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Newsline - June 24, 2003

Tony Blair gave an interview to Interfax on 23 June, the eve of President Vladimir Putin's arrival in Great Britain for a four-day state visit. The interview was republished in "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 June. In it, Blair said he is certain the issue of Iraq will come up during the visit and that he and Putin have already made "real progress" overcoming previous disagreements on the issue. Blair added that he hopes Russian companies will play an "active role" in Iraq's reconstruction. On Chechnya, Blair said Great Britain hopes the constitutional referendum held there in March will "become the start of a long political process that will draw in everyone who rejects force and ensure Chechnya's peaceful future and the protection of the human rights of the whole population." In other matters, Blair said Great Britain "unwaveringly" supports efforts to bring Russia and the European Union closer together, but that the introduction of a visa-free travel regime between Russia and the EU is "a more distant prospect." Blair told Interfax that Great Britain and Russia are "closely cooperating" in the areas of security, combating terrorism, and energy, among others, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. JB

Upon his arrival at London's Heathrow Airport, President Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, will be greeted by the Prince of Wales on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II and will then receive a ceremonial welcome from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, the London-based "The Independent" reported on 24 June. But not everyone is planning a warm welcome. A film festival called "The Truth About Chechnya" opened in London on 23 June. It features documentaries such as "Terror in Moscow," about last October's hostage drama at a Moscow theater, and "The Assassination of Russia," the film bankrolled by the self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii that claims the Federal Security Service (FSB) was behind the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk. Anna Neistat, who heads Human Rights Watch's Moscow office, told Ekho Moskvy on 23 June that Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, is sending Putin and Blair free tickets to the film festival. Kate Allen, Amnesty International's U.K. director, told "The Independent," "The continuing conflict in the Chechen republic, now in its fourth year, has seen Russian security forces committing serious human rights violations and breaching international humanitarian law with almost total impunity." JB

Media-Sotsium General Director Oleg Kiselev declared on 23 June that the Media Ministry violated the law when it turned off TVS broadcasts on 22 June and that Media-Sotsium will seek financial compensation, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). It was widely reported that the noncommercial partnership Media-Sotsium won a March 2002 tender to broadcast on channel six (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 March 2002). However, Konstantin Remchukov, head of the advisory council for Oleg Deripaska's Base Element holding company, told NTV on 22 June that Media-Sotsium did not in fact receive a license as a result of that tender. It instead got only a "temporary broadcasting permit." However, Remchukov, who is also a Union of Rightist Forces deputy in the State Duma, added that the organizers of the tender did not make this clear, and if they had, many experienced businesspeople "would have been forced to think twice before participating in the tender." JAC

Aleksei Samokhvalov, head of the National Research Center for Television and Radio, told "The Moscow Times" on 23 June that this arrangement -- under which TVS was broadcasting under a temporary license -- conforms to no Russian law. He added that allowing Sport television to broadcast on the TVS's frequency violates the law since no tender was held. According to, a tender for the TVS frequency will most likely be held in August. In the meantime, those regional television stations that had been carrying TVS programming were informed by the Media Ministry that they can retransmit Sport broadcasts, according to the website. JAC

"Nezavisimaya gazeta," which is controlled by self-exiled tycoon Berezovskii, argued on 23 June that with the closure of TVS, "the brief but colorful era of non-state-controlled public television is over." Moscow Independent Broadcasting Company (MNVK) Director Igor Shabdurasulov told the daily that a 75 percent stake in MNVK will soon be sold and the state will most likely acquire it. MNVK owned -- and might still own -- the original license to broadcast on channel six. Writing in "Vremya novostei" the next day, National Association for Television Broadcasters President Eduard Sagalaev declared that he is an "optimist and believes that the story of independent television in our country has not yet ended." He said that it is time to renew the composition of MNVK's ownership and to "revive broadcasting on this channel with a new concept and a new collective, and -- this is the main thing -- with an understanding of the real existence of private television in modern Russian conditions." JAC

Viktor Shenderovich, creator of the "Kukly" political-satire program, told Ekho Moskvy on 22 June: "I have been told directly by the directors of several channels that they do not need satire of this current historical period. We will wait until the next historical period." He added that he and TVS anchor Svetlana Sorokina intend to make documentary films together. NTV General Director Nikolai Senkevich officially offered TVS Editor in Chief Yevgenii Kiselev a job as his adviser, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 June. "Gazeta" reported that Kiselev agreed last week to accept that offer. However, neither Kiselev nor anyone at NTV would confirm the reports, according to Several other TVS stars, including host Vladimir Solovev, have already received invitations to return to NTV, according to ITAR-TASS. JAC

The Interior Ministry's internal affairs directorate, in conjunction with the FSB and the Prosecutor-General's Office, conducted an operation on 23 June to arrest Moscow police officers accused of running a criminal gang, Russian media reported. At least seven people, including three colonels and three lieutenant colonels from the Criminal Investigations Department (MUR) of the Moscow Interior Ministry directorate, were arrested and at least $3 million was seized in more than 40 raids carried out around the capital, Interfax reported on 23 June. While arresting two of the suspects -- identified as Yurii Samolkin, deputy head of MUR's arms-trafficking unit, and Nikolai Demin, also a MUR officer -- members of the FSB's Alpha unit had to blow off a Moscow apartment's reinforced metal door with explosives, reported on 23 June. One of those arrested was identified as Lieutenant General Vladimir Ganeev, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's security department, Interfax reported. According to ITAR-TASS, investigators found $60,000 in Ganeev's office. JB

Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, who went on television on the morning of 23 June to announce the arrests, told Interfax that the operation was aimed at a "gang of werewolves in police uniforms." The arrests, he said, were the result of "many months" of investigations of the group, whose members had over at least four years planted handguns, ammunition, and drugs on citizens in order to blackmail them. Police spokesman Valerii Gribakin told ITAR-TASS on 23 June that the group had fabricated "hundreds" of criminal cases in order to extort bribes. According to Gryzlov, the group also set up a private security firm to extort "protection" payments from several Moscow casinos, shopping centers, and restaurants. The extorted money, he said, was then laundered through "a commercial structure and a specially created foundation. "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 24 June identified the foundation as the Charitable Foundation for the Rehabilitation of Criminal Investigations Department Veterans. The seven suspects, who are being held in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison, are also being probed for possible involvement in a series of contract killings and robberies, NTV reported on 23 June. JB

