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Newsline - May 28, 2004


YUKOS SENDS SHARES TUMBLING BY WARNING OF IMPENDING BANKRUPTCY...
Shares in oil giant Yukos fell by 11.6 percent on 28 May following a 27 May statement by the company that it could be bankrupt by the end of this year, Russian and international media reported. The company's statement came in the wake of a 26 May Moscow Arbitration Court ruling that the company must pay $3.3 billion in back taxes, fines, and penalties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2004). Yukos has announced that it will appeal that ruling. Shares in the company reached their lowest level since December 2002, and the company has fallen from Russia's second-largest firm in terms of capitalization to the fourth largest, Prime-TASS reported. The Yukos statement noted that there is in place a ban on the company selling any assets, including share packages, in order to raise liquid funds. It added that the Tax Ministry is investigating the company's taxes for 2001 and might file an additional case based on that probe. The Moscow Municipal Court on 27 May upheld a Basmannyi Raion Court ruling from March that froze the Swiss bank accounts of 20 Yukos managers and several Yukos-affiliated entities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 16 March 2004). "Vedomosti" reported on 28 May, citing unnamed company sources, that Yukos's major shareholders intend to ask for the resignation of company CEO Semen Kukes before the end of June. RC

...AS COMPANY'S FORMER CEO MAKES HIS FIRST APPEARANCE IN COURT
Former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii appeared in the Basmannyi Raion Court on 28 May for a pretrial hearing on charges of fraud and tax evasion, Russian and international media reported. The brief hearing was adjourned for one week at the request of prosecutors, and no date was set for when the trial will begin, Reuters reported. Khodorkovskii's lawyer, Genrikh Pavda, commented on the unexpected postponement of the hearing, saying it seems to have been done "in order to solve some problems that we are unaware of," RFE/RL reported. Khodorkovskii faces seven counts, including evading more than $1 billion in taxes, and could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted. He was arrested on 25 October 2003. RC

U.S., RUSSIA SIGN AGREEMENT ON CONTROLLING SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL
Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev and U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham signed on 27 May an agreement under which the United States will pay for the repatriation of spent nuclear fuel from all the research reactors that Russia and the Soviet Union have built in other countries, Russian and international media reported. The agreement covers reactors in 17 CIS, Central European, and Southeast Asian countries. The goal of the agreement is to reduce the risk of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and to prevent the materials from falling into the hands of terrorists, Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Nikolai Shingarev told ITAR-TASS. The United States plans to spend $400 million on the project, about $100 million of which will go to Russia and the rest being used to repatriate to the United States spent fuel from reactors built by the United States in foreign countries. In addition, Shingarev said, the foreign reactors themselves will be upgraded to use fuel that is less highly enriched. RC

DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS FOR DEVELOPING JOINT EUROPEAN MILITARY POLICY
During a 25 May meeting of the defense ministers of Russia and the Nordic countries in St. Petersburg, Sergei Ivanov urged the development of a pan-European joint military policy, "Izvestiya" reported on 27 May. In his report to the conference, Ivanov said that such a policy should be based on concrete "bricks" such as joint peacekeeping missions, military exercises, and coordinated environmental protection. Ivanov also informed his colleagues that on 21-25 June, Russia will conduct a major troop-deployment drill, in which it will use 50 military transport planes to move an 800-man motorized-infantry regiment and all its equipment from western Russia to Siberia. RC

LONG ROAD AHEAD TO MEET GOAL OF 2007 WTO MEMBERSHIP
Although Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref assured President Vladimir Putin on 25 May that Russia will be able to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2007, specialists consider this an overly optimistic prediction, strana.ru reported the same day. Although Russia recently concluded trade and economic negotiations with the EU in the context of its 1 May expansion and has secured the union's support for its WTO bid, Moscow still must conclude bilateral agreements with 52 other countries. Nonetheless, Gref predicted that Russia will conclude all the negotiations this year and begin the formal entry procedures in 2005. Gref expects that Russia's membership in the WTO will be approved by the organization's ministerial conference in 2007. RC

GOVERNMENT FORMALIZES POLICY ON RELATIONS WITH MEDIA
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told reporters in Moscow on 27 May that his government remains committed to a policy of openness and transparency, Interfax and other Russian media reported. Under a government decree adopted that day, state agencies are forbidden from publicizing draft documents before they are approved by the government. Government apparatus head Dmitrii Kozak told Interfax that there will be no restrictions on the dissemination of approved documents. "We remain open, as we have declared before, and we still support the principle of transparency to the mass media," Fradkov said. "Kommersant-Daily" on 28 May wrote that the new decree is considerably more open than the June 1998 one that it supersedes. That document gave the government the authority to restrict dissemination of any document and contained other clauses that activists have argued violated the right of citizens to receive information. The new decree states that cabinet sessions will be open to the media and that members of the government must hold press briefings "about all matters discussed at [government] sessions," "Kommersant-Daily" reported. RC

CHIEF AUDITOR PREDICTS MORE CRIMINAL CASES THIS YEAR THAN LAST
Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin told a plenary session of the Duma on 27 May that the number of criminal cases launched as a result of the Audit Chamber's inspections will increase this year over the 241 such cases launched in 2003, Interfax reported. Presenting the chamber's results for 2003, Stepashin said that the most significant violations were found in the Defense Ministry, the Agriculture Ministry, the Energy Ministry, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, the Republic of Kalmykia, and Chechnya. Stepashin told journalists later the same day that the Audit Chamber will complete its inspections of the country's major oil companies by July, Interfax reported. He said that auditor Vladimir Panskov is overseeing the probes into Sibneft, LUKoil, Yukos, and Transneft. RC

