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Newsline - June 6, 2005

Addressing a session of the Security Council devoted to the subject of the 25 May power outage in Moscow and the surrounding region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25, 26 and 27 May 2005) on 4 June, President Vladimir Putin said he is pleased that the incident did not paralyze the work of the government, the Defense Ministry, or the General Staff, RTR and other Russian media reported. Putin harshly criticized the work of Mosenergo, the local affiliate of Unified Energy Systems (EES), and of Mosenergo head Arkadii Yevstafev. Putin said that in the wake of the blackout, Yevstafev blamed a shortage of funds for the incident and called for increases in electricity rates, even though EES has posted multi-billion-ruble profits. "I consider that simple blackmail, an effort to protect corporate interests at the expense of consumers and, therefore, the entire country," Putin said. He urged Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov "to pay attention to the cynicism and obvious professional incompetence of the Mosenergo leadership." Shortly after the Security Council session, Yevstafev, who is a close associate of EES head Anatolii Chubais (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005), announced his retirement, Interfax reported. VY

At the same 4 June Security Council meeting, at which EES head Chubais was present, Putin said that the Moscow blackout and smaller outages last week in Krasnodar, Saratov, and Sochi demonstrate that there are systemic problems with EES's management, RTR reported. Putin said that EES's 2004 profits were 55 billion rubles ($2 billion), which the company spent on lavish dividends and management perks. Turning to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, Putin said "it is necessary to probe EES's tax payments, how it spent the money it received from privatization, and why major real-estate projects in Moscow that belong to EES have their ownership registered in Cyprus." Putin said that to prevent the Moscow outage it would have been necessary to replace just four old transformers at a cost of 140,000 rubles ($4,700) each. He said that money for the new transformers had been allocated, but it remains unclear what happened to it. Putin made no comments directed toward Chubais personally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov told NTV on 4 June that replacing the transformers would have cost about one-third of Chubais's monthly salary. VY

Political Research Institute Director Sergei Markov told RBK-TV on 4 June that President Putin cannot dismiss EES head Chubais not only because Chubais has strong personal support in the United States, but also because he is a symbol of liberal policies in general and firing him would be seen as a rejection of liberalism. In addition, Chubais is strongly supported by the so-called liberal members of the government, including Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, as well as many lower-ranking officials. Further, Chubais is the driving force of the national reform of the energy grid and removing him would bring this reform to a standstill. VY

An inspector with Rostekhnadzor, the government commission responsible for monitoring the infrastructure, stated on 3 June that an inspection of the Moscow's Chagino substation has established that the malfunction there that triggered the massive power outage on 25 May in Moscow and the surrounding region was not caused either by an explosion or any other kind of "external interference," reported. EES spokesman Valerii Trapeznikov told Ekho Moskvy on 25 May that the power outage was caused by a fire at Chagino, while Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko told the Duma that there had been an explosion and fire at the substation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2005). On 27 May, radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev claimed responsibility for causing the blackout (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). LF

Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov told NTV on 5 June that senior Yukos figures, including former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, might soon face "purely criminal" charges, including organizing murders. "They all have blood on their hands -- I mean, all top Yukos managers," Kolesnikov said. He mentioned former Yukos security chief and former KGB operative Aleksei Pichugin, who was convicted of murder and attempted murder in March and is now awaiting trial on additional, similar charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 30 March and 4 and 14 April 2005). Kolesnikov also mentioned leading Menatep shareholder and former top Yukos manager Leonid Nevzlin, who oversaw corporate security. Prosecutors allege that Nevzlin, who now lives in Israel, ordered Pichugin to commit murders, but Nevzlin has denied the accusations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2005). "The next trial will begin soon and you will get all the details [about Yukos managers' activity] from the mass media," Kolesnikov said. Just days after Khodorkovskii's October 2003 arrest, Kolesnikov became the first official to predict that Khodorkovskii would be sentenced to about 10 years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2003). On 31 May, Khodorkovskii was sentenced to nine years in prison. VY

NTV moderator Vladimir Solovev, who hosted the 5 June program on which Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kolesnikov made his comments, said on the show that former Yukos managers and other oligarchs have such vast financial resources that they are still able to purchase control over the state. In addition, they have such a large number of generals from the security organs working for them that they are practically in a position to control the security and defense communities, Solovev said. Mikhail Leontev, a Channel One commentator who is believed to be close to the Kremlin, told Ekho Moskvy on 4 June that five years ago, former Yukos CEO Khodorkovskii had more opportunities to control and influence the so-called siloviki than President Putin did. He said that the law enforcement community was in such disarray then that if Putin had tried to have Khodorkovskii arrested in 2000, Putin himself would have ended up in prison. Commenting on the work of the Prosecutor-General's Office, Leontev said, "They couldn't even prove that some kids killed a cat." VY

Speaking on the same 4 June NTV program, former acting Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar, who now heads the Institute of Economies in Transition, said that Russia's oil lobby achieved a very strong political position about five years ago. "By 2002, the government realized that it could not push any major law through the Duma without making a deal with that lobby and especially with Yukos," Gaidar said. At one point, he added, the oil lobby decided to challenge the government and the presidential administration for power, and this was "a strategic mistake." "I agree that when business wants to buy [control over] the state, this is dangerous both for the state and for business. The state should fight such attempts, but the question is, by what means?" Gaidar said. VY

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev told Britain's "Sunday Times" on 5 June that he opposes efforts by supporters of former Yukos head Khodorkovskii to lionize him. "I fail to understand why some people in the West are making a hero of Khodorkovskii," Gorbachev said. "He is talented, I agree. He started his business when I was president and I have known him for some time. But with his talent for tax evasion, he would have been behind bars in America a long time ago." He added that he opposes amnesties for other entrepreneurs who enriched themselves through former President Yeltsin's "policy of plundering" Russia. "Some think that $1 trillion has been hidden away by Russian businessmen," Gorbachev said. "If they don't return it, our courts are likely to decide they acquired it illegally." TV-Tsentr commentator Aleksei Pushkov alleged on 4 June that some Western supporters of Khodorkovskii, including U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos (Democrat, California), have close ties to public-relations experts and lobbyists in Washington who have been hired by Russian oligarchs to promote their interests. VY

