PUTIN CALLS FOR SPEEDY RESOLUTION OF IRAQI DEBT ISSUE...
Speaking to reporters on 10 June during a summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries in the U.S. state of Georgia, President Vladimir Putin said he thinks the problem of Iraq's foreign debt should be resolved by the end of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. "This doesn't mean it will be resolved, but that would be highly desirable," Putin said. He added that Moscow will not unilaterally write off Iraq's debt to Russia. "We're members of the Paris Club of Sovereign Creditors and we encountered certain costs while joining that club, so that is why all these problems must be solved in that format," Putin said." Putin also said that NATO should not become involved in Iraq because the alliance would "get a real enemy" if it did. "If the Iraqi problem is to be settled in earnest, a better option to do it is on the basis of the UN," Putin said. RC
...AND SAYS RUSSIA WILL NOT CONTRIBUTE TO MIDDLE EAST ASSISTANCE FUND
President Putin did not support at the G-8 summit a proposal by U.S. President George W. Bush to create a $100 million Middle East assistance fund, RTR reported on 10 June. ITAR-TASS reported the same day that Putin said Russia will not contribute to such a fund "until it understands how the money is being spent" and "only if it is able to influence the processes taking place." He added, however, that he supports Bush's so-called Greater Middle East initiative, although the ideas need further refining and "there is still the question of how the initiative is to be implemented." RC
GORBACHEV TO REPRESENT RUSSIA AT REAGAN'S FUNERAL
President Putin on 10 June expressed his condolences regarding the 5 June death of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, ITAR-TASS reported. He described Reagan as "an outstanding politician of the last century." Putin announced that former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev will officially represent Russia at Reagan's 11 June funeral in Washington, D.C. RC
COURT AGAIN ACQUITS ALL DEFENDANTS IN CASE OF MURDERED INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST...
The Moscow Military District Court on 10 June acquitted all six defendants in the long-running case of the 1994 murder of "Moskovskii komsomolets" journalist Dmitrii Kholodov, Russian media reported. Kholodov, who was known for his sensational investigations of financial impropriety in the Defense Ministry, was killed when a briefcase that he believed contained incriminating documents exploded at the newspaper's offices. Prosecutors alleged that former Airborne Troops Colonel Pavel Popovskikh and five other intelligence officers killed Kholodov at the behest of then-Defense Minister Pavel Grachev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2004). The current trial is the second in the case. In June 2002, the Moscow Military District court acquitted Popovskikh and the others (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2002), but the Supreme Court overturned that verdict in May 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2003) and ordered a new trial. The court ordered prosecutors to reinvestigate the case to find the real culprits. RC
...AS ALL SIDES SAY THIS IS NOT THE END OF THE MATTER
Prosecutor Irina Aleshina told ITAR-TASS on 10 June that the state will appeal the verdict. "I completely disagree with the court ruling, which is an exact copy of [the last] verdict," she said. Defense lawyer Yelena Tomashevskaya told Ekho Moskvy on 10 June that she believes her clients' reputations have been harmed by the trial and said they should seek legal redress. "Since the 1995 preliminary investigation, the Prosecutor-General's Office has had all the evidence that the people they put on trial are innocent," she said. Kholodov's father, Yurii Kholodov, told ITAR-TASS that he intends to appeal the 10 June verdict to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. "The verdict fully confirms my conviction about the guilt of all the persons charged in this case," Kholodov said. RC
YUKOS CLAIMS A SMALL VICTORY IN THE SWISS COURTS
Genrikh Padva, a lawyer for jailed former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, told RIA-Novosti on 10 June that Switzerland's Federal Court of Justice has struck down a decision by Swiss prosecutors to comply with a Russian court order to freeze the personal bank accounts of Khodorkovskii and other leading Yukos shareholders. He added, however, that the ruling did not necessarily apply to all the accounts that have been frozen and did not specify to which accounts it did apply. "Finansovye izvestiya" reported on 11 June that it had been unable to confirm Pavda's statement with Swiss authorities. The paper reported that Yukos's lawyers have filed 10 appeals connected to the case in Swiss courts and that three of them were rejected last week. RC
NEW FEDERAL BROADCAST LICENSING COMMISSION ANNOUNCED...
The composition of the Culture and Mass Communications Ministry's new Federal Tenders Commission (FKK), which is responsible for issuing television and radio broadcasting licenses, has been announced, "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 June. The committee will be chaired by Deputy Culture and Mass Communications Minister Leonid Nadirov and will include: Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency Director Mikhail Seslavinskii, Federal Press and Mass Communications Agency Deputy Director Andrei Romanchenko, acting ministry licensing department head Boris Boyarskov, Russian Television Academy President Vladimir Pozner, "Iskusstvo kino" Editor in Chief Daniil Dondurei, Golos Rossii radio station Chairman Armen Oganesyan, National Telebroadcasters Association President Eduard Sagalaev, and special adviser to the general director of UNESCO Genrikh Yushkyavichus. The new FKK's first session is scheduled for 15 June. The daily reported that its regulations remain virtually unchanged from those of the former FKK, except that now decisions on licenses will be made by secret ballot. RC
...AS MEDIA NOTE ABSENCE OF FORMER MEDIA MINISTER AND OTHER NOTABLES
The June 1999 creation of the FKK was widely regarded as one of the most significant achievements of the former Media Ministry under Media Minister Mikhail Lesin. "Vremya novostei" noted on 11 June that Lesin, who is now President Putin's adviser on the media and who was a member of the old FKK, was excluded from the new commission. Other former FKK members who did not make the new commission are Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, former Media Ministry FKK representative Sergei Nikanorov, Internews Director Manana Aslamazyan, sociologist Vsevolod Vilchek, and state Radio Research Institute associate Mark Krivosheev. "I am upset that Aslamazyan is not on the FKK," Dondurei told "Vremya novostei." "I think there should be more representatives of public organizations than bureaucrats on the FKK." "Gazeta" and grani.ru reported on 11 June that Boyarskov is a former vice president of Yevrofinans, a company with major investments in the television sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). Moreover, Oganesyan's Golos Rossii is part of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), the state-owned media conglomerate that includes RTR, Kultura, Sport television, and a stake in Euronews. RC
HOUSING-REFORM BILLS SPARK DUMA DRAMA...
