RUSSIA ASKS SWITZERLAND TO EXTRADITE FORMER ATOMIC ENERGY MINISTER...
The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has asked Swiss authorities to extradite former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov to Russia, Ekho Moskvy and other Russian media reported on 19 May, in an apparent effort to head off his possible extradition to the United States. U.S. authorities have issued a warrant for Adamov's arrest on suspicion of theft of U.S. aid funds intended for increasing the safety of Russia's nuclear facilities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 6, and 13 May 2005) and requested his extradition for trial in a U.S. court. Adamov's lawyer, Yefgenii Grinev, said on 19 May that a Moscow court has issued a warrant for Adamov's arrest, according to RBK. VY
...AS FOREIGN MINISTRY DEEMS ADAMOV'S EXTRADITION TO THIRD COUNTRY 'UNACCEPTABLE'
The Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 18 May in which it calls "unacceptable" the possible extradition of former Atomic Energy Minister Adamov from Switzerland to the United States, RTR and other Russian media reported. "The criminal investigation of an ex-minister and former member of the Russian government on the territory of a foreign state, and his extradition to a third country impair the interests of Russian national security," the statement reportedly said. Adamov enjoys immunity from foreign investigation for his work while in the government, the ministry asserted. "If there are grounds for a criminal investigation of Adamov, it should be carried out in Russia under Russian law, and Russia is prepared to cooperate with foreign law enforcement on this issue," the Foreign Ministry said. VY
RUSSIA, ESTONIA SIGN BORDER TREATY
The Russian and Estonian foreign ministers, Sergei Lavrov and Urmas Paet, signed a bilateral treaty to demarcate their common border along the Soviet-era administrative frontier, ITAR-TASS and other news agencies reported. Speaking after the ceremony, Lavrov said the Estonian side assured him that the treaty is final and that there will be no future territorial claims regarding its interpretation. Russia is satisfied with the treaty, which should both improve bilateral relations and help define Russia's border with the European Union, Lavrov added. Russia signed a similar border agreement with Lithuania in 2003. Latvia is therefore the only Baltic state with which Moscow has not concluded such a treaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). VY
SENIOR LAWMAKER SAYS CLOSURE OF BASES IN GEORGIA WON'T DAMAGE RUSSIA'S INTERESTS...
Mikhail Margelov, who chairs the Federation Council's Foreign Affairs Committee, said on 18 May that the closure of Russia's two remaining bases in Georgia would not adversely affect Russia's national interests, RIA-Novosti reported. "We have repeated and clearly stated that, from a military point of view, we do not need bases in Georgia," Margelov said. He expressed confidence that Russia will reach an agreement over the Georgian bases with Tbilisi, but added that it should not in any way embarrass the Russian armed forces. "In general, it is always slower pulling troops out of a country than bringing them in," he said. Margelov accused the Georgian side of issuing emotional statements that have complicated a withdrawal. VY
...AND PREDICTS UZBEK UNREST WILL DRAW KARIMOV CLOSER TO MOSCOW
Federation Council member Margelov also hinted on 18 May that he thinks the recent violence in Uzbekistan will prompt Uzbek President Islam Karimov to seek closer ties with Russia, RIA-Novost reported. The Andijon unrest will thus have serious consequences not only for Uzbekistan but also for geopolitics in the region, he said. "Until recently, Uzbekistan was one of the most pro-American states in Central Asia," Margelov said, "but recent events have shown that the United States either does not want to or cannot protect Karimov's government from the threat of terrorism." He said Karimov will therefore seek other partners who might provide regional stability and, in the process, will reconsider the benefits of political ties to Moscow. VY
DUMA COMMITTEES GIVE ENDORSEMENT TO CHINA BORDER AGREEMENT
The Duma International Relations, Defense, and Security committees on 18 May passed a recommendation that the legislature ratify the border agreement that was signed between Russia and China in October, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 October 2004). International Relations Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said the discussion "was quite heated," since the treaty includes the surrender of territory by Russia to China. However, he said that deputies concluded that "the agreement serves our national interests." RC
FORMER OFFICIAL DENIES PROFITING FROM IRAQI OIL-FOR-FOOD PROGRAM
Former presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin denied on 18 May that he was involved in any way in alleged abuses of the UN-authorized oil-for-food program during the administration of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Russian media reported. "Neither the presidential administration, nor I, either directly or through intermediaries, participated in any operations connected with the distribution of oil quotas from Iraq," Voloshin was quoted by "Vremya novostei" on 19 May as saying. "Neither the administration nor I personally received any money whatsoever in connection with the distribution or sale of such quotas." A U.S. Senate report issued earlier this week alleged that Voloshin, Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii, and other Russian figures profited illegally from the program in exchange for promoting Russian political support for Hussein's government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). Voloshin said that the authors of the U.S. Senate report had neither contacted him nor questioned him regarding the allegations. He denied that anyone within the Russian presidential administration had discussed such matters with the Hussein government. "I have never been to Iraq," Voloshin said, according to "The New York Times." "I have never had contact with Iraqis, neither directly nor through intermediaries." Zhirinovskii has also denied the accusations and has accused U.S. officials of trying to deflect attention from alleged abuses of the oil-for-food program by U.S. firms. RC
ANOTHER YUKOS PRODUCTION SUBSIDIARY SAID TO BE ON VERGE OF COLLAPSE
Samaraneftegaz, a subsidiary of oil giant Yukos, is awaiting a fate similar to that of Yugansneftegaz, which was sold at auction in December by the state in partial repayment of Yukos's tax debts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 May. Samaraneftegaz is worth about $5 billion and has tax claims pending against it in the amount of $23.5 billion, according to the daily. In addition, a consortium of Western banks headed by French Societe Generale is insisting that the company repay a $5.2 billion loan that was extended to Yukos with Samaraneftegaz and Yuganskneftegaz pledged as security. According to the daily, similar claims were lodged against Yuganskneftegaz before it was taken over by Rosneft. An unnamed Samaraneftegaz source reportedly told the newspaper that the company will also become the property of Rosneft, and that the process will be completed within two months. RC
PUTIN PROMISES OPPOSITION ACCESS TO STATE MEDIA...
