RUSSIA, EU SIGN PROTOCOL ON WTO ENTRY...
At a one-day Russia-EU summit in Moscow on 21 May, Russian Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref and EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy announced the completion of bilateral talks on the conditions of Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and signed an appropriate protocol in the presence of President Vladimir Putin and European Commission President Roman Prodi, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Following negotiations on 20 May, Gref and Lamy told journalists that the protocol contains agreements on 11,000 trade items, strana.ru reported. The most controversial issues concern Russia's lower energy prices for domestic industries, as well as subsidies in the agricultural, steel, aviation, and automotive sectors. In addition to the WTO, President Putin is to discuss with Prodi and other EU leaders EU-Russia cooperation following the EU's 1 May enlargement. VY
...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS RUSSIA WILL NOT JOIN EU
Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov said that Russia has no intention of joining the EU "either now or in the foreseeable future," RIA-Novosti reported on 20 May. "We can confirm that Russia also does not see itself either as a full, nor as an associated member of the European Union," Chizhov added. Listing the reasons for Russia's position, Chizhov said that in both the military-strategic and economic contexts, "Russia is a self-sufficient country." At the same time, "this will be a stage in practical work aimed at setting up four common spaces," he told "Vremya novostei" on 20 May. These four areas are building a common economic space; freedom, security, and justice; external security; and research and education, including cultural matters. Russia has already reached final or intermediate decisions, such as with the issue of transit to Kaliningrad Oblast, he added. As for military transit to the exclave, Russia will discuss this on a bilateral basis with Lithuania. VY
U.S., RUSSIA DISCUSS NONPROLIFERATION, SECURITY ISSUES
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said at a press conference in Moscow on 20 May following talks with his Russian counterparts that the United States hopes Russia will join President George W. Bush's Proliferation Security Initiative by 1 June when Poland hosts a meeting of the group's over 80 members, Interfax, RIA-Novosti, and RosBalt reported. Bolton, who discussed Iran's nuclear program with Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko, said that both sides believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency should submit its status report on the program to the UN Security Council. Bolton also took part in discussions on North Korea's nuclear program. Finally, he announced at the press conference that Presidents Putin and Bush plan to have a separate meeting on the sidelines of the G-8 summit on Sea Island, Georgia, in the United States in June. VY
DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES RUSSIA TO WITHDRAW FROM GEORGIA AND TAJIKISTAN SOON...
Speaking to journalists in Yerevan, Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov said on 20 May that the withdrawal from the Russian military bases in Georgia will take a long time, RTR and RIA-Novosti reported. "There will be no hasty removal of troops [from Georgia] as there was [in the 1990s] in Germany," Ivanov said. He also denied media reports that Russia has begun to withdraw troops from Tajikistan, RosBalt reported on 20 May. Speculation on removal of the troops "is sheer nonsense," he remarked. VY
...AS GENERAL STAFF ANNOUNCES CHANGES IN MILITARY DOCTRINE
Speaking in Ryazan, Chief of the General Staff Army General Anatolii Kvashnin said that from 2005 there will be a change in the conception of mobilization and use of the Russian armed forces, RIA-Novosti reported. The old, Soviet-style mobilization plan was based on mobilizing troops under wartime conditions, while the new concept will deal with peacetime missions. The Russian military doctrine remains defensive, but its main goal in the case of an obvious threat to national security is "to seize the strategic initiative," Kvashnin added. VY
AUDIT CHAMBER CHIEF TO REPORT ON PROBE INTO PRIVATIZATION TO PRESIDENT AND PARLIAMENT...
In an interview with "Moskovskii komsomolets" published on 20 May, Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin said that his agency is concluding its analysis of privatization results over the last 10 years and will report its results to President Putin and parliament. Stepashin said such an analysis is needed to answer questions on whether privatization was legitimate, and how to avoid mistakes in the future. He added that privatization was legitimate, although legislation on which it was based was contradictory. It was a "political decision" when "150,000 enterprises were handed over for a song" and the 9.7 billion rubles ($320 million at the current rate) Russia received is a "ridiculous figure." He added that he is not against the rich, but against the gap between rich and poor. Russia ranks second in the world in the number of billionaires and 89th in living standards, he said. VY
...AND PROMISES NEW PROBES OF OIL MAJORS
Since the internal offshore zones were eliminated, the oligarchs are finding new schemes to "minimize" taxes, Stepashin said. "Our people are brilliant. They soon figure out how to evade taxes," he said. Stepashin also mentioned that by September his agency will audit the state company Rostransneft and oil majors LUKoil and Sibneft. The Audit Chamber can only audit companies in which the state has a stake, he explained. "But we can monitor the way in which they pay their taxes." "We have not touched Yukos at present because all the information on this company is already with the Prosecutor-General's Office," he added. VY
PROSECUTOR-GENERAL CANCELS CASE AGAINST SARATOV GOVERNOR...
