PUTIN CALLS ON RUSSIANS TO INVIGORATE ECONOMY, 'GOLDEN RUBLE'
President Vladimir Putin highlighted serious troubles that Russia has faced during the past year in his annual state of the nation address to a joint session of the Russian parliament on 16 May, Russian and international media reported. He defined the greatest problems as the unsatisfactory economic situation in the country and Russian businesses' pervasive inability to compete on a global level. Russia faces "serious threats" due to the inconsistency of its political and economic system and acute competition within the world economy, he said, according to strana.ru. He said the country has managed to dismantle serious obstacles in recent years, adding that the time has come to take "the next step." In an hour-long speech that Reuters international news agency called "the first shots in his bid for re-election" next March, Putin called on Russians to work together "to double the country's GDP" in the next 10 years and "restore the golden ruble." He said full convertibility of the ruble is desirable not only in domestic transactions, but also in international financial operations. "Our principal task should be the return of Russia to the ranks of rich, developed, strong, and respected countries. But this return will only be possible when Russia becomes strong economically, when it is no longer dependent on crumbs from international financial organizations," he said, according to RFE/RL. VY
SUPREME COURT REVERSES BAN ON HEADSCARVES IN OFFICIAL PHOTOS...
Muslim women in Russia will be allowed to wear headscarves in photographs taken for official documents following a ruling issued by the Supreme Court's appellate chamber on 15 May, Russian media reported. An Interior Ministry directive bans the practice, but 10 Muslim women from Tatarstan charged that the ban violates their constitutional right to freedom of conscience. In March, the Supreme Court rejected their lawsuit on the grounds that Russia is a secular state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 March 2003). But the appellate chamber ruled that "citizens whose religious convictions do not permit them to appear before strangers without head attire may present a passport photograph with head attire." The Interior Ministry had argued that women cannot be identified using photos in which they wear scarves over their heads and necks. LB
...BUT RULING MIGHT NOT SETTLE DISPUTE
The head of the Interior Ministry's passport and visa department announced on 15 May that the ministry will appeal to the Supreme Court presidium, "Izvestiya" reported on 16 May. But even if that chamber rules against the Interior Ministry, the matter might not be resolved. "Izvestiya" reported that the constitution allows the rights of citizens to be limited, but only in accordance with federal laws. An Interior Ministry directive was at issue in the case, while a presidential decree regulates passport matters generally. "Izvestiya" noted that the State Duma might amend a federal law to require citizens to appear bareheaded in passport photos. Muslim women could challenge the constitutionality of such a prohibition, but they would have to do so in the Constitutional Court. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction in cases charging that actions taken by state officials are unconstitutional, but the Constitutional Court has jurisdiction in cases charging that a federal law violates the constitution. LB
CULTURE MINISTER SEEKS COMPROMISE ON HISTORIC MOSCOW HOTEL
Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi on 15 May expressed the hope that a compromise can be found to preserve at least part of the Hotel Moskva, which was built in the 1930s, RIA-Novosti reported. Moscow city authorities are determined to begin tearing down the hotel in September so that a five-star hotel can be built in its place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). Shvydkoi suggested that the new building could maintain the silhouette of the historic hotel because "the outline of this building is not only a part of the Moscow landscape but represents a unique monument to Soviet life, having absorbed the joys and the fears of that time." LB
GOVERNMENT VOWS 'TOUGH MEASURES' TO COMBAT SARS
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced at the 15 May cabinet session that his government is ready to take "tough measures" to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) from China to Russia, ORT reported the same day. The government approved the closure of 31 of 52 checkpoints on Russia's border with China and Mongolia, and voted to allocate 52 million rubles ($1.7 million) for federal medical centers to monitor SARS. "The situation is not acute but potentially dangerous, but the government is in control [of the situation and will] provide the necessary protection of the population and territory," Kasyanov said. Speaking at the same government meeting on 15 May, Deputy Health Minister and head of the State Health Inspectorate Gennadii Onishchenko said quarantines will affect not only the border with China but also regular flights between Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Irkutsk and China; the Moscow-to-Beijing express rail line, and dozens of shipping routes between Chinese and Russian ports. VY
U.S. SAYS IRAQI DEBT TO MOSCOW WILL BE RESPECTED...
In a 15 May interview with Ekho Moskvy during a visit to Moscow, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said the new Iraqi government will fully respect its financial obligations toward the Russian Federation. He said Iraq has some $100 billion-$120 billion in foreign debt, $8 billion of which is owed to Russia. He added that repayment will likely be restructured or otherwise delayed, however. Powell said he did not discuss the Iraqi debt during his meeting with President Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov on 14 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003), but was satisfied with progress in other areas. VY
...AS RUSSIAN DIPLOMAT INSISTS ON LEADING UN ROLE IN IRAQ
Andrei Granovskii, who heads the Foreign Ministry's department for relations with international organizations, said Moscow believes the United Nations should play either a leading role in Iraq or none at all, strana.ru reported on 15 May. In a reference to the U.S.-led coalition's postwar plans for Iraq, Granovskii rejected any compromises under which the UN would play a subordinate role to occupying forces. He left the door open to backing for a variant similar to that employed in Afghanistan, in which occupying forces are responsible for the broader situation while special UN bodies work on specific issues, according to strana.ru. He also said occupying forces should be withdrawn as soon as possible and replaced by UN peacekeeping troops, preferably from Islamic states. Granovskii effectively accused the United States of shirking its responsibilities in postwar Iraq, adding, "[Reconstruction] must be done not on American conditions but on the UN principles of noninterference in the internal affairs of other states." VY
TROITSK MAYOR SLAIN
Vadim Naidenov, mayor of the city of Troitsk in Moscow Oblast, was gunned down at his home by two assailants on 15 May, Russian news agencies reported. Interior Ministry sources immediately linked the killing to Naidenov's activities as mayor, particularly his tough stance against drug traffickers, according to RTR. Naidenov is the third local official to be slain in the Moskovskya Oblast in the last 13 months following the deaths of Ozerskii Raion administration head Petr Zabrodin and the deputy head of the Podolskii Raion, Vladislav Sashchkhin, RTR reported. VY
COMMITTEE HEAD PREDICTS DUMA WILL BACK CHECHNYA AMNESTY
Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of the Duma's legislation committee, said the lower chamber will support an amnesty for Chechen fighters submitted this week by President Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003), RIA-Novosti and RTR reported on 15 May. Krasheninnikov said he hopes the amnesty bill is adopted in May so there is no major gap between its introduction and its passage -- which would foster crime in the interim, according to Krasheninnikov. Krasheninnikov said the amnesty would cover crimes committed by Russian troops in the conflict, in addition to wrongdoing by Chechen fighters. The proposed amnesty would be the fifth involving Chechnya in the last 10 years, TV-Tsentr noted on 15 May, suggesting there has been little to show from the first four. VY
ARMENIA TO EXPAND COOPERATION WITH NATO
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson held talks in Yerevan on 14-15 May with President Robert Kocharian, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Groong cited Mediamax and Armenian Public Television as reporting. Robertson praised Armenia's decision to host the Cooperative Best Effort international maneuvers next month and Kocharian's affirmation that Armenia will intensify its cooperation with NATO within the parameters of the Partnership for Peace program. He added that there are no grounds for saying that Armenia lags behind Georgia and Azerbaijan in terms of its interaction with NATO. Robertson also commented that he does not perceive any "competition" in the South Caucasus between NATO and the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB), Noyan Tapan reported. He said he thinks the ODKB will contribute to security in the region. LF
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL VISITS AZERBAIJAN...
