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Newsline - May 18, 2005


LAVROV REJECTS LINK BETWEEN CIS REVOLUTIONS AND UZBEK UNREST
Sergei Lavrov told "Izvestiya" of 18 May that he sees no parallels between the so-called colored revolutions in several CIS countries and the recent violence in Uzbekistan. "There was no obvious pretext in Uzbekistan, such as elections that could be challenged, that could possibly justify the use of the term 'revolution,'" Lavrov said, according to the daily. He said protesters in the eastern Uzbek town of Andijon were acting based on a "pre-arranged plan according to which they seized weapons from a military base and used them to occupy government buildings and take hostages." Lavrov blamed protesters for the bloodshed, saying they sought "to use people as human shields." VY

...AND SUGGESTS RUSSIA'S GROWING STRENGTH IS CONTRIBUTING TO REGIONAL TENSION
In the same "Izvestiya" interview of 18 May, Foreign Minister Lavrov said the increasing strength of Russia, "which is growing day by day," is a factor in rising tensions between Russia and its former satellites and allies. "The powerful are not popular, and this explains the growing [verbal] attacks on Russia by the former Soviet republics," Lavrov reportedly told "Izvestiya." He added that rival states are unhappy with the "financial independence of Russia, which is repaying its debts and has preserved its natural advantages, like its energy resources, vast territory, and transport capability." VY

'IZVESTIYA' EDITOR URGES RUSSIA AND WEST TO BACK UZBEK PRESIDENT
"Izvestiya" foreign-desk editor Maksim Yusin wrote on 18 May that it is easier for Europe, the United States, and Russia to accept human rights violations in Uzbekistan than to allow President Islam Karimov to be replaced by a radical Islamist regime. Yusin compared Karimov favorably with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, saying that while they are no democrats, they support a secular state and the fight against Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups, and the West backs them. In light of Karimov's undemocratic policies, no moderate opposition is feasible and democratic elections in Uzbekistan would likely bring Islamists to power, Yusin argued; such a move might prove democratic but dangerous in its political consequences. VY

POLITICAL ANALYST SUGGESTS OTHER CIS STATES ARE DESTINED FOR REVOLUTION
National Strategy Council founder and former head Stanislav Belkovskii said on 17 May that the violent crackdown by Uzbek President Karimov on unrest in eastern Uzbekistan can delay but not prevent the fall of his regime, RIA-Novosti reported. Nearly all CIS member states are destined for revolutionary transfers of power, he said, dividing them into three groups based on the intensity of internal conflict: a) the group with the most acute problems comprises Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, and Kazakhstan; b) Russia and Azerbaijan are in the second tier of candidates for revolution; c) and the countries with the most remote chance of revolution are Belarus and Turkmenistan, where authoritarian administrations are strongest. Belkovskii said that domestic factors will determine whether CIS states, including Russia, are vulnerable to revolution; they include popular mistrust of the ruling elite, a lack of optimistic scenarios, ethnic and social tension, and the reluctance of the security community to use force against the population. VY

RETIRED GENERALS TOUGHEN STANCE ON GEORGIAN BASES, NATO
Retired Colonel General Leonid Ivashov said on 17 May that he is convinced Georgia "misinterpreted" Moscow's commitment to withdraw remaining troops from that country, TV-Tsentr reported. Ivashov, who is vice president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems and head of the Russian team negotiating with the Georgian side over the bases' fate, claimed that "Russia pledged only to discuss the status of its troops in Georgia but not its withdrawal" from Georgia in the accord reached in Istanbul in 1999. Russia pledged in Istanbul to close two bases in Georgia by 1 July 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2001) and to begin talks on the schedule for closing the two remaining bases. Ivashov said Russian military units should be deployed in Georgia's unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia regardless of the outcome of the negotiations with Tbilisi. "The Caucasus has already been incorporated into the NATO zone of responsibility, and we need a military-political response in that direction," Ivashov said. Retired Major General Nikolai Bezborodov, a member of the Duma Defense Committee, claimed on 17 May that if NATO bases are positioned near Russian borders, Moscow will revise its defense policies, Interfax reported. "If the U.S. moves its troops stationed in Western Europe to bases in Bulgaria and Romania, Russia will undoubtedly have to respond to that step," Bezborodov said. VY

READING OF KHODORKOVSKII VERDICT ENTERS THIRD DAY
The reading of the verdict in the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, and Volna General Director Andrei Krasnov continued on 18 May for the third consecutive day, Russian and international news agencies reported. Defense lawyers told dpa that only about 80 pages of the 1,000 page verdict have been read so far, although they now believe that the defendants will be convicted on all charges against them, including fraud, embezzlement, and tax evasion. Interfax reported that Khodorkovskii is sitting at the hearing with his back to the judges, while Lebedev was reportedly doing crossword puzzles as the verdict was being read. RBK quoted defense lawyer Yurii Shmidt as saying the reading of the verdict will certainly drag on into next week. Fellow defense lawyer Robert Amsterdam told RIA-Novosti that the court is only reading the verdict for a few hours each day at the request of the police units that are providing security at the court. He added that the conditions under which journalists covering the trial must work amount to "a violation of human rights." Khodorkovskii's lawyers have suggested the verdict's announcement is being dragged out to diminish public interest. RC

SPS IDEOLOGIST CLAIMS KHODORKOVSKII WILL REMAIN IN JAIL UNTIL AFTER PRESIDENTIAL VOTE
Yevgenii Yasin, a leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) and the rector of the Higher Economics School, predicted on 17 May that the Kremlin will make sure Khodorkovskii remains behind bars until after the presidential election scheduled for 2008, Ekho Moskvy reported. "I believe that they consider him dangerous and, even if his present judge, Irina Kolesnikova, acquits him, they have already prepared new allegations," Yasin said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 May 2005). He characterized the current trial of Khodorkovskii, Menatep head Lebedev, and a third former colleague "a trial of the 1990s reforms." Foreign Minister Lavrov appeared to make a veiled reference to Khodorkovskii when he told "Izvestiya" of 18 May that Russia wants to "provide all its citizens with human rights, equality, and freedom, not just those who were fortunate enough during privatization." VY

