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Newsline - June 24, 2004

Beslan Khamkhoev, named acting interior minister of Ingushetia on 22 June, told Interfax on 23 June that five people have been apprehended on suspicion of participating in the 21-22 June raids of police facilities in Ingushetia. He said two of those five were wounded in the raid and cannot be questioned. On 24 June, Khamkhoev said 10 suspects have been apprehended, Interfax reported. Khamkhoev's predecessor, Abubakar Kostoev, was one of dozens killed in the raids. Also on 23 June, a Chechen police official told Interfax that the administrative border between Ingushetia and Chechnya has been sealed, depriving the retreating Ingush raiders, who are variously estimated to number between 200 and 500, of the possibility of taking refuge in the mountains of southern Chechnya. LF

Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist), the deputy chairman of the Duma Security Committee, said he was "bewildered" by the carelessness of Russian military intelligence (GRU), the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Interior Ministry troops deployed in Chechnya in light of the deadly raid in Ingushetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 23 June 2004), "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported. A GRU officer, Colonel Aleksei Zhadin, said his comrades in Chechnya are always on high alert but that in this case the Chechen fighters managed to outsmart them. Military journalist Vladislav Shurygin told "Komsomolskaya pravda" that the success of such an operation means that Chechen fighters have agents working in the Russian security services. He added that the war in Chechnya continues, despite statements to the contrary by the Kremlin. Judging by some of the details of the raid, Shurygin said, it was only a test for larger attacks in the future. Meanwhile, "Vremya novostei" on 23 June quoted an unnamed top official in Ingushetia who said that federal forces were in no hurry to support local police. He added that "when we called for help to an FSB special forces center, they said they were not going to risk their people." VY

President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov observed the Mobility-2004 military exercises at an army base near Vladivostok on 23 June, ORT, RTR, and other Russian media reported. Afterward, Putin gave awards to soldiers taking part in the drills and stated that regular and successful military exercises will promote a positive image of the armed forces: "The better you train, the higher the prestige of the army will be among the people." Ivanov said that although the maneuvers are expensive they are necessary to monitor the mobility of the troops and their ability to protect transport communications. Ivanov noted that neighboring countries in the region -- China, Japan, and North Korea -- are not concerned by the exercises because they are not aimed at real combat action. Meanwhile, RTR said the Far East was picked as the site of the maneuvers in order to test the army's ability to defend the most remote parts of Russia and to test the skills of the troops to fight in an unfamiliar area. VY

Speaking in Vladivostok after visiting a fishing trawler and an ocean-resources research center on 23 June, President Putin said he is upset by the current situation in which Russian fishermen sell some 80 percent of their catch directly to foreign companies without paying customs, and only the remainder is being used domestically, reported. "In the USSR the proportion was reversed. It looks like we are selling cheap raw materials and buying expensive finished products," Putin said. He called on the fishing industry to enlarge fishing companies through mergers and to impose severe punishment for poachers. "I have no doubt that the Duma will support a bill strengthening administrative and criminal punishments for poaching," Putin noted. Putin continued his trip by travelling to Kamchatka on 24 June. VY

Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court decided on 23 June to postpone hearings in the case against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev until 12 July, NTV and other Russian media reported. The ruling came at the request of the lawyers of co-defendant and former Volna head Andrei Krainov. According to NTV, lawyers for Khodorkovskii and Lebedev were displeased with the move. NTV reported that there are 21 defense lawyers active in the hearings, and they are not always able to act in tandem. Khodorkovskii's lawyer, Yurii Shmidt, told NTV that it is important to remember that Krainov is at liberty, while Khodorkovskii and Lebedev have been held for months in pretrial detention. RC

A plurality of Russians named President Putin as the best possible "leader of the united democratic forces" of Russia, according to a poll by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTSIOM) released on 23 June, reported. The national survey of 1,600 respondents asked the question: "Who do you think could become the leader of the united democratic forces?" Although 27.45 percent were unable to name anyone, 21.73 percent named Putin. Former Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) co-leader Boris Nemtsov was named by 6.85 percent, while former SPS co-leader Irina Khakamada came in third with 4.21 percent. Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov was next with 3.45 percent, followed by Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii (3.2 percent), former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov (2.76), Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref (1.51), and jailed former Yukos head Khodorkovskii (1.01). RC

Asked to comment on the survey results, Irina Khakamada told on 23 June that the public "associates President Putin with rightist economic policies and ignores the fact that an authoritarian regime is being established." "In Russia, because of the efforts of the authorities to establish a managed democracy, politics has been destroyed, there are no independent media outlets, independent [political] parties are not allowed to participate in elections on equal terms," Khakamada said. "Most Russians associate politics with Vladimir Putin. There just isn't anyone else; all the others have been destroyed." RC

The State Duma on 23 June passed on first reading a bill submitted by the presidential administration that is intended to simplify the procedures for holding regional and local elections, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill would authorize the holding of local district and municipal elections on the same day as a way of reducing expenses and increasing turnout. President Putin's representative in the Duma, Aleksandr Kosopkin, noted the large number of local elections scheduled for the next 18 months and said they threaten "to become a succession of unending voting, making the population tired of the process." Under the bill, the terms of some current local administrations could be cut by as many as 12 months in order to facilitate the consolidation of the elections. RC

