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Newsline - June 14, 2005

Speaking at a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair following bilateral talks in Moscow on 13 June, President Vladimir Putin said Russia supports a British initiative to write off international debt of the world's poorest countries and wants to discuss the proposal at next month's Group of Eight (G-8) meeting in the United Kingdom, RTR and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005). Putin called the G-8 "an effective tool for the coordination of positions on major issues," but noted that Russia's per capita income is lower than those of the other G-8 member states. Russia is rich in resources, history, and culture, Putin stressed, and its membership of the G-8 contributes to other members' understanding of transition economies. Putin praised recent developments in Anglo-Russian relations, particularly in the energy sector, and singled out for mention a Northern European gas pipeline that should run from Germany to the United Kingdom via the Baltic Sea. "Individual British investors are contributing huge funds to Russia," Putin said. "I'm talking about billions -- tens of billions [of dollars]." VY

At the same 13 June news conference, President Putin called for international economic aid to the CIS, some of whose members are among the world's poor countries, Russian Channel One reported. "Countries such as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Moldova are truly in need of support," Putin said. He conceded that Russia's relations with some CIS member states "are not easy," but said the CIS is no place for confrontation. "The CIS must be an area of cooperation, not rivalry," Putin said. "We must help CIS countries to solve economic and democratic problems." He added that Moscow "considers the CIS situation important for itself, just as Britain thinks the same with regard to Africa," RIA-Novosti reported. VY

Responding to a question about Moscow's policies in Chechnya at the 13 June news conference, President Putin said that while Russia accepts "friendly" criticism of its democratic standards, "we are opposed to the use of these issues to interfere in our internal affairs or as a tool to achieve foreign-policy goals," RIA-Novosti reported. Putin also rejected a comparison -- drawn by a British journalist -- between Russian democracy and the situation in some African countries, saying: "We know that in some African countries until quite recently there was a practice of eating political opponents. We don't have such a tradition or culture, and I think a comparison between Africa and Russia is not quite fair." VY

Duma Deputy and Security Committee member Gennadii Gudkov (Unified Russia) told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 13 June that the recent explosion and ensuing derailment of a Grozny-to-Moscow train could have been staged to compromise the Chechen resistance. "There are too many effects for show in this incident," Gudkov said, adding that the attack might be the work of "what we call a 'terrorist underground.'" Gudkov, who is a former state security officer, said, "Russia is a big country with a lot of problems, a highly diverse multiethnic population, and a situation of economic crisis, so there is more than enough motivation to [boost] recruitment for the terrorist underground." Viktor Baranets, the military correspondent for "Komsomolskaya pravda" and a retired colonel of the Russian General Staff, claimed in an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service that "the incident was a political explosion." He said that while "Chechen prints" might draw initial suspicion, the circle of suspects could be much broader. Baranets stressed that there are terrorist networks operating in the heart of Russia and said one should not exclude such an act happening "even on Red Square." VY

A Moscow Oblast court began to hear a case brought by regional prosecutors to ban the unregistered National Bolshevik Party (NBP) for alleged violations of the law on political parties, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. National Bolshevik Party spokesman Aleksandr Averin told RIA-Novosti ahead of the proceedings that the authorities have refused to register the group for a decade already, but that it will insist on its registration with the Justice Ministry. Meanwhile, Aleksei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies, suggested that the Kremlin has tripped itself up with the case to ban the National-Bolsheviks," "Izvestiya" reported on 10 June. "It is impossible to forbid a party that doesn't exist officially -- this is rather an attempt to prevent its registration," Makarkin said. VY

The State Duma adopted a draft bill in its second reading on 10 June that would amend existing tax laws to cancel the inheritance tax and establish a tax rate for gifts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 June. After long consultations on the bill, according to the newspaper, the government agreed to remove the tax on gifts of real estate, vehicles, and shares in companies between spouses, parents, and children. The government sought to tax gifts from grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings at the rate of 5 percent, but deputies insisted that gifts from all close relatives be exempt. JAC

Ilya Yashin, the organizer of a public rally in front of the FSB building on Lubyanska Square on 12 June and head of Yabloko's youth branch, was scheduled to appear in a Moscow court on 14 June for vastly underestimating the number of attendees ahead of the event, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Vremya novostei" reported on 14 June. Yashin had permission for the rally from Moscow authorities but had said that only 250 people would participate; by some estimates as many as 1,500 showed up. The meeting, which was organized under the slogan "I am free and have forgotten what fear means," was held in support of former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii and other people the organizers consider to be political prisoners, "Vremya novostei" reported. Yashin told Ekho Moskvy on 13 June that the rally's success shows that this is the "era of street politics." He continued: "The reason is obvious: There is no public politics in this country. Political censorship has been imposed on central television and in all significant media. People have no opportunity to debate the most important and vital problems of their country's life. That's why they take to the street to discuss them." JAC

