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Newsline - May 19, 2004


RUSSIAN AND VIETNAMESE PRESIDENTS DISCUSS BOOSTING TRADE, ENERGY AND MILITARY COOPERATION
President Vladimir Putin told journalists after his meeting in the Kremlin with Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong on 18 May that relations between the two countries are developing dynamically, although he is concerned by the fall in volume of bilateral trade in the last year, Russian media reported. Putin noted that he and his Vietnamese counterpart made a deep and detailed analysis of bilateral trade and joint large-scale projects. He mentioned in particular the Russian-Vietnamese oil company Vietsovietpetro, which is extracting oil on Vietnam's continental shelf. Economic relations between the two countries are based primarily on oil, energy, and arms. Moscow has remained one of Hanoi's main partners since the time of the Soviet Union, strana.ru commented on 18 May. Vietnam remains one of the largest importers of Russian arms, including tanks, ships, and aviation systems. VY

PUTIN HOLDS ECONOMIC MEETING ON CHECHNYA
At a cabinet meeting on 17 May, President Putin heard a report by acting Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref about his visit to Grozny to review the Chechen economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004), ORT and RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Gref suggested that the federal funding of Chechnya should be revised and, probably, increased. Putin disagreed with Grief's other proposal to suspend funding of reconstruction in Chechnya until 1 June. "The priorities should probably be revised during the drafting of the needed documents, but current work should not be halted since the republic and its people are living day to day," Putin said. He also said that compensation payments for property destroyed in Chechnya should be continued. Finally, Putin ordered the management of the reconstruction to be transferred from Moscow to Grozny. VY

COURT SENTENCES FORMER NORTHERN FLEET COMMANDER FOR SINKING OF NUCLEAR SUBMARINE
The Northern Sea Garrison Court found Admiral Gennadii Suchkov, the former commander of the Northern Fleet, guilty of negligence in the sinking of the "K-159" nuclear submarine in August 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004) and sentenced him on 18 May to a four-year suspended sentence, gazeta.ru and newsru.com reported. The "K-159" sank as it was being towed in rough seas to be decommissioned, and nine of the 10 seamen aboard drowned. Suchkov told journalists that he was not guilty in the legal sense, and will appeal the verdict. He added that he recognizes his responsibility for the catastrophe as the commander of the fleet. However, Military Prosecutor's Office spokesman Aleksandr Nikitin said that the court unambiguously proved Suchkov's incompetence, newsru.com reported. And the commander of the Russian Navy, Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, said that he believes that Suchkov is fully responsible for the seamen's deaths. Meanwhile, the verdict was criticized by both sides in the trial, NTV reported on 18 May, adding that the verdict may provoke strong reaction among Suchkov's fellow officers, as he is the first naval officer of such high rank to receive a criminal sentence since 1939. VY

RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES ARGUES AGAINST RATIFICATION OF KYOTO PROTOCOL
Yurii Osipov, the president of Russia's Academy of Sciences, has written to President Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov arguing that ratifying the Kyoto Protocol would go against Russia's interests, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 May. Osipov was one of 26 members of the academy who recommended in the letter to Putin that Russia not ratify the protocol, which, in their opinion, "is insufficiently scientifically substantiated, practically inefficient, and discriminative against Russia." Last month, the State Duma also recommended rejecting the protocol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004) And President Putin, speaking at a global conference on climate change in Moscow in September 2003, said that scientists still disagree on whether global warming is due to human activity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 September 2003). The ratification of the protocol is supported by the Finance Ministry and the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, lenta.ru reported on 18 May. VY

FSB DIRECTOR SAYS TERRORISTS NEARING POSSESSION OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
Speaking in Sochi at the annual conference of the intelligence services of CIS states, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev said that "we estimate that there is a growing threat of terrorist groups approaching the threshold of possessing weapons of mass destruction," RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. The developments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and unspecified other regions "indicate the actual strengthening of the global threat of terrorism." Patrushev also proposed some practical measures for CIS secret services in dealing with terrorist threats, including the creation a unified CIS audio archive of voices of people involved in terrorist activities and an integrated system of marking explosives and firearms. VY

MOSCOW MAYOR PROPOSES REGULATION OF INTERNET
Writing in "Izvestiya" on 17 May, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said that the Internet has been transformed into a forum for "outright disinformation" including "black pr, and political and informational provocation." "A person offended and defamed by the spiders of the worldwide web" cannot defend themselves in today's Russia, Luzhkov wrote. Luzhkov proposed the introduction of strict administrative and legal control over the Internet, including state licensing of providers and state registration of websites, refusal of anonymity of publication on the Internet, and severe punishment for violations of these rules. Luzhkov's article was provoked by his feeling of personal insult caused by numerous negative Internet revelations about him and his wife, Yelena Baturina, named by "Forbes" magazine as the richest woman in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2004), strana.ru commented. But in settling accounts with his offenders, Luzhkov is in fact proposing to destroy the Internet, which he himself has called "the best achievement of human progress," strana.ru concluded. VY

COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER OUSTS CHIEF RIVAL ON EVE OF CONGRESS
The presidium of the Communist Party decided on 18 May to expel Gennadii Semigin, State Duma deputy and chairman of the People's Patriotic Union's Coordinating Council, ITAR-TASS reported. The reason given for the expulsion was "Semigin's activities introducing dissension into the party's ranks and undermining the party's reputation." Of the 19 members of the presidium, only two voted against Semigin's expulsion, gazeta.ru reported. The conflict between Semigin and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has been ongoing for more than a year. Last January, Zyuganov issued an official party press release accusing Semigin and his ally, party Secretary Sergei Potapov of trying to "buy" the secretaries of several regional party organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 January 2004). Semigin countered by blaming Zyuganov for the party's poor performance in the December 2003 Duma election. Semigin also warned that Zyuganov's ouster might take place at the party's congress in the beginning of next month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2004). Meanwhile, the Murmansk Communist Party has fallen on hard times following an order from central party headquarters not to take money from Semigin, "Nord-Vest kurer" reported on 5 May. Salaries for all party staff have fallen to the minimum wage, and there is no money to print the local party newspaper. JAC

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH LEADERS PLEDGE TO HEAL DECADES-LONG SPLIT
For the first time in more than 80 years, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad met the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. Metropolitan Lavr met with the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II on 18 May, Russian news agencies reported. The two leaders expressed their desire to unify the church once again following the split which followed in the wake of the 1917 revolution, civil war, and the church's cooperation with the Soviet state, Interfax reported, citing the official report about the meeting of the Patriarchate. According to ITAR-TASS, both churches have set up commissions to deal with issues associated with unification. A number of theological, ideological, and practical issues, such as property questions, must be resolved. For example, in the emigre church, each congregation owns its property, while in the patriarchal church, the Patriarchate itself is the owner (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2001). JAC

SARATOV GOVERNOR IMPLICATES STATE DUMA DEPUTY SPEAKER IN CRIMINAL CASE AGAINST HIM
In an interview with "Izvestiya" on 18 May, Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov noted that State Duma Deputy Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin was in Saratov on 17 May the day that he was formally charged with abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 May 2004). Ayatskov added that "I don't believe in coincidences." Meanwhile, in an interview with "Gazeta" the same day, Volodin refused to confirm or deny that he plans to run for the governor's office next year, saying that any answer he could give would be "uncertain" since there is a more than a year left until the race. However, he did say, "If I take part in the elections, it is very important for me that Ayatskov participate in them." He added that he was in Saratov Oblast on 17 May because of a business trip associated with the branch of the Unified Russia party there, and traveled to the city of Saratov to attend to family matters. JAC

REORGANIZATION OF JUSTICE MINISTRY IN THE WORKS
Justice Minister Yurii Chaika told reporters on 17 May that his ministry will soon be split into three independent services and seven administrations, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 18 May. There will be a Federal Corrections Service, a Federal Registration Service, a Federal Judicial Bailiff Service, and an Agency for Expert Investigations. The latter agency will be based on the current Administration for Judicial-Expert Institutions and will provide experts that work at various departments, such as the Health, Defense, and Interior ministries. The Federal Registration Service will absorb functions not only from the Justice Ministry but also from the former Media Ministry, such as registering media outlets, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta." JAC

MOSCOW MAKES FINAL FIVE FOR CITIES SEEKING TO HOST 2012 OLYMPICS...
Moscow has been named one of five official candidates for the hosting the Olympics in 2012, Interfax-Moscow reported on 18 May. Moscow will be competing against New York, London, Madrid, and Paris. The International Olympic Committee will make its final choice in Singapore on 6 June 2005. JAC

...AS CURRENT MAYOR MAY NOT BE AROUND FOR POSSIBLE CELEBRATION
"Russkii kurer" reported on 18 May that according to an unidentified source in the mayoral administration, the resignation of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov is being prepared for the fall of this year. According to the daily, the last straw causing President Putin to seek Luzhkov's resignation was the recent acquisition by Luzhkov's wife, Yelena Baturina, of a cement factory in St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2004). With the purchase, Baturina's firm now controls 15 percent of Russia's cement market and can interfere in the construction market in St. Petersburg. "The Moscow Times" also reported on 29 April that Luzhkov will resign well before his term is set to officially end. An unidentified source in the mayoral administration told the daily that the Kremlin has offered Luzhkov a ceremonial post as adviser to President Putin. JAC

MORE DEPUTY MINISTERS FIRED
Prime Minister Fradkov has dismissed more deputy ministers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 May. Included in the sackings were First Deputy Minister for Economic Development and Trade Sergei Vyazalov, and Deputy Ministers for Economic Development and Trade Sergei Kolotukhin and Mikhail Motorin, Deputy Finance Ministers Tatyana Nesterenko and Anton Siluanov, and Deputy Minister for Property Relations Sergei Kosarev. JAC

TWO CANDIDATES SIGNAL INTENTION TO CONTEST CHECHEN BALLOT
Former Grozny Mayor Bislan Gantemirov, who was recently dismissed from his post in the apparatus of the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, said in an interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 May that he will contest the election for a successor to assassinated pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. In the same interview, Gantemirov declined either to confirm or deny media reports that President Putin offered him the post of military commandant in Chechnya prior to Kadyrov's death. He also said that his personal armed militia, estimated at over 2,500 men, disbanded when he joined the Chechen government, and its former members are currently employed as truck or bus drivers. Also on 18 May, Duma Deputy Oleg Malyshkin (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) told Interfax his party will nominate as its candidate for Chechen leader Marat Zainalabidov, who was born in the North Caucasus in 1967 and has university degrees in medicine and economics. LF

