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Newsline - May 22, 2006


RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SLAMS 'PARANOID' WEST...
In an interview published on May 22, Sergei Lavrov said Iran should have the right to peaceful nuclear energy, and he accused the West of "paranoia," dpa reported. In an interview with the Austrian magazine "Profil," Lavrov said the atmosphere between Russia and the West is "not as we would like to have it." He added that in the West there is "a kind of paranoia that still persists with the mentality of the Cold War," which is harming relations with Moscow. Lavrov singled the United States out specifically, criticizing Washington for telling allies "either you're with us or on the other side of the barricades," and for trying to "force its ideology" on the world. Regarding Iran, Lavrov said that given the fact that Tehran broke its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it is "only natural that the international community no longer trusts" them. But once the current crisis is resolved, he continued, Russia will not be opposed to Iran enriching uranium for peaceful purposes under IAEA safeguards. BW

...WARNS AGAINST ISOLATING BELARUS...
Speaking on May 19 at a press conference in Strasbourg after Russia assumed the chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, Lavrov said that the West should not continue its policy of isolating Belarus, Interfax reported the same day. Belarus "should not be isolated but engaged in interaction. This is much more productive in achieving a positive response," Lavrov said. "I am sure that dialogue is in the interests of all those who are convinced of the need to promote democracy and other Council of Europe principles," he added. BW

...AND CLARIFIES MOSCOW'S POSITION ON KOSOVA TALKS
Many observers construed Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement in late January that the eventual solution to the Kosova conflict could serve as a precedent for resolving analogous territorial disputes within CIS states as favoring independence not only for Kosova but for Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 1, 2006). But Foreign Minister Lavrov made clear to journalists at his press conference in Strasbourg on May 19 that Moscow does not approve of Kosova's "unconstructive" insistence in the ongoing status talks that there is no alternative to independence, or of what he termed Prishtina's attempt to impose its preferred solution on Belgrade. In comments posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website (http://www.mid.ru), Lavrov said that if the two sides reached a mutually acceptable solution tomorrow, Russia would "vote with both hands in favor" of endorsing it, but that if they need more time to reach a solution, it would be counterproductive to impose an artificial deadline for doing so. The international Contact Group on Kosova -- which comprises the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and Italy -- recently expressed the hope that a solution in the ongoing status talks could be reached by the end of this year. LF

RUSSIAN OFFICIAL SAYS MOSCOW WILL SEEK TO EASE DIFFERENCES WITH EUROPE
Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Grushko said on May 21 that Russia will seek to use its chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers to ease divisions on the continent, Interfax reported the same day. Grushko said Russia will also seek to address differences with Brussels at a Russia-EU summit meeting in Sochi in late May. "Not everything is smooth in relations between Russia and the European Union," Grushko said. "However, one more step toward lifting the barriers will be made at the summit in Sochi." BW

RUSSIA SAYS NGOS CAN'T HAVE EQUAL ROLE AS STATES ON UN RIGHTS COUNCIL
A senior Russian diplomat said on May 21 that nongovernmental organizations should have a role in the United Nations Human Rights Council, but should not be as powerful as states, Interfax reported the same day. "We, here in Russia, can hardly imagine nongovernmental organizations excluded from the council's work," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Yakovenko told Interfax "But one should not forget that the UN, by nature, is an interstate organization, and that the future Human Rights Council is called upon to be the main intergovernmental human rights agency in the United Nations system," he said, adding that "proposals to put the member states and nongovernmental organizations' powers and status on an equal footing in the Human Rights Council are unfounded." BW

ORTHODOX CHURCH OFFICIAL SAYS PAPAL VISIT NOT DISCUSSED WITH VATICAN
A senior Russian Orthodox Church official said on May 19 that the prospects for a papal visit to Moscow were not discussed at a recent Vatican meeting, Interfax reported. Metropolitan Kiril of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, who is the head of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, met with Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican on May 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 19, 2006). Kiril was the highest-ranking Orthodox Church official to meet the pontiff since the latter's election in April 2005, and the meeting sparked speculation that a papal visit to Russia could be in the works. "The issue of a papal visit was not on the agenda," Kiril said. BW

RUSSIAN FINANCE MINISTER URGES OIL EXPORTERS TO AID POOR COUNTRIES
Aleksei Kudrin said on May 21 that Russia has asked all oil-exporting countries to increase their aid to poor countries affected by rising petroleum prices, Interfax reported the same day. "We have urged the oil-exporting states to contribute to the mechanism of aiding the poorest countries affected by the oil price hikes," he told a meeting of officials from Group of Eight (G-8) countries in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. Russia, he said, has donated the equivalent of $45 million to a special "antishock fund," which provides support to poor countries hit hard by oil price rises. BW

