Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - April 3, 2006

The German government led by then Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder approved a guarantee for a $1 billion credit to Gazprom shortly before that government left office in late 2005, German media reported over the weekend of April 1-2, citing officials of the current government. The guarantee was reportedly approved by representatives of the Finance, Economy, Foreign, and Economic Development and Trade ministries on October 24, but without anyone from Schroeder's office being present. Schroeder denied any knowledge of the offer, adding, however, that Gazprom officials said at the time that they did not need any loan to finance the planned North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) running from Vyborg to Greifswald. "If there wasn't any loan, then there obviously wasn't any guarantee for it, either," he said. Schroeder was recently elected head of the stockholders' oversight body for the NEGP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30 and 31, 2006, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," January 17, 2006). He will receive an annual "representation allowance" of just over $300,000. PM

Legislators belonging to all parties represented in the German parliament except former Chancellor Schroeder's own Social Democratic Party (SPD) have called for him to resign his post with the NEGP in response to what many have called a corruption scandal, German media reported over the weekend of April 1-2. Guido Westerwelle, who chairs the opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP), said that "the whole affair stinks to high heaven" and wants the parliament to discuss the matter soon. Schroeder's nomination to the NEGP post late in 2005 led to criticism in Germany and to questions about his taking up the Gazprom pipeline post so soon after the end of a chancellorship that saw ever-closer relations with Moscow, the conclusion of the NEGP deal, and the worst U.S.-German relations since World War II. He has repeatedly rejected charges of impropriety. On April 2, Schroeder praised President Vladimir Putin in several interviews, calling him "a guarantor for the democratic development" of Russia. Schroeder said that Putin helps promote democracy and stability, adding that "this fact is not always sufficiently appreciated" abroad. PM

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said in the April 3 issue of "Time" magazine that "America is intoxicated by its position as the world's only superpower. It wants to impose its will [on others]. But America needs to get over that. It has responsibilities as well as power. I say this as a good friend of America." Gorbachev suggested that U.S. policy is headed for a "dark night" under the administration of President George W. Bush but blamed only "some [unnamed] people [for] pushing President Bush in the wrong direction." He specifically exempted U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from responsibility for such trends, calling her a "cultured person...[who] is committed to political and diplomatic solutions. But she is having a difficult time. So did Colin Powell," her predecessor. "I don't think the [United States] can impose its will on others. This talk of preemptive strikes, of ignoring the UN Security Council and international legal obligations -- all this is leading toward a dark night," Gorbachev stressed. He also warned Washington against what he called interfering in Russian internal affairs. He said that President Putin is moving Russia in the right direction, toward "social-democratic policies" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 3, 2006). PM

U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona), a vocal critic of many of President Putin's policies, said in Washington on April 2 that the "glimmerings of democracy are very faint in Russia today" and that the United States should take a tough response to those policies, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 31, February 6, and March 30, 2006). He stressed that Putin has repressed the Russian media, backed the authoritarian rule of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, and not cooperated with Washington on the Iranian nuclear issue. McCain repeated his earlier call on President Bush not to attend the summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries in St. Petersburg in July. Bush said recently that he has not "given up" on Russia and plans to attend that meeting in order to make his views known to Putin. PM

Unknown attackers shot dead Mayor Viktor Dorkin of the Moscow satellite town of Dzerzhinsky late in the evening of March 30, Russian media reported. Officials said it was an apparent contract killing. A spokeswoman for the Moscow prosecutor's office told "The Moscow Times" of April 3 that investigators believe there is a link between the killing and Dorkin's work as mayor since 1991. Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Savchenko told the news channel NTV that "there are a lot of questions" surrounding the case. PM

A group of young men beat up Zaur Tutov, the culture minister of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic and a well-known singer, in Moscow on April 1, reported. He said he was assaulted by skinheads who shouted a racist slogan. Moscow prosecutors initially opened an inquiry for bodily harm, ruling out racist motives for lack of evidence. On April 3, however, the Prosecutor-General's Office asked Moscow prosecutors to reclassify the charge as a hate crime. The attack comes at a time when many consider racially motivated attacks to be on the rise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2006). PM

Dmitry Rogozin, who recently resigned as head of the Motherland (Rodina) party, told Interfax on April 3 that he will soon give up the leadership of his party's faction in the State Duma but retain one of Motherland's four "co-chairmen" posts in that body. Several papers have suggested that Rogozin will nonetheless remain an important force behind the scenes. They added that he was forced out of the chairmanship by a vindictive Kremlin that allegedly wants someone more pliant than the often independent-minded Rogozin to head the party, which many originally regarded as a Kremlin-backed organization to attract nationalist voters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 27, 2006). PM

Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller said in Moscow on March 31 that Sibneft will be known as Gazpromneft as of May 13 and will move its offices to St. Petersburg in late 2006 or early 2007, RIA Novosti reported. PM

Vardan Khachatrian said on March 31 that the newly released $235.6 million U.S. aid package for Armenia will not be implemented until sometime next year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Armenian government is to work closely with a special U.S. government body to design and pursue a series of specific measures in preparation for the use of the new five-year Millennium Challenge Account aid program. The aid program, to finance the development of rural infrastructure and irrigation projects in Armenia, will be disbursed in several installments, with each tranche conditional on the Armenian government's performance in key areas of economic reform and democratization. RG

Several of Armenia's leading brandy companies suspended on March 30 shipments to Russia after the Russian government failed to provide an adequate supply of new stamps for excise duties levied from alcohol importers, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Armenian companies are now waiting to purchase greater number of excise stamps from Russian officials in order to conform to a new Russian tax law slated to take effect on April 1. The suspension of exports to Russia, the largest market for Armenian liquor products, represents a significant loss of revenue for Armenian exporters. It will also have an impact on the overall Armenian economy, as Armenian brandy is the leading export of the country's agribusiness sector. Some 30 Armenian companies are engaged in distilling and selling the brandy products, exporting at least 7 million liters of brandy worth $170 million to Russia last year alone. RG

An Azerbaijani judge issued a ruling in Baku on March 31 setting the trial date for three opposition youth activists accused of plotting against the government, Turan and RFE/RL reported. Judge Tofiq Pasayev also ruled that the April 5 trial will be closed, prompting the New York-based Human Rights Watch to call on the Azerbaijani authorities to ensure a fair trial. The three activists, Ruslan Basirli, Said Nuriyev, and Ramin Tagiyev, are awaiting trial after their arrest on charges of receiving foreign funds to overthrow the Azerbaijani government (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 15, 2005). They are members of the Yeni Fikir (New Thinking) youth movement affiliated with the opposition Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan. RG

Meeting in Sochi, Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Mamuka Kudava and General Aleksei Maslov, the commander in chief of Russian ground forces, signed two new agreements on March 31 to finalize the details for the final withdrawal of Russian forces from their two remaining bases in Georgia, RFE/RL and Civil Georgia reported. Under the terms of the agreements, Russia confirmed its earlier pledge to pullout from its bases at Akhalkalaki and Batumi by December 31, 2007. In comments during a March 31 press conference in Tbilisi, Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili welcomed "the constructive approach adopted by the Russian side, which in the past two weeks has worked intensively so that an agreement could be reached," RFE/RL reported. Russian General Maslov added that the Russian troops and equipment would be redeployed to other facilities in the North Caucasus and partly to the Russian base in Armenia, Interfax reported. RG

In a statement released on March 31 during a visit to Tashkent, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman in Office and Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht called for an independent probe into recent prison violence in Georgia, Imedi TV and RFE/RL reported. The De Gucht statement noted "a lack a clarity" concerning the March 27 prison violence in Tbilisi and explained that "it would be appropriate to set up an independent inquiry to investigate the events, including allegations of a disproportionate use of force by government troops." The Georgian authorities contend that seven inmates were killed and another 22 prisoners and 12 guards were injured when police retook control of the Tbilisi prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2006). Several Georgian opposition leaders and human rights groups have questioned the official version of events and have demanded a complete and open investigation. RG

Georgian opposition parties initiated a boycott of parliament on April 1 to protest the exclusion of one of their lawmakers, Civil Georgia and Prime News reported. The pro-government parliamentary majority voted late on March 31 to strip opposition Republican Party lawmaker Valeri Gelashvili of his mandate. Pro-government deputies charge that Gelashvili holds business interests that contravene the Georgian Constitution. Leaders of the opposition dismiss the allegation and counter that the vote is part of a broader effort to harass and intimidate the opposition. Several unidentified attackers assaulted Gelashvili in Tbilisi last year just days after the lawmaker criticized President Mikheil Saakashvili in a newspaper interview. Gelashvili has vowed to appeal his dismissal from parliament to the Constitutional Court. RG

Georgian security forces detained on April 1 a prominent South Ossetian official on suspicion of smuggling cigarettes, Civil Georgia and the Caucasus Press reported. Vazha Khachapuridze, an aide to South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, was detained near the village of Ergneti. The arrest follows the brief detention of South Ossetian Deputy Interior Minister Khazbi Guliyev on March 31 by Georgian security forces near the Georgian town of Khashuri, where Guliyev was reportedly on a mission agreed upon with regional police. RG

