DUMA PASSES REFERENDUM BILL IN RECORD TIME...
Duma deputies on 11 June approved in its second and third readings a controversial bill on conducting referendums, NTV and other Russian media reported. All 172 proposed amendments to the bill were rejected (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004). "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 10 June that the legislature seems intent on setting a record, commenting that "never before has the Duma approved a constitutional law in such a short time." The bill was introduced in the legislature on 18 May and could become law before the end of this month. Radio Rossii reported on 11 June that under the draft law questions relating to cutting short or extending the president's term of office or the term of a Duma cannot be put to a referendum. Independent Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said that he will challenge at least 15 points in the bill before the Constitutional Court if it becomes law. "This whole law was rushed through in just 10 days," Ryzhkov told NTV. "It is unheard-of that a constitutional law goes through the Duma in 10 days." RC
...AND REJECTS BILL ON CRIMINALIZING WAHHABISM
Deputies on 11 June rejected a bill that would have criminalized Wahhabism and other "extremist" activities, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2004). The government and the Duma's Public and Religious Associations Committee recommended that the bill be rejected. Among other things, critics noted that the bill contained terms such as "Wahhabi activity" and "Wahhabi associations" that were not properly defined. Deputies on 11 June also rejected a bill that would have shifted certain functions of the state capital away from Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Only one deputy voted in favor of the bill, which would have moved the Supreme Court to Omsk, the Supreme Arbitration Court to Irkutsk, the Duma to Nizhnii Novgorod, and the government to Yekaterinburg. The presidential administration would have remained in Moscow. The purpose of the bill, according to its author, was to "narrow the gap in living standards between the regions and the center and to restore Russia's state integrity." RC
DUMA PASSES BILL REDUCING POWER OF ARMED FORCES' GENERAL STAFF
The Duma on 11 June passed in its third reading a bill amending the law on defense that would limit the responsibilities of the Armed Forces' General Staff, RosBalt and Interfax reported. Under the current law, the defense minister commands the Armed Forces through the General Staff, the main operational command body of the armed forces. The amendment would place the defense minister in command of the military via the Defense Ministry. An unidentified military expert told RosBalt that with the approval of this bill, the Duma has resolved one of the most acute issues in the administrative reform of a power ministry. Gazeta.ru reported earlier that under Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's plan for reforming military administration, the General Staff will become the "brain" of the army, an "intellectual center for the military-administration system" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2004). JAC
DUMA'S SPRING SESSION EXTENDED
The Duma also decided on 11 June to extend its spring session until 10 July at the request of Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, Radio Rossii reported. Fradkov wants the Duma to complete consideration of a number of bills, including legislation on the housing sector and a bill to replace in-kind social benefits with cash payments. RC
CASH-FOR-BENEFITS PLAN CONTINUES TO SPARK DEBATE
Speaking to journalists in Berlin on 13 June, Deputy Duma Speaker Artur Chilingarov (Unified Russia) expressed skepticism about the government's plan to replace in-kind benefits such as free public transportation and health care with cash payments, ITAR-TASS reported. He acknowledged that "many people do not use their benefits" and "they may prefer compensation to benefits," but he said that for many categories of people, benefits are preferable to cash. Speaking of pensioners and veterans, Chilingarov said "if their capabilities are reduced by these reforms, then the reforms should not be carried out." Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Ekho Moskvy on 11 June that the public should protest the measure because the cash payments will lose their value in a year or two. He called on the public to join a national protest on 2 July and said that his party will attempt to force a referendum on this question before a restrictive new draft law on referendums becomes law. "Our state is a state of racketeers and the main racketeer is [President Vladimir] Putin," Zyuganov said. RC
PUTIN CALLS ON CENTRAL BANK TO RESTORE ORDER IN BANKING SYSTEM
President Putin met with Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev on 11 June and called on him on national television to "act carefully" and "not to conduct any mopping-up campaigns throughout the banking system," Interfax reported. Putin also called on Ignatev "not to forget the interests of depositors" and noted that a law on insuring individual bank deposits will come into effect soon. Ignatev responded that Russia's banking system is healthier today that it has been for several years, according to newsru.com. "The situation is under control, and there is no real reason for concern," he said. "There are [only] psychological reasons." Last week, Russian newspapers reported that the mood on the interbank market was increasingly reminiscent of the 1995 banking crisis, and that banking officials were reportedly starting to close mutual lines of credit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2004). JAC
SWITZERLAND UNBLOCKS ACCOUNTS OF YUKOS SHAREHOLDERS
Swiss authorities on 11 June unblocked $1.6 billion in funds in the personal bank accounts of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and 19 other major Yukos shareholders, swissinfo.org reported. The accounts had been blocked at the request of the Russian government, pending the results of criminal tax-evasion investigations of Khodorkovskii and the others. The Swiss Federal Court granted the defense appeal of the freezing of the accounts, but rejected five other appeals. Four additional appeals are still pending. Moscow's Basmannyi Raion Court on 11 June rejected an appeal by Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin, who claimed that he had been injected with a psychotropic drug while in custody, Interfax reported. Pichugin was arrested in June 2003 and stands accused of organizing murders and attempted murders. RC
EXPERTS DISCUSS REVISING NUCLEAR-SECURITY DOCTRINE
Retired Major General and respected military analyst Vladimir Dvorkin told a Moscow conference on 11 June that Russia should reorient its nuclear deterrent to emphasize even more ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and to reduce the significance of sea-based and air-launched systems, the Military News Agency reported. He said that Russia's ground-based forces are fully capable of maintaining the roughly 2,000 warheads necessary for the country's security. Such weapons, he said, have always been "the most flexible, reliable, precise, powerful, and combat-ready leg of the nuclear triad." He added that ground-based systems "have always demonstrated a considerably higher level of nuclear security as compared to the naval leg -- meaning accidents and disasters." International Security Center head Aleksei Arbatov told the conference that old nuclear doctrines were made obsolete by the events of 11 September 2001, the news agency reported. "Nuclear deterrence cannot be used against international terrorism," Arbatov said. He added that nuclear strikes cannot even be used against states that harbor terrorists, since terrorists could actually be interested in provoking such an assault. "In this sense, even the U.S.-led operation in Iraq in 2003 was very favorable for international terrorism," Arbatov said. RC
STATE APPEALS ACQUITTAL IN CASE OF SLAIN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST
Prosecutors on 11 June filed an appeal with the military collegium of the Supreme Court seeking the overturning of the 10 June Moscow Military District Court acquittal of six men charged with the 1994 murder of investigative journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, polit.ru, Ekho Moskvy, and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2004). Prosecutors also asked the court to transfer the case to another military district court. RC
TATARSTAN'S NEW AUDIT CHAMBER SEEN AS PRESIDENTIAL TOOL
