|Monday, 21 September 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 05-04-05
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RUSSIA, BELARUS DECLINE TO SET DATE FOR JOINT CURRENCY...President Vladimir Putin on 4 April received Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at his residence in Sochi to discuss reforming the CIS and bilateral economic and military-technical relations, Russian media reported. Speaking to journalists after their meeting, Putin said that he and Lukashenka have agreed to delay the introduction of a single currency for the two countries, RTR and ORT reported. Under the framework of the Russia-Belarus Union, the Russian ruble was to be introduced as the currency of both countries on 1 January 2005. "We have agreed not to set a particular date," Putin told journalists, "so as to avoid any erroneous statements. Today we are continuing to discuss the issue." Lukashenka thanked Russia "for its strong diplomatic and political support of Belarus" in international affairs. "Izvestiya" commented on 4 April that "a velvet revolution has cast its shadow over Belarus and Lukashenka came to Sochi looking for support from Putin." VY
 PRESIDENTIAL-ADMINISTRATION HEAD RAISES SPECTER OF STATE COLLAPSE...In an interview with "Ekspert," No.13, presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev acknowledged that the struggle among representatives of various elite groups could present a risk to the unity of the Russian Federation. "If we do not manage to consolidate the elites, Russia could vanish as a single state," Medvedev said. "Entire empires disappeared from the map when their elites lost their unifying idea and entered into deadly infighting. Consolidation of the Russian elites is possible only on the basis of one platform -- the preservation of effective government within [the Russian Federation's] existing borders." Medvedev concluded that "the collapse of the Soviet Union could be considered a show for kindergarteners in comparison with the state collapse of modern Russia. [Such a collapse] would be bad for everyone, including our neighbors near and far." JAC
 ...AND SAYS PIPELINE SHOULD STOP DEPOPULATION OF SIBERIAIn the same "Ekspert" interview, Medvedev said that a decision will be made by 1 May on the stages of the construction of a strategic oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to the Russian Pacific coast. The pipeline is planned to extend from Taishet in Irkutsk Oblast to the Far Eastern port of Provoznaya, near Nakhodka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January 2005). It will have an annual capacity of 80 million tons and should stimulate the development of the entire region, Medvedev said. He added that the project is complicated by difficult financial and infrastructural problems, as well as the deteriorating demographic situation of the region. "If the depopulation of this region is not reversed, it will become desolate or we will lose control of it," he said. Therefore, he concluded, eastward development is crucial if Russia is to remain a unitary state. VY
 EXPERT, OPPOSITION DETECT FEAR, WEAKNESS IN MEDVEDEV INTERVIEW...Asked by Ekho Moskvy on 4 April to comment on Medvedev's statement about the need to consolidate Russia's elites to preserve the country's integrity, sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya said "the authorities are scared of an 'orange' mood." "It seems to me that the authorities quite clearly and correctly feel that a mood of protest is taking hold among very different groups in society," she said. Former presidential candidate Irina Khakamada told the station that Medvedev's declaration shows that "the existing supreme powers are experiencing enormous concern, sensing that a political crisis is brewing in Russia with which they cannot cope." Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin suggested that Medvedev was "going too far by saying the country will break apart if the elites do not consolidate. Many Russian leaders pretended that the country would be lost if they did not solve their tasks. But Russia is still alive without them." JAC
 ...AS ANOTHER EXPERT VOICES SUPPORTPolitical analyst Andranik Migranyan said on 4 April that he shares Medvedev's concerns about Russia's territorial integrity and about an "unnatural and motley" anti-Putin coalition of Communists, National-Bolsheviks, liberals, oligarchs, and regional elites that could ruin the country, TV-Tsentr reported. "We all united in a coalition to overthrow [Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachev, but the Soviet Union disintegrated," Migranyan said. "Then we united in a coalition against [Russian President Boris] Yeltsin and Russia almost lost its sovereignty. If we break up Russia now, we will never reassemble it again." Migranyan said Medvedev's interview is "a very sober analysis" and added that he has written an article on the topic that was published in a new monthly called "Politikal klass," No. 3. VY
 COMMUNISTS APPLY TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON PUTIN'S REFORMS...The Communist Party has submitted an official request to the Moscow city election commission calling for a national referendum on the political, social, and economic policies of President Putin's administration, gazeta.ru reported on 4 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005). The proposed referendum contains 17 questions concerning such issues as Putin's cancellation of the direct election of regional governors and the government's controversial reform to convert most in-kind social benefits to cash payments. The Communist Party's press service issued a statement on 4 April saying that protests against the monetization reforms are continuing in many regions for the 12th week, the party's website (http://www.kprf.ru) reported. Last week, protests were held in 19 regions, including, Moscow, Novosibirsk, Voronezh, Kursk, and Kalingrad oblasts and the Republic of Udmurtia. According to the Communist Party, 1.43 million people in 78 regions have participated in protests since 9 January. VY
 ...AS HEALTH MINISTER LOOKS TO PRESIDENT FOR DECISION REGARDING HIS FATESpeaking to journalists on 4 April, Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov said the discussion of the implementation of social-benefits reforms in the State Duma scheduled for 9 April could result in his dismissal, Interfax and RTR reported. "I have already said more than once that if the problem lies in the fact that a single person is stopping the law's potential from being realized, and that person is me, then a decision about a dismissal could be made the same day that it is realized the whole thing is my fault." At the same time, Zurabov said that if an official is appointed by presidential decree, then this official's fate is up to the president. Since widespread protests over the monetization of social benefits began in January, Zurabov's fate has been the subject of much speculation. Last month, First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) suggested that the Duma will send Zurabov into "retirement" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February and 23 March 2005). JAC
 PROSECUTORS SEEK LIFE SENTENCES IN STAROVOITOVA CASE...Prosecutors in the trial of six men accused of organizing and carrying out the 1998 murder of liberal State Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova have asked the court to sentence two of the defendants to life in prison, NTV and RBK reported on 4 April. Prosecutors are seeking life terms for Yurii Kolchin, who stands accused of organizing the assassination, and for Vitalii Akishin, who is accused of actually murdering Starovoitova and of severely wounding her aide, Ruslan Linkov. Prosecutors asked for prison terms ranging from 4 1/2 years to 15 years for the other four defendants. St. Petersburg Deputy Prosecutor Aleksandr Korgunov told journalists on 4 April that he believes the prosecution has firmly established the guilt of the accused, NTV reported. Linkov said he hopes the investigation will not be closed after the current trial is finished and that the authorities will establish who ordered Starovoitova's killing, NTV reported. The investigation was overseen personally by the head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the trial was held in closed court. VY
