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Newsline - May 24, 2005

President Vladimir Putin on 23 May stated categorically that there will be no territorial negotiations with the Baltic states, "Komsomolskaya pravda" and other Russian media reported on 24 May. Visiting the editorial offices of "Komsomolskaya pravda" on the occasion of the daily's 80th anniversary, Putin said that Latvia will "get a dead ass's ears" if it continues to claim the Pytalovo Raion of Pskovskaya Oblast. "During the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia gave up tens of thousands of square kilometers of its rightful territories," Putin said. "So now it is completely unacceptable to hear people claiming that we must give up another five kilometers here or there." RC

During the same meeting at "Komsomolskaya pravda," President Putin criticized Tbilisi for demanding the rapid pullout of Russian military bases from Georgia, but said that the forces will be withdrawn. He added that the withdrawal is not militarily significant for Russia, but is "not very good" from a political point of view. "It means that our neighbors do not want our military presence," he said. "But it would be even worse if we tried at all costs to prevent them from exercising their sovereign rights." "We would not want to see that after our departure some military contingents and bases of third countries appeared," Putin said. "This is our understanding and it affects our security." Top Georgian officials have said repeatedly that the country will not host any foreign bases after the Russian withdrawal. RC/LF

During the same visit to "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 23 May, President Putin praised the paper as one of the most economically successful print-media outlets in the country. "'Komsomolskaya pravda' is one of the few newspapers that has managed to take the first step toward making the newspaper profitable," Putin said. He added that the government is trying "not to put not only 'Komsomolskaya pravda' but other media as well in a difficult economic position." "We have worked out a position that comes down to the fact the press can only be really independent when it is economically free," he said. Asked how he responds to criticism, Putin said that "everything depends on the content and form of the criticism." "Very often, the criticism seems to have been made to order and I know very well who is issuing such orders. There aren't so many of them.... But there are also times when I get angry at myself because the criticism is objective and more or less correctly presented -- it points out errors," Putin said. "And if I find that there is a mistake, a shortcoming, that something wasn't done on time or wasn't done correctly, then of course I look to myself. In such cases, as a rule, I am grateful to the authors because they have helped me correct some mistake or other. That is useful work." RC

Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov on 24 May called on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to take an active role in securing the legal rights of ethnic minorities in Latvia and Estonia, reported. Fedotov made the demand at a plenary session of the OSCE's Economic Forum in Prague. He charged that 460,000 Russian-speakers in Latvia and 150,000 in Estonia face discrimination as "second-class citizens" in their own country. Fedotov said that Russia, as a multiethnic state, has made the defense of the rights and interests of ethnic minorities "one of the most important aspects of its state policy." He urged the OSCE to develop and implement a concrete project for ensuring the rights of national minorities in Latvia and Estonia. RC

More than 60 percent of Russian citizens have a negative attitude toward immigrants from other countries, a new survey by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) has found, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 22 May. Organizers of a national human rights conference in Kazan on 21-22 May said that about 40 percent of Russians are "infected with xenophobia," the daily reported. They further charged that law-enforcement officials are not doing enough to combat xenophobia and in many cases are sympathetic with racist and nationalist views. Kazan-based human rights activist Aleksandr Brod said on 21 May that there are 50,000 skinheads in Russia and 100 nationalist newspapers. He claimed that there were 44 ethnically motivated murders in Russia last year. Human rights advocates identified 300 ethnically motivated crimes in Russia in 2004, Brod said, but charges were filed in only 70 of them. Of those, he added, only 10 went to trial and only four convictions were secured. Brod added that activists are particularly concerned about increasing anti-Islamic sentiments. A Moscow human rights organization on 23 May called for tougher punishments for ethnically motivated crimes after the recent murders of three Armenians in the Sverdlovsk Oblast town of Verkhnyaya Pyshma, Interfax reported. RC

The reading of the verdict in the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and his fellow defendants continued in Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court on 24 May for the seventh day, Russian and international media reported. Defense lawyers on 23 May noted that the court had considerably accelerated its reading of the 1,000-page document and expressed hope that the process would be completed by the end of this week, "The Moscow Times" reported on 24 May. Tamara Morshchakova, an adviser to the Constitutional Court, told the daily that she believes the verdict is now the longest in post-Soviet history and that she believes the Moscow court received "an order" to speed up its reading. RIA-Novosti reported on 24 May that defense lawyer Robert Amsterdam was briefly prevented from entering the courtroom after security guards demanded that he present documents proving that he is working for Khodorkovskii. Amsterdam told the news agency that he had attended the hearings for the preceding six days without needing to produce such documents. A bailiff later ordered the guards to admit Amsterdam. RC

A 21 May report by the Institute of International Finance (IIF) argues that the Yukos case could produce a slowdown in economic growth throughout eastern and central Europe next year, according to the IIF website ( The IIF predicts that economic growth in the region will be 4.1 percent in 2005 and 4.5 percent in 2006, down from 5.2 percent in 2004, and says that the main factor in the slowdown is the worsening investment climate in Russia. RC

