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Newsline - June 15, 2004

Senior management at embattled oil major Yukos has sent Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's government a letter proposing that the company pay any overdue taxes without a trial if it is given the opportunity to pay its tax debt in installments, "Vedomosti" reported on 15 June. The Tax Ministry has demanded that the company pay roughly $3.4 billion back taxes plus penalties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 May 2004). "Nobody will win from the bankruptcy of this company," said Yurii Beilin, the deputy chairman of the Yukos board, according to "Vedomosti." "Bankruptcy would cause serious damage to the company, investors, and the reputation of Russia." Yukos recently announced that it is considering a rights issue whose shares might be offered to the government in an effort to settle the tax claims, "Financial Times" reported on 14 June. VY

The Council for the Study of Production Resources (SOPS) of the Russian Academy of Sciences has drafted a scheme according to which the Russian Federation would be divided into 28 administrative units instead of the current 89 subjects, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 23, reported. The plan would effectively eliminate ethnic republics and territories by incorporating them into enlarged provinces. Tatarstan and Ulyanovsk Oblast, for example, would be merged into a Volgo-Kamskaya Governorate, and Bashkortastan and Orenburg Oblast into a South Urals Governorate. Daghestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, and Stavropol Krai would compose a North Caucasus Governorate. The proposal would also merge Kaliningrad Oblast with St. Petersburg, which together with the Leningrad, Pskov, and Novgorod oblasts would form a Northwest Governorate, among other changes. VY

The SOPS plan stands a good chance of approval by the Kremlin, as happened with a 1998 SOPS proposal, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 23, opined. That SOPS scheme proposed launching administrative reform with the creation of seven large federal districts; and the plan got as far as the office of then presidential-administration deputy head Vladimir Putin, "Argumenty i fakty" pointed out. Putin adopted a similar plan shortly after becoming president in 2000. The new plan would help the Kremlin resolve the issue of control over regional administrations by reducing the number of governors, the weekly added. The authors of the new proposal have said their plan is "economically expedient" and have argued that the Russian Federation has the most complicated territorial organizational structure in the world. VY

A number of Russian media outlets are highlighting what would have been the 90th birthday on 15 June of the late Soviet leader and KGB Chairman Yurii Andropov, who made his name supervising the repression of Soviet dissidents in the 1960s and 1970s. "Komsomolskaya pravda" published an interview with Andropov's son, while the national television stations ORT and NTV this week have scheduled new documentaries on Andropov. "Argumenty i fakty," No. 23, and "Krasnaya zvezda" on 14 June published memoirs of one of Andropov's former underlings at the KGB. A former chairman of the KGB, Vladimir Kryuchkov, was quoted by "Argumenty i fakty" as saying, "If Andropov hadn't been the chief of the KGB, he would have been a great poet." Ekho Moskvy commented on 14 June that much of the coverage so far appears to stress Andropov's personal attributes while virtually ignoring his role in crushing the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, and the occupation of Afghanistan that began in 1979. Ekho Moskvy suggested that the tack is a result of the fact that President Putin sees Andropov as a role model in fighting corruption and implementing planned reforms. Writing in "Krasnaya zvezda," Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov, a leader of the Motherland party and a former deputy chief of foreign intelligence for the KGB, said Andropov erred in his personnel policies; Leonov cited the elevation to full membership of the Politburo of the future Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. VY

In an interview with "Argumenty i fakty," No. 23, Vladimir Semichastnyi, who served as KGB chairman from 1961-67, offered his insight into why Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev picked Andropov to run the Soviet secret police in 1967. Before he appointed Andropov, Semichastnyi said, Brezhnev obtained secret materials on Andropov's zealous participation in Stalinist repression in Karelia after World War II when Andropov was party leader in the region. The materials reportedly related to so-called Leningrad case, organized by state-security organs in 1948-53, when several members of the Soviet leadership were executed on trumped-up charges. While many historians believe that Andropov used compromising materials to blackmail Brezhnev and his family, Semichastnyi argued that it was in fact the other way around. A monument to Andropov was unveiled last week in the Karelian capital Petrozavodsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004). VY

A conflict between the Russian tax authorities and the British Council seems to have dissipated as quickly as it arose after President Putin and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed the matter on the sidelines of this month's summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries in the U.S. state of Georgia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 15 June, citing the BBC (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 June 2004). The Interior Ministry had alleged that the British Council is "a strange organization earning enormous amounts of money," while the British Embassy said the council is the cultural arm of the embassy. An Interior Ministry spokeswoman told journalists recently that the ministry does not plan to file any charges against the British Council and that the conflict can now be considered "resolved." The daily speculated that a bilateral agreement on the status of the British Council in Russia will be signed in the near future. RC

