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Newsline - May 31, 2005

Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court on 31 May sentenced former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev to nine years' imprisonment each after convicting them of tax evasion and embezzlement, Russian and international media reported. The court completed the 12-day process of reading the 1,000-page verdict. Fellow defendant and former Volna General Director Andrei Krainov was given a five-year suspended sentence for embezzlement. When the judge asked Khodorkovskii if he understood the verdict, Khodorkovskii responded: "The verdict is clear. A monument to Basmannyi justice has been erected," RIA-Novosti reported. Lebedev said: "No normal person could understand this verdict." All charges related to the 1994 privatization of a 20-percent stake in the Apatit fertilizer plant were dismissed, as the court ruled that the 10-year statute of limitations had expired. The court also advised the government to file civil cases against Khodorkovskii and Lebedev to collect their tax arrears. The defendants have 10 days to appeal the verdict and the sentences. Before his arrest in October 2003, Khodorkovskii was the richest person in Russia, with a personal fortune estimated at $15 billion. RC

Nataliya Vishnyakova, spokeswoman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, told RIA-Novosti on 31 May that the sentences of Khodorkovskii and Lebedev "are commensurate with the crimes the defendants committed." Our Choice head Irina Khakamada told RosBalt that the verdict is "aggressive and unjust." "This court decision is intended to frighten everyone and to show who is in charge here," she added. "We have been convinced that defense is useless. A term of 10 years was announced long before the trial began. The authorities have demonstrated that they are sweeping away democratic institutions and do not want to legitimize property." She added that the same charges that Khodorkovskii faced could easily be filed against an enormous number of businesspeople and against the "bureaucrats who wrote the laws." Khakamada said that Khordorkovskii was persecuted for his independent, uncompromising stance. "Probably he had the chance to sign some sort of document and escape prison, but he did not do that," she said. Yukos released a press statement on 31 May saying the verdict is "a monstrous perversion of justice that has been committed by the judicial system." RC

Early reports from the Russian stock exchange indicated the Khodorkovskii verdict had little impact on regular trading, as most market analysts were anticipating a harsh sentence, Ekho Moskvy reported on 31 May. Duma Security Committee member Gennadii Gudkov (Unified Russia), however, said today's verdict will have a long-term negative effect on Russia's investment climate and spark capital flight, RBK-TV reported. Steven Dashevskii, chief analyst with the Aton investment company, told RBK-TV the verdict is a "negative" development for the investment climate in Russia, but added that it was not unexpected and that "it has long been factored into the market." VY

Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said on 30 May in Paris that the French rejection of the proposed European Union constitution in a 29 May referendum will have negative consequences for Russia, Channel One reported the same day. "Instead of the old principle of consensus, the new EU constitution introduced a more politically motivated, and therefore flexible, approach to decision making," Kosachev said, adding that the new document would make Russia's dealings with the EU much easier as a result. Failure to adopt the constitution, he said, would mean Russia would have to continue working with the "current amorphous and over-bureaucratized EU structure." Meanwhile, Vyacheslav Nikonov, the president of the independent Politika foundation, told Channel One on 30 May that the French referendum may actually work to Russia's advantage, as it may significantly delay the entry of Georgia and Ukraine into the EU. In a separate interview with TV-Tsentr on the same day, Nikonov said Russia will never join the EU, as European politicians have told him "they can never imagine Europe sharing a border with China." VY

Speaking at a Kremlin cabinet meeting on 30 May, President Vladimir Putin asked Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko to head the investigation into the massive power outage that struck Moscow and four outlying regions on 25 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 26, and 27 May 2005) and report back at the 4 June meeting of the Russian Security Council, RTR reported the same day. Meanwhile, Khristenko, who is a board member of Unified Energy Systems (EES), which is currently under fire for the blackout, said on 28 May he does not agree with those calling for the immediate resignation of EES head Anatolii Chubais, RTR reported. He said the state should draw its conclusions about EES management only after it is determined what caused the accident and to what degree Chubais should be held personally responsible. VY

Leonid Melamed, a former EES first deputy head and the current head of the ROSNO insurance firm, of which EES is a client, said on 30 May at a Moscow press conference that preliminary damage estimates from the 25 May blackout may reach as high as $3 billion-$5 billion, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Mikhail Delyagin, the head of the Moscow-based Institute of Globalization, said on 27 May that the massive outage was the "biggest technical accident in Russia since the Chornobyl catastrophe in 1986, and the result of a systemic crisis in Russia's electrical-power grid," Channel One reported the same day. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu told RTR on 29 May that the outage caused more than 9,000 cubic meters of untreated sewage to overflow into Moscow area rivers and lakes, reported. Gennadii Onishchenko, Russia's chief health inspector, warned on 30 May that Muscovites should not use water in the Moscow River, the toxicity of which is now 16 times the norm, Channel One reported. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said 28 May that he believes the blackout was the result of "incompetence" on the part of EES management, and that the city is planning to sue the company once the extent of the "colossal damage" is calculated. VY

Speaking at TV-Tsentr on 29 May, Aleksei Pushkov, host of the station's "PostScriptum" talk show, said that "if the defeat of the Union of Rightist Forces during the [2003] Duma elections was a fiasco for Chubais as a politician, this month's blackout destroyed his image as a talented manager." Pushkov added that Chubais should not be allowed to run a state company and that he should retreat to the private sector. Speaking on the same program, Motherland head Dmitrii Rogozin echoed Pushkov's remarks, calling Chubais "an absolute evil" and said Chubais should be fired by Putin himself. Speaking the same day at NTV, however, Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia said he believes Putin will never oust Chubais because the EES head is one of the creators of the political system that made it possible for Putin to rise to power. "Chubais is one of the legs of the chair on which Putin is sitting," Mitrofanov said. VY

