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Newsline - June 17, 2004

Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court on 16 June adjourned hearing the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev until 23 June because of the illness of defense attorney Genrikh Pavda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2004), Russian media reported. The court also denied defense motions asking that Khodorkovskii and Lebedev be released from custody during the trial. Lebedev charged that he has been denied medical treatment while in custody, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 June. Both defendants intend to appeal the court's ruling to the European Court of Human Rights. Defense lawyer Yurii Schmidt told Interfax on 16 June that he believes the trial will last at least four months. The next hearing by the Moscow Arbitration Court of the Tax Ministry's case against Yukos itself will also be held on 23 June, Interfax reported on 16 June. RC

Working Russia party head Viktor Anpilov on 16 June called for Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov to step down at the party's 3 July congress, ITAR-TASS reported. Anpilov charged that Zyuganov has "inflicted great harm on the entire communist movement." For his part, Zyuganov told the news agency the same day that he intends to remain in his post, and that calls for his resignation are "a well-considered, well-planned, and prepaid action" against him. He said that the party held 18,000 local-level meetings in recent months and determined that most party members support the current leadership. Central Committee member Valerii Rashkin was quoted by "Izvestiya" on 17 June as saying that approximately one-third of party oblast committee secretaries are now under the age of 30. "The process of rejuvenating the party has been completed," Rashkin said. RC

Deputy Vladislav Reznik (Unified Russia), chairman of the Duma's Financial Markets and Credit Organizations Committee, said on 16 June that the Duma is likely to vote in early August on a controversial government plan to replace in-kind social benefits with cash payments, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the draft 2005 budget includes 170 billion rubles ($5.7 billion) for such payments. "We cannot demand that the government increase the size of monetary compensation because that will spur inflation," Reznik said. He added that 37 million rural residents of Russia support the government's plan, which he said will give them money in exchange for benefits that they are currently unable to use. Communist Party Central Committee Deputy Chairman Ivan Melnikov told the news agency on 16 June that his party is preparing a referendum initiative on the benefits plan, which he described as "odious and antisocial." He said that the referendum would also ask voters to weigh in on the government's proposal to abolish the minimum wage. Communist Party leader Zyuganov again called on the public to participate in a 1-2 July national protest of the reform measures. RC

Investigative reporter and State Duma Deputy Aleksandr Khinstein (Unified Russia) published an outraged opinion piece in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 15 June decrying the 10 June acquittal of six men who had been accused of the 1994 murder of journalist Dmitrii Kholodov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2004). He said the date 10 June would always be remembered as the day "Russia's judicial system officially acknowledged that there is nothing at all shameful in murdering journalists." Khinstein openly called the acquitted men "murderers," saying, "I write this in the full knowledge that a swarm of lawyers will rush to file suit without delay." Khinstein charged that prosecutors, at the behest of unnamed state officials, deliberately botched the case, making "one mistake after another" and repeatedly changing the case's lead investigator. He also charged that the judges "bent over backward to extricate and exonerate the accused." Khinstein added that if the men had been convicted, the state would have been forced to try former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, who was alleged to have ordered Kholodov's murder. "In all the country's recent history, not a single major high official, not one minister, has been jailed," Khinstein wrote. "Even the most sensational scandals invariably come to nothing." He called on journalists to honor the memory of deceased investigative journalists Kholodov, Artem Borovik, and Yurii Shchekochikhin. RC

The Audit Chamber has launched a probe into the finances of the administration of Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 June. The chamber will conduct an unscheduled inspection of the oblast's budgets for the years 2001-04 at the request of the Duma. President Putin and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin criticized Lisitsyn during a 2 June session of the State Council, Regnum reported on 9 June. Kudrin accused Lisitsyn of lying when he told Putin that budget funds intended for road construction had been used to pay wage arrears. Motherland faction leader Petr Gubochkin attacked Lisitsyn for not consulting sufficiently with the Yaroslavl Oblast legislature and for showing "a strange and incomprehensible concern" for certain private businesses, including the local Shinnik soccer team, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. RC

About 20 percent of Russian couples -- some 10 million people -- are childless because of reproductive-health problems, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 June, citing Olga Sharapova, head of the Health and Social Development Ministry's department on maternity and childhood. Sharapova called for a network of free state reproductive-health clinics and said that the Duma is currently considering a reproductive-health bill of rights. "It comprises a broad range of questions, from free medical services for mothers and children to providing apartments for newlyweds paid for by municipal and federal budgets," Sharapova said. She said the law could help improve the country's demographic situation. RC

Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv, Kremlin insider and National Strategy Council head Stanislav Belkovskii said that Moscow sees three favorable scenarios for Russia in Ukraine's presidential election in October, reported on 15 June. The first scenario would be the election of current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich as president, the second would be the hypothetical re-election to a third term of President Leonid Kuchma, and the third scenario would be the election of a "Ukrainian Putin," that is, a member of the security services. The third scenario would be the most desirable and the first one the least. Belkovskii also stressed that this is not his personal view, but "the opinion of the groups within the administrative-bureaucratic elite that have substantial impact on Putin, but I do not want to personalize," he said. But even if the election is won by Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's most popular politician, Moscow will eventually accept it. "Any next president of Ukraine will in retrospect be announced as 'Moscow's candidate,' even if it is Yushchenko," he said. Belkovskii also said he was in Kyiv to open a branch of his institution. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 June that two well-known Moscow political consultants, Marat Gelman and Igor Shuvalov, have moved to Kyiv. The latter is not related to the presidential assistant of the same name. VY

Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Soviet Health Minister Yevgenii Chazov said that in the 1990s, the Russian public saw a sharp rise in the death rate from cardiovascular diseases, which he attributed to increased stress from badly implemented reforms known as "shock therapy," "Argumenty i fakty," No. 23, reported. Chazov, who worked as the chief Kremlin cardiologist in the 1970s and 1980s, noted that deaths from cardiovascular diseases in the decade rose from 600 to 900 per 100,000 people. "We heard [from proponents of shock therapy] that every revolution is accompanied by losses and that these inevitable losses may hit first of all the older generation. But it is a scientific fact that mortality has increased most of all among people of the younger generation, aged 20 to 50," he added. VY

Speaking at a meeting of CIS interior ministers in the Moldovan capital Chisinau, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said on 16 June that his ministry has destroyed a large organized-crime ring that was involved in sending women to work as prostitutes to North America, Asia, and even Africa, ORT reported. Nurgaliev said that Interior Ministry officers released 72 young women and girls and confiscated $500,000 and a large number of false travel documents. Nurgaliev said the documents were used to transport women recruited in Russia and CIS countries with the promise of lucrative jobs abroad. The trafficking ring was based in Primorskii Krai and made up to $100,000 on each woman. The ministry's operation became possible after Russia introduced legislation criminalizing slavery and human trafficking last year, ORT added. VY

Konstantin Lebedev, the leader of pro-Putin youth organization Walking Together, announced on 15 June in Moscow that his organization will publish a "blacklist" of newspapers that the organization believes misinform the public and publish ordered and paid-for materials in the form of editorial content, Ekho Moskvy reported. Among the newspapers included on the blacklist Lebedev named "Novaya gazeta," "Komsomolskaya pravda," "Moskovskie novosti," "Nezavisimaya gazeta," "Moskovskii komsomolets," "Gazeta," and "Kommersant-Daily." Meanwhile, "Gazeta" Editor in Chief Mikhail Mikhailin said in response that it would be interesting to know first who is paying for Walking Together, Ekho Moskvy reported. VY

Investigators seeking to clarify the events that led to the release in April of a Doctors Without Borders staffer abducted in Daghestan in August 2002 intend to question the individuals involved in securing his release, Interfax reported on 16 June quoting an unnamed official from the department of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office in the Southern Federal District. Russian agencies reported in April that Arjan Erkel was freed in a joint operation by the Daghestan branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Daghestan's Interior Ministry. A spokesmen for the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) veterans' organization told Interfax in Moscow on 11 April that members of his organization also participated in the operation to free Erkel, for whom he said no ransom was paid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004). In late May, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said it paid a $1 million ransom for Erkel, which Doctors Without Borders had promised to repay. LF

Leading members of the opposition Artarutiun alliance told several thousand participants at a demonstration in Yerevan on 16 June that "the first stage" of their campaign to force the resignation of the country's leadership is over, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Albert Bazeyan, a leading Artarutiun member, said that Artarutiun and its ally, the National Accord Party, need time to discuss alternative methods of attaining that goal. Other opposition leaders admitted privately that the campaign to force the resignation of President Robert Kocharian has lost momentum since police resorted to violence early on 13 April to break up a similar demonstration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2004). They said it is unlikely that further antigovernment demonstrations will be scheduled before the end of the summer. LF

On 15 June, the final day of his visit to Georgia, Ilham Aliyev traveled with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili to the predominantly Azeri-populated districts of southeastern Georgia, where the two presidents met briefly with representatives of the local population. Zumrud Gurbanli, leader of the Azerbaijani organization Heyrat, told the online daily that during their brief meeting with Aliyev the Azerbaijanis raised only minor issues, avoiding any mention of major problems such as efforts by some Georgian officials to deprive them of the right to own land. On 16 June, Aliyev visited Gazakh, Akstafa, Tovuz, Shamkir, and Gyanja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, Turan reported. In Gyanja, police resorted to violence against a group of people who tried to gain access to Aliyev to lodge unspecified complaints, according to the opposition daily "Azadlig," as cited by Turan on 17 June. Several people were reportedly injured in the fracas. LF

Fulfilling a prediction State Minister for European Integration Tamar Beruchashvili made in Tbilisi on 14 June, donors at a conference in Brussels on 16 June pledged a total of $1 billion over the next two years to promote economic reform and to combat poverty in Georgia, Reuters and Caucasus Press reported. Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania described the pledges as an important indication of international support for the reforms on which Georgia has embarked. European External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten and Foreign and Security Policy Commissioner Javier Solana both warned that the aid is not unconditional, and that donors expect Georgia to implement "real reforms." LF