The Base Element holding company, which is headed by aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, has purchased a 51 percent controlling stake in Kuban Airlines, one of Russia's few profitable regional airlines, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 15 June. The stake reportedly sold for 729.5 million rubles ($24.3 million). According to the daily, Deripaska already has considerable business interests in the Kuban region, including a 50 percent stake in the Kuban soccer team and agricultural investments controlled by the Yugagrobiznes holding company. Kuban Airlines owns the main airport in Krasnodar, and a spokesman for Base Element told "Izvestiya" that the holding has no plans to sell off that property. RC

The Krasnoyarsk Court on 15 June sentenced local businessman Vilor Struganov, better known by the name Pasha Tsvetomuzyka, to nine years in prison for murder and terrorism,, Interfax, and other Russian media reported. He was also ordered to pay 375,000 rubles ($12,500) in damages. Struganov was convicted of organizing two explosions in 2001 at a voting station located in a Krasnoyarsk school in an effort to boost his own popularity rating in the run-up to a krai legislative election. He was also accused of attempting to arrange the murder of reputed Krasnoyarsk underworld figure Valerii Mikheev. Struganov maintained his innocence throughout the trial and has vowed to appeal his conviction. Struganov's name is also associated with that of Krasnoyarsk aluminum magnate Anatolii Bykov. In June 2002, Bykov was convicted of attempting to murder Struganov, his former business partner. Bykov was given a suspended sentence of 6 1/2 years' imprisonment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2002). RC

About 200 pensioners gathered outside the administration building in Kaliningrad on 14 June and about 700 Afghanistan and Chechnya veterans rallied outside the mayor's office to protest a government proposal to turn in-kind social benefits such as free public transportation into cash payments, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 15 June. Veterans of the effort to contain the consequences of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster also participated in the protests. Protest organizers said that about one in three Kaliningrad Oblast residents qualifies for some form of social benefit. Mikhail Osboit, head of the local committee of Chornobyl veterans, told the daily that the oblast has a large number of military veterans who need medical treatment and that their problems cannot be resolved by the government's plan. The Communist Party has called on the public to protest the plan on a national scale on 2 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2004). RC

Moscow and St. Petersburg have maintained their positions among the 10 most expensive cities in the world, according to a recent study by the U.K.-based Mercer Human Resource Consulting cited by on 14 June. Moscow occupies the third position on that list, preceded by Tokyo and London. St. Petersburg is 10th, pushing out last year's No. 10 city, New York. Mercer takes some 200 factors into account in compiling its list. notes, however, that Mercer's index is based on the cost of first-rate services of a Western standard, which it says are inaccessible to most Russians. VY

"Gazeta Dona" journalist Irina Aroyan on 16 June filed a suit against popular singer Filipp Kirkorov, who upbraided her and swore at her during a 20 May news conference in Rostov-na-Donu, reported. The scandalous incident, which is not the first in which Kirkorov has addressed journalists in an outrageous fashion, has prompted many journalists to stop writing about Kirkorov or playing his music on radio stations. The 20 May news conference was later broadcast on local Don-TV, producing a public outcry. also posted the video, in which Kirkorov accuses Aroyan of a lack of professionalism, swears at her, makes disparaging remarks about her pink sweater, and makes fun of her southern accent, telling her that she should "learn to speak Russian" before coming to news conferences with "stars." Aroyan has already filed suit against two of Kirkorov's bodyguards, who allegedly manhandled her and threatened her as she attempted to leave the news conference. RC

Leading members of the opposition Artarutiun alliance have told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that despite apparently dwindling popular support, they remain committed to trying to force the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. To that end, they will proceed with plans to hold a further anti-Kocharian demonstration in Yerevan on 16 June, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 14 June. The Yerevan municipal authorities have granted permission to stage that demonstration, Noyan Tapan reported on 14 June. People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) Chairman Stepan Demirchian, who lost to Kocharian in last year's presidential runoff, said the campaign against what he termed an "illegitimate regime" is "irreversible." Artashes Geghamian, chairman of the National Accord Party that has aligned with Artarutiun, said that the use of police force against opposition demonstrators "naturally has a depressing effect" on the population, but that "this does not mean that the opposition is fading away." Also on 14 June, Noyan Tapan quoted an Artarutiun spokeswoman as denying that Demirchian's HZhK plans to abandon the boycott of parliament proceedings it began in February together with other parties aligned in Artarutiun (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2004). LF

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev arrived in Tbilisi on 14 June for talks with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili that ranged from expanding economic cooperation to countering ethnic separatism, Georgian media reported. Both presidents stressed the "special, brotherly, friendly" relations between their two countries, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Five intergovernmental agreements were signed, including one under which Georgia will reduce tariffs for freight transported by rail from Azerbaijan via Georgia. Earlier this year the Georgian leadership rejected an Armenian request for a similar reduction in rail tariffs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2003 and 15 March 2004). Aliyev advocated creating an international consortium to fund construction of the planned rail link from Kars in eastern Turkey to Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia; that route would then be extended to Azerbaijan, and would facilitate the export via Azerbaijan of goods from China and Central Asia, Aliyev noted. The cost of the Kars-Akhalkalaki line is estimated at $700-800 million. LF