The government has filed a criminal case on charges of abuse of office against former Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Kolotukhin, "Vedomosti" reported on 24 May. Kolotukhin oversaw Russia's foreign debt during much of the tenure of former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. He resigned from the government on 13 September 2004. According to Kolotukhin's lawyer, the case involves a mechanism through which Kolotukhin allegedly arranged to have the state monopoly Unified Energy Systems (EES) participate in the repayment of the Soviet Union's debt to the Czech Republic. Analysts cited by the paper noted that Kolotukhin is considered a close associate of Kasyanov and the case against him could be a Kremlin warning to Kasyanov not to criticize the government too harshly. "Opening a case against Kolotukhin is a message from the Kremlin to Kasyanov," Center for Political Technologies Deputy Director Aleksei Makarkin told the daily. "Therefore the former prime minister must conduct his political campaign very carefully." Recently a Duma deputy called for the legislature to request information from law-enforcement agencies about possible illegal activities during Kasyanov's tenure (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). RC

Army General Yurii Baluevskii, head of the armed forces General Staff, said on 23 May that Japan should not be concerned about upcoming Sino-Russian military exercises, Interfax reported. "The positive experience that is already being gained in this region -- and I have in mind the forthcoming joint exercise with China -- can and must be gained with the armed forces of Japan," Baluevskii said after talks in Moscow with Hajime Massaki, chairman of Japan's Joint Staff Council. Massaki told Interfax that Japan would like to conduct joint sea, land, and air exercises with Russia and to step up bilateral military exchanges. Russia and China are scheduled to hold their first-ever joint exercises in September. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on 23 May that Russia sees Japan as a candidate for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, if that body is expanded, Interfax reported, citing the Kyoto news agency. However, he stressed that it is important to achieve the "broadest possible consensus" on the expansion question to avoid a split within the United Nations. RC

Unified Russia won a plurality in the 22 May legislative elections in Magadan Oblast, Russian media reported on 24 May. According to official results, the pro-Kremlin party won 29 percent of the vote, while the Party of Pensioners came in second with 20 percent. The Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) placed third with 17 percent and the Communist Party also gained representation by polling 13 percent. Sixteen percent voted "against all" candidates, Interfax reported, and turnout was 36 percent. The result was considered a remarkable achievement for the Party of Pensioners, which was only allowed to participate in the election after a Russian Supreme Court ruling just one week before the voting. All of the opposition parties in the election complained that they were systematically denied access to the local media. RC

Leaders of all factions in the outgoing parliament of the Republic of Adygeya met on 23 May in Maikop with President Khazret Sovmen, but failed to persuade him to revoke his decree of 18 May dissolving the legislature, reported on 24 May. The rationale Sovmen cited for that decision was that the parliament adopted budget legislation that violated federal norms, but "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 May that Sovmen was afraid that the legislature would vote to downgrade his official title from president to governor. Moreover, deputies recently supported a motion calling for a vote of no confidence in Sovmen, according to on 20 May. Opposition parties scheduled a protest demonstration for 24 May, but then postponed it after the republican Prosecutor's Office protested Sovmen's decree, saying it violates federal law. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak is expected in Maikop on 24 May to meet with Sovmen, reported on 23 May. LF

Taron Markarian, the 27-year-old son of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, was elected on 22 May the head of the local council of Yerevan's northern Avan district, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Taron Markarian ran unopposed and garnered 97 percent of the vote; voter turnout was estimated at 42 percent. He was backed by the Republican Party of Armenia, of which his father is chairman. LF

Speaking to RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 23 May on the eve of a visit to the United States, former Prime Minister and opposition Hanrapetutiun party Chairman Aram Sargsian questioned Armenia's close military ties with Russia, predicting that the CIS Collective Security Treaty founded in 1992 will last "five [more] years at most." He also said that Russia, which has backed such authoritarian leaders as former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, "has nothing to offer" Armenia, whereas the West offers assistance in democratization and in preventing the rigging of national elections. LF

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov summoned Russian Ambassador Petr Burdykin on 23 May and handed over a formal note expressing Baku's concern at the prospect that the Russian forces currently stationed at two military bases in Georgia may be redeployed to Armenia, Reuters and reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 20 May 2005). The note warned that such a redeployment could undermine both regional stability and the friendship and mutual trust that are hallmarks of Azerbaijani-Russian relations. LF

Three Azerbaijani ships with a cargo of equipment for the BP global energy firm that have been detained for months in the Russian port of Azov were finally granted permission on 23 May to enter the Volga-Don canal en route for the Caspian, reported on 24 May quoting Interfax-Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005). LF

