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Newsline - June 10, 2004


PUTIN CALLS FOR MULTIFACETED APPROACH TO ROOTING OUT TERRORISM...
President Vladimir Putin, who is participating in a summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries in the U.S. state of Georgia, said on 9 June that injustice is a major factor in terrorism, ITAR-TASS reported. Presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov briefed reporters on Putin's remarks during the G-8 sessions. Illarionov said: "President Putin pointed out that one of the main sources of terrorism is injustice. That is why, Putin said, a whole range of economic, political, and foreign-policy causes must be considered where the roots of terrorism are concerned." Illarionov said that U.S. President George W. Bush objected to the thesis that poverty is a cause of terrorism, saying that "Osama bin Laden is far from poor." RC

...AND SAYS RUSSIA WILLING TO HELP MIDDLE EAST COUNTRIES IMPLEMENT REFORMS
Illarionov said on 9 June that President Putin told the G-8 summit that Russia "supports the idea of reforms in the Middle East if they are initiated by the countries in the region themselves," ITAR-TASS reported. Moscow is willing "to help those countries pursue reforms, but not to impose them." Illarionov noted that there are huge financial resources in the region and said that "transparency in disposing of these resources is needed to prevent their use to finance extremism." He said Moscow does not see the need for a Middle East assistance fund. "It is not a poor region, so one does not see any acute need to provide funds," he concluded. Putin met individually with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and with Jordan's King Abdullah on the sidelines of the summit. RC

U.S. BUSINESSMAN SAYS HE CAN SAVE YUKOS...
Sputnik investment fund President Boris Jordan has sent a letter to 10 major Western investment funds offering his services as the representative of embattled oil giant Yukos's minority shareholders, "Vedomosti" and other Russian media reported on 10 June. "I have worked in the Russian market for 15 years and I believe that I know how to reach an agreement with the authorities," wrote Jordan, a U.S. citizen who played prominent roles in the bankruptcy of Sidanko and the Gazprom-Media takeover of NTV television. RC

...AND SAYS HE CAN FIND 'COMPROMISE' WITH THE GOVERNMENT
Although Jordan wrote that he has had only "preliminary contacts" with the authorities, he outlined his plan for saving the company, which includes working out a timetable for paying all of its debts, including taxes; introducing a minority-shareholder representative on the company's board; and possibly changing the firm's management. "So far I do not see any progress in the negotiations between Yukos and the government and Tax Ministry. However, I know from my experience in other companies that compromise is possible," Jordan wrote. Sputnik spokesman Oleg Sapozhnikov told Interfax that the company has held no discussions on the matter with the authorities. "We proceed from public statements by high-ranking officials that the authorities are not interested in the bankruptcy of Yukos," he said. "The letter is our initiative, not the initiative of the authorities." RC

TAX MINISTRY FILES TWO NEW CASES AGAINST FORMER YUKOS HEAD
The Tax Ministry has filed two new criminal tax-evasion cases against jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii totaling some $700 million, Interfax reported on 9 June. Khodorkovskii's lawyer, Anton Drel, confirmed the new cases. The Moscow Municipal Court on 9 June upheld a 12 March lower-court order to freeze the personal accounts in Switzerland of Khodorkovskii and other leading Yukos shareholders. The court on 9 June also rejected an appeal by Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev of a Meshchanskii Raion Court ruling to keep him in pretrial custody, Prime-TASS reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 9 June commented that a recent court decision to combine the trials of Khordorkovskii and Lebedev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004) over prosecutors' objections indicates "the absence of a final political decision on the case." RC

ANOTHER NTV NEWS PROGRAM HANGS IN BALANCE
Following NTV's 2 June cancellation of the popular analytical program "Namedni" and the dismissal of host Leonid Parfenov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2004), another popular NTV program, "Strana i mir," faces an uncertain future, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 June. "Strana i mir" was one of Parfenov's projects. The show's host, Aleksei Pivovarov, told the daily that he is "pessimistic" about the program, the fate of which is to be decided at a company meeting this week. "After Parfenov's dismissal, we spoke to management, and certain complaints against the program were pointed out to us," Pivovarov said. "It was an unofficial conversation, so I do not want to name them yet. This week an official meeting with broader attendance is supposed to take place. Then it will be possible to say something about our future." Pivovarov added that "if [Parfenov] creates his own project in the future and asks me to work there, I, of course, would accept his offer without a moment's hesitiation." RC

RUSSIA, ITALY, FRANCE READY TO INTRODUCE SIMPLIFIED VISAS
The cabinet on 10 June approved a plan to simplify the visa regimes with France and Italy, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said that all that remains is for the foreign ministers of those countries to sign the documents. Under the new system, simplified visa requirements will be introduced for businesspeople, students, and foreign-language teachers, as well as officials and delegations. Fradkov said the changes are politically significant and should help intensify economic, scientific, and cultural relations. RBK reported on 9 June that the number of Russians traveling to France and Italy has increased significantly in recent times. RC