In an interview with Nizhnii Novgorod Telegraph Agency on 13 June, Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast Governor Gennadii Khodyrev said he is certain that he is already on the list of candidates to be submitted to the presidential administration for consideration for the post of regional governor. According to Khodyrev, other candidates are Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Vadim Bulavinov; Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate head Vladimir Bulavin; Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergei Mitin; State Duma Deputy Yurii Sentyurin (Motherland); and Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast legislative speaker Yevgenii Lyulin. Bulavinov declared in February that he had no intention of leaving his current post if presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko suggested him as a replacement for Khodyrev. By law, the oblast's parliament must consider the candidate suggested by the president by 18 July, which means the list of candidates should be submitted to the Kremlin by 4 July, according to the agency. JAC

The number of patients sick with hepatitis A continues to increase in the city of Rzhev in Tver Oblast, RosBalt and ITAR-TASS reported on 13 June. The number of those infected reached 547 on 13 June, 142 of whom are children. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, chief sanitary inspector Gennadii Onishchenko said the main cause of the outbreak was the Rzhev beer factory's alleged use of impure water from one of the plant's wells in its beverages (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2005). The oblast's chief sanitary doctor, Vitalii Sinoda, said the situation in Tver is fully under control and the rate of infection is slowing. JAC

President Putin has signed an order earmarking 5 million rubles ($175,000) from the presidential reserve fund for the second quarter of 2005 for the construction of the pulpit in the cathedral of Svyato-Troitskii in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatksii, RIA-Novosti reported, quoting the presidential press service. The office of presidential envoy to the Far Eastern Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii will oversee the implementation of Putin's order. JAC

Tigran Torosian (Republican Party of Armenia) told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 13 June that the Armenian authorities are willing to modify the proposed amendments to the constitution in order to incorporate changes called for by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission. Those changes entail introducing direct elections for the post of Yerevan mayor, expanding the powers of the parliament, and reducing the president's powers to appoint senior judges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 3 June 2005). Armenia is to present the revised amendments to the Council of Europe on 23 June, and they are to be submitted to a national referendum this fall. LF

Two men have been apprehended and have confessed to plotting to blow up Tagi Ibragimov, the president of the independent television company Azad Azerbaycan, and Appeals Court Judge Bahram Shukyrov, according to a joint statement released on 13 June by the National Security Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office and summarized the same day by Turan and Alimurad Nakhmedov, a citizen of Azerbaijan and former employee of the Baku Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, is said to have co-opted Ali Sagiev, a Chechen refugee, and persuaded him to carry out the killings with the aim of creating fear and panic among the population. Nakhmedov was said to have been recruited in turn by a former police colonel, Pirali Orudjev, who is said to be close to the leadership of the opposition Musavat party, and Moscow-based Azeri businessman Rzabala Guliev. In a statement to Trend news agency on 13 June summarized by the following day, Ibragimov attributed the planned attack on his life to "radical opposition forces" that have been "defeated in the ideological struggle" and have thus decided to "resort to terror." He characterized the planned terrorist acts as directed against Azerbaijan's statehood and the authority of President Ilham Aliyev. LF

The Musavat party issued a statement on 13 June rejecting as "gibberish" the implication contained in the joint statement by the National Security Ministry and the Prosecutor-General's Office that the party was behind the alleged plots to kill Ibragimov and Shukyurov, Turan reported. The Musavat statement said that, as in previous election campaigns, the authorities seek to blacken Musavat's reputation but will not succeed in undermining the electorate's trust in Musavat. LF

President Aliyev has submitted to parliament 43 proposed changes to the election law, reported on 14 June. The changes are mostly minor ones, however, and do little to address the opposition's primary objections to the law. The amendments would exclude the holding of presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections simultaneously and shorten the deadline for announcing the final results of presidential balloting from 14 to 10 days. They also would change the number of votes by which election commissions at various levels are to adopt decisions: by six votes when the commission numbers nine people, five votes when it numbers seven or eight people, and four votes when it numbers six people. The opposition is campaigning for equal representation on all election commissions. LF

A search conducted on 13 June by members of the Georgian police and the Joint Peacekeeping Forces deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone failed to find any trace of four Georgian men who disappeared in the region on 6 June, reported on 14 June. Also on 13 June, the Georgian Interior Ministry posted on its website ( the names of two Ossetians suspected of having kidnapped the four missing men. Meanwhile, Vazha Khachapuridze, who is related to three of the missing men, told RFE/RL's Georgian Service on 13 June that there is no truth to Georgian media reports that he has resigned his post as an adviser to South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity. Khachapuridze traveled to Tbilisi on 13 June in the hope of meeting with Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili but was unable to do so. LF