The arrests of the Moscow police officers might have been politically motivated, editorialized on 23 June. "It cannot be ruled out that Boris Gryzlov's anticorruption campaign is nothing other than the start of the election campaign and an attempt to demonstrate a successful fight against police licentiousness," the website wrote. Gryzlov heads the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. The website speculated that similar operations might be carried out in other Russian cities. Police departments in Siberia, it reported, are particularly fearful that they will be targeted by the federal authorities because of warnings made by Gryzlov that criminal structures are trying to penetrate the Siberian Federal District and have been putting pressure on local judges. Gryzlov on 20 June made similar warnings about widespread crime in southern Russia as well (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). JB

The State Duma decided on 21 June to disband its Elections Commission, which was headed by Deputy Aleksandr Salii, a member of the Agro-Industrial Group who was elected from the Communist Party list, reported on 23 June. The decision was made with 228 votes in favor -- just two more than the required minimum. According to the website, news of the commission's demise was greeted with enthusiasm in the regions "since in recent years not one regional election had occurred without 'troops' from the commission." Aleksandr Shemelev, executive director of the Moscow Bureau for Jurisprudence, told the website that the "many lawyers who practice in the sphere of election law evaluate the Duma's decision to dissolve the commission positively." The website also reported that Salii had incurred the wrath of a number of political consultants and members of regional election commissions. Analyst Ivan Preobrazhenskii wrote on on 23 June that Salii's commission participated as consultants in a number of scandalous elections, including in Bashkortostan and Norilsk. The commission was also responsible for documenting alleged fraud that occurred in the 2000 presidential election. It asserted that about 700,000 votes in Daghestan must have been wrongly awarded to President Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2003). JAC

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has appointed Natalya Malysheva first deputy labor minister, replacing Galina Karelova, who was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of social issues last month, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 June. On the same day, President Putin named presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko as a member of the Security Council, RIA-Novosti reported. All presidential envoys to the seven federal districts are members of the Security Council. JAC

Last week, Deputy Prime Minister Karelova made her first working visit to Ulyanovsk Oblast, "Simbirskii kurer," No. 90, reported. Karelova told reporters on 20 June that the federal center plans to help Ulyanovsk residents, and within 10 days a special commission to investigate the problem of unpaid wages to municipal and educational workers in the region will be formed. Karelova said she believes the standard of living in Ulyanovsk is a lot lower than in other regions of the country and that 49 percent of the oblast's population lives in poverty. According to the newspaper, the debt to state-sector workers has reached 125 million rubles ($4 million), more 40 million rubles of which is owed to educational workers. JAC

Candidate registration for the 7 September gubernatorial elections in Sverdlovsk Oblast will begin on 24 June, "Politburo," No. 24, reported. According to the weekly, that race is already considered wrapped up, since incumbent Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel is a heavy favorite. Rossel reportedly has financial support for his campaign from practically all the important financial-industrial groups in the regions, including SUAL, Itera, Yevraz-Holding, LUKoil, and Unified Energy Systems. He also has the unofficial support of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, which sent a delegation headed by Duma faction leader Vladimir Pekhtin last November, the weekly reported. Novyi region reported on 23 June without reference to sourcing that Rossel recently decided to accept the official backing of Unified Russia, and an announcement is expected at the end of this week. JAC

A draft power-sharing agreement between Chechnya and the federal government was published in the Chechen press on 21 June, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 June. The paper commented that the draft essentially affirms the priority of republican over federal law by stating that all Chechnya's natural resources, including timber and oil, are to be exploited exclusively by the Chechen Republic. Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, however, told Interfax on 23 June that the draft complies with both the Chechen Constitution and Russian federal legislation, and that it does not envisage Chechnya receiving powers not envisioned by the federal constitution. At the same time, Kadyrov argued that Chechnya should have the exclusive right to extract, process, and sell its natural resources, especially oil. At present, the oil sector in Chechnya is controlled by Grozneftegaz, a subsidiary of Rosneft. Rosneft owns a 51 percent stake in Grozneftegaz and the Chechen government the remaining 49 percent. Oil production in 2002 fell marginally short of 1.5 million tons, according to Interfax on 30 January. LF

Some 78 Chechen gunmen have submitted amnesty applications to the Chechen authorities since the amnesty bill passed by the Russian State Duma earlier this month took effect on 7 June, Interfax quoted Chechen administration head Kadyrov as saying on 23 June. Some 40 of those applicants have been formally exonerated, while two applications have been rejected as the men in question are suspected of "assault." Kadyrov claimed that 200 gunmen have asked family members or friends to contact the Chechen authorities on their behalf to determine the procedures for applying for amnesty and the conditions under which it is granted. LF

Meeting on 23 June with the staff of the parliament's Oversight Chamber, speaker Artur Baghdasarian said that body should play a more active role in monitoring the activities of government agencies in order to help eradicate corruption, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. "We know that corruption has taken root in many government bodies," he said. Oversight Chamber head Gagik Voskanian for his part complained that the chamber is not empowered to do more than publicize its findings and cannot take concrete steps to counter practices it considers reprehensible. LF

In a resolution adopted on 22 June, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) raised the possibility of stripping Armenia's PACE delegation of its voting rights in retaliation for the widespread irregularities reported during last month's parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The resolution noted that the conduct of the election campaign "showed an improvement over the presidential elections" held in February-March, but that the vote count "showed the same pattern of irregularities, if not on a greater scale (ballot-box stuffing, protocol falsification, intimidation of proxies and observers) as observed during the last presidential elections." The resolution said the PACE will continue monitoring until Armenia holds presidential and parliamentary elections "in line with internationally accepted democratic standards." LF

Also on 23 June, the PACE rejected a request by the Azerbaijani delegation to postpone from 26 June until January 2004 discussion of a report compiled by PACE rapporteur Georges Clerfayt on political prisoners in Azerbaijan, Turan and reported on 23 and 24 June, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2003). PACE President Peter Schieder said the Azerbaijani delegation explained its request in terms of the upcoming presidential election, and added that the assembly refused that request because "none of the Council of Europe's member states should have political prisoners." The head of the Azerbaijani PACE delegation, Ilham Aliev, son of Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, complained that the PACE decision was "unfair" and constitutes "political pressure" on Azerbaijan. Ilham Aliev branded Clerfayt's report "subjective" and said it contains numerous internal contradictions. LF

The Yeni Azerbaycan Party on 23 June nominated President Aliev as the YAP candidate for the 15 October presidential election, Turan reported. Interfax quoted YAP Executive Secretary Ali Akhmedov as saying that Aliev's election program will focus on achieving a just solution to the Karabakh conflict, consolidating political stability, speeding up economic development, and enhancing Azerbaijan's international status. Also on 23 June, Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov said 22 billion manats ($4.5 million) has been allocated to fund the elections, Turan reported. On 20 June, parliament adopted legislation on the conduct of elections stipulating the penalties for violating the Election Code, Turan reported. Intimidating or bribing voters to cast their ballots for a specific candidate is punishable by a prison term of up to three years. LF