DEMONSTRATIONS MARK SAKHAROV'S BIRTHDAY
Approximately 500 demonstrators in downtown Moscow marked the late Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov's 85th birthday on May 21 by protesting the deterioration of human rights in Russia, dpa reported the same day. "We have come together to defend freedom in our country as long as there is something left to defend," Yury Zamodurov, director of the Sakharov Museum, said in remarks reported by Interfax. Sakharov, the dissident Soviet physicist and rights activist, died in 1989. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. BW

YAMALO-NENETS GOVERNOR QUESTIONED IN CORRUPTION CASE
Local prosecutors have questioned Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksei Barinov in a criminal case opened into large-scale embezzlement at the Arkhangelskgeoldobycha company of which Barinov served as general director until 2003, Russian media reported on May 20 and 21. Barinov's home and his office have been searched. Barinov was elected Yamalo-Nenets governor in February 2005, defeating two rival candidates from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, according to "Gazeta" on May 22, and in that capacity he voiced his objections to the proposed merger of the oblast with Arkhangelsk. LF

TWO ARMED MILITANTS KILLED IN POLICE OPERATION IN DAGHESTAN
Police in an armored personnel carrier opened fire on May 21 on a house in the northern town of Khasavyurt where two armed militants were hiding, Russian media reported. The militants returned fire, wounding three police officers, but were killed when police stormed the building. One of the two militants was identified as Bulat Abdulayev, head of a band of local fighters. LF

INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL NOT RESIGN
Murat Zyazikov assured Interfax in a May 19 interview that there is no truth to media reports that he will step down in the wake of the recent abduction of his father-in-law and the May 18 assassination of Ingushetia's most senior counterinsurgency official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 1 and 2, and May 2 and 18, 2006). Zyazikov recalled that his dismissal and appointment to other posts, including that of ambassador to various African states, has been predicted countless times since he was first elected president four years ago. In implicit response to opposition accusations that his policies have resulted in economic collapse, Zyazikov said that while positive change is obvious, "it is not happening as rapidly as we would like," and "there is still much difficult work to be done." President Putin reappointed Zyazikov for a second presidential term one year ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 3 and 8, 2005). LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on May 19 that he and his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov failed during talks in Strasbourg the previous evening to agree on scheduling a further meeting of the two countries' presidents to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict. Oskanian said earlier this month that such a meeting could take place in June. Oskanian told RFE/RL on May 20 that his talks with Mammadyarov were "not bad overall," but that "there are still many issues that have not yet been agreed on." Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry summoned on May 20 the Russian charge d'affaires in Baku, Petr Burdykin, to protest allegedly biased and pro-Armenian statements made in an interview with Armenian media by Vladimir Kazimirov, who served from 1992-96 as Russian co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group that is seeking to mediate a solution to the conflict, day.az reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI FIRST DEPUTY PREMIER RESIGNS
Abbas Abbasov, who has served for 14 years as first deputy prime minister, submitted a letter of resignation on May 18 that President Ilham Aliyev accepted the following day, day.az and echo-az.com reported on May 19 and 20, respectively. Abbasov was responsible primarily for agriculture and for economic ties with other CIS member states, according to echo-az.com. LF

GEORGIA PROTESTS TALKS BETWEEN NORTH, SOUTH OSSETIA
The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a formal protest on May 20 in connection with the visit the previous day to Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, of a government delegation from North Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. That delegation, which was headed by North Ossetian Prime Minister Aleksandr Merkulov, participated in a joint session of the governments of the two republics. South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murat Djioev responded on May 20 to the Georgian protest by affirming that "South Ossetia is a sovereign state and not a part of Georgia," Caucasus Press reported. He added that South Ossetia is therefore entitled to decide independently which states it wants to cooperate with. LF

GEORGIAN OMBUDSMAN IMPLICATES SENIOR OFFICIALS
Georgia's human rights ombudsman Sozar Subar delivered a report to a parliamentary committee on May 19 in which he criticized several senior officials, Caucasus Press reported. Subar said the deaths of several prisoners during fighting in a Tbilisi jail in March were the direct consequence of Justice Ministry official Bacho Akhalaya's decision to authorize armed troops to open fire on prisoners (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30, 2006). Subar also called on the Prosecutor-General's Office to open criminal cases against Mikheil Kareli, a close associate of Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, for allegedly misappropriating land, and against National Security Council Secretary Kote Kemularia. Subar implied that in his former post of Justice Minister, Kemularia was to blame for the embezzlement of funds earmarked for the reconstruction of a prison in Kutaisi. Kemularia retaliated by branding Subar "an idiot," and dismissed the allegations against him as politically motivated, according to rustavi2.com on May 20. Most parliament deputies from both the opposition and the pro-government majority positively assessed Subar's report, rustavi2.com reported on May 19. LF