Speaking in the Kremlin with Duma faction leaders, President Vladimir Putin said on 18 May that the parliamentary opposition will enjoy open access to state-controlled media, strana.ru reported. Putin assured them that the Kremlin has directed state media to treat all political parties equally, strana.ru reported. He also asserted that Russia's primary strategic goals are the doubling of GDP, the fight against poverty, and the modernization of the armed forces. VY
...AS LEFT PLANS PROTEST AGAINST STATE MEDIA POLICIES
The Communist Party announced in a press release on 18 May that it has joined with Yabloko and leftist and democratic groups to organize a rally to protest state policy in the area of free speech, pravda.info reported. The demonstration is being touted under the banner of an "all-Russia march against censorship and lies on television" and will be held in Ostankino, which houses the headquarters of the state-controlled television stations RTR and Channel One. The event is aimed at mobilizing the public to demand that airtime be granted to the political opposition, according to the Communist Party press release. VY
KREMLIN SEEKS TIGHTER LAWS ON LIBEL
Duma Deputy Vladimir Pligin (Unified Russia), chairman of the Constitutional Law Committee, told journalists on 18 May that the Kremlin has prepared new amendments to the mass-media law that would toughen liability for printing or broadcasting false information, Interfax reported. Pligin said the bills will be considered in the Duma on 20 May. Media analyst Andrei Richter told "The Moscow Times" on 19 May that the restrictions would especially hamper the work of small newspapers, which would be held liable for reprinting false reports from wire services and other major media outlets. The current law bars the prosecution of journalists who reprint false reports "word for word" unless it can be demonstrated that they knew the information was false and "acted in bad faith." If the immunity from prosecution is lifted, editors and journalists could be tried for libel and could face prison terms or large fines, Richter told the daily. RC
TV-TSENTR ACCUSES STATE OF FAILING TO PROTECT RUSSIAN REPORTERS IN UZBEKISTAN
TV-Tsentr's newscaster complained on the air on 18 May that the Russian Embassy in Tashkent and the Foreign Ministry in Moscow failed to provide adequate support for journalists seeking to participate in an official Uzbek pool to visit the city of Andijon. TV-Tsentr singled out its own journalists, as well as colleagues from REN-TV and NTV, who it said were prevented by Uzbek officials from participating in the 18 May trip. President Islam Karimov's office told those reporters that there was insufficient space on the aircraft for them but unofficially suggested those stations were "distorting events in Uzbekistan," TV-Tsentr reported. VY
INTELLIGENCE OFFICER DENIES OPERATIONS IN CIS COUNTRIES
Colonel General Vladimir Zavershinskii, first deputy director of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), denied on 18 May that his agency is conducting any operations in CIS countries, the Military News Agency reported. At a book presentation in Moscow, Zavershinskii said: "I confirm that at present the SVR is not conducting any intelligence operations on the territory of CIS countries." He added that "it would be very undesirable if we were forced to abandon this position," apparently referring to the ambitions of some CIS countries to join NATO. RC
LEGISLATIVE LEADERS PRESENT ANOTHER VIEW ON SELECTING GOVERNORS...
President Putin met in the Kremlin on 18 May with Duma faction leaders and with Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov and Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, Russian media reported. Deputy presidential-administration head Vladislav Surkov, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov also participated in the talks. According to RIA-Novosti, Gryzlov proposed that regional parliamentary majorities, rather than leading political parties, be authorized to submit candidates for the post of regional executive-branch head to the president for nomination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). "We appreciate that the leading party is not always able to command a parliamentary majority in most Russian regions and therefore it is proper to speak of a parliamentary majority that would suggest candidates for the post of governor to the president," Gryzlov said. Mironov told ITAR-TASS that no one at the meeting called for the resignation of Fradkov's government, saying that all criticism of the cabinet is "constructive." RC
...AS COMMUNIST LEADER SAYS POLITICAL FORCES MUST DEVELOP 'COMMON LINE' TO PREVENT LOSS OF CONTROL
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, the only opposition figure to attend the 18 May Kremlin meeting, told RTR afterward that it was "very useful." "The situation within the country and the external situation, the so-called revolutions that are flaring up along our borders, oblige the political forces to come up with a common line so that the situation does not slip out of control," Zyuganov said. Motherland party leader Dmitrii Rogozin, who also attended the meeting, said, "I can see there is a result and I can see that in a sense the president, after announcing several of his good ideas linked to extending political freedom and access to the media for the opposition, is taking another new step and this step does not just involve words but real action." RC
CAR OWNERS TAKE TO THE STREETS IN 'ORANGE' PROTEST AGAINST RUMORED BAN ON RIGHT-HAND-DRIVE CARS
Several thousand car-owners across Russia participated in demonstrations on 19 May following reports that the government intends to ban cars with right-hand drive, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. About 50 such cars created a traffic jam in front of the government's main building in Moscow, while several hundred others gathered in the western part of the city. Many of the vehicles were decorated with orange ribbons and banners, an apparent reference to the successful Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the news agency reported. Media reports suggested that similar actions were being carried out in other Russian cities, especially in the Far East where Japanese-made right-hand-drive cars are especially common. ITAR-TASS on 19 May quoted Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko as saying the government does not plan to ban the cars but is drafting legislation intended to "improve safety." "The ministry's position is simple," Khristenko said. "I would be happy and glad if domestic producers could make right-hand-drive cars to compete with automobiles from Japan." RC
MOSCOW LEGISLATURE TURNS BACK CALL FOR DIRECT MAYORAL ELECTIONS
The Moscow City Duma on 18 May rejected a Yabloko resolution calling for the restoration of the direct election of the mayor of Moscow and the governor of St. Petersburg, "Vremya novostei" reported on 19 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 16 May 2005). Only 10 lawmakers backed the proposal, while the Unified Russia delegation abstained from the voting, according to the daily. City Duma Chairman Vladimir Platonov told the daily that "as a lawyer, I would have voted for the measure, but as a member of the Unified Russia faction, I abstained." Deputy Andrei Metelskii, head of the City Duma's Unified Russia faction, reminded the daily that the City Duma already voiced its support of President Putin's reform to replace the direct election of regional executive-branch heads with a system under which local legislatures endorse a candidate nominated by the president. RC
FAR EAST LEGISLATURE CHOOSES NEW SPEAKER
The legislative assembly of the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic selected Unified Russia Deputy Nurgun Timofeev as its new speaker on 19 May, Interfax reported. Timofeev replaces Nikolai Solomonov, who was removed after being convicted of killing his wife during a drunken brawl in October 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). Fifty-one deputies voted for Timofeev, six voted against, and one abstained. RC
ADYGEYA PRESIDENT DISSOLVES PARLIAMENT
Khazret Sovmen issued a decree on 18 May dissolving the parliament of the Republic of Adygeya, kavkazweb.net reported, quoting yufo.ru. The rationale cited for that move was that the parliament adopted budget legislation that contravenes both federal legislation and the Russian Federation Constitution. LF
ARMENIA SAYS WARSAW TALKS WERE 'FURTHER STEP FORWARD...
Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian said in a statement released in Yerevan on 18 May that the meeting in Warsaw three days earlier between Armenian President Robert Kocharian and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev constituted "yet another step forward in the resolution of the Karabakh conflict," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Gasparian added that Warsaw meeting "makes it possible to continue the discussions" between the two countries' foreign ministers that began one year ago. On 17 May, the French, Russian and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that mediates the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict released a statement noting that the two presidents "confirmed their strong interest in reaching a peaceful, negotiated solution of the conflict." The co-chairs added that they "are mapping a schedule of consultations with the parties for the months ahead." LF
...BUT DENIES AGREEMENT ON WITHDRAWAL
In the same 18 May statement, Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gasparian rejected as untrue the claim by Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov that Armenia has agreed to the liberation of seven occupied districts bordering on the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Armenian agencies reported. Mammadyarov was quoted on 17 May by the online daily zerkalo.az as saying that Armenia has agreed to such a withdrawal and that discussions are ongoing on a timetable for doing so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). LF
AZERBAIJANI RULING, OPPOSITION PARTIES SIGN PACT
Following a two-day seminar at the OSCE's Baku office, representatives of nine Azerbaijani political parties, including the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, signed a document on 18 May outlining guidelines for political activity within a framework of mutual respect, Turan reported. Entitled "Consensus of Behavior," the nine-point document comprises a shared commitment to observing democratic norms, including freedom of speech and assembly. LF
AZERBAIJANI POLICE ROUND UP OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS
Following the announcement by opposition party leaders on 17 May that they will hold a rally and march in Baku on 21 May despite having been refused permission to do so by the Baku municipal authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005), police have detained 29 opposition activists, Turan reported on 19 May, citing a press release from the opposition Musavat party. Ten Musavat activists were arrested, together with four from the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and three from the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP); those three parties are jointly organizing the planned rally. Seven members of the organization that unites veterans of the Karabakh war, one member of the opposition Umid Party, and Ruslan Bashirli, head of the youth organization Yeni Fikir, were also arrested. LF
GEORGIA HOPES FOR FORMAL INVITATION NEXT YEAR TO JOIN NATO
Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said in Brussels on 18 May that he hopes that in 2006 NATO will formally designate Georgia a candidate for membership of the Alliance, Caucasus Press reported. Okruashvili, together with Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili and Minister of State for European Integration Giorgi Baramidze, met on 18 May with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to assess Georgia's progress in implementing its Individual Partnership Action Plan, which outlines standards Georgia must meet before it can be considered for NATO membership. De Hoop Scheffer reportedly pointed to three weaknesses: insufficient civilian control over the armed forces; frequent personnel changes at the top level of the Defense Ministry and the General Staff; and a lack of systematic planning in defense spending. Speaking in Tbilisi on 10 May, U.S. President George W. Bush said the West hopes Georgia will increase its cooperation with NATO within the Partership fopr Peace program, but he did not raise the prospect of Georgia becoming a full-fledged NATO member (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005). LF
GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER HINTS AT CONCESSION ON RUSSIAN BASE CLOSURES
Defense Minister Okruashvili told journalists in Brussels on 18 May that Tbilisi might extend until mid-2008 the deadline for the closure of Russia's two remaining military bases in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. Georgian officials had previously said the bases should be closed by 1 January 2008 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). In Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said that at their 23 May talks in Tbilisi, Russian and Georgian government delegations will focus on a draft document Russia communicated to the Georgian leadership last week and which, according to Yakovenko, provides for completion of the Russian withdrawal at some unspecified point in 2008, Interfax reported. LF
KAZAKH AND BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTS CONCLUDE NEW ACCORD
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev met on 18 May with visiting Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Astana and concluded three new bilateral agreements, Khabar TV reported. The agreements call for cooperation in information technology and energy, as well as for cultural exchanges. Lukashenka is on a state visit to promote bilateral trade and economic cooperation with Kazakhstan as part of a broader effort to use Kazakhstan as a bridge for trade links with China. Although trade between Kazakhstan and Belarus is just $160 million annually, it has tripled over the last three years. Belarus is particularly interested in forging new agreements on cooperation in the agricultural, construction, industrial, and energy sectors. Lukashenka was also expected to preside over the opening of a new Belarusian Embassy in Astana on 19 May. RG
KYRGYZ BORDER GUARDS EXPEL UZBEK REFUGEES...
Kyrgyz border guards expelled a group of 17 Uzbek refugees on 18 May after they were detained for illegally entering the country, Interfax reported. With more than 500 Uzbek refugees having crossed the Kyrgyz border since violence in eastern Uzbekistan on 13 May, Kyrgyz officials have set up temporary camps and provided humanitarian aid and medical assistance. Despite protests by Kyrgyz human rights groups, Kyrgyz officials have recently said the refugees will not be permitted to stay in the country permanently and will be returned to Uzbekistan at some future date (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 May 2005). RG
...AND BOLSTER SECURITY ALONG BORDER WITH UZBEKISTAN
Units of the Kyrgyz Border Guard Service increased security along the Kyrgyz border with Uzbekistan on 18 May, implementing measures aimed at preventing any potential influx of Islamists, Interfax reported. Explaining the heightened security, an unnamed Kyrgyz security official said that "the decision is based on an increase in the scale, types, and intensity of threats" to security. The source cited specific fears of cross-border infiltration by members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) or the Hizb ut-Tahrir groups intent on "destabilizing the situation in Central Asia," according to Interfax. RG
KYRGYZ OFFICIAL BRIEFS VISITING RUSSIAN DELEGATION ON EVENTS IN THE REGION
Recently appointed acting First Deputy Prime Minister Feliks Kulov briefed a visiting Russian delegation on 18 May on developments in Uzbekistan and expressed concern over the potential for consequent instability within Kyrgyzstan, Interfax reported. Kulov admitted "alarm and fear about the consequences of the events," expressing concern that the demonstrators in Uzbekistan "relied on an Islamic factor" in mobilizing support. He added that the situation compelled him to withdraw his candidacy for the country's approaching presidential election and align with acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 May 2005). Kulov also informed the Russian delegation, led by Russian State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs Chairman Andrei Kokoshin, that the current Kyrgyz government is strongly pro-Russian and said he is "confident that relations with Russia will be intensified and expanded." Commenting on the Russian military presence in Kyrgyzstan, Kulov said that in addition to the Russian air base at Kant, "the Russian presence should be strengthened toward Osh" in southern Kyrgyzstan because "there are strong elements of Islamic extremism there," Interfax reported. RG
NEW KYRGYZ INTERIOR MINISTER APPOINTED
Acting Kyrgyz President Bakiev issued a decree on 18 May appointing Murat Sutalinov as new acting interior minister, Kyrgyz TV reported. Sutalinov served as head of security and defense within the presidential administration under former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and was appointed prosecutor-general by Akaev in late March 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2005). RG
TAJIK TAX POLICE CLOSE INDEPENDENT TV STATION
Tajik tax police closed the independent Somoniyon television station on 17 May, Asia-Plus reported. The Dushanbe-based station's director, Irkom Mirzoyev, said the tax authorities were ordered to close the station by state Committee for Television and Radio Broadcasting First Deputy Chairman Abdulatif Saidov. Somoniyon's operating license was previously revoked but the station was granted an additional three months in April pending an attempt to re-register (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 April 2005). The Somoniyon move follows the late-March imposition of a three-month suspension of the operating license of independent television station Guli Bodom in the northern Tajik town of Konibodom. RG
TAJIK DRUG-CONTROL OFFICE OPENS IN AFGHANISTAN...