Secretary-General Robertson arrived in Baku from Yerevan on 15 May and met with Prime Minister Artur Rasizade and parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov and inaugurated a NATO-sponsored Internet project that will give Azerbaijani experts access to European databases, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. Robertson expressed NATO's pleasure at Azerbaijan's recent statement of intention to seek NATO membership, but warned that the country is unlikely to join the alliance before 2007, at the earliest. He pointed out that Azerbaijan will be one of the first CIS states to implement an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO, Interfax reported. He also said NATO has no plans to establish military bases in Azerbaijan. As in a newspaper article published two days earlier, Robertson said NATO will not assume a leading role in mediating a solution to the Karabakh conflict, and he warned that it is important that the presidential elections due in October be free, fair, and democratic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). LF
...AS AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT RATIFIES DEFENSE-INDUSTRY COOPERATION AGREEMENT WITH RUSSIA
The Milli Mejlis voted on 15 May to ratify a bilateral agreement with Russia on cooperation between the two countries' defense industries, Turan reported. The agreement was signed in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2003). Government official Sabir Alekperov told parliament deputies that Azerbaijan's six defense-industry plants manufactured products worth 89 billion manats ($18.8 million) last year. He said the agreement with Russia opens the way to contracts worth some $25-30 million. But opposition deputy Masis Safarli argued against ratifying the agreement on the grounds that "Russia is Armenia's military ally." LF
IS RUSSIA BEHIND DELAY IN SENDING AZERBAIJANI PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ?
Citing unidentified "diplomatic sources," zerkalo.az on 16 May reported that Russia is exerting "massive diplomatic pressure" on the Azerbaijani leadership to abandon the planned dispatch to Iraq of a 150-man peacekeeping force. The Azerbaijani parliament approved the deployment on 7 May and the force was scheduled to leave Azerbaijan on 12 May, but Interfax on 12 May quoted an unidentified Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman as saying the deployment has been postponed indefinitely "for organizational reasons" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 13 May 2003). Azerbaijan's Ambassador to the United States Hafiz Pashaev and U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson said on 14 and 15 May, respectively, that the Azerbaijani peacekeepers will arrive in Iraq by the end of May. LF
SON PREDICTS AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT WILL RESUME WORK IN TWO-THREE WEEKS
President Heidar Aliev's son Ilham told journalists in Baku on 15 May that his father will return to work in two or three weeks, Turan reported. Ilham Aliev said the normal convalescence period for a cracked rib is five to six weeks. Aliev reportedly cracked one rib when he collapsed on 21 April during a televised address. However, during his hospitalization in Ankara from 3-10 May he was treated for an unspecified kidney ailment, Reuters quoted Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer as saying on 11 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). At a meeting in Baku on 15 May, leaders of the political parties aligned in the Opposition Coordinating Center addressed a request to parliament to arrange for a group of independent medical experts to examine President Aliev and make their diagnosis public, zerkalo.az reported on 16 May. LF
TEACHERS IN AZERBAIJAN TO RECEIVE 50 PERCENT PAY RAISE
President Aliev signed a decree on 15 May on raising salaries for the estimated 320,000 employees in the education sector by 50 percent as of 1 June, Turan and Interfax reported. Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov said a total of 400 billion manats ($84 million) has been earmarked to increase the salaries of employees in the public sector, including medical workers. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT OSCE REPRESENTATION ON ELECTION COMMISSIONS
In a 15 May interview with the independent television station Rustavi-2, President Eduard Shevardnadze said he sees no need to include representatives from the OSCE and other international organizations in election commissions, Caucasus Press reported. Some opposition parties who objected to the present draft election bill, under which the president would name nine of the 11 members of the Central Election Commission, proposed international representation on the commission in order to preclude falsification of the outcome of the ballot. Shevardnadze also said Georgia made the correct decision in affirming its support for the U.S. military operation in Iraq. But he warned that it is "naive" to expect that, in return, the United States will send troops to help Georgia restore its control over the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia. Shevardnadze also divulged that he considers several "erudite and well-educated" individuals possible candidates to succeed him as president when his second and final term expires on April 2005, but he declined to name the individuals in question. LF
GEORGIAN GUERRILLA KILLED IN ABKHAZIA
Abkhaz National Security Service head Givi Agrba announced on 16 May that Abesalom Arkania, whom he identified as one of the leaders of the Georgian guerrilla formation White Legion, was killed in an exchange of fire with Abkhaz special forces in Gali Raion the previous day, Caucasus Press reported. But Georgian sources claim Arkania was taken hostage by the Abkhaz and then executed in retaliation for the 4 May shooting of Abkhaz customs official Ruslan Khashba in the village of Tagiloni. Those sources say Arkania's body was found on 15 May in the village of Chuburkhindji, where Georgian and Abkhaz officials and members of the Russian peacekeeping force and the UN Observer Mission in Georgia meet every Thursday to discuss the situation in the Abkhaz conflict zone. LF
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE IN KAZAKH GOVERNMENT DEFERRED
A joint session of both houses of parliament on 16 May decided to defer a vote of confidence in the government until 19 May, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakh Prime Minister Imanghaliy Tasmagambetov called for the vote, which would be the third faced by a Kazakh government since independence. Tasmagambetov called for the vote as a means of forcing the adoption of the government's controversial Land Code, which would introduce private ownership of agricultural land in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003). BB
KAZAKH PARLIAMENT VOTES DOWN REFERENDUM ON LAND CODE
A proposal from several parliamentary deputies that the Kazakh government's Land Code be put to a national referendum was voted down at the 16 May joint parliamentary session, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The proposal read to the session by Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin was signed by Abdildin, Patriots' Party leader Gani Kasymov, and Tolen Tokhtasynov, the head of the political council of the Democratic Choice coalition. All are opposition members of the legislature. The deputies' proposal included not only the holding of a referendum, but that it should be scheduled in the fall to allow time for adequate public discussion of the Land Code and its implications. The opposition opposes the code as it is written, saying it favors the wealthy. BB
KAZAKHSTAN CRIMINALIZES HUMAN TRAFFICKING
The Mazhilis on 15 May approved additions to the country's Criminal Code that specify punishments for trafficking in human beings for purposes of sexual or other forms of exploitation, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Deputy Justice Minister Irak Elekeev told journalists the adoption of the legislation added a legally defined crime to the Criminal Code -- namely, the exportation of people from Kazakhstan or human trafficking. He said the action was necessary because existing laws do not cover the trafficking of people from other countries via Kazakhstan for purposes of sexual or other forms of exploitation. Elekeev said the additions approved by the Mazhilis impose sentences of up to four years' imprisonment for human trafficking. The authorities intend to use the legislation to stop transnational groups that recruit people for sexual purposes, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. There is already some legislation on the books in Kazakhstan dealing with illegal migration, deprivation of freedom, the abduction and sale of human beings, and recruitment for purposes of prostitution. Human trafficking has become a growing problem in Central Asia in recent years, and international organizations have encouraged the countries of the region to take more active measures to combat it. BB
JUSTICE OFFICIAL SAYS DRUGS BECOMING SECURITY THREAT IN KAZAKHSTAN
Deputy Justice Minister Murat Raev told the Kazakh Senate on 15 May that drugs are becoming a threat to the country's national security, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. He appeared before the Senate to ask for revisions in the country's Administrative-Procedural Code that would clearly set out the responsibilities of school administrators and teachers in an effort to prevent drug dealing and use among students. Raev said 40 percent of the drug users in Kazakhstan are students at secondary schools and institutions of higher education. Over the previous 10 days, law enforcement officials confiscated more than 47 kilograms of marijuana from students at discos, nightclubs, and on campuses throughout the country, according to Raev. Earlier in the week, Kazakh law enforcement bodies launched their annual campaign to eradicate illegal opium-poppy crops and wild cannabis. Increases in the number of drug addicts in Kazakhstan are attributed largely to the flow of illegal drugs from Afghanistan. BB
FOUR ARRESTED FOLLOWING ATTACK ON KYRGYZ POLICE OFFICES
Four of 10 people who attacked the Djalal-Abad Oblast and city law enforcement offices on the morning of 15 May have been arrested, akipress.org reported. Interfax reported there were eight attackers. The group reportedly stole at least 30 weapons and beat up police officers. Some of the stolen weapons were recovered from the four detainees, according to akipress.org. The official news agency Kabar reported that the four men arrested were residents of the nearby Suzak Raion of Djalal-Abad Oblast. All are reportedly in their early 20s. Kabar reported that the men said they took the weapons to equip themselves for a life of crime. No evidence has been found to link the gang to any terrorist organization. One of the gang members is a former police officer, akipress.org reported, citing the Djalal-Abad governor's press secretary. In response to the attack on the police offices in Djalal-Abad, Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 15 May ordered the authorities in all the Uzbek oblasts in the Ferghana Valley to take additional security measures. The text of his order was published on the CentralAsiaNews.net website. BB
GAZPROM TO DEVELOP TAJIK GAS FIELDS
The Russian natural-gas major Gazprom signed a 25-year cooperation agreement in Dushanbe on 15 May under which the company undertakes to explore and develop gas fields in Tajikistan, Interfax reported. According to the report, Tajikistan is estimated to possess gas reserves of 1 trillion cubic meters. The Rangon gas field, 20 kilometers west of Dushanbe, is estimated to hold 30 billion cubic meters. Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller was quoted as telling journalists that his firm hopes to sign a contract in June to start seismic exploration of the field. Tajikistan currently has to import most of the gas it uses. The country produced 24 million cubic meters in 2002 and obtained 485 million cubic meters from Uzbekistan. Developing its own energy resources is very high on the Tajik leadership's list of pressing needs. BB
AFGHAN CONSULATE OPENS IN TAJIK PROVINCE...