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on 23 May described as "regrettable" the Azerbaijani authorities' recourse two days earlier to violence to prevent opposition supporters from participating in a planned rally and march in Baku, Turan reported on 24 May. Boucher said that violence ran counter to a decree issued 10 days earlier by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev affirming the right to peaceful assembly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2005). Also on 23 May, the website quoted the newspaper "Realnyi Azerbaydzhan" as alleging that Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, which was one of the co-organizers of the demonstration, deliberately exaggerated the number of participants which, according to the paper, did not exceed 500. LF

Reporters without Borders Secretary-General Robert Menard has written to President Aliyev demanding that police investigate the circumstances in which Farid Teymurkhanli, a journalist with the daily "Ayna/Zerkalo" was assaulted and beaten while covering the opposition protest in Baku on 21 May, Turan reported on 24 May. Teymurkhanli was wearing an over-jacket provided by the Press Council clearly identifying him as a journalist. Following talks on 23 May, it was agreed that the Baku police and the Press Council will conduct a joint investigation into the incident, Turan reported. LF

A Russian delegation headed by Ambassador Igor Savolskii flew to Tbilisi on 23 May for two days of talks aimed at reaching agreement on the time frame for the closure of the two remaining Russian bases in Georgia, Russian and Georgian media reported. Savolskii told journalists at the Tbilisi airport that the issue of financial compensation, which the Georgian parliament has raised, will not be discussed, Interfax reported. Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze was quoted by the weekly "Kviris palitra" as saying that the most recent Russian proposal is an improvement on the preceding one, and that she believes a compromise agreement will be reached. She said it is "not important" whether the bases are closed by 1 January 2008, as Tbilisi demanded earlier, or by 1 May. Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze, who heads the Georgian delegation at the talks, told Caucasus Press on 23 May that the two sides' positions have drawn closer but unspecified points of disagreement remain. LF

The Conservative Party held its constituent congress in Tbilisi on 23 May, subsuming the Union of National Forces and the Union for Georgia's Unity, Caucasus Press and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 September and 9 December 2004). Delegates narrowly elected Conservative Party leader Koba Davitashvili, a former member of President Mikheil Saakashvili's National Movement, to head the new party, which Davitashvili said will promote genuine democracy. He called on other political parties to align with the Conservatives for the next parliamentary election. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev told journalists in Aktau on 23 May that Kazakhstan's plan to export oil through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline is a "necessity," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Noting that Kazakhstan already exports oil through the Caspian Pipeline Consortium and the Atyrau-Samara routes, Nazarbaev added, "Now we are opening a new branch -- through the Caspian to Russia and Baku, which goes on to the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. This is a great necessity for us." The report noted that Kazakhstan is expected to formalize its decision to join the BTC pipeline project during Nazarbaev's 24-25 May visit to Azerbaijan. DK

Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev signed a decree on 23 May transforming the Border Service into border troops under Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The troops will be under the command of the first deputy chairman of the SNB, which has been asked to present comprehensive plans by 1 October for structuring the country's national security agencies. The decree on the formation of border troops within the SNB follows a recent parliamentary resolution calling for the strengthening of Kyrgyzstan's borders in the wake of unrest in neighboring Uzbekistan and the arrival of more than 500 Uzbek refugees in Kyrgyzstan. DK

Only days after Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry asked Kyrgyzstan to tighten border security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2005), Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry responded with a note to Uzbekistan on 23 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Kyrgyzstan stressed that it took unilateral measures to increase controls along its border with Uzbekistan last week. Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry denied that any weapons or foreign forces have crossed from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, noting also that it could not confirm the confiscation of 73 firearms from Uzbek citizens in Kyrgyzstan. Uzbek President Islam Karimov had made those claims on 17 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). DK

The Kyrgyz human rights group Citizens Against Corruption has announced that 491 Uzbek citizens are now registered as asylum seekers at a refugee camp in Kyrgyzstan's Suzak District, reported on 23 May. They include 85 women, 21 children, and 12 prison inmates. Thirty-seven individuals with Kyrgyz citizenship were allowed to go home on 21 May. The Kyrgyz government must now decide by 28 May whether or not to grant the asylum seekers refugee status. Citizens Against Corruption recommended after a visit to the camp that the 491 individuals be granted refugee status and cautioned against their return to Uzbekistan. Abdysatar Erejepov, deputy head of Kyrgyzstan's Border Service, told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 23 May that there are now 490 Uzbek citizens in the Suzak refugee camp. Erejepov noted, "We have sent back 86 people who illegally crossed our border in Osh, Aravan, and the Kara-Suu area" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). DK

