Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - May 10, 2004

Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov was one of six people killed on 9 May by a bomb blast at a Grozny stadium during celebrations to mark Victory Day, the anniversary of the end in 1945 of World War II. Khussein Isaev, the chairman of Chechnya's interim legislature, also died, as did a Chechen journalist working for Reuters and two of Kadyrov's bodyguards. Colonel General Valerii Baranov, commander of the joint federal forces in Chechnya, was severely injured. The 40 people injured in the explosion included many members of the Chechen leadership, among them Prime Minister Sergei Abramov, whom President Vladimir Putin named later on 9 May to serve as Chechen leader pending new elections. Meeting with Kadyrov's son Ramzan, Putin praised the former mufti, whom he named as interim leader four years ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2000), as "a real hero" who tried to protect his republic and people and restore peace, Interfax reported. Putin also told Radio Mayak that terrorists and "those we are fighting today" face inevitable retribution. Kadyrov, who was born in 1951 in Kazakhstan and aligned himself with the Chechen resistance during the 1994-96 war, had survived a dozen earlier assassination attempts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 1999, 2 May 2000, 30 June and 8 November 2001, 25 June 2002, and 4 March and 15 May 2003). LF

Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Mikhail Pankov was named on 9 May to head the United Forces Group in the North Caucasus in place of injured Colonel General Baranov, Russian media reported. Also on 9 May, the Interior Ministry announced that Deputy Minister Army General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov has been appointed to head the commission investigating the explosion, and NTV reported. VY

Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman Ruslan Atsaev told Interfax on 9 May that five people have been detained for their suspected involvement in the Grozny bombing. Chechen Nationalities Affairs Minister Taus Dzhabrailov told Interfax on 9 May that he believes radical field commander Shamil Basaev and Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997, were responsible for the blast. Interfax also quoted an unnamed Chechen law enforcement official as saying that a preliminary analysis suggests that Basaev was behind the bombing. In an interview with a Polish journalist circulated by on 8 April, Maskhadov said that Basaev has "distanced himself somewhat" from the Chechen military command. LF

In a statement carried by on 10 May, President Maskahadov condemned the Grozny bombing as an inexcusable act of terrorism and expressed condolences to the families of its innocent victims. He said there are grounds to suspect that the bomb was planted by Russian security in order to get rid of a Chechen leadership that had created a situation that precluded talks on a peaceful settlement of the ongoing conflict. Maskhadov reaffirmed his commitment to "a real civilized political dialogue" adding, however, that peace between Russia and Chechnya is impossible without pressure from the international community. LF

Army General Nikolai Kovalev, head of the Duma Veterans Affairs Committee and a former director of the Federal Security Service, said "traitors" within Kadyrov's entourage share the responsibility for his death, according to Echo Moskvy on 9 May. Kovalev pointed out that prior to such events, the venue is guarded round the clock and regularly checked beforehand by security personnel with sniffer dogs, but in this instance this was not done, either due to negligence on the part of those in charge of Kadyrov's security or because they personally were directly involved in the planned assassination. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov also argued in Moscow on 9 May that an explosion in such a well-protected location is only possible as a result of incompetence or connivance on the part of security officials, reported NTV. Meanwhile, acting Chechnya Interior Minister Alu Alkhanov said on 9 May that the explosive device was sealed into the concrete wall of the VIP terrace during the reconstruction of the stadium on the eve of the parade. VY

First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) said on 9 May that she will recommend that Putin introduce direct central presidential rule over Chechnya and in neighboring regions, reported. She added that she believes the death penalty should be reintroduced for crimes linked with terrorism. The leader of the Motherland Duma faction, Dmitrii Rogozin, characterized the death of Kadyrov as "a serious blow to stabilization in North Caucasus." He said that he supports the idea of direct presidential rule in Chechnya as well as "sending there a special envoy who will have complete military and civil power." Deputy Duma speaker and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Chairman Vladimir Zhirinovskii said that Putin should appoint an ethnic Russian to take Kadyrov's place, as "Chechens will hate him less than a person originating from their own environment [who serves Moscow interests.]" Zhirinovskii also suggested that self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii might have played a role in Kadyrov's murder. VY

Speaking from London, Berezovskii said that the killing of Kadyrov testifies to the defeat of the policy that Putin has implemented in Chechnya since 1999, and demonstrates Putin's complete misunderstanding of developments in Chechnya, reported. Berezovskii added that a military solution to the Chechen conflict is impossible, but that the potential exists for a political settlement, which Russia will have to begin sooner or later. Former presidential candidate Irina Khakamada offered two explanations for Kadyrov's assassination: first, his power was illegitimate; and second, there was no political dialogue involving all the sides in the conflict. VY

