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Newsline - May 27, 2004

The Emergency Situations Ministry began on 27 May evacuating some 239 employees of Interenergoservis from Iraq, after two were killed and eight injured in an attack on 26 May, Russian and international media reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said the Russian Embassy will continue working as usual and about 10 Russian journalists will remain in the country, ITAR-TASS reported. Yakovenko told NTV that a small number of Russian specialists in Al-Basrah will likely also return to Russia soon. Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov told RIA-Novosti that the evacuation does not mean a curtailing of Russia's role in the country. "The main goal today is Russia's active participation in discussing the fate of Iraq, in stabilizing the situation there, primarily through the United Nations and other international organizations," Margelov said. Asked by NTV about the situation in Iraq, Yakovenko said: "Unfortunately, the security situation in Iraq is constantly worsening and the coalition forces cannot enforce security in that country. The coalition troops, as occupying forces, bear full responsibility for security and everything happening in that country." RC

Not surprisingly, legislators from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction responded warmly to President Vladimir Putin's annual address to the Federal Assembly on 26 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2004). State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Volodin said that in his speech, Putin had outlined the course of development in every area of the Russian people's lives and the ways of achieving it, ITAR-TASS reported. Another deputy speaker, Oleg Morozov, noted that the president's message was distinguished by being "as specific as possible." The Communist opposition had a different take. Communist Deputy Aleksandr Kuvaev told that the speech was not marked by any concrete details at all. However, Aleksandr Chuev (Motherland) praised the president's comments on support of young families and the necessity of resolving the housing problem. "This is the first time that [these problems] were addressed so clearly and openly -- these problems are seriously destabilizing the situation in certain regions," he commented, according to JAC

Other legislators criticized President Putin for what he didn't say. Former State Duma Speaker and now independent Deputy Gennadii Seleznev commented that Putin didn't mention pension reform or how he would liquidate poverty, Ekho Moskvy reported. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov noted that Putin's address did not "make it clear how the situation in the Chechen Republic is going to develop and what kind of policy the center is going to pursue there," ITAR-TASS reported. He also criticized the president's speech for failing to mention the Russia-Belarus Union or the prospects of Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and other CIS countries joining it. Ekho Moskvy also noted that Putin didn't mention Chechnya or some international issues, including the situation in Iraq. Commentator Aleksandr Budberg pointed out in "Izvestiya" on 27 May that Putin's frame of reference was not just for the next year but for the next decade, "'straying' almost halfway into the term of office of his successor." JAC

The Moscow Arbitration Court ruled on 26 May that oil giant Yukos must pay 99.38 billion rubles ($3.3 billion) in back taxes, fines, and penalties, Russian media reported. Yukos lawyers said they will appeal the ruling, ITAR-TASS reported. Yukos shares fell by 5.5 percent to 260 rubles following the announcement of the verdict. Prime-TASS reported that a Finance Ministry spokesman said that if Yukos pays the amount of the ruling, it will more than double the federal budget surplus for this year, bringing it to 1.2 percent of GDP. The Moscow Arbitration Court the same day rejected nine appeals by Yukos lawyers objecting to various procedural rulings. The court is expected to rule on 28 May on a Yukos lawsuit against the Tax Ministry that challenges the legality of the audit that led to the 26 May ruling, ITAR-TASS reported. RC

Former oligarch Boris Berezovskii hired 100 limousines to parade past the Russian Embassy in London on 26 May bearing signs accusing President Putin of suppressing freedom, AFP and other media reported. "Putin and his government start to press Russian independent people," Berezovskii, speaking English, told reporters. "They start to press first of all politicians, then journalists, and now business. The most visible example is [former Yukos CEO Mikhail] Khodorkovskii. He is in jail without any reason. He didn't try to run away from Russia. He is not dangerous for society." Berezovskii added that he wanted to warn Western investors who might be thinking of participating in "the redistribution of property" in Russia, reported on 27 May. RC

State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) told Ekho Moskvy on 26 May that the Security Council should coordinate Russia's relations with the other CIS countries. "CIS issues are multifaceted," Kosachev said, "incorporating military, economic, and political security. It would be appropriate for them to be dealt with by a body such as the Security Council." He added, however, that if the council is unable to cope with this work, the creation of a special CIS-relations ministry or state commission should be considered. Commenting specifically on a recent decision by Turkmenistan to refuse to acknowledge Russian higher-education degrees, Kosachev said Russia has been remiss in using its "economic leverage" to pressure Ashgabat. "The influence of the state on the natural monopolies is strong, but it is not used adequately as an element of state policy in foreign relations and this is an error by our state," Kosachev said. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov met in Moscow on 26 May with Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov to discuss bilateral relations. "We found understanding on all issues," Akhmetov was quoted by ITAR-TASS as saying. "We touched upon space cooperation and the fuel-and-energy complex." RC