STATE SCRAPS PLANS TO MERGE GAZPROM, ROSNEFT
The government on 17 May called off the long-awaited merger of Gazprom and state-owned oil giant Rosneft, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 May. Under the proposed deal, the government would have transferred Rosneft to Gazprom in exchange for 10.7 percent of Gazprom shares, which would have given the state a controlling stake in the natural-gas monopoly. Instead, Dmitrii Medvedev, head of the presidential administration and chairman of Gazprom's board, told journalists on 17 May that the government will pay cash for the Gazprom stake and sell Rosneft on the open market. The daily reported that the deal was scuttled because of the huge debt and legal problems that Rosneft assumed in December when it purchased Yuganskneftegaz, formerly the main production subsidiary of Yukos. According to the daily, Rosneft's total debt has ballooned to $20 billion and the government also fears that Gazprom could become a target of Yukos-related legislation if the merger proceeds. Medvedev said the government's purchase of the 10.7 percent stake will be completed before Gazprom's 24 June shareholders' meeting. RC

CHINESE BUSINESSES TO INVEST BILLIONS IN RUSSIAN ECONOMY
St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko announced on 16 May that Chinese companies plan to invest some $12 billion into the Russian economy by 2020, regnum.ru reported. Matvienko said the figure emerged during preparations for a Russian-Chinese business forum next month that should include 300 Chinese businessmen. She singled out for mention a residential project in St. Petersburg, called "Baltic Pearl," that Shanghai builders expect to cost $1.25 billion. VY

MOSCOW, CARACAS GO AHEAD WITH CONTROVERSIAL KALASHNIKOV DEAL
Venezuelan Defense Minister Jorge Garcia signed an agreement with Rosoboroneksport in Caracas on 17 May under which Russia will provide 100,000 Kalashnikov AK-103 automatic rifles to the Venezuelan military, Interfax reported. The deal has been denounced as potentially destabilizing by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). Garcia told journalists that the first consignment of 28,000 weapons will be delivered in October. RC

KASPAROV ANNOUNCES ANOTHER BID TO UNIFY OPPOSITION
Committee-2008 co-Chairman Garri Kasparov said on 18 May that his group intends to create a United Civic Front, the function of which will be to preserve election-based democracy in Russia, Interfax reported. "The main goal of the organized opposition is the dismantling of the current system, the creation of a free political arena so that free elections can be conducted in 2007-08," Kasparov said at a news conference in Novosibirsk. Kasparov did not say what organizations or individuals will join the new front, but added that the organization will issue a manifesto in the near future. Kasparov has failed in several bids in recent months to unify the rightist opposition, and on 28 April he announced that Committee-2008 suspended its efforts to form a political party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005). RC

UNIFIED RUSSIA FACTION LOSES MORE DEPUTIES
The Unified Russia faction is on the verge of losing its constitutional majority in the State Duma as deputies continue to leave the faction, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 May. Deputies Valerii Zubov and Boris Vinogradov left the faction in the last couple of weeks and Nikolai Bezborodov plans to do so within the next few days, according to the daily. That would leave the faction with 302 members, while 300 votes are required to pass constitutional legislation. However, the Kremlin's grip on the Duma is not threatened, since the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) and other Duma groups routinely vote for the president's bills. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported, however, that the reason usually given by deputies for leaving Unified Russia is "its undemocratic methods of exercising leadership and conducting business." The daily speculated that the Kremlin is using the shifting of loyal deputies to beef up other pro-Kremlin structures in the run-up to the 2007 Duma elections. "As a result, the big Bear will have several clones alongside, smaller-scale copies, like little teddy bears," the daily editorialized. "The whole extended bear family hopes to become the main -- if not the only -- player in the election. Then the appearance of a multiparty system will be maintained while the threat to those in power will be reduced to zero." RC

DUMA REFUSES TO LIFT IMMUNITY OF SQUABBLING DEPUTIES...
The Duma voted on 18 May not to deprive the deputies who were involved in a physical altercation in the Duma chamber on 30 March of their immunity from prosecution, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005). The request for the lifting of immunity came from the Prosecutor-General's Office. Fifty deputies voted in favor of the motion, 30 opposed it, while 370 deputies failed to vote on the measure. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told journalists that he did not support the proposal because prosecutors intended to charge the deputies only with administrative violations rather than file criminal charges. The 30 March altercation was set off when Deputy Duma Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii reportedly struck Motherland Deputy Andrei Savelev and numerous other deputies from both factions joined in. RC

...AND MODIFIES ITS VACATION SCHEDULE
The State Duma on 18 May voted to extend its spring plenary session by two weeks until 9 July, Russian media reported. Deputies will work in their districts from 9 July until 17 July and will have summer vacation from 18 July until 28 August. They will then spend another week in their districts before opening the fall plenary session on 5 September, RIA-Novosti reported. RC

FAR EASTERN LEGISLATURE REMOVES SPEAKER
The legislative assembly of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic on 18 May voted to remove legislature Speaker Nikolai Solomonov, who was convicted earlier this month of killing his wife in October 2003 during a drunken brawl, Russian media reported. On 13 May, Solomonov began serving a five-year-and-one-month prison term for the crime. Deputies will select a new speaker on 19 May, Interfax reported. RC

FAR EASTERN OFFICIAL TO FACE NEW TRIAL IN WINTER-HEATING CASE
Prosecutors in Koryak Autonomous Okrug on 18 May filed new charges of abuse of office against former okrug Deputy Governor Mikhail Sokolovskii, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Sokolovskii was convicted in March of contributing to the region's winter heating crisis by transferring funds for heating oil to a Moscow company that did not supply any fuel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 14, and 16 March 2005) and sentenced to 18 months in prison, but his conviction was overturned by an oblast court on 13 May. The court ruled that there were errors in the prosecution's charges against Sokolovskii and procedural errors in his detention. Sokolovskii is one of very few regional officials ever to be sentenced to a jail term for abuse of office or in connection with any of the Far East's numerous winter-heating crises in recent years. Prosecutors said on 18 May that they will seek a seven-year prison term for Sokolovskii, as they did in his original trial. After Sokolovskii's conviction, presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii told journalists that more trials can be expected in connection with the crisis, for which President Putin on 9 March dismissed okrug Governor Vladimir Loginov. RC

CHECHEN LEADER NAMES NEW RESISTANCE COMMANDERS
In line with plans by the Chechen resistance to extend military operations against Russian targets beyond the borders of Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005), Chechen State Defense Committee head Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev has issued a series of decrees designating the North Caucasus regions of Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachevo-Cherkessia, Adygeya, Stavropol, and Krasnodar sectors of the so-called Caucasus Front, chechenpress.com reported on 16 May. Sadullaev also named commanders of the Ingush, North Ossetian, and Kabardino-Balkar sectors of that front. LF