Tatyana Markeeva, the head of the Finance Department at the former Labor Ministry, was arrested on 23 June and charged with stealing 29 million rubles ($1 million), "Izvestiya," ORT, and RTR reported. According to investigators, Markeeva is accused of transferring funds to a phony construction company for reconstruction work in an Interior Ministry building that was never done. Markeeva's deputy, Anatolii Golubenko, who was arrested two months ago and confessed to the charges against him, founded the company. According to investigators, Markeeva helped Golubenko win a 320-million-ruble ($10.7 million) tender for the work at the ministry. The investigation added that all the documentation in the deal was falsified. The Labor Ministry was dissolved in March and its functions transferred to the Health and Social Development Ministry. VY

Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov on 23 June called on the Communist Party not to attempt to initiate a referendum on the government's proposed plan to replace in-kind social benefits with cash payments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2004), Radio Rossii and ITAR-TASS reported. He said that such a referendum would be illegal under both the current law on referendums and the new draft law that was recently passed by the State Duma. Veshnyakov advised the Communists "not to get engaged in political rhetoric." He added that: "A referendum may not be used as a means of political manipulation." RC

Ten alleged members of the Islamist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir have been arrested in the Siberian city of Tobolsk, Interfax reported on 23 June. Hizb ut-Tahrir has been declared an extremist organization in Russia. According to a prosecutor's office spokesman, some of the arrested men were residents of Tyumen Oblast, while others came from other, unspecified regions of Russia. The suspects have been charged with organizing an extremist organization and instigating citizens to commit crimes, including terrorism. The spokesman also said the literature that "appears to be extremist in character" and unspecified weapons were seized during the arrests. RC

Gazprom has stopped natural-gas deliveries to 28 villages in Kabardino-Balkaria because of the republic's debts to the state-controlled gas monopoly, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 June. The local Gazprom subsidiary, KavkazTransgaz, closed nine gas-delivery stations, leaving an estimated 105,000 people without gas. Gazprom claims the republic owes more than 2.3 billion rubles ($76.7 million) and is calling on the administration to restructure the debt. RC

Former Black Sea Fleet commander Admiral Vladimir Komoedov has been dismissed from the armed forces, reported on 24 June. President Putin dismissed Komoedov as Black Sea Fleet commander in 2002, reportedly because the admiral failed a physical examination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 October 2002). Prior to that, Komoedov had been engaged in a long-running and often public feud with Navy commander Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2002). Kuroedov, who has been working in the Defense Ministry since 2002, said that he was surprised by the dismissal and had intended "to serve the country for another six years" until he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60. RC

Homeless people in Petrozavodsk are being issued passports and provided with public assistance in a major new public-health campaign, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 June. City authorities estimate that there are some 3,000 homeless people in the city. The city administration and the police are also arranging for free health examinations for the homeless, including diphtheria inoculations. People with tuberculosis will be hospitalized, according to the report. Special buses have been arranged to transport the homeless to the building where the services are being provided. RC

President Putin has directed the Presidential Property Office to restore the Tsarist practice of designating an official stamp to special suppliers of the Kremlin as a public endorsement of the quality of their goods, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 June. A symbol for the stamp will be created and must include a double-headed eagle. A commission made up of members of the Academy of Sciences will conduct a competition to design the seal. Selected suppliers will be divided into two categories: those accepted for use in the Kremlin and those accepted for use in the presidential residence, the newspaper noted. VY

The international human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) has released a new 38-page report chronicling how the ongoing war in Chechnya has negatively affected the human rights situation in Ingushetia, Reuters and Interfax reported on 23 June. The report notes the disappearance of "dozens" of people in Ingushetia this year, including that of a senior prosecutor's office official who sought to alert the Russian government to that trend (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 28 May 2004), and the presence in Ingushetia of an estimated 50,000 displaced persons from Chechnya. The report accuses the federal and republican authorities of lacking the will to investigate human rights abuses and bring those responsible to justice. The report includes a number of recommendations to the Russian authorities, including not pressuring Chechen fugitives to return to Chechnya and enabling representatives of independent media outlets and human rights organizations to travel freely in Chechnya. LF

Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) told Interfax on 23 June in Strasbourg, where he is attending the summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, that the Amnesty International report is "superficial and biased." He complained specifically that it fails to condemn "terrorism" in Chechnya, which he identified as the primary source of human-rights violations in the region. Speaking in Grozny on 23 June, Taus Dzhabrailov, chairman of the interim pro-Moscow Chechen Parliament, said the reopening of the OSCE office in Grozny, which was one of the recommendations contained in the Amnesty International report, is unnecessary, Interfax reported. He argued that the presence of the mission encouraged the "guerrillas" to think of themselves as a political force. Dzhabrailov added that international human-rights organizations could contribute more effectively to improving the situation by providing additional economic and humanitarian aid and by pressuring the governments of those OSCE member states that assist the Chechen resistance to stop doing so. LF

