EU LEADERS EXPRESS CONCERN OVER HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA
The Russia-EU summit at the Volzhsky Utyos resort, located between the Russian cities of Tolyatti and Samara, ended on May 18 with the two sides reaching no formal agreements and remaining divided on a number of issues, including a Russian ban on Polish meat imports and the dispute over Estonia's removal of a Soviet war memorial from central Tallinn. EU leaders expressed concern about Russia's human rights record: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, for example, told journalists in Samara on May 18 that she was "concerned" that opposition leaders had problems traveling to the city to participate in a March of Dissent opposition rally, RFE/RL reported. Former chess champion Garry Kasparov and other opposition figures -- including Eduard Limonov, leader of the banned National Bolshevik Party -- along with several Western journalists, were prevented from boarding a plane to Samara at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2007). European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told reporters at Volzhsky Utyos that democracy and rule of law are "sacred principles for the EU," AP reported on May 18. "We stress the importance of democracy, freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of demonstration," he said. "These are values [that] I'm sure, unite, not divide us. It's very important for all European countries, and Russia is a European country...to ensure the full respect of those principles and values." Barroso also said that the deaths of Kremlin critics, including the October 2006 killing of "Novaya gazeta" reporter Anna Politkovskaya, are "a matter of concern," "The Moscow Times" reported on May 21. "I don't understand why a country with that kind of security apparatus can't solve the murder of journalists," Barroso said in reference to Russia in an interview in the May 19 issue of Germany's "Focus" magazine. The head of the Moscow office of "Focus," Boris Reitschuster, was detained along with an adviser to Kasparov, Denis Belunov, as they were heading for a March of Dissent in Samara on May 18, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. RFE/RL on May 20 quoted Kasparov as saying that the "space for freedom is shrinking every day in Russia, and we can talk today about not only a police state but virtually about the regime that is [closer] to [Belarus] or Zimbabwe...than to democratic countries from Europe." JB
PUTIN TAKES AIM AT ESTONIA AND LATVIA
President Vladimir Putin told reporters at the Russia-EU summit in Volzhsky Utyos on May 18 that opposition rallies "pose no problems" for him. "We shouldn't be afraid of marginal groups, especially such small groups," RFE/RL quoted him as saying. "In practically all countries, law enforcement agencies take preventive measures. Is it good or bad? I think sometimes it's not always justified. And such examples have been cited today. There are such examples in Germany too, where they arrest and detain people as a preventive measure." Putin was apparently referring to the German authorities' crackdown on protesters ahead of the Group of Eight (G8) summit set to take place at the Baltic Sea resort of Heiligendamm in June. Meanwhile, small March of Dissent opposition rallies took place without arrests or violence in Samara and Chelyabinsk on May 18 and 19, respectively. Police forcibly dispersed larger March of Dissent rallies in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod in March and April. Putin also took aim at Latvia and Estonia, saying that the "violation of the rights of ethnic Russians" in those two countries is "unacceptable and a loss of face for Europe," Interfax reported on May 18. Putin demanded that the Estonian authorities bring to justice those responsible for the death of Dmitry Ganin, an ethnic Russian who was stabbed to death during the rioting in Tallinn over the decision to relocate the Soviet war memorial. "It is not just that a demonstration was broken up in Tallinn," Interfax quoted Putin as saying. "One of the protesters was killed. It was not just an accident. What troubles us is that nobody gave him assistance when he was wounded." Ganin died in front of "the eyes of the police," Putin said, adding, "This was a deliberate crime and we insist that the criminals be held to account." Estonian police say Ganin was found with a stab wound to the chest and was taken to hospital but could not be saved, and that his pockets were stuffed with items believed to have been looted from a nearby kiosk, "The Baltic Times" reported on May 14. As "The Moscow Times" reported on May 21, two Russian speakers have been detained in connection with Ganin's death. JB
ESTONIA REPORTEDLY TARGET OF 'MASSIVE CYBER-ATTACKS'
"The Guardian" reported on May 17 that Estonia has been hit by a "three-week wave of massive cyber-attacks" that began on April 27. The British newspaper quoted Estonian officials as saying that one of the masterminds of the cyber-campaign, identified from his online name, is connected to the Russian security service. The newspaper reported that a 19-year-old has been arrested in Tallinn for his alleged involvement. AP on May 17 quoted Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo as saying that about a million computers around the world were used over more than two weeks to attack government and corporate websites in Estonia. "We identified in the initial attacks' IP [Internet-protocol] numbers from the Russian governmental offices," Aaviksoo said, referring to traceable Internet addresses. "There is not sufficient evidence of a governmental role, but it indicates a possibility." On May 1, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet alleged that several cyber-attacks "against the Internet pages of Estonian government agencies and the office of the president...originated from specific computers and persons in Russian government agencies, including the administration of the president of the Russian Federation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). Citing the BBC's Russian service, "The Baltic Times" on May 18 quoted Russian deputy presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov as denying categorically any Russian involvement in the cyber-attacks. He said the Russian president's official website is the target of hundreds of attacks every day and IP addresses of the computers from which they come implicate many countries in all parts of the world. "This by no means suggests that governments of other countries are behind such attacks," Peskov said, pointing at the possibility of faking IP addresses. NATO, meanwhile, has sent cyber-terrorism experts to Tallinn to investigate the attacks and help Estonia defend against them. "This is an operational security issue, something we're taking very seriously," an official at NATO headquarters in Brussels told the newspaper. "It goes to the heart of the alliance's modus operandi." As for who carried out the attacks, the NATO official said: "I won't point fingers. But these were not things done by a few individuals." JB
MOSCOW DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST TV CENSORSHIP
Around 400 demonstrators gathered outside the Ostankino broadcast facility in Moscow on May 20 to protest "political censorship" on Russia's television channels. The protest was organized by the Yabloko party and Garry Kasparov's United Civic Front, "Kommersant" reported on May 21. According to the daily, none of Russia's major national television channels -- RTR, Channel One, or NTV -- covered the demonstration, although the federal network REN-TV did cover it. The demonstration followed reports that eight correspondents for the Russian News Service, which provides news broadcasts to Radio Rossiya, Russia's most popular radio network, and runs its own station, resigned to protest the decision by the pro-Kremlin management of the service to withhold stories in line with a new policy that half its coverage must portray the government in a "positive" light. AP on May 19 quoted one of the eight journalists, Artyom Khan, as saying news editors told him that a report he made last month on pro-Kremlin protests outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow had a "pro-Estonian accent" and was "unprofessional." Khan said editors also refused to air material he prepared on the March of Dissent opposition rally in Moscow in April that was broken up by police. Meanwhile, the press watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) denounced the Russian government's decision to evict the Russian Union of Journalists from its offices in central Moscow and hand the premises over to the state-owned Russia Today television station (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 17, 2007). In a May 18 press release, RSF called the decision "a crude act of harassment by the authorities with the apparent aim of obstructing the union's activities." JB