In an interview with the independent television station Imedi, Giorgi Khaindrava, who is Georgian minister for conflict resolution, characterized the apparent abduction of the four Georgians in South Ossetia as "a provocation carefully planned to the north," meaning in Russia, Caucasus Press reported on 13 June. He suggested that the Russian authorities are deliberating trying to destabilize Georgia in order to demonstrate that Russian military bases there are still needed and should not be closed. LF

In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," Taymuraz Mamsurov, who was named last week to succeed Aleksandr Dzasokhov as president of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, expressed his support for South Ossetian President Kokoity, and Caucasus Press reported on 13 June. Mamsurov characterized Ossetians as a nation that was "divided within one country," meaning the USSR, and argued that the only solution is to reunite North and South Ossetia. LF

The Georgian parliament bureau canceled on 13 June a discussion scheduled for later that day of the circumstances surrounding the death in Tbilisi on 3 February of Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, reported. In response to a demand by opposition deputy David Berdzenishvili, deputies had earlier decided to summon Interior Minister Merabishvili and Prosecutor-General Zurab Adeishvili to answer questions about the ongoing investigation. Zhvania's brother Giorgi has repeatedly alleged that Zurab Zhvania did not die of accidental gas poisoning but was murdered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 April and 25 and 31 May 2005). On 14 June, Berdzenishvili protested the parliament bureau's decision to cancel the discussion, Caucasus Press reported. He argued that "people want to know the truth" about how Zurab Zhvania died. LF

In a press release posted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on its website ( on 13 June, Managing Director Roderigo de Rato summed up his just-completed visit to Tbilisi, during which he met with senior Georgian officials including President Mikheil Saakashvili, Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli, and National Bank Chairman Roman Gotsiridze. De Rato praised measures taken since November 2003 to expedite the transition to a market economy, including the adoption of a new tax code and further privatization. At the same time, he warned that "putting Georgia's economy on a sound footing will require perseverance and a broad social consensus in coming years." In that context, he advised the Georgian government to address "priority spending needs using sizeable privatization receipts and internal grants, while safeguarding macro-stability and longer-term fiscal sustainability." He also called for measures to improve the performance of the energy sector, deepen civil-service reform, and abolish the bureaucracy and red tape that deters entrepreneurial activity. LF

A relative of Emzar Kvitsiani, who served for years as former President Eduard Shevardnadze's representative in the upper, Georgian-controlled reaches of the Kodori Gorge, discovered 1 kilogram of TNT under the hood of Kvitsiani's car on 10 June, Caucasus Press reported. Local residents suggested the explosive might have been intended to kill Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, who according to Caucasus Press was scheduled to visit Kodori on 12 June. (Okruashvili attended a session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council in Brussels last week, then on 13 June left for the United States.) Kvitsiani denied any knowledge of the provenance of the TNT, branding the discovery a "provocation." Okruashvili's insistence on disbanding the local Hunter volunteer corps that Kvitsiani founded and headed has generated bad blood between the two men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005). LF

A court in Almaty on 13 June ordered former Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev to pay 1 million tenges ($7,500) in damages for defaming Khabar Agency, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Khabar had initially sought 50 million tenges in damages. Sarsenbaev must also publicly retract the comments he made in a 1 October 2004 interview with the opposition newspaper "Respublika" in which he alleged that Khabar was part of a monopolistic media holding controlled by Darigha Nazarbaeva, daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, the Navigator website ( reported. "I think that the court's decision is connected with the upcoming presidential elections," Sarsenbaev, co-chairman of the unregistered opposition party Naghyz Ak Zhol, commented after the ruling. He said that if repression against opposition figures continues, "there will be no need to export revolution [to Kazakhstan]; a revolution will take place inside the country." Sarsenbaev vowed to appeal the ruling. He has 15 days to do so. DK

Kyrgyzstan's Central Election Commission completed the registration of candidates on 13 June for the 10 July presidential election, reported. Seven candidates have now been registered: acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev; businessman Akbaraly Aitikeev; ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir uulu; former Interior Minister Keneshbek Duishebaev; Democratic Movement of Kyrgyzstan head Jypar Jeksheev; NGO activist Toktaim Umetalieva; and former Jalalabad Province Governor Jusupbek Sharipov. DK

