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Newsline - May 27, 2003


CHINESE PRESIDENT KICKS OFF THREE-DAY VISIT TO RUSSIA...
President Vladimir Putin on 26 May met at his suburban Moscow residence with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who arrived earlier that day for a three-day state visit to Russia, Russian and Western media reported. Hu stressed that this is his first trip abroad since he became president in March. The two presidents discussed joint trade and energy projects, military-technical cooperation, and the coordination of policies in international affairs, presidential foreign-affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko said. Following his meetings with Putin, Hu met with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, and State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. He was then expected to fly to St. Petersburg to take part in celebrations there of the city's 300th anniversary. While he is in St. Petersburg, Hu is expected to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush, ORT reported. Together with Putin, Hu will fly on 1 June to Evian, France, where he will be the first Chinese leader to participate in a session of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations. VY

...AS OIL COMPANIES DISCUSS PIPELINE PROJECT
Senior officials of the state-run Chinese National Petrochemical Company (CNPC) accompanying President Hu on his trip to Russia will meet with their counterparts at Yukos to discuss the construction of a proposed oil pipeline from Angarsk to the Chinese city of Datsin, ITAR-TASS and polit.ru reported on 26 May. The proposed pipeline, which would have an annual throughput capacity of 30 million tons, has been included as a top priority in the national energy strategy adopted by the government last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2003), polit.ru reported. If the two companies reach an agreement, they are expected to invest the proceeds from this project into an even more ambitious one to connect Angarsk and the Pacific port of Nakhodka, which would deliver Russian oil to Southeast Asian markets. VY

DUMA TO TAKE UP TURKMENISTAN'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD...
Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin has stated that the Duma intends to look into Turkmenistan's human rights record, Interfax reported on 23 May and Deutsche Welle on 27 May. Rogozin explained the move in terms of the recent revocation of dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship and to what he described as alarming reports of the situation in Turkmenistan. Rogozin said he fears Turkmenistan intends to deport its Russian population. He added that the Duma is working on a set of resolutions, including one to be submitted to the Council of Europe, that call for the creation of task forces to examine the human rights situation in Turkmenistan and that could lead to the international isolation of the Central Asian state. BB

...AS OFFICIAL ALLEGES TURKMEN SUPPORT FOR TERRORISM AND DRUG TRAFFICKING
Deputy Rogozin also said his committee has received "unconfirmed information" about alleged links between the Turkmen leadership and the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan, including about the delivery of Turkmen oil products to Afghanistan while the Taliban were in power. It was no secret that the Turkmen leadership was in contact with the Taliban in hopes of bringing an end to the Afghan civil war. There were at least three well-publicized meetings between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance in Ashgabat in 1999. Nor was it a secret that Turkmenistan was selling oil to Afghanistan. The head of the oil refinery in Seidi in eastern Turkmenistan told visitors in 1999 that his refinery depended on its Afghan customers to avoid bankruptcy. Rogozin chose to interpret these actions as "in effect providing support for international terrorism." He also mentioned rumors that the Turkmen leadership has been involved in drug trafficking. BB

PUTIN APPOINTS NEW MEMBERS OF STATE COUNCIL PRESIDIUM
President Putin issued a directive on 26 May rotating the membership of the State Council Presidium, Interfax reported. Seven regional leaders, one from each of Russia's federal districts, serve on the presidium for six-months terms. The new appointees are Murmansk Oblast Governor Yurii Yevdokimov, Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, Belgorod Oblast Governor Yevgenii Savchenko, Perm Oblast Governor Yurii Trutnev, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev, Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov, and Sakha (Yakutia) Republic President Vyacheslav Shtyrov. "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 27 May that Rossel's appointment will quiet rumors that the Kremlin does not want him to be elected to a third term later this year. The newspaper also pointed out that Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev was again passed over, leaving Nizhnii Novgorod as the only region containing the administrative center of a federal district whose leader has never served on the State Council Presidium. LB

TATARSTAN DELAYS APPEAL AGAINST CYRILLIC-ONLY LAW
The Republic of Tatarstan's challenge to Russia's federal law requiring the use of the Cyrillic alphabet will not be submitted to the Constitutional Court until this fall at the earliest, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 May. Last year, officials in Tatarstan vowed to challenge the constitutionality of new amendments to the law on the languages of the peoples of the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 27 November 2002 and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 20 November 2002). But the presidium of the republic's State Council, or parliament, decided on 26 May to take the court appeal off the agenda for this week's session. Constitutional Court Chairman Valerii Zorkin had requested that the parliament not seek another decision from the Constitutional Court until that court rules on three other appeals submitted by official bodies in Tatarstan during the last six months. Those appeals relate to the new draft of Tatarstan's constitution, portions of which are being challenged by the Prosecutor-General's Office. LB

SPS LOSES DUMA DEPUTY AND REGIONAL CHAIRMAN
State Duma Deputy Boris Titenko, the leader of the Rostov Oblast branch of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), is quitting the party, regions.ru reported on 25 May. He accused faction leader Boris Nemtsov of creating an "atmosphere of intrigue" and choosing personnel based on "the principle of personal loyalty to the leader." Titenko also charged that "intrigues and score-settling, encouraged or directly inspired from the federal center, have replaced substantive political work in many regions." He warned that the party is not "respected" by the public because it has directed its activities "not toward the liberal-oriented voter, but toward representatives of the New-Russian liberal elite." In 1994, Titenko was a co-founder of the Russia's Democratic Choice party, whose leaders helped form the SPS in 1999. Nemtsov declined to comment on Titenko's statements, which are likely to hurt the party as it prepares for this year's parliamentary elections. LB

AGRARIANS TO EXPEL LEADER OF AGRO-INDUSTRIAL DUMA FACTION
The Agrarian Party of Russia (APR) will expel Agro-Industrial Duma faction leader Nikolai Kharitonov at a plenum later this month, regions.ru reported on 23 May, citing "Kommersant-Daily." A statement issued by the APR on 22 May asserted that Kharitonov has "long and steadfastly associated himself with another party." Commenting on the statement, Kharitonov denounced the "crafty, ambitious plans" of other Agrarian leaders. Kharitonov and the APR leadership have been at odds for years. Before the 1999 State Duma elections, the APR joined the Fatherland-All Russia alliance, whereas Kharitonov endorsed the Communist Party. LB

FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER RULES OUT RUN FOR ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR
Federation Council Speaker Mironov told journalists on 23 May that he does not intend to run for governor of St. Petersburg, regions.ru reported. Mironov represents St. Petersburg's Legislative Assembly in the upper house of the parliament. He said his Party of Life would support Valentina Matvienko, former deputy prime minister and current presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, should she choose to run for governor. Many Russian media have speculated that Matvienko will seek the office, but she has neither confirmed nor denied those rumors. "Vedomosti" on 21 May quoted Duma Deputy Oksana Dmitrieva (independent), deputy chairwoman of the Duma's Budget Committee, as saying she might enter the race. "Vedomosti" speculated that current St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev would back Dmitrieva. Yakovlev's term expires in April 2004, but some local legislators favor moving the election date to December 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). LB

EXPERTS WARN OF OLIGARCHS' 'COUP'...
The heads of Russia's leading financial-industrial groups have set their sights on a more direct connection with political power, according to a report by the Council for National Strategy, a group of 21 leading analysts, that was posted on utro.ru on 26 May. They are seeking to trim back the prerogatives of the Russian president and create a parliamentary republic. They hope to prevail in the December State Duma elections and then to create a "government of the majority" headed by one of the oligarchs, the report asserts. Since 1991, the oligarchs have seen the strong presidency as a guarantor of the results of privatization and of their privileged status. Although there has been a generational shift within the oligarchy under President Putin, the essence of its power remains the same. However, the report notes, no oligarch has been able to become a national political figure and the current institution of the presidency makes it impossible for them to do so. The oligarchs' desire to maintain the status quo has brought them into conflict with the institution of the presidency. Among those who are listed in the report as the country's leading oligarchs are Sibneft owner and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, Alfa-Group head Mikhail Fridman, Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, and Interros head Vladimir Potanin. VY

...AND OF THREAT OF INCREASED CORRUPTION...
One of the authors of the utro.ru report on the oligarchs was Merkator research center Director Dmitrii Oreshkin, who said that the report does not mean to imply that there is an elaborate plot by the oligarchs to take political power, TV-Tsentr reported on 26 May. Rather, they simply understand that their interests do not lie in free competition and transparency, but in stagnation, Oreshkin said. Their activity is a brake on Russia's modernization and diverts its financial resources abroad, he added. If the oligarchs are able to install a government headed by one of their own, they will form an alliance with the Russian bureaucracy and pave the way for even greater levels of official corruption, Oreshkin said. VY

