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Newsline - May 2, 2005


MAY DAY RALLY ENDS WITH UNAUTHORIZED GATHERING OUTSIDE PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE...
About 1.2 million Russians participated in 1 May demonstrations across Russia, lenta.ru reported, citing the Federation of Independent Trade Unions. The biggest gatherings were in Perm and Yakutsk, according to the federation, where some 90,000 and 81,000 people rallied, respectively. Around 10,000 people gathered in the center of Moscow with placards reading "Our Strength is in the Solidarity of the Workers" and "Give [Us] an All-Russia Referendum." Represented were members of the Communist Party, Motherland, the All-Russian Women's Union, the Union of Soviet Officers, and several leftist youth organizations. According to NTV, several activists from the Red Youth Avant Garde on the fringes of the Communist May Day rally were detained. Members of the group then broke through a police cordon and held an unsanctioned rally in front of the Prosecutor-General's Office. According to the station, the disturbance ended after the police released the detainees. Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the group, said that some of his members were detained for ripping up a portrait of President Vladimir Putin. JAC

...AS POLITICIANS USE MASS RALLIES TO CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT...
Speaking at a May Day rally of his supporters in Moscow, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov accused the government of "incompetence in all areas of its responsibility from the national economy to national security," NTV and other media reported on 1 May. "The blood of Beslan's children washed over the whole country and the government has failed so far to publish the investigating commission's report," he said. He also accused the government of "producing laws that will lead to the disintegration of the country." Speaking at another rally, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov (Unified Russia) criticized the government's economic policies and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin personally, TV-Tsentr reported. He said that the multibillion-dollar Stabilization Fund does not improve either the economy nor Russia's reputation abroad. Luzhkov called for investing the Stabilization Fund into industry and agriculture. Addressing supporters at a rally, Irina Khakamada, the leader of the unregistered Our Choice party, urged them to have civil courage. "We learned how to defend our Motherland and our ideals, but we should learn how to defend ourselves," NTV quoted her as saying. VY

...AND ST. PETERSBURG PROTESTERS DEMAND AIRTIME ON TV
In St. Petersburg, about 100 opposition activists held an unauthorized rally outside of the Petersburg Channel 5 state television and radio broadcasting company on 1 May, Ekho Moskvy reported. Rally participants wanted time to speak on the air but their demand was rejected. The protesters said that they wanted to find out whether freedom of speech existed in the city and invited all of the city's TV channels to come, but only one company sent a crew. Also holding a rally in Moscow on 1 May were about 1,000 representatives of the Union of Rightist Forces and its youth branch, RIA-Novosti and TV-Tsentr reported. Separately, about 200-500 people from Yabloko, Our Choice, and For Human Rights held their own rally also in Moscow. JAC

PRESIDENT, GOVERNMENT CELEBRATE ORTHODOX EASTER
President Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev, and Moscow Mayor Luzhkov attended Russian Orthodox Easter services on 30 April in the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow, Russian media reported. The two-hour service, led by Patriarch of Moscow and All-Russia Aleksii II, was televised on RTR and ORT. Putin also sent Easter greetings to all Russian Orthodox believers the same day in which he said, "Christian Easter has truly become a nationwide holiday, which is celebrated in Russia on a large scale." According to the Public Opinion Foundation, this year 80 percent of Russians said they will celebrate Easter, while only 40 percent plan to celebrate May Day on 1 May, newsinfo.ru reported on 30 April. VY

FOREIGN MINISTRY PERPLEXED BY U.S. CONGRESS'S CONCERN ON COPYRIGHT VIOLATION
The Russian Foreign Ministry expressed its bewilderment on 30 April at the resolution adopted by the U.S. Senate on 26 April condemning the massive violation of U.S. intellectual-property rights in China and Russia and warning that both countries could lose their trade privileges with the United States if the piracy continues, RBK reported. The Foreign Ministry said that Russian law "provides adequate and efficient protection of copyrights." Meanwhile, Interfax on 27 April quoted U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana) as saying that according to his information, while at the end of the 1990s there were only a few illegal plants producing pirate CDs in Russia, now there are over 30. The Russian government has made a lot of promises to solve this problem, but we have not seen tangible results yet, he said. VY

POPULATION LESS POOR BUT INCOME GAP REMAINS...
In the first quarter, the number of persons living below the poverty line in Russia dropped, RIA-Novosti reported on 29 April, citing the Federal Statistics Service. However, the gap between the richest and poorest segments of the population did not narrow appreciably. In the first quarter, 1.1 percent of the population had monthly revenue of less than 1,000 rubles ($36), compared with 3.1 percent in the first quarter of 2004. The number of persons earning more than 7,000 rubles ($251) jumped from 23.8 percent of the population last year to 37.7 percent this year, according to Interfax. At the same time, the top 10 percent of income earners made 29.8 percent of all income in the first quarter compared to 30 percent in the first quarter of last year. The poorest 10 percent of the population made 2 percent of all revenue in the first quarter of this year and last year. JAC

...AS RUSSIA'S PLACE IN THE WORLD ALSO UNEVEN
Annual per capita income in Russia last year was $2,610, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 17, reported. By this indicator, Russia is in 97th place in the world, between Brazil and El Salvador. In average life expectancy, at 67.7 years Russia occupies 142nd place, between Iraq and Belize. In measuring the degree of satisfaction with their lives, the so-called happiness index, Russians are 79th in the world, between Moldovans and Ukrainians. In the number of cars per 1,000 people, Russia (156) lies between Macedonia and Trinidad and Tobago. In its level of corruption, Russia is in 28th place in the world, followed by Ghana. Finally, Russia is in seventh place in the world in the number of Nobel Prize winners (21) and in third place in the number of dollar billionaires (27). VY

