MOSCOW WILL NOT END NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH TEHRAN
Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said on 28 May that Russia has no intention of ending its nuclear-energy cooperation with Iran because such cooperation does not violate any international laws, RTR and other Russian media reported. Commenting on remarks by U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher, who said on 27 May that the U.S. administration is urging Russia to end the program, Ivanov said that no one can find fault with Russia in this regard. Boucher's remarks were the administration's reaction to media reports that Tehran has secretly begun construction of two new nuclear facilities, NTV reported on 28 May. The Atomic Energy Ministry, which is fulfilling an $800 million contract to build a nuclear-power station in Bushehr, issued a statement on 28 May saying that it has no reason to think Tehran is in violation of international nonproliferation regulations and that it will continue with the Bushehr project. VY
SHANGHAI COOPERATION ORGANIZATION HOLDS SUMMIT...
President Vladimir Putin, Chinese President Hu Jintao, and the presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan gathered in Moscow on 29 May for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Russian and international media reported. The summit approved the organization's budget, symbols, headquarters, and statutory documents enabling the SCO to function as a full-fledged international organization next year, Interfax reported on 29 May. Beijing was selected to host the SCO headquarters, and Bishkek will host its Regional Antiterrorism Center. Chinese Ambassador to Russia Zhang Deguang, who speaks fluent Russian, was named the SCO's first executive secretary, Interfax reported. The organization is not directed against any other countries, but intends to address regional security issues, the fight against international terrorism, and common economic problems, presidential foreign-affairs adviser Sergei Prikhodko said, according to strana.ru on 27 May. VY
...AS UZBEK PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST OVER-HASTY EXPANSION
Speaking to journalists in Tashkent on 28 May before leaving for Moscow for the SCO summit, Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov stressed the importance of determining the SCO's formal structure, adopting its charter, and securing its recognition by the UN as an international organization, ITAR-TASS and uzreport.com reported. Only then, Karimov said, should its present members address the possibility of admitting new members. He also warned against the possible emergence of "internal blocs" within the SCO. In early 2001, Tajikistan made clear its opposition to Pakistan's expression of interest in obtaining observer status with the SCO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 8 January 2001). LF
RUSSIA READY TO HELP CHINA BUILD SPACE STATION
Khrunichev Space Production Center head Aleksandr Medvedev said on 28 May after a visit to his firm by Chinese President Hu that Russia can help China build its own space station, strana.ru and other Russian media reported. Russia is prepared to offer China the use of its Rokot missile booster, Rosaviakosmos head Yurii Koptev was quoted as saying. China intends to launch a manned spacecraft as early as this year and, if that effort is successful, to build a permanent orbital station. VY
DEFENSE MINISTER AGREES TO DELAY IN MILITARY REFORM
Airborne Forces Commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak has asked Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to postpone switching the 76th Airborne Division in Pskov to contract-based service, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported on 28 May. The switch is intended to be the first step in Russia's long-delayed program to create a volunteer military, with the Pskov-based division becoming a model for the rest of the armed forces. Ivanov reportedly agreed with Shpak that creating a volunteer forces means more than just replacing conscripts with volunteers. It entails achieving higher levels of combat readiness by improving training and living conditions for service personnel. Ivanov denied media reports that the Defense Ministry intends to disband the Airborne Forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2003). "We have no plans to subordinate the Airborne Forces to army's ground forces," Ivanov said, according to nns.ru. The Union of Rightist Forces on 28 May began picketing the Defense Ministry to call for accelerating military reforms, Western media reported. VY
GOVERNMENT PREPARING NEW LAW ON MINERAL RESOURCES
Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Mukhamed Tsikanov said on 28 May that his ministry has prepared a draft bill on mineral wealth, polit.ru reported. Existing legislation stipulates that mineral resources belong to the state, but does not specify whether they belong to federal, regional, or local governments. The ministry's bill will clarify this, although Tsikanov did not specify how. It also details various legal avenues for exploiting such resources, including concessions, licenses, and contracts. Deputy Natural Resources Minister Vladimir Engelsberg said the bill will also regulate rules for making decisions about exploiting mineral resources. He added that his ministry prefers licensing, while the Economic Development and Trade Ministry is insisting that state-granted concessions be the primary mechanism. VY
DUMA LEADER PROPOSES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT ON BUSINESS ACCOUNTABILITY
Duma Deputy Gennadii Raikov, head of the People's Party of Russia and of the People's Deputy faction in the Duma, wrote in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 28 May that Russia should adopt a constitutional amendment that would define the social and civic responsibilities of business owners to society and the state. "Mistrust between the government and the people and between business and the state is the main obstacle to reforming the present criminal-bureaucratic state order," Raikov wrote. Economic development is impossible without a moral revival, he argued, proposing that the constitution be amended to include language about business's obligations to society. Some analysts have noted that the German Constitution includes similar norms, stating that "wealth is an obligation to society." VY
THREE WEEKS AFTER INITIAL REPORT, RUSSIA OFFICIALLY CONFIRMS FIRST SARS CASE
The Health Ministry confirmed on 28 May that Denis Soinikov, a 25-year-old patient in a hospital in Blagoveshchensk, has severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Russian media reported. State Health Inspectorate head and Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishchenko told reporters in Moscow that a blood sample had been sent to Moscow and that analysis confirmed the initial diagnosis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 21 May 2003). Onishchenko denied that the government has been providing inaccurate reports on its possible SARS cases, noting that the "World Health Organization is not authorized to make such complaints," Interfax reported. "My opinion has always been that the patient in Blagoveshchensk is infected with SARS, and as laboratory tests proceeded, I told the media and the international community that the Health Ministry views SARS as the most likely diagnosis." Regnum first reported that Soinikov had been hospitalized with SARS-like symptoms on 5 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2003). Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov ordered that all movement through 31 checkpoints with China and Mongolia be suspended until 4 June, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC
FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBERS REMOVE ONE OF THEIR LEADERS...
Federation Council members voted during a closed session on 28 May to dismiss Andrei Vyakhirev, the representative of the Kurgan Oblast legislature, from his post as deputy chairman of the chamber, Russian media reported. According to RIA-Novosti, the vote was 144 in favor with one against and two abstentions. In an interview with NTV, council Chairman Sergei Mironov declined to comment on Vyakhirev's removal, but "Kommersant-Daily" declared that the reason for it is "completely obvious": "Vyakhirev criticized the work of his boss [Mironov] too often." The daily noted that Vyakhirev openly called for Mironov to participate in the construction of political parties in an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in May 2002. Vyakhirev was reportedly active in arranging financial support from business circles in Yekaterinburg for the Party of Life, which Mironov now heads (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 25 April 2003). In addition, NTV reported that Vyakhirev has been critical of the centrist political parties' involvement with the presidential administration. According to regions.ru, the question of Vyakhirev's successor will be taken up in two weeks. JAC
...AND GIVE STAFF MEMBERS A HEFTY RAISE
Also on 28 May, senators voted to approve amendments to the law regulating workers in the Federation Council. According to RosBalt, the bill raises the monthly wages of aides to Federation Council members from 1.65 times to 2.8 times the wage of State Duma deputies. JAC
PUTIN'S RATING FALLS WHILE UNIFIED RUSSIA'S RISES...
The All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) on 28 May published the results of an opinion poll conducted on 23-26 May of 1600 respondents, according to the center's website (http://www.wciom.ru/). The poll found that President Putin's approval rating fell to 70 percent from 73 percent last month -- reaching its lowest level since December 2000, when his rating was 68 percent. The center also found that the rating for the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party rose from 21 percent last month to 23 percent in May. The Communist Party continued to have the highest rating with 28 percent, while the rating of Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia rose from 7 to 10 percent, and Yabloko's inched up from 6 percent to 8 percent. JAC
...AS GOVERNMENT NEWSPAPER CITES POLL FINDING PEOPLE DON'T BELIEVE IN POLLS...
