Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - June 15, 2005

President Vladimir Putin told attendees at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on 14 June that he is displeased by the country's recent economic-growth figure, RBK and other Russian media reported. Russia showed annualized growth of 5.8 percent for the first five months of the year rather than the expected figure of 7 percent, according to government figures cited by Putin. "We cannot be satisfied with the [current] rate of economic growth," Putin said. He announced inflation of 7.3 percent for the first five months. Putin warned that both state paternalism and excessive liberalism pose a threat to the economy, RTR reported. "When the Great Depression struck in the U.S.A. [1929-33], it was the planned economy of the Soviet Union that made the economic breakthrough," Putin said, "but the planned economy later brought the USSR to collapse. So an economic model should be flexible." He added that he thinks it is impossible to attain rapid economic growth in Russia without integration into the world market. "But [integration] should be accomplished under the immutable condition of preserving the sovereignty of our state," Putin said. VY

Speaking at a ceremony to lay the cornerstone for a new Toyota assembly plant in St. Petersburg on 14 June, President Putin said Russo-Japanese trade and cooperation show "tremendous promise," RIA-Novosti reported. "We are talking about innovation and the energy sector, and joint exploration [for natural resources] in Siberia and the [Russian] Far East," Putin said. Toyota Motor Corporation Chairman Hiroshi Okuda said at the ceremony that his company plans to invest up to $1 billion into the Russian project. Toyota hopes to assemble 20,000 of its Camry models for the Russian market at the facility by 2007 and eventually 200,000 units per year. VY

President Putin met with former Japanese Prime Minister and Russian-Japanese Council of Wisemen Chairman Yoshiro Mori after the Toyota ceremony in St. Petersburg on 14 June to discuss bilateral cooperation and plans to construct a new "Eastern" oil pipeline from Siberia to the Pacific Coast, Russian news agencies reported. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on the sidelines of the International Economic Forum the same day that Russia is capable of financing the construction of that pipeline from its own sources (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May and 7 June 2005) , according to Interfax and Xinhua. There is no need for any corresponding loan from Japan, Lavrov said. Lavrov also addressed Tokyo's purported concerns that too much oil might be diverted to China after the first stage of the project is completed, saying that Moscow has explained to Japanese officials that oil will be delivered to Japan through a terminal on Russia's Pacific Coast once the first stage is finished. "I don't understand their anxiety," Lavrov said, according to RIA-Novosti. VY

Speaking with Ukrainian parliamentary speaker Volodomyr Lytvyn on the sidelines of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on 14 June, President Putin predicted a solution to the dispute between Russia's Gazprom and the Ukrainian authorities over gas at an underground storage facility operated by Ukraine's Naftohaz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 13 June 2005), RIA-Novosti reported. Putin noted that some $1.3 billion worth of gas is at issue. "We naturally are not asking that the debt be paid tomorrow, but it must be solved," Putin said. "A lot was done to rid Ukraine of the status of an unreliable partner, [so] it would be unpleasant to start everything again from the beginning." Aleksandr Ryazanov, Gazprom's deputy chairman, said in Kyiv the same day that the gas has been found but that the sides have failed to agree on a price, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

Investigators looking into the explosion that derailed a Grozny-to-Moscow train on 12 June have said the explosive used in that incident is similar to that used in an apparent assassination attempt targeting Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais in March, Interfax reported. The investigation is reportedly considering whether a fascist or nationalist group might have organized the attacks. Two other possible lines of investigation include an attack by a radical Islamic group or a nationalist group from the Caucasus, Interfax reported. VY

Margarita Simonyan, who has been appointed news director of Russia's new English-language television station Russia Today, said the channel was created to "correct the image of Russia abroad," Ekho Moskvy reported on 12 June. English is the working language at the station as well as its language of programming, she added. Simonyan, who said she studied in the United States in the 1990s under a youth-exchange program, said the station will employ journalists from the United Kingdom, Canada, and other English-speaking countries. Simonyan noted that she "disliked" the best-selling "Tales of a Kremlin Digger" by a former colleague who was removed from the so-called Kremlin pool, Yelena Tregubova, adding that she would not offer a job to Tregubova. VY

Deputy Health and Social Development Minister Vladimir Starodubov told journalists on 14 June that Russia's demographic resources, such as immigration, are "completely exhausted," RIA-Novosti reported. The country is losing 600,000-850,000 residents per year, he said, adding that high mortality is a primary factor in the trend. The leading cause of death is cardiac illness, he said, followed by accidents. The state spends some $120 per capita each year on health care, Starodubov said, while Greece spends $1,400, for instance. VY

The Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) urged supporters to use the Internet to oppose the reelection of Smolensk Oblast Governor Viktor Maslov (Unified Russia), who was nominated earlier this month by President Putin to a second term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June 2005), reported. Maslov, a retired state-security general, was head of the Federal Security Service's (FSB) territorial directorate before his election as governor in 2001. The Communists characterize Maslov as "a member of the chekist junta of Vladimir Putin and the person who ruined the Smolensk Oblast" economy. The party urges Smolensk voters to e-mail the regional administration's website with a subject line "MaslOff" or the simple message: "Smolensk without Maslov." VY

Russia's chief military prosecutor, Aleksandr Savenkov, has said he is concerned about a surge in the number of noncombat-related deaths among servicemen, Interfax and RIA-Novosti reported on 14 June. Forty-six soldiers have died because of crime or accidents in the past week; another 22 soldiers were injured to varying degrees. Of the total dead or injured, 37 were from the Defense Ministry, eight committed suicide, and two attempted suicide. Savenkov held a news conference last month at which he pointed to a trend of rising crime in the armed forces that he attributed to a "lack of discipline" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 May 2005). Two weeks later, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov offered a stinging rebuke, asserting that noncombat-related deaths have dropped by one-third and hazing incidents have declined by 9 percent in the last year, according to JAC

According to "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 9 June, the dispute between Savenkov and Ivanov has been going on for several years but was not previously on public display. The daily asked why Savenkov would "dare go against one of the closest colleagues and friends of the president." It dismissed the simplest explanation: that Savenkov is simply and honestly putting forth his position on the problems plaguing the army. "Moskovskii komsomolets" speculated that forces backing Savenkov are as powerful as those supporting Ivanov and concluded that "the conflict between the defense minister and chief military prosecutor is seepage from the undercover struggle of Kremlin teams, each of which is pushing forward his protege for the position of successor to Putin in 2008." JAC

Former oligarch and London resident Boris Berezovskii told reporters on 14 June that he intends to sell "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and that negotiations to sell the daily are already under way, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Berezovskii explained that he needs to sell the newspaper in order to "concentrate on projects of the Russian publishing house Kommersant and Kommersant-Ukraina," according to RFE/RL. Berezovskii also confirmed reports of an imminent shake-up in Kommersant's management, announcing that Andrei Vasilev, the general director of Kommersant publishing, is the new head of Kommersant-Ukraina. RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported that Vladislav Borodulin, the current editor of, will become editor in chief of "Kommersant-Daily." Berezovskii also announced that he plans to launch "Kommersant" newspapers in two other former Soviet republics, but he declined to name which ones. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" was launched in 1991 and, in 1995, after a four-month shutdown due to lack of funds, founding editor Vitalii Tretyakov agreed to accept financing from Berezovskii. JAC

Sergei Apatenko, director of the department for state youth policy, education, and social defense of children at the Ministry for Education and Science, told a session of specialists on 14 June that an information campaign in the mass media will be launched in the near future calling on Russian citizens to adopt parentless children. According to Apatenko, just 7,013 of the 16,434 children adopted in the country in 2004 were adopted by Russian citizens, 175 fewer than the previous year. Apatenko added that the number of homeless children in Russia is increasing every year, while the number of adoptions is declining. In 2004, 145,285 children remained without parents -- an increase of more than 3,000 from the previous year. Part of the problem is a lack of information about the children available, Apatenko said; many regional workers simply have not found the time to send information about such children to database. Last year, he said, the republics of Daghestan, Kalmykia, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Mordovia, Tuva, Ingushetia, and Chechnya and Lipetsk Oblast sent no information about orphans available for adoption to the central database. JAC

The Public Committee for the Defense of Scholars has sent an open letter to President Putin asking him to pardon political scientist Igor Sutyagin, who was convicted of espionage, Regnum reported on 14 June. Sutyagin was sentenced in April 2004 to 15 years in prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2004). The appeal alleged that the entire case was "fabricated" and represented a "conscious compilation of accusations without evidence." The authors of the appeal also reported that Sutyagin received information in recent months that a pardon was possible if he admitted his guilt, but that "Sutyagin, naturally, has refused to acknowledge his nonexistent guilt" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2005). This is the second such appeal sent to the president, Regnum reported. The first -- sent in the fall of 2004 -- reportedly received no response from the president. JAC

Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak met on the evening of 13 June in Cherkessk with parliamentary deputies and members of the government of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR), and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 14 and 15 June, respectively. The republican parliament suspended its activities on 10 June on the grounds that persistent rumors of the imminent dismissal of KChR President Mustafa Batdyev have compounded domestic political tensions to the point that normal legislative activity is no longer possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005). Kozak rejected as unfounded claims by what he called "self-proclaimed politicians" to have reached an agreement with the Kremlin on naming a replacement for Batdyev. Kozak said such claims discredit the federal center and him personally. He stressed that the question of dismissing Batdyev and naming a replacement is not on the agenda, and assured his interlocutors that he will "inform everyone" if the Russian leadership decides to replace Batdyev. LF