Nearly 50 inmates at a prison in the southern Almaty Province maimed themselves on March 31 to protest conditions in the facility, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Forty-three prisoners cut their abdomens. Four were hospitalized in serious condition; the rest were treated inside the prison. "Kazakhstan Today" quoted a prisoner on the reasons for the unrest saying that "the administration drove [us to this] with their searches," adding, "There was a search a while ago, and they took away everything relatives had brought. What's more, they beat the inmates and people are sick with AIDS." The prison, identified as LA-155/8 located in Zarechny, houses 600-800 inmates, most of them former law-enforcement officers convicted of crimes. Reports said about 200 convicts took part in the protest. DK

An estimated 1,000 supporters of Ryspek Akmatbaev held a demonstration in Bishkek on March 31 to protest a court decision voiding Akmatbaev's candidacy in an upcoming April 9 parliamentary by-election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2006), reported. Akmatbaev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that his main demand is the removal of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, who he feels is behind the decision to annul his candidacy. Akmatbaev also led a series of demonstrations in October calling for Kulov's resignation after Tynychbek Akmatbaev, Ryspek Akmatbaev's brother, was killed during a visit to a prison where inmates were rioting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 21, 24, 25, and 27, 2006). Ryspek Akmatbaev, a businessman who has been frequently reported as having links to organized crimes, hopes to fill the parliamentary seat left empty by his brother's death. DK

President Kurmanbek Bakiev came out to address Akmatbaev's supporters at their protest on March 31, asking them to disperse peacefully and leave the decision on Akmatbaev's candidacy to the courts, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on March 31. After Bakiev addressed the crowd, Akmatbaev instructed his supporters to disperse, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting reported. In the evening, Bakiev addressed the country, harshly criticizing members of his own government for failing to deal with the situation, reported. Bakiev said that ministers were discussing ways to use force to end the protest when they should have gone out to speak with the people, Bishkek Public Educational Radio and Television reported. Claiming that it was such logic that sparked the unrest that toppled President Askar Akaev in 2005, Bakiev said he would take action on the matter, Kabar reported. "I will deal with the members of the government who let this get out of hand, with people standing and demanding the prime minister's resignation," Bakiev said. "And no one reacted to this." DK

In a ruling on April 2, a Bishkek court reinstated Ryspek Akmatbaev's candidacy in the April 9 parliamentary by-election, Kabar reported. The court overturned a March 30 decision by the Central Election Commission to annul Akmatbaev's candidacy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2006). DK

President Bakiev has signed a decree appointing Marat Alapaev governor of Kyrgyzstan's National Bank, Interfax reported on March 31. Alapaev replaces Ulan Sarbanov, who was suspended from his position on March 1 to face criminal charges that he illegally transferred $420,000 to then President Akaev in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 2006). DK

A Tajik government resolution has eased visa requirements for citizens of 68 countries, ITAR-TASS reported on April 1. The March 31 resolution allows citizens of those countries to obtain 45-day visas within three days. The countries include France, Germany, Iran, Japan, and the United States. DK

Ukrainian oil and gas company Naftohaz Ukrayiny issued a press release on March 30 detailing a debt-settlement agreement signed with Turkmenistan after March 22-24 talks in Ashgabat, RIA-Novosti reported the next day. Under the agreement, an $88 million Ukrainian prepayment for Turkmen natural-gas shipments in 2006 will go toward Ukrainian debts for 2003-05 gas shipments. With Ukraine's cash debt to Turkmenistan thus paid in full, the Ukrainian side has agreed to pay a commodity debt of $68 million by August 10. DK

OSCE Chairman in Office and Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on April 1, UzA reported. In a press release on the organization's website (, the OSCE said that De Gucht emphasized the OSCE's readiness for expanded dialogue with Uzbekistan. The OSCE noted that De Gucht also raised the issue of reported rights violations and called on Uzbek authorities to share information on unrest in Andijon in May 2005. De Gucht said that greater transparency concerning Andijon would "help the government to address the root causes, while holding perpetrators of the violence accountable, in order to prevent similar occurrences in the future." The report by official Uzbek news agency UzA did not mention De Gucht's comments on rights violations or Andijon. DK