FSB ALLEGES PLOT TO KILL ST. PETERSBURG GOVERNOR
The Federal Security Service (FSB) announced on May 19 that it has arrested two people suspected of involvement in a plot to assassinate St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko. The FSB said the suspects, both Russian citizens, were detained on May 16 and found to be in possession of two hand grenades and more than 500 grams of plastic explosives, RFE/RL reported on May 19. "The Moscow Times" on May 21 quoted Matviyenko as saying in televised remarks, "You just cannot rule out the fact that terrorist acts against politicians and employees of the state are aimed at undermining the situation and attracting attention." The daily "Vedomosti" on May 21 quoted an FSB source as saying the two suspects arrested for the alleged plot are "religious extremists" and "Russian citizens who recently adopted Islam." Some Russian media, however, quoted experts who were skeptical about the alleged plot and suggested that it may have been a public-relations stunt on behalf of Matviyenko, who has been named as a potential candidate to succeed President Putin. The daily "Novye izvestiya" on May 21 quoted Georgy Satarov, head of the InDem Foundation, as saying: "It is simply some kind of exaggerated petty incident involving nabbed riffraff and the use of that circumstance for PR purposes." Aleksei Mukhin, head of the Center for Political Information, similarly told "Novye izvestiya": "On the threshold of Vladimir Putin's assumed departure from the presidential post in March 2008, members of his entourage must prove themselves as independent political figures. And Valentina Matviyenko, as everybody knows, is on the list of [possible] successors." JB
INGUSH DISPLACED PERSONS SEEK SUPPORT IN MOSCOW
State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov met in Moscow on May 18 with representatives of the Ingush displaced persons who fled North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodny Raion in late 1992 and have been lobbying since then for the right to return to their abandoned homes. Gryzlov assured the Ingush delegation that he would ask presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak the following day to explain why the displaced persons have not been permitted return to North Ossetia; Gryzlov said he will also raise the issue with President Putin, the independent website ingushetiya.ru reported on May 18. Also on May 18, a group of Republic of Ingushetia parliament deputies traveled to the border settlement of Mayskoye in North Ossetia to investigate media reports, which according to regnum.ru proved inaccurate, that North Ossetian police confiscated two trailers in which seven displaced Ingush live. LF
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION REJECTS ELECTION RESULTS
Some 3,000 people attended a demonstration on May 18 on Yerevan's Republic Square to protest the official results of the May 12 parliamentary election, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Aram Sargsian, head of the radical opposition Hanrapetutiun party, and People's Party of Armenia Chairman Stepan Demirchian separately pledged to file suit with the Constitutional Court to have the results annulled; the Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) and Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) parties have already announced their intention to do the same (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 17 and 18, 2007). Sargsian admitted, however, that he does not "expect the Constitutional Court to rule in our favor." Armenia's Central Election Commission convened on May 19 to ratify the final results of the May 12 ballot, Noyan Tapan reported. But of its nine members, two representing opposition parties refused to sign the protocol on the allocation of votes in single-mandate constituencies, and a third joined them in refusing to sign that on the allocation of votes under the proportional system, which one of the dissenters described as "the gravestone on the tomb of Armenian democracy." The ruling Republican Party of Armenia will have 64 mandates in the 131-mandate legislature; the Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party 25, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun 16, Orinats Yerkir 10, Zharangutiun (Heritage) seven, and Dashink (Alliance) one. LF
TWO AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PAPERS EVICTED FROM OFFICE
Azerbaijan's Emergency Situations Ministry ordered on May 21 the eviction of the staff of the independent newspapers "Realny Azerbaijan" and "Gyundelik Azerbaijan" from their editorial offices in Baku, day.az reported. The rationale cited for that move was that the building in which the newspapers rented premises on the ground floor was recently renovated and is allegedly unsafe, "Gyundelik Azerbaijan" Editor in Chief Shahveled Cobanoglu told day.az. He added that residents have not been asked to vacate apartments on the upper floors of the building. Cobanoglu said the two publications plan to file suit in court against the ministry. LF
ARMENIA, AZERBAIJAN LEAD SOFTWARE PIRACY STATISTICS
A report issued on May 15 by the Business Software Alliance concluded that Armenia has the highest rate of business-software piracy in the world. The study found that 95 percent of all business software in use in Armenia has been copied illegally. Azerbaijan and Moldova followed, with 94 percent. Ukraine's rate, 84 percent, ranked it ninth. Others in the top 10 were, in order, Zimbabwe (91 percent), Vietnam, Venezuela, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Cameroon (84 percent). This was the first time that Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova were included in the annual survey. The report found that in 2006 the average rate of business-software piracy in postcommunist states (including Central Europe) was 68 percent. AG
GEORGIA, SOUTH OSSETIA EXCHANGE ACCUSATIONS
The Georgian authorities claimed on May 20 that the armed forces of the breakaway republic of South Ossetia opened fire with mortars and grenade launchers on the Georgian-populated villages of Nikozi and Ergneti the previous evening, wounding one police officer, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported. But Eduard Kokoity, de facto South Ossetian president, denied on May 20 responsibility for the attack, and claimed that Tbilisi is using artillery supplied by NATO against South Ossetian towns and villages. South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloyeva claimed on May 20 that Tskhinvali was subjected on May 19 to an artillery attack from Georgian-populated villages that injured two people and damaged seven houses. LF
GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONIST SLAIN
Academician Guram Sharadze, 66, leader of the opposition nationalist party XXIst Century -- Language, Fatherland, Faith, was reportedly shot dead on the street in Tbilisi late on May 20 by Giorgi Barateli, a cameraman for the pro-government television station Rustavi-2, according to Georgian media. Barateli was reportedly a friend of Sharadze's son Lasha, whose death nine years ago has never been clarified, and lived for a while as a member of Sharadze's household. Sharadze was elected to parliament in 1995 and 1999, and gained notoriety for his efforts to have Jehovah's Witnesses banned in Georgia. Police apprehended Barateli, who has confessed to killing Sharadze, but his motive remains unclear, according to kavkaz-uzel.ru on May 21. LF
GEORGIAN PREMIER UPS PROGNOSIS FOR GDP GROWTH
Zurab Noghaideli told journalists in Tbilisi on May 18 that Georgia's gross domestic product will probably increase by 10 percent in 2007 compared with the previous year, not 7.5 percent as estimated earlier, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Total GDP in 2007 is predicted to reach $17 billion, or $2,500 per capita. In 2006, GDP grew by 9.5 percent year on year to reach $13.7 billion. Noghaideli also announced that the Georgian government will allocate 12.4 million laris ($7.3 million) to the pro-Georgian provisional South Ossetian administration headed by Dmitry Sanakoyev to finance social and economic projects in the conflict zone, Caucasus Press reported. Those funds are part of an additional 640 million laris in additional budget expenditure that the Georgian parliament is to debate later this week. LF
KAZAKH PARLIAMENT PASSES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS...
