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Newsline - June 16, 2005

Indian ruling coalition leader and Indian National Congress Chairwoman Sonya Gandhi met with President Vladimir Putin at his summer residence in St. Petersburg as a "guest of the Russian president" on 15 June, the third day of her four-day visit, RTR and Press Trust of India reported. Putin reportedly said Russia joins China in supporting India's candidacy for permanent-member status on the UN Security Council, which is expected to come up for debate at the UN General Assembly in September. Putin and Gandhi reportedly discussed coordinated efforts to combat separatism and terrorism. Gandhi, whose mother-in-law Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Islamic extremist in 1984 and whose husband Rajiv Gandhi was similarly slain in 1991, said, "As victims of terrorism, both India and Russia accept the need to combat it without compromise," PTI reported. Putin and Gandhi also discussed bilateral cooperation in the energy sector, including Indian participation in the Sakhalin-1 project and Russian assistance in the construction of an Indian nuclear-power station. VY

"Rossiiskaya gazeta," RTR, and other Russian media on 15 June emphasized Sonya Gandhi's purported personal interest in Russia and the fact that Putin spent nearly the whole day showing off his hometown of St. Petersburg. An Italian who converted to Hinduism, Sonya Gandhi is the daughter of an Italian soldier who fought on the eastern front in World War II and spent several years in a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp. After returning to Italy, Gandhi's father gave his children Slavic names, and Sonya Gandhi studied Russian. She visited Vladimir Oblast, where her father lived as a POW, on 14 June. VY

State Duma CIS Affairs Committee Chairman Andrei Kokoshin (Unified Russia) said on 14 June that an effort to push a special resolution on compensation for the Russian occupation of Lithuania through the Lithuanian legislature is "both absurd and illegitimate," RosBalt and other Russian media reported. "Such claims are instigated by certain nationalistic forces in Lithuania and abroad who are interested in tarnishing Russia's image and preventing a strengthening of her relations with the European Union," Kokoshin reportedly said. He added that such claims can "put in question the territorial integrity of Lithuania and cause troubles with [Lithuania's] neighbors." On 14 June, Lithuania marked the anniversary of the start of a mass Stalin-era deportation of at least 320,000 Lithuanians by Soviet state security organs, noted. The Lithuanian parliament adopted a resolution in 2000 that estimated the damage of the Soviet/Russian occupation at $20 billion. TV-Tsentr warned on 15 June that Vilnius is "looking for trouble, as it obtained one-third of its present territory, including the Klapeida area, from the Soviet Union during the period that it calls 'occupation.'" Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas urged on 14 June that the issue of compensation be "decided in a civilized way, but not through political resolutions." VY

Duma Deputy and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachev (Unified Russia) said the deportation of ethnic Lithuanians from the Baltics cannot be justified, but stressed that it was not only Baltic peoples who suffered under the Stalin regime, RIA-Novosti reported on 15 June. Russians were among those who suffered most, he added. "It was a crime committed by a ruling regime against its own people within the framework of what was then a single state, but not a crime of one state against another," Kosachev said. Russians, Ukrainians, Georgians, and members of other nations were among those who collaborated with Soviet state security forces, he said. Comparisons based on who suffered more are inappropriate, Kosachev said. The Russian State Duma has decided not to bring counterclaims against the Baltic states, Kosachev said, "since once we begin [seeking compensation], we would never stop." VY

Eduard Limonov, the leader of the National Bolshevik Party (NBP), told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 15 June that his organization will continue its activities even if the Moscow court weighing a proposed ban decides against the NBP (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2005). Limonov said the Moscow prosecutors who brought the case against his unregistered party are merely complying with the wishes of the Kremlin. Prosecutors claim the National Bolsheviks, who have been repeatedly refused registration by the Justice Ministry, should be banned because the group violates legislation on political parties and on extremism. Limonov claimed that the "pressure from the Kremlin is so great that I expect [the court] to decide to order the liquidation of the NBP." Nothing will change the status of the party, he said, vowing that the National Bolsheviks will continue to work within the part of the political spectrum where it belongs. VY

Private consultancy FBK claims that expenses relating to children represent the single largest component in household budgets, according to "Argumenty i fakty," No. 24. Expenses on children -- including food, clothing, toys, health care, education, and purportedly bribes to teachers and kindergarten staff members -- compose 43 percent of those budgets, according to FBK, a figure that translates into some 70 billion rubles ($2.5 billion, or $1,100 per child) annually. Russian households spend an average 27 percent of their budgets -- or $740 per person -- on food, while U.S. households spend over $1,000 per person dining out. Russians devote 4.7 percent of their household budget to housing and utilities (which continue to be heavily subsidized) on average, RBK reported, while the average German household spends 31 percent. VY

The Constitutional Court's press service announced on 15 June that it will consider an appeal filed by Tyumen resident Vladimir Grishkevich challenging President Putin's right to appoint regional executives, reported. Press service director Anna Malysheva said the court is expected to announce its decision by October or November. noted that since the law giving Putin the right to appoint governors came into effect in January, no regional legislator has rejected a single candidate proffered by the president. In his appeal, Grishkevich said the law violates his constitutional right to participate in direct elections on all levels of self-government, reported. JAC

Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has dismissed Gennadii Fadeev as head of Russian Railways, the successor entity to the Railways Ministry, and appointed him as his aide, Interfax reported. Vladimir Yakunin, currently the chairman of the board of Russian Railways, will replace Fadeev. Fadeev headed the ministry and then the company since 2002; he also had an earlier stint heading the ministry from 1992 -96. Yakunin is an ally of President Putin's from St. Petersburg and is also a former deputy transportation minister (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 2002). The previous day, Prime Minister Fradkov appointed Andrei Beskorovainyi to head the Federal Communications Agency and Sergei Sai to head the Federal Environmental Monitoring Agency, Interfax reported. Sai previously served as director of the Federal Land Cadastre Service, and Beskorovainyi is a former deputy media minister. JAC

The State Duma passed a bill on 15 June amending the Tax Code to abolish the inheritance tax in its third and final reading, RIA-Novosti reported. The vote was 414 in favor with two opposed and three abstentions. Close relatives -- which includes spouses, parents, children, grandparents, siblings, and sisters- and brothers-in-law -- are all exempted from paying a tax on gifts. According to Interfax, certain goods such as real estate, vehicles, and shares and other securities will be subject to taxation. If approved by the Federation Council and signed by President Putin, the bill will come into effect on 1 January. President Putin suggested that the inheritance tax be abolished in his most recent state-of-the-nation address last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). JAC

RTR reported on 15 June that residents of Kirov Oblast who are eligible for subsidized medicines face the choice of joining long waiting lists for their medicine or paying out of pocket. More than 20,000 prescriptions in the oblast remain unfulfilled, the station reported. Certain medicines -- such as those for treating heart disease, Parkinson's, or asthma -- have not been available in adequate amounts for months. In February, "Moskovskii komsomolets" and "Argumenty i fakty" reported long lines for subsidized medicines in regions and blamed Health and Social Welfare Minister Mikhail Zurabov for both inadequate monitoring of the social-welfare monetization reform and its design (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2005). "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 12 February alleged that Zurabov has channeled large sums of money to a select group of pharmaceutical companies, including his former employer MAKS-M, that have been authorized to supply medicines at seemingly inflated prices to pharmacies who service those qualified for free and subsidized medicine. JAC

A city court in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii found former Mayor Yurii Golenishchev guilty on 15 June of negligence and abuse of office contributing to the disruption of the 2003 heating season, NTV reported. Golenishchev received a four-year suspended sentence. Golenishchev said he will appeal the verdict in order to clear his name and that of the head of the utilities system, Liliya Slovetskaya. Slovetskaya was also found guilty and given a five-year suspended sentence. Hearings in the case had been postponed several times because of Golenishchev's poor health. He previously vowed to appeal the charges all the way to the Supreme Court, which has already had to issue two decisions in his case: first, that he could be held criminally liable for the disruption in the city's heating supply; and second, that Kamchatka Oblast law on removing city mayors conflicts with the federal constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 January 2003). JAC

On 14 June, the Ingushetian parliament amended the republic's constitution to stipulate that the parliament confirms and empowers the Russian president's nominee for the post of president of Ingushetia, who serves for a period of five years, reported the following day. Murat Zyazikov, who submitted his resignation to President Putin on 2 June with a request that he be renominated, which Putin duly did (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 8 June 2005), signed the amendment the same day. On 15 June, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak presented Zyazikov to the Ingushetian parliament, and 30 of the 31 deputies present voted in favor of Zyazikov's reappointment, reported. The sole dissenter was reportedly opposition leader Musa Ozdoev, who expressed disappointment that fellow deputies who disapprove of Zyazikov and have expressed their support for Ozdoev failed to vote against Zyazikov. Two deputies who, according to Ozdoev, would also have rejected Zyazikov's renomination were absent from the session. Ozdoev termed Zyazikov's reappointment "yet another tragedy for the Ingush people." He predicted that the hatred of the Ingush for Zyazikov will mutate into hatred of the Russian leadership, and consequently Russia's control over the North Caucasus will be weakened. LF

Chechen President and resistance commander Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev issued a decree on 16 June naming field commander Doku Umarov vice president, effective immediately, reported. That post has been vacant since Sadullaev was named president in March following the death at the hands of Russian forces of Aslan Maskhadov. Umarov, who is in his 40s, is one the few surviving field commanders of the older generation who fought during the first Chechen war under then Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov, who following his election as Chechen president in January 1997 appointed Umarov security minister, according to RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. Maskhadov named Umarov commander of the southwestern front in the summer of 2002; since then he has emerged as the most active and probably most competent field commander. Umarov told RFE/RL last month that by the end of this year the Chechen resistance will begin large-scale military activities in Russian regions beyond the borders of Chechnya. Umarov explained that the resistance previously refrained from extending the war outside Chechnya at Maskhadov's insistence, but now that the abductions and murder of Chechen civilians by Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces have become more frequent, that restraint is no longer considered appropriate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 May 2005). LF

