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Newsline - May 3, 2006


EU TELLS RUSSIA THAT GAZPROM'S MONOPOLY STATUS COULD HARM DEALS IN EUROPE
The EU told Russia on May 2 that the state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom will not face discrimination when investing in the 25-member union, Reuters reported the same day. But in a joint letter from the European Commission and the EU's Austrian presidency, Brussels said Gazprom's export monopoly in Russia could be an obstacle given the union's competition rules. "The rules applied to Gazprom will be no different to those applied to ... other companies, notably under the competition rules of the EU treaty, and ... they will be applied in exactly the same manner," the letter said. The EU urged Moscow to allow European companies to invest in the Russian energy sector and open up its gas pipeline network to competition. "The fact that Gazprom is the exclusive exporter of gas from Russia to the EU, when other Russian companies and foreign joint ventures with gas reserves would otherwise be in a position to supply the EU market, will be a significant fact" in competition reviews of any Gazprom deals, the statement said. BW

RUSSIA OPPOSED TO RENEGOTIATING RENT FOR BLACK SEA FLEET
Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said on May 3 that Russia is opposed to renegotiating the rent Moscow pays for its Black Sea Fleet base in Ukraine, Interfax reported. "Reconsidering provisions such as the size and term of our rent is out of the question. It may result in a dangerous review of a wide range of issues, which does not meet the interests of either party," Karasin said. "The underlying agreements on deployment of the Russian fleet in Ukraine have stood the test of time and remain our foundation," Karasin said, referring to a 1997 rent deal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29 and June 2, 1997). Karasin spoke on the eve of a session of a Russian-Ukrainian bilateral sub-commission on Black Sea issues. BW

LAWYER SAYS JAILED FORMER YUKOS CEO IN HOSPITAL...
Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been hospitalized at the correctional facility where he is being incarcerated, Interfax reported on May 3. "Mikhail Khodorkovsky is at the medical unit of the Krasnokamensk general security penitentiary for medical reasons," lawyer Nataliya Terekhova told Interfax. She would not elaborate on the reasons for the hospitalization. In April, another convict allegedly slashed Khodorkovskii's face, requiring stitches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 2006). BW

...AS MOSCOW COURT REFUSES TO REVIEW SENTENCE
The Moscow City Court declined on May 3 a request from Khodorkovsky's lawyers to review his sentence, ITAR-TASS reported. Genrikh Padva, the lawyer handling Khodorkovsky's request, said he was informed of the decision in a letter from the court's chairwoman, Olga Yegorova. "I have received a letter from the chairperson of the Moscow City Court, which said that there was no reason to revise the sentence passed on my client," Padva said. Khodorkovsky's lawyers have already appealed the decision to the Russian Supreme Court, ITAR-TASS reported. In May 2005, the Meshchansky District Court sentenced Khodorkovsky to nine years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2005). The Moscow City Court later reduced the sentence to eight years. BW

GOVERNMENT SUBMITS BILL ON TAX AMNESTY TO DUMA
The Russian government on May 3 submitted a bill on tax amnesties to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS reported. If passed into law, the bill will allow individuals an amnesty on undeclared income earned before January 1, 2005, provided they pay a 13 percent tax on the income in question. BW

FEDERATION COUNCIL SPEAKER WARNS AGAINST MILITARY SOLUTION IN IRAN
Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov said on May 3 that a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear crisis is still possible, and he warned against military strikes, Interfax reported. "I want those who call for a military solution regarding Iran to remember September 11," he said, apparently suggesting that a military attack on Iran would encourage terrorism. Mironov reiterated Moscow's position that Tehran has the right to peaceful nuclear technology, under the control of International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards. "The problem of the Iranian nuclear dossier must be tackled in strict compliance with international law," Mironov said. BW