Robert Kocharian told the summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in Strasbourg on 23 June that the police action to disperse demonstrators in Yerevan early on 13 April was justified because "the organizers...were demonstratively calling for civil disobedience," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He further said that attempts by the Armenian opposition to emulate the "Rose Revolution" in Georgia last November and force him to step down will fail because Armenia's economy is "developing dynamically," and the government functions efficiently and is capable of maintaining public order. Kocharian expressed "regret" that the Armenian opposition sought to induce the PACE to condemn the police reprisals, adding that such attempts to "settle scores" should be conducted in the Armenian parliament rather than in an international body. Responding after his 20-minute address to a question from an Azerbaijani parliamentarian, Kocharian acknowledged and said he is proud of his role in the Karabakh war in the early 1990s. (He was named chairman in August 1992 of the State Defense Committee, the de facto wartime government of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.) Kocharian said his children were deprived of their childhood by being forced to "hide in a basement" for three years during the Azerbaijani artillery bombardment of Stepanakert. LF

A municipal court in the town of Armavir handed down an 18-month jail sentence on 22 June on charges of illegal possession of drugs to Lavrenti Kirakosian, who heads the local chapter of the opposition National Democratic Union, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 23 June. Kirakosian, 44, who was jailed for 10 days after being arrested at an opposition protest in Yerevan on 11 April, claims police planted the drugs they claim to have found during a search of his home. Kirakosian, who has been imprisoned on two previous occasions for his opposition engagement, is the sixth opposition activist against whom criminal charges have been brought in the past three months. LF

Continuing a trend that has now lasted four months, Armenia's national currency gained further ground over the past two weeks against both the U.S. dollar and the euro, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 23 June. As of 23 June, the dram was trading at 535 to the U.S. dollar compared with 564 drams in February, and has strengthened from 724 to 655 drams to the euro over the same time frame (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 29 April 2004). A spokeswoman for the Armenian National Bank attributed the rise to the increased inflow of foreign currency into Armenia. LF

Members of two Azerbaijani political movements staged further protests on 23 June against the participation in a NATO conference in Baku of two Armenian Army officers, Turan reported. Some 100 activists who congregated outside the hotel where the conference is taking place also demanded the release of several members of the Karabakh Liberation Organization (QAT) detained for their participation in a similar protest the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). One of those detained, QAT Chairman Akif Nagi, faces criminal charges of "hooliganism." LF

Eleven members of the opposition Center for Democratic Development in Nakhichevan began a hunger strike on 21 June to protest police reprisals and the appalling socioeconomic conditions in the exclave, Turan reported. On the morning of 24 June, local police forced their way into the Nakhichevan headquarters of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, insulted the hunger strikers, and threatened them with violence, Turan reported. LF

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on 23 June expressing the hope that the Georgian authorities will release Diana Abashidze, the daughter of ousted Adjaran leader Aslan Abashidze, and will refrain from "persecuting" Aslan Abashidze and members of his family, ITAR-TASS reported. Diana Abashidze has been held under virtual house arrest since she traveled to Batumi late on 20 June to commemorate the first anniversary of her mother's death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2004). She has been interrogated three times, most recently on 23 June, by officials from the Georgian Prosecutor-General's Office in connection with the alleged nonpayment of 40 million laris ($22 million) in taxes by the Batumi Tennis Club and other companies she allegedly owns. Opposition parliament deputy David Gamkrelidze (New Conservative Party, the former New Rightists) told Caucasus Press on 23 June the Georgian authorities are trying to "blackmail" and "settle scores" with Abashidze by holding his daughter "hostage" for a vast sum of money. LF

Crown Prince and First Deputy Prime Minister Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud met with Nurtai Abikaev, the speaker of Kazakhstan's upper house of parliament, on 23 June in Astana to discuss bilateral cooperation and the possibility of Saudi investment in Kazakhstan, Khabar TV reported. "We plan to undertake the reconstruction and development of the port in Aqtau in order to turn it into a free economic zone and the main economic center in the Caspian region," Kazinform quoted Abdallah as saying. The crown prince, who himself owns telecommunications companies, also expressed interest in Kazakhstan's cellular communications market. For his part, Abikaev thanked Saudi Arabia for the grant it provided to construct Kazakhstan's Senate, or upper house of parliament. DK

Kazakh UN envoy Erzhan Kazykhanov has signed the World Health Organization's (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 23 June. A Foreign Ministry press release stated that "this international legal document is intended to protect current and future generations from the harmful health consequences of tobacco use, as well as the social, economic, and environmental consequences of smoking," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The WHO describes the convention as "a new legal instrument that could address issues as diverse as tobacco advertising and promotion, agricultural diversification, smuggling, taxes, and subsidies." The Foreign Ministry press release stressed that "in signing the WHO convention, Kazakhstan obligates itself to undertake all necessary measures to implement it on a national level." DK

Valerii Dil, chairman of parliament's Committee on Governance, Legality and Constitutionality, told a 23 June session of parliament that Kyrgyzstan's large external debt is hampering the country's socioeconomic development, Kyrgyzinfo reported. Dil said that the country's external debt stood at 76.6 billion soms ($1.7 billion) on 1 January 2004, and that the cost of servicing the debt makes it virtually impossible to allot badly needed funds to social programs. The lawmaker went on to note that economic woes have led to a sharp increase of labor migration, with 200,000-500,000 Kyrgyz citizens seeking work throughout the CIS, primarily in Russia and Kazakhstan, in search of higher wages. DK

