RUSSIA SLAMS U.S. OVER WTO TALKS...
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Moscow daily "Vremya novostei" of March 13 that the United States is holding up Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) for unspecified political reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8, 2006). Moscow avidly wants to join the WTO and still needs to conclude only two bilateral agreements -- with the United States and Colombia -- as a prerequisite for doing so. Lavrov said that the U.S. negotiators repeatedly bring up issues that the Russians thought had already been settled "in principle," such as "the opening of direct branches of foreign banks in Russia." He noted that Russia's current policies are acceptable to U.S. "bankers, but the administration wants something more. Even though the administration, you would think, would [consider the interests of] its bankers." The minister charged that the United States is treating Ukraine more favorably than Russia in regard to joining the WTO. The U.S. House of Representatives voted recently to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment restricting trade with respect to Ukraine, but the measure remains in force regarding Russia. Lavrov also denied unspecified suggestions that Moscow is prepared to modify its position on Iran's nuclear program in return for a deal with Washington on WTO membership. PM
...AND HUMAN RIGHTS DOCUMENT
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on March 10 that the recent U.S. report on human rights in Russia could damage bilateral relations, mosnews.com reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9, 2006). The statement said that the report consists of "a clear juggling of facts and is an example of blatant double standards." All this hinders the "normal development" of bilateral ties. The ministry believes that the report shows that Washington's policies are "biased against Russia." The statement stressed that neither the United States nor any other country has an "ideal" situation in regards to human rights. The ministry argued, however, that Russia is working "to perfect systems designed to provide for the rights and freedoms of its citizens." PM
RUSSIA TO 'ADJUST' ITS POSITION ON IRAN
A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on March 12 that it will "study" the recent statement by its Iranian counterpart that Tehran is no longer considering Russia's proposal to enrich uranium for it on Russian territory, RIA Novosti reported (see Part Three below and "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8 and 10, 2006). He added that Moscow will then "adjust its position on this issue." The spokesman stressed that Russia still wants a "peaceful and diplomatic settlement of the Iran nuclear issue." The following day, however, an unnamed "Russian diplomatic source" told Interfax that unnamed "Iranian officials have informed Russian diplomats that the Russian proposal on setting up a joint venture remains in force. To put it bluntly, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has made a statement, and [Tehran's] Supreme National Security Council has denied it." PM
RUSSIA CLINCHES HUGE ARMS DEAL WITH ALGERIA
Sergei Chemezov, who heads the state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport, said in Algiers on March 10 during President Vladimir Putin's visit that his company and Algerian officials have signed an arms deal worth $7.5 billion, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8, 2006). He noted that 90 percent of the arrangement involves the sale of new equipment and that only 10 percent deals with the upgrading or repair of materials from previous sales. Chemezov added that he hopes to conclude additional contracts worth $2-3 billion at an unspecified time in the future. "We dominate the Algerian arms market and sell military equipment only for real money," he said. Chemezov pointed out that Russian arms are as good as those from other sources but up to 20 percent cheaper. An unnamed Russian expert who took part in the talks told the news agency that Algeria's existing $4.7 billion debt to Russia will be written off once the latest arms agreements are signed and implemented (See "Russia: Energy, Weapons Bring Moscow Closer To Algiers" by Victor Yasmann -- http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2006/3/B02B19E6-8A3C-4AA0-B34D-57B108407E0F.html.) PM
FEW SURPRISES IN REGIONAL ELECTIONS
Preliminary returns indicate that the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is ahead or has clearly won in the eight regions where elections were held on March 12, RIA Novosti reported. Unified Russia has already been declared the winner in Nizhny Novgorod Oblast. The elections attracted relatively little interest in the media. PM
CAN AN ANONYMOUS COMMENT SHUT DOWN A WEBSITE?
Russian authorities began a court inquiry in the Altai Krai capital of Barnaul on March 10 aimed at possibly shutting down Bankfaks.ru, a popular and often "disobedient website," RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Rosohrankultura, the federal agency responsible for the media, charged that the site helped inflame religious hatred by publishing anti-Muslim comments by an anonymous reader in connection with the controversy over the Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21, 2006). Bankfaks.ru removed the offending comments the day after they were posted upon receiving complaints. The hearings will continue on March 30. In related news, Rosohrankultura sent a formal warning on March 10 to another popular website, Gazeta.ru, for publishing some of the original Danish cartoons. Editor in Chief Mikhail Mikhailin said in response that he and his colleagues were not trying to inflame passions but to provide information about important developments in the world to their readers. PM
GAZPROM EXPECTS $30 BILLION IN REVENUES
Aleksandr Medvedev, who is deputy head of Gazprom, said in Moscow on March 13 that his company expects revenues of $30 billion in sales in 2006, Interfax reported. In related news, LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov warned that Russia might have to import light oil products by 2009-10 if it does not improve its secondary refining capacity. PM
FOREIGN BANKS WANT YUKOS DECLARED BANKRUPT
France's Societe Generale and several other foreign banks that once gave credits to Russia's embattled Yukos oil company filed a lawsuit with Moscow's Court of Arbitration on March 10 demanding that the company be declared bankrupt, Russian news agencies reported. Tim Osborne, managing director of Yukos' main shareholder GML (aka Group Menatep), told "The Moscow Times" of March 13 that "maybe we're now seeing the endgame" for what was once Russia's biggest oil producer. The authorities broke up Yukos in late 2004 after the company was unable to meet demands for around $25 billion in back taxes and fines. Most of the company's assets have been impounded and its largest production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, is now owned by state oil company Rosneft. International creditors are reportedly seeking to retrieve nearly $500 million. Yukos's former chief executive, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, is serving an eight-year prison sentence in the remote Chita Oblast for fraud and tax evasion after a trial that was widely viewed as politically motivated and engineered by the Kremlin. Russian courts have also placed some of his closest associates behind bars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 15, 2005, and February 9 and March 8, 2006). PM
CHECHEN PRIME MINISTER SAYS SPECIAL SERVICES PROTECT BASAYEV...
