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Newsline - May 10, 2005

The 15th Russia-EU summit was held in Moscow on 10 May, Russian and international media reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told ITAR-TASS before the summit that Russia "would pay particular attention to securing the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in Latvia and Estonia and the problems of passenger and cargo transit to Kaliningrad Oblast." He also said the summit would review cooperation mechanisms between the EU and Russia that were developed nearly 10 years ago in order to "more effectively use the potential of the Russia-EU Permanent Partnership Council." Yakovenko told the news agency on 9 May that the summit will consider the implementation of the road maps on the creation of "four common spaces" that were agreed to in St. Petersburg in 2003. He said the goal of the four common spaces is to facilitate the emergence of a Europe without dividing lines, improve people-to-people contacts, create a common security space, expand trade and economic cooperation, and to improve cultural contacts. RC

President Vladimir Putin on 9 May met in the Kremlin with Chinese President Hu Jintao to discuss bilateral relations and international and regional issues, Russian and international media reported. The presidents confirmed that Hu will make a state visit to Russia at the end of June. An unnamed Kremlin source told ITAR-TASS that "the constructive Russia-Chinese dialogue is one of the key factors in the creation of a new system of international relations." Putin's foreign affairs adviser, Sergei Prikhodko, told RIA-Novosti that the presidents did not discuss the dispute over North Korea's nuclear-weapons program. RC

President Putin met on 9 May with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi for a half-hour talk that presidential adviser Prikhodko described as "substantial," ITAR-TASS reported. The leaders confirmed that Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will visit Tokyo at the end of this month, but did not set a date for a visit to Japan by Putin. Prikhodko told ITAR-TASS that Putin will visit Japan only when progress has been made on outstanding issues. "It is important to fill the visit with concrete substance," Prikhodko said. "It is necessary to prepare serious documents and agreements." Koizumi expressed the hope that Putin will visit Japan before the summit of the Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries in July. Putin and Koizumi called for North Korea to return to the six-nation talks concerning its nuclear-weapons program. Putin assured Koizumi that Moscow will do everything in its power to persuade Pyongyang to resume "the negotiations in that format," Prikhodko said. RC

President Putin also met the same day with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, ITAR-TASS reported. An unnamed Kremlin source told the news agency that Putin said Russia "is resolutely against nuclear weapons becoming available on the Korean Peninsula" and is committed to the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear-weapons program. The source said the presidents discussed possible ways of overcoming the current stalemate in those talks. The source added that relations with South Korea "are one of the most important areas of Russian policy in the Asia-Pacific region," and noted that the question of the opening of a South Korean consulate in St. Petersburg has been resolved affirmatively. RC

President Putin met in the Kremlin on 9 May with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Interfax reported. The leaders agreed that Indian President Abdul Kalam will visit Russia later this month and that Singh will return by the end of the year. Putin said the two countries "have things to work on" because the level of bilateral trade "is not what it could be." An unnamed Kremlin source told ITAR-TASS on 9 May that the foreign ministers of Russia, India, and China will meet on 2 June. "The strengthening of cooperation between Russia, India, and China is of special importance as a form of cooperation that is outside geopolitical blocs and is based on a similarity of approaches in pursuing common foreign-policy priorities," the source was quoted as saying. RC

Russia and Latvia did not sign a border agreement on 10 May as some had anticipated, Ekho Moskvy reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 5 May 2005). Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks announced on 9 May that he would not fly to Moscow for the Russia-EU summit, saying that Russia had announced that it would not sign the border treaty as it now stands. The agreement was negotiated in 1997 but has never been signed. On 26 April, the Latvian government made the decision to sign the treaty, but added to it a unilateral declaration that despite the treaty Latvia retains the right to make territorial claims against Russia in the future. On 28 April, Moscow said it would not sign the treaty unless Latvia retracts the declaration. RC

Speaking at a rally organized by left-wing opposition groups on 9 May in front of Moscow's Belorusskii train station, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that he considers the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact as a key to the victory over fascism, Interfax reported. According to Zyuganov, the 1939 agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union moved Western borders back by 300 kilometers. "Imagine the beginning of the war, if the fascist hordes [had been] in Estonia," he said. "Without the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact there would not have been the heroic Brest fortress which stopped the victorious fascist offensive," he continued. The previous day, Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski said in Moscow at a ceremony awarding medals to Russian veterans that the pact was a "deal between two totalitarian regimes" against the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe, RIA-Novosti reported. He noted that the Soviet Union attacked Poland jointly with Germany in 1939 and urged that "historical facts and an historic evil be acknowledged." JAC

