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Newsline - May 4, 2004

A recent survey conducted by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) has found widespread support for the idea of introducing state censorship of Russian television, reported on 3 May. Asked "does television need state censorship," 62 percent of respondents in the national poll of 1,600 people responded affirmatively. However, only 9 percent advocated censorship of political programming and 5 percent approved of it for informational-analytical programs. Instead, respondents seemed to be interested primarily in moral restrictions. Thirty-six percent wanted to see pornography banned, while 32 percent spoke out against violent programs. Twenty-two percent called for limiting advertising. Among those who supported some form of censorship, the highest level of backing came from supporters of the left-patriotic Motherland bloc (77 percent) and the Communist Party (69 percent). Next came supporters of the Union of Rightist Forces (64 percent), Unified Russia (63 percent), and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (62 percent). RC

As of 18 June, Russian citizens will be able to purchase hard currencies and traveler's checks at currency-exchange points without presenting their passports, Interfax and reported on 4 May. Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev told the news agency that the new law on hard-currency controls that comes into effect on 18 June is "much more liberal in regard to many hard-currency operations, including those involving cash transactions." Those purchasing hard currency may still document their identities if they wish in order, for example, to be able to comply with the law restricting the export from Russia of sums greater than $10,000. RC

Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin arrived in Brussels on 4 May for consultations with NATO on combating international terrorism and on NATO-Russia military cooperation, reported. The talks were also expected to cover the situations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans. RC

"Versiya" argued on 26 April that Russian oligarchs are in a particularly disadvantageous position today. They no longer think about blocking unfavorable laws and/or replacing ministers -- "they are ready to make a payoff simply to be left alone." The weekly noted Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin's renewed call for a financial amnesty for oligarchs if they subordinate themselves to a new set of rules, as well as Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin's openly expressed interest in the financial dealings of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor and former Sibneft head Roman Abramovich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April and 18 March 2004). Former Economy Minister Yevgenii Yasin told the weekly that big business "is in jeopardy of being destroyed today.... Unfortunately, not one real step toward restoration of trust between entrepreneurs and the authorities has been taken. On the contrary, everything is moving toward a situation whereby business will be managed by bureaucrats." Meanwhile, "Gazeta" reported on 29 April that business representatives during their planned meeting with President Vladimir Putin on 19 May intend to seek clarification about what the president means when he says business should be "socially responsible." JAC

In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 30, Natalya Tikhova, deputy director of the Institute for Complex Social Research, argued that the belief that there is a deep hatred of the rich in Russia is a "myth." According to recent surveys her institute conducted over an unspecified time period, only one-fourth of respondents expressed envy, suspicion, or contempt toward those persons who became rich over the past 10 years. "For this mass of people the wealthy person is an abstraction because they do not know any rich people among their close acquaintances," she said. "But for those poor people who have seen their closest associates become wealthier, their level of tolerance is much higher." Tikhova said that socioeconomic strata in the West developed over centuries, and as a result substantial connections between layers are practically absent. However, in Russia only one-third of the wealthy do not have anyone who is impoverished in their closest circle of relatives and friends, according to Tikhova. And in Russia, as a rule, these rich people help their poor relatives owing to what she called a tradition of Russian national culture. "In the West, similar interfamily transfers of wealth are simply impossible," Tikhova said. JAC

The weekly "Broadcasting & Cable" reported on 26 April that Michael Davies, executive producer of the TV game show "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire," said that in the Russian version of the program television audiences occasionally lie when contestants turn to them for help in answering questions. "People over there can't stand to see anyone win," he concluded. JAC

More than 50 managers of enterprises in Saratov Oblast have been fired for failing to pay their workers on time, RTR reported on 3 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2004). The oblast's prosecutor is reportedly enforcing a law under which enterprise managers who have been fined for not paying their workers can be dismissed if they continue to fail to do so. "The situation improves when the prosecutor starts to more actively [persuade] the negligent managers," commented Vadim Shubunov, a senior adviser to the Leninskii Raion prosecutor in Saratov Oblast. "[The managers] find the money somehow, someplace and start to extinguish the backlog of unpaid wages." According to Viktor Chernov, head of the social-policy department of the oblast prosecutor's office, any worker may initiate an audit by the prosecutor. "We will defend citizens' constitutional rights," he said. JAC