KAZAKH MINISTER OUTLINES PIPELINE PROSPECTS, DIFFICULTIES
Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told Interfax in Berlin on May 19 that a gas pipeline across the Caspian Sea may be built only with the agreement of all five Caspian littoral states."Despite the general appeal of this project, it is quite difficult in technical terms," Toqaev said. "Especially considering that it requires the laying of a gas pipeline along the Caspian seafloor, for which the consent of all Caspian states is needed." The Caspian's legal status remains undefined, and Toqaev noted that while the littoral states have managed to agree on "70 percent" of a convention to define the Caspian's legal status, "it is difficult to expect that the convention will be ready for signing in the near future." The news agency noted that Iranian officials recently cast doubt on the possibility of a trans-Caspian gas pipeline without the consent of all five littoral states. On another front, Toqaev told Interfax that Kazakhstan is considering a Chinese proposal for a gas pipeline running parallel to the existing Atasa-Alashankou oil pipeline for exports from Kazakhstan to China. China made the proposal when Toqaev visited Beijing in mid-April, but Toqaev said that it is still too early to discuss any possible time frames for the project. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SAYS TALKS ON U.S. BASE NEARING FINAL STAGE
President Kurmanbek Bakiev said on May 19 that a U.S. delegation is expected in Kyrgyzstan on May 22-23 for talks on a new agreement for the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, Kabar reported. Asked whether Kyrgyzstan would ask the United States to leave if Washington does not agree to a lease increase by June 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 20, 2006), Bakiev said: "The active phase of military operations is over for all practical purposes [in Afghanistan]. A president and parliament have been elected there, although pockets of tension, of course, have remained. But the situation is different than what it was five years ago. That's why we've proposed that the American side pay market prices for its presence in Kyrgyzstan." Queried about price negotiations, Bakiev responded: "We're not at the bazaar. The bazaar is for haggling. If the American side feels that Kyrgyzstan has presented incorrect calculations, let them prove it to us. And if they convince us that we've raised the price unjustifiably, we're willing to review our position." Comments Bakiev made earlier this year indicated that Kyrgyzstan is seeking annual lease payments of $200 million from the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2006), which until now has paid approximately $2 million to lease the territory of its air base in Kyrgyzstan. DK

FRANCE BOOSTS TAJIKISTAN CONTINGENT...
Three French Mirage 2000 fighter jets and 250 servicemen have arrived in Tajikistan to boost that country's military contingent at Dushanbe airport, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported on May 19 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12, 2006). The aircraft will carry out flights over Afghanistan until October. With the arrival of the extra servicemen, the total strength of the French contingent in Tajikistan is 400. DK

...AS TAJIK OFFICIAL SAYS NO NEW BASES PLANNED
Tajik Deputy Defense Minister Ramil Nodirov, who is also chief of staff of the country's armed forces, told Interfax-AVN on May 19 that Tajikistan does not plan to host any new foreign military bases. "There will be no foreign military bases on the territory of Tajikistan except the Russian one, the status and deployment conditions of which are determined by earlier agreements," Nodirov said. As he has in the past, he dismissed media reports of a possible Indian military base in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006). "It is just someone playing their game, trying to be not pawns, but a chessboard," Nodirov said. DK

RUSSIAN FIRM BEGINS TAJIK POWER PLANT CONSTRUCTION
Russian Aluminum (Rusal) has begun the first stage of a project to construct the Roghun hydroelectric power station in Tajikistan, Avesta reported on May 19 citing Rusal's press service. Rusal will invest $50 million into the first stage of the project, which is slated for completion in September and will create infrastructure for the specialists needed to construct the power station itself. The plant is intended to provide power for an aluminum-production facility Rusal plans to construct in southern Tajikistan. DK

TURKMENISTAN OBTAINS CHINESE LOAN FOR GAS PRODUCTION
Representatives of China's Export-Import Bank and Turkmenistan's State Bank for Foreign Economic Activity signed an agreement in Ashgabat on May 19 for China to provide Turkmenistan with a 200 million-yuan ($25 million) loan on favorable terms, turkmenistan.ru reported the next day. The loan is earmarked for the purchase of equipment to boost production at Turkmenistan's Dauletabad-3 gas field. DK

