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Newsline - May 4, 2006


U.S. VICE PRESIDENT ISSUES STRONG REBUKE TO RUSSIA ON DEMOCRACY, ENERGY...
In one of the U.S. administration's strongest reprimands of Russia to date, Vice President Dick Cheney on May 4 accused Moscow of retreating from democracy and using its energy supplies for blackmail, Reuters reported. "Russia has a choice to make," Cheney told a summit of Baltic and Black Sea leaders in Vilnius, Lithuania. Cheney said opponents of reform in Russia are "seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade" and that such actions will harm Moscow's relations with other countries. Cheney was equally harsh about allegations that Moscow is using its energy supplies for political advantage. "No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation or attempts to monopolize transportation," he said. But Cheney also struck a conciliatory note, saying: "None of us believes that Russia is fated to become an enemy." BW

...AS U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT CRITICIZES MOSCOW OVER ARMS SALES TO IRAN
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack assailed Russia on May 3 over arms sales to Iran and urged Moscow to take a tougher stance on Tehran's nuclear program, Reuters reported. "Certainly, we don't think it's appropriate that they continue with arms sales to such a regime, a regime that has talked about wiping Israel off the face of the map," McCormack said in Washington. "In our view, that's not a regime to whom you should be selling arms." Washington wants Moscow to cancel the planned sale to Iran of Tor tactical surface-to-air missiles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 12, and 16, 2005 and February 9, 2006). BW

UN AMBASSADOR SAYS RUSSIA COULD SUPPORT IRAN RESOLUTION
Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin has said that Moscow would support a resolution sponsored by France and Britain provided changes are made to address the Kremlin's concerns, mosnews.com reported on May 4. Churkin said Moscow is firmly opposed to imposing sanctions or using force against Tehran over its nuclear program. The Franco-British resolution, which invokes Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, would legally oblige Iran to comply with UN demands that it freeze uranium enrichment. "In our view, the resolution would be a means to advance the diplomatic and political resolution of the issue," Churkin said. "The goal of the Russian Federation is to make sure that the regime of nonproliferation is strengthened. We do not believe that the matter can be resolved by the use of force," he added. BW

JAILED FORMER YUKOS CEO SUFFERING FROM STOMACH PROBLEMS AFTER HUNGER STRIKE
Jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky is suffering from stomach problems following a hunger strike, Reuters reported on May 3, citing local media reports. "Three days, ago the prisoner Khodorkovsky announced he was going on a waterless hunger strike because he had been moved to a separate cell," prison service spokesman Aleksandr Sidorov told Interfax. He said Khodorkovsky became ill after eating again. "There are no grounds for anxiety about his life," Sidorov added. Initial news reports said Khodorkovsky has been hospitalized, but did not say for what reason (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006). In April, Khodorkovsky was moved to solitary confinement after being attacked by another inmate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 2006). His lawyers have accused prison officials of orchestrating the attack. BW

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL ASSAILS RUSSIA OVER RACIST ATTACKS
In a new report, Amnesty International has harshly criticized Russia over the growing number of racially motivated crimes in the country, Interfax reported on May 4. According to an Amnesty International statement cited by Interfax, the Russian government "is failing to sufficiently challenge xenophobia and intolerance." The report examines incidents in which foreign students, asylum seekers, and refugees from Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America were attacked. It also examines attacks on Jewish people, Roma, and migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia. "The examination reveals the failure of the authorities to prevent racially motivated attacks through adequate policing, and to investigate and prosecute the vast majority of such attacks effectively," the statement said. "Russia's record on racism is incompatible with the country's place on the international stage and undermines its standing in the world." BW

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL ALLEGES BUDGETARY ABUSE
The Prosecutor-General's Office said on May 4 that it has uncovered more 168.8 billion rubles' ($6.2 billion) worth of budgetary violations committed last year, Interfax reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office "has uncovered numerous violations of budgetary law in 2005," a memorandum signed by First Deputy Prosecutor-General Yury Biryukov said. "Abuse topped 168.8 billion rubles, including over 6.7 billion rubles' ($246.7 million) worth of misspent funds," the memorandum continued. The top abusers, according to the memorandum, were Stavropol Krai, Sverdlovsk Oblast, the Republic of Tatarstan, and Moscow Oblast. BW

ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE NAMED ENEMY OF THE PRESS
Armenia's National Press Club on May 3 selected Armen Gevorgian, who heads President Robert Kocharian's staff, as the recipient of its annual "enemy of the press" award for his alleged role in censoring the pro-government media, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Also on May 3, Vladimir Pryakhin, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe office in Yerevan, told a meeting marking World Press Freedom Day that Armenian legislation on guaranteeing freedom of the press requires improvement, Noyan Tapan reported. Parliament deputy Hranush Hakobian told the same meeting that there are currently more than 200 functioning media outlets in Armenia, according to lragir.am as cited by Groong. LF

MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRMEN MEET IN MOSCOW
The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that is seeking to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict met in Moscow on May 2-3 for consultations, of which no details have been made public, Azerbaijani media reported. The co-chairmen met on May 2 with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin to discuss unspecified issues relating to the peace process, according to a Russian Foreign Ministry press release quoted by zerkalo.az. French co-chairman Bernard Fassier is to travel on May 5 to Baku, and then to Yerevan, for talks with senior Azerbaijani and Armenian officials. Also present at the Moscow talks was Andrzej Kasprzyk, the special representative of the OSCE chairman in office for the Karabakh conflict, who conducts regular monitoring of the Line of Contact separating the Armenian and Azerbaijan forces. There have been repeated cease-fire violations along the Line of Contact in recent months. APA estimated that the Armenian side violated the cease-fire 50 times in March and 65 times in April, according to day.az on May 2. Seven Azerbaijani servicemen have been reported killed and eight wounded since the beginning of this year; Armenian losses are not known. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION YOUTH GROUPS FORM COALITION
The youth organizations Yeni Fikir (New Idea) and Yokh! (No!), together with the youth organizations of the opposition parties aligned in the Azadliq bloc, have joined to form the Azerbaijan Youth Platform, day.az reported on May 3 quoting Yeni Fikir Deputy Chairman Said Nuri. Nuri said other youth organizations are welcome to join the platform, but Emin Guseynov said the youth movement Myaqam, which he heads, will not join forces with any other party or movement. LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER QUESTIONS ADVISABLITY OF QUITTING CIS...
Minister for Economic Reform Kakha Bendukidze implicitly questioned on May 3 the advisability of Georgia withdrawing from the Commonwealth of Independent States, Russian and Georgian media reported. President Mikheil Saakashvili announced on May 2 that he has asked the government to prepare within two months an assessment of the likely economic repercussions of doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006). Also on May 3, former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili said that threatening to quit the CIS in retaliation for the Russian ban imposed in late March on the import of Georgian wine is "childish," Caucasus Press reported. Russian Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov warned on May 3 that quitting the CIS would negatively affect the lives of the Georgian people, but would have no impact on the CIS itself, Interfax reported. Former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze advised the present Georgian leadership to consult with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev and Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev before making any "precipitous decision" with regard to the CIS. LF

...OF WHICH ABKHAZIA WILL SEEK FORMAL MEMBERSHIP
Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, was quoted by Interfax on May 4 as saying his republic wants closer ties with the CIS and will probably make a formal request for admission to that body by the end of 2006. He also said Abkhazia still wants to become an "associate member" of the Russian Federation. On May 6, a delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will arrive in Sukhum (Sukhumi) for the first-ever formal visit by NATO officials, apsny.ru reported. Representatives of the Vatican, the OSCE Mission in Georgia, and the European Commission have visited Sukhum in recent months, as have representatives of several international humanitarian organizations. LF

RUSSIA BEGINS PULLOUT FROM MILITARY BASE IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA...
In line with the bilateral agreement concluded just under one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2005), the first military hardware left the Russian military base at Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia at 1 a.m. local time on May 3, hours earlier than the previously announced departure time, Caucasus Press reported. That preemptive move averted a mass rally by local Armenian residents who oppose the closure of the base, where many of them are employed, and which they regard as protection against anticipated aggression from neighboring Turkey. LF

...PROPOSES INTERNATIONAL INSPECTION OF FORMER BASE IN ABKHAZIA
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin reaffirmed on May 3 Moscow's readiness to send international monitors to confirm that it has indeed withdrawn all personnel and materiel from its former military base in Gudauta, Abkhazia, in compliance with an agreement reached at the OSCE summit in Istanbul in November 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 22, 1999 and July 2, 2001), according to a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website (www.mid.ru). Kamynin added that OSCE military observers who inspected the Gudauta base in mid-2002 confirmed that it has indeed been closed. Georgia, however, disputed that assertion in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 17 and 18, 2002). And on May 4, the Georgian Foreign Ministry released a statement responding to Kamynin's claims of the previous day, which it termed an attempt to delude the international community, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian statement alleged, citing unspecified documentation, that Russian military personnel continue to man the Gudauta base, its military airfield is in operation, and arms and other weaponry are still deployed there.