SIBERIAN HUNGER STRIKER DIES
Valentina Shestakova, 55, who had participated in a hunger strike at the Yenisei mine in Khakasia last month, died on 6 June, Russian news agencies reported on 9 June. Shestakova died of a stroke, and doctors said her death was not connected with her participation in the hunger strike. However, fellow strikers believe the hunger strike must have affected her health, Interfax reported. Shestakova had worked at the mine for practically her entire life, according to gazeta.ru. More than 170 miners, including 40 women, participated in the hunger strike, which lasted from 17 to 29 May, the website reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24, 26, and 28 May 2004). Also on 9 June, the Khakasian Supreme Court ended criminal proceedings against employees who participated in the strike, NTV reported. They had been accused of putting part of the mine and a district in the city of Chernogorsk at risk because they stopped pumping groundwater out of a mineshaft. Meanwhile, in Rostov Oblast, the number of hunger strikers at two subsidiaries of Rostovugol rose to 60, RTR reported on 9 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004). JAC

DEPUTIES MAKE IT EASIER TO FIRE AUDIT CHAMBER'S DIRECTOR...
The State Duma passed in their first reading on 9 June amendments to the law on the Audit Chamber that are designed to bring the law into conformity with the constitution, RIA-Novosti reported. Under the bill, the head and deputy head of the Audit Chamber may be dismissed before their term is up if more than half of the members of the Federation Council or State Duma favor dismissal. Previously, 300 votes rather than 226 were needed for the Duma to dismiss the state's top auditor. A bill allowing local organs of self-government to participate in the establishment of mass-media outlets was also approved in its first reading, strana.ru reported. Speaking in favor of that bill, Duma Information Policy Committee Chairman Valerii Komissarov (Unified Russia) said its implementation would require no additional funds from the federal budget. JAC

...AND REJECT HANDOUTS TO NEEDY FAMILIES
Deputies also rejected a number of bills, including one that would have provided needy families with a one-time subsidy of 450 rubles ($15) per child at the start of the school year, one that would have increased penalties for poaching, and one that would have set out penalties for the illegal use of insider information, RIA-Novosti reported. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL QUICKLY PASSES ALONG TWO MORE DUMA BILLS FOR PRESIDENT'S SIGNATURE
The Federation Council approved a much-criticized law on 9 June on public demonstrations that the State Duma approved last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004), Russian news agencies reported. Most recently, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II declared that the bill, if enacted, would restrict church activities, including on events such as the traditional Easter procession. The vote was 129 in favor with seven votes against and eight abstentions. The bill imposes a number of limitations on where, when, and how street demonstrations, protests, and pickets may be held. Senators also approved another bill just passed by the Duma on the federal government that introduces changes to the federal government structure. According to RosBalt, the vote was 156 in favor. Also on 9 June, the council confirmed former Pskov Oblast representative Sergei Agaptsov as an auditor with the Audit Chamber, RosBalt reported. JAC

YABLOKO TO CONSIDER PARTY LEADERSHIP AT UPCOMING CONGRESS
The second half of Yabloko's 12th party congress on 3 July will deal with the issue of party leadership, strana.ru reported on 9 June, quoting party press secretary Yevgeniya Dillendorf. The congress will deal with three blocks of issues: the adoption of amendments to the party's charter, the leadership, and two packages of suggestions regarding the monetization of social benefits and the government program for accessible housing. The previous day, State Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov (Unified Russia) told reporters in Moscow that his party now has more than 800,000 members, Interfax reported. Tatarstan has the biggest regional chapter, with 80,000 members. Morozov also noted that women make up 58 percent of the party's membership. JAC

VILLAGE RESIDENTS WANT ONE MORE TERM FROM FAR NORTHERN GOVERNOR
Legislators in Nenets Autonomous Okrug have rejected a request from a group of residents to hold a dual referendum, Russian news agencies reported on 9 June. Twenty-six residents of the village of Velikovisochnoe wanted to pose two questions in an okrug-wide referendum -- one on the desirability of merging with neighboring Arkhangelsk Oblast and the second on a suggestion that Governor Vladimir Butov's current term be calculated from October 1999, according to Regnum. The October 1999 date would allow Butov to seek another term in office. Villager Nadezha Malysheva told Interfax that one goal of holding the referendum would be to draw attention to the okrug population's reluctance to merge with Arkhangelsk. JAC

FEDERATION COUNCIL WARNS GEORGIA OVER SOUTH OSSETIA
The Federation Council adopted a statement on 9 June expressing concern that Georgia's actions in recent weeks vis-a-vis South Ossetia "have led to an escalation of tension and threaten peace and stability across the Caucasus," Georgian and Russian media reported. The statement further accused the Georgian leadership of seeking to undermine the June 1992 agreement between Russia, Georgia, and North and South Ossetia on deploying a peacekeeping force in the conflict zone. LF