In a 28 May interview with Channel One, Chubais said he will not surrender to the demands of his political opponents and leave office. He said those "talking with lust about [my] resignation" include Rogozin's allies, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and Yabloko head Grigorii Yavlinskii, who Chubais said "shyly joined the list." "Do these guys really believe that I will retreat? Don't even dream of it. It will never happen," Chubais said. VY

Speaking to journalists in the Duma on 30 May, Rogozin said Chubais is successfully employing "blackmail" to fight attempts by a faction of the presidential administration to sack him, reported. "He blackmails the Kremlin by saying that his resignation will strengthen the opposition and, therefore, will only serve the interests of those who will oppose the Kremlin and Unified Russia in the next elections," Rogozin said. Rogozin said Chubais has suggested the best possible solution is to allow him to stay in office. The Kremlin, he added, is "so weak and indecisive" that it is likely to accept such logic. Rogozin accused Chubais and Arkadii Yevstafev -- the head of Mosenergo, the regional subdivision of EES -- of "incompetence." VY

The Moscow City Prosecutor's Office on 30 May interrogated Yevstafev for more than five hours on the details of the 25 May blackout, RIA-Novosti reported, citing the prosecutor's press office. Interrogators asked Yevstafev about Mosenergo's supervision of its electrical-power equipment, as well as its monitoring and prevention of emergency situations within the company. The press release warned, "It was not the interrogators' last meeting with Yevstafev." The Mosenergo head is a close Chubais ally who worked as his press secretary between 1992-95. In June 1996, while working as election campaign manager for then President Boris Yeltsin, Yevstafev was arrested and briefly detained after being apprehended in a government office with a box containing $528,000 in cash, the origin of which he refused to explain. The scandal ended when the case against Yevstafev was dropped under pressure from the Kremlin, with prosecutors ruling "no crime had been committed." VY

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on 30 May that Russia is ready to provide nuclear fuel to Iran under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Lavrov said that as Britain, Germany, and France continue to negotiate with Tehran about its nuclear program, Russia will work in parallel with both sides, operating "on the understanding that Iran has a full right to the peaceful development of nuclear energy." Lavrov added that Russia wants to ensure the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is not violated, and that Iran's program at the same time raises no suspicions that it will be used for military purposes. Israel and the United States continue strongly to oppose the transfer of Russian nuclear technology to Iran. VY

Russia may create a new military base in the Ferghana Valley, in the Kyrgyz city of Osh, as a response to the 13 May unrest in Uzbekistan (see and the March revolution in Kyrgyzstan (see, reported on 30 May. The website suggested that to stabilize the situation in the Ferghana Valley, where Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan come together, Russia could potentially send 1,000 peacekeepers under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization or the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO; Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan). quoted acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev as telling Interfax on 25 May that "if it is necessary, such a base can be created." also cited the Duma's CIS Affairs Committee Chairman Andrei Kokoshin (Unified Russia), who recently visited Kyrgyzstan and claimed some leading figures there are proposing to "expand Russia's military presence there, including the area of Osh." also quoted an unnamed member of Kokoshin's delegation as saying no information will be released until talks on the issue are concluded. VY

Speaking during President Putin's 30 May cabinet meeting at the Kremlin, Industry and Energy Minister Khristenko said the first stage of work on the new oil pipeline from Taishet to Nakhodka (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005) will be completed in 2008, Channel One reported. According to Khristenko, Surgutneftegas and Yukos will be the main oil suppliers to the Eastern, as the strategic pipeline leading from Eastern Siberia to Russia's Pacific coast will be called. VY

Committee-2008 co-Chairman Garri Kasparov on 31 May unveiled the manifesto for his new organization, the United Civic Front (OGF), reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). The document states that the main goal of the new organization is "to break the Putin regime and completely dismantle it." "Our country is ruled by a regime that contradicts the interests of Russia as a whole and practically all of its citizens," the manifesto states. It accuses the Kremlin of systematically destroying the "institutions of a democratic society," including elections, the independent media, and independent courts. The OGF pledges to use "all means allowed by the Constitution of the Russian Federation" to resist the regime and also reserves the right to ignore laws that it believes "contradict the letter and, more importantly, the spirit of the constitution." The manifesto further announces that the OGF will resist any attempts by the Putin regime to amend the constitution "in order to preserve its own power." In addition to Kasparov, Duma deputies Oleg Shein (Motherland) and Anatolii Yermolin (independent), human rights activists Yelena Panfilova and Aleksandr Osovtsov, and a number of journalists signed the manifesto. RC

The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) on 28 May elected Perm Oblast Deputy Governor Nikita Belykh as the party's new chairman and voted to launch a new public relations campaign to improve the party's image, Russian media reported. Belykh told journalists on 30 May that "the plan is to make our party more popular, and this is not going to be an easy task." "Our program is not going to change, but we should find a way to make our ideology understandable to voters," Belykh said, according to "The Moscow Times" on 31 May. The party's new slogan will be "Russia in Europe," former SPS co-Chairman Boris Nemtsov said. The party elected Leonid Gozman as deputy chairman. Gozman is a member of the board of Unified Energy Systems (EES) and is widely seen as one of the closest associates of EES head Chubais. RC

The Education and Science Ministry has opened a new website devoted to the topic of adoption, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 May. The website ( will be formally launched on 1 June in connection with International Children's Day. According to Education and Science Minister Andrei Fursenko, the goal of the new site is to "convey to citizens and journalists objective information about what possibilities Russian legislation allows for the placement of children in new families and for their adoption." The website contains the ministry's searchable database of orphans, although it was not functioning as of 31 May. It also contains legislation and statistics about adoption, as well as press articles on the subject. RC

Some 400,000 Russians die each year from smoking-related causes, the World Health Organization announced on 31 May, reported. Thirty percent of all Russians have their first cigarette by the time they reach the age of 12, and 80 percent have by age 17. According to a survey of Moscow schoolchildren in classes seven through 10 that was commissioned by the WHO, some 71 percent of boys and 62 percent of girls have tried smoking. RC