KAZAKH MINISTER CALLS FOR STATE CONTROL OF TV STATION...
In a speech to the parliament on May 3, Kazakh Culture, Information, and Sport Minister Yermukhamet Yertysbaev called for state control of the country's leading television station, Interfax reported. The minister added that the government,"observing all laws and statutes," may take over Khabar TV "within 10 days." Yertysbaev explained that "as a minister and a citizen I am well aware of the importance of information security for Kazakhstan" and "I think the state must dominate" the media. The state currently owns 50 percent of the holding company that controls Khabar TV and has initiated negotiations with the two private owners for the sale of the remaining half. Khabar TV, founded in the mid-1990s by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha, is the country's most-watched television station. With Yertysbaev making a similar call for state control late last month, there are suggestions that the issue is related to rumors of strained relations between Nazarbaev and his daughter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 24, 2006). RG

...BUT DENIES SALE OF STATE-OWNED MEDIA
Yertysbaev in the same May 3 address to parliament dismissed reports of the possible sale or transfer of state-owned shares in Kazakhstan TV, according to Interfax. Yertysbaev refuted media reports suggesting that the state is in talks with the privately owned Eurasian Industrial Association on such a sale. Kazakhstan TV is a state-funded entity and the country's second-largest television station. RG

LIBEL TRIAL OF KAZAKH PRESIDENT'S SON-IN-LAW OPENS
A court in Almaty opened the libel trial on May 3 of First Deputy Foreign Minister Rakhat Aliev, Interfax reported. The court dismissed a motion by the defense attorney to compel Aliev's wife, President Nazarbaev's daughter Darigha, to give testimony. The court also decided not to call the former National Security Service head Nartay Dutbaev and several other security officials as witnesses. The trial stems from charges brought by a retired colonel of the Kazakh National Security Service, Arat Narmanbetov, after Aliev accused him in a published newspaper interview of involvement in the killing of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14 and April 26, 2006). RG

KAZAKH OFFICIAL CALLS FOR CONSTRUCTION OF BORDER FENCE ALONG BORDER WITH UZBEKISTAN
The deputy head of the Kazakh National Security Committee and State Border Service director, Bolat Zakiev, called on May 3 for the construction of a security fence along the country's border with Uzbekistan, according to Interfax. Zakiev made the recommendation in a report to the Kazakh parliament on border security and noted that such a fence is needed to bolster the mere "3,000 personnel and 29 checkpoints" now in place along the Kazakh-Uzbek border. Also attending the parliamentary session, Deputy Foreign Minister Nurlan Onzhanov agreed with Zakiev's suggestion on May 3, adding that "measures must be adopted to prevent incidents along the Kazakh-Uzbek border." Onzhanov added that the completion of the demarcation process and construction of the 2,203-kilometer fence along the Kazakh-Uzbek border are important for border security and noted that frontier poles were installed along 850 kilometers of the border earlier this year. The Kazakh-Uzbek border is host to several trafficking and smuggling routes and experiences periodic shooting incidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 18, 2005). RG

KAZAKH DEPUTY CALLS ON CHIEF PROSECUTOR TO PROBE ATTACK ON OPPOSITION JOURNALIST
Parliamentary Committee on International Affairs, Defense, and Security Chairman Serik Abdrakhmanov appealed on May 3 for Kazakh Prosecutor-General Rashid Tusupbekov to personally supervise the investigation into a recent assault on an opposition journalist, according to Interfax. Abdrakhmanov was referring to the case of Kenzhgali Aitbakiev, a reporter for the opposition "Ayna Plyus" newspaper, who was assaulted on April 23 by a group of assailants. RG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT CALLS FOR NEW CONSTITUTION
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev announced on May 3 that he expects to have a new draft constitution by August, AKIpress reported. Bakiev assigned a working group led by lawmaker Azimbek Beknazarov to "prepare drafts envisioning three different kinds of government" after the group consults with "political parties, nongovernmental organizations, and the media." With the opposition repeatedly demanding a new constitution, the president's announcement is seen as a reaction to the opposition's public demonstration on April 29, when thousands of protesters rallied in Bishkek to demand constitutional and democratic reforms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006). RG

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT THREATENS 'RADICAL MEASURES' AGAINST PARLIAMENT
President Bakiev warned that he is ready to take "radical measures" if parliament continues to directly confront the executive branch, Interfax reported on May 2. Bakiev said, "In the case that there are insurmountable disagreements between parliament and the executive branch, I will have to use my constitutional right and take radical measures in relation to parliament." Article 63 of the Kyrgyz Constitution empowers the president to dissolve parliament in the event of "a crisis precipitated by irreconcilable differences between the parliament of the Kyrgyzstan Republic and other branches of state power." DK

