RUSSIAN DUMA CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT ON SOCIAL-BENEFITS REFORM...
The State Duma on 13 April adopted a resolution saying that the government has failed to protect adequately the rights and interests of citizens in the implementation of its social-benefits reforms, Russian media reported. RBK reported that the resolution says the government made serious mistakes in the initial phases of the implementation of the reform, adding that despite improvements at later stages, there are still a large number of unresolved questions. The resolution, which was adopted after deputies heard reports on the reforms from several government ministers, calls on the government to create a single accounting system for all benefits recipients, to accelerate the drafting of a bill on distributing benefits-compensation payments through local branches of the Pension Fund, and to expand the list of medicines covered by the benefits program. Deputies also called on the government to report to the Duma quarterly on the implementation of the reforms and created a Duma working group on social legislation. Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin (Unified Russia) told ITAR-TASS on 13 April that his faction will not call for the resignation of the government. "The government's dismissal at this point is inexpedient and would lead to destabilization in the country," Pekhtin said. RC
...AS RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN CRITICIZES RUSSIAN DUMA
Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin on 13 April criticized the Duma for being too hasty in adopting the reform that converted most in-kind social benefits to cash payments, RBK reported. "They should have prepared more thoroughly for the passage of the law and not undertaken hasty actions," Lukin said. He said that complaints to his office from the public have increased by a factor of three since the law came into effect at the beginning of this year. He said that he hopes deputies will be more careful in discussing upcoming reforms to the health-care system and the housing complex. RC
RUSSIAN MINISTERS DEFEND BENEFITS REFORMS
Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told the Duma on 13 April that the benefits reform is a positive and necessary step, ITAR-TASS reported. "Time will show that most benefits recipients have gained from the introduction of the law because it is already clear that the principles it enshrines are justified and will enable citizens' problems to be resolved," Kudrin said. "Thanks to explanatory work, nearly half of the Russian population has begun to feel positive about the law on replacing in-kind benefits with cash payments." Kudrin said that 38 regions have switched to cash payments, 14 have retained in-kind benefits, and the rest have mixed systems. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov told deputies that the draft budget for 2006-08 includes funding to double pensions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2005). He said the government is taking measures to help approximately 1,000 World War II veterans who are currently homeless. RC
RUSSIAN PRESIDENT STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF LOCAL SELF-GOVERNMENT
President Putin on 13 April participated in a session of the Council of Legislators, a consultative body of regional legislative-branch officials set up by the Federation Council, RTR reported. Putin told council members that local self-government is "one of the key institutions" in the country. "Moreover, it is not only a institution of public authority, but also one of public self-organization," Putin said. He said that different localities in Russia have different traditions and residents know best how to arrange their affairs. "They only need to be helped, and local self-government is one of the most effective mechanisms created especially for that aim," Putin said. Putin conceded that there is widespread public mistrust for the authorities, saying "people do not feel connected with bodies of power, administration; they do not feel genuine, real connections." RC
U.S., RUSSIA CONTINUE JOINT EFFORTS TO IMPROVE MISSILE DEFENSE
Russia and the United States will conduct joint theater missile-defense exercises in the spring of 2006, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 April, citing a Defense Ministry statement. "The exercises are expected to develop an effective ballistic missile defense system in the territory of greater Europe that would protect key facilities from likely missile attacks," the statement said. "No single country is capable of developing such a system on its own. NATO and Russia's leadership are working on it together." The joint exercises will involve computer modeling of missile attacks and will take place in the United States in March or April 2006. RC
BASHKIR OPPOSITION STEPS UP PROTESTS, WARNS OF 'ORANGE REVOLUTION'
Ramil Bignov, who is the leader of the movement calling for the ouster of Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov, said on 13 April that the Muslim-majority republic could be the scene of an "orange revolution," TV-Tsentr reported. "[The movement] could evolve into widespread strikes," Bignov said. "We think that's possible. It can evolve into unlawful actions. What do the people, the opposition, have left to do if they cannot make themselves heard by the authorities, cannot influence decisions through lawful, constitutional means?" Bignov said the opposition plans to step up its activities against Rakhimov as of 1 May to include the constant picketing of government buildings and the construction of tent cities. RC
PETERSBURG'S LANDMARK BRIDGES IN DANGER
St. Petersburg's legendary drawbridges are in extremely poor condition and some of them might cease to open if measures are not taken soon, Yurii Petrov, head of the Mostotrest state enterprise, told journalists in St. Petersburg on 13 April, gzt.ru reported on 14 April. Liteinyi Most is reportedly in the worst condition, not having been repaired in 40 years, but all of the cities 23 drawbridges are in need of urgent repairs. Petrov told journalists that electricity passing through tram lines is leading to the corrosion of the steel bridges, as is the use of salt and chemicals to combat icing. Petrov said that in order to repair and maintain all the bridges and embankments in its charge, Mostotrest needs annual funding of 3.75 billion rubles ($125 million). This year, the firm received just 561 million rubles. "In five years, we might lose all these bridges," Petrov said. "Consequently, the 7,000 ships that now pass through St. Petersburg will not be able to any longer." RC
MOSCOW PLEASED WITH CIS, SCO TIES...
