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Newsline - May 20, 2004


OLIGARCH WINS SUIT AGAINST RUSSIA AT EUROPEAN COURT
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg ruled on 19 May in favor of former Media-MOST head Vladimir Gusinskii in his suit accusing Russian law enforcement of illegal imprisonment and harassment, Russian and Western news agencies reported. The ECHR ruled that Gusinskii, now living in exile in Israel, was illegally arrested in Moscow in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"14, 15, 16, and 19 June 2000), where Russian officials pressured him to transfer his assets to the state in exchange for his release from jail, newsru.com reported. The ECHR ruled that this violated the European Convention on Human Rights and Russian law, and ordered Russia to pay Gusinskii 88,000 euros ($105,000) for his trial expenses. The court declined, however, the second part of Gusinskii's suit demanding 1.7 million euros from Russia in material damages, "Moskovskii komsomolets" and newsru.com reported on 19 May. Pavel Laptev, the Russian representative to the court, announced that Moscow will appeal. And in Moscow, Duma Anticorruption Commission Chairman Mikhail Grishankov said the European court does not know all the details of the case and based its decision "on emotion," lenta.ru reported on 19 May. VY

DUMA HOLDS CLOSED HEARINGS ON CHECHNYA
Speaking at a closed Duma hearing devoted to the situation in Chechnya, acting Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said that President Vladimir Putin has signed a decree on sending additional Interior Ministry units to Chechnya, gazeta.ru and polit.ru reported. According to Army General Nikolai Kovalev, head of the Duma Veterans Affairs Committee and a former director of the Federal Security Service, 1,125 new troops will be sent to Chechnya. Nurgaliev admitted that the situation in the republic since the assassination of pro-Kremlin Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov has sharply deteriorated and continues to worsen. Nurgaliev also told deputies the names of suspects in the assassination and said his ministry has interrogated about 50 workers who took part in the construction of the stadium where Kadyrov was killed. VY

ANOTHER HARD DAY FOR YUKOS
Interior Ministry officers searched Yukos's Moscow office on 19 May for documentation of its subsidiary in Samara Oblast, Samaraneftgaz, accused of tax evasion of 3 billion rubles ($100 million), Ekho Moskvy and Interfax reported. The same day, a group of Western banks informed Yukos of its possible default on a syndicated loan worth $1.6 billion, newsru.com reported. By the end of the day, however, came the good news: the Moscow Arbitration Court suspended the decision of the Tax Ministry to demand from Yukos payment of 99 billion rubles ($3.3 billion) in taxes and penalties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004). The decision was made to give the Arbitration Court time to review the Yukos appeal against the suit. The hearing is scheduled for 28 May. VY

COURT SENTENCES EX-FSB OFFICER FOR DISCLOSURE OF STATE SECRETS
The Moscow Military District Court found former Federal Security Service (FSB) Lieutenant Colonel Mikhail Trepashkin guilty of divulging state secrets and illegal possession of ammunition and sentenced him on 19 May to four years in prison, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Trepashkin worked for the KGB and FSB from 1984 to 1997 and after retiring took part in investigating the FSB's possible involvement in the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and other Russian cities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 29 December 2003, and "'Spymania' Returns To Russia," rferl.org, 13 April 2004). Trepashkin has said that the charges against him are retribution for his criticism of the FSB and public investigations of its activity, polit.ru and lenta.ru reported. VY

PUTIN SIGNS DECREE ON INFORMATIONAL SECURITY ON INTERNET
The presidential press service announced that President Putin signed on 19 May a decree on providing informational security on the Russian sector of the Internet from external threats, strana.ru and RBK reported. The decree deals with protecting Russian state websites against unauthorized penetration and preventing terrorists from gaining control over government computer networks. The measures included in the decree are also intended to protect state secrets and confidential information, Finally, the measures should increase the resistance of the Russian segment of the Internet to computer viruses. VY

EXPERT PROPOSES NEW POLICY TOWARD CIS...
Writing in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 19 May, Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Chairman Sergei Karaganov said the restoration of Georgian central control over Adjara, the forthcoming elections in Ukraine, and many other developments of the past few weeks indicate that the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) may soon cease to exist. Karaganov proposes a new policy toward the post-Soviet states based not on multilateral alliances, but bilateral relations. He advocates increased Russian investment in the region and encouraging immigration from these countries. VY

...AND ANOTHER BELIEVES CIS IS MOVING TO ITS NATURAL DEATH
Stanislav Belkovskii, the political analyst and Kremlin insider, seemed to agree with Karaganov. Writing in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 17 May, he noted that the CIS was built as a Russo-centrist alliance, including not only the former Soviet republics, but also self-proclaimed states, such as Transdniester, Abkhazia, and Nagorno-Karabakh. By not preventing Tbilisi from reasserting control over Adjara, Russia showed that it has neither the strength nor desire to control the situation in the post-Soviet space, he said. Therefore, the liquidation of the self-proclaimed republics and, eventually, the CIS is only a question of time, Belkovskii lamented. VY