 ...AS DEFENSE REPEATS REQUEST FOR PUTIN TO TESTIFYDefense lawyers in the Starovoitova case have repeated their demand that President Putin be called to testify at the trial, lenta.ru reported on 4 April. Putin was director of the FSB in 1998. Defense lawyers allege that Putin held a "secret conversation" with Linkov in his hospital room after Starovoitova's killing. The court denied the motion, the website reported. VY
 YUKOS OFFICIAL APPEALS MURDER CONVICTION TO SUPREME COURTGeorgii Kaganer, lawyer for former Yukos security chief Aleksei Pichugin, who was sentenced last month to 20 years' imprisonment for murder and attempted murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 25 and 30 March and 4 April 2005), has asked the Supreme Court to overturn the convictions and order a new trial, newsru.com reported on 4 April. Kaganer based his appeal on the fact that during the trial the Moscow Municipal Court dismissed a jury that in 2004 ordered the case against Pichugin dismissed and appointed a new jury. Kaganer said that if the Supreme Court does not satisfy his appeal, he will turn to the European Court of Human Rights. VY
 HUMAN RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN TO SEEK LEGISLATION GIVING HIS OFFICE MORE POWERIn an interview with "Literaturnaya gazeta," Nos. 12-13, human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin said he will seek legislation that holds state officials accountable for ignoring requests from his office. According to Lukin, currently the law does not specify any penalties for state officials who fail to respond to an ombudsman's requests. He said there have been many cases when executive-branch officials "simply ignored evidence of civil rights violations." He also suggested that regional administrations be required to take into account the federal human rights ombudsman's opinion when appointing regional ombudsmen. "Otherwise, we get situations like the one in Bashkortostan: Former Deputy Police Chief [Fathislav] Tukumbetov, who recruited officers responsible for the widespread civil rights violations in Blagoveshchensk...is now the human rights ombudsman for Bashkortostan," Lukin said. According to Lukin, more than half of the complaints his office received last year concerned the "social environment," while the rest involved violations of political and economic rights and complaints about law enforcement agencies. JAC
 PUTIN SIGNS LAW CREATING PUBLIC CHAMBERPresident Putin on 4 April signed into law legislation creating a new public institution, the Public Chamber, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. At a press conference in Sochi, Putin said the goal of the new body is to create an organ of influence for Russian citizens. The presidential bill was adopted by the State Duma on 16 March and the Federation Council on 23 March. Decisions of the new body will have the force of recommendations. The chamber will be composed of 126 members representing federal, regional, and interregional public associations, as well as nongovernmental organizations, according to RTR. The Kremlin will select one-third of the members, and civil society organizations will select a second third. These two groups together will select the final third. JAC
 SIBERIAN GOVERNOR SAYS HE'S NOT GOING UNLESS PUTIN MAKES HIMEmbattled Altai Krai Governor and former television comedian Mikhail Yevdokimov told reporters in Moscow on 2 April that he does not intend to resign even though the krai's legislature passed a no-confidence measure against him on 31 March, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005). Yevdokimov said he has only been working as head of the region for one year, and he will not ask President Putin for an expression of confidence in him until 5 April 2006, RBK reported. Meanwhile, activists from the Probuzhdenie public movement have collected 8,000 signatures in support of Yevdokimov, newsru.com reported. JAC
 INGUSHETIAN PARLIAMENT APPEALS TO PRESIDENT PUTINIngushetia's People's Assembly has written to President Putin and to presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak to stress the need to formalize Ingushetia's borders with neighboring republics, kavkazweb.net reported on 5 April, quoting regions.ru. Parliament Chairman Makhmud Sakalov explained that Ingushetia should have started on 1 March determining the internal borders of local administrative districts, but it is not possible to do so until the republic's external borders have been determined. At issue is an Ingush demand for the return to Ingushetia of Prigorodnyi Raion, which was formerly part of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR until that territorial unit was abolished in the wake of the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush to Central Asia in 1944. Since then, it has formed part of neighboring North Ossetia. The April 1991 Soviet law on the rehabilitation of oppressed peoples called for the restoration of the pre-1944 borders, but Sakalov noted that that law has not been systematically implemented. LF
 CHECHEN CLERIC CALLS FOR BAN ON WAHHABISMAddressing a 4 April conference in Grozny on religious extremism, pro-Moscow Chechen leader Alu Alkhanov criticized Chechnya's Muslim clergy for their collective failure to prevent the spread of religious extremism, Interfax reported. At the same conference, Chechnya's chief mufti Akhmad-hadji Shamaev proposed designating Wahhabism "an extremist ideology" and declaring it illegal on Chechen territory. Other, unnamed participants called on Alkhanov to issue an ordinance banning religious and political extremism which the Chechen parliament to be elected later this year would endorse as law. Taus Dzhabrailov, who is chairman of the interim Chechen legislature, advocated the creation of a federal center to combat Wahhabism, according to riadagestan.ru, as cited by kavkazweb.net on 4 April. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN PRESIDENT POSTPONES VISIT TO FRANCERobert Kocharian has postponed a 4-6 April working visit to France because of a leg injury sustained during his 1-2 April visit to Georgia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 4 April. No new date has been set for the visit, during which Kocharian planned to discuss with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac ongoing efforts to mediate a settlement of the Karabakh conflict. LF
 U.S. AMBASSADOR URGES DIALOGUE BETWEEN AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIP, OPPOSITIONIn an interview published on 4 April in the daily "Gun," U.S. Ambassador to Baku Reno Harnish listed five spheres that he termed crucial to U.S.-Azerbaijani cooperation, Turan reported. They are democratization, economic reform, the search for a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict, the functioning of the East-West energy corridor, and joint measures to combat international terrorism. He said an official invitation to President Ilham Aliyev to visit the United States is contingent on progress in all five spheres. Harnish urged dialogue between the authorities and the opposition, suggesting that the two sides sign a joint pledge to ensure that the parliamentary elections due in November are free, fair, and transparent. Opposition Musavat party leader Isa Qambar hailed that suggestion, according to the daily "Yeni Musavat" on 5 April as cited by Turan. But Ali Akhmedov, a deputy chairman of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, criticized it as interference in Azerbaijan's domestic political affairs, according to "Ayna" on 5 April, as cited by Turan. LF
 AZERBAIJANI INVESTIGATOR DENIES TURKISH REVELATION CONCERNING JOURNALIST'S MURDEREldar Medjidov, who is the senior prosecutor in charge of the investigation into the 2 March murder of opposition journalist Elmar Huseinov, denied on 4 April that Huseinov was killed by members of the criminal gang headed by former Interior Ministry senior official Hadji Mamedov, as alleged the previous day by Ramazan Er, a member of the Turkish team of experts that traveled to Baku to assist with the murder investigation, Turan reported. Medjidov further rejected as misplaced public criticism of the authorities' failure to solve the murder. LF