Discussion on the floor of the State Duma of a package of housing-reform bills prompted the Communist and Motherland factions to walk out of the 10 June session, Russian news agencies reported. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Motherland faction member Oleg Shein told reporters that their factions are categorically against the bills, characterizing them as an attack on citizens' social rights. After the factions left the hall, deputies voted to pass the draft Housing Code in its first reading by a vote of 337-10, newsru.com reported. Deputies also passed a number of bills amending various laws, such as the Budget Code, Tax Code, Civil Code, and laws on mortgages, mortgage insurance, the basics of federal housing policies, housing owners' associations, payments for land, and privatization of the Russian Federation's housing fund, lenta.ru reported. Unified Russia and government experts worked together to draft the Housing Code. According to ITAR-TASS, the code is a framework document for the package of 27 draft laws aimed a creating an affordable housing market. State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov told ORT that the goal of the legislation is to reduce housing prices and spark demand for new construction. JAC
...AS OPPONENTS THREATEN TO GO TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT
Motherland faction member Shein had a different take on the bill. He said that if the laws are adopted in their current form, Russia "will have a very big housing market, because a colossal number of apartments will lose their owners," newsru.com reported on 10 June. The Communist Party announced that it will file a complaint with the Constitutional Court regarding procedural violations they claim occurred in the passage of the Housing Code in its first reading. Article 72 of the constitution requires that federation subjects be given 30 days to participate in discussions on the housing legislation. According to independent Deputy Galina Khovanskaya, the 30-day period will not expire until 12 June. JAC
MORE THAN 1 MILLION MARCH TO DEFEND BENEFITS...
Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) head Mikhail Shmakov told reporters on 10 June that more than 1 million people took part in protests and rallies across Russia to protest proposed changes in legislation regarding social benefits, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004). Other trade union demands, according to Shmakov, are for the payment of wage arrears and a 50 percent increase in wages for state-sector workers, RIA-Novosti reported. FNPR originally estimated that 36 million people would participate, and according to gazeta.ru, the action turned out not only to be smaller but also more geographically divided than expected. For example, about 100,000 people participated in rallies and pickets in Irkutsk, while throughout the rest of the Far East and Siberian federal districts, the total number of picketers reached only 35,000. In Moscow, about 1,500 people participated, while St. Petersburg drew only about 200. The chairman of the Irkutsk Oblast Council of Trade Unions said that about 35 percent of the local population makes less than the minimum monthly wage, according to newsru.com. JAC
...AS TENSION IN SOUTHERN MINING REGION REMAINS HIGH
Tensions in mining regions in Rostov Oblast have not abated despite the payment of back wages to some striking workers, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Vladimir Yakovlev told reporters in Nalchik on 10 June, RIA-Novosti reported. In the evening of 9 June, 17 workers of a subsidiary of the coal-mining company Rostovugol who were participating in a hunger strike in the city of Shakty received their back wages. However, 27 workers at a different subsidiary of Rostovugol in the same city remain unpaid and are continuing their strike, according to the news agency. Some 700 workers in the region have not been paid for a year. JAC
FIGHT OVER SIBERIAN POWER PLANT RESOLVED PEACEABLY
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais told reporters in Dushanbe on 9 June that the conflict over control of the Sayano-Shushenskaya hydroelectric complex has been resolved, "Izvestiya" reported on 10 June. After negotiations in Moscow on 8 June, Khakasia Republic President Aleksei Lebed agreed to drop demands that the plant be returned to federal ownership, and EES agreed not to reregister the plant in Krasnoyarsk Krai. The negotiations were held in Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov's office, with Chubais, Lebed, Zhukov, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, and Base Elements head Oleg Deripaska participating. According to the daily, Lebed did not attempt to raise the issue of reaching a multiyear agreement on lower electricity tariffs with EES. JAC
ELECTION HEAD DENIES WANTING TO BANISH BLOCS
In an interview with "Itogi," No. 23, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov said that he does not "yet" wish to ban electoral blocs from participating in elections, although "we will probably come to this." "Izvestiya" reported last month the commission was considering such a ban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004). Veshnyakov added that the experience of the Motherland bloc splitting soon after being elected to the State Duma "will cause voters to treat such blocs with suspicion." Veshnyakov also said that there is support in the Federation Council for holding elections to the upper legislative chamber from the single-mandate districts currently used to elect State Duma deputies. JAC
FORMER FAPSI DIRECTOR GIVEN NEW POST
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov on 10 June named Vladimir Matyukhin director of the Federal Agency for Information Technology, RIA-Novosti reported. Matyukhin is a former director of the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI). The same day, Fradkov appointed Sergei Mazurenko, a former deputy industry and science minister, to head the Federal Agency for Science and Innovation. Fradkov has also dismissed Eumurd Rustamov as deputy property relations minister, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 June. JAC
DUMA KEEPS SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER AT ARM'S LENGTH
Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, was not admitted on 10 June to a joint meeting of three Duma committees (on CIS affairs, security issues, and international affairs) that was to discuss an appeal by the South Ossetian parliament to the Duma to recognize the republic as an independent state and incorporate it into the Russian Federation, the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2 reported on its website (www.rustavi2.com). ITAR-TASS on 10 June quoted CIS Affairs Committee Chairman Andrei Kokoshin as saying that while the Duma is aware of the content of the South Ossetian appeal, it has not yet received it. Kokoity for his part told journalists in Moscow that the request is valid on historic and legal grounds. Kokoity further accused the Georgian authorities of failing to fulfill the commitment they made last week to withdraw additional Interior Ministry forces sent to South Ossetia in late May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 3 June 2004). LF
