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Newsline - June 13, 2005


DOZENS INJURED IN TRAIN EXPLOSION ON DAY OF RUSSIA...
A powerful explosion derailed several cars of a Moscow-to-Grozny passenger train about 150 kilometers from the capital on 12 June, injuring 40 people, Russian and international media reported. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said eight of those injured required hospitalization and that "the low speed of the train helped to prevent [there being] more victims," RTR reported. A spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) said an explosive device weighing about three kilograms was detonated by remote control under the train's engine, polit.ru reported. The FSB spokesman said the explosion was "craftily planned, as the amount of explosive was [just] enough to cause the crash and it was planted very shortly before the appearance of the train so as to avoid detection." He added that prosecutors have opened a criminal investigation on charges of terrorism and attempted murder in connection with the incident. An ad hoc joint operating group comprising senior members of the country's security agencies said on 13 June that no arrests have been made in the case and there are as yet no suspects, RTR reported. The group believes that the attack was aided by at least one person using a mobile phone aboard the train. Some observers noted that the explosion took place on the Day of Russia; suspected Chechen militants have in the past staged attacks on Russian targets on national holidays. The Moscow-to-Grozny rail route was suspended in 1994 and resumed only last year. VY

...PROMPTING CHECHEN RESISTANCE OFFICIAL TO BLAME FSB
In a statement posted on chechenpress.org on 12 June, Akhmed Zakaev, whose title is special representative abroad of Chechen president Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev, accused the FSB of staging the bomb attack earlier that day on a Moscow-to-Grozny train in order to lend further weight to the Russian Foreign Ministry's appeals to the British government to "abandon double standards" and "take action against anti-Russian politicians " living in England -- a clear allusion to Zakaev himself, who was granted political asylum in the United Kingdom in early 2003. Zakaev expressed sympathy for all those injured in the bombing. In Grozny, pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov blamed the bombing on "forces that want to instill in the Russian people the conviction that Chechens are a nation of terrorists," newsru.com reported. LF

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA WOULD VIEW NATO BASES IN BALTICS AS 'SERIOUS THREAT'
Sergei Ivanov told the weekly "Profil," No. 23, that any deployment of NATO military bases in the Baltic states would be viewed by Russia as a "serious military threat." He also said Russia does not welcome the prospect of Ukrainian and Georgian membership in that military alliance but is not involved in that process. "We fully realize that if Ukraine or Georgia decides to join NATO, they will be there," Ivanov said. He said the extension of NATO to any former Soviet states is painful for Russia from any perspective, including economic. Russia faces the difficult task of restructuring its defense industry, which was closely tied to corresponding sectors throughout the CIS, Ivanov said. "This is especially true for the integration between the Russian and Ukrainian military-industrial complexes, which is very high," Ivanov said. VY

RUSSIA VOWS TO WRITE OFF $2 BILLION IN POOR COUNTRIES' DEBT
Speaking on the sidelines of the Group of Eight (G-8) meeting in London on 11 June, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said Russia will write off some $2.2. billion in debt owed by the world's poorest countries, RTR reported. Kudrin said the decision came within the framework of the G-8 write-off of some $40 billion owed by poor countries. Kudrin said there was no discussion during the G-8 meeting of the fate of convicted former Yukos oil CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, RTR reported, adding that he hopes the high-profile Khodorkovskii case "is the last." VY

PARTY LEADERS SAY MOTHERLAND WILL FIGHT OLIGARCHS...
Motherland party Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin told a party congress in Moscow on 11 June that he wants his party's "social patriotism" platform to be Russia's dominant ideology, RTR and other media reported. "Our goal is simple: to slay the three-headed dragon of a natural-resources oligarchy, a corrupt bureaucracy, and organized crime," Rogozin said, according to the party website (http://www.rodina.ru). He described the current government as the "tail of this dragon." Social patriotism is aimed at the restoration of both a "strong and just state" and the health of the Russian nation, Rogozin said. "The state is the property of the nation," he said, further suggesting that Motherland will ward off the external threat of "American chauvinists and Trotskyites [who] would like to instigate an Orange Revolution" in Russia. Rogozin claimed the party's membership this year surpassed 100,000. "Here, in this audience, are sitting future members of government, governors, and Duma deputies," Rogozin said. VY

...AND JOIN THE SOCIALIST INTERNATIONAL...
Mikhail Demurin, who is responsible for shaping Motherland's international policies, told the congress on 11 June that Motherland will defend Russia's interests against "global oligarchy" and that the party's main allies will be leftists and Social Democrats, rodina.ru reported. Demurin also announced that Motherland will join the Socialist International, which unites social-democratic parties around the world. Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt (1974-82), who is a leading figure in the Socialist International, attended the Motherland congress. VY

...AS PARTY'S CHIEF IDEOLOGUE WARNS OF 'INEVITABLE' RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
Duma Deputy and Institute of Globalization head Mikhail Delyagin (Motherland) warned in the weekly "Zavtra," No. 23, that there are many signs suggesting that revolution in Russia "is inevitable, and nearly everyone already understands that." Delyagin, who chairs Motherland's Ideological Council, described a purported alliance between "liberal fundamentalists" who take money from the population and a "siloviki oligarchy" who take money from business for their own purposes; such a system leaves no chance for development, Delyagin added. Vladimir Putin's administration is unable to change the situation, which threatens the country's very existence, according to Delyagin. He said the current political system is merely a form of "military-police feudalism" and that the future revolution will be driven by "anti-feudalism." "Our goal will be to reduce the present number of 'siloviki' and commercial oligarchs to their former status of ordinary special-services officers and members of the business community," Delyagin said. VY

GAS PROBLEM WEIGHS ON RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN RELATIONS
Aleksandr Medvedev, a deputy chairman of Gazprom's board in charge of exports for the Russian natural-gas giant, said on 10 June that the company is insisting that Ukraine pay full price for gas that reportedly disappeared from an underground storage facility operated by the Ukrainian monopoly Naftohaz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2005), RTR reported. Ukrainian representatives have said the gas is not missing but that there are technical obstacles to its retrieval, and offered to compensate Gazprom; Gazprom reportedly has rejected the compensation as insufficient. President Vladimir Putin reportedly spoke by telephone with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko about the gas problem, RTR reported (see also Ukrainian item below). VY

