MOSCOW REINFORCES MILITARY COOPERATION WITH CIS ALLIES
Meeting with heads of CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (ODKB) signatory states in Moscow on 23 June, President Vladimir Putin discussed global and regional security, the battles against terrorism and illegal drugs, and a strengthening of multilateral military cooperation, according to international news agencies. Russia assumed the chairmanship of the group at the summit. The organization comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan. The attending leaders also talked about the possibility of opening a new ODKB military base in Kyrgyzstan -- which presumably would be operated by Russia -- and agreed to the creation of a center to combat drug trafficking, RIA-Novosti reported. Speaking at a news conference after the summit, Ivanov said Russia is concerned by "the real terrorist threat in Central Asia." VY
FSB COUNTERTERROR CHIEF TALKS ABOUT UNDERGROUND ISLAMIST GROUPS
Speaking at his first-ever news conference, the director of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) department for combating international terrorism, Yurii Sapunov, said in Moscow on 23 June that the FSB has monitored the activities of Islamic extremist groups such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and Hizb ut-Tahrir since 2000, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other media reported. He claimed the FSB has uncovered underground activities by those two groups in 50 regions of Russia and 500 suspected members are being investigated. Sapunov said the FSB has prevented 70 acts of terrorism this year and contributed to the arrest of 269 terrorist suspects. Sapunov said terrorists have largely come to the North Caucasus from Western Europe via Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia; he then accused Western Europe and the United States of harboring "double standards" and said they bear some responsibility for the situation. VY
KAZAN OPENS RUSSIA'S LARGEST MOSQUE AMID MILLENNIAL CELEBRATION
Thousands of Muslims were waiting on 23 June in central Kazan for the opening of the Qol Sharif Mosque the following day, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported. Republic of Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev was on hand to open the mosque -- Russia's largest -- on 24 June as part of festivities marking Kazan's 1,000th anniversary. "The Qol Sharif Mosque is not only the main mosque of the republic, it is also a new symbol of Kazan and Tatarstan; it is also a spiritual center for all Tatars," Shaimiev said. "It is a spiritual bridge that connects our past with the future." The new mosque was built on the site where the old Qol Sharif Mosque once stood. That mosque was destroyed, as were hundreds of other mosques in the region, after the Russian conquest of Kazan in 1552. Some 400 representatives from 51 countries were expected to take part in ceremonies marking the millennium of Tatarstan's capital, according to RFE/RL's Kazan bureau. JAC
ISLAMIC COMMUNITY IN NIZHNII NOVGOROD WANTS RUSSIA TO HAVE MUSLIM VICE PRESIDENT
A spokeswoman for the Spiritual Directorate for Muslims in Nizhnii Novgorod (DYMNO) said the region's Muslims back the idea of introducing a federal vice-presidential post reserved for a Muslim, regnum.ru reported on 21 June. The spokeswoman, Asiya Davlyachina, said her group will propose the idea to President Putin. She said the idea was first mentioned by a local Islamic newspaper, "Medina," which criticized a lack of Muslims among state officials who could represent the country within Islamic organizations or in the Islamic world more generally. "In an era of globalization, Muslims do not want to play the role of an indigenous population in a colonial territory," regnum.ru quoted the newspaper as saying. VY
TATARS IN BASHKORTOSTAN BROACH IDEA OF UNIFICATION WITH CHELYABINSK OBLAST
Ramil Bignov, who chairs an umbrella organization for ethnic Tatars in Bashkortostan, told a congress of the National-Cultural Autonomy of Tatars in Bashkortostan on 23 June that his group demands that Tatar be given equal status alongside the Bashkir and Russian languages, Interfax reported. Bignov warned that a failure to achieve that goal would prompt his group to back a move to unify with Chelyabinsk Oblast or another federal entity. Such a move would allow for the "change from the authoritarian and illegitimate regime of [Bashkortostan President] Murtaza Rakhimov and safeguard minority rights in the newly created administrative territory," Interfax quoted Bignov as saying. Bignov told "Kommersant-Daily" on 23 June that his group was against Rakhimov's attendance at this week's millennial celebration in the Tatarstan capital Kazan, claiming he has had a role in "suppressing the rights of the Tatar population." About 39 percent of the population of Bashkortostan is Russia, 28 percent are Tatar, 22 percent are Bashkir, and the rest belong to other ethnic groups. VY
TRANSPORTATION MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA, ASIAN POWERS CAN REBUILD 'SILK ROAD'
Transportation Minister Igor Levitin said in Petrozavodsk on 23 June that Russia and the CIS plan to rebuild a "new Silk Road" to transport goods from China to Europe, "Vedomosti" reported on 23 June. Trucks would travel from China to Europe via Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine to Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. Speaking in the State Duma on 22 June, Levitin said that Russia could collect up to $2 billion in haulier fees alone from the project. VY
INTERIOR MINISTER CALLS TROUBLED KIDS A NATIONAL PROBLEM
Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev said on 23 June that Russia's roughly 6 million troubled juveniles represent a national problem, RBK reported. Some 2 million of those young people are illiterate and 700,000 are orphans, he said. Nurgaliev added that help from the state and civic groups is required to reintegrate those juveniles into society. VY
PREMIER, ECONOMICS MINISTER BUTT HEADS OVER GDP TARGET
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref exchanged testy remarks at a government meeting on 23 June, according to Russian news agencies. Fradkov reportedly demanded that Gref "do whatever is necessary" to double GDP by 2010, but Gref countered that such a target is unrealistic. According to Interfax, Gref said: "Burning all the hydrocarbons in the furnace will be possible but very wrong. It will make far greater sense to comprehensively reform the entire economy and social sphere." Former presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov disagreed with Gref, telling reporters that the right economic reforms could make such a goal realistic. Unfortunately, according to Illarionov, the government is instead engaged in a "destructive reform of the energy sector aimed at creating a super-giant monopoly." It allows "overblown fees for the products of structural monopolies, bans exports of Russian grain, and [establishes] quotes for the imports of meat and protectionism for Russian car-makers," ITAR-TASS reported. All of these policies, Illarionov said, make a doubling of GDP impossible. JAC
ANOTHER 24-HOUR NEWS CHANNEL IN THE WORKS...