A joint session of Kazakhstan's bicameral parliament on May 18 voted to approve in the second and final reading a package of constitutional amendments proposed by President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 15 and 17, 2007). The measures, which now to go the president for his signature, will go into effect in 2012, RIA Novosti reported. The changes include increasing the number of lawmakers in both houses of parliament, and increasing the number of deputies elected from party lists. Nazarbaev has said the amendments ensure "a new system of checks and balances" in government. DK
...AND REMOVES TERM LIMITS FOR PRESIDENT
The joint session on May 18 also passed an amendment proposed by deputies removing term limits for the country's "first president," current President Nazarbaev, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Ermek Zhumabaev, chairman of the commission in charge of drafting the amendments, told legislators, "Given the historic role the first president has played in the establishment of our state as one of the founders of our new independent Kazakhstan, as well as the need to bring ongoing economic and political reforms to conclusion, the joint commission of parliament's chambers has accepted this proposal." Members of the opposition criticized the move, Reuters reported. Oraz Zhandosov, a leader in the opposition Naghyz Ak Zhol Party, told the news agency, "It's a further roll-back of democracy. It's common practice: they want to [show] that it's not the president who wants this, but the people." The news agency noted that earlier in the week, Mukhtar Aliev, a member of the pro-presidential ruling party and the father of Rakhat Aliev, Nazarbaev's son-in-law, had criticized the possible removal of presidential term limits as "a departure from the basic principles of our constitution." Rakhat Aliev was named Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria earlier this year in what some observers saw as a form of exile following political infighting at home (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12, 2007). It remains unclear whether Nazarbaev will sign into law the amendment that would allow him to serve as president indefinitely. DK
KYRGYZSTAN WANTS U.S. TO EXPEDITE INVESTIGATION OF BASE SHOOTING
Kyrgyzstan has asked the United States to speed up the investigation of the fatal shooting of a Kyrgyz citizen, Aleksandr Ivanov, at a checkpoint near the U.S. military base in Kyrgyzstan in December 2006, the official news agency Kabar reported on May 18 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2006). State Secretary Taalaibek Kydyrov made the request during a meeting with U.S. ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch in Bishkek on May 18, and asked that the issue of compensation to Ivanov's family be resolved, akipress.org reported. Kydyrov also said that the United States must expedite its investigation of a collision at Bishkek airport between a U.S. refueling plane and a Kyrgyz civil aircraft that damaged the latter. DK
KYRGYZSTAN TO HOST SCO COUNTERTERROR EXERCISES
Kyrgyzstan will host counterterrorism exercises involving intelligence officers from the countries of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in late May in Issyk-Kul province, Interfax-AVN reported on May 18, citing the press service of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Committee. The SCO comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. A National Security Committee statement said that participants in the exercise will "practice close interaction and effective coordination among intelligence services, special forces, and law enforcement bodies from SCO countries while conducting large-scale special operations for detecting and preventing terrorist attacks, eliminating armed groups, and reinforcing security at national borders." Official representatives of SCO observer countries Iran, India, Mongolia, and Pakistan will also attend. DK
TAJIK PRESIDENT DEFENDS RECORD ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOMS
In an interview with the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television network broadcast on May 18, Tajik President Emomali Rahmon defended his record in response to accusations of state-sponsored repression of religion in Tajikistan. Asked whether people are harassed "just because they are Islamists," Rahmon replied that rights organizations employ double standards. Rahmon noted, "When we talk about human rights in Tajikistan, do we not forget Iraqis' rights in Iraq? Do we not mention the thousands of dead and the victims who are daily falling in Iraqi cities?" Queried about mosque closures in Tajikistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007), Rahmon responded, "These are pure lies. We have at present more than 4,000 mosques that are open in Tajikistan." Asked about the ban on the Islamic veil in Tajik schools, Rahmon stated, "We are building a secular and free state," adding that students must dress "in accordance with the requirements of a modern school." DK
TURKMENISTAN DENIES REPORTS OF SECURITY MINISTER'S ARREST
An unnamed source in Turkmenistan's presidential administration told RIA-Novosti on May 18 that recent reports of the arrest of National Security Minister Geldimuhammed Ashirmuhammedov are groundless (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2007). The report noted that Ashirmuhammedov was shown on state-run Turkmen television on May 18 laying flowers in a ceremony to mark the country's Constitution Day. Turkmen media recently reported that Ashirmuhammedov was dismissed from his post and arrested in the course of an ongoing purge of holdovers from the regime of former President Saparmurat Niyazov. DK
UZBEKISTAN PLANS TO COUNT LABOR MIGRANTS
Uzbekistan's cabinet has adopted a resolution on collecting more accurate information on the number of Uzbek migrants leaving the country to find work abroad, vesti.uz reported on May 18, citing an anonymous source in the cabinet. The source said, "The document that was adopted is intended to perfect the system for keeping track of people who leave the country to find work or engage in business, and to ensure the defense of citizens while they are abroad." The source noted that the State Statistics Committee has been asked to prepare questionnaires and conduct quarterly surveys of labor migration beginning in the third quarter of 2007. The independent news agency uznews.net reported on May 4 that the authorities in Uzbekistan's Karakalpakstan Autonomous Region are developing measures to force some 200,000 Karakalpakstan residents to return to Uzbekistan from other countries where they have settled in search of work. Estimates of the numbers of Uzbek citizens working abroad vary, with some experts putting the number at a minimum of 1 million. The majority work in Kazakhstan and Russia. DK
FORMER BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE HEADS OPPOSITION MOVEMENT
Some 100 delegates from across Belarus participated on May 20 in the founding congress of the Movement for Freedom (Rukh za Svabodu), initially conceived by united opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich in March 2006, shortly after the presidential election, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The congress took place in the building hosting the Polish consulate and the Union of Poles in Belarus in the northwestern town of Hrodna. The delegates reportedly elected Milinkevich as the leader of the movement and managed to complete all formalities needed for the movement's legal registration before police officers forced their way into the building and evacuated all participants, due to an alleged bomb threat. JM
BELARUS SIGNS CONTRACT ON GAZPROM'S PURCHASE OF BELTRANSHAZ STAKE
The Belarusian government and Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom signed a contract in Minsk on May 18 ensuring Gazprom's future purchase of a 50-percent stake in Beltranshaz, Belarus's gas-pipeline network, Belapan reported. Under a framework agreement signed in Moscow on December 31, 2006, Gazprom was to acquire a 50 percent stake worth $2.5 billion in Beltranshaz by June 1, 2010, to form a joint gas-transport company. Gazprom will buy its stake in four 12.5 percent installments between 2007 and 2010. Belarusian Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka told journalists on May 19 that the $625 million that Belarus will receive from Gazprom for the first installment will "work for the development of economy" and will not be spent on paying off the country's gas debt. Belarus reportedly owed Gazprom $365.3 million at the beginning of April. JM
UKRAINIAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT JUDGE RESIGNS