ROGOZIN PLANS TO VISIT MILOSEVIC IN PRISON
Motherland party leader and State Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin told journalists in Belgrade on 27 May that he intends to seek permission to visit former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and radical Serbian leader Vojislav Seselj in prison in The Hague, ITAR-TASS reported. Milosevic and Seselj are facing trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. "I would like to see the conditions of their stay in custody and to be convinced that no extra-judicial measures are being applied to exert pressure on them," Rogozin said. He added that his party considers the tribunal's actions regarding Serbia to be illegal, saying that the people on trial should be handed over to national judicial systems. RC

KHAKASIA GOVERNMENT STEPS IN TO END MINERS' HUNGER STRIKE
The administration of the Republic of Khakasia has released 6.5 million rubles ($217,000) to pay six months of back wages to a group of coal miners who have been on a hunger strike for 10 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 26 May 2004), ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported on 27 May, citing republican Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Shavyrkin. Shavyrkin told strikers that the money will be paid on 28 May. "The government believes it is its moral duty to do that," he said. As of 27 May, 156 miners were still hunger striking, and 24 had been hospitalized. On 26 May, miners rejected as "an insult" an offer by mine owner Anatolii Makhmudov to pay 40,000 rubles against the debt. Miners' leader Vyacheslav Bondarenko said the strike will end when the money has been received. Newsru.com reported on 27 May that 269 of the mine's 389 employees have been informed that they will be laid off as of 23 August, but an administration official said that the layoffs are not connected to the strike. RC

ANOTHER ST. PETERSBURGER FOUND FOR PUTIN'S OLD JOB...
President Putin appointed Aleksandr Beglov on 27 May to head the Main Control Department of the presidential administration, gazeta.ru reported. According to the website, Beglov is the third head of the department appointed in the past six months. Beglov replaces Valerii Nazarov, who served two months in the position and then was named in March to head the new Federal State Property Agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2004). Like Nazarov, Beglov also has worked in St. Petersburg, having served most recently as first deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District. He also headed the St. Petersburg branch of Unified Russia. Putin himself headed the Control Department under President Boris Yeltsin. JAC

...AS NEW HEAD APPOINTED AT VNESHEKONOMBANK
Also on 27 May, President Putin appointed Vladimir Dmitriev as chairman of Vneshekonombank, AK&M reported, citing the presidential press service. Dmitriev, 52, replaces Vladimir Chernukhin, whose term as chairman ended one year early. Dmitriev most recently served as deputy chairman of the bank and before that as deputy head of the Foreign Credits Department. Also on 27 May, Putin named a new ambassador to Bulgaria, Anatolii Potapov, gazeta.ru reported. Potapov replaces Vladimir Titov. Potapov is a former deputy foreign minister. JAC

AIDS TO CUT POPULATION AND WORKFORCE BY ALMOST 5 PERCENT IN FOUR DECADES
By 2050, the Russian population will drop by between 1.3 percent and 4.4 percent because of AIDS, and the number of people economically active will drop correspondingly by between 1.4 percent and 5.4 percent, "Izvestiya" reported on 27 May, citing the Moscow Bureau of the International Organization for Labor. By 2010, around 8 million people -- more than 10 percent of the adult population of Russia -- will be HIV carriers, according to a report by the U.S.-Russia Against HIV-AIDS working group. According to the daily, the government has not acknowledged the seriousness of the impending crisis, because to do so would require spending vast sums of money. For example, Brazil, whose situation is similar to Russia's, earmarks more than $200 million annually to resolve the problem, while Russia allotted only 122 million rubles ($4.2 million) in 2003. The daily also reported that on 26 May Ivanovo Oblast Deputy Governor Olga Khasbulatova signed an agreement with a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project called Healthy Russia aimed at preventing the spread of AIDS. The $20 million-$25 million project will run for four years in Ivanovo, Saratov, Orenburg, and Irkutsk oblasts. JAC

DUMA UPHOLDS VIOLENCE ON TV...
The State Duma Information Policy Committee recommended on 27 May that the lower legislative chamber reject a bill amending the law on mass media, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. The amendments would ban television from showing scenes of violence or the tormenting of people and animals. The bill's author, Deputy Valerii Galchenko (Unified Russia), claims that the showing of such scenes influences social behavior. He complained that legislators are reluctant to adopt such a law because "where there is violence, there are [high] ratings!" Responding to Galchenko's arguments, committee Chairman Valerii Komissarov (Unified Russia) argued that "if a person sees Hamlet with the skull of poor Yorick, that doesn't mean that he will go out and dig up a grave." He added that the bill in its current form would lead to a ban on all films about war. Although the committee recommended the bill be rejected, they did suggest that a hearing be held on the subject. JAC

...AND CALLS ON GOVERNMENT TO EXERT MORE CONTROL OVER FOREIGN ADOPTIONS
Also on 27 May, State Duma deputies sent a parliamentary inquiry to Prime Minister Fradkov asking him to strengthen government controls over the adoption of Russian children by foreigners, Russian news agencies reported. The document was supported unanimously, with 413 votes in favor, RosBalt reported. According to the inquiry, currently around 7,000 Russian children are adopted annually by foreigners, and this number has increased by almost 50 percent over the past three years. In 2002, for the first time, more foreigners than Russians adopted Russian children, according to gazeta.ru. Duma Women, Family, and Youth Committee Chairwoman Yekaterina Lakhova (Unified Russia) suggested that the prime minister conclude bilateral treaties with other countries on adoption, Interfax reported. JAC

JUSTICE MINISTRY AGAIN REFUSES TO REGISTER LIMONOV PARTY...
The Justice Ministry refused on 27 May to register the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) under a new name, the National-Bolshevik Order, Russian media reported. According to ITAR-TASS, the official reason for the denial will be announced on 28 May. The party, which is led by writer Eduard Limonov, was first registered in 1993. Last August, the ministry rejected the party's application to register on legal grounds; however, the group claimed the rejection stemmed from an incident in which one of its members threw mayonnaise at Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2004). JAC