PRESIDENT REAPPOINTS REGIONAL LEADERS...
President Putin submitted three names of candidates for regional leadership posts to their respective regional parliaments for confirmation, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported on 12 June, quoting the presidential press service. For Ingushetia, Putin proposed current President Murat Zyazikov; for Rostov Oblast, incumbent Governor Viktor Chub; and for Smolensk Oblast, incumbent Governor Viktor Maslov. Both Maslov and Zyazikov are former local FSB chiefs serving their first terms. Chub has served as head of Rostov Oblast since 1991, when President Boris Yeltsin appointed him. In Bryansk Oblast, Putin dismissed Major-General Aleksandr Chaplygin from the head of the Interior Ministry directorate in Bryansk Oblast, appointing Colonel Mikhail Klimov in his stead, according to ITAR-TASS. In the Evenk Autonomous Okrug, Putin appointed Vladimir Kolomiits head of that region's Interior Ministry directorate. JAC

...AND SHUFFLES DIPLOMATIC RANKS
President Putin has also appointed Grigorii Karasin as a deputy foreign minister, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 10 June. Karasin, 55, most recently served as Russia's ambassador to Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Putin also appointed Sergei Razov as Russia's new ambassador to China. Razov, 52, most recently served as a deputy foreign minister. From 1999 to 2002, Razov served as Russia's ambassador to Poland; he replaces Igor Rogachev, who has been transferred to "other work." JAC

DUMA DEPUTIES CONSIDER DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS WORTH THE EXPENSE
State Duma deputies voted on 10 June to reject discussion of a proposed constitutional amendment that would abolish national elections for the office of the president, Russian news agencies reported. Just 35 members voted in favor of discussing the draft bill, which was proposed by Liberal Democratic Party faction member Aleksei Mitrofanov, while 116 were against, according to RosBalt. Mitrofanov suggested the measure would save money. Duma deputies also rejected a bill that would give investigators the right to launch criminal cases without the agreement of the Prosecutor-General's Office. Only 93 deputies supported that measure, which needed 226 to pass, according to newsru.com. JAC

NEW RUSSIAN ORTHODOX TV CHANNEL WILL NOT REJECT PUBLIC FUNDS IF OFFERED
A new public Russian Orthodox television channel called Spas will begin operations in the near future, according to former entertainment-program host Ivan Demidov, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 June. Demidov told the daily that Russian Orthodox programming will make up 40 percent of the station's schedule, with the rest devoted to public broadcasting such as documentary films, educational programs, and talk shows. The channel will be broadcast via the satellite television network of NTV-Plus. Demidov was previously involved in the launch of the military channel Zvezda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2005). Demidov told "Izvestiya" that, unlike Zvezda, Spas will be a private television channel. "If the government wants to help us, we will be grateful; but we have no right to ask this. Although there has already been a good reaction including from the Culture Ministry." According to the daily, Spas will not be the first Russian Orthodox channel in Russia; that title reportedly goes to the Soyuz channel in the city of Pervouralsk in Sverdlovsk Oblast, which began broadcasting at the beginning of this year. Soyuz airs religious films and concerts, bans erotic advertising, and its journalists are not permitted to wear jeans. JAC

DAILY EXPLAINS WHY FAR EASTERN LEGAL CASE DISAPPEARED
"Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 June why the criminal cases against Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovstev and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii Mayor Vladislav Skvortsov have been closed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005). The two had been suspected of exceeding their authority and misuse of office. The first criminal case against Mashkovtsev was opened in October 2003 and the second in March 2004. According to the daily, the cases lost their urgency when Maskovtsev was reelected in December. Soon after, the prosecutor who first initiated the cases, Aleksandr Voitovich, was transferred to Chelyabinsk Oblast. Also helping Mashkovstev with the federal authorities, according to the daily, was his willingness to support the unification of the oblast with Koryak Autonomous Okrug (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). Mashkovstev has already declared that he will not try to head the larger entity after the planned merger takes place. JAC

VILLAGERS PROTEST SWEEP OPERATION IN NORTHEASTERN CHECHNYA
Some 150 residents of the village of Borozdinovskaya in Chechnya's Shelkovo Raion blocked the Makhachkala-Astrakhan highway on 11 June to protest a sweep operation conducted on 3 June by Sulim Yamadaev's Eastern Battalion during which 11 villagers, all from ethnic groups indigenous to Daghestan, were detained, Interfax reported. On 9 June, Shelkovo district police chief Shamil Magomaev told Interfax that residents of Borozdinovskaya are suspected of channeling funds from abroad to the Chechen resistance. LF

MUSLIM CLERGYMAN SENTENCED IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA
The Nalchik City Court handed down a one-year suspended prison term on 10 June to Valid Abdul-Khamid Ilyas for entering the Russian Federation illegally on 28 occasions, according to yufo.ru as quoted by kavkazweb.net. Ilyas, an Iraqi national, is deputy head of the Religious Board of Muslims of Ingushetia. He was detained on 24 April at the Nalchik airport, where on arrival he produced a Russian passport in the name of Valid Kishchiev that he reportedly acquired through his wife, who heads the passport and visa office of the Ingushetian Interior Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2005). LF

NORTH OSSETIAN PARLIAMENT CONFIRMS NEW PRIME MINISTER
The parliament of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania approved the nomination of First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Merkulov to head the republic's government on 11 June, ingushetiya.ru reported. Merkulov succeeds Taymuraz Mamsurov, who was named republican president last week following the resignation of Aleksandr Dzasokhov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 June 2005). LF

ARMENIAN FORIGN MINISTER VISITS U.S...
. During a two-day working visit to Washington, Vartan Oskanian met on 9 June with U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley and the following day with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Noyan Tapan reported. Issues discussed included bilateral relations; trade and economic cooperation; the Karabakh conflict; and Armenian-Turkish relations. The "Jerusalem Post" on 11 June quoted Oskanian as saying that Yerevan would like Washington to act more assertively to persuade Turkey to open its border with Armenia. LF

...AND ACKNOWLEDGES ENTREPRENEUR'S ROLE IN JAILED AIR CREW'S RELEASE
Speaking during his visit to Washington, Oskanian stressed that the release of six Armenian airmen jailed last November in Equatorial Guinea on charges of plotting a coup against that country's president was the result of efforts by various people and agencies, including the Armenian Foreign Ministry, the Vatican, and Ara Abrahamian, chairman of the Union of Armenians of Russia, Noyan Tapan reported on 10 June. The six men, who were pardoned last week, arrived back in Yerevan via Moscow on 11 June accompanied by Abrahamian, according to ITAR-TASS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2005). LF