Tajik Drug Control Agency Director Rustam Nazarov formally opened a local office in the northern Afghan city of Konduz on 18 May during a three-day official visit to Afghanistan, Asia-Plus reported. The establishment of the office, strategically situated on the Afghan border with the Tajik districts of Panj and Qumsangir, stems from a bilateral counternarcotics agreement reached during the late-April visit to Afghanistan by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov. Nazarov identified northeastern Afghanistan as a significant producer of opium and, at the December Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Dushanbe, reported that dozens of heroin-producing facilities are operating in the area (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2004). RG
...IN WAKE OF JOINT TAJIK-AFGHAN ARREST OF FORMER TALIBAN SMUGGLERS
A joint operation by officers from the Tajik Drug Control Agency and Afghan police on 16 May led to the arrest of two former Taliban commanders in Afghanistan's Konduz Province, Asia-Plus reported. According to the Tajik Drug Control Agency's Avaz Yuldoshev, the former Taliban leaders were operating an extensive smuggling network into Tajikistan involving a sizable amount of narcotics and weapons from northeastern Afghanistan. The Tajik-Afghan border area has been plagued by drug smuggling and weapons proliferation for over a decade (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 29 August 2003). RG
FOREIGN OBSERVERS GIVEN RESTRICTED TOUR OF UZBEK CITY OF ANDIJON
Uzbek officials accompanied a group of foreign diplomats and journalists on 18 May on a tour of the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon, the site of recent bloodshed when local residents and police clashed last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 16, and 17 May 2005), RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Uzbek authorities maintained a strict and limited itinerary for the foreign observers and, according to Czech Ambassador to Uzbekistan Ales Fojtik and UK Ambassador David Moran, reduced the tour to just 90 minutes and prevented any interaction with local residents. The restricted tour reportedly did little to ease fears that hundreds of residents might have perished in the violence, to determine the exact number of casualties, or to dampen mounting calls for unimpeded access and an independent investigation into the situation in eastern Uzbekistan. RG
UZBEK TROOPS REGAIN CONTROL OF EASTERN BORDER TOWN
Reports on 19 May suggested that centrally commanded troops moved into Karasu overnight and regained control of the eastern Uzbek border town, also arresting the local farmer they have identified as a leader of recent protests, RFE/RL reported. Local residents were quoted as saying hundreds of troops were involved. They reportedly arrested the purported protest leader Bakhtiyor Rakhimov and a number of his aides, although those reports could not immediately be confirmed. Rakhimov claimed that the townspeople wanted to "establish an Islamic administration" and vowed to "fight for freedom," according to BBC and Interfax. Protesters chased federal authorities out of Karasu on 14 May after the bloody security crackdown in nearby Andijon. The demonstrators also seized Karasu's administration building, forcing the mayor to publicly criticize Uzbek President Karimov. A correspondent for RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported on 19 May that armed men clad in black who appeared to be Interior Ministry officers were "carrying machine guns [and] ready to open fire." AH/RG
UZBEK INTERIOR MINISTER REPORTS RECAPTURE OF 400 PRISONERS
Uzbek Interior Minister Zohirjon Almatov reported on 18 May that security forces have recaptured at least 400 of the 530 prisoners who were freed during the attack on a prison facility in Andijon on 13 May, Uzbek Television reported. The Interior Minister also reported that "we have seized back 90 percent of the weapons" captured by demonstrators during the unrest. RG
CHINA PRAISES UZBEK RESPONSE TO DISTURBANCES...
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kun Juan said on 18 May that China supports the actions of the Uzbek government to fight "terrorism, religious extremism, and separatism," Asia-Plus and Interfax reported. The Chinese statement, unlike recent British and U.S. ones (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005), made no mention of the need for political reform nor did it express any concern over reports of indiscriminate use of force by Uzbek troops in stabilizing the situation. Uzbek President Karimov is planning a state visit to China next month, according to Asia-Plus. RG
...AS EU BACKS CALL FOR INDEPENDENT INQUIRY
EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner voiced support on 18 May for an independent inquiry into the recent violence in Andijon, Interfax reported. In a statement in Brussels, the EU official said the European Union supports U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's demand for an independent and transparent investigation into the disturbances and the subsequent violence and fatalities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and United Nations Higher Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour have both made similar calls for an open inquiry. NATO officials also met in Brussels on 18 May to review the situation in Uzbekistan and decided to postpone a planned Partnership for Peace seminar that was scheduled to be held in Tashkent next week, ITAR-TASS reported. RG
POLISH-BELARUSIAN DIPLOMATIC RIFT DEEPENS
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Zalucki announced on 18 May that Poland's Foreign Ministry has decided to expel an unnamed counselor to the Belarusian Embassy in Warsaw in response to Belarus's expulsion earlier this week of Marek Bucko, first secretary at the Polish Embassy in Minsk, PAP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). Zalucki also announced that certain Belarusian officials who were behind recent steps taken against the Union of Poles in Belarus (UPB) will be banned from entering Poland. According to Belapan, quoting Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld, Belarus has accused Poland and its embassy of being a breeding ground for spying. Belarus's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 18 May accusing Polish politicians of reacting "emotionally" to the Justice Ministry's recent ruling that the UPB's congress in March was illegitimate. JAC
WEEKLY MULLS BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S NO-SHOW FOR MOSCOW V-DAY CELEBRATIONS
Belapan's "Belaruski tydzen," No. 19, reported that among the many theories proffered for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's failure to attend the V-Day military parade in Moscow as planned is that if he had shown up he would have had to sit next to Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005). The weekly also reported that, according to some Russian media, Lukashenka's consultations with other CIS leaders on 8 May was not what he expected, triggering his last-minute decision to return to Minsk. However, the weekly concluded that it was in Minsk alone that Lukashenka could reap the maximum public-relations or propaganda benefits for his regime. In Moscow, he would be just one of many; but in Minsk, he was "a tsar, a god, and a commander in chief," according to the weekly. "He was even 'a little bit higher than God,' as one of his subordinates once said," the weekly said. "Everything in Minsk was organized in such a way that Lukashenka looked like the only master in the house and nearly a key figure behind the victory [against fascism]." JAC
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT...
