U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MEETS WITH RUSSIAN LEADERS IN MOSCOW...
Condoleezza Rice completed her visit to Moscow on 20 April with a meeting with President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, RTR and other media reported. Putin attributed the "present high level of bilateral relations" to Rice. Earlier the same day, Rice and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the Georgia-Abkhazia situation, the situation in Kyrgyzstan, and the U.S.-Russian energy dialogue. On 19 April, Rice met with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and discussed military cooperation and proposed inspections of Russian nuclear sites. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 20 April, Rice said Russia should not be afraid of U.S. inspections because they are not a matter of sovereignty, but security. She noted that both countries have had bad experiences dealing with international terrorism, and inspections should prevent nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands. VY
...AS RUSSIAN OFFICIALS GIVE THEIR INTERPRETATION OF TALKS
Speaking to journalists in Minsk on 20 April, Defense Minister Ivanov said that the issue of U.S. specialists visiting Russian nuclear sites is not being considered at all and that talks on nuclear safety are being conducted within the framework of the accord reached by U.S. President George W. Bush and President Putin in Bratislava in February. Foreign Minister Lavrov said that Russia is ready to hear U.S. concerns about the status of the Russian media, but to discuss it, one needs specific cases and examples, Interfax and other Russian media reported. "As much as the United States is interested in a strong and democratic Russia that plays an active role in the world, we are interested in a strong and democratic United States that performs actively and responsibly on the world stage," he concluded. VY
RUSSIA, NATO SIGN 'MILESTONE' TRANSIT AGREEMENT
Russia and NATO on 21 April signed a Status of Forces Agreement in Vilnius that will make it easier for the two sides to transit military forces through one another's territory, Russian and international media reported. The agreement will also facilitate joint military exercises and training. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called the agreement "a concrete milestone in practical NATO-Russia cooperation," RFE/RL reported. NATO spokesman James Appathurai said that the accord will make it easier for NATO to deploy troops and equipment in Afghanistan. The agreement must be ratified by the State Duma before coming into force. RC
RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT, CHURCH PLEASED BY ELECTION OF CONSERVATIVE POPE
The Russian Orthodox Church and the presidential administration are pleased by the election of German Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, since a German pope is better for Russia that a Polish pope, NTV commented on 20 April. Both President Putin and Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II have ties to Germany, and Aleksii is of ethnic German origin and his former family name is Ridiger. Also, the Russian Orthodox Church prefers a conservative pope, NTV noted. Metropolitan of Smolensk and Kaliningrad Kirill, who is head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate and who led the church's delegation to Pope John Paul II's funeral, told RTR on 3 April that the best thing about John Paul was his conservatism, and that the Russian Orthodox Church will pray that the next pope will be conservative as well. While Putin sent Benedict a congratulatory letter in which he called for developing relations between Russia and the Vatican, Aleksii in his message to the new pope said he hopes "for fruitful dialogue between the two churches," Russian media reported. VY
ELECTION COMMISSION RESTRICTS NATIONAL REFERENDUM TO TWO ISSUES...
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) announced on 20 April that only two out of the 17 questions for a national referendum initiated by Communist Party and its allies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, and 8 April 2005) are allowed by law, strana.ru and the other Russian media reported. They are the issues of preserving elections to the State Duma from single-mandate districts and maintaining draft deferrals. According to TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, such topics as raising the minimum wage and pensions to the minimum subsistence level, renationalization of natural resources, and land ownership cannot be put to referendum as they are budgetary issues. Veshnyakov also said that such issues as opposition access to the media and direct elections of governors could be allowed in a referendum after a revision of their wording. VY
...AS COMMUNISTS, MOTHERLAND THREATEN PROTESTS, REVOLUTION
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Motherland leader Dmitrii Rogozin, who attended the TsIK meeting, accused TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov of sabotaging the proposed referendum and systematically exerting pressure on its initiators, and they demanded his immediate resignation, lenta.ru and other media reported. Zyuganov warned the TsIK that his party will bring people into the streets in mass protests and civil disobedience. "If Veshnyakov does not hear us in this room, we will force him to hear our [voice] on the streets," Zyuganov said. He said that his party will do everything possible to make the proposed referendum happen, lenta.ru reported. Rogozin promised a blockade of the government offices. "Soon it will be difficult for Veshnyakov to get into this working place," he said. Meanwhile, the Communist Party's official website (http://www.kprf.ru) featured the slogan "Referendum or Revolution." VY
NEW SUSPECTS DETAINED IN CHUBAIS ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Investigators in the case of the 17 March assassination attempt on Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2005) announced on 20 April that they have detained two new suspects, Robert Yashin and Aleksandr Naidenov, NTV and other Russian media reported. Yashin and Naidenov, like the previously arrested Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov, are former military intelligence (GRU) officers and served under Kvachkov in various conflict zones. Meanwhile, several military and special-services veterans organizations have formed a public committee in defense of Kvachkov. On 17 April, about 200 veterans demonstrated in the center of Moscow demanding the release of Kvachkov, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The veterans said that the accusations against Kvachkov are absurd and that the investigation cannot even name his motive for allegedly committing the crime. VY
KREMLIN-CONNECTED BANK TO PURCHASE REN-TV