Ramzan Kadyrov told journalists in Grozny on March 10 that all Chechen resistance formations have been smashed, and that only a handful of "odious figures" remain active, whose death or capture is "a matter of time," RIA Novosti reported. Kadyrov said some 3,000 Interior Ministry personnel are engaged in hunting down field commanders Shamil Basayev, Doku Umarov, and Rappani Khalilov in southern Chechnya. He added that Basayev would have been apprehended long ago but for the fact that "he is under the protection of various special services." On March 11, Kadyrov said that no fewer than 7,000 resistance fighters have laid down their arms since the beginning of the second war in the fall of 1999, Interfax reported. LF
...SACKS GROZNY OFFICIALS, WARNS CABINET MEMBERS
Also on March 10, Kadyrov dismissed staff of the Grozny public services department for failing to keep the streets clean, dni.ru reported citing vesti.ru. Kadyrov again warned government officials that he will punish severely any official guilty of corruption or cronyism, and he ordered those ministers whose families currently live outside Chechnya to bring them back to Grozny, Interfax reported. Also on March 10, Reuters reported that verbal instructions have been issued to female Chechen civil servants that they risk dismissal if they fail to cover their hair with headscarves. On March 11, Lieutenant General Yevgeny Lazebin, commander of the group of Russian Forces in the North Caucasus, attended celebrations in Gudermes to mark Kadyrov's appointment as Chechen prime minister and the birthday of his predecessor Sergei Abramov, newsru.com reported. LF
TWO POLICE OFFICIALS KILLED IN DAGHESTAN
Daghestani Interior Ministry department head Magomed Magomedov was killed on March 10 when a bomb exploded in his car, Interfax and kavkaz.memo.ru reported. An unnamed section head in the Daghestani Interior Ministry department that targets organized crime was shot dead in Makhachkala late on March 12 as he was returning home, regnum.ru reported. LF
LOW TURNOUT REPORTED IN ADYGEYA ELECTION
Only some 45 percent of voters cast their ballots on March 12 in the elections for a new parliament in the Republic of Adygeya, regnum.ru reported quoting Central Election Commission Chairman Yury Khut. Eight parties registered to take part in the ballot. LF
ARMENIA APPROVES DOMESTIC GAS PRICE HIKE
Armenia's Public Service Regulatory Commission approved on March 10 a request by the joint venture ArmRusGazprom to raise by 50 percent, to 90 drams ($0.002) per cubic meter, the price of gas supplied to domestic consumers, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Thermal heating plants and the chemical industry will pay 66 drams per cubic meter; the price rise takes effect on April 10. Russia announced last December a steep increase in the price of gas supplied to all three South Caucasus states, but the Armenian government succeeded in negotiating a three month delay in the introduction of the new tariff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 27, 2005 and January 17, 2006). LF
ARMENIAN STATE TELEVISION PLANS TO END LIVE BROADCASTS OF PARLIAMENT PROCEEDINGS
Aleksan Harutiunian, who is chairman of government-controlled State Television and Radio, said on March 10 that existing legislation that requires live radio coverage of parliamentary debates and of sittings during which lawmakers question government ministers and are entitled to read out brief statements on any issue should be abolished as it contravenes European standards for media freedom, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He suggested that as an alternative the government could provide funding for a separate TV or radio frequency or commission private TV networks to provide coverage of parliamentary proceedings. Opposition parliament deputies immediately criticized Harutiunian's proposal as an attempt to limit even further opposition politicians' access to national electronic media. LF
MINSK GROUP URGES 'VIGOROUS WORK' ON KARABAKH SETTLEMENT
In a statement (http://www.osce.org/item/18319.html) released following talks in Washington on March 7-8, the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group expressed regret at the lack of progress towards resolving the Karabakh conflict "in recent weeks" despite "ample opportunity to do so," a reference to the meeting in Rambouillet last month between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan. The statement urged both sides to build on progress made towards a settlement during the past year. In an allusion to recent belligerent statements by President Ilham Aliyev and other Azerbaijani officials, they urged both presidents to "take steps with their publics to prepare them for peace, and not for war." The statement reaffirmed the co-chairs' belief that "objective conditions make 2006 a highly favourable year for substantial progress," and they appealed to the Armenian and Azerbaijani government to "work vigorously" to that end. The co-chairs are scheduled to meet again on March 20 in Istanbul, a venue that Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian described to the independent TV company Shant on March 10 as "a bit strange," Noyan Tapan reported on March 13. On March 11, echo-az.com quoted U.S. Ambassador to Baku Reno Harnish as saying that Ambassador Steven Mann, a U.S. Minsk Group co-chairman, will arrive in Baku on March 13 for "consultations" on a new round of Karabakh peace talks. LF
ARMENIANS IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA DEMAND AUTONOMY...