KREMLIN CLOSES LOOPHOLES ON HOLDING REFERENDUMS...
President Putin submitted a draft constitutional law on the holding of referendums to the State Duma on 19 May, Russian news agencies reported. The bill introduces new requirements for the holding of referendums. For example, a group that is formed to seek the initiative must be made up of subregional groups representing more than half of the constituent regions of Russia, that is at least 45, according to Interfax. And each of these regional subgroupings must have no less than 100 people. As a result, the number of persons in an initiative group has increased to 4,500. Commenting on the bill, "Kommersant-Daily" concluded on 20 May that if it is adopted in its present form, "referendums will become practically impossible [to organize]." Independent Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin told the daily that referendums will still be held when it is in the state's interests, such as the referendum on joining Perm Oblast with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug. State Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Pavel Krasheninnikov (Unified Russia) commented that referendums are only needed when it is important to know the people's will quickly in order to take an urgent measure, such as adopting the constitution. He said, "I hope that in the near future such questions won't arise in Russia." JAC

...AS DUMA REJECTS STRICT MEDIA LAW...
The State Duma rejected on 19 May a controversial bill amending the law on mass media that would have banned the showing of terrorist acts on TV without the permission of law-enforcement agencies, Russian media reported. The vote was one in favor with 70 against, according to RosBalt. The bill was proposed by Unified Russia faction member Mikhail Yurevich, but neither the faction nor the government supported it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2004). Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Valerii Komissarov said that the bill violated Article 29 of the constitution, which declares every Russian citizen's right to receive information, Interfax reported. JAC

...AND LEGISLATORS FORM NORTHERN GROUP
Also on 19 May, State Duma Committee for Problems of the North and Far East Deputy Chairman (Unified Russia) Vasilii Usoltsev told reporters that an interfactional deputies group called the Russian North has been created devoted to problems of the North, RIA-Novosti reported. Around 30 legislators have joined the group, whose main task is to develop new legislation on Northern issues. JAC

LEBED HOSPITALIZED ON EVE OF SHAREHOLDER MEETING
Khakasia President Aleksei Lebed has been hospitalized and underwent surgery for thrombosis, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 May. The president's press service did not confirm this report, noting only that Lebed is on vacation until 27 May. Lebed will be sent to Moscow for further medical treatment. Lebed has been under some stress lately; "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 19 May that Lebed fears that Unified Energy Systems shareholders may decide at a meeting on 21 May to re-register the Sayano-Shushenskaya power plant and dam in Krasnoyarsk rather than Khakasia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). The hydroelectric power station is a major contributor to the republic's budget. Aleksei Lebed is the younger brother of Aleksandr Lebed, who was killed in a helicopter crash a little more than two years ago. JAC

GOVERNOR UNDER CLOUD OF INVESTIGATION WINS STATE HONOR
Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov will be presented with an order "in the name of Russia" at a ceremony in St. Petersburg on 22 May, RosBalt reported on 19 May. The medal is rewarded to persons who have had a positive influence on the state's development. Other persons who will receive the order are presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov, and others, utro.ru reported. Earlier in the week, criminal charges were filed against Ayatskov on suspicion of abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 May 2004). JAC

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL'S OFFICE INVESTIGATING CORRUPTION AT HIGHEST LEVEL IN KARELIA
Karelia's deputy prosecutor Petr Klemeshev told republican legislators on 19 May that his office cannot name any specific person or persons involved in misusing budget money, despite recent allegations by the Interior Ministry's (MVD) directorate for the Northwest Federal District, Regnum reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). The MVD office claimed that an unnamed director of one of the republican government's departments funneled budget money to a local organized crime group; however, Klemeshev said that a criminal case was opened on the fact of the missing money, not in relation to any specific person. He did confirm that the district directorate's information "corresponds to reality," but noted that the case is under the control of the Prosecutor-General's Office. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO CONDUCT REAL ESTATE CENSUS
The Ministry of Economic Development and Trade is working on draft legislation that will establish a procedure for conducting a nationwide census of all real estate, including not only apartments and houses but dachas, garages, and simple standing structures, "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 May. By 2007, all real estate in Russia will be appraised according to three parameters, physical, legal, and economic. One outcome of the real estate census will be that the government will have a better understanding of its tax base, the daily noted. Such an accounting will also help in the development of a system for mortgage credits, according to the daily. JAC

CONVICTED FORMER COLONEL WITHDRAWS PARDON REQUEST
Colonel Yurii Budanov, whom a Russian military court sentenced last year to 10 years' imprisonment for the murder in March 2000 of a young Chechen woman, has withdrawn the pardon request he recently submitted, Interfax reported on 19 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003 and 18 May 2004). Budanov explained that if released, he would have nowhere to live and no prospect of employment. LF

ARMENIAN, TURKISH PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMEN MEET
Armenian parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and Bulent Arinc, chairman of the Turkish Grand National Congress, met on 19 May in Strasbourg on the sidelines of a meeting of parliament speakers of Council of Europe member states, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Baghdasarian described the meeting as "a positive step" and said that he and Arinc agreed on "the need to develop a Turkish-Armenian dialogue." He also said he assured Arinc that Armenia has no territorial claims on Turkey. Turkey recognized Armenia's independence in 1991 but the two countries have not established diplomatic relations. LF

EBRD HEAD VISITS ARMENIA
European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) President Jean Lemierre told journalists in Yerevan on 19 May that his bank will increase investment in Armenia over the next two years, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He said the EBRD will provide 10 million-12 million euros ($11.9 million-14.3 million) in 2004 and up to 20 million euros in 2005, primarily to permit Armenian banks to advance low interest credits to small and medium-sized enterprises. Export-oriented companies engaged in agribusiness, mining, and information technology will have priority, Lemierre said. He added that the bank will also provide funding for developing alternative energy sources, Noyan Tapan reported on 19 May. LF

