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Newsline - May 17, 2004


U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER MEETS WITH RUSSIAN LEADERSHIP
President Vladimir Putin met with U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in the Kremlin on 15 May to discuss the future of Iraq, the situation in the Mideast, and bilateral issues, Western and Russian news agencies reported. The private talks focused on the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq, which Washington wants to have before the planned transfer of power from the U.S.-led coalition to an Iraqi government on 30 June, strana.ru reported. Rice also met with Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, and Russian Defense Council Secretary Igor Ivanov. Fradkov informed Rice about the administrative and economic reforms he has launched, strana.ru reported on 15 May. VY

PUTIN SAYS RUSSIA WANTS 'FREE-TRADE ZONE' WITH UKRAINE
President Putin said after talks with Ukraine Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the Kremlin on 15 May that Russia is ready to create a "full-fledged free-trade zone" between the two countries, RIA-Novosti and polit.ru reported the same day. Putin admitted that Russia may initially suffer economic losses, but said they could be compensated for by increasing the volume of bilateral trade. Putin also said that he will meet with the presidents of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus in the Crimea in the "nearest future" to finalize an accord on the Single Economic Space (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 April 2004). Meanwhile, Prime Minister Fradkov announced on 15 May after meeting with Yanukovych that in two or three weeks Moscow and Kyiv will sign a protocol abolishing taxes and duties within the free-trade zone. VY

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS HIS AGENCY HAS TAKEN ON THE FUNCTIONS OF 'CIVIL SOCIETY'...
Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov called on 15 May for criminal prosecution of government officials involved in corruption, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking in Khabarovsk, Ustinov said, "Officials are very ingenious in concealing cases of abuse, and only the inevitability of punishment will end corruption." Ustinov added that law-enforcement agencies "only pretend to fight against corruption." Ustinov said that since Russian civil society is underdeveloped, the Prosecutor-General's Office has taken on the functions of civil society. Finally, he said that his office has reports of wrongdoing by several governors in Russia's Far East provinces, including Kamchatka's Mikhail Mashkovtsev. VY

...AS PROSECUTOR GOES AFTER SARATOV GOVERNOR...
Anatolii Bondar, the head of the prosecutor's office in Saratov Oblast, announced on 14 May that he has opened a criminal investigation against Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, who is suspected of abuse of office and the corrupt procurement of agricultural equipment during the Russian financial crisis in August 1998, ORT, NTV, and strana.ru reported. Bondar said the investigation was initiated in accordance with President Putin's directive on strengthening the fight against corruption in the regions. On 15 May, Ayatskov's office was searched and he was interrogated. Bodnar added that his agency is probing other charges of corruption involving Ayatskov, including the acquisition of large estates by some of his relatives. VY

...WHO SAYS ACCUSATIONS ARE POLITICALLY MOTIVATED
Ayatskov said that the criminal case against him is politically motivated and that behind the charges stands Prosecutor-General Ustinov, NTV and Ekho Moskvy reported on 16 May. Lyubov Sliska, the first deputy speaker of the Duma, said that she does not think the investigation against Ayatskov was triggered by political motives. She said she has spoken with prosecutor Bondar and is "convinced" he is not the type of person who would prosecute a criminal case for political reasons, strana.ru reported on 14 May. Meanwhile, RTR reported on 16 May that the case against Ayatskov could be another step in the Putin administration's drive against liberal politicians. Ayatskov was a symbolic figure in the liberal camp in the 1990s. President Boris Yeltsin once said Ayatskov would be his successor, RTR recalled. VY

COURT SETS DATE FOR HEARINGS AGAINST YUKOS...
The Moscow Arbitration Court announced on 14 May that the case of the Tax Ministry against Yukos on charges of tax evasion will begin on 21 May, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. The ministry is demanding that the oil major pay 99 billion rubles ($3.3 billion) in taxes and penalties for the period of 2000-2001. Meanwhile, Genrikh Padva, the lawyer for Khodorkovskii, announced that the Prosecutor-General's Office signed an indictment in the criminal case against Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004) and will transfer it to the court on 17 May. VY

...AS INTELLECTUALS DEMAND FAIR TRIAL FOR KHODORKOVSKII
A group of Russian intellectuals published a letter on 14 May demanding a fair trial for Khodorkovskii, grani.ru reported. The letter, signed by Soviet and Russian human rights movement leader Yelena Bonner, Nobel Prize-winner Vitalii Ginzburg, and writers Fazil Iskander and Daniil Granin, among others, states: "We believe that no political reason can give [any citizen]...including Khodorkovskii, a relief from responsibility of the law. But we also believe that no state interests can justify the abuse of justice to fight against political opponents." VY

IS THE KREMLIN CREATING A NEW RIGHTIST PARTY?
The leaders of a new rightist political movement have declared their aim to fill the "intellectual vacuum" created by the failure of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and Yabloko in the last Duma election, "Gazeta" and "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 14 May. The New Rightists party includes Aleksei Chadaev, a former assistant to Boris Nemtsov, the then-leader of the SPS, and Vladimir Shemelev, a raion-level legislator in the city of Moscow, according to "Kommersant-Daily." Shemelev told "Gazeta" that the only consistently right-wing politician today is President Putin. Nemtsov told "Kommersant-Daily" that the new party is a "project" of the Kremlin and has no future. Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy leader of Yabloko, said that the party is a project specifically of former ORT Deputy Director Marat Gelman and the presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District, Sergei Kirienko. Gelman is a political consultant who most recently worked on the Motherland campaign during the December 2003 State Duma election but previously had worked for SPS, when Kirienko was its head. The movement will hold its founding congress from 20-22 May. JAC

LEGISLATORS DROP YELTSIN-ERA BILL ON POLITICAL OPPOSITION...
State Duma deputies voted on 14 May to remove from consideration a bill on the legal guarantee of opposition activities, RosBalt reported. The vote was 316 in favor and 102 against. The bill had been vetoed by President Yeltsin in 1997. The bill established conditions, basic forms, and methods for opposition activities in Russia and defined the subjects of such activities and their legal status. Yeltsin said that the bill violated the constitutional basis for the creation of governmental authority in Russia and created norms directed at the creation of parallel structures of power at the federal level. JAC