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION WARNS GOVERNMENT TO NOT IGNORE DEMANDS
Speaking at a news conference in Bishkek, leaders of the opposition For Reform group warned the Kyrgyz government on May 3 not to ignore their demands for reform, according to AKIpress. One of the opposition leaders, parliamentarian Kubatbek Baibolov, hinted that the group might demand the resignations of both President Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov during a public rally scheduled for May 27 in Bishkek. Baibolov added that the upcoming demonstration is "a continuation" of their rally in late April, which was attended by an estimated 10,000-20,000 participants. RG

CHINA SAID TO HAVE EXTENDED AID TO TAJIK ARMY
The Avesta website has quoted unnamed officials of the Tajik Defense Ministry who it says issued an announcement in Dushanbe on May 3 suggesting that China will provide $2 million in aid to the Tajik armed forces. The Chinese aid is to be used primarily for training and equipment for the Tajik army and stems form an agreement concluded during Tajik Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev's visit to Beijing late last month. The aid package is the latest sign of deepening Tajik-Chinese military relations and follows a similar grant of about $1 million in Chinese assistance to the Tajik military and a visit by Chinese Defense Minister Cao Gangchuan to Tajikistan in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2005). Chinese assistance to the country's armed forces has totaled more than $10 million from 2000-05, according to figures released by the Tajik Defense Ministry. RG

TAJIK POLICE ARREST HUMAN TRAFFICKER...
Tajik police announced the arrest of two suspects on May 3 for involvement in human trafficking, marking the 26th such case in the Sughd region of the country, Avesta reported. A 45-year-old woman and another suspect were arrested in the northern Tajik town of Khujand. Sughd prosecutors said the woman is accused of having deceived a young female victim, sending her to the United Arab Emirates and demanding $10,000, and forcing her into prostitution. Another female suspect, sought by Tajik police since 2004, was extradited to Tajikistan from the United Arab Emirates, Asia-Plus reported on May 3. RG

...AFTER TAJIK PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CONCERTED FIGHT AGAINST HUMAN TRAFFICKING
Chairing a cabinet meeting in Dushanbe, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov on May 2 instructed his ministers and other senior officials to devote greater attention to efforts to counter human trafficking, Asia-Plus reported. Rakhmonov further called for the implementation of a recent five-year state program to focus on crimes related to human trafficking. Cooperation between Tajik and United Arab Emirates law-enforcement officials resulted in the return of about 45 Tajik victims of human trafficking in October. There are several thousand Tajik women estimated to have been victimized by traffickers and tricked into prostitution abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2005). Human trafficking is an increasing problem for Central Asia, with several countries serving as both sources and transit states for young female victims. RG

UZBEKISTAN CUTS GAS SUPPLIES TO TAJIKISTAN
Unnamed Tajik officials of the Tojikgaz state gas concern announced in Dushanbe on May 3 that Uzbekistan has reduced supplies of natural gas to Tajikistan, Asia-Plus and Regnum reported. According to the Tajik officials, Uzbekistan's Uztransgaz gas-supply company informed them of a new round of cuts in gas supplies after Tojikgaz fell behind on repayment of some $3 million in debt for previous gas shipments. Uzbekistan previously cut gas shipments to Tajikistan by 25 percent for similar payment problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2006). RG

BELARUSIAN YOUTH ACTIVISTS FACE LONG PRISON SENTENCES
Two Belarusian youth activists, Artur Finkevich and Mikita Sasim, are due to stand trial on May 4 in Minsk and Baranavichy, respectively, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Finkevich was arrested in Minsk on January 30 while writing the slogan "We Want Change!" on a wall. Investigators accuse Finkevich of painting dozens of similar slogans in Minsk, causing the state an estimated 35 million rubles ($16,000) in material damage. If found guilty, Finkevich faces a sentence of seven to 12 years in prison. "He may get a sentence no shorter than seven years and it will be a record in terms of punishments for political prisoners during the presidency of Alyaksandr Lukashenka," human rights activist Valyantsin Stefanovich told RFE/RL. Sasim faces a three-year sentence for allegedly dodging compulsory military service. Last year Sasim was arrested and harshly beaten by police during a protest against political disappearances in Belarus. He was subsequently hospitalized with a head injury and missed his draft term. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS FOUR REGIONAL GOVERNORS
President Viktor Yushchenko has dismissed Vadym Chuprun, Eduard Zeynalov, Vasyl Tsushko, and Iryna Synyavska, the administration heads of the Donetsk, Kirivohrad, Odesa, and Zhytomyr oblasts, Ukrainian news agencies reported on May 3, quoting the presidential press service. Zeynalov and Tsushko were discharged because of their wish to switch to the Verkhovna Rada after winning parliamentary seats in the March 26 vote; Sinyavska was dismissed following her own request; no official reason has been given for Chuprun's sacking. JM