The Foreign Ministry on 13 April hailed the signing earlier that day in Beijing of a memorandum of cooperation between the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), ITAR-TASS reported. "We hope that this document will facilitate the development of contacts between the SCO and the CIS for the sake of the stable and ongoing development of their member states," the ministry's statement said. CIS Executive Committee Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said the memorandum highlights cooperation in economic integration, security, and humanitarian spheres. "CIS countries are implementing programs to fight crime, terrorism, drug trafficking, and illegal migration," he added. "SCO states are dealing with similar problems." He said that the problem of "preserving national traditions" is vital to both organizations. The SCO comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The CIS includes all the former Soviet republics except the Baltic states. RC
...BUT MOSCOW SAYS NATO IS DRAGGING ITS HEELS ON CFE TREATY
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said on 13 April that Moscow believes NATO members are intentionally blocking ratification of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the Military News Agency reported. "NATO member states have been blocking the ratification of the modified Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, which is the cornerstone of European security," Yakovenko said. "It is known that they tie its ratification to the observance of the so-called Istanbul agreements between Russia, on the one side, and Georgia and Moldova on the other, which have no relation to the treaty." RC
EXPERT SAYS ARMY IS FED UP WITH THE GOVERNMENT...
Military journalist Aleksandr Golts told Ekho Moskvy on 13 April that he believes the Russian armed forces are becoming increasing unhappy with the government. "I don't think that the current leadership is threatened by any dangers such as a military coup or anti-constitutional actions by the military," Golts said. "Our armed forces have learned to sabotage quietly their service and to survive in this way. There is no doubt that they will respond to the cash-for-benefits law by devoting fewer and fewer hours to their service and spending more and more time renting out their services." On 13 April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" published a poll that found that 80 percent of Russian officers are dissatisfied with the government. "This poll highlighted a very interesting point linked to the military's extremely low respect for the country's current leadership," Goltz told Ekho Moskvy. "Officers are infuriated by the authorities' hypocrisy, shouting out on every corner that they are the glorious defenders of the fatherland while at the same time doing nothing to improve their social standing." RC
...AS OUTRAGED RESERVE OFFICERS SEND THEIR CASH COMPENSATION BACK TO MOSCOW...
More than 50 military reserve officers in Ulyanovsk gathered on 11 April at the city's main post officer to send 240 rubles ($8) each to the Kremlin, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and TV-Tsentr reported on 13 April. The amount is the equivalent that the officers receive each month as compensation for their lost in-kind social benefits. "We consider this paltry dole to be insulting," reserve officer Boris Smekhnov told TNT-Ulyanovsk, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." "So we are returning it to the president. He probably needs it more. Let him add it to the 140,000 rubles he gets each month." Reserve officer Valerii Ovchinnikov said officers were given the payment "like a bone from the master's table." Ovchinnikov said, "We are sending this money back to -- we cannot bring ourselves to say 'comrade' -- to Mr. Putin." RC
...AND MILITARY'S PATRIOTIC TELEVISION STATION GATHERS STEAM
In a long interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 25, Sergei Savushkin, general manager of the Defense Ministry's Zvezda television channel, said Zvezda is a commercial, market-oriented station. "It is absolutely a civilian and commercial channel," he said. "The concept of the channel is state-patriotic. It was with this that the Defense Ministry won the competition and obtained the license, but the license allots military topics 10 percent of broadcast time and 90 percent of broadcasting is exclusively a civilian project geared toward the broadest audience." Zvezda began preliminary broadcasting in late February. Savushkin said the Defense Ministry holds the station's license, but all its capital is from private, commercial entities. He said no budgetary funds are being used to develop the channel. "We plan in several years to have hit a rating that is capable of ensuring the channel is attractive to advertisers," he said, adding that in the meantime, the channel will borrow operating funds. "From whom is not important." Savushkin refused to name any of the co-owners of the station or any sources of its financing, saying "this is a commercial secret." Asked what will be banned on his channel, Savushkin said: "There will be no Western film products. There will be no violence or pornography. There will be no scenes of bloodshed. We have splendid melodramas, detective stories, and comedies. We are interested in folk creativity, incidentally." RC
ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER COMMENTS ON TALKS WITH HIS AZERBAIJANI COUNTERPART...
Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian announced on 13 April that he will not be meeting directly with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov at a meeting set for 15 April in London, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Noyan Tapan reported. Oskanian explained that although the repeatedly delayed meeting will proceed, the two foreign ministers will hold separate "proximity talks" with the French, Russian and U.S. cochairmen of the OSCE's Minsk Group. The announcement dampens recent optimism that the two sides were moving closer to a common position over a new peace plan presented by the OSCE. Oskanian confirmed that the outcome of the London meeting will determine whether the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents will hold a subsequent meeting in either Moscow or Warsaw next month (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 8 April 2005). RG
...AND AFFIRMS IMPORTANCE OF ARMENIAN GENOCIDE
Commenting on the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian added on 13 April that the genocide is a "security issue" for Armenia, Yerkir reported. The foreign mister went on to say that both the genocide and the Turkish blockade of Armenia contribute to a sense of "insecurity" and pledged to continue efforts for "recognition of the Armenian genocide." RG
ARMENIAN OFFICIAL REPORTS ON CAPITAL MARKETS
The head of the Armenian State Securities Commission, Eduard Muradian, reported on 13 April that despite several years of economic growth, capital markets in Armenia remain seriously underdeveloped, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Noyan Tapan reported. According to the report, a mere $3 million worth of shares in Armenian companies were sold and purchased in the country's stock exchange in 2004. Sales of securities were also limited last year to only $60 million, with government treasury bills and notes accounting for nearly 95 percent of the total. The relatively marginal status of the Armenian stock market stems largely from the fact that only 200 of roughly 1,300 joint-stock firms posted profits in 2003 and a mere 15 of them issued dividend payments to small shareholders in the first half of last year. The country's capital markets are further hindered by an absence of accounting standards and a serious lack of corporate transparency. RG
ARMENIA REPORTS INCREASE IN FOREIGN INVESTMENT...
Deputy Minister of Trade and Economic Development Tigran Davtian reported on 12 April that foreign investment in Armenia increased by almost 18 percent in 2004 to a level of nearly $468 million, Noyan Tapan reported. The bulk of the foreign investment was concentrated in the country's metallurgy, food service, and telecommunications sectors, although a significant amount was also invested in aviation and energy. Although the foreign investments originated from a diverse group of 30 countries, Greek investment was highest, at $75 million, followed by investments of $67 million from Russia, and $38 million from Germany. Between $24 million-$32 million was invested in Armenia from France, Argentina and the United States. RG
...AS ARMENIA READIES NEW INVESTMENT LAW
Armenian Deputy Trade and Economic Development Minister Tigran Davtian also announced on 12 April that a new law on investment will be ready to be submitted to the parliament for its consideration by the end of the year, according to Noyan Tapan. Davtian stated that the new law will incorporate measures deigned to modernize the current eleven-year laws on investment and to encourage greater investment by easing restrictions on market entry and by fostering transparency. RG
U.S. AMBASSADOR TO AZERBAIJAN COUNTERS CRITICISM BY DEPUTIES
U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish countered on 13 April recent criticism by Azerbaijani parliamentarians for meeting with the opposition figures outside of Baku, Turan reported. The U.S. ambassador stated that "the United States does not support any political party or candidate" and explained that his tour of several regions of the country included meetings with local officials as well as opposition leaders. Harnish further dismissed Parliamentary Speaker Murtuz Alesqerov's demand for a state investigation of the "activities of the U.S. ambassador." RG
GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN TALKS CONTINUE
A Russian delegation led by Foreign Ministry Special Envoy for CIS Relations, Ambassador Igor Savolsky, arrived in Tbilisi on 13 April for two days of talks with Georgian officials on the terms of the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia, Rustavi-2 TV and Civil Georgia reported. Commenting on the course of the talks, Savolsky noted that the negotiations have been stalled by "disagreement over the timeframe" for the withdrawal of the two Russian bases at Batumi and Akhalkalaki. The negotiations, which also include discussions of a new framework for bilateral relations, follow an earlier round of inconclusive talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2005). RG
GEORGIAN JUSTICE MINISTER ARRIVES IN TURKEY
Georgian Justice Minister Kote Kemularia arrived in Turkey on 13 April at the start of a three-day official visit, the Caucasus Press and Rustavi-2 TV reported. The justice minister is to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Cemil Cicek, and senor members and officials from the Turkish constitutional and supreme courts. Kemularia, a former chairman of the Georgian Supreme Court, is in Turkey to finalize a series of agreements on bilateral cooperation and to review the terms of a treaty with Azerbaijan and Turkey establishing new counter-terrorism measures. The draft treaty, scheduled to be considered by the Georgian parliament next week, also calls for greater information sharing between the three nations on the presence and activities of criminal groups, terrorists, and separatists operating in each country. RG
KAZAKH ELECTION COMMISSION GETS NEW CHAIRMAN
The lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament confirmed Onalsyn Zhumabekov on 13 April as the new head of the country's Central Election Commission (CEC), Kabar reported. Zhumabekov, who until now occupied the post of justice minister, replaces Zagipa Balieva, who stepped down to make way for her successor. Her five-year term as CEC chair was set to end on 4 May 2005, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Zhumabekov, whose candidacy to head the CEC was put forward by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, had headed the Justice Ministry since February 2003. DK
KAZAKH FIRM ACQUIRES KYRGYZ CELL OPERATOR AMID QUESTIONS
Erlan Seisembaev, head of Kazakhstan's Seimar Investment Group, announced at a news conference in Bishkek on 13 April that that company has acquired Bitel, Kyrgyzstan's largest cellular operator, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Seisembaev said that the Seimar Investment Group plans to invest $50 million in Bitel, which has 330,000 subscribers and posted revenues of $32 million in 2004. But there may be questions about the deal. Kanat Amankulov, who heads the legal department in Kyrgyzstan's Prosecutor-General's Office, told Kabar on 13 April that Bitel's previous owners may have sold the company in order to conceal crimes. Amankulov said that prosecutors began to investigate Bitel, which numerous reports have linked to the family of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, in early April, and preliminary results indicate heavy state involvement in the company and possible embezzlement of funds through offshore zones. DK