...AND BOLSTER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS
Deputies also adopted on 14 May in its third reading a bill amending the law on authors' rights, RosBalt reported. The vote was 353 in favor and 35 against. The amendments are designed to update the law on authors' rights, which was enacted in 1993, so that it corresponds with international norms. For example, the amendments introduce an understanding of how to treat authors' rights when distributing an author's work on the Internet. JAC

REGIONAL AUTHORITIES ECHO ACCUSATIONS AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS NGOS...
A group of activists from the Krasnodar-based Mothers Defending the Rights of the Detained and Convicted, included the group's head, Tatyana Rudakova, have been detained by local police in Adygei Republic, Regnum reported on 15 May. The group was detained while trying to gain access to a prison colony located in a village in Adygeya in order to check on reports of harsh treatment of prisoners. Police reportedly told local journalists in Adygeya not to speak with the women because they are defending the interests of local criminal groups from whom they have received money, Regnum reported. JAC

...AS HUMAN-RIGHTS OMBUDSMAN ISSUES WARNING
Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin told Ekho Moskvy the next day that he was disturbed by the report and that his office will closely watch the case of the arrested activists. "If there is no proof, I must say that our reaction, any personal reaction in particular, will be very tough," he said. Lukin continued, "We must not allow groundless attacks on human-rights activists, and there shall be no compromises on my side in such matters, I warn everybody." Earlier, a federal Justice Ministry official told a press conference in Moscow that he has a list of human rights NGOs that are involved with organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2004). JAC

CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST FORMER VOLGA GOVERNOR MOVES FORWARD
The Prosecutor-General's Office has sent a criminal case against former Tver Oblast Governor Vladimir Platov to court, Interfax reported on 14 May, citing the prosecutor's website. Platov is charged with abuse of office for allegedly encouraging the illegal sale of government medium-term bonds worth 500 million rubles ($17 million) to the Orthodox Plus investment company. The head of the company, Pavel Volchkov, who some allege is a member of an organized crime group, stole the bonds. The criminal case against Platov was launched during the run-up to a re-election bid, and Platov failed to even make it past the first round in the election held last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December and 29 September 2003). JAC

TWO MORE DEPUTY MINISTERS GET THE SACK
Prime Minister Fradkov has dismissed Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade Vladislav Putilin, RosBalt reported on 14 May. Putilin, who oversaw the activities of law-enforcement organs and the military-industrial complex, had served in the ministry since July 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2002). Fradkov also dismissed Dmitrii Aratskii as first deputy minister for property relations, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 May. The Ministry for Property Relations was liquidated under an earlier decree and its functions were transferred to the Ministry for Economic Development and Trade and the Federal Agency for the Administration of Federal Property. JAC

RADICAL FIELD COMMANDER CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR CHECHEN LEADER'S DEATH
In a statement posted on his website (http://www.kavkazcenter.com), Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev claimed that his fighters were responsible for the bomb explosion at the Dynamo stadium in Grozny on 9 May that killed pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and interim parliament Chairman Khussein Isaev, Reuters reported on 17 May. Basaev branded both men "traitors." On 14 May, Chechen Security Council Secretary Rudnik Dudaev and Interior Ministry spokesman Ruslan Atsaev both denied Russian media reports that a construction worker has been detained on suspicion of planting the bomb during construction work at the stadium, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

SLAIN CHECHEN LEADER'S SON MAY NOT CONTEST BALLOT TO SUCCEED HIM
Russian Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov ruled on 14 May that it is not possible to amend the Chechen Constitution to permit Ramzan Kadyrov to contest the election, tentatively scheduled for 5 September, of a successor to his father Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, ITAR-TASS reported. Article 66 of the Chechen Constitution stipulates that candidates for the post of republican head must be at least 30 years old; Ramzan Kadyrov is 27. Members of the Chechen government and interim legislature and senior Muslim clergymen appealed on 13 May to President Putin to waive the minimum age requirement to enable Ramzan Kadyrov to contest the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). On 15 May, ITAR-TASS quoted Ramzan Kadyrov as declaring, "Those who violate the constitution will be my enemy." LF

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT TO RETHINK CHECHEN RECONSTRUCTION
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref proposed on 15 May after a meeting in Grozny with Chechen leaders that funding of reconstruction in Chechnya be suspended until 1 June, ITAR-TASS reported. Gref acknowledged that federal funds earmarked for Chechnya have been embezzled or stolen, and said the methodology of financing reconstruction needs to be reviewed. Gref also hinted that Chechnya will in future have to provide a greater share of the total funds for reconstruction of infrastructure, and to that end local taxes might be reduced. He said Chechen Prime Minister and acting President Sergei Abramov supports Moscow's proposal to draft a new three-year program of social and economic development for Chechnya. LF

INGUSH OPPOSITIONISTS APPEAL TO RUSSIAN SUPREME COURT
Ingush parliamentarian Musa Ozdoev, together with candidates from Ingushetia who failed to win election to the Russian State Duma in December, have appealed to the Russian Supreme Court the rejection by the Supreme Court of Ingushetia of their suit claiming that the republic's leadership and Central Election Commission violated numerous articles of the election law, ingushetiya.ru reported on 16 May. Specifically, Ozdoev claimed that members of the clergy campaigned on behalf of the candidates supported by the Ingush leadership; that the election commission included relatives of those candidates; that voter lists were falsified to included deceased individuals; and that protocols from several constituencies were falsified. Ozdoev publicized details of the falsification last month and wrote to President Putin asking him to form a commission to investigate the situation that has developed in Ingushetia since Murat Zyazikov's election as president two years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 April 2004). On 15 May, ITAR-TASS reported that Zyazikov, who left Ingushetia one week earlier, met in Kislovodsk with presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Yakovlev and with Aleksandr Dzasokhov, president of the Republic of North Ossetia. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION SEEKS TO MOBILIZE GREATER SUPPORT
Armenian opposition leaders appealed at an unsanctioned rally in Yerevan on 14 May for the population to participate in a planned 21 May march to the presidential palace to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Some opposition leaders are concerned at a recent decline in attendance at ongoing protest rallies. They attribute that decline to the repeated postponement of "decisive action" to force Kocharian's resignation and to the attempts, which collapsed on 13 May, to defuse tensions between the opposition and the three-party governing coalition by means of negotiations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). Meanwhile, Armenian human rights activists picketed the Prosecutor-General's Office on 14 May for the second consecutive day to demand the release of 14 opposition activists against whom criminal charges have been brought in connection with their participation in a mass protest against Kocharian in Yerevan on 12-13 April that was violently dispersed by police, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"13 April 2004). LF

