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Newsline - May 6, 2004


PRESIDENT CHAIRS FINAL GOVERNMENT SESSION OF HIS FIRST TERM
President Vladimir Putin on 5 May chaired the last meeting of the government before his 7 May inauguration for his second term, Russian media reported on 6 May. He reminded ministers that the constitution requires that the government resign after the inauguration, but said that there will "basically" be no personnel changes when he submits a new government to the Duma, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. He is required to do so within two weeks. The cabinet meeting focused on improving social welfare, "Vremya novostei" reported. "Whatever decisions the government makes, they should be guided by this fundamental principle -- not to deteriorate the position of the people," Putin was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying during the meeting. The meeting was attended by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, government-apparatus head Dmitrii Kozak, deputy presidential administration head Igor Sechin, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin. RC

GOVERNMENT SETS UP COMMISSION TO MONITOR SPENDING
Deputy Prime Minister Zhukov on 5 May was named to head a government commission charged with monitoring spending by ministries and other state agencies, "Vremya novostei" reported on 6 May. The commission's primary goal will be to insure that state funds are spent as efficiently as possible, in line with new government standards on budgets and spending (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004). According to unnamed sources within the Finance Ministry, the commission will be given annual spending reports by each ministry. The decree forming the commission states that its decisions "are obligatory for all executive-branch organs," the daily reported. RC

OIL PRODUCTION RISES BY NEARLY 10 PERCENT
Russian oil production increased by 9.9 percent in the year to April to 36.9 million tons, ITAR-TASS reported. Yukos was the country's leading producer, pumping just over 7 million tons, followed by LUKoil, Surgutneftegaz, TNK-BP, Sibneft, and Tatneft. "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 6 May that Russian oil companies have already earned nearly $7 billion in profits so far this year. The daily cited oil-industry experts as saying that in response to government plans to impose higher export duties on oil when world energy prices are high (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004), oil companies will raise the domestic price of gasoline. Other experts told the daily that the new export duties might also force small producers to sell their oil to the oil giants rather than exporting it themselves, thus further strengthening the market position of the oil majors. RC

PAPER WONDERS WHY POTANIN REMAINS SILENT
"Kommersant-Daily," which is owned by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, noted on 5 May that although the Interros holding has denied recent media reports that its CEO, oligarch Vladimir Potanin, was questioned by the Prosecutor-General's Office last week, the company has not explained where he is and he has not appeared publicly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2004). The paper noted that Interros's main asset, Norilsk Nikel, has lost $2 billion in capitalization since the rumors started and argued that the company has an obligation to shareholders to reveal Potanin's whereabouts in order to calm the market. Interros has only said that Potanin is on an unspecified, previously scheduled business trip abroad and has refused to say when he is expected to return. RC

GAZPROM PAPER FIRES EDITOR, BRINGS IN PETERSBURG REPLACEMENT
Valerii Simonov, editor in chief of "Tribuna," has been dismissed and replaced by former "Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti" Editor in Chief Oleg Kuzin, fontanka.ru and other Russian media reported on 5 May. "Tribuna" is owned by Gazprom-Media. Although no official explanation for the dismissal has been given, media reports indicate that Simonov was sacked for printing critical comments about President Putin by journalist Pavel Voshchanov. Kuzin, who previously served as editor of "Leningradskaya pravda," was president of St. Petersburg's League of Journalists, a group closely associated with St. Petersburg's city administration, from 1996 to 1999. Regnum reported on 28 April that "Rossiiskaya gazeta" Editor in Chief Vladislav Fronin will be replaced in the near future by an unnamed figure from St. Petersburg. RC

LUKOIL ANSWERS GOVERNOR'S CALL IN ST. PETERSBURG
In response to St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko's recent call for the transfer of architectural monuments to private investors, LUKoil has announced that it plans to invest $37 million in the restoration of the private residence of 19th-century banker Aleksandr Shtiglits, "Gazeta" reported on 5 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2004). According to the city's committee for the preservation of historical monuments, if a draft law on the privatization of monuments is adopted, then the house will be transferred to LUKoil's ownership. The company has already been leasing the property for four years, and 49 years remain on the lease. It originally obtained the lease by promising to restore the palace, but later the company said that the building was not suitable as an office and reconstruction stopped, after only $100,000 of a promised $20 million had been spent. According to the daily, LUKoil "has already received the first dividends from its charity. City authorities granted the company, without having to compete, 60 plots of land for the construction of gasoline stations." In exchange for the land, the company will transfer $20 million to the city's treasury. JAC