RUSSIAN, TAJIK FORCES SEIZE 1,500 KILOGRAMS OF DRUGS ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER
Avaz Yuldoshev, a spokesman for Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, announced at a news conference in Dushanbe on 13 April that Russian and Tajik forces have confiscated 1,500 kilograms of narcotics in 2005, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that heroin accounted for two thirds of the drug seizures. Yuldoshev stressed that drug production in Afghanistan continues to increase, adding that 50 laboratories for processing opium into heroin are constantly functioning in Afghanistan near the Tajik border. Yuldoshev also pointed to cooperation with law-enforcement authorities in Afghanistan, noting that one joint operation with Afghan police led to the seizure of 80 kilograms of heroin. DK
WOMAN IMMOLATES SELF IN PROTEST IN UZBEKISTAN
A woman in Tashkent suffered serious burns on 13 April when she set herself on fire to protest a campaign to destroy small garden plots, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Irina Alekseeva, an ethnic Russian pensioner, was hospitalized in serious condition after she doused herself with kerosene and set herself on fire, fergana.ru reported. Tashkent city officials confirmed to the BBC's Uzbek Service that small garden plots near residential dwellings are being removed in accordance with a cabinet decision, but said they knew nothing about Alekseeva's case. But Alisher Ilhomov -- formerly the director of the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation in Uzbekistan, which closed when the Uzbek government revoked its registration in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004) -- told the BBC, "This is the desperate act of a person who was unable to gain satisfaction by appealing to officials and the courts, someone whose grievances were ignored." Ilhomov noted that cases of self-immolation occurred in Uzbekistan in the Soviet period, primarily in response to abuse, while recent incidents are increasingly manifestations of social protest at economic hardship. DK
UZBEK RIGHTS GROUP SAYS EXECUTION TOOK PLACE IN MARCH
Tamara Chikunova, head of the Uzbek NGO Mothers Against the Death Penalty and Torture, announced on 13 April that Ahrorkhuja Tolibkhujaev was executed on 1 March for murder, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. If confirmed, the execution would be the 10th since the United Nations called on Uzbekistan in 2003 to stop carrying out executions, Tribune.uz reported. Chikunova said that Tolibkhujaev confessed under torture to the murder of two children, even though he did not commit the crime, RFE/RL reported. Chikunova stressed that there is documentary proof that Tolibkhujaev was tortured. RFE/RL was unable to obtain any information on the alleged execution from the Interior Ministry. DK
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PARTY ORDERED TO RELOCATE HALF ITS BRANCHES
The Belarusian Supreme Court on 13 April rejected an appeal by the United Civic Party (UCP) objecting to a warning it received from the Justice Ministry over its failure to meet a 1 February deadline for relocating its branches from residential to office buildings, Belapan reported. None of the country's political parties have managed to fulfill this requirement of the Housing Code, which came into effect in 1999. UCP party leaders said they will meet within days to discuss how to prevent the closing of the 75 party chapters that violate the Housing Code. Last month, UCP leader Anatol Lyabedzka submitted his application declaring his intention to seek the presidency in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). JAC
BELARUSIAN ACTIVISTS DETAINED FOR DISTRIBUTING NEWSPAPER
Police detained six opposition activists who were passing out copies of the unregistered opposition newspaper "Vybor" on 12 April, Belapan reported. They face possible fines of 120,000 rubles ($56). JAC
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS ORDER TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM IRAQ
Viktor Yushchenko has signed a decree authorizing the withdrawal of Ukrainian peacekeepers from Iraq by the end of 2005, Interfax and UNIAN reported. According to the decree, the Ukrainian government will approve within two months a program for long-term cooperation with Iraq that will include projects on oil and gas development and energy transportation. Last month, Yushchenko told U.S. journalists that Ukraine might withdraw its entire military contingent from Iraq by mid-October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005). JAC
MELNYCHENKO TAPES ARRIVE IN KYIV COURTESY OF RUSSIAN OLIGARCH
Two close associates of former Russian oligarch Boris Berezovskii, Aleksandr Goldfarb and Yurii Felshtynskiy, arrived in Kyiv on 13 April to give testimony in the case of slain journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Ukrainian media reported. Goldfarb, who is head of the Civil Liberties Fund, told Interfax that he was bringing "recording devices, decoded recordings, and supplementary documents of [former presidential body guard Mykola] Melnychenko." Melnychenko made secret tapes in the office of former President Leonid Kuchma, including one that some believe implicates Kuchma in Gongadze's killing. According to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www.pravda.com.ua), Goldfarb said, "Our lawyers believe these materials are sufficient for the 'Kuchma conversations' to be included in the criminal case and used as evidence." Kuchma has claimed that the tapes are fake and were part of a plot to depose him (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 23 March 2005) JAC
UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER'S TRIP TO RUSSIA POSTPONED AT LAST MINUTE
A planned visit by Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko to Moscow set for 15-16 April has been postponed, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 13 April. The Ukrainian government said Tymoshenko's visit was delayed because President Yushchenko told her to tackle urgent problems associated with the spring sowing campaign and rising fuel prices. However, Ukrainian Economics Minister Serhiy Teryokhin said earlier that the visit was put off because of the recent remarks of Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, "Ukrayinska pravda"' reported. Ustinov said on 12 April that Tymoshenko could come to Russia in accordance with international legislation and protocol, but he said charges against her have not been dropped and she is still on the wanted list. Last January, Ustinov said that a Russian court could issue an arrest warrant for Tymoshenko and in that case she could be detained by police if she traveled to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). JAC
FOREIGN DIPLOMATS RULE OUT PARTITION OF KOSOVA...
