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Newsline - May 12, 2005

President Vladimir Putin met with the cabinet on 11 May and gave the government 15 orders for its work over the summer and fall in line with the priorities outlined in his 25 April address to the Federal Assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005), Russian media reported, citing the presidential press service. Putin ordered the government to submit bills to the Duma by 1 September on eliminating the estate tax, simplifying requirements for real-estate purchases, and simplifying individual income-tax declarations. Putin also stressed that new tax legislation must state unambiguously that the function of the tax authorities is to ensure compliance with the law, not to meet tax-collection targets. In addition, by 1 October the government is to submit economic-development programs for the Far East, the North Caucasus, and Kaliningrad Oblast. By 1 November, the government must submit a bill defining foreign-capital participation in the defense sector and strategic-resource development, as well as its proposals for judicial reform and combating crime. By 1 December, the government must complete its plans to reduce traffic accidents, alcoholism, and drug addiction, as well as its proposals to improve health care. By the same date, it must submit its plan to increase state-sector wages by 50 percent within three years. RC

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov chaired a cabinet session on 12 May and opened the meeting by criticizing ministers for failing to follow President Putin's earlier instructions and to meet the deadlines he has set, ITAR-TASS reported. Fradkov said that the president's latest instructions have been formulated "precisely, with the last names of those responsible" and added that they must be met on time and with high-quality work. "A deadline is a deadline, and it is time to stop demonstrating contempt for the schedule," Fradkov said. He said that from now on, ministers responsible for each of the president's instructions will have to give oral progress reports on their work at each weekly cabinet meeting. He added that in the next few months a system of "regular, constant monitoring" will be instituted. Interfax reported that Fradkov has assigned government chief of staff Sergei Naryshkin to oversee the schedule. RC

Atomic Energy Agency Director Aleksandr Rumyantsev said on 11 May that Russia will allow U.S. inspectors to examine installations where equipment was installed with U.S. assistance, RIA-Novosti reported. He said Russia had agree to allow such inspections "not fewer than three times" and said that several dozen sites are likely to host them. "At those places where we and the Americans are installing such systems, we will allow them in so that they can see what their taxpayer funds are being spent on. We are talking about tens of millions of dollars," Rumyantsev said. He added that access to Russia's most secret facilities will not be allowed. RC

Mark Kaushansky, the business partner of former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, was released on $100,000 bond by a U.S. court in Pittsburgh on 11 May pending arraignment next week, "The Moscow Times" reported on 12 May. Adamov was arrested in Switzerland on 4 May and faces possible extradition to the United States, where he and Kaushansky will likely face money-laundering charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). U.S. authorities suspect the men of stealing up to $9 million in U.S. aid that had been intended to help secure Russian nuclear facilities. RC

Duma Deputy Sergei Abeltsev (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, or LDPR) on 12 May asked the Duma to appeal to the Prosecutor-General's Office and other organs to do everything possible to secure the release of former Atomic Energy Minister Adamov, RIA-Novosti reported. If these efforts do not achieve results, Abeltsev added, the Kremlin must "give the special services authorization to destroy the 'atomic businessman'" to prevent the United States from gaining access to Russian nuclear secrets. Fellow LDPR Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov said the government must "deal seriously with the Adamov situation." "He could be kidnapped," Mitrofanov said. "There are various solutions." RC

Russia and Estonia will sign a border treaty on 18 May, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 11 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told the "Tallinn Postimees" on 10 May that although the new treaty overrides some parts of the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty between Estonia and Russia, it does not affect the portion of that treaty in which Russia "recognizes the independence of Estonia for all time." RC

After one failed attempt, Federation Council members voted on 11 May to approve amendments to the law on elections to the State Duma, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. During the second round of voting, there were 96 votes in favor with 15 against and 11 abstentions. Ninety votes were required for passage. During the discussion of the law, which will cancel elections to the State Duma in single-mandate districts, some senators expressed the view that the bill is unconstitutional. According to ITAR-TASS, the presidential envoy to the upper legislative chamber, Aleksandr Kotenkov, commented that endorsing the law "does not mean that it can't be subjected to changes in the future. There are still 2 1/2 years to go to the elections." Under the bill, deputies may only be elected by party lists, and electoral blocs may not participate in the elections. JAC

In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 32, independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said that the bill is "authoritarian and anti-democratic." According to Ryzhkov, the bill "takes into account the experience of [Ukraine's] Orange Revolution and makes election observers' access to polling stations more difficult." JAC

Russia's Constitutional Court repealed on 11 May Article 405 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prevented courts from reconsidering an earlier court decision at the request of the victims or the prosecution if it could lead to a worsening of the defendants' situation, Ekho Moskvy and The court found that the article was flawed since it prevents lower courts from correcting their mistakes. Now courts may overturn a not-guilty verdict or make a previous sentence harsher. Yelena Mizulina, the State Duma's representative to the court, told that the decision represents "a step back to 50 years ago." Mizulina, a former State Duma deputy, worked on the Criminal Procedure Code while a legislator. She said the court's decision violates the principle of double jeopardy, under which "it is forbidden to try someone twice for the same crime." Deputy Prosecutor-General Sabir Kekhlerov supported the court's decision, saying the previous norm "categorically violated the rights of victims." JAC

