|Monday, 18 November 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-04-16
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN DISCUSSES TERRORISM WITH UZBEK PRESIDENT...President Vladimir Putin hosted talks in Moscow on 15 April with Uzbek President Islam Karimov, during which they discussed efforts to combat terrorism in the context of the violence in Uzbekistan late last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 29, 30, and 31 March, and 1 and 2 April 2004), RTR and ORT reported. Karimov told Putin that terrorist groups are regrouping faster than the international antiterrorism coalition can react, finding weak points in the coalition's defenses and striking there. Putin told Karimov that "in your struggle against these acts, you can count on Russia's full and unconditional support." The two presidents also discussed bilateral economic relations. Aleksei Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center told "Izvestiya" of 15 April that Karimov's visit to Moscow came following a recent cooling in relations between the United States and Uzbekistan as a result of Washington's criticism of human-rights abuses in the republic. Malashenko noted that Moscow, meanwhile, has always stressed that such issues are "President Karimov's personal business." Therefore, the Uzbek president has begun to exhibit his readiness to cooperate more actively with Russia, "Izvestiya" commented, citing Karimov's statement that his country is prepared to take "decisive steps to take advantage of unexploited political and economic opportunities." VY
 ...AND RUSSIAN-JAPANESE RELATIONS WITH 'COUNCIL OF WISE MEN'During his meeting at the Kremlin on 14 April with members of the informal Russian-Japanese working group dubbed the "Council of Wise Men," President Putin said he hopes the council can successfully "remove all that is hampering the development of bilateral relations," RTR reported. The council, which was created in October 2003, is co-chaired by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori. The participation in the council meeting of Sergei Bogdanchikov, head of oil-giant Rosneft, indicates that the two sides might be discussing the possibility of building an oil pipeline from western Siberia to the far-eastern port of Nakhodka, a project that Japan supports, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 15 April. Meanwhile, Deputy Duma Speaker Georgii Boos (Unified Russia), who is a member of the council, said that in response to Japanese demands regarding the return of the disputed Kurile Islands, Russia might demand the return of gold deposited by imperial Russia in Japanese banks, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. The value of the gold plus interest could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, he said. VY
 MILITARY OFFICIAL HINTS AT CONCESSION ON CLOSURE OF BASES IN GEORGIAFirst Deputy Chief of the General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii said during a 13 April news conference in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2004) that "now there are objective reasons for resolving the issue regarding the withdrawal of Russian military bases from Georgia," "Krasnaya zvezda" reported on 15 April. The Russian military is "establishing normal relations with the new Georgia leadership and the new leadership of the Georgian Defense Ministry," he said. "These relations will bring a result in the nearest future. What result, you will soon learn." VY
 DUMA RECOMMENDS REJECTING KYOTO ACCORDA Duma hearing on 15 April recommended that the legislature not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement intended to control the emission of gases widely believed to cause global warming, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 16 April. Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) told the hearing that "we must orient ourselves on our national interests," saying that if countries such as the United States, China, India, Brazil, Argentina, and South Korea do not commit to the accord, it will become "a stranglehold on the economies of the countries that sign it." "The Kyoto Protocol is ineffective from the environmental point of view and unacceptable from the point of view of Russia's economic development," the Duma hearing's concluding document read. That opinion echoes that expressed on 13 April by presidential economics adviser Andrei Illarionov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2004). RC
 PUTIN GIVES MINISTERS A BIG RAISEPresident Putin on 14 April signed a decree that significantly increased wages for about 10,000 of the country's 350,000 federal bureaucrats, "Vedomosti," lenta.ru, and other Russian media reported on 16 April. Under the decree, salaries for ministers will be increased nearly by a factor of five, to 1,057,342 rubles ($35,250) per year. Putin will receive 1,762,236 rubles, which is roughly the same as the prime minister of Spain receives, according to lenta.ru. The head of the presidential administration will get 1,069,200 rubles per year. The purpose of the decree, administration officials said, is to combat corruption and to encourage officials to take their duties more responsibly. RC
 DEPUTIES DISCUSS PROCESS OF MERGING REGIONSThe Duma on 15 April held hearings to discuss the process of merging subjects of the federation, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 16 April. The hearings were attended by representatives of regional administrations and legislatures, some of whom were reportedly concerned that the federal government is encouraging mergers simply to make the country easier to manage. Duma Deputy Andrei Klimov (Unified Russia) told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 15 April that his party has drafted a plan under which the number of federation subjects would be reduced to 60-65 by 2008, but he declined to specify which regions would be merged. He said the guiding principle for merges should be economic expediency. Klimov said that additional legislation on amalgamation is needed and that a bill on the subject could be introduced before the end of this year. RC
 GOVERNMENT TRIES TO INSTILL NEW BUDGETING PRINCIPLESThe government on 15 April approved a budget plan that would force ministries to justify their spending requests and to vie with one another for funding on a competitive basis, "Izvestiya" reported on 16 April. Ministries will form their budgets based on plans to achieve concrete goals. Because this is difficult to do on an annual basis, the plan also foresees compelling ministries to prepare three-year budget requests. "All expenses will have to pass through an audit of their effectiveness," Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said. A standing government budget commission will be created to evaluate annual reports from each ministry and the commission's reports will be forwarded to the Duma in lieu of the former presidential budget report. According to the daily, most of the changes will begin with next year's budget, but the process will begin with 300 million rubles ($30 million) from the 2005 budget. That money will be given to the ministry that submits the most "detailed and self-critical" report about its budgeting process and the most "ambitious" plan for correcting it, the daily reported. RC
 FSB DIRECTOR INSPECTS SECURITY SITUATION IN FAR NORTHFederal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev on 13-15 April visited the Russian Far North, the security of which is overseen by the FSB's Arctic Regional Border Guard Directorate, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 April. Patrushev inspected border-troop stations on Zemlya Frantsa-Iosefa (Franz Josef Land) and Severnaya Zemlya. During a flight over the Arctic region he landed briefly at the North Pole. While addressing border troops stationed on the archipelagos, he stressed the strategic importance of the region, especially as "some leading countries are showing interest in its natural-resources potential" and the Northern Sea Route shipping corridor. Patrushev also said that "illegal activities in the economic zone of the Barents Sea and on the Russian continental shelf" by foreign states create the potential for "conflict situations." VY