RUSSIAN RAILWAY NETWORK EXPANDING BEYOND BORDERS
Russian Railways (RZhD) plans to accelerate the movement of Russian trains along international routes, Finmarket reported on 5 May. For example, a train trip from Novosibirsk to Berlin and back again will be reduced by almost 30 hours. In addition, the trip will cost on average 1,000 rubles ($35) less. The company also plans to introduce new direct international routes from Chelyabinsk to Berlin, Sverdlovsk to Berlin, Ufa to Berlin, Moscow to Thessaloniki, and Moscow to Brussels. Last month, RZhD Vice President Sergei Kozyrev announced that 60 new long-distance railway routes between Russia and other destinations in the CIS will begin operations in 2004-05, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. JAC

ENTREPRENEUR TAPPED FOR UPPER CHAMBER
Newly elected Ryazan Oblast Governor Georgii Shpak has selected Samara-based entrepreneur Andrei Ishchuk as his representative to the Federation Council, "Gazeta" reported on 5 May. Local analysts believe that Ishchuk, the head of the Volgaburmash holding company, financed Shpak's gubernatorial election campaign. Ishchuk will replace Mikhail Odintsev, a "protege" of former Ryazan Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Lyubimov. Shpak told oblast legislators on 30 April that there were many candidates from Moscow seeking the position, but after "being advised by the presidential administration," he was left with only one candidate. Oblast legislators then voted unanimously to support Ishchuk's candidacy. By his own admission, Ishchuk has never seen Ryazan before except through the window of a train, but he pledged to try to make things better in Ryazan. JAC

TATAR ACTIVISTS SUGGEST IMPROVEMENTS FOR RUSSIAN ALPHABET
The Vatan popular-democratic party held a meeting in Moscow's Pushkin Square on 5 May to demand that the Tatar language be made Russia's second official state language, Ekho Moskvy reported. Vatan activists argued that Switzerland has four state languages, and one of these, Romansch, is spoken by only 1 percent of the population, while Tatar is spoken by 5 percent of the population of Russia, utro.ru reported. According to the website, Vatan has long been arguing for making Tatar a state language, but this is the first time it has taken its demand to the streets. Vatan activists would also like to introduce six new letters to the Cyrillic alphabet that would make it easier to render Tatar names in Russian. JAC

ANTIDRUG NGO ORGANIZING ANTI-TAJIK PROTEST
More than 1,000 people are expected to take part in an protest against illegal migration on 10 May in the Shirokaya rechka housing estate outside Yekaterinburg, Novyi region reported on 5 May. Andrei Kabanov, president of the City Without Narcotics foundation, told the agency that Tajiks, practically none of whom are officially registered, now make up 50 percent of the population of the neighborhood. "Officially, these people work at building sites, but in fact they are occupied with the drug trade," he said. "More than that, they are tyrannizing the local population. Last year, Tajiks raped and murdered a young girl and, last week, they tried to rape an adult woman." The previous president of City Without Narcotics, Yevgenii Roizman, was elected to the State Duma in December (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 27 November 2003). JAC

THREE RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS CLOSED IN OMSK FOR USING SWASTIKAS
An Omsk Oblast court has ordered the liquidation of three religious organizations for violating federal legislation, RIA-Novosti reported on 5 May. The Old Russian Inglisticheskii Church of Orthodox Old Believers, the Asgardskii Slavic society, and the Slavic community and male seminary under Kapishche Vedi Peruna were found to have used symbols similar to Nazi ones. According to nevskiy.orthodoxy.ru, the organizations cooperated with the extremist nationalist Russian National Unity organization, which was banned in Omsk in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2002). JAC

ARE PRO-MOSCOW FORCES CLOSING IN ON CHECHEN PRESIDENT?
Over the past several days, members of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership have repeatedly claimed that a large band of Chechen fighters, possibly including Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in 1997, was routed during a major operation in Kurchaloi Raion southeast of Grozny on 2 May. Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Atsaev told Interfax on 5 May that more than 200 Chechen police are still engaged in a hunt in the Kurchaloi, Gudermes, and Nozhai-Yurt districts for a band of 30 Chechen fighters who launched an abortive attack on 1 May on a checkpoint in Alleroi, east of Gudermes, manned jointly by Chechen police and members of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov's security service. Other militants from Daghestan are reported to have participated in that attack. Kadyrov's son Ramzan, who heads his father's security service, said on 3 May that eight Chechen fighters were killed during or after the 1 May attack. A spokesman for Kadyrov's security service, Artur Akhmadov, told Interfax on 5 May that he believes the 1 May attack was led by Akhmed Avtorkhanov, who heads Maskhadov's personal security detachment. Also on 5 May, Ramzan Kadyrov said he believes Avtorkhanov has been badly wounded and is hiding out in a village in Gudermes Raion. Akhmadov said on 4 May and again on 5 May that he has received intelligence reports that Maskhadov is also in the area currently being searched. Ekho Moskvy, "Kommersant-Daily," RIA-Novosti, and other Russian media have reported over the last week that the authorities have stepped up their efforts to capture Maskhadov in connection with President Putin's 7 May inauguration. LF/RC