SENIOR ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN REJECTS U.S. CRITICISM OF HUMAN RIGHTS
Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian (Republican Party of Armenia) said on 19 May that in the light of the "falsifications" that marred the U.S. presidential elections of November 2000 and the recent cases of abuse of prisoners by U.S. military personnel in Iraq, the U.S. State Department had no moral right to criticize the human rights situation in Armenia in its annual report released on 17 May, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That report noted "serious irregularities" during the February-March 2003 Armenian presidential ballot and characterized the Armenian authorities' human rights record overall as "poor." U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Ordway told journalists on 19 May he considers the report "very objective" in that it highlights both positive and negative developments. Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian told RFE/RL that "we take such reports seriously," even if the Armenian leadership disagrees with their findings. LF

U.S. CRITICIZES AZERBAIJAN'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD
The U.S. State Department's annual assessment of human rights likewise criticized Azerbaijan in terms very similar to those applied to Armenia, noting "serious irregularities" in the 2003 presidential ballot, which the report said failed to meet international standards, Turan reported on 18 May. The report also noted that security forces in Azerbaijan continue to engage in serious abuses, including arbitrary arrests and the beating and torture of detainees. On 19 May, Swiss parliamentarian Andreas Gross, who is the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's rapporteur for Azerbaijan, met in Baku with human rights activists who briefed him on violations of human rights and media freedom in Azerbaijan, Turan reported. LF

GEORGIAN CABINET MEETS IN BATUMI
Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania chaired a cabinet session in Batumi, the capital of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, on 19 May, Russian and Georgian media reported. Among the 16 issues on the agenda were measures to boost the local economy, upgrade the transport infrastructure, prepare for this year's tourist season, and find ways to fill the energy deficit resulting from the suspension of power supplies from Russia. Zhvania said a special council will be established to solicit foreign investment, including on the part of Russian businessmen. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY ARRESTED FOR EXTORTION
Giorgi Kenchadze, who represents the majority National Movement-Democrats in the Georgian parliament, was arrested on 18 May in a "sting" operation as he was about to accept $100,000 he allegedly demanded from Adjar businessman Amiran Mamuchadze in exchange for a promise of immunity from prosecution, Caucasus Press reported the following day. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on 19 May that Kenchadze, who has a previous conviction for robbery, should be punished to the full extent of the law. The parliamentary Committee for Procedural Issues has already acceded to a request from the Prosecutor-General's Office to lift Kenchadze's immunity from prosecution, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT WRAPS UP CHINA VISIT
President Nursultan Nazarbaev ended his official visit to China on 19 May, Khabar TV reported the same day. On the final day of his visit, he attended a business forum in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR), a region that accounts for nearly 70 percent of the $3 billion annual trade volume between China and Kazakhstan. In a statement he delivered in Urumqi to the Kazakh press, Nazarbaev summed up the results of his trip, stressing the importance of Kazakhstan's agreement with China on the construction of the Atasu-Alashankou oil pipeline, KazInform reported. Nazarbaev called the pipeline "a new route for future Kazakh oil." "This is the diversification and multivector approach I have been talking about. I think that neither the West nor Russia should harbor any unease about this," he said. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT MEETS WITH OSCE DELEGATION
President Askar Akaev met with a delegation of European ambassadors to the OSCE on 19 May, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. In a nod to OSCE wishes and recommendations, Akaev said that he plans to abolish capital punishment in Kyrgyzstan in the next few years. (A moratorium has been in place for six years.) Turning to the subject of regional security, the president said, "We can only fight the threat of terrorism by eliminating poverty," akipress.org reported. The delegation, headed by Slovenian envoy Janez Lenarcic, also met with Abdygany Erkebaev, the speaker of the Legislative Assembly, KyrgyzInfo reported. Their discussion focused on corruption, the media, land mines, law enforcement reform, and the delimitation and demarcation of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. In a meeting with Kyrgyz journalists, Lenarcic called President Akaev's commitment to free and fair elections "very important," akipress.org reported. DK

'REGIONS OF KYRGYZSTAN' TO STAND IN NEXT ELECTIONS
Members of the Regions of Kyrgyzstan parliamentary group told a 19 May news conference that they plan to take part in 2005 parliamentary elections, akipress.org reported the same day. Representatives Akylbek Japarov and Ishenbai Moldotashev described themselves as supporters of a centrist position and a "reasonable regional policy." Japarov also reminded journalists that a former member of the group, Tursunbai Bakir-uulu, currently holds the position of ombudsman in Kyrgyzstan. "Regions of Kyrgyzstan" is one of seven groups in parliament; it comprises six deputies. DK

KYRGYZSTAN CRACKS DOWN ON POLYGAMY AMONG STATE OFFICIALS
State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov announced at a National Council meeting on 18 May that any state employees who are found to be polygamists will be fired immediately, KyrgyzInfo reported the next day. He added that efforts will be made to combat the practice of bride abduction as well. National Council members proposed the imposition of sizable fines to discourage officials from taking more than one wife. DK