DAILY POSITS HATRED ON THE RISE
"Izvestiya" published on 29 April the first in a series of articles on the theme of "Hatred in Russia." The authors of the series contend that hatred in Russia is increasing -- "between rich and poor, Russian and non-Russian, young and old, believers and atheists." The first article examines the killing in St. Petersburg of Olympic cycling racing champion Dmitrii Nelyubin, allegedly by individuals from the North Caucasus. According to the daily, the radical-right movement is using his killing for their own propagandistic aims, and as a result, "the death of a person who never suffered from xenophobia has become a spark for enflaming interethnic hatred." JAC

BASHKORTOSTAN'S OPPOSITION TAKES A BREATHER
Ramil Bignov, chairman of the coordinating council of opposition groups in Bashkortostan, told reporters in Ufa on 1 May, that the political opposition in the republic has decided to refrain from any mass protest actions for two months, newsru.com reported. He said that the authorities need time to analyze the situation in the republic. He said that if by the fall, "federal authorities do not have a serious attitude toward the social and political situation in the republic, where federal laws are not being fulfilled, then we will need to appeal to students [to take part in opposition actions]." Also on 1 May, some 7,500 people gathered in Bashkortostan's capital city of Ufa, most of them supporters of the republican leadership, according to lenta.ru. JAC

TRIAL OF ALLEGED CRIME KINGPIN OPENS IN MOSCOW
The Moscow City Court began preliminary hearings on 29 April in the murder trial against alleged gangster Vyacheslav Ivankov, who is also known as Yaponchik, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He is accused of murdering two ethnic Turks in a restaurant in Moscow in 1992. The court rejected an appeal by his attorneys to drop the murder charges because the 10-year statute of limitations has expired. The United States extradited Yaponchik to Russia in July 2004 at the request of the Prosecutor-General's Office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004). Ivankov was convicted in the United States in 1997 for extortion and other crimes and sentenced to 10 years in prison in Pennsylvania. Ivankov was sentenced in Russia in 1981 to 14 years in prison but emigrated to the United States in 1991 after being released prematurely. JAC

RUSSIAN SPECIALIST SAYS COLOR MATTERS IN POLITICAL STRUGGLE
Vasilii Filin, the director of Moscow's VideoEcology center, said that the color orange chosen by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko to symbolize his party has a mobilizing effect, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 17. reported. This is the color of prosperity and joy. In Russia it has been chosen by the new Our Choice party, led by Irina Khakamada. On the other hand, the color blue, chosen by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in his campaign against Yushchenko, was one of the reasons for his defeat in the presidential election. Blue is the color of stability and does not comply with the dynamics of political struggle, Filin said. In Russia, blue is the color chosen by Unified Russia. The most aggressive color is red, which from ancient times has been considered the color of revelation and revolution. Especially if it is combined with black, the color of protest and negation. In Russia, the red and black banner is the color chosen by the National Bolshevik Party of Eduard Limonov, "Argumenty i fakty" noted. VY

POLICE DISPERSE PROTEST DEMO IN INGUSHETIA, ARREST ORGANIZER...
Police and army troops used force on 30 April to disperse a protest rally in Nazran, the capital of Ingushetia, the opposition website ingushetiya.ru reported. Officials had earlier warned the protest organizers, including Ingushetian parliament deputy Musa Ozdoev, against holding the demonstration, the objective of which was to call for the resignation of Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov and measures to improve the socioeconomic situation. Up to 1,000 police and troops blocked off the main square in Nazran early on 30 April, and roadblocks were set up on all highways leading to the town. An unspecified number of people nonetheless managed to congregate near the main square, but shortly after Ozdoev began to address the meeting, masked men attacked the participants with clubs, and dispersed them, taking Ozdoev by force to the local Interior Ministry headquarters (see "Police Forcibly End Opposition Protest In Ingushetia," rferl.org, 30 April 2005). LF

...WHO DECLARES HUNGER STRIKE
Before police confiscated his mobile phone, Ozdoev told ingushetiya.ru by telephone later on 30 April that "the campaign against corruption and embezzlement will continue. We shall continue to insist that President Zyazikov resigns." Ingushetiya.ru quoted an unnamed police official as saying that a member of Zyazikov's administration telephoned "in hysterics," insisting that the police should not on any account release Ozdoev lest the protest demonstration resume. Ozdoev was remanded in custody for 72 hours on charges of petty hooliganism following an altercation late on 30 April in the office of Nazran acting police chief Ali Yandiev, who alleged that Ozdoev attacked him. Ozdoev began a hunger strike on 1 May to protest his detention. Meanwhile, Zyazikov's administration have set up a mirror site to which all Internet users within Ingushetia who try to access ingushetiya.ru are directed. That website reportedly contains materials slandering Ozdoev and condemning his political activities. LF

FOUR MILITANTS KILLED, TWO DETAINED IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA
Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Ministry troops together with the Federal Security Service (FSB) killed four militants and detained two more in a routine operation in Nalchik early on 29 April to check citizens' identity documents, Interfax and kavkazweb.net reported. One police officer also died in the shootout. Interfax on 30 April quoted an unnamed Kabardino-Balkaria Interior Ministry official as saying that one of the dead men has been identified as Rustam Bekanov, who reportedly took over the command of the Yarmuk group after its leader was killed in a shootout in Nalchik in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2005). Yarmuk claimed responsibility for an attack in December on the republican office of the Federal Antinarcotics Agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 16 December 2004). The two detained militants have confessed to participating in a shootout last summer in which two police officers were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004). They also said they were preparing to stage a terrorist attack at the behest of radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, kavkazweb.net reported on 29 April, citing regnum.ru. LF

ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY CRITICIZES TURKISH POSITION
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian criticized on 29 April Ankara's continued insistence that scholars from both countries should establish a joint commission that would determine whether the killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 constituted genocide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan proposed such a commission to Armenian President Robert Kocharian last month as a precondition for establishing formal diplomatic relations, but Kocharian rejected it, calling instead for establishing diplomatic relations with no preconditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005). Gasparian implied that Turkey was resorting to "excuses," and has no real desire to normalize relations with Armenia. In an interview with the daily "Millet," Erdogan said that "political relations could be established" even as the process of evaluating archives that shed light on the 1915 killings proceeds, Reuters reported on 29 April. LF

MORE PARTIES CONDEMN DISRUPTION OF ARMENIAN OPPOSITION RALLY
Nine more political parties have joined the 25 that signed a statement on 22 April condemning the wounding of a young activist at a rally in Sevan on 20 April convened by Aram Karapetian's Nor Zhamanakner party, Noyan Tapan reported on 29 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 April 2005). Also on 29 April, Vahan Hovannisian, a leader of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun (HHD) that signed the 22 April protest, said that Karapetian shares the blame for the violence, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hovannisian claimed the rally was badly organized and that Karapetian provoked participants by making inappropriate statements. The HHD is one of the two junior partners in the ruling three-party coalition. LF

AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES REFUSE TO REGISTER INDEPENDENT TV CHANNEL
The Justice Ministry has refused to register the independent television company Yeni TV, Turan reported on 29 April, citing Media Rights Institute head Arif Hadjily. Hadjily said the ministry alleged that some aspects of the company's statutes violate the law. Yeni TV's founders include former presidential adviser Eldar Namazov, one of the leaders of the Yeni Siyaset (YeS) election bloc (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 8 March 2005). LF

DEPOSED AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT JOINS OPPOSITION ELECTION ALLIANCE
Ayaz Mutalibov, who has lived in Russia since the failure in May 1992 of his attempted presidential comeback, has joined YeS, zerkalo.az reported on 29 April, citing YeS representative and former Deputy Prime Minister Ali Masimov. LF

ANOTHER ELECTION BLOC FORMED IN AZERBAIJAN
A group of retired army officers has announced the creation of an election bloc named Builders of Civil Society, echo-az.com and Turan reported on 28 and 29 April, respectively. Yashar Djafarli, chairman of the Union of Reserve and Retired Officers, said the bloc plans to field candidates in each of the country's 125 constituencies. He said a separate election manifesto will be drafted for each of those candidates, taking into consideration specific conditions in each district. Djafarli also noted that up to 30 percent of parliament deputies in Armenia have "a military past," compared with only a handful in Azerbaijan. LF

MORE CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS LEVELED AGAINST AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTRY
The NGO Civic Union for Civilian and Democratic Control over the Armed Forces convened a press conference in Baku on 29 April at which speakers again focused on corruption and inefficiency within the armed forces, zerkalo.az reported on 30 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 January 2005). Union head Major Alekper Mamedov noted that over the past decade the Defense Ministry has never been required to give an account of its activities. He also noted that Finance Minister Fikret Yusifov was fired after accusing Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev of engaging in illicit commercial activities. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ABJURES FIRST USE OF FORCE...
Mikheil Saakashvili said on 29 April after watching artillery exercises at the Orfolo training ground that the Georgian armed forces will not be the first to resort to military force to resolve the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and that Tbilisi remains committed to resolving those conflicts peacefully, Georgian media reported. At the same time, he warned the leaders of those two unrecognized republics not to underestimate the combat readiness of the Georgian Army. LF

...HINTS MAY DROP VISA REQUIREMENT FOR RUSSIAN CITIZENS
Saakashvili also told journalists on 29 April after the artillery exercises at Orfolo that if progress is made in talks on improving relations with Russia, Tbilisi may unilaterally drop the visa requirement currently in force for Russian citizens, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Russia imposed a visa requirement for all Georgians in November 1999, shortly after the invasion of Chechnya, and Georgia responded by doing likewise. LF

KAZAKH SPLINTER PARTY HOLDS FIRST CONGRESS
The opposition party True Ak Zhol, which recently split off from the Ak Zhol party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005), held its first congress in Almaty on 29 April, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The congress's 156 delegates approved the party's charter and program and elected Bulat Abilov, Oraz Zhandosov, Altynbek Sarsenbaev, and Tulegen Zhukeev party co-chairmen. Co-Chairman Abilov told Interfax that True Ak Zhol will support Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, the united presidential candidate recently put forward by a bloc of opposition forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005), in the upcoming presidential election. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT ADDRESSES NATION
Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev addressed the nation and laid out his government's priorities in a speech broadcast on 30 April by Kyrgyz Television. Bakiev stressed that the existing political system, created by ousted President Askar Akaev, must be changed. He alleged that Akaev, "who did much for the establishment of an independent Kyrgyz republic, in the last period of his rule lost touch with the people and betrayed democratic principles." Bakiev said that the country now needs a "transition period" to carry out four key tasks: "building a new architecture of power that will act as a guarantee against a return to authoritarianism; dismantling the system of corruption; introducing a new economic policy that ensures a favorable environment for economic growth; and bringing into managerial circles a new generation of young directors and politicians." Bakiev noted that these tasks must be carried out within the framework of urgent constitutional reforms. DK