Tatarstan's President Mintimer Shaimiev signed a law on 7 June creating a republican audit chamber, "Vechernyaya Kazan" reported on 9 June. National Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin also attended the signing ceremony. Tatar State Council Deputy Aleksandr Shtanin said the measure will deprive the legislature of its control over finances. The new audit chamber will report to the State Council, Tatarstan's legislature, but it will be created with the participation of the president and the executive branch. Shtanin noted that the law gives the president the authority to nominate the chamber's chairman, saying, "There is no doubt that it will be the president's man." Local lawyer Anatolii Kuzmin expressed similar qualms. "I am worried by the fact that the head of state will take part in forming the controlling organ," Kuzmin told the daily. "I think this proves that it will be a dependent organ and only a naive person can believe that it will be absolutely credible." RC
STATE TELEVISION OFFICIAL ROBBED
All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) Deputy Director and Kultura television Editor in Chief Tatyana Paukhova was the victim of a robbery in Moscow on the evening of 11-12 June, RIA-Novosti reported on 12 June. According to police sources, the thieves made off with $100,000 in cash and 18 million rubles ($600,000) in jewelry. "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 14 June that the robbery took place during the day on 12 June. According to the daily, the apartment had no alarm and the valuables were not kept in a safe. RC
PUBLIC IMAGE OF TRAFFIC POLICE STILL LEAVES MUCH TO BE DESIRED
A survey by the Public Opinion foundation revealed that 43 percent of Russians have a negative opinion of the traffic police, newsru.com reported on 13 June. Only 14 percent viewed the organization positively. Thirty-four percent of the 1,500 respondents said the traffic police are not coping with their responsibilities, while 32 percent said they are doing so satisfactorily. Twenty-nine percent said the image of a traffic-police officer is that of "a bribe-taker," while 9 percent described him as "someone brazenly and impudently exceeding his authority." Five percent of respondents described officers as "honest, just, and principled." RC
POPULATION OF NATIVE GROUPS RISING, BUT LANGUAGES DYING
The number of representatives of indigenous peoples in Russia increased by 25 percent over the last 12 years and totals 306,000, RIA-Novosti reported on 11 June, citing Galina Sheverdova of the Federal Statistics Service. According to data from the service, numerically small native peoples make up between 19 percent and 40 percent of the population in Evenk, Chukotka, Koryak, and other autonomous okrugs. At the same time, Sheverdova noted that fewer members of these small minority groups speak their native languages. "Among 19 peoples of the North, less than 20 percent are fluent in the native language," she said. In 2000, it was reported that the average life expectancy among indigenous groups of the Far North was only 45 years, compared with Russia's national average of 65.5 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2000). JAC
INTERIOR MINISTRY CUTS STREET-PROTEST COUNT BY 90 PERCENT
The press service for the Interior Ministry's Public Security Service said on 11 June that only about 98,800 people participated in the nationwide protest of social benefits on 10 June, Russian news agencies reported. According to the ministry, protests were held in 214 cities, towns, and villages. The organizers of the event, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, estimated that 1 million people participated in the protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2004). In Irkutsk alone, the protest reportedly was attended by some 100,000 people, according to the federation. JAC
FOUR DETAINED IN INGUSHETIA FOR PROTESTING DUMA ELECTION FRAUD
Police detained Osman and Islam Merzhoev, together with two unidentified women, in Ingushetia's Malgobek Raion on 11 June, the independent ingushetiya.ru website reported the following day. The four had been distributing photocopies of an open letter sent in late April to President Putin by Musa Ozdoev, a deputy in the Ingush parliament, detailing alleged election fraud and criticizing the policies of Ingush President Murat Zyazikov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 April and 17 May 2004). They also distributed articles by journalist Anna Politkovskaya giving details of still-unsolved abductions of residents of Ingushetia, allegedly by Interior Ministry troops. The two women were released later on 11 June, and the young men the following evening. Ozdoev accused Zyazikov of ordering Merzhoev's detention and also the confiscation by police of his car. Ozdoev warned that following the adoption by the State Duma in its third and final reading of a draft law on public demonstrations, he will "lead the people out onto the streets and sweep away the present corrupt, bandit leadership." LF
FORMER ARMENIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RELEASED FROM DETENTION
Vagharshak Harutiunian was released late on 11 June following a plea on his behalf by Vladimir Pryakhin, the head of the OSCE Office in Yerevan, but the criminal charges against him have not been dropped, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Harutiunian, a senior member of the Artarutiun opposition alliance, was one of a dozen oppositionists arrested in mid-April following the violent dispersal by police in Yerevan of participants in a peaceful demonstration calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 16, and 19 April 2004). Harutiunian was charged with seeking to overthrow the country's leadership, but Pryakhin said on 11 June the criminal case against him is "weak." Both Pryakhin and Harutiunian's lawyer, Robert Grigorian, said that prosecutors have not yet specified the precise nature of Harutiunian's alleged offenses. LF
WORLD BANK ANNOUNCES NEW LOANS FOR ARMENIA
At a meeting in Washington on 11 June, the board of directors of the World Bank agreed on a new four-year "country-assistance strategy" for Armenia that aims to ensure that the impoverished rural population shares in the benefits from the country's ongoing "strong economic performance," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 12 June, quoting a statement released by the bank's Yerevan office. The new program comprises $220 million in additional credit to improve the business climate, promote better governance, improve public services, and create new jobs, plus three additional separate infrastructure loans totaling $31 million. LF
FORMER POLICE CHIEF SHOT DEAD IN AZERBAIJAN
Former Baku police chief Fatulla Huseynov was shot dead early on 14 June as he left home to go jogging, Turan reported. Huseynov retired several years ago after serving in a series of top Interior Ministry posts. He then opened an automobile business and served as vice president of the Azerbaijan professional soccer league. LF
GEORGIAN OFFICIALS ACCUSE RUSSIA OF SENDING ARMOR TO SOUTH OSSETIA
Georgian parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Givi Targamadze and Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania both claimed on 12 June that Moscow dispatched a convoy of some 150 military vehicles transporting artillery, ammunition and 120 troops from North Ossetia to the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia during the night of 11-12 June, Russian and Georgian media reported. President Mikheil Saakashvili denounced that deployment on 12 June as an "unfriendly act" on Russia's part and said he plans to raise the issue with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. Saakashvili denied that any Georgian military intervention in South Ossetia is planned, stressing that "we love the Ossetians and no one will prevent us from living together," Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili also said that Tbilisi will pay compensation to Ossetians whose property was destroyed during the fighting in 1990-92. The Georgian Foreign Ministry lodged a protest with its Russian counterpart and appealed to the international community to condemn the Russian deployment, Caucasus Press reported on 13 June. LF
RUSSIAN, SOUTH OSSETIAN OFFICIALS DENY GEORGIAN ALLEGATIONS
The Russian Defense Ministry denied on 12 June that troops and materiel were sent to South Ossetia, but Interfax on 12 June quoted a spokesman for the North Caucasus Military District as explaining that a convoy carrying fuel, food, and spare parts was sent to South Ossetia as part of a routine rotation of Russian troops serving with the quadripartite peacekeeping force deployed in the conflict zone. Murad Djioev, foreign minister of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, similarly denied that Russia has sent troops to the region, Interfax reported. He dismissed the Georgian accusations as part of a Georgian propaganda campaign. LF
RUSSIA ACCUSES, WARNS GEORGIA...
