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Newsline - June 1, 2005

Speaking after the guilty verdict was announced against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and his partner, Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005) on 31 May, spokeswoman Natalya Vishnyakova said the Prosecutor-General's Office is likely to bring new charges against both men soon, RTR and other media reported. She suggested indictments would allege the "laundering of criminally gained assets worth several billions of rubles." Prosecutors view the nine-year sentences handed down against Khodorkovskii and Lebedev as "fair and objective" and challenged journalists to "stop talking about the transparent and law-abiding Yukos management," RTR reported. "We're dealing with embezzlement and tax evasion, plain and simple, in this case," Vishnyakova said. "A serious crime was committed and just punishment followed." Defense lawyer Genrikh Padva said the defense will appeal the verdict, RFE/RL's Russian Service and other media reported. Menatep stakeholder Leonid Nevzlin charged on 31 May that President Vladimir Putin is behind the trial, acting as "prosecutor, judge, and executor all at once," reported. He said the court merely "formalized" a verdict that was prepared in the Kremlin. VY

INDEM Foundation head and Committee-2008 member Georgii Satarov told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 31 May that the Khodorkovskii/Lebedev trial marks a pivotal point in modern Russian history. "I am pretty sure that if the opposition wins the next elections, Khodorkovskii will not serve out his term; but if the present political circle remains in power, he will sit for more than he was sentenced," Satarov said. Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said the same day that "the consolidation of all democratic forces has become a matter not of ambition, but of vital necessity," reported. "We should understand that we are living already in another country," Kasyanov added. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii called the Yukos legal process an "act of intimidation," RIA-Novosti reported. "The court highlights the fact that Russian justice is not a tool of law, but [one] of political interests and property redistribution," Yavlinskii said. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov called Khodorkovskii a "scapegoat for a public lashing," reported. "The lack of civilized legal institutions, of a coherent industrial policy, and of dialogue between the government and the people is provoking capital flight from the country," Zyuganov said. VY

Deputy Duma Speaker and Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii said on 31 May that nine-year sentences are too lenient for Khodorkovskii and Lebedev, as "people wanted them sentenced to death or life in prison for taking billions abroad," RIA-Novosti and other media reported. "Our president is too much a democrat, and the prosecutor-general is too soft," Zhirinovskii said. Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov called the verdicts "just," NTV reported. "For me. it would have been an unpleasant surprise if Khodorkovskii had been acquitted," Mironov said. Meanwhile, a listener who called RFE/RL's Russian Service on 31 May said, "Khodorkovskii made his fortune illegally, using state assets, and now the state is equally illegally taking them away from him." Another RFE/RL listener said he "prefers selective justice to no justice at all." A third listener said that "by pushing this verdict on Khodorkovskii, the Kremlin has signed its own verdict." VY

Speaking at a White House news conference on 31 May, President George W. Bush said he "expressed my concerns about the [Yukos] case to President Putin because, as I explained to him, here you're innocent until proven guilty," according to a transcript of the event published on the White House website ( Bush was responding to a journalist's question concerning the verdicts announced the same day against former Yukos head Khodorkovskii and his partner, Lebedev. Bush said that "it appeared to us, or at least people in my administration, that it looked like he had been judged guilty prior to having a fair trial," adding that "we've expressed our concerns about the system." Speaking outside the Meshchanskii Raion Court in Moscow, U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (Democrat, California) said the same day, according to, "It's obvious that the conclusion of the trial was predetermined politically." Lantos added that he will insist on Russia's expulsion from Group of Eight (G-8) leading industrialized countries. Lantos, together with Senators John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and Joseph Lieberman (Democrat, Connecticut), introduced legislation in February urging the G-8 to suspend Russia's membership "until the Russian government ends its assault on democracy and political freedom." Duma Foreign Relations Committee Deputy Chairwoman Natalya Narochnitskaya (Motherland) expressed indifference to Lantos's warning, RTR reported on 31 May. "If, like me, you have no inferiority complex toward the West, you shouldn't care about it," Narochnitskaya said. VY

Embattled oil giant Yukos filed a case with the Moscow Arbitration Court on 31 May seeking compensation for the government's seizure and sale of its main production subsidiary Yuganskneftegaz, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 1 June. The company is seeking some $11.5 billion in compensation from the State Property Fund, the Finance Ministry, Rosneft, Gazprom, Gazpromneft, and the Baikal Finance Group. The same day, the court rejected a Yukos motion to freeze Yuganskneftegaz shares while the case is being heard. Hearings are scheduled to begin on 16 June. RC

Leonid Nevzlin, the main shareholder of Menatep, which controls 60 percent of Yukos, filed a suit in London on 31 May against Sibneft, which is controlled by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, Interfax reported. According to the news agency's unnamed source, Nevzlin is seeking a sum that exceeds "by many times" the $3 billion that Yukos paid as part of an aborted merger of the two companies. RC

Speaking to journalists after talks with his Japanese counterpart Nobutaka Matimura in Tokyo on 31 May, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the two sides failed to make any progress over the disputed Kurile Islands or the signing of a peace treaty to put a formal end to World War II hostilities, RIA-Novosti reported. "Our positions are unchangeable, and they are directly opposing," Lavrov said. He added that there are no behind-the-scenes discussions. "It is a complicated problem to solve that needs time and compliance with public opinion in both countries," Lavrov said. He also said President Putin will visit Japan by the end of this year. VY