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CALLS FOR RESUMING DIALOGUE WITH OPPOSITION
In a statement released on 5 May, Artur Baghdasarian appealed to both the ruling three-party coalition and the Armenian opposition to resume the talks they broke off last week, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). Referring to a resolution adopted last week at the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) urging the Armenian leadership and the opposition to resume dialogue without preconditions, Baghdasarian invited representatives of both sides to his office on 6 May for "political consultations." Shavarsh Kocharian, a leading member of the Artarutiun opposition alliance, said the opposition is ready to resume talks but that President Robert Kocharian (no relation to Shavarsh), whose resignation the opposition demands, should also participate. LF

MORE PARTICIPANTS IN ARMENIAN PROTESTS SENTENCED
Thirty people who participated in the opposition rally in Yerevan on 4 May to demand that President Kocharian resign were subsequently detained on charges of petty hooliganism, disrupting public order, or defying the police, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 5 May quoting an unnamed police spokesman. The spokesman said seven of those detained were sentenced to up to 15 days in prison and a further 21 were fined and then released. Meanwhile, the Armenian police press office released a statement on 5 May denying media reports that police blocked roads leading to Yerevan on 4 May, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2004). Also on 5 May, the Appeals Court rejected a protest against the continued pretrial detention of former Armenian Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, Noyan Tapan reported. Harutiunian was arrested following the 13 April demonstration in Yerevan that was violently dispersed by police. He has been charged with calling for the violent overthrow of constitutional order and with publicly insulting officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT PLAYS DOWN 'CYPRUS SCANDAL'
Speaking to journalists on 5 May following the unveiling of a bust of his father and predecessor, Heidar Aliyev, at an oil refinery in Baku, Ilham Aliyev said the failure of Azerbaijan's delegation to participate in a PACE session last week devoted to Cyprus does not reflect, and has not resulted in, a cooling of relations between Azerbaijan and Turkey, zerkalo.az reported on 6 May. Aliyev, who previously headed Azerbaijan's PACE delegation, explained that it is common practice for Turkey to ask for the Azerbaijan delegation's presence and support when Turkish-related issues are debated, but that on this occasion no such request was made. Aliyev nonetheless said that unnamed circles both within Azerbaijan and abroad are not interested in seeing Azerbaijani-Turkish relations improve. LF

ADJAR LEADER STEPS DOWN, LEAVES GEORGIA AFTER HIS SUPPORT BASE CRUMBLES
Aslan Abashidze resigned late on 5 May as Adjar Supreme Council Chairman and reportedly flew to Moscow together with Russian Security Council Chairman Igor Ivanov, who had traveled first to Tbilisi then to Batumi earlier that day after Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili discussed by telephone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin the possibility of Russia offering political asylum to Abashidze and his closest entourage. Abashidze had affirmed earlier on 5 May that he would not resign, but speaking on Adjar television after four hours of talks with Ivanov he thanked his supporters and asked them to disperse and return to their homes. By late on 5 May, most of Adjaria's police and border guards had withdrawn their support for Abashidze, as had Adjar Interior Minister Djemal Gogitidze, who met with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania on the border between Adjaria and the rest of Georgia and received from him assurances of immunity. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ANNOUNCES 'NEW ERA'
Saakashvili, who imposed presidential rule in Adjaria on 5 May as thousands of people took to the streets to demand Abashidze's resignation, flew to Batumi early on 6 May, Georgian media reported. Speaking on local television, he told a jubilant population that "a new era" in Georgia's history has begun. Saakashvili has deployed Interior Ministry forces to Adjaria to maintain order, prevent looting, and conduct de-mining operations, rustavi2.com reported on 6 May. On 5 May, Georgian Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said Abashidze had ordered the mining of the port and oil terminal in Batumi and other unspecified locations. Speaking on Georgian television on 5 May before Abashidze resigned, Saakashvili said he will name an interim council that will govern Adjaria until new elections can be held, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Caucasus Press on 6 May quoted Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, whom Saakashvili named to head that commission, as saying that the elections will take place within 30 days. Plamen Nikolov, who is the special representative in Tbilisi of Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer, called on the Georgian leadership on 6 May to set about drafting a document on the distribution of competencies between the central government and Adjaria, Caucasus Press reported. LF

CORRECTION:
The 5 May "RFE/RL Newsline" item titled "...And Georgian Prosecutor Offers Him Three Choices" should have stated that Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was summarily executed in 1989 on orders from a military tribunal.

