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Newsline - May 10, 2006

In his seventh state-of-the-nation address, President Vladimir Putin said on May 10 that Russia will join the World Trade Organization (WTO) on its own terms, Russian and international news agencies reported. "It is obvious that our economy is already more open than the economies of many members of this respected organization," Putin said. "And the negotiations on Russia's membership in the WTO should not become a subject of bargaining over issues that have nothing to do with the activities of this organization," he added, in a clear allusion to Georgian attempts to impose additional conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28, 2005, and February 22 and March 24, 2006). Putin also called for the Russian ruble to be made fully convertible by July 2007, ITAR-TASS reported. BW

In a mild swipe at Washington, Putin called in his May 10 address for an end to "bloc thinking" and outdated prejudices, Russian and international news agencies reported. "Not everyone in the world has been able to move on from the stereotypes of bloc thinking and prejudices which are a carry-over from the epoch of global confrontation, though there have been fundamental changes in the world," Putin said. In Vilnius on May 4, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney made a speech accusing Moscow of backsliding on democracy and using its energy resources for blackmail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4 and 5, 2006). BW

President Putin also called for defense spending to be increased and for Russia's military procurement process to be streamlined, Interfax reported on May 10. "In the coming year, spending on this development must constitute at least half of the whole military budget," Putin said. He also called for a civilian agency to oversee the military procurement process. "The government has until the end of the year to resolve this," Putin said. "This work must be completed, and then an authorized federal civilian agency must be set up. I have every expectation that this measure will contribute to suppressing corruption in the military sphere," he added. BW

In the same speech on May 10, Putin said Russia needs to make changes in order to reach his goal of doubling the country's gross domestic product (GDP), ITAR-TASS reported. "If we do not abolish certain problems, do not improve economic figures, do not create a proper level of freedom and equal competition, the goal of doubling GDP cannot be reached," Putin said. In his fifth state-of-the-nation speech on May 26, 2004, Putin called for Russia's GDP to be doubled by 2010. According to the Russian State Statistics Committee, the country's GDP rose by 7.1 percent in 2004 and by 6.4 percent in 2005. In his May 10 speech, Putin also said lack of trust in public officials is an obstacle to the country's development, dpa reported. "Social responsibility must be the basis for the dealings of bureaucrats and entrepreneurs," he said. BW

President Putin also praised public officials for working with the natural-gas monopoly Gazprom to provide Russian citizens with affordable fuel, ITAR-TASS reported on May 10. "Gazprom has advanced to third place by capitalization in the world, while keeping low tariffs for the population. It is made possible thanks to the purposeful work by the state," Putin said in his state-of-the-nation speech. According to ITAR-TASS, Gazprom accounts for 93 percent of all Russian gas production and some 20 percent of world gas output. In 2005, the company produced 548 billion cubic meters of gas, with export revenues totaling $21.6 billion. BW

Saying that Russia is facing a potential demographic crisis, President Putin also proposed a sharp increase in child-care benefits for parents with children up to 18 months old, Interfax reported on May 10. Putin said Russia's population is falling by 700,000 people per year. "I propose increasing the monthly benefit for the first child from 700 to 1,500 rubles [from $26 to $55] and for the second child to 3,000 rubles [$111]," Putin said. "Women who are employed but take a maternity leave and then child-care leave until the child reaches the age of 18 months must continue to receive from the state at least 40 percent of their previous salary." BW

The surviving relatives of Chechen President and resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov, who was killed last year under circumstances that remain unclear (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9, 10, and 14, 2005), have requested political asylum in Finland on the grounds that they do not feel safe in Azerbaijan, where they currently live, reported on May 9, quoting The Chechen resistance website on May 9 cited unidentified Finnish officials as confirming that the asylum request has been received but declining to comment on it. On May 10, Akhmar Zavgayev, who represents Chechnya in the State Duma and is a member of the Duma's North Caucasus Commission, told Ekho Moskvy that no one has any intention of persecuting Maskhadov's family, reported. LF

The foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, Vartan Oskanian and Elmar Mammadyarov, will meet in Strasbourg on May 18-19 to discuss preparations for a meeting of the two countries' presidents to resume discussion of approaches to resolving the Karabakh conflict, Mammadyarov told journalists in Baku on May 9, Turan reported. But Mammadyarov declined to confirm Oskanian's May 5 prediction that the meeting could take place as early as next month, reported, quoting Trend news agency (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," May 5, 2006). LF