Almost as quickly as it was initiated, the Prosecutor-General's Office has dropped the criminal investigation of Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, Russian news agencies reported on 20 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004). The order launching criminal proceedings against Ayatskov was rescinded and the materials in the case were sent back for additional checking to the prosecutor's office of the Volga Federal District, newsru.com reported. According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, the decision to launch the case was premature. Ayatskov, who went on leave for the duration of the investigation, announced that he will be back at work on 24 May. On 19 May, presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko telephoned Ayatskov and expressed his support, according to Ekho Moskvy. Kirienko also reportedly advised Ayatskov that he could not be on leave for the entire time of the investigation since it could last at least a month. JAC
...AS CHARGES AGAINST SARATOV OIL AND GAS COMPANY MULTIPLY
Meanwhile, RBK reported on 20 May that Saratovneftegaz General Director Stanislav Tyurev will be charged on 24 May within the framework of the ongoing criminal case against his predecessor, Aleksandr Kosyak. Kosyak was arrested earlier and is being held in a local pretrial detention center. Kosyak is suspected of illegal entrepreneurial activity involving the derivation of income in large amounts. Tyurev is suspected of inflicting damage on underground resources. Andrei Morozov, a Saratov city prosecutor, told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 19 May that the company has been developing oil deposits illegally for four years, and the profits from this activity have amounted to more than 160 million rubles ($5.5 million). Morozov also added that the case against Saratovneftegaz, a subsidiary of TNK-BP, has been ongoing since January of this year and has no connection to the case against Governor Ayatskov. JAC
TWO MONTHS AFTER MINISTRIES CUT, NEW MINISTRY CREATED...
The Ministry for Transportation and Communications, which was formed in early March on the basis of the Transportation and Communication ministries, has been split again into two parts, the Transportation Ministry and Ministry for Information Technologies and Communications, RosBalt reported on 20 May, citing Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. President Putin will issue a decree shortly naming former Communications Minister Leonid Reiman as minister for information technologies and communications. For the past two months, Reiman was deputy transportation and communications minister. There are now 15 ministries. Olga Zhilinskaya, telecommunications analyst for Renaissance Capital, told strana.ru that "Reiman is a very ambitious person, and he very much disliked being a deputy minister. That he managed to get himself a ministry demonstrates his political strength." JAC
...ANOTHER NEW FEDERAL ORGAN FORMED...
Fradkov also announced on 20 May that a new government organ, the Federal Inspectorate, which will unite the functions of ecological, technological, and atomic monitoring, will be created, RIA-Novosti reported. The Federal Inspectorate will coordinate monitoring and control functions in its appointed spheres. It is also designed to eliminate conflicts of interests that arise between inspectorates and the ministries to which they are subordinated. JAC
...AND NEW SERVICE LAUNCHED
President Putin signed a decree on 20 May creating the Federal Monitoring Service for the Observation of Legislation in the Sphere of Mass Communications and Preservation of Cultural Heritage, RosBalt reported. Among the new service's functions is to register media outlets. According to the agency, the service will perform the registration of media agencies until the new Federal Registration Service is formed. According to Justice Minister Yurii Chaika, the Federal Registration Service will be part of the Justice Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004) JAC
COMMUNIST FACTION SHRINKS BY ONE
State Duma Deputy Gennadii Semigin, who heads the People's Patriotic Union, announced on 20 May that he is leaving the Communist Party's faction in the Duma, "Gazeta" and RIA-Novosti reported. Semigin was expelled from the party earlier in the week by the party presidium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2004). However, Semigin himself does not acknowledge the legality of the decision, according to "Gazeta." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 May suggested that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's success in ousting his rival Semigin may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory since new election legislation will make the role of parties even more important in the election process. The daily reported that its unidentified sources in the Kremlin favor a two-party system for the Duma. And the second party after Unified Russia should not necessarily be the Communist Party. Now the Kremlin's campaign consultants are looking for a leader for the new left quasi-opposition -- "Motherland faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin has the best chance of winning this tender," according to the daily. JAC
NEW ELECTION PROPOSALS LINKED WITH KREMLIN MONOPOLIZATION OF POLITICAL LIFE
Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov is continuing to float new ideas for overhauling the system for electing the State Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 May 2004). According to "Izvestiya" on 20 May, Veshnyakov favors not only electing the entire parliament by party lists, but also banning the formation of election blocs. In the last Duma election, the Motherland bloc, which was made up of several parties, was one of only four political groupings to capture enough votes to enter the parliament. Former presidential candidate and head of the Free Russia movement Irina Khakamada told the daily that Veshnyakov's initiatives -- including the proposed amendments to the law on referendums -- "suggest that the Kremlin has to have an even more monolithic parliament and the entire political field to itself." JAC
MORE DEPUTY MINISTERS ON THE STREET
Prime Minister Fradkov dismissed more deputy ministers on 20 May, RBK reported. Included in the firings were Deputy Transportation Minister Chingiz Izmailov, Deputy Labor and Social Development Minister Yevgenii Gontmakher, Deputy Agriculture Minister Nikolai Dolgushkin, and Deputy Minister for Industry, Science, and Technology Valerii Goloshchapov. JAC
TOP CHECHEN OFFICIAL AGAIN SAYS CONSTITUTION MUST BE OBSERVED
Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov told Interfax on 20 May that the provisions of the Chechen Constitution must be strictly observed. "If we give way to temptation and violate the constitution even once, [doing so] will become systematic and the fundamental law will become a meaningless document," he argued. Chechen ministers and clergy last week appealed to President Putin to waive the constitutional requirement that candidates for the post of Chechen leader be at least 30 years old in order to permit Ramzan Kadyrov, who is 27, to contest the ballot for a successor to his father, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was killed by a bomb in Grozny on 9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 14 May 2004). Ramzan Kadyrov stressed that his late father regarded the adoption of the constitution as his most notable achievement. Asked to comment on media reports that he backs Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov for the post of republican head, Kadyrov noted that Alkhanov "is an experienced general" who enjoys the support of thousands of Chechen law-enforcement officials. LF
ARRESTED ARMENIAN OPPOSITIONIST BEGINS HUNGER STRIKE
Suren Sureniants, who is a member of the opposition Artarutiun alliance, has begun a hunger strike to protest the authorities' refusal to release him on bail, his lawyer told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 20 May. Sureniants was arrested during the violent dispersal by police in Yerevan on the night of 12-13 April of participants in a peaceful demonstration to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian; Sureniants and other members of Artarutiun, including former Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, have been charged with seeking the violent overthrow of the constitutional order. Armenian human rights activists have declared them political prisoners. Also on 20 May, spokesmen for Artarutiun and the opposition National Accord Party said 28 of their activists were detained and questioned that day in connection with the opposition demonstration scheduled for the evening of 21 May. Speaking on state television on 20 May, President Kocharian claimed that the international community regards the opposition's tactics as "unacceptable," Interfax reported. LF
ARMENIAN, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET
Serzh Sarkisian met on 20 May in Yerevan with his visiting Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov to review the implementation of earlier agreements on military and military-technological cooperation, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. They also discussed the Russian military base in Armenia and the political and military situation in the South Caucasus, Ivanov told journalists after the talks. He said Armenia has acquired two Russian IL-76 military transport aircraft at Russian domestic prices. Under an agreement signed two years ago, states that are signatories to the CIS Collective Security Treaty trade materiel among themselves at discount prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 30 May 2002). Ivanov is in Yerevan to attend a meeting on 21 May of the CIS Defense Ministers Council. LF
ARMENIAN CULTURE MINISTER DEFENDS PERSONNEL SELECTIONS
Hovik Hoveyan, a member of parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) party who was appointed culture minister last month, rejected on 20 May criticism that he has appointed fellow party members to posts for which they are not qualified, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hoveyan has named an Orinats Yerkir member who is an engineer as director of the Armenian State Circus, and another member of the party to head a department within the ministry. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL
Ilham Aliyev submitted Azerbaijan's Individual Partnership Plan for future cooperation with NATO to Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Brussels on 19 May, Turan reported the following day. The two men discussed Azerbaijan's cooperation with NATO, its participation in international peacekeeping operations, and developments in the South Caucasus, including the prospects for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Speaking at a news conference in Brussels on 19 May, Aliyev stressed the importance of political stability in the South Caucasus for the unimpeded export of Azerbaijan's oil and gas, Caucasus Press reported on 20 May, quoting the daily "525-gazeti." LF
U.S. PLEDGES TO HELP AZERBAIJAN MEET CRITERIA FOR MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE FUNDING
Ambassador Carlos Pascual, who heads a working group on U.S.-Azerbaijani economic cooperation, said in Baku on 20 May that he regrets that Azerbaijan was not among the 16 countries selected to receive funding from the Millennium Challenge Account this year, Turan reported. He said countries must fulfill at least 50 percent of the relevant criteria for fighting corruption to qualify for such funding, and that Washington is ready to help Azerbaijan "be more successful in future." Neighboring Armenia and Georgia were both chosen to receive funds from the account this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004). The "Azadlyg" newspaper commented on 21 May that Azerbaijan's exclusion constitutes a major humiliation for President Aliyev. LF
UN CHAIRS NEW ABKHAZ-GEORGIAN TALKS...
Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for the Abkhaz conflict, chaired a meeting in Sukhum on 20 May between Abkhaz and Georgian ministers to discuss additional security measures in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Georgian and Russian agencies reported. The commanders of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone were also present, together with several Western diplomats. The Abkhaz and Georgian representatives reiterated their commitment not to resume hostilities and agreed on the need to resume joint patrols by UNOMIG and Russian forces of the Kodori Gorge. But Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba again objected to the deployment in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion of a UN police force to guarantee the safety of Georgian displaced persons who wish to return to Gali, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Shamba did, however, endorse the idea of dispatching no more than 10-12 international police to Gali to act as observers and advise local police officers. LF
...AS GEORGIAN OFFICIALS CONTINUE TO SEND MIXED SIGNALS
Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava, who represented Tbilisi at the 20 May talks in Sukhum, told the Georgian television station Rustavi-2 on 20 May that no settlement with Abkhazia can be signed before the presidential elections in that republic in October, Caucasus Press reported. At the same time, he stated that "Georgia will take all measures to bring progressive forces to power in Abkhazia," and predicted that events comparable to the so-called Rose Revolution in Georgia in November, which culminated in the ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze, will take place in Abkhazia in October. On 19 May, however, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told supporters in Tbilisi that Georgia will soon restore its authority over Abkhazia, where "evil will not reign for long," Caucasus Press reported. Speaking in Ankara on 20 May, Saakashvili again predicted a peaceful regime change in Abkhazia comparable to that in Adjara earlier this month (see also "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 20 May 2004). LF