The names of managers who have lost their positions for not paying wage arrears are reportedly being registered, and enterprise directors are obliged to check the register before hiring a manager. If the director hires the manager anyway, he faces a possible fine of 1,000 minimum wages. Last month, Duma Labor and Social Policy Committee Chairman Andrei Isaev (Unified Russia) called on law enforcement officials to follow the example of Saratov's prosecutors and pursue more aggressively managers of enterprises who do not pay their workers on time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2004). JAC

A search expedition has discovered the remains of 111 Soviet soldiers who were killed during World War II near the village of Kuzmichi in Volgograd Oblast, RIA-Novosti reported on 3 May. In June 1942, a bloody battle took place in the vicinity. Last year, the bodies of 1,383 soldiers were discovered in the same area and were interred, RIA-Novosti reported on 4 August 2003. The 111 soldiers discovered this year will be buried in June in the village of Rossoshka, where more than 5,000 Red Army soldiers are already interred. JAC

The Moscow prosecutor's office has charged three doctors with attempted murder for allegedly planning to remove a kidney from a car-crash survivor while he was in a coma and send it to a patient in need of a transplant, "The Moscow Times" reported on 30 April. If convicted, two doctors from the Moscow City Hospital No. 20 and a doctor from the Moscow Organ Donation Coordination Center could face up to 20 years in prison. According to the daily, city prosecutors said that police acting on a tip arrived at the hospital and witnessed the doctors grouped around the patient, who later died. JAC

Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian, a member of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia, acknowledged on 3 May that a resolution adopted at the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April 2004) "throws us one step or a half-step back" compared with the positive assessment of the political situation in Armenia contained in a previous resolution, Interfax and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Last week's resolution raised the prospects of imposing sanctions on Armenia should the Armenian authorities fail to release individuals detained for their participation in last month's demonstrations to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian; investigate human rights abuses, including the use by police of violence against demonstrators; and guarantee citizens' freedom of assembly. Torosian noted, however, that the most recent PACE resolution effectively rejected the opposition's argument that the outcome of last year's presidential election was rigged and that Kocharian is therefore not the legitimate president. LF

Torosian appealed on 3 May to opposition leaders to resume the dialogue with pro-presidential political forces that was broken off last week, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 April 2004). But leaders of the Artarutiun bloc told journalists the same day that the only valid topic of discussion is Kocharian's resignation. Noyan Tapan on 3 May quoted Artashes Geghamian, chairman of the National Accord Party aligned with Artarutiun, that Kocharian should dissolve parliament and schedule new elections. The opposition plans to stage a new demonstration on 4 May even though Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharian has signaled that he will not grant permission for such a protest. LF

The Armenian government on 3 May sought to reroute 63 freight cars carrying fuel and other commodities bound for Armenia that are currently stranded in the Georgian port of Batumi following the destruction on 2 May of bridges and rail lines linking Adjaria with the rest of Georgia, Transport and Communications Minister Andranik Manukian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service. On 4 May, the independent Azerbaijani daily "Ekho" estimated Azerbaijan's losses due to the temporary impossibility of shipping crude oil via Georgia to Batumi for export at $200,000 per day, Turan reported. LF

Musavat party activist Seyidali Mamedov was arrested late on 2 May and remanded in pretrial detention, Turan reported the following day. He is charged with participating in the clashes between police and opposition supporters in Baku on 15-16 October in the wake of the disputed presidential election and with obstructing state officials. On 3 May, the Baku municipal authorities refused a request by the Musavat party for permission to picket the Justice Ministry to protest the continued detention of seven opposition politicians arrested in October although their term of pretrial detention expired last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). LF

Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze told the population of his autonomous republic in a television broadcast on 3 May that it is impossible to comply with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's 2 May ultimatum to disarm all armed groups in Adjaria within 10 days, Georgian media reported. Adjar Interior Minister Djemal Gogitidze appealed to the Georgian leadership on 3 May to be "reasonable" and desist from further "accusations and threats," Caucasus Press reported. Both Gogitidze and Abashidze's representative in Tbilisi, Hamlet Chipashvili, advocated the resumption of talks between the Adjar and the Georgian governments. LF

Abashidze denied on 4 May that retired Russian Lieutenant General Yurii Netkachev, whom he has described as his adviser on security affairs, was responsible for blowing up bridges linking Adjaria with the rest of Georgia on 2 May, Georgian media reported. Abashidze said Netkachev is currently in Moscow. On 3 May, Georgian Deputy Security Minister Giga Ugulava said Netkachev is suspected of masterminding the demolition of the bridges. President Saakashvili said the same day that he has asked Moscow to hand Netkachev, whom he described as "a terrorist," over to the Georgian authorities to face trial, Reuters reported. LF

