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Newsline - May 5, 2004

Sergei Lavrov, who is in New York for a meeting of the so-called quartet to discuss the situation in the Middle East, said on 4 May that there is no draft UN Security Council resolution on Iraq under discussion and that the dispatch of "Russian troops to Iraq is out of the question in the present situation." Lavrov said that the most important thing at this stage is the formation of a legitimate government in Baghdad that will be recognized by Iraq's neighbors and by the international community. "This must be done on a transparent basis," he added. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 3 May called on Russia, France, Germany, and other countries to contribute troops to the U.S.-led international coalition currently occupying Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2004). Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov on 5 May said that the UN Commission for Human Rights should investigate recent allegations that coalition forces abused Iraqi prisoners, Western and Russian media reported. The commission has been critical in the past of Russian human rights abuses in Chechnya. RC

Aleksei Kudrin told "Kommersant-Daily" on 5 May that the government will continue to prosecute Yukos and any other companies and individuals believed to have illegally avoided paying taxes. "With regard to Yukos, we have only just begun to make our complaints," Kudrin said. "If you want to ask will we stop prosecuting tax cases, I can say that in Russia, like in all civilized countries, those who illegally avoid paying taxes will always be prosecuted." RC

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref has asked the government to appeal a Siberian court decision that would allow it to renationalize the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004), "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 5 May. The dam and electricity complex were privatized by Unified Energy Systems (EES) in 1993, but on 12 March a regional court overturned that deal following a complaint by Republic of Khakasia Governor Aleksei Lebed. EES has stated that it plans to appeal the verdict, but Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov has ordered Gref to implement the ruling immediately. According to the daily, Gref has written to Zhukov and said that implementing the ruling would violate the rights of EES's minority shareholders, "create a precedent for the redistribution of property in the energy sector, ruin the ongoing reforms of the electricity network, and harm Russia's image in the eyes of foreign investors." RC

The government has asked the United Kingdom for permission to search the London offices of embattled oil giant Yukos, "Gazeta" reported on 5 May, citing the English daily "The Independent" of 2 May. In March, Russian prosecutors searched Yukos's offices in Switzerland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004). British law enforcement agencies refused to confirm or deny the report. RC

Police in Moscow on 4 May arrested at least 30 participants in an unsanctioned demonstration calling for the legalization of marijuana, RIA-Novosti and reported. City authorities earlier denied permission for the rally, saying that it violated the rights of citizens and represented "the propaganda of narcotics." Those detained will be subject to administrative sanctions and were released after a few hours. The Moscow demonstration, in which about 200 people participated, was part of a coordinated series of similar demonstrations in hundreds of cities around the world. RC

National Television and Radio Broadcasting Research Center Director Aleksei Samokhvalov told Ekho Moskvy on 3 May that the press-freedom situation in Russia is comparable to that in other Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria. He said that it is worse than the situation in Poland or Israel. However, he added, "the effectiveness of freedom of speech in Russia is quite low," noting that media reports rarely lead to concrete actions by the state or the public. Samokhvalov said that the government must quickly resolve the present uncertainty regarding broadcast licensing, and he noted that corporations like Gazprom and Yevrofinans are playing increasingly large roles in the media sector. He called for updated antimonopoly legislation. RC

According to on 4 May, Russian analysts believe that the reported desire of the Russian partners of the TNK-BP joint venture to get more cash up front is reflective of a broader movement by Russian businesses to move abroad. The "Financial Times" reported that Alfa and Access/Renova, the Russian shareholders in TNK-BP, are seeking to cash in rapidly $3.75 billion worth of BP shares rather than wait for them to be issued in three tranches over three years. According to the British newspaper, "sources close to the Russian shareholders" said that they need the cash now to be able to invest in more profitable ventures, but speculated that "there is every reason to believe that Alfa is gradually getting out of these kinds of businesses as well." JAC

The website noted that there are persistent rumors that the Alfa Group is selling its main retail project, the network of Perekrestok supermarkets. A mid-level Russian oil businessman, who preferred to be identified only as Rabinovich, told that all businessmen are "trying to salvage their money, and Alfa can no longer wait to do so." He pointed out that TNK-BP was not admitted as a participant in the Sakhalin-4 and Sakhalin-5 oil projects, and it is no longer expecting to get a production-sharing agreement on a field in Tyumen Oblast for which it already has a license. is partly financed by the Yukos oil company. Meanwhile, in an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 3 May, Dmitrii Tsaregorodtsev of the Prospekt investment company suggested that the ownership of Yukos has already changed as evidenced by the new structure of shareholders at the Menatep Group, which is Yukos's chief shareholder. Tsaregorodtsev asserted that the government wants to subordinate Yukos to "one of the more loyal market subjects such as Surgutneftegaz, Rosneft, or Gazprom." JAC