The Russian Foreign Ministry on 12 June accused Georgia of failing to comply with a commitment it made 10 days earlier to withdraw Interior Ministry troops sent to South Ossetia in late May, Russian news agencies reported. Interfax on 11 June quoted an unidentified senior Russian military expert as claiming that 98 percent of the citizens of South Ossetia have Russian passports, and that Moscow would thus have a moral obligation to intervene in the event of Georgian military aggression that led to the death of Russian citizens. Also on 1 June, Interfax quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko as calling on both Georgia and South Ossetia to show "restraint." Yakovenko also said Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin informed U.S. Ambassador Alexander Vershbow that Russia is "concerned" that Georgia has violated earlier assurances by deploying in South Ossetia troops trained by the United States under its "Train and Equip" program. LF
...AS SOUTH OSSETIA DEMANDS FINANCIAL COMPENSATION
Speaking in Moscow on 11 June, South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity announced that he had placed police and security forces on the alert in anticipation of an incursion on 12 June by thousands of Georgian civilians masterminded by the Georgian youth movement Kmara! (Enough!). Kokoity also said on 11 June that South Ossetia will suspend all formal contacts with Tbilisi until the Georgian government formally apologizes for what he termed its policy of genocide against the Ossetian people and pays compensation for damage inflicted during the 1990-92 war, Interfax reported. He estimated the damage at 34 billion rubles ($1 billion), according to the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2. LF
GEORGIAN SUPREME COURT CHAIRMAN RESIGNS
Lado Chanturia submitted his resignation on 11 June from the post of Supreme Court chairman that he has held for the past five years, Georgian media reported. Chanturia explained that he considers it inappropriate to remain in that position now that "a new era of state-building has dawned," Interfax reported. President Saakashvili praised Chanturia's contribution to the reform of the judicial system and later offered him the position of his legal adviser, which Chanturia told journalists he will combine with an academic career in Germany. LF
SIX FORMER OFFICIALS ARRESTED IN ADJARA
Police in Batumi detained four former senior Adjar officials on 11 June and two more on 13 June, Georgian media reported. Former parliament speaker Giorgi Tsintskhladze, former Customs Department Chairman Djumber Gogitidze, Batumi Customs Department head Amiran Makharadze, and Industry Minister Revaz Rusia were charged with abuse of office and large-scale embezzlement. Former Election Commission Chairman Ednar Shamilishvili was likewise charged with abuse of office, while former Tax Police head Tamaz Bladadze is accused of creating illegal armed units and using force to disperse demonstrators, Caucasus Press reported on 14 June. LF
KAZAKH, RUSSIAN PARTIES SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Kazakhstan's Otan Party and Russia's Unified Russia, the two countries' main pro-presidential parties, signed a memorandum of cooperation in Almaty on 12 June, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Russian State Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska, who headed a delegation of Duma deputies, signed for Unified Russia. Mazhilis Chairman Zharmakhan Tuyakbai signed for Otan. Noting that Russia and Kazakhstan are the "most closely integrated countries in the post-Soviet region," Sliska stated that the two countries need to develop further cultural and economic cooperation. For his part, Tuyakbai stressed that the goals and tasks of the two countries' pro-presidential parties coincide and that their political platforms are similar, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. At a meeting with Almaty Mayor Viktor Khrapunov, Sliska said that she would like to see Belarus and Ukraine "follow the example of Kazakh President [Nursultan Nazarbaev], who always proposes very serious and new solutions for economic reforms," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK
DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS KAZAKHSTAN TO EXPAND PEACEKEEPING
Defense Minister Colonel General Mukhtar Altynbaev said at an 11 June briefing that Kazakhstan plans to expand its involvement in military peacekeeping missions abroad, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. To this end, Altynbaev proposed amendments to the legislation that regulates peacekeeping activities. The defense minister said that future Kazakh peacekeepers will have a chance to hone their skills in August during Steppe Eagle 2004 military exercises. The exercises, which have drawn U.S. and British participation in the past, will include Turkish participants this year, Altynbaev said. Kazakhstan's current peacekeeping involvement is in Iraq, where it has a contingent of 27 military engineers. Altynbaev told journalists that Kazakh peacekeepers in Iraq have disabled and destroyed 1.5 million rounds of ammunition and explosive devices. DK
KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTIES HOLD RALLY
Opposition parties Ak Zhol, Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, and the Communist Party held an authorized rally in Almaty on 12 June that organizers said drew approximately 5,000 people, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Ak Zhol initiated the demonstration, under the slogan of "Changes for a Dignified Life." "We call on the government and the authorities to have an open dialogue with us," Ak Zhol co-Chairman Bulat Abilov said. "We say that the time has come for negotiations.... We need open and honest dialogue." DK
KAZAKH BANKERS, INSURERS WEIGH WTO RISKS
Representatives of Kazakhstan's financial sector gathered in Almaty on 11 June to discuss the ramifications of the country's possible accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Khabar TV reported. The issue of foreign participation in the banking and insurance markets elicited heated debate. At present, foreign banks and insurance companies cannot open branches in Kazakhstan, but one of the conditions for WTO membership would be to open up the market. Some bankers warned that Kazakh banks, which do not offer as wide an array of services as their potential foreign competitors, might not survive the sudden onslaught, Kazinform reported. Insurance companies have similar fears. Zhannat Aytzhanova, deputy minister of industry and trade, noted that many current member states of the WTO faced similar problems in the course of their accession. DK
EURASIA FORUM CLOSES WITH CALL FOR DIALOGUE
The international forum "Eurasia in the 21st Century: Dialogue of Cultures or Clash of Civilizations?" ended in Cholpon Ata, Kyrgyzstan, on 11 June with the adoption of a declaration titled "A dialogue between cultures and civilizations in Eurasia," Kabar news agency reported. The declaration underscores the "need to go to the roots of political conflicts by reducing inequality and to root out poverty by improving management and creating the necessary conditions to establish peace." The declaration also stresses Central Asia's role as a meeting place of cultures and civilizations and singles out the restoration of traditional irrigation techniques as a regional priority. Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov took part in the forum, which was held at the initiative of the Kyrgyz president and under the aegis of UNESCO, ITAR-TASS reported. DK
TAJIKISTAN MULLS POWER TRANSIT ROUTES
Energy Minister Jurabek Nurmahmadov told a press conference in Dushanbe on 11 June that Tajik and Uzbek negotiators are working toward an agreement to export Tajik electricity to Russia through Uzbekistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Although a Tajik working group recently returned from Tashkent empty-handed, Nurmahmadov said that representatives of the state power company "will once again visit the Uzbek capital for a final resolution of this issue." An agreement was signed in April 2004 for Tajikistan to export 1.4 billion kilowatt hours of electrical power to Russia, but transit through Uzbekistan remains a sticking point. Anatolii Chubais, CEO of Russia's Unified Energy Systems, told the 25th session of the CIS Energy Council in Dushanbe on 10 June that, in the future, Tajikistan could bypass Uzbekistan and export power to Russia via a power transmission line currently under construction between Batken, Kyrgyzstan and Kanibadam, Tajikistan, Avesta reported on 11 June. DK
RUSSIAN ENVOY URGES MARKET REFORMS IN BELARUS...