CENTRAL ASIAN LEGISLATORS MEET IN KAZAKH CAPITAL
Legislators from the member states of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO) -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- met in Kazakhstan on 5 May to discuss the development of the region's legislatures, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. KazInform quoted Erkin Khalilov, chairman of Uzbekistan's parliament, as saying, "The institutions of parliamentary government are still emerging in our countries." At a meeting with Khalilov and his Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Tajik counterparts, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev noted, "It is high time for us to set up a unique parliament in our region similar to the European parliament," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Abdygany Erkebaev, the speaker of Kyrgyzstan's lower chamber of parliament, responded positively, saying lawmakers from the CACO need to support and implement the idea. DK

FREE SPEECH FOUNDATION URGES NEW MEDIA LAW FOR KAZAKHSTAN
Tamara Kaleeva, the head of Kazakhstan's Adil Soz free speech foundation, told journalists at a 5 May news conference that work should begin on a new draft law on media before parliamentary elections in the fall, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. On 22 April, the Constitutional Council deemed a controversial, recently passed media law unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004). Kaleeva also expressed a willingness to cooperate with the Information Ministry to draft a new law. The news conference also highlighted some of the difficulties journalists face in Kazakhstan. Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted Kaleeva as saying, "Nine attacks were made on representatives of the media and members of their families last year, and as many as five journalists have been beaten up since the start of this year." DK

KYRGYZ CORRUPTION FIGHTER KILLED
Unknown assailants gunned down Chynybek Aliev, the top anticorruption official at the Kyrgyz Interior Ministry, in Bishkek on 5 May, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Aliev was shot several times at point-blank range on a crowded city street at 6:30 p.m. Although the attacker, or attackers, fled the scene, the police immediately blocked off roads leading into and out of the capital. Interior Ministry sources told ITAR-TASS that they are sure that Aliev's murder was a contract killing and not a random crime. At least seven high-profile contract killings have taken place in Kyrgyzstan over the last two months. DK

TAJIK DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER DENIES BASE-TALKS DEADLOCK
Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Zuhurov said on 5 May that Russia and Tajikistan should be able to resolve their differences over the establishment of a permanent Russian military base in Tajikistan, Interfax-AVN reported the same day. Noting that some issues "require further work," Zuhurov said, "Russia and Tajikistan have no disputes over the military base that cannot be settled." Zuhurov was careful to stress, "Tajikistan has not put forward any unacceptable conditions." A Russian official had suggested on 3 May that Tajik intransigence could lead to the withdrawal of Russia's 201st Division from Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2004). DK

POLL SHOWS RISING SUPPORT FOR TAJIK RULING PARTY
A poll by the Sharq research center suggested that attitudes toward Tajik political parties shifted between late 2002 and late 2003, Asia-Plus Blitz reported on 5 May. According to the poll of 1,000 respondents, support for the ruling People's Democratic Party increased from 26.2 percent to 31.8 percent. Support for the Communist Party went from 27 percent to 27.3 percent; for the Democratic Party, from 5.6 percent to 6.4 percent; and for the Islamic Renaissance Party, from 2.4 percent to 4.1 percent. The number of people who rejected all existing parties fell from 30.4 percent to 20.9 percent. DK

TURKMEN LEADER PRAISES MILITARY EXERCISES
President Saparmurat Niyazov expressed satisfaction with military exercises conducted about 60 kilometers outside the Turkmen capital of Ashgabat on 5 May, turkmenistan.ru reported the same day. The exercises followed a scenario in which 3,500 "terrorists" attempted to seize key oil and chemical facilities. The war games involved two SU-25 fighter planes, missile and rocket systems, a mobile artillery complex, and two MI-4 helicopters, ITAR-TASS reported. Foreign diplomats and military attaches were invited. "The army of neutral Turkmenistan is capable of dealing with any threat," Interfax-AVN quoted Niyazov as saying. DK

BELARUS'S ELECTION COMMISSION DENIES REFERENDUM ALLEGATIONS
Mikalay Lazavik, secretary of the Central Election Commission, told Belapan on 5 May that "neither official nor unofficial" figures have so far approached the commission with any referendum proposals. Lazavik was commenting on the allegations voiced by the opposition Coalition Five Plus on 4 May that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has decided to hold a referendum to extend his term beyond 2006. "We believe that Alyaksandr Lukashenka should complete his term in power [in 2006] in full compliance with the constitution and leave without plunging the country into political instability," Coalition Five Plus said in a statement. Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party, which is a component of Coalition Five Plus, told Belapan that the referendum might be timed to coincide with the parliamentary elections expected in October. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TO LEAD V-DAY PARADE
President Lukashenka will lead a parade of some 5,500 veterans in Minsk on 9 May to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, Belapan reported on 5 May. Some 6,000 school and university students are expected to line the parade route to applaud the marchers. Meeting with veterans on 5 May, Lukashenka called the forthcoming anniversary of the "Soviet people's victory in the Great Patriotic War" an "epochal event in the history of the country." Lukashenka reportedly offered cost-free health care services for the country's estimated 95,000 veterans. "I gave an instruction [to doctors] to visit each veteran, check him, stroke him, make a good injection if need be, cure him, and make surgery if necessary and [if] the veteran agrees," Belarusian Television quoted the president as saying. "Roughly speaking, we need to carry out a capital repair of this corps of 95,000. The longer they live the more stable the country will be." JM