TAJIKISTAN ANNOUNCES HIZB UT-TAHRIR PROSECUTIONS
Prosecutor Nabijon Rakhimov announced on 19 May at a news conference in Khujand that 33 criminal cases have been opened in the first quarter of 2004 against suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Tajikistan's northern Soghd Oblast, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The suspected members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in Tajikistan as an extremist organization, were found with written materials calling for the overthrow of the current government. Rakhimov noted, however, that no weapons were discovered in the course of the arrests, Asia-Plus Blitz reported. "All of the confiscated evidence consists only of literature and brochures calling for the overthrow of the constitutional system and the establishment of a caliphate," he said. Journalists also asked about Ba'yat, a purported religious extremist organization discovered in April. RIA-Novosti quoted Rakhimov as saying, "The investigation has not yet been completed. All that I can say is that 18 people were arrested and they are all residents of the Chorkuh Isfarin region." DK

IRAN, TAJIKISTAN TO COOPERATE ON POWER STATION
President Imomali Rakhmonov met with Iranian Ambassador Naser Sarmadi-Parsa on 19 May to discuss bilateral relations and cooperation, Tajik Radio reported the same day. While Rakhmonov pronounced himself satisfied with the current level of cooperation, he noted that the potential for expansion remains. On that front, the two discussed Iranian-Tajik efforts to set up an international consortium to build the Sangtuda hydroelectric power station. They also touched on the contributions of Iranian specialists to the construction of the Anzob tunnel. Other topics included security in the region and the reconstruction of Afghanistan, Khovar news agency reported. DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SAID TO HAVE DISCUSSED CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM WITH LAWMAKERS
Syarhey Skrabets, a lawmaker from the Respublika group in the Chamber of Representatives, told journalists on 19 May that President Alyaksandr Lukashenka recently met with a group of "loyal" lawmakers to discuss preparations for a constitutional referendum that would allow him to run for a third presidential term, Belapan reported. According to Skrabets, participants in the meeting protested to Lukashenka that such a referendum might "tarnish the current authorities' image." "That is why they discussed how to arrange the third term [for Lukashenka] without losing face in Russia and Europe," Skrabets said. The meeting concluded that a group of lawmakers will start working on constitutional changes, he said. To make the move appear more civilized, Skrabets added, the authors of the reform will propose that the next president should be elected by the legislature, whose powers are to be expanded, while those of the president would be curtailed. JM

BELARUS'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ASKED TO SPEAK ON REFERENDUM ON PRESIDENTIAL TERM
Chamber of Representatives deputy Valery Fralou has requested that the Constitutional Court rule whether Belarus's laws allow proposals for abolishing the presidential term limit to be submitted to a referendum, Belapan reported on 19 May. During a news conference, Fralou cited Article 78 of the Belarusian Constitution, which stipulates that the "list of issues that may not be put to referendum is specified by the law of the Republic of Belarus." Fralou stressed that the country's Election Code, which includes such a list, says that "issues concerning the election or removal of the president of the Republic of Belarus may not be put to a national referendum." JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TOURS MAHILYOU REGION
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 May began a tour of Mahilyou Oblast, Belarusian Television and Belapan reported. Lukashenka reportedly instructed the local authorities to immediately expand fruit orchards in the oblast's collective farms by 150 percent. JM

BELARUSIAN ECONOMY REPORTEDLY DOING WELL
Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka said on 18 May that the country's GDP increased 9.6 percent year-on-year in the first four months of 2004, Belapan reported on 19 May. Syamashka also noted a slight export surplus in foreign trade in the first quarter because of a 25 percent year-on-year increase in exports. JM

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES CONTINUE TO FIGHT CORRUPTION
Belarusian Television on 19 May provided an example of corruption that law-enforcement bodies encounter in state-run institutions. The reported centered on an unidentified head doctor in a Minsk clinic who was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison and the confiscation of all his property for accepting a $2,000 bribe from an undercover police officer who posed as a representative of a firm that wanted to hire space in the clinic. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS FIVE MOTIONS TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM IRAQ
The Verkhovna Rada on 19 May rejected five draft resolutions calling for the pullout of the Ukrainian military contingent from Iraq, Ukrainian media reported. None of the resolutions was supported by more than 160 votes, while 226 votes were needed for approval. The voting followed a closed-door debate on the situation in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2004). National Security and Defense Council Secretary Volodymyr Radchenko and Security Service deputy chief Yuriy Zemlyanskyy reportedly told lawmakers during the debate that there is a threat of terrorist acts within Ukraine in connection with the presence of Ukrainian soldiers in Iraq. On 20 May, lawmakers from the Socialist Party and the Communist Party blocked the parliamentary rostrum following another abortive vote on a proposal to consider the issue of the Ukrainian contingent in Iraq. JM

POLL SAYS YUSHCHENKO COULD BEAT YANUKOVYCH IN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION RUNOFF
According to a survey conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Fund and SOCIS from 29 April to 6 May, Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko would beat Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in this year's presidential election if both were to qualify for the second round. The poll found that Yushchenko would obtain 36.8 percent of the vote in the second round, while Yanukovych would garner 31.4 percent. Moreover, 21.1 percent of respondents said they would vote against all candidates, 7 percent would not take part in the vote, and 12.8 percent said they are undecided. Asked about how they would vote if the election were held next week, 25.7 percent of respondents said they would cast their ballots for Yushchenko, 16.7 percent for Yanukovych, 10.4 percent for Communist Party head Petro Symonenko, 5.1 percent for Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz, and 3.6 percent for Yuliya Tymoshenko, leader of the eponymous opposition bloc. JM