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko said in a statement posted on the ministry's website ( on 14 June that Russia is "satisfied" with the outcome of expert-level talks held in Tbilisi last week on issues related to the closure by late 2008 of Russia's two remaining military bases in Georgia. Yakovenko added that the process of ceding to the Georgian Defense Ministry a Russian tank-repair workshop in Tbilisi will be completed "in the next few days." Georgia is insisting that Russia hand over all equipment currently deployed at that facility, including trucks, spare parts, armored vehicles, and eight diesel-fueled generators. But Colonel General Vladimir Kuparadze, who is deputy commander of the Group of Russian Forces in the Transcaucasus, told ITAR-TASS on 14 June that the handover of the repair shop has been suspended in light of those Georgian demands. Russian Chief of Armed Forces General Staff General Yurii Baluevskii told a press briefing in Moscow on 14 June that the transfer of ownership has been completed, and that the movable equipment will not be handed over to the Georgian side, Interfax reported. LF

Speaking in Yerevan on 14 June at a press conference to mark the second anniversary of his appointment as parliamentary speaker, Artur Baghdasarian denied that his Orinats Yerkir party is drifting toward the opposition and might participate in the parliamentary elections due in 2007 as part of an opposition election bloc, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He similarly denied that a "conflict" has arisen between Orinats Yerkir and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD). Those two parties are junior members of the three-party government headed by Republican Party of Armenia Chairman Andranik Markarian. Baghdasarian warned journalists not to draw unwarranted conclusions from favorable comments made about him by opposition Hanrapetutiun party leader Aram Sargsian. At the same press conference, Baghdasarian expressed regret that opposition deputies continue the boycott of parliamentary proceedings that they declared over a year ago, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

In a statement released on 14 June, the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry condemned the parliamentary elections to be held on 19 June in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic as illegal and a violation of the norms and principles of international law, Turan reported. The ballot also risks jeopardizing recent progress in talks aimed at reaching a solution to the Karabakh conflict, the statement continued. Also on 14 June, Azerbaijani parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov noted that the Council of Europe rejected a request from the NKR authorities to send observers to monitor the ballot, according to Trend news agency. LF

The opposition coalition consisting of the Karabakh organization of the HHD and the Movement-88 has issued an appeal to NKR voters on the eve of the parliamentary ballot, according to "Yerkir" on 14 June as cited by Groong. The statement alleges that the unrecognized republic's future is endangered by unscrupulous members of its leadership who plan to rig the ballot to enable themselves to remain in power. It calls on the population to "rally around the course of democratization" and to cast their ballots for the HHD-Movement-88 coalition. Meanwhile, NKR President Arkadii Ghukasian has issued a statement pledging that the ruling authorities will do everything in their power to ensure that the 19 June ballot is fair, objective, and transparent, Noyan Tapan reported on 14 June. LF

Russian President Vladimir Putin met in St. Petersburg on 14 June on the sidelines of the ninth St. Petersburg International Economic Forum with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev, Russian agencies reported. Both men gave a positive assessment of bilateral relations; Aliyev noted that bilateral trade turnover increased by 50 percent in 2004 to reach $757 million and has grown by a further 40 percent during the first four months of 2005. The two presidents also focused on the search for a solution to the Karabakh conflict, reported on 15 June. LF

Opposition deputies Zviad Dzidziguri and Grigol Djodjua accused the parliamentary majority, in particular deputy speaker Mikheil Machavariani, on 14 June of systematically summoning regional governors to Tbilisi to pressure them to ensure a victory for President Mikheil Saakashvili's National Movement-Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, Caucasus Press and reported. The opposition alleged that Machavariani issued orders that a majority of all local election commissions should be members of that party. Machavariani admitted that local administrators have been summoned to Tbilisi, but he said discussions with them focused on ensuring the ballot is well-organized, free, and democratic. LF

Parliamentary speaker Nino Burdjanadze rejected on 14 June a proposal by Pikria Chikhradze (New Conservatives, aka New Rightists) to beef up the Georgian contingent serving in the joint peacekeeping force deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. Burdjanadze rejected the argument that the region's Georgian population is defenseless, and she argued that the dispatch of additional Georgian troops could trigger a resumption of hostilities. Georgia currently has 50 peacekeepers in the conflict zone, compared with the 500 it is authorized to deploy there. Meanwhile, the search continued on 15 June for the four Georgians believed to have been abducted in the conflict zone on 6 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 June 2005). LF

