CHUBAIS QUESTIONED ON BLACKOUT
Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais spent about four hours in the late evening/morning of 26-27 May being questioned by prosecutors in connection with the 25 May blackout that struck Moscow and the surrounding region, Russian media reported. Chubais was unable to appear for questioning earlier because he was participating in a conference of CIS power officials. "The questioning lasted four hours," EES official Andrei Trapeznikov told RIA-Novosti on 27 May. "The conversation was so long because Chubais answered as broadly and in as much detail as possible all of the investigators' questions." The city prosecutor's office has opened a criminal investigation into charges of negligence in connection with the blackout (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005). RC
DEPUTIES DECLINE TO CALL FOR CHUBAIS' RESIGNATION...
The State Duma on 27 May declined to consider a Motherland-drafted resolution calling for an emergency EES shareholders' meeting at which the resignation of EES head Chubais would be demanded, RIA-Novosti reported. However, the legislature decided to create a special commission to investigate the 25 May blackout, the news agency reported. Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska said on 26 May that the Duma should only consider demanding Chubais' resignation after hearing from its own commission and the prosecutor's office. Chubais told Channel One on 26 May that "the authority to make a decision [about his resignation] lies with our shareholders." "As you know, the state, which has a 52.4 percent stake in our company, is our main shareholder," Chubais said. "All decisions should be made by the person who has the authority to make decisions." RC
...BUT CONTINUE TO CRITICIZE HIM
Motherland party head Dmitrii Rogozin told Ekho Moskvy on 26 May that EES head Chubais is a "notorious schemer" and "bad manager." "He has, in fact, destroyed Russia's energy system," Rogozin said. "It seems to me that it is the right time to say, 'Enough!'" Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told the radio station that Chubais and all of EES' senior management should be fired. "As for Chubais, the Duma has voted 10 times to sack him, but the party of power [Unified Russia] and [President Vladimir] Putin have always backed him," Zyuganov said. "He should have been kicked out long ago." Independent Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said that Chubais is not personally to blame for the crisis and that his political opponents are merely using the incident as a pretext to attack him. "If this resignation takes place," he said, "it will be quite obvious to me that there are political reasons behind it and the accident itself is just a suitable pretext." Former Deputy Energy Minister Viktor Kudryavyi told Radio Mayak on 26 May that Chubais has botched the reform of Russia's electricity system and has created a management team that does not include anyone "who has experience managing a big energy company." RC
NEWSPAPERS SPECULATE ON THE POLITICAL FALLOUT FROM THE BLACKOUT
"Vremya novostei" on 27 May noted that EES head Chubais is "the last director of a 'fundamental state natural monopoly' who is not a man of [President] Putin's team," and that "he remains a major shadow figure of a possible united right-liberal opposition" despite withdrawing from active political life following the December 2003 Duma elections. However, the daily argued, if Chubais is dismissed, he would be free to engage in opposition political activity in a way that he cannot as EES head. It speculated that the main victim of the blackout will be Mosenergo head Arkadii Yevstavev, who has long warned of his impending retirement. "Vremya novostei" speculated that the goal of the criminal prosecution of the case could be to enable Moscow municipal authorities to take over Mosenergo or to form a rival concern. "Izvestiya" wrote on 26 May that the political scapegoating of Chubais could prevent the authorities from concentrating on the legitimate problems with the electrical grid. Chubais's resignation "will by no means resolve the problems of Russian power engineering -- worn-out equipment, the replacement of which depends directly on the successful completion of reforms in the sector." RC
ADAMOV TO FIGHT EXTRADITION TO RUSSIA
Former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov, who was arrested in Switzerland on a U.S. warrant on 2 May, will fight extradition both to the United States and to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 May, citing Adamov's lawyer, Stefan Wehrenberg. The United States has accused Adamov of embezzling about $9 million in U.S. aid funds that were earmarked for improving security at Russia's nuclear facilities during his time as minister (1998-2001). Wehrenberg said Adamov "wants to return to his homeland as a free man" and he plans "to fight against any unfounded accusations made against him in any court." Russia is seeking Adamov's extradition in order to prevent him from falling into U.S. custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2005). Adamov intends to convince a Swiss court that his arrest was illegal. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 27 May that Russia is hoping that the Swiss court will recognize an 1873 Swiss-Russian agreement under which Russian extradition requests are to be given priority of those from other countries. RC
NASHI DECLARES ITSELF PART OF THE 'OPPOSITION'...
The pro-Kremlin youth movement Nashi has launched a new campaign against the bureaucracy, "Gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 27 May. "All bureaucrats aged 35 and older are a generation of defeatists who have done nothing to make this country competitive," Nashi co-leader Vasilii Yakemenko was quoted as saying. He said that Nashi's goal is to have all such "defeatists" replaced by Nashi members in a process that will begin in earnest in two to four years. Yakemenko said that a special management-training institute for Nashi members will begin work in Moscow in September. He added that if the group's demands are not met, they will take to the streets. "In order to get one bureaucrat fired, we can bring 30,000 people into the streets," he said. He also said that the group "might" form a political party in the run-up to the 2007 State Duma elections and compete for seats in the legislature. "We are a genuine 'opposition' to the current authorities," Yakemenko said, "in the broad sense of the word." RC
...AS NASHI LEADERS COMPLAIN OF LACK OF KREMLIN SUPPORT...