FINAL LOCAL ELECTION RESULT CONFIRMED IN ARMENIA
The local election commission in Yerevan's Malatia-Sebastia district ruled on 10 June following a recount that Aghvan Grigorian, a member of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia, defeated his sole challenger, Suren Hovsepian, in the 5 June district mayoral election, Noyan Tapan reported. Official returns gave Grigorian 21,010 votes compared with 4,669 for Hovsepian, whose supporters demanded the recount (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 June 2005). LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER MEETS WITH VISITING TURKISH LEGISLATOR
Artur Baghdasarian met on 10 June with Turkish parliamentarian Turhan Comez (Justice and Development Party, AKP), who headed a delegation of journalists and politicians making an unofficial visit to Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported. Baghdasarian stressed that Armenia seeks to establish normal relations with all neighboring countries, and he proposed resolving problems in bilateral relations by means of joint discussions. Baghdasarian urged Ankara to "have the courage to acknowledge the 1915 genocide" as a preliminary to moving forward on the road to European integration. Comez, for his part, described his visit to Armenia as a step on that road and noted that Turkish-Armenian discussions are important not merely per se but in order to strengthen regional relations. Comez also met on 12 June with Giro Manoyan of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, the Turkish daily "Zaman" reported on 13 June. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CALLS AMENDMENT TO AZERBAIJAN'S ELECTION LAW INADEQUATE
The Council of Europe's Venice Commission issued a statement on 10 June expressing regret that Azerbaijani authorities have failed to implement many of the changes to the election law advocated by the commission over the past two years, Turan reported on 11 June. The statement particularly noted that the registration fee for election candidates remains high, that restrictions on permitting NGOs to monitor elections have not been lifted, and that the provisions of the Election Law regarding the registration of candidates and campaign financing remain unnecessarily complex. LF

AZERBAIJANI HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS, PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION FORM HUMAN RIGHTS WORKING GROUP
During a four-hour meeting in Baku on 10 June, representatives of the presidential administration and the Interior Ministry, together with three parliament deputies and two prominent human rights activists, agreed to establish a working group that will address human rights problems and the issue of 107 people who have been designated as political prisoners, day.az and echo-az.com reported on 11 June. Council of Europe officials have repeatedly called on the Azerbaijani authorities to release all political prisoners. LF

AZERBAIJANI YOUTH ACTIVISTS TARGETED IN GYANDJA
Ruslan Bashirli, head of the opposition youth organization Yeni Fikir, told a news conference in Baku on 10 June that police in Gyandja apprehended him the previous day together with three other Yeni Fikir members following a meeting of supporters in that city and then forced them to return to Baku, Turan reported. Prior to the Gyandja meeting, the four activists toured three neighboring regions, where they established local Yeni Fikir chapters. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA HOLD FURTHER TALKS ON BASE CLOSURES
Russian and Georgian government delegations held talks on Tbilisi on 9-10 June in an attempt to resolve issues connected with the closure by late 2008 of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia, Russian and Georgian media reported. Ambassador Igor Savolskii, who headed the Russian delegation, said the outstanding problems are "not political" and will be resolved at a further round of talks in Moscow this week, after which a document stipulating the two sides' "legal commitments" will be signed. Savolskii also implied that Moscow might ask the OSCE to provide additional funding to cover the costs of the withdrawal. LF

POLICE, PEACEKEPERS LAUNCH SEARCH FOR ABDUCTED GEORGIANS
Georgian police together with members of the Joint Peacekeeping Force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone began a joint search operation on 13 June for four Georgians who disappeared in the region one week earlier, rustavi2.com reported. On 10 June, relatives of the missing men tried unsuccessfully to force their way into the State Chancellery in Tbilisi to demand a meeting with President Mikheil Saakashvili, Caucasus Press reported. They have repeatedly called into question police and security officials' assurances that all possible measures have been taken to find the missing men, whom they believe were abducted by Ossetians in retaliation for the killing of several Ossetians last month by Georgian police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May and 8, 9, and 10 June 2005). LF

FORMER DEPUTY GEORGIAN ENERGY MINISTER COMMITS SUICIDE
David Kvekveskiri, who served as a special adviser to former President Eduard Shevardnadze and then from 2001-03 as a deputy to Fuel and Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava, was found dead in his Tbilisi apartment on 11 June, Caucasus Press reported. He had apparently shot himself in the head. Mirtskhulava was sentenced earlier this year to 10 years' imprisonment on charges of embezzlement and abuse of office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005). LF

CENTRAL ASIA POWER COMPANY HEADS AIM FOR CONSOLIDATION
Senior executives of national electricity companies from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan met on 10 June in Astana, where they agreed to form an electricity-coordination council for Central Asia, akipress.org reported. A press release quoted by akipress.org describes the council's aim as a "coordinated strategy for developing Central Asia's electrical power, the rational use of water and energy resources in the region, and the establishment of agreed-upon working principles for electrical energy systems." The council's first chairman will be Kanat Bozumbaev, head of Kazakhstan's national power-grid company, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. DK

U.S. OIL FIRM FACES CUSTOMS DISPUTE IN KAZAKHSTAN
U.S. energy-services firm Halliburton announced on 10 June that it will attempt to resolve a $230 million criminal probe involving one of the company's subsidiaries in Kazakhstan, Reuters reported. The subsidiary is charged with avoiding the payment of customs duties. In response to a query from Reuters, Halliburton denied any wrongdoing and stated, "Halliburton continues to participate in this ongoing assessment of its customs operations and we will continue to work with the customs authorities in Kazakhstan to resolve any issues that may arise as part of this review process." DK