Several dozen young Georgians from three predominantly Georgian-populated districts in northwestern Azerbaijan gathered on 14 June outside the state chancellery where Saakashvili and Aliyev were meeting, Georgian media reported. They protested the lack of Georgian-language education in Azerbaijan and official restrictions on giving children Georgian names. Caucasus Press quoted Aliyev as saying the Azerbaijani government "will do everything possible" to help the Georgian minority. Georgian Education Minister Kakha Lomaya is scheduled to travel to the region later this month bringing a consignment of Georgian textbooks for 12 local schools, Caucasus Press reported on 4 June. LF

A Russian State Duma delegation headed by Dmitrii Rogozin (Motherland) arrived on 14 June in Sukhum for talks with Abkhaz leaders, Georgian and Russian news agencies reported. Responding to a plea by Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba that Russia take steps to protect Abkhazia against anticipated Georgian aggression, Rogozin said that he will call for the Duma to acknowledge Abkhazia as an independent state, Interfax reported. According to Caucasus Press, Rogozin also advocated lifting the economic sanctions imposed on Abkhazia eight years ago. LF

The Abkhaz opposition movement Aitaira has issued a statement expressing concern at increasing criminality, Caucasus Press reported on 15 June, quoting Apsnipress. The statement specifically laid the blame for the assassination last week of Garri Ayba -- one of the leaders of the opposition movement Amtsakhara -- on Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba and the parliament of the unrecognized republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2004). The Abkhaz parliament issued a similar expression of concern and called on Ardzinba to take "drastic measures" to crack down on crime and violence, Apsnipress reported on 12 June. LF

The Russian Foreign and Defense ministries both rejected on 14 June as untrue Georgian media reports that a member of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone was killed the previous day in a shoot-out in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, Interfax reported. Georgian media quoted Georgian officials in Gali as saying that three Abkhaz customs officials were also injured in the shootout. LF

Eighteen NGOs in the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia have released a statement accusing the OSCE office there of pursuing an openly pro-Georgian policy and querying whether its presence serves any useful purpose, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 June. Specifically, the statement condemned the failure of the local OSCE representative to insist that Georgia comply with a commitment it made on 2 June to withdraw from South Ossetia Interior Ministry troops it sent to the region in late May. Speaking in Moscow later on 14 June, Kote Kemularia, who is Georgia's ambassador to Russia, told Ekho Moskvy that he sees no grounds for criticizing the OSCE office in Tskhinvali or for demanding its closure, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The International Institute of Contemporary Politics presented a report on 14 June in Almaty on effective politics in Kazakhstan, Kazinform reported. Institute director Erlan Karin summed up the conclusion, telling "Kazakhstan Today" that Kazakh society today displays a "certain exhaustion from political initiatives that are not backed up by obvious social and economic benefits." Citing polling data, Karin went on to note that ordinary citizens are largely indifferent to the legislative minutiae that animate discussions among the political elite. He also said that political parties in Kazakhstan spend most of their time trying to influence the authorities, rather than society. However, Kazinform quoted Karin as saying that "despite the contradictions that exist, we have raised the question of implementing political reforms on numerous occasions, and we will raise it in the future." DK

A group of Kazakh NGOs announced at a 14 June press conference in Almaty that they have formed a coalition to encourage the government to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Introduced by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in September 2002, the initiative seeks to make information about the use of natural resources more accessible. Anton Artemev, director of the Soros-Kazakhstan-funded Kazakhstan Revenue Watch, told reporters that the new coalition, named Oil Revenues Under the Control of Society, will try to make public more information about the country's lucrative oil sector. Artemev said that "society has a right to know whether the share that Kazakhstan gets for the concession of its [oil and gas] fields is fair, and it should also have a chance to take part, through its elected representatives, in the distribution of revenues." DK

A group of 10 protestors secured a meeting with Kazakh Prosecutor-General Rashid Tusupbekov after they staged a brief hunger strike on 14 June, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The hunger strikers were residents of the southern Zhambyl region who lost their homes in a 2003 earthquake, and are claiming that local authorities are making it difficult for them to obtain new housing. Tusupbekov was expected to meet with the hunger strikers on 15 June, according to the news agency. DK

Five opposition parties appealed to President Imomali Rakhmonov in a 12 June letter asking him to intervene to ensure positive changes to the country's election law, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 14 June. The appeal complains that the pro-presidential People's Democratic Party ignored opposition suggestions at a recent meeting. "We are especially concerned that the deputies have categorically refused to consider such suggestions as the inclusion of representatives of registered political parties in electoral commissions at all levels, the provision of numerous defense mechanisms on ballots, the prohibition of the use of pencils to fill in ballots, and the provision of copies of ballots tallied to observers," the appeal reads. The appeal was signed by the Democratic Party, Communist Party, Social-Democratic Party, Socialist Party, and Islamic Renaissance Party. DK

Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who is the OSCE chairman in office's special adviser on Central Asia, met with Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 14 June in Turkmenbashi, the official Turkmen news agency TDH reported. They discussed the current state of cooperation between Turkmenistan and the OSCE, priority tasks, and ways to broaden the partnership. According to the report, President Niyazov familiarized Ahtisaari with Turkmen values and policy priorities. Ahtisaari said the meeting "allowed us to get to know each other better." He went on to say that Turkmenistan has followed "a policy of constructive interaction" with the OSCE and praised the influence of Turkmenistan's policy of neutrality on the general political climate in the region. DK

A Justice Ministry spokesman read a statement harshly criticizing Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Uzbek Television on 14 June. The statement blasted HRW for a 21 May press release in which the organization claimed that Andrei Shelkavenko, an Uzbek citizen, died in police custody in Uzbekistan as a result of torture. "A forensic examination in which U.S. and Canadian experts took part fully refuted this version of events," the Justice Ministry spokesman said. "The inventions of Human Rights Watch are harming the country's reputation." The statement called HRW's conduct "unacceptable." In a 1 June press release, HRW retracted its initial statement, acknowledged the error, and expressed the hope that future investigations of suspicious deaths in Uzbekistan will continue the precedent of inviting in independent experts. DK

The three hunger-striking members of the Chamber of Representatives, Syarhey Skrabets, Valery Fralou, and Uladzimir Parfyanovich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004), have sent an invitation to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to meet with them for a "constructive talk about issues of great importance" for Belarus, Belapan reported on 14 June. "Do you really, while acting in violation of the constitution and assigning a decorative role to the parliament, still hope to lift the country out of its social and economic crisis and gain the international community's recognition?" the news agency quoted the letter as stating. "Each day of such rule causes damage to both the country as a whole and each citizen individually." The lawmakers, who have been on hunger strike since 3 June, are demanding democratic changes to the country's Election Code and the release of their political associate, Mikhail Marynich, from custody. The protest, which has been joined by a group of opposition activists, is taking place at Fralou's apartment in Minsk. JM

State Property Fund head Mykhaylo Chechetov announced in Kyiv on 14 June that the Investment-Metallurgical Union won the tender for the sale of a 93.02 percent stake in the Ukrainian steelmaker Kryvorizhstal, which accounts for some 20 percent of the country's steel output, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Chechetov said the union paid 4.26 billion hryvnyas ($800 million) for the stake, which was offered at a starting price of 3.8 billion hryvnyas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 June 2004). The Investment-Metallurgical Union represents the interests of the Interpipe corporation -- owned by Viktor Pinchuk, President Leonid Kuchma's son-in-law and a parliament deputy -- and of the System Capital Management company, which is controlled by Donetsk-based businessman Rynat Akhmetov. JM

Some potential foreign bidders have said the tender terms -- including the provision that the winner must have a history of producing at least 1 million tons of coke annually in Ukraine over the past three years -- clearly favored a local bidder, Ukrainian and international media reported. The LNM Group and U.S. Steel, which made a joint bid to buy Kryvorizhstal, said on 14 June that they are disappointed with the results of the tender. They stressed that they offered a bid of 14.31 billion hryvnyas in the Kryvorizhstal tender, including 7.95 billion hryvnyas for the stake and 6.36 billion hryvnyas in an investment package. LNM and U.S. Steel called on the Ukrainian government to revise the tender. JM

Our Ukraine head Viktor Yushchenko has chosen deputy parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Zinchenko as manager of his 2004 presidential campaign, Ukrainian media reported on 14 June. According to Yushchenko, Zinchenko's main task will be to coordinate the campaign staffs of the forces forming the Our Ukraine bloc. Zinchenko was elected to the Verkhovna Rada in 2002 from the list of the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o), which is led by presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk, one of the most bitter political opponents of Yushchenko. Zinchenko was expelled from the SDPU-o last September, reportedly for failing to back a constitutional-reform bill prepared by Medvedchuk in cooperation with the Communist Party and the Socialist Party. JM

Leaders of the G-17 Plus political party said in Belgrade on 14 June that they will support Democratic Party candidate Boris Tadic in the 27 June Serbian presidential runoff election, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2004). G-17 Plus leader and Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said after talks with Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica that it will be clear after the runoff whether the government will remain in power or call new elections. Finance Minister Mladjan Dinkic, who is deputy leader of G-17 Plus, said that a victory for Serbian Radical Party (SRS) candidate Tomislav Nikolic "will push Serbia back into the 1990s" and frighten off the international financial institutions and foreign investors whose support Serbia needs, London's "The Independent" reported. The governing Serbian Renewal Movement and its leader Vuk Draskovic called on "all democratic forces" to back Tadic, "Danas" reported. After meeting with his top political allies, Kostunica said that the coalition will soon take a position on the runoff. He and his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) are expected to face strong international pressure to back Tadic, even though the DSS and the Democrats are bitter rivals. PM

