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Newsline

Newsline - April 30, 2008

GREECE JOINS SOUTH STREAM PIPELINE PROJECT
Greece on April 29 formally signed a deal to join Gazprom's South Stream project, a 10 billion-euro ($15.6 billion) pipeline that will bring 31 billion cubic meters of Russian gas to Southern Europe per year after it is commissioned in 2013, Reuters reported. "The signing of the agreement to construct the Greek part of the South Stream pipeline has become the most important result [of the talks]," President Vladimir Putin said after meeting with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis at the Kremlin. The agreement concerning Greece's participation in South Stream was signed by Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko and Greek Minister of Development Christos Folias, "The Moscow Times" reported on April 30. As Reuters noted, South Stream is widely seen as a major challenge to the rival U.S.- and EU-backed Nabucco pipeline scheme, and agreements earlier this year to route the South Stream pipeline through Bulgaria, Serbia, and Hungary were widely seen as Russian victories in a "pipeline war" with the EU. Putin, however, denied such a war is taking place. "Implementation of the South Stream project does not mean we are fighting with any alternative projects," ITAR-TASS quoted him as saying. "Please, if anyone is in a position to realize other projects of this type under economically acceptable conditions, to provide these gas-pipeline systems with produce in sufficient quantities...we will be only happy. If Greece needed some ordinary goods -- watches, underpants, or a tie -- these could be bought anywhere. You could buy them in China, in Switzerland, or in Italy, but countries that are in a position to be the primary energy supplier at the necessary volumes and at competitive prices for Europe can be counted on one hand." JB

RUSSIA WILL WAIT FOR TALKS WITH EU TO RESUME
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia is prepared to wait to resume talks with the EU over a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement aimed at redefining relations between Moscow and Brussels. As euronews.net reported on April 20, progress on an agreement remains stalled after calls for more conditions to be imposed on Russia from Lithuania, which wants assurances from Russia over issues including energy supply and involvement in regional conflicts in Georgia and Moldova. "Russia is prepared to wait as long as the European Union is not ready for negotiations over a new agreement on cooperation between Russia and the EU," newsru.com on April 30 quoted Lavrov as saying. JB

PRESIDENT-ELECT VISITS OFFICES OF WEEKLY
President-elect Dmitry Medvedev held a question-and-answer session with journalists at the offices of "Argumenty i fakty," the renowned glasnost-era weekly, on April 29. According to Reuters, Medvedev said the Russian press has become "more technologically sophisticated and perhaps a bit boring because of that," adding: "It has become less sensational and tough than in the 1980s. Perhaps that is good. The media has become more respectable along with the rest of society. The audience and the forms of reporting have changed, but one thing should remain intact -- the need to write the truth and be responsible for stories you publish." The daily "Kommersant" on April 30 quoted Medvedev as telling the journalists assembled at the "Argumenty i fakty" offices that while no one knows what the "final configuration" of Russia's political system will be, the country should have "several large parties." He noted that in addition to the Unified Russia party, there are other "actively developing" parties, including A Just Russia. JB

BEREZOVSKY CALLS ABRAMOVICH PUTIN'S 'ENFORCER'
Documents filed by Boris Berezovsky, the London-based former oligarch, in his $4 billion lawsuit against his erstwhile business partner, Roman Abramovich, the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug governor and owner of London's Chelsea soccer club, claim that Abramovich was an undeclared member of President Putin's regime when he bought Chelsea in 2003, "The Times" of London reported on April 29. According to the British daily, affidavits signed by Berezovsky and submitted to the Commercial Court in London in his case against Abramovich over assets he claims he was forced to surrender portray Abramovich as an "enforcer" who passed on "alleged threats so that the Kremlin could get its way over media and business." The documents state that in August 2000, after ORT -- the Russian television channel that was 51 percent state-owned, with the remaining shares controlled by Berezovsky and his business partner Badri Patarkatsishvili -- criticized Putin's handling of the sinking of the submarine "Kursk," Putin told Berezovsky that he would be imprisoned unless he sold his ORT shares and told Patarkatsishvili that they "were friends," but that he would become an enemy if he remained in television. According to "The Times," the documents also allege that by the time another Berezovsky associate, former Aeroflot General Director Nikolai Glushkov, was arrested in December 2000, Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili knew that Abramovich "was close to President Putin and part of his regime." Abramovich met with Berezovsky and Patarkatsishvili on the French Riviera, telling them he had come on Putin's orders and that if they sold their television interests, Glushkov would be freed. They sold their ORT shares but Glushkov was kept in prison, the court papers allege. Gazeta.ru reported on April 29 that Berezovsky is claiming that, in addition to his ORT shares, he was "illegally forced to sell under the threat of force" his stakes in the Sibneft oil company and the Rusal aluminum giant. JB

ABRAMOVICH TO BUILD WORLD'S PRICIEST HOME
Britain's "The Daily Mail" reported on February 28 that Chelsea owner Abramovich has submitted plans to build the world's most expensive private residence. Spread across two stucco-fronted properties in London's exclusive Lowndes Square, the home will be worth 150 million pounds ($295.5 million) when completed, the British newspaper reported. The planned eight-story dwelling (with five above ground and three basement levels) will consist of six family bedrooms, two guest rooms, a cinema/entertainment room, an indoor pool, steam room, and sauna, as well as a children's study and entertainment room. Abramovich's building plans must now be approved by the Kensington and Chelsea councils, "The Daily Mail" reported. JB