Police in Batumi planted a hand grenade on an opposition activist on 3 May and then arrested him, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 3 May, students and faculty members at Batumi State University launched a demonstration to demand Abashidze's resignation, Caucasus Press reported. Police forcibly broke up a demonstration in Batumi on 30 April by some 200 supporters of the Our Adjaria opposition movement, injuring at least a dozen people. LF

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania told journalists on 3 May that Abashidze's "paranoia" has inflicted serious economic damage on Georgia, Interfax and reported. He said that by destroying communications linking Adjaria with the rest of Georgia, Abashidze is condemning the Adjar population to "starvation." Georgian Economy Minister Irakli Rekhviashvili predicted that the damage to transport infrastructure could result in a 6-7 percent fall in GDP, Caucasus Press reported on 4 May. In Moscow, Georgian Ambassador to Russia Konstantine Kemularia said on 3 May that Georgia will arrange the transport of humanitarian aid from Tbilisi to Batumi by air in order to avert the risk of famine in Adjaria, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Speaking in Washington on 3 May, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher welcomed Saakashvili's statement on 2 May that Tbilisi will not resort to military force against Adjaria, Reuters and the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 reported. Boucher called on the Georgian leadership to use "political and economic tools in its efforts to restore the rule of law in Adjaria." At the same time, he urged Abashidze to comply with Saakashvili's demand that he disarm his supporters. Also on 3 May, U.S. Ambassador to Georgia Richard Miles met with Saakashvili to discuss the Adjar crisis, Caucasus Press reported. LF

According to a report delivered in Almaty on 3 May at an international seminar on poverty, approximately 700,000 of Kazakhstan's 15 million citizens are currently unemployed, Kazakh TV reported the same day. Nikolai Galikhin, who heads the domestic-policy sector of the presidential administration, told Khabar news agency that the psychological aspect of poverty means that monetary aid alone cannot eliminate the problem. "People have found themselves in new, market-based conditions and they don't always react as they should," Galikhin said. "If we think that we can fight poverty by providing some kind of direct financial assistance, we won't solve all the problems and eliminate poverty." The unemployment figure in 2002 was 690,700, or 9.4 percent of the able-bodied population, according to Interfax on 16 January 2003. DK

Mikhail Margelov, chairman of Russia's Federation Council International Relations Committee, told Ekho Moskvy radio station on 3 May that Moscow might decide to withdraw its 201st Motorized Infantry Division from Tajikistan. "Under the conditions that have arisen today, the deployment of large, fully mobilized Russian military contingents abroad is not always justified," Margelov said. He also predicted a serious discussion in parliament if the executive branch decides to withdraw the 201st Division from Tajikistan. According to Margelov, Russia could decide to pull out the 201st Division, which numbers some 6,000 men and has been deployed in Tajikistan since the Soviet era, because Tajikistan is setting unacceptable conditions for its continued deployment, reported. Russia had hoped to turn the deployment into a permanent military base, but talks with Tajikistan have stalled, apparently over financial issues. DK

Representatives from the UN Tajikistan Office for Peace-Building, the OSCE, and Russia's Glasnost Foundation noted at a 3 May forum on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day that Tajikistan has taken "a step forward toward freedom of the press," ITAR-TASS reported the same day. They stressed, however, that much work remains to be done. Zafar Saidov, director of Tajikistan's Khovar national news agency, praised a presidential decree exempting the media from the value-added tax, Tajik Radio reported. "Now freedom of the media and speech, in the broad sense of the word, is at a sufficiently firm level compared with previous stages," Saidov said. DK

Sixty former Tajik servicemen began a three-week training course on 3 May to learn mine-clearing techniques under the tutelage of Swiss experts, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. After they complete the course, the Tajik trainees will begin mine-clearing operations in regions where military action took place during the 1992-97 civil war. Jonmahmad Rajabov, head of the Mine Action Center of Tajikistan, said that a lack of mine maps makes it virtually impossible to say how many land mines remain to be cleared. According to Rajabov, at least $12 million-$13 million will be required over the next five years to fund mine-clearing efforts. DK