Guards used firearms to beat off an attack on the Alai Hotel in Osh on 13 June, killing one person and injuring at least five others, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. A crowd numbering at least 100 gathered outside the hotel, where legislator Bayaman Erkinbaev has offices; approximately 100 Erkinbaev supporters came out of the hotel to oppose them, Reuters and reported. The anti-Erkinbaev crowd chanted slogans alleging that he illegally controls the hotel, RFE/RL reported. Gunmen firing automatic weapons dispersed the crowd. Police described them as security guards, although there were conflicting reports of who exactly did the shooting, Reuters reported. Unofficial sources reported that the anti-Erkinbaev protestors included local athletes who recently attacked a market belonging to Erkinbaev in nearby Kara-Suu, RFE/RL reported. Later in the day, the situation was calm and police had surrounded the hotel, Kabar reported. quoted "local residents" who described the violence as part of a struggle over business assets in the wake of the 24 March ouster of President Askar Akaev. DK

An explosion took place in Dushanbe on 13 June outside the Emergency Situations Ministry and the Savings Bank of Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Avesta quoted law-enforcement sources as saying that the blast force was equal to 50-100 grams of TNT equivalent. Dushanbe prosecutor Habibullah Vohidov said a cart of the sort used to haul goods at local bazaars exploded; he stressed that no one was killed. Interior Minister Humdin Sharifov told reporters that he could not rule out the possibility that the explosion was a terror attack, Reuters reported. The National Security Ministry (MNB) announced in an official statement that the cart's driver has been detained, ITAR-TASS reported. A powerful explosion rocked the same location in Dushanbe in late January, killing one person (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2005). DK

EU foreign ministers on 13 June gave Uzbekistan until the end of June to agree to an independent inquiry into violence in Andijon on 13 May or face sanctions, Reuters reported. In a statement quoted by the news agency, the ministers said they will "keep under review the case for a partial suspension of cooperation mechanisms between the EU and Uzbekistan." The measures could include freezing diplomatic ties or banning Uzbek officials from travel to the European Union. Also on 13 May, the ministers created the post of EU special envoy to Central Asia. DK

The opposition United Civic Party (AHP) on 10 June appealed to dissident former lawmaker Syarhey Skrabets to end his hunger strike in a jail in Brest, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Skrabets, who was arrested on 15 May on charges of attempted bribery (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005), on 10 June entered the 30th day of a hunger strike over his arrest, which he deems politically motivated. "Your health and strength are necessary not only for your family but also for all of us.... We will see changes [in the country] without sacrifices and extreme measures," the AHP said in the appeal. JM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree on changes in national-level "information and propaganda groups," Belapan reported on 13 June, quoting the presidential press service. The "information and propaganda groups" were created by Lukashenka in 2003 at three tiers -- national (regional), sectorial, and territorial -- and charged with holding briefings on domestic and foreign events for the staff of enterprises and others at gatherings in their homes on the third Thursday of every month. The recent decree appoints new heads of the regional propaganda teams: State Monitoring Committee Chairman Anatol Tozik for Brest Oblast, Chamber of Representatives Speaker Uladzimir Kanaplyou for Homel Oblast, Presidential Administration head Viktar Sheyman for Horodna Oblast, Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Drazhyn for Minsk Oblast, Presidential Administration's Property Management Department head Alyaksandr Kulichkou for Mahilyou Oblast, Presidential Administration deputy head Mikalay Ivanchanka for Vitsebsk Oblast, and First Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka for the city of Minsk. JM

Major General Serhiy Savchenko, former commander of the Ukrainian military contingent in Iraq, has been arrested on charges of smuggling, Interfax reported on 13 June, quoting the Prosecutor-General's Office. The office did not provide any more details of the arrest. According to Channel 5, Savchenko is being charged with the smuggling of foreign currency. The Prosecutor-General's Office has also opened a criminal case against former Ukrainian Security Service deputy chief Volodymyr Satsyuk, charging him with abuse of office and forgery, and issued a search warrant for him. Satsyuk, who is reportedly hospitalized at an unknown location, told the 14 June issue of "Komsomolskaya pravda v Ukraine" that he is innocent and sees no reason to escape justice. Moreover, an Odesa district court on 13 June ordered the arrest of former Odesa Mayor Ruslan Bodelan, whom prosecutors accuse of abuse of office. Bodelan's whereabouts are unknown. JM

Yuliya Tymoshenko said after talks with her French counterpart Dominique de Villepin in Paris on 13 June that she is confident the door to the European Union remains open despite confusion caused by Dutch and French voters' rejection of the EU Constitution, Reuters reported. "I'm sure that when the French said 'no,' it wasn't 'no' to Ukraine, to the desire of the Ukrainian people to become a European nation," she said. She also said that the two sides signed 11 agreements and memorandums on mutual cooperation, including in the spheres of aviation, defense, and security. JM

