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Newsline - May 15, 2006

Vladimir Putin said on May 13 that he will name a preferred successor, and promised to facilitate a smooth transition when his term in office ends in 2008, Reuters reported. "I think I would be right to express my point of view on one candidacy or another, and I will do this," he said. "Everyone is concerned about stability and [people] are wondering what will happen after 2008.... I have certain ideas about how to set up the situation in the country in this period of time so as not to destabilize it, so as not to scare people and business." Media speculation in Russia has mostly focused on Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as potential successors. But Putin, who first assumed the presidency in the wake of Boris Yeltsin's surprise resignation on December 31, 1999 -- a move widely believed to have been orchestrated to help Putin win election three months later -- said the Kremlin cannot dictate the next president. "The final choice will come down to the Russian citizen. You can't impose someone. The reaction could be opposite to the one intended," Putin said. BW

Also on May 13, Putin said he will not allow Cold War-type tension to reemerge between Russia and the West, Reuters reported. He added, however, that Moscow will protect its interests. "We will build up ties with Western colleagues patiently and calmly. I have already said that we will not return to the period of the Cold War," Putin said. "If we do not stick our nose into other people's affairs and don't declare the whole world to be our sphere of influence, then we have the resources to absolutely solidly guarantee our own security," he added. Putin's remarks were an apparent reference to the fallout from a May 4 speech in which U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney accused Moscow of backsliding on democracy and using its energy resources for political blackmail (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). BW

Ten senior Russian security officials were sacked on May 12, two days after President Putin vowed in his state-of-the-nation speech to step up the fight against graft, Russian and international news agencies reported. Putin fired three generals from the Federal Security Service (FSB); Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov sacked a first deputy Moscow prosecutor and the first deputy head of his office's department in charge of legal supervision of security bodies; and Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev fired four senior investigators and the head of a regional police department in southern Russia. BW

Prosecutor-General Ustinov said on May 15 that organized-crime groups formed in the 1990s have become increasingly sophisticated and powerful and now form a serious threat to Russia, Interfax reported. "We have to admit today that the magnitude and scope of organized crime is assuming the character of a national threat," he said. Organized crime rings, Ustinov said, have become highly organized and hierarchical organizations with links throughout Russia and abroad. Such groups, he said, have "left [their] mark on all major cities and localities." BW

The Prosecutor-General's Office has challenged the acquittal of three men for the murder of American journalist Paul Klebnikov, Interfax reported on May 15, citing one of the suspect's attorneys. "The Prosecutor-General's Office has challenged the verdict and has requested the annulment of the acquittal," attorney Ruslan Zakalyuzhny told Interfax. On May 5, a jury found Kazbek Dukuzov, Musa Vakhayev, and Fail Sadretdinov not guilty of Klebnikov's murder. Klebnikov, who was editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, was killed in Moscow in July 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 12, 2004). BW

The head of Russia's General Staff said that former Soviet republics have the right to join NATO, but warned them against destabilizing border areas, Interfax reported on May 15 citing a published newspaper interview. "Our position is simple and clear: you may join [NATO] but do not create tensions on our borders," General Yury Baluyevsky said in an interview published on May 15 in the daily newspaper "Novye izvestia." "If Ukraine and Georgia want to enter NATO, it is their right. However, Russia cares about the situation on adjoining territories," Baluyevsky added. "Georgia and Ukraine are adjoining territories." BW

The Russian oil giant Sibneft formally decided at a shareholders meeting on May 13 to change its name to Gazpromneft and to move its corporate headquarters from Omsk to St. Petersburg, Interfax reported on May 15. The Sibneft brand, however, will be retained at the company's network of retail service stations. The changes are part of a process of integrating the company with Gazprom, which acquired 75 percent of Sibneft's shares last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 29, 2005). "This step is not only about changing the company's signboard, but also about a deeper process: the integration of the company's highly professional experience and traditions with Gazprom's potential to develop its oil business," Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov said. BW

Robert Kocharian's spokesman Viktor Soghomonian told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on May 12 that parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian's resignation and the withdrawal of his Orinats Yerkir (OY) party from the ruling coalition are "normal phenomena for any civilized country" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12, 2006). Baghdasarian announced earlier on May 12 his decision to step down as parliament speaker following a major disagreement with Kocharian over foreign policy. But none of the three OY ministers in the coalition government has announced his resignation to date, although Education Minister Sergo Yeritsian said on May 12 he will do so on May 22, when the next scheduled parliament session begins, Noyan Tapan reported. Meanwhile, the defection of some OY deputies and the decision by the rest to join the opposition leaves the two remaining coalition members -- Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun -- with only 51 of the total 131 parliament mandates, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on May 12. Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian of the HHK is slated to succeed Baghdasarian as speaker, according to Noyan Tapan on May 12. LF

