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Newsline - May 12, 2004

Vladimir Putin flew to Grozny on 11 May, where he presented posthumous awards to the widows of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and interim Chechen parliamentary speaker Khussein Isaev, Russian agencies reported. Both men were killed by the bomb that exploded on the morning of 9 May at a Grozny stadium during a ceremony to mark Victory Day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2004). A medical spokesman in Grozny denied later on 11 May Russian media reports that the death toll in the bombing has risen to seven, but added that 13 people remain hospitalized, four of them in serious condition, Interfax reported. Also on 11 May, acting Chechen republic head Sergei Abramov named Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Taus Dzhabrailov to succeed Isaev as chairman of the Chechen State Council, Interfax reported. Dzhabrailov argued that no expense should be spared to equip the Chechen Interior Ministry with the equipment, vehicles, and weapons it needs to continue the "struggle against terrorism." In a clear warning against blood-feud retribution, he said those responsible for the 9 May bombing should not be killed, but detained and brought to trial. LF

The Russian president, speaking to his cabinet on 11 May after visiting Grozny, said that the killing of pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov is both "a loss and a lesson for the government," RTR, ORT, and RIA-Novosti reported. Putin asked the government to create a special group to remedy quickly economic problems in Chechnya and to design a unified plan for the reconstruction of Grozny. "I have seen Grozny from a helicopter and it looks horrible," Putin said. In 1995-96 and 1999, Russian air and artillery bombardments left much of the city in ruins. VY

Implicitly contradicting a statement the previous day by Interior Ministry troops commander Colonel General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov that more Interior Ministry troops will be sent to Chechnya if the situation there deteriorates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2004), Sergei Ivanov told journalists on 11 May that "we think the strength of the Defense Ministry, Interior [Ministry] troops, and other forces in Chechnya today is adequate," Interfax reported. Ivanov said that "Interior [Ministry] troops are responsible for the lowland region, and the Defense Ministry is responsible for the mountains." He further praised the "good results" of the cooperation between federal forces and the Chechen security forces. Those forces are commanded by Kadyrov's youngest son Ramzan. LF

Aslanbek Aslakhanov, a presidential adviser for southern Russia, said on 11 May that he has neither plans nor the will to nominate himself as a presidential candidate in Chechnya, TV Center reported. He added, however, that he cannot categorically exclude such a possibility. Aslakhanov said that power, political will, and financial means are not enough to solve the situation in Chechnya and "one should have a vision of what to do," he said. VY

A Russian civilian contractor was killed and two others taken hostage outside Baghdad on 11 May, Russian and Western agencies reported. The men were traveling back from a power station 50 kilometers south of Baghdad when their vehicle was attacked by a group of armed, masked gunmen. The contractors were working for a Russian electrical company, Interenergoservis, which is helping to modernize Iraqi power stations. According to Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 11 May, nobody has claimed responsibility for the hostage taking but Moscow will do everything possible for the men's release. Yakovenko told a news conference that over 300 Russian workers remained in Iraq after Moscow evacuated many of its citizens in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 April 2004.) VY

At the same news conference on 11 May, Yakovenko said that Moscow strongly recommends that its citizens leave Iraq and the Emergency Situations Ministry will be ready to start an evacuation on 17 May. An unidentified source in the Foreign Ministry said that the evacuation could be mandatory, Interfax reported the same day. VY

About 58 percent of Russians believe that their country can win a war similar to World War II, according to a poll carried out by ROMIR-Monitoring ( on the eve of Victory Day on 9 May. Of the 1600 respondents from 106 Russian cities, 38 percent, however, said that Russia's chances in such a war would be very bleak. VY

Prior to a vote confirming him in his post on 12 May, acting Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov met with Duma deputies on 11 May, Russian news agencies reported. According to, Fradkov tried to detail for deputies what his government has managed to achieve over the last two months, and what its plans are for the near future. Fradkov noted that the cabinet of ministers has undergone a structural reorganization and now works more "objectively." "We are resolving tasks directed at raising the responsibility of government members and making the government more open for society," he said. According to, Fradkov again raised the necessity of conducting an inventory of all federal programs. He added that the government will concentrate its attention on changes in the economy's structure, such as its technological development, and on orienting the budget process to the achievement of concrete results. JAC

Lev Ponomarev, director of the For Human Rights NGO, asked the Moscow city prosecutor on 10 May to launch a criminal case against Valerii Kraev, first deputy head of the Justice Ministry's Corrections Department, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 11 May. Last week, Kraev included Ponomarev's group in a long list of human right organizations which he alleged are linked to criminal groups (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2004). Kraev also said that he has "intelligence and telephone interceptions" confirming the criminal connections of For Human Rights, reported. Ponomarev said that he considers Kraev's charges slanderous and is also questioning the legality of "listening to his telephone conversations." JAC

According to Ponomarev, his organization has never taken money from Boris Berezovskii, who Kraev alleged was behind several NGOs, and relies instead on the MacArthur Foundation, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the EU's TACIS program. In an interview with on 7 May, Ella Pamfilova, chairman of the presidential Human Rights Commission, said that her feelings about Ponomarev are rather complex, but "if the Justice Ministry has intelligence information, let them whip it into shape, open a case, and instigate a court action. I am opposed to statements discrediting the entire human rights community." JAC