In his regular Monday radio interview, Eduard Shevardnadze characterized as "quite balanced" Russian President Vladimir Putin's offer on 20 June to assist Georgia in cracking down on a putative terrorist threat emanating from Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported on 23 June. Shevardnadze said Tbilisi is ready to cooperate with Russia both in combating terrorism and in seeking to resolve the Abkhaz conflict. Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania, however, rejected as without foundation Putin's claims that terrorists remain in the Pankisi Gorge, according to on 23 June. Khaburzania added, however, that a danger still exists that Chechen militants might try to enter Georgia from Russian territory. LF

President Shevardnadze also said in his 23 June radio interview that "the 2 November [parliamentary] elections must be exemplary and we must respect the people's choice," Caucasus Press reported. He rejected opposition allegations that the ballot will be postponed. Shevardnadze noted that it will be necessary to convene an extraordinary parliamentary session to pass new election legislation, and stressed that the present Georgian leadership will not insist on a majority of seats on the new Central Election Commission that must still be appointed. Shevardnadze further warned that the losers of the 2 November ballot must not seek to annul the elections simply because they did not win. It is easy to ascribe defeat to the falsification of the ballot, Shevardnadze observed. LF

In separate statements on 23 June, Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba and Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba condemned Georgian State Security Minister Khaburzania's disclosure at a Georgian parliament session on 20 June that plans have been drafted for a new military operation to bring the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia back under the control of the central Georgian government, Apsnipress reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). Arshba reaffirmed Abkhazia's commitment to resolving the conflict peacefully, while Shamba construed Khaburzania's statement as proof that unnamed Georgian officials seek to prevent the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons. Abkhaz Defense Minister Vyacheslav Eshba likewise affirmed the Abkhaz authorities' commitment to resolving the conflict peacefully, Apsnipress reported. He said any resort to violence by the Georgian side would postpone a resolution of the conflict for a long time. LF

The sister of Tamaz Khubua, a member of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government-in-exile, was killed late on 22 June by five armed and masked men who broke into her home in Abkhazia's Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported. Her husband and infant son were seriously injured. It is not clear if the motive for the killing was political. LF

A suspect in the kidnapping in November 2000 in Tbilisi of two Spanish businessmen was arrested on 22 June in the Pankisi Gorge, Georgian State Security Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili told journalists in Tbilisi the following day, according to Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2000 and 10 December 2001). Laliashvili said one of the Spaniards, both of whom were released a year later after payment of a ransom, recently visited Georgia and identified the house in Pankisi where he and his companion were held. LF

Tengiz Pachkoria, who is ITAR-TASS's Tbilisi correspondent, was attacked and severely beaten at the entrance to his Tbilisi apartment late on 23 June, Caucasus Press reported on 24 June. LF

Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service Deputy Chairman Boris Poluektov told a news conference in Bishkek on 23 June that it has been conclusively proven that members of the Islamic Movement of Turkestan (formerly known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or IMU) were involved in bombings in Bishkek and Osh in December 2002 and May 2003, respectively, reported. Poluektov alleged that the individuals arrested in connection with the bombings were trained at terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Poluektov interpreted the IMU's name change as indicating the group intends to spread its activities throughout Central Asia with the objective of destabilizing the region. The IMU conducted armed invasions of Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000, attempting to reach Uzbekistan's section of the Ferghana Valley with the intent of overthrowing the local government and set up an Islamic state. The movement has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States because of its ties to the Afghan Taliban. BB

A group of Kyrgyz parliamentarians have demanded that businessman Adil Toigonbaev, who is a son-in-law of President Askar Akaev, be deported from Kyrgyzstan, Deutsche Welle reported on 22 June. As a citizen of Kazakhstan, Toigonbaev could be expelled. The legislators' demand was prompted by a television program on a channel controlled by Toigonbaev that attempted to discredit opposition members of the Kyrgyz parliament, accusing them of nepotism; using taxpayers' money to finance protest demonstrations; and having secret ties to Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights Chairman Ramazan Dyryldaev, one of the best-known critics of Akaev's administration. The broadcast reportedly hinted that parliament should be dissolved. Opposition parliamentarian Omurbek Tekebaev, who was attacked by name in the broadcast, alleged that Toigonbaev commissioned the broadcast personally. Tekebaev called on ministers present at the parliamentary session to expel the president's son-in-law from the country. Over the last two years, the opposition has alleged that Toigonbaev is involved in illegal business activities. BB

Defending the changes to the Tajik Constitution that were approved by national referendum on 22 June, Imomali Rakhmonov told journalists that he opposes any personality cult and that he is taking unspecified measures against such a development, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 23 June. Rakhmonov said the existence of a number of political parties ensured that there will be more than one candidate for president. One of the most controversial changes to the constitution was changes to the presidential term limits. Prior to the referendum a number of opposition figures accused Rakhmonov of wanting to be president for life and of creating a personality cult in imitation of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. Rakhmonov also defended the removal of constitutional guarantees of free higher education and health care, pointing out that both paid education and health services already exist in Tajikistan. The government, he said, will ensure that the poor have access to education and health care. The extension of judges' terms from five to 10 years was explained by the president as necessitated by a shortage of judicial personnel. BB

Democratic Party of Tajikistan Chairman Mahmadruzi Iskandarov said on 23 June that his party will not accept the results of the 22 June referendum on changes to the country's constitution, Interfax reported. Iskandarov was quoted as saying his party considers the referendum invalid because, according to party's own estimates, only about 20 percent of registered voters took part. According to the Central Electoral Commission, voter turnout was 96.13 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). Shortly before the referendum, Iskandarov announced that his party, one of the oldest in Tajikistan, would boycott the referendum because the outcome had been determined in advance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2003). BB

Exiled Tajik opposition figure Dodozhon Atovulloev, editor in chief of the publication "Charogi ruz" and co-chairman of the Forum of Democratic Forces of Central Asia, thinks that the outcome of the 22 June referendum could become a catalyst for the Tajik opposition within the country, the Russian newspaper "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 June. Atovulloev was one of those who accused Rakhmonov of wanting to imitate Turkmen president Niyazov in making himself almost a president for life. In Atovulloev's view, Tajik opposition politicians will now realize that they need to unite against Rakhmonov. He said the opposition parties have already established connections among themselves and the opposition can be expected to create a movement that will unite them all. The opposition could then nominate a candidate to oppose Rakhmonov in 2006. Atovullaev also called attention to a letter circulated in Dushanbe two months before the referendum in which former civil war field commanders threatened to take up arms if Rakhmonov tried to retain the presidency after his current term expires. Atovullaev warned that if Rakhmonov tries to crush the opposition, the result could be that the next president of Tajikistan is a "Tajik [Ayatollah Ruhollah] Khomeini." BB

Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 June that Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov promised him there will be no change in the status of dual Turkmen-Russian citizenship holders after 22 June, the deadline set by Turkmen President Niyazov for such citizens to decide which citizenship they wanted to retain. Loshchinin, pleading for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute between Turkmenistan and Russia over the ending of dual citizenship, was quoted as saying that tension over the issue has been relieved, although the two sides have not reached mutual understanding. The Russian leadership is placing its hopes on a joint Russian-Turkmen commission that is expected to start work in Moscow in the near future. The Russian side insists that the revocation of dual citizenship has no retroactive force on those who already have dual citizenship, but affects only future applicants. The commission, according to Interfax on 23 June, quoting Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko, will guarantee the rights of dual-citizenship holders. BB

A population explosion of mynah birds -- also known as Indian starlings -- is causing damage to Uzbek agriculture, reported on 23 June. Reportedly there are more then 5 million of them in Tashkent alone, where they have established themselves in large colonies in many parts of the city, fouling streets and amusing residents with their antics. In Uzbek, the phrase "make like a mynah" means "to joke," and the birds are affectionately known as "mynashki," despite the messes they make. They are not only eating crops, particularly fruit, but are also driving out other bird species, destroying nests, and eating eggs. Reportedly, local authorities are concerned because the mynahs also eat garbage and could spread disease. The mynahs are not native to Uzbekistan, but are supposed to have arrived from Afghanistan in the early 20th century, with more being artificially introduced in the 1960s and 1970s to destroy certain insect pests. Unlike the black mynahs kept as pets in the United States and elsewhere, the Uzbek version is reddish brown. BB

The Information Ministry has issued a second warning to "Predprinimatelskaya gazeta" and suspended its publication for three months, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 23 June. The warning was issued for an article titled "Legalized Lawlessness" on the dismissal of Uladzimir Tselesh, director of the state-owned Chyrvonaya Zorka printing house. Chyrvonaya Zorka printed special issues of two independent weeklies that had lent their mastheads to another suspended newspaper, "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2003). The number of the recently suspended publications in Belarus has thus risen to four, including "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," "BDG. Dla sluzebnogo polzovaniya," and "Ekho." JM

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and his Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski attended the opening of a Polish consulate in the Black Sea port of Odesa on 24 June, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The two presidents were expected to take part in a Ukrainian-Polish business forum in Odesa later the same day. JM

The Central Electoral Commission on 24 June registered Mykola Kulchynskyy as a lawmaker of the Verkhovna Rada, UNIAN reported. Kulchynskyy ran in the 2002 parliamentary elections on the Our Ukraine party list. He replaces Volodymyr Shcherban, whose mandate was terminated by the parliament last week in connection with his appointment to the post of governor of Sumy Oblast. Shcherban was also elected on the Our Ukraine party list but abandoned that parliamentary caucus in July 2002 for the pro-presidential People's Choice group. JM

The European Council on 20 June received an initiative proposed by the Baltic and Nordic countries at the Thessaloniki summit to ban single-hull oil tankers from entering the Baltic Sea, BNS reported the next day. Questions remain over when the ban might take effect, however. The proposal set a date of 2010, while Russia has mentioned 2015 as a possible deadline. Estonian government spokeswoman Hanna Hinrikus said the council made no decision on when the ban should begin, but stressed the need to involve Russia in the process. SG

Members of the Lithuanian Green Movement staged a demonstration in front of the Russian Embassy in Vilnius on 23 June to protest plans by Russian oil giant LUKoil to begin extracting oil from the D-6 deposit in the Baltic Sea later this year, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The D-6 field is located 22 kilometers off the Curonian Spit and 7 kilometers from the Lithuanian-Russian maritime border. The spit is a narrow strip of land in Lithuania and Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast with unique dunes and other natural features that was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told reporters on 23 June that he is sending another letter to his Russian counterpart Mikhail Kasyanov reminding him that a pledge to provide an international experts' report on the safety of extraction from the D-6 field has not been fulfilled. SG

In an effort to facilitate travel between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia, Lithuania will open a second consulate in the Kaliningrad Oblast city of Sovetsk on 24 June, ELTA reported on 23 June. Lithuanian Consul General to Kaliningrad Vytautas Zalys noted that the current policy of allowing Kaliningrad Oblast residents to enter Lithuania without visas will end on 1 July. He said the consulate in Kaliningrad has already issued almost 15,000 free-transit visas to Kaliningrad residents, with another 400 applications being processed. Not a single visa application has been rejected. The main consulate in Kaliningrad will be capable of dealing with about 500 visa applications every day, while the new consulate in Sovetsk will primarily deal with people living in the eastern part of Kaliningrad Oblast. SG

Prominent activists of the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) have recently stepped up criticism of their party ahead of its 29 June congress, Polish Television reported on 23 June. Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz charged that the SLD has repeated many of the mistakes of its predecessors in power by "trying to create a party state." "I mean treating the state in terms of party interests, and treating power not as an opportunity to implement a program that one considers to be better than that presented by political rivals but as an opportunity to occupy posts and make money," Cimoszewicz expanded. Parliamentary speaker Marek Borowski said, "A lot of people have joined the party treating it as a kind of starting point for making a career, money, and surrounding themselves with cronies." Despite the feuding, Polish observers predict that the congress will re-elect Premier Leszek Miller as SLD chairman, since no one else has announced a bid for the post. Meanwhile, the OBOP polling agency found in a 7-9 June poll that 56 percent of Poles want Miller to be replaced as premier, while 60 percent want the entire cabinet to step down or be replaced by a majority government. JM

Some 3,000 trade unionists rallied outside the Czech government office in Prague on 23 June to protest planned economic reforms approved by ministers the same day, CTK and AP reported. It marked the third high-profile labor demonstration in the past week, including a doctors' strike and sparsely attended rallies in the capital on 19 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003). Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla came out to meet the protesters, telling them, "If we do not carry on with the reforms now, your pensions and salaries will drop by 50 percent in 10 years." Unionists jeered the premier in response, demanding to know "who is guilty." Spidla also told the protesters that a return to power of the opposition Civic Democratic Party (ODS) in the event that reforms are not implemented would exact a higher cost -- with only high-wage earners benefiting from such a change. The cabinet approved the guidelines for its planned reforms on 23 June in hopes of reducing the current budget deficit of 128 billion crowns ($4.77 billion) to 87 billion crowns by 2006. The center-left coalition intends to present its reform plans to parliament next month, and Spidla has threatened to resign if the plan is not approved by the legislature. MS