TENSIONS PERSIST IN ADYGEYA
President Putin's refusal to accept the letter of resignation tendered last month by Republic of Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12 and 18, 2006) has failed to defuse the tensions between the republic's Adyg/Cherkess minority and the Slavs, who account for up to 70 percent of Adygeya's total population of 445,000. The Union of Slavs of Adygeya vowed in a statement posted on April 28 on regnum.ru to continue campaigning for Adygeya's merger into the surrounding Krasnodar Krai. The union publicly expressed its disappointment that Putin did not accept Sovmen's resignation. Meanwhile, the NGO Cherkess Congress has written to Sovmen protesting alleged pressure and threats of physical reprisals, regnum.ru reported on April 27. It did not name the source of those threats. Representatives of dozens of public organizations, including one representing the Cossacks and a second representing the Armenian minority, issued a statement on 27 April publicly declining an invitation to meet with presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak to discuss possible successors to Sovmen, whose presidential term expires in January 2007, regnum.ru reported. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, PARLIAMENT SPEAKER AT ODDS OVER NATO, EU MEMBERSHIP
Parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian reaffirmed on May 2 his conviction that Armenia should eventually join NATO, but stressed that he sees this as a long-term, rather than an immediate goal, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. In an interview published in the daily "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" (FAZ) on April 19, Baghdasarian argued that, while Armenia has good relations with Russia, "Armenia's future is the EU and NATO," and "Russia must not block our way to Europe." That assertion reportedly angered President Robert Kocharian, who told the independent Armenian daily "Golos Armenii" that "Armenia is not going to join NATO," and does not aspire to EU membership either, Noyan Tapan reported on April 27. Kocharian stressed that according to the Armenian Constitution, it is the president who determines the country's foreign policy, adding that he expects an "explanation" from Baghdasarian. But Baghdasarian made clear on May 2 that he will pull his Orinats Yerkir party out of the government coalition rather than retract his statement of support for eventual NATO and EU membership. In his interview with the FAZ, Baghdasarian, who is 40, characterized Armenian politics as a fight between the older generation that retains a Soviet-mindset and the younger generation, and he predicted that attempts to falsify the outcome of the 2007 parliamentary and 2008 presidential ballots would lead to "great changes" in Armenia. LF

ANOTHER NGO CALLS FOR AZERBAIJANI AUTONOMOUS FORMATION IN ARMENIA
Another Azerbaijani NGO Azeri-Slav World has expressed support for the demand raised last month by the political organization Azerbaijan's Way for the creation of an autonomous district in Armenia to which those Azerbaijanis who were expelled from the then-Armenian SSR in the early 1950s or who fled in 1988-89 could return, echo-az.com reported on May 2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19, 2006). LF

PRESIDENT HINTS THAT GEORGIA MIGHT QUIT CIS
Addressing students in Kutaisi on May 2, Mikheil Saakashvili announced that he has asked the Georgian government to prepare within two months at the latest an assessment of whether Georgia benefits economically from CIS membership, Georgian media reported. He hinted that if that study showed that the benefits of CIS membership are negligible, "the Georgian people with its parliament and government" should opt for leaving the CIS. It is not clear whether Saakashvili meant that a referendum would be held on the issue. Georgia joined the CIS only in 1993, after appealing for Russian assistance to quash a comeback attempt by ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. On that occasion, Moscow made clear that only by joining the CIS could Georgia count on receiving electricity and natural gas from Russia. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SETS PERSONAL DEADLINE FOR RESTORING CONTROL OVER SOUTH OSSETIA...
Irakli Okruashvili told a talk show on the independent Imedi television channel late on May 1 that he will resign if Tbilisi fails to bring the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia back under its control by January 1, 2007, Georgian media reported. But he stressed that Tbilisi will try to achieve that objective peacefully, "with the support of our partners, especially the U.S." As Interior Minister, Okruashvili, who was born in South Ossetia, played a key role in the abortive Georgian offensive against the unrecognized republic in August 2004 (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 20, 2004). Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava on May 2 expressed concern at the implications of Okruashvili's statement, commenting that the January 1 deadline is "not entirely realistic," Caucasus Press reported. LF

...PROPOSES BAN ON RUSSIAN BEER IMPORTS
Okruashvili also proposed that Georgia ban imports of Russian beer, presumably in retaliation for the ban imposed by Russia in March on the import of Georgian wine, Caucasus Press reported on May 2. However, fellow government ministers took issue with him. Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli said Tbilisi is not even considering such a ban, while Minister for Economic Reform Kakha Bendukidze said the government would consider it only if experts determine that Russian beer contains substances that are harmful to human health. Meanwhile, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on May 3 construed Saakashvili's recent decision to give Okruashvili responsibility for finding alternative markets for Georgian wine as evidence of a covert redistribution of power within the Georgian government that has strengthened Okruashvili's position. Okruashvili himself told Imedi on May 2, however, that he does not aspire to the post of prime minister. On May 3, Noghaideli named Minister for European Integration Giorgi Baramidze, Okruashvili's predecessor as defense minister, a deputy prime minister, Caucasus Press reported. LF