Presidential administration head Dmitrii Medvedev has appointed Oleg Zhidkov as deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, RIA-Novosti reported on 11 May. The republic of Chechnya is included in the Southern Federal District. President Putin announced that Zhidkov's position was especially created. Zhidkov was born in Grozny and was head of the Grozny mayoral administration in 2001-2003. Vladimir Yakovlev, the presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, was only recently named to that post after spending less than a year as a deputy prime minister and two terms as governor of St. Petersburg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 March 2004). On 1 April, Yakovlev dismissed the entire staff of the presidential envoy's office, including the deputy envoy who oversaw Chechnya, Nikolai Sleptsov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2004). JAC

A Moscow district court held a 25 minute hearing on the circumstances surrounding the detention of two Ekho TV journalists, Aleksandr Orlov and Vladimir Baikov, on 8 May, the day after a 7 May protest staged at the Bolshoi Theatre by the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), reported. According to Ekho TV Editor in Chief Andrei Norkin, police officers armed with assault rifles arrived at the reporters' homes to take them to their precinct, Ekho Moskvy reported on 11 May. Baikov spent four hours in police custody and is being charged with disturbing public order. The journalists are not members of the party, but they were present filming the protest at the theatre, and Norkin has speculated that the police may have decided to teach them a lesson. The court will resume consideration of the case on 17 May. Orlov told that his cameraman got footage of the policemen beating up NBP members, and police took the film away by force. JAC

Former Prime Minister and current head of the Chamber for Commerce and Industry (TPP) Yevgenii Primakov has suggested that the power of the chamber be augmented to include state regulation of entrepreneurial activity, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 May. When he was still a State Duma deputy (Fatherland-Unified Russia) in the last Duma, Primakov together with fellow legislator Boris Pastukhov (Fatherland-Unified Russia), introduced draft legislation to this effect. Although a legislator at the time, Primakov also held the same position with the TPP. The legislation would give the chamber a variety of powers, including the right to dispense international trade documents for temporary import or export of goods. The Duma's Property Committee has reacted negatively to the draft bill, despite the authors' attempts to argue that the TPP's new powers would not put it into direct competition with the Justice Ministry, Ministry for Economic Development and Trade, and other existing state agencies. JAC

The Interior Ministry's directorate for the Northwest Federal District revealed that a director of one of the republican government's departments funneled budget money to a local organized crime group, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported on 11 May. The director, whose name has not yet been disclosed, signed various agreements costing tens of millions of rubles in 2000 and 2001 for work that was never done. The damage to the republican budget is estimated to total more than 41 million rubles ($1.4 million). JAC.

Ren-TV reported on 11 May that the first group of Meskhetians to emigrate to the United States from Krasnodar Krai will be leaving in two months. The Meskhetians were deported by Soviet leader Josef Stalin from their home in Georgia in 1944 to Central Asia, and then evacuated from Uzbekistan following violent clashes with Uzbeks in 1989. According to the station, some 84 people have already passed their interviews with migration authorities and have received refugee status. About 15,000 Meskhetians live in the krai, where until recently most were not allowed to register or seek citizenship. According to the station, some 10,000 Meskhetians are planning to leave Russia before the end of 2004. In January, RIA-Novosti reported that some 4,000 of the 15,000 Meskhetians had already received Russian citizenship, and the applications of another 2,800 Meskhetians were being processed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2004). JAC

Leading members of the opposition Artarutiun alliance said on 11 May in Yerevan that they will convene a further demonstration on 14 May to press for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian left on 10 May for a three-day visit to Lebanon, after which he will visit Moscow on 13 May, Interfax reported on 11 May. Opposition legislators said the Armenian authorities have declined to take any of the measures recommended in a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) resolution passed in late April, including releasing all persons detained for their participation in opposition rallies last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April 2004). Preliminary talks are, however, continuing between Artarutiun and its opposition partner, the National Accord Party, and the three-party ruling coalition on the precise agenda for negotiations on defusing political tensions. Those negotiations are scheduled to begin on 13 May. LF

Addressing parliament on 11 May, Justice Minister David Harutiunian criticized "inaccuracies" contained in a report by the parliament's Audit Chamber on alleged irregularities in the use of a 1999 World Bank loan intended to strengthen the country's judiciary, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Harutiunian also branded as "populist" statements by some parliament deputies supporting the report, a charge that parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian angrily rejected. The $4.45 million loan was intended to finance the reconstruction of 20 courthouses, but the funds proved sufficient only for nine because of a recent steep rise in the cost of construction materials, according to Harutiunian. LF

A high-level Armenian government delegation visited Washington last week for what were termed "periodic consultations" on Yerevan's efforts to preclude the export from Armenia to third countries of equipment and technology that could be used in the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 11 May. The Armenian parliament enacted legislation in September restricting the export of such technology in the wake of a scandal in May 2002 over the export of dual-use technology to Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 20 and 23 May and 10 July 2002). LF