"Ivzestiya" reported on 1 June that President Putin met in the Kremlin on 30 May with a group of leaders and activists from the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth organization. According to the report, the group's four so-called commissars, including Nashi founder Vasilii Yakemenko, and leaders from about 10 Nashi regional organizations, participated in the purported meeting. "We discussed a wide circle of issues from within Russia and from beyond its borders," Yakemenko told the daily. "In part, we discussed Russia's position with respect to the Baltic states and Russia's relations with the European Union. Among domestic issues, we discussed issues of youth politics and relations between youth and the state. Of course we discussed the important question 'where are we going.'" The Kremlin's press office refused to confirm or deny that the meeting took place. Yakemenko said that Putin expressed his amazement that Nashi had been able to bring an estimated 60,000 people to a Moscow rally on 15 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). The daily commented that "out of the entire broad spectrum of youth parties and movements, only Nashi has managed to get into the Kremlin." RC

Members of the radical leftist youth group Red Youth Avant-garde (AKM) unfurled an anti-Putin banner from the Ivan the Great bell tower in the Kremlin on 31 May, and other Russian media reported. About 30 other members of the organization stood at the foot of the tower and chanted anti-Putin slogans after tearing a portrait of Putin to pieces. The banner that hung briefly from the tower read, "Putin, It Is Time To Leave." The demonstrators also called on the government to allow a Communist-backed national referendum on President Putin's policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005). According to RIA-Novosti, 12 demonstrators and three journalists -- two from "Novaya gazeta" and one from "Gazeta" -- were detained by police in connection with the incident. The news agency reported that three of the activists will face administrative sanctions, including one who prosecutors allege was carrying a bottle of gasoline. All those detained were released later the same day, except for AKM leader Sergei Udaltsov, who was given an administrative penalty of 10 days in jail. RC

The Moscow Arbitration Court on 1 June greatly reduced the damages award in a libel case that Alfa-Bank brought against the Kommersant publishing group, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2005). The court reduced the award from 300 million rubles ($10 million) to 30 million rubles. A spokesman for the publishing house, which is owned by tycoon Boris Berezovskii, said the company will continue to appeal to have the entire verdict against it overturned. RC

A former ranking financial official at the Defense Ministry, Georgii Oleinik, was released on parole on 31 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Oleinik was convicted in July 2003 of selling $54 million in Defense Ministry domestic bonds to Voienbank for $4.5 million in 1998 and doing so without permission from the Central Bank and then Defense Minster Igor Sergeev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2003). He was sentenced to five years in prison. RC

The Interior Ministry has identified about 150 suspected extremist organizations in Russia, with an aggregate membership of about 5,000 people, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 June, quoting Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev. Nurgaliev told an Interior Ministry conference that the most pressing problem in this sphere is the growing influence of extremists among Russian youth. "Taken to extremes, the ideology of extremist actions has an enormous destructive force," Nurgaliev said. "Its supporters are ready for any kind of action, for the violation of social norms and laws." He said that Russia's skinhead movement is currently "unstructured and does not have overall leadership." But he added that when extremists fall under the influence of a strong leader, "they become easily manipulated cadres, ready even to commit murder." RC

First lady Lyudmila Putina on 1 June gave a rare interview to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on the occasion of International Children's Day in which she revealed some details of her life with President Putin. "He works too much," Putina said. "Everyone in the family knows that, and so anyone who wants to talk to him awaits his arrival at the table for his cup of evening kefir." She noted that Putin is the only member of the family who drinks kefir. Putina also said that Putin has never played an active role in the raising of their two daughters, adding that he also never spared any expense related to their education or to family vacations. Putina said that she has trouble understanding her husband's "black humor and irony," saying she prefers "simple, good-natured humor." Putina boasted that her daughters each speak three languages, that they love their country, and that they "rarely use jargon-like expressions." She concluded by saying that she is certain Putin is doing everything he can to advance Russia's democratic development. "I take open lies very hard because I believe my husband is giving all of his time and strength to develop our country and to bring it to a certain level of development in economic terms and in political terms, including democracy and the rule of law," Putina said. RC

Aleksandr Dzasokhov announced his resignation as president of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania on 31 May, eight months before his second term was scheduled to end in late January, Russian media reported. Dzasokhov, 71, said he believes it is time to make way for someone younger but that he hopes to continue to be useful politically to his republic, according to Relatives of those killed in the Beslan hostage taking in September have repeatedly demanded that Dzasokhov resign in light of his handling of that crisis, but he had refused to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 January and 18 April 2005). Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak told journalists in Vladikavkaz that he will propose to President Putin three candidates to succeed Dzasokhov as republican head: parliamentary speaker Taimuraz Mamsurov, First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Merkulov, and Vladikavkaz Mayor Kazbek Pliev. The North Ossetian parliament voted last month to replace the official title of president with that of head of the republic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). LF