President Putin said during his 9 May address to veterans and military personnel participating in the annual Victory Day parade on Red Square that "even today we have no right to close our eyes to the fact the Nazi swastika and ideas of fascism are still walking the planet," RTR and ORT reported. Putin said in his speech, which came before news of the bombing in Chechnya had surfaced, that "a new enemy, no less important" has emerged -- international terrorism. "Like [fascism], it brings death and devastation. The task of the whole world community is to repulse terrorists as they deserve, and to relieve the world of this plague." ORT commented that only veterans of the Afghan and Chechen campaigns and not of World War II took part in this year's ceremony on Red Square. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said the armed forces remain the "guarantor of the realization of foreign policy, " Interfax reported on 9 May. VY

Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist) said at a 9 May meeting of leftist oppositionists on the occasion of Victory Day that Putin's only real achievement during his first term was the growth in the number of dollar billionaires, NTV reported. He said that when Putin's presidency began Russia had only four such billionaires, while it now has 25. Ilyukhin, who is widely believed to have close links with state-security organs, went on to say: "And now I would like to ask you as one Chekist to another -- whom do you serve, Vladimir Vladimirovich?" VY

Valerii Kraev, first deputy director of the Justice Ministry's Corrections Department, told reporters in Moscow on 7 May that "some so-called human rights groups have been given financial support from criminal groups" and these groups were behind recent disturbances, such as hunger strikes, in prisons in Irkutsk and Chelyabinsk oblasts, Interfax reported. Prisoners went on hunger strikes in both regions last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2004). Kraev added that "some oligarchs, including Boris Berezovskii, have also played a role in the recent events." According to Kraev, among the 163 organizations involved in "provocative activities" are For Human Rights, which is led by Lev Ponomarev. Responding to Kraev's statement, Ponomarev announced that he "will certainly sue him and press not only for moral damages but also to have him removed from office." He added, "I cannot figure out why such statements are being made, unless the goal is to whitewash oneself or to cover up crimes being committed in the prison system. JAC

Nikolai Anfimov, director of the Russian Engineering Institute, told "Argumenty i fakty," No. 18, that the protection of state secrets remains a major topic in modern Russia. Commenting on the 15-year prison sentence handed down to political analyst Igor Sutyagin on charges he was spying for the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004), Anfimov said that during the Soviet era the protection of state secrets was stricter than it is today. Asked whether there is a risk that prominent Russians scientists living abroad might disclose state secrets, Anfimov said it depends on each particular case. As an example he said he personally dislikes former Space Research Institute Director Roald Sagdeev, who resides in the United States, but that he could not say he is a traitor as Sagdeev worked in an open-research area. However, he said the case of Sergei Khrushchev, who is the son of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and is a naturalized U.S. citizen, is an entirely different matter, claiming that Khrushchev shared classified information he gained while working on the Soviet-era military space station "Almaz" and, worse, on top-secret missiles for the Soviet Navy. VY

Commenting on Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov's recent proposal to change the system by which State Duma deputies are elected, "Kommersant-Daily" noted on 7 May that the party of power has effectively reversed its position since the mid-1990s. Veshnyakov suggested that legislators be elected entirely from party lists rather than one half by party lists and the second half by single-mandate districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2004). According to the daily, in the mid-1990s, there was a multitude of small political organizations in Russia effectively not controlled by the Kremlin and the parties of power were posting depressing results. At that time, the Kremlin favored switching to an election system entirely based on single-mandate districts. More recently, "the Kremlin has strengthened its influence over 'alien' parties, effectively taking control of the entire process of party development in the country." JAC

Speaking to "Gazeta" on 7 May, Aleksei Makarkin of the Center for Political Technology concluded that the Kremlin no longer needs lawmakers from single-mandate districts. According to Makarkin, their lobbying potential was once used to balance the opposition, but the "Communist Party is less influential now and the democratic parties have been defeated." JAC

For the first time in the last four months, a net outflow of investment in Russia and Eastern Europe has been recorded, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 7 May, citing Bloomberg. As of the week ending on 28 April, the outflow of capital from individual and institutional investors reached $104.5 million. According to the daily, investors are concerned about the uncertainty of the situation connected with embattled oil giant Yukos and China's intention to limit the growth of its overheated economy. Last month, a group of Western banks warned Yukos that it is in danger of defaulting on a $1 billion loan package (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2004). JAC

On the professional holiday for radio workers on 7 May, ROMIR published results of a survey of Russians' listening and viewing habits. In a survey of 1,600 respondents who are 18 years or older, the agency found that respondents spend 27 hours a week watching television compared with 14 hours listening to the radio. Respondents spend 12 hours sitting at their computer versus 10 hours a week reading books, magazines, or newspapers. Of the national radio stations, Mayak was the most popular with 40 percent of respondents saying that they tune in. Radio Rossii and Evropa Plus were tied for second place. JAC