HAS PUTIN ISSUED ORDERS TO KILL CHECHEN RESISTANCE LEADERS?
At a recent meeting with the heads of the Russian "power" ministries, President Putin singled out as their top priority the killing of Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997, and of field commander Shamil Basaev and his ideologue Movladi Udugov, chechenpress.com reported on 19 May. Putin allegedly ordered that the operation to liquidate the Chechens should be implemented as soon as possible regardless of financial and other expense. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER SUES FELLOW OPPOSITIONIST
Aram Karapetian, chairman of the recently registered Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party, has brought a libel suit against opposition National Accord Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 18 May. In a series of recent statements and newspaper articles, Geghamian and his aides have branded Karapetian a "government agent" and stooge. Karapetian said those allegations are "slanderous" and has demanded a public retraction. Geghamian finished in third place in the first round of last year's presidential election with 17.6 percent of the vote, and Karapetian, a former academic, was fourth with 2.95 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2003). Karapetian harshly criticized incumbent President Robert Kocharian in the run-up to last year's presidential ballot, but he has refrained from endorsing the campaign launched earlier this year by Geghamian and the opposition Artarutiun alliance to force Kocharian's resignation. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO EUROPEAN INTEGRATION...
Ilham Aliyev told journalists in Brussels on 18 May following a meeting with European Commission President Romano Prodi that Azerbaijan made the "strategic choice" 10 years ago of integration into European structures and is moving "actively and quickly" in that process of integration, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Aliyev further pointed to the EU's decision last year to appoint a special representative for the South Caucasus and to the recent inclusion of the three South Caucasus states in the EU's European Neighborhood Policy as reflecting the importance that the EU attaches to that region. LF

...AND CALLS FOR EU TO TAKE 'MORE ACTIVE STAND' ON KARABAKH CONFLICT
At the same news briefing in Brussels on 18 May with Prodi, Aliyev urged the EU to take a more active role, along with the OSCE Minsk Group, in ongoing efforts to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Aliyev said that troops from one member of the European Neighborhood Policy should not occupy the territory of a second member. "We do not want talks for the sake of talks," he stressed, adding, "We want a meaningful dialogue with Armenia...[on possible approaches to resolving the conflict] in line with international law and Azerbaijan's territorial integrity." LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DRAFTS AMENDMENTS ON STATUS OF ADJARA
Deputies gave preliminary approval on 18 May to a bill drafted by President Mikheil Saakashvili on amending the Georgian Constitution to clarify the relations between the central government and the Adjar Autonomous Republic, Georgian media reported. The draft bill, which will be published for public debate and must be passed before the election on 20 June of a new Adjar legislature, gives Adjara "very broad autonomy" but at the same time empowers the Georgian president to dismiss the Adjar Supreme Council (parliament) and Executive Council (government), Caucasus Press reported. In a related move, the Georgian parliament also voted on 18 May to abolish the State Security ministries of the Adjar Autonomous Republic and within the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile. LF

GEORGIAN SUPREME COURT REJECTS OPPOSITION APPEAL OVER ADJAR STATUS
The Georgian Supreme Court on 18 May rejected an opposition appeal aimed at mobilizing support for a nationwide referendum on Adjara's autonomous status, Caucasus Press reported. The opposition Labor Party was appealing the refusal on 11 May by the Central Election Commission to register the party's application for permission to collect signatures for a petition calling for such a plebiscite. Other opposition parties, including Industrialists/New Rightists bloc, likewise advocate stripping Adjara of its autonomy, according to the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 (http://www.rustavi2.com) on 14 May. LF

GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS SITUATION IN TSALKA IMPROVING
Giorgi Baramidze traveled on 18 May to the southern district of Tsalka, the scene of fighting on 9 May between Armenians, who constitute up to 80 percent of the local population, and Georgians, who number some 10 percent, Georgian media reported. Baramidze said the situation in Tsalka is now relatively stable but that the 150 Interior Ministry troops deployed there last week will remain there. Noyan Tapan on 17 May reported that the Georgian minority insists that weapons be confiscated from the Armenians; but Haik Melkonian, an Armenian who represents Tsalka in the Georgian parliament, denied that the Armenians have any weapons except clubs and pitchforks. LF

GEORGIA'S AZERBAIJANI MINORITY STAGES PROTEST
Some 100 residents of five Azerbaijani-populated villages in the Bolnisi Raion of southeastern Georgia staged a protest on 18 May outside the state chancellery in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. The protesters claimed that the local Georgian population harasses them, stealing their cattle and encroaching on their pastures. In the most recent of a series of articles highlighting the oppression of Georgia's 500,000-strong Azerbaijani minority, zerkalo.az observed on 15 May that not only Azerbaijanis but also other Muslims in Georgia are currently subjected to "strong pressure," including from the Georgian police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004). LF

KAZAKHSTAN AIMS TO SIMPLIFY CITIZENSHIP PROCEDURE
The Kazakh cabinet introduced a bill to the Mazhilis, or lower house of parliament, on 18 May to ease citizenship requirements for qualified specialists, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. The bill's purpose is to "stimulate an influx of specialists" with skills that can help the country's economy. The president will draw up a list of applicable professions. The bill would also force Kazakh citizens to give up their citizenship upon becoming citizens of another country, bringing legislation into line with a 1 December ruling by the Constitutional Council. DK