PRIME MINISTER WILL BE IN CHARGE OF RATING GOVERNORS
"Tvoi den" reported on April 30 that President Putin has amended a decree he signed in 2007 so that the cabinet headed by the prime minister, not the Kremlin administration, will now be in charge of developing and approving a list of indicators of the effectiveness of Russia's regional leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 1, 11 and 15, 2008). In addition, the paper reported that he signed a decree requiring municipal authorities to report what they have accomplished to the governors of their regions. "Tvoi den" quoted political analyst Aleksei Mukhin as saying that with these decrees Putin has created "a regional vertical of power" under the prime minister and thereby strengthened that position, which he is expected to take up after vacating the presidency. JB

SEARCH WARRANT ISSUED FOR BROTHER OF RENEGADE CHECHEN COMMANDER
The Chechen division of the Investigation Administration of the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has reopened, in light of unspecified new information, a criminal case of abduction against Badrudi Yamadayev, the younger brother of Sulim Yamadayev, commander of the Vostok battalion subordinate to the Russian Defense Ministry, according to "Kommersant" on April 29. A nationwide search for him has been launched, kavkaz-uzel.ru reported on April 29. Badrudi Yamadayev was implicated in a fight at the Samson meat plant in St. Petersburg in September 2006 with its director, Khamzat Arsamakov, which resulted in charges of grievous bodily harm being brought against him in February 2007. The Yamadayevs were the prime suspects in the abduction, also in February 2007, of two of Arsamakov's relatives, and a case was opened against Badrudi Yamadayev on charges of grievous bodily harm and abduction, but the two men were subsequently released and the criminal case against Badrudi Yamadayev was closed. Badrudi Yamadayev reportedly played a key role in the standoff earlier this month following a traffic accident in Gudermes between Vostok servicemen and members of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's bodyguard (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 15, 16, 18, and 21 April 2008). LF

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR 'PROACTIVE' KARABAKH POLICY
The National Assembly approved on April 29 by a vote of 96 in favor and three against with two abstentions a resolution calling on the government to pursue a more "proactive policy" on Nagorno-Karabakh that would boost the prospects for the republic's international recognition as an independent state, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The resolution stressed that the right of the Karabakh Armenians to self-determination is non-negotiable. It further accused Azerbaijan of sabotaging the efforts of the OSCE Minsk Group to mediate a peaceful solution to the conflict. The three parliamentarians who voted against the resolution all represent the opposition Zharangutiun (Heritage) party, whose leader, Raffi Hovannisian, told journalists he considers it "feeble" and an inappropriate substitute for formal recognition of Karabakh's independence by Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

CONFUSION SURROUNDS ARMENIANS' DETENTION IN AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijan's National Security Ministry announced on April 29 that four young Armenians whose arrest in the Azerbaijani exclave of Naxcivan was reported the previous day were army commandos on a sabotage mission, day.az reported. Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian, however, said in an April 29 statement that the four men strayed onto Azerbaijani territory by accident from an Armenian military base at Vayots Dzor, close to the Armenian border with Naxcivan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL REJECTS U.S. CRITICISM
Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Xazar Ibrahim took issue on April 29 with comments made the previous day at a meeting in Washington with Peace Corps country directors by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, day.az reported. According to a transcript posted on state.gov, Rice said, "there is important work to be done" to bring the situation in Azerbaijan, and to a lesser extent in Armenia, into line with "standards we thought that [those countries] were once meeting." She added that "one of the problems has been that because of the situation in Nagorno-Karabakh, all kinds of bad policies are tolerated, let me put it that way, or excused by political leaders. And I often say to them that if they don't solve Nagorno-Karabakh, they're going to end up falling further and further behind the region because the region is moving on." Ibrahim on April 29 deplored that assessment as based on double standards. He said the level of democracy in Azerbaijan is certainly no lower than in Georgia, and that Armenia cannot even be compared with those two countries. Also on April 29, the opposition Azadliq bloc released a statement criticizing proposed amendments to the law on freedom of assembly that the bloc claims do nothing to relax the current restrictions on public gatherings, day.az and zerkalo.az reported on April 29 and 30, respectively. LF

GEORGIA, RUSSIA EXCHANGE NEW ACCUSATIONS
The Georgian Foreign Ministry on April 29 released a statement in response to the announcement by its Russian counterpart earlier that day that the number of Russian peacekeeping troops deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone will be increased within the maximum envisaged in the August 22, 1994, CIS agreement formalizing their presence there, Caucasus Press reported. According to Georgian Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze, the maximum ceiling is 3,000 troops; the current troop strength is approximately 2,000, according to de facto Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba. The Russian Foreign Ministry argued that the increase is necessary in light of reports that Georgia has deployed additional forces to the Kodori Gorge, and is intended "to prevent any possibility of new bloodshed in the Transcaucasus" and to counter efforts to sabotage the prospects for a peaceful solution to the Abkhaz conflict. But Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiasahvili rejected the reports of a Georgian troop buildup in Kodori as "disinformation," Caucasus Press reported on April 29. The Georgian statement denounced the planned Russian troop increase as "aggression" and "a provocation." Speaking in Luxembourg on April 29, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said the deployment of additional Russian troops to Abkhazia is unwise, even if it does not exceed the maximum permitted number, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The Georgian television channel Rustavi-2 quoted U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Bryza as similarly describing the Russian move as unwise and more likely to exacerbate political and military tensions than to contribute to defusing them. LF

ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA REJECT NEW GEORGIAN OVERTURE
In a televised address on April 29, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili appealed to the populations of Abkhaz and South Ossetia, addressing them as "brothers and sisters," to "stand together" in order to prevent an "outrageous and irresponsible force" (meaning Russia) from unleashing new bloodshed, civil.ge reported. He said Georgia offers "calm and protection" and "a better life" without corruption and crime, and again listed the key points of his recent peace proposal for Abkhazia, which include the creation of a free economic zone and the appointment of an Abkhaz as vice president (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," April 2, 2008). Interfax on April 30 quoted the leaders of both unrecognized republics as rejecting Saakashvili's offer out of hand. De facto Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said "the existence of Abkhazia and Georgia in a unified state is impossible," while his South Ossetian counterpart Eduard Kokoity accused Georgia of conducting a policy of genocide against the Ossetians and stressed that "the Ossetian people have made their choice in favor of an independent state." LF

COURT REJECTS GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONISTS' APPEAL
The Georgian Appeals Court on April 29 upheld the sentences handed down in August 2007 by the Tbilisi city court on 12 supporters of fugitive former security-service head Igor Giorgadze, Caucasus Press reported. The 12 were arrested in September 2006 and charged with plotting to overthrow the Georgian leadership; they received jail terms ranging from three to 8 1/2 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6, 2006 and August 27, 2007). Irina Sarishvili-Chanturia, who heads the Imedi (Hope) party that is affiliated with Giorgadze, said the 12, who claim the charges against them were politically motivated, will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH PARTY APPEALS FOR PROMPT MEASURES TO CURB PRICE HIKES
During a party congress in Almaty, the leadership of the centrist Adilet (Justice) party on April 29 issued an appeal to the Kazakh government to introduce "prompt measures" to curb rising prices for food and energy and to address cost increases for public utilities, according to Interfax-Kazakhstan. The party also urged the government to increase pensions for retirees and salaries for teachers, medical workers, and civil servants, warning that the situation may spark social unrest. The Kazakh government's response to the food crisis was also criticized as ineffective and its effort to tackle corruption was rejected as insufficient. The party congress also voted to reelect Maksut Narikbaev as chairman and named Tolegen Sydykov as the first deputy chairman, as well as Sergei Udartsev and Amandyk Kulakhmet as the party's deputy chairmen. Although it has been largely a nominally pro-government party in recent years, Adilet has moved to the center of Kazakh politics more recently, seeking to distance itself from the government and declaring itself a "constructive opposition" party. RG

KAZAKH NATIONAL SECURITY OFFICIAL COMMENTS ON PLANS TO BOLSTER ANTI-TERROR LAWS
Speaking to reporters in Astana, Kazakh National Security Committee (KNB) Chairman Amangeldy Shabdarbaev commented on April 29 on plans to submit new draft legislation aimed at bolstering the country's counterterrorism laws, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Shabdarbaev explained that the current antiterrorism law, enacted in 1999, is outdated and fails "to meet current realities." He added that the draft legislation would significant expand state authority and power to more effectively combat terrorism, as well as including related modifications to the Criminal Code. Last month, a high-level interagency counterterrorism body within the KNB met to assess security plans and adopted several plans to expand counterterrorism measures to include an effort aimed at "preventing the spread of ideas of terrorism and religious extremism in the country's penal institutions" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2008). In separate comments, Shabdarbaev denied recent allegations that the KNB is helping the Kazakh president's fugitive former son-in-law, Rakhat Aliev, with a sensational book reportedly planning to disclose cases of state corruption within the Kazakh elite. RG

RESIDENTS OF KAZAKH CAPITAL PROTEST CONSTRUCTION OF NEW SPORTS STADIUM
During Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's visit to a construction site for a planned massive new sports stadium, an unspecified number of local residents demonstrated on April 28 against the planned stadium for unnecessarily disrupting the area and forcing some residents from their homes on the outskirts of Astana, Kazakh Television reported. The stadium, which is to be large enough to hold over 30,000 people, is set to open on July 6, and will be used for the Asian Winter Games in early 2011. RG

FORMER KYRGYZ SECURITY OFFICER SENTENCED FOR SPYING FOR RUSSIA
A former senior official of the Kyrgyz National Security Committee, Valery Patsula, was sentenced on April 28 to 14 years in prison after being convicted of spying for Russian intelligence, the 24.kg website reported. Bishkek military court Judge Abdurazak Borombaev also sentenced a co-defendant, Vladimir Berezhnov, to 13 years in prison after he was found guilty of espionage. Patsula and Berezhnov were convicted of treason after a closed trial at the Bishkek army garrison last month that included several other co-defendants from the National Security Committee and Defense Ministry (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 11, 2008). The men were arrested in June 2007 after an internal investigation by the National Security Committee reportedly uncovered evidence of espionage. Patsula's defense lawyer, Cholponbek Aytbaev, told reporters that his client did not pass any confidential information to the Russians and he vowed to appeal the sentence. RG

TAJIK EXPERT EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER INFORMATION SECURITY
Speaking at a roundtable media discussion in Dushanbe, Tajik political analyst Saymuddin Dustov warned on April 26 of the country's lack of information security, criticizing the Tajik government for failing to recognize the need for online Internet security, Asia-Plus reported on April 29. According to Dustov, who is the head of the local Indem Foundation and the founder of the "Nigoh" newspaper, the number of Internet users in Tajikistan remains low, with the "monthly audience" or users of the Tajik Internet provider Tajnet totaling only between 15,000-20,000, or a mere 0.28 percent of the Tajik population. His figures were confirmed by the International Telecommunications Union, which reported that as of April 2007, there was a national total of 19,500 Internet users, or about a 0.3 percent penetration rate. Dustov also said that the government "probably did not pay attention to the development of the Internet media in the country." RG

