PUTINS GIVEN THE ROYAL TREATMENT IN BRITAIN
Following their arrival in London on 24 June, President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, were driven in a cortege of seven horse-drawn carriages to Buckingham Palace for a banquet in his honor hosted by Queen Elizabeth II, Russian and Western media reported. The queen told Putin that it was "no secret" there have been "significant differences" between the two countries over "how best to handle Iraq." Now, she added, they are "firmly in agreement on the route we have decided in the United Nations" and have forged a "long-term partnership" that is "of profound importance," AFP reported. Putin expressed condolences for the 24 June deaths of six British servicemen in Iraq and praised the queen, who visited Russia in 1994, for promoting Russian-British relations. Russia and Great Britain, Putin said, "occupy key places in one another's systems of foreign-policy priorities." Putin, who is on a four-day state visit, placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey. He also met with Conservative Party head Iain Duncan Smith and Liberal Democratic Party Chairman Charles Kennedy. JB
INTERIOR MINISTER VOWS TO PURGE MORE CORRUPT COPS...
Boris Gryzlov said on 24 June that the previous day's arrests of six Moscow police officers and an Emergency Situations Ministry official were "not the beginning of the struggle, but its continuation and in no case its end," federalpost.ru reported. Speaking after meeting with members of the State Duma's Unity faction, Gryzlov said the fight against corruption in the law enforcement organs and the organs of state power in general is a "priority" for him. "We will be carrying that fight forward," said Gryzlov, who is a leader of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. On 23 June, six senior officers with the Criminal Investigations Department (MUR) of the Moscow Interior Ministry directorate -- three colonels and three lieutenant colonels -- and a lieutenant general who heads the Emergency Situations Ministry's security department, were arrested in a series of raids around Moscow. The seven are accused of fabricating criminal cases in order to extort bribes and of exacting "protection" payments from Moscow casinos, shopping centers, and restaurants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003). Gryzlov said the Interior Ministry has videotapes of traffic-police officers exacting bribes from citizens that will be used as evidence in criminal prosecutions. Gryzlov urged motorists to videotape traffic cops taking bribes and to forward such evidence to the ministry's Internal Affairs Department. JB
...WHILE INVESTIGATORS DESCRIBE THE LAVISH LIFESTYLE OF THOSE ALREADY ARRESTED...
More details concerning the nature of the MUR officers' alleged criminal activities -- and the money they apparently made from it -- emerged on 24 June. Investigators searched five homes belonging to the suspects that were built on a two-hectare plot in Moscow Oblast's Klin Raion. The lavish complex includes a tennis court and a soccer field with lights, Interfax reported. An "informed" law enforcement source estimated the total cost of the complex at $3.5 million. According to Interior Ministry Internal Affairs Department head Konstantin Romodanovskii, investigators found more than $3 million in cash, two kilograms of gold, antiques, a "large quantity" of rubles, plastic explosives, and material for packaging heroin on the premises, newsru.com reported on 25 June. Dachas and apartments belonging to the suspects were fitted with gold toilets, Romodanovskii said. Gazeta.ru and "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 25 June that the suspects' alleged criminal endeavors included purchasing gas pistols, which they then had converted into real pistols and sold to criminal groups that used them in contract killings. Both media outlets reported allegations that one of these weapons was used in the April killing of State Duma Deputy and Liberal Russia party co-Chairman Sergei Yushenkov. JB
...AND SOME STILL QUESTION WHY THEY WERE ARRESTED
Despite the circumstantial evidence that the arrested MUR officers were involved in large-scale organized crime, some observers continue to charge that their arrests were politically motivated. Writing in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 25 June, journalist Aleksandr Budberg noted that one of the arrested officers, Yevgenii Taratorin, headed the probe into the October 2002 car bombing outside a McDonald's restaurant in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 October 2002). Budberg and others believe that the group of Chechen fighters that took hostages at a Moscow's theater in October 2002 was also behind the McDonald's bombing and that Taratorin's aggressive pursuit of the McDonald's bombers forced them to launch the theater raid prematurely. According to Budberg, Taratorin's pursuit of the bombers made the Federal Security Service (FSB) look bad and that might account for his arrest. In addition, the arrest of Lieutenant General Vladimir Ganeev, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's security department, might have been an attempt to embarrass Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is a rival of Interior Minister Gryzlov within Unified Russia's leadership, Budberg wrote. Like other observers, Budberg also suggested that the MUR officers' arrests are part of an attempt to enhance Unified Russia's image for the parliamentary election campaign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003). JB
GREEK, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS CONFER
Greek Defense Minister Ioannos Papandoniou met in Moscow on 24 June with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Interfax reported. Papandoniou said Greece plans to buy state-of-the-art weapons and wants a range of sellers from which to choose. Russia should be among them, he said. Papandoniou will inspect Russian weaponry on 25 June at an international naval show in St Petersburg. Ivanov said Russian-Greek military cooperation is expanding and bilateral military-technical cooperation is "developing successfully," ITAR-TASS reported on 24 June. The Greek and Russian approaches to "all fundamental security issues" are "virtually the same," Ivanov said, adding that Greece is one of Russia's "most reliable and friendly partners" among European Union and NATO member states, "including in the areas of defense and security." Moscow and Athens, Ivanov said, "share positions on ways of resolving the situations in the Balkans, Cyprus, Afghanistan, and a number of CIS countries." JB
PATRIARCH HAILS CONSTRUCTION OF ORTHODOX CHURCH IN PYONGYANG
Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church were in Pyongyang on 24 June to bless the cornerstone of Holy Trinity Church, an Orthodox church being built in the North Korean capital, ITAR-TASS reported. The head of the Russian delegation, Archbishop Kliment, read a message from Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II that called the church's construction a step toward "the spiritual unification of our countries." "The Russian Orthodox Church is sincerely interested, as was the case a century ago, in the genuine independence of Korea and the restoration of a unified state on the Korean Peninsula," the patriarch's statement said. The church, the statement continued, "will be a symbol of the revival of traditions of spiritual closeness laid down by the Russian Orthodox Church Mission in Korea in the past and will help consolidate principles of good-neighborly relations and mutual respect between Russia and Korea." The U.S. State Department, in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2002, said that genuine religious freedom "does not exist" in North Korea. JB
ENVOY THROWS HER HAT INTO THE PETERSBURG RING
Presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko announced on 24 June that she will run for governor of St. Petersburg, Russian media reported. City legislators are expected to set the date of the election on 30 June. According to "Vremya novostei" on 24 June, the only debate in the city is over whether the campaign will be clean or dirty -- not over its likely winner. "No one can compete with Matvienko in terms of money, personality, or frostiness," Regnum news agency editor Modest Kolerov said, according to the daily. "If someone tries to walk off [with the election] in the second round, then [that person] will be disqualified by a court decision." JAC
LENINGRAD OBLAST SETS ELECTION DATE...