KYRGYZ DEPUTY GUNNED DOWN IN BISHKEK
Kyrgyz businessman and legislator Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev was shot and killed in Bishkek on 10 June, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He was gunned down as he was leaving the offices of the Business Development Foundation, which he headed. Persistent rumors had linked Surbaldiev to the activities of provocateurs in support of then President Askar Akaev on the eve of the 24 March unrest that led to Akaev's ouster. But Tashtemir Aitbaev, head of the National Security Service, told an emergency session of parliament on 10 June, according to akipress.org, "The murder of deputy Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev appears to be a criminal conflict. There's no reason for a political motivation." Fergana.ru noted that, according to unofficial sources, Surabaldiev was the owner of a large car market in the Kyrgyz capital. Parliamentarian Kubat Baibolov told the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) that he believes the murder was a contract killing. "The stories range from a property dispute to a politically motivated contract job," Baibolov said. "I personally believe the murder had to do with a dispute over property ownership." Bishkek police chief Omurbek Suvanaliev also described the crime as a contract killing and said that an investigation is under way, RFE/RL reported. DK

UN CONDEMNS KYRGYZ RETURN OF UZBEK ASYLUM SEEKERS
The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) has "expressed shock at the deportation of four Uzbek men from Kyrgyzstan and urged the Kyrgyz authorities to halt further deportations of Uzbek asylum seekers until they have gone through proper procedures to determine whether or not they are refugees under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention," according to a 10 June press release on the organization's website (http://www.unhcr.ch). UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis called the deportations "a direct violation of an agreement UNHCR had reached with the Kyrgyz government." The UNHCR identified the four men as Dilshod Hadjiev, Tavakal Hadjiev, Abdubais Hasan Shakirov, and Muhammad Kadyrov and suggested they are now "presumably in the custody of Uzbek authorities." Acting Kyrgyz First Deputy Prime Minister Feliks Kulov told journalists in Bishkek that the case should be investigated if, in fact, the handover took place, Kabar reported. Carlos Zaccagnini, UNHCR's head of mission in Kyrgyzstan, told Reuters that the four were part of a group of 16 asylum seekers who had earlier been removed by Kyrgyz authorities from a camp housing nearly 500 Uzbek asylum seekers. Edil Baisalov, head of the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society, condemned the handover and called for the resignation of Tashtemir Aitbaev, head of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Agency, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. DK

ASSAILANTS ATTACK HEADQUARTERS OF LEADING KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
Avazbek Atakhanov, spokesman for leading Kyrgyz presidential candidate and acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 12 June that unknown assailants attacked Bakiev's campaign headquarters on the night of 11 June. Atakhanov said the perpetrators beat up two guards and attempted to obtain information about the residences and movements of Bakiev and acting Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov. "The two guards are currently in serious condition; the National Security Service is investigating," Atakhanov added. DK

FORMER TURKMEN DEPUTY PREMIER CHARGED WITH COLLABORATING WITH FOREIGN SPY SERVICE
Turkmen National Security Minister Geldymukhammed Ashirmukhammedov told a cabinet meeting in Ashgabat on 10 June that former Deputy Prime Minister Yolly Gurbanmuradov has been charged with ties to foreign intelligence services, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Ashirmukhammedov alleged that Gurbanmuradov received information in October from unidentified foreign intelligence services on "ways of selling cheap and oil and gas abroad." Gurbanmuradov, who was dismissed from his post on 20 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005), allegedly went on to collaborate with the foreign spy agency. Gurbanmuradov has already been charged with embezzling more than $60 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2005). Turkmen opposition sources claim that he might already have died under mysterious circumstances after his arrest, Gundogar reported on 11 June. DK

UZBEKISTAN REJECTS EU CALL FOR ANDIJON INQUIRY...
In a 10 June official statement, Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry emphatically rejected the European Parliament's resolution on the violence that shook Andijon on 13 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005), fergana.ru reported. As quoted by fergana.ru, the statement stressed: "There are no grounds for creating an international commission to investigate the events in Andijon in view of the fact that Uzbekistan, like all other sovereign states, has all of the legal bases and capabilities to conduct its own investigation of the tragic events that took place in Andijon." DK

...AND ALLEGES FOREIGN ROLE IN UNREST
The 10 June statement by the Uzbek Foreign Ministry alleged that foreigners took part in the violence in Andijon. "Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry now has reason to state that dozens of foreign citizens took part in the riots that occurred in Andijon," the statement said. "The case may involve a planned terrorist act intended to destabilize the situation in the Ferghana Valley and the entire region. Upon the conclusion of the investigation, there will be an open trial that will provide an unbiased, objective assessment of the tragic events in Andijon." The allegation of foreign involvement follows several statements by Russian officials charging that Taliban forces were involved in the violence in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May and 10 June 2005). DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH RUSSIAN POLITICAL ANALYSTS
Uzbek President Islam Karimov met on 10 June in Tashkent with a delegation of Russian political analysts led by Politika foundation head Vyacheslav Nikonov, official Uzbek news agency UzA reported. Noting that Uzbekistan is currently under "information attack," Karimov told the Russian analysts, "I am confident in your unbiased and objective evaluation of the issues." After a tour of Andijon, Nikonov told UzA, "The numbers of victims of the tragic events in Andijon that some foreign media have provided are clearly exaggerated." The Russian delegation also included Sergei Markov, director of the Center for Political Studies; Vitalii Tretyakov, editor in chief of the magazine "Politicheskii klass"; Rafael Guseinov, first deputy editor in chief of the newspaper "Trud"; and Nurali Latypov, an adviser to Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov. DK

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION POLITICIAN SENTENCED TO 1 1/2 YEARS
A district court in Minsk on 10 June sentenced opposition activist Andrey Klimau to 18 months in a correctional-labor colony, finding him guilty of disturbing the public peace during an opposition protest he organized in Minsk on 25 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. The previous day, Prosecutor Vadzim Paznyak demanded that Klimau be sentenced to three years in a high-security prison with no right to amnesty. Klimau admitted his role in organizing the 25 March demonstration but denied the accusation that the protest impeded traffic and the operation of governmental agencies. Klimau is facing another trial, as he is accused of defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in three books and a leaflet. Klimau already spent four years in prison from 1998-2002 on charges of embezzlement and forgery, which were widely believed to be politically motivated. JM

HAS BELARUS INTRODUCED VISAS FOR GEORGIANS?
Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau, in a statement aired on Belarusian Television on 10 June, seemed to deny an earlier official announcement that Belarus was going to cancel visa-free travel with Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005). The announcement, made by Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin, was also posted on 9 June on the presidential website (http://www.president.gov.by). According to Martynau, Lukashenka only instructed the Foreign Ministry and law-enforcement agencies to look into the matter and, if need be, propose to the head of state that a visa requirement should be introduced in relations with Georgia in order to "protect our national security and social stability in society." Martynau asserted that travel between the two countries will remain visa free, but stressed that Belarus will not tolerate attempts to export "some revolutions or pseudo-revolutions" from Georgia and will take protective measures immediately after detecting such things. Martynau's statement came after the Georgian Parliament reportedly decided to consider a resolution to ban Lukashenka from entering Georgia in response to his introduction of visas for Georgians. JM

UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS MURDERERS OF GONGADZE PLEADED GUILTY
Svyatoslav Piskun said on the UT-1 television channel on 12 June that policemen charged with killing Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000 have plead guilty. "The admission of guilt confirms that we're moving in the right direction," Piskun said, adding that the Gongadze case will go to court in July. Piskun said the investigation has not yet found out who ordered the slaying of the journalist. "We are sticking to facts, and evidence has so far been insufficient," Piskun noted in this context. Piskun also said Ukrainian investigators have passed to their U.S. colleagues a list of 92 questions to be answered by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko, whose secret tapes suggest that former President Leonid Kuchma and other top officials may have been involved in Gongadze's murder. JM

FITCH WARNS UKRAINE OF LOOMING GAS CRISIS
The international ratings agency Fitch said in a press release on 10 June that Ukraine is facing "its second energy-related crisis in three months, this time over the price of natural gas," Interfax reported. According to Fitch, the crisis is linked to an ongoing dispute between Gazprom and Ukraine over the disappearance of 7.8 billion cubic meters of Gazprom gas, worth approximately $400 million, from the underground storage facilities of Ukraine's national gas transportation company Naftohaz Ukrayiny. The controversy, according to the agency, has led to Gazprom's threatening to raise the price of natural gas supplied to Ukraine from $50 per 1,000 cubic meters to $160 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005). In response, Ukraine has threatened to raise the price for transporting gas across the country from $1.09 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers to $3.35. In April and May Ukraine suffered a fuel crisis connected with a dispute between the government and Russian oil traders over the price of gasoline (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 27 May 2005). JM

UKRAINE TO FORM JOINT BATTALION WITH POLAND, LITHUANIA
Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko and his Polish and Lithuanian counterparts, Jerzy Szmajdzinski and Gediminas Kirkilas, respectively, signed a letter of intention in Brussels on 10 June to form a joint battalion, the so-called UkrPolLitbat, Interfax reported, quoting the Ukrainian Defense Ministry. The battalion is most likely to be formed on the basis of the Ukrainian-Polish UkrPolbat, which is performing a peacekeeping mission as part of a multinational brigade in Kosova. The brigade also includes a Lithuanian platoon. JM

SERBIAN MINISTER DOUBTS TOP INDICTEE WILL TURN HIMSELF IN...
Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said in Belgrade on 12 June that he doubts that leading war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic will turn himself in voluntarily, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ljajic added that it is more likely that Mladic will have to be arrested. In recent days, many Serbian media have cited unnamed but supposedly "reliable sources" who claim to know where Mladic is hiding or what the Belgrade authorities are doing to coax him into surrendering. On 10 June, a spokesman for Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told Reuters that "these reports are completely unfounded" and complained about what the spokesman called a media "campaign" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April and 10 June 2005). PM

...AS U.S. HOPES FOR HIS ARREST
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said in Washington on 10 June after returning from the Balkans that he hopes that General Mladic will be arrested in time for the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, in which about 8,000 mainly Muslim males were killed by Serbian forces, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 June 2005). Burns added that the United States cannot agree to NATO membership for Croatia until leading Croatian war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina is arrested. The broadcast noted that many of Burns' remarks during his trip were well received in Kosova, especially his comment on 8 June that "it is not up to foreigners, Americans and Europeans, to decide the future of Kosovo. The people of Kosovo should decide their future" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 20 May 2005). PM

SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH CONDEMNS SREBRENICA KILLINGS...
The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) issued a statement on 10 June condemning the killing in August 1995 of six Muslim civilians in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, by the Serbian paramilitary police unit known as the "Scorpions," as shown recently on Serbian television, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June 2005). The statement was titled "Our Lord, may it never happen again" and referred to "the cold-blooded killing of unarmed, defenseless civilians." Many Muslims and Croats, and also some Serbs, have charged the SPC with failing to criticize war crimes carried out by Serbs in the conflicts of the 1990s. PM

...WHILE NGOS HOLD A CONFERENCE
A conference on the 1995 Srebrenica massacre took place in Belgrade on 11 June and passed without incident, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The gathering was organized by Natasa Kandic of the NGO Humanitarian Law Fund and the local office of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Kandic stressed that it is no longer possible for Serbs to deny what happened in Srebrenica, adding that the government and not the NGOs must take the lead in arresting Mladic. Most of those in attendance came from NGOs and the international community. Rifat Rastoder, who is the deputy speaker of Montenegro's parliament, and Serbian Agriculture Minister Ivana Dulic Markovic, who said that she came in a private capacity, were the only officials present, Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June 2005). PM

MACEDONIAN, SERBIAN PRESIDENTS DISCUSS BORDER DEMARCATION
Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski and his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadic met in Ohrid on 10 June to discuss demarcation of the border between Macedonia and Serbia-Montenegro as well as the ongoing dispute between the Macedonian and Serbian Orthodox Churches, MIA news agency reported. The presidents agreed that the border should be demarcated before the future status of Kosova is decided, but they disagreed as to who will decide on the demarcation. Tadic argued that only Belgrade, Skopje, and the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) should participate in the talks, while Crvenkovski also wants the Kosovar elected government to be included, too. In recent weeks, UNMIK issued seemingly contradictory statements as to whether it has the mandate to decide on the border demarcation between Kosova and Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 May and 3 June 2005). At the request of Crvenkovski, Tadic also pledged to mediate between the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and its Macedonian counterpart. The SPC recently recognized only the pro-SPC Archbishopric of Ohrid as canonical, thus further heating up the ongoing dispute between the two churches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 August 2004). UB

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT CALLS ON RUSSIA TO WITHDRAW TROOPS FROM TRANSDNIESTER...
In addition to endorsing Ukraine's plan for the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, the Moldovan parliament on 10 June called on Russia to withdraw its military contingent from the separatist region of Transdniester by the end of 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005), Moldovan news agencies reported. A deputy speaker of the Moldovan parliament, Iurie Rosca, hailed the unanimous 10 June vote regarding the Transdniester settlement as a "great national consensus." According to Rosca, the complete withdrawal of Russian troops and military arsenal from Transdniester is quite possible by the deadline indicated by the Moldovan parliament. JM