UKRAINIAN COURT JAILS TWO OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS FOR ANTI-PREMIER ACTION
A district court in Kharkiv on 5 May found two Our Ukraine members guilty of defaming Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych during an unauthorized rally in the city on 1 May, Interfax and UNIAN reported, quoting the Our Ukraine press service. Yevhen Zolotaryov and Ivan Varchenko received prison sentences of 15 and 10 days, respectively. The two men and other opposition activists reportedly staged a performance called "The Last Shirt for Yanukovych from the Ukrainian People," during which they took off their shirts and placed them in front of the oblast administration office in Kharkiv. The court ruled that the performance insulted Yanukovych's honor. JM

UKRAINIAN PATRIARCH'S VISIT REPORTEDLY FOILED BY RIVAL CHURCH
Patriarch Filaret, head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate has rescheduled his visit to Odesa that was originally planned for 5 May, Interfax reported on 5 May. "The reason for canceling Patriarch Filaret's visit was an aggressive community of believers of the [Ukrainian Orthodox Church]-Moscow Patriarchate led by the organization Common Fatherland headed by Valeriy Kaurov," said an unidentified local priest who is subordinate to the Kyiv Patriarchate. "Filaret must not come to Odesa, otherwise unrest will begin," Kaurov reportedly warned the Odesa mayoral office. The Moscow-subordinate Ukrainian Orthodox Church has 15 churches in Odesa, while three are in the jurisdiction of the Kyiv Patriarchate. JM

MORE THAN 7.5 MILLION UKRAINIANS USE MOBILE PHONES
The number of users of cellular phones in Ukraine increased by 4 percent in April and exceeded 7.5 million, Interfax reported on 6 May, quoting official data from the country's mobile-communications operators. JM

BOSNIAN LEADER PROTESTS SFOR DECISION TO REJECT PROPOSED ARMY LEADERS
Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim representative on the Bosnian Presidency and its current chairman, officially demanded that SFOR provide documents on which it based a decision to reject 10 candidates for senior positions in the future Bosnian army, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Tihic accused the SFOR command of having screened prospective army leaders in an "untransparent" and "unconstitutional" way. In a 22 April press release, SFOR made clear that it "will not endorse any candidate who is under investigation by the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia], is suspected or charged with criminal activities or affiliated in any way or form with disreputable political activities," adding, "Regrettably a significant number of names have failed to meet the criteria and indeed some should never have been on the list" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 11, and 16 March 2004). UB

SERBIAN OFFICIAL RULES OUT DEAL WITH SUSPECT IN PREMIER'S ASSASSINATION
Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic said on 5 May that Milorad Lukovic "Legija," who is reportedly the prime suspect in the March 2002 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, will not be granted "crown witness" status, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Stojkovic said ringleaders of criminal groups may not be granted such status under Serbian law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 May 2004). UB

UNMIK HEAD CALLS SERBIAN PLAN FOR KOSOVA A GOOD BASIS FOR TALKS
Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said during talks with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica in Belgrade on 5 May that the Serbian government's proposal to grant territorial and personal autonomy to Kosovar Serbs presents a good basis for future talks on institutional guarantees for that minority in the province, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March, 2 and 16 April 2004). UB

TOP MILITARY OFFICIAL SAYS U.S. NOT REDUCING PRESENCE IN KOSOVA
Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers said during a visit to Camp Bondsteel in Kosova on 5 May that Washington does not intend to reduce its military presence in that internationally administered province, Tanjug reported. Some 1,800 U.S. troops are currently stationed in Kosova. Myers also said the United States will remain dedicated to the stabilization of the Balkans, since the region is a key factor in the global war on terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2004). UB

CREW BLAMED FOR PLANE CRASH THAT KILLED MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT
A commission probing the plane crash near Mostar in Herzegovina in which Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski died on 26 February presented its conclusions in Sarajevo on 5 May, Fena reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 February and 5 March 2004). According to the commission's chairman, Salko Begic, the "direct causes of the plane crash were the procedural mistakes of the plane crew in approaching the landing area to the Mostar airport, which led to crashing the plane into the ground." Begic said the pilots were ill prepared for the flight and used an old route to approach the airport that had given way to a new, safer one, Skopje's "Dnevnik" reported. UB

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT LIFTS FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER'S IMMUNITY
Parliament on 5 May confirmed a decision by its Committee on Procedural and Immunity Affairs to lift the immunity of hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski in connection with the police killing of seven immigrants in March 2002, MIA reported. Boskovski is now a legislator for the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). He is charged with complicity in the 2 March 2002 deaths of one Indian and six Pakistani immigrants. Also on 5 May, a Skopje prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Boskovski, who went into hiding after the parliamentary committee lifted his immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 5 May 2004). UB