UZBEKISTAN SHUTS DOWN U.S.-BASED NGO
The Uzbek Justice Ministry has shut down the Kokand and Ferghana branches of the U.S.-based NGO Central Asian Free Exchange (CAFE), ITAR-TASS reported on May 19. An Uzbek court has ruled that CAFE representatives engaged in illegal proselytizing in the two cities, the Justice Ministry told the Russian news agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 17, 2006). DK

REPORT SAYS FORMER UZBEK MINISTER TO FACE COURT
Ferghana.ru reported on May 20 that former Uzbek Defense Minister Qodir Ghulomov will appear before a military court on May 22 in connection with offences he is alleged to have committed during his tenure as minister. The unconfirmed report said that the investigation of Ghulomov began after his removal as defense minister in November 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 21, 2005). DK

BELARUSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCES DISCUSSES NUCLEAR POWER
Research aimed at achieving greater energy security was singled out as the top priority of the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences on May 19, Belapan reported. Uladzimir Tsimashpolski, deputy chairman of the academy's presidium, stressed Belarus's dependence on imports of natural gas from Russia, which account for 95 percent of Belarus's total fuel consumption, Belapan reported. Tsimashpolski said that building a nuclear power plant should be a top priority for Belarus. "Nuclear fuel would replace a considerable amount of energy imports, he said. "Nuclear fuel is much cheaper than organic ones -- an amount equivalent to one ton of coal costs $5 to $25 at present." One ton of coal costs approximately $60. RK

GUAM MEETING OPENS IN KYIV
A two-day summit meeting of the presidents of GUAM member states (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Moldova) opened in Kyiv on May 22. The main topics on the agenda are the diversification of energy supplies and containment of regional "frozen conflicts." The adopted agenda foresees separate meetings of the member states' foreign, energy, and interior ministers, and of the heads of their respective security services. A proposed name change for the organization, Organization for Democracy and Economic Development -- GUAM, is expected to be adopted at the meeting. The presidents of Lithuania, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania were invited to attend the summit as guests. RK

EBRD PREDICTS STUNTED ECONOMIC GROWTH IN UKRAINE
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) has forecast that Ukraine's economic growth in 2006 will be the lowest in Central and Eastern Europe, UNIAN reported on May 22. The EBRD predicts economic growth of 1.2 percent in Ukraine in 2006, compared to 2.4 percent in 2005. The increased cost of imported gas is named as one of the factors for the lower expectations. The EBRD has forecast lower economic growth throughout the entire region. UN experts predicted in February that Ukrainian growth in 2006 would be 5 percent, UNIAN reported on May 22. RK

PRELIMINARY RESULTS INDICATE WIN FOR PRO-INDEPENDENCE FORCES IN MONTENEGRO...
According to unofficial results, Montenegro narrowly voted for independence from Serbia on May 21, international news agencies reported the next day. "Based on the count of 99.9 percent of the ballots cast, 55.5 percent of Montenegrins have voted for independence," Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who favors independence, told supporters in Podgorica. "The Montenegrin statehood has been restored." Less than an hour after polls closed on May 21, the unofficial Center for Free Elections and Democracy (CESID) said its tally showed 56.3 percent of the vote in favor of independence, with strong turnout of 86 percent. Two hours later, CESID chief Zoran Lucic lowered the projection to 55.3 percent, still more than the 55 percent threshold agreed with the European Union. Ultimately, the CESID said the "yes" campaign won 55.5 percent. After Djukanovic endorsed the projected results, celebrations broke out in central Podgorica among independence supporters. BW

...BUT UNIONISTS REFUSE TO CONCEDE PENDING FINAL RESULTS
Unionist politicians, however, criticized pro-independence forces for prematurely declaring victory based on unofficial results, international news agencies reported on May 22. Opposition leader Predrag Bulatovic, who supports a continued union with Serbia, criticized the "aggressive and arrogant" pro-independence celebrations, dpa reported. Likewise, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that only official results can be regarded as legitimate. Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic, however, offered Montenegro conditional congratulations. "On condition that these results are final, I congratulate citizens of Montenegro on their majority and democratic choice," he said in a statement released to the Tanjug news agency and quoted by dpa. "As of tonight, not only Montenegro but Serbia, too, is on the path toward the international recognition of its independence." BW