Some 1,000 Balkars congregated on 28 May in front of the government building in Nalchik to protest recent legislation that deprived two Balkar villages of separate municipal status, redesignating them suburbs of Nalchik, adygeanatpress.web reported. The demonstrators also adopted a resolution calling for the transfer from Kabardian to Balkar jurisdiction of four districts that belonged to Balkaria until 1944, when the then Kabardino-Balkar ASSR was renamed the Kabardian ASSR in the wake of the deportation of the entire Balkar people to Central Asia on suspicion of collaborating with Nazi Germany. LF

In messages posted on the Chechen website on 27 and 28 May respectively, Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev claimed that his men were responsible for both the widespread power outages that paralyzed the city of Moscow and neighboring regions on 25 May and a fire early on 27 May that badly damaged Moscow's Stanislavskii and Nemirovich-Danchenko theater, Russian media reported. Industry and Energy Minister Khristenko said on 26 May he believes antiquated equipment, rather than sabotage, caused the power failure. Officials have not yet commented on Basaev's claim of responsibility for the theater fire. LF

Alvaro Gil-Robles, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, told journalists in Moscow on 27 May after meeting with President Putin that he was shocked by the recent acquittal of four Russian special forces officers who killed six Chechen civilians in cold blood, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 May 2005). He said he hopes that verdict will be overturned. Gil-Robles further called for a halt to abductions of Chechen civilians, which he termed the most serious humanitarian problem currently facing Chechnya. LF

Leaders of the Ingush opposition and the Youth Movement of Ingushetia (MDI) decided on 27 May to impose a three-month moratorium on public protests against the policies of President Murat Zyazikov and the republic's government, reported. The website quoted MDI leader Rustam Archakov on 28 May as explaining that the rationale for that moratorium is to give Zyazikov time to fulfill his recent pledge to return to Ingushetian control the disputed district of Prigorodnyi Raion in neighboring North Ossetia. Zyazikov earlier complained that the opposition was hindering him in his attempts to do so. also cites Ingushetian parliament deputy and opposition leader Musa Ozdoev as saying the opposition has not revised its opinion of Zyazikov, whom it considers incompetent and corrupt. LF

Tens of thousands of Armenians, including President Robert Kocharian, linked hands on 28 May to form a 170-kilometer long human chain that performed a 15-minute dance around the base of Mount Aragats, the highest mountain on the territory of the Republic of Armenia, Armenian agencies and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Estimates of the number of participants ranged from 160,000 to 240,000. Kocharian characterized the dance, which was organized at the initiative of the Nig-Aparan NGO, headed by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian, as an attempt to express the unity of the Armenian nation. LF

The IMF has approved a new three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility program under which Armenia will receive some $34.2 million in low-interest loans, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 27 May quoting the IMF office in Yerevan. The first tranche, worth some $4.9 million, was disbursed on 25 May. IMF Deputy Managing Director Agustin Carstens noted Armenia's strong economic performance in 2004 and early 2005, as reflected in GDP growth and a fall in inflation. He added that "poverty and inequality indicators have improved notably in recent years," adding that "the authorities' new PRGF-supported program aims at consolidating macro-economic stability, generating additional domestic resources to finance poverty-reduction and growth-enhancing expenditures, and boosting private sector activities." LF

Bernard Fassier, the French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, met on 27 May in Yerevan with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev and with Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov, Azerbaijani media reported the following day. Fassier also had a previously unscheduled meeting with President Ilham Aliyev at the latter's initiative, reported on 28 May. That online daily quoted Fassier as saying that a "big step forward" was made during the 15 May talks in Warsaw between Presidents Kocharian and Aliyev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). Fassier denied that the two sides are discussing a specific written plan for resolving the Karabakh conflict, but he did say that they are focusing primarily on the "details" of two aspects -- the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) and the withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied districts bordering on the NKR. That statement suggests that the final status of the NKR will not be the "broad autonomy" that President Aliyev has publicly offered, and that the Armenian side has rejected as unacceptable. LF

At his 27 May press conference in Baku, Fassier expressed regret at the ongoing sporadic violations of the ceasefire along the Line of Contact that separates Armenian and Azerbaijani forces, reported, and he laid the blame for those exchanges of fire equally on both sides. Speaking in Yerevan on 30 May, Polish diplomat Andrzej Kasprzyk, who is the Special Representative of the OSCE Chairman in Office and regularly monitors the situation along the Line of Contact, said he does not anticipate that the recent exchanges of fire will escalate into major hostilities, Interfax reported. Kasprzyk told Turan on 26 May that he sees no need for a new ceasefire agreement, only for the two sides to continue to observe the existing one. LF

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Georgian counterpart Salome Zourabichvili signed a joint communique during talks in Moscow on 30 May on the terms and timeframe for the closure of Russia's two remaining military bases in Georgia, Georgian and Russian media reported. Zourabichvili told journalists that the communique does not need to be ratified by the parliament of either country, according to Interfax. Under the withdrawal agreement, Russia will begin withdrawing heavy armor this year; the final withdrawal from the base at Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia should be completed by 1 October 2007, and from the base in Batumi by the end of 2008. The Georgian leadership had most recently set 1 January 2008 as the deadline, but subsequently signaled its readiness to compromise. Zourabichvili said any of the estimated 2,500 military personnel at the two bases who wish to remain in Georgia are welcome to do so, Reuters reported. She also said Tbilisi will contribute to the cost of the Russian withdrawal, but did not mention a specific sum. Interfax on 30 May quoted an unnamed senior Russian military official as saying some of the military hardware will be transferred "temporarily" from Georgia to the Russian base in neighboring Armenia, but he stressed that it will not be handed over to the Armenian armed forces. LF

Georgian Foreign Minister Zourabichvili told journalists in Moscow on 30 May that part of the infrastructure, materiel and personnel of the Russian base in Batumi will be transformed into a Georgian-Russian antiterrorist center, Interfax reported. She added that instructors and servicemen from "other countries" will serve at that facility. The communique further affirmed the two sides' readiness to complete before the end of 2005 the process of delimiting the Russian-Georgian border, Lavrov told journalists after the talks, and to work to resolve the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. LF