 DAILY GIVES PESSIMISTIC FORECAST FOR PUTIN'S SECOND TERM...A long analytical survey in "Izvestiya" on 16 April titled "Modernization Instead Of Democracy" concludes that President Putin fits into the long Russian tradition of "reform from above." However, the analysis continues, the entrenched administrative system that Putin created in his first term will be unable to carry out meaningful reforms because "sooner or later the logic of reform comes into conflict with the interests of the system as a whole and of particular representatives and institutions within it." It expresses doubt that such a system will be able to generate new ideas for reform in the absence of any meaningful public debate. RC
 ...NOTING RISE OF THE SILOVIKI...The 16 April "Izvestiya" article recalls that shortly before Putin was elected president in 2000, he placed flowers on the grave of former Communist Party of the Soviet Union General Secretary Yurii Andropov, and interprets this as symbolic of Putin's desire to be the heir to "the last Soviet-style ([former Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev was already something different) reformer." The article notes the prominence of military and secret-service personnel in the Putin regime, saying that such people are prominent throughout public life and comprise as much as 70 percent of the personnel of the offices of the presidential envoys that Putin created in 2000. It argues that such people will continue to make inroads into the business sphere during Putin's second term and that, as a result, economic life will become as "alternativeless" as political life already is. This will render it impossible to achieve Putin's economic goals, including the doubling of GDP within a decade. RC
 ...AND MAKING A RANGE OF FORECASTSThe 16 April "Izvestiya" analysis predicts that the role of the state in the economy will continue to be strengthened during President Putin's second term. It predicts there will be "isolated cases" of nationalization, but this will not be a major trend. Privatization will continue, but it will be guided by "ideological considerations," by which the paper means "patriotism." Despite populist rhetoric, the tendency over the next four years will be toward a sharp reduction of social benefits. Proposed reforms in the housing and communal-services sector will fail because "the influence of bureaucrats is too great." Likewise, military reform will be difficult and it is unlikely that real progress toward an all-volunteer military will be made before 2008, the daily concluded. The state will maintain its control over national television and might even "replace the management of leading stations with more loyal people." Only judicial reform is predicted to move forward substantially, according to the daily. The Prosecutor-General's Office will likely be abolished before 2008, the daily predicted. RC
 REGIONAL COURTS AGREE TO HEAR YABLOKO'S ELECTION-FRAUD ACCUSATIONSTwenty-six regional courts have agreed to hear cases of alleged electoral fraud during the 7 December State Duma elections, based on complaints filed by the Yabloko party, "Russkii kurer" reported on 15 April. Yabloko officials were cited as describing the development as inspiring hope. The party filed cases in 78 regions. Of the 30 that have responded so far, 26 have agreed to hear the cases in court. Ironically, the paper noted, the reputedly repressive regime of Bashkortostan has agreed to hear the case, while the traditionally liberal administrations in Samara, Saratov, Tyumen, and Nizhnii Novgorod oblasts rejected them. RC
 RIGHTISTS FORM NEW TALKING SHOPA group of politicians, business leaders, and public figures gathered in Moscow on 15 April to form a new "club" called Democratic Alternative, Russian media reported on 16 April. The project was initiated by independent Duma Deputies Vladimir Ryzhkov and Mikhail Zadornov, and other founding members include Federation Council members Ivan Starkov and Mikhail Margelov, INDEM foundation President Georgii Satarov, and several representatives of Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). Ryzhkov told Interfax that the group differs from the recently created Committee 2008 because that committee is dedicated to "open opposition to the authorities," while Democratic Alternative will restrict itself to "working out new platforms for the democratic movement." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 16 April, noting the involvement of Unified Russia member Margelov, argued that Democratic Alternative is a Kremlin-sponsored attempt to fragment and control the rightist segment of the political spectrum, a charge that Ryzhkov categorically denied. Zadornov also denied any Kremlin ties in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 15 April. RC
 'MOTHERLAND' PROPOSES THAT CHURCH BLESS THE DUMAA group of Motherland deputies led by Aleksandr Chuev and Aleksandr Krutov have appealed to Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov (Unified Russia) to invite Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia Aleksii II to consecrate the building that houses the Duma, lenta.ru reported on 15 April. The request was supported by Dmitrii Rogozin, the leader of the Motherland faction in the Duma. Rogozin told NTV on 15 April that doing so would follow the Russian tradition of sanctifying the start of any large endeavor or enterprise. When asked if he believes the Duma houses any demons, he said there "are many." "Look how many deputies are protesting against our proposal. They are the demons," he said. NTV noted that more than 100 deputies are atheists or profess faiths other than Russian Orthodoxy, and questioned what response they would receive if they proposed that the Duma be consecrated according to their faiths or beliefs. VY
 UN COMMISSION REJECTS EU CRITICISM OF RUSSIAN VIOLATIONS IN CHECHNYAThe UN Commission for Human Rights failed on 15 April by a vote of 12 in favor and 23 against, with 18 abstentions, to endorse a resolution drafted by the EU calling on the Russian leadership to take more resolute action to halt reprisals by Russian forces in Chechnya against the civilian population, Russian media and "The Independent" reported on 15 and 16 April, respectively. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov lauded the outcome of the vote, saying that it "proves once again that the world community supports the decisive measures taken by Russia to restore law and order in Chechnya and to fight terrorism," ITAR-TASS reported. In Grozny, pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov said the vote testifies to the UN commission's objectivity. In a statement carried on 16 April by www.chechenpress.com, Akhmed Zakaev, who is Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's special representative, branded those countries that voted against the resolution (including Ukraine, China, Syria, Libya, India, and Cuba) as "direct co-participants in the monstrous genocide...unleashed by Putin's bloody regime against the Chechen people." LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN OPPOSITION REJECTS RENEWED OFFER OF DIALOGUEThe three parties aligned in the Armenian ruling coalition renewed on 15 April their offer to embark at any time on a dialogue with the opposition in order to defuse political tensions, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The leaders of the three parties' respective parliament factions told journalists in Yerevan that they are also prepared to accept opposition proposals on constitutional reform and amending election legislation. But the opposition party leaders heading the campaign to force President Robert Kocharian to resign -- Stepan Demirchian (People's Party of Armenia), Aram Sargsian (Hanrapetutiun), and Artashes Geghamian (National Accord Party) -- rejected the coalition offer and reaffirmed their intention to convene a further mass demonstration in Yerevan on 16 April. Demirchian said a dialogue is not possible until those persons responsible for the police violence against opposition supporters early on 13 April are brought to account (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004 and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004). LF
 ARMENIAN CIVIC GROUPS PROTEST ARRESTS, POLICE BRUTALITYSome 1,000 people attended a demonstration in Yerevan on 15 April to protest the police brutality against and arrests of protesters on 13 April, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. At the same time, participants stressed that their protest should not be construed as an endorsement of the opposition campaign to force the president's resignation. At least 115 people were arrested on 13 April, including three parliament deputies who were subsequently released. Police say 12 people were sentenced to up to 15 days' detention, and that three others, including former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, have been remanded in custody in connection with a separate criminal investigation. Also on 15 April, police vacated the headquarters of Sargsian's Hanrapetutiun party and he emerged from hiding, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF
 ARMENIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DEFENDS POLICE INTERVENTIONMeeting on 14 April with the Council of Europe's permanent representative in Yerevan, Natalia Voutova, Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian said that on 13 April police "acted in accordance with the letter and spirit of the law" in dispersing protesters the previous day, and that had they not done so, "we would have had to use harsher measures" to curtail what he termed the demonstrators' "illegal actions," Noyan Tapan reported on 15 April. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT ENDS VISIT TO TURKEYIlham Aliyev told journalists in Baku on 15 April upon his return from a state visit to Ankara that Turkey's position with regard to the Karabakh conflict is "fair," and that the Turkish government has no intention of opening its border with Armenia, Turan reported. In an interview with the Turkish daily "Hurriyet" republished by the Azerbaijani news agency Azertadj, Aliyev was quoted as saying that opening its border with Armenia is an internal matter for Turkey. Aliyev also said both in Ankara and on his return to Baku that Azerbaijan might formally recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) if the island's Greek community votes against the UN peace plan in the referendum scheduled for 24 April, Turan reported. Azerbaijani newspapers commented on 16 April that Greece might respond to Azerbaijani recognition of the KKTC by formally recognizing the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, Turan reported. In an address to the Turkish parliament, Aliyev affirmed that "Nagorno-Karabakh was, is, and will remain Azerbaijani territory. Azerbaijan will never agree to the loss of its lands and will liberate them at any price," according to the daily "Sharq," as cited by zerkalo.az on 16 April. LF
 GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CALLS ON ADJAR LEADERSHIP TO DISARM...Nino Burdjanadze, who played a key role in facilitating the talks that defused last month's standoff between Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2004), appealed to the Adjar leadership on 16 April to comply with Saakashvili's demand to disarm all illegal armed groups in the region, Georgian media reported. She voiced her readiness to travel to Batumi for new talks with Abashidze. Abashidze's son Giorgi, who is mayor of Batumi, told the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 on 15 April that while he agrees that those weapons should be surrendered, it is "impossible" to disarm the population in the space of one or two days, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 ...AS GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ACCUSES THEM OF DRUG TRAFFICKING...Speaking in Tbilisi on 16 April, Giorgi Baramidze claimed that the Adjar leadership patronizes an illicit trade in weapons and drugs comparable to a Colombian drug cartel, Georgian media reported. Illegal drugs are both produced in Adjaria and transported across its territory, ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. Baramidze said the Georgian leadership has documentary proof to support his allegations and will make that proof public "soon." LF
 ...AND GEORGIAN BUSINESSMEN SEEK TO MEDIATEA delegation of Georgian businessmen that included Union of Major Taxpayers Chairman Badri Patarkatsishvili, former Minister of State Niko Lekishvili, and brewing magnate Gogi Topadze traveled to Batumi on 15 April for talks with Abashidze, Georgian media reported. Stressing that the protracted tensions between Tbilisi and Batumi are damaging the country's economy, they reportedly sought to persuade Abashidze to agree to new talks with the Georgian leadership. Lekishvili undertook a similar mediation mission between the Georgian leadership and Abashidze in April 2001, when he headed the majority Union of Citizens of Georgia parliament faction. "Tribuna" on 16 April quoted Topadze as saying that although Saakashvili and Abashidze agree the crisis in relations should be resolved peacefully, they are unable to find a way to do so. He said Abashidze has complained that negative media coverage of himself and his ministers complicates the search for a compromise, according to Caucasus Press. LF
 AFGHAN PRESIDENT VISITS KAZAKHSTAN...Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Kazakhstan on 15 April, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Karzai and President Nursultan Nazarbaev discussed economic ties, regional security, and the problem of drug trafficking. Karzai said Kazakh businessmen are welcome in Afghanistan. The Afghan leader also assured his Kazakh counterpart that "we will continue the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking and will work with Kazakhstan to develop transit potential and trade between the two countries," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. For his part, President Nazarbaev said Kazakhstan wishes to see stability in Afghanistan and open transport routes to the south. DK
 ...AS CZECH PRESIDENT MAKES BRIEF STOPCzech President Vaclav Klaus stopped in Astana on 15 April for a 1 1/2-hour visit on his way to China, Khabar reported. He met briefly with President Nazarbaev to discuss international issues and economic ties between the two countries. DK
 BUSH THANKS KAZAKHSTAN FOR SUPPORTPresident Nazarbaev received a letter from U.S. President George W. Bush on 15 April thanking Kazakhstan "for its unwavering support and resolve to achieve peace and democracy in Iraq," Kazinform reported the same day. The letter comes at a time when the future involvement of Kazakhstan's 27 peacekeepers in Iraqi reconstruction has generated substantial debate within the country. DK
 KAZAKH PRESIDENT SIGNS ELECTION BILLPresident Nazarbaev signed a bill on elections into law on 15 April, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. The law will revamp procedures for forming local electoral commissions, broadens the powers of election observers, and introduces transparent ballot boxes. The bill was the subject of contentious debate, with opponents charging that it does not do enough to prevent administrative interference in elections. DK
 TALK OF PAROLE FOR KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER REBUFFED BY JUSTICE MINISTRYA spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's Justice Ministry denied on 15 April recent statements by representatives of the Ar-Namys Party that imprisoned party leader Feliks Kulov will be paroled in June, Kabar reported the same day. Sidorov termed talk of a letter about Kulov's release "a pure falsification." The same day, Kyrgyz police broke up a march in support of Kulov, Interfax reported. An Ar-Namys spokesman told the news agency that "Interior Ministry agents detained 20 protesters as they were leaving the capital city" on the morning of 15 April. The protestors planned to march on foot to the high-security prison near Manas International Airport where Kulov is being held. DK
 ANTI-MINE CONFERENCE BEGINS IN TAJIKISTANAn international conference on antipersonnel mines began in Tajikistan on 15 April, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Conference participants will discuss the implementation in Central Asia of the Ottawa Convention, which prohibits antipersonnel mines. Tajik Deputy Prime Minister Saydamir Zukhurov told attendees that "we must define the challenges that remain in Central Asia and the actions necessary to ensure that the Ottawa Convention keeps its promise to end suffering from antipersonnel mines," RIA-Novosti reported on 15 April. According to Tajikistan's Center for Land-Mine Issues, 2,500 square kilometers of agricultural land and 700 kilometers of road are still mined in the country. Between 1994 and 2004, antipersonnel mines killed approximately 200 people in Tajikistan and along the Tajik-Uzbek border. Representatives from 22 countries are participating in the conference. At present, the only Central Asian countries that have acceded to the Ottawa Convention are Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. DK