The Artarutiun opposition bloc and its close ally, the National Accord Party, issued a joint statement on 31 May criticizing amendments to the constitution drafted by the country's leadership and urging voters to reject the proposed changes in the referendum to be held later this year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The statement said those amendments aim to "preserve the country's autocratic system" and do not encompass "changes needed for...democratization." The amendments, approved by parliament in their first reading three weeks ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2005), do not include several key changes called for by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, including expanding the powers of the legislature, limiting the president's authority to appoint and dismiss judges, and introducing elections for the post of Yerevan mayor. In a statement released on 27 May, the Venice Commission expressed its "deep dissatisfaction" with the parliament's failure to incorporate those changes into the revised draft amendments, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Venice Commission warned that rejection of its recommendations would negatively affect Armenia's hopes for closer integration into European structures. LF

Some 2,000 people congregated on 30 May in the central town of Hrazdan to protest alleged fraud and violence during mayoral elections the previous day, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Municipal election officials ordered a recount on 30 May after initial returns showed incumbent Aram Danielian, who is aligned with the governing Republican Party of Armenia, defeated his sole rival, independent candidate Artur Shaboyan, by 350 votes. Shaboyan supporters told RFE/RL they were assaulted and beaten on election day by special police sent from Yerevan. Danielian rejected those complaints, telling RFE/RL he considers the election proceeded "normally." LF

Human rights ombudsman Larisa Alaverdian accused Armenia's National Security Service on 31 May of seeking to discredit her office and of pressuring people who lodge complaints about government officials, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. On 27 May, security officials arrested a member of Alaverdian's staff who allegedly accepted a $300 bribe from a Yerevan restaurant owner to ignore complaints to the ombudsman's office by residents of a neighboring building. Hours later, security officials broke into the ombudsman's office and confiscated the main computer, which, according to Alaverdian, contains information about alleged human rights abuses. Under Armenian law, that information may not be passed to any government agency without the plaintiff's consent. On 1 June, the daily "Haykakan zhamanak" quoted Alaverdian as saying that unnamed government officials are resorting to "KGB methods" in a bid to force her to resign because they did not like her recent annual report on human rights abuses, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

Dmitrii Medvedev, who heads the Russian presidential administration, met in Yerevan on 31 May with President Robert Kocharian, presidential-administration head Artashes Tumanian, and with Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, who heads the intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Topics discussed included revitalizing five Armenian enterprises ceded to Russia in 2002 in payment of Armenia's $98 million debt; the use by Armenia of the Russia-Georgia Black Sea ferry service; construction of the Iran-Armenian gas pipeline, in which Gazprom is involved; and a program of cultural events to mark the Year of Russia in Armenia. The Azerbaijani online daily reported on 1 June that Medvedev will also discuss during his visit to Yerevan the planned transfer to Armenia of Russian military hardware currently deployed at the two Russian bases in Georgia that are to be closed by the end of 2008. LF

Authorities detained two members of the youth movement Yokh! (No!) in Baku on 31 May, the last day of the school year, for distributing among high-school students leaflets urging them to join the movement for democratization and to reject official corruption, according to a Yokh press release received by e-mail the same day. The website gave the number of arrested activists as four, without naming them. LF

In a statement released in Brussels on 31 May (, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer welcomed the 30 May agreement on the closure of Russia's two remaining military bases in Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). De Hoop Scheffer said that agreement advances security in the South Caucasus and "appears to represent a step forward in implementation of commitments undertaken at the 1999 Istanbul OSCE Summit aimed at resolving questions of compliance with the requirement of Article IV of the CFE Treaty for host-state consent to the presence of stationed military forces." In Ljubljana, OSCE Chairman in Office Dmitrij Rupel issued a similar statement on 31 May ( noting that the withdrawal agreement "marks significant progress in the talks between the two states on this and other vital issues on their bilateral agenda." LF

Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov was quoted on 1 June by as saying that while Baku welcomes Russia's decision to withdraw its troops from Georgia, it is concerned at the prospect that part of the materiel from the two Russian bases in Georgia might be transferred to Armenia. He said Baku sees no reason why any foreign forces should be deployed anywhere in the South Caucasus. Turan reported on 31 May that Russia plans to send no fewer than 40 tanks to Armenia, but Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry official Tair Tagizade said he could not confirm that report. The online daily on 1 June quoted Elman Mamedov, a member of the parliamentary commission for defense, as saying that parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov warned senior Russian officials during a recent visit to Moscow that Baku would protest any transfer of Russian weaponry from Georgia to Armenia at the Council of Europe, the UN, and other international organizations. Alesqerov said the Azerbaijani leadership would interpret any such deployment as a deliberate attempt to fuel tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan, given that such measures could result in a resumption of hostilities. LF

Among the points agreed during talks in Moscow on 30 May between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Georgian counterpart Salome Zourabichvili was the resumption of preparations by German and OSCE experts to inspect the former Russian military base in Gudauta, according to the joint declaration posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website ( Russia undertook at the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul to vacate that base by 30 June 2001 and claimed to have complied with that request, but no international monitors have been able to gain access to the base to confirm that claim. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko told Interfax on 18 May that Russia supports the OSCE's plan to dispatch an inspection mission to Gudauta, but Georgia opposes it. LF

