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Newsline - June 28, 2004

President Vladimir Putin, speaking on 27 June at a cultural festival near Novgorod Severskii, Ukraine, said that he values the cultural heritage of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine and wants to strengthen cultural ties among them, RTR and ORT reported. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka were also present at the festival, which was held close to the Russian and Belarusian borders. Lukashenka said he supports the views of the Russian president and that the three countries should adopt the "best of Soviet traditions." Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich also attended the meeting. Moscow is believed to support for Yanukovich in the October presidential elections in Ukraine. VY

Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov, speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 25 June, said that President Putin has declined an invitation to participate in the NATO summit that opened on 28 June in Istanbul, and other Russian media reported. Citing reasons for the decision, Chizhov said Russia is displeased at the Baltic states for delaying the signing of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. He also said that Russia is upset by NATO linking this issue to Russia's delay in withdrawing its troops from Georgia and Transdniester. Russia agreed to remove its troops from Transdniester at an OSCE summit in Istanbul in 1999, but now insists that both withdrawals should be subject to bilateral agreements. VY

Speaking on 26 June on an NTV talk show "Freedom of Speech," Colonel Sergei Goncharov, the chairman of a veterans' association for the Alfa antiterrorism force, said that the deadly raids on Ingushetia this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 23, and 24 June 2004) are testament to the complete failure of Moscow's Chechnya policy over the last decade. Speaking in a Moscow studio, Goncharov said that official reports from Chechnya, which say that the "separatists" have been defeated, are "false." The Russian administration made mistakes by withdrawing troops in 2003 and Putin has already recognized that the troops should return, he said. Goncharov added that the war has only been made possible by the overall support of the Chechen population. To stabilize the situation, Goncharov recommended that Moscow should abandon the idea of presidential elections and appoint a Russian military officer as governor. VY

Sergei Koryakov, who heads the Ingushetian branch of the Federal Security Service (FSB), was quoted by the independent website on 27 June as saying that his office received a warning of the raids on the Interior Ministry in Ingushetia during the night of 21-22 June before the attack began. Koryakov's deputy, Andrei Konin, said earlier on 27 June that his men received a warning of the attack 30 minutes before it began and relayed that warning to the Interior Ministry. That ministry, however, denied having received any advance warning. Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov similarly told Interfax late on 27 June that "we did not receive any information concerning imminent guerrilla attacks," according to LF

The number of people detained on suspicion of involvement in the 21-22 June raids has risen to 15, five Ingush and 10 Chechens, reported early on 28 June quoting unnamed officials from the Ingushetian prosecutor's office. The same website reported the previous day, apparently quoting the same source, that the Ingush detainees include a 23-year-old woman. On 25 June, acting Ingushetian Interior Minister Beslan Khamkhoev said his men detained several Chechen displaced persons on suspicion of involvement in the attack. He added that "the core" of the raiders were Chechens from the detachment of field commander Doku Umarov, but that it was unclear whether Umarov personally participated, Interfax reported. Also on 25 June, Feliks Shurdumov, a senior Interior Ministry official in Kabardino-Balkaria, told Interfax that the possible participation in the raid of residents of that republic is being investigated. LF

Speaking at a press conference on 26 June at Interfax headquarters in Moscow, Alu Alkhanov, who is widely perceived as the Kremlin's choice to succeed slain Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov in the 29 August election, said "our operational data" suggest that last week's raids in Ingushetia were masterminded by Aslan Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basaev with the aim of destabilizing the situation in that republic, Interfax reported. Alkhanov said he believes Umarov was "directly involved" in the attack. On 23 June, "Novye izvestiya" quoted Maskhadov's envoy Akhmed Zakaev as having told Ekho Moskvy the previous day that Maskhadov played no role in planning the attack. Alkhanov also said that on orders from international terrorist organizations, Maskhadov and Basaev refuse to participate in any peace talks, Reuters reported, and that efforts to capture them are continuing. Maskhadov recently told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that he has repeatedly called on Moscow to agree to unconditional peace talks, but without success (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 17 June 2004). Alkhanov further claimed at his 26 June press conference that "everything possible is being done" to solve abductions in Chechnya, the incidence of which he said has declined sharply in recent years. LF

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov told an international conference in Moscow devoted to the 50th anniversary of nuclear power that an international center for the storage of reprocessed nuclear fuel should be created in Russia, RBK reported on 28 June. "At present, Russia is the only country in the world whose domestic legislation allows the realization of such a project," Fradkov said, according to He said that nuclear power now accounts for nearly 16 percent of Russia's energy output. reported on 28 June that Russia has some 454 facilities for the storage of radioactive materials. VY

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov announced in Moscow on 25 June that he plans to return to "big politics," "Kommersant-Daily" reported a day later. Kasyanov was dismissed by President Putin in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2004). Kasyanov said he is planning to create and head a new international bank, which will finance the export of Russian and Central Asian hydrocarbons. The former premier told journalists that Putin has endorsed the project, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. VY