Avazbek Atakhanov, spokesman for acting Kyrgyz President Bakiev, told reporters on 23 May that Bakiev has not held talks on establishing a new Russian military base in the Kyrgyz city of Osh, Interfax-AVN reported. Atakhanov said that while Bakiev met with a Russian State Duma delegation on 19 May, "The issue of creating a military base was not discussed at that meeting." The Osh-based newspaper "Ekho Osha" recently reported that Modest Kolerov, the head of a newly created department for foreign ties in the Russian presidential administration, said that Russia would soon open a 1,000-man military base in Osh, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 23 May. Interfax quoted a Russian Defense Ministry source as saying, "There are no plans today to increase Russia's military presence in the Central Asian region." Anvar Artykov, governor of Osh Province, said on 24 May that Russian and Kyrgyz officials have been discussing a second Russian base in Kyrgyzstan to help combat terrorism, AP reported. DK

Foreign ministers of the European Union issued a statement in Brussels on 23 May condemning the Uzbek government's "excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate use of force" in Andijon on 13 May, Reuters reported. The ministers also expressed hope there will be an international investigation of the case, although Uzbek President Islam Karimov has thus far rejected the idea (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2005). Jean Asselborn, foreign minister of EU President Luxembourg, said on 23 May, "If President Karimov does not accept an international inquiry...we have referred to all of the diplomatic means that can be used to exert pressure." British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on 23 May, "We can bring a great deal of pressure to bear on Uzbekistan." But EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said on 23 May that the EU does not plan to suspend annual aid of 10 million euros ($12.6 million) to Uzbekistan, AP reported. Ferrero-Waldner said, "What would we achieve by suspending the aid?...For the time being, there is no other way than to try to engage President Karimov in some sort of dialogue and call for an independent investigation." DK

Vasila Inoyatova, head of the Uzbek human rights organization Ezgulik, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 23 May that at least one independent estimate of the death toll in Andijon on 13 May exceeds 1,000. In a 22 May press release, Ezgulik reported that a visitor to the Andijon morgue saw employees filling out paperwork for a body numbered 1,007. The official death toll remains 167, while an independent estimate by the unregistered opposition party Ozod Dehqonlar (Free Farmers) puts the number of dead at 745. DK

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch called in a 24 May press release for the freeing of Andijon-based Saidjahon Zainabitdinov, who it said has been held by Uzbek police since 21 May. The rights group stated, "The arrest raises serious concerns about a growing crackdown against activists and others in the wake of events in Andijan [Andijon]." The press release noted that other Uzbek human rights activists have experienced heightened pressure from the authorities after the violent events in Andijon on 13 May. Zainabitdinov was an important source during those events, and spoke frequently to Western news agencies about the situation in Andijon. DK

A district court in Minsk on 23 May opened a trial of opposition politicians Mikalay Statkevich and Pavel Sevyarynets for their role in staging unsanctioned protests in the wake of the controversial constitutional referendum and legislative election on 17 October 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, 21, and 22 October 2004), Belapan reported. If convicted, they may face up to three years in prison. "This trial is absolutely political, this is an effort to purge [the political arena] ahead of the 2006 presidential election. I'm ready for the harshest ruling possible," Sevyarynets said. Statkevich reportedly waived his right to legal counsel and said he will not answer any questions during the hearing. Statkevich, who planned to run for president in 2006, will be barred from the ballot if he is convicted. JM

Opposition politician Andrey Klimau will stand trial on 6 June on charges of organizing an unauthorized protest in Minsk on 25 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 March 2005), Belapan reported on 23 May. Klimau is also accused of insulting President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, in a trial that opened in early April but was later adjourned indefinitely. Klimau, who has been held in custody since 22 April, reportedly waived his right to legal counsel and refused to study his case file and answer investigators' questions. Meanwhile, prosecutors on 23 May formally charged former dissident lawmaker Syarhey Skrabets, who was arrested on 15 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 May 2005), with attempting to offer a bribe. Moreover, prosecutors in Minsk have reopened a slander case against lawyer and human rights activist Hary Pahanyayla on charges of insulting President Lukashenka during an interview with Sweden's TV 4 channel last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). JM

Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko on 23 May visited hospitalized lawmakers Tamara Proshkuratova and Nestor Shufrych from the opposition Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) and apologized to them for the behavior of "his Uzhhorod colleagues," Interfax reported, quoting the Interior Ministry's spokeswoman. Proshkuratova and Shufrych were hospitalized after they reportedly were beaten by a riot-police squad in Uzhhorod on 20 May, during a visit to see hospitalized former Transcarpathian Oblast Governor Ivan Rizak (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). "We are learning democracy," Lutsenko reportedly said while assuring the lawmakers that a probe into the incident in Uzhhorod will be fair. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada have managed to collect more than 150 signatures in order to hold an emergency session on 25 May to consider the treatment of Proshkuratova and Shufrych by police in Uzhhorod. JM

Anatoliy Kinakh said in Moscow on 23 May that Ukraine will certainly take part in the creation of the Single Economic Space with Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Kinakh made his comments during a session of the CIS Economic Council. "This is a unique opportunity for creating favorable conditions for trade cooperation, creating new jobs, and increasing revenue for the budget. The first stage of the Single Economic Space formation -- setting up a free-trade zone -- is vital for Ukraine," Kinakh said. He also said in Moscow that it is "inadvisable" for Ukraine to build a new oil refinery in Odesa, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported, quoting Kinakh's spokesperson. Last week Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko pledged to build an oil refinery in Odesa in the next 18 months in order to avoid fuel crises under conditions in which "90 percent of [Ukraine's] oil market is held by two or three Russian companies." JM