On 11 May, Yabloko party activists held a rally in Moscow in support of holding mayoral elections in that city, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. When President Putin signed the law abolishing gubernatorial elections last year, he also abolished mayoral elections in Russia's two largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, because those two cities have the status of federation subjects. Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin noted that all other cities in Russia have the right to elect their leaders directly under the law on local self-government. "We consider this unjust discrimination against Muscovites and St. Petersburgers," he said, suggesting that Moscow city legislators should submit an amendment to the existing federal law to rectify the situation. The Moscow City Duma is set to consider the issue on 18 May, according to JAC

The State Duma Council voted on 11 May to reject a proposal from the Prosecutor-General's Office to strip State Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii and four of his fellow legislators of their immunity from criminal prosecution, reported. Prosecutors are investigating a brawl that occurred on the floor of the Duma on 30 March and reportedly wanted to charge the legislators involved with petty hooliganism. Zhirinovskii and three other deputies from his LDPR, Sergei Abeltsev, Aleksei Ostrovskii, and Igor Lebedev, along with Motherland Deputy Andrei Savelev, were under investigation. According to the website, the accompanying furor over the fisticuffs on the Duma floor raised the party's public-opinion rating. State Duma Speaker Boris Gyzlov told reporters that he does not favor lifting the legislators' immunity, since the Prosecutor-General's Office has not launched a criminal case and "we ourselves can punish them by administrative methods." He noted that as a result of that fistfight Zhirinovskii was deprived of the right to speak on the Duma floor for one month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2005). JAC

According to a survey of almost 8,000 residents of Kaliningrad Oblast, about one-third of respondents said that they have never been to other parts of Russia, Kaliningrad Sociological Center Director Sergei Tsyplenkov told Interfax on 11 May. Another 26 percent had not been to other parts of Russia since 1991. Only 16 percent frequently visit other cities in Russia. In the past five years, some 22 percent had visited Lithuania, Poland, or other EU countries. In an interview with Kaliningrad's ORT subsidiary Yantar on 6 May, Tsyplenkov said that although the public in Kaliningrad feels forgotten by the federal center, there are few separatists -- only about 5 percent. In an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 17 August 2004, Tsyplenkov said that in his surveys just 4 percent believe that there is no "Russian soul" in Kaliningrad and wish that the land was part of another country. JAC

Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov told journalists in Grozny on 11 May that there is no truth to rumors that he was poisoned and subsequently hospitalized in Germany, Interfax reported. Kadyrov claimed that armed supporters of the Chechen resistance now number only a few dozen and do not represent a threat to stability. But at the same time he admitted that radical field commander Shamil Basaev, whom he said last month he would succeed in tracking down and killing before 9 May (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 April 2005), has vanished, even though federal forces are hunting for him 24 hours per day. on 11 May posted what it stressed is an unconfirmed report that Kadyrov is in intensive care after suffering a head wound that is likely to prove fatal during fighting in his native village of Tsentoroi on 9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005). LF

The Republic of Ingushetia Prosecutor-General's Office and Justice Ministry have launched an investigation into the activities of the Ingushetian chapter of the People's Party of Russia (NPR), reported on 11 May. The Ingushetian branch of the NPR is headed by Ingushetian parliamentarian and opposition leader Musa Ozdoev, whose brother Beyali, who is deputy head of the Nazran municipal administration, has submitted his resignation from that post to protest corruption and embezzlement among the republic's leadership, according to a separate report on 11 May. LF

After several days' debate, deputies approved on 11 May in the first reading by a vote of 77 in favor and eight against a set of constitutional amendments proposed by President Robert Kocharian which are to be put to a nationwide referendum later this year, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. They still face two more readings in the legislature. The amendments are a slightly revised version of a package unveiled in November and subsequently amended to bring them into line with Council of Europe requirements. Council of Europe experts termed the most recent version an improvement but said "more significant amendments" are still needed to create an effective system of checks and balances between the president, government, and legislature. An alternative set of draft amendments prepared by the United Labor party received 19 votes for and none against, with 29 abstentions, while a third set of proposals authored by veteran opposition parliamentarian Arshak Sadoyan received 13 votes in favor and none against with 36 abstentions. LF

Meeting on 11 May with the heads of Armenia's commercial banks, President Kocharian warned the government will act strictly and consistently to punish "shadowy" currency transactions, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Such trading is believed to have triggered the abrupt fluctuation on 5 May in the value of the Armenian dram vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). LF

Arkadii Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), and NKR Defense Minister Lieutenant General Seyran Ohanian met in Yerevan on 10 May with Armenia's Military Inspector-General Colonel General Gurgen Dalibaltayan to discuss unidentified aspects of cooperation and army-building, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

Ilham Aliyev issued a decree on 11 May enumerating measures intended to preclude violations and falsification during the parliamentary election due in November, Turan and ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev attributed such abuses during earlier elections to the lack of professionalism of local election-commission officials. He instructed the Central Election Commission to provide training to raise the qualifications of those officials, who will be held legally responsible for "illegal interference in the election process." Aliyev further called for all candidates to be provided with equal access to the media and freedom to conduct their election campaigns, and for the presidential administration to work with all political parties, whether pro-government or opposition, to monitor the use of technical assistance provided by international donors. LF