REN-TV, widely considered the most independent of Russia's national television channels, will soon be sold to a consortium comprising Yevrofinans Mosnarbank and German media giant Bertelsmann, "Vedomosti" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 April. Yevrofinans is controlled by Kremlin-connected oligarch Vladimir Stolyarenko and is a major player in the media market. It is forming a media holding company with Gazprom-Media and has purchased a major stake in St. Petersburg's Petersburg television channel (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 9 April 2004). "REN-TV lately has been the last national television network that has pursued an independent information policy, as much as that is possible in today's conditions," National Association of Telebroadcasters President Eduard Sagalaev told "Kommersant-Daily." "It would be naive to think that possible financial-structural changes at the company will not be reflected in the channels' information policy." "As far as [REN-TV's] informational-journalistic conception is concerned," STS-Media President Aleksandr Rodnyanskii told the daily, "I think it will be changed." Currently, EES owns 70 percent of REN-TV. RC
DUMA DEPUTY SAYS PUMANE, TROFIMOV CASES LINKED
Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist), who is deputy chairman of the Duma Security Committee, said on 21 April that the investigation into the 19 September 2004 death in police custody of Aleksandr Pumane has not revealed that he had any connection to a purported car-bomb plot in Moscow, Ekho Moskvy reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 23, and 30 September and 7 October 2004). Ilyukhin said that Pumane, a retired St. Petersburg submariner, was a member of a St. Petersburg-based group of assassins, allegedly headed by the head of security for Baltic Eksport, Roman Tsepov. Tsepov died of a mysterious poisoning just five days after Pumane was killed. Ilyukhin alleged that Pumane was working for unspecified "St. Petersburg siloviki" and that he had been sent to Moscow to prepare the assassination of Federal Security Service (FSB) General Aleksandr Trofimov. Trofimov was killed in Moscow on 10 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005). Ilyukhin said that Pumane would have attempted to kill Trofimov if he had not been killed himself. RC
RUSSIANS HAVE 22,000 COMPLAINTS PENDING IN STRASBOURG
Anatolii Kovler, the Russian judge on the European Court of Human Rights, said on 21 April that more than 22,000 Russian citizens have sent appeals to the court, newsru.com reported. Only Turkey has a greater number of pending appeals, he said. Kovler, speaking at a conference in Yekaterinburg, said that a plurality of complaints involve the failure to enforce Russian court decisions. "In addition, there are many complaints from journalists, inasmuch as the authorities in several regions are very sensitive to criticism and initiate criminal cases against media outlets," Kovler said. He said that a recent Supreme Court ruling that made a distinction between the dissemination of facts and of opinions should help cut down the number of journalism-related cases at the Strasbourg court. He added that the state of Russia's remand prisons is also a major problem. "It is very important that we educate bureaucrats and jurists so that they know exactly what the European-style human rights are that Russia is striving for," Kovler said. RC
JAPANESE PREMIER TO ATTEND WORLD WAR II COMMEMORATION IN MOSCOW
Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will attend the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe in Moscow on 9 May, the Kyodo news agency and ITAR-TASS reported on 21 April. Many in Japan had been calling on Koizumi not to attend the ceremonies because Russia and Japan have still not signed a treaty formally ending the war. The two countries have not been able to resolve conflicting claims on the Kurile Islands. RC
PUTIN TO DELIVER STATE-OF-THE-FEDERATION ADDRESS ON 25 APRIL
President Putin will give his annual address to the Federal Assembly on 25 April, the presidential press service reported on 21 April. On 19 April, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that because of Putin's tight schedule, including a 28-29 April trip to the Middle East, the address would be postponed until some time in May, most likely after the 9 May World War II commemoration and the 10 May Russia-EU summit. The press release did not give any details regarding the content of the address. RC
COURT REJECTS PUBLISHER'S APPEAL OF GOVERNMENT WARNING
The Moscow Arbitration Court on 18 April took just seven minutes to reject an appeal by the Kommersant publishing group, which was seeking to have a warning from the Federal Service for Oversight of Compliance With Legislation on Mass Communications and the Protection of the Cultural Heritage annulled, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. The service issued the warning in February after "Kommersant-Daily" published on 9 February an interview with then Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. The court is expected to issue a written ruling in the case on 26 April. RC
KREMLIN PRESS OFFICE REPORTS ON PUTIN'S MAIL
President Putin received 11,380 letters from Russian citizens in the first week of this month, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 April, citing the president's public-relations office. According to the Kremlin, most letters were about the formation of the new Public Chamber, administrative reforms, and the upcoming commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. Among other things, the press office said that a group of citizens from Chelyabinsk wrote to laud the new Public Chamber and to urge that local versions of that body be created. "The Public Chamber will play a big role in reflecting the interests of citizens during the elaboration and implementation of state policy," the citizens' letter reportedly read. The office also said that numerous letters proposed the organization of public campaigns to repair and maintain war memorials in view of the upcoming anniversary. RC
SIBERIAN STUDENTS RALLY AGAINST REFORMS
About 7,000 students held a demonstration against educational reform in Krasnoyarsk on 20 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin told the demonstration that "no decision on education reform will be made without students' participation." Demonstrators carried placards calling for the restoration of free public transportation and for continued state funding of higher education. RC
CHECHEN SECURITY FORCES LAUNCH NEW INCURSION INTO DAGHESTAN
Members of Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov's security forces came under fire from local residents early on 20 April when they encircled a house in the village of Toturbi-Yurt in Daghestan's Khasavyurt Raion in the mistaken belief that one of Daghestan militant Rappani Khalilov's fighters was hiding there, Russian media reported. A Chechen FSB officer was killed in the shooting. In the hope of apprehending a second suspected militant, the Chechen force then moved to the village of Solnechnoe where they opened fire on one house and beat up a local resident; another Chechen security official was killed when residents returned fire. Speaking to journalists in Grozny, Kadyrov blamed the Daghestan police for his men's failure to apprehend the suspected militants, kavkazweb.net reported on 21 April, citing yufo.ru. Daghestan's Interior Minister Adilgirey Magomedtagirov, who travelled to Toturbi-Yurt to clarify the situation, ordered the closure of Daghestan's border with Chechnya to both vehicles and pedestrians, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 21 April. A ministry spokesman told the daily that Kadyrov's men have launched numerous such incursions on to Daghestan's territory without informing the Daghestani authorities beforehand. LF