Prime Minister Fradkov has signed a decree stating that Russia will adopt the European Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) standard when it converts to digital television broadcasting, reported on 26 May, citing the government's press service. RIA-Novosti reported that the decree orders the Information Technologies and Communications Ministry and several other ministries to develop a plan by next year for converting to digital broadcasting. RC

The Federation Council rejected on 26 May a bill amending the law on authors' rights, Russian media reported. The bill, which passed the Duma on 18 May, would extend the period that authors have the rights to their works to 70 years from 50 years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2004). Science and Culture Committee Chairman Viktor Shudegov (Unified Russia) said that increasing the norm would lead to numerous legal battles to restore the rights of authors whose rights expired before the law came into effect, RIA-Novosti reported. In addition, the bill contradicts certain provisions of the Code on Administrative Offenses, reported. JAC

Also on 26 May, representatives officially confirmed the new representative in the Federation Council for the executive branch of Orel Oblast, Marina Rogacheva, RIA-Novosti reported. Rogacheva, 38, is the daughter of Orel Oblast Governor Yegor Stroev. Most recently, she served as deputy governor of the oblast, directing the oblast's representative office in Moscow. Rogacheva replaces Pavel Merkulov, who had served since December 2001. Also on 26 May, Igor Kamenskii was confirmed as the new representative in the council for the governor of Krasnoyarsk Krai, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 May. Kamenskii, 36, previously worked in the administration of Oneksimbank and as a vice president of Rosbank. Kamenskii replaced Pavel Fedirko, 72, who wished to take up less taxing work. JAC

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told reporters on 26 May that speculation about his early resignation is "very premature and ill-founded," ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported. State Duma Deputy Speaker Georgii Boos (Unified Russia) also denied the rumors, telling journalists that "Muscovites do not want to exchange Yurii Luzhkov -- he was elected for four years and he will work his entire term," reported. Earlier, "Russkii kurer" and "The Moscow Times" reported that Luzhkov would resign from his post before his four-year term expires to assume a position as a presidential adviser (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). JAC

Prime Minister Fradkov has renamed Aleksandr Bedritskii to head the newly restored Federal Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring Service, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. Earlier, the presidential decree reordering the Russian government had abolished the service, but after protests a decision was made to restore it. JAC

Radio Rossii reported on 26 May that border guards will greet Russian citizens and foreigners passing through their checkpoints with a smile and a show of respect, according to an order issued by Colonel General Vladimir Pronichev, first deputy director of the Federal Security Service and director of the Federal Border Guard Service. The order was issued in response to complaints about the tactless treatment of people crossing the Russian state frontier by border guards, according to Interfax. Boorishness, rudeness, and callousness are also to be eliminated. In addition, border-troop commanders have been ordered to take the complaint book under their personal control, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 27 May. JAC

Chelyabinsk Oblast Governor Petr Sumin suspended on 25 May First Deputy Governor Viktor Timashov until a criminal investigation against him is concluded, Regnum reported. Timashov is suspected of abuse of office, embezzlement, and accepting large bribes. The case against Timashov grew out of last year's audit of state unitary enterprise Yuzhuralgeologorazvedka, according to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 26 May. The oblast government earmarked 2.5 million rubles ($86,000) from the budget for the enterprise to purchase drilling equipment. However, the equipment never materialized. The oblast prosecutor's investigation of the missing millions eventually led to Timashov. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 May, a search of Timashov's apartment conducted at the end of April turned up 4 million euros ($4.8 million). Timashov told reporters in Chelyabinsk on 25 May that this was money he earned before joining the oblast government. He also denied all charges, noting that he himself ordered the investigation, according to Regnum. JAC

As of 26 May, only one candidate had expressed a firm interest in registering to contest the 29 August election for a successor to pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Interfax reported. That candidate is Mariyat Gorchkhanova, a civil servant from Urus-Martan Raion. Khalit Tagiev, an unemployed man from Grozny who announced on 25 May that he planned to run in the election, changed his mind on 26 May after ascertaining that candidates would not have access to budget funds for their campaigns, Interfax reported. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 26 May, Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov, chairman of Chechnya's Central Election Commission, predicted that "there will not be a dearth" of candidates. On 25 May, Interfax quoted Arsakhanov's deputy, Buvaisari Arsakhanov, as predicting that some 15 candidates will register, of whom five have a reasonable chance of being elected. On 26 May, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who pulled out of last October's Chechen presidential ballot to accept a post as an aide to President Putin, announced that he will not contest the election, Russian media reported. Aslakhanov added, however, that he is ready to help organize the election if requested to do so. LF

Armenian opposition party leaders rejected on 26 May a renewed offer made the previous day by the three-party ruling coalition to embark on a dialogue to resolve political tensions, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That written offer suggested that it is still possible to resolve problems through dialogue, but at the same time inferred that the opposition prefers demonstrations to dialogue and "has no interest in creating a new political atmosphere." Stepan Demirchian, leader of the opposition Artarutiun alliance, dismissed the coalition's offer as an attempt to hoodwink the Council of Europe, whose Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution last month urging a negotiated end to the standoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 April 2004). LF