Human rights ombudsman Sozar Subar said on May 9 that the Interior Ministry's account of an incident in Tbilisi on May 2 in which police opened fire on an automobile, killing two passengers and seriously wounding a third, differs significantly from the survivor's account, Caucasus Press reported. Police claim they opened fire on the car because they believed the three men were about to perpetrate an armed attack on a Tbilisi supermarket, but Subar said the survivor told him they were not armed. Subar also said armed guards outside the surviving man's hospital ward tried to prevent him entering. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze asked the parliament Committee for Legal Issues and Human Rights on May 8 to investigate the incident, Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili for his part expressed satisfaction on May 8 with the "highly professional" conduct of the operation, and affirmed that not a single innocent person has been killed or injured in any police operation in Georgia. LF

In comments to journalists in Tashkent on May 9, President Islam Karimov warned of the dangers posed by a possible nuclear strike against Iran, Uzbek television reported. "The confrontation that is now being created in the world and the huge efforts that are being made to justify possible strikes on nuclear or some other vital facilities in Iran -- what is more, with the use of nuclear weapons -- are all mind-boggling," he said. Noting Uzbekistan's proximity to Iran, Karimov added, "I can say with all responsibility that the cloud over Iran at that time [if Iran were attacked] would reach our country in two days. It will reach the place we are now standing." He urged that all problems over Iran's nuclear program be resolved using "peaceful means" and "diplomatic methods." DK

Karimov also called the November 2005 treaty between Russia and Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 15, 2005) a "treaty that guarantees peaceful life and allows us to look to the future with confidence," RIA-Novosti reported. Karimov added that "our partnership relations with China, South Korea, Pakistan, and India serve to maintain peace and stability in the region and remove threats looming over our borders," ITAR-TASS reported. DK

Indian state-run gas company GAIL and Uzbekistan's Uzbekneftegaz will work together to build facilities in Uzbekistan to produce liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), UPI reported on May 8. The facilities will cost $50 million-$60 million each and have a production capacity of 100,000 tons per year. The report did not say how many plants the two companies plan to construct. GAIL and Uzbekneftegaz signed a memorandum of cooperation during a late-April visit to Uzbekistan by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006). DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka renewed his criticism of the West following a wreath-laying ceremony held in Minsk on May 9 to mark V-Day, Belapan reported. "Those who love saber-rattling imagine themselves as the arbiters of the world's fate, the creators of a new world order, trampling with jackboots the countries that do not want to obey their arbitrary rule. And if an armed invasion is not possible, they try to destroy independent countries from within," Lukashenka said. He claimed that during the March presidential election, Belarus "was subject to the wildest political and information pressure from outside -- which continues to this day." However, he added, "our enemies disregarded the main factor -- the unyielding and freedom-loving, proud nature of the Belarusian people. The Belarusians united and made an independent choice in favor of a world of stability and prosperity," Lukashenka said. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on May 9 called for reconciliation among Ukrainian veterans of the Soviet army and nationalist guerillas from the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), who at various times fought Polish, Soviet, and Nazi forces, Ukrainian media reported. "I am certain that there will come a day when Ukrainian veterans will extend a hand to each other in the name of Ukraine's future. I am certain that we will witness a time when reconciliation will become reality for the Ukrainian nation," Yushchenko said. Former UPA soldiers do not possess the official status of war veterans and do not enjoy the same social benefits as veterans from the Soviet Army in Ukraine. On May 7, Yushchenko suggested that the issue of granting veteran status to UPA fighters be included in an accord on the next governing coalition. Both Party of Regions leader Viktor Yanukovych and Socialist Party head Oleksandr Moroz have spoken against making the UPA an issue in the coalition talks. JM