Six hours of talks at the Swiss headquarters of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) on May 12 between representatives of the football federations of Armenia and Azerbaijan failed to yield an agreement on the venue for matches, scheduled for September 2007, between the two countries in the qualifying competition for the 2008 European soccer championship, reported on May 13. The Armenian Football Federation, backed by Armenia's government, wants the two fixtures to be played in Baku and Yerevan. But the corresponding Azerbaijani body is categorically against this, saying that Azerbaijan cannot guarantee the security of Armenian players and coaching staff and that the games should therefore take place in third countries (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," April 11, 2006). LF

Elections took place in Azerbaijan on May 13 in 10 constituencies where the results of the November 6 parliamentary ballot were annulled (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12, 2006). Preliminary results made public by the Central Election Commission (MSK) on May 14 indicated that members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) or nominally independent candidates aligned with it won in eight constituencies, reported. Opposition Adolat party Chairman Ilyas Ismailov won election in a rural constituency in Tovuz, and a candidate from the opposition Civic Solidarity Party in a second district, the Russian daily "Kommersant" reported on May 15. None of the seven candidates from the opposition Musavat party, including its deputy chairman Arif Gacili, was elected. Voter turnout averaged 36.48 percent -- lower than the 46.8 percent of voters who cast their ballots in November, which was the lowest in a national election in 10 years. Turnout was highest in the northern Zakatala Raion (59.3 percent) and lowest in Baku's Binagadi Raion (19.07 percent). LF

Four opposition candidates in Sumgait, including Musavat's Nasiman Yaqublu, submitted a joint written protest to the MSK on May 14 alleging "serious falsifications," including pressure on voters, reported. They said they would not acknowledge the official results as legal and valid. Musavat observers said that in Binagadi, election supervisors pressured voters to cast their ballot in favor of either of two independent businessmen. YAP officials on May 13 accused Gacili, who ran in a second Sumgait constituency, of "interfering" in the voting process, and a second opposition candidate, Mirmahmud Fattayev of the conservative wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, of unspecified "illegal actions," reported. "Kommersant" on May 15 quoted Chairman Mazahir Panahov as saying the MSK received a total of 15 complaints, and concluded after investigating them that the violations in question were not of such a magnitude as to affect the election results. In a statement posted on May 15 on the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) website (, the 13-person team of observers deployed to monitor the ballot noted "improvement in some aspects of the process," including "inclusive registration of candidates, a largely unimpeded campaign, and increased opportunities for domestic observers." But at the same time it registered "instances of interference by local authorities in the election process," and stressed "the need for ongoing electoral reform." LF

During a meeting in Tskhinvali on May 11-12 of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, agreement was reached on establishing a commission comprised of Georgian, Russian, South Ossetian, North Ossetian, and OSCE representatives that will jointly set priorities for the economic rehabilitation of the conflict zone, Civil Georgia and reported on May 13. The EU has allocated 10 million euros ($12.8 million) for that purpose. LF

At the same May 11-12 meeting in Tskhinvali, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said Tbilisi sees no need to sign a pledge of the nonresumption of hostilities against South Ossetia, Georgian media reported. Khaindrava added that the most convincing guarantee of the nonresumption of hostilities would be acceptance by the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's most recent peace proposal. Khaindrava also called for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from the conflict zone. In an interview published on May 11 in the Russian daily "Novye izvestia," South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity said an internationally guaranteed pledge of nonaggression by Georgia should be the first step towards a comprehensive solution to the conflict. LF

The first trainload of armor -- including seven battle tanks and 10 armored vehicles -- left the Akhalkalaki military base in southern Georgia on May 13 en route for Russia via Azerbaijan, Caucasus Press reported. A further 21 trainloads of materiel will follow; the withdrawal is to be completed by December 31, 2007. LF

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikheil Kamynin told journalists in Moscow on May 12 that NATO Parliamentary Assembly head Pierre Lellouche's statement that a delegation he headed was not permitted to inspect the former Russian military base in Gudauta during a May 6 visit to Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 9, 2006) caused "sincere surprise." Kamynin said that during brief talks in Sukhum with the commander of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone, the NATO parliamentarians did not mention that they wanted to inspect that facility. LF