The trial opened in Cherkessk on 14 June in the Supreme Court of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) of 16 men accused in connection with the killings of seven men in October at a dacha belonging to Ali Kaitov, the son-in-law of KChR President Mustafa Batdyev, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 16 June. Kaitov and his wife have since separated. With one exception, all of the accused, including Kaitov, pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Kozak traveled to Cherkessk on the eve of the trial to discuss enhanced security measures that will remain in force for its duration. LF

Azerbaijani Deputy Interior Minister Lieutenant General Zakir Gasanov, who commands the country's Interior Ministry troops, said during a 15 June meeting in Moscow with his Russian counterpart that Baku is concerned that violations of the cease-fire signed in 1994 between Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) have become more frequent, ITAR-TASS reported. He said international organizations, including the UN, are looking into the issue, and he predicted that "when the Nagorno-Karabakh problem is solved, Azerbaijani Interior troops will maintain public order in the region." In Stepanakert, the head of the NKR Defense Ministry press service, Senor Asratian, dismissed Gasanov's claims as "misinformation and propaganda," ITAR-TASS reported on 15 June. He further accused Azerbaijan of seeking to aggravate the situation in the NKR in the run-up to legislative elections scheduled for 19 June. In Yerevan, Colonel General Mikael Harutiunian, who is chief of General Staff of the Armenian armed forces, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on 15 June that situation on the Line of Contact separating Armenian and Azerbaijani forces is calmer now than in February-March, when he claimed Azerbaijani commanders sought to move their positions forward, closer to the front line. Harutiunian said the Azerbaijani top brass has since concluded that such efforts are pointless. LF

Some 20,000-50,000 residents of Baku participated in a demonstration and march through the city on 15 June to celebrate Stability Day, the 12th anniversary of the return to power of former Communist Party First Secretary Heidar Aliyev, Turan and reported. Then President Abulfaz Elchibey summoned Aliyev, then chairman of the legislature of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic, in early June 1993 to help counter an internal revolt. Aliyev was elected chairman of the Azerbaijani parliament on 15 June; Elchibey fled two days later. Aliyev's son and successor as president, Ilham Aliyev, stressed on 15 June his father's role in stabilizing the country and securing foreign investment and support. Ilham Aliyev predicted 20 percent economic growth for 2005 and again pledged to eliminate poverty and unemployment. LF

The Azadlyg election bloc comprising the Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party has postponed indefinitely the rally it planned to stage on 18 June in the industrial city of Sumgait, 32 kilometers north of Baku, reported on 16 June. The Sumgait municipal authorities gave permission for the rally on condition it was held in a specific location that Azadlyg has rejected. LF

Addressing a 15 June session of the National Security Council, Mikheil Saakashvili reaffirmed his commitment to resolving the conflict with the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia by means of peaceful dialogue, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. At the same time, he stressed that Georgia will take steps to counter the recent upsurge of crime in that region. Saakashvili added that Georgian police have "reliable information" concerning the identity of the persons who abducted four Georgians in the conflict zone on 6 June. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity was scheduled to meet with relatives of the missing men on 16 June, reported. LF

Georgian, Russian and Abkhaz government representatives met in Moscow on 15 June under the aegis of the UN to discuss the resumption of rail traffic from Sochi to Armenia via Abkhazia and Tbilisi, and reached what Abkhaz Deputy Prime Minister Leonid Lakerbaya termed "a gentlemen's agreement" on doing so, Russian and Georgian media reported. Then Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached agreement during talks in Sochi in March 2003 that rail traffic should resume simultaneously with the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons to their abandoned homes in Abkhazia's Gali Raion (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 March 2003). That repatriation is to be discussed at separate talks in Moscow on 16 June. In Tbilisi, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli said on 15 June that Georgia does not oppose the resumption of rail traffic, but numerous problems must be addressed first, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. He singled out establishing customs controls and improving the security situation in Gali to enable the displaced persons to return home. On 27 May, the Georgian daily "Rezonansi" quoted a Georgian crime expert as saying that 238 people have been killed in Gali over the past two years, and robberies, kidnappings, and the hijacking of cars and buses are also frequent. LF

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will send inspectors to Georgia shortly to assess Tbilisi's compliance with international safeguards for weapons-grade materials, Reuters reported on 15 June, quoting an IAEA spokeswoman. Diplomats estimate that some 9 kilograms of plutonium and 1 1/2 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium might have disappeared from a nuclear-research facility in the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia. LF

An explosive device destroyed a car belonging to Gogi Nishnianidze, a former deputy district administrator in the western region of Zestafoni, early on 16 June, Caucasus Press reported. Nishnianidze and his nephew Kakha Beradze, who heads the local branch of the opposition Conservative party, have blamed the explosion on senior local officials, whom Nishnianidze accused of "seeking to get rid of him" because he has information incriminating them in large-scale embezzlement. LF

Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev addressed a number of regional policy issues at an international business conference in Almaty on 15 June, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Noting that Kazakhstan is concerned at instability and drug trafficking in Afghanistan, Toqaev said, "From the economic point of view, we stand ready to contribute to the restoration of this country." Toqaev added, "We are very much concerned at the events that [recently] took place in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. He noted that Kazakhstan is "prepared to provide any aid that Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan may need." Toqaev said that limited water resources are a serious problem for Central Asian states, which have thus far failed to overcome their differences on the issue, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Turning to domestic economic issues, Toqaev said, "We are very grateful that 50 percent of investment into Kazakhstan comes from the United States," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. "We are ready to defend the United States' economic interests in Kazakhstan by legal and other means," he said. DK

