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Newsline - June 30, 2005


CHINESE PRESIDENT CALLS ON RUSSIA TO QUADRUPLE TRADE
Hu Jintao arrived in Russia on 30 June on a four-day visit during which he will meet with President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials to discuss coordination of the two countries' foreign policies and the strengthening of economic and trade cooperation, ITAR-TASS and Xinhua reported. Hu will also sign with Putin "a joint declaration of world order in the 21st century" and will take part in the Novosibirsk conference of leaders from Russian and Chinese border regions. In an interview with ITAR-TASS ahead of the visit, Hu called on Russia to make a "giant leap" in bilateral trade and to quadruple the present $20 billion in turnover by 2010. On 3 July, Hu will go to Kazakhstan for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and on 6 July will fly along with Putin to the G-8 summit in Scotland. VY

PUBLIC FIGURES PUBLISH LETTER SUPPORTING COURTS IN KHODORKOVSKII CASE
A group of leading Russian actors, artists, and athletes published an open letter in "Izvestiya" on 28 June in which they charge that since ex-Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii was found guilty there has been an "intentional creation of tension against this case depicting [the verdict] as a political one." They said the judiciary system in Russia "is imperfect" but said discussion of the trial should not compromise the whole Russian judicial system and, therefore, the state. As for Khodorkovskii, the authors of the letter say that "big money" should not impact on policy or put someone above the law. "Dirty hands cannot do good deeds," it stated. The letter was signed by ballerina Anastasia Bolochkova; actors Vladimir Zeldin and Aleksandr Kolyagin; singers Alekansdr Rosenbaum and Aleksandr Buinov; filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin; fashion designer Vyacheslav Yudashkin; and Olympic champions Alina Kabaeva and Vladislav Tretyak. Explaining why he signed the letter, cosmonaut Georgii Grechko told Ekho Moskvy on 28 June that some media publications that defended Khodorkovskii "were well paid" and that now it is time for the other side to speak its mind. "Khodorkovskii and other oil people get rich as they do not pay taxes. In Norway they have been extracting oil for 30 years and still have no billionaires," Grechco said. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Nobel Prize for literature laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn earlier this month also condemned the campaign in defense of Khodorkovskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005). VY

RUSSIA TO CONTINUE NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRAN REGARDLESS OF U.S. OBJECTIONS...
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is on a visit to the Middle East, said in a 29 June interview with the Beirut-based weekly "Al-Watan al-Arabi" that Russia will proceed with the transfer of nuclear technology to Iran despite U.S. concerns that Tehran could use it to develop nuclear weapons. "Our future policy in cooperation with Iran in the area of the peaceful use of nuclear energy will be built up based on bilateral agreements and taking into account the decisions of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, but not specific evaluations by third countries," the Foreign Ministry's website reported (http://www.mid.ru). On 28 June, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a foreign-aid bill for 2006 in which aid to Russia is linked to Moscow stating that it will not help Tehran with its nuclear- and missile-development programs, thomas.loc.gov and RIA-Novosti reported. In the same interview, Lavrov said, "All assertions that Russia is facilitating the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran are absolutely unfounded." In Moscow, Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said "Russia should demand that its U.S. partners produce comprehensive proof [that Iran is developing nuclear weapons].... If they fail we will conclude that U.S. sanctions are a tool to pressure disagreeable regimes and [a form of] dishonest competition against Russian companies." VY

...WILL BID FOR CONSTRUCTION OF MORE REACTORS FOR TEHRAN...
Aleksandr Rumyantsev, the chief of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, announced on 29 June that Russia is ready to bid for more contracts on new nuclear reactors, in addition to the one being built in Bushehr, the Voice of Russia reported. "When Iran announces new tenders to construct nuclear reactors, we'll take part in them," he said. Iran has plans to build six additional reactors. Meanwhile, asked whether the election of ultraconservative and anti-Western Mahmud Ahmadinejad as Iranian president will change Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation, Lavrov said on 28 June in The Hague (en route to the Middle East): "I don't see any reasons why should we alter our cooperation in the peaceful use of the atom," Reuters reported. VY

...AND SUPPLY MISSLES TO SYRIA
In the same interview with "Al-Watan al-Arabi," Foreign Minister Lavrov said Moscow will continue to supply missile systems to Damascus, as Russia does not think such supplies will escalate tension in the Middle East. Lavrov rejects Israeli concerns that such supplies can jeopardize Israel's national security and further destabilize the region. "Syria, like other countries, has a legitimate right to self-defense," he said, according to the Foreign Ministry's website (http://www.mid.ru). "By supplying weapons we are not doing anything to bring instability in the Middle East as it comes in compliance with our international obligations," he said. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER ADDRESSES ISLAMIC CONFERENCE
Speaking at the session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) in Sana, Yemen, on 29 June, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that dialogue between Christian and Islamic civilizations is a priority for Russia's foreign policy, RIA-Novosti reported. He said that close contacts between Russia and the OIC were established in 2003 when President Putin attended an OIC session in Malaysia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2003). Now, Russia and the OIC are working to set up a "strategic vision group" among Russian Muslims that should include prominent public figures from Russia and the Islamic world. Speaking the same day at a press conference in Sana, Lavrov said Russia is home to some 20 million Muslims and considers Islam a great religion, therefore Moscow is "against efforts to confuse the fight against terrorism as a battle against religion," RIA-Novosti reported. VY