An Afghan consulate was formally opened on 14 May in Khorog, the capital of Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast (GBAO), Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 16 May. An agreement on opening the consulate was signed late last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 November 2002), and the consulate has been functioning since early February. Speaking at the opening ceremony, Afghanistan's Ambassador to Tajikistan Muhammed Dovud Panjsheri noted the "invaluable" contribution made by Tajikistan's President Imomali Rakhmonov to establishing "peace and accord" in Afghanistan, as well as the help provided by the GBAO in improving the humanitarian situation in Afghanistan. LF
...AS TAJIK BORDER TROOPS DISCOVER HUGE ARMS CACHE
Tajik Border Troops discovered the largest-ever cache of weapons found in the country on the evening of 13 May in the Qumsagir District on the Tajik-Afghan border, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 15 May. The weaponry included 83 artillery shells, 1,240 rounds of ammunition for machine guns, seven hand-held antitank grenades, 600 mortar shells, and 68,493 rounds of ammunition. Border Guard Press Service spokesman Abdusattor Gulahmad said the materiel was probably hidden during the 1992-97 civil war. LF
TAJIKISTAN, FRANCE DISCUSS ECONOMIC COOPERATION
President Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 15 May with visiting French Minister of Overseas Trade Francois Loos to discuss the prospects for expanding bilateral economic cooperation and French investment in the Tajik economy, Asia Plus-Blitz and Russian news agencies reported. The talks focused specifically on the hydroelectric-power sector, tourism, developing mineral resources, and the possibility of French participation in modernizing the Tajik Aluminum Plant, which is equipped with French-manufactured technology. Loos said that the World Bank is currently considering that modernization project. LF
TURKMEN FARMERS EXEMPT FROM TAXES UNTIL 2010
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has told the Cabinet of Ministers that the country needs new legislation on agriculture because the existing laws are outdated, turkmenistan.ru reported on 15 May. Niyazov noted that the legislation currently in force was adopted in 1990, prior to the country's independence, and announced that a new Land Code will be prepared for the August session of the Halk Maslahaty (People's Assembly). He also announced that farmers will not have to pay taxes until 2010, and that they will be allowed to farm up to three hectares of land on long-term leases. Leasing of land for agricultural purposes has been permitted on a small scale in Turkmenistan for a number of years, but the choice of parcels to be leased was left up to the managers of individual state-owned farms. Lessees complained that they were assigned some of the least productive parcels. Niyazov was quoted as telling the cabinet that he believes that there is enough good agricultural land in the country for future needs, but more should be developed. He set harvest targets of 2.5 million tons of grain and 2 million tons of cotton in 2003. BB
TURKMEN AIRLINES CUTS FLIGHTS TO MOSCOW AND TASHKENT
Turkmenistan's national airline has suspended its Tuesday and Thursday flights to Moscow and its weekly flight to Tashkent, Interfax reported on 15 May. Turkmen Air previously flew from Ashgabat to Moscow on a daily basis. No Russian airline serves the Turkmen capital. The reason given for reducing the number of flights to Moscow was the number of unsold tickets. It should be noted that although available evidence indicates that many people with Russian passports want to leave Turkmenistan, the new requirement that holders of dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship as well as Turkmen citizens obtain exit visas in order to depart has sharply reduced the number of airline customers. The authorities can take a month to process a request for an exit visa and are allowed to refuse a request without explanation, making advance purchase of an air ticket a risky business. BB
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT EXPLAINS BASIS FOR STATE IDEOLOGY...
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told students of the Belarusian State Arts Academy on 15 May that culture is the foundation of state ideology, Belarusian Television reported. "Our society needs ideology because we are a young state that [recently] gained independence for the first time after many centuries," Lukashenka noted. He urged students and professors of the academy to adapt themselves to market conditions, warning them that the state will support only "talented" artists and the art that is needed by the people. "Everyone says, 'You owe us money,'" Lukashenka said. "I don't owe anything to anybody. It is you who owe something to the state and to me, as a representative of this state. If you have anything to give to our state, I'll pay you." JM
...AS HIS MINISTER INSTRUCTS RECTORS ON IDEOLOGICAL WORK
Education Minister Pyotr Bryhadzin chaired a seminar in Hrodna on 14-15 May at which he instructed university rectors on how to organize "ideological work" at their institutions, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to Bryhadzin, the task of state-run universities is to bring up students who are loyal to the state policy pursued by President Lukashenka. Bryhadzin suggested reestablishing the Soviet-era system of ideological instructors, with each supervising a certain number of students. Bryhadzin also urged universities to make appropriate changes to curricula and adjust university research so as to reflect the course of state ideology. JM
TWO BELARUSIAN YOUTHS JAILED FOR PROTESTING 1995 REFERENDUM
A district court sentenced Ales Tarasevich and Zmitser Dashkevich of the opposition Youth Front on 14 May to 10 and three days in jail, respectively, for staging an unauthorized protest earlier the same day in Minsk against the 1995 referendum, Belapan reported. The 14 May 1995 referendum approved the replacement of the state symbols of independent Belarus -- the white-red-white flag and the Pahonya national emblem -- by Soviet-style symbols and granted Russian the status of a state language in Belarus. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT DECLARES 1932-33 FAMINE 'AN ACT OF GENOCIDE'
The Verkhovna Rada adopted a resolution on 15 May declaring that the catastrophic famine in Ukraine in 1932-33, which claimed lives of millions of Ukrainians (see "RFE/RL Poland Belarus, and Ukraine," 12 June 2002), was "an act of genocide" and "a terrorist act of the political system of Stalinism" against the Ukrainian people, UNIAN reported. The resolution was supported by 226 lawmakers (the minimum required for its adoption) of the 410 attending the session. The resolution followed a hearing on the famine held by the parliament the previous day. Lawmakers of the Communist Party left the session hall before the hearing took place on 14 May. JM
UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS RATIFY EUROPEAN CHARTER FOR REGIONAL LANGUAGES...