GEORGIAN YOUTH ACTIVISTS SET SIGHTS ON SOUTH OSSETIA
The Information and Press Department of the government of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia reports that activists from the Georgian youth movement Kmara!, which spearheaded the protests last fall that culminated in Shevardnadze's ouster, have recently begun trying to mobilize the minority Georgian population of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on 20 May. Also on 20 May, participants in a meeting in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, to mark the 12th anniversary of the killing by Georgian forces of Ossetian refugees adopted an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin and State Duma Chairman Boris Gryzlov to recognize South Ossetia as an independent state and then accept it as a member of the Russian Federation, Caucasus Press reported. The meeting participants stressed that only Russia can guarantee South Ossetia's security and create conditions for its economy to flourish. LF
NEW ADJAR MINISTERS NAMED
Levan Varshalomidze, chairman of Adjara's interim Coordinating Council, introduced the republic's five new government ministers on 20 May, Georgian media reported. David Glonti, Georgia's former representative to Interpol, was named interior minister; Aleksandre Gegenava, education minister; Givi Tsetskhladze, minister of health and social services; Eduard Putkaradze, agriculture minister; and Aleksandre Bezhanidze, economy and finance minister. The number of ministerial portfolios was cut last week from 18 to five (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2004). LF
KAZAKH LEGISLATORS RATIFY AGREEMENT WITH CHINA ON MILITARY ACTIVITIES
Kazakhstan's parliament on 20 May ratified an agreement with China on the peaceful resolution of border incidents and the prevention of dangerous military activities, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The agreement, which prohibits military personnel and equipment of either signatory state from intruding on the other's territory, was signed in Beijing on 23 December 2002. The use of lasers is also prohibited if it would cause harm to the military personnel or civilian population of the other signatory. The agreement now requires only the signature of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, which it is almost certain to receive in the wake of his recent trip to China. BB
KAZAKH PARTIES CALL FOR REJECTION OF ELECTRONIC VOTING
Five of Kazakhstan's 10 registered political parties -- Ak zhol (Bright Way), Auyl (Village), the Communists, Democratic Choice, and the Patriots' Party -- including centrist and opposition groups, have appealed to the parliament and government to change an article in recently adopted alterations to the election law that calls for introduction of an electronic system of voting, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 21 May. The appeal, which was distributed to the media by Ak zhol's press service, argued that the conducting of elections in Kazakhstan is not yet sufficiently transparent for the country to use electronic voting rather than paper ballots. The parties said they fear that electronic voting would be more susceptible to "all sorts of manipulations." The appeal called for the funds intended for purchase of electronic voting machines to be used for urgent social needs, including providing computers to schools and modern medical equipment to hospitals. The cost of an electronic voting system for the whole of Kazakhstan has been estimated at 4.2 billion tenge (about $32 million). Parliamentary elections are scheduled for this fall. BB
KYRGYZ POLITICAL FORCES SET UP GROUP FOR HONEST ELECTIONS
With presidential and parliamentary elections planned for 2005, several political forces in Kyrgyzstan have formed a Union for Honest Elections, akipress.org, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, and other Kyrgyz and Russian news agencies reported on 20 May. The new association was presented to the media the same day by Security Council Secretary Misir Ashirkulov, who is a member of the group. It includes representatives of centrist and opposition parties, among them opposition parliamentarians Adakhan Madumarov and Omurbek Tekebaev, and reportedly enjoys the support of the jailed leader of the opposition Ar Namys Party, former National Security Minister and Vice President Feliks Kulov. According to Ashirkulov, the new group was formed in reaction to international criticism of Kyrgyzstan's national elections in 2000, which were widely judged not to have met international standards for fairness. Madumarov told the assembled journalists that the outcome of the elections will depend on the way the executive branch influences them. Edil Baisalov, head of the Coalition for Democracy and a Civil Society, reacted to the news of the new group's creation with a statement approving the idea behind the group but calling attention to Ashirkulov's record of interference in previous elections. BB
TAJIK OPPOSITION FIELD COMMANDER GETS GOVERNMENT POST
A former field commander of the United Tajik Opposition during Tajikistan's 1992-97 civil war, Salamsho Muhabbatov, has been appointed to head the country's moribund state tourism enterprise Sayoh, Asia-Plus reported on 20 May. The post was evidently offered to Muhabbatov during a meeting with President Imomali Rakhmonov. According to the chairman of the Democratic Party, Mahmadruzi Iskandarov, Muhabbatov must effectively start from scratch to make something of the tourism enterprise, which Iskandarov described as barely functioning. Muhabbatov headed the state Committee on Oil and Gas under the terms of the 1997 peace accord that ended the civil war and gave one-third of all government posts to the opposition. He was dismissed in mid-2003 and later moved to eastern Tajikistan with Iskandarov. Three other former opposition field commanders previously dismissed from government posts have received new jobs, according to Asia-Plus. BB
TURKMEN GOVERNMENT ACCUSES UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF TENDENTIOUSNESS