MOTHER SAYS SHE WAS PRESSURED NOT TO PUBLICIZE DETAILS OF GEORGIAN BANKER'S DEATH
Irina Enukidze, whose son, United Georgian Bank staffer Sandro Girgvliani, was found beaten to death on the outskirts of Tbilisi in late January, told journalists on May 2 that unspecified people offered her a huge sum of money not to go public with new details of the killing, Caucasus Press reported. Girgvliani quarreled publicly hours before his death with two senior Interior Ministry officials, and four lower level officials from that ministry were arrested in March and charged with his murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7 and 14, 2006). Enukidze and Georgian NGOs believe those four are scapegoats, and continue to demand the arrest of the officials with whom Girgvliani quarreled and the dismissal of Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili, whom they accuse of shielding his subordinates. Also on May 2, Tbilisi prosecutor Giorgi Gviniashvili told journalists that the ongoing investigation has failed to establish that the four arrested officials, who have admitted to beating Girgvliani but deny they intended to kill him, were acting at the behest of an as yet unidentified mastermind, Caucasus Press reported. Gviniashvili said that if Enukidze reveals the identity of the people she claims sought to buy her silence, their role and motives will be investigated. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR DIVIDING INTERIOR MINISTRY
The opposition Right Wing parliament faction has called for the Interior Ministry to be disbanded and for three separate bodies to be established in its place: a municipal police force, a criminal police force, and a state security service, Caucasus Press reported on May 2. In addition, faction head Konstantine Guntsadze argued that Interior Minister Merabishvili should resign as he has failed to solve any high profile crime in which his subordinates are implicated. Human Rights ombudsman Sozar Subar called separately on May 2 for the creation of a municipal police force, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH JOURNALISTS TO SUE INFORMATION MINISTER, LAWYER SAYS
Lawyer Almat Zhusupov said in Almaty on May 2 that 10 former employees of the state-owned radio and television company Kazakhstan plan to file a defamation suit against Culture and Information Minister Ermukhamet Ertysbaev, "Kazakhstan Today" and Khabar reported. Zhusupov said the former employees of the company will ask for 1 billion tenges ($8 million) in damages for comments Ertysbaev recently made that allegedly impugn their professional abilities and patriotism. The Culture and Information Ministry's recent decision to replace Kazakhstan's management sparked a staff walkout (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24, 2006). Former journalists at the radio and TV company announced the same day that 123 employees quit after the ministry's decision. The journalists said that if they win their suit against Ertysbaev, whom they plan to sue as an official and not a private individual, they will donate the money to an orphanage. DK

SUSPECT IN MURDER OF KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER RECANTS TESTIMONY, WIFE SAYS
In a statement to Interfax-Kazakhstan on May 2, the wife of the leading suspect in the February murder of Kazakh opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006) said that her husband has recanted his confession to have organized the killing. Liudmila Ten, wife of former Senate administration head Erzhan Utembaev, told the news agency: "My husband, Erzhan Utembaev, has recanted his initial confession and does not plead guilty." Interior Minister Baurzhan Mukhamedzhanov announced on February 27 that Utembaev ordered Sarsenbaev's killing out of "personal enmity" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2006). The Interior Ministry, which recently announced that the investigation of the Sarsenbaev killing is nearly complete (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006), declined comment on Ten's statement, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

MOST KYRGYZ CABINET MEMBERS TENDER RESIGNATIONS...
All but two members of the Kyrgyz government tendered their resignations on May 2 in the wake of an April 28 parliamentary vote that found the performance of most ministers unsatisfactory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006), akipress.org reported. The only members of government who did not resign were Prime Minister Feliks Kulov and Tursun Turdumambetov, head of the State Property Committee. Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov told a news conference in Bishkek that he and other members of the government resigned because parliament was sending mixed signals, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Madumarov said that parliament "approved our plan of action, approved our report, but showed a lack of confidence in the officials who implemented these activities. This is just nonsense." DK