Malcolm Bruce, who is the PACE's rapporteur for political prisoners, visited Baku's notorious Bailov pretrial detention facility jail on 11 May for talks with Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu and Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Turan reported. Both men were arrested in October for their roles in the clashes between police and opposition supporters in the wake of the disputed presidential ballot; the preliminary hearing in their trial was to resume on 12 May. Bruce also met on 11 May with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev, who expressed his desire for constructive cooperation with the Council of Europe, Turan reported. LF

President Aliyev also met on 11 May with Mehdi Safari, who is Iranian presidential representative for issues involving the Caspian Sea, Turan reported. Topics discussed included various aspects of bilateral relations including President Aliyev's planned upcoming visit to Iran, energy swaps and plans to supply Iranian natural gas to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan. Safari also met with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov. LF

Deputies approved the state budget for 2004 on 11 May by a vote of 161 to 16, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2004). Members of the Rightist opposition faction voted against the bill, as did Koba Davitashvili, a former close supporter of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Davitashvili argued that provision should be made in the budget for clearing the entire 117 million-laris ($58.4 million) pensions backlog, rather than spending only 52 million laris for that purpose. The budget envisages GDP growth in 2004 of 6 percent. According to "Rezonansi" on 7 May, parliament Budget and Finance Committee Chairman and former Economy Minister Lado Papava argued that figure is too low, in light of the 8.6 percent growth achieved last year. LF

Davitashvili and Zviad Dzidziguri have emerged as the leaders of a new parliamentary faction formed of defectors from the majority National Movement-Democrats, Caucasus Press reported on 11 May. Like Davitashvili, Dzidziguri opposes the majority's policy on pensions, and has filed suit with the Constitutional Court against the government's decision to pay a planned 3-laris increase in pensions only in selected areas. Three further deputies from the National Movement-Democrats have been identified as likely members of the new faction. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev met on 11 May with Ludwig-Georg Braun, who heads the Federation of German Chambers of Commerce, to discuss way of strengthening trade ties between Kazakhstan and Germany, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the same day. Braun praised conditions for foreign investors in Kazakhstan, saying, "The conditions that have been created here are very expedient and attractive." Nazarbaev and Braun also talked about support for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as support for businesses owned by Kazakhstan's ethnic Germans. KazInform quoted Braun as saying, "We hope that this visit will actively influence the development of economic relations between our two countries." When Nazarbaev visited Germany last month, trade issues formed the crux of his discussions with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. DK

According to Kazakhstan's Statistics Agency, first-quarter employment figures for 2004 rose 6.2 percent year on year, with a total of 7.7 million people now employed, "Komsomolskaya pravda Kazakhstana" reported on 11 May. (Kazakhstan's population totals 14.9 million.) The unemployment rate stands at 8.9 percent, or 685,000 people, which is 13,000 fewer than in 2003. DK

Kyrgyz police arrested two men on 8 May on suspicion of killing top anticorruption official Chynybek Aliev, KyrgyzInfo reported on 11 May. Aliev was gunned down in Bishkek on 5 May in what police believe was a contract killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2004). "Vechernii bishkek" reported that the two men were arrested in the course of a special operation, and that investigators have already learned the identities of those behind Aliev's death. Police sources would not comment but did not deny reports of the arrest. reported on 11 May that Aliev might have been closing in on an underworld figure identified as "Ryspek" who had eluded capture for many years. DK

Kyrgyzstan's parliament on 11 May ratified an agreement that grants immunity to Russian servicemen deployed to the Russian air-force base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Should Russian soldiers commit offenses, they will be tried under Russian, not Kyrgyz, law. U.S. troops stationed at Ganci Air Base, also in Kyrgyzstan, enjoy the same status. Kyrgyz Defense Minister Colonel General Esen Topoev told the news agency that the vote settles all remaining legal issues relating to the presence of Russian servicemen in Kyrgyzstan. Ismail Isakov, who heads the parliamentary committee on state security, told Interfax, "The air base in Kant performs an important mission of guaranteeing the security of airspace on the southern borders of the CIS." DK

President Askar Akaev met with Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai on 11 May in the course of an international conference in Bishkek on Afghanistan and regional economic cooperation, Kyrgyz Television reported the same day. Akaev stated that Kyrgyzstan wishes to strengthen and broaden cooperation with a friendly Afghanistan; Ghani responded with an invitation for Akaev to meet with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai. Akaev also congratulated Ghani on Afghanistan's new constitution, adopted in January. quoted the Kyrgyz president as saying, "[The constitution] is a historic achievement for Afghanistan that demonstrates the Afghan people's resolve to transform their country into a stable, law-based state." DK

The State Security Committee (KGB) on 11 May conducted simultaneous searches in the offices of three nongovernmental organizations in Hrodna -- the Belarusian School Society, the Belarusian Language Society, and the Leu Sapeha Foundation -- trying to establish the identity of the poet who wrote a poem that allegedly libels President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2004), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. The poem, distributed in Hrodna on leaflets earlier this month, was reportedly attributed to a "Chukouski." KGB officers confiscated four computers from the office of the Belarusian Language Society that have been used for preparing the independent newspaper "Den" for print. "Den" Editor in Chief Mikola Markevich told RFE/RL that in his opinion the main motive behind the search was to hamper the publication of his newspaper. JM