Milorad Lukovic-Ulemek "Legija," who is reportedly the prime suspect in the 12 March 2003 assassination of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic, told a Belgrade court on 14 June that several Djindjic aides asked him in 2001 to smuggle 700 kilograms of heroin to Western Europe and sell it there, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). The goals were to avenge NATO's 1999 bombing of Serbia and make some money for the impoverished state. Several of the Djindjic aides told Belgrade media that the charges were false, adding that the heroin, which was found in a bank vault after the fall of Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000, was duly destroyed in keeping with the law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2001). Many observers of Legija's trial expected him to launch a smear campaign against Djindjic and his entourage. There are still many unexplored secrets dating from the Milosevic era, which makes it hard to determine whether rumors in the media and charges such as Legija's are true. PM

Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic and Defense Minister Nikola Radovanovic were greeted by U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and held talks with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in Washington on 14 June, the Pentagon's website reported ( The website notes only that the Bosnians and Americans discussed unspecified "defense issues of mutual interest," but the independent Bosnian Fena news agency states that the hosts assured their guests that an unspecified number of U.S. troops will remain in Bosnia to help promote reforms in the military, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The two countries signed a military cooperation pact on 11 June. Some voices in Germany, France, and elsewhere in the EU have called for the United States to leave Bosnia and perhaps other Balkan regions in favor of the EU. Many Bosnian Muslim and Kosovar Albanian leaders, however, consider a continuing U.S. military presence crucial for regional security. Washington has shown renewed interest in the Balkans since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks because of possible Islamic extremist activity in the area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10, 13, and 27 May 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 5 March 2004). PM

Visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao, addressing an audience at the seat of the Romanian parliament on 14 June, called for greater economic cooperation between his country and Europe, AP and Mediafax reported. Hu said that East Central Europe should play a key role in establishing an "economic cooperation bridge." He said mutual investments should grow and barriers to trade be eliminated in order to boost commercial relations. Hu also said that Chinese investments in Romania are growing constantly and trade between the two countries last year totaled $976 million. MS

The European Union on 14 June formally decided to wrap up accession negotiations with Bulgaria, which is expected to join the 25-member bloc on 1 January 2007, international news agencies reported. Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen told journalists in Luxembourg that despite the end of the accession negotiations, the European Commission may decide to postpone the accession date for one year if it deems there is a "serious risk" that Bulgaria might be unable to implement on time the remaining necessary reforms, AFP reported. Cowen also said that "progress has been made with Romania" in the negotiation process. "A real momentum has been established, and we shall continue to work with Romania right up to the last day of our presidency to close the energy and services chapters" in the acquis communautaire, he said. Ireland currently holds the rotating EU presidency. Romania has thus far closed 24 chapters in the negotiations with the EU. MS

The World Bank on 14 June decided to disburse the last tranche of a $300 million loan aimed at supporting structural reforms in Romania, AP reported. The agreement was signed on 2001 and the disbursement of the $207 million tranche "signals the country's commitment to complete the remaining structural adjustments reforms," according to World Bank official Owaise Saadat. The bank said it will negotiate with Romania in early July a new loan program that will focus on implementing public administration, judicial, and governance reforms. Also in July, Romania is expected to receive a new loan from the International Monetary Fund. MS

The upper house on 14 June approved a bill under which four zeros will be removed from Romania's national currency, Mediafax reported. The legislation is to go into effect on 1 July 2005, when 10,000 lei are to become one leu. The new leu is to be divided into 100 bani. The Chamber of Deputies has yet to approve the government-sponsored bill. MS

National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) Chairman Victor Ciorbea said on 14 June that he intends to step down as party leader and will not seek membership of another party, Mediafax reported. Ciorbea said his decision is prompted by the poor performance of the PNTCD in the 6 June local elections. The party garnered around 2 percent in the ballot and had only five mayors elected from a total of 3183. Ciorbea said that he considers Timisoara Mayor Gheorghe Ciuhandu, who was reelected in the first round of the elections, to be the most suitable candidate to assume the leadership of the party. Ciorbea also said he might take a break from politics for several years. MS

The traumatic events of the summer of 1990, when tensions between southern Kyrgyzstan's two main ethnic groups, the Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, erupted in a spree of killing and property destruction, are still a frequent source of reminiscence when inhabitants of the city of Osh and the surrounding areas are conversing with visitors. The shock caused by the interethnic fighting that left at least 200 people dead (according to official figures at the time -- the actual number was probably much higher) has helped to prevent a repetition of the "Osh events." Moreover, since independence, the Kyrgyz authorities, local nongovernmental groups committed to promoting interethnic understanding, and international assistance agencies have actively sought to examine and defuse the sources of interethnic tension in Kyrgyzstan's portion of the Ferghana Valley, the most ethnically mixed part of the country.