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 4 May, Yevgenii Saburov, director of the Institute for Investment Issues, argued that the Russian public's hatred of oligarchs such as former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii could result in real damage to the Russian economy. Citing Nobel Prize-winning economist Gary Becker's argument that such envy can have significant economic costs, Saburov said "we will see that in the case of Khodorkovskii, [the people's] spite will [cost] billions of dollars." "The population is ready to lose this money, and we will lose it daily, as everyone can see what is happening on the stock market," he continued. Saburov likened the situation with Yukos to people's hostility toward ethnic Azeri traders. "People hate them and would rather walk a longer distance from their home in order to do their shopping than have an Azeri-run kiosk near their house," he said. JAC

Kamchatka Oblast Governor Aleksandr Mashkovtsev has begun reviewing documents in the criminal case lodged against him by the oblast prosecutor, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported on 4 May. Mashkovtsev is suspected of abuse of office by issuing resolutions in 2002 that allowed local fishermen to fish for more salmon than was set by federal-government quotas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2002). According to Mashkovtsev, he issued his orders because overcrowding of the fishing grounds might have damaged the local fish population and negatively affected the bottom line for local fishing companies. Experts, however, charge that Mashkovtsev's action caused ecological damage of more than 100 million rubles ($3.4 million). Mashkovtsev is also suspected of misuse of budgetary funds totaling 149 million rubles. JAC

Also on 4 May, the State Duma's Anticorruption Commission Chairman Vladimir Vasilev announced that the commission is going to review the closing of three local airlines in Kamchatka in September 2003 following the death of Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov, reported. According to Vasilev, three-quarters of the island's aviation companies were closed, causing damage to the local economy. Farkhutdinov was killed in an Mi-8 helicopter crash in Kamchatka last August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). According to Vasilev, one company, Kamchatka Airlines, currently dominates the local air-transportation market. JAC

The Institute for Translating the Bible has just released a translation of the gospel according to St. Luke into the Chukchi language, RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau reported on 4 May. The translation took 13 years and, according to the bureau, was difficult because some of the key biblical concepts don't have exact parallels in the language, which has only existed in written form since 1932. Philology Professor Aleksandr Volodin -- who has translated the Bible into the Itelmen language, which is similar to Chukchi -- noted that some words present particular challenges. For example, the word "angel" translated into Itelman can mean the same thing as "postman." According to the bureau, since many of the 15,000 native Chukchi in Russia do not read Chukchi, the institute also made an audiotape of the translation. JAC

Between 6,000-10,000 people braved heavy rain on 4 May to participate in a further protest rally in Yerevan, Reuters and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Police blocked roads leading to Yerevan from provincial towns in a bid to minimize attendance of the protest, the most recent in a series organized jointly by the opposition Artarutiun alliance and the National Accord Party to demand either the resignation of or a nationwide referendum of confidence in President Robert Kocharian. Addressing the rally, leading Artarutiun members announced that they will suspend further protests for 10 days to give the authorities time to meet their demands. Those demands include the release of all persons detained for their participation in the past month's protests and guaranteeing freedom of assembly and expression. Albert Bazeyan, a leading Artarutiun member, said that during the 10-day moratorium the opposition will be ready for talks with the authorities on extracting the country from crisis, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe called for such a dialogue in a resolution on Armenia adopted last week at its spring session (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2004). LF

Human Rights Watch released on 4 May a statement and briefing paper deploring what it terms the excessive use of force and mass arrests by Armenian police when dispersing demonstrators in Yerevan last month, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. It called for an end to the "cycle of repression," and especially to the use by Armenian police of stun grenades and electric-shock equipment against demonstrators. It also stressed that the Armenian authorities must address the popular discontent and resentment, stemming largely from last year's flawed presidential election, that is fuelling political tensions. LF