EU FOREIGN POLICY CHIEF CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF TALKS WITH SERBIA...
EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana on May 19 called for a resumption of frozen pre-membership talks with Serbia, Reuters reported the same day. Brussels broke off talks with Belgrade on a Stabilization and Association Agreement after Serbia failed to arrest war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic by an April 30 deadline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2 and 3, 2006). "We have to resume negotiations with Serbia, really the sooner the better," Solana said. He added that a positive assessment from International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia's (ICTY) chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, should be sufficient to restart talks. "If the Serbian government, according to [Del Ponte], shows clearly that 100 percent of the effort is being done, and I think they are doing their utmost of course, the situation may change and in that case it should change," Solana said. BW

...BUT ICTY PROSECUTOR SAYS SERBIA IS DECEIVING TRIBUNAL
ICTY prosecutor Del Ponte has said Serbian officials have been deceiving her about the search for Mladic, Beta, FoNet, and B92 reported on May 19. In a letter to EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, Del Ponte wrote that Serbian officials overstated how close they were to capturing Mladic. She also wrote that she doubts Belgrade's sincerity about wanting to capture Mladic and that she suspects that elements inside the Serbian government were tipping off Mladic about the search. BW

SERBIAN SUPREME COURT RESTORES BK TELEVISION'S LICENSE
Serbia's Supreme Court has overturned a decision to revoke BK Television's broadcast license, Beta, FoNet, and B92 reported on May 19. On April 25, Serbia's Broadcast Agency Council closed the station, which is connected to controversial tycoon Bogoljub Karic. Authorities accused the station of bias during the 2004 presidential election for giving Karic, whose family owns the station, more time than other candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27 and 28, 2006). The Supreme Court ruled, however, that the Broadcast Agency Council failed to give sufficient legal justification to support revoking BK Television's right to broadcast. BW

PREMIER SAYS MOLDOVA WILL SUPPORT RUSSIA'S WTO BID
Speaking at a joint press conference with International Monetary Fund representative in Moldova Johan Mathisen, Vasile Tarlev said on May 19 that Chisinau will back Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "We want Russia's earliest admission to the WTO, it will do good not only to Russia, but other countries as well, including Moldova," he said. Tarlev added that in joining the WTO, "it is necessary to be ready to match the [WTO's] fundamental principles and norms," in an apparent reference to Moldova's ongoing dispute with Russia over wine imports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). Moldova has threatened to block Russia's WTO bid over the ban. BW

CONCERNS RAISED ABOUT RUSSIA CHAIRING COUNCIL OF EUROPE
Activists expressed concern when Russia inherited the chairmanship of the Group of Eight (G-8) major industrialized countries at the beginning of 2006. And Moscow's accession on March 19 to the head of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, the organization's decision-making body, is likely to spark even more controversy.

As he outlined Moscow's goals during its six-month chairmanship, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's remarks alternated between reassuring and defiant. Speaking on May 18 in Strasbourg, Lavrov said Moscow will seek to stretch the council's mandate beyond protecting human rights and promoting democracy.

"We believe we can contribute not only to safeguarding and developing issues that are traditionally on the agenda of the Council of Europe, but also to extending cooperation in new areas, particularly in the context of the search for more effective responses to the threats of terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Lavrov said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has also indicated it will use its chairmanship to fight what it calls Western "double standards" regarding Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Such sentiments from Moscow have served to increase Western concerns about Russia's tenure at the head of the committee, which comprises the foreign ministers of all the member states, or their permanent diplomatic representatives in Strasbourg.

Just last week, the Council of Europe's European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance criticized Moscow for not doing enough to combat a virtual epidemic of hate crimes. And the previous week, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights accused Russia of running a network of secret prisons in Chechnya, and asked the Council of Europe to investigate.

Human rights activists say that rather than seeking to expand the Council of Europe's mandate, Russia should instead focus on meeting its own obligations as a member of the organization. Diederik Lohman, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said Russia has actually regressed in key areas of democratic freedoms since joining the Council of Europe 10 years ago.

"Russia is definitely a whole lot less democratic than it was in 1996. Freedom of speech, freedom of the media have been restricted severely over the last 10 years. In addition to that, there of course still is the lingering armed conflict in Chechnya, where people continue to disappear on a very regular basis at the hands of Russian forces or pro-Moscow Chechen forces," Lohman said. "And the Russians have not taken any effective steps to stop these abuses there or to bring the perpetrators to justice. "

Lohman added that Russia has room for improvement in many areas, including reforming the Prosecutor-General's Office and the security services, formally abolishing the death penalty, and protecting basic rights such as freedom of the press.