CHECHEN LEADER THREATENS MILITANTS' FAMILIES
Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov told NTV television on 9 June that "we will punish" the relatives of Chechen resistance fighters and, if necessary, ask the Russian State Duma to enact legislation that would legalize such reprisals, Reuters reported. Kadyrov argued that those fighters "can kill our relatives, our fathers and brothers, but we cannot kill theirs." Reuters quoted unnamed observers as pointing out that any such legislation could in fact legalize the activities of Ramzan Kadyrov's personal security squad, which is widely believed to engage with impunity in the abduction, torture, and killing of Chechen civilians. Ramzan's father, pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, was killed by a terrorist bomb in Grozny on 9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2004). On 10 June, ITAR-TASS reported that two unidentified suspects have been arrested on suspicion of complicity in that blast. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT NAMES SUCCESSOR FOR COMPROMISED MINISTER
Robert Kocharian appointed parliamentarian Aram Harutiunian (Orinats yerkir) on 9 June as minister for urban development, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Harutiunian, who is 36 and a construction engineer, was first elected to parliament in 1999. He succeeds Ara Aramian, who resigned on 9 April in the wake of a major scandal that erupted after his son was involved in a gunfight at a Yerevan cafe. Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian has reportedly named Aramian to a position on the parliament staff. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS PLACED IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT
The seven Azerbaijani opposition politicians arrested last fall for their alleged role in the clashes in Baku on 15-16 October between police and opposition supporters in the wake of the disputed presidential election have reportedly been placed in solitary confinement on 9 June, Turan reported on 10 June quoting the brother of one of the seven men. Also on 10 June, Turan reported that the prosecution has selected new lawyers to represent the seven accused when their trial opens on 11 June. The seven released a statement late last month saying that they voluntarily forego the right to legal representation and will not participate in court proceedings in protest of the presiding judge's rejection of their earlier complaints (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004). Prosecutor Nazir Bayramov said on 10 June that the trial cannot take place in the absence of the accused, but that it is premature to consider the possibility of bringing them to the courtroom by force. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARIANS INTERCEDE FOR DETAINED FORMER AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD
More than 200 Georgian parliamentarians and members of the intelligentsia have appealed to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to approve the release from pretrial detention of former Audit Chamber head Sulkhan Molashvili, Georgian media reported. Molashvili resigned from that post in January. He was arrested in late April on charges of extortion that resulted in the loss of 37,000 laris ($19,300) in tax revenues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004) and remanded in pretrial custody for three months. Parliament Human Rights Committee Chair Elene Tevdoradze told journalists that the Tbilisi district court's decision to remand Molashvili in custody was illegal, because as a registered lawyer he can be remanded only by the Circuit Court, according to Caucasus Press on 10 June. LF

FORMER ADJAR MINISTER ARRESTED
Georgian police arrested David Abashidze, who served as Adjar finance minister from 2001-2002, in Tbilisi late on 9 June on charges of abuse of his official position and embezzling some 140,000 laris, Georgian media reported on 10 June. Abashidze is not related to former Adjar leader Aslan Abashidze. LF

POLICE DEPLOYED TO GUARD GEORGIAN SECTION OF OIL-EXPORT PIPELINE
Some 20 police officers have been deployed in Krtsanisi, eastern Georgia, to protect the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil-export pipeline currently under construction, Caucasus Press reported on 10 June, quoting "Mtavari gazeti." On 9 June, police used force to disperse residents of Krtsanisi who blocked access to the construction site to demand compensation for plots of land across which the pipeline is to be routed. They also alleged that the subsidiary of British Petroleum that is building the pipeline violates safety norms, thus creating a potential ecological hazard. LF

ABKHAZ OPPOSITION POLITICIAN ASSASSINATED
Garri Ayba, one of the leaders of the opposition movement Amtsakhara, has died of injuries received on 9 June when unidentified gunmen opened fire on his car in Sukhum, Caucasus Press reported on 10 June. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO TIGHTEN FINANCIAL CONTROLS ON POLITICAL PARTIES
Justice Minister Onalsyn Zhumabekov said on 9 June in a televised address on Khabar TV that the state needs to tighten financial controls on political parties. Noting that Kazakh law forbids foreigners from financing political activities within Kazakhstan, Zhumabekov charged that some parties are receiving funds from abroad. Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted the minister as saying, "In cases where the law is violated...decisive measures will be taken, up to and including the possibility of liquidating [the party]." Zhumabekov also charged that some political parties aim to destabilize society through constant criticism of the authorities. KazInform quoted him as saying, "They do not want to see anything positive. Their words and actions sometimes verge on slander against Kazakh reality, replete with insults against citizens and officials, as well as falsehoods." On a more positive note, Zhumabekov remarked, "The political parties that are active in Kazakhstan for the most part observe the laws of our state." DK

KAZAKH PRESIDENT MEETS WITH MOODY'S HEAD...
Nursultan Nazarbaev met in Astana with John Rutherfurd, chairman and CEO of leading international rating agency Moody's, on 9 June, "Kazakhstan Today" reported the same day. In an interview with Interfax-Kazakhstan after his meeting with the president, Rutherfurd said, "The progress in Kazakhstan has been genuinely impressive. Kazakhstan has created a very dynamic economy with many progressive attributes. It has created a very stable banking system with excellent management and it conducts an effective fiscal policy." He concluded, "I believe that Kazakhstan has a positive future." Also at the meeting were Moody's Senior Vice President Chester V. A. Murray, Interfax Group CEO Mikhail Kommisar, and Interfax First Deputy Director Dmitrii Voskoboinikov. DK