INTERIOR MINISTER NOMINATED AS CANDIDATE FOR CHECHEN BALLOT
The Chechen leadership formally nominated Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov as a candidate for the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, who was killed in a bombing in Grozny on 9 May, Russian news agencies reported. Thousands of Chechens who converged on 10 June on the village of Tsentoroi to pay their last respects to Kadyrov's elder son Zelimkhan, who recently died of heart failure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004), endorsed that decision, as did Kadyrov's younger son Ramzan; Akhmar Zavgaev, who represents Chechnya in the State Duma; State Duma Speaker Gryzlov; and Dmitrii Rogozin, who heads the Motherland Duma faction. Zavgaev described Alkhanov, 47, as "a man of responsibility, honor, courage and initiative," ITAR-TASS reported. "Gazeta" on 4 June noted Alkhanov's proven ability to seek and reach a compromise. LF
LAST DISPLACED-PERSONS CAMP IN INGUSHETIA CLOSED
The Satsita camp for displaced persons was formally closed on 10 June, Russian media reported. It is not clear how many of the residents, of whom there were reportedly 960 as recently as 27 May, have returned to Chechnya and how many have found alternative private accommodation in Ingushetia. Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov stressed on 9 June that no one is being forced to return to Chechnya, Interfax reported. At the same time, he appealed to international organizations to continue to provide humanitarian aid for both Chechnya and Ingushetia. LF
SLOVAK AID WORKER REPORTED MISSING IN NORTH CAUCASUS
Miriam Jevikova, a 28-year-old Slovak woman employed by a Czech humanitarian agency, disappeared in the North Caucasus 10 days ago, and her colleagues fear she may have been abducted, dpa and Interfax reported on 10 June. Jevikova left Pyatigorsk in late May to travel to Ingushetia where she planned to meet with and try to assist Chechen displaced persons. Interfax quoted the Slovak Embassy on Moscow as saying that it has alerted the Russian government; but Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman Ruslan Atsaev told Interfax the same day that his ministry has not received any report that a Slovak citizen is missing. LF
TWO MEN FINED FOR ASSAULTING ARMENIAN JOURNALISTS
A Yerevan court handed down fines of 100,000 drams ($182) on 10 June to two men found guilty of assaulting journalists and deliberately smashing camera equipment during a rally in Yerevan on 5 April convened by the opposition National Accord Party, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The journalists involved dismissed the trial and sentence as "a farce." Also on 10 June, Grisha Virabian, a member of the opposition Artarutiun alliance who underwent emergency surgery after being beaten by police in the wake of an opposition demonstration in Yerevan in mid-April, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that local prosecutors in his hometown of Artashat have threatened to charge him with assaulting police and illegal possession of arms. LF
ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT PLANS INCREASE IN PUBLIC SPENDING
The Armenian government made public on 10 June proposals to increase public spending in 2004 by 12 billion drams, or almost 4 percent, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The additional funds result from a deal reached in 2003 on servicing Armenia's debts to Russia and Turkmenistan. Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian said 7 billion drams will be used on secondary schools and the remainder on reconstruction in the zone devastated by the 1988 earthquake and for improving gas and water supplies to rural areas. Khachatrian also said on 19 June that Armenia hopes to receive up to $700 million over the next five years under the recently announced U.S. Millennium Challenge program. LF
AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES BAN TWO OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATIONS
The Baku municipal authorities have again refused a request by the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party to convene a mass demonstration in the city, Turan reported on 10 June. The protest was originally scheduled for 29 May and then postponed, when permission was not granted, until 12 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2004). The municipal authorities argued that there is no need to hold a demonstration to protest human-rights violations and socioeconomic conditions, as the latter are improving, Azerbaijan is complying with its international human-rights commitments, and thousands of prisoners have been released from jail. Meanwhile Vugar Safarov, head of the Nakhichevan municipal council, has similarly banned a protest scheduled for 14 June by the recently founded Center for Democratic Development, Turan reported on 10 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2004). LF
TRIAL OF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS POSTPONED
Presiding judge Mansur Ibaev adjourned on 11 June until 17 June the trial of the seven leading opposition politicians charged in connection with their imputed role on the clashes between police and opposition supporters in Baku on 15-16 October in the wake of the disputed presidential election, Turan reported. Ibaev said the hearing was adjourned because the accused refuse to attend the court session. A lawyer for one of the seven men said on 11 June that the authorities at the Bailov pretrial detention center have disconnected electricity and water supplies to the cells where the men are being held in solitary confinement and are refusing to allow them access to newspapers, Turan reported. The seven men have declared a hunger strike to protest the conditions. LF
AZERBAIJANI POLICE THWART PICKET OF U.S. EMBASSY
Police in Baku prevented members of the Islamic Democratic Party from gathering on 10 June outside the U.S. embassy in Baku where they intended to stage a protest against U.S. policy in Iraq, Turan reported, quoting party chairman Tair Abbas. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT VOTES CONFIDENCE IN GOVERNMENT