The Verkhovna Rada ratified with 249 votes on 15 May the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 3 December 2002), UNIAN reported. Lawmakers had ratified the charter in December 1999, but that vote was subsequently ruled unconstitutional for procedural reasons. The charter, aimed at protecting historical regional and minority languages in Europe, will be applicable to the languages of the following national minorities in Ukraine: Belarusians, Bulgarians, Crimean Tatars, Gagauz, Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Jews, Moldovans, Poles, Romanians, Russians, and Slovaks. JM
...BUT FAIL TO REAPPOINT OMBUDSWOMAN
Also on 15 May, the Verkhovna Rada failed to re-elect Nina Karpachova as the country's ombudswoman, Interfax reported. Karpachova, who was the only candidate for the post, was supported by 208 deputies. Parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said new candidates will be proposed for a future vote. JM
ESTONIAN CENTRISTS SEEK TO SPEED UP PROCESSING OF CITIZENSHIP APPLICATIONS
Four deputies from the opposition Center Party presented a bill to parliament on 15 May that, if adopted, would speed up the processing applications for citizenship, BNS reported. They noted that there are about 170,000 stateless persons currently living in Estonia and that the problem was frequently brought up during the country's negotiations on EU membership. Under current laws, an applicant must have lived in Estonia with a permanent residence permit for at least five years, and would have to live in the country for an additional year before receiving citizenship. The bill would retain the five-year requirement, but shorten the one-year requirement to six months. A similar bill was presented to the previous parliament, and, although the cabinets led by Prime Ministers Mart Laar and Siim Kallas supported it, its passage was delayed and finally dropped due to parliamentary elections. It seems likely that the new bill will be approved, because Population Minister Paul-Eerik Rummo of the Reform Party said people who wish to commit themselves to Estonia should be treated benevolently and no obstacles should be placed in their way. In addition, the coalition agreement of the ruling alliance contains a clause aimed at reducing the number of stateless persons by removing bureaucratic barriers. SG
PORTUGUESE PRESIDENT CALLS FOR GREATER COOPERATION WITH LATVIA
Jorge Sampaio told the Portuguese-Latvian business forum held at the Riga Stock Exchange on 14 May that economic relations between the two countries should expand, considering Latvia's future membership of the European Union, BNS reported. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told Sampaio the same day that their countries have a lot in common politically, as both endured long periods of dictatorship. Prime Minister Einars Repse noted that their countries also share similar views on the future of Europe and on the need to maintain close trans-Atlantic ties. Before departing to Lithuania on 15 May, Sampaio told students at the Stockholm Graduate School of Economics in Riga that Latvia is making the right decision in seeking EU membership. SG
COURT VINDICATES FORMER LITHUANIAN PREMIER OF KGB COLLABORATION
The Vilnius County Court ruled on 15 May that there is no convincing evidence that Kazimiera Prunskiene, Lithuania's prime minister from 1990-91, collaborated with the KGB, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The court thus overturned a 14 September 1992 court ruling that affirmed that Prunskiene had worked for the KGB under the code name "Satrija." The Vilnius court was unable to trace the origin of the main piece of evidence, a written pledge by Prunskiene to work for the KGB. Prunskiene asked for a repeal of the 1992 ruling in September 2002, arguing that the alleged pledge was a forgery and that the original was not in the case documents nor in any archive. After the trial began, Balys Gajauskas, the former chairman of a parliament commission investigating the activities of the KGB, presented the original document and explained that he had received it from parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis. The court failed to determine the origins of the document. SG
POLISH ACADEMICIAN CONFESSES COMMUNIST-ERA SPYING
Professor Jan Strelau, a deputy head of the Polish Academy of Sciences, admitted in a lustration statement published in the government's official gazette, "Monitor Polski," this week that he collaborated with Poland's communist-era secret service, PAP reported on 16 May. The 1997 lustration law obliges a wide range of people in senior public posts in Poland to publish statements on whether or not they collaborated with the secret services of the Polish People's Republic in 1944-89. The law stipulates that those found to be concealing such collaboration will be punished with a 10-year ban on holding any public post. The law does not prescribe punishment for those who disclose such collaboration. JM
DUAL RESIGNATIONS SHAKE UP CZECH INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY
Czech Security Information Service (BIS) Director Jiri Ruzek and National Security Office (NBU) head Tomas Kadlec submitted their resignations on 15 May amid persistent reports that suggest a bitter rivalry was negatively affecting both civilian intelligence services, CTK and international news agencies reported. Government spokeswoman Anna Starkova said Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla "has taken note" of the resignations and the cabinet will take the relevant action. The two were public rivals of sorts, with differences stemming in large part from disagreement over their respective offices' jurisdictions. Local media reported last week that Ruzek and Kadlec were near dismissal, as political sources claimed their enmity created problems for the functioning of the BIS and the NBU. Moreover, Ruzek's dismissal was reportedly being demanded by several cabinet ministers following allegations that BIS agents monitored the activities of Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). Representatives of the senior opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) described the conflict between Ruzek and Kadlec as reflecting a disagreement between Spidla and Gross, who were said to be their respective protectors. Both Spidla and Gross declined to comment on the resignations. MS
CZECH STATE LOSES $355 MILLION APPEAL IN TV ROW...