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT CALLS ON TURKEY TO ACKNOWLEDGE 1915 GENOCIDE
Addressing the opening session on 20 April of an international conference in Yerevan pegged to the 90th anniversary of the killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey, President Robert Kocharian urged Turkey to acknowledge those killings as a genocide, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He reasoned that "recognition is important for Turkish-Armenian relations as it would provide answers to numerous questions dividing our two peoples and enable them to look to the future," and would help Turkey come to terms with its past. Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, who also addressed the conference, said formal recognition by Turkey of the genocide has primarily moral significance for Yerevan, and that he considers it "premature" for Armenia to raise issues of material or territorial compensation at this juncture. LF
AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES AGAIN CRITICIZE U.S. AMBASSADOR
Meeting on 21 April, representatives of pro-government political parties again subjected U.S. Ambassador Reno Harnish to harsh criticism for his imputed sympathy for and support of the Azerbaijani opposition, Turan reported. Harnish has met in recent weeks with representatives of the Democratic and Musavat parties and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, which have aligned in a bloc to contest the parliamentary elections due in November. Harnish also met on 20 April with the leaders of the newly formed Yeni Siyaset (New Politics) bloc, echo-az.com reported on 21 April. Several speakers at the 21 April meeting argued that it is inappropriate for a U.S. diplomat to meet with politicians who they claimed "are preparing to stage a coup d'etat under the guise of parliamentary elections." Parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov called for a probe into Harnish's activities after he toured rural areas and met with local opposition supporters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2005). LF
MOVEMENT TO SUPPORT PUBLIC TELEVISION LAUNCHED IN AZERBAIJAN
Some 30 representatives of political parties, NGOs, and the media attended the founding meeting in Baku on 20 April of a movement named Elik Televiziya (Public Television), the aim of which is to lobby for the creation of a truly independent public broadcaster, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 20 and 21 April, respectively. Participants reaffirmed their disapproval of the appointment of parliament deputy Ismail Omarov to head the newly created Public Television and Radio (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2005), and they appealed to the international community to pressure the Azerbaijani leadership to take steps to ensure that broadcaster is truly independent and impartial. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON BELARUS...
Deputies adopted a statement on 20 April addressed to the people of Belarus, expressing "serious concern" at developments in that country and demanding that its leaders comply with their human rights commitments, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Interfax quoted parliament deputy speaker Mikheil Machavariani as saying that there "is no place for a dictatorship in Europe." LF
...APPROVES NEW AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA
Deputies approved on 20 April the nomination by President Mikheil Saakashvili of Irakli Chubinashvili, a member of the presidential administration, as ambassador to Moscow, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili told a government session on 13 April that his choice of Chubinashvili reflects the importance he attaches to improving bilateral relations with Russia. Chubinashvili, 35, joined the Greens party shortly after its foundation by the late Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania in 1989, and graduated from Tbilisi State University's Economic faculty in 1992. From 1993-98 he ran his own business in Moscow. Chubinashvili replaces Valeri Chechelashvili, who served for five months in Moscow before being appointed Georgian finance minister in February. LF
GEORGIAN PREMIER CANCELS VISIT TO SOUTH OSSETIA
Zurab Noghaideli has postponed a trip to South Ossetia scheduled for 21 April after the unrecognized republic's president, Eduard Kokoity, informed the Georgian government that he is not prepared to meet with Noghaideli, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said on 20 April that Kokoity did not offer any explanation for his refusal to meet with Noghaideli. LF
LABOR PARTY LAUNCHES PETITION CALLING ON GEORGIAN PRESIDENT TO RESIGN
On 21 April the opposition Labor Party began collecting signatures to a petition demanding President Saakashvili's resignation, Caucasus Press reported. The Labor Party also intends to stage a mass anti-Saakashvili demonstration in Tbilisi on 10 May to coincide with U.S. President George W. Bush's visit. LF
NEW PEACEKEEPING COMMANDER MEETS WITH ABKHAZ LEADERSHIP
Major General Sergei Chaban, who has replaced Major General Aleksandr Yevteev as commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, met in Sukhum on 20 April with Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, Defense Minister Lieutenant General Sultan Sosnaliev, and Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, Caucasus Press reported. He also met with Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for the Abkhaz conflict. Chaban met in Tbilisi last week with the Georgian Armed Forces General Staff, according to Caucasus Press on 18 April. That agency quoted Minister for Conflict Resolution Khaindrava as telling journalists that Tbilisi supports Chaban's appointment. On 21 April, however, Caucasus Press reported that Russian peacekeepers abducted, tortured, and then killed a young Georgian man in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion the previous night. LF
SPLINTER KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY EMERGES
Three chairmen of the Kazakh opposition party Ak Zhol announced at a news conference in Almaty on 20 April that they are forming a splinter party called Naghyz Ak Zhol (True Bright Path), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Ak Zhol has already split once earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 23 February 2005 and 4 March 2005). In an appeal published by Navigator on 20 April, Bulat Abilov, Oraz Zhandosov, and Altynbek Sarsenbaev blamed a group within Ak Zhol for "a conscious decision to split" the party and alleged that, as a result, "our values were betrayed and an underhanded blow was struck against democratic forces." At the news conference, Sarsenbaev said that the Ak Zhol party platform drawn up in preparation for September 2004 parliamentary elections will provide the basis for the new party's work, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He explained, "The difference [between the two parties] will be visible through our further activities. To outline, set down, and publicize a program, and to implement a program -- those are two different things." DK
KYRGYZ CIVIL SOCIETY FORUM ISSUES APPEAL...