Russian Ambassador to Belarus Aleksandr Blokhin told journalists in Minsk on 11 June that Belarus and Russia cannot form a union state unless the former takes steps to democratize its society and carry out market-oriented reforms, Belapan reported. "[The establishment of a] common superstructure will be impossible without a common economic base," Blokhin said. "Unfortunately, current differences in the economic laws of Russia and Belarus are rather significant. I believe this is not conducive to the formation of a union state, but rather creates new problems." JM
...AND EXTOLS BENEFITS OF INTRODUCING RUSSIAN RUBLE IN BELARUS
Russian Ambassador Blokhin also said he is confident that Belarus will benefit considerably from adopting the Russian ruble as its currency, Belapan reported. Blokhin said Belarusian businesses now lose an estimated $160 million per year because of currency-exchange operations. Blokhin said after the introduction of the Russian ruble, Belarus would receive some $600 million annually in compensation for the value-added tax that Moscow now levies on Russian imports to Belarus. He added that the adoption of the Russian currency would also make Belarus eligible for stabilization loans and compensation of costs related to conversion of securities, as well as for the country's loss of ability to print money. "All in all, Belarus would receive $1 billion in compensation" and would get a stable currency in the Russian ruble, Blokhin said. JM
PRESIDENT WANTS PLAN FOR BELARUS'S 'SILICON VALLEY' WITHIN A MONTH
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 11 June instructed the government to prepare within a month documents providing for the establishment of a technological-research and development precinct, Belapan reported. The project to build the technology park, mentioned by Lukashenka earlier this month and dubbed by him as Belarus's "Silicon Valley" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004), was discussed at a seminar for government officials in Vitsebsk on 10-11 June. "A decision has been made to provide all possibilities for all creative work and young people, our scientists, by creating conditions in which they could earn money no worse than in the West," Belarusian Television quoted Lukashenka as saying at the seminar. The project is to be implemented the National Academy of Sciences, the Economy Ministry, and the Minsk City Executive Committee. JM
UKRAINE UPBRAIDS NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY FOR 'INTERFERENCE'
Vasyl Baziv, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, told journalists on 11 June that the press communique released by the NATO Parliamentary Assembly on 1 June after its recent session in Bratislava represents interference in Ukraine's domestic affairs, Interfax reported. The communique, which says that NATO parliamentarians urge the Ukrainian authorities to ensure "free, fair, and transparent" presidential elections this fall, also includes a phrase saying that President Leonid Kuchma is due to step down after his second term expires in October. Noting that Kuchma "has the right to run according to a Constitutional Court ruling" but "has decided not to do so," Baziv said that it will be up to the president and the Ukrainian people to decide when the president must leave. "Today, they instruct Kuchma; tomorrow, they will instruct another president," he said. "To command who must and who mustn't take part in elections has nothing in common with a call for transparent and fair elections. This is a case of interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW CHIEF TAX INSPECTOR
President Kuchma on 11 June appointed First Deputy Finance Minister Fedir Yaroshenko as head of the State Tax Administration (DPAU), Interfax reported. Yaroshenko will replace Yuriy Kravchenko, who resigned from the post the same day, following Kuchma's criticism that the DPAU has failed to enforce legislation regarding value-added taxes on major enterprises. JM
OUR UKRAINE TO SIGN COALITION ACCORD WITH YULIYA TYMOSHENKO BLOC
Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said at a meeting with voters in Poltava Oblast on 13 June that his bloc will sign a cooperation agreement with the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc within a week, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. According to Yushchenko, the two opposition blocs have reached "full understanding" regarding the accord, which will pertain to their cooperation during the presidential-election campaign and joint reformist measures after the presidential election. Yuliya Tymoshenko said on 11 June that the coalition accord will also include a section referring to who will run the future government following an anticipated election victory. "We will clearly define what personnel responsibility is being sought by each of the teams forming the coalition," Interfax quoted her as saying. JM
ULTRANATIONALIST LEADS IN SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL VOTE...
Tallies by independent monitors in Belgrade suggest that Tomislav Nikolic of Vojislav Seselj's Serbian Radical Party (SRS) has won 30.1 percent of the vote in the 13 June Serbian presidential election among a field of 15 candidates, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The same estimates show that his opponent in the 27 June runoff for the largely ceremonial office will be reformist candidate Boris Tadic, who took 27.3 percent of the vote in an election widely seen as a barometer of Serbian political sentiment. Making his political debut, business kingpin Bogoljub Karic seems set to take 19.3 percent of the ballots cast, while Dragan Marsicanin of the governing coalition is expected to take 13.3 percent in a showing many consider as disappointing as Karic's was impressive. Under recent legislation, the ballot is valid even though the turnout was under 50 percent of all registered voters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003, and 9 January and 20 February 2004). PM
...AS PREDICTIONS FOR THE SECOND ROUND EMERGE...
