PRO-KREMLIN CONSULTANT WARNS THAT FINANCIAL AMNESTY IS NOT FOR OLIGARCHS
Effective Politics Foundation head and political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii, who has close ties to the Kremlin, suggested to ORT on 2 May that the de facto amnesty for repatriated capital proposed recently by President Vladimir Putin would not be extended to Russia's oligarchs. Putin suggested that wealthy Russians could "repatriate" any assets from abroad if they pay a 13-percent tax and deposit funds in Russian banks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). Pavlovskii said the president's offer is aimed primarily at the "mass of small people" who have been reluctant to legitimize small amounts of capital since the 1998 ruble meltdown. "Most owners of large fortunes have already legalized their capital abroad," Pavlovskii said, "and the state has no intention of worrying about the fears of 10 to 20 super rich people who stole so much after 1991." VY
DEFENSE MINISTER HARDENS LINE ON TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM GEORGIA...
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of 4 May that the Russian Army needs at least four years to withdraw its troops from neighboring Georgia and decommission its military bases there, the paper reported. "The money for this purpose is not yet incorporated into the [military] budget, and additional funds cannot be allocated before 2006," Ivanov said. Georgian officials are pushing hard for an early departure of those forces and closure of two remaining bases, and have hinted at possible measures to disrupt operations at those facilities. In a reference to anticipated protests or other threats to the smooth operation of the bases, Ivanov stressed that the safety of the Russian troops "is the business of the Georgian side," according to "Rossiiskaya gazeta." If the troops' movement is blocked, he added, they will simply stay put. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with his Georgian counterpart Salome Zourabichvili on 25 April that Moscow is prepared to begin a withdrawal by the end of this year "if an accord is reached" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). VY
...AND REBUFFS TALK OF OVERALL TROOP REDUCTIONS, TOUTS SECRET 'NEW WEAPON'
Defense Minister Ivanov said in the same "Rossiiskaya gazeta" interview of 4 May that a reduction in overall Russian troop levels from the current total of 1.2 million would pose a threat to national security, the paper reported. He accused those urging cuts in the Russian military to levels commensurate with European armies of being "demagogues." "Look on a map at the [amount of] territory that European states occupy and what [size] we are," Ivanov said. He said that events are much less predictable since the end of the Cold War. Ivanov also claimed that Russia has a "new weapon about which no one -- including our allies -- knows and will not know until it is tested." VY
RUSSIANS REPORTEDLY SEEK TO ACQUIRE TROUBLED U.K. CARMAKER
Ekho Moskvy reported on 2 May that at least two Russian entrepreneurs are among those seeking to purchase assets of the last major British-owned carmaker, MG Rover Group, which filed for bankruptcy on 8 April. One of the interested parties is reportedly Nikolai Smolenskii, the son of banker Aleksandr Smolenskii, who already owns U.K. sports-car maker TVR, which he purchased in 2004 but which recently saw significant cuts at its Lancashire factory, according to BBC. The other possible buyer is aluminum mogul Oleg Deripaska, who controls Basic Element and automotive holding RosPromAuto. VY
INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER CALLS CHUBAIS ASSASSINATION PLOT 'UNBELIEVABLE'
Investigative journalist Yuliya Latynina told Ekho Moskvy on 30 April that inconsistencies in the case of a retired intelligence officer's alleged attempt to assassinate Unified Energy Systems chief Anatolii Chubais make the story "unbelievable." Former military-intelligence officer Vladimir Kvachkov and two other men, Robert Yashin and Aleksandr Naidenov, were arrested on suspicion of involvement in a purported attempt on Chubais's life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March and 21 and 22 April 2005). Latynina suggested that the incident and subsequent events might be an attempt to pit Russian liberals, represented by Chubais, against the Russian national-patriotic camp, exemplified by Kvachkov and his circle. Both of those groups have protested Kremlin policies, Latynina said, and the presidential administration might like to prevent any possible alliance against it. VY
SWISS POLICE ARREST RUSSIAN EX-MINISTER FOR ALLEGED CORRUPTION
Swiss authorities arrested former Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov (1998-2001) in Bern on 3 May on U.S. charges that he diverted aid for nuclear safety to bank accounts in the United States, Russian and international media reported. Adamov is suspected of having stolen "up to $9 million from the [U.S.] Department of Energy" and will be indicted soon in a Pittsburgh court on "multiple charges of fraud and money laundering," "The New York Times" reported. The Russian State Duma's anticorruption commission has accused Adamov of establishing companies in Russia and abroad -- including Pennsylvania -- to facilitate the bilking of funds, gazeta.ru reported. Commission documents accuse Adamov of having "tried to convert the state Atomic Ministry into his own private monopoly," "Trud" reported. A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Aleksandr Yakovenko, said on 4 May that Russia will provide legal assistance to Adamov, lenta.ru reported. VY
WEB SOURCE SUGGESTS STATE OIL COMPANIES WANT NEW PIPELINE TO CHINA...
Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 2 May, ej.ru editor and economist Mikhail Berger said Russian state oil company Rosneft is seeking to build an oil pipeline from Eastern Siberia to the Chinese city of Datsin. Rosneft, which recently acquired former Yukos subsidiary Yuganskneftegas, believes such a pipeline would provide a far cheaper solution than rail transport, he said. The jailed former head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, reportedly was lobbying for such a project before his arrest on fraud and other charges in October 2003 and Yukos's subsequent legal and financial woes. Now that Rosneft has an added incentive to see such an export pipeline, Berger said, it has dropped its opposition to such a project. VY
RUSSIA, JAPAN SAID TO BE EXPLORING A TUNNEL LINK
A source within the Russian Transportation Ministry has claimed that Moscow and Tokyo are discussing a plan to construct a rail tunnel that would connect the Japanese island of Hokkaido with Russia's Sakhalin Island and the Russian mainland, Interfax reported on 28 April. The first leg, between Hokkaido and Sakhalin, would extend for 42 kilometers, while the Sakhalin-to-the-Russian Far East segment would span seven kilometers. The Transportation Ministry source claimed that Japanese and U.S. investors have expressed interest in the possible project. Planners say the tunnels would allow for some 20 million tons of goods to be transported via a new route from Japan to Europe, Interfax reported. Most cargo between Japan and Europe currently travels south by sea, eventually passing through the Suez Canal. The source added that while the project would be costly, "if we don't fill this space, the Chinese will, and they will transport the goods through their territory," according to Interfax. VY
NATIONAL TV NETWORK'S EMPLOYEES REPORTEDLY TOLD TO ADOPT NEW LINE...
"Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 29 April that employees at REN-TV, widely considered the most independent of Russia's national television channels, have already been instructed "as to how they should love the Motherland now" in anticipation of new ownership. Last month, Moscow-based newspapers reported that REN-TV will soon be sold to a consortium of Yevrofinans Mosnarbank and German media giant Bertelsmann (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005). According to "Komsomolskaya pravda," senior station executives are using the expression "the show is over." Unified Energy Systems currently owns a 70 percent stake in the network. According to pressattache.ru on 25 April, REN-TV has the largest private television network in Russia after TNT and STS. JAC
...AS RUSSIA IS SAID TO HAVE PICKED ROUTE FOR FAR EAST PIPELINE
Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko has signed a directive on the phased construction of a strategic pipeline to deliver oil from Eastern Siberia to Russia's Pacific Coast, opec.ru reported on 29 April. The website reported that the plan calls for an early section of the pipeline, with an annual output of 30 million tons (180 million barrels), to reach from Taishet in Irkutsk Oblast to Skovorodino in Amur Oblast, near the Chinese border; at the same time, an oil terminus with the same annual capacity will be constructed in Pervoznaya, near Nakhodka, on the Pacific Coast. Oil will be transported by rail from Skovorodina to Pervoznaya if it is intended for the Japanese market, or it will continue by rail to reach the Chinese market. Such a network will give Russia flexibility in supplying either of those major markets, opec.ru noted. VY
CHALLENGE MOUNTED AGAINST STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR TAX CRIMES
The Constitutional Court will review a request by the Moscow Arbitration Court to abolish the current three-year statute of limitations for prosecution of tax evasion, strana.ru reported on 3 May. The government backs the request to help it maintain a lever over the business sector, strana.ru claimed, particularly since President Vladimir Putin's recently suggested that an effort be made to free entrepreneurs of "tax terror" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). The legal battles over alleged tax evasion at Yukos reportedly highlighted the three-year limit on prosecution for authorities. A Moscow appellate court last year rejected Yukos's defense in connection with the statute of limitations, stranu.ru reported, ruling that it "exists for fair taxpayers and does not apply to unfair ones." VY
...AS NEW OPTION EXPLORED FOR SIBERIAN TV
Tomsk Governor Viktor Kress has decided to create a new public television station for the oblast, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 28 April. The oblast budget will provide the main financing for the new non-commercial company. According to RFE/RL's Tomsk correspondent, Tomsk officials are not seeking to create a Tomsk-style BBC, which "formally does not rely on the government or on ratings and survives on the tax revenue from the sale of televisions." Instead, they say public television should bring the authorities closer to the people and reduce residents' current dissatisfaction with existing television programs. JAC
TWO FOREIGNERS BEATEN IN POSSIBLE SKINHEAD ATTACK
Two servicemen from Algeria were beaten up in Moscow on 1 May by young men with short haircuts and heavy army boots, Tsentr-TV and Interfax reported. The servicemen are cadets at the Russian General Staff Academy. The Interior Ministry allowed that the young assailants might have been skinheads. The attack occurred around 9:20 p.m. near a metro station. JAC