Reuters reported from the UN on 23 May that its journalists have seen a copy of a report on Kosova that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan intends to make public soon. The report calls for launching a review of Kosova's status in mid-2005. As in his previous remarks on the topic, Annan reportedly said that he is not completely pleased with the progress the Kosovars have made on meeting the international community's standards. But, in an apparent departure from his earlier assessments, the news agency cited Annan as saying that the status-review process should start in the summer of 2005 because he is optimistic that "continued and effective progress" is being made. "It should be clearly understood that the outcome of the comprehensive review is not a foregone conclusion," Annan reportedly wrote. "During and beyond this comprehensive review, the representatives of Kosovo's provisional institutions and Kosovo's political leaders will be expected to pursue and strengthen their efforts to implement the standards, and will continue to be assessed on this basis," the agency quoted him as saying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 November 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 20 May 2005). PM

Montenegro's governing coalition appears to have won 19 out of 32 seats in Budva's local election held on 22 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported the following day. Final results are expected soon. Several coalition leaders said that they regard the election results as a barometer of pro-independence sentiment, with a referendum on independence widely expected in 2006. Some pro-Belgrade opposition leaders told RFE/RL that the coalition undercut the opposition by working closely with Serbian President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party. Tadic's father, Ljubomir Tadic, said that the opposition has nobody to blame but themselves. He charged that they "did nothing" and let Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic "constantly beat them." Montenegrin coastal towns like Budva are traditionally sympathetic to pro-independence aspirations, but many former Yugoslav military personnel and other Serbs have settled in Adriatic communities in recent decades, somewhat altering the political landscape there. PM

Amor Masovic, who heads the Commission for Missing Persons of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Croat-Muslim federation, said in Sarajevo on 23 May that Carla Del Ponte, who is chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes commission, should quit if she refuses to come to ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in July, Hina reported. Del Ponte recently said that she will not attend the ceremony honoring the up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males killed by Serbian forces if the leading indictees -- former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and his commander, former General Ratko Mladic -- remain at large. Masovic called her reason for staying away from Srebrenica "unacceptable," adding that instead she should resign her post in recognition of the tribunal's own failure to get the indictees arrested. In related news, Hina reported from Zagreb that Del Ponte will visit Croatia on 2-3 June to assess progress in catching fugitive indictee and former General Ante Gotovina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2005). PM

Several Serbian leaders on 23 May praised the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) for holding its annual assembly in Belgrade, the first major international event to take place there since 1989, Reuters reported. Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said that "the decision by the EBRD to hold the annual meeting in Belgrade sends a strong and clear message from the world that it has recognized the great progress we have made" in ending Serbia's international pariah status. Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus noted that "the mood of the country has improved, and the EBRD conference contributed a lot to that." He added that "people [in Serbia] do not feel they are isolated, that they are treated differently [from people in other countries]. That is really a helping hand that we received from the EBRD conference." The news agency added, however, that the EBRD had earlier said it would seek a different venue if Serbia did not heed the demands of the EU and NATO to improve cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, which it did in the first months of 2005 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). The last major international event held in Belgrade was the 1989 summit of the largely antiquated Non-Aligned Movement. PM

Moldova's Electronic Media Association (APEL) has concluded following a monitoring of programs by the Teleradio-Moldova national broadcasting company that the broadcaster lacks professionalism in its operations, Infotag and Flux reported on 23 May. APEL expert Catalina Scobioala told journalists that Teleradio-Moldova's Moldova 1 television channel and Radio Moldova provide mostly conflict-free news that are usually obtained from a single source. "In their news programs, 80 percent of the news is from or about Chisinau, and more than 75 percent of the people mentioned in them are representatives of the country's leadership and the ruling Communist Party," Scobioala said. She stressed that Teleradio-Moldova journalists usually do not draw on alternative sources of information and rarely verify the information they receive from the single source. "Teleradio-Moldova thus violates and ignores its status as a public-service broadcaster," she added. APEL monitored Teleradio-Moldova broadcasts during April. JM

Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev's recent suggestion that foreign intelligence services are seeking ways to overthrow the current Belarusian government has focused new attention on Belarus's political opposition, particularly its youngest members, since youths were at the forefront of recent colored revolutions in the region.

Judging by the comments of Belarusian opposition members who spoke recently at RFE/RL's Washington, D.C., bureau, the FSB might have reason to be concerned about the stability of Alyasandr Lukashenka's regime. Siarhei Salash, chairman of Skryzhavanne (Crossroads), an independent NGO dedicated to educating and training political active youth, declared that he is "absolutely sure our Belarusian youth will be very active in [Belarus's 2006 presidential] elections. They will be just as passionate as the youth in Georgia and Ukraine were and other countries of the former Soviet bloc. I am very hopeful that 2006 will be the year of great changes in our country."