DUMA APPROVES SWEEPING ELECTION LAW CHANGES IN SECOND READING...
The State Duma on 29 June voted 322 to 66 to approve in the second reading major changes proposed by President Putin to election law, Russian media reported. Some of the amendments bring existing legislation in line with a recently adopted law on the formation of the Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2005). In addition, the package lowers the acceptable percentage of invalid nominating signatures for candidates or parties from 25 percent to 10 percent, making it easier, critics claim, for election commissions to find a pretext for excluding opposition forces from the ballot. Another amendment would allow Duma deputies to be stripped of their seats if they quit the faction representing the party they were elected to represent. Election days for regional and local legislatures would be fixed for the second Tuesdays of March or October. Political parties that win representation in the State Duma would receive five rubles from the budget for every vote received in the parliamentary election, a tenfold increase in state financing. Deputies also passed an amendment that preserves the "against all candidates" option for federal elections but would permit regional lawmakers to pass laws removing the "against all" line from the ballot for local and regional elections. All amendments proposed by opposition Duma deputies were rejected. Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov (independent) slammed the package as a "state coup," NTV and REN-TV reported, as well as "the end of democratic elections in Russia," according to gazeta.ru. LB

...BUT REJECTS PROPOSAL THAT OPENED DOOR TO THIRD TERM FOR PUTIN
The Duma on 29 June rejected a proposed amendment to election legislation that would have allowed a president to run for a third term, if he resigned before his second term ended and the first early presidential election were declared invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2005). Just 32 deputies voted for the amendment, well short of the 226 needed for a majority in the lower house of parliament, RIA-Novosti reported. Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, initially rumored to support such an amendment, on 27 June dismissed speculation that the change would be approved in the law governing presidential elections, REN-TV reported. Veshnyakov added, "Among responsible politicians in the Russian Federation, no one would create such an artificial situation, creating pseudo-early elections, in order to free up the opportunity for President Putin to run for president again," Veshnyakov said. LB

DUMA PLANNING MORE SCRUTINY OF NGO FINANCES
Duma leaders plan to adopt legislation to regulate the finances of NGOs, "Vremya novostei" reported on 29 June. Addressing the Russia-Belarus Union's recent Parliamentary Assembly in Homel, southeastern Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2005), Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov alluded to the role of NGOs in Ukraine's Orange Revolution, adding that Russian lawmakers will address this issue. Sergei Popov, chairman of the Duma Committee on Public Associations and Religious Organizations, told "Vremya novostei" that there are no plans to further regulate the political ideas espoused by NGOs, because current Russian law adequately addresses the problem of "extremist" groups. Popov asserted, however, that rules requiring legal entities to present financial statements to tax-collecting agencies need to be clarified for the "noncommercial sector." Aleksei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies, told "Vremya novostei" that "if you ban organizations or persecute them in any way, problems with human rights defenders and the Council of Europe will certainly arise." In contrast, Makarkin argued, stricter financial oversight of NGOs would allow the authorities to close down an organization while telling critics in the West that the action was motivated purely by violations of accounting rules. LB

COURT BANS NATIONAL BOLSHEVIK PARTY
The Moscow Oblast Court on 29 June ordered the liquidation of the organization known as the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), citing various violations of the law on political parties, Russian media reported. The court found in favor of the Moscow Oblast Prosecutor's Office, which charged that the party's leaders had for several years not submitted reports on the NBP's activities to the agency that registers parties; the group called itself a party despite not being legally recognized as such (having repeatedly been denied registration by the Justice Ministry); and various NBP members participated in extremist organizations. NBP leader Eduard Limonov described the court's action as without precedent during the past 20 years and said it heralded "an epoch of repression, and persecution, and slaughter, and murder, and prisons," NTV reported. Limonov vowed to ignore the ruling and appeal the decision through the Russian judiciary and eventually to the European Court of Human Rights. "Izvestiya" noted on 30 June that the NBP is registered as an inter-regional organization and quoted NBP press secretary Aleksandr Averin as saying "the authorities cannot ban the activities of the National Bolshevik Party," because they have never permitted that party to function. LB

POTENTIAL BUYERS LINE UP FOR 'MOSKOVSKIE NOVOSTI'
Menatep shareholder and "Moskovskie novosti" owner Leonid Nevzlin confirmed on 29 June that several potential buyers, whom he declined to name, have expressed interest in buying the weekly, lenta.ru reported. He said the sale will be completed by the end of July. Nevzlin announced plans to sell after Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev hired controversial new deputy editors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005) without consulting him. Lenta.ru quoted Nevzlin as vowing to sell to someone who will "continue to defend free speech." "I will sell it for $1 if need be. [The price] is not important," he said. Meanwhile, Aleksandr Kolodnyi confirmed on 29 June that his Svoboda Slova company would like to purchase "Moskovskie novosti," gazeta.ru reported. Svoboda Slova's holdings include the newspaper "Rodnaya gazeta" and the magazine "Politicheskii zhurnal." Gazeta.ru noted that Kolodnyi has close ties to the so-called red oligarch, Gennadii Semigin, who was expelled from the Communist Party last year for allegedly conspiring with the Kremlin to split that party. Union of Journalists General Secretary Igor Yakovenko asserted on 29 June that "Politicheskii zhurnal" is "very strongly" dependent on the presidential administration, Ekho Moskvy reported. LB

ARMENIAN UTILITY DENIES RUMORED RUSSIAN ACQUISITION
Armenian Electricity Network spokeswoman Margarit Grigorian refuted on 29 June rumors of negotiations over a possible acquisition of the national utility by Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The rumors stem from the recent arrival in Yerevan of senior EES executives. Grigorian stressed that "the distribution network was not and will not be for sale," and added that unnamed Armenian Energy Ministry officials also dismissed the rumors and explained that EES executives were in Yerevan to participate in the annual meeting of the governing board of the Metsamor nuclear power station. In addition to owning Armenia's largest thermal power plant and several hydroelectric plants, EES also manages the nuclear power plant. The Armenian Electricity Network, which handles electricity distribution throughout the country, was privatized in 2002 and sold for $40 million to the British-registered Midland Resources Holding company. Russian media reports have speculated that EES is considering acquiring the network for some $80 million. RG

FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY CONDEMNS PROPOSED CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
The former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) issued a statement on 29 June strongly condemning the government's proposed constitutional amendments, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Armenian Pan-National Movement Deputy Chairman Aram Manukian vowed to "organize a serious campaign" to defeat the amendments. The party, now in opposition, ruled Armenia from 1991-98 and was closely tied to former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. The party has consistently opposed any attempt to alter the current constitution, which it drafted in 1995. Changes to the Armenian Constitution were important preconditions to Armenian ascension to the Council of Europe in January 2001 and are seen as essential to correcting the inordinate concentration of power in the executive branch. The proposed amendments would specifically curb the president's power to appoint judges and government ministers and would transform the post of Yerevan mayor from a presidential appointment to an elected office. An earlier attempt to amend the constitution was defeated in a May 2003 national referendum. RG

TURKISH PRIME MINISTER ARRIVES IN AZERBAIJAN
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan began a two-day official visit to Azerbaijan on 29 June, Turan and Caucasus Press reported. Erdogan met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev on 30 June after participating in a ceremonial visit to a monument of late President Heidar Aliyev. Erdogan is also scheduled to meet with Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasizade and parliamentary speaker Murtuz Aleskerov during his visit. Erdogan, accompanied by some 250 Turkish businessmen, also participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for a new Turkish embassy in Baku and signed five bilateral agreements on trade, commerce, and educational cooperation. RG

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NEW LAW TO COMBAT HUMAN TRAFFICKING
The Azerbaijani parliament adopted a new law on 28 June to combat human trafficking, "Baku Today" reported. According to parliamentary Human Rights Committee Chairwoman Rabiyyat Aslanova, the new law calls for the appointment of a new "national coordinator" empowered to oversee the establishment of several "special rehabilitation centers" designed to aid victims of human trafficking. The Azerbaijani Criminal Code is also to be revised to include new penalties for human trafficking. Aslanova said that 283 people have been victims of human trafficking and 161 suspected traffickers were convicted in Azerbaijan last year. RG

GEORGIAN FINANCE MINISTER DISMISSED AMID WIDENING BRIBERY SCANDAL
During an emotional three-hour cabinet meeting on 29 June, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili dismissed Finance Minister Valeri Chechelashvili after a special Interior Ministry investigation arrested six senior tax administration officials the day before, Caucasus Press and Imedi-TV reported. Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili reported that the arrest of several senior Georgian tax officials on 28 June on suspicion of soliciting a 150,000-lari ($82,808) bribe from an unnamed foreign businessman has revealed a more serious level of corruption and abuse of office within the state tax department (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005). Although dismissed from his post after serving a mere four months as finance minister, Chechelashvili, a former Georgian ambassador to Russia, is expected to be appointed to a diplomatic post. RG

INTERIOR MINISTRY FORCES DISPERSE PROTEST IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA...
A detachment of special Interior Ministry forces dispersed a protest on 29 June in the village of Sadakhlo in the majority ethnic Azerbaijani-populated southern Georgian region of Marneuli, Caucasus Press reported. The protesters blocked the road to Armenia and attempted to storm the local police headquarters before being forcibly dispersed. The protest follows rising tension in the region after local ethnic Azerbaijani Imam Khaji Palangarov was reportedly kidnapped after a confrontation with local Georgian police chief Gocha Shubitidze several weeks earlier. RG

...AS GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIAL INVESTIGATES ETHNIC CONFLICT
Georgian parliamentary Human Rights Committee Chairwoman Elene Tevdoradze and representatives of the Ombudsman's Office arrived in the southern Georgian district of Tsalka on 29 June to investigate a recent surge in ethnic-based violence, Caucasus Press reported. Clashes between Georgian police units and local residents in the predominantly ethnic Armenian- and ethnic Greek-populated Tsalka district escalated with the 25 June wounding of an ethnic Armenian by police. Tevdoradze also plans to meet with an ethnic Armenian member of the Georgian parliament, Haik Melitonian, who was seriously injured after being assaulted by police in an earlier incident. A special-purpose unit from the Interior Ministry has been deployed in the area since last March after local residents clashed with ethnic Georgians who were resettled into the area from Adjara (se "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 March). RG

KAZAKH MINISTER COMMENTS ON PETROKAZAKHSTAN BID REPORTS
Commenting on recent reports that the Canadian oil company PetroKazakhstan is facing a merger or takeover bid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005), Kazakh Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik said in London on 29 June that the Kazakh government, which has priority right to purchase any oil asset for sale on its territory, will "consider any proposals submitted," Bloomberg reported. He noted, "We don't know anything about PetroKazakhstan being for sale, but they would have to agree on this issue with the government." Shkolnik also criticized the company, which is facing legal problems in Kazakhstan, where it conducts its drilling operations. "PetroKazakhstan ignores all government rulings." DK

EX-PRESIDENT'S SON DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN 17 JUNE KYRGYZ UNREST
In an interview with RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 29 June, Aidar Akaev, son of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, said that no one in the ex-president's family was involved in the brief seizure of the main government building in Bishkek on 17 June. The younger Akaev said that he knows Kyrgyz businessman Urmat Baryktabasov, who is being sought by Kyrgyz police in connection with the 17 June unrest, but said that their contacts in recent years were purely of a professional nature. Akaev stated, "Assertions that on 17 June Adil [Toigonbaev, the son-in-law of former President Akaev] and I were behind [Baryktabasov] are groundless. Adil doesn't know him at all. It's now fashionable to blame everything on our family." Additionally, Aidar Akaev said that he plans to return to Kyrgyzstan after the 10 July presidential election. DK