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on 18 May that the flawed policy of the cabinet and the monopolization of the fuel market caused the current fuel crisis, UT1 reported. Yushchenko on 18 May signed into law a government-sponsored bill abolishing import duties on gasoline and diesel that the Verkhovna Rada passed the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). Yushchenko also declared that "for once and forever no one will regulate prices using administrative methods in Ukraine," warning that such a policy sends an "unhealthy signal" to internal and external markets. Yushchenko also explained the process under which firms would be reprivatized, Interfax-Ukraine reported. He said that if an enterprise is determined to have been privatized illegally, then a new tender commission will be set up and the firm will undergo a new privatization tender with the participation of domestic and foreign investors. The largest bid will be presented to the current owners. The current owners will then either have to pay the difference between the sum they paid during the previous privatization and the new price, or, if they refuse, the enterprise will be transferred to the winners of a new tender. JAC
...AS PRIME MINISTER SLAMS FIRST DEPUTY
Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko told reporters in Kyiv that the government welcomes the president's criticism, which is an "absolutely normal occurrence," "Ukrayinska pravda" reported. She also "thanked" First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh for his criticism of her personal role in the crisis. Kinakh said that she authorized "the chaotic introduction of more than 100 amendments to tax legislation without prior item-by-item discussion" or "any grounded analysis," ITAR-TASS reported. Tymoshenko criticized Kinakh for asserting that the government has compiled a list of 29 enterprises designated for reprivatization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2005). "One minister compiles some lists on his own. I just want to ask why some companies get onto the list and not others.... This simply smells of corruption," she said, according to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua). She promised that a list will be presented to the president in two days of "possible firms that could be revalued." JAC
NEW CRIMINAL CHARGE ADDED TO LIST AGAINST FORMER UKRAINIAN REGIONAL GOVERNOR
The prosecutor's office in the Transcarpathian Oblast has added a third charge -- large-scale bribery -- to the list of charges against former oblast Governor Ivan Rizak, Unian reported on 18 May. According to the prosecutor's office, Rizak in June 2004 demanded a "particularly large bribe" from the director of a company, whose name was not disclosed. Rizak allegedly threatened to dismiss the director, persecute his family, and even murder him. Rizak was detained on 13 May on charges of abuse of power and of driving a former rector of Uzhhorod University to commit suicide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). The opposition believes the arrests of Kolesnykov and Rizak are part of the authorities' revenge campaign against officials who supported former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych during the 2004 presidential campaign. JAC
UKRAINIAN MEDIA BODY WARNS NOVYI KANAL TV STATION
The National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting issued a warning on 18 May to Novyi kanal for violating the terms of its license, Interfax-Ukraine reported. The violations included an insufficient volume of Ukrainian-produced programs, informational and educational programs, and an absence of cultural programming. The channel also showed films without the state certification of its right to show the films in question. Novyi kanal is owned by Viktor Pinchuk, the son-in-law of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. JAC
U.S. ANNOUNCES PLAN FOR KOSOVA...
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns told the House Committee on International Relations on 18 May that "President [George W.] Bush and Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice place a high priority in having the U.S. help to lead international efforts to stabilize the Balkans," the State Department website reported (http://www.state.gov/p/2005/46471.htm) Burns noted that "2005 is a year of decision for Kosovo. Together with the United Nations and our European partners, we hope to launch a process to determine Kosovo's future status." He stressed that "getting there will depend on Kosovo's leaders continuing their progress on a set of UN-endorsed standards that are designed to ensure the presence of basic values of multiethnicity, democracy, and market-orientation while placing Kosovo decisively on the path to future integration with Europe." Burns acknowledged that "agreeing on a future status for Kosovo will not be easy. Belgrade has set forth a position of 'more than autonomy, but less than independence' for Kosovo. Kosovo's Albanian population insists on immediate and unconditional independence. Finding common ground between these positions will be a major challenge, but we believe that with U.S. leadership and trans-Atlantic cooperation, we can achieve a solution that produces long term stability for the Balkans by moving the whole region into the Euro-Atlantic family of nations" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 May, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). PM
...OFFERING A PLAN OF ACTION...
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Burns said in Washington on 18 May that "the key indicator of progress...will be the commitment of Kosovo's Albanians to create a multiethnic Kosovo that fully includes Serbs, setting the conditions for those who fled to return and live in safety," the State Department's website reported. He added that "in recent months, Kosovo Albanian leaders have taken positive steps in this area." Burns called on the Albanian authorities to make progress on decentralization, which is important to local Serbian communities, and on the Serbs to "dismantle or integrate into Kosovo's structures...the parallel, Belgrade-funded institutions, notably in Mitrovica." He noted the importance of resolving economic problems for the sake of overall stability, adding that "Kosovo's unresolved status hampers not only the economy, but further progress on its core goals." Burns stressed that Washington expects "the Contact Group -- consisting of France, Germany, Italy, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the EU -- and the UN to meet this fall to consider the results of the comprehensive review and to decide whether to launch a political process to determine Kosovo's final status. If the result of the review is sufficiently positive, the United States will advocate a swift launch of status talks." PM
...INCLUDING BELGRADE'S ROLE...