Oleg Dobrodeev, general director of the All Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), announced on 23 June that his company plans to set up a 24-hour news channel, Radio Mayak and Interfax reported. The news channel would be based on the "Vesti" program. Dobrodeev, who was speaking at a session of the Federation Council's Commission on Information Policy, also announced that he wants to expand broadcasts of the RTR-Planet channel, which is accessible via satellite in Europe, to the United States, Australia, and Northern Africa. Next year, Dobrodeev said, it should be able to reach Asia and the rest of the world. Earlier this month, RTR and RIA-Novosti announced that they were setting up a 24-hour news channel called Russia Today to begin English-language broadcasting in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2005). JAC
...AS VGTRK HEAD DENIES MASSIVE DISMISSALS IN THE WORKS
Dobrodeev denied earlier news reports that VGTRK will soon impose massive layoffs, "Vremya novostei" reported on 24 June (see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 12 April 2005). "Now we have around 15,000 workers in our systems," Dobrodeev said, adding, "The reductions in any case will have a massive character, although, naturally, modernization is accompanied by [certain] costs." He said a reorganization at VGTRK will allow it to avoid a reduction in the volume of broadcasting by the company's regional affiliates. JAC
BEREZOVSKII PUBLICATION LOSES ANOTHER APPEAL
A Moscow arbitration court upheld an April ruling by another Moscow arbitration court rejecting an appeal from the Kommersant Publishing House over its publication of an interview with the late Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in "Kommersant-Daily," RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported on 23 June. The Kommersant publishing group has been seeking the annulment of a warning issued by the Federal Service for Oversight of Compliance with Legislation on Mass Communications and the Protection of the Cultural Heritage in February. The service issued the warning after "Kommersant-Daily" published an interview with then Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2005). According to Interfax, the company can still file another appeal with the Moscow District Federal Arbitration Court. JAC
GUBERNATORIAL ADVISER SENTENCED TO SEVEN MONTHS FOR SPREADING KOMPROMAT
A raion-level court in Saratov sentenced Eduard Abrosimov, a journalist and former adviser to former Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov, to seven months in jail for slander, "Vremya novostei" reported on 24 June. Abrosimov was accused of spreading compromising materials about Ayatskov rival and State Duma Deputy Vyacheslav Volodin (Unified Russia) in the national weekly "Sobesednik." The article, which was written by someone named Andrei Zabelin, suggested that Volodin has an "untraditional" sexual orientation. Local prosecutors also found on Abrosimov's personal computer the text of a second article accusing local police investigators of taking bribes. Abrosimov sent that article to a local newspaper, "Saratov-SP." "The Moscow Times" reported that the accusation of the bribe did not appear in the final version of the article because an editor at "Saratov-SP" cut it. But the charge of slander stuck because at least one person saw it: the editor. Abrosimov's attorney plans to appeal. JAC
MOSCOW BRAWL BREAKS OUT OVER OFFICE SPACE
A brawl that involved some 200 people and resulted in the detention of 30 people broke out in central Moscow on the evening of 23 June, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported. According to RIA-Novosti, some of the participants were armed with baseball bats. Unidentified police sources told the agencies that the dispute was between two firms over who had the rights to office space at the location of the fight on Granatii lane. JAC
CHECHEN COMMANDER DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR BOROZDINOVSKAYA SWEEP...
Sulim Yamadaev, whose Eastern Battalion has been accused of launching the 4 June sweep operation in the Chechen village of Borozdinovskaya in which one person was killed and 11 detained, has claimed his forces were not responsible for those reprisals, according to yufo.ru on 23 June. Yamadaev explained that his men stopped in Borozdinovskaya to bury the father of one of them, who had been killed by unidentified "militants." Yamadaev said he personally has never set foot in the village. Yamadaev's brother Ruslan, who represents Chechnya in the Russian State Duma, told Interfax on 23 June that the accusations leveled against the Eastern Battalion are part of a campaign to "tar the reputation of the Combined Federal Forces in general and the Eastern and Western battalions in particular." He added that unnamed "illegal leaders of armed groups" are devoting considerable time and resources to trying to force the two battalions to halt their ongoing sweep operations against Chechen militants. LF
...AS WEAPONS ARE CONFISCATED FROM HIS MEN
Vladimir Kalita, who is deputy military prosecutor for the United Army Group in the North Caucasus, told ITAR-TASS on 23 June that 30 of his subordinates are engaged in investigating the circumstances of the Borozdinovskaya sweep operation. He said weapons have been confiscated from members of the Eastern Battalion, and that all Borozdinovskaya residents, including children, will be questioned. On 24 June, ITAR-TASS quoted Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov as alleging that the Borozdinovskaya raid was intended to create hostility between the people of Chechnya and Daghestan. The population of Borozdinovskaya are mostly Avars resettled from Daghestan in the 1950s. Kadyrov's own security force has launched similar raids in Daghestan in recent months, compounding tensions between the two republics (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005). Kadyrov argued that Russian federal forces in Chechnya should confine themselves to "protecting the state from global enemies" and should not engage in the search for "criminals." LF
DAGHESTAN'S DUMA DEPUTY FEARS BOROZDINOVSKAYA BACKLASH
Gadzhi Makhachev, who represents Daghestan in the Russian State Duma, was quoted on 24 June by "Nezavisima gazeta" as deploring the Daghestan State Council's delay in reacting to the exodus of Avar villagers from Borozdinovskaya to Daghestan. Makhachev said that "we managed only with difficulty" to restrain some 3,000 young men who planned to march on Chechnya, apparently with the aim of retribution. Makhachev advocated liquidating both the Eastern and Western Battalions. Saygidpasha Umakhanov, the controversial mayor of Khasavyurt in northern Daghestan, similarly warned that local villagers, especially those populated by Dargins (the second-largest ethnic group in Daghestan), have at their disposal large quantities of weaponry and could launch cross-border raids on Chechen targets. LF
ARMENIA SETS TENTATIVE DATE FOR CLOSURE OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANT
The Armenian government has begun "preparatory work" with the aim of decommissioning the Medzamor nuclear power plant, in line with EU demands, by 2016, Deputy Energy Minister Areg Galstian said at a news conference on 23 June, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He added that the decommissioning process will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, which Yerevan hopes to obtain from Western donors. Galstian said the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline currently under construction is a key component of Armenia's new energy strategy for the next two decades, and that Iranian gas will be used to fuel the fifth unit of the large Hrazdan thermal power plant. That power plant, together with three new hydroelectric power stations to be built over the next decade, will compensate for the shortfall caused by the closure of Medzamor, which currently provides up to 40 percent of Armenia's energy needs. LF
PACE CALLS ON ARMENIA TO EXPEDITE CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM...
