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Newsline - May 7, 2003

Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Losyukov said on 6 May that there is no evidence Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons in violation of nonproliferation agreements, RBK reported on 7 May. U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton tried to persuade Russian officials during meetings in Moscow on 5 May that Tehran has a clandestine nuclear-weapons program and to back an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report criticizing Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). Losyukov acknowledged that there are some "uncertainties" regarding Iran's nuclear program and said Moscow will work with Tehran to "add more transparency" to the program. He denied, however, that the United States or any other country has produced evidence proving that Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program in defiance of international treaties. Russian-Iranian nuclear cooperation is "strictly in line with IAEA norms," Losyukov insisted, according to RBK. Iranian Vice President for Atomic Energy Qolam Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, meanwhile, told 135 IAEA members in Vienna on 6 May that Iran needs its nuclear facilities to make its own nuclear fuel and will not submit to closer inspections of those facilities, AP reported on 6 May. JB

Responding to the epidemic of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Deputy Health Minister and head of the State Health Inspectorate Gennadii Onishchenko has announced restrictions on Chinese citizens entering the Russian Far East and Siberia, "Izvestiya" reported on 6 May. Shortly before Onishchenko announced the restrictions, Russian border guards temporarily stopped allowing Chinese citizens to enter Russia through the Amur River port of Blagoveshchensk, the newspaper reported. Onishchenko told Interfax on 6 May that more than 20 people in Russia have shown SARS-like symptoms to date, adding that he is particularly worried about the case of Denis Soinikov, a 25-year-old man hospitalized with such symptoms in Blagoveshchensk. Onishchenko said he has not yet received the results of Soinikov's laboratory tests. More than 500 Russian schoolchildren and students studying in China will be evacuated, Onishchenko said. JB

The authorities in Far Eastern regions have been taking their own preventative measures against SARS. Khabarovsk Krai Governor Viktor Ishaev ordered his region's internal affairs directorate to stop issuing invitations to citizens of countries that have had SARS cases, Interfax reported on 6 May, citing the 7 May edition of "Izvestiya." Ishaev has also banned tourism agencies from sending children's groups to China and other Southeast Asian countries. Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev told "Izvestiya" he has ordered that passengers of the "Prince Dan" cruise ship, which is docked in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, limit their contact with local residents. Prior to arriving in Russia, the cruise ship, whose passengers are mostly from the United States and Europe, made calls in Japan and South Korea. The 7 May edition of "Finansovye izvestiya" quoted Aeroflot General Director Valerii Okulov as saying the SARS epidemic has reduced the number of people flying to Southeast Asia on Aeroflot by 20-30 percent. This has forced the airline to reduce the number of flights to Hong Kong from five per week to three and to use smaller aircraft for its flights to Shanghai and Beijing, Okulov told the newspaper. JB

Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said on 6 May that the system of single-mandate districts for electing deputies to the State Duma should be changed, RosBalt reported on 6 May. "The suggestions for changing the system of electoral districts are clear and understandable," Veshnyakov told journalists. "We must make it correspond to the demands of federal law." According to Veshnyakov, there should be voting districts in each of Russia's regions and each of them should have roughly the same number of voters. The current system of electoral districts, which came into effect in 1995, is out of date because of changes in the districts' populations, Veshnyakov said. The TsIK will take up the changes on 14 June and, within a day or two of that, send them to the Duma for consideration, Veshnyakov said. He predicted, however, that some deputies will protest, given that the CEC has received 10 appeals from different regions and each of them has asked for more electoral districts. "If the new scheme is not confirmed by the State Duma before 15 August, then in that case the right [to confirm it] will transfer to the Central Election Commission," RosBalt quoted Veshnyakov as saying. JB

A government commission formed in October to tackle the problem of intellectual piracy held its first session on 6 May with Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov promising action against the "total lawlessness" in the area of intellectual-property rights, "The Moscow Times" reported on 7 May. According to commission member and Media Minister Mikhail Lesin, piracy accounts for some 80 percent of music and video sales in Russia. The commission will prepare amendments to the Civil Code concerning intellectual-property rights, and Lesin said those amendments will be drafted by September. LB

The heads of NTV's programming, personnel, and film departments have resigned from the network, "Vremya novostei" reported on 6 May. They join four other senior NTV executives who have resigned since Nikolai Senkevich became the network's general director in January. According to "Vremya novostei," NTV's star anchor and chief news editor Tatyana Mitkova will also leave the network soon. At the end of April, Senkevich issued a directive giving himself and his first deputy, Aleksandr Gerasimov, the final say on news-story selection and installing "shift editors" who report directly to him instead of to Mitkova. reported on 6 May that NTV journalists consider the move tantamount to imposing internal censorship. Mitkova considers Senkevich's order a violation of the law on the mass media and has said she will not implement it. Unnamed sources at NTV told "Vremya novostei" that Mitkova has already received other job offers. LB/RC

A Moscow court on 5 May rejected a lawsuit filed by "Zavtra" Editor in Chief Aleksandr Prokhanov against the Media Ministry, "Gazeta" reported on 6 May. The ruling leaves in place the ministry's official warning issued to "Zavtra" for publishing an interview with Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's envoy, Akhmed Zakaev. The warning characterized that interview as extremist material that incited ethnic enmity. "Zavtra" may be shut down if it receives another official warning. Prokhanov told "Gazeta" it would be easy for the Media Ministry to find a "pretext" for such an action. LB

Some 10.2 million Russian citizens, or 9.1 percent of the population, were Internet users in April, Interfax reported on 6 May, citing data provided by the companies SpyLOG and J'son & Partners. The highest proportion of people with Internet access is in Moscow and Moscow Oblast, where some 44 percent reported using the Internet. In St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast, some 10 percent of the population has Internet access, while that figure in other regions does not exceed 3 percent. LB

The Norilsk city election commission on 6 May decided that a new mayoral election will not be held on 19 October, as had been previously announced, but the commission did not set a new date, ITAR-TASS reported. Commission Chairman Viktor Sadchikov noted that the law requires a repeat mayoral election be held no earlier than six months and no later than seven months after the last election. The first round of the last election took place on 20 April. The second round never took place, because a court disqualified the front-runner, prompting all other candidates to drop out of the race (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). Norilsk Election Commission spokeswoman Nina Petrova told ITAR-TASS on 7 May that the commission has appealed to the Central Election Commission (TsIK) for permission to hold the repeat election in December simultaneously with the State Duma elections. LB/RC