AIDS ON THE RISE IN KAZAKHSTAN
According to the State Statistics Agency, 15 new AIDS cases and 176 new HIV-positive cases were registered in Kazakhstan in the first four months of 2004, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 18 May. The HIV figures represent a 94 percent year-on-year increase. Regional statistics tell a similar story. The first HIV-positive case was registered in the East Kazakhstan Oblast in 1997; over the last five years, the number of registered HIV-positive cases in the oblast has grown to 142, Kazinform reported on 18 May. Marina Zhigolko, who works at an AIDS center in the oblast, told the news agency that 84 percent of those infected are drug addicts who contracted the disease as a result of drug use, while 13 percent became infected through sexual contact. DK

KYRGYZ MINISTER, POLITICIANS IRKED AT PRESS
The Foreign Ministry issued a press release on 18 May disputing a 14 May article about Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Askar Aitmatov in the Kyrgyzstan supplement to Russia's "Komsomolskaya pravda," Kabar news agency reported the same day. Describing the article as libelous and offensive, the ministry denied allegations that Aitmatov has misused ministry funds and improperly issued diplomatic passports, akipress.org reported. The ministry's press service also noted that Aitmatov reserves the right to take legal action in response to the article. Aitmatov is not alone in his ire at the press. Aleksandr Karpasov, a member of parliament, said on 18 May that the parliamentary correspondent of "Vechernii Bishkek" should be stripped of his accreditation for a recent article on parliamentarians' malapropisms, Kyrgyzinfo reported the same day. Fellow parliamentarian Bakyt Kerimbekov supported his colleague and suggested further restrictions on journalists. DK

TAJIK MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD HAVE BASE IN TAJIKISTAN
Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov told Russia's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 18 May that Russia should have a military base in Tajikistan. The remark came in the course of a wide-ranging interview. Nazarov said that while Tajikistan is resuming control over the Tajik-Afghan border, the country has not changed its basic strategy toward Russia, although "an information war has been unleashed against Tajikistan recently [in the Russian press]." The minister also noted that Tajikistan has offered to sign a special agreement with Russia on labor migration, but that Moscow has stalled for political reasons. As for the military base that Russia would like to establish in Tajikistan, Nazarov expressed his support for the idea but said that the base should have "a very clearly defined framework for functioning." Negotiations over the base have bogged down in "technical details," Nazarov said, citing "endless arguments" over 20-year-old military hardware as an example. DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT RECEIVES IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov at the Oqsaroy presidential residence on 18 May, Uzbek Television reported the same day. Karimov praised Iran for its efforts to maintain stability in the region and for its contribution to the rebuilding of Afghanistan. The two also discussed transportation issues, and particularly Karimov's proposal to create a trans-Afghan transit corridor, official Uzbek news agency uza.uz reported. Kharrazi also met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Sodiq Safaev, Uzbek Television reported. The two signed a memorandum of understanding on Iranian development assistance to Uzbekistan and a memorandum of cooperation between the two foreign ministries. DK

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PARTY SUES STATE TV FOR SLANDER
The Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) on 18 May filed a suit against Belarusian Television and one of its journalists, Yury Prakopau, charging them with slander and disseminating false information, Belapan reported. Prakopau reportedly alleged in a program broadcast on 25 April, quoting BNF leader Vintsuk Vyachorka, that the BNF will stop providing government support to regions most affected by the Chornobyl disaster if it comes to power. The BNF wants Belarusian Television to refute Prakopau's allegation. The party also filed a similar suit against the head of the Malaryta District Executive Committee's press service, who alleged on Belarusian Television that the BNF collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The BNF was founded in 1988. JM

ENVOY REFUTES PERCEPTION THAT RUSSIAN, BELARUSIAN ECONOMIES ARE INCOMPATIBLE
Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Uladzimir Hryhoryeu told journalists in Moscow on 18 May that the existing opinion that the Belarusian and Russian economies match poorly is a "piece of nonsense aired by liberals," Belapan reported. Hryhoryeu was apparently referring to a public statement by Russian political analyst Sergei Karaganov, chairman of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who said on 17 May that "Russia is proceeding, albeit slowly, toward a European capitalist country model that existed 50-60 years ago [while Belarus is moving toward] an improved North Korean model." To support his argument, Hryhoryeu cited what he termed "successful" cooperation between the Soviet Union and capitalist economies as well as the high level of current cooperation between the privately held Yaroslavl Engine Plant in Russia and the state-run MAZ truck and bus factory in Belarus. JM

BELARUSIAN VENDORS' LEADER ACCUSED OF LIBELING LUKASHENKA
The Belarusian KGB has formally charged Valery Levaneuski, the leader of the vendors' strike committee in Hrodna, with libeling President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 18 May. Earlier this month Levaneuski was jailed for 15 days for distributing leaflets calling for a May Day rally in Hrodna. The leaflets included a poem, attributed to "Chukouski," that the KGB considers libelous (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). JM