Constitutional Court Judge Dmytro Lylak has tendered his resignation, Ukrainian media reported on May 21, quoting Presidential Secretariat head Viktor Baloha. Lylak was appointed to the Constitutional Court by President Viktor Yushchenko in November 2006. Constitutional Court Chairman Ivan Dombrovskyy stepped down last week. Since April, Yushchenko has sacked three other Constitutional Court judges -- Valeriy Pshenychnyy, Syuzanna Stanik, and Volodymyr Ivashchenko -- accusing them of a "breach of oath," but they were reportedly reinstated in their jobs by a court ruling last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2007). The 18-member Constitutional Court needs a quorum of 12 judges to hold legitimate sessions. Its rulings are legally binding if they are endorsed by at least 10 judges. The Constitutional Court is currently reviewing Yushchenko's decrees of April 2 and April 26 dissolving the Verkhovna Rada and calling for early elections. JM
PACE OFFERS UKRAINE HELP IN CRISIS
Rene van der Linden, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said in Kyiv on May 21 that the PACE is ready to provide assistance to Ukraine in tackling the current political crisis, UNIAN reported. Van der Linden was meeting with Ukrainian parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz. Moroz said he does not oppose early elections, but added that they should only be held following appropriate amendments to the constitution and other legal changes. JM
RUSSIA SAYS KOSOVA RESOLUTION 'PANDORA'S BOX'...
The leaders of Russia and the EU were silent on the issue of Kosova after their summit on May 18, local and international media reported. Broader tensions in relations were reflected in a presummit decision not to issue a joint communique, and the brief postsummit press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, was dominated by issues other than Kosova. However, comments made later on May 18 by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the television news program "Vesti" indicate no change in the Russian demand that, as Lavrov said, there should be "additional negotiations on Kosovo in order to find a solution acceptable for both Serbia and Kosovo Albanians" and "additional steps to protect national minorities." However, his interview was notable for his forceful restatement of Moscow's view that independence for Kosova would be a dangerous precedent. "This is a very dangerous Pandora's box, and President Putin frankly told that to his EU colleagues, as he did at the Moscow meeting with [U.S. Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice" on May 15, Lavrov said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 17, 2007). The EU and the United States have long argued that independence for Kosova would not set a precedent, and in the past week another country worried by the possibility of a precedent, Indonesia, has voiced its support for the UN's plan for Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2007). AG
...AND DRAWS MIDDLE EASTERN PARALLEL
Russia's ambassador to Macedonia, Vladimir Solotsinsky, said on May 20 that assertions that Kosova will not become a historical precedent "do not hold," the Macedonian news agency Makfax reported the same day. Solotsinsky said, "I can immediately list a dozen cases in Western Europe and Asia with similar situations, impatiently awaiting the denouement of the Kosovo case." Solotsinsky said there have been "many similar cases," "the best examples being the developments in the Middle East in the past 50 years, where a resolution was also imposed by the same countries that now want to impose a solution in Kosovo." Solotsinsky appeared to suggest that decades of turmoil are possible, saying, "Russia does not want history to repeat itself with the same scenario in the heart of the Balkans." AG
BELGRADE SAYS UNITY ON KOSOVA KEY TO GOVERNMENT'S SURVIVAL
In an interview published by Britain's "Financial Times" on May 20, Serbia's new foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, warned that any coalition party that accepts independence for Kosova will bring down the government. "Whoever gives up Kosovo -- implicitly or explicitly -- will instantaneously and forever lose the capacity to govern this country with a democratic mandate," Jeremic said. However, Jeremic, who is a member of the country's leading pro-EU force, the Democrat Party (DS), said that the new government will never allow the country to return to the "traumatic isolation" of the 1990s. Jeremic said that, in coalition talks, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica gave an "absolutely iron-clad commitment" to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), in accordance with UN and EU demands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 16, 17, and 18, 2007). Under the coalition agreement, President Boris Tadic, a Democrat, bears ultimate responsibility for the search for war crimes suspects, while another Democrat, Bozidar Djelic, is in charge of Serbia's efforts to integrate with the EU. Kostunica, who heads the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), reiterated on May 20 that Serbia will "never give up" Kosova in exchange for EU membership, the broadcaster B92 reported the same day. AG
KOSOVA MAY NOT HAVE STATE SYMBOLS BY INDEPENDENCE DAY...
Kosova's prime minister, Agim Ceku, on May 18 told local journalists that Kosova will not have decided on its state symbols by the time it gains independence. Ceku said independence will come "soon"; he has previously predicted the UN Security Council will pave the way for Kosova to gain its independence in May. "We have to be realistic because we cannot have our symbols in a few weeks, as that requires time...and political consensus," Ceku said. "We have to define new symbols that differ from those we identified with and grew up with." The issue is a practical one as well as a matter of identity, since Kosovars' current travel documents will expire when the UN Mission in Kosova winds up its operations. Under the plan being discussed by the UN, Kosova would be granted independence but would be under the temporary supervision of an EU-appointed representative of the international community. The plan also stipulates that state symbols should not represent just one ethnic group. Ceku was speaking after a meeting of the Unity Team, which is representing ethnic Albanian interests in international negotiations on the future status of Kosova. A spokesman for the Unity Team, Skender Hyseni, told the media that there are disagreements about whether new passports for Kosovars should be provisional or permanent. Hyseni denied that the region's politicians have said a decision would be taken in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 13, 2007). "We said that it would be good if [the process] ended in May," Hyseni said. AG
...WHILE DEBATE OVER BOSNIAN SYMBOLS CONTINUES
The speaker of the Republika Srpska's parliament, Igor Radojcic, on May 18 criticized a proposal for the symbols used by Bosnia-Herzegovina's other autonomous region, the Muslim-Croat Federation, Banja Luka Radio reported the same day. The federation has proposed using the state's symbols as temporary emblems. Radojcic said the proposal is a politically motivated attempt to signal that the country's regions should not have their own symbols. The country's politicians are currently embroiled in a dispute about the constitution, with the Bosnian Muslims' most senior leader calling for the Republika Srpska to be abolished (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26, 27, 28, and March 1, 5, and 13, 2007). The Constitutional Court in late March ruled that all flags and emblems in the country must be inclusive in nature, forcing the country's two autonomous regions to choose new symbols. The Republika Srpska has already done so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2007). AG
BOSNIA BEATS BELARUS TO UN POST
Human rights groups, the United States, and Britain have all welcomed the decision by the UN's member states to vote Bosnia onto the UN's Human Rights Council, local and international media reported on May 17. Belarus and Slovenia were initially expected to run unopposed for the two seats available for Central and Eastern Europe, but concerns raised by a range of governments and human rights groups at the prospect of Belarus's inclusion appear to have prompted Bosnia to enter the competition. In a May 17 runoff, Bosnia won 112 votes, compared with 72 for Belarus. In all, 14 new states were elected to the 47-member council. Steve Crawshaw of Human Rights Watch welcomed the outcome. "Bosnia's record is far from perfect," but Belarus's "frankly appalling" human rights record is simply in a "league of its own," the "International Herald Tribune" quoted him as saying on May 17. Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, Milos Prica, called Bosnia's election to the council a "huge achievement," international news agencies reported on May 17. AG
CONVICTED BOSNIAN SERB WAR CRIMINAL DIES...