An unnamed European diplomat told Reuters in Belgrade on 14 June that Nikolic probably has peaked but that "Tadic is a rising star" who might well win in the second round, picking up the majority of the votes from the defeated candidates. Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus suggested that new parliamentary elections might follow the second round: "We are disappointed with these results. There are only two possibilities...there will either be a government reshuffle or new elections." Several observers suggested that the low turnout reveals continuing widespread voter apathy, particularly among the young. Many added that the impressive showing by Karic, who promised to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, indicates that voters are concerned with economic issues and dissatisfied with the ability of the political establishment to improve the economy. It is not clear whether Nikolic's continuing popularity reflects the susceptibility of many Serbs to nationalist appeals, or whether it is primarily a protest vote against the governing parties. PM
...AMID GREAT UNCERTAINTY
London's "The Independent" wrote on 14 June that "some fear a victory for Mr. Nikolic could have a catastrophic impact on Serbia's economy, driving away foreign investors and stalling desperately needed aid from Western financial institutions." Tadic noted that "the world is watching.... We cannot solve our problems without foreign help," the daily added. Referring to Nikolic, London's "The Times" observed that "the man they call 'the gravedigger' looked as if he would start burying Serbia's hopes of European integration last night." The daily wrote that "while the rest of Europe unites, much of Serbia continues to wallow in a Balkan vortex of nationalist pride, maudlin self-pity, and stubborn refusal to understand how the world has moved on since the collapse in October 2000" of the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. PM
SERBIAN MURDER SUSPECT PLEADS INNOCENT
Milorad Lukovic-Ulemek "Legija," who is reportedly the prime suspect in the 12 March 2003 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, pleaded not guilty in a Belgrade court on 14 June, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). "Regarding the murder of Zoran Djindjic...I had nothing do to with this event," he said. There has been much speculation in the Serbian media in recent weeks to the effect that Legija will link people politically close to Djindjic to the assassination. Djindjic, whose popularity ratings were rarely much above 20 percent during his lifetime, has subsequently become a national icon for his Democratic Party and much of the general public. PM
BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMES REPORT TO LEAD TO WAR CRIMINAL'S ARREST?
London's "The Guardian" reported on 14 June that Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said recently that "we have good reason to believe that [indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader] Radovan Karadzic will be delivered to us by June 29." The daily suggests that there might be a link between Del Ponte's newly found optimism on Karadzic's arrest and a recent report by the Bosnian Serb commission investigating the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, which, for the first time, officially admitted that war crimes took place after the fall of Srebrenica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May, and 7 and 9 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). The report noted that "in July 1995, several thousand Muslims were liquidated in a way that represents grave violations of international humanitarian law." Commission head Milan Bogdanovic said on 11 June that "this report will have a historic character.... We will have to face ourselves" in the light of history, Reuters reported from Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). PM
KOSOVA MARKS THE FIFTH ANNIVERSARY OF NATO'S ARRIVAL
Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova said in Prishtina on 12 June that the arrival of NATO troops in the province five years earlier was the most important day in Kosova's recent history, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that time has come to "crown" the process begun on 12 June 1999 by recognizing Kosova's independence. The day before the anniversary, political leader and former guerrilla commander Hashim Thaci told Reuters that the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) has failed and should be wrapped up within months. "UNMIK has been a complete failure, particularly in the last two years," Thaci said. "They can continue until elections in October 2004, but after that we need a complete change in the relationship between the Prishtina government and UNMIK, in favor of the institutions elected by the people of Kosova" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003, and 2 and 16 April 2004). PM
CROATIAN LEADER SAYS TIME HAS MOVED ON
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Zagreb on 12 June at ceremonies marking the 15th anniversary of the founding of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) by the late President Franjo Tudjman that "15 years ago, the [party's] aims were to secure Croatia's independence, its international recognition, and defense from [Serbian] aggression," Hina reported. "Then came [the establishment of] freedom and the reconstruction of the country. Those great political and national aims have been achieved. Today, there are other objectives, notably better life for all citizens in Croatia and the country's admission to the European Union," Sanader added. Elsewhere, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) agreed at its convention that it will not form a coalition with the HDZ or any parties of the far left or far right in the upcoming local elections. The HSS cooperates with Sanader's government in the parliament but is not in a formal coalition with it. PM
ROMANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER RESIGNS
Ioan Rus resigned on 13 June in order to concentrate his efforts on his bid to win the 20 June runoff for mayor of Cluj, Mediafax and international news agencies reported. In the runoff, Rus is facing Emil Boc, a candidate of the National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance. Rus said his move is aimed at "dispelling reservations" that he might abandon the post of mayor, if he won it, and return to a governmental post. Since early March, he has been a state minister, which is the equivalent of a deputy prime minister. In the 6 June first round, Rus garnered 41 percent of the vote, as against Boc's 34 percent. PNL-Democratic Party alliance co-chairmen Theodor Stolojan and Traian Basescu said the move by Rus was a gimmick aimed to "save his image." MS
ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS COUNTRY BECOMING BIPOLAR POLITICAL SYSTEM
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 11 June he believes Romania's political system is becoming bipolar, Mediafax reported. Nastase said the outcome of the local elections seems to indicate that a bipolar "2+2" system, with two large parties and two small parties on the left and right sides of the political spectrum, might eventually emerge. In the wake of introducing a 5 percent electoral hurdle in the local elections (as exists in parliament), most extraparliamentary parties have either lost or had their representation on county and local councils seriously reduced. Nastase also said he believes the 54 percent turnout on 6 June shows a "solid participation" in the electoral process and defies predictions that Romanians are becoming "fed up with politics." MS
OSCE TO STEP UP EFFORTS TO SOLVE TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT...