Billionaire philanthropist George Soros told the forum that Kazakhstan needs to follow "sound economic policies" in order to ensure that oil revenues make for a "prosperous future for every citizen," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. Sounding a critical note, Soros said, "The institutions of open society are not yet fully developed [in Kazakhstan]. The judiciary is not independent, the media is not pluralistic, and political parties are not free to operate." Soros met with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 15 June, Khabar reported. Soros said after their meeting, "We discussed in particular how to improve the legal system. I offered what help I can in the construction of a democratic state." Soros told the conference that recent events in Uzbekistan demonstrate the need for reforms throughout Central Asia, RFE/RL reported. "Uzbekistan's massacre in Andijon provides a terrifying demonstration of where a repressive course may lead. It would be a tragedy if Kazakhstan failed to take the high road," he said. DK

A group of 70 people from a village near a camp housing nearly 500 Uzbek asylum seekers in Kyrgyzstan's Jalalabad Province held a demonstration on 14 June and told the asylum seekers they have three days to return home, reported. One person, identified as an employee of an international aid organization, was injured in a scuffle during the demonstration. The demonstrators, who said they are worried the asylum seekers include religious extremists, threatened to return with 1,000 people and evict the asylum seekers if they do not leave within three days. An unidentified source told that the protest leaders, who represent several villages in the Suzak District of Jalalabad Province, recently met with village elders from Uzbekistan, who asked them to assist in returning the asylum seekers to Uzbekistan. Jose Luis Diaz, a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, told RFE/RL that the UN high commissioner is "very upset" at the incident at the camp. The asylum seekers fled to Kyrgyzstan after violence in Andijon, Uzbekistan on 13 May. DK

A four-member team from the Office of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) on 15 June began a 10-day investigation of the 13 May violence in Uzbekistan, RFE/RL reported. Because Uzbekistan has rejected calls for an international investigation, the team will operate in Kyrgyzstan. "They are going to be interviewing eyewitnesses and other people with firsthand knowledge of the events in Andijon in May," OHCHR spokesman Diaz told RFE/RL. The team's investigation will examine independent accounts indicating that hundreds of unarmed demonstrators were killed when Uzbek government forces opened fire on them on 13 May; Uzbek authorities insist that 173 people were killed in a clash between police and religious extremists. "They [the team] are going to be reporting back upon their return to the high commissioner for human rights," Diaz said, according to the UN Integrated Regional Information Networks. "That report is going to contain their findings and recommendations about how to take any investigative work forward." DK

At a meeting in Dushanbe on 15 June, President Imomali Rakhmonov and Ebrahim Sheibani, who heads the Iranian Central Bank, discussed an agreement between Iran and Tajikistan to construct the Sangtuda-2 hydropower plant in Tajikistan, Khovar reported. Under an agreement that energy ministers from the two countries signed in Tehran on 11 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005), Iran will contribute $180 million and Tajikistan $40 million. Work on the project, which is slated to take four years, will begin this summer. DK

A Defense Department spokesman said on 15 June that Uzbekistan has placed limitations on the United States' Karshi-Khanabad air base in Uzbekistan, Reuters reported. The Uzbek government has banned nighttime flights and curtailed the use of heavy cargo aircraft at the base, "The Washington Post" reported. The Pentagon spokesman said the military has devised "workarounds" to deal with the situation, Reuters reported. He declined to link the Uzbek move to calls by U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, for an independent investigation of bloodshed in Andijon on 13 May. DK

A number of organizations and individuals in Mahilyou, eastern Belarus, have petitioned the regional directorate of the State Security Committee (KGB) to put an end to the activities of neo-Nazi groups in the city, particularly followers of the Russian National Unity (RNYe), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 15 June. "At the time when [the authorities] are seeking to destroy independent Belarusian organizations, nobody pays any attention to the RNYe," Zmitser Salauyou from the opposition Belarusian Popular Front told RFE/RL. "They openly paste their leaflets in public places and openly gather in the city center every Sunday." JM

President Viktor Yushchenko said at a meeting with regional governors in Kyiv on 15 June that some 200 Ukrainian firms received illegal value-added-tax (VAT) refunds in 2004, Interfax reported. Yushchenko added that law-enforcement bodies have prepared documents to challenge in court VAT refunds totaling 3.3 billion hryvnyas ($650 million). Meanwhile, Yushchenko's spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko told journalists later the same day that the Ukrainian Security Service has a list of some 1,000 Ukrainian firms that allegedly received illegal VAT refunds in 2004. JM

President Yushchenko also said at the same meeting with regional governors that the country's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2004, in connection with the illegal VAT refunds, was overstated by some 30 billion hryvnyas ($6 billion). "The Ukrainian Security Service a few days ago officially asked for the [GDP] base in 2004 to be reviewed. According to their calculations, around 30 billion hryvnyas were fictitiously included to GDP in 2004," UNIAN quoted Yushchenko as saying. JM