Parliament deputies adopted unanimously on 4 May a resolution calling on Adjar State Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze to resign, Georgian media reported. The resolution condemned Abashidze's "illegal activities" that, it alleged, are directed against Georgian statehood and the population of the autonomous republic, and which it interprets as confirmation of Abashidze's rejection of dialogue and desire for confrontation. Abashidze last week made repeated proposals to renew dialogue with Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2004). Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze said that Abashidze is either incapable of assessing the situation rationally or is deliberately exacerbating tensions, Caucasus Press reported. Speaking late on 4 May after a meeting of the National Security Council, President Mikheil Saakashvili again accused Abashidze of seeking to detach Adjaria from the rest of Georgia, the news agency reported. Saakashvili appealed to Adjar police and military personnel not to obey Abashidze's "criminal orders." Abashidze for his part reaffirmed once again on 4 May that he will never leave Adjaria and seek political asylum elsewhere, but Caucasus Press reported the next day that Abashidze's private jet is fuelled and ready for takeoff. LF

Speaking in Tbilisi on 5 May, Prosecutor General Irakli Okruashvili said Abashidze has three options: to resign as Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze did last November; to flee as did Georgian former regional Governor Levan Mamaladze, who is currently on Interpol's wanted list; or to risk the fate of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who was executed in December 1989 by an angry mob, reported. LF

Police in Batumi used violence on the morning of 4 May to disperse several thousand demonstrators who called on Abashidze to resign, Georgian news agencies reported. Up to 50 demonstrators were injured, of whom 13 were hospitalized. But the groundswell of protest increased during the day, and some 2,000-3,000 people ignored a curfew and remained encamped on the street overnight. Caucasus Press reported on 4 May that some 25 Adjar Interior Ministry officials have withdrawn their support for Abashidze and joined the demonstrators, while the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 reported on 5 May that staffers of the Adjar television station have quit their posts, and that the Georgian State Security Ministry is in contact with unnamed senior Adjar officials who are ready to defect to the side of the central Georgian government. Later on 5 May, Caucasus Press reported that a "large number" of Adjar police have sided with the demonstrators, whose number has swelled to 15,000, according to Reuters. The police have formed a live shield to protect protesters from the special-purpose troops deployed by Abashidze. LF

The French Foreign Ministry has called on the Georgian government and the Adjar leadership to resume dialogue and refrain from violence, Caucasus Press reported. At the same time, it reaffirmed France's support for Georgia's territorial integrity. LF

Ankara expressed "concern" on 4 May over the escalating tension between the central Georgian government and the Adjar leadership, at the same time affirming its faith that "the parties concerned will demonstrate common sense and restraint" in order to avoid an "undesirable" outcome, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul telephoned Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania on 4 May to discuss the situation in Adjaria, the "Turkish Daily News" reported on 5 May. Gul assured Zhvania of Turkey's willingness to help defuse tensions. LF

Kazakhstan's nine officially registered political parties signed a charter of political competition on 4 May for this fall's parliamentary elections, Kazakh Television reported the same day. The charter's signatories agree to ensure transparent, honest, and fair elections and to avoid dirty tricks. The initiative was sponsored by Maksut Narikbaev, who heads the legal-reform movement For a Law-Based Kazakhstan. "The signing of the charter marks a historic moment in the country's political development and in the emergence of civil society and a law-based state," Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted Narikbaev as saying. The nine parties that signed the charter are the Agrarian Party, Ak Zhol, Asar, Auyl, the Civic Party, the Communist Party, Otan, Ruhaniyat, and the Patriots' Party. DK

Taalaibek Osmonov, secretary-general of the Ahmadiya community's mission in Kyrgyzstan, spoke out on 4 May to protest a 5 April cabinet resolution that approved a government program to combat religious extremism in 2004-05, reported on 4 May. The resolution calls for measures to prevent the spread of extremist ideas, including those of Ahmadiya Muslims, who represent a sect that arose in the Punjab in 1889. Osmonov objected to the inclusion of the Ahmadiya community in a resolution combating extremism. "There were no questions during our registration," he said. "The National Security Service checked us out and there were no questions." Osmonov suggested that the inclusion of the Ahmadiya community in a list of organizations that disseminate extremist ideas may have taken place at the behest of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, where the Ahmadiya movement is banned as a heretical sect. DK