Presidential-administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev chaired a meeting on 11 May of media representatives and the heads of press services of various government bodies, Turan reported. The aim of the discussion, which according to Turan was marred by repeated mutual recriminations, was to ensure that the media are provided with timely and precise information on the work of government agencies. Criticizing press services for failing to do so, Mekhtiev said they should prepare press releases in advance and respond within two hours to journalists' telephone queries. He also stressed the need for government agencies to update their websites regularly to provide up-to-date lists of senior officials. LF

Azerbaijan's Court for Grave Crimes handed down on 11 May a two-year suspended sentence to Vugar Mamedov, who is chief editor of "Hurriyet" and founder of the paper "Football+," Turan and reported. The court found Mamedov guilty on one charge of illegal business activity but acquitted him of a second charge of extortion. Those charges were based on a quiz published in "Football+" on the likely outcome of upcoming soccer matches, which the State Securities Committee deemed illegal. Mamedov had been held in pretrial detention since his arrest five months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 December 2004). LF

Georgian parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze wants Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili to explain to legislators the reasons why the anticipated agreement stipulating the timeframe for the closure of Russia's two remaining military bases in Georgia was not finalized during her talks in Moscow on 6 May with her Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, reported on 11 May. It was hoped the agreement could be signed during a visit to Moscow by Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to participate in the ceremonies to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The Georgian parliament adopted a resolution in February threatening to declare the Russian bases illegal if an agreement were not signed by mid-May on their closure by the end of this year. Speaking on 11 May in Brussels, Russian Chief of Armed Forces General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii repeated the estimate of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov that a minimum of four years is needed to prepare alternative facilities in Russia for the troops to be withdrawn from Georgia. LF

Vitaliy Yugai, a journalist for the "Kazakhstan" national television channel, was beaten by police in Astana on the night of 7 May, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported on 11 May. The incident occurred in the yard of Yugai's house when a police patrol demanded to see the journalist's identification. Yugai did not have his documents on his person, and police took him into custody instead of allowing him to fetch them from his apartment, Kazakh TV1 reported. "I began expressing my indignation," Yugai told TV1. "Nevertheless, they pushed me into the car, and I was beaten on the back seat. This continued in the police station where I was taken." Police told Kazakh TV1 that they are investigating the incident. DK

Representatives of the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan told "Kazakhstan Today" on 11 May that they have handed over to police video evidence of an attack on a conference the bloc held in Shymkent on 2 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 May 2005). Bloc representatives said they have made the materials available in order to further an investigation of conduct by the police, who they allege failed to intervene as a group of aggressive young people shouting slogans in support of President Nursultan Nazarbaev assaulted members of For a Just Kazakhstan, including presumptive joint opposition presidential candidate Zharmakhan Tuyakbai. DK

The Ar-Namys party nominated party head Feliks Kulov as its candidate for the 10 July presidential election at a conference in Bishkek on 11 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The conference was attended by nearly 200 delegates from all regions of Kyrgyzstan. In an address to delegates, Kulov condemned what he described as a current "lack of authority" in the country, reported. "We can't establish order in our own country, and this is scaring away foreign investors. There are riots. People are seizing the buildings of the Health Ministry and Supreme Court," Kulov said. "People want security, stability, and order. This lack of authority cannot continue for long." DK

Bodosh Mamyrova, a member of the Ar-Namys political council, told Kabar on 11 May that local authorities in southern Kyrgyzstan are employing "administrative resources" against Kulov. Mamyrova charged, for example, that university officials in Osh are exerting pressure to collect signatures in support of specific candidates. Mamyrova also alleged that some officials in the south are insinuating that a candidate from the north -- Kulov is a northerner, as was ousted President Askar Akaev -- should not be allowed to gain the presidency. "They explain their actions by saying that a northerner ruled the country for 15 years, and now it's time for southerners to take power," Mamyrova said. "By doing this, they're dividing the people." DK

Former Interior Minister Yoqub Salimov has appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn his guilty verdict and 15-year sentence for treason (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005), Avesta reported citing a letter the news agency received from Salimov's relatives. The letter stated that the charges against Salimov were "groundless" and insisted that his trial took place in violation of Tajik law. DK

Russian press accounts of the informal CIS leaders' summit in Moscow on 8-9 May indicated that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov drew notice with his unrestrained behavior and off-the-cuff remarks. Quoting anonymous members of the Ukrainian delegation, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 May that at the 8 May CIS summit, Niyazov derided the selection of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma as CIS chairman two years ago. Niyazov reportedly said, "Then again, he had elections coming up. Well, where is he now with his elections?" Niyazov also ridiculed the prospect of cooperation in the natural-gas sphere with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, saying, "Who should I cooperate with? With him?" Addressing Nazarbaev directly, Niyazov reportedly continued, "All of your facilities, your whole infrastructure is from the last century. I'm better off looking for other markets and other partners." The report indicated that Nazarbaev maintained a diplomatic silence in the face of his Turkmen colleague's remarks. Meanwhile, "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 May that Niyazov violated protocol at a photo opportunity with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 9 May, attempting to stretch a one-minute session into a longer conversation. The report noted that Niyazov was denied a one-on-one meeting with the Russian president during his stay in Moscow. DK