Georgian State Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava told journalists in Tbilisi on 15 June and Interfax on 16 June that the Georgian government will demand that the mandate of the Russian peacekeepers deployed since 1992 in South Ossetia be revised to limit their presence to districts where the population is mixed Georgian and Ossetian. He also expressed disappointment that Moscow has not yet made good on its pledge to replace the commander of the Russian peacekeeping force, Major General Svyatoslav Nabdzorov, whom Khaindrava accused earlier this week of refusing to investigate the alleged infiltration of the Georgian village of Eredvi by Ossetian militants. Speaking in the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, South Ossetian Minister Without Portfolio Boris Chochiev said on 16 June that Tbilisi's insistence on Nabdzorov's replacement is "groundless," as "he has not done anything to harm either Georgians or Ossetians," Caucasus Press reported. He said Georgian threats to take unilateral action to limit the operations of the Russian peacekeepers could set the peace process back by three or four years, Interfax reported. LF

In a statement released on 16 June, the Russian Foreign Ministry called for the immediate withdrawal of Georgian Interior Ministry troops it claimed were deployed in the conflict zone during the night of 15-16 June, Caucasus Press reported. It branded that deployment a gross violation of the agreement reached on 2 June, under which Tbilisi undertook to withdraw Interior Ministry troops it had sent to South Ossetia in late May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 3 June 2004), noting that Georgia's actions "do not contribute to normalizing the complex situation in the conflict zone." Also on 16 June, Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Gomiashvili told journalists that Georgia has acceded to a South Ossetian request that the next meeting of the Joint Control Commission that monitors the situation in the conflict zone be held in Moscow, rather than in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. The Joint Control Commission comprises representatives from Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia, and the Republic of North Ossetia, which is part of the Russian Federation. LF

Darigha Nazarbaeva, the daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaeva and the leader of the pro-presidential Asar party, in a 16 June interview with Russia's "Moskovskii komsomolets" downplayed rumors that she is being groomed as her father's successor. Lamenting that "no matter what I do, everything will be viewed through the prism of succession," Nazarbaeva said that the speculation stems from the "machinations of enemies." She added that Asar will support "the acting president" in 2006 presidential elections. In response to a question about the "Kazakhgate" scandal and trial of James Giffen in the United States, Nazarbaeva described the court proceedings as a tax case between Giffen and U.S. authorities, dismissing all other aspects of the case as "a myth pushed by the [Kazakh] president's opponents." DK

The Communist Party of Kazakhstan and the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party held a small unauthorized rally in Astana on 16 June in support of imprisoned opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The news agency reported that an estimated 50 people took part in the rally. Communist Party leader Serikbolsyn Abdildin said that participants demanded "freedom for the political prisoner Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov." Abdildin denied that the unauthorized demonstration, held in front of the parliament building in the Kazakh capital, was illegal. "The constitution does not ban holding rallies," he said. Zhaqiyanov received a seven-year sentence in 2002 for abuse of office on charges his supporters claim were politically motivated. DK

A source in the Kazakh Defense Ministry told Interfax-Kazakhstan on 16 June that Russian media reports that Kazakhstan has concluded a $1 billion deal with Britain's BAE Systems for antiaircraft-defense modernization are "inaccurate." Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" published the news on 15 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2004). RBK reported on 16 June that Kazakh Defense Ministry sources would not confirm the report. The news agency added that an anonymous source in the Russian Embassy in Almaty has "no information" about the alleged deal. The embassy source noted, however, that Russian President Vladimir Putin was informed during a January visit to Astana that Kazakhstan was planning to hold a tender for an antiaircraft-modernization contract and would invite Russian companies to participate. DK

Environment and Emergency Situations Minister Temirbek Akmataliev announced on 16 June that as of 20 June he is halting the work of vehicle-emissions checkpoints throughout the country, reported the same day. The checkpoints were set up in 1998. According to a ministry press release, the checkpoints are being mothballed in the course of an administrative reform, and may be phased out completely. At the same time, measures are being taken to develop an alternate mechanism for controlling pollution from vehicle emissions. Despite these changes, noted, the checkpoint at Lake Isskyk-Kul will continue to function. DK

President Vladimir Putin arrived on 16 June in Tashkent on the first stop of his three-day visit to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, during which he will discuss regional security and bilateral issues with Central Asian leaders, ORT, NTV, and RTR reported. On 16 June, Putin and Uzbek President Islam Karimov signed a treaty on strategic partnership in the political, economic, military-technical, and trade spheres. Karimov commented that the agreement "lays the basis for a qualitatively new level of long-term relations between our countries." His Russian counterpart seconded the thought, saying, "It is indeed a new stage in conducting relations between our governments." Speaking at a press conference following his meeting with Karimov, Putin announced that the gas monopoly Gazprom is ready to invest up to $1 billion in Uzbekistan's economy. VY/DK