Visiting Sukhum on 28-31 May, Turkish Ambassador to Georgia Ertan Tezgor met with parliamentary and government officials and with Abkhaz whose ancestors were expelled from the region and settled in Turkey in the 19th century, Caucasus Press reported. On 31 May, Tezgor met with parliamentary speaker Nugzar Ashuba, Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba, President Sergei Bagapsh, and Vice President Raul Khadjimba and suggested during those talks that Ankara could mediate talks between Tbilisi and the breakaway republic. Bagapsh thanked Tezgor for that offer but added that such a dialogue is impossible in light of Turkey's ongoing military cooperation with Georgia, according to LF

Torben Holtze, who heads the European Commission office in Tbilisi, met in Sukhum on 31 May with President Bagapsh, Prime Minister Aleksandr Ankvab, and other senior officials to discuss proposals for the post-conflict rehabilitation of the Gali, Ochamchire, and Tkvarcheli districts of central and southern Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. The proposed 4 million-euro ($5 million) program encompasses the reconstruction of power lines and water mains, rebuilding of four hospitals, and provision of loans to assist small businesses. Bagapsh and Ankvab thanked Holtze for funds provided by the EU toward the cost of major repairs at the Inguri hydroelectric power station. LF

Altynbek Sarsenbaev, former Kazakh information minister and current co-chairman of the unregistered opposition party Naghyz Ak Zhol, went on trial on 30 May in Almaty on charges of defamation, Khabar Television and Navigator reported. The Khabar Agency is seeking 50 million tenges ($380,000) in damages for comments Sarsenbaev made in an October 2004 interview with "Respublika." The agency alleges that Sarsenbaev made defamatory assertions that Khabar was part of a holding company that had monopolized the country's media market, Khabar reported. "I didn't say that it was Khabar that had monopolized the information market," Sarsenbaev told the court, according to Navigator. "I said that Darigha Nazarbaeva [daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev] and the members of her family had done this." Sarsenbaev resigned as information minister in September 2004 to protest what he termed "unfair" parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 September 2004). DK

A crowd of 200 people in Bishkek on the morning of 1 June stormed and retook Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court, which had been occupied since late April by the supporters of four losing candidates in recent parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Arriving on buses and identifying themselves as members of a "people's militia" that was formed to maintain order after Kyrgyzstan's 24 March revolution, the attackers swept away a guard consisting of 20 policemen and then overpowered the building's occupiers after a brief scuffle. Police sources later reported that talks were under way between the two groups under the supervision of law-enforcement authorities. A Bishkek police official told RFE/RL that the court building and property survived unscathed and that no injuries resulted from the clash. "A company of Interior Ministry troops and the National Guard are currently in the building," the official said. DK

Acting Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev held talks on 31 May in Bishkek with Nikolai Bordyuzha, secretary-general of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO; Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan), Kyrgyz Television reported. Bordyuzha noted that Russia is prepared to sign an agreement on training military personnel for free. Bordyuzha also met with acting First Deputy Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, Kabar reported. Kulov urged an expanded role for the CSTO in light of recent events in Uzbekistan. "The Andijon events compel us to speak about the need to unite to counteract negative processes," Kulov said. "The roles of the CSTO in these issues should be increased." DK

China's Foreign Ministry on 31 May denied a report in the newspaper "Huanqiu Shibao" that China is considering establishing a military presence in Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005), Interfax-China reported. Interfax quoted a spokesman as saying, "The Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO; China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan] has never considered the question of setting up military bases." At a news conference in Bishkek on 31 May, acting Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva said the Kyrgyz side has not initiated any discussion of foreign military bases in the country under the aegis of the CSTO or SCO, Kabar reported. "Kyrgyzstan is not planning to become a gathering point for various countries' military bases," Otunbaeva said. DK

Roughly 100 demonstrators tried unsuccessfully to storm the regional-administration building in Osh on 31 May, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The protestors demanded the resignation of acting Governor Anvar Artykov, who they said has unfairly distributed humanitarian aid from Uzbekistan to his supporters and not to those who truly need it. One demonstrator told RFE/RL that Bayaman Erkinbaev, a member of parliament from Osh Province, should take Artykov's place. For his part, Artykov told RFE/RL that the demonstrators received money for their actions from forces that intended to destabilize the region in the lead-up to the 10 July presidential election. DK

Russian President Vladimir Putin has appointed Ramazan Abdulatipov to be Russia's new envoy to Tajikistan, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 31 May. Abdulatipov will replace Maksim Peshkov, who has held the post since the mid-1990s. Abdulatipov is an Avar from Daghestan, and his appointment as ambassador may be intended to prevent him from participating in the election next summer for a new Daghestan republican leader. A former State Duma deputy, Abdulatipov was appointed to the post of deputy prime minister in the government of Viktor Chernomyrdin in 1997, serving until 1999. Diplomatic sources told the newspaper that Abdulatipov had originally been chosen to be Russia's ambassador to Turkmenistan, but Turkmen President Saramurat Niyazov objected to the appointment of such a prominent political figure. Dodojon Atovulloev, the editor in chief of a Moscow-based Tajik opposition newspaper, told "Kommersant-Daily" that while he thinks the appointment is a good one, "a person toward the end of his political career is unlikely to want to make any major changes in the embassy's work." Abdulatipov leaves for Dushanbe on 15 June. DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov signed a decree on 31 May removing Shekersoltan Mukhammedova from her post as head of the National Bank for "abuse of office," reported. Jumaniyaz Annaorazov will move from the post of economics and finance minister to replace Mukhammedova. Deputy Prime Minister Amandurdy Myratgulyev will replace Annaorazov as economics and finance minister. The Turkmen opposition website Gundogar reported on 31 May that Mukhammedova has been arrested in connection with a financial scandal involving $36 million in unpaid loans previously issued by the National Bank. The report linked Mukhammedova's sacking and legal troubles to the recent dismissal of Deputy Prime Minister Yolly Gurbanmuradov (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 25 May 2005). DK