Nine weeks of testimony and legal arguments concluded in Bosnia-Herzegovina's genocide lawsuit against Serbia and Montenegro at the International Court of Justice at The Hague on May 9, AP reported the same day. Bosnia is seeking compensation in the civil suit for the loss of life and property in the 1992-95 war (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28 and March 8 and 16, 2006). Both sides said a ruling in their favor would help heal the region's war wounds. Radoslav Stojanovic, Belgrade's chief representative at the trial, called on the 16-judge panel to "rule in favor of reconciliation and not to rule for a continuation of conflict." He added that a ruling in favor of Bosnia would cause "the stigmatization of the [Serbian] population and would have lengthy historical consequences." Phon van den Biesen, a Dutch lawyer on the Bosnian legal team, said earlier this month that a ruling in favor of Bosnia "will be an important step towards true peace." The judges must first decide whether the court has jurisdiction in the case. If they decide that it does, then a binding ruling is expected by the end of 2006. BW

The International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has transferred Zeljko Mejakic, the former commander of the Omarska detention camp, to Bosnia-Herzegovina to face trial, AFP reported on May 9. Mejakic, 41, has been charged with five counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity including persecution, murder, and inhumane acts committed against Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats held in Omarska in 1992. The ICTY ruled in July 2005 that Mejakic's case could be sent to local courts. The ruling was upheld on appeal last month. Three other Bosnian Serbs charged on the same indictment as Mejakic -- Momcilo Gruban, Dusan Fustar, and Dusko Knezevic -- have already been transferred to Bosnia. The four will be tried in the newly created War Crimes Chamber of Bosnia's State Court. BW

The genocide trial of 11 Bosnian Serbs opened in Sarajevo on May 9, dpa reported the same day. Milos Stupar, Milenko Trifunovic, Petar Mitrovic, Brane Dzinic, Aleksandar Radovanovic, Slobodan Jakovljevic, Miladin Stevanovic, Velibor Maksimovic, Branislav Medan, Dragisa Zivanovic, and Milovan Matic have been charged with genocide against Bosnian Muslims in the village of Kravica, near Srebrenica, in July 1995. The case is the first related to the 1995 Srebrenica massacre being heard before Bosnia's War Crimes Chamber. BW

Rasim Ljajic said on May 9 that the upcoming Montenegrin independence referendum will cause the political climate to deteriorate regardless of the outcome, Reuters reported. To pass, 50 percent of eligible voters must turn out for the May 21 referendum and 55 percent of those casting ballots must vote in favor of independence. Ljajic said the referendum is likely to either fail inconclusively or pass narrowly and create a new state in Montenegro that half its population does not want. Opinion polls show only a slight majority, less than 55 percent, favoring independence. "If Montenegro breaks away and becomes an independent country we will have a huge minority that will live in a state it does not want," Ljajic said. "If we end up in the so-called gray area [of a majority less than 55 percent voting for independence] we will have an agony that will last, and probably those who advocate an independent Montenegro will say that this was a no-confidence vote in the state union." BW

Andrei Stratan said on May 9 that Chisinau's plans to eventually join the European Union are "strategic and irreversible," Interfax reported the same day. "Moldova once again announces its promise to fulfill all the necessary requirements for joining a unified Europe that is based on democratic values, solidarity, and human rights," Stratan said in a speech marking Europe Day. BW

Iranian state television reported that two explosions in western Iran on May 8 injured six people at the governorate and the local chamber of commerce in the city of Kermanshah. Many of the province's residents are ethnic Kurds, who have been targeted recently by the central government amid efforts to impose central authority on the country's volatile periphery.

This is a familiar pattern in Tehran's attempts to counter disturbances in ethnically Arab, Kurdish, and Baluchi areas, involving repression and scapegoating, despite calls for economic and social guarantees to ease tensions.

The southwestern Khuzestan Province has been the site of a number of deadly bombings in the past year, in addition to antigovernment protests. Two men were executed for their alleged roles in bombings in October after their heavily edited confessions were televised along with those of their suspected conspirators.

Ahvaz Prosecutor-General Iraj Amirkhani announced on state radio on May 1 that 25 people have been arrested in connection with bombings that took place as recently as January. On May 3, the official government daily "Iran" reported the arrest of a "Wahhabi sheikh" for involvement in the unrest and bombings.

There are about 2 million ethnic Arabs in Iran, representing some 3 percent of the population. Many of them reside in Khuzestan Province. Amnesty International recently expressed concern over the treatment of politically active ethnic Arabs, suggesting that authorities are imprisoning family members in an effort to lure them out of hiding.