U.S. COURT REFUSES TO HEAR MELNYCHENKO TAPES IN LAZARENKO TRIAL
U.S. Federal Judge Martin Jenkins of the Northern District Court in San Francisco, which is conducting the trial of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, on 19 May dismissed the defense's motion that tapes secretly made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in President Leonid Kuchma's office be submitted as evidence, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. Melnychenko claims the tapes include information that is essential for the trial. "I am sure that that without [listening to] these recordings the court cannot make a just decision in the Lazarenko case," the website quoted him as saying. JM

BOSNIAN SERB POLICE COMMANDER AGREES TO GO
Bosnian Serb special police commander Dragan Lukac agreed on 20 May to quit his job, which Republika Srpska police chief Radomir Njegus recently ordered him to do but which Lukac initially resisted, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The terms of Lukac's departure are unclear. Njegus 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 and 22 April, and 19 May 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

BOSNIAN SERB HELSINKI COMMITTEE SAYS SREBRENICA INVESTIGATION STALLED
Branko Todorovic, who heads the Bosnian Serb Helsinki Committee, said in Banja Luka on 19 May that the commission investigating the 1995 Srebrenica massacre does not even have a telephone of its own and faces various kinds of obstruction by the Republika Srpska authorities, Hina reported. Todorovic said many of the documents that the commission needs for its work have been sent to Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 29 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). He also criticized demands by High Representative Paddy Ashdown for the commission to finish its work by early June as "politically inappropriate and in bad taste." In April, Ashdown said that authorities in the Republika Srpska are engaging in "obstructionism" by holding up work on a comprehensive report on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males were killed. The international community has called for such a report as one of the conditions the Bosnian Serbs must meet for further Euro-Atlantic integration. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN SLAMS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S FOREIGN MINISTER
Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in Zagreb on 19 May that Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic created unnecessary difficulties with his recent remark that the 1991-95 conflict in Croatia was a civil war, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2004). Mesic added that problems resulting from the conflict will be put aside only when guilt for war crimes is clearly assigned to individuals rather than to entire peoples, and when those individuals are brought to justice. Most Croats regard the war as having been one for national independence in the face of aggression by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PM

UN CLEARS FOUR JORDANIANS IN KOSOVA DEATHS
A UN spokesman said in Prishtina on 19 May that an international prosecutor has cleared four Jordanian police officers of responsibility for "any offense" in a fatal shooting incident at the Mitrovica prison on 17 April, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). PM

MACEDONIAN OFFICIAL OPTIMISTIC ON DECENTRALIZATION EFFORTS
Macedonian Minister for Local Self-Government Aleksandar Gestakovski said on 18 May that the local elections due in October will not be delayed by ongoing discussions about the planned decentralization of the state administration, MIA reported. Gestakovski said compromises have been found on most of the points at issue between the local self-governments and Skopje. He added, however, that the division of tax revenues between local and central authorities has yet to be discussed. Commenting on protests against the government's redistricting plans, Gestakovski said the results of more than 40 locally held referendums are not binding for the government, adding that only a national referendum would be binding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February and 23 April 2004). Parliamentary speaker Ljubco Jordanovski said he expects the parliament to approve the decentralization legislation before the parliamentary summer break. UB

STABILITY PACT COORDINATOR CALLS ON ROMANIA TO BOOST CRIME-FIGHTING EFFORTS
Erhard Busek, head of the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, said in Bucharest on 18 May that the European Union expects Romania to wipe out its "veritable tradition of criminality," AFP reported. Busek also called on the country to expand its cooperation with Eurojust, the EU's body for combating organized crime. "We must have common partners so that we can work and learn together," Busek said. Romania, which has been given a 2007 target date for EU accession, was warned by the European Parliament in March that it must do more to combat crime and corruption if it wants to join the union. Meanwhile, Romania 1 television reported on 18 May that prosecutors participating in a recent crackdown on organized crime will receive protection from the country's secret services. According to the television station, many prosecutors have received threats since the Justice Ministry launched the large-scale operation last month, adding that "crime gangs have collected over $1 million to stop by any means the inquiries prosecutors have launched against them." Prosecutor-General Ilie Botos said the ministry will continue its operation regardless of the actions organized-crime figures might try to block steps taken by prosecutors and judiciary police officers. MES

ROMANIA TO RE-DENOMINATE CURRENCY
The Romanian government decided on 19 May to re-denominate the Romanian leu on 1 July 2005 by cutting four zeros from the Romanian currency's current denomination, Romanian media reported. Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu said on 19 May that the "creation of a strong leu" will boost confidence in the national currency and will help reduce inflation, Romania 1 television reported. "The introduction of this transitory element for the next six to seven years up till the introduction of the euro, probably in 2010 [or] 2012, will accustom the people with a monetary unit that is closer to the euro, and will smooth this passage from the strong leu to the euro," Tanasescu said. MES

TRANSDNIESTER OFFICIALS HOST RUSSIAN MILITARY DELEGATION
Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov held talks in Tiraspol on 19 May with Russian Deputy Defense Minister Vladimir Isakov to discuss resuming the evacuation of Russian military equipment from the separatist region, international media reported. Transdniester's official television station, Tiraspol Dniester Moldovan Republic TV, reported the same day that during the closed-door talks "a scheme for decommissioning explosive materials [stockpiled in Transdniester by Russian forces] was discussed and adopted" and that the two sides "expressed hope for further cooperation in the military-technical sphere." Aleksandr Ryzhkov, the spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Moldova, confirmed on 18 May that Isakov arrived in the country on 17 May but declined further comment, Interfax reported. The evacuation of Russian military equipment from the region was halted last fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 November 2003 and 15 April 2004). MES

RUSSIAN PROSECUTORS TAKE ON GOVERNORS
In the past, it was not uncommon for a governor to face a criminal investigation after he was no longer in office. For example, the administration of former Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Valerii Zubov was subjected to close scrutiny once Aleksandr Lebed became governor. More recently, the trend has been for prosecutors to target sitting governors.

