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Newsline - May 31, 2006


RUSSIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WANTS NO 'RIVALS' IN EURASIA
State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told his counterparts from the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which comprises Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, in Moscow on May 30 that Russia does not want any organizations "parallel" to the SCO emerging in the region, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on May 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006). He added that this is a reference to attempts by the United States to establish an alliance of Central Asian countries against drug trafficking. He stressed that the SCO is capable of discharging that task and added that "a parallel organization of that kind would be a barrier to cooperation. We don't need to be dictated to or pressured." But for his part, President Vladimir Putin warned the legislators against "getting involved in rivalry" with those who are attempting to "compete with our organization." He stressed that the legislators should concentrate on law-making instead. The Moscow-based daily added that the legislators did not discuss any expansion of the SCO. Russian Federation Council Deputy Speaker Dmitry Mezentsev said that SCO members have no intention of changing the SCO's present structure. PM

PUTIN'S CHIEF OF STAFF TO HEAD NUCLEAR POWER 'VERTICAL'
"The Moscow Times" wrote on May 31 that "nuclear power landed its own top-level political guardian as President...Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Sobyanin, was named chairman of the industry's fuel monopoly, TVEL," on May 26. The daily added that "TVEL is slated to serve as a platform for a vertically integrated state holding that will come to control all the enterprises that make up the country's nuclear power industry." The paper pointed out that several top Kremlin officials also hold leading positions in other key sectors of the economy. Sobyanin's deputy, Igor Sechin, heads the board of Rosneft, and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is the chairman of Gazprom. A former chief of staff to Putin, Aleksandr Voloshin, is the chairman of the country's top utility firm, Unified Energy Systems, the daily noted. Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, wants to build 40 nuclear reactors throughout Russia at a cost of $60 billion over the next 20 years. The combined annual revenues of the nuclear power industry's top four enterprises -- TVEL, Teneks, generating firm Rosenergoatom, and construction firm Atomstroieksport -- are about $5 billion, according to "The Moscow Times" (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," March 10, 2006). PM

UPPER HOUSE SACKS SENATOR
The Federation Council voted on May 26 to expel Senator Aleksandr Sabadash, allegedly for engaging in business activities while in office, "The Moscow Times" reported on May 29. The legislature of his Nenets Autonomous Okrug in the Arctic previously refused to sack him despite pressure from Moscow to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2006). The weekly "Argumenty i fakty" suggested on May 24 that Sabadash and three other senators were probably sacked at random, either to vacate their respective seats so that those posts could be "resold" to other well-heeled businessmen, or to intimidate the respective regional authorities. PM

PUTIN UNVEILS BUDGET PLANS
President Putin presented a 10-point outline for the 2007 budget on May 30, in which he targeted rising inflation, Russian media reported. He also called for splitting the rapidly growing Stabilization Fund into a rainy-day fund and one to help future generations. This is the first time he has created a fund for future generations. PM

'NONE OF THE ABOVE' TO DISAPEAR FROM THE BALLOT?
The State Duma will soon consider a Kremlin-backed proposal to drop the "against all" option from Russian ballots, "The Moscow Times" reported on May 30. Current legislation requires an election to be declared invalid if "against all" wins more votes than any one candidate. Oleg Kovalyov, who is a member of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and chairman of the Duma's Management Committee, told the daily that citizens will still be able to show their disapproval of candidates by not voting. Liberal politician Boris Nemtsov told the paper that the bill proves that the Kremlin fears victories for "against all" in the 2007 elections to the State Duma or in the presidential vote slated for 2008. PM

MOSCOW MAYOR SAYS WEST CAN LEARN FROM RUSSIA ABOUT GAY RIGHTS
Mayor Yury Luzhkov said on May 30 that Moscow has set an example for foreign countries in banning gay-rights parades, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006). He argued that "our way of life, our morals, and our traditions...are more pure in all ways. The West has something to learn from us and should not race along in [allowing] mad licentiousness.... Our country is democratic, but we live in an organized country and an organized city." PM

MAYOR OF VOLGOGRAD DETAINED
Police detained Volgograd Mayor Yevgeny Ishchenko on May 30 after a meeting of the local branch of the Unified Russia party, with which he has long been at odds, the Moscow daily "Kommersant" and news.ru reported on May 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Report," December 9, 2004). Ishchenko is suspected of abuse of office, exceeding his authority, and conducting illegal business activities. The daily suggested that the Kremlin is likely to use the Ishchenko case as a possible "argument" for abolishing the direct elections of mayors, just as the direct election of governors was previously ended. Nenets Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksei Barinov was arrested in Arkhangelsk on May 23 in connection with a criminal case allegedly involving large-scale embezzlement, but many suspect that the authorities' real motivation was political (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 26, 2006). He was the last governor to be directly elected. PM