UKRAINE TO DIG 400-KILOMETER MOAT ON FRONTIER WITH RUSSIA
The State Border Service is planning to dig a 400-kilometer-long ditch on the Luhansk Oblast stretch of Ukraine's frontier with Russia in 2006, Interfax-Ukraine reported on May 3. The measure is intended to prevent contraband trade in the area. At present smugglers from Russia and Ukraine reportedly cross the border in motor vehicles at high speed, making it extremely difficult for border guards to stop and check them. JM

EU SUSPENDS TALKS WITH SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
The European Union on May 3 announced that it is suspending talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement with Serbia and Montenegro due to Belgrade's failure to arrest war crimes suspect Ratko Mladic, Serbian and international news agencies reported. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said the talks could be restarted "only if there is dramatic improvement in cooperation" with the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY). "Serbia must show that nobody is above the law and that anybody indicted for serious crimes will face justice," Rehn said, adding that Serbian forces looking for Mladic "must be fully under democratic control." BW

SERBIAN PRIME MINISTER ATTACKS EU...
Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica assailed the EU move on May 3, calling it unfair, Serbian and international news agencies reported. Kostunica said his government has "done absolutely everything in its power" to capture Mladic and extradite him to the ICTY. "His entire network has been uncovered. Mladic is now hiding all alone," he said in a statement. Kostunica also called on Mladic to surrender for the good of Serbia. "Never in our history has the entire state and nation been made to suffer because of one officer," he said. "By hiding, Ratko Mladic is inflicting enormous damage to our state and national interests." BW

...WHILE DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus, who led Belgrade's EU negotiations, resigned on May 3, B92 and FoNet reported the same day. "I am handing in my resignation as deputy prime minister of Serbia. Today, the EU has suspended discussions regarding the Stabilization and Association Agreement because our government, despite its explicit promise to do so, has not secured the necessary political conditions for continuing the discussions," Labus wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Kostunica. "With this we have betrayed one of the most important interests of the nation and the citizens of Serbia. As deputy prime minister and chief of the discussions team for EU association, I do not wish to participate in such politics." In tendering his resignation, Labus also recommended that other ministers from his G17 Plus party leave the government. The party will make the decision at a meeting on May 13. BW

HAGUE PROSECUTOR SHARPLY CRITICIZES SERBIA
ICTY chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte slammed Serbia on May 3, saying that Belgrade knew Mladic's location 10 days ago but failed to arrest him, B92 and FoNet reported. "The Serbian government could have arrested Ratko Mladic 10 days ago," Del Ponte said. She added that she also has information that he may be hiding in Belgrade and has been moving from one apartment to another. AP quoted Del Ponte as saying she doubts Belgrade has a "focused and coordinated plan" for Mladic's arrest and called Serbia's handling of the case "unprofessional." She also said she "was misled when I was told at the end of March that the arrest of Mladic was a matter of days or weeks." BW

SERBIA TO REJECT KOSOVAR ALBANIAN DECENTRALIZATION PROPOSAL
Serbia's negotiating team said on May 4 that it will reject a decentralization offer from Kosovar Albanians, dpa reported. The ethnic Albanian delegation said in April that it would propose the formation of four new municipalities in areas where ethnic Serbs are the majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19, 2006). "We will by no means accept what the Albanians are offering," Sanda Raskovic-Ivic, head of Serbia's council for Kosovo, Beta reported. Raskovic-Ivic said Belgrade will seek at least 16 new municipalities in Serbian majority areas, and one municipality each for ethnic Turkish, Romany, and Goranci minorities. BW

TERROR SUSPECTS IN BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA PLEAD NOT GUILTY
Three men accused of plotting terrorist attacks pleaded not guilty in Bosnia-Herzegovina's State Court on May 3, dpa reported the same day. Mirsad Bektasevic, a Muslim from Serbia and Montenegro with Swedish citizenship; Cesur Abdulkadir, a Turkish citizen; and Bajro Ikanovic, a citizen of Bosnia-Herzegovina, were arrested in October 2005 and indicted last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 21, 25, and November 7, 2005 and April 19, 2006). Law-enforcement officials say the three were planning suicide attacks in Europe. Police found in their possession weapons, explosives, and videotapes with instructions for prayer before a suicide attack. BW

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION SEEKS DIRECTION AFTER PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
There are essentially two ideas among the Belarusian opposition about how to proceed after the presidential election in March, which led to the largest outburst of antigovernment protests in Belarus in the past decade. The younger generation of opposition activists wants former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who has no party affiliation, to lead a broad movement focused on bringing about political change in Belarus. But some opposition parties appear wary of losing their political stature, and prefer to continue to make all strategic decisions pertaining to the opposition through a collective body or a national convention.