The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) on 26 June held a party conference in a Moscow suburb and decided to use a process of opinion polls and "primary elections" to choose its next leader, Interfax and other Russian media reported. The party has been leaderless since its former leadership -- former Duma Deputies Irina Khakamada and Boris Nemtsov and Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais -- resigned in January following the SPS's defeat in the December 2003 Duma elections. The process of choosing a new leader should be completed within six months, "Vedomosti" reported on 25 June. "Gazeta" reported on 25 June that the party would not select a leader at the congress because of "a lack of worthy candidates," while "Vedomosti" speculated that it was because Chubais has not yet decided whether he wants to become SPS head. RC

The concluding statement of the congress, Interfax reported on 26 June, said that "the most important task in preparations for the parliamentary elections of 2007 is to form a broad coalition of forces that share the party's principal values -- a democratic civil society, a market economy, defense of human and property rights, and a European path of development for Russia." SPS Presidium Secretary Boris Nadezhdin told "Gazeta" on 25 June that the party is considering closer relations both with democratic movements such as Yabloko and Committee-2008 and with "certain people now working in the government and the Duma who share our worldview and political practices." Nemtsov told "Gazeta" that "Unified Russia is the party of the president. It does not have right and left wings." Prime-TASS reported on 28 June that Chubais told journalists during the congress that the SPS is prepared to enter into talks on closer relations with Yabloko. Chubais said that the 26 June congress put an end to the "inertia of defeat." RC

Russia on 25 June released all seven of the men who had been seized by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and held for months in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Russian media reported. The men have been held in a pretrial-detention facility in Pyatigorsk since their release by the United States in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March 2004). Nikolai Khazikov, head of the Prosecutor-General's Office in the North Caucasus, told ITAR-TASS on 25 June that the men had been released but refused to comment further. The men were under investigation for allegedly participating in a criminal organization, serving as mercenaries, and illegally crossing Russia's borders. They were reportedly given money by the authorities to return to their hometowns, "The Moscow Times" reported on 28 June. RC

One of the men, Timur Ishmuratov of Tatarstan, told ORT on 24 June -- prior to the release -- that he had been captured by Northern Alliance forces shortly after the beginning of the U.S. military action in Afghanistan and "sold" to the Americans for $3,000-$5,000. Former prisoner Airat Vakhitov told ORT about alleged mistreatment while he was at Guantanamo. "They tore the Koran to pieces in front of us, threw it into the toilet," Vakhitov said. "When people were praying, they forced their way in and put their feet on people's heads and beat them." RC

The Duma on 28 June approved in their second reading amendments to the Administrative Code that would increase penalties for driving while intoxicated, RIA-Novosti reported. Those convicted of such offenses would lose their drivers' licenses for 1 1/2 to two years, rather than one year as stipulated by the current law. Duma Constitutional Law Committee Chairman Vladimir Pligin (Unified Russia) reported that 1,300,000 people were arrested for drunk driving in 2003 and drunk drivers were responsible for 23,800 traffic accidents that killed 1,074 people. RC

An unspecified number of forged election ballots were discovered in the Irkutsk Oblast city of Bratsk on 27 June, RIA-Novosti reported, citing municipal election commission Chairwoman Nina Belova. Belova told the news agency that an additional stamp was being added to all legitimate ballot papers to prevent the use of the forgeries and that local prosecutors are looking into the matter. Elections to municipal and oblast-level legislative organs were held in Irkutsk Oblast on 27 June. RC

Police in Yerevan said on 24 June that they have suspended their investigation into the 22 April assault on opposition politician Ashot Manucharian after failing to identify any suspects, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Manucharian suffered a fractured jaw and other injuries in the attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004). Manucharian, who was discharged from hospital on 3 May, has not made any public statement since the attack, and did not comment on the police decision. But one of his close associates, former Armenian KGB Chairman Eduard Simoniants, said he is convinced that the Armenian authorities have no interest in determining who was responsible for the assault. LF

The findings of a poll of some 2,000 Armenians across the country conducted by the Armenian Center for National and International Studies show that only 1 percent of respondents would agree to a settlement of the Karabakh conflict that would restore the Azerbaijani government's control over the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 25 June. Almost 60 percent of those polled said Karabakh should become a part of Armenia, while 39 percent said the region should be independent. The Armenian government position is that Karabakh should not be vertically subordinated to the central Azerbaijani government. One-third of respondents opposed the return to Azerbaijani control of seven districts currently occupied by Armenian forces; the remainder said the districts should be traded for either formal recognition by Baku of Karabakh's independence or a lasting peace. LF

Speaking at an international conference in Istanbul on 26 June on the eve of the 28-29 June NATO summit, Ilham Aliyev said efforts of the OSCE's Minsk Group to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict have yielded no results, Reuters reported. Arguing that Nagorno-Karabakh is an uncontrolled territory that serves as a haven for terrorists and drug smuggling, he called on the EU, the Council of Europe, and other international organizations to play a more prominent role in the search for a solution to the conflict. LF