CHECHEN FIELD COMMANDER TOURS NORTH CAUCASUS, MEETS WITH SUBORDINATES
Radical Chechen field commander and First Deputy Prime Minister Shamil Basayev has traveled over the past two months to Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Daghestan to assess the combat readiness of groups of fighters deployed there, chechenpress.org reported on May 30. Basayev has also chaired a meeting of the commanders of the various military sectors and their subordinates. No details of that meeting have been made public. LF

PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN PREMIER CALLS FOR CRACKDOWN ON MILITANTS
In a May 30 interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda," Ramzan Kadyrov advocated large-scale preemptive strikes against groups of militants in the republics of Ingushetia, Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia. Kadyrov pointed out that to date, Russian forces have merely "rushed in like firefighters" when such militants launch attacks, rather than "work to prevent a conflagration." Kadyyrov said Basayev is not currently in Chechnya but only travels there from time to time, which is why he has not yet been apprehended. Also on May 30, Dukkvakha Abdurakhmanov told the lower chamber of the Chechen parliament, of which he is chairman, that there is no need to raise by 5,000 men the strength of the Russian Interior Ministry troops currently deployed in Chechnya as Colonel General Nikolai Rogozhkin, the commander of those troops, has advocated. Abdurakhmanov said that the current combined strength of the Russian Defense and Interior ministry forces and the Chechen Interior Ministry personnel is adequate to "deliver a crushing blow to any group that may attempt to raise its head," Interfax reported. LF

CHECHEN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER WARNS RUSSIA AGAINST TALKS WITH RESISTANCE
Abdurakhmanov also told Interfax on May 30 that the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership has no intention of embarking on a dialogue with any representative of the "nonexistent" Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI), specifically with Akhmed Zakayev. ChRI Acting President Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev named Zakayev foreign minister last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006). Abdurakhmanov added that any attempts by any senior Russian official to establish contact with Zakayev will meet with "outrage and protest" from the people of Chechnya. LF

U.S.-BORN ARMENIAN POLITICIAN ALLOWED ACCESS, THEN EVICTED FROM PARTY HQ
Police evicted Raffi Hovannisian and other members of his Zharangutiun (Heritage) party from the party offices in Yerevan late on May 30, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The party's office in a building that also houses a theater was sealed in early March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7 and 23 and April 4, 2006), but a court injunction subsequently affirmed the party's right to reenter the premises, which Hovannisian did on May 29. Hovannisian then lodged a formal complaint with the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office, alleging that unidentified people used the party's computers while the office was sealed, Noyan Tapan reported on May 30. Hovannisian served from 1991-92 as Armenian foreign minister. LF

ARMENIA 'BARRED' FROM ATTENDING CIS MEETING IN AZERBAIJAN
Armenia will not send a representative to the May 31 meeting in Baku of CIS defense ministers because the Azerbaijani authorities have refused to guarantee the security of any Armenian participant, Armenian Defense Ministry representative Colonel Seyran Shakhsuvarian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on May 30. In 2004, Azerbaijan repeatedly created obstacles to the participation of Armenian officers in two successive NATO-sponsored conferences in Baku (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 12, 14, and 15, and September 13 and 14, 2004). LF

DETAINED AZERBAIJANI EX-MINISTER HOSPITALIZED
Former Health Minister Ali Insanov, who has repeatedly complained of a variety of serious health conditions since his arrest seven months ago, has been moved from a pretrial detention center to a Justice Ministry medical facility, day.az reported on May 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 5, 7, and 30, February 8 and 28, and March 15, 2006). Insanov is charged with corruption and plotting to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership. LF

AZERBAIJANI, FRENCH PRESIDENTS DISCUSS KARABAKH CONFLICT
During a one-on-one meeting in Paris on May 30, Jacques Chirac impressed upon his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev that there is no alternative to a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict, echo-az.com reported on May 31. Chirac further expressed his support for the statement released in Yerevan last week by the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that it is time for Armenia and Azerbaijan to agree on the basic principles of such a settlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25 and 26, 2006). Aliyev is to meet with Armenian President Robert Kocharian in Bucharest next week to discuss approaches to resolving the conflict. LF

ABKHAZ-GEORGIAN TALKS POSTPONED
A meeting scheduled for May 30 under the aegis of the UN Coordination Council of Abkhaz and Georgian officials has been postponed indefinitely, Caucasus Press and apsny.ru reported. The meeting, of the working group that focuses on security issues, was agreed on during a May 15 Coordinating Council session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 16, 2006). A similar meeting of the working group on socioeconomic issues, scheduled for May 22, was also postponed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 2006). LF