KYRGYZ DEPUTY ATTACKED
Bayaman Erkinbaev, a deputy in Kyrgyzstan's parliament, told a press conference in Bishkek on 29 April that he suffered an attempt on his life on the night of 28 April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Erkinbaev, who was speaking with a bandaged nose, said a lone gunman fired a single shot at him while the deputy was getting into his car at 11 p.m.; the bullet grazed his nose. Erkinbaev said that the gunman, who fled, appeared to be of Slavic descent. Erkinbaev, who has said he plans to seek the presidency in 10 July elections, described the assault as politically motivated. The Interior Ministry's press service told akipress.org that Erkinbaev declined to file a report on the incident. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL RACE BEGINS
Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission has announced the time frame for presidential elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 1 May. Candidates can be nominated until 26 May. Each candidate must collect 50,000 signatures by 2 June. The commission will finish registering candidates on 13 June, election campaigns will last from 14 June to 9 July, and the election itself will take place on 10 July. At present, the following individuals have announced that they intend to run, Kabar reported on 1 May: acting President Bakiev, Ar-Namys party head Feliks Kulov, doctor Jenishbek Nazaraliev, Social Democratic Party head Almaz Atambaev, Moscow-based surgeon Kybanychbek Apas, businessman Nurbek Turdukulov, former Environment and Emergency Situations Minister Temirbek Akmataeliv, and parliament deputy Erkinbaev. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service also reported the registration of another candidate, Jypar Jekshe, the head of the Kyrgyzstan Democratic Movement party. Thus far, the Central Election Commission has only registered the candidacy of Nazaraliev. DK

JAILED TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER ABDUCTED, LAWYERS SAY
Azam Badriddinov and Shirinmoh Ibronova, the lawyers defending Muhammadruzi Iskandarov, the jailed head of Tajikistan's Democratic Party, held a news conference in Dushanbe on 30 April to share details of Iskandarov's recent disappearance in Russia and reappearance in custody in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005), RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Badriddinov and Ibronova, who recently held their first meeting with Iskandarov in custody, said he was abducted in Moscow on 16 April by a group of unidentified men of Slavic appearance wearing Russian police uniforms. They held him overnight in a sauna before handing him over to another group the next day. The second group carried him alone on a plane to Dushanbe. Russian prosecutors had refused to honor an extradition request from their Tajik colleagues, and they released Iskandarov in early April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 12 April 2005). Iskandarov faces corruption and terrorism charges in Tajikistan. DK

UZBEK RIGHTS ACTIVIST ATTACKED
Khurshid Mukhtorov, a member of the Jizzakh branch of the Ezgulik human rights group, suffered serious injuries in an attack on 28 April, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported the next day. Mukhtorov was hospitalized in serious condition after three men attacked and beat him. His brother, Jamshid Mukhtorov, who heads the Jizzakh branch, told RFE/RL: "The men who attacked him asked whether he was involved in human rights activities. After he confirmed this, they brutally beat him. They seem to have confused me and my younger brother." Jamshid Mukhtorov suggested that the attack may have been organized by the authorities. An Interior Ministry official in Jizzakh said police are investigating the incident. The attack follows a similar assault in Jizzakh against Ezgulik activist Ulugbek Haydarov a week earlier, uznews.net reported. DK

UZBEK HUNGER STRIKERS' HEALTH WORSENS
Ten hunger strikers at the Shorsuv Metal Works required medical attention five days into a hunger strike, uznews.net reported on 29 April. The workers are part of a group of more than 400 workers who began a hunger strike on 25 April to protest the actions of managers who, they allege, defrauded them of shares in the enterprise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2005). Uznews.net quoted doctors in Ferghana, where the plant is located, as saying that more and more hunger strikers are beginning to experience medical problems. DK

BELARUS GRANTS EARLY RELEASE TO 14 RUSSIAN DEMONSTRATORS
The Minsk City Court on 30 April ruled to release the 14 Russians who were detained at an unauthorized antipresidential rally in Minsk on 26 April and subsequently punished with jail terms varying from five to 15 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. The court ruling followed an appeal by Russian Ambassador to Belarus Aleksandr Blokhin, which was broadcast by the NTV channel on 29 April. "This fact once again shows Belarus' readiness for the further strengthening of allied relations with Russia," Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin commented upon the release of Russian demonstrators. ITAR-TASS reported the Russians left on 30 April on a train to Moscow without any marks in their passports banning future admission to Belarus. Meanwhile, five Ukrainians arrested at the same rally remain in jail in Minsk. The Minsk City Court is reportedly due to reconsider their fate on 2 May. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said on 1 May that the refusal to free the five Ukrainians reflects Belarus's "special attitude" to Ukraine, and added that Belarus "gives more attention" to relations with Russia, according to Interfax. JM

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE CONDEMNS 'ANTI-BELARUSIAN CAMPAIGN'...
The Belarusian National Assembly passed a statement on 29 April to condemn what it alleged was an "anti-Belarusian campaign" by the European Union and the United States, Belapan reported. Vadzim Papou, chairman of the lower house's Committee on International Affairs and Relations with the CIS, told legislators that since last October's referendum and parliamentary election, Belarus has come under "extremely strong political, diplomatic, and media pressure from some countries that are trying to use a number of international organizations for that purpose." Papou added that pressure intensified after the U.S. Congress passed the Belarus Democracy Act shortly before the referendum and election in October 2004. The act provides support for Belarusian opposition political parties, nongovernmental organizations and independent media. Papou accused Washington of declaring a "cold war" on Belarus. JM

