PRESIDENT, PRIME MINISTER BLAME EES MANAGEMENT FOR POWER OUTAGE...
President Vladimir Putin on 25 May harshly criticized the management of Unified Energy Systems (EES) in connection with a major power outage that struck Moscow and the surrounding region that day, RTR and other Russian media reported. Putin praised the work of police and emergency workers in coping with the crisis, in which no fatalities were reported. "As far as causes are concerned, the preliminary information is that they were of a technical nature," Putin said. "I think we can be justified in assuming that the Unified Energy System management showed insufficient attention to the present state of its production process.... I think the problem is not just about wear and tear...but also with the low level of competence of the people who were supposed to service and repair everything on a regular basis." Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 26 May repeated Putin's criticism, RTR reported. "Millions of people were put in a very difficult position," Fradkov said during a cabinet meeting. "There was a threat to people's lives and safety.... Most probably there was more than one cause. But we can already say that, to a significant extent, it resulted from the fact that the Unified Energy System of Russia was not taking appropriate measures." RC
...AS PROSECUTORS OPEN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION AND DUMA DEPUTIES CALL FOR CHUBAIS' RESIGNATION
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 25 May opened a criminal investigation against EES' management in connection with the Moscow blackout, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. "The investigation is expected to produce a legal evaluation of the performance of each EES manager and of each official responsible for the stable supply of electricity to customers," prosecutor's office spokeswoman Nataliya Vishnyakova told the news agency. "People's lives and health were put at risk." EES CEO Anatolii Chubais accepted personal responsibility for the incident following President Putin's remarks. "These were our mistakes, mistakes made by EES," Chubais said, according to ITAR-TASS. "It is a matter of conscience. Nobody is going to put the blame at somebody else's door." Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) on 25 May welcomed news of the prosecutor's investigation and said that Chubais might have to resign from his post. The Yabloko party also called for Chubais to step down. Duma Deputy Frants Klintsevich, deputy head of the Unified Russia faction, called for "severe punishments" for those found responsible, and Deputy Andrei Isaev (Unified Russia) said that Putin's comments blaming EES management were "in keeping with the public mood." The Motherland faction said it is drafting a resolution calling for Chubais' resignation, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 May. RC
LAWYER SAYS POSSIBILITY OF TERRORISM AS CAUSE OF BLACKOUT STILL NOT RULED OUT
Anatolii Kucherena, a lawyer for EES head Chubais, said on 25 May that it is premature to blame EES managers for the blackout, Interfax reported. "At the present time it is necessary for the investigation to look into all possible versions of the incident, including worn-out equipment, the human factor, and the possibility of arson or terrorism," Kucherena said. Chubais told RIA-Novosti on 26 May that neither he nor any other EES managers have yet received a summons to appear before prosecutors for questioning. "I have not received an order, but I am impatiently waiting for one," he said. Duma First Deputy Speaker Sliska said on 25 May that she believes citizens "may demand compensation for the inconvenience they suffered," urging them to appeal to the courts, ITAR-TASS reported. Tula Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Dudka said on 25 May that his administration intends to sue EES for damages Tula Oblast suffered as a result of the incident, ITAR-TASS reported. RC
KHODORKOVSKII JUDGES PASS HALFWAY MARK IN VERDICT READING
Judges at Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court on 26 May continued reading the verdict in the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii for the ninth day, Russian media reported. Defense lawyers told ITAR-TASS that the court has now read about 700 pages of the 1,000-page document and they expect the process to take about another four days. "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 May that public interest in the case is visibly waning and that there are "fewer television cameras, fewer lawyers, fewer demonstrators, [and] fewer cops" at the hearings each day. "Everyone is tired of it," the daily quoted an unnamed police officer as saying. Defense lawyer Yelena Lipster told the daily that the verdict is a "farce." "Having heard 50 percent of the verdict, we think that it does not make sense to assess it from the legal point of view," she said. "This is a farce and mockery of the defendants." RC
YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ OFFICIAL TARGETED IN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
An unknown gunman in Nefteyugansk on 26 May fired several shots at Yuganskneftegaz Deputy General Director Sergei Burov, Channel One and other Russian media reported. Burov was apparently injured in the incident and has been taken to a hospital. ITAR-TASS reported that the gunman struck as Burov was getting into the vehicle near his home and that Burov was shot in the abdomen. In addition to his post at Yuganskneftegaz, the former main production subsidiary of Yukos that was taken over by Rosneft in December, Burov heads the local branch of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. From 1998 until 2003, he was chairman of the Nefteyugansk city council. RC
INVESTIGATION INTO FATAL TRAFFIC INCIDENT OF DEFENSE MINISTER'S SON CONTINUES