Nobel Prize for literature laureate and former Soviet political prisoner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on 5 June gave his first interview in three years to RTR television. Solzhenitsyn said that he does not understand why people are talking about a so-called "assault on democracy in Russia." "I have said many times that we have never had anything like democracy since the day that Gorbachev came to power, to say nothing about before that," Solzhenitsyn said. He sharply criticized the country's political institutions and its policies over the last 15 years, saying that the government "robbed the people of their savings" and then rushed through privatization. "[Privatization architect] Chubais said the world had never seen such a rapid privatization program," Solzhenitsyn said. "But we also established a cult of billionaires who were always asking how to make things better for themselves, rather than for all of us." He added that democracy is a slow process that cannot be imposed from above but goes from the bottom to the top. He criticized the United States for "attempting to impose its vision of democracy" on the world. He concluded by saying that Russia's national idea should be "to save the nation." VY

Gazprom-Media confirmed on 3 June that it has purchased a 50.19 percent stake in "Izvestiya" from ProMedia, the media-holding arm of oligarch Vladimir Potanin's Interros group, NTV and reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2005). The sum that Gazprom paid was not disclosed. Gazprom-Media General Director Nikolai Senkevich said the company has no immediate plans to shake up the newspaper's management. "The Wall Street Journal" reported, citing an unidentified source close to Interros, that the Kremlin ordered the company to sell the "Izvestiya" stake to Gazprom-Media. JAC

...AS OBSERVERS SEE LAUNCH OF NEW KREMLIN MEDIA OFFENSIVE commented that Gazprom-Media's acquisition of the prestigious daily "marks a new stage in the Kremlin's offensive against the mass media." The website argues that observers thought that direct control over the print media and the Internet was not part of the Kremlin's plan because their influence on the electorate is relatively small. But the "Izvestiya" deal indicates "the Kremlin has no intention of stopping at the results that have been achieved -- the total monopolization of the television airwaves and gentle pressure on the print media." Former "Izvestiya" Editor in Chief Raf Shakirov told Ekho Moskvy on 3 June that during the September 2004 Beslan hostage crisis the print media showed a different story than television and, in order to prevent future such situations, "it was decided that print information should be brought into line." Igor Yakovenko, secretary-general of the Russian Union of Journalists, suggested that profits are not the motivating factor, noting that when Gazprom took over NTV it was Russia's strongest television company, but now it has slid to third place. JAC

The Prosecutor-General's Office has taken into custody a third man on suspicion of involvement in June 2004 murder of U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov, editor in chief of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported on 3 June. Faik Sadreddinov, a Moscow-based notary, has been charged with committing a contract murder. In February, two other suspects, Valid Agaev and Kazbek Dukuzov, both residents of Chechnya, were extradited from Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 February 2005). JAC

The Russian Union of Greens party held its founding congress in Korolev in Moscow Oblast on 5 June, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 June. About 200 delegates from more than 50 regions elected Aleksei Yablokov as the party's chairman. Yablokov was a presidential adviser on the environment to former President Boris Yeltsin and a founder of Greenpeace in Soviet Union. Aleksander Nikitin of Bellona Foundation; Saratov Green movement leader Olga Pitsunova; and Andrei Frolov, editor of the newspaper "Dom prirody," are party co-leaders. Nikitin, a former navy captain, was accused of espionage for writing about the navy's handling of nuclear waste. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the party's strategic partners will be Yabloko, the Union of Soldiers' Mothers and various human rights organizations. Party delegates reject any possible alliance with Motherland or Unified Russia. In order to be registered, the party must submit its documents to the Justice Ministry before the end of the year, according to the daily. JAC

For the third consecutive month, the Federation Council has been unable to confirm the Ulyanovsk Oblast's chosen representative to the upper legislative chamber, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 6 June. Ulyanovsk Oblast legislators confirmed Governor Sergei Morozov's representative, Rustem Shiyanov, president of the SOK group of companies, in February. The Federation Council's Regulations Commission has reminded senators that the process of confirming new senators is supposed to be a mere formality. But some Federation Council members have expressed concern over the appointments of wealthy businessmen who have little knowledge of the regions they represent. Also, the Federation Council's apparatus asserts that the head of the Federation Council has the right "attentively to review candidates selected by the regions to represent them," according to the daily. In addition, the law does not set a specific time period by which new senators must be confirmed, so it is possible that Shiyanov's candidacy will continue in limbo for some time. JAC

Orenburg Oblast Governor Aleksei Chernyshev has asked President Putin to express his confidence in his administration with a new appointment, RIA-Novosti reported on 3 June, citing the oblast administration's press service. Chernyshev was elected to a second five-year term in December 2003. In 2000, Chernyshev said he would respect current legislation limiting regional leaders to two terms in office as long as each of those terms was five years long (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2005). JAC

Speaking to journalists in Tbilisi on 3 June, Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov said media rumors of his resignation are only spurring him to work harder and more effectively, NTV and RIA-Novosti reported. He added that only President Putin has the power to fire him. Fradkov also rejected news reports that he had been bitten by a rabid cat at his dacha outside of Moscow, "Gazeta" reported on 3 June. "No cat has bitten me -- only the press is nibbling," Fradkov said. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 2 June that Fradkov had to cancel a visit to Argentina in late May because of health problems associated with a cat bite. The daily showed a picture of an unnaturally large tabby sitting in the back of black limousine with the caption "an ordinary housecat is capable of triggering a political shake-up." JAC