The Czech government lost its final appeal in a four-year row over TV Nova on 15 May and must pay roughly $355 million by next week to Ronald Lauder's Central European Media Enterprises (CME), dpa reported. A Stockholm court banned further appeals while upholding an international tribunal's March ruling that the Czech Republic violated CME's rights as a foreign investor in the country's most successful television station. Critics have long contended that the Czech Radio and Television Broadcasting Council and government officials stood idly by while TV Nova's director, Senator Vladimir Zelezny, flouted contractual obligations while steadily undermining CME's investment. MS
...AND GOVERNMENT NOTES 'ENORMOUS COST' TO TAXPAYERS, IDENTIFIES CULPRITS
Prime Minister Spidla told the Chamber of Deputies on 15 May that the tribunal's decision is "the most difficult ruling a [Czech] premier has ever had to announce" because of its "enormous costs" to the taxpayers, according to dpa. He said the amount "represents...three times the annual budget of the Environment Ministry or the [entire] annual budget of the Health Ministry." Spidla said the main culprit is the broadcasting council, which "not only did not defend [state interests], but in fact actively assisted" in the debacle, according to "Lidove noviny" of 16 May. Finance Minister Bohuslav Sobotka on 14 May called Zelezny the "moral culprit" in the affair, the same paper noted. Shareholders dismissed Zelezny from his post as director of TV Nova on 14 May, although his ownership ties to the station and possible future role there remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003). MS
CZECH PREMIER ASKS PRESIDENT TO GET OUT THE VOTE FOR EU REFERENDUM
Premier Spidla told the lower house on 15 May that he has asked President Vaclav Klaus -- a devout Euro-skeptic -- to appeal to citizens to vote in the referendum on EU accession scheduled for 13-14 June, CTK reported. Spidla said he considers a high turnout important and is therefore appealing to prominent personalities to get out the vote. He said it is the duty of every top state official to encourage citizens to actively participate in a decision-making process that will influence their future. MS
SLOVAKS GO TO POLLS IN EU REFERENDUM
Voting in Slovakia's referendum on EU accession began on 16 May and was expected to continue until noon the following day, international news agencies reported. Official results are expected by 18 May. At least 50 percent of eligible voters must cast their ballots for the plebiscite to be declared valid. Opinion polls have consistently suggested that more than three-quarters of voters back accession, while fewer than 10 percent oppose it, but low turnout could annul the effort. While the referendum is not binding and parliament may still vote on accession, Premier Mikulas Dzurinda said such a move would be unacceptable from a political point of view (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). MS
SLOVAK NBC UNIT TO LEAVE PERSIAN GULF AT END OF MAY
The Slovak anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) unit stationed in the Persian Gulf is to return home at the end of this month, CTK and Reuters reported on 15 May, citing Defense Minister Ivan Simko. Simko said the roughly 70-strong NBC unit is likely to be replaced by engineering troops that will be deployed in Iraq by midsummer, but details have not yet been worked out. Simko said the engineering troops' mission will be to help repair the effects of conflicts in Iraq during the past two decades, according to CTK. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT PROMULGATES 'THREE STRIKES' LEGISLATION
President Rudolf Schuster signed into law on 15 May amendments to the Penal Code approved by the parliament last month and prescribing tough sentences for repeat offenders, among other things, TASR reported. The amendments include a "three strikes" approach to sentencing under which individuals convicted for violent or drug-related crimes receive life sentences after their third offenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). MS
SLOVAK TELEVISION REQUESTS STATE BAILOUT
Slovak Television has asked the Finance Ministry to defray the public broadcaster's 2002 and 2003 losses and cover the costs of a severance-pay package for hundreds of employees who will be laid off at the end May, TASR reported. Under new management, the debt-ridden station is asking for nearly 1 billion crowns ($24 million), promising that the package will settle all its financial problems and that it will mark the last such request. In a press release, Slovak Television's management vows that the institution will seek no budget subsidies in the future and will be financed solely through license rights and advertising fees. MS
HUNGARY'S BUDGET DEFICIT DWARFS FORECASTS
Hungary's state budget deficit reached a record level in the first four months of the year, rising above 400 billion forints ($1.8 billion), a figure that represents 48 percent of the planned deficit for the entire year, the MTI news agency reported on 15 May. The central budget deficit comprised 51.5 billion forints of the total amount, while the social-security deficit was 68.2 billion forints. The Finance Ministry remains committed to its view that the budget deficit at the end of December will represent just 4.5-4.6 percent of GDP, Istvan Varfalvi, deputy state secretary at the Finance Ministry told the news agency. Most analysts can no longer see that happening, but the ministry insists the coming months will bring a significant influx of funds to the state budget, primarily from value-added-tax, income-tax, and privatization revenues. MSZ
U.S. TO RALLY BALKAN SUPPORT FOR EXTRADITION-IMMUNITY PACTS
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz began a four-day European trip on 16 May aimed in part at encouraging Bosnia and Macedonia to sign bilateral extradition-immunity agreements with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the BBC's Serbian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 15 May 2003). He will also meet with U.S. SFOR peacekeepers in Tuzla, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service noted. Other stations on his journey are Kosova, Romania, and France. An unnamed Macedonian government official told dpa on 15 May that Washington has warned Macedonia, as it has Bosnia and Croatia, that failure to conclude an agreement by 1 July could lead to a cutoff of U.S. military aid. The official added that the parliament must approve any extradition-immunity agreement. Alexis Brouhns, the EU's chief representative in Skopje, said on 16 May, "Macedonia will become a member of the EU, and...should not sign a deal with [the United States] which would exclude American citizens [from] prosecution by the ICC." PM
SLOVENIA BACKS EU LINE AGAINST EXTRADITION-IMMUNITY AGREEMENTS
Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Ljubljana on 15 May that his government will adhere to EU policy and not sign an extradition-immunity agreement with the United States, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 15 May 2003). U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia Johnny Young said on Slovenian Television that he hopes the government will nonetheless eventually conclude such an agreement. PM
MACEDONIAN GENERAL STAFF PLAYS DOWN IMPORTANCE OF INCIDENTS
During a 15 May briefing on security issues and the ongoing army reform, members of the General Staff told President Boris Trajkovski, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski, and Interior Minister Hari Kostov that sporadic violent incidents will not endanger the overall stable security situation, dpa reported. However, the situation in the former crisis regions in western and northern Macedonia remains fragile, and the security forces will use "all constitutional means" to maintain peace, the generals added. According to the General Staff, there is no reason to extend the EU military mission after the end of its current six-month term, "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March and 17 April 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 November 2002 and 17 January 2003). The meeting took place in preparation for a North Atlantic Council meeting scheduled for 19 May in Brussels, which Buckovski and Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva will attend. UB
MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN TEENAGERS DEMAND BETTER SCHOOLS
Some 5,000 ethnic Albanian high-school students demonstrated in Kumanovo on 16 May to protest what they say is the inferior quality of their school buildings compared to those of ethnic Macedonians, dpa reported. The protest followed the students' unsuccessful attempt to return to the school building they left during the unrest in 2001. The Education Ministry promised to resolve the matter before the start of the fall semester. The news agency noted that unnamed "international human rights groups" have charged that unnamed nationalist groups have previously exploited student protests for their own ends. PM
INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SLAMS KOSOVA PARLIAMENT'S RESOLUTION
Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told the BBC on 15 May that a resolution passed earlier that day by the parliament is divisive and a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1244 on Kosova. The resolution declares the 1998-99 conflict in Kosova to have been a "liberation war of the people of Kosova for freedom and independence." The text adds that the "NATO war, led by the [United States, was]...a war against the violence and genocide of the Serbian authorities." Steiner said he has spoken to senior officials of NATO, the EU, and the OSCE, who told him that Kosova's elected representatives will not be invited to several upcoming meetings sponsored by those three organizations. Legislators belonging to the Serbian Povratak (Return) coalition walked out of the parliamentary vote. Oliver Ivanovic, who is a member of the parliament's Presidency, said the resolution is a clear message to Serbian refugees that they are not welcome to return to Kosova. He stressed that a "dialogue" is the only way to improve the situation in the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003). PM
SERBIAN POP STAR BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE
Svetlana Raznatovic "Ceca" began a hunger strike in prison on 15 May to protest what she called persecution by the Serbian authorities, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003). She stressed that the authorities have filed false charges against her in an effort to "settle accounts" with her late husband, Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan." PM
ROMANIA SAYS IT FOILED IRAQ-SPONSORED TERRORIST ATTACK ON EVE OF WAR
Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) Director Radu Timofte on 15 May said that prior to the outbreak of war in Iraq, the SRI foiled an Iraqi plan to launch terrorist attacks against Western and Israeli targets in Romania, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. A statement released by the SRI said the alleged plan was to be carried out with AG-7 grenade launchers provided to terrorists by a member of the Iraqi Embassy in Bucharest who was allegedly the head of Iraqi spying operations in Romania. Following the discovery of the plot, Romania expelled 10 Iraqi diplomats and 31 other Iraqi citizens who were living in Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 12 March 2003). The SRI said it cooperated with foreign intelligence services in foiling the plot and that documents discovered at Iraq's espionage headquarters in Baghdad after the war fully confirmed the existence of the plan. Israeli Ambassador to Romania Sandu Mazur said on Romanian Radio that the Israeli Embassy had been aware of the plot and that cooperation with the SRI was excellent. MS
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT HINTS AT GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLE
President Ion Iliescu, speaking on Romanian Television on 15 May, said it is time for Premier Adrian Nastase's cabinet to evaluate its performance now that it is halfway through its mandate. Iliescu said he has not discussed a possible governmental reshuffle with Nastase or cabinet members because it is up to the government to evaluate its own efficiency. "There is need for fresh air in the government," he added. Romanian media have reported that the cabinet discussed a possible reshuffle at a meeting held last weekend in Snagov, in the vicinity of Bucharest. The government has denied those reports. One of the main targets of such a reshuffle would likely be Health Minister Daniela Bartos, who has been harshly criticized for her performance. Iliescu hinted that the replacement of the health minister might be in the works when he said the problems posed by the failed reform of the health system should be discussed by a national conference involving all of the institutions affected. MS
CASE AGAINST FORMER ROMANIAN TRANSPORTATION MINISTERS SENT TO ANTICORRUPTION OFFICE
Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu on 15 May decided that the ongoing investigation against three former transportation ministers should be carried out by the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA), Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003). Traian Basescu, who currently serves as the mayor of Bucharest and chairman of the Democratic Party, Aurel Novac, and Paul Teodoru are accused of abuse of office for allegedly illegally selling ships from Romania's commercial fleet when they served as transportation ministers in 1990-94. President Iliescu said after receiving the recommendations of a special commission that investigated the case that he believes further investigations should be carried out not by the PNA, but by the Prosecutor-General's Office. Basescu has repeatedly said the investigation is politically motivated. MS
MOLDOVA TAKES OVER CHAIRMANSHIP OF COUNCIL OF EUROPE'S COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS
Moldovan Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau on 15 May formally took over the rotating chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, international news agencies reported. Moldova will hold the chairmanship until November 2003. In an interview broadcast by state-owned media, President Vladimir Voronin said the same day that taking over the chairmanship was the culmination of "a real battle" pitting two camps in Moldova, Infotag reported. He said one side "worked day and night to prepare Moldova for this mission, reduce other countries' mistrust [in Moldova], and make Council of Europe members perceive the Moldovan chairmanship as a well-deserved status." The other, he said, apparently alluding primarily to the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic, sought to portray Moldova as an anti-European enclave that is devoid of democracy, where human rights are violated, and people live "in an atmosphere of fear of repression." Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev expressed his pleasure in the failure of "those pseudo-patriots" who, he said, did their utmost to prevent Moldova from taking over the council's chairmanship. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ATTACKS CHISINAU MAYORALTY
President Voronin said on 15 May that in the local elections scheduled for 25 May he will vote against the current Chisinau municipal leadership headed by Mayor Serafim Urechean, Infotag reported. "Chisinau is the capital of a state, not a private shop," Voronin said. "The city is disintegrating before everyone's eyes.... Not a single public construction -- theater, museum, or library -- has been built here over the past seven years. The most disgusting thing is that [Chisinau] citizens are being brainwashed to believe that this is a normal, modern city." He said the Moldovan capital has long been "in need of a real master, not a politician and a lord dispensing alms on holidays.... This is precisely why...I shall vote against Serafim Urechean." MS
'FLUX' JOURNALISTS SAY MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IS TRYING TO PRESSURE THEM
Following the 15 May raid of the offices of the daily "Flux," its journalists issued a statement saying the raid by Service of Security and Information (SIS) personnel constituted an attempt by President Voronin to intimidate them, "Flux" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003). They said that the officer in charge of the raid sought the real identity of a journalist published in "Flux " on 20 April under the pseudonym Ion Manole. The article the journalist wrote alleged the involvement of former Lebanese Honorary Consul to Moldova Mahmud Hamud in arms smuggling from Moldova on behalf of the terrorist Hizballah organization. The journalists said the real reason for the raid was intimidation, and that it was an attempt to uncover the daily's information sources. They said if the SIS wants to learn more about Hamud's alleged dealings, all it has to do is question former SIS Director Valeriu Pasat, whose October 2001 report to parliament stated that Hamud had links to Hizballah. MS
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT TRANSFERS AUTHORITY FOR INVESTIGATION OF MONEY LAUNDERING
Parliament on 15 May invested the Center for Combating Economic Crime and Corruption with the authority to investigate money-laundering cases, Infotag reported. Such cases were previously investigated by a special department in the Prosecutor-General's Office. The lawmakers decided that the center is better manned for this purpose, as the Prosecutor-General's Office lacks staffers who specialize in such investigations. The Prosecutor-General's Office will retain its prerogative to initiate legal proceedings upon the center's request. MS
U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE THANKS BULGARIA...
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Sofia on 15 May and met with President Georgi Parvanov, Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski, and Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, novinite.com reported. At a joint news conference with Saxecoburggotski, Powell thanked Bulgaria for its support for the U.S. policy on Iraq. "I want to publicly thank the government of Bulgaria and the people of Bulgaria for their courageous stand," RFE/RL's Sofia bureau quoted Powell as saying. "As [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush told [Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski] in the Oval Office recently: 'We don't forget our friends.'" Powell also lauded the role Bulgaria, a nonpermanent member of the UN Security Council, played in the effort to disarm deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and in the war against terrorism. "Bulgaria has supported these efforts at the Security Council in New York and on the ground in Afghanistan," Powell said. "In fact, Bulgaria proved itself willing to send its sons and daughters to this effort -- the most profound commitment that a country can make." Powell also attended ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Bulgaria. UB
...AND PLEDGES U.S. SUPPORT FOR BULGARIAN NATO MEMBERSHIP, REFORM EFFORTS
Commenting on Bulgaria's future NATO membership, Powell said that "Bulgaria, despite its relatively small size, is playing a big role in the trans-Atlantic alliance," RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. "I think that is recognized by the unanimous vote that came out of the United States Senate for the accession protocol that will move Bulgaria closer to full NATO membership." Powell stressed that "Bulgaria's NATO membership will formalize what is already a very close relationship and, in fact, [is] a de facto alliance with the United States." He said the United States will "support Bulgaria's commitment to fight corruption, to reform its legal system, and to promote economic growth -- all key steps for prospective NATO members." During his meeting with President Parvanov, Powell said Bulgaria should undertake measures to curb the illegal export of arms and dual-use goods and to protect classified information, according to the president's official website (http://www.president.bg). UB
BULGARIAN CHIEF OF STAFF BULLISH ON SENDING ARMY INSTRUCTORS TO AFGHANISTAN
Speaking upon his return from a meeting of the NATO Military Committee in Brussels on 15 May, Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev said in Sofia, "It is almost a certainty that Bulgaria will respond positively to [NATO's] request to participate with instructors in building the new Afghan army," bnn reported. UB
HAS PUTIN'S CHECHEN WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY CLOSED?
Over the past week, two suicide bombings in Chechnya have killed over 70 people; a third such attack was reportedly thwarted by the arrest of a female suicide-bomber in Grozny on 8 May. Salambek Maigov, who is Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy to the Russian Federation, told grani.ru on 14 May that the bombings are a response to the Russian leadership's failure to deliver on any of the promises it made in the run-up to and in the wake of the 23 March referendum on a new Chechen constitution and election laws. But that argument fails to account for a similar truck bombing that destroyed the Chechen government building in Grozny in late December, and for which radical field commander Shamil Basaev later claimed responsibility. It is equally possible that the suicide bombings mark a new phase of the Chechen war in which terrorist attacks against representatives of the pro-Russian Chechen administration will supercede classical guerrilla operations against the Russian military.