Prosecutors are not seeking possible witnesses to a 20 May incident in which a car driven by Aleksandr Ivanov, son of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, stuck and killed a pedestrian in Moscow, "Izvestiya" reported on 26 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). According to the daily, relatives of the 66-year-old victim claim that the police protocol of the incident does not include the name of at least one man who was on the scene and tried to make a statement to investigators. The victim's daughter, Nina Plyushch, who also witnessed the incident, said that some men in plain clothes approached the would-be witness, after which he disappeared from the scene. An Interior Ministry spokesman told the daily that no charges have been filed against Aleksandr Ivanov. "Things appear to be moving in the direction of showing that the driver was not at fault," the police source said. "Although it is too early to say for sure." An unnamed Defense Ministry source gave "Izvestiya" a detailed account of the incident, saying that Ivanov's view was obstructed by another vehicle and that he could not have stopped in time to avoid striking the woman. The police source also confirmed that no alcohol had been found in Ivanov's bloodstream. RC
WEEKLY REPORTS FURTHER RUMORS THAT FRADKOV'S DAYS ARE NUMBERED
Officials from most of the government's ministries have appealed to the presidential administration to create the post of presidential commissars to oversee their work, "Profil," No. 19, reported. According to the weekly, the officials are trying to distance themselves from Prime Minister Fradkov because they believe his replacement is imminent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 May 2005). The magazine reported that the only reason Fradkov was not dismissed following the May holidays was because the move was leaked to the press. According to the report, the unspecified government officials have asked for presidential commissars to "perform functions that are beyond the capabilities of Prime Minister Fradkov and his staff," including setting objectives for ministries and overseeing the process of meeting those objectives. The administration would also be in charge of coordinating interministerial legislative initiatives. An unnamed source within the Economic Development and Trade Ministry told the weekly that since Fradkov ordered the number of deputy ministers reduced to two per ministry, the amount of work handled by each one has increased dramatically, resulting in bottlenecks. "Profil" reported that the presidential administration has reacted coolly to the proposal and has instead encouraged Fradkov to name some deputy prime ministers to handle coordination functions. RC
UPPER HOUSE GIVES OK TO CHINA BORDER AGREEMENT
The Federation Council on 25 May ratified a border agreement with China that was signed on 14 October 2004 and ratified by the Duma on 20 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Under the agreement, some 337 square kilometers of territory near the city of Khabarovsk will be transferred to China. RC
OLIGARCH NUDGED TOWARD SECOND GUBERNATORIAL TERM...
Presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii said on 25 May that he will submit the name of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich to President Putin for nomination for a second term, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 May. Abramovich has stated publicly in the past that he does not want a second term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2005). Pulikovskii is expected to submit at least one other candidate for Putin's consideration as well. Pulikovskii praised Abramovich's management skills, saying that the okrug is run more effectively than most other territories in his district. He denied that he is backing Abramovich because the latter is loyal to the Kremlin. "The time has come not only for loyal people, but for those who can manage and solve serious executive and economic issues," Pulikovskii said. RC
...AS DAILY REPORTS STATE-CONTROLLED GAS MONOPOLY SEEKING SIBNEFT...
"Vedomosti" reported on 25 May that the state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom is considering purchasing a major stake in Sibneft with the money that it expects to receive from the government in exchange for a 10.7-percent block of its shares (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). According to the daily, two senior Gazprom managers have been in talks regarding the purchase of a 57.5-percent stake in Sibneft that is currently owned by Millhouse Capital, a holding company controlled by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Abramovich. An unnamed source within Sibneft confirmed that Gazprom has made an offer for the stake. RC
...IN A MOVE THAT WOULD AMOUNT TO THE DE FACTO NATIONALIZATION OF SIBNEFT
However, any deal is likely to be put on hold until the fate of a 34.5-percent stake in Sibneft that was once transferred to Yukos as part of a planned merger is decided, "Vedomosti" reported on 26 May. Those shares have been frozen by the Prosecutor-General's Office in connection with the cases against Yukos, and Millhouse expects to get only 14.5 percent back, as Yukos paid $3 billion for the other 20 percent. Prosecutors believe Yukos paid for the shares with money that should have been paid to the government as taxes, meaning that they could ultimately end up under state control. If Gazprom purchases a majority stake in Sibneft after selling the government enough of its own shares to give it majority control of Gazprom, it will amount to the de facto nationalization of Sibneft. An unnamed Kremlin source told the daily: "Abramovich had no immediate plans to sell Sibneft. But if the state is persistent in its desire to acquire Sibneft, then this is a question of negotiations and the specific conditions of the deal." RC
JEWISH GRAVES IN KAZAN VANDALIZED
Unknown vandals in Kazan have desecrated more than 20 graves at the city's Arskii Cemetery, Interfax reported on 25 May. Most of the graves were reported to be Jewish, and the vandals reportedly painted swastikas on them sometime within the previous two days. A criminal investigation has been launched. RC
PUTIN PRAISES CHECHEN REGIMENT...