...AND WANTS TO SUE RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER FOR COVERAGE OF RALLY IN MINSK
The National Assembly on 29 April decided to request that Belarusian Prosecutor-General Pyotr Miklasheuski consider the possibility of bringing Russia's "Moskovskii komsomolets" daily to account for its coverage of the Belarusian police crackdown on the unauthorized 26 April rally in Minsk, Belapan reported. The decision was in response to a motion by Chamber of Representatives member Viktar Kuchynski, who described the coverage as insulting to Belarus and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "Moskovskii komsomolets" wrote on 28 April that the anti-rally crackdown was the work of "trained mongrels belonging to the fascist Lukashenka." JM

UKRAINIAN LEFTISTS STAGE MAY DAY RALLIES...
Ukrainian Communists and other left-wing organizations staged a number of what were generally sparsely attended rallies in some cities to celebrate the May Day holiday, Ukrainian media reported on 1 May. In particular, May Day rallies reportedly gathered 2,500 people in Kyiv, 6,000 in Sevastopol, 5,000 in Donetsk Oblast, and 1,000 in Kharkiv. Speaking to demonstrators in Kyiv, Communist Party leader Petro Yushchenko denounced the policy of President Viktor Yushchenko as "pro-American" and likely to lead to "the impoverishment of the Ukrainian people and a split in the centuries-old fraternal relations with Russia," ITAR-TASS reported. JM

...AS PRESIDENT ATTENDS ORTHODOX EASTER SERVICES
This year May Day coincided with the Easter holiday observed by Orthodox and Greek Catholic (Uniate) believers in Ukraine. President Yushchenko attended Easter services in the Uspenskiy Cathedral (under the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate) and the Volodymyrskiy Cathedral (Kyiv Patriarchate) in Kyiv in the early hours of 1 May, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko's schedule for the following week includes a vacation in Crimea from 2-6 May, the CIS summit in Moscow on 8 May, and celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II with veterans in Kyiv on 9 May. JM

SERBIAN PRESIDENT APPEALS TO BULGARIAN COLLEAGUE OVER DETAINED COLONEL
Serbian President Boris Tadic sent a letter to his Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov on 1 May calling on Parvanov to find a "just solution" to the case of Serbian Colonel Cedomir Brankovic, adding that bilateral relations "have never been better," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Bulgarian police recently detained Brankovic on the basis of a Croatian Interpol arrest warrant. He is staying in his country's Sofia Embassy awaiting a final Bulgarian ruling as to whether he enjoys diplomatic immunity from arrest and extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 April 2005). In his letter to Parvanov, Tadic argued that the colonel "undoubtedly" enjoys diplomatic immunity on the basis of international agreements that both countries have signed. Tadic added that "the public in Serbia and Montenegro is particularly disturbed by pictures of Colonel Brankovic with his hands and feet tied with chains, which is [disturbing] to citizens and state officials alike in Belgrade," Hina reported. PM

PAKISTAN TO CHALLENGE MACEDONIAN COURT VERDICT IN TRIAL OVER SLAIN MIGRANTS
A spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry has announced that Islamabad will challenge the verdict of a Skopje court in the trial over the killing of six Pakistani citizens by Macedonian police in March 2002, the Islamabad-based "News International" reported on 30 April. "Not only do we have a lawyer to represent the murdered Pakistanis, but the government of Macedonia has approached us and asked us for more details," the spokesman said. The announcement came in response to the acquittal of three former senior police officers and a fourth man who were charged in connection with the slaying of the six Pakistanis and one Indian. The court had ruled on 22 April that there was insufficient evidence to prove charges that the defendants killed the migrants in a staged shootout, so that the Interior Ministry could claim that police killed Al-Qaeda members who were planning to attack Western embassies in Skopje (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 May 2004, and 14 January and 26 March 2005). UB

MONTENEGRIN OFFICIAL OFFERS TO HOST KOSOVA TALKS
Ranko Krivokapic, who is the pro-independence speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, said on 1 May in Podgorica that leaders from Belgrade and Prishtina should meet in Montenegro to launch official political talks, Hina reported. Krivokapic stressed that Montenegro has a clear interest in resolving outstanding regional political issues, including that of Kosova. The Croatian news agency quoted unnamed "analysts in Prishtina" as saying that Kosovar leaders are likely to welcome the proposal because "Montenegro is Kosova's friend...[and] has been neutral and treated [Kosova] fairly." Serbian leaders have repeatedly called for direct bilateral talks in Belgrade or Prishtina, whereas Kosovar leaders want any conference on Kosova's future to be international in scope and not in Belgrade. The Kosovar leaders are willing to talk about "technical questions" with their Serbian counterparts but do not want full-fledged political negotiations, arguing that Belgrade lost all claims to the province by its behavior in the 1998-99 conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005 and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 16 December 2004). Montenegrin leaders have generally been reluctant to involve themselves in the question of Kosova's final status, preferring not give rise to any link between Kosovar and Montenegrin political issues. PM

MONTENEGRIN LEADER SETS TIME LIMIT FOR OFFER TO SERBIA
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told the Podgorica daily "Pobjeda" of 30 April that his offer to Serbia of redefining their joint state as one of two independent republics is valid until the end of 2005. After that date, he added, "it is clear what our next step will be," which presumably means that he will call a referendum on independence. He stressed that unnamed Montenegrins should stop discussing their country's future on the basis of "casual remarks...made by people who do not live in Montenegro" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 28 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). Elsewhere, Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said that his government's offer is valid "until the referendum" is announced. In Belgrade on 28 April, a spokesman for Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that recent Montenegrin statements about redefining the joint state are attempts at "marketing" by a government that realizes that it will lose any referendum on independence. The spokesman added that the Podgorica leadership wants independence so that its leaders will enjoy immunity from prosecution abroad, where several of them have been implicated in criminal activities but not convicted. PM

