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Newsline - May 11, 2005

In a televised news conference following the 10 May Russia-EU summit, President Vladimir Putin said Moscow is ready to sign border agreements with Latvia and Estonia if those two countries give up their "ridiculous territorial demands," ORT and other Russian media reported. "We are ready to continue when our colleagues get to the point of real work and are ready to sign documents," Putin said. He called Latvia's willingness to sign a border agreement only if it is accompanied by a unilateral declaration that Riga retains the right to make territorial claims in the future "complete nonsense" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005). "We have no problem with Estonia, thank God," Putin added. "To the credit of our Estonian partners, they have always adopted a pragmatic position regarding their national interests." Estonian President Arnold Ruutel said on 7 May that "one of [the results of World War II] that we must come to terms with, whether we like it or not, is the fact that the territory of Estonia is smaller than it was before the war" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). RC

At the same 10 May news conference, President Putin said that the matter of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact is "closed," Russian media reported. "Consider, please, the declaration of the Congress of Peoples' Deputies in 1989 where it clearly says in black and white: 'The Congress of Peoples' Deputies condemns the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and considers it legally invalid. It did not reflect the opinion of the Soviet people and is a personal matter of [Soviet dictator Josef] Stalin and [Nazi dictator Adolf] Hitler,'" Putin said. "What else can we say more precisely and clearly about this matter? Or do you want us to repeat it every year? We consider this matter closed. We have said enough about it." Putin added that "we must not allow the dead to grab us by our sleeves and prevent us from moving forward." RC

The Russian Foreign Ministry on 11 May refused to comment on the reported expulsion from Russia of an accredited Latvian television crew that was filming in Pskov Oblast on 9 May, Ekho Moskvy reported. The crew was reportedly working in an area of the oblast that is the subject of territorial claims by Latvia against Russia. The Latvian Foreign Ministry has formally asked the Russian government to explain the expulsion. According to a source at Latvia's LTV television station, the crew was filming a piece on the opinions of residents of the oblast's Pytalovskii Raion about the border dispute. The source said that Russian authorities attempted to erase the crew's tape but did not succeed completely. "It is possible that the faces of those who detained the group are there," the source said, adding that LTV plans to "defend its rights." RC

Russia and the EU on 10 May signed a nonbinding cooperation accord during the 15th Russia-EU summit in Moscow, which was marred by heightened tensions between Moscow and the Baltic states, Russian and international media reported. President Putin, however, said the agreement "shows that with sufficient will, Russia and Europe can find mutually acceptable solutions," RTR reported. The agreement commits the two sides to cooperate on protecting the environment, improving public safety and health, and strengthening international organizations such as the United Nations. The summit reportedly made no progress on the issue of visa-free travel for Russian citizens to EU member countries or on the EU's demand that Moscow take back any people who migrated to the EU illegally via Russia. However, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, presidential adviser on relations with the EU, told journalists on 10 May that Russia has begun talks with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Moldova on upgrading border crossings and on the mutual repatriation of nationals, Interfax reported. European Commission Chairman Jose Manuel Barroso was quoted by RIA-Novosti on 10 May as saying that "our goal is free contact among peoples, the realization of which must be integrated into the lives of our citizens, the citizens of Europe and the Russian Federation." RC

Former KGB General Lev Gorskii, who was accused in December of attempting to defraud investors during the state-mandated auction of Yuganskneftegaz, has been exonerated in connection with an amnesty adopted by the State Duma in connection with the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2004). Gorskii is a survivor of the wartime siege of Leningrad and faced a possible sentence of 10 years in prison on charges of attempting to defraud investors of $1.7 billion. According to the daily, Gorskii might still be called to testify in the case against his business partner, Igor Merkulov. RC

President Putin signed into law on 10 May amendments to the federal law on the privatization of state and municipal property and on the status of members of the Federation Council and State Duma, and RIA-Novosti reported, citing the presidential press service. The first set of amendments brings privatization legislation into conformity with the Land Code and allows enterprises in which the state owns more than 25 percent to purchase state or municipal real estate. The second set of amendments grants Duma deputies and Federation Council members equal status to that of federal ministers and requires that they be paid accordingly. Legislators will also be eligible for compensation for expenses incurred while performing their jobs. According to RosBalt, the amendments also curtail parliamentarians' privileges and monetize certain social benefits such as free transportation and telephone use, and reduce annual leave from 48 days to 42 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2005). A vacation subsidy equivalent to two months' salary was canceled. JAC

President Putin on 10 May also signed a law that allows Russia to imprison in other parts of the federation people convicted in the North Caucasus region of terrorism or other grave crimes, Interfax reported. Doing so "will help improve the situation in the correctional facilities of the North Caucasus and will help implement measures that really counter terrorism," the Kremlin press service was quoted as stating. RC