At its summer session in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) adopted a resolution on 23 June expressing "deep concern" at Armenia's delay in agreeing and adopting constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The resolution urged Armenian authorities to incorporate into the amended draft recommendations made by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission that would augment the powers of the Armenian parliament, strengthen judicial independence, and introduce elections for the post of mayor of Yerevan. The draft amendments passed in the first reading last month failed to include those changes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2005). The resolution urged parliament to adopt the revised draft in the second reading no later than August and to submit the package of amendments to a nationwide referendum by November, Noyan Tapan reported on 23 June. It also called on the Armenian authorities to resume dialogue with the opposition. LF
...URGES AZERBAIJAN TO HOLD DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS...
On 22 June, the PACE adopted two resolutions on Azerbaijan, one assessing as unsatisfactory the functioning of democratic institutions in that country and the second calling for the release of political prisoners, Turan reported on 23 June. The first resolution stressed the importance of ensuring that the parliamentary elections due in November are free, fair, and democratic, noting that the present election code "may not provide sufficient guarantees" for free elections. It condemned restrictions on political rallies and the use of violence against participants, and called for a continuation of the dialogue between the authorities and the opposition and for expediting the creation of an independent public broadcaster. LF
...AND RELEASE POLITICAL PRISONERS
The second PACE resolution adopted on 22 June called for the immediate release, or a retrial of, three people designated by the Council of Europe as political prisoners and of others who are presumed to be political prisoners, according to the Council of Europe website (http://www.coe.int). The resolution further expresses "serious misgivings" over whether the November parliamentary ballot will be truly free and fair, given that some former political prisoners who have been pardoned are barred from participating in that ballot. LF
AZERBAIJANI INTERIOR MINISTRY DISCLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR PHOTOGRAPHER'S DEATH
The Interior Ministry issued a statement on 23 June rejecting allegations that the recent death of photographer Alim Kazimli was the direct consequence of his mistreatment at the hands of Baku police six months ago, Turan reported. The statement claimed Kazimli, who was 54, suffered a heart attack on 28 December while applying to renew his identity papers at a Baku police station, and officials summoned an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Fellow journalists claim Kazimli suffered partial paralysis after a police beating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 January and 21 June 2005). LF
ABKHAZIA DENIES SUPPLYING URANIUM TO ISLAMIC MILITANTS
Abkhaz Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab dismissed on 23 June as "complete nonsense" Georgian allegations that a Wahhabi group has acquired weapons-grade uranium from the Sukhum Institute of Physics and Technology and could sell it to terrorist organizations, including Al-Qaeda, Interfax reported. Paata Davitaya, former justice minister in the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile and currently an adviser to Georgian Preident Mikheil Saakashvili, made those allegations at a news conference in Tbilisi earlier on 23 June, according to Caucasus Press. LF
JOURNALIST BEATEN IN EASTERN GEORGIA
Gela Mtiulishvili, editor of the Gurdjaani regional paper "Imedi," was assaulted late on 22 June by an unknown man and sustained severe head injuries, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported the following day. LF
CHINA TO TRAIN KAZAKH POLICE
Responding to a request from Kazakh Interior Minister Zautbek Turisbekov, Chinese Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang has said his country is willing to send instructors to Kazakhstan to train police, Kazinform reported on 23 June. Turisbekov, who is in Beijing for talks, also proposed sending Kazakh policemen to the academy of the Public Security Ministry in China for training. DK
KAZAKH SENATE PASSES PSA AGREEMENT
Kazakhstan's upper chamber of parliament passed a draft bill on 23 June on production-sharing agreements (PSAs) on oil fields at sea, Kazinform reported. The draft bill contains provisions regulating the precise terms of PSAs concluded for the exploration and development of oil fields at sea. It now awaits the signature of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. DK
KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SAYS 29 ASYLUM SEEKERS TO BE RETURNED TO UZBEKISTAN...
Acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov announced on 23 June that Kyrgyzstan plans to extradite to Uzbekistan 29 asylum seekers currently held in detention in Osh, Kabar reported. "They include terrorists and religious extremists," Beknazarov said. Parrying objections from international organizations about the extradition of asylum seekers to Uzbekistan, Beknazarov said, "They should distinguish between criminals and refugees. Why should we give criminals refugee status?" Beknazarov added that Kyrgyzstan is obliged under the Minsk Convention to extradite the individuals, who are part of a group of nearly 500 asylum seekers who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon on 13 May. DK
...AS UN WARNS OF TORTURE AND SECRETARY-GENERAL EXPRESSES CONCERN...