CROATIA ARRESTS TWO OVER ALLEGED AID TO WAR CRIMES INDICTEE
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader announced on 30 April that the authorities recently arrested two unnamed people who allegedly helped war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina obtain a forged passport with which he fled the country at an unspecified date, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 23 March and 20 April 2005). PM

U.S. BACKS UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S PEACE PLAN FOR TRANSDNIESTER
The U.S. permanent representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Paul Jones, said in a statement distributed by the U.S. State Department that Washington supports President Yushchenko's initiative concerning the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, Infotag reported on 29 April. Speaking at the GUUAM summit in Chisinau on 22 April, Yushchenko proposed a seven-point plan aimed at resolving the long-running conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005). Yushchenko's peace proposal would entail holding free and democratic elections in Transdniester under the aegis of the EU, the OSCE, the United States, and Russia, and the replacement of the Russian peacekeeping forces in Transdniester with international military and civilian observers. Jones said Washington will carefully study Yushchenko's initiative and will discuss it with Ukraine, Moldova, and other international mediators and interested parties. JM

POLL SAYS TWO-THIRDS OF MOLDOVANS BELIEVE IN GOD
The Opinia polling agency found in a survey conducted on the eve of Orthodox Easter (1 May) that two of every three Moldovans believe that God exists, BASA reported on 30 April. Opinia Director Tudor Danii said the survey confirmed the official estimate that 97 percent of Moldovans are of Orthodox Christian origin. JM

IS MOSCOW LETTING RUSSIAN FAR EAST 'SLIP AWAY'?
A senior Russian foreign-policy analyst says that Moscow's lack of attention to "the colossal deficit of human, investment, and other resources" in Siberia and the Russian Far East is leading to a situation in which that region may "simply slip away on its own" sometime in the future.

In an interview published online last week, Irina Kobrinskaya, who is a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said that the loss of that enormous region would mean that "Russia would cease to be great" (http://www.polit.ru/analytics/2005/04/25/kobrinskaya_print.html).

Indeed, Kobrinskaya continued, the departure of the Russian Far East would be "significantly more important" to the country than the loss of Russian influence in or control over Ukraine, and therefore this possibility should become "issue No. 1" for all those concerned about the future of the Russian Federation.

In measured language, the Moscow analyst made two additional points with regard to this possibility. On the one hand, she insisted that the loss of the Russian Far East is hardly inevitable or will necessarily occur "in the next three to five years." But at the same time, she added that it is "completely impossible to exclude" that possibility.

"If we do not change [the country's] immigration policy, if we do not make every effort to link this region economically [to the rest of the country], and if we do not develop real transportation ties" -- and "not just two roads or three pipelines" -- she argued, then the "quiet slipping away" of this enormous region will become more likely.

And on the other hand, Kobrinskaya said that her argument in no way implies that the Chinese or the Japanese are somehow about to "seize" this area, as many Russian nationalists have claimed in recent years. "Everyone [in these countries] perfectly well understands the situation," she said, and they won't try.

Instead, the worsening demographic and economic situation of the Russian Far East, she continued, is leading ever more officials and people there to consider that the best way out might be "to reach an agreement with the Japanese," who could provide more financing and investment than they currently receive from Moscow.

Yurii Pronin's article "The Siberian State: Fact or Chimera?" that was published in "Baikalskie vesti" on 15 April 2004 (available online at http://babr.irk.ru) shows just how accurately Kobrinskaya has depicted the feelings of people in the Russian Far East.

For three reasons, Kobrinskaya's argument is likely to attract far more attention and prove far more disturbing to officials in Moscow than have been demonstrations against the new border accord with Beijing and the possible return of the Kurile Islands to Japan, or often overheated suggestions by Russian nationalists that "the Chinese are coming."

First, she is a distinguished analyst of international affairs and especially of the situation along the Pacific Rim, someone whose judgments in the past have been generally moderate and mainstream. For her to say this now suggests that she and others examining the issue are truly worried.

Second, Kobrinskaya's language is remarkably dispassionate. She makes her argument on this point with the bare minimum of inevitably inflammatory adjectives and adverbs. Consequently, her words are likely to be read to the end by many in and near the Kremlin who would normally dismiss any such projection out of hand.And third, Kobrinskaya makes it clear that she does not want to see Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East "drift away" and that she is convinced that given the right policies, the central government in Moscow can and must do something to stop this process from going any further.

At the same time, however, Kobrinskaya's words have raised the stakes. If Moscow responds to the challenges she suggests the region poses, then the population of the Russian Far East will have reason to celebrate that region's continued integration into the Russian Federation.

But if the central government does not or does not do so in an adequate fashion, then an increasing number of people in that region may conclude, on the basis of Kobrynskaya's words and their own experiences, that if they should eventually decide to secede from the Russian Federation, Moscow will have only itself to blame.

(Paul Goble, former publisher of "RFE/RL Newsline" and a longtime Soviet nationalities expert with the U.S. government, is currently a research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia.)