Kazakh Culture and Information Minister Ermukhamet Ertysbaev told journalists on May 12 that he has no intention of complying with a request from the Kazakh Journalists Union that he resign (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 12, 2006), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Stressing that he answers to President Nursultan Nazarbaev, Ertysbaev charged that the Journalists Union is "interfering with the work of executive-administrative bodies of power, and it is crudely violating the constitution and laws by making attempts to have an impact on the head of state." Ertysbaev said that in the nearly four months since he was appointed to his ministerial position, he has received "no criticism from the president, nor has there been any criticism from the prime minister [Daniyal Akhmetov]." He concluded, "I strongly recommend journalists not to become pawns in a political game of my opponents." DK

At least 13 people were killed when a group of armed men made an illegal incursion from Tajikistan into Kyrgyzstan's Batken province on May 12, and other agencies reported. Tajik television reported that a group of at least six armed men attacked a border outpost in Tajikistan's northern Sughd province on the early morning of May 12, killing two border guards, fatally wounding a third, and seizing 19 machine guns. The men then crossed into Kyrgyzstan, where they killed a customs official and a civilian at the Akturpak customs post, reported. Later on May 12, Kyrgyz security agencies mobilized more than 200 men to find and neutralize the armed group, eventually killing four militants and capturing one. Kyrgyz forces lost four men in the operation. Kyrgyzstan's news agency reported that five militants were killed and two captured. Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) said that it confiscated 17 Kalashnikovs, more than 2,000 5.45-millimeter shells, and two 5-kilogram barrels of aluminum powder, reported. The SNB's press service said that it believed the militants planned to carry out a terrorist attack. Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev told a meeting of senior security officials on May 12 that he was pleased with the rapid response of security forces, reported. Bakiev ordered security tightened along the country's southern border. DK

The majority of the armed men were citizens of Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on May 12, quoting a Tajik border official. The source claimed the men were members of the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). He identified the group's leader as Dilshod Rahimov. Rahimov, who was reported killed in the course of the incursion on May 12, is suspected by Tajik authorities of leading an attack on a jail in Qayroqqum, Tajikistan, in February. "The New York Times" quoted Akilbek Boionov, deputy director of the SNB in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, as saying, "It was the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan." Other reports suggested that the armed men may have been drug dealers. DK

Kyrgyz police have lifted a clean set of fingerprints from firearms discovered in the getaway car that assailants used after killing Ryspek Akmatbaev on May 10 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 11, 2006), Kyrgyz radio reported on May 12. The report stated that investigators now believe that the murder was a contract killing. The car used by the assailants was discovered in Bishkek on May 11, Kyrgyz public-education television reported. Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov told reporters on May 11 that "there is as yet no precise information on the assailants, but we have an idea of who precisely could have carried out this assassination," news agency reported. "Rysbek Akmatbayev's two assailants had sufficient time to go into hiding, even abroad," Sutalinov added. DK

Approximately 1,000 supporters of Akmatbaev blocked roads in Balykchi on May 12-13 demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov and a thorough investigation of Akmatbaev's murder, ITAR-TASS and reported. Balykchi Deputy Mayor Begaim Algojoeva told on May 13 that the demonstrators refused to disperse even when offered a chance to send a delegation to Bishkek to air their concerns. Also on May 13, the Ar-Namys Party, which until recently was headed by Kulov, issued a statement warning of a "criminal mutiny" if Akmatbaev's supporters should march on Bishkek, reported. Ar-Namys called on law-enforcement agencies to take "the harshest measures to put a stop to this action," warning, "If law-enforcement agencies do not take any effective measures, we reserve the right to raise the people and counter criminal forces with our own organized force, the force of civil society." DK

Russian air-force commander General Vladimir Mikhailov announced in Kyrgyzstan on May 12 that Russia plans to triple its forces at its base in Kant, Kyrgyzstan, Interfax-AVN reported. The report noted that the base currently hosts 140 technicians and pilots, as well as five SU-25s, two MI-8s, and four L-39s. It said that number of planes will be tripled and the number of servicemen increased to 250-260. State-controlled Rossiya television network also reported on May 12 that Russia plans to triple its presence at Kant by year's end, but it put the personnel currently stationed at Kant at "500 officers and men." DK

Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP) issued a statement on May 12 demanding a thorough investigation of the death of IRP activist Sadullo Marupov (identified as "Sadullo Marufov" in other reports) in custody on May 4 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 5, 2006), Asia Plus-Blitz reported. "A special Interior Ministry group has been operating in Sughd region over the past two years, and it has illegally detained many of our party members," the statement said. The IRP noted that incidents such as Marupov's death "might cause destabilization in society and undermine Tajikistan's prestige in the international arena." Three police officers have reportedly been arrested in connection with Marupov's death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 11, 2006). DK

President Saparmurat Niyazov issued a decree on May 12 removing Jumaniyaz Annaorazov as head of Turkmenistan's central bank and replacing him with Geldimurat Abilov, who was previously the bank's deputy chairman, reported. Annaorazov also lost the post of deputy prime minister. Niyazov also sacked Construction Minister Batyr Gaipov, naming him head of the ministry's seismology institute. Ashgabat Mayor Orazmurad Esenov will replace Gaipov while retaining his post as mayor of the capital. DK

Niyazov told a cabinet meeting on May 12 that officials should be given a tour of prisons before their appointments to top posts so that they know what is in store for them if they engage in corruption, Turkmen television reported. "From now on, when appointing top officials to this or that position, let us show them what a real prison is like, because any crime will end up with that," Niyazov said. "Let them have a shock after seeing what conditions are there in prisons and how prisoners feel themselves. Only then will they realize the consequences of embezzlement and theft." Noting that a newly constructed skating rink will be opened on May 18, Niyazov invited cabinet members to the opening and promised to teach them how to skate. "I am going to teach you some skating skills there," Niyazov said. "Let us visit it once a week, at 7 a.m. Skating is very healthy both for old and young people." DK

The U.S. State Department issued a press release on its website ( on May 12 calling on the Uzbek government "to allow for a full, credible and transparent international investigation into Andijon, to cease immediately the crackdown on civil society, and to take steps to uphold Uzbekistan's international human rights commitments." The statement noted, "A year after the tragic events in Andijon [on May 13, 2005], the Government of Uzbekistan still owes the victims and survivors a full accounting of what took place. Numerous eyewitness reports of security forces shooting and killing several hundred men, women and children have not been adequately addressed." State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told a briefing on May 12 that sanctions legislation proposed by Representative Chris Smith and Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) is "at a very preliminary stage, but we would not, at this time, rule out sanctions on Uzbekistan" (see End Note below). DK

Former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who was released from jail on May 12 after serving a 15-day sentence, met with opposition activists from Minsk and Minsk Oblast later the same day, Belapan reported. Among the topics of discussion was the establishment of the national movement For Freedom, which was announced by Milinkevich during an opposition rally in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006). Milinkevich is planning to embark on May 20 on a series of trips to the provinces to mobilize support for the new movement. JM

Opposition youth leader Nikita Sasim was sentenced on May 12 to three months in jail on a charge of dodging compulsory military service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4 and 5, 2006), Belapan reported. Sasim will spend only one month behind bars because the two months he spent in pretrial detention in Baranavichy are to be counted toward his sentence. JM

The presidents of Ukraine and Poland -- Viktor Yushchenko and Lech Kaczynski, respectively -- met in the Polish village of Pawlokoma on May 13 to call for the reconciliation of the Ukrainian and Polish nations over their common past, Polish and Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko and Kaczynski were attending the unveiling of a memorial to more than 360 ethnic Ukrainian villagers who were slain in Pawlokoma by a Polish military group in 1945 (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," May 12, 2006). "We must speak openly of our painful and difficult past.... Strong and lasting reconciliation may only be built upon a foundation of truth. We cannot change the past, but we can make sure that it does not determine the future," Kaczynski said in Pawlokoma. In turn, Yushchenko said in his speech at the Pawlokoma memorial: "I can imagine what a difficult road has been traveled by tens of thousands of people to this act of reconciliation to which we are witnesses today. But I am convinced of one thing, that only the strong are capable of forgiving.... I bow my head before you, beloved Ukrainians and Poles who stand before me and who stand on these hills. You are creating a courageous and correct policy." JM

Vuk Draskovic said on May 13 that members of the Serbian security services continue to protect war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic from arrest, Reuters reported the same day. Speaking on the Kremlin's English-language Russia Today television channel, Draskovic said renegade elements inside Serbia's security services know where Mladic is hiding and are helping him evade capture. "Of course they know, because they are paid to know" where he is hiding, he said. In early May, the EU cut off talks with Belgrade on a Stabilization and Association Agreement over Serbia's failure to arrest Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). "We are now in a tragic condition when instead of arresting Mladic, all of us, the whole Serbian nation is arrested by Mladic," Draskovic said. "All defenders, protectors of Mladic here, in Serbia, are acting against the future of this state. Serbia is more important than the tribunal, than Mladic, than any person." BW