The government officially appointed Jiri Lang as the new chief of the Czech Security Information Service (BIS), CTK reported on 23 June. Lang, who has worked in the BIS for 13 years, served as a deputy to former BIS Director Jiri Ruzek, who resigned last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). MS

The Judicial Council failed on 23 June to elect a new president of the Supreme Court, TASR reported. Judges Stefan Minarik and Ida Hanzelova advanced to a second round of voting, but neither received the minimum 10 votes required for election by the 18-member council. Hanzelova received eight votes and Minarik five. A third candidate, Harald Stiffel, was eliminated from the race after the first round. New voting must be held within 45 days. Under the Judicial Council's statutes, neither Hanzelova, Minarik, nor Stiffel may run in the next round; but the unsuccessful candidates in early-May voting may compete (including former Supreme Court President Stefan Harabin). The council re-elected Harabin president of the Supreme Court in December, but the Constitutional Court subsequently ruled that process invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 December 2002 and 20 February 2003). MS

Slovak Premier Mikulas Dzurinda said on 23 June that the Hungarian Status Law continues to include "unacceptable" extraterritorial provisions despite amendments approved in Budapest the same day, CTK and TASR reported. Hungary has acted "unilaterally" without consulting its neighbors, Dzurinda said, and hence Slovakia will block the implementation on Slovak territory of clauses that infringe on Slovak sovereignty. Dzurinda has previously hinted that his country might apply "countermeasures" to the Status Law. CTK reported that Dzurinda's implied threat of "countermeasures" has led to tension in the ruling coalition, which includes the ethnically based Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK). TASR quoted Deputy Premier Pal Csaky, an SMK member, as saying his party would "strongly disagree" with enacting such steps. SMK Chairman Bela Bugar said on 20 June that his formation would regard such measures as a breach of the coalition agreement. MS

With 195 votes in favor and 173 against, lawmakers approved amendments to Hungary's controversial Status Law on 23 June, Hungarian media reported. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said after the vote that since the European Union has no objection to the law in its modified form, it should be equally acceptable to neighboring countries. Amendments include the deletion of a reference to the unified Hungarian nation in the law's preamble and modified terms of eligibility for financial assistance. The senior ruling Socialist Party's parliamentary group considers the conclusion of the two-year debate on the Status Law "an important step in Hungary's national and foreign policy," Socialist deputies Ildiko Lendvai and Csaba Tabajdi told the MTI news agency. Opposition FIDESZ deputy Zsolt Nemeth criticized the fact that amendments to the law were debated and approved by parliament in less than 24 hours, calling the process "a caricature of democratic procedures," Hungarian radio reported. The FIDESZ-led government of Viktor Orban initiated the Status Law's passage in 2001 (see also Romanian item below). MSZ

Speaker Katalin Szili hastily convened a special session of the National Assembly on 23 June to override President Ferenc Madl's veto of a hospital-privatization bill earlier the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2003), Hungarian television reported. Madl returned the bill to lawmakers, saying he objects to the fact that the bill would allow commercial enterprises to obtain stakes in health-care institutions. Deep-pocketed investors could scoop up the best hospitals and clinics and upgrade them into elite institutions, he warned. Lawmakers quickly overrode Madl's opposition and approved the bill in its original form, however, forcing the president to sign the bill into law. Opposition FIDESZ and Democratic Forum deputies walked out of the voting, arguing that Szili should have allowed two days to convene an extraordinary session. MSZ

A 20-page report on embattled Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF) Chairman Karoly Szasz appears to be a hodgepodge of excerpted government reports sprinkled with assertions not contained in any known investigations, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 24 June. The daily says the police and secret services are investigating who might have falsified information in the documents and for what purpose. Szasz was brutally attacked by three unknown assailants last week. He subsequently suggested the attack might have been politically motivated and alleged pressure in the past from Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 19, 20, and 23 June 2003). Meanwhile, Laszlo has summoned Szasz to his office, "Nepszabadsag" reported, citing a statement from the Finance Ministry. Laszlo has reiterated his request that Szasz remain outside of politics and concentrate solely on professional issues. Laszlo also expressed surprise that Szasz told Hungarian television that the minister had threatened him in a face-to-face discussion a year ago. MSZ

The U.S. House of Representatives passed Resolution 209 on 23 June, hailing the recent signing of the Adriatic Charter with Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia and calling for their admission to NATO "as soon as they demonstrate the ability to assume the responsibilities of...membership," the House website reported ( The resolution also called on the EU to admit the three countries "at the earliest opportunity." Both U.S. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell have recently backed the efforts of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia toward joining Euro-Atlantic institutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March, 4 and 9 May, and 23 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). PM

Albanian Foreign Minister Ilir Meta told Vienna's "Die Presse" of 24 June that his country wants to join both the EU and NATO and regards "the EU and the United States not as rivals but as complementary forces" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 9 May and 11 and 23 June 2003). "We are not afraid that our pro-American Iraq policy might have negative consequences for our desire to join the EU. After all, our position was the same as many EU member states and candidates," Meta added. He noted that Albania recently concluded a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United Sates prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC) because Tirana "is very interested in the United States' maintaining its military presence in Albania and the region." The minister cited 2006 as a possible date for his country's admission to NATO, adding that Albania has also made great progress in recent years toward meeting several important criteria for EU membership. Meta called on unnamed Kosovar politicians to concentrate on practical questions and avoid "patriotic rhetoric" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). PM

Former Bosnian Croat militia (HVO) commander Ivica Rajic arrived in The Hague from Zagreb on 24 June to face charges related to the killings of 16 Muslim civilians in Stupni Do in central Bosnia in 1993, international media reported. The Hague-based war crimes tribunal indicted Rajic in 1995, but he evaded capture until April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April 2003). In related news, police in Sisak arrested Stanislav Gavron and Ivan Hubelic on 23 June in connection with the 1992 slaying of a member of Croatia's Serbian minority, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Dpa noted that the arrest of the two former members of the special police forces is part of an investigation of the disappearance of about 30 Serbs in the Sisak area during 1991-92. PM

Two bombs exploded almost simultaneously in Skopje on 22 June, leaving one person slightly injured, Macedonian media reported. One device went off outside a shopping mall near Skopje University, the other in front of the offices of two telecommunications companies. Interior Minister Hari Kostov called the explosions "classical terrorist acts," adding that they most likely are connected to the mine blasts that killed one Macedonian and two Polish soldiers earlier this year, as well as to three bombs that went off in Kumanovo and Struga over the past six months. Four people have died in five separate explosions since December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002 and 18 February, 5 March, and 18 June 2003). UB