The U.S.-based multimedia group News Corp, which is headed by Rupert Murdoch, is seeking a $130 million loan from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to finance an expansion of its business presence in Russia, the "Financial Times" reported on 9 May. According to the daily, News Corp would use the EBRD money to support a planned series of takeovers of existing Russian companies by News Outdoor Russia, a Russian subsidiary of News Corp. Bank documents state that "the loan will be used to facilitate creation of a pan-regional outdoor advertising network spanning several former Soviet republics by the company through acquisition of several local outdoor operators." In 1999, media reports that Murdoch was seeking a stake in ORT prompted the State Duma to draft legislation limiting foreign ownership of national television channels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 February 1999). JAC

The Malakhovka village's synagogue in Moscow Oblast burned down on 10 May, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. No one was injured in the blaze, which began late in the evening on 9 May. The wooden structure, which was built secretly in the 1930s, had been returned to the Jewish community in March. Moshe Tamarin, the synagogue's rabbi, told Interfax that he suspects the fire was set intentionally out of ethnic and religious hatred. The building had been burgled three days before the fire. JAC

Activists from the environmental group Ekozashchita told Regnum on 10 May that police in the city of Svetlyi in Kaliningrad Oblast are interfering with their efforts to campaign among residents to participate in an upcoming referendum on the construction of two oil terminals on the edge of town. One policeman started to rip up a flag with the slogan "Our legal right is to win by referendum." The referendum is scheduled for 22 May, but early voting in the referendum began on 6 May, according to the Agency for Social Information ( on 5 May. Earlier, the Svetlyi City Court decided to postpone consideration of a lawsuit brought by Baltnaft against the city's legislative assembly for authorizing the referendum. Aleksandr Semionov, a member of the board of directors of Moskovskii proizvodstvennay baza (MPB), which filed a similar suit with an arbitration court in St. Petersburg, told SeverInform on 4 May that failure to construct the terminals could cost the city budget some 50 million rubles ($1.8 million), which would be a "catastrophe." JAC

Members of the original pro-Kremlin youth movement Walking Together have elected a new leader, Pavel Tarakanov, to replace movement founder Vasilii Yakemenko, Interfax reported on 10 May. Yakemenko was recently elected one of five commissars of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005). Tarakanov previously served as the head of the Walking Together branch in Chechnya. He pledged to continue the group's main activities, such as disseminating classical Russian literature and organizing social projects for young people. He was born in June 1982 in Kishinev, Moldovian SSR, and graduated from Moscow's Bauman State Technical University in 1998. He also received a degree in radio engineering from Chechnya State University in 2003. JAC

Authorities in far northern Chukotka Autonomous Okrug announced on 10 May that a demonstration flight between Anadyr and Nome, Alaska, will take place at the end of July, Regnum reported. Chukotka officials hope to open air service between Anchorage and the villages of Provideniya and Markovo, continuing on to Magadan and Khabarovsk. According to the agency, negotiations in Anchorage on 25-29 April revealed a great interest in the route among private pilots. JAC

Azerbaijan's Trend news agency quoted Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov as telling journalists on 10 May that no Karabakh peace accord exists either in draft or final form, reported on 11 May. Mammadyarov added that the two sides are continuing discussions within the so-called Prague format of approaches to resolving the conflict, and that during the two most recent rounds of talks in London (15 April) and Frankfurt (27 April) the two sides "determined the parameters within which they will work to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict." Mammadyarov said that if the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan meet next week in Warsaw as anticipated, they will analyze what has been accomplished during the Prague talks and issue new instructions to their respective foreign ministers how to proceed. Speaking in Yerevan on 10 May, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian said it is not yet 100 percent certain that the two presidents will meet in Warsaw, Noyan Tapan reported. Oskanian said the Armenian side has agreed to such a meeting, and has been informed by the OSCE Minsk Group that Azerbaijan has likewise given its consent. Oskanian is to meet with the Minsk Group co-chairmen in Warsaw on 15 May on the eve of the planned presidential talks. LF

The trial of Ramil Safarov, who is accused of hacking an Armenian army officer to death with an ax last year while they were both attending a NATO training course in Budapest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2004) resumed in the Hungarian capital on 10 May but was again adjourned, Azerbaijani media reported. An initial psychiatric assessment concluded that Safarov was of sound mind at the time he committed the murder, but a second found that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress. The presiding judge has ordered both teams of experts to attend the next hearing, on 27 September, to address the discrepancy. LF

Major-General Ilya Shabalkin, who is the spokesman for the Russian forces deployed in Chechnya, claimed on 10 May that Chechen militants based in Baku are engaged in the fabrication of videocassettes showing Russian military personnel torturing Chechen civilians, the online daily reported on 11 May. Shabalkin specifically named the Society of Prisoners of Filtration Camps of the Republic Ichkeria of producing such materials. Azerbaijan National Security Ministry official Arif Babaev rejected Shabalkin's allegations as untrue. Prominent Azerbaijani human rights activist Eldar Zeynalov admitted that some criminal elements from Chechnya might have found refuge in Baku. But at the same time, Zeynalov pointed out that in order to produce such video footage, the Chechens would need access to a complete film studio -- which they do not have. Zeynalov said the video material in question is filmed by the Russians for archive purposes while they torture prisoners, and then sold. He added that he personally has viewed such cassettes and is confident that they are genuine. LF