Former Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus resigned as president of the G17 Plus party on May 13 to protest the party's refusal to leave the government, AP reported the same day. "A policy that I cannot approve has prevailed," Labus told reporters as he left a party meeting on May 13. "I cannot pursue something that I do not agree with." Labus resigned as deputy prime minister on May 3 after the European Union cut off talks with Serbia over its failure to arrest Ratko Mladic. An economist who represented Serbia in talks with the EU, Labus proposed that G17 Plus leave Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's cabinet. His proposal, which was opposed by Finance Minister and G17 Plus Vice President Mladjan Dinkic, failed to win the support of the majority of his party. BW

Filip Vujanovic said on May 13 that independence for Montenegro would benefit both Podgorica and Belgrade, AP reported the same day. He called the union of Serbia and Montenegro "damaging and costly for both" parties," Beta reported. He added that differences between the two in population and economy make it "impossible to have...a functional, viable diplomacy and army" that would equally represent the interests of both states. Serbia's population is approximately 10 million while Montenegro's is 650,000. Montenegrins will vote in an independence referendum on May 21. For independence to be approved, 50 percent of eligible voters must turn out and 55 percent of those casting ballots must vote for it. BW

During a visit to Washington on May 12, Sulejman Tihic, the chairman of Bosnia-Herzegovina's rotating presidency, urged U.S. officials not to abandon his country following the Bosnian parliament's failure to pass key constitutional reforms, AP reported the next day. "It was important for me to make this visit particularly now, when the [U.S.] officials were rather disappointed by the failure of the constitutional reform in the national parliament," he said. "They have been disappointed due to the fact that the people -- some people in our country -- were not aware, or were not able to understand, how important that was." The lower house of Bosnia's parliament in April failed to pass a series of constitutional reforms, strongly backed by Washington, that would have streamlined the country's governance and given more power to the central government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20 and April 27 and 28, 2006). BW

Sergiu Stati, the head of the Moldovan parliament's Foreign Policy and European Integration Committee, said on May 12 that Chisinau is not planning to leave the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Interfax reported the same day. Stati added that Moldova will seek to use the CIS to advance its interests. "I can tell you definitely that the issue of Moldova's withdrawal from the CIS is irrelevant," he said. "Not because [the CIS] is very efficient, but because there are other opportunities to use the CIS's potential. We intend to intensify cooperation in a bilateral format. We will focus on this very format in developing cooperation with the CIS countries," he added. Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan said on May 11 that the government will defer expressing an opinion on leaving the CIS until it has analyzed the issue more fully, Interfax reported. BW

Even before the short-term effects of the bloodshed in Andijon in May 2005 were clear, the long-term consequences began to take shape: Moscow and Beijing backed Uzbek President Islam Karimov, while Western governments were more cautious, only hinting at the Uzbek authorities' brutal tactics. As Karimov and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin met on the eve of Andijon's anniversary, the early support for the Uzbek leader appeared to be paying dividends. The West, meanwhile, appears to wield little influence with Karimov's autocratic administration.

At the height of the Andijon crisis last year, the occupiers of the regional-administration building sought Russia's mediation in talks with the Uzbek authorities. Moscow rejected the idea, saying Andijon was an "internal" Uzbek affair. Moreover, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov essentially endorsed the Karimov administration's actions by insisting that foreign Islamic terrorists had a hand in the uprising. China also supported the Uzbek central authorities, praising Karimov's handling of Andijon and receiving him in Beijing days later.

Initial reaction from the West, on the other hand, appeared piecemeal and muted. On May 13, 2005, Washington expressed concern over the outbreak of violence and the escape of alleged Islamic terrorists from a besieged jail. Within days, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher condemned the Uzbek government's violent tactics. "We are deeply disturbed by the reports that the Uzbek authorities fired on demonstrators last Friday [May 13]," he said. "We certainly condemn the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians and deeply regret any loss of life. We have urged, had urged, and continue to urge the Uzbek government to exercise restraint, stressing that violence cannot lead to long-term stability."