...AND MAYOR OF MOSCOW
Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov met in Astana with President Nazarbaev and Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov on 9 June, KazInform reported the same day. The president and mayor discussed relations between the two capital cities, noting that trade volume between Moscow and Astana increased 40 percent over the past year. Luzhkov and Akhmetov reviewed plans to build a "Moscow" business center in Astana and an "Astana" business center in Moscow, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Luzhkov told journalists at a press conference after his meeting with the president that the Russian capital plans to buy 340,000 tons of grain this year from Kazakhstan, RIA-Novosti reported. Moscow purchased the same quantity of grain from Kazakhstan last year. Luzhkov is in the Kazakh capital to open a festival of "Moscow culture." DK

KAZAKHSTAN URGES SPEEDY RESOLUTION OF CASPIAN ISSUES
Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told a working group for the resolution of the Caspian Sea's legal status on 9 June that the issue must be resolved sooner rather than later, "Kazakhstan Today" reported the same day. Toqaev also proposed creating a single mechanism to regulate armed forces in the Caspian basin, regnum.ru reported. According to Toqaev, "The delay in resolving issues related to the Caspian does not meet the national interests of the littoral states and worsens the problems related to this unique system," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted Toqaev as saying, "The sides should make every effort to settle the main questions during this session and subsequent sessions of the Caspian Working Group in order to achieve concrete results at the presidents' summit." The leaders of the five Caspian littoral states are scheduled to meet in Tehran in the second half of 2004. Negotiations on the legal status of the seabed have stalled amid differing approaches. DK

KYRGYZSTAN RENEWS POWER EXPORTS TO RUSSIA
Aidar Kaliev, deputy director of Kyrgzyzstan-based Electric Power Stations, announced in Bishkek on 9 June that Kyrgyzstan has resumed electricity exports to Russia after halting them in February 2004 because of water-level problems at the Toktogul hydropower station, RBC reported the same day. In accordance with a five-year contract signed in December 2003, Kyrgyzstan will export 1.5-billion kilowatt hours of electricity to Russia in 2004, a hefty increase over last year's exports of 800-million kilowatt hours. Kyrgyzstan will export an additional 900-million kilowatt hours to Kazakhstan. Kyrgyz Public TV quoted Abdylda Israilov, first deputy director of Electric Power Stations, as saying, "It is very important psychologically that we are exporting electricity from remote Kyrgyzstan to Russia. Everybody has noted our country's much-discussed export potential." DK

CHUBAIS MULLS RUSSIAN-TAJIK-IRANIAN POWER STATION CONSORTIUM
Anatolii Chubais, chairman of Russia's Unified Energy Systems, announced on 9 June in Dushanbe that Russia, Tajikistan, and Iran will hold a meeting to discuss the creation of a consortium to build the Sangtuda hydropower station, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Chubais, who is in Tajikistan to attend the 25th session of the CIS Energy Council, also met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. Chubais noted that he received "direct instructions from the Russian president to be involved in developing the hydropower sector in Tajikistan" and described his talks with Rakhmonov as "a good start for real investments," ITAR-TASS reported. RFE/RL's Tajik Service quoted Chubais as saying, "We hope to conduct a trilateral meeting on this issue within a month and a half. This was my personal suggestion, and the president supported it. Now we have to resolve this as quickly as possible with the Iranian side." According to RIA-Novosti, the estimated construction budget for Sangtuda is $482.7 million. DK

PRESIDENT SAYS SITUATION IN BELARUS NO WORSE THAN IN EUROPE
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told the OSCE's chairman in office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, in Minsk on 9 June that the situation in Belarus is "not a bit worse than that in any other European country," Belarusian Television reported. "We are reasonable, calm people, like Bulgarians," Lukashenka said. "But we will never put up with being told what to do or being forced by some abnormal actions to work the way someone else wants us to work. We build our life based on the will of our people." Pasi told journalists the same day that the main goal of his visit, the first by an OSCE head to Belarus in six years, was to ensure that the OSCE and the Belarusian government continue and develop their dialogue, Belapan reported. The previous day, Pasi met with the three Belarusian lawmakers who are currently on a hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004) and leaders of the Belarusian opposition. JM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVIST SENTENCED FOR DEFAMING PRESIDENT
A district court in Minsk on 9 June handed down a sentence of 2 1/2 years of "restricted freedom" to opposition activist Aksana Novikava for defaming President Lukashenka, Belapan reported. "Restricted freedom" is essentially a work-release program that means that if the sentence comes into force, Novikava will have to live in a sort of prison barracks, work for a specified enterprise or organization or find a job herself in a designated area, and report to the barrack administration at an appointed time every day. The court found Novikava, the 32-year-old single mother of a small daughter, guilty of disseminating "libelous, knowingly false information" that accused the head of state of "grave crimes" in leaflets she was distributing at the main train station in Minsk in April. Novikava said she will appeal the verdict. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE WON'T RUN FOR THIRD TERM...
President Leonid Kuchma said at a news conference in Kyiv on 9 June that he has no intention of running for a third presidential term, Interfax reported. "I have already made this statement before and I will not change my mind," Kuchma said. The president speculated that if he were to decide to run for another term, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych "would at once become the happiest person in Ukraine" because "he would be relieved from this burden." Kuchma said he is sure he could win for the third time if he chose to run. In December, the Constitutional Court ruled that Kuchma may seek the presidency in 2004 despite a two-term limit in the constitution that went into effect in 1996, during Kuchma's first term as president. JM