Heidi Smith, spokeswoman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office in Minsk, told journalist on 11 May that it is absolutely clear that there is no willingness on the part of the Belarusian authorities to change the Election Code prior to the parliamentary election in October, Belapan reported. A delegation of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), during its visit in early April, recommended that the authorities change the Election Code to expand the powers of election observers as well as to improve the procedures for handling complaints and conducting early voting. JM

Belarusian President Lukashenka on 11 May told Ahmad Makki, the Sultanate of Oman's economy minister, that Oman is interesting for Belarus because of its good strategic location in the Persian Gulf, Belapan reported. "We have a good relationship with the Arab world and Gulf states," the presidential press office quoted Lukashenka as saying. "We rely on the support and help of Oman in developing Belarus's trade and economic cooperation with countries in this region." The previous day, Belarus and Oman signed an accord on encouragement and mutual protection of investment. JM

The government on 11 May approved a program for developing the horticultural sector in Belarus until 2010, Belarusian Television reported. "In the next six years, fruit growers promise to grow worthy substitutes for Polish apples and Uruguayan bananas," the network said. According to Belarusian Television, the country should produce 800,000 tons of fruit annually in order to meet the minimum daily need per capita, which is defined as "one apple and one glass of juice." Belarus currently produces 300,000 tons of fruit annually. Under the new program, the government will reportedly support the horticultural sector with $50 million. "With the new rules of the game, the Belarusian horticultural sector has a chance to become a profitable business and the health of consumers may cease to be dependent on supplies from banana republics," Belarusian Television commented. It is not clear from the report whether the government intends to grow domestic bananas or other types of fruit to make up for the planned removal of Uruguayan bananas from Belarusians' diet. JM

Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev told the Verkhovna Rada on 12 May that the polling-station protocols of the disputed mayoral election in Mukacheve on 18 April submitted to investigators by the Our Ukraine bloc are "unreliable," the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. Our Ukraine claims that, according to the polling-station protocols, its candidate Viktor Baloha won the election with 19,385 votes, while rival Ernest Nuser, who was supported by the presidential administration, garnered 13,895 votes (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 28 April 2004). Vasylyev said the investigation found that the final protocol attesting Nuser's victory was unreservedly signed by all members of the local election commission, who represented different political parties. Vasylyev also said five criminal cases have been opened in connection with violations of public order and the theft of ballots during the Mukacheve election. JM

Security Service (SBU) Deputy Chairman Ihor Dryzhchanyy told the Verkhovna Rada on 12 May that both Nuser and Baloha had organized "support groups" in Mukacheve on 18 April, UNIAN reported. According to Dryzhchanyy, Nuser's "supporters" organized the arrival of some 200 persons from Transcarpathian, Lviv, Vinnytsya, and Zaporizhzhya oblasts, who were lodged "in a private area" of town as well as provided with "means of communication and transport." On the other hand, Dryzhchanyy added, Baloha's supporters also gathered a group of people at a "sports center" in order to use them for "rendering physical support to Our Ukraine representatives" in Mukacheve. Additionally, Dryzhchanyy said, some 200 persons from Ukrainian nationalist organizations arrived in Mukacheve to render direct support to Baloha. The SBU is currently investigating whether individuals from these groups were involved in illegal activities on election day in Mukacheve, Dryzhchanyy said. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 12 May passed a resolution calling on President Leonid Kuchma to fire Transcarpathian Oblast Governor Ivan Rizak in connection with the tumultuous Mukacheve mayoral election that the opposition Our Ukraine bloc believes was falsified by local authorities, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported, The resolution was supported by 238 lawmakers from Our Ukraine, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Center caucus as well as 17 legislators from pro-government factions and 10 independent deputies. The resolution also calls on the interior minister to fire the Transcarpathian Oblast police chief and his deputy. Moreover, the resolution appeals to Prosecutor-General Vasylyev to file a protest against the Mukacheve election commission's decision giving the election victory to Nuser and to open criminal proceedings against those guilty of rigging the election and beating lawmakers in Mukacheve on election day. JM

In his first briefing of the UN Security Council, Harri Holkeri, the head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), said on 11 May that the outbreak of violence in March was a serious setback that "forced UNMIK to take a long, hard look at ourselves," according to a UN press release. Holkeri admitted that the speed with which the violence spread overwhelmed the ability of KFOR and UNMIK to respond, adding that UNMIK had no means to augment its forces and KFOR was not reinforced until after the end of the violence. Holkeri pledged that UNMIK will do everything to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice. So far, he said, some 270 arrests have been made in connection with the riots. One hundred thirty cases of violence are under review by local prosecutors, and about 50 cases of more serious nature have been handed over to international prosecutors. Holkeri said UNMIK has requested additional police investigators (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"17 and 18 March and 4, 10 and 11 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March, 2 and 16 April 2004). UB