A delegation of 25 ambassadors to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that visited Tiraspol and Chisinau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2004) on 12 June told journalists in the Moldovan capital that the OSCE intends to step up its efforts to solve the Transdniestrian conflict, Flux and ITAR-TASS reported. The delegation also urged the separatist authorities to adopt a more constructive stand in the negotiations with Chisinau. Bulgarian Ambassador Ivo Petrov, who also represents the OSCE chairman in office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi, said the delegation has told the Tiraspol authorities that the OSCE considers the current situation to be unacceptable. Petrov said the OSCE "believes the conflict resolution plan elaborated by the mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE, which is based on an asymmetric federation, may serve as a good basis for preparing a document on the state system of the future federal state of Moldova," ITAR-TASS reported. Irish Ambassador to Moldova Brandon Moran said his country has paid a lot of attention to the Transdniester conflict since it took over the EU rotating presidency. MS
...WHILE AMBASSADORS GET THEIR TASTE OF KEFIR
Two activists from the illegal National Bolshevik Party threw kefir at several OSCE ambassadors during their 12 June press conference, Flux and ITAR-TASS reported. The activists said they were protesting against "worldwide capitalist expansion," according to Flux. The two activists were detained and the ambassadors continued to answer questions from journalists. MS
A POTENTIAL NUCLEAR POWER, IRAN IS ALREADY A TERRORISM SPONSOR
The International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) Board of Governors is meeting on 14 June to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions and its level of cooperation with the nuclear watchdog. While the world worries about a nuclear-armed Iran in the future, it must not forget about a terrorist Iran today.
The U.S. State Department first designated Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism in January 1984, and it has been on the list ever since. Indeed, "Iran remained the most active state sponsor of terrorism in 2003," according to the State Department. By now, Tehran is jaded about this and, as it has every year, responded with denials and counter-accusations. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman described the charges as "repetitive, demagogical, and worthless." He added that the United States "has had an active role in spreading murder and terrorism and is not in a position to assess the record of others." Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, chairman of the Expediency Council and the second most powerful figure in Iran, said in a 30 April Friday prayer sermon that the terrorism charges merely relate to the upcoming U.S. presidential election, and he went on to describe U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan as acts of terrorism.
Tehran does not hide its relationships with terrorist groups such as Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas. Hizballah's Sheikh Abd-al-Karim Obeid, who was released from an Israeli prison in January, visited Tehran in April and met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, Rafsanjani, and other officials. Moreover, Hamas has a permanent representative in Tehran: Abu Osama Abd-al-Moti. Tehran does, however, challenge the U.S. characterization of its relationship with these organizations, saying that it provides only moral and political support, not arms and money. Tehran also views Hizballah and other groups as liberation movements, not terrorist organizations.
U.S. officials have expressed concern about Iranian activities in Iraq, while Tehran denies that it is interfering there. Nevertheless, Iran is openly advocating suicide bombings (euphemistically called martyrdom operations) in Iraq. Enrollment forms for volunteers were distributed after a 2 June meeting in Tehran, where Tehran parliamentary representative Mehdi Kuchakzadeh, military officials, and scholars spoke on topics such as "Martyrdom Operations and Military and Security Strategies" and "Martyrdom Operations -- The Last Weapon," the Iranian Labor News Agency reported on 4 June. Kuchakzadeh has expressed similar attitudes before. He said in the legislature's inaugural session on 27 May, "I call on you to chant slogans for the defeat of the occupying American forces, who have attacked holy sites, and turn your attention to the issues which need attention," the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. His colleagues responded by shouting, "Death to America."
The awkwardly named Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement announced, "We are confident that expelling the British and American occupiers from Iraq is not possible in any way other than martyrdom-seeking operations," the "Kayhan" daily reported on 22 May. "The headquarters has started registering the names of volunteers for martyrdom-seeking operations against the British and American occupiers," it added. The same newspaper, which is officially linked with Iran's leadership, reported five days later that more than 2,000 people -- including a 13-year-old boy and a 45-year-old woman -- had registered to blow themselves up. This suicide-bombing headquarters reportedly is connected with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), an arm of the Iranian armed forces.
The Center for Doctrinal Studies, which is connected with the IRGC, is doing more than calling for suicide bombings. The center's director, Hassan Abbasi, said at a seminar at Tehran University: "We will burn the roots of the Anglo-Saxon race. We have made plans for America's Achilles heel, and we will present these to all the guerrilla organizations in the world," "Vaqa-yi Etefaqi-yi" daily reported on 25 May. Abbasi added: "Our missiles are now ready to hit their civilization. As soon as we receive the orders from the leader, we will launch the missiles toward their cities and installations," "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 28 May. Abbasi added that 29 sites in the United States and elsewhere in the West have been targeted.
Iran's relationship with Hizballah and Iran's role in Iraq are brought together by individuals like former Tehran parliamentarian Ali-Akbar Mohtashami-Pur, who as ambassador to Damascus in the 1980s was instrumental in Hizballah's creation. He said in a discussion about Iraq, "Sharq" daily reported on 27 May: "Our duty today is very clear. We, the Islamic countries, should create a massive storm against America and Israel.... Many of the youths and Muslims are ready to carry out suicide operations against the American crusaders." He continued, "Today, Islamic resistance in Iraq and the devoted and brave forces in Al-Najaf and Karbala need the moral and material support of the entire world of Islam."
Nor is it just the sponsors of terrorism in Iran who are advocating action in Iraq. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in an 18 May speech that the forces of Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr should "fight until the last drop of blood" against U.S. forces in the holy cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala. In his 21 May speech to an audience that included people wearing white burial shrouds, which indicate their readiness to die, Nasrallah said the only way to defeat the enemy is through "jihad, martyrdom, and anger."
It is possible that the statements of Iranian leaders and their proxies are nothing more than rhetoric meant for domestic audiences. Yet Tehran's long and bloody record in supporting terrorism, its professed hostility to the United States, and its 1,500-kilometer border with Iraq mean that Iran's threats should not be ignored.