...WHICH KYRGYZ PRESIDENT REJECTS
Kurmanbek Bakiev told the cabinet at a meeting on May 2 that he refused to accept their resignations, Kabar reported. He said, "Yes, I have questions about [the cabinet's] work, but I feel that it should work more effectively and with better results." Bakiev said that frequent dismissals of ministers in the past has had a negative effect. He said, "I don't intend to adopt this practice. Endless hiring and firing has hurt the entire system of government. Either people don't want to go into government or we find that those who stay have poor qualifications." DK

EU VOICES CONCERN OVER DEMOCRACY IN KYRGYZSTAN
The German Embassy in Kyrgyzstan distributed a European Union statement on May 2 expressing concern about the threat violence poses to democracy in Kyrgyzstan, akipress.org reported. Noting the April 12 attack on Edil Baisalov, head of the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 13, 2006), and the murders of three members of parliament over the past year, the statement pointed to "worrying signs that elements with links to organized crime are trying to gain influence on political life and state institutions in Kyrgyzstan." The statement called on the Kyrgyz authorities to act "decisively and resolutely on the path of building a free democracy that expresses the will of the Kyrgyz people." DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT VISITS PAKISTAN...
Uzbek President Islam Karimov met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad on May 2 to discuss bilateral ties, UzA reported. The two sides signed a joint statement, a protocol on fighting terrorism, two intergovernmental agreements, and six memorandums of understanding, primarily on trade issues. Speaking in Tashkent before his departure for Pakistan, Karimov said that Pakistan "possesses great power in terms of its economy, population and, if you like, in terms of military and technical potential," Uzbek radio reported. Official Uzbek news agency UzA noted in its report on the visit that "following the Andijon events [in May 2005], at the UN General Assembly, Pakistan supported the position of Uzbekistan." Karimov's last visit to Pakistan took place in 1992. DK

...WHICH SECURES UZBEK SUPPORT FOR SCO BID
Musharraf said at a joint news conference in Islamabad on May 2 that Pakistan has asked for Uzbekistan's support for its application for permanent membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Pakistan TV 1 reported. Musharraf said, "And may I say that [President Karimov] was extremely gracious to spontaneously respond in the positive to support our full membership." The SCO currently comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan have observer status in the organization. DK

UZBEKISTAN MOVES TO EXPEL OF U.S.-BASED NGO
Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry filed a motion with a court in Tashkent on May 1 to shut down the Uzbekistan offices of the U.S.-based NGO Counterpart International, Ferghana.ru reported the next day. The ministry argues that the NGO has violated Uzbek law and its own charter. Ferghana.ru described Counterpart International's primary activities in Uzbekistan as support for civil society and health care. DK

RUSSIA'S GAZPROM REITERATES INTENTION OF TRIPLING GAS PRICE FOR BELARUS
Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said on May 2 that in the ongoing talks on gas supplies for 2007, Gazprom might ask Belarus to pay a minimum of $145 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas, AP and Interfax reported. "The reason we are starting the talks [with Belarus] now is so that we can complete them in good time," Kupriyanov noted. Belarus currently pays some $47 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. It is the only former Soviet republic for which the price of Russian gas has not risen in the past year. Kupriyanov said the previous decision to keep the gas price for Belarus unchanged was based solely on economic considerations. He added that Gazprom is still awaiting proposals from Minsk before settling on a new price. JM

UKRAINIAN ELECTION WINNERS TO BE COMPENSATED FOR EXPENSES
Ukraine's Central Election Commission Chairman Yaroslav Davydovych said on May 2 that the five parties that managed to overcome the 3 percent voting barrier and won parliamentary representation in the March 26 vote will be compensated for their election expenses, UNIAN reported. Davydovych said the Party of Regions (186 seats) spent 112 million hryvnyas ($22 million) on its election campaign; the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (129 seats), 13 million hryvnyas; Our Ukraine (81 seats), 74 million hryvnyas; the Socialist Party (33 seats), 35 million hryvnyas; and the Communist Party (21 seats), 8 million hryvnyas. Ukraine's election law stipulates that election winners are fully compensated for election expenses of up to 35 million hryvnyas ($7 million). JM