Asked whether Belarus has some of the key elements that made the Rose and Orange revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine possible, Olha Stuzhinskaya, coordinator of We Remember!, an independent NGO dedicated to informing the Belarusian and international community about the course of investigations into disappearances, noted that Ukraine was already a lot more democratic than Belarus: it had opposition members in the parliament and at least one independent television station. "We do not expect the same scenario in Belarus," Stuzhinskaya said. "Probably there will be much more blood."

Salash, for his part, agreed that Belarus "will not have the same kind of revolution as happened in Ukraine and Georgia." He continued, "Concerning the security forces, Lukashenka has a full circle of people who are funded from an undisclosed budget. I am absolutely convinced that nothing will stop these people." He concluded that the Belarusian opposition would need to get much more than even 50,000 people out on the street. "I think hundreds of thousands will have to go out into the streets, and then the opposite process will take place," he said "Those [people] who are protecting Lukashenka right now will be protecting the people from Lukashenka."

For Salash, a key to getting large numbers of Belarusians to act publicly is finding a single presidential candidate from the democratic opposition around whom people can unite. Salash said the process of selecting a joint democratic candidate is ongoing, although it has been "somewhat dragged out." Stuzhinskaya, however, suggested that delay is not necessarily bad because the "danger exists to a very high degree" that once a single candidate is identified, he or she will become a target for the authorities. United Civic Party Chairman Anatol Lyabedzka told Belapan on 18 May that eight presidential hopefuls are going to participate in an effort to select a single candidate, and they plan to hold a congress by 1 October.

In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 19 May, Alyaksandr Kazulin, the leader of the unregistered Will of the People movement, echoed these youths' sentiments. He declared that Lukashenka would no longer be president next year.

The wild card, however, in all of the calculations of Belarus's opposition is what role Russia would play. Kazulin believes that "Russian will not come to Lukashenka's aid and will not allow blood to be spilled" in the event that the current authorities in Belarus find themselves in a crisis. "Moscow's attitude to the Belarusian people will always remain positive, friendly, and sincere," Kazulin told Ekho Moskvy, "but its attitude to Lukashenka is different -- a fact demonstrated by the Belarusian leader's absence at the Victory parade [in Moscow]." He concluded, "I have no doubts that Russia will come to the aid of the Belarusian people, not President Lukashenka, and will play a key role in Belarus's civilized, democratic return to its true path."

Salash, however, was less hopeful. "Unfortunately, Russia is conducting a very imperialistic policy toward Belarus," Salash said. "Of course, again, talks of the union have been renewed. Of course, Putin has to pay attention to his political rating. He lost Ukraine. He lost Georgia. He doesn't know what is happening in Kyrgyzstan.... Putin will not have any kind of political future if Russia loses Belarus. And right now Russia is going to do everything in its power to support the regime. I do not believe that Russia will or can change the situation in Belarus. Of course, sometimes you can hear Putin criticize Lukashenka; however, it is very arbitrary and not part of a unified policy. However, when the time comes to realistically change something in Belarus, Putin's Russia provides all possible support to Lukashenka. It doesn't matter what kind of violations took place during the elections. The next day, Russia recognized them."

Speaking to Ekho Moskvy on 19 May, political analyst Alyaksandr Feduta suggested that Moscow would stop short of providing military assistance to the Lukashenka regime in the event of a crisis. Feduta told the station that Moscow "has made enough slip-ups and mistakes not to make this one as well."

In the meantime, Russia's FSB is paying close attention to financial and technical assistance to Belarus from the United States. In contrast to Patrushev's impression, Stuzhinskaya said the opposition is hardly awash with cash. "For the last two or three years, all of the Western donors pulled out of Belarus completely," Stuzhinskaya said. "It has had a very negative effect on civil society and on political parties." The Belarusian public has heard for the last several years from the Lukashenka regime that "the opposition is just swimming in money and being bought from special services in the U.S. and Europe, but it doesn't have the same effect anymore," she said. "The only picture that many people have of the Belarusian opposition is what they get on television; but in the last several years, people are tired of hearing the same thing and don't believe it as much as they used to.... In a complete vacuum of information, people understand that they are being lied to."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush signed a memorandum of understanding on a strategic partnership on 23 May, the second day of Karzai's four-day visit to the United States, a White House press release indicated. Bush said that both sides have been working on "for quite a while" on that partnership. Bush said the partnership "establishes regular high-level exchanges on political security and the economic interests of -- economic issues of mutual interests." The United States will "consult with Afghanistan if it perceives its territorial integrity, independence, or security is at risk," he said. Neither Bush nor Karzai, who described what he signed as "a memorandum of understading on the long-term partnership," discussed further details about their agreement or whether it includes a clause for the United States to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan. AT