Authorities have also announced the establishment of a new base for the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in Khuzestan Province. IRGC commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi said that the Abu al-Fadl base will help "maintain lasting security," local television reported on April 27. He noted that "about 80 percent of Iranian oil resources" are situated in a region that includes Khuzestan and extends to the northern part of the Persian Gulf, "Etemad" reported on April 27.

Some of the discontent in Khuzestan can be attributed to a lack of public services. The supreme leader's representative in the area, Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Musavi-Jazayeri, told provincial officials on May 3 that they must attend to public needs if they are to improve the situation. He encouraged the completion of unfinished development projects. He also called it "the year for creating a major change in the province and taking steps toward comprehensive progress." The provincial governor-general, Amir Hayat-Moqaddam, told those same leaders that Khuzestan is among the country's top recipients of development funding.

Clashes have also extended to the community of ethnic Kurds, estimated at about 7 percent of the population and largely concentrated in western Iran. Media reports also suggest that clashes between Iranian security forces and Kurdish groups have reignited along the Iran-Iraq border. Uthman Mahmud, the interior minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, said on May 1 that Iranian artillery shelled 10 villages in the border region, according to Al-Sharqiyah television. He claimed it was the second such attack in 10 days, adding that the shelling has resulted in casualties.

The attacks appear to be part of an effort to suppress the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which Turkey, Iran, and the United States consider a terrorist organization. The PKK has threatened to retaliate for further attacks on its bases in Iraq. But the PKK's bitter rival, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, has warned it against launching any attacks from Iraqi territory.

Iran's central government has appeared increasingly willing to confront Kurdish activists over the past year. The head of the Human Rights Organization of Kurdistan, Mohammad Sadegh Kabudvand, told Radio Farda in April that two activists received jail sentences for membership of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran. He claimed that other former members of the organization are awaiting trial.

Kurdish activists and parliamentarians from the Kurdish regions have long sought greater attention from the central government. They cite provincial underdevelopment, inadequate political representation, and inattention to their cultural needs.

Officials have also registered many violent incidents in the southeastern Sistan va Baluchistan Province. The province is home to many of the country's 1.4 million ethnic Baluchis. A Baluchi group known as Jundullah claimed responsibility for a March 16 attack on a motorcade in the province in which at least 20 people were killed. The same group released a videotape in early April in which it claimed to have killed an officer in the IRGC. Weeks later, the group vowed to "smash the mouths of [any] Sunni religious scholars who say anything against them," "Iran" reported on April 25.

The central government routinely blames violence in Iran's southeast on criminal gangs and smugglers, and occasionally it attributes unrest to foreigners, mainly Israel and the United States. But a former lawmaker from the province has pinned some of the blame on Tehran. Jundullah Baqer Kurd, who represented Zahedan in 2000-04, insisted that government officials must make a greater effort to help the local population in the southeast. He has urged the central government to "create employment in the province, and allow native forces to be more involved in border control provided by the police and security forces," "Etemad-i Melli" reported on April 18. Baqer Kurd also called on the government to bring "local elders" into decision making and allow for "greater participation by the region's elites and clerics in public, security, and social issues."

Mohammad Yunos Qanuni, the speaker of the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) of the Afghan National Assembly, asked three of President Hamid Karzai's nine Supreme Court nominees to present proof of their qualifications, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on May 9. Qanuni asked the judicial and legal committee of the lower house of parliament to investigate the qualifications of Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, the current and nominated chief justice, and two unidentified justices before voting on Karzai's choices. Article 118 of the Afghan Constitution stipulates that a member of the country's Supreme Court should have "a higher education in law or in Islamic jurisprudence." The ultraconservative Shinwari has been at the forefront of assaults on freedoms, especially in the media, since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. He is a member of the unofficial Islamist coalition in the parliament, a group relied on by Karzai to counterbalance other opposition groups, especially the unorganized groupings led by Qanuni (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," December 20, 2005 and April 15, 2006). AT