ANTICIPATED ARMENIAN-TURKISH MEETING FAILS TO MATERIALIZE
Armenian President Robert Kocharian did not meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the 16-17 May Council of Europe summit in Warsaw, although Turkish media had speculated that such a meeting could take place. On 2 May, an Armenian government official confirmed to RFE/RL's Armenian Service that a meeting between the two men was very probable (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 6 May 2005). Reuters reported on 17 May that a meeting was indeed planned but that Erdogan called it off to protest comments made by Kocharian the previous day in his address to the summit. Kocharian said Armenia's ongoing campaign aimed at securing international recognition that the mass killings of Armenians in Ottoman Turkey in 1915 were a genocide is "explained by our belief in European values," and he expressed gratitude for "the support of those states which have recognized and condemned that Genocide." LF

ROW ERUPTS OVER IMPLEMENTATION OF ARMENIAN- RUSSIAN DEBT DEAL
Armenian and Russian officials engaged in mutual recriminations in Yerevan on 17 May over implementation of the November 2002 agreement under which Armenia handed over five key enterprises to Russian ownership in exchange for the write-off of some $98 million in debt, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Russia undertook to modernize those enterprises to enable them to continue to function, but only one of them is currently operational. Vahan Hovannisian, who is the Armenian co-chairman of the Russian-Armenian commission on interparliamentary cooperation, said Yerevan is "not satisfied" with Russian compliance with its obligations; Russian officials responded that they have not invested in the enterprises in question because they hope for tax privileges that will offset the high cost of transporting goods to and from Armenia. Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian pointed out that the enterprises are already exempt from paying taxes. LF

WIFE OF EXILED AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONIST RETURNS TO BAKU...
Elmira Gulieva, wife of Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) Chairman and former parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliev, flew to Baku late on 17 May, echo-az.com reported on 18 May. DPA functionaries said Guliev himself might arrive in Baku soon. Guliev had announced he would return to the Azerbaijani capital on 15 October 2003 -- the date of the presidential election in which he was refused registration as a candidate -- but he failed to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2003). Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov warned recently that if Guliev returns to Azerbaijan he will be arrested; he was charged in absentia seven years ago with large-scale embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January and 15 July 1998). LF

...AFTER PARDONED AZERBAIJANI POLICE OFFICIAL IS NAMED PARTY DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
Former Gyanja police chief Natig Efendiev was named on 15 May one of three DPA deputy chairmen, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 16 and 17 May, respectively. Efendiev was arrested in 2000 and sentenced the following year to life imprisonment on charges of planning a coup d'etat against then President Heidar Aliyev with the aim of bringing Guliev to power (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 28 January 2000). Efendiev was pardoned in March 2005 under an amnesty proclaimed by President Ilham Aliyev. LF

AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES REFUSE PERMISSION FOR OPPOSITION RALLY
The Baku municipal authorities rejected on 17 May a request by three opposition parties -- Musavat, the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), and the DPA -- to hold a rally and march in the city on 21 May, Turan and echo-az.com reported on 17 and 18 May, respectively. Participants intended to demand amendments to Azerbaijan's election laws, the creation of an independent public broadcaster, and the arrest and trial of the killer of independent journalist Elmar Guseinov. Municipal officials said it is inexpedient to hold such a mass action on the eve of the arrival in Baku of several foreign leaders who will attend the official inauguration on 25 May of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil. AHCP Deputy Chairman Vugar Kerimov told echo-az.com that the opposition will nonetheless proceed with the planned action, but he added that the route the marchers will take remains a secret. LF

FBI SAYS GRENADE THROWN AT U.S. PRESIDENT IN GEORGIA 'APPARENTLY' NOT A DUD
In a statement released in Tbilisi on 18 May, FBI official C. Bryan Paarman said an initial examination showed that the hand grenade thrown at U.S. President George W. Bush in Tbilisi on 10 May "appears to be a live device that simply failed to function due to a light strike on the blasting cap induced by a slow deployment of the spoon activation device," Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 17 May 2005). "We consider this act to be a threat against the health and welfare of both the president of the United States and the president of Georgia," as well as against the tens of thousands of Georgians who gathered to hear Bush's address, Paarman added. He went on to commend the professionalism shown by the Georgian Interior Ministry in investigating the incident. The Georgian authorities announced on 16 May a reward of 20,000 laris ($10,977) for information leading to the arrest of the person who threw the grenade. LF

GEORGIA FINALLY UNVEILS DRAFT NATIONAL SECURITY CONCEPT
The Georgian parliamentary committees on defense and security, foreign relations, and European integration began on 17 May reviewing a draft National Security Concept prepared by a special commission chaired by President Mikhail Saakashvili, Caucasus Press reported. It is unclear whether the draft in question is the same as that which Defense Ministry official Nika Laliashvili said one year ago was ready to be endorsed by parliament. Two earlier alternative drafts prepared in 2001 and another completed in July 2002 were apparently scrapped after the November 2003 ouster of President Eduard Shevardnadze. The most recent draft lists as foreign policy priorities "strategic cooperation" with the United States, Ukraine, Turkey, and Azerbaijan and "partnership" with Russia. European integration is not mentioned in that context. It identifies the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as "the main threat to the national security of Georgia." LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN BEATEN, ROBBED
Parliamentary deputy Kakha Kukhava, who is secretary-general of the opposition Conservative Party, was attacked and severely beaten in Tbilisi late on 16 May by two men who subsequently robbed him of cash, documents, and his mobile phone, Caucasus Press reported. Other Conservative Party members believe the attack was politically motivated. They note that Kukhava planned to present to parliament an alternative draft bill on land privatization. LF

KAZAKHSTAN REPORTS RISE IN ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION FROM UZBEKISTAN
A source in the southern regional directorate of Kazakhstan's Border Service told Interfax on 17 May that illegal immigration from Uzbekistan has risen dramatically since the unrest in Andijon began (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2005). "Since [13 May], more than 300 people have tried to enter Kazakhstan by bypassing border checkpoints," the source said. The source described the number as much higher than usual. The Uzbek side closed the border after violence erupted in eastern Uzbekistan on 13 May, the source said, while the Kazakh side has stepped up patrols. DK

KYRGYZ ACTING PRESIDENT GIVES 'MAN'S WORD' ON POLITICAL ALLIANCE
Acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev said on 17 May that he concluded an alliance with Feliks Kulov, head of the Ar-Namys party, in the interests of stability and economic growth, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "We signed a political document agreeing that if I'm elected president of Kyrgyzstan, I will try to get parliament to approve Kulov as prime minister," Bakiev said. "This is not a legal document, but a political document. Of course, the word of a politician is worth nothing, but I gave my word as a man." Kulov recently gave up his presidential ambitions in favor of the alliance with Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). DK