Legislators in Leningrad Oblast voted on 24 June to set 21 September as the date of the next gubernatorial election, ITAR-TASS reported. According to "Gazeta" on 19 June, Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov, fearing "the dangerous appearance of a real competitor," has long been insisting that the election be held on 21 September, rather than being held simultaneously with the State Duma elections on 7 December. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 May, one possible contender in the race is former Leningrad Oblast Governor Vadim Gustov, who also served as a deputy prime minister in the government of Yevgenii Primakov. Gustov came in second during the last gubernatorial election in 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 1999). In addition, the Kremlin might put forward its own candidate, according to the daily, as it has apparently done in St. Petersburg with presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Matvienko. JAC
...AND PICKS NEW SENATOR
Also on 24 June, Leningrad Oblast legislators approved Damir Shadaev as the assembly's representative in the Federation Council, RosBalt reported. Shadaev has been a deputy in the oblast legislature since 1997. Before that, he was president of the Timberland-Vyborg logging company. He had been expected to run for governor of the oblast, but he told "Kommersant-Daily" on 30 May that he will instead devote himself to fulfilling his duties as a senator. JAC
DEADBEAT PARTIES TO LOSE RIGHT TO FREE ADVERTISING
President Putin has signed into law a bill that prohibits political associations that still owe money to media outlets for airtime used for political advertising during the last State Duma election campaign from qualifying for free airtime in the upcoming campaign, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 June. Last year, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov reported there are still 21 electoral blocs that did not manage to collect more than 2 percent of the vote in the 1999 State Duma elections and, therefore, are required to reimburse national and regional broadcast companies and periodicals for the free campaign advertising they were allowed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2002). Putin also signed into law a bill that requires public associations to form an alliance with a registered political party in order to participate in the elections. According to RosBalt, that law comes into force on 1 January 2004. JAC
ANOTHER FISHERIES OFFICIAL CLEARED OF FISHY DEEDS
The Moscow city prosecutor's office has closed a criminal investigation into the "crab affair" against former State Fisheries Committee Deputy Chairman Leonid Kholod, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 June, citing unidentified sources in the city law enforcement organs. According to the sources, the case was closed because of a lack of evidence that a crime had been committed. Kholod was suspected of violations in connection with the assignment of lucrative fishing quotas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003). Kholod's colleague and fellow former State Fisheries Committee Deputy Chairman Yurii Moskaltsov is still facing charges, as is Viktoriya Tikhachevaya, a former adviser to slain Magadan Oblast Governor Valentin Tsvetkov. Last month, former State Fisheries Committee Chairman Yevgenii Nazdratenko was transferred to the Security Council, where he will oversee not only fishing, but environmental issues as well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2003). JAC
THE PROBLEMS OF SHARING A BORDER WITH KAZAKHSTAN
In an interview with "Vremya-MN" on 24 June, Omsk Oblast Governor Leonid Polezhaev explained that there are differing opinions in Russian officialdom regarding whether to strengthen border security between Russia and Kazakhstan. Polezhaev said that as the leader of a region that conducts 60 percent of its foreign trade with Kazakhstan, he would prefer that the border be as open as possible to facilitate the flow of goods. However, security officials would like it to be more closed in order to reduce the flow of illegal immigrants and narcotics. At the same time, Polezhaev said his oblast pays around 100 million rubles ($3.3 million) a year for medical services for Kazakh citizens who live along the border. "They use our hospitals because they have none of their own, and the quality of our health-care service is better," he said. "We cannot kick out a pregnant woman or an old man...." JAC
RUSSIAN OFFICIAL CITES POLISH MODEL OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORM
During a conference on 21-22 June to consider draft legislation that would reform local government, Federation Council Self-Government Committee Chairman Leonid Roketskii said, "Polish GDP grew by 12-14 percent just because of the development of local self-government," "Izvestiya" reported on 24 June. "We need such a breakthrough too." Roketskii was responding to criticisms of the planned reforms voiced by State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent). Ryzhkov conceded that the proposals have the correct priorities, but said they are risky because the federal center is transferring to the regions the functions of paying state-sector workers and providing social benefits without first specifying where the funding will come from. The Duma last week adopted in its third and final reading one of two draft presidential laws to reform local self-government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). JAC
ANGRY LOCALS SHUT DOWN HIGHWAY
Residents of Pokrov in Vladimir Oblast on 24 June blocked the highway that runs between Nizhnii Novgorod and Moscow to protest the cut-off of electricity to homes and a backlog of unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported. The protest backed up traffic on the highway for several kilometers. Vladimirenergo cut off electricity to 16 cities in the oblast on 23 June because of 233 million rubles ($7.8 million) in unpaid bills. Pokrov city administration head Vyacheslav Rogov said the city has the money, but it can only be distributed through the oblast administration, which is at fault for the arrears. JAC
PACE NAMES NEW RAPPORTEUR FOR CHECHNYA
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has named Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross as its new rapporteur for Chechnya, succeeding Lord Frank Judd who stepped down earlier this year after the PACE declined to support his demand that the planned referendum on a new Chechen constitution be postponed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 January 2003). Gross, who earlier served as PACE rapporteur for Azerbaijan, described his new duties to Interfax as "the hardest mission" anyone could be tasked with in Europe today. He praised Judd's impartial approach to Chechnya and vowed that he will attempt to emulate it. LF
CHECHEN CAR-BOMBING SUSPECT REPORTED KILLED
A Chechen wanted in connection with the December 2002 bombing of the government building in Grozny and the 12 May car-bomb attack in the north Chechen town of Znamenskoe has been killed in an exchange of fire with police in Ingushetia who were trying to apprehend him, Russian media reported on 24 June. The man, nicknamed Khozh-Baudi, was alleged to have ties to Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, who has claimed responsibility for both bombings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February and 20 May 2003). LF
ARMENIAN LEGISLATOR DOWNPLAYS PACE CRITICISM
Armen Rustamian (Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, or HHD), who is a member of the Armenian delegation to the current Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe summer session, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 24 June that a PACE resolution adopted the previous day cannot be considered a decision of the Council of Europe and will have no legal consequences for Armenia. The resolution hinted that Armenia's voting rights at PACE could be revoked because of the flawed conduct of the 25 May parliamentary election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003). One opposition parliamentarian in Yerevan welcomed the PACE criticism and predicted "serious international consequences" for the Armenian leadership, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The opposition Artarutiun bloc and the HHD both accused the Armenian authorities of falsifying the outcome of the ballot to give Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia the largest number of mandates. LF
SENIOR ARMENIAN POLICE OFFICIAL DEFENDS CRIMINALIZING LIBEL
Manvel Grigorian, who is one of the co-authors of Armenia's new Criminal Code, on 23 June rejected criticism by the OSCE office and several Western ambassadors in Yerevan of the inclusion in the new code of an article under which libel carries a prison sentence of up to three years, according to Armenpress on 24 June, as cited by Groong. Grigorian argued that libel is a criminal offense in all other CIS member states, and that Germany sets even tougher penalties for slander and libel. LF
THOUSANDS HONOR DECEASED FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT
Thousands of Azerbaijanis commemorated the 65th anniversary of the birth of Abulfaz Elchibey on 24 June, Turan reported. Elchibey was elected president in June 1992 but fled Baku one year later following an insurrection. He died of cancer on 22 August 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2000). LF
NGO CRITICIZES DELAY IN ADOPTING LAW ON PUBLIC BROADCASTING IN AZERBAIJAN
The Baku office of the nongovernmental organization Internews issued a statement on 24 June deploring the postponement until the fall parliamentary session of the third reading of a draft bill on public broadcasting, Turan reported. The bill was passed in its second reading in October 2002. The statement noted that state television remains under the control of the presidential administration. LF
GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF INVITES COUNTERPARTS TO VISIT PANKISI
Lieutenant General Avtandil Ioseliani issued an open invitation on 24 June to his counterparts from Russia and other countries to visit the Pankisi Gorge at their convenience to convince themselves that the situation there is "normalizing" and that the gorge no longer harbors hundreds of militants, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Russian President Vladimir Putin implied during a press conference in Moscow on 20 June that there is still a danger of Chechen fighters crossing into Russia from bases in Pankisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). Also on 24 June, State Security Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili told journalists that ministry personnel the previous day discovered an arms cache in Pankisi containing an unspecified amount of grenade launchers, mortars, detonators, and ammunition, Caucasus Press reported. Laliashvili said the materiel was probably abandoned by Chechen militants who left the gorge in the late summer of 2002 shortly before Georgian forces launched a major search-and-detain operation there. LF
ABKHAZ OFFICIALS DENOUNCE GEORGIAN THREAT OF NEW OFFENSIVE...