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry has sent a protest note to its Russian counterpart in connection with the Russian authorities' refusal to allow three Azerbaijani vessels to enter the Volga-Don canal that links the Black and Caspian seas, Turan reported on 10 May. Russia claims the vessels, which were intercepted in November, entered Russian territorial waters without obtaining prior permission. The ships are carrying equipment for BP. LF

Speaking to journalists in Tbilisi on 11 May, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili confirmed reports by Western television channels, including CNN, that a hand grenade was thrown in the direction of U.S. President George W. Bush while he was addressing tens of thousands of Georgians on Tbilisi's Freedom Square the previous day, RFE/RL reported. Bezhuashvili said the object in question "looked like" a Soviet-made RPG-5 hand grenade and that the grenade, which reportedly landed some 30 meters from where Bush was standing, was not primed. Bezhuashvili said he believes the incident was intended "to scare people" and "attract attention." LF

An unspecified number of members of the Azerbaijani opposition youth group Myagam (It's time!) unfurled orange banners during President Bush's speech on Freedom Square in Tbilisi on 10 May, and Turan reported the following day. The banners called on Bush to "save democracy in Azerbaijan" and affirmed the group's commitment to free and fair elections. The Myagam activists also met in Tbilisi with representatives of Georgian youth organizations. LF

The Labor Party staged a protest on 10 May on Tbilisi's Republic Square to welcome U.S. President Bush and simultaneously alert him to what the organizers termed President Mikheil Saakshvili's "dictatorship," reported. An estimated 2,000 people attended the three-hour protest, at which the Labor Party again demanded Saakashvili's resignation and new presidential and parliamentary elections. LF

Commenting on 10 May on President Bush's expressed approval of Saakashvili's offer of autonomy and self-determination to the breakaway unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh said Bush should show respect for the Abkhaz people's choice of independent status, Caucasus Press reported. The Abkhaz population voted overwhelmingly in a referendum in October 1999 to endorse the republic's constitution, which defines the Republic of Abkhazia as an independent, sovereign, and democratic state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 1999). LF

Police forensic experts examining the mass grave found earlier this month on land belonging to the family of a notorious criminal kingpin say that a total of 29 people -- five men, 16 women, and eight children -- were buried there, Caucasus Press reported on 10 May, but all but two of the victims died more than 20 years ago, and none of them was shot. Initial reports gave the number of victims as eight, of whom Interior MInister Vano Merabishvili said some had been shot in the head (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). LF

In a statement published by Navigator on 10 May, the staff of "Respublika" appealed for help to Kazakhstan's Congress of Journalists and Union of Journalists as they battle to reopen the newspaper. The weekly was closed by an Information Ministry order on 5 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). The appeal detailed legal irregularities in the closure of the newspaper and asked for legal assistance in the preparation of a lawsuit the weekly's owners plan to file in Astana. Darigha Nazarbaeva, the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and the chairwoman of the Congress of Journalists, is one of the appeal's addressees. DK

Zhanar Abdildina, the director of Kazakhstan's Khabar Agency, was killed in a car accident in Almaty on the night of 9 May, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the next day. The accident occurred when a car driven by Aleksandr Gudkov, a lieutenant in the National Security Committee, struck the car carrying Abdildina, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Khabar Agency's press service said that Gudkov was driving under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident. Khabar Agency is one of Kazakhstan's largest media holding companies. DK

Kurmanbek Osmonov, the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court, withdrew on 10 May the resignation petition he submitted on 25 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005), Kabar reported. In a statement addressed to acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev and parliamentary speaker Omurbek Tekebaev, Osmonov said that he offered his resignation in the interests of stabilization but now believes that protests against the court are merely "blackmail and threats." Osmonov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that he does not consider himself the main cause of the crisis in the judicial system. He also said that local judges have asked him not to step down. Protestors continue to occupy the Supreme Court, and parliament is scheduled to discuss the crisis on 12 May. DK

A planned congress of judges that was to have taken place in Bishkek on 10 May was postponed at the behest of the presidential administration, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Anarbek Ismailov, the head of the legal department in the presidential administration, told RFE/RL that the congress required additional organization. But Supreme Court Chairman Osmonov charged that the postponement was tantamount to the "the torpedoing...of the congress by various officials." DK

Acting President Bakiev has signed a decree appointing Tursunbek Akun head of the presidential commission on human rights, or ombudsman, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 10 May. A prominent rights activist, Akun was an outspoken opponent of former President Askar Akaev. The commission was formed in the late 1990s; its first chairman was Tursunbai Bakir uulu. DK