Armenian NGOs in Georgia's predominantly Armenian-populated southern region of Djavakheti have written to President Mikheil Saakashvili asking him to grant the region autonomy within Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on March 10. Vardan Akopian, who heads the NGO Youth of Djavakhk, told journalists that the request is problematic insofar as the Georgian Constitution does not provide for transforming the country into a federation. But he expressed the hope that the Georgian authorities "will find democratic approaches to the issues of the national minorities," and that the granting of autonomy to Djavakheti will prove to be "the first step towards a new Georgia." LF
Some 200 Armenians stormed the local court building in the Djavakheti town of Akhalkalaki on March 11 to demand an "objective" investigation into the March 9 killing of an Armenian, Gevork Gevorkian, in Georgia's southern Tsalka district, Caucasus Press reported on March 13. Gevorkian was reportedly stabbed to death in a dispute between three Armenians and five members of Georgia's Svan minority. Many Svans were resettled in Tsalka in the early 1980s. The Svan suspects have been taken into custody; Van Baiburt, an ethnic Armenian who is a Georgian parliament deputy, denied that the killing was ethnically motivated. LF
GEORGIAN OMBUDSMAN CALLS FOR RESIGNATIONS IN CONNECTION WITH BANKER'S MURDER
Sozar Subar told journalists in Tbilisi on March 13 that "in a democratic country" the four senior Interior Ministry officials implicated in the January murder of United Georgian Bank employee Sandro Girgvliani would have resigned, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian opposition politicians have repeatedly demanded the resignation of four ministry officials who were seen to engage in an argument with Girgvliani in a Tbilisii cafe just hours before he was found beaten to death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1, 7 and 8, 2006). Subar said the arrest of four lower-level Interior Ministry officials has failed to clarify the circumstances of the murder: "The only thing we learned after those arrests is that there is a death squad in the Ministry of Internal Affairs that stands above the law and can give short shrift to anyone on orders [from higher up]," Caucasus Press quoted Subar as saying. LF
INFLUENZA DEATHS TRIGGER PANIC IN GEORGIAN CAPITAL
Four pupils from a Tbilisi school, and four other people have been hospitalized with suspected influenza following the deaths of two pupils at the same school last week, Caucasus Press reported on March 13. The patients are reportedly in an isolated ward and are being treated with the drug Tamiflu, which is prescribed in cases of some strains of influenza as well as bird flu in humans. Georgian Health Minister Lado Chipashvili told journalists that an autopsy has revealed that the two girls died of a respiratory infection, not of bird flu, but he nonetheless ordered the school closed for disinfection. The Tbilisi health authorities have similarly reassured the population that the deaths and subsequent cases are part of a seasonal influenza outbreak. They appealed to the population not to go directly to hospitals if they suspect they have contracted influenza, but to consult their doctor first. LF
CHINA TO PROVIDE TRAINING FOR KAZAKH CIVIL SERVANTS
China will provide Kazakhstan with over $600,000 in aid to train Kazakh civil servants, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on March 10. Under an agreement signed in Astana on March 10, China will host Kazakh civil servants at Chinese educational institutions, where they are to learn skills and take Chinese-language classes. DK
KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER CALLS FOR SENATE SPEAKER TO RESIGN
In an article in "Karavan" on March 10, Darigha Nazarbaeva, daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and head of the pro-presidential Asar Party, said that Nurtai Abykaev, the speaker of the Senate (upper chamber of parliament), "must resign." Abykaev's subordinate, Erzhan Utembaev, has been charged with organizing the murder of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14 and 28, 2006). Nazarbaeva warned that in the wake of the killing, "We are under the supervision of a gray junta of officials and under the threat of death squads." Nazarbaeva suggested that an old guard of entrenched officials is behind Sarsenbaev's death. She also stated that the National Security Committee is out of control and insisted that order must be restored to prevent Kazakhstan from turning into "Chile of the 1970s, Argentina of the 1980s, or Somalia of the 1990s." DK
KYRGYZ EX-PRESIDENT SPEAKS OUT AS ANNIVERSARY OF OUSTER NEARS...
In a March 10 interview with the newspaper "Bely parakhod," former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev decried what he called the "coup" of March 24, 2005 and warned that "what is happening in the country today is extremely worrying." Akaev said, "Virtually none of the things promised by the initiators and organizers of the March coup, still papered over as the 'Tulip Revolution,' have been done. In many areas there is a clear regression. A lack of prosperity in the socioeconomic sphere is compounded by squabbles in the upper echelons of power, aggressive attempts by criminal elements to gain control of the machinery of government and society as well." Akaev warned, "The threat that the nation may collapse appears to be quite real, in which case we will face a national catastrophe." Nevertheless, Akaev said that he hopes to return home, telling his countrymen, "I hope, my dear fellow countrymen, to see you on native ground. I believe that the day will be soon!" DK
...AND PROSECUTOR DETAILS CASES AGAINST HIS FAMILY
In a March 10 interview printed in "Slovo Kyrgyzstana," Kyrgyz Deputy Prosecutor-General Abibulla Abdygaparov said that prosecutors have opened 68 criminal cases against the Akaev family. He said that the cases involve real estate and other property. The charitable foundation Meerim, which was run by Akaev's wife, Mairam Akaeva, is the focus of 28 criminal cases. Abdygaparov promised more details, saying, "When the time comes and the facts about the stolen millions and criminal acts are put in order, they'll tell the people about it." Abdygaparov also noted that former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev is the focus of several criminal probes, although these have been temporarily halted because Tanaev is ill. Tanaev is in detention in Bishkek after having tried to go to Kazakhstan. DK