KYRGYZ COMMISSION SAYS EVERYTHING READY FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
Tuigunaly Abdraimov, head of Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission (CEC), announced on 29 June that all of the necessary preparations have been made for the 10 July presidential election, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Nearly 2.7 million ballots have been printed up and are being delivered to polling stations. Abdraimov also said that the organizations that have been accredited to observe the election include the OSCE (369 observers), the CIS (261), the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (73), and the National Democratic Institute (32). Abdraimov noted, however, that the CIS Election Monitoring Organization (CIS EMO) has been denied accreditation; he accused the CSI EMO of "blackmailing" the CEC with a 27 June statement that described delays in the accreditation process as politically motivated. DK

NO INFORMATION ON ALLEGED UZBEK UNREST LEADER, KYRGYZ OFFICIALS SAY
Sources in Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) told ITAR-TASS on 29 June that none of the asylum seekers currently registered in Kyrgyzstan goes by the name Parpiev. Qobil Parpiev has been described as one of the leaders of an armed uprising in Andijon, Uzbekistan on 12-13 May; Uzbek President Islam Karimov recently charged that Parpiev is hiding in Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005). But according to the SNB source, "There are no Parpievs either among the refugees or the group of 29 ethnic Uzbeks currently in custody at an investigation prison in Osh." DK

U.S. URGES KYRGYZSTAN NOT TO EXTRADITE ASYLUM SEEKERS
In a statement released on 29 June on the U.S. State Department's website (http://www.state.gov), the U.S. government called on Kyrgyzstan not to extradite any asylum seekers to Uzbekistan. The statement stressed, "The United States would strongly object to any decision to return the asylum-seekers to Uzbekistan in the absence of a careful review of their status by the Kyrgyz government, in consultation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees." It concluded, "We stand prepared to assist the Kyrgyz government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in reaching a determination of the status of these asylum seekers, and with their resettlement, with a view to ensuring they receive every possible protection." DK

TURKMEN CELL OPERATOR LOSES LICENSE AFTER PURCHASE BY RUSSIAN COMPANY
Turkmenistan's Communications Ministry has revoked the license of Barash Communications Technologies, Inc. (BCTI) only days after Russian mobile-phone operator Mobile TeleSystems (MTS) announced the purchase of a majority stake in BCTI (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005), ITAR-TASS reported on 29 June. The Communications Ministry argued that the deal violated Turkmen legislation on license transfers, but MTS said that the objections are based on a misunderstanding, Russia's "Vedomosti" reported. The company plans to hold talks with Turkmen officials in Ashgabat on 2 July. Analysts queried by "Vedomosti" said that if MTS is unable to reach an agreement on the matter with Turkmenistan's leadership it will have to try international arbitration. DK

REPORTS SAY UZBEK INTERIOR MINISTER IN MOSCOW FOR TREATMENT
Zohir Almatov is in Moscow for medical treatment, fergana.ru reported on 29 June citing an anonymous source in Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry. Harakat, a news agency run by the unregistered Uzbek opposition party Birlik, carried a similar report the same day. Fergana.ru cited sources in Tashkent and Moscow as saying that Almatov was in serious condition after suffering a stroke. Uzbekistan's Interior Ministry told the agency that Almatov is on leave outside the country. The reports of the minister's health problems could not be independently confirmed. DK

BELARUS INTRODUCES FEES FOR BORDER CROSSING
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a decree on 29 June allowing the oblast councils and the Minsk City Council to collect fees from Belarusian citizens and foreigners crossing the Belarusian border, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The individual fee should not exceed 6,375 rubles (nearly $3). "This [decree] only testifies that our state is insufficiently civilized. It also means that for foreigners our state will become even less attractive from the viewpoint of tourist and business trips," Syarhey Balykin, a commentator for the "Belorusskiy rynok" weekly, told RFE/RL. "I think there is also hatred from the side of the authorities toward those citizens who travel abroad for vacation. High-ranking state officials may not travel to Europe -- first, they are not invited; second, there is a list of officials banned from traveling there," former Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Sannikau commented. JM

BELARUSIAN LEGISLATURE PUTS MORE CURBS ON POLITICAL PARTIES
The Chamber of Representatives on 29 June amended a law on political parties, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. If the amendments are passed by the upper house, the Council of the Republic, and signed by the president, they will impose more restrictions on the activities of political parties in the country. In particular, the bill introduces a new punitive measure -- suspension of a political party for a period from one to six months -- in addition to the official warnings or liquidation that may be administered under the current law. The bill requires political parties to open chapters in Minsk and more than half of Belarus's six regions within six months following registration. The bill also prohibits parties from accepting donations from foreign nationals, states, and organizations, as well as stateless persons, anonymous donors, legal minors, religious organizations, and legal entities registered less than 12 months prior to making a donation. JM

NGO URGES DEUTSCHE WELLE TO SPEAK BELARUSIAN
Aleh Trusau, chairman of the Frantsishak Skaryna Belarusian Language Society, urged Germany's international broadcaster Deutsche Welle to launch a radio program about Belarus in Belarusian, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported on 29 June. Trusau's appeal follows the broadcaster's announcement of a plan to launch a 15-minute daily program, called the "Belarusian Chronicle," in Russian in October. "[Deutsche Welle broadcasts in Russian] would plunge Belarusian listeners deeper into the Russian information space and increase their isolation from Europe," Trusau said in a letter to Deutsche Welle. "There are a lot of Russian-language sections in international broadcasters -- Voice of America, BBC, Deutsche Welle -- that employ emigrants from Russia with an imperial view of life. For them Ukraine and Belarus are not full-fledged nations," Trusau told RFE/RL. JM