A court in Tajikistan's Sughd Province on 10 May sentenced seven defendants to prison terms ranging from three to nine years for involvement with the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. This was the third trial of alleged Hizb ut-Tahrir members in Sughd Province in 2005. Sughd Province Prosecutor Abdughaffor Qalandarov told RFE/RL that the prosecutions are driving the organization to greater secrecy. Qalandarov said that while Hizb ut-Tahrir, which espouses the creation of an Islamic caliphate throughout Central Asia, presents a danger, economic crimes cause greater damage to the country. DK

Shodi Shabdolov, the head of Tajikistan's Communist Party, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 10 May that the party is suspending its membership of the Public Council in Dushanbe until parliamentary elections are rerun in the capital. The party will continue to participate in the Public Council elsewhere in the country, however. Shabdolov said the decision came in response to the government's refusal to rerun fraud-marred parliamentary elections in Dushanbe. The Democratic Party and Islamic Renaissance Party have also suspended their membership in the Public Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 5 May 2005). Formed in 1994 and led by President Imomali Rakhmonov, the Public Council brings together over 70 social and cultural organizations and, until recently, five of the country's six officially registered political parties. DK

Anna Savitskaya, a lawyer representing jailed Democratic Party head Muhammadruzi Iskandarov, told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on 10 May that he plans to file an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights over his recent removal from Russia to Tajikistan. Savitskaya, who is representing Iskandarov's interests in Russia, said, "I have prepared virtually all of the documents for an appeal to the European court, and I will ask that court to intervene in the illegal arrest and illegal extradition of Muhammadruzi Iskandarov." She said that she has also appealed to Russia President Vladimir Putin to investigate the matter. Iskandarov, who is currently in Tajik custody on corruption and terror charges, was recently transported from Russia to Tajikistan under unclear circumstances (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April and 4 and 2 May 2005). DK

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun arrived in Uzbekistan on 10 May for a three-day visit, Uzbek Radio reported. Uzbek President Islam Karimov met with his South Korean counterpart and the two presidents signed a joint declaration. In a statement after their talks, Karimov said they discussed South Korean involvement in Uzbekistan's energy and mining sector, Uzbek Television First Channel reported. Karimov also thanked South Korea for providing training programs for young people from Uzbekistan. For his part, Roh Moo-hyun said he looks forward to expanding bilateral relations. DK

Several hundred residents of Andijon, in Uzbekistan's Ferghana Province, held a peaceful demonstration on 10 May to express their support for 23 defendants currently on trial for alleged ties to the Akramiy (or Akromiy) Islamic movement, the BBC's Uzbek Service reported. The protestors, most of them relatives of the 23 defendants, videotaped their demonstration; police did not intervene. Government prosecutors have equated the Akramiy movement with the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. But critics have charged that the "Akramiy" trial targets independent businessmen. Mamurjon Qurbonov, the deputy director of Turon Production who is under investigation over possible Akramiy ties, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 10 May, "The businessmen who are accused of Akramiy links were imprisoned only because they are religious and were known to have money and property." DK

Some 40 young opposition activists staged an unsanctioned demonstration on 10 May in downtown Minsk to protest the recent renaming of streets in the Belarusian capital by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005), Belapan reported. Police dispersed the rally and detained eight demonstrators for a short time for identification. Lukashenka decreed before the 60th anniversary of the 9 May victory over Nazi Germany that Frantsishak Skaryna Avenue, Minsk's main thoroughfare, be renamed Independence Avenue, and that Pyotr Masherau Avenue, another major street in the capital, take the name of Victors' Avenue. The Belarusian president at the same time ordered that the names of Frantsishak Skaryna Avenue and Pyotr Masherau Avenue be ascribed to other streets in Minsk. JM

The opposition Labor Ukraine party has slammed the government for what it claims to be Kyiv's policy aimed at the "destruction of domestic producers," Interfax reported on 10 May, quoting the party's statement signed by Labor Ukraine leader Valeriy Konovalyuk. "The abolition of preferences, reduction of customs tariffs, tax increases, the lowering of the dollar exchange rate, and many other changes have proven to have a negative effect on the Ukrainian economy," the statement reads. "The president has promised to create 5 million jobs and to significantly increase living standards of the population, but we see the opposite: enterprises are being destroyed, unemployment is increasing, and inflation is eating up people's scanty incomes." JM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has instructed Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko to resume an inquiry into the activities of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its partisan force, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), by a relevant governmental commission no later than 1 July, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Interfax reported on 10 May. According to the Presidential Secretariat, the commission is tasked with reaching legally and historically substantiated conclusions on the OUN-UPA and working out an official government position on these organizations. Yushchenko in recent weeks has repeatedly called on Soviet and OUN-UPA veterans of World War II to reconcile with each other (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005). JM

Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda told journalists in Kyiv on 11 May that Ukraine is considering lifting visa requirements for EU citizens indefinitely, CTK reported. Svoboda was commenting on his meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk earlier the same day. If this happens, Svoboda added, the Czech Republic will reciprocate by issuing free visas to Ukrainians. Ukraine scrapped visa requirements for EU citizens and Switzerland from 1 May to 1 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005). As a reciprocal measure, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Hungary decided to grant free visas to Ukrainians within the same period. Svoboda also said in Kyiv that the Czech Republic is interested in legalizing Ukrainian laborers in that country, who usually perform unqualified work and mostly work illegally. JM

Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko and Toronto Mayor David Miller signed a memorandum in Kyiv on 12 May on deepening cooperation between the two cities, Interfax reported. The document envisages the development of cooperation and exchanges of experience in the fields of municipal administration, construction, transportation, waste processing, environmental protection, science, culture, and other areas of public life. According to Miller, there are some 80,000 people of Ukrainian origin living in Toronto. JM

Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Zagreb on 10 May that reported plans by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to expand the indictments of two generals to include over 1,000 people are "truly absurd," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March and 10 May 2005). He added, however, that "the more absurd the indictment is, the easier it will be to contest it." Sanader alluded to reports that the tribunal views the Croatian Army's August 1995 Operation Storm against Serbian rebels in the Krajina region to be a "joint criminal enterprise," responding that "Storm was a brilliant, historical, military and police operation that we can be proud of, the operation which liberated central parts of occupied Croatia." In The Hague, Florence Hartmann, who is spokeswoman for the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, denied that the changes in the indictments amount to a wholesale condemnation of Storm, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. She said that one must make clear, however, that some of the atrocities committed during Storm were linked and organized. PM

Bosnian forensics experts announced on 10 May the discovery of a mass grave, near Bratunac in eastern Bosnia-Herzegovina, containing the remains of perhaps up to 40 Bosnian Muslims, believed to be from that area, dpa reported. Serbian irregulars linked to Vojislav Seselj, Zeljko Raznatovic (aka Arkan), and other commanders carried out a swift "ethnic cleansing" campaign in eastern Bosnian regions bordering Serbia soon after the conflict began in 1992. About 30 mass graves containing the remains of over 1,600 people have been found in the Bratunac area since the conflict ended in 1995. PM

The Central Committee of the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) agreed in Banja Luka on 10 May that proposed new police districts are unacceptable because they amount to a change in the constitution, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The SDS also refuses to accept movement of police forces across the interentity border. SDS President Dragan Cavic, who is also president of the Republika Srpska, noted that there are differences between the position of the SDS and the stand recently agreed by 11 political parties with High Representative Paddy Ashdown. Cavic added, however, that he does not exclude the possibility of further discussions in the respective parliaments of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, "Nezavisne novine" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2005). Police reform is one of the most important issues standing in Bosnia's path to further Euro-Atlantic integration. PM

Albanian Deputy Prime Minister Namik Dokle and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic met in Ohrid on 10 May with Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski to discuss political and economic cooperation, MIA news agency reported. They called their political relations excellent, but stressed the need to improve economic ties. Asked by journalists what might happen if Montenegro becomes independent, Buckovski said that Montenegrin independence will not have a negative impact on the security situation in the Balkans, unlike possible independence for Kosova. Djukanovic said that Montenegro is a distinct republic of former Yugoslavia and therefore has the right to become an independent state like Bosnia, Croatia, Macedonia, or Slovenia. Djukanovic also stressed that this right does not pertain to Kosova, which never was a republic, but an autonomous province of Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 February 2005). The Yugoslav and Serbian constitutions of 1974 gave the autonomous provinces of Kosova and Vojvodina, however, almost the same rights as the six republics. UB

Thirty men who were recently released from military service in the Army of Serbia and Montenegro's 125th Motorized Brigade blocked the main Belgrade-Nis highway near Pojate for two hours in the afternoon of 10 May to demand payment of overdue severance pay, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. They said that if they do not receive their money by the afternoon of 11 May, they will demonstrate in front of the Justice Ministry in Belgrade until their demands are met. PM

Moldovan police have arrested a criminal ring specializing in the kidnapping and sale of girls and women for prostitution, dpa reported on 10 May, quoting a report by the Moldovan Interior Ministry. Police arrested a 38-year-old Turkish man and a number of his accomplices who allegedly run the Chisinau-based trading ring. The group will reportedly face charges of selling at least 87 Moldovan women to foreign brothels from 2001-2004. Most of the women were Moldovan nationals who had been told they would work abroad as dancers or domestic servants, but were then forced into prostitution. At least 25 of the victims were underage. The business brought the criminal ring an income of at least $1 million. JM

A dispute over the possible introduction of visas for travel between Macedonia and Kosova has sparked a controversy between Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski and President Branko Crvenkovski. Although both men deny a deeper rift exists, there are indications that relations between the two are quite strained.

