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Newsline - June 6, 2006

President Vladimir Putin told about 1,700 "leading figures of the newspaper world, representatives of the World Association of Newspapers [WAN] from more than 100 countries," on June 5 that he was "very pleased to hear that, despite attempts to talk you out of [holding the WAN's 59th congress in Russia] and to frighten you, the press showed responsibility and did not allow itself to be frightened but came to Moscow," international and Russian media reported. Putin defended Russian media, saying that "our people have made a conscious choice in favor of democracy. The freedom of the mass media remains the most important guarantee of the irreversibility of that choice. This is our valuable achievement that is fixed in the Russian Constitution. And the law on the mass media adopted as early as 1991 has been recognized as the one of the most liberal in the world." He added that Russia has 53,000 periodicals and that "it would be impossible to control them, even if the state wanted to" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006 and Putin stressed that no government can promote public confidence in the press, adding that "what we need is responsibility on the part of the press." He argued that there was no real press freedom in Russia in the 1990s because the oligarchs owned the media and dictated policy to them. "Today, the Russian press has rich experience in working in market conditions, although learning to combine press ideals [of freedom] and commercial success is no easy matter." PM

Gavin O'Reilly, who heads the WAN, said in Moscow on June 5 before President Putin spoke that popular confidence in the Russian media is declining because of growing state control, international and Russian media reported. "As I am sure you are aware, your country and your administration have been severely criticized internationally for an alleged unwillingness to forego control and influence over the media," O'Reilly added. Putin responded by noting that "O'Reilly spoke about the growing role of the state in the [Russian] mass media. I have different information on this matter. The state's share in the Russian press market is decreasing steadily. This is easy to check." Elsewhere, unnamed pro-Kremlin Russian media officials said that they want to use the press congress to discuss unspecified "ridiculous prejudices" prevalent in foreign media portrayals of Russia. For his part, State Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov argued that the Moscow meeting in itself constitutes "recognition by the worlds' professional newspaper community of the democratic gains of recent decades, in which the Russian press has played an active part." But Oleg Panfilov, who heads the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, told RFE/RL that he is boycotting the congress because he believes that such gatherings should not be held in countries "where there are very serious problems with freedom of expression" (see "Russia: Putin Comes Under Fire At Global Media Congress,", June 5, 2006). PM

President Putin said after meeting with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger at Novo-Ogaryovo near Moscow on June 6 that joint U.S.-Russian diplomatic efforts regarding Iran prove that the two countries can work together, Interfax reported. "Although the views of Russia and the [United States] have not coincided on all occasions, we generally understand each other and, what counts most, are able to reach compromises. The latest joint steps on the Iranian issue confirm that," he argued. This is the second time in recent days that Putin appeared to stress that U.S.-Russian relations are based on a successful, pragmatic approach to common problems. In his May 10 state-of-the-nation speech, he seemed to taunt Washington in response to remarks by U.S. Vice President Richard Cheney that were critical of Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 10 and June 5, 2006). In related news, Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush spoke by telephone on June 5 to discuss the Russian hostage crisis in Iraq, among other topics, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). The Russian authorities have yet to hear from those who recently took a Russian diplomat and three members of the embassy staff hostage in Baghdad. PM

Mikhail Margelov, who chairs the Federation Council's International Relations Committee, was quoted by "Novye izvestia" on June 5 as saying that "Russia is not about to transform oil and natural gas into a foreign-policy weapon, but the country's leadership believes that oil, gas, and electric power can well be used as a diplomatic weapon," RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4 and 30, 2006). Margelov stressed that "there is no 'cold war' whatsoever [today], but no country can pursue an independent policy without affecting somebody else's interests." He nonetheless noted that there is a lack of trust between Russia and unnamed Western countries as they compete for influence in former Soviet republics. Margelov defended the recent rise in Russian gas prices for Ukraine, saying that it is not fair to consumers in Germany to charge them far more for gas than those in Ukraine. PM

Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said in Amsterdam on June 5 that recent speculation about Gazprom seeking to form an international cartel on the model of OPEC is unjustified, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2006). "I don't think that cartels or any such alliances are the future of the gas industry. I don't see any sense or need in this," he added. Khristenko noted nonetheless that the gas market is controlled by relatively few players, who tend to have huge resources at their disposal. PM

Nikolai Spassky, who is a deputy secretary of the National Security Council, was quoted by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on June 5 as saying that several ongoing processes in the Far East constitute a major challenge to Russia, RIA Novosti reported. He said that "changes occurring at present in Asia pose a quintessential and maybe the most important challenge to Russia's national security for the coming decades." He added nonetheless that "this is [only] a challenge so far and not a threat." Spassky said that Russia needs to close the technological gap between itself and Asian countries if it is to retain what he called its "traditional role as a bridge between East and West." He noted that China is a rising superpower whose potential could soon match that of the United States. "It is thus very important for Russia to maintain the course it has set in strengthening the Shanghai Cooperation Organization [SCO]. The SCO has everything necessary to become a key element of a 'rising Asia'" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30 and 31, 2006, and "Russia/China: 'Partners' Struggle With An Unequal Relationship,", March 22, 2006). PM