JOINT POLL SUGGESTS TWO IN FIVE RUSSIANS HARBOR ILL WILL TOWARD LATVIANS
Joint research by Russian and Latvian pollsters suggests that nearly twice as many Russians harbor negative feelings about Latvians than vice versa, regions.ru reported on 3 May. The poll was conducted among 1,600 Russians by the Public Opinion Fund (FOM) and 1,014 Latvians by Riga SKDS, the website reported. The pollsters found that 41 percent of Russians said they viewed Latvians in a negative light, while 16 percent said they view them positively. The figures among Latvians were just 20 percent of respondents confessing negative sentiments about Russians and 50 percent positive, regions.ru reported. VY
FINANCE MINISTRY CRACKS DOWN ON ACCOUNTING FIRMS
The Finance Ministry announced on 3 May that it issued a directive on 27 April suspending the licenses of 627 accounting firms, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 May. There are some 6,100 accounting firms in Russia, and the directive affects the more than 10 percent of them that had failed to conform to licensing regulations requiring firms to have at least five certified accountants. Similar violations prompted the Finance Ministry to suspend the licenses in March 2004 of 57 accounting firms, none of whom have had their licenses restored. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the ministry's action is part of a larger drive to professionalize the Russian accounting sector. New accounting legislation currently being drafted in the Duma would replace existing licensing rules with a system of self-regulation that would likely eliminate many smaller firms. Experts predict that the number of accounting firms in Russia could be halved within two years. LB
KOREANS IN FAR EAST TO SEEK REPARATIONS FROM JAPAN FOR WWII ACTIONS
A foundation for ethnic Koreans in Sakhalin Oblast called For the Restoration of Justice has decided to launch a legal appeal to Japan's Supreme Court to seek financial compensation for the repatriation of ethnic Koreans from Sakhalin to their historic homeland, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May. The group is asking that Japan acknowledge its responsibility for forcing around 40,000 ethnic Koreans to work in labor camps in Sakhalin from 1939 to 1945. There are some 6,000 ethnic Koreans still in Sakhalin, 4,000 of whom have expressed a desire to move to South Korea, according to the agency. The South Korean government has in the past provided funds for ethnic Koreans to resettle in their country (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 May 2001). JAC
ZHUKOV REMEMBERED WITH IRKUTSK MONUMENT
The raising of a monument of Soviet military commander Marshall Georgii Zhukov has begun in Irkutsk to prepare for its unveiling on 8 May, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, RTR reported on 2 May. Sculptor Aleksandr Mironov designed the bronze figure, which is nine meters tall. City authorities plan to create a museum devoted to Zhukov. JAC
KAMCHATKA/KORYAK MERGER BACK ON TRACK
Legislators in Koryak Autonomous Okrug on 29 April narrowly approved a proposal to merge the okrug with Kamchatka Oblast, "Vedomosti" reported on 3 May. Koryak legislators had unanimously rejected the merger plans just two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 April 2005). Recently confirmed Koryak Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, a major player in the fishing industry, favors the merger with a view to becoming governor of the new Kamchatka Krai, according to "Vedomosti." Kozhemyako is the clear favorite for the job; hours after the Koryak legislators approved the merger, Kozhemyako was named secretary of the regional political council of Unified Russia. Meanwhile, Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev announced on 29 April that he does not plan to run for governor of the new region, Interfax reported. At the same news conference, Mashkovtsev said that a referendum on the merger could take place on 2 October. Members of the Koryak and Kamchatka legislatures were scheduled to leave for Perm Krai on 4 May to study the recent merger of Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, "Vedomosti" reported. LB
DEMOCRATIC BLOC BARRED FROM MAGADAN ELECTIONS
The Magadan Oblast Election Commission has barred the Our Motherland is Kolyma bloc from the party-list ballot for oblast Duma elections scheduled for 22 May, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 May. The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Yabloko, and the Democratic Party of Russia formed the Our Motherland is Kolyma bloc, which was struck off the ballot after eight of its 24 candidates withdrew from the party list. Russian law instructs election commissions to revoke the registration of party lists that lose more than 25 percent of their candidates during the campaign. Aleksandr Sechkin, leader of the SPS branch in Magadan, told "Kommersant-Daily" that the authorities used bribes and threats to pressure candidates to leave Our Motherland is Kolyma. Leaders of the Russian Pensioners' Party in Magadan made similar allegations after the Oblast Election Commission struck that party off the ballot on 18 April. The new Magadan Duma will contain 13 deputies elected from party lists and 12 elected in single-mandate districts. Just three parties remain on the party-list ballot: Unified Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and the Communist Party. LB
APRIL SNOW SHOWERS BRING MAY FLOWERS?
Parts of the Russian Far East are experiencing anomalous weather for this time of year, RIA-Novosti reported on 2 May. A snowstorm fell on the northern part of Khabarovsk Krai, exceeding the two-month norm for precipitation that area. RTR reported that electricity supplies were cut off in several regions. The region was prepared for nature's surprise, according to RTR; the city's main airport managed to keep its flight schedule on time with the exception of only a few local flights. Typically, weather in the krai this time of year is warm and gardens are blooming. Flights were canceled in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii in Kamchatka Oblast on the night of 1 May due to high winds. JAC
INGUSHETIAN OPPOSITION LEADER RELEASED
The Nazran District Court ordered the early release on 2 May of parliamentary deputy Musa Ozdoev, who was sentenced late on 30 April to 72 hours of administrative detention on charges of petty hooliganism, ingushetiya.ru reported. Ozdoev had appealed his detention as illegal. Ozdoev told ingushetiya.ru after his release that he plans to continue his opposition activities and will convene further peaceful meetings to demand the resignation of President Murat Zyazikov. Ozdoev was detained by armed men on 30 April as he addressed a protest meeting in Nazran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). LF
EFFORT TO RECALL CHELYABINSK SENATOR FALTERS
The Federation Council is not poised to recall Vladislav Zhiganov as a senator from Chelyabinsk Oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 May, quoting Oleg Panteleev, the first deputy chairman of the Federation Council's rules commission. Chelyabinsk Legislative Assembly Speaker Viktor Davydov has twice requested that Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov invoke his authority to strip Zhiganov of his mandate, most recently last month. Davydov's requests cited an oblast-level investigation that allegedly concluded that Zhiganov unlawfully claims to have received the Red Star medal. Both Zhiganov and Davydov are members of Unified Russia, and Zhiganov claims that Davydov is trying to discredit him before the Chelyabinsk branch of the "party of power" holds a conference in preparation for oblast legislative elections scheduled for December. Panteleev told "Kommersant-Daily" that amendments to the law on the status of Federation Council members adopted in December 2004 state that senators can be recalled only under the following circumstances: resignation, a change in place of work or citizenship, a court order, incapacitation, or death. LB
TELEVISION ADVERTISING REACHES LARGEST AUDIENCE
Some 95 percent of Russians see advertisements on television, more than any other medium, lenta.ru reported on 3 May. According to the same nationwide survey, conducted by ROMIR Monitoring, 65 percent of respondents recently saw advertisements in newspapers, and the same percentage heard commercials on the radio. Magazine advertisements reached 38 percent of respondents, and just 8 percent said they had seen advertisements on the Internet. Respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 were much more likely to have encountered Internet advertising (23 percent) than were other age groups. Radio, magazine, and Internet advertising were all found to reach a higher proportion of residents of large cities than of respondents who live in small cities or rural areas. LB
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, RULING PARTIES AT ODDS OVER DEMONSTRATION DISRUPTION
Representatives of the three governing parties told journalists on 3 May that they believe they acted correctly in signing, together with some 30 other political parties, a statement condemning the violence that erupted at a rally last month convened by Aram Karapetian's Nor Zhamanakner party, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 April 2005). Speaking on Armenian national television on 2 May, President Robert Kocharian said the three coalition members put themselves in "an awkward position" by endorsing a statement that blamed "criminal elements" for disrupting the protest. Kocharian implied that Karapetian himself was to blame for the violence. Kocharian also implied that the coalition parties should have consulted him before signing the statement, and he accused Karapetian of serving the interests of Armenia's "enemies" by convening a demonstration on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Turks. LF
ARMENIAN CENTRAL BANK OFFICIAL DOWNPLAYS IMPACT OF DRAM'S APPRECIATION
Speaking in Yerevan on 2 May at a joint news conference with James McHugh, head of the IMF's Yerevan office, Armenian Central Bank board member Vache Gabrielian said the rise since 2004 in the value of the Armenian natural currency vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar is beneficial for the Armenian population and does not negatively impact the budget, Noyan Tapan reported. Affirming that "we do not share the view that the country is on the brink of [economic] collapse," Gabrielian said the Central Bank will continue to allow the dram to float and will intervene only if fluctuations in the exchange rate become "very drastic." Also on 2 May, an official from the Russian-owned International Energy Corporation, which buys electricity from Armenia for drams and sells it to Georgia for U.S. dollars, announced that the company suspended power supplies to Georgia the previous day and will resume them only when Georgia's Telasi power utility agrees to pay a higher price, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT RATIFIES OIL CONTRACTS...