Uzbekistan's Defense Ministry, State Customs Committee, and Border Troops received $516,600 in equipment from the United States in a 30 April ceremony, reported on 1 May. The aid comes from the U.S. State Department under the aegis of the Export Control and Related Border Security program and the Aviation/Interdiction Project. The online newspaper quoted U.S. Ambassador Jon Purnell as saying, "Cooperation between Uzbekistan and the United States is multifaceted, and the military aspect is especially significant. We provide assistance to our Uzbek partners to combat terrorism, drug trafficking, and illegal weapons trading." Uzbek Deputy Defense Minister Rustam Niyazov noted that the "high level of military cooperation between our countries maintains stability and security in the region." Another shipment of $600,000 worth of equipment is also scheduled for 2004; and in 2005, Uzbekistan will receive two helicopter trainers worth a combined $6.5 million and two patrol boats totaling $5.8 million. DK

A district court in Minsk on 3 May sentenced Zmitser Dashkevich, leader of the Minsk city branch of the opposition Young Front, to 15 days in jail for organizing an unauthorized demonstration on the recent anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear accident (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2004), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The same day, a district court in Hrodna jailed for 15 days Valery Levaneuski, leader of a strike committee of vendors, finding him guilty of distributing leaflets calling for an authorized May Day rally. Later the same day, police arrested Levaneuski's son, Uladzimir, who was subsequently sentenced to 13 days in jail for a similar offense. JM

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders watchdog group on 3 May announced its list of the 37 worst enemies of press freedom -- referred to as "predators of press freedom" -- in 2003, the organization's website ( reported. The list includes Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who appear under the "Authoritarian Rulers" rubric. Lukashenka and Kuchma are accompanied by the heads of states or governments of Uzbekistan, Eritrea, Burma, Iran, Laos, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and Turkey. JM

Viktor Yanukovych said in an interview in Kyiv with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service on 3 May that Ukraine's strategic goal is to raise the standard of living in the country to Western European standards, adding that the country's potential EU membership is of secondary importance. "Will it matter for Ukrainians whether they are in the EU or not if they start to live as well as [EU citizens]?" Yanukovych said. "Is it not better for us, figuratively speaking, to build a Brussels in Donetsk or Lviv, instead of traveling to this European capital in a third-class train car?" JM

Prime Minister Yanukovych also told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that Ukraine and Russia should simultaneously join the World Trade Organization (WTO), despite the fact that Kyiv is somewhat ahead of Russia in accession talks with the WTO. "What will Russia do if Ukraine becomes a WTO member ahead of Russia?" Yanukovych said. "We should take this into account, since the [Ukrainian-Russian annual] trade turnover of $20 billion is a serious matter.... The reason tells us that we should act synchronically." JM

The surprise surrender on 2 May of Milorad Lukovic "Legija," who is reportedly the leading suspect in the March 2003 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, triggered widespread speculation in Belgrade that Lukovic might have reached a deal with prosecutors, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2004). The daily alleged that Lukovic's testimony in the trial could suit the government during the campaign ahead of the 13 June presidential vote. However, a Lukovic lawyer, Slobodan Milivojevic, told London's "The Independent" of 4 May, "I know there was no deal," adding, "My advice to him will be to tell the full truth, since I'm confident he has nothing to do with the assassination." Serbian Interior Minister Dragan Jocic denied on 3 May that there were talks between Lukovic and Serbian authorities prior to Lukovic's surrender. UB

Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said on 3 May that he hopes investigations reveal where Lukovic has been hiding since Djindjic's assassination, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Lukovic is also charged with the killing of members of Draskovic's Serbian Renewal Movement in 1999. Draskovic expressed his hope that Lukovic will disclose the identities of those who commissioned the killings. UB

An association of Croatian inmates of Serbian concentration camps opened a documentation center for war crimes in Vukovar on 3 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January and 9 March 2004). Up to 300 Croats were massacred at Ovcara, near Vukovar, after the fall of that city to Serbian forces in November 1991. UB

Swedish Brigadier General Anders Brannstrom, a former commander of the Swedish KFOR contingent in Kosova, wrote in the Stockholm daily "Dagens Nyheter" of 3 May that the outbreak of violence on 17 March "destroyed in a very obvious and brutal way" the "illusion" of a stable Kosova. Brannstrom stressed that KFOR troops "managed to prevent total ethnic cleansing, but there was still extensive damage everywhere in Kosovo." "It was almost a miracle that no KFOR soldier was killed during the rioting," Brannstrom said. "If the international community is not prepared to allow ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, there must be a strong international military force in the area." UB