In a statement published by Navigator ( on 14 June, the Kazakh opposition movement For a Just Kazakhstan condemned what it termed a "purge of the political and media environment" in the lead-up to the presidential election currently scheduled for December 2006. The statement noted recent defamation rulings against opposition leaders Altynbek Sarsenbaev and Zamanbek Nurkadilov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 14 June 2005), calling them "one of the regime's most 'popular' methods for a cynical settling of scores with its political opponents." The opposition warned that in the wake of events in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan, "The [Kazakh] authorities...are taking feverish measures to 'tighten the screws' and toughen legislation. They are buying up weapons and arming internal security forces and the police." The statement stressed: "International experience shows that sooner or later authoritarian regimes depart or are overthrown. Kazakhstan's authoritarian regime will not be an exception. " For a Just Kazakhstan also announced that it plans to open a website at with information in Kazakh, Russian, and English about "politically motivated court rulings." DK

Addressing an international business conference on 14 June, President Nursultan Nazarbaev said that Kazakhstan is ready to listen to friendly advice, but he warned against the wholesale adoption of Western values, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Suggesting that "we listen to friendly advice and criticism," Nazarbaev advised his country's Western partners to "give up the idea of transferring Western values 100 percent to Kazakhstan." Nazarbaev also touched on recent events in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, stressing that Kazakhstan's policy is to work toward stabilizing the situation in Central Asia. "I am confident that no one has an interest in having Central Asia become a region torn apart by internal contradictions, where an outburst of violence in one country becomes an example to be emulated in another," Nazarbaev said. DK

Legislator Bayaman Erkinbaev on 14 June accused Usen Sydykov, head of the presidential administration, of organizing protests against Erkinbaev that targeted a market in Kara-Suu and a hotel in Osh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2005), RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Erkinbaev described the clashes, which left at least 12 people injured after gunfire broke out at the Alai Hotel in Osh on 13 June, as an attempt to reverse privatization deals. Also on 14 June, Osh Mayor Mamasadyk Bakirov told a gathering of 500 anti-Erkinbaev protesters that Erkinbaev's guards fired on unarmed demonstrators the previous day, wounding 12, reported. The protesters demanded Erkinbaev's removal from parliament, alleging that he is implicated in numerous criminal acts. DK

National Security Service (SNB) Chairman Tashtemir Aitbaev told parliament on 14 June that three people have been arrested in connection with the 10 June killing of legislator Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005), reported. Aitbaev said the SNB is focusing on economic motives for the crime but has not ruled out political motives. Aitbaev noted that Surabaldiev had been interrogated over his role in organizing provocateurs in support of then President Askar Akaev during the 24 March demonstrations that ousted the president later that day, RFE/RL reported. Also on 14 June, the slain deputy's daughter, Elvira Surabaldieva, told a news conference that her father recently turned down a request to cede businesses that he owned to "several fairly highly placed people," reported. But she alleged that her father's killing was a political crime, RFE/RL reported. "Very influential people with vast financial and administrative resources are behind this murder," Surabaldieva said. "These people are now in power. And it's not just one person, but several." DK

Tajikistan's State Security Ministry (MNB) announced on 14 June that it has opened a criminal case with a charge of "terrorism" in connection with a 13 June explosion in Dushanbe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2005), RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. The statement said an unidentified individual placed an explosive charge on a cart and then detonated it from a distance. The cart's owner has been detained and is being interrogated. Interior Minister Humdin Sharipov had said on 13 June that the explosion, which injured four people, might be a terror attack. An explosion at the same location, outside the Emergency Situations Ministry, killed one person on 31 January; three people have been arrested and charged in connection with that blast, Sharipov said. DK

Avesta interviewed a number of Tajik opposition politicians on 13 and 14 June about the more recent explosion. Shokirjon Hakimov, deputy head of the Social Democratic Party, said the blast was probably not the work of religious extremists. He noted that the explosion could give the authorities a pretext to place tighter controls on civil society. Rahmatullo Valiev, deputy head of the Democratic Party, told the news agency, "The Islam card is always played here in our country. However, I do not think any extremist groups were involved in this incident because we have no such groups." Hikmatullo Sayfullozoda, a spokesman for the Islamic Renaissance Party, said "It is likely that the incident is connected with the activities of the Emergency Situations Ministry or the financial activities of the [nearby] Amonatbank savings bank." DK

In a 13 June statement published by, the Association of Independent Media of Tajikistan (NANSMIT) announced that the detention of journalist Jumaboy Tolibov is directly connected with his activities as a journalist. Tolibov has been in jail since 24 April. NANSMIT charged that Tolibov was targeted for articles he wrote criticizing a prosecutor in Sughd Province and called on the Prosecutor-General's Office to release Tolibov from detention and conduct a transparent, objective investigation of the case. DK

Aleksandr Kondratev, a spokesman for Russian border forces in Tajikistan, announced on 14 June that Tajik guards now protect the full length of the 1,344-kilometer Tajik-Afghan border, Avesta reported. The handover began in 2004. DK