The controversy between Crvenkovski and Buckovski was triggered by a statement Crvenkovski made during an official visit to Sofia on 27 April, when he said a decision by the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) to regulate the movement of people in and out of the province amounts to introducing a visa requirement for Macedonian citizens. "We have more reasons than they do" to require visas in order to better control the border, he said. He stressed that introducing visas for Kosovars will promote "the fight against the infiltration of individuals and groups with an extremist and militant background, as well as a more efficient fight against crime and illegal trade."

Crvenkovski made it clear that Macedonia need not wait for Prishtina to make the first move. In recent weeks, the Macedonian media have reacted nervously to unconfirmed reports that the Kosovar government has decided to levy a seasonal 25 percent customs tariff on Macedonian agricultural products. Crvenkovski accordingly argued that the introduction of a visa requirement would strengthen Macedonia's position in upcoming talks with Kosovar authorities about a free-trade agreement.

But the president faced opposition from Buckovski, who was once regarded as Crvenkovski's closest ally. And the president also faced criticism from UNMIK representatives, who vehemently denied that the regulation amounts to a visa requirement for foreigners (

An attempt by Larry Rossin, an UNMIK deputy head, to sort things out with Crvenkovski on 4 May apparently failed. Rossin and Buckovski issued a joint statement on 4 May saying the public was misled by incorrect information about the so-called introduction of a visa requirement. But Crvenkovski insisted after speaking with Rossin that the UNMIK regulation does amount, in practice, to the introduction of a visa requirement, adding that Macedonia should respond in kind.

For Macedonian Economics Minister Fatmir Besimi, of the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), Crvenkovski's stance is counterproductive for trade relations between Kosova and Macedonia. Besimi told RFE/RL's Macedonian Service on 3 May that introducing visas for Kosovar citizens would also violate the spirit of the EU-sponsored Stability Pact for Southeastern Europe, which envisions the creation of a free-trade zone including all Balkan states. Besimi also said that he does not expect any changes in the trade regulations between Kosova and Macedonia once both partners sign a free-trade agreement. Talks on the free-trade agreement are expected to resume later in May.

The conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-People's Party (VMRO-NP) dismissed Crvenkovski's demand for visas for Kosovars. Introducing visas for Kosovar citizens could amount to a unilateral recognition of Kosovar sovereignty and independence -- by treating Kosovars differently from citizens of Serbia and Montenegro -- even before talks on the final status of the internationally administered province begin, former Foreign Minister Slobodan Casule (VMRO-NP) said.

Given the critical reactions by both the government and the opposition, one might ask why Crvenkovski triggered the discussion about visas for Kosovars in the first place. There are two possible explanations.

First, if it is true when Buckovski says that there are no differences between him and Crvenkovski -- who was Buckovski's predecessor both as prime minister and as Social Democratic Union (SDSM) chairman -- then the two leading politicians might be trying to win back support the SDSM lost in the recent local elections by deliberately saying different things to appeal to different kinds of voters. Buckovski holds much of the power (and responsibility) and therefore must play the moderate part. But Crvenkovski, who has little real power, has little to lose by appealing to the sentiments of the more radical followers of the SDSM.

However, there are also reasons to believe that Crvenkovski resents his loss of real power and might simply be trying to weaken Buckovski's position within the government and the SDSM. The fact that Crvenkovski recently summoned a group of legal experts -- who were previously sacked by Buckovski -- was widely interpreted by the Macedonian media as a challenge to the prime minister. The experts had advised Buckovski on planned judicial reforms.

Whatever the case might be, either possible explanation could mean a difficult choice for those SDSM members who had no trouble being loyal to both Crvenkovski and Buckovski as long as they were allies.

And it may also leave Macedonia's foreign partners puzzled about Crvenkovski's judgment, since he chose such a sensitive international issue in order to score points.

Hamid Karzai delivered a speech on 10 May at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. According to the text of the speech, obtained by RFE/RL, Karzai thanked the Europeans for their support and asked for a pledge of long-term aid for Afghanistan. Referring to this week's commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Karzai said Europe rebuilt itself after the war thanks to a "long-term commitment" from its allies, and that Afghanistan is now in similar need of such help. Pointing to the recent Human Development Report on Afghanistan published by the United Nations Development Program, Karzai said that his country's social development indicators are "still dismal" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 March 2005). On a positive note, Karzai pointed to the success of Afghanistan's disarmament program, under which more "than 50,000 former combatants have been disarmed, and over 95 percent of the heavy weaponry has been [secured]." Karzai also said that his country enjoys a free press and that there are more than 300 "independent papers, more than 30 radio and four independent TV stations." AT