A recent poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation found that 41 percent of an unspecified number of respondents do not trust the results of polling data regarding the popularity of Russia's political parties, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 28 May. Twenty-three percent said they trust such ratings, while 36 percent said they have not formed an opinion on the issue. Among the comments recorded was the statement: "It is necessary to find out who will finance the campaign: It is not important which party -- but whose people -- come to power." According to the daily, another poll conducted by the Agency for Regional Political Research found that the unemployed expressed less desire to vote in the upcoming elections than was expressed by respondents on average. JAC
...AND RISING BREAD PRICES COULD UNDERMINE SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT
"Vremya-MN" commented on 28 May that the rising price of bread could damage President Putin's approval ratings. According to the daily, the price of wheat for food products has risen 25 percent to 50 percent in the last five months, and the price of high-quality flour has jumped 10 percent on average. In several regions, it has soared by 30 percent to 40 percent. In May, the price of bread rose by 10 percent in Yaroslavl Oblast and by 22 percent in Rostov Oblast. JAC
PRIME MINISTER LOSES 'RIGHT-HAND MAN'
President Putin has signed a decree dismissing Igor Shuvalov from his post as director of the government apparatus and naming Konstantin Merzlikin to replace him, strana.ru reported on 28 May. Shuvalov will now serve as a presidential aide, but his new sphere of responsibilities has not yet been determined, according to presidential press secretary Aleksei Gromov. Moscow Carnegie Center analyst Andrei Ryabov told "Gazeta" on 29 May that Shuvalov's departure represents a "severe loss for [Prime Minister] Kasyanov," since Shuvalov was Kasyanov's "right-hand man" and "chief political resource." Igor Bunin of the Center for Political Technologies told the daily that Merzlikin is "devoted" to Kasyanov but is "less influential." Merzlikin most recently served as the director of Kasyanov's secretariat and also served as deputy director of the secretariat of former First Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Maslyukov in 1998-99. JAC
MORE REGIONAL LEGISLATURES GIVE GOVERNORS LONGER TERMS IN OFFICE
Legislators in Novgorod Oblast approved on 28 May the date of 7 September for the next gubernatorial election, RIA-Novosti reported. Lawmakers also approved amendments to a regional law that will extend the governor's term from four to five years beginning after the next election. Legislators in Irkutsk Oblast on the same day approved a bill extending the governor's term and the term of oblast legislators from four to five years, RIA-Novosti and regions.ru reported. The new law will come into effect after the next legislative and gubernatorial elections, which are scheduled for 2004 and 2005, respectively. JAC
PUTIN MEETS WITH CHECHEN LEADERS
President Putin met on 28 May at his suburban Moscow residence with Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Chechen Prime Minister Anatolii Popov, and Federal Minister for Chechen Affairs Stanislav Ilyasov, Russian media reported. Putin inquired about restoration work in Grozny, the process of paying compensation to Chechens whose homes have been destroyed over the past decade, the development of small and medium-sized businesses, the work of the traffic police, and progress on drafting a treaty on the division of competencies between Chechnya and the federal center. Kadyrov said a working group established to prepare that document has so far produced "two or three" drafts. Putin commented that those drafts should be published in Chechnya to allow broad public discussion. Kadyrov also said that a Chechen State Council, composed of two representatives from each raion, will begin work on 10 June. The State Council will function as an interim parliament pending new parliamentary elections, for which no date has yet been set. Also on 28 May, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov rejected as unrealistic suggestions that Chechnya hold presidential elections before it elects a new parliament, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
ARMENIAN PREMIER OFFERS TO SHARE MINISTERIAL POSTS
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, whose Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) was declared the official winner of the 25 May parliamentary elections, offered on 28 May to share ministerial posts with other parties that support President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Markarian said his party "will try" to include in the cabinet other pro-presidential parties represented in parliament on the condition that they agree to share responsibility for the government's policies. The Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) ranked third and fourth, respectively, according to official returns, which the HHD claims were falsified to its detriment. Markarian said there will be some changes in the composition of the government over the next 20-25 days, but at the same time he made clear that the HHK will not cede control of the defense and security ministries. LF
ARMENIAN VOTERS REJECT PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Fewer than the required one-third of all of Armenia's 2.33 million registered voters approved the package of constitutional amendments put to a national referendum concurrently with the 25 May parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Yerevan reported on 28 May. Only 46 percent of the 1.2 million voters who participated in the referendum approved the proposed changes. Opposition parties claimed the official figures released by the Central Election Commission late on 27 May artificially inflated support for the amendments, which the opposition claims would have expanded the president's powers to appoint senior officials without the approval of parliament. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CHAIRS MEETING ON ELECTIONS...
Heidar Aliev chaired a discussion at his office on 27 May on preparations for the presidential election due in October, Turan and Interfax reported the following day. Presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev told journalists on 28 May that Aliev gave instructions that all provisions of the election law be implemented. Parliament passed that law in its third and final reading on 27 May. Mekhtiev said the authorities will do everything in their power to ensure the ballot is open, transparent, and democratic, Interfax reported. LF
...IN WHICH HE WILL BE RULING PARTY'S ONLY CANDIDATE
Mekhtiev also told journalists on 28 May that "Heidar Aliev was and is the ruling party's candidate" for the presidential ballot. He said all rumors to the contrary are untrue. President Aliev's son, Ilham, similarly pointed out on 26 May that the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party and other organizations have already proposed the incumbent president's candidacy. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT TO MISS ST. PETERSBURG TERCENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS
Prime Minister Artur Rasizade will head Azerbaijan's delegation to this week's celebrations in St. Petersburg to mark the 300th anniversary of that city's founding, Turan reported on 28 May. On 20 May, Interfax quoted presidential administration official Novruz Mamedov as rejecting speculation in the opposition press that due to his precarious health, Aliev would not be able to travel to St. Petersburg. LF
AZERBAIJANI POLICE PREVENT OPPOSITION WREATH-LAYING
On 28 May, the anniversary of the founding of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic in 1918, Azerbaijani police prevented members of the reformist wing of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party from laying a wreath in Baku at the site of a planned monument to Mamed Emin Rasulzade, one of the founders of the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic, Turan reported. LF
GEORGIA DENIES TALKS ON USE OF TERRITORY FOR U.S. ATTACK ON IRAN
Georgian presidential press secretary Kakha Imnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 29 May that there is no truth to an article published in the same day's issue of "Nezavisimaya gazeta" alleging that the U.S. administration is holding secret talks with the leaders of Georgia and Azerbaijan on the deployment in those countries of U.S. forces that could participate in a U.S. military intervention in Iran to overthrow that country's leadership, Caucasus Press reported. Imnadze said Georgia has not received any such proposal from Washington. LF
GEORGIA, RUSSIA RESUME TALKS ON FRAMEWORK TREATY
Russian and Georgian Foreign Ministry delegations met on 27-28 May in Tbilisi to resume talks on the draft of the new framework treaty between the two countries, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. It was the seventh round of such expert-level talks, and the first since June 2002 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 20 June 2002). Ambassador Mikhail Ukleba, who headed the Georgian delegation, characterized the talks as "constructive." Caucasus Press on 29 May quoted Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Kakha Sikharulidze as saying agreement has been reached on 80 percent of the draft, and only certain military-political issues remain to be resolved. He said the next round of talks will take place in Tbilisi in late June. LF
GEORGIAN ELECTION LAW TALKS DEADLOCKED
Talks in recent days between the various Georgian parliament factions and speaker Nino Burdjanadze have failed to yield a solution to the ongoing disagreement over the optimal composition of the Central Election Commission, Caucasus Press reported. Opposition factions have rejected the government's proposal that the commission be staffed with government officials, and suggested instead that all political parties that polled a minimum of 4 percent of the vote in the 1999 parliamentary elections be represented. Movement for Democratic Reforms faction head Kote Kemoularia argued that the commission should be made up of international experts, as was the case in the elections held Bosnia in 1996 after the 1995 Dayton agreement came into effect. Two Council of Europe experts are expected in Tbilisi on 3 June to review preparations for the 2 November parliamentary elections. LF
RESIDENTS PROTEST FIRING OF GEORGIAN DISTRICT ADMINISTRATOR
Residents of Borzhomi Raion in southwest Georgia blocked a local highway on 28 May to protest the dismissal by regional Governor Temur Mosiashvili of Borzhomi administrator Zaza Djokhadze, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Mosiashvili's stated rationale for firing Djokhadze was that the latter opposed the routing via Borzhomi of the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian Sea oil. Djokhadze, who is a member of the opposition New Rightists party, believes he was dismissed for refusing to head a local branch of the pro-presidential For a New Georgia election bloc. Djokhadze has reportedly been summoned to Tbilisi to meet with President Eduard Shevardnadze. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S NEPHEW IMPLICATED IN ORGANIZED SMUGGLING
Givi Targamadze, who is a member of Georgia's Anticorruption Commission, told a press conference in Tbilisi on 28 May that he has grounds to suspect that President Shevardnadze's nephew, Kako Shevardnadze, controls an organized smuggling network by virtue of his contacts in the State Security and Interior ministries, the Border Guards, the Customs Service, and the Emergency Legion, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Targamadze estimated the financial losses to the Georgian budget from smuggling as $500 million over the past six years. Independent experts estimate the damage at 200 million-300 million laris ($93.6 million-$140.5 million) per year. LF