...AS DUMA DEPUTIES CALL FOR EXTRAORDINARY MEASURES AGAINST CORRUPTION
A group of seven Duma deputies has issued an open letter calling for the creation of a national nonpartisan movement called Clean Hands to root out corruption, Regnum reported on 26 May. "Because of corruption, the long bloody butchery in Chechnya continues; the economy is stagnant; the national wealth and resources are being mercilessly plundered; industrial production and small businesses are being strangled; and arbitrary bureaucratic rule prevails," the letter states. The deputies called for a national anticorruption movement and a purge of law enforcement agencies modeled on Italian anti-mafia efforts. The letter was signed Yurii Shchekochikhin (Yabloko), Aleksandr Gurov (Unity), Vladislav Reznik (Russian Regions), Oleg Finko (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), and Aleksandr Kulikov (Communist). VY

PERM, KOMI-PERMYAK MOVE ONE STEP CLOSER TO MERGER...
The legislature of Perm Oblast on 23 May amended the regional law on referendums to allow a plebiscite on merging the oblast with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, regions.ru reported, citing the Perm-based news agency Novyi region. President Putin endorsed the idea of merging those two regions during a March meeting with Perm Oblast Governor Yurii Trutnev and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug Governor Gennadii Savelev, who both favor the merger for economic reasons (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 19 March 2003). However, the Komi People's Movement has expressed concern that the Komi ethnic group would be assimilated following a merger with Perm Oblast (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 30 January 2003). LB

...AS KREMLIN MULLS ANOTHER REGIONAL MERGER
In a further move toward reducing the overall number of federation subjects, the Russian leadership is considering holding a referendum following the 2004 presidential election on subsuming the Republic of Adygeya into Krasnodar Krai, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 May, quoting unidentified Kremlin officials. Adygeya is an enclave of just under 8,000 square kilometers within Krasnodar Krai that received the status of a full-fledged federation subject only in 1992. The republic is primarily agricultural and depends on subsidies from Moscow for some 70 percent of its annual budget. LF

MOSCOW AUTHORITIES THREATEN TO SWITCH OFF TVS
The Moscow city authorities might switch off transmissions of TVS in the capital on 1 June if the network does not settle overdue payments for use of the city's cable network, Interfax reported on 26 May. Sergei Tsoi, press secretary for Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, said TVS has not only not paid for signal distribution, but has also failed to reply to official letters from the city government requesting payment. Instead, Tsoi charged, TVS managers have "changed [the network's] editorial policy" so as to "turn up pseudo-painful points in Moscow life and subject even the best projects of the city authorities to rabid criticism." Financial problems recently cost TVS several popular programs, and the network's future is in jeopardy because of a court ruling last month that called into question the circumstances under which TVS gained the right to broadcast on Channel 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April and 14 May 2003). LB

POSTAL WORKERS SHRINK FROM DELIVERING BAD NEWS
Postal workers in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia "do not want to be the disseminators of negative information and refuse to distribute publications that pump up distrust toward the republic's leadership," according to an open letter to the republican branch of the Antimonopoly Ministry published in the official newspaper of the republican branch of the Federal Postal Service, regions.ru reported on 23 May. After the postal service in Karachaevo-Cherkessia interfered with the distribution of three independent newspapers ("Vozrozhdenie respubliki," "Dzhamaghat," and "Cherkessk"), those publications filed a complaint with the republican branch of the Antimonopoly Ministry. On 7 May that body ruled in favor of the publications and ordered that postal workers be fined 200,000-500,000 rubles ($6,250-$15,600) if they refuse to distribute the newspapers. Karachaevo-Cherkessia is scheduled to hold presidential elections next month. Official interference with newspaper distribution is a common form of post-publication censorship in many Russian regions. LB

LIBERAL LEADER BACKS GENERAL FOR CHECHEN PRESIDENT
During a recent speech at the Arkhangelsk Technical University, SPS leader Nemtsov said he believes Colonel General Gennadii Troshev, a former commander of Russian forces in Chechnya, is the best-qualified candidate for Chechen president, chechenpress.com reported on 25 May. Troshev, who was born in Chechnya, was named presidential adviser for Cossack affairs three months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003). "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 May reported that Troshev has not yet responded to its enquiries about the emigration of Terek Cossacks from centuries-old stanitsas in northern Chechnya in reaction to the ongoing migration of Chechens from the southern, mountain regions of the republic to the northern lowlands. The paper said that there are now only 17,000 Russians in Chechnya's Naurskii and Shelkovskii raions, and that Cossacks now account for only 2 percent of the population of those regions of Chechnya traditionally settled by Cossacks, compared with 70 percent just a few years ago. LF

POLICE IN NORTH CAUCASUS INTERCEPT EXPLOSIVES
Police halted two trucks late on 25 May on the border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia and secured and destroyed the consignment of explosive they were loaded with, Interfax reported the following day. The drivers of both vehicles escaped. An FSB spokesman told Interfax the explosive was similar to that used in a 27 December truck-bomb attack on the Chechen government building in Grozny in which some 70 people were killed. LF

RULING PARTY SET FOR VICTORY IN ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS...
As of late in the day on 26 May, with some two-thirds of all ballots counted, the Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) headed by Prime Minister Andranik Markarian had 26.4 percent of the votes cast in the previous day's parliamentary election, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. In second place was the opposition Artarutiun election bloc with 14.3 percent, followed by the pro-presidential Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) with 12.1 percent, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (11.1 percent), and the opposition National Unity Party (9.7 percent). For the first time, the Communist Party of Armenia failed to surmount the 5 percent threshold to win parliamentary representation. In addition to its share of the 75 seats allocated under the party-list system, the HHK won some 12 single-mandate constituencies. Artarutiun won three and Orinats Yerkir six, while the HHD failed to win any. Voter turnout was estimated at 51 percent. LF

...AS OPPOSITION ALLEGES FRAUD...
Artarutiun campaign manager Stepan Zakarian told journalists early on 26 May that the bloc was in first place and heading for "a decisive victory," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. At the same time, leading members of the bloc presented a long list of procedural violations witnessed during the voting, including reports of vote buying. Zakarian admitted that the bloc's leaders feared that as during the February-March presidential ballot, the authorities might "fix the numbers overnight and present totally different results" showing that the HHK was the winner. Other parties, including the HHD, similarly reported violations during polling on 25 May. HHD spokesman Gegham Manukian told RFE/RL on 26 May: "We have hard evidence of violations. There are serious doubts regarding the official results." LF

...AND OBSERVERS REGISTER SERIOUS SHORTCOMINGS
In a joint statement released on 26 May, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which deployed 200 observers to monitor the ballot, and the Council of Europe said that while the 25 May vote was "a marked improvement" over the February-March presidential election, it "failed to meet international standards in several key areas," Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The joint report said "significant problems" during the vote count were registered at 30 percent of the polling stations where observers witnessed the count. The two organizations attributed the low turnout to "lack of confidence in the electoral process," according to Noyan Tapan. Lord Russell Johnston, who headed the Council of Europe observer team, added that he was "mystified" by the fact that during the final half hour before polling stations closed, turnout rose from 43 percent to 51 percent. "In my experience, Armenians vote in the afternoon. They don't come rushing in at the last minute," he commented. LF

ARMENIAN POLL MARRED BY SHOOTING INCIDENT
The OSCE election-monitoring mission issued a separate statement on 26 May deploring a shooting incident late the previous evening outside a polling station in a village south of Yerevan and calling on the Armenian authorities to launch an investigation immediately. A former police officer was killed in the shooting and three others were injured, including the chairman of the local election commission and a proxy for an opposition candidate, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. It is not clear whether the shooting was connected with the vote. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH BP HEAD
After a week's seclusion that fuelled rumors that his health is failing, President Heidar Aliev met on 26 May with British Petroleum CEO John Browne to discuss the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline, Reuters and Turan reported. On 23 May, Azerbaijani State Television screened footage of a meeting between Aliev and Turkish Ambassador Unal Cevikoz. Also on 23 May, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze formally laid the first section of pipe in the Georgian section of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline at a ceremony in southern Georgia, Georgian and Russian media reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT PASSES ELECTION LAW IN SECOND READING
Parliament deputies voted on 23 May by 91 to 10 to pass the controversial draft Election Code in its second reading, zerkalo.az reported the following day. The session was marred by an exchange of insults between Akhad Abiev of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party and opposition leader Ali Kerimov of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. On 27 May, police forcibly dispersed opposition activists who picketed the parliament building to demand that Abiev apologize for his derogatory remarks, Turan reported. Dozens of people were detained or injured, as were three opposition deputies. LF