A forum of civil-society groups in Kyrgyzstan ended in Bishkek on 20 April with an appeal calling for the consolidation of democratic forces, a constitutional council to propose changes to the basic law, an end to regionalism, a full investigation of the Akaev regime's crimes, and the removal of Supreme Court head Kurmanbek Osmonov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. In remarks to forum participants, acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev agreed with the need for constitutional reform, but cautioned against haste. For his part, Osmonov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he does not feel a need to resign his position. He added, "Presidential elections are coming [on 10 July 2005], and the rights of many people would be left undefended if the judiciary were paralyzed." DK
...AS ACTING PRESIDENT ACCUSES FORMER PRESIDENT OF ELECTION MISDEEDS
In his remarks to the forum, acting President Bakiev said that materials discovered in former President Akaev's archives since his fall from power dispel the myth of the "good president" and the "bad entourage," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev charged that the former president "personally directed vote-buying and fraud. He planned and financed it. In his office, his residence, and with the help of his family -- his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and the so-called 'political consultants' invited by [son-in-law Adil] Toigonbaev -- they planned and then executed crude provocations against the opposition and unwanted candidates." Bakiev named the pro-Akaev party Alga, Kyrgyzstan! as another mechanism for advancing the interests of the previous regime. DK
KYRGYZ TV STATION BROADCASTS LIST OF FORMER PRESIDENT'S ALLEGED ASSETS
Kyrgyz Television 1 made public on 20 April a list of assets allegedly belonging to or controlled by the family of former President Askar Akaev, only a day after acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev signed a decree on investigations into those assets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2005). The list, which the television station described as "tentative," included: the Meerim charitable foundation, the Kant Cement and Slate Plant, the Kadamzhay mercury plant, the Kara-Balta distillery, Manas Airport, the Kyrgyzalko alcoholic beverages plant, the Aalam Service aircraft fuel supplier, Kyrgyz Public Educational TV and other television channels, the newspaper "Vechernii Bishkek," Ayrek advertising agency, Kyrgyzinfo news agency, Alliance gas stations, the cellular operator BiTel, a number of resorts on Lake Issyk-Kul, the Narodny supermarket chain, Kumtor gold-mining company, the Jalal-Abad cotton plant, and a broad array of other businesses, ranging from discos to scrap-metal processing facilities. DK
CONCERNS RISE OVER VANISHED TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER
Rahmatullo Valiev, deputy chairman of Tajikistan's Democratic Party, told a news conference in Dushanbe that the party is deeply concerned over the recent disappearance of party leader Muhammadruzi Iskandarov in Moscow, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Iskandarov, who was released from detention in Russia on 3 April after Russian authorities refused to honor an extradition request from Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2005), was last seen near Moscow on 15 April. Valiev appealed to Russian law-enforcement authorities, as well as international bodies, to assist in the search for Iskandarov, who is wanted in Tajikistan on corruption charges he has dismissed as politically motivated. Valiev said, "Iskandarov's disappearance suggests that there are forces that do not want to see Tajikistan's political problems resolved through legal means," Avesta reported. Shokirjon Hakimov, the deputy chairman of Tajikistan's Social-Democratic Party, told Avesta that Iskandarov may have fled Russia because he feared for his safety. But Hakimov added that Iskandarov may also have been physically eliminated. Tajik Deputy Interior Minister Abdurahim Qahhorov denied that Tajikistan's authorities had any hand in Iskandarov's disappearance, the BBC's Persian Service reported. DK
TAJIK PROSECUTORS ANNOUNCE DISMANTLING OF RADICAL GROUP
Mahmadsaid Juraqulov, the head of the Interior Ministry's department for fighting organized crime, announced at a news conference in Dushanbe on 20 April that 12 members of the extremist group Bayat have been arrested in 2005, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Juraqulov noted that with the capture of two Bayat leaders, the organization has been effectively dismantled. Ten alleged members of Bayat are currently on trial in Sughd. Colonel Kurbonali Nazarov, also of the Interior Ministry, said that Tajik police continue to search for around 50 religious extremists, ITAR-TASS reported. DK
TURKMEN LEADER HINTS AT END TO HIS PRESIDENCY IN MEETING WITH OSCE HEAD
In a meeting with OSCE Chairman in Office and Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel in Ashgabat on 20 April, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov suggested that he may be willing to give up the presidency in 2009, Interfax reported. Addressing the issue of possible Turkmen presidential elections in 2009 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005), Rupel said, "To my question whether he is going to contest the elections, his answer was 'no.'" The Turkmen president's press service described the meeting as "an exchange of views about the current state and priority areas and perspectives for broadening cooperation between Turkmenistan and the OSCE," Turkmenistan.ru reported. Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Rupel said that while "one cannot overlook the achievements of Turkmenistan...paying more attention to human rights issues and making them more visible will increase the standing and reputation of the country," the OSCE reported in a 20 April press release. DK
CAMPAIGN MOUNTS TO FREE JAILED UZBEK JOURNALIST
International organizations are putting pressure on the Uzbek government to release jailed journalist Sobirjon Yoqubov, the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on 20 April. Yoqubov, a 22-year-old journalist with the newspaper "Hurriyat," was arrested on 11 April on a charge of attempting to overthrow the constitutional system in Uzbekistan, an accusation frequently leveled at alleged religious extremists in the country. Both Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ) have issued press releases calling for Yoqubov's release. The CPJ noted in its news alert that Yoqubov's colleagues have said that he was arrested after writing that slain Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze "became a driving force [for Ukrainians] to realize the necessity of democratic reforms and freedoms." A number of Uzbek journalists and rights activists, who charge that Yoqubov's arrest was politically motivated, have issued an appeal through the website centrasia.org and begun an online petition drive at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/291000507. U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli commented on the case on 19 April, saying, "Our embassy is in contact with the Uzbek authorities and has urged observance of due process and fair and human treatment for Mr. [Yoqubov]," IRIN reported. DK
BELARUS, RUSSIA MULL JOINT TROOP-CONTROL SYSTEM
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov met in Minsk on 20 April with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Belarusian counterpart, Leanid Maltsau, ITAR-TASS and Belarusian Television reported. Both sides reportedly agreed to prepare for signing in April 2006 an agreement on the creation of a unified communications and automated troops control system for the Belarusian-Russian regional group of troops. "There were moments when the Russian army was cementing our relations," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying. "Speaking frankly, this was what has always prevented some politicians from spoiling our relations." Lukashenka also commented on a recent Belarusian-Russian military exercise. "I realize that some of our neighbors, friends react very sensitively to such things," Lukashenka said. "But we did not show even 1 percent of what we can do together with you. So there was no need for any special reaction. We react calmly to their air patrols along our borders." JM
POLISH SPEAKER BLASTS BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S 'SCANDALOUS' STATEMENT
Sejm speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said on 20 April that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's reference to Polish diplomats in his 19 April address to the legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2005) was "scandalous," RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Polish media reported. "The form was scandalous, the wording devoid of any sense, speaking rudely. This is a statement of an irate dictator, displeased with the fact that not everyone in his country is scared," Cimoszewicz said. The previous day, Lukashenka told Belarusian legislators that diplomats of the Polish Embassy in Minsk are carrying out "destructive work" in western Belarus, including through the Roman Catholic Church, and putting pressure on Belarus's ethnic Polish community. "This is typical of nondemocratic systems that have internal problems and start looking for enemies outside," Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld commented to "Gazeta Wyborcza" on 20 April. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT FORMS COMMISSION TO MONITOR OBSERVANCE OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS...