Meeting in Luxembourg on 13 June, EU foreign ministers indicated that the final document of the upcoming EU summit will refer to the possibility of enlargement but not mention specific candidates such as Bulgaria, Romania, or Croatia by name, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 14 June. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner suggested that it might be time for the EU to "take a breath" before proceeding with a new round of enlargement, RFE/RL reported. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said that the "Commission is committed to the new membership of Croatia. We have noted some progress as regards cooperation with the Hague[-based war crimes] tribunal. But it is clear that Croatia needs more time to achieve cooperation with the Hague tribunal." He nonetheless suggested that Croatia could start admission talks with the EU "on the day" that war crimes indictee and fugitive former General Ante Gotovina goes to The Hague. Rehn also stressed that his "message to the peoples and governments of the western Balkans is that the stabilization and association process is on its rails, it is moving on." Rehn added that "the door to the European Union is still open to those countries that meet the criteria of accession or association, depending on which stage they are in this process" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 9 June 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 June 2005). PM

EU Enlargement Commissioner Rehn told EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on 13 June that he finds it "desirable that also in the light of the forthcoming standards and status process of Kosovo that we could be able to start negotiations for a stabilization and association agreement with Serbia and Montenegro this autumn, so that these negotiations would be conducted in parallel with the status process of Kosovo," RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April and 20 May 2005). For his part, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said that "when we talk about standards [in Kosova], we are talking, in a different manner, about the rights of minorities. Therefore, all of those issues are going to be under [the] microscope of the European Union, to see how they develop." Solana stressed that the EU wants a "fundamental" role in determining Kosova's future, Deutsche Welle's Serbian Service reported. PM

Carla Del Ponte, who is the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, told the UN Security Council in a letter on 13 June that several of the governments in the western Balkans must improve their cooperation with the tribunal, RFE/RL reported. "We have seen in the past months dramatic improvements in the external conditions impacting heavily on the completion strategy," Del Ponte wrote. "Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia, and [the] Republika Srpska within Bosnia and Herzegovina are not yet cooperating fully with the [tribunal]. However, all of them have shown considerable progress in their cooperation," she added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 8, and 9 June 2005). Chiding Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who believes that indictees must turn themselves in voluntarily, Del Ponte said that he "gave me assurances that his government will deliver on these [seven] remaining fugitives, and I expect him to fulfill his commitment," dpa reported. She added: "however, I understand he is not willing to carry out arrest operations." PM

In her 13 June letter to the UN Security Council, Del Ponte argued that she remains "concerned that the Croatian authorities have not fulfilled their obligations to locate, arrest, and transfer [indicted former General] Ante Gotovina," RFE/RL reported. She noted that "in the first part of this year, the efforts made by the [Croatian] authorities were neither proactive nor focused. Several incidents occurred where sensitive information was manipulated so as to obstruct the investigation against Gotovina and his protective networks." She stressed that "until Gotovina is in The Hague, or until Croatia [provides information on] the precise whereabouts of this fugitive, it is impossible to say, however, that Croatia is fully cooperating" with the tribunal. PM

Aleksandar Dimitrijevic, who is Serbia and Montenegro's deputy defense minister in charge of intelligence services, said in Belgrade on 13 June that Natasa Kandic of the NGO Humanitarian Law Fund should prove her recent charges that Tomislav Nikolic, who is a former Serbian presidential candidate for the Serbian Radical Party, was involved in war crimes against civilians in Croatia during the 1991-95 conflict, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Kandic replied that she will come forward with her evidence once she is "completely sure" of its accuracy. Nikolic has denied the charges. PM

Several hundred Serbs on 13 June twice blocked the main bridge over the Ibar River connecting the Serbian- and Albanian-controlled halves of Mitrovica in northern Kosova, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2005). UN police hoped to open the bridge fully for all traffic for the first time since the end of the conflict in June 1999. The news agency noted that many Serbs fear that ethnic Albanians might try to reclaim their apartments and property that they abandoned under pressure from former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces during the 1998-99 war. A UN spokesman said that his organization remains committed to "the principle of freedom of movement." PM

Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi met with his Macedonian counterpart Vlado Buckovski in Skopje on 13 June to discuss their bilateral free-trade agreement as well as the demarcation of their common border, MIA news agency reported. Kosumi and Buckovski said after the meeting that the talks on the trade agreement will continue on a "political and expert level." Commenting on the ongoing discussions about the border demarcation, Kosumi said that it is not the most important question affecting their "good bilateral relations." Kosumi added that he and Buckovski tried to identify potential problems, noting that he is optimistic that they can be resolved. Buckovski said talks will continue on the demarcation, adding, however, that the Kosovar government does not have the legal mandate to be a partner in such matters. "But I informally mentioned in our talks that if [Prishtina had this mandate], the demarcation of our administrative borders could be finalized in record time," the private A1 TV quoted Buckovski as saying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May, 3 and 13 June 2005). The two prime ministers also discussed a possible memorandum of understanding on the return of refugees to Kosova and on a railway link between Prishtina and Skopje. UB