The Hamburg weekly "Der Spiegel" alleged on 3 May that the German KFOR contingent stationed in the Kosovar city of Prizren failed to protect Serbian civilians, property, and cultural monuments during the recent outbreak of violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 March 2004). The German troops also failed to support and protect German UNMIK police forces, the weekly charged. The failure to protect Serbian houses, churches, and monasteries was due in part to the German soldiers' mandate, which reportedly does not include such duties. Other shortcomings are of legal nature, as German legislation bans the army to use teargas or pepper spray because they are regarded as "chemical weapons." In response to suggestions of cowardice, German Lieutenant General Holger Kammerhoff, who commands KFOR, warned that "whoever attacks Serb enclaves or [Serbian] cultural monuments in the future will face KFOR," according to "Der Spiegel." UB

The State Election Commission (DIK) has dismissed all complaints of alleged electoral fraud and irregularities during the 28 April presidential vote filed by the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), "Dnevnik" reported on 4 May. The commission concluded that there are grounds for just nine of 184 complaints, but said none had any decisive impact on voting at the polling stations in question. A spokesman for the VMRO-DPMNE announced that the party will challenge the commission's decision before the Supreme Court. He also said his party has not withdrawn its demand for an international investigation into alleged irregularities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April and 3 May 2004 and End Note below). UB

The ruling Social Democratic Party's (PSD) Permanent Delegation on 3 May decided to replace its mayoral candidates for Bucharest and Cluj in the 6 June local elections, Romanian media reported. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, who is chairman of the PSD, announced that Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana will replace former PSD spokesman Bogdan Niculescu Duvaz as the party's candidate for Bucharest mayor, and Administration and Interior Minister Ioan Rus will run in the Cluj race in place of former Cluj Prefect Vasile Soporan. Recent opinion polls indicate that incumbent Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu is favored by a large margin to win again. The same polls show that Geoana is one of the most respected politicians in Romania. Geoana said in accepting his candidacy that he wants to transform Bucharest from a "Balkan capital" into a "European" one. ZsM

Wolfgang Schuessel said during his one-day visit to Bucharest on 3 May that Austria will do its best to help Romania complete its EU-accession negotiations this year, adding that Europe's reunification will not be finished until Romania and Bulgaria join the EU, Mediafax reported. However, Schuessel said Romania still has many issues to resolve regarding judicial and internal affairs, protection of the environment, regional policies, and agriculture. Schuessel said many of Romania's current difficulties stem from the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu. Romanian President Ion Iliescu during his meeting with Schuessel decorated him with the Romanian Star for his "contribution to the development of [bilateral] cooperation on multiple levels." Schuessel also met with Prime Minister Nastase to discuss bilateral relations. Schuessel's visit was the first by an Austrian chancellor for 25 years. ZsM

Duma Defense Committee Chairman General Viktor Zavarzin said on 2 May that Russian troops should continue to be stationed in various regions of the Commonwealth of Independent States, particularly in Georgia and Moldova, to protect Russia's "national-security interests," Interfax reported. "The situation is particularly complicated in Transdniester and Georgia," Zavarin said. "The agreements adopted in Istanbul in 1999 oblige Russia to remove its bases from Georgia and Moldova. But our objective interests demand our further military presence in order to maintain stability in those regions." He also said that the admission of the Baltic states into NATO and recent agreements between NATO and Ukraine pertaining to NATO forces' rapid access to Ukrainian territory "only prove this necessity." ZsM

William Hill, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission in Moldova, told the Chisinau station of the Bucharest-based Pro-TV on 2 May that he hopes a lasting resolution to the Transdniester conflict will be found and implemented within a year, Flux reported. He said an additional five years will be needed to eliminate military problems, reduce military forces and to reestablish trust in the region. Hill noted, however, that a settlement depends on political decisions and their implementation, and characterized negotiations as difficult. He said the OSCE mission must do its job and leave, and that will happen when a resolution is found, when Russian troops are withdrawn, and when democratic institutions function well. He reportedly added that this can happen in the near future. ZsM

In the second round of the Macedonian presidential election held on 28 April, Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) scored a clear victory. With the support of his ethnic Albanian coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), Crvenkovski garnered more than 60 percent of the votes, while his opponent, Sasko Kedev of the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), won just under 40 percent.

However, even on the eve of the election, Kedev and VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski announced that they would challenge the election results, alleging that irregularities will make the vote unfair und undemocratic. Kedev responded to the early returns by accusing the governing parties of electoral fraud. He spoke of a "shameful act" and the "biggest falsification of elections in the history of independent Macedonia." Gruevski said the State Election Commission (DIK) should declare the elections void because of gross manipulations and violence.