The new 14-member election commission for Krasnoyarsk Krai held its first meeting on 6 May, Russian media reported. None of its members served on the previous commission, which caused a furor by twice attempting to invalidate the result of last September's gubernatorial election in the krai. The TsIK eventually filed suit seeking to disband the krai commission, and the Krasnoyarsk Krai Court in January upheld that lawsuit. Konstantin Bocharov, former head of the Norilsk Nickel press service, will chair the new commission, and he vowed to "preserve neutrality" with respect to the authorities and all political parties and movements in the krai, reported. But speculated that Bocharov was handpicked by TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov, adding that Veshnyakov can now "place his people everywhere and completely take the election process under his control." LB

According to information from the State Statistics Committee, 7,829 Russians died of alcohol poisoning in the first two months of this year, reported on 7 May. This represents an increase of 5.5 percent over the same period last year. The greatest increases were reported in the Urals Federal District, the Far East Federal District, and the Siberian Federal District. Slight decreases in such deaths were reported in the Central Federal District and the Volga Federal District. RC

Several prominent members of the opposition Artarutiun (Justice) bloc, including failed presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, warned on 6 May of the "disastrous" implications a tainted parliamentary election would hold for the country, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and "Azg" reported. The warnings came during a conference of the opposition alliance that sought to mobilize hundreds of supporters and activists amid recent signs of dissension within the pro-government camp (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 May 2003). Demirchian and other opposition leaders called on the government to ensure that the 25 May parliamentary elections are free and fair, adding that the "country's future is in danger" if there is a repeat of the voting irregularities that seriously tainted the February-March presidential election. Now at the midpoint of the election campaign, a confrontation seems inevitable, as the opposition has set its sights on attaining a parliamentary majority as the best avenue to power, while the president, some ministers, and the head of the Central Election Commission have only fueled antigovernment feeling by stating that Armenia is "not yet ready" for Western democracy and by using questionable tactics to prevent some opposition candidates from running in the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). RG

Armenian Deputy Energy Minister Areg Galstian announced on 6 May that Russia will acquire the Hrazdan Thermal-Power Plant by the end of the year, Interfax reported. Galstian made the announcement during a Yerevan conference on energy reform organized by Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), which is also set acquire a hydroelectric-power plant in exchange for the cancellation of a $25 million debt for Russian nuclear fuel. The Hrazdan thermal plant is the country's largest, and Russian energy officials plan to use the plant to produce electricity for export to neighboring Turkey. Russian officials stated they will write off an estimated $65 million in Armenian debt in exchange for the Hrazdan plant. The deal is the latest in a series of transfers of Armenian strategic assets to Russian ownership in controversial "assets-for-debt" arrangements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). RG

Reflecting the Armenian government's interpretation of the shifting geopolitics of the region, Vardan Oskanian on 6 May criticized U.S. policy on Iran, according to "Azg" and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. Although recognizing the mutual geopolitical interests of Armenia and the United States, Oskanian made very clear that Armenia in no way endorses Washington's apparent campaign to isolate Iran. Armenia "can do a lot of things for the United States in this region," Oskanian said. "But there are also many things that we can not do." He went on to explain that Armenia cannot support U.S. policy on Iran "because it does not stem from our interests." "It contradicts our security and economic development priorities," Oskanian said. Washington has generally understood and tolerated Armenia's need for good relations with Iran. That need that is compounded by the joint Turkish-Azerbaijani blockade of Armenia, which forces it to ensure an open southern border with Iran. The United States has, however, repeatedly reminded Armenia of the importance of efforts to contain and combat the alleged Iranian program to develop weapons of mass destruction. RG

Armenian President Robert Kocharian met with visiting Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Mustafa Moin-Najafabadi on 6 May, according to Armenpress and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. Moin-Najafabadi, the second senior Iranian official to visit Armenia in less than a week, concluded an agreement on expanding bilateral cooperation. Only Russia has more Iranian students studying in its scientific and technical institutions than Armenia. RG

President Kocharian on 6 May appointed a new press spokesman to replace Vahe Gabrielian, the new Armenian ambassador to Great Britain, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau and Armenpress reported. The new spokesman, 45-year-old Ashot Kocharian (no relation to the president), was formerly a senior official in the Armenian foreign ministry and a linguist by training. RG

A leading member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Georges Clerfayt, urged the Azerbaijani authorities on 6 May to release a group of 10 alleged political prisoners, Interfax and ANS reported. The Azerbaijani government denies that any of the 10 are actually political prisoners. Clerfayt studied a list of more than 300 detainees identified by Azerbaijani human rights groups as political prisoners and selected 10 cases in which to intervene. The group includes former Defense Minister Rakhim Gaziev and former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov. Clerfayt was dispatched to Azerbaijani to inspect prison facilities and living conditions for political prisoners. Azerbaijan is formally committed, under the terms of its Council of Europe membership, to release any detainees judged the council to be political prisoners. RG

Azerbaijani presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev announced on 6 May that the long-planned gala celebration to mark President Heidar Aliev's 80th birthday has been postponed, "Baku Today" reported. The celebration that had been planned for 10 May was postponed due to Aliev's continuing convalescence from his collapse during a 21 April speech. The president remains in a military hospital in Turkey, although officials stated again on 6 May that he is expected to return to Baku shortly. RG

Executives in the Baku office of the French TotalFinaElf energy group announced on 6 May that the firm plans to invest $150 million in new energy-sector projects in Azerbaijan, Interfax reported. Since 1997, TotalFinaElf has invested more than $300 million in Azerbaijan's offshore oil fields in the Caspian Sea and has already invested $120 million this year in the Shah Deniz natural-gas field. RG

Officials of the State Statistics Department on 6 May released the official results from the country's January 2002 census, Interfax and "Civil Georgia" reported. The figures reveal a 20 percent fall in the population, which fell by 1.1 million people since 1989. The country's 1989 population was 5.5 million, while the latest census found the population to be just 4.4 million. The census did not include information from Abkhazia, which has an estimated population of 160,000, and South Ossetia, with a reported 70,000 residents. A detailed breakdown of the census results, with figures broken down by gender and other criteria, will not to be available for several days, officials said. Unofficial estimates suggest that roughly half of the population decline is accounted for by migration to Russia. RG

Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Gela Bezhuashvili on 6 May confirmed that the British Defense Ministry is funding the salary of a British expert working with Georgian military officials to formulate the country's defense budget over the next three years, Interfax reported. The Georgian armed forces have been plagued with serious budget shortfalls in recent years and continue to be plagued by substantial wage arrears for many officers and conscripts. RG

At the end of April A Kazakh delegation headed by Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Galym Orazbakov visited Washington and Ottawa in late April to discuss Kazakhstan's entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), reported on 7 May, quoting the official news agency Kazinform. Talks at the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade reportedly focused on Kazakhstan's access to markets in goods and services; technical barriers to trade and investment; standardization and certification issues; and the "unified economic space" being developed by Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus. The countries participating in this scheme expect that it will not affect their chances of joining the WTO as individual states. Discussions in Washington focused on protecting intellectual property and on Kazakhstan's accession to a number of international trade agreements. According to the report, the Kazakh delegation left U.S. officials with an understanding of the issues hindering Kazakhstan's accession to the WTO, and both sides agreed it is time to move from general discussions to talks on commercial interests. BB

Astana cafe owner Sholpan Taukenova has gone to court seeking to overturn a refusal by raion authorities to register the name of her establishment, reported on 7 May, citing the 6 May issue of "Ekspress-K." The name "Besbarmachnaya" is a neologism made up from "besbarmak," one of the best-known meat dishes of the Kazakh cuisine, and the usual grammatical ending designating a small restaurant. Taukenova's problem, according to Konisbai Abil, the raion official responsible for the development of the state language, stems not only from her choice of name -- which he says insults the Kazakh nation -- but from the fact that she put it on a neon sign in front of the establishment, which is located in an especially busy area of the capital. That, he told the court, offended the public aesthetic sense, and the use of the word "besbarmak" denigrates the Kazakh nation because the word was invented by Russian immigrants to ridicule the Kazakh practice of eating with their fingers (the word means "five fingers"). Taukenova, who like Abil is an ethnic Kazakh, hotly disputed his assertion. Abil also told the court that he could not find the dish under that name in any of the Kazakh cookbooks he consulted. Instead, it was listed as "Kazakh-style meat." Abil also complained that Taukenova had failed to consult his department before putting the name of the cafe on the sign. The court called for a review by court-appointed linguistic experts to resolve the dispute. BB

In his opening statement to the second Business Forum of the Central Asian Economic Community, Askar Akaev told participants that the countries of Central Asia must learn from the experience of the European Union and need to start taking concrete steps toward economic integration, including promoting intra-regional development, adopting international standards, and resolving problems by consensus, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and Interfax reported on 6 May. Akaev was quoted as saying the process of economic unification will promote regional security and that, without economic interaction and the support of the international community, it will be impossible to fight effectively against terrorism, extremism, and drug trafficking. The forum, which is being held in Osh, is being attended by deputy prime ministers from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan; representatives of the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); and officials from the United States and Great Britain. The United States is represented by Undersecretary of the Treasury John Taylor, who told Interfax that U.S. involvement in the reconstruction of Iraq will not affect programs promoting economic development and trade in Central Asia. Taylor added that the members of the Central Asian Economic Community -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- need to work on regional development, particularly the removal of trade barriers, the standardization of legislation, and opening borders. BB

U.S. Lieutenant Warren Comer, an official in the public-relations department of the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition air base outside Bishkek has denied Kyrgyz press reports that administration and staff located at that base are to be relocated to a village south of the base, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2003). Comer told ITAR-TASS that the international antiterrorism coalition's lease on the base at Manas Airport has been extended for another year, so any redeployment would not take place before 2004. At present, there are reportedly 1,500 service personnel from seven countries stationed at Manas, along with fighter jets from Denmark and the Netherlands and other aircraft participating in operations in Afghanistan. BB

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's grandiose scheme to create a freshwater lake in a salt depression in northern Turkmenistan has been under way now for three years, reported on 6 May. The project is planned to take 20 years and cost $4.5 billion. According to the report, the first water is expected to arrive in what is to become the lakebed in 18 months. The project is intended to collect irrigation-drainage water from agricultural areas in much of Turkmenistan in the Karashor Depression, which lies in the Karakum Desert far from any habitation. International water-management experts and environmentalists have serious reservations about the project, pointing out that the level of funding means the feeder canals cannot be lined. As a result, most or even all of the drainage water will disappear into the sand. Critics predict the result will be swamps in the Karakum. Niyazov has said, however, that passage through the sands will purify the drainage water, and as a result the lake will contain fresh water. He envisages that it will eventually be surrounded by forests and cities. His recent decree to deport residents of areas largely populated by ethnic Uzbeks to uninhabited parts of the Karakum to develop agriculture there might be connected to the lake project. BB

A group of officials from Leipzig has visited a correctional facility in a Tashkent suburb in connection with their offer to provide assistance in the rehabilitation of juvenile prisoners, reported on 7 May. During the visit, an agreement on assistance was reached between the Germans and the relevant Tashkent Oblast authorities. quoted the visitors as saying the condition of the facility they visited is satisfactory, but that they found prison personnel were mostly under-qualified. The Uzbek side reportedly promised to take advantage of German experience running penal facilities. The visit was organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, the Uzbek ombudsman, and the Uzbek Interior Ministry. Uzbekistan has been reluctant to allow foreigners to see its prison facilities, but this attitude might be changing due to international pressure. BB

The start of the court hearing of a defamation case against the popular Tashkent newspaper "Zerkalo 21" was postponed on 6 May due to the illness of the judge, reported on 7 May. According to one of two reports on the case, the judge might have developed his sudden illness -- he was reportedly in good health the previous day -- because of the large number of journalists in the courtroom. The case has attracted considerable interest among Uzbek journalists because it is a judge, Jamshid Saidaliev, who is suing the newspaper. Saidaliev claims he was libeled by an article asserting that he freed a known criminal in violation of judicial procedures and reporting that the Tashkent prosecutor had formally protested that action. After Saidaliev filed his case against "Zerkalo 21," its assets were seized, but the publication continued to appear. Last week the court declared the seizure illegal. Saidaliev's objective, according the newspaper's lawyer, is to force the publication into bankruptcy, since the seizure of its assets failed to shut it down. BB