In a broadcast on TV-Tsentr on 7 May, "Postskriptum" program host Aleksei Pushkov commented that Russia has allowed itself to become too weak and this explains the recent rise in attempts to rewrite the history of World War II, diminishing Russia's role in it. Pushkov also aired a recorded interview with historian Roy Medvedev, who said that a proper understanding of Russia's historical role in history has been in decline since the break-up of the Soviet Union because the Soviet regime would counter every public attack. Medvedev added that the Baltic states' demand for recognition of their occupation by Soviet troops is partly attributable to the inferiority complex of small countries seeking recognition. He added that local fascists in Baltic states killed about 200,000 Jews, 330,000 prisoners of war, and some 140,000 "Soviet citizens." He expressed surprise that Western states turn a blind eye to such things. JAC

Political analyst Sergei Mikheev, director of the CIS Department of the Center for Political Strategy, told on 6 May that the "multitude of hostile remarks" about Russia from the West in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe was "a coordinated campaign" and "an endeavor to rewrite history to [the West's] advantage." He said the immediate goal of this campaign is "to compromise 9 May as the sole holiday uniting peoples throughout the territory of the former USSR." "The disintegration or, at least, the utmost weakening of Russia remains for the West an objective of current interest," Mikheev said. "Russia is a country vying for a predominant role in European and even world affairs. Russia continues to exert an influence in the post-Soviet territory -- this, in fact, is why strong pressure is being exerted on it." Aleksei Zudin, director of the Political Science Department of the Center for Political Strategy, added that the recent comments "are undoubtedly an integral part of the pressure on Russia that began with the so-called colored revolutions." He said that the countries of "new Europe" are trying to enhance their status "through the constant problematization of their relations with Russia." These countries, he said, "have an interest in the intensification -- to a certain level -- of conflict with Russia." RC

An estimated 9,000 people took part in the rally in front of the Belorusskii train station in Moscow on 9 May, REN-TV reported. In addition to Communists, members of Eduard Limonov's National Bolshevik Party also participated as well as the Red Youth Avant Garde, monarchists, and about 30 members of the ultranationalist group Pamyat, reported. According to Ekho Moskvy, Limonov accused Putin of trying to please "foreign louts" and chanted before the crowd "Putin, go away! Putin, resign!" At one point, a woman produced a portrait of Putin with the inscription saying "Enemy No. 1" to the cheers of the crowd. JAC

At the rally, activists from the Red Youth Avant Garde tried to break through a police cordon set up around the square and began hurling smoke bombs at the policemen, but they could not cope with the large number of police, according to Ekho Moskvy. Around 2,000 police had surrounded the train station and all participants in the rally had to first go through a metal detector, reported. About 100 activists of various youth organizations were detained on 9 May, Ekho Moskvy reported. National Bolshevik Party spokesman Aleksandr Averin told the station that mass detentions began at 9 a.m. as their party members were detained at their homes, the party's headquarters and in the metro. Police picked up Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of Red Youth Avant Garde, at his home, Interfax reported. According to his wife, Anastasiya, they did this so that he would not be able to participate in the rally. JAC

Iran approves Russia's proposal -- first made in February at a roundtable discussion on security issues in the Caspian region -- to create a rapid reaction force to preserve security and stability in the Caspian region, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamidrza Asefi, Turan reported on 6 May, quoting the Iranian Embassy in Baku. That proposal has been incorporated into a draft agreement on security in the Caspian basin presented for their consideration to the five littoral states. LF

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma visited the grave in a village in Novgorod Oblast of his father who died at an army hospital in Novgorod Oblast during World War II, RIA-Novosti reported on 9 May. According to the agency, Senior Sergeant Daniil Kuchma's death on 7 February 1942 was not verified until 1996. In 2001, President Putin visited the grave while visiting Velikii Novgorod. JAC

The Voronezh branch of the Nashi youth movement announced on 9 May that it discovered a listening device in its headquarters, Regnum reported. The device was found in an electrical socket. Aleksei Filonov, director of the Voronezh branch, implied that he considers the National Bolshevik Party (NBP) an enemy of Nashi but he acknowledged that a bug is an expensive device and he doesn't believe the NBP has large amounts of money. JAC

In an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service summarized on 9 May by, senior Chechen field commander Doku Umarov said that by the end of this year the Chechen resistance will begin large-scale military activities in Russian regions beyond the borders of Chechnya. Umarov explained that previously the resistance refrained from extending the war outside Chechnya at the insistence of President Aslan Maskhadov, but now that the abductions and murder of Chechen civilians by Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces have become more frequent, that restraint is no longer considered appropriate. He added that resistance forces are already regrouping in preparation for new attacks. Umarov described Maskhadov's successor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, as a "brilliant" expert on Shari'a and traditional Chechen law, and said he is respected by resistance fighters for his "crystal honesty and [sense of] justice." LF