State-owned RTR television on 26 May aired a 15-minute interview with Nashi activists Aleksandr Gorodetskii and Natalya Lebedeva, who discussed the group's organization and tactics. They said that Nashi has trained "3,000 junior commissars" at its Moscow-based management program and they are now organizing Nashi activities, such as a mass rally in Moscow on 15 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). The goal of the group is to overcome the "lost generation" and show that they "believe in Russia and its perspectives," Gorodetskii said. "Our aim is to train truly professional managers and to replace the existing generation of defeatist bureaucrats who have been running the country since the 1980s," he added. Gorodetskii said that the Kremlin is providing "moral support" for Nashi, but that this is not enough. "The Kremlin should pay more attention to youth projects and youth initiatives aimed at improving our country," he said. RC
...AND COMMUNISTS QUESTION NASHI'S TACTICS
The Voronezh branch of the Communist Party has charged that Nashi activists lured local youths to the 15 May Moscow rally under false pretenses, Interfax reported on 26 May. "Young people from the Voronezh Music Pedagogical Training Institute and the Voronezh State Pedagogical University told us that Nashi invited them for a day trip to Moscow on 15 May," Communist Party official Vladimir Chistyakov said. "Instead of a day out, however, they found themselves at a rally." Chistyakov said that about 3,000 Voronezh students were taken to the rally, which was attended by 50,000-60,000 people. He said the students were herded onto a square that was then cordoned off by police and they were not allowed to leave or to speak to reporters. Immediately following the rally, they were put on buses and sent back to Voronezh. A Nashi spokesman told Interfax that the Communist Party's accusations were baseless. "I will not go into what in my view is complete fiction.... Let them give specific names, and then we'll talk," spokesman Ivan Mostovich told the news agency. RC
FROM PARTNERS TO COMPETITORS
Following the scrapping of plans to merge Gazprom and state-owned Rosneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005), the two companies have increasingly emerged as competitors, gzt.ru reported on 27 May. Both companies have announced they will compete in a license tender to develop the Sakhalin-3 deposit. Gazprom intends to submit a bid in collaboration with LUKoil, while Rosneft is partnered with India's ONGC state oil company. In addition, the website reports, the two companies may find themselves head-to-head in efforts to acquire Sibneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005). Gzt.ru reports that Rosneft has now entered into talks with Sibneft representatives about the possible purchase of an unspecified block of that company's shares. RC
MOSCOW TO BUILD NEW MOSQUES
Five new mosques are scheduled to be built in Moscow in the next few years, bringing the total in the capital to 11, Council of Muftis Chairman Ravil Gainitdin announced on 26 May, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted that the city's central mosque is currently undergoing renovation to double its size, in a project that is being funded by Russia and several unspecified Islamic states. RC
POLICE: SHOOTING OF YUGANSKNEFTEGAZ OFFICIAL MOST LIKELY 'HOOLIGANISM'
Investigators in the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous Okrug city of Nefteyugansk said on 27 May that they believe the 26 May shooting of Yuganskneftegaz Deputy General Director Sergei Burov was most likely an accident or a case of hooliganism, newsru.com reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005). Burov was shot at least once in the abdomen and remains hospitalized in stable condition following surgery, the website reported. "The incident does not seem to be an assassination attempt," an unidentified Nefteyugansk spokesman was quoted as saying. "It is possible that someone just wanted to scare Burov or that the shot was fired accidentally." Initial media reports on 26 May indicated that several shots had been fired. Interfax reported on 27 May that the authorities have appealed for any witnesses to come forward. Burov is also the head of the local branch of the Unified Russia faction. RC
CASE AGAINST RYAZAN GOVERNOR TO BE HEARD IN MOSCOW
A civil case against Ryazan Oblast Governor Georgii Shpak in which a former campaign manager is seeking the return of some 30 million rubles ($1 million) she allegedly loaned Shpak will be heard in a Moscow court, regions.ru reported on 27 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2005). Plaintiff Natalya Suchkova has charged that Shpak promised to name her deputy governor if he won the election and to implement an economic plan drawn up by a group of businesspeople who put up the 30 million rubles. Shpak's lawyers argued in a Ryazan court that the case should be heard in Moscow because that is where Shpak resides, and on 24 May the local court upheld that appeal. RC
RUSSIA HAILS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S FOREIGN BASES PLEDGE
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko lauded on 26 May Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's statement during his address earlier that day to mark the anniversary in 1918 of Georgia's independence that Georgia will not host any foreign military bases after the closure of the two remaining Russian bases on its territory, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry website (http://www.ln.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/sps/A50484DC1A4EA251C325700D003F18C5). Yakovenko added, however, that Moscow would like Tbilisi to provide formal legal written confirmation of its intention. In late February, Georgian National Security Council Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said that during recent talks on bilateral relations, the Russian side had demanded that a clause be added to the draft Russian-Georgian framework treaty formalizing Georgia's commitment not to host foreign military bases in future, but that Tbilisi rejected that proposal, according to Caucasus Press on 25 February. Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili similarly told ITAR-TASS on 26 April she sees no need to include that stipulation in the framework treaty. LF
CHECHNYA, DAGHESTAN SIGN FRIENDSHIP, COOPERATION AGREEMENT
Pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov and Daghestan State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov signed an agreement in Makhachkala on 26 May on friendship and cooperation between their respective republics, ITAR-TASS reported. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, who attended the signing ceremony, said that Moscow would like to see the maximum number of such agreements between federation subjects. Relations between Chechnya and Daghestan have been strained in recent months due to the uncoordinated activities on Daghestan's territory of the Chechen special security force subordinate to Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005). LF
CHECHNYA'S MUFTI RESIGNS, INGUSHETIAN CLERIC DETAINED