OUSTED KYRGYZ PRESIDENT WANTS ARCHIVE RETURNED
Akin Toktonaliev, who heads a committee representing the interests of former Kyrgyz President and current Moscow resident Askar Akaev in Kyrgyzstan, told a news conference in Bishkek on 17 May that Akaev wants his diaries and personal archives returned, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Toktonaliev said Akaev also wants to end "the dissemination through media of materials that are the personal documents, diaries, and archives of the former Kyrgyz president." Akaev is prepared to take legal action to secure the return of the materials, Toktonaliev said. Materials confiscated from Akaev's office after the events of 24 March have since served as the basis for accusations of corruption against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2005). DK

POLICE, SQUATTERS CLASH IN KYRGYZ CAPITAL
Police in Bishkek clashed on the evening of 16 May with squatters who seized plots of land in the capital's Asanbai neighborhood, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the next day. Fourteen policemen and four squatters were injured in the incident, which occurred when police asked the squatters to leave the land plots and the latter refused. Thirty squatters were brought to a police precinct; the report did not say whether charges were filed. The squatters held a demonstration in Bishkek on 17 May alleging that police beat them and demanding an investigation. DK

KYRGYZSTAN GRAPPLES WITH UZBEK REFUGEE SITUATION...
Carlos Zaccagnini, chief of mission for the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) in Kyrgyzstan, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 17 May that the Kyrgyz Migration Department had registered 540 Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan as asylum seekers. "We want to commend the Kyrgyz authorities for having provided the asylum seekers with shelter and with food in the first 24-48 hours," Zaccagnini said. "Subsequently, as of yesterday, we have been able to provide them with a number of [aid] items that we, as UNHCR, have in stock." Miroslav Niyazov, secretary of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, told the country's parliament on 17 May that the refugees number 538, including 12 wounded people and 12 people who broke out of prison in Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Niyazov added that the Kyrgyz government has been in contact with the United Nations, OSCE, and Red Cross on the issue, and that acting Kyrgyz President Bakiev discussed the matter with Uzbek Prime Minister Savkat Mirziyoev, who said that Uzbekistan will cover the costs for shelter, food, and first aid for the refugees while they are in Kyrgyzstan. An RFE/RL Uzbek Service correspondent who visited the refugee camp on 16 May said that 18 sick and injured refugees, some of them with bullet wounds, are receiving treatment. He reported that Kyrgyz authorities, including border guards and representatives of the local administration, are tending to the refugees' basic needs. DK

...AS RIGHTS GROUPS WARN AGAINST THEIR RETURN TO UZBEKISTAN
A number of Kyrgyz human rights organizations appealed to the Kyrgyz government on 17 May not to repatriate up to 800 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The rights groups stressed that Kyrgyzstan has signed international conventions forbidding the transfer of refugees to countries where extrajudicial killings and torture are practiced. The statement follows comments by Kyrgyz officials that the refugees cannot be allowed to stay in Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). Uzbek President Islam Karimov told journalists in Tashkent on 17 May that he does not consider the 530 Uzbeks in Kyrgyzstan refugees, fergana.ru reported. Karimov said that Kyrgyz border guards confiscated 73 automatic weapons "from these so-called refugees." He stressed, "I do not consider them refugees." DK

UZBEK PROSECUTOR SAYS 169 KILLED IN ANDIJON UNREST, DENIES TROOPS FIRED ON CIVILIANS...
Uzbek Prosecutor-General Rashid Qodirov told a news conference in Tashkent on 17 May that 169 people were killed in unrest in Andijon on 13 May, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. He said the dead include 32 members of government forces, three women, and two children. Qodirov's remarks implied that the remainder of the dead were either armed rebels or hostages the rebels shot as they escaped in three groups from the occupied regional-administration building in Andijon on 13 May, fergana.ru reported. Qodirov insisted that government forces did not fire on civilians in the city. DK

...WHILE OPPOSITION PARTY COLLECTS NAMES OF 745 PURPORTED DEAD
The unregistered Uzbek opposition party Ozod Dehqonlar has collected the names of 745 people purportedly killed in violence in Uzbekistan on 13 May, "Izvestiya" reported on 17 May. As of 16 May, party members conducting a door-to-door survey of residents had collected 542 names in Andijon and 203 names in nearby Pakhtaobod. Party head Nigora Hidoyatova said they planned to continue their work on 17 May. Hidoyatova told the newspaper that the harsh measures the authorities used to quell unrest in Andijon will likely provoke further outbreaks of violent dissent in the heavily populated Ferghana Valley. DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT CONDEMNS 'ABSURD' REPORTS, PLEDGES TO LET OBSERVERS VISIT ANDIJON...
Uzbek President Karimov told journalists in Tashkent on 17 May that reports of government troops causing heavy casualties in Andijon by firing on demonstrators are "absurd," agencies reported. "Not one peaceful resident was killed," RIA-Novosti quoted Karimov saying. "Where do these absurd reports come from that a peaceful demonstration was fired on? Where did this imaginary figure of 500 [people killed] come from?" Karimov stressed that he gave no orders to shoot, saying, "How could I have given an order to shoot my beloved people?" the BBC's Uzbek Service reported. "Government forces only liquidated terrorists." Karimov also promised to arrange a trip to Andijon on 18 May for "all representatives of the diplomatic corps and journalists," RIA-Novosti reported. The BBC's Uzbek Service quoted him as saying, "Come, tomorrow let's count the graves." Uzbek authorities largely sealed off the city to outside media after the violence on 13 May. DK

...AND SAYS UN, OSCE COULD PLAY ROLE IN INVESTIGATION
President Karimov said on 17 May that the UN and OSCE could play a role in investigating events in Andijon, RIA-Novosti reported. "I feel that first and foremost the UN should participate in this as an organization that can make any decisions and take part in any investigations," Karimov said, according to Ekho Moskvy. "We're also a full-fledged member of the OSCE. This organization has an office here that has the authority to help Uzbekistan on this issue." But Karimov also stated, "Uzbekistan is a sovereign country and it will deal with this situation itself." DK

FREEDOM HOUSE CONDEMNS REPORTED VIOLENCE AGAINST CIVILIANS IN UZBEKISTAN
In a 17 May press release, the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House "expressed extreme concern over reports that the government of Uzbekistan has resorted to indiscriminate violence against civilians." Executive Director Jennifer Windsor stated that "the burden of responsibility for the tragic events of the past four days lies squarely on the shoulders of President Karimov." Freedom House called on the Uzbek government "to immediately grant unimpeded access to United Nations officials, the international media, and human rights monitors to ascertain the facts and dispel rumors about recent events." DK