Vuk Draskovic, the foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, who participated in the UN Security Council meeting on 11 May, said Kosova is "an open wound for Serbs, Albanians, and the entire international community," according to a UN press release. Draskovic said a cornerstone of the "standards before status" policy must be to address the consequences of ethnic cleansing aimed at Serbs and to provide their full security. Draskovic underscored that the new Serbian government plan for decentralization in Kosova, which would grant autonomy to Serb-populated municipalities, towns, villages, and Serbian enclaves, could pave the way for a multiethnic Kosova. The plan could also facilitate the reconciliation of Serbs and Albanians, Draskovic argued. UB

In response to Draskovic's statement on 11 May, Albanian representative to the UN Security Council Agim Nesho said such "old ideas of division and cantonization under the legal cover of a democratic process for the decentralization of power" cannot hinder the international community's drive for a multiethnic Kosova, the UN press release said. Speaking in his capacity as a national representative, UN Security Council President Munir Akram of Pakistan said the international community should rather promote a "status with standards" program than transform the "standards before status" into a dogma. This "status-with-standards" approach would hold the Kosovars accountable for implementing the standards program and force them to cooperate with their neighbors, Akram argued. Russia's representative, Aleksandr Konuzin, condemned the recent violence, saying that the "paramilitary bands left over from the organizational structure of the Kosova Liberation Army should be dissolved; the size of international forces in Kosovo should be increased; and their antiterrorist component should be strengthened." Romania's representative, Mihnea Motoc, said it is crucial to eradicate the mentality of violence as a means to achieve political goals and to reduce the number of light weapons in the province. UB

The parliament of Republika Srpska has passed a bill on war veterans, war wounded, and the relatives of fallen soldiers, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 11 May. With the adoption of the bill, the parliament met a deadline by the World Bank for the issuance of a credit worth some $51 million. The credit will be used to reconstruct the welfare system in Republika Srpska. In related news, the World Bank refused to issue another credit worth $12 million assigned for the rebuilding of the Bosnian higher-education system because the Bosnian federal parliament failed to adopt the necessary legislation on 11 May, according to Fena. UB

Nikola Gruevski, who chairs the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), on 11 May accused his predecessor as party chairman, former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, of openly undermining his authority during the presidential election campaign, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Gruevski said he feels betrayed by Georgievski, whom he added that he thought was his friend. Georgievski reportedly joined former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, who had called for an electoral boycott in the second round of the presidential vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26, 29 and 30 April 2004). The VMRO-DPMNE's candidate, Sasko Kedev, lost the presidential elections to Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski of the Social Democratic Union (SDSM). UB

VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Gruevski announced on 11 May that he has filed a request for a recount of the presidential election results and for an independent review of the election with the State Election Commission (DIK), "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Gruevski repeated his claim that the "elections were neither free, nor fair, nor democratic. These elections were a clear electoral falsification and electoral fraud." Gruevski added, "Unfortunately, the representatives of the international community in Macedonia in the name of successful elections this time decided to close their eyes before incidents that would have triggered a mega-scandal in their own countries." Gruevski demanded that DIK head Stevo Pendarovski resign before the local elections, which are due in the fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 May 2004). UB

The Albanian Helsinki Committee has accused Albanian police of detaining suspects in custody under unbearable conditions, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 11 May. According to the human rights activists, the detention cells in many police stations in that country do not meet minimal hygiene standards, lack running water and ventilation, and are too small, unheated, and overcrowded. The group says that, in many cases, minors are being detained in the same cells as adults; male personnel are guarding female inmates; and inmates with psychological problems are being denied treatment. The committee also says the guards are in many cases untrained and incompetent. UB

The Romanian government on 11 May presented a new strategy for speeding up public-administration reform for the period of 2004-06, while admitting the previous strategy adopted in 2001 did not produce satisfactory results, Mediafax reported. The strategy was elaborated with the financial and technical support of the EU and the United States, and provides measures for improving public services in education, health, social services, and for increasing local autonomy. ZsM

Speaking at the presentation of the government's new strategy, Romanian President Ion Iliescu said modernizing the state cannot be done without modernizing the administration, adding there is still a lot to do in this area, Mediafax reported. Iliescu said the current culture of administration is one dominated by centralism, authoritarianism, bureaucracy, and, thus, the system is "inefficient, tolerating favors and acts of corruption." He nonetheless added that recent measures have improved the situation. A report presented on 10 May by the Center for Legal Resources and the Open Society Foundation says that less than a quarter of governmental institutions respect "in a satisfactory manner" the provisions of the anticorruption law adopted last year. The report, titled "Anticorruption as a joke," says that in March, 28 of the 45 governmental institutions had no webpages, and therefore no property declarations of the respective public officials. ZsM

The opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) is to hold its 16 May congress outdoors in downtown Chisinau, an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau reported on 11 May. PPCD Chairman Iurie Rosca said the party is organizing the congress outdoors because Chisinau authorities refused to offer the party a suitable venue for the event. Rosca added that the Communists in so doing are trying to "reduce [the opposition] to silence." President Vladimir Voronin's spokesman, Valeriu Renita, said that the congress "has nothing to do with the PPCD's relations with the so-called Voronin regime," but is part of the PPCD's political and electoral strategy. ZsM

Belarus's State Security Committee (KGB) arrested Mikhail Marynich, a former cabinet member and diplomat who switched to the opposition before the 2001 presidential election, on 26 April. The KGB informed the media the following day that it has launched criminal proceedings against Marynich, accusing him of illegal possession of classified government documents and two unregistered foreign-made pistols. The KGB also claimed to have seized more than $90,000 in cash from Marynich.