Belarusian Ambassador to Poland Pavel Latushka on March 31 was recalled to Minsk for consultations amid rapidly deteriorating bilateral relations, Belapan reported. Both countries were involved in a diplomatic row and several rounds of diplomatic expulsions last year, when the Belarusian government forced an organization of ethnic Poles to get rid of the leaders whom it had not accepted. This year several Polish reporters were denied entry to Belarus ahead of the March 19 presidential election. Last month, a Belarusian court sentenced former Polish Ambassador to Belarus Mariusz Maszkiewicz to 15 days in prison, finding him guilty of participation in an unsanctioned antigovernment rally. Moreover, Polish Consul Janusz Dabrowski was barred from entering Belarus when he refused to let customs officers search his car on March 26. Aleksander Wasilewski, Poland's charge d'affaires in Minsk, was summoned on March 31 to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, which accused Warsaw of violating the bilateral treaty on good neighborhood and friendly cooperation. Henryk Litwin, Poland's new ambassador to Belarus who was appointed to the post in February, has so far not arrived in Minsk. JM

A new issue of the Belarusian opposition-minded daily "Narodnaya volya" was printed in Smolensk, Russia, on March 30 and arrived in Minsk the following, thus reaching readers after nearly a month-long break, Belapan reported. "This is a big success and we hope to build on it. Our staff are now inserting newspapers into envelopes for sending them to subscribers," "Narodnaya volya" Editor in Chief Iosif Syaredzich told the agency on March 31. The publication's three previous issues with a total print-run of 300,000 copies were seized by Belarusian police on their way from a private printing plant in Smolensk to Minsk in March and never given back. JM

Deputy Education Minister Alyaksandr Zhuk said on March 30 that Belarusian universities will not expel students for political reasons, Belapan reported. Earlier the same day in Warsaw, Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich, Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, and the rectors of leading Polish universities signed a declaration that up to 300 Belarusian students expelled from their home universities for opposition activities will have the opportunity to continue their studies in Poland. "The Education Ministry is concerned that some young people were involved in political games," Zhuk said on Belarusian Television on March 30. "I declare officially that students have never been expelled and will not be expelled for political reasons." Meanwhile, the first groups of participants in antigovernment rallies in Minsk in March, including many students, began to be released from prisons on March 31 after serving their jail sentences. The authorities said more than 500 people were arrested last month, while the opposition put this number at 1,000. JM

Viktor Yushchenko said in a radio address to the nation on April 1 that democratic forces should sign a memorandum on a governing coalition before starting to discuss the division of government portfolios, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "I want all forces that defended democracy in Kyiv's Maydan [Independence Square in November-December 2004] to form a coalition," Yushchenko said. "I hope the political forces that will form this future alliance will be wise enough not to associate themselves with certain colors but work toward consolidating the country." The Central Election Commission (TsVK) on March 30 finished counting the votes cast in the March 26 parliamentary elections. The Party of Regions won 32.12 percent of the vote (186 seats), the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc 22.27 percent (129 seats), Our Ukraine 13.94 percent (81 seats), the Socialist Party 5.67 percent (33 seats), and the Communist Party 3.66 percent (21 seats). Election turnout was 67.7 percent. The results are not official and need to be reconfirmed after the TsVK deals with election complaints. Several Ukrainian parties have demanded a vote recount. JM

Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc that came in second in the March 26 parliamentary vote, told the Moscow-based "Izvestiya" on April 3 that she is determined to fight for the post of prime minister in the new Ukrainian cabinet and will not accept any other post. "The post of parliamentary speaker does not interest me," Tymoshenko said. She added that she will switch to the opposition if the pro-presidential Our Ukraine agree on a coalition with the Party of Regions. President Viktor Yushchenko dismissed Tymoshenko from the post of prime minister in September 2005. JM

EU Enlargement Commissioner Ollie Rehn said negotiations between Serbia and Montenegro and Brussels on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) will resume on April 5 despite Belgrade's failure to arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, international news agencies reported on March 31. After meeting with Carla Del Ponte, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Rehn said Del Ponte's report "gives a credible possibility of concrete results in the weeks to come," dpa reported. He added that he also received a "firm commitment to locate, arrest, and transfer Ratko Mladic to The Hague without delay" from Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. Rehn added that the European Commission " will reassess the situation" again at the end of April and decide whether to continue negotiations. It is the second time this year that the EU has extended the deadline for turning over Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27, 2006). BW

Vuk Draskovic praised the EU decision and pledged quick action in arresting and extraditing Mladic to the ICTY, AFP reported on April 2. "The decision is...extremely important," Draskovic said on March 31 after EU Enlargement Commissioner Rehn announced the decision. He added that there are indications that Mladic may be caught "very soon." Various Belgrade media outlets, meanwhile, have been reporting that Mladic will be extradited during the week of April 10-15, B92 reported on April 3. BW