ARRESTED BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST GOES ON HUNGER STRIKE
Former Belarusian dissident lawmaker Syarhey Skrabets, who was detained in Minsk on 15 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005), has gone on a hunger strike in a jail in Brest, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 17 May, quoting Skrabets' wife. "He refused to eat as soon as he was transferred to Brest [from Minsk on 15 May]," his wife, Alyaksandra Skrabets, told RFE/RL. Prosecutors in Brest have opened a criminal case against Skrabets, accusing him of attempting to offer a bribe. Last month, Belarusian Television reported that Belarus's law-enforcement agencies have detained a Lithuanian citizen who reportedly attempted to deliver $200,000 to finance Skrabets' political activities, but the case has thus far not been pursued. In June 2004, Skrabets and two other lawmakers went on a three-week hunger strike, demanding democratic changes to the country's Electoral Code and the release of their political associate, Mikhail Marynich. JM

POLISH DIPLOMAT REPORTEDLY DECLARED PERSONA NON GRATA IN BELARUS
Marek Bucko, first secretary of the Polish Embassy in Minsk, has been declared persona non grata by Belarusian authorities, PAP reported on 17 May, quoting "diplomatic sources" in Minsk. The report has not been officially confirmed by either the Belarusian Foreign Ministry or the Polish Embassy in Belarus. Bucko's duties at the embassy included contacts with Belarusian political parties and nongovernmental organizations as well as with the Union of Poles in Belarus. "Sovetskaya Belorussiya," the newspaper of the Belarusian presidential administration, wrote in its 17 May edition that "according to accounts by members of the Union [of Poles in Belarus], one of the employees of the [Polish] diplomatic representation, Marek Bucko, tried to direct the organization." The Belarusian Justice Ministry has recently invalidated a congress by the Union of Poles in Belarus held in March, eliciting voices of concern from Warsaw. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT CANCELS IMPORT DUTY ON FUELS...
The Verkhovna Rada on 17 May passed government-proposed amendments to several laws to cancel import duty on high-octane gasoline and diesel fuel, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The amendments were backed by 310 lawmakers out of 410 at the session. The government had proposed canceling the import duties in order to cope with a current fuel-supply crisis. Last week Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko blamed Russian oil companies for provoking the shortage of fuel in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). She announced on 18 May that the Security Service of Ukraine has begun looking for the "organizers" of the fuel crisis. JM

...AND APPEALS TO PROSECUTOR-GENERAL TO FREE FORMER GOVERNORS
The Verkhovna Rada on 17 May also backed an appeal to Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun to release from detention former Donetsk Oblast Governor Borys Kolesnykov and Transcarpathian Oblast Governor Ivan Rizak, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Authors of the appeal, which was supported by 277 votes, said it is justified it by the need to avoid "destabilization in society" and to secure smooth operation of the parliament. Opposition lawmakers on 17 May blocked the parliamentary rostrum, demanding that lawmakers consider the detention of Kolesnykov and Rizak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). JM

RUSSIAN NEWSPAPER PUBLISHES PRESUMED LIST OF UKRAINIAN REPRIVATIZATIONS
"Kommersant-Daily" on 18 May published a list of 29 Ukrainian companies that, according to the daily, was compiled by Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh for the government to review their questionable privatizations. Prime Minister Tymoshenko denied that such a list was made, while Kinakh and President Viktor Yushchenko confirmed its existence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). The list published by "Kommersant-Daily" includes the Kryvorizhstal steel mill (controlled by Ukrainian oligarchs Renat Akhmetov and Viktor Pinchuk) and the Nikopol Ferroalloy Plant (reportedly controlled by Pinchuk), as well as four companies controlled by Russian corporations. JM

U.S. CONFIRMS ACTION PLAN FOR KOSOVA
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 17 May that Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns will soon announce a plan to move forward on resolving the status of Kosova, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). "We think we're now entering a new stage in our policy toward the Balkans, one that will accelerate the region's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions," Boucher stressed. He added that Washington hopes that "the standards of democracy and multiethnicity for Kosovo will be [met] as soon as possible.... We all believe we are coming to a time when we should deal with the status issues." PM

KOSOVA'S PRESIDENT BELIEVES INDEPENDENCE WILL COME WITHOUT TALKS WITH SERBIA
Muhamet Hamiti, who is Kosovar President Ibrahim Rugova's spokesman, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 17 May that Rugova firmly believes that Kosova must work towards independence without any preliminary negotiations with Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 May 2005). Hamiti stressed that "there is no international document that treats Kosova as part of Serbia, so one cannot speak of a unilateral separation from Serbia but rather of completing a process by which Kosova will become a separate state." He noted that ongoing work on a proposed constitution for Kosova is simply sound preparation for when independence comes but does not constitute a unilateral declaration of independence in and of itself. PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT WARNS SERBIA
Croatian President Stipe Mesic told the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 18 May that his recent cancellation of a planned visit to Serbia is a "warning signal" against what he called officially sponsored attempts to rehabilitate Serbian World War II Chetnik movement leaders regarded as war criminals in Croatia, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 April and 13 May 2005). He noted that there are people in Croatia who honor the memory of the pro-Axis Ustashe, but stressed that Croatian officials avoid such celebrations. Tomislav Jakic, who is Mesic's foreign policy adviser, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that Chetnik gatherings are "nothing new" in Serbia, but that official sponsorship and the presence of high-ranking government officials at such festivities are. Jakic said that Mesic hopes to limit any political damage to bilateral relations, adding that his decision to cancel the trip has been well understood in the international community. In Belgrade, however, Milos Aligrudic, who is a member of the parliament for the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), told RFE/RL that Mesic's decision was motivated by Croatian domestic political considerations. Aligrudic called Mesic's move a historically erroneous attempt to equate the Chetniks with the Ustashe. PM

ALBANIA, BULGARIA, AND MACEDONIA AGREE ON MILITARY COOPERATION
The defense ministers of Albania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia -- Pandeli Majko, Nikolay Svinarov, and Jovan Manasievski, respectively -- signed a memorandum on military cooperation in the Macedonian town of Ohrid on 17 May, MIA news agency reported. Svinarov said after the meeting that he hopes that Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia -- which are members of the U.S.-Adriatic Charter -- will be invited to become NATO members in 2006. "We are convinced that security in the region will be much better once Albania, Macedonia, and Croatia are NATO members, and once Serbia and Montenegro and Bosnia have been invited to participate in [NATO's] Partnership for Peace [program]," Svinarov said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 28 May 2004). UB