Manfred Nowak, special rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and other senior UN officials expressed concern on 23 June at the possible extradition of asylum seekers to Uzbekistan in light of "allegations of torture, ill treatment, and arbitrary detention in Uzbekistan," the UN News Service reported. The statement followed a 22 June appeal by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who said he is "seriously concerned about the fate of Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan and, in particular, reports about their possible forced deportation to Uzbekistan," the secretary-general's press service reported. "The secretary-general appeals to the government of Kyrgyzstan to strictly abide by its international obligations in the treatment of asylum seekers and urges the government of Uzbekistan to refrain from any action aimed at ensuring forcible return of Uzbek asylum seekers to their country," Annan concluded. DK
...AND RIGHTS GROUP POINTS TO VIOLATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAW
At a news conference in Bishkek on 23 June, Human Rights Watch Central Asia researcher Acacia Shields warned that the repatriation of asylum seekers to Uzbekistan would be a "serious violation of Kyrgyzstan's obligations under international law," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "It would be a great shame if, at this point in Kyrgyzstan's history, the government turned its back on the international community and its standards by sending people back to torture," Shields said. She also warned that the extradition process could widen. "We also have credible information that additional asylum seekers may soon be detained from the camp in Jalalabad Province," Shields said. "I would remind you, we still have no information about the four men who were already returned [to Uzbekistan]. We don't even know if they are still alive." DK
KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BOWS OUT OF RACE
Former Jalalabad Province Governor Jusupbek Sharipov has withdrawn his candidacy from Kyrgyzstan's 10 July presidential election in order to support the candidacy of acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 23 June. Sharipov said his decision was motivated by a desire for stability in Kyrgyz society, explaining that the alliance between Bakiev and Feliks Kulov, head of the Ar-Namys Party, has already moved the country closer to stability. DK
KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ASKS PARLIAMENT TO LIFT IMMUNITY OF FORMER PRESIDENT'S SON
Acting Prosecutor-General Beknazarov has asked Kyrgyzstan's parliament to strip Aidar Akaev, son of former President Askar Akaev, of immunity from prosecution, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 23 June. Beknazarov said criminal cases involving embezzlement and extortion have been launched against Akaev. Akaev currently has immunity from prosecution because he won a seat in parliament in spring elections. Parliament has one month to consider the request, but Beknazarov asked legislators to expedite the matter. DK
KYRGYZ OFFICIAL SAYS CSTO CONSIDERS NEW BASE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Acting Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov told journalists in Moscow on 23 June that the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will consider the possibility of opening another military base in Kyrgyzstan, Interfax-AVN reported. "The [CSTO] headquarters has been instructed to think about the need for such a step, consider whether the base should be set up temporarily or permanently, and determine the number of its personnel and weapons," Isakov said. Isakov added that a report on the matter is expected in time for the meeting of CSTO defense ministers in the fall. Kyrgyz officials recently denied press reports that they were considering the opening of a new Russian or Chinese base in Kyrgyzstan, which currently hosts a Russian base and a U.S. military base. DK
TURKMEN LEADER APPOINTS NEW OIL-AND-GAS COMPANY HEAD FOLLOWING GAS ROW WITH UKRAINE
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has signed a decree appointing Geldy Mukhammedov chairman of national oil and gas company Turkmenneftegaz, a position with ministerial status, turkmenistan.ru reported on 23 June. Mukhammedov gave up the post of deputy defense minister in connection with the move. Ilyas Charyev, who had headed Turkmenneftegaz since November 2000, was removed from the post "for serious deficiencies in his work." The shakeup follows a dispute with Ukraine over what Turkmenistan has said are nearly $600 million in equipment arrears for gas shipments in 2004 and 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2005). Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko sent an official delegation to Ashgabat on 23 June to resolve the issue, ITAR-TASS reported. DK
UZBEK OFFICIAL SAYS MILITANT GROUPS BEHIND ANDIJON UNREST
Uzbek Deputy Prosecutor-General Anvar Nabiev said an investigation has revealed that detachments of religious extremists were behind 13 May unrest in Andijon, Kyrgyz national news agency Kabar reported on 23 June. Nabiev said that 20 mobile units, each numbering between five and 20 men, were established in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan before the violence. According to Nabiev, the militants were linked to the Islamic Movement of Turkestan, Hizb ut-Tahrir, and Hizb ut-Tahrir offshoot Akramiya. DK
KREMLIN ADVISERS SCOLD BELARUS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD...
In an open letter to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka published on 23 June at sovetpanfilova.ru, the Council for Promoting Civil Society and Human Rights (SSRIGOPCh) under Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed its concern about "the unfavorable situation with civic rights and freedoms" in Belarus. The council, which is an advisory body whose head is appointed by Putin, said that Belarus has virtually no independent "sociopolitical media," nongovernmental and human rights organizations are being gradually liquidated by the administration, and electoral legislation does not ensure " legitimate results of the expression of the people's will." The council also pointed to "overtly unfriendly steps" that are being taken by the Belarusian government against Russia, including squeezing Russian electronic media from Belarus's information sphere and censuring their programs, confiscating Russian commodities at Belarusian border checkpoints, and infringing on the rights of Russians who are in conflict with the Belarusian legal system. "The council is very influential but it does not reflect the state policy [stance]," SSRIGOPCh member Sergei Markov told RFE/RL's Belarus Service. JM
...AS EUROPEAN LAWMAKER PREDICTS END OF RUSSIAN SUPPORT FOR BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT
Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) deputy Christos Pourgourides said on 23 June that the Russian government is "bound to abandon Alyaksandr Lukashenka pretty soon," Belapan reported. He added that Lukashenka will "have no legs to stand on" without Russia's support. The previous day, the PACE subcommittee on Belarus adopted a resolution urging Russia to "make any political or financial assistance to the government of Belarus conditional on respect for the human rights and civil liberties of the people of Belarus." It also approved a draft memorandum criticizing the Belarusian authorities over the ongoing crackdown on political opponents and independent media outlets and calling for specific steps to unseat the Lukashenka regime. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said in response that PACE does not have an impartial view of the situation in Belarus and lacks any tools to influence it. JM
UKRAINIAN, POLISH PRESIDENTS OPEN CONTROVERSIAL CEMETERY...