Turkmenistan's delegation to the United Nations has distributed a letter from the Turkmen Foreign Ministry accusing the UN Commission on Human Rights of tendentiousness in its resolution condemning Turkmenistan's human rights record, centrasia.ru reported on 19 May, quoting the UN news center. The letter counters the assertions made in the resolution, which was adopted on 15 April, with claims that personal, political, economic, and social rights are guaranteed in Turkmenistan and traces the tone of the resolution to individual unnamed commission members. The Foreign Ministry letter asserts that the authors of the UN resolution were unaware of the real situation in Turkmenistan, citing as examples of Turkmen protection of human rights the abolition of the death penalty, the annual large-scale amnesties of petty criminals, and the recent offer by President Saparmurat Niyazov to allow international organizations to visit prisons. Individuals sentenced in connection with the alleged coup attempt against Niyazov in November 2002 are exempted from such prison visits, despite the fact that these are among the prisoners about which international human rights groups are most concerned. BB
DEMARCATION OF UZBEK-KAZAKH BORDER OFFICIALLY LAUNCHED
The demarcation of the Uzbek-Kazakh border was officially launched with a ceremony at a border post on 19 May, UzReport.com and khabar.kz reported the following day. The actual setting up of border signs began on 19 April with the posting of a sign at the village of Bagyz, which had strenuously protested its transfer to Uzbekistan in the lengthy process of border delimitation between the two countries and was transferred back to Kazakh jurisdiction. According to UzReport.com, 82 permanent and temporary signs marking the border had been placed by 12 May by three teams working in different sections of the 2,351 kilometers of the common border. The process of demarking the border is expected to take three years. BB
UZBEK RELIGIOUS ACTIVIST RECEIVES SUSPENDED SENTENCE
The Uzbek religious activist Abdulbosit Yusupov was given a suspended 1 1/2-year sentence by the Zangi Ota Criminal Court in Tashkent Oblast on 19 May, according to centrasia.ru. Yusupov will also be required to hand over 20 percent of his income to the state. Centrasia.ru was citing information from the press center of the Independent Human Rights Activists of Uzbekistan in reporting the outcome of the trial. Yusupov was charged with possession of narcotics, a charge that he denied. He was arrested at the end of March on suspicion of involvement in the bomb explosions in Tashkent. Yusupov was sentenced to four years' imprisonment in 2000 for allegedly attempting to overthrow the constitutional order -- a charge frequently brought by Uzbek authorities against religious activists -- as well as possession of narcotics, but was included in an amnesty in 2002. Uzbek human rights activists speculate that Human Rights Watch and U.S. Embassy interest in Yusupov's case is the reason for his relatively lenient treatment by the court. His lawyer has described the sentence as "humane" despite a number of irregularities on the part of the investigating authorities. BB
BELARUS WANTS TO BOOST TRADE WITH CUBA
Deputy Foreign Minister Alyaksandr Sychou told journalists on 19 May that Belarus is seeking ways to increase trade with Cuba, Belapan reported. Sychou was commenting on a three-day meeting of a Belarusian-Cuban economic commission that concluded in Minsk on that day. Sychou said the average annual trade turnover between the two countries in the past five years is $35 million. "We're making no secret that we have problems financing deliveries but we're looking for ways to solve them," Sychou noted. Belarus is reportedly considering setting up a plant producing trailers in Cuba, while Cuba offers to establish a joint venture in Belarus to make vaccines. JM
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS LAUNCH BRIBERY CASE AGAINST OPPOSITION LEADER
The Prosecutor-General's Office has instituted criminal proceedings against lawmaker Yuliya Tymoshenko, leader of the eponymous opposition bloc, on charges of attempting to bribe a judge following a complaint from Volodymyr Borovko, Ukrainian media reported on 20 May. Earlier this week, Borovko said that journalists that Tymoshenko had given him $125,000 to give to the judge in order to influence the court's decision and release her former business partners from custody. Borovko said the partners included Hennadiy Tymoshenko (her father-in-law) and Antonina Bolyura, former executives at the Unified Energy Systems, which Yuliya Tymoshenko headed from 1996 to 97. Borovko claimed he failed to fulfill Yuliya Tymoshenko's request and that she is now threatening him and demanding the money back. Tymoshenko has denied the accusations as "totally wrong" and provocative. On 20 May, police reportedly arrested Bolyura, who was hospitalized, and took her into custody. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS REPAYMENT OF WAGE ARREARS BY 2005
President Leonid Kuchma has instructed the government and regional governors to repay all wage arrears by the end of this year, Interfax reported on 20 May. The total sum of overdue wages in Ukraine, according to Kuchma, is 2.2 billion hryvnyas ($413 million). JM
EX-U.S. PRESIDENT BUSH ON PRIVATE TRIP TO UKRAINE
Former U.S. President George Bush arrived in Ukraine on 20 May for a two-day private trip, Ukrainian media reported. Bush was reportedly invited to Ukraine by lawmaker Viktor Pinchuk, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's son-in-law. Bush is expected to meet with Kuchma, representatives of the government and the opposition, and deliver a lecture to students at the Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv. Bush visited Kyiv as U.S. president in August 1991 and delivered an infamous speech in the Ukrainian legislature -- later mocked by international media as the "chicken Kiev speech" -- calling on Ukrainians not to abandon the Soviet Union and warning against "suicidal nationalism." JM
U.S.-ADRIATIC CHARTER MEMBERS MEET IN MACEDONIA...
The foreign ministers of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia -- Kastriot Islami, Miomir Zuzul, and Ilinka Mitreva, respectively -- discussed their countries' future cooperation within the framework of the U.S.-Adriatic Charter in Skopje on 19 and 20 May, MIA reported. During a joint news conference on 20 May, the ministers said they hope they will receive a clear signal from the NATO summit in Istanbul in June that their countries will be included in the next round of NATO enlargement. Dpa quoted unnamed "international experts" as saying, however, that it is doubtful that the three countries will be seriously considered for NATO membership before 2007. At the news conference, Mitreva stressed that much has been achieved in the field of military cooperation, adding that the three countries are particularly determined to fight terrorism and organized crime. She announced that Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia plan to send a joint military medical team to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March and 7 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). Mitreva also said the three countries will support Bosnia and Serbia and Montenegro in their efforts to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 26 April, and 13 and 14 May 2004). UB
...AS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S FOREIGN MINISTER TAKES STOCK...