RUSSIA NOT TO CONTROL UKRAINE'S GAS PIPELINES
Naftohaz Ukrayiny head Oleksiy Ivchenko told journalists in Kyiv on 29 June that the International Consortium for the Control and Development of the Gas Transport System of Ukraine will not operate Ukraine's gas-transport system, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Ivchenko was commenting on his talks with Russia's Gazprom in Moscow the previous day. Ivchenko said the consortium will be reorganized to construct and subsequently operate a Bohorodchany-Uzhhorod pipeline, a part of the Novopskov-Uzhhorod gas pipeline. Russia and Ukraine set up the consortium in 2003 on a parity basis, with an eye to operating the entire gas-transport system in Ukraine. It was Gazprom that reportedly asked for the liquidation of the consortium, following Ukraine's refusal to buy 7.8 billion cubic meters of Russian gas stored in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005). Ivchenko also said Ukraine will be able to pay fully in cash for Turkmen gas under a new contract signed last week (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 29 June 2005). The new contract, according to Ivchenko, will allow Naftohaz Ukrayiny to save $754 million on Turkmen gas supplies in comparison with the old contract. JM

UKRAINIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL PESSIMISTIC ON IMMEDIATE NATO ENTRY PROSPECTS
National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko said in an interview with Interfax on 29 June that Ukraine may hold a referendum on NATO membership in the future, as the current constitution does not allow the country to belong to any military alliance. Poroshenko admitted that at present no more than 35 percent of the population supports the idea of NATO membership. "Public-opinion polls indicate that if a referendum [on NATO membership] were held tomorrow, the majority of the population in Ukraine would not support it," he said. "As things stand in 2005, NATO membership is not on the agenda." Touching upon the well-publicized reprivatization of the Kryvorizhstal steel mill, Poroshenko said the government expects to obtain no less than $2.4 billion for the company at a repeat auction, that is, three times as much as paid by Ukrainian oligarchs Rynat Akhmetov and Viktor Pinchuk in 2004. JM

UKRAINIAN INVESTIGATORS TO INVITE PUBLIC FIGURES FOR INTERROGATION THROUGH MEDIA
Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko said in an interview with Interfax on 29 June that his ministry is doing the right thing in summoning former and current officials for questioning through the media. "Frankly speaking, I see no problems here," Lutsenko said. "At first people thought that calling for questioning was nearly tantamount to conviction. Today people have got used to this practice and know, for example, that the police have asked [former Interior Minister Mykola] Bilokin for interrogation. Where should we send a notice to him if he has 12 dachas in Ukraine as a minimum? Where should I send a notice to [former Prime Minister Viktor] Yanukovych, who now can be seen more often in Moscow than Kyiv, even though he has a multitude of houses in Donetsk and Transcarpathia? [Therefore] we invite him through the media." JM

SERBIAN COURT SENTENCES FORMER SECURITY OFFICERS OVER ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
The Belgrade District Court on 29 June sentenced Milorad Ulemek (aka Legija) and five other former members of the paramilitary police unit known as the Red Berets to 15 years each in prison for their roles in the 1999 assassination attempt on opposition Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic, which left four of his aides dead, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Several other high-ranking officials under former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic also received prison terms. Radomir Markovic, who headed state security at the time of the crime, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to hide evidence linking the state to the assassination attempt. Mihalj Kertes, who headed the customs agency under Milosevic, received a three-year sentence in connection with his links to the crime. Draskovic, who is now Serbia and Montenegro's foreign minister, sharply criticized the sentences as a mockery of justice. He argued that those linked to the murder of four men should have received the maximum sentence, which is 40 years in prison. Legija is also reportedly the prime suspect in the 2003 killing of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2004). PM

U.S. LIFTS LAST ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
U.S. President George W. Bush removed the few remaining economic sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro on 29 June, the private Beta news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005). Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said the next day that the decision is a "clear sign...that bilateral relations [between Washington and Belgrade]...are moving forward significantly." He noted that the United States is one of Serbia's most important trading partners and the leading foreign investor. Bush's decision will remove customs barriers for over 4,000 Serbian products on the U.S. market, Labus added. PM

CROATIAN DEPUTIES BLOCK BOSNIAN MEDIA LAW...
Four out of five ethnic Croatian deputies in the upper house of Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament, the House of Nations, declared on 29 June that the proposed media law is in conflict with the "vital national interests" of Bosnia's Croats, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 17, and 20 May 2005). A three-member commission from the House of Nations must now determine whether to accept or reject the claim that the proposed legislation indeed violates the Croats' vital interests. If they fail to agree, the case goes to the Constitutional Court. If the court agrees with the Croats, the legislation is blocked. If the court disagrees, the legislation goes back to the parliament for approval. Passing new broadcasting legislation and reforming the police on a nonethnic basis are prerequisites for starting Stabilization and Association talks with the EU. The Croats want each ethnic group to have its own television channel. PM

...AS HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SINGLES OUT BOSNIAN SERBS
High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Brussels on 29 June that the Republika Srpska is the main obstacle to Bosnia-Herzegovina's integration into the EU, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 1 and 22 June 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 June 2005). He argued that the most important issue is instituting police reform on a nonethnic basis. Ashdown said that the next move lies not with Brussels but with Banja Luka. The Bosnian Serbs consider the proposed police reform unconstitutional and a threat to the sovereignty of the Republika Srpska because the proposed police administrative boundaries will cross entity lines and deny each entity control of its own security forces. PM

MOLDOVAN PARTY WANTS COALITION FOR FAIR ELECTIONS
The Our Moldova Alliance (MNA) on 29 June called on Moldovan political parties and nongovernmental organizations to set up a coalition for holding fair and free elections in the country, Moldovan news agencies reported. MNA leader Serafim Urechean told journalists in Chisinau that such a coalition should work not only during the 10 July Chisinau mayoral election but also later. "The need for such a coalition is obvious. The [6 March] parliamentary elections were memorable for gross violations of legislation, and such a style of the organization and holding of elections is persisting in the current mayoral campaign," BASA quoted Urechean as saying. Urechean charged that the ruling Communist Party is promoting its candidate for Chisinau mayor, Zinaida Grecianii, by using administrative resources. The MNA supports Dumitru Braghis in the Chisinau mayoral election. JM