LAST REMAINING ARMENIAN JUDGES IN GEORGIA DISMISSED
Georgia's Constitutional Court has dismissed three Armenian judges from a predominantly Armenian-populated region of southern Georgia on the grounds that, although their professional qualifications are exemplary, they failed to pass a Georgian-language examination, Caucasus Press reported on 28 May. Most of the region's population speaks Armenian and Russian, but little or no Georgian. LF
HEAD OF ABKHAZ PARLIAMENT-IN-EXILE PROTESTS ABKHAZ PRESENCE AT ST. PETERSBURG CELEBRATIONS
Tamaz Nadareishvili, who heads the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz Supreme Council, told Caucasus Press on 28 May he has written to St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev protesting and demanding an explanation for the invitation extended to the leadership of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia to attend the celebrations this week to mark the 300th anniversary of that city's founding. Nadareishvili said he interprets that invitation as formal recognition by the Russian authorities of the Abkhaz "separatist regime." President Shevardnadze's press spokesman Imnadze said on 27 May that Shevardnadze might not travel to St. Petersburg to attend the anniversary celebrations if the Abkhaz were present, but on 29 May Caucasus Press announced that Shevardnadze will indeed attend. LF
KAZAKH LOWER HOUSE APPROVES BORDER AGREEMENT WITH KYRGYZSTAN
The Mazhilis (lower house of the Kazakh parliament) on 28 May ratified an agreement with Kyrgyzstan delimiting the 1,240-kilometer border between the two countries, akipress.org reported, quoting Kazakhstan Today. The agreement was signed in December 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2001). First Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov said the border was delimited on the basis of the administrative border established during the Soviet era and mutually accepted maps. The Mazhilis also ratified an agreement defining the point at which the borders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan meet in the mountains northeast of Tashkent. Abuseitov noted that this point too was determined on the basis of Soviet administrative divisions. BB
SOME KAZAKH POLITICIANS STILL HOPE FOR REFERENDUM ON LAND CODE
A group of Kazakh politicians -- including parliamentarian Vladislav Kosarev, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan official Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, and Committee Against the Landownership Law Chairman Baltash Tursymbaev -- told a news conference in Almaty on 28 May that a meeting of political figures and other activists opposing the new draft Land Code adopted a resolution the previous day calling on the government and parliament to hold a national referendum on the code, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The code, which was adopted without full parliamentary approval as a result of legal maneuvering by the government, introduces private landownership in Kazakhstan. Although the code lacks only the president's signature to become law, its opponents believe it should be put to referendum because of its potentially far-reaching effects on Kazakh society. BB
KAZAKH MIGRATION SERVICE TELLS KYRGYZ TRADERS TO LEAVE SHYMKENT
The Kazakh immigration authorities have told all Kyrgyz citizens trading in the southern Kazakh administrative center of Shymkent to leave the city, khabar.kz reported on 28 May. According to the report, Kazakh media are attributing the action to the authorities' discovery during a raid on a Shymkent market that its owners have no license to employ foreign workers. Khabar.kz noted that chasing the Kyrgyz traders out of Shymkent could have a negative effect on the city's budget, because each of the approximately 5,000 Kyrgyz traders working in Shymkent pays up to 300 tenges (about $2) daily. According to the report, the Kyrgyz market traders told journalists they were completely terrorized by the police, who regularly raided the market and demanded bribes of 5,000-50,000 tenges, despite the fact that the traders' papers were in order. BB
NATIONAL DEMOCRACY FUND SET UP IN KYRGYZSTAN
The National Fund for the Development of Democracy -- created by parliamentarian Omurbek Tekebaev, opposition Ar-Namys Party leader Emil Aliev and leader of the NGO Civil Society Against Corruption Tolekan Ismailova -- was registered by the Kyrgyz authorities on 27 May with the blessing of President Askar Akaev, khabar.kz and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The objective of the fund, according to fund head Tekebaev, is to encourage citizens' involvement in politics and support political parties. He said Akaev is particularly interested in introducing proportional representation at the local level as a means of encouraging the development of political parties. The fund intends to lobby for changes in election laws to ensure free and transparent elections and the peaceful transfer of power, the fund's founders said. It will also assist the development of civil society. Three additional members of the lower house of parliament have agreed to join the fund's eight-person oversight council. The reports did not say how the new fund will be financed. BB
KYRGYZSTAN REINFORCING ITS BORDERS AFTER ATTACK ON DJALAL-ABAD POLICE STATION...
Kyrgyz Border Service head Kalmurat Sadiev said on 28 May that Kyrgyzstan has reinforced its borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan after a raid on the Djalal-Abad police headquarters on 15 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003), Interfax reported. He added that alleged members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) -- which is internationally considered a terrorist organization -- have been arrested in connection with the bombing of an exchange office in Osh on 8 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). Sadiev said that 36 people who had crossed the borders illegally -- some of them alleged IMU members -- have been detained so far this year. After the raid in Djalal-Abad, President Islam Karimov issued a decree to strengthen the Ferghana Valley border with Kyrgyzstan to prevent "the infiltration into Uzbekistan of armed bandit groups" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). BB
...AS LAST OF ALLEGED DJALAL-ABAD RAIDERS CAUGHT
Adyl Karimov, the alleged leader of the gang that attacked the Djalal-Abad police headquarters on 15 May and made off with a number of weapons, was arrested on 27 May in the southern Kyrgyz town of Tash-Kumir, Interior Ministry press spokesman Djoldoshbek Busurmankulov announced the following day, khabar.kz, akipress.org, and Interfax reported. Karimov reportedly still had in his possession two Makarov pistols stolen during the raid. He had reportedly been in hiding in the Aksy Raion since the raid. Busurmankulov asserted earlier that Karimov assembled the gang to free a number of criminal bosses and destabilize southern Kyrgyzstan. National Security Service Deputy Chairman Boris Poluektov told parliament that the object of the raid was to steal weapons to stage an armed coup (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). The gang reportedly believed the people of Aksy Raion, where five demonstrators were killed by police in 2002, would support them. Police officials said that the raiders arrested immediately after the attack in Djalal-Abad confessed they wanted the weapons in order to commit further crimes. BB
TAJIK LEGAL EXPERT CALLS FOR UNICAMERAL PARLIAMENT, CLEAN ELECTIONS
Rahmatillo Zoirov, who is chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Tajikistan and also a legal adviser to President Imomali Rakhmonov, argued on 28 May that either Tajikistan should have a unicameral, not a bicameral legislature, or the powers of the upper chamber should be redefined, because "today it represents the interests of the executive more than those of the people," Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Zoirov also pointed out that the lower chamber is tasked with control and organizational functions in addition to purely legislative duties, and does not have enough time to discharge all those duties. Communist Party of Tajikistan Central Committee Secretary Tuigun Karimov agreed, suggesting that the number of deputies in the lower chamber should be increased by 50 percent or even 100 percent from the present 63. Both men also criticized as undemocratic interference by government officials in the election process. Zoirov proposed that in an attempt to minimize the possibility of falsification, all officially registered political parties should be represented on election commissions at all levels, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. LF
BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES SUSPEND MAJOR INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER
The Ministry of Information suspended publication of the independent newspaper "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" and its supplement "BDG. Dlya sluzebnogo polzovaniya" for three months on 28 May, Belapan reported, quoting Pyotr Martsau, director of Marat, the company that publishes both periodicals. The ministry reportedly said it suspended the publications "for gross [and] numerous violations of the law." Last week, the ministry issued two warnings to "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" and one warning to "BDG. Dlya sluzebnogo polzovaniya," charging that the periodicals broke the law by defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and publishing materials about criminal investigations without official permission. Under Belarus's restrictive media law, two official warnings provide sufficient grounds for a court to close a media outlet. Martsau said he will appeal the ministry's decision in court. The Russian-language "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" has been appearing in Belarus for 11 years. JM
BELARUSIAN INDUSTRIAL TRADE UNIONS MERGE
Trade unions at nine major state-run industrial enterprises held a merger convention in Minsk on May 28 to form a Belarusian Union of Industrial Workers and join the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB), Belapan reported on 28 May. The FPB, formally an independent organization, is controlled by the government through its leader, Leanid Kozik, a former deputy chief of the presidential administration. Kozik devoted much of his speech at the convention to slamming two independent industrial-trade-union leaders, Alyaksandr Bukhvostau (Union of Automobile and Agricultural-Implement Workers) and Anatol Fyadynich (Union of Electronic Industry Workers). "They find the West's toffees more tasty than the honest bread of their motherland," Kozik charged. "They are afraid of losing members, and they are losing them, because they are busy politicking, not protecting workers' interests." JM
OSCE URGES MINSK TO DEMOCRATIZE ELECTORAL CODE
Uta Zapf, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus, told journalists in Minsk on 28 May that she is "encouraged by the openness and readiness" of Belarusian officials to consider amendments to the country's electoral code, Belapan reported. Zapf and two other members of the group were in Belarus on 25-28 May to discuss with legislators and government officials the need for making the electoral code more democratic. Zapf noted that the legislation should be amended to ensure broader representation of political forces on election commissions at all levels, grant greater monitoring rights to international and domestic election observers at every stage of elections, and establish efficient control over early voting and voting from home. Zapf said the delegation got the impression that the Belarusian authorities recognize the need for such changes. JM
In the item "Will Anti-Semitism Charges Sink Russian Newspaper In Belarus?" on 28 May, "RFE/RL Newsline" misidentified the Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT ON SENDING PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ...