At a meeting with the widow and brother of deceased Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, President Mikheil Saakashvili agreed to their request to invite international experts to Tbilisi to participate in the ongoing investigation into the circumstances of Zhvania's death, Caucasus Press reported on 28 May. Zhvania was found dead early on 3 February together with a friend in a Tbilisi apartment the latter had rented. Experts said the two men appeared to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas heater, but Giorgi Zhvania has told journalists he is convinced they were killed elsewhere and their bodies brought to the rented apartment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 April and 25 May 2005). LF

Four Ossetians and one Georgian policeman were killed on 29 May in an exchange of fire near the village of Kurta in South Ossetia, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. One Ossetian and two Georgian police officers were injured. Georgian officials say the Ossetians opened fire when Georgian police tried to flag down their car to check the passengers' documents; Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava implied to Interfax that the Ossetians were drunk. An Ossetian government statement claims the Georgian police were the first to open fire, and condemned the killings as a "brutal provocation." Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, told Interfax on 30 May that Georgian intelligence services laid the ground for the "murder" of the four Ossetians. Kokoity added that he believes that Tbilisi is preparing for a military intervention in South Ossetia, and predicted that any such incursion would not only fail but cost "many human lives." LF

Ukrainian President Vladimir Yushchenko met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Astana on 30 May for talks focused on economic cooperation, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. After their meeting, Nazarbaev told journalists that the two discussed the possibility of extending Ukraine's Odessa-Brody oil pipeline to Gdansk to provide an outlet to the Baltic, as well as the construction of a 52-kilometer pipeline from Dnepropetrovsk to Ukraine's Pivdenny terminal. Nazarbaev said that in order to gain access to the Baltic through Odessa-Brody, "we are ready to act as pipeline shareholders," ITAR-TASS reported. For his part, Yushchenko said that Ukraine is ready to move ahead with the Single Economic Space (SES; Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. He said, "Participation in 16 of 29 documents of the first stage has already been considered and approved at government level." Yushchenko added, "We welcome all SES-related initiatives that would ensure mutual ties in transit, customs, budget, and fiscal relations." DK

Acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev addressed a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 30 May, the OSCE reported in a press release the same day. Bakiev said, "We urge donor states to increase investment and grant-based support, not only to Kyrgyzstan but also to the whole of Central Asia." Bakiev described the events of 24 March that brought down Askar Akaev as a natural reaction to the former president's attempt to roll back democratic achievements and build an authoritarian regime, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev also noted that his government has adopted "most" of the recommendations from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights in preparation for 10 July presidential elections. DK

OSCE Chairman in Office Dmitrij Rupel told the session that Uzbek asylum seekers currently in Kyrgyzstan "must be treated according to the international commitments Kyrgyzstan has signed up to" on refugee issues, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Addressing the refugee issue, Bakiev said that Kyrgyzstan intends to honor its commitments, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted, however, that the asylum seekers' eventual fate must be decided through consultations involving the Kyrgyz government, the Uzbek government, and the United Nations. In a 27 May press release, Human Rights Watch called on the Kyrgyz government to "make clear and unambiguous commitments -- in words and deeds -- to Uzbek asylum seekers," noting that the approximately 500 Uzbek citizens may face torture or death if they are returned to Uzbekistan. DK

Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), said on 30 May that he sees no need for a military base in Osh, reported. He said, "There is no need to create a military base in Osh. The situation in the Ferghana Valley is not so critical that it requires the use of military force." Recent press reports have suggested that talks may be underway on the opening of a new military base in Kyrgyzstan under the aegis of the CSTO or Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO; see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24-25 May 2005). DK

China's "Huanqiu Shibao" reported on 31 May that Liu Jianchao, spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, said that China needs to study the question of establishing a military presence in Kyrgyzstan, Interfax reported. The news agency quoted Liu as saying that the "deployment of troops to southern Kyrgyzstan 'might possibly be beneficial' to fight against the three evils of terrorism, separatism, and extremism." The newspaper noted that acting Kyrgyz President Bakiev has mentioned the possibility of a foreign military deployment in Kyrgyzstan under the aegis of the CSTO or SCO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005). DK

Acting Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov announced on 27 May that the commission charged with investigating the alleged business interests of former Kyrgyz President Akaev has extended its work for one more month, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Usenov noted that the number of businesses under investigation has grown from 42 to over 100. Meanwhile, Maksim Maksimovich, a Russian lawyer who is representing Akaev's interests in Kyrgyzstan, told a news conference in Bishkek on 27 May that he plans to sue Usenov for making unfounded allegations about the former president, RFE/RL reported. Maksimovich also claimed that Akaev, who is currently residing in Russia, remains the lawful president of Kyrgyzstan. DK

RFE/RL visited what appeared to be a mass grave in Andijon containing 37 gravesites on 27 May. Isroiljon Kholdorov, the regional leader of the banned Erk opposition party, told RFE/RL that local gravediggers said bodies were brought in trucks to the site, located in a district of Andijon called Bogishamol, after violence on 13 May. He said, "[The gravediggers] say there are 37 graves with two corpses in each. So, there must be [74] bodies altogether." RFE/RL later learned that the guide who led the correspondent to the site, a man in his late 50s named Juraboy, was stabbed to death by two unknown assailants. No further details were available. Andijon residents said that the mass grave in Bogishamol is only one of several such sites that appeared after 13 May. DK