Speaking at a news conference on 31 May, President George W. Bush said, "We want to know fully what took place there in Uzbekistan, and that's why we've asked the International Red Cross to go in," the White House reported in a website transcript ( "We've called for the International Red Cross to go into the Andijon region to determine what went on, and we expect all our friends, as well as those who aren't our friends, to honor human rights and protect minority rights. That's part of a healthy and a peaceful -- peaceful world, will be a world in which governments do respect people's rights." The president's remarks came shortly after a delegation of three U.S. senators visited Tashkent, where they called for an independent inquiry into allegations that a massacre took place in Andijon. No Uzbek officials agreed to meet with the U.S. senators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). DK

A district court in Minsk on 31 May sentenced opposition leaders Mikalay Statkevich and Pavel Sevyarynets to three years of "restricted freedom" and corrective labor each, finding them guilty of organizing a series of demonstrations against the official results of the 17 October 2004 constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19, 20, 21, and 22 October 2004), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Statkevich and Sevyarynets will automatically have their terms shortened by one year under the amnesty law that took effect on 6 May. The verdict means that both politicians will have to live in a prison facility, work for a specified enterprise or organization or find a job in a designated area, and report to the prison administration at an appointed time every day. "This is political revenge," Statkevich said about his sentence. He had planned to take part in the 2006 presidential election campaign as a candidate. "I think the authorities are striving to restrict the freedom of all those who are able to lead people into the streets," Sevyarynets told RFE/RL. "This trial was meant to intimidate [people], but nowadays nobody in Belarus is actually afraid of [such measures]." JM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree limiting the use of the words "national" and "Belarusian" in the names of organizations, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 31 May. The word "national" may be used only in the names of government agencies, organizations whose property is owned by the state, and media outlets founded by the government. Political parties, national nongovernmental organizations, national trade unions, and banks are allowed to include the word "Belarusian" in their names, but not the word "national." Private media outlets are not allowed to use either the word "national" or the word "Belarusian" in their names. The decree orders the organizations and companies that do not meet the new requirements to apply for re-registration within three months. JM

Vladimir Zhirinovskii, deputy speaker of the Russian State Duma and head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, met with President Lukashenka and Belarusian Chamber of Representatives speaker Uladzimir Kanaplyou in Minsk on 31 May, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Zhirinovskii told journalists that Belarus has chosen "the optimal variant of development" among post-Soviet states. "I can assess only positively all what is taking place [in Belarus], I can find no negatives here," Zhirinovskii said, in attendance of Lukashenka. "Today, Belarus is a model for the entire CIS. Possibly, in the future it will be a model for the whole of Eastern Europe." Zhirinovskii is remembered in the CIS area for labeling Lukashenka as a "kolkhoz stable-man" in the 1990s. JM

Deputy Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin told lawmakers in the Verkhovna Rada on 1 June that prosecutors have opened two criminal investigations into the alleged beating of opposition lawmakers Nestor Shufrych and Tamara Proshkuratova by a police squad in Uzhhorod in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2005), Ukrainian media reported. Shokin was speaking at a plenary sitting devoted to a discussion of the incident in Uzhhorod. He specified that one probe focuses on exceeding the authority by policemen while the other looks into the lawmakers' interference with the squad's actions during the incident. JM

Some 2,000 veterans of the Afghan war staged a picket in front of the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv on 31 May, demanding the dismissal of Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, whom they blame for failing to provide social benefits and housing to them under a law on the status of war veterans, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Some 150,000 Ukrainians fought in Afghanistan -- 3,290 were killed, more than 8,000 wounded, and some 4,700 discharged from the army as disabled. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on 31 May passed a bill on an amnesty proposed by President Viktor Yushchenko, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. The bill will reduce or terminate sentences for more than 17,000 convicts. JM

High Representative Paddy Ashdown said in Sarajevo on 31 May that the Bosnian Serb parliament's recent rejection of police reform will block Bosnia-Herzegovina's path to European integration, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). Referring to the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), he stressed that "the party founded by Radovan Karadzic has shown itself incapable of looking to the future and once again has placed a blight on the future of the whole country." Ashdown warned the Bosnian Serbs that "the mood of Europe is changing. There could not be a worse time to put yourself at the back of the queue on the European road." He added that Bosnia is "the only country in the region without any legal agreement with the EU yet." Ashdown suggested that the Bosnian Serb leaders are indifferent to the suffering that they bring upon ordinary people by blocking European integration, noting that the leaders all have jobs and diplomatic passports that enable them to travel freely. Ashdown promised to introduce what he called "adequate measures" in response to the parliament's decision but did not elaborate. PM