Abdul Samad Khaksar has registered himself as an independent candidate in the southern Kandahar Province for the parliamentary elections scheduled for September, Kandahar TV reported on 21 May. Khaksar said he registered his name in response to public demand. Asked about the presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, something which the neo-Taliban reject, Khaksar said that his country "needs reconstruction," adding "we are not against any country that helps us," the Mazar-e Sharif-based daily "Baztab" reported on 22 May. Khaksar's registration follows that of former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, who also registered as a candidate from Kandahar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2005). AT

Two men have been found shot dead in the Sur Ghar area of Zabul Province, the Pajhwak News Agency reported on 23 May. Golabshah Alikhail, spokesman for the Zabul governor, told the news agency that the two men are citizens of Uzbekistan. On 22 May, the neo-Taliban claimed to have killed two Russian citizens in Zabul. Neo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi said that Russian passports were found on the two bodies, Pajhwak reported. AT

The Turin daily "La Stampa" reported on 23 May that Italian intelligence sources are irritated by the handling of a kidnapping case of Italian Clementina Cantoni in Kabul. Discussing the abduction on 16 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 May 2005), an unidentified Italian intelligence source said: "Let us hope that the assembly-based and media-based handling of the kidnapping is over and done with as soon as possible." The source accused Kabul's security authorities of running a circus and showing "confusion, internal differences, [and] scant professionalism." 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' release (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 and 18 November and 3 December 2004). AT

Timor Shah, the self-proclaimed kidnapper of Cantoni who has been talking to the media and security forces using his hostage's cell phone, said on 23 May that "negotiations are going ahead" and that he will release her, the Milan daily "Il Giornale," reported. AT

In a 24 May letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Guardians Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati stated that the candidacies for the 17 June presidential election of two individuals -- former Minister of Education and Training Mustafa Moin and Vice President for Physical Training Mohsen Mehralizadeh -- have been reinstated, state radio reported. Khamenei instructed the council in a 23 May letter to reconsider the applications of Moin and Mehralizadeh, ISNA, IRNA, and Radio Farda reported. 1,014 people applied to be candidates, but on 22 May the council identified only six people eligible to run for the post. Khamenei stepped in following a request from Speaker of Parliament Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel. Khamenei had also asked the Guardians Council to reconsider the disqualification of 44 percent (3,533 out of 8,145) of the candidates for the parliamentary election one year earlier, but the council only reinstated 1,160 of them. BS

Akbar Atri, a member of the Allameh faction of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, predicted in an interview with Radio Farda on 23 May that Moin will be reinstated pursuant to the supreme leader's letter. He expressed hope that on election day Iranian women will express their unhappiness with the Guardians Council's rejection of all prospective female presidential candidates. Nearly 90 women registered to be candidates and, according to Atri, the council spokesman said women do not have the power or intellect to administer society. BS

"This move is unfair, unreasonable, and illegal," Moin said on 23 May about the rejections of so many presidential candidates and before he was reinstated the following day, Mehr News Agency reported. Mehralizadeh criticized the rejection and said it is illegal, and he added that he sent a letter to this effect to the Guardians Council. Two candidates whose applications were accepted, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, also spoke out against the council's action. BS

The National Front announced on 23 May that it will boycott the 17 June presidential election because the candidacy of its leader, Ebrahim Yazdi, was rejected by the Guardians Council, Radio Farda reported. The National Front is not recognized officially as a party. National Front supporter Ahmad Sadr Hajj-Seyyed-Javadi told Radio Farda that the country faces an explosive situation and the Guardians Council's actions are making the situation worse. BS

The deputy director of Iranian state television, who was identified only by the surname Rahmani-Fazli, announced on 20 May that a poll conducted by his organization found that voter turnout in the presidential election will be approximately 70 percent, state radio reported. He did not describe the methodology of his survey. Other surveys have found that 50-60 percent of respondents intend to vote. There has been a downward trend since the turnout of more than 80 percent in 1997, with an official turnout of 51 percent in the 2004 parliamentary election. BS

Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf announced in Khuzestan Province on 23 May that he and visiting Iraqi officials have discussed the possibility of exporting Iranian electricity westward, Mehr News Agency reported. The theoretical transfers would take place from Iranian to Iraqi Kurdistan, Sarpol-i Zohab to Khaneqin, and Khuzestan to Al-Basrah. BS

A car bomb detonated in Baghdad on 24 May, killing at least two Iraqis and injuring eight, Reuters reported. The bomb reportedly targeted a police patrol, the news agency said. Some 11 people were killed in a bomb targeting a Baghdad restaurant frequented by Iraqi police on 23 May, Iraqi officials said. The attack was one in a string of attacks across the country that left more than 50 people dead. A car bomb targeted a Shi'ite mosque in Al-Mahmudiyah, south of the capital, killing at least 19, including several children. Two suicide car bombers detonated their vehicles in the residential area of Tel Afar, killing at least 15 people. Iraqi police said the target of the attack was Shi'ite Turkoman leader Hasan Bagdash. Reuters reported that the attack on Bagdash was the second assassination attempt in recent days. A bombing outside the Mosul mayor's office killed five, and an attack on a U.S. base in Samarra killed four Iraqis. KR