 THREE SENIOR AZERBAIJANI SECURITY OFFICIALS DISMISSEDDeputy National Security Minister Tofig Babaev and two senior ministry officials have been fired for their imputed failure to act on information supplied by the Prosecutor-General's Office in 2001-03 giving details of suspected criminal activities by Hadji Mamedov's gang, Turan reported on 4 April. Seven other National Security Ministry officials were reprimanded. Four senior Interior Ministry officials, including a deputy minister, were dismissed last month in connection with the detention several weeks earlier of Mamedov and his associates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 14, and 24 March 2005). LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS MEETING WITH PUTIN, BREAKAWAY LEADERS UNACCEPTABLEMikheil Saakashvili declined on 4 April to meet in Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Sergei Bagapsh and Euard Kokoity, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. Saakashvili told the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 that he has no objections to a bilateral meeting with Putin in the latter's capacity of head of state, but that such a meeting would have to be thoroughly prepared beforehand. Dmitrii Medoev, who is the permanent representative in Moscow of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, said Kokoity's readiness for talks with Saakashvili is proof of South Ossetia's desire to resolve its differences with Georgia peacefully. Also on 4 April, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba announced following talks in Moscow with Medoev and with self-proclaimed Transdniester Republic Foreign Minister Valerii Litskai that the presidents of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transdniester will probably meet in Sukhum later this month, Interfax reported. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava told Interfax on 4 April that it would be a "gross violation of the law" if participants in that planned meeting (presumably meaning Transdniestrian President Igor Smirnov) traveled to Sukhum without first applying for a Georgian visa. LF
 GEORGIAN LEADERS' POPULARITY PLUMMETSSeparate opinion polls commissioned by the Georgian leadership and by the opposition Labor Party both registered a sharp decline in the popularity of the former, Caucasus Press reported on 1 and 4 April. A poll of 1,800 respondents commissioned by the government and undertaken by the Gorbi Research Institute found that President Saakashvili's popularity rating has fallen from 63 percent in 2004 to 38.2 percent at present. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze was the second-most-popular politician, with 7.1 percent support, followed by Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili (5.4 percent) and former Communist Party of Georgia First Secretary Djumber Patiashvili (1.6 percent). Education Minister Aleksandr Lomaya's popularity has fallen in the wake of the dispute and hunger strike by medical college students (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 14, 21, and 23 March 2005), while a majority of respondents said that Tbilisi Mayor Zurab Chiaberashvili, Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, Energy Minister Niko Gelauri, and Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze are all the wrong men for their jobs. A second poll commissioned by the Labor Party revealed an even steeper decline in Saakashvili's popularity, Caucasus Press reported. Of a total 3,036 respondents, only 14.4 percent said they would vote for Saakashvili if presidential elections were held now, while 21.5 percent favored Labor leader Natelashvili. In a hypothetical parliamentary election, 21.6 percent of respondents would vote Labor and 16.1 percent for the National Movement-United Democrats alliance forged by Saakashvili and Burdjanadze. LF
 BROTHER QUESTIONS OFFICIAL VERSION OF GEORGIAN PRIME MINISTER'S DEATHGiorgi Zhvania told Rustavi-2 on 4 April that he is not convinced by the official version of the circumstances in which his brother, Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, died two months ago. Zhvania and his friend, Raul Yusupov, were found dead, apparently of carbon-monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas heater, in a Tbilisi apartment allegedly rented by Yusupov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 February 2005). But Giorgi Zhvania said the National Expertise Bureau has informed him that neither Zhvania's nor Yusupov's fingerprints were found in that apartment. Georgian parliament speaker Burdjanadze and presidential spokesman Gela Charkviani both sought to downplay Giorgi Zhvania's expressed doubts: Charkviani said that "no rational person" should call into question the findings of Georgian investigators and their colleagues from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). LF
 KAZAKH FOREIGN DEBT RISES 40 PERCENT IN 2004Kazakhstan's total foreign debt as of 1 January 2005 rose to $32 billion from $22.8 billion in early 2004, a nearly 40 percent increase, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 4 April, citing a report by the National Bank of Kazakhstan. Sovereign foreign debt rose 1.2 percent to $3.6 billion, while private-sector debt jumped from $19.3 billion to $28.6 billion. As of 1 January 2005, total external debt came to 78.6 percent of GDP. DK
 KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER BLAMES OSCE FOR KYRGYZSTAN UPHEAVALIn remarks broadcast on Khabar television on 3 April, Kazakh presidential adviser Ermukhamet Ertysbaev said the "double standards" of the OSCE played "a negative role" in what he described as recent "chaos" in Kyrgyzstan. "The OSCE gave a positive assessment to the presidential election in Afghanistan, but a negative assessment to the parliamentary election in Kyrgyzstan," Ertysbaev said. Ertysbaev also dismissed the Kazakh opposition's positive reaction to the fall of Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev as "infantilism." DK
 PETROKAZAKHSTAN DIRECTORS FACE MONOPOLY CHARGESRustam Ibraimov, deputy head of Kazakhstan's Agency for Fighting Economic Crimes and Corruption, told a press conference in Astana on 4 April that Thomas Dvorak, a U.S. citizen who is president of PetroKazakhstan, and Clayton Clift, a Canadian citizen who is the company's chief financial officer, face charges of violating Kazakhstan's antimonopoly legislation, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Ibraimov alleged the company sold oil at inflated prices. For the period from 1 July 2003 to 30 October 2003, the company owes the Kazakh budget more than 13 billion tenges ($98.4 million). According to Ibraimov, Clift is currently in Kazakhstan and has given written assurances that he will not leave the country; Dvorak is abroad, but will return to Kazakhstan to testify in late April. In a 4 April press release posted to the company's website (http://www.petrokazakhstan.com/), PetroKazakhstan stated that the price ceilings it is alleged to have violated "represent a violation of the company's rights under the privatization agreements relating to the Shymkent refinery." The company said "the initiation of criminal investigations and charges in relation to these issues is an unfortunate and unnecessary escalation in what is essentially a civil dispute." DK
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT RESIGNS EFFECTIVE 5 APRILKyrgyz President Akaev signed an official statement in the Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow on 4 April resigning the presidency effective 5 April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Omurbek Tekebaev, speaker of Kyrgyzstan's parliament, accepted Akaev's resignation letter. Akaev also recorded an 18-minute address to the people, Kabar reported. In the address, which will be made public on 5 April, he enumerated his achievements and apologized to the Kyrgyz people, RFE/RL reported. DK