Two senior Artarutiun members who were taken into custody following the violent dispersal by police early on 13 April of participants in a peaceful rally calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian were released late on 25 May, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported the following day. Aramazd Zakarian and Zhora Sapeyan, both members of the Hanrapetutiun party, admitted to having "publicly insulted" senior government officials. Also on 25 May, a local court sentenced 24-year-old Edgar Arakelian to 18 months' imprisonment for having thrown a plastic bottle at a police officer during the clash between demonstrators and police on 13 April, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2004). Arakelian's lawyer said he will appeal the sentence as too harsh. LF

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation headed by John Wakeman-Linn met in Baku on 26 May with President Ilham Aliyev and with members of the Azerbaijani government, Turan and reported on 26 and 27 May, respectively. As during their previous visit in March, the IMF team once again urged the Azerbaijani leadership to begin raising domestic oil prices to bring them in line with world prices, and to adopt legislation on the privatization of the International Bank, in which the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development wishes to acquire a 20 percent stake. The delegation also urged the government to finalize its long-term strategy for use of resources from the state Oil Fund. It suggested that monies from that fund be used to improve infrastructure (highways, water and gas mains); develop the education and public-health systems; and offset a reduction of taxes for enterprises in the non-oil sector of the national economy. No date was set for the disbursement of the next $18 million loan to which Azerbaijan is entitled under a Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility Program that expires in the summer of 2005. A delegation from the IMF will return to Baku in late July or early August. LF

Speaking on 26 May in Tbilisi at a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the declaration in 1918 of an independent Georgian state, Mikheil Saakashvili said that Georgia "is on the right path," Caucasus Press reported. He again said he is prepared to discuss with the leaders of the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia "any model of a federal state" that would grant them "enlarged autonomy" and, in the case of Abkhazia, international guarantees of security, Georgian media reported. That proposal is in line with the new plan unveiled last week that defines Georgia as a federal state within which Abkhazia is a sovereign entity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2004). Saakashvili presided on 26 May over a military parade in Tbilisi that according to Defense Ministry personnel cost 350,000 laris ($179,000), and a naval parade in Batumi. In a speech at the latter event, he said Georgia's armed forces are ready to protect the country's maritime borders, but will not undertake any aggressive naval action, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

Raul Khadjimba, who is prime minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, dismissed the formation of a single state comprising Georgia and Abkhazia as "out of the question," Interfax and Caucasus Press reported on 26 May. Khadjimba stressed that the republic's population has already affirmed its support in a referendum for the constitution, which defines Abkhazia as an independent sovereign state. In Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Foreign Minister Murad Djioev similarly told Interfax that the republic "is a sovereign state." Djioev said the South Ossetian leadership is ready for talks with Tbilisi on resolving the decade-old conflict between them, but not on creating a unified state. LF

The pro-presidential Asar (Working Together) party that is headed by Darigha Nazarbaeva wants Kazakh political forces to cooperate in drafting a so-called National Program of Political Reforms, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 26 May. Erlan Karin, the party's first deputy chairman, issued the call at a 26 May news conference. According to Karin, the program should be based on the "Kazakhstan-2030" development program, unveiled seven years ago by Nazarbaeva's father, President Nursultan Nazarbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 October 1997). It "will not provide a specific chronology" of reforms, Karin said; rather, it will contain basic principles and act as a general framework for dialogue. The strategic committee that Asar envisions to draw up the program will, according to Karin, include representatives of political parties, nongovernmental organizations, and independent experts. DK

The Drug Control Agency was opened in Bishkek on 26 May in a ceremony attended by Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime Antonio Maria Costa, and U.S. Ambassador Stephen Young, Kabar news agency reported the same day. In his remarks, Tanaev noted that 30-35 tons of narcotics pass through Kyrgyzstan each year, and half of the traffic is opium that originates in Afghanistan. The prime minister expressed the hope that the new agency will help the state to implement its antidrug policies. Costa also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev on 26 May, Kyrgyz Television reported. Akaev warned that the drug threat from Afghanistan is becoming "more acute." At a meeting with First Deputy Foreign Minister Talant Kushchubekov, also on 26 May, Costa called the opening of the Drug Control Agency an important measure to combat the burgeoning cross-border Afghan-Kyrgyz drug trade, Kyrgyzinfo reported. According to Kabar, the Drug Control Agency will receive funding from the Kyrgyz government, the United Nations, and the United States. DK

Kyrgyz politician and businessman Almaz Atambaev called a news conference on 26 May to condemn the detention and alleged beating of his bodyguard, Erkin Mambetaliev, reported the same day. Mambetaliev was arrested on 14 May in connection with the 5 May killing of anticorruption official Chynybek Aliev. According to Atambaev, police beat and choked Mambetaliev while he was in custody. The abuse allegedly took place on 24 May. Atambaev said the police were angry because Mambetaliev had a solid alibi for 5 May and wanted to beat a confession out of him to salvage their case. Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu also spoke at the news conference, confirming that he and Atambaev recently visited Mambetaliev in the hospital. Bakir-uulu said he plans to create a parliamentary commission on 28 May to examine allegations of torture by police and security forces. DK