The Majlisi Namoyandagon, or lower house of parliament, voted on 23 June to exempt print media, children's literature, fiction, scientific and technical literature, and textbooks from the value-added tax, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Usmon Sabzov, a member of the Budget, Finance, and Taxes Committee, told the news agency that the changes to the Tax Code were made in response to President Imomali Rakhmonov's address to Tajik intellectuals in March. Newspaper editors offered differing reactions. Rajab Mirzo, editor in chief of "Ruzi Nav," told RFE/RL's Tajik Service that the changes will mainly benefit printers and importers of printing equipment and supplies. But Rahim Saydaliev, the editor in chief of "Chavononi Tojikiston," said that he welcomes any concession by the authorities to support journalists, adding that newspapers will be able to use what they save on taxes to raise salaries and improve overall coverage. DK

The Turkmen opposition website "Gundogar" reported on 23 June that an outbreak of an infectious disease, most likely plague, has been affecting northern and northwest Turkmenistan for a month. Noting that the outbreak caught the Turkmen health care system unprepared, Gundogar said that the first cases have now been reported near the capital city of Ashgabat. Russia's "Vremya novostei" reported similar information about a plague outbreak on 23 June. Both reports noted that official Turkmen media are providing no information on the situation, and that citizens are avoiding purchases of meat and dairy products in an effort to avoid infection. DK

Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattorov told journalists in Dushanbe on 23 June that Uzbekistan is ready to begin demining the Uzbek-Tajik border, ITAR-TASS reported. The Uzbek initiative was announced on on 18 June at an OSCE meeting in Vienna, Sattorov said. Asia Plus-Blitz quoted a Tajik source as saying that the Uzbek representative in Vienna said that "Uzbekistan is ready to take up the issue of demining the state border as soon as possible." The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry confirmed in a 23 June statement that the Uzbek pronouncement applies to the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border as well. Both Kyrgyz and Tajik spokespeople welcomed the initiative. According to RFE/RL's Tajik Service, more than 60 people have been killed along the Tajik-Uzbek border in mine-related incidents over the past six years. DK

Uta Zapf, the chairwoman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus, said on 23 June that the state of democracy and human rights in Belarus has further deteriorated, Belapan reported. Zapf condemned the persecution of nongovernmental organizations and the independent media, particularly the recent expulsion of Ukrainian journalist Mikhail Padalyak, which she said has "contributed to a climate of fear and self-censorship" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). Zapf also characterized as political propaganda two programs recently aired on Belarusian Television, "The Road to Nowhere" and "Political Pedophilia," which are critical of the opposition in Belarus. She added that there are reports that the station plans to broadcast a series of 20 similar programs. Zapf urged Belarusian authorities to release opposition politician Mikhail Marynich, whom she said was detained "on politically motivated grounds," and begin an independent investigation into the disappearances of four prominent Belarusians. AM

Zapf and Urban Ahlin, who is likewise a member of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus, expressed their hope that a 22 June debate on proposed amendments to the Election Code "contributed to greater awareness among lawmakers of the need to address the flaws in the electoral legislation," Belapan reported on 23 June. The Chamber of Representatives agreed to debate the proposed amendments only after three members of the parliamentary caucus Respublika staged a hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). Zapf described the strike as heroic and expressed her belief that the Respublika group will succeed in their efforts. Zapf also said Lidziya Yarmoshyna, chairwoman of the Central Election Commission, has assured the OSCE delegation that international observers will be invited to Belarus in the runup to parliamentary elections and that political parties will be allowed to have representatives on the Central Election Commission, although they will not be allowed to take part in the decision-making process. AM

The Verkhovna Rada voted 275-5 on 23 June to pass bill No. 4180, containing amendments to the constitution prepared by the parliamentary constitutional committee, Interfax reported. The opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary caucuses the same day blocked the rostrum and did not take part in the voting. The opposition considers bill No. 4180 to be the same piece of legislation as bill No. 4105, which is intended to shift presidential powers to the parliament and premier. The latter bill was rejected by the Verkhovna Rada in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004). Bill No. 4180 will now head to the Constitutional Court for consideration and will require 300 votes for approval upon its return to the parliamentary agenda in the fall. AM

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate recently published allegations that President Leonid Kuchma was involved in the slaying of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 23 June. The allegations were made in an article published on 19 June by the British daily "The Independent" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). "We urge the prosecution to pursue every lead in the case and to investigate fully allegations involving President Kuchma," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a statement quoted by Interfax-Ukraine. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 21 June announced that its investigators are currently investigating a man, identified as "K.", who it says has confessed to carrying out the killing. "The timing of this announcement, combined with President Kuchma's repeated interference in the investigation into Gongadze's murder, raises deep suspicions," Cooper said. AM

Christian Schwarz-Schilling, who is the international mediator in Bosnia-Herzegovina, told Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service by telephone on 23 June that the international community should remain engaged in Bosnia and "not lose patience." Speaking at the end of his 10-year mission, the former German cabinet minister stressed the importance of implementing "European standards," particularly in matters regarding refugee returns, the rights of the individual, and the development of democratic institutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 October 2003). He spoke of unnamed "difficult cities and towns," noting, however, that many problems disappear once the local leaderships are replaced. Schwarz-Schilling said that he is content with what he has done, stressing, however, that much patience and a strong will are still necessary for mediation work to succeed in Bosnia. PM