 ACTING KYRGYZ PRESIDENT VOICES CAUTION ON CHANGING CONSTITUTION...Prime Minister and acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev said on 4 April that while some provisions of the Kyrgyz Constitution require revision, changing the constitution should not be a priority at present, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev said the most important issue now is to hold presidential elections on 26 June in accordance with international norms. Only after the newly elected president has formed a government should the constitution be changed, and then only with great care, Bakiev stressed. He emphasized that changes to the constitution should not be undertaken with a specific leader in mind. Constitutional Court Chairwoman Cholpon Baekova recently called for a constitutional conference to discuss changes to the basic law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2005). DK
 ...AND SIGNS RESOLUTIONS ON WORKING GROUPSBakiev signed resolutions on 4 April to create working groups to stabilize the social and political situation in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. One group, which will be headed by State Secretary Dastan Sarygulov, will examine the legitimacy of recent appointments. The other, headed by presidential-administration head Usen Sydykov, will develop a plan for conducting spring sowing. The issue of postrevolutionary appointments in particular has evoked heated disputes. For example, two rectors are vying to head Jalal-Abad University, Kabar reported on 4 April. DK
 TURKISH BUSINESSMAN ALLEGES PROPERTY SEIZURE IN KYRGYZSTANGurkan Yenice, vice president of the Turkish company Sistem Muhendislik, alleged at a press conference in Bishkek on 4 April that on 25 March a Kyrgyz company illegally took over the Pinara-Bishkek hotel, which rightfully belongs to him, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. According to Yenice, on the night of 25 March, Ruslan Sarymsakov, head of the Ak-Keme company, came to the hotel with 50 supporters and evicted Yenice. Yenice said Sarymsakov asserted that "there is a new regime in the country and the present owners must leave the hotel," Kabar reported. Yenice asserted that his company acquired the hotel legally in a 1999 deal and said he has all the necessary documents to prove it. For his part, Sarymsakov said decisions by Kyrgyzstan's parliament and Constitutional Court returned the Pinara-Bishkek hotel to him and he was merely reasserting his right to ownership, RFE/RL reported. DK
 TAJIK TELEVISION STATION LOSES LICENSEThe independent Tajik television station Somoniyon has lost its operating license, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 4 April. Barakatulloh Abulfayzov, secretary of the Licensing Commission, said the station's license expired last year, but that it was granted a three-month extension in connection with the 27 February parliamentary elections. He said the station has failed to submit the required paperwork and stressed that the loss of its license was not connected with the station's programming. But station head Ikrom Mirzoev said the station has fallen prey to political games. Independent observers queried by RFE/RL's Tajik Service noted that the station provided detailed coverage of recent parliamentary elections; they added that recent government attempts to rein in print media may now be extending to the airwaves. DK
 CSTO CHIEF SAYS ORGANIZATION COULD HAVE HELPED KYRGYZSTAN DURING RECENT UNRESTNikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO, which comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Russia), stated on 4 April in Dushanbe that Article 2 of the Collective Security Treaty, which provides a mechanism for stabilizing the situation in member states in the event of unrest or external aggression, could have been applied during recent events in Kyrgyzstan, Avesta reported. Bordyuzha met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 4 April to discuss cooperation among member states, Tajik Television reported. In reference to recent "disturbances in Bishkek," he said, "I am deeply convinced that we should have applied this mechanism," Avesta reported. "I am not talking under any circumstances about the use of military force," he added. "What happened in Kyrgyzstan is the internal affair of Kyrgyzstan's people." DK
 BEATING OF RIGHTS ACTIVIST SPARKS OUTRAGE IN UZBEKISTANThe case of human rights activist Egamnazar Shoymanov, who was abducted and beaten by unidentified individuals on 29 March, continues to spark outrage in Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 4 April. Shoymanov, who has led protests against unlawful land confiscations in Jizzakh Province, was attacked by a group that he believes had links to local authorities. On 30 March, 300 residents of Bunyodkor village expressed their anger at the attack with a violent protest, burning three cars and destroying a police post. The next day, the provincial and regional governors apologized to residents and treated them to a free meal. Shoymanov has sought refuge in Tashkent after the attack. Uzbek rights activists are demanding that the individuals who attacked Shoymanov be brought to trial. DK
 BELARUSIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS MILITARY AFFAIRS, WTO, AND COMMON CURRENCYAt the conclusion of their 4 April meeting in the Russia Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka agreed to sign an agreement on intellectual-property protection, on joint military research, and speeding up World Trade Organization (WTO) entry talks for both countries, Belapan news agency reported. Putin stressed that both countries regard air defense as a top priority. Regarding the introduction of a single currency, the two presidents seemed to disagree as to the timing of its long-awaited implementation. Putin made it clear that there will be no single currency in Belarus and Russia in the near future, saying, "We should not talk about any exact date of introducing a single currency, [but] I hope this will happen someday." Lukashenka apparently disagreed and stressed that the introduction of a single currency is a "crucial and very important matter for the Belarusian people." RK
 EU EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER BELARUSIAN PRISONERSThe European Union's Presidency, which is currently held by Luxembourg, has called on the Belarusian authorities to provide imprisoned politician Mikhail Marynich and scientist Yury Bandazhewski with necessary medical treatment, Belapan reported on 4 April. The EU statement "notes with concern the deterioration in Mr. Marynich's health and calls on the Belarus authorities to ensure that he is given the medical examinations and treatment required for his convalescence." The statement also mentions that the EU "remains convinced" that there were political reasons for Marynich's trial, and adds that the EU is "closely following the cases of other Belarusian citizens held in the country, in particular that of professor Bandazhewski, whose release it continues to request." RK
 U.S. PRESIDENT SUPPORTS UKRAINE'S ENTRY TO NATOSpeaking at a press conference in Washington on 4 April after his meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the United States supports Ukraine's bid to join NATO. According to the White House website, (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/04/20050404.html) Bush remarked : "I'm a supporter of the idea of Ukraine becoming a member of NATO. I think it's important." Bush added that he has requested Congress to provide $60 million in additional funding for Ukraine to strengthen law enforcement and the fight against corruption, and to promote a free media and civil society organizations. Bush also voiced his support for Ukraine's bid to join the World Trade Organization and to lift the Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions. Bush announced that Energy Secretary Sam Bodman will visit Ukraine to discuss cooperation in energy-related matters. The two presidents also signed a general agreement on what is being billed as a "new century of the U.S.-Ukrainian strategic partnership," according to Interfax. RK