A Tbilisi court remanded three residents of the Republic of North Ossetia, which is part of the Russian Federation, to three months' pre-trial detention on 26 June on charges of illegally crossing the border between North Ossetia and South Ossetia, which is part of Georgia, two days earlier, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. The three men were reportedly armed and wearing military uniforms, and according to the Georgian Ministry of State Security, are suspected of espionage, Caucasus Press reported. On 25 June, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the Georgian accusation of espionage leveled against the three detainees, who are Russian citizens, as an attempt to fuel anti-Russian feeling, Interfax reported. LF

Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava denied on 26 June South Ossetian allegations that members of the former Forest Brothers guerrilla organization have been sent to Georgian-populated villages in South Ossetia, ITAR-TASS reported. Forest Brothers commander Dato Shengelia, who publicly announced in February that the unit had disbanded and surrendered its weapons, similarly rejected the South Ossetian claims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 February 2004). For years, the Forest Brothers targeted first Russian peacekeepers deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone and then Abkhaz customs officials and police. They played a key role in the abortive attempt in May 1998 to restore Georgian control over Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 May 1998). LF

The South Ossetian authorities rejected a proposal by Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zurabishvili to open a joint Russian-Georgian checkpoint at the exit to the Roki tunnel that straddles the border between North and South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported on 25 June. South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murad Djioev pointed out that South Ossetia has repeatedly proposed establishing such a checkpoint on the administrative border between South Ossetia and the rest of Georgia but the Georgian leadership rejects that proposal. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who discussed the tensions in South Ossetia with Zurabishvili in Tbilisi on 25 June, reportedly neither accepted nor rejected her proposal, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Diana Abashidze, whose father Aslan Abashidze left Georgia for Moscow early last month after being compelled to step down as head of the Adjar Autonomous Republic, left Batumi for Moscow late on 25 June after a hostile crowd surrounded and threatened to attack her home in Batumi, Georgian and Russian media reported. She arrived in Batumi on 20 June to mark the first anniversary of her mother's death. On 23 June, opposition Georgian politicians alleged that the Georgian authorities were holding Diana Abashidze hostage in a bid to force her father to surrender assets they claim he stole from the Georgian people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2004). Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili told the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 on 26 June that Russian officials whom he declined to name had called repeatedly from Moscow to clarify Diana's predicament, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The first hearing took place in Almaty on 25 June in the Kazakh presidential administration's lawsuit against the opposition newspaper "Assandi-Times" and the online newspaper "Navigator," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The newspapers charged on 2 June that the presidential administration was responsible for a forged issue of "Assandi-Times" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 4 June 2004); the presidential administration wants the accusation retracted and is seeking 100 million tenges ($730,000) in damages. According to the news agency report, the court set the next hearing for 12 July in order to give the sides time to reach an amicable settlement. A 25 June article in "Assandi-Times" presented a slightly different view, alleging that the judge "did not propose to the parties that they try to come to an amicable settlement" and suggesting that the presidential administration may attempt to influence the ongoing investigation into the forged issue of the newspaper. DK

Registered candidates and parties in Kazakhstan's 19 September parliamentary elections will receive a single slot of free airtime to present their platforms, Khabar news agency reported on 25 June. Upon registration, each candidate and political party will be allotted 15 minutes on Khabar Television and 10 minutes on Hit FM Khabar. Candidates will also have the opportunity to purchase 30-second campaign spots to get their messages across. Additional information on conditions, broadcast times, and prices was published in "Karavan" newspaper on 25 June. DK

Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court will consider the legality of current President Askar Akaev's possible participation in the 2005 presidential elections as soon as the case reaches the court, reported on 25 June. The news agency quoted Court Chairwoman Cholpon Baekova as saying, "The Constitutional Court intends to review the query by Legislative Assembly Deputy Duishenkul Chotonov to resolve the dispute between the committees on State Government and Legality over the possibility of a third term for President Akaev." For his part, Akaev has said on several occasions that he does not plan to seek a third term in office. DK

Russian police acting in conjunction with Tajik Interior Ministry forces have captured Tajik terror suspect Tavakkalshoh Mirov in Russia's Penza Oblast, Interfax reported on 24 June. Mirov is a suspect in more than 20 murders and a number of explosions, including a bomb blast at a Dushanbe Christian center. Mirov is alleged to have led an organized crime group in 1994-2001; most of the murder victims were Russian soldiers serving in Tajikistan. According to a Russian Interior Ministry press release, Mirov underwent military training in Iran in 1996-97, RIA-Novosti reported. Mirov has resided in Russia under an assumed name since 2002. The press release goes on to state, "The Penza Oblast prosecutor's office is resolving the issue of Mirov's extradition to Tajikistan." DK

The bodies of four Tajik citizens were returned to Tajikistan from Russia on 24 June, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Although the Tajik Interior Ministry said that the four men died of natural causes, relatives of one of the deceased told the news agency that the body bore signs of violence. Asia Plus-Blitz went on to note that the bodies of 127 Tajik citizens have been returned to Tajikistan from Russia in the first five months of 2004; 40 of them were killed. The bodies of 420 Tajik citizens were repatriated in 2003; according to the news agency, 73 of them were killed. DK