"Gazeta" reported on 7 May that Russian commercial radio stations are increasingly turning to an all-music format. Retro-MF General Producer Vladimir Ivanenko told the newspaper that "in terms of the music format 'the attack of the clones' has begun: radio stations copy one another because that is the easiest way to make money." Sergei Buntman, first deputy editor in chief for Ekho Moskvy, said that if Ekho Moskvy and Arsenal "crash," then only the international broadcasters, such as BBC, Radio Liberty and Deutsche Welle will be left with a nonmusic format. The daily concluded that "investors' interest in creating an independent public-political radio station was essentially destroyed following the recent events at NTV and STS." JAC

Deputy Transportation and Communications Minister Leonid Reyman said on 7 May that his ministry is predicting that the number of mobile-telephone users will reach 55 million-60 million this year from the current level of 36 million, ITAR-TASS reported. According to Reyman, the number of mobile phones is already higher than the number of fixed-line phones. Reyman attributed the phones' increasing popularity to the steady rise in people's income and the convenience of service. A survey conducted by ROMIR in March of 1,600 respondents found that one in four adults has a mobile phone. According to the survey, more than one-quarter of current mobile-phone users obtained their phone within the past six months. JAC

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has dismissed Mikhail Alekseev and Andrei Beskorovainii from their posts as deputy media ministers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 May. He also fired Sergei Fedorov from his post as deputy energy minister. Fradkov did not specify any new positions for the dismissed deputies. JAC

Ashot Kocharian, who is press secretary but no relation to Armenian President Robert Kocharian, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 7 May that the president welcomes the planned resumption of talks between opposition parties and the three-party government coalition aimed at defusing political tensions. The spokesman added, however, that the president will not participate personally in any such talks as the opposition has demanded. A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Andranik Markarian likewise told RFE/RL that Markarian "sees dialogue as the only way out of the situation, provided the opposition does not deliberately set unacceptable preconditions." During talks on 6 May, the two sides had agreed on a 32-point agenda for further talks that was to have been made public on 7 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2004). One of those points was reportedly the holding of a nationwide referendum of confidence in President Kocharian. LF

Mikheil Saakashvili told journalists at Batumi airport on 10 May prior to his return to Tbilisi that elections for a new Adjar parliament will take place on 20 June, Caucasus Press reported. The outgoing parliament was dissolved last week after it voted to abolish the post of head of the Adjar Republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2004). Meanwhile, the 19-man Interim Council named by Saakashvili to administer the republic until new elections are held met in Batumi late on 6 May and again on 8 May. Levan Varshalomidze, whom Saakashvili named as his representative in Adjaria, told the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 8 May that proposals to abolish Adjaria's autonomous status within Georgia are "destructive," Interfax reported. But he added that in future there will be a clear division of power between the central and the regional government, with republican law enforcement bodies and the Prosecutor-General's Office directly subordinate to the central government. LF

At least five senior Adjar officials have been arrested since the resignation and departure for Moscow on 5 May of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze. Murad Tsintsadze and his son Merab, both of them senior Interior Ministry personnel, were detained in Batumi on 8 May, Caucasus Press reported, as was Kobuleti Governor Tariel Khalvashi, the man responsible for barring Saakashvili from entering Adjaria in mid-March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March 2004). Khalvashi has been charged with persecuting the opposition to Abashidze and illegally distributing weapons to the population. Roland Beridze, who headed the personal security guards of Abashidze's son, former Batumi Mayor Giorgi Abashidze, has also been arrested, according to Caucasus Press on 8 May. Interfax on 9 May reported the detention of former Adjar Security Minister Giorgi Kupreishvili. LF

Nurtay Abikaev, the speaker of Kazakhstan's Senate, or upper house of parliament, ended his first official visit to the United States on 7 May, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. A 7 May press release by the Kazakh Embassy in Washington, D.C., described the visit as intended "to give a new impulse to cooperation between the legislatures and to energize relations between Kazakhstan and the United States." Abikaev met with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard Lugar and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Abikaev also held several meetings with representatives of various religious and nongovernmental organizations. Senator Lugar had kind words for Kazakhstan's efforts on the interfaith front, saying, "We view [these efforts] as an important addition to the country's contribution to nuclear disarmament and global security, and we believe in the success of this endeavor." DK

President Askar Akaev vowed on 7 May to take "real steps" to combat corruption in Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyz Television reported the same day. The remarks came in the course of an address to the Consultative Council for Fair Management, an administrative-reform body. Akaev noted that widespread corruption, redundant functions in government, and irrational spending are sapping the state's administrative efficiency. The president promised "to set up a transparent, fair, and compact state administrative system in Kyrgyzstan in the future." Council members stressed that everyday corruption, mainly in the form of bribes paid to low-level officials, has a deleterious effect on state interests. Akaev underscored the importance of "practical measures," citing the examples of a nationwide test system for officials and preshipment inspections in the customs service. DK