A convicted Bosnian Serb war criminal, Miroslav Deronjic, died in a Swedish prison on May 19, local and international media reported on May 20. Prison authorities said the 52-year-old died of cancer, AFP reported on May 20. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in March 2004 sentenced Deronjic to 10 years in prison for crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims in the village of Glogova. Sixty-five civilians died in the attack, which took place in May 1992. Deronjic was for many years a leading figure in the eastern Bosnian town of Bratunac, and is so far the only person convicted of war crimes in the area. About 600 Bosnian Muslims were killed after Serbs captured the town in 1992, and another 2,800 who fled to Srebrenica were subsequently massacred when the UN "safe area" was overrun by Bosnian Serb forces. Deronjic was transferred to Sweden in November 2005, where a former president of the Republika Srpska, Biljana Plavsic, is also imprisoned (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2007). AG
...AND BOSNIAN MUSLIM COMMANDER CHARGED
Bosnia-Herzegovina's War Crimes Court on May 18 charged a Bosnian Muslim wartime commander with war crimes committed during the 1992-95 conflict, local and international media reported. Prosecutors allege that Zijad Kurtovic and his troops tortured ethnic Croatian soldiers and civilians in 1993, beating them with bats and crosses and forcing them to eat pages from the Bible and other religious books. Kurtovic is also accused of using ethnic Croatian soldiers and civilians as human shields on the front line between Muslim and Croatian forces in Mostar. In March 2006, the ICTY sentenced two Bosnian Muslim generals, Enver Hadzihasanovic and Amir Kubura, to five and 3 1/2 years' imprisonment respectively for failing to prevent crimes against Croats and Serbs. AG
CROATIAN VETERANS WANT WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS STRIPPED OF MEDALS
An association of war veterans from Zagreb have called for two wartime generals, Vladimir Zagorec and Branimir Glavas, to be stripped of their military decorations for "contempt shown toward the Croatian legal system," the news agency Hina reported on May 17. The head of the association, Damir Jasarevic, said that Zagorec showed disrespect by failing to attend a court hearing and Glavas by going on a hunger strike. "Everyone in Croatia has the duty to respect the legal system and there must be no exception," Jasarevic said. He added, however, that they should not be stripped of their rank. Zagorec, a general and former assistant defense minister, is accused of money laundering and is currently on the run. Glavas is the leading figure in a war crimes trial known as the "Sellotape case," in which 10 civilians were drowned after their mouths were taped over (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19 and May 14, 2007). Glavas was transferred to a prison hospital on May 10 because of his hunger strike, but Hina reported on May 19 that he has now been returned to prison. This is the second time that Glavas has gone on hunger strike. AG
MACEDONIAN-ALBANIAN PARTY HINTS AT END OF BOYCOTT
Macedonia's largest ethnic Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), on May 18 indicated that it may soon end a nearly four-month boycott of parliament, the news agency Makfax reported the same day. The party's deputy leader, Teuta Arifi, described recent talks with the governing party, the VMRO-DPMNE, as "positive" and said "we haven't reached the stage of signing any agreements yet, but no further negotiations on the level of official delegations will take place." Arifi continued: "We are now looking to complete talks with the VMRO-DPMNE and to finalize a political agreement, which would contribute to the implementation of the Ohrid agreement and the inclusion of Macedonia into NATO and the EU." The Ohrid agreement ended a six-month conflict with ethnic Albanian separatists in 2001. The BDI and the government have been under sustained pressure from the EU, the United States, NATO, and the Council of Europe to settle their differences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2007). AG
MACEDONIAN SECRET SERVICE CLEARED IN RENDITION CASE...
A Macedonian parliamentary committee on May 18 concluded that the country's secret services did not overstep their powers in the case of Khalid al-Masri, a German national seized by Macedonian authorities and then by CIA agents, Macedonia's A1 television channel reported the same day. Al-Masri, who is of Lebanese descent, says he was detained by Macedonian border guards in December 2003 while traveling to Skopje and then, after his release, kidnapped by the CIA and transferred to Afghanistan, where he says he was tortured and raped. Al-Masri was eventually released on a road close to Albania's border with Macedonia. The parliamentary committee made its ruling before receiving a translated copy of a Council of Europe report recommending that Macedonia set up a special commission to investigate the case. The parliamentary committee's chairman, Esad Rahic, said that "until al-Masri's account is proved and we are presented with strong evidence, we will believe the Interior Ministry. What matters most is the readiness of this committee and the parliament of the Republic of Macedonia to fully investigate and solve this case." In December 2005, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the United States had acknowledged mistakenly seizing al-Masri. The German parliament is currently investigating the role of the German government and intelligence services. In January 2007, a German prosecutor issued warrants for the arrest of 13 people suspected of involvement in al-Masri's "extraordinary rendition." German prosecutors committed al-Masri to a psychiatric institution on May 17 immediately after he set fire to a supermarket in his hometown, Ulm. Al-Masri's lawyer, Manfred Gnjidic, told the media that al-Masri was severely traumatized by his kidnapping, imprisonment, and torture, German and international media reported on May 18. AG
...WHILE GUANTANAMO UYGHURS ARE 'EXEMPLARY'
A report published on May 16 in the Albanian daily "Gazeta Shqiptare" describes as "exemplary" the behavior of five Uyghurs given permission to seek asylum in Albania following their release from the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. The men were captured in 2001 as they crossed into Pakistan from Afghanistan, where, they say, they were visiting a Uyghur village in Afghanistan while waiting for Turkish officials in Pakistan to process a visa application. They were found innocent by a U.S. military tribunal in May 2005 and transferred to Albania in May 2006, where the men, who were members of a Uyghur separatist movement in China, are seeking asylum. Employees at their asylum center and a number of locals quoted in the report describe them as "very polite," taciturn book-lovers, able to communicate in Albanian "without any difficulty," but silent on their experiences at Guantanamo Bay. One unnamed employee said that "they are treated differently from the others. I do not know the reason, but that is something I have noticed myself. Their clothes, food, accommodation -- everything for them is different." In an interview published on March 4 in the daily "Shekulli," one of the five, Abu Bakr Qasim, described abuse by U.S. prison officials in Afghanistan but said that he was not "mistreated" during his years at Guantanamo, although a fellow Uyghur was badly beaten at the detention center (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8, 2007). AG
UKRAINIAN POLITICIANS' MEDIA VIEWS REVEAL DIVERGENT VALUES
A look at Ukraine's mass media provides interesting insight into the ongoing political standoff in Ukraine. Because the country finally has a relatively free media, the behavior of the various political actors is reasonably visible. Their actions toward the media, in turn, reveal the divergence in political values that are at the heart of the crisis.