POLICE THWART AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PROTEST
Police in Baku forcibly prevented some 150 members of the opposition Azerbaijan Democratic Party from holding an unsanctioned meeting on the evening of 25 May, Turan reported. Dozens of people were injured in violent clashes with police and some 20 were arrested. Municipal authorities in 20 other towns and cities denied the organizers permission to hold similar protests to call for President Aliev's resignation and the return to Azerbaijan of exiled former parliament speaker and ADR Chairman Rasul Guliev. LF

GEORGIA MARKS INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY
The 1918 and 1991 declarations of Georgian independence were formally celebrated on 26 May. For the fifth consecutive year, financial constraints precluded staging the traditional military parade, Caucasus Press reported. But the Georgian government scored a 3:1 victory in a soccer match against a team of journalists. In Abkhazia, 250 additional police were deployed in Gali Raion in anticipation of a possible new Georgian offensive timed to coincide with the anniversary, Caucasus Press reported on 24 May. LF

KYRGYZ SECURITY OFFICIAL SAYS UIGHUR SEPARATISTS MIGHT BE INVOLVED IN BOMBINGS
First Deputy Chairman of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service Boris Poluektov told the lower house of parliament during its 23 May discussion of security that his service does not rule out the involvement of Uighur separatists and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) in the December 2002 bombing of a Bishkek market, the May 2003 bombing of an exchange office in Osh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003), and an alleged attempt on the life of National Security Council Secretary Misir Ashyrkulov in September 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 13 September 2002), Interfax reported. Poluektov asserted the service has determined that the two bombings were organized by IMU members financed from abroad. He said the bombers were closely linked with Uighur separatists and had received training in Chechnya. Poluektov repeated the frequently made government assertion that the extremist Muslim movement Hizb ut-Tahrir is expanding its activities from southern into northern Kyrgyzstan, but he uncharacteristically acknowledged that the movement's ideology calls for the nonviolent creation of an Islamic state. A number of opposition figures in Kyrgyzstan have made the point that Hizb ut-Tahrir rejects violence. BB

KYRGYZ PARLIAMENTARIANS CALL FOR CIVILIAN CONTROL OF MILITARY
Chairman of the Kyrgyz upper house's Committee on State Building and Law Valerii Dil has drafted a bill that would establish civilian control over the country's military, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 23 May, citing Interfax. Dil said during a 22 May hearing on his draft that adoption of the law would make it possible to democratize and depoliticize the armed forces which, in his view, still have characteristics of the Soviet-era military despite reform attempts. Civilian control, he argued, would promote transparency in military institutions and ensure that the armed forces are able to ensure the country's military security. According to the report, representatives of the military -- including Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev and Military Prosecutor Kubatbek Kozhonaliev -- opposed the bill at the hearings on the grounds that existing legislation provides for effective interaction between civilian society and military structures, and that the draft law is merely an attempt to pressure the army. BB

KYRGYZ INTERIOR MINISTRY REJECTS OMBUDSMAN'S CRITICISM
Head of the Interior Ministry's Bishkek office and Deputy Interior Minister Keneshbek Duishebaev told a news conference on 26 May that Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu's criticism of the ministry, contained in a recent letter to President Akaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2003), is unjustified, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and akipress.org reported on 26 May. Bakir-uulu alleged that a rivalry between Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov and Duishebaev had resulted in the police becoming more aggressive toward citizens seeking to exercise their constitutional rights. Bakir-uulu has been asked to look into several cases of this type. Duishebaev asserted that Bakir-uulu's account of the police's treatment of a group of female protesters on 16 May and the women's subsequent hunger strike was incorrect and could mislead the government. Duishebaev was also quoted as asking rhetorically how a rivalry could develop between a minister and his deputy. BB

ISSUE OF KYRGYZ OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER SEIZED IN BISHKEK
An entire issue of the opposition daily "Moya stolitsa-novosti" has been seized by judicial authorities in Bishkek in connection with a court order that the publication's property be confiscated, Deutsche Welle reported on 25 May, quoting the paper's Editor in Chief Aleksandr Kim. Court officials were thwarted in an attempt to inventory the newspaper's holdings on 26 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. When the officials arrived at the paper, they were told that the only possessions of the newspaper in the office were two cash registers, and that all other equipment belongs to the U.S. Embassy and the office itself was rented from another publication. "Moya stolitsa-novosti" has been sued 37 times by government officials, including Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, who assert that their honor and dignity were damaged by the publication. Court awards to plaintiffs of 98 million soms ($2.3 million) are outstanding against the newspaper. Kim was quoted as saying that he intends to start up the newspaper again under a different name. As for the confiscated issue, Kim said he believes the authorities picked that specific issue to prevent the appearance of an article criticizing President Askar Akaev. BB

TAJIKISTAN REDUCES NUMBER OF MILITARY OFFICERS TO BE TRAINED IN RUSSIA
Tajikistan's Defense Ministry announced on 26 May that the number of Tajik officers to be sent to Russia for training this year is being reduced to 16, Interfax reported. Previously, 100 Tajik officers were trained in Russia each year. The ministry was quoted as saying that the reason for the reduction was the increase in foreign offers of training for Tajik military personnel. This year, Tajik officer trainees will study in India, Iran, the United States, and Canada. Unlike Russia, these countries have offered to train Tajik officers free of charge. Thirty students of the Tajik Armed Forces Institute have already taken a course in mountain warfare in France, and the Tajik Defense Ministry is reportedly considering sending military-school graduates to France for full-scale training starting next year. BB

NDI HOSTS DISCUSSION OF TAJIK CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS...
More than 80 people, including government officials, parliament deputies, leaders of political parties, and NGO representatives, attended a conference in Dushanbe on 13 May organized by the National Democratic Institute's office in Dushanbe, together with the OSCE Mission in Dushanbe and the UN Tajikistan Office of Peace-Building, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The conference was devoted to the 56 constitutional amendments to be put to a national referendum on 22 June. Voters are required to approve or reject the amendments in a single package, rather than vote on them individually (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 27 March 2003). The amendments abolish the previously constitutionally guaranteed rights to free higher education and health care, and remove the limitation that one person may serve only a single presidential term. Opposition politicians claim that the latter amendment is intended solely to enable incumbent President Imomali Rakhmonov to run for two additional terms. The presidential term has already been extended from four years to seven in a referendum in September 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 28 September 1999). LF

...AS PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES SEEK TO DRUM UP SUPPORT IN PROVINCES
Tajik parliament deputies are currently touring the provinces in a bid to persuade voters of the merits of the proposed amendments, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 15 May. But as many speakers at the NDI-sponsored conference complained, there has been virtually no public debate on the amendments, and NGOs and opposition parties not represented in parliament were excluded from the process of drafting and debating them. Moreover, the parliament was unapologetic about not adopting some previous suggestions for constitutional reform -- such as the election of local officials, rather than their appointment -- stressing that the constitution vests in parliament the right to propose amendments of its own choosing. Academician Muso Dinorshoev of the Tajik Academy of Sciences Institute of Philosophy and Law believes that some amendments to the constitution are warranted, according to Asia Plus-Blitz on 14 May. But he warned against adopting them with overdue haste and urged that some draft amendments be rephrased as they contain linguistic inaccuracies. The opposition Democratic Party has already called for the referendum to be cancelled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). LF

UZBEKISTAN CLOSES MAIN BORDER CROSSING TO NORTHERN TAJIKISTAN
Uzbekistan has closed its main western border crossing to northern Tajikistan's Sughd Oblast, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 26 May. The Tajik Border Protection Committee was quoted as saying the closure is intended to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The crossing point, named after the village of Navruzobod, is the main crossing for road traffic between Tashkent and Khujand. The Border Protection Committee noted that Uzbekistan has also closed border crossings to Kyrgyzstan, also to contain the SARS epidemic. No confirmed cases of SARS have been reported in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, or Uzbekistan. BB