President Akaev met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in Dushanbe on 26 May, Khovar news agency reported the same day. Rakhmonov described his counterpart's official visit as an "important landmark" in relations between the two countries, Tajik Television reported. The two leaders' talks focused on cooperation in various spheres, including trade, law enforcement, and military affairs. A number of cooperation agreements, including one on military cooperation, resulted from the meeting. Trade between the two countries more than tripled in 2003, totaling $30.5 million, reported. Trade volume in the first four months of 2004 came to $11.4 million. DK

Major General Abdujabbor Hamidov, deputy chairman of the Tajik State Border Committee, told Asia Plus-Blitz on 26 May that recent reports of Russian troop withdrawals along the Tajik-Afghan border on 24 May are incorrect. According to Hamidov, Russian border troops will only begin to hand over the border to their Tajik counterparts after a Russian working group arrives to iron out the practical details of the impending transfer. The press service of the State Border Committee confirmed to the news agency that not all of the necessary documents have been signed. Senior Russian officials will arrive in Tajikistan "soon" to discuss the handover, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May. Tajik border-troop commander Abdurahmon Azimov told the news agency that Aleksandr Manilov, deputy director of Russia's Federal Border Service, will head the Russian delegation. DK

President Rakhmonov met with Sir Mike Jackson, chief of the General Staff of the British Army, on 26 May, Khovar news agency reported the same day. The two men discussed military cooperation between their respective countries. Khovar quoted Rakhmonov as saying, "Our common position as members of the antiterrorist coalition presumes the establishment of multifaceted cooperation so that we can effectively counter new challenges and threats to security." For his part, Jackson thanked Tajikistan for the support it has provided for the reconstruction and stabilization of Afghanistan, Tajik Radio reported. Jackson also met with Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov and Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev. DK

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told International Organization for Migration Director Brunson McKinley in Minsk on 26 May that European governments should help Belarus financially to prevent illegal migrants from pouring through Belarus into the enlarged European Union, Belapan reported, citing the presidential press service. "[Otherwise], we won't be able to meet our commitments to the international community, because we have no funds," Lukashenka said. "Fighting illegal migration costs tens of millions of [U.S.] dollars." According to Lukashenka, it would be "incommensurably less expensive" for EU countries to help Belarus fight illegal migration on its territory than deal with illegal migrants in Europe. JM

Seven Belarusian opposition leaders, including United Civic Party head Anatol Lyabedzka and Valery Fralou from the Respublica caucus in the Chamber of Representatives, met with EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen in Brussels on 26 May, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. The Belarusian politicians said they asked Solana and Verheugen for greater EU pressure on President Lukashenka's regime ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections in the autumn. An EU source told RFE/RL that Solana has promised both to put diplomatic pressure on Minsk, as well as to bring up the issue in discussions with Russia. JM

President Leonid Kuchma has signed into law the Ukrainian-Romanian border treaty that was ratified by the Verkhovna Rada earlier this month, Interfax reported on 27 May. The treaty, which was signed by Kuchma and his Romanian counterpart in June 2003, sanctions the land border between the two states as it was delimited in 1961. It also confirms that Serpents Island in the Black Sea belongs to Ukraine. However, the document leaves open the issue of delimitation of the continental shelf in the vicinity of the island. The Ukrainian-Romanian land border is 609 kilometers long. JM

Mykola Mazurenko and Ivan Soschenko, two Ukrainian sailors who were sentenced in October to seven years in prison each for smuggling Iraqi oil from the port of Umm Qasr (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 May 2004), have lost an appeal against their sentence with the Iraqi Supreme Court, Interfax reported on 26 May, citing the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy said the Ukrainian government will continue to press for their release. The two are being held in Baghdad's notorious Abu Ghurayb prison complex. JM

Kyiv's Court of Appeals on 25 May deferred the hearing of the appeal against the closure of the opposition newspaper "Silski visti" for an indefinite time, the Mass Information Institute website ( reported on 26 May. In January, the Pecherskyy District Court in Kyiv imposed a ban on the publication of "Silski visti," finding it guilty of publishing anti-Semitic materials and fomenting interethnic enmity (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 3 February 2004). The Court of Appeals reportedly demanded that "Silski visti" and the International Antifascist Committee, which sued the newspaper, provide additional information and materials for the case. JM

A court in Mukacheve, Transcarpathian Oblast, on 25 May sentenced journalist Kostyantyn Sydorenko to five days in jail, finding him guilty of resisting police officers, UNIAN reported. Sydorenko denied the charge during the trial that reportedly lasted two minutes. Sydorenko was detained on 23 May -- while he was going to a police station to recover a stolen camera -- on suspicion of possessing explosives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2004). Sydorenko covered the controversial mayoral election in Mukacheve on 18 April (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 28 April 2004) for the "Horyacha liniya" (Hot Line) website ( JM