 TWO UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIALS CONFESS TO KILLING JOURNALISTIn an interview published on 4 April on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua), President Yushchenko said that two former Interior Ministry officers have "confessed, and the first stage of the probe in the case [of the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze] is over." The two suspects have helped investigators to reconstruct the September 2000 killing and "led them to locations where it all happened." One additional suspect, Interior Ministry General Oleksiy Pukach, is still wanted and an international arrest warrant has been issued for him. Yushchenko went on to say those who ordered Gongadze's murder are now the subject of the investigation. The Interior Ministry has questioned former President Leonid Kuchma, former Ukrainian Security Service head Leonid Derkach, and speaker of parliament Yuriy Lytvyn in connection with the case and the taping of Kuchma's office by a member of his security detail, Mykola Melnychenko. RK
 MINISTER SAYS SERBIAN AUTHORITIES KNOW WHERE TOP INDICTEE IS HIDING...Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic told the "Financial Times" of 5 April that fugitive war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic is hiding in Serbia under the protection of the authorities. This is the first time that a top Belgrade official has confirmed that the Serbian authorities are helping Mladic, which other Serbian officials deny but the Hague-based tribunal, many other foreigners, and Serbian NGOs have been saying for years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 February 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 November 2004). Draskovic added that "it is only logical that the security services know where Mladic is. They know if he is in Serbia, and they know if he is not. They are paid to know. Without that kind of protection, without that kind of network, it would be impossible for Mladic to be invisible." PM
 ...AND CALLS ON THE PRIME MINISTER TO DO MORESerbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Draskovic also told the "Financial Times" of 5 April that Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica must do more to cooperate with the tribunal. "If I were the prime minister, I would call the head of state security before me and ask him where Mladic is. If he said, 'I don't know,' I would fire him then and there." Draskovic added that the security services could arrest Mladic "today, and he should have been arrested yesterday." The foreign minister has repeatedly warned his countrymen that they face international isolation if war crimes indictees remain at large (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2004). PM
 DID THE SERBIAN GENERAL GO TO THE HAGUE VOLUNTARILY...Serbian former police General Sreten Lukic arrived in The Hague on 4 April to face war crimes charges stemming from his role during the 1998-99 Kosova conflict, when he commanded the Interior Ministry's paramilitary police there, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," 4 April 2005). It remains unclear, however, whether his departure from Belgrade was purely voluntary. Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said that Lukic indeed left of his own volition. Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic and Prime Minister Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) issued similar statements. PM
 ...OR NOT?Serbian President Boris Tadic, who is a rival of Prime Minister Kostunica, said in Belgrade on 4 April that he wants an investigation into the circumstances of Lukic's departure, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The government's statement on Lukic's leaving did not praise him for making a "moral decision" to help Serbia, although similar statements marking previous voluntary departures by indictees did include such a reference, Reuters reported. Moreover, Lukic's lawyer, Sinisa Simic, told reporters that Lukic's departure came as a surprise to him. Simic said that he went to the hospital where Lukic had undergone surgery but that unnamed witnesses told him that the general had left "after talking to some people from the government." Elsewhere, the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) issued a statement criticizing Kostunica for "kidnapping" Lukic. Kostunica's position is that indictees must go to The Hague voluntarily and not be forcibly extradited. PM
 MORE ATTACKS ON MINORITIES IN SERBIAUnknown people broke the windows of the Seventh Day Adventist church building in Smederevo on 4 April, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The attackers also destroyed some gravestones and opened some graves in the nearby cemetery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February, and 23 and 25 March 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004). The incident is the latest in a series across Serbia directed primarily against ethnic and religious minorities, which began after the strong electoral showing by the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in December 2003. Some commentators have linked the latest incidents to the general elections widely expected in the course of 2005. PM
 KFOR PEACEKEEPERS REMOVE BARRICADES FROM KOSOVA'S MOST FAMOUS BRIDGEKFOR officials said in Mitrovica on 4 April that they have removed the barricades put up on the Ibar River bridge there following the March 2004 unrest, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 26 March, 2 April, and 17 December 2004). The officials said that the move is a "confidence-building" measure aimed at promoting a "return to normal life." The bridge has served as a flash point for ethnic tensions because the Ibar divides Serbian-run northern Mitrovica from the Albanian south. Many Serbs consider northern Mitrovica their last urban stronghold in Kosova, while many Albanians fear the division is a foreshadowing of an ethnically based partition of all Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003). PM
 GROWING NUMBER OF MACEDONIANS SEEK BULGARIAN CITIZENSHIPThe Macedonian NGO Most (Bridge) has announced that more than 60,000 Macedonians have applied for Bulgarian citizenship, "Dnevnik" reported on 4 April. Bulgaria grants citizenship to Macedonian citizens who can prove that they or their relatives once were Bulgarian citizens. In most cases, the Bulgarian documents of Macedonian citizens were issued during World War II, when Bulgaria occupied Macedonia. Today, Macedonians applying for Bulgarian citizenship often hope to benefit from the fact that Bulgarian citizens can travel freely to most European countries, whereas Macedonian citizens need a visa for those countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 December 2002 and 3 June 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002). Prior to the fall of communism, Yugoslavs citizens did not need visas for travel to the East or West, whereas Bulgarian citizens had to face more complicated procedures in traveling to the West. In related news, the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry announced on 4 April that it must introduce a visa requirement for citizens of Serbia and Montenegro and Macedonia when Bulgaria becomes a EU member on 1 January 2007. UB
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WINS REELECTION BY COMFORTABLE MARGIN...Incumbent President Vladimir Voronin easily won reelection to a second term on 4 April, international news agencies reported the same day. Voronin, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), received 75 votes in the 101-seat parliament, 14 more than the 61 required. Voronin's opponent Gheorghe Duca, president of the Moldovan Academy of Sciences, won a single vote. The PCM put Duca on the ballot to meet a legal requirement that there be a challenger. Voronin will be inaugurated for his second term on 7 April, after which he must nominate a prime minister. Press speculation has focused largely on outgoing Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev and Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan as top candidates. BW