ARMENIAN JUSTICE MINISTER WARNS AUDIT CHAMBER
Speaking at a news conference in Yerevan on 14 May, Davit Harutiunian warned that he will "demand an appropriate reaction" to accusations leveled earlier last week by the parliament's Audit Chamber that his ministry misused a 1999 World Bank loan intended for the reconstruction of local courthouses, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). "You cannot accuse someone of corruption and not bear responsibility" for doing so, Harutiunian said. Both Harutiunian and parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, who exchanged angry comments on 11 May during a parliamentary hearing to assess the Audit Chamber's report, are considered possible candidates in the 2008 presidential ballot, in which President Kocharian is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTERS END KARABAKH TALKS
At their talks in Strasbourg on 12-13 May on the sidelines of the Council of Europe Ministerial Committee meeting, Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov "exchanged ideas," but neither they nor the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group voiced new proposals for ending the Karabakh conflict, according to Azad Azerbaycan TV on 15 May as cited by Groong. The "Baku Sun" on 14 May reported that Oskanian rejected an Azerbaijani proposal that Armenian forces be withdrawn from seven occupied districts of Azerbaijan in return for the resumption of rail communication between Azerbaijan and Armenia (see "Analysis: Armenian, Azerbaijani Foreign Ministers Resume Karabakh Talks," rferl.org, 11 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2004). LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT PRAISES NAKHICHEVAN LEADERSHIP
Meeting on 13 May with the leaders of Azerbaijan's Nakchichevan Autonomous Republic, Ilham Aliyev positively assessed what he termed the economic revival under way in the exclave, Turan reported. According to Vasif Talybov, who heads the republican parliament, GDP has doubled in recent years, the republic is now self-sufficient in food production, and almost 3,000 new jobs have been created since January 2003. In some districts, however, the majority of the able-bodied population is still unemployed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2004). LF

AZERBAIJAN HOPES FOR MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE FUNDS
The Azerbaijani government has asked the United States to add Azerbaijan to the list of 16 countries selected to receive aid from the recently unveiled Millennium Challenge Account, Caucasus Press reported on 14 May quoting Azerbaijani Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov. Neighboring Armenia and Georgia are among the countries selected to receive such aid, which is granted in acknowledgment of progress in implementing political and economic reform. Alekperov argued that Azerbaijan complies with the requirements for receiving such funding. A total of $1 billion has been earmarked for the account for this year. LF

GEORGIAN OFFICIALS SEND MIXED SIGNALS OVER ABKHAZIA
Chief of General Staff Major General Givi Iukuridze and Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava denied on 14 and 15 May respectively that Tbilisi is planning a new military campaign to bring the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia back under the control of the central government, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004. Speaking in Bucharest on 15 May, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that if Georgia needs "another revolution," that revolution will occur in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 17 May. On 12 May, batuminews.com as cited by Groong reported that about 16 people, mostly Armenians, staged a demonstration in Sukhum, displaying placards calling on Saakashvili to resolve the conflict with Abkhazia. LF

FORMER ADJAR LEADER PLEDGES TO CONTINUE POLITICAL ACTIVITY
Aslan Abashidze, who in the face of mounting public pressure stepped down late on 5 May after heading the Adjar Autonomous Republic for 13 years, told Russian Television Channel One on 16 May that he will not "leave the political stage" but will do everything in his power to bring Georgia out of its current difficult situation, Interfax reported. Abashidze stressed that as a member of the family that ruled Adjara for centuries, he has a moral obligation to do so. Abashidze further praised the role of Moscow in defusing the standoff between himself and the central government. Russian Security Council Secretary Igor Ivanov played a key role in persuading Abashidze to leave office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT TO SEEK ANOTHER TERM
Speaking live on Khabar TV on 14 May, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced that he will run for re-election in 2006. "The constitution and laws allow me to stand for the presidency in the next elections, and I am certainly planning to put my name forward," Nazarbaev said. The president addressed a number of other issues as well. He called the adverse publicity the "Kazakhgate" scandal has generated a "game organized by" former Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin. Nazarbaev also warned young people about the dangers of drug use and suggested that he might soon propose a moratorium on the death penalty. He confirmed that Kazakhstan has no plans to join NATO, and described Georgia as a country where "the state and presidential apparatus are currently getting their salaries from the Soros Foundation.... What kind of a state is that?" Finally, Nazarbaev plugged the Single Economic Space as the best way to unite Eurasia and urged Kazakh citizens to vote for the pro-presidential Otan party in fall parliamentary elections. DK

NEW MINISTERS NAMED IN KAZAKHSTAN
Akhmetzhan Esimov was appointed first deputy prime minister on 14 May, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Esimov's appointment left vacant the post of agriculture minister, and Serik Umbetov was appointed to replace him. Additionally, Byrganym Aitimova was appointed deputy prime minister; she had been Kazakhstan's ambassador to Italy. The post of first deputy prime minister became vacant when Grigorii Marchenko resigned on 14 May, apparently as a result of a disagreement over housing policy. Marchenko has since been appointed a presidential adviser. DK