Teodor Meron, who chairs the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Potocari near Srebrenica on 23 June that it is "simply unacceptable" that the Bosnian Serb authorities have not detained or extradited a single indicted war criminal, dpa reported. In Sarajevo, Reuters quoted several local analysts to the effect that the Bosnian Serb police are unlikely to arrest leading indictees Radovan Karadzic or former General Ratko Mladic despite the recent admission by Bosnian Serb President Dragan Cavic that Serbian forces had carried out the 1995 Srebrenica massacre (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). Some of the analysts suggested that the poorly paid police would prefer that NATO forces take on the potentially dangerous task of arresting Karadzic, who is believed to be in the constant company of bodyguards. The Bosnian Serb authorities maintain that they have "no information" about the presence of Karadzic or Mladic on their territory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 21, and 22 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004). PM

On 23 June in the U.S. diplomatic mission in Prishtina, ethnic Albanian and Serbian political leaders from Kosova held their first confidence-building talks since the violence of 17-18 March, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Participants later said that they considered the meeting a success, having discussed repairing and reconstructing destroyed buildings, integrating Serbs into Kosova's institutions, and implementing the standards set down by the international community (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April 2004). Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi told RFE/RL that such meetings must be held more frequently. Hashim Thaci of the Democratic Party of Kosova (PDK) noted a willingness by the Albanians to reach compromises with the local Serbian leaders to encourage the Serbs to seek solutions to their problems in Prishtina and not in Belgrade. Ramush Haradinaj, who heads the Alliance for the Future of Kosova (AAK), expressed optimism that Serbs will soon take part in Kosova's institutions. Kosovar Serbian leader Oliver Ivanovic said that he appreciated the Albanians' willingness to repair and rebuild Serbian homes and schools, stressing that it will be interesting to see whether this marks the beginning of better interethnic relations. He said that it is up to the Albanians to create conditions for the Serbs to truly participate in government institutions and not be "window dressing." PM

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who is the new head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service by telephone on 22 June that the international community must not neglect Kosova even if developments in Afghanistan and Iraq seem more pressing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2004). He stressed that he is very familiar with the situation in Kosova and knows that the tasks he faces are daunting. Jessen-Petersen noted that he is nonetheless determined to achieve progress during his tenure. On 17 June, Veton Surroi, who is the publisher of the Prishtina daily "Koha Ditore," wrote in an editorial that the top UNMIK job is so thankless and ridden with contradictions that the new UNMIK chief would be wise not to take it. PM

Tomislav Nikolic, who is the candidate of the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) in the 27 Serbian presidential runoff election, said in Belgrade on 22 June that he will keep his campaign promises if elected, calling on women in particular to vote for him, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. Nikolic said that if the parliaments of Serbia, Montenegro, and the joint state agree, he will propose to all Balkan countries that they dissolve their armed forces and destroy their weapons. He added that if Russia and the United States support the program, Serbia will be the first to destroy its weapons, and the other countries need not follow suit until Serbia has destroyed the last of its weapons. Nikolic noted, however, that it will be necessary to maintain some armed security forces "for the fight against terrorism and organized crime, [as well as to maintain] security and order, [provide] the traffic police, and [continue] special units." PM

Campaigning for the 27 June Serbian presidential runoff election will formally end at midnight on 24 June, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The previous night, SRS candidate Nikolic and his Democratic Party opponent Boris Tadic held a "debate" on television, although the BBC's Serbian Service said that the two did not really debate but simply stated their known positions. Tadic stressed the importance of European integration, while Nikolic said that his main priority will be fighting organized crime. Tadic called for full cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, but Nikolic said that "not a single Serb" will be extradited to The Hague if he is elected president (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 June 2004). PM

Romanian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Bogdan Aurescu on 23 June spoke with Ukrainian Ambassador to Romania Teofil Bauer about the planned Bystraya Canal, according to an official communique released the same day. Aurescu repeated the Romanian side's request that Ukraine stop working on the Danube delta project until an impact study requested by international conventions on wildlife preservationis completed. Aurescu said Kyiv should also send Bucharest detailed technical information on the project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May and 4 June 2004). In related news, the head of the Council of Europe's Natural Heritage and Biological Diversity Division, Eladio Fernandez-Galiano, is to visit the construction site in July to assess the project's impact on the area's bio-diversity. ZsM

Chisinau-based "Timpul" weekly journalist Alina Anghel was beaten by two unknown assailants on 23 June near her home in Chisinau, Flux reported. She is currently in the hospital with serious head and arm injuries. "Timpul" Editor in Chief Constantin Tanase said the attack on Anghel was ordered by the authorities, and it is an "act of intimidation" against the free press. He accused President Vladimir Voronin and Interior Minister Gheorghe Papuc of being behind the attack. Anghel has reported on alleged corruption involving Papuc, the presidential office, and the Daac-Hermes auto importer. The attack came a day before Anghel was to testify before the Chisinau Court of Appeals in a libel case filed by Daac-Hermes against "Timpul" over an article by Anghel. ZsM

When members of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) gather on 26 June for a party congress just outside of Moscow, one likely subject for discussion is a possible merger with the right wing of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. Boris Nadezhdin, secretary of the party's presidium, raised the issue on 19 June at a meeting of the party's Moscow Oblast branch. According to Nadezhdin, Kremlin political strategists would perhaps support the creation of an electoral bloc composed of SPS and Unified Russia's "right wing," "Gazeta" reported on 21 June.