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski opened the renovated Lychakivskyy Cemetery in Lviv on 24 June, Ukrainian and Polish media reported. The necropolis, known in Poland as the Cemetery of Lwow Eaglets, contains the graves of mainly young Polish cadets who died in 1918 during fighting with Ukrainian units for the city. The fallen Ukrainians are buried in a separate part of the cemetery. The cemetery was built by the Poles before World War II, when Lwow was in Poland, and wrecked during the war as the city changed hands. The opening of the cemetery has been a sticking point in Ukrainian-Polish relations for nearly a decade. Its opening was officially announced several times in the past, but the Lviv City Council repeatedly objected to the inscription that was to be placed on a Polish memorial. Eventually, both sides agreed to the wording: "Here lie the Polish soldiers who fell for the Fatherland." Earlier this week, deputies of the Verkhovna Rada adopted a nonbinding resolution calling on the Lviv City Council to annul its earlier decision to open the controversial cemetery, but Lviv councilors did not heed it. JM
...AND CALL FOR MUTUAL RAPPROCHEMENT
Speaking at the Lychakivskyy Cemetery opening ceremony on 24 June, President Yushchenko hailed reconciliation between Ukraine and Poland, Ukrainian Television reported. "We have enough pride not to rewrite the tragic pages of history and enough wisdom to draw the right conclusions from this story. The main one being that there is no free Poland without a free Ukraine, and there is no free Ukraine without a free Poland," Yushchenko said. For his part, Kwasniewski said that Ukrainians and Poles "can now better understand the history of our peoples as we turn over the pages of our history books." He added that the casualties of the 1918 Ukrainian-Polish fighting are calling on the youth of the two countries to get to know each other better "in a spirit of peace, partnership, and unity." JM
FOUR UKRAINIAN OFFICERS IMPRISONED FOR 2002 AIR-SHOW TRAGEDY
A military court has sentenced four officers to prison terms ranging from six to 14 years for what was reported to be the world's worst air-show tragedy, Interfax reported on 23 June. An Su-27 fighter jet crashed into a crowd of spectators during an air show in Lviv on 27 July 2002, killing 77 and injuring nearly 300 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2002). The jet's two pilots managed to eject before the aircraft hit the ground. First pilot Volodymyr Toponar was handed 14 years, second pilot Yuriy Yehorov eight years, and two commanders of the pilots' army unit to six years each. One more officer was given a four-year suspended sentence. All four were found guilty of "violating regulations pertaining to performing or preparing flights, as well as to servicing aircraft," according to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua). JM
POLL SAYS FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER IS TOP OPPOSITIONIST
According to a poll conducted by the Razumkov Center among more than 2,000 Ukrainians from 27 May to 2 June, 56 percent of respondents said former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the opposition Party of regions, is the country's main opposition politician, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 23 June. The other oppositionists identified by the poll include Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko (20 percent of respondents), Social Democratic Party-united leader Viktor Medvedchuk (14 percent), and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko (12 percent). JM
BRITISH LEADER BACKS EU ENLARGEMENT
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose government will assume the rotating EU presidency on 1 July, said in Brussels on 23 June that the bloc must continue its program of enlargement despite the EU's current crisis, Reuters reported. He called enlargement a "historic opportunity to build a greater and more powerful union," adding that the British presidency "will try to...carry out the union's obligation to those like Turkey and Croatia that wait in hope of a future as part of Europe" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 and 17 June 2005). He did not mention other western Balkan states, all of which hope to join the EU at some point. In recent days, French President Jacques Chirac and some top EU officials, including European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen, have suggested that the enlargement process might be put on hold or slowed down in response to the crisis. PM
HAGUE PROSECUTOR 'TOO ASHAMED' TO ATTEND SREBRENICA COMMEMORATION...
Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said there on 23 June that she will not attend ceremonies in Srebrenica on 11 July to commemorate the anniversary of the 1995 massacre of about 8,000 mainly Muslim males by Serbian forces, Reuters reported. She stressed that it is a "disgrace and a shame" that regional and international powers have not captured and brought to justice former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his commander, former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. "I cannot face the victims when Karadzic and Mladic are still allowed to enjoy impunity 10 years after they were first indicted," Del Ponte said. She added that "the authorities of Serbia, Montenegro, and [the] Republika Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as NATO and EUFOR [peacekeepers], must step up their efforts to bring them to justice as soon as possible" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 June 2005). PM
...BUT SERBIAN PRESIDENT WON'T BE DETERRED...
Despite protests from some families of the victims, Serbian President Boris Tadic said in Bucharest, Romania, on 23 June that he is determined to visit Srebrenica to mark the 10th anniversary of the massacre, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 23 June 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June 2005). He stressed that "as the president of Serbia and Serbs, I want to pay our respects to the victims of the war crime that took place in Srebrenica," dpa reported. He added: "This vicious circle in the Balkans has to be broken so that the Balkans can become part of Europe and not a European province." The president noted that the massacre was carried out by some of his fellow Serbs, but stressed that "the entire Serbian people cannot be made responsible for it" and that the individuals responsible must be brought to justice. PM
...AS THE SERBIAN GOVERNMENT IS REPORTEDLY TAKING ACTION
"The New York Times" reported from Belgrade on 24 June that "for the first time, [Serbian] government officials...confirmed that they had sought contact with the secret support network that has helped to keep General Mladic in hiding for at least eight years." Serbian government spokesman Srdjan Djuric said that efforts are under way to contact members of Mladic's support network to convince him to surrender. "Considering how highly sensitive this is, the Serbian government does not announce results before they have happened. Any detail could jeopardize the whole process," Djuric added. The support network reportedly consists of two parts, one of Bosnian Serbs and the other of members of the former Yugoslav intelligence community. U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns, who visited Belgrade recently, told the daily that he believes that the Serbian authorities "want to find [Mladic] for the first time in 10 years" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2005). The report from Belgrade comes about one week after Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica publicly denied recent rumors in the Serbian media that the government is trying to negotiate Mladic's surrender (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2005). PM
MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT CONFIRMS JAIL SENTENCE FOR MAVERICK CLERIC
An appeals court in Bitola confirmed on 23 June that Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan must spend 18 months in jail for allegedly inciting religious and ethnic hatred, Reuters reported. Jovan, who became a central figure in the long-standing dispute between the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC) and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) when he switched allegiance from MPC to the SPC in 2003, was sentenced in August 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 6 August 2004). Jovan must now surrender to police within eight days or risk arrest. He said after the appeals court handed down its ruling that he is "ready to go to jail if that is what the court says." The central problem is deeply rooted in what historians call the Macedonian Question and interrelated issues involving the traditional Balkan tendency to equate one's nationality with one's religion. In 1967, the communist Macedonian authorities recognized a MPC separate from the SPC and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, which has a much smaller number of Macedonian adherents than the other two. The SPC and other Orthodox churches do not recognize their Macedonian counterpart, regarding it as schismatic. PM
RUSSIA ACCUSES MOLDOVA OF SABOTAGING TRANSDNIESTER PEACEKEEPING OPERATION
Viktor Shanin, the Russian cochairman of the Joint Constitutional Commission (JCC), the body responsible for controlling the peacekeeping forces in Transdniester's security zone since 1992, said in a statement on 23 June that Moldova has made an attempt "to deliberately torpedo the peacekeeping operation," Infotag reported. Shanin was commenting on the failure of Moldova's JCC members to show up for an emergency meeting of the commission scheduled earlier that day. "The Russian JCC delegation is once again calling on [its] Moldovan colleagues to thoroughly weigh the entire possible aftermath of their withdrawal from work in the commission, and to make their constructive and responsible contribution to JCC activities for the sake of peace and stability in the region," Shanin said. Moreover, Colonel Anatolii Zverev, commander of Russian military contingent in Transdniester, said on 24 June that Moldovan peacekeepers in the region refuse "more and more frequently" to subordinate to the joint military command, according to ITAR-TASS. The Moldovan JCC representatives refused to work in the commission in April, after the Transdniester authorities ignored the commission's decision to simplify access to fields for peasants living in several villages that are under Moldova's jurisdiction but are located on the left bank of the Dniester River. JM
ALARMED POLITICIANS URGE IRAN'S VOTERS TO CHOOSE HASHEMI-RAFSANJANI
In the second round of Iran's presidential election on 24 June, voters must choose between the very right-wing Mahmud Ahmadinejad and the more cautious former President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who heads the Expediency Council, a key arbitrating body.