The European Union also expressed concern. But EU officials rejected calls by human rights groups for a suspension of the EU-Uzbek Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which stresses the need for respecting human rights and the rule of law. Months later, Brussels abandoned the agreement, bolstering critics' perception of policy inconsistency with respect to Uzbekistan.

The toughest criticism initially came from then British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who described the situation in Uzbekistan as "very serious" and said Uzbek authorities had committed a clear abuse of human rights.

London was also the first to demand that Tashkent allow an international visit to Andijon. The United States soon joined that call. President George W. Bush insisted that Washington wanted "to know fully what took place" in Uzbekistan.

Officials in Tashkent relented, arranging a 90-minute trip to Andijon for diplomats on May 18. U.S. Senator John McCain, who was among those who visited eastern Uzbekistan, recalled on May 9, 2006, that "we saw photos and heard other evidence that was as compelling as it was shocking. And it was clear that the government's account of the events in Andijon simply didn't add up."

Uzbek officials subsequently pursued a multitiered approach to combat pressure at home and abroad. Tashkent rejected repeated international calls for an independent investigation. It also stepped up the harassment and persecution of independent journalists, rights activists, and members of the political opposition.

But President Karimov also appears to have realigned the country's foreign policy. The first clear sign of change in the region came in July, when leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- comprising Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- demanded that the United States set a time frame for its continued military presence in Central Asia.

Within a month, Karimov was announcing the imminent closure of the Karshi-Khanabad air base in southern Uzbekistan. U.S. troops vacated the base months in November, while NATO and EU troops withdrew from Termez, leaving only a German contingent there.

In late September, Brussels appeared to have stiffened its resolve. The EU imposed an arms embargo and an entry ban on 12 senior Uzbek security officials believed to have been responsible for the Andijon crackdown. But in October, Uzbek Interior Minister Zakir Almatov, who topped that blacklist, was allowed to visit Germany for medical treatment. German authorities said the minister's visa was issued on "humanitarian grounds," and they failed to apprehend him despite legal challenges and criticism from rights groups.

Meanwhile, the Uzbek tilt toward Russia continued. Tashkent has since signed an unprecedented treaty on "allied relations" with Moscow, and Uzbekistan joined the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Community in January.

On May 12, the anniversary of the violent raids that escalated the tragedy in Andijon, Presidents Putin and Karimov met at the Russian resort of Sochi. Putin went so far as to call Central Asia "our home." On May 9, Karimov boasted that an allied-relations treaty with Russia "guarantees regional peace and stability." He also sent a letter to Putin calling for closer ties "in the face of the dangerous challenges that continue to threaten the peace of our people and future generations."

As the Andijon anniversary approached, Western governments and rights groups intensified calls for a serious inquiry into the Andijon bloodshed. U.S. Senator McCain and Representative Christopher Smith announced on May 9 that they will reintroduce a bill on democracy in Central Asia. The document considers preventing any U.S. funding to Uzbekistan until there is "considerable progress" on human rights and a "credible international investigation" of Andijon. The proposal would also deny visas for the family and close associates of Karimov, as well as freeze their assets abroad. The European Parliament on May 11 debated similar strictures.

On May 10, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said London will keep up pressure on Uzbekistan to improve its human rights record. He said Britain will also try to strengthen punitive measures already in place against Tashkent -- including the EU arms embargo and visa ban.

But Western governments are still being accused of lacking any unified approach to the Karimov regime. "Unfortunately for us -- for Uzbeks -- it is all about [the West's] interests in [Uzbek] oil and gas," said Galima Bukharbaeva, a journalist and eyewitness to the Andijon tragedy. "For instance, Germany can't do much [against Uzbekistan] because it is interested in the air base at Termez. All those interests contradict statements that human rights and democratic values matter to them. Today, we see that the price of gas is higher than [the cost of] the lives of hundreds -- and possibly thousands -- of Andijon residents."