In a statement released on 24 June, the Foreign Ministry of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia condemned recent threats by Georgian officials to resort to military force to restore Tbilisi's control over the breakaway republic, Apsnipress reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). The statement appealed to the Georgian leadership to eschew militant rhetoric, crack down on illegal guerrilla formations, and work toward implementing the agreements reached in Sochi in March by Russian President Putin and his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze. Also on 24 June, Abkhaz First Deputy Prime Minister Astamur Tarba claimed that the Abkhaz government has evidence that Tbilisi plans to destabilize the situation in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion as a pretext for introducing a national state of emergency, Caucasus Press reported. LF
...AS GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS TBILISI PREFERS PEACEFUL SOLUTION
Irakli Menagharishvili told the Imedi radio station on 24 June that the Georgian leadership has a program for resolving the Abkhaz conflict peacefully and that the Georgian public has been informed of its broad outline, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. He named as components of the plan closer cooperation with international mediators and a direct dialogue between the Georgian and Abkhaz leaderships. LF
RUSSIA CALLS FOR GREATER EFFORTS TO RESOLVE GEORGIAN CONFLICT WITH SOUTH OSSETIA...
Russian diplomat Mikhail Maiorov expressed concern on 24 June at what he termed the failing momentum of talks aimed at resolving the South Ossetia conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. He said Russia, as a member of the Joint Control Commission (JCC) formed to seek a solution to that conflict, is ready to do all in its power to expedite such a solution. He called on both sides to avoid further confrontations and to set about implementing the agreements they signed earlier. Also on 24 June, Caucasus Press reported that Boris Chochiev, who is one of South Ossetia's representatives on the JCC, has written to President Shevardnadze complaining that Georgia has failed to implement an agreement signed in December 2000 on funding reconstruction in South Ossetia and one signed in Lisbon in 2002. Chochiev blamed Georgian JCC representative Irakli Machavariani for the failure to implement those agreements. LF
...AS OSSETIANS SEEK TO EMIGRATE FROM GEORGIA
Ossetians living in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge and elsewhere in eastern Georgia are lobbying the government of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia for permission to settle there, according to Caucasus Press on 24 June and the Georgian newspaper "Akhali taoba" on 25 June. Of some 5,000 Ossetians who lived in Pankisi prior to the second Chechen war, only 1,000 remain there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003). LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITION DEMANDS INVESTIGATION OF SHOOTING OF EX-PRESIDENT'S SUPPORTERS
Several small Georgian opposition parties issued a statement on 24 June demanding that the Georgian authorities launch an investigation into the shooting deaths in western Georgia on 21 June of three supporters of former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). In a separate statement, the extra-parliamentary Georgian Popular Front likewise condemned the killings, which it claimed are part of an attempt by the Georgian authorities to destabilize the domestic political situation and to create a pretext for postponing the 2 November parliamentary elections scheduled, Caucasus Press reported. LF
ALLEGED GEORGIAN CRIMINAL KINGPIN ARRESTED IN MOSCOW
Moscow police arrested Georgian national Shota Chichiashvili on 24 June, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported. He is wanted in Georgia in connection with the kidnappings of two Spanish businessmen in 2000 and of Georgian parliamentarian Petre Tsiskarishvili and British consultant Peter Shaw in 2001. He is also said to have been behind the May 2001 mutiny by members of the Georgian National Guard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 May 2001). Georgian Prosecutor-General Nugzar Gabrichidze said on 25 June that Chichiashvili will be extradited to Georgia "soon." LF
KAZAKH GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES ACTION PLAN
During a 24 June discussion of the plan of action that Kazakhstan's new cabinet is legally required to present to parliament within a month, Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov set out his views of the government's role in the economy, khabar.kz and Interfax reported. Akhmetov was quoted as saying that the government's first priority should be to promote competitive, export-oriented production. However, this would not mean a complete liberalization of the market. Nor would the government give its total support to domestic producers. Some Kazakh politicians have called for the revision of contracts with foreign oil firms to give greater benefits to Kazakhstan, but Akhmetov said the government will not rewrite existing contracts. BB
KAZAKH ECONOMICS MINISTER: PUBLIC WELFARE DECLINING
Kazakh Economics and Budget Minister Kairat Kelimbetov told the 24 June cabinet meeting that the new government must accelerate economic growth and raise real wages because, although the economy is improving overall, circumstances for significant segments of the population are either not getting better or are worsening, Deutsche Welle reported. Kelimbetov was quoted as saying that there has been a decline in the welfare of such vulnerable groups as pensioners, the unemployed, and the handicapped during the last three months. The new government is committed, the minister said, to reducing by 20 percent the share of the population with incomes below the subsistence level. A public-opinion poll cited in the report found that 73 percent of those questioned said their situation has not improved in the last three months. Fifteen percent said their situation has worsened, and only 10 percent said there has been an improvement. BB
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN'S COURT APPEAL REJECTED
The Bishkek City Court on 24 June rejected an appeal by opposition political figure and human rights activist Topchubek Turgunaliev against a fine levied by a lower court in May for his participation in an unsanctioned demonstration, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 24 June. The protest involved a group of women who had come to Bishkek from the Aksy Raion in southern Kyrgyzstan to complain that nothing has been done to bring to account the persons responsible for the killings of the women's relatives during a March 2002 demonstration in the raion. Some of the women were beaten up by police when they tried to demand a meeting with President Askar Akaev, and the incident was widely publicized by Kyrgyz human rights activists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003). BB
KYRGYZ SECURITY SERVICE FINDS ARMS CACHE IN SOUTH
Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (NSB) has discovered an arms cache in Batken Oblast, NSB press spokesperson Chinara Asanova told journalists on 24 June, akipress.org and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The cache reportedly included ammunition for automatic weapons that was produced in Pakistan, Iran, and the Soviet Union. According to the reports, the security service assumes the ammunition was left behind by militants belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan who invaded Batken Oblast in 1999 and 2000 seeking to fight their way into Uzbekistan and who apparently left the arms behind for possible future terrorist actions. The discovery was made by the NSB's Batken Oblast antiterrorism department, which has now found 10 such caches and is reportedly still searching for more. BB
U.S. LAUNCHES PROGRAM TO REDUCE DRUG DEMAND IN TAJIKISTAN, UZBEKISTAN
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has launched a five-year, $16 million program to reduce drug demand and to treat drug addiction in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in exchange for the two countries' support in the fight against international terrorism, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported on 24 June, quoting the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe. The program in Tajikistan will provide assistance to the government in drafting legislation on combating drug addiction and disseminate information about successful international prevention and treatment programs to national and local officials. BB
TURKMENISTAN CONSIDERS DECREE ON DUAL CITIZENSHIP TO BE IN FORCE...