The current situation is very much a continuation of the political struggle from 2004. One of the slogans of the Orange Revolution was "No More Lies!" (Ni Brekhni!), and since coming to power Yushchenko has started to deliver on this promise.
However, after the Party of Regions of Yushchenko's rival, Viktor Yanukovych, won at the parliamentary polls in the spring of 2006, they and their coalition partners have been enacting a creeping coup, slowly moving back into positions of power and reintroducing the old way of doing things. Nowhere is this more visible than in the media.
So the real question is: what kind of relationship does the government have with the media? Yushchenko and Yanukovych appear to have very different ideas about the relationship between the media and the state.
Since becoming president, Yushchenko has adopted a liberal approach to media policy, with minimal state intervention beyond general regulatory measures and overseeing a slow process of removing the state from media ownership. He has allowed the media to write, print, broadcast, and post whatever they wish, and this has allowed freedom of speech to flourish for the first time in the country's recent history.
Despite facing constant criticism from the media, Yushchenko has not taken any steps to reintroduce state-sponsored censorship, and this is the behavior of a democratic leader. Where Yushchenko falls short, as with so many other issues, is in doing little to introduce or facilitate structural changes that would help consolidate these gains.
Prime Minister Yanukovych and his coalition partners are taking advantage of this and gradually moving to reestablish control -- the creeping coup. Their behavior toward the media suggests that their political culture remains stuck in pre-2004 semi-authoritarianism.
A telling incident occurred shortly after the Party of Regions began their political comeback. On July 12, 2006, only a few months after the elections, Party of Regions lawmaker Oleh Kalashnikov assaulted two journalists just outside parliament.
The journalists, Marharyta Sytnyk and Volodymyr Novosad from STB television, had the audacity to film him near the Verkhovna Rada. Despite a major outcry from journalists, Kalashnikov faced no consequences -- he continues to sit in parliament and make statements about the importance of constitutional government and the rule of law.
Since the Kalashnikov incident, attacks on the media, some physical, have increased. A recent example took place on March 30, 2007, when Crimean journalists Olena Mekhanyk and Oleksandr Khomenko from the Chornomorka television station were attacked as they filmed coalition supporters boarding trains headed for Kyiv.
Kuchma-era tactics such as legal actions, harassment, and other forms of intimidation have been on the rise. The pioneering "Ukrayinska pravda" website has been sued six times during the last six months by parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz.
Renat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man and an influential member of the Party of Regions, recently launched legal action against the popular website "Obozrevatel," after its reporter Tetyana Chornovil found some of Akhmetov's old neighbors from his hometown of Oktyabrskoye and published a series of stories about his youth.
The newspaper "2000" ran what turned out to be a fabricated story, which falsely quoted Renate Wohlwend, rapporteur with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as saying that Yushchenko's April 2 decree dissolving parliament was unconstitutional and he should resign.
Equally troubling was a remark to the press by Vadym Dolhanov, the husband of Constitutional Court Judge Syuzanna Stanik, who was dismissed by Yushchenko as the court was considering the legality of the president's April 2 decree. Responding to a question from a female journalist about the couple's property holdings, Dolhanov responded by asking the journalist what kind of underwear she was wearing.
The Yanukovych team has also slowly been trying to reestablish structural control over the media. After the 2006 parliamentary elections, the majority coalition (the Communists, Socialists, and Party of Regions) appointed their own loyalists, Eduard Prutnyk and Ihor Chaban, to head the State Committee for TV and Radio Broadcasting.
On March 20, 2007, the state-controlled Ukrainian National Television Channel 1 canceled its only political debate program, "Toloka," one day after Yulia Tymoshenko and Our Ukraine leader Vyacheslav Kyrylenko were guests on the show and had positive comments from 80 percent of callers.
There was also an attempt to circumvent the parliamentary freedom-of-speech committee, which is led by Tymoshenko ally and lawmaker Andriy Shevchenko. Some members of the committee met without him and elected Party of Regions lawmaker Olena Bondarenko acting head on April 26.
How have journalists reacted to all of this? At best, their response can be described as mixed. Although a truly independent media does not exist anywhere, Ukraine's media has further to go toward this ideal than some. Despite the improvement in working conditions after the end of state-sponsored censorship, overall the professionalism of many journalists remains woefully poor.
The basic elements of professionalism, autonomy, distinct professional norms, and public-service orientation are largely missing. Only one media outlet, maidan.org.ua, bothered to check the source of the Strasbourg disinformation story. Most media outlets simply reprinted what was fed to them.
Many journalists still lack a clear understanding of the role the media play in a democratic society, and despite improvements, the media are still not achieving their main purpose of providing clear, balanced and in-depth information and analysis of major events. Those who work for coalition-controlled media outlets continue to print and broadcast what they are told. Ukraina TV's unflinching adherence to the Party of Regions party line is one demonstration of the extent of this problem.
A new tendency -- noted by Olha Herasymyuk, a former television personality and current Our Ukraine lawmaker -- is that journalists are increasingly avoiding difficult topics relating to the coalition. "I am noticing that journalists are refraining from critical tones when reporting on the coalition or government activities," she said during a recent interview. "It's clear that they are becoming increasingly frightened." Given the renewed pressures they are facing, this return to self-censorship is hardly surprising.