Akhmad-hadji Shamaev announced on 26 May his resignation as Chechnya's mufti, saying he will disclose the reasons for doing so at an unspecified future date, ingushetiya.ru reported. Also on 26 May, the Transport Prosecutor's office in Nalchik, capital of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, charged Valid Kishchiev, Ingushetia's deputy mufti, with entering the Russian Federation illegally. Kishchiev was detained one month ago when returning from the United Arab Emirates, and an investigation showed that he is an Iraqi citizen, Valid Abdukh-Khamid Ilyas, who came to the then Checheno-Ingush ASSR in 1991 at the personal invitation of then Chechen-Ingush President Djokhar Dudaev. The Ingushetian authorities issued him a passport in the name of Valid Kishchiev in 1994. LF
ARMENIAN MINISTER, PARLIAMENT DEPUTY DENY ALLEGED PUNCHUP
Influential Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian and parliamentarian Aramayis Grigorian (Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun) denied on 26 May media reports, apparently based on eyewitness accounts, that they brawled in the parliament chamber the previous day, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Abrahamian said he and Grigorian simply had "a businesslike conversation" during which "we may have raised our voices." Grigorian for his part asserted that "there were no punches." Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, who with other ministers attended the 25 May session, said that neither man did anything wrong. LF
KARABAKH OFFICIAL SAYS UKRAINIAN OFFER OF PEACEKEEPERS 'PREMATURE'
Masis Mailian, who is foreign minister of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, has dismissed as premature any discussion of Ukraine's offer to send a peacekeeping contingent to the Karabakh conflict zone, according to PanARMENIAN.net on 26 May as cited by Groong. Mailian recalled that under an agreement adopted at the CSCE Budapest summit in 1994, the dispatch of peacekeepers to the region is contingent on the signing of a formal peace agreement and must be approved by all three sides in the conflict. During talks in Baku on 19 May with Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said Kyiv is prepared to "provide assistance" in resolving the Karabakh conflict by sending a peacekeeping detachment to the region, Interfax reported. Also on 26 May, Azerbaijan's defense minister, Colonel General Safar Abiev, met in Baku with the French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Bernard Fassier, Turan reported. LF
AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL HINTS AT GO-AHEAD FOR PLANNED OPPOSITION RALLY
Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told Turan on 26 May that the authorities may give permission to three opposition parties to organize a rally in Baku on 4 June. The parties in question have submitted to the Baku municipal authorities a formal request for permission to hold that rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005). Also on 26 May, Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov assured Elchin Shikhly, editor of the newspaper "Ayna/Zerkalo," that he has ordered an official investigation into the beating by police of a reporter from that newspaper who sought to cover the banned opposition rally in Baku on 21 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). LF
NAKHICHEVAN JOURNALISTS APPEAL TO AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT
Independent journalists in Azerbaijan's exclave of Nakhichevan have written to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Prosecutor General Zakir Garalov, as well as to the OSCE, the Council of Europe and Western ambassadors, to protest intensifying pressure on the media by the exclave's authorities, Turan reported on 26 May. They listed as the most recent instances of such harassment the deportation of Aytekhin Alkhasli, a journalist with ANS television, on 25 May and an attempt to run down the regional correspondent for the opposition paper "Azadlyg" on 26 May. The Azerbaijani Committee to Protect Journalists issued a similar statement in Baku on 26 May condemning harassment of journalists in Nakahichevan, Turan reported on 27 May. LF
GEORGIA MARKS INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY
Some 11,500 servicemen participated in a military parade in Tbilisi on 26 May to mark the anniversary of Georgia's 1918 declaration of independence, Georgian and international agencies reported. In an anniversary address, President Mikheil Saakashvili said that Georgia's Rose Revolution in November 2003 served as the catalyst for subsequent regime change in Ukraine, the Middle East and Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. He stressed that Georgia wants peaceful and friendly relations with all neighboring states, including Russia, but added that such relations are contingent on Russia's respect for Georgia's territorial integrity. Saakashvili also stressed his intention to bring the breakaway unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia back under the control of the central Georgian government, and he pledged that "we will succeed" in celebrating a future Independence Day anniversary in Sukhum(i), the Abkhaz capital. LF
ABKHAZ OFFICIAL SAYS GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S CONFIDENCE MISPLACED
Abkhaz Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab commented to Interfax later on 26 May that President Saakashvili's prediction that he will preside over Independence Day celebrations in Sukhum "is intended for domestic consumption" and cannot be reconciled with the policies of the Abkhaz government. Abkhaz leaders point out that the republic's population voted in a referendum six years ago to endorse the republic's constitution, which defines the Republic of Abkhazia as an independent, sovereign, and democratic state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 October 1999). LF
TURKISH PREMIER VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov in Astana on 26 May, Kazinform reported. They signed three intergovernmental agreements, including an accord on cooperation in fighting terrorism and organized crime. They also attended the opening of a Kazakh-Turkish business forum. Noting that 1,100 Kazakh-Turkish joint ventures are currently active in Kazakhstan, Akhmetov said, "We have an interest in attracting more Turkish companies that are oriented toward high technologies and exports." DK
KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER TOUTS NEW OIL EXPORT POSSIBILITY
Akhmetov told journalists on 26 May that Kazakhstan plans eventually to pump 30 million tons of oil each year through the just-opened Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005), Prime-TASS reported. He said that Kazakhstan hopes to boost oil production from 2004 levels of 60 million tons to 140 million-170 million tons by 2015. Due to unspecified unresolved differences, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan failed during talks in Baku earlier this week to finalize an agreement on exports of Kazakh oil via the BTC (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2005). DK
KAZAKH DEMOCRACY COMMISSION MEETS
Kazakhstan's National Commission on Issues of Democratization and Civil Society began its fourth session on 26 May in Astana, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Commission chairman Bulat Utemuratov noted at the session's outset that the Commission has received a letter with proposals from Alikhan Baimenov, chairman of the opposition party Ak Zhol. Utemuratov said that he has invited Baimenov to participate in the session, although the latter has not yet responded. Kazakhstan's opposition forces have thus far chosen not to work with the presidential commission. DK
KYRGYZ ACTING PRESIDENT INITIATES REFORM OF STATE MEDIA
Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev has signed a resolution creating a working group to reform state media, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 26 May. Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov will chair the group. Bakiev has suggested that state-run media like the national television channel should be transformed into public media outlets. DK
OSCE OPENS ELECTION OBSERVATION MISSION IN KYRGYZSTAN
The OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) announced in a press release on the organization's web site (http://www.osce.org) on 26 May that its election observation mission for the 10 July presidential election in Kyrgyzstan has begun its work. The mission consists of 15 Bishkek-based experts and 21 long-term observers in the regions; an additional 300 short-term observers will arrive shortly before the election. Lubomir Kopaj, who will head the mission, noted on 26 May that the OSCE feels that fair elections are possible under current election legislation, akipress.org reported. He said, "Our position is that honest and fair presidential elections can be held even without the electoral code being amended. This is possible if there is political will." DK
KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES REFUGEES FORCIBLY RETURNED TO UZBEKISTAN
Addressing a conference in Bishkek on 26 May, acting Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva denied reports that Kyrgyzstan has repatriated 84 Uzbek refugees, Tribune.uz reported. She said, "Our government has taken on itself the care of all 497 Uzbek citizens who fled to us after the events of 13-14 May in Andijon." She added, "At present, we are looking for a more appropriate place for the refugee camp" -- currently located near the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in Kyrgyzstan's Suzak District -- "where people's living conditions will be more appropriate." Otunbaeva said that Kyrgyzstan has offered to hold talks with the Uzbek government on the refugee issue. Zafar Hakimov, head of the Migration Department in Kyrgyzstan's Interior Ministry, also stated that Kyrgyzstan is seeking a different location to house the refugees, Kyrgyzinfo reported on 26 May. Hakimov said that none of the refugees will be repatriated against their will. New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a statement released 27 May on its website (www.hrw.org), called on the Kyrgyz government to ensure that Uzbek refugees are not forced to return to their country. DK
HUMAN TRAFFICKING SUSPECTS ARRESTED IN TAJIKISTAN
Police at Dushanbe's airport arrested a 42-year-old woman and four young women on 24 May in an apparent human-trafficking case, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 26 May. The five were headed to the United Arab Emirates; police believe that the women were part of a prostitution ring, Avesta reported. Interior Ministry spokesman Khudoynazar Asozoda said that the five are currently being detained while their case is investigated, RFE/RL reported. He noted that this is the 16th human-trafficking arrest in 2005. DK
RIGHTS GROUPS WARN OF POSSIBLE UZBEK CRACKDOWN
International rights groups voiced fears of a crackdown in Uzbekistan as rights defenders in Uzbekistan cited increasing harassment in the wake of violence in Andijon on 13 May, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service and the United Nations' Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on 26 May. Bakhtiyor Hamroev, a Jizzakh-based human rights activist, said that a crowd of 70 people came to his house, calling him a "mercenary" and "terrorist" for providing casualty figures from Andijon that differed from official information, the BBC's Uzbek Service reported. Meanwhile, representatives of international rights groups told IRIN that the Uzbek government is tightening controls in the wake of the unrest in Andijon. Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia division, said, "We are concerned over a possible further crackdown and have already seen the beginnings of it." Representatives of Amnesty International, the International League of Human Rights, and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights echoed Denber's comments. DK
UZBEK OPPOSITION COALITION HOLDS CONFERENCE
The opposition coalition Serquyosh Uzbekistonim (My Sunny Uzbekistan) held its second conference in Tashkent on 26 May, Tribune.uz reported. The conference elected Sanjar Umarov chairman of the Sunshine Coalition. In an address to the conference, Umarov said, "The time has come for everyone to unite who is sick of the omnipotence of the executive branch, the powerlessness of the rubber-stamp parliament, and the demagoguery of the fake political parties," fergana.ru reported. Umarov said that the Sunshine Coalition is not a political party, but rather a forum for all forces that want to construct a free, secular civil society in Uzbekistan. DK
U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT DESIGNATES UZBEK GROUP A TERROR ORGANIZATION
The State Department announced in a press statement on 26 May that it has designated the Islamic Jihad Group (IJG) a terrorist organization. Describing IJG as a splinter group of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the State Department said that IJG members attacked the U.S. and Israeli embassies and the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Office on 30 July 2004. The statement also blamed the IJG for a series of bombings and shootouts in Bukhara and Tashkent in March-April 2004 that claimed 47 lives. The statement noted that "those arrested in connection with the attacks in Bukhara have testified to the close ties between the IJG leaders and [Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders] Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar." DK
BELARUSIAN STUDENTS GO ON HUNGER STRIKE OVER EXPULSION OF COLLEAGUE
Four activists from the opposition Youth Front on 25 May went on hunger strike in a private apartment in Zhodzina, 60 kilometers east of Minsk, demanding that the administration of a local vocational school reinstate one of them, expelled after police arrested him during an antigovernment protest in Minsk on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005), Belapan and Charter 97 (http://www.charter97.org) reported. Dzmitry Chartkou, Alyaksandr Vinahradau, Yauhen Valkavets, and Syarhey Murashka have appealed to the Zhodzina City Executive Committee's Education Department, the Zhodzina City Council, and the Zhodzina Polytechnic School that expelled Murashka. "It is good that people at such an age begin to realize what is taking place in the country," Unite Civic Party activist Maryna Bahdanovich, who visited the protesters in Zhodzina, told RFE/RL's Belarus Service. "But on the other hand, it's terrible and nightmarish, and cynical [from the authorities], since they [protesters] are actually children." Meanwhile, former dissident lawmaker Syarhey Skrabets, who was arrested on 15 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 May 2005), continued a hunger strike for the 12th consecutive day on 26 May, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. JM
FORMER UKRAINIAN PREMIER CALLS FOR INTERROGATION