AUTHORITIES SET TO CURB UNLICENSED TRADE IN CHISINAU
Chisinau authorities have finally heeded the request from city markets to put a stop to unlicensed street trading, Infotag reported on 29 June. Chisinau Deputy Mayor Mihai Furtuna told journalists that last week the mayoralty formed "four squads" involving city trade department officials, veterinary services, and municipal police to convince street traders to obtain licenses and sell their goods only in designated areas. "The main reason for [the problem] is that street traders claim that it is the only way for them to earn a decent living as they can't afford to pay the market fees," Furtuna said. "Besides, they claim that the same item bought on the street is much cheaper than its market-sold counterpart, whose price includes market fees and taxes." JM

AZERBAIJANI LEADERSHIP IGNORING ELECTION PRESSURE
At its final session before the two-month summer recess, the Azerbaijani parliament approved on 28 June in the second and third (final) readings 43 separate election law amendments proposed by President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijani media reported.

Those amendments do not include the most important changes called for by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. The Azerbaijani opposition, which had similarly argued that changes are essential to prevent election fraud, immediately attributed the parliament's apparent imperviousness to Western pressure to the current leadership's determination to "falsify the elections and create a puppet parliament," as Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar told Turan on 29 June.

The changes deemed most necessary by both the Council of Europe and the opposition focus on the composition of the election commissions responsible for counting and tallying votes. In line with amendments to the law passed two years ago in the run-up to the October 2003 presidential election, the opposition nominates six of the 15 members of the Central Election Commission, four of the nine members of regional election commissions, and two of the six members on local election commissions.

The opposition argues that, as such commissions reach decisions by a two-thirds majority, those ratios enable the authorities, with the support of nominally independent but pro-regime commission members, to manipulate the outcome of the vote. The opposition therefore demands equal representation on election commissions at all levels. The amended version of the law adopted in May 2003 provided for increasing opposition representation on election commissions, but only after the parliamentary elections due in late 2005.

The election-law amendments approved on 28 June leave the composition of election commissions unchanged. They also leave in force the provision that domestic NGOs that receive more than 30 percent of their funding from abroad may not monitor elections. The amendments do, however, include some key technical measures intended to ensure that elections are more democratic, such as reducing the deposit election candidates must pay to register, posting updated voter lists on the Internet, and cutting from five days to two days after the ballot the deadline for making public preliminary returns.

As indicated above, Azerbaijani opposition politicians reacted to passage of the amendments with anger and outrage. There has been no international reaction as of late on 29 June, but Council of Europe officials who visited Baku in recent months have made the point that even the most democratically formulated law cannot prevent fraud if the authorities are dead set on rigging the ballot.

The international community has, however, warned repeatedly that Baku will face international opprobrium if the November ballot (the precise date has not yet been announced) is deemed to be less than free, fair, and democratic. Speaking on 28 June in Gyanja, Azerbaijan's second-largest city, U.S. Ambassador Reno Harnish said that Washington "will issue a comprehensive warning" to the Central Election Commission and the Azerbaijani authorities if an attempt is made to falsify the vote.

Why the Azerbaijani leadership has essentially flouted the international community's recommendations can only be guessed at. If, as is widely believed, there is a covert battle for influence under way within the upper echelons of the leadership between the "reformist" and the "conservative" camp, then the decision not to make changes called for by the Council of Europe suggests that, at present, it is the latter camp which has the upper hand. Alternatively, it is conceivable that a senior official will seek to rationalize the decision by arguing that the decree issued by President Aliyev in May, which enumerates the penalties for any attempt to falsify the vote, is in itself adequate to ensure that the election is free and fair.

AFGHAN PRESIDENT SENDS LETTER TO RUSSIAN COUNTERPART...
Hamid Karzai sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for "mutual trust" between the two countries, the National Radio of Afghanistan reported on 28 June. Without referring to Putin's charge that insurgents trained inside Afghanistan were responsible for the unrest in Andijon, Uzbekistan, in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005), Karzai assured his Russian counterpart and the Russian people that "the government of Afghanistan will never allow the Afghan soil to be used as a base to carry out terrorist activities" elsewhere (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June and 28 June 2005). Describing his own country as a victim of terrorism, Karzai wrote that a "stable Central Asia free of terrorism and drug trafficking" was in Afghanistan's national interests. Karzai said that the strategic partnership between his country and the United States "not only does not negate our cooperation and close relations with other countries, but it must be understood as an important part of our policy." Karzai wrote that he hoped that Moscow will "stop the spread of suspicion and untrue beliefs" and that the two countries deal with each other "on the basis of facts." Despite "bitter experiences which resulted from the invasion of Afghanistan by the former Soviet Union [in 1979]" for the "historical interests of the peoples" of Afghanistan and Russia, "we need to look into the future" and implement "reasonable polices," Karzai wrote to Putin. AT

...AS KARZAI'S ADVISER EXPRESSES KABUL'S CONCERN, REGRET OVER PUTIN'S COMMENTS
Rangin Dadfar Spanta, who is Karzai's foreign-policy adviser, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 29 June that Kabul was reacting "with regret" to Putin's remarks. Repeating Karzai's comments in his letter to Putin, Spanta said that Afghanistan was the "biggest victim of international terrorism" and that fundamentalist terrorism destroyed Afghanistan in the past. Terrorist activities are "taking place in southern and eastern regions of Afghanistan," which is far from Central Asia, Spanta said (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 May 2005) and the areas adjacent to Uzbekistan are under the control of the Afghan government. Spanta attributed the unrest in Uzbekistan to "developments in Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan and also the proximity [of Uzbekistan] to democratic countries." According to Spanta, the activities of the neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda were "mainly against Afghanistan" and had "nothing to do with Central Asia." AT