More than 4,000 residents of Andijon demonstrated for a second consecutive day in a row on 11 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005) to protest the trial of 23 local businessmen for alleged extremist activity in the so-called Akramiy organization, reported. Prosecutors have asked for prison terms ranging from three to seven years for 20 of the defendants, saying that the remaining three can go free; the defendants were to have delivered their closing remarks to the court on 11 May, with sentencing expected next week. The brother of one defendant told, "We are ready to do anything in order to free our innocent brothers." Police have not interfered in the demonstrations, which are unusual in their size and degree of organization, according to observers, the BBC's Uzbek Service reported. DK

Svetlana Ortiqova, a spokeswoman for Uzbekistan's Prosecutor-General's Office, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 11 May that a criminal case has been opened against some participants in a forcibly dispersed 3 May demonstration in Tashkent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 May 2005). She said they are being charged with "resisting a state official or individual carrying out a civic duty." In the immediate aftermath of the demonstration's violent end, Ortiqova had said that no charges were filed against protestors (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 10 May 2005). Hasan Choriev, many of whose relatives were involved in the protest, told RFE/RL that 19 of his relatives were conveyed on the morning of 11 May from Kashkadarya Province to the Hamza district of Tashkent, where they are being held in an Interior Ministry facility. But Ortiqova and Vyacheslav Tutin, an Interior Ministry spokesman, denied any specific knowledge of the individuals' whereabouts. Tutin noted, however, that they might have been jailed in connection with the criminal case against them. DK

The Minsk-based World Association of Belarusians (ZBS) has condemned criminal proceedings against 11 publishers and journalists of the Belarusian-language weekly "Niva" in Bialystok, northeastern Poland, as "discriminatory actions of the Polish authorities against the Belarusian minority in Poland," Belapan reported on 11 May. "It is disturbing that the Polish authorities replicate the practice that exists today in Belarus under the authoritarian regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka and is oriented toward the Russification of Belarusian society and discrimination against Belarusian culture and education," the ZBS said in a statement. Last year Polish prosecutors charged the "Niva" publishers and journalists with the misuse of state-budget money and inaccurate bookkeeping (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 15 December 2004). Belarusian activists in Poland believe the charges are part of an official clampdown on the Belarusian minority in that country. In a preliminary hearing in a regional court in Bialystok on 11 May, seven of the accused publishers and journalists refused to plead guilty; two others did the same earlier this year. The other two defendants were singled out for a separate trial. JM

Yuriy Lutsenko said in Kyiv on 11 May that he has successfully fulfilled the president's instructions on decriminalizing and depoliticizing the Interior Ministry, Ukrainian news agencies reported. "I can guarantee that the Interior Ministry has no other politician commanding us but the president, and there is no other party but the law," Lutsenko said at an Interior Ministry conference summing up the first 100 days of its work. Lutsenko said the ministry has replaced virtually all chiefs of its regional directorates, initiated 253 criminal cases against policemen (37 percent of them against senior officers), and 83 policemen have already been convicted. "During the first 100 days of our work, 19,000 economic crimes have been solved, including 1,700 in the privatization sector and 1,900 in the fuel and energy sector. Criminal prosecution has been launched against 171 government officials," he added. JM

A district court in Zaporizhzhya Oblast has sentenced four people to two years of corrective labor each, finding them guilty of illegal voting during the presidential election in 2004, Interfax reported on 11 May. "They repeatedly cast forged absentee ballots. On average, each of them voted from two to five times. Of course, they did that for a reward, albeit a small one," a prosecutor from Zaporizhzhya Oblast said. The verdict means that the four convicts will continue working in their current jobs but will have to pay 20 percent of their monthly wages to the state budget for the next two years. JM

Croatian President Stipe Mesic and Justice Minister Vesna Skare Ozbolt both said on 11 May that the recent decision by the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to expand the indictment against two generals to include over 1,000 people is "unacceptable," dpa reported from Zagreb (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March and 10 and 11 May 2005). Their remarks follow criticism of the tribunal's decision by Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, who argued that the move amounts to "crossing a line." The news agency reported that government officials and ordinary Croats alike believe that the expanded indictment implies that Croatia is a state founded on war crimes. Some observers suggested that resentment against such criticism from The Hague could play into the hands of right-wing and extremist politicians, who could say that the government has nothing to show for its policy of cooperating with the tribunal. Other observers note that if Zagreb is perceived abroad as being at loggerheads with The Hague, its bid to join the EU ahead of other western Balkan states could encounter further delays. In Bucharest on 11 May, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said that Croatia must show that it is implementing its "action plan" of cooperating with the tribunal, Hina reported. PM

Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic told the Zagreb daily "Jutarnji List" of 11 May that Metropolitan Amfilohije, who is the highest-ranking clergyman in Montenegro of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC), has been meddling in politics by not respecting the separation of church and state, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). Vujanovic argued that Amfilohije and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica have no right to openly criticize the Montenegrin government's plans to declare independence. The SPC responded in a statement by accusing Vujanovic of engaging in "hate speech" against the church. The statement noted that Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic recently criticized the alleged political role of the SPC in an interview with Polish media, adding that "the entire matter is all the more serious because the prime minister and his president [made their charges] before the non-Orthodox, Roman Catholic publics of Poland and Croatia." The relations between the pro-independence Montenegrin government and the pro-Belgrade SPC, which has the most adherents of any church in Montenegro, have long been delicate. There is a small pro-independence Montenegrin Orthodox Church that is a bitter rival of the SPC, but the government leadership has avoided taking sides between the two. PM