The multinational brigades within the NATO-led SFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia will be renamed Multi National Task Forces (MNTF), according to a factsheet published on NATO's official website ( on 27 May. Each MNTF will comprise approximately 1,800 troops. NATO also announced that SFOR will be reduced to 7,000 troops by June, adding that the reduction "is possible because of the increased role played by the local authorities in providing a secure and safe environment for their citizens." However, SFOR will "retain the capability to reinforce quickly within [Bosnia-Herzegovina], but NATO Over The Horizon Forces (OTHF) can quickly reinforce Bosnia and Herzegovina," according to the factsheet. SFOR will also introduce so-called Liaison and Observation Teams, small teams of SFOR soldiers that will reside in normal houses in residential communities and stay in close contact with local authorities, police, and international organizations such as the OSCE. As regards the EU's plan to take over the command of the peacekeeping mission, the factsheet says a decision is expected to be made at the June NATO summit in Istanbul, adding that "NATO remains committed to [Bosnia]. A NATO Headquarters, commanded by an American general will be established in Sarajevo at the end of the year" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 5 March 2004). UB

Newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro Michael Polt said in Belgrade on 25 May that Serbian authorities should apprehend war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic and hand him over to the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, the "Southeast European Times" reported. Polt says Serbia owes Mladic's arrest to its citizens, who he says are held hostage by this issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 21 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 9 January and 20 February 2004). UB

Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova, said in Nis on 26 May that efforts to resolve the problems in that province lost momentum with the outbreak of violence in March, Tanjug reported. Criticizing the failure to demilitarize Kosova, Covic demanded that the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) and Kosovar police be completely overhauled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April 2004). UB

Serbian authorities handed over the bodies of about 30 Albanians who were killed during the Kosova crisis in 1999 and buried in mass graves in Serbia, Tanjug reported. The bodies were identified with the help of DNA samples provided by their relatives. UB

President Branko Crvenkovski said in his keynote speech to a forum on 26 May dedicated to the country's future EU membership that "Macedonia is not and cannot be isolated from the main paths of development of modern Europe," MIA reported. Crvenkovski added that Macedonia's future lies in the EU, but he added that it must meet its obligations "without any calculations and exemptions and continue on the road to democratization, economic development, and improvement of the rule of law." According to the president, Macedonia can expect that its institution-building efforts will be supported by twinning programs, technical assistance, and the chance to participate in some EU programs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February 2004). UB

In an interview with the BBC on 26 May, President Ion Iliescu said that "democracy cannot be imposed from outside," Mediafax reported. Speaking on the situation in Iraq, Iliescu said that "any interior change must be acceptable to the population" of the country involved. He also said that terrorism might emerge not only as a result of discrepancies between rich and poor countries, but also "as a result of frustration stemming from a forceful imposition of radical change." This is the second time within the last two months that Iliescu appears to have distanced himself from the U.S. position on Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 April 2004). MS

The National Anticorruption Prosecution agreed on 26 May to suspend until after the 6 June local elections the investigation into Bucharest Mayor and Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu's alleged involvement in the illegal privatization of Romania's maritime fleet, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 August 2003). Basescu is running for a second term as mayor. His earlier request to suspend the investigation was turned down. Meanwhile, historian Marius Oprea testified on 26 May on behalf of the defense in a defamation complaint filed by Basescu against Popular Alliance Party officials Mugur Ciuvica and Max Badin, who alleged that the mayor served as an agent of the communist secret police (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2004). Oprea said he has not seen the file mentioning Basescu's name, but if a person's name figures in a file listing Securitate agents among Communist Party members, that person must have consented to being an informer. MS

Amnesty International stated in its annual report for 2003 released on 26 May that corruption in Romania has become "generalized," affects all social strata, and undermines the government's efforts to defend basic human rights and develop the country's economy. The international human rights watchdog said only a few senior officials have been called to account politically or legally for involvement in illicit deals. The report also stated that there are numerous indications that torture and mishandling of prisoners by police is taking place in Romania and that police used firearms in clashes with members of the Romany community. MS

Amnesty International wrote in its annual 2003 report that about one-half of Moldovan women encounter domestic violence and that Moldova is one of the main sources of trafficked women, who are often used for prostitution and human-organ transplants, Flux reported. The international human rights watchdog also said a "considerable part" of the country's population lives in poverty, and that low wages and high unemployment rates contribute to human trafficking. It said detention conditions did not improve over those recorded in 2002, and that prisoners are subjected to inhumane treatment. MS

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on 26 May received Belarus Defense Minister Leonid Maltev and praised the importance of a treaty Maltev and his Moldovan counterpart Victor Gaiciuc signed earlier on 26 May, Flux reported. The treaty outlines cooperation between the two countries' air forces and mutual use of equipment for military exercises. It also envisages cooperation in military instruction and in the modernization of the two countries' armed forces. MS

On the eve of the country's entry into the European Union, Slovenian radio wished its listeners a "gentle landing" in Europe. The sentiment was understandable for a small country that had successfully gone it alone for over a decade following a millennium of other unions -- from 10th-century Germanic feudalism to 20th-century Yugoslav communism.