The leadership of the Republika Srpska said in a joint statement on 23 June that they are "surprised" at recent remarks by Roman Catholic Bishop Franjo Komarica of Banja Luka that the Roman Catholic Church is in danger of dying out in the Republika Srpska, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). The statement added that Komarica's remarks "lacked balance and were subjective." PM

The Serbian parliament's Security and Justice committees agreed on 23 June that Deputy Prime Minister Cedomir Jovanovic has no links to organized crime or the 12 March assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). A prison guard and members of former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia recently charged that Jovanovic visited a senior member of the criminal "Zemun clan" in prison two years ago. The parliamentary committees accepted Jovanovic's testimony that he visited only former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in the prison and only had contact with the Zemun clan's Dusan Spasojevic "Siptar" through an intermediary. The committees agreed that Jovanovic is the "target" of a criminally inspired smear campaign. PM

U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro William Montgomery said in Belgrade on 23 June that the joint state stands to lose U.S. military assistance if it does not sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States prohibiting the handover of each other's citizens to the ICC by 1 July, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 13, and 18 June 2003). PM

The Romanian government "takes note" of the Hungarian parliament's passage of amendments to the controversial Status Law, according to an official communique on 23 June. But even in its amended form, the statement warned, the Status Law includes aspects that are out of line with European standards. The government said that neighboring countries and European organizations reacted negatively to the Status Law as passed in June 2001, "firmly demanding" that provisions in the legislation, including "extraterritorial and discriminatory" elements, be eliminated. Once this is corrected, the statement said, an accord between the two countries' governments can establish conditions under which the legislation might be implemented on Romanian territory (see also Slovak and Hungarian items above). MS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase paid a one-day visit to Lebanon on 23 June, Romanian Radio and dpa reported. Nastase met with his Lebanese counterpart Rafik Hariri, as well as with President Emile Lahoud and parliamentary Chairman Nabih Berri. The two premiers decided to set up an intergovernmental commission to boost commercial ties and investment between their countries. MS

President Vladimir Voronin, on a two-day visit to Brussels, met with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson at the alliance's headquarters on 23 June, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported. Presidential spokesman Valeriu Renita said after the talks that Voronin and Robertson discussed possible NATO involvement in helping to settle the Transdniester conflict. Renita said NATO might help Moldova achieve "reintegration" by acting via the NATO-Russia and the NATO-Ukraine councils. Voronin was expected to meet with European Commission President Romano Prodi and External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten on 24 June. MS

President Voronin issued a decree nullifying the revocation of former Lebanese Honorary Consul Mahmud Ahmad Hammud's Moldovan citizenship, Infotag reported on 23 June. Hammud's Moldovan citizenship was revoked in October after Information and Security Service Director Valeriu Pasat submitted information to parliament suggesting that Hammud has ties to Islamic terrorist groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 October 2002). Hammud, who in the son-in-law of former parliamentary speaker and current Democratic Party Chairman Dumitru Diacov, now lives in Berlin. According to unofficial information cited by Infotag, an investigation has failed to confirm such allegations. The agency also cited observers who believe the reversal of Voronin's decision is due to a rapprochement between the president and the former parliamentary speaker. MS

In reaction to the Bulgarian government's decision to adopt the EU position on the ICC, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew said on 23 June his government is more disappointed with the pressure that the EU exerted on Bulgaria than with the Bulgarian decision itself, reported. Pardew said the question whether the U.S. government will now suspend military aid to Bulgaria as provided for by U.S. legislation is still being discussed. Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov noted the same day that he does not believe the U.S. government will cut the $20 million military aid, despite the government's decision not to sign a bilateral extradition-immunity agreement exempting U.S. citizens from being handed over to the ICC. Svinarov recalled that Bulgaria on 12 June supported a UN Security Council resolution extending the immunity of UN peacekeepers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 19, 20, and 23 June 2003). UB

Defense Minister Svinarov told journalists on 23 June that there will be changes in his ministry's staff, reported. Svinarov indirectly confirmed that the Prosecutor's Office is investigating some 40 military and civilian officials who are facing corruption charges involving alleged damages of some $6 million. The cases were uncovered during routine checks, Svinarov said. UB

Speaking at a Bulgarian-Macedonian business forum in Sofia on 23 June, President Georgi Parvanov said the neighboring countries should focus their efforts on economic cooperation rather than on historical disputes, bnn reported. "Disputes about history...can be left to specialists, while we, statesmen and politicians, must look forward," Parvanov said in the presence of visiting Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski. Both sides agreed that the bilateral economic relations should be improved, as cross-border commerce remains sluggish despite a free-trade agreement. To achieve this goal, a Bulgarian-Macedonian Chamber of Commerce was founded. Bulgarian historians have long denied the existence of a Macedonian nation and still do, thus contributing to the poor atmosphere of bilateral relations. UB

Most commentators reviewing Russian President Vladimir Putin's 20 June appearance before the domestic and international media stressed his staying power in fielding questions on just about every important issue facing the country and government. Indeed, Putin's stamina should be noted, but his political adroitness deserves even greater recognition, and the kind of political discourse and culture he would like Russia to create should be addressed as well.

Putin answered 48 questions in less than three hours, in what could be called the annual presidential summit with the media. He was remarkably thorough in his answers and clearly enjoyed demonstrating his familiarity with facts and figures that reflect Russia's recent macroeconomic performance. The only major issue that Putin refrained from elaborating on was new legislation currently under discussion that restricts what the media can report during election campaigns. Putin's response that he has not familiarized himself with the bill that is now before the Federation Council after being passed by the Duma on 18 June was more than puzzling in light of the plight of the private TVS television station, whose death agonies ended only hours after the press conference.

What made Putin's news conference noteworthy was the fact that it was almost entirely upbeat, although peppered with a number of comments expressing his anguish that almost one-third of Russians live in poverty. Not a single politician -- domestic and foreign -- was subjected to criticism.

During Putin's 16 May address to the Federal Assembly, the government of Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was at the receiving end of forceful criticism. This time around, the government was praised for its efforts. The only political parties mentioned were Unified Russia and the Union of Rightist Forces, both of which were praised. The policy differences among the parties currently sitting in the Duma were almost brushed aside. When answering a question about the role of the oligarchs in the economy, Putin replied simply that he does not like the way the term "oligarch" is used. Even the political leadership in Georgia was given a respectful nod. There were many other examples of moderation, including a changed approach to Chechnya. Russia's differences with the United States over Iraq and Iran were diplomatically transformed into niceties to be ironed out.