The Turkmen authorities consider President Saparmurat Niyazov's 22 April decree on the revocation of dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship operative, Interfax reported on 24 June, quoting an unnamed source in Turkmen law enforcement. People holding dual citizenship must now use their Turkmen passports if they wish to travel from Turkmenistan to Russia, according to the source. The passports must contain both Turkmen exit visas and Russian entry visas, the source was quoted as saying. The Russian Embassy in Ashgabat reported recently that more than 2,600 Russian citizens have applied for entry visas to Russia. The Russian authorities do not accept Niyazov's decree, which the Russian Foreign Ministry has said was issued prematurely. Niyazov reportedly promised Russian President Vladimir Putin that no action would be taken in connection with the revocation of dual citizenship until a bilateral commission tasked to resolve the issue has completed its work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). BB
...AS DUAL CITIZENS REPORTEDLY NOT GIVING UP RUSSIAN PASSPORTS
Andrei Molochkov, charge d'affaires at the Russian Embassy in Ashgabat, has said that no holders of dual Russian-Turkmen citizenship have notified the embassy that they want to give up their Russian citizenship, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 June. He added that the Turkmen authorities have taken no steps that infringe the rights of dual-citizenship holders, adding that the situation in Turkmenistan had eased since President Putin's news conference on 20 June. At that event, Putin said the protocol he signed in April with President Niyazov to terminate the dual-citizenship agreement was intended to apply only to future applicants for dual citizenship, not to those who already have it. According to Putin, Niyazov agreed with this interpretation. Molochkov was quoted as saying that the number of people waiting in line for multiple-entry visas to Russia had shrunk from 600 to 150, but he did not specify when this occurred. He added that 50 Russian citizens have informed the embassy that they are permanently leaving Turkmenistan and, in his view, the only problem being encountered by persons wanting to move to Russia is a lack of railway containers to transport their possessions. BB
WORLD BANK REPORT SAYS ROMANY POVERTY 'CRITICAL ISSUE' IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
A World Bank report released on 24 June says, "the complex cycle of Roma poverty is one of the most critical remaining issues on the agenda of countries of Central and Eastern Europe as they prepare for EU membership," AFP and AP reported. The report was released ahead of a Budapest conference co-sponsored by the World Bank, the Open Society Institute, and the European Commission. Roma are the fastest-growing minority in the region and currently number some 7 million-9 million people. World Bank President James Wolfensohn was quoted by AFP as saying the Budapest conference "could very well mark a turning point for the Roma." He said all those involved in the conference's preparation "are demonstrating a newfound awareness that the Romany issue should be seen not only in terms of human rights and discrimination, but also as a core economic and social-policy issue. Europe must not leave the Roma behind." According to the report, nearly 80 percent of Roma in Bulgaria and Romania live on less than $4.30 a day, while in Hungary, which is expected to join the EU in 2004, 40 percent of Roma live on that income. MS
BELARUS REJECTS REPORT THAT SENIOR IRAQI OFFICIAL OBTAINED PASSPORTS FROM MINSK
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh on 25 June rejected media reports suggesting that a former aide to deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein obtained Belarusian passports for the regime's most senior figures, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "The New York Times," quoting two unidentified U.S. government officials, reported on 25 June that captured Iraqi General Abid Hamid Mahmud al-Tikriti arranged the passports for himself and others, possibly including Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay. Mahmud was detained in Iraq last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003) and U.S. officials reportedly suspect that he obtained the passports in Syria. "The Independent" of 24 June reported the allegation that Belarusian passports were found with Mahmud. "This is an invention that has no relation whatsoever to reality," Savinykh told RFE/RL. JM
MINSK SLAMS RUSSIAN MEDIA OVER REPORTS ON EMINENT WRITER'S DEATH
The Belarusian Embassy in Moscow released a statement on 24 June saying that some Russian media outlets carried "unprecedentedly provocative" reports on the recent death of acclaimed Belarusian writer Vasil Bykau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003), Belapan reported. Those reports included characterizations of Bykau as a "dissident" and an "exile," the embassy said. "Bykau was free to choose whether to live and work at home or abroad," the statement said. "He was always honored in his native Belarus." The statement makes no mention of the fact that a presidential aide, Eduard Skobeleu, urged state-run literary magazines last year to stop publishing Bykau and other "politically retarded" writers who do not support President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's polices. Lukashenka also expressed irritation at Russian media reports about Bykau's death. "The Russian media's playing the fool over Vasil Bykau's death will bring about negative consequences in relations between Belarus and Russia," RFE/RL's Belarusian Service quoted Lukashenka as saying. The Belarusian leader did not elaborate. Bykau spent the last five years of his life abroad -- in Finland, Germany, and the Czech Republic, but returned to Minsk in June, a few weeks before his death. JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT BACKPEDALS ON SALE OF GAS-TRANSPORT COMPANY TO GAZPROM
President Lukashenka vowed on 24 June that he will not sell Beltranshaz, Belarus's gas-pipeline operator, to Russia's Gazprom "for nothing" and backed away from the government's previous pledge to form a joint-stock company with Gazprom to run Beltranshaz as of 1 July, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. According to Lukashenka, stakes in Beltranshaz will be sold only at "the market price set by Belarusian experts." Lukashenka said he is ready to negotiate with a buyer offering $2.5 billion for Beltranshaz, but he added that "some Western experts" estimate the value of Beltranshaz at $4 billion. Gazprom reportedly offered $600 million-$800 million for a controlling stake in Beltranshaz. JM
OUR UKRAINE OPPOSES 'REVERSE' USE OF ODESA-BRODY PIPELINE
Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine said in a statement on 24 June that the use of the Odesa-Brody oil pipeline to pump Russian oil from Brody to Odesa would run counter to Ukraine's national interests, Interfax reported. The statement came in apparent response to recent appeals to employ the Odesa-Brody pipeline, which was built to pump Caspian oil to Europe, in a "reverse mode" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2003). Our Ukraine called on President Leonid Kuchma to take a clear stand on using the pipeline exclusively in accordance with its original design. Meanwhile, Kuchma said the same day that Ukraine will not use the Odesa-Brody pipeline in the reverse direction if the European Commission takes "specific steps" to use the oil pipeline in its planned direction. Kuchma also observed that the Odesa-Brody oil-pipeline project "perfectly characterizes the Ukrainian mentality." "First we did it, and then we asked ourselves -- why have we done this?" he said. JM
LATVIAN PRESIDENT SAYS ATTITUDES TOWARD RIGHTS OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN MUST CHANGE
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said during a discussion of the role of women in government at the World Economic Forum in Jordan on 23 June that stereotypes about women are characteristic not only of many Middle Eastern countries, but also of other regions, LETA reported on 24 June. Vike-Freiberga said that greater openness and dialogue between men and women are needed both at the national and local levels of government and in business circles. She also said that the views of children must be taken in account and their rights respected. On 22 June, she participated in a discussion of the role of opinion makers and intellectuals in the Middle Eastern peace process and in a charity event to benefit Iraqi children that was hosted by Jordanian Queen Rania. SG
LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO RESTORE SOCIAL JUSTICE AFTER LAND-FRAUD SCANDAL
Rolandas Paksas called for "the maximum restoration of social justice" after a 24 June meeting with Prosecutor-General Antanas Klimavicius, Special Investigation Service (STT) head Valentinas Junokas, State Controller Jonas Liaucius, and Interior Ministry Secretary Algirdas Astrauskas, "Kauno diena" reported on 25 June. Paksas gave the officials one week to make recommendations on improving current laws in order to prevent the illegal acquisition of land by state officials and to punish those who have done so. His statement was prompted by recent revelations that more than 700 officials acquired valuable plots of land in 2000-02 using information and connections acquired through their government positions. Presidential spokesman Rosvaldas Gorbaciovas said Paksas intends to present amendments that would make it easier to dismiss officials who violate the law and to bar them from serving in public office for five years. SG
LITHUANIAN MEDICS RETURN EARLY FROM IRAQ
Four medics who were scheduled to participate in an international humanitarian operation in Iraq for up to six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003) returned to Lithuania on 23 June after just 2 1/2 months of service, ELTA reported on 24 June. The four spent most of their mission aboard the Spanish hospital ship "Galicia," which was moored near the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr, and treating Iraqi civilians and war prisoners at a local civilian hospital. Taking into account its plans to send a large contingent of troops to serve in the Polish controlled area of Iraq, Spain decided to recall the "Galicia." Lithuania also decided not to extend the mission of these medics, as it also plans to send another platoon in August to serve in the Polish-controlled area and has other medics serving in international missions in Afghanistan and Kosova. SG
POLAND WANTS BALTS TO JOIN POLISH-GERMAN-DANISH CORPS
Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski proposed at a conference in Berlin on 24 June that troops from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia join the German-Polish-Danish NATO corps headquartered in the Polish port of Szczecin, dpa reported. The 49,000-strong corps consists of one division each from Germany, Poland, and Denmark. In peacetime, the three divisions are based in their home countries and remain under their respective national commands. JM
FORMER CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER POSTPONES RESIGNATION FROM PARLIAMENT
Former Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik told the daily "Pravo" of 24 June that he has "no reason to hurry" in submitting his resignation from the lower house of parliament, CTK reported. Tvrdik resigned as defense minister earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2003) over planned budget cuts that he said would negatively affect military reforms. At the time, he announced that he also intends to resign his deputy's seat, which is expected to be filled by Social Democratic Party (CSSD) veteran Zdenek Jicinsky -- a vocal opponent of Premier and CSSD Chairman Vladimir Spidla who is widely viewed as an ally of Spidla's predecessor, Milos Zeman. According to CTK, Tvrdik is delaying his resignation because Jicinsky might thwart the government-backed budget cuts in parliament and thus bring about the fall of the government, which has a one-seat majority in the lower house. MS
EUROPEAN COMMISSION APPROVES REVISED SLOVAK PROGRAMS FOR DRAWING EU FUNDS
The European Commission approved two revised Slovak programs for drawing EU structural funds on 24 June, both of which were initially rejected as inadequately prepared, TASR reported. Construction and Regional Development Minister Laszlo Gyurovszky said after a meeting with EU officials in Brussels that the approval will allow negotiations on implementation to start by the end of July. The European Commission recommended, however, that Slovakia spend more of its structural funds on basic infrastructure and less on agriculture. When the commission rejected the Slovak plans earlier this year, it said Slovakia was the least prepared candidate country for handling EU funds. MS
RACIST SYMBOLS MAR ANTIRACISM EVENT IN SLOVAKIA
Police in the western Slovak city of Nitra are searching for the vandals who painted some 40 swastikas and spray painted walls with racist slogans on 22 June, TASR reported on 24 June. The incident occurred ahead of a sporting event called "Football Against Racism -- We Are All People." A huge swastika was painted in the middle of the stadium pitch where that event subsequently took place. Nazi and racist graffiti also appeared in the Slovak cities of Tale, Banska Bistrica, and Katov earlier this month. MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT ADDRESSES COUNCIL OF EUROPE DEPUTIES...