This week, Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov went on administrative leave while a criminal case against him is concluded. The oblast prosecutor, Anatolii Bondar, has already filed charges against Ayatskov for abuse of office and exceeding the authority of his position. In 1998, Ayatskov allegedly authorized the payment of 70 million rubles ($2.4 million) from the oblast budget to cover customs duties on some imported harvesters that a local company, Agroton, was unable to pay, RFE/RL's Saratov correspondent reported. The company had been hit by the fall in the ruble during the financial crisis that year.

Ayatskov maintains that he is being investigated for political reasons. Ayatskov is up for re-election for his third term next year, and he was quoted by "Izvestiya" on 18 May as saying that it is not accidental that his former deputy governor, State Duma Deputy Speaker (Unified Russia) Vyacheslav Volodin, was in Saratov on the day criminal charges were filed. Volodin is considered a likely contender in the election. In an interview with "Gazeta" the same day, Volodin said that his appearance in Saratov really was just a coincidence. He also refused to confirm or deny that he would run for governor, saying that any answer that he gave now would necessarily be tentative since the election is more than a year away.

Volodin's name has been bandied about as a possible gubernatorial candidate since as early as 1999. While Volodin was still deputy governor of Saratov Oblast, Ayatskov reportedly tried on at least two occasions to place Volodin in a federal ministry in Moscow. Ayatskov labeled these efforts an attempt to establish a pro-Saratov lobby in the federal center, but less charitable sources interpreted his desire to transfer Volodin to Moscow as an attempt to eliminate future competition.

Fast forward several years, and it is Volodin and his backers who are suspected of trying to eliminate Ayatskov as competition by unleashing the prosecutor's office against him. If the sudden investigation of a five-year-old "victimless" crime has indeed been ordered up, Ayatskov can perhaps learn from the examples of fellow governors who also faced prosecutorial scrutiny during the lead-up to a re-election bid. In the past year, Tver Oblast Governor Vladimir Platov and Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Vladimir Loginov both fought re-election campaigns while under investigation.

Tver Governor Platov failed to even make it past the first round in the election held in December. And this week, the Prosecutor-General's Office sent a criminal case on abuse of office against Platov to the court. In Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Loginov was luckier. He managed to win re-election in the second round, defeating his main challenger, okrug prosecutor Boris Chuev.

While the battles between prosecutors and governors reached some kind of closure in Tver and Koryak, the governors of Kamchatka and Ivanovo oblasts find themselves in a predicament similar to Ayatskov's. Like Ayatskov, both maintain their innocence and link the investigation to politics. In Ivanovo, the oblast prosecutor announced an investigation of oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov's real-estate transactions in March 2003; however, the allegations about Tikhonov's apartment first surfaced during the December State Duma campaign. At the time, Tikhonov charged that Unified Russia was trying to discredit him both as governor and as a Communist, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 5 April. Tikhonov challenged investigators to prove their allegations. And last March, they seized documents from the oblast administration relating to how the construction of Tikhonov's apartment was financed. They might be rising to his challenge.

In Kamchatka, the prosecutor's case against Communist Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev seems to be moving more quickly. On 17 May, he was summoned to the oblast prosecutor's office. The prosecutor has also assigned a monetary value of 7.18 billion rubles ($247 million) in damages caused by Mashkovtsev's 2002 decision to lift quotas on salmon, gazeta.ru reported on 12 May. Mashkovtsev is facing re-election in December; but if he is actually convicted, he might not merely forfeit the chance at a second term but face 10 years in prison.

DISTRICT IN SOUTHERN AFGHAN PROVINCE REPORTEDLY FALLS TO NEO-TALIBAN...
Militants captured Mizana District in Zabul Province following fighting there on 17 and 18 May, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 19 May. However, Zabul Province Governor Khial Mohammad Hosayni refuted the report, telling AIP on 18 May that the neo-Taliban "suffered a defeat" in the district. An unidentified Zabul Province official told AIP on 19 May that "contact has been cut off with Mizana District for the past two days," but did not say if the government has lost control of the district. Zabul Province security commander Colonel Mohammad Ayyub was cited by AIP as saying that one neo-Taliban and two government guards were killed in the fighting. Two suspected neo-Taliban members were reportedly arrested. Hosayni on 17 May announced that the Mizana District had come under attack by neo-Taliban forces (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004).AT

...AS INSURGENTS CLAIM TO HAVE OVERTAKEN ANOTHER DISTRICT
In a statement sent on 19 May to several media outlets in Peshawar, neo-Taliban spokesman Hamed Agha claimed that militants captured Daichopan District in Zabul Province on 18 May, AIP reported. The statement alleges that five U.S. servicemen were killed in fighting in the district and that three Afghan militiamen allied to U.S. forces were captured. Casualty figures and claims of military successes provided by neo-Taliban sources are notoriously unreliable. AT