Citing unidentified sources close to the ICTY, the "Blic" daily reported on March 31 that Serbian President Boris Tadic promised Del Ponte that he will not try to bring down Kostunica's fragile government, B92 reported the same day. According to the report, which was not independently confirmed, Del Ponte told Tadic that should the government fall it would hinder Belgrade's ability to cooperate with the tribunal. "If the government fell, then there would be no one to complete cooperation with the Hague tribunal," the unidentified official told "Blic." "That would postpone Ratko Mladic's arrival to The Hague by at least half a year, because Kostunica's party would definitely not arrest or extradite him during the preelection period," the official added. BW

The United Nations has made it clear to Serbs in Kosova that it will not allow the province to be partitioned in the event that the ethnic Albanian majority secures independence, Reuters reported on March 30. Serbian municipal leaders in northern Kosova on March 29 threatened to divide the province if it wins independence from Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30, 2006). "We oppose any internal division of Kosovo and we oppose any third layer of government between the central authority and the municipalities," Albert Rohan, the deputy UN envoy to Kosova's final-status negotiations, told reporters in Prishtina. "When [Serbian leaders] told me they couldn't live in an independent Kosovo, if this is the outcome of the status process, I told them, 'This is your decision, we cannot force you to stay,'" Rohan added. Negotiations on Kosova's final status are scheduled to resume on April 3 in Vienna. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Constitutional Court ruled on March 31 that the official symbols adopted by the country's two ethnic-based entities must be abolished, Reuters reported the next day. The court ruled that the symbols implemented after the 1992-95 war, including coats of arms, flags, and anthems, are discriminatory. "The Constitutional Court deems that Muslims and Croats in the federation and Serbs in the Serb Republic have a legitimate right to preserve their traditions, culture, and identity but the same right should be granted to Serbs in the federation and Muslims and Croats in the Serb Republic," the court said. The case resulted from a complaint by Bosnian Muslim leader Sulejman Tihic that the symbols violated European conventions on human rights. The ruling means that the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska must change their laws on their coats of arms, flags, and anthems within the next six months. BW

Leaders of Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region said on March 31 that they plan to hold a referendum to determine the future nature of relations with Chisinau, Reuters reported the same day. The announcement came a day after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced that talks between Transdniester and Moldova have been suspended indefinitely (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2006). "In these conditions, we believe that it is unacceptable to make any agreements with Moldova which might even partly hurt [Transdniester's] sovereignty," a statement issued at a meeting of Transdniester officials said. "We intend to hold a national referendum to determine our form of peaceful co-existence with Moldova," the statement continued, adding that the date for the referendum will be set by parliament. Foreign Minister Valery Litskai also said that Transdniester considers Kosova's final-status negotiations to be setting a precedent. Transdniester's "independence is being decided in Kosovo and this will happen very quickly," he said. BW

A surprising number of contentious issues have clouded Russia's relations with the West in recent months. One of the effects of this tension has been stepped-up calls in Moscow to improve Russia's image abroad through energized public diplomacy. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party has urged a public-diplomacy campaign aimed at "protecting the political and economic elite of our country" from mounting Western censure.

In recent weeks, the Russian media have raised the specter of a possible looming cold war with the United States. As evidence, they cite the U.S. National Security Strategy published on March 16 by the White House, in which Washington criticized undemocratic trends in Russia.

A number of Russian observers noted that, for the first time since the events of September 11, 2001, the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush failed to refer to Moscow as a "strategic partner."

A subsequent study by the U.S. Defense Department provoked an even more negative reaction. The Pentagon alleged that Russia in 2003 leaked intelligence to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein about American troop movements just ahead of the launch of the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq.

Russian observers were also critical of a March 5 analysis by the New York-based Council for Foreign Relations that described Russia under President Vladimir Putin as an increasingly authoritarian regime.

And the purported Western assault didn't stop there. The pro-Kremlin website on March 28 accused former oligarchs Boris Berezovsky, Leonid Nevzlin, and Vladimir Gusinsky of "uniting efforts" with the West and launching a new "information war" against Russia. alleged the three, who still maintain some media influence in Russia -- and whose foreign television projects present direct competition for Russia Today and state-controlled Russian-language broadcasting abroad -- misrepresented comments by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov regarding the hazing case of the Russian army soldier Andrei Sychyov.

The same day, the website of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party outlined what it saw as Washington's main concerns regarding Russia: Moscow's efforts to push the United States out of Central Asia, as well as its energy politics, sale of nuclear technology to Iran, talks with the Palestinian militant group Hamas, and its policies on nongovernmental organizations.

The website went on to say that Russia should respond to Washington's growing litany of complaints with a public-diplomacy campaign aimed at "protecting the political and economic elite of our country" from mounting Western censure.