KABUL YET TO INFORM ISLAMABAD ON FATE OF PAKISTANIS
The Afghan government has not "formally informed" Pakistan of the fate of three Pakistani nationals arrested in Afghanistan on accusations of plotting to kill former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman Jalil Abbas Jailani said on 27 June, the Lahore-based "Daily Times" reported on 29 June. Jailani said that no consular access was granted to the three men, who were arrested on 19 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June 2005). Khalilzad formally became the U.S. ambassador to Iraq on 21 June. AT

UNESCO TO FORM AFGHAN MEDIA COMMISSION
Addressing a seminar on the role of the media in the upcoming parliamentary elections on 28 June in Kabul, Information, Culture, and Tourism Minister Sayyed Makhdum Rahin said that UNESCO will establish a 15-member commission to assess the difficulties for the media in the country, Arman FM radio reported. Rahin said that in Afghanistan there is no censorship of the media; however, Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission head Sima Samar told the seminar that in some parts of Afghanistan where warlords are in charge, there is no independent media representation. According to information obtained by RFE/RL, the UNESCO-sponsored seminar will hold two working sessions in Paris and Kabul, respectively, and then will submit its recommendations to the Afghan government on ways to improve the media situation. AT

NEW HEAD OF AFGHAN PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE APPOINTED
Jawed Ludin has been appointed by presidential decree to head the Afghan president's office, National Radio of Afghanistan reported on 28 June. Since 2003 Ludin had worked as President Karzai's main spokesman. AT

KABUL POLICE COMMANDER APPOINTED
At the recommendation of the Afghan Interior Ministry and with the approval of President Karzai, Major General Abdul Jamil Jonbesh was appointed as the new security commander for Kabul Province, National Radio of Afghanistan reported on 28 June. The previous Kabul security commander, General Akram Khakrezwal, was killed in a suicide bombing of a mosque on 1 June in the southern city of Kandahar (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 June 2005). AT

NEW AFGHAN GOVERNOR ASSUMES POST IN GHAZNI
The newly appointed governor of south-central Ghazni Province, Hajji Sher Alam Ibrahimi, took office on 28 June, Pazhwak News Agency reported on 29 June. Ibrahimi was a mujahedin commander affiliated with Ittehad-e Islami of Abd al-Rab al-Rasul Sayyaf. He replaces Asadullah Khaled, who was earlier appointed as the governor of Kandahar Province in a reshuffle of four governors. AT

IRAN'S PRESIDENT-ELECT SAYS REVOLUTION WILL SWEEP THE WORLD...
President-elect Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on 28 June that his 24 June election was a "second revolution" for Iran, after the 1979 revolution that toppled the monarchy, and that it would destroy "the roots of injustice in the world," Radio Farda reported on 29 June. He told a gathering held to commemorate state officials assassinated over 25 years ago that "the time of the arrogance of a system of dominance and injustice" has come to an end, and "the waves of the Islamic Revolution" will soon "overwhelm" the world. It is not clear if these were foreign-policy guidelines. He said separately in a meeting in Tehran with Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the secretary of the Guardians Council, the body that confirms the legality of legislation and elections, that Iranians "stated very clearly in the elections that they want justice, dignity...[and] the elimination of poverty and corruption, and are tired of political games, useless tussles, and unseemly behavior," ISNA reported the same day. VS

...AND PRAISES KEY CLERICAL COUNCIL
President-elect Ahmadinejad also told Jannati that the Guardians Council, whose members are appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or proposed by the head of the judiciary and confirmed by parliament, is a body indirectly elected by Iranians to "safeguard [their] legitimate liberties and rights," ISNA reported the same day. The council "is a firm barrier against those who seek to appropriate the people's rights," he said. Without it, "those who have made fortunes overnight by illegitimate and incorrect means, would...trample on the people's rights," he said. Jannati has often denounced and threatened to reveal the sources of the illicit fortunes of unspecified state officials, alluding to corruption in the oil sector. Reformers have in turn criticized the way the council examines, then eliminates most hopefuls before elections, and accused it of restricting free elections. The council has also clashed several times with the current Interior Ministry, which has accused it of excessive and decisive meddling in the voting process. Ahmadinejad said, "those who act clean are not afraid of supervision." Jannati in turn expressed satisfaction that "you [Ahmadinejad] have been chosen as a committed and revolutionary" president, ISNA reported. VS

IRAN NUCLEAR POLICIES NOT TO CHANGE, SAYS PARLIAMENTARIAN
Alaeddin Borujerdi, the head of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in Tehran on 29 June that "the next government will continue the system's present policy of attaining peaceful nuclear energy," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 30 June, citing ILNA. He said a request by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that Iran should not resume uranium enrichment and related activities violates the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and Iran's plans to access "peaceful nuclear technology" go beyond "the present or future Iranian governments." Separately, European states are increasingly pessimistic about reaching a deal with Tehran over its nuclear program, the "Financial Times" reported on 30 June, citing unnamed diplomats in Brussels, while U.S. support for talks has "noticeably declined." It will now be more difficult to persuade the United States to "go further in helping out," the daily quoted an unnamed EU official as saying. If Iran rejects the EU's proposed compromises, to be presented in August, EU officials will push for unspecified resolutions against it at the International Atomic Energy Agency, then the UN Security Council, the daily added, citing "officials." VS

