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Newsline - May 9, 2006


RUSSIAN ENERGY MINISTER TELLS WEST TO 'BURY COLD WAR GHOSTS'
Writing in the British daily "Financial Times" on May 8, Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said the West must "bury Cold War ghosts" and accept Russia as a democracy. "We are deeply puzzled by recent commentary in the West that distorts Russian energy policies," Khristenko wrote in a commentary. "Russia has moved away from Soviet-era arrangements of subsidizing energy prices to our neighbors and turned to market-based pricing mechanisms," he added. "We are aware that old impressions fade slowly, but it is time for the West to recognize and acknowledge the maturing role and state of progress that Russia has achieved." Khristenko was responding to remarks by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in Vilnius on May 4, in which he accused Moscow of backsliding on democracy and using its energy resources for blackmail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4 and 5, 2006). BW

RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER URGES IRAN TO LISTEN TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY
Sergei Lavrov urged Iran on May 9 to take seriously attempts by the international community to resolve the crisis over its nuclear program, ITAR-TASS reported. "Let Iran realize that ignoring the world community's persistent calls to answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency means a refusal to facilitate a search for solutions," Lavrov said in New York. Lavrov spoke after a meeting with officials from the United States, China, France, Great Britain, and Germany to discuss a UN Security Council resolution aimed at curbing Tehran's alleged nuclear ambitions. "Discussions continue now over the shape the UN Security Council will give to its resolution," Lavrov said. "However, there's a clear understanding that the only way to tap a solution to this nuclear problem is through diplomatic and political negotiations," he added. BW

RUSSIA MAY INCREASE AID TO PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
Russian Middle East envoy Sergei Yakovlev said on May 8 that Moscow is considering increasing financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, Interfax reported the same day. "This is not ruled out," Yakovlev told reporters in New York. On April 18, Russia pledged $10 million to the Palestinian Authority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19, 2006), thereby angering the United States and European Union, which have cut aid to the authority, which is led by the radical group Hamas. The $10 million is earmarked for education and public health, Interfax reported. BW

IN VICTORY DAY SPEECH, PUTIN DECRIES RACISM
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on May 9 in a speech commemorating the 61st anniversary of the end of World War II against a revival of xenophobia in Russia, Interfax reported. "Those who are again trying to raise the discarded flags of Nazism, who are sowing racial hatred, extremism, xenophobia, are leading the world into a blind alley, to senseless bloodshed and brutality," Putin said. "Therefore, the downfall of Nazism should become a lesson and warning about the unavoidability of retribution," Putin said. A wave of racially motivated attacks has swept Russia in recent years, with many of the most high-profile assaults coming in Putin's hometown of St. Petersburg. Human rights groups have criticized the Russian authorities for not doing enough to prevent racially motivated attacks. BW

RIGHTS GROUPS DECRY NATIONALIST HACKER ATTACKS
Russian human rights organizations have expressed concern about computer hackers attacking the websites of political parties and NGOs, Interfax reported on May 8. "Eleven Internet sites have been attacked by hackers this year, including the sites of Jewish organizations, and of regional branches of the Union of Rightist Forces and communist youth organizations," Galina Kozhevnikova, deputy director of the Sova information-analytical center, said. Kozhevnikova and other rights activists said nationalist organizations are often behind the hacker attacks. "Hackers are, unfortunately, supported by individual politicians who exploit xenophobia as a slogan," Aleksandr Brod, head of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, said. "I can't cite any instance when legal action was taken against a nationalist organization involved in hacker attacks," he added. BW

HEALTH OFFICIAL WARNS AGAINST HEAVY DRINKING
Russia's top public health official, Gennady Onishchenko, warned the nation ahead of the May 9 Victory Day public holiday against excessive drinking, dpa reported on May 8. It is time to implement an effective campaign to "draw Russia out of its state of drunken intoxication," Onishchenko said in Moscow. According to official figures, approximately 40,000 people die in Russia each year of alcohol poisoning. Citing low-quality alcohol as a health problem, President Putin last year ordered stricter state controls on alcohol sales (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2005). Onishchenko, however, argues that excessive consumption is the primary cause of the high death toll. BW

CHECHNYA REMEMBERS SLAIN PRO-MOSCOW LEADER
Thousands of people gathered in Grozny on May 8 to mark the second anniversary of the death in a terrorist bombing of pro-Moscow administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, according to newsru.com, as quoted by kavkazweb.net (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10, 2004). In order to preclude a repeat of that bombing, all participants in the gathering were required to pass through metal detectors, and rank-and-file participants were kept at a distance of between 5-6 meters from members of the republic's leadership. Addressing the gathering, Kadyrov's successor Alu Alkhanov vowed that the perpetrators of the blast, including radical field commander Shamil Basayev who claimed responsibility for it, will be apprehended and brought to justice, Interfax reported. Alkhanov added that he believes unnamed foreign forces may also share responsibility for Kadyrov's death. LF