TAJIKISTAN FORMS GROUP TO WORK WITH AFGHAN, IRANIAN COUNTERPARTS TO LAUNCH NEW TV CHANNEL
Speaking to reporters on April 29 in Dushanbe, Tajik Television and Radio Broadcasting Committee Chairman Asadullo Rahmonov announced the formation of a special working group to coordinate with its Afghan and Iranian counterparts on preparations for the launch of a new Persian-language television channel, according to Asia-Plus. He explained that the working group will handle all aspects of the broader plan to launch a Persian-language satellite television network, which was agreed upon by officials of the three countries at a trilateral ministerial summit in Dushanbe late last month. The idea was initially discussed in July 2006 during a meeting in Dushanbe between the three presidents, who agreed to launch the network with the aim of promoting economic, social, and cultural cooperation. RG

EU RENEWS SUSPENSION OF SANCTIONS AGAINST UZBEKISTAN
A meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg decided on April 29 to extend the suspension of sanctions on Uzbekistan for another six months, according to Reuters. The ministers expressed their concern, however, over "the human rights situation" in Uzbekistan and warned that the sanctions could be reimposed if conditions fail to improve. The ministers also welcomed Uzbekistan's recent move to abolish the death penalty and its release of some human rights activists from detention. An EU foreign-ministerial meeting in October 2007 resolved to significantly weaken EU sanctions against Uzbekistan, arguing at that time that some strict measures remained in place, including the extension of a one-year arms embargo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 2007). The EU sanctions were initially imposed after the Uzbek authorities refused to allow an international investigation into the violent events in the eastern city of Andijon in May 2005, when government troops opened fire on a crowd of mostly peaceful protesters, resulting in hundreds of deaths, according to human rights groups and witnesses. Prominent human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have consistently urged the EU to maintain the sanctions on Uzbekistan, arguing that human rights must be prioritized ahead of "economic concerns." RG

PRESIDENT SAYS BELARUS IS ON RIGHT PATH...
During his annual speech to a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic on April 29, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said that Belarus is on the right path and it has already achieved much, Belapan reported. Lukashenka said that Belarus has created the basis for "energetic and efficient" development in all spheres. "We were making up for what was missed and lost in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Our main task was to overcome chronic ailments that could lead to a lethal outcome," Lukashenka said. "We must do our utmost to ensure that Belarus leaves the group of those who pursue and becomes a member of the group of those who lead, keeping its chosen and time-tested economic course, the social protection of our people," he said. Lukashenka also praised the performance of the current legislature. "I am sure that your constituents will be grateful to you. Maybe, not all of them realize this now. They will do in a year or a year and a half," he said. Lukashenka said that the legislature's powers could even be extended "one day in the future." Lukashenka ordered the government to create a new tax payment system. "It should stimulate payers' interest in legal payments of taxes and duties, not make them invent gray schemes," he suggested. Lukashenka also warned that the government must complete its work to remove excessive red tape by the end of this year. He described red tape as "an evil that prevents an ordinary person from breathing freely." Lukashenka noted that conditions for private businesses have improved significantly over recent years, but only slowly, despite many favorable decisions taken to assist businessmen. Lukashenka also suggested that Belarus's population should at least triple in the future. "This is a matter of life and future for our state," he said. AM

...WILL NOT TOLERATE BEING DICTATED TO BY THE WEST...
President Lukashenka said in his April 29 speech that Belarus will not tolerate dictation from the West, Belapan reported. "Belarus has become recognizable in the world and has a unique opportunity to decide on its path on its own," Lukashenka said, suggesting that the United States and the EU should not demand the release of any political prisoners. "It turned out that we had six of them, as our Western partners counted them," Lukashenka said. "But now figure out who are among them. Two of them were convicted of illegal enterprise and failure to pay taxes... two of hooliganism, one of illegal activities, and one more of calls for actions to damage the national security of Belarus. OK. We decided that we should close the theme of [political] prisoners. Five are now free and the sixth has refused." Lukashenka was apparently referring to businessmen Mikalay Autukhovich and Yury Lyavonau, former lawmaker Andrey Klimau, and youth activists Zmitser Dashkevich and Artur Finkevich, who were granted early releases in January and February, and to former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, who still remains in prison. Lukashenka said of Kazulin that the West "found a lousy oppositionist, who received 1.5 percent in a presidential election, and made a great political prisoner of him." According to Lukashenka, Kazulin refused to leave prison because the proper moment has not yet come. "He wanted the entire world to come out for his release and the entire government to collapse in Belarus under pressure from the entire world," Lukashenka added. AM

...AND HE LAMBASTES BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION
In his April 29 speech, President Lukashenka severely criticized the Belarusian opposition, Belapan reported. "The interests of the country and citizens surely are not among the focuses of their activity. Sorry for being rude, but they simply use people," Lukashenka said. He said that participants in opposition demonstrations "beat drivers and passersby who appear by accident nearby, block roads, and walk around with colored flags and the EU flag." He continued: "I feel sincerely sorry for these children playing revolution fighters because...they are being put on the front lines as fodder. And behind the young shoulders, those seeking to satisfy their personal political ends are hiding -- though their political interest has transformed into financial over the years." Lukashenka said that "dynasties of professional oppositionists, people working nowhere for years and reserving the plum job for their sons and daughters" have emerged in Belarus. "Have a look at how these people live," Lukashenka added, addressing Zyanon Lomats, the chairman of the State Monitoring Committee. AM