Many Iranians have responded by forming a "national movement" to prevent the election of Ahmadinejad, who is being presented as a reactionary, while Hashemi-Rafsanjani is depicted as the last-ditch defender of minimal rights and liberties. The popularity that eluded Hashemi-Rafsanjani but was present in the eight-year presidency of Mohammad Khatami -- especially evident when Rafsanjani failed to win a seat in the 2001 parliamentary elections -- has suddenly been thrust upon him.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani's supporters include Ayatollah Jalaledin Taheri, a prominent supporter of Khatami's reforms and popular former preacher in the central Isfahan Province. He stated his support on 20 June, IRNA reported. Seyyed Hadi Khamenei, a left-wing cleric and brother of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged voters on 20 June to hand Hashemi-Rafsanjani "the sapling of political and social liberties and civil rights," ISNA reported. Ahmad Shirzad of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front told Mehr agency on 20 June that "we think Mr. Hashemi will cause us fewer problems than the other candidate." Three pro-reform organizations -- the Democracy Party the Islamic Iran Solidarity Party, and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization -- have stated their support for Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
Candidates who lost in the first round have also reportedly moved to Hashemi-Rafsanjani's side. They include Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, who initially criticized Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy and blamed him for many of Iran's existing problems, but also Ali Larijani, who is often described as "close" to the supreme leader. Reformist candidate Mustafa Moin said on 21 June that he would vote for Hashemi-Rafsanjani, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani has even managed to wrench the support of dissidents who have known prison and harassment in past years. Emadedin Baqi, a writer jailed for articles he wrote about the murder of dissidents in the 1990s -- during and shortly after the Hashemi-Rafsanjani presidencies -- said on 20 June that as a "human rights activist, I am sounding the alarm bell," ISNA reported the same day. "Reformers and some of the men of reason in the right-wing faction must unite so the candidate opposed to Hashemi is not elected," he said. Another dissident, Ezzatollah Sahabi, said on 20 June that "all people and groups must support" Hashemi-Rafsanjani, IRNA reported that day, "even those who boycotted the polls." The list of supporters goes on: former parliament members, moderate conservatives, representatives of the Chaldean and Assyrian Christian minorities, prominent clerics.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani, seemingly elated, has risen to these calls and the perceived urgency of a victory. Usually noncommittal on controversial issues, he deplored in a 20 June statement the "shocking instances of abuse [against candidates] and unjust, organized interventions" on polling day, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 21 June. The complaints of "my brother" Karrubi must be addressed, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said. More vigorously, he told students from Tehran University on 21 June that he would use "all means" to prevent the Guardians Council from trying to change votes in the next round. "If the system tries to act above the law, it will face problems," he said, IRNA reported that day. Students clapped and whistled in response, it was reported, as they might have done before with Khatami. He said the present conditions require "an open atmosphere where people are not afraid to state their mind," while his 20 June statement mentioned "safeguarding political and social liberties, and attention to women's rights," as items on his presidential agenda.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani echoed Khatami's calls for lawfulness, speaking to Tehran students on 21 June, and said all people in Iran, including students and journalists, must respect the law. The law, he added, "may not be good, and what is legal today may become a better law, but...the way is to act lawfully," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. He cautioned students that "if anyone breaks the law, they cannot expect" not to be prosecuted, whether the offenses are "political or not," the daily added.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani promised not to let "parallel bodies" interfere in state security work, and expressed approval of the "present methods" of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, which the Khatami government said has been purged of lawless agents who were accused of killing dissident Iranians in the 1990s. "I will not let them interfere in the intelligence ministry's work," he said. The reforms he said he initiated and that Khatami pursued, "must move forward and nobody wishes to oppose that."
Hashemi-Rafsanjani appeared to reach the limits of his democratic potential when he said he would oppose unjust imprisonments, and students shouted out the name of Akbar Ganji, a dissident jailed for critical writings not unrelated to Hashemi-Rafsanjani's political past. Ganji, he said, "is also an instance that must be examined," but he remained silent when a student suggested he should present parliament with a general amnesty bill if elected, as candidate Moin proposed earlier.
These comments contrast with Ahmadinejad's reported plans for social restrictions. Legislator Javad Arianmanesh told ILNA on 20 June that Ahmadinejad told legislators that day that he would curb "networks of cultural vulgarity," a possible reference to illegal satellite dishes and foreign CDs available to many Iranians. Another legislator, Laleh Eftekhari, told ILNA the same day that Ahmadinejad's "cultural policies," including the proposed segregation of men and women in universities, parks, and elevators, follow "Islamic laws" and are "a leading demand of the public."