The Assembly of Representatives (Majlisi Namoyandagon) on 3 May passed amendments to the law on the environment, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 4 May. The assembly also ratified a decision by the CIS Council of Heads of State to amend the CIS Charter. Also on 3 May, the National Assembly (Majlisi Milli) passed a draft law on the militia, and members of the upper chamber reflected on the last four years of work in parliament. Mahkam Mahmudov complained that the media covers the upper house of parliament as though it were a sporting event. And Shermahad Shoev, the president's representative to parliament, said that the last four years show that the upper house is a necessary body. DK

Major newspapers carried feature articles on 4 May decrying the terror attacks that rocked the country on 28 March-1 April and calling for vigilance. The Russian-language "Narodnoe slovo" wrote that "the situation demands that we all be vigilant, watchful, and actively cooperate with law enforcement." Other newspapers criticized foreign coverage of the attacks. The Uzbek-language "Halq sozi" wrote: "In our opinion, the time has come to note and evaluate the actions of some individuals and foreign organizations that are allegedly 'analyzing in depth' the terrorist attacks directed against our homeland." Developing a related theme in an international context, the newspaper went on to describe the difficulties in Afghanistan and Iraq as the result of an attempt to impose a foreign culture: "It is impossible to impose by force Western life on an Eastern way of life that has developed and been refined over the centuries." All of the newspaper reports quoted Uzbek President Islam Karimov's recent address to parliament, in which he voiced similar themes. DK

The Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAZh) has said that Belarus is the last country in Europe where the state has an actual monopoly over the media, Belapan reported on 4 May. "From year to year, the Belarusian authorities increase pressure on pro-democracy publications. The very existence of the free press is under threat," BAZh said in a statement based on its monitoring of the media situation. Since the beginning of the year, Belarus's Information Ministry has suspended five privately-owned periodicals: "Zhoda," "Vechernii Stolin," "Kriminalnoe obozrenie," "Versiya," and "Detektivnaya gazeta." "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," "Den," and "Salidarnasts" have been unable to sign contracts with printing houses in Belarus and are printed in Russia. BAZh added that the state postal service, Belposhta, and retail press distributor Belsayuzdruk refused to distribute "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" and other publications. According to BAZh, authorities have applied a new method of economic pressure on the private press by charging selected periodicals -- through the state-controlled news agency BELTA -- more than 5 million Belarusian rubles ($2,500) per month for television programming schedules. JM

Leonid Kuchma has congratulated the leaders of Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia on joining the EU, Interfax reported on 4 May, quoting the presidential press service. "Ukraine has always welcomed the process of EU enlargement as a logical and inseparable component of [the policy of] strengthening common European values [and] expanding the area of stability, security, prosperity, and democracy on the European continent," Kuchma said in a congratulatory telegram. "At the same time, we are convinced that the large-scale project named 'United Europe' that is being implemented today will not acquire a logical completion without Ukraine." JM

EU President Romano Prodi has said there are no prospects for the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Belarus to become EU members, the "Financial Times" reported on 3 May. According to Prodi, who steps down in October, the EU would likely be complete after admitting the three outstanding applicants -- Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey -- and the countries of the western Balkans, including Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro. Instead of offering EU membership to other countries, Prodi predicted the creation of a "ring of friends" for Europe -- a zone of cooperation stretching from the Baltic Sea through the Middle East to North Africa. JM

The Croatian government on 3 May presented the United Nations with a document ratifying the 2001 succession treaty of the five states that emerged from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Croatia was the last successor country to ratify the treaty, which regulates the distribution of rights, duties, property, and debts among the successor states of the SFRJ. The treaty is to go into effect in 30 days. UB

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers said during his visit to the Orao airbase near Tuzla on 4 May that the United States will continue its engagement for peace in Bosnia within the framework of NATO after the future EU-led peacekeeping mission replaces the current NATO-led SFOR troops by the end of this year, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 April and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 5 March 2004). General Myers also reiterated calls for the arrest of the fugitive former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his military chief Ratko Mladic. UB

More than 100 experts and activists of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) met in Sarajevo on 3 May for a three-day conference, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. ICBL head Jody Williams said in a press release that while much has been achieved in mine-clearing efforts in Bosnia, more must be done. She called on donor governments to support efforts to clear that country of the "lethal barriers to development and reconstruction." UB

In response to Serbia and Montenegro Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic's recent statement that Serbian forces were responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians, Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic told the Podgorica daily "Publika" that Kosovar Serbs were the main victims of ethnic cleansings carried out by Albanians, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 4 May. Davinic stressed that he condemns all ethnic cleansings, but underscored that he was an eyewitness of the expulsion of Serbs from Kosova, as he spent the first three months of 1999 in Prishtina. UB