...AND HOPES FOR OUR UKRAINE'S BACKING TO POLITICAL REFORM
President Kuchma told journalists on 9 June that he believes that next week the Verkhovna Rada will muster the 226 votes necessary to pass a new constitutional-reform bill in order to sent it to the Constitutional Court for legal examination, Interfax reported. "And the 300 votes in September or October [that are required for the final adoption of the bill] will be dependent on whether the rating of [Prime Minister] Yanukovych will continue to increase or not," Kuchma added. According to the president, if Yanukovych's results in opinion polls for presidential candidates continue to rise, the constitutional reform will also find support among deputies belonging to the Our Ukraine bloc led by Viktor Yushchenko. "I am convinced that Viktor Yushchenko does not want to become the gravedigger of this political reform," Kuchma said. JM

PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER ELECTED TO LEAD UKRAINIAN AGRARIANS
The congress of the Agrarian Party of Ukraine in Kyiv on 9 June renamed the organization the Popular Agrarian Party of Ukraine (NAPU) and elected parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn as its leader, Interfax reported. Lytvyn called on party colleagues to form an "anti-clannish front" in Ukraine in order to counteract attempts to create a state ruled by "oligarchs and party-clannish formations" and plagued by "total corruption." NAPU will decide at a congress in July whom it will support in the presidential election scheduled for 31 October. NAPU, which was founded as the Agrarian Party of Ukraine in 1996, has 15 deputies in the Verkhovna Rada and is a member of the pro-government coalition. The party claims to have 465,000 members. JM

SERBIA PREPARES FOR PRESIDENTIAL VOTE...
Fifteen candidates are making their final appeals to about 6 million registered voters in the 13 June Serbian presidential elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 9 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May and 1 June 2004; and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003, and 9 January and 20 February 2004). Polls suggest that Tomislav Nikolic, who is the candidate of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS), will place first in what is likely to be the first round of a two-round election. Polls also indicate that the most likely contender for second place is reformist opposition candidate Boris Tadic, followed closely by Dragan Marsicanin, who is the candidate of the governing coalition. It is generally expected that Nikolic would face either Tadic or Marsicanin in a second round. Recent legislation specifies that a simple majority of those casting their ballots is enough to elect a president. The office is largely ceremonial, but the vote is widely seen as a barometer of public sentiment. PM

...WITH CONCILIATORY WORDS FROM A NATIONALIST...
Nikolic told Reuters in Belgrade on 10 June that he "will behave like every other elected president in any other state [and] respect the constitution and the laws." The EU, in particular, has made it clear that a Nikolic victory will hurt Serbia's chances for Euro-Atlantic integration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004), but Nikolic told the news agency that he "will respect every citizen of Serbia and fulfill all of Serbia's international obligations. I will establish contact with statesmen in the East and the West, and then it is up to the West to say whether such a man can be the president of a state or not." Observers note that it is too early to tell whether Nikolic is simply trying to ease foreign doubts about his candidacy, or whether his party has taken a cue from Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who successfully reinvented the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) by breaking with the tough nationalist line associated with the late President Franjo Tudjman. PM

...AND A TOP BUSINESSMAN IN THE RUNNING
Recent polls for the 13 June Serbian presidential elections suggest that prominent businessman Bogoljub Karic is in fourth place but gaining in strength, Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" wrote on 8 June. The controversial entrepreneur, who made his fortune during the rule of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, stresses populist themes suggesting that he is a practical man who knows what the people want. The Munich-based daily believes that Karic's goal is probably to make a good showing in order to increase his political clout and thereby better defend his business interests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2004). Meanwhile, Marsicanin and Karic staged separate election rallies in Serbian-controlled northern Mitrovica on 9 June in violation of a ban on Serbian presidential campaigning in Kosova announced by the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), RFE/RL's Albanian-language broadcasters reported. PM

SERBIAN MURDER SUSPECT DEFIANT IN COURT
Milorad Lukovic-Ulemek "Legija," who is reportedly the prime suspect in the 12 March 2003 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, refused to enter a plea in a Belgrade court on 10 June, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 11 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). He claimed that any plea he entered could have an unspecified effect on the 13 June Serbian presidential vote, which, he said, is "much more important" than his testimony. "I will not be anybody's political prostitute and will not answer questions," he stressed. In the latest of several delays in the trial, the court adjourned until 14 June. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER UPBEAT ON REFORMS
In an interview with Radio Skopje's Albanian-language program, Ali Ahmeti, the chairman of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), said on 8 June that one of his party's aims is to achieve equal representation of the Albanians in the state administration and the government, MIA news agency reported. Ahmeti said his party holds four of the 14 ministries, has five deputy ministers, and four secretaries of state. He added that about 600 persons are currently attending an EU-sponsored training course as administrative officials. With the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace accord, more young and well-educated people have the opportunity to find jobs in the state administration, Ahmeti said. Ethnic Albanians make up about 23 percent of Macedonia's population but have long been underrepresented in government jobs, which are highly prized. UB