U.S. GENERAL TO REVIEW DETENTION FACILITIES IN AFGHANISTAN
The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David Barno, has instructed a general to carry out a review of U.S. detention facilities throughout Afghanistan in light of multiple allegations of prisoner abuse, AP reported on 19 May. A U.S. military spokesman said the appointed general will visit each of the approximately 20 U.S. prisons across Afghanistan and report to Barno by mid-June. The spokesman did not identify the general who will carry out the review. However, he said portions of the general's report will be made public. According to the news agency, U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan have come under increased scrutiny because of the scandal over the abuse of prisoners in Iraq (for more on the alleged prisoner-abuse cases, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). AT

IRANIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS ISRAEL CANNOT STRIKE IRAN
Ali Shamkhani said on 19 May that "Israel can never carry out a military attack on Iran" because it is "too vulnerable" and its "threats have no operational value," IRNA reported the same day. Israel has in the past threatened to strike Iran's nuclear installations to prevent Iran, its declared enemy, from becoming a nuclear power. "There is no doubt that Israel is a mischievous regime and its discourse is one of threats and the use of military force," Shamkhani said after a cabinet meeting. Why, he asked, does the world not respond to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel "Sharon's threatening discourse?" Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on 19 May denounced Israel's "continuing crimes" and "the clear and evident violation of human rights and international laws," in a reference to Israel's raid on the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza, IRNA reported on 19 May. "These measures are a clear instance of [Israel's] racism," he said. VS

TEHRAN PROTESTERS HURL PETROL BOMBS AT BRITISH EMBASSY
Protesters threw "petrol bombs, firecrackers, and stones" at the British Embassy in Tehran on 19 May during a 500-strong gathering to protest against the occupation of Iraq by coalition forces, Reuters reported. Police reportedly arrested two dozen demonstrators before the gathering dispersed after three hours. Tens of thousands of people joined a larger demonstration in Tehran the same day to denounce coalition actions in Iraq, according to the news agency. Parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi said in his address to demonstrators that the "occupiers are trying to provoke internal wars" in Iraq, IRNA reported on 19 May. He said the "democracy the Americans want in Iraq is fake. The reason for [Iraq's] occupation and the slogan of democracy...is to create an opportunity to implement Ariel Sharon's programs." Karrubi added in reference to the United States: "You speak of voting. We say the same. So let [Iraqis] vote directly to determine their government." VS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFICIAL MEETS WITH EU ENVOY OVER ISLANDS DISPUTE
Deputy Foreign Minister Ibrahim Rahimpur said during a 19 May meeting with Irish Ambassador to Iran Thomas Bolster, whose country holds the rotating European Presidency, that Iran wants the European Union to clarify its recent position on Iran's dispute with the United Arab Emirates over three Persian Gulf islands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004), "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 20 May, citing IRNA. Rahimpur said the EU must avoid any "partial positions" on the issue, which he said pertains to "national sovereignty." Meanwhile, Defense Minister Shamkhani on 19 May dismissed the recent interest in the island dispute as "a beautiful subject to distract public opinion" from events in Iraq and Palestine, IRNA reported. He said that unidentified foreign powers "create a subject and turn it into a problem" to justify the presence of foreign forces in the Persian Gulf. VS

IRANIAN PRESIDENT, SUPREME LEADER CONDEMN U.S. IN IRAQ
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran on 18 May that U.S. "crimes and violations" in the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala, where coalition forces have fought rebels loyal to Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, have increased Muslim hatred of the United States "minute by minute, and prompted violent acts that prevent stability and security in Iraq," ISNA reported on 19 May. "We do not rejoice on seeing the bodies of American and British soldiers taken out of Iraq," he said. "But...for every [death], hundreds of Iraqi women, men, and children have been martyred, and...homes and regions destroyed." Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on 19 May that abuse carried out on Iraqi detainees by U.S. forces are a "lesson for humanity, so it sees how those who claim to bring democracy, human rights, and respect for human values treat human beings," ISNA reported. Events in Iraq, he said, "are taking America, step by step, toward the precipice." Coalition forces, he added, "imagined they could easily win the present complicated game in Iraq, but...they will taste the bitterness of defeat." VS

U.S. FORCES RAID IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS OFFICES, CHALABI'S HOME...
U.S. forces raided the offices of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) and the home of INC head Ahmad Chalabi in Baghdad on 20 May, international media reported. CNN reported that Iraqi police and U.S. soldiers seized documents and computers in the raid on Chalabi's offices. Nabil al-Musawi, who heads the INC's political bureau, told Al-Jazeera television that the raid was a U.S. attempt to pressure the INC over its criticism of the occupation of Iraq. "In the past few weeks, we asked our brothers in the IGC [Iraqi Governing Council] to reconsider, after the transfer of power takes place, all decisions ambassador Bremer made during his stay in Iraq. Furthermore, we did not agree with the coalition on the details of the transfer of power to Iraqis," he said. U.S. soldiers were reportedly looking for two INC members for unknown reasons, Reuters reported. A correspondent for RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq said that INC security members traded gunfire with U.S. troops outside Chalabi's home. KR