"Vreme" on 4 May cited a spokeswoman of the Interior Ministry Police forces as saying that police unsuccessfully attempted to arrest former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who is charged with complicity in the killing of six Pakistani and one Indian immigrants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2004). However, Boskovski's legal team said the former minister was arrested early on 4 May. The lawyers claimed that police took Boskovski to a secret location and denied them access to their client. UB

In a 3 May press release, the U.S. State Department congratulated the winner of Macedonia's presidential elections, Branko Crvenkovski, and applauded the Macedonian citizens for their commitment to democracy in "challenging circumstances following the tragic death of President Boris Trajkovski" on 26 February. The State Department called on Crvenkovski "to continue in the path of stability and progress set by Boris Trajkovski through abiding commitments to strengthening interethnic relations and advancing Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic integration." The U.S. also "[encourages] President-elect Crvenkovski in his new capacity as president to uphold as priorities the completion of Framework Agreement implementation and the reforms necessary to bring Macedonia closer to NATO and EU membership." Meanwhile, French President Jacques Chirac expressed his hope that French-Macedonian relations will deepen, and pledged to support Macedonia's aspirations for EU membership, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. UB

President Ion Iliescu on 4 May said rehabilitated communist master spy Ion Mihai Pacepa will probably regain his military rank of lieutenant general, Mediafax reported. In 1999, the Supreme Court annulled a death sentence handed down to Pacepa in August 1978 after the former chief of the Securitate's foreign-intelligence department defected to the United States. The Supreme Court also ruled that Pacepa's military rank be restored and confiscated assets be returned to him. Iliescu stressed that the presidency has no jurisdiction over the issue, but said he has discussed the issue with the institutions involved in implementing the court's decision. Iliescu previously dismissed the possibility of restoring Pacepa's military rank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 January 2004). ZsM

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on 4 May released a report that deplores the conditions in Romania's psychiatric hospitals, in which at least 18 people have died this year, Reuters and Romanian media reported. The report states that Romanian authorities have denied individuals the right to a fair trial by forcing them into psychiatric care or placing them in hospitals on non-medical grounds. Amnesty International Secretary-General Irene Khan said the organization is appealing to the Romanian government "to act with utmost urgency to protect the lives, dignity, and well-being of all patients and residents in psychiatric hospitals in the entire country." The nongovernmental organization urged the European Union to provide Romania with funding to reform its mental-health services. A Romanian government press release the same day admitted to certain shortcomings in the country's psychiatric-health system, but said some of the information presented in the Amnesty International report is inaccurate. ZsM

With their respective accessions to the European Union on 1 May and to NATO in late March, the Baltic states have achieved their two most important foreign-policy goals since regaining independence.

NATO is seen as an ironclad guarantee of national independence, no small matter for countries that have spent most of the past two centuries under foreign rule. EU membership is considered to be the key to future economic prosperity, setting conditions for a level of personal welfare for their citizens that would otherwise be hardly attainable. Equally important, membership is public recognition at the highest level of the European identity of the Baltic states, a central aspect of the national identities of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Although assertive of their being as much a part of Europe as, say, France or Sweden, the people of the Baltic states have also feared, particularly during the years of Soviet occupation, that Western Europeans might forget or minimize this tie. Their presence in the first wave of postcommunist countries to join the EU is thus deeply satisfying and reassuring.

The effort to rejoin Europe has been a driving force in Baltic foreign policy since the fall of communism, even when membership in the EU and NATO seemed a very distant goal. Most Balts felt little kinship with Russia and the other former Soviet republics that joined the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and politicians who argued that the possibility of informal ties with the CIS should be considered were rebuffed. By 1992, the initiatives of Baltic diplomacy bore their first fruit with the signing of separate trade and economic-cooperation treaties with Western European states. In 1994, all three countries signed free-trade agreements with the EU and further intensified European-integration efforts. Another important step was the June 1995 signing in Luxembourg of the so-called European agreements, granting them the status of EU associate members. The Baltic states also submitted applications to become full members of the union.