...AS JOURNALIST AVOIDS CRIMINAL CHARGES FOR COVERING NBP EVENT
One of the journalists arrested during a NBP action earlier this month has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing, Ekho Moskvy reported on 27 May. Charges of disturbing public order were brought against Ekho TV correspondent Aleksandr Orlov for covering a protest by party activists at the Bolshoi Theater on 7 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2004). Ekho TV Editor in Chief Andrei Norkin said earlier that neither Orlov nor other Ekho TV journalists who were detained by the police are members of the party, but they were present filming the protest at the theater. He speculated that the police might have decided to teach the reporters a lesson. JAC

GUNMEN OPEN FIRE ON CHECHEN PARLIAMENT BUILDING
Unidentified perpetrators opened fire with a grenade launcher on the morning of 27 May on the State Council building in Grozny, Russian media reported. Two women sustained cuts from flying glass from shattered windows, but no other damage or injuries were reported. Also on 27 May, ITAR-TASS quoted Chechen Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov as stating that the 14,000-strong Chechen police force is capable of keeping the situation in Chechnya under control. Alkhanov said the public should "remain calm." LF

ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER ASSESSES CABINET'S FIRST YEAR
Andranik Markarian told journalists at a Yerevan press conference on 26 May that he is pleased with the work of the three-party coalition government formed in the wake of the parliamentary elections of 25 May 2003, Noyan Tapan and Interfax reported on 26 and 27 May respectively. Markarian, who recently marked the fourth anniversary of his appointment as prime minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2000), noted that the rate of economic growth registered in 2003 has continued this year, and the government has met the target for poverty reduction for the first five months of 2004. Markarian admitted the existence of minor tensions between the three coalition parties, but said none of those parties intends to quit the coalition. He claimed that in general political tension in Armenia was greater one year ago than it is now. LF

BAKU MAYOR BANS AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATION...
The Baku municipal authorities rejected on 27 May an application by the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) to stage a demonstration in the city on 29 May, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 27 and 28 May respectively. Addressing supporters on 20 May, Ali Kerimli, chairman of the AHCP progressive wing, said participants in the demonstration would demand that the authorities resolve social and economic problems and the Karabakh conflict and implement the country's obligations to the Council of Europe, zerkalo.az reported on 21 May. The municipal council countered on 27 May that the Azerbaijani leadership "is working systematically" to meet the requirements of the Council of Europe and to restore the country's territorial integrity, and that there is therefore no need to convene a demonstration. Kerimli said on 27 May he will protest the authorities' decision both in Azerbaijani courts and to the European Court of Human Rights. He said he will not go ahead and convene an unsanctioned demonstration, but has rescheduled the planned protest for 12 June. LF

...AS EU OFFICIAL STRESSES NEED FOR DEMOCRACY IN AZERBAIJAN
Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 27 May, Anthonius W. de Vries, who is the European Commission's special envoy in Azerbaijan, said he has taken note of the fact that no public rallies have been permitted in that country for almost eight months, Turan reported. He said the establishment of democracy is one of the primary requirements resulting from Azerbaijan's inclusion in the EU's European Neighborhood Policy (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 20 May 2004). He added that his mandate entails meeting with opposition and human rights activists and NGOs. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS CONTINUE TO BOYCOTT PRETRIAL HEARING
The seven Azerbaijani opposition leaders who on 24 May refused to attend the ongoing pretrial hearing in their case ("Azerbaijan's 'Magnificent Seven' Stand Trial," rferl.org, 26 May 2004) continued their boycott on 27 May, zerkalo.az reported the following day. The seven men, who are charged with inciting the clashes in Baku between police and opposition supporters in the wake of the disputed 15 October 2003 presidential election, claim that the court is biased against them, and demand the right to a fair trial. Lawyers for the seven men similarly stated that they see no point in continuing to attend the pre-trial hearing in the absence of the defendants, and that the defendants voluntarily forego the right to any future legal representation. LF

GEORGIAN POLICE BEAT ACTIVISTS IN BATUMI
Three members of Our Adjara, the movement that spearheaded the campaign for the resignation of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, were arrested and severely beaten by police in Batumi late on 26 May after a restaurant owner accused them of trying to steal his car, Georgian media reported. Criminal charges have been brought against the police officers in question. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONISTS CAMPAIGN FOR REFERENDUM ON ADJAR AUTONOMY
Parliament deputies Koba Davitashvili and Zviad Dzidziguri traveled to Batumi earlier this week to begin collecting signatures to a petition demanding that a referendum be held to determine whether residents of Adjara want the region to retain its autonomous status, Georgian media reported on 27 May. Interfax on 27 May quoted Davitashvili, a former close associate of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, as saying most of the region's residents would vote against preserving autonomy. In response to the campaign launched by Davitashvili and Dzidziguri, Deputy Security Minister Gigi Ugulava and Giga Bokeria, a parliament deputy from the majority National Movement-Democrats, traveled on 27 May to Batumi where they assured students that Saakashvili has no intention of abolishing Adjara's autonomous status, the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. LF