AFGHAN PRESIDENT VOICES CONCERN OVER CIVILIAN DEATHS
Hamid Karzai called on U.S.-led coalition forces to use "extreme caution" in order to curb civilian deaths, AFP reported on 1 May. Karzai in a statement voiced "concern about the occurrence in recent weeks of civilian deaths as a result of counterterrorist operations." Karzai's statement followed a U.S. air strike that killed three civilians on 29 April. The air strike, which targeted a suspected neo-Taliban camp in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan, also wounded two children. Two children and a woman died in March in southeastern Afghanistan when U.S. forces fired on and killed a key neo-Taliban commander. That incident came just days after a boy was killed by U.S.-led forces searching a village in the eastern Kunar Province for a bomb maker. Karzai stressed his support for the U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts, despite the civilian deaths and injuries. "The government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan reaffirms once again its rock-solid commitment to the war against terrorism, and will continue to work with the international coalition against terrorism in pursuing and defeating terrorist forces in Afghanistan," Karzai said. MR

U.S. MILITARY RELEASES 85 AFGHAN PRISONERS
The U.S. military has released 85 Afghans held in military jails in Afghanistan, AP reported on 1 May. Seventy Afghans were released from the main U.S. military base at Bagram, north of Kabul, and 15 were set free from a base near the southern city of Kandahar, where the newly released detainees received gifts, cash and a warning not to join neo-Taliban insurgents. "We hope you will go back to your families, live a quiet life, and not cooperate with the Taliban," Kandahar Governor Gul Agha Sherzai told the men as they were released. "If you work with the government and the coalition, your country will progress." All of the freed prisoners pledged to support the new Afghan government. "They said they would be committed to the government and were deemed to no longer pose a threat to the government or the coalition," U.S. military spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore said. Moore said the U.S. military was holding some 600 prisoners before the latest release. MR

UNICEF HAILS AFGHAN JUVENILE CODE
The UN children's agency, UNICEF, praised the Afghan government's move to adopt a new Juvenile Code, Xinhua News Agency reported on 1 May. "The new Juvenile Code for Afghanistan affords increased protection for children," UNICEF representative for Afghanistan Bernt Aasen said. "This important development in the legislative framework will ensure that children are treated fairly, and will provide them with an opportunity to play their part as productive members of society, rather than facing a future in the criminal justice system." The Juvenile Code, which the Afghan government officially adopted earlier this year, raises the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 and rules any person under the age of 18 a child. The code also outlines a range of punishments for juvenile offenders short of jail time, including warnings and probation. MR

AFGHAN FORCES ARREST FOUR SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN
Afghan National Army troops detained four suspected neo-Taliban insurgents on 30 April in southern Afghanistan, Xinhua News Agency reported on 1 May, citing an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman. "Personnel of 205th Corps in Kanawha detained two Taliban operatives, namely Mohammad Hussein and Allah Dad, from Char Chino District of Cruzan Province [on 30 April], while two more militants were arrested in Kabul the same day," Defense Ministry spokesman Zaire Aim said on 1 May. Aim said Afghan soldiers also seized a number of arms and ammunition in the arrests. MR

PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE CONSIDERS RELATIONS WITH U.S.
Reformist presidential candidate Mustafa Moin told students at the University of Science and Technology (Elm va Sanat) in Tehran on 1 May that Iran-U.S. relations are the major challenge in the country's foreign policy, IRNA reported. He said continuing hostility toward the United States is not in Iran's interest, and he promised to revise Iranian foreign policy if elected. Moin also said he is an advocate of on-campus freedom of expression, IRNA reported. BS

TEHRAN MAYOR DELAYS ANNOUNCING CANDIDACY
Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad, who has been touted as the presidential candidate preferred by younger conservatives, said on 28 April that he will not announce his decision until the registration of candidates begins, "Iran Daily" reported on 30 April. Registration starts on 10 May. He encouraged the media to focus on issues and public demands rather than on candidates and political parties. BS

FEMALE ACTIVIST WANTS TO ENTER PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Islamic Revolution's Women Society Secretary-General Azam Taleqani announced on 30 April that she is considering entering the presidential race, IRNA reported. Her attempt to run for president in 2001 was short-lived because the Guardians Council rejected her candidacy. Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution enumerates a presidential candidate's required qualifications, and its assertion that the president must be a religious-political individual (rejal-i mazhabi-siasi) leaves it unclear as to whether or not a woman can be president. BS

FUTURE OF IRANIAN NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES UNCLEAR
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 30 April, after the previous day's negotiations in London with British, French, and German representatives failed to yield substantive results, that Tehran is considering resumption of some aspects of its nuclear program, Radio Farda reported. "It is possible that we may resume the Isfahan [Uranium Conversion Facility] project, but the decision rests on our final decision next week in Tehran," he said. Rohani sounded generally pleased with the discussions and said the Europeans want more time to consider Tehran's proposals. By contrast, Supreme National Security Council official Hussein Musavian said on 30 April that Iran is not satisfied with the talks and there were no tangible results, Mehr News Agency reported. Rather than making any concrete proposals, he said, the Europeans keep calling for a halt to uranium enrichment. He said Tehran will consider the issue and respond during the coming week. BS

IMPRISONED IRANIAN-ARAB JOURNALIST TRANSFERRED TO AHVAZ
The reformist "Eqbal" daily reported that security officials have transferred Iranian-Arab activist and journalist Yusef Azizi Bani-Taraf to Ahvaz, "Iran News" reported on 1 May. Bani-Taraf was arrested on 25 April in connection with the mid-April ethnic unrest that occurred in and around Ahvaz in southwestern Khuzestan Province (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 25 April 2005). Bani-Taraf's wife, Salimeh Fotuhi, said her husband is charged with "acting against the national security and provoking people." BS

EXPLOSION ROCKS OIL PIPELINE IN SOUTHWEST IRAN
A 30 April explosion along the Mahshahr-Abadan pipeline did not cause any damage or casualties, Baztab website speculated. The explosive reportedly consisted of powder from artillery shells left over from the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. The Baztab website appeared to attribute the blast to Khuzestan separatists, claiming they do not intend to let the unrest from earlier in the month subside. BS