There has been no large-scale emigration of ethnic Uzbeks from southern Kyrgyzstan since the dissolution of the USSR, so presumably the ethnic Uzbek share of the population remains as high as 50 percent in some areas. But the number of ethnic Tajiks living in southern Kyrgyzstan is increasing as Tajik citizens move from thickly populated northern Tajikistan into empty lands across the border in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz authorities are less than happy about the uncontrolled Tajik immigration, but so far have done little to restrict it. Ethnic Russians remain a presence in at least some of the southern Kyrgyz towns.

In recent years, tensions between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan have been far less visible than have problems caused by actions of the Uzbek government that negatively affect all ethnic groups in southern Kyrgyzstan. In particular, Uzbek restrictions on cross-border traffic and trade are depressing the economy of the region. Speaking to a correspondent of the Kazakh news site in the first week of June, National Red Crescent Society of Kyrgyzstan official Nasira Baratbaeva noted that agricultural work in southern Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast is starting out the usual way -- with the detonation of land mines planted on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border by the Uzbek military in 1999 to prevent incursions by Muslim militants who were seeking to reach Uzbekistan through Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. According to Baratbaeva, five citizens of Kyrgyzstan have been killed by the Uzbek land mines since they were planted, and five have been injured. She did not mention the ethnicity of the victims, but used a term that could suggest that not all were ethnic Kyrgyz. The Kyrgyz authorities have tried repeatedly to obtain maps of the minefields from the Uzbek government, but despite occasional promises that such maps will be provided, so far nothing has been forthcoming and the issue of the Uzbek mines remains a sore point between the two countries.

It is not only in the matter of the land mines that Uzbekistan has been a bad neighbor to Kyrgyzstan (as well as to Tajikistan, a much larger number of citizens of which have been killed or injured by Uzbek land mines). The Uzbek authorities have taken steps to restrict border crossing by citizens of both countries, regardless of ethnicity, which has affected the living standards of those inhabitants of border areas who rely on cross-border trade for their livelihood. Some Kyrgyz citizens have been drowned after falling into border streams from homemade bridges while trying to evade Uzbek border guards. In 2003, a Kyrgyz citizen was shot and killed by Uzbek border guards in an incident that caused a cooling of relations between the two countries. The Uzbek authorities insist that they are justified in allowing their border troops to use firearms to prevent illegal border crossing in the name of national self-defense, an argument that the Kyrgyz side rejects.

The official Uzbek rationale for restricting cross-border traffic is that in the absence of strict border controls, Muslim extremists could slip into Uzbekistan. After the terrorist explosions and attacks on the police in Tashkent at the end of March, the Uzbek-Kyrgyz border was closed to prevent the penetration of Uzbek territory by members of the extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir party or the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The closure seems to have been an intensification of restrictions already in place since the IMU incursions in 1999 and 2000. Uzbek officialdom cannot be happy that the Kyrgyz authorities have been less inclined than they to persecute members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is considered a terrorist organization in Uzbekistan but not in Kyrgyzstan.

While Kyrgyz law enforcement officials insist the group is dangerous, Kyrgyzstan's Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu has argued that Hizb ut-Tahrir rejects the use of violence to achieve its goal of an Islamic caliphate in the Ferghana Valley, and that secularists should be engaging its members in dialogue rather than seeking to simply repress it. Bakir-uluu appeared to take particular pleasure in recounting an incident on 14 May, in which Hizb ut-Tahrir members in the town of Kara-suu on the Kyrgyz side of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border rescued Kyrgyz and Uzbek security officers from an angry mob who discovered the officers were secretly filming a mosque congregation. According to Almaz Ismanov of the Media Resource Center in Osh, the Uzbek authorities are irritated that members of the religious opposition in Uzbekistan are being allowed to use southern Kyrgyzstan as a refuge from oppression at home, particularly since the March incidents in Tashkent.

It seems highly unlikely that the Uzbek authorities realize, or care, that their actions toward Kyrgyzstan may give rise to anti-Uzbek feelings that unite citizens of southern Kyrgyzstan, regardless of their ethnicity. The evidence indicates that official Uzbekistan has little interest in the effect of its policies on its eastern neighbor, despite the presence in the Kyrgyz Republic of a significant number of ethnic Uzbeks. Nor does Uzbekistan seem inclined to stop its provocative behavior toward Kyrgyzstan: in mid-May the Uzbek authorities began building a border fence 60 meters inside Kyrgyz territory, in a section of the common border that had only recently been delimited by an intergovernmental commission. Construction was stopped after the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry protested, but such actions by the Uzbek side are sure to continue.