President Akaev signed a law on 7 May that amends the country's Election Code, Kyrgyzinfo reported the same day. The amended law introduces new limits on spending for parliamentary election campaigns. Candidates, political parties, and election blocs had been allowed to spend up to $45,000 on a campaign; now, they will be limited to $11,000. The news agency also quoted a Central Election Commission official as saying that presidential elections will likely be held on 30 October 2005, although the date must be confirmed by parliament. DK

The Health Ministry announced on 7 May that it has registered 543 individuals with HIV/AIDS in Kyrgyzstan as of 1 May, a sharp increase from the 53 HIV/AIDS cases in 1987-2000, Kabar news agency reported. Moreover, experts believe that the actual number of HIV/AIDS cases could be "dozens" of times higher. According to the ministry, 82 percent of the HIV/AIDS cases were among intravenous drug users, and more than half of those infected are between the ages of 20 and 29. In March, a World Bank official warned that unless Central Asian governments take immediate efforts to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS, the region could face a devastating epidemic within the next 10 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 March 2004). DK

President Imomali Rakhmonov introduced a bill into the lower house of parliament on 7 May to impose a moratorium on the death penalty, ITAR-TASS reported. Rakhmonov had originally proposed the moratorium in his 30 April address to the nation. A source in the presidential press service told the news agency, "The individual's rights and freedoms are supreme, inviolable values, and the right to one's life has a special place among them." DK

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) delivered Valijon and Fahmiddin Sodirov into the custody of Tajik authorities on 7 May, ITAR-TASS reported. The two were arrested in Russia on an international warrant. Tajik officials want to try the brothers for terrorist activities and crimes they are alleged to have committed in Tajikistan during and after the 1992-97 civil war. RIA-Novosti quoted an FSB spokesman as saying, "The Sodirov brothers underwent religious training at a madrasah in Iran and military training in mujahedin camps in Afghanistan." According to the FSB, Fahmiddin Sodirov admitted to participation in "illegal armed formations" and military actions on Tajik territory, Interfax reported on 7 May. Rezvon Sodirov, a third brother, was a warlord and gang leader in Tajikistan who was killed in the late 1990s. DK

Alyaksandr Lukashenka led a march of several thousand World War II veterans in Minsk on 9 May to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the USSR's victory over Nazi Germany, Belapan reported. Lukashenka was accompanied by high-ranking government officials and his younger son Dzmitry, who currently serves in the military. "This is the only event at which we make a family public appearance because this is one of our favorite holidays," Lukashenka said. "No other country in the world saw such mass resistance to the Nazi aggression [as Belarus]," Lukashenka said in his subsequent speech to the crowd. "Time can erase many things, but we have no right to forget the historic feat of the Soviet people who saved the planet from Nazism." JM

The United Civic Party (AHP) held a congress in Minsk on 8 May at which it re-elected Chairman Anatol Lyabedzka, who has led the party for the past four years. The AHP is a component of the opposition Popular Coalition Five Plus. Lyabedzka told the congress that the party's primary goal is to field Coalition Five Plus representatives to challenge pro-government candidates in the parliamentary election in October. Lyabedzka said that following the legislative election the AHP will work toward selecting a single opposition candidate for the post of president in 2006. The congress rejected a proposal to back former AHP member Andrey Klimau as a potential presidential candidate. Klimau, who spent four years in prison in 1998-2002 on what were widely believed to be politically motivated charges, announced his presidential bid in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 February 2004). JM

Relatives of missing politicians Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, Anatol Krasouski and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski staged a demonstration in Minsk on 7 May to commemorate the 5th anniversary of Zakharanka's disappearance, Belapan reported. Some 200 people lined Minsk's main thoroughfare holding pictures of the missing men. Although the rally was unauthorized, police did not interfere. But in Navapolatsk, Vitsebsk Oblast, police arrested nine persons taking part in a similar demonstration, including writer and RFE/RL local correspondent Vintses Mudrou. JM

A parade of veterans and a solemn rally were held in Kyiv on 9 May to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, Ukrainian media reported. Addressing the rally, President Leonid Kuchma said Europe should not forget that Ukraine paid a price of 8 million lives for liberating Europe from fascism, Interfax reported. Traditionally on Victory Day, Kuchma visits the grave of his father in Novgorod Oblast, Russia. His father died there as a Soviet soldier in 1942. Similar gatherings also took place in other Ukrainian cities, including a 130,000-strong rally in Dnipropetrovsk. JM

Shells continue to explode -- at a rate of one per hour -- for the fourth consecutive day at an artillery ammunition depot in the village of Novobohdanivka, Zaporizhzhya Oblast, which was the site of a powerful blast on 6 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2004), UNIAN reported on 10 May, quoting official sources. A heavy rain on 8 May has reportedly helped rescuers localize the fire at the depot and reduced the threat of another major blast. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office has instituted criminal proceedings against unidentified Defense Ministry officials, charging them with professional negligence that led to the blast in Novobohdanivka. Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk said on 8 May that explosions are possible at Ukraine's other depots of artillery ammunition, as they are overflowing, Interfax reported. JM