KABARDINO-BALKARIA PARLIAMENT SLAMS MOSCOW MEDIA
The speaker and deputy speaker of the parliament of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) have both complained that unnamed Moscow media outlets are exacerbating tensions within the KBR by publishing inappropriate commentaries on territorial and interethnic issues, according to kavkaz.memo.ru as reposted on May 5 by kavkazweb.net. On May 7, the public organizations Adyge Khase and Alan, which represent the Kabardians and Balkars, respectively, similarly released a statement deploring publications they described as intended to fuel interethnic tensions and directed against the republican and Russian governments, kavkazweb.net reported. LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTIES QUIT SPEAKER'S FACTION
Four wealthy businessmen quit the Orinats Yerkir faction of parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian on May 5, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on May 8. Those defections reduce the faction from 19 to 15 members, which means it is no longer the second largest: the People's Deputy group loyal to President Robert Kocharian has 16 members. Observers in Yerevan suspect the deputies who withdrew their allegiance from Baghdasarian did so at Kocharian's bidding in retaliation for Baghdasarian's repeated statements favoring Armenia's accession to NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2006 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 5, 2006). LF

ARMENIAN WAR VETS' LEADER ARGUES AGAINST CEDING OCCUPIED AZERBAIJANI TERRITORY
Deputy Defense Minister Lieutenant General Manvel Grigorian on May 8 told several hundred members of the Yerkrapah Union of veterans of the Karabakh war, which he heads, that he "does not comprehend or accept" the prospect of a gradual Armenian withdrawal from all but one of seven districts contiguous to the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic currently controlled by Armenian forces, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Many in Yerevan believe that such a phased withdrawal is an integral component of the draft plan under discussion for the resolution of the Karabakh conflict. Opposition leader Aram Sargsian -- brother of Yerkrapah founder and former Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsian, who was killed in the October 27, 1999, parliament shootings -- also addressed the veterans, accusing the present Armenian leadership of neglecting the country, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Sargsian described Yerkrapah -- whose parliament deputies played a key role in February 1998 in forcing the resignation of then President Levon Ter-Petrossian -- as the most powerful body in Armenia today. LF

PRESIDENT SAYS AZERBAIJAN'S POSITION ON KARABAKH UNCHANGED
Ilham Aliyev met in Baku on May 5 with Bernard Fassier, the French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijani media reported. Aliyev told journalists after that meeting that he and Fassier discussed "all possible variants," and that Azerbaijan's position remains the same: that the conflict should be resolved in accordance with international law and in such a way as to preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. Aliyev says he does not believe new proposals from the Minsk Group are needed to reach such a settlement. LF

AZERBAIJANI PROSECUTOR SAYS INVESTIGATION HAS PROVED FORMER MINISTERS' INVOLVEMENT IN PLANNING COUP
Zakir Garalov told journalists in Baku on May 5 that the ongoing investigation has established beyond doubt that former Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev (no relation to the president), former Health Minister Ali Insanov, and former presidential administration official Akif Muradverdiyev plotted a coup d'etat, day.az and Interfax reported. All three men were dismissed and arrested last October on suspicion of conspiring with former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership. LF

PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO RAISE GEORGIAN INFRASTRUCTURE TO EUROPEAN STANDARDS
Speaking in Batumi on May 6 at a celebration to mark the second anniversary of the ouster of Adjaran strongman Aslan Abashidze, Mikheil Saakashvili said that by the time his first presidential term expires in early 2009, Georgia's highways, public buildings, schools, and hospitals will meet European standards, Caucasus Press reported. He also affirmed that any attempt to "dismember" Georgia is doomed to fail, Interfax reported. Saakashvili also participated in the inauguration of the reconstruction by a Turkish company of Batumi airport. LF

THOUSANDS CALL FOR GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S RESIGNATION
Some 5,000 people attended an opposition rally in Tbilisi on May 5 to call for the resignation of President Saakashvili and the Georgian government and for closer ties with Russia, AFP reported. The rally was organized by the "Anti-[George] Soros" movement established last fall and by the Samartlianoba (Justice) party headed by former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze. Anti-Soros leader Maya Nadiradze told participants that 15,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the government resign. LF

FORMER PRESIDENT SKEPTICAL ABOUT GEORGIA LEAVING CIS
Eduard Shevardnadze told the independent television station Imedi on May 9 that Georgia's leaders should carefully weigh the pros and cons of quitting the CIS, noting that Russia cannot be intimidated by threats that Georgia may do so, Caucasus Press reported (see End Note). Acknowledging that relations with Russia are strained, Shevardnadze advised Saakashvili to contact Russian President Vladimir Putin and propose a meeting to explore ways of defusing those tensions. LF