FIRST ROUND OF ROMANIAN ELECTIONS PRESENT MIXED PICTURE...
Official results of the 6 June first round of Romania's local elections confirmed that incumbent Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu has won a second mandate, garnering 54.9 percent of the vote, Mediafax reported. The National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance has an absolute majority of 51.2 percent on the municipal council. In five of Bucharest's six districts, runoffs for the post of mayor will be held on 20 June. Country-wide official election returns show that the PNL and the Democrats, running separately in most counties, garnered a slight plurality of the votes for county councils, where the voting system is similar to that employed in the parliamentary elections slated for November. The ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) scored 32.68 percent in the votes for the county councils, the PNL 15.93 percent, and the Democrats 12.7 percent, but their alliance scored an additional 5.13 percent in counties where it ran on joint lists. The PSD, however, leads in the number of local councilors elected countrywide (37.4 percent), followed by the PNL (17.6 percent) and the PD (15 percent). The ruling party also received 69.5 percent of all mayoral mandates decided on the first round. MS

...AS OPPOSITION ALLIANCE CALLS FOR COOPERATION IN ELIMINATING 'PSD BARONS' IN RUNOFFS
Basescu and PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan, who jointly chair the PNL-Democratic Party alliance, appealed on 9 June to Romania's two other opposition parties (the Greater Romania Party and the Humanist Party) to back the alliance's mayoral candidates in the 20 June runoffs, Mediafax reported. They said cooperation would lead to the "elimination" from the political scene of powerful local PSD leaders --- largely nicknamed "PSD barons" -- and help "balance political forces." Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor responded that the PRM will not enter any coalition agreement for now and "needs some time for reflection" on the outcome of the first round. Meanwhile, PSD Deputy Chairman Viorel Hrebenciuc said the PSD local branches are free to enter local agreements with the PRM, the PNL, the Democrats, and the Humanist Party ahead of the runoffs. MS

ROMANIAN DEMOCRATIC PARTY LEADER RULES OUT MERGER WITH PNL
Democratic Party Chairman Basescu told journalists on 9 June that a merger between his formation and the PNL should be ruled out, Mediafax reported. MS

MOLDOVAN CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATS APPEAL TO NATO SUMMIT PARTICIPANTS
The opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) on 9 June called on participants in the 28-29 June NATO summit in Istanbul to take a resolute stand against the "continuing Russian occupation" of Moldovan territory, Flux reported. The PPCD said the summit must make it clear that Moscow must fulfill its 1999 OSCE summit obligations and withdraw its troops from Moldova and Georgia. The Moldovan party also appealed to the summit's participants to refrain from ratifying the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) before Russia has fulfilled those obligations. MS

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER TAKES STOCK
On 4 June, Ali Ahmeti, the chairman of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), addressed a press conference to mark the second anniversary of the BDI's foundation. The press conference highlighted a remarkable transformation -- from an armed rebel organization to a moderate governing party.

In June 2002, the National Liberation Army (UCK), which had conducted an insurgency against Macedonian government forces in early 2001, transformed itself into a political party.

The BDI's founding marked the end of a transition from a rebel organization demanding greater rights for the large ethnic Albanian minority to the major political force among the country's ethnic Albanian parties. Ahmeti decided to form a political party of his own after the failure of his attempts to bring together the existing ethnic Albanian political parties in the Coordination Council of the Albanians in Macedonia.

"The party will stand for a multiethnic Macedonia, decentralization of power, eradication of corruption and organized crime, and for a stable Macedonia that is integrated in the Euro-Atlantic structures," Ahmeti said in his opening speech before the founding convention in Tetovo on 5 June 2002.

Only three months after its founding, the BDI scored a victory in the September 2002 parliamentary elections, becoming the country's strongest ethnic Albanian party. However, the new party's past as a rebel organization made it difficult for the victorious, mainly ethnic Macedonian Social Democratic Union (SDSM) to accept the BDI as a coalition partner.

This reluctance mirrored widespread dislike of the former rebels among many Macedonians, who felt that the UCK/BDI had forced the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement upon the majority, who allegedly received nothing while the Albanians obtained a package of new rights. But in the end, the SDSM agreed to form a government with the former rebels.

For Ahmeti, the formation of the coalition government, which also includes the Liberal Democrats (LDP) and some smaller parties, was the result of a confidence-building process. "The way [to forming the coalition] was not easy; we put together a coalition of two elements that did not know each other," "Nova Makedonija" of 5 June quoted Ahmeti as saying. "We needed time to build confidence among the partners and to provide stability throughout the country," he added.

But it was also necessary to build confidence among the ethnic Albanians themselves, Ahmeti said, that they "will not be discriminated against by the state, and that they should have confidence in [state] institutions."

Underscoring the positive achievements of the BDI's participation in the government, Ahmeti mentioned the voluntary disarmament of the rebels and the civilian population carried out in two separate operations in late 2001 and in late 2003.