...AS MOSCOW SLAMS PARLIAMENTARY RESOLUTION AS 'COERCIVE'
Russia on 11 June expressed "serious anxiety" over the Moldovan parliament's 10 June vote, which it said called for "coercive methods" to resolve the conflict with Transdniester, Interfax reported. "The only way to achieve a Transdniester settlement is to work out a reliably guaranteed special status for Transdniester at the negotiating table, while maintaining the territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova," Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in a statement. Yakovenko said the 10 June vote in Chisinau was an attempt "to formulate capitulation terms" that, he added, may only lead to an impasse and prolong "senseless confrontation." JM

TEN HOPEFULS WANT TO VIE FOR CHISINAU MAYORALTY
Ten individuals applied to register as candidates for the post of Chisinau mayor by the 10 June deadline, Moldovan news agencies reported on 10 June. The Chisinau territorial election commission has already registered five candidates for a mayoral election on 10 July: Ravnopravie (Equal Rights) Sociopolitical Movement leader Valery Klimenko; lawmaker George Susarenco of the Christian Democratic Popular Party; Patria-Rodina Labor Union leader George Sima; Vladimir Guritenco of the Democratic Party; and Finance Minister Zinaida Grechanaya of the ruling Communist Party. JM

IRANIAN BOMBINGS MAY BE CONNECTED WITH MINORITIES, ELECTION
On the morning of 12 June, four explosions occurred within 20 minutes of each other in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's southwestern Khuzestan Province. This is only the most recent violent incident in a region inhabited by ethnic Arabs who are angry about discrimination.

Iran's population of some 69 million people is ethnically and religiously diverse, and the country's minorities have many legitimate grievances. Politicians have glossed over these issues in the past, but in a new development, candidates for the 17 June presidential election are appealing to minorities. This could reflect a quest for votes, but it could also reflect fallout from democratic developments in Iraq.

All the 12 June explosions in Ahvaz targeted government facilities or officials. Interior Ministry official Mohammad Hussein Motahar said, "Two bombs were hidden in toilets within the building of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and at the Office of Construction and Civil Engineering. The third bomb exploded in front of the house of the governor of Khuzestan Province. All three of these explosions were in the city center of Ahvaz. Another bomb was hidden in the doorway of the house of a [state] radio and television official in Ahvaz. The bomb went off when the door was opened," Radio Farda reported, citing state television.

State television reported that the bombings killed at least eight people and injured another 70. No one has taken responsibility for the 12 June bombings. The Interior Ministry's Motahar connected the bombings with the unrest that occurred in Khuzestan in mid-April.

In what might be a related incident, two bombs exploded in Tehran near the Imam Hussein Square on the evening of 12 June. At least two people died in this incident, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Incidents of ethnic unrest in the outlying provinces are not without precedent. Kurds and Azeris in the northwest, Turkmens in the north, and Baluchis in the southeast, as well as the Arabs in the southwest, occasionally demonstrate over perceived injustices. Their complaints cover economic issues -- insufficient jobs and underdevelopment that lead to migration to urban centers, and discrimination in getting government jobs. The minorities also note inadequate educational facilities for young people, few publications in their languages, and low-quality local programming by state radio and television. They allude to historical grievances and refer to poor governmental representation.

The state response to these incidents varies depending on their scale. Sometimes it resorts to repression -- some 360 people were arrested after the April unrest in Ahvaz. In other cases, security forces contain the demonstrations and let people vent their frustration. And occasionally, the central government will dispatch officials to the region to show interest and attempt to mollify the locals.

But until this most recent race, ethnicity has not been a major factor in presidential campaigns. In fact, Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in Friday prayer sermons in February and again in March that candidates should not raise ethnic issues.

The candidates, particularly the reformist Mustafa Moin, have disregarded this advice. As he toured Ilam, Kermanshah, Khuzestan, and Kurdistan provinces, Moin said that the Kurdish people deserve to be treated better by the central government, "Eqbal" reported on 8 June. While in Sanandaj he said, "All religious and ethnic groups are entitled to participate at the level of vice president, minister, governor-general, or ambassador." Moin pledged that his cabinet will include individuals from all the provinces and all the ethnic minorities, including Arabs, Kurds, and Turkmens, "Iran" reported on 7 June. He said minorities' rights have been ignored so far and he will remedy this situation.

Religious diversity has become a factor in the presidential race, too. In Iran, most Persians, Azeris, and Arabs practice Shi'a Islam, while Baluchis, Turkmens, and some Kurds practice Sunni Islam. The Iranian Constitution states that Shi'ism is the state religion, but other schools of Islam will be respected fully; and in regions where the minorities predominate, local regulations will respect their faith.

Some 9 percent of Iranians are Sunnis, and they have high expectations of the next president. Sunni activist and former legislator Jalal Jalalizadeh wrote in the 10 January "Sharq" that Sunnis have been "actively participating" while not having "a share in getting elected or gaining concessions." There are 10 million Sunnis, Jalalizadeh wrote, and candidates ignore them at their peril. Even though they do not have the constitutional right to become president, he continued, they do have the right to serve in other positions. Will the next president implement the slogan "Iran for Iranians," he asked.

Sunni leaders met in Tehran in late May to discuss their role in the elections. They decided that they would support anybody who can solve their problems, "Sharq" reported on 30 May.

A statement from Sunni residents of Tehran informed presidential candidates that they demand the right to publish freely and to build Sunni mosques, "Eqbal" reported on 6 June. They also called for involvement in state broadcasting and the opportunity to broadcast their own programs.

Some Sunni leaders have announced their support for Moin, "Eqbal" reported on 11 June.

More than 20 Sunnis who served in previous parliaments, on the other hand, declared their support for center-left candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 11 June. Although their previous demands were ignored, they said, they will participate in the election in the hope that this will lead to a democratic society based on "Islamic justice and equal rights for citizens of all ethnic and religious groups." They urged Karrubi and other candidates to keep their word, "not to forget their 'pact with the people and especially with Sunnis,' nor promises made at various electoral gatherings 'attended by Sunni elites, clerics and representatives.'"