Some further details of Marynich's arrest were provided by media in the subsequent days. Marynich was reportedly stopped by traffic police while driving a car on 24 April; police then requested that he show them the contents of his suitcase. Marynich refused, but a KGB officer, who immediately appeared on the scene, ordered him to open the suitcase and reportedly found cash in it. Marynich was told to report to the KGB; he went there on 26 April and did not return home.

Last week, Belarusian Television reported that Marynich had confessed that the seized money -- part of which is allegedly counterfeit -- came from Russia and was to have been spent on financing "selected candidates" in this year's legislative elections. However, the KGB has apparently found nothing criminal in the possession of such a sum by Marynich, since on 6 May he was formally charged only with "illegal actions regarding firearms, ammunitions, and explosives" -- an offense that could carry a sentence of up to six years in prison. There also have been no new reports on the allegedly classified documents that were reportedly found at Marynich's dacha.

"Mikhail Afanasevich [Marynich] calls all this a politically motivated case," Marynich's lawyer, Vera Stramkouskaya, told the Minsk-based "Narodnaya volya" newspaper on 10 May. "He knows that an order was given in late 2003 to make a criminal out of him.... He considers his arrest to be a tool of pressure on him as a political activist who has planned to take part in parliamentary and presidential elections."

Marynich belongs to the "old nomenklatura" in Belarus -- a group of public figures who launched their political careers in the era before Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, under the government of Prime Minister Vyacheslau Kebich. Under Lukashenka, Marynich was minister of external economic relations (1994-98), and he subsequently became Belarusian ambassador to Latvia, Estonia, and Finland. In mid-2001, Marynich resigned his ambassadorial post to challenge Lukashenka in that fall's presidential election. Lukashenka reacted furiously to Marynich's defection in public. Marynich then failed to get on the ballot after the Central Election Commission ruled that he had not collected the 100,000 signatures necessary for registration.

Following the 2001 election, Marynich set up the Business Initiative Association, an organization that promotes market-oriented reform. He has never taken up with the "nationalist" anti-Lukashenka opposition (for example, with the Belarusian Popular Front), preferring rather to associate with "old-nomenklatura" figures who have fallen out of favor with the regime. In particular, he cooperated with For a New Belarus -- an organization established by former Agriculture Minister Vasil Lyavonau, who was also persecuted by the Lukashenka regime and spent almost three years in prison.

There are several versions -- some of them complementary and some at variance with each other -- being mulled by the independent Belarusian media with regard to the true reasons behind Marynich's arrest. According to the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party-National Assembly (BSDP-NH), the authorities removed Marynich from public life out of fear that he could play an important role both as a candidate and campaigner in this fall's legislative elections. "It is becoming evident that on the eve of a large-scale political campaign, a merciless clearing of the country's political arena is implemented to get rid of significant personalities that could offer an adequate alternative to the current leader," the BSDP-NH said in a statement.

Some supplement the BSDP-NH version with the suggestion that Marynich has obtained "Moscow's backing" as a challenger to Lukashenka in the 2006 presidential election, in which Lukashenka will purportedly run for a third consecutive time following a referendum to lift the constitutional two-term restriction on the presidency in Belarus.

The private weekly "Nasha Niva" on 6 May essentially endorsed the aforementioned BSDP-NH version, drawing a comparison between the current situation and the 2001 presidential-election campaign. "Nasha Niva" recalled that the 2001 presidential election was actually preceded by a campaign of terror and intimidation unleashed by the authorities in 1999. In early 1999, the authorities arrested former Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir, who left the government in 1996. Later the same year, a reputedly government-sponsored death squad kidnapped and is believed to have killed opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, former associates of Lukashenka.

"Chyhir's fate has been repeated by Mikhail Marynich," "Nasha Niva" wrote. "Chyhir left Lukashenka in 1996 and found himself behind bars in 1999. Marynich's way to prison also took three years for him, following his presidential bid in 2001. Everything repeats itself accurate to one month's time. What next? New political assassinations?"

True, there are also voices in Belarus asserting that the government's intimidation machine is blind to its victims' political affiliation and indiscriminately targets supporters of Lukashenka (including government officials), opposition activists, and those who try to remain "neutral." According to such commentators, it is simply the nature of Lukashenka's state apparatus to exercise terror as an efficient tool of political control over the country.

Meanwhile, political analyst Alyaksandr Fyaduta, the former chief of Lukashenka's press service and propaganda department, suggested that Marynich's arrest is unrelated to the upcoming political campaigns. According to Fyaduta, Marynich's incarceration is intended to send a signal to the "old nomenklatura" corps that they will have no role in the large-scale privatization that Lukashenka is said to be planning to launch at the end of his presidential rule.