After meeting with his colleagues from Macedonia, Croatia, and Albania in Skopje, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said on 20 May that he hopes that his country and Bosnia will be admitted to the Partnership for Peace program at NATO's Istanbul summit in June, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed, however, that Belgrade must meet its obligations to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal if it wants to join the program. Draskovic nonetheless argued that his country already has better relations with NATO than do some unspecified members of the Partnership for Peace program. PM
...AND BOSNIANS ARE WARNED
Bosnia's High Representative Paddy Ashdown and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in London on 20 May that failure to meet its obligations to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal is Bosnia's main obstacle to joining Partnership for Peace, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The two men added that Bosnia's chances of being admitted to the program at the Istanbul summit are slim unless there is a serious improvement in Bosnia's cooperation with the tribunal in the meantime. In Bijeljina, Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic said the Republika Srpska and its people will face "big problems" unless war crimes indictees there turn themselves in to the tribunal. He called on indictees to show their patriotism by surrendering. PM
HAGUE PROSECUTOR SLAMS SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, recently wrote Teodor Meron, who chairs that body, that 15 indictees permanently or often reside on the territory of Serbia and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 20 May. She argued that the Belgrade authorities have done nothing to arrest the 15, who include former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic, even though the tribunal has provided Belgrade with information on the indictees' whereabouts. Del Ponte charged that Belgrade's cooperation with the tribunal was previously slow, limited, and largely the result of foreign pressure, but that cooperation has almost stopped altogether since December, when Serbia elected a new parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 27 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January and 20 February 2004). In related news, officials at the tribunal said on 20 May that Del Ponte will travel to Croatia and Bosnia in early June. In Zagreb, President Stipe Mesic said he will meet with Del Ponte but does not know exactly what she wants to discuss. PM
ROMANIA BACKS TURKISH EU BID
Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said during a visit by Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 20 May that his country supports Turkey's efforts to begin membership negotiations with the European Union, dpa reported. Nastase said such talks would "positively influence" regional cooperation and "strengthen the global role of the EU," dpa reported, citing Mediafax. Romania and Bulgaria are seeking to conclude accession negotiations this year and join the EU in 2007. AH
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT STRESSES 'REAL NEUTRALITY,' NO NATO MEMBERSHIP...
Vladimir Voronin said during a visit to Bulgaria on 20 May that his country will work toward "real neutrality with a strong economy, common territory of the country, and active, modern state authorities," ITAR-TASS reported. "Our goal can be only gradual demilitarization in view of the [Transdniester] settlement," he said. He stressed that while Moldova's constitution prescribes that the country is "a neutral state," the document also "allows us to be actively involved in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, especially in the fight with terrorism," the news agency reported. AH
...AND PUSHES FOR ACTIVE OSCE ROLE IN TRANSDNIESTER TALKS
Voronin also said on 20 May that he backs an intensification of OSCE mediation efforts to end Chisinau's dispute with Tiraspol, ITAR-TASS reported. Voronin was speaking after talks in Sofia with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, who is also the current OSCE chairman-in-office. Those talks recently resumed after a half-year break. Bulgarian Prime Minister Georgi Parvanov said his country views the Transdniester dispute as the main item on the OSCE's agenda. Bulgarian and Moldovan officials signed a free-trade agreement and five other bilateral agreements during the visit. Voronin proposed removing mutual visa requirements. AH
DR. BUSEK'S BALKAN LIST
Austria's Erhard Busek, who heads the EU-led Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, argued in the 18 May "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" that the EU should pay more attention to the western Balkans. Whether his recommendations can be easily carried out is another matter.
Busek's speeches and writings usually attract attention in the region and among outside experts because the Stability Pact is a clearinghouse for a wide variety of aid-development projects. Busek himself, moreover, is a senior Austrian political figure with long years of experience in Balkan affairs.
His message is usually cautiously optimistic. But in his latest commentary, he sets down a rather extensive agenda that suggests that he, like many others, feels that the western Balkans might be left behind by a Brussels more concerned with other issues, including possible Turkish EU membership and developing a EU foreign-policy profile in the Middle East.
He notes that the eventual inclusion of Romania and Bulgaria in the EU will make the problems facing Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro all the more important for the stability of Europe as a whole.
Busek's core argument is that "Europe should have priority for Europeans." This will go down well with those inside and outside Southeastern Europe who fear that at least part of the western Balkans is in danger of becoming the continent's black hole, with at least one failed state, unless more progress is made in promoting democracy and prosperity and in uprooting crime and corruption.
He begins by pointing out that the western Balkans are not only geographically more important for the EU than are Turkey or the Middle East, but also more manageable as a set of problems to be tackled. Busek notes that all these countries taken together have less than half the population of Turkey.
The recent unrest in Kosova is a wake-up call, Busek argues. He urges the development of an unspecified strategy to deal with the status issue while arguing, however, that much of the responsibility for the recent unrest lies with the Albanians, who must now bear some responsibility for their actions.
Busek also calls for offering the province an unspecified "perspective" that can be acceptable to both Prishtina and Belgrade which, he continues, could also serve to offset Montenegrin aspirations for independence.
It is difficult to see what such a proposal might involve, since the Kosovar and Montenegrin political leaderships have rejected the idea of some sort of European integration package that would force them to maintain a political union with Belgrade.
Furthermore, Busek argues that the involvement of the UN and the United States in both Kosova and Bosnia makes it more difficult for the EU to propose solutions there. But any suggestion from Brussels that the United States leave the Balkans to the EU would not only raise some eyebrows in Washington, but would also be regarded as arrogance and interference by many in Prishtina and Sarajevo.
He nonetheless firmly rejects the idea that one sometimes hears in the Balkans that the EU should admit at least Bosnia and Kosova to membership now so that the problems there could be dealt with more easily. Busek points out that the Cyprus question has shown that EU membership or the prospect of it is not a cure-all.
Turning to Serbia, Busek stresses its overall "key role" in the peace and development of the region. He warns that a program for the stabilization of Serbia is a prerequisite for overall political and economic stability.
Croatia presents a brighter picture, he argues, offering at least as much potential for success as Romania and Bulgaria provided that it cooperates fully with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Macedonia needs to improve its judicial system and reduce unemployment, while the outside world needs to pay more attention to Albania. Finally, Busek dismisses foreign fears of a greater Albania as "not realistic," urging that they best be forgotten.
TURKEY SETS CONDITIONS FOR PARTICIPATION IN PRT...