In an editorial on May 9, "Anis" said that senior Taliban commander Jalaluddin Haqqani's opposition to the education of girls is against Islamic teachings. Haqqani said in recent videotaped message that allowing girls to attend school is un-Islamic and runs counter to Afghan traditions. Writing that the Koran obligates both men and women to educate themselves, "Anis" adds that Haqqani, despite his knowledge of the Koran, "does not want to fulfill" the Islamic obligation requiring both sexes to receive education. "There is no Islamic country where women's education is banned," the editorial adds. According to "Anis," Haqqani wants Afghan boys to "receive terrorist training rather that Islamic education," and girls to stay at home so that the country will not be reconstructed." In his video message, Haqqani also said that Afghanistan's Constitution is anti-Islamic. Haqqani was a celebrated commander during the fight against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. He later joined the Taliban government and currently is considered a senior operative in the Khost and Paktiya regions. He is also thought to be an important link between the neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. AT

Iranian forces allegedly crossed the border between Afghanistan and Iran in the Islam Qala region of Herat Province and wounded two Afghan border police, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported on May 8. Herat Governor Sayyed Hosayn Anwari confirmed the report, telling Tolu that the incident was "clear to all." Anwari rejected another report that one of the policemen has died. Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta, however, told Tolu on May 8 that he had no report regarding the news of Iranians encroaching Afghan territory. Spanta added that after hearing about the allegation, he contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs in Herat, which could not confirm the incident. AT

The Islamabad-daily "The News" on May 9 questioned claims made by the neo-Taliban of having access to more sophisticated antiaircraft missiles. Mohammad Hanif, purporting to speak for the Taliban, claimed that their fighters used a new missile to force a U.S. Chinook military transport helicopter to crash on May 5 in eastern Afghanistan, killing 10 U.S. troops. While the U.S. military has ruled out enemy fire as the cause of the crash, Mohammad Hanif has maintained that the Taliban brought down the aircraft using the new missile. According to a report, Mohammad Hanif refused to provide details about the new weapon, only stating that it has a longer range and more precise guidance system. According to "The News," the Taliban's claim of having new surface-to-air missiles might be an attempt to use the Chinook crash as "a psychological method to demoralize" the U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. The commentary concludes that it is unlikely that the Taliban are in "possession of new missiles capable of shooting down helicopters." AT

Several Iranian politicians have reacted positively to the "initiative" by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to write to U.S. President George W. Bush. Legislator Javad Jahangirzadeh, a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" on May 9 that this "initiative" could be "positive" if "it can reduce America's confrontation with Iran." Another committee member, Akbar Alami, has described the letter as a "diplomatic act" and as positive "regardless of its content," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on May 10. He was hopeful its contents will be "mature" enough not to need subsequent explanations by the Iranian government. Committee member Mahmud Mohammadi told the semi-official Mehr news agency on May 9 that the letter was a "good initiative" but will not have an impact. "The best time for this was when the president attended the UN General Assembly," he said (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," September 20, 2005). Former Foreign Ministry adviser Sabah Zanganeh told ILNA on 9 May that "one cannot have extraordinary expectations for a single letter," but it has shown that Iran is an actor, not just a "recipient of orders and opinions" in international affairs. The U.S. "should welcome this move and answer the letter to prove they are a responsible...state," he said. VS

The head of Iran's regular navy, Sajjad Kuchaki, said on May 9 that "the Persian Gulf has today become the center of the presence of supraregional and occupying states because they believe energy consumers...must also control the energy supply route," ISNA reported the same day (without saying where Kuchaki made his remarks). Kuchaki said Iran needs new tactics to defend the country against "enemy" threats and provide a deterrent. Iran's ships should have a dual military and commercial use, he said. "A force consisting of military, nonmilitary, and popular forces in the sea" should ensure "naval power and a deterrent strategy against enemy aggression," he said. "A strategic method must be created for all naval bodies, because old methods have lost their utility and will not guarantee our victory against America. The strategy of the God-oriented human must be adopted," ISNA quoted him as saying. VS

Ahmad Mojtahed, the head of the central bank's Monetary and Banking Research Center, said in Tehran on May 9 that Iran's foreign-exchange reserves were $50 billion at the end of the Persian year on March 20, 2006, IRNA reported. He gave promising export and inflation figures for the year as well. Nonpetroleum exports were worth "an unprecedented" $10 billion, he said, up 13 percent from the preceding year, and inflation fell to 12.1 percent. He said a reduction in state-sector economic activity will help curb inflation. Separately, the head of Tavanir, the state electricity firm, has rejected a World Bank report classifying Iran as the world's fourth-most wasteful electricity consumer, and said the report lacks a "precise scientific basis," Fars reported on May 9. Mohammad Ahmadian said 18 percent of electricity produced in Iran is lost during distribution, not 16 percent as the World Bank stated. This loss, he said, should not be termed wastage, as it is inevitable due to Iran's large territory, "illegal diversions," and an aging power-distribution network, IRNA reported. VS