Speaking in Strasbourg on 10 May, Hamid Karzai confirmed that the amnesty offered to most former Taliban members also extends to Mullah Mohammad Omar and other top leaders of the ousted regime, RFE/RL reported. "The offer [of amnesty] is there to all," Karzai said, adding that those "who are part of Al-Qaeda, those who are part of terrorism," will not accept the offer "because there is no place for them" in Afghanistan. Since 2003, Karzai's stated amnesty offer covered most former members of the Taliban, but not those "whose hands are covered with the blood of the nation" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9 October 2003). Karzai's new stance is in line with the announcement made on 9 May by Sebghatullah Mojaddedi, the head of the Independent National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan, who alleged that Kabul's "policies change day by day" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005). AT

A U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, Colonel James Yonts, said on 9 May that while Washington supports the amnesty offer to "noncriminal" former Taliban members, those "guilty of serious crimes must be responsible for their action," the BBC reported. "We believe the government of Afghanistan understands and supports" this position, Yonts added. In a related story, RFE/RL reported on 10 May that Afghan government officials have privately stated that the amnesty offer extended to Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar was Mojaddedi's personal initiative, not the position of the Afghan government. Hekmatyar is considered a terrorist by the U.S. State Department and the United States has placed a $10 million reward for Mullah Omar's capture for his connection to Al-Qaeda. AT

While an investigation is still continuing into the identity of victims of an 8 May bombing raid by a U.S. aircraft in eastern Laghman Province, local residents claim that civilians, not neo-Taliban militia fighters, were killed, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 10 May. A U.S. bomber targeted suspected neo-Taliban insurgents after a firefight in which two Marines were killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005). According to U.S. military sources, close to two-dozen insurgents were killed in the bombing. According to reports from Laghman, U.S. personnel on 10 May exhumed the bodies in order to identify them, angering locals. Such practices are regarded in Afghanistan as showing disrespect for the dead. AT

Acting U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in Washington on 9 May that there would be "consequences" if Iran implements a threat to renew sensitive nuclear activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 10 May 2005), according to the State Department website ( Casey told the press that any resumption of "uranium conversion or testing or production, or any other aspects of its program" would constitute a breach of the so-called Paris accord, Iran's November 2004 suspension pledge. Casey declined to say if the consequences of a breach would include Tehran being referred to the United Nations Security Council, which might impose international sanctions on Iran for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Separately, unnamed British officials said on 9 May that if Iran violates the Paris accord, the EU trio of Britain, France and Germany "would not be able to continue our negotiations with them," reported on 10 May. Iran, according to an unnamed official, is "fully aware of the implications" of implementing its "statement of intent," added. In Moscow on 10 May, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said if talks with Iran break down, the dossier on Iran's activities will go directly to the International Atomic Energy Agency, AFP reported. VS

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, on 11 May dismissed the threat of being referred to the UN Security Council, AFP reported the same day. "There is no legal basis" for such a move, he said, adding the threat was "nothing but media propaganda." Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi said on 10 May that Iran may decide as soon as 13 May if it will renew enrichment-related activities, AFP reported the same day. He said Iranian lawmakers and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi are due to meet with members of the Supreme National Security Council on 11 and 12 May in order to decide what to do, AFP added. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on 10 May in Tehran that "while talks continue, we shall respect the suspension of nuclear activities," ISNA reported. He said the nuclear dossier is not "political or factional" and that whoever is elected president in the June ballot "will not forgo the country's rights." Separately, in Tehran, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Yahya Rahim Safavi said on 10 May that "the Americans are not a source of concern to us," and that Iran is "the decisive power" in the Middle East, ISNA reported. ISNA also cited him as telling India's ambassador in Tehran, Krishan Chander Singh, that in the future, there will be many centers of power in the world, and that Iran will be a component of one of them: Asia. VS

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in Bandar Abbas, southern Iran, on 10 May that he hopes "lively, free and competitive elections will be held" on 17 June to choose a president, as electoral hopefuls registered in Tehran, IRNA reported the same day. He urged Iranians to "continue on the correct path the [1979] revolution has placed before" them, and vote for a president who can "defend the dignity, grandeur and progress of Iran." He would not say if Mir Hussein Musavi -- a prime minister of the 1980s who some reformers believe would be a very popular candidate -- would be running in the elections, though he added that he and Musavi meet frequently to discuss public affairs. Also, Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, a former president, issued a statement to confirm he will be a candidate, news agencies reported on 10 May. Among his reasons for running he cited the "spread of harmful tensions and quarrels" in Iran, and "sensitive regional and world conditions" that require Iranian "cohesion," ISNA reported. In total, 112 people registered as prospective candidates on 10 May, the first day of registration, ISNA reported. Presidential candidates can register until 14 May. VS