Ukrainian investigators have accused Yevhen Kartashov, mayor of the city of Zaporizhzhya in eastern Ukraine, of corruption, Interfax reported on 15 June. Earlier this month, President Yushchenko harshly criticized Kartashov and instructed regional prosecutors to look into alleged violations of law committed by the local authorities during their "work with entrepreneurs." JM

Last year, 1,871 Ukrainians declared annual income of more than 1 million hryvnyas (nearly $200,000) compared to 876 such individuals in 2003, Interfax reported on 15 June, citing an official from the State Tax Administration. JM

The government of Serbia and Montenegro issued a statement on 15 June condemning the 1995 Srebrenica massacre, in which Bosnian Serb and Serbian forces killed about 8,000 mainly Muslim males, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June 2005). The document said that "the Council of Ministers strongly condemns the war crimes committed against Bosnian prisoners of war and civilians in Srebrenica in 1995." The statement added that "those who committed those crimes and the ones who ordered and organized that massacre did not represent Serbia or Montenegro, but an undemocratic regime of terror and death, which was opposed by the majority of people in Serbia and Montenegro." PM

Several hours before the government of Serbia and Montenegro issued its declaration on Srebrenica on 15 June, the Serbian parliament abandoned attempts to pass a resolution on war crimes because the political parties could not agree on a text, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 June 2005). In particular, leaders of most parties rejected any text that mentioned Srebrenica without citing specific atrocities committed against Serbs. Milos Aligrudic of Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) said, "It would have been fail to mention all crimes, because they are equally grave and heinous," dpa reported. He stressed that Serbs were the "greatest victim" of conflicts in former Yugoslavia throughout the 20th century. PM

Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica said on 16 June in Brussels that his government is not negotiating a surrender deal with war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, Reuters reported. This is the first time that Kostunica has made a public comment on the rumors that have appeared in the Serbian media in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 15 June 2005). He also said that unspecified "half-truths and manipulated statements" in the media are hampering the government's efforts to find Mladic. Kostunica stressed that "we are aware of our obligations when it comes to the case of Ratko Mladic and are working on locating him. But at this moment I can for sure tell you that the Serbian authorities are not in touch with him and we are not negotiating with him." PM

The Sarajevo County Court on 15 June sentenced Goran Vasic, a Bosnian Serb, to six years in prison for war crimes committed against prisoners in 1992 in Sarajevo's Nedzarici district, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He was acquitted of two other charges. PM

About 65,000 people attended the 15 June Sarajevo reunion concert of Bijelo Dugme (White Button), which includes Bosnian Croats, Serbs, and Muslims and was former Yugoslavia's top rock group in the 1970s and 1980s but has not performed together in 15 years, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The concert was overshadowed by political controversy and a bomb threat after singer Goran Bregovic, who is of mixed Serbian and Croatian origin and married to a Muslim, said in a magazine interview that he did not give humanitarian benefit performances during the Bosnian Serb siege of Sarajevo from 1992-95 because any such concert would have been exploited by unnamed politicians. The broadcast noted that media reaction to the interview was swift and virulent, and some people who had bought concert tickets for $25 were offering to sell them for $5. But for many others, the concert was a rare opportunity to return if only briefly to an era that many former Yugoslavs look back to with great fondness. The performance took place without incident and will be followed by concerts in Zagreb and Belgrade. PM

Vagit Alekperov, who heads the Russian oil giant LUKoil, and Macedonian Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski signed an agreement in St. Petersburg on 14 June, according to which LUKoil will build some 40 gas stations in Macedonia, MIA news agency reported. The investment is worth about $50 million. The agreement obliges Macedonia to provide the construction sites for the gas stations. Buckovski stressed that the investment will create about 500 new jobs in his country. UB

Parliamentary speaker Marian Lupu told journalists in Chisinau on 15 June that last week's parliamentary votes on the settlement of the Transdniester conflict (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 15 June 2005) "open the door for a dialogue both inside and outside the country," Flux reported. Lupu declared that Chisinau would also like to hear "the voice of the population from Transdniester" on the settlement. He also said Chisinau is not pursuing an anti-Russian policy, thus alluding to Russian criticism of last week's votes on Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 June 2005). JM

Deputy parliamentary speaker Iurie Rosca told Flux on 15 June that Chisinau does not consider the separatist authorities in Tiraspol a valid negotiation partner regarding the Transdniester settlement. Rosca was commenting on Tiraspol's criticism of the Moldovan parliament's votes endorsing Ukraine's plan for Transdniester and calling for a Russian military pullout from Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2005). "The documents approved on 10 June by the parliament clearly emphasize the fundamental detail that the current regime in Tiraspol is criminal...and cannot be a dialogue partner for the legal authorities of the Republic of Moldova," Rosca noted. JM

Former Minister of Science, Research, and Technology Mustafa Moin's ranking in recent polls in the run-up to the 17 June Iranian presidential election is improving, although he usually trails behind Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and former national police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf. Moin was initially disqualified by the Guardians Council and reinstated only after the supreme leader issued a decree to this effect, so observers have been surprised by his relatively strong showing to date. Part of his success is almost certainly due to the role played in his campaign by reformist ideologue Said Hajjarian, the man behind reformist domination of the sixth parliament (2000-04).