As another positive result of the implementation of the Ohrid peace agreement, Ahmeti noted that the representation of Albanians in the state administration has become closer to their share of the overall population. And he announced that further improvements will be made. "The Finance Ministry has approved [money] to employ more than 400 Albanians as doctors and administrative officials in the health-care system," Ahmeti said.

However, sometimes the BDI's efforts to improve the representation of Albanians in the state administration require a very liberal interpretation of the existing laws. Thus, the Albanian-language weekly "Lobi" on 4 June slammed the BDI's announcement that it has reached a "political agreement" with the SDSM over the nomination of three ethnic Albanian secretaries of state in as many ministries. Such a "political agreement" contradicts legal provisions that are designed to protect the administration -- and the secretaries of state are the highest-ranking officials in the ministries -- from political influence, "Lobi" wrote.

It also remains to be seen how the cooperation between the BDI and the new prime minister, Hari Kostov, will develop. In September 2003, when Kostov was still interior minister, he clashed with leading BDI members over the handling of a crisis set off by the kidnapping of police officers. The disagreements within the Interior Ministry at the time led to a government crisis.

Ahmeti, for his part, said the government's agenda can be realized. He said key issues will be the decentralization of the state administration and carrying out the government's redistricting plans. For the BDI, the laws on the use of languages and state symbols will also be important, Ahmeti said.

11 CHINESE WORKERS KILLED IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN...
Eleven Chinese construction workers were killed on 10 June in the Jalagir region of Afghanistan's northeastern Konduz Province when 20 unidentified armed men attacked their compound, Xinhua news agency reported. Most of the victims, who arrived in Afghanistan on 8 June, were employees of China Railway Shisigu Group; a company engaged in road-construction projects in Afghanistan. Six other workers were injured, one critically, the BBC reported on 10 June. China's Ambassador to Kabul Sun Yuxi requested that the Afghan Transitional Administration provide medical care for the injured, ensure security at construction sites, and bring the perpetrators of the attack to justice, Xinhua reported. The attack marks the first Chinese casualties in post-Taliban Afghanistan. Northeast Afghanistan is considered a relatively safe area of the country. The only NATO-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan is based in the provincial capital of Konduz, some 35 kilometers from the scene of the attack on the Chinese workers. AT

...AS NEO-TALIBAN ARE BLAMED
Konduz Province Governor Mohammad Omar said on 10 June that the attack on the Chinese workers was carried out by people coming from Baghlan Province, which is located directly south of Konduz Province, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. "Konduz and Baghlan have been Taliban strongholds in the past," Mohammad Omar told AIP. "They are operating there now as well, and I can say confidently that this attack was made by the Taliban." AT

TWO AFGHAN SOLDIERS, ONE NEO-TALIBAN COMMANDER KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Two soldiers loyal to the central Afghan administration and one neo-Taliban commander were killed in fighting that took place in Helmand Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 9 June. The commander, identified as Mullah Malik, is believed to have taken part in recent attacks on government installations in Helmand Province. AT

NEW PARTY OBTAINS PERMISSION FOR POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
The Justice Ministry has granted permission to the National Movement for Peace (Junbish-e Melli-ye Solh) to begin political activities, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 9 June. The party's leader, Shahnawaz Tanay, served as defense minister from 1988-90 under the communist regime headed by President Najibullah before being implicated in a coup attempt. After that coup attempt failed, Tanay joined the radical Hizb-e Islami party headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Hindukosh commented that Tanay's party received permission to begin political activities "at a time when the Justice Ministry rejected members of former communist parties." The Afghan Supreme Court in August banned political activities by the newly formed United National Party, which was established by former Afghan communist party members. The justification cited for the decision was atrocities committed against Afghans under communist rule (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). AT

IRAN'S NEW PRISONS CHIEF DENIES HOLDING POLITICAL PRISONERS
Ali Akbar Yasaqi, who was appointed as the new Prisons and Corrections Organization chief on 6 June, said in a 9 June interview that there are no political prisoners in the country, IRNA reported. "I positively stress there are no political prisoners in Iranian prisons," he said. Yasaqi explained that this is because the legislature has not passed legislation defining political crimes. In a 73-page report released on 7 June titled "Like the Dead in Their Coffins: Torture, Detention, and the Crushing of Dissent in Iran," Human Right Watch describes the abuse of political detainees at Iranian prisons, and it speaks of arbitrary arrests, detentions without trial, torture, solitary confinement, and physical and psychological abuse. Tehran's actions, according to HRW, include press closures, imprisonment of writers and journalists, and the intimidation of student activists, adding that these actions have "squelched" political opposition and the independent media. HRW's report describes intelligence agencies that operate in parallel with and outside the control of the executive branch. HRW's report makes recommendations to Iran's supreme leader and Guardians Council, to the European Union, and to the United Nations special rapporteur on torture and cruel and inhuman punishment. BS