TYMOSHENKO BLOC FIGHTS TO OUST UKRAINE'S PROSECUTOR-GENERAL
The Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) has started collecting signatures in support of the dismissal of Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvedko, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on April 29. Valeriy Pysarenko of the BYuT said that the initiative was prompted by the situation that emerged in the State Property Fund. According to Pysarenko, the BYuT faction will insist that the issue of Medvedko's dismissal be included into the agenda of the Verkhovna Rada on its first session after the Orthodox Easter holiday. Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on April 25 attempted for the second time to replace the head of the State Property Fund, Valentyna Semenyuk, with Andriy Portnov. The government's dismissal of Semenyuk was once again overturned by presidential decree (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 28, 2008). At the same time, the government's decision was opposed by the Prosecutor-General's Office, which, according to legislation, suspended it. However, the government immediately overruled the objection of the Prosecutor-General's Office. AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECLARES DAY OF MOURNING
Viktor Yushchenko has declared April 30 a day of national mourning in Ukraine, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Yushchenko issued a decree stating that in connection with accidents that resulted in numerous human victims -- the crash of a helicopter in the Black Sea and the sinking of a Ukrainian tugboat near Hong-Kong -- state flags should be lowered and entertainment events should be canceled all around Ukraine. Twenty people were killed in the helicopter crash (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 29, 2008) and 18 died in the collision of a Ukrainian tugboat with a Chinese ship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 25, 2008). AM

SERBIA SIGNS ASSOCIATION DEAL WITH EU...
Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic signed a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU in Luxembourg on April 29 on behalf of the Serbian government, news agencies reported. The two sides also signed an interim agreement in the presence of Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic regulating the SAA's implementation . The signature followed weeks of intense diplomacy and a last-minute about-face by Belgium and the Netherlands, which had previously ruled out signing an SAA, a first step toward membership, unless Serbia arrested and extradited fugitives indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. The breakthrough came at the monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers, during which the Dutch and Belgian governments caved in to massive pressure from other countries and gave the green light to the signing. In contrast with past practice, however, the SAA's provisions will not enter into force until EU member states agree unanimously that Belgrade is fully cooperating with the ICTY, which gives the Dutch and Belgians a further opportunity to block Serbia's progress toward joining the EU. The SAA is Serbia's first contractual link with the EU and is generally considered a first step on the way to membership. Tadic told a press conference after the signing ceremony that he hopes his country will be a membership candidate by the end of the year. The EU hopes the move will boost Serbia's pro-European forces, who are facing an uphill struggle in the parliamentary elections set for May 11. TV

...AGAINST WARNINGS BY SERBIAN NATIONALIST PARTIES...
The Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of Prime Minister Kostunica warned politicians from the Democratic Party (DS) of President Tadic ahead of the ceremony in Luxembourg not to sign the SAA offered by the EU, local media reported on April 29. The coalition of DSS and DS has fallen apart, an event which triggered the elections on May 11, but the two parties are still represented in the caretaker government. Ahead of the signing, a DSS spokesman told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that the party will initiate proceedings against Tadic to determine whether he violated the constitution. The DSS maintains that signing the SAA implies Serbian acquiescence in the recognition of Kosova by all but a handful of EU member states. The Radical Party (SRS), which is widely expected to do well in the elections, also said that it will start impeachment proceedings against Tadic as soon as parliament reconvenes after the election, according to local media. TV

...WHILE BOSNIA IS MADE TO WAIT.
At their meeting in Luxembourg on April 29, the EU foreign ministers also welcomed Bosnia-Herzegovina's reform progress and expressed their readiness to sign an SAA, the text of which was agreed already in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2007). However, "technical preparations" still need to be concluded before the SAA can be signed, according to Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, whose country currently holds the EU Presidency. Rupel explained that these include "legal checking" and translation of the document into the EU's official languages and the languages of Bosnia. Rupel said that the EU now plans to sign the SAA with Bosnia at the next monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers, scheduled for May 26 in Brussels, and that it will be signed by all the foreign ministers into whose languages the document has been translated by then. It was not immediately clear why the translation has not been completed in the months since the text was initialed, however, nor why Serbia's SAA -- the bulk of which is identical to Bosnia's SAA -- was ready for signature on April 29. Bosnia is now the only country of former Yugoslavia not to have contractual ties with the EU except for Kosova, which is not recognized by all EU member states. The Bosnian Muslim representative on Bosnia's three-member presidency, Haris Silajdzic, issued a statement saying that the EU's move shows that "Serbia enjoys privileges as no other country" and that the EU is applying "double standards." The country's foreign minister, Sven Alkalaj (who is a member of Silajdzic's party), said that Serbia's signing ahead of Bosnia will send a bad signal because it means that the EU has deviated from its policy that each country progresses toward the EU as it meets the conditions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. TV

HOW VULNERABLE ARE COUNTRIES TO CYBERATTACKS? ASK ESTONIA
Just over a year ago, Estonia became the first country in the world to come under a broad and sustained attack from the Internet. Beginning on April 27, and continuing for several weeks, anonymous foreign networks of hundreds of thousands of computers repeatedly disabled Estonia's Internet servers used by the government, banks, media, and other organizations by bombarding them with information requests.