Senior German diplomat Michael Schaefer said in Prishtina on 13 April that Kosova will remain a unified territory when its final status is decided, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Speaking on behalf of the international contact group, he noted that Kosova will not be partitioned, forced to unite with another state, or made subject to border changes. Schaefer stressed, however, that progress in defining Kosova's final status will depend on the implementation of the international community's standards. The contact group consists of the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Russia. The visit by Schaefer's team is widely seen as a part of a run-up to the international community's review of the standards issue, which is expected in mid-2005 as a prelude to talks on Kosova's final status (see ""RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March, 20 August, and 17 December 2004 and 7 and 21 January, and 25 March 2005). The UN has repeatedly ruled out Serbian calls for an ethnically based partition of the province. PM
...AND RECEIVE PRAISE FROM KOSOVAR LEADERS
Most leaders of Kosova's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority concluded in Prishtina on 13 April that the meeting that day with the diplomats from the six-member international contact group was the most fruitful such session to date, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. President Ibrahim Rugova said that the contact group has "very important ideas for Kosova. It will be unified and not united with any other state or joint state. This is a good basis for continuing the [political] process that is under way." The president added that independence is the best and "most modern" solution for Kosova. Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi said he hopes that Kosova will receive support from the international community in resolving the status question with a "just decision at the right moment." Hashim Thaci of the opposition Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) stressed that the Kosovars do not want to change their borders with Albania but rather to establish an "independent, sovereign, and democratic state of Kosova." Kosova's Minister of Returns Slavisa Petkovic, who is the only Serb who offered to serve in the current Kosovar government, said the Serbs of Kosova must have a greater role than Belgrade in the decision-making process. "It's us and not somebody from Belgrade who lives here," Petkovic added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 and 18 February 2005). PM
COURT DEMANDS ARREST OF NEW MAYOR OF MACEDONIA'S LARGEST ROMANY NEIGHBORHOOD
A court in Skopje asked the Interior Ministry on 13 April to issue an arrest warrant for Amdi Bajram, who is a former member of parliament for the Union of the Roma in Macedonia and the winner of the 10 April second-round mayoral race in the district of Suto Orizari in the north of Skopje, the private A1 TV reported. Bajram ran for mayor of that district despite being sentenced to four years in prison for large-scale theft by a court in Stip (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January and 19 March 2003). Bajram's lawyers noted that they have appealed the verdict and that their case is still pending before the Skopje Court of Appeals, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Legal experts believe that Bajram's candidacy might have been legal due to a loophole in the election legislation. However, it seems to be clear that Bajram must give up his position if the court upholds the sentence. In that case, new elections must be held. Bajram himself said that "nobody told me that I have no right to run." Suto Orizari is the only administrative district in Macedonia with a Romany majority. For many Roma throughout Europe, it used to be a model of how Roma could manage their own affairs. The village became visible to the world when Yugoslav director Emir Kusturica shot parts of his film "Time of the Gypsies" there in 1989. UB
MOLDOVA'S PRESIDENT SAYS NEW BILL WILL GIVE TRANSDNIESTER BROAD AUTONOMY...
Vladimir Voronin said his government is drafting a bill on Transdniester's status that would give the separatist region broader autonomy, Infotag reported on 13 April. "This is not just a conflict-settlement plan. This is a draft law that is being worked at now. It will be discussed with the international mediators, will be submitted to parliament's consideration, and will eventually be put on the negotiation table," the Moldovan president said the previous day on Chisinau's ProTV. Voronin said the bill would provide for a local parliament and administration, a regional budget, anthem, and coat of arms. But the region's banking and finance system, armed forces, and customs and foreign policy would be under Moldovan authority. BW
...CALLS RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA GOOD
President Voronin also said Moldova's relations with Russia are largely positive and that he supports Moscow's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), Infotag reported on 13 April. "We have no problems with Russia except the [Transdniester] dispute," Voronin said. Voronin also said he does not believe Russia will impose sanctions on Moldova, as Moscow has threatened to do (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March 2005). "I do not believe Moscow will decide to slap economic sanctions against us. This would be unreasonable in conditions when the Russian Federation is seeking to join the World Trade Organization, which disapproves of such restrictive measures," he said. "As a WTO member state, the Republic of Moldova is interested in admitting Russia to the World Trade Organization and in establishing equal rules of trade." BW
...AND DENIES THAT MOLDOVA WILL LEAVE CIS
Voronin also denied claims that Moldova is considering withdrawing from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Infotag reported on 13 April. "We are a small country" and will not "slam the door" on the CIS, Voronin said. "Concerning the CIS, we should make all things clear," he added. "Vladimir Putin himself recognized that the Commonwealth of Independent States had been created for a civilized divorce" of the former Soviet republics. But Voronin, a longtime Russian ally who has said more recently that he wishes to bring Moldova closer to Europe, said he would like to visit Brussels in the first official trip of his second term. Such a visit, Voronin said, would "reaffirm Moldova's strategic course for European integration." BW
KYRGYZSTAN HIGHLIGHTS FAILURE OF MANAGED DEMOCRACY (Part 2)
The outcome of Kyrgyzstan's revolution is much less clear than its causes. While opposition leaders managed to restore some degree of order after looting gripped Bishkek on the night of 24 March, they have had more difficulty consolidating and legitimizing their newfound power. After some confusion, the newly elected parliament was sworn in as the legitimate legislature, although alleged violations in elections to that very body had sparked the protests that eventually led to President Askar Akaev's downfall.