FIRE DESTROYS OFFICE OF ABKHAZ OPPOSITION PAPER
The office in Sukhum (Sukhumi) of the opposition daily "Nuzhnaya gazeta" was totally destroyed by a fire during the night of May 27-28, gazeta.ru and apsny.ru reported on May 28 and 29, respectively. The latter agency quoted the paper's editor, Izida Chania, as saying she does not think there is any connection between the fire and the repeated threats she has received since the paper began publication in 1995. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE, FOREIGN MINISTRIES PROTEST ROTATION OF RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING FORCE
The Georgian Foreign Ministry handed a formal protest note to Vladimir Chkhikvishvili, Russia's ambassador to Georgia, on May 30 in connection with the deployment from Russia to Georgia via the Roki tunnel of a new contingent of peacekeeping forces, numbering some 500 men, Georgian media reported. The ministry argued that the deployment took place in violation of an agreement that such peacekeeping troops may enter Georgia only at formal border crossings. The Georgian Defense Ministry released a similar statement on May 30 protesting the rotation as illegal and pointing out that the Russian servicemen entered Georgia without first obtaining valid visas. LF

KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS SHANGHAI GROUP SHOULD NOT ACQUIRE 'ANTI-WESTERN' SLANT
Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told a committee in the Kazakh Senate (upper chamber of parliament) on May 30 that Kazakhstan will work to ensure that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization does not acquire an "anti-Western tendency," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "Kazakhstan, as a country whose representative is preparing to chair the SCO's executive body, advocates a balanced approach and tries hard to avoid giving cause for speculations about SCO activities acquiring an anti-western tendency," Toqaev said. His remarks came as the first meeting of parliamentary heads of SCO member states opened in Moscow. The SCO currently comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, with observer status conferred on India, Pakistan, Iran, and Mongolia. Iranian officials said recently that they will seek full SCO membership. DK

FIRE BREAKS OUT IN MINISTRY BUILDING IN KAZAKH CAPITAL
A fire broke out in Astana on May 30 in the 32-story building that houses Kazakhstan's Culture and Information, Transport and Communications, and Industry and Trade ministries, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The building was quickly evacuated and firefighters had the blaze under control in less than two hours. Three people received medical assistance, ferghana.ru reported. Emergency Situations Minister Shalbai Kulmakhanov said that the fire started on the 27th floor and caused no serious damage, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kulmakhanov said that an investigation is under way to determine the cause of the fire. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT, PREMIER SPEAK OUT IN INTERVIEWS
In separate interviews with Russia's "Vremya novostei" on May 30, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov addressed their political alliance, constitutional reform, and other issues. Bakiev said that a team led by former Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov is preparing three drafts for a late-2006 constitutional reform referendum. Bakiev pronounced himself in favor of a presidential form of government, adding that he is ready to present this to parliament if parliament is ready to pass it. Bakiev also said that he has the impression the United States has been stalling on a "market-price" lease agreement for the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan, although he said a U.S. delegation is expected in Kyrgyzstan by the end of May for talks. For his part, Kulov said that his political alliance with Bakiev, the so-called tandem, has helped to maintain stability by ensuring that both southerners and northerners are represented in the country's leadership. DK

KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR WANTS NEW INVESTIGATION OF DEMONSTRATION DEATHS IN 2002
Prosecutor-General Kambaraly Kongantiev said that he has asked the Kyrgyz Supreme Court to reexamine the 2002 Aksy events, in which police fired on protesters, killing six people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 18 and 19, 2002), Kabar reported. "After I assumed this post in October [2005], I familiarized myself with the case on the Aksy events and asked the Supreme Court to rule by the end of the year whether to uphold its decision or send back the case for further investigation," Kongantiev said. He added that he does not agree with those who believe that none of the guilty parties were punished for their role in the Aksy events. DK

TAJIK OFFICIAL SAYS TURKMEN-CHINA GAS PIPELINE WOULD BENEFIT TAJIKISTAN
Rashid Gulov, head of the energy department in Tajikistan's Energy Ministry, told Asia Plus-Blitz on May 30 that the construction of a planned natural-gas pipeline linking Turkmenistan and China via Tajikistan could supply 80 percent of Tajikistan's gas needs. Gulov said that Tajikistan will receive $38 million in transit fees annually and 700 million-800 million cubic meters of gas from the pipeline, which is tentatively slated for construction by 2009-10. "An agreement on the construction of this gas pipeline via Tajikistan has not been reached with the republic's leadership yet, however, it should be expected in the nearest future," Gulov added. China and Turkmenistan have signed a framework agreement on the pipeline, with details to be finalized by the end of 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 4, 2006). DK

TAJIK OFFICIALS ALLEGE MILITANTS TRAINED IN IRAN...
Zokir Nazarov, deputy prosecutor of Sughd Province, told a meeting of provincial security officials on May 27 that terrorists trained in Iran are threatening Tajikistan's security, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. "In the course of investigating the murder of the Nov (Spitamen) District head, the security services identified a large, centralized group of terrorists," Nazarov said. He added that group members "polished their terrorist skills in military schools in Qom, Iran. Apart from the individuals who have been detained, there are more than 400 other individuals from the group trained in Qom with various specializations who are active in Sughd Province." Akipress.org reported that Tajik officials believe Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) members from this group were responsible for the recent incursion by armed militants from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15, 2006). DK