Life in the Internet-saturated country was severely disrupted. The Estonian government accused the Kremlin of launchng the attacks in retaliation for the removal of a Soviet World War II memorial from central Tallinn on April 26. NATO became alarmed, and Estonia now spearheads efforts within the alliance to cope with the threat of what have become known as "cyberattacks."

Hillar Aarelaid, the director of Estonia's Computer Emergency Response Team, later said that during the two peaks in the attacks -- on May 10 and May 15, 2007 -- Estonia first lost 50 percent of its "bread, milk, and gasoline" for 90 minutes and then again 75 percent of the same commodities for another five minutes.

During these two episodes, the attacks, simultaneously harnessing as many as 1 million remotely controlled computers across the world, infected with malicious software without their owners' knowledge, brought down the Internet servers of Estonia's biggest bank, Hansapank, among others. People paying for their gasoline, milk, and bread, as well as other purchases, suddenly found that their bank cards didn't work.

It was a rude awakening for a country where connectivity is a way of life. Peeter Marvet, a leading independent information technology (IT) analyst, tells RFE/RL that he frequently makes this point to foreign visitors by paying by card for minor purchases such as a cup of coffee. He reminds them that when they chat via Skype -- an Internet service that allows users to make calls and exchange messages free of charge -- they are using software that was originally developed in Tallinn.

People parking their cars in Tallinn routinely pay by text message. Free wireless Internet is ubiquitous, as are people using laptops in cafes and restaurants.

This is not to mention something as basic as access to information, public or private, for which the Internet has become the sine qua non. Estonia enjoys the benefits of "e-government" -- government meetings now involve no paperwork. Its public administration has become an "e-state" -- people vote, pay their taxes, and perform a multitude of other operations via the Internet. Outside office hours, teachers and pupils are linked into "e-schools."

So it is no wonder that when Estonia came under cyberattack it decided to take the matter to NATO, of which it has been a member since 2004. Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo said at the time that the cyberattacks were a threat to Estonia's national security and likened their effect to a blockade of a country's sea ports.

From the start, Estonia sought to implicate the Russian government in orchestrating if not ordering the onslaught. However, the nature of such attacks makes it virtually impossible to track the real culprits, as the computers used in them participate as "zombies," controlled by means of malicious software installed illicitly unbeknownst to their owners.

Given the difficulty of knowing who is behind cyberattacks, NATO has responded coolly to Estonian pressure to qualify cyberattacks as something that could trigger the alliance's collective defense clause. NATO made its position clearer this year, at its April 2-4 summit in Bucharest, where the alliance committed itself to provide assistance to members under cyberattack, but said the member states themselves remain responsible for protection of their critical infrastructure.

One senior civilian NATO official dealing with the issue told RFE/RL in March that Estonia's response to the 2007 attacks was so effective as to preclude the need for drastic NATO action. He said NATO experts summoned by Estonia during the weeks of the attacks had learned "at least as much" as they had contributed in terms of advice.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has repeatedly called Estonia "NATO's most IT-savvy nation."

He has also indicated NATO would welcome an Estonian lead role in cyberdefense. This role is shortly likely to be formalized, as Estonia is about to win NATO accreditation for a path-breaking Cyber Defense Center based in Tallinn.

Even before the 2007 attacks, Estonia had started work on the center and had applied to NATO to have it recognized as a "NATO Center of Excellence." Although such "centers of excellence" are not part of the alliance's command structure, they can and do play an important role in shaping alliance policy and capabilities. Officials in Tallinn say NATO will formally give the Estonian Cyber Defense Center its imprimatur on May 15.

It seems likely that NATO has not said its last word on cyberattacks yet. Although the debate within the alliance has, for the time being, subsided, officials acknowledge the seriousness of the threat: De Hoop Scheffer, for one, has described cyberattacks as a "21st-century threat" for the entire alliance.

A NATO general working with cyberdefense policy noted in a briefing in March that the alliance is committed by its statutes to protect the stability, prosperity, freedom, and shared values of its allies, as well as civilization itself. "A massive cyberattack could be a threat to them all," he said.

(Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Brussels.)

AFGHAN PRESIDENT KNEW OF ASSASSINATION PLOT
Afghan intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh said on April 29 that President Hamid Karzai was warned of an assassination plot against him ahead of the attack on April 27 in which three people were killed, AP reported. Saleh said that the Taliban attackers had rented a hotel room from which to launch the attack 45 days in advance. "We had technical information...that this...would happen," Saleh told a National Assembly session broadcast live on national television. "We passed this information to the national security [adviser] and to the president of Afghanistan," Saleh said, but he added that the security services failed to prevent an attack during the Independence Day ceremony in spite of rigorous security measures. He did not elaborate. Afghan lawmakers summoned Saleh, Defense Minister Abdur Rahim Wardak, and Interior Minister Zarar Ahmad Moqbel to explain the failure to provide security. All three lost no-confidence votes against them by the lawmakers on April 29, but not by a sufficiently high margin to press for their resignation. Several members of the police, the intelligence services, and the president's security forces are also being questioned for negligence. Saleh noted that one police officer has been arrested on suspicion of involvement. The attack in Kabul underlined the fragility of the stability in the capital. In Washington, White House press secretary Dana Perino said, "When it comes to dealing with terrorists like the Taliban or Al-Qaeda, they just have to have even...a little bit of an impact for everyone to say that they had a big victory," news agencies reported AT