Speaking in Strasbourg on 24 June, President Rudolf Schuster told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) that Europe must unify to overcome its problems, TASR reported. "Withdrawing behind one's borders will not create new labor opportunities," Schuster said, nor will it settle the security problems that European countries face. Crime and environmental problems will not be solved by closing up borders, Schuster added. He said European integration cannot and should not be limited to the integration of economies. First and foremost, he said, Europe needs to address its ethical, cultural, and social values. MS
...AND CONFRONTS ROMANY ISSUES...
Schuster also said in his 24 June address to the PACE that the problems faced by the Romany minority in his country can only be solved by getting members of that minority to participate in the search for solutions and their implementation, CTK reported. Schuster said experience so far demonstrates that a "state-driven, paternalistic approach" can provide no solution. MS
...WHILE HE REJECTS HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW
Schuster told the PACE deputies on 24 June that he has always promoted good neighborly relations with Hungary and regrets that Budapest has proven unable to find a "common language" with Slovakia on the "sensitive issue" of the Status Law, whose amended version was approved the previous day by the Hungarian legislature, CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003). Schuster told the European lawmakers that Slovakia will only apply laws that are in line with European Union legislation -- adding that that is not the case of the Status Law. Schuster the same day discussed the law with Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer. Schwimmer told Schuster that he "understands" Schuster's regret that Hungary did not consult with its neighbors prior to approving the amendments. However, he added, he would advise against "retaliatory measures" on the part of Bratislava. "The best way out are discussions with the aim of finding a commonly agreed solution," Schwimmer said, according to TASR. MS
OSCE WARNS HUNGARY OVER AMENDED STATUS LAW
OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus warned on 24 June that the version of the Hungarian Status Law passed in Budapest the same day should be applied in a way that avoids offending neighboring countries, AFP reported. In a statement issued from OSCE headquarters in Vienna, Ekeus said the law "has tended to strain otherwise good relations between Hungary and some of its neighbors." Ekeus said it is "vital" for Hungary to implement the law in cooperation with its neighbors, through the "normal conduct of bilateral relations." The debate raised by the law demonstrates "the importance of the principle that the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including for persons belonging to national minorities, is the responsibility of the host state," Ekeus concluded. Officials from both Slovakia and Romania have signaled displeasure at the legislation's extraterritorial aspects (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003). MSZ
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION VOWS TO CHALLENGE PASSAGE OF HOSPITAL-PRIVATIZATION ACT
Opposition FIDESZ parliamentarian Robert Repassy, deputy chairman of parliament's Constitutional Committee, said on 24 June that it was "a parody for the governing majority" to give parliament a mere three hours the previous day to consider a presidential veto of legislation on hospital privatization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003), Hungarian television reported. FIDESZ deputy Antal Rogan said the opposition will appeal the passage of the bill before both the Constitutional Court and parliament's Procedural Committee. He told reporters that President Ferenc Madl was humiliated by the quick override of his veto. Rogan said the act should be viewed as null and void, as the session was convened in violation of both procedural rules and the Hungarian Constitution. Officials from the other opposition party, the Hungarian Democratic Forum, had earlier warned that if the bill were passed, they would appeal to the Constitutional Court. MSZ
HUNGARIAN TEACHERS' UNION APPEALS TO PRESIDENT
The Democratic Union of Teachers (PDSZ) has asked President Madl to request a Constitutional Court review of an amended act on public education approved by parliament on 24 June, "Magyar Nemzet" reported the next day. The PDSZ added that if Madl sees no reason for such a move, he should send the act back to parliament for reconsideration. PDSZ President Gabor Kerpen told reporters that he finds the amended act unconstitutional in several respects. He cited new rules whereby pupils in the first three years of primary education may only be obliged to repeat a school year with the consent of their parents. Kerpen said the new legislation is an infringement of the freedom of teachers to decide on how properly to educate children, the daily reported. MSZ
OMBUDSMAN INVESTIGATED BRUTALIZED HUNGARIAN OFFICIAL
The office of Attila Peterfalvi, Hungary's ombudsman for privacy protection was among the government agencies investigating the Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF) prior to the assault on PSZAF Chairman Karoly Szasz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 19, 20, and 23 June 2003), "Nepszabadsag" reported on 25 June. In a mysterious 20-page report alleging a number of legal violations on the part of the PSZAF and its chairman, one of the charges leveled against Szasz was the illegal installation of 52 security cameras in the PSZAF building. The ombudsman has launched an investigation into whether the cameras constitute a violation of privacy. MSZ
FOREIGN ANALYSTS CRITICIZE HUNGARIAN FISCAL POLICY
A report published by the London-based investment firm Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein on the Hungarian currency's "merry-go-round" concludes that there are serious questions about the direction in which Hungarian fiscal policy is moving, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 25 June. The report coincides with the publication of an article in "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that in essence claims Hungary is an illustration of what happens when a government designs its fiscal policy contrary to market realities, according to "Nepszabadsag." The recent fall of the forint is evidence of grave errors in policymakers' economic, fiscal, and budgetary decisions, the German daily reportedly wrote. The Hungarian National Bank devalued the forint on 4 June but has since increased a key interest rate on two occasions to prop up the currency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 20 June 2003). MSZ
KOSOVARS CALL FOR MEDIATED TALKS WITH SERBS...
Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 24 June that both Prishtina and Belgrade can benefit from a dialogue, adding, however, that representatives of the United States and the EU must participate in any talks between Kosova and Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). He said that any such dialogue would require "a broad political and institutional consensus" among Kosovars as a prerequisite. PM
...WHILE PRESEVO ALBANIANS WANT TO BE INCLUDED
Officials of the three political parties representing ethnic Albanians in southern Serbia agreed in Bujanovac on 24 June that they want to take part in any Prishtina-Belgrade talks and will do so as part of the Kosovar delegation, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said the three parties' decision is "not serious" and cannot contribute to a peaceful resolution of the crisis in southern Serbia. PM
SERBIAN JUSTICE MINISTER PREPARES TO TRY SUSPECTED WAR CRIMINALS
The Serbian parliament began deliberations on 24 June on government proposals to set up a so-called Prosecutor's Office for War Crimes to deal with cases of suspected war criminals in Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Justice Minister Vladan Batic said he wants the new body to try those wanted in connection with atrocities in Ovcara, Batajnica, Shterpce, and Petrovo Selo during former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's wars between 1991 and 1999. It is not clear what relationship the new body would have to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM
EU REPRESENTATIVE 'SURPRISED' BY MACEDONIAN DISAPPOINTMENT
Donato Chiarini, who heads the European Commission's delegation to Macedonia, told "Dnevnik" of 25 June that he was "surprised" by the disappointed reaction of Macedonian politicians to the results of the 21 June EU-Western Balkans Summit in Porto Carras, Greece. Chiarini said the purpose and results of the meeting were clear beforehand, adding that he was surprised by some Balkan leaders' unrealistic expectations. Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said the meeting did not meet her government's expectations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). Recent Macedonian media reports suggest that the disappointment might prompt the government to conclude a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United Sates prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC), something that the EU firmly opposes. UB
CONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER SERBIAN MINISTER
Former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) announced in Belgrade on 24 June that it will file a legal complaint against Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Cedomir Jovanovic, who recently suggested that one of Kostunica's aides is in illegal possession of a file on former security chief Radomir Markovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2003). The DSS said it does not accept Jovanovic's assertions that he had no direct contacts with underworld leaders on his visits to a top-security prison after the fall of Milosevic in 2000. The DSS did not respond to Jovanovic's claim that Kostunica bears much of the blame for the circumstances and atmosphere that led to the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). PM
MONTENEGRIN OPPOSITION STANDS BY BOYCOTT
Despite appeals by Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic, opposition parties announced on 24 June that they will not attend the legislative session starting the next day unless parliamentary sessions are again broadcast live on state-run television, Montenegrin media reported. The government maintains that the State Radio and Television Council's 26 May decision to end live broadcasts of debates is fully legal. Opposition leaders charge 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
SLOVENIA AND CROATIA CELEBRATE 'DAY OF STATEHOOD'
Slovenia and Croatia marked their day of independence from former Yugoslavia on 25 June, regional media reported. On that date in 1991, their respective parliaments voted for independence within a few hours of each other after it became clear that Milosevic intended to block the functioning of the rotating Yugoslav Presidency if he could not control it. He also rejected compromise proposals offered by Bosnia and Macedonia to keep the joint state together. PM
ROMANIAN LAWMAKERS MAINTAIN REFERENCE TO 'NATIONAL STATE' IN CONSTITUTION
The Chamber of Deputies overwhelmingly rejected on 24 June an amendment that would delete from the constitution a reference to Romania as a "national state," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. The amendment was proposed by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and mustered just 23 votes in support, with 238 against. During debate on the proposed amendment, Greater Romania Party deputy Lucian Bolcas told the UDMR lawmakers: "If you do not like it [in Romania], you are free to leave." Parliamentary speaker Valer Dorneanu said he "deeply regrets" that such declarations are made in the Romanian parliament. The long-awaited debate on amending the constitution started earlier this week. MS
WHAT IS ROMANIAN PREMIER HINTING AT?
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase met with the Kuwaiti emir, Shaykh Jabir al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah, during a one-day visit to Kuwait on 24 June, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. The men discussed bilateral economic relations and the Middle East conflict. Nastase also met with Kuwaiti Prime Minister Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah and other Kuwaiti officials. Nastase told journalists after the talks that Romania might receive a $120 million credit from Kuwait to improve the road infrastructure in Romania, adding that a project for Romanian participation in the construction of a rail link between Kuwait and Iraq is under discussion. Nastase told a forum of Romanian ambassadors gathered in Kuwait the same day that Romanian foreign policy is currently undergoing a process of "reevaluation." While this policy previously focused on Europe and on trans-Atlantic ties, it might soon "enter a new phase," he said. It is in this context that Nastase's May visit to China and his current tour of the Middle East -- which also included Lebanon -- must be understood, Nastase said. MS
HUNDREDS MARCH IN BUCHAREST AGAINST CORRUPTION
Some 500 people marched in Bucharest on 24 June in a protest organized by the Civic Alliance Movement against widespread corruption, Romanian Radio and AP reported. The movement said it intends to organize similar protests in other Romanian cities throughout July. Representatives of the main Romanian trade unions also joined the march. MS
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS EU OFFICIALS
President Vladimir Voronin, on the second day of an official visit to Brussels, met on 24 June with European Commission President Romano Prodi; External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten; and Guido Podesta, a deputy speaker of the European Parliament, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and Infotag reported. The EU leaders reportedly told Voronin that the organization understands the economic difficulties Moldova faces and is prepared to render assistance to overcome them. They said the EU is ready to provide Chisinau with 40 million euros ($46.2 million) in immediate assistance, and will later provide an additional 15 million euros to help Moldova overcome its trade deficit. Prodi and Patten said they appreciate Moldova's contribution to debates on the concept of "EU neighbors," adding that an individual plan will be prepared for Moldova after the expected enlargement of the organization next year. They also said it is important for Moldova to control its borders efficiently, particularly the Transdniester section of the Moldovan-Ukrainian frontier, and that the EU is pursuing an intense dialogue with Ukraine to that end. Voronin told Podesta that his country values the European Parliament's recommendation that Moldova be included in the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. MS
BULGARIA, WASHINGTON TO CONTINUE ICC TALKS
Deputy Foreign Minister Lyubomir Ivanov told a news conference on 24 June that Bulgaria intends to continue talks with the United States about the International Criminal Court (ICC), mediapool.bg reported. Ivanov explained that the government decided not to sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement that would exempt U.S. citizens from being handed over to the ICC because it was unclear exactly who would qualify for exemption. He did not rule out, however, that Bulgaria might sign an agreement at a later stage. "The common position of the EU does not imply a ban on the conclusion of bilateral agreements with the [United States] concerning the ICC," Ivanov was quoted by BTA. "It clearly indicates that each country has a sovereign right to make its own decision on this matter, within the framework of the common position of the union." According to Ivanov, the EU position is that only military staff can be exempted, adding that he hopes the EU and the United States will reach agreement on this question during upcoming consultations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 June 2003). UB
IRAN AND REGION FEEL IMPACT OF AFGHAN OPIUM
The international community will commemorate the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on 26 June. One week earlier, the United Nations Security Council heard evidence that counternarcotics activities in Afghanistan, which is the source of most of the world's opium, are not going well. Afghan officials have been voicing the same sentiments lately, and the resurgence of opium cultivation in Afghanistan is now having a perceptible impact in Iran, Tajikistan, and Pakistan.
Qolam Said Daqiq, the head of the Herat Province drug-control department, said in a 7 June interview with Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service that narcotics smugglers have stepped up their activities since the opium-harvesting season began. Daqiq warned that smuggling would increase if his department does not receive needed communications equipment, transportation, and funding. He said no foreign organization or country has given his department the assistance it requires.
Afghan Antidrug Commission head Abdul Hai Elahi, in a 12 June interview with the Pashtu-language service of Iranian state radio, said that foreigners are urging Afghan farmers to cultivate opium, and that farmers, in turn, have accepted these offers because of the difficulties they face. Elahi criticized the international community's failure to do what is needed to combat drug production and smuggling and appealed to the Afghan government to take the necessary steps.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte said on 17 June that international efforts to end opium cultivation in Afghanistan are inadequate, RFE/RL reported. "The resurgence of opium cultivation further erodes the security environment in Afghanistan and threatens reconstruction efforts," Negroponte said. "The message here is that we should do more, and we should do it better."
The government in Kabul has banned opium production, but its crop-substitution plan and other antidrug activities have not been very successful so far. Opium production in Afghanistan currently is at the same level it reached during the Taliban era. A long-standing tradition for some farming communities, others are forced into opium growing by a lack of viable options. Opium requires less water than food crops, so it is easier to grow under drought conditions. Opium production is more remunerative than that of other crops, and farmers borrow money against future crops.
Furthermore, the government is unable to enforce its policies beyond the capital. The nascent National Army is understrength -- of the projected 70,000 troops, only 4,000 have been trained -- and most of the new army recruits are loyal to Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim personally rather than to the central authorities.
Kabul's problems were highlighted on 15 June when seven Afghans in charge of destroying opium-poppy crops were killed in Oruzgan Province, according to Tribal and Frontier Affairs Minister Mohammad Aref Nurzai. Nurzai said that "local [poppy] farmers were behind the ambush," but he did not rule out the possibility of ethnic and sectarian reasons for the killings, according to a Reuters report. According to Nurzai, the farmers were Shia Hazaras while the team tasked with eradicating their poppy crops were Sunni Pashtuns.