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry has summoned former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Viktor Yanukovych for questioning on 30 May, in a criminal case connected with a directive his cabinet issued in June 2004, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian news agencies reported on 26 May. Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko told journalists that Yanukovych will be questioned as a witness. "We are not working on criminal cases against citizen Yanukovych," Lutsenko added. Moreover, Interfax reported on 27 May that Yanukovych has also been called to appear at the Interior Ministry's Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast Directorate on 1 June to provide explanations in connection with a land plot he obtained for construction purposes in the region during his premiership. JM
UKRAINIAN MINISTER SUSPENDS ORDER ON REGISTRATION OF ELECTRONIC MEDIA
Transport and Communications Minister Yevhen Chervonenko on 26 May suspended for 10 days his instruction of 27 April whereby he ordered all electronic media, including Internet sites, to apply for registration with his ministry, Ukrainian media reported. Chervonenko told journalists that he wants to organize a roundtable in the ministry with all interested sides to discuss the instruction. "Nobody from the [President Viktor] Yushchenko team will force anybody to register," he added. The instruction has provoked a flood of indignant reactions and protests in Ukraine, particularly among Internet users. "This step could damage freedom of expression on the Internet. We will be watching closely to see that this registration procedure does not become obligatory for private websites," the Reporters Without Borders media watchdog said in a recent statement. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER VOWS TO WORK IN HARMONY WITH PRESIDENT
Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko told journalists in Kyiv on 26 May that she has agreed to work together with President Viktor Yushchenko in order to harmonize relations in the state-power system, Interfax reported. "I've had a wonderful talk with the president and I think that 99 percent of [issues] have been settled," Tymoshenko said. "Nothing will stop us from doing our business, even meteorites falling from the sky." Asked to comment on Yushchenko's proposal last week that she resign, Tymoshenko responded, "It [was] necessary to frighten Russian oil traders." Yushchenko reportedly made this proposal during a government meeting with Russian oil traders on 18 May (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 26 May 2005). JM
MINISTER OPTIMISTIC OVER FUTURE U.S. AID TO SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO
Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Minority and Human Rights Rasim Ljajic said in Washington on 26 May that he expects U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to lift the U.S. ban on financial aid to Serbia and Montenegro very soon, possibly by mid-June, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ljajic said he held talks with U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper and other officials, adding that he feels that by now, none of the officials he spoke to doubts Serbia's progress in cooperating with the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal. Ljajic stressed that the most important step to prove this is the handover of former Bosnian Serb military leader Ratko Mladic. The minister said he expects Belgrade to take some practical steps that will convince the United States that Serbia is willing to comply with its obligations to The Hague. UB
HUNT FOR FUGITIVE BOSNIAN SERB LEADER CONTINUES
Following the search of the house of fugitive Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic's wife Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, NATO forces also searched the house of his children Sasa and Sonja Karadzic in Pale on 26 May in an effort to find evidence of the whereabouts of their father, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Radovan Karadzic is indicted for war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005). UB
KOSOVAR SERB LEADER CRITICIZES BELGRADE
Oliver Ivanovic of the Serbian List for Kosovo and Metohija told the Novi Sad-based daily "Dnevnik" on 26 May that he regrets that Kosovar Serb representatives were not included in the Serbian government's efforts to formulate an official platform on the future of Kosova. The platform will be presented to the UN Security Council on 27 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April and 25 and 26 May 2005). Ivanovic said the Security Council will learn much more about the situation of the Kosovar Serbs from themselves than from what was decided during a session of the Serbian government. Ivanovic accused Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of not allowing the Kosovar Serbs to participate because he is trying to maintain an artificial balance of political options in Kosova. UB
BACKLASH FOR SERBIAN-MACEDONIAN CHURCH RELATIONS
The Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) has confirmed information that it will recognize only the Orthodox Archbishopric of Ohrid as canonical and that it will issue a decision granting the archbishopric autonomy, the private Kanal 5 TV reported on 25 May. Thus, the Serbian Orthodox Church fully legitimizes the archbishopric, which is headed by Jovan Vraniskovski, a former bishop of the Macedonian Orthodox Church, which is not recognized by other Orthodox churches. The SPC's decision has yet to be confirmed by Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew. When Vraniskovski put his bishopric under the canonical jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church in July 2002, he was excommunicated by the Macedonian Orthodox Church and subsequently indicted by Macedonian authorities for embezzlement and inciting religious hatred. The archbishopric was founded by the Serbian Orthodox Church as a rival church to the Macedonian Orthodox Church (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 October 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 6 August 2004). UB
CHISINAU MULLS ITS TRAINS BYPASSING TRANSDNIESTER
Moldovan Transport Minister Miron Gagauz said in Chisinau on 26 May that if the situation in Transdniester does not improve, the Moldovan National Railroad Company will reorganize its train routes in order to bypass the separatist region, Infotag reported. Earlier this year, the company began bypassing Transdniester along the decades-old route from Chisinau to St. Petersburg. "We are forced, and ready, to make this step in order to spare our passengers a lot of inconveniences they encounter while traveling via Transdniester," Gagauz said. "I admit that this transport rearrangement will cause certain difficulties as regards Ukraine, as some railroad stations there have a limited train-handling capacity, but we have no other way out." Last year the Tiraspol authorities took possession of all transport facilities and infrastructure of the Moldovan National Railroad Company on their territory, set up a separate railroad company, and began demanding transit fees from Moldovan trains. JM
MOLDOVAN LAWMAKERS MOVE TO DECRIMINALIZE PROSTITUTION
The Moldovan parliament on 26 May passed a resolution calling for amendments to the country's Penal Code to strike off prostitution from its list of criminal offenses, Infotag reported. JM
UKRAINIAN LEADERS CLASH OVER GASOLINE
The hottest news in Ukraine last week was not the Eurovision song contest in Kyiv -- an unusual event in this post-Soviet country by any standards. The real shocker was a report in the Kyiv-based weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" that President Viktor Yushchenko suggested that Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko should tender her resignation over her incompetence in dealing with the country's fuel crisis.