The author's view on the possible motive behind Marynich's arrest is complementary rather than contradictory with regard to those already presented. In March, Lukashenka sarcastically chided the KGB for its inability to discover the channels through which the Belarusian opposition is purportedly financed by foreign sponsors. Last month, Lukashenka sacked two senior KGB officials, reportedly for their professional incompetence. Therefore, it stands to reason that in order to counterbalance such blows the KGB needed some spectacular "repair" work to salvage its reputation.

One such action could be the arrest in Minsk on 27 April of a Polish diplomat who was reportedly caught in the act of receiving documents with classified military information. It is noteworthy that the KGB resorted to a routine trick for spycatching, allegedly using an undercover agent who played the role of a traitor. Marynich's detention also fits well into this supposed "uplifting" of the KGB's operational image. Marynich was practically presented to the public as a spy (the KGB advertised that it found classified documents and weapons in his possession) and a sinister oppositionist who is scheming to undermine the government for foreign money.

What else is needed to prove the usefulness and vigilance of true Chekists?

Sayyed Nabi Siddiqi, a former Afghan police colonel, has alleged that he was abused while in U.S. custody in 2003, "The New York Times" reported on 12 May. "I swear to God, those photos shown on television of the prison in Iraq -- those things happened to me as well," Siddiqi claimed. According to Siddiqi, he was wrongfully arrested in July after he reported police corruption that resulted in someone accusing him of belonging to the neo-Taliban. A U.S. Defense Department letter produced by Siddiqi details his arrest and his release in August after it was determined that he posed "no threat to the U.S. armed forces or its interest in Afghanistan." Siddiqi said he was subject to beating, kicking, sleep deprivation, taunts, and sexual abuse by U.S. soldiers. According to "The New York Times," while Siddiqi's claims cannot be independently verified, members of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission who were present during the interview said that his accounts match what he told them shortly after his release. AT

The U.S. military has launched an immediate investigation into the alleged abuse of an Afghan prisoner while in U.S. custody in August 2003, a statement released on 12 May by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul indicated. According to the statement, the embassy has learned through press channels that a police officer held by coalition forces in Gardayz and Bagram "has alleged he was [stripped] naked, photographed while naked, kicked, and subjected to sexual taunting while" in custody. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said that to the best of his knowledge, "this is the first time anyone in the military chain of command or the United States Embassy has heard of this alleged mistreatment. We are not aware of the existence of any photos of the alleged incident." Khalilzad said that he is confident that the investigation will be thorough and will determine the truth of the allegations and if they are true, appropriate action will be taken, the statement added. AT

Suspected neo-Taliban militia killed two Afghan soldiers on 11 May in Zabul Province, AP reported. The soldiers were killed along the Kabul-Kandahar highway in Shah Joy District. General Naimatullah Khan, Zabul's military commander, said that suspected neo-Taliban ambushed the vehicle carrying the soldiers and after killing the soldiers, commandeered their vehicle with them. AT

A German soldier in the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was injured in Kabul on 11 May in an apparent rocket attack, Radio Afghanistan reported. An unidentified spokesperson for ISAF told the official Afghan Bakhtar News Agency that it was not clear whether a rocket or a bomb caused the blast. Kabul security commander Lieutenant General Baba Jan said that a rocket fired from southeast of the city injured the German solider. AT

Mohammad Kaleq Faruqi, chairman of the decision-making council of Hizb-e Islami, and other members of the council on 11 May obtained voter-registration cards for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, Afghanistan Television reported. Faruqi said that all members of Hizb-e Islami in all provinces of Afghanistan will take part in the elections scheduled for September. The United States has labeled Hizb-e Islami leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar a terrorist. Recently, however, Faruqi and other members of the radical party have held talks with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and other Afghan leaders (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 12 May 2004). AT

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami deplored on 11 May "the shameful torture of Iraqis by the occupiers," and termed this a "cause of hatred" toward coalition forces in Iraq, IRNA reported the same day. "These actions show the...double standards of certain powers that present themselves as leading supporters of human rights," he said in a meeting in Tehran with Masahiko Komura, an envoy of the Japanese prime minister, IRNA reported. He urged an end to the "occupation and use of violent methods," adding that those "we respect in Iraq, especially Ayatollah [Ali al-]Sistani, want the rule of democracy and the popular vote. The occupiers must answer this peaceful call, the remedy to Iraq's crisis." Separately, parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karrubi said in Tehran on 11 May that the abuse of Iraqi prisoners "has exacerbated [Iraq's] critical condition," IRNA reported the same day. He was speaking at Tehran's airport before leaving for Amman, Jordan, where parliamentary delegations from Iraq's neighbors will discuss the Iraq crisis on 12 and 13 May. Arab League and Iraqi Governing Council envoys will also attend, IRNA added. VS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani threatened Israel with reprisals on 11 May should it ever strike Iranian nuclear installations as it did Iraq's in 1981, AP reported the same day, citing a state television interview with Rohani. He said that Iran is equipped to give a "resolute response" to such a strike, AP added. Israel and the United States suspect that the purpose of Iran's nuclear program is to make nuclear bombs, though Iran denies this. Rohani, Iran's leading nuclear negotiator, said in the same interview that Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency will soon resolve international concerns over its program, Reuters reported. Separately, a team from Iran's Atomic Energy Organization was in Russia on 12 May for talks with officials including Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev, Reuters reported. The parties are to discuss speeding up construction of the Bushehr nuclear power plant that Russia is helping build, as well as review ongoing work, discuss nuclear-fuel repatriation, and prepare for a future visit to Tehran by Rumyantsev, reported. VS