President Leonid Kuchma told journalists in Kyiv on 28 May that he is certain the Verkhovna Rada will endorse a decision taken earlier this month by the National Security and Defense Council to send a contingent of Ukrainian peacekeepers to the Polish stabilization sector in Iraq, Interfax reported. "I am convinced, taking into account the situation in parliament, that the decision to dispatch [the contingent] will be adopted," Kuchma said. He said he is aware that such a decision will be "perceived ambiguously by Ukrainian society" but added, "We have no right to stay aside from global processes." JM
...AFRAID OF RECURRENCE OF EAST-WEST SPLIT DURING PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION...
President Kuchma said at the same 28 May news conference that he fears there might be attempts in next year's presidential election to pit voters in the east of the country against those in the west, as was the case in previous presidential ballots in 1991, 1994, and 1999, Interfax reported. Kuchma added that such a negative, east-west division was reinforced during the 2002 parliamentary elections. JM
...AND DOUBTFUL OF OPPOSITION'S ABILITY TO FIELD SINGLE CANDIDATE
Kuchma also told journalists on 28 May that opposition forces -- Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party -- are unlikely to field a joint presidential candidate in the 2004 election, Interfax reported. Kuchma suggested that Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko made a mistake by not siding with pro-presidential forces and not forming a pro-government majority in the Verkhovna Rada after the 2002 parliamentary elections. JM
ESTONIAN CABINET APPROVES THREE-YEAR BUDGET STRATEGY, TAX REDUCTIONS
The government approved a budget strategy for 2004-07 at its meeting in Tallinn on 28 May, BNS reported. The plan calls for a reduction of the income-tax rate from the current 26 percent to 24 percent in 2004, to 22 percent in 2005, and to 20 percent in 2006. Income-tax revenues will also be reduced by another measure that will raise the maximum untaxed earnings from the current 1,000 kroons ($75) per month to 1,400 kroons in 2004, 1,700 kroons in 2005, and 2,000 kroons in 2006. Since a large share of the income of local governments comes from personal income taxes, the revenues from which will decline, the strategy provides for maintaining current spending levels by raising the local-government share of those revenues from the current 44 percent to an estimated 85 percent by 2006. The document also pledges balanced budgets each year and conservative budgetary policies, with deficits allowed only in connection with pension reforms. SG
LATVIA, UNITED KINGDOM SIGN BILATERAL COOPERATION AGREEMENT
The head of Great Britain's National Audit Office, Comptroller and Auditor General Sir John Bourn, and Latvian Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis signed a bilateral cooperation agreement in Riga on 28 May, LETA reported. The accord provides for British assistance in preparing a financial-monitoring system in Latvia in order to efficiently implement projects financed by the EU. The agreement is valid for two years and will be financed by 2.5 million euros ($2.95 million) from the EU's PHARE program. Bourn held talks the previous day with parliament speaker Ingrida Udre, who briefed him on the establishment of a parliamentary public-expenditures and audit commission that is authorized to supervise and control budgetary expenditures. State Controller Raits Cernajs also participated in the meeting. SG
ROMANIAN ARMY COMMANDER VISITS LITHUANIA
General Mihail Popescu held talks with his Lithuanian counterpart Major General Jonas Kronkaitis in Vilnius on 28 May, ELTA reported. Popescu said the aim of his visit is "to learn something useful" from Lithuania's military reforms. The generals noted that their armed forces face similar challenges in preparing for their anticipated entry into NATO in May 2004. Both countries supported the U.S. campaign in Iraq and are participating in peacekeeping operations in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. Popescu also visited the Lithuanian parliament and the Foreign Ministry. On 29 May, he was expected to meet with Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius and to visit the Radvila Training Regiment in Rukla and the Regional Airspace Surveillance and Control Center in Karmelava. SG
POLAND TO COMMIT MORE THAN 2,000 TROOPS TO IRAQ
Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said on 28 May that Poland will send more than 2,000 service personnel to its stabilization sector in Iraq in July, Polish media reported. Szmajdzinski pledged that the Polish contingent in Iraq will become fully operational by the end of August. The Polish-led division in Iraq is expected to consist of 6,500-7,500 troops. General Czeslaw Piatas, chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, said the same day that "over 75 percent of the required forces have already been declared." Meanwhile, Reuters quoted unidentified NATO diplomats as saying that Warsaw is still having difficulties finding enough soldiers for its stabilization force in Iraq, despite a related international conference held last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). According to those diplomats, Poland has so far secured commitments from roughly 2,000 soldiers from Ukraine, 800 from Fiji, 600 from South Korea, and a small unit from the Dominican Republic. JM
POLISH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT LIFTS CURBS ON LUSTRATION
Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled on 28 May that an amendment to the country's lustration law passed by the ruling Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Party bloc with the help of Self-Defense last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 October 2002) is unconstitutional and thereby invalid, Polish Television reported. The amendment exempted from lustration individuals who collaborated secretly with the communist-era intelligence and counterintelligence services and border guards. "This is a victory for the [current Polish] republic over the Polish People's Republic, for truth over lies, and for honesty over the cynicism of those who wanted to paralyze lustration," said lawmaker Kazimierz Ujazdowski of the Law and Justice parliamentary caucus, which petitioned the tribunal to rule on the amendment. JM
POLISH PEASANT PARTY PROPOSES FORMING NEW CABINET
Polish Peasant Party (PSL) leader Jaroslaw Kalinowski has sent a letter to the president, the speakers of the Sejm and the Senate, and major party leaders with an offer to form a new government, Polish media reported on 28 May. According to the proposal, the PSL would be willing to form a new cabinet with the minority-ruling bloc of the Democratic Left Alliance-Labor Union but is demanding that the prime minister be replaced. The PSL also suggests that representatives of other groupings, including the opposition Civic Platform, might join the new cabinet. Premier Leszek Miller expelled the PSL from the ruling coalition on 1 March over the PSL's failure to support a government-sponsored bill in the Sejm (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2003). JM
CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER RESIGNS, BLAMES BUDGET SQUEEZE...