Sergei Ivanov announced on 6 June that Russia will establish two military bases near its border with Georgia within the next three-and-a-half years, before the 2008 deadline for closing its two existing bases in Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. One of the new bases will be located in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and the second in Daghestan's Botlikh Raion close to the border with Azerbaijan and Georgia. Ivanov said three mountain brigades will be stationed at those bases, together with helicopters, but no tanks or heavy armor. On 10 March, quoted an unnamed Defense Ministry official as saying that the Russian military personnel currently serving at the two Georgian bases will be redeployed in three or four years to serve in a new mountain division (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 11 March 2005). LF

Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service on 3 June that the Chechen resistance condemns terrorism and will not engage in it (see He said the resistance will continue to seek to inflict maximum damage on Russian military targets, but it will try to avoid causing civilian casualties and will not take hostages. On 5 June, Chechenpress reported that Sadullaev convened a meeting of the Defense Council some 10 days earlier that was attended by senior field commanders including Basaev, Doku Umarov, and Akhmed Avturkhanov. Participants elected a new Chechen vice president, whose name has not been made public. LF

Seven people, including four Russian servicemen, were injured on 4 June when the Chechen resistance targeted a car belonging to pro-Moscow Chechen military commandant Major-General Said-Selim Tsuev, Interfax and reported. A car bomb exploded as Tsuev's car was leaving the Russian military bases at Khankala, near Grozny; Tsuev was not in the car at the time of the explosion. LF

Meeting on 3 June in Nazran, Ingushetian oppositionists expressed profound concern that President Putin will reappoint Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov for a second presidential term, reported. Zyazikov offered his resignation last week, asking Putin for a statement of support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2005). Beslan Torshkhoev, who is deputy head of the collective opposition leadership, confirmed that the opposition will continue to observe the three-month moratorium it recently announced on protests against Zyazikov's policies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). But Rustam Archakov, one of the leaders of the opposition Youth Movement of Ingushetia (MDI), warned that Zyazikov's renomination would be a "serious psychological blow." He pointed out that several hundred young men have become convinced that it is impossible to eradicate corruption and poverty in Ingushetia by legal, peaceful means, and have therefore joined the Chechen resistance. He said the MDI and local police are working together to try to persuade the young men in question to return home. LF

Addressing a seminar in Yerevan on 3 June, legal experts from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission and from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights urged the Armenian authorities to make further changes to the controversial law on the conduct of meetings, demonstrations, and other mass gatherings, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Armenian parliament made some amendments to that law last month, but failed to rescind the ban on holding demonstrations within 150 meters of the presidential palace and other "strategic" buildings. Venice Commission head Gianni Buquicchio specifically called on 3 June for removing that restriction. LF

Environmentalists in Armenia have launched a campaign to prevent the construction of a highway linking southern Armenia and Iran that will necessitate the felling of one of Armenia's last remaining tracts of virgin forest, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 3 June. Karen Manvelian, head of the Yerevan office of the World Wildlife Fund, said environmentalists have proposed an alternate route that would bypass the forest in question, but added that the government has rejected that proposal on the grounds that the alternate route is 20 kilometers longer and at a higher altitude. Manvelian claimed those objections are unfounded, and he suggested that unnamed Armenian government officials may stand to gain financially from the logging that would precede construction. The Armenian Assembly of America too has written to Armenian President Robert Kocharian asking for the highway project to be scrapped. Only 8 percent of Armenia's territory is forest. LF

During talks late on 3 June with representatives of the three opposition parties aligned in the Ugur (Success) election bloc, the Baku municipal authorities finally granted permission to stage an opposition rally and march in Baku the following day, Azerbaijani media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2005). The authorities originally rejected four proposed venues and said the only acceptable site was the motorcycle-racing track on the city outskirts, which the opposition turned down as too remote and inaccessible. Between 4,000 and 15,000 people gathered on 4 June at the Qelebe metro station bearing placards demanding free elections, freedom of assembly, and that the authorities arrest and bring to trial the persons responsible for the 2 March murder of opposition journalist Elmar Huseinov. In addition to the three parties aligned in the Ugur bloc, members of the small Umid (Hope) party and the youth movement Yeni Fikir participated in the rally, according to Addressing the demonstrators, opposition Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar accused President Ilham Aliyev of presiding over a corrupt regime, and he urged opposition parties to unite and force the present leadership to resign, Turan reported. Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, predicted that there will be a popular insurrection if the authorities do not take steps to guarantee that the parliamentary ballot in November is free and fair. LF

Ahad Ahadov, who was sentenced in January to 18 months' imprisonment on charges of possession of drugs, has been released from jail, Turan reported on 3 June. Ahadov was detained in Baku in September, shortly after launching a campaign to coordinate protests against allegedly illegal actions of Masally District Governor Ahad Abiev who, Ahadov claimed, appointed to senior positions members of his immediate family who have allegedly illegally appropriated land and embezzled up to 15 million manats ($3,054) from the local budget (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 September 2004). Human rights activists and Ahadov claim that the drug charge was fabricated and that police planted drugs on him at the time they detained him. LF

The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov, will meet in Paris on 18 June under the aegis of the OSCE Minsk Group to continue their talks on approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported on 3 June. Oskanian will meet separately with the Minsk Group co-chairs in Vienna on 8 June. LF

The prime ministers of the 12 CIS member states met in Tbilisi on 3 June to discuss ways of injecting new life into that collective organization, Russian media reported. In line with the diagnosis of CIS Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo that it is "too early to bury the CIS," the participants agreed to draft proposals to make it more efficient, which will be submitted for discussion at the CIS summit in Kazan in late August. Kazakhstan's Prime Minister Danial Akhmetov said that once those proposals are implemented, the CIS will become "an entirely different organization." Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli said any reform of the CIS should take into account the national interests of its various members, Interfax reported. Noghaideli specifically called for the abolition of a visa requirement for travel between Russia and Georgia. All participants except for Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko signed a protocol on the gradual abolition by 2012 of restrictions on trade between CIS members; Tymoshenko argued for a shorter time frame. LF