Sayyed Mohammad Azam, press officer for the Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB), said on 14 June that both the presidential and parliamentary elections will be held, as scheduled, in September, Afghanistan Television reported. Mohammad Azam's comments contradicted the recent claims made by Ghotai Khawari, a JEMB commissioner, to AFP that the elections have been postponed for one month, Afghanistan's official television station reported. In a press conference held in Kabul on 13 June, Edward Carwardine, acting spokesman for the special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan, said that the JEMB has not made a decision to delay the elections, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan website indicated ( AT

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, visiting the U.S. Department of Defense on 14 June, said he hopes that NATO expands its presence in Afghanistan soon, American Forces Press Service reported. "To fulfill the promise that we have been made, we are hoping that NATO will come to Afghanistan before the elections in September," Karzai said, the BBC reported on 15 June. Karzai praised the United States for the assistance rendered to his country and did not specifically asked for more U.S. commitment. While NATO has made Afghanistan its top priority, the alliance has been slow to expand its presence beyond Kabul and the northern Afghan province of Konduz (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January and 18 March 2004). AT

General Abdul Sabor, deputy to General Ata Mohammad, commander of Military Corps No. 7 in Balkh Province, said on 14 June that if tensions between his Jami'at-e Islami party and its rival Junbish-e Melli party are not resolved, there is a possibility of bloodshed, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Abdul Sabor said that forces loyal to the two parties have taken position in the Sholgara District of Balkh Province and a delegation has been dispatched from Mazar-e Sharif to mediate between the two sides. "If the delegation does not make them step back, there is a possibility of bloody clashes," Abdul Sabor warned. In 2003, Sholgara was the scene of factional fighting between Jami'at and Junbish loyalists, but has remained generally calm since a cease-fire was signed in August and Kabul-based police were deployed in the area. In February, four commanders loyal to Jami'at were killed in the area, reportedly by Junbish loyalists (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July and 20 October 2003 and 24 February 2004). AT

Mawlana Fazl al-Rahman, secretary-general of Pakistan's Muttahida Majlis-e Amal (MMA), said on 13 June that he is mediating between the neo-Taliban and the United Kingdom, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 14 June. Fazl al-Rahman said that London is seeking an "honorable" exit by the neo-Taliban from Afghanistan. According to "Dawn," the neo-Taliban have thus far been reluctant to listen to Fazl al-Rahman because Pakistan handed over the former Taliban representative in Islamabad, Mullah Za'if, to the United States following the fall of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The leader of the MMA said that he feels the British request was made on behalf of the United States. AT

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Istanbul on 14 June for the 31st meeting of Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) member states' foreign ministers, IRNA reported. On the same day, he handed over presidency of the forum to his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, according to the Anatolia news agency. Kharrazi met with Gul and with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During these meetings they discussed regional developments, Iran-Turkey bilateral cooperation, Cyprus, and OIC affairs. Erdogan also discussed Ankara's position on Afghan, Iraqi, and Palestinian affairs. Kharrazi also met with Syria's Foreign Minister Faruq al-Shara, saying that Iraq's neighbors should play a more active role there. Kharrazi condemned Israel, too, IRNA reported. BS

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei spoke critically about the level of Iranian cooperation with his organization in his introductory statement at the 14 June Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, according to the IAEA website ( He started positively, noting that the IAEA is making progress on understanding the Iranian nuclear program and its uranium conversion and laser-enrichment activities, and adding, "With Iran's cooperation, the Agency has had access to all requested locations." El-Baradei said the information Iran provided on the origin of enriched uranium particles "has not been sufficient." Iran should provide additional information and explanations, he said. Iran's provision of information on advanced P-2 centrifuges, furthermore, "has been changing and at times contradictory." He described Iranian cooperation as "less than satisfactory" and said, "Iran needs to be proactive and fully transparent." A seemingly oblivious Foreign Minister Kharrazi said later that el-Baradei's statement "proves that most of the issues have been clarified," RFE/RL reported. "So it's just minor issues which have to be clarified. And it's not in our hands, it's in the hands of the agency and other countries." BS

Hussein Musavian, spokesman for the Iranian delegation to the IAEA Board of Governors meeting, said on 14 June that Tehran is trying to persuade its European partners to modify a critical draft resolution they intend to present to the board, IRNA reported. The draft resolution prepared by France, Britain, and Germany reportedly calls on Iran to improve its cooperation with the IAEA and asserts that snap inspections of Iranian installations should continue (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June 2004). According to a 14 June report from Mehr News Agency, President Mohammad Khatami has written a letter to the leaders of France, Britain, and Germany in which he warns of possible repercussions in the event of European failure to fulfill commitments made in October 2003 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 October 2003). The declaration issued at the time recognized Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy and referred to discussions on longer-term cooperation and Iranian access to modern technology and supplies ( BS