Nadezhdin's statement sparked considerable skepticism within the party. Leonid Gozman, head of the party's Creative Council, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 June that such a union is hardly possible since Unified Russia's right wing is more virtual than real. The same day, Gozman told Ekho Moskvy that any union between "such a monster and our party, which failed to show good results at the elections," would in reality be more like a "takeover" than a marriage of equals. "I am absolutely sure that we will never do that," he said. Former party co-leader Boris Nemtsov told Interfax that Unified Russia has neither a right nor a left wing and can maintain its popularity only so long as the president's rating remain high.

Writing on on 21 June, analyst Georgii Kovalev reported that Nadezhdin also used the 19 June meeting to launch his own claim to leadership of the party. Nadezhdin stated at the meeting that "[former SPS co-leader Anatolii] Chubais is not ready to head the party and there is no other leader of his stature," according to He continued that Nemtsov and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov are likely candidates, but if new candidates are desirable, then he is "ready to participate in the process" himself.

Kovalev predicted that while the leadership issue will likely not be raised at the congress, the idea of joining Unified Russia's "right flank" will certainly be discussed. According to Kovalev, Chubais is seen as the party's informal leader, and the majority of SPS members do not view Nadezhdin's ambitions positively. However, a "soft incorporation of the right into the structure of the pro-presidential party will definitely be on the agenda," in part because SPS represents business interests that "under current conditions would not find it profitable to be in conflict with the authorities."

So far, the response from Unified Russia to Nadezhdin's idea has been guardedly positive. In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Deputy Duma Speaker and Unified Russia Supreme Council member Vyacheslav Volodin called the idea "sensible. "It is no surprise that a section of the center-right in SPS can see a great deal in common with itself and Unified Russia's party platform," Volodin said. Last month, other members of Unified Russia's Duma faction -- including Andrei Isaev, Gennadii Gudkov, and Oleg Morozov -- raised the issue of splitting the party into right- and left-wing factions.

The topic of breaking up the party of power has also been the subject of a number of articles in the Russian press. "Itogi," No. 23, reported -- citing unidentified Kremlin sources -- that the presidential administration is counting on splitting the party up. According to the weekly, the idea of creating a right-wing group in the Duma by drawing some members from Unified Russia was seriously discussed immediately after the December 2003 elections to compensate for the absence of the defeated Yabloko and SPS. But party leaders decided instead to enjoy their new dominance in the Duma and not create different factions from their 300-plus members.

However, by the 2007 election, "Itogi" suggested, "the semi-disintegration of Unified Russia is dictated by several reasons." The main one, according to the weekly, is that by the next elections, there might simply be no one to compete with the "ruling party" -- which does not suit the president's multiparty-system agenda. Another reason is that "many deputies elected from single-mandate districts who have joined the Unified Russia faction do not feel very comfortable there because they have no real opportunities to lobby their local interests."

In an article on on 26 May, analyst Tatyana Stanovaya suggested that Unified Russia is perhaps not big enough to house all of the egos and diverging ambitions of its members. She noted that "in such a large faction that brings together extremely diverse people, many of whom were previously independent political figures, the problem of distributing power in such a way that these political figures acquire fitting status and do not feel 'downgraded' is a timely one." According to Stanovaya, it "is not even a question of a struggle for power within the faction but of seeking some kind of unique project [former members] to head and, in the context of which, to obtain at least a modicum of autonomy."

Despite the obvious appeal of forming separate parties from the point of view of individual Duma deputies, some political analysts are skeptical that the presidential administration has any interest in seeing the Unified Russia party or faction split into smaller pieces. Sergei Markelov, director of the Mark Communications political-consulting group, told "Izvestiya" on 27 May that the presidential administration will not support attempts to break up Unified Russia.

Dmitrii Orlov, head of the Political and Economic Communications Agency, agreed. "I'm sure these statements are not authorized by the leaders of the party," Orlov told "Izvestiya." "Measures aimed at separating platforms were logical up to the mid-1990s. Now, when power is being consolidated, this is not necessary. Such attempts can only lead to internal fractures within Unified Russia." Along these same lines, "Gazeta" opined on 21 June that while it is well known that the Kremlin is interested in having an intellectually sound right-wing group in the Duma, it is less clear whether it would be "happy to break up the already amorphous Unified Russia." "Such a merger would be beneficial for the right-wing leaders, who would get a chance to occupy some Duma posts," the daily noted, "but the prospects for the party [itself] would be [dim]."