Hajjarian served in the Ministry of Intelligence and Security in the 1980s, and he later headed the political bureau of the executive branch's Strategic Research Center. He served as publisher of the "Sobh-i Imruz" daily. In Iran's first municipal-council elections in 1999, he won a seat in Tehran. In March 2000 he was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt by individuals connected with the Ansar-i Hizbullah pressure group. He now walks with difficulty and is rarely in the limelight. However, Hajjarian has continued his activities with the Islamic Iran Participation Party, which is backing Moin's candidacy.

Hajjarian's early reaction to the election and to Moin's candidacy was hardly enthusiastic. He predicted in late May that voter turnout would not surpass 45 percent and that Moin would poll only about 9 percent, according to "Iran Daily" on 22 May. But soon thereafter Hajjarian began encouraging voters and backing Moin.

Many student activists have called for an election boycott, and some urged Moin to withdraw from the presidential race following his reinstatement. At a late-May meeting of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization that Hajjarian attended, he encouraged their participation and told the audience that reform requires pressure from the top and from the bottom. However, a majority of the student activists felt that Moin should not compete in the election, "Eqbal" reported on 28 May.

A number of other reformist activists met in late May to discuss whether Moin should stay in the race, Iranian papers reported on 28 May 2005. At that meeting, Behzad Nabavi of the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization recommended that Moin continue, and Mohammad Reza Khatami of the Islamic Iran Participation Party, who would become Moin's running mate, said that even in the current restrictive electoral environment this opportunity could contribute to democratization.

But it was Hajjarian who made the biggest impression. He entered the hall in casual clothing, saying that he was dressed this way because he was on his way to receive medical treatment, adding that he does not feel the need to dress formally when he meets with his friends. His speech was interrupted frequently by cheers and applause. Some audience members referred to Hajjarian as a "victim on the path of reform." Even though Moin is a candidate because of the supreme leader's decree, Hajjarian said, we must remember that we are reformers. "The difference between reformers and revolutionaries is that reformers make use of even limited opportunities for advancing their goals," he added. Hajjarian went on to say that there should be another reform movement, even if this requires shedding blood.

In early June state television began broadcasting campaign films made by the candidates. Hajjarian had a leading role in Moin's film, which was shown on the evening of 9 June. The film consisted of a fast-paced interview between Moin and a wheelchair-bound Hajjarian, and it was clear that Hajjarian spoke with difficulty and could not move his hands easily.

Moin emphasized that he intends to continue the reform movement that began eight years earlier with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's election. Asked about the relationship between his proposed reforms and those pursued by the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front, Moin responded: "I think the reforms are still alive, and therefore, I will follow that path. I will stand on the shoulders of the previous reforms and will look, from a higher platform, toward the future." Moin also addressed young people -- whom he described as "living a crisis" with "many questions but no answers" -- and women, saying that "in our country, the rights of women have been violated because religion has been interpreted wrongly."

Exiled journalist Masud Behnud wrote in "Eqbal" on 14 June that "it was the first time the ruling current has allowed the people to see Hajjarian through the porthole of the so-called national media."

Hajjarian continued his efforts on the candidate's behalf. He said at a conference on the election late last week that "a ballot paper is...the nation's blood that is dropped in the ballot boxes." He and other speakers at the conference urged the public to vote, according to "Etemad" on 11 June.

Iranian newspapers are prohibited from publishing any news articles, analyses, opinion pieces, editorials, photographs, or advertisements relating to the campaign on 16 June, the day before the election. This will give voters time to consider whether to vote and, if so, for whom. If turnout is sufficiently high, Moin has a good chance of being the runner-up, according to the best available polls. And if he does, he will owe much of his success to Hajjarian.

A series of clashes involving suspected neo-Taliban insurgents in recent days has left at least 18 people dead, AFP reported on 15 June. In the largest attack, seven medics were shot dead late on 14 June in Moghgay Tana, a town near the Pakistani border in Khost Province. "Dr. Abdul Hanan and his six colleagues were killed by armed men in Moghulgay clinic," said General Almat Gull Mangal, commander of Khost border forces. "It is the work of Taliban and Al-Qaeda to kill doctors." In Kandahar Province, meanwhile, a district official was killed on 15 June, with neo-Taliban forces claiming responsibility. Also on 15 June, in the Sabari area of Khost Province, two civilians died when their car hit a land mine. On 14 June, in neighboring Paktiya Province, the local police chief survived a roadside bombing attack that killed his bodyguard and wounded his driver. Also on 14 June, Afghan government troops killed at least seven suspected neo-Taliban militants during a clash near Kandahar. MR

Taliban leader Mullah Omar and Al-Qaeda head Osama bin Laden are alive and in good health, a senior commander for neo-Taliban guerillas said during a television interview aired in Pakistan on 15 June. Speaking to Pakistan's Geo television, a man identified as Mullah Akhtar Usmani said bin Laden is "absolutely fine." Usmani said that Taliban leaders still hold meetings and take orders from Omar, who is "our chief and leader. No one is against him. [He] is alive. He is all right. There is no problem. He is not sick. He is my commander. He gives me instructions." A reporter with the independent television station told AP that the interview was taped last week near the Afghan town of Spin Boldak, which is on the border with Pakistan in the south. MR