ROMANIA JOINS UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION
Romania on 4 May became a member of the UN Commission on Human Rights for the period 2005-2007, according to a Romanian Foreign Ministry press release, cited by Mediafax. The press release said Romania is highly interested in actively participating in the committee's work and also trying to make it more efficient. The protection of minority rights and prevention of all kinds of discrimination are priorities of both the committee and Romania, the press release stated. ZsM

ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER SAYS MOLDOVA TO REMAIN OUTSIDE EU FOR LONG TIME
EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, in an interview with the BBC cited by Flux on 5 May, said the EU will merely offer Moldova "the chance to get closer to its economic realm, but not the possibility to become a full member of the EU." Verheugen added that everyone should admit that "for a long time from now on, the western border of the former Soviet Union will stay the eastern border of the EU with the exception of the Baltic states." Verheugen said Ukraine and Moldova should become good neighbors to the EU. That, he said, would get them closer to the union, especially in the economic sphere. ZsM

MOLDOVAN LEFTIST PARTIES UNITE
The Party of Moldovan Socialists (PSRM), the Moldovan Socialist Party (PSM), the New Komsomol Association, and the Moldovan Communist Party on 5 May created the Patria-Rodina Political-Civil Union of Citizens, Flux reported. At a press conference, PSRM Executive Secretary Valentin Crilov said the parties decided to unite in order to create a leftist opposition to the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists, "which has not contributed to the development of Moldova." PSM leader Victor Morev added that Moldova's interests lie "not in the West, nor in the European Union, but in the East, within the Euro-Asian Union of sovereign states to be born within the Commonwealth of Independent States." ZsM

BULGARIAN MEDICS RECEIVE DEATH SENTENCE IN LIBYAN TRIAL
A court in Benghazi, Libya, on 6 May sentenced five Bulgarian nurses and one Palestinian doctor to death after finding them guilty of deliberately infecting more than 400 children at a local hospital with HIV, the "Sofia Morning News" reported. Another Bulgarian, a doctor, was given a four-year jail term. The verdict may be appealed. A Bulgarian government spokesman said in response to the verdict that the government "will continue all its efforts to mobilize the international community, the European Union, and the United States in order to obtain a fair sentence from another court," BBC reported. President Georgi Parvanov said he hopes that the next court will review the evidence and issue a just verdict within a short time, BTA reported. Twenty-three Bulgarian medical workers were originally arrested in February 1999 in connection with the infections; 17 of them were later released, while five nurses and one doctor were charged (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 February 2004). UB

PACE WANTS TO CUT TIES WITH BELARUS OVER DISAPPEARANCES
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on 28 April adopted a strongly worded resolution calling on member states to apply a "maximum of political pressure," including sanctions, against the government of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka until it launches a credible, independent investigation of the alleged involvement of high-ranking Belarusian officials in the disappearances of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka (disappeared on 7 May 1999), Viktar Hanchar (16 September 1999), and Anatol Krasouski (disappeared with Hanchar), as well as journalist Dzmitry Zavadski (7 July 2000).

The resolution says such an investigation needs to be launched following the resignation of Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, who has been accused of orchestrating the disappearances and their subsequent cover-up in his former function as Security Council secretary. The resolution also recommends that the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers consider suspending the participation of Belarus in various Council of Europe agreements and activities, as well as any contacts between the council and the Belarusian government on a political level, until sufficient progress has been made in the proposed investigation.

The resolution followed a report on the disappearances prepared by Cypriot lawmaker Christos Pourgourides and approved by the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in January. Pourgourides's report -- echoing previous accounts and reports by independent media -- suggests a high-level government cover-up in the disappearances and the involvement of several senior officials (including Sheyman and Sports Minister Yury Sivakou) in orchestrating them.

"We have not resolved to isolate Belarus completely," Pourgourides told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service on 28 April. "We have resolved to stop political contacts with the [Lukashenka] regime.... We have decided that we will assist with every possible means all opposition groups, independent media, and all those people who are fighting for democratic changes in Belarus."

In the past, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ignored critical resolutions by European bodies as "political pressure." It is unclear what "sanctions" might be adopted by European states with regard to the Belarusian regime. Pourgourides suggested that criminal legislation in some European states -- for example, in Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands -- allows judicial bodies to launch criminal proceedings against Belarusian officials over the disappearances.