UNITED STATES TO GIVE $800,000 FOR TAJIK SECURITY TRAINING
The United States will provide $800,000 to train Tajik security personnel with an eye to improving border security, Interfax-AVN reported on March 10. A press release from the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan stated, "Over the past year, drug control, border security, and training law enforcement officers have become spheres of success in Tajik-U.S. cooperation." Washington has already earmarked $3.2 million in assistance to Tajik border guards in 2006. DK
REPORT: TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE NEAR ACCORD ON GAS DEBT
Ukrainian-Turkmen talks in Ashgabat on the $158.9 million debt Turkmenistan says Ukraine owes for previous natural-gas shipments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21, 2006) appear close to a resolution, Turkmenistan.ru reported on March 12, citing sources in the Turkmen Foreign Ministry. The report said Ukraine has paid off $59.6 million of its cash debt, leaving $28.7 million to be paid in cash. (Under earlier contracts, Ukraine paid for Turkmen gas half in cash, half in goods.) The debt in kind is $67.3 million, the report said. To pay off this debt, Ukraine will supply Turkmenistan with $55.1 million worth of 1,020-milimeter pipe. The talks are continuing, the Foreign Ministry source said. The Ukrainian delegation is headed by Anatolii Popadyuk, commercial director of Naftohaz Ukrayiny. The Turkmen delegation consists of officials from the country's Oil and Gas Ministry. DK
EU EXPRESSES CONCERN AT TRIALS OF UZBEK OPPOSITION
In a March 9 declaration posted to the site of Austria's European Union presidency (http://www.eu2006.at), the EU expressed concern over jail terms that prominent Uzbek opposition and rights activists have recently received. The statement noted recent sentences given to Sunshine coalition leader Sanjar Umarov and coordinator Nodira Hidoyatova, and rights activist Mutabar Tojibaeva (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 2, 7, and 8, 2006). In particular, it urged Uzbekistan "to review the conviction of Ms. Tojibaeva and to ensure a fair trial with access for national and international observers." It also asked Uzbekistan "to act in conformity with all relevant OSCE human dimension commitments, international human rights standards and treaty obligations in the case of [the] appeals by the three persons convicted." DK
UZBEKISTAN COMPLETES EXIT FROM GUUAM
President Islam Karimov has signed a law completing Uzbekistan's exit from GUUAM, an organization that had brought together Georgia, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Armenia, and Moldova, Uzreport.com reported on March 10. The law was approved by both chambers of Uzbekistan's legislature in January and February. Uzbekistan joined GUUAM in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26, 1999), suspended and then reaffirmed its membership in 2002 and 2003, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2002 and May 28, 2003), and announced in 2005 that it was leaving the organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 6, 2005). DK
POLICE IN MINSK ARREST BELARUSIANS, UKRAINIANS AT OPPOSITION RALLY
Police detained at least five Belarusians and six Ukrainians immediately after a campaign meeting convened by opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich in Minsk on March 12, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. It was Milinkevich's third meeting with voters in Minsk on that day and was attended by more than 2,000 people. There were also an unspecified number of activists of the Ukrainian organization Student Brotherhood, who came to Minsk from Ukraine. Police also detained Hanna Horozhenko, a journalist of the Kyiv-based Channel 5, while she was reporting live by the telephone to Kyiv. "The actions of the OMON [riot police] -- that was really something. I have never heard such words addressed to a human being, I have never seen such boorishness. I was shocked," Horozhenko told RFE/RL's Belarus Service later the same day, after she spent several hours in jail and was released following an intervention of the Ukrainian Embassy in Minsk. The fate of the other arrested Ukrainians and Belarusians is unknown. "We have come here with a peaceful purpose, to support the Belarusian people. We see that people are intimidated here. They are afraid but they want changes," a Ukrainian girl named Natalka told RFE/RL shortly before her arrest. JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT VILIFIES HIS OPPOSITION RIVALS
Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on March 10 that his rivals Milinkevich and Alyaksandr Kazulin stand no chances of defeating him in the March 19 presidential election, Belapan reported. "They don't need this power, they need to give a good account of themselves and become large businesspeople in politics. This is their business, they earn money from this and this is what the Americans and Europeans are paying them for," Lukashenka told Belarusian Television while visiting the potash fertilizer giant Belaruskaliy in Salihorsk. Lukashenka described Milinkevich as a candidate of ultranationalist forces and accused Kazulin, former rector of Belarusian State University, of having criminal links. "[Kazulin] is a representative of the most corrupt stratum of our population and the criminal world. It's they who are supporting him today. But I will tell you these facts after the elections," the Belarusian president added. JM
FORMER BELARUSIAN LAWMAKER JAILED FOR 15 DAYS