A joke current in Slovenia plays on the traditional mistrust of alliances: the future EU gradually expands to include all of Europe, and EU bureaucracy eventually becomes centralized in the Balkan member states. One by one, the EU members then withdraw from the union, until only the former Yugoslav states remain bound together under a Belgrade-based administration.

Humor aside, international surveys of public support for the EU consistently rank Slovenes among the most enthusiastic. On 12 May, Slovenia's National Assembly adopted four postaccession priorities: successful integration into the EU, adoption of the euro by 2007, establishment of a Schengen border regime, and access to cohesion and structural funds. At the same time, Slovenia is reassessing its relations with other countries inside and outside the EU.

In the short run, accession has probably most affected relations with Croatia. New border controls mean that fish trucked from Istria to the Italian market must be routed eastward through the Brezice border crossing near Zagreb, decreasing both the freshness and market price of the catch. Croatians grumble that the detour is Slovenia's revenge for Croatia's recalcitrance on resolving outstanding issues between the two countries, including a dispute over the Bay of Piran and Croatia's declaration of a restricted fishing zone in the Adriatic Sea (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 September 2002 and 17 October 2003). Other border delays have led to Croatian charges that Slovenia was poorly prepared for EU entry, "Delo" reported on 9 May.

Slovenia had to abandon free-trade agreements with other former Yugoslav states following accession but hopes to retain these markets through strength of brand recognition (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 30 January 2004).

After accession, Slovenia coupled economics with politics by asserting its hope that other countries of Southeast Europe might soon join the union. Parliamentary speaker Borut Pahor echoed this sentiment at a 10 May meeting of parliamentary speakers from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other Balkan states in the coastal town of Portoroz.

Other East European states will also see tangible effects from Slovenia's EU membership. The thought that there could be a large influx of workers from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland caused Slovenia to register such workers even though they are not required to obtain work permits. Three weeks on, there is no sign of such a labor migration, and Slovenia's foreign workforce is likely to remain 90 percent ex-Yugoslav (in comparison, 1.4 and 1.9 percent of foreign workers come from new and old EU member states, respectively).

In the meantime, the Slovenian presence elsewhere in the east is likely to increase. Emblematic of such changes was the 12 May opening of an $83 million plant in Poland by the pharmaceutical company Lek, which will employ 300 workers.

Looking westward, conventional wisdom held that citizens of the new EU countries would board busses on 1 May, eager to take advantage of high-paying jobs and generous welfare programs. The English tabloids were perhaps most alarmist, warning of hoards of newcomers eager to exploit the British social-benefits system.

Coupled with this xenophobia was a corresponding measure of ignorance. A leading British broadcaster ran an article on 1 May profiling a "Miroslava Sopkova" who ostensibly came from Slovenia to seek her fortune in the United Kingdom. Not only is the lady's name not Slovenian, but the article goes on to describe how she arrived on "the Bratislava bus."

Despite the talk about not creating a "second-class" tier within the EU, it is hard for the newcomers not to feel slighted by the continued restrictions on free movement of labor. A government brochure distributed to Slovenes in late April reminded them that EU membership does not end labor restrictions on working in the old EU states. And the fact that Austria and Germany, for example, have waived work permits for citizens of the new member states seeking to clean buildings or maintain public parks only adds insult to injury.

Theoretically, restrictions on labor could be in place until 2011. However, Slovenian Labor Minister Vlado Dimovski announced at a forum on cohesion policy in Brussels on 10 May that he believes such restrictions will be lifted within two years.

Until then, the principle of reciprocity will mean that citizens of old EU member states will also continue to need permits to work in Slovenia. However, old EU members need not feel completely shut out from working in Slovenia without restriction. After all, the principle of reciprocity now offers Austrians and Germans unlimited rights to sweep up after Slovenian office parties or mow the grass in Ljubljana's parks.

Donald Reindl is a freelance writer and Indiana University doctoral candidate based in Ljubljana.