The flood of narcotics across Afghanistan's borders is having an impact on neighboring states. The Iran-Afghanistan border is more than 900 kilometers long. Up to 2 million Iranians abuse drugs, according to official reports, and Iran leads the world in terms of tonnage of seized opium. Police in Iran's Yazd Province on 16 June announced that since 21 March they have seized 608 kilograms of narcotics and arrested 1,451 traffickers, according to Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). Hormozgan Province police chief Ahmad Reza Fatehi-Fuladi said on 21 June that more than 65 kilograms of hashish were seized the previous day, according to IRNA.
There are 8,000 registered heroin addicts in Tajikistan, which has a 1,206-kilometer border with Afghanistan. Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency spokesman Avaz Yuldoshev told RFE/RL correspondent Farangiz Najibullah that the drug flow has increased in the last 18 months. "Last year more than 7 tons of drugs -- including 4 tons of heroin -- were seized on the territory of Afghanistan by the Tajik forces and Russian border guards. In the past five months, they seized 4,680 kilograms of drugs, including 3,159 kilograms of heroin," Yuldoshev said.
Narcotics trafficking is causing a regional health crisis, too. In Iran, 4,846 people have been diagnosed as HIV-positive, and there are unofficial estimates that up to 23,000 people in the country are HIV-positive. The sharing of contaminated needles, especially by imprisoned heroin addicts, accounts for 65 percent of these cases. Abdullah Kodiorov, the acting head of the Drug Rehabilitation Center in Tajikistan's Sughd Province, told RFE/RL's Najibullah that at least 10 young people died last year from heroin overdoses in his province alone.
Pakistan is also facing a health crisis. Pakistan's Deputy Ambassador to the UN Masood Khalid told the Security Council on 17 June that his country needs international assistance, according to RFE/RL correspondent Robert McMahon. "Neighboring states like Pakistan are on the frontline of the war against drugs and [feel] the brunt of its consequences. It is they who require, after Afghanistan, the most assistance in counternarcotics, especially in bolstering their law enforcement capacities."
Part of that assistance came with the 22 June announcement by the UN Information Center that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has launched five regional counternarcotics projects. In Tajikistan, three projects expected to cost a combined $10 million will aid law enforcement and provide equipment to and training for border-control and customs agencies. A drug-control agency will be created in Kyrgyzstan with $6 million, and a countrywide narcotics database will be established in Uzbekistan.
SIX BRITISH TROOPS KILLED IN SEPARATE ATTACKS IN IRAQ
British troops on duty in southern Iraq were attacked in two separate incidents on 24 June, leaving six soldiers dead and eight wounded, British Defense Minister Geoff Hoon announced in a statement to Parliament the same day that was subsequently posted on the Defense Ministry website (http://www.mod.uk). The first incident occurred when two vehicles on a routine patrol in the Shi'ite town of Al-Majar al-Kabir, located some 25 kilometers south of Al-Amarah and 290 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, were attacked with rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine guns, and rifle fire "from a large number of Iraqi gunmen." A Chinook CH-47 helicopter that was dispatched to provide backup also came under fire. One soldier on the ground and seven on board the helicopter sustained serious injuries. A second incident reportedly occurred a few hours later at the local police station in the same town, in which six Royal Military Police officers were killed, Hoon stated. KR
IRAQI RESIDENTS RECOUNT SECOND INCIDENT...
According to a 25 June report by Reuters, the six Royal Military Police officers (see above) were killed by residents of Al-Majar al-Kabir following a demonstration by "thousands" of Iraqis protesting house-to-house weapons searches by British troops aided by dogs. Muslims consider dogs unclean, and residents considered the entry of dogs into their homes extremely offensive. "These British soldiers came with their dogs and pointed weapons at women and children. As Muslims, we can't accept dogs at our homes," local resident Rabee al-Malki was quoted as saying. Residents said the searches began on 21 June. Local residents protested, and British troops agreed to halt the searches after locals promised to hand over their weapons within two months, unidentified residents said. But the U.K. police officers returned two days later. Local resident Faleh Saleem told the news agency that during one search, "a British soldier held the underwear of a woman and stretched it." "How can we accept this as Muslims and as Shi'ites?" he asked. KR
...IN WHICH LOCALS REPORTEDLY CHASED DOWN TROOPS
Townspeople chased down and killed two British military police officers after they reportedly shot and killed four Iraqi civilians at the Al-Majar al-Kabir demonstration, AP reported on 25 June. The other four military police officers were chased to a police station and killed after a two-hour gun battle, local policeman Abbas Faddhel told AP. As the British soldiers fought their attackers, some two dozen Iraqi police officers who were in the station fled through a window, according to Faddhel. The British troops refused to flee. Local vendor Abu Zahraa said the British had formally agreed just one day earlier to let Iraqi police patrol the city. British military spokesman Captain Adam Marchant-Wincott conceded that it is possible that British forces made such an agreement. "It's normally very quiet down here," British Army Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie McCourt told reporters in Al-Basrah. "We've been here nearly two months now, and this is the first time people have been deliberately, consciously shooting at us." The U.S. military reported on 24 June that 25 attacks against coalition forces in Iraq had occurred in the previous 24 hours. KR
RESIDENTS PROTEST ARREST OF IRAQI POLICE CHIEF
Residents took to the streets on 24 June in the Diyala Governorate northwest of Baghdad, protesting the arrest of Major General Sa'dun al-Hamdani, who was detained by U.S. troops more than a month ago, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. Al-Hamdani had been elected to head the Diyala police force after returning to Iraq following 23 years in exile. According to Al-Jazeera, al-Hamdani's relatives said he worked with U.S. forces to establish security in the governorate. Relatives claimed he was summoned to a meeting with a U.S. general named Rogers and was arrested at that meeting. Many of the protesters are from the Bani Hamdan tribes, the satellite channel reported. "We are now using diplomatic methods to secure his release," Shaykh Jabbar Jassam al-Mitlab, chief of the Bani Hamdan tribes, told Al-Jazeera. "If these methods prove useless, then we will use our special methods to address them." He did not elaborate on what the "special methods" were. KR
SYRIA-U.S. TALKS UNDER WAY FOR RETURN OF BORDER GUARDS
Syria and the United States are negotiating the return of five Syrian border guards who were reportedly taken by U.S. forces for treatment after they were shot by U.S. troops pursuing an Iraqi convoy on 18 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 June 2003), ft.com reported on 25 June. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld confirmed that talks were under way during a 24 June press briefing at the Pentagon. "[The return of the guards] will happen.... It will undoubtedly be worked through by the appropriate people in the U.S. government and the Syrian government," Rumsfeld said. A U.S. State Department official told ft.com that a U.S. diplomat met with Syrian officials on 23 June in Damascus to "arrange an expeditious repatriation" of the border guards. KR
EUROPEAN DONORS PROPOSE INTERNATIONAL FUND FOR IRAQ
European donors meeting at the United Nations on 24 June proposed the establishment of an international fund for Iraqi reconstruction, Reuters reported the same day. UN representatives, Iraqi delegates, and international aid-agency representatives attended the 52-nation, UN-sponsored conference on Iraqi reconstruction. UN Development Program (UNDP) Administrator Mark Malloch Brown said that while there is "strong support" for the new fund, which would be parallel to the coalition's Development Fund for Iraq and would be outside of U.S. control, he added: "Not every donor will necessarily use it. But we were asked to go away and develop the options so at the time of the full conference, donors could decide how they wanted such a fund structured." The World Bank, the UN, the EU, Japan, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates plan to hold a major donor conference in October. KR
IRANIAN PROXIES ACCUSE U.S. OF ESPIONAGE
Voice of the Mujahedin, the Iran-based radio station affiliated with the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), cited anonymous "highly informed Iraqi sources" on 24 June as saying that the United States has established a "secret telecommunications center" in the Iraqi city of Mosul. The function of this facility, according to the radio station, is to "spy on and monitor" Syria and Iran. BS
ARRESTS IN TEHRAN AND OTHER CITIES DETAILED FURTHER...