In his presentation on 18 May, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Burns noted that any final settlement in Kosova must include "effective mechanisms for fighting organized crime and terrorism" and exclude any partition or border changes, the State Department's website reported. He stressed that "Belgrade's role in this process must be one of continued constructive engagement. Any undue delay or obstruction would require us to reevaluate Belgrade's role." He appealed to "Belgrade to support Kosovo's Serbs taking their seats in the [Kosovo] Assembly and resuming participation in Kosovo's institutions and political life, ending their Belgrade-imposed isolation." Burns argued that "Kosovo is a burden weighing Serbia down." He also reminded Serbian leaders of the importance of full cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal if they want integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. PM
...WITH THE BACKING OF THE UN
Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), told RFE/RL in New York on 18 May that the new U.S. proposal on Kosova conveys "a very strong message [to] the region, and that will be very helpful." He noted, however, that "none of the so-called priority standards have been entirely implemented, so there are some shortcomings.... [It will be necessary] to work very hard over the next several months in particular on promoting much bigger returns [of refugees and internally displaced persons] and also improve freedom of movement in areas where it's still a problem." Jessen-Peterson stressed the importance of U.S. involvement in settling the Kosova issue, noting that "if [the Americans] go in with clear messages, the Albanians listen." PM
KOSOVA'S PRESIDENT AGREES TO MEET SERBIAN LEADER
Muhamet Hamiti, who is Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova's spokesman, said in Prishtina on 18 May that Rugova is willing to meet Serbian President Boris Tadic, perhaps in early June on the margins of an international conference in Geneva, "in the presence of the heads of participating Western states," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). The news agency noted that "the decision comes after a spell of diplomatic arm-twisting, followed by political one-upmanship, as presidents and prime ministers of both sides vie to meet on politically the most favorable terms, if they have to meet at all." PM
SERBIA'S PRESIDENT CALLS ON BALKAN LEADERS TO PUT WORLD WAR II BEHIND THEM
Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his counterpart from Serbia and Montenegro, Svetozar Marovic, agreed in a telephone conversation on 18 May to work for an improvement in bilateral relations, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 April and 13 May 2005). The move follows Mesic's recent decision to cancel a planned visit to Serbia because of a ceremony at Ravna Gora the previous weekend honoring former Serbian royalist World War II General Draza Mihailovic, who led the Chetnik movement. The Croatian government on 18 May condemned in a statement what it called attempts to rehabilitate the Chetniks. The statement added, however, that Zagreb does not want to harm relations with the Belgrade authorities, some of whom share Zagreb's view of the Chetniks. In the Serbian capital, President Tadic said that many unnamed "Balkan politicians" retain a mindset left over from World War II. Tadic stressed that current relations in the region cannot be held hostage to issues left over from that conflict, suggesting that he disagrees with Mesic's decision to cancel his visit to Serbia. PM
HAGUE PROSECUTOR SAYS CROATIA MIGHT BE READY TO GO AFTER TOP WAR CRIMES INDICTEE
Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, said in Vienna on 19 May that the Croatian authorities have been trying unsuccessfully to persuade fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina to surrender of his own accord, Reuters reported. She noted that Zagreb "may now be ready for coercive measures. When soft methods [fail to work], then tough action is required." She did not elaborate. Failure to arrest Gotovina is the main obstacle to Croatia's starting EU membership talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2005). PM
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT PREPARES TO GRANT BROAD AUTONOMY TO TRANSDNIESTER
Moldova's Deputy Integration Minister Viktor Postolaki told reporters in Chisinau on 18 May that Moldova's parliament is developing a draft bill on the special status of the separatist Transdniester region, Interfax reported. Postolaki said representatives of NGOs on both banks of the Dniester are helping legislators draft the legislation that will give the region autonomous status, with the broadest rights, within the Moldovan Republic. The same day, Valerii Litskai, foreign minister of the Transdniester region, said he believes the United States and the European Union are unlikely to join the process of settling the Transdniester conflict anytime soon. On 17 May, representatives of Moldova and Transdniester agreed to involve the United States and the EU in efforts to resolve the conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). JAC
MORE TALKS, MORE MODELS FOR KOSOVA
New proposals and suggestions regarding Kosova's future have emerged in recent weeks from several sources. The Kosovars continue to want a quick transition to independence.
"The Washington Post" reported on 17 May that "the Bush administration has decided on a new strategy designed to finally settle whether Kosova will become fully independent of Serbia, [unnamed] U.S. officials said." An unnamed "senior administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity...[that] "if you freeze the situation for two or more years, you are likely to create a pressure cooker."
The Washington-based daily added that "the plan, which Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns will announce in congressional testimony [on 18 May] and a speech [the following day], has been carefully worked out in intensive discussions with UN and European officials. The United Nations will shortly appoint Kai Eide, the Norwegian ambassador to NATO, to assess whether Kosova is ready for final-status talks. Once that certification is made, probably by mid-autumn, then the United Nations will sponsor international negotiations on whether Kosova should remain part of Serbia, become independent, or achieve a hybrid status."
Eide made a study on Kosova for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004, in which Eide called on the UN to move quickly on giving the Kosovars a "road map" for the future. He stressed that time was of the essence, but Annan proved more cautious. Eide's report was, however, generally very well received by the Kosovars themselves, who have long sought independence based on the principles of self-determination and majority rule.
In recent weeks, much media attention has been given to proposals by Serbian President Boris Tadic and several other Belgrade leaders for unspecified "talks" with Kosova's elected ethnic Albanian officials. Serbian leaders have, in fact, repeatedly called for direct bilateral talks in Belgrade or Prishtina, whereas Kosovar leaders want any conference on Kosova's future to be international in scope and not in Belgrade. The Kosovar leaders are willing to talk about "technical questions" with their Serbian counterparts but do not want full-fledged political negotiations, arguing that Belgrade lost all claims to the province by its behavior in the 1998-99 conflict.
Kosovar leaders also note that previous talks with Belgrade have yielded no real results except to enable Serbia to claim that it still plays a role in Kosovar affairs. In fact, Kosovar media note that the Serbian leaders' main interest in the Kosova issue is probably linked to domestic politics. General elections are widely expected in Serbia before the end of 2005, and the Kosova question enables the politicians to vie with each other for nationalist votes and divert attention from Serbia's real problems, namely crime, corruption, and poverty.
In private, many Serbian leaders concede that Belgrade has lost Kosova and are at a loss for answers when asked what Serbia would do if it ever found itself in charge of the province once again. The UN has, in any event, made it clear that Serbia will not have a veto over Kosova's future.
The EU, for one, nonetheless seems to have great hopes for bilateral Belgrade-Prishtina talks. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Brussels on 20 April that Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova should take up Tadic's offer of talks. "It is very important to start a constructive dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina," Rehn told reporters. He added that he has "noted positive developments in this regard -- the willingness to [extend a] hand by President Tadic, and I encourage President Rugova to take this seriously and proceed to have a constructive dialogue." Rehn also argued that "the [European] Commission will...help Kosova to make progress towards its European aspirations, provided its political leaders demonstrate a clear commitment to democratic principles, human rights, rule of law, and economic reform."