Despite the opposition's overwhelming loss to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's in Belarus's presidential election in March, the organization that represents the major opposition parties in Belarus saw room for optimism in the election result. The Political Council of Democratic Forces, which assisted Milinkevich in his bid to prevent Lukashenka from winning a third term in office, has assessed the opposition election campaign as satisfactory.

Official results had Milinkevich winning just 6 percent of the vote in the March 19 election, which monitors from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) said failed to meet democratic standards. However, the Political Council has determined that Milinkevich actually achieved 20 percent support -- numbers that were confirmed last month by an independent postelection survey.

Those results, the Political Council believes, are strong enough for the entire democratic camp to build upon in posing a greater challenge to Lukashenka's authoritarian regime in the future. And here is where problems begin.

Last month, a group of younger and more radical opposition activists, who protested against the election result in a five-day tent camp on October Square in Minsk, proposed that Milinkevich lead a broad movement in Belarus with the aim of deposing Lukashenka. One of those activists is Ihar Lyalkou from the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF). The BNF proposed Milinkevich as a presidential candidate during an opposition convention in August 2005, which gave Milinkevich a narrow edge over Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party (AHP). "The main thing we want today in the country and the democratic movement is to create the situation in which this movement could come to real power," Lyalkou said. "We have, both in the provinces and Minsk, teams of professionals who are ready even today to become Alyaksandr Milinkevich's closest aides in the leadership of the movement."

Lyalkou and his colleagues do not want to abolish the Political Council of Democratic Forces. But Lyalkou told RFE/RL that they want Milinkevich to be solely responsible for executive decisions in the new movement. "The movement should have the Political Council, composed of the leaders of political parties," he said. "The council should remain in order to define basic, strategic directions of the movement's activity. And there must be some executive body, which should be staffed not according to party quotas but according to exclusively professional qualities [of the staff]. This national committee should be formed by Mr. Milinkevich personally."

On April 26, during an opposition rally in Minsk to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster, Milinkevich announced the creation of a Movement for Freedom. Milinkevich predicted that the opposition, if united, could depose Lukashenka in the next two years through actions of civil disobedience.

But some are skeptical of the idea of making Milinkevich the primary voice of the opposition, including AHP deputy head Yaraslau Ramanchuk, who said that the "movement makes sense if it is built on the currently existing coalition and includes both [opposition candidate Alyaksandr] Kazulin's party [Social Democratic Party] and the youth that does not belong to any party or youth groups. I think this initiative is disastrous for Milinkevich as a politician."

Ramanchuk believes that the Political Council of Democratic Forces should continue to coordinate opposition actions in the future, with strategic political decisions being made at national conventions.

Ramanchuk told RFE/RL that the people who want Milinkevich to be a national opposition leader represent only one political party and do not speak for the majority of the demonstrators -- mostly young people with no party affiliation -- who came to October Square in March to protest the election. "The people who promote the movement led by Milinkevich belong to one group -- the BNF," he said "They have been, are, and will continue to be in politics and the BNF. What, are they essentially going to run this movement? Therefore, I don't want Alyaksandr Milinkevich's electoral potential to be lost because of such initiatives."

But Lyalkou argues that from now on Milinkevich should be promoted in Belarus as an icon of the anti-Lukashenka opposition. "The situation is such that for the first time in the past 12 years we have had a real, generally accepted -- both within our country and abroad -- leader who is an alternative to Lukashenka," he said. "Therefore, the starting conditions for a real change of the situation in the country are very good."

Judging by Ukraine's example, Lyalkou may be right. The opposition to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's regime began to score significant political successes only after Viktor Yushchenko united it under the banner of the Our Ukraine bloc in 2002 and became its clear leader. By the beginning of 2005, Yushchenko was president.(Yury Drakakhrust from RFE/RL's Belarus Service contributed to this report.)