EU LEADER AGAIN SAYS UKRAINE HAS NO MEMBERSHIP PROSPECTS
European Commission President Roman Prodi on 18 May reiterated his opinion that Ukraine has no prospects of joining the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2004), Interfax reported. Prodi was speaking at a joint news conference with Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in Brussels. "We cannot now continue with EU enlargement, but there is a prospect that Ukraine can share everything with us, apart from the participation in EU institutions," Prodi said. "I consider this to be a colossal step in the right direction." Yanukovych reportedly expressed the hope that the EU will at last decide on granting Ukraine market-economy status during its summit in The Hague in July. Prodi responded by saying the obstacles to Ukraine obtaining this status include "firstly, the [country's] pricing policy and, secondly, law on bankruptcy." JM

CRIMEAN TATARS MARK 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF DEPORTATION
More than 20,000 people took part in a march in Simferopol on 18 May to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the forced deportation of Tatars from Crimea to Central Asia, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. The deportation, ordered by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who accused Crimean Tatars of collaboration with the Nazis, began on 18 May 1944 and affected some 200,000 people. Crimean Tatars were officially rehabilitated by the Kremlin in 1967, but allowed to return to Crimea only in 1989. Some 250,000 Tatars have returned to Crimea since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Participants in the commemorative march demanded that the Tatar language be made an official one in Crimea and that Tatar returnees be given land plots for settlement. JM

UKRAINIAN WINNER OF EUROVISION CONTEST HONORED WITH 'PEOPLE'S ARTIST' TITLE
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 18 May bestowed the title of a people's artist upon Ruslana Luzhychko, who won last week's Eurovision Song Contest 2004 in Istanbul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004), Interfax reported. "This is not an achievement of one performer, this is an achievement of the entire country," Kuchma told Ruslana at the award ceremony. Ruslana's victory means that Kyiv will host the 50th Eurovision Song Contest in May 2005. Meanwhile, Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko told journalists the same day that the Ukrainian capital currently has no appropriate concert hall with a seating capacity of 15,000-20,000 that could accommodate next year's Eurovision event. Omelchenko added that the largest available hall in Kyiv, in the Palace of Sports, can seat an audience of nearly 10,000, but its interior does not meet "European standards," RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. JM

SACKED BOSNIAN SERB POLICE COMMANDER REFUSES TO STEP DOWN...
Republika Srpska police chief Radomir Njegus told the parliament in Banja Luka on 18 May that he fired special police commander Dragan Lukac and suspended at least seven of his men on 14 May but that Lukac refuses to go, Reuters and RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. "We have to find a solution very soon, otherwise we might face far-reaching consequences," Njegus added. He sacked Lukac because of "poor planning" in connection with an incident in April in Visegrad in which an innocent man, Novica Lukic, died as a result of an unsuccessful attempt by police to arrest two of his relatives, whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 21, and 22 April 2004). The Republika Srpska is under strong international pressure to arrest indictees and send them to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 23 April 2004). PM

...AS TENSIONS MOUNT
Kevin Carty, who heads the EU police mission in Bosnia, backed Njegus's decision to sack Lukac, but 69 policemen signed an open letter supporting Lukac and demanding the resignation of Njegus and Interior Minister Zoran Djeric, Reuters reported from Banja Luka on 18 May. Lukac said the decision to sack him was politically motivated, adding that no policeman will want to carry out a similar operation in the future if he knows that he, and not those at the top, will be punished if he fails. He and 30 of his men met with Njegus at the Interior Ministry to try to find a mutually acceptable arrangement, "Nezavisne novine" reported. Elsewhere, Mile Lukic, the father of Novica Lukic, said police deliberately shot his son because he had information about various "criminal activities" involving top members of the Visegrad police during and after the 1992-95 conflict. PM

UN REINSTATES SUSPENDED KOSOVA PROTECTION CORPS OFFICERS
A statement issued on 18 May by the Prishtina office of Harri Holkeri, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), announced the reinstatement of two generals and 10 other officers of the civilian Kosova Protection Corps (TMK) whom Holkeri suspended in December over their alleged links to the illegal Albanian National Army (AKSH), Reuters and dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 December 2003). "The UNMIK Police Commissioner has advised me that no basis has been established for criminal prosecution in any of the cases," Holkeri's statement noted. "I have therefore determined that suspension imposed in December 2003 should be lifted and that the individuals concerned are to be reinstated as [TMK] members with full rights and privileges." The suspensions stemmed from an incident the previous April in which two TMK members died while attempting to blow up a railway bridge connecting Serbia and Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003). PM

BLACKOUTS AFFECT SERBIAN CITIES
Officials of Serbia's national power company, EPS, said in Belgrade on 18 May that an overloaded generator in Kosova "collapsed," prompting it to shut down power in parts of Belgrade and several other Serbian cities in order to avoid a "total breakdown" of the power grid, dpa reported. EPS quickly stabilized the system and restored electricity. Foreign aid and credits have helped renovate the creaky communist-era power system since the fall of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. Power supply remains a problem in Kosova even after nearly five years of international administration there (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003). PM

BODIES EXHUMED IN WESTERN MACEDONIA
Forensic experts exhumed at least three bodies from a grave near Kicevo in western Macedonia on 18 May, "Dnevnik" and "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The bodies are believed to be those of ethnic Albanians who have been missing since the 2001 interethnic conflict. Relatives of the missing persons visited the gravesite, including Fazli Veliu, whose brother Ruzhdi disappeared during the conflict. Veliu is a member of the parliament for the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 2001, 2 August 2002, and 4 March and 11 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 16 November 2001). UB

CORRECTION
In the "RFE/RL Newsline" items "EU Insists On Multiethnic Kosova..." and "...And Reviews Stabilization And Association Process" on 18 May, the body that should have been named as issuing those statements following a meeting in Brussels is the Council of the European Union.