Meeting on 25 May in Veshenskaya, Rostov Oblast, with the atamans of the Terek and other North Caucasus Cossack regiments, President Putin praised the "audacious but effective" exploits of the Chechen special police regiment subordinate to Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, Russian media reported. Putin said that regiment "knows whom to look for and where," and lauded its recent detention of five alleged terrorists. Russian human rights activists claim that Kadyrov's men are responsible for the abduction, torture and summary execution of numerous Chechen civilians. LF
...AGAIN URGES DUMA TO PASS LAW ON COSSACKS
Speaking to Cossack representatives on 25 May at Veshenskaya, Putin again called, as he did in March 2000, for the State Duma to expedite passage of legislation that would formalize the status of Cossack regiments and thus permit them to serve as part of the Interior Ministry or Border Protection forces, Russian media reported. Since 1997, the Duma has considered, but failed to adopt, any one of eight such draft bills. The most recent was passed in the first reading last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 April 2005). Putin also said greater efforts should be made to enable Russians who have fled the fighting in the North Caucasus over the past decade to return, Interfax reported. Vasilii Bondarev, ataman of the Terek Cossacks, had complained to Putin that more than 20,000 Russians have fled Chechnya and Ingushetia, and that very few Cossacks still live in the traditional Cossack settlements on the left bank of the Terek River, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
ARMENIAN COALITION SAYS DISCUSSION OF PRESIDENTIAL SUCCESSION PREMATURE
Prime Minister Andranik Markarian told journalists in Yerevan on 25 May that the three parties aligned in the ruling coalition will not address until after the next parliamentary election in 2007 the issue of who is best qualified to succeed President Robert Kocharian when his second presidential term expires the following year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Markarian raised the possibility that the coalition may not even survive until the 2007 ballot. Most observers consider Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian the strongest candidate to succeed Kocharian, and the leaders of several small political parties loyal to Kocharian announced last week that they would support a Sarkisian presidential bid (see upcoming "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 27 May 2005). LF
ARMENIA SAYS RELOCATION OF RUSSIAN TROOPS FROM GEORGIA NOT UNDER DISCUSSION
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told Reuters in Sweden on 25 May on the sidelines of a Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council Security Forum meeting that Moscow and Yerevan are not currently holding talks on the possible relocation to Armenia of the Russian forces to be withdrawn from two bases in Georgia. Russian armed forces chief of General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii raised that possibility last week, eliciting a diplomatic protest note from Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2005). Caucasus Press on 26 May quoted Armenian Defense Minister Sarkisian as telling journalists that an unspecified quantity of munitions, but no other military equipment, will be transferred from the Russian bases in Georgia to the one in Armenia. LF
AZERBAIJAN-GEORGIA-TURKEY PIPELINE INAUGURATED
The first Azerbaijani Caspian crude was pumped into the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil export pipeline on 25 May at the Sangachal terminal south of Baku, international agencies reported. The presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Kazakhstan attended the ceremony, together with U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. The former presidents of Georgia and Turkey, Eduard Shevardnadze and Suleyman Demirel, who first proposed in 1994 that the export pipeline for Caspian oil be routed via Georgia and not Armenia, were not present, and Russian presidential envoy for international energy issues Igor Yusupov cried off due to ill health, according to Interfax on 25 May. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev recalled that many skeptics doubted the pipeline would ever become a reality, Interfax and rustavi2.com reported. He said it will help to solve economic and social problems in the region and to strengthen security. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili lauded the pipeline project as an example of successful international cooperation, and predicted it will bring wealth to the three countries involved. LF
PRESIDENTS PLEDGE SUPPORT FOR TURKEY-GEORGIA RAIL LINK
On the sidelines of the 25 May ceremony to inaugurate the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey signed a declaration expressing their support for the planned reconstruction of the existing 180-kilometer rail link between Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia and Marabda, and for its extension in the form of a 30-kilometer line from Marabda to Tbilisi, and a 68-kilometer stretch of track from Akhalkalaki to the eastern Turkish town of Kars, Caucasus Press and echo-az.com reported. No sources of funding have yet been secured for the project, the total cost of which Turan on 25 May estimated at $600 million. LF
AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION SEEKS PERMISSION FOR FURTHER RALLY
The opposition Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party informed the Baku municipal authorities on 25 May of their desire to hold a rally in the city between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. local time on 4 June, Turan reported. The municipal authorities withheld permission for a similar rally planned for 21 May, and police resorted to force to disperse would-be participants, beating or detaining dozens of them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES PLANNED ANTITERRORIST CENTER
The Georgian parliament bureau met behind closed doors on 25 May to discuss the proposed Russian-Georgian antiterrorism center, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze said Georgia does not object to creating such a center, but it should not have at its disposal either military hardware or army personnel, nor should it be located on the territory of either of the two existing Russian military bases in Georgia, which she insisted must be closed. Rightist Opposition faction leader David Gamkrelidze said he is against establishing any such center, Caucasus Press reported. LF
CSTO SECRETARY-GENERAL DENIES TALK OF NEW RUSSIAN BASE IN KYRGYZSTAN...
Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), told a news conference in Moscow on 25 May that Kyrgyzstan has not asked Russia to set up a second military base in the country, akipress.org reported. Bordyuzha said, "We have not received such a request." He noted, however, that some Kyrgyz officials had previously made "such suggestions" and added that if any requests emerge, "we will of course look at them." Kyrgyz acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev reportedly raised recently the issue of an expanded Russian military presence in Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2005). DK
...AS KYRGYZ ACTING PRESIDENT ALLOWS POSSIBILITY
Bakiev told Interfax on 25 May that he cannot rule out the possibility of a new military base in southern Kyrgyzstan under the aegis of either the CSTO or Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Bakiev said, "As concerns an air base in Osh, if it's necessary, it could be created within the framework of the CSTO and SCO." DK
KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL NOMINATION PERIOD ENDS
The deadline for nominating candidates for Kyrgyzstan's 10 July presidential election ended at midnight on 25 May with 22 would-be candidates nominated, Kabar reported on 26 May. Of the nominees, 19 have submitted applications to the Central Election Commission, akipress.org reported. Prospective candidates now have until 6 June to present materials for registration -- each must gather 50,000 signatures and submit a 100,000-som ($2,500) registration deposit. Acting President Bakiev is considered the early favorite to win the presidency. DK
UZBEK PRESIDENT BEGINS VISIT TO CHINA...