SOUTH OSSETIA PLANS TO UNITE WITH NORTHERN NEIGHBOR
Zurab Kokoev, leader of the Unity party that won 20 of the 30 parliament mandates in an unrecognized election in the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia on 23 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004), told Caucasus Press on 27 May that the new parliament will pass legislation on the republic's unification with the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, which is a subject of the Russian Federation. The Communist Party polled second place in the 23 May ballot followed by the People's Party. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT CALLS FOR SPEEDIER INTEGRATION
President Nursultan Nazarbaev said on 27 May that the states of the Eurasian Economic Community (EES) must hasten their efforts to harmonize national legislation in order to aid overall integration, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. The remarks came at a meeting with the heads of parliamentary delegations from the EES states (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan). Nazarbaev said, "Our task is to harmonize national laws and bring them closer together. Specific goals have been set to synchronize the ratification of the agreements and accords that have been signed." Anatolii Maryshev, the executive secretary of the EES Interparliamentary Assembly, told a 27 May news conference that the Interparliamentary Assembly meeting scheduled for 28 May will focus on laws to aid cooperation in the transportation, energy, and customs sectors; the laws will then be ratified and adopted by national parliaments. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT PRAISES 'SUCCESSFUL' TAJIK VISIT
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev ended a two-day visit to Tajikistan on 27 May, akipress.org reported the same day. President Akaev and his Tajik counterpart, Imomali Rakhmonov, signed treaties on partnership and military cooperation, as well as agreements on simplified procedures for obtaining citizenship, air transportation, investment protection, educational cooperation, and border crossings. President Akaev called his trip "successful," adding that the treaties "bring the two sides up to the level of a strategic partnership." Khovar news agency quoted President Rakhmonov as saying, "We agreed to maintain constant political dialogue and to support each other's initiatives on the international and regional level." DK

TAJIK WOMEN SAY HUSBANDS, SONS ENDURE TORTURE
The wives and mothers of suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members in custody told a 26 May news conference that their husbands and children are being tortured, Asia-Plus Blitz reported on 27 May. The NGO Fourth Power organized the news conference in Khujand, where 14 suspected Hizb ut-Tahrir members were arrested on 9 February. Parvona Firuz of Fourth Power told Asia-Plus, "The suspects' mothers said that the detainees have been tortured, beaten, and humiliated during the first months of their detention in order to force them to plead guilty." The women have drawn up an appeal that they intend to pass on to President Rakhmonov. DK

UN DIPLOMAT AIRS CONCERNS AT RUSSIAN BORDER WITHDRAWAL
Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said on 27 May that the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Tajik-Afghan border could negatively impact Tajik drug interdiction efforts, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Costa's comments came at the beginning of a two-day visit to Tajikistan. He said, "I am slightly concerned about this news and I am going to speak about this problem with President Imomali Rakhmonov." Costa praised Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, calling it "an example and a model for other countries of the Central Asian region." Russian border troops are scheduled to hand over control of the Tajik-Afghan border to Tajik forces over the next year. DK

RUSSIA OFFERS TURKMENISTAN DIPLOMA AGREEMENT
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told a 27 May press conference that Russia has proposed to Turkmenistan a diploma recognition agreement, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. As of 1 June, all state employees in Turkmenistan who received their diplomas abroad will be dismissed. Noting that Russia and Turkmenistan currently lack a mechanism for the mutual recognition of diplomas, Yakovenko added, "Some time ago, Russia suggested concluding such an agreement; at present, the Turkmen side is reviewing the proposal." ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying, "Moscow regrets that such a document has not been signed yet." Yakovenko stressed, however, that each state's policy on diplomas is an internal affair. DK

U.S. PATHOLOGIST ARRIVES TO PROBE ALLEGED UZBEK TORTURE DEATH
Pathologist Michael Pollanen, visiting medical examiner for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Washington, D.C., has arrived in Uzbekistan to observe the autopsy of a man alleged to have died under torture, the BBC reported on 27 May. Andrei Shelkovenko died on 19 May while in detention on suspicion of murder. Human Rights Watch wrote in a 21 May press release that Shelkovenko's body bore wounds consistent with torture. The U.S. State Department expressed concern at reports that Shelkovenko was tortured, tribune.uz reported on 25 May. Victor Jackovich, former U.S. ambassador to Bosnia, arrived in Uzbekistan along with Pollanen, AP reported on 27 May; they will be joined by an American criminal law expert. Shelkovenko's mother, Lyudmila Bochkareva, told AP that the authorities have harassed her since she decided to go public with the story of her son's death. DK

BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT TO TIGHTEN CONTROL OVER JOB ASSIGNMENT FOR GRADUATES
The Education Ministry is working on a system of contracts that would require students who do not pay for their education at state-run universities to serve in assigned jobs for a fixed term upon graduation, Belapan reported on 27 May, quoting Deputy Education Minister Alyaksandr Zhuk. Zhuk said those refusing their assignments would have to reimburse the state for their training. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has recently called for tightening control over compulsory job assignments for university graduates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). JM

EU TO GIVE BELARUS $20 MILLION FOR BORDER CARGO TERMINAL
The European Commission is to provide Belarus with 16 million euros ($20 million) under its Technical Assistance for the CIS (TACIS) program for building a customs cargo terminal at the Kazlovichy checkpoint at the Belarusian-Polish border, Belapan reported on 27 May. An agreement to this effect was signed on 26 May. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT REPORTEDLY INVITED TO NATO SUMMIT IN JUNE
President Leonid Kuchma has been invited to the NATO summit in Istanbul on 28-29 June to take part in a meeting of the Ukraine-NATO Commission, UNIAN reported on 27 May, quoting Michel Duray, head of the NATO Information and Documentation Center in Ukraine. "This will be a top-level event," Duray told the news agency. Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Douglas Bereuter (Republican, Nebraska), who is president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, visited Kyiv earlier this week and told a news conference on 26 May that Ukraine could join NATO as early as in 2007. Bereuter is to present a report based on his visit at the next session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. JM

EC PRESIDENT DENIES SAYING UKRAINE, BELARUS HAVE NO HOPE OF JOINING EU
Romano Prodi has denied saying that Ukraine and Belarus have no prospects of joining the European Union (see RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 19 May 2004), the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported, citing an interview he gave to the Kyiv-based newspaper "Den" of 27 May. "We are working together on further strengthening our relations within the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy," Prodi told the newspaper. "This policy is not linked to [EU enlargement], because this issue in not on the current agenda." JM