SUPPORTERS OF WARLORD BLOCK NEWLY APPOINTED AFGHAN GOVERNOR
Loyalists of General Abdul Rashid Dostum, head of the Junbish-e Melli party, have prevented Abdul Haq Shafaq from assuming his post as the new governor of Sar-e Pol Province in northern Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 13 June. Shafaq was appointed to his post recently by the Afghan Transitional Administration's Interior Ministry. Since then, however, some local residents, with support from military officials serving with Division No. 82 of Sar-e Pol, have prevented him from entering the province. According to the report, Safaq's affiliation with Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami, which was involved in clashes with Dostum's party, is the reason behind the opposition to his appointment. Division No. 82 is loyal to Dostum. In April, forces loyal to Dostum crossed from their base in Jowzjan Province to neighboring Faryab Province and ousted Enayatullah Enayat, the governor appointed by Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 14 and 28 April 2004). While nominally serving as a special adviser to Afghan Transitional Chairman Hamid Karzai, Dostum, an advocate of federalism, has been seeking autonomy for parts of northern Afghanistan. AT
10 ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH KILLINGS OF CHINESE WORKERS IN AFGHANISTAN
Lieutenant General Mohammad Daud, a regional military commander in Konduz Province in northern Afghanistan, said on 13 June that 10 people have been arrested in connection with the attack on Chinese construction workers in the province, "China Daily" reported on 14 June. Confirming earlier claims, Mohammad Daud said that the men came from Baghlan Province, south of Konduz. "These people in the past belonged to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's [Hizb-e Islami] party, and they later joined the Taliban," Mohammad Daud added. Eleven Chinese workers were shot dead on 10 June in Konduz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 June 2004). AT
U.S. CLAIMS TO HAVE KILLED MORE THAN 80 MILITANTS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Tucker Mansager, said on 14 June that U.S. Marines have killed more than 80 militants in the Daychopan area of Zabul Province, international news agencies reported. According to Mansager, from "the [25 May] to today [14 June], coalition forces in this area [Daychopan] have killed, as I said before, in excess of 80 anti-coalition militants, detained another 90, have found 49 caches of weapons, ammunition, and other equipment, and have carried out 81 civil affairs projects," RFE/RL reported on 14 June. Mansager added, "The Marines have been aggressive, relentless, and successful...[and have] demonstrated that there is no refuge for the terrorists," the BBC reported on 12 June. On 10 June, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said that in joint operations carried out since late May, coalition and Afghan forces have killed 63 members of the neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda and have detained eight (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2004). AT
FACTIONAL FIGHTING LEAVES THREE DEAD IN WEST-CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
In factional fighting that took place on 12 June, three people, including a policeman, were killed in Ghor Province, AFP reported on 14 June. Ghor police chief Mohammad Zaman said that between 20 to 30 armed men attacked a government post in the Tolak District of the province and in the ensuing fighting two militants and a policeman were killed. Mohammad Zaman said that he believes Mawlawi Abdul Salam, a former mullah from Tolak, led the attackers. "How he managed to get a group of some 20 to 30 armed men and why he attacked the district is not yet known," Zaman said. In an apparently unrelated incident on 30 May in the Shahrak District of Ghor, three people were killed in armed clashes between Haji Gol, head of the Shahrak District, and Mullah Mostafa, a local commander (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004). AT
DISSIDENT'S COURT CASE MOVED TO TEHRAN
Tehran Justice Department chief Abbas Ali Alizadeh said on 12 June that a decision on where to pursue the court case of Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization activist Hashem Aghajari would be made that day, IRNA reported. It was later decided to reexamine the case in Tehran, according to IRNA. Aghajari was sentenced to death for apostasy after making a speech that criticized the country's system of religious hierarchy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 1 July 2002, and "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 July, 12 August, and 11 November 2002). The case triggered a political backlash and demonstrations in autumn 2002, forcing Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to intervene. BS
CONSERVATIVE IRANIAN DAILY CLOSES
After a little more than five years, "Entekhab" daily has ceased publication, Radio Farda reported on 12 June. The Islamic Propagation Organization, which is connected with the Mehr News Agency, owned "Entekhab." Hamid Islami, one of the daily's editors, attributed the closure to a reshuffling in the Islamic Propagation Organization's board of trustees. Islami said the board determined that the newspaper did not provide adequate financial returns, it had accumulated debts to publishing houses, and, furthermore, the board did not care for the political activities of the daily's founder, Taha Hashemi. Hashemi told Radio Farda that the financial issue is not really behind the closure, and from the very first issue the newspaper focused on national concerns, rather than political squabbles. "Nobody will cite 'Entekhab' as an example of ideal journalism," noted a commentary in the reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" on 10 June, but "one can say that its organizers tried to a great extent to put aside the rigid division between factions and while its positions were often closer to those of the conservatives, at certain sensitive points the paper showed that it was free and put national interests before factional inclinations." BS
ARAB NATIONALISTS REPORTEDLY BEHIND TERROR ATTACK IN IRAN
The heretofore-unknown Arab Movement Party has claimed that it attacked an electricity generation facility in the Kut Abdullah area in the city of Ahvaz, ISNA reported on 13 June, citing the London-based "Al-Zaman" newspaper. Morteza Afqah, the Khuzestan Province deputy governor-general for political and security affairs, told ISNA that he has never heard of the Arab Movement Party but he confirmed that unidentified gunmen attacked the Shekareh electricity generator in Kut Abdullah. The regional electricity company confirmed that on 9 June people shot at the generator and wounded one of the workers, but the generator itself was not damaged. The official in charge of security at the regional electricity company, Abdulreza Heidari, said: "The timely intervention of the company's security officers and the Law-Enforcement Force meant that the equipment at the generator was not damaged." BS
IRANIAN VICE PRESIDENT HEADS FOR OMAN
First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi, Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri, Health, Treatment, and Medical Education Minister Masud Pezeshkian, and other officials left Tehran for Muscat, Oman, on 14 June, IRNA reported. Aref-Yazdi told reporters at Mehrabad Airport that a major topic during the trip will be expansion of economic cooperation, and during the visit the 9th Iran-Oman joint commission will begin. The two sides will sign memorandums of understanding on counternarcotics, cancellation of visa requirements, tourism, fishing, and the elimination of double taxation. The Iranians and their Oman counterparts also will discuss events in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine, Aref-Yazdi said. BS
QATARI NAVY KILLS IRANIAN FISHERMAN
Deputy Interior Minister for security and disciplinary affairs Ali Asqar Ahmadi said on 13 June that on 11 June a Qatari naval vessel confronted several Iranian fishing boats on the grounds that they had entered Qatari waters, state television reported. Ahmadi said the boats were in Iranian waters. After speaking with the Qataris, the Iranian fishermen started to leave the area, but the Qataris opened fire on them thinking they were trying to flee. One Iranian was killed and two were injured, and the boats were detained. The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned Qatar's Ambassador Saleh Ibrahim al-Kuwari on 12 June, demanded an explanation, called for the immediate return of the boats and their crews, and urged Qatar to punish the responsible individuals. This incident comes amid a renewed war of words between Iran and the United Arab Emirates over three disputed islands in the Persian Gulf -- Abu Musa, Greater Tunb, and Lesser Tunb (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004). BS
IRAQI MILITIA LEADER OFFERS CAUTIOUS 'ACCEPTANCE' OF INTERIM GOVERNMENT...