Chechen resistance forces attacked the village of Tsentoroi, the home of First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, on 9 May, Interfax and reported. Those two agencies quoted Russian and Chechen officials as claiming that members of a special police regiment subordinate to Kadyrov repulsed the attack and killed eight of the militants, whom Kadyrov said were members of field commander Akhmed Avtorkhanov's group. But a Chechen resistance spokesman told Kavkaz-Tsentr the same day that the Chechen resistance fighters killed between eight and 15 of Kadyrov's men in a gun battle lasting nearly three hours. LF

Three Azerbaijani servicemen taken prisoner three months ago by Armenian forces on the Line of Contact that separates Armenian and Azerbaijani positions in Azerbaijan were handed back to the Azerbaijani side on 7 May following mediation efforts by the International Red Cross and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Turan and AFP reported. AFP quoted an Azerbaijani official as telling Lider TV that the three men said they were not harmed during their detention. LF

Elmar Mammadyarov told ANS News Service on 9 May that the anticipated meeting in Warsaw next week between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to discuss approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict should be preceded by talks between himself and his Armenian counterpart Vartan Oskanian. Mammadyarov said "we have determined in which direction we need to continue," but added that a meeting with Oskanian "will help us to see the situation [more clearly.]" Oskanian, for his part, told journalists in Yerevan on 5 May that he did not travel the previous week to Frankfurt to meet with Mammadyarov and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs because his schedule did not allow him to leave Yerevan, and because he saw "no need" for a meeting with Mammadyarov before the two presidents meet in Warsaw, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. On 21 April, Oskanian implied that he and Mammadyarov have reached consensus on those issues within their competence, and the remaining unresolved questions can be addressed only by the Armenia and Azerbaijan presidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2005). Also on 9 May, Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan that the upcoming Warsaw meeting between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev may prove decisive in determining whether or not a compromise Nagorno-Karabakh peace agreement can be reached, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "We shall probably be able to say after that meeting whether the peace process is continuing or has entered a deadlock," Sarkisian said. LF

Azerbaijan's parliament commemorated on 6 May the 13th anniversary of the fall of Shusha to Armenian forces, Turan reported. A majority of deputies reportedly blamed the present Azerbaijani opposition for the defeat, accusing them of being prepared to cede territory again in a bid to gain power. In an interview published on 7 May by the online daily, then Defense Minister Rahim Kaziev rejected allegations that he was to blame for the fall of Shusha. Noting that intelligence reports on 7 and 8 May predicted an imminent Armenian attack, Kaziev named two Azerbaijani officers who, he claimed, said they were unable to prevent the desertion of their subordinates and should thus be held responsible for the loss of the town. Further commemorations took place on 9 May, but police thwarted members of the Karabakh Liberation Organization who tried to stage protests at two venues in Baku to protest what they termed the Armenian "occupation" of Shusha, Turan reported. Eight of the protesters were briefly detained but released later the same day. LF

George W. Bush arrived in Tbilisi on 9 May for a one-day visit that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili called "an unprecedented gesture of support" for democracy and independence throughout the region, Reuters and Georgian media reported. Speaking at a joint press conference on 10 May after a meeting with Georgian parliament deputies, Bush thanked Georgia for sending peacekeepers to Iraq and Afghanistan, and expressed support for Saakashvili's vowed intention to achieve a peaceful political solution to the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, describing as "very reasonable" Saakashvili's offer of autonomy to those regions. He described as "important" Moscow's expressed commitment to reach an agreement with Tbilisi on the closure of the remaining Russian military bases in Georgia. Saakashvili, for his part, expressed gratitude for U.S. diplomatic support, economic aid, and advice, arguing that "the partnership between the U.S. and Georgia is about more...than oil pipelines, more than any kind of economic or military cooperation. It is about shared values and our shared belief in freedom and democracy." LF

Addressing tens of thousands of Georgians on Tbilisi's Freedom Square later on 10 May, President Bush paid tribute to Georgians' courage during the peaceful Rose Revolution in November 2003 that ousted then President Eduard Shevardnadze. Bush said that revolution served as the example for subsequent peaceful regime change in Ukraine, Iraq, and Lebanon. Bush also praised steps by the new Georgian leadership to reform the economy, crack down on corruption and build a democratic society. He affirmed that the United States supports Georgians' collective desire to "build a free and democratic Georgia." Bush also said that Washington respects Georgia's "desire to join the institutions of Europe" and encourages "close cooperation with NATO," but he stopped short of endorsing unequivocally Georgia's desire for NATO membership. In an interview two days earlier with the independent television station Rustavi-2, Bush had stressed that neither Georgia nor Ukraine should expect to be admitted to NATO "overnight" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). LF

In an editorial published in "The Washington Post" on 10 May, President Saakashvili proposed convening a new Yalta conference with three central goals: supporting the consolidation of democracy in the Black Sea region, in particular in Georgia and Ukraine in the aftermath of the Rose Revolution of November 2003 and the Orange Revolution late last year; extending democracy throughout the region, specifically to Moldova and Belarus; and "expanding the frontiers of freedom far beyond the Black Sea," including to Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Burma, "where millions live under cruel tyrants." Saakashvili did not list among the world's tyrannies Turkmenistan, to which Georgia owes some $200 million for supplies of natural gas. LF