UKRAINIAN EXPERT WARNS AGAINST ECONOMIC OVERHEATING
Anatoliy Halchynskyy, head of the Council of the National Bank of Ukraine, said at an international conference on monetary policies in Kyiv on 28 May that Ukraine's economy shows signs of overheating, Interfax reported. According to Halchynskyy, the current pace of industrial production growth of 17-18 percent is an "economic anomaly" rather than a matter for optimism and might also lead to economic overheating. JM

UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS PROPOSE RUNNING JOINT PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE TO SOCIALISTS
Petro Symonenko, first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine, has proposed to Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz that the parties field a single candidate in this year's presidential election, Interfax reported on 28 May. Symonenko told a news conference in Dnipropetrovsk that he also suggested that the parties form a coalition for the subsequent parliamentary election. Symonenko did not reveal Moroz's response to the proposals. JM

OPPOSITION EDITOR KILLED IN MONTENEGRO...
Dusko Jovanovic, who was the chief and responsible editor of the opposition Podgorica daily "Dan," was killed in a drive-by shooting outside his offices late on 27 May, the BBC's Serbian Service and dpa reported. It is not known who killed Jovanovic or why. Investigating Judge Radomir Ivanovic said that he has several people in mind as suspects but did not elaborate. "Dan" generally reflects the views of the Socialist People's Party (SNP), which was allied to the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. In recent years, Jovanovic has been the object of several lawsuits stemming from charges published in "Dan" that Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic has been involved in cigarette smuggling and human trafficking. A Serbian court issued an arrest warrant for Jovanovic on charges that he embezzled $400,000. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted him for contempt of court for publishing in 2002 the name of a secret witness who testified against Milosevic, dropping the charge after Jovanovic apologized. PM

...LEADING TO WIDESPREAD CONDEMNATION
Lidija Bozovic, who handles "Dan's" legal affairs, said in Podgorica on 28 May that Jovanovic had asked for police protection on several occasions but did not receive it, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. Mili Prelevic, who is an editor of "Dan," told the MINA news agency that the daily will continue to publish and to write about topics that interested Jovanovic. Elsewhere, the Association of Journalists of Montenegro said in a declaration that the killing of Jovanovic was an attack on the media as a whole. Association President Savo Gregovic said that the killing is a death blow to freedom of expression in Montenegro, which has long been under threat. European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin told MINA by telephone that the report of Jovanovic's murder was "shocking news." Montenegrin opposition parties announced a candlelight vigil for later in the day on 28 May to be held at the site of the shooting. The previous evening, the opposition parties agreed they will continue to work to bring down Djukanovic's government, which they accuse of corruption and involvement in criminal activities. PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW CONTINGENT FOR IRAQ
A clear majority of lawmakers approved government plans on 27 May to deploy a new military contingent to Iraq, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. During the debate, Tito Petkovski of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) said participation in the coalition forces in Iraq helps ensure U.S. support for Macedonia's plan to join NATO. Petkovski added that U.S. support is also important in Macedonia's long-standing dispute with Greece over the state name and in fixing the border between Macedonia and Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April and 25 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). In related news, visiting NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on 27 May that Macedonia will receive a "clear message" regarding membership at the June NATO summit in Istanbul, "Dnevnik" and dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 28 May 2004). UB

PARTICIPANTS AT CENTRAL EUROPEAN SUMMIT CALL FOR CONTINUED EU EXPANSION
Romanian presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu announced on 27 May that participants of a summit of Central European heads of state at the Romanian seaside resort of Mamaia have stressed the need to continue EU expansion, Romanian media reported. The participants reportedly called for a union that represents European unity in achieving stability and also supported expanding the EU's global influence. Romanian President Ion Iliescu said at the meeting that Romania and Bulgaria hope to end their accession negotiations this year and want to be EU members by 2007. Of the 16 participating countries at the summit, seven are already EU members. The summit, which was to end on 28 May, is focused on EU expansion and Balkan stability issues. ZsM

MUD FLIES IN ROMANIAN ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN...
Ruling Social Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc during a 27 May press conference characterized National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan as a "Hitlerite" for claiming that the PSD does not have the political will to combat corruption, Mediafax reported. Hrebenciuc said that Stolojan's "manner of combating corruption" reminded him of Nazi Germany. Stolojan declined to comment on Hrebenciuc's statements. Meanwhile, PSD Bucharest Mayor candidate and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana announced in a 27 May press release that he has filed lawsuits against journalist Cornel Ivanciuc of the weekly "Academia Catavencu" and the "Romania Mare" weekly for libel. ZsM

...AND EU DELEGATION PROTESTS USE OF LEADERS LIKENESS IN CAMPAIGN
The European Commission's delegation in Romania on 27 May issued a brief protest requesting that parties participating in the local elections campaign observe the delegation's "mandate of political neutrality." The release warned that "the name and/or image of the head of delegation, Jonathan Scheele, and of other members of the delegation's staff, may not be used by third parties without the prior approval of those concerned." The press release did not elaborate, but Mediafax reported that the PNL has accused the PSD's candidate for the Turnu Magurele mayoralty, incumbent Mayor Nicolae Mohanu, of using a photo of Scheele and himself in his campaign. ZsM

ROMANIAN, MOLDOVAN PRESIDENTS EXPRESS INTEREST IN DEVELOPING BILATERAL RELATIONS
Meeting in Mamaia, Romanian President Iliescu and his Moldovan counterpart Vladimir Voronin decided on 27 May to take steps to improve their currently tense bilateral relations, Mediafax reported. Romanian presidential spokeswoman Cretu said Iliescu told Voronin he does not understand the current "anti-Romanian campaign" in Moldova. Voronin replied that there is no such campaign, but that there are certain "provocations," that should be ignored by authorities in the two countries, adding that an active dialogue is necessary between those authorities. However, he expressed concern over references Iliescu has made in the past few years to "two Romanian states." Cretu said Iliescu still holds that point of view, but that the two presidents decided to reactivate a joint Romanian-Moldovan commission to analyze all "sensitive" issues. ZsM