A new presidential election is tentatively set for June, and five candidates have already thrown their hats in the ring. Meanwhile, the interim government of acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, a former prime minister and prominent opposition leader, has been somewhat slow off the mark. It has been hampered by a less-than-transparent approach to appointments, apparent infighting, and an inability thus far to articulate policy changes that would mark a clean break with the Akaev era. The situation is still fluid, however, and any verdict on the postrevolutionary government would be premature.
It should be noted that events in Kyrgyzstan differ from events in Georgia and Ukraine in several crucial respects. Protesters in Kyrgyzstan united against the figure of President Akaev, but they did not rally behind a single opposition leader, as Georgians rallied behind Mikheil Saakashvili and Ukrainians behind Viktor Yushchenko. Also, Kyrgyzstan's geopolitical orientation was never at issue. President Akaev made efforts to maintain solid relations with both Russia and the United States, and Kyrgyzstan hosts both a Russian and a U.S. military base. One of the Kyrgyz opposition's first statements upon assuming power was that this policy will continue. During events in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin publicly supported presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, who made a "pro-Russian orientation" one of the planks of his platform. The Russian position on events in Kyrgyzstan was much more restrained, and key opposition figures such as Bakiev and Roza Otunbaeva traveled to Moscow in the lead-up to parliamentary elections for talks with Russian officials.
With events in Kyrgyzstan still very much in flux, the eventual consequences for the rest of Central Asia will likely take some time to emerge. For now, the fall of Akaev has emboldened domestic opposition movements, especially in Kazakhstan, and unsettled current rulers.
Nevertheless, events in Kyrgyzstan cannot simply be extrapolated to the rest of the region. Tajikistan, for example, held parliamentary elections at the same time as Kyrgyzstan, and international observers found those elections to be similarly flawed; yet no protests resulted. Kazakhstan's September parliamentary elections produced a solidly pro-government majority amid opposition allegations of fraud and guardedly negative assessments by international observers; yet no upheaval resulted. Other factors play a role as well -- Tajikistan's bloody civil war in the 1990s continues to exert a sobering influence on domestic politics, and Kazakhstan's far-flung geography and comparative economic prosperity militate against an exact repetition of the Kyrgyz scenario.
Still, both Kazakhstan and, to a lesser extent, Tajikistan fall under the general rubric of managed democracies, with significant state-sponsored stage-managing of the political process and a resulting failure to provide viable venues for the discussion and resolution of pressing problems.
The evidence from Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan indicates that when managed democracy fails, its failure can quickly become catastrophic for the existing rulers. The implications could prove especially relevant to Kazakhstan's upcoming presidential elections, for which the opposition has already selected a single candidate to oppose long-ruling President Nursultan Nazarbaev.
A failure of managed democracy is much less likely in Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, if only because there is much less democracy to fail. Turkmenistan is an isolationist, neo-Stalinist dictatorship that obeys laws peculiar to that political genre, rendering any discussion of life after "president-for-life" Saparmurat Niyazov highly speculative. Uzbek President Islam Karimov maintains a tight hold on power, and reformist initiatives have been few and far between in Uzbekistan. But recent reports from Uzbekistan point to a dangerous combination of rising social tensions as a result of economic hardship and an authoritarian government intent on maintaining the status quo (see "Taking to the Streets in Uzbekistan," rferl.org, 28 September 2004). This comes against a backdrop of rancorous debates over the extent of the Islamist threat in Uzbekistan, with the government and its supporters claiming that a real threat necessitates harsh measures and critics charging that repression is fueling extremism and creating dangers where none need exist (see "Terror in Uzbekistan," rferl.org, 20 August 2004). The Uzbek pot has simmered stubbornly for years in the face of predictions that it will soon boil over. But its contents are indeed explosive, and turmoil in Central Asia's most populous country could have grave consequences for the region.