A 22 June editorial in the reformist "Aftab-i Yazd" daily called Rafsanjani a "shield against extremism" and urged him to "respond positively" to his new coalition of supporters. Iranians -- and Hashemi-Rafsanjani -- must be considering the irony in this unexpected turn of affairs. But as reformers who started their political lives as revolutionaries have shown, politicians can change from left-wing radicals to moderates or even dissidents in response to changing times, as can Hashemi-Rafsanjani. He is already a reputed friend of economic liberalization: On 21 June, he said he would work to boost stock market investment and link the Tehran exchange to "world markets," ILNA reported. Time will tell if he has also become a friend of political liberties.
DEATH TOLL CLIMBS IN CONTINUED AFGHAN FIGHTING
Afghan authorities said on 23 June that 132 insurgents have been killed after three days of clashes in southern Afghanistan, AFP reported the same day. "One-hundred-and-thirty-two Taliban were killed," said Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed Nu'man Atifie. "If you look at the number of the men they've lost we can say that their backbone is broken." For the past three days, fighting has raged in hillside territory in the Kandahar area. Six foreigners were among the insurgents killed in the clashes, in which Afghan ground forces, with U.S. air support, have battled insurgents. "They have found two Chechen nationals, three Pakistanis, and one Arab," said Kandahar police chief General Mohammed Salem. Three Afghan policemen have been killed, Afghan authorities said. American officials said five U.S. soldiers were wounded in the fighting. MR
INDIA OFFERS ENERGY AID TO KABUL
India on 23 June approved plans for a power line to Kabul from Uzbekistan, AFP reported the same day. Indian Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced the initiative in New Delhi. "The expenditure will be in the nature of assistance to Afghanistan and, besides acting as a catalytic agent to speed up economic rehabilitation and development of the region, the projects will enhance India's presence and profile in Afghanistan," Mukherjee said. The project is expected to cost $111 million. The initiative marked another effort by India to strengthen ties with the government in Kabul, where frequent power outages disrupt city life. MR
ATTACKERS TORCH AFGHAN GIRLS' SCHOOL
Armed men have torched a girls' school south of Kabul, AP reported on 23 June quoting officials who spoke that same day. Authorities said the attack itself occurred on 21 June at Padkhwai Raghani, a village roughly 56 kilometers south of the capital. An unknown number of men came to the village school at night, tied up and beat two guards, and then doused the place with gasoline before setting it on fire. The principal, Zaher Din, said the children wept when they saw that the school had been destroyed. "The children are desperate for their classes to resume," Din said. Repairs are reportedly under way and Din said he hopes to resume classes for the 665 students at the school by 25 June. Interior Ministry spokesman Latfullah Mashal blamed neo-Taliban militants for the attack, saying the "burning of schools and education institutions is on the terrorists' agenda." When in power, the Taliban regime refused to allow girls to go to school. MR
PAKISTANI PRESIDENT ASSURES AFGHAN COUNTERPART OF SUPPORT
Pervez Musharraf spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the telephone on 23 June, assuring him for the second time this week of Pakistani support, dpa reported the same day. "President Musharraf informed Karzai that Pakistan strongly believes in a stable, strong, and prosperous Afghanistan," said Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed. The move comes at a time of high tension between the two neighbors. Afghanistan has repeatedly accused Pakistan of allowing neo-Taliban militants to operate on Pakistani territory, an allegation Pakistan denies. According to Ahmed, Musharraf told Karzai that Afghanistan is welcome to prosecute Pakistanis captured in Afghanistan fighting with neo-Taliban guerillas. But Musharraf urged Karzai to ensure that proper investigations are conducted before any allegations are aired. On 21 June, Afghan authorities said they prevented three Pakistani nationals from assassinating the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, who has since left the country for a posting in Iraq. MR
HARD-LINE IRANIAN CANDIDATE LEADS IN PRE-ELECTION SURVEY
In a survey conducted by the Iranian Students Polling Agency on 23 June, one day before the runoff in the Iranian presidential election, Mahmud Ahmadinejad was the most popular candidate (http://www.ispa.ir). He earned 41.9 percent of the votes cast by 6101 people in 25 provinces, compared to 41.5 percent for Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (2,555 versus 2,531). In the poll, 14.1 percent were undecided and 2.5 percent backed neither candidate. BS
IRANIAN PRESIDENT WARNS OF SECOND-ROUND ELECTION VIOLATIONS...