The Turkish government has set a condition for it to assume command of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Afghanistan, the Istanbul daily "Milliyet" reported on 19 May. According to the report, Ankara has told Washington it would only deploy troops for a PRT in Afghanistan if the PRT is in the ethnic Uzbek region of that country. According to unnamed U.S. sources, Turkish Ambassador to Washington Faruk Laloglu told Bill Taylor, the U.S. special coordinator for Afghanistan, that Turkey would participate in a PRT "either in [the northeastern] Takhar Province or nowhere," "Milliyet" reported. The report adds that U.S. authorities are pushing Ankara to accept responsibility for a PRT in western Afghanistan because Takhar is not a priority. It is not clear from the report whether the request for Turkey to assume command of a PRT is based on plans by NATO to expand its commitment to PRTs in Afghanistan beyond the PRT in the northern Konduz Province, or if the request comes from the U.S. (for more on PRTs and NATO's involvement in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January and 18 March 2004). AT
...WHILE ANKARA SAYS NATO HAS MADE NO FORMAL REQUEST TO SEND TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi Gonul said on 20 May that Ankara has not received any formal request from NATO to dispatch troops to Afghanistan, the Anatolia New Agency reported. Gonul said that since "Afghanistan has been consigned to NATO," all "missions there are under NATO framework." While Gonul was referring to the dispatch of three helicopters to assist NATO in expanding its mandate in Afghanistan, his comments could also hint that Ankara's preference to assume command of a PRT would be under a NATO framework. Since assuming responsibility for the PRT in Konduz in January, NATO's plan to assume the command of additional PRTs has been marred by a lack of commitment from its members for greater contributions. AT
BELGIUM TO DOUBLE ITS FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN
Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt told Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai in Kabul on 20 May that Brussels will double the number of its troops in Afghanistan, Bakhtar News Agency reported. Belgium currently has 300 soldiers as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, RTBF Radio 1 reported from Brussels. In August the Eurocorps, of which Belgium is a member, will assume command of ISAF (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 May 2004). AT
U.S. AMBASSADOR WELCOMES AFGHAN MILITIA LEADER'S COOPERATION IN DISARMING
Zalmay Khalilzad welcomed in a 19 May press release General Mohammad Daoud's agreement that day to submit a list of troops for verification as part of the Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration (DDR) process. Khalilzad said, "this is one more positive step in the DDR process." It is not clear from the press release where Mohammad Daoud's troops are based (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). AT
U.S. OFFICIAL WANTS RUSSIA TO END COOPERATION ON IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROJECTS
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control John Bolton said in Moscow on 20 May that Iran still abides by its "strategic decision to acquire nuclear weapons" and has "never been fully cooperative" with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), AFP reported the same day. Bolton told Russian officials his country is concerned by Russia's nuclear cooperation with Iran, and assistance to Iran's ballistic-missile program, AFP added. But Russian Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev said on 20 May, "We are not breaking any [international] rules in cooperating with Iran," AFP reported. In Vienna, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told Mehr News Agency on 20 May that the IAEA will prepare a scheduled report on Iran's nuclear program in early June, rejecting earlier press reports that the result of its investigations may not be ready by the mid-June meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). The board is to meet in Vienna from 14-18 June and decide whether Iran's nuclear program is entirely peaceful, as it insists. VS
INTERIOR MINISTER RETURNS FROM AFGHAN SECURITY CONFERENCE
Iranian Interior Minister Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari told a regional-security conference in Qatar on 19 May that Afghanistan needs a strong police force for its security, which affects "regional stability and security," IRNA reported on 20 May. He told interior ministers from Afghanistan's neighbors that though weakened, "terrorist networks and drug traffickers" in Afghanistan "remain a serious threat to world and regional security," IRNA reported. "Evidence shows [an increasing] link between terrorism and drug trafficking," he said. Musavi-Lari urged information exchanges, frontier patrols, and joint training between Afghanistan and its neighbors to fight "drug production and trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism." To guard its border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said, Iran has built 212 border posts, 205 observation towers, 22 concrete barriers, dug 290-kilometers of ditches, built 659 kilometers of earth barriers, and strung 78 kilometers of barbed wire, IRNA reported. Musavi-Lari said Iran is "intensely concerned by increased drug cultivation in Afghanistan." VS
IRAN EXPELS BRITISH CORRESPONDENT
Iran has asked "Guardian" correspondent Dan de Luce to leave the country for three months for reporting without permission in Bam, the southeastern town that was devastated by an earthquake last December, Reuters reported on 20 May. Deprived of his visa and press accreditation, he may reapply for them in three months, Reuters added. In Tehran, Muhammad Hussein Khoshvaqt, the head of foreign press affairs at the Culture Ministry, said on 20 May that de Luce "intentionally violated [Iran's] regulations and laws" in reporting on Bam reconstruction activities after the ministry told him not to go there, mehrnews.com reported that day. Separately, Reuters reported on 20 May that the trial of state security agent Reza Ahmadi is to resume on 17 July. Ahmadi is charged with the "semi-intentional" killing of Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi while interrogating her in Tehran in 2003. At the start of his trial in October, Ahmadi pleaded not guilty to the charge of giving Kazemi a fatal blow to the head. She had been arrested for taking photos outside a prison, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). VS
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS REPORTED U.S. BOMBING IN IRAQ