"What happened today was a classical example of violence, these were the most violent elections in [Macedonia], the elections with the most arms, most threats...most pressure...the most undemocratic elections in [Macedonia]," Gruevski said, adding that he does not want Crvenkovski to become president as a result of such elections, as this "is neither good for him nor for Macedonia." Gruevski said he expects European institutions to condemn the irregularities.

Two days after the runoff, on 30 April, VMRO-DPMNE Deputy Chairwoman Ganka Samoilovska-Cvetanova announced that her party will challenge the results at 120 of the country's almost 2,800 polling stations and will ask for an independent international investigation. She argued that even the international election observation mission organized by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) had noted irregularities (the preliminary report can be found at In the end, the VMRO-DPMNE filed 184 complaints; but, as of 4 May, the DIK had rejected all of them, saying only nine had grounds for filing and that none of them had a decisive impact on the voting. The VMRO-DPMNE said it will appeal the rulings with the Supreme Court.

In a 29 April press release, ODIHR observers said that the elections were "generally consistent with OSCE election related commitments," but also noted irregularities. Ambassador Friedrich Bauer, who headed the election observation mission, said the problems identified in the second round of the elections were more extensive than in the first round. They included group and proxy voting and ballot box stuffing. "Regrettably, the State Election Commission [DIK] rejected all the complaints received from the parties after the first round, regardless of merit. In so doing the DIK missed an opportunity to send a message that such irregularities would not be tolerated," Bauer said, adding that, "In certain areas, serious incidents cast a shadow over the election. One of the most serious being a member of parliament entering polling stations and disrupting polling."

But the opposition VMRO-DPMNE and the ODIHR election observation mission were not the only ones to criticize the elections. In the opinion of the Macedonian Helsinki Committee, the elections were unfair and undemocratic as citizens' freedom to vote was seriously limited. "Between the two rounds [of voting], citizens were subjected to a negative campaign based on intimidation, threats, abuses, and open violence to cast their votes," the Helsinki Committee said in a 30 April press release. "During the election campaign, the freedom to vote was replaced by the duty to vote," the human-rights watchdog said, accusing DIK head Stevo Pendarovski of participating in this negative campaign. The Helsinki Committee also noted that NGOs played a negative role during the election campaign, and indirectly accused the international community of interfering in Macedonian affairs. Here, the Helsinki Committee agreed with the VMRO-DPMNE candidate Kedev. In response to calls by representatives of the U.S. and the EU to participate in the elections, Kedev said before the vote that the Macedonian president is elected in Macedonia, not in Brussels or Washington.

In all likelihood, the irregularities that occurred on election day were triggered by the Macedonian election legislation. In their preliminary election report, the OSCE observers noted that, "The requirement that a majority of voters cast their votes in order to validate the second round of voting may have contributed to the increased tensions and irregularities that were observed. While the reported voter turnout apparently exceeded the necessary threshold, this should in no way diminish the responsibility of the State Election review the irregularities that have been reported and respond to all complaints."

For the time being, the governing SDSM has not yet reacted to the allegations of electoral fraud. Crvenkovski's party is busy finding a new chairman and picking a candidate for the vacant premier's position. According to media speculation, there are four possible candidates to succeed Crvenkovski as party chairman and prime minister. Three of them -- Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski, Deputy Prime Minister Radmila Sekerinska, or Finance Minister Nikola Popovski -- are said to be loyal to Crvenkovski, so no major change in the party's political line can be expected from them. However, Crvenkovski's old rival, former parliamentary speaker Tito Petkovski, is also competing for the leadership; Petkovski reportedly has many followers within the party's local organizations.

The opposition VMRO-DPMNE, for its part, has to cope with the electoral defeat. Hawkish former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, a VMRO-DPMNE legislator who wanted to run for president but was barred by the DIK from doing so, accused the party leadership of trying to deflect attention from the party's real problems by challenging the election results.

In a way, Boskovski's unsuccessful bid for VMRO-DPMNE backing for his candidacy already showed that the VMRO-DPMNE is still deeply divided into two major wings -- the nationalist one, which is jointly dominated by VMRO-DPMNE Honorary Chairman and former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski and Boskovski, and the moderate wing, which represents the current party leadership around Nikola Gruevski. When Boskovski was barred from running for president, he and Georgievski called for an electoral boycott, thus clearly undermining Kedev's chances to become president.

The struggle for leadership within the country's largest parties, the political horse-trading prior to a possible cabinet reshuffle, and doubts about the legality of the presidential elections all contribute to a political summer theater that is unlikely to end soon. As a result, reform efforts in Macedonia will be hampered for some time to come; it is even possible that the local elections due in fall might have to be postponed.