The Romanian Foreign Ministry on 13 June praised the Moldovan parliament's unanimous vote on the settlement of the Transdniester conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 13 June 2005) as an "eloquent expression of the commitment of representative political forces and decision makers in the Republic of Moldova to find a sustainable and democratic solution for reestablishing [the country's] territorial integrity," Flux reported. The ministry specifically promised to urgently analyze the appeal by the Moldovan legislature to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania regarding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transdniester. JM

The Stavropol Krai town of Budennovsk today marked the 10th anniversary of a 1995 raid on the town by Chechen fighters led by radical field commander Shamil Basaev, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported.

According to official figures, the fighters held more than 1,800 people hostage for six days; 147 people were killed in the incident and more than 400 were wounded, while about 160 buildings in the town were destroyed or damaged.

The anniversary was marked with prayer services on 12 June and by a demonstration by young people in the center of town under the slogan, "We remember." Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov attended a 14 June demonstration in the town, and moments of silence were observed in towns throughout Stavropol Krai and the North Caucasus, RIA-Novosti reported.

At shortly after noon on 14 June 1995, Basaev and a group of some 195 Chechen fighters entered the town in a convoy of trucks that had penetrated Russia disguised as a transport of coffins of Russian military personnel. After a six-day standoff with the Russian authorities, then Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin negotiated an agreement under which the Chechens released their hostages in exchange for safe conduct back to Chechnya.

According to the Prosecutor-General's Office on 14 June, about 30 of the fighters have been killed since the hostage taking; 20 have been tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison for their involvement; and 40 remain on the federal wanted list, RIA-Novosti reported. Basaev continues to play a leading role in the fighting in Chechnya and has claimed responsibility for such major terrorist incidents as the 2002 hostage taking at a Moscow theater and the 2004 hostage taking at a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan.

Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin -- who at the time of the hostage taking was director of the Federal Counterintelligence Service, but was fired from that post a few weeks later -- told Channel One on 13 June that Basaev's raiders originally intended to travel to Mineralnye Vody and seize an airplane, with which they intended to complete a suicide raid on the Kremlin analogous to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Stepashin said Basaev "got frightened," changed his plan, and seized the Budennovsk hospital instead. Basaev, however, gave an alternative explanation at the time why he and his men proceeded no further than Budennovsk, claiming that they had bribed their way through every traffic police check en route at a cost of $70,000 and simply ran out of cash.

The separatist Chechen website on 14 June hailed the "successful" Budennovsk operation as having "forced the Russian authorities to heed the Chechen resistance and to begin the process of peacefully regulating the Russian-Chechen conflict of 1994-96."

Afghan police arrested seven smugglers and captured a ton and a half of opium in southern Helmand Province on 12 June, AFP reported the next day. The drug bust followed a 45-minute gun battle between police and drug smugglers in the Khanshin district of the province, the Afghan Interior Ministry said. "A total of seven drug smugglers were arrested and police seized 1,490 kilograms of opium. Two Toyota Land Cruisers and several weapons were also seized," an Interior Ministry statement said. One smuggler was reportedly injured in the fighting. The clash marked the latest drug violence in the province, which was Afghanistan's leading producer of opium in 2004. Afghanistan is the world's top opium producer, responsible for some 90 percent of the heroin trafficked in Europe. MR

An apparent suicide bomber struck a U.S. military vehicle in southern Afghanistan, wounding four Americans, AP reported on 13 June. The attack happened near Kandahar, and the four wounded troops were evacuated to the U.S. airbase on the outskirts of the city for treatment. At least one of the injured soldiers was in serious condition. General Salim Khan, the deputy police chief for Kandahar, said the attack occurred on a highway just outside Kandahar. The severed head of the bomber was found near the scene of the blast, said Khan, who added that the dead attacker appeared to be an Arab. "The U.S. vehicle was blown up in the suicide attack," said Khan. Khan said three U.S. troops were killed in the incident, but the U.S. military reported no deaths from the attack. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi, speaking to AP by phone, said an Afghan fighter with neo-Taliban fighters carried out the suicide strike. MR

A cholera outbreak in Kabul has infected hundreds, but local health officials say the situation is under control, AP reported on 13 June. So far the outbreak has not killed anyone, said Ahmid Shah Shukomand, an official at the Afghan Health Ministry. The outbreak first surfaced two weeks ago. In response, health officials have undertaken a public health campaign and have chlorinated wells throughout the city and urged people to boil drinking water, wash their vegetables and their hands. The disease, a major killer in many developing countries, is spread mainly by contaminated water. MR