Beyond Central Asia, the proven failure of managed democracy in three post-Soviet countries could betoken an uneasy future for the largest and most important managed democracy of all: Russia. In Russia, we find many of the features of this flawed system in its classic form: state control over national television, a virtual political environment increasingly bereft of viable channels for communication between government and governed, and a squabble-prone elite that bends the mechanisms of the state to its own ends, often rendering them useless for legitimate purposes. The point is not that Russia, or any other country, is "next" in a parade of democratic revolutions. Rather, the cautionary moral of this story is that the ongoing breakdown of managed democracy bodes ill for the stability of all countries, including Russia, where this dubious experiment continues in willful ignorance of the lessons of Georgia, Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan.
(Excerpted from RFE/RL analyst Daniel Kimmage's testimony on 7 April before the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe [Helsinki Commission] on the causes and consequences of Kyrgyzstan's revolution. For Part 1, see http://www.rferl.org/newsline/5-not.asp)
AFGHAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR LONG-TERM SECURITY PARTNERSHIP WITH U.S.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai said after a meeting on 13 April with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that his country wants a long-term security arrangement with the United States, AP reported on 13 April. At a news conference in Kabul, Karzai said Afghanistan sees itself tied to the United States for the indefinite future. "The conclusion we have drawn is that the Afghan people want a long-term relationship with the United States," Karzai said. "They want this relationship to be a sustained economic and political relationship and, most importantly of all, a strategic security relationship to enable Afghanistan to defend itself, to continue to prosper." It remained unclear whether Karzai or U.S. officials would consider permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. "We think more in terms of what we're doing rather than the question of military bases and that type of thing," Rumsfeld said. MR
AFGHAN AUTHORITIES ARREST NINE SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN
Afghan authorities arrested nine suspected neo-Taliban insurgents in the Kandahar area, afp reported 13 April. "Nine Taliban armed with AK-47s and explosives were arrested in a search operation by national army soldiers in Kandahar -- three on [12 April] and six on [11 April]," Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammed Zahir Azimi said. The group of three was captured in Kandahar's Shawali Kot district, roughly 430 kilometers south of Kabul. The first six arrests were made on the outskirts of Kandahar, a Taliban stronghold before that regime was swept from power in 2001. U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld arrived in Kandahar early on 13 April as part of his brief visit to the country. MR
AFGHANISTAN VOWS CONTINUED ANTIDRUG EFFORTS
Afghan authorities vowed to continue their counternarcotics campaign despite recent clashes between police and opium producers in southern Afghanistan, AP reported on 13 April. Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammed Daoud said antidrug operations will resume in the area after a brief halt following a clash near Kandahar that left seven people injured. "It will start again tomorrow," Daoud said on 13 April. "We are going to carry this out all over the country, not just in this district or province." U.S.-trained counternarcotics forces were in the Kandahar area to eradicate opium-poppy crops when they came under fire by villagers apparently tied to the local drug trade. Afghan authorities halted operations briefly to consult with local elders before deciding to resume efforts in the area. Afghan authorities targeted the area because its warm weather allows early harvesting. MR
TAJIK OFFICIAL SAYS 50 AFGHAN HEROIN LABS DOT BORDER
A spokesman for the Tajik National Drug Control Agency said on 13 April that as many as 50 laboratories on the Afghan side of the countries' shared border operate around the clock to process heroin, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Tajik authorities expect drug trafficking from Afghanistan into Tajikistan to increase as warmer weather opens mountain passes and poppy farmers harvest spring crops. "Areas of drug crops are continuing to increase in Afghanistan," Yuldashev said. "That is a main producer of this poison." MR
TEHRAN REJECTS URANIUM-SMUGGLING ALLEGATIONS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 13 April that a Reuters report one day earlier suggesting possible uranium smuggling in Iran is untrue, state radio, ILNA, and Mehr News Agency reported. Anonymous diplomats were quoted by the Reuters correspondent in Vienna -- where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is headquartered -- that the UN watchdog is inventorying processed uranium in Iran. The intelligence agency of an unnamed country believes that uranium tetrafluoride (UF4) was removed from the uranium-conversion facility in Isfahan and taken to an unknown location, Reuters reported. The IAEA has refused to comment, and a "senior official at another spy agency" questioned whether a large amount of uranium could be removed in light of IAEA monitoring and restrictions on the Iranian facility. BS
DANISH VISITOR OPTIMISTIC ABOUT IRANIAN NUCLEAR PLANS
Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller has expressed confidence that Iran is not interested in nuclear weapons, "Berlingske Tidende" reported on 13 April. Moeller said that during his visit to Tehran earlier in the week, when he met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, he was reassured by what he heard. "These were surprisingly positive and conciliatory signals they are sending," Moeller said. "They are completely different tones than the ones we heard from Iran last week." Khatami and Rohani visited several European capitals in early April. Moeller added that Khatami told him Iran does not want nuclear weapons. Denmark currently has a seat on the UN Security Council. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL DISMISSES FEAR OF MILITARY BACKGROUND
Presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai, who commanded the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps from 1981-97, said on 13 April that candidates with military backgrounds can run the country and contribute to national security, ISNA reported. He dismissed critics of his military background as prejudiced or ignorant. "My political ideas are rooted in my deep belief in democracy, and I left the military when I decided to take part in political activities," Rezai said. BS
IRANIAN LEGISLATORS COMPLAIN OF ANTI-SEMITISM
Maurice Motamed, who represents Iranian Jews in the legislature, complained on 13 April that state television is broadcasting anti-Semitic programs, IRNA reported. "Insulting Jews and attributing false things to them in television serials over the past 12 years has not only hurt the feelings of the Jewish community but has also -- it can be said with conviction -- led to the emigration of a considerable percentage of the Jewish community," Motamed said. He added that repeated complaints about this problem have not had the desired effect. Speaker of parliament Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said he also noticed the anti-Semitic nature of some programs and urged broadcasters "to respect the rights of religious minorities in the programs that they produce." BS
IRAN'S TOBACCO CHIEF ARRESTED ON CORRUPTION CHARGE
Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad said on 13 April that the head of the state tobacco company and his deputy were arrested for corruption, state radio reported. Karimi-Rad said they are under investigation over financial irregularities. The legislature, meanwhile, appears to have an anti-tobacco bias. Nureddin Pirmoazen, who represents Ardabil Province and serves on the parliamentary health committee, complained during the 22 February session that the government has not submitted a bill to control tobacco use, "Resalat" reported on 23 February. Pirmoazen said there are 12 million smokers in Iran, which has a population of around 69 million. An unnamed representative complained on 27 October that tobacco-company officials tried to give "several boxes" of cigarettes to each visiting parliamentarian during a recent visit, "Resalat" reported on 28 October. "This action surprised some of the representatives as to how a governmental organization could promote a harmful item and attempt to advertise it in such a manner," the lawmaker said. BS
INSURGENT BOMB ATTACKS KILL 15 IN IRAQ
At least 15 people were killed and 20 wounded as two suicide car bombs exploded during rush hour near an Iraqi Interior Ministry building in central Baghdad on 14 April, international news agencies reported. The blasts occurred in quick succession about 200 meters apart on a busy street, close to Iraqi police vehicles protecting an entrance to the Interior Ministry building, Reuters reported. Also on 14 April, gunmen killed four police officers in an attack on a police station in the northern city of Kirkuk, dpa reported the same day. On 13 April, a car bomb exploded outside the heavily fortified Green Zone, killing five Iraqis and wounding four U.S. contractors, Reuters reported the same day. The 13 April bomb exploded as a Defense Department convoy carrying civilian workers left the Green Zone. BW
AL-JAZEERA: U.S. HOSTAGE IN IRAQ PLEADS FOR LIFE IN VIDEO
A U.S. national being held hostage in Iraq urged the U.S. government to negotiate with his captors to save his life, international news agencies reported on 13 April, citing video footage broadcast by Al-Jazeera. In the video, the man, identified by U.S. officials as Jeffrey Ake from Indiana, appeared to be reading from a statement, Reuters reported. He held up his passport and driver's license as masked and armed guerrillas stood by. Al-Jazeera said the hostage "urged the U.S. administration to open a dialogue with the Iraqi resistance...to save his life" and called on U.S. forces to withdraw quickly from Iraq. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said on 11 April that the contractor was working on a reconstruction project and was kidnapped in the greater Baghdad area, Reuters reported. The embassy said no group had claimed responsibility (see RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2004). BW
POLAND ANNOUNCES TROOP WITHDRAWAL...
Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka said his country will withdraw its 1,700 troops from Iraq by the end of 2005, when their UN Security Council mandate expires, dpa reported on 13 April. "This decision is absolutely no surprise, either for the American side or the Iraqis," Poland's PAP news agency quoted Belka as saying. "We want to be present in Iraq but in a different form, rather civilian and economic instead." Belka said the decision to end Poland's mission in Iraq is irreversible. Since 2003, Poland has led a multinational contingent stationed in south-central Iraq. BW
...AND SLOVAKIA SUGGESTS IT MIGHT ALSO PULL OUT
Slovakia might pull its troops out of Iraq if there is no UN Security Council resolution authorizing their presence, a senior Slovak Defense Ministry official said on 13 April, CTK reported the same day. "We have been saying from the beginning that if we are not asked by the Iraqi government, which has not yet been legitimately elected, to remain on Iraqi territory, and if there is not the UN Security Council support, we will naturally consider a withdrawal," said Martin Fedor, the state secretary of the Slovak Defense Ministry. "For us, the position of the Security Council, which adopted a resolution last year calling on the UN member states to participate in ensuring security and stability in Iraq, is very important and decisive." There are about 100 Slovak soldiers in Iraq, working mostly on de-mining operations. BW
U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE PRAISES AL-FALLUJAH OFFICIALS
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick praised Al-Fallujah's newly elected city council, calling it a "sign that democracy was at work," AFP reported on 13 April. "People like you all over Iraq will be the key to Iraq's future, not the United States," Zoellick said during a visit to Al-Fallujah. "It's your country. We can help, but you have to make it happen." Zoellick visited Al-Fallujah on 13 April during a surprise visit to Iraq, one day after U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made an unannounced trip to the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 April 2005). U.S. officials view Al-Fallujah's reconstruction as critical to giving Sunnis a stake in rebuilding the country into a democracy. "I wanted to come to Falluja and see with my own eyes how you're coming on rebuilding your city, the security situation and I hope rebuilding your economy," Zoellick told leaders. BW