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on 14 June that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has written to Uzbek President Islam Karimov to express the U.S. position on violence in Andijon on 13 May, according to a transcript of his remarks on the State Department's website ( "We hope that diplomatic leverage will result in an international investigation in Uzbekistan and we're going to continue to work through diplomacy on this issue," McCormack said. He denied reports of a policy split between the State Department and Defense Department on the issue. "The Washington Post" reported on 14 June that Defense Department officials kept a call for an independent investigation out of a 9 June NATO communique, while State Department representatives at the NATO meeting had advocated a stronger stance. DK

A district court in Minsk on 14 June ruled that "Narodnaya volya," the country's only nationwide opposition daily, must pay 100 million rubles ($46,500) in damages to Liberal Democratic Party leader and lawmaker Syarhey Haydukevich for allegedly defaming him in an article published in March, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. The article suggested that Haydukevich was involved in the illegal sale of Iraqi oil under quotas received from the regime of Saddam Hussein. The story included a photocopy of a 2002 fax message to Haydukevich saying that he owes $1 million to the Iraqi Oil Ministry. "The verdict was induced solely by the wish to close the newspaper," Belarusian independent press editor Pavel Zhuk told RFE/RL. "I think hard times are coming for the nonstate press." Last week "Narodnaya volya" was fined $7,000 in another libel suit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 June 2005). In March and May 2004, "Narodnaya volya" was fined $7,000 and $23,000, respectively, in two separate libel cases. JM

Our Ukraine People's Union leader Roman Bezsmertnyy, who is also deputy prime minister, told journalists in Kyiv on 14 June that President Viktor Yushchenko will head the election list of a coalition the Our Ukraine People's Union intends to build for the 2006 parliamentary elections, Interfax reported. "We still hope that the coalition will include the parties named by the president -- the Our Ukraine People's Union, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, and the People's Party [headed by Verkhovna Rada Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn]," Bezsmertnyy said. Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko said the same day that her Fatherland Party is ready to support Yushchenko not only in the 2006 parliamentary elections but also in the next presidential election, which is expected in 2009. JM

Ukrainian President Yushchenko said after his talks with his Czech counterpart Vaclav Klaus in Kyiv on 14 June that the two countries' foreign ministries will soon prepare a draft agreement on the temporary employment of Ukrainians in the Czech Republic, CTK reported. According to Yushchenko, some 200,000 Ukrainians seeking temporary jobs in the Czech Republic are the main problems in bilateral relations. "We have both accepted it as a problem. An agreement that will solve these issues must be worked out," Klaus commented on Ukrainian guest workers in his country. Speaking at a Ukrainian-Czech business forum in Kyiv later the same day, Yushchenko pledged that the government, jointly with the Verkhovna Rada, will soon present a list of state companies subject to privatization in the coming 12 months. JM

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said in Washington on 14 June that the United States wants leading war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic arrested by 11 July, which is the 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, in which Serbian forces under Mladic's command killed about 8,000 mainly Muslim males, Reuters reported. Burns stressed that "we believe that there is a new attitude and a new sense of purpose in Belgrade about making sure that Mladic ends up in The Hague. Our strong desire is that that would happen as soon as possible -- and before July 11." Burns added that "there could be nothing more appropriate than General Mladic ending up in The Hague before July 11. That would help to close that chapter of history. It was the worst war crimes massacre in Europe since the Nazis" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June 2005). PM

U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina Douglas L. McElhaney told the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" of 14 June that Washington has three objectives in the Balkans in 2005, which he called the most important year for the region since 1995, when the conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia ended, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. McElhaney said that the first task is to complete the unification of Bosnia-Herzegovina as a state, which means unifying the police and educational systems. The second objective he mentioned is to arrest General Mladic and former Bosnian Serb civilian leader Radovan Karadzic by the end of the year. McElhaney added that the arrests are primarily the responsibility of Serbia and Montenegro. The final task he cited is establishing a solution for Kosova, which means dealing with the question of status as well as with the implementation of standards (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004, and 20 May and 3 June 2005). PM

The leaders of the parties represented in the Serbian parliament abandoned plans on 14 June for a resolution condemning war crimes in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s after failing to agree on the text, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. President Boris Tadic's Democratic Party and the Serbian Renewal Movement of Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic wanted an explicit condemnation of the Srebrenica massacre, whereas the other party leaders preferred less-precise formulations. In Podgorica, the deputy speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, ethnic Muslim Rifat Rastoder, plans to introduce a resolution condemning the Srebrenica massacre. Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists announced on 14 June that it is opposed to any resolution that condemns Montenegro's role in the killings. PM