A likely appointee to Iraq's future government has said the Belarusian leadership should be called to account for providing military aid to former President Saddam Hussein's regime in violation of United Nations sanctions, Belapan reported on 6 May, quoting an interview published in the Moscow-based "Vremya novostei" the same day. "We have documents in this regard, and in any case we will raise this question in the UN Security Council and demand punishment for those Belarusian bureaucrats who took part in violating the sanctions," Iyad Allawi, leader of the Iraqi National Accord, told "Vremya novostei." According to Allawi, who is among anti-Hussein leaders consulted by U.S. officials on the formation of Iraq's interim government, the new Iraqi government could delay the reopening of the Belarusian Embassy in Baghdad unless the Belarusian regime is changed. "The Belarusian government and the government of [French President Jacques] Chirac are the only two governments with which we have serious problems," Allawi said. "In general, we will be building good relations with the countries that helped us liberate Iraq. Relations with others will be worse, but to lend variety, we will cooperate with all but the same France and Belarus. We hold them responsible for the fact that Saddam did not step down in time." JM

The United States has proposed that Ukraine deploy at least one command-center brigade and two troop battalions to Iraq to join the coalition's stabilization effort, Interfax reported on 7 May, quoting Anatoliy Hrytsenko, head of the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies. Hrytsenko was part of a Ukrainian delegation in Washington recently for talks with the U.S. administration. "The U.S. considers it a real step toward America, a chance for later serious political support to Ukraine on the path to NATO," Hrytsenko said. "The Americans put the questions like this, 'If you are willing, then seek opportunities.' If we do not use this chance, no one knows when the next one will come." Ukraine's Foreign Ministry confirmed on 6 May that Kyiv has been invited to contribute troops to the stabilization forces in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). JM

A court in Kyiv on 6 May sentenced Serhiy Obozov, a former public prosecutor in Tarashcha Raion, Kyiv Oblast, to 2 1/2 years in prison for abuse of office and forgery in connection with the case of slain Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, whose headless body was found near Tarashcha in November 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2000), Interfax reported. The court found Obozov guilty of violating proper procedure and falsifying documents connected with the case. Simultaneously, the court excused Obozov from punishment, saying he was protected by an amnesty law at the time he committed his crimes. JM

Constantinos Simitis held talks on 6 May in Tallinn with his Estonian counterpart Juhan Parts, BNS reported. Greece currently holds the rotating EU Presidency and the visit by Simitis was part of his tour of the capitals of current and future EU states. The premiers discussed various issues, including the work of the EU Convention on the Future of Europe, illegal immigration, and the basic principles of European security and defense. Simitis also spoke in favor of extending the term of the EU Presidency from six months to a year. Simitis later on 6 May traveled to Riga, where in a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga he stressed the importance of ensuring the equality of small countries in the EU. SG

The cabinet issued a directive on 6 May ordering the halt to the requirement that foreigners prove at the border they possess valid health and life insurance before entering Latvia, BNS reported. The practice, which was implemented on 1 May as part of a new immigration law, attracted the attention of the government after the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry formally protested that Latvian border guards were refusing to recognize policies issued by Lithuanian insurance companies and were demanding that travelers take out insurance with Latvian companies. Prime Minister Einars Repse said the immigration law does not stipulate how the existence of such insurance policies should be checked, and that doing so is "irrational and impossible." The requirement did not apply to citizens of Finland, Sweden, Estonia, and Ukraine, as Latvia has signed reciprocity agreements with these countries. SG

Foreign Ministers Antanas Valionis (Lithuania), Sandra Kalniete (Latvia), Kristina Ojuland (Estonia), and Joschka Fischer (Germany) gathered in Vilnius on 6 May for their 7th annual meeting and discussed the EU Convention on the Future of Europe, EU-Russian relations, and the EU's "New Neighbors" initiative, ELTA reported. At a subsequent press conference, Fischer said this meeting differed from its predecessors in that "our meeting today was like a talk among family members," as the division between EU members and applicant states no longer exists. Fischer also held separate meetings with President Rolandas Paksas and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas during which he affirmed that Germany's parliament will soon ratify Lithuania's treaties of accession to NATO and the EU. Fischer also said the EU's transportation, energy, and communications networks will be joined with the infrastructures of its future members. SG

Gorran Persson held meetings with Prime Minister Brazauskas, parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, and President Paksas during a brief visit to Vilnius on 6 May, BNS reported. The premiers stressed the need for greater cooperation among the Baltic and Nordic countries, saying that the small countries in the EU can accomplish more if they work together. Persson said Lithuania's voice in the EU will be heard if it presents constructive and well-grounded proposals. He said it would be a tragedy if Lithuania failed to approve EU membership in its upcoming referendum, as enlargement is needed both for current EU members and for those slated for accession. Persson also said Lithuania could play a key role in the EU's "New Neighbors" initiative in relation to Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldavia. SG

Following his talks with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington on 6 May, Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told journalists that Poland will need a UN Security Council mandate to participate in the stabilization forces in Iraq, Reuters reported. "We believe that we need that kind of resolution. I understand that in the days ahead there will be some initiatives opening the way to such a resolution," Cimoszewicz said. He stressed that Poland also wants as many European countries as possible to join Polish troops in the stabilization effort in Iraq. "We need to invite and encourage as many as possible of our foreign partners to join us in Iraq, and Poland is very interested in arriving at such a situation," Cimoszewicz said. Cimoszewicz's statement appeared to significantly modify Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski's earlier proposal that Polish soldiers in Iraq team up with German and Danish troops (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 6 May 2003). Cimoszewicz also confirmed reports that U.S. President George W. Bush will visit Poland on his way to Russia later this month. Polish Radio reported that Bush will be in Krakow on 30 May. JM

In an interview for Fox News Television on 7 May, Cimoszewicz appealed to European countries that have opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq to improve their relations with Washington. "Of course we are not glad that things have gone in such a direction, and we strongly believe that it is necessary to continue good trans-Atlantic cooperation. That is why we are appealing to our European partners and friends to think in a similar way," Cimoszewicz told the station. "For us, France, Germany, and Russia have been and will continue to be significant actors in the international arena, and these countries should be treated as important partners." JM