The tenor of this year's press conference would seem to suggest that a number of political imperatives are in play. Clearly, the election season is on Putin's mind. Remaining above the fray is something Putin has used to his advantage during his term as president, and he decidedly demonstrated during the press conference that he has no intention of abandoning this strategy. The only official political position Putin supports is a government and policies that make Russia strong at home and abroad. This is a generic posture, and it is a relatively safe one for his own political future for the time being.

Putin also backed away from an idea he broached during his spring address concerning the possible creation of a parliamentary republic in which a legislative majority appoints the cabinet. Is this a signal that he will not openly support a party or bloc of parties during the upcoming Duma elections?

Unified Russia, which anchors the pro-presidential bloc in the Duma, is faring poorly in the opinion polls. If Putin is unwilling to throw his considerable personal popularity behind Unified Russia, it is doubtful it can muster a favorable showing in the 7 December elections. Putin has not had to face a hostile Duma, which was the hallmark of the tumultuous years of former President Boris Yeltsin. Clearly, he very much needs to avoid the deadlocks his predecessor had to face if his very ambitious plans to change Russia are to become reality.

During the press conference, Putin gave no indication which party he prefers, but for the sake of his agenda Putin will have to side with at least one party or risk losing much of the political stability that is associated with his presidency.

The treatment of the oligarchs was another political imperative mentioned during the press conference that is worth consideration. Putin appears to support the idea that the intense concentration of wealth in Russia in the hands of a few works in at least two ways. Business tycoons are not "oligarchs" if they respect the law and work with the country's governing authorities. The term "oligarch," according to Putin, should be reserved for those involved in theft and illegality. While the distinction is important, Putin did not demonstrate a meaningful difference between his two uses of the term. Putin came into office decrying the oligarchs' influence on the economy and government. His comments during the press conference suggest that either he is satisfied with efforts to regulate the access the super-wealthy have to the levers of administrative power, or that he has come to terms with this elite clan without completely selling out the role of the state. The answer to this question might explain why Putin suddenly reversed himself on introducing a parliamentary republic in Russia.

A third political imperative is Putin's implied desire to limit, or at least to understate, political differences at home and internationally. Putin's responses demonstrated clearly that there are a number of "Putins" attempting to cover most of Russia's political spectrum. He claimed in turn the political ground of being a democrat, populist, nationalist, and even humanist. In short, Putin's marathon performance showed that he is, beyond a doubt, in command of Russia's political agenda at home and abroad. In a public-relations sense, he is the master of his domain.

However, considering the tensions underlying both domestic and foreign policies, one would have hoped for a more pragmatic, policy-oriented discussion. A superior public performance for the media -- the same media that are currently facing a rough time -- should not be considered a viable substitute for hard political choices.

Putin spoke about hopes he would like to see realized. At the same time, the press conference was short on substance as to how that vision can be actualized. Giving the impression that Russia can and should speak in one unified and mutually agreeable voice underestimates the challenges facing the country.

Peter Lavelle is a Moscow-based analyst and author of the weekly electronic newsletter Untimely Thoughts (

U.S. administrators in Iraq unveiled plans in Baghdad on 23 June for a new Iraqi army and said recruitment will begin in one week, Reuters reported the same day. Walter Slocumb of the U.S. administration announced that the new army will comprise light infantry forces and suggested that additional military units might be added later. He said Washington plans to have a 12,000-strong division functioning within a year, while two other divisions will be added in the second year. The new army will be significantly smaller than the force that functioned under deposed President Saddam Hussein. "This country was grotesquely over-militarized," Slocumb told reporters. "It is the fact that most people who were in the old army will not be able to continue military careers," he added, alluding to a U.S. decision not to allow senior members of the Ba'ath Party to hold positions in the new army. Slocumb said the new army will protect key government installations and the country's borders. U.S. Major General Paul Eaton, who most recently served as head of the United States Infantry School, will oversee the new training program, according to Reuters. KR

U.S. officials also agreed to pay military personnel who were dismissed when the Iraqi Army was disbanded on 23 May, Reuters reported the same day. Protests by army personnel turned violent last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003), leaving two protesters dead. The army officers had been protesting their dismissal and U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer's decision not to pay them despite pledges to compensate other dismissed government employees. The U.S. administration had offered Iraqi soldiers a one-off compensation payment equivalent to about one month's salary. Slocumb told reporters on 23 June that career soldiers will now be entitled to monthly payments of slightly less than their former salaries. He said the payments will be based on the salary scale for civil servants, which is between $50 and $150 per month. The payments will be subject to review by a future Iraqi government, and Iraqi money will be used to fund the payments. Former conscripts will be entitled to a single compensation payment, and army pensions will continue to be paid, Reuters reported. KR

New details are emerging about the 18 June incident in which U.S. forces reportedly chased down and ultimately destroyed an Iraqi convoy believed to be transporting senior members of the deposed Hussein regime across the Syrian border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). On 24 June, CNN cited unnamed U.S. government sources as saying that an unmanned U.S. Predator drone armed with Hellfire missiles attacked the convoy, splitting it into two groups. A special operations AC-130 gunship joined the Predator, and both opened fire on the convoy, according to CNN. Meanwhile, a Task Force 20 commando team reportedly pursued the convoy from the ground. An individual presumed to be part of the convoy was then seen fleeing toward the Syrian border on foot; U.S. forces pursued that individual as Syrian border troops arrived at the scene, according to CNN. CNN added that Pentagon officials conceded that U.S. troops might have crossed the Syrian border at that point. U.S. troops reportedly engaged in a firefight, injuring three Syrians whom the U.S. later evacuated for medical treatment. Local villagers claimed that those killed in the attack were sheep smugglers. Unidentified Pentagon officials acknowledged that might be true, but insisted that their cargo was human, not animal. Most of the 20 individuals captured in the attack have been released, Pentagon officials said. DNA tests were reportedly being conducted in an attempt to identify the bodies of those killed in the attack. KR

The United Nations launched a $259 million appeal to donor countries, asking them to help close a gap in humanitarian funding for relief operations in Iraq this year, a UN press release stated on 23 June ( The amount includes the remainder of the $2.2 billion flash appeal launched in March. According to the UN, donor support and some $1.1 billion from the oil-for-food program have accounted for 88 percent of the total amount needed. The remaining $259 million will cover key sectors including health, land-mine removal, water- and sewage-systems repair, and the resettlement of refugees and internally displaced persons. "As the Coalition Provisional [Authority] had the primary responsibility for providing services to the Iraqi people, UN activities would complement its efforts until the end of the year, when most, if not all, of UN humanitarian activities were expected to be phased out," the press release stated. KR