Rights activists say that Russia's claims of double standards and warnings about the West imposing its own standards are disingenuous. "By being a member of the Council of Europe, Russia has formally taken on certain human rights obligations. It can no longer say that these are 'Western' values, because they are values that it has signed on to," Lohman noted. "The European Court of Human Rights has very clear jurisprudence, and that jurisprudence applies to every single member state in the Council of Europe, including Russia. So there really are no double standards."

As a member of the Council of Europe, Russia is expected to take over the committee chairmanship. The chair is not elected, but rotates alphabetically among the Council of Europe's 46 member states.

18 SOLDIERS, DOZENS OF INSURGENTS REPORTED KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHAN FIREFIGHTS
The Afghan Defense Ministry claimed in a press release that 13 Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers were killed in an ambush in Helmand Province on May 21, the official Afghanistan National Television reported. Eight hours of fighting between ANA soldiers and "government opponents" also resulted in the death of 20 "terrorists" and the capture of nine others. One ANA soldier was reported missing and others 15 sustained injuries. In a separate incident in Helmand Province on May 21, three ANA troops and a French soldier were killed, scotsman.com reported on May 22. In a battle in neighboring Oruzgan Province on May 19, one U.S. soldier was killed and seven others were wounded, American Forces Press Service (AFPS) reported on May 21. According to the AFPS report, U.S.-led coalition and ANA forces killed 20 "enemy fighters" in the Oruzgan battle. AT

NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM KILLING OF FORMER GOVERNOR, PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER
Mohammad Ali Jalali, who formerly served as governor of Paktika Province in southwestern Afghanistan and also served as an adviser on tribal affairs to President Hamid Karzai, was killed by Taliban fighters on May 21, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Jalali and a colleague were reportedly kidnapped in the Andar district of Ghazni Province. Hours later, Mullah Mohammad Sharif Anas, purporting to be a Taliban commander, told Pajhwak that "we killed the former governor Jalali...while his colleague was set free." AT

SUICIDE BOMBER KILLS TWO IN KABUL
A suicide car bomb exploded when it hit a truck in eastern Kabul on May 21, killing two civilians, RFE/RL reported. The bomber was also killed in what Afghan officials quoted by RFE/RL said they believe was a premature explosion. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which frequently uses the road on which the explosion occurred, was the presumed target of the attack, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on May 22. AT

AFGHAN GOVERNOR CLAIMS PAKISTAN 'FORCING' TALIBAN TO ENTER AFGHANISTAN
Helmand Province Governor Mohammad Daud said that intelligence reports available to him suggest that "hundreds and hundreds of Taliban who have been in Pakistan" since 2001 are being "forced" by Pakistan to "move inside Afghanistan," London's "The Sunday Times," reported on May 21. Mohammad Daud claimed the Taliban are planning to reestablish bases in northern Helmand that were once used by mujahedin fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, speaking in Kabul on May 21, said that his government knows that the ideological, political, and military "leadership of Taliban, and also another international terrorist group, are living in Pakistan," RFE/RL reported. On May 18, President Karzai once again accused Pakistan of supporting cross-border attacks by militants and of interfering in Afghanistan's internal affairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 19, 2006). AT

PAKISTAN REJECTS AFGHAN PRESIDENT'S CHARGES OF INTERFERENCE
Pakistan's Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Mohammad Ali Durrani on May 20 called Afghan President Karzai's charges that Pakistan is supporting cross-border attacks inside Afghanistan baseless and unfounded, PTV reported. Durrani predicted that Karzai's comments will have a negative impact on relations between Kabul and Islamabad. The responsibility of maintaining security in Afghanistan is the responsibility of the Karzai administration, Durrani said. Al-Qaeda elements present in Pakistan and many Pakistani problems are a direct result of instability in Afghanistan, Durrani said. Durrani demanded an end to the infiltration of terrorists from Afghanistan to his country. Charges and countercharges between Afghanistan and Pakistan of interference have intensified in recent months (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," March 24 and April 26, 2006). AT

UN RESOLUTION ON LEBANON ANGERS TEHRAN
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said at a May 18 press conference in Damascus that the recent United Nations Resolution 1680 is against international law and represents international interference in bilateral Damascus-Beirut relations, SANA reported. Adopted on May 17, resolution 1680 builds on resolution 1559 of 2004. In a reference to the military capabilities of Hizballah and resolution 1559's call for the disarmament of militias, resolution 1680 states: "The Council...called for further efforts to disband and disarm all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias and to fully restore the Lebanese Government's control over all its territory." Resolution 1680 also refers to the mid-April UN report on the implementation of resolution 1559, which specifically calls for "cooperation of all other relevant parties, including Syria and Iran" (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," May 3, 2006). According to the new resolution, the Security Council "Reiterates also its call on all concerned States and parties as mentioned in the report, to cooperate fully with the Government of Lebanon, the Security Council and the Secretary-General to achieve this goal [implementation of 1559]." Resolution 1680 singles out Damascus, calling on it to resolve border controversies with Beirut, to establish a permanent diplomatic relationship with Beirut, and to control the movement of arms into Lebanon. BS