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili met on 3 June on the sidelines of the CIS talks with Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, praising Russian President Vladimir Putin's "courage" in agreeing to the closure of Russian military bases in Georgia, a development Saakashvili said heralds a new era in bilateral relations, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Fradkov, for his part, said Russia is prepared to cooperate with Georgia on numerous issues, including the search for a solution to the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Fradkov told journalists after meeting with Saakashvili that the redeployment of Russian military hardware from Georgia to Armenia does not pose any danger to Azerbaijan. LF

The Georgian parliament selected on 3 June seven people from 14 nominated by President Saakashvili to serve on the new Central Election Commission, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 6 June 2005). In a statement posted on its website (, the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED) slammed the selection process as nontransparent, saying the criteria for selecting candidates remain unclear "as the majority of candidates lack election-related experience." A presidential commission reviewed a total of 515 applications within four days and produced a shortlist, from which Saakashvili selected 14 candidates. LF

Foreign ministers from the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO; China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) met in Astana on 4 June for talks on security issues, Kazinform reported. The ministers agreed that the agenda of the 5-6 July SCO summit in Astana will include an agreement on mutual assistance in emergency situations. They also approved a draft resolution to grant India, Iran, and Pakistan SCO observer status; Mongolia is already has such status. Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev commented: "The SCO is gaining momentum, moving confidently toward the resolution of its primary task -- guaranteeing regional security and developing economic and trade cooperation." In a reference to recent events in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied that the SCO is an "anti-orange" bloc, reported. "We are involved in friendly cooperation primarily based on what objectively corresponds to the interests of socioeconomic development in our countries," Lavrov said. DK

At a session on 3 June, Kyrgyzstan's Security Council heard a report on the events leading up to the 24 March fall of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beishenbek Akunov, a former member of parliament and a member of the official commission charged with studying the events of 24 March, said Akaev's increasingly authoritarian rule as manifested in burgeoning corruption and halting economic reforms eventually produced a revolutionary level of discontent. The commission recommended the establishment of civilian control over the National Security Service to ensure that it is not used as an instrument against dissent. Acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev chaired the Security Council session. DK

Acting Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva told on 4 June that a camp housing nearly 500 Uzbek asylum seekers has been moved deeper into Kyrgyz territory. Interfax quoted a Kyrgyz law enforcement source as saying that "by decision of Kyrgyzstan's Security Council, the Uzbek citizens have been transferred from the village of Barraj in the Suzak District of Jalalabad Province to the village of Sasyk in the Bazar-Korgon District of Jalalabad Province, where a tent city has been set up." He said the location is close to the Bishkek-Osh Highway. On 4 June, Otunbaeva met with her Uzbek counterpart, Elyor Ganiev, for talks on the issue, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. She stressed that no one will be handed over, although voluntary returnees will be allowed to go back to Uzbekistan, reported. DK

Tajikistan's government has approved an agreement with Russian Aluminum (RusAl) under which the company will invest $1.5 billion in the country over the next 10 years, Russia's Zvezda television station and ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. Under a deal reached in October 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 October 2004), RusAl will spend $560 million to finish construction of the Roghun hydroelectric plant, $600 million to build a new aluminum-production facility, and $160 million to expand the Tajik Aluminum Plant, ITAR-TASS reported. DK

Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists called for the release of jailed Tajik journalist Jumaboy Tolibov in separate press releases on 2 June. Tolibov was detained in Dushanbe on 24 April for a period of 40 days. The press releases noted that Tolibov's arrest was apparently ordered by a Sughd Province prosecutor, whom Tolibov criticized in a series of articles in 2004. DK

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) announced in a 3 June press release that Bernd Rechel and Professor Martin McKee of the LSHTM have completed a report calling on the international community to pressure Turkmenistan to improve its health-care system. The report charges that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has done away with free health care, fired 15,000 health-care workers in a single day, and has closed all hospitals outside the capital. "The international community and world bodies must act to pressure the Turkmenistan government to properly fund a basic health-care system and end the human rights violations that have exacerbated public-health problems," Rechel said, according to the press release. DK

The "Washington Post" reported on 4 June that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush is negotiating with the government of Uzbek President Islam Karimov over the possible long-term use of a military base in Uzbekistan amid doubts sparked by the recent unrest. High-ranking officials at the State Department and the Pentagon told the newspaper that recent reports of government violence against protestors in Andijon have prompted a policy review even as negotiations continue. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) is pushing for an investigation to determine whether any Uzbek forces involved in the violence received U.S. training. Senator John Sununu (Republican, New Hampshire), who recently visited Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005), told the newspaper he believes, based on eyewitness accounts gathered by the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan, that between 500 and 1,000 people were killed by Uzbek special forces and security forces in Andijon. Addressing the base issue, Sununu said, "I would not be comfortable making a long-term commitment." The United States deployed troops to Karshi-Khanabad (K2), a former Soviet airfield in Uzbekistan, in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 15 October 2001). DK

EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana has expressed his "regret" in a letter to Uzbek President Karimov after the Uzbek government refused to allow Solana's special envoy for human rights to visit the country, Reuters reported on 3 June. Solana had wanted to send Michael Matthiessen to visit Andijon on 6 June. As quoted by Reuters, Solana's letter read: "It is much to my regret that your government has decided not to receive my personal representative. I believe that it should be possible at all times that diplomatic envoys are received to transmit messages and conduct dialogue. It is indeed the very foundation of our Partnership and Cooperation Agreement." DK

Israel's government has decided to recall nonessential personnel from the country's embassy in Uzbekistan, Voice of Israel Network reported on 3 June. As of 2 June, 13 people had been evacuated from the embassy. Citing the threat of terror attacks, the U.S. State Department recently authorized nonessential embassy personnel to leave the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2005). DK