Christian Armenians and Assyrians also live in Iran, as do practitioners of the Baha'i, Jewish, and Zoroastrian faiths. Christian, Jewish, and Zoroastrian practices are to be respected as well, according to the constitution. Baha'is, however, are not recognized and face intense repression.

Members of the Zoroastrian community in Yazd Province are backing Karrubi, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 7 June. The head of the Zoroastrians' pro-Karrubi headquarters, Dariush Kamusi, said Karrubi personifies the Zoroastrian tenets of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Kamusi noted that Karrubi backed legislation that made the blood money for killing a member of a religious minority the same as the blood money for killing a Shi'a Muslim.

Candidates' attention to ethnic and religious minorities could reflect the traditional quest for votes in what increasingly appears to be a hard-fought race for the presidency. The candidates may be coming to recognize, furthermore, the fallout from the traditional emphasis on the Persian nature of the state and efforts to eliminate minority interests by emphasizing linguistic, religious, and cultural unity. Minorities are more likely to identify with the state if the state pays attention to them.

Postwar developments in Iraq are probably having a more profound effect. The government in Baghdad includes members of all Iraqi ethnic and religious minorities -- Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, and others. A Kurd is president, his deputies are Sunni and Shi'a Arabs, and a Shi'ite Arab is prime minister. Kurds in the north enjoy a degree of autonomy unimaginable in Iran. The minorities in Iran may not want to appear to support the U.S. role in overthrowing former President Saddam Hussein and bringing democracy to Iraq, but they are certainly aware that minorities to their west have a greater role in government.

Some observers have expressed concern that if the Shi'a majority in Iraq enjoys political power commensurate with its share of the population (about 65 percent), then Iraq could become another Shi'a theocracy. In fact, the political current appears to be flowing in the other direction, and as the 12 June bombings show, the Iranian government ignores this at its own risk.

LAND MINE KILLS WOMAN, WOUNDS FOUR OTHERS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A land mine in southern Afghanistan killed a woman and injured four others on 12 June, AFP reported. The explosion damaged a pickup truck carrying four people some 18 kilometers north of Kandahar, police said. Authorities blamed the blast on insurgents. Deputy provincial police chief General Mohammed Salim said "the enemies of peace and stability" were behind the attack. Two children were among the wounded. The blast took place in the Kotal Morcha area of Kandahar, the former stronghold of the ousted Taliban regime that lost power in 2001. The area has been the scene of frequent attacks by neo-Taliban fighters. MR

EIGHT ARRESTED IN AFGHAN KIDNAPPING CASE
Afghan authorities have arrested eight suspects thought to be involved in the abduction of an Italian aid worker who was recently freed, AP reported 12 June. Afghan Interior Minister Ali Ahmed Jalali said the eight have been arrested separately since 16 May, when Clementina Cantoni was abducted at gunpoint in downtown Kabul. Cantoni's captors released her late last week. Speaking to reporters in Kabul, Jalali refused to give details about the suspects, saying only that they are being questioned. Cantoni, an aid worker for CARE International, has said she was held by as many as six kidnappers during her three-week ordeal. Jalali denied that the Afghan government released the mother of one of the kidnappers, a key ransom demand of Cantoni's abductors. Jalali said the mother of one kidnapper was indeed freed but not in conjunction with the ransom demands from Cantoni's kidnappers. MR

EASTERN AFGHAN TRIBAL LEADERS VOICE CONCERN OVER NEW GOVERNOR
Tribal leaders in Nangarhar Province voiced concern over apparent plans for a new regional governor appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, the Afghan Islamic Press news agency reported 12 June. "We are Pashtuns," said area tribal leader Malek Mohammad Nazir. "We want a Pashtun governor here. We do not want a governor who wears a tie. If such a governor comes here and behaves well, then fine. Otherwise we will oppose him very strongly." Nazir's statement came during a farewell ceremony for Nangarhar Province Governor Haji Din Mohammad, who announced that he quit his post upon orders from Kabul. The news agency said Karzai has not aired an official announcement about the transfer. But Afghan television reports said that Din Mohammad has been appointed as governor of Kandahar Province. The sitting Kandahar governor, Gol Agha Sherzai, will take over in Herat Province. And Parwan Province Governor Abdol Jabar Taqwa will take the governor's seat in Jalalabad, the capital of Nangarhar. The Pakistan-based news agency offered no independent confirmation of the reported gubernatorial shakeup beyond public remarks by Din Mohammad in Jalalabad. MR

AFGHAN GOVERNMENT DENIES ROLE IN UZBEK UNREST
The Afghan Defense Ministry called Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov's assertion that Afghan militants were behind recent turmoil in Uzbekistan "irresponsible and baseless," Xinhua News Agency reported on 12 June. "The irresponsible remarks made by Mr. Ivanov is a clear indication of Russia's expansionist policy in the central and southern Asian regions," Defense Ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi said, speaking to reporters in Kabul. The news agency said Ivanov claimed that terrorists trained in Afghanistan were behind violence last month in Andijon, Uzbekistan, in which hundreds of people were killed. "We utterly reject the Russian Defense Minister's allegations as we are actively fighting terrorism with international support in Afghanistan and sacrifice our beloved sons in this way," Azimi said. Azimi added that he hoped the views expressed by Ivanov were personal and not reflective of Moscow's official stance on the issue. He called on Moscow to clarify its position. Azimi's statement marked the second time Kabul has spoken out against Moscow over remarks made by Ivanov on issues concerning Afghanistan. "Today's Russia or the former Soviet Union is the source of all miseries in Afghanistan," Azimi said. MR

IRREDENTISTS CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR IRAN BOMBINGS...
Three Arab irredentist groups have taken credit for a series of bombings in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran's southwestern Khuzestan Province, ISNA reported on 13 June. The groups are the Arab Martyrs of Khuzestan, the Arab People's Democratic Front, and Afwaj al-Nahdah al-Musallahah Al-Ahwaz (The Armed Renaissance Group of Ahvaz), according to Deputy Governor Rahim Fazilatpur. Mahmud Ahmad, coordinator of committees of the Democratic Front for the Ahvaz People, denied responsibility for the 12 June bombings, Al-Jazeera satellite TV reported on 12 June. He added, "Certainly the regime knows well that nobody supports it in Ahvaz. It has no supporters, neither in Ahvaz nor in any area where non-Persian ethnic groups live in Iran." BS