Jaroslav Tvrdik handed in his resignation as defense minister on 29 May, citing planned budget cuts that he says endanger crucial defense reforms and previous pledges to the Czech Republic's NATO allies, CTK and international news agencies reported. The sweeping reforms that Tvrdik has proposed are based on defense spending of 2.2 percent of GDP, a figure that the Czech Republic vowed to maintain in connection with its 1999 accession to the trans-Atlantic military alliance. "This is not about getting more money for the army; it is about the trust and belief of soldiers, of citizens, and of NATO," Tvrdik said, according to Reuters. Premier Vladimir Spidla first signaled his acceptance of the resignation, but later on 29 May said he will consider Tvrdik's resignation and announce his decision on 4 June. Tvrdik has effectively wielded his considerable political capital to push through reforms of the military-intelligence community, measures to professionalize fully the army and to end compulsory military service, and consolidated the army-command structure. While stressing his general support for public-finance reforms being pushed through by the current, three-party government, Tvrdik said: "The [military] reform cannot be performed as it was conceived [in light of the planned finance reforms]. It is necessary to take [political] responsibility for that." Tvrdik has served as defense minister since May 2001. AH
...ONE DAY AFTER GOVERNMENT APPROVES DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQ
Cabinet ministers on 28 May approved a proposal to deploy 400 Czech soldiers to participate in the U.S.-led stabilization effort in Iraq, CTK reported. The proposed contingent will include members of a field hospital already in Al-Basrah, 50 military-police officers, and 15 soldiers to enhance civilian-military cooperation. The government also approved measures to protect Czech staff of the Office for Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (OHRA) in Postwar Iraq. Both decisions must still receive the approval of parliament. AH
EU OFFICIAL SAYS SLOVAKIA IS LEAST-PREPARED CANDIDATE
Luiz Riera, director for regional policy of the European Commission, told journalists in Bratislava on 28 May that Slovakia is the least-prepared EU candidate country, CTK reported, citing Austria's APA news agency. Riera was speaking after meeting with Slovak Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, who is in charge of EU accession. Riera said Slovak projects for the use of EU funds are poorly prepared and there is a danger that EU support will have to be curtailed. President Rudolf Schuster responded that he wants to consult with experts on the use of EU funds, adding that Csaky and EU Ambassador to Slovakia Eric van der Linden will attend those consultations. The Slovak cabinet the same day approved measures aimed at significantly improving Slovakia's preparedness for drawing resources from EU structural funds, according to TASR. Construction and Regional Development Minister Laszlo Gyurovsky is to coordinate the implementation of these measures. Gyurovsky said Slovakia's main problem is a lack of qualified personnel. He said two Slovak projects were returned from Brussels after being deemed insufficiently prepared, adding that those projects must be resubmitted by June. MS
SLOVAK OPPOSITION PARTIES TO INITIATE DISMISSAL OF MINISTERS
The leaderships of the opposition Smer (Direction) and People's Union parties agreed on 28 May to initiate the dismissals of Deputy Premier Csaky and Finance Minister Ivan Miklos in the Slovak parliament, CTK reported. The chairmen of those two parties, Robert Fico and Vojtech Tkac, said after their meeting that they will also try to enlist the support of the Communist Party of Slovakia and of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. Fico accused the government of refusing either to face up to the failure of the referendum on EU accession or to dismiss Csaky for his responsibility for the low voter turnout (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). He also reiterated that Csaky's tenure as minister in charge of EU accession puts at risk Slovakia's ability to draw on EU structural funds. Fico blamed Miklos for poor elaboration of the budget, which he said will result in substantial tax increases due to a growing deficit. MS
SLOVAK ROMANY GROUP COMPLAINS OF DISCRIMINATION...
EU Ambassador to Slovakia van der Linden met on 28 May with representatives of Romany organizations who complained of discrimination by the office of the government's commissioner for Romany affairs. Alexander Patkolo, chairman of the Roma Initiative for Slovakia, told van der Linden that Romany organizations have submitted several projects involving the use of EU funds since 2000, adding that all of those projects were either rejected or failed to receive any official evaluation. MS
...AS AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL SAYS SLOVAKIA NOT PROTECTING ROMANY RIGHTS
In its annual report released on 28 May, Amnesty International said Slovakia does not sufficiently protect the rights of its Romany minority and does not satisfactorily investigate crimes against Roma, CTK and TASR reported. The report says Slovak Roma are being discriminated against in all spheres of life and are targets of racial violence, while police fail to address those incidents as racial violence. The international human rights watchdog writes that, in February, police arrived one hour after a conflict in Poprad, central Slovakia, between a bartender and a Rom resulted in 15 young men attacking Romany homes and the injury of one Rom. Amnesty International says that after arriving late, police denied the incident was racially motivated and subsequently launched an investigation against a human rights lawyer who had criticized their behavior. MS
SLOVAK TEACHERS PROTEST CONDITIONS IN EDUCATION
Thousands of Slovak teachers protested in Bratislava and other towns on 28 May against conditions in the country's education system and low wages, TASR and CTK reported. The demonstrations were organized by the Education and Science Workers Trade Unions, which said it is ready to launch a strike if its demands are not met. Teachers object to the halving of wages during summer months, when schools are closed, and against the postponement by one month of agreed wage increases. They also say conditions in the education system make it impossible for them to perform their duties. MS
HUNGARIAN PARTIES AGREE TO DEPLOY TROOPS TO IRAQ
Hungarian parliamentary parties agreed on 28 May to send a 300-strong military-transport-and-logistics unit to Iraq, international news agencies reported. Hungarian media cited Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz as saying the troops will be accompanied by 90 combat soldiers to protect them. The Hungarian unit will be part of the Polish-led multinational brigade that will be stationed south of Baghdad, dpa reported. Parliament is expected to approve the decision on 2 June. A two-thirds majority is required for approval, which appears all but certain after the main opposition FIDESZ party said UN Security Council Resolution 1483 on Iraq's postwar stabilization has removed obstacles to dispatching the Hungarian contingent to Iraq. MS
AUDITORS ALLEGE CRIMINALITY AT HUNGARIAN STATE TELEVISION
The State Audit Office (ASZ) has filed a criminal complaint alleging that hundreds of millions of forints was illegally channeled into management pockets in the form of severance payments at the state-owned MTV television network, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 29 May. The daily reported that ASZ believes MTV paid out over 300 million forints ($1.4 million) in severance payments to employees it continued to employ or later rehired. Auditors suspect that current News Editor Zoltan Rudi received 20 million forints in severance pay but was later rehired. He reportedly pledged repay the money, according to "Nepszabadsag." MS
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL URGES HUNGARIAN CABINET TO FIGHT DISCRIMINATION
In its annual report issued on 28 May, Amnesty International calls on the Hungarian government to issue a comprehensive decree to combat discrimination, Hungarian media reported the next day. The organization says it is concerned by the high number of imprisoned Roma, physical attacks on Roma by police when arrests are made, and the segregation of Roma in schools. Antal Heizer, head of the Office for National and Ethnic Minorities, rejected the accusations. He said Amnesty International's report is based on unreliable information and says its compilers have not properly monitored government antidiscrimination measures. MS
EU WARNS BALKAN STATES OVER SIGNING AGREEMENTS WITH THE U.S...
The European Union has sent a letter to the western Balkan states aspiring to EU membership cautioning them against signing any bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States that would exempt U.S. citizens from handover to the International Criminal Court (ICC), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 28 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 19, 21, and 27 May 2003). The text is signed by Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou, whose country holds the rotating EU Presidency, EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten, and EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. The letter calls on aspirants to respect the "values and positions" of the EU, stressing that the ICC enjoys the "full support" of the Brussels-based bloc. Officials in Belgrade, Sarajevo, and Zagreb have confirmed receipt of the letter. In related news, the Zagreb daily "Vjesnik" published an open letter from U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Lawrence Rossin stressing that the United States is not attempting to force Croatia to choose between his country and the EU. PM
...AND CALLS ON BOSNIA NOT TO RATIFY THE AGREEMENT IT HAS SIGNED
The letter that the EU sent to Bosnian authorities calls on them not to ratify the agreement that Justice Minister Slobodan Kovac and U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia Clifford Bond recently signed not to extradite each other's nationals to the ICC, dpa reported from Sarajevo on 28 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). "If the Bosnian leaders want their country to become a part of European integration, then they have to share the values and positions of the EU towards the ICC," the letter warns. The text does not mention any specific consequences for Bosnia if it does not do the EU's bidding. Bosnian officials have made it clear that they intend to stand by the treaty, which they regard as a sign of appreciation for U.S. assistance and support. PM
MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES LAW ON WEAPONS COLLECTION...