LEBANESE NOTE IRANIAN INTERFERENCE IN THEIR AFFAIRS
The Maronite patriarch in Lebanon, Nasrallah Butrus Sfayr, discussed other countries' interference in his country's affairs in a May 20 interview with Al-Arabiyah television. Asked about his earlier allegations against Iran and Syria, Sfayr said, "The Lebanese are not left alone to solve their problems." He continued, "There are those who provide funds and weapons and there are those who support one party against another." On May 19 in Moscow, Lebanese legislator Saad Hariri, son of slain former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, also noted Iranian and Syrian interference in his country's affairs, Interfax reported. "We will not accept interference in our internal affairs by Syria, or Iran, or any other state," he said. BS

IRANIAN GROUPS PLEDGE SUPPORT FOR PALESTINIANS, HAMAS
Foruz Rajaifar, secretary-general of the Commemoration Headquarters for the Martyrs of Islam's World Movement, claimed at a May 20 conference at the University of Tehran that 35 Jews resident outside Iran have registered as volunteers for martyrdom operations (suicide bombings), Mehr News Agency reported. Rajaifar said a new martyrdom-seeking unit would be named on May 25, adding, "This unit has been named after martyr Nader Mahdavi, who was martyred when he rammed his speedboat into an American frigate in the Persian Gulf." The Student Movement for Justice and the Students Committee for the Support of Palestine have established a fund to aid the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Fars News Agency reported on May 19. The United States, EU, and Israel are withholding financial support from the Palestinian Authority until Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounces violence; Tehran has pledged to support the Palestinians financially. BS

IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS HAMAS, HIZBALLAH HEADS IN DAMASCUS
Foreign Minister Mottaki returned to Tehran from Damascus on May 19, IRNA reported. While in the Syrian capital he met with President Bashar al-Assad, Vice President Farouk al-Shara, and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem. Mottaki also met on May 18 with the leaders of Hizballah and Hamas -- Hassan Nasrallah and Khalid Mashaal, respectively -- IRNA reported. The U.S. State Department has designated these entities as terrorist organizations. BS

NEW IRANIAN AMBASSADOR ARRIVES IN BEIRUT
Mohammad Reza Rauf-Sheibani, the new Iranian ambassador to Lebanon, arrived in Beirut on May 19, "Al-Nahar" reported the next day. Born in 1961 in Mashhad, Sheibani headed the Iranian mission in Damascus from 1997 to 2001, then dealt with Middle East affairs at the Foreign Ministry and, before his current posting, headed the Iranian interests section in Cairo. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told Sheibani in a May 16 meeting in Tehran that Iranian-Lebanese relations must expand, IRNA reported. BS

IRANIAN SECURITY FORCES PURSUE ALLEGED KILLERS IN SOUTHEAST
Referring to the attackers allegedly responsible for killing 12 people on the Bam-Kerman road on May 14 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15, 2006), Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi said on May 20 that there are reliable reports that the group's leader has been injured, state radio reported. Kerman's deputy governor-general for political and security affairs, Abolqasem Nasrollahi, announced the suspect's wounding on May 19, Fars News Agency reported. Government forces are in close pursuit of the attackers in Sistan va Baluchistan Province, Nasrollahi said, adding, "The [Islamic Revolution] Guards Corps, the Basij, and the [police] backed by the Army Aviation Corps are seriously pursuing the operation for the arrest of the perpetrators and for purging the area of bandits, and we will have some very good news for the people soon." The public relations office of the Ministry of Intelligence and Security announced on May 19 that its personnel in Kerman Province have broken up two gangs responsible for kidnappings and weapons smuggling, ILNA reported. All 18 gang members were reportedly arrested. BS

KILLINGS IN IRAN BLAMED ON FOREIGNERS
Military forces participating in the Eqtedar war games in Kerman, Sistan va Baluchistan, and South Khorasan provinces allegedly have found evidence of foreign involvement in provincial violence, Iranian state radio reported on May 20. Police and Guards Corps personnel attacked a "bandits' base" in the Pir Suran heights of Sistan va Baluchistan Province and discovered documents that reveal American and British involvement in recent violent incidents in the eastern part of the country. Hojatoleslam Erami, the Friday Prayer leader in Meymeh, Isfahan Province, alleged in his May 19 sermon that the U.S. was behind the killings that took place earlier in the week (see above), provincial television reported, and he urged the central government to control the borders more effectively. BS