Parliament deputies approved the revised structure of the cabinet on 10 June by a vote of 150 in favor with six against, Georgian media reported. The opposition Industrialists/Right Wing did not participate in the vote on the grounds that ministerial appointments were to be approved collectively and not individually. Addressing the session, Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania outlined a five-year economic program that includes speeding up the privatization of state-owned enterprises, Interfax reported on 10 June. LF
ABKHAZIA REJECTS NEW GEORGIAN SETTLEMENT PLAN
Sergei Shamba, foreign minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, has rejected the offer of "a state entity within Georgia with maximum powers" contained in a new proposal for resolving the conflict drafted by Georgian experts, Caucasus Press reported on 10 June. Shamba stressed that the people of Abkhazia have opted for independence and are prepared to tolerate economic hardship in the hope that the international community will one day grant formal recognition to Abkhazia. The peace plan, which was published in the Georgian daily "24 saati" on 9 June, comprises two documents, "Vremya novostei" reported on 10 June: an "Agreement on Resolving the Conflict" and a "Constitutional Law -- Federal Agreement on the Special Status of Abkhazia" (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 10 June 2004). "Vremya novostei" quoted Georgian legal expert Paata Zakareishvili, one of the co-authors of the draft, as saying that its definition of the relations between Abkhazia and the central Georgian government is similar to that between Catalonia and the central Spanish government. He predicted that Russia would not object to such a constitutional arrangement even though it offers more extensive powers than Moscow has granted to any of the subjects of the Russian Federation. LF
U.S.-KAZAKH ENERGY COMMISSION MEETS
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Kyle McSlarrow met with Kazakh Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik and Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov in Astana on 10 June for the third session of the Kazakh-U.S. commission for energy partnership, news agencies reported the same day. Interfax-Kazakhstan quoted McSlarrow as saying, "We are pleased with how energy cooperation has developed between our countries since Kazakhstan gained independence." For his part, Akhmetov stated, "The United States holds first place in terms of investment in the Kazakh economy -- it has totaled over $9 billion over the past 10 years, largely in the oil and energy sectors." McSlarrow went on to say that the United States regards Kazakhstan "not only as a strategic partner but as a friend and ally." Shkolnik opened the meeting by noting that Kazakhstan hopes to produce 150 million tons of oil a year by 2015, Kazinform reported. DK
KAZAKH-UZBEK BORDER ROW CONTINUES
Kazakh First Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abuseitov said on 10 June that Uzbekistan was premature in justifying the actions of its border guards before the completion of an investigation into a 1 June fatal shooting on the Kazakh-Uzbek border, Khabar TV reported on 10 June. Additionally, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry invited Uzbek Ambassador Turdyqul Butoyarov to discuss the progress of the investigation. Uzbek border guards shot and killed a Kazakh national on 1 June under disputed circumstances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 June 2004). DK
KYRGYZ, TAJIK PRESIDENTS ADDRESS EURASIA CONFERENCE
Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov addressed the international forum "Eurasia in the 21st Century: Dialogue of Cultures or Clash of Civilizations?" in Cholpon Ata, Kyrgyzstan on 10 June, Kyrgyz and Tajik news agencies reported the same day. In his remarks, the Tajik president stressed that only dialogue and partnership are capable of resolving security issues, overcoming terrorism, and halting the globalization of violence, Tajik TV reported. For his part, the Kyrgyz president noted that globalization is exacerbating the plight of most people in the world, Kabar news agency reported. Nevertheless, Akaev placed his faith in dialogue and suggested that the phrase "clash of civilizations" should be eliminated from the international political lexicon. Other participants in the conference included UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura, Special Envoy for Central Asia to the OSCE chairman-in-office Martti Ahtisaari, and representatives from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey, and Turkmenistan. DK
KYRGYZ OPPOSITION NOMINATES FORMER PREMIER FOR PRESIDENCY
Kyrgyzstan's For People Power opposition bloc announced on 10 June that it will support former Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev in the 2005 presidential elections, akipress.org reported the same day. Bakiev served as prime minister in 2002; he resigned in May 2002 amid public outrage over the government's handling of unrest in Aksy. The bloc, which was formed on 14 January 2004, consists of Asaba, Kairan El, the Democratic Movement Kyrgyzstan, ErK, Erkindik, the Republican Party, and Young Kyrgyzstan. Bakiev is the first officially declared candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. DK
PREMIER SAYS TAJIK POWER SECTOR NEEDS $2 BILLION
Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov told the 25th session of the CIS Energy Council in Dushanbe on 10 June that Tajikistan's hydropower sector will need $2 billion in investment over a 5-6 year period to provide neighboring countries with cheap, abundant energy, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. The investment could help to boost annual energy production to 15 billion kilowatt hours. Overall, the prime minister said that Tajikistan is using a mere 3-4 percent of its total energy potential of 520 billion kilowatt hours. Anatolii Chubais, CEO of Russia's Unified Energy Systems, told the session that he sees "serious progress" on the CIS energy market, Interfax reported. Chubais went on to say that he is "impressed by the potential and also by the enormous amount of work that remains to be done," RIA-Novosti reported. DK
UZBEK ARMED FORCES GET $6.9 MILLION IN U.S. AID
U.S. Ambassador Jon Purnell presented Uzbekistan on 10 June with a $6.9 million aid package, Uzbek radio reported the same day. The package consists of equipment for the Defense Ministry, border troops, Customs Committee, Interior Ministry, and National Security Service. The lion's share -- $4.8 million worth of communications hardware -- will go to the National Security Service's border troops, UzA reported. DK
ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER WARNS AGAINST LOW TURNOUT IN EUROPARLIAMENT ELECTIONS