A group of three U.S. senators told a news conference in Tashkent on 29 May that Uzbekistan must allow an independent investigation of allegations that government troops fired on unarmed demonstrators in Andijon on 13 May, agencies reported. Senator John McCain said, "We are here today because we are concerned about recent events that have taken place, which entailed the killing of innocent people," RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Speaking at a news conference the next day in Bishkek, McCain stressed, "We are not pleased at events in Uzbekistan. We repeat our demand for a full and complete investigation by the OSCE of the massacre [in Andijon] that occurred just a few days ago," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Senators McCain and Lindsey Graham noted on 29 May in Tashkent that it would be "very difficult" for the United States to maintain its current level of relations with Uzbekistan in the absence of an impartial investigation, Reuters reported. Senator McCain also noted, "No [Uzbek] government officials agreed to meet with us." The U.S. delegation also included Senator John Sununu. DK

Uzbek police detained Vasila Inoyatova, a leader of the unregistered Uzbek opposition party Birlik, and 27 other opposition activists to prevent them from holding a demonstration to protest the recent violence in Andijon, the BBC reported on 30 May. Inoyatova was later released, but the BBC's Uzbek Service reported that pressure on rights advocates and opposition figures has been mounting since the alleged shooting of demonstrators in Andijon on 13 May, with numerous reports of arrests and harassment in various regions of Uzbekistan. Deutsche Welle reported on 26 May that human rights activists in Tashkent are currently being held under de facto house arrest by Uzbekistan's secret police. Rights activist Elena Urlaeva told Deutsche Welle that she and others plan to appeal to the OSCE, UN, and U.S. State Department, complaining that they have been deprived of the right to free movement. DK

Five activists of the opposition Youth Front and Zubr groups have joined a hunger strike by four students in Zhodzina over the expulsion of one of them from a local vocational school (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 30 May. Syarhey Murashka was expelled from the Zhodzina Polytechnic School for taking part in an unauthorized antigovernment protest in Minsk on 26 April. JM

More than 100 representatives of the Belarusian intelligentsia from across Belarus have proposed Uladzimir Kolas as a contender for the democratic forces' nomination of a single candidate in next year's presidential election, Belapan reported on 29 May. Kolas, who was director of an elite Belarusian-language school closed down by the authorities in 2003, was put forward at a convention held in a forest 70 kilometers north of Minsk. He will compete for nomination with Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party; Syarhey Kalyakin, leader of the Belarusian Party of Communists; opposition politician Mikalay Statkevich; pro-democracy activist Alyaksandr Milinkevich; Alyaksandr Yarashuk, chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions; Alyaksandr Vaytovich, former chairman of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly; and Stanislau Shushkevich, chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly. Delegates from various pro-democracy groups in Belarus are expected to hold a congress by October to elect their presidential candidate. JM

Court officers on 27 May confiscated a dozen household items from the apartment of Maryna Bahdanovich, head of the Minsk regional chapter of the opposition United Civic Party, towards the payment of a fine imposed for her political activity, Belapan reported. Bahdanovich was fined some $2,220 for her role in a rally that was staged in Minsk on 1 March by market vendors in protest against new rules for the collection of value-added tax on imports from Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2005). Bahdanovich told the agency that she has not yet decided whether to appeal the fine. "I do not know whether it makes sense and I have no money to pay a lawyer," she added. Court officers are likely to come again to make a list of Bahdanovich's possessions that are to be seized in lieu of payment for another fine. The second fine totals around $1,770 and was imposed on her for organizing and participating in an antigovernment demonstration in Minsk on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2005). Bahdanovich said that the fines will not force her to give up politics. "It is not about playing toys or chess. Anyone who wants to engage in politics, especially in this country, must be aware of possible consequences," she noted. JM

The Interior Ministry's Kyiv Directorate for Fighting Organized Crime wants former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych to explain why he failed to appear for questioning on 30 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2005), Interfax reported on 30 May. "Viktor Yanukovych was invited to come to questioning as a witness at 11 a.m. today [30 May], but he did not show up," Valeriy Heletey, head of the directorate, told journalists, adding that Yanukovych was summoned through mass media. Meanwhile, Yanukovych's Party of Regions on 29 May issued a statement slamming the Ukrainian authorities for what it said is an ongoing campaign to present the opposition to the public as the "people's enemies," ITAR-TASS reported. "The new authorities are suffocating from their inability to solve social and economic problems, which result from their inept management and the destruction within less than four months of the tendencies toward positive economic growth achieved by the previous government," the statement read. "Thus, they simply have to find someone to blame for the hardships ordinary people are experiencing." JM

Valentyna Semenyuk, head of Ukraine's State Property Fund, said on 30 May that a peaceful settlement of the ongoing legal controversy over the privatization of the Kryvorizhstal metallurgical giant in 2004 is not possible, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. "An amicable arrangement cannot be even viewed by court, since it has not been demanded by prosecutors or the State Property Fund [as claimants]," Semenyuk said. In April, the Kyiv Economic Court ruled that the purchase of 93.02 percent of shares of Kryvorizhstal by the Investment-Metallurgical Union, a consortium owned by Ukrainian oligarchs Rynat Akhmetov and Viktor Pinchuk, was illegal. Now the consortium is appealing against the verdict with the Kyiv Appellate Economic Court, at which it has reportedly called for an amicable arrangement with the government. Semenyuk also said the State Property Fund can question previous privatizations if new owners have not fulfilled their investment commitments. She said she has blacklisted 199 privatized companies that have failed to meet their investment pledges. JM

Deputies in the Republika Srpska parliament voted 62-14 on 30 May to reject a police reform package to create a depoliticized, nationwide police force with administrative units that cross inter-entity borders, as demanded by the EU, "Nezavisne novine" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 May 2005). The legislators ignored an appeal from Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic, who reminded them that failure to approve the changes will block Bosnia-Herzegovina's progress toward Euro-Atlantic integration, dpa reported. Prime Minister Pero Bukejlovic, however, told the deputies that the constitutions of Bosnia and its Serbian entity specify that Republika Srpska's Interior Ministry is responsible for the police in that entity. He stressed that the government considers unconstitutional any changes to this arrangement. Elsewhere, High Representative Paddy Ashdown is scheduled to make a statement on the parliament's decision on 31 May. Police reform is one of the most important issues standing in Bosnia's path to further Euro-Atlantic integration. Current police structures are subordinated to the respective entity governments and closely tied to local political structures. The proposed reforms are designed to break those links. PM