KYRGYZ PREMIER HAILS GROWTH, PANS OPPOSITION
Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev touted 6.7 percent first-quarter GDP growth in a 14 May broadcast on Kyrgyz TV and Radio. Tanaev noted that the growth exceeded an initial target of 4.1 percent. "The way things are developing, we can state with confidence that we will be able to achieve 7 percent GDP growth by the end of the year," he added. Additionally, industrial production jumped 10 percent in the first quarter. Tanaev also criticized "some of our oppositionists, including members of parliament" for resorting to populism to destabilize the situation in the country. According to Tanaev, such actions could imperil the process of restructuring the national debt. DK

KYRGYZSTAN, RUSSIA INK COOPERATION GOALS
Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov and Russian Ambassador Yevgenii Shmagin signed a cooperation program on 14 May defining development goals for Kyrgyz-Russian relations over the coming year, Kabar news agency reported the same day. The document affirms a protocol signed on 5 December 2002 during an official visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Kyrgyzstan. The program sets out bilateral, regional, and international topics for mutual consultation and coordination. Akipress.org quoted Shmagin as saying that Bishkek has become "one of the centers of international activity." Shmagin added, "It's no accident that Mikhail Fradkov made his first visit as Russian prime minister to Kyrgyzstan." DK

TURKMENISTAN PROTESTS RUSSIAN THEATER COMMENTS
Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry issued a formal protest on 14 May in response to comments by Aleksandr Kalyagin about the fate of Ashgabat's Russian-language Pushkin Theater, turkmenistan.ru reported the same day. In a discussion with Russian President Putin aired by Russian television on 13 May, Kalyagin, chairman of the Russian Union of Theater Professionals, bemoaned the fate of Russian theaters abroad, saying, "This is a painful subject -- the theaters are either being closed, as in Ashgabat, or are falling apart." The Turkmen protest called Kalyagin's remarks unfounded. It claimed that the theater was not closed, but rather relocated from "an old, crumbling building" to a "two-story building that is larger than the former premises and recently renovated." According to the Foreign Ministry, the Pushkin Theater continues to function. The protest described Kalyagin's remarks as "not in keeping with the high level of Turkmen-Russian relations." DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT UNEASY ABOUT CIS STATES' CONTACTS WITH NATO
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 14 May told Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the CIS's Collective Security Treaty Organization (Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan), that he is alarmed by contacts of the treaty's signatories such as Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Russia with NATO, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. In an apparent reference to Tajikistan, Lukashenka said one signatory to the treaty allowed NATO to deploy its troops under the pretext of fighting terrorism without consulting Belarus. "Imagine if we suddenly allowed another bloc to place its air force on the territory of Belarus," Lukashenka elaborated. "What would be the reaction of our colleagues? Extremely negative." JM

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE FAILS TO PASS RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF MILOSOVIC
The 110-seat Chamber of Representatives on 14 May fell one vote shy of approving an appeal to EU and NATO countries as well as judges of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia to release former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosovic, who is being tried on war crimes charges in The Hague, Belapan reported. "The dragging out of the trial day by day worsens the health of Slobodan Milosovic, who suffers from ischemic heart disease and hypertension, and needs special cardiological treatment," the failed resolution read. "We are not defending former President Slobodan Milosovic, but we are defending a patriot of his country who fought and is fighting now in prison for the integrity of his state," Anatol Malafeyeu, chairman of the legislative Committee for International Relations, said during the debate. Lawmaker Uladzimir Reznikau, who opposed the resolution, argued that it would be better to think twice before passing such a document. "We are already regarded as pariahs when we go to Europe," Reznikau said. JM

BELARUSIAN SPELL CHECKER FOR MICROSOFT WORD LAUNCHED
A group of programmers and linguists presented Litara 1.0, the first Belarusian-language spell-check software for Microsoft Word, during a news conference at the Minsk Linguistic University on 14 May, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service and Belapan reported. The spell checker supports two spelling versions of the Belarusian language, "narkamauka" and "tarashkevitsa." Narkamauka is in official use in Belarus, including the country's educational system. The Soviet regime replaced tarashkevitsa, otherwise known as the classical spelling, with narkamauka in 1933. According to many Belarusian linguists, that orthographical reform was a politically motivated attempt intended to bring the spelling of Belarusian closer to that of Russian. Tarashkevitsa, which has never been abandoned by the Belarusian diaspora in the West, was revived in Belarus in the 1980s by some Belarusian independent publications, and is currently used by a number of nonstate periodicals in Belarus and among ethnic Belarusians in Poland. RFE/RL's Belarusian-language website (http://www.svaboda.org) also uses tarashkevitsa. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS PRO-EUROPEAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER...
President Leonid Kuchma on 14 May dismissed Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Chalyy, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Kuchma's decree states that the dismissal was requested by Chalyy, who wants to return to his former scientific and educational work. Chalyy, 50, was widely believed to be a staunch supporter of Ukraine's European integration while serving in Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet. JM

...AND REAFFIRMS PRO-EUROPEAN COURSE
President Kuchma issued a message to compatriots on Europe Day, which is observed on 15 May, Interfax reported on 15 May, quoting the presidential press service. "Ukraine is firmly determined to move down the European road, the road of reform," the message read. "We will be consistent in continuing market transformations, strengthening the principles of democracy, and maintaining high living standards.... The course along which Ukraine is moving corresponds to the very deep strivings of the Ukrainian nation, which has always realized its historic belonging to the family of European nations." The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and the Democratic Initiatives Fund found in a poll conducted in April that 51 percent of Ukrainians believe that their country should not join the EU at all and should keep "open borders" with Russia, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 14 May. JM

U.S. COURT CONFIRMS INNOCENCE OF UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER, LAWMAKER SAYS
Oleksandr Turchynov, a lawmaker from the opposition Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, told the Verkhovna Rada on 14 May that the "campaign of repression" unleashed against Yuliya Tymoshenko by law enforcement bodies in Ukraine has collapsed, Interfax reported. Turchynov was commenting on U.S. Judge Martin Jenkins's 7 May decision to dismiss 23 of 53 counts of the indictment against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who is currently on trial in San Francisco (see "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch," 12 May 2004). Notably, Jenkins dropped all charges relating to Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine, which was headed by Tymoshenko in 1996-97. The prosecution in San Francisco alleged that entities controlled by Tymoshenko's company gave Lazarenko bribes in the sum of $217 million. Turchynov added that now the entire world understands that the campaign to malign and persecute Tymoshenko was launched at the behest of President Leonid Kuchma. RK/JM