 TAJIK BORDER TRANSFER MOVES ALONGAleksandr Baranov, the commander of Russian border troops on the Tajik-Afghan border, said on 15 April that Tajik guards will take over control of the border by May 2005, "Vesti" reported. Baranov said the start dates and end dates for the transfer have been set at May 2004 and May 2005, but will still require a bilateral agreement between the two governments to iron out the details. Under current working-group protocols, the Pamir section of the border will shift to Tajik control in May-August 2004, with remaining Russian detachments to be moved out by May 2005, ITAR-TASS reported. DK
 UN CONDEMNS TURKMENISTAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONSThe UN Commission on Human Rights voted on 15 April to approve a harshly worded resolution calling on Turkmenistan to improve its treatment of ethnic minorities and overall human rights record, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution, which was proposed by the United States and the European Union, expresses profound concern at limitations on freedom of speech in Turkmenistan; the "discriminatory practices of Turkmenistan's government toward ethnic Russians, Uzbeks, and other minorities"; and "state policy based on suppressing any political activity." Twenty-five countries voted in favor, 11 against, and 17 abstained, including Russia. DK
Central And Eastern Europe
 COMMISSIONER CALLS EU ENLARGEMENT MOST IMPORTANT POLITICAL EVENT SINCE WWIICommissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen told the Czech news agency CTK on 15 April that the European Union expansion slated for 1 May is the most important political development since the end of World War II. He said this round of enlargement will contribute to guaranteeing peace and security from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and that politicians should explain "the fundamentals" to their respective publics. Verheugen also quipped that the Europeans have a talent for quickly forgetting what they have achieved. Verheugen said he does not wish to play down the difficulties ahead, but he added that such obstacles are largely inherited from before the fall of communist regimes in 1989. He also said he is "embarrassed" to see that nationalism and populism are growing among future EU members like the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. MS
 UN COMMISSION CONDEMNS HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN BELARUSThe UN Human Rights Commission on 15 April condemned alleged human rights abuses by the governments of Belarus and Turkmenistan, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The Geneva-based commission rejected a motion by Russia to block a resolution on Belarus and adopted it by a vote of 23-13 with 17 abstentions. The commission additionally appointed a special rapporteur to investigate human rights issues in Belarus. "[The resolution] cites the failure of the Belarusian government to cooperate with the relevant special procedures of the commission or to adopt the reforms and election procedures recommended by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe," U.S. envoy in Geneva Richard Williamson said. "It is obvious to anyone that the accusations toward Belarus are built up in the same manner as the statements about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq," Belarus's permanent representative to the United Nations, Syarhey Aleynik, commented. JM
 BROADCAST COUNCIL MOVES TO BOLSTER UKRAINIAN LANGUAGEUkraine's National Council for Television and Radio (NRPTR), a body responsible for issuing broadcast licenses, adopted a resolution on 15 April whereby all broadcasters in the country are obliged to increase the hours of their broadcasting in the Ukrainian language so as to meet the requirements specified in their licenses, Interfax reported. Moreover, the resolution stipulates that all new licenses issued by the council after 18 April will require that nationwide and regional broadcasters use only Ukrainian in their programs. The broadcasters that currently operate under licenses requiring less than 100 percent Ukrainian-language programs reportedly will not have to apply for new licenses. "Ukraine is becoming a unique state in Europe, a state losing its indigenous language, which is being pushed out by official languages of other states," NRPTR deputy head Vitaliy Shevchenko commented on the 15 April resolution to RFE/RL. The NRPTR is to immediately launch a month-long monitoring of Ukrainian broadcasters to examine how they react to the resolution. "If the council detects that its resolution is being ignored by some companies, they will be subject to sanctions," NRPTR spokesman Mykola Hrystsenko told journalists without elaborating. JM
 PROTESTS HELD AGAINST LATVIAN EDUCATION REFORMSome 2,000 students from Russian schools boycotted classes and gathered in an unsanctioned rally in Riga's Esplanade park on 15 April protesting planned education reforms that will increase the number of subjects taught in the Latvian language in minority schools, BNS reported. Rally organizers had predicted some 50,000 would attend. The demonstrators later marched to the Cabinet of Ministers and Ministry of Education and Research buildings. Parliament deputies Jakovs Pliners and Vladimirs Buzajevs from the leftist alliance For Human Rights in a United Latvia presented a letter, written in Russian, to Education and Research Minister Juris Radzevics. The letter, signed by 6,800 people, called for an immediate moratorium on the plans and that any future reforms only be made in consultation with the Russian community. Latvian Security Police chief Janis Reiniks told a Riga City Council meeting later in the day that some 5,000 people had participated in the protests. SG
 LITHUANIA TO HOLD PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS ON 13 JUNEThe parliament approved a resolution on 15 April to hold presidential elections on 13 June together with the elections to the European Parliament in order to save money, ELTA reported. Earlier that day it approved by a vote of 69 to six with two abstentions the recommendations made by Acting President Arturas Paulauskas in vetoing the amendments to the presidential elections which were aimed at preventing recently impeached Rolandas Paksas from running for president again (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004). The Constitutional Court also announced a decision that day declaring that a decree signed by Paksas on 12 March calling for the impeachment of Paulauskas for disclosing state secrets violated the constitution. The court ruled that the parliamentary statute which allowed Paksas to propose that impeachment violated the constitution which only gives the parliament the right to participate in the impeachment process. SG
 POLISH, DUTCH MINISTERS STRESS PEACEKEEPING ROLE OF TROOPS IN IRAQPolish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and his Dutch counterpart Henk Kamp stressed in Warsaw on 15 April that the stabilization troops in Iraq are there for peacekeeping rather than warfare, Polish Radio reported. They were commenting on the purported offer from terrorist leader Osama bin Laden of a "truce" with European countries if they withdraw troops from Muslim countries. "The stabilization forces, in Iraq for instance, are not offensive forces and they do not conduct offensive operations," Szmajdzinski said. "They only use their weapons when they are attacked. These are the principles of stationing these forces." JM
 POLISH PROSECUTORS REQUEST THREE-YEAR SENTENCE FOR RYWINProsecutors on 15 April demanded the maximum three-year prison sentence for film producer Lew Rywin, who is accused of influence peddling in the bribery scandal known in Poland as "Rywingate," PAP reported. Prosecutors claim Rywin sought a $17.5 million bribe in 2002 from Agora, the publisher of "Gazeta Wyborcza," in exchange for amendments to a media law that would enable Agora to buy a nationwide broadcaster. Rywin allegedly suggested at the time that he was making the offer on behalf of Prime Minister Leszek Miller and an unspecified "group holding power." Prosecutor Katarzyna Kwiatkowska said Rywin acted "to achieve financial gain" and added that the trial has produced no evidence that he was representing Miller or anyone else in government. Meanwhile, six lawmakers -- members of the special parliamentary commission investigating Rywingate -- have filed six minority reports with the Sejm following the commission's official report exonerating Miller and any other government officials of involvement in the affair (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2004). JM
 FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT DISMISSES REPORTS OF SLOVAK ENDORSEMENTA spokeswoman for former U.S. President Bill Clinton has denied that he endorsed the candidacy of former Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar in that country's presidential elections, TASR reported on 15 April, citing the Slovak daily "Sme." The daily inquired about the alleged endorsement with Clinton spokeswoman Pammy Sun after Meciar's People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) released a statement saying Clinton sent Meciar a signed photograph in response to requests by LS-HZDS supporters that he endorse Meciar's candidacy. Former Slovak Ambassador to the United States Martin Butora -- who was eliminated from the presidential race in the first round of voting on 3 April -- countered that such a gesture does not represent a political endorsement. Butora also said Clinton was in fact critical of Meciar's 1994-98 government. The runoff in the Slovak presidential race, in which Meciar will face former ally Ivan Gasparovic, is scheduled for 17 April. MS
 SLOVAK COALITION PARTNERS SAID TO BE PRESSING FOR PRIME MINISTER'S RESIGNATIONThe daily "Novy cas" reported on 15 April that the chairmen of the junior coalition parties the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) have intensified pressure on Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda to step down "voluntarily," TASR reported. Earlier reports claimed that Pavol Hrusovsky (KDH) and Bela Bugar (SMK) are convinced that only Dzurinda's departure would enable them to enlist the support of the Free Forum party, whose deputies broke off from Dzurinda's Democratic and Christian Union to form their own party early this year. The four-party ruling coalition currently controls just 67 seats in the 150-member Slovak legislature. MS
 HUNGARY'S FIDESZ ACCUSES SOCIALISTS OF RUNNING 'WARLIKE' CAMPAIGNOpposition FIDESZ Deputy Chairman Pal Schmitt told reporters in Budapest on 15 April that he is requesting a meeting with Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy during which he will ask the premier's help to "remove from the country" Ron Werber, the Israeli campaign adviser to the ruling Socialist Party (MSZP), "Nepszabadsag" reported. Schmitt, who heads FIDESZ's list of candidates to the European Parliament, said reports on Werber's recent campaign training (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004) demonstrate that the MSZP "instructs soldiers and prepares a war" for the election campaign. For his part, FIDESZ Chairman and former Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a local forum in Budapest on 14 April that FIDESZ requested the Socialists to make public their contract with "the campaign chief brought from abroad," the MTI news agency reported. MSZ
 ISRAELI PRESIDENT INAUGURATES BUDAPEST HOLOCAUST MUSEUMIsraeli President Moshe Katzav inaugurated the Holocaust Museum Center in Budapest on 15 April amid tight security, just two days after Hungarian police arrested a Palestinian suspected of plotting to blow up the new museum, international news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2004). In his speech, Katzav warned that "60 years after the terror of the Holocaust, the evil of anti-Semitism is springing up here in Europe again," according to AFP. Prime Minister Medgyessy said at the ceremony that the extermination of Hungarian Jews was "a heinous crime that was committed by Hungarian people against [other] Hungarian people" and that for such crimes "there is no excuse, no explanation, only reconciliation," AP reported. However, in his speech, Katzav described the victims of the Holocaust as "Hungarians who died as Jews," according to AP. The ceremony, taking place on the eve of the 60-year anniversary of when the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz began, was also attended by Hungarian President Ferenc Madl and Hungarian-born U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (Democrat, California), who survived the Holocaust. The same day, a Budapest court ordered into 30-day custody the Hungarian dentist of Palestinian origin suspected of intending to destroy the museum, AP reported. MS
 INTERNATIONAL OBSERVERS SAY MACEDONIAN ELECTIONS WERE FAIR...In its preliminary statement issued on 15 April, the Election Observation Mission organized by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) said that the 14 April Macedonian presidential elections were "largely consistent with OSCE commitments and other international standards for democratic elections" despite some minor incidents, according to the OSCE's official website (http://www.osce.org). The EU's envoy to Macedonia, Soren Jessen Petersen, noted that the vote took place in a peaceful atmosphere but warned that the elections might still fail in the second round if the voter turnout is less than the required 50 percent of all registered voters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 9 April 2004). UB
 ...AS PUNDITS MAKE PREDICTIONS FOR THE SECOND ROUNDMost analysts writing in the 15 April Macedonian dailies concluded it is still to early to predict a victory for Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) in the second round over his conservative opponent, Sasko Kedev of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). Those observers recall the 1999 elections, when late Boris Trajkovski (VMRO-DPMNE), who came in second in the first round, then won a convincing second-round victory over Tito Petkovski of the SDSM. Much will depend on the choices made by ethnic Albanian voters, who make up 23 percent of the total population. Both of the ethnic Albanian candidates were defeated in the first round, but a massive shift of Albanian support to either Crvenkovski or Kedev could determine the winner of the second round. The Albanians could also make the second round invalid if they choose to boycott the vote, because it is unlikely that the 50 percent hurdle would be met without a high Albanian turnout, according to the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung." UB/PM
 TORCHED SERBIAN FLATS RENOVATED IN KOSOVAKosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi led a ceremony in Prishtina on 15 April to present the keys to the renovated flats torched during the 17-18 March violence, but none of the approximately 120 Serbian tenants was on hand to receive them, Reuters and Prishtina dailies reported. Instead, Charles Brayshaw, who is the deputy head of the UN's civilian administration in Kosova, accepted the keys. The flats are in a housing project called YU Program built during the rule of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Restoring the Prishtina flats is the first step in the Kosova government's more than $6 million program to renovate or rebuild nearly 300 Serbian dwellings across Kosova destroyed or damaged during the violence. Rexhepi noted that the unrest made parts of Kosova "resemble scenes we are seeing from Iraq," but stressed that the government has turned a page by pressing ahead with the reconstruction program. PM
 BOSNIA TO VOTE IN OCTOBERBosnia's State Election Commission announced on 15 April that local elections will be held on 2 October, regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 September 2003 and 16 April 2004). Voters will elect councils in 142 municipalities, casting their ballots for the first time for the heads of the councils as well as for the members, all of whom serve for four years. Robert Beecroft, who heads the OSCE mission in Bosnia, said that "these are the first elections since the [1992-95] war to be solely organized and financed by the municipalities and by the domestic institutions," at a cost of $6.3 million, Reuters reported. PM