Hussein Piruzi, the manager of the Imam Khomeini Airport, which was shut by troops on its first working day on 8 May for purported security reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 May 2004), told ISNA on 11 May that the Transport Ministry has ordered the airport to remain shut, "until [those] events...are clarified and the government makes a decision, and until there are specific procedures at the airport and we no longer witness such problems." He said that the Tepe-Akfen-Vie consortium is no longer running the airport, but there must be a "clarification" of its status and that of its equipment at the airport, ISNA reported. Ja'far Pursadeqian, the public relations chief for the state aviation authority, said on 11 May that the consortium's employees were asked to leave the airport on 7 May, "due to objections by the armed forces", though this did not prevent the closure, Fars News Agency reported the same day. The contract with the consortium, he said, is currently "in a state of suspension," though not cancelled, reported. VS

Parliament amended Iran's Civil Code on 10 May to allow women to inherit all the property of their deceased husbands in the absence of other heirs, IRNA reported the same day. At present, widows can inherit up to one-quarter of their husband's possessions, cash, and real estate, though not the land under the property, IRNA reported, the remainder going to children and blood relatives, or in their absence, the state. The Guardians Council, which checks legislation for constitutional or religious discrepancies, must approve the bill to make it law. Separately, judiciary spokesman Gholamhussein Elham repeated on 11 May that the controversial death sentence on dissident Hashem Aghajari (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 10 May 2004) is technically in the appeals stage, because the Supreme Court has yet to give its definitive verdict on the case, Fars News Agency reported the same day. VS

Coalition forces engaged militants from the Imam Al-Mahdi Army in the Iraqi holy city of Karbala on 11-12 May, international media reported. According to AP, U.S. troops entered Karbala overnight from two directions, fighting the militants around the Mukhayyam Mosque, a main mosque in the city, which reportedly serves as the base for the militia belonging to radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. The mosque is located less than 1 kilometer from one of the holiest Shi'ite sites, the Imam Ali shrine. Some 20-25 militants were reportedly killed in the fighting, which was said to be continuing. KR

U.S. Major General Martin Dempsey said on 11 May that U.S. forces waited too long to rein in al-Sadr, reported on 12 May. "Why didn't we marginalize him sooner?" Dempsey asked. "Because in the course of the year that I've been here, and in the course of seeking advice from as many possible people as we could -- religious leaders, political leaders, tribal leaders -- as you might expect, we received such a wide variety of advice on how to deal with Muqtada al-Sadr that it caused us to be a little bit careful." Dempsey added that in the six months between October and April, al-Sadr was training troops, stockpiling weapons, and gaining resources. "And so when I say we missed the opportunity, we probably gave him six months more than we should have," the general said. KR

Al-Basrah Governor Wa'il Abd al-Latif denied that British forces have been guilty of any human rights violations in the city, Al-Jazeera television reported on 11 May. "No human rights violations have been registered against the British forces since their entry into Iraq and until today," Abd al-Latif said. "On the contrary, we used to hear the opposite. We used to hear that he who enters the prison leaves with biscuits, blankets, and pocket money in his hand." The governor added that the only complaints lodged have been one or two cases of British soldiers opening fire for security reasons. "We cannot say that these are human rights violations," he said. KR

A website affiliated with the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization,, posted a videotape on 11 May depicting the beheading of a man who identified himself as U.S. citizen Nicholas Berg. Speaking before his execution, Berg stated that he was from Pennsylvania, and recited the names of his parents and brother and sister. Berg reportedly went to Iraq of his own volition to look for work. Berg was warned to leave Iraq after he was detained by Iraqi police at a Mosul checkpoint on 24 March and turned over to U.S. officials and detained for 13 days, AP reported on 12 May. His family filed suit against the military for illegally holding Berg on 5 April and he was released the next day. His last contact with his family was on 9 April. Berg's body was found on 8 May in Baghdad, the same day he was beheaded, according to a U.S. official. KR

Prior to Berg's killing, a masked man reads a statement in the videotape addressing the "nation of Islam" and asking Muslims: "Where is the sense of honor? Where is the rage?" and "Where is the sense of vengeance for the honor of Muslim men and women in the Crusaders' prisons?" in reference to reports of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghurayb prison. The statement criticizes those who call on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan or Arab League head Amr Musa to bring an end to the crisis in Iraq, claiming that Muslims should hear the call of God urging them to action. The statement also warns U.S. President Bush, saying: "Your worst days are coming.... You and your soldiers will regret the day when your feet touched the land of Iraq." To Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, the statement warns: "We are yearning to meet your soldiers." To the mothers and wives of U.S. soldiers, the group says it tried to exchange Berg for Iraqi soldiers held at Abu Ghurayb, adding: "We will send you coffin after coffin and box after box [of U.S. soldiers] slaughtered in this way." U.S. officials deny that the group ever sought to exchange Berg for prisoners in U.S. custody. KR