In an effort to reduce the large number of illegal weapons in the country, the Macedonian parliament passed a law on 28 May setting down the terms of a no-questions-asked handover of arms to the authorities in return for an amnesty, dpa reported. The weapons-collection action will start in June and last for 45 days. According to various estimates, there are still up to 300,000 weapons -- including machine guns, assault rifles, and mortars -- in the hands of both ethnic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. The government hopes to collect between 80,000 and 100,000 of those weapons in a country where gun ownership has long been a part of the culture, as is the case throughout much of the Balkans. UB
...AS INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY SAYS SECURITY SITUATION IS STABLE, DESPITE INCIDENTS
Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski, NATO Ambassador to Macedonia Nicolaas Biegman, and the commander of the EU's Concordia mission, German Admiral Rainer Feist, met in Skopje on 28 May to assess the security situation in Macedonia, dpa reported. After the meeting, they said there are no immediate threats to the country's stability (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 26 May 2003). Elsewhere, however, OSCE spokesman Wolfgang Greven warned of a growing number of incidents in the former crisis regions in the western and northern parts of Macedonia, where there is a large ethnic Albanian population. According to Greven, the situation calls for an increased police presence, economic development, and an improved infrastructure. UB
MACEDONIAN ALBANIANS CHARGE POLICE BRUTALITY
The Albanian-language Macedonian dailies "Fakti" and "Flaka" wrote on 28 May that ethnic Albanians in the northwestern village of Sopot charged that ethnic Macedonian police behaved abusively during a search operation on 26 May, dpa reported from Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003). The police said they came to investigate a 10 March incident in which four people were killed in a land-mine attack. The two newspapers quoted locals as saying the real aim of the police appeared to be to intimidate ethnic Albanians and provoke an "ethnic cleansing" of the region. Observers note that anonymous Macedonian "police sources" often provide accounts to the Macedonian-language and international media aimed at creating the impression that ethnic Albanian guerrilla and criminal organizations seriously threaten the stability of the country. The government elected in September has repeatedly promised to promote professionalism in the police force, which has long been regarded as a stronghold of Macedonian nationalists. PM
UN ADMINISTRATOR IN KOSOVA TO LEAVE OFFICE
The German Foreign Ministry said in a statement in Berlin on 28 May that Michael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian mission in Kosova (UNMIK), will leave his post at an unspecified date in the summer to take up duties as German ambassador to the UN mission in Geneva, Reuters reported. The controversial Steiner has led UNMIK since February 2002 but has made little secret in recent months of his desire to resume a career in the German diplomatic service. It is not clear who will replace Steiner in Kosova. PM
SERBIAN MINISTER QUITS UNDER PRESSURE
Dragan Veselinov resigned as Serbia's agriculture minister on 29 May after Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic and members of the cabinet called on him to do so, dpa reported. Veselinov had come in for strong public criticism following a recent incident in which his chauffeur drove onto a sidewalk and killed a young woman. Critics charged that Veselinov displayed arrogance by employing a driver with a poor professional record and allowing him to drive at a high speed during rush hour, "Vesti" reported. Veselinov said he resigned to help the prime minister and the government, adding that his critics in the media and the governing coalition conducted a "shameful campaign" against him. PM
SERBIAN POLICE FILE CHARGES AGAINST JOURNALISTS
The Serbian Interior Ministry filed libel charges on 28 May in Belgrade against Zeljko Cvijanovic, who is editor of the weekly "Blic News," and Jovica Krtinic, who is a journalist with the same newspaper, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The police charged that Krtinic in a recent article falsely accused police of trying to frame innocent people while investigating the murder of former police General Bosko Buha. The police added that Krtinic has published similarly defamatory articles about them in the course of the past two years. Cvijanovic said he will not reveal the sources of his information regarding the Buha case. PM
FORMER BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL DIES OF CANCER
General Momir Talic died in a Belgrade military hospital on 28 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal allowed him to return to Belgrade in September following his diagnosis with terminal cancer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 September 2002). He had been on trial before the tribunal for war crimes, including genocide, in connection with the 1992-95 Bosnian war. PM
CROATIA BLOCKS TWO BANK ACCOUNTS OVER SUSPECTED TERRORIST LINKS
Croatian authorities froze the accounts on 28 May of one Jordanian citizen and one Saudi national who are suspected of links to Al-Qaeda, Croatian Television reported. The authorities did not release the names of the two individuals or how much money is on the accounts. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT REQUESTS PARLIAMENTARY APPROVAL FOR DISPATCHING TROOPS TO IRAQ
President Ion Iliescu asked parliament on 28 May to approve the deployment of 678 peacekeepers to "participate in the stabilization and reconstruction of Iraq," AP reported. Iliescu said in his message that the Romanian troops will operate under an Italian brigade as part of "a multinational peacekeeping force to be stationed in an area of southern Iraq under British control." The troops will include an infantry battalion, military police, demining units, and 20 central-command officers. Another four officers will be dispatched in a liaison capacity to command centers in Northwood, Britain, and Roma, Italy. MS
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES ROMANIAN POLICE FOR USE OF TORTURE
Amnesty International says in its annual report issued on 28 May that there are numerous reports of police torture and ill treatment of detainees in Romania, according to local media. The group says at least seven men died in custody under suspicious circumstances. Many of the victims of torture and ill treatment are ethnic Roma, the report says. It also says prisons are overcrowded, with poor living conditions and inadequate medical services for inmates. The international human rights watchdog also says excessive restrictions remain in force on the right to freedom of expression despite revisions of the penal code aimed at bringing legislation in line with EU norms. MS
U.S. SANCTIONS MOLDOVANS FOR ALLEGED EXPORTS TO IRAN
A State Department official cited by Reuters said on 28 May that the United States has imposed commercial sanctions on a Moldovan citizen and on two Moldovan companies for exporting missile technology to Iran. The Federal Register identified the individual as Mikhail Pavlovich Vladov and the companies as Cuanta SA and Computer & Communicatii SRL and their subsidiaries or successors. The notice said they had "engaged in missile technology proliferation activities that require imposition of sanctions pursuant to the Arms Export Control Act...and the Export Administration Act of 1979." The State Department source added, "They contributed to missile technology programs in Iran." As a result of the decision, the United States will not issue licenses for the export of sensitive equipment or technologies to those entities for two years, and the U.S. government will exclude them from any activities relating to missile equipment. The Russian Interfax news agency said that Vladov was CEO of Cuanta in 2002. In May 2002, the United States had already sanctioned Cuanta and Vladov under a 2000 law designed to prevent transfers of controlled equipment and technology to Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2002). MS
FINAL RESULTS OF MOLDOVAN LOCAL ELECTIONS CONFIRM COMMUNIST VICTORY...
The Central Elections Commission announced the final tally of the 25 May local elections on 28 May, confirming the victory of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM), RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The PCM garnered 47.89 percent of votes cast for municipal- and district-council seats and 45.7 percent of those for village and towns councils. The PCM won 255 (53.8 percent) mayoral seats (503 of 898 mayors were elected on 25 May, and a runoff will take place on 8 June in localities where no candidate received a majority). The Social-Liberal Alliance "Our Moldova" received the second-largest number votes, winning 20.05 percent of the municipal- and district-council vote and 21.1 percent of village- and town-council ballots. Ninety-seven candidates (20.5 percent) running on the "Our Moldova" ticket were elected to mayoral posts. The Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) garnered 8.89 percent of the municipal- and district-council vote and 6.6 percent of the vote for village and towns councils. The PPCD secured just two mayoral seats. The Democratic Party won 7.69 percent of the vote to municipal and district councils and 8.9 percent of the town- and village-council vote while winning 26 mayoral seats. MS
...AS COURT ORDERS BALLOT RECOUNT IN CHISINAU
A Chisinau court backed an appeal by the PMC on 28 May and ordered that ballots for mayor and the municipal council be hand-counted, Infotag reported. The PCM argued in its appeal that due to a temporary failure in the computer system, the announced results might not reflect the actual vote. Incumbent Mayor Serafim Urechean (44.4 percent) would face PCM candidate Vasile Zgardan (40.8 percent) in a runoff on 8 June if the original count were to stand. The PCM won 43.5 percent of the mandates on municipal and district councils in Chisinau, according to those results, followed by the Socialist Liberal Alliance (25.29 percent) and the PPCD (14.87 percent). The Communists argued that it is unlikely Zgardan would receive less backing than the party received on the municipal and district councils. MS
MOLDOVAN PREMIER ORDERS THE SOWING OF ALL VACANT LAND
Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev ordered the Agriculture Ministry to sow all 200,000 hectares of vacant land in Moldova with grain within the next 10 days, Infotag reported on 28 May. Tarlev said adverse weather conditions have produced a catastrophic situation in the agricultural sector. MS
BULGARIA'S CONSERVATIVES CALL FOR EARLY ELECTIONS...