LONDON REPORTEDLY ASKS NEW DELHI TO CONTRIBUTE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
Reports in the New Delhi-based daily "Navbharat Times" and the Chandigrah-based "The Tribune" on May 3 suggested the United Kingdom has requested that India contribute troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, which is currently led by Britain. "The Tribune" reported that London "surprised" the Indian government with the request. The proposal was reportedly made by British Prime Minister Tony Blair's foreign-policy adviser, Nigel Shinwald, in a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on May 2 in New Delhi. The "Navbharat Times" reported that Shinwald asked for the deployment of Indian military personnel in Afghanistan as part of a plan that includes the withdrawal of some British and U.S. forces from Afghanistan for redeployment in Iraq. New Delhi has not commented on the purported request. India currently maintains more than 200 security personnel in Afghanistan to guard Indian workers in that country, one of whom was killed recently (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006). A larger deployment of Indian forces in Afghanistan could aggravate India's archenemy, Pakistan, and potentially lead to greater interference by Islamabad in Afghanistan's affairs. AT

MOSCOW SAYS NATO NOT READY TO TACKLE DRUG PROBLEM IN AFGHANISTAN
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on May 2 that NATO is not ready to participate in counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan, Interfax reported. NATO has once again rejected an initiative by the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) to cooperate in fighting drug trafficking from Afghanistan, Lavrov told a Russian cabinet meeting chaired by President Vladimir Putin. While some members of the NATO-led ISAF, namely the United States and the United Kingdom, are participating in counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan, ISAF in principle is staying clear of such missions despite acknowledgement by senior NATO officials that the drug problem is the greatest security threat in that country (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," February 13 and 21, 2006). AT

TEHRAN SAYS U.S. HAS NOT BROUGHT SECURITY TO AFGHANISTAN
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in a meeting with Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan Tom Koenigs in Tehran on May 2 that Washington has failed in its goal of bringing peace and security to Afghanistan, IRNA reported on May 3. Mottaki urged the UN to take a more active role in Afghanistan and lead regional efforts to bring stability to Iran's eastern neighbor. The presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan is a bitter experience for the West, Mottaki added. Iran has opposed the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan, especially those of the United States. AT

SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN KILL SENIOR JUDGE IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
Two gunmen riding on a motorcycle killed Mawlawi Sheikh Ahmad, the deputy head of Farah Province's courts, on May 2, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on May 3. Farah Governor Ezatullah Wasefi told AIP that the attack was the "work of the enemies of Afghanistan" -- a term used by Afghan government officials to allude to the neo-Taliban. No one has claimed responsibility for the killing. AT

IRANIAN OFFICIAL INSISTS NUCLEAR CRISIS CAN BE SOLVED
Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani, head of the Expediency Council's Strategic Research Center and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative in the Supreme National Security Council, said during a May 3 meeting with visiting German parliamentarian Ruprecht Polenz that the current crisis over the Iranian nuclear program is solvable, Radio Farda reported. Polenz proposed that the enrichment of uranium for Iran outside the country would contribute to the restoration of international confidence in the Islamic republic. Iran no longer trusts the international community's promises or guarantees, Rohani countered. He added that the resumption of activities at the Isfahan uranium-conversion facility and the Natanz facility, as well as the end of voluntary compliance with the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) were reactions to the Europeans breaking their promise not to report Iran to the UN Security Council. The solution to this matter, Rohani said, is dialogue. Rohani said a week ago in Tehran that "Iran has no problem with short-term suspension, but the problem is that the West and America are using this short term suspension as a pretext to prolong the issue," according to "Etemad-i Melli" on April 25. Iran has strict limits, Rohani declared: "Our red line in the nuclear dossier is for Iran's right to be guaranteed and for us to be certain that we can conduct enrichment activities." BS

TEHRAN CRITICIZES U.S. DIPLOMACY
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi declared on May 3 that U.S. foreign policy is in crisis, according to Fars News Agency. Assefi based his assessment on U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns' statement earlier that day that the meeting in Paris of officials from the five permanent members of the Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany had failed to reach a consensus on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear problem. "Iran's nuclear issue has made the U.S. totally lose global trust," Assefi said, according to Fars. "The U.S. has foul intentions to impose its policies on countries and disrupt international peace and security through forceful measures and putting pressure on its allies." Burns had suggested that "the Security Council has no option but to proceed under Chapter 7," "The New York Times" reported, in a reference to the UN Charter's article that would open the way for sanctions or military force. Burns predicted that this could take up to two months, according to "The New York Times," and he added that it could take up to three months to generate support for sanctions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington, the "Financial Times" noted on May 3, and Berlin reportedly supports the idea of a Chapter 7 resolution. BS