EU POISED TO CUT OFF TALKS WITH SERBIA
Speaking at a news conference in Brussels on May 2, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said it appears that Brussels has no alternative but to halt talks with Serbia on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, Reuters reported the same day. "The current facts are clear enough," he said. "We don't see Ratko Mladic in The Hague and, to our understanding, there is no full cooperation with the Hague tribunal. That means that we don't seem to have any other options than calling off the negotiations with Serbia on the Stabilization and Association Agreement." Serbia failed to meet an April 30 EU deadline for arresting and extraditing war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006). Rehn said he will consult with the Hague tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, before making a formal decision. BW

FORMER UN AMBASSADOR SAYS SERBIA HAS 'LOST' KOSOVA
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke said on May 2 that Serbia has lost Kosova and needs to accept that fact, B92 reported the same day. "I believe that Kosovo should receive independence but with absolute guarantees for property, and religious and cultural freedoms for minorities, firstly for the Serbs," Holbrooke said in an interview with B92. "The truth is that Serbia has lost Kosovo. It lost Kosovo because of the politics of [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic and it is best for it to recognize this reality," he added, stressing that Belgrade needs to choose between trying to keep Kosova or joining the European Union. Holbrooke also said that the current Kosovar authorities are incapable of protecting the Serbian minority and that an international peacekeeping force will need to remain in the province. BW

MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT SAYS OPPOSITION WILL ACCEPT INDEPENDENCE
Filip Vujanovic said on May 2 that should a majority of voters opt for independence in the May 21 referendum, then the opposition will accept the result, FoNet and B92 reported. "The opposition will absolutely accept the referendum result and everyone will turn to focusing on building a democratic and prosperous Montenegro," Vujanovic said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 26, and 27, 2006). Vujanovic also praised his Serbian counterpart Boris Tadic, an opponent of Montenegrin independence. Tadic's "stance is clear, he prefers the preservation of the federal union. The ways in which he states his arguments for the union are understandable and his position is correctly displayed," Vujanovic said. BW

BALKAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN GREECE
Foreign ministers from 10 countries kicked off a two-day meeting in Thessaloniki, Greece, on May 3 to discuss ways of bringing the Balkans closer to the EU, AP and dpa reported. Opening the summit, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis stressed that Balkan countries need to cooperate to move closer to the EU. She also praised an agreement, slated to be signed on May 4, to improve rail service in the region. "The agreement will improve our railways, ameliorating transport," she said. Attending the meeting of the Southeast European Cooperation Process were representatives from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Montenegro, and Turkey. Moldova has observer status in the organization. Japan, which has contributed extensively to Balkan reconstruction projects, is a guest at the summit and is represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Akiko Yamanaka. BW

IRAN, HIZBALLAH BRUSH OFF U.S. TERRORISM LABEL
Tehran has responded to an annual U.S. State Department report identifying Iran as "the most active state sponsor of terrorism" by suggesting that the United States is not qualified to pass such a judgment. Iranian allies in the Lebanese Hizballah singled out in the April 28 report responded similarly, accusing the Bush administration of supporting "Israeli terrorism" and carrying out its own terrorist activities. But the participation of numerous terrorist groups in a mid-April conference in Tehran -- as well as Iranian officials' open encouragement of suicide bombings -- undermines that country's defense of its policies.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi countered the State Department report by accusing the United States of hypocrisy. He was quoted by IRNA on April 29 as saying the U.S. administration singles out countries whose policies it opposes and who stand up to what he described as the "Zionist regime." Assefi described the United States as Israel's "main supporter," and he said U.S. policies contribute to the intensification of terrorism. He added that the United States is therefore in no position to point the finger at others.

The State Department's annual "Country Reports on Terrorism" also describe the Lebanese Hizballah, which it has labeled a "foreign terrorist organization," as being "closely allied with Iran and often act[ing] at its behest."

Hizballah's reaction was described on the Lebanese organization's Al-Manar television on April 29. Hizballah charged that Washington supports what it called "Israeli terrorism." The group said that actions by U.S. President George W. Bush's administration warrant a spot at the top of a list of global terrorists. Hizballah declared that it is unmoved by its appearance in the U.S. report, adding that it considers it "a big medal on [the] mujahedins' chests."

The State Department report asserts that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) are "directly involved in the planning and support of terrorist acts." It claims they also encourage the leadership of Lebanese Hizballah and Palestinian groups with leaders in Syria to "use terrorism in pursuit of their goals."