...AND ACCUSE UZBEKISTAN OF SHELTERING MUTINOUS COLONEL'S SUPPORTERS
Abdullo Nazarov, the head of the National Security Ministry's section in Sughd province, told the May 27 meeting of provincial security officials that Tajik security forces have identified more than 10 training camps belonging to Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev in Uzbekistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Khudoiberdiev was behind a failed 1998 coup attempt in Tajikistan. Nazarov claimed that Tajikistan has photographs of Khudoiberdiev's supporters undergoing training in Uzbekistan under the supervision of Uzbek security services. The BBC's Uzbek Service noted that this is the second time this year that Tajik officials have accused Uzbekistan of harboring Khudoiberdiev's supporters. Uzbekistan has denied the charge. DK

UZBEK COURT UPHOLDS SENTENCE AGAINST RIGHTS ACTIVIST
A court in Tashkent has upheld the conviction of Uzbek human rights activist Mutabar Tojiboeva, ferghana.ru reported on May 30. Tojiboeva was sentenced to an eight-year jail term in March on defamation and corruption charges after a trial Human Rights Watch (HRW) described as "part of a pattern of persecution against independent voices and critics within civil society since the Andijon massacre" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8, 2006). DK

BELARUSIAN YOUTH ACTIVISTS GO ON HUNGER STRIKE OVER OFFICIAL HARASSMENT
Seventeen activists of the unregistered opposition organization Youth Front have gone on a hunger strike in Salihorsk, Minsk, and Hrodna, protesting what they call the politically motivated criminal prosecution of their associates, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on May 30. In March, the State Security Committee (KGB) instituted criminal proceedings against Zmitser Dashkevich, Syarhey Lisichonak, Barys Haretski, and Aleh Korbun, charging them with running an unregistered organization that "encroaches" on citizens' rights. Similar charges were later brought against Syarhey Marchyk, Andrey Yuruts, and Viktar Kislyuk in Baranavichy, as well as Anastasiya Azarka in Nyasvizh. JM

INTERNATIONAL TRADE UNIONS URGE EU TO SUSPEND TRADE BENEFITS FOR BELARUS
Leaders of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), and the World Confederation of Labor (WCL) have sent a letter to European Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, urging the European Commission to suspend Belarus's trade benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) because of "the serious nature of the Lukashenka regime's trade union rights violations," Belapan reported on May 30. A special committee in Brussels is expected to make a recommendation on May 31 for the European Commission as to whether Belarus should be barred from GSP benefits. The GSP extends duty-free treatment to certain products that are imported from designated developing countries. Belarus's exports to the EU in 2005 amounted to some $3.9 billion. JM

UKRAINIAN MINISTER DENIES PRESENCE OF FOREIGN TROOPS IN CRIMEA
Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told journalists in Kyiv on May 31 that there are no "foreign military units" on Ukrainian territory, UNIAN reported. Tarasyuk was referring to some reports claiming that a group of U.S. servicemen has disembarked in the Crimean port of Feodosiya, along with engineering equipment and construction materials brought by the U.S. naval ship "Advantage." In particular, Interfax reported on May 30 that 120 U.S. servicemen were staying in a Defense Ministry spa near Feodosiya. The visit of the U.S. ship to Feodosiya on May 27 have sparked anti-NATO protests in the city and a blockade of the port by several thousand people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006). The Ukrainian Navy's press service said the Americans are going to build barracks, bathrooms, and dining rooms at a training range near Feodosiya. Ukrainian sailors will use these facilities during the upcoming Sea Breeze-2006 military exercise, which will reportedly involve soldiers from some 40 countries. The deployment of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory must be approved by the parliament for each individual case. In February, the previous Verkhovna Rada rejected a bill on staging the Sea Breeze-2006 exercise in Ukraine. The newly elected legislature is scheduled to gather for a session on June 7. Tarasyuk assured journalists that the government will make every effort to have a bill allowing the deployment of foreign troops passed by the parliament before the planned exercise. JM

KOSOVA REJECTS SERBIAN OFFER OF 20-YEAR TRANSITION PERIOD
Kosova on May 30 rejected an offer from Belgrade that it remain under UN auspices for a 20-year transition period, dpa reported the same day. Earlier the same day, Belgrade announced that it offered Kosova a UN-guaranteed "international treaty" that would put the world body in charge of security and policing in the province for 20 years. Under the proposal, Serbia would control foreign, monetary, customs, and border policies. Kosova would be "financially autonomous" and could seek outside financing sources. Kosovar Deputy Prime Minister Lutfi Haziri described Belgrade's offer as an "unacceptable offer for tutorship," adding that Kosova "will not compromise over independence." UN-backed talks on Kosova's final status are scheduled to resume in Vienna on May 31. BW