Azerbaijan's parliament on 29 April ratified three oil contracts worth almost $1 billion that were signed last year to develop three on-shore oil fields, Turan and AFP reported. Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR has a stake in all three contracts. Its partners are Caspian Energy group (U.K.), Noble Sky (PRC/UAE), and the Turkish-Azerbaijani Azen Oil Company. LF
ARMENIA SLAMS AZERBAIJANI REFUSAL TO ATTEND CIS SUMMIT
President Kocharian's office issued a statement on 3 May deploring the announcement the previous day that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will not attend the CIS summit in Moscow on 8 May because it coincides with the anniversary of the "seizure" by Karabakh Armenian forces of the Karabakh town of Shusha, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian was commander of the Karabakh armed forces in May 1992 when they succeeded in taking control of the strategically located town, from which Azerbaijani forces had systematically subjected the capital Stepanakert to artillery fire. Kocharian's press service noted that the town fell not on 8 May but on 9 May 1992. Aliyev assured his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin by telephone on 2 May that he will attend the ceremonies in Moscow on 9 May to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Interfax reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI RULING PARTY INVITES OPPOSITION TO BEGIN DIALOGUE...
The Yeni Azerbaycan Party extended an invitation on 3 May to representatives of several Azerbaijani opposition parties to participate in a roundtable discussion on 4 May in the hope of defusing tensions and improving relations between the authorities and the opposition, Turan reported. The invitation was addressed to the leaders of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party progressive wing, Musavat, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, and the Civic Solidarity Party. The pro-government Ata-Veten and Social Welfare parties are also invited. YAP Deputy Executive Secretary Mubariz Gurbanly was quoted by the online daily zerkalo.az on 4 May as saying that it is unclear precisely what topics will be addressed, but he expressed the hope that the meeting -- the first of its kind -- will result in an agreement on a list of issues to be discussed at subsequent meetings. LF
...WITH SOME DISSENTING VOICES
Two parliamentary deputies objected during the 29 April debate that the terms of the three oil contracts under discussion constitute a violation of the rights of Azerbaijan's oil-sector workers, Turan reported. Mais Safarli argued that Azerbaijan has numerous skilled oil workers and there is therefore no need for foreign companies developing Azerbaijani oil deposits to bring workers from abroad. He added that it is unfair to pay foreign personnel more than their Azerbaijani co-workers. Djalil Hasanli urged parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov to stop delaying debate of a draft law on the oil sector. LF
AZERBAIJANI, U.S. FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of the Organization of American States foreign ministers' conference in Chile, Azerbaijani media reported on 30 April. Mammadyarov said they discussed bilateral relations and U.S. participation in the official ceremony on 25 May when the first Azerbaijani Caspian oil is pumped into the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. LF
...AS SENIOR OFFICIAL RULES OUT AMENDMENTS TO ELECTION LAW
Presidential-administration head Ramiz Mehtiev told journalists on 3 May that there is "no need" to change the composition of election commissions, on which opposition representatives are outnumbered by YAP members and loyalists, Turan reported. The opposition has for months been demanding equal representation on both the Central Election Commission and local election bodies. Mehtiev also explained on 3 May that since the opposition is "weak," it is appropriate that it should embark on a dialogue with YAP, rather than with members of the country's leadership, as some opposition politicians have suggested. LF
AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST'S SUSPECTED MURDERER NAMED
In a joint statement released on 3 May, Azerbaijan's Interior and National Security ministries and the Prosecutor-General's Office named Tair Khubanov, 45, an Azerbaijani from neighboring Georgia, as the prime suspect in the 2 March killing of opposition journalist Elmar Huseinov, zerkalo.az and day.az reported on 4 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2005). Khubanov is said to have arrived in Baku in January and to have monitored Huseinov's movements closely. He reportedly visited Huseinov's apartment on at least two occasions prior to the killing, giving a false name and seeking to arrange a meeting with his future victim. LF
NAKHICHEVAN POLICE TARGET INDEPENDENT LAWYER
The Supreme Court of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic has rejected an appeal by lawyer Elman Calilov against the 15-day administrative arrest imposed upon him on 24 April, Turan reported on 2 May. Calilov was preparing a documentary film on corruption in Azerbaijan from 1969-82, when Heidar Aliyev headed the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, and on the circumstances surrounding Aliyev's return to power in 1993. Police have confiscated the script and the source materials on which it was based. Calilov has since been charged with systematic embezzlement and with resisting arrest, his lawyer Telman Novruzade told Turan on 2 May. LF
GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER THREATENS DJAVAKHETI ARMENIANS
Irakli Okruashvili told journalists on 2 May that the Georgian government will take decisive steps to crush any protests by the largely Armenian population of Djavakheti in southern Georgia against the closure of the Russian military base that is the region's largest employer, Caucasus Press reported. Okruashvili warned that the government will not tolerate the emergence of a new hotbed of separatism, and he repeated recent pledges by other top Georgian officials that all Armenians currently employed at the Russian base will be offered alternative employment. LF
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS BUSH VISIT TESTIFIES TO COUNTRY'S REGIONAL IMPORTANCE...
President Mikheil Saakashvili told students in Tbilisi on 3 May that U.S. President George W. Bush's planned 10 May visit to Georgia is an acknowledgement of the country's leading role in the South Caucasus and that Georgia constitutes "an example of democracy and freedom in the region," Caucasus Press reported. Bush will visit neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan. Comparing Georgia in the aftermath of the November 1993 Rose Revolution to "an old car stuck in the mud and out of fuel," Saakashvili urged his audience to work together to extract the country from the problems in which it is mired. Also on 3 May, Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, the widow of ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, staged a rally of some 100 of his supporters outside the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, ITAR-TASS reported. The participants hoped to enlighten the U.S. administration about what they termed the true situation in Georgia, including the fact that "the lawful president [i.e., Gamsakhurdia] was overthrown in 1992." LF
...PLANS CONFERENCE ON SOUTH OSSETIA
President Saakashvili also said on 3 May that he plans to hold an international conference in Tbilisi next month devoted to the proposals he unveiled in January for resolving the conflict with South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). Noting that the Georgian authorities have dismantled fortifications and closed a reservists' camp in the conflict zone, Saakashvili reaffirmed Tbilisi's readiness for peaceful dialogue. He also offered Georgian passports to the residents of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia and repeated his offer of emergency aid in the wake of the floods that hit the region last week. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity rejected the latter offer on 28 April, Interfax reported. On 3 May, Kokoity challenged Saakashvili to a televised debate, telling the independent television channel Rustavi-2 that Georgian media are spreading disinformation about the situation in South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. LF
GEORGIAN PRISON DIRECTOR INJURED IN SHOOTING
Badri Deisadze, who has for several years been director of the Geguti prison colony, was seriously injured on 2 May when a gunman opened fire on his car as he entered the driveway of his Kutaisi home, Caucasus Press reported. The gunman escaped, but police subsequently detained two suspects. Relatives of the two men, who are brothers, provided them with an alibi, however, Caucasus Press reported on 3 May. LF
KAZAKH POLICE FREE AUSTRIAN HOSTAGE
Kazakh police have freed Ronald Erwin Walner, an Austrian businessman who had been held hostage in Karaganda since 26 February, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 2 May. A police spokesman told the news agency that several individuals were detained in the operation, adding that Walner had fallen victim to an organized crime group. DK
ATTACKERS TARGET KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER
A group of about 50 young men attacked Kazakh opposition leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbai in Shymkent on 2 May, Deutsche Welle reported. As Tuyakbai and other opposition leaders were holding a meeting, the young men burst in shouting, "Where's this single opposition candidate; we're going to kill him now for [Kazakh President Nursultan] Nazarbaev!" A fight ensued. Tuyakbai's guards were able to escort him out of the building, but some of his companions suffered minor injuries. Local police were on hand but did nothing to stop the violence, Tuyakbai's companions charged. In a 3 May statement published by Navigator, the bloc For a Just Kazakhstan provided a detailed account of the assault, charging that "the cowardly authorities have moved from abuse, blackmail, and blockade of their opponents to violent pressure and terror." The statement called for a thorough investigation into the incident and asked the international community to "condemn the actions of the authorities and demand Kazakhstan's unconditional observance of the obligations it has undertaken in providing its citizens with political rights and freedoms." A gathering of Kazakh opposition forces recently selected Tuyakbai as their joint candidate in the upcoming presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). DK
KAZAKHSTAN TO HOLD PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN 2006, OFFICIAL SAYS
Onalsyn Zhumabekov, the head of Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission, announced at a conference in Almaty on 3 May that, according to Kazakhstan's constitution, the country's next presidential election ought to be held on the first Sunday in December 2006, Kazinform reported. Zhumabekov noted, however, that "the exclusive right to set the election date is in the competence of the lower house of parliament," ITAR-TASS reported. Zhumabekov also confirmed that President Nazarbaev's term in office expires on 20 January 2006. DK