Ahvaz parliamentary representative Ahmad Musavi said that Iran will continue its cooperation with France, Britain, and Germany only if they fulfill their October 2003 commitments, Mehr News Agency reported on 14 June. Tabriz representative Mohammad Reza Tajedini said the legislature will not approve Iranian accession to the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if European and U.S. pressure on Iran continue, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 14 June. Two parliamentarians from Tehran, Ali Abbaspur Tehranifard and Hussein Nejabat, said in the 1 June issue of "Jomhuri-yi Islami" that the United States is behind the pressure on Iran in the run-up to the current IAEA Board of Governors meeting. Tehranifard noted that before the 1979 revolution, the U.S. wanted to sell research reactors to Iran. If the IAEA refers the Iranian case to the UN Security Council, Tehranifard said, Iran should end its cooperation with the IAEA. Nejabat said if discrimination against Iran continues it will consider quitting the NPT. BS

Hojatoleslam Mujtaba Lotfi, an aide to Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri-Najafabadi, will be released soon, Montazeri's son Ahmad told Radio Farda on 12 June ( The Special Court for the Clergy arrested Lotfi on 26 May in Qom, ILNA reported two days later, and his family visited him on 11 June, ISNA reported. Ahmad Montazeri told Radio Farda that Lotfi was arrested for publishing a book that detailed the ayatollah's five years under house arrest (from late 1997 until early 2003; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 February 2003). The book also covered the attacks on Montazeri's home and theological school and described the various charges and accusations against Ayatollah Montazeri. The court confiscated all copies of the book, Ahmad Montazeri told Radio Farda. BS

Iyad Allawi told Al-Jazeera television on 14 June that he expects former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other officials from the deposed regime to be handed over to the interim Iraqi government when power is transferred on 30 June. "All the current detainees, without exception, will be handed over to the Iraqi authority," Allawi said. "The handover will take place within the next two weeks." Senior U.S. officials, however, have reportedly said that Hussein, as well as thousands of other detainees in Iraq, will remain in coalition custody indefinitely, international media reported on 15 June. "The issue of Saddam is something we are discussing," Al-Jazeera quoted an unidentified State Department official as saying. "If the Iraqis want him, we're receptive to ideas to transfer him. But I am not aware of any plan that's been worked out on this." A tribunal established to try former regime members is set to begin proceedings by year-end, court administrator Salem Chalabi said last week. KR

A letter purportedly written to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and posted to several jihadist websites claims that anti-coalition fighters are being hemmed in by U.S. forces in Iraq, AP reported on 14 June. "The space of movement [inside Iraq] is starting to get smaller," the unauthenticated letter reads. "The grip is starting to be tightened on the holy warriors' necks and, with the spread of soldiers and police, the future is becoming frightening." The letter further claims that the militants are racing against time to gain control over Iraq before a permanent government is installed, probably in January 2005. The nine-page letter also says that Iraqi police and security forces will be increasingly targeted as part of the militants' plans to establish control in Iraq. KR

U.S. forces arrested a spokesman for anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in an overnight raid in Karbala, Al-Jazeera reported on 15 June. Ahmad Rida al-Hasani was taken from his home during the raid. U.S. officials have not said why the spokesman was arrested, but al-Sadr loyalists told Reuters that the arrest was part of a U.S. plan to exert pressure on al-Sadr. KR

A draft resolution circulated at the Organization of the Islamic Conference's (OIC) 31st Session in Istanbul on 14 June expresses support for the interim Iraqi government, AP reported. Delegates to the conference of the world's largest Islamic organization said the resolution will be debated and likely endorsed without major changes. Delegates also said that there is little support among member states to send peacekeepers to assist coalition forces in Iraq. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari met with Turkish Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Gul and UN special adviser Lakhdar Brahimi on the sidelines of the conference, Anatolia news agency reported. Al-Zebari reportedly told the Turkish news agency that a "brilliant future awaits" Iraqi-Turkish relations. KR

The Lebanese daily "Al-Safir" reported on 15 June that militants in Iraq kidnapped two Lebanese citizens on 14 June. The men were reportedly employed by a construction firm. A group reportedly identifying itself as the Battalion of Islamic Anger released a videotape of a third Lebanese hostage, Habib Samur, who has been missing since May, Al-Jazeera reported on 15 June. The militant group claims in a statement released with the video that Samur was the leader of a local spy ring. "I stress that I am being well treated by the mujahedin group," Samur said in the video. "I would like to appeal to the Lebanese government and all Lebanese leaders to get me out of this awkward situation which I don't know how I came to be in." KR

Some 400 Iraqi detainees were released from Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb Prison on 14 June, international media reported. An AP reporter who was allowed to visit parts of the prison complex cited some prisoners as claiming they were detained for more than one year. Another prisoner, Mufid al-Ali, told AP that he was receiving excellent medical care at the prison, but that he was innocent of any crime. "It's true that I was a [Ba'ath] party member," he said, "but so was everyone else. I am a good man." KR