In fact, Russia has already taken a step forward in its foreign-policy propaganda efforts with the December 2005 launch of Russia Today, a 24-hour, English-language television news channel broadcasting to Asia, Europe, and North America.

Moscow has also announced that, starting from April 1, it will air 18 hours of daily programming to Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary, in partnership with a German broadcasting firm.

Some say such efforts are still not enough. Speaking on March 28 on TV-Tsentr, Kremlin spin doctor Marat Gelman said Russia must do more to battle its negative image abroad, particularly in neighboring countries.

Gelman, himself the owner of a well-known modern art gallery in Moscow, said Russia should put not only news but culture at the heart of its public image campaign, and that Russia should make better use of what he called "museum diplomacy." Putin used this tactic in September 2005, when he opened an exhibit of Russian art at New York's Guggenheim Museum while attending a meeting of the UN General Assembly.

One Russian expert on public diplomacy, Igor Panarin, a professor at the Russian Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy, has proposed a five-step program for improving Russia's image abroad. The strategy is posted on Panarin's website:

-- Create a new presidential advisory post to coordinate all public information coming from the presidential administration and the government, including the Foreign Ministry and Security Council;

-- Establish a presidential administrative office of information analysis, as well as a state- and business-sponsored agency for foreign political news;

-- Form a state commission for public diplomacy that would include senior officials from the presidential administration, the government, the Duma, and national media outlets, as well as leading politicians;

-- Return the Voice of Russia international radio broadcaster and the RIA Novosti news agency, both currently under the supervision of the Culture Ministry, to the purview of the Foreign Ministry;

-- Create a number of Russian nongovernmental organizations with the aim of pursuing Russia's foreign policy objectives in the Commonwealth of Independent States, the European Union, and the United States.

Panarin's proposal is just one of many as Russian think tanks and media outlets with close ties to the Kremlin have step up their analyses of how to improve Russia's image abroad. Judging from Kremlin policies over the last couple of years, such proposals seem to be attracting attention.

The Afghan central bank has reported an increase in per capita income over the past year and predicted the figure could rise another 14 percent this year, according to President Hamid Karzai's administration. The figures are contained in a report that Karzai received from Nurullah Delawari -- the head of the Da Afghanistan Bank, the country's central bank -- according to an April 1 press release from the office of Karzai's spokesman. According to the statement, Delawari informed Karzai that "Afghanistan's national income per capita in 1384 [March 2005-March 2006] had reached $293 and it's widely anticipated that it will increase to $335 for the year 1385," which began in March 2006. During his 2004 presidential-election campaign, Karzai "committed himself to increasing Afghanistan's national income per capita from $200 to $500 within five years," the statement noted. AT

Unidentified assailants attacked Takhar Provincial Council Chairman Sayyed Sadeq in his home in the Khwaja Ghar district on April 1, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Sadeq died of his wounds after being taken to a hospital. Takhar Governor Khwaja Gholam Ghaws suggested on April 2 that Sadeq was killed over tribal or factional disputes, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Gholam Ghaws ruled out any involvement by neo-Taliban or Al-Qaeda insurgents in the case, without providing details. Sadeq was a former commander for Hizb-e Islami -- led by renegade former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar -- before defecting to Jami'at-e Islami, which is led by former President Burhanuddin Rabbani. Meanwhile, an unidentified Afghan government official quoted by AFP claimed that Sadeq recently told President Karzai that he had information linking individuals to drug trafficking in Takhar. Although not a major opium-producing province, Takhar lies on a major drug-trafficking route. AT

Pajhwak Afghan News on 2 April withdrew a report from the previous day suggesting that National Assembly legislator Dad Mohammad Khan had been killed near Kabul, saying that Dad Mohammad had turned up in the capital 13 days after going missing. The news agency had based its initial report on a "learnt" Afghan Interior Ministry source. Dad Mohammad is a member of the People's Council (Wolesi Jirga), the lower house of the parliament, from Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. Prior to his election to the national legislature, Dad Mohammad served as Helmand's chief of intelligence. Mohammad Hanif, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban on April 2, claimed responsibility for Dad Mohammad's killing, according to Pajhwak. Dad Mohammad reportedly said of his absence that he went hunting in Baghlan Province in northern Afghanistan. Neo-Taliban sources have frequently been guilty in the past of claiming responsibility for activities that they did not carry out or of otherwise exaggerating their accomplishments. AT