UKRAINIAN SINGER WINS EUROVISION SONG CONTEST
Ukrainian singer Ruslana (Lyzhychko) won the Eurovision Song Contest held in Istanbul, Turkey, on 15 May, with a frenetic performance of her song "Wild Dances," which she sang partly in English and partly in Ukrainian, international news agencies reported. Ruslana's victory means that Ukraine will host the 50th Eurovision Song Contest in May 2005. JM

SFOR TROOPS ARREST ALLEGED ABETTER OF WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS
SFOR troops arrested Milovan Bjelica on 14 May on charges of abetting fugitive former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and other individuals indicted by the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Last year, High Representative Paddy Ashdown sacked Bjelica from his position as chairman of the Srpsko Sarajevo Municipal Assembly. Ashdown also declared Bjelica a "financial outlaw" for supporting and abetting Karadzic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March and 2 July 2003). UB

SISTER OF ASSASSINATED SERBIAN PREMIER ATTACKED
Two unidentified man attacked Gordana Djindjic-Filipovic, the sister of late Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, in the family's home in Valjevo on 15 May, London's "The Independent" reported. Djindjic-Filipovic was taken to a Belgrade hospital for treatment after the men reportedly injected her with an unknown substance. Serbian doctors on 17 May said the assailants injected her with a sedative, RFE/RL reported. Djindjic's family has received threats in connection with the trial of the accused ringleader of the assassination. Anonymous individuals have warned Djindjic-Filipovic and her mother that they will be killed if the prime suspect in Djindjic's assassination, Milorad Lukovic "Legija," is convicted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 6 May 2004). UB

PRESIDENT OF SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO SACKS SECURITY ADVISER
Svetozar Marovic, the president of Serbia and Montenegro, on 14 May sacked his security adviser, retired General Ranko Grahovac, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Grahovac has reportedly criticized the Supreme Defense Council of Serbia and Montenegro for reinforcing the "neofascist, Milosevic-era architecture" of the military leadership. Montenegrin parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic said he would be glad to have Grahovac as his aide. UB

NATO OFFICIAL MEETS KOSOVAR PREMIER
NATO's commander for southeastern Europe, Admiral Gregory Johnson, met with Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, KFOR commander German General Holger Kammerhoff, and representatives of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) on 15 May to discuss the situation in that province, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 13 May 2004). After the meeting with Rexhepi, Johnson said NATO will guarantee peace and security in Kosova, but he added that peace cannot be achieved through arms but rather by securing order and enforcing laws. Some day, he said, Kosova might be a member of North Atlantic institutions. The only way for Kosova to achieve that is by proving that it is interested in building a society in which the rule of law, functioning institutions, and interethnic tolerance are guaranteed, Johnson said. Rexhepi said an interethnic dialogue has been started in Kosova that is relatively well accepted by the Serbian minority. UB

MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTER TO BE NEXT PREMIER
Newly elected Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski officially vested Interior Minister Hari Kostov with the mandate to become Crvenkovki's successor as prime minister, MIA reported. Kostov has 20 days to present his new government to the parliament and seek a vote of confidence. Kostov is widely expected to present a cabinet lineup that includes many of the faces from the current acting government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). UB

MACEDONIAN OPPOSITION PARTY'S MEETING TURNS VIOLENT
About 300 armed supporters of former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski stormed an emergency session of the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization's (VMRO-DPMNE) central committee in a Skopje hotel on 14 May, demanding the resignation of party Chairman Nikola Gruevski and inflicting minor property damage, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Gruevski had called the session to resolve the party's ongoing leadership crisis, which emerged after the defeat of the VMRO-DPMNE's candidate in the 28 April runoff to the presidential election. Gruevski said afterward that the central committee had been held hostage by "criminal structures" for two hours (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). UB

CORRECTION
In the "RFE/RL Newsline" item "UNMIK Head Hospitalized In France," Harri Holkeri's former position in the Finnish government was incorrectly identified. Holkeri was prime minister of Finland from 1987-91.

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DECENTRALIZATION BILL
The Romanian government on 14 May approved a draft bill on administrative decentralization that would provide for greater local autonomy and subordinates local police to municipal councils, Mediafax reported. Public Administration Minister Gabriel Oprea said the draft would give citizens the right to intervene in the local decision-making process, and would offer citizens a partnership with local authorities. The government meeting, which was headed by President Ion Iliescu, also adopted draft bills on the free movement of EU citizens in Romania, as well as an action plan and a national strategy on combating air pollution. ZsM

PHARE ALLOCATES FUNDING FOR ROMANIA'S ROMA
The European Commission's delegation in Romania and the Romanian government's Department of Interethnic Department on 14 May announced a new project intended to improve the situation of the country's Roma minority, Mediafax reported. The EU's Phare program will provide more than 4.4 million euros ($5.3 million) for the project. Public institutions can apply for funding for projects in the sphere of health care, education, and infrastructure, under the condition that Roma representatives are involved. Anne de Ligne, the Phare program coordinator for the EU delegation to Romania, said that Romania's strategy for improving situation of its Roma minority looks good "on paper," but added that much work remains to be done. She stressed that the situation of the Roma is "a very important issue for the EU," and said there is a need for political will and a change of mentalities both among Roma and at the political level. ZsM