Tehran's Evin Prison is overcrowded following the arrests of 4,000-5,000 students, Baztab website (http://www.baztab.org) reported on 24 June, citing an anonymous "informed source" who was quoted by a Ruydad (http://www.rouydad.com) correspondent. Brigadier General Nabiollah Heidari, the police chief in Yazd, confirmed the arrests of 230 people in recent days and said that 18 percent of the detainees are students, "Iran Daily" reported on 24 June. Most of these people have been released, while the rest have been turned over to the judiciary. Heidari said the Basij paramilitaries helped the police restore order, and five antiriot police officers were injured by stone- and brick-throwing demonstrators. Tehran chief prosecutor Said Mortazavi said on 24 June that some of those arrested in Tehran and other cities are members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), most of these arrested are "thugs and hooligans" with a record of breaking the law, and 32 students are being held, IRNA reported. As for reports of "missing" students, Mortazavi said, investigations show that they took their exams and these are just rumors intended to incite people. BS
...WITH MKO MEMBER AMONG DETAINEES
Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh shed some light on 24 June on chief prosecutor Mortazavi's comment regarding the detention of MKO personnel, ISNA reported. Alizadeh said that among the detainees in Tehran were 10 women, one of whom was about to be released on bail when it was discovered that she is allegedly a member of the MKO. Alizadeh described unrest in Tehran, Karaj, and Robat Karim, and said that 520 people were detained in Tehran Province, excluding the city of Tehran. There were only 30 students in the latter group, Alizadeh said, and when he visited the prison he discovered that some of the detainees are illiterate and others are under 18. BS
LEGISLATORS TO INVESTIGATE STUDENT DETENTIONS
Neishabur parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Hussein Ansari-Rad said on 24 June that chief prosecutor Mortazavi has given permission for him and four other members of parliament to visit the detained students on 25 June, ISNA reported. The other legislators were identified as Islamabad-i Qarb's Azam Nasseripur, Qaenat's Musa Qorbani, Takestan's Rajab Rahmani, and possibly Vahideh Alai-Taleqani from Tehran. Ansari-Rad said in an interview that appeared in the 23 June "Aftab-i Yazd" that the unrest of July 1999 showed that the ministries of Intelligence and Security, of Interior, and of Science, Research, and Technology need to deal with protestors in a legal, rational, and tolerant manner. Isfahan representative Ahmad Shirzad, whose son has been detained, said in "Aftab-i Yazd" that some students create problems for the rest of the student movement and cause pessimism. Nevertheless, he added, it is difficult to know what to tell the students who tried to act responsibly. Malayer parliamentary representative Mohammad Kazemi told "Aftab-i Yazd" that the authorities must be more transparent, informing families immediately of the detention of their children. "I have been repeatedly contacted and some of the families have asked us to take steps for the release of their children. But naturally, we were unable to give them any answers," Kazemi said. BS
NATIONAL-RELIGIOUS ACTIVISTS' ATTORNEY REJECTS CHARGES OF PROVOCATION
Mohammad Sharif, an attorney for the national-religious (melli-mazhabi) activists detained on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 23 June 2003), rejected the provocation charges against them, "Toseh" reported on 24 June. Sharif said they did not participate in the recent protests and added, "I reject the charge that they provoked students." The activists are being held in solitary confinement, Sharif said, whereas solitary confinement should be used only after sentencing. Tehran chief prosecutor Mortazavi said on 24 June that police seized documents from the homes of the national-religious activists that showed their contacts with unidentified "circles abroad" and proved that they received "'special' directives during the unrest," IRNA reported. BS
TALIBAN ANNOUNCE CREATION OF COUNCIL TO HELP 'EVICT' LEADERSHIP IN AFGHANISTAN
The ousted Taliban movement has named a 10-member leadership council to organize a resistance to U.S.-led antiterrorism-coalition forces in Afghanistan, the Pakistan-based daily "The News" reported on 24 June. In a recorded message delivered to "The News," Taliban spokesman Mohammad Mokhtar Mojahed said Taliban spiritual leader Mulla Mohammad Omar has called on his followers to "offer sacrifices for evicting the American and allied soldiers from Afghanistan and fighting the puppet regime of [Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman] Hamid Karzai." The leadership council includes Jalaluddin Haqqani and Sayf al-Rahman Mansur from Khost and Paktiya provinces, respectively, and eight other leaders from the provinces of Kandahar, Oruzgan, and Helmand -- where the Taliban, with Pakistani support, emerged in 1994. The remaining members of the leadership council are: Mulla Dadullah, Akhtar Mohammad Osmani, Akhtar Mohammad Mansur, Mulla Obaydullah, Hafez Abdul Majid, Mulla Mohammad Rasul, Mulla Beradar, and Mulla Abdul Razzaq Nafez. AT
U.S. FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN CLASH WITH HERAT GOVERNOR'S TROOPS
Forces loyal to Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan clashed with U.S. forces in Shindand District on 23 June, leaving one U.S. soldier injured, Radio Afghanistan reported on 24 June. According to the report, the armed clash occurred when U.S. forces wanted to pass through Zayrkoh, a region under the control of Ismail Khan's rival, Amanullah Khan. Amanullah Khan said his side provided guides to U.S. military vehicles to pass through its region, Hindukosh news agency reported on 24 June. Haji Abdul Wodud, deputy head of security in Herat, said the incident was the result of a misunderstanding and that no one was injured on either side, Hindukosh reported. In December, a U.S. military convoy came under attack by Ismail Khan's forces in the region of Zayrkoh, prompting the United States to bomb the area where the Herat governor's troops were engaged in fighting with Amanullah Khan's forces, killing four soldiers loyal to Ismail Khan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 December 2002). AT
JOINT U.S.-AFGHAN OPERATIONS IN TWO EASTERN PROVINCES
Roughly 500 U.S. and Afghan troops are engaged in military operations in Nangarhar and Konar provinces targeting remnants of the Taliban regime and the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, RFE/RL reported on 24 June. U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Lefforge described the campaign, code-named Operation Unified Resolve and launched on 22 June, as "successful," but he did not provide details. It is unclear from reports which Afghan troops are engaged in Operation Unified Resolve. They are possibly local militiamen loyal to the Afghan Transitional Administration and organized by Kabul to counter infiltration by remnants of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda from Pakistan into Afghanistan. AT
AFGHAN MINISTER SAYS EDITORS UNDER PROTECTION, NOT IN CUSTODY...
Information and Culture Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin has said that Editor in Chief Sayyed Mir Husayn Mahdawi and Deputy Editor Ali Reza Payam of the "Aftab" weekly should no longer be considered detainees but are under police protection against possible attacks stemming from their work, "Erada" reported on 24 June. The two men were arrested on apostasy charges on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 20, 23, and 24 June 2003). Rahin said that if the two are allowed to "go home, we will still have to protect them," the BBC reported on 24 June. He added that while the two editors are being protected, their case is being reviewed, "Erada" reported. It is unclear from the report which authority is reviewing the case, which has prompted an international outcry and highlights schisms in Afghan society and within the Afghan Transitional Administration (ATA). AT
...WHILE PRO-MUJAHEDIN PAPER LASHES OUT
A 19 June commentary in "Payam-e Mojahed," a paper belonging to the Jami'at-e Islami of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, argues that the "Aftab" editors' case marks the first time that ATA Chairman Karzai has issued a decree banning a publication for printing "blasphemous articles inconsistent with Islamic values." The commentary asks why, apart from "Aftab," "authorities do not take action against publications and newspapers that publish articles against Islam?" It adds that any disrespect shown toward the mujahedin or their jihad against Soviet forces represents "not only sacrilege but also a clear insult to the Muslim people of Afghanistan." "Payam-e Mojahed" also asks why Payam, who is an Iranian national, was allowed to publish a paper in Afghanistan. The commentary accuses Payam of belonging to the Iranian opposition group the Mujahedin Khalq Organization. Rabbani was one of those targeted in the "Aftab" reports. AT