...AS INC MEMBER CRITICIZES U.S. POLICY IN IRAQ
INC political bureau head Nabil al-Musawi also told Al-Jazeera on 20 May that his organization has not changed its stance vis-a-vis the United States. When asked about Chalabi's hot-and-cold alliance with the United States, al-Musawi said: "When our goals became compatible with the U.S. administration's goals, we said that we agree and when we disagreed we confessed to this as well. Now, we disagree with them on some issues, including means of transferring power to Iraqis." He also criticized Washington for putting Iraqis from the diaspora into positions of power, saying: "If Iraqis are to receive power, then how does the U.S. administration allow summoning people from outside Iraq to offer them ministerial posts following the transfer of power to Iraqis? We reject this." Chalabi and his organization -- which until this week was funded by the United States -- were brought to Iraq by the United States after the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. KR

U.S. ADVISERS TO REMAIN IN IRAQ AFTER HANDOVER
Some 200 U.S. and international advisers will remain at their posts in Iraqi ministries as consultants after the 30 June transfer of power, Toronto's "Globe and Mail" reported on 20 May. "We want the Iraqis to understand that we are not abandoning them," the daily quoted Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone as telling a United States Institute of Peace briefing. The daily also reported that U.S. reconstruction teams will be placed in four regional headquarters around Iraq to distribute the billions of dollars of aid to the country. A newly established Shi'ite political council released a statement this week calling for the dismissal of U.S. advisers from Iraqi ministries, the Shi'ite News Agency website (http://www.ebaa.net) reported on 17 May. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Governing Council is recruiting former Ba'athist bodyguards to serve on a security team protecting council members, the "Globe and Mail" reported on 19 May. The decision came after it was determined that many candidates were not qualified to serve on the team, having failed to a pass a training course. "Now we will recruit people who have already worked in this field, to shorten the training time," said Hilmi Bassim, who is helping create the team. KR

CPA SAYS IT WILL NEGOTIATE WITH AL-SADR
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has reportedly said that it will hold direct negotiations with Muqtada al-Sadr, Baghdad's "Al-Sabah" newspaper reported on 19 May. The CPA reportedly sent a letter to Iraqi Governing Council member Abd al-Karim al-Muhammadawi saying that it will forward the names of its negotiators to al-Sadr and asking that he do the same as soon as possible. "Al-Sabah" is a U.S.-funded newspaper. KR

U.S. ASKS SECURITY COUNCIL TO PROVIDE PROTECTION FOR UN WORKERS
The United States asked the UN Security Council on 19 May to call on member states to provide protection for UN personnel retuning to Iraq, the UN News Center website (http://www.un.org/news) reported the same day. UN personnel are expected to return to Iraq after the 30 June transfer of power to assist in preparations for nationwide direct elections, slated for January. "We are working to establish a unit within the MNF [multinational force] under unified command to provide dedicated security for United Nations personnel and facilities in Iraq," the U.S. deputy permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador James Cunningham, told the Security Council. "The ability of the United Nations to continue its vital role in assisting Iraqis to prepare for elections depends on its security. We urge the international community to participate in this important task," Cunningham added. Over 210,000 Iraqis already serve on the Iraqi security force, but their response has been uneven and their quality and leadership are being improved, Cunningham reportedly said. The number of UN personnel due to return to Iraq was not disclosed. KR

COALITION ACCUSED OF BOMBING WEDDING PARTY IN AL-QA'IM
The U.S.-led coalition has been accused by Iraqis and Arabic media reports of having bombed a wedding party in the western Iraqi city of Al-Qa'im on 18 May, international media reported on 19 and 20 May. At least 40 people were killed in the attack, some of them reportedly women and children. A statement posted to the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil) on 19 May said coalition forces carried out a military operation against a suspected foreign-fighter safe house in the open desert, coming under hostile fire during the operation. "Close air support was provided. Coalition forces on the ground recovered numerous weapons, 2 million Iraqi and Syrian dinar, foreign passports, and a SATCOM [satellite communications] radio." Al-Jazeera reported on 19 May that there were signs that a wedding had been held at the scene, including musical instruments. "On our way to the village we did not see anything that warrants a military operation," a correspondent said. It is common for celebrants to fire guns into the air during wedding festivities. Meanwhile, nytimes.com on 20 May cited an AP report that quoted Lieutenant Colonel Ziyad al-Jaburi, deputy police chief of Ramadi as saying that 15 children and 10 women were killed in the bombing. KR

GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER REJECTS FUTURE SITE OF U.S. EMBASSY
Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, secretary-general of the Iraqi Islamic Party and a Sunni member of the Iraqi Governing Council, told London's "Quds Press" that he objects to the United States' use of the Republican Palace in Baghdad as the site of its future embassy, the newspaper reported on 19 May. He said the establishment of a U.S. embassy on the site, located within the so-called green zone, would not only disrupt traffic through the closing of major roads around the compound but would be seen as a kind of usurpation of Iraqi sovereignty. "I have no doubt that the entire Iraqi peoples disapprove of it because it is a blatant violation of the dignity of the Iraqi people at their seat of power. We call on the United States to revoke this dangerous decision, which will trigger a very tense situation between the Iraqi people and the U.S. Government," he said. Abd al-Hamid called on the United States to build an embassy in the Al-Safarat neighborhood of Baghdad, where other embassies are located. KR

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