 BOSNIA'S HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SLAMS SERBIAN OBSTRUCTION OF MASSACRE INVESTIGATIONHigh Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 15 April that authorities in the Republika Srpska are engaging in "obstructionism" by holding up work on a comprehensive report on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males were killed, Reuters reported. "It is simply not acceptable that nearly a decade after the shocking crimes of Srebrenica, there are still individuals or institutions in the [Bosnian Serb entity] who are trying to cover up these crimes, as [the new preliminary] report suggests" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). The investigating commission consists of five Serbs appointed by Banja Luka and one Muslim war crimes investigator named by Ashdown. The commission said in its new preliminary report that its work in producing a final study has been obstructed by the authorities in various ways, adding that it lacks sufficient independence to carry out its "difficult" task. PM
 SERBIAN COURT SUSPENDS LAW PROVIDING AID TO WAR CRIMES INDICTEESSerbia's Constitutional Court unanimously ruled on 15 April that recent legislation providing financial assistance to indicted war criminals and their families must be suspended for 30 days so that the parliament can clarify several provisions in it, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The court suggested that the new law may be unconstitutional because it affords some rights and privileges to indicted war criminals in The Hague that Serbian law does not make available to other citizens. Critics charge that the law makes state funds available to the indictees for political reasons at a time when the government lacks funds for universities and other institutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 2 April 2004, "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December and 20 February 2004, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 5 and 12 February 2004). PM
 ROMANIA'S CSAT SAYS TROOPS WILL STAY IN IRAQThe Supreme Council of National Defense (CSAT) decided on 15 April that it will continue to back the coalition forces in Iraq and asked the Defense Ministry to take measures aimed at improving the security of the Romanian military contingent stationed in that country, Mediafax reported. MS
 ROMANIAN LOWER HOUSE TO DEFER TO THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURTThe Chamber of Deputies on 15 April decided that if the Constitutional Court rules that an approved bill is unconstitutional, parliament cannot override the decision, Mediafax reported. By so doing, the lower house eliminated its prerogative allowing parliament to override a Constitutional Court decision with the vote of a two-thirds majority of its members. MS
 ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES RESIGNATION OF PREFECTSThe cabinet on 15 April approved the request of 10 prefects and deputy-prefects to be released from office in order to be able to run in the June local elections, Mediafax reported. Among those released is Vasile Soporan, who announced he intends to run for mayor of Cluj. MS
 BULGARIA NOMINATES FINANCE MINISTER TO HEAD IMFThe Bulgarian government has nominated Finance Minister Milen Velchev as a possible successor to International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Horst Koehler, who is resigning to run for president in Germany, "The Guardian" reported on 15 April. Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski wrote in a letter of recommendation to U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown that "although it is unusual for a representative of a small country such as Bulgaria to be nominated.... I believe that Mr. Velchev possesses a unique background and experience." Velchev, 38, worked as an investment banker in London before he became finance minister in 2001. "The Guardian" commented that Bulgaria's nomination of Velchev nomination was an "astute move" because "the former city investment banker has sufficient credentials to avoid being dismissed simply as an also-ran. He has a mixture of banking expertise, political experience, and knowledge of how to deal with the IMF from the other side of the debt-negotiating table." Velchev dismissed speculation that Saxecoburggotski nominated him to build him up as his potential successor as prime minister, mediapool.bg reported. UB
 FOREIGN MINISTER DISAPPOINTED WITH FURTHER DELAY OF LIBYAN TRIAL OF BULGARIAN MEDICSBulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi on 15 April expressed his disappointment with yet another delay in the deliverance of verdicts in the trial of six Bulgarian medics charged with deliberately infecting more than 400 Libyan children with HIV in 1999, vsekiden.com reported. A court in Benghazi was to hand down the verdicts on 15 April, but postponed the announcement until 6 May. "I will not make any prognosis, because my experience from the past 2 1/2 years tells me that prognoses do not come true," Pasi said in Sofia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March and 6 April 2004; and End Note "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2004). UB
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN LEADER CALLS ON WARLORDS TO DISARMAfghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai called on local commanders to hand in their weapons and support the country's disarmament effort, Xinhua News Agency reported on 16 April. A government statement released on 15 April said Karzai "urges all commanders in and out of the Defense Ministry to hand over their weaponry voluntarily and help ensure durable peace in the country." Karzai's government hopes to disarm Afghanistan's militias within three years under a UN-backed disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program. The plan also calls for an Afghan national military force numbering up to 70,000 soldiers. "Afghanistan's Islamic Transitional Government would compensate all those who voluntarily turn in their arms and help the country's reconstruction process to get impetus," said the statement. MR
 AFGHAN, KAZAKH LEADERS VOW TO STRENGTHEN TIESChairman Karzai pledged during a visit to Astana on 15 April to strengthen ties with Kazakhstan in an effort to enhance regional stability and fight the heroin trade, AFP reported 15 April. "We shall continue to work together against terrorism and drugs, and continue to work together to forge trade," Karzai told reporters after meeting President Nursultan Nazarbaev in the Kazakh capital. Western countries have called on Central Asian states like Kazakhstan to work more closely with Afghanistan to combat the heroin trade from Afghanistan that fuels European drug use. Neither Karzai nor Nazarbaev offered specifics of how cooperation on fighting drug trade in their two countries might increase. For his part, Nazarbaev expressed support for cooperation with neighboring countries like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in road-building projects in Afghanistan. "We are very interested in stability in Afghanistan -- we want to trade there and want to use Afghan territory to lay roads to the sea," Nazarbaev said. Karzai led an Afghan delegation that included three cabinet officials on a daylong visit to Kazakhstan. MR
 UN REFUGEE CHIEF VISITS AFGHANISTANThe top refugee official for the United Nations, Ruud Lubbers, arrived in Kabul to begin a four-day tour of Afghanistan, AFP reported on 15 April. Lubbers was expected to meet Karzai and Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, according to Mohammad Nader Farhad, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The visit marks Lubbers' sixth trip to Afghanistan in three years. Upon arrival, Lubbers went to a UNHCR compound on the outskirts of Kabul, where the agency offers Afghan returnees inoculations, training in mine awareness, and travel grants, a UNHCR statement said. Roughly 3 million Afghan refugees have returned to the country since March 2002, Farhad said. About 1.6 million Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan, Farhad added, with roughly 1.1 million living in camps. Some 1.4 million Afghan refugees live in Iran, Farhad said. Dpa reported on 15 April that Iran last week aired what it called a final warning to Afghan refugees in the county. Iran has said all Afghan refugees in Iran must leave by August or risk expulsion, dpa reported. MR