Levon Chakhmakhchyan, who represents Kalmykia in the Federation Council, faces expulsion from that body after Federal Security Service (FSB) agents allegedly caught him recently accepting $300,000 in extorted money in a sting operation, "The Washington Post" reported on June 5. He told RIA Novosti that he considers the case a "provocation." Putin recently attacked corruption in high places, and there have since been several high-placed dismissals or sackings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2004, and May 10 and June 2, 2006). Critics argue, however, that the entire system is thoroughly corrupt and that the campaign has tended to target individuals who have run afoul of Putin and the Kremlin politically, particularly in the regions. In related news, prosecutors in Volgograd said on June 5 that Mayor Yevgeny Ishchenko has been formally charged with abuse of office and participation in illegal business activities, RIA Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31 and June 1, 2006). The Ishchenko case is seen by many as part of a Kremlin-orchestrated campaign to abolish the direct election of mayors. PM

The body of Uvays Dolakov, 50, who was detained in Nazran in broad daylight on May 7, was discovered on June 4 in a grave on the territory of the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia, the website reported on June 4. The men who apprehended him were dressed in camouflage or police uniforms and drove a vehicle with Chechen license plates. Unconfirmed reports claim that Dolakov was tortured before being killed, and that the FSB demanded an undisclosed sum from his family to reveal where he was buried and hand over the body. Dolakov was unemployed, but had the reputation of a law-abiding citizen. LF

Following their talks in Bucharest on June 4, Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev met again on June 5, this time for 45 minutes, to continue their discussions on ways to resolve the Karabakh conflict, and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The two presidents failed, however, to reach any agreement and declined to make any statement to journalists. Asked to comment on the talks, Kocharian stressed that the two sides have agreed that the negotiating process should remain confidential. Ambassador Steven Mann, who is the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk group that seeks to mediate a solution to the conflict, said only that the talks were "very, very detailed." Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said that Azerbaijan's position remains unchanged and that unspecified disagreements still have to be overcome. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian implied that the primary sticking point in Bucharest was the same as that which thwarted an agreement during the two presidents' previous meeting in February at Rambouillet, outside Paris (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13, 2006 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," February 17, 2006). Addressing a forum of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization in Bucharest the same day, Kocharian stressed that the population of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic availed themselves of the right to self-determination in accordance with international law, and he urged "effective efforts for the full-scale integration of the republic into the international community." He affirmed Armenia's readiness to continue talks with Azerbaijan on resolving the conflict. Aliyev for his part insisted that Azerbaijan's territorial integrity cannot be a subject of negotiation. LF

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Daniel Fried, who accompanied the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen to the Bucharest talks, told journalists on June 5 that the only way to resolve the Karabakh conflicts is by peaceful negotiations, Azerbaijani media reported. Fried said the co-chairmen have proposed "several ideas that could serve as a basis" for resolving the conflict. Yuri Merzlyakov, the Russian Minsk Group co-chairman, said on June 5 that "a settlement cannot be imposed on the two parties. They should reach it themselves, with the help of the mediators," an RFE/RL correspondent in Bucharest reported. LF

The first tanker loaded with oil from the Azerbaijan's offshore fields exported via the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline left Ceyhan on June 4, over one year later than originally anticipated when construction of the pipeline began in 2003, Georgian and Azerbaijani media reported. A formal ceremony to mark the launch of the pipeline is to take place next month. LF

Meeting on June 5 with representatives of the Georgian parliamentary opposition, human rights ombudsman Sozar Subar accused Bacho Akhalaya, the Interior Ministry official responsible for overseeing the country's prisons, of triggering the protests by prisoners at a Tbilisi prison in March in which at least six inmates died, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 27 and 28, 2006, and End Note, March 30, 2006). Subar also blamed Akhalaya for frequent human rights abuses by ministry personnel and for the appalling conditions in Georgian jails. Akhalaya rejected those accusations. LF

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso met with Foreign Ministry officials from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in Tokyo on June 5 to develop an action plan for increased cooperation, Kyodo reported. The plan calls for Japan to aid Tajikistan's road construction to provide better links between Central Asia and Afghanistan, although the report did not give details. The five countries also pledged to work for greater cooperation on energy issues, fighting terrorism, and stopping drug trafficking. The meeting was attended by Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Alikbek Jekshenkulov, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov, and Uzbek Foreign Minister Elyor Ghaniev. DK

Representatives of Kazakh journalists' associations, including the Union of Journalists and Congress of Journalists, held a news conference in Almaty on June 5 calling on parliament to reject proposed changes to the country's media law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2006), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. In an address, they called the changes "limiting and repressive in nature." They singled out for particularly harsh criticism proposed measures requiring news outlets to include the names of editors in registration applications and to have in reserve some $40,000 to cover potential libel damages. Tamara Kaleeva, head of the Adil Soz Foundation, a free-speech NGO, said that if the changes are passed, the media environment in Kazakhstan will come to resemble that in Turkmenistan. DK