NATO OFFICIALS VISIT SOUTH OSSETIA, ABKHAZIA
A delegation from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly headed by its president Pierre Lellouche visited the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia on May 5 and Sukhum (Sukhumi), capital of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, on May 6, Georgian media reported. In Tskhinvali, the delegation met with South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity, who outlined his proposals for resolving the conflict with Tbilisi. South Ossetian Prime Minister Yury Morozov was quoted on May 8 as saying the NATO delegation came "in a negative and pro-Georgian frame of mind." He also said that Kokoity asked Lellouche outright why the NATO Parliamentary Assembly did not condemn the abortive Georgian incursion into South Ossetia in August 2004. Arriving in Sukhum on May 6, Lellouche said his delegation wanted to hear the Abkhaz point of view, Caucasus Press reported. Lellouche cited Canada and Spain as examples of the peaceful coexistence or two ethnic groups, but Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh affirmed that Abkhazia remains committed to building an independent state and cannot coexist within one state with Georgia. The NATO delegation also met with Major General Sergei Chaban, commander of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. It was not, however, permitted to inspect the military base at Gudauta to determine the veracity of Russian claims to have withdrawn all personnel from that base in accordance with an agreement signed in 1999. LF

CONSORTIUM ESTABLISHED TO REVIVE RUSSIA-GEORGIA RAIL TRAFFIC
In line with an agreement signed by Russia and Georgia last December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 19, 2005), government representatives from Armenia, Georgia, Russia, and the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia signed an agreement in Moscow on May 5 establishing an international consortium that will seek to attract international investment to restore the rail link that runs from the Russian Black Sea town of Sochi via Abkhazia to Tbilisi and on to Yerevan, Caucasus Press reported. Traffic on that line was suspended when war broke out in Abkhazia in 1992. But at the same time, Georgia is conducting intensive talks with Azerbaijan on restoring a rail link from Tbilisi via Baku to Moscow, Caucasus Press reported on May 9. It is hoped that service will begin before the end of this month. LF

U.S. VICE PRESIDENT MEETS WITH KAZAKH PRESIDENT...
Dick Cheney met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Astana on May 5 for talks on bilateral relations, Khabar reported. The two sides signed agreements on preventing nuclear proliferation and economic cooperation. At a joint news conference, Nazarbaev described the United States as "the largest investor in our country," noting that "the volume of U.S. investment has reached $12 billion," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. , Nazarbaev said that, under one of the agreements, the United States will allocate $158 million to Kazakhstan for the destruction of the infrastructure for weapons of mass destruction. For his part, Cheney said, "We talked about ways to strengthen our bilateral relations, ways we would work together to advance the security and prosperity of this region of the globe." Noting Kazakhstan's "vital role" in the region, Cheney praised Nazarbaev "for all that you have accomplished in the last 15 years." The Russian daily "Kommersant" and "The Washington Post" reported that the primary topic in private talks between the two men was the possible construction of a gas pipeline beneath the Caspian Sea linking Kazakhstan to Azerbaijan. DK

...AND KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADERS
Cheney also met with prominent opposition leaders on May 6, although the authorities prevented recently freed Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 17, 2006), a founder of the outlawed opposition movement Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, from traveling to Astana to meet with Cheney, Navigator reported. Cheney met with former presidential candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, chairman of the For a Just Kazakhstan movement, as well as representatives of the Ak Zhol (Bright Path), Naghyz Ak Zhol (True Bright Path), and Communist parties, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. In comments after the meeting, Bulat Abilov, co-chairman of Naghyz Ak Zhol, said the opposition leaders did not have "big expectations" of their meeting with Cheney because "the United States has strategic interests in Kazakhstan." Tuyakbai said he and his colleagues tried to provide Cheney with a balanced view of the situation in the country. He said after the meeting that "Cheney admitted that he got a lot of new material from the conversation." DK

KAZAKH PRESIDENT TOUTS 'FRIENDSHIP' WITH RUSSIA, REJECTS TALK OF UNION
In an interview with Russian official newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on May 6, President Nazarbaev said that "Kazakhstan and Russia are countries that are fated by history itself to be eternal friends." Queried about the possibility of a Kazakhstan-Russia union, Nazarbaev responded, "The issue is not on the agenda in those terms. The discussion now is about the necessity of attaining maximum integration between our countries for the dynamic development of the two countries' economies and social progress." DK