FAMILIES OF SLAIN KYRGYZ DEMONSTRATORS TO RECEIVE COMPENSATION
Acting Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 2 May that the families of six demonstrators shot dead in Aksy Province in March 2002 will receive compensation. Noting that the Supreme Court had previously refused to hear the relatives' grievances, Beknazarov said, "[The court] recently reviewed their complaint and ruled to give one million soms ($24,400) to each of the six families whose relatives perished during these events. This decision has been conveyed to the government to carry out." Beknazarov also noted that the events are under renewed investigation and that the guilty parties will be brought to justice. DK
KYRGYZ PARTY NOMINATES ACTING PROSECUTOR-GENERAL FOR PRESIDENT
The political council of the Asaba Party reached a decision on 2 May to nominate party head and acting Prosecutor-General Beknazarov for president, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov told RFE/RL that while the party has the right to nominate whomever it sees fit, he does not plan to comment publicly on the issue until after 10 May. DK
KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES FORM SINGLE CAMPAIGN HEADQUARTERS
Kyrgyz presidential candidates Feliks Kulov, head of the Ar-Namys Party, and Almaz Atambaev, head of the Social Democratic Party, have set up a joint campaign headquarters, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 3 May. Atambaev, who has said that he will withdraw his candidacy and support Kulov if the latter succeeds in passing a Kyrgyz language test required for participation in the race, will be in charge of the campaign headquarters. Kulov told RFE/RL that all of the candidates in the 10 July presidential election should sign a gentlemen's agreement to ensure honest competition and preclude any attempts to destabilize the situation. DK
KYRGYZ DEPUTY ALLEGES PASSPORT FRAUD
Parliamentary deputy Kubanychbek Isabekov told a news conference in Bishkek on 3 May that officials from former President Askar Akaev's administration attempted to use the introduction of new passports for personal gain, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Isabekov said the cost of manufacturing 41,800 new passports was "initially 7 million euros ($9 million), but the sum was raised to 51 million euros. The entire difference went to an offshore zone." Isabekov charged that former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev signed the "unconstitutional resolutions" that underpinned the alleged fraud. Isabekov said the new passports were originally to have been made in Moldova, then England, but were actually manufactured in Kenya, where they remain. DK
TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY DEMANDS DETAILS OF LEADER'S 'EXTRADITION'
Tajikistan's Democratic Party has sent a written appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov asking them to clarify the details of party head Muhammadruzi Iskandarov's transfer from Russia to Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 2 May. Iskandarov, who was released from detention in Russia in early April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 12 April 2005), had told his lawyers he was subsequently abducted in Russia and brought to Tajikistan by unknown individuals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). Russian and Tajik authorities have not commented on the circumstances of Iskandarov's return to Tajikistan. Rahmatullo Valiev, deputy head of the Democratic Party, said that the party has also sent its appeal to the United Nations, the OSCE, and the British, French, German, and U.S. embassies. If the party does not receive an answer from Tajik authorities, Valiev said, it will withdraw from the country's Public Council. DK
UZBEK WORKERS END HUNGER STRIKE
More than 400 workers at the Shorsuv Metal Works ended a weeklong hunger strike on 2 May after their demands were partially satisfied, Uznews.net reported. The workers began the hunger strike on 25 April to protest the actions of managers who, they alleged, defrauded them out of shares in the plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 2 May 2005). Authorities in Ferghana Province removed enterprise director Agzam Abdurahmonov and Uzbekistan District Governor Hashimjon Haydarov, agreed to earmark 50 million sums ($50,000) for the partial repayment of the enterprise's debt to workers, and promised to review individual compensation cases. A court will review charges against the former director. Hunger striker Begmat Batyrov told Uznews.net, "We fought so that our director would be an honest man, and we got what we wanted. Moreover, they promised us that the court will ensure that justice is done." DK
TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTRY OBJECTS TO KYRGYZ COMMENTS
Igor Sattorov, a spokesman for Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry, announced on 3 May that the ministry has sent a note to the Kyrgyz Embassy in Dushanbe to protest comments by certain Kyrgyz politicians that a "Tajik scenario" will not take place in Kyrgyzstan, Avesta reported. "Such gross insinuations and political speculations by certain politicians and officials in a neighboring country are not only impeding the constructive resolution of internal problems in Kyrgyzstan, but they are also considered politically incorrect in relation to a neighboring sovereign state," Sattorov said. He stressed that in recent years Tajikistan has been "on the path of peace and construction," adding, "Tajikistan cannot be a destabilizing factor for neighboring countries." DK
TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY PRESSES CASE ON ABDUCTED LEADER
Rahmatullo Valiev, deputy head of Tajikistan's Democratic Party, announced on 3 May that the party is suspending its membership in the Public Council after the arrest of party head Muhammadruzi Iskandarov and falsifications in recent parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. "The Democratic Party of Tajikistan temporarily suspends its activities in this council because the council's decisions are usually not executed, the latest elections were conducted undemocratically, and Muhammadruzi Iskandarov was arrested in Moscow and illegally transferred to Dushanbe," Valiev said. He added that the suspension "will last until a full and impartial investigation" of Iskandarov's transfer from Moscow to Dushanbe, which his lawyers have described as an abduction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2005), ITAR-TASS reported. Valiev also said that Anna Stavitskaya, Iskandarov's lawyer in Russia, will attempt to initiate criminal charges in Russia over Iskandarov's alleged abduction, Avesta reported. DK
RIGHTS GROUP ISSUES TURKMENISTAN REPORT
Amnesty International released a new report on Turkmenistan on 3 May titled "Turkmenistan: the clampdown on dissent and religious freedom continues." The report details the continuing curtailment of rights and freedoms in Turkmenistan, concluding with recommendations for the international community to take action through the United Nations. The report is available on Amnesty International's website (http://www.amnesty.org). DK
UZBEK POLICE BREAK UP DEMONSTRATION
Uzbek police forcibly ended a demonstration in Tashkent on 3 May, moving in at 11 p.m. and removing protestors on buses, fergana.ru reported the next day. Earlier in the day, some 100 demonstrators had gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent on 3 May to protest rising poverty, unemployment, and rights violations in Uzbekistan, fergana.ru reported. The protesters, many of whom hailed from rural parts of Kashkadarya Province, had threatened to set up a tent city in the Uzbek capital for a long-term demonstration. A clash with police took place during the day, but no serious violence or arrests ensued at that time. A woman who witnessed the break-up of the demonstration later in the evening told fergana.ru that riot police herded adults into one bus and children into another. Protesters had previously told fergana.ru that they chose to demonstrate outside the U.S. Embassy because they have lost faith in local authorities and want to draw the U.S. State Department's attention to deteriorating conditions in Uzbekistan. "Having trusted [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's promises, we were left with nothing," a protestor told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "We can't study. We have no food to eat. We were left on the street with nothing." DK
BELARUSIAN COURT UPHOLDS JAIL SENTENCES FOR UKRAINIAN DEMONSTRATORS...
The Minsk City Court on 3 May rejected appeals by five Ukrainians of jail sentences handed down for their participation in an anti-presidential demonstration in Minsk on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The same court on 30 April released 14 Russians who were detained and sentenced to jail time for participating in the same demonstration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). The five Ukrainians, all members of the National Alliance youth association -- Ihor Huz, Andrey Bokach, Oleksandr Hrymalyuk, Oleksiy Panasyuk, and Oleksandr Mashlay -- were sentenced to jail terms varying from nine to 15 days on 27 April and went on a hunger strike on 28 April. The National Alliance picketed the Belarusian Embassy in Kyiv on 3 May, demanding that the Belarusian authorities free their colleagues in Minsk. JM
MINSK, KYIV TRADE ACERBIC REMARKS OVER JAILED UKRAINIANS
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin said on 2 May that Belarus harbors no "special attitude" toward Ukraine, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Yesin was referring to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk's statement the previous day that Belarusian authorities have refused to release five Ukrainians arrested during a demonstration in Minsk on 26 April because of their "special attitude" toward Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). "The Republic of Belarus has always rejected the language of pressure, including media pressure," Yesin said. "We hope the Ukrainian side will not copy pseudo-democratic methods and forms of building interstate relations imposed by certain countries and international organizations." Ukrainian commentators suggested that Minsk granted early release to 14 Russians detained during the same demonstration while leaving the five Ukrainians in jail because of its prejudice against Kyiv, which backed a recent UN resolution condemning Belarus' human rights record (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2005). Meanwhile, a Minsk court that was reportedly scheduled to review the Ukrainians' jail sentences on 2 May postponed its hearing to 3 May. JM
MEDIA WATCHDOG NOTES DIMINISHED PRESS FREEDOM IN BELARUS...