 ...VOWS TO MOVE MOLDOVA INTO EUROPEAfter winning reelection, President Voronin vowed to move forward with his program of steering Moldova out of Russia's orbit and into European institutions, international news agencies reported. "It is our obligation to fulfil all those things we talked about in the election campaign," Reuters quoted him as saying. "It is our obligation to make our country the way we want to see it. So that our country will be able to sit at the table of the European Union as an equal in all respects." Prior to the vote, Voronin denounced the presence of 1,200 Russian troops in the separatist province of Transdniester. "It is important for Russia to withdraw its military contingent and the remaining weapons," Reuters quoted him as saying. "But they must not be replaced by people in uniform from other countries. Any military presence is an anachronism," he added. BW
 MOLDOVAN CHRISTIAN DEMOCRAT DEFENDS DECISION TO BACK VORONIN...Iurie Rosca, leader of the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), said his party's decision to vote in the 4 April presidential election was made out of concern for national interests, BASA reported the same day. Rosca, who had pledged a number of times to boycott the vote, said his party decided to back Voronin after consulting political allies in Romania, Georgia, Ukraine, the United States, and the European Union "This is a difficult, risky, and very responsible decision for us," Rosca said. "Old hostilities between us will remain in the past for the sake of a national consensus and for the European future of Moldova," he added. BW
 ...AS DEMOCRATIC MOLDOVA BLOC SUFFERS MORE DEFECTIONSOnly one parliamentary faction, the Our Moldova Alliance, boycotted the presidential election, BASA reported on 4 April. The faction was formed from lawmakers elected from the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD), but has suffered defections since parliament convened (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 25, and 31 March 2005). Dumitru Diacov, chairman of the Democratic Party, which broke from the BMD, cited the "top interests of the country at a moment of maximum responsibility" as reasons for supporting Voronin. Oleg Serebrian, whose Social Liberal Party also defected from the BMD, said the decision was "a consequence of the need to maintain stability, compromise, and the orientation of Moldova toward the European Union." Prior to the 4 April vote, Serebrian and two other members of his Social Liberal Party declared themselves independents. Serafim Urechean, leader of the rump BMD faction Our Moldova Alliance, said he was disappointed over the "decision of traitors who voted for Voronin." BW
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN DEVELOPMENT FORUM OPENS IN KABUL...President Hamid Karzai on 4 April opened the three-day Afghan Development Forum 2005, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. In January 2002, the Afghan government agreed to meet with donors ever year to review Afghanistan's development priorities, and two forums were held in 2003 and 2004 (http://www.adf.gov.af). Karzai said that Afghanistan needs a "more aggressive agenda for economic growth," and a two-sphere economic agenda, focusing on infrastructure rebuilding and development of human and institutional capacities. Afghanistan has made significant progress in the field of security, human rights, politics, education, infrastructure, and health care, as well as economy, Karzai said, but he added that problems still remain in terms of human development indicators, which remain among the worst in the world (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 March 2005). AT
 ...AS TAJIKISTAN CONCENTRATES ON NARCOTICS...Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov addressed the forum in Kabul on 4 April, saying that counternarcotics was the main agenda for the meeting, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to Nazarov, terrorism and drugs in Afghanistan are causing concern in the region and trafficking of illegal drugs from Afghanistan via Tajikistan has increased greatly. Nazarov's Afghan counterpart, Abdullah Abdullah, said that the drug problem is not only an Afghan problem and he contradicted Nazarov by saying that narcotics production has decreased in 2005. While the UN has issued a report indicating a downward trend in the cultivation of opium poppies in some Afghan provinces in 2005, the level of production of opium and heroin is unlikely change until the decrease in cultivation becomes sustainable (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 4 April 2005). AT
 ...WHILE CHINA PLEDGES TO SUPPORT AFGHANISTANChinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told the forum on 4 April that his country will support Afghanistan in what he called its "crucial juncture, moving from chaos to order," Xinhua news agency reported. According to Li, there are four key factors for Afghanistan's reconstruction, namely a stable domestic environment, a fully functioning state structure, stable regional cooperation, and the continuation of international assistance. China is delivering on its $150 million pledge to Afghanistan, Li pointed out. This was the first trip by Li to Afghanistan. AT
 AFGHAN DEFENSE OFFICIAL RULES OUT RESURGENCE OF MILITANCYDefense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi on 3 April dismissed current reports that the neo-Taliban and their allies are threatening Afghanistan's security, Radio Afghanistan reported. According to Azimi, a closer examination of the current activities by the "enemy" illustrates that such activities are "purely for show." The small-scale acts of subversion by the enemy notwithstanding, they are not in any position to pose a serious threat to the security of Afghanistan, Azimi claimed. Attacks mostly attributed and often claimed by the neo-Taliban have increased noticeably in southern and eastern Afghanistan recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2005). AT
 CHIEF JUSTICE ASKS U.S. PRESIDENT TO KEEP AFGHAN ENVOYAfghanistan's top judge, Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, has written an open letter to President George W. Bush requesting him not to transfer current U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad to Iraq before the parliamentary polls in Afghanistan scheduled for September, AFP reported on 4 April. Khalilzad is "needed more than ever" in his native land, Shinwari wrote to Bush. Reports have circulated about the transfer of the Afghanistan-born Khalilzad to Baghdad, though neither he nor the White House have commented on the issue. "No one else can work as he has been doing or has done in the past," Shinwari wrote about Khalilzad. There are unconfirmed reports that President Karzai made a similar request to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Kabul in March. AT
 IRANIAN LEGISLATURE TO INVESTIGATE FATAL SOCCER RIOTSpeaker of parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said on 4 April that the legislature's Culture Committee should investigate the fatal events following a Tehran soccer match two weeks earlier, IRNA reported. Five people were trampled to death and about 40 others were injured after a World Cup qualifying match between Iran and Japan at the Azadi Stadium on 25 March ("RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 March 2005). Talesh parliamentary representative Bahman Mohammadyari said during the 4 April session that security officers prevented spectators from leaving the stadium and used water cannons against them, IRNA reported. Radio Farda reported on 4 April that a commission has been selected to investigate these events, but it has not issued a report yet. It is not clear who ordered the closure of exit doors to Iranian fans, whereas the doors for Japanese fans remained open. The brother of one of the injured spectators said fans began leaving around the 80th minute of the match, Radio Farda reported, but the doors remained closed. But an official from the Physical Training Organization insisted that all the doors were open. BS
 FILMMAKER WANTS TO BE IRAN'S PRESIDENTKarim Atashi, who manages the Honar-i Haftom movie studio and who has made some 50 films, said on 3 April that he intends to run in the 17 June presidential election, Mehr News Agency reported on 4 April. BS