Four Iraqi political parties have announced their merger, the London-based "Al-Zaman" reported on 23 June. The Iraqi Socialist Party, the Vanguard Socialist Nasirite Party, the Unity Socialist Party, and an unnamed fourth party have merged into one political organization called the Socialist Nasirite Party. A statement released by the parties announced that Mubdir al-Wayyis will head the new organization, "Al-Zaman" reported. The statement reportedly said it is in the public interest to unify pan-Arab nationalist groups into one political organization in order to confront new developments in Iraq. The parties decided to meet this need by unifying the nationalist pan-Arab tendency in two stages, it added. The second stage was not identified. KR

Iranian government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 23 June that Tehran has identified "many" Al-Qaeda suspects that it has in custody, IRNA reported. "If those identified turn out to be nationals of friendly countries, we will hand them over to their country of origin; but if they are found guilty of committing a crime in Iran, they will be tried here," he added. The courts will decide what to do with nationals of countries with which Tehran does not have diplomatic relations, he said. Ramezanzadeh refused to say how many Al-Qaeda members are in custody or whether they include any senior members, according to Reuters. BS

Government spokesman Ramezanzadeh said on 23 June that the Iranian Interior Ministry and the legislature have decided not to issue permits for off-campus rallies on 9 July, IRNA reported. The Office for Strengthening Unity student group has made several requests to hold an off-campus rally that day to commemorate the events of 1999, when hard-line vigilantes, aided by police, attacked a Tehran University dormitory and caused numerous casualties and at least one fatality. The government also rejected hard-line groups' requests for permits, according to a 23 June Reuters dispatch. Yet the government has declared that it will hold a week of mourning from 7-13 July for the remains of 300 Iranians killed during the 1980-88 war with Iraq that were recently repatriated to Iran, IRNA reported on 22 June. So although the government has banned conservative rallies as well as those of the students, the state-run media is likely to focus on veterans and regime supporters rather than on opponents of the government. BS

Ali Hashemi, the head of Iran's Drug Control Headquarters, said at a 23 June meeting in Amman of a UN subcommission on illicit-drug trafficking that Afghanistan continues to pose a tremendous danger as a source of opium, IRNA reported. Hashemi said that in the previous year, 67 Iranian security officers were killed in counternarcotics efforts, and more than 1,000 related operations were conducted. During that time, Hashemi said, the security forces confiscated 152 tons of drugs. While in Amman, Hashemi met with Jordanian Interior Minister Ghaftan al-Majali to discuss the possibility of cooperative counternarcotics activities. BS

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has launched five regional counternarcotics projects, the UN Information Center announced on 22 June ( In Tajikistan, three projects expected to cost a combined $10 million will deal with law enforcement and the provision of equipment to and training of border-control and customs agencies. A drug-control agency will be created in Kyrgyzstan with $6 million, and a countrywide database will be established in Uzbekistan. These projects are being implemented in light of the danger posed by opium cultivation in Afghanistan, which has surpassed the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia in opium-poppy cultivation (for more on Afghanistan, see; and on the Golden Triangle, see BS

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a 24 June statement that Afghan Transitional Chairman Hamid Karzai is failing an important test on freedom of expression in Afghanistan by allowing the continued detention of Editor in Chief Sayyed Mir Husayn Mahdawi and Deputy Editor Ali Reza Payam of the "Aftab" weekly. Both were arrested on charges of blasphemy on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18, 20 and 23 June 2003). The HRW said the arrests come as Afghanistan undertakes the vital process of public debate on its future constitution. John Sifton, Afghanistan researcher at HRW, said the Afghan "government's message to journalists is clear: 'You are not protected.'" Supreme Court Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi told Radio Free Afghanistan on June 19 that Mahdawi and Payam will be tried on the "allegation of insulting Islam" and that no outside pressure can stop this process. The two articles that apparently led to the arrests appeared in the 11 June edition of "Aftab." Mahdawi's article was titled "Holy Fascism," and Payam's article was titled "Religion + Government = Oppression." Their criticism is leveled in particular at the role of Muslim clerics in Afghan politics. Mahdawi blamed several former Afghan mujahedin leaders, including former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani and his ally Abd al-Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf, for the chaos and bloodshed in Afghanistan. AT

According to the HRW statement on 24 June, Afghanistan's chief justice, Fazl Hadi Shinwari, a cleric allied with Sayyaf, ordered the arrests and the closure of the paper with the approval of Karzai, who reportedly had indicated that the arrests were lawful because the two "had insulted Islam." Karzai also reportedly has rejected requests by several of his ministers and UN officials to release the two men. HRW's Sifton said: "The right to freedom of expression means that individuals and journalists have the right to express their non-violent views openly without fear of legal sanction. It does not matter how unpopular those views might be." In February 2002, a new press law was announced by the Afghan Transitional Administration that guarantees freedom of the press. The only restrictions enumerated in that law pertain to matters that are insulting to Islam or other religions, personal attacks against individuals, the publication of literature or photographs that could lead to moral corruption, and any publication that intends to weaken Afghanistan's national army. The new press law, however, remains vague and open to interpretation (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 13 February 2003). AT

In an interview with Kabul daily "Anis" of 22 June, Deputy Minister of Information and Culture Abdul Hamid Mobarez said that while the ministry issued a report indicating that "Aftab" had violated the press law and that Mahdawi should appear before the Press Investigation Commission (PIC), it never "asked the justice and legal sources or the police for the arrest of" either Mahdawi or Payam. Mobarez said the two editors were arrested without the permission of his ministry or the presence of a ministry representative. Mobarez said his ministry wants the two editors to be released quickly so that that the PIC can "talk to them in a free and democratic atmosphere," "Anis" reported. The arrests highlight the problems confronting a conservative country with a literacy rate of just 20 percent that has suddenly been opened to democracy. AT

The UN secretary-general's special representative to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, has said that general elections slated for June 2004 might be delayed if the security situation in Afghanistan does not improve, "Erada" reported on 22 June. According to the report, Brahimi said the security situation has not stabilized in Afghanistan, and in some areas -- especially the southern and eastern regions of the country -- the UN cannot function. (For more on the Afghan elections, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 June 2003). AT

German Defense Minister Peter Struck said on 23 June that a decision on the possible expansion of the German troop deployment in Afghanistan beyond Kabul will not be made in haste and any such expansion depends on security guarantees for German soldiers, ddp reported. Germany and the Netherlands currently command the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul. In May, German officials said they might consider taking part in the U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Teams outside Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 30 January 2003). Germany has been studying Herat Province or Charikar in Parwan Province as possible areas of deployment. AT