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a press release on 3 May that the regime of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka continued to tighten its grip on Belarusian media in 2004, while the Information Ministry used "bogus bureaucratic reasons" to suspend a dozen independent newspapers in the runup to the country's 17 October 2004 constitutional referendum and parliamentary election. "The independent press is fighting to survive and is overshadowed by government media that mostly spouts propaganda," the media watchdog concluded. According to Reporters Without Borders, in Belarus in 2004 nine journalists were arrested, seven were physically attacked or threatened, and one was expelled, while 26 media outlets were censored by the authorities. JM
...AS BELARUSIAN ENVOY SAYS KYIV FAILED TO ASK FOR THEIR RELEASE
Belarusian Ambassador to Ukraine Valyantsin Vyalichka told journalists in Kyiv on 3 April that Ukrainian Ambassador to Belarus Petro Shapoval, in contrast to Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Blokhin, has not asked Belarusian authorities to release his compatriots detained during the 26 April demonstration in Minsk, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Vyalichka also claimed that Ukraine, unlike Russia, did not demand permission to see the Ukrainian detainees immediately after their arrests. "I have no words to comment on such statements!" Ukrainian consul in Minsk Vasil Serdeha told RFE/RL. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 3 May that it is "disappointed" with Minsk's reluctance to shorten the five Ukrainians' jail sentences, and added that it is considering an appeal to the Belarusian Supreme Court against the ruling of the Minsk City Court. JM
MINSK COUNTERACTS 'COLOR REVOLUTIONS' WITH 'FLOWER REVOLUTION'
Belarusian Television's main newscast Panarama on 3 May reported on an initiative of the state-controlled Belarusian National Youth Union (BRSM) called "The Belarusian-Style Flower Revolution." The report ran as follows: "Through the efforts of the BRSM grassroots organizations, flower beds in front of the Moskva and Kyiv cinemas [in Minsk] were adorned with violets and wild pansies. Flowers were also planted in front of the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. According to the project's coordinators, the youth group exemplified the peaceful and creative aspirations of the Belarusian people. 'We don't need color revolutions. We only accept flower ones,' the project's participants chanted." JM
...AND 'MEDIA REVOLUTION' IN UKRAINE
Reporters Without Borders said in a press release on 3 May that the 2004 presidential election campaign in Ukraine was marred by numerous attacks on media freedom. In total, 20 journalists were arrested, 32 physically attacked, and five threatened, and 30 media outlets censured by the authorities. Simultaneously, the media watchdog said the presidential campaign gave rise to an "unprecedented rebellion against censorship." "The Orange Revolution of presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was accompanied by a media revolution that may or may not be sustained," Reporters Without Borders noted. JM
PUNDITS SEE UPS, DOWNS IN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S FIRST 100 DAYS
According to a number of political and economic experts, the first 100 days of Viktor Yushchenko's presidency of Ukraine marked on 3 May have brought him not only success on the international stage and high popularity at home but also serious problems. "Yushchenko managed to keep society's morale and hope for a better life high," AFP quoted Ukrainian political analyst Andriy Yermolayev as saying on 2 May. But Yermolayev added that while a new budget adopted in March boosted incomes by 25 percent in the first three months of 2005, it also led to 4.4 percent inflation in the same period. At the same time, economic growth slowed to 5.4 percent between January and March, compared to 10.8 percent for the same period in 2004. Yushchenko's economic adviser, Boris Nemtsov of Russia, believes the Ukrainian government's intent to re-evaluate dozens of privatizations has "scared away" potential investors. According to Yuliya Tyshchenko from the Ukrainian Independent Center of Political Studies quoted by RIA Novosti on 2 May, Yushchenko has made a number of controversial regional appointments that are seen primarily as rewards to supporters of his election bid and who are not necessarily those whom local elites and the general public would really want to have as their leaders. Tyshchenko opined that Yushchenko's first 100 days have not brought any major changes to Ukraine. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT ON FORGING TRIPARTITE ELECTION COALITION
President Viktor Yushchenko said in an interview with the UT-1 television channel on 3 May that he is sure that the Our Ukraine People's Union, which was created earlier this year to support him (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2005), will form a coalition for the 2006 parliamentary elections with the eponymous bloc led by Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and the People's Party of Ukraine headed by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. In a separate interview with the 1+1 television channel on 3 May, Yushchenko expressed confidence that such a coalition could be created as early as this month. "I see this as an optimal development," Yushchenko said. "It seems to me that today these three forces enjoy a critical level of trust among the population. In my opinion, this level will easily allow [us] to form the core of a future parliament." Yushchenko also positively assessed his first 100 days in power. "We have not betrayed any slogan voiced on the Maydan [Independence Square in Kyiv during the 2004 Orange Revolution]," Yushchenko told UT-1. "Today I can address any segment of society -- be it veterans, children or whoever else -- and say that we have worked for them." JM
UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS GROW FATTER BEFORE 2006 ELECTION
Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz on 3 March signed an accord with Vasyl Volha, head of the All-Ukrainian Union Public Control, on a merger of the two organizations, Interfax and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. Under the agreement, Public Control will be dissolved and its members absorbed by the Socialist Party. The two sides said the merger was necessary in order to strengthen "the influence of democratic and socialist forces" in society ahead of the 2006 parliamentary elections, which are to take place under a fully proportional, party-list system. Public Control claims a membership of 74,000. JM
GERMAN LEADER BACKS EU INTEGRATION FOR BOSNIA
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in Sarajevo on 3 May that it would be "justified" if the European Commission announces on 19 May that it wants to start talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina leading to a Stabilization and Association Agreement, regional and German media reported. He noted that Bosnia has made progress in the key areas of police reform and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The chancellor offered to send German experts to Bosnia to help draft a "modern, European constitution" and prepare economic reforms. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service noted, however, that Schroeder did not meet Bosnian hopes for a major liberalization of German visa policy for Bosnian citizens. Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic nonetheless called Schroeder's comments "the strongest support for what we have done so far and an enormous stimulus for the remaining reforms." Terzic added, however, that Bosnia still has to do much to make itself attractive to German investors. Schroeder also met with a group of women who survived the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and with some of the 1,100 German troops based at Rajlovac near Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 3 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 March 2004 and 15 April 2005). PM
SERBIAN MINISTER WANTS TO JOIN NATO PROGRAM 'IMMEDIATELY...'
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic told his Dutch counterpart, Ben Bot, in The Hague on 2 May that he wants "full membership" for his country in NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program "immediately and without preconditions," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Draskovic stressed that membership in PfP would enable his country to revamp its security services and be in a better position to catch former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and other war crimes indictees. NATO has called on PfP applicants to apprehend indictees before being admitted. It is not clear if the sometimes mercurial Draskovic is speaking for himself or for his government. Some Serbian politicians have made statements in recent weeks calling for a "fast track" for their country in joining the EU, which suggests that they consider membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions a sort of political prize rather than the result of meeting a specific set of requirements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). PM
...BUT NATO RECALLS PRECONDITIONS
A NATO spokesman told Reuters in The Hague on 2 May that Serbia and Montenegro must catch Mladic if it wants integration with the EU and NATO. "Serbia [and] Montenegro already has a program of cooperation, which offers quite a lot of what PfP offers to partner nations. To join PfP fully, however, would require full cooperation with the [Hague-based war crimes] tribunal, and this would include General Mladic facing the charges against him." Meanwhile, in Tirana, representatives of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia marked the second anniversary of the U.S.-backed Adriatic Charter aimed at preparing the three states for NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). Officials of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro also attended the meeting because those two countries are expected to be invited to join the Adriatic Charter once they have qualified for PfP. PM
BOSNIAN CROATS PICK HISTORIAN FOR THE PRESIDENCY
Officials of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) selected Ivo Miro Jovic in Sarajevo on 3 May to succeed Dragan Covic as the Croatian representative on the presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, dpa reported. The news agency noted that Jovic is a historian and member of the lower house of the parliament but is little known in political circles. If his nomination is approved by both houses of the legislature, he will fill the vacancy created in late March when High Representative Paddy Ashdown sacked Covic, who was indicted on corruption charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 March, and 1 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 April 2005). PM
FREED SERBIAN COLONEL GOES HOME FROM BULGARIA
Serbian Colonel Cedomir Brankovic returned to Belgrade on 3 May after a Sofia court ruled that he enjoys diplomatic immunity and cannot be detained, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Bulgarian police recently detained Brankovic on the basis of a Croatian Interpol arrest warrant while he was visiting Sofia as part of an official delegation. He was subsequently released and stayed in his country's Sofia embassy awaiting the final Bulgarian ruling as to whether he enjoyed immunity from arrest and extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 April, and 2 May 2005). PM
MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN CALLS FOR VISAS FOR KOSOVARS
Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said again on 29 April that Macedonia should immediately introduce a visa requirement for citizens of Kosova, the BBC's Macedonian Service reported. Crvenkovski noted that he recently spoke with Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), who told him that UNMIK has not introduced a visa requirement for Macedonian citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 April 2005). However, Crvenkovski said UNMIK's new policy requiring foreigners to fill in forms and announce the reason for their stay in Kosova, as well as the fact that Kosovar border police can deny entry to foreigners, amounts in practice to the introduction of a visa requirement. "Kosovo is not in a position to blackmail Macedonia, and we must not be in a subordinate position in regards to Kosovo," Crvenkovski said. The president added that the introduction of a visa requirement for Kosovars could also strengthen Macedonia's position in upcoming talks about Kosovar proposals to change the bilateral free trade agreement. Jessen-Petersen announced that his deputy will go to Skopje on 4 May to discuss the matter with the Macedonian leadership, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. UB
BOSNIAN MASSACRE SURVIVORS WANT A MEETING WITH GERMAN LEADER
A group of 50 Bosnian Muslim women -- whose husbands, sons, and brothers were among the 8,000 mainly Muslim males killed by Serbian forces in Srebrenica in July 1995 -- said in a statement in Sarajevo on 3 May that they want to meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is on a one-day visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, dpa reported. The Srebrenica Mothers organization called on the German leader "to use his influence and urge the apprehension of some 890 [Bosnian Serbs] suspected of alleged involvement in the Srebrenica massacre." They also appealed to Schroeder not to meet with Borislav Paravac, who heads the rotating Bosnian presidency, because the women link him to Serbian ethnic cleansing campaigns during the 1992-95 conflict. PM
MACEDONIA EXPECTS MEMBERSHIP INVITATION AT NEXT NATO SUMMIT
Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said in Tirana on 2 May that she expects Macedonia to be invited to join NATO at the next summit of the alliance, MIA news agency reported. Mitreva spoke at a meeting marking the second anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Adriatic Charter by Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004 and 3 May 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). Mitreva said Macedonia is ready to continue social and political reforms to prove it can carry out all responsibilities as a future NATO member. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Kathleen Stephens, who also attended the meeting, said the United States will continue cooperating with Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia until they join the alliance. UB
COUNCIL OF EUROPE ADVISES MOLDOVA ON DEMOCRATIZATION
Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis has sent a letter to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin containing proposals on the further democratization of Moldovan society, Infotag reported on 3 May. In particular, Davis suggested a reform of parliamentary procedures; further improvement of public television and radio according to Council of Europe recommendations; judicial reforms; the urgent adoption of a national anti-corruption strategy and action plan; and the continuation of a constructive dialogue with civic society. Davies reportedly emphasized that he wrote the letter to highlight Voronin's personal contribution to what he described as the emergence of a "new political culture" in Moldova. JM
CROATIAN PREMIER TAKES NEW TACK IN DEALING WITH WAR CRIMES CASE
Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Zagreb on 2 May that "if you want something to succeed, don't make it public," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He thereby indicated that he hopes to catch war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina -- and thereby remove the major obstacle to starting EU membership talks -- by saying as little as possible about the case in public and by plugging leaks to the media. He declined to provide reporters with any information about media reports that the government has known for the past year the false name under which Gotovina is allegedly hiding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April and 2 May 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004). Sanader nonetheless noted that "the government has drafted an action plan, and what we are doing now is part of that plan. Understandably, I cannot say more in public, but [actions are already in progress], and I remain confident the [EU] talks will start in June." PM
UKRAINIAN TELEVISION DISPUTE CASTS GLARE ON BROADER PROBLEM
The Ukrainian Supreme Economic Court on 28 April rejected a complaint by the Prosecutor-General's Office against an earlier decision of the Kyiv Appellate Economic Court to approve the expansion of the broadcasting license of the NTN television channel to a nationwide network. Vitaliy Shevchenko, head of the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting (NRPTR), an eight-member constitutional body empowered to issue broadcasting licenses in Ukraine, said the same day that the broadcast council will appeal against the Supreme Economic Court decision.