HAGUE TRIBUNAL SENDS RAPE CASE TO A BOSNIAN COURT
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 17 May asked Bosnia-Herzegovina's new War Crimes Chamber in Sarajevo to try the case of Radomir Stankovic, the first time it has sought to transfer a case to a court in the former Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Stankovic is charged with four counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes relating to his role in assaults on and the rape of up to nine Muslim women and girls in a Foca brothel during the 1992-95 war. In July 2002, he told the tribunal: "I do not wish to plead to any of these charges and counts. I am guilty [in the eyes of my accusers] because I am a Serb and because I defended my people" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2002). PM

CHISINAU, TIRASPOL AGREE TO WIDEN CIRCLE OF MEDIATORS WITH U.S., EU
Meeting in the Ukrainian city of Vinnytsya on 17 May, representatives of Moldova and its separatist region Transdniester agreed to involve the United States and the European Union in the process of settlement of the Transdniester conflict, Moldovan news agencies reported. The Vinnytsya meeting was attended by mediators from Ukraine, the OSCE, and Russia. According to BASA, the widened negotiation format was supported by Ukraine and the OSCE, while Russia said it sees no need for participation of other sides in the process. The Vinnytsya meeting discussed Ukraine's plan to settle the Transdniester conflict, which was announced by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko at a GUUAM summit in Chisinau last month. Both Chisinau and Tiraspol reportedly see Yushchenko's plan as constructive and promising. JM

SPY AGENCIES OPEN BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION SEASON
The head of Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), Nikolai Patrushev, accused Western nongovernmental organizations last week of plotting a government overthrow in Belarus during the 2006 presidential election. The Belarusian KGB swiftly and eagerly echoed these charges, claiming additionally that it has already thwarted specific steps taken by ill-wishers of the Belarusian government in this direction. The allegations of the Russian and Belarusian Chekists seem to have inaugurated an international publicity and propaganda campaign focused on Belarus's 2006 vote.

Speaking in the Russian State Duma on 12 May, Patrushev said the U.S.-based International Republican Institute held a meeting in Bratislava in April with the directors of its offices in CIS countries to discuss "the possibility of the continuation of velvet revolutions in the post-Soviet territory." In this context, Patrushev added: "$5 million has been allocated in 2005 for the implementation of programs by this nongovernmental organization to finance opposition movements in Belarus. [The organization] is currently considering involving the leaders of the Ukrainian 'orange' [activists] for training opposition members in Belarus and creating a network of opposition youth organizations."

The following day, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher rejected Patrushev's charges that U.S. nongovernmental groups are part of a Western conspiracy to unseat Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as "completely false, most of them ridiculous." "The work that nongovernmental organizations do in terms of promoting democracy, educating people in democracy, helping the growth of civil society is open, is transparent," Boucher said. "Our election aid in Belarus and elsewhere is for civic participation in the election process, balanced media coverage, nonpartisan political party training, election monitoring, and election administration. These programs are nonpartisan, they are transparent, they are peaceful in nature and we'll conduct them in Belarus in order to support efforts to build civil society and democracy."

Steven B. Nix, the International Republican Institute's Regional Program Director for Eurasia, told RFE/RL on 13 May that his organization's program for Belarus averages about $500,000 a year. "We don't have $5 million, so I'm not sure what connection [Patrushev's allegation may have to] the IRI," Nix said. "We provide technical assistance and training to political parties and nongovernmental organizations in various countries.... We provide training how to build organizational structures; perhaps, communications; perhaps, public relations -- all the things political parties try to do from a functionality standpoint."

Whatever foreign NGOs may say about what they do in Belarus, they have been unable to convince the Belarusian KGB that their activities are not tantamount to political subversion, for the simple reason that the mere ideas of "democracy" and "civil society" are regarded as highly subversive by the Lukashenka regime. "Apart from [what Patrushev said], the KGB possesses other data that confirm the intention of foreign organizations, funds, and private individuals to spend significant sums to export the revolution [to Belarus]," Belarusian KGB Deputy Chairman Viktor Vyahera said on Belarusian Television on 12 May. "These activities are under our control, and we have already thwarted concrete steps."

And Vyahera's chief, KGB Chairman Stsyapan Sukharenka, said the following day on Belarusian Television that international conferences and seminars for Belarusian pro-democracy activists serve for training "the so-called colored revolutionaries from the radical Belarusian opposition." "Moreover, we have information that on the territory of adjoining countries bases are being created to train militants who will subsequently be used in violent actions of disobedience toward law-enforcement agencies and for destabilizing the situation in society," Sukharenka emphasized. He claimed that the West has already provided $5 million "for a coup in Belarus" and is going to spend as much as $50 million to oust Lukashenka.

Belarusian Television, the main mouthpiece of the Lukashenka regime, noted on 13 May that "the strengthening of an anti-Belarusian campaign abroad and the holding of street protests by the Belarusian opposition" are being accompanied by more and more frequent shipments of narcotics, weapons, and money into Belarus. "This year alone more than 700 small arms pieces were confiscated in Belarus, including those manufactured in the West," a Belarusian Television commentator said over footage showing a stockpile of small arms and explosives.

"It is noteworthy that [law-enforcement bodies] have begun to detect caches with weapons in late April, when the opposition was calling for street protests," the Belarusian Television commentator went on. "On the eve of the so-called Chornobyl Way protest [on 26 April], in which foreign militants [editorial note: presumably, Russian and Ukrainian youth movement activists] took part, stores of small arms and explosives were seized near Minsk and in Brest. According to Interfax, the Interior Ministry is taking into account the possible preparation of terrorist acts and the organization of illegal shipments of arms into the country by opposition activists." In other words, the state propaganda machine has already begun portraying Belarusian oppositionists as dangerous maniacs who are getting ready to kill Belarussians or, as a minimum, to drug them during the 2006 presidential election.

Does such propaganda work in Belarus? United Civic Party leader Anatol Lyabedzka, a potential challenger of President Lukashenka in the 2006 election, shrugs off such pre-election propagandistic excesses by the regime. "Only pensioners believe this [propaganda]," he told RFE/RL on 16 May. "After what they were shown [on Belarusian Television] over this past weekend, they went to the pharmacy to buy tranquilizers. These people have been intimidated for the past 11 years to such an extent that I'm really sorry for them." That said, one should not forget that pensioners in Belarus account for one-third of the active electorate, and they usually vote overwhelmingly for Lukashenka.