 DATE SET FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES' REGISTRATION IN IRANMujtaba Reshad, head of the Presidential Election Headquarters, said on 3 April that registration of prospective presidential candidates will begin on 10 May and continue for five days, "Iran Daily" reported on 4 April. The Interior Ministry will forward this information to the Guardians Council, which will screen the applications until 24 May. Individuals whose candidacy is accepted can campaign from 27 May until 24 hours before election day -- 17 June. By-elections for 10 seats in parliament will take place on 17 June as well. Prospective candidates can register from 10-17 April. BS
 IRANIAN MILITARY CANDIDATE COULD REASSERT REVOLUTIONARY VALUESPolice commander Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf's plan to be a candidate in the presidential election indicates the militarization of the political process, several articles in the 4 April issue of "Eqbal" newspaper suggest. Qalibaf is reportedly backed by younger conservatives associated with the Islamic Iran Developers Council (Etelaf-i Abadgaran-i Iran-i Islami) and the Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami). Another candidate with military ties is former Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Mohsen Rezai. "Eqbal" reports that military forces back Ali Larijani. The Baztab website reported on 17 March that a clerical official in the IRGC has a high position in the Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, which backs Larijani. Reformist politician Mustafa Tajzadeh writes in "Eqbal" that if Larijani or Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad win the election, a militarized administration will emerge and it will try to reassert the revolutionary and religious values that existed in the early years of the revolution. Tajzadeh compared this to prewar Germany and the Nazi Party's actions. BS
 IRAN AND ALGERIA SIGN AGREEMENTMinister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani and Algerian Interior Minister Yazid Zerhoumi signed a memorandum of understanding on bilateral cooperation on 4 April, IRNA reported. Shamkhani arrived in Algeria on 2 April for a three-day visit. Shamkhani met with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia, and parliamentary speaker Abdelkader Bensalah. BS
 IRANIAN LEADERS VISIT AUSTRIAPresident Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami met with Austria's President Heinz Fischer and Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel during a 4 April visit to Vienna, IRNA reported, while Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with his counterpart, Ursula Plassnik. The two sides discussed bilateral ties, commercial issues, and events in the Middle East. The nuclear issue appeared to be a major topic, too. Khatami said at a joint press conference with Fischer, "Nobody in the world wants to have weapons of mass destruction, and Iran does not want to have such weapons, but we need to use nuclear power for electrification, and therefore we ask the whole world and the European Union to help us keep those power plants," Reuters reported. At the meeting with Schuessel, he said Iran is trying to allay concern over Iranian nuclear activities through cooperation with the EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Kharrazi told Plassnik, "We are having very good cooperation with the [IAEA]," IRNA reported. BS
 TWO CAR BOMBS ROCK IRAQI CAPITAL, POLICE COMMANDER KIDNAPPEDA suicide car bomber targeted an Iraqi Army checkpoint in the Al-Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad on 5 April, while a second attack by a bomb-laden taxi in the Al-Dawrah area of the city targeted a U.S. convoy, international media reported. Three Iraqis were killed in the attacks and nine others wounded, according to Al-Jazeera. The satellite news channel also reported the kidnapping of Brigadier General Jalal Muhammad Salih in the upscale Mansur area of the capital. Salih commands the Interior Ministry's 8th Mechanized Armor Division. An unknown number of Salih's bodyguards were also kidnapped in the incident. Meanwhile, Reuters cited a U.S. military statement as saying that U.S.-backed Iraqi forces battled dozens of insurgents east of Baghdad on 4 April. "Two battalions from the Iraqi Army had been conducting an independent cordon and search operation in eastern Diyala Province. The mission to search for weapons cache sites in the area uncovered dozens of terrorists and a firefight ensued," the statement said. Further details have not been released. KR
 ABU GHURAYB PRISON TARGETED IN SECOND ATTACKA suicide bomber on 2 April drove toward Abu Ghurayb Prison in a tractor and detonated the vehicle just outside the prison's gates in the second attack on the prison in some 48 hours, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2005). Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated organization claimed responsibility for the first attack, as did the Mujahedin Army in Iraq, who called the incident a "coordinated attack" carried out by al-Zarqawi's group, the Mujahedin Army, the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, in a statement posted on albasrah.net. Interior Ministry officials said on 4 April that the two attacks might have been prompted by a letter that was circulated in Sunni mosques in recent days. The letter, purportedly written by a female detainee, says she was raped and dishonored by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghurayb and begs insurgents to attack the prison, nytimes.com reported on 5 April. Meanwhile, U.S. military officials said a small riot broke out at Camp Bucca, south of Baghdad on 1 April, nytimes.com reported on 5 April. Prison officials last week discovered two tunnels -- one 182 meters long -- dug by prisoners at the camp in an apparent effort to escape. KR
 IRAQI HUMAN RIGHTS MINISTER LOOKS INTO ALLEGATIONS OF PRISONER ABUSEBakhtiyar Amin said his ministry is investigating allegations of prisoner abuse in the making of the Al-Iraqiyah television show "Terrorism In The Grip Of Justice," Reuters reported on 4 April. The show, which airs almost nightly, shows detained prisoners confessing to terrorism-related crimes before an interrogator whose face is not shown (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 1 March 2005). "Individuals have raised concerns after seeing verbal abuse of suspects, as well as bruises on their bodies and that sort of thing," Amin told Reuters. "We are looking at all these TV shows right now and we are studying them from a human rights point of view. Things should be done in accordance with human rights standards and principles, and we are going to make sure that those norms are respected." Concerns have been raised by family members of detainees, who have claimed that their relatives were falsely accused; questions have also been raised about the possibility of coerced confessions. KR
 KURDISH LEADER SENDS CONDOLENCES ON DEATH OF POPENechirvan Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party-led Kurdistan Regional Government, sent messages of condolence to Vatican Secretary of State Angelo Sodono and Iraqi Archbishop Fernando Feloni over the 2 April death of Pope John Paul II, Kurdistan Satellite television reported on 4 April. The message said the pope "offered a great intellectual service to the world. He endeavored to bring together the Islamic and Christian world, to bring together the different religions and cultures.... We pray for God to bless him and to compensate us with another person who will follow his lead on forgiveness and contribute to cooperation among peoples in order to realize freedom, development, and welfare." KR
 FORMER YUGOSLAVIA AND POPE JOHN PAUL IIBy Patrick Moore
It was only natural that the first Slavic pope attracted particular attention in a country whose name translates as "Land of the South Slavs." He was warmly greeted by Croats, Bosnian Muslims, Slovenes, and Albanians on his visits to the region, but he never fully overcame deeply rooted mistrust by the Orthodox toward him as head of the Roman Catholic Church.