KAZAKH PRESIDENTIAL AIDE NAMED TO HEAD MEDIA COMPANY
Maulen Ashimbaev, deputy head of the Kazakh presidential administration, was elected chairman of the board of directors of the media company Khabar at a board meeting in Astana on May 5, Kazinform reported the next day. Gulnar Iksanova, who had been chairwoman, was named director at the same meeting. Culture and Information Minister Ermukhamet Ertysbaev has recently called for the state to increase its control over Khabar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006), which was founded by Darigha Nazarbaeva, the president's daughter. The state owns 50 percent plus one share of the holding company that controls Khabar. DK

TAJIK PRESIDENT RULES OUT PRIVATIZATION OF ALUMINUM PLANT
Imomali Rakhmonov told a business forum in Almaty on May 5 that there are no plans to privatize the Tajik Aluminum Plant (TadAZ), Interfax reported. Noting that Kazakhstan has expressed an interest in acquiring a stake in the plant, Rakhmonov said that "the issue is not one of privatization, but one of cooperation." Previous reports indicated that Russian Aluminum (RusAl) hoped to privatize the plant, Russia's "Vedomosti" reported on May 6. A RusAl spokesperson told the newspaper, "The privatization of TadAZ was never officially announced, so we never put in any bids." RusAl is planning to invest over $1 billion into aluminum and aluminum-related projects in Tajikistan. Denis Nushtaev, an analyst with Moscow-based finance company Metropol, told "Vedomosti" that high prices for aluminum may have convinced the Tajik government to hold on to the plant at a time when it is bringing in substantial profits. DK

U.S. DEPUTY SECRETARY OF STATE MEETS WITH TAJIK PRESIDENT
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher met with President Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on May 8 to discuss bilateral relations, Khovar reported. Rakhmonov said that U.S.-Tajik relations are a "priority area" in Tajikistan's foreign policy. Boucher stressed Tajikistan's potential as an exporter of electricity, noting that "U.S. companies are already working on the issue of participation in hydroenergy projects" and adding that "this also will help Afghanistan," Asia Plus-Blitz reported. On the issue of Iran's nuclear program, Rakhmonov said that Tajikistan supports a political and diplomatic resolution, Khovar reported. Boucher said, "I told the president [Rakhmonov] that we were pursuing a diplomatic solution to the many problems caused by Iran," RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Boucher continued, "Unfortunately, the Iranian government...has been a source of instability in many ways, whether it is the interference in the politics of neighboring countries, their support of violence against the attempts to make peace in the Middle East, or the enormous instability that would be caused by Iran acquiring nuclear weapons." DK

TURKMEN PRESIDENT STRESSES NEED FOR MILITARY SELF-RELIANCE
Saparmurat Niyazov said on May 5 that Turkmenistan should not rely on any other countries to provide security, Turkmen television reported. Niyazov said that "it is necessary for every state to be able to defend its sovereignty and to deal with domestic threats such as terrorism and drug trafficking. Only after this can one talk about cooperation with others." His remarks came as he observed the Golden Age-2006 military exercises, which involved units from various branches of Turkmenistan's armed forces fending off a simulated attack by foreign terrorists, News Central Asia reported. DK

RUSSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER MEETS WITH UZBEK PRESIDENT FOR ENERGY TALKS
Dmitry Medvedev met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on May 6 to discuss expanding energy-sector cooperation between the two countries, uzreport.com reported. Karimov noted that bilateral trade notched a 23.5 percent year-on-year increase in the first quarter of 2006. Medvedev, who is also the chairman of Gazprom's board of directors, said the state-controlled gas company can further develop its cooperation with Uzbekistan both in purchasing Uzbek gas and pursuing joint exploration projects, ITAR-TASS reported. Asked whether he and Karimov discussed the prices and volumes of future gas purchases from Uzbekistan, Medvedev said the issue needs to be discussed between the two countries' gas companies, adding that he hopes talks continue "in the near future." DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT RESHUFFLES CABINET
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has appointed Viktar Bura, deputy chairman of the Minsk City Executive Committee, as a deputy prime minister in Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski's cabinet, Belarusian media reported on May 5. At the same time, Lukashenka appointed five new ministers: Energy Minister Alyaksandr Azyarets, Communications Minister Mikalay Pantsyaley, Labor Minister Uladzimir Patupchyk, Health Minister Vasil Zharko, and Construction Minister Alyaksandr Selyaznyou. "I had not kept it secret before the presidential election that Syarhey Sidorski would serve as prime minister and that most of the members of the cabinet would retain their posts," Lukashenka commented on the new appointments. JM