The Belgrade district court on 31 May withdrew an international arrest warrant for Mira Markovic, the wife of former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, who is charged with the illegal distribution of Serbian government-owned apartments, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The court made its decision after receiving assurances from her lawyers that she will appear at her trial in September. Markovic has been on the run since early 2003, at which time some Serbian media reported that she was seen in Russia in the company of her son and brother-in-law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 28 April 2003). Now that the warrant has been lifted, she is legally free to visit her husband in The Hague, Reuters reported. He has complained that a lack of visits by his family members has been bad for his morale and ability to conduct his legal defense. PM

Rafet Jashari, who heads Kosova's postal service, told reporters in Prishtina on 31 May that the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) have approved a new system of 118 postal code numbers for the province, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The system is distinct from that of Serbia and Montenegro and is registered with the UPU as "Kosovo (UNMIK)." Mail can now be sent directly to Kosova from abroad instead of indirectly through Albania or Switzerland. Kosova also has its own postage stamps denominated in euros, as well as automobile license plates distinct from those of Serbia and Montenegro. The elected authorities in Prishtina also want Kosova to have its own international telephone dial code and SWIFT code for money transfers. Elsewhere, Randjel Nojkic, who is a Kosovar Serb politician and postal official, told the private Beta news agency that the Serbian enclaves in the province will continue to use the old Serbian postal codes, Reuters reported. Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for southern Serbia and Kosova, has argued that assigning Kosova its own license plates and postal codes is tantamount to treating it internationally as "a completely separate entity" from Serbia. PM

Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged, the EU permanent representative in Moldova, confirmed to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin in Chisinau on 31 May that the European Union will join the efforts to settle the conflict between Moldova and its separatist Transdniester region, Infotag reported. On 17 May, representatives of Moldova and Transdniester agreed to involve the United States and the European Union in the settlement process, which has so far been brokered by Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). JM

On 26 May, the Macedonian cabinet approved a draft law aimed at regulating the use of national flags by the country's ethnic communities. With the draft, the Social Democratic-led government entered the final stage of implementing the 2001 Ohrid peace accord, which ended hostilities between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and government forces.

The draft has yet to be posted on the parliament's agenda, but the text as it stands constitutes a decisive departure from current practice. Until now, the ethnic minorities have been prohibited from using their national flags in public and on the buildings of state institutions. Although the law pertains to all "ethnic communities," it is clear that it is the 23-percent Albanian minority that profits most from the new regulations.

The use and display of national flags is a highly controversial issue. In former Yugoslavia, the Albanian minority used the Albanian flag with its black double-headed eagle on a red background as a symbol of the Albanian people rather than of the Albanian state. There are really no alternative flags in the Albanian national tradition. Ethnic Macedonians, however, tend to regard the Albanian flag as a symbol of ethnic Albanian separatism and thus have insisted that it be banned. In 1997, the mayors of the overwhelmingly Albanian-populated towns of Gostivar and Tetovo were even jailed for flying the Albanian flag from their town halls.

The mayors were subsequently released, but the issue of the national flags remained on the agenda of the ethnic Albanians' political representatives. It also was on the agenda of the UCK when it launched its insurgency in early 2001. When the guerrillas and the Skopje authorities signed the Ohrid peace agreement in August 2001, they agreed to find a mutually acceptable solution.

As the law pertains to the use of the ethnic minorities' flags on a local level, it is interesting to note that there is a substantial difference between its stipulations and those regarding the use of ethnic minorities' languages as envisaged by the Ohrid peace deal: "With respect to local self-government, in municipalities where a community comprises at least 20 percent of the population of the municipality, the language of that community will be used as an official language in addition to Macedonian." (The full text of the peace deal in the English original can be found at

But for the use of flags, ethnic minorities must make up more than 50 percent of the population in a municipality. If this is the case, they may fly their flag on official occasions such as national holidays, during the visits of high-ranking state representatives such as the president or prime minister, and on holidays of ethnic or religious communities. The minorities' flags must always be flown alongside the Macedonian state flag. The draft law also regulates exactly where such flags may be flown: at town halls, on central squares, and at other official sites.

"The law does not specify what a community flag is or what it will look like, except that it is the flag that a community has chosen itself and uses as an expression of its identity," government spokesman Saso Colakovski said after the government session.

If the parliament adopts the proposed regulation, the Albanian flag may be flown in 16 municipalities -- including Tetovo, Gostivar, and Aracinovo -- as well as in two administrative districts of Skopje, Cair and Saraj. The Turkish minority has a majority in only two districts, Centar Zupa and Plasnica, while the Roma may fly their flag on the town hall and in the streets of Skopje's Suto Orizari district.

As could be expected, not everyone was happy with the proposal. Ethnic Albanians and Macedonians alike criticized the compromise solution proposed by the government.

Even before the government discussed the flag-related legislation, Rafiz Aliti -- who is deputy chairman of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 25 May that it would be more logical if the 20-percent rule for language use also would have applied to flags. Ismet Ramadani of the small ethnic Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) supported Aliti's position.

In an initial reaction, the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization-National Party (VMRO-NP) said the flag used by the Albanian minority should be different from the flag of the Albanian state.

The VMRO-NP's position suggests that the government has yet to convince the Macedonian majority that the use of national symbols does not necessarily imply separatist intentions.