Satisfying the stringent criteria for EU membership was no easy task for any state of the former Eastern bloc. For the Baltic states, it was arguably harder. Their incorporation into the USSR not only meant that they lacked the most basic elements of sovereignty while being burdened by lower standards of living and wages, but also that their economies and judiciaries were merely subdivisions of the Soviet whole. Many of the most important institutions -- such as the central bank, diplomatic corps, trade representatives, and the judiciary -- had to be created from nothing. The cutting of the umbilical cord to the USSR was an extremely complicated task and one that had to be performed during a severe economic recession.

When the EU began to evaluate the candidate states in 1997 it noted considerable differences in their development and abilities to make necessary reforms. In July of the same year, the European Commission decided to recommend that only six candidate states, including Estonia, be invited to begin EU-accession talks. The actual negotiations on admission, dealing with a broad range of topics in 29 areas, were only begun in 1998. The main deficiency of the other candidate states was their inability to establish a functioning market economy that could have liberalized prices and trade, along with the lack of an enforceable legal system with property rights. EU reports on the candidate states in 1997 stated that some -- including Latvia and Lithuania -- were capable of passing the EU political criteria for accession set in Copenhagen in June 1993, namely that they achieve "stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities."

In the following several years, Latvia and Lithuania embarked on a series of economic reforms that stabilized their economies, attracting substantial direct foreign investment. By February 2002, the EU decided that both had made substantial progress and were ready to begin accession negotiations. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were among the 10 states that completed their accession negotiations in December 2002, and each officially signed an EU Accession Treaty in April 2003.

The Baltics then held the referendums on EU membership. Lithuanians voted by an overwhelming 91.07 percent in favor of membership, while Estonians and Latvians voted 64.1 percent and 67 percent, respectively, for membership.

Russia never disguised its deep dissatisfaction with the Baltic states' NATO membership, stating more than once that it would be forced to take strong measures to counter the growth of foreign forces on its borders. Its comments on Baltic membership in the EU were more moderate, recognizing the right of the three states to pursue closer ties with whichever states they wished. However, Moscow intensified its campaign against what it described as the mistreatment of Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia, while protesting that the Kaliningrad exclave must not be left isolated from Russia after Lithuania joined the EU. Intense negotiations on the latter issue led to a compromise solution among the EU, Lithuania, and Russia. Moscow never eased its verbal attacks on Latvia and Estonia. The Kremlin made a final show of its displeasure when it demurred on an EU request that Russia assent to the inclusion of the new members in the EU-Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement immediately upon entry on 1 May. Russia responded by presenting 14 points it demanded in exchange for its agreement. Twelve of the points dealt with economic matters and were quickly resolved, but two concerned political matters: transit to and from the Kaliningrad Oblast through Lithuania, and the rights of the Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia. When the EU stood firm, the Russian-minorities issue was watered down.

There is perhaps fitting irony to the failure of Moscow's last effort to derail the EU's expansion. Russia's objections were somewhat perfunctory -- Moscow knew that it would have to approve the extension of the agreement. But the fact that Russia was not entirely successful in raising the minority issue must have pleased the Baltic states for at least two reasons. It reaffirmed their acceptance by and integration into the EU; and it showed that they are now members of an organization that is dominant in Europe and cannot be cowed.

The U.S. military announced on 4 May that the inquiry into the December 2002 deaths of two Afghan prisoners being held at Bagram Air Base is progressing slowly, AP reported. U.S. authorities said the investigation has resulted in protocol changes at the detention facility. Because of the alleged prisoner abuse by U.S. troops in Iraq, questions have again emerged about the progress of the Afghan inquiry as well as that of other alleged prisoner abuse reports in Afghanistan. Military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Michele DeWerth told AP: "The investigation is ongoing the complexities associated with gathering evidence and interviewing persons who might have had access to the facility." DeWerth added that "We treat detainees humanely and consistent with the conditions under customary international law for humane treatment." In both cases at Bagram, U.S. military coroners determined that "blunt force injuries" had caused the two "homicide" deaths. KM

Joining the United States in its criticism of Pakistan's amnesty offer to Al-Qaeda and neo-Taliban militants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2004), Afghan Transitional Administration spokesman Jawed Ludin said it is necessary to continue fighting the insurgents "to clear the area of terrorist elements," AP reported on 4 May. "We are concerned about being soft on terrorists," said Ludin. "They rather require a tougher treatment from us, from the government of Pakistan, from our partners in the coalition." Pakistan offered amnesty to militants, including hundreds of foreign fighters, if they renounced violence and registered with authorities. On 1 May, the government of Pakistan extended its 30 April registration deadline by one week. Thus far no foreign fighters have publicly accepted the amnesty, according to AP. In March, Afghan and U.S. authorities commended Pakistan's moves to crack down on militants in southern Waziristan in March. KM