Abdul Rahman thanked the Italian government and Pope Benedict XVI for having saved his life, the Milan-based daily "Giornale" reported on March 31. Abdul Rahman was facing a death sentence in his native Afghanistan for his conversion to Christianity, but he was released from custody for alleged mental instability on March 27 before being granted asylum in Italy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). "If you are not a Muslim in an Islamic country like mine, they kill you, no doubt about it," Abdul Rahman said. Vowing never to return to Afghanistan, Abdul Rahman said he has decided to change his name to Joel, saying that he read that name in the Bible and it "fits" him well. While the abrupt conclusion of Abdul Rahman's case has eased pressure on President Karzai, it has highlighted limitations on Afghan democracy and the nature and role of the judiciary in setting that country's course. AT

An estimated 500 people gathered in a mosque in the city of Konduz on 2 April to demand that the Afghan government repatriate Abdul Rahman to face an apostasy trial over his conversion to Christianity, AIP reported. The group reportedly wanted to organize a demonstration but was prevented from doing so by police. While some senior figures -- including People's Council speaker Yunos Qanuni -- have sought to ensure that Abdul Rahman faces trial in Afghanistan, popular reaction against his release from prison has been muted. AT

The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' (IRGC) navy successfully test-fired a powerful subsurface missile on April 2, dpa reported, citing an IRNA report. General Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of the IRGC navy, said the torpedo can reach a maximum speed of 100 meters per second but provided no other information. AP cited state television reports that the weapon could destroy virtually any warship or submarine. Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television also reported on the missile test, using Iranian video footage, as did Pakistani television from Islamabad. Meanwhile, on March 31, IRGC air-force chief General Hussein Salami described the launch the same day of a "new missile with more modern tactical and technical capabilities compared to previous generations of missiles," state television reported. He said the missile has multiple warheads that can hit different targets, and it can evade radar and any country's antimissile defense systems. BS

U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said on March 31 that the surface-to-surface missile test the same day "demonstrates that Iran has a very active and aggressive military program under way," Radio Farda reported. That program, Ereli charged, includes the development of weapons of mass destruction and the necessary delivery systems. Ereli added that Iranian military activities worry the world. "I think Iran's military posture [and] military-development effort is of concern to the international community, as evidenced by the kind of consensus you're seeing with regard to their nuclear program, as well as other nonproliferation concerns," he said, according to Radio Farda. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear activities and the Security Council unanimously called on Tehran to halt its uranium-enrichment work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30 and 31, 2006). BS

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, told Ekho Moskvy radio on March 31 that Iranian defense industries are insufficiently developed to create world-class missiles. "It is hard to imagine that this missile is a 100 percent Iranian development," he continued. "Most probably it is a clone of a Chinese missile or Chinese and old Soviet technologies combined." This makes the missile predictable and easy to intercept, he said. Pukhov described the Iranian claims as an effort to fight the United States on the "information front." An unnamed "Israeli missile expert" quoted by the newspaper "Yediot Aharanot" on April 2 said the Iranian claim is "detached from reality." BS

Iranian ships maneuvered in the Straits of Hormuz and practiced electronic countermeasures on April 2, the third day of the Noble Prophet naval war games that began on March 31, state television reported. Antiaircraft exercises reportedly took place as well, and an anonymous "official" said antisubmarine activities took place in the straits, the Persian Gulf, and the Sea of Oman. Personnel from the Basij Mobilization Forces participated in the exercises on April 1, state television reported. Two thousand Basij members and 400 Basij vessels were used in what was described as "exercises designed to defend cities as well as civil relief and rescue operations." The spokesman for the war games, Vice Rear Admiral Mohammad Ibrahimi Dehghani, said on March 31 that 17,000 people, 1,500 vessels, and aircraft are participating in the exercises, which should last until April 6, IRNA reported. BS

Hanif Yazdani, a resident of the quake-stricken town of Dorud in Luristan Province, told Radio Farda that some 600-700 locals demonstrated in front of the governorate on April 1 over what they view as slow and inadequate provision of emergency services. Three earthquakes struck western Iran early on March 31, with Interior Ministry official Mohammad Hussein Shiri saying the next day that 70 people had been killed and almost 1,300 injured. Shiri said at that time that relief had reached 90 percent of the damaged area, but, according to Yazdani, some 400 people are still without tents. Even people whose houses were not destroyed by the initial quakes are reluctant to go home because they fear aftershocks, Yazdani said. Yazdani told Radio Farda that 160 riot-police officers (niruha-yi zed-i shuresh) attacked the demonstrators, and shots were fired in the air. He added that the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps began distributing tents and will enforce order. Yazdani ascribed other relief delays for the impoverished area to bureaucracy, corruption, favoritism, and nepotism. BS