Uzbek President Islam Karimov began a second day of talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing on 26 May, agencies reported. The previous day, the two signed a treaty on "friendly and cooperative partnership," as well as a number of technical and economic cooperation agreements, including a $600-million oil joint venture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). Before leaving for his three-day China visit, Karimov told journalists in Tashkent that Uzbekistan hopes to attract $1.5 billion in Chinese investments over the next three-five years, Uzbek Radio reported. Uzbekistan has incurred significant international criticism over government actions during recent unrest in Andijon, but Chinese President Hu Jintao adopted a supportive tone in 25 May remarks, telling his guest, "China respects the way that the Uzbek people have chosen to develop their country and their efforts to safeguard national independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity," Xinhua reported. DK
...AND REJECTS CALLS FOR INDEPENDENT INVESTIGATION OF ANDIJON EVENTS
Speaking to reporters in Tashkent before his departure for China on 25 May, President Karimov rejected calls for an independent inquiry into allegations that government troops fired on protestors in Andijon on 13 May, Uzbek Radio reported. Karimov said, "Our view, my view, and our government's view is that we think that the idea of setting up an international commission on investigating the Andijon events is groundless, and we will never agree to this." In an interview with China's "People's Daily" on 25 May, Karimov blamed the violence in Andijon on "criminals and forces who are behind them," saying that their aim was to "destabilize the situation not only in Uzbekistan but in all of Central Asia," ITAR-TASS reported. The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch, in a statement released 26 May on its website (www.hrw.org), accused the Uzbek government of preventing journalists and rights workers from entering Andijon. DK
UZBEK RIGHTS ACTIVIST FACES DEFAMATION CHARGE
Mavluda Ahmedova, the lawyer who is representing Andijon-based human rights activist Saidjahon Zaynobiddinov, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 25 May that Zaynobiddinov faces criminal charges of defamation for statements he made to the press about the recent violence in Andijon. Ahmedova said that she has not yet been able to meet with her client. Zaynobiddinov (spelled "Zainabitdinov" in some reports) was an important source of independent information while events where unfolding in Andijon on and after 13 May, and his accounts frequently contradicted information provided by official Uzbek sources. After Zaynobiddinov's arrest on 21 May, Human Rights Watch called for his release in a 24 May press release (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2005). DK
JAILED BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST GOES ON HUNGER STRIKE
Mikalay Statkevich, who is on trial in Minsk with another opposition activist on charges of organizing unsanctioned protests in the wake of the constitutional referendum on 17 October 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2005), went on hunger strike on 25 May, protesting the conditions of his incarceration, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Statkevich was jailed for 10 days on 24 May after he refused to reply to questions during his trial and to stand up when the judge entered the courtroom. "There are five more people in my cell," Statkevich told RFE/RL. "One of them is suffering from dysentery. His condition is very bad, but [the jail administration] does not want to hospitalize him.... I have the impression that this sick man is being used as a bacteriological weapon to apply pressure on me, to make me change my behavior under the threat of infection." JM
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS TO CAMPAIGN FOR LOCAL REFERENDUM
Some 500 opposition activists will collect signatures in support of a plebiscite on street renaming in Minsk, Belapan reported on 25 May, quoting Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the Belarusian Party of Communists. Kalyakin's party has recently joined other opposition parties in a campaign to initiate a referendum in Minsk against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree that ordered the renaming of the capital's main thoroughfares (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). The initiators of the plebiscite need to collect some 120,000 signatures in order to make it happen. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO STICK TO MARKET RULES
President Viktor Yushchenko said at a business forum in Kyiv on 25 May that this month's fuel crisis in Ukraine should serve as a lesson to the government to respect the laws of the market, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "I will guarantee that the government will apply only market measures to respond to challenges on the fuel market, the market of meat, and other markets," Yushchenko said. Yushchenko rejected Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko's earlier allegations that the fuel crisis in Ukraine resulted from a "plot" by Russian oil traders, which control four of Ukraine's six oil refineries. "There is no Russian conspiracy here, no Ukrainian conspiracy. The lesson to be learned is not to make up legends and myths," Yushchenko said. He also dismissed as "idle talk" rumors that he intends to sack Tymoshenko over her handling of the fuel crisis. JM
UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER ADVOCATES SYNCHRONIZING WTO ENTRY WITH RUSSIA
Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh said in a television interview on 25 May that Ukraine and Russia should synchronize and coordinate their efforts for joining the World Trade Organizations (WTO), Interfax reported. Kinakh also spoke in favor of Ukraine's active participation in the formation of the Single Economic Space (SES) with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus. "This is a unique opportunity for the four states to create more favorable conditions for economic integration," he noted. Kinakh said the first stage in the SES formation should be establishing a free trade zone "without any restrictions and exceptions, on the basis of free movement of commodities and services." According to him, deeper integration within the SES is possible only after the four countries join the WTO and apply WTO and EU trade rules to such integration. JM
UKRAINIAN MINISTER SAYS ECONOMY ACCELERATES
Economy Minister Serhiy Teryokhin told journalists in Kyiv on 25 May that gross domestic product (GDP) will rise to 5.6 percent year-on-year in January-May from 5 percent in the first four months of this year, Ukrainian news agencies reported. According to Teryokin, the highest GDP growth rates are observed in the sectors of food processing (16 percent), chemical industry (14.3 percent), and machine building (11.9 percent). The government expects to achieve 8.2 percent growth in GDP this year, after last year's officially reported 12.1 percent rise. JM
UN SECRETARY-GENERAL SAYS MUCH REMAINS TO BE DONE IN KOSOVA...