The Verkhovna Rada on 21 April voted overwhelmingly to set up a commission for checking the observance of constitutional rights and civic freedoms in Ukraine, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. The commission, which will include representatives from all parliamentary groups, is headed by lawmaker Viktor Musiyaka from the Democratic Ukraine caucus. The commission is to present a report within 15 days after its creation. Opposition caucuses demanded that the commission's name reflect its primary goal -- probing the recent arrest of Donetsk Oblast Council head Borys Kolesnykov and dismissal of Odesa Mayor Ruslan Bodelan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2005) -- but pro-government deputies reportedly rejected that proposal. JM
...AND AGREES TO SENDING TROOPS TO GOLAN HEIGHTS
The Verkhovna Rada on 21 April also approved President Viktor Yushchenko's decision to deploy 200 Ukrainian troops as part of the UN peacekeeping force separating Syrian and Israeli troops on the Golan Heights, Interfax reported. The decision was backed by 287 lawmakers. JM
CRIMEAN LEGISLATURE APPROVES NEW PREMIER
The Supreme Council of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea on 20 April approved Anatoliy Matviyenko as the republic's new prime minister following the resignation of Serhiy Kunitsyn (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2005), Ukrainian media reported. Matviyenko, who was supported by 61 deputies from the 100-seat autonomous legislature, is a Verkhovna Rada deputy from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, whose leader heads the Ukrainian cabinet. "I'm a member of [President Viktor Yushchenko's] team and I'll do everything possible to make Yushchenko's presidency successful," Matviyenko pledged in the Crimean legislature following his approval. JM
EU SEEKS TO PRESS KOSOVA'S PRESIDENT INTO TALKS WITH SERBIA...
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Brussels on 20 April that Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova should take up Serbian President Boris Tadic's offer of talks, Reuters reported. "It is very important to start a constructive dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina," Rehn told reporters. He added that he has "noted positive developments in this regard -- the willingness to [extend a] hand by President Tadic, and I encourage President Rugova to take this seriously and proceed to have a constructive dialogue." Rehn also argued that "the [European] Commission will...help Kosovo to make progress towards its European aspirations, provided its political leaders demonstrate a clear commitment to democratic principles, human rights, rule of law, and economic reform." An international commission recently suggested that the EU extend explicit prospects of EU membership for an independent Kosova that would, however, be a EU protectorate for at least several years (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). Many Kosovars suspect that the EU will ultimately try to force Kosova into some form of joint state with Serbia and Montenegro, which both Podgorica and Prishtina reject. PM
...WHILE PRESIDENT REMAINS FIRM
President Rugova said in Prishtina on 20 April that "the best idea would be to organize an international meeting" once Kosova's independence has been recognized, Prishtina dailies reported. That gathering "would be attended by the presidents of all countries in the region....I do not want to do anything without the [presence of diplomats from the] international community which is here, and direct political talks with Belgrade are very difficult and impossible to conduct," Rugova said. He also asked visiting NATO parliamentarians for the Atlantic alliance's support in obtaining international recognition of Kosova's independence. Prishtina and Belgrade have held sporadic talks in recent years under international mediation on technical but not on political issues. All Kosovar Albanian political parties support independence based on self-determination and majority rule, arguing that Serbia lost any right to the province by its brutal behavior there in 1998-99. Tadic recently paid a controversial visit to Serbian enclaves in Kosova but did not meet any ethnic Albanian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004, and 7 and 28 January, and 18 February 2005). PM
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN OPPOSITION PARTY ANNOUNCES BOYCOTT OF PARLIAMENT
The Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), which is Macedonia's largest ethnic Albanian opposition party, announced its withdrawal from the parliament on 20 April, dpa reported. The move came as a protest against the parliament's rejection of a PDSH-sponsored bill which would have annulled the recent local elections in administrative districts with an Albanian majority. The PDSH argued that the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) was responsible for irregularities in those districts, the private A1 TV reported. The BDI rejected these claims, saying the PDSH is just looking for an excuse for its weak showing in the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 25 March and 11 April 2005, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 April 2005). The PDSH warned, however, that it will "take democracy onto the streets." In related news, the small ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) left the coalition it had formed with the PDSH ahead of the local elections, the private A1 TV reported. UB
BOSNIA, MACEDONIA AGREE ON DIRECT FLIGHTS
The transport and communications ministers of Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Xhemail Mehazi and Hari Besic, respectively, signed an agreement in Skopje on 20 April establishing direct flights between Skopje and Sarajevo, MIA news agency reported. The signing took place on the sidelines of an official meeting of Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic with his Macedonian counterpart Vlado Buckovski. In other news, Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski met with his Albanian counterpart Alfred Moisiu in Ohrid on 20 April to discuss the two countries' efforts for Euro-Atlantic integration, MIA reported. Moisiu also told Crvenkovski that Albania is working to improve the educational system of the Macedonian minority in Albania. UB
BOSNIAN SERBS TO REPEAT MILITARY INDUCTION CEREMONY
The Republika Srpska Defense Ministry said in a statement on 20 April that 99 army recruits did not properly take the oath of induction recently and that the ceremony must be repeated, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2005). In what was widely seen as an act of defiance against the unitary state of Bosnia-Herzegovina, the recruits took an oath to the Republika Srpska instead of to Bosnia. They also booed the Bosnian anthem and sung the Bosnian Serb one instead. NATO gave the ministry an ultimatum to deal with the issue by 20 April. PM