BELARUSIAN COMMUNISTS ADOPT NEW PROGRAM
The Belarusian Party of Communists (PKB), one of the country's two communist parties, adopted a new program at its congress in Minsk on 25 May, Belapan reported. The document consists of a "minimum program" and a "maximum program." The minimum plan calls for returning Belarus to a democratic path of development and creating conditions for free and democratic elections. The maximum plan foresees the PKB assuming power and building socialism in the country. The same day, a plenary sitting of the PKB Central Committee re-elected Syarhey Kalyakin as PKB leader. Kalyakin's party remains in opposition to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. JM

MENINGITIS OUTBREAK REPORTED IN BELARUS
Belarusian Television reported on 26 May that 136 people have been hospitalized with symptoms of meningitis in Hrodna, northwestern Belarus. The network denied speculation by some Russian media last week that individuals hospitalized in Hrodna are suffering from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). JM

UKRAINIAN PLANE CRASHES IN TURKEY, KILLING SPANISH PEACEKEEPERS AND CREW
A Ukrainian Yak-42 plane transporting Spanish peacekeepers from duty in Afghanistan, along with a crew of 12 Ukrainians and a Belarusian, slammed into a mountainside near the Turkish port city of Trabzon on 26 May, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. None of those on board survived. The plane, chartered under a UN contract from a Ukrainian company called Mediterranean Airlines, was flying from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan to Zaragoza in Spain. An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the accident, with initial reports blaming heavy fog in the area. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ELIMINATES POLITICAL SLOTS
President Leonid Kuchma has issued a decree canceling a previous order on the introduction of the post of state secretary, as well as first deputies and deputies for the Council of Ministers and individual ministries, Interfax reported on 27 May. Kuchma introduced those posts two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2001) in a move the opposition said was aimed at tightening the presidential administration's grip on the cabinet. Under the new decree, state secretaries and their deputies are to be replaced by first deputy ministers and deputy ministers. JM

BALTIC DEFENSE MINISTERS DISCUSS FUTURE REFORMS
Defense Ministers Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Margus Hanson (Estonia) on 23 May held their semi-annual meeting in Trakai, Lithuania, BNS reported. The main topic of discussion was how the countries' impending NATO membership will affect joint defense projects. The ministers decided that the BALTNET air-surveillance and control center will become part of NATO's integrated air-defense system NATINADS. Likewise, the BALTRON naval squadron will be integrated into NATO naval forces, and the Baltic Defense College will be the main educational institution to train service personnel for the region according to NATO standards. Having fulfilled its functions and mission, the BALTBAT joint battalion will be terminated this fall and replaced with other forms of cooperation among the land forces of the three states, with the major focus on training and joint military exercises. The ministers also discussed cooperation with South Caucasus countries and Ukraine, expressing a wish to sign a defense-cooperation agreement with Georgia during a session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council next month. SG

ESTONIA, FINLAND SIGN DEFENSE-COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Estonian Defense Minister Hanson and Finnish Defense Minister Matti Vanhanen signed a renewed framework agreement in Tallinn on 26 May on defense cooperation between their countries, BNS reported. Vanhanen, who took office just a few weeks ago, said Estonia's entry into NATO will have a stabilizing effect on the entire Baltic Sea region. However, he added that the role of Finnish officers training Estonian soldiers will diminish as the new Finnish government has no plans to join NATO. Hanson noted that Finnish support for the Baltic Defense College in Tartu is likely to increase as that institution becomes more international. During his one-day visit, Vanhanen held talks with Estonian armed forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts and with members of the parliamentary Defense Committee. SG

PREMIERS DISCUSS LATVIAN-SWEDISH COOPERATION WITHIN EU
Prime Minister Einars Repse discussed bilateral and regional cooperation and EU enlargement with his visiting Swedish counterpart Goran Persson in Riga on 26 May, BNS reported. Repse accepted Persson's invitation to attend a planned meeting of the premiers of the Baltic states, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden in Stockholm on 6 June. The prime ministers will discuss all the items on the agenda of the European Council meeting that is to be held in Greece on 20-22 June. The two prime ministers also talked about EU agricultural policies and preparations for the referendums in September on the introduction of the euro in Sweden and EU membership in Latvia. In later talks with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Persson praised Latvia's rapid economic growth and expressed the hope that trade between the two countries will increase. SG

LITHUANIA'S CONSERVATIVES ELECT NEW CHAIRMAN
A congress of the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) was held in Vilnius on 24-25 May, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 26 May. By a vote of 291 to 23, the congress elected 46-year-old former Premier Andrius Kubilius as the party's new chairman, replacing Vytautas Landsbergis, who had headed the party since its founding in 1993, but who decided not to run again (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). Landsbergis was elected chairman of the newly created Party Policy Committee, which was given the authority to call meetings of the party's presidium and council and even extraordinary party congresses. Rasa Jukneviciene and Arvydas Vidziunas were elected party deputy chairmen. Anticipating the planned union with the Lithuanian Union of Political Prisoners and Deportees and the Lithuanian Rightists' Union later this year, the congress changed the party's name to Homeland Union (Conservatives, Christian Democrats, and Freedom Fighters). It also adopted a new party program entitled "The Right-Wing Alternative: Lithuania's Success." SG

UKRAINE, BULGARIA SEEKING TO SEND TROOPS TO POLISH SECTOR IN IRAQ...
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski told journalists at a Central European summit in Salzburg on 23 May that Ukraine and Bulgaria have agreed to send troops to the Polish stabilization sector in Iraq, Polish Radio reported. Warsaw hosted an international conference last week on the formation of a stabilization force in the Polish sector in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 May 2003). An official statement on which countries will contribute troops to a Polish-led division in Iraq is expected this week. JM

...AS POLAND SECURES IRANIAN COOPERATION
Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz met with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi in Tehran on 24 May to discuss Poland's administration of a stabilization sector in Iraq, PAP reported. Cimoszewicz said Iran has agreed to cooperate with the Poles operating in Iraq, adding that details of that cooperation are to be worked out in further talks. Polish Radio quoted Cimoszewicz as saying on 25 May that the stabilization forces in the Polish sector in Iraq will comprise servicemen from a dozen countries. Cimoszewicz added that Poland is likely to make an effort to include servicemen from Muslim states in its stabilization force. JM

POLISH RADICAL FARMERS 'WANT TO TAKE POWER'
Andrzej Lepper was re-elected chairman of the radical Self-Defense farmers union at its congress in Warsaw on 24 May, PAP reported. "Self-Defense wants to take over power -- we have a program, and I'll do everything for our party to survive, and not become ephemeral," Lepper declared at the congress. He criticized all Polish governments after 1989 for erroneous policies and presented a Self-Defense program intended to rectify the country's foreign and domestic course (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 27 May 2003). According to recent surveys, support for Self-Defense oscillates between 14 percent and 18 percent. JM

POLISH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR MAJORITY CABINET AFTER EU VOTE
President Aleksander Kwasniewski said on 26 May that after its EU-accession referendum on 7-8 June, Poland will need a parliamentary majority in order to pass the 2004 budget and needed financial-reform laws, PAP reported. Premier Leszek Miller, who runs a minority cabinet, declined to comment on Kwasniewski's statement. The ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) will hold a congress in June. Miller said he will resign as prime minister if the congress fails to re-elect him as SLD leader. JM

POLISH HEALTH OFFICIAL RESIGNS OVER CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS
Aleksander Nauman tendered his resignation as head of the National Health Fund on 23 May, PAP reported. Earlier this month, prosecutors launched an investigation into alleged corruption at the Health Ministry while it was headed by Mariusz Lapinski. According to media reports, Waldemar Deszczynski, a senior ministry official, allegedly favored certain pharmaceutical companies through drug-reimbursement schemes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2003). Media reports have linked Nauman to those alleged schemes. JM

UN ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY MISHANDLED CLASSIFIED CZECH DOCUMENTS...
The head of civilian-intelligence oversight in the lower house, Jan Klas, has accused former Czech Foreign Minister and current UN General Assembly President Jan Kavan of improperly disposing of hundreds of classified documents, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 26 May. Klas said the National Security Office (NBU) discovered Kavan's alleged missteps during a high-level security check and revoked his low-level security clearance as a result. "If that is true, Mr. Kavan cannot be our employee," the daily quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Vit Kolar as saying. Kavan's position as UN president requires that he be employed by the ministry. The Foreign Ministry is required to keep lists of classified documents that are destroyed, including the names of the officials who ordered their destruction, but the daily reported that no such list exists. Klas said it is therefore unclear whether those documents were ever destroyed. Klas, a member of the opposition Civic Democratic Party, called for Kavan's resignation from the Chamber of Deputies and from his UN position. The reports emerged at a particularly embarrassing time for Czechs, as they are hosting the spring session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly this week; some of those documents reportedly relate to NATO. AH