Student members of the Office for Strengthening Unity (DTV) ended on 10 May a sit-in they began at Tehran's Amir Kabir University the day before to protest against increasing restrictions at universities and other threats to freedom in Iran, ISNA and Radio Farda reported the same day. Other students reportedly held simultaneous sit-ins at other Tehran colleges, ISNA stated. Political dissidents and moderate critics of the Iranian government joined students at Amir Kabir, and students concluded their protest with a statement denouncing rights violations in Iran, ISNA added. Separately, 180 economics students from a number of universities published an open letter urging "political and economic stability," moderation and greater contacts with the world to resolve Iran's economic problems, Radio Farda reported on 10 May. The statement, published in "Donya-ye Eqtesad," an economic journal, deplored Iran's dependence on oil revenues and state interventionism that has restricted the private sector and made economic production "very weak," Radio Farda added. VS

An item in yesterday's "RFE/RL Newsline," "Iran's Presidential Hopefuls Start Registration For June Vote," should have reported that candidate registration for Iran's presidential election ends on 14 May.

The National Assembly set up a 55-member constitutional drafting committee on 10 May, international media reported. The committee is reportedly dominated by 28 Shi'ite parliamentarians and 15 Kurds, while eight seats went to the bloc led by interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, reported on 11 May. The remaining four seats reportedly went to a Turkoman, a Christian, a Sunni Arab, and a communist. "This committee is intended to be a small body to represent all the National Assembly," Humum Hamudi, the Shi'ite party Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Central Shura Council member, told the website. Sunni leader Adnan Pachachi, who did not win a seat in the National Assembly, accused the transitional government of entrenching sectarianism in an 11 May interview with Al-Arabiyah television. Pachachi said Sunnis have demanded a clear and strong presence in the committee "not in an advisory role, but to contribute effectively" in the process. Pachachi also accused "some political forces" represented in the assembly of having "special relations with Iran." The committee is expected to hold its first meeting on 15 May. KR

Suicide bombers struck in Tikrit, Hawijah, and Baghdad on 11 May, killing some 66 and wounding dozens more, Reuters reported. A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle among a crowd of Shi'ite laborers in Tikrit, killing at least 28 Iraqis and wounding 60 others. A policeman at the scene said the blast occurred near a police station but claimed the workers were the bomber's target. A man strapped with explosives in Hawijah, located northwest of Ba'qubah, blew himself up amongst a line of men waiting to enlist at an army recruitment center, killing at least 32 Iraqis and wounding another 34, Reuters reported. A third bomber detonated his vehicle near a police station in Al-Dawrah in southern Baghdad, killing three civilians. A fourth bomber targeted a police patrol with his explosives-laden vehicle in the Al-Mansur area of Baghdad, killing two policemen and one civilian, Reuters cited Interior Ministry officials as saying. KR

The governor of the volatile Al-Anbar province was kidnapped on 9 May, U.S. Lieutenant General James T. Conway told a 10 May Pentagon press briefing, according to the Defense Department's official website ( RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 10 May that Governor Raja Nawwaf was kidnapped along with his son and four bodyguards while traveling between Al-Ramadi and Al-Qa'im. Al-Arabiyah television quoted the governor's brother as saying that the abductors have demanded the end of U.S. operations in Al-Qa'im. Reuters reported on 11 May that Nawwaf was appointed governor just days ago. KR

Fierce clashes are continuing between U.S. Marines and insurgents in and around the western Iraqi town of Al-Qa'im, international media reported on 11 May. Al-Arabiyah television reported heavy fighting in the villages of Al-Rummanah and Al-Karadilah. Eyewitnesses told the satellite news channel that two U.S. helicopters were shot down in Al-Karadilah, although those reports could not be immediately confirmed. Hamdi al-Alusi, director of Al-Qa'im General Hospital, claimed in an interview with Al-Jazeera on 11 May that the majority of the victims are civilians, including women, children, and the elderly. He added that the hospital has been unable to perform operations due to a lack of medical supplies. KR

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence DiRita and Director of Operations Lieutenant General James T. Conway told reporters at a 10 May briefing that Iraqi security personnel are not participating in the fighting in and around Al-Qa'im because they are stationed further east in the cities of Al-Ramadi and Al-Fallujah, the Defense Department's website reported. Asked about reports that the insurgents are trying to stand their ground against U.S. Marines rather than fleeing, Conway said: "It's an interesting development.... If they [insurgents] are intending on being martyred, that has to be cranked into the equation with this particular enemy." He added that there have been reports of insurgents wearing uniforms and body armor in Al-Qa'im, and said it is unclear whether the insurgents are foreign or Iraqi. "This is not a uniformed -- a single entity that is all in the same uniform," Conway said. "We are seeing some uniforms on some of the fighters." Conway added that a caller to the TIPS hotline reported a sighting of Al-Qaeda-affiliated leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi in western Iraq in the past three weeks. "But of course, there's no way to verify that," DiRita told reporters. Conway said that Iraqis have taken over control of the TIPS hotline from U.S. forces in Baghdad recently; he suggested that the number of calls to TIPS has increased dramatically. KR