 AFGHANISTAN GETS TONS OF ELECTION MATERIALSAfghanistan received two planeloads full of UN-donated election materials as part of an increased effort to register voters ahead of elections slated for June, AP reported 15 April. The planes arrived at Kabul's international airport from Denmark carrying roughly 80 tons of goods paid for by the United Nations, including cameras, booklets, and other items. "This is a big step in our logistical preparations providing eligible Afghan men and women outside of the regional capitals with the opportunity to register to vote," said Farooq Wardak, the head of the Afghan electoral organization. The presidential and parliamentary elections have been delayed due to persistent security concerns and complications over voter registration. Despite ongoing security concerns in the east and south of the country, roughly 1.8 million of Afghanistan's 10.5 million eligible voters have so far registered, according to UN spokesman David Singh. With U.S. and NATO forces providing security, UN and Afghan officials hope to open registration facilities across the country in May. MR
 IRANIAN OFFICIALS HOLD COUNTERNARCOTICS MEETINGSIranian Ambassador to Moscow Gholam-Reza Shafei and Russia's Federal Drug Control Service chief, Viktor Cherkesov (a colonel general of the Federal Security Service), discussed cooperation in the counternarcotics field on 15 April, IRNA reported. Shafei said illegal-drug production in Afghanistan is on the increase "because of the lenient approach of the coalition forces mainly the U.S. toward the issue." Shafei suggested that Tehran, Moscow, and the United Nations work together to stop the production of drugs in Afghanistan and prevent drug trafficking. He added that Iran is ready to sign a counternarcotics agreement with Russia and Tajikistan. The previous day, Iranian Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi and a representative of Indonesia's national drug-control agency met in Tehran, IRNA reported. They discussed preparations for signing a memorandum of understanding on drug-control cooperation, expected in Jakarta in May, IRNA reported. BS
 TEHRAN HOLDS COALITION RESPONSIBLE FOR IRANIAN DEATHKhalil Naimi, identified by IRNA as the cultural and press attache at the Iranian Embassy, was shot dead in Baghdad on 15 April by unknown assailants. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi afterward urged Iraqi officials and the Iraqi Governing Council to protect the embassy and its staff, as well as visiting diplomat Hussein Sadeqi, ILNA reported. He said Iran has been trying to resolve the crisis in Iraq and added, "Unfortunately, America's wrong policies are making the crisis more complicated every day." After condemning the killing, parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said, "We hold occupiers [of Iraq] responsible for such incidents, but this does not mean [that we should] overlook the terrorist move of those who carried out the attack," Iranian state television reported. "We do condemn their move, although we do not know who they are." "The attack took place in the region under the control of Paul Bremer, the American governor of Iraq," Iranian state television reported on 15 April. "This is while the occupying American forces have taken no measures to follow up the case," it added.
 IRANIAN PRESIDENT PRAISED FOR WITHDRAWING LEGISLATIVE MEASURESConservative columnist Hussein Shariatmadari praised President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's decision to withdraw the "twin bills" in the 14 April "Kayhan" newspaper. Khatami formally withdrew the two bills in a 13 April letter to the legislature (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2004). He submitted them in August and September 2002. The first would have amended the election law by reducing the Guardians Council's role, and the second would have increased presidential authority. Shariatmadari, who is the supreme leader's representative at the Kayhan Institute, said Khatami's decision clears his record and eliminates the danger of reducing freedom. Shariatmadari wrote that the bills would have eliminated people's right to prevent unqualified individuals from serving in parliament and would have invested the president with dictatorial power. Shariatmadari wrote that Khatami was ill advised to have submitted the legislation in the first place, and he hinted that the bills were imposed on the president by spies and agents of foreign countries. Shariatmadari wrote that Khatami's criticism of the Guardians Council, which rejected the bills several times, was unjustified and unfriendly. BS
 U.S. DEFENSE DEPARTMENT EXTENDS TOURS OF 20,000 SOLDIERSThe U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced on 15 April that the U.S. military has extended the tour of duty for some 20,000 soldiers in Iraq by three months, iht.com reported on 16 April. The decision was made to give U.S. commanders in Iraq extra firepower to deal with the insurgency, according to the website. General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was in Baghdad on 15 April. He told reporters at a press briefing that U.S. Central Command commander General John Abizaid and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez had asked for more capability, adding, "that capability will, as in the past, be provided to our commanders in the field." Both Myers and Sanchez, who also attended the briefing, said there is a "common thread" to the resistance -- whether it be fighters in Al-Fallujah or supporters of anticoalition cleric Muqtada al-Sadr -- in Iraq that is trying to impede progress in the country. KR
 CLASHES IN AL-FALLUJAH RESULT IN 15 IRAQIS DEADClashes erupted overnight on 15-16 April between Iraqi militants and U.S. Marines in the volatile city of Al-Fallujah, Reuters reported on 16 April. A local hospital official told the news agency that 15 Iraqis were killed in the fighting and 20 wounded. There was no word on coalition casualties. Doctors have said that more than 600 Iraqis have died in the city since 31 March. General Myers told reporters in Baghdad on 15 April that the truce between U.S. forces and the militants could not go on forever, adding that additional military action might be necessary. The U.S. halted offensive operations in the city on 9 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004) to allow Iraqi mediators to try to resolve the situation and to allow for food supplies to be delivered and the dead to be buried. However, sporadic fighting has broken out on a near-daily basis since 9 April. Meanwhile, Kurdistan Satellite television reported on 15 April that the Kurdish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs has entered Al-Fallujah to offer medical assistance to local hospitals. KR
 CZECH FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS NO WORD ON KIDNAPPED JOURNALISTSThe Czech Foreign Ministry said on 15 April that there has been no news in the search for three Czech journalists who were kidnapped in Iraq on 11 April, ceskenoviny.cz reported on its website. Deputy Foreign Minister Petr Kolar told reporters on 15 April that the kidnappers have not attempted to contact the Czech government, and that Czech officials have not established any direct contact with the captors. He said, however, that there are serious indications that the Czechs are still alive, the website reported. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told CTK news agency in Washington on 15 April that the U.S. is wiling to use force to free the hostages, but needs the consent of the hostages' home countries. "I don't know about a specific request of the [Czech] government but I think it is implicit," Armitage said. Meanwhile, Iraqi Culture Minister Mufid Muhammad Jawad al-Jaza'iri told Czech Radio 1 on 15 April that middlemen have said that the hostages are fine and nothing will happen to them. KR
 BLAIR SEEKS NEW UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQU.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair is reportedly seeking a new United Nations Security Council resolution on Iraq, itv.com reported on 16 April. The resolution would call for a greater UN role in facilitating the transition of power from the coalition to an Iraqi interim government. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hinted to reporters at the UN in New York on 15 April that he doesn't foresee a full-fledged return of the UN to Iraq. "We will assist, but I don't think we need the UN to do it for [the Iraqis]. They have talent and, I think, given the right conditions, if the security can be brought under control I think there's a lot that the Iraqis can do themselves," he said. KR
 IRAQI EVENTS TRIGGER KNEE-JERK SQUABBLING IN BULGARIABy Ulrich Buechsenschuetz
The flare-up of violence in Iraq during the run-up to the 10 April Shi'a holiday has sparked debate in Sofia as to whether the mandate of the Bulgarian contingent currently deployed in Iraq should be amended.