Zlatko Miletic, who heads the police in Bosnia-Herzegovina's Croat-Muslim federation, said in Sarajevo on 11 May that leading war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was seen in a restaurant in April on the road between Foca and Gacko in eastern Herzegovina near the Montenegrin border, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). The charge that Karadzic appeared in public in April but was not arrested appeared on 9 May in London's "The Guardian," citing unnamed sources from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Bosnian Serb authorities subsequently denied the charge. PM

In an open letter to the members of the Macedonian parliament on 11 May, President Branko Crvenkovski criticized some parts of a government proposal on judicial reform, MIA news agency reported. Crvenkovski argued that a number of provisions of the government plan run counter to the main aim of the reform, which is to strengthen the independence of the judiciary. Crvenkovski said some provisions of the proposal could increase political influence over the judiciary, especially through the proposed mechanism for nominating and electing judges. The president echoed the criticism brought forward by a team of legal experts who were recently sacked by Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski. In recent weeks, differences between Crvenkovski and Buckovski also erupted over relations with neighboring Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 April, and 3 and 5 May 2005). UB

Residents of several Moldovan villages situated on the left bank of the Dniester River, in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, are going to file a lawsuit against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights, Infotag reported on 11 May. The peasants are blaming Moscow for its reluctance to talk the separatist Transdniester authorities into resolving a protracted conflict over disputed fields near their villages that are under Chisinau's jurisdiction. Chisinau and Tiraspol signed an agreement allowing Moldovan farmers free access to the disputed fields, but the Transdniester authorities reneged on this accord last fall. More than 100 farmers staged a picket in front of the Russian Embassy in Chisinau on 11 May. "Russia, as a guarantor of the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, is able to resolve the land dispute. However, we realize that Russia may itself be interested in preserving this instability, so we believe the legal action may be the only efficient one in the current situation," said Ion Manole, head of the Promo Lex nongovernmental organization that organized the picket. JM

U.S. Marines launched Operation Matador on 8 May along Iraq's western border with Syria in what U.S. Lieutenant General James Conway called an effort "to eliminate insurgents and foreign fighters in this region that's known for its smuggling" and as a safe haven for insurgents.

U.S. officials have said that new intelligence and tips from members of the community led to the launch of the operation in the Al-Anbar Governorate, which has been plagued by violence for much of the two years since the liberation of Iraq. Conway told reporters on 10 May that the current operation has been buoyed by tips from local residents through the anonymous hotline recently taken over by Iraqi security forces in Baghdad.

Thus, the operation launched this week, much like the U.S. incursions into Al-Fallujah last fall, is a response to the continuing infiltration of insurgents across the Syrian border, and growing violence and attacks on multinational forces and, more often, on Iraqi civilians and government officials.

The region has seen sporadic fighting for months, but since late February, insurgents appear to have undertaken a campaign to forcefully engage U.S. forces. Iraqi media in February reported repeated attacks by insurgents aimed at ambushing, then engaging U.S. Marines in and around Al-Qa'im. The U.S. military reportedly dropped leaflets over the town asking citizens not to cooperate with the insurgents and to report insurgent hideouts.

The escalation, and a buildup of U.S. forces outside the town, prompted local notables and clerics to form a city council to run the city's affairs in case of an incursion, Al-Jazeera reported on 2 March. Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated group led by fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, posted at least two statements on jihadist websites on 3 and 7 March claiming successes against U.S. forces in the towns and villages around the border. The bodies of some 30 Iraqis were discovered in Al-Qa'im on 9 March, and while all of the dead were dressed in civilian clothes, some Iraqi officials claimed the dead were Iraqi soldiers who disappeared some 10 days earlier.

Insurgent attacks on U.S. Marines continued throughout March, but U.S. Marines appeared to be cutting off insurgent lines, as alluded to in a series of mid-March statements by al-Zarqawi followers to jihadist websites. A 15 March statement by al-Zarqawi's group posted on the jihadist website sent a message to the "besieged mujahedin" in the Al-Anbar Governorate. The message attempted to reinvigorate the besieged insurgents by drawing on Koranic stories and verses about noble fighters, saying, "When the infidel parties besiege you all around, fight you with tanks, planes, and all they have, you, lions of Islam, have only God, in whom you put your trust and upon whom you completely rely."

Iraq's Sunni resistance leaders also touted the strength of the resistance in Al-Qa'im. Muhammad Ayyash al-Kubaysi, the representative of the Muslim Scholars Association abroad, claimed in an 8 April interview with Al-Jazeera television that the fighters in Al-Qa'im had managed to prevent U.S. forces from entering the town. Al-Kubaysi, much like supporters of insurgent fighters in Al-Fallujah, appeared to believe that the insurgents possessed some God-given supernatural powers that would enable them to drive U.S. forces from Iraq. Jihadists in an 18 April Internet statement dedicated that day's attack on a U.S. base to Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and reminded supporters to "not forget to mention us in your prayers."