IRANIAN RICE PURCHASES COULD SIGNAL PREPARATIONS FOR SANCTIONS
Chookiat Ophaswongse, president of the Rice Exporters Association of Thailand, said representatives of the Government Trading Cooperation of Iran are in Thailand to negotiate the purchase of 300,000 metric tons of rice, "The Nation" newspaper from Thailand reported on May 3. Bloomberg on May 2 put the figure at 300,000-400,000 tons. "Iran may have to speed up its rice purchases to reduce the risk of a shortage that may occur from economic sanctions if the United Nations decides to impose them," Chookiat said, according to "The Nation." Iran has already contracted to purchase 400,000 tons of Thai rice, and some deliveries remain to be made. BS

OFFICIALS DISCUSS SOUTHWEST IRAN DEVELOPMENT PLANS
The supreme leader's representative in Khuzestan Province, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Musavi-Jazayeri, told a May 3 meeting of officials from the southwestern province that they must attend to public needs and difficulties if they are to improve the situation in the province, Khuzestan television reported. "This is the year for creating a major change in the province and taking steps towards comprehensive progress," he said. Musavi-Jazayeri encouraged the completion of unfinished development projects. Provincial Governor-General Amir Hayat-Moqaddam told the meeting that the province is one of the country's top recipients of development funding, and the 500 billion rials ($57 million) allocated to Ahvaz exceeds the amount allocated to some of the country's other provinces. Hayat-Moqaddam referred to a lack of potable water in cities and villages, and he mentioned Abadan, Khorramshahr and Masjid-Suleiman. BS

BOMB EXPLODES OUTSIDE IRAQI COURTHOUSE
A roadside bomb exploded outside an Iraqi courthouse in Baghdad on May 4, international media reported. Police said the blast killed at least 10 people and wounded dozens more. Police Lieutenant Tha'ir Mahmud told AP that nearly all the casualties were civilians. Al-Sharqiyah television reported that the explosion was set off by a suicide bomber. The satellite news channel cited a spokesman from Al-Kindi Hospital as saying that the attack took place at the Al-Sadr City Courthouse. KR

KURDISH MILITANTS IN IRAQ VOW RETALIATION AGAINST TURKEY, IRAN...
The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) vowed to retaliate against Turkey and Iran if either country launches another attack on their bases in Iraq, Reuters reported on May 3. Iraqi officials said this week that Iranian troops have entered Iraq twice in the past two weeks to attack Iranian fighters aligned with the PKK. Turkey, Iran, and the United States consider the PKK a terrorist organization. "If Iran and Turkey continue attacking the bases of the PKK or other Kurdish factions, the PKK will launch a guerrilla war against Turkey because the PKK has forces based in Turkish areas," senior PKK leader Murat Karayilan said at a May 3 press conference in the Iraqi Kurdish town of Raniyah, located close to Lake Dukan and the Iranian border. KR

...AS IRAQI PARLIAMENT DEMANDS EXPLANATION FOR CROSS-BORDER OPERATIONS
Iraqi parliament speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani asked the Foreign and Defense ministries to provide a formal explanation to the Council of Representatives of Iran's military incursions into Kurdistan on May 3, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Al-Mashhadani made the request after Kurdish parliamentarian Husayn Barazanchi requested that the council issue a statement condemning Iran's shelling of Kurdish villages. Only about half of the parliamentarians attended the May 3 session, which focused on the appointment of a committee to draft the council's by-laws. The council is slated to reconvene on May 10. KR

SHI'ITE PARTY SURPRISED BY IRAQI PRESIDENT'S TALKS WITH INSURGENTS
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) was surprised to learn that President Jalal Talabani has held talks with insurgent groups, SCIRI member Rida Jawad Taqiy said on May 3, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Taqiy said SCIRI had no prior knowledge of the dialogue, but is "eager to know if there is such a thing as armed groups that are not involved in terrorism and the shedding of Iraqi blood.... We would like to learn of the identities of these armed groups that are not involved in terrorist acts and crimes against civilians." Taqiy said SCIRI will seek reassurances from Talabani that he is not in talks with terrorists or Ba'athists. KR

SUNNI GROUP BLAMES MILITIAS FOR CRIMES AGAINST IRAQIS
The Muslim Scholars Association criticized the increasing attacks against Iraqis at the apparent hands of militias in Baghdad and other areas of the country in a May 3 statement posted to its website. The statement claimed that the crimes of militias can be seen in the growing numbers of bodies found on the streets of Baghdad, some of which are decapitated and show signs of torture. "Members of these militias and the parties supporting and inciting them have detached themselves from all humanitarian values and principles, and national and religious restraints that govern the lives of normal human beings," the statement continued. The association said it holds the Iraqi government, the U.S.-led occupation, and the militias from the political parties now part of the government responsible for the crimes. KR

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