The Zagreb County Court began a formal investigation on 14 June of Slobodan Davidovic, a former member of the Serbian elite paramilitary police known as the Scorpions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 June 2005). The court ruled that Davidovic must remain in detention for one month following his recent arrest after the showing of a video seemingly depicting him and several other Scorpions killing Muslims civilians at Srebrenica in 1965. Several other men shown in the video are in the custody of Serbian police, who have issued arrest warrants for additional ex-Scorpions still at large. PM

Valerii Litskai, foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Transdniester Republic, said in a statement that the Moldovan parliament's appeal last week for the pullout of Russian forces from the breakaway region (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 15 June 2005) only heightens tension between Tiraspol and Chisinau, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 June. "The appeal of the Moldovan parliament to denounce the 1992 Moldovan-Russian agreement on a cease-fire and on a peaceful settlement of the conflict, in conditions of the absence of a negotiating process which is being blocked by the Moldovan authorities, automatically brings us back to the armed confrontation, which we lived through 13 years ago," Litskai noted in the statement released in Tiraspol. Infotag reported the same day that the Transdniester Foreign Ministry has recently disseminated a statement in the local press lambasting Chisinau for what was said to be its poor human-rights record and defective democracy. "Transdniester is not subject to whatever judgements by the state where such phenomena as violations of fundamental human rights and freedoms, political prisoners, persecution of journalists, closure of opposition papers, absolute power of secret police, corruption, [and] white slavery are norms of everyday life," the statement reportedly reads. JM

A Belarusian political analyst recently compared the Lukashenka regime's repression of its political opponents to cooking a live frog in a saucepan. If a frog is thrown directly into boiling water, it will almost certainly jump out and save its life. But if a frog is put into cold water and heated gradually, the poor creature will boil to death largely unaware. The latter method, the analyst argued, perfectly reflects the way in which Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's regime has been dealing recently with political dissent.

Arguably, the Lukashenka regime would not have found it very difficult or time-consuming over the past five years -- when it actually ceased paying attention to what the West was saying -- to imprison all significant opposition leaders and activists, ban all influential nongovernmental organizations, and shut down all opposition-minded or independent newspapers. Bloated police forces are more than sufficient for rounding up all the participants in any opposition rally (usually several dozen people), while courts are only too ready to mete out extended jail terms to those "disturbing the public peace" and "impeding public traffic."

There are probably several good reasons as to why the regime has not taken such drastic steps. First, it is likely that the regime fears that overheating the political atmosphere could push the "frog" into making an uncontrollable leap. Second, the regime still needs to have a controllable group of opponents at large in order to justify its ever-increasing repressive character.

Whatever the true motive behind this tactic of creeping repression, it seems to be working quite smoothly. Virtually every week brings new arrests and/or jail sentences for oppositionists, as well as new administrative and legislative measures introduced to make the parameters of political and intellectual freedom even narrower than before. If the current pace of repression is maintained until the presidential election that is due some 12-15 months from now, Belarus will fully deserve the dubious accolade of "Europe's last dictatorship," which is what some Western politicians and media have been calling the country for several years. There will hardly be any niches left for the Belarusian opposition when Lukashenka embarks on his anticipated third presidential term.

Last week, a district court in Minsk sentenced opposition activist Andrey Klimau to 18 months in a correctional-labor colony, finding him guilty of disturbing the public peace during an opposition protest he organized in Minsk on 25 March. Prosecutor Vadzim Paznyak demanded that Klimau be sentenced to three years in a high-security prison with no right to amnesty. Ten days before, following the demand of the prosecutor, the same court sentenced opposition leaders Mikalay Statkevich and Pavel Sevyarynets to three years of "restricted freedom" and corrective labor each, finding them guilty of organizing a series of unauthorized demonstrations against the official results of the 17 October 2004 constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections.

Statkevich and Sevyarynets had already been convicted and served jail terms for the same offenses shortly after the 2004 votes. "Convicting Statkevich and Sevyarynets a second time for exercising their internationally acknowledged rights of expression and assembly is a travesty of justice and a clear abuse of the courts for political purposes," the U.S. Embassy in Minsk commented on their current punishment.

Nor is it Klimau's first custodial sentence. He spent four years in prison from 1998-2002 on charges of embezzlement and forgery, which were widely believed to be trumped up in order to punish him for his role in attempting to impeach Lukashenka in 1996. Klimau could also receive a harsher term in the near future, as he has also been accused of insulting Lukashenka in three books he published after leaving prison.

At the end of May, Lukashenka issued a decree limiting the use of the words "national" and "Belarusian" in the names of organizations. The word "national" may be used only in the names of government agencies, organizations whose property is owned by the state, and media outlets founded by the government. Political parties, national nongovernmental organizations, national trade unions, and banks are allowed to include the word "Belarusian" in their names, but not the word "national." Private media outlets are not allowed to use either the word "national" or the word "Belarusian" in their names.