On 17 June President Putin took part in a conference of the heads of state of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking to journalists before the meeting, Putin said that one focus of the SCO meeting will be the situation in Afghanistan, and that Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai will also attend, reported. On the eve of the summit, Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev met with Chinese President Hu Jintao to discuss the construction of road and railway links between the two countries, reported. Jintao also met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, "Kazakhstan Today" and Tajik TV reported. Nazarbaev and Jintao focused on the current state of oil pipeline projects to link Kazakhstan and China. VY/DK

Russia's LUKoil have signed a $1 billion production-sharing agreement with state-run Uzbek oil and gas company Uzbekneftegaz to develop the Kandym gas field, RTR reported on 16 June. The 35-year agreement creates a company 90 percent owned by LUKoil and 10 percent owned by Uzbekneftegaz whose gas produced will be divvied up into roughly equal shares. The project is expected to begin producing gas in 2007. Russian involvement in the Uzbek economy appears to be on the upswing. At a press conference after talks with President Karimov, President Putin noted that Russia's Gazprom plans to invest $1 billion in the Uzbek economy, reported. "This is not Russia investing in Uzbekistan, but Russian business investing," Putin commented. DK

A dozen Minsk-based EU ambassadors on 16 June visited the apartment in which three Belarusian lawmakers -- Syarhey Skrabets, Valery Fralou, and Uladzimir Parfyanovich -- and a group of opposition activists were in the 14th day of a hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2004), RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The lawmakers are demanding democratic changes to the country's Election Code and the release from custody of their political associate, Mikhail Marynich. Citing health reasons, the ambassadors called on the protesters to end the strike. "[We call on the protesters] to halt the hunger strike in order to preserve their health and use their courage that they have demonstrated in action for the sake of their country's future," French Ambassador Stephane Chmelewsky read from a joint statement. The Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house, has reportedly decided to consider on 22 June the possibility of amending the Election Code. JM

The Belarusian opposition Five Plus coalition told two representatives of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Ian Mitchell and Holly Ruthrauff, in Minsk on 16 June that they would like the OSCE to start monitoring Belarus's campaign for the 17 October parliamentary election as soon as possible, Belapan reported. The ODIHR representatives reportedly answered that their organization will dispatch a monitoring mission to Belarus as soon as it receives an official invitation from the authorities. JM

State Property Fund head Mykhaylo Chechetov said on Fifth Channel Television on 16 June that he is proud that a Ukrainian bidder won the tender for the Ukrainian steelmaker Kryvorizhstal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2004). Kryvorizhstal was purchased by a consortium led by two Ukrainian oligarchs, Viktor Pinchuk and Rynat Akhmetov, for some $800 million, despite the fact that foreign bidders offered from $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion for the 93 percent stake that was put up for sale. "I believe that the patriotism of any official is demonstrated by his deeds, not by the language he uses," Chechetov said, switching between Russian and Ukrainian. "[I] could speak Ukrainian but give the company to the Americans or Russians.... But I still speak Russian, and I have left the crown jewel of Ukrainian steel-making to the national investor." One unsuccessful bidder, the LNM and U.S. Steel group, which offered $1.5 billion for the stake and another $1.2 billion in an investment program, has reportedly appealed to the Ukrainian government to review the Kryvorizhstal tender. JM

Mykola Mazurenko and Ivan Soschenko, who were sentenced in Iraq in October to seven years in prison each for smuggling, are returning to Ukraine, Interfax reported on 17 June, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy. Mazurenko and Soschenko were among the crew of the Panamanian-flagged vessel "Navstar-1," which was detained last year off the Iraqi coast with an illegal load of oil (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 May 2004). After the sentence was handed down to them, the two sailors were incarcerated in the notorious Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad. Lubkivskyy said a Ukrainian court will review their case and in the event it confirms the Iraqi verdict, the two will serve their terms in a Ukrainian prison. JM

The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) announced on 16 June that it is endorsing Boris Tadic in the second round of Serbian presidential elections, BETA reported. The DSS has traditionally been a bitter rival of Tadic's Democratic Party. The DSS said in a statement that Tadic has its support in implementing a "policy that facilitates Serbia's stability and progress.... This is why it is very important that the future president of Serbia promote these goals fully and unreservedly." As priorities the DSS listed the adoption of a new constitution, strengthening the unified state of Serbia and Montenegro, implementing a political settlement regarding Kosova, and intensifying economic reforms. Tadic was cited by the Tanjug news agency as saying on 17 June that he believes the DSS's support for his candidacy is sincere. The news agency also reported that Tadic would meet later that day with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the DSS. Reports earlier this week said Kostunica had resigned rather than endorse Tadic or Tomislav Nikolic of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in the 27 June runoff. The government later denied those reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2004.) MES