In a 9 May press release, the U.S.-based NGO Freedom House made public a letter from a number of human rights and democracy-building organizations to the chairman of Kazakhstan's parliament about two draft laws on NGOs. Arguing that the draft laws "do not follow recognized international legal standards and best practices," the letter urged the chairman to dismiss them. The two draft laws -- identified as "On the Activities of Branches and Representative Offices of International or Foreign Non-Commercial Organizations" and "On the Introduction of Amendments and Additions into Certain Legislative Acts of the Republic of Kazakhstan on Matters Related to Non-Commercial Organizations" -- would introduce additional registration requirements and other constraints on the activities of international and foreign NGOs in Kazakhstan. The letter concluded that "the draft laws in their entirety are so flawed that they cannot be fixed" and asserted that they "will cut off much-needed assistance to Kazakhstan." Signatories to the appeal included the heads of Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, and the Open Society Institute. DK

Chris Lovelace, the World Bank's country manager for Kyrgyzstan, told Kabar on 9 May that he is concerned about the commission charged with investigating property allegedly belonging to former President Askar Akaev and his associates. Lovelace said, "I understand that, in light of the recent statements about property and investments linked to Akaev, the current government wants to get to the bottom of these issues. In my view, however, the government commission is clearly political, and it could give rise to the impression that its work is insufficiently objective and transparent." Lovelace suggested organizing "a fully independent investigation with independent legal experts, or including additional members in the commission, for example, from the International Business Council." Headed by Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov, the commission is currently investigating approximately 100 businesses with alleged ties to the country's ousted president. DK

Reclusive Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov took advantage of a rare trip abroad to hold a number of bilateral meetings in Moscow on 8 May, reported. A meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko focused on bilateral economic cooperation and the need to modernize transport systems for shipping gas from Turkmenistan to Ukraine. Talks between LUKoil head Vagit Alekperov and Niyazov examined the possibility of LUKoil's participation in developing Turkmen oil and gas fields located on the Caspian shelf. The energy sector also stood at the center of a discussion between Niyazov and Chinese President Hu, who invited his Turkmen counterpart to visit China. Niyazov accepted the invitation and invited Hu to visit Turkmenistan. DK

More than 2,500 troops representing all branches of military service gathered under heavy rain to take part in a parade in Minsk on 9 May to mark the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Nazi Germany in World War II, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The parade, apart from World War II-era hardware and weapons, also featured displays of modern military equipment, including tanks, infantry vehicles, truck-mounted and self-propelled antiaircraft and artillery systems, and military helicopters and airplanes. The military display was followed by a caravan of over 70 trucks, buses, harvesters and tractors, followed by flatbed trucks carrying household appliances and other equipment, in a show of Belarusian industrial accomplishments. JM

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka opened Minsk's 9 May military parade with a speech asserting that the Belarusian armed forces are capable of ensuring the country's safety and integrity, Belapan reported. "We are doing our utmost to ensure that the armed forces remain mobile and prepared to repel any aggression," he said. "Our people will never pose a threat to anyone, but they will always be able to defend their own freedom and independence." In an apparent reference to the United States' involvement in Iraq, Lukashenka decried "people...dying in terrorist acts, unprecedented in their brutality, in bloody international conflicts caused by the geopolitical games of nations claiming global domination." Lukashenka was among the five presidents of post-Soviet states -- along with those of Lithuania, Estonia, Georgia and Moldova -- who did not attend the V-Day military parade in Moscow. Neither Minsk nor Moscow has offered an explanation for Lukashenka's failure to appear for the 9 May commemorations in the Russian capital. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko, after attending the Moscow military parade in Red Square on 9 May, returned to Kyiv to lead a march of Ukrainian World War II veterans in the capital center later the same day, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko delivered a speech to the veterans, wishing them long lives and urging them to help build a "free and independent Ukraine." Yushchenko also reiterated his earlier appeal for reconciliation between Soviet veterans and those who fought in the nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) against both the Soviet and the Nazis during World War II (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). JM

Ukrainian President Yushchenko met with his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Moscow on 8 May, on the sidelines of a CIS summit, Ukrainian media reported. Lukashenka reportedly told Yushchenko that he failed to grant early release to five Ukrainian citizens jailed in Minsk over their participation in an antipresidential protest on 26 April because of "technical reasons" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005). Yushchenko said Lukashenka told him that he had been unaware of all details of the arrest. "We have turned this page, and I think this issue will be removed from the [Ukrainian-Belarusian] agenda," Yushchenko added. Ten Russians arrested along with the Ukrainians on 26 April were granted early release on 30 April, while all the Ukrainians, with the exception of one, had to serve their jail terms in full. All have now been released. (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 May 2005). JM