To toss even more gasoline on that fire, the report asserted that the suggestion was made "half-publicly" during a heated Yushchenko-Tymoshenko exchange at a 19 May meeting with senior executives from the Russian oil sector, including Transneft, LUKoil, and TNK-BP. Have the two heroes of the Orange Revolution already had enough of their partnership and resolved to launch an internecine war?
For the time being, it appears they have not. A string of statements from Yushchenko's and Tymoshenko's press services that followed the report on their 19 May meeting avowed that the relations between the president and the prime minister remain friendly and full of mutual trust. "I trust the prime minister, my generally positive assessment of the government's work is unaltered. Only those doing nothing make no mistakes," Yushchenko asserted in one statement. "We have found a formula to resolve the oil problem, because we have found courage in ourselves to conduct an open, public, and honest dialogue as well as to make hard and responsible decisions both within and outside [our] team," he stressed.
Moreover, on 22 May, during a solemn occasion at the grave of Ukrainian national poet Taras Shevchenko in Kaniv, Yushchenko and Tymoshenko renewed their earlier pledge to form a coalition for the 2006 parliamentary elections of Yushchenko's Our Ukraine People's Union, Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party, and the People's Party headed by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. "I'm sure that the Orange Revolution and the values with which we came to Kyiv's Maydan [Independence Square] truly belong to these three political forces," Yushchenko said in Kaniv. Tymoshenko added, "I support with all my soul our union, our teamwork, our joint political activity for many years ahead."
But some skeptics in Ukraine immediately recalled another election alliance made in Kaniv, by four presidential candidates during the 1999 presidential campaign (Yevhen Marchuk, Oleksandr Moroz, Volodymyr Oliynyk, and Oleksandr Tkachenko), which lasted no longer than three weeks.
What actually transpired between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko on 19 May? According to the influential and usually well-informed "Zerkalo nedeli," which attributed its information to four unnamed participants in the meeting, Yushchenko apologized to the Russian oil traders for Tymoshenko's cabinet, which, Yushchenko claimed, had obstructed their work. Yushchenko purportedly said he wished he had never appointed Tymoshenko as prime minister. He also is said to have suggested that she might tender her resignation and join the opposition Social Democratic Party-united and the Party of Regions in order to "blow their pipes and beat their drums." To add insult to injury, Yushchenko reportedly invited everyone except Tymoshenko to the next room to have champagne. All this purportedly took place after Tymoshenko categorically and repeatedly disagreed with Yushchenko's assessment that she had dealt with the fuel crisis by way of essentially administrative and non-market levers.
Leaving aside the shocking nature of the Ukrainian "family quarrel" under the Russian eyes, as "Zerkalo nedeli" put it, one could argue that Yushchenko was to a large extent correct. Gasoline prices began to rise in Ukraine in early April, presumably stimulated by a more than 50 percent rise in the price of crude oil, a 30 percent increase in the excise tax, and increased tariffs for rail transport. Tymoshenko ordered in mid-April that prices for gasoline be stabilized at a level below 3 hryvnyas ($0.6) per liter. Simultaneously, the Ukrainian Economic Ministry warned Russian oil companies that it would guarantee their property rights for Ukraine's refineries only if they agreed to cut retail fuel prices -- which they did. But following the cuts, some Russian-owned refineries in Ukraine significantly decreased their daily output or halted it altogether for "planned repairs." As a result, Ukrainians saw long lines at gasoline stations run by LUKoil and TNK-BP, some of which reportedly introduced rationing.
Seeking more market-oriented methods to defuse the fuel crisis, the government hurriedly drafted a bill to abolish import duties on fuel; the Verkhovna Rada equally hurriedly passed the legislation earlier this month. The aim of the legislation is twofold -- to stop fuel prices from rising, and to create a more competitive environment for fuel imports from refineries not owned by Russians, notably from Lithuania and Romania. And the law seems to be working, at least for the time being. Fuel prices have now been fixed at 3.2 hryvnyas, 3 hryvnyas, and 2.85 hryvnyas per liter of A-95 gasoline, A-92 gasoline, and diesel fuel, respectively. And some suppliers have begun looking for Lithuanian fuel.
On the other hand, Tymoshenko's arguing that the fuel crisis was a "plot" by Russian oil traders to destabilize the government that is not liked by the Kremlin, seems to convince many Ukrainians as well. A poll conducted by the Razumkov Center among some 700 Kyiv residents last week found that more than 50 percent of respondents attributed the fuel crisis to "Russia's economic pressure as a means of influence on Ukraine's policy," according to "Zerkalo nedeli." That should come as no surprise, not only because of the popular belief in Ukraine that Russia is to blame for most of Ukraine's political and economic troubles but also because of the situation on the Ukrainian fuel market.