Pakistani troops are reported to have advanced on two border areas of the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 26 May. The alleged intrusions occurred on 25 May in the Gosari and Goshta regions, where and armed clashed have reportedly occurred between Afghan and Pakistani forces. In July 2003, Afghanistan accused its eastern neighbor of intrusions across the border in the same areas. The Afghan-Pakistani border, referred to as the "Durand Line" after Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the British signatory of the 1893 agreement that demarcated the border between Afghanistan and British India, has never officially been recognized by Afghanistan, and sections of it -- including those where alleged intrusions have taken place -- are not properly demarcated (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11, 17, and 24 July 2003). AT

The Afghan Planning Ministry is to launch a probe to evaluate the activities of the numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 26 May. According to the report, there are around 3,500 foreign and domestic NGOs working in Afghanistan and thus far no one has scrutinized their activities. Newly appointed Planning Minister Ramazan Bashardost (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 March 2004) has initiated the program that will monitor NGOs' relations with Afghan government departments and will seek transparency in the activities of NGOs, including their finances. Bashardost believes that the presence of too many NGOs has had a negative impact on the reconstruction process in his country and they have wasted millions of dollars in donations, the report added. AT

As a result of the bombing on 26 May of a suspected neo-Taliban camp in the southern Afghan Kandahar Province, eight militants were killed, AP reported on 27 May. The bombing in the Arghistan region of Kandahar occurred after a gun battle between U.S. forces and suspected neo-Taliban militants. Kandahar provincial government spokesman Khaled Pashtun estimated that eight neo-Taliban members, including a local commander named Qari Mohammad Ali, were killed in the raid. Earlier reports had indicated that up to 20 neo-Taliban were killed in the attack (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 26 May 2004). AT

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai has been named the recipient of the 2004 Philadelphia Liberty Medal, a Liberty Medal press release indicated on 26 May. Karzai will accept the medal and its accompanying $100,000 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on 4 July. Martin Meyerson, chairman since the medal's inception in 1988 of its International Selection Commission, said: "The Philadelphia Liberty Medal has always been awarded to world leaders of great courage, vision, and faith in the future," and Karzai "abundantly exhibits those cherished qualities. He is working tirelessly and skillfully to unify his country's diverse factions, strengthen its economy, and move toward democratic values and practices." Past recipients of the Philadelphia Liberty Medal include, among others, Jimmy Carter, Lech Walesa, Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel. AT

Iran's reformist-dominated parliament, the sixth since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, held its last official session on 26 May, Iranian news agencies reported. Speaker Mehdi Karrubi defended the chamber's political and economic record against conservative critics who say it neglected public welfare, saying the parliament "passed the most and the best [economic] bills" during its four-year term, Fars News Agency reported. Karrubi said the parliament's attention to political reforms under his tenure helped safeguard civil rights and prevent recurrences of state abuses such as the 1998 killings of liberal dissidents, IRNA reported on 26 May. He blamed those killings on the conservative-dominated fifth parliament that ruled at the time, which the speaker said cared little for politics. "In a society without a political atmosphere, these things happen," Karrubi said. He demanded again that the Guardians Council, a supervisory body, explain why it barred many reformists from running in the 20 February parliamentary elections, Fars News Agency reported. That move essentially assured a conservative victory because of the resulting low voter turnout (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2004). "You cannot extensive group, without an explanation," IRNA quoted him as saying. In reference to the Guardians Council, Karrubi added, "The leader says, 'I am accountable,' and you say you are not?" VS

Amnesty International says in its annual report released on 26 May that "flagrant violations" of Iranian and international laws continued in Iran in 2003, in spite of what it called a growing awareness of human rights there. The report notes that 108 people were executed in Iran in 2003, "including long-term political prisoners, and frequently in public." The report also states that dissidents and journalists were arrested, the Internet was at times partially blocked, and that a political stalemate between reformers and conservatives hindered the "development and fulfilment of human rights in Iran." However, the report cites as positive developments "a growing sense" of the importance of human rights, visits by UN envoys, and informal human rights consultations with the EU since 2002. Meanwhile, "Iran" reported on 26 May that Iranian and unspecified European "professors, jurists, and human rights experts" are to meet in Tehran on 14 and 15 June, in the fourth such meeting in recent years to discuss human rights. VS

Deputy Interior Minister Morteza Muballeq, who ran the ministry's electoral headquarters during the 20 February parliamentary elections, and 18 district governors have been summoned to a Tehran court in connection with "observations and speeches..., made as part of their legal duties in the course of the seventh parliamentary elections," IRNA reported on 26 May, citing an unidentified Interior Ministry official. The date of the summons was not provided in the report, and it did not mention whether the officials had been charged for any offences. The news agency added that Mahmud Mirluhi, the deputy interior minister for legal and parliamentary affairs, appeared at the same Tehran court on 24 May after the public prosecutor filed a suit against Mirluhi for the alleged "publication of falsehoods and incitement of public opinion." Mirluhi, who headed the Interior Ministry's electoral inspectorate, reportedly answered an interrogator's questions. VS

Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani said in Tehran on 26 May that Iran "can build every type of defensive equipment that exists on land and in the air," "Entekhab" reported on 27 May. "At present, 1,700 types of defence products are made inside the country," he said, adding that there "was a time [when] we could only dream of making such products." Shamkhani said the Defense Ministry "currently meets 50 percent of the country's defence needs," and has "surplus" materiel it can export. Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 26 May condemned as "savage acts that have become unnatural" the unspecified "desecration" of Iraqi Shi'a shrines by coalition forces, IRNA reported. A shrine in Al-Najaf was hit by what appeared to be mortar shells on 25 May during fighting between U.S. forces and militiamen loyal to radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr, although U.S. forces have denied responsibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2004). "I think because of the defeats they suffer every day in Iraq, American soldiers have lost all self-control and are resorting to insane acts," Assefi said. VS