Afghan officials say at least 17 people were killed and 36 injured by a suicide bomber who blew himself up at the entrance of Kandahar's main mosque on 1 June, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. The bomber detonated his explosives during a mourning ceremony for a slain Islamic cleric Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz, who had been a strong supporter of Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Fayyaz, head of the Council of Ulema of Kandahar, was killed on 29 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). Fayyaz was known for his support for President Hamid Karzai's government and for his staunch opposition to the neo-Taliban. A spokesman for the neo-Taliban has claimed responsibility for the cleric's killing. AT

The suicide blast in Kandahar also claimed the life of Kabul security chief General Akram Khakraizwal, who was attending the service, Radio Free Afghanistan and international news agencies reported on 1 June. The suicide bomber, described by an eyewitness as someone wearing a police uniform, tried to help Khakraizwal with his shoes and then detonated the explosives, which apparently he was wearing, AIP reported. The blast also killed Mullah Naqibullah, AIP reported in a separate dispatch on 1 June. Naqibullah was a commander associated with the Jamiat-e Islami party and was instrumental in securing Kandahar's handover from the Taliban regime in December 2001 and for granting amnesty to former Taliban leaders. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the blast in Kandahar. AT

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) took command of two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in Herat and Farah provinces on 31 May, a statement released by the force on 31 May indicated ( The PRT in Herat will be commanded by Italy, and in Farah by U.S. forces, under ISAF command. ISAF will also assume command of the Forward Support Base in Herat with a Spanish officer in the commanding role. The expansion to western Afghanistan "will result in significant changes for the ISAF mission," Turkish Lieutenant General Ethem Erdagi, commander of ISAF said. Beyond expanding into a new geographical area, the mission represents the establishment of the first Regional Area Command structure for ISAF and will allow the force to "effectively support the upcoming Wolesi Jirga and Provincial Council elections" in September, Erdagi added. AT

Mofti Latifullah Hakimi, speaking for the neo-Taliban, told the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) on 30 May that the militia was responsible for two attacks targeting the headquarters of ISAF. On 29 May, the neo-Taliban fired "two missiles at the ISAF center in Kabul," Hakimi told AIP. Hakimi also accepted responsibility for the explosion near the ISAF compound on 30 May. He said that the explosive device was attached to a bicycle. "Damage was inflicted on Kabul citizens too, for which we beg for forgiveness," Hakimi said, asking residents of Kabul to keep their distance from the ISAF center and U.S. forces. An ISAF statement released on 30 May indicated that one 107 millimeter rocket impacted the compound, causing minor structural damage and no injuries. Kabul security commander General Mohammad Akram Khakrezwal told AIP on 30 May that the blast injured five Afghans. AT

Six neo-Taliban insurgents were killed in clashes with U.S.-led coalition forces on 30 May in the Barmal District of Paktika Province, Pazhwak News Agency reported on 31 May. The neo-Taliban were killed after they attacked positions of the coalition forces and were subsequently targeted by coalition aircraft. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi said that he does not know whether the Afghan National Army participated in the operation. AT

According to a press statement released by the Afghan Interior Ministry on 31 May, the Afghan Special Narcotics Force has "completely disrupted the largest drugs bazaar in Afghanistan" located in Helmand Province. The bazaar located in Bahram Chah in the Garmser District of Helmand has "long been known" as the major center for the processing of narcotics and for its trade to neighboring Pakistan and Iran, the statement added. The operations mark the first time that Afghan forces have operated in Helmand, "which demonstrates the increasing reach of the central authorities," Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali is quoted as saying in the statement. AT

A court in Kabul's 10 District on 31 May passed a judgment against three defendants accused of killing a man identified as Hajji Abdul Shokur, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. Two men and one woman were sentenced to death for their involvement in the murder, while one of the men was also sentenced to six months imprisonment for drinking alcoholic beverages. Afghanistan has not executed a woman accused of murder since the fall of the Taliban regime in last 2001. The report is unclear whether an appeal is pending in the case or the judgments are final. Bakhtar does not link the information regarding consumption of alcohol to the murder case. It is not known which code of law the judgment against the man accused of drinking alcohol was based on. AT

Afghan broadcasting authorities have reserved a radio FM and television frequency for Education Radio and Television, a United Nations press release of 31 May indicated. The concession was facilitated by UNESCO in the framework of a $2.5 million project funded by Italy for upgrading and improving distance-learning services in Afghanistan. The Educational Radio and Television Center, housed in the Afghan Education Ministry, has recently been renovated and equipped with computers and Internet connections. AT

Journalist Akbar Ganji, who was released from prison on medical leave on 29 May, has announced that he will boycott the 17 June presidential election, Radio Farda reported on 31 May. Ganji wrote a best-selling book -- "Dungeon of Ghosts" -- that connected the serial murders of dissident intellectuals in 1998-1999 with leading figures in the regime, such as Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Hojatoleslam Ali-Akbar Fallahian-Khuzestani, although he disguised their identities slightly. Ganji has already spent five years behind bars, Radio Farda reported, and his family hopes that he will not have to return. Meanwhile, 65 academics have released an urgent appeal calling for Ganji's "unconditional release," the Aftab News website reported ( The appeal is addressed to the Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud-Hashemi-Shahrudi, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the European Parliament. PEN and Reporters Without Borders are also demanding Ganji's release. BS