Attorneys for indicted Croatian former General Mladen Markac said in Zagreb on 9 May that prosecutors from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal will soon expand the indictment against their client and former General Ivan Cermak, dpa reported. The two are accused of forming a "joint criminal enterprise" in connection with the Croatian Army's Operation Storm in 1995 against Serbian rebels in the Knin region, which led to the exodus of thousands of ethnic Serb civilians. One attorney noted that the late generals Janko Bobetko and Zvonimir Cervenko will be added to the indictment, as well as "other [unnamed] individuals from the Croatian government; officers and staff of the armed forces, the intelligence and security services, the special and civil police; as well as [people from] the [governing Croatian Democratic Community] HDZ and municipal authorities. That's more than 1,000 people." If the lawyers' statement proves true, it is not clear why the tribunal would indict two dead generals when it has previously said it does not have time to press charges against the dead, including former Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and the wartime Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic. PM

The upper house of Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament voted on 9 May to approve the nomination of Ivo Miro Jovic of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) as the Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2005). The lower house has already endorsed Jovic, who will take office shortly. Reuters described him as a "hard-liner" who has favored creating separate Croatian institutions as opposed to joint Bosnian ones. In related news, Bosnia's central court decided on 9 May to release from jail former Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency Ante Jelavic on over $320,000 bail, dpa reported. He may not leave Mostar except to attend trial in Sarajevo or with special permission of the court. Police arrested Jelavic in January 2004 on charges of embezzling funds from the Hercegovacka Banka in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2004). On 7 March 2001, High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch sacked Jelavic as the Croatian member of the Bosnian Presidency because of his allegedly separatist agenda. PM

A third international congress of historians to expose the political manipulation of myths from World War II and the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s began in Sarajevo on 10 May, Onasa news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 April 2005, and "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 27 January and 3 and 10 February 2005). Among the regional participants are students from Sarajevo, Tuzla, Banja Luka, Belgrade, and Zagreb, while foreign experts include Professor Robert Donia of the University of Michigan, who has written several books on the history of Bosnia-Herzegovina. PM

Unnamed officials of the prosecutor's office of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal said on 9 May that they are opposed to letting Kosova's former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj go home to await his trial, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The officials said that even though Haradinaj turned himself in voluntarily and the United Nations civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) has given guarantees that he will return to The Hague for his trial, it is not clear that UNMIK has the ability to arrest and extradite Haradinaj if he decides not to return of his own volition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March and 18 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). PM

Speaking in Moscow after the ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II on 9 May, Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said the world was marking the victory over fascism, which was the greatest evil of the 20th century, the president's official website reported ( "The Macedonian people has the full historical right to participate in this ceremony with pride and dignity, because it took the right side during World War II, the side of the antifascist coalition," Crvenkovski said, adding that the 24,000 Macedonian victims of World War II were the price Macedonia had to pay. "The sole fact that we were invited to participate in [the Moscow ceremony] is a big recognition for the Republic of Macedonia." During World War II, Macedonia was under Bulgarian occupation. Josip Broz Tito and his communists organized Partizan forces there and recognized a Macedonian nation distinct from Bulgarians, Serbs, or Greeks. This move by the communists is widely regarded as decisive for the development of a Macedonian national consciousness. UB

A poll of 1,251 adults conducted recently by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI) suggested that the opposition Democrats have a six-point lead over the governing Socialists in the 3 July parliamentary elections, Reuters reported. The survey gives the Democrats 29 percent against 23 percent for the Socialists, with nearly one-third of the electorate still undecided. The news agency noted that the poll is the first independent one held in Albania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 28 April 2005). A Socialist spokesman dismissed the survey as being just one of many polls. Opinion surveys in some parts of the post-communist Balkans have often proven unreliable given the high percentage of undecided voters and the reluctance of some respondents to discuss their political views with strangers. PM

On 9 May in Chisinau, Moldova held its first military parade since declaring independence in 1991 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany, ITAR-TASS reported. "Our fathers, mothers, and grandparents not only put an end to the history of fascism but also secured the democratic development of our nations," Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said in an opening speech before the V-Day celebrations. Voronin, who attended a CIS summit in Moscow on 8 May, returned to Chisinau the same day. JM

U.S. President George W. Bush's pronouncements during his 9-10 May visit to Tbilisi were significant primarily for what he did not say. As anticipated, Bush expressed praise and approval for the November 2003 Rose Revolution; for the aspirations of the Georgian people to build on that foundation a new and democratic state; for the new Georgian leadership's success in cracking down on corruption and implementing badly-needed reforms; and for President Mikheil Saakashvili personally, whose "spirit, determination, and leadership in the cause of freedom" Bush singled out for special mention.