BELARUS, UKRAINE MARK V-DAY WITH VETERAN PARADES
Belarus and Ukraine celebrated the 61st anniversary of the victory over Germany in World War II with parades of veterans in Minsk and Kyiv, respectively, Belarusian and Ukrainian media reported. The respective parades were attended by the Belarusian and Ukrainian presidents, Lukashenka and Viktor Yushchenko. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT ON BUILDING NEW COALITION...
Yushchenko said after meetings with Ukrainian political leaders in Kyiv on May 5 that he believes it possible to create a governing coalition in the country by May 24, UNIAN reported. Yushchenko was commenting on his separate meetings with Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov from the Our Ukraine bloc; Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc; Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz; and Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych. Yushchenko stressed that a future governing coalition should be built on four principles: a "maximally harmonized nationwide concept of values"; an operational legislature; a stable parliamentary majority; and the presidential foreign- and domestic-policy program as the basis for the coalition's actions. JM

...BUT QUESTIONS REMAIN ABOUT ITS COMPOSITION
Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists after her meeting with President Yushchenko on May 5 that her bloc, jointly with Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party, will present a draft coalition agreement on May 10 or 11, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "I think this meeting brought us much closer than we have been for weeks to an understanding on creating a coalition and making it work," Reuters quoted Tymoshenko as saying. Meanwhile, Yanukovych revealed to journalists on May 5 that his party was also conducting talks with Our Ukraine on the creation of a governing coalition. Yanukovych's statement came as a surprise, since Our Ukraine activists had so far denied the existence of such talks. "We do not rule out the possibility to create a coalition with other parties, we are conducting talks at different levels," Yanukovych added but did not elaborate. JM

JUNIOR PARTNER IN SERBIAN GOVERNMENT THREATENS TO FORCE SNAP ELECTIONS...
G17 Plus, the junior partner in Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's minority government, declared on May 8 that it will force snap elections if Ratko Mladic is not arrested by September, Reuters reported the same day. "We want to give those in charge of cooperation with the Hague tribunal a chance to finish the job," Finance Minister and G17 Plus Vice President Mladjan Dinkic told reporters. Dinkic added that Kostunica has assured him that Mladic will be in custody by September. G17 Plus President Miroljub Labus resigned as deputy prime minister on May 3 after the European Union broke off talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement when Belgrade failed to arrest Mladic by an April 30 deadline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). B92 reported on May 5 that Dinkic and Labus are deeply divided over whether to remain in the government. Labus wants G17 Plus to immediately leave the coalition, while Dinkic favors giving Kostunica more time to arrest Mladic. BW

...AS PRIME MINISTER REPORTEDLY DENIES PROMISING TO ARREST MLADIC BY SPECIFIC DATE...
Serbian Economy Minister Predrag Bubalo has quoted Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica as saying that he never promised the EU that Belgrade would arrest Mladic by a specific date, B92 and Beta reported on May 8. "[Kostunica] said that he had never given a concrete promise according to a certain date," Bubalo said. "In the last year, he has stated many times that it is an obligation that should have been taken care of yesterday." The European Union extended a deadline to arrest Mladic by the end of March after reportedly receiving assurances from Kostunica that he would be arrested by the end of April. BW

...AND PRESIDENT SAYS MORE TIME NEEDED
Serbian President Boris Tadic said on May 8 that Belgrade is sincerely trying to capture Mladic, but more time is needed, AFP reported the same day. "Serbia's government still needs a while to finish this work and, with good faith, I can say: let's still wait a little," Tadic told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting in Banja Luka with Bosnian Serb leaders. "Practically all the deadlines have long since passed. Despite that, the main question is to solve this problem sooner or later, and I hope as soon as possible." Serbian police announced on May 5 that they have arrested two more people suspected of assisting Mladic, bringing the total arrested this year to 10, Reuters reported the same day. BW

ACCUSED DJINDJIC ASSASSIN SAYS CONFESSION WAS COERCED
The man on trial for being the triggerman in the assassination of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said on May 8 that he confessed to the killing under duress, AP reported the same day. Zvezdan Jovanovic, who had been maintaining a courtroom silence, said police interrogators pressured him into signing a statement admitting to the March 2003 killing. "From the very beginning, they forced me to sign that. It is not really my statement," Jovanovic, a veteran Serbian paramilitary fighter from the Balkan wars of the 1990s, said. He did not give specifics about the alleged pressure, but his lawyer, Nenad Vukasovic, said it involved threats to his family. BW

BEIJING DEMANDS THAT ALBANIA TURN OVER UYGHURS
China asked Albania on May 8 to hand over five ethnic Uyghurs released from U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Reuters reported the same day. The five Chinese Muslims, who spent almost four years in Guantanamo without charge or trial, are applying for asylum in Albania. The United States, which decided to release the five, said it would not return them to China because they might face prosecution there. "The Uyghurs' preference was a European country. Albania generously offered to take them," an unidentified official from the U.S. Embassy in Tirana told Reuters. Bejing's Ambassador to Albania Tian Changchun, however, demanded that they be turned over to China. "We have contacted the Albanian side and want them to repatriate to China the five terrorists holding Chinese citizenship as soon as possible," he said in a statement. "In accordance with international law, the defendants should return to China." BW

GEORGIA TO ASSESS REPERCUSSIONS OF QUITTING CIS
For years, Georgian legislators and oppositionists alike have suggested periodically -- generally when relations with Russia take a downturn -- that Georgia might quit the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). But President Mikheil Saakashvili has consistently rejected that option -- until May 2, when he announced that he has asked the cabinet to produce within two months an assessment of the benefits Georgia can expect from remaining a CIS member, compared with the anticipated repercussions if it does indeed quit that alignment.