The State Department alleges that "Iran maintained a high-profile role in encouraging anti-Israeli terrorist activity -- rhetorically, operationally, and financially." The report notes that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad have "praised Palestinian terrorist operations."

The State Department accuses Iran of having provided "extensive funding, training, and weapons" to groups that include the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command. Iranian officials and members of those groups have rejected the U.S. accusations.

Representatives of those organizations attended an April 14-16 conference in Iran called Support for the Palestinian Intifada. The State Department report does not mention that conference, as it covers the year 2005. But Supreme Leader Khamenei made statements in connection with the event that arguably encourage terrorist operations. He told the conference on April 14 that "the values of jihad and martyrdom are revived," IRNA reported. Khamenei added that "the noble blood of martyrdom-seeking youths and the presence of dauntless warriors within the struggle invalidate all calculations of worldly materialists and hedonists." Khamenei hailed "a new arena where blood triumphs over sword."

Khamenei's emphasis on martyrdom is not unusual. It is a prominent theme in Shi'ite Islam, the Iranian state religion. It is also cited when Iranians discuss those who gave their lives in the Iran-Iraq War or otherwise serving the country. Yet in the context of a conference on the Palestinian intifada and to such an audience, Khamenei appeared to be encouraging suicide bombings (also known as martyrdom-seeking operations).

Indeed, Iranian officials appear to have encouraged their own citizens to participate in such attacks. The Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement -- which is connected with the IRGC -- began enrolling volunteer suicide bombers in 2004. Headquarters spokesman Mohammad Ali Samadi said in an interview that appeared in the April 20 issue of "Il Giornale" that 55,000 Iranians have volunteered for suicide-bombing missions in Palestine or Iraq. He said that 1,000 of those volunteers have completed their training. The spokesman added that the Iranian martyrdom volunteers are active. But he noted that "unlike Hamas or Islamic Jihad," the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement "are not committed to a declared conflict."

AFGHANISTAN'S APPROVED CABINET MEMBERS TAKE OATHS OF OFFICE
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on May 2 administered the oath of office to 20 members of his cabinet who were approved by the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) of the Afghan National Assembly in April, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The Wolesi Jirga rejected five of Karzai's nominees (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 28, 2006). Karzai has not announced his new choices for those five posts. AT

NEO-TALIBAN SUICIDE BOMBER TARGETS CANADIAN SOLDIERS NEAR KABUL
Purporting to speak for the Taliban, Qari Mohammad Yusof told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on May 2 that a "Taliban fighter" carried out a suicide attack the same day against Canadian troops on a road near Kabul. Mohammad Yusof identified the man as Sher Agha from Kabul. A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said on May 2 that in addition to the bomber, an Afghan civilian and his horse were killed in the attack, AFP reported. The Canadians were shocked but not hurt by the attack, Jackman added. Mohammad Yusof, however, told AIP that six Canadians were killed. He also claimed that his movement is "many times more organized than before," and that there are large numbers of fighters "who wish to carry our martyr[dom]-seeking attacks." Mohammad Yusof warned all foreigners to leave Afghanistan. The neo-Taliban consistently exaggerate their accomplishments and sometimes take credit for actions that they have not carried out. AT

DUTCH WORRIED ABOUT SUICIDE MISSIONS IN AS PAKISTAN AGAIN OFFERS TO FENCE THE BORDER
Visiting Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot said in Islamabad on May 2 that his country is concerned "by the increase of the suicide bombers" in neighboring Afghanistan, AFP reported. The Netherlands, which already has some 400 troops in Afghanistan's southern Oruzgan Province, is scheduled to increase that number by an additional 1,400 this summer (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," January 23, 2006). Speaking at the news conference in Islamabad on May 2 alongside Bot, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said that his country has suggested fencing the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to prevent the movement of militants between the two countries, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Kasuri added that his country has deployed 80,000 troops along its border with Afghanistan, a number far greater than the combined number of ISAF and the U.S.-led coalition forces operating in Afghanistan. Afghan and U.S. forces could fence and mine their side of the border, Kasuri suggested. The Hague has requested Islamabad's help "in the area of intelligence sharing" since the Dutch forces would be deployed close to the Afghan-Pakistani border, Bot told the news conference. Karzai has already rejected the idea of fencing the border between his country and Pakistan. AT