In a speech on 23 June, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai confirmed the date on which elections will be held, Afghanistan Television reported. "We register 100,000 people almost on a daily basis in Afghanistan. If this continues, God willing, we will register at least 6.5 [million]-7 million people from both men and women, which will be enough to hold elections. I think this number is enough for us to hold elections in the country. Elections will definitely be held in Mizan [22 September-21 October 2004] and the country will elect its system and leadership through its own votes," Karzai said. Karzai's remarks put an end to recent speculation that because of security and lack of progress in registering voters, the elections may be postponed. AT

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in Kabul on 23 June that the force will expand its area of operation beyond Kabul and Konduz Province in northern Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported. The unidentified spokesman said that ISAF will expand to Parwan and Logar provinces, situated to the north and south of Kabul, respectively. ISAF's expansion is to ensure security during the upcoming elections in Afghanistan scheduled for September-October, the spokesman added. NATO has promised to expand its presence in Afghanistan for some time, but political factors have slowed expansion plans (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 June 2004). AT

Lieutenant Colonel Susan Meizner, a U.S.-led coalition spokeswoman, told RFE/RL on 23 June that the U.S. military command has no knowledge of a claim by a senior allied commander in the Afghan National Army (ANA) that his troops beheaded four suspected Taliban fighters they captured in Zabul Province. "At this point, we've read the same [media] report, but we've had no independent confirmation of any of that story. So I don't have any information on it at this point. We have no investigation under way. We have no knowledge other than the report in the media about this," Meizner said. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said on 23 June that it was "not possible" for ANA troops, trained by international forces, to behead prisoners. Ne'matullah Tokhi, commander of the ANA 27th Division, claimed that his soldiers captured four neo-Taliban members in Zabul Province and cut their heads off in retaliation for the beheading of two Afghans by the neo-Taliban earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). AT

A remote-controlled explosive device detonated under a military vehicle in Spin Boldak District of Kandahar Province on 22 June, killing five Afghan soldiers, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 23 June. Abdul Razaq, a commander of the Kandahar border force, blamed the neo-Taliban for the incident, though no one has claimed responsibility for the explosion. AT

Eight British military personnel who were detained by Iranian forces after their boat entered Iranian waters were released on 24 June, Mehr News Agency reported, citing Reuters. A U.K. Foreign Office spokesman said on 24 June that the eight were released into British custody and are on an airplane flying from southwest Iran to Tehran, Bloomberg reported. An anti-British demonstration took place when they arrived in the capital, Al-Alam television reported. Conflicting reports on the eight had them being released on 23 June, but according to Reuters on 24 June, talks on the subject continued late into the evening without their being released. Brigadier General Ali Reza Afshar, deputy chief for defense and cultural affairs at the Armed Forces Headquarters, said on 23 June that his command issued orders for the eight's release, but not for the release of their three vessels, ISNA reported. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 24 June that the boats and other equipment will be released in five days, state television reported. BS

Tehran University political scientist Sadegh Zibakalam linked the detention of the British personnel with the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution that criticized Iran, "The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 24 June. He said, "If the European powers, including Britain, had acted more favorably toward Iran, this kind of operation would not have taken place." He added that Iran is asserting itself as a regional power. "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 23 June that the incident reveals an "evil plot by the British" and a "conspiracy." It linked the British presence in the Shatt Al-Arab waterway with recent incidents involving Iran and its neighbors in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, and said, "the British have been the masterminds stage-managing it all!" A 23 June report in London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," as translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (, linked the case with the alleged Ukrainian detention of 40 prospective suicide-bombing volunteers in Iraq who are connected with a unit created by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps. The alleged suicide bombers were reportedly turned over to British custody, but the United Kingdom refuses to acknowledge holding them. BS

Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam television broadcast "confessions" and statements by the British captives several times on 23 June, and it also showed them marching along a beach with their hands on their heads. In one transmission, two of the captives acknowledged mistakenly entering Iranian waters and apologized for this, and one of them said that the GPS navigation system was not working properly and they were forced to use nautical charts. Both captives said they were being treated well. Sergeant Thomas Hawkins said: "The treatment of the Revolutionary Guards was very friendly. They gave us food and water and allowed us to sleep. Treatment during the course of the investigation was good." An unidentified British captive said: "The Iranians are taking care of us well and are dealing with us well. They are very kind." In a later transmission on Al-Alam a detainee said, "after spending time here in Iran with some Iranians, we have come to understand Islam better and we have come to understand your beliefs." BS

Iran quickly released a 25-member Turkish military unit that entered its territory on 22 June, RFE/RL and ISNA reported. A Foreign Ministry fax to ISNA stated that the Turks entered Iran accidentally and were released after an investigation. The Baztab website reported on 23 June that the Turks crossed the border while putting up barbed wire. BS

Ali Hashemi, chief of the Drug Control Headquarters, said on 23 June in Gorgan that his agency is not behind the recent crackdown on the use of waterpipes, Radio Farda reported, citing the official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) ( A ban on waterpipe smoking, a popular recreational pastime, went into effect on 21 June. The owners of restaurants and other facilities where the pipes are in use can be fined, as can the smokers, and the pipes can be confiscated. Hashemi said his agency does not have any responsibility for waterpipes, but the ban will affect his agency nevertheless. Even if a small percentage of people use substances other than tobacco in the pipes, he said, the government should not close all the coffeehouses or ban waterpipes. BS