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said the parliamentary elections expected in September will likely cause increased violence, AFP reported on 15 June. "In the run-up to the election our country will have difficulties, attacks will increase, terrorism will rise...but without any doubt, the elections will take place in this country," Karzai told reporters in Kabul. "Efforts to destabilize Afghanistan will not succeed." NATO plans to send an additional 2,000 troops to Afghanistan in the weeks prior to the elections. The added troops will bring the number of NATO-led peacekeepers in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which operates mainly in Kabul, to more than 10,400. "Essentially we want these forces on the ground six weeks prior to the election," said ISAF spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Karen Tissot Van Patot. "I think the advance parties will move in early July." U.S. military spokeswoman Lieutenant Cindy Moore said U.S.-led coalition forces, which number roughly 18,000 and operate mainly in southern Afghanistan, will also help with security during the elections. MR

Health officials in Kabul stepped up efforts against an outbreak of cholera, AP reported on 15 June. Authorities chlorinated wells across Kabul, hoping to stop the disease from spreading further among the city's 4 million inhabitants. The disease, spread by tainted water, is thought to have killed as many as nine people and infected more than 2,000. Abdullah Fahim, an adviser to the health minister, said there is no reason to panic even though hospitals have pitched dozens of tents on their grounds in case infections continue to mount. Fahim said all of Kabul's main water sources have been chlorinated, in addition to about 700 city wells. Fahim said thousands of wells are thought to be scattered through the city, however. "Kabul has no sewage system and septic tanks are close to wells and other water sources," he said. "Water is easily contaminated." MR

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Tehran on 15 June that Iranians will "do their religious duty" and vote for a new president on 17 June, and "counter" the plans of "malevolent enemies" who have sought to deter them from voting, ISNA and IRNA reported on 15 June. He rejected "the claims of American and Zionist media" that Iranians are merely "learning democracy," and chided unnamed people in Iran who "try to give parties a role similar to parties in America and certain European countries," ISNA reported. Iran has a "real democracy," he said, while Western political parties "decide for the mass of people" through backstage "political and economic deal making," and expect electors to "blindly" vote for candidates they present to them, ISNA added. He said any electoral "bitterness" must end on voting day, and whoever is elected, "everyone must cooperate with him." The next president, he said, must forget "verbal quarrels," and work to resolve "the people's problems." Khamenei said he would "as always, follow up" presidential activities to ensure they meet public and state "expectations," ISNA reported. VS

Reformist presidential candidate Mustafa Moin told the 15 June issue of "The Guardian" that he would consider quitting the presidential race if sporadic violence against his supporters continues. He said violent attacks by unidentified thugs, as well as a recent string of bombings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 June 2005), may be part of calculated moves designed to discourage Iranians from voting or make them vote for a candidate with a military background, reported. "If they create tense circumstances," he said, people might think of voting for a "military candidate" to ensure "peace and stability." A prominent liberal politician and Moin supporter, Ibrahim Yazdi, was beaten up in Ahvaz, southwestern Iran, on 11 June, "The Guardian" added. Separately, conservative candidate Mohsen Rezai withdrew from the presidential race on 15 June, ISNA reported the same day. An aide, Reza Talai-Neek said Rezai's "act of political selflessness" is designed to boost voter participation, and is not intended to benefit a specific rival, IRNA reported. VS

Interior Minister Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari told the press on 15 June that violent incidents in the elections "are the work of those who cannot tolerate other people's views, but fortunately they are not frequent," ISNA reported the same day. "Yesterday evening [14 June] we had another incident in Kerman," in southeastern Iran, he said, without elaborating. He added that the police and judiciary are cooperating well to deal with the incidents. The same day, President Mohammad Khatami instructed the interior and intelligence ministers in a letter to deal with an "organized movement" trying to undermine the electoral process by "disrupting meetings, beating individuals, distributing pamphlets, and spreading lies to basely discredit respectable personalities" and candidates, ISNA reported. Khatami added that such attempts including "sinister terrorist acts" will not "weaken the resolve" of Iranians to vote, ISNA reported. Musavi-Lari agreed that those responsible for the recent bombings "were looking to the elections," and trying "to create fear," ISNA reported. He estimated that "more than 55 percent" of eligible voters will vote, and the election will need two rounds. The "information we have received" indicates that no candidate can expect more than 50 percent of the vote, he said. VS

Policemen beat and arrested demonstrators gathered on 15 June outside a Tehran prison in sympathy with detained dissidents, Radio Farda reported the same day. The demonstrators, including rights activists and families of detainees, were holding a sit-in outside Evin prison to protest the detention conditions of Nasser Zarafshan, currently on the ninth day of a hunger strike. His wife, Homa Zarafshan, told Radio Farda that uniformed policemen temporarily arrested an unspecified number of protesters, violently beating those who resisted. Masumeh Shafii, the wife of another detained dissident, Akbar Ganji, witnessed the violence as she sought in vain to enter Evin to see her husband, who she says is also on hunger strike. She said Ganji is currently in solitary confinement and is he allowed to receive visits or see a lawyer, Radio Farda reported. She has written to the judiciary chief asking him to send a team to check on her husband's condition. "These gentlemen want these matters to be kept quiet now, with all the election news, and silence over the state of those on hunger strike will worsen their condition every hour," she said. VS