Guenter Verheugen warned in Prague on 10 June against a low turnout in the elections to the European Parliament, CTK and international news agencies reported. The ballot began on the same day with elections in the Netherlands and Great Britain. Czechs go to the polls on 11-12 June and the process in all 25 EU members is to end on 13 June, when citizens in 19 states will have gone to the polls. "I urge all voters to use their chance to influence the European institutions, but particularly the new EU member countries, who have been denied this opportunity for so long," AFP quoted Verheugen as saying. Verheugen also warned that a low turnout could favor "unusual" candidates and "produce very strange results, and even result in anti-European organizations being elected." Verheugen also said that he hopes agreement on the planned European constitution would be reached at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Conference in Brussels next week. "We desperately need a constitution, a clear and transparent founding document. Failure would be a real disaster. Psychologically, it could be devastating and would be a serious setback for European integration," he said. MS
READERS SUPPORT FINED BELARUSIAN NONSTATE DAILY
Some 400 readers of "Narodnaya volya," Belarus's only nonstate daily, formed a "chain of concerned people" in front of the presidential office in Minsk on 10 June to protest the heavy fine imposed by a court on the daily, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Last month the Supreme Court upheld a lower court's ruling ordering "Narodnaya volya" to pay 50 million rubles ($23,000) in damages for libeling Yahor Rybakou, former chief of the Belarusian State Television and Radio Company, who earlier this year was jailed on charges of abuse of office, theft, and corruption (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004). The editorial office says the fine is ruinous for the daily. "Today's demonstration has shown that people want to have access to free information, not censored [information]," "Narodnaya Volya" Editor in Chief Iosif Syaredzich told Belapan. JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT URGES 'TECHNOLOGICAL, ECONOMIC BREAKTHROUGH'
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka told a seminar for government officials in Vitsebsk on 10 June that the planned 10 percent economic growth in the country in 2004 should be achieved "primarily through the introduction of new, high quality and highly competitive technologies," Belarusian Television reported. Lukashenka said Belarus's technological progress fully depends on its internal resources and creative potential, adding that there is little hope for investment from abroad. Lukashenka stressed that Belarus needs to concentrate its efforts on several "technological directions." "[We need] to create an efficient mechanism for a powerful technological and economic breakthrough," he emphasized. Lukashenka also said Belarus needs to replace 25 percent of the currently consumed energy resources with domestic types of fuel and suggested to make better use of the wood and peat deposits available in the country, Belapan reported. JM
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL MOVES TO STRIP OPPOSITION HEAD OF DEPUTY IMMUNITY...
Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasylyev has requested that the Verkhovna Rada strip Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous opposition bloc, of her parliamentary immunity, thus enabling prosecutors to proceed with a criminal case against her, Interfax reported on 10 June. Last month the Prosecutor-General's Office instituted criminal proceedings against Tymoshenko on charges of organizing bribery of a judge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004). Vasylyev's request will now be viewed by the parliamentary Regulations Committee, which will decide whether to submit it for consideration of the entire house or return to the sender. Tymoshenko commented the same day that the Prosecutor-General's Office has fabricated the case against her in order to prevent a presidential-campaign coalition between her bloc and Our Ukraine led by Viktor Yushchenko. JM
...AND CLAIMS PROGRESS IN PROBING JOURNALIST'S DEATH
Prosecutor-General Vasylyev told journalists in Kyiv on 10 June that investigators have made progress in their probe of the murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax reported. Vasylyev said his office questioned Ukrainian businessman Volodymyr Tsvil who is now living in Munich. Tsvil, who claims to know some details connected with the clandestine recordings made by presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in President Leonid Kuchma's office, told Deutsche Welle last month that Yevhen Marchuk and Volodymyr Radchenko, former chiefs of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and current SBU head Ihor Smeshko knew that Melnychenko was secretly taping Kuchma. The Melnychenko tapes link high-ranking Ukrainian officials, including Kuchma, parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, and former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, to Gongadze's murder. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CANCELS STATE MONOPOLY IN ALCOHOL, TOBACCO PRODUCTION
President Kuchma has introduced amendments to a 2002 decree that effectively annuls the state monopoly in the manufacturing of alcoholic drinks and tobacco products, UNIAN reported on 11 June. Kuchma's move followed last month's ruling of the Constitutional Court saying that the decree's provisions pertaining to the establishment of state monopoly in the production of and trade in alcohol and tobacco products contradict the Ukrainian Constitution. JM
EU ENLARGEMENT COMMISSIONER SAYS UKRAINE NOT ON THE AGENDA
Guenther Verheugen told journalists in Prague on 10 June that Ukraine's accession to the European Union is not on Brussels' current agenda, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. "That doesn't mean that it cannot be on the agenda of Ukraine," Verheugen added." What we can offer Ukraine is the 'neighborhood policy' and we are offering Ukraine a very ambitious action plan. That would mean of course that Ukraine will come closer and closer [to the EU].... But we cannot make promises which we are not able to keep at a very short notice." JM
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SAYS BOSNIAN LEADERS SHOULD RESIGN
Paddy Ashdown said on 10 June in Sarajevo that the members of Bosnia's joint presidency should take responsibility for large-scale embezzlement of public funds and resign, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. A report by the audit office of the joint Bosnian institutions published on 9 June "found evidence of frequent irregularities in procurement, excessive spending, underreporting of expenditure, and inflated staff salaries," according to the Office of the High Representative's website (http://www.ohr.int). Ashdown added that in a normal state the leaders would take responsibility, resign, and order an investigation. UB
ELECTORAL SILENCE BEGINS IN SERBIA...