ROMANIAN, GEORGIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS BILATERAL RELATIONS
Romanian President Iliescu on 14 May praised his visiting Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili's role in managing the recent crisis situation in Georgia, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said it is in the entire Black Sea region's interests that Georgia become a "model democracy." He said Romania is prepared to support Georgia's efforts to improve its relations with the EU and NATO, adding that the country can become "a candidate with real chances" of joining NATO. The two presidents participated in a ceremony for the signing of a cooperation agreement between the two countries' Justice ministries. Caucasus Press reported on 15 May that Romania has pledged to supply Georgia with unspecified quantities of Soviet-era military equipment. Saakashvili for his part noted that the peaceful solution earlier this month to the crisis in Adjara creates conditions for the more effective functioning of the ferry route between Batumi and Constanza, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili wrapped up his visit to Bucharest on 15 May. ZsM

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS
Some 2,500 delegates participated in an outdoor congress of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) held in downtown Chisinau on 16 May, the BBC reported. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said Moldova needs to join the EU and NATO in order to achieve sustainable development. He called for the United States, the EU, and Romania to become involved in negotiations to find a resolution to the Transdniester conflict. Rosca harshly criticized the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and called for it to be banned, as it "does not fit in the Moldovan multiparty political system" based on the rule of law. The congress adopted a series of resolutions, among them one on the PPCD's electoral strategy that stipulates that the party will not form an alliance with the PCM. ZsM

MOLDOVAN ROMA DEMAND THEIR RIGHTS
Representatives of Romany organizations participating in a roundtable with Moldovan authorities in Chisinau on 13 May demanded that Roma's rights be upheld, Flux reported. Moldovan Roma Movement Chairman Dimitrii Danu said that more than 20,000 Roma holding office jobs "are not promoted" and endure stereotypes that they are "thieves and villains." Young Roma Association Chairman Marin Ala requested that Education Minister Valentin Beniuc, who was present at the discussions, grant more supplementary university slots to Romany students. Ala also asked Parliament Deputy Chairman Vadim Mishin to create legal conditions that would facilitate Roma's accession to local councils in municipalities with significant Romany populations. Mishin promised to take the proposal into consideration. ZsM

IRAN'S JUDICIARY CHIEF AIMS TO SATISFY THE PUBLIC
Iran's judicial officials, like the hard-line Guardians Council, which also deals with legal issues, maintain they are not engaged in politics. As Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi said recently, there are no political crimes or criminals in Iran because Iranian laws do not mention them as such.

The public, however, has expressed its outrage at reported abuses and the widely held perception that politics may indeed play a role in how justice is done in Iran. In response, Hashemi-Shahrudi issued a directive on 28 April instructing police, judicial officials, and security agents to refrain from physical abuse when interrogating suspects and to avoid the kinds of practices that human-rights activists associate with dictatorships.

The directive was swiftly ratified by parliament on 4 May as the Bill on Legitimate Liberties and Civil Rights and approved the next day by the Guardians Council, which has in the past rejected initiatives by the outgoing, reformist-dominated parliament, to ban the practice of torture, already outlawed by the constitution.

Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahrudi was at first disinclined to term the directive a response to actual abuses. It "did not mean that its stipulations have not been respected so far," he told a gathering of judiciary officials in Tehran on 10 May, according to "Iran" on 11 May. It was issued "for its importance and as an emphasis...and nobody should draw conclusions...and exploit [the directive]."

But this went against his own assertion that it was inspired by his weekly meetings with members of the public who come to seek justice when they are dissatisfied with court decisions. Hashemi-Shahrudi then admitted at a conference of Tehran provincial judges on 12 May that there "have been offenses [in police and interrogation centers] and [during] transfers to prisons, and people's rights have been violated," according to ISNA.

He blamed these abuses on insufficient supervision. "A person told me his [or her] son was beaten at the police. Who is responsible for supervising [police and interrogation centers]? Where does it say in the law that the police can do anything they like? What happened to supervision by magistrates? What happened to the implementation of just laws," he asked, ISNA reported on 12 May.

Furthermore, he recalled the death in June 2003 of a photographer, Iranian-Canadian Zahra Kazemi, from head injuries apparently received during an interrogation in Tehran. If there had been "precise supervision" of police and interrogators, Hashemi-Shahrudi said on 12 May, "why should a case like Zahra Kazemi's carry such a high cost for our society...the directive pays attention to these issues," ISNA reported.

This dearth of supervision, he maintains, is due to the judiciary's immense workload, the result of laws that have made every violation a criminal offense liable to prosecution within the judicial system. This, along with the suppression of magistrates' courts, which were recently revived, meant that the judiciary was flooded with new cases, obliging a court to deal with anything from bounced checks to murders.

But he said in Tehran on 11 May that "many parts of the judiciary have undergone fundamental change, and the people must be informed of these changes," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 May. Magistrates courts have been revived to deal with incoming cases and ensure only serious crimes are passed to higher criminal courts. He has urged many disputes to be given to "arbitration councils and pseudo-judicial bodies" to prevent them from clogging the judicial system. He said in Tehran on 11 May that while judges in India reportedly deal with 10 cases a month, "in our country the figure is 700," according to "Aftab-i Yazd." The paper cited him as saying that he wants to see Iranian judges deal with "one case a day. Because naturally when they throw a mass of cases at the judiciary the judge is forced to sign with his eyes shut, and that is a cause of corruption."

Hashemi-Shahrudi will reportedly also penalize bad judges. According to the first deputy head of the judiciary, Hojatoleslam Hadi Marvi, Hashemi-Shahrudi has sent several judges to "deprived areas," or some of Iran's less accessible and underdeveloped regions, for "procrastinating and failing to deal [with cases] suitably and with precision," "Kayhan" reported on 2 May. "The judiciary is serious in dealing with any offense and we will give a firm and legal response to anyone dealing with people incorrectly, and remove offending judges," "Keyhan" quoted Marvi as saying.

And there are his weekly meetings with the public, where he uses his authority to pardon convicts or force courts to review sentences. He has urged provincial judiciary chiefs to also meet with people and take a personal interest in the province's more important judicial cases. Hashemi-Shahrudi has also sent out an inspection team to check prisons. "This committee has begun its work and we shall make public its first report," ISNA cited Hadi Husseini, the head of the judiciary complaints department, as saying on 13 May. "The committee will examine all items existing in prisons, including the problems of prisoners, and issues with guards and prison officials," he said.