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said at a fighter air base near Byaroza, Brest Oblast, on 3 June that Belarus may increase its military aircraft fleet in response to increased "anti-Belarusian hysteria" in neighboring countries and NATO's eastward expansion, Belarusian Television and Belapan reported. "We're considering very attractive offers for purchasing Su-30 planes for our armed forces," Lukashenka said. "A decision has been made to buy [Czech-made] L-39 fighter-trainers to train future pilots theoretically and practically on the territory of Belarus." According to Lukashenka, foreign countries may be harboring military-intervention plans against Belarus under the pretext of spreading democracy. "A great military potential is being amassed on Belarus's borders," Lukashenka said. "We have no right and we cannot light-heartedly ignore today's realities and real threats to [our] security." JM

On 3 June, 250 lawmakers of the Verkhovna Rada requested that President Viktor Yushchenko dismiss Russian liberal politician Boris Nemtsov from his post as presidential adviser, Ukrainian media reported. A motion to fire Nemtsov was prepared by parliamentarian Oleh Tyahnybok, who called Nemtsov "a disciple of the Russian liberal empire's anti-Ukrainian idea" and accused him of "unprecedented interference" in Ukraine's domestic affairs. Nemtsov, who vocally supported Yushchenko during the Orange Revolution, was nominated to his non-salaried post in February. Nemtsov has recently harshly criticized Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, saying the government's policies are pushing potential investors away from Ukraine. JM

President Yushchenko and a group of cabinet ministers on 4 June visited Khortytsya Island on the Dnieper River in Zaporizhzhya Oblast, which is the cradle of Ukrainian Cossacks, Ukrainian media reported. "Today I signed a decree setting up the council of Ukrainian Cossacks, consisting of representatives of Cossack organizations, and appointing a presidential adviser for Cossack issues. I want their work to become a bridge linking Cossacks with the authorities and public organizations," Yushchenko told Cossack leaders gathered on the island, who pledged loyalty to him and recognized him as their hetman. Ukraine is currently reconstructing the historical Cossack stronghold Zapirizhzhya Sich on the island. Five years ago Yushchenko joined Ukrainian Cossacks but before the 2004 presidential election he was expelled, reportedly for systematic failure to pay membership dues. On 4 June Yushchenko received a horse as a gift, while Prime Minister Tymoshenko was declared by Cossacks to be the female symbol of Ukraine. JM

Serbian police have arrested eight people in connection with the executions of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the Bosnian town of Srebrenica in July 1995, dpa reported on 6 June citing police officials. The eight, all former members of the Scorpions special police unit, were detained in an investigation launched after local TV stations showed graphic footage of the brutal execution of six Muslims in Srebrenica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2005). BW

Vojislav Kostunica was reelected head of his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) on 6 June, further strengthening his position on Serbia's political scene, AP reported the same day. In a speech the previous day, Kostunica said that Kosova must remain part of Serbia if the country is to remain democratic. "There can be no democratic Serbia without Kosovo and Metohija," Kostunica told members of his Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), according to Hina. The prime minister added that his party's goals are also to accelerate Belgrade's entrance into the European Union and to preserve the union with Montenegro. "The DSS sees only one objective and that is a democratic Serbia with Kosova and Metohija in the state unity with Montenegro on an accelerated path to the EU, with the rule of law and free of crime and corruption, economically strong and stable and accepted by all national communities as their country," Kostunica said. BW

UN Deputy Secretary-General Louise Frechette arrived in Kosova on 5 June to launch a UN campaign to halt sex abuse by the organization's staff, dpa reported the same day. Frechette will lay down guidelines and review the UN Mission in Kosova's progress in combating sex abuse by UN personnel. The UN was forced to address the issue after scandals involving the organization's staff in several missions including Kosova, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, East Timor, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Kosova, a Pakistani national employed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is to stand trial for sexually abusing two teenagers. BW

NATO-led peacekeepers in Kosova's divided city of Mitrovica have returned control of its main bridge to the province's multiethnic police force, Reuters reported on 6 June. It was the first time the bridge has been returned to local control since clashes in the city last year sparked Kosova-wide riots. "The situation is becoming more stable," said Major Thierry Rembaut, a spokesman for KFOR, the 17,000-strong NATO-led peace force. Rembaut added that a French KFOR unit will remain near the bridge "in case of any incidents." BW

Bosnia's Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ-BiH) elected Dragan Covic as the party's president on 4 June at an assembly in Mostar, Hina reported the same day. Covic received 283 of 544 votes. The other candidate, Bozo Ljubic, who was nominated by the party's Sarajevo branch, received 258 votes. Former HDZ-BiH President Barisa Colak, who was nominated by the party's Western Herzegovina branch, withdrew his nomination before the vote, as did a fourth candidate, Ivan Madunic. BW

Bosnian Communications and Transport Minister Branko Dokic has resigned after being charged by a local court with abuse of power, AFP reported the same day. "Minister Dokic's decision to resign is proof of his readiness to respect European democratic principles," Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said. Dokic and another official were accused in March of misusing budget funds while serving in the Bosnian Serb government, causing 460,000 euros ($560,000) in losses to the economy. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 May 2005). BW

Turkish fighter jets intercepted a passenger jet of the Macedonian airline MAT flying over Turkish territory and forced it to return to Skopje on 3 June, "Utrinski vesnik" and other Macedonian media reported. The plane was on the way to Armenia. It carried the national soccer team, which was to play the Armenian side in a qualification match for the 2006 world championship on 4 June. Turkish authorities reportedly said the airline failed to provide all necessary documents for the flight. The Macedonian soccer team arrived in Armenia on 5 June and won the match 2:1. UB

U.S. philanthropist George Soros met with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin in Chisinau on 3 June, Flux reported. Soros told Voronin that he intends to formulate a new strategy for the Soros Foundation in Moldova. "I see the role of the Soros Foundation in the Republic of Moldova in supporting the development of governmental institutional capacity [and] in implementing some programs in education and health," Soros said. "I also consider it appropriate for the foundation to contribute to activities of the Republic of Moldova toward integration with the European Union, as well as in attracting foreign financing for the implementation of different strategies and programs meant to get your country closer to EU standards." JM

French voters on 29 May rejected the proposed EU constitution by a clear majority, and Dutch voters did the same by an even larger margin three days later. Many people in countries hoping to join the EU fear that their chances of obtaining membership within a reasonable timeframe have become slimmer as a result.