Refugee and migration officials at the Czech Interior Ministry are considering a plan to offer financial incentives to Chechen asylum seekers to encourage their return to Chechnya, the daily "Lidove noviny" reported on 7 May. Faced with the influx in April of some 800 Chechens from refugee camps in neighboring Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 29 April 2003), Czech authorities are seeking support and participation for the scheme from nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The plan envisages payments of $3,000 toward air tickets and repairs to damaged homes for refugees who agree to return to Chechnya, the paper reported. An NGO representative cited by the daily cautioned about the risks of returning refugees to an area where "the Russian Army is still behaving as if it were at war." Czech officials rejected the perception that the country would put such people at risk simply to rid itself of refugees. The head of the migration and refugees department at the Interior Ministry, Tomas Haisman, called leaked reports of the plan "indiscreet." "I would be very unhappy to see anyone playing with the hopes of these people," he said. AH

The chairman of the Slovak parliament's commission on human rights, Laszlo Nagy, on 6 May proposed summoning Bratislava's ambassador to Cuba for consultations and interrupting regular intergovernmental meetings with Havana in connection with the Castro regime's recent crackdown on dissenters and journalists, TASR reported. Nagy is among tens of high-profile signatories of an appeal urging Cuban leader Fidel Castro to release more than 70 individuals recently imprisoned for political offenses. Nagy said human rights "must be defended wherever in the world it is necessary." AH

Parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky reiterated Slovakia's desire on 6 May to participate, along with other invitee countries, in the EU's intergovernmental conference aimed at debating an EU Constitution. During a visit to Denmark, where he met with Danish Premier Anders Fogh Rasmussen and other senior politicians, Hrusovsky said states like Slovakia should enjoy the same rights as EU member states. Rasmussen pledged to support such a proposal, TASR reported. Slovakia and nine other states are expected to join the EU in May 2004. AH

Peter Medgyessy presented four newly chosen cabinet members to the media on 6 April, describing them as "young, dynamic, and successful in their careers," Hungarian television reported. Medgyessy said his nominee for environment minister, Miklos Persanyi, "represents the green school of thought," while Katalin Levai, the new minister for equal opportunities, will be the government's "living conscience." Medgyessy said he expects the new culture minister, Istvan Hiller, not only to ensure that Hungarian traditions, culture, and language survive the period of EU accession, but also to promote Hungarian values to enrich Europe. The other nominees include Ferenc Gyurcsany to head the Children, Youth, and Sports portfolio, while Endre Juhasz, Hungary's chief EU negotiator, will move into the new post of EU Integration Affairs Minister. All five are expected to be sworn in early next week and to take up their posts on 19 May. MSZ

The cabinet reached agreement with church leaders on 6 April on the distribution of 850 million forints ($3.9 million) in subsidies to support religion and church institutions, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. The money will go primarily to those churches that lost funding through the Socialist-led government's new policy of distributing funds to religious groups through income-tax contributions rather than on the basis of census figures. According to the agreement, the Catholic Church will receive 730 million, the Calvinist Church 44 million, the Lutheran Church 11 million, and the Federation of Jewish Religious Communities 7 million forints. Eleven smaller churches will also receive subsidies, the daily reported. MSZ

Ferenc Juhasz met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Washington on 5 April, resulting in an agreement on establishing a joint military commission to explore further cooperation between the two countries, "Nepszabadsag" reported. The commission will initially examine the future role of Hungary's Taszar military air base, where Iraqi opposition members were trained earlier this year. It will also consider the establishment of a U.S. logistics base or a military medical institution in Hungary. Rumsfeld thanked the Hungarian government for its stance on disarming Iraq, according to the paper. For his part, Juhasz told Rumsfeld that the Hungarian government is firmly committed to taking part in the Iraqi peacekeeping mission. MSZ

Momir Nikolic, a former deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb Army's Bratunac Brigade, said in a statement to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on 6 May that he helped make plans before the battle to kill Muslim civilians after the fall of Srebrenica in July 1995, Reuters reported. Nikolic wrote, "I discussed the operation to transport the women and children to Kladanj and separate, detain, and kill the able-bodied Muslim men in Potocari" near Srebrenica, where Dutch peacekeepers were based. He made the statement as part of a plea bargain in which he admitted guilt to one charge of persecution, which is a crime against humanity, in return for prosecutors dropping four additional charges against him. Nikolic agreed to testify against three of his former colleagues, whose trials are scheduled to begin on 14 May. Prosecutors are seeking a prison sentence of up to 20 years for Nikolic, whose lawyers say his maximum sentence should be 10 years. Most Bosnian Serb officials have denied that any massacre of civilians took place, arguing that most Muslims killed at Srebrenica were military casualties (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 September 2002). PM

George W. Bush sent a "presidential determination" to the State Department on 5 May authorizing unspecified military assistance to Belgrade, Reuters reported from Washington (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2003). "I hereby find that the furnishing of defense articles and services to Serbia and Montenegro will strengthen the security of the United States and promote world peace," Bush said. On his recent visit to Belgrade, Secretary of State Colin Powell stressed Washington's support for Serbia in its fight against organized crime. PM

The Supreme Defense Council decided in Sveti Stefan on 6 May that the General Staff will become a department of the Defense Ministry and hence be subordinated to civilian control, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The following day, Defense Minister Boris Tadic began talks in Brussels with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson about Serbia and Montenegro's plans to join the Partnership for Peace program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 April 2003). PM

Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, Deputy Prime Minister Zarko Korac, and unspecified other government officials met in Belgrade on 5 May with the editors in chief of 15 leading Serbian periodicals and electronic-media outlets, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). The editors expressed their misgivings about several aspects of the new media law, including taxation policy and the government's right to operate a news agency and ban the sale of periodicals. The government promised to study the journalists' complaints. The editors added that media people are tired of receiving "telephone calls and threats" from unspecified cabinet members and other government officials. Korac replied that "politicians are only human" and that sometimes they "lose control over themselves when they should not." He added that everyone, including politicians, has to learn that "the price of being involved in public life in a democratic society is often quite high." PM

Greek European Affairs Minister Tassos Yiannitsis said in Athens on 6 May that "it is too premature" to discuss any date for Croatian admission to the EU, dpa reported. Greece currently holds the rotating EU Presidency. Croatian Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Simonovic called on the Brussels-based bloc nonetheless to keep "its doors open." Croatia aspires to join Romania and Bulgaria in being admitted to the EU in 2007 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 April 2003). The government has invested much political capital in obtaining admission in that year. PM

The government declared a state of natural disaster in Osijek County in eastern Slavonia on 7 May following a prolonged heat wave and drought, Croatian media reported. The region, which accounts for two-thirds of Croatia's agricultural output, faces crop losses valued at $20 million. Sugar beets, oats, and barley are among the crops worst affected. PM