NEW ROUND OF TRANSDNIESTER NEGOTIATIONS INCONCLUSIVE
The second round of negotiations on the Transdniester conflict ended on 25-26 May without any breakthroughs, Flux reported. Representatives of the OSCE, Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Transdniester participated in the talks. William Hill, the head of the OSCE delegation in Moldova, said the five parties merely presented their viewpoints, and exchanged analyses and commentaries on those viewpoints, "but no papers were signed." He said many contentious issues remain, but expressed the hope that bilateral negotiations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, which have been suspended for several months, will start again soon. Hill said Transdniester and Moldova have proposed different federal systems for a future common state, but that the OSCE insists on an asymmetrical federation, or any federation that would respect both parties' interests. The next round of the five-party negotiations are set for 21-22 June. ZsM

MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY ENDS PROTEST IN PARLIAMENT
Opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca announced on 27 May that his party has halted protests it has been conducting during the parliament's plenary sessions, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. The PPCD has been blocking access to the parliament's central rostrum for more than a month in protest against the chamber's refusal to publish financial reports on the use of parliamentary, presidential, and other central institutions' budget funds. Rosca said they did not achieve their primary goal of seeing the reports published, but succeeded in making the public aware of the issue. He added they will now switch over to other methods of challenging the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists ZsM

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT TURNS ON FORMER ALLY
Kyrgyz media on 24 May carried the brief announcement that President Askar Akaev had signed a decree removing Misir Ashyrkulov from his post as Security Council secretary. Ashyrkulov had headed the council since 2001; prior to that he had worked in 1997-98 first as first deputy minister and then as minister of national security, then in 1999 he was named to head the presidential administration.

Ashyrkulov's dismissal was particularly surprising because he had stated publicly on 20 May that he did not plan to give up his Security Council post, despite having just been elected chairman of a newly formed public organization called the Union for Honest Elections. He told journalists at the formal presentation of that organization that he saw no problem in continuing with his Security Council job concurrently with his work for fair elections.

The membership of the new group includes a number of opposition figures as well as representatives of centrist political parties, raising the question whether Ashyrkulov had the president's blessing for what he was doing. But so far Akaev's reasons for dumping a man who has been a close collaborator as well as a personal friend for many years -- they are said to have shared a laboratory at the Academy of Sciences -- remain unclear. At 58, Ashyrkulov is well under the usual retirement age and his remarks on 20 May would seem to indicate that he does not intend to leave the political scene.

Some political observers in Kyrgyzstan have suggested that, with or without the president's approval, Ashyrkulov might be intending to use the Union for Honest Elections as a basis for a presidential bid in the election scheduled for 2005. Akaev has insisted repeatedly that he will not flout the Kyrgyz Constitution by running again, and if he intends to keep his word, he could be considering his old friend Ashyrkulov as a possible successor. Ashyrkulov would probably make a more credible candidate than Akaev's articulate and energetic wife Mairam, who some opposition figures say has presidential aspirations of her own.

If Ashyrkulov has decided to throw in his lot with those opposed to Akaev, he has not received a particularly warm welcome. Ramazan Dyryldaev, exiled head of the Human Rights Committee of Kyrgyzstan, notes that during his tenure as national security minister, Ashyrkulov took part in the prosecution of his predecessor, Feliks Kulov, who had become a major opposition figure and had the temerity to try to run against Akaev in the presidential election of 2000. Ashyrkulov's role in the proceedings against Kulov, who was eventually sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of misuse of his position while in government service, would seem to assure the enmity of the Ar-Namys Party, one of the more influential opposition groups, which Kulov heads from his jail cell. Commenting on the creation of the Union for Honest Elections, Edil Baysalov, head of the nongovernmental Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, greeted the founding of the new association, but noted that the choice of Ashyrkulov could compromise the group because his role in Kyrgyzstan's greatest political and social trauma of recent years remains unclarified.

Baysalov was referring to the authorities' decision to allow law-enforcement officers to fire on demonstrators in Aksy Raion of southern Kyrgyzstan in March 2002 -- a decision in which Ashyrkulov as head of the Security Council may have been involved. Five people were killed in that incident, and relatives of the dead have called for Ashyrkulov, along with then-Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev, to be prosecuted as the men who they believe are ultimately responsible for the bloodshed.

On the evening of 6 September 2002 Ashyrkulov was the target of an assassination attempt, when three grenades were thrown at him while he was opening the front gate of his home. His injuries, while not life-threatening, were serious enough for him to seek treatment in Russia. The authorities and opposition blamed each other, or Islamic religious extremists, for the assault. A few days after the attack on Ashyrkulov, the presidential press office issued a statement asserting that the assassination attempt had been an act of politically motivated terrorism that had resulted from the "domestic political confrontation" for which the authorities blamed the opposition. Ashyrkulov himself suggested from his hospital bed that religious extremists might have been involved.

Human rights activist and prominent oppositionist Tursunbek Akun theorized that Ashyrkulov may have angered other senior officials with his attempts to promote reconciliation between the authorities and the opposition. Later, some Kyrgyz opposition figures asserted that former Interior Minister Temirbek Akmataliev organized the attack on Ashyrkulov, and Ashyrkulov himself now claims that the attack was organized by persons in Akaev's immediate circle who were unhappy about his reconciliation efforts. The authorities have apparently settled on a mentally disturbed individual as the culprit; in October 2003, Bishkek police chief Keneshbek Duishebaev said that Ashyrkulov's attacker was undergoing psychiatric treatment. The alleged perpetrator, for his part, claimed that Osh Oblast Governor Naken Kasiev had ordered the attempt on Ashyrkulov's life, a claim that Kasiev immediately denied (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 10 November 2003).