A court in Minsk on March 10 sentenced former lawmaker Syarhey Antonchyk and his son Alyaksandr to 15 days in jail each, finding them guilty of "disobeying the legal orders of police officers," Belapan reported. According to Antonchyk's wife, Tamara, the police officers charged that the two refused to produce their identification papers. Tamara Antonchyk noted that the officers were in civilian clothes and themselves did not show their police cards. "Syarhey and Alyaksandr doubted that those were police officers and started calling for help and asking passers-by to call the police," Tamara Antonchyk told Belapan. Opposition activists view the jailing of Antonchyk as part of the authorities' plan to intern opposition leaders and potential street protesters ahead of the March 19 presidential vote. In December 1994, Antonchyk delivered an anticorruption report to the then Supreme Soviet, which implicated President Lukashenka and members of his government. Newspapers were prohibited from publishing the report and came out with blank spaces instead of it. JM
UKRAINIAN POLLSTERS FORECAST OPPOSITION PARTY VICTORY IN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
A number of Ukrainian polling organizations on March 10 announced their latest predictions regarding the voters' preferences during the March 26 parliamentary elections, Ukrainian news agencies reported. March 10 was the last day before the voting day when the Ukrainian law allowed for making election-survey results public. According to the Institute of Social and Political Psychology, the Image-Control pollster, the Institute of Political and Sociological Studies, and the All-Ukrainian Sociological Service, the opposition Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is poised to win the March 26 ballot with support from 26 percent, 25.9 percent, 26.1 percent, and 20.1 percent of voters, respectively. The support for the Our Ukraine coalition and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc found by these pollsters was 15.7 percent and 17.9 percent, 18 percent and 15.3 percent, 16.7 percent and 22.3 percent, and 16.4 percent and 14.9 percent, respectively. JM
MORE THAN 4.5 MILLION UKRAINIANS WANT REFERENDUM ON NATO, EU MEMBERSHIP
Initiators of a referendum on Ukraine's potential NATO and EU membership have collected more than 4.5 million signatures in support of staging such a vote, Central Election Commission (TsVK) head Yaroslav Davydovych said in an interview with the March 11-17 issue of the "Zerkalo nedeli" weekly. Davydovych said the TsVK will need one month to check the authenticity of collected signatures. Davydovych added that the president of Ukraine has the right to order a recheck of the signatures as well as to request a ruling from the Constitutional Court on the legality of questions proposed for the referendum. Davydovych did not speculate on when, if at all, the referendum might be held. JM
UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS WASHINGTON
Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk visited Washington on March 9-10, where he met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, U.S. President George W. Bush, and U.S. congressmen and business leaders, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "For the USA, Ukraine is a positive example of strengthening democratic values in the world," The Action Ukraine Report newsletter quoted Bush as saying to Tarasyuk on March 10. "To present day we remember the striking days of the Orange Revolution in Kyiv when citizens of Ukraine asserted freedom and democracy," the U.S. president added. Tarasyuk delivered a letter from Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko inviting Bush to Ukraine. JM
AUTOPSY SAYS MILOSEVIC DIED OF HEART FAILURE...
The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) announced on March 12 that a preliminary autopsy showed that Slobodan Milosevic died of heart failure, international news agencies reported the same day. The ICTY added, however, that further tests are needed to determine whether Milosevic died of natural causes. Milosevic was found dead in his cell in The Hague on March 11. "According to the pathologist, Slobodan Milosevic's cause of death was a 'myocardial infarction' (heart failure)," an ICTY statement said. "A toxicological examination will still be carried out," the statement continued. Reuters reported that cardiologists treating Milosevic had warned he was at risk of a hypertensive emergency, a life-threatening condition in which blood pressure surges, potentially damaging the heart, kidneys, and central nervous system. The autopsy was conducted by Dutch scientists and attended by Serbian pathologists. Reuters quoted Serbian officials as saying the autopsy, which was filmed, was very professional. BW
...AS LAWYER SAYS MILOSEVIC COMPLAINED OF FOUL PLAY...
Milosevic wrote a letter to Russia the day before his death saying that doctors were giving him the wrong drugs in an attempt to silence him, international news agencies reported on March 12. In the letter, Milosevic wrote that his blood showed traces of a strong drug used only to treat leprosy and tuberculosis, his lawyer Zdenko Tomanovic said. "I am writing to you and asking you for help in the protecting from the criminal activities being perpetrated in the institution operating under the sign of the United Nations organization," Reuters quoted Tomanovic as saying, reading from Milosevic's letter. Tomanovic said he delivered the letter to the Russian Embassy in the Netherlands on March 10, Reuters reported. But Interfax quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying: "At the moment we have no information about that letter. We did not receive it." The ICYY rejected a request from Tomanovic and Milosevic's family for the autopsy to be performed in Russia, where his widow and son live. BW
...AND BURIAL SITE REMAINS UNCLEAR
Officials at the ICTY said they would release Milosevic's body to his family on March 13 but it remained unclear where he will be buried, international news agencies reported. Milosevic's widow, Mirjana Markovic, his son Marko, and daughter Marija disagree about where the former Yugoslav president should be buried, Reuters reported citing Serbian press reports. His widow and son reportedly want him to be buried in Moscow, where they live. His daughter, who lives in Montenegro, wants him buried in Serbia. Markovic, who is wanted in Serbia on charges of abuse of power, would risk arrest if she were to return home to attend any burial. Serbian President Boris Tadic said Milosevic should not receive a state funeral, Reuters reported. He also said he will not grant an amnesty to Markovic to enable her to attend the funeral. BW
BOSNIANS LAMENT MILOSEVIC ESCAPING JUSTICE...