IRAN SHUTS DOWN SOME INTERNET PROVIDERS
Reza Rashidi, the head of Iran's Data Connection Company, said on 7 June that the judiciary will close Internet service providers (ISPs) that operate without a permit, ISNA reported. ISPs that do not filter websites or that allow international telephone calls (Internet telephony) will be closed, he added. "Iran Daily" reported the same day that the judiciary has a list of 220 ISPs that it intends to close and it has closed 50 ISPs since May. "Iran Daily" cited Rashidi as saying that the state Telecommunications Company of Iran has lost some $50 million due to Internet telephony. (For more on Internet telephony and website filtering, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 May 2001; 16 June, 21 July, 1 September, and 29 December 2003; and 19 January 2004.) BS

TEHRAN OPTIMISTIC ON EUROPEAN NUCLEAR STANCE...
Mohammad Saidi, who heads the international-affairs department of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said on 9 June that Iran has fulfilled all its nuclear pledges but the West has not reciprocated, ISNA reported. He added that Tehran's future actions depend on European actions in the 14 June meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). "The Islamic Republic of Iran expects the Europeans to close our nuclear file at the 14 June meeting and for everything to go back to normal," Saidi said. The previous day, France, Britain, and Germany circulated a draft resolution to be presented at the 14 June meeting that criticized Iran's weak cooperation with the IAEA and expressed regret at Iran's failure to fulfill a promise to suspend all uranium-enrichment activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004). BS

...AND ON IAEA REPORT
Ali Akbar Salehi, Tehran's former envoy to the IAEA, said in a 9 June program on Iranian state television that the United States is behind international concern over Iranian nuclear activities. "In the previous meetings of the [IAEA's] Board of Governors, America has been generally trying to give a political aspect to the Iranian case and to drag the issue to the Security Council of the United Nations," he said. Salehi said that the IAEA's report to the IAEA Board of Governors on Iran's nuclear activities expresses concern over just two issues -- the source of enriched-uranium particles found at different sites, and the importation and fabrication of P-2 centrifuge components. In fact, the IAEA report (http://www.fas.org/nuke/guide/iran/iaea0604.pdf) mentions several other "Outstanding Issues and Next Steps." These include questions over the design of a uranium-conversion facility, requests for additional information on uranium-conversion experiments, and the conclusion that Iran slightly understated the amount of plutonium produced in plutonium-separation experiments. "Supply routes and sources of conversion and enrichment technology and related equipment and nuclear and non-nuclear materials" are also being investigated, according to the report. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming expressed regret that the report on Iran was leaked to the media, "Iran Daily" reported on 8 June. BS

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER LAUDS UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION
Iyad Allawi on 9 June characterized the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1546 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004) as "a great day that future generations will remember as the day when Iraq has transferred from the era of occupation to a new era and got back its complete sovereignty," according to a Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) press release on Allawi's Baghdad news conference. "The new resolution guarantees that the interim government will construct the armed forces and security forces in partnership with the multinational forces and what's more important is that the international forces...will be working under the umbrella of the United Nations and under the review of the Iraqi government." He noted that after 12 months the Iraqi government may end the multinational force's mandate when it believes it is "the proper time, when Iraqi forces alone are able to maintain security all over the country and stop the killing and the explosions." In response to a reporter's question, Allawi also said there is no paradox in saying that Iraq is returning to complete sovereignty, despite the country not having veto power regarding the multinational force's military operations. MES

NEW IRAQI PREMIER UNASHAMED OF WORKING WITH CIA
Interim Prime Minister Allawi said during his 9 June press conference that his group, the Iraqi National Accord, is not ashamed of any ties it had to foreign intelligence services in the early 1990s, according to a CPA press release. "Myself and my organization were part of the Iraqi political movement, the liberation movement of Iraq, and because of our efforts to destabilize the regime of Saddam Hussein we were in touch with a lot of agencies, including the government of the United States,... who supported the struggle of the Iraqi people to get rid of Saddam," Allawi said. "We do not feel ashamed of being in touch -- to get rid of the evil regime of Saddam," he added. "The New York Times" on 9 June reported that the Iraqi National Accord sent agents into Baghdad during that period "to plant bombs and sabotage government facilities under the direction of the CIA." The paper added that Allawi was "a favorite of the CIA and other government agencies 10 years ago, largely because he served as a counterpoint to Ahmad Chalabi, a more prominent exile leader." MES

G-8 CALLS FOR IRAQI DEBT FORGIVENESS
Leaders from the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries meeting in the U.S. state of Georgia on 9 June urged the international community to write off Iraqi debt to "ensure the sustainability of its economy, reconstruction, and move to democracy," dpa and other news agencies reported. The group also vowed to work with the Paris Club of international creditors and the International Monetary Fund to draft a debt-reduction plan for Iraq by the end of this year. Iraqi debts are estimated at some $130 billion. The G-8 discussion of its new "partnership" with Muslim countries aimed at encouraging economic and political reform was attended by Iraq's new interim president, Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir. AH

FATAL EXPLOSION AT IRAQI MUNITIONS DEPOT RESULT OF MORTAR ATTACK
Six coalition troops from Slovakia, Poland, and Latvia killed in an explosion at a munitions depot on 8 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2004) died as a result of a mortar attack, not an accident, during a weapons-disposal operation as suggested in initial reports, dpa reported on 9 June. PAP quoted a military spokesman saying authorities initially believed the tragedy was the result of a mistake while the team was defusing explosives in Wasit Province. AH

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