At midnight on 11 June, electoral silence began in Serbia for the first round of the 13 June presidential elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The ban on political campaigning will last until the polling stations close on election day. For the first time, voters in the large Serbian diaspora can also participate in the presidential vote. Polls predict a runoff on 27 June between Serbian Radical Party (SRS) candidate Tomislav Nikolic and either Dragan Marsicanin, who is the candidate of the ruling coalition, or Boris Tadic of the opposition Democratic Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May and 1 and 10 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003, and 9 January and 20 February 2004). UB
...AS WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL SILENCES RADICAL LEADER
The international war crimes tribunal in The Hague announced on 10 June that indicted war criminal and SRS Chairman Vojislav Seselj will be silenced until at least 1 July, Reuters reported. Seselj has actively participated in the election campaign from behind bars, which, according to the tribunal, "undermined" its mandate. "The accused has previously made statements, using the facilities at the Detention Unit, in violation of the decision concerning his communication privileges," the tribunal said in a statement. To prevent Seselj from further participation in the election campaign, the tribunal has restricted Seselj's communication privileges to his lawyers, consular and diplomatic officials, and to his immediate family. UB
OUTGOING UNMIK HEAD WARNS OF ONGOING INSTABILITY IN KOSOVA...
Harri Holkeri, the outgoing head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told a press conference in Prishtina on 10 June that he is concerned that the security situation in Kosova is very fragile, Reuters reported. "A handful of people are trying to destroy the future of ordinary citizens here in Kosova. Don't let them do that," Holkeri said in an allusion to the March violence in that province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 18, and 19 March and 8 June 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 March and 2 and 16 April 2004). Holkeri, who resigned as UNMIK head because of health problems, was criticized for his handling of the March crisis. The outgoing UNMIK head said he believes that the main reason for the ongoing interethnic tensions in Kosova is the appalling economic situation with an unemployment rate as high as 60 percent. Holkeri said that if people enjoy some personal wealth they will accept their neighbors, "but if people are poor, they are ready for the barricades, to kill their neighbors, and follow all kinds of extremist criminals." UB
...AS PROTESTERS DEMAND THAT UN LEAVE KOSOVA
In the meantime, dissatisfaction with the UNMIK administration is growing among Kosovars, who believe that UNMIK presents an obstacle on the province's way to independence from Serbia, Reuters reported. During Holkeri's press conference, several hundred protesters led by former student leader Albin Kurti demanded that UNMIK leave. Kurti, who spent several years in Serbian prisons, said: "What happened in the spring could be repeated in the summer, autumn, and winter if we don't overcome this crisis and see the UN leave." UB
TALKS ON DECENTRALIZATION DEADLOCKED IN MACEDONIA
Talks between the partners in Macedonia's governing coalition -- the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- on the decentralization of the state administration and the government's plans to draw up new district borders are deadlocked, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 11 June. The sticking points are the administrative borders of the Skopje, Kicevo, and Struga districts. The BDI demands that these districts be redrawn so that Albanians make up more than 20 percent of the population; according to the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, this threshold is required for the Albanian language to become the second official language in the local administration. Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski, a member of the SDSM, said his party has proposed a compromise for Skopje but sees no way for Kicevo and Struga to become bilingual. Buckovski said he fears a political crisis should the problem remain unsolved (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April and 20 May 2004). UB
U.S. STEPS UP PRESSURE ON ROMANIA ON INTERNATIONAL ADOPTIONS
In an official press release on 10 June, the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest deplored the recent approval by the Chamber of Deputies' Judicial Commission of the toughened law on international adoptions of Romanian children (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 28 April, and 7 and 18 May 2004). The embassy said the commission has apparently approved the envisaged legislation as proposed by Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and that the prime minister has chosen to ignore the U.S. recommendations, made after the amendments to the legislation making international adoptions almost impossible were approved by the Romanian government. The embassy said the U.S. recommendations were made with the interest of abandoned children in mind and in order to help Romania cope with a problem it "cannot solve by itself." "We regret that the premier rejected the recommendations" and hope that the lower house's plenum will consider them when it debates the proposed legislation, the embassy said. MS
ROMANIAN PREMIER DISAPPOINTED BY RESULTS OF ELECTORAL FIRST ROUND
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said on Romanian Television on 10 June that the outcome of the 6 June first round of local elections is below what his Social Democratic Party (PSD) expected, Mediafax reported the next day. Nastase, who is also PSD Chairman, said that most of the votes lost by his party since 2000 are in counties where the PSD's lead team had not been changed and the electorate "felt insulted by the manner in which it was treated by the local leadership." Nastase said that by designating Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana as the PSD candidate for the post of Bucharest mayor, the party had hoped to find a suitable candidate against incumbent Mayor Traian Basescu and to deliver a "European message" to Bucharest voters. "We apparently made a mistake, though with some other candidate we might have suffered a greater defeat," Nastase said. MS
TRANSDNIESTER TELLS OSCE IT MADE MAJOR CONCESSION TO MOLDOVA
Transdniester Supreme Soviet Chairman Grigorii Marakutsa told a delegation of ambassadors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that Tiraspol has renounced its earlier position and now agrees to a "real federation" with Moldova instead of a confederation, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 June. The OSCE delegation is visiting Tiraspol and Chisinau to assess progress in the negotiations between the two sides. Marakutsa said Tiraspol wants a "federation of full equals of Moldova and Transdniester, possibly also including Gagauz-Yeri as a third subject of the federation." He said that by dropping the confederation idea, Tiraspol has made a major concession, but added that this has not been reciprocated by Chisinau. The Moldovan side is insisting on an "asymmetric" federation, while Tiraspol wants the federation to be a symmetric one. MS
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES BILL AIMED AT COUNTERING TRANSDNIESTER PRIVATIZATION
Parliament on 10 June approved a bill under which foreign investors must obtain the approval of the Moldovan government to have property rights guaranteed, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill was initiated by the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) and is aimed at countering a wave of privatization in Transdniester. Eighteen major Transdniester enterprises were privatized in recent years, most of them being purchased by Russian investors. As Moldova does not control the separatist territory, the immediate effect of the bill is likely to remain symbolic, according to parliamentary deputies cited by ITAR-TASS. The Transdniester authorities have slated 75 enterprises for privatization in 2004. MS
RUSSIA REMEMBERS REAGAN
Russian press coverage this week of the 5 June death of the United States' 40th president, Ronald Reagan, was for the most part measured and respectful. Although acknowledging Reagan's humble origins, commentators credited him for his flexibility, pragmatism, directness, and ability to consider points of view at odds with his ideological framework. Aleksandr Yakovlev, former Politburo member and adviser to Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, told "Izvestiya" on 8 June that although Reagan uttered the phrase that "'America won the Cold War,' in fact, in the course of important negotiations he made it clear that he never believed that." According to Yakovlev, Reagan understood that "it was hard to find a winner in cold wars -- it is common sense that wins."