SOUTHEAST EUROPEAN COUNTRIES TO COOPERATE IN LEGAL SPHERE
Justice and Internal Affairs ministers of nine Balkan states signed a common declaration in Bucharest on 18 May on cooperation in legal fields, as well as with the European police office Europol and Eurojust, the new European coordination office against organized crime, Mediafax reported. The nine countries are members of the South-East European Cooperation Process (SEECP). Romania took over the SEECP's rotating presidency in April. Speaking after the SEECP's conference, Romanian Justice Minister Cristian Diaconescu said the Romanian presidency's objectives are to coordinate efforts of Balkan states for EU accession, as well as further developing economic relations between SEECP member countries. Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Turkey are full members of the SEECP, while Croatia is an observer to the process. ZsM

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTIES CREATE ALLIANCE
Leaders of the Our Moldova Alliance (AMN), the Democratic Party, and the Social Liberal Party (PSL) announced at an 18 May press conference in Chisinau the establishment of the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) electoral alliance, Flux reported. The head of the alliance, Chisinau Mayor Serafim Urechean, said the BMD is counting on the support of "more than 1 million [Moldovan] citizens" living abroad to help it win the 2005 parliamentary elections. At the same press conference, PSL Chairman Oleg Serebrian said the member parties must still elaborate the BMD's campaign platform. AMN leader Dumitru Braghis said the BMD seeks to establish relations with the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic that could open the possibilities for a post-electoral alliance. ZsM

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT CRITICIZES MOLDOVA'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD
A U.S. Department of State report presented to Congress on 17 May states that while the Moldovan authorities in 2003 and early 2004 "generally respected the human rights of [Moldovan] citizens" there were "problems in some areas" (see http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/shrd/2003/31021.htm). According to the report, titled "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy" covering 2003 and early 2004, prison conditions remained "harsh," and "authorities reportedly tortured and beat some persons, particularly detainees and Roma." In addition, security forces "were widely believed to monitor political figures, use unauthorized wiretaps, and at times conduct illegal searches." The report also speaks of restrictions on freedom of the press, "including defamation and calumny laws that encouraged self-censorship." The report is very critical regarding the Transdniester region, where "authorities reportedly continued to use torture and arbitrary arrest and detention," while "three ethnic Moldovan members of the Ilascu Group remained in prison despite charges by international groups that their trials were biased and unfair." According to the report, last year "U.S. democracy-assistance programs in Moldova totaled more than $8.4 million in technical assistance and grants." ZsM

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL UNDER ATTACK AS TURNOVER DATE NEARS
Iraqi and U.S. officials praised the assassinated president of the Iraqi Governing Council on 18 May at a memorial ceremony in Baghdad.

The head of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), L. Paul Bremer, said that Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad (a.k.a. Izz al-Din Salim) will be missed by all those seeking to build a new Iraq.

The UN's special envoy for Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, called Uthman a voice for unity.

Another IGC member, Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, took over the presidency -- which rotates monthly -- within hours of the 17 May killing. He called Uthman's assassination a challenge that must be overcome.

The killing, condemned internationally, has put the IGC again at center stage in Iraq after weeks of relative obscurity. The council's operations have been overshadowed by efforts to form the coming caretaker government that will replace it by 30 June and take the country to a first round of elections early in 2005.

Some analysts say the assassination was not intended to disrupt the increasingly unimportant function of the council itself so much as to send a warning to those thinking of participating in the coming administration. The warning is that the U.S. military -- which expects to keep forces in Iraq for several years -- cannot protect Iraqi officials.

Saad Jawad, a political science professor at Baghdad University, told the U.S. daily "The Christian Science Monitor" that the assassination is a "great blow" to the Governing Council but even more to the coalition forces. "It is without doubt terrifying and intimidating a lot of people," Jawad said. "When you are working with the U.S., cooperating with the U.S., and you don't get the protection you deserve, I think a lot of people will be hesitant to participate."

U.S. officials have said they will review security for Iraqi officials in the wake of the assassination. Security is a top concern among Iraqi officials because Uthman is the second member of the Governing Council to be assassinated in less than a year. A female council member, Aquilah al-Hashimi, died in September following an ambush near her Baghdad home.

The killing of the Governing Council's president is meeting with a mixed reaction among Iraqis, who are widely reported to regard the U.S.-appointed council as unrepresentative of the public and some of its members as opportunists. Nearly half the council's members returned from exile after Saddam Hussein's ouster 13 months ago.

Public reaction has seen acquaintances of Uthman praise him as a moderate voice in the often divisive Iraqi political debate. Uthman was a founding member of the Shi'a religious party Al-Da'wah and was imprisoned by Saddam Hussein from 1974 to 1978 before fleeing to Kuwait and then Iran.

But some ordinary Iraqis have said they view Uthman's assassination as unconnected to their own lives. Ahmad Jassim, a 52-year-old auto-parts dealer, told AP that the Governing Council "never shared people's worries." He said: "Today the president of the Governing Council was killed. Someone else who tries to cash in on Iraq's problems will die tomorrow."