By early May, the U.S. military was closing off Al-Qa'im, Al-Haqlaniyah, and Al-Hadithah, towns farther east along the road to Al-Ramadi. Meanwhile, the insurgency issued sharp denials to U.S. claims of success in the fighting.

Insurgents established a stronghold in Al-Qa'im in the early days following the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. International media reported the infiltration of foreign fighters across the Iraq-Syria border in the spring and summer of 2003, and the U.S. military acknowledged the existence of "rat lines" for insurgent fighters in Husaybah, just north of Al-Qa'im, in December 2003 when they launched a series of house-to-house sweeps in the town in an effort to crush the insurgency. "The insurgents have a series of small cells, and the small cells know what their own are doing," "The Washington Times" quoted Lieutenant Colonel Joe Buche as saying in a 3 December 2003 report. "If we can get to the guys in the center, then the whole network could fall apart." That goal was apparently not realized at the time.

A February 2004 report published in the Iraqi daily "Al-Mu'tamar" described the resistance that began in Al-Qa'im after the war as a mix of local resistance and foreign mujahedin fighters who saw themselves as part of the jihad to establish an Islamic state in Iraq. Much like the state of other cities in Iraq in the weeks and months after the war, Al-Qa'im was overrun with criminal gangs and a general absence of law ensued. Police in the town said that they had difficulty recruiting new members to the police force. Resentment against the U.S. military also built among at least some members of the community, where tribal law reportedly supersedes everything else. The subsequent detention of hundreds of local residents by U.S. forces only fueled the insurgency.

The U.S. military has long noted the difficulty in securing the 725-kilometer-long Syrian-Iraqi border. Despite the placement of sand berms on either side of the border and Syria's supposed commitment to preventing the illegal crossing of insurgents, the insurgents continue to penetrate the border area, providing a plethora of fighters to replace those detained or killed. Until the border is truly secure, the insurgency will continue. As a group of men on the Syrian side of the border contended to the U.S. TV news program "Frontline" ( for an article published on 26 April, it is the duty of Muslims to wage jihad against invaders.

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on 11 May contacted a number of officials in the Interior and Defense ministries as well as the office of interim National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i for comment on Operation Matador. All declined comment. It remains unclear why Iraqi security forces are not taking part in the operation, but one might speculate that transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari is reluctant to give the insurgents an opportunity to frame the operation in terms of a Sunni-Shi'ite conflict. Al-Ja'fari has said, however, that one of the major goals of his administration is to bring security to Iraq.

Protests staged mainly by university students in Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar, turned violent on 11 May, leading to the death of four protestors and injuring more that 70 others, including six policemen, according to a statement issued by Afghanistan's Interior Ministry on 11 May. Protests also spread to other cities on 11 May (see items below). Twenty buildings, including government offices and mosques, and tens of vehicles were set ablaze by protestors, which were continuing on 12 May. The students began their protest on 10 May after a report in the U.S.-based "Newsweek" alleged that copies the Koran were desecrated at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Interior Ministry's statement said the protest turned violent because of instigation by "enemies of peace and stability" in Afghanistan, without further identifying such elements. In a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on 11 May, U.S. Charge d'Affaires Richard Christenson indicated that his government will investigate allegations that U.S. forces in Guantanamo showed disrespect for the Islamic holy book. AT

Afghan National Army (ANA) troops were deployed in Jalalabad on 11 May following the violent turn that demonstrations there took, Radio Afghanistan reported the same day. After a request by the Interior Ministry, the Defense Ministry deployed ANA forces in the city, said Mohammad Zaher Murad, head of the press of office of the Defense Ministry. ANA commandos have been stationed in Jalalabad airport and are prepared to "fight elements who bring disorder and chaos," Murad added. AT

The demonstrations that began in Jalalabad on 10 May have spread to four other provinces of the country, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 11 May. Protests in Laghman, Wardak and Khost -- all near Nangarhar and the southern Kandahar Province also appeared to be prompted by the "Newsweek" report of alleged desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay. All of the Laghman, Wardak, and Khost demonstrations were initially peaceful. In Wardak, demonstrators blocked the main road to Kabul for a short time; in Mehtarlam, provincial capital of Laghman, protestors shouted slogans against the United States and the Afghan government. An Afghan Interior Ministry statement issued on 11 May indicated that "demonstrations in other provinces today [11 May] ended peacefully and without incident," but did not identified the location of those protests. AT

Reports emerged on 12 May to suggest that three more people have been killed in the ongoing protests in Aghanistan, bringing the total number of reported deaths to seven, RFE/RL reported. Malik Mohammad Omar, the head of Khogyani District in eastern Nangarhar Province, told RFE/RL's Afghan Service that two people were killed on 12 May in the district of Khogyani, near Jalalabad, in an exchange of gunfire between Afghan security forces and demonstrators. A spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Lutfullah Mashal, said another person died in disturbances in nearby Wardak Province. Hundreds of students demonstrated peacefully in the capital Kabul on 12 May, RFE/RL's Afghan Service reported. After gathering at Kabul University, the students marched toward the city center of the capital. Police were present, but they reportedly kept their distance and did not intervene. There were no reports of clashes in Kabul. The Afghan protests are taking place in as many as 10 provinces, RFE/RL reported. AH