Kofi Annan, in a report to be presented to the UN Security Council on 27 May, said in New York on 25 May that none of the eight standards defined by the international community as preconditions for talks on the future status of Kosova have been met in full, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Annan reportedly said that both Kosovar Albanian politicians and the majority ethnic Albanian population on the one hand and the Kosovar Serb minority and its leaders on the other must do more to improve interethnic relations in the internationally administered province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 24, and 25 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, in opening remarks to the NATO ministerial meeting in the Swedish town of Are on 24 May, said that there are encouraging signs in Kosova, adding, however, that "there remains a lot more to do towards meeting the standards before talks on the final status can begin," according to NATO's official website (http://www.nato.int). UB
...WHILE UNMIK HEAD STRESSES POSITIVE DEVELOPMENTS
During a briefing to the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said the security situation in Kosova has considerably improved over the past year, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Jessen-Petersen said the absence of interethnic violence indicates that Kosova has learned its lesson after the riots in March 2004, when 19 people lost their lives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 and 26 March 2005). Jessen-Petersen also underscored that the unresolved question of the province's future status cannot be maintained. UB
NEW ATTEMPT TO FIND OUT WHEREABOUTS OF FUGITIVE BOSNIAN SERB LEADER
A NATO spokesman said in Sarajevo on 25 May that EUFOR and NATO forces carried out a search of the house of Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic in Pale that same day. Zelen-Karadzic is the wife of fugitive Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic, Fena reported. The forces reportedly hoped to find evidence that could lead to the arrest of Karadzic, who has been indicted by the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 24 May 2005). UB
MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT DISCUSSES USE OF NATIONAL SYMBOLS
As part of the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace accord, the Macedonian government has drafted a law regulating the use of national symbols, the private A1 TV and RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. The draft law envisions that ethnic minorities should be allowed to use their national symbols in those municipalities where they make up more than 50 percent of the population. It is not clear whether the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration will accept the new regulation or whether it will demand that the symbols can be used by those minorities representing more than 20 percent of the respective municipality. The use of national symbols is a controversial issue, since the country's 23-percent ethnic Albanian minority insists on using the Albanian flag. In former Yugoslavia, the Albanian minority used the Albanian flag with its black double-headed eagle on a red background as a symbol of the Albanian people rather than of the Albanian state. Ethnic Macedonians, however, regard the Albanian flag as a symbol for ethnic Albanian separatism and have thus insisted that it should be banned. In 1997, the mayors of the overwhelmingly Albanian-populated towns of Gostivar and Tetovo were even jailed for flying the Albanian flag from their town halls (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 February 2004). UB
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL SLAMS MOLDOVA FOR TORTURE OF DETAINEES, HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Amnesty International in its annual report on the observation of human rights worldwide (http://web.amnesty.org/report2005), which was released on 25 May, criticized Moldova for torturing and ill-treating people held in police custody and for tolerating "cruel and inhuman" conditions in temporary detention facilities. The global human rights watchdog also noted that Moldova remains a major source of women -- mostly victims of domestic violence -- trafficked abroad for forced prostitution, primarily to Turkey and Macedonia. JM
'NAMES THAT SHOULD HAVE NO PLACE ON THE MAP OF RUSSIA'
A new "Black Book" has just been released in Moscow identifying 122 communists, members of the secret police, and others whom the Soviets gave a kind of immortality to by putting their names on a variety of places and institutions in the Russian Federation.
Many names, like Stalin, had already been struck from the map -- some by Soviet officials, others by Russians following the breakup of the Soviet Union. But since then, the authors of the new book say, Russian officials have done little or nothing to remove the names of people and events that should "have no place on the map of Russia."
The book, which bears the name "The Black Book of Names That Should Have No Place on the Map of Russia," was compiled by 17 different authors. It was published by Posev and released earlier this month. (The full text of the book is available for downloading at http://www.pvr.ru/.)
The introduction to the volume argues that just as "the quality of our environment is important for our physical health...no less important is the symbolic milieu around us for our mental well-being." And it calls for identifying and eliminating many Soviet-imposed place names.
The book consists of 122 articles divided into seven chapters. Each article provides a detailed biography of the official or history of the event involved and a partial listing of the various places in the Russian Federation that still bear these names.
The seven chapters include one featuring leaders of the October 1917 Bolshevik coup. Other chapters focus on those who contributed to the rise of Soviet totalitarianism, those involved with revolutionary terrorism, and those foreign revolutionary "heroes" that the Soviet government sought to memorialize.