Some political observers in Kyrgyzstan question whether Ashyrkulov could hope to be a successful presidential candidate if Akaev's inner circle rejects him on the grounds that he has been too friendly with the opposition. According to analyst Valerii Malkin of the independent group Elections-2005, Ashyrkulov himself is now echoing Akun's suggestion at the time of the attack, saying that the assassination attempt was organized by conservative members of the president's entourage who objected to his efforts to promote dialogue with the opposition after the killings in Aksy Raion. Malkin also asserts that personal relations between Ashyrkulov and Akaev have deteriorated, at least partly because of the former's friendship with U.S. Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Steven Young and his claims of personal ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Whether or not Ashyrkulov harbors presidential aspirations, it seems safe to assume that he does not intend to share the fate of Kulov, also a former security minister and close associate of President Akaev.

AFGHAN TRANSITIONAL ADMINISTRATION CHAIRMAN ENDORSES NEW ELECTION LAW...
Hamid Karzai endorsed new electoral legislation on 27 May that will pave the way for elections for the president, parliament, and regional councils, Radio Afghanistan reported. Afghan Justice Minister Abdurrahim Karimi stated at a press conference in Kabul on 27 May that a commission comprising three Afghans and two UN experts drafted the newly adopted election law, in cooperation with the legislative department of the Justice Ministry. The draft law was submitted to the Afghan Transitional Administration and subsequently approved, after discussion, at a cabinet meeting. It was then presented to Karzai for his endorsement. Elections are tentatively scheduled for September, but it is unclear whether local, parliamentary, and presidential elections will be held concurrently. KM

...AND AFGHAN JUSTICE MINISTER REVEALS DETAILS OF LEGISLATION
Karimi outlined the contents of the new election law at the International Press Center in Kabul on 27 May, state-run Radio Afghanistan reported. The new law comprises 11 chapters and 62 articles and stipulates that presidential, parliamentary, provincial, and local-council elections will be held and will be "free, secret, nationwide, and direct," according to the radio station. According to the law, prospective presidential candidates must collect 10,000 voter endorsements and pay 50,000 afghanis ($1,170) to submit their candidacies, Hindukush News Agency reported on 27 May. Those currently serving as government officials must resign their positions 75 days in advance of elections. Karimi also noted that "in order to avoid a power vacuum" in the run-up to the presidential election, "the head of the Afghan Transitional Administration cannot resign from his current post." Details regarding the electoral processes and procedures, including the duties of officials and staff as well as the responsibilities of voters and candidates, are outlined in the new election law. KM

UN CALLS FOR MORE SUPPORT IN AFGHANISTAN...
The UN's special envoy for Afghanistan, Jean Arnault, told the UN Security Council on 27 May that "more money and troops [are] needed to stabilize Afghanistan" to ensure successful elections, AFP reported. Arnault stressed that the deteriorating security situation in the country, particularly in the southern provinces, could threaten successful elections scheduled to take place in September this year. "At this critical juncture for the Afghan peace process, international security assistance continues to make the difference between success and failure," Arnault told the council. "Widespread, robust international military presence in support of domestic security forces remains critical." He called on NATO member states to provide more troops, only hours after the UN spokesman in Kabul, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, complained that the planned expansion of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to cities and regions outside of Kabul is progressing too slowly. KM

...AS TURKEY PROMISES HELICOPTERS AND PERSONNEL TO AFGHAN MISSION
Turkey announced in a 27 May statement from the General Staff that it will provide additional assistance to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the Turkish news agency Ankara Anatolia reported. Turkey will send three helicopters and 56 flight and maintenance personnel to Afghanistan on 29 May as part of its contribution to ISAF as a NATO member. The General Staff statement called for support for the Afghan government and the establishment of "internal stability...in order to restore peace and security for the Afghan people." Turkey commanded ISAF from June 2002 until February 2003, when it handed the task over to Germany and the Netherlands. KM

IRAN QUESTIONS ITS FUTURE WITH UN NUCLEAR BODY
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami urged the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 27 May not to look for "excuses" in examining Iran's recent report of its nuclear program, which the United States suspects is a cover for developing nuclear weapons, nor "submit to American pressure," ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004). Iran says its nuclear program is designed only to meet domestic energy needs, and wants the agency to confirm this during a 14-16 June meeting. "The important point is the decision the meeting will make. If there is hostile behavior, we too shall take the necessary decisions," he said. "So far, we have acted within...the [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty], and voluntarily suspended uranium enrichment," he added. "We will resume [enrichment] if necessary." Iran, he said, will reject any request to shut its uranium-processing plant in Isfahan (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 April 2004). "The [IAEA] has no right to [request this]. We too want a lot of things," Khatami said. "If they accept what we want, we shall accept their requests." VS

NEW IRANIAN PARLIAMENT HOLDS INAUGURAL CEREMONY
Iran's seventh parliament since the 1979 Islamic Revolution held its inaugural session on 27 May, attended by legislators and state officials, Iranian news agencies reported. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a statement on the occasion asking parliamentarians to address "the people's real needs and demands," which he explained are mostly economic, "not the illusory needs fabricated by foreign and malevolent propagandists," ISNA reported the same day. Khamenei asked legislators to avoid "any words or deeds" that "provoke factional challenges," as well as "ostentation and...costly and useless foreign trips at public expense." He added that it "is a priority" to cooperate with the Guardians Council, the conservative-dominated body of jurists that checks bills to ensure they conform with the constitution and religious laws. No bill becomes law without its approval. The council rejected a number of political reform bills passed by the last legislature. On 23 May, the Guardians Council also rejected the 2005-10 economic-development bill approved by that parliament, citing dozens of constitutional discrepancies and "ambiguities," ISNA reported. VS