Due to security concerns, the homes of the most prominent council members are fortress-like compounds, with armed guards and concrete blast barriers. Some other members are reported to be staying in heavily guarded hotels that also house CPA officials and foreign civilian contractors.

The Governing Council's image of isolation is aggravated by reports that several of its members who are also the heads of political parties regularly send deputies to take their places at council meetings. That frees them to consolidate their own local power bases or maintain contacts with U.S. officials in Washington.

A major challenge for the coming Iraqi government will be to build the image of a representative and sovereign body that could attract broad public support. The degree to which the coming Iraqi administration will be representative will largely be decided by the United Nations. Brahimi has proposed that the UN appoint a government of experts in consultation with Iraqi leaders and Washington.

The degree to which the new government will be sovereign depends on how much actual power Washington cedes it by 30 June.

In recent weeks, senior U.S. officials have said June's turnover should be seen as part of a process of moving toward full sovereignty.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said in late April that the United States will remain in charge of military and security matters in Iraq, as well as being the country's main source of economic support.Charles Recknagel is an RFE/RL correspondent in Prague.

BODYGUARDS OF FORMER TALIBAN LEADER DETAINED
The Afghan Interior Ministry said that two of the five men recently arrested in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar Province are bodyguards of Mullah Mohammad Omar, the former leader of the Taliban regime, Afghanistan Television reported on 18 May. Interior Ministry sources said that Afghan police arrested the men in Kandahar's Panjwai District as they allegedly attempted to transport a large number of assault rifles inside an oil tanker. The two suspected bodyguards, who are reportedly brothers, have been identified as Mullah Mohammad Hasan and Mullah Abdul Hakim. It is not clear when the arrests took place. Mullah Omar disappeared from the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar sometime in early December 2001. AT

U.S. AMBASSADOR WELCOMES NORTHERN WARLORD'S COOPERATION WITH DISARMAMENT PROCESS
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad in an 18 May press release welcomed General Ata Mohammad's agreement that day to "submit a list of troops under his command for Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR)." Khalilzad said "this is one more significant step in the DDR process," although he acknowledged there is still a "long way to go." Ata Mohammad, who commands Military Corps No. 7 in northern Afghanistan's Balkh Province, was recently named by a UN official as being among the warlords or commanders who are unwilling to cooperate with the DDR process (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). In response, Ata Mohammad said on 17 May that if the UN did not offer him an apology, he would cease all cooperation with the DDR program. AT

THREE KILLED IN CLASH BETWEEN NOMADS OVER A GIRL
Three people have been killed in armed clashes that took place between two nomadic tribes in Laghman Province, east of Kabul, Radio Afghanistan reported on 18 May. The nomadic tribes, which have not identified, apparently clashed in Qarghai District of Laghman over the fate of a girl. The report does did not elaborate further on the circumstances of the dispute. AT

AFGHAN SECURITY OFFICIALS DETAIN PAKISTANIS
Security forces in eastern Afghanistan's Khost Province recently detained 27 Pakistani nationals while conducting document checks, the Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 19 May. Khost security officials alleged the Pakistanis were possibly in Afghanistan to carry out destructive actions, according to the radio station. AT

U.S. MISSILES REPORTEDLY LAND IN PAKISTANI TERRITORY
U.S. forces based in Afghanistan and their Afghan militia allies reportedly fired three missiles that landed in Pakistani territory on 17 May, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported the next day. No casualties were reported in the Pakistani regions of Garoi, Chekhel, and Urkh where the missiles reportedly landed. AT

IAEA MIGHT NOT DECIDE ON IRAN BY JUNE
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) might not have all the evidence it needs to conclude by its scheduled mid-June meeting whether Iran's nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes, as it claims, AFP reported on 18 May. The agency cited an unidentified "official close to the IAEA" as saying in Vienna that Iranians delayed a "crucial round of inspections" in Iran in March, thus denying nuclear inspectors all the evidence the IAEA needs to draw its conclusions by a 14 June meeting of the IAEA governing board. AFP cited IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei as telling CNN on 15 May that the agency hopes to conclude its investigations this year, especially those for determining the origins of traces of highly enriched uranium, a component necessary for nuclear weapons, found in sites in Iran. The IAEA is waiting for another full report by Iran that will take six-12 months to evaluate, AFP cited the official as saying. Iran is to provide that report by the end of this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). VS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT, EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN DENOUNCE U.S. POLICIES
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami on 18 May denounced "the great aggressions" of "world powers" as the "root of assassinations and extremism" and suicide attacks, IRNA reported. "The occupation and suppression of a...nation with the pretext of fighting terrorism, the worst tortures, followed by...the violation of religious sites have their natural consequences," Khatami said. He added that when a country declares: "'We will assassinate our opponents and will not let the real owners of the land return to the country' -- is there any way of winning justice other than to lay down one's life?" The blame for violence, he suggested, lies "mainly with those who...force people to resort to violence to win justice." Meanwhile, Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said in Tehran on 18 May that "anarchy in Iraq has disgraced America," Fars News Agency reported the same day. "The situation is very bad and nobody has any security," he said. "Groups [in Iraq] disrupt security wherever they want, and America...merely tries to assure its own security, and it cannot even do that." VS