The legal clash between the authorities and NTN over its license expansion has struck a raw nerve in the media sector in Ukraine, where many broadcasters are widely regarded to have obtained licenses under dubious circumstances. Since NTN is partly owned by Donetsk-based oligarch Eduard Prutnyk, who was once an adviser to then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the case also has political undertones.
"The NTN channel considers that the actions of the Prosecutor-General's Office [against NTN] show signs of the witch hunt in the Ukrainian media sector," NTN said in a statement in early April. NTN journalist Volodymyr Kartashkov openly accused President Viktor Yushchenko's administration -- which came to power following the country's recent Orange Revolution -- of resorting to "politically motivated retribution" against his political opponents. NTN journalists organized a series of pickets in front of the presidential administration and the Prosecutor-General's Office in Kyiv in April to protest what they perceived as an official intention to close down their channel.
A closer look at the controversy over the NTN license suggests that NTN's allegations of "politically motivated retribution" by the authorities are difficult to substantiate. On the other hand, the authorities' actions with respect to the channel also appear to be motivated by more than simply an intention to restore justice and lawfulness in the media sector.
NTN began its broadcasting on 1 November 2004 under a license issued in April of the same year. In early 2004, NTN -- then known under the name Telestudio Information Service and authorized to broadcast only in Kyiv and Simferopol -- applied to the broadcast council for an expanded license under the new name to beam its programs over 24 frequencies throughout Ukraine.
Under Ukraine's law on broadcasting, new frequencies are allotted to broadcasters by the council under a bidding procedure. NTN, which was eager to begin broadcasting before the 2004 presidential election (presumably to support Yanukovych's presidential bid), did not wait until the broadcast council had launched such a tender but turned to courts to get its license expanded. The Kyiv Economic Court and subsequently the Kyiv Appellate Economic Court ordered the broadcast council to amend NTN's license to allow for its expansion. The broadcast watchdog refused to do so, but NTN began nevertheless to broadcast on the basis of the court rulings. In the meantime, it turned out that the courts had ruled that NTN be allowed to broadcast over 75 frequencies in a number of Ukrainian cities.
The broadcast council, whose composition was recently changed to include four Yushchenko nominees (the other four are appointed by the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian legislature), believes that it is the sole authority for allotting new frequencies and that NTN's license expansion was not an amendment of the old license but rather a totally new license. Therefore, the broadcast council argues, NTN must undergo a standard bidding procedure if it wants to broadcast legally on a nationwide scale.
However, the problem is that NTN is not the only broadcaster in Ukraine whose license has effectively been issued by court. Such broadcasters include the TET and KRT television channels as well as, according to the "Zerkalo nedeli" weekly, the pro-Yushchenko Channel 5, which was generally credited for its substantial contribution to the victory of the opposition-fueled Orange Revolution.
If that is the case, some say, then why has the Prosecutor-General's Office singled out NTN in its attempt to restore justice in the media sector and failed to take into account other broadcasters with similarly questionable licenses? Because, NTN answers, the current authorities want a redistribution of broadcasting frequencies to award broadcasters who are sympathetic to the current government.
Whatever the outcome of the current dispute between NTN on one side, and the Prosecutor-General's Office and the broadcast council on the other, one thing is of great importance for the Yushchenko government's image, both at home and abroad: Yushchenko, who claimed to be on the media's side in the battle for freedom during the Orange Revolution, must avoid even the impression that such freedom does not extend to media outlets run by his opponents now that he is in power.
So there are two credible paths to a resolution of the licensing issue. As some Ukrainian observers have suggested, if certain broadcasting licenses are to be questioned, the authorities must apply similar criteria to all potential transgressors and avoid focusing only on those that are uncomfortable to the government. Or, as others have proposed, the revamped broadcast council should simply forget what happened with broadcasting licenses in the past and launch a completely new chapter in their allocation.
VERDICTS OVER MIGRANT KILLINGS POLARIZE MACEDONIA
A Macedonian court recently acquitted three former senior police officials over the slaying of six Pakistani migrants. The killings were part of an apparent attempt to convince the public that the police had intercepted dangerous terrorists. The case reflects both internal power politics and the ramifications of regional officials trying to show that they are playing a serious role in the war on terrorism.
The court, in Skopje, acquitted the three former policemen and a fourth defendant on 22 April of the killing of seven Asian migrants in all -- six from Pakistan and one who is thought have been from India -- outside the capital in March 2002. The court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove charges that the defendants killed the migrants in a shootout staged so that the Interior Ministry could claim that police killed Al-Qaeda members planning to attack Western embassies in Skopje.
Macedonian press reports suggested that the acquittals were due to poorly prepared charges, inconclusive testimony by prosecution witnesses, and effective work by the defense attorneys. Prosecutor Sterjo Zikov announced that he will challenge the acquittal as soon as he receives the reasons for the verdict. "We believe that the verdict does not take into account all the circumstances in the case," Zikov said.
Domestic and international reactions to the verdicts showed how politically and publicly charged the trial had become. In Macedonia, conservative and nationalist opposition parties, such as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and its offshoots, as well as the Liberal Party, welcomed the acquittals. For the opposition, the acquittals dealt a serious blow to the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and its coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI).
The opposition parties had claimed from the beginning that the SDSM-led government set up the trial in order to discredit a special police unit known as the Lions and former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of the previous VMRO-DPMNE-led government. Boskovski had also been charged in the case but managed to flee to Croatia. However, Croatian authorities subsequently arrested Boskovski and charged him with murder. In March, Croatia sent Boskovski to the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, where he faces charges in a separate case.
VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski congratulated the court for what he called its resistance to political pressure from the government. Vesna Janevska, who is acting chairwoman of the opposition splinter party VMRO-People's Party, said the acquittals were truly a landmark. "We were right when we said that the judges are solid," Janevska said.
The governing SDSM refrained from commenting on the verdicts, denying that it tried to influence the trial. "We of the SDSM were very careful from the beginning and called [on the political parties] not to politicize the judicial process," SDSM spokesman Boris Kondarko said.
The verdict could nonetheless have negative repercussions for the governing coalition.
The Liberal Democrats, whose chairman, Risto Penov, lost his position as Skopje mayor in the recent local elections, demanded that "someone" take responsibility for the political damage caused by mistakes made during the trial. Penov told "Utrinski vesnik" on 29 April that he will ask SDSM Chairman and Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski for precise answers to some questions, including whether prosecutors failed to prepare the trial properly, or whether allegations that some witnesses were bribed are true.
So far, the SDSM's ethnic Albanian coalition partners from the BDI have not commented on the trial. That does not mean, however, that Macedonian Albanians were indifferent to the verdicts. Muhamed Halili, who is a diplomat, and Daut Dauti, a journalist, both called attention to the potential international repercussions of the trial. In his comment for "Dnevnik" of 30 April, Halili suggested that the international community is not so much interested in the names of the perpetrators. "The most important thing is that [the perpetrators] were controlled by the state," Halili said. "If the state fails to find the real perpetrators, a dark cloud will hang over the affair forever."
Dauti wrote in "Dnevnik" that it is dangerous to call the trial a victory for the independence of the judiciary. Dauti did not rule out that there were irregularities, but he also pointed to the fact that the main question remains unanswered: "Why were the Pakistanis killed? What will Pakistan say to this verdict?"
The Pakistani response was clear. A spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry has announced that Islamabad will challenge the verdicts, the Islamabad-based "News International" reported on 30 April. "Not only do we have a lawyer to represent the murdered Pakistanis, but the government of Macedonia has approached us and asked us for more details," the spokesman said.
28 AFGHANS KILLED WHEN HIDDEN ARMS DUMP EXPLODES
Twenty-eight Afghans died and more than 70 others were injured when an arms dump exploded in northern Afghanistan, AFP reported on 2 May. The blast, which erupted from a secret underground bunker, ripped apart an entire neighborhood in Bachgah, a village some 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Kabul. An area warlord had apparently hidden the arms to avoid having them confiscated as part of an ongoing disarmament campaign backed by the United Nations. "It was a dreadful, massive explosion," said Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal. "Lots of houses around the explosion site have been destroyed. The casualty toll from the explosion is 28 killed and more than 70 wounded." It was unclear whether the local warlord who controlled the weapons, Jalal-e-Bachgah, was killed in the explosion. MR
FORMER TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER SPEAKS...