UN REPORTEDLY HAS CONTINGENCY PLAN FOR 70,000 SERBIAN REFUGEES FROM KOSOVA
The Belgrade daily "Politika" reported on May 31 that the United Nations has contingency plans for Kosova's independence including a potential wave of refugees, dpa reported. Quoting an "internal and confidential" document distributed to UN agencies, "Politika" reported that the UN is preparing for a wave of as many as 70,000 refugees flooding into Serbia and Montenegro if postindependence violence erupts. The report added, however, that contingency planning for various scenarios in cases such as Kosova are "common practice." The report was not independently confirmed. BW

REPUBLIKA SRPSKA COURT CONVICTS THREE BOSNIAN SERBS OF WAR CRIMES
A court in Banja Luka has convicted three Bosnian Serbs of committing war crimes during the 1992-95 war and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 10 to 14 years, dpa reported on May 30, citing local media reports. The court sentenced Zeljko Bulatovic to 14 years in prison, Sinisa Teodorovic to 12 years, and Zoran Gajic to 10 years. The three men were accused of committing atrocities against non-Serbs when they were with the military police in the Bosnian Serb army during the war. Specifically, they were convicted of killing and mistreating prisoners at the Manjaca detention facility, near the western town of Prijedor, between June and August 1992, dpa reported. BW

TRANSDNIESTRIAN GROUP APPEALS TO OSCE CHAIRMAN TO END NEW CUSTOMS RULES
A group in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region has appealed to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman in Office Karel de Gucht to abolish new customs regulations on the border with Ukraine, ITAR-TASS reported on May 30. Addressing the Belgian foreign minister, Transdniester's Antiblockade Coordinating Committee said the new customs rules have "led to a full-scale economic blockade of the [Transdniester] region." Moldova and Ukraine implemented the new regulations in early March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6, 7, and 8, 2006). The rules, designed to combat smuggling, are supported by the European Union and require that all goods bound for Ukraine that move through the Transdniestrian portion of the border clear Moldovan customs and have a Moldovan stamp. Russia and the pro-Moscow regime in Transdniester have called the move an "economic blockade." De Gucht is scheduled to arrive in Moldova on May 31 to try to jump-start stalled talks on settling the conflict. BW

RUSSIAN CATHOLIC, ORTHODOX CHURCHES UNITE AGAINST EUROPEAN SECULARISM
As the Moscow Patriarchate's external relations head, Metropolitan Kiril of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, met Pope Benedict XVI earlier this month, a demonstration was taking place in Moscow that would have pleased many in the Vatican. Members of the Union of Orthodox Citizens were picketing the Moscow premiere of the film "The Da Vinci Code," based on the best-selling novel.

Central to the novel is the suggestion that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child together, with the bloodline continuing to the present day -- an idea that's offensive to many in both churches.

Father Igor Vyzhanov, secretary of the Department of Inter-Christian Relations at the Moscow Patriarchate, said both Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics see the popularity of "The Da Vinci Code" as part of a growing and disturbing anti-Christian trend in Europe. "This is a book that offends Christians, it offends their beliefs. All over the world, we are seeing propaganda for this work. How can this be explained? What is this? We and the Catholics have the same view of such things. Nobody has the right to offend belief. There is freedom, but not freedom to slander others," Vyzhanov said.

Metropolitan Kiril's meeting with the pope has fueled speculation that better relations between the Moscow Patriarchate and the Holy See could be on the horizon. The Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches have been divided since the 11th century over papal authority and other theological issues.

But opposing the controversial film is just one area in which the churches are finding common ground. Other topics of mutual concern include the increasing acceptance of homosexuality, the prevalence of premarital sex and abortion, and the widespread availability of pornography. After meeting Benedict, Kiril told journalists that Orthodox and Catholic believers need to work together "to preserve Christianity in Europe."

Opposition by both churches to secularism is nothing new. What is new, Vyzhanov said, is that Orthodox Christians see the staunchly conservative Benedict as a Vatican leader they can do business with. "We have always had respect for him personally," he said. "He is a respected theologian throughout the whole Christian world. Even before he became pope, I know that many Orthodox in Russia read his book and felt very positively about it. The well-known conservatism of the current pope, his criticism of liberalism, made a big impression on many."

The Holy See has long said reconciliation with the Russian Orthodox Church is a high priority, but Vatican overtures during the papacy of Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II, were spurned. Most notably, the Orthodox Church repeatedly resisted the attempts of the late John Paul -- who like Benedict, was a doctrinal conservative -- to get approval for a trip to Moscow. Many observers said the historic animosity between Russia and John Paul's native Poland hindered attempts to improve Vatican-Orthodox relations.