Georgian politicians' arguments in favor of leaving the CIS range from the general to the specific. Some point out, as have politicians from other CIS member states, that the CIS is virtually moribund as a political organization and that only a tiny percentage of the agreements its members have signed since its inception in late 1991 have been implemented. By contrast, subsidiary organizations such as the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization, which numbers only six members (Georgia declined in 1999 to renew its membership), and the Single Economic Space have proven more effective in promoting or defending specific interests.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, for example, commented to Ekho Moskvy on November 24, 2005, that the CIS does not draw fully on its potential. But both Noghaideli and Saakashvili still ruled out leaving the CIS. Speaking at the CIS summit in Kazan in late August 2005, Saakashvili said Georgia will not quit the CIS, which "can still be revived," rustavi2.com reported on August 27. And three months later, on December 1, Saakashvili similarly said that he personally is against Georgia leaving the CIS. But on that occasion too, he added that the CIS needs to be reformed, its declarations should be acted on, and its members should have greater freedom to act independently, Caucasus Press reported.

The Georgian parliament, on the other hand, has consistently taken a more aggressive stance with regard to the CIS, calling on the country's leaders on several occasions to withdraw from it. Such calls were, however, clearly intended less as a vote of no confidence in the CIS per se than as a slap in the face to Russia, perceived as the "glue" that binds 11 other former Soviet republics to it within the commonwealth. And Saakashvili made clear on May 2 that the catalyst for the current assessment of the benefits of CIS membership was not the actions of CIS member states as a whole, but the ban Russia imposed in March on imports of Georgian wine and other agricultural produce. (Russia has already responded to his implicit threat by imposing another ban, this one on imports of Georgian mineral water.)

Georgia has already secured an agreement on the closure of Russia's two remaining military bases in Georgia, and hopes to secure the replacement of the Russian peacekeepers deployed in Abkhazia and South Ossetia by international contingents. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Chechelashvili told Caucasus Press last December that Georgia's secession from the CIS was directly contingent in securing the withdrawal of the Russian peacekeepers.

Having thus set about minimizing the military-political leverage available to Russia to pressure Georgia (the two military bases and the peacekeeping forces), Saakashvili apparently feels that Georgia is now in a strong enough position to defy Russia by threatening to quit the CIS. It should be noted that there is a precedent for doing so: Azerbaijan withdrew from the CIS in 1992 following the election of Abulfaz Elcibey as president, but rejoined the following year after Heydar Aliyev returned to the helm in the wake of a coup that toppled Elcibey.

Speaking on May 4 in Vilnius, Saakashvili adduced the experience of Lithuania, which with Estonia and Latvia declined to join the CIS when the USSR collapsed in December 1991, as proof that Georgia could survive outside the CIS. But some Georgian experts believe otherwise. Parliament majority leader Maya Nadiradze argued in November 2005 -- even before Russia doubled the price of gas it supplies to Georgia from $55 to $110 per 1,000 cubic meters -- that "withdrawal from the CIS would have a negative effect on Georgia's economy," according to Caucasus Press on November 22.

Given that Moscow would almost certainly choose to construe Georgia's withdrawal from the CIS as a deliberate affront delivered at the behest of the United States with the aim of undercutting even further Russia's rapidly dwindling influence in the South Caucasus, Moscow could well retaliate by cutting completely supplies to Georgia of oil and gas; it is currently the primary supplier of both commodities. True, as of 2007, Georgia will be able to draw on gas supplies from Azerbaijan's Shah Deniz field, but the total volume it will receive in transit payments (200 million cubic meters in 2007 rising to 850 million cubic meters in 2010), augmented by the additional 500 million cubic meters that Georgia is entitled to purchase at the discount price of $55 per 1,000 cubic meters, will still initially fall short of the total 1.2 billion cubic meters Georgia consumes annually, Energy Minister Nika Gilauri told ministers on April 26, Caucasus Press reported.