Speaking on 11 May during an official visit to Brussels, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the demonstrations in Jalalabad show two things -- namely, that Afghanistan is a democratic state and that it is "not ready with institutions to handle it," RFE/RL reported. Karzai argued that the protests are not an "anti-American sentiment," but rather are a result of news of the alleged desecration of the Koran. "Afghanistan is now a democratic country," Karzai said. "People can come out and protest and demonstrate and express themselves." AT

Among buildings damaged during the ongoing protests in Jalalabad on 11 May, the Consulate of Pakistan received "heavy damage," PTV reported. A Pakistani Foreign Office spokesman, Jalil Abbas Jilani, said the staff of the consulate was "totally safe." Islamabad does not intend to recall its consular staff from Jalalabad, Jilani added. It is unclear whether the Pakistani mission was specifically targeted. AT

Sebghatullah Mojaddedi, the head of Independent National Commission for Peace in Afghanistan, on 11 May retracted his allegation that the Afghan government has offered amnesty to former Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and fugitive former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Pazhwak News Agency reported. Mojaddedi had said on 9 May that the amnesty applied to those two men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 May 2005). In what Pazhwak called a "complete volte-face," Mojaddedi said his remarks about whether an amnesty offer extended to Mullah Omar and Hekmatyar were misconstrued by "media-people," adding that it was up to the Afghan people to pardon or punish the two men. "If they accept Afghanistan's new basic law and give up fighting, they may be forgiven. But personally speaking, I can't let them off because I don't have the right," Mojaddedi said. The United States and much of the Afghan media reacted negatively to Mojaddedi's offer, while President Karzai initially supported and then backed down on the issue. Mojaddedi briefly served as president of Afghanistan in 1992 and led one of the anti-Soviet mujahedin groups in the 1980s. Karzai belonged to the group headed by Mojaddedi. AT

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Tbilisi on 10 May that the "world" needs to deal with Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, but added that "we have no intention of using military force in Iran," the State Department website reported ( She said the U.S. has "many, many" concerns over what the U.S. considers Iranian support for terrorism "in the Palestinian territories, in Lebanon," and elsewhere, and "we all as a world need to deal with Iran." She added that her country supports current negotiations between Britain, France, and Germany on behalf of the EU, and Iran, over its nuclear ambitions, designed to "get Iran to live up to its international obligations." The U.S. suspects Iran intends to make nuclear bombs, a charge that Iran denies. But Rice is confident Iran "will not be immune" to "the changes going on in the world." People around the world are demanding freedom, she said, and Iranians "want to be part of the international community." VS

France's ambassador in Tehran, Francois Nicoullaud, told ISNA on 11 May that Iran should not hurry to renew its enrichment of uranium and related activities because it does not at present need enriched uranium (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 May 2005). Uranium enrichment is part of the fuel-production process, but could have bomb-making applications. Nicoullaud said that since Iran has no nuclear power stations and Russia has pledged to supply future fuel for a plant being built in southern Iran, "there is no need for haste...and we have time to resolve matters," ISNA reported. He said Iran could more plausibly claim to "need" uranium if it had the "seven, 10, or 20" power plants it has stated it will build in the coming years. The complexity of issues Iran is discussing with Europe, he said, would make it "problematic" for talks to take "less than a few years. I have to say, frankly, I am surprised at such haste." Separately, an unnamed diplomat told Reuters in New York on 11 May that Iran is to inform the International Atomic Energy Agency "by the end of the week" that it will resume enrichment-related work. "That will almost certainly kill off the EU talks," he said. VS

Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran on 12 May that Iran expects the current "uncertainty" in talks over its nuclear dossier, "created by our European friends," to be resolved, and said talks should not become a pretext "to delay the results of Iran's [nuclear] activities, and effectively deprive us of...peaceful nuclear technology," IRNA reported that day. Iran, he said in a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, "will not by any means move toward [making] nuclear weapons, but at the same time, it will absolutely not forgo its legal, moral, and logical right to" access such technology. On 11 May, Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani said that "no government in Iran" could "overlook" nuclear energy, Fars news agency reported the same day. Rohani, currently the ranking official dealing with the nuclear dossier, said that the fact that Iran has not attacked any country "for the past 300 years" should be the basis for international trust, reported. VS

The New York-based Human Rights Watch urged Iran in a statement on 11 May to release an Iranian journalist apparently detained for criticizing the government's fierce response to unrest last month in the southwestern Khuzestan Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 April and 6 May 2005). Yusef Azizi Banitaraf was arrested in Tehran on 25 April after denouncing at a seminar the excessive use of force by security forces and consequent deaths of protestors in the Khuzestan capital Ahwaz. Local residents claim government agents killed at least 50 protestors and arrested as many as 1,200 people, Human Rights Watch reported. Iran has said it detained over 300, and released most of those, while Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani said on 19 April that less than five had died, stated. Human Rights Watch expressed concern for the condition of protestors detained on 16 and 17 April, the days following the unrest, and the "possible use of torture" on them. One, Sadiq Shoiki, was reportedly tortured so badly that he could no longer "talk, walk, or stand," Human Rights Watch stated, citing a U.S.-based Iranian rights group and Shoiki's family, who visited him in prison in Abadan, a town near Ahwaz. Human Rights Watch urged Iran to let independent journalists visit the area. VS