ATTACK KILLS 18 AFGHANS ON OPIUM-ERADICATION TEAM
The Afghan Interior Ministry announced that 18 people, including seven civilians, were killed and 31 wounded in an attack in eastern Afghanistan on April 29, Reuters reported. The attack targeted a poppy-eradication team led by the district chief, tribal elders, and police officers. Gunmen opened fire on the team with small arms and grenades, then sent a suicide bomber into the group, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said. "The event proves that...cultivation and production of narcotics in Afghanistan is inseparably related to terrorist forces," the Interior Ministry said in a statement. Although drug production is high in areas where the Taliban is strongest, the Afghan government has made progress in eliminating poppy crops in some areas. AT

U.S. MARINES, BRITISH FORCES LAUNCH MAJOR NEW AFGHAN OPERATION
The U.S. Marines and British soldiers based in the southern province of Helmand have launched an operation to "enhance security" in the district of Garmser, ISAF announced on April 29. The Marines were airlifted from Kandahar into forward bases in the area last week, ISAF said. Taliban reinforcements and weapons are thought to be trafficked through Garmser district, which borders Pakistan, and the town of Garmser, about 200 kilometers from the Pakistani border, is only partly under government control. The district is also heavily involved in Afghanistan's narcotics trade. The operation, dubbed Azada Wosa, or "be free" in Pashto, is taking place in an area known to have strong Taliban influence, British Lieutenant Colonel Robin Mathews told AFP. AT

AFGHANISTAN, TURKMENISTAN SIGN ENERGY, TRANSPORT DEALS
The Turkmen and Afghan presidents signed agreements on energy, transport, and culture on April 28 in Kabul, AFP reported. Afghan President Karzai and his counterpart Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov discussed the extension of a Turkmen railway line through Afghanistan, as well as plans for Turkmenistan to help provide fuel to Afghanistan and cooperate on transport and cultural projects. The two countries, along with Pakistan and India, last week agreed on plans to build a pipeline from Turkmenistan to Pakistan and India via Afghanistan, AFP reported. The plan projects that work will start in 2010 and take five years to complete, according to Mines Ministry spokesman Kohzaman Ulumi. "It's a very major project. Afghanistan will benefit from it significantly," Ulumi said. AT

IRANIAN PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN INDIA FOR TALKS ON GAS PIPELINE
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad arrived in India on April 29, to discuss among other topics the delayed plans to build a natural-gas pipeline from Iran to India through Pakistan, news agencies reported. Ahmadinejad briefly discussed Iran's nuclear program with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, AFP reported. Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon said in New Delhi on April 29 that India believes Iran has a right to have a peaceful nuclear program and that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the right vehicle for assuring Iran does not stray from peaceful activities, AFP reported. AP reported that the stalled pipeline project may soon be revived, as India and Pakistan are reportedly close to resolving differences over the price of gas to be piped from Iran. The United States has expressed its disapproval of the trip and talks on the pipeline, though Foreign Secretary Menon said India believes "the more engagement there is, the more Iran becomes a factor of stability in the region." He said the two sides also agreed trade between Iran and India should reach a target value of $10 billion a year, though a time frame for this was not agreed on, AP reported. VS

IRANIAN WRITER RELEASED FROM JAIL
Hushang Mazaheri, a writer based in Isfahan, central Iran, who faces charges of antistate activities, was recently released after five months in jail, Radio Farda reported on April 28. He told Radio Farda that he was first arrested in 2005-06, and accused, among other charges, of making false statements in some of his writings, meeting with dissidents or liberals, engaging in antistate propaganda, and inciting minorities against the Iranian state. He was convicted of some of the charges but the local revolutionary court has yet to prosecute him for the last two, more serious charges. Mazaheri said his personal archive was confiscated about two years ago when he first ran afoul of the authorities, and his books were taken off shop shelves the following year. While detained, he was interrogated by people he described as rude and barely literate; he said he refused after a third interrogation session to speak to interrogators unless he was formally questioned by judiciary officials in court, Radio Farda reported. VS

IRANIAN STUDENTS STRIKE OVER 'ABUSIVE' STAFF
Hundreds of students began a sit-in and then a hunger strike at the Sahand Industrial University in Tabriz, northwestern Iran, on April 23 to protest "the attempted abuse" of a girl student by a member of the university staff, Radio Farda reported. The sit-in reportedly took place in shifts, by some 500 students during the day and about 100 at night, while the hunger strike began on April 25, though it was not immediately clear how many students were refusing food. An unidentified student told Radio Farda on April 28 that 20 of the students on hunger strike have been taken to hospital for treatment. The student added that university authorities have so far not talked directly to the protesters, but that the resignations of a university security chief and a deputy head of the university for cultural affairs corroborated the students' allegations. The students had a number of demands, including the resignations, an official apology to the girl in question, an end to gender-segregated classes, and the cancellation of disciplinary rulings against certain students, Radio Farda reported. VS

IRANIANS DEMONSTRATE OVER GULF NAME
About 200 people demonstrated on April 29 in front of the embassy of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) in Tehran to denounce the failure of Arabs to call the Persian Gulf by that name, as well as the U.A.E.'s claims to three Persian Gulf islands occupied by Iran, Radio Farda reported. Iran and the U.A.E. dispute the Greater and Lesser Tunbs and Abu Musa islands. Iran has declared April 29 National Persian Gulf Day. Tehran-based journalist and protester Alireza Rohani told Radio Farda the protest was prompted by what he said is a recent trend by some Arab media, but also google.com, to call the gulf the Arabian Gulf. He said the name issue is of national importance, "and if the government gives its backing, parties and national forces will stand with the government, because effectively this threatens our national interests." Some 600,000 Iranians across the world have signed a petition on the Internet against the move by google.com last January to include the term Arabian Gulf on its satellite-photo map of the world, Radio Farda reported. VS