A representative of Shi'a cleric and militia leader Muqtada al-Sadr on 11 June offered conditional support for Iraq's interim government if it renounces the U.S.-led occupation and ushers in its withdrawal, Al-Jazeera and Voice of the Mujahedin radio reported. "I would like to inform you, Iraqis, that I support this interim government if it declares its rejection of the presence of the occupation or the coalition troops in Iraq, and if it demands that they set a timetable for withdrawal," Al-Sadr representative Sheikh Jabir al-Khajafi said in a Friday prayer sermon in Al-Najaf delivered on al-Sadr's behalf, according to Al-Jazeera. "If it agrees to that, then it would be welcome." Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed a "harsh" crackdown against private armed groups -- including al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army -- in Iraq following an agreement reached last week to disarm nine of the country's major militias (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004). AH
...BUT FURTHER STEPS REMAIN UNCLEAR
Al-Najaf Governor Adnan al-Hasnawi was quoted by dpa on 14 June as saying that U.S.-led coalition forces have indicated they are prepared for a dialogue with al-Sadr about the fate of his militia. "The coalition forces have voiced [a] desire to enter into direct dialogue with al-Sadr about the fate of the Al-Mahdi Army," al-Hasnawi said. He also urged al-Sadr to fulfill his cease-fire commitments and end his troops' armed presence. Coalition officials have not responded to the reports, but U.S. officials have publicly rejected the radical cleric. Another spokesman for al-Sadr, Qays al-Khazali, said on 13 June that al-Sadr and his followers wish to establish a political party and participate in elections, Al-Arabiyah reported the same day. Although he did not provide details, al-Khazali said talks to establish such a political organization are under way. Meanwhile, an unidentified al-Sadr representative said on 13 June that five Iraqis died in overnight clashes between insurgents and U.S. forces in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City, Reuters reported. The dead include a "field commander" and soldier of the Al-Mahdi Army and three civilians, the source said. AH
KILLERS TARGET SENIOR IRAQI OFFICIALS IN BAGHDAD...
Gunmen killed Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Bassam Kubba in an ambush on 12 June, international media reported. Kubba, a career diplomat who served on a steering committee to run the Foreign Ministry following the U.S.-led ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime, was responsible for relations with multilateral organizations. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari responded after the shooting by saying that his government "will not be scared or intimidated by Saddamists," Reuters reported. On 13 June, assassins gunned down an Education Ministry official responsible for foreign and UN contacts, international media reported. Kamal al-Jarrah, 63, was shot outside his home in a predominantly Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. The same day, the Interior Ministry reported that the head of Iraq's border police, Major General Hussein Mustafa Abd al-Karim, was injured on 12 June when gunmen fired on his vehicle in Baghdad. Also on 12 June, the commander of a Baquba police station, General Majid Almani Mahal, was shot and wounded by unknown attackers. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reported on 13 June that Sabri al-Bayyati, a professor at Baghdad University, was "assassinated by unknown gunmen a short while ago." AH
...AND SUNNI LEADER IN KIRKUK
Kurdish Sunni religious leader Sheikh Iyad Kurshid Abd al-Razzak was shot and killed outside his home in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on the night of 12-13 June, just hours after he denounced armed attacks on U.S. soldiers, ITAR-TASS and international news agencies reported. Al-Razzak, imam at the Almaza Al-Thaniyah Mosque in Kirkuk, was widely regarded as a defender of Kurdish rights in that oil-rich and ethnically divided city. A policeman and former Ba'ath official, Jalil Muhammad, was also killed by attackers in his Kirkuk home overnight on 12-13 June. AH
IRAQI ISLAMIC PARTY LEADER WARNS OF INCREASED VIOLENCE
The secretary-general of the Iraqi branch of the Muslim Brotherhood said on 13 June that he expects violence to increase ahead of the 30 June handover of authority by the U.S.-led coalition, dpa reported. "I don't think these criminals have any problem executing terrorist operations against innocent Iraqis who are looking forward to being handed over power from the occupation forces," said Mohsan Abd al-Hamid, a member of the recently disbanded Iraqi Governing Council whose Iraqi Islamic Party is that country's branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. He described insurgents waging a terrorist campaign in Iraq as "strangers belonging to organizations from outside Iraq who use collaborators inside [the country]," dpa reported. He added that his party will "work positively with [the interim government], advising and criticizing so that it can give its best to Iraqis." Senior U.S. and coalition leaders have likewise warned of the possibility of increased attacks in the run-up to the 30 June handover. AH
AL-IRAQIYAH EMPLOYEES, LEBANESE AND IRAQI HOSTAGES KILLED
The bodies of two Iraqi nationals working for U.S.-funded Al-Iraqiyah television were discovered near Iraq's border with Syria, colleagues reported on 13 June, according to Al-Arabiyah television. Technician Abdal Karim al-Haidary and driver Jawad Qazim were killed in Al-Qaim on 12 June, Reuters reported, also citing Al-Iraqiyah sources. A Lebanese diplomat meanwhile reported on 12 June that kidnappers killed a Lebanese national and two Iraqis after abducting them on 10 June, Reuters reported. Foreign Ministry sources in Beirut quoted by the news agency said the men worked for a Lebanese telecommunications company. Seven Turks kidnapped in Al-Fallujah on 7 June were reportedly released on 12 June and in good health, according to a Turkish diplomatic source quoted by Reuters. AH
CAR BOMBS KILL OR INJURE DOZENS IN BAGHDAD...
At least 10 people were killed and more than 50 wounded when a car bomb exploded in downtown Baghdad's Al-Tahrir Square on 14 June, Al-Arabiyah reported. AP placed the number of dead at 12. Two Britons, an American, a Frenchman, and another unidentified foreigner were killed in the rush-hour blast -- all of them reportedly employees or contractors working to rebuild power plants, AP reported. "We deplore this terrorist act and vow to bring these criminals to justice as soon as possible," interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said. A crowd gathered after the blast, with a number of people chanting anti-U.S. slogans. On 13 June, an apparent suicide attack set off a car bomb near a U.S. military facility in Baghdad, killing at least 12 and injuring a similar number of people, international news agencies reported. Police reportedly were trying to stop the vehicle from driving into the heavily guarded Camp Cuervo when the blast occurred. Also on 13 June, a rocket attack on the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Administration's headquarters damaged the Republican Palace, a former presidential palace located in the "Green Zone." No injuries were reported. AH
...AND MOSUL SEES ANOTHER BOMB BLAST
Four members of the new Iraqi Civil Defense Force were injured when an explosion targeted their patrol near a U.S. compound in Mosul, Al-Arabiyah reported on 14 June. One of those men was seriously injured, the report added. U.S. forces immediately sealed off the area and were said to be searching for the attackers. AH