But that debate quickly descended into the finger-pointing that has punctuated so much of the political discourse in Bulgaria.
When Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Al-Mahdi Army took effectively control of Karbala on 7 April, Chief of the Bulgarian General Staff General Nikola Kolev was among the first to demand that parliament change the troops' mandate. This mandate, a commentator for the daily "Sega" noted on 14 April, sets out four tasks for Bulgarian troops: peacekeeping operations; civil-military cooperation; assistance to the Iraqi civilian administration; and active operations against groups loyal to the former Iraqi regime.
"The mandate of the Bulgarian contingent does not extend to involvement in armed conflict," Kolev argued, according to AFP. Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov added that it is for the parliament to decide on possible changes to the mandate or a complete withdrawal of Bulgarian troops from Iraq.
Although some opposition parliamentarians agreed with Svinarov and demanded that parliament convene for an extraordinary session to discuss the issue, parliamentary speaker Ognyan Gerdzhikov said he was not convinced that an extraordinary session was necessary, noting diplomatically that he would discuss the issue with President Georgi Parvanov, who is the supreme commander of the Bulgarian armed forces.
On 8 April, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski met with General Kolev and U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew to discuss the deteriorating situation in Karbala. Later that day, Kolev and Pardew held separate talks, leading the media to speculate that Kolev asked the United States to send more troops to reinforce the Polish and Bulgarian contingents in the Karbala region.
This was the preliminary end of the government's involvement in the discussion. Saxecoburggotski did not issue any further statement regarding the future of Bulgarian involvement in Iraq. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, who was on a trip to Central Asia, indicated that the government was unwilling to change its position on Iraq or its participation among the stabilization forces.
While the situation in Iraq remained tense, Saxecoburggotski and Svinarov went on vacation. This enraged Kolev, who remarked angrily at a 13 April news conference that he had been unable to reach Svinarov since 8 April and instead had to deal with Deputy Defense Minister Ilko Dimitrov.
President Parvanov was not amused by Svinarov's absence either. He used a separate news conference on 13 April to thank Kolev and his team for their good work but neglected to mention Svinarov. He then told journalists to draw their own conclusions as to which minister failed to properly perform his duties during the recent crisis.
But Parvanov not only criticized Svinarov, he also made a number of proposals on Iraq. He said the coalition command should reconsider implementing its original plan, which called for stationing more than one battalion in Karbala. Parvanov also expressed the hope that if NATO decides to participate in stabilizing Iraq, the NATO troops could be stationed in the Polish zone of command.
Asked by journalists whether more Bulgarian troops will be sent to Iraq, Parvanov responded, "There cannot be an additional Bulgarian military presence." He added that preparations are under way to move the Bulgarian contingent out of Karbala, but only after political power has been handed over to the new Iraqi government at the end of June.
In the meantime, the coalition command should provide military and technical assistance to the Bulgarian troops, Parvanov said.
He said the command should limit the tasks of the Bulgarian contingent and improve communication among coalition forces. And he called on the parliament to discuss possible changes to the Bulgarian contingent's mandate. "I do not want to meddle in the parliament's work, but I expected the people's representatives to show a clearer engagement in what happens in Iraq," Parvanov said. He added that the debate should not result in the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, but rather a mandate that is formulated more precisely than the current one.
He also called on the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry to help prepare a new UN Security Council resolution on the UN's role in rebuilding Iraq. Most importantly, he said, the Iraqi people must be encouraged to participate in building a new Iraq, adding that the coalition command would be wrong to believe that force alone can stop the insurgencies and violence.
On the whole, opposition Socialist Party (BSP) leader Sergey Stanishev has supported Parvanov, who is Stanishev's predecessor as party chairman. But he says he does not believe it is necessary to change the Bulgarian troops' mandate. Stanishev said on 14 April that the Bulgarian troops in Iraq are not prepared for antiterrorism operations and that the functions of the contingent are clearly described as upholding order in Karbala.
At present, it seems clear that the whole of the opposition, not just the Socialists, agrees with the president on one issue: that Defense Minister Svinarov should resign because of his "unacceptable and cynical" disappearance, in Stanishev's words.
Ekaterina Mihailova of the conservative opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS) said on 14 April that none of those who bear the political responsibility for the Bulgarian troops has reacted adequately. Nor did the political leadership provide the public with information, she charged. But Mihailova also lashed out against the president for his failure to convene the Consultative Council on National Security.
For the time being, it is unclear what the government is planning, whereas the president has clearly stated what he expects of the government, the parliament, and the coalition command in Iraq. The question now is how -- or whether -- Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski and his ministers will respond. Prolonged debate about the merits of altering the Bulgarian troops' mandate or the political responsibility for any mistakes helps no one.