Boris Trajkovski named Dragi Grozdanovski on 6 May to succeed Dosta Dimovska as head of the Macedonian intelligence agency, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 April 2003). Like Trajkovski and Dimovska, Grozdanovski belongs to the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). He headed the intelligence agency until Trajkovski sacked him in favor of Dimovska in February 2002. PM

Government spokeswoman Despina Neagoe on 6 May denied rumors that Premier Adrian Nastase intends to reshuffle his cabinet, Romanian Radio reported. Neagoe said Nastase has only said the government needs to be restructured to adjust to the current political climate. Neagoe said Nastase's proposal refers to the structure of the government and not to ministers. The restructuring is planned for this fall. Mediafax reported earlier the same day that Public Administration Minister Octav Cozmanca said three or four ministers will be replaced by the end of June. Government sources named Health Minister Daniela Bartos, Development and Planning Minister Leonard Cazan, and Youth and Sports Minister Georgiu Gingaras as possible targets. ZsM

On the second and last day of his visit to Bucharest, Igor Ivanov met with Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Premier Nastase, Romanian media reported. Nastase said 2003 will be remembered as the year that Romania and Russia relaunched bilateral relations, closing an "emotional" chapter and embarking on a partnership based on politics, economics, and culture. On 5 May, Ivanov and his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana approved the text of the Romanian-Russian basic treaty, which was negotiated for 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003). Nastase said Romania seeks to establish a "direct relationship" with Russia in the natural-gas sector by setting up a joint company to transport gas. ZsM

Romanian President Ion Iliescu on 6 May said he continues to have "the warmest feelings" for U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest and considers him "a friend" of Romania, Mediafax reported. Guest recently stated that the country runs the risk of harming its relations with the United States and the European Union if it does not do more to fight corruption, prompting a response from Iliescu that was published in Berlin's "Die Tageszeitung" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April and 6 May 2003). Iliescu expressed regret that the media, "in its passion for the sensational," distorted the comments he made in the "Die Tageszeitung" interview. He said the Romanian government does not act on the "advice" of ambassadors, but is continuing its efforts to address this "serious and complicated" problem. ZsM

Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca on 6 May accused OSCE Mission in Moldova chief William Hill of favoring Russia's interests and called for his removal from the mission, Flux reported. Rosca accused Hill of having a clear "pro-Russian, pro-imperial mentality" and of "always perfectly agreeing with the [Transdniester] separatists and never with Moldova's national interests." Therefore, he argued, the only "good" thing Hill can do for Moldova is leave the country. Rosca also said he opposes the plan to resolve the Transdniester conflict by federalizing Moldova, claiming the United States supports the plan because it wants to destroy Moldova. He added that the political situation in Moldova is just as serious as that in Belarus, as the Moldovan government is just as oppressive in respect to human rights and civil liberties. ZsM

The United States, Britain, and Poland have drawn up plans to establish a multinational security force to police Iraq, Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz announced on 3 May. "The idea is to have all the countries, ready to engage, there by the end of this month," Cimoszewicz told reporters at a 3 May meeting of EU foreign ministers in Greece. News of the plan emerged following a 30 April meeting in London in which several countries sent military officers to discuss participation in the force.

Initial reports indicated that Iraq would be divided into three sectors, although details are beginning to emerge that suggest the country will be divided into four sectors. U.S. forces will control one sector, while British and Polish forces will run two other sectors of the multinational force. It is unclear which country will be placed in charge of the fourth sector. U.S. Central Command will have overall control over the four sectors.

In all, 16 countries -- Australia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Philippines, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, and Qatar -- joined the United States and Great Britain at the 30 April conference. France and Germany both opposed the U.S.-led war on Iraq and were not invited to attend, but have grudgingly endorsed the plan, AP reported on 3 April. Russia also did not participate in the meeting.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Francois Rivasseau told journalists during a 5 May daily, online briefing that his country prefers that the UN lead the reconstruction of Iraq, according to his statements posted on the Foreign Ministry's website ( "We are still in the securing phase, during which there is a reconfiguration of the occupying force and a diversification of its personnel," Rivasseau stated. "As the French authorities have said, after the securing phase and in the context of initiating the reconstruction phase in Iraq, we think the United Nations should have a central role."

Early reports indicated that 10 countries have committed troops, among them Albania, Bulgaria, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Ukraine. Details are still emerging on the size of each country's contribution to the stabilization force. However, an unnamed senior U.S. official told Reuters in a report published on 3 May that around 20,000 U.S. troops will participate. The troops will be separate from the 135,000 U.S. forces still in Iraq, Reuters reported. In addition, Polish Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke said the United States has requested that 4,000 Polish troops participate. But Polish Defense Minister Jerzy Smajdzinski told "The Washington Times" on 5 May that Poland will contribute 1,500 to 2,200 soldiers. AFP reported that Washington will help finance the Polish troop deployment, which it reported would cost $90 million. Poland has also called for a UN Security Council mandate to authorize a peacekeeping mission to Iraq. Polish Foreign Minister Cimoszewicz told reporters at the U.S. State Department on 6 May, "I understand that in the days ahead there will be some initiatives opening the way to have such a resolution."

Meanwhile, the Warsaw-based daily "Trybuna" reported on 6 May that Polish troops will be responsible for the Turkish-Iraqi border area. Polish Major General Andrzej Tyszkiewicz, who led the Polish delegation to the 30 April meeting, has been mentioned as a candidate to run the Polish sector, "Trybuna" reported. He reportedly has experience in Turkish affairs, and once served as military attache to Turkey. In addition, Poland's former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Marek Belka said on 6 May that he will soon be appointed a deputy to the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance (ORHA) and will coordinate economic programs in Iraq, Radio 1 reported. Belka indicated that a Polish team will leave for Iraq by early June.

Kyiv's 1+1 Television reported on 6 May that a Ukrainian delegation, in Washington to participate in a NATO conference, met with U.S. officials to discuss the terms of Ukraine's participation in the stabilization force. Italy's Associated National Press Agency reported on 6 May that Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino has committed 2,500-3,000 troops to the stabilization force and expects them to be in Iraq by early June.

The Hungarian Parliament voted on 6 May to open that country's territory and airspace to the stabilization force, but delayed approval of a troop deployment for one month, AFP reported on the same day. The authorization allows "international peacekeeping forces taking part in the humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq to use Hungarian airspace, roads, and railroads until the end of 2004," AFP reported.