UZBEK PRESIDENT SAYS REGIONAL COOPERATION IMPOSSIBLE UNLESS AFGHANISTAN IS PEACEFUL
Islam Karimov told a news conference in Tashkent on May 2 prior to his official two-day trip to Pakistan that until Afghanistan "is calm, there can be no integration processes" between countries in the region, Interfax reported. "Should the situation" in Afghanistan remain the same, Karimov warned it may "aggravate, rather that improve" cooperation between countries in the region. Referring to his own country and Pakistan, Karimov said that "we cannot just be observers" but are interested in curtailing the "production and distribution of drugs and securing long-term peace" in Afghanistan. AT

HIZBALLAH ACKNOWLEDGES IRANIAN SUPPORT
Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Hizballah in Lebanon, acknowledged Iranian assistance to his organization and also defended Tehran in a May 1 speech in Beirut. "The Islamic Republic of Iran has always supported the Lebanese people and Hizballah's military branch known as the 'Islamic Resistance,'" Nasrallah said, IRNA reported on May 2. Nasrallah also spoke against warnings of an Iranian-promoted "Shi'ite crescent," (Jordan's King Abdullah suggested in 2004 that Iran seeks to create a Shi'ite crescent stretching across Iraq to Lebanon, and Egypt President Hosni Mubarak more recently suggested that Shi'a in the region are more loyal to Iran than to their home countries), Al-Manar television reported on May 1. Nasrallah said "America and the Zionists" are inciting the world against Iran by raising the issue of a "Persian empire." At a time when Arab states would not dare host a conference like the one on Palestine and Jerusalem that took place in Tehran in mid-April, he continued, "Would [Iran] publicly declare its political and financial support for the Palestinian people and the Palestinian government?" Iran's raising concerns about alleged Persian ambitions and contributing to strife and discord, Nasrallah said, is a "great and decisive disservice for the U.S.-Zionist scheme that tries to firmly plant its feet in the region." BS

IRANIAN OFFICER THREATENS ISRAEL
Mohammad Ebrahim Dehqani, a commander with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' naval forces and spokesman of recent naval war games, said on May 2 that "We have announced that wherever America perpetrates wicked deeds, Israel will be our prime target," ISNA reported. Dehqani went on to say, in response to a student's question, that Iran does not fear American B-52 bombers. BS

NUCLEAR WATCHDOG REPORTS NEGATIVELY ON IRAN
An April 28 report on Iran from Muhammad el-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), finds that "existing gaps" in the IAEA's "knowledge" about the Islamic Republic's nuclear activities "continue to be a matter of concern." Insufficient information on the centrifuge program and on "the role of the military in Iran's nuclear program" means that the IAEA is unable to confirm "the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran." The IAEA report refers to inadequate Iranian transparency and cooperation: "Iran declined to discuss these matters," it said. The report also notes that Iran refused to make individuals available for interviews. Iran said information on its Green Salt project was "baseless," but documentation Iran provided previously contradicted this assertion ("green salt" is a reference to uranium tetrafluoride; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 February 2006). BS

SWEDES JAILED IN IRAN FOR ESPIONAGE
Two Swedish construction workers in Iran have received three-year jail sentences for allegedly photographing naval and military facilities and telecommunications equipment on Qeshm Island, according to the Sveriges Radio Ekot website on May 2. Swedish Ambassador to Iran Christopher Gyllenstierna confirmed the sentence on April 29, but he would provide no other information other than that the men are in their 30s. "In general, we have been reticent with details about this in order not to draw too much attention to it. We feel this best serves the two prisoners' interests," Gyllenstierna said. BS

IRAN-IRAQ BORDER CROSSING OPENED
The Chazabeh border crossing, where Iran and Iraq meet in Khuzestan Province, was opened on May 2, provincial television reported. A border market was opened as well. Interior Minister Hojatoleslam Mustafa Purmohammadi said at the speech at the opening ceremony, "The enemies of the people of Khuzestan must know that these people's participation and vigilance will foil their discord-creating plots, poisonous propaganda, and ominous designs." In Tehran the previous day, the deputy commander of the Armed Forces Joint Chief of Staff for Cultural and Defense Affairs, Brigadier General Alireza Afshar, said any border incidents will be taken seriously, IRNA reported on May 2. He referred to unspecified incidents along the border and said, "We cannot be indifferent to these incidents." Iranian forces reportedly clashed with Kurdish militants in the northwest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006). BS