MONTENEGRIN LEADER DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM DOCUMENT ON MEDIA POLICY
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said in Podgorica on 20 April that a document sent recently from the Foreign Ministry to the government and the parliament is "unofficial...and cannot be linked to the government," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that "one must judge the government's relations with the media on the basis of its [current] policy and not on the basis of what one [unidentified] individual wrote" in the document. The text suggested that the government seek to influence media coverage of its moves toward independence, saying that media support for the drive is too weak. The name of the document's author has not been made public. PM
MOLDOVAN PRIME MINISTER PUSHES FOR EASED VISA AND TRADE REGIME WITH EU
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev said he will seek to win visa-free entrance for Moldovan citizens to the European Union by 2007, RBC reported on 20 April. Tarlev said that at its next Cabinet meeting, his government will begin drafting a simplified visa regime for EU citizens wishing to visit Moldova, adding that he hopes that Brussels would reciprocate with a similar move. The newly confirmed prime minister also said he plans to sign a trade agreement with Brussels that would give Moldovan goods and capital freer access to the European market. BW
MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT PASSES EU ACTION PLAN
Moldova's new government has approved a blueprint for a series of reforms designed to bring the country closer to EU standards, BASA reported on 20 April. The EU Action Plan outlines steps for political, economic, and judicial reforms, as well as cooperation with the European Union on law-enforcement, transportation, energy, telecommunications, and environmental issues. Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan said the three-year plan's implementation will be reviewed at various levels on a monthly, quarterly and bi-annual basis. Moldova negotiated the Action Plan with the EU, and the European Commission approved it in January 2004.
MOLDOVA'S FOREIGN MINISTER HOPES GUUAM WILL HELP WITH TRANSDNIESTER SETTLEMENT
In an interview with RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service on 21 April, Andrei Stratan said he hopes the upcoming GUUAM summit in Chisinau will move the conflict in Transdniester closer to resolution. Stratan said proposals from Ukraine and Georgia "will help to step up the negotiating process" over the separatist region. "At the summit, along with the countries that are willing to give us a helping hand, we will have the opportunity to examine these proposals," Stratan said. Stratan added, "Federalization is not the best method to reintegrate the Republic of Moldova." GUUAM, a regional grouping of Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Moldova, is scheduled to hold a summit meeting in Chisinau on 22 April. BW
BLOCKING THE BLOCS
Among the many amendments to Russia's law on elections that were passed in their crucial second reading by the State Duma on 15 April is one that would ban the formation of electoral blocs to contest federal, regional, or local elections.
This reform could play a central role in the Kremlin's drive to shore up the so-called vertical of power that was begun in earnest in the wake of September's school hostage taking in Beslan.
At the beginning of this year, Russia adopted a system under which the direct election of regional executive-branch heads was eliminated. Under the new system, these leaders are nominated by the president and confirmed by regional legislatures, giving those bodies a new prominence in a high-stakes political arena. The presidential administration clearly does not want to see a wave of confrontations emerging between local legislatures and the president. Under the new system, if a legislature refuses to endorse the president's nominee, the president has the authority to disband that body and call new elections. Kremlin planners realize that legislators will clearly be less willing to go to such extremes if they know that the major political parties, especially the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, have the upper hand in elections. Analyst Tatyana Stanovaya of the Center for Political Technologies wrote on politcom.ru on 19 April that the reforms are "revolutionary" for regional elections and will lead to "the federalization of all political parties."
The initiative to eliminate electoral blocs comes as such movements have managed to present considerable competition to Unified Russia in a number of regional elections in recent months. Moreover, there have been efforts by governors to stack local legislatures with their supporters through the creation of electoral blocs as a way of strengthening their positions vis-a-vis the Kremlin.
In Taimyr Autonomous Okrug, a coalition of Yabloko and the Russian Party of Life called For Our Native Taimyr placed a strong second to Unified Russia with 21 percent of the vote. In Tula Oblast, a bloc comprising the Motherland Party and the For Holy Rus party picked up 12 percent after receiving support from Duma Deputy Andrei Samoshin, who recently resigned from the Unified Russia party although he remains a member of its Duma faction. In Sakhalin Oblast, a bloc comprising the People's Will party, the Eurasia party, and the Agrarian Party won 19 percent with the financial backing of a local entrepreneur.
In addition, in regional elections in Amur Oblast, the Republic of Khakasia, Bryansk Oblast, and Ryazan Oblast, governors with strained relations with Unified Russia were able to put together blocs that won between 8 and 17 percent of the vote. And blocs of small parties in Irkutsk Oblast, Amur Oblast, and Arkhangelsk Oblast were able to overcome the 5 percent hurdle and gain party-list seats.
If, as is all but certain, the ban on electoral blocs becomes law, it will serve as a big boost to Unified Russia's growing stranglehold on regional legislatures. This, in turn, will further increase the dependence of regional governors on the Kremlin, which is of particular importance as the Kremlin's policy of consolidating federation subjects goes forward. Clearly the administration does not want to risk creating a situation in which the Kremlin is at odds with the governors of large, economically viable regions. Increasingly, governors who were critical of Unified Russia, such as Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin and Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin, are signing up with the party of power in exchange for renomination by President Vladimir Putin.