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has chosen Soren Jessen-Petersen to serve as his special representative for Kosova and to head the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), UN News Center reported on 16 June. Jessen-Petersen will replace Harri Holkeri, who resigned from both posts last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2004). UN spokesman Stephan Dujarric said on 16 June that Annan has informed the Security Council of his decision, and that the body is expected to reply in a few days. Jessen-Petersen is a lawyer and journalist by training who has served since February as the EU's special representative in Macedonia. MES

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who on 17 June appeared before the UN war crimes tribunal for the first time in three months, asked that former U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder appear as witnesses, AFP reported. "Please issue an order that they have to appear as witnesses here," Milosevic said. "They were heads of state. I was a head of state. You are trying me here as a head of state." Patrick Robinson, the presiding judge in the case, told Milosevic, who is defending himself, that he would have to submit his request in writing. The former Yugoslav president, however, said he has no intention of doing so. On 16 June, the Hague-based tribunal rejected a motion to dismiss the charge of genocide against Milosevic for his alleged role in the Bosnia war, AFP and AP reported. Milosevic faces a total of 66 counts, including crimes against humanity and war crimes for his alleged role in the wars in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosova in the 1990s. He is due to begin presenting his defense case on 5 July. LA

According to an official from the Muslim-Croat Federation Commission on Missing Persons, experts have unearthed a mass grave in Prijedor, a town in the northwest of Bosnia-Herzegovina, dpa reported on 17 June. At the beginning of the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia, Bosnian Serb troops captured the Prijedor area. The head of the commission, Jasmin Odobasic, said that the grave contained an unspecified number of bodies of non-Serbs, probably Muslims killed in mid-1992. In early June, the Bosnian Serb government announced that 31 additional mass graves were found in various locations, containing the remains of victims of the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004). LA

Ion Iliescu said on 16 June that the decision of the European Commission to insert a "safeguard clause" into the accession treaty with Bulgaria, which the EU eventually plans to do with Romania, is an indication that the commission is taking precautions in order to appease Euroskeptics, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said that the clause is an "early warning" for the two countries meant to boost their sense of responsibility. The "safeguard clause" stipulates that the accession of Bulgaria and Romania to the EU might be delayed for one year if the two countries renege on pledges to meet EU standards. Bulgaria and Romania are provisionally slated to join the EU on 1 January 2007. Sofia has concluded accession negotiations with the EU, while Romania has yet to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 June 2004). MS

The Superior Council of Magistracy on 16 June voted unanimously to reject the request of Supreme Court President Paul Florea to continue serving in his post, Mediafax reported. The council said Florea has reached the retirement age of 70 and should be pensioned off. Florea, who was appointed in 1998 by former President Emil Constantinescu, is considered to be close to opposition circles. MS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 16 June officially inaugurated construction work on the Brasov-Bors highway, which will connect the Transylvanian town of Brasov with a crossing point on the Hungarian border, Mediafax reported. Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) Chairman Bela Marko and representatives of the U.S. Bechtel company, which was awarded the construction contract, were also present at the ceremony. Nastase said that the highway will "connect Romania with the EU." He said that the 400-kilometers-long project is "ambitious" and that Bechtel is a "solid and credible partner." Alluding to EU criticism of the lack of transparency in the process of awarding the contract, Nastase said that "The money is Romanian and what counts is that we are convinced of the operation's transparency... This project can never fall under suspicion of corruption" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 9 February and 4 March 2004). MS

The Moldovan Foreign Ministry said on 16 June that Moldovan and EU representatives have reached an agreement on the Action Plan for Moldova, which sets strategic cooperation targets for the next three years, Infotag reported. According to a ministry press release, the agreement will go into effect after the two sides complete the "relevant internal procedures." Infotag interpreted "internal procedures" to mean approval of the plan by the 25 EU members, and reported that the procedure may be a lengthy one. Under the plan, Moldova has offered to establish intensive security, political, economic, and cultural relations with the EU, to accelerate cross-border cooperation, and to share responsibility with EU states in conflict prevention and management. According to the press release, the EU stated that it is ready to intensify its participation in the search for a peaceful solution for the Transdniester conflict. The plan also envisages furthering Moldova's EU integration by offering "asymmetrical access" to EU markets for Moldovan-made products. MS

President Vladimir Voronin said on 16 June that CIS member states should create a "joint legal space" in order to coordinate their struggle against "international terrorism and other forms of extremism," Infotag reported. Voronin was meeting with CIS interior ministers in Chisinau. Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said participants in the interior ministers' meeting discussed "problems related to terrorism, problems of illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug trafficking." Nurgaliev said these problems are "the new threats of the 21st century" and that they may be prevented only by joint efforts of the CIS member states, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. MS

Citizens of the 10 countries that joined the European Union on 1 May for the first time participated in European Parliament elections held last week. The election to what is now the world's second-largest legislature after India's should have marked a historic occasion. Instead, it served only to demonstrate -- in a most bizarre fashion -- that those who divide Europeans into "old" and "new" are not very realistic.