IRAQI PARLIAMENT CONVENES AS CABINET NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE
The Council of Representatives was set to convene on May 3 as political blocs continued negotiations over the formation of a national-unity government, international media reported. Three political blocs -- the Iraqi National List, the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, and the National Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc -- have formed a new coalition in parliament, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on May 2. Together, the blocs hold 39 seats in 275-seat parliament. Shi'ite parliamentarian Hasan al-Sunayd told Al-Sharqiyah on May 2 that representatives of cleric Muqtada al-Sadr will head the Health, Agriculture, and Transport ministries, while representatives of Al-Da'wah Al-Islamiyah -- Iraq branch, led by Abd al-Karim al-Anzi, will head the Higher Education and National Security ministries. Al-Anzi served as national security minister in the transitional government. Politicians appear to be dividing up ministries according to sectarian and ethnic considerations that contradict their pledges to form a national-unity government, latimes.com reported on May 3, adding that politicians have agreed that 14 posts will go to Shi'a, eight to Kurds, seven to Sunnis, and three to a secular coalition, reflecting the election results. KR

DOZENS DEAD ACROSS IRAQI CAPITAL
Police in Baghdad said on May 2 that they have found 37 bodies in different areas of Baghdad, Al-Jazeera television reported. Fourteen bodies were discovered in the Al-Sha'b district with apparent gunshot wounds to the head, and all were blindfolded and bound and showed signs of torture. More than 20 bodies were found in other areas of Baghdad. Elsewhere, a suicide bomber blew himself up among a crowd of would-be police recruits in Al-Fallujah on May 3, killing at least 18 and wounding 20 others, Reuters reported. On May 2, a suicide car bomber attacked the motorcade of Al-Anbar Governor Ma'mun Sami Rashid al-Alwani in Al-Ramadi, killing three of his bodyguards, international media reported. The governor was injured in the attack, which Reuters reported was the ninth assassination attempt against him since he took office last year. KR

GERMAN HOSTAGES RELEASED IN IRAQ
Two German engineers kidnapped in Iraq have been released, the German Foreign Ministry announced on May 2, ddp reported the same day. A group identifying itself as the Brigades of the Supporters of Monotheism and the Way of the Prophet Muhammad kidnapped Rene Braeunlich and Thomas Nitzschke in the northern Iraqi town of Bayji on January 24 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 24, 2006). The Foreign Ministry declined to comment on reports that it paid a $12 million ransom for the men's release. Meanwhile, Iraqi Ambassador to Germany Ala al-Hashimi told ARD television on May 3 that it is likely a ransom was paid, Reuters reported. "Regarding the payment of ransom, I don't know, but I assume it was a large amount of money," he said. KR

INTERIOR MINISTER BANS SOME WEAPONS USED BY PRIVATE SECURITY FIRMS
Bayan Jabr told Al-Arabiyah television on May 2 that his ministry will ban some types of weapons used by private security firms operating in Iraq. Jabr said that private security firms own more weapons than the army or Interior Ministry. "There are some 200,000 security men in Iraq, including the [Facilities Protection Service], which protects [oil and other strategic] facilities, [as well as] security services that provide protection to personalities, and other security companies," he said. "These three groups are outside the control of the Interior and Defense ministries. We have plans to put them under [our] control so that they would be part of the security forces." He added that the Interior Ministry plans to confiscate some of the weapons used by these groups and will either store the weapons in its warehouses, or issue them to Interior Ministry forces. KR

IRAQI MILITIAS REPORTEDLY CONTROL RECONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS
Iraqi militias and their factions have the final word in the awarding of reconstruction contracts in Iraq through the ministries and governorates that they control, azzaman.com reported on April 27. One contractor claimed that such practices are the "official policy" of ministries. "Winners [of contracts] are not those with lower costs and better quality. If you are not a member of the group, you are denied the contract," said one contractor from Al-Najaf who declined to be identified. A contractor from Al-Hillah told the website that militias connected to the Badr Organization, controlled by the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), control all contracts awarded by the Ministry of Youth and Sports. "Government officials in the ministry have said the contracts will exclusively be offered to Badr members," the contractor said. KR

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