TURKISH PREMIER VISITS KABUL
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Kabul on 20 April for an official visit, Anatolia news agency reported. Erdogan met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and with former Afghan monarch Mohammad Zaher, constitutionally known as the "Father of the Nation." Erdogan said that Afghans and Turks have stood "side by side" in their recent history and that Turkey will continue to support Afghanistan in areas of education, health, and infrastructure as well as peace and security. Kabul and Ankara signed an agreement on the expansion of cooperation in the development of health services, Tolu television reported on 20 April. Prior to departing for Kabul, Erdogan told reporters on 20 April that Turkey's "political relations with Afghanistan are perfect," Anatolia reported. In February, Turkey assumed the command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force for the second time (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 25 February 2005). AT
PAKISTANI SOURCES DENY JOINT OPERATION WITH COALITION FORCES...
Pakistan's Peshawar Corps Commander Lieutenant General Safdar Hosayn said on 20 April that no joint operation has taken place in Pakistan's Waziristan Agency with the U.S.-led coalition forces based in Afghanistan, the official Pakistan TV 1 reported. The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, reportedly told journalists in Islamabad on 18 April that the United States would provide intelligence to Pakistani troops engaged in an operation in Northern Waziristan while conducting their own operation on the Afghan side of the border, Dubai-based Geo TV reported on 19 April. Hosayn called Barno's comments "unwarranted and irresponsible," adding, "I condemn his [Barno's] statement," AFP reported on 20 April. Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao told Geo on 19 April that "no [operation is] taking place in North Waziristan, nor it has been planned." However, an unidentified spokesman for Pakistan's military Inter-Service Public Relations (ISPR) said that while Pakistan will decide on its own "what needs to be done, when and where," he did not rule out a military operation in North Waziristan, Karachi daily "Dawn" reported 20 April. AT
...WHILE ASKING U.S.-LED COALITION TO HELP STOP INFILTRATION BY 'MISCREANTS' FROM AFGHANISTAN
A statement issued on 19 April by ISPR asked the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan to check border violations from the Afghan side, "Dawn" reported on 20 April. The attention of coalition forces has been "drawn to the increase of incidents of miscreants' movement from Afghanistan" to the Pakistan side of the border, the statement read. The coalition forces are asked by Pakistan to "address the issue and check the movement of miscreants," the statement continued. Pakistani General Hosayn told AFP on 20 April: "I told [U.S.] General Barno he should better take care of Afghanistan and we can do [this] ourselves in Pakistan." Since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001, most concerns have focused on the infiltration of militants from Pakistan into Afghanistan. The latest claim by Pakistani officials, if accurate, signifies a reversal of tactics by militants along the porous Afghan-Pakistani border. AT
NEO-TALIBAN RADIO HEARD IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Radio Shari'ah Zhagh (Voice of Shari'ah) broadcast two one-hour segments on 20 April in Kandahar. In its opening statement the broadcast said: "Dear fellow countrymen, Shari'ah Zhagh Radio raises the voice of Islamic brotherhood against the superpower, United States of America, and its associates who have been insulting the honor of the Muslim world and its religion and who harmed the Islamic rule." Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifollah Hakimi on 18 April reported that the radio station was back in operation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2005). It is not known from where the neo-Taliban radio is operating, but Hakimi had claimed that it was being broadcast from inside Afghanistan. AT
IRANIAN NUCLEAR NEGOTIATOR DELAYS ANNOUNCING PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 20 April that his decision on running for president depends on the other candidates, Mehr News Agency reported. Specifically, he said, it depends on Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani's decision. Rohani added that some prospective candidates have already said they want to quit, and he will not decide until it is clear how many candidates there will be. Rohani is a conservative, but he is viewed as relatively pragmatic. He has gained great prominence lately due to his role in the nuclear negotiations with other countries. Rohani is not the only person biding his time; Rafsanjani has indicated he will be a candidate only as a last resort. BS
CONSERVATIVE COUNCIL ANNOUNCES ITS CANDIDATE
The Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces has officially chosen Ali Larijani as its candidate for the 17 June presidential election, a leader of the group said on 19 April, according to Mehr News Agency. The Coordination Council is a mainstream and traditional conservative grouping. Parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who serves on the council's central committee, added that Larijani has all the desirable personal, familial, and spiritual qualities, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei believes in him. Indeed, Larijani is the Supreme Leader's representative in the Supreme National Security Council. Speaking at the Nur Mosque in Tehran on 18 April, Larijani told the audience that he has identified 110 critical national problems that require urgent attention, Mehr News Agency reported. Larijani said he and a group of experts have decided that a plan is required. BS
CONSERVATIVE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE STRESSES INDEPENDENCE
Former national police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf told university students in Mashhad on 20 April that the first thing he would do as president is change the government structure, Mehr News Agency reported. He promised to encourage public participation and resolve national issues on the basis of "collective judgment." He did not specify what he meant by this, but presumably he meant greater use of polling data will be made in formulating government decisions or referenda will be resorted to more frequently. Qalibaf stressed that he is an independent candidate. The previous day, Qalibaf told reporters in Mashhad that although he is an independent candidate, he would welcome any party or group's support, Mehr News Agency reported. BS
IRANIAN GOVERNMENT IDENTIFIES INDIVIDUALS BEHIND ETHNIC UNREST
Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said on 20 April that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security has identified the parties mainly responsible for the previous week's unrest in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, state television reported. He blamed counter-revolutionaries in other countries and irredentist websites. He said a "large number" of people were arrested. Anonymous sources told Mehr News Agency on 20 April that 10 people will be tried as the ringleaders, and 200 out of 340 detainees were released. BS
IRANIAN ETHNIC UNREST CONTINUES TO REVERBERATE...