There is, nonetheless, some good news and reason for optimism. Great strides have been made in developing investigative journalism, a genre practically nonexistent in the era of former President Leonid Kuchma. Channel 5, the website "Obozrevatel," and STB TV all conducted independent investigations into allegations of corruption among Constitutional Court judges when the latest crisis broke.
Analytical programs have also improved, with two shows really standing out: "Ya Tak Dumayu" (This is What I Think), hosted by Anna Bezulyk on Studio 1+1; and "Five Kopeks" (best translated as Your Two Cents) with Roman Chayka on Channel 5.
To some degree, innovation is also on the rise. On April 13, a group of national and regional television stations staged a "Day Without Politicians on TV," where they deliberately avoided inviting the usual talking heads and provided their viewers with an alternative perspective on the news. It seems that the political culture and professionalism of journalists are improving, but to a large degree continue to reflect the major political divisions in society.
Two final points concern the international dimension. Yanukovych and his coalition partners are appealing to Western public opinion, despite renewing pressures on the media at home. Socialist leader and presidential opponent Oleksandr Moroz published his thoughts on the crisis on the pages of the "International Herald Tribune," not "Izvestiya" -- a huge change from 2004, when their focus was on Moscow.
The tone of Western reporting on Yanukovych and the coalition has changed, too. On April 22, a "Daily Telegraph" article described the Ukrainian prime minister as "a former weightlifter and onetime racing driver," who speaks "in the soft baritone that accompanies his deceptively mild manner" when he explains that "'the Ukrainian people have an old democratic tradition.'" No mention was made of his criminal record, the well-reported falsification of the 2004 election, or the creeping coup d'etat which precipitated the current crisis.
The struggle between these two political blocs, and their very different political cultures, is likely to continue. The degree and nature of state intervention into the work of the media will remain an important indicator of just how far democratic consolidation has progressed in Ukraine.
(Marta Dyczok is an associate professor in history and political science at the University of Western Ontario. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.)
SUICIDE ATTACK KILLS 10 IN SOUTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN...
A suicide bomber killed himself and 10 Afghan civilians in an attack in Gardez, the provincial capital of Paktiya Province, on May 20, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. The bomber's apparent target was a combined military convoy of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan National Army, which was approaching the area just as the blast occurred. Paktiya police chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang told the news agency that his forces have recovered the bomber's head, and believe based on his appearance that he was a Chechen. However, a purported Taliban spokesman identified the bomber as Salim from Ghazni Province, west of Paktiya, and claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on the Taliban's behalf, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on May 20. The spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahed, told AIP that the bomber destroyed two vehicles and "killed 15 foreign soldiers," and added that "unfortunately, five civilians were killed" and another 11 wounded in the attack. While the Taliban regularly exaggerate their achievements in combat, Mujahed's acknowledgement that civilians were killed in the operation appears to be a new tactic. AT
...WHILE SUICIDE ATTACK IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN KILLS FIVE AFGHANS AND THREE GERMANS
Five Afghan civilians and three ISAF soldiers were killed in a suicide bombing in Konduz Province on May 19, a statement on the ISAF website reported. Eight Afghans and two ISAF soldiers were injured in the attack. ISAF does not divulge the nationalities of casualties. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- said in a May 19 posting that a "mujahed of the Islamic Emirate" from Konduz, named Jawad, carried out a "sacrifice" attack on a German patrol, killing 11 Germans. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said in Geltow, Germany, the same day that "such an insidious and cowardly attack" on German soldiers serving with ISAF will not dissuade Germany from continuing its mission to support the Afghan government, ddp reported. AT
DISTRICT POLICE CHIEF KILLED IN EASTERN AFGHANISTAN
The police chief of Achin district in Nangarhar Province and his driver were killed when an explosion destroyed their vehicle on May 19, AIP reported. Nangarhar police chief Abdul Ghafur said that three other policemen were wounded in the attack, but did not provide details. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan said in a May 19 posting that a "mujahed of the Islamic Emirate" used a mine to destroy the vehicle of the security chief of Achin. The name of the slain commander was not given. AT
RIFT WIDENS BETWEEN AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTRY AND PARLIAMENT
In a statement issued on its website on May 17, the Afghan Foreign Ministry rejected claims purportedly made by Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) speaker Mohammad Yunos Qanuni. According to the statement, Qanuni told a press conference on May 17 that Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta "denied any knowledge of the tripartite agreement between Afghanistan, Iran, and the UNHCR" on the repatriation of Afghan refugees when appearing before the Wolesi Jirga. The Foreign Ministry, calling Qanuni's claim "baseless," added that Spanta had discussed the tripartite agreement in detail. The rift between Qanuni and Spanta began after the Wolesi Jirga removed the foreign minister with a no-confidence vote on May 12 on the grounds that he did not do enough to persuade Iran not to expel tens of thousands of Afghan refugees in a drive starting in mid-April. Afghan President Hamid Karzai decided to keep Spanta in his post while referring the no-confidence vote to the Supreme Court for clarification. Qanuni has maintained that Karzai's decree referring Spanta's impeachment to the Supreme Court was illegal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14 and 18, 2007). AT
OFFICIAL SAYS IRAN'S NUCLEAR PURSUITS NOT NEGOTIABLE
Gholamreza Aqazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said in Tehran on May 20 that the country's "nuclear advances" are not subject to negotiation with Western states, adding that "we are getting on with our work," ISNA reported. Aqazadeh said he could not give "precise figures" for the number of additional centrifuges Iran plans to install this year at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant, but he said "we are proceeding well and have created capabilities and are working fast." The statement confirms comments from inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who have said that Iran is making "slow but steady" progress on uranium enrichment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 16, 2007 ). Iran claims its uranium enrichment work is intended to produce fuel for power generation, but Western governments fear it could be used to produce more highly enriched material for nuclear weapons. The UN Security Council has asked Iran to stop its enrichment work, and Western states want Iran to import fuel for its nuclear program rather than producing it domestically. Aqazadeh said Iran is dissatisfied with what he said was IAEA inspectors' repeatedly publicizing technical details of Iran's program. He added, "It is to the advantage" of Western states, "when they see the speed of our work, to give more depth to negotiations, and make them more serious," ISNA reported. VS
IRANIAN BANKING BODY FEARS RISING INFLATION RATE