NATO forces plan to beef up their presence in Afghanistan ahead of the country's parliamentary elections in the fall, Xinhua news agency reported on 13 June. "Three battalions will be arriving six to eight weeks prior to the election day," said Karen Tissot Van Patot, a NATO spokeswoman in Kabul. "We will increase our joint patrol with the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police and we will increase the Quick Reaction Force capability also prior to the elections," she added. Van Patot did not disclose which countries will offer additional troops. Afghanistan's first parliamentary elections are slated for 18 September. Neo-Taliban insurgents have vowed to disrupt the balloting. MR

Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi announced on 13 June in Tehran that security forces have tracked down those responsible for the previous day's bombings in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, IRNA reported. He said there have been some arrests. He described the Ahvaz bombings as terrorist acts, adding that the explosion of a garbage can at the Imam Hussein Mosque in Tehran, which occurred on the evening of 12 June, may have been an "accident." Yunesi said all of the "terrorists" are under control and that they cannot undermine the presidential election. Also on 13 June, an anonymous judiciary spokesman said six people were arrested, state television reported, though it didn't specify whether it was in connection to the Tehran or the Ahvaz blasts. Supreme National Security Council official Ali Aqamohammadi said on 12 June that counterrevolutionaries are behind the bombings in Ahvaz, the Mehr News Agency reported. Referring to the explosion of a stun grenade in Qom a few days earlier, he said, "After the explosion in Qom a few days ago it became clear that several counterrevolutionary groups in Iraq had been dispatched to Iran from the region where the Americans and the British are deployed; some of these terrorists have been arrested." BS

A man identified as Ahmadvand and referred to as the military-political director of the Tehran Governor-General's Office said on 13 June that the investigation of the Tehran bombings is continuing, Fars News Agency reported. He added, "No individual or group has taken responsibility for last night's bombings. No one has been arrested with respect to the Tehran explosions either." He advised against jumping to conclusions about the guilty parties, saying, "We should not analyze or judge the recent Tehran and Ahvaz incidents hastily." BS

The Party of the Arab Al-Ahwazi Movement (aka Hizba al-Nahdah al-Arabi al-Ahwazi) has taken credit for the 12 June bombings in Ahvaz, the British Ahwazi Friendship Society website ( reported on 13 June. However, British Ahwazi Friendship Society spokesman Nasser Ban-Assad said on 13 June that such a small organization does not have the ability to carry out such an attack, reported. Instead, Ban-Assad said, the Iranian military set up the blasts in order to justify a preelection crackdown and the suppression of Arabs. He dismissed the possibility that the United States or United Kingdom would assist any Arab irredentists militarily. He added that it is unlikely that the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an Iranian opposition organization based in Iraq, is behind the attacks. Ban-Assad referred dismissively to claims of responsibility for similar attacks in the past made by the Ahvaz Arab Renaissance Party. Sabah al-Musawi, who heads the Ahvaz Arab Renaissance Party's political bureau, said on 12 June that the bombings have nothing to do with the election, Al-Jazeera reported. Nevertheless, he called for an election boycott. Responding to the interviewer's question about civilian deaths in the bombings, Musawi said, "These people came from outside Ahvaz. These are settlers.... They came to Ahvaz and they must bear the consequences. The regime must bear its responsibilities towards the people it brought as settlers to Ahvaz." BS

Fars News Agency reported on 13 June that after the previous day's bombings there were many hoax bomb threats to government agencies and public services such as the Tehran metro, Fars News Agency reported. As a result, bus and metro service was disrupted and the residents of one residential building were forced to evacuate. BS

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps spokesman Masud Jazayeri announced on 13 June that the majority of the force's personnel will vote in the 17 June presidential election, Fars News Agency reported. "The vast majority of Guards Corps personnel and Basijis [members of the Basij Resistance Force] understand their civic responsibilities, which emanate from the lofty values of Islam and the revolution," he said. "Thus they will participate in the elections with all their might and they will vote for the best candidate." Jazayeri dismissed speculation about military interference in the election process. He added that the Basij will do its utmost to ensure the fairness of the election. General Mohammad Hejazi, commander of the Basij, said his personnel will try to increase the number of people voting, "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 12 June. Hejazi went on to say that Basijis may serve as election officers in polling stations. According to the election monitoring standards of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the presence of military personnel in polling stations is undesirable and can lead to the intimidation of voters. BS