In his first interview since his reported release from detention, Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil said on 2 May that he does not have "full relations" with the current militant Taliban elements or the neo-Taliban, Tolu Television reported. Mutawakkil was the most senior former Taliban leader in U.S. custody and was reportedly released in October 2003. He is now playing a key role in a reconciliation program launched by the Afghan government to give amnesty to most of the Taliban leaders (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9, 16, 23 and 30 October 2003 and 4 March and 10 June 2004). Regarding the reconciliation offer to the former Taliban, Mutawakkil told Tolu that the issue is "at a very early stage" and that a "commission has been formed which might work in this regard." According to Mutawakkil, the Taliban regime had certain positive points, such as its policy on narcotics. "There was security and less administrative corruption," Mutawakkil added. He also said he hopes the Afghan parliament, which is scheduled to be elected in September, will be representative and functional. AT
...AS NEO-TALIBAN REJECT THEIR FORMER COLLEAGUE'S STANCE
Neo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi said that while Mutawakkil is entitled to his views, he has no authority to speak for the neo-Taliban, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 4 May. "We also feel that Mutawakkil is not a free man. I'm not saying that he is still a prisoner, but the fact remains that he cannot express himself openly while living in Kabul," Hakimi added. According to Hakimi, rather than urging his former colleagues to hold talks with the Afghan government, Mutawakkil should advise the United States to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. AT
AFGHAN FORCES ARREST SIX SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN FIGHTERS
Afghan security forces have detained six suspected neo-Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, Xinhua News Agency reported on 3 May. Afghan National Police (ANP) made the arrests while patrolling with U.S. Army forces near a village on the outskirts of Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold. "Today's incident is a perfect example of the ANP taking the lead in the fight for their nation's freedom and stability," said U.S. Army Brigadier General James G. Champion, deputy commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force-76. "What happened clearly shows that Afghan forces and the Afghan people are sending a clear message to the insurgents that violence and oppression will not be tolerated," said deputy commander U.S. Army Brigadier General James G. Champion. Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents reportedly fired on the joint U.S.-Afghan patrol, which returned fire and captured six of the apparent attackers. MR
MILLIONS OF AFGHANS REMAIN IN PAKISTAN
A new joint census by the UN and the Pakistani government concluded that more than 3 million Afghan refugees have settled in Afghanistan since 1979, Xinhua News Agency reported on 3 May. The research was conducted by the Pakistani government in cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The census covered all of Pakistan and found that 1,861,412 Afghans are in the North-West Frontier Province bordering northeast Afghanistan, while another 783,545 are in Balochistan Province along Afghanistan's southern border with Pakistan. The census counted 136,780 Afghans in Sindh Province, 207,754 in Punjab Province, 44,637 in Islamabad, and 13,097 in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The data represents the most accurate tally of Afghans in Pakistan who have fled successive wars in Afghanistan that began with the Soviet invasion in 1979. Guebre-Christos, the head of UNHCR in Pakistan, said the data will be vital in determining what role the UN refugee agency will play in providing aid to Afghans remaining in Pakistan despite ongoing repatriation efforts. MR
AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTRY URGES WARLORDS TO SURRENDER AMMUNITION
In a press released issued on 3 May, the Afghan Defense Ministry urged all regional commanders to surrender their ammunition to the Afghan National Army, Radio Afghanistan reported. The press release cited the 2 May explosion in the northern Baghlan Province, in which more than 20 people were killed, as justification for the request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2005). There are an estimated 850 armed groups with a total of 65,000 members throughout Afghanistan. AT
MEDIA WATCHDOGS CRITICAL OF IRAN
Radio Farda reported on 3 May that, according to the annual report just released by Reporters Without Borders, Iran in 2004 jailed more journalists than anywhere else in the Middle East, and overall was one of the world's 10 most repressive countries for the media. Iranian authorities are particularly sensitive to stories about religion, dissidents, clerics, Iran-U.S. relations, and the nuclear issue. Very few independent publications exist any more. Foreign correspondents must detail their travel plans and story ideas before receiving entry visas, and at least one, Dan DeLuce of "The Guardian," was expelled from the country. According to an annual report from Freedom House released on 28 April, furthermore, Iran is classified as "Not Free," Radio Farda reported last week. That report notes a crackdown that increasingly concentrates on Internet-based media. The Freedom House report notes that the press laws are worded vaguely, and the related penalties are harsh -- floggings, high fines, lengthy prison sentences. (The reports are available at http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=13306, and http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/pressurvey.htm.) BS
AFGHANISTAN TO AUCTION OFF MOBILE-PHONE LICENSES
The Afghan government plans to auction off mobile-phone licenses in a bid to spur development, the "London Times" reported on 2 May. The daily reported that Afghanistan plans to sell mobile-phone licenses based on the global system standard in Europe for prices expected to reach millions of dollars over the next two months. The government hopes to yield up to $200 million in foreign investment through the sales, according to the London paper. Government planners in Kabul said they hope the initiative will create thousands of jobs in Afghanistan, bolstering the country's efforts at economic recovery following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. A similar auction in Pakistan last year generated revenues of $291 million. Industry analysts say likely bidders in the coming Afghanistan auction include Orascom, a telecommunications company owned largely by Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris, and Norwegian telecom company Telenor, which is already operating in Pakistan. Whatever company wins in the bidding should begin operations in January 2006. MR
PROSPECTIVE CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE WITHDRAWS FROM IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Conservative Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli said on 1 May that he will not be a candidate in the June presidential election, Radio Farda reported. He said the decision is meant to preserve unity within the conservative faction. Tavakoli said in December he intended to be a candidate. He ran for president in 2001 and in 1993. BS
IRANIAN NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER DEFENDS PRESS FREEDOM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said on 1 May in Tehran that harsh press restrictions have robbed journalists of their freedom of expression and creativity, IRNA reported. Ebadi said press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed, but without real freedom of expression there is no democracy. Ebadi said members of the international community are entitled to express their views about human rights issues in other countries. If it is normal for Iran to defend the rights of Palestinians, she implied, then other countries should be able to express concern about human rights violations in Iran. Expressing such opinions, she said, does not constitute interference or meddling. When a reporter in any country is arrested, she said, the whole world is entitled to object. BS
PROSPECTIVE IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE HAS MAJOR PLANS
Expediency Council Chairman and prospective presidential candidate Ayatollah al-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has a plan for restoring relations with the United States, "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 3 May, citing an anonymous source close to Hashemi-Rafsanjani. He also plans to support the Arab-Israeli peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz. Hashemi-Rafsanjani reportedly intends to pursue President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's reforms, which encountered opposition from entrenched conservative elements, and he reportedly wants to eliminate the system of Vilayat-i Faqih (Rule of the Supreme Jurisprudent). According to "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," Hashemi-Rafsanjani wants to cooperate with the heretofore-shunned nationalist-religious forces in an effort to counter "an internal coup by some [Islamic Revolution Guards Corps] generals, radical commanders in the intelligence apparatus, and the religious seminary in Qom." Hashemi-Rafsanjani allegedly was prompted to act when he learned of a plan to destroy the centrist Executives of Construction Party -- which has voiced support for his presidential bid -- as well as reformist leaders, and his extended family. BS
LEADING CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE IN IRAN WORRIES ABOUT U.S.
Ali Larijani, presidential candidate of the conservative Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, said on 2 May that the U.S. is trying to control Iran by threatening it, Mehr News Agency reported. He also told his audience at the women's Al-Zahra Seminary that women's legal rights should be recognized and women should be given job opportunities on the basis of their capabilities. BS
IRANIANS STILL FEEL IMPACT OF IRAQI CHEMICAL WEAPONS
Kurdistan journalist Masud Kurdpur told Radio Farda on 2 May that the international court at The Hague will soon begin to investigate complaints against former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein made by victims of chemical weapons. Iraq used mustard agents, the nerve agent tabun, VX, sarin, and cyanide in the war with Iran (on complaints against Saddam Hussein see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2004). The residents of Sardasht were bombed in June 1987, before the bombing at Halabja in Iraq in March 1988. An estimated 4,500 people were exposed to the toxins, and a significant proportion remains chronically ill. Kurdpur said a nongovernmental organization recently interviewed 30 residents of Oshnavieh and Sardasht in connection with a Dutch company's provision of chemicals to the Iraqi regime. The NGO pledged that their complaints will be dealt with by the end of the year. Kurdpur said the individuals responsible for providing these chemicals have been identified. Kurdpur said the Iranian government has cooperated with the investigation, and it has pledged to provide help to the victims and to build a hospital in the area. BS
IRANIAN LEADER ANGERED BY VISIT TO EARTHQUAKE SITE
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a 3 May visit to the Kerman Province city of Bam, which was devastated by an earthquake in December 2003, that reconstruction efforts in the region are inadequate, Mehr News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). He said the construction of commercial and residential areas is unsatisfactory. Khamenei said the country needs a crisis management organization, and he called on officials to learn from what happened in Bam and build earthquake-resistant buildings throughout the country. Khamenei prayed for those who lost their lives in the earthquake, IRNA reported. BS
TEHRAN BLAMES BRITISH FOR ARAB UNREST
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 3 May in Tehran that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security denies that domestic political groups were involved in the mid-April ethnic unrest in southwestern Khuzestan Province, IRNA reported. Some Iranian conservatives have blamed the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party. Parliamentarian Kazem Jalali on 3 May claimed that British Foreign Minister Jack Straw met with an ethnic Arab separatist, Mehr News Agency reported. Jalali said it is inappropriate for British officials to meet with groups that want to overthrow the Iranian government, since Tehran and London have diplomatic relations. Although Straw has denied that such a meeting took place, Jalali said, the legislature knows better. Such accusations should be seen within the context of Great Britain's historical influence among the Arabs of southern Iran. BS
ALLEGED RINGLEADER OF SOUTHWESTERN UNREST IN IRAN IDENTIFIED
Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani on 2 May criticized the alleged ringleader of recent unrest in southwestern Iran, state television reported. Shamkhani said a man known as "al-Ahwazi" and his family were members of the Rastakhiz Party under the monarchy. Shamkhani claimed this meant they were agents of SAVAK, the monarchy's intelligence and security organization. During the Iran-Iraq War, al-Ahwazi was connected with Iraq's Baathist regime, Shamkhani added. The minister dismissed al-Ahwazi's importance and concluded, "To review the problems of Khuzestan, if we manage to abolish poverty, discrimination, humiliation and provocation, we will not have any problems in Khuzestan. Khuzestan is the production factory for revolutionary soldiers." BS
SUNNI POLITICIAN SAYS DEAL REACHED WITH IRAQI GOVERNMENT OVER DEFENSE POST
Mish'an al-Juburi of the Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc told Al-Jazeera television in a 2 May interview that a deal has been reached between Sunni politicians and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's government for the defense minister post. The post will reportedly go to Major General Ahmad Rakan Abd al-Aziz al-Shammari. Al-Juburi claimed that although Sunnis did not get the desired number of posts in the transitional government, they achieved success. He said: "We have been able to realize our viewpoint...It is we who decide who represents the Sunni Arabs and it is not the others who dictate on us who should represent us. As you know, there have been attempts by several parties to appoint representatives for the Sunni Arabs in the government based on their standards and choices. But in the end, our viewpoint triumphed." Al-Juburi claimed last week that "serious sectarian isolation has been exercised against us" by the Shi'ite parties (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 May 2005). The transitional cabinet is expected to be sworn in on 3 May. KR
IRANIAN TRAINS KEEP A-ROLLING
Iranian railways chief Mohammad Sayed Nejad and his Russian and Azerbaijani counterparts Gennadii Fadeev and Arif Askerov signed an agreement on 3 May in Tehran for the construction of a railway line linking Qazvin, Rasht, and Astara, ITAR-TASS and day.az reported. In the northeastern city of Mashhad on the same day, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami inaugurated a 1,000-kilometer railway that goes to the central city of Bafq, IRNA reported. BS
SENEGALESE DEFENSE OFFICIALS VISIT IRAN
Senegalese Armed Forces Minister Becaye Diop and a delegation of his officers visited Iranian military facilities on 3 May, IRNA reported. They learned about Iranian-manufactured air-defense systems, ammunition, armored vehicles, electronics, and missiles. Diop met with Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani on 2 May. BS
U.S. FORCES KILL 12 SUSPECTED INSURGENTS NEAR IRAQI BORDER TOWN...