The U.S. Treasury Department said in a 6 May press release that it has ordered a freeze of the assets of three Islamic charities in Bosnia: Al-Furgan, Al-Haramain and Al-Masjed Al-Aqsa Charity Foundation, and the Bosnian branch of Taibah International. "The U.S. is asking the United Nations' 1267 Sanctions Committee to add these entities to its consolidated list of terrorists tied to [Al-Qaeda], [Osama] bin Laden, and the Taliban," the statement said. Deputy Assistant Treasury Secretary for the Executive Office of Terrorist Financing and Financial Crimes Juan Zarate added, "Unfortunately, we have seen the vulnerabilities of charities in countries like Bosnia, where there is not only a need for charitable giving but also a susceptibility that such institutions will be co-opted by terrorist sympathizers." The Treasury Department recalled that it has previously designated other Islamic charities operating in Bosnia as providing funds to terrorists, including the Benevolence International Foundation, the Global Relief Foundation, and the Bosnian branch of Al-Haramain Foundation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 28 January, 15 March, 4 April, 4 June, and 2 August 2002 and 1 August 2003). UB

Bosnian financial police have launched investigations into the assets of 10 Islamic charities, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 8 May. Minister for Security Barisa Colak said on 8 May that if the investigation establishes that these Islamic humanitarian organizations in Bosnia have links with terrorist organizations, they will be shut down and their assets frozen. UB

SFOR commander Major General Virgil Packett told the "Southeast European Times" of 3 May that NATO will maintain its presence in Bosnia after the takeover of the peacekeeping mission by the EU. Packett said a 200-250-strong NATO headquarters will remain in Camp Butmir to work with the Bosnian Defense Ministry on the country's future membership in the NATO Partnership for Peace program. He added that he does not believe that Bosnia will join that program at the upcoming NATO summit in Istanbul in June. Commenting on the composition of the planned EU military mission (EUFOR), Packett said: "It is also important to note that 70 percent of SFOR troops are from EU member nations and can contribute immediately to EUFOR. As we have non-NATO nations participating in SFOR, the probability of non-EU nations participating in EUFOR is very likely. Some facilities are closing already as SFOR reduces from 12,000 to 7,000 troops by 1 June as part of a process recognizing the contribution that [Bosnia-Herzegovina] is making towards its own security" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 5 March 2004). UB

A mass grave was found near the village of Zaklopaci in eastern Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. According to forensic experts, the grave contains bodies of more than 70 Bosnian civilians, including women and children. UB

Dragan Marsicanin, who is the presidential candidate of the Serbian governing coalition, announced on 8 May that he is stepping down as minister for economy and privatization, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 March and 15 April 2004). UB

Kosovar Prime Minster Bajram Rexhepi has denounced the Serbian government's plan for Kosova as an attempt to destabilize the region, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 7 May. Rexhepi said the Kosovar Albanians will never accept any decentralization along ethnic lines. The Serbian plan envisions, among others, the creation of autonomous districts in Kosova where the Serbs would be in the majority (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April and 6 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March, 2 and 16 April 2004). UB

Former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who faces arrest in Macedonia in connection with the killing of six Pakistanis and one Indian in March 2002, is hiding in Croatia, Macedonian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, and 6 May 2004). Justice Minister Ixhet Mehmeti told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 8 May that at present, Croatia has not yet officially responded as to whether Boskovski is in that country. Mehmeti said as soon as Zagreb officially confirms that Boskovski is in Croatia, the Justice Ministry will demand his extradition. Boskovski also holds Croatian citizenship. In an interview with the Croatian HTV television, Boskovski dismissed the allegations that the killing was a setup, saying that there were audio recordings of a conversation between the Pakistanis and an Albanian member of Al-Qaeda on a planned attack on the U.S. Embassy in Skopje, "Dnevnik" reported. Boskovski's successor, Hari Kostov, said the original recording was not found in the Interior Ministry, but added that transcripts of the recording that were handed over to the U.S., British, and German embassies were found. UB

A delegation of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) headed by Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor visited the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz in Poland from 6-8 May, Mediafax reported. Tudor, who until recently denied the Holocaust (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2004), said the memory of the Holocaust should be preserved, as should the memory of "other crimes against humanity." He added that everyone has a "moral duty to fight evil." Several parliamentarians and some 100 PRM members joined Tudor on the trip. ZsM

The head of the Romanian delegation to Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Ghiorghi Prisacaru, said in an interview with the Chisinau-based Flux newspaper that Romania is interested in resuming its participation in negotiations to end the Transdniester conflict, Flux reported on 7 May. Prisacaru said Romania wants to develop special relations with Moldova and is willing to support Moldova's efforts for European integration, but Chisinau authorities refuse that help. He added that Romania is concerned with the current low level of bilateral cooperation, but said Bucharest cannot be blamed. Prisacaru also said Moldova is suffering from an identity crisis and economic and political hardships due to the failure to resolve the Transdniester conflict. ZsM