IRAN'S FIVE-YEAR DEVELOPMENT PLAN AWAITS APPROVAL
Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in Tehran on 27 May that the Expediency Council, which rules on legislative deadlocks between parliament and the Guardians Council, is examining the 2005-10 economic-development plan, ISNA reported. The last parliament sent the bill to the Expediency Council after refusing to make amendments demanded by the Guardians Council. However, Guardians Council member Reza Zavarei said on 27 May that "the plan must return to [parliament]" for review. President Khatami said on 27 May that unless the plan is approved soon, the government will have to draft the 2005-06 budget on the basis of the 2000-05 five-year plan, Fars News Agency reported. VS

IRAN'S SUPREME LEADER DECLARES PUBLIC MOURNING FOR IRAQ
Supreme Leader Khamenei issued a statement on 27 May deploring the "desecration" of Iraqi Shi'a shrines "in recent days," and declaring 28 May "a day of national mourning" in protest against coalition actions in Iraq, iribnews.ir reported. The U.S. military denied responsibility on 25 May for damage to a shrine in Al-Najaf (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 26 May 2004). President Khatami said in Tehran on 27 May that coalition forces are responsible for such damage, "because the Americans are the source of the violence," ISNA reported the same day. "They may say [they] did not mean this to happen, which is why we are telling them to get out," he said. He warned that if violence "by the occupiers continues in Iraq, all Muslims will rise up against them." VS

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Iraqi Governing Council member Salamah al-Khafaji survived an assassination attempt on 27 May, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. One of her bodyguards was killed and two wounded in the ambush, which occurred in Al-Yusufiyah south of Baghdad. The entourage was returning from a Governing Council tour of Al-Najaf when the attack occurred, Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Khafaji's son drowned in the incident, when his vehicle careered off a bridge into a canal. The Governing Council member was reportedly unhurt in the attack. Al-Khafaji is just one of many Iraqi officials to be targeted in recent weeks. Her colleague on the Governing Council Abd al-Zahra Uthman Muhammad was killed in a 17 May car bombing in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 May 2004). Al-Khafaji joined the Governing Council following the assassination of Aqilah al-Hashimi last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2003). KR

U.S. TROOPS, AL-SADR MILITIA BATTLE IN AL-KUFAH
U.S. forces battled militiamen loyal to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Al-Kufah on 28 May, Reuters reported. Al-Sadr pledged just one day earlier to cease his militia's activities and withdraw from the Iraqi holy city of Al-Najaf (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2004). Members of the cleric's Imam Al-Mahdi Army told Al-Jazeera that they were provoked to fire on U.S. forces who entered the city prior to the start of Friday prayers. Meanwhile, Hizballah's Al-Manar television cited al-Sadr aide Shaykh Ahmad al-Shaybani as saying that U.S. forces violated the "truce" between the United States and al-Sadr by targeting worshippers from the Al-Kufah Mosque and besieging the city from all directions. Al-Sadr failed to show up at the Al-Kufah Mosque on 28 May, where he usually leads the Friday prayer sermon. An unidentified aide confirmed he was not attending, adding that he did not know the whereabouts of the cleric, Reuters reported. CNN reported that al-Sadr militiamen also fired mortars at U.S. forces in Al-Najaf on 28 May. Militants reportedly said that they were unaware that al-Sadr had agreed to cease hostilities. KR

TWO JAPANESE JOURNALISTS, IRAQI TRANSLATOR KILLED IN ROCKET ATTACK
Militants fired a rocket-propelled grenade into a vehicle carrying two Japanese journalists and their Iraqi translator south of Baghdad on 27 May, killing all three men, international media reported on 28 May. A fourth man, reportedly an Iraqi driver, survived the attack. Al-Jazeera reported that the men were traveling in a taxi when the attack occurred, but that claim has not been substantiated by other news agencies. The Japanese Foreign Ministry has said it knows the identities of the victims, who were burnt beyond recognition, according to media reports. The men were reportedly traveling to the southeastern Iraqi city of Samawah when the attack occurred. Meanwhile, Reuters reported on 28 May that four journalists working for U.S.-based NBC television were released from captivity in Al-Fallujah on 28 May after being taken hostage earlier in the week. According to Reuters, a U.S. military statement said: "The [television] crew's decision to enter the city was irresponsible; luckily it did not cost them or anyone else their lives." KR

MORE PRISONERS RELEASED FROM ABU GHURAYB
The U.S. military released 500 Iraqi detainees from the Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad on 28 May, Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television reported. Hundreds of Iraqis waited outside the prison gates as some 13 buses transported the detainees to unknown locations, AP reported. The U.S. military has dropped prisoners off in areas close to their towns or villages in earlier releases. Meanwhile, interviews conducted by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division and obtained by AP reveal new allegations that other coalition forces were involved in prisoner abuse, the news agency reported on 28 May. Army interrogator Sergeant Antonio Monserrate told investigators that detainees had been "injured by the Polish Army." The detainees also accused Iraqi forces of abuse, AP reported. Another 500-600 detainees were released on 28 May, Reuters reported the same day. KR

NEWSPAPER REPORTS THAT CPA HEAD ASKS KURDISH LEADERS NOT TO SEEK POSTS
Iraqi Kurdish weekly "Hawlati" reported on 26 May that Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer has asked Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head Jalal Talabani not to demand the posts of president or prime minister in the interim Iraqi government. Citing a Baghdad source, the weekly reported that Bremer has appealed to the leaders twice this week. The source speculated that if neither position is offered to the Kurds, they would likely be offered the position of head of the advisory council, due to be set up in July. Few details have emerged on the role of that council. The United Nations has maintained that UN special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi has yet to finalize his recommendations for the top slots in the interim Iraqi government, which will take power on 30 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2004). KR

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