The articles make chilling reading. Among the most notorious people in the volume is Georgii Atarbekov, a secret policeman who oversaw and personally participated in the killings of thousands of priests, peasants, and others whom the Soviet government labeled as "enemies of the people."
According to the "Black Book," Atarbekov's name "adorns" various towns in the southern part of the country, and it is also the name of a street in Moscow's Preobrazhenskii district. Many people encountering that street probably do not know the history of the man it was named after. But the continuing presence of his name, the "Black Book" argues, nonetheless has an impact by keeping that past alive and honored.
The book also describes the continuing presence of the names of Feliks Dzerzhinskii, the notorious founder of the Cheka, predecessor to the KGB and today's Federal Security Service, and of Pavlik Morozov, a Soviet-era hero who was killed for turning in his parents.
The book also describes the many foreign communist leaders and other leftists who remain memorialized in Russia. Bulgaria's Georgiy Dmitrov, for example, who has been removed from the mausoleum in Sofia by that country's postcommunist regime, remains on the map of Russia. Chilean leader Salvador Allende still has a Moscow street named after him. And Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh also has a square in the Russian capital bearing his name. Indeed, that square is located at the intersection of the Avenue Named for the 60th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution and Dmitrii Ulyanov Street, memorializing Lenin's elder brother.
The volume notes that many Russian officials as well as many ordinary Russians raise two basic objections to renaming places even in order to overcome the Soviet past. On the one hand, they say, "we have become accustomed to these names." But as the authors show, after many names were changed at the start of the 1990s, Russians quickly became accustomed to the new ones.
And, on the other, those opposed to changing these names, argue that "this is part of our history and we cannot wipe it out." But as the authors point out, slavery is part of the history of the United States and Hitler is part of the history of Germany, but no one thinks of naming streets or cities in their honor.
And many Soviet-imposed toponyms remaining on the map of Russia have less to do with Russian history than some might think. After all, this volume implicitly asks, just how central to Russian history is someone like Salvador Allende?
Invoking Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's dictum that people must "live not by lies," the authors of these remarkable and disturbing portraits conclude that removing these names from the map will help Russians recover.
The authors suggest that failing to remove them -- or worse, restoring some of these Soviet-era names as some Russian officials and nationalists now want to do -- would only make the time Russians will need to recover from that past longer and more difficult.
FORMER TALIBAN LEADER CONDEMNS U.S.-AFGHAN PACT...
In a statement read out by a neo-Taliban member to Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 25 May, Mullah Mohammad Omar criticized the "strategic partnership" declaration signed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush in Washington on 23 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 May 2005). With the agreement, Afghanistan "has been sold out forever" to the United States, Mullah Omar's statement read. "This is not just a Taliban issue...[but] an issue for every independent Afghan," the statement declared. According to Mullah Omar, Afghan government authorities "should be ashamed" for referring to Afghanistan as an independent country and for "turning a blind eye" to the "occupation" of their country. "Our resistance will grow stronger and become more organized," Mullah Omar's statement added. AT
...AS DOES IRAN
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi on 25 May said that the long-term military presence of the United States in Afghanistan agreed by Bush and Karzai will cause instability in the region, IRNA reported. "Undoubtedly, the issues [included in the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership declaration] would inflict heavy military costs on the people in Afghanistan and regional states," Asefi said. Asefi alleged that the United States is storing weapons of mass destruction in Afghanistan. Referring to the deadly student-led protests -- ostensibly in reaction to allegations of desecration of a Koran at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- Asefi said that Afghans have proved to be against the U.S. presence in their country. While Karzai has blamed foreign hands in the demonstrations that left 16 Afghans dead, analysts and some Afghan media sources have specifically named Iran as fomenting anti-U.S. sentiments in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2005). AT
THIRD FORMER TALIBAN OFFICIAL REGISTERS FOR ELECTIONS
Mawlawi Jalaluddin Shinwari, former deputy justice minister under the Taliban regime, registered himself in the eastern Nangarhar Province for the parliamentary elections scheduled for September, Pazhwak News Agency reported on 23 May. "Being an independent candidate, [I] don't have the support of the Taliban," Shinwari stated. He vowed that if elected he would "combat corruption and work for the betterment" of his constituency. Shinwari said the parliament should decide whether Afghanistan should host U.S. military bases. Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, the former Taliban regime foreign minister, and Abdul Samad Khaksar, who formerly headed the Taliban regime's intelligence department, have already registered themselves as independent candidates in southern Kandahar Province for the parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 24 May 2005). Former Taliban leader Mullah Omar, in a statement issued against the U.S.-Afghan partnership, also stated that those former Taliban officials who have "established friendly contacts with the American occupiers for the sake of insignificant positions" will never be forgiven, AIP reported on 25 May. AT
AFGHAN LEADER VISITS NEBRASKA
In his last stop of his four-day visit to the United States, President Karzai visited the Midwestern U.S. state of Nebraska on 25 May, international news agencies reported. Karzai visited Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue where he told U.S. military personal that their efforts and "sacrifice has brought back Afghanistan to the Afghan people," AP reported on 25 May. Karzai also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, home to the Center for Afghanistan Studies, "Omaha World-Herald" reported on 25 May. AT
CANADA LISTS IRANIAN OPPOSITION ORGANIZATION AS TERRORIST ENTITY