Further, Bush endorsed Georgia's territorial integrity and Saakashvili's professed commitment to achieving a peaceful solution to the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia; he termed "very reasonable" Saakashvili's offer to those regions of broad autonomy, self-government, and economic cooperation. But, at the same time, Bush made it clear that Washington cannot and will not intervene to impose a peace settlement nor, apparently, will it lean on Russia to scale back its support for the leaders of the two breakaway unrecognized republics. "This is a dispute that has got to be resolved by the Georgian government and by the folks in the separatist regions. The United States cannot impose a solution nor would you want us to," Reuters quoted Bush as saying.

Moreover, on two other key issues on which Saakashvili had made clear he hoped for a statement of Washington's support, Bush was cautious and equivocal. First, Bush said during a joint press conference with Saakashvili on 10 May that Russia is ready to work with the Georgian side on the problem of the closure of its two remaining military bases from Georgia, thereby implying that the failure during talks last week between the Russian and Georgian foreign ministers to finalize an agreement on that closure was due at least in part to Tbilisi's intransigence. Bush added that "I know that this issue is very important for Georgia, and Russia is ready to fulfill its commitments at the [1999] OSCE Istanbul Summit related to [the] withdrawal of its bases." Saakashvili had said last week he had asked Bush to raise the issue of the bases with Russian President Vladimir Putin, apparently hoping that Bush would pressure Moscow to comply with Tbilisi's demands that the two bases be closed by 1 January 2008.

Second, Bush told Georgians congregated on Freedom Square on 10 May that the U.S. supports Georgia's "desire to join the institutions of Europe" and encourages "close cooperation with NATO," but he stopped short of endorsing unequivocally Georgia's desire for NATO membership. Similarly, in an interview two days earlier with the independent television station Rustavi-2, Bush had stressed that neither Georgia nor Ukraine should expect to be admitted to NATO "overnight." Georgia's Individual Partnership Action Plan -- the document that enumerates the measures the country must take to qualify to make a formal request for membership in the alliance -- the initial draft of which President Saakashvili presented to NATO in April 2004 -- had to be reworked extensively before its formal approval last fall.

The precise geopolitical implications of President Bush's circumspect phrasing may not have been clear to some Georgians who simply construed his one-day visit to Tbilisi as a gesture of U.S. support and goodwill. But those implications must have registered with the Georgian leadership as a warning that despite Saakashvili's definition of Georgian-U.S. relations as based on "shared values and a shared belief in freedom and democracy," for Washington, relations with Georgia do not warrant any step that could jeopardize the more important relationship Bush has forged with Russia and with President Putin personally.

Marines and unidentified insurgents fought a five-hour battle in Laghman Province on 8 May, which resulted in the death of two U.S. personnel and up to 23 insurgents, American Forces Press Service reported on 9 May. The insurgents split in two groups, one fleeing to a cave and the other into a nearby village. A U.S. bomber targeted the insurgents who had sought refuge in the cave, the report added. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi contradicted the U.S. statement by saying that not two but eight Americans were killed in the clash, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 9 May. According to Hakimi, only two militiamen were killed. AT

An unidentified eyewitness in Qala-e Najil in Alisheng District of Laghman said that 17 people were killed in the U.S. bombing, including a small child, AIP reported on 9 May. The same casualty figures were also related to AIP by Hakimi in an interview on 9 May. The district head of Alisheng, Mohammad Rahim, while confirming the bombing, said that reports on the incident are still coming in and that he was therefore unable to provide any definite information. AT

Sebghatullah Mojaddedi, currently the head the Independent National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan, has offered amnesty to Mullah Mohammad Omar and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Sade-ye Jawan radio reported on 9 May. The offer made by Mojaddedi -- who briefly served as Afghanistan first post-communist president in 1992 -- appears to contradict the stated policy of President Hamid Karzai, who has offered amnesty to all former members of the Taliban regime with the exception of 100 to 150 who have committed crimes against the Afghan people, including Mullah Omar. Kabul has also not extended its reconciliation offer to Hekmatyar, who is considered a terrorist by the U.S. State Department. Mojaddedi claims his decision is the legitimate result of a shift in the policy of the Afghan government. "The policies change day by day," he said, AFP reported on 9 May. Referring to the recent escalation of violence by the neo-Taliban and their allies, Sade-ye Jawan expressed surprise at Mojaddedi's offer, adding that most Afghans "doubt how those responsible for terrorist attacks could participate in the country's reconstruction process" and ensure national unity. AT

Latifullah Hakimi on 9 May rejected Mojaddedi's offer of amnesty for Mullah Omar, adding that there is no solution to reconciliation between them and the Afghan government as long as U.S. military forces remain in Afghanistan, AIP reported on 9 May. "We do not beg anyone to allow us to live," and Mullah Omar does not need "amnesty from anybody," Hakimi added. According to Hakimi, if "the honorable" Mojaddedi truly has "influence" then he should ask the United States to leave Afghanistan and "rectify their big mistake." Mojaddedi described the terms of his amnesty offer as respect for the Afghan Constitution, obedience to the government, and disarmament, AFP reported on 9 May. AT