Russian oil traders control 75 percent of fuel supplies to Ukraine, which effectively creates an informal foreign cartel that can easily coordinate its pricing policies in Ukraine not only to secure higher margins but also to achieve other economic or political objectives, especially when such policies are consecrated by "market rules." Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 23 May that Russian companies need to apply market-based pricing policies in the export of energy resources. Referring specifically to Georgia and Ukraine, Putin said it is necessary to find "transparent, market tools for interaction" with these countries. But Putin singled out Belarus, saying it is an exception in Russia's market-based export policy, since, the Russian president explained, "We are trying to find a way to build a union state with Belarus." This seems to be a circuitous way of saying what Tymoshenko essentially, and less diplomatically, said about the roots of Ukraine's fuel crisis.
"There is no Russian conspiracy here [in the fuel crisis]," Yushchenko said at a business forum in Kyiv on 25 May. "I demand only one thing of the government: Learn lessons like that of oil markets." To which, according to Reuters, Tymoshenko, who sat alongside him, responded: "May my president forgive me."
But an equally essential question here is whether she has forgiven Yushchenko for his words during last week's meeting with Russian oil traders -- for what seemed to be a severe blow to her self-worth if not an outright humiliation. The answer to this question might also include an answer to the question about the viability of the current political establishment in Ukraine.
AFGHAN LEADER CALLS FOR REGIONAL NONINTERFERENCE PACT
President Hamid Karzai on 25 May in Washington called for an agreement to reinforce noninterference among Afghanistan's regional states, AFP reported. "We already have a collegial declaration...some sort of understanding that neighbors [in the region] will not interfere with each other," Karzai told an audience at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. Karzai elaborated that beyond the current understanding, his country is "thinking of evolving regional cooperation" in the region "in terms of linking infrastructure, increasing trade, and also developing mechanisms that will foster that cooperative environment." Karzai did not elaborate on the countries that would be included in such an agreement or a timeframe for its execution. Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, speaking on 26 May at the Washington-based World Affairs Council, said that his government is not proposing a new regional pact, but rather enhancing and expanding the membership or mandate of existing regional groupings, RFE/RL reported. AT
AFGHANISTAN AND U.S. TO ESTABLISH JOINT MILITARY COMMISSION
As part of the "strategic partnership" signed on 23 May between Afghan President Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington, the two countries will establish a joint military commission to share intelligence and coordinate special operations, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan in an exclusive interview on 26 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 May 2005). "Afghan forces will participate with U.S. troops in house searches and other operations to rout out remnants of Al-Qaeda," Khalilzad added. The partnership agreement will promote peace and security in Afghanistan and neighboring countries and "advance the interests of the entire region," Khalilzad told RFE/RL. Afghans have protested against the searches of private homes by U.S. troops and have demanded the inclusion of local forces in such operations. AT
AFGHAN AUTHORITIES APPEAL TO KIDNAPPERS OF AID WORKER THROUGH RELIGIOUS LEADERS
According to a statement released on 26 May by the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul, Afghan authorities are appealing to the kidnappers of Clementina Cantoni through "religious and tribal leaders." Cantoni, an Italian aid worker, was kidnapped in Kabul on 16 May and her kidnappers have since changed their demands and extended their deadlines for killing her (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 18, and 19 May 2005). The statement added that communication with the kidnappers continued up to 25 May and the authorities "remain optimistic." Meanwhile, around 500 Afghan women, who either knew Cantoni or have benefited from her activities, held a demonstration on 26 May demanding her release. AT
FOURTH FORMER TALIBAN OFFICIAL REGISTERS FOR AFGHAN ELECTIONS
Hajji Qalamuddin, a former deputy in the Prevention of Vice and Promotion of Virtue Department (religious police) under the Taliban regime, registered himself in Logar Province for the parliamentary elections scheduled for September, Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 24 May. In an interview with the daily, Qalamuddin said that he has registered as an independent candidate "to serve the people and promote national peace and solidarity." He said that the ulema in Logar wants him to represent them in parliament. Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil, the former Taliban regime foreign minister, and Abdul Samad Khaksar, who formerly headed the Taliban regime's intelligence department, have already registered themselves as independent candidates in the southern Kandahar Province, while Mawlawi Jalaluddin Shinwari, former deputy justice minister under the Taliban, has registered in the eastern Nangarhar Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 24, and 26 May 2005). AT
NEO-TALIBAN SAYS ITS FOCUS IS AFGHANISTAN
In an extensive interview on 25 May with the Moscow-based "Kommersant-Daily," neo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi said that his organization is only focused on Afghanistan. "We restrict our activities" to Afghanistan, Hakimi said, adding that the "claims that we want to export our ideas to other countries are hostile propaganda." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused the neo-Taliban of taking part in the recent violence in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). AT
IRANIAN LEADER ENCOURAGES STUDENT VOTERS
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told thousands of University Basij members in Tehran on 26 May that students should play a big part in a massive turnout for the 17 June presidential election, IRNA reported. He told the students that they should safeguard Iran by defending it against a cultural onslaught. He said the most important factors in choosing the country's next president are his Islamic faith, his sense of justice, and his stance against discrimination. Khamenei said Iran's future belongs to its youth and to university students. BS
REINSTATED CANDIDATE NOT SURE IF HE WILL STAY IN IRANIAN ELECTION RACE
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami insisted at a 26 May news conference in Tehran that Mustafa Moin will remain in the presidential race, IRNA reported. Observers are divided on whether Moin, whose candidacy the Guardians Council reinstated on the supreme leader's orders, should continue as a candidate. By withdrawing, Radio Farda reported, some believe he will fulfill the Guardians Council's objectives. Others say that by withdrawing he will show solidarity with all the disqualified prospective candidates and could draw attention to the illegal action of the Guardians Council. Moin's primary backers are the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization. Behzad Nabavi, a leading member of the latter organization, said Moin will decide whether to run in the next few days, Radio Farda reported. BS
WASHINGTON WILL NOT OPPOSE IRANIAN WTO APPLICATION...