In the expanded EU, about 350 million people were eligible to vote in the elections, and less than half of that number did so. But while the percentage of eligible voters who turned out for the elections was the lowest ever (just 45.5 percent EU-wide, compared with 49.4 percent in 1999 and 63 percent in the first 1979 Europarliament elections), it was lower still in the eight former communist countries that were recently admitted as new EU members. Remarkably, Malta and Cyprus -- the two new EU members that are not former communist states -- bucked the trend, with Malta recording 82.4 percent turnout and Cyprus 71.2 percent (although it must be noted that in Cyprus voting is compulsory). The average EU turnout figure might have been even lower, were it not for the two island states. The dishonor of recording the lowest turnout goes to Slovakia, where less than 17 percent of voters bothered to go to polling stations. Poland, the largest of the new members and one of the largest among the 25 EU states, fared only slightly better with 20.8 percent turnout, followed by Estonia (26.8) and Slovenia, which registered its lowest election turnout since its independence with 28.3 percent, on par with the Czechs. Hungary's 38.4 percent turnout could be considered a success compared with the Slovaks, but turnout was also a historic low for a postcommunist election there. Latvians boasted voter participation of 41.2 percent, but were bettered by their Baltic counterparts in Lithuania -- who set the pace for the eight former communist countries with 48.15 percent turnout. This was largely due to the fact that Lithuanians were also casting ballots for a successor to their impeached president, Rolandas Paksas.

While Slovaks might benefit from voter fatigue, having just voted in a presidential election in April, the low turnout among the new EU states indicates that their endorsement of EU accession in referendums was due more to their perceptions of what the EU symbolizes (prosperity) than to their approval of its ideological principles (democratic participation of its members in the decision-making process). It is tempting to speak of a "democratic deficit" and doing so may be warranted. However, the blame is not to be entirely laid at the door of the "new" Europeans. The low (albeit somewhat less spectacularly so) turnout in the 15 "old" EU members demonstrates that voters are simply unaware of the extended powers of the European Parliament and how much these prerogatives already affect their daily lives. And the fault for failing to clarify that lies with their respective governments.

Not that the incumbent officials were not penalized by voters. After absenteeism, this is indeed the second common trait between "new" and "old" Europeans. But the powers that be were sanctioned for the wrong reason. Instead of perceiving the Europarliament ballot as an opportunity to send to Brussels and Strasbourg those most knowledgeable on European affairs, in most places the vote was little more than a showdown between incumbents and the opposition on domestic issues. This was not entirely unexpected, for due to unawareness of what the tasks of Europarliament are, most Europeans both "old" nor "new" yielded to the temptation to transform the elections into a sort of by-election and prelude to parliamentary elections in their own countries -- and incumbent governments seldom win by-elections. They failed to do so only in a few places, notably in Greece; in Cyprus, where voters appeared to give the thumbs-up to the government's rejection of the UN blueprint for the island's reunification; in Luxembourg; in Spain, where the new government's decision to withdraw Spanish soldiers from Iraq probably counted most; to a lesser extent in Belgium; and, surprisingly enough, in Slovakia. It must, however, be borne in mind that a 16.95 turnout tells nothing about how Slovaks might vote the next time around. Otherwise, incumbents lost everywhere, from Warsaw to Prague, from Budapest to Ljubljana, and in the three Baltic capitals.

At first sight, the expanded (from 626 to 732 seat) European Parliament will not look essentially different from the outgoing legislature. It will be still dominated by the center-right European People's Party (EPP), with the Socialists as the second-largest faction and the Liberal Democrats third. Yet, this "X-ray" may be misleading. Among parties affiliated with the EPP, one finds many populists and/or "Euroskeptics" of one shade or another. That is certainly the case of the Czech Civic Democratic Party, which won a plurality of the 24 Czech votes; of the Hungarian Alliance of Young Democrats-Civic Democratic Party (FIDESZ), which likewise won a plurality of the Hungarian vote; or of the League of Polish Families, which placed second in elections in Poland (the most clearly anti-EU Polish formation, Self-Defense, fared less well than predicted by pollsters and won six out of the 54 seats to which Poland is entitled in the enlarged Europarliament). To these one must add the unreformed Czech communists, who are strongly anti-European and who placed second in the Czech ballot.

It could have been worse: in Great Britain, the moral victor of the elections was the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), whose platform calls for withdrawal from the EU altogether, and which won 17 percent of the vote. But it could have been better, as this is not how one would expect the eight former communist countries to mark their return to European democracy.