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told journalists at a 25 June press briefing that Turkmenistan is making efforts to renovate a Russian school in Ashgabat and will try to complete the restoration of a new theater for the Russian-language Pushkin Theater in Ashgabat by mid-August, the Foreign Ministry's website reported. Yakovenko also noted that foreign embassies and international organizations in Turkmenistan cannot confirm that holders of Russian diplomas have been dismissed or suffered other ill consequences. The remarks dispute allegations of discrimination against Turkmenistan's Russian-speaking minority. At the same time, Yakovenko stressed that Moscow would like to convene a bilateral commission to discuss "humanitarian" issues with Turkmen representatives, but that Ashgabat has not responded to the request. The two countries' leaders spoke by phone on 25 June; a Kremlin press release and a report on indicated that their conversation focused on energy-sector cooperation. DK

Uzbekistan and Ukraine will create the first free-trade zone in the CIS, Ukrayinski novyny news agency reported on 25 June. Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and Uzbek Prime Minister Shavkat Mirziyoev signed an agreement on 25 June in Tashkent removing all exceptions and restrictions to free trade between the two countries, RBC reported. Ukrainian Ambassador to Uzbekistan Anatoliy Kasyanenko hailed the initiative as the first of its kind in the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported. Yanukovych also met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 25 June to discuss bilateral cooperation and regional security issues. ITAR-TASS quoted the Uzbek leader as saying, "We are interested in establishing a free-trade regime without any exceptions between our countries for the long term." According to Ukrayinski novyny, trade volume between Uzbekistan and Ukraine in 2003 totaled $250 million, against $140 million in 2002. DK

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka expressed on 25 June his concern over NATO troop deployment along the country's border, Belapan reported. "We cannot but notice how a huge military strategic potential once again has been concentrating along our border, acting in a manner that's far from friendly," Lukashenka said at a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Russia-Belarus Union. He added that Belarus has doubled its defense potential since the breakup of the Soviet Union and Western pressure is due to Minsk's unwillingness to convert its defense industry to civilian use. Lukashenka praised military ties with Russia, mentioning deliveries of antiaircraft-missile-launcher trucks and tank fire-control systems to that country. "No one asks weak, amorphous nations who have no allies if they want to go to war or not," Lukashenka said. "The leading powers have been guided by their own interests and using force without hesitation to advance them," he added. AM

Lukashenka said on 25 June that Russia has started to measure the worth of economic relations with Belarus in terms of pure cash, Belapan reported. "If you don't want to sell a company to a Russian tycoon for a dime, for example, the Beltranshaz [gas-pipeline network], you are off the list of allies," he said. "That is how the Russian media seem to perceive the term 'union' [between Belarus and Russia]," Lukashenka added. The Belarusian government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in state-owned Beltranshaz, replacing the "rotten pipes," and now "it is a modernized enterprise, which is the only one of its kind in Europe, which we can't give away for free," Lukashenka said. AM

The chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly), Mikalay Statkevich, announced on 26 June his party's pro-European platform in the run-up to the fall's parliamentary elections, Belapan reported. "We consider integration into Europe as a chance for our country and for our party," Statkevich said. He called for inculcating in Belarusian society the idea that democracy means European well-being, because of a predominantly negative perception of democracy. Statkevich stressed the party's readiness to cooperate with the Belarusian Women's Party Hope, the Belarusian Party of Labor, and the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly. The party intends to field 56 candidates for the Chamber of Representatives, and following the parliamentary elections, to collect 1 million signatures in support of its presidential candidate. A party convention held the same day in Minsk re-elected Statkevich as chairman. AM

Vasyl Baziv, deputy head of the Ukrainian presidential administration, said on 25 June that the articles in "The Independent" suggesting that President Leonid Kuchma was involved in the slaying of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004) were "speculation" in the run-up to the presidential election this fall, Interfax reported. "Making a ballot box of the headless journalist's corpse is no less amoral than the beheading itself," Baziv told reporters. He added that the investigation should be objective and honest, resulting in the punishment of the journalist's killers. "The man who is most interested in this is the president of Ukraine," Baziv added. AM

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer called on Ukraine on 25 June to respect democratic principles, Interfax reported, citing Deutsche Welle's Ukrainian Service. De Hoop Scheffer said Ukraine should not only pay attention to the reform of the armed forces but also promote democratic values, if it intends to boost its cooperation with NATO structures. "We all know what it means -- no persecution of the media, conducting free and fair elections, and the superiority of law and freedom of speech," de Hoop Scheffer said. He praised Ukraine for its efforts in international security, pointing to its readiness to patrol the Mediterranean Sea. AM

Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party won the second round of the Serbian presidential elections on 27 June with 53.61 percent of the vote against 45.03 percent for the Serbian Radical Party's (SRS) Tomislav Nikolic, with a turnout of 48.5 percent, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported, citing unofficial returns (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 June 2004). Ultranationalist Nikolic conceded defeat, noting, however, that he received more votes than his party did in the December parliamentary vote. He called for new general elections, which he pledged to win. Tadic, who had the backing of the other major first-round candidates and the EU, said that the election proves which "road Serbia wants to take.... Serbia wants to join the EU" (see End Note). The Serbian presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but the vote was widely seen as a barometer of the political mood. PM