THREE UN ELECTION WORKERS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN
Two British UN employees and their Afghan interpreter were attacked and killed in Nuristan Province on 5 May in the third violent attack on UN election workers in three months, international news agencies reported. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said the killings may slow its drive launched this week to register approximately 10 million Afghans for September's national elections, AP reported. Global Risk Strategies, a British security company that is surveying rural Afghanistan to help determine safe sites for registration offices, said the killings were perpetrated by "local bandits." But de Almeida e Silva said voter-registration efforts will continue throughout the country regardless. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai said the killings constitute a "cowardly act aimed at terrorizing the people of Afghanistan." He said in an official statement that Afghanistan "will continue relentlessly on the path that the people of the country have chosen: the path of peace prosperity and reconstruction." Nearly 2 million Afghan citizens in eight major cities have so far registered to vote. KM

KARZAI URGES AFGHAN RELIGIOUS LEADERS TO DENOUNCE TERRORISTS
Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai on 5 May urged a meeting of Afghan religious scholars to ostracize "the enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan," Bakhtar News Agency reported. Karzai encouraged the leaders to "voice their protest against such un-Islamic acts and expose the nature of the perpetrators to the nation." Suspected neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants have recently targeted pro-government religious leaders. At a news conference in Kabul the same day, government spokesman Jawed Ludin lauded the 2 May statement issued by leaders of Hizb-e Islami denouncing terrorism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2004). KM

JAPAN LOOKS TO NATO FOR AFGHAN DISARMAMENT ASSISTANCE
Japan has asked NATO for assistance in disarming and demobilizing approximately 10,000 Afghan militiamen, Kyodo World Service reported on 5 May. Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan Kinichi Komano requested the assistance during a 4 May NATO meeting in Brussels. He said that Japan, which has provided approximately $3.5 million to the Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program (DDR), considers "local warlords working as military commanders" a major obstacle. Komano also said that increased violent attacks and "sabotage activities" perpetrated by suspected neo-Taliban are hindering the DDR's success. To date, 6,200 soldiers have been disarmed, according to the news agency. Meanwhile, Japan is considering the prospect of sending ground troops to Afghanistan to support humanitarian projects, Reuters reported on 5 May. KM

HUNGER STRIKE ENDS AFTER AFGHAN WARLORD AGREES TO PRISONER TRANSFER
General Abdul Rashid Dostum has agreed to allow inmates at the Sheberghan jail in northern Jowzjan Province to be transferred to Kabul after prisoners there held a five-day hunger strike to protest conditions, the "Financial Times" reported on 5 May. As many as 270 of the 800 prisoners at the facility were transferred to Kabul on 4 May, and the rest were to follow shortly thereafter, prison director Abdul Khalil told the daily. Most of the inmates were jailed for fighting with the former Taliban regime against the U.S.-led coalition. Up to 400 of them might be Pakistani, according to Tehran's Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran on 4 May. International human rights groups have criticized conditions and treatment of prisoners at the infamous prison. KM

EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN DENOUNCES U.S. EFFORTS TO THWART IRAN'S NUCLEAR EFFORTS...
Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on 5 May denounced the United States' efforts to block Iran's nuclear ambitions, and especially its ability to master the nuclear fuel cycle, Reuters and IRNA reported. He asked why the United States is "trying to prevent Iran from having the nuclear fuel cycle, when the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] was created to assist countries in the peaceful use of nuclear power," IRNA reported. "We are at the early stages and our people have a right to use peaceful nuclear technology," he said. Reuters cited an unnamed U.S. official in Vienna as saying on 5 May that the statements will help the United States push for a tough resolution against Iran at the next IAEA meeting in June. Meanwhile Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi during his visit to Berlin on 5 May reminded German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer that France, Germany, and the United Kingdom should honor "commitments" they made last year regarding Iran's nuclear program, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003). IRNA quoted Fischer as saying that European states take nuclear proliferation "very seriously" and "have conveyed this concern to Tehran." VS

...AND SAYS HE WILL NOT RUN FOR PRESIDENCY AGAIN
Rafsanjani, a two-time former president, said in Tehran on 4 May that "in spite of so many inquiries," he is "determined" not to run again for president, "Iran" reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004). Presidential elections are expected to take place late next year. "I believe that there are competent forces in the country who have more energy," he said. "We must make way...to allow new people with new ideas and initiatives to come forward." However, "sometimes a person feels he is obliged to do something...when a task imposes itself," he said, although he added that for the time being "I do not see such an atmosphere." Meanwhile, the second round of last February's parliamentary polls is to be held on 7 May, with 114 candidates competing for 57 seats, "Iran" reported on 5 May. The Interior Ministry has announced that campaigning will not be allowed on 6 May, mehrnews.com reported. (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 April and 3 May 2004). VS