The 9 May bomb blast in Grozny, seen live on local television, that killed pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and seriously injured the commander of the combined Russian forces in Chechnya could serve as a turning point in the second Chechen war, which has already lasted over twice as long as that launched in December 1994 by then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin, by providing an exit strategy in the admittedly unlikely event that the Russian leadership is seeking one. But President Vladimir Putin's warning as he met later on 9 May with Kadyrov's son Ramzan that "retribution is unavoidable" suggests that of the various options available, the Kremlin will choose to intensify the ongoing battle against "terrorism" in Chechnya.

There are, however, other possible scenarios, of which the first is both the most optimistic and the least probable. Over the next four months, the Chechen resistance regains ground and launches a new offensive to win back Grozny, just as it did in 1996 under the command of Aslan Maskhadov, who was elected Chechen president in January 1997 in a ballot recognized by both Moscow and the international community. Under pressure from the international community, President Putin agrees to what the Council of Europe rapporteur for Chechnya, Andreas Gross, has described as a far-sighted and courageous step, such as negotiations with Maskhadov on an interim, UN-administered administration for Chechnya. It is, however, not clear whether the Chechen resistance is strong enough to launch such an offensive; in recent interviews Maskhadov has dodged questions about its current strength. Having committed himself to wiping out "terrorism," in Chechnya, Putin is unlikely ever to agree to negotiations with one of the men whom the Russian leadership regards as personifying it. And with its hands full coping with Iraq, the international community has little time or inclination to pressure Moscow to agree to a settlement that would consume UN energy and resources.

The second scenario is the one which observers and commentators consider the most probable: Putin orders the Russian military to intensify operations in Chechnya, and signals to Ramzan Kadyrov that he has carte blanche to draw on the help of the Russian military in a war that, as Akhmed Muradov, the leader of the Chechen community in Kazakhstan pointed out to RFE/RL on 9 May, has now become Ramzan Kadyrov's own personal blood feud against his father's putative killers. Kadyrov was quoted last week by the daily "Trud" as saying that he "prays to Allah" for the chance to face Shamil Basaev in battle and would consider it "an honor" to kill him. A Chechen Interior Ministry official told Interfax on 9 May that the Grozny bomb bore the hallmark of Basaev's handiwork.

A third possibility, however, is that those members of the Russian leadership who were beginning to become apprehensive over the long-term implications of both Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov's demands for total control of political and economic developments in Chechnya, and possibly also over the indiscriminate abductions and killings in which Ramzan Kadyrov's militia have engaged with total impunity, will seize upon Kadyrov senior's death as a heaven-sent opportunity to wrest back control and rein in Ramzan Kadyrov. The problem with this scenario is that some observers regard Chechen Prime Minister Sergei Abramov, whom Putin has named interim president pending new elections in accordance with the Chechen Constitution, as too young (he is 32) and too inexperienced (he has been in the job less than two months) to act as a counterweight to Ramzan Kadyrov. Meeting with Abramov hours after the Grozny explosion, Putin noted Abramov's good relations with security forces in Chechnya and urged him to continue cooperating with those forces in the interest of restoring "normal life" there -- a formulation that could be construed as orders to defer to Ramzan Kadyrov.

Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska proposed on 9 May imposing presidential rule in Chechnya, and possibly in other regions bordering it (which would mean Ingushetia and Daghestan). Should Putin decide to parachute in a strongman to administer Chechnya until new elections are held, one possible candidate is the former commander of Russian troops in Chechnya, Colonel General Gennadii Troshev. Troshev, who was born in Grozny, is currently Putin's adviser on Cossack affairs. Assuming that Moscow will rig the election of Kadyrov's successor as blatantly as it rigged his own last October, Troshev is one of the two candidates the Kremlin is most likely to select. The other is former Interior Ministry General Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who pulled out of last year's Chechen presidential ballot to take up a position as an adviser to Putin. (Ramzan Kadyrov is too young at 27 to contest the ballot; the Chechen Constitution stipulates that presidential candidates must be 30 or older.)

If Moscow decides to rely on Ramzan Kadyrov in its ongoing war of attrition against the Chechen resistance forces and civilian population, that decision will inevitably impact on developments in neighboring Ingushetia, where President Murat Zyazikov, a former Federal Security Service general, is under increasing criticism for his inability to end a string of abductions of Ingush citizens by bands operating out of neighboring Chechnya. Some observers have construed those abductions as intended to create a pretext for first extending "antiterrorism" operations from Chechnya into Ingushetia, and then for merging those two republics into a single federation subject. Kadyrov was one of the most ardent supporters of such a merger, which Zyazikov rejected as unnecessary and counterproductive.