News of the death of Pope John Paul II on 2 April brought a stream of condolences and laudatory messages the following day from across former Yugoslavia. Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in Zagreb that the pope was "a proven friend of Croatia and the Croatian people, and an advocate of our right to freedom and independence and our integration with the European family of peoples," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "We will cherish forever his visits to Croatia. The messages he left during those visits as a religious leader and statesman have been and will remain a permanent landmark on our path of development," Mesic added.
Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said that the pope was not only the head of the Roman Catholic Church but also "the leading moral authority in today's world."
The pope visited Croatia in 1994, 1998, and 2003. He stressed the same points as he did on his trips to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovenia, and Albania -- namely, the need for forgiveness, reconciliation, spiritual renewal, the protection of life, and promotion of peace. About 87 percent of Croatia's 4.5 million people are at least nominally Roman Catholic, while about 1.3 percent are of Islamic heritage.
The head of the Islamic Community in eastern Croatia's Osijek-Baranja County, Imam Enes Poljic, said on 3 April that "the world has lost its greatest moral authority, the man who worked with great sincerity and dedication to building ties between all religions and religious communities. The Muslims in Osijek had prayed that his suffering be eased and we know that all of us are walking the same path toward the same end."
Mark Sopi, who is the Roman Catholic bishop of Kosova, said in Prishtina on 3 April that the pope had shown great interest in solving Kosova's problems and urged dialogue. Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova said that "the news on the death of the holy father, a great pope who dedicated his life to peace, freedom, and mutual understanding, has deeply saddened me." He also called the pope "a great friend, a father who prayed much for Kosova. We should pay credit to him for the freedom, independence and democracy of Kosova."
Most Kosovar Albanians are Muslims, but there is an influential Roman Catholic minority. Relations between those two religious groups are generally good, partly because most Muslim Kosovar Albanians are aware that their own ancestors were most likely Roman Catholic before converting to Islam under Ottoman rule.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, who is the first cardinal in Bosnia's history, said in Sarajevo on 3 April that Pope John Paul served as a bridge between religious faiths. "We can rightfully say that he was a great pope, certainly the man of the century and the man who led the church from one millennium into another," he added.
Borislav Paravac, who is the Serbian member of the Bosnian Presidency and its current chairman, called the pope a true friend of Bosnia and the entire world.
Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia's Islamic Community, said that "Pope John Paul II's departure from this world leaves a huge void. It will be difficult to find such a moral figure." The Sarajevo daily "Oslobodjenje" noted that on his 1997 visit to Bosnia, the pope said that "one should be able to ask forgiveness and to forgive."
The pope also visited Bosnia in 2003, when Serbian Orthodox officials gave him a chilly reception in the Republika Srpska. Bosnia's 4 million people are estimated to be about 40 percent Muslim, 31 percent Serbian Orthodox, and 15 percent Roman Catholic.
In Belgrade, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle sent a message on 3 April in his name and that of the church to the Roman Catholic clergy and believers, in which he wrote that he shares their grief and hopes that the soul of the pope may rest in peace. Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica also extended their condolences.
Serbia and Montenegro is one of the few countries that the pope was unable to visit during his reign, reportedly due to the opposition of the Serbian Orthodox Church. About 65 percent of the country's 10.8 million people are Orthodox, while only 4 percent are Roman Catholic, mainly in Vojvodina and Montenegro's Kotor Bay region.
The problem in the pope's relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church and many of former Yugoslavia's Orthodox believers stems from the fact that the area is at a crossroads where Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Islam come together. Interconfessional relations have ebbed and flowed over time but in recent years have seen little of the interfaith dialogue that has characterized relations between religious groups in many Western countries.
Most important, perhaps, is that nationalists of all hues manipulated and exploited religious passions and senses of grievance for their own ends during the wars of the 1990s. Those conflicts -- for which most observers hold former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his supporters chiefly responsible -- were about land, money, and power. Unscrupulous leaders nonetheless had little difficulty in masking their aims by appealing to simple people for their support on religious grounds, particularly with stories about the real or imagined destruction of religious buildings. Serbian propaganda, moreover, stressed that the breakup of Yugoslavia was part of a plot engineered by Germany, Austria -- and the Vatican.
Pope John Paul distanced himself from extremist positions, as did many other religious leaders in the region, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Franjo Kuharic of Croatia, who died in 2002. Kuharic even strained his relations with President Franjo Tudjman by firmly opposing the 1993-94 Croatian-Muslim conflict in Bosnia, which Tudjman privately backed as a prelude to partitioning that neighboring country. In recent years, in the Bosnian town of Bugojno, the local Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim clerics have taken the lead in brining their peoples together. When the Serbian Orthodox priest leaves a community meeting early, he gives his proxy vote to the Muslim imam to cast for him, not to one of the Serbian lay leaders.
But the wars have generally left a climate of mutual mistrust among the religious communities, none of which is far removed from nationalist political groups. This situation also affected the pope's relations with the Orthodox and seems to be the chief reason why the visit to Serbia and Montenegro he hoped for never materialized.
His visit to the Republika Srpska in 2003 highlighted the problem. He paid a brief visit to Banja Luka on 22 June to beatify Ivan Merz, Bosnia's first beatified layman. Speaking to a crowd of over 50,000, the pope called for reconciliation, adding that "from this city, marked in the course of history by so much suffering and bloodshed, I ask almighty God to have mercy on the sins committed against humanity, human dignity, and freedom, also by the children of the [Roman] Catholic Church, and to foster in all the desire for mutual forgiveness. Only in a climate of true reconciliation will the memory of so many innocent victims and their sacrifice not be in vain." His remarks alluded primarily to killings of Orthodox Serbs by pro-Axis Croats during World War II as well as to the ethnic cleansing of Croats and Muslims by Serbs during the 1992-95 conflict.
But even though police quickly took down posters reading "Pope go home," "Vatican experts agreed that this was one of the coolest welcomes" the pope received anywhere, Deutsche Welle noted. No officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church -- except Bishop Jefrem of Banja Luka -- welcomed him, although he had sent a message to Patriarch Pavle.
From the onset of his papacy in 1978, the Polish-born pontiff stressed the reconciliation of eastern and western Christians as "two lungs breathing in the same body." In 1979, one of his first foreign trips as pope took him to Istanbul to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. But aside from the Romanian Orthodox Church, many of the Orthodox regarded him with suspicion and gave him a chilly welcome on his visits to Greece and Ukraine.