(Gulnoza Saidazimova is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

In an interview with Germany's "Bild am Sonntag" weekly on May 13, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta said that "everything" his government knows suggests that Osama bin Laden is "living in Pakistan, near to the Afghan border," Reuters reported. He added that Pakistan "could certainly catch" the Al-Qaeda leader but, to the Afghan government's knowledge, Islamabad's "efforts to do so have always been half-hearted." AT

Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam said in Islamabad on May 13 that no one has any information on where bin Laden is living or even whether he is still alive, the official Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Aslam dismissed Spanta's suggestion that information suggests bin Laden is in Pakistan, adding that if the Afghan authorities have specific information regarding bin Laden's whereabouts, they should share it with Pakistan. She called Spanta's assertion regrettable and reiterated her government's commitment to the war against terror. Relations between Kabul and Islamabad has been strained over charges by the Karzai administration that Pakistan is not doing enough to stem terrorist and antigovernment activities targeting Afghan authorities (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," February 21 and 28, 2006). AT

Pakistani Foreign Office spokeswoman Aslam on May 14 refuted an Afghan television report claiming that the killing of an Indian engineer in southern Afghanistan in late April might have been ordered by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, New Delhi-based PTI News Agency reported. Pakistan has condemned the "killing of civilians wherever they occurred as acts of terrorism," Aslam told PTI, adding that it was not Pakistan's "government policy to sponsor killing of civilians." A Taliban commander wishing to remain anonymous had been quoted by Kabul-based Tolu Television as saying that K. Suryanarayan, who was abducted by the Taliban in Zabul on April 28, was killed by Mullah Latif on orders from the ISI (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2 and 12, 2006). Aslam said that Tolu has made false claims against Pakistan in the past, attributing them to unnamed Afghan officials. "These days anybody can make claims through the Internet, claiming to be Taliban. Such reports are not worth commenting on," Aslam said. Kabul has asked for clarification from Islamabad regarding the charge that the ISI ordered Suryanarayan's killing. AT

An elderly Afghan woman suspected of spying for the United States has been beheaded by unidentified "miscreants" in Tappi, a village in North Waziristan tribal agency, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported on May 12. The killing has been condemned by locals, the report added. It was unclear who killed the woman. Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the killing, the official Afghanistan National Television reported on May 13. Karzai said the act is not in keeping with the history, culture, or Islamic traditions of Afghans. The killing is a humiliating blow to Afghans, Karzai added. AT

Iranian officials reiterated on May 14 that Iran has a right to enrich uranium as part of the nuclear-fuel production process, news agencies reported the same day. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on his return from Indonesia that Iran will not exchange its nuclear "rights" for incentives that European states are expected to propose (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 11, 12, 2006), AP reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on May 14 that proposals made to Iran must rest on "two bases" -- namely, the recognition of "Iran's rights" and assurances of "the means of exercising those rights" -- the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on May 15. The rights "are entirely clear on the basis of the NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and consist of having peaceful nuclear technology in all its aspects." He said dealing with Iran's dossier outside the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is unjustified and "useless," so "we expect this dossier to return to its main place." Assefi said "negotiations and negotiations" are the only solution to the current impasse. "If the other side thinks it can attain results with pressures and threats, it is mistaken," he said. VS

Bandits shot and killed 12 passengers traveling between Bam and Kerman in southeastern Iran on May 13, news agencies reported on May 14. An estimated 30 bandits, dressed in police uniforms and ethnic Baluchi clothing, reportedly blocked traffic after 8:00 p.m., and ordered passengers out of four cars before tying them up and shooting them, ILNA and Fars News Agency reported, quoting Kerman Province Governor Muhammad Raufinejad and a 14-year-old survivor. Kerman's deputy governor for security affairs, Abolqasem Nasrollahi, told ILNA on May 14 that there was no evidence that a militant group perpetrated the killing. State television quoted him as saying that six of the bandits were later killed, Reuters reported on May 14. Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi said on May 14 that it was "blind banditry and a commandeered mission" comparable to previous incidents (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," May 5, 2006). "More than 100 legislators" are apparently ready to sign a motion to interrogate and perhaps sack Purmohammadi for reasons including insecurity in the country, ILNA reported on May 14, citing an unnamed legislator. VS

On May 8, "armed clashes between two tribes" in the town of Gachrasan in the southwestern Kohkiluyeh va Boir Ahmad Province killed one, injured five, and "brought chaos to the city...and more violent clashes are expected in the future," Gachsaran representative Ali Jafari told ILNA on May 14. He said shops have been shut since then -- some shopkeepers were involved in the violence -- and teachers and pupils have been afraid to go to school. Jafari said this is an oil-producing region and authorities must assure its security. He added that the provincial police chief dismissed Gachsaran's police chief on May 13, ILNA reported. VS