Lawmakers of the conservative opposition coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS), which is led by the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), on 28 May used the plenary debate of a no-confidence motion to level accusations against Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski and to call for early elections, mediapool.bg reported. Deputy SDS Chairwoman Ekaterina Mihailova called on all political parties in parliament to agree on early elections, arguing that the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) and Saxecoburggotski have lost the moral right to govern the country. Yordan Sokolov, a former parliamentary speaker who is currently an ODS deputy, accused Saxecoburggotski and his ministers of having been corrupted by businessmen, citing a recent Interior Ministry report that alleged ties among politicians, magistrates, and the underworld (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 28 April 2003). The no-confidence vote is expected to take place on 29 or 30 May. UB
...AS SOCIALISTS SAY PREMIER IS UNABLE TO GOVERN...
Tatyana Doncheva, who is a lawmaker of the Bulgarian Socialist Party-led Coalition for Bulgaria, charged during the session that Prime Minister Saxecoburggotski is dependent on those business groups that helped him assume power, mediapool.bg reported. Like ODS lawmaker Sokolov, Doncheva cited the recent Interior Ministry report, using it as an example of Saxecoburggotski's inability to take the necessary steps and dismiss the ministers involved. She also mentioned the case of the Kozloduy nuclear-power plant, in which the government allegedly acted against the proclaimed will of parliament. "I dare say that this prime minister long ago proved unable to lead a government," Doncheva said. "And he has proven to be unwilling to behave like a prime minister." UB
...WHILE GOVERNMENT MEMBERS UNDERSCORE SUCCESSES
In reaction to the charges that the government is unwilling or unable to curb organized crime, Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov told the parliament session that crime rates are the lowest they've been in years and recalled the poor records of previous ODS- and BSP-led governments, mediapool.bg reported. Economy Minister Nikolay Vasilev, who is also a deputy prime minister, said the charges that the government has not fulfilled its electoral promises to improve social welfare are unfounded. "The average salary has increased from a miserable $113 to a no less miserable $169," bnn quoted Vasilev as saying. "But this is still a 49 percent increase in dollars. Would you call such an increase symbolic?" "The justifications [for the no-confidence motion] did not meet our expectations," Vasilev said, according to BTA. "We expected serious, in-depth criticism and an analysis of the situation, but the way they were written shows the motion is intended to be voted down." UB
TATAR MUSLIM WOMEN WIN LAWSUIT OVER HEADSCARVES BAN
Muslim women in Russia's Republic of Tatarstan have won a court battle that is seen by many as a vindication for the struggle for the equality of religions in the Russian Federation, which is dominated by the Russian Orthodox Church. The appellate chamber of the Russian Supreme Court ruled on 15 May that citizens may have their passport photographs taken wearing headscarves if their religious beliefs require it. Considering the appeal of 10 Tatar Muslim women from Tuben Kama, the court annulled Article 14 of the Interior Ministry's 1997 passport regulations, which require photographs without sunglasses and headwear.
Vladimir Ryakhovskii, a Moscow-based lawyer representing the plaintiffs, making a larger point about religious freedom in Russia, told "Izvestiya" on 16 May: "We have won a very important victory because from now on not only Muslim women will be able to be photographed the way their religion requires it. Orthodox nuns also may have their passport photographs made wearing headscarves." The federal Interior Ministry's passport and visa bureau told reporters that it will appeal the court's ruling. Orthodox nuns and other religious believers have not become involved in this dispute.
The controversy pitted religious communities against the state, but also provoked contradictory responses from secular authorities. Apparently unwilling at first to confront religious activists, the Russian Interior Ministry first allowed women to be photographed with headgear, but then changed the rule. First, a 1998 memo interpreting the 1997 regulations allowed room for concession to religious communities. But then security officials evidently could not make proper identifications without having ears, neck, and hair visible. In many countries, even those espousing equal rights for all religious traditions such as the United States, all applicants for passports must submit photos with the face, one ear, the neck, and hair visible. In Russia, the local tolerance of kerchiefs in photos stopped in February 2002, followed by a June 2002 telegram to the regions invalidating the recommendation, which in turn prompted the lawsuit.
"The directive put them [Muslim women] in a catch-22 in which religious norms and government regulations irreconcilably contradicted each other," moscowtimes.ru quoted Ryakhovskii as saying on 16 May. The decision of the appellate chamber was seen as a victory for civil rights and religious tolerance in Russia by both the Muslim community and secular civil rights advocates.
Writing for the conservative city-journal.com on 23 April, British commentator Theodore Dalrymple analyzed France's headscarf controversy. In France, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy provoked the ire of the French Muslim community in May when he stated that photographs for the compulsory French identity card must show the bearer bareheaded. Another government body had previously ruled that Muslim women could wear the headscarves in public schools, igniting further debate that culminated in Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin announcing that he intended to reinstate the ban on headscarves "in the exercise of any public function." Citing AFP reports, Dalrymple writes, "Scarf partisans are duplicitously using a double tactic and a double language to impose their views on Muslim women -- their ultimate goal being the destruction of the liberal-democratic state itself."
Dalrymple insists there are reports of some women applauding Minister Sarkozy for upholding women's rights and the secular state. Citing incidents of the rape of young Muslim women wearing Western-style clothing in immigrant housing projects outside Paris, Dalrymple surmises, "It is impossible to know whether the adoption of Islamic dress by women in Western society is ever truly voluntary, and so long as such behavior persists, the presumption must be against it being so."
The dynamics of the headscarves controversy in Russia, while similar in some respects to Europe, is different because it involves citizens rather than immigrants, and national groups with centuries of history together, now co-existing within the federal framework of Russia. Muslim leaders were angered when Russian President Vladimir Putin said last year that Muslim women should not be allowed to wear headscarves in the passport photos because the photos had to conform to "national standards." Mukaddes Bibarsov, chairman of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate of the Volga region, said women should insist on their right to wear the scarves for their passport photos, because it is "an actual religious duty and not a trend in fashion," Tatnews reported on 4 September 2002. In responding to the challenge, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Irina Bochinkova said: "The Koran is not a legal source of rights on the territory of the Russian Federation. We have a secular state, so no religion can be dominant," vesti.ru reported on 15 May.
Although the women's court battle has been won for now, the official appeal against the ruling and public sentiment indicate continuing opposition to any tolerance of headscarves. In a commentary titled "Back to the Middle Ages" in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-religii," No. 8, Ruslan Tuimazy said the issue isn't really whether Muslim women can wear kerchiefs. "No one can prevent any believer regardless of his or her religious affiliation from dressing in accordance with their traditions or canons." Rather, Tuimazy believes the demand of women to wear the scarves when taking official passport photographs "is a definite challenge to the secular society and state, a testing of the integrity of the constitutional principle of separating religion from the state." The demand doesn't come from the Muslim community as a whole, says Tuimazy, but "only from radical-minded Islamists, members of the Tatar Civic Center, which has resolutely declared its rejection of the secular society surrounding it."
In France, some of the women who attended the public meeting where Interior Minister Sarkozy announced the plan to ban headscarves have announced that they will take their case to the European Court of Human Rights if he follows through on the legislation to ban the custom in public schools and other institutions and in civil procedures like passport photos. The Tatar Muslim women had indicated the same intention if they lost their suit. Thus, "they intend to hoist Western society by its own petard," writes Dalrymple about such efforts -- using human rights instruments to undermine a liberal society defending separation of church and state. Western women's rights activists have pointed out in defense against such attempts to undermine human rights that Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that no one can use one right within the declaration to undermine another right. Yet no internationally recognized body has enough credibility to make a final pronouncement on such matters, ensuring that the controversies will continue.
Whether invoking internationally recognized human rights, constitutionally protected civil rights, or national customs and norms, by their inconsistency and confusion, as well as failure to resolve the larger issues of federal-regional relations and tolerance of minorities, Russian government agencies have ensured that the headscarves issue will not die.
Catherine Fitzpatrick is the editor of "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies."
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER ARRIVES IN IRAQ
Tony Blair became the first Western leader to enter Iraq since the downfall of the Hussein regime, international press agencies reported on 29 May. Blair visited the southern Iraqi town of Al-Basrah, which is currently under the control of British forces. He told reporters en route to Iraq that he wanted to thank British troops for their good performance. "People risked their lives, in some cases lost their lives, and so it's right that I go there and I see the troops there and thank them personally -- and thank them personally out in the theater," the BBC quoted Blair as saying. Blair was also expected to meet on 29 May with the United Kingdom's new representative in Iraq, John Sawers, the BBC reported. KR
CIA REPORT LISTS IRAQI MOBILE PRODUCTION PLANTS...