Russian Orthodox leaders have found it much easier to cooperate with the German Pope Benedict, notes longtime Vatican watcher John Allen. "The fact that he is German has improved things given the traditional tensions between Russians and Poles. And I think that it is also true that both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church are looking at what they would perceive is a climate of runaway secularism in much of Europe," Allen said. "And [they] perceive that they have much more in common with each other than that which divides them."

But despite the new unity in battling European secularism, Allen and other analysts say it is unrealistic to expect the Catholic-Orthodox thaw to go too far. Deep-seated suspicions of the Vatican still linger in influential quarters of the Orthodox Church clergy and among the faithful. These include a fear of papal dominance and a resentment of what many Russian Orthodox consider Catholic proselytizing in the former Soviet Union.

"In the subtext to all of that, I think, is a general kind of anti-Western fear that still animates much Orthodox conversation and Orthodox thinking," Allen said. "And until those problems are resolved, the deep structural problems are resolved, I think it is probably too early and too optimistic to think that there is going to be some significant breakthrough in the short in this relationship."

Geraldine Fagan, who works in Moscow for the Forum 18 religious-rights watchdog, agrees. "I think it's partly an alliance of convenience," Fagan said. "Both churches are realizing in their own spheres that they are becoming, there is a public perception, there is a danger that they are becoming marginal bodies."

And despite this alliance of convenience, Benedict may have as hard a time as his predecessor securing a trip to Moscow, Fagan and other analysts say. Even as Metropolitan Kiril lauded his Vatican meeting earlier this month, he added that discussions of a possible papal visit to Moscow were not on the agenda.

FEMALE AID WORKERS, DRIVER KILLED IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Three female ActionAid employees and their driver were killed by assailants on motorcycles in the Mingajik district of Jowzjan Province on May 30, Sheberghan Aina TV reported. Mohammad Jan Tamkin, an official with the Jowzjan Rural Development Department, told Aina that the women were working as part of the National Solidarity Program. In a press release posted to the organization's website (http://www.actionaid.org) on May 30, ActionAid Asia Director John Samuel condemned the killing of three "innocent women who were killed whilst undertaking important humanitarian work in Afghanistan." The driver was not an employee of ActionAid. It remains unclear who carried out the killing. Jowzjan generally is not regarded as having any significant neo-Taliban presence. AT

MINE BLAST IN AFGHAN NORTHEAST KILLS THREE AID WORKERS
Three Afghan employees of a Washington-based international consulting firm, Padco, were killed and two foreign employees of the same organization wounded when their vehicle hit a land mine in Badakhshan Province on May 30, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. Badakhshan Governor Monshi Abdul Majid told AIP that he did not "think" the mine was planted by the Taliban as they are not active in his province. "I strongly believe that this is the work of [drug] mafia groups," Abdul Majid said. AT

ARRESTS MADE IN CONNECTION WITH DEADLY KABUL RIOTS...
Kabul police have arrested more than 100 people in connection with rioting in the Afghan capital on May 29 following a fatal traffic accident involving a U.S. military truck, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on May 30. Brigadier General Abdul Jamil Kohestani, director of criminal prosecution in Kabul, told Pajhwak on May 30 that 106 people are in custody and more arrests are being made on charges of participation in civil unrest and looting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2006). AT

...AND COMPENSATION PROMISED TO ACCIDENT VICTIMS
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered a comprehensive investigation into all aspects of the May 29 traffic accident and ensuing violence, presidential spokesman Karim Rahimi told a news conference in Kabul on May 30, according to the official Bakhtar News Agency. Rahimi said the government is planning to assist those families affected by the accident. Colonel Tom Collins, spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, said in Kabul on May 30 that the U.S.-led coalition is working with Afghan authorities to "determine the identities of the Afghans involved" in the accident, RFE/RL reported. "The coalition will compensate the traffic-accident victims," Collins added. Five people were reportedly killed in the initial incident. The Afghan National Assembly's People's Council (Wolesi Jirga) and Council of Elders (Meshrano Jirga) called in separate sessions on May 30 for assistance to those affected by the accident, Bakhtar reported. AT

AFGHAN PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR ARREST OF U.S. PERSONNEL DEEMED RESPONSIBLE FOR KABUL MISHAP
People's Council speaker Mohammad Yunos Qanuni demanded on May 30 that those who caused the traffic accident the previous day be identified and handed over to law enforcement, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Qanuni did not say which law enforcement body would be appropriate to review the case in the event of a prosecution. The Council of Elders held a heated debate on May 30 over the traffic incident in which some members called the incident an accident while others viewed it as a deliberate act. The Council of Elders passed a resolution condemning the traffic incident as a crime and demanded that any member of the international coalition who "committed this crime" be publicly tried. In an interview published on May 30 in Milan's "Corriere della Sera," Council of Elders member and former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani said the blame for the riots lies with Karzai's administration because police fired on a crowd of demonstrators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2006). AT