Moreover, in 2005 Russia was Georgia's single-largest trade partner, accounting for 14.5 percent of bilateral trade (closely followed by Turkey with 12.9 percent). In 2005, bilateral trade with Russia stood at $105.9 million, compared with $122.9 million with all other CIS states. Georgia may seek to compensate for the loss of the Russian market by increasing its exports to other CIS states, in the first instance Ukraine, which has similarly signaled that it might leave the CIS. Kazakhstan, for example, is considered a possible alternative market for Georgian wine. But Russia might seek to pressure fellow CIS members not to accommodate Georgia in this way, a possibility that Georgian Minister for Economic Reform Kakha Bendukidze may have had in mind when he argued that Georgia should conclude bilateral agreements with other CIS member states before it opts out of the CIS.

PAKISTAN SAYS AFGHANISTAN, U.S. CAN 'DO MORE' TO COUNTER TERRORISM
Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri said in an interview with Karachi-based Geo News television on May 7 that the United States "can also do more, and Afghanistan can also do more, while Pakistan is doing its best" to fight terrorism. Kasuri was responding to Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta's suggestion in Kabul on May 7 that Pakistan can do more to fight terrorism affecting his country, as well as to U.S. State Department Special Coordinator for Counterterrorism Henry Crumpton, who while visiting Kabul on May 7 said that most of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda leadership are in Pakistan. The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan's public-relations chief, Major General Shaukat Sultan, called Crumpton's assertion "totally absurd," Lahore's "Daily Times" reported on May 8. Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao questioned why Crumpton didn't appeal to Islamabad officially over the allegations. Sultan called Crumpton's remarks "a highly irresponsible act" that Pakistan condemns, the "Doha Times" reported on May 8. Kabul has consistently accused Islamabad of doing too little to combat -- or even of supporting -- terrorist elements operating in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," February 28 and March 24, 2006). AT

OUTSPOKEN AFGHAN LAWMAKER PHYSICALLY, VERBALLY ABUSED BY HER COLLEAGUES...
Malalai Joya, a member of People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) in the Afghan National Assembly representing the western Farah Province, was pelted with empty water bottles by other female representatives while male colleagues made death threats against her during a legislative session on May 7, AP reported. The melee began after Joya accused some former Afghan mujahedin of mass murder. Referring to the resistance groups who first fought against the Soviet troops and the communist regime in Afghanistan and later turned their guns on their rivals, Joya said that there were "two kinds of mujahedin in Afghanistan: One kind fought for independence, which I respect, but the other kind destroyed the country." A number of liberal lawmakers circled Joya in order to protect her from their conservative colleagues. Shukria Barakzai, a female legislator from Kabul, said the reaction to Joya's comments "creates concern for the future of parliament." "They may kill me, they may slash by neck. [But] I will never stop my words against the criminals, against the drug dealers," Joya was quoted as saying by AP. Joya gained international attention when she criticized the participation of mujahedin leaders in the Constitutional Loya Jirga of 2003, and again when the parliament was inaugurated in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 18, 2003, and December 20, 2005). AT

...WHO ALSO ATTACK CAMERAMAN
A cameraman working for Kabul-based Tolu Television was reportedly assaulted by lawmakers and thrown out of the lower house of the Afghan parliament while attempting to film the Joya incident on May 7, Tolu reported. The cameraman, identified as Omid Yakmanish, said that "one of the respected" parliamentarians beat him before he was expelled from the lower-house hall. Yakmanish did not identify the parliamentarian in question. AT

AFGHAN PRESIDENT ASKS MINISTERS TO DECLARE THEIR ASSETS
At the first meeting of his still incomplete cabinet in Kabul on 8 May, President Hamid Karzai urged ministers to clarify their financial situations to ensure transparency, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. A statement issued by the presidential office quoted Karzai as saying that Afghans "must know how much wealth and property their ministers and president own." The lower house of the Afghan National Assembly in April approved 20 of Karzai's 25 ministerial nominees (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 28, 2006). AT

IRAN DOES NOT FEAR SANCTIONS OVER ATOMIC DOSSIER
Government spokesman Gholam-Hussein Elham said in Tehran on May 8 that Iran would not be the only state to suffer if Western states at the UN impose sanctions on Tehran for violating nuclear nonproliferation rules, ISNA reported. "One cannot imagine...that if we are subjected to sanctions, this will be entirely harmful to us and others will not be harmed," he said. "This sanction may even provoke more movement in our domestic production" and boost the economy, he said. The same day, Tehran parliamentary representative Ali Zadsar urged Iran's economic ministers to sever trade ties with Russia, China, and France if they cooperate with the United States on Iran's dossier, ISNA reported. He said those countries are making "very great profits" from the "blessing" of commercial transactions with Iran. He said ministers "must warn that if [these states] cooperate with America against Iran," ties could be "reviewed" or cut, and "large contracts" suspended. Another legislator, Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, told ILNA on May 8 that members of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee discussed Iran's dossier at a recent session with senior security official Ali Hosseini-Tash, and he assured them Iran is not in as grave a situation "as America states." VS