Victims of the 1992-1992 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina said on March 11 that they regret that Milosevic did not live long enough to face punishment for his crimes, Reuters reported the same day. "It would have been just if he had lived to the day of his conviction and that he served the sentence for the crimes that he committed," Munira Subasic, a survivor of the Srebrenica massacre, told Reuters. "This is God's justice and it will reach all war criminals sooner or later," added Subasic, who lost 19 male relatives in the massacre, including her father, husband, and son. "But the knowledge that he is dead will not ease our pain over the lost ones." Edin Ramovic, 42, who was wounded in the shoulder by Serbian machinegun fire during the siege of Sarajevo, expressed bitterness that Milosevic had escaped punishment. "But for us and for those that were killed, even the conviction would mean little, because nothing could change what had happened," Ramovic said. BW
...AS HAGUE PROSECUTOR SAYS MLADIC AND KARADZIC ARRESTS EVEN MORE URGENT
The ICTY's chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, said on March 12 that with Milosevic's death it is now more urgent than ever to arrest the Bosnian Serb war crime indictees Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, international news agencies reported the same day. "It deprives the victims of the justice they need and deserve," Del Ponte said, referring to the fact that Milosevic's death prevented a verdict being handed down in his trial. "Now, more than ever, I expect Serbia to finally arrest and transfer Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic to The Hague as soon as possible," she added. The European Union has given Belgrade until the end of March to apprehend and extradite Mladic, or risk the suspension of talks with Brussels on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, a first step toward membership of the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2006). BW
BELGRADE MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF DJINDJIC ASSASSINATION
Led by President Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, thousands of Serbian citizens marked the third anniversary of the assassination of Zoran Djindjic on March 12 in Belgrade, Beta reported the same day. Family members, friends, colleagues and sympathizers laid flowers and lit candles at the grave of the former prime minister. A brief documentary chronicling Djindjic's career was screened at Belgrade's Sava Center. Djindjic was assassinated on March 12, 2003. BW
MOLDOVA'S PARLIAMENT CENSURES TRANSDNIESTER OVER CUSTOMS DISPUTE
Moldova's parliament on March 10 passed a resolution criticizing authorities in Transdniester for escalating tensions and resisting efforts to reduce smuggling, the Russian news agency RBC reported the same day. Transdniester's leader Igor Smirnov has called new customs regulations implemented by Moldova and Ukraine an economic blockade of the breakaway province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 7 and 8, 2006). The resolution passed by Moldova's parliament expressed "deep concern over the dangerous developments in Transdniester" and censured Tiraspol's "separatist" policy, which it said is aimed at "frustrating the constructive efforts by Chisinau, Ukraine, the EU, and the United States to legalize [Transdniestrian] business." BW
SLOBODAN MILOSEVIC'S LIFE AND LEGACY
Former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has died aged 64 in his cell at the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He had spent more than four years in The Hague on trial for 66 charges that included genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity committed during the wars he launched in Croatia (1990-1995), Bosnia-Herzegovina (1992-1995), and Kosovo (1998-1999).
The cause of his death is as yet unknown, pending a Dutch police autopsy. Initial assessments suggest that he died of natural causes, possibly stemming from a long history of high blood pressure, a range of other cardiovascular problems, and diabetes, all of which seem to be related to a generally sedentary lifestyle. His medical problems had led to repeated interruptions in his trial.
Although there is a history of suicide in Milosevic's family, several commentators at the tribunal and elsewhere pointed out after his death that he had not seemed suicidal in recent weeks and appeared to be enjoying his role as his own defense attorney.
Milosevic never accepted the tribunal's authority over him, putting up a robust defense of his presidency and launching fierce attacks on the court itself and on the international community.
He argued that "this trial has as its purpose the justification of the war crimes committed by the NATO pact in Yugoslavia" by bombing Serbia in 1999, an action taken to stop what was widely seen as Milosevic's campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Milosevic argued he was responding to a terrorist campaign in the province, which was predominantly populated by ethnic Albanians.
In initial reactions to his death, many commentators inside former Yugoslavia and abroad noted that Milosevic's passing before the conclusion of the trial means that justice will not be carried out. Croatian President Stipe Mesic's office said in a statement that "it is a pity that Milosevic did not live through the trial and get his deserved sentence."
Similar comments came from Sarajevo from Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of Bosnia's three-member presidency. A spokesman for Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu called Milosevic an "unrepentant criminal," while Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku argued that Milosevic's death offers Serbia "the chance to build a new democratic future and to redefine its relationship with its neighbors."
But what is his overall legacy to former Yugoslavia? Trained as a banker in the communist system, Milosevic rose to power in the late 1980s as the protege of Serbian leader Ivan Stambolic, with whom he would later split and for whose abduction and murder in 2000 many believe Milosevic is responsible.
Milosevic was an opportunist rather than a convinced nationalist, but he used Serbian nationalism to win votes. He played upon many long-standing Serbian grievances over what many Serbs saw as their second-class status in a country for which they had fought in two world wars.
Regardless of the merits of those grievances, they were widely held and provided him with a strong electoral base, particularly among the Serbian minority in Kosovo, who felt politically, economically, and demographically threatened by their ethnic Albanian neighbors. Famously, he promised Serbs in Kosovo in 1987 that Serbia would never abandon them. "I want to tell you: Don't be concerned. Don't be afraid. We will never give up Kosovo," he said then.
Milosevic was, moreover, in the words of one observer, "the only Yugoslav politician to realize that [former communist leader Josip Broz] Tito was dead," and that a power vacuum had been waiting to be filled since Tito's passing in 1980.
To fill that vacuum, Milosevic became head of the League of Communists of Serbia in 1986 and within four years had consolidated his hold over Serbia -- including Kosovo and the multiethnic province of Vojvodina -- and Montenegro.
In 1991, Slovenia and Croatia left the Yugoslav federation rather than accept unity under his domination. Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were the next to opt for independence rather than become Milosevic's subjects.
He manipulated the ethnic Serbs in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina with slogans like "all Serbs in one state" and "Serbia will give us weapons," and by using the Yugoslav People's Army for his own ends.
In 1995, with Serbian forces defeated on Croatian and Bosnian battlefields, and civilians fleeing to an uncertain future in a Serbia that did not recognize them as citizens, the international community sought him out as a peacemaker.
Milosevic took on that role with enthusiasm. He later complained in The Hague that if he were as criminal as described in the charges filed against him, then why did so many prominent foreigners engage him and negotiate with him?
He ultimately lost any international respectability or status with the 1998-1999 campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, which led to NATO's intervention. His eventual ouster in Belgrade in October 2000 was the result of street protests in Serbia and a careful realignment of some of the forces in Serbian public life that had previously supported him but now cut deals with his opponents.