AID WORKER APPARENTLY KIDNAPPED BY CRIMINAL GANG...
According to an anonymous Afghan security official, a criminal gang has claimed responsibility for abducting Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni from downtown Kabul on 16 May, Arman FM radio reported on 17 May. The caller demanded the release of a number of prisoners in exchange for Cantoni. The director of the Kabul police department's criminal investigation unit, Abdul Jamil, identified the group as associates of Tela Mohammad, who is in police custody, AFP reported on 17 May. Tela Mohammad and an associate of his identified as Omara Khan were believed to have been involved in the kidnapping of three UN election workers in October which ended peacefully (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 18 November and 3 December 2004). A man named Omara was arrested in April in connection with the kidnappings of UN employees and the shooting death of a British citizen in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 April 2005). Kabul security commander Mohammad Akram Khakrezwal told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 17 May that police arrested 20 suspects in connection with Cantoni's abduction. AT

...AS NEO-TALIBAN DENY ANY INVOLVEMENT...
Speaking for the neo-Taliban, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi denied any link to the kidnapping case, AIP reported on 17 May. "We do not know about the incident neither do we claim responsibility for it," Hakimi said. AT

...WHILE AFGHAN WOMEN CONDEMN ABDUCTION
A crowd of some 400 women held a rally in Kabul on 17 May in support of Cantoni and condemning her kidnappers, Xinhua news agency reported. Holding pictures of the Italian aid worker, the women demanded her release and said that the case "will be an eternal shame" for Afghanistan. AT

SECURITY FORCES IN WESTERN PROVINCE ARREST SUSPECT FOR INCITING UNREST
Members of the criminal investigation department of Herat city on 16 May arrested a man for distributing leaflets urging people to hold a large demonstration in Herat on 17 May, Sada-ye Jawan radio reported on 17 May. The head of the criminal investigation department, Naser Ahmad Paykar, said that the distribution of such material was against the law. Since student-led demonstrations in other parts of Afghanistan turned violent on 11 May, Herat Province authorities have announced a temporary ban on public meetings and demonstrations (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 May 2005). AT

TWO PEOPLE KILLED IN CLASH BETWEEN RIVAL NORTHERN WARLORDS...
At least two people were killed and several others were injured in a clash in Faryab Province between supporters of General Abdul Rashid Dostum and his rival, General Abdul Malek, the Herat-based Sada-ye Jawan radio reported on 17 May. Dostum currently has the mostly ceremonial title of the chief of staff of the high command of the armed forces of Afghanistan, while Abdul Malek heads the Freedom Party. The two were once allies, but Abdul Malek sided with the Taliban regime, rose against Dostum in 1997, and then turned against the Taliban. Abdul Malek claimed that Dostum's supporters attacked an election commission of his party in the Shirin Tagab district of Faryab, AIP reported on 17 May. "The local people began large demonstrations in our support and Dostum's supporters fired on the demonstrators," Abdul Malek claimed. Abdul Malek is originally from Faryab. AT

...AS OFFICIALS SAY PROBLEM IS SOLVED, DENIES REPORT
Faryab Deputy Governor Sayyed Ahmad Sayyed said that reports about casualties in Shirin Tagab are "completely wrong," Jowzjan Aina Television reported on 16 May. Sayyed claimed that demonstrators threw stones at the police and "fired" at the police. According to Sayyed, Abdul Malek's brother, Gol Mohammad Pahlawan, who was heading the elections commission for his brother's party, was asked to travel to Kabul and find a solution to the problem. Since relations between Abdul Malek and Dostum soured, the latter has tried to prevent his rival from reestablishing himself in his native province. AT

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES AFGHAN RECONCILIATION POLICY
Sergei Lavrov on 15 May criticized the ongoing Afghan policy, supported by the United States, to reconcile with most members of the former Taliban regime, ITAR-TASS reported. Discussing the recent violent confrontations between protestors and the security forces in Uzbekistan, Lavrov alleged that "various groups from Afghanistan from the Taliban camp" took part in the uprisings. Then turning to the Afghan policy, he said that if "we continue to condone terrorists and apply 'double standards' to them, including the notion of a moderate wing to the Taliban," then the "entire region" would be placed on the "brink of a crisis." During a visit to New Delhi in December 2004, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov also criticized Karzai's reconciliation policy, calling it an attempt to "Pashtunize Afghanistan," which prompted Kabul to ask for clarification of Moscow's position on the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). AT

IRAN RESERVED OVER PLANNED TALKS WITH EU
Iranian diplomat Sirus Nasseri said in Tehran on 17 May that he thinks the chances of an agreement with the EU over Iran's stated bid to resume enrichment-related activities are "not great," and the EU seems unable to free itself of pressures from "extremists" in the U.S. government, AFP reported the same day. Iran's recent declarations have provoked fears that it may resume activities that could one day help it make nuclear bombs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, 11, 12, and 13 May 2005). Negotiators are to discuss the matter in Europe on 23 May. Nasseri said Iran has "no problems" with the "Europeans...but, when it comes to making a decision, problems arise because they want to coordinate themselves with the Americans," AFP reported. If the parties agree on recent Iranian proposals -- including a limited uranium-enrichment program -- "we could come to an understanding on the date of this resumption," he said. Separately, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington on 16 May that if Iran resumes "enrichment and conversion activities," an option "is definitely to go to the Security Council. VS

CASPIAN ENVOYS CONCLUDE TALKS
The Caspian Sea Working Group negotiating a legal regime for that body of water concluded a two-day meeting, its 17th, in Tehran on 17 May, IRNA reported. The Working Group is to hold its next meeting in Baku at an unspecified date, IRNA reported. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari said in Tehran that day that the littoral states have so far agreed on "75 to 80 percent" of the accords that could form a treaty, "though...the difficult part" remains, ISNA reported. He said discussions yielded "good results" on topics like a preamble for a treaty, definitions, fishing rights, and shipping, ISNA reported. Participants also discussed a confidence-building agreement to fight common threats like organized crime, contraband, and terrorism, Safari said. The five littoral states intend to put into practice the agreement they have to protect the sea's natural environment. Separately, Iranian and EU diplomats met in Brussels on 17 May to pursue two-year-long talks on a comprehensive trade and cooperation agreement between Iran and the EU, IRNA reported. The talks began in June 2003, faltered due to concerns over Iran's nuclear activities, and restarted in December 2004, after the November 2004 Paris accord on Iran's nuclear dossier, IRNA added. VS