KURDISH JOURNALISTS APPEAR IN COURT
Two Kurdish journalists, Jalal Qavami and Said Saedi, appeared in court on 30 April, ILNA reported. Charges against them related to their speeches about Kurdish reformists at Kurdistan University and included: undermining national security by advocating an election boycott, "insulting the leadership and [Islamic] sanctities," encouraging ethnic and religious differences, "portraying the system as ineffective," propagandizing for antiregime groups, and insulting state officials. The plaintiffs reportedly include the Student Basij, the provincial Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and the police intelligence unit. BS

MILITANTS TARGET IRAQI CAPITAL IN STRING OF BOMB ATTACKS
Militants in Iraq detonated three car bombs in Baghdad on 2 May, killing at least eight people, international media reported. One of the blasts targeted a convoy transporting Interior Ministry Major General Rashid Fulayh, commander of the ministry's elite commando Al-Maghawir unit. Fulayh and three of his bodyguards were wounded in the attack. A second bomb attack in the busy Karrada District killed six and injured 12, according to Reuters. Al-Jazeera television reported nine dead and 10 injured. A third attack in the Zayouna District targeted an Iraqi police patrol, killing at least two policemen and injuring 10 others. Meanwhile, an Australian contractor in Iraq was seen on a videotape aired on Al-Jazeera on 1 May. Douglas Wood, who reportedly lived in California before going to Iraq with his American wife, appealed to the Australian and U.S. governments to secure his release. His captors, identified as the Iraqi Mujahedin's Shura Council, have demanded that the U.S., U.K., and Australian governments withdraw their forces from Iraq in exchange for Wood's safe release. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has dispatched a rapid-response team to help locate Wood, Reuters reported on 2 May. KR

25 IRAQIS DEAD AS SUICIDE BOMBER STRIKES KURDISH FUNERAL...
Twenty-five Iraqis were killed and more than 50 wounded when a suicide car bomber struck the funeral of a Kurdish official in Tel Afar, AP reported on 2 May. The attack was one in a string of attacks in recent days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2005) that have left some 100 Iraqis dead. Transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told Al-Arabiyah television in a 30 April interview that the government plans to establish an operation control room to better handle security. The room will be able to receive and relay information from all security services in a more efficient manner. Al-Ja'fari also said that he intends to "activate the judiciary and apply the judicial principle of inflicting punishment on [criminals] in proportion to their crimes." KR

...AS GOVERNMENT PLANS TO WEED OUT CORRUPT SECURITY PERSONNEL
The transitional government is planning to get rid of corrupt security personnel suspected of aiding Sunni insurgents in Iraq, latimes.com reported on 1 May. The website reported that the plan will likely include the use of specially trained Iraqi commandos dispatched to Baghdad and other hot spots. Shi'ite politician Jawad al-Maliki told the website: "Our policy will be to develop the security forces and uproot the terrorist cells," adding that interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's administration did not do enough to address terrorism. Transitional Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told Al-Arabiyah that insurgents have bought lists of the names of new police recruits. Insurgents have also reportedly bribed their way out of custody, he said. Jabr said his administration "will take measures and people will see the changes in two months." KR

BRITISH AID WORKER'S BELONGINGS FOUND AT SITE OF RAID IN IRAQ
Personal items belonging to kidnapped British aid worker Margaret Hassan were discovered during a raid in the town of Mada'in south of Baghdad on 1 May, international media reported. Hassan was kidnapped in the capital in October by insurgents; her body was later found in Al-Fallujah in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 November 2004). Iraqi police told Reuters that the personal items included an identification card, clothing, and a bag belonging to Hassan, who served as Care International's country director. U.K. Embassy officials declined to confirm the personal items, but said there was reasonable evidence to believe the items were Hassan's. Eleven suspects were reportedly detained in the raid; police said five of the suspects have confessed to complicity in Hassan's kidnapping and murder. KR

REPRESENTATIVES OF IRAQI NEIGHBORS CONVENE IN ISTANBUL
Foreign ministers of countries neighboring Iraq met in Istanbul on 30 April and reiterated their support for the development of a united, democratic, and pluralistic Iraq, Anatolia news agency reported on 1 May. The foreign ministers expressed their commitment in a joint statement following the meeting to increase border security with Iraq, reiterating an earlier commitment made at the Tehran meeting on 1 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). Transitional security adviser Wafiq al-Samarra'i told Al-Arabiyah television in a 1 May interview that neighboring states need to do more, insisting: "Not a single suicide bombing was conducted by an Iraqi. All the suicide bombers came from outside the borders and were non-Iraqis." Asked about recent attacks by armed groups in Iraq, al-Samarra'i claimed: "No organized operations have been conducted at all. All operations are limited attacks and are conducted on a semi-individual manner." He also claimed that terrorists have used suicide car bombers to "falsely give the impression that violence has increased and the rhythm of armed activities has risen." He said, "The fact is completely the opposite." KR

MASS GRAVE CONTAINING WOMEN AND CHILDREN FOUND IN SOUTHERN IRAQ
A mass grave containing as many as 1,500 bodies -- mostly women and children -- has been found near the southern Iraqi city of Samawah, in the Al-Diwaniyah Governorate, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 30 April. The victims appear to be Kurds, and are dressed in traditional Kurdish clothing. "They are mostly women and children. There are just five men, all others are women and children. They are Kurds from Kurdistan. We believe they are victims of the Al-Anfal campaigns in 1988, [by] Saddam Hussein's regime," interim Human Rights Minister Bakhtiyar Amin told reporters who toured the site, RFI reported. Amin said the grave contains 18 trenches, 13 of which have so far been dug up. Forensic teams dug at the site from 7 to 24 April, washingtonpost.com reported on 30 April. Of the 113 bodies uncovered from one trench, two-thirds of the victims were children or teenagers; 10 of the victims were infants, the website reported. KR

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