When Milosevic was finally extradited to The Hague, in June 2001, the massive demonstrations on his behalf that many had predicted or feared never materialized. For most Serbs, he was already yesterday's man.
Milosevic left behind an impoverished country and thousands of refugees from his wars. Most will probably never go home.
In the late 1980s, many thought that Yugoslavia would be eastern Europe's first member of the European Community, the predecessor of today's European Union (EU). Instead, thanks above all to the divisive nationalist policies and wars of Milosevic, almost all of Europe's formerly communist states have joined the EU ahead of almost all of the Yugoslav successor states.
COALITION SEARCHES VALLEY WHERE BOMB KILLED FOUR U.S. SOLDIERS
U.S.-led coalition forces swept through a valley of eastern Afghanistan on March 13, detaining 11 suspected militants in connection with an attack that killed four U.S. soldiers the previous day, Reuters reported. The four Americans were killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their armored vehicle as they patrolled the Pech District of Kunar Province. U.S. military officials say the patrol was a "clearing operation" aimed at keeping roads open to civilian and military traffic in an area where Taliban guerrillas remain active. Self-proclaimed Taliban spokesman Mohammed Hanif says Taliban fighters carried out the attack using a remote-controlled detonator. MR/RS
MULLAH OMAR ORDERS DEATH OF KIDNAPPED FOREIGN WORKERS
Self-proclaimed Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf says Taliban fighters on March 13 executed four kidnapped foreign workers on the orders of renegade Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, Reuters reported. The four were kidnapped on March 11 in southern Afghanistan. Yousuf described the workers as three Albanians and one German who worked for Ecolog, a German cleaning company contracted to U.S.-led coalition forces. Earlier, Yousuf said the four kidnapped foreigners were all Albanians. Four Afghans who work as drivers for the German firm also were kidnapped but were released on March 12. MR/RS
PAKISTAN DENIES ROLE IN ATTACK ON TOP LAWMAKER
Pakistani officials on March 13 rejected allegations that Islamabad played a role in a failed assassination attempt against former Afghan President Hazrat Sibghatullah Mujaddedi, Reuters reported. Suicide bombers rammed a car full of explosives into Mujaddedi's convoy in Kabul on March 12. Later on March 12, Mujaddedi alleged on Afghan television that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf ordered the attack and that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence was involved. Mujaddedi now heads the upper chamber of the Afghan parliament and runs a government-initiated reconciliation scheme for moderate former Taliban fighters. MR/RS
AFGHAN OFFICIALS FIND BODIES OF DECAPITATED POLICE
Kidnappers have beheaded two Afghan police officers who were abducted in Afghanistan's western province of Helmand on March 10, AP reported on March 11. Provincial administrator Ghulam Muhiddin said the police officers were abducted on March 10 from their homes near Helmand's provincial capital of Lashkargah. He said their headless bodies were found outside Lashkargah on March 11. Muhiddin said it is unclear whether the killings were carried out by pro-Taliban fighters or drug traffickers. Last week, provincial authorities in Helmand began a campaign to destroy hundreds of acres of poppy plants -- the chief ingredient for heroin and other illegal opiates. More than 25 percent of Afghanistan's opium crop is thought to come from fields in Helmand Province. MR/RS
MOSCOW'S NUCLEAR OFFER NO LONGER INTERESTS TEHRAN
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on March 12 that Iran is no longer considering Moscow's offer to enrich uranium on Russian soil for use in Iran, Fars News Agency reported. He explained that circumstances have changed and Iran is waiting for the outcome of the UN Security Council meeting on its program. An anonymous "Russian source familiar with the negotiation process" said on March 12 that Moscow's proposal for the establishment of a joint Iran-Russia uranium enrichment project is no longer feasible, ITAR-TASS reported. Moscow has advised Tehran of this, according to the source. BS
IRANIAN OFFICIALS HINT AT FUTURE NUCLEAR STANCE
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki on March 12 refused to rule out further negotiations on the nuclear issue, state television reported, though he did rule out the possibility of limiting oil supplies in retaliation for being referred by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the UN Security Council. Mottaki said international concern over his country's desire to master the nuclear-fuel cycle relates to efforts to control energy resources. Mottaki went on to say that Iran would like to benefit from its 30-year membership in the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), but if that does not yield results then Tehran must reassess its policies. Also on March 12, Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said that the IAEA's decision to report Iran is a political one, IRNA reported. He said Iran is protecting its rights as defined by the NPT, and he stressed the country's independence. Assefi said Iran would cease its "voluntary actions," although he did not identify the actions, if the Security Council seeks to pressure Iran. He continued, "Iran is interested in extending a moratorium on uranium enrichment if it comes out of negotiations. If the U.S. and European states want to exert pressure on Iran, Iran would be forced to take unilateral action." BS
IRANIAN LEGISLATURE APPROVES NUCLEAR BUDGET
The legislature has approved the money that was budgeted for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, state television reported on March 12. The actual amount of money was not disclosed. The legislature also authorized the establishment of firms connected with the production of nuclear energy and nuclear fuel, state television reported, and instructed the executive branch to commence surveys and feasibility studies on locations for future nuclear plants for electricity production. BS
CLOSING OF IRANIAN STUDENTS ASSOCIATION ELICITS PROTEST
The Office for Strengthening Unity (Daftar-i Tahkim-i Vahdat, DTV) student group has requested a reversal of the government's closure of the Islamic students association at the medical sciences university in Shahr-i Kurd. DTV official Mohammad Hashemi told Radio Farda on March 12 that that the organization has known since the previous year that the government is trying to get it to leave the campus. Hashemi said a hostile tide has rolled in with the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, and student associations in Mazandaran, Luristan, and Shahr-i Kurd have received notices that their charters are improper. An inadequate amount of time has been provided to make the required changes, he said. BS
IRANIAN INFLATION PREDICTION AND IRAN-U.S. TRADE FIGURES DISCUSSED
Zahedan parliamentary representative Peyman Foruzesh, who also serves on the legislature's Economics Committee and the Trade Systems Committee, predicts that there will be 20 percent inflation in the coming year, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on March 11. Foruzesh explained that although the large hard-currency expenditures in President Ahmadinejad's budget were reduced to about $3 billion and other anti-inflationary measures were implemented, too, there will be problems nevertheless. He added that the current inflation rate is 17 percent. Also on March 11, Fars News Agency cited figures from the U.S. Data Center on Iran-U.S. trade. In January, there was $25.4 million in bilateral trade, which is 20 percent more than the same time last year. The U.S. exported $8.8 million worth of goods to Iran and imported $16.6 million in Iranian goods. BS
AL-DUJAYL DEFENDANT ADMITS SIGNING EXECUTION ORDER FOR 148 IRAQIS...