President Karzai left Kabul on 9 May for a trip to France, Belgium, and the United States, Tolu Television reported. Karzai's first stop is Strasbourg, where the Afghan leader is expected to address the European Parliament. During the stop in Washington, Karzai is expected to discuss the issue of long-term U.S. military presence in his country with U.S. President George W. Bush (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). AT

Mohammad Saidi, the deputy director of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said in Tehran on 9 May that the country will resume uranium enrichment-related activities "in the next few days," news agencies reported the same day. Western states want Iran to permanently cease such activities as a guarantee that Iran will never use its nuclear know-how to manufacture weapons of mass destruction. Saidi told IRNA that, initially, Iran will renew unspecified activities "relating to the UCF" -- Uranium Conversion Facility -- at a plant in Isfahan which converts raw uranium into gases that may be further enriched for either civilian energy purposes or for use in nuclear bombs. Iran suspended its enrichment-related activities in November 2004, when it began negotiations with Europe on the status of its nuclear program. But Saidi told IRNA that "the Europeans have found no juridical bases for a suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran, and the time for that is now over, and confidence-building is done." He told AP separately that Iran converted 37 tons of uranium ore into UF-4 gas last November before the suspension. The conversion is a key step toward enriching uranium for both civilian fuel use and bomb-manufacturing purposes. VS

Saidi told IRNA on the sidelines of a Tehran conference on 9 May that nuclear fuel production "is our right, and to...abandon it is to forego a right an international treaty has given" Iran. The reactivation of the Isfahan facility is just the first stage, he said, adding that talks will continue on uranium enrichment. Saidi warned that if, "in subsequent stages of negotiations, the Europeans do not pay attention to our proposals, we shall take a decision for that stage, which will certainly be to restart enrichment." Iran cannot entirely depend on imported nuclear fuel, he said, adding that with the country's current capabilities, "in terms of enrichment, [it] can achieve mass production in two years." Separately, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on 9 May that restarting "part" of Isfahan's activities is Iran's "natural right." IRNA quoted him as saying, "The rational solution is the continuation of negotiations based on mutual confidence-building measures and respect for Iran's legitimate right." VS

Iranians hoping to run for the presidency on 17 June began to register their candidacies at the Interior Ministry in Tehran on 10 May, news agencies reported the same day, though many will likely be rejected by the Guardians Council, the electoral supervisory body that rules on who is eligible to run and confirms election results. The Interior Ministry stated that by midday local time on 10 May, 74 Iranians had registered, including three women, IRNA reported. Aspirants included two former parliamentarians, though there were no reports yet of registration by prominent politicians, according to IRNA. Iranian law requires presidential candidates to practice religion, be loyal to the Islamic system, and be a member of the political elite (rajal-e siasi), among other conditions. "Today many people came to register when they knew they did not meet the requisite conditions," Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani told ISNA. He said hopefuls may register until 13 May, and can campaign only between 27 May and 15 June, ISNA reported. VS

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told students in the southeastern Iranian city of Kerman on 9 May that "the enemy" is plotting to exacerbate political divisions in Iran, and "create a split and divide the governing body," ISNA reported the same day. The "enemy's project," he said, is to create a confrontation between two "opposing ideologies" within the Iranian power structure, but he denied that an unspecified "faction" will soon monopolize power with help from the state. He said if such a theory "means the system wants to hand the country over to a single faction, that is entirely wrong," adding that the coexistence of two factions "loyal to the constitution" is welcome. Reformers fear conservatives may gain full control of the state if a boycott by disenchanted Iranian voters brings a conservative candidate to office in June presidential elections. Khamenei also denounced "200 years" of Western development as a failure that has produced "fascism, communism and liberalism" that have in turn provoked "countless crimes," ISNA reported. He said "capitalists" control Western media, and that there is no "real democracy" in the West. He warned young Iranians that emulating Western culture would be "a great mistake that brings no promise of a bright future." VS

Iran's police chief, Ali Abdullahi, has reportedly written to judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud-Hashemi Shahrudi, asking him to find specific examples to back up his recent allegations of police maltreatment of detainees, Radio Farda reported on 9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). Abdullahi's undated letter has reportedly received no reply. But an unnamed judge has told that "in 13 years as a judge in different parts of the country, I have seen numerous examples of such violations," Radio Farda reported. The judge cited one example "in recent years," of a 27-year-old man illegally arrested in southern Iran and beaten "on account of a minor charge." The judge saw the man in court after three days of "illegal detention," and said he had been "severely beaten," and that he had taken photographs of him to prove it, Radio Farda reported. Separately, members of the Office for Strengthening Unity (DTV), a student group, began a sit-in at Tehran's Amir Kabir University on 9 May to protest restrictions and severe security measures at universities, Radio Farda reported, citing Abdullah Mo'meni, a DTV activist. VS