PRESS GROUP WANTS NEW PRESIDENT TO COME CLEAR ON FREEDOMS...
A spokesman for the Association in Defense of Press Freedoms urged President-elect Ahmadinejad on 29 June to clarify his position on "the free flow of information and the freedom of expression and the press," ISNA reported the same day. Journalist Mashallah Shamsolvaezin said the group met in Tehran that day to consider the consequences of Ahmadinejad's election. Ahmadinejad is considered very conservative. Shamsolvaezin said the group will ask the president "to clearly state his position, without any ambiguity" on the "rights set out in the constitution," and "state his respect for the constitution on the freedom of expression and free flow of information," ISNA reported. He said the closure [on 20 June] of "Eqbal," a reformist daily, was not "a positive sign" in the "horizon of future interaction" between the press and authorities. Shamsolvaezin said members of his group intend on 5 August to present Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri, a prominent government critic, with a press prize at his home in Qom, ISNA reported. Montazeri was under house arrest between 1997 and 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003). VS

...WHILE WRITERS MEET WITH EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARIANS
Iranian writers and political activists met with members of the European Parliament at a seminar in Brussels on 29 June and urged them to help bring democracy to Iran, Radio Farda reported the same day. Reza Moini of Reporters Without Borders told the seminar that the European Union should continue to talk to Iran, but this should be conditional on the release of dissidents currently jailed in Iran. Helene Flautre, a Green member of the European Parliament, called for the immediate release of two prominent dissidents, Akbar Ganji and Nasser Zarafshan. Simin Behbahani, an Iranian novelist and poet, said, "we will fight to the death for freedom and democracy, but in this struggle, we need the European Union and international community, and their support," Radio Farda reported. In Tehran on 29 June, legislator Reza Talai-Neek warned that the European response to Iran's recent elections has been "cool" and this "shows a change in the European approach to Iran," and possible "challenges" for Iran in the nuclear dossier and human rights areas, the "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on 30 June. VS

KIRKUK POLICE CHIEF DENIES BADR FORCES IN IRAQI CITY
Kirkuk police chief Major General Sherko Shakir has denied reports that militiamen from the Badr Brigades are in the city, peyamner.com reported on 29 June. "As far as we know, there have been no armed men from the Al-Badr army who have come to Kirkuk," Shakir said, adding: "We have a deal with the Shi'a and our relationship is very good. Therefore, there is no need for their armed men to come to Kirkuk." Tension has mounted in Kirkuk in recent weeks after U.S. officials said that Kurdish security forces were arbitrarily detaining Arabs and Turkomans there. Shi'a from both communities live in Kirkuk. Shakir, a Kurd, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq in a 29 June interview that terrorists have flooded the city from other nearby areas in an effort to escape U.S. and Iraqi security forces. Meanwhile, deputy Kirkuk police chief Turhan Yusuf Abd al-Rahman (a Turkoman) has reportedly "disappeared" in recent days, according to Iraqi media reports. Some reports indicate Abd al-Rahman fled to Turkey. Shakir had criticized Abd al-Rahman for remarks he made regarding the reports of arbitrary kidnappings by Kurds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2005). KR

IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER CONFIRMS U.S. TALKS WITH INSURGENTS
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari told reporters in San'a on 29 June that U.S. officials have entered into talks with insurgents "in limited geographical areas," Reuters reported the same day. Iraqi officials did not take part in the talks, he said. In Yemen attending the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit, al-Zebari told reporters that he held informal talks with officials from neighboring states about the influx of foreign fighters into Iraq. "Unfortunately, this terrorist wave is recruiting youth from Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other countries. There are several Yemenis who have been killed in battles while others have been arrested," al-Zebari said. He added that Yemeni officials have been cooperating with Iraq on the issue. KR

U.S. MILITARY SAYS NO MAJOR BATTLES IN IRAQ DURING OPERATION SWORD...
Multinational forces issued press releases on 29 and 30 June stating that "no major battles or air strikes" took place during the two days of operations to drive insurgents from an area between Hadithah and Hit. Thirteen suspected insurgents were detained during "cordon and knock" operations on 30 June. Several hundred mortar and artillery rounds have also been discovered in addition to rifles and various bomb-making materials. Two hidden and operable roadside bombs were discovered in Hit on 30 June, according to a press release. One hundred Iraqi soldiers are reportedly "fully integrated" with U.S. Army and Marine units taking part in the operation. KR

...AS AL-ZARQAWI'S GROUP, ANSAR AL-SUNNAH MOCK OPERATION
Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn posted an Internet statement (http://www.tajdeed.org.uk) on 28 June mocking U.S. and Iraqi forces for launching Operation Sword, the latest operation in western Iraq. "Here come the nonbelievers with their sullied sword broken in Al-Qa'im, Tal Afar, and other cities. What campaign are they seeking when they don't even have control over Baghdad," the statement said. It accused the Shi'ite-led transitional government of advising its "Crusader master to strike the Sunnis in Al-Anbar and kill as many of the righteous [Sunnis] as it pleased," it continued. "So many meaningless names they have given to these operations in the hope to change the apparent reality of defeat." The statement further claimed that the "convoy of our sheikh Osama bin Laden...is on the road to truth." A statement by the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army posted to the same website on 28 June addressed U.S. forces, saying: "We say our mujahedin, positioned throughout [Hit and Hadithah] patiently await you.... We will show you what will harm you and we will chop you into pieces with the same sword that you raised against us. God is our supporter, while you have no supporter." KR

JORDANIAN OFFICIAL DISCUSSES FORGED IRAQI PASSPORTS
Jordanian Colonel Isam Hijazin, director of the Al-Karamah border center between Jordan and Iraq, told the Amman daily "Al-Arab al-Yawm" in an interview published on 29 June that 150 forged Iraqi passports are discovered among travelers crossing into Jordan every day. He estimated that some 3,500 travelers cross the border in each direction daily. Hijazin said that one person arrested by Jordanian border security on 28 June attempted to change passports seven times in an effort to cross into Jordan. Hijazin said that despite the large amount of traffic, people tend to pass through the border quickly, spending an average of five minutes to complete their transactions. He credited the speed to the establishment of a dedicated travel lane for families, and a special lane for shipping vehicles. KR

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