The decree orders organizations and companies that do not meet the new requirements to apply for re-registration within three months. The act, while being a bizarre example of authoritarian whim, apparently targets, apart from other potential victims, three independent newspapers -- "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta," "Belorusskaya gazeta," and "Belorusskiy rynok." These publications could face a lot of problems in re-registering and staying afloat under new names.

While not subject to the vocabulary restrictions, the only nationwide opposition daily, "Narodnaya volya," may also find it hard to survive after it was recently fined 15 million rubles ($7,000) to pay damages to six people who claimed that it had printed their names under an opposition political manifesto without their consent. The fine, painful as it is in a country with an average monthly salary of some $200, is not totally crippling. However, the daily is facing another libel suit of more than $90,000 for its articles about contacts between the Belarusian government and politicians in the former regime of Saddam Hussein.

And, of course, there will be more opportunities for the Belarusian KGB in the future. In May, a law came into effect, allowing KGB agents to conduct searches of private apartments and offices of public organizations, including foreign ones, without search warrants -- even if that means breaking in. Another novelty in the law is the provision allowing the KGB to plant secret agents in any organization in Belarus. Those exposing such agents to the public will face imprisonment of up to five years.

Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice listed Belarus as an "outpost of tyranny," along with Cuba, Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Iran, and North Korea. This may seem to be an overstatement with regard to Belarus in 2005 -- as the designation "dictatorship" was in 1999 or 2000 -- but under the leadership of Lukashenka the country has every chance of living up to this categorization in the not-so-distant future.

Afghan clerics called on the United States to apologize for the alleged desecration of the Koran by U.S. troops at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying those responsible should stand trial, AP reported 14 June. The demand followed a meeting in Kabul of a group of Afghan clergymen called the Ulamas Council, an organization with about 6,000 members that includes Islamic clerics from across Afghanistan. The clerics aired their appeal in a resolution adopted by the council. "Abuse of the Koran in Guantanamo Bay is a crime. It hurts the hearts of Muslims. The Ulamas Council of Afghanistan wants the United States to apologize to Muslim nations all over the world," said cleric Malwari Saaduddin, who read the resolution aloud. "Whoever is responsible for these crimes should be handed over to an Islamic country to face trial." MR

Afghan and U.S. troops killed two suspected neo-Taliban fighters and captured 13 others after a gunfight near Kandahar, AP reported on 14 June. The firefight erupted when a group of neo-Taliban fighters were spotted moving through a valley north of Kandahar, a U.S. military statement said. Also, two Afghan men and two Afghan women were arrested at a police checkpoint in the same area on 13 June. Local police chief General Hayub Salangi said the detainees were carrying weapons and pictures of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and renegade Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. MR

Four U.S. soldiers and their translator were wounded when a bomb exploded near a U.S. military vehicle traveling in central Afghanistan, AP reported 14 June. None of the injuries appeared grave, a U.S. military spokesman said. The blast occurred as the troops and their translator were on a routine patrol of the Ghazni area south of Kabul. "Terrorists, who often pay impoverished Afghans to detonate these devices for them, are behind these brutal attacks," the spokesman said. "These criminals know they cannot stand up to Afghan and coalition forces, so they are forced to resort to these tactics." MR

Most of the 16,751 respondents in a recent survey commissioned by Fars News Agency said they backed Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (22.27 percent) in the 17 June presidential election, the agency reported on 14 June. Following the front-runner were former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf (20.08 percent); Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad (15.53 percent); former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin (10 percent); former Parliament Speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi (7.87 percent); former state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani (7.49 percent); Vice President for Physical Training Mohsen Mehralizadeh (2.83 percent); and Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai (2.23 percent). Reportedly people in 11 provinces were polled, but Fars listed 12 provinces. BS

In a letter this week to Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari, Hashemi-Rafsanjani's campaign headquarters complained about the interference of military personnel in the election process, Radio Farda reported on 14 June. The Interior Minister, in turn, met with Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi and asked him to prevent this. The involvement of Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and Basij Resistance Forces personnel in the election has become a matter of great concern lately, particularly because these individuals can intimidate voters at polling places or interfere with vote-counting (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June 2005). Soldiers can be ordered to vote for specific candidates, furthermore, though military interference in elections violates the constitution. Meanwhile, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Guards Corps, told Basij personnel in an undisclosed location what kind of presidential candidate they should elect, "Kayhan" reported on 13 June. BS

Hojatoleslam Mohsen Kadivar, a prominent pro-reform cleric and university lecturer, announced on 14 June that Iranians should vote, state television reported. He added that "The participation of the people in elections is effective and will have serious influence on the country's major and international policies." Former Isfahan Prayer Leader Ayatollah Jalal Taheri has announced that he will vote and expressed the belief that the system can be reformed, "Eqbal" reported on 13 June. A commentary in the 13 June "Resalat," a hard-line daily, asserted that Taheri met with center-left candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi and his running mate, Mohammad-Reza Khatami. Taheri subsequently said he supports Karrubi and reformist candidate Mustafa Moin, and the commentary criticized him for supporting Moin. Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri said during an 11 June meeting with nationalist-religious activists in Qom, "I have never boycotted elections and, on the whole, I believe that voting or not voting is a personal decision." He expressed support for the democracy and human rights front that is backing Moin, "Etemad" reported on 12 June. BS