Iran approves Russia's proposal -- first made in February at a roundtable discussion on security issues in the Caspian region -- to create a rapid-reaction force to preserve security and stability in the region, according to Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi, Turan reported on 6 May, citing the Iranian Embassy in Baku. That proposal has been incorporated into a draft agreement on security in the Caspian presented for their consideration to the five littoral states. LF

Seven Iraqis were killed and at least 16 wounded when a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. military convoy in central Baghdad on 10 May, international media reported. U.S. officials said they had no word of any U.S. casualties in the attack, Reuters reported. A second car bomb targeted the Iraqi river police unit, also in the center of Baghdad, Al-Jazeera television reported. Police said the attack left three officers seriously wounded. The bombing also left the police station in flames, and destroyed five police cars parked in a nearby lot. KR

The Ansar Al-Sunnah Army reportedly claimed on 9 May to be holding a Japanese national hostage, international media reported. The statement claimed that the hostage, who it says is seriously injured, was captured in an attack on a military convoy transporting contractors near Hit. The statement claimed that 12 Iraqis and five foreigners were traveling in the convoy, and that all but the Japanese hostage were killed. Japanese media identified the hostage as Akihiko Saito. Kyodo World Service reported that Saito is employed by Hart Security, a Cyprus-based security firm operating in southern Iraq. There is no word on the fate of Australian hostage Douglas Wood, as the deadline set by militants approaches. The Iraqi Mujahedin's Shura Council said it would kill Wood on 10 May unless Australia announced its intention to withdraw its troops from Iraq. The Australian government has refused to meet the kidnappers' demands. Wood's family offered on 9 May to make a "generous donation" to the Iraqi people in exchange for Wood's safe release, Australian media reported on the same day. KR

The Japanese government announced in Tokyo on 9 May that it will invite Iraqi legal experts to Japan to assist Iraq's effort in drafting a permanent constitution, Kyodo World Service reported on the same day. Under the Transitional Administrative Law, the National Assembly has until 15 August to draft a constitution, which will be ratified through a referendum no later than 15 October. Kyodo reported that Japan's official development arm, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, will provide the visiting Iraqis with the opportunity to study the constitutions of other countries. Legal experts from Muslim countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia will also be on hand to share their experience, the news agency reported. Plans are also underway to invite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari and President Jalal Talabani to Tokyo to discuss Japan's possible contribution to Iraq's reconstruction. KR

U.S. military officials reported on 9 May that 100 insurgents have been killed in an offensive aimed at raiding desert outposts and city safe houses, reported. The military reported earlier in the day that some 75 insurgents have been killed since the offensive was launched on 8 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). The operation includes more than 1,000 soldiers and sailors, using fighter jets, helicopter gun ships, tanks, and light-armored vehicles. Military officials reported that at least some of the insurgents killed in the operation are foreign fighters. Colonel Bob Chase told the website that the operation is expected to continue for "a number of days." "The objective is to totally disrupt the safe havens and rat lines that have allowed them to bring those materials" -- fighters and weapons -- "across the border. This had been a very secure area for the insurgents," Chase said. The Muslim Scholars Association denounced the operation, calling it brutal and unjustified, Al-Jazeera reported on 9 May. An Al-Arabiyah television correspondent on 9 May claimed indiscriminate shelling in Al-Qa'im has left scores of civilians dead and wounded. He contended that the gunmen inside the city were local residents acting in defense of their homes and neighbors. KR

Transitional Deputy Interior Minister Adnan al-Asadi told Al-Arabiyah television in a 9 May interview that the interior and defense ministries, together with multinational forces, have accumulated "a lot of information" about the moves of Iraq's Al-Qaeda leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, adding, "The noose is tightening on him through the repeated arrests and the continuing attacks by the Iraqi security forces." Al-Asadi added that a number of insurgents in custody have claimed they were close to the al-Zarqawi family, including in-laws of al-Zarqawi, who are reportedly inside Iraq. KR

The Trade Bank of Iraq has announced that it will begin offering credit cards to Iraqi consumers, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 9 May. It is the first time that any Iraqi bank will offer such services. Husayn al-Azri, the bank's general manager, told the satellite news channel that cards will be issued in gradual stages, beginning with government employees and companies operating in Baghdad. The bank's website ( announced on 28 April that U.K.-based Card Tech Limited was awarded a contract to process transactions and issue Visa cards, including a Visa Classic card and a Visa Electron salary card. "Following the launch of its card portfolio, the bank will immediately deploy 10 automatic teller machines in Baghdad," the statement said. KR