In an open letter, Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski has called on Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew, who is the spiritual head of the Orthodox Churches, to support a dialogue between the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) and the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC), Makfax news agency reported on 30 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 6 August 2004). Buckovski said the SPC's latest decision to recognize only the pro-SPC Archbishopric of Ohrid as canonical not only fails to resolve the church question in Macedonia, but could also increase religious tensions. The MPC, which split from SPC in 1967 with the support of the communist authorities, is not recognized by any other Orthodox Church. UB

The Macedonian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 30 May that the decision of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) to recognize only the pro-SPC Archbishopric of Ohrid as canonical is an attempt to create parallel institutions aimed at undermining the autocephalous status of the Macedonian Orthodox Church (MPC), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The statement added that the SPC's latest move is a "throwback to the past" that does not serve the interests of the Macedonian or Serbian nations and could hurt the development of relations between the two countries. The ministry called on the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro to do whatever they can to prevent "moves aimed at denying [the identity of] the Macedonian people, state, and institutions," regardless of where such threats may originate. PM

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and his Croatian counterpart, Stipe Mesic, discussed bilateral relations in Chisinau on 30 May, Moldovan and Croatian news agencies reported. The two heads of state signed a joint declaration expressing the need for cooperation in combating terrorism, strengthening regional security, and supporting mutual efforts toward joining the EU. The two sides also signed two bilateral agreements on avoiding double taxation and preventing tax evasion, as well as on cooperation between customs services. JM

Nearly 300 delegates at a congress of the Peasants' Christian Democratic Party in Chisinau on 29 May renamed their organization the Republican People's Party, Infotag reported. The congress reelected Nicolae Andronic as party chairman and Mikhail Formuzal as head of the party's political board. Andronic told journalists that the renamed party's essential goals will include educating Moldovans to become part of a European society, improving the lot of Moldovan peasants, and combating poverty. The party has reportedly set itself the goal of becoming the country's main opposition force. JM

Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel has argued that all non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation should be abolished in order to ensure that all citizens of that country will be treated equally and that the country itself will avoid the fate of the Soviet Union.

Speaking to a conference in Yekaterinburg last week on "State Nationality Policy: Problems and Perspectives," Rossel said that, in his view, the Russian Federation should consist exclusively of units based on the territorial principle rather than as now on both that principle and the ethnic one. In his remarks, which were reported extensively in Moscow's "Vremya novostei" on 26 May, Rossel argued that there are two reasons for taking that step. On the one hand, it would reinforce the common identity of the citizens of that country. And on the other, it would help Russia to avoid a repetition of "the disintegration of the USSR."

Indeed, he said, the adoption of the territorial principle in place of the ethnicity principle would allow the Russian Federation to avoid interethnic conflicts and to ensure that citizens will be treated in exactly the same way regardless of their ethnicity. Rossel added that he had urged such a step in 1993 when he represented Sverdlovsk Oblast in the working group that prepared the current Russian Federation constitution.

However, Rossel's own views have evolved over the years. More than a decade ago, he was a leading force behind the creation of one of the largest and most important regional political associations, the Greater Urals Interregional Economic Association. In that capacity, he cooperated closely with the leaders of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, republics which, if his proposals are implemented, would be dismantled.

And only two years ago when Moscow began talking about reducing the number of federal subjects by combining existing ones, Rossel limited his public proposals to one that would affect his own region: He called for the unification of Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk, and Kurgan oblasts.

What prompted him to go public with this broader and more radical proposal? One of his advisers, who spoke with "Vremya novostei" on the condition of anonymity, said that Rossel's statement was intended to curry favor with the Kremlin, which has not yet said whether it will retain him as head of the Sverdlovsk Oblast.

Rossel's words might have more weight than might otherwise be the case. If he is indeed reflecting current Kremlin thinking, then perhaps Moscow plans to move against all non-Russian units -- including the largest and most important ones such as Tatarstan and Bashkortostan -- much sooner than many had thought. And that in turn could set the stage for potentially serious conflicts in the near future. Indeed, a symbolically important one occurred last week when law-enforcement officials demanded that Tatarstan either take down the republic's flag or put up a Russian Federation flag over all government agencies there.

Many Russian officials are very sensitive to the implications of abolishing the ethnic republics, and one who attended the same meeting where Rossel presented his ideas suggested that Moscow would move cautiously in this sphere. Yevgenii Trofimov, who heads the Duma Nationalities Committee, said that there is no guarantee his group would approve such changes in the short term.

And, in words that both Rossel and the Kremlin may find chastening, Trofimov added: "A change in the principle of the federative arrangement of the country will occur when society is prepared for such developments." That condition, he implied, has not yet been met. Given those realities, Rossel's words may have been nothing but a trial balloon. But given his own political skills and current aspirations, they almost certainly were at a minimum a trial balloon not only for himself but on behalf of the Kremlin as well.

Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz, head of the Council of Ulema of Kandahar, was killed while leaving his office on 29 May, international news agencies reported. Fayyaz was known for his support for President Hamid Karzai's government and for his staunch opposition to the neo-Taliban, "The New York Times" reported on 30 May. In 2004, Fayyaz said that the declaration of jihad against U.S. forces in Afghanistan by the neo-Taliban was against Islamic precepts. In early May, leading a group of around 500 ulema in Kandahar, Fayyaz divested Mullah Mohammad Omar, the former leader of the Taliban regime, of the title of "amir al-mu'menin" (commander of the faithful). The office of Karzai's spokesman issued a statement in which the Afghan president strongly condemned the murder of Fayyaz, Afghanistan Television reported on 29 May. Fayyaz was assassinated by "the enemies of Afghanistan's peace and prosperity," Karzai's statement said. AT

Latifullah Hakimi, speaking for the neo-Taliban, told Islamabad-based "The News" on 30 May that the militia assassinated Fayyaz. He was killed following a decision by a pro-Taliban religious council held on 27 May, Hakimi said. Abdul Latif Hakimi -- quite possibly another identity for Latifullah Hakimi -- told Kabul-based Tolu Television on 29 May that the neo-Taliban killed Fayyaz "because he supported the Americans, preached against an Islamic way of life, and intended to lead people away from the path of righteousness." Hakimi told Tolu that the neo-Taliban targeted Fayyaz in 2003 but "he survived that [assassination] attempt." AT

Foreign Ministry spokesman Nawid Ahmad Maiz told Pajhwak News Agency on 28 May that Iran's concerns that U.S. military bases in Afghanistan will threaten security in the region are unfounded. Commenting on Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi's statement of 25 May that the "strategic partnership" signed between Karzai and U.S. President George W. Bush, which foresees long-term U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, will cause instability in the region, Maiz said "permanent U.S. bases here are part" of the agreement that is aimed at bolstering Afghanistan's internal security (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005). Maiz reiterated Karzai's statement that no country should view the U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership as a threat. U.S. and coalition forces are needed in Afghanistan until Afghan forces become "self-reliant," and can protect the country from foreign meddling in its internal affairs, Maiz added. AT

The U.S.-led coalition forces have launched a new military offensive codenamed "Decisive Results" in three locations in south and southwestern Afghanistan, Pajhwak News Agency reported on 30 May. Brigadier General James Champion, deputy commander of the coalition forces, told reporters at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul that 12 battalions of the Afghan National Army (ANA) are also taking part in the operation. Coalition forces are planning to gradually hand over security maintenance of the central regions of Afghanistan to the ANA, while coalition forces' "advisers will continue to provide ANA assistance and consultation," Champion said. An Afghan Defense Ministry official, Colonel Ishaq Payman, added that the handover to ANA will begin in early June. AT

Unidentified assailants killed 11 people in Manogai District of Konar Province by opening fire on the vehicle they were traveling in, Arman FM radio reported on 29 May. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lotfullah Mashal said that he has no further information about the killings, adding that they were carried out by enemies of peace and stability in Afghanistan. No one has claimed responsibility for the killings nor have the identities of the victims been made public. AT

Finance Minister Anwar al-Haq Ahadi told a news conference in Kabul on 28 May that his country has decided to postpone until December a donors conference scheduled to be held in June in London, Afghanistan Television reported. Ahadi said the conference was being postponed since many donor countries have already transferred funds pledged, in consultation with the British government, and as a result Afghanistan's monetary status is satisfactory. AT

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with Iranian legislators on 29 May and praised their stand on the nuclear issue, state radio reported. One day earlier, the Guardians Council approved legislation calling on the government to master all aspects of nuclear technology, including the complete fuel cycle, Iranian state television reported. The parliament passed the legislation on 13 May. The legislation states that the country's nuclear activities must remain within the framework of international commitments, such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. BS

Supreme Leader Khamenei also warned the legislators against excessive political discord, state radio reported. He warned that an unnamed enemy "counts on" people in the country who have "no sympathy towards the ruling system." He advised the parliamentarians to make their constituents aware of "the enemy's plots." "One practical way to do so is to avoid tension, differences, and fights within the parliament over political and presidential election issues," Khamenei said. BS

Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said in his sermon at the 27 May Friday prayers in Tehran that legislation on who can sign up to be a presidential candidate must be rewritten, state radio reported. He complained that unqualified people try to enter the race, and added, "Many of those people had mistaken the Interior Ministry [which runs elections] for the job center." Jannati said, in what could be a swipe at older candidates, that the best candidate is "full of enthusiasm, full of life." The frontrunner, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, is 70 years old, and another candidate, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, is 68. Jannati concluded his sermon by condemning the United States for its alleged desecration of the Koran. "People in the world don't really know the beastly nature of these Americans.... Oh Lord! Free humanity from these lowly and evil bandits. Oh Lord! Quickly punish Israel, which is no less good, for its crimes." BS

Reformist presidential candidate Moin has decided to stay in the presidential race, campaign publicity chief Issa Saharkhiz announced on 28 May, according to IRNA. Initially disqualified by the Guardians Council, Moin was reinstated on the orders of Supreme Leader Khamenei. Some of his supporters said he should decline to run as a protest against the vetting system, which ultimately found that only eight out of 1,014 prospective candidates were eligible to stand in the 17 June election. Moin's running mate will be Mohammad Reza Khatami, secretary-general of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party. Moin has pledged to create the post of vice president for human rights. Moin's spokeswoman, Elaheh Kulyai, said he will cooperate with any groups that intend to operate within a constitutional framework, "Eqbal" reported on 29 May. She said Moin does not rule out working with Iranian expatriates, and he may have women and members of the nationalist-religious forces in his cabinet. BS

The Democracy Party has issued a statement demanding that the Guardians Council explain its rejection of the party's secretary-general, Mustafa Kavakebian, as a presidential candidate, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 29 May. Nevertheless, according to the statement, the party will not boycott the election. Rejected presidential candidate Ebrahim Asqarzadeh, secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Solidarity Party, said that he wanted to stand in the election because the current political system is increasingly warlike, "Iran" reported on 26 May. Asqarzadeh described the Guardians Council's rejection of candidates as illegal, and he added that the council is engineering events in favor of a specific faction. Asqarzadeh thanked his supporters. BS

Hussein Fadai, secretary-general of the Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami), said his political party backs Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf's presidential candidacy, "Iran" reported on 29 May. He said having such competent managers in the executive branch will let the government meet public demands. Fadai cited Qalibaf's record as police chief as proof of what he could accomplish as president. BS