Al-Sadr has reportedly agreed to remove his Imam Al-Mahdi Army from the holy city of Al-Najaf, ending a weeks-long standoff with coalition forces, international media reported on 27 May. Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told Dubai's Al-Arabiyah television that al-Sadr has agreed to a four-point plan as part of the agreement. The deal calls for the cleric's militia to withdraw from the city and all government buildings, allowing Iraqi police to return to their jobs. For their part, occupation forces are to withdraw to their bases, except in cases where they are providing security to government buildings. Al-Sadr's militia is to halt all policing activities and "refrain from competing" with the police, al-Rubay'i said. The militia has been accused of pursuing, detaining, and trying individuals on its own in recent months. KR

National security adviser al-Rubay'i told Al-Arabiyah that discussions will take place with representatives of the Shi'ite leadership in Al-Najaf on the future of the Al-Mahdi Army, and on how to handle arrest warrants issued for al-Sadr and some of his aides. An Iraqi judge issued an arrest warrant months ago for al-Sadr for his alleged role in the 10 April 2003 assassination of Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). It appears that U.S. and Iraqi forces will not arrest the cleric at this time. Meanwhile, Al-Arabiyah reported that hundreds of al-Sadr's followers held a demonstration in the Al-Kazimiyah neighborhood of Baghdad on 27 May. Protesters accused U.S. forces of shelling the Imam Ali Shrine this week, a charge the coalition has denied (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2004). KR

Three U.S. Marines were killed in fighting on 27 May in Al-Anbar Province, located west of Baghdad, international media reported. A statement issued by the U.S. military said the deaths occurred "while conducting security and stability operations," but released no further details, AP reported. Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera reported that one Iraqi civilian was killed and seven were wounded when they were trapped in fighting between militants and U.S. soldiers in Baghdad on 27 May. Eyewitnesses said that six of the wounded were on a bus when they were caught in a crossfire. The fighting reportedly erupted after an explosive charge targeting a U.S. convoy detonated. It is unclear whether the charge caused damage to the convoy. KR

United Nations special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi is continuing consultations with Iraqi figures in Baghdad this week as he works to build an interim government, UN News Center reported on 26 May ( Brahimi's spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said that the envoy is making progress in terms of consensus building. Brahimi "remains of the view that [the process] needs to be -- and can be -- brought to closure very soon, so that the new government will have sufficient time to prepare to assume power and engage in meaningful consultations on the forthcoming [UN] Security Council resolution," Fawzi said. He added that Brahimi will not comment on any proposed leaders for the time being, as such commentary might undermine the entire process or place individuals in compromising positions. Fawzi did acknowledge on behalf of Brahimi that the envoy has met with Husayn al-Shahristani on several occasions, saying Brahimi "has no doubt that Mr. Shahristani could serve his country well in a number of positions in government." Shahristani was rumored to have been named the interim prime minister this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2004). KR

Some 200 representatives from more than 35 donor countries gathered in Doha, Qatar, this week for the International Reconstruction Fund Facility for Iraq's (IRFFI) two-day conference aimed at drumming up additional reconstruction funds for Iraq, Doha's "Gulf Times" reported on 26 May. Representatives from the World Bank, the United Nations, and six regional agencies also attended the meeting. Ten countries joined the IRFFI this week: Belgium, Chile, France, Germany, Iran, Jordan, the Netherlands, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. Japan's Shigeru Nakamura, who chairs the IRFFI's donor committee, said that the primary objective of this meeting is to get member states to act quickly on their pledges in light of the upcoming 30 June transfer of power. Some $1 billion has been contributed to the fund thus far by 19 member states. UN special adviser Ross Mountain said that some $232 million will be spent on 17 ongoing projects in Iraq, while the World Bank has said that $500 million will be committed to specific projects within two months, "Gulf Times" reported. KR

Russia's Emergency Situations Ministry began on 27 May evacuating some 239 employees of Interenergoservis from Iraq, after two were killed and eight injured in an attack on 26 May, Russian and international media reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said the Russian Embassy will continue working as usual and about 10 Russian journalists will remain in the country, ITAR-TASS reported. Yakovenko told NTV that a small number of Russian specialists in Al-Basrah will likely also return to Russia soon. Federation Council International Relations Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov told RIA-Novosti that the evacuation does not mean a curtailing of Russia's role in the country. "The main goal today is Russia's active participation in discussing the fate of Iraq, in stabilizing the situation there, primarily through the United Nations and other international organizations," Margelov said. Asked by NTV about the situation in Iraq, Yakovenko said: "Unfortunately, the security situation in Iraq is constantly worsening and the coalition forces cannot enforce security in that country. The coalition troops, as occupying forces, bear full responsibility for security and everything happening in that country." RC