In an essay in "Izvestiya" on 8 June, Aleksandr Arkhangelskii wrote that arguments about the role of personality in history are senseless because they are ultimately irresolvable. But he nonetheless went on to wonder what life would have been like had this "direct, life-loving, and not overly intellectual actor [not] slipped into the White House." Without Reagan, according to Arkhangelskii, "there would have been no talk of an 'evil empire,' which was to the Soviet Union's doddering leaders like a red flag to a bull. Provoked, they made ill-considered decisions that made the Soviet system even more rickety." Without Reagan, there would not have been the "[Strategic Defense Initiative] project, which scared the Soviet authorities enough to search for an adequate response in the process of which they threw out any constructive uses for the money left over from the oil boom." He concluded: "There would not have been a panicked search for new faces and new forces capable of saving the regime and adapting it to the modern world. There would not have been Gorbachev."
Still, it is Gorbachev who is often given the lion's share of the credit for ending the Cold War. In a conversation with RFE/RL, Dartmouth College associate professor William Wohlforth, a specialist on the end of the Cold War, concluded that if forced to assign weight for various individuals' responsibility for ending the Cold War, "Gorbachev has to get most of the credit." However, he said, Reagan "really was key." Wohlforth explained that Reagan was "very hard-line in his early presidency, but he was dealing with fairly unreconstructed, tough Soviet leaders. When Gorbachev came in, Reagan was enough of a pragmatist to see that things are different and made some concessions. For that he deserves a lot of credit."
Reagan's other achievement, according to Wohlforth, was that he "turned the tables on the Soviets, who always claimed that they were representing the future. Reagan and [then-U.S. Secretary of State George] Shultz spelled out a vision of the world and said: 'Look how the world is moving in a way that favors freedom. You can't have a closed society if you want to succeed.' They turned Marxism-Leninism on its head."
While Marxism-Leninism is no longer in vogue, Arkhangelskii noted in his essay that "nostalgia" for the late period of Soviet Communist Party General-Secretary Leonid Brezhnev exists within Russian society today. "Everywhere moans are heard about the lost happiness of the stagnation period," he wrote. "Meanwhile, Reagan has once again appeared on the political scene, and it is necessary to correct once and for all these chronic mistakes [in the perception of history]. The time has come to atone for the stagnation, while the time for calm transformation or a progressive movement has slipped by. A prudent practitioner can no longer help and an inspired surgeon is required."
ARRESTS MADE IN CONNECTION WITH KILLING OF CHINESE WORKERS IN AFGHANISTAN...
Afghan authorities have arrested two people in connection with the attack on Chinese construction workers in Konduz Province in northern Afghanistan, Xinhua news agency reported on 11 June. An Afghan official, talking to China's Ambassador to Kabul Sun Yuxi, promised that other suspects involved in the attack on 10 June, which left 11 Chinese workers dead, will be arrested soon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2004). The Chinese Embassy in Kabul said that the identity of the arrested suspects is not clear. AT
...AS AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER IMPLICATES THE NEO-TALIBAN
Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim on 10 June said that the neo-Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and their allies were behind the attack on the Chinese workers, AFP reported on 11 June. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, who is currently visiting the United States, said that the attack was the work of the enemies of Afghanistan, but did not name any specific group. According to AFP, Fahim did not offer any evidence for his accusation. AT
AFGHAN AND COALITION FORCES TO SET UP JOINT OPERATIONS CENTERS
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said on 10 June that Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces will establish joint operations headquarters to enhance the work of the Afghan National Army and National Police, Radio Afghanistan reported. Azimi said that the new headquarters will help Afghan and coalition forces better coordinate their activities related to the ongoing UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program and for conducting joint operations against the enemy. In joint operations carried out since late May, Afghan and coalition forces have killed 63 members of the neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda and have detained eight, Azimi added. AT
TWO NEW AFGHAN POLITICAL PARTIES BEGIN THEIR OFFICIAL LIFE
The Afghan Justice Ministry has given permission to the People's Islamic Movement of Afghanistan (Harkat-e Islami-ye Mardom-e Afghanistan) and the Islamic Justice Party (Hezb-e Adalat-e Islami) to begin their political activities, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 10 June. The People's Islamic Movement of Afghanistan is led by Sayyed Hosayn Anwari, who currently serves as the agriculture minister in the Afghan Transitional Administration. No further information was provided in the report about the political platform of either party or who heads the Islamic Justice Party. Sayyed Mohammad Hashemi, the head of the office that supervises the registration of political parties at the Justice Ministry, said that to date 21 political parties have been granted permission to function. AT
MORE THAN 50 KILLED IN CLASHES ALONG AFGHAN-PAKISTANI BORDER
In fierce battles in Wana, along the Afghan-Pakistani border, 53 people have been killed, AFP reported on 11 June. The dead were 35 foreign militants, 15 Pakistani soldiers, and three civilians. "PakTribune" reported on 11 June that 16 militants and 15 troops were killed in Wana, including "three Taliban." The circumstances surrounding the battle remain vague. AT
HIZBALLAH LINKED WITH TERRORISM IN SOUTH AMERICA
