekseev on 11 April in Tehran to discuss developments in Central Asia and the Caucasus, IRNA reported. They discussed cooperation between Iran, Russia, China, and India and the possible reorganization of the United Nations as avenues to regional and global peace and stability. Kharrazi also urged more constructive efforts to resolve issues surrounding access to resources in the Caspian Sea for littoral states. Alekseev stressed the roles that Russia and Iran can play to ensure peace in Central Asia and the Caucasus, and he urged increased diplomatic cooperation between Moscow and Tehran. SK

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh discussed journalists' rights and the hazards they face at an 11 April news conference, ISNA reported. The media have objected recently to the legislature's ban on a journalist who published information about parliamentarians' salaries. Ramezanzadeh said the only way to battle corruption in government is by public scrutiny through public opinion and the media. Ramezanzadeh then turned to the case of Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian photojournalist who was beaten to death while in police custody in mid-2003. Recently a man claiming to be the physician who treated Kazemi when she was hospitalized said in Ottawa that her body bore evidence of torture and rape. Ramezanzadeh said the physician is not mentioned in reports by the attending medical team or by the Health Ministry, and he accused the Canadian government of having been duped. SK

Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met with Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller in Tehran on 11 April and defended Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, ISNA reported. Khatami said that right must remain untrammeled and that the issue must be confronted in a non-racist fashion. He offered a positive appraisal of negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the EU, and the international community, particularly regarding the use of nuclear energy. Khatami described Iran as one of the most stable countries in the Middle East and said a regional crisis is in no one's interest. Moeller said the "expansion of Tehran-Copenhagen relations is of significant importance, as are associations between Tehran and the EU." He said every country has a right to decide how it wishes to produce its own energy, according to ISNA. SK

Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations, Samir al-Sumaidaie, asked the Security Council to lift that organization's "shackles and burdens" from the Saddam Hussein era, Reuters reported on 11 April. Sumaidaie requested that the UN revoke resolutions imposed on the former regime, including arms bans, and to stop the practice of using Iraqi oil funds to pay UN weapons inspectors, several of whom are still on duty at the United Nations in New York. "We need now to be relieved from shackles and burdens placed upon Iraq during the previous regime in order to contain it," Sumaidaie said. "Iraq is a fledgling democracy committed to the rule of law, both internationally and domestically. As such, it has the legitimate right to expect to be treated like any other member state," he added. BW

U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld urged Iraq's new transitional authorities to avoid politically motivated purges and warned against corruption, international news agencies reported on 12 April. "It's important that the new government be attentive to the competence of the people in the ministries and that they avoid unnecessary turbulence," Rumsfeld said in remarks to reporters on his plane before arriving on 12 April, according to Reuters. "We have an opportunity to continue to make progress politically, economically.... Anything that would delay that or disrupt that as a result of turbulence, or lack of confidence or corruption in government, would be unfortunate." Rumsfeld also said ministerial appointments should serve Iraq and not simply party loyalties. Some officials in the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shi'ite bloc that won a plurality in the 30 January elections, have sought to purge the security apparatus and other ministries that they say ex-Ba'ath Party members have infiltrated, AFP reported on 12 April. BW

After meeting Rumsfeld on 12 April, transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari said he had promised to fight corruption and work for a stable political transition, Reuters reported the same day. "I don't deny that there are challenges. I am sure we are going to form very good ministries," al-Ja'fari said. "All of them they are good technocrats," he said, referring to candidates for government posts. "They are very effective from different backgrounds. So I think we can cooperate, all of us, and face these challenges successfully." Iraq's transitional president, Jalal Talabani, said that he hopes a new government is formed soon despite intense jockeying for cabinet positions. "This is the beginning of democratization in Iraqm and we have multiparty life," Talabani, a former Kurdish guerrilla leader, said after meeting Rumsfeld. "We need time to form the cabinet, which we hope will be finished before the end of this week." BW

Militants kidnapped an American contractor near Baghdad on 11 April, international news agencies reported the same day, citing the U.S. Embassy. "No group has claimed responsibility. We have contacted the Iraqi authorities to try and find him," Reuters quoted U.S. Embassy spokesman Bob Callaghan as saying. Callaghan added that the contractor was working on a reconstruction project but provided no other details. The kidnapping came one day after a Pakistani diplomat was reported abducted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005). Pakistan said on 11 April that the employee, Malik Mohammad Javed, is safe and probably being held for a ransom, Reuters reported the same day. "Mr. Javed is absolutely safe," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Jalil Abbas Jilani said. "He is regularly in contact with our charges d'affaires. His last contact...took place last night." BW

U.S. warplanes bombed suspected insurgent positions in Iraq's far west, near the Syrian border, on 12 April, international news agencies reported the same day. The bombings in Qaim came one day after two suicide bombers attacked a U.S. military base in the same area. Reuters quoted local hospital officials as saying that 11 people were killed and 17 wounded in ensuing clashes between insurgents and U.S. and Iraqi forces, but the figures could not be independently verified. In Baghdad, militants attacked a car transporting an Interior Ministry official to work, Reuters reported on 12 April. Meanwhile, on 11 April, three people were killed and 27 wounded when a bomb exploded near a U.S. military convoy near Samarra, north of the capital, and an Iraqi lieutenant working with the Americans in an explosives-disposal unit was slain on his way to work in the northern city of Mosul, Reuters reported the same day. Hundreds of U.S. and Iraqi forces captured at least 65 suspected militants during sweeps in Baghdad on 11 April, international news agencies reported the same day. BW