Macedonia hopes that NATO will mention the country together with its partners in the U.S.-Adriatic Charter -- Albania and Croatia -- as serious candidates for NATO membership in the final document of its 28-29 June Istanbul summit, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 28 June (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 28 May 2004). NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on 27 June that it is important that the three countries cooperate and pursue reforms, but added that much remains to be done. In related news, U.S. Congressman Doug Bereuter (R-Nebraska), who chairs the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, wrote in "Utrinski vesnik" on 28 June that NATO's doors will remain open for all European countries seeking to join the alliance. Hailing Macedonia's participation in the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bereuter wrote that Macedonia already acts like a NATO member. He added, however, that Macedonia's NATO membership will depend on its achievements in the reform process. Elsewhere, Macedonian Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said that his country is prepared to step up its military presence in Afghanistan, as de Hoop Scheffer has reportedly sought, according to "Utrinski vesnik." UB

At the 28-29 June Istanbul summit, NATO leaders are expected to discuss the transition from a NATO-led to a EU-led peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which the EU wants to take place at the end of 2004, international and regional media reported on 28 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 25 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 5 March 2004). It seems increasingly unlikely that the summit will invite Bosnia to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program because the Bosnian Serb authorities have not arrested any indicted war criminals. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service quoted High Representative Paddy Ashdown as saying in Sarajevo on 25 June that he is likely to impose unspecified sanctions on the Bosnian Serb authorities if Bosnia is indeed not offered membership because of the Serbs' failure to cooperate with the Hague-based was crimes tribunal. He stressed that any measures he announces will not "abolish" the Bosnian Serb entity or affect ordinary people. Ashdown noted, however, that the Republika Srpska leadership has "failed to deliver" on its obligations to The Hague "for nine solid years." PM

In an interview with the Mediafax news agency published on 25 June, Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who is also chairman of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), said his party obtained its "best results in its history." He admitted, however, that the PSD had lost in localities where "internal intrigues and bad influences" prevailed, referring to large cities long-dominated by the party such as Bacau, Suceava, and Botosani. Nastase also spoke of changes. "The electorate has changed, Romania has changed, we must also change," he said, adding that the PSD needs to change its leadership structure and its campaign strategy, and needs to assume its place as a left-wing party, without being afraid of being confused with the former Communist Party. ZsM

Transportation, Construction, and Tourism Ministry State Secretary Sergiu Sechelariu resigned on 25 June following accusations of misconduct, Mediafax reported. Speaking in the northern Romanian city of Bacau to support the re-election campaign of his brother, former Bacau Mayor Dumitru Sechelariu, Sergiu Sechelariu recently said that he has used his position to direct funds from other counties to Bacau to reward the votes cast in 2000 for his brother. Sergiu Sechelariu also warned that if Dumitru Sechelariu is not re-elected, Bacau will lose government funds. Dumitru Sechelariu submitted his resignation during a private meeting with Prime Minister Nastase, saying he regretted the "uninspired" declarations, and asked for an investigation of his activity. ZsM

After his meeting with Moldovan Defense Minister General Victor Gaiciuc during a short visit to Chisinau, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on 26 June that NATO and OSCE member countries believe that Russia has to respect the commitments it made at the OSCE Istanbul summit in 1999 on removing its troops from Transdniester, Flux reported. He added that the United States continues to seek a "political settlement" to the Transdniester conflict and a "reintegrated, sovereign Moldova." Rumsfeld said NATO is pleased with Moldova's involvement in the Partnership for Peace program, and the United States is grateful for Moldova's participation in operations in Iraq and in the fight against terrorism. After meeting with President Vladimir Voronin, Rumsfeld visited Moldovan soldiers who served in Iraq or are to be sent there. Rumsfeld is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Moldova since it gained independence in 1991. ZsM

In a press release issued on 26 June, Moldovan President Voronin said he is convinced that the presidential administration "will find and punish" those responsible for the attack against "Timpul" journalist Alina Anghel and that those accusing him of involvement in the case "will apologize," Flux reported. The statement says the police are currently investigating the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 June 2004), under the assumption that it was a robbery. Voronin added that he was offended by Anghel's colleagues' and other civil and political organizations' "solidarity" in accusing authorities of involvement without "a basic argument." He wished Anghel a quick recovery and hoped she will continue to stick to her principles and keep her devotion to her profession. ZsM

The Russian state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom announced that as of 1 July it will stop all deliveries to Transdniester until Tiraspol presents a clear schedule for paying debts and insuring current payments, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported on 26 June, citing ITAR-TASS. Gazprom administration council Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Reazanov sent a telegram to Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov and Moldovan-Russian MoldovaGaz Chairman Ghennadii Abaskin on 25 June announcing the decision. Reazanov wrote that while current payments to Gazprom for gas delivered to Transdniester account for only 38 percent of current deliveries, local authorities have not accepted Gazprom's proposals on clearing up debts owed. Moldova owes a total of $1.26 billion to Gazprom, of which Transdniester owes $961.2 million. ZsM

A minority of Serbia's registered voters has given a slight victory to the presidential candidate favoring European integration over his ultranationalist opponent. It is perhaps too early to tell what long-term effect the vote will have on Serbian politics, if any.