A group of 621 writers and activists have signed an open letter urging the release of Iranian-Canadian scholar Ramin Jahabegloo, who was reportedly detained on espionage-related charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 5 and 6, 2006), Radio Farda reported on May 14. The letter says the charges against Jahanbegloo are confused and asks how a writer could obtain confidential information. The signatories ask the Iranian government if it is proud of its hostile reputation toward writers, and how it can speak of peace and dialogue abroad when it treats its writers this way. Former Tehran University dean Muhammad Maleki told Radio Farda on May 14 that the Iranian government resorts to arrests "whenever it wishes to create fear among activists." Separately, an Iran-based rights group run by Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi expressed concern on May 14 over Jahabegloo's arrest, AFP reported. The Defenders of Human Rights Center issued a statement expressing concern over the arrest and "list of accusations" made against Jahanbegloo. VS

A man suspected of killing Iranian judge Masud Moqadas in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 5, 2005) was arrested in Abu Dhabi and has been sent back to Iran, Iranian news agencies reported on May 13 and 14. The man, identified as "Majid," was reportedly arrested while trying to reach the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, and handed over to local police, ISNA quoted Justice Minister Jamal Karimi-Rad as saying on May 13. Karimi-Rad said that "God arrested this person." Majid's 20-year-old nephew and suspected collaborator was also arrested on May 14 "at his hiding place," ISNA reported, quoting a Tehran interrogator. The source said initial investigation suggests the two "do not belong to any group or party" and that the killing was a result of a personal vendetta, ISNA reported. VS

Saddam Hussein refused to enter a plea on May 15 during the 24th session of the Al-Dujayl trial, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Hussein was formally charged with ordering the arrests of residents of Al-Dujayl and instructing his security forces to "use all weapons against them." The order resulted in the killing of nine Iraqis in the first two days following the 1982 assassination attempt against Hussein, while 399 others were arrested, and 32 minors were executed, Chief Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman told Hussein. Insisting that he is still the president of Iraq, Hussein claimed he could not enter a plea, but that he would allow public opinion to judge him. Abd al-Rahman countered by telling Hussein that he is no longer the president, and instructed the court to record that Hussein denied the charges against him. The court issued similar charges against former intelligence chief and Hussein's half-brother Barzan, who was also charged with the execution of 148 Iraqis. He, too, refused to enter a plea, calling the charges "lies." KR

Sabah al-Sa'idi, spokesman of the Al-Fadilah (Virtue) Party, denied at a May 14 press briefing in Baghdad that his party pulled out of cabinet negotiations after its nominee for oil minister was rejected, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Al-Sa'idi told reporters on May 12 that the selfish and sectarian interests of people and parties at the talks prompted his party to withdraw. Other parties "forgot the primary objective -- namely, to serve the Iraqi citizen and safeguard his basic rights." The Al-Fadilah Party is the third-largest party in the Shi'ite-led United Iraqi Alliance (UIA). UIA member Baha al-Araji said on May 14 that the alliance is still trying to bring Al-Fadilah into the government despite its withdrawal from the talks. KR

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry announced on May 13 that the Arab League-sponsored national-reconciliation conference will take place in Baghdad on one of two possible dates in June. The Ministry announced that participants at a May 7-8 meeting in Cairo determined that the conference will be held on either June 11-12 or June 21-22. Arab League envoy to Baghdad Mukhtar Lamani will be responsible for inviting the various factions to take part in the conference. The Foreign Ministry said that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, representatives from the permanent Security Council member states, Arab foreign ministers, and representatives from the European Union, Organization of the Islamic Conference, Iran, and Turkey will be invited to attend the conference. KR

A convoy transporting bodyguards for Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was attacked between Irbil and Baghdad on May 13 and three guards were killed, according to the ministry's website ( on May 14. Zebari was not in the convoy when it was attacked. According to the ministry statement, the attack took place in Hemrin, which is located near Ba'qubah in the volatile Diyala Governorate. KR

Harith al-Dari, head of the Muslim Scholars Association, told the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in an interview from Casablanca that his organization does not act as the voice of the Iraqi resistance, the daily reported on May 13. "The voice of the association is not a voice that speaks on behalf of the resistance. It is the voice that speaks on behalf of all of Iraq and on behalf of all those that reject the occupation," he said. Al-Dari said the association wants the resistance to be officially recognized by coalition forces and the Iraqi government because the resistance "has become a reality." "The problems of Iraq cannot be resolved without listening to the resistance and involving it in the affairs of the country," he argued. Al-Dari denied that Sunni insurgent groups attack innocent civilians, saying: "The resistance [is] an honorable movement that is doing its national and jihadist role in a correct manner. It targets only the occupation and those that are 100 percent agents" of the occupation. KR