...AND WILL LOSE MINISTRY JOB AS A RESULT
Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda decided after consultations with Premier Vladimir Spidla to dismiss Kavan from the ministry after his mandate is over as UN president, the daily "Lidove noviny" reported on 27 May. "The employment by the ministry of Jan Kavan will end in September, concurrently with the end of his function as president of the UN General Assembly," Svoboda said on 26 May. Svoboda added that the documents at issue include highly sensitive materials, according to the paper. The measure will also effectively prevent Kavan from serving in any diplomatic capacity. "Lidove noviny" reported that the scandal relates to Kavan's orders to destroy some 385 classified documents, adding that the relevant commission prescribed by Czech law does not exist. Kavan blamed attempts to discredit him politically for the affair, saying, "It seems that the successful Czech presidency of the UN should be marred by my alleged mishandling of hundreds of classified documents," according to the daily. "I have the impression that it is another attempt to discredit me personally in the eyes of the Czech public through [the dissemination of] distorted information." AH

CZECHS TO QUARANTINE INBOUND PASSENGERS FROM SARS-AFFLICTED COUNTRIES
The top health official in the Czech capital, Prague, has ordered that air passengers from countries severely affected by severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) be quarantined for 10 days upon their arrival at the city's international airport, the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 24 May. Two female students of Chinese who arrived in Prague from Taiwan were the first to be detained and put under quarantine after their arrival on 23 May, the daily added. Vladimir Polanecky decided to tighten measures after health workers last week allowed a 25-year-old passenger from Hong Kong who was complaining of health problems go home from the airport; two medical tests pointed to SARS before a third test showed the man did not appear to be infected with the virus. "I am required by law to protect the citizens of this country from possible dangerous infection," Polanecky said. The paper noted that such a measure risks subjecting the country to lawsuits. AH

CZECH, SLOVAK PREMIERS STRESS CONTINUED VISEGRAD COOPERATION WITHIN EU
Visiting Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and his Czech counterpart Vladimir Spidla agreed at a 23 May meeting in Prague that cooperation should continue within the so-called Visegrad Four countries after their expected entry to the European Union, CTK reported. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia should pursue "flexible cooperation" within that grouping rather than "institutional structures," Dzurinda stressed. "We consider the [Visegrad Four] project an important structure; we want to retain it and develop its possibilities after our entry to the EU as well," Spidla said, according to CTK. AH

CZECH POLICE CAPTURE SUSPECT IN CYANIDE-BLACKMAIL CASE
Authorities arrested a suspect on 23 May in the case of a blackmailer who had threatened to poison hospital food supplies in Prague if officials did not give him 300 million crowns ($11.3 million), according to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 26 May. The man was reportedly arrested at his home about 20 kilometers south of the capital. "I'm convinced that the evidentiary situation is very good at this moment," Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said, according to the daily (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003). AH

EUROPEAN COMMISSION NOTES FOUR OUTSTANDING ISSUES WITH CZECH REPUBLIC
The latest evaluation report by the European Commission cites four areas that were not addressed during accession talks with the Czech Republic, CTK reported on 23 May: the recognition of professional qualifications, value-added and consumer taxes, agriculture, and financial controls. The commission notes that the lack of mutual recognition of professional qualifications is of particular concern in the case of physicians and nurses. Czech officials have responded that the relevant legislation is currently in the hands of the legislature, according to CTK. "Just as in the monitoring from last February, now it is primarily a question of informing the officials of the candidate countries about possible time lags. It is an analysis of progress. With the overall evaluation report in November, we will have the complete picture," European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen wrote to his colleagues on the committee, according to the agency. AH

SLOVAK COALITION PARTY CONSOLIDATES PRESIDENTIAL EFFORT
The leadership of the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) on 24 May tightened conditions for the party's selection of a candidate to field in the 2004 presidential elections, TASR reported. The SDKU leadership has already nominated Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan as its candidate for those elections, but that nomination is still subject to approval by the rank and file in a primary. The new guidelines raise the requirement for proposing a candidate from 300 to 500 petitioners and cut local party branches out of the nomination process. The SDKU leadership also moved forward the deadline for proposing candidates from six months to one year ahead of the elections. Prime Minister and SDKU Chairman Mikulas Dzurinda said the changes reflect an effort to create "a dignified framework" for the elections. MS

SLOVAK TRADE UNIONS BLOCK BORDERS IN SOCIAL PROTEST
Slovak trade unions blocked 13 of Slovakia's 70 border crossings on 23 May in a four-hour protest against what the unions call oppressive anti-social measures by the center-right government, Reuters reported. Traffic was blocked at selected points of Slovakia's borders with Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. The protest was directed at belt-tightening measures being undertaken by Premier Dzurinda's four-party government. The unions are demanding a hike in the minimum wage and the indexing of all social benefits and of allowances for families with children, according to TASR. MS

HUNGARIAN STANDING CONFERENCE REACHES AGREEMENT ON AMENDING STATUS LAW
The Hungarian Standing Conference (MAERT) approved amendments to the country's controversial Status Law on 24 May, and the government will submit those amendments to parliament, Hungarian media and AFP reported. MAERT is a forum of government ministers and of representatives of parliamentary parties and ethnic Hungarian organizations abroad. Parliament must now approve the amendments. The main opposition FIDESZ party refused to back the amendments, which mandate that a controversial reference to the law's preamble describing Hungarians in neighboring countries as part of the "unified Hungarian nation" be deleted. Under the amended version of the law, educational benefits previously granted to ethnic Hungarians would be extended to members of any ethnic group who study the Hungarian language, culture, or history. Employment benefits granted to ethnic Hungarians in the original version were rescinded by the government of Viktor Orban, which initiated the Status Law. However, Slovak Premier Dzurinda said on 25 May that he continues to oppose the law. Asked what will happen to the legislation in view of the Slovak position, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, cited by AFP, said the same day: "I am no fortune teller. Let's cross that bridge when we get there." MS

HUNGARIAN PREMIER SAYS BELTS MUST BE TIGHTENED...
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy told a gathering of his Socialist Party's National Council on 24 May that Hungarians will have to tighten their belts in 2004, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy predicted that wages will keep pace with prices, but he said he cannot promise more than that for 2004. "Be patient," he urged, "we shall keep our promises [made ahead of the 2002 elections] for four years." Medgyessy said the government still has much work to do to improve opportunities and exploit the advantages of EU accession, expected in 2004. Medgyessy also warned against underestimating the opposition. The "guiding principle" should be victory in the 2006 national elections, he said. FIDESZ National Council Chairman Laszlo Kover called Medgyessy's appeal "blatant cynicism," saying that not only has the cabinet failed to fulfill campaign promises, but it is also already announcing austerity measures for next year. MS

...WHILE FORMER LEADER ATTACKS ECONOMIC POLICIES
FIDESZ Chairman and former Premier Orban, in an interview with "Magyar Nemzet" of 24 May, said the country's economic policies of the past year must be adjusted to boost economic growth, including tax benefits and development projects, rather than to introduce austerity measures. Orban said the remaining state-owned banks should not be sold, adding that, in general, public assets must be strengthened rather than reduced. He said FIDESZ must work to ensure that 2006 will be a year of electoral success. According to the former premier, Hungarians today fall into two main groups: those for whom the change of regime has produced genuine freedom, and those for whom freedom means nothing and for whom the change of regime created more problems than new opportunities. MS

BALKAN STABILITY PACT MEETS IN CROATIA
About 250 officials and experts from the countries of Southeastern Europe began a two-day meeting in Cavtat on 26 May in conjunction with the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Participants stressed that this is the last such gathering prior to the June EU summit in Thessaloniki, at which many Balkan countries hope to receive clear guidelines from the EU about their prospects for membership (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 June 2002 and 17 January 2003). In related news, leaders from the region held a two-day summit in Athens on 23 and 24 May to prepare for the Thessaloniki meeting. Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said that it is too soon to set tentative admission dates for countries seeking membership. Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said nonetheless that he hopes Bosnia can join the EU by 2009. But Borislav Paravac, who currently chairs the joint Bosnian Presidency, said in Vienna that 2009 is unrealistic and that Bosnia will not return to its prewar level of economic development before 2011. PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO SEEKS INTERNATIONAL INTEGRATION
President Svetozar Marovic told the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" of 26 May that Serbia and Montenegro will give the United States an unspecified "responsible and realistic" answer to its request for a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement that would exempt U.S. citizens from handover to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2003). He stressed that his country is an important element in regional security. Marovic added that he hopes the EU will accelerate Serbia and Montenegro's admission process so that it can join that body in 2007. In related news, Defense Minister Boris Tadic told the Belgrade daily "Blic" that he hopes his country will fulfill the political requirements for joining NATO's Partnership for Peace Program within the coming months and become a member by the end of 2003. In Tokyo, Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said he welcomes Japanese offers to help reform the police and renovate the Bajina Basta hydroelectric plant. He added that Serbia and Montenegro attaches great importance to promoting relations with countries both inside and outside the EU, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