In a year that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has declared the "Year of Accountability," Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahrudi added in Tehran on 12 May that "the other two branches have talked more about reforms, but the judiciary has carried them out," ISNA reported. His initiatives may be termed part of the conservative version of reforms, an attempt to make "Islamic justice" work and show that reforms mean the same system working better, not a change of the system.

But the alacrity with which parliament ratified Hashemi-Shahrudi's bill indicates that reformers, too, are principally interested in results -- greater personal security and a stricter application of the rule of law -- and happy for conservative bodies to deliver the same goods, whatever their name. But they have shown skepticism over the efficacy of internal supervisory mechanisms; hence their emphasis on mutual supervision by government branches and popular supervision of state institutions through parliament, and its Article 90 Committee, charged with investigating public bodies' abuse of individual rights.

U.S. MARINE KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN...
One U.S. Marine was killed and several were injured in an attack on 15 May in Helmand Province's Musa Qala' District, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 16 May. The Marines' convoy came under rocket attack from neo-Taliban forces, according to the news agency. An unidentified neo-Taliban spokesman cited by the agency claimed that 10 Marines were killed in the attack, but casualty figures provided by neo-Taliban sources are notoriously unreliable. AT

...LEADING TO THE ARREST OF FOUR SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN
Four suspected insurgents were arrested in Helmand Province's Musa Qala' District on 16 May following the killing of a U.S. Marine there on 15 May, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 16 May. General Dad Mohammad, head of the province's National Security Department, said that two brothers of Mullah Abdul Gafur, the neo-Taliban commander suspected of killing the Marine, were among the four men arrested. Around 600 pro-government Afghan militiamen with coalition aerial support have been engaged in operations to find those responsible for the attack on the U.S. convoy. AT

TWO AFGHAN POLICE OFFICERS KILLED IN KABUL
Two police officers were killed on 15 May while on duty in Kabul's Dasht-e Barchi area, Afghanistan Television reported the next day. Lieutenant General Baba Jan, Kabul's security commander, said the two officers were killed by thieves who managed to escape. Four people were later detained as suspects in the slayings, Baba Jan added. AT

MILITIA DISARMAMENT PROCESS ENTERS FINAL PHASE
The UN-backed Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) program is to enter its final phase on 17 May, Radio Afghanistan reported on 16 May. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said that 6,000 militiamen in Kabul Province will be disarmed under the final phase. Approximately 4,000 pieces of heavy weaponry of various types have been registered thus far in Afghanistan under the program, Azimi added. UN special representative for Afghanistan Jean Arnault recently said that a lack of progress in the DDR process is placing the national elections, scheduled for September, in jeopardy (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 May 2004). AT

NATIONALIST POLITICAL PARTY REGISTERED IN AFGHANISTAN
The Justice Ministry has officially registered the Afghan Mellat Party (Afghan Nation), Kabul Afghanistan reported on 16 May. The party is also known as Social Democratic Party of Afghanistan, the report added. Afghan Mellat is a party that was established during the reign of King Mohammad Zaher and supported Pashtun nationalism. The party was recently split into several camps and it is not known which faction has been officially registered. AT

UN NUCLEAR CHIEF UNSURE ON IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in New York on 14 May that while Iran has the capacity to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels, the IAEA has yet to find proof that it is doing so, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Sergei Antipov said in Berlin on 15 May that Russia will complete the nuclear-power plant it is helping build in southern Iran despite technical and commercial complications, and U.S. objections, Reuters reported the same day. Antipov added that Russia will only provide reactor fuel on the condition that all spent fuel be returned to Russia to ensure it cannot possibly be used in the production of nuclear weapons. In Tehran, Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said on 16 May that "we are on the verge of nuclear change, but we do not seek nuclear weapons, and we know it is incorrect to use such weapons in human society," iribnews.ir reported the same day. "They do have a deterrent effect, but we hope to use other means of deterrence," he said. VS

IRANIAN STUDENTS DENOUNCE COALITION OUTSIDE BRITISH EMBASSY
An estimated 100-200 students burned British, U.S., and Israeli flags outside the British Embassy in Tehran on 16 May, chanted death to those countries, and demanded the expulsion of the British ambassador in protest against coalition policies in Iraq, international news agencies reported. Students threw "stones and objects" at the embassy and scuffled with police and embassy guards before dispersing after a couple of hours, IRNA reported on 16 May. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 16 May termed "unacceptable" coalition forces' entry into Al-Najaf and Karbala to battle militiamen loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (see Iraq items below), IRNA reported the same day. He said that Iran cannot mediate between "occupiers and Iraqis whose country is under occupation," but will use its contacts inside Iraq to help "reduce divisions among Iraqis." "That is our duty, and is different from mediating between [Iraqis] and the occupiers," he added. "Iraq's stability and security means Iran's stability and security, and Iran's efforts to resolve differences between Iraqi groups will continue." VS

SUPREME LEADER ORDERS REVIEW OF DISSIDENT'S DEATH SENTENCE
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has reportedly asked judiciary head Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi to review the death sentence handed down to dissident Hashem Aghajari, who received the sentence in 2003 for criticizing Iranian clergy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 May 2004), "Iran" reported on 16 May, citing ISNA. However, Abdulreza Izadpanah, the deputy judiciary chief for social affairs, denied on 15 May that Khamenei has ordered a review, although he said Khamenei is one of several senior clerics who believe that Aghajari's statements "do not constitute an instance of apostasy," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 17 May. Izadpanah said the case is proceeding through the normal judicial stages, adding that "we hope judicial officials will soon make a declaration on this case and we will not see any more such cases and affairs." VS

IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER DENOUNCES 'STUPID' U.S. ACTIONS IN IRAQ
Supreme Leader Khamenei on 16 May deplored the "brazen, shameless, and stupid" intervention of "American occupying forces" in the Shi'a holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004), where coalition forces are battling al-Sadr loyalists, farsnews.com reported. He said in Tehran that the "Americans are so shameless that in spite of these crimes and indignities in Iraq, they go on talking about human rights and democracy," farsnews.com reported on 16 May. He added that U.S. officials are "blatantly lying" when they say they knew nothing of the abuse of Iraqi detainees, because the Red Cross informed them of this "long ago." Coalition forces are "now stuck in a bog and a stinking quagmire wherein they sink as they advance," the news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. There will be a real power transfer in Iraq "when the people have the right to choose," Khamenei said, adding that "Iraqi politicians...should know that [anyone] appointed by America will be as detested as the Americans." VS

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL PRESIDENT KILLED IN BAGHDAD
Iraqi Governing Council President for the month of May Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad, also known as Izz al-Din Salim, was killed outside coalition headquarters in Baghdad on 17 May when a car bomb detonated near his vehicle, international media reported. Uthman was the head of the Islamic Al-Da'wah party in Al-Basrah and editor of several newspapers and magazines. He was known as a peaceful man and an intellectual, according to Arab media reports. U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told CNN that it is unclear whether Uthman was entering or leaving the coalition compound at the time of the blast, which he said was likely caused by a couple of artillery rounds placed in the trunk of the suicide bomber's car. Initial reports indicate that four to six Iraqis were killed in the blast. Six other Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers were reportedly injured. Uthman is the second Governing Council member to be assassinated. Aqilah al-Hashimi, also a Shi'ite, was gunned down on 20 September and died five days later (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2003). The coalition compound in Baghdad came under mortar attack by insurgents on 15 and 16 May, Al-Jazeera reported. KR

U.K. FORCES BATTLE MILITANTS IN SOUTHERN IRAQ
U.K. forces battled Iraqi militants loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in southern Iraq on 15 May, AFP reported. Some 16 Iraqis were killed and two British soldiers were wounded when the militants ambushed a British patrol between Al-Basrah and Al-Amarah, a U.K. military spokesman said. "We sent a clear sign that we are not going to tolerate hostile action against our people by a minority of militia forces who are intent on causing harm and preventing the progress of what we are doing," the spokesman said. Meanwhile, Al-Arabiyah television launched claims on 16 May that 10 Iraqis arrested by U.K. forces during the fighting were killed and mutilated by British soldiers. An Al-Arabiyah correspondent claimed that his team had viewed and photographed the bodies of the victims, which were bruised and broken. "Some of them had their eyes plucked out...[while] others had their throats cut by a thin wire," he contended. The correspondent said that residents of Al-Najaf, Al-Amarah, and Al-Majar demonstrated after the Iraqis were buried. KR

ITALIAN TROOPS ATTACKED IN AL-NASIRIYAH
Italian troops in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Nasiriyah were attacked by Iraqi militants loyal to al-Sadr on 16 May, Al-Arabiyah reported. Italian Major Antonio Sotelli, spokesman for Italian forces in the city, told the satellite news channel that militants fired on his troops from a local hospital building. He said his troops did not return fire on the hospital and indicated that his troops are hesitant to rein in the militia. "We have all types of weapons and means to control the situation, but we do not want to retaliate in a violent way or inflict losses on the other side. We do not want to escalate the situation," Sotelli said. Two Iraqis were reportedly killed in the clashes and 20 others wounded. Sotelli indicated that there were Italian casualties, but did not say how many. KR

SOUTH KOREAN MEDIA REPORTS U.S. TO SEND SOME 4,000 TROOPS TO IRAQ
The South Korean government said on 15 May that the United States will send a brigade-level force of some 4,000 soldiers stationed in South Korea to Iraq within the next few weeks, joongangdaily.joins.com reported on 16 May. "The U.S. government recently notified our government through diplomatic channels that it has decided to send a brigade to Iraq," an unidentified official was quoted as saying. The website quoted U.S. Embassy Public Affairs Officer Maureen Cormack as saying she had no information on the deployment. Meanwhile, Kim Sook, chief of the Foreign Ministry's North American affairs bureau, said, "As the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the U.S. has voiced the need to redeploy some of U.S. Forces Korea, and the two countries agreed to review this," adding that talks were still in the early stages, Yonhap news agency reported on 17 May. U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Steve Boylan said, "A number of options are being discussed [with South Korea] to help ensure the U.S. meets its obligations to Operation Iraqi Freedom, while ensuring the U.S. also meets its ongoing commitments throughout the Asia Pacific region." South Korea was to dispatch some 3,600 of its troops to Iraq early this year but continues to stall on the deployment. KR

POLISH PRESIDENT SAYS COUNTRY WOULD WITHDRAW TROOPS IN IRAQ, IF REQUESTED
President Aleksander Kwasniewski said Poland will withdraw its forces from Iraq if the interim Iraqi government set to assume power on 30 June requests such action, PAP news agency reported on 16 May. Kwasniewski also echoed a recent statement by the Polish left's candidate for prime minister, Marek Belka, saying that Polish troops should remain in Iraq as part of a UN-led force. (Belka, who also suggested he would like to reduce the number or Polish troops in Iraq, lost a parliamentary vote of confidence on 14 May.) Poland has some 2,500 soldiers in Iraq, third-largest after the United States and United Kingdom. KR

ARMED GROUP RELEASES VIDEO OF RUSSIAN HOSTAGES IN IRAQ
An armed group identifying itself as Al-Ta'ifah Al-Mansurah (The Victorious Sect) has claimed responsibility for the abduction of two Russian engineers in Iraq and released a videotape of those hostages, Al-Jazeera reported on 16 May. The little-known group was one of 18 armed groups to sign a statement published by London's "Quds Press" on 2 May claiming to have inflicted huge losses on coalition troops and threatening attacks against coalition forces and Governing Council members. Meanwhile, a Russian Embassy official in Baghdad told ITAR-TASS on 15 May that his country had no word on the hostages. "The more the situation evolves, the more careful and restrained one should be in his statements and comments," the official said. KR

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