With Kadyrov now out of the picture, it remains to be seen whether the abductions of Ingush will continue. A halt would suggest that Moscow has abandoned its support for a merger of the two republics and opted to shore up Zyazikov rather than risk destabilization in Ingushetia at a time when the primary objective is to concentrate all available resources on hunting down and neutralizing the purported instigators of Kadyrov's demise.

U.S. forces have detained as many as 35 neo-Taliban suspects during a major sweep operation in Zabul Province's Nawbahar District, international news agencies reported on 9 May. "There was no resistance. All the suspected Taliban are in U.S. custody," said Zabul Province Governor Khial Mohammad Hosayni. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers were reportedly engaged in the sweep operation, but no Afghan troops were involved, Hosayni said. Weapons caches were also discovered. The U.S. military did not provide comment following the operation. Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 9 May that Pakistanis, Arabs, and other foreign nationals were among those arrested. Zabul Province has been a center of insurgency and terrorist activity, particularly along the Kabul-Kandahar highway. KM

One U.S. Marine was killed and one was injured during fighting on the night of 7-8 May with suspected neo-Taliban insurgents near Tirin Kot, the capital of Oruzgan Province, AFP reported on 9 May. Colonel Tucker Mansager told reporters on 8 May that the Marine's death came "as the result of a direct fire engagement with anti-coalition militias." Oruzgan is the home province of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and remains a hotbed of insurgent activity. The U.S. military recently finished setting up a new base just outside Tirin Kot in an effort to restore order (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2004). KM

An Afghan national was treated for minor injuries after the UN vehicle he was driving burst into flames following an explosion on 8 May near Grabawa, located in Nangarhar Province's Khogyani District, AP reported on 9 May. Four passengers escaped uninjured when the vehicle was engulfed in flames after a mine prematurely exploded and ruptured its fuel tank, UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said. Three suspected militants were killed in the incident. Officials were uncertain whether the UN vehicle was the intended target. The incident comes following the killings of three UN election workers in eastern Afghanistan's Nuristan Province on 5 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). De Almeida e Silva said the recent spate of attacks will not deter the UN from registering Afghans for September's national elections, AP reported. KM

The bodies of two slain foreign nationals were discovered on 9 March in a public park in Kabul, international media reported. The two men, one of whom was carrying a Swiss passport, were apparently beaten to death with rocks or bricks, according to Kabul police. The authorities do not believe the killings were politically motivated. The two men, who were dressed in Afghan clothing, were most likely tourists and had been in the country for 11 days, Deputy Police Chief Khalil Aminzada told AP. Although a UN vehicle was parked nearby at the time the bodies were discovered, UN spokesman de Almeida e Silva said the two men did not work for the UN in Afghanistan. KM

Conservatives won more than half of the 57 seats contested on 7 May in the second round of last February's parliamentary elections, increasing their majority in the legislature that begins work on 27 May, news agencies reported on 8 May (See "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004). Conservative candidates won 37 seats, reformists won eight, and independents 12, AP reported on 8 May, citing Iranian state radio. Separately, Reza Zavarei, a member of the Guardians Council, which examines candidacies and oversees elections, said on 9 May that the council has appointed a team to give explanations to those whom it barred from running in the last election, IRNA reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 January and 3 May 2004). "There is no doubt that people must know the reason for their disqualification," he said, adding that hopefuls were not rejected for their political views. Some, he said, were "unknown" and others gave "addresses that were incorrect or could not be found." VS

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has appointed Hamid Reza Baradaran-Shoraka to head the Management and Planning Organization, the state economic-planning body, replacing Mohammad Satarifar, Reuters reported on 9 May, citing IRNA (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004). Khatami also appointed Hussein Mar'ashi, a parliamentarian, as head of the country's cultural heritage and tourism body, and Hussein Dehqan to head the Martyrs Foundation, which helps relatives of soldiers killed in the 1980-88 war with Iraq, "Iran" reported, adding that both will be vice presidents. Separately, Majid Ansari, head of the parliament's Planning and Budget Committee, praised the outgoing legislature in Tehran on 9 May for its "brilliant" economic record, "Iran" reported. He said that the five-year development plan it has ratified (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2004) is "the real manifesto of reforms, which any government and parliament must implement", and needs no change, "aside from minor details." The Guardians Council must approve the bill to make it law. VS

Iranian troops closed down the Imam Khomeini Airport outside Tehran on its first scheduled day of operation on 8 May, citing security concerns, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 April 2004). Brigadier General Alireza Afshar, a member of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and deputy head of the armed forces joint headquarters, said the airport is not safe "until the suspension of the contract with the Turkish company" contracted to build and run the airport, reported on 9 May. The airport, he said, has "a special and vital security status and needs...further, and more precise regulations." Presently, it has "minimal security equipment, which needs to be completed." Afshar cited unspecified reports as showing that "contracting foreign companies creates security problems and we reported this to the Supreme National Security Council [last December to January]." The council told the Transport Ministry to suspend the contract on 4 April, as did the president days later, he said, "but this did not resolve problems and the presence of the Turkish workforce continued." Eventually, "in coordination with the president himself, [the airport] was shut down." VS