GROWING POLITICAL SUPPORT IN SERBIA FOR INDEPENDENCE FROM MONTENEGRO
Mladjan Dinkic, who is governor of the Serbian National Bank and vice president of the G-17 Plus political party, told a meeting of his party's leadership in Belgrade on 25 May that the current union of Serbia and Montenegro is detrimental to Serbian interests, "Vesti" and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that the two republics' respective economic interests are too difficult to reconcile within a joint state, and that attempts at harmonizing those interests are holding up Serbia's admission to the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April, and 5, 12, and 23 May 2003). Dinkic argued that Serbia needs a new constitution that is designed to last for many years as well as new, unspecified policies toward its Balkan neighbors. "Vesti" noted that momentum appears to be building in Serbian politics for independence from Montenegro, which polls have long suggested is popular with voters. PM

ROW IN MONTENEGRO OVER ENDING TELEVISED PARLIAMENTARY SESSIONS
The State Radio and Television Council decided in Podgorica on 26 May that what is now state-run television will stop broadcasting legislative sessions when it becomes a public broadcaster on 1 June, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) hailed the move, saying that ending the live broadcasts will help legislators to work better. Opposition leaders charged that the council's decision is a blow to democracy and free speech. Montenegro is one of Europe's last bastions of the oral epic tradition, and many politicians pride themselves on their oratory. Many observers in former Yugoslavia considered the televised debates to be first-class entertainment as well as a public service. PM

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SAYS BOSNIA HAS A MIXED RECORD
Paddy Ashdown said in an open letter to Bosnian citizens on 25 May that he is optimistic about that country's prospects for political and economic development and for its eventual admission to the EU, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He noted that steps have been taken in recent years to end crime and corruption, including promoting judicial independence and restricting corrupt politicians' immunity from prosecution. However, Ashdown added that ties remain strong between politics, corruption, and organized crime. PM

BOSNIAN MUSLIMS HONOR MISSING PERSONS
About 400 people belonging to the Visegrad '92 society honored hundreds of missing local Muslims at a commemorative meeting on 25 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The ceremony, in which participants tossed flowers into the Drina River, took place on the bridge built by Mehmed Pasha Sokolovic in the late 16th century. Visegrad was one of the first communities to be "ethnically cleansed" of its Muslims by Serbian forces in 1992. Many of the Muslims are still missing and presumed dead. The bridge was immortalized by Nobel Prize-winning author Ivo Andric in his novel "The Bridge on the Drina." PM

A ROLE FOR SLOVENIA IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA?
Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic said in Ljubljana on 26 May that unnamed Slovenian officials are interested in investing in the Republika Srpska and participating in its privatization process, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added, however, that the Bosnian Serb legislature must make unspecified changes in legislation to make the Republika Srpska attractive to Slovenian investors. PM

MACEDONIA'S MAIN OPPOSITION PARTY ELECTS NEW LEADER
The opposition nationalist Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) elected a new chairman at its 12th party congress in Ohrid on 24 and 25 May, Macedonian media reported. Thirty-three-year-old Nikola Gruevski, a banker and former finance minister, will follow former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who recently resigned from the party chairmanship after 13 years in office. Gruevski was supported by 220 of the 289 delegates, while his only opponent, former Agriculture Minister and Deputy Party Chairman Marjan Gjorcev, gathered only 69 votes. UB

U.S. TROOPS TO LEAVE ROMANIAN BASE IN EARLY JUNE
The commander of the U.S. contingent stationed at the Mihail Kogalniceanu air base near the Black Sea city of Constanta said on 23 May that U.S. troops will evacuate that base in early June, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2003). Colonel Steven Dryer said that just 50 of the 600 U.S. soldiers stationed at the base now will remain behind to oversee the termination of infrastructure-improvement projects. Dryer said the U.S. military has spent $19 million at the base, most of it to improve roads and communication systems. He described the Kogalniceanu air base as "ideal for training purposes." Dryer said that during the Iraq war, U.S. planes used the base for 1,300 landings and for the transport to the Persian Gulf of 6,200 soldiers and 11,500 tons of military equipment. MS

ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS TROOPS IN AFGHANISTAN, SAYS IRAQ IS NEXT
Defense Minister Ioan Mircea Pascu inspected the Romanian contingent stationed in Afghanistan on 23-25 May, Romanian Radio reported. Pascu congratulated the soldiers for their success in operations against the Taliban and their discovery of the largest cache of ammunition since the end of Operation Enduring Freedom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003). He said on 24 May that he believes his next inspection visit will be to Iraq, adding, "We are preparing ourselves for dispatching troops there, which proves the centrality of the place Romania occupies in the settling of contemporary conflicts." Pascu also said that once Romanian troops leave Afghanistan, their equipment will be donated to the Afghan military. MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT TO AMEND ANTICORRUPTION LEGISLATION
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase announced on 26 May that the government will issue an emergency ordinance amending recent anticorruption legislation, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The legislation obliges ministers, lawmakers, state and local officials, and judges to declare whether their bank accounts in Romania or abroad are over 10,000 euros ($11,832); but the stipulations do not oblige officials to declare the amounts in such accounts. Opposition parties have criticized that loophole, and President Ion Iliescu said on 24 May that he believes asset declarations should indicate the precise amounts in those accounts. Nastase initially said such information was not required due to fears that organized crime might use it, but he said the cabinet subsequently decided to concur with the president's proposal. MS

FORMER ROMANIAN PEASANT PARTY LEADER JOINS LIBERALS
Former National Peasant Party Christian Democratic Chairman Andrei Marga announced on 23 May that he is joining the National Liberal Party (PNL), Mediafax reported. Marga said that he believes Romania's "liberal hour" has struck and all those who belong to Romania's various Christian Democratic parties should join the PNL because "only liberal politics can now pull the country out of its present crisis." MS

COMMUNISTS WIN MOLDOVAN LOCAL ELECTIONS, RUNOFF IN CHISINAU...
The ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) has won the most votes in local elections held on 25 May, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. According to partial returns reflecting 72.7 percent of ballots, the PCM won 48.03 percent, the Socialist Liberal Alliance "Our Moldova" 21.3 percent, the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) 9.53 percent, and the Democratic Party 6.98 percent of the vote counted to that point. The PCM also won the largest number of mayoralties (116), followed by "Our Moldova" (39), the Socialist Liberal Party/Social Democratic Party of Moldova Bloc (eight), and the PPCD and the Centrist Union (three each). Twenty-four independents also won mayoral terms. In Chisinau, where the count was final, a runoff will be held in two weeks between incumbent Mayor Serafim Urechean, who won 44.4 percent of the vote, and PCM candidate Vasile Zgardan, who received 40.8 percent support. Urechean is backed by the Socialist-Liberal Alliance. PPCD candidate Vlad Cubreacov was third in the race, garnering 7.8 percent. The PCM will dominate the municipal council (43.5 percent), followed by the Socialist Liberal Alliance (25.29) and the PPCD (14.87 percent). MS

...WHILE PPCD WILL APPEAL TO COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The PPCD announced on 26 May that it will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against a ruling by Moldova's Supreme Court of Justice, which on 24 May ordered that students in Chisinau vote in the localities of their domicile unless they are registered permanent residents of the capital, Flux reported. The PPCD said it will demand that authorities pay compensation of 10,000 euros ($11,832) to every student that was "deprived of his or her right to vote" in the local elections. The Centrist Union said on 26 May that it is appealing to the Central Electoral Commission to invalidate the results in 10 of Moldova's 32 districts, Infotag reported. The party said its party logo on ballots in those districts was unclear, which "misled voters and distorted the results." MS