The Canadian government on 24 May added an armed Iranian opposition group to its list of 38 terrorist "entities" (http://www.psepc-sppcc.gc.ca/national_security/counter-terrorism/Entities_e.asp). Known as the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), the group is also known as the People's Mujahedin Organization of Iran, and its armed wing is known as the National Liberation Army of Iran. The Canadian government report notes that the MKO was supported by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and it is "even suspected of past collusion with the regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan." According to Canada's "National Post" on 25 May, anybody who supports the MKO or another terrorist entity could face a 10-year prison sentence. MKO lawyer Warren Creates told the daily that Ottawa's decision "stunned" him, and legislator Paul Forseth, who attended an MKO rally in the United States and subsequently received a visit from Canadian Security and Intelligence Service personnel, said the designation concerns him. BS
ARAB-IRANIAN SEEKS PRESIDENT'S HELP
Jasem Shahidzadeh, who represented Ahvaz in the sixth parliament (2000-2004), has written a letter to President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami in which he calls for attention to the problems faced by ethnic Arabs in the southwest of the country, according to the British Ahwazi Friendship Society website (http://www.ahwaz.org.uk). Shahidzadeh wrote that Arabs' land is bought at very low prices or even confiscated, and he added that the government has bulldozed predominantly Arab neighborhoods in Khuzestan Province. He complained that the Iranian government does not allow Arab political parties to compete in elections and it also bans Arabic-language newspapers and magazines. Ethnic Arabs, therefore, cannot express themselves nonviolently, he wrote. Turning to the aftermath of the mid-April unrest in Ahvaz, Shahidzadeh asked the president to secure the release of prisoners. BS
TEHRAN LASHES OUT AT U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Assefi said on 25 May that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's comments are "uncalculated and pretentious," as well as "ridiculous and worthless," IRNA reported. He accused Rice of trying to "please the Zionists," in IRNA's words, and added that U.S. involvement in other countries' affairs has marred its image. The Iranian news agency did not specify what Assefi was reacting to, but Rice reportedly told British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw at a 17 May meeting that Washington opposes any agreement between Iran and the European Union that would permit the conversion of uranium, "The Washington Post" reported on 25 May. Rice also said that referring Iran to the UN Security Council continues to be an option, "The New York Times" reported on 18 May. BS
IRAN-EU NUCLEAR TALKS DRAG ON
Closed-door discussions between Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani; EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana; and the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Great Britain -- Michel Barnier, Joschka Fischer, and Jack Straw -- took place on 25 May in Geneva, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported. Rohani said afterwards that Tehran has agreed to continue the suspension of uranium enrichment. The two parties agreed to meet again in July or August, when the Europeans will present proposals on what it would provide in exchange for an enrichment suspension. BS
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TO VISIT BEIRUT
Iranian Ambassador to Beirut Masud Edrisi met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmud Hamud on 24 May to discuss bilateral relations and Lebanon's upcoming parliamentary elections, IRNA reported. Edrisi told reporters afterwards that Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi is scheduled to visit Beirut on 26 May. Meanwhile, a three-member UN military observer team asserted in a 23 May report to the Security Council that Syrian military personnel appear to have left Lebanon (http://usinfo.state.gov). "The team has therefore concluded, to the best of its ability, that no Syrian military intelligence personnel remain in Lebanon in known locations or in military uniform. But the team has been unable to conclude with certainty that all the intelligence has been withdrawn." BS
IRAQ UNVEILS MASSIVE SECURITY PLAN...
Iraq's Interior and Defense ministers announced at a 26 May press briefing in Baghdad that they will launch a massive security operation in Baghdad in an effort to capture terrorists operating there, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The operation, dubbed Operation Thunder, will employ 40,000 security personnel. "The police and the emergency forces and the traffic police will be present 24 hours a day at 675 [permanent] checkpoints [in Baghdad], in addition to makeshift checkpoints. They will be deterring [the terrorists] with all means of force," Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told reporters at the briefing. Jabr said that ministry commando forces and an army unit will also carry out operations "according to the intelligence information that we get on the positions of terrorists and on the car bomb making factories. These forces will perform unexpected attacks [operations]." Asked if the security measures, which will effectively divide areas of the city into sectors, will affect civilian movement, Jabr said: "Yesterday, in the National Assembly, one of the ministers referred to this possibility. We have been saying that these measures are for the protection of citizens. Moreover, the Iraqi citizens will feel only comfort and safety." KR
...AND HIGHLIGHTS RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN TERROR FIGHT
Interior Minister Jabr said that between 15 April and 25 May, 118 car bombs were detonated in the capital while another 13 cars were deactivated before exploding, RFI reported. From 22 May until today, 78 terrorists were arrested, many of them holding Arab citizenship. In one terrorist hideout, $6 million was seized, he said. Jabr related the details of one raid in the southern Iraqi port city of Al-Basrah in which terrorists attempted to smuggle "highly important" Iraqi government documents out of the country by ship. "Terrorists were arrested who were attempting to smuggle these documents to an Arab, non-neighboring country," Jabr said. The incident remains under investigation, he said. Jabr told reporters that no time limit has been set for the operation, meaning that the measures will be in place indefinitely. KR
CONFLICTING REPORTS ON WHETHER IRAQ'S AL-QAEDA LEADERSHIP REPLACED
There are conflicting Internet statements circulating about whether Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi has been replaced as the head of Iraq's Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group. AFP has cited a 26 May website posting that says Abu Hafs al-Qarni has been appointed acting chief of Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn. The statement, which has not been authenticated, said that al-Qarni was chosen because he has carried out the group's most dangerous missions in the past. Meanwhile, Reuters cited a separate Internet statement denying that al-Qarni has been appointed leader. One of al-Zarqawi's lieutenants, identified only as Abu Karrar, said on 24 May that his group was considering both foreigners and Iraqis as replacement for al-Zarqawi, should he die, washingtonpost.com reported on 26 May. KR
BAGHDAD ROCKED BY STRING OF ATTACKS...