TURKEY SEEKS AMICABLE SETTLEMENT OF GAS DISPUTE WITH IRAN
Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Guler told IRNA in Izmir on 5 May that he is hoping for a cordial resolution to a dispute with Iran over gas prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2004). Turkey has asked Iran to reduce the price of its exported gas "in accordance with provisions laid out in the contract" both countries signed in 1996 under which Iran is to supply gas to Turkey for 25 years, IRNA quoted Guler as saying. The neighboring countries opened a pipeline in December 2001 to transport gas originating in the Persian Gulf from Tabriz to Ankara. However, Turkey has complained about the quality of the gas, and sent its case to arbitration last week, IRNA reported. The agency cited Iranian Petroleum Minister Bizhan Namdar-Zanganeh as saying last week that Turkey must provide evidence for its claims regarding Iranian gas quality. VS

IRAN'S GUARDIANS COUNCIL APPROVES PRISONERS' RIGHTS BILL
The Guardians Council has approved a bill on safeguarding prisoners' rights that was passed by parliament on 4 May, Fars News Agency reported on 5 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004). Guardians Council spokesman Ibrahim Azizi said the council determined that the bill, which is based on an earlier judiciary directive, does not violate the constitution or religious rights. Azizi said the bill pertaining to safeguarding legitimate liberties and civil rights will prevent "the implementation of any form of personal preference and abuse of power or any form of violence by judicial, police, [or] security authorities," farsnews.com reported. The bill states that "any form of torture against suspects to gain confessions is forbidden and lacks religious or legal force," Azizi said. VS

CAR BOMB EXPLODES OUTSIDE U.S. COMPOUND IN IRAQI CAPITAL
A car bomb detonated at a checkpoint leading to the "green zone" in which the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) makes its headquarters in Baghdad on 6 May, international media reported. Eyewitnesses told Al-Arabiyah television that the booby-trapped car detonated, setting nearby vehicles on fire and destroying shops. The television channel said 12 people were killed and 20 others wounded in the explosion, while Reuters reported that five Iraqis and one U.S. soldier were killed, with another 23 wounded. The bomb was said to have contained artillery shells, used to maximize casualties, which a U.S. military claimed is the hallmark of wanted Al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Meanwhile, two bombs detonated outside the headquarters of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan in Ba'qubah on 6 May, Reuters reported. At least four people were wounded in that blast. KR

GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER DISCUSSES REARMING OF BA'ATHISTS
Iraqi Governing Council member and head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim told Al-Jazeera television in a 5 May interview that he and other members of the Iraqi Governing Council oppose the rearming of Ba'athists in Iraq. Regarding the appointment of former Hussein regime officers to the city of Al-Fallujah (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 May 2004), al-Hakim denied that all residents in Al-Fallujah welcomed the return of Ba'athists to the city. "It was not met with comfort by all residents of Al-Fallujah. Hence, we do not accept, and object to [appointing] criminal Republican Guard officers who committed crimes. We can never accept for them to carry arms in Iraq again," al-Hakim said. "This is why the first to object was the Iraqi defense minister." KR

BUSH SPEAKS TO ARABIC TELEVISION ON PRISONER ABUSE...
U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the Iraqi and Arabic-speaking public in separate interviews with Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television and the U.S.-funded Al-Hurrah television on 5 May to express his dismay at prisoner abuses at the Abu Ghurayb facility, but Bush stopped short of apologizing for the abuse of Iraqi detainees at the hands of U.S. soldiers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 3 and 4 May 2004). "In our country, when there's an allegation of abuse -- more than an allegation in this case, actual abuse, we saw the pictures -- there will be a full investigation and justice will be delivered," Bush told Al-Arabiyah. "It's very important for the people of the Middle East to realize that the troops we have overseas are decent, honorable citizens who care about freedom and peace, that are working daily in Iraq to improve the lives of the Iraqi citizens." Bush called the abuses "abhorrent." Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan told media later the same day that the White House is "deeply sorry for what occurred, and the pain that it has caused," Reuters reported. McClellan said on 4 May that Bush learned of the allegations in January. Meanwhile, a soldier who served in Abu Ghurayb claimed to Reuters, "The Iraqis only understand force," the news agency reported on 5 May. "There is a frustration factor dealing with the Iraqis. Everybody wants to choke them," Lieutenant Michael Drayton said. KR

...AS NEW PICTURES OF PURPORTED ABUSE APPEAR
The washingtonpost.com website carried more photographs on 6 May purportedly depicting U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees. One of the photographs shows three naked men piled together on the floor of a prison corridor with U.S. soldiers standing around the detainees. Another photograph shows a detainee standing handcuffed to a bed and naked, his arms pulled so tight that his back is arched; his head is covered by women's underwear. A third photograph shown on CNN shows U.S. Private Lynndie England standing in a prison corridor holding a leash tied around the neck of a naked Iraqi detainee, who is lying on the floor. England was also seen in the first batch of photos, whose publication sparked widespread condemnation. England's father Kenneth told washingtopost.com that his daughter was merely posing for pictures at the request of other soldiers. England reportedly has not been charged with abuse. The website notes that the photographs were apparently taken in the summer of 2003. KR

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