Saleh Nikbakht, the attorney for Hashem Aghajarian, 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," said in Tehran on 9 May that he has received "the formal writ of the Hamedan judiciary confirming [Aghajari's] death sentence," IRNA reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2004). "In this writ, the Hamedan [Province] judge has not corrected any of the points [in the initial sentence] cited as flaws by the Supreme Court," Nikbakht said. The provincial judiciary is violating Iran's Criminal Code by reissuing a sentence without the requisite corrections, IRNA quoted him as saying. Nikbakht said that he is waiting for a "written letter by my client forbidding me to appeal, otherwise I shall try and persuade him [to let me use] means to save his life." Aghajari has said he will not appeal. IRNA quoted an unnamed judiciary official as confirming in Tehran on 9 May that the "[renewed] sentence has been issued and conveyed to the defendant and his attorney in line with regulations." VS

The U.S. military bombed the office of anti-U.S. Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Baghdad in the early morning hours of 10 May, Reuters reported. The bombing followed two days of heavy clashes with al-Sadr supporters in Kufa, Al-Najaf, and Baghdad. Nineteen members of the cleric's Imam Al-Mahdi Army were killed in Baghdad clashes on 9 May. U.S. forces had raided the same office on 9 May and arrested two staff members, one of whom is the alleged financier for the cleric's militia. Al-Sadr supporters took control of the neighborhood named after the cleric's deceased father on 9 May, reportedly taking control of police forces, schools, and the municipal administration building, reported on 10 May. Al-Sadr loyalists took to the streets of Al-Basrah on 8 May, setting up checkpoints in several areas of the city, Al-Arabiyah television reported the same day. A British military spokesman described the presence of the militiamen as a disturbance, the satellite television channel reported. KR

A statement posted on al-Sadr's website ( on 9 May threatened to escalate the situation between his Al-Mahdi Army and coalition forces. "We wish to declare to the world and the occupation forces that we will not continue our policy of patient self-restraint for long. The things that the enemy saw us doing in the past few weeks are a mere fraction of what we are capable of. If our patience is exhausted, we will turn into powerful volcanoes of anger that will not leave any of the infidel occupier's soldiers safe," the statement claimed. Al-Sadr's representative in Al-Basrah reportedly said on 9 May that al-Sadr followers should kidnap British female soldiers in the city and hand them over to religious leaders to be taken as slaves. Abd al-Sattar al-Bahadili promised a 250,000-dinar reward (about $170) to anyone who captures a female soldier and delivers her to al-Sadr, the Shi'ite News Agency said on its website ( Other rewards were offered to anyone who captures a U.S. or British male soldier, or members of the Iraqi Governing Council, according to the website. KR

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on 7 May that the alleged abuse it investigated at U.S.-run prisons in Iraq was found to be systematic and equivalent to torture, AFP reported on 7 May. "The elements we found were tantamount to torture. There were clearly incidents of degrading and inhuman treatment," ICRC director of operations Pierre Kraehenbuehl said. Meanwhile, Amnesty International said that it warned the U.K. government a year ago that its troops were abusing Iraqi prisoners, the BBC reported on 9 May. The human rights group says it first raised allegations of torture and the death of one Iraqi in British custody in a May 2003 memo to the U.K. Defense Ministry. The group subsequently met with British government officials to discuss the memo in June. A second memo detailing prisoner abuse was sent to the British government in July, and a third to Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon in October, to which the government replied vowing an investigation would take place. Hoon is expected to address the subject of prisoner abuse in a statement before the House of Commons on 10 May. KR

UN envoy to Iraq Lakhdar Brahimi met with members of the Iraqi Governing Council to discuss the future composition of the interim Iraqi government, set to take over from the coalition on 30 June, Arab media reported on 8 May. "We explained the ideas we presented to the [UN] Security Council and we asserted that these ideas are not our invention, but that they are a summary of the common denominators, which we sensed are held by a large number of people whom we met during this period," Al-Arabiyah quoted Brahimi as saying. He added, "It is our hope that our efforts will be capped by forming the government sought and needed by the Iraqi people so that it may receive authority" on 30 June, Al-Jazeera reported. A number of Governing Council members have rejected Brahimi's role in forming an interim Iraqi government in recent weeks. posted on 8 May a statement sent to it by 23 prominent Iraqi figures, including four Governing Council members, rejecting the Brahimi plan. The statement claims that the plan lacks neutrality and if implemented, could lead to sectarian sedition. KR