An international commission recently suggested that the EU extend explicit prospects of EU membership for an independent Kosova that would, however, be an EU protectorate for at least several years. Many Kosovars have come away from this and other discussions with the impression that the EU is concerned as much with procedure as with results, and that it is determined to somehow "prove" its ability to deal with Balkan problems through prolonged paternalistic rule regardless of what the locals might wish. Many people in the Balkans sense that the attitude in Brussels is that if the "peoples of the Western Balkans" want to join the EU, they will have to do as they are told.
As RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service has noted, many Kosovars also suspect that the EU will ultimately try to force Kosova into some form of joint state with Serbia and Montenegro, which both Podgorica and Prishtina reject. These perceptions of Brussels' intentions have led some Kosovars to question how well such proposals have been thought through in light of concrete experience. They argue that the track record of creative Western statecraft in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro has not been particularly encouraging.
In 1964, veteran British Middle East expert Anthony Nutting criticized his country's policies in that region by noting that "Britain failed to realize that the Arabs preferred being governed badly by themselves to being governed well by somebody else" ("The Arabs," New York: Mentor, p. 364). His observations are probably still valid four decades later -- and in the Balkans as well.
KIDNAPPERS OF AID WORKER IN AFGHANISTAN MAKE NEW DEMANDS...
A caller spelled out demands to the Kabul bureau of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan on 18 May that he said would, if met, secure the release of Italian aid worker Clementina Cantoni, who was abducted in Kabul on 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 May 2005). The caller, who was identified as Timor Shah, told RFE/RL that his group has three demands that are "legitimate and according to" Islamic law. Timor Shah's first demand was the closure of a night youth program aired on the private Radio Arman; the second is to ban the sale of alcohol in Afghanistan and increase antidrug efforts; and thirdly to open more Islamic boarding schools, or madrasahs. If these demands are met by the Afghan government, "we can release the lady safe and sound," Timor Shah added. Meanwhile, Timor Shah, using Cantoni's cell phone, called AFP on 19 May threatening to kill her unless his demands are met. "The deadline we gave" on 18 May "runs out" on 19 May, and "we might kill her," he said. Earlier demands of Cantoni's abductors included the release of a number of prisoners, allegedly belonging to the same gang that has abducted her. AT
...AS TALKS ARE UNDER WAY FOR HER RELEASE
Major Karen Tissot van Patot, a spokeswoman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said on 18 May that talks are under way to secure the release of Cantoni, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 19 May. "We don't have enough information, but talks are going on with the Italian Embassy, Interior Ministry, and the National Security Department," van Patot told a news conference in Kabul. Interior Ministry spokesman Lotfullah Mashal indicated on 18 May that he has spoken to Cantoni directly and that she is in good health. The pattern developing in Cantoni's case, with the changing demands, shifting deadlines, and the abductors allowing their captive to speak to the authorities, is reminiscent of the case involving the abduction of three UN election workers in October 2004. That kidnapping ended peacefully amid confusion about whether a ransom was paid or any prisoners were released in exchange for the hostages (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 18 November and 3 December 2004). AT
NEO-TALIBAN AND AL-QAEDA REPORTEDLY NAME NEW REGIONAL LEADERS IN AFGHANISTAN
Fearing that the existing leadership might negotiate with the Afghan government, the neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda have named new leaders to carry out their activities in Afghanistan, a source close to the neo-Taliban described by Pajhwak as "authoritative" told the news agency on 18 May. "Both organizations [neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda] -- having a sneaking suspicion the old guard may cut a deal with the government as part of the ongoing reconciliation drive -- have named new leaders in southeastern provinces," the agency reported. According to the source, Seraj al-Din Haqqani, son of a former Taliban regime minister Jalal al-Din Haqqani, will spearhead the efforts of the neo-Taliban in Paktiya, Paktika, and Khost provinces. "Similarly, Mau'lem Mohammad Zaman has unanimously been chosen as Haqqani's deputy," the source told Pajhwak. Abu'l Laith al-Jazairi has been picked to lead Al-Qaeda in Paktiya, Paktika, and Khost, while Abu'l Ikhlas has been put in charge of foreign fighters in Logar, close to Kabul. According to the source, the neo-Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Hizb-e Islami, led by former Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, have formed an alliance in northeastern Konar and Nuristan provinces. AT
FEMALE FORMER AFGHAN TV PRESENTER FOUND DEAD
A former Tolu Television presenter Shaima Rezai was found dead in her home in Kabul on 18 May, Pazhwak reported on 19 May. She was reportedly shot. An anonymous relative of the victim told Pazhwak that Rezai's body also showed signs of beating. Kabul police, while confirming Rezai's murder, have not provided any further details, but have detained two of her brothers in connection with the investigation. Rezai presented Tolu's music program called Hop, but left her job for unknown reasons earlier this year, Jowzjan Aina Television reported on 18 May. AT
EUROPE, U.S. SAY THEY ARE UNITED OVER IRAN
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told a press conference in Washington on 17 May that Europe and the United States are united in their efforts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, and there will no trans-Atlantic "split" reminiscent of the war in Iraq, Reuters reported the same day. Rice said U.S. backing for EU negotiations over Iranian nuclear activities means "we've come to a united approach in dealing with Iran," Reuters reported. She said the talks Britain, France, and Germany (the EU-3), have begun will "give Iran a chance to do what Iran needs to do." But the EU-3 and the United States are "agreed on the action...we reluctantly but necessarily have to take," if the talks fail, Straw said. That is likely in the first stage to be a referral to the International Atomic Energy Agency, then the UN Security Council, if Iran acts on a stated bid to resume some nuclear-enrichment related activities, part of a process that could theoretically allow it to make bombs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, and 18 May 2005). According to Straw, negotiators are to meet on 23 or 24 May, probably in Paris, agencies reported. VS
IRAN MAY POSTPONE, BUT WILL NOT CANCEL, NUCLEAR PLANS
Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani, who is to negotiate for Iran in Paris, told Reuters in Tehran on 18 May that Iran may postpone "for a few weeks" its decision to resume nuclear activities if talks with the EU-3 go well, but will not reverse that decision. He said Iran stands by its decision to convert uranium into gas, in an initial stage of the fuel-production cycle, at a plant in Isfahan in central Iran. However, he said that this should not be a problem because Iran is not proceeding with the next stage, which is to enrich the gas to levels that could have potential military uses, Reuters reported. The decision to resume conversion activities in Isfahan "is irreversible," and Iran could only discuss the conditions and timing of the resumption, Reuters quoted him as saying. "There are no other issues negotiable," he said. VS