EUROPEAN COMMISSION PRESIDENT BACKS PLAN FOR MOLDOVA'S FEDERALIZATION
European Commission President Romano Prodi said on 26 May that the European Union backs efforts to bring about a solution to the Transdniester conflict through Moldova's federalization, Infotag reported. Prodi said the commission is ready to help the three international mediators (the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine) in their efforts to facilitate a solution. He said the dispute provides fertile ground for illegal activities and generates hazards to regional stability. This, Prodi said, is why the EU and the United States imposed a joint ban on travel by Transdniestrian officials. He said the ban has stimulated negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol and provided a window of opportunity to solve the problem. MS

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER LEAVES FOR MIDDLE EAST TOUR, CANCELS HIGH-LEVEL MEETINGS IN ISRAEL
Solomon Pasi, who arrived for an official visit to Israel on 26 May, cancelled all scheduled high-level meetings, BTA reported. Pasi said in Jerusalem the same day that he has called off scheduled meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat after consultations with EU officials. Instead of meeting with Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, Pasi announced that he will hold talks with former Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. It is not clear whether Pasi will visit the Palestinian Authority, where he was expected to confer with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. The original travel plan also envisioned an official visit to Amman, Jordan, where Pasi was to speak with Jordanian Planning Minister Bassam Awadallah and to open a conference on joint Bulgarian-Jordanian participation in the reconstruction of postwar Iraq. UB

ITALIAN PREMIER PLEDGES TO SUPPORT BULGARIAN BID FOR EU MEMBERSHIP, AIMS AT BULGARIAN MEDIA MARKET
Silvio Berlusconi told his visiting Bulgarian counterpart Simeon Saxecoburggotski on 23 May that his government will actively support Bulgaria during the Italian European Union Presidency, which is to start on 1 July, the Bulgarian government's official website (http://www.government.bg) reported. Berlusconi and Saxecoburggotski also discussed ways to increase Italian investment in Bulgaria. Speaking upon his return to Bulgaria on 25 May, Saxecoburggotski confirmed that Mediaset, Berlusconi's media holding, is planning to enter the Bulgarian television market. He added that this is not the first time that Mediaset has shown such interest and that the German RTL Group is also interested in investing in Bulgaria, novinite.bg reported. UB

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER CRITICIZES JUNIOR COALITION PARTNER
Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski, who heads the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), on 25 May criticized Emel Etem of the NDSV's junior coalition partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), for repeating her public demand for a government reshuffle, mediapool.bg reported. Saxecoburggotski said such issues are normally discussed in private and at meetings among the coalition partners. Etem on 24 May repeated her call to restructure the cabinet by the end of June. DPS Chairman Ahmed Dogan also expressed support for this idea in an interview on 21 May, but withdrew his statement hours later. Deputy DPS Chairman Rosen Vladimirov demanded on Bulgarian National Radio on 23 May that the Economy Ministry be carved up and a separate Tourism Ministry be created. He also proposed that the Economy Ministry's department for the food-producing sector should return to the Agriculture Ministry, which is headed by a DPS member. Etem added that the DPS will give a full assessment of the cabinet's work after parliament votes on the opposition's no-confidence motion on 28 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, and 21 May 2003). UB

INTERNATIONAL FIRMS VIE FOR IRAQI RECONSTRUCTION ROLE
Efforts appear well under way to jump-start the Iraqi economy in the post-Saddam Hussein era. Iraq's debt is estimated at $200 billion-$300 billion and upward, including foreign debt, compensation claims, and pending contracts. While some members of the Iraqi opposition have expressed the hope that at least some debt will be forgiven, it appears unlikely that all debt will be erased.

At the same time, world leaders seem to realize that some compromise is in order. Group of Eight (G-8) member states reportedly reached preliminary agreement on establishing a moratorium on Iraqi foreign-debt payments through 2004 during a meeting of G-8 finance ministers on 16-17 May in Deauville, France, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 May. That agreement is expected to be ratified when the G-8 meet in Evian, France, on 1-3 June.

The Paris Club and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are expected to determine the amount of Iraq's foreign debt by the end of 2003. IMF External Relations Director Thomas Dawson said on 8 May that his organization has a task force working full time in conjunction with various governments and institutions to collect and analyze data on Iraq. However, Iraq cannot rely solely upon its most valuable asset -- oil -- to pull its economy out from under the rubble of neglect and 13 years of UN sanctions. The U.S. plan to revitalize Iraq's economy to enable it to sustain the country's 27 million-strong population and repay the debts of the Hussein regime requires investment -- beginning with substantial reconstruction contracts -- and the promotion of private enterprise.

As the saying goes, to the victor go the spoils. In a fait accompli, the U.S.-led coalition has assumed its responsibility as an "occupying force" in Iraq and heretofore undertaken the responsibility of rebuilding the Iraqi economy and infrastructure. The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have been assigned the keys to the reconstruction coffers.

USAID has already doled out one of its first and biggest contracts to the U.S. firm Bechtel, which received an 18-month contract worth up to $680 million to rebuild Iraqi infrastructure, including "one seaport, five airports, miscellaneous electric-power systems, road networks, rail systems, municipal water and sanitation services, school and health facilities, select government buildings, and irrigation systems," according to Bechtel's website.

Bechtel, which is in the midst of holding three "contractor-supplier conferences" in Washington, London, and Kuwait City on 21, 23, and 28 May, respectively, will solicit firms wishing to subcontract with it on Iraqi reconstruction projects. Meanwhile, the U.S. Commerce Department has also announced the launch of the Iraqi Reconstruction Task Force on 16 May and an accompanying website at http://www.export.gov/iraq/. However, the commerce site focuses on helping U.S. companies invest in Iraq, with U.S. Commerce Secretary Don Evans stating in an announcement, "The resources of the Iraq Reconstruction Task Force will provide a one-stop shop for U.S. companies looking for information and counseling on Iraq reconstruction efforts."

Nevertheless, reconstruction contracts are expected to be spread far and wide, with every country in the coalition vying for a piece of the reconstruction pie, as well as giants like Russia, to which Iraq is heavily indebted. Firms in China, Japan, and India are also eager to get aboard the reconstruction gravy train.

But what about Iraq's neighbors? Some have already begun taking the initiative to foster cross-border trade and business developments. A conference on doing business in Iraq will be held in Amman on 2 June, "The Jordan Times" reported on its website on 19 May.

The one-day conference will be sponsored by the Amman Chamber of Industry (ACI), the Information Technology Association (int@j), and the American Chamber of Commerce in Jordan (JABA). Citing an ACI press release, "The Jordan Times" reported that representatives from U.S. firms holding contracts in Iraq, UN officials, and U.S. and Jordanian officials involved in the reconstruction process will participate in the conference. USAID and ORHA representatives are expected to attend.

The decision to hold such a conference is likely related to issues addressed during a 9 May meeting between Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu al-Raghib and Abbud al-Tufayli, the president of the Federation of Iraqi Chambers of Commerce. That meeting focused on ways to renew cooperation and trade between the two neighbors. In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Amman (http://usembassy-amman.org.jo/iraqr.html) launched a new resource page called "Iraq Reconstruction," the embassy's website announced on 6 May. The page provides links to USAID, which lists available contracts in Iraq.

Likewise, Turkish businesspeople are making use of the reopened Turkish Trade Consulate in Baghdad, Anatolia reported on 15 May. Trade Counselor Metin Deger told the news agency that the trade consulate is working to assist Turkish businesses to find opportunities in Iraq. Turkish Ambassador to Iraq Osman Paksut eagerly predicted that Turkish businesses will dominate investment in Iraq. "It will be seen soon that the speculations saying that Turkey has lost its commercial power here after the war are not true," Paskut said. "Iraq is a rich country. Turkey will help in all issues to make Iraq reach [a] level of prosperity again." Firms from Kuwait and the Gulf States are also expected to benefit from reconstruction contracts.

Contracts to Arab firms would surely contribute to the overall regional economy and foster stronger ties within the region. It would also serve the United States' stated goal, as announced by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in November, of revitalizing the region economically and politically through the Middle East Partnership Initiative and U.S. President George W. Bush's more recently announced goal of establishing a U.S.-Middle East Free-Trade Area within 10 years.