An improvised explosive device killed four Afghans in the northern Afghan town of Konduz on 16 June, a press release from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) reported ( The target of the remote-controlled explosion was an ISAF vehicle on its way for a maintenance check. In addition to the driver of the vehicle, a man and two schoolchildren standing nearby were killed. This is the first fatal attack targeting ISAF's only force outside of Kabul. AT

The commander of the NATO-led ISAF Lieutenant-Colonel Rick Hillier said on 16 June that the international force in Afghanistan will expand before key elections in September, international agencies reported. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has called on NATO to expand its force ahead of the elections, which were originally slated for June but were delayed because of security and logistical reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2004). According to Hillier, NATO is expected to expand its force to the northern provinces of Balkh and Faryab, AFP reported on 16 June. Afghanistan figures high on NATO's agenda for its upcoming summit in Istanbul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 June 2004). AT

Karzai on 16 June met with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit held in Tashkent, Xinhua news agency reported. Hu expressed his shock to Karzai at the terrorist attack on 10 June that left 11 Chinese construction workers dead in Konduz Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2004). China is "very much concerned with the fact that the criminals [responsible for killing the Chinese workers] are still at large," Hu added. The Chinese president said that his government hopes Kabul "will carry out a thorough investigation" into the matter "as soon as possible" and will punish those responsible. Karzai, expressing his own shock at the incident, said that he hopes that China will continue to cooperate with Afghanistan. Afghan authorities have arrested around 10 suspects in the case and have blamed the neo-Taliban and supporters of former Afghan Prime Minster Gulbuddin Hekmatyar for the attack (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 June 2004). AT

Ahmad Shah Sultani, a London-based Afghan businessman, is planning to establish the first-ever private museum in Afghanistan, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 16 June. Sultani said that he has purchased more than 1,500 historic artifacts of Afghan origin from international art dealers and is planning to display them in his museum in Kabul as a gift to the Afghan people. The artifacts range from 100 to 5,000 years in age. Sultani is also planning a second museum in Ghazni, in east-central Afghanistan. He also said that he has purchased and donated some items, which originally belonged to the National Museum of Afghanistan, to the Afghan government. Many of Afghanistan's rich historic treasures were destroyed by the civil war of the early 1990s and subsequent Taliban regime. According to the Radio Free Afghanistan report, illegal excavations are still continuing across the country in areas controlled by warlords. AT

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told reporters on the morning of 16 June that a tough European resolution that is being prepared for the current International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) board of governors meeting in Vienna is unacceptable, state television reported. He said that the most recent IAEA report on Iran ( and the draft resolution contradict the findings of IAEA inspectors. Khatami went on to describe his letter to the heads of state in Great Britain, France, and Germany, saying that he told them Iran would like to continue cooperating with them and it does not intend to suspend this cooperation. In light of the draft resolution, he said, Iran is skeptical about the Europeans' commitment to their undertakings and it no longer feels morally committed to the suspension of uranium enrichment. Khatami hedged a bit by saying that this is not an announcement of pending action, nor does it mean that Iran will withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Hussein Musavian, spokesman for the Iranian delegation to the IAEA board of governors meeting, expressed the hope that the third draft resolution will reflect Khatami's comments, IRNA reported. BS

The IAEA on 17 June acknowledged that it wrongly accused Iran of withholding information about importing dual-use machinery, Reuters reported. The agency reported that Iran's admission of importing parts for P-2 centrifuges did not come until April, but Tehran produced a tape-recorded conversation in which it gave the information to the IAEA in January. Senior IAEA inspector Pierre Goldschmidt said in a statement to the agency's board of governors, "This oral statement was not picked up by the agency inspectors." IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei described the error as minor and said the Iranians could have helped to correct it. He went on to say that Iran never reported the imports in writing and said the "lack of clarity" about Iran's centrifuge program remains. Iranian spokesman Musavian told reporters, "We believe this is [an] innocent mistake, and the effect against Iran has been too much by this mistake because the whole atmosphere created in the board that Iranian information always has been contradictory, with changes," RFE/RL reported. "This is the most important issue in the report which has reflected in the resolution, draft resolution by E-3 [Germany, France, and Great Britain]. Now, it is completely clear this has been wrong." BS

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with new members of the legislature at his home in Tehran on 16 June, state radio reported. In his speech he built on the declaration that this is the "year of accountability" for the government (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 March 2004). Khamenei stressed the importance of the comptroller-general's office, which deals with public revenues, tracks spending, and allocates the budget. He told the parliamentarians: "There are two aspects to your work so far as accountability is concerned. You have to be accountable and you should hold others accountable." He told them to determine their priorities and to report to the public. Khamenei also encouraged his audience to fight financial corruption and warned, "Money is a dangerous thing, a very dangerous thing." BS

Khamenei also addressed the subject of development in his speech to legislators, state radio reported. He said that the Iranian development model is an indigenous one that is particular to the country and its people. "We should not emulate anyone, neither the World Bank, nor the International Monetary Fund, neither the right-wing countries nor the left-wing countries," Khamenei added. He went on to say that there are thousands of incomplete projects in Iran, and instead of starting new projects the incomplete ones should be finished first. He noted that local projects, such as an airport or a road, are started due to the interest of legislators and the pressure they put on the government. "So what is the result?" he asked. "The result is that our incomplete projects will increase from more than 4,000 to 5,000 or 10,000." BS

First Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi said on his 16 June return to Mehrabad Airport after a three-day trip to Oman that the two sides signed a number of bilateral agreements, IRNA reported. Aref-Yazdi said that one of the four memorandums of understanding cancelled visa requirements for Iranians, and the other three established cooperation in the areas of counternarcotics, commerce, tourism, and fishing. The Oman News Agency reported on 16 June that Aref-Yazdi and Oman's Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Sheikh Salim bin Hilal bin Ali al-Khalili attended an event at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) the previous day. OCCI Vice President Khalid bin-Muhammad al-Zubayr told his guests that Iran-Oman trade totaled 208 million Omani rials ($541,694,880) in 2003 and 192 million Omani rials in 2002. BS

A suicide car bomb detonated outside an army recruitment center in the Iraqi capital on 17 June, killing some 35 Iraqis and wounding 119, according to an unidentified Iraqi Health Ministry spokeswoman cited by Reuters. She added that the death toll is still rising. CNN reported that many of the victims had just exited a city bus when the bomb went off. The recruitment center is located at the Al-Muthanna airport, which is a base for U.S. troops. A car bomb detonated at the same location on 11 February, killing 47 Iraqis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 February 2004). Meanwhile, a second car bomb detonated at the entrance to an Iraqi power plant in Al-Musayyib on 17 June, dpa reported. Two Iraqis were killed and five injured in the blast. The plant came under mortar fire before the car detonated, plant manager Tahsin al-Jiburi said. The attack was the fourth on the power plant in the past three weeks, he added. An Iraqi translator working for the coalition was also shot and killed on 17 June as he approached a military base located between Al-Hillah and Baghdad, a local doctor told dpa. KR

The Baghdad City Council has said that it wants martial law imposed in the Iraqi capital for six months beginning on 30 June, the date that the United States is to transfer power to the Iraqi interim government, Baghdad's "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 15 June. The council said in a statement that the proposal will be submitted to the Council of Ministers, adding that the imposition of martial law would help address the security concerns in Baghdad. KR

Salem Chalabi, court administrator for the Iraqi war crimes tribunal told France's La Chaine television in a 16 June interview that deposed President Saddam Hussein could be subject to the death penalty when he is tried for war crimes by the tribunal. Asked if Hussein could be sentenced to death if found guilty, Chalabi replied: "Yes, but it's a bit complicated legally, in particular in terms of the status of the tribunal. But in any case, any person convicted of murder in Iraq must be subjected to the same law, that is to say the death penalty. [U.S.] Ambassador [Paul] Bremer abolished the death penalty when he arrived, and the Iraqi government thus has to lift this suspension." The Baghdad City Council called for the reinstatement of the death penalty during a weekly meeting this week, "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 15 June. Karim Jaff, deputy chairman of the council, said that the reinstatement of the death penalty would help to deal with security lapses, which he said might increase after the 30 June transfer of power. KR

An aide to anti-coalition Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told London's "Al-Hayat" that there are no plans under way to convert the cleric's Imam Al-Mahdi Army into a political party, the daily reported on 16 June. Sheikh Qays al-Khazali refuted reports that "we intend to turn the Al-Mahdi Army into a political current or party," saying that "we have repeatedly said that the Al-Mahdi Army is not an armed militia that will be transformed into anything else." Al-Khazali claimed that the "army" did not constitute an armed militia because its members do not receive salaries "or have military equipment." Those who are armed took their weapons from their homes, he contended. "It is possible for some figures [affiliated with al-Sadr] known for their honesty and patriotism to occupy [political] positions," in Iraq, Al-Khazali added. KR

The independent commission investigating the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington issued a report on 16 June stating that there is no credible evidence to link the Al-Qaeda terrorist network to the deposed Iraqi regime, RFE/RL reported. The report said that while Iraqi officials met with an Al-Qaeda representative 10 years ago, then-president Saddam Hussein rebuffed his calls for cooperation. "At that time [1994], [Osama] bin Laden is said to have requested space for training camps, assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded," former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Deputy Director Douglas MacEachin testified to the commission. "There have been reports that contacts between Iraq and Al-Qaeda also occurred after bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, but they do not appear to [have] resulted in a collaborative relationship." MacEachin added that "we have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States." The Bush administration has claimed for several months that a link existed between the Hussein regime and Al-Qaeda. KR

Donald Rumsfeld ordered the U.S. military not to list the name of an Iraqi detainee on the prisoner rolls at Camp Cropper in Baghdad, reported on 17 June. Rumsfeld issued the order at the request of former CIA director George Tenet, according to the newspaper. The unidentified prisoner is said to be a senior officer in the Ansar Al-Islam terrorist group that was based in Iraqi Kurdistan prior to the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The justification used by the CIA for not listing the detainee as well as many other suspected "ghost detainees" held in Iraq, was that the Geneva Conventions allow for a delay in the identification of detainees in order to avoid letting the enemy know those detainees' whereabouts, the newspaper reported. The detainee in question was initially transferred outside Iraq for interrogation following his July arrest. An unidentified U.S. official told the daily that the man "possessed significant information about Ansar Al-Islam's leadership structure, training, and locations." Upon his transfer back to Iraq, the detainee was interviewed by intelligence only once, and then subsequently "lost" in the system, because of his nonregistration, according to the newspaper. KR