Washington has agreed not to oppose Iranian efforts to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), Radio Farda, Reuters, and the "Financial Times" reported on 26 May. The decision reflects Washington's support for European efforts in nuclear negotiations with Iran. Later on 26 May, the WTO agreed to allow Tehran to begin membership talks, Reuters reported. According to the "Financial Times," Washington decided on this course of action in March. Iran first applied to the WTO nine years ago. It normally takes a minimum of five years for a country to become a WTO member. BS
...AS TEHRAN IS NONPLUSSED
Supreme National Security Council secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani said on 26 May that the U.S. concession on WTO membership is meaningless, state radio reported. Iran is entitled to WTO membership, Rohani said, so Washington should explain why it has opposed this right until now. Turning to the general course of Iran-EU nuclear discussions and the agreement that a further meeting will take place in the late summer, Rohani said the West must back down because Iran has the right to develop nuclear technology. BS
TEHRAN TO CONSIDER EUROPEAN NUCLEAR PROPOSALS
Rohani returned to Tehran on the morning of 27 May and told reporters at the airport that any European proposals should conform with Iran's basic objectives, Radio Farda and state radio reported. He said the continuation of nuclear fuel production is Iran's "red line," meaning this is something Iran will not forsake. Rohani added that if top Iranian officials agree to consider future European proposals, then the suspension of uranium enrichment will continue until the next Iran-EU meeting in the summer. If the European proposal is rejected, the officials will decide when to resume enrichment. In his words, according to Radio Farda: "The Europeans said they would present us a comprehensive proposal by the end of July. Since this was a new offer, it is up to [officials in] Tehran to decide about it. If our officials decide to wait until the Europeans submit their proposal, the suspension [of uranium enrichment] will continue. Otherwise, we will make a decision and resume whichever parts of our nuclear activities that we wish." The state radio dispatch noted that Rohani arrived at Mehrabad Airport, which indicates that the use of the controversial Imam Khomeini International Airport is still limited. BS
IRANIAN AND LEBANESE OFFICIALS CONFER
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Beirut on 26 May, IRNA and the Lebanese National News Agency reported. His counterpart, Mahmud Hamud, met him at the airport, as did Iranian Ambassador Masud Edrisi. Kharrazi later met with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who thanked Iran for its support of the Lebanese people. According to IRNA, Kharrazi said after the meeting that the Lebanese people's "greatest asset" is their resistance to "the Zionist regime." Kharrazi is scheduled to stay in Lebanon for two days. BS
U.S. HELICOPTER DOWNED NORTH OF IRAQI CAPITAL
One helicopter crashed and another landed safely at a nearby base after sustaining damage from small-arms fire on 26 May near the city of Ba'qubah, located some 65 kilometers north of Baghdad, the Multinational Forces website reported on 27 May (http://www.mnf-iraq.com). Two soldiers on board the helicopter that crashed were killed, according to the statement. Terrorists attempted to attack an Iraqi military convoy passing by a Shi'ite mosque in Dakuk, south of Kirkuk, on 26 May by detonating a booby-trapped dog near the convoy, telegraph.co.uk reported on 27 May. Police reportedly arrested eight suspects following the attack. KR
SUNNI COUNCIL REACTS TO BAGHDAD OPERATION
Salih al-Mutlaq, a spokesman for the Sunni-led National Dialogue Council, dismissed the transitional government's 26 May announcement of Operation Lightning that will target the insurgency in the Iraqi capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005), Abu Dhabi TV reported on 26 May. Al-Mutlaq told the news channel that an adviser to President Jalal Talabani earlier told his group that the government will not hold dialogue with it until after 1 August. "That statement is tactless and not in the interest of our people and means that [the government] is going to launch a fierce campaign against all Iraqi cities to try to silence the voices that call for the expulsion of the occupation," al-Mutlaq contended. "Violence will only lead to more violence," he said, adding that the Iraqi people will not support these types of security operations, which he claimed go against the people's values. KR
ANSAR AL-SUNNAH PRAYS FOR TERRORIST LEADER
An 26 May Internet statement (http://www.tajdeed.org.uk) attributed to the Ansar Al-Sunnah Army says the group is praying for the recovery of Al-Qaeda-affiliated leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. The statement claims it is not strange that al-Zarqawi sustained injuries while battling U.S. forces, adding that the jihad will continue, and "achieve victory or martyrdom." The statement asks God to hasten al-Zarqawi's recovery "so that he may continue down his path of jihad and continue carrying out his blessed operations, the operations that have made the enemy suffer greatly." The statement pledges to "cleanse Muslim soil" of foreign presence and establish rule by Islamic law. The Ansar Al-Sunnah Army reportedly has strong relations with al-Zarqawi (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 5 April 2005). KR
ARAB LEAGUE TO SET UP OFFICE IN IRAQ
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced in a 26 May press release posted on its website (http://www.iraqmofa.net) that the Arab League will soon open an office in Baghdad. The decision reportedly came following a 25 May telephone request by Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari to Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa. The Arab League will also reportedly send a legal adviser to Baghdad to advise on the writing of a permanent constitution. KR
The 26 May edition of "RFE/RL Newsline" reported the newly launched security operation in Baghdad as Operation Thunder. The correct name of the operation is Operation Lightning.