NUCLEAR INCENTIVES FOR IRAN BEING READIED
AFP quoted an anonymous Western diplomat on May 30 as saying that the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) is trying to revise a package of incentives intended to persuade Iran to modify its nuclear ambitions. Foreign ministers from the EU-3, China, Russia, and the United States, as well as EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana are scheduled to meet in Vienna on June 1 to discuss the subject. Russia and China want referral of the issue to the UN Security Council to be deferred, whereas Washington and the EU-3 want sanctions to follow any Iranian failure to comply quickly. The draft EU proposal, according to AFP, asks Iran to suspend its enrichment-related activities, resume implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and answer the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) outstanding questions. The proposal also reportedly affirms Iran's right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program, supports Iran's civil nuclear program, and offers to build light-water reactors in Iran. It also mentions regional security arrangements, a WMD-free zone in the Middle East, support for World Trade Organization (WTO) membership for Iran, elimination of restrictions on Iranian civil aircraft imports, and a long-term energy partnership between Iran and the EU. BS

TEHRAN SAYS IT WILL TALK TO EU, BUT NOT U.S.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said during a May 30 visit to Malaysia that Iran is ready to resume nuclear negotiations with Europe, AFP reported. Mottaki went on to say that Iran is not interested in direct talks with the United States "because of the bad temperament of the Americans." ITAR-Tass quoted Mottaki as saying that Iran is willing to hold talks with Washington when the U.S. attitude changes. In Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said the six countries scheduled to meet in Vienna on June 1 should not expect Iran to do anything beyond that which is required by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, IRNA reported. He said Iran will not suspend its nuclear research -- which is how Iran defines its relatively limited uranium-enrichment activities. Iran currently has a cascade of 164 centrifuges, and Assefi noted that in some cases 3,000 centrifuges are used for research. Assefi said Iranian does not recognize international limits on the percentage to which it can enrich uranium. BS

IRAN'S INTERIOR MINISTER ACCUSES U.S. OF EXPLOITING DIVISIONS
Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi told a seminar of provincial governors-general that the United States is behind recent incidents of unrest in northwestern Iran, ISNA reported. "With information available to us," Pur-Mohammadi said, "Americans would leave no stone unturned in order to create division in the country." Pur-Mohammadi was presumably referring to unrest in predominantly Azeri-inhabited areas in Iran's northwest following the publication in the official "Iran" newspaper of a cartoon showing an Azeri-speaking cockroach. Pur-Mohammadi charged that "our enemies have plans for every small or major incident in the country," adding, "The American government is trying to exert more pressure on Iran and create more obstacles and predicaments for the country." BS

WHEREABOUTS OF IRANIAN STUDENT ACTIVISTS UNKNOWN
A fellow student told Radio Farda on May 30 that there has been no news of the whereabouts of two activists detained during the previous week's student protests, the broadcaster reported. The two are Yashar Qajar, the head of the Islamic Students Union at Amir Kabir University, and blogger Abed Tavancheh, who wrote about recent campus protests on his weblog. Fellow student Abbas Hakimzadeh told Radio Farda that there is no news of Qajar's whereabouts and no one answers calls to his mobile telephone. The authorities told Tavancheh's family that he would be released after answering a few questions, Hakimzadeh said, but that was days ago. Hakimzadeh went on to claim that the University Basij wants to bring the hard-line pressure group Ansar-i Hizbullah onto the campus. The student protests earlier this month were a response to the dismissal of popular professors, the hiring of administrators whom some students regard as unqualified, and alleged interference in student-council elections. Hakimzadeh predicted that the situation will quiet down with the approach of exams and the summer holiday. BS

DOZENS OF BODIES FOUND IN IRAQI CAPITAL
Police announced on May 31 that 42 bodies have been found across Baghdad in the previous 24 hours, Reuters reported. The majority of the bodies were found in eastern Baghdad; 12 were found in one place in the Baladiyat district, while another eight were found in Al-Sadr City. On May 30, meanwhile, some 50 Iraqis were killed in three separate attacks across the country, Iraqi media reported the same day. Twenty-eight people were killed and about 60 others wounded when a booby-trapped car exploded in the Al-Husayniyah marketplace in northeast Baghdad. Police located and defused a second booby-trapped car in the same area, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Another bomb exploded in front of a bakery in the capital, killing at least nine and wounding 10 others. In Al-Hillah, south of Baghdad, a suicide car bomber drove his vehicle into a car dealership and detonated it, killing 12 and wounding 32 others. Al-Sharqiyah television reported several attacks against Iraqi and multinational forces on May 30, leaving one Iraqi dead and nine others injured. A mortar attack on the Interior Ministry in Baghdad killed two female staffers. KR