The Danish government plans to send a peacekeeping force of 380 soldiers, including troops specializing in "performing protection missions," the daily "Jyllands-Posten" reported on 6 May.

Other countries are also expressing an interest in participating in the effort. Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso said on 6 May that Portugal will send troops to Iraq, but said the terms of his country's participation in postwar Iraq have not been set, RDP Antena 1 Radio reported on the same day. "We are assessing the terms in which we will fulfill this [commitment]," he said. "I will publicly announce the government's decision [at the right moment]." Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev told reporters on 6 May that "a total of 150 Azerbaijani peacekeepers will participate in Iraq's postwar rebuilding," Interfax reported on the same day. A preparatory team is scheduled to head to Iraq on 8 May to inspect the base where Azerbaijani troops will be stationed, Interfax reported.

Meanwhile, Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shaykh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah announced on 6 May that Kuwait has been asked to participate by sending peacekeepers to Iraq. Al-Sabah told reporters that Kuwait will only participate if the UN Security Council approves such a force. Likewise, Jordanian Information Minister Muhammad al-Adwan said on 6 May that Jordan will only participate in peacekeeping efforts in Iraq under the UN, MENA reported. Al-Adwan said, however, that the United States has not asked for Jordanian assistance.

It appears that the stabilization force will be on the ground in Iraq by mid-June. According to international press reports, the British are expected to hold a "force-generation conference" on 7 May to iron out the details and determine which states will fall under its command and how many forces each state will be asked to contribute. Poland is expected to hold a similar meeting on 22 May.

The international contributions will not be limited to peacekeeping and security. U.S. administration officials have said that some of the 10 countries that have committed to participate in the stabilization force have offered to provide expertise in the fields of medicine, civil administration, policing, reconnaissance, and mine clearing, as well as nuclear, biological, and chemical protection, according to international press reports.

Reporters for "The Sydney Morning Herald" in Baghdad have obtained an audiotape that purports to carry a two-day-old message from deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the daily's website reported on 7 May ( Two men attempted unsuccessfully to deliver the tape to the offices of either Al-Jazeera or Al-Arabiyah in Baghdad on 5 May, the paper reported. "When [one man] was directed to the main television base in the Palestine Hotel [by a "Sydney Morning Herald" journalist outside the hotel compound] -- guarded by a security cordon of United States troops -- he appeared to lose heart and returned to the car. The 'Herald''s interpreter, Kifah Hameed Mehdi, went after him to ask why he wanted to talk to the media, and the driver of the car handed over a tape, saying it is a copy of Saddam's most recent speech, made that morning." Mehdi said the man's accent was Tikriti -- Tikrit is Hussein's hometown -- although the authenticity of the recording has not otherwise been confirmed. KR

The individual purported to be Hussein on the audiotape claims to be speaking from inside Iraq and says it is necessary to "go back to the secret style" of underground "struggle." The voice calls on all Iraqis -- Shi'a, Sunni, Kurdish, or Christian -- to "kick the enemy out of our country" and acknowledges the passing of Hussein's birthday on 28 April, saying, "The Iraqi people challenged the whole world by celebrating...and asserted that this festivity was not forced on them by Saddam Hussein or by the authorities." The individual claims that the Bush and Blair administrations "tell many lies." "You Iraqi people have won your moral battle, because the Americans destroyed Iraq and stole Iraq's ancient archeology by destroying the Iraqi National Museum," the voice says. The individual urges Iraqis to "resist the occupation," saying, "Don't let the Americans settle in Iraq" and "Victory is coming." KR

Hadi Ansari, son of executed Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Ansari, told a Tehran press conference on 5 May that the Hussein regime executed as many as 750,000 people after 1980, IRNA reported on 6 May. "According to reports from inside Iraq, some documents retrieved confirm this figure," Ansari said. "Resistance Iraqi groups are collecting and classifying documents relating to these martyrs that will be made public once they are complete." Ansari said the final calculation might be twice the current estimate. Ansari also claimed to have documentation of the regime's execution of 182 senior Shi'ite clerics in the holy city of Al-Najaf, 138 of whom were Iranians. He also claimed to have a document from Karbala -- another holy city in southern Iraq -- taken from the Ba'ath security offices, which documents the regime's killing of well-known cleric Ayatollah Bahr al-Ulum. KR

"The Iraqi Ba'ath regime's aim in killing ulama [clerical leaders] was to create disunity in Al-Najaf and Qom hawzahs," Sayyid Ammar al-Hakim, a relative of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) told reporters at the same press conference on 5 May. Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim has long claimed that the Hussein regime killed 18 of his family members. Mehdi Ansari, brother of Hadi Ansari, said the regime killed all its Shi'ite prisoners after the Shi'ite uprising in 1991. The family members of other slain ayatollahs attended the press conference, IRNA reported. KR

U.S. President George W. Bush named U.S. Ambassador L. Paul Bremer as presidential envoy to Iraq, according to a 6 May press release on the White House website ( Bremer will be the senior coalition official in Iraq, and will oversee reconstruction efforts and the rebuilding of the Iraqi government structure, according to the release. The statement noted that U.S. General Tommy Franks will "maintain command over coalition military personnel in the theater." "Ambassador Bremer will report to Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld and will advise the president, through the secretary, on policies designed to achieve American and coalition goals for Iraq," the statement added. Bremer formerly served as chairman and CEO of Marsh Crisis Consulting and was managing director of the Kissinger Group. His has also served as U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands and ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism. Jay Garner, head of the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance for Postwar Iraq, reportedly will report to Bremer. KR

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced that Ghazi Hammud al-Adib, a former Ba'ath Party Regional Command Chairman and a Ba'ath Party militia commander in the Al-Kut district, Wasit Governorate, is in coalition custody in a 7 May press release. Al-Adib was 32nd on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis. KR

The Iranian authorities recently arrested Nureddin Drissi (a.k.a. Abu Ali), a Tunisian citizen who allegedly left Italy with his family last December to wage a jihad with Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan, and extradited him to Italy, where he was arrested upon his arrival in Milan, "Corriere della Sera" reported on 6 May. According to the Milan daily, Drissi fled to Iran after U.S. forces and their Kurdish allies defeated the pro-Al-Qaeda organization during the war in Iraq. Abu Ali was wanted in Italy in connection with a probe into links among Ansar al-Islam, Al-Qaeda collaborator and associate Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, and sympathizers in Europe. Al-Zarqawi reportedly transited Iran in early 2002 after fleeing Afghanistan, and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in his 5 February address to the UN Security Council accused Iraq of harboring al-Zarqawi's network. BS