Boris Tadic of the Democratic Party won the second round of the Serbian presidential elections on 27 June with 53.61 percent of the vote against 45.03 percent for the Serbian Radical Party's (SRS) Tomislav Nikolic, with a turnout of 48.5 percent, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported, citing unofficial returns.

In central Serbia, Tadic won 52 percent to 46 percent, in Vojvodina 55 percent to 42 percent, and in Belgrade 59 percent to 39 percent. Nikolic won among the Serbs of Kosova with 70 percent to 29 percent. The Serbian presidency is a largely ceremonial post, but the vote was widely seen as a barometer of the political mood.

Ultranationalist Nikolic conceded defeat, arguing, however, that he received more votes than his party did in the December parliamentary vote. He attributed Tadic's victory to votes from ethnic minorities, but it is not clear how he arrived at that conclusion. Repeating one of the Radicals' main campaign themes, Nikolic called for new general elections, which he pledged to win.

Tadic, who had the backing of the other major first-round candidates and the EU, said that the election proves which "road Serbia wants to take.... Serbia wants to join the EU." He stressed that "these elections are very important in terms of new political values in Serbia. I'm a pro-European candidate, which means that I'm for new political values here." Nikolic had criticized Tadic's support from Brussels, saying that voters should pick someone with his base in Serbia, "not those who wander around the world."

Three points probably stand out regarding this election. First, caution is perhaps in order in drawing long-term political conclusions from the vote. After all, many observers displayed starry-eyed optimism about Serbia's having "turned a corner" following the October 2000 fall of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. But after the 28 March 2003 assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, it became clear how deeply the rot of the Milosevic era had penetrated Serbian institutions and society.

Second, this complex state of affairs will not be reversed with one election with a 48.5 percent turnout and a 45 percent vote for the SRS. Indeed, the most important statistic to emerge from this election might not be that nearly 54 percent of those casting their ballots voted for Tadic but that 51.5 percent of all registered voters stayed home. And Nikolic may not have been just boasting when he said that the Radicals can look forward to the general elections with optimism.

Third, the low turnout coupled with the high vote for Nikolic -- whose candidacy appealed to protest voters as well as to nationalists -- suggests that, in evaluating Tadic's victory, it might be premature to suggest that "new political values" have triumphed. What seems clear is that apathy and discontent regarding a society marked by poverty, crime, and corruption remain deeply rooted among ordinary Serbs.

In other words, by choosing Tadic, many voters might not have been motivated so much by lofty "European values" but by a desire to improve their lot. Many might have sought to return Serbia to international respectability, obtain for it a seat at Euro-Atlantic decision-making tables, and, perhaps above all, receive an influx of funding and assistance. For many former Yugoslavs, the mention of "Europe" recalls the 1960s and 1970s, when the country grew prosperous through Western investments, tourist revenues, and remittances from relatives working abroad, especially in what was then West Germany. For Serbs especially, the contrast between the pleasant memories of those days and the grim realities of the present remains striking, not to say haunting.

In any event, the 27 June presidential runoff election will have some direct implications for Serbian politics, which will make themselves felt in the days and weeks ahead.

The most important aspect is that Tadic's victory will most likely strengthen the hand of the opposition Democratic Party. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) heads a minority government with the parliamentary support of Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS).

Pressure is likely to build from inside Serbia and abroad for Kostunica to drop the SPS and cut a deal with the Democrats, who are his bitter rivals. It remains to be seen whether Kostunica and the Democrats will be any more successful in coming to a mutually agreeable arrangement than they were in January, despite much foreign pressure to do so.

There is also the matter of new elections. Kostunica's position has long been that Serbia needs a new constitution and new elections, but he might have lost some of his enthusiasm for the latter following the poor fourth-place showing by the DSS candidate, Dragan Marsicanin, in the 13 June first round of the presidential vote.

Conversely, the Democrats might now be eager for an early vote, which they tended to dismiss in the past. It is not clear, however, whether the results of the presidential vote will be mirrored in a general election, when voters might pay more attention to parties and their programs than to charismatic leaders.

For their part, Nikolic and the Radicals, who make up the largest single faction in the parliament, can be expected to press their demand for new elections. He told his supporters that their motto should be: "Radicals, heads high!"

In short, the Serbian presidential vote might have revealed little about long-term trends in Serbian politics except to show that political apathy and social and economic discontent remain significant. The vote nonetheless made it clear that a new chapter has begun in jockeying for coalition alliances and preparing for new elections. And as Tadic told his supporters, "Big difficulties await Serbia."