U.S. TROOPS ACCUSED OF FIRING ON TWO VEHICLES, KILLING THREE WOMEN
U.S. troops in Baghdad and Samarra fired on two vehicles in separate incidents on May 30, leaving three women dead, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. An unidentified source at Baghdad's Ibn Al-Nafis Hospital told the news channel that one woman was killed and two of her family members injured when a U.S. Army patrol fired on their vehicle near the hospital. In Samarra, U.S. forces fired on a vehicle in the city center, killing the vehicle's two female occupants. One of the women was in labor when the car was attacked, Al-Sharqiyah reported. There was no mention of either incident on the multinational forces' website, and neither could be independently confirmed. KR

IRAQ'S NEW AMBASSADOR MEETS U.S. PRESIDENT
Iraqi Ambassador to the United States Samir Shakir Mahmud al-Sumaydi'i presented his credentials to U.S. President George W. Bush on May 30 at a ceremony in the Oval Office, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on May 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 13, 2006). "I am honored and privileged to serve as the ambassador of free Iraq, after 16 years of isolation, to represent my country to this great country," al-Sumaydi'i told Bush. Referring to the ongoing violence in Iraq, he added: "The President [Bush] said a couple of days ago in his radio address that the terrorists can kill innocent people, but they cannot stop the march of freedom. I echo these words and say that the terrorists can target the innocent and the weak and the vulnerable, but they will never stop us [from] establishing a democratic and free country." Commenting on the U.S. investigation into allegations of murder by U.S. Marines against civilians in November, al-Sumaydi'i told CNN that U.S. troops intentionally killed his cousin during a house-to-house search in the city in June 2005, adding that a military investigation that followed was flawed. KR

PRIME MINISTER HEADS TO IRAQ'S SECOND CITY TO ADDRESS CRISIS
Nuri al-Maliki told Reuters in a May 30 interview that he will lead a delegation to Al-Basrah on May 31 to address the political and security crisis gripping the city. "We must restore security in Al-Basrah and if anyone defies peaceful solutions, then force will be the solution," he said. "There's no way we can leave Al-Basrah, the gateway to Iraq, our imports and exports, at the mercy of criminal, terrorist gangs. We will use force against these gangs." Al-Maliki's comments came three days after someone close to the Al-Fadilah Party threatened to block oil exports from the city, Reuters reported, a charge party spokesman Hassan al-Shammari has denied, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on May 30. Al-Maliki said the security crisis in the city cannot be blamed solely on terrorists, and that tribes and organized criminal gangs are also a problem. "We will work on reconciling tribes and religious figures and political parties, and also increase the security presence to stop the criminals," he said. Al-Maliki also criticized the role of British forces in the governorate, but failed to give specifics. KR

ABDUCTED U.A.E. DIPLOMAT IN IRAQ RELEASED
United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) Consul Naji Rashid al-Nu'aymi was released from captivity on May 30, international media reported the same day. Al-Jazeera television first reported the release, saying the group that had kidnapped al-Nu'aymi, Liwa Al-Islam (Banner of Islam), announced the release in a statement. U.A.E. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayid al-Nahyan later confirmed the release in a statement, the official WAM news agency reported. The minister thanked the Iraqi government and various political forces for their role in securing al-Nu'aymi's release. No details were given on the release, except that al-Nu'aymi is in good health. KR

DANISH PARLIAMENT VOTES TO EXTEND IRAQ MISSION
The Danish parliament voted on May 30 to extend its military mission to Iraq by one year, AFP reported the same day. Denmark has some 530 troops in Iraq under British command. The presence of Danish soldiers in Iraq has been hotly debated in Denmark recently. Meanwhile, Australia announced that 30 of its soldiers will replace British troops at an army training center at Camp Tallil in the Dhi Qar Governorate, AFP reported on May 30. The training center provides basic recruit training as well as specialist training to Iraqi soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and officers. KR

WITNESS TESTIMONY SPARKS DISPUTE AT IRAQI LEADERS' TRIAL
Two defense witnesses testified on May 30 that some people the prosecution claims were killed by the Saddam Hussein regime following the 1982 assassination attempt against the Iraqi leader are alive and living in Al-Dujayl, international media reported the same day. One witness testified that as many as 30 Iraqis said to have been executed are alive and living in the town, but he refused to identify all but two to the judge, saying his son's life is in danger because of his testimony. Another witness provided a handwritten list of names. Both witnesses also claimed that prosecutor Ja'far al-Musawi attended a 2004 rally commemorating the regime's crackdown on Al-Dujayl, in which a witness claimed al-Musawi called Hussein a "cancer" to Iraq, and offered to provide cash backing and fake documents to those willing to testify against Hussein, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on May 31. The witness claimed to have taped evidence of al-Musawi's attendance, which the court refused to accept. The tape later aired on Al-Arabiyah television. Al-Musawi told KUNA on May 31 that he is not the person on the tape, and he said he will disprove the witnesses' other claims at the May 31 session. KR

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