IRAQI AWAKENING ADVISER SAYS IRAN TARGETS COUNCILS
Thamir al-Tamimi, the general adviser to the Sunni awakening councils in Iraq, told Al-Sharqiyah television in an April 29 interview that Iran continues to interfere in Iraq, and that it is now targeting leaders of the awakening councils. "A number of Iranians who were found near the residences of leaders of awakening councils have been arrested. They are now in U.S. [custody]; some were arrested in Al-Adhamiyah and others in Al-Karkh," al-Tamimi said, referring to two Baghdad neighborhoods. "Iran supports armed forces that now fight the state, the people, and everyone. Iranian-made weapons have been found in [militias'] possession. I believe that these matters are very clear," he added. Al-Tamimi criticized Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for failing to respond to recent statements by Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hasan Kazemi-Qomi, who said that the awakening councils, formed by tribes last year to fight Al-Qaeda in Iraq, should be considered armed militias. "We find in the case of our Kurdish brothers that when a statement is made against Kirkuk or Mosul, they rise up and we hear many...protests from all Kurdish officials. But when the subject concerns Iraqi sovereignty and calls for a reply to the ambassador of a foreign country, we find that our Kurdish brothers in senior government posts procrastinate," al-Tamimi said. KR

IRAQI, U.S. FORCES CONTINUE TO BATTLE AL-MAHDI ARMY IN BAGHDAD
U.S. and Iraqi soldiers waged a four-hour gun battle against militants of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army in the Al-Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad on April 29, Iraqi media reported. Residents said dozens of civilians were caught in the crossfire, and that some were buried in the rubble of homes bombed by U.S. forces. The U.S. military said it killed at least 28 militiamen in the battle, while residents told Western news agencies that at least 50 people died, many of them women and children, and another 130 were injured. Pro-Sadr parliamentarian Falah Shanshal said that at least five houses were demolished in the air strikes, killing 29 people and leaving families trapped. The driver of a bulldozer sent to clear the rubble was shot by a sniper, the "Washington Post" reported on April 30. A spokesman for the Multi-National Division - Baghdad and the 4th Infantry Division, Lieutenant Colonel Steve Stover, told the "Los Angeles Times" in an email that coalition forces did not target civilians in the fighting. "The rockets struck militants firing from buildings, alleyways, and rooftops," Stover said. "We are NOT targeting law-abiding civilians. Those targeted were firing weapons at U.S. soldiers." AP published photographs from Al-Sadr City on April 29 showing a child being pulled from the rubble of a bombed house. Meanwhile, al-Sadr aide Hazim al-A'raji demanded that the Iraqi government investigate the alleged burning of 12 Sadrists in Dhi Qar Governorate by the Interior Ministry's Al-Ahwar Brigade, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on April 29. Photographs of the 12 were posted to the cleric's websites this week. Al-A'raji claimed that the so-called Al-Sadr Trend will publish what Al-Sharqiyah called "other and more brutal" photographs of attacks on Sadrists by security forces in the coming days. KR

TRIAL OF FORMER IRAQI OFFICIALS POSTPONED FOR THREE WEEKS
The Iraqi High Tribunal has postponed the trial of eight former regime officials for three weeks because one of the defendants, Ali Hasan al-Majid, has fallen ill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 29, 2008). Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman, who is overseeing the trial, made the announcement during the April 29 opening session after al-Majid failed to appear in court. Judge Arif Shahin told Al-Iraqiyah television on April 29 that a doctor has ordered al-Majid to rest for two weeks. He suffered a heart attack earlier this month. Al-Majid is awaiting execution after being convicted of genocide in the Al-Anfal case. The trial is now slated to resume on May 20. KR

ANOTHER 1,600 IRAQIS RELEASED UNDER AMNESTY LAW
Abd al-Sattar al-Bayraqdar, the official spokesman for Iraq's Supreme Judicial Council, announced on April 29 that another 1,613 Iraqis were released from detention in the preceding 24 hours under the amnesty law, Iraqi media reported. "The total number of detainees freed according to the law reached 50,535" across Iraq, al-Bayraqdar said. The Iraqi parliament passed the general amnesty law in February. It does not apply to Iraqis in coalition custody. KR

JOURNALISTS' SYNDICATE IN SOUTHERN IRAQ SUSPENDS ACTIVITIES
The Iraqi Journalists' Syndicate in Al-Basrah announced on April 30 that it will suspend its activities until further notice in protest against attacks on syndicate members by Iraqi security forces, the "Aswat al-Iraq" website reported. Iraqi army and police personnel reportedly attacked the head of the local syndicate, Haidar al-Mansuri, and his colleague Ahmad Abd al-Samad on April 28 while the two were covering security operations in the city. "This irresponsible act and insult against the head of the Syndicate's subsidiary and his colleague in the governorate is a dangerous new move that the syndicate is not used to," said Jabbar Tarad al-Shimmari, the national head of the syndicate, in an April 29 press release. "This act comes at a time when the Iraqi parliament is holding discussions about the Journalists' Protection Bill, on the way to enacting it, to protect journalists from the brutal attacks that target them and the freedom of the press," he added. KR