The failure of referendums on the EU constitution in two of the bloc's founding member countries sent the pundits scrambling for explanations. Whatever other conclusions they drew in each case, two points seemed clear to observers in the Balkans. First of all, "enlargement fatigue" had at least something to do with the outcome of the vote in both France and the Netherlands. Many commentators noted a general feeling in Western Europe that the EU had moved too far, too fast in 2004 in admitting 10 new members -- eight of which are former communist states in Eastern or Central Europe.

Second, many observers noted that the mood in the EU will in the future be less accommodating to new applicants despite reassurances by several officials in Brussels that nothing has changed as far as enlargement is concerned. Fears of possible negative effects of enlargement fatigue were evident in the media in Romania and Bulgaria, which hope to join the EU in 2007, and in Croatia, whose plans to start membership negotiations in early 2005 have stalled over the government's failure to find and arrest fugitive war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina.

Turkey and Ukraine were widely mentioned as potential victims of enlargement fatigue, as were the countries of the western Balkans -- Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosova, Macedonia, and Serbia and Montenegro. Macedonia has formally applied to join the EU, although many in Brussels consider the move premature. Albania began negotiations for a Stabilization and Association Agreement over one year ago but has made little progress. Belgrade has only just gotten the green light to start talks leading to a Stabilization and Association Agreement. Bosnia is the only state in the region that does not yet have any formal legal agreement with the EU, and Kosova is waiting for the clarification of its status before it can begin formal contacts.

On 30 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Language Service noted that many of the region's leaders tried to put on a brave face following the French vote, but that the media and local experts were less sanguine. Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said stressed that "the idea of a united Europe is not under threat," adding that he does not expect the "result of the French referendum to have a negative impact on Croatia's accession." Serbian President Boris Tadic also took the position that "Europe will not be complete without the Balkans" regardless of what happens to the proposed constitution. He believes that "the French referendum...does not mean the end of integration but possibly a change of pace." Bosnian Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic said that he does not "think that [the French vote] will have any direct, negative influence" on the speed of Bosnia's EU accession.

Croatian President Stipe Mesic and his Macedonian counterpart Branko Crvenkovski said in Zagreb on 1 June that the French vote will not affect their respective countries' membership bids. "We must meet the standards [the EU has set for us] and fulfill the preconditions awaiting our attention, and I hope that we will succeed in this," Mesic said. Crvenkovski commented that his country hopes for progress in its aspirations to join the EU and wishes Croatia the same in its endeavors, adding that "it is not in our interest that countries of the region stagnate or stop in the process of [European] integration."

But many other Europeans were less optimistic. Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka said that any further enlargement seems to be out of the question for the near future. "That is so obvious that you do not need diplomatic language to say so," he added. Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka said that any further enlargement seems to be out of the question for the near future. "That is so obvious that you do not need diplomatic language to say so," he said.

Some politicians and experts in the western Balkans took a similar view, even though their countries are relatively small and would pose less of a challenge to the EU to integrate them than would, for example, Turkey or Ukraine. Daut Dauti, who is spokesman for Kosova's government, told RFE/RL that the French vote will probably cause the enlargement process for all Balkan countries to stagnate. Macedonian Professor Biljana Vankovska said that the most important effect of the failed referendum for her country might be to delay its accession process.

Some observers took a more philosophical approach. Milorad Zivkovic, who is the deputy chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Bosnian parliament's House of Representatives, expressed the view of many when he told RFE/RL that "we are so far away from [joining] the EU that this serious development [in France]...will not really speed up or slow down [our pace] in that direction." Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic said that Belgrade knows that it must improve its cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal if it wants to join the EU, but also that membership is so far away that Belgrade will have the Hague issue solved long before then.

Zivkovic also argued that the failure of the referendum will strengthen the hand of the region's Euroskeptics, even though they are relatively small in number in Bosnia. In a similar vein, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said that he fears that the French vote will embolden Serbia's numerous "anti-European forces."

Joining the EU is, in any event, an almost universally held aspiration throughout the region, because it is regarded as admission to the "rich man's club," gaining a seat at the table where important decisions are made, and a chance to receive abundant subsidies. But many observers would agree with Zivkovic that Brussels officials, who are often considered arrogant in the Balkans, are likely to have less political influence in that region now that it has been shown that there is a clear disconnect between the EU's political class and at least some member states' voters. On the day after the French referendum, the Bosnian Serb parliament rejected a police reform package that the EU demands. High Representative Paddy Ashdown vehemently denied that the Serbs were encouraged by the news from France, but many other observers did not share his view.

But at least one observer, Montenegrin Professor Srdjan Darmanovic, found something positive for his country in the failure of the referendum and, presumably of the EU constitution altogether. He noted that one of the beneficiaries of the constitution would have been EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, who was expected to become a powerful foreign minister under the terms of the constitution. He was the primary architect of the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro, which is unpopular in much of the small mountainous republic. The joint state came into being in early 2003 only as a result of strong EU pressure, and wags subsequently dubbed it "Solania."