JUDICIARY SAYS SLAIN JOURNALIST'S CASE REMAINS OPEN
Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimi-Rad said in Tehran on 17 May that the dossier of Iranian-Canadian photographer Zahra Kazemi, who was killed in state custody in Tehran in June 2003 remains open and will be reexamined on 25 July, Radio Farda reported on 17 May. The announcement comes a day after a court examined the case on video for an hour without reaching a conclusion (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14, 21, 28 July and 4 August 2003). Lawyers for the family of Kazemi rejected the initial acquittal -- due to insufficient evidence -- of the only defendant charged with her killing, and want a court to summon two key witnesses, Tehran chief prosecutor Sa'id Mortazavi, who may have participated in her interrogation, and Health Minister Mas'ud Pezeshkian, who saw her corpse, Radio Farda reported. Separately, Canada, which is angered by Iran's handling of the case, stated on 17 May that it will restrict its contacts with Iran to three subjects: the Kazemi case, "Iran's human rights record, and...nuclear nonproliferation," AFP reported, citing Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew. No "visits or exchanges by Iranian officials to Canada will be permitted, nor will Canadian officials engage with Iran, except relating to these issues," Pettigrew said,. AFP reported. VS

IRAQI AND IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS PLEDGE BETTER RELATIONS...
Hoshyar al-Zebari said the visit of his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi's "will open up significant new horizons for cooperation between the two countries," AFP reported on 18 May. Kharrazi is the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). "Post-Saddam Iraq is a new Iraq, at peace with its neighbors, far removed from its bellicose predecessor," al-Zebari said. Kharrazi pledged that the clerical Shi'ite regime in Iran will not interfere in Iraq's internal affairs. "It is in Iran's interest to support by all possible means the Iraqi government. It is not in the interest of any of Iraq's neighbors to see the current situation continue because it would have negative consequences on the entire region," he said. Kharrazi is scheduled to meet Hajim al-Hassani, Iraq's Sunni parliamentary speaker, on 18 May, the second day of his visit. BW

...THOUGH U.S. CRITICIZES IRANIAN INTENTIONS
Kharrazi said Iran will not use Iraq to settle its "differences" with the United States, AFP reported. "Whatever our relations with the" U.S. he said, it is Iran's "duty" and in its "regional interest" to help Iraq. U.S. officials have expressed concern over Iranian influence in Iraq. In Washington on 16 May, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. is concerned by the "undue influence" Iran may wield in Iraqi politics, the State Department website reported. It could not measure that influence, he said, but the "bottom line" is that Iran's relations with Iraqis "are not transparent. They need to be normal...friendly relations between neighbors," not "political influence." U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a 15 May interview in Baghdad that Iran should be involved in Iraqi affairs as a "good neighbor," not "in some surreptitious way," the State Department website reported. VS

THREE CLERICS SLAIN IN BAGHDAD
Insurgents assassinated three clerics in Baghdad on 17 May in a growing wave of violence that authorities fear could spin out of control and spark a civil war, Reuters reported the same day. Guerrillas shot two Shi'ite clerics, Mani Hassan and Muwaffaq Mansur, in Baghdad on 17 May. Hassan, a member of a leading Shi'ite Islamist party, was killed outside his house, while gunmen ambushed Mansour in his car. The body of Hassan Nu'aimi, a member of the Sunni Muslim Clerics Association, was also found in Baghdad on 17 May, a day after the group accused the Shi'ite-dominated government of state terrorism and ignoring the killings of Sunnis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). BW

MILITARY OFFICER: AL ZARQAWI ORDERED MORE USE OF CAR BOMBS AT INSURGENT MEETING
A senior U.S. military official said Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of an Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group in Iraq, ordered a recent wave of car bombings in Iraq while at an insurgents' meeting in Syria, Reuters reported on 18 May. Al-Zarqawi "wasn't happy with how the insurgency was going," the officer said, adding that the Jordanian militant had ordered greater use of the so-called vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). "Zarqawi directed that people start using more VBIEDs and to use them more in everyday operations," the officer said. He said the meeting in Syria was part of periodic consultations among insurgent leaders, although it was unclear whether al-Zarqawi attended the meeting in person. BW

U.S. ARMY RESERVIST GETS SIX MONTHS IN ABU GHURAYB ABUSE TRIAL
A military jury sentenced Army reservist Sabrina Harman to six months in prison for her role in the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghurayb prison, international news agencies reported on 17 May. Harman, 27, was convicted of five counts of maltreatment of prisoners and one count of conspiracy, could have faced a maximum sentence of five and one half years imprisonment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). She will also receive a bad-conduct discharge. "I think she was extremely relieved," Reuters quoted her attorney as saying. BW

BODIES OF SEVEN EXECUTED IRAQI TURKOMANS DISCOVERED
Seven Iraqi Turkmen were found on 18 May with gunshot wounds to the head and with their hands bound, Reuters reported the same day. The seven were captured in an ambush on a security convoy near Al-Fallujah and their bodies were dumped in Anbar Province, Captain Ahmad Ali of the Al-Khalidiyah police station said. Identity documents showed the men were ethnic Turkomans from Kirkuk who were working for a security firm. Since 14 May, the bodies of more than 50 people -- mostly police and soldiers -- have been found dumped in various locations in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 May 2005). BW

REPORT: AUSTRALIAN HOSTAGE TO BE RELEASED
Iraqi militants holding an Australian citizen hostage have said they plan to release him, Reuters reported on 18 May. The militants told Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, the leader of Australia's Muslims, that they plan to free Douglas Wood, the 63-year-old engineer taken hostage in Baghdad more than two weeks ago. Al-Hilali had traveled to Iraq last week in a bid to help free Wood. Keysar Trad, al-Hilali's spokesman, said the Mufti of Australia's Muslims had also had a telephone conversation with a man who said he was Wood. "We have to treat [it] with a bit of caution," Australian Prime Minister John Howard said. BW

BRITISH LAWMAKER SLAMS SENATE OIL-FOR-FOOD PROBE
British lawmaker George Galloway denied that he profited from the oil-for-food program and launched a blistering attack on U.S. policy in Iraq, international news agencies reported on 17 May. Appearing before the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, Galloway said evidence against him was false and condemned the investigation. The subcommittee is examining how Hussein used oil to reward politicians. "You are trying to divert attention from the crimes you supported," Reuters quoted Galloway as saying. According to U.S. Senate documents, Galloway, a fierce opponent of the Iraq war, received millions of dollars in oil allocations in violation of United Nations sanctions against Iraq from the mid 1990s to 2003. BW

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