Two female Afghan election-registration workers were killed on 26 June when an explosive device detonated inside the bus in which they were traveling in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, international news agencies reported. The blast, which may have been triggered by the driver of the minibus, injured 11 others, including a 5-year-old girl, "The New York Times" reported on 27 June. Manoel de Almeida e Silva, a spokesman for the UN in Kabul, described the attack as a "matter of very, very serious concern," adding that there "is no doubt it was a direct attack on the electoral process." The young girl later died of her wounds, Reuters reported on 28 June. AT

Abdul Latif Hakimi, purporting to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, assumed responsibility for the attack on electoral workers in Jalalabad, Reuters reported on 28 June. "We did this because we warned people not to get involved in the election process," Hakimi told Reuters by telephone. "We are also warning others not to register to vote and those who register them, because this only strengthens the foundations of the American-backed government," the neo-Taliban spokesman added. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the Jalalabad attack, saying that such terrorist activities are against Islam and are disgusting, Radio Afghanistan reported on 26 June. Karzai added that the enemies of Afghanistan cannot divert Afghans from the path they have adopted. AT

Fifteen Afghans returning home from Iran were killed on 24 June in Chaka Goy, Oruzgan Province, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 27 June. Haji Obaydullah, district chief of Khas Oruzgan District where the incident took place, told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 27 June that initial reports had indicated that 14 people were killed, but "it has been clarified now that this number is 16 people." Obaydullah added that all of the victims were carrying voter-registration cards for the upcoming elections scheduled for September-October. AT

Nazari, the Afghan Interior Ministry's security commander for Khas Oruzgan District, told RFE/RL on 27 June that "Taliban fighters" killed the 15 people in Oruzgan. District chief Haji Obaydullah also said that he is "quite sure" that the neo-Taliban was responsible for carrying out the attack, AIP reported on 27 June. "The person who informed us...about the incident was a person who had managed to flee from [the site of the incident]. He also said that the [attackers] were Taliban," Obaydullah added. AT

Latifullah Hakimi, claming to speak for the neo-Taliban, told AIP on 27 June that the militia killed the men in Oruzgan "because most of them were soldiers and the others were election workers." Hakimi said that the neo-Taliban blocked a road in Oruzgan for five hours and forced 19 people out of different vehicles and killed them. "We kill soldiers because they serve the state army. The reason for killing election workers is that we do not want an election to be held in Afghanistan. We have decided to sabotage the elections," Hakimi told AIP. It is not clear if Abdul Latif Hakimi and Latifullah Hakimi are the same person. In the past, different people have claimed to speak on behalf of the neo-Taliban, sometimes in contradictory terms. Reports differ on the number of people killed in Oruzgan. AT

The commission investigating the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States not only has concluded that Iran and Al-Qaeda had "long-running contacts," but that Al-Qaeda may have been involved with the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, "The Washington Post" reported on 26 June. Iran is referred to almost 40 times in the June 2001 indictment relating to the bombing, and a U.S. intelligence operation subsequently exposed Iranian intelligence agents in retaliation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 June 2001, 8 December 2003, and 5 April 2004). The 9/11 Commission's investigators assert that there is intelligence showing greater potential for Al-Qaeda/Hizballah cooperation than previously believed. According to the report, "We have seen strong but indirect evidence that [bin Laden's] organization did in fact play some as yet unknown role in the Khobar attack." The report also addresses discussions between individuals representing Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and Tehran who suggested working together against their common enemy, and it addresses contacts between Hizballah and Al-Qaeda. BS

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi denied on 27 July the possibility of Tehran cooperating with Al-Qaeda, ISNA reported. Assefi told reporters: "Iran, because of its ideology and political doctrine, has nothing to do with Al-Qaeda. America created Al-Qaeda and the Taliban; how can Al-Qaeda be in alliance with Iran?" BS

Tehran confirmed on 27 June that it intends to resume making components for uranium centrifuges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2004), international news agencies reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi told reporters that the manufacturing and assembly of components would resume on 29 June, ISNA reported. He explained that "the Europeans failed to fulfill their promises and as a result we have no moral commitment and there is no longer any reason to continue building trust more than what is necessary." The United States, European Union, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) all condemned the Iranian decision, Reuters reported on 27 June. IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said on 27 June in Moscow, "They said that they are going to boost manufacturing, assembly and testing of part of their centrifuges," RFE/RL reported. "That's what the letter says. I hope it wouldn't change the dialogue. I hope it will be temporary. I hope Iran will also go back to a comprehensive suspension as they have committed to us before. So I hope this is not a major reversal. But we still need to work with them." BS

A gynecologist has confirmed that on 26 June a woman in Iranshahr went into labor and then gave birth to a frog, IRNA reported the next day, citing "Etemad." The woman had stopped menstruating for six months and a sonogram showed she had an abdominal cyst. The gynecologist speculated that a frog larva entered the woman's body and developed there, while other specialists cited by IRNA claimed that the frog resembled a human fetus. BS

Iran's conservative legislature on 27 July selected three lawyers to serve on the Guardians Council, IRNA reported. Mohammad Reza Alizadeh, Gholam Hussein Elham, and Abbas Kabi secured 195 votes, 174 votes, and 169 votes, respectively, out of the 258 total votes that were cast in a secret ballot. The 12-member Guardians Council consists of six clerics appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and six jurists nominated by the judiciary chief. The six jurists must be approved by the parliament. The previous legislature, which was dominated by reformists, had rejected Elham and other conservative nominees for the Guardians Council (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 November and 8 December 2003, and 1 March 2004). BS