A suicide car bomber targeted an Iraqi police patrol in Baghdad on 26 May, killing three people and wounding six, Reuters reported. Two of those killed and four wounded were police officers. Two other people were wounded when a roadside bomb detonated as a private security convoy escorted by U.S. military vehicles drove through eastern Baghdad. Police have said they do not know the nationalities of the victims, the news agency reported. Meanwhile, Fakhri Abed al-Amari, a Shi'ite Muslim from the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party, was gunned down outside his brother's home in southern Baghdad. Al-Amari had traveled to the capital from his home in Al-Najaf to accept a job with the Interior Ministry. Also, a deputy dean from Baghdad's Al-Mustansiriyah University and three of his bodyguards were gunned down en route to work, Reuters reported. KR
...AS ANSAR AL-SUNNAH CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR DAHUK BOMBING
The Ansar Al-Sunnah Army has claimed responsibility for two bomb attacks in the northern Iraqi city of Dahuk on 25 May in a statement posted on its website (http://www.an-alsunnah.5u.com) the same day. Militants detonated a small device near a gas station on a busy road in the city. A second bomb was detonated as police and civilians investigated the first explosion. One person was killed and 10 wounded in the attack, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 25 May. The statement said that the bombs were detonated "in spite of tight security measures enforced by the tyrants in that area." Dahuk is Iraq's northernmost governorate and borders Turkey. It has seen relatively little violence in the 26 months since Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched. Addressing Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani as a "friend of the Jews," the statement said: "You will not be excluded from the war waged against Islam and the mujahedin, and we shall not forget what your forces, together with U.S. forces, did when they killed our people in Al-Fallujah, Kirkuk, Tal Afar, and other [places]." KR
U.K. TO INCREASE TROOP DEPLOYMENT TO IRAQ
U.K. Defense Secretary John Reid said on 25 May that some 400 additional troops will be sent to Iraq to help with the training of Iraqi security forces, bbc.co.uk reported the same day. Reid said in a written statement obtained by the BBC that the training of Iraqi security forces will help Iraqis take "ever greater responsibility" for security in Iraq. "The reason for this small increase is in order to allow greater effort to be put into the training, development, and mentoring of the Iraqi security forces," he added. The troop increase will bring the total number of U.K. troops in Iraq to 8,500. KR
U.S. MILITARY REPORTS ON OPERATION NEW MARKET
A press release posted to the Multinational Forces website (http://www.mnf-iraq.com) on 26 May said that as many as 10 terrorists were killed in battle and two Marines wounded during the opening hours of Operation New Market ("Suq jadid") on 25 May. The statement said that local citizens identified one of the fighters killed as an imam, who had fired on Marines and Iraqi security forces with an AK-47 assault rifle. Neither Marines nor Iraqi security forces have entered any mosques during the operation. The statement said that checkpoints have been set up around the city in an effort to intercept terrorists attempting to leave. The U.S. military believes that many insurgent fighters fled Al-Qa'im during fighting earlier this month and regrouped in Hadithah. About 1,000 U.S. and Iraqi forces are participating in the operation. Meanwhile, the U.S. military reported that it shot and killed a child during a gun battle with insurgents in Tel Afar on 26 May, Reuters reported. "Terrorists used Iraqi children as shields when multinational forces returned fire. During the engagement, the child was killed," a military statement said. KR
AUSTRALIAN CLERIC VOLUNTEERS TO REPLACE HOSTAGE
Australian cleric Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali has asked Al-Jazeera television to broadcast his plea that he take the place of Australian hostage Douglas Wood, AFP reported on 25 May. The Shura Council of Iraqi Mujahedin announced Wood's kidnapping on 1 May through a videotaped message sent to Al-Jazeera. Wood's family has said that the 63-year-old engineer suffers from heart problems and is in poor health. The kidnappers had demanded in early May that Australia pull its troops from Iraq within 72 hours to secure Wood's release, but later dropped the demand after the Australian government rejected it. Australia currently has some 550 soldiers stationed in Iraq and is expected to deploy about 350 more in the coming weeks, AFP reported. Meanwhile, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said on 25 May that French authorities have new information regarding a French journalist and her guide held hostage in Iraq since 5 January, LCI television reported the same day. Raffarin declined to elaborate, citing the security of the hostages. KR