U.S. forces killed 12 suspected insurgents and wounded two other Iraqis, including a 6-year-old girl on 2 May, Reuters reported the next day. Six U.S. soldiers were wounded in the battle. The incident occurred when U.S. forces monitored a truck that drove to a suspected insurgent camp outside Al-Qa'im. The suspected insurgents loaded the truck with unidentified materials and began heading back toward the border town, but opened fire on U.S. forces after the vehicle was stopped for inspection. "A firefight ensured with nine enemy adult males killed," Reuters cited a U.S. military statement as saying. Three others were killed in an air strike on the camp. The military reportedly uncovered foreign currency, fake identification cards, and other unspecified items that link the individuals in the truck and camp to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, who heads Iraq's Al-Qaeda wing, Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn. KR
...AS U.S. PILOT GOES MISSING
U.S. Central Command said in a 2 May statement posted to its website (http://www.centcom.mil) that it lost contact with two U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet aircraft from the U.S.S. Carl Vinson "flying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom." The military said there was no indication of hostile fire in the area at the time contact was lost. A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad reported on 3 May that the body of one of the Marine pilots has been recovered, Reuters reported. The second pilot remains missing. The spokesman added: "The planes were flying too high to be shot down." Reuters reported that a heavy sandstorm and lightning plagued central Iraq at the time the planes went missing, but the U.S. military has yet to confirm the location of the aircraft at the time that contact was lost. KR
SUICIDE BOMBER TARGETS IRAQI POLICE RECRUITS IN IRBIL
A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to a police recruitment center in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on 4 May, killing at least 45 men and wounding more than 100, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The bomber joined the line of more than 200 Iraqis applying for police positions, and detonated himself as security guards were checking applicants entering the building. Irbil Governor Nowzad Hadi told reporters at a press briefing that the victims were dispersed to three main hospitals in the city, RFI reported. Hadi called on citizens to donate blood to help save the injured. RFI reported that thousands of Iraqi families arrived at the three hospitals looking for loved ones despite calls by police to stay away for security reasons. Rizgari (Liberation) Hospital has released the names of the dead, who ranged in age from 18 to 25 years old, RFI reported. The suicide bomb attack is the second assault on Kurds this week. Twenty Iraqis were killed and more than 30 wounded when a suicide car bomber struck the funeral of a Kurdish official in Tel Afar on 1 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). KR
IRAQ SWEARS IN TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT
Iraq's transitional cabinet ministers took their oaths of office in a 3 May ceremony before the National Assembly, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Several ministerial portfolios remain open, including defense, electricity, oil, and human rights. In a speech at the opening ceremony broadcast on Al-Sharqiyah television, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari said he hopes to complete the cabinet appointments in the coming days. Assembly speaker Hajim al-Hasani also addressed the ceremony, saying: "No state, law, or institution can continue without accord or unity among the various sectors of Iraqi society and agreement on the important and basic common denominations in establishing the new state. The common factors increase through the language of dialogue and understanding and through reuniting the people, healing the rift, and eliminating all elements of disagreement and discord, which are fed by the enemies of the people, inside and outside." KR
ITALY WEIGHS IN ON AGENT'S DEATH AT U.S. HANDS IN IRAQ
The Italian government has issued a 52-page report criticizing the U.S. military for failing to establish checkpoint rules and saying that nervous U.S. soldiers were to blame for the shooting incident that left Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari dead, Reuters reported on 2 May. Calipari was killed on 4 March when U.S. soldiers fired on a vehicle transporting him and freed journalist Giuliana Sgrena to the Baghdad airport. Sgrena and a second Italian secret service agent were wounded in the attack. An earlier U.S. investigation called the incident a "tragic accident," saying U.S. forces followed procedures when they fired on the vehicle. The Italian investigation denied there was a breakdown in communication between the Italians and U.S. forces prior to the incident. U.S. forces had said they were unaware that the vehicle was en route to the airport; Italian officials had claimed that the U.S. military was informed of the vehicle's destination. The Italian report concluded that the checkpoint was carelessly organized, adding: "It is likely that tension...inexperience and stress led some of the U.S. troops to react instinctively and with little control" during the incident. KR
MEDIA GROUP SAYS IRAQ WAR MOST DEADLY FOR JOURNALISTS SINCE VIETNAM
Reporters Without Borders (http://www.rsf.org) announced in a 3 May press release that the war in Iraq has proven to be the most deadly interstate war for journalists since the Vietnam War. Fifty-six journalists and media assistants have been killed and 29 kidnapped since March 2003, the organization said. "The Iraq conflict is the deadliest interstate war for journalists since the one in Vietnam, when 63 were killed, but over a period of 20 years (1955-1975). During the fighting in the former Yugoslavia (1991-1995), 49 journalists were killed doing the job," the organization reported. Fifty-seven journalists were killed in Algeria between 1993 and 1996, during that country's civil war. In a report released on 3 May, Reporters Without Borders says that 66 percent of the journalists killed were Iraqi, 13 percent European, while 11 percent came from other Arab states. KR
IRAQI PRIME MINISTER EXPLAINS DELAY IN FORMING GOVERNMENT
Speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister al-Ja'fari addressed the Iraqi people on Al-Sharqiyah television, explaining the delay in forming the government. "The United Iraqi Alliance spent a large amount of time and effort to reach an agreement with our Kurdish brothers from the Kurdistan Coalition List so that both parliamentary blocs would be strong in form - along with the rest of the Iraqi blocs - a wide foundation for the aspired-for Iraqi political edifice, which would have room for Iraqis as a whole, without being limited to sectarian or racial margins." He added that given the circumstances of the Sunnis after their limited participation in the 30 January elections, "we would find it natural for this issue to take some time and effort to bridge the gap between the Sunnis' demographic reality and their parliamentary one." Al-Ja'fari addressed former Ba'athists, saying: "Our people is large and has room for you, providing you have not spilled blood, violated sanctities, or participated politically in establishing that buried regime. Return to our people in repentance and apology to participate in the process of construction and development." KR
IRAQI GOVERNMENT ADVISER LISTS PRIORITIES
Al-Ja'fari adviser Laith Kubba told Al-Jazeera television in a 3 May interview that the top priorities of the government are the drafting of a permanent constitution, security, and the delivery of public services. He blamed administrative corruption as one of the contributing factors to the decline in public services. Kubba discussed the difficulties in settling on Sunni posts, and intimated that the lack of a unified Sunni bloc made the government's task of finding representatives "very arduous." "The biggest lesson the Iraqi Sunnis and all other Iraqis have learned is that none should fail to participate in the next elections," Kubba said. He reminded Al-Jazeera that the transitional government's term will only last about 35 weeks. KR
FORMER IRAQI DICTATOR'S NEPHEW IN CUSTODY
Ayman Sabawi, the nephew of deposed President Saddam Hussein, was reportedly captured recently in Tikrit, Reuters reported on 4 May. Sabawi is the son of Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, also in coalition custody. "Ayman Sabawi, together with his brothers, played a particularly active role in sustaining terrorism by providing financial support, weapons, and explosives to terrorist groups," a government statement said. KR