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi condemned as "ugly and inhumane" the alleged bombing by U.S forces of a wedding party in the western Iraqi town of Al-Qa'im on 18 May, the Mehr News Agency reported on 20 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2004). The U.S. military denies it killed people attending a wedding, saying its forces attacked a safe house for foreign insurgents. Assefi said that the "aggressive and militaristic methods" of the coalition forces will spread "instability and insecurity in all areas of Iraq" and urged a "suitable global response" to U.S. policies in Iraq, mehrnews.com added. In Damascus, the transport ministers of Iran and Syria, Ahmad Khoram and Makram Obeid, respectively, signed three memorandums of understanding on transport, committing the two states to form a joint transportation committee and improve rail links and shared transport infrastructures. VS
IRAQI TRIBAL CHIEFS DEMAND AL-SADR WITHDRAW FROM AL-NAJAF
Tribal chiefs in Al-Najaf told Beirut's LBC television on 20 May that they have sent representatives to meet with Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to demand that his forces leave Al-Najaf. Al-Najaf Governor Adnan al-Zurufi reportedly said that he has given the representatives a letter that states that the tribes will intervene by sending armed men into the city should al-Sadr refuse to withdraw. A statement attributed to Iraqi Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has been posted on the Shi'ite News Agency's website (http://www.ebaa.net) on 20 May holds militiamen from the Imam Al-Mahdi Army responsible for recent violence in Al-Najaf. It calls al-Sadr militiamen "extremist persons [that] have been giving themselves license to commit murder, carry out terrorist acts, and shed blood" in the city. It calls on al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army to "leave the two sacred cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala as the highest religious authority al-Sayyid al-Sistani commands them to do in this statement." The statement's authenticity has not been verified. Meanwhile, CNN reported that al-Sadr's convoy may be involved in an ongoing firefight with U.S. forces outside Al-Najaf. The cleric travels between Al-Najaf and Al-Kufah each week -- along the road that the clashes are now taking place -- to deliver his Friday prayer sermon. KR
FIGHTING CONTINUES IN IRAQI HOLY CITY
U.S. forces battled militants loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Karbala on 21 May, AP reported. Some 18 militants were reportedly killed in the fighting, which began when militants attacked U.S. patrols with rocket-propelled grenades in the Old City area. U.S. Army Colonel Pete Mansoor said U.S. forces returned fire, and two hours of heavy fighting ensued. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera television reported that a member of its television crew was killed by gunfire in the city. Rashid Hamid Wali was standing next to a cameraman who was filming the fighting from their fourth-floor hotel room, Al-Jazeera journalist Abd al-Adhim Muhammad said. "He looked up to try to locate the place of the US military vehicles, but he was shot in the head by machine guns," he added. Wali died instantly. "We could not confirm the source of the fire, but it was directly pointed at us," Muhammad said. KR
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MIGHT MOVE OUT OF GREEN ZONE
The Iraqi Governing Council is considering moving out of the U.S.-protected "green zone" following the car bombing this week that killed rotating president Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004), Baghdad's "Al-Sabah" reported on 20 May. Council member Sami al-Askari told the daily that the Governing Council is considering the move, which was recommended by a number of councilpersons. Meanwhile, council member Ahmad al-Barak said the Governing Council has asked the coalition to implement stricter security measures to ensure the safety of the council members. KR
INC HEAD CALLS ON U.S. TO LEAVE IRAQ
Iraqi National Congress leader and Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi called on U.S. forces to leave Iraq at a 20 May Baghdad news conference, RFE/RL reported. Chalabi, angered over a raid on his offices and home by Iraqi and coalition forces the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2004), said, "We are grateful to President Bush for liberating Iraq, but it is time for the Iraqi people to run their affairs." "My message is let my people go, let my people be free," he said. Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor told reporters on 20 May that the raid was authorized by an Iraqi judge. According to nytimes.com, the raid was seeking evidence of fraud, embezzlement, and kidnapping by INC members as well as evidence of the organization's dealings with Iranian intelligence. KR
DETAINEES REVEAL DETAILS OF PRISON ABUSE
Thirteen former Iraqi detainees recounted their experiences in custody at the Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad in sworn, handwritten statements to U.S. military investigators obtained by "The Washington Post," the daily reported on 21 May. In explicitly detailed statements, reportedly written between 16 and 21 January, the detainees in separate interviews recalled the same event or patterns of events that occurred in the same cellblock at the prison. Most of the detainees claimed they were stripped upon arrival at the prison and forced to wear women's underwear. They also claimed to have been beaten regularly, threatened with sexual assault and death, and photographed in humiliating positions. One prisoner claimed to have witnessed a U.S. Army translator having sex with a teenage male detainee, and two prisoners said they witnessed U.S. soldiers sodomizing a detainee with a phosphoric light. Another detainee claimed that Specialist Charles Graner Jr. on more than one occasion threw detainees meals into the toilets, telling them, "Eat it." At least one detainee claimed that a U.S. soldier taunted him for being Muslim. Meanwhile, U.S. military officials have said that 472 prisoners will be released throughout the day. KR
KIMMITT PLEDGES INVESTIGATION INTO BOMBING
U.S. Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told reporters at a 20 May Baghdad press briefing that the U.S. military will conduct an investigation into the 18 May bombing of a suspected foreign-fighter safe house in Al-Qa'im that killed some 40 people, many of them reportedly women and children, RFE/RL reported on 21 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2004). "Some of the allegations that have been made will cause us to go back and look at this," Kimmitt said. "The intelligence that we had suggested that this was a foreign-fighter 'rat line,' as we call them, one of the way stations. We conducted military operations down there last night," Kimmitt said. "The ground force that swept through the objective found a significant amount of material and intelligence which validated that attack." Kimmitt told reporters that U.S. troops had observed a group of people gathered at the site who were not Bedouins. "They would appear to have been town-dwellers. We saw four-by-fours [vehicles], jewelry. This is one of the routes we have watched for a long period of time as a place where foreign fighters and smugglers come into this country," he added. KR