Afghan security forces have arrested seven people in connection with the 29 May murder of Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz, head of the clerical Council of Ulema of in southern city of Kandahar, Radio Afghanistan reported on 5 June. The seven were arrested in the Panjwai District of Kandahar Province after a gun battle in which one suspect was killed, an Afghan Interior Ministry staffer told the official Afghan news agency Bakhtar. Fayyaz, a staunch supporter of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and opponent of the neo-Taliban, was gunned down while leaving his office. The neo-Taliban has claimed responsibility for the killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2005). AT

An improvised explosive device killed two U.S. service members and wounded a third on 3 June in Paktika Province, American Forces Press Service reported on 5 June. An Afghan interpreter was also wounded in the incident. The attack occurred as a U.S. convoy was returning from Gayan village. No one has claimed responsibility for planting the explosive device. AT

The Afghan National Army on 4 June arrested a neo-Taliban commander wanted by the United States for attacking its military forces in Afghanistan, the official Radio Afghanistan reported on 5 June. Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said that Hajji Sultan, who was a division commander during the Taliban regime, was arrested in the western Farah Province. Mohammad Zaher Morad, head of the Defense Ministry's press office, added that in addition to Sultan, Mullah Mohammad Rahim was also arrested, Afghanistan Television reported on 5 June. According to Morad, the two men are deputies to Mullah Beradar, a top commander and member of the inner council of the neo-Taliban. AT

Afghan police has arrested five men accused of killing four international journalists after the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001, international news agencies reported. The arrests were made in the Surobi District of Kabul Province on 4 June, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 5 June. Surobi security chief Sher Shah told AIP that "Zar Jan, who headed a gang of 16 people" was captured with six of his accomplices. According to Sher Shah, Zar Jan, who was wounded during the operation, is a "supporter" of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Hizb-e Islami. The four journalists allegedly killed by Zar Jan's gang included Afghan national Azizullah Haidari of Reuters; Harry Burton, an Australian television cameraman; Spaniard Julio Fuentes of "El Mundo"; and Italian Maria Grazia Cutuli of "Corriere della Sera," Xinhua news agency reported on 5 June. AT

During a 5 June sermon from St. Peter's Square in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI called for the release of the Italian hostage held in Afghanistan, international news agencies reported. "Let the painful experience that our sister is living through stimulate the search [while maintaining] peaceful and fraternal agreements between individuals and nations," Benedict said referring to Italian aid worker Clementia Cantoni, who is being held hostage in Afghanistan after being abducted in Kabul on 16 May ("RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 18, and s19 May 2005). AT

Iranian Foreign Ministry official Mohsen Aminzadeh dismissed recent allegations that Iran is sheltering Al-Qaeda personnel and other terror suspects, Radio Farda reported on 5 June, citing the Arabic-language "Al-Hayat" daily. Aminzadeh said all Al-Qaeda personnel have been extradited to their countries of origin. U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies have accumulated evidence over the last few years that leading terror suspects have been living in Iran, AP reported on 4 June, citing anonymous U.S. and foreign officials. This evidence is based on communications intercepts and the confessions of Khalid bin Ouda bin Muhammad al-Harbi, an Al-Qaeda associate extradited from Iran to Saudi Arabia in July 2004 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2004). Al-Harbi reportedly provided his captors with information on Al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel who fled into Iran after U.S. forces attacked Afghanistan in late 2001. The intelligence agencies also have information on Ahmed Ibrahim al-Mughassil, who is wanted in connection with the 1996 bombing of U.S. military housing in al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia. Other individuals believed to be in Iran are Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's son Saad bin Laden, Al-Qaeda security chief Saif al-Adel, and Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith, AP reported. BS

Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said on 5 June during a visit to the Interior Ministry's Elections Headquarters in Tehran that military involvement in the 17 June presidential election would undermine a healthy poll, IRNA reported. He added that state officials' use of public facilities to support candidates is harmful. On the same day, Brigadier General Alireza Afshar, deputy commander of the armed forces headquarters for cultural affairs and defensive promotions, stressed that no military personnel will be involved in supervising or conducting the election, IRNA reported. As for the Basij Mobilization Force, which was prohibited from participating the previous week, Afshar said Basij personnel are considered members of the armed forces only when they are on duty. BS

In a 5 June interview with Iranian state television, presidential candidate Mohsen Rezai said, "I believe that the most important regional challenge facing Iran is the Greater Middle East initiative. In other words, I mean the American military presence in the region." However, Rezai said, Iran is not "encircled" because its cooperation is the key to regional stability. He said regional problems are compounded by the U.S. presence, and he advocated greater activism by Iran, including more exports and a greater number of "cultural institutions" in other countries. Rezai said Iran is important to the United States and added, "I think that, if America had a strong president who could put forward a proposal to Iran that was worthy of the Iranian nation, then many things would change." He said the United States cannot initiate relations with Tehran because "the Zionists do not allow the Americans to take giant strides on the issue of Iran." Rezai called for continuing diplomatic contacts with the EU and the IAEA, as well as the resumption of uranium enrichment. He predicted the world would treat Iran differently once this is done. BS

Presidential candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said in a 4 June interview on Iranian state television that although the United States is hostile to Iran, it is not the cause of the country's problems. Qalibaf suggested that Iran improve its relations with other countries and redefine its international role. He said mismanagement is behind Iran's problems. BS

Qalibaf told people in the Sarv border district in the West Azerbaijan Province on 3 June that residents of the border regions should enjoy a higher standard of living, Mehr News Agency reported on 5 June. If the central government paid greater attention to these outlying areas' economic needs, he said, there would be far less urban migration. He noted that Iran is a multiethnic country but everybody gets on well because they consider themselves Iranians first. Qalibaf's spokesman, Mohsen Bahrami, said on 4 June, "One of Qalibaf's serious programs is to ensure that the rights of the ethnic and religious minorities will be observed within the framework of the law and the constitution," Fars News Agency reported. BS

Presidential candidate Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani said in an interview taped on 3 June and broadcast the next day that alleged U.S. hostility to Iran is partly based on "greed." He went on to say that if Iran convinces the United States that it is only defending its own interests, then the two countries could resolve their problems. Hashemi-Rafsanjani described the U.S. presence in the region as a problem and expressed concern about Iran's troubled relations with some of its Persian Gulf neighbors. Hashemi-Rafsanjani said Iran should receive credit for not interfering with the Iraqi elections, even though it could have. He said Iran was happy with the fall of the Taliban and former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, as well as the containment of Al-Qaeda. In a 4 June meeting with members of the Bakers Union, Hashemi-Rafsanjani said the United States has unintentionally helped Iran by weakening the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an armed anti-Iranian group, Mehr News Agency reported. BS