A former chief judge of the Revolutionary Court, Awad Hamad al-Bandar Sa'dun, admitted in testimony on March 13 that in 1984 he signed the death warrant for 148 Shi'ite men from the town of Al-Dujayl found guilty of participating in an assassination attempt against then President Saddam Hussein in 1982, international media reported. Al-Bandar maintained that the warrant was legal, saying that the men had all confessed to plotting to assassinate Hussein. Al-Bandar claimed the men were all members of an Iranian-supported Shi'ite opposition group, Al-Da'wah al-Islamiyah (Islamic Call). Iraq was at war with Iran at the time of the attempted assassination against Hussein. "The target was the head of state and we were in a state of war with Iran. [Hussein] was the commander of the [Iraqi] armed forces," said al-Bandar, who claimed that the confessions of the 148 men are on file, Reuters reported. Al-Bandar also admitted that farms in and around Al-Dujayl were razed in reprisal for the assassination attempt. KR
...AFTER CODEFENDANT GIVES CONTRADICTORY TESTIMONY
Muzhir Abdallah Kazim Ruwayid, a low-level Ba'ath Party member in Al-Dujayl at the time of the attempted assassination on Hussein and the subsequent arrest of Shi'ite civilians, retracted testimony he had given an investigating magistrate on February 28, 2005, telling the court on March 12 that he never acknowledged the razing of orchards in Al-Dujayl, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. He also denied having received any commendations for assisting the state investigation into the attack on Hussein. Ruwayid told the court on March 12 that he never saw Barzan al-Tikriti or other codefendants in the Ba'ath Party offices at Al-Dujayl on the day following the assassination attempt on Hussein, again contradicting earlier testimony. Ruwayid also told the court that he had nothing to do with the Al-Dujayl incident, calling the testimony of witnesses "groundless" and "prompted by enmity and personal disputes." KR
MORE THAN 50 IRAQIS KILLED IN VIOLENT DAY OF ATTACKS
Some 50 people were killed and 200 wounded in a series of car bomb attacks in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City on March 12, international media reported on March 13. Attacks elsewhere in Baghdad left more than 20 others dead and 30 wounded. Meanwhile, the bodies of eight men bound and blindfolded were discovered in southeast Baghdad, the "Los Angeles Times" reported. In Al-Sadr City, at least three car bombs were detonated in close succession; a fourth booby-trapped car was found and defused, said Interior Ministry Captain Salman al-Nu'aymi, the "Washington Post" reported. The "New York Times" reported that six car bombs had exploded. Police in Al-Sadr city also discovered the bodies of four men with notes pinned to their chest, reading: "These are traitors," the "Los Angeles Times" reported. The men had all been shot. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told reporters in Al-Najaf on March 13 that he will not call for retaliatory attacks. "I could order the [Imam] Al-Mahdi army to root out the terrorists and fundamentalists, but this would lead us into civil war and we don't want that," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. Al-Sadr added that he holds the "occupiers responsible for this tragedy." KR
IRAQI PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES CHANGE IN PARLIAMENTARY OPENING DATE
President Jalal Talabani announced on March 12 that the first session of the new Iraqi parliament will convene on March 16, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on the same day. The Presidency Council said last week that the opening date would be March 19 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 10, 2006). The date change reportedly came at the request of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA); Al-Sharqiyah television reported on March 11 that the UIA objected to March 19 because it coincides with the Shi'ite holy day of Arba'in, marking 40 days after the anniversary of the death of Imam al-Husayn. KR
IRAQI INTERIOR, DEFENSE MINISTRIES ANNOUNCE NEW SECURITY PLAN
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr and Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi told reporters at a March 12 press briefing in Baghdad that their ministries have signed a cooperation agreement aimed at defusing allegations of targeted arrests and abductions by Iraqi security forces, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on the same day. The two ministries will now carry out joint raids, and issue receipts identifying the units that detain individuals. "The Interior Ministry has no right to go to the target directly to arrest him. The joint operations room should be informed, and the joint operations room [would] then instruct a joint group from both sides to arrest this civilian," said al-Dulaymi. The suspect would then be transferred to whichever ministry holds jurisdiction over the accused crime. "This will help us a lot in knowing the side that arrests some people whom we find, after two or three days, either killed or something else happened to them," al-Dulaymi added. KR