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has instructed the interior, intelligence and security, and justice ministers to ensure that the second round of the Iranian presidential election on 24 June goes smoothly, Fars News Agency reported on 23 June. "Unfortunately the destructive and immoral actions executed against the respected candidates, which started in the first round, have continued extensively in the second round," Khatami said. He referred to the attribution of false statements to senior religious figures. He also said state entities were involved in the electoral violations: "We have had reports suggesting electoral offences committed by responsible bodies whose job is to prevent such offences. These bodies should be dealt with immediately and without leniency." BS
...AND ARRESTS FIRST-ROUND VIOLATORS
A 23 June report from Baztab website said Khatami has created a committee from the Interior, Intelligence and Security, and Justice ministries, the Judiciary, and the Armed Forces Judicial Organization. From the first round of voting, the committee found 104 election violations, which led to 26 arrests. For example, Ali Badri was arrested for mass producing and distributing CDs that defamed a candidate; a security official in Qazvin was arrested for signing a contract to produce posters that defamed a candidate; and a well-known military official was arrested and charged with defaming a candidate and having his speech distributed on a CD. Charges have been brought against 44 members of a military organization for campaign-related activities. BS
IRANIAN LEGISLATOR WARNS OF ELECTION FRAUD
Karaj parliamentary representative Fatemeh Ajarlu on 23 June called for increased vigilance about the possible buying and selling of votes in the second round of the presidential election, Fars News Agency reported. She added that she has heard rumors about the distribution of duplicate birth certificates. BS
IRANIAN NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER DENOUNCES ELECTION
Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi said on 23 June that she is boycotting the next day's presidential election in Iran, Radio Farda reported, citing AFP. She said the final outcome of the election is irrelevant because the candidates are not very different and because the election itself is illegitimate. Ebadi called for civil disobedience. "The votes that come out of the boxes are valid as long as they have been the results of a free election," she said. "Can you say Saddam Hussein's regime was legitimate or the elections fine just because he got 99 percent of the vote?" Ebadi also rejected speculation that Ahmadinejad will reverse reforms, saying, "Freedom is a one-way street. What has been achieved cannot be taken away. People will simply not allow it." Ebadi accused the Hashemi-Rafsanjani campaign of scaremongering in order to get votes. She said Khatami was the best Iranian president ever and praised his exposure of the murder of intellectuals and dissidents in the late-1990s by Ministry of Intelligence and Security personnel. BS
IRANIAN OFFICIALS ATTEND IRAQ CONFERENCE IN BRUSSELS
"The Americans, after being tied up in Iraq and after the differences with Europe, understood that they cannot proceed in this way," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Brussels on 23 June, IRNA reported. Kharrazi arrived the previous day to participate in an international conference on Iraq that was sponsored by the EU and the United States. Kharrazi said during the event that he held individual meetings with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and EU High Representative Javier Solana, as well as other officials. He said the topics of discussion included regional developments, the Iranian presidential election, and the Iranian nuclear program. In his 22 June comments to the conference, Karrubi said the participation of all Iraqi communities in the country's political structure and in framing its constitution is essential for its unity and stability. He added that priority should be given to security. Kharrazi said the promotion of tourism at Iraqi holy sites could generate $500 million annually. He also mentioned that plans are under way for oil swaps of up to 400,000 barrels per day, and added other projects dealing with oil, gas, banking, and finance are being considered. BS
CENTCOM COMMANDER SAYS INSURGENCY REMAINS STRONG...
General John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in a 23 June testimony on Capitol Hill that the insurgency remains strong in Iraq, CNN reported. Abizaid said that foreign fighters continue to stream into Iraq at a pace greater than that of six months ago. "In terms of the overall strength of the insurgency," Abizaid said, "I'd say it's about the same as it was" six months ago. Abizaid declined to support earlier comments by Vice President Dick Cheney that the insurgency is in its "last throes," telling the Senate committee, " there's a lot of work to be done against the insurgency." Abizaid, who has just returned from a visit to Iraq, said that U.S. commanders and soldiers on the ground expressed a "real concern" that the military is losing U.S. support at home for the mission in Iraq. General George W. Casey, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, testified at the same hearing, telling senators that multinational forces have significantly weakened the insurgency despite the apparent rise in attacks over the past several weeks. KR
...AS DEFENSE SECRETARY SAYS NO TIMETABLE TO BE SET FOR WITHDRAWAL
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the Senate Armed Services Committee on 23 June that no timetable will be set for the departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, saying, "That would be a terrible mistake." "It would throw a lifeline to terrorists who in recent months have suffered significant losses in casualties, been denied havens, and suffered weakened popular support," Rumsfeld said. The defense secretary contended that the United States "made a commitment to finish the job and we must do so." Rumsfeld denied that the United States is losing the war in Iraq, telling senators: "Any who say we have lost or are losing are flat wrong. We are not." KR
SCIRI CONDEMNS ATTACKS TARGETING SHI'A...
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) condemned terrorist attacks this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2005) that targeted Shi'ites in Baghdad in a statement posted to the party's website (http://www.sciri.ws). "Yesterday and this morning, [terrorists] committed a massacre in the Al-Shu'lah neighborhood and the Al-Karrada neighborhood in Baghdad against innocent women and children as well as laborers on their way to make a living....The explosions damaged and destroyed holy places like the Al-Bu Jum'ah Husayniyah and the Abd al-Rasul Husayniyah [both Shi'ite religious centers] thus amounting to a violation and transgression against our people's holy places," the statement said. It further accused terrorists of trying to fan the fires of sedition, adding: "The targeting of and the mass murder of innocent citizens reflects the bankruptcy, frustration, and miserable failure of the terrorists to accomplish their wicked goals to impede the progress and reconstruction of Iraq." Meanwhile, RFE/RL has learned that Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army has carried out a series of kidnappings of Sunnis in Baghdad in recent days. The victims, all reportedly Sunni men, were tortured and beaten before being released. KR
...AS ANSAR AL-SUNNAH ARMY CLAIMS ATTACKS
The Ansar Al-Sunnah Army claimed responsibility for a spate of car bomb attacks in Baghdad on 22-23 June in a number of Internet statements attributed to the group on 23 June (http://www.tajdeed.org.uk). The group said it carried out the attacks in cooperation with the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Mujahedin Army. A statement posted to another website (http://Islamic-f.net/vb) said the three groups "Have pledged to move forward, hand in hand, in the path of jihad in God's cause to strike the nonbelievers and their helpers with an iron fist until the spine of the nonbelievers breaks, their claws are trimmed, and their deceitfulness is responded to leaving the enemy defeated and crushed by the will of God." The statement claimed: "The three groups are not responsible for any destructive operations targeting innocent people and that tarnish the taintless image of jihad." Dozens of civilians were killed and wounded in the two days of attacks, international media reported. KR
IRAQI HIGHER EDUCATION MINISTRY SEEKS HELP OF EXPATRIATE ACADEMICS
Sami al-Mudhafar met with exiled Iraqi scientist Assaf Fadhal al-Assaf to discuss a proposed conference for Iraqi expatriate scientists and educators in Baghdad, "Al-Zaman" reported on 23 June. The conference will seek to lure expatriates back to Iraq following a "massive brain drain" that has seen the most qualified professionals leave the country over the past 30 years, and most notably in the past two years. Al-Mudhafar said that Iraq needs "deeds and not words" to save the higher education system from collapse. Al-Assaf argued that expatriate academics can make a contribution to rebuilding the country. "Iraqi scientists abroad are very homesick and eager to contribute to the efforts to revive higher education and scientific research in the new Iraq," he said. Al-Mudhafar said that Iraq "would open all doors available to anyone making a contribution" to the ministry's institutes, colleges, and universities, "Al-Zaman" reported. KR