U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT CONDEMNS IRAN'S RIGHTS RECORD
The U.S. State Department on 17 May issued a report titled "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy" that states that Iran's rights record worsened in 2003 and early 2004. The report deplores "summary executions, disappearances, extremist vigilantism, widespread...torture and other degrading treatment" that took place in Iran over that period. Meanwhile, police chief Brigadier General Muhammad Baqir Qalibaf announced in Mashhad on 17 May that his force expelled 955 policemen during the year that ended in March 2004 for taking bribes, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 May. He blamed the problem on the "material and economic" difficulties of police personnel, but added that "violations" recorded among police over that period dropped 36 percent, the daily added. In Tehran, the head of the Tehran judiciary, Abbas Ali Alizadeh, said there is widespread drug abuse and "moral problems" in Iran's prisons, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 May. He claimed that prison officials "disrespect" prisoners' families and said prisons are overcrowded in part "because the provisional detention [Islamic law] has set for six days can last a year" in Iran. VS

PARLIAMENTARIANS REJECT EU ROLE IN GULF ISLANDS DISPUTE
Iranian lawmakers have denounced a meeting in Brussels on 17 May between EU and Gulf Cooperation Council foreign ministers, whose participants urged a settlement to a dispute between Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) over three Persian Gulf islands, mehrnews.com and "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 May. Mashhad representative Ali Tajernia said the EU intervention has "no credibility," mehrnews.com reported. The dispute concerns the Lesser Tunb, Greater Tunb, and Abu Musa islands. Kazem Jalali, the Shahrud representative, said in Tehran on 17 May that "neither the European Union nor any international body...has the right to intervene in the dispute," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. The UAE, he added, raises the issue whenever "Iran is under international pressure." VS

U.S. SOLDIER PLEADS GUILTY AT COURT-MARTIAL FOR IRAQI PRISONER ABUSE
Specialist Jeremy Sivits pleaded guilty to three charges in a court-martial relating to allegations of prisoner abuse at the U.S.-run Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad, international media reported on 19 May. According to a 14 May press release posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil), Sivits was charged with conspiracy to maltreat subordinates (detainees); dereliction of duty for negligently failing to protect detainees from abuse, cruelty, and maltreatment; and maltreatment of detainees. After deliberation, the judge sentenced Sivits to one year confinement, a demotion to the rank of private, and a discharge for bad conduct, CNN reported. Sivits reportedly took many of the photographs (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 7 May 2004) depicting abuse of Iraqi detainees and faces lesser charges than his six colleagues, Reuters reported on 19 May. Three co-defendants deferred entering pleas at their 19 May arraignments in the same Baghdad courtroom, international media reported. Sergeant Javal Davis, Specialist Charles Graner Jr., and Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick all waived their right to have the charges against them read in court. The military judge in the cases, Colonel James Pohl, set a new hearing for 21 June, AP reported. Explosions rocked the U.S.-controlled green zone in Baghdad just hours before the trials got under way there, according to an Al-Arabiyah report. KR

IRAQI GRAND AYATOLLAH CALLS ON AL-SADR MILITIA, U.S. FORCES TO WITHDRAW FROM AL-NAJAF
The office of Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a statement on behalf of the ayatollah on 18 May, calling on U.S. forces and radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army to withdraw from the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala, international media reported the same day. "It's permissible...to demand the withdrawal of all military vestiges from the two cities and allow the police and tribal forces to perform their role in preserving security and order," al-Sistani said in the statement, according to Reuters. The ayatollah also called on Shi'ites not to enter Al-Najaf due to the dangerous situation in the city, Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Sadr has repeatedly said he will not leave Al-Najaf, where he has been holed up for six weeks, unless asked to do so by al-Sistani. Meanwhile, Iraqi women staged a silent protest in Al-Najaf on 18 May, carrying placards that called on coalition forces to withdraw from the city, Voice of the Mujahedin Radio reported. Eight Iraqis were killed and 13 wounded in overnight fighting in Karbala, Al-Arabiyah reported on 19 May. The same news channel also reported that more Al-Mahdi fighters have arrived in the city from nearby governorates to fight U.S. forces. KR

VISA SYSTEM PLANNED BEFORE 30 JUNE TRANSFER OF POWER
Iraqi Interior Minister Samir al-Sumaydi'i has said that his ministry is working with the country's Foreign Ministry to devise a registration system for all non-Iraqi citizens entering the country, Al-Jazeera television reported on 19 May. "We now have thousands of non-Iraqis [living in Iraq] whom it is not easy to count and get enough information about in one or two days. Our goal is, at least, to work out a visa system by 30 June," he said. It is unclear when the system would become operational, requiring all entrants to Iraq to obtain a visa. KR

U.K. MILITARY POLICE ARREST SOLDIERS IN FAKE PHOTO SCANDAL
U.K. military police have arrested a number of soldiers who allegedly produced fake photographs published in London's "Daily Mirror" purporting to depict U.K. soldiers abusing Iraqi detainees (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 May 2004), guardian.co.uk reported on 19 May. As many as four soldiers are being questioned in the investigation. The "Daily Mirror" denied that it revealed the names of the soldiers. The Defense Ministry meanwhile declined to give details of the arrests, but no charges have been filed, according to a spokesman. The scandal led to the resignation of the newspaper's editor, Piers Morgan, on 14 May. KR

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