Mahmudali Chehragani, who is identified as the leader of the Southern Azerbaijan National Awareness Movement (in the past he has been linked with the National Liberation Movement of Southern Azerbaijan), on 27 May called on Iranian Azeris to boycott the presidential election, Turan news agency reported. An estimated 24 percent of the population is Azeri (almost 17 million out of 69 million). BS

Journalist Akbar Ganji, who was imprisoned some five years ago, was sent home late in the evening of 29 May for a week's leave, IRNA and Radio Farda reported. He was sent home on medical grounds, and the leave could be extended on the basis of his condition. Ganji suffers from asthma and back problems and requires medication. "I believe all political prisoners and jailed webloggers and journalists must be immediately released without any preconditions," Ganji told journalists on 30 May. Asked about rumors that Mustafa Moin has asked him to serve in his cabinet, Ganji laughed and his lawyer said, "He will have his own cabinet in Evin prison." Ganji also announced that he has ended his hunger strike. Ganji began a hunger strike on 19 May and ended it one day later after negotiating with prison officials. However, according to the Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, he then restarted the hunger strike. BS

A judge in the Bushehr General and Revolutionary Court has cleared Hamid Purmand, an evangelical Christian and former military officer, of charges of apostasy, but has passed a sentence for espionage, ISNA reported on 29 May. Purmand's unnamed attorney said his client received a three-year jail sentence for the latter crime. The attorney said he is working to have those charges dismissed and secure his client's immediate release. BS

The governor of the volatile Al-Anbar governorate, Raja Nawwaf, was found dead in the western town of Rawa two days ago, transitional government spokesman Laith Kubba told reporters at a 31 May press briefing in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Nawwaf was kidnapped along with his son and four bodyguards while traveling between Al-Ramadi and Al-Qa'im on 9 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2005) just days after he was appointed governor. His unidentified abductors demanded the end of U.S. operations in the western city of Al-Qa'im. Kubba said that Nawwaf was found tied to a gas canister in a house along with the bodies of two Syrians, one Jordanian, and an Algerian who had engaged U.S. forces in battle. It remains unclear how Nawwaf died, but Kubba said that it appears that the explosives that detonated during the battle caused concrete to fall on Nawwaf, killing him. U.S. forces also apprehended one Moroccan and two Syrian fighters in the house. All three were wounded, one in a critical condition, Kubba said. KR

An Iraqi Air Force turbo-prop plane carrying four U.S. personnel and one Iraqi crashed on 30 May in the Diyala Governorate near the Iranian border, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement released the same day ( The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but Reuters cited an Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman as saying that it may have been caused by a sandstorm. An Italian helicopter also crashed in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Nasiriyah on 31 May killing all four Italians on board, Reuters reported. KR

Multinational and Iraqi forces have concluded Operation New Market in the western Iraqi town of Hadithah, according to a 30 May statement posted to the CENTCOM website ( The operation was launched on 25 May and targeted insurgents in and around the town, which is located approximately halfway between Al-Ramadi and Al-Qa'im (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2005). CENTCOM reported that "a significant number of terrorists were killed" in the operation and "dozens are being held and questioned." The statement added that "numerous" weapons caches and munitions were also confiscated during the operation. KR

Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, the head of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party, was detained by U.S. soldiers along with three of his sons during an early morning raid on his home on 30 May, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Abd al-Hamid's son Suhayb, who was not among the arrested, told RFI that soldiers shouted during the raid, "Definitely, [Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab] al-Zarqawi is here!" He said that an Iraqi who accompanied the U.S. soldiers mocked his father during the raid, saying: "What party is this Islamic Party and who is this doctor Muhsin. Why did you not enter the elections?" Sunni leaders quickly condemned the arrest. Islamic Party Deputy Secretary-General Tariq al-Hashimi demanded in a 30 May press briefing in Baghdad "an official apology from the occupation forces for the material and moral damage that has been inflicted on one of the biggest and most reputable Iraqi patriotic political parties." Sunni Waqf head Adnan al-Dulaymi also condemned the arrest, telling RFI: "We have been struggling for unity and national reconciliation but these events aim only at provoking sectarian strife." KR

U.S. forces released Muhsin Abd al-Hamid several hours after his arrest, saying it had been a mistake, CENTCOM said in a 30 May press release ( "This morning, coalition forces detained and interviewed Muhsin Abd al-Hamid. Following the interview it was determined that he was detained by mistake and should be released," the statement said. Transitional government spokesman Laith Kubba told RFI in a 30 May telephone interview that it appeared that the arrest came as part of Operation Lightning, currently under way in Baghdad. "We are astonished that persons close to the political process have also been exposed to these acts of storming and intimidation. This is the fourth case this month," Kubba said. He added that Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari has ordered an investigation into the spate of arrests, which were carried out without the knowledge of the transitional government. KR

An audiotaped message posted on the Internet and attributed to fugitive Jordanian terrorist al-Zarqawi addresses Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, saying that al-Zarqawi was only slightly wounded in battle and remains in Iraq, reported on 30 May. The message, if authentic, clears up speculation over whether al-Zarqawi is on the verge of death. Previous Internet postings claimed that he sought medical treatment outside Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 May 2005). The speaker in the message assures bin Laden that Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn continues to fight in Iraq. "We are here to fight, to raise the Islamic flag very high again," he says. He also criticizes transitional President Jalal Talabani for his remarks on reining in the insurgency. "I challenge Jalal Talabani to go outside his palace to see the people in Baghdad, or Al-Ramadi, or Mosul," the speaker says, adding: "I want to understand who is isolated from the people, Talabani or the mujahedin." KR

In an Internet statement, Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility for a 30 May double suicide bombing targeting former Iraqi police in Al-Hillah, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. The attack occurred when a suicide bomber strapped with explosives detonated himself in the middle of a demonstration by former police commandos, RFI reported. The former officers were protesting their dismissal two months ago after they were accused of presenting forged documents to the Al-Hillah governor, including an approval for the opening of a special forces center. A second bomber blew himself up in the ensuing chaos. Twenty-seven people were killed in the attack and more than 100 wounded. KR