The bodies of 10 Afghan soldiers were discovered in Afghanistan on 4 May, AP and AFP reported. The governor of Zabul Province, Khial Mohammed Husini, said the bodies of five soldiers from the newly formed Afghan National Army who were kidnapped by suspected neo-Taliban forces on 3 May were discovered the next day. The soldiers were reportedly attacked on the road between the provincial capital Qalat and the army headquarters in the Shahjoy District of northern Zabul, according to AFP. The same day, five Afghan militia soldiers who were reportedly killed by neo-Taliban attackers at a local government office just after midnight were found dead in northern Kandahar Province near the border with Zabul, according to provincial military spokesperson General Abdul Wasay. Wasay also stated that suspected neo-Taliban insurgents were arrested on 3 May when they attempted to attack a government office in Zabul's Mizan District. Authorities also reported that "dozens" of others had been arrested in recent days. KM

Assisting the development of the new Afghan army is a priority for the Russian Federation, Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said during a meeting with Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah in Moscow on 4 May, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. In the past two years, stated Yakovenko, Russia has contributed approximately $78 million in military supplies and training. Russia also wishes to increase cooperation with Afghanistan in the energy field. "Moscow is ready to take an active part in the development of fields in north Afghanistan and enlarge natural gas deliveries to thermal power plants," said Yakovenko. Russia has recently demanded that Afghanistan repay millions of dollars in debt that it allegedly incurred during the Soviet Union's occupation of the country. "The legacy of Soviet-Afghan relations -- Afghanistan's large debt -- is a definite obstacle to our economic relations," said Yakovenko, Interfax reported on 4 May. But, he noted, "We are ready to settle the problem of debts." KM

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 4 May in Brussels that the United States has only itself to blame for Arab "extremism," and he urged greater European involvement in resolving Mideast conflicts, IRNA reported. "America's blind support" for the Israelis "is the real reason for extremism and hatred of America in the Islamic world," he said. The meeting of the Middle East "Quartet" -- the UN, the U.S., Russia, and the EU -- in New York on 4 May, "is a waste of time," he said. "While America continues to support [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's policies, meetings like [the Quartet meeting] or other such initiatives will lead nowhere." The solution to the Mideast conflict, he added, "is to give the Palestinian people their rights." He also urged the EU to help stop "human rights violations by America" in Iraq, IRNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 4 May 2004). VS

Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, and Christopher Patten, its external affairs commissioner, told Kharrazi in Brussels on 3 May that Iran must not only allow thorough checks of its nuclear program but also implement political reforms, improve human rights, and stop supporting terrorists before any EU-Iran trade talks, reported on 4 May. But Kharrazi said in Brussels on 4 May that Iran "will not accept any preconditions," to EU ties, ISNA reported that day. "We have clearly stated that we do not intend to exert pressure to gain any agreement" for such relations. "Both sides need each other and each side has its interests, and an agreement will work if it is bilateral." He said he had informed EU officials of Iran's "expectations" on the nuclear dossier (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004), and, "we believe that we must work together to reach a positive result at the [International Atomic Energy Agency] board of governors," ISNA reported. VS

Hashem Aghajari, an outspoken critic of Iran's clergy who was sentenced to death in 2002, reprieved, and then reportedly sentenced to death again on 3 May for "apostasy," will not appeal that sentence, news agencies reported on 4 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2004). But reports that his death sentence was reimposed have been rejected as untrue by the judiciary. Abdulreza Izadpanah, the deputy judiciary chief for social affairs, said it is "amazing" that such reports could arise from an undated fax sent on 3 May to Salih Nikbakht, Aghajari's lawyer, IRNA reported the same day. The fax was sent to Nikbakht by the coroner's office in Hamedan, where the sentence was first issued, IRNA added. Aghajari's wife, Zahra Behnudi, told IRNA on 4 May that it was "very ambiguous" but confirmed that "Aghajari has stressed that...he will not appeal [a confirmed death sentence]." She said that "On the one hand the judiciary mentions progressive laws and regulations, and on the other...a death sentence is confirmed against a university professor for merely expressing his personal opinions." VS