Militants launched attacks against Iraqi and coalition forces in five Iraqi cities on 24 June, international media reported. The attacks took place in Baghdad, Ba'qubah, Al-Fallujah, Mosul, and Al-Ramadi. Al-Arabiyah reported that a U.S. helicopter was downed in Al-Fallujah early on 24 June, just two days after U.S. forces killed 20 foreign fighters in the city in a raid that targeted a group reportedly affiliated with fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. Al-Jazeera reported that two helicopters were downed in the 24 June fighting, while U.S. Marines confirmed one helicopter crash with no casualties. Al-Jazeera reported that two Iraqis were killed and five wounded during heavy fighting. U.S. forces have closed the Baghdad-Amman road due to the clashes in Al-Fallujah, Al-Arabiyah reported. In Ba'qubah, at least 19 Iraqi policemen were killed in fighting with gunmen who are reportedly members of the Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad group affiliated with Al-Zarqawi, Al-Jazeera reported. Gunmen seized four government buildings, including a police station in the city center, and raised black flags over them. Al-Jazeera also reported that two U.S. military vehicles were set alight before U.S. troops withdrew from the city and sent in helicopter gunships to fight the militants, many of whom had positioned themselves atop buildings in the city. KR

In addition to the fighting in Ba'qubah and Al-Fallujah, what appear to be coordinated attacks on police and civilian targets also took place in three other cities. In Al-Ramadi, at least five Iraqi policemen and one civilian were killed and 14 wounded in the city in numerous attacks. Gunmen bombed the Al-Qattanah police station in the city, destroying much of the building, Al-Jazeera reported. A booby-trapped car also exploded near an industrial zone in Al-Ramadi. The explosion reportedly targeted a U.S. convoy, but no casualties were reported. As many as six explosions rocked the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on 24 June, according to international media reports. Three of the explosions were from booby-trapped cars. An Iraqi police officer told Al-Jazeera that as many as seven police officers were killed and more than 20 Iraqis wounded in one of the attacks. One car bomb detonated near the Customs Department in Wadi Hijir (southern Mosul), causing unknown casualties and damaging several nearby vehicles, Al-Jazeera reported. Four Iraqi security officers were killed when a booby-trapped car exploded near a U.S.-Iraqi checkpoint south of Baghdad, Al-Jazeera reported. No details on that incident are available. The Health Ministry said at least 66 people were killed and 268 injured in the incidents that took place in the morning of 24 June, AP reported. KR

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported that the first in a series of attacks occurred on the west bank of the Tigris River when militants fired Katauysha rockets on the police academy, inflicting numerous casualties. While police and civilians worked to tend to the injured, an automobile broke through the crowd and detonated. Initial reports estimated that 25 policemen were killed and 56 injured. The car bomb ignited fires in adjacent cars, burning a family of four to death. At the scene, the mayor of Mosul declared a state of emergency in the city that includes a 9 p.m.-7 a.m. curfew. Just minutes after the attack, an explosion at the medicine faculty of Mosul University inflicted numerous casualties. A car bomb also detonated near the Yarmuk Bank in the Shaykh Fathi area of the city, killing two policemen. Police engaged militants attempting to break into the bank building, killing two fighters and capturing two others, RFI reported. Meanwhile, unidentified militants called in a bomb threat to the Mosul Municipality, prompting the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps to secure the area. Militants also attacked another bank in the city, but were unable to break into the building. A bombshell also fell near the local department of Awqaf and Religious Affairs. KR

An unnamed armed group sent a videotape to Al-Arabiyah television warning Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi against imposing martial law in Iraq, the satellite news channel reported on 23 June. The speaker in the tape says that "the factions of jihad and resistance in Iraq" came to a decision after hearing that martial law might be imposed. "First, we warn you against committing such an ugly and disgraceful crime, which you are carrying out on behalf of your masters, the occupiers.... We will relentlessly strike against all those who attempt to take part in this sedition," the speaker says. "The criminals [Iraqi interim government] will bear responsibility for all consequences in front of the Iraqi people. After this, we should not be blamed. The one who warns others is excused." Allawi said during a 20 June press conference broadcast on Al-Jazeera that he has no intention of imposing martial law after the 30 June transfer of power, but might declare a state of emergency in some areas. The Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad terrorist group vowed earlier this week to assassinate Allawi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). KR

The British daily "The Guardian" on 24 June cited U.K. military sources as saying that as many as 30,000 Iraqi policemen might be relieved of their duties due to incompetence and corruption. The officers would reportedly be paid off -- at a cost of some $60 million -- to leave their jobs before the 30 June transfer of power. The Iraqi police force has been plagued with incompetence from the beginning, with officers often adopting behavior acceptable under the Hussein regime but contrary to protocol set by the coalition, according to recent media reports. Moreover, reports have further said that officers have sometimes refused to partake in fighting against militants, most recently in Al-Fallujah. "The Guardian" reported that there are currently 120,000 policemen on the payroll, but only 89,000 actually turn up for work -- and more than half of those employed have not been trained. The daily added that those who don't work are either ghost employees on the books from the time of the Hussein regime, or are just continuously absent employees. Some 30,000 officers who are to be terminated from their positions will each receive between $1,000 and $2,000 in severance pay. KR