The U.S. Treasury Department on 10 June designated Lebanese Hizballah member Assad Ahmad Barakat and two of his companies -- Casa Apollo and Barakat Import -- as responsible for terrorist financing in South America's tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, according to the State Department's Bureau of International Information Programs (http://usinfo.state.gov/). Barakat reportedly used strong-arm tactics and coercion to raise money that was sent to Hizballah in Lebanon and Iran. As of late 2001, he reportedly traveled to Lebanon and Iran annually. On these trips he allegedly met with Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah and spiritual leader Hussein Fadlallah. Barakat also served as deputy financial director for a religious center in Brazil called the Husseinieh Imam Khomeini. Regional intelligence sources previously identified Assad Ahmad Barakat's brother, Sheikh Akram Ahmad Barakat, as a kind of roving Iranian ambassador for Latin America (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 July 2000). Barakat currently is imprisoned in Paraguay for tax evasion. BS
IRANIAN OFFICIALS RESENT ARAB ISLAND CLAIMS
Recent United Arab Emirates' (U.A.E.) claims to three Persian Gulf islands and the U.A.E. capture of Iranian fishermen continue to resonate in Tehran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June and 8 June 2004). Borujerd parliamentary representative Alaedin Borujerdi speculated that the United States is behind the U.A.E.'s actions, "Resalat" reported on 8 June. "There is a great likelihood that the Emirates government has entered into this adventurism under American pressure and incitement," he said. Shahrud representative Kazem Jalali suggested that the U.A.E. stance is timed to coincide with international pressure on Iran over its nuclear activities. Hussein Shariatmadari, the supreme leader's representative at the Kayhan Institute and the managing director of "Kayhan" newspaper, said that Iranian sovereignty over the islands can be traced back to 1836, when official British maps indicated that the islands were Iranian. Shariatmadari added that Iran's last monarch was not entitled to end Iranian claims to Bahrain. BS
DEVELOPED COUNTRIES' NUCLEAR STANCE IRRITATES TEHRAN
Iranian officials reacted angrily on 10 June to G-8 criticism of the countries' nuclear stance. Members of the G-8 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the U.K., and the United States) on 10 June issued a statement that Iran is not providing full disclosure on its nuclear activities, Reuters reported. "We deplore Iran's delays, deficiencies in cooperation, and inadequate disclosures," the statement said. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said of the G-8 statement, "These stances are irrational and contradict the realities," IRNA reported. He dismissed international concern as a reaction to propaganda and described it as an effort to pressure Iran. Assefi said the G-8 should not expect Iran to forego its right to the peaceful use of nuclear power. Rather, it should provide Iran with the necessary technology. And in response to a European draft resolution that criticized Iran's weak cooperation with the IAEA, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said, "This draft only reflects views of the United States and some Western countries," state television reported. Failure of IAEA members to amend the draft, he said, will affect Tehran's future decisions. BS
REPORT SAYS USE OF DOGS IN IRAQI PRISON 'AUTHORIZED'
The use of dogs to scare prisoners at the Abu Ghurayb prison in Baghdad was authorized by U.S. intelligence officers, "The Washington Post" reported on 11 June. According to the newspaper -- which has obtained "previously undisclosed statements" the dog handlers provided to military investigators -- "the use of military working dogs was specifically allowed -- as long as higher-ranking officers approved the measures.... The officer in charge of the military intelligence-run interrogation center at the prison had to approve the use of dogs in interrogations." Dogs were used at Abu Ghurayb to search for weapons, explosives, and drugs. The U.S. Army is investigating the incident and no charges have been filed against any dog handlers. Photographs surfaced in late April of sexual abuse and beatings of Iraqi prisoners carried out by U.S. forces. U.S. President George W. Bush has vowed, if the Iraqis agree, to destroy the prison and build a new one. LA
NO MORE NATO TROOPS FOR IRAQ
Bush, speaking at the closing day of the G-8 summit in Savannah, Georgia, has said that his proposal for NATO to send more troops to Iraq was "unrealistic," the BBC and other news agencies reported. "I don't expect more troops from NATO to be offered up," he said. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder ruled out a direct military role for NATO in Iraq. "All interference by NATO in this region seems to us to carry great risks, including something of a risk of a clash between the Christian West against the Muslim East," Chirac said, as quoted by AP, although he did not rule out NATO involvement in the training of Iraqi troops. British Prime Minister Tony Blair also said that having a large number of NATO troops in Iraq was not practical," according to AP. Out of the eight G-8 countries, four of them -- the United States, Britain, Italy, and Japan -- have forces in Iraq. France, Germany, Russia, and Canada -- the remaining four -- do not. Meanwhile, South Korea is planning to deploy 3,600 troops to northern Iraq by late August, AP reported, citing the Seoul-based daily "Hankook Ilbo." Speaking at the G-8 summit, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that he wants "to consider how best Japan can continue to contribute in the humanitarian support area," indicating that Japanese troops will continue their noncombatant role. LA
FRIDAY PRAYERS CANCELLED AT SHI'ITE MOSQUE IN AL-NAJAF
Friday Prayers at the Imam Ali Mosque in Al-Najaf were cancelled on 11 June after scuffles broke out between rival Shi'ite factions at the mosque, international news agencies reported. Supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threw shoes and stones as members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) were entering the mosque, AFP reported. A top SCIRI official -- identified as the brother of Sheikh Saddredin al-Kubbanji, an opponent of Sadr who heads SCIRI's Al-Najaf office and conducts prayers at the shrine -- was reportedly injured in the incident. On 10 June, six people were killed in clashes between Iraqi police and the Imam Al-Mahdi Army in the city, according to the news agency. A police station was also looted and burned down by insurgents. MES