Iran's parliament approved the 2005-10 development plan and sent it on 2 May to the Guardians Council, which reviews bills for constitutional or religious discrepancies before they become law, ISNA and BBC reported on 4 May. The plan would boost economic growth by downsizing the state sector, promoting investment, cutting fuel subsidies, and letting foreign banks open branches in Iran, the BBC reported on 4 May. Conservatives have criticized the chamber's hasty approval of the bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2004). Reza Zavarei, a Guardians Council member, said on 4 May that it "is one of the miracles of the sixth parliament that it ratified the [plan] in six days." The council will rule on the bill between 10 and 20 days following its ratification, ISNA reported on 4 May. Parliament has also approved a bill on the safeguarding of prisoners' rights, Middle East Online reported on 4 May, citing Iranian state radio (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 3 May 2004). VS

A spokesman for radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr told Al-Jazeera television in a 4 May interview that U.S. forces are "trying to escalate [the] military situation" with al-Sadr forces in and around the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf, where the cleric has been holed up for some five weeks. "What was noticed in the past two days in the holy cities of Al-Najaf, Al-Kufah, and Karbala is that the occupation forces are heading to escalation," Sheikh Ahmad al-Shaybani said. Coalition forces clashed with al-Sadr militiamen in Al-Najaf on 4 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2004) and in Karbala on 5 May. At least three militiamen were killed in the latest fighting, Reuters reported. Al-Sadr is wanted on an Iraqi arrest warrant for the 10 April 2003 killing of Iraqi Shi'ite Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). KR

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) newspaper "Al-Ta'akhi" reported on 4 May that a committee has been formed to collect heavy weapons from al-Sadr militiamen in Al-Najaf, particularly weapons being stored at holy sites. Meanwhile, senior Shi'ite clerics in Al-Najaf have reportedly called on al-Sadr and his followers to abandon their positions in Al-Najaf and Karbala, reported on 5 May. The Washington daily reported that a 21-member committee composed of Shi'ite tribal, religious, and political figures is trying to broker a deal that would allow the cleric to leave Al-Najaf. Al-Sadr's aides have dismissed the committee's proposal, which was also not approved by the United States. Al-Sadr and his followers "do not occupy the holy shrines in the holy cities," said Qais Hazaali, an al-Sadr spokesman in Al-Najaf. "Any calls issued by the Governing Council, or any members of the Governing Council, do not represent Iraqis. They represent the occupation forces," he added. Some Shi'ite Governing Council members sit on the 21-member committee. KR

Jabar al-Jabari, the undersecretary of Iraq's Culture Ministry, was kidnapped in Al-Najaf on 4 May, KUNA reported. A source at the ministry said al-Jabari was abducted by members of an unidentified militant Islamic group opposed to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), to which al-Jabari belongs. KR

The Justice Ministry has called for an independent inquiry into allegations of prisoner abuse at the hands of U.S. and U.K. military personnel in Iraq, "Al-Sabah" newspaper reported on 4 May. The ministry also demanded that control over the prison system be transferred to the Directorate of Reform, and that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Red Crescent be allowed to visit prisons and conduct their own inquiries. KUNA reported on 4 May that the Iraqi Governing Council has sent an investigative team to the Abu Ghurayb prison west of Baghdad to investigate the allegations. The council also demanded in a statement that the Justice, human rights, and Interior ministries be allowed to visit Iraqi prisons on a continuing basis to ensure that prisoners are being treated fairly. KR

Water Resources Minister Abd al-Latif Jamal Rashid told the British daily "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" of 4 May that Iraq is undertaking a series of projects to revitalize its water system after years of neglect under the Hussein regime. Rashid said that a major project is under way to restore some 80 percent of Iraq's marshlands within three years. "This year we had a good rate of rainwater and surplus water, which we diverted to the marshlands. This water covered more than 50 percent of the area of marshlands," Rashid said, adding that "this rate may fall in summer." The ministry is also looking into a number of regional and international agreements on water sharing. While no agreements exist between Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria on a fixed share of water from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, all of Iraq's neighbors have diverted water from the rivers for their own use. "In the past, the volume of water that used to flow into Iraq totaled 27 billion cubic meters. This volume represents Iraq's legal share of water" from the two rivers," Rashid said. "Now around 11 billion cubic meters of water, or one-third [of the previous amount], flows into Iraq." KR