The October 2002 Moscow-theater hostage taking by young Chechen militants prompted warnings by a second Maskhadov envoy, Akhmed Zakaev, and other observers that radical Chechen fighters might increasingly resort to terrorist attacks on targets in Russia; Zakaev did not exclude the possibility of such an attack on a Russian nuclear-power plant. But instead, the three bombings to date have been directed at members of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration -- although in the case of the Znamenskoe bombing on 12 May, many of the casualties were innocent inhabitants of neighboring high-rise apartment blocks. And the apparent target on 14 May was none other than Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov himself, who escaped unscathed on this occasion as in half a dozen previous attempts on his life. Kadyrov blamed both the recent attacks in Chechnya on Maskhadov -- despite the fact that Maskhadov has categorically forbidden fighters under his command to risk the lives of Chechen civilians.
The car bombs in Grozny and Znamenskoe raise the same question as did the hostage taking in Moscow: How did the perpetrators manage to penetrate what should have been tight security? Some Russian and Western analysts affirmed last year that the Moscow hostage takers could not have reached the Theater na Dubrovke without the knowledge, and possibly the connivance, of individual members of Russian security or intelligence services. And Kadyrov similarly stated on 14 May: "We have the right to know why the rebels succeed in gaining access to key facilities and blowing them up despite the presence of federal forces.... It is also necessary to establish who is responsible for the fact that militants have managed to transport tons of explosives...and drive without hindrance to police buildings and FSB [Federal Security Service] and administrative offices." The ease with which the bombers in Grozny and Znamenskoe managed to reach their targets, in conjunction with Basaev's claim of responsibility for the Grozny bombing and the similarity between that assault and the one in Znamenskoe, again raises the question whether Basaev was acting in complicity with Russian intelligence.
Whatever the identity and motivation of the perpetrators of the recent Chechen bombings, they might have jeopardized one of the initiatives by which President Vladimir Putin hoped to demonstrate Moscow's readiness for leniency -- namely, the proposed amnesty for Chechen fighters who voluntarily lay down their arms. Putin submitted the draft amnesty legislation to the Russian State Duma just hours before the Znamenskoe bombing on 12 May, and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 14 May quoted Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev as hinting that in the wake of the Znamenskoe attack, deputies are less likely to approve the bill.
Russian commentators differ in their assessments of the likely impact of the bombings. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies on 13 May as predicting that they will undercut popular support for "terrorist groups" among the Chechen population, and that the Russian leadership should take advantage of that circumstance. That interpretation ignores, however, the bitterness and enmity engendered among the Chechen civilian population by the continuing practice of abducting, torturing, and murdering anyone suspected of sympathizing with the Chechen opposition forces. (In his pre-referendum address to the Chechen people, Putin acknowledged that "we must create a situation in which the residents of Chechnya will be able to stop living in fear, stop fearing a knock on the door at night and stop hiding from so-called mop-up operations.")
Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov argued that "everything that is happening in Chechnya is working against the president, against the authorities." As he has done repeatedly in the past, Nemtsov insisted that the only way to resolve the Chechen crisis is to embark on talks with Maskhadov and other field commanders who would then be allowed to participate in elections for a new Chechen leadership.
An anonymous commentary posted on 13 May on politcom.ru similarly argued that negotiations with Maskhadov are essential. It further opined that Putin's policy toward Chechnya suggests he is living in a "virtual world."
The gloomiest prognosis, however, was that of former Interior Ministry General Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's deputy to the State Duma. Aslakhanov said he had hoped that the situation in Chechnya would improve following the referendum, but "nothing has changed," and "hopes that the situation will normalize...are diminishing with every passing day."
ANOTHER MASS GRAVE SAID TO HAVE BEEN UNEARTHED NEAR IRAQI BORDER WITH SAUDI ARABIA...
A mass grave containing more than 1,000 bodies was uncovered near the southern Iraqi town of Al-Shinafiyah on 14 May, KurdSat Television reported the following day, citing eyewitness accounts compiled by journalist Muhammad al-Badri. The victims' clothes indicate that they were of Kurdish origin, al-Badri added. His claim has not been independently confirmed. Al-Badri told KurdSat that he and another reporter, accompanied by a committee representing the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), went to a desert area approximately 30 kilometers outside Al-Shinafiyah, near the Iraqi border with Saudi Arabia: "There, we found a circular burial pit with a diameter of 100 meters [and] long furrows [that] had been excavated, and bodies were piled up on top of each [other] in a random way," al-Badri said. "There are two other mass graves 3 kilometers away from the first. They said that the other two graves may contain more than 10,000 bodies," al-Badri noted. KR
...AS VILLAGERS REPORTEDLY RECOUNT EXECUTIONS
According to villagers quoted by al-Badri in the KurdSat interview on 15 May, the massacre took place in 1988. An unnamed local told the journalist that the Iraqi military transported victims to the site over a 20-day period. Another reported witness, Ra'id Abd al-Husayn al-Muhanna, said he saw soldiers executing Iraqis at the site and watched the soldiers build the mound over the grave, where they installed monitoring equipment to observe people's movements around the area. Al-Muhanna said military vehicles with Al-Ta'mim license plates and civilian vehicles with Al-Sulaymaniyah plates arrived at the site during this period. Both governorates are located in Kurdish-dominated northern Iraq. Al-Muhanna added that the victims' mouths were stuffed with cotton and pieces of plastic in an apparent attempt to prevent them from shouting or crying. They were then shot and thrown into the furrows in batches, al-Muhanna said. KR
U.S. FORCES DETAIN SIX KURDISH FIGHTERS
U.S. forces have reportedly detained six Kurdish peshmerga fighters for refusing to surrender their arms, MENA reported on 15 May. The fighters, from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), were arrested on the road from Dahuk to Mosul. U.S. troops reportedly swooped in aboard two helicopters to make the arrest. According to MENA, U.S. forces have issued a warning to both the KDP and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan's (PUK) peshmerga forces, promising swift action against those who disobey U.S. orders. KR
U.S. REVISES DRAFT RESOLUTION ON IRAQ
The United States presented a revised version of its draft resolution that calls for a lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq to the Security Council on 15 May, international media reported. AP reported on 16 May that the revised draft includes some 25 changes to the original version, which was presented by the United States, United Kingdom, and Spain to the Security Council on 9 May. According to a 15 May report by Reuters, the revised draft resolution calls for a lifting of all sanctions against Iraq except the arms embargo, and for oil revenues to be deposited into a development fund for reconstruction and humanitarian needs that would be held by the Iraqi Central Bank and audited regularly. The "Authority" -- the United States and United Kingdom -- would disburse money from the fund in consultation with the Iraqi interim authority. Iraqi oil revenues allotted to a compensation fund for Kuwait, set up at the end of the 1991 Gulf War, would be reduced from 25 percent to just 5 percent, and the oil-for-food program would be phased out over a four-month period. The draft also requests "multilateral" support for a resolution of Iraq's debt and requests that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appoint a special coordinator for Iraq to liaise with the "Authority" and UN and international humanitarian agencies. It calls for the United States and United Kingdom to run the country for a period of one year, with the possibility of extending that period. KR
IRANIAN STATE BROADCASTING REJECTS LEGISLATIVE INVESTIGATION
On 13 May, 172 members of parliament demanded an investigation into the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting's (IRIB) multimillion-dollar financial offenses, IRNA reported. A 228-page report on IRIB was read out during the 7 May session of parliament, and senior officials of the organization were blamed for major infractions, such as concealing revenues, insufficient documentation and accounting, and failure to pay customs and duties, "Hambastegi" and "Resalat" reported on 8 May. The report also noted a lack of cooperation from IRIB. The head of IRIB dismissed this report as being cursory, denied all charges of financial misconduct, and said he will turn to the judiciary, IRNA reported on 12 May. BS