U.S. State Department spokesman Ereli on March 31 read a letter from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in which she expresses condolences to victims of the Luristan earthquake, Radio Farda reported. The letter also mentions the possibility of U.S. assistance: "We wish to support efforts under way to help those suffering as a result of this tragedy. The United States is ready to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people in this time of need." Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns telephoned Iran's ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on March 31 to express sympathies and offer assistance that would include blankets and water, IRNA reported. Zarif said Iran is not yet seeking international aid. BS

IRNA reported on March 31 that the United States "uses" humanitarian disasters like the recent Luristan earthquakes to show the Iranian people "it has a humanitarian heart" so it can "create a wedge between the people and the government." State radio reacted to the U.S. offers by saying on April 1 that "the objectives and motives behind the deceptive and misleading sympathies expressed by [U.S. President George W.] Bush and [Secretary] Rice for the quake victims in Iran are apparent to the Iranian people. And if the officials in Washington are sincere, instead of promising to help, they should recognize the rights of the Iranian nation in nuclear technology." Russia sent aid on April 1, according to Russia's RTR television, and Pakistan sent aid the next day, IRNA reported. BS

Two leading Shi'ite parliamentarians have called on Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari to turn down the nomination to head the next Iraqi government in the interest of national unity, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on April 3. Al-Ja'fari secured the United Iraqi Alliance's (UIA) nomination in February, beating fellow Shi'ite Adil Abd al-Mahdi by one vote in an internal election. Independent Shi'ite parliamentarian Qasim Dawud told RFI in an April 2 interview that an increasing number of UIA members want al-Ja'fari to refuse the nomination so that the political process can move forward. Shi'ite parliamentarian Jalal al-Din Saghir also called on al-Ja'fari to step aside in an April 2 interview with Reuters, saying the nominee to the premiership "ought to secure a national consensus from other lists and also international acceptance." Also on April 2, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.K. Foreign Minister Jack Straw made an unexpected visit to Baghdad to encourage Iraqi leaders to settle on a prime minister. "They've got to get a prime minister who can actually form the government," Rice told reporters following separate meetings with al-Ja'fari and President Jalal Talabani, reported on April 3. KR

A number of Iraqi political parties have called on the government to stop incorporating armed militias into the security services and to eliminate those elements already incorporated in the state security apparatus, "Al-Hayat" reported on April 3. Rasim al-Awdi, spokesman for the Iraqi List, told the London-based daily: "We reject the inclusion of these militias in the army and police but have no objection to benefiting from a number of their elements as individuals. Including all the militias in the security organs means subjecting these organs to the quota principle, and this is totally unacceptable." Iraqi Accordance Front member Nasir al-Ani also called for the expulsion of militias from Interior and Defense ministry forces, claiming that the militias have operated death squads under the cover of security organs for the past three years. KR

Hudhayfah Abdallah Azzam, son of deceased Al-Qaeda spiritual leader Abdallah Azzam, told Al-Arabiyah television on April 2 that the leadership of the Iraqi resistance has forced fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi into a strictly military role, and appointed an Iraqi as the political leader of the resistance. Azzam said the decision came after clashes with al-Zarqawi over his tactics, which "did not conform to those of the resistance." Azzam said that al-Zarqawi's "performance negatively affected the image of the Iraqi resistance," and that the Al-Qaeda leader "committed many political mistakes." An Iraqi identified as Abdallah Baghdadi now heads the political leadership of the Mujahedin Shura Council. Azzam listed al-Zarqawi's mistakes to Al-Arabiyah as: kidnapping tourists and innocent people; killing hostages in a hideous manner "not approved by Islam"; unidentified major mistakes that put the resistance in an embarrassing position vis-a-vis the Arab and Islamic states; and targeting Iraq's neighbors, including Jordan, which eroded foreign support for the insurgency. Azzam stressed that al-Zarqawi "was not deposed," but rather gave up the political leadership to assume his rightful position as military leader of the resistance. KR

Saddam Hussein could face genocide charges this week in the 1988 military campaign against Iraqi Kurds, Reuters reported on April 2. A prosecutor and a court official told the news agency that an investigative judge will hand the case over to prosecutors this week, and that a trial could begin as early as May. Chief Prosecutor Ja'far al-Musawi told the news agency that he expects to receive the case within days. More than 50,000 Kurds were believed killed during the nearly seven-month campaign, which was part of a broader two-year military crackdown on the Kurdish population headed by Hussein's cousin and Secretary-General of the Northern Bureau of Iraq's Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party Ali Hassan al-Majid. Prosecutor al-Musawi told Reuters that the Al-Dujayl trial against Hussein is close to being wrapped up. KR