Baghdad's "Al-Zaman" cited Iraqi political sources in a 23 May report as saying that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proposed during her visit to Iraq last week that the constitutional drafting committee add 20 seats for Sunni participants. The 55-member committee currently allots only one seat to a Sunni. United Iraqi Alliance and National Assembly member Maryam al-Rayyis acknowledged the existence of such a proposal to "Al-Zaman" in a 22 May statement but said that no final decision has been taken on the proposal. Al-Rayyis contended that the National Assembly is capable of handling the matter, saying, "There is no need for pressure from a third party." She said that the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance has formed a committee to negotiate with Sunni Arabs for their participation in the constitutional drafting "either as advisers, who have no right to vote, or as a committee that will have an effective role in the process." Shi'ite cleric and assembly member Humam Hammudi was appointed chairman of the drafting committee and Kurdish representative Fu'ad Ma'sum deputy chairman on 23 May, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on the same day. Baha' al-A'araji will serve as rapporteur. KR

Vice President Adil Abd al-Mahdi told RFI in an exclusive interview on 23 May that Shi'ites are committed to including all Iraqis in the constitutional drafting process. "There has been a high concern in the process of preparing the constitution [draft]. I think today or tomorrow, [setting up] the [parliamentary] committee, and specifically the constitution committee, will be finished. There is a wish to include all communities of the Iraqi people." Abd al-Mahdi said from Baghdad that the committee "must represent the plurality of political streams and different governorates." "This is the desire that the representation be broad, that the constitution be prepared by experts and Iraqis who represent the Iraqi reality, and that the constitution come as a fulfillment of the wishes of all segments of the Iraqi people," he said. KR

In the same interview, Abd al-Mahdi dismissed reports of growing sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shi'a, saying that the government and Iraq's ethnic and religious groups are united in their rejection of sectarian violence. "We...denounce any strife and any sectarian conflict in Iraq. The Presidential Council supports the unity of the nation. It wants to do its best in fighting terrorism and sabotage and in the proper enforcement of justice, but we will not allow any incitement of any sectarian strife. All segments of the Iraqi people -- Sunnis and Shi'a, Arabs and Kurds, Turkomans and Christians and Assyrians -- all distance themselves from such strife. There are forces willing to provoke the strife among the Iraqi people. [Abu Mus'ab] al-Zarqawi has repeatedly announced that he wants to hijack the strife for his own goals. All communities, Sunnis and Shi'a, recognize the perpetrator or the perpetrators of this strife. Consequently, there is a unified stance of the government and a unified stance of the people." KR

Deputy Prime Minister and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) member Rowsch Nuri Shaways hosted a meeting with Sunni tribal and religious leaders at an undisclosed location on 23 May to discuss implementing a mechanism for resolving issues of importance to Sunnis, Kurdistan Satellite Television reported on the same day. Shaways said that the meeting was initiated at the request of KDP head Mas'ud Barzani, adding: "We should meet the Sunni Arabs and try to bring about amity between the different constituents of Iraqi society, particularly as the drawing up of the constitution is under way, in which they should take part in practice." Shaways said the meeting also addressed the issue of sectarian violence, which he termed "a frightful and delicate matter." "The aim of the Kurdistan leadership, particularly [Barzani], is to avoid arriving at a stand-off, and, nevertheless, to try to resolve it beforehand." Sunni leaders welcomed the Kurdish initiative. Sheikh Khalaf Alyan Khalaf, a chief in the Al-Dulaym tribe, said: "We believe the Kurds will have a positive role in resolving" the issues. KR

Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's cabinet has issued new directives slashing the number of bodyguards allotted to senior officials and ministers from 30 to 10, and cut other benefits, "Al-Zaman" reported on 23 May. The new measures will require ministers to pay a symbolic rent on their government-provided houses and have only two government vehicles at their disposal. The interim government of Iyad Allawi had provided ministers with five vehicles and 30 bodyguards. Ministers will be allowed to keep the cars and homes for five years but will lose those privileges if they reside outside Iraq for six consecutive months after leaving office. Previous rules initiated under the regime of Saddam Hussein gave ministers the right to retain public housing for 25 years; they also retained vehicles and bodyguards. "Al-Zaman" reported that up to 20 percent of government allocations to ministries has been allotted to cover security expenses. At least one former minister criticized the measure, saying it put ministers' lives in danger at a time when Iraqi officials are being increasingly targeted. The unnamed minister called the measures an attempt "to force former ministers and other senior officials to leave the country." KR