U.S. FORCES ATTACKED IN AL-FALLUJAH
U.S. forces came under heavy fire in the central Iraqi city of Al-Fallujah on 27 May, international media reported. One U.S. soldier was killed and seven others were injured in the incident, in which "a hostile force of unknown size" lobbed rocket-propelled grenades and fired small arms at U.S. troops. Two of the attackers were killed and six others captured, according to a statement on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). CENTCOM also reported that a U.S. Army Medevac helicopter was damaged during the incident when a Bradley fighting vehicle accidentally struck it while maneuvering into firing position. Initial reports indicate that the attackers fired on U.S. forces from inside a local mosque, CENTCOM added. Al-Fallujah is approximately 50 kilometers west of Baghdad. KR

SELF-RULE GIVEN IN KIRKUK...
Some 300 prominent Kurdish, Arab, Turkoman, and Assyrian figures assembled in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on 24 May to begin the process of electing a civil administration, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported the same day. They have now elected a 30-member council. The council is expected to nominate a mayor on 28 May -- it has already elected an Assyrian, a Turkoman, and a Kurd as assistant mayors to govern the city, Reuters reported on 26 May. Participants speculated that a Kurd would be elected mayor. Reuters reported that the 24 May election was overshadowed by Arab and Turkoman protesters, who oppose the composition of an independent bloc of six participants because it is dominated by five Kurdish figures. In addition, seven Arab delegates to the council election were detained due to their affiliation with the banned Ba'ath Party. Major General Raymond Odierno, commander of coalition forces in northeast Iraq, is presiding over the election process. "They really want this process to work, and I am extremely encouraged," Reuters quoted Odierno as saying. KR

...AND TAKEN AWAY IN AL-BASRAH
British forces in southern Iraq have disbanded the Al-Basrah city council, BBC news reported on 26 May. The council will be replaced by an interim committee that will address the technical issues related to reconstruction and a civic forum that will focus on establishing democratic local governance. According to the BBC, the interim committee will comprise the heads of Al-Basrah's utilities, as well as British military and Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) officials. The city council was disbanded because it was headed by Shaykh Muzahim Mustafa Kanan al-Tamimi, a tribal leader and Ba'ath Party member (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2003). KR

BRAZILIAN APPOINTED UN SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE TO IRAQ
Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello has been appointed special representative of the UN secretary-general for Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 May. De Mello was appointed to the post on 23 May. He was appointed UN high commissioner for human rights at UN headquarters in Geneva in July. He began his career in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1969. In 1996, he was appointed UN assistant high commissioner for refugees, according to a 2002 UN press release. De Mello has worked on humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Bangladesh, Sudan, Cyprus, Mozambique, Peru, and Lebanon. He holds two doctorates from the University of Paris (Pantheon-Sorbonne) and reportedly speaks five languages. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is scheduled to make an official announcement during a 28 May press conference. KR

IRAQI OFFICERS REBELLING AGAINST U.S. DECISION
Senior Iraqi officers reportedly threatened to carry out suicide operations against coalition forces in retaliation for the U.S. decision to dissolve the military forces, MENA reported on 26 May. The report cited an unidentified officer as saying that he and his colleagues will give U.S. forces one week to overturn their decision before seeking retribution. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reported that a number of former officers demonstrated in front of the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad on 26 May, stating that the army belongs to Iraq, not deposed President Saddam Hussein. They called for the rights of the 400,000-strong Iraqi Army to be honored. "We are demanding our rights only. If they do not give us our rights, all of us are ready to commit suicide and fight. They know our rights. I spent 34 years as a fighter. I know how to fight both in the cities and in the desert," one unidentified officer told Al-Jazeera. KR

U.S. ADMINISTRATOR ANNOUNCES ESTABLISHMENT OF TRADE-CREDIT FACILITY
U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer announced the establishment of a trade-credit facility for Iraq, dpa reported on 26 May. The facility is being set up with assistance from private banks, as well as the Iraqi Central Bank, to encourage investment in the country. Bremer said it will also facilitate the transformation of Iraq into a "liberal," "free" market economy. KR

IRANIAN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS DISCUSS TIMETABLE OF BUSHEHR NUCLEAR-POWER PLANT
Iranian Ambassador to Russia Gholamreza Shafei and several officials from Iran's atomic energy organization met with Russian Atomic Energy Minister Aleksandr Rumyantsev in Moscow on 26 May to discuss progress on Iran's Bushehr nuclear-power plant, IRNA reported. IRNA said the two sides discussed coordinating Iran's nuclear program with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) but did not mention whether that included agreeing to the additional protocol that would place Iran's nuclear program under more stringent IAEA controls. Rumyantsev told ITAR-TASS news agency that Russia sees no reason to "revise its obligations with regard to the construction of the first power plant in Bushehr." Rumyantsev also said Russia will continue to work on the project "despite the fact that our positions on this issue differ from those of official Washington." A spokesman for the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry said the construction schedule at Bushehr was revised at the meeting, ITAR-TASS reported, although he did not provide details. SF

IRAN ADMITS TO INTERROGATING AL-QAEDA MEMBERS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on 26 May that "since the creation" of Al-Qaeda, Iran has dealt with the group seriously, Iran's Fars News Agency reported. Asefi said "every one" of Al-Qaeda's members that has come to Iran has been "either isolated or interrogated," adding that a number of Al-Qaeda members are currently under investigation. When asked whether senior Al-Qaeda members are in Iran, Asefi said, "We do not know who these are. How can we say that they are senior members of Al-Qaeda or not?" IRNA reported. Iranian state radio, however, quoted him as saying that there are no senior members of Al-Qaeda in detention. SF

PLANE CARRYING SPANISH ISAF PEACEKEEPERS CRASHES, KILLING 75
A Ukrainian Yak-42 charter aircraft carrying 62 Spanish troops from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, crashed in Trabzon, Turkey, on 26 May, killing all passengers and the crew, the BBC and other media reported. The Yak-42 was operated by Mediterranean Airways on route to Zaragoza and was landing in Turkey for refueling when it hit a mountain in thick fog. In addition to the Spanish troops, 13 crewmembers also died in the crash. According to ISAF, the Spanish peacekeepers were returning home after a four-month tour of duty with ISAF in Kabul. Spain contributes 120 peacekeepers in the fields of engineering and explosive-ordnance disposal to ISAF. AT

CANADA TO TAKE COMMAND OF ISAF UNDER NATO
Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham said on 26 May that his country will assume command of ISAF under a NATO mandate, dpa reported. The current joint German-Dutch command of ISAF will expire at the end of August. In April, NATO agreed to assume administrative responsibility for ISAF (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003). Graham said that Canada is planning to deploy 2,000 troops in Afghanistan and will assume command of ISAF for one year. Since its inception in December 2001, ISAF has had three commands: the United Kingdom until June 2002; Turkey until February 2003; and the current Germany/Netherlands command. NATO's assumption of responsibility for the force is intended to give ISAF a more structured and stable command system. AT

GERMANY EXPANDS MILITARY PRESENCE IN AFGHANISTAN
Germany is planning to establish a second military base in Herat Province in western Afghanistan, "Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 26 May. Currently, Germany has one military base, which is located in Kabul. Under the new plan, German soldiers will cooperate with the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). According to German Defense Minister Peter Struck, plans to expand the mandate of German forces in Afghanistan are currently under consideration. AT

UN ASSISTS AFGHANISTAN WITH CENSUS
The first phase of Afghan Census project has been completed in Parwan, Kapisa, and Logar provinces and the project will continue soon in Samangan, Baghlan, and Takhar provinces, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said, according to a UNAMA press release on 25 May. The Afghanistan Central Statistics Office is carrying out the census work in Afghanistan with assistance from the UN Population Fund. The first phase of census project deals with updating maps, listing dwelling places, and "making preliminary population counts." The project is to be completed by early next year. The last attempt to conduct a census in Afghanistan was made in 1976-79, but the project was never completed. Census taking in Afghanistan is a controversial issue, as most of the major ethnic groups have often reported inflated numbers for their groups to justify their positions within the country's power structures. However, without a scientific census, holding the elections scheduled for June 2004 will be difficult. AT

RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN ACCUSES TURKMENISTAN OF TIES TO FORMER TALIBAN REGIME
Russian State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin told journalists in Moscow on 23 May that his committee has received "unconfirmed information" that the administration of Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov has ties with international terrorist organizations and is involved in drug trafficking from Afghanistan, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Rogozin said he has information that the Turkmen leadership maintained close relations with the former Taliban regime in Afghanistan and supported it with supplies of fuel and other commodities. If the information is confirmed, Rogozin said the Niyazov regime would face international isolation. Accusations about links between the Niyazov regime and terrorist organizations have appeared before in the Western press, but they have been generally ignored in Moscow, which has its own geopolitical interests in Turkmenistan, Deutsche Welle reported on 25 May. Rogozin's comments might reflect the changed international situation following the war in Iraq, which has forced Moscow to shift its position on Niyazov, the radio station commented. VY

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