The head of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, arrived in Tehran on 14 June and met with Iranian officials including President Khatami and Expediency Council Chairman Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani on 15 June, local media reported the same day. Khatami told him that a reduction in "terrorist actions" in Iraq would help Iraq "pursue its aims without dependence on others," ISNA reported. He said Iraq must "consider cooperation with its neighbors one of its foreign-policy priorities," while regional states must work to improve ties with Iraq "by removing the misunderstandings fanned by their enemies." Rafsanjani said at a separate meeting that the United States and its allies are finding it difficult to overcome the "dam" of the Iraqi people to attain their "colonial aims" in Iraq, ISNA reported. Separately, Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref-Yazdi is in Qatar to attend the Second South Summit of the Group of 77 developing nations, IRNA reported on 15 June. He discussed Iran-Lebanon ties with President Emile Lahoud on the sidelines of the summit, IRNA added. VS

Insurgents attacked Iraqi and U.S. forces in two separate attacks, international media reported on 16 June. A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle at a checkpoint near the Al-Sulaykh police station north of Baghdad, killing one soldier and wounding six civilians, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. Al-Jazeera television reported that six soldiers, not civilians, were wounded in the attack. Meanwhile five U.S. Marines were killed in a 15 June roadside bomb attack in Al-Ramadi, Reuters reported on 16 June. The news agency said that a U.S. military statement did not give details on the attack. Reuters cited U.S. officers as saying that militants have recently used "shaped charges" that concentrate blasts onto a small area, allowing the blasts to penetrate the heavy armor of tanks. KR

Adil Abd al-Mahdi told Al-Sharqiyah television in an interview aired on 15 June that neighboring countries have made a "clear improvement" on the security front, but cautioned that more efforts must be made. "Some establishments in certain countries continue to violate official proclaimed policies. The proclaimed policies of certain bodies and establishments have hidden objectives. In addition to official establishments, there are civil establishments that do not monitor or pursue matters adequately," he said. "There is a media mobilization that calls for turning Iraq into a battlefield in several neighboring and non-neighboring countries." Abd al-Mahdi declined to identify any countries by name, saying, "this always leads to some disagreement." Regarding reports that the government intends to release Iranian detainees, Abd al-Mahdi said the decision was a mistake. He said a subsequent decision has been made by the Presidency Council and the cabinet not to release the detainees. "Mistakes happen in all governments and in all countries," he said. KR

Poland announced on 15 June that it could pull as many as 300 troops from Iraq this summer, AP reported the same day. Poland currently has some 1,700 troops in Iraq. Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski said the country's next troop rotation will involve between 1,400 and 1,450 soldiers. Poland has previously said it intends to begin withdrawing its forces altogether in early 2006. Meanwhile, British media reports indicate that the military plans to reduce its presence in Iraq in the next 18 months, in order to deploy more troops to Afghanistan. Sources have said that the U.K. military strategy is to reduce the number of troops in Iraq to about 2,500 soldiers at a main base and training depot in Al-Basrah, reported on 15 June. KR

Nick Warner, head of the Australian Emergency Response Team (ERT) sent to Baghdad to secure the release of hostage Douglas Wood, told reporters at a 15 June press briefing in Baghdad that Wood was "resting comfortably and at a safe location in Baghdad," RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Wood told reporters that the ERT was on the ground in Baghdad some 36 hours after Wood's kidnapping became known; the team was followed by Australian Mufti Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali on 10 May. "On 29 May the Emergency Response Team received a proof-of-life video of Mr. Wood.... With the delivery of the video, the kidnappers opened a channel of communication with us, [through] an intermediary, an intermediary we've been working with for quite some time," Warner said. "And in the meantime, Sheikh Hilali opened his own channel for communication." Warner said that no ransom was paid nor were any concessions made to the hostage takers. Asked if there were signs that any other prisoners, such as freed French journalist Florence Abuneas or the previously released Romanian hostages had been held there, Warner said, "I don't have those details at the moment but there's really nothing more I can say." KR

Warner and Iraqi officials told reporters that the rescue came as part of a routine operation by U.S.-backed Iraqi forces in Baghdad, Radio Free Iraq reported on 15 June. "This morning, between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. the 2nd Battalion First Iraqi Armored Brigade supported by coalition soldiers conducted a raid in the Ghazaliyah area of Baghdad. They were operating on intelligence and tips gathered by Colonel Muhammad [not further identified], 2nd Battalion commander. During the raid, Iraqi soldiers subdued two insurgents and rescued Mr. Wood and one Iraqi hostage," Warner said. Iraqi General Nasir al-Abadi told Radio Free Iraq that Wood was captured as part of a nighttime operation. Neighbors had reportedly alerted security forces to abnormal activity taking place in the house. When security forces approached the house, the insurgents fired at them and a gunfight ensued. Upon entering the house, security forces found Wood lying on the floor face down and covered. They initially thought he was a dead insurgent, but when they uncovered him, they discovered it was Wood, al-Abadi said. KR