IRANIAN STUDENTS PROTEST LEGISLATION'S REJECTION
Seven Tehran University students staged a sit-in on 13 May to protest the Guardians Council's rejection of a bill that would enhance presidential powers, ISNA reported. The bill would give the president the right to warn and even punish officials in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches. It would also empower a committee of experts chosen by the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary to overrule court verdicts. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami is also seeking the power to investigate constitutional violations by entities that are normally answerable only to the supreme leader. One of the protesting students said they seek to ensure the introduction of reforms without starting a riot. The Guardians Council rejected this bill on 9 May, saying it violated 15 articles of the constitution, and sent it back to the parliament, IRNA reported. IRNA reported on 10 May that Khatami expressed surprise at the rejection and that the executive branch began gathering documents to convince the guardians of their error. BS
IRANIAN PUBLICATION ADVISES AGAINST PARLIAMENTARY RESIGNATIONS
An editorial in the 15 May issue of "Mardom Salari" advised reformist parliamentarians against resigning. Deputy Parliament Speaker Mohammad Reza Khatami threatened to resign on 11 May, according to the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA). On 5-6 May, parliamentarians threatened to begin resigning every 10 days in protest against the system's rigidity, the Baztab website reported, and Tehran representative Elaheh Kulyai said that this plan has been under consideration for the last six months, ILNA reported. If reformists boycott the upcoming parliamentary election, according to "Mardom Salari," the conservatives would gain access to power by receiving the minimum number of votes, as was the case in the Tehran municipal-council election. The former deputies would not be in a position to organize "civil resistance" and the people would not forgive them, the newspaper commented. Even if the resignations lead to the absence of a quorum in the parliament, the conservatives would just manipulate the system through the Expediency Council or the Guardians Council so they could carry on under a legal veneer, according to "Mardom Salari." BS
IRANIAN LEGISLATORS DENY THEY PLAN TO RESIGN
Several members of parliament denied in interviews that appeared in the 13 May "Nasim-i Saba" newspaper that they intend to resign over the current legislative dispute. Abolqasem Sarhadizadeh said he has not heard the subject discussed, and he added that it is premature to discuss anything like this. He expressed optimism that the Expediency Council will approve of the legislation. Majid Ansari, a prominent reformist from Tehran, said that rather than resigning it would be more productive for the two legislative bodies to interact. He therefore challenged the Guardians Council to a debate. He went on to complain that the fact that the Guardians Council is empowered to supervise elections causes unrest during every election, and this issue must be resolved. Ahvaz representative Mohammad Kianush-Rad also criticized the call for resignations. Instead, he said, the parliamentarians must discuss more bluntly the impediments to reform. BS
SPECIAL JUDICIARY BRANCH TO DEAL WITH INTERNET OFFENSES
The Iranian judiciary has set up a special branch to deal with "Internet offenses," the Tehran reformist daily "Yas-i No" reported on 15 May. "Its judges have been learning about computers for some time now," the paper revealed. A 10 May "Yas-i No" commentary criticizing the Internet restrictions, which recently increased in Iran, pointed out that no legislation has been passed that would provide a legal framework for limiting the use of the Internet. Government restrictions only "lead to clandestine activity," it said. Iran is one of the world's most prolific sources of cyber attacks because "Iran's bored youth" are wasting their enormous potential by hacking Internet sites, according to "Yas-i No." SF
UN MISSIONS TO SOUTHWEST AFGHANISTAN TO HAVE ARMED ESCORTS
Manoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said on 15 May that in response to increasingly serious attacks on the personnel of UN and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in southwestern Afghanistan, missions using the Kabul-Kandahar road must be accompanied by armed escort provided by the Afghan Transitional Administration, UN News Service reported. De Almeida e Silva that this development reflects UNAMA's "commitment to continue operations in all areas to the maximum extent possible." He added that UNAMA and NGOs will work with Afghan authorities to "review security conditions and to make the arrangements necessary to address problems as they arise." It is unclear how the Afghan Transitional Administration will be able to provide security for UN and NGO personnel, considering that in some of the areas in question the authority of Kabul is very limited or nonexistent. Moreover, Kabul does not have an established national army or police force strong enough to engage better-armed attackers and might have to rely on the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition for support. Such a situation would informally link the UN and NGOs with the military forces operating in Afghanistan. AT
RECENT ATTACKS ON DEMINERS IN AFGHANISTAN SAID TO BE MOST SERIOUS IN A DECADE...
Dan Kelly, manager of the UN Mine Action Service program in Afghanistan, said on 15 May that two recent attacks on demining teams on Kabul-Kandahar highway (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 9 May 2003) represent "the most severe examples of violence against the program in the last 13 years of operations," UN New Service reported. Kelly added that the situation has left his program with "no choice but to protect deminers from future violent attacks by ceasing operations in areas that are not adequately patrolled and secured." AT
...AS ANOTHER DEMINING TEAM IS ATTACKED...
Two Afghan deminers were wounded on 15 May when they were fired on in the Sath-e Kandaw Pass, located between Paktiya and Khost provinces in southeastern Afghanistan, Reuters reported. According to Haji Hayatullah, an official of the government of Khost Province, one of the two men is in critical condition. He added that he does not know the "motive behind the incident" or the identity of the assailants. This attack was the fourth directed against Afghan deminers in less than one month. Afghan officials believe that sympathizers or members of the former Taliban regime are behind the attacks, according to Reuters. The series of attacks specifically targeting Afghan and international aid workers and deminers illustrates a new dimension of the hostilities against the Afghan Transitional Administration and the international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan (see forthcoming "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 22 May 2003). AT
...AND ONE REPORT CLAIMS TWO UN EMPLOYEES KILLED
Two UN employees were reportedly killed by unknown attackers in Paktiya Province on 15 May, Iranian state radio's Zahedan-based Pashtu service reported. The report did not identify the UN employees as deminers and it is not known whether this could be the same incident as 15 May incident in Sath-e Kandaw Pass. UNAMA has not announced that any UN workers were killed on 15 May. AT
THINK TANK SAYS PASHTUNS NEED TO BE EMPOWERED AND EXTERNAL ACTORS CONTROLLED IN AFGHANISTAN
Jonathan Stevenson, editor of the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies' (IISS) recent "Strategic Survey 2002/2003" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2003), told RFE/RL that the primary concern in Afghanistan is finding a way to strengthen Hamid Karzai's Afghan Transitional Administration. He stressed that the effort should particularly ensure that Pashtuns are "adequately knit into the political fabric of Afghanistan so that they are less prone to becoming radicalized, as they were by the Taliban." Stevenson named outside actors attempting to gain an undue amount of influence in Afghanistan, including "Iran and even Russia" and some of Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbors. But he highlighted such maneuvering by Pakistan, "or at least some elements in the Pakistani government," as another security threat posed to Afghanistan. Stevenson said the overarching point made in the IISS report is that "there is still a lot of work" that needs to be done in the whole of Afghanistan "to make sure that it is stable." AT
INDIA HINTING AT PARTICIPATION IN TAP GAS PROJECT
Sources at the Asian Development Bank have indicated that India is hinting that it might join the $3.5 billion Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) gas-pipeline project (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 February 2003), "Dawn" reported on 15 May. According to the Karachi daily, the bank will inform Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkmenistan "about the cautious response" from New Delhi when the TAP steering committee meets in June in Ashgabat. TAP countries in February formally invited India to join the project. Many market analysts are skeptical of the project's success, citing high security risks and India's expected reluctance to rely on gas transported via Pakistan. Pakistan alone does not represent a sufficient market for Turkmen gas, however. Pakistan has given assurances that the gas supply to India would remain uninterrupted. AT