President Mohammad Khatami told personnel from the Drug Control Headquarters on 27 June that physical measures against drug trafficking will remain ineffective until the root causes of drug abuse are addressed, "Iran" reported on 28 June, citing ISNA. Khatami said the Expediency Council and the Fourth Five-Year Plan have prioritized the counternarcotics campaign. Roberto Albertino, who heads the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Iran, and other foreign dignitaries participated in a 26 June ceremony in Tehran to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Drug Trafficking, international news agencies reported. As a bonfire of confiscated narcotics blazed, Iranian police chanted "Death to America," Reuters reported. Police counternarcotics chief Colonel Mehdi Aboui said: "We hold America and Britain responsible for this situation.... Americans are in charge of Afghanistan's security and Britons are responsible for fighting drugs there," Reuters reported. Drug Control Headquarters chief Ali Hashemi said that laboratories along Afghanistan's borders are a serious problem, "Iran" reported on 28 June, and to stop trafficking a security belt around Afghanistan is required. BS

The U.S.-led coalition formally transferred sovereignty to Iraq on 28 June, two days ahead of schedule, international media reported. Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) head L. Paul Bremer handed a letter to Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, at the ceremony, which was held within the coalition-controlled "green zone." "This is a historic day, a happy day, a day that all Iraqis have been looking forward to," Yawir told those in attendance, Reuters reported. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told reporters in Istanbul, where he is attending the NATO summit: "I believe that we will challenge those terrorists, criminals, Saddamists, and antidemocratic forces by bringing even the date of the handover forward." KR

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer confirmed on 26 June that the military alliance has agreed to meet an Iraqi request to train Iraqi security forces, according to a press release posted on the NATO website ( News agencies then confirmed on 28 June during the first day of the Istanbul summit that NATO heads of state and government approved the agreement. "Allies are united in their full support for the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Iraq and for strengthening of freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law, and security for all the Iraqi people," the 26 June statement read. Meanwhile, Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari told reporters in Istanbul on 27 June that he "would be pleased to see Turkish troops in Iraq, as long as this is within the framework of training," Anatolia news agency reported the same day. KR

Iraqi insurgents continued to attack civilian and security forces in two days of violence on 26-27 June, according to international media. A car bomb detonated in the Iraqi city of Al-Hillah on 26 June, killing 23 people and injuring 22, while militants loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr clashed with U.S. troops in the nearby city of Al-Najaf, Al-Jazeera reported. Militants also detonated a car bomb near the Industry and Minerals Ministry in Irbil on 26 June, Kurdistan Satellite television reported. Kurdish Culture Minister Mahmud Muhammad was wounded and his bodyguard killed on the same day in Irbil when a booby-trapped car exploded. In Mosul, an apparent roadside bomb wounded five Kurdish peshmerga fighters on 27 June, Al-Arabiyah reported. Six Iraqi Civil Defense Corps (ICDC) personnel were killed in fighting with militants on 27 June outside Ba'qubah, Al-Jazeera reported. One day earlier, militants attacked the Ba'qubah offices of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), killing three people and wounding two, Al-Jazeera said. One of the attackers was killed as he entered the SCIRI building with explosives strapped to his body. Militants in the city attacked the offices of the Iraqi National Accord one day earlier. KR

Militants are holding a U.S. Marine hostage in Iraq and threatening to behead him on 30 June if U.S. forces do not release prisoners in Iraq, Arab media reported on 27 June. Al-Jazeera reported that a group calling itself the Movement of Islamic Retribution, the Security Wing of the National Islamic Resistance, which is an offshoot of the Brigades of the 1920 Revolution, has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. The soldier, Hassoun Wassef Ali, is reportedly of Lebanese origin. In a videotaped message broadcast on Al-Arabiyah, the group said: "We forced our way into the Balad base and took him from there after making the Americans deeply suffer. They must release the prisoners from the surrounding areas -- from the U.S. base in Balad, from Al-Dujayl, Yathrib, Samarra, and the areas surrounding Abu Ghurayb prison" in Baghdad. The Monotheism and Jihad Group headed by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi is holding three Turkish civilians, and is threatening to behead them on 29 June unless Turkey withdraws its firms that are working with coalition forces in Iraq, Al-Jazeera reported on 26 June. KR

Iraqi police said they found two headless bodies in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 25 June. One body was found along the highway leading to Al-Sulaymaniyah; the other was found in the Al-Askari neighborhood of Kirkuk. Police said the bodies belong to two individuals who acted as "collaborators" with U.S. forces. KR

Iraqi police defused a 50-kilogram bomb planted in the Al-Jihad neighborhood of Baghdad on 27 June, Al-Arabiyah television reported. It is unclear who planted the bomb or how it was discovered. Meanwhile, police said they wounded one attacker and arrested two others during a 26 June attack on a Baghdad police station, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. KR