Two Iranian observers spoke to RFE/RL's Radio Farda on May 9 about the difficulties of doing business in Iran. Bahaeddin Adab, a former reformist legislator and member of a group of construction companies, said investors have no "legal security in the full sense of the word," Radio Farda reported. He said state officials daily publicly threaten to arrest "the economically corrupt. Well, who are these people?" He said the judiciary should provide business with legal backing, and observed that entrepreneurs have been vilified in Iran since the 1979 revolution. "Unfortunately, in the past 27 years, they have kept saying capitalists are bloodsuckers and...parasites," he said. Economist Jamshid Asadi told Radio Farda that "private investment has its hands tied in economic competition," and business belongs to those with connections in government. "They are the ones who can more easily import, tenders [and] it is difficult to compete with people backed by state and military officials." But Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf told a business seminar in Tehran on May 9 that Iranians living abroad should invest in the capital's construction projects, and turn "the many investment opportunities" in Tehran "into reality," IRNA reported. VS

Salih al-Mutlaq, head of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, told reporters at a May 9 press briefing in Baghdad that he believes it will take another 10 days to form a government, contradicting an earlier statement by Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki, Al-Sharqiyah television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 9, 2006). Al-Mutlaq criticized the negotiations between political blocs, saying Iraq will have a sectarian, rather than national-unity government. "If the government continues to be formed on the bases we hear of today, then the political leadership and the Iraqi people will find that it is no different from the Governing Council, which proved to be a failure and was extremely detrimental to Iraq and Iraqis," he said. Al-Mutlaq further contended that his list as well as the Iraqi National List, headed by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, is being isolated in the talks, adding that neither bloc has been awarded a seat thus far in the next cabinet. KR

Six Iraqi media staffers have been killed in the past week, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said in a May 9 press release. Al-Nahrayn television correspondent Laith Mash'an and technician Mu'azaz Ahmad were stopped by people dressed as police in Baghdad on May 7 and abducted. Their bodies were found a day later. This followed the slaying of photographer Abid Shakir al-Dulaymi in Al-Basrah, though the release did not say when al-Dulaymi, a Sunni Arab, was killed. The IFJ also noted the killing of print-shop worker Ismail Muhammad Khalaf by a car bomb outside the "Al-Sabah" office in Baghdad on May 7. Al-Iraqiyah television moderator Sa'd Shammari was found strangled on a Baghdad roadside on May 5. Sa'ud al-Hudaythi, a correspondent for Baghdadiyah television, was also found dead on May 5. The IFJ said the spate of killings has created an "unprecedented atmosphere of terror and intimidation" for journalists in Iraq. The organization said some 120 journalists and media staff have been killed in Iraq since 2003. KR

Gunmen killed 11 workers en route to work in the northern Iraqi town of Ba'qubah on May 10, Reuters reported. Police said that the gunmen forced a minibus transporting the workers to an electrical-equipment factory to pull over and forced the passengers out before shooting the male passengers. Elsewhere, at least 17 Iraqis were killed and 35 wounded in Tal Afar on May 9 when a booby-trapped pickup truck loaded with flour exploded in a marketplace, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. The U.S. military said 16 were killed and 134 people injured in the attack. Many of the victims were women and children who had lined up to buy the flour at half-price, "The Washington Post" reported on May 10. KR

Two hundred and forty-four Palestinian refugees were given refuge in Syria on May 9 after spending several weeks stranded on the Iraqi-Jordanian border, the Syrian news agency SANA reported on May 9. The refugees, some of whom fled violence in Baghdad six weeks ago, were refused entry into Jordan. Syria agreed to grant them residency last week. The Palestinians, many of whom had lived in Iraq since the 1960s, said they were increasingly targeted by armed groups in recent months. In 2003, members of Baghdad's Palestinian community were attacked by Iraqis who claimed that the refugees were supporters of Saddam Hussein. KR