The unrest in Ahvaz seems to have quieted down, Radio Farda reported on 20 April, but its impact is being felt in Tehran. There, 180 legislators have called on President Mohammad Khatami to dismiss the officials responsible for security in Khuzestan Province. The provincial governor is a member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party and the legislators want all party members removed from their posts and the party closed down. Vice President for Legislative and Parliamentary Affairs Mohammad Ansari said this is unreasonable, Radio Farda reported. Referring to the incitement caused by an apparently counterfeit letter from presidential adviser Mohammad Ali Abtahi, Ansari said it is not feasible for the government to react to every bogus letter and warned that such an over reaction would make things worse. BS
...AND HAS INTERNATIONAL IMPACT
At a Washington press conference on 19 April, U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli called on Tehran to practice restraint in dealing with the unrest and said the rights of peaceful demonstrators should be respected, Radio Farda reported. "The group is an Arab group -- my understanding -- and that suppression of minority rights is obviously to be denounced. And it is not the first time that Iran has practiced this kind of human rights violations and I think it's reflected in our human rights report on Iran," he said. Ereli accused Tehran of denying minorities their rights. On 18 April, Amnesty International identified seven men who had been arrested and said at least 130 others were detained in the Ahvaz environs from 15-18 April. Amnesty International went on to cite "unconfirmed reports" that 29 people were killed and the authorities have cut off water, power, and telephones in parts of Ahvaz. Amnesty International also referred to extrajudicial killings. BS
IRAN BACKS NEW LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER
Lebanon's designated prime minister, Najib Mikati, met on 20 April with Iranian Ambassador to Beirut Masud Edrisi to discuss the future of Lebanese Hizballah, IRNA reported. Edrisi told reporters afterwards that Iran supports the Lebanese people's decision on this issue and expressed Tehran's pleasure with the choice of Mikati. One day earlier, an official from Amal, Lebanon's other predominantly Shi'ite party, said in Tehran that the U.S. and Israel are trying to prevent an Islamic revival, Mehr News Agency reported. Abu Yasser Adel Aoun, who represents Amal in Tehran, said that Amal and Hizballah would confront such conspiracies together. Aoun ridiculed the U.S. "interpretation" of democracy and said it is not appropriate for Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Sudan, or Syria. He said Amal opposes UN Security Council Resolution 1559 -- which requires the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon and the disarming of militias in the country -- and pledged support for Syria. BS
IRAQI PRESIDENT SAYS BODIES OF HOSTAGES FOUND...
Iraqi transitional President Jalal Talabani said the bodies of 50 people, believed to be those of hostages held in a town near Baghdad earlier this week, have been found in the Tigris River south of Baghdad, Reuters reported on 20 April. "More than 50 bodies have been brought out from the Tigris and we have the full names of those who were killed and those criminals who committed these crimes," Talabani told reporters. "We will give you details in the coming days...terrorists committed crimes there. It is not true that there were no hostages. There were, but they were killed and they threw the bodies into the Tigris," he said. Shi'ite officials said that Sunni militants took as many as 150 hostages in the town of Mada'in on 15 April. But when Iraqi security forces raided the town they had found little evidence that anyone had been taken hostage or that there were any gunmen in the town (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 April 2005). BW
...APPEALS FOR NATIONAL UNITY
President Talabani issued a call for unity on 21 April as talks aimed at naming a new government stalled, international news reported. In a televised address, he called on Iraqis "to forget hatred and rebuff sectarianism and its root causes and to terminate sectarian persecution." The day before, Talabani said an announcement on a new government was imminent, and could come as early as 21 April. "We want to announce it as soon as possible," Talabani told reporters after meeting with newly appointed transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, former interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, and Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Iraqi leaders have been negotiating over the formation of the government since the 30 January elections that brought a Shi'ite majority to power in the country's transitional National Assembly. BW
OFFICIALS: ANNOUNCEMENT ON NEW IRAQI GOVERNMENT IMMINENT
Despite continued disagreements over the composition of Iraq's government, officials close to the negotiations said an agreement could be reached as soon as 21 April, international news agencies reported. The talks were held up by disputes over how many ministries should go to outgoing Prime Minister Allawi's allies, Reuters reported on 21 April. "The talks were going well, but the Shi'a offered Allawi just two ministries, not the four that he wants, and he rejected the offer," Reuters quoted an unidentified source close to the negotiations as saying. "There was also continued disagreement over what ministries the Sunnis should get. The question really is whether the Shi'a want to create a government of national unity, or just a Shi'ite-Kurd government," the source added. Shi'ite politicians said they still expect to make an announcement about the new government on 21 April. "We have made progress. An announcement will be made," an unidentified senior SCIRI official said. BW
IRAQI PREMIER ESCAPES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT...
Interim Prime Minister Allawi escaped an assassination attempt on the night of 20 April after leaving a meeting on Iraq's new government, international news agencies reported, citing the Allawi's spokesman. "He had attended an important meeting to discuss the formation of the government and was on his way back home when a car bomber blew himself up near the convoy as it approached the checkpoint," AFP quoted Allawi's spokesman Tha'ir al-Naqib as saying. "Thank God, the prime minister is well, but some policemen and members of his security team were killed," al-Naqib said. One policeman was killed in the attack and four were wounded, Reuters reported on 21 April. BW
...AS IRAQ'S AL-QAEDA CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY
In a statement posted on the Internet, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization claimed on 21 April that it was responsible for the attempt on Prime Minister Allawi's life, international news agencies reported. "A lion from the martyrs' brigade launched a heroic attack on the headquarters of infidels...and Jewish and Christian allies. Allawi escaped and the arrow missed, but there are many other arrows," Reuters quoted the statement, which could not be independently confirmed, as saying. Al-Zarqawi's group has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks against U.S. and Iraqi troops, and Iraqi government officials. BW
INSURGENTS KILL 19 IRAQI NATIONAL GUARDSMEN IN STADIUM
Militants killed 19 Iraqi National Guards execution-style in a soccer stadium on 20 April after taking them prisoner, Reuters reported the same day, citing a hospital spokesman and a witness. The killings took place in Hadithah, located about 200 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, where fighting involving insurgents, U.S. troops, and Iraqi security forces is common. The killings came after battles in the area between National Guardsmen, U.S. troops, and insurgents, according to witnesses. In other violence, a bomb targeting Western contract workers exploded on Iraq's airport road on 21 April, killing at least two people, Reuters reported. BW