...THAT KILL SEVERAL PEOPLE
On the morning of 12 June, four explosions occurred within 20 minutes of each other in Ahvaz, news agencies reported. All the Ahvaz explosions targeted government facilities or officials. Interior Ministry official Mohammad Hussein Motahar said, "Two bombs were hidden in toilets within the building of the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development and at the Office of Construction and Civil Engineering. The third bomb exploded in front of the house of the governor of Khuzestan Province. All three of these explosions were in the city center of Ahvaz. Another bomb was hidden in the doorway of the house of a [state] radio and television official in Ahvaz. The bomb went off when the door was opened," Radio Farda reported, citing state television. State television reported that the bombings killed at least eight people and injured another 70. No one has taken responsibility for the 12 June bombings. The Interior Ministry's Motahar connected the bombings with the unrest that occurred in Khuzestan in mid-April (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 18 and 25 April 2005). BS

MORE BOMBINGS IN TEHRAN
In what might be a related incident, two bombs exploded in Tehran near the Imam Hussein Square on the evening of 12 June, killing at least two people, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Later that evening, there was an explosion on Taleqani Street, but there were no casualties, IRNA reported. In yet another incident, a stun grenade went off in front of an unnamed cleric's house. BS

IRANIANS URGED TO VOTE
"I expect that our dear people...will stick a huge stamp of 'Death to America' on polling booths through their extensive turnout," Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in his 10 June sermon at Friday prayers in Tehran, state radio reported. Jannati claimed the U.S. and Israel want Iranians to boycott the 17 June presidential election, because those countries feel threatened by Iran. Jannati also claimed that some of the candidates have violated campaign regulations. BS

OPINION POLLS PREDICT HIGH TURNOUT IN IRANIAN ELECTION
A poll of 46,034 people in 25 provinces conducted by the Islamic Republic News Agency found that 54.8 percent of eligible voters will definitely vote and another 15.5 percent say they will "almost certainly vote," state radio reported. Another 10.3 percent said they are undecided and 9.6 percent said they probably will not vote. In a late-May survey commissioned by the Fars News Agency and conducted by an unidentified polling service, 68 percent of the respondents confirmed that they will vote, "Kayhan" reported on 6 June. Another 16.3 percent said they probably will vote, 5.3 percent said they probably will not, and 10.4 percent reported that they will not vote. That survey took place in 28 provinces. BS

TEHRAN AND DUSHANBE SIGN HYDROELECTRIC POWER DEAL
Iran and Tajikistan signed an agreement in Tehran on 11 June to build the Sangtuda-2 hydroelectric power station, IRNA reported. Signatories were Iranian Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf and his visiting Tajik counterpart, Jurabek Nurmahmadov. The project's cost is estimated at $220 million, and Nurmahmadov predicted it will be ready in four years. In January, Nurmahmadov estimated the cost of Sangtuda-2 at between $160 million and $180 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). BS

SUICIDE CAR BOMBERS TARGET IRAQI FORCES IN TIKRIT, SAMARRA
Two suicide car bombers targeted Iraqi security forces in separate attacks on 13 June, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The first attack occurred when a vehicle followed by police detonated in Tikrit, killing two policemen and wounding 12 others. A second suicide bomber detonated his vehicle near a police and army patrol unit in Samarra, killing five members of the patrol and injuring five others. Iraqi police also announced the discovery of six bodies in Baghdad on 13 June. The victims appear to have been tortured, AFP reported on 13 June. Police said on 12 June that 20 decomposed cadavers have been unearthed in Nahrawan, southeast of Baghdad, the news agency said. Meanwhile, a fire broke out in a huge market area in Al-Nasiriyah, south of Baghdad on 13 June, KUNA reported. Police Captain Majid Muhammad said that the fire damaged some 40 fabric, grocery, and jewelry shops, but there were no casualties in the incident. KR

JUDGE ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR FORMER JUSTICE MINISTER
Iraqi Judge Munir Haddad has issued an arrest warrant for former Justice Minister Munthir al-Shawi on charges he expelled Shi'ite Kurds to Iran in the 1980s, KUNA reported on 13 June. Al-Shawi served until the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, and is suspected of deporting and confiscating money from Shi'ite Kurds, the news agency said. At least seven other former regime members, including Hussein, are under investigation for their roles in the expulsions, a judge in the Iraqi Criminal Court said. It is unclear whether al-Shawi will be prosecuted for other crimes against the Kurds. Sahib al-Hakim, of the Iraqi Organization for Human Rights, reportedly has collected dozens of execution orders signed by al-Shawi against Kurds detained at the Abu Ghurayb Prison in Baghdad under Hussein, kurdishmedia.com reported on 16 March 2004. KR

SPOKESMAN SAYS SUNNI ARABS 'WEAKEST LINK' IN CONSTITUTIONAL PROCESS
Government spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters on 12 June in Baghdad that Sunni Arabs are the "weakest link in the constitutional process," Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Kubba cited an Iraqi political affairs expert as saying that the Kurdish parties are the strongest political force in terms of having a competent staff "who knows the art of negotiation." "The weakest negotiating side seems to be the Sunni [Arab] parties, circles, and movements, because this is their first experience in negotiations," Kubba said. This lack of experience leads them either to boycott or reject proposals, rather than negotiate to reach a satisfactory outcome. He added that if an agreement is to be reached on the constitution "one should be realistic," adding, "This is part of the process of creating a new political culture in Iraq." KR

FRENCH JOURNALIST, TRANSLATOR RELEASED IN IRAQ
French journalist Florence Aubenas and her Iraqi translator Husayn Hanun al-Sa'di have been freed after five months in captivity in Iraq, international media reported on 12 June. The circumstances surrounding their release have not been fully disclosed, but the French government has insisted that no ransom was paid for the journalists' release. French Ambassador to Iraq Bernard Bajolet said the release "wasn't easy at all. It was a dangerous operation for our people, extremely dangerous." Serge July, the editor of the French daily "Liberation," where Aubenas works, said: "The release took place...in a rather complicated military-style operation," France-2 television reported on 12 June. Aubenas told reporters in Paris on 12 June that she was held under "harsh conditions" in Iraq, and was blindfolded and shackled during her captivity. Al-Sa'di returned to his family's home in Baghdad. KR

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