DAILY, AGENCY COMPLAIN ABOUT RUDE LEGISLATOR
The daily "Sharq" and ILNA have complained about a conservative legislator who verbally abused the press and manhandled a correspondent in parliament on 17 May, Radio Farda and "Sharq" reported on 18 May. The deputy, Mehdi Kuchakzadeh, was angered by a "Sharq" report on 16 May stating that he walked toward the podium in a threatening manner on 15 May, presumably to silence another deputy speaking in support of the presidential candidacy of Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who is considered a moderate conservative. Kuchakzadeh said he never left his seat and the report is "fictitious," "Sharq" reported. On 17 May, he grabbed the "Sharq" journalist by the chin in parliament and "repeatedly pushed him," "Sharq" reported on 18 May. According to Radio Farda, he called the journalists watching him "liars" and newspaper editors "a bunch of rotten people." The "Sharq" editor has written to the parliamentary speaker and asked that Kuchakzadeh be disciplined, while ILNA has asked for an apology, Radio Farda reported. On 18 May, Kuchakzadeh told parliament that newspapers have a list of politicians, including himself, whom they intend to discredit, Radio Farda reported the same day. VS
LEADERS DISCUSS STATE ANTICORRUPTION DRIVE
The heads of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches of government, and officials including the finance and intelligence ministers, met in Tehran on 18 May to discuss the work of the Headquarters to Fight Economic Corruption, ISNA reported the same day. The body coordinates the anticorruption measures of state agencies, and makes relevant policy proposals, the state inspectorate chief Mohammad Niazi told ISNA after the meeting. President Mohammad Khatami also told the press on 18 May that government agencies have done "what they can" to fight "pernicious" and "extensive" corruption, but cannot eliminate it "overnight," ISNA reported. He said his successor should fight corruption and "be honest," observing that "knowledge is better than money." Parliamentary Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel interjected that "if knowledge were better than money, we would not have such a problem with...corruption," ISNA reported. Haddad-Adel added that officials are now more familiar with corruption and its causes, after studying it for the past two or three years. One of the causes of corruption in state bodies, according to state inspectorate chief Niazi, is "complicated" regulations, ISNA reported. VS
ASSASSINATIONS OF IRAQI OFFICIALS CONTINUE
Insurgents gunned down an Iraqi Oil Ministry official outside his Baghdad home on 19 May, international media reported. Ali Hamid, who worked as a director-general at the ministry, was attacked as he left for work, Al-Jazeera television reported. Meanwhile, a car bomb detonated in Mosul, wounding one adult and two children, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Gunmen also stormed the home of Muhammad al-Allaq, an aide to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on 19 May, killing al-Allaq. He is the second representative of al-Sistani to be killed in the past week. The Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility on 18 May for the assassination of Interior Ministry Major General Ibrahim Khamamas, who was killed outside his home on 18 May; his wife was injured in the attack, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. Intelligence officer Razzaq Ubayd Hindi and his wife were killed in Al-Hillah on 18 May. Their child, who was traveling with them when their vehicle was attacked, was wounded, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 18 May. Unidentified gunmen also killed Salah Niyazi, an official with the Youth and Sports Ministry, outside his Baghdad home on 18 May, Al-Sharqiyah reported. KR
SUNNI CLERIC LASHES OUT AT BADR FORCES
Muslim Scholars Association head Harith al-Dari accused the Badr Brigades, the armed wing of the Shi'ite-led Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), of being behind the recent assassinations of Sunni clerics in Iraq, Al-Arabiyah television reported on 18 May. He also claimed that Badr forces are responsible for "besieging" Palestinians in Al-Baladiyat "in a bid to displace them" and criticized the transitional Interior Ministry for using Badr forces to back security personnel. "Not only did [Badr] assassinate Sunnis and Shi'ites, it assassinated anyone it felt opposed to it, be they armed or unarmed," he said. Hadi al-Amir, secretary-general of the Badr Organization (the Badr Brigades changed its name to Badr Organization following the disarming of militias under the Coalition Provisional Authority [see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 September 2003]) told Al-Arabiyah on 18 May that al-Dari's comments were "reckless" statements that "encourage terrorism and set a low price on Iraqi blood." Referring to al-Dari's son, he said: "Muthanna Harith al-Dari perceives al-Zarqawi's terrorist and criminal operations as justified and religiously warranted." He said that the Badr Organization has been disarmed and logically could not be behind the attacks since Shi'ites, not Sunnis, are targeted in the attacks. KR
TERRORIST LEADER PURPORTEDLY JUSTIFIES KILLING OF MUSLIMS...
In a 75-minute audiotape attributed to Al-Qaeda-affiliated leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and posted to a jihadist website on 18 May (http://www.muslm.net/vb), the speaker claims to have religious justification for the killing of innocent Muslims in the fight against multinational forces. The speaker in the audiotape interpreted events in Islamic history and used the work of Islamic scholars to justify his argument, saying: "There is no doubt that God has ordered us to attack, fight and kill the nonbelievers with every means possible to achieve our goal. The mujahedin are thereby allowed to resort to all the means possible to take away the souls of the nonbelievers, cleanse the earth from their filth, and alleviate the harm they would cause Muslims. If it happens that this means killing...[the innocent] among women, children, and nonbelievers...then this is permissible even if it leads to killing a number of Muslims that happen to be near the scenes of operations for some reason or another." The speaker said that while killing a Muslim is considered an "evil act," "sometimes you cannot avoid this evil act when fighting a bigger evil." KR
...AND ATTACKS SHI'A FOR BETRAYING SUNNIS
The speaker in the audiotape also criticized Shi'ite Iraqis for their "allegiance" to multinational forces and what he termed their betrayal of Islam and the Sunni fight. The speaker, alleged to be al-Zarqawi, listed a number of operations purportedly carried out by the Badr Brigades in the 1980s and 1990s against the Hussein regime that left scores of civilians dead, and asked why those attacks were never condemned. "The reality is those [Shi'ite hypocrites] do not care about the welfare of the Muslims or their lives. Their only objective is to please their masters among the apostates and the crusaders," he said, adding: "Has anyone ever dared to speak up and expose the crimes of these military rejectionists, like the Badr forces?" He also accused the Badr Brigades of displacing Sunni families from southern Iraq, occupying Sunni mosques, killing doctors and teachers, and of "joining the crusaders in raping Sunni women." He also accused the Mandaeans and Sabeans of being "devil-worshippers." He said that the only reason why Assyrians and Chaldeans have not been targeted by Sunni Islamists is because they do not appear to have joined multinational forces in their fight against the insurgency, adding: "They did not play the despicable role that the Shi'a played." He later added: "By God, the malicious Shi'a are worse than our enemies, the crusaders." KR