An adviser to Iran's Central Bank predicted a rising inflation rate for the Persian year to March 20, 2008, unless the government takes measures to curb inflation, Radio Farda reported on May 20, citing IRNA. Ahmad Mojtahed, who heads the Iranian Monetary and Banking Research Center affiliated with the Central Bank, told reporters in Tehran on May 20 that he expects inflation to reach 17 percent in the current Persian year. Mojtahed said liquidity -- cash and near-cash assets in public hands -- grew 40 percent in the year to March 2007, and predicted that liquidity will grow by 50.19 percent in the first six months of the current year. He said he believes every two to three percentage points of liquidity growth leads to a one-percentage-point rise in inflation. Mojtahed said the Central Bank could bring inflation down to a single-digit rate if it had the authority, though he said that might entail lower economic growth and job losses. The government has said Iran currently has an inflation rate of about 13.6 percent, Radio Farda reported, although some observers believe the actual rate to be higher. The parliamentary research center issued its own report in April predicting a 23 percent inflation rate for the current Persian year, but government officials disputed that figure, Radio Farda reported. VS
IRANIAN CLERIC DEPLORES GENDER DISCRIMINATION
Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani told female politicians in Tehran on May 20 that it is necessary to "amend areas of the civil law that create certain problems for Iranian women," Mehr reported. He told a gathering of members of "fundamentalist" or conservative women's groups that "there is a sense that certain laws are not in keeping with the conditions of our time." He expressed support for the mobilization of more women in public life through political parties, and said no society could grow adequately if deprived of the presence of half its population in public, business, or social life. Mariam Behruzi, a conservative politician who attended the meeting, told ILNA on May 20 that the groups discussed equalizing blood money for men and women. Blood money is the compensation paid to the relatives of a murder victim, but currently the fine paid for a dead man is twice that for a woman. Behruzi said Rafsanjani and certain senior clerics favor the equalization of blood money, adding that Rafsanjani suggested that legislators should propose this as a bill. She said participants in the meeting agreed that political parties should have more women on their electoral lists. VS
IRANIAN REFORMIST WARNS OF JURISTS' INTERFERENCE IN VOTE
Former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi said in Tehran on May 20 that hostility to party politics and parties is increasing in Iran, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on May 21. Karrubi said possible candidates for parliamentary elections due later this year are already worried about widespread disqualifications by the Guardians Council, the body of jurists that must approve the eligibility of candidates. Karrubi is the head of the National Trust Party, which he founded after leaving a left-leaning reformist party, the Militant Clerics Assembly. He said his party will consult with other groups about the coming elections, and "will do everything" to ensure "the rigid current will not take power in the country." The Guardians Council has been accused of being excessively strict in vetting possible candidates, and being biased against reformists. The council's secretary, Ahmad Jannati, told IRNA on May 18 that it would "act as before" in verifying the eligibility of aspirants. Separately, Hussein Marashi, a member of the centrist Executives of Construction Party, told Mehr on May 20 that reformists are lobbying former President Mohammad Khatami to run for a seat in the next parliament. He said the country needs his experience. "All those with national experience should be in parliament," Marashi said. VS
IRAQI SHI'ITE LEADER DIAGNOSED WITH LUNG CANCER
Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, has been diagnosed in the United States with lung cancer, international media reported on May 20. "The Washington Post" reported on May 19 that al-Hakim arrived in Houston, Texas, for further testing to follow up an initial diagnosis made by U.S. doctors in Baghdad. A treatment plan will also be designed in Texas. Meanwhile, Iranian news agencies reported that al-Hakim is headed to Tehran for treatment. There is no word on who will take over as head of the SIIC. Al-Hakim was elected chairman of the organization last week at an internal party conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14, 2007). KR
IRAQI PRESIDENT IN U.S. FOR REST, HEALTH CHECKS
Jalal Talabani left Iraq for the United States on May 20, international media reported, where he is expected to stay for up to three weeks. Talabani will undergo routine medical checks, Reuters reported, citing his office. "I don't have any health problems except my obesity and I will treat it, God willing," his office quoted him as saying. Talabani was hospitalized for fatigue and dehydration in Amman in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 26, 2007). KR
FORMER IRAQI SECURITY PERSONNEL CALLED TO REGISTER
The Iraqi government has ordered all former intelligence and security personnel who served under Saddam Hussein to register with the Interior Ministry, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported on May 19. Major General Abd al-Karim Khalaf, who heads the ministry's National Command Center, said that those who fail to register will be considered threats to the state. Regarding the would-be registrants, Khalaf said: "Those whose aptitude is good will be returned to service, while those whose aptitude is [poor] will be given their pension rights based on the provisions of the pertinent law.... Those who fail to report to the ministry or police stations will be considered people who are involved in actions that are hostile to our people based on the provisions of the law, the Iraqi Constitution, and the counterterrorism law." The call-up includes people who worked for intelligence, military intelligence, public security, and special security, Khalaf said. KR
IRAQI GOVERNMENT SIGN CEASE-FIRE AGREEMENT WITH SHI'ITE CLERIC IN SOUTH
Local government officials and representatives of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr signed an 11-point cease-fire agreement in Al-Qadisiyah Governorate on May 20, Iraqi media reported. Al-Iraqiyah television said participants at the meeting agreed upon the need to uphold security, and said they will do their utmost to prevent any actions that undermine it. "We denounce, condemn, and censure the assassinations, killings, abductions, and acts of robbery and rape, as well as all the other crimes that took place in the governorate," Al-Qadisiyah Governor Khalil Jalil Hamzah said. Al-Iraqiyah reported that the agreement stipulates that weapons shall remain only in the hands of government security services. Al-Sharqiyah television reported on May 20 that the cease-fire will be in effect for only 30 days. The news channel said the agreement was made to allow for students to take their final exams, and that new negotiations will take place in 30 days' time. KR
VICE PRESIDENT WARNS NEIGHBORS NOT TO INTERFERENCE IN IRAQ'S AFFAIRS
Speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi called on neighboring states to stop interfering in Iraq's affairs, Arab media reported on May 20. "We have to exert pressure on Iran. But it is not only Iran, Syria, and the neighboring countries that are to blame for Iraq's problems," al-Hashimi said. "Many other countries are also accountable," Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Al-Hashimi also stressed the need for national reconciliation and dialogue to bring an end to internal Iraqi disputes. Deputy Foreign Minister Barham Salih told reporters at the Dead Sea meeting that there is increasing danger that the violence in Iraq will spill over its borders, the news channel reported. KR
U.K. DEFENSE ATTACHE SAYS TROOP SURGE IN IRAQ FAILING
Alastair Campbell, the outgoing defense attache at the U.K. Embassy in Iraq, told an audience at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House) that the troop surge in Iraq is failing, London's "The Sunday Telegraph" reported on May 20. "The evidence does not suggest that the surge is actually working, if reduction in casualties is a criterion," he said, referring to the 1,500 civilians killed in Iraq in April. The newspaper quoted Campbell as saying that U.S. commanders have said the criteria for the success of the troop surge is to reduce the level of violence to that which existed prior to the bombing of the Al-Askari Shrine in February 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). According to media reports, more than 400 Iraqis have been killed so far this month. KR