Iranian presidential hopefuls continued to register at the Interior Ministry in Tehran on 11 May, the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 May. They included Mustafa Moin, a former reformist higher education minister, and Mohsen Rezai, a former head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 May. It was not clear if Mehdi Karrubi, a former parliamentary speaker and leading reformist, had registered. But he observed on 11 May that a statement issued by Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who has declared he will stand for election out of necessity, "begins to denigrate" other candidates for suggesting they cannot resolve Iran's problems, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 May. Karrubi said the dangers Rafsanjani has said threaten the country -- including tensions in foreign relations and violations of "basic liberties" -- began "when his government was in place." Separately, Ali Awsat-Hashemi, the deputy-governor of the Tehran province for security affairs, told ISNA on 11 May that the Interior Ministry will approve requests for "electoral meetings and gatherings" in the province. Awsat-Hashemi said that if there is coordination with district governors, campaign teams "will be entirely free to hold meetings." VS

A court in Rome has reopened a 12-year-old murder case allegedly involving an Iranian diplomat, though the suspect was absent at the first hearing, Radio Farda reported on 11 May. At the request of Rome's chief prosecutor, the court will re-examine the 1993 killing of Mohammad Hussein Naqdi, an Iranian exile, in which diplomat Amir Mansur Bozorgian and two unnamed Algerians are suspects, Radio Farda stated. Naqdi was a member of the National Council of Resistance, a front for the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, a rebel group the U.S. and EU consider terrorists. The undated court session appointed an attorney for Bozorgian, and adjourned its next session to 30 May, Radio Farda added. VS

A car bomb detonated outside a marketplace in Baghdad on 12 May, killing at least six and wounding 13, AP cited police as saying. The bomb destroyed nearby businesses and vehicles, First Lieutenant Mazin Sa'id said. A second car bomb reportedly detonated outside a movie theater on the opposite side of the marketplace, reported. Two car bombs also detonated in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing two and wounding four, AP reported. One bomb detonated outside a Shi'ite mosque, while the other targeted police called to dismantle a roadside bomb. As the police were dismantling the bomb, a nearby car detonated; two policemen were injured. In other attacks, Army Staff General Iyad Imad Mahdi was shot outside his home in the capital and later died, AFP reported. Interior Ministry official Colonel Jamal Ahmad Hussein was also gunned down as he left his Baghdad home for work, AFP reported. AP identified the ministry official as Colonel Fadhil Muhammad Mubarak. A Diyala police captain was also killed in northeastern Baghdad while traveling to work, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Witnesses described the perpetrators as four masked men in a car. KR

The Brotherhood List, which is comprised of the two leading Kurdish parties that contested Kirkuk's 30 January governorate council elections, called on 9 May for other groups in the council to reach a decision on the appointment of council deputies, "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 11 May. The Kurdish list won the majority of council seats and demanded the right to name a council president. Turkoman and Arab council members rejected the demand, and have refused to attend weekly council sessions. The 9 May demand repeated the Kurdish demand to name a governor and council chairman, saying Arabs and Turkomans could name council deputies. The Kurdish list said that Kurds will form their own administrative council in Kirkuk after 12 May should the issue remain unresolved. Turkoman council members have reportedly not responded to the demand, while the Arab-led Iraqi National Rally and the Iraqi Republican Rally have called for posts to be assigned according to the ethnic proportion of residents. Such a demand would be difficult to satisfy since there is no current census data for Kirkuk. KR

Intelligence Director Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani told "Al-Sabah al-Jadid" in an interview published on 8 May that some employees of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's security apparatus are working in the directorate, insisting they are individuals "sincere to Iraq." "These men have no Iraqi blood on their hands and their reputation is without blemish," he said. Al-Shahwani denied accusations that his department has, with the help of unnamed outside states, collected information on Iraqi political figures. "What would be the purpose of making us collect information on the sons of a free, democratic, and new Iraq?" he asked, adding: "I believe that these rumors are spread by certain sides that had been pursued by the previous regime." Al-Shahwani said his department addresses terrorist threats, insurgencies, drug trafficking, organized crime, espionage, "and any activities that threaten democracy in Iraq." He criticized the London-based "Al-Quds al-Arabi" for an article contending there is a rift between his department and the Shi'ite Badr Brigades. "We are not a political apparatus but a state apparatus that follows the state's policies. Our duties are purely professional. Our intelligence department is not a repressive one like the previous department," he said. KR

The Kuwaiti Justice Ministry issued a statement on 11 May saying the general prosecution has sent the Foreign Ministry formal complaints detailing crimes purportedly committed by former Iraqi regime members, including Saddam Hussein, KUNA reported the same day. The purported crimes -- including the kidnapping of 603 Kuwaitis, premeditated murder, torture, robbery, and destruction -- are said to have taken place during Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Hamid Salih al-Uthman, general prosecutor counselor, said that the complaints were based on an investigation by the Kuwaiti War Crimes Bureau. The Foreign Ministry is expected to turn the complaint over to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry for referral to the Iraqi Criminal Court. Eight other regime members named in the complaint include Ali Hasan al-Majid, appointed 'governor' of Kuwait by Hussein during the occupation, and Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hassan, former intelligence director and representative of the Revolutionary Command Council in Kuwait during the occupation. KR