Presidential candidate Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani described his election plans in a 31 May message on state television. The former president (1989-1997) said the Iranian Revolution led to the overthrow of the "thousand families" (the aristocracy) and "imperialists," so people with that kind of experience should not fear changes in today's world. He accused the United States of pursuing imperialist objectives using democracy and human rights as pretexts. Rafsanjani said Iran could benefit from globalization if it acts wisely, and he added that Iran needs international organizations. Rafsanjani said he has a 14-part program that includes strengthening the country's technological base and human resources; creating jobs, expanding the private sector, and shrinking the state sector; and wiping out poverty. Other parts include helping youth, helping culture and the arts, and decentralization. He also discussed women and resolving bureaucratic problems. Hashemi-Rafsanjani described himself as a proponent of "small government." BS

Ali-Akbar Velayati, who pulled out of the presidential race when Hashemi-Rafsanjani announced his candidacy, announced on 31 May that most people in his election headquarters now back Hashemi-Rafsanjani. BS

Conservative presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former police chief who still heads the antismuggling headquarters, said during a 31 May television talk show that previous governments have not controlled inflation, nor have they succeeded in privatization or in achieving economic growth. He complained that the country's capabilities were not considered properly. Qalibaf specifically criticized Hashemi-Rafsanjani's economic policies in 1995-1996. Qalibaf said Iran is not ready for World Trade Organization membership, and he cited 130 percent tariffs in Iran compared to a 12 percent average for WTO members. He said WTO membership will result in job losses. Qalibaf said he generally supports subsidies, but the gasoline subsidy must be altered because it benefits the wealthy. There is a gap, Qalibaf said, between the people and the government. In a 31 May question-and-answer session with members of the Islamic Revolution Devotees' Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami), which endorsed Qalibaf a few days earlier, he said that some top officials are involved with goods smuggling and they have impeded his efforts, Fars News Agency reported. Some obtain special dispensations to import cigarettes, although this is banned. Qalibaf said 75 percent of smuggling occurs "through official channels via roads, aircraft, and rail, [and] even through customs." BS

The Islamic Women's Society is scheduled to protest the absence of female presidential candidates in front of the president's office on Pasteur Street on 1 June, ILNA reported. The election law is vaguely written regarding a presidential candidate's gender, but none of the 89 women who applied this year were accepted by the Guardians Council, which vets candidates. BS

Jalal Talabani told CNN in a 31 May interview that he expects former President Saddam Hussein to be tried for crimes against humanity within two months. Iraqi prosecutors and U.S. advisers earlier estimated that the trial will not get under way until next year, and that Hussein will be tried last, after his aides, who are also in Iraqi custody. The Iraqi Special Tribunal has set up a website to publish relevant information about the trials ( KR

Hoshyar al-Zebari called on Syria to do more to prevent terrorist border infiltration during an address to the United Nations Security Council on 31 May, Reuters reported. Al-Zebari acknowledged Syrian statements claiming to have prevented some 1,200 people from entering Iraq in the past few months. "We welcome this action but note that it confirms our long-held view that Syria has been one of the main transit routes for foreign terrorists, as well as for remnants of the previous regime," he said. "Here we would like to urge our brothers in Syria to do more to prevent the movement of extremist elements from entering our country." Syrian Ambassador to the United States Imad Mustafa told "Al-Hayat" in an interview published on 30 May that Syrian-U.S. military and security cooperation on Iraq has come to a complete halt, and he accused the United States of "exerting all possible efforts to prevent any improvement of relations between Syria and Iraq." KR

The UN Security Council met an Iraqi request for an extension of the mandate for multinational forces during its 31 May session, AP reported. Foreign Minister al-Zebari told the council that Iraqi police are not sufficiently prepared to defend the country against the insurgency. Acting Permanent Representative to the United Nations Anne Patterson told the council that multinational forces will not remain in Iraq any longer than necessary. "A specific timeline for the withdrawal of multinational forces cannot be set," Patterson said, adding: "Any decision regarding force size will be driven by events on the ground." In an interview after the session, al-Zebari reportedly expressed concern that U.S. forces might withdraw from Iraq before the country is secured. "I'm a realist, OK, and we've seen that before. We need to complete this mission with their help. We are getting very close. The riding is getting tougher," he said, according to AP. He also told the UN on 31 May that Iraq will continue to let the International Advisory and Monitoring Board monitor its spending of funds from oil sales to demonstrate that the money is being used "transparently for the benefit of the people of Iraq," Reuters reported on 31 May. KR

Al-Basrah Police Chief General Hassan al-Sade reportedly told London's "The Guardian" newspaper that he has lost control of over three-quarters of his officers, adding that militias have infiltrated the police and are using their positions to carry out political assassinations, the daily reported on 31 May. Al-Sade said that half of his 13,750-member police force secretly work for political parties, including the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the militia of rebel Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Other officers remain politically neutral, but have no interest in policing or following his orders, he said. "The militias are the real power in Basra and they are made up of criminals and bad people," he said, adding: "To defeat them I would need to use 75 percent of my forces, but I can rely on only a quarter." Al-Sade confirmed a report by RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq earlier this year that said police stood by as militiamen loyal to al-Sadr attacked university students picnicking at a local park (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 28 March 2005). He said that while he identified the officers involved in the incident, he did not punish them, fearing retaliation by the militia. KR