PRESIDENT TO REVERSE DECISION ON LETTING WOMEN INTO SPORTS STADIUMS?
Government spokesman Elham said in Tehran on May 8 that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will reconsider a decision to allow women into sports matches after Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei disagreed with Ahmadinejad, saying that senior clerics objected and believe such a move would encourage indecent behavior among youth (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006), the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day. "The president has said that the supreme leader instructed us to reconsider out of respect for senior [religious] authorities, and on the basis of his order and the leadership's opinion, the decision has been reconsidered," he said. Khamenei occasionally intervenes to resolve controversial affairs and he has the final say on state affairs. Iran's religious laws discourage proximity or intimacy between members of the opposite sex unless they are married or close relatives. VS

HEALTH MINISTRY: 70,000 HIV-POSITIVE IN IRAN
Mohammad Mehdi Guya, the head of the disease management center at the Health Ministry, said on May 8 in Tehran that the ministry's "estimate is that right now 70,000 people in the country are infected with HIV," the virus that causes AIDS, IRNA reported the same day. Officially, there are 13,040 HIV-positive registered people, of whom 12,336 are men. He added that 63.4 percent of those infected had contracted the virus through drug use, and only 7.2 percent through sexual intercourse. He said infection rates are rising and the average age of those infected is going down, adding that there is a shortage of trained personnel to provide relevant medical care. "Unfortunately society has a negative view" of AIDS and this "has meant we have been unable to identify many infected people," IRNA reported him as saying. VS

BOMBS EXPLODE IN WESTERN IRAN
Two bombs exploded on May 8 in Kermanshah -- a town in western Iran with a large Kurdish population -- damaging government buildings and injuring seven people, RFE/RL's Radio Farda and news agencies reported the same day. No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings, Radio Farda reported, but it noted that western Iran, home to the country's Kurdish population, have been the scene of Kurdish unrest and some violence in the past year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," August 23, 2005, and February 6, 2006). Separately, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group, recently vowed to retaliate against Turkey and Iran following incursions into Iraq by Iranian and Turkish troops to fight PKK-affiliated forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2006). The explosions took place within an hour of each other, one in the Kermanshah district governor's office, and the other in a regional trade chamber, Radio Farda reported. VS

HEADLESS BODIES FOUND SOUTH OF IRAQI CAPITAL
The bodies of 11 Iraqis were found in the Tigris River south of Baghdad on May 9, Reuters reported, citing police officials. Nine of the bodies, including that of a 10-year-old boy, were headless, while seven of the victims were wearing Iraqi security forces' uniforms when discovered. All of the victims' hands were bound. Police said they had been killed within the past week. KR

IRAQ'S PREMIER-DESIGNATE SAYS MORE TIME NEEDED FOR CABINET FORMATION
Nuri al-Maliki told reporters at a May 9 press briefing in Baghdad that more time has been given to political blocs to finalize cabinet posts in the incoming government, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Al-Maliki said that he expects the cabinet to be finalized in one day's time, adding that it will be presented to parliament at the weekend. He also told reporters that key portfolios have been filled, but declined to discuss the details, except to say that the interior and defense posts will be filled by "independent" persons not linked to militias. The heads of the oil, trade, and transport ministries remain under discussion. Iraq's Council of Representatives is scheduled to meet next on May 10. KR

KURDS SWEAR IN UNIFIED CABINET IN NORTHERN IRAQ
The Kurdistan Region announced on May 7 the formation of the first unified cabinet for the region since the fall of the Hussein regime, international media reported. Regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani swore the 42-minister cabinet into office during a ceremony in Irbil, broadcast live on KurdSat. Barzani said the cabinet's objectives are to "serve the citizens equally and protect every single one of them; to promote equal opportunities, to respect social, religious, and political entities in Kurdistan; to provide security and stability; [and] to adhere to the law and respect the freedom of individuals and groups." KR

BRITISH EXPERTS HEAD TO IRAQ TO INVESTIGATE HELICOPTER CRASH
A team of experts is headed to Iraq to investigate the crash of a British helicopter in the southern city of Al-Basrah on May 6, Al-Arabiyah television reported on May 8. The cause of the crash has not been determined, but police said it appeared that the helicopter was hit by a rocket. Soon after the crash, demonstrators reportedly loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr attacked British military vehicles and ambulances that had rushed to the scene, throwing Molotov cocktails and makeshift grenades at the soldiers. U.K. Defense Secretary Des Browne said that five people were killed in the crash, according to a May 8 statement posted on the Defense Ministry website (http://www.mod.uk). Browne downplayed the riot that followed the crash, saying: "To put this in its proper context, the disturbances on the ground involved a crowd of 200-300 people. Although magnified by the media images we saw, it was an isolated incident in a city of around 1.5 million people." KR

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