Iraqi Transportation Minister Salam al-Maliki announced in the Iranian city of Ilam on 14 June that Tehran-Baghdad flights will resume within two months, IRNA reported. Direct passenger flights between the two countries last took place in the 1980s. BS

Kurdish police and security forces have reportedly "abducted" hundreds of Arabs and Turkomans from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk and illegally detained them in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah, reported on 15 June. The report cites a confidential 5 June State Department cable addressed to the White House, Pentagon, and U.S. Embassy in Baghdad saying that the "extra-judicial detentions" are part of a "concerted and widespread initiative" by Kurdish political parties "to exercise authority in Kirkuk in an increasingly provocative manner." The abductions have increased tensions in the multiethnic city and impacted U.S. credibility, the cable said. Turkomans "perceive a U.S. tolerance for the practices while Arabs in Kirkuk believe Coalition Forces are directly responsible." U.S. Brigadier General Alan Gayhart told the website that "coalition forces absolutely do not condone" the abductions, which have reportedly been going on for more than a year, but surged following Iraq's January elections. The U.S. military only became aware of the practice one month ago, Major Darren Blagbrun told the website. Judges in Kirkuk have told U.S. military officials that the transfers are illegal under Iraqi law, reported. KR

Kirkuk's Kurdish governor, Abd al-Rahman Mustafa, reportedly denied the abductions, calling the U.S. allegations "not true," reported on 15 June. He contends that prisoners are often transferred to other provinces to relieve prison overcrowding and this is a "normal procedure," the website reported. The State Department cable reported, however, that the transfers were made "without authority of local courts or the knowledge of Ministries of Interior or Defense in Baghdad." U.S. and Iraqi officials said the campaign is being carried out by the Kurdish intelligence service Asayesh and the Kurdish-led Emergency Services Unit, a 500-member antiterrorism squad within the Kirkuk police force. General Turhan Yusuf Abd al-Rahman, the police chief of Kirkuk and an ethnic Turkoman, called the abductions "political kidnappings" orchestrated by the Kurdish parties Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). He said that his police officers take part in the majority of the abductions, despite his attempts to intercede, adding that 40 percent of the city's police force is loyal to one of the two Kurdish parties. PUK head Jalal Talabani currently serves as Iraq's transitional president; KDP chief Mas'ud Barzani is the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government. KR

South Korean troops have temporarily suspended civilian projects in Iraq just two days after Defense Minister Yoon Kwang-woong told the parliament that the government will likely seek an extension for its troop deployment there, Iraqi media reported on 14 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2005). The suspension came after the Zaytun Unit, stationed in Irbil, discovered a number of mortar shells outside their building in the Kurdish city. "Carrying out projects in Irbil is related to the security situation in the region. The recent incidents in Irbil reveal that the situation is not calm or stable. This is why we intend not to carry out activities at this particular time," an unnamed Korean source responsible for civilian projects in Irbil told "Kurdistani Nuwe," the daily reported on 14 June. The Zaytun Unit has been carrying out humanitarian and civilian projects in Irbil for nearly one year. South Korea is expected to remain active in Iraq; the Foreign Ministry announced on 15 June that Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon will attend next week's Brussels donor conference on Iraq. KR

Australian hostage Douglas Wood was freed after six weeks in captivity in Iraq, Prime Minister John Howard announced on 15 June, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). Howard told the Australian parliament that Wood "is safe from his captors," Reuters reported. Howard said Wood was freed in an operation carried out by U.S. and Iraqi forces in Baghdad. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said Wood is in good physical shape but is mentally exhausted. Further details on the operation have not been released. KR

Florence Aubenas told reporters in Paris on 14 June that she and her Iraqi guide Husayn Hanun al-Sa'di were kept in the cellar of a house during their five-month captivity in Iraq, France's LCI television reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005). "My feet and hands were tied and I was blindfolded. They made me go down into a cellar. They allocated me a mattress, which was on the floor. They said: that's your place. So I settled myself down. The trapdoor closed. I can describe the cellar for you.... It was four meters long by two meters wide. As for the must have been around 1.5 meters.... It was completely dark," Aubenas said. Her abductors told her they were a religious group and early on in her captivity she stood in a mock trial and was declared a spy. Aubenas, a reporter for "Liberation," said that she was aware of the group's contacts with French authorities during the course of her captivity and was told at one point by her captors that she would be released in March. KR