The Democracy Party (Hezb-i Mardom Salari) has endorsed the candidacy of Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, the Fars News Agency reported on 13 June, citing a statement from the party. The Guardians Council rejected Democracy Party Secretary-General Mustafa Kavakebian's application to be a candidate. The 14-party Front for Consolidation of Democracy also backed Kavakebian, and it announced that it does not advocate an election boycott despite his rejection, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 12 June. The Democracy Party called on the Guardians Council to explain the disqualification of its secretary-general and other candidates, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 29 May. The party explained its decision to participate in the election "as a principled solution and belief that quitting the arena, political passivity, and lack of political involvement by a political current and a party has never been agreeable, and at this juncture will only serve to benefit the conservative faction." BS

A suicide bomber killed 18 people and wounded 53 in a Kirkuk marketplace on 14 June, Reuters reported. "According to initial reports, a suicide bomber wearing an explosive belt blew himself up," said Kirkuk Police Chief Major General Torhan Abd al-Qader. Meanwhile, a suicide car bomber attacked a police patrol in Kan'an, south of Ba'qubah, on 14 June, killing five Iraqi soldiers and wounding three soldiers and two civilians, Reuters reported. Insurgents also reportedly fired mortars at the police station, setting it ablaze. KR

Kurdistan Democratic Party head Mas'ud Barzani was sworn in as president of the Kurdistan region at a 14 June ceremony in Irbil, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. The ceremony was scheduled to take place on 12 June, but was delayed after a sandstorm in Baghdad prevented some Iraqi dignitaries from traveling to the north. Barzani swore to "protect the rights, gains, unity, and interests of the citizens of the Kurdistan region," adding, "I also reiterate that Kurdistan is an indivisible part of Iraq." Iraqi President and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan head Jalal Talabani also spoke at the ceremony, saying that the parliament's unanimous election of Barzani "embodies the unity of Kurdish decision makers." Talabani added that U.S. President George W. Bush contacted him on 13 June, relaying his congratulations to Barzani and the Kurdish people. KR

The Iraqi Special Tribunal said in a 13 June press release posted to its website ( that it has questioned former President Saddam Hussein on his role in the 1982 massacre in Al-Dujayl. The massacre of dozens of residents was allegedly carried out following a failed assassination attempt against Hussein as his motorcade drove through the town. The tribunal also released a videotape showing an investigative judge from the tribunal speaking with Hussein, but no audio was released. The press release stated that Hussein's attorney, Khalil Abd Salih al-Dulaymi, and an unnamed prosecutor were present at the questioning. KR

In a separate press release issued on 13 June, the tribunal said that Taher Tawfiq al-Ani, former secretary of the Revolutionary Command Council's Northern Affairs Committee, and Husayn Rashid Muhammad, former Iraqi Army chief of staff, have been notified in court that they are being investigated in connection with crimes committed during the 1988 Al-Anfal Operation, when the Hussein regime carried out a program of displacement and genocide against the Iraqi Kurds. Special Republican Guard Commander Barzan Abd al-Ghafur and former Air Defense Commander Muzahim Sa'b al-Hassan have appeared before the court and been notified that they are being investigated in connection with crimes committed during the 1991 uprisings against the Hussein regime by Shi'a and Kurds following the Gulf War that year. The investigations into the two events are ongoing, according to the statement. KR

The Iraqi Central Bank has reportedly issued instructions restricting the transport of international and Iraqi currencies across its borders to $10,000 and 100,000 Iraqi dinars, respectively, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 13 June. A restriction has also been placed on the transport of gold to that for personal use only. The move is an attempt to stem the smuggling of gold and other currencies out of the country. An Iraqi border source told Jordan's "Al-Arab al-Yawm" that the order is being enforced at the Iraqi-Jordanian border, the newspaper reported on 11 June. Amounts in excess of the limit will be confiscated and returned to Iraq or to the Central Bank. The source said that border officials have found millions of dollars on individuals attempting to cross Iraqi borders. In one incident, a group was found transporting $5 million hidden in secret compartments in their vehicle at a border crossing with an unnamed neighboring country. The individuals were reportedly handed over to the Iraqi authorities for prosecution, the newspaper reported. KR

South Korean Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-woong told the parliament on 13 June that the government will likely seek an extension for its troop deployment to Iraq, Yonhap news agency reported on the same day. "I intend to submit to the [Korean] National Assembly a motion aimed at extending the deployment of the Zaytun Unit, which is to expire by the end of this year," Yoon told the parliament. South Korea's 3,200-strong deployment was to be completed in September 2004, but parliament extended the deployment until December 2005. The troops are stationed in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on a humanitarian and reconstruction mission. "I believe Iraq needs multinational forces until the middle of next year, when it secures its own security forces and military," Yoon said. KR