Qodratali Heshmatian, secretary-general of the Islamic Iran Independent Society, announced on 4 June that 81 parties and 262 present and former parliamentarians have backed the candidacy of Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, Fars News Agency reported. Heshmatian said Karrubi has made a great effort on behalf of the reform movement. BS

"Undoubtedly, we will not establish any kind of relationship with Israel," Karrubi said in an interview with LBC television, as reported by ISNA on 5 June. "We consider Israel to be the usurper of Islamic lands. We will not establish contact with them under any circumstances. We will not have economic or political relations. We will not participate in forums in which Israelis participate either." Karrubi continued: "We have never had any meetings with them and we will never have any meetings with them in the future either." Karrubi denied that Iran provides Palestinian organizations with military or financial help. Turning to nuclear issues, Karrubi said, "The Zionists constitute one element that is involved in hatching plots and mischief making. That is particularly true of the Iranian nuclear case." He insisted Iran will use nuclear energy only for peaceful purposes. BS

Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev announced on 4 June in Astana that Iran, India, and Pakistan will be granted observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, IRNA reported. Current members of the organization, which was formed in 1997, are China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The organization originally focused on border security issues and now serves as a regional forum for discussion and confidence-building. BS

Separate mortar barrages on 5 and 6 June in the northern city of Mosul killed six Iraqis, including two children, AP reported on 6 June citing U.S. and Iraqi officials. The blasts apparently targeted police stations in the city. Gunmen also killed an Egyptian with U.S. citizenship in western Baghdad, AP reported. The victim, identified as Ahmed Kamal, who worked as a contractor with Iraq's Electricity Ministry, was shot dead on the previous day while driving his car. In other news, a U.S. soldier was killed on 5 June when a roadside bomb exploded near a military patrol in northern Iraq in the province of Kirkuk, the military announced on 6 June. BW

U.S. troops have discovered a massive insurgent bunker complex with showers, a kitchen, air conditioning, and large stockpiles of weapons, international news agencies reported on 5 June. Carved out of a rock quarry in Karmah, 80 kilometers west of Baghdad, the complex is 155 meters wide and 275 meters long. According to Captain Jeffrey Pool of the 2nd Marine Division, "In one portion of this insurgent lair, coalition forces and Iraqi security forces found numerous types of machine guns, ordnance including mortars, rockets, and artillery rounds, black uniforms, ski masks, compasses, log books, night vision goggles, and fully charged cell phones." U.S. troops destroyed the bunker complex on 5 June. BW

Saddam Hussein will face just 12 out of a possible 500 charges in a trial that Iraqi officials say will likely begin in the next two months, international news agencies reported on 5 June. "The judges are confidant that he will be convicted of these charges," Laith Kubba, a spokesman for Iraq's transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'afari said, according to AP. Kubba added that trying to prosecute Hussein on all counts would be a "waste of time." Hussein was arraigned on 1 July 2004 in Baghdad on broad charges including killing rival politicians over a 30-year period, gassing Kurds in the northern town of Halabja in 1988, invading Kuwait in 1990, and suppressing the Kurdish and Shi'ite uprising. No date has been set for the trial, but Kubba said "there should be no objection" that it should take place within two months. "It is the government's view that the trial of Saddam [Hussein] should take place as soon as possible," AP quoted him as saying. BW

Issam Ghazawi, a spokesman for Hussein's legal team, criticized Kubba for divulging the information about the charges outside of official channels, the BBC reported on 5 June. "The appropriate channel is for the accusations to come through the court and for the lawyers to receive a copy of the indictment," Ghazawi said. Meanwhile, the judge in charge of the trial, Raed Juhi, said on 4 June that "the ex-president's morale is low because he realizes the volume of accusations for which he will be judged," the BBC reported. "Saddam Hussein has his complete mental faculties and has been neither constrained nor pressured during questioning," Juhi added. BW

Iraq's transitional government believes that the country's economy is too dependent on oil and it needs to diversify to create other sources of revenue, Reuters reported on 5 June citing a spokesman for the transitional government. "Ninety-five percent of Iraq's national income is dependent on oil and that's an oddity," spokesman Kubba said. "If we take a country like Saudi Arabia, it's 60 percent, and in another oil producing country it might be 40 percent. Iraq is in an exceptional situation." In 2004, nearly $18 billion of Iraq's $20 billion in government revenues came from oil exports, Reuters reported. "It proves that the Iraqi economy is dependent -- people wait for someone to give them money, but there isn't real production," Kubba said. "The idea of waiting and thinking that improvement will come only from the government is over." BW

U.S. and Iraqi forces have arrested at least 108 suspected militants in a series of raids south of Baghdad, the BBC reported on 5 June citing U.S. military officials. The raids, which took place on 4 June around the town of Al-Latifiyah, were part of Operation Lightning, a series of security operations around the capital. Iraqi officials also said they have captured a man described as an aide to the leader of Al-Qaeda in the city of Mosul, international news agencies reported on 5 June. Mutlaq Mahmud Mutlaq Abdullah, also known as Abu Raad, was arrested on 4 June. He is believed to be a financier for a militant identified by the alias Abu Talha, the purported head of Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's cell in Mosul. BW

An Australian held hostage in Iraq for five weeks has been seen alive and well by a Muslim leader trying to negotiate his release, Reuters reported on 5 June. Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali, Australia's leading Muslim cleric, met the hostage Douglas Wood and gave his captors some medication for him, said Ikebal Patel from the Federation of Islamic Councils in Australia, after speaking with the cleric via telephone in Baghdad. "He said to me, 'I've seen him eye to eye,'" Patel said. Wood, a 63-year-old engineer, has been held hostage since early May. Iraqi militants have threatened to kill Wood unless Australia withdraws its troops from Iraq. Australia's government has refused to comply with the demand. BW