IRAQI SPECIAL TRIBUNAL JUDGE ORDERS HUSSEIN'S LAWYER OUT OF COURT...
Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman ordered Bushra Khalil, one of Saddam Hussein's defense lawyers, to leave the courtroom on May 22, saying her conduct was unacceptable, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The argument between Khalil and Abd al-Rahman broke out when she entered the courtroom and demanded that Abd al-Rahman reinstate her to the court, after he dismissed her from an earlier session for her behavior. When Khalil ignored Abd al-Rahman's order to sit down, he had guards remove her from the courtroom. During the commotion, Saddam Hussein objected from his seat, and Abd al-Rahman ordered him to "shut up," whereby Hussein began shouting that he is president of Iraq. "You are a defendant," the judge replied. When testimony got under way, a former Revolutionary Court employee, Murshid Muhammad Jassim, testified on behalf of Awad al-Bandar, the head of the regime-era court. Jassim praised al-Bandar, saying he always reassured the witnesses that they would not be tortured for their testimonies before the court. He claimed the court always allowed attorneys for the defendants and said Hussein never interfered in the court. KR

...AND HUSSEIN'S HALF-BROTHER TESTIFIES
The court also heard testimony from Saddam Hussein's half-brother, Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, at the May 22 session of the Al-Dujayl trial, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Ibrahim is a former presidential adviser and served as head of intelligence under Hussein. He appeared in court to testify on behalf of his brother, Barzan Ibrahim. Judge Abd al-Rahman announced at the session that only two of Barzan Ibrahim's witnesses have appeared in court. He said the court has received written refusal to testify from some of the witnesses called by Barzan, but a second witness for Barzan is expected to testify on May 22. KR

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER ARRIVES IN IRAQ
Tony Blair made a surprise visit to Baghdad on May 22, and is expected to meet with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, international media reported. A British spokesman told reporters that Blair's trip is intended to show support for the "democratic government and to help it take charge of its own destiny," the BBC reported. Meanwhile, a senior British official accompanying Blair said that British forces will not completely withdraw from Iraq for another four years, Reuters reported. "The aim is to take Iraq to a position where the multinational force is able to withdraw during [the government's] period in office," the official said. "During the four years, the present role and structure of the multinational force will change and come to an end." Troops may stay on beyond that period in order to train Iraqi forces, the official added. British General Sir Mike Jackson told London's "The Guardian" that the situation in Al-Basrah, where British troops are currently based, is "pretty awful," the daily reported on May 20. KR

IRAQI PREMIER VOWS TO GET TOUGH ON CRIME, TERROR
Prime Minister al-Maliki vowed on his first full day in office on May 21 to use "maximum force" against terrorists and criminals , RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. "We will use maximum force in confronting the terrorists and murderers who provoke bloodshed. But besides these military and security measures, we also need measures leading to a national reconciliation," he said. Al-Maliki added that he will "set up a special commission...to lay down a detailed plan for a national reconciliation," which he described as a crucial measure for cracking down on terrorists. Regarding the presence of militias, the prime minister told reporters: "Weapons must ultimately lay in the government's hands only. Militias, death squads, terror, killings, and murders -- all these are deviations and abnormalities. We must close the file of militias because we cannot imagine our country will be secure and stable [as long as] there are militias killing [people] on grounds and reasons that may be distorted, vague, or serving limited interests." KR

IRAQI CABINET APPROVED WITH THREE SEATS VACANT
Iraq's Council of Representatives approved Prime Minister al-Maliki's cabinet at a May 20 session, but three key posts remain unfilled, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Al-Maliki told parliamentarians that he will oversee the Interior Ministry, while Sunni Deputy Prime Minister Salam al-Zawba'i will oversee the Defense Ministry and Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih will oversee the National Security Ministry until the prime minister can fill those positions. Sunni leader Salih al-Mutlaq objected to voting for an incomplete cabinet during the session, and led a walkout of some 15 parliamentarians. Al-Mutlaq told reporters at a press briefing later the same day that the cabinet announcement was "in breach of the constitution because several ministerial portfolios were added to please this or that side without the approval of the parliament," and because of the three vacant posts. Al-Mutlaq further claimed that the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance demanded a written pledge from him indicating that he would change his political platform as a precondition for joining the government. "We will not pay this price to enter the government," he said. KR

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