U.S. Lieutenant General David Barno, speaking at a press conference in Kabul on 3 May, expressed "concerns" about Pakistan offering amnesty to militants reported to be linked to Al-Qaeda, AFP reported the same day. Barno stated, "Our view is that there are foreign fighters in those tribal areas who will have to be killed or captured." He reported "significant numbers" of militants active in the southern Waziristan tribal zone of Pakistan. The Pakistani government granted amnesty to five Pakistani tribesmen and up to 500 foreign fighters in Pakistan on 24 April on the condition that they register with local officials and not take part in violent activities. According to local leaders, no foreign fighters have yet registered in Pakistan for fear of reprisal, AFP reported. Describing the importance of good relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan, Barno said, "The centerpoint of that clearly is the issue of terrorists who would use the territory of both countries to advance their aim to kill innocent people both here in this region and around the world." KM

Militias based in Pakistan allegedly attacked Afghan border police in the Yaqubi area of the Lalpur District, in the eastern Nangarhar Province on 2 May, according to a report by state-run Kabul Radio Afghanistan on 3 May. The commander of the border police in the province, General Mustafa, reportedly told Radio Kabul that a clash continued for two hours after the attack. The Afghan border forces, he said, did not suffer any casualties. KM

Three influential Afghan politicians have denied any links or cooperation with the neo-Taliban, the state-run Mashhad Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 May. Burhanuddin Rabbani, leader of Jamiat-e Islami and former Afghan president (1992-1996); Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf, leader of Ettehad-e Islami; and Mohammad Ismail Khan, governor of Herat Province; rejected neo-Taliban claims that they had each promised to work with the group. A spokesman for the neo-Taliban, Mola Dadollah, had allegedly reported the false pledges, according to Radio Mashhad. The three leaders support Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's call for the neo-Taliban to lay down their arms and cooperate with the central government, according to the report. KM

The U.S.-based Population Services International (PSI) will begin selling 1.6 million condoms in stores and pharmacies at a subsidized cost of one Afghani ($.02), in five major Afghan cities, AFP reported on 3 May. While some observers are concerned about promoting birth control in such a conservative country, organizers report that the project is already successful, with the sale of nearly 400,000 condoms in Kabul since January. PSI is now set to begin a "culturally adapted" education campaign, featuring radio and billboard advertisements. The U.S. Agency for International Development program funds the $5 million program, according to AFP, and it plans to introduce birth control pills as well. Prophylactics are not commonly used in Afghanistan and birth control in general is a taboo subject. KM

Kamal Kharrazi discussed Iran-EU ties and Iran's nuclear program with European officials in Brussels on 3 May, IRNA reported the same day. He told European Commission President Romano Prodi that both sides "must be serious" in their political and economic cooperation, "otherwise Iran may not be keen to make an effort in this regard." Kharrazi also discussed Iran's nuclear program, whose secrecy has prompted Western concerns. "Iran is committed to pursuing its cooperation with the [International Atomic Energy] agency [IAEA] and [its] suspension of uranium enrichment is an effective and reassuring step," Mehr News Agency quoted him as saying. He urged European states to honor their pledge to allow Iran access to nuclear technology in exchange for UN inspections of Iranian installations. "This is a trilateral project between Iran, [the IAEA], and the European Union. Success in this project is a success for all, and the failure of this project is failure for all," he said. Kharrazi is to meet German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer in Berlin on 5 May, IRNA reported. VS

Kharrazi denounced as a "brazen act" the reported abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 May 2004) and asked, "if America has gone to Iraq to install democracy, is this the way to do it?" IRNA reported on 3 May. "Murder and killings must stop in Iraq and that is why power...must be given to [Iraqis] and the occupier must leave that country," he said in Brussels. Separately, Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said in Tehran on 3 May that the only "salvation" for "occupied Iraq" is "the unity of Muslims and various ethnic groups, and free and independent elections," IRNA reported the same day. He told Sadr-al-Din al-Qabanji, a cleric from Al-Najaf, that in Iraq's "very sensitive and delicate" conditions, any action to foment ethnic discord "is a betrayal of the people in line with the wishes" of their foes, IRNA added. VS

Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami defended "the achievements of reforms" in an open letter on 3 May but admitted that Iranian hopes have "gradually declined" since reforms began in 1997, IRNA reported the same day. "There is no choice but to pursue the path of reforms, with moderation, flexibility, wisdom, and tolerance," he wrote in his "Letter for Tomorrow," which he had promised to release later during a 27 April meeting with young people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2004). He said that his government has been "one of the few" in Iran to defend civil rights, IRNA reported. It is a "mistaken idea" he wrote, if people think that "with the elimination of the Islamic Republic, an independent and popular republic will emerge." His reforms, he added, seek "legitimate, civil, and intellectual liberties," not "loose morals" or "Westernized lifestyles." A court has restored a death sentence on Hashem Aghajari, a professor sentenced to die in 2002 for challenging clerical supremacy, AP reported on 3 May. The verdict, which provoked riots, was reduced in February 2003, AP added. VS

Ahmad Tavakkoli, a conservative member of Iran's next parliament, said in Tehran on 3 May that the next chamber may be "obliged to review the fourth [development] plan" currently being debated, IRNA reported the same day. "Parliament has not done the necessary technical and logical work, and certain sections have been ratified [hastily]," he said. Legislators have "reduced the fourth plan from 247 to 167 articles and ratified" it in "five to six days." He deplored the swift approval of one law with 114 articles authorizing the government to sell hospitals and schools and to raise fuel prices, IRNA reported. The next chamber will focus on "addressing people's problems and efficient, just service," not "factional issues," IRNA reported. It has already formed 11 working groups, one of whose projects is "to amend the [2004-05] budget which has very serious problems and was ratified in four to five days." VS

Iraqi militia forces loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr attacked U.S. forces on 3 May in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf, international media reported on 4 April. The clashes reportedly lasted for hours, and left up to 20 Iraqis dead, AP reported. The attacks reportedly began when militants launched mortars at a U.S. base on the outskirts of the city overnight, later attacking U.S. soldiers with gunfire from several directions in the early afternoon. Al-Jazeera reported that hundreds of Iraqi youths protested in the streets of Al-Najaf on 4 May as the 20 Iraqis were buried, vowing to take revenge against the United States for their dead. Meanwhile, Al-Sadr supporters clashed with Polish troops and Iraqi policemen in the nearby holy city of Karbala on 4 May, Al-Jazeera reported. Those clashes reportedly began when the militants attacked the governorate building and the headquarters of the Karbala police with rockets and mortar shells at dawn. KR

Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi told Al-Jazeera television in a 3 May interview that the council objects to the appointment of military personnel who served under deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, claiming, "The Al-Fallujah Brigade was formed at an initiative from the [U.S.] Marines." "Neither the Iraqi Army nor the Iraqi government is responsible for them." Chalabi said. "The issue is that those who carried arms and the terrorists who fight against the new situation in Iraq are from the Ba'athists and the remnants of Saddam's regime. They should not be given legitimacy to control any area in Iraq by force." He said the "presence of elements and officers" from the former Republican Guard will also obstruct Iraqi Major General Muhammad Latif's ability to command the force. KR

The U.S. military has been investigating allegations of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghurayb Prison west of Baghdad since last fall, reported on 30 April. The first of two military investigations into the allegations was completed in November, while the second, a classified report obtained by the website and written by Major General Antonio Taguba, was released in February. Taguba reported that between October and December, there were numerous instances of "sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" at the prison, which he characterized as a systematic and illegal abuse of detainees, the website reported. The alleged abuses include: breaking chemical lights and pouring the phosphoric liquid on detainees; beating detainees with a broom handle and a chair; threatening male detainees with rape; sodomizing a detainee with a chemical light and perhaps a broomstick; and allowing military dogs in at least one incident to bite a detainee. The website listed the names of all six suspects linked to the abuse and described how the U.S. investigation unfolded following reports by a U.S. serviceman who witnessed inappropriate treatment of prisoners, and later viewed a CD containing the now-widely reported photographs depicting the abuse of detainees. KR

The military policemen involved in the incident told Taguba that they participated in the alleged abuses at the orders of military intelligence, according to on 30 April. "We were told that they [military intelligence] had different rules," Sergeant Javal Davis was quoted as saying. The most senior enlisted man charged following the investigation, Staff Sergeant Ivan L. Frederick II, who previously worked for six years at the Virginia Department of Corrections, reportedly wrote in e-mails home that he "questioned" procedure but added, "This is how military intelligence wants it done." Taguba also claimed in his report that Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, who headed the Iraqi prison system, apparently did not recognize that the flaws in the prison system were due to poor leadership "and the refusal of her command to both establish and enforce basic standards and principles among its soldiers." Karpinski was removed from her position and suspended in January. Major General Geoffrey Miller, her replacement, formerly served as commander of the United States' Guantanamo Bay detention center. KR