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) released a report on Iraqi mobile plants for the production of biological-warfare agents on 28 May that is available on the CIA website (http://www.cia.gov). "Coalition forces have uncovered the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program," the report states. The report cites the seizure of a "specialized tractor-trailer" by Kurdish forces outside Mosul in April and the discovery of a second mobile unit "equipped to produce biological-warfare (BW) agent" in May at the Al-Kindi Research facility in Mosul, as well as the discovery of a "mobile laboratory truck" in Baghdad by U.S. forces in April, which the agency describes as "a toxicology laboratory from the 1980s that could be used to support BW or legitimate research." KR
...AND EVALUATES EVIDENCE
The joint CIA-DIA report released on 28 May cites firsthand reports by Iraqi defectors who worked on the development of mobile production plants and laboratories, stating, "The majority of our information on Iraq's mobile program was obtained from a chemical engineer that managed one of the plants. Three other sources, however, corroborated information related to the mobile BW project." In addition, "employees of the facility that produced the mobile production plants' fermentor revealed that seven fermentors were produced in 1997, one in 2002 and one in 2003." The seven fermentors, the report states, corroborate the source's report that Iraq planned in the mid-1990s to produce seven mobile production plants. In addition, the report states that the trailer found in April "could be used for bioproduction" and theorized about -- but dismissed -- other possible uses for the trailer. "We are...confident that this trailer is a mobile BW production plant because of the source's description, equipment and design," the report concludes. KR
U.S. OFFICIAL DISCUSSES ROLE OF COALITION IN IRAQ
U.S. Undersecretary for Defense Douglas Feith told a press briefing at the Washington Foreign Press Center on 28 May that the coalition is working "to protect the efforts of Iraqis to reconstruct their country from Ba'athists" who are reportedly working to undermine their efforts, according to his comments posted on the U.S. State Department's website (http://usinfo.state.gov) the same day. Feith told the press that many Iraqis said they would not be willing to work with the coalition "if they felt that they were going to remain subject to retaliation by the Ba'ath Party elements." He added that it is vital to the stability of Iraq to remove those elements from leadership positions. Feith said that nearly half of the 45,000 coalition troops in Baghdad are working on establishing security in the country. "We hope by July to have two, perhaps three additional divisions come to help contribute to the security of the country," he said. Feith added that the State Department is recruiting 1,000 police advisers and trainers. "We have U.S. military police personnel growing from around 1,800 to 4,000, and we have been soliciting nearly 50 countries for police advisers," he noted. Feith also discussed the water, electricity, and food situation in Iraq. KR
IRAQIS REVOLT IN NORTHERN IRAQI TOWN AFTER WEAPONS SEARCH
Iraqis in the northern town of Hit rioted on 28 May after local police and U.S. troops conducted house-to-house searches in an effort to collect banned weapons, Reuters reported on 29 May. Angry residents took to the streets, attacking local police and setting police stations on fire, according to ITAR-TASS on 29 May. The town's population of some 150,000 are mostly Sunni Muslims. Local residents objected to the weapons searches and complained about the behavior of U.S. forces during the searches. "The Iraqi police were very rough with our women," Amr Aziz told Reuters, adding, "They forced their way into houses without knocking, sometimes when women were sleeping. This is a very conservative town." Another resident, Adnan Mizdar, said that U.S. soldiers fired at civilians during clashes between residents and troops, injuring a 10-year-old boy and two other people. A man by the name of Abd al-Qasim told the news agency, "We are not Saddam's men.... Saddam is gone, but we want the occupation to end. The Americans must know [that] they can never come back to town." There was no immediate comment from CENTCOM on the incidents. KR
IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER URGES SOLIDARITY AGAINST U.S. PRESSURES
Speaking to Iranian parliamentarians on 28 May, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged solidarity against U.S. pressures, which he said are aimed at destabilizing Iran, IRNA reported. He said U.S. leaders, driven by "stupid vanity" and aim to "stir up social tumult and psychological commotion and petrify officials" in order to force the Iranian people to "give up national power" and their "preferred values." Khamenei's remarks appeared to reflect concerns that factional feuding among Iranian politicians, which has flared up in recent weeks over the conservative Guardians Council's rejection of legislation meant to strengthen the authority of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, would make the country vulnerable to possible U.S. plans to foment unrest in Iran. SF
TEHRAN HOPES TO MOBILIZE OIC SUPPORT
The 30th foreign ministerial session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) opened in Tehran on 28 May, IRNA reported. Foreign ministers and representatives from 57 OIC member states are attending the three-day meeting to discuss Iraq, Israel-Palestine developments, the war on terrorism, and, Tehran hopes, mounting U.S. pressures on Iran. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami gave an inaugural speech in which he renewed his oft-stated call for civilizational dialogue. He urged abandonment of extremism and terrorism, which, he said, "destroy the dignity and authority of Islam," but he listed "unilateralism" together with terrorism as "the two horrible faces of today's world." Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi expressed regret on 28 May that the OIC has not effectively countered U.S. threats and noted that one aim of the Tehran meeting is to "mobilize the OIC to fulfill its international obligation," IRNA reported. The mainstream Tehran English-language daily "Iran News" on 28 May urged that the OIC adopt a united strategy against the Bush administration's "unilateralist" and "neo-imperial" strategies. SF
FLOODING IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN TAKES MORE THAN 100 LIVES
Heavy rainfall and the ensuing floods killed more than 100 people in the Doshi and Qarqol districts of Baghlan Province in northern Afghanistan on 28 May, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 29 May. Floodwaters also damaged more than 70 houses and destroyed large parcels of farmland. According to the Afghan Bakhtar news agency, no action has been taken to help the victims of the floods despite appeals to the international community for assistance. Flooding has also destroyed farmland and orchards in Badakhshan Province. AT
NORTHERN AFGHAN WARLORD VOWS HE WILL NOT BE DISARMED BY RIVAL
General Ata Mohammad, commander of the Afghan 7th Army Corps in northern Afghanistan, has said he will not allow rival General Abdul Rashid Dostum to disarm his military unit, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported on 28 May. Ata Mohammad said that if an order comes from Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai or Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim to disarm his unit, he will obey that order. On 21 May, Karzai appointed Dostum -- who previously served as deputy defense minister but effectively controlled several provinces in northern Afghanistan -- as his special adviser on security and military affairs with one of his tasks being disarming the 7th Army Corps (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003). Dostum recently stated that he intends to disarm all military units in northern Afghanistan, but it is unclear whether he intends to do so under the direction of Kabul or in order to consolidate his hold over the area. AT
U.S. MILITARY VEHICLE ATTACKED NEAR AFGHAN-PAKISTANI BORDER...
A U.S. Special Forces Operations vehicle belonging to the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition's forces in Afghanistan was targeted by a remote-controlled bomb on 27 May in Khost Province near the Afghan-Pakistani border, AFP reported on 28 May. According to U.S. forces, the explosives were detonated alongside a road, damaging the vehicle but causing no casualties. The use of remote-controlled devices highlights the difficulty that terrorist groups and opposition Afghan forces face in confronting coalition forces, but it also suggests that hostile forces are turning to increasingly sophisticated weaponry. AT
...AND COALITION BASE IS HIT IN PAKTIA
Two rockets landed in a base operated by the antiterrorism coalition's forces in Gardayz in Paktia Province on 28 May, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. The attack, the first rocket incident in weeks, did not result in any casualties. AIP speculated that the attack was carried out by groups opposed to the recent appointment of Paktia Governor Asadollah Wafa, who assumed his post on 28 May. AT
FRANCE REPORTEDLY PREPARING TO SEND SPECIAL FORCES TO AFGHANISTAN
French Special Forces are preparing to rejoin U.S.-led antiterrorism forces in Afghanistan, according a French weekly strategic report dated 28 May, AFP reported. The French Defense Ministry said it could "not confirm" the information on French redeployment in Afghanistan "for the time being," AFP reported. France has been part of the coalition forces in Afghanistan from the beginning in October 2001, but the redeployment of French Special Forces might be an attempt by Paris to improve relations with Washington in the aftermath of disagreements over Iraq. Germany is reportedly also considering expanding its commitment to the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). AT