Parliamentarian Fatimeh Haqiqatju on 6 May called for an end to the censorship imposed by the Ministry of Islamic Culture and Guidance, Fars News Agency reported. Speaking at Tehran's 16th International Book Fair, she criticized the persecution of authors and the investigation of books at the same time the country is propounding President Mohammad Khatami's "Dialogue Among Civilizations" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2003). Haqiqatju said cumbersome judicial and disciplinary policies can lead to an insecure atmosphere for intellectuals and could contribute to a brain drain. If authors see that their books will not be published in Iran, they might try to be published abroad, she said. Haqiqatju, who in early 2001 encountered politically inspired legal problems, said there should be juries in publishing-related trials. BS

Prosecutor-General Abdonabi Namazi said on 5 May that the judiciary will create a special unit to deal with Internet-related issues, "Iran Daily" reported the next day. Namazi explained that promoting corruption, on paper or on the Web, is a vice. In what could be a related matter, Director Ali Reza Alavitabar said in the 5 May issue of the newspaper "Aftab-i Yazd" that he has been summoned to court. Alavitabar said the line on the summons form that is supposed to show the charge against him had been crossed out, but for profession it said, "director of Emrooz website." Alavitabar speculated that the summons relates to his current-affairs website or to what newspapers have written about his website. The Internet is becoming increasingly popular as a source of news for Iran's elites, and news that is not available elsewhere often appears first on,,, and other websites. BS

Former Tehran Mayor Morteza Alviri, who was sacked from his post last year on charges of mishandling the affairs of the Tehran municipality and was temporarily barred from government service, has been acquitted, ISNA reported on 5 May. He will reportedly be appointed to a diplomatic post abroad. Alviri was dismissed in the manner of both his predecessor and successor -- Qolam-Hussein Karbaschi and Mohammad-Hassan Malak-Madani, respectively -- and was widely seen as a victim of intense factional politics within the Tehran Municipal Council and quarreling between the council and the Tehran municipality. SF

Government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh said on 6 May that, as far as per capita oil income is concerned, average Iranians earn only one-twelfth what they earned 25 years ago, "Iran Daily" reported on 7 May. He explained to members of the administrative council in Kerman Province that daily oil income fell by nearly 50 percent, from $66 million to $35 million, over those years, while the population almost doubled to 70 million. He warned that the government is heading for budget deficits unless the state curbs expenditures. SF

As many as 300 Afghans, led by the prominent Afghan philosopher and mathematician Mohammad Sadiq Afghan, held a peaceful protest in Kabul on 6 May to demand the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, Dow Jones reported. One protestor urged Afghans to resist the "American invasion" in the same manner in which they opposed the British and the Soviets in the 20th century. Another protestor said he wants the U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan and wants "Islam to rule." Afghanistan needs security, which, he said, the U.S.-led coalition has failed to provide. Afghan said the only changes the people of Kabul have seen since the fall of the Taliban regime is the introduction of the Internet and that women have stopped wearing burqas. Afghan added that the people of Afghanistan do not like the Afghan Transitional Administration and that it includes "Americans...who receive big salaries," the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 6 May. AIP estimated the number of protestors at 100. AT

The protestors, many of them government employees and Kabul residents, called on the Afghan Transitional Administration to pay back wages owed to government employees, prevent redundancies among state employees, and heed the public's demands, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on 6 May. Demonstrators distributed leaflets in which they demanded that the transitional government fulfill promises regarding security, disarmament, reconstruction, and the end of administrative corruption that were made during the 2002 Loya Jirga. Afghan began a hunger strike on 6 May and "dozens of Kabul residents" gathered in his support, Hindukosh News Agency reported. Afghan said low-ranking government employees live with very little, while cabinet ministers "receive $30,000 to $70,000 in travel allowances" alone. He also claimed that most journalists in Afghanistan are "spies" and do not accurately portray the reality in the country. Neither Bakhtar nor Hindukosh reported on the anti-U.S. aspects of the rally. AT

In a statement issued on 6 May, the UN Security Council called on the Afghan Transitional Administration to implement reforms pertaining to the country's security and defense, "starting with the Defense Ministry and the intelligence [services]". It also advised that the transitional government extend its authority throughout Afghanistan and form a National Afghan Army and a national police force that "will be supported by all Afghan actors." In addition, according to the statement, the development of the future Afghan constitution should continue and should culminate in October with the Constitutional Loya Jirga, which the council said should adopt a constitution. The council also advised the government to begin the process of registering voters for the 2004 general elections. The Security Council called on member states to support the Afghan Transitional Administration in these efforts. In addition, the statement expressed the council's "serious concern at the deterioration of security" in many parts of Afghanistan. AT

Lakhdar Brahimi, the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), warned on 6 May that the country's peace process is increasingly threatened by poor security conditions, RFE/RL reported on 7 May. Brahimi urged the UN Security Council to consider expanding the authority of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) outside Kabul to provide security in the run-up to the general elections scheduled for 2004, adding that security continues to be a problem throughout much of the country and is insufficient to facilitate the implementation of the Bonn Agreement. Brahimi stressed that other countries must make it clear they will not deal with the factional leaders who continue to control a number of regions in Afghanistan. Those leaders, he said, must relinquish their power and face up to the new reality, adding that "there can be no room in this new Afghanistan for private armies, for private jails, for arbitrary arrests, for brutality, for corruption, [or] for discrimination on ethnic or any other grounds." One Security Council diplomat told RFE/RL after private consultations among Security Council members on 6 May that Brahimi's appeal "did not stimulate any new discussion" on strengthening the peacekeeping mandate in Afghanistan. AT

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said after meeting with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson in Washington on 5 May that, at the request of Germany, the Netherlands, and Canada, NATO has accepted operational responsibility for the next deployment of the ISAF, according to a transcript posted on the U.S. State Department's website ( NATO deployment in Afghanistan "shows that the alliance recognizes that it has new kinds of responsibilities and is responding to new challenges and to new threats," Powell said. Robertson said NATO deployment in Afghanistan is the result of a "reengineered and transformed" alliance that deals with "the real and serious problems of the 21st century as, and where, they exist." France and Belgium initially opposed allowing NATO to take over command of the ISAF (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 20 December 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2003). AT