Feliks Kulov has sent a task force charged with reforming the the Kyrgyz Constitution his draft of an improved constitution, reported on June 5. In a statement, Kulov said that he "categorically" disagrees with those who argue the country needs an entirely new constitution. The changes Kulov recommends would result in a presidential-parliamentary system in which a parliament is elected on the basis of party slates. The party that receives the largest number of votes proposes a prime minister, but all parties take part in the selection of ministers. (A Russian-language file with the changes proposed by Kulov can be downloaded at DK

Kyrgyzstan's parliament voted on June 5 to approve the government's privatization program for 2006-07, news agency reported. Legislators initially rejected the program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006), which was subsequently reworked in committee. The amended program broadens the list of state-owned facilities deemed "strategic" and thus subject to privatization in accordance with a parliament-mandated development program. DK

The press service of President Kurmanbek Bakiev issued a statement on June 5 rebutting charges by parliamentary deputy Azimbek Beknazarov that guards in the presidential compound in Bishkek beat protesters on June 2, Kabar reported. According to the statement, Beknazarov made the charge at a 5 June news conference. The incident in question is alleged to have occurred when a small group of protesters angered at a Supreme Court verdict on the 2002 Aksy shootings broke into the presidential compound in Bishkek on June 2 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). Bakiev met with the protesters the following day. The statement called Beknazarov's charge a "cheap device" intended to "discredit the authorities." DK

President Bakiev told a meeting of the presidential staff in Bishkek on June 5 that he foresees a rapid resolution to Kyrgyz-U.S. talks on a new agreement for the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan, reported. Bakiev said that the negotiations "should be completed as quickly as possible, with obligatory attention to our economic interests as well as environmental factors." Recent reports indicate that Kyrgyz negotiators have backed off from their initial demand that the United States increase annual lease payments for the base from $2.7 million to more than $200 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006), although the actual figures being discussed by the two sides have not been disclosed. DK

A district court in Minsk on May 19 tried in absentia Vyachaslau Siuchyk and sentenced him to 10 days in jail, finding him guilty of participation in an unauthorized demonstration in the Belarusian capital in March after the presidential election, Belapan reported on June 5. Hanna Siuchyk, the oppositionist's wife, told the agency that she received notification of the sentence just a few days ago. Police reportedly beat Siuchyk up while arresting him near the opposition tent camp on October Square in Minsk on March 23. He was subsequently hospitalized with a head injury and left for Ukraine following his discharge from the hospital. JM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has signed a decree abolishing the mandatory confiscation of motor vehicles in which customs officers detected even a small amount of undeclared goods, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Now a decision on the confiscation of a vehicle carrying hidden goods valued at less than $580 should be made by a court, not by customs officers as before. The decree is also intended to preclude cases where passengers attempted to smuggling goods without the knowledge of the carrier, but the carrier's vehicle was nevertheless confiscated jointly with the smuggled goods. JM

Oleksandr Turchynov from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) on June 5 urged the bloc's negotiation partners, Our Ukraine and the Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU), to immediately sign a coalition accord and form a new cabinet, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported. Turchynov told journalists that Our Ukraine and the SPU do not oppose the idea of Yuliya Tymoshenko heading the government. "There has been no opposition [to this idea] but, fearing Tymoshenko in the post of prime minister, [they] are looking for mechanisms to paralyze the work of the cabinet of ministers, and this is what we will never agree with," Turchynov added. Turchynov noted that there are "15-17 diverging positions" in the coalition talks, but added that a potential meeting of the three forces with the president could contribute to resolving major disagreements. "A meeting with the president should give an answer to the question whether it is possible to create a coalition in the SPU, BYuT, and Our Ukraine format," Turchynov said. He predicted that if the three forces signed a coalition accord by the planned resumption of the parliamentary session on June 7, a parliamentary recess would be prolonged for "working out other important issues." JM

The SPU has requested that President Viktor Yushchenko dismiss Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko over what they consider the unauthorized visit of a U.S. naval cargo ship in the Crimean port of Feodosiya last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 2, 2006), Interfax-Ukraine reported on June 5. The SPU also wants the president to determine the responsibility of other officials involved in the Feodosiya incident. "[Senior officials] have overstepped the legal framework, discredited state institutions, and become an additional source of tension in the region," the SPU said in a statement, adding that the ensuing anti-NATO protests in Crimea were provoked by "violations of the law on the presence of foreign troop in Ukraine." JM

At a low-key ceremony on June 5, Serbia shed the trappings of its union with Montenegro and formally declared independence, Reuters reported the same day. Lawmakers passed a motion to "establish that Serbia has become the successor of the state union of Serbia and Montenegro and fully succeeded its legal status and international documents," Parliament speaker Predrag Markovic said. The state union flag, which had already been removed from the parliament building, was replaced with a Serbian flag on June 5. Neither President Boris Tadic nor Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica attended the ceremony. Montenegro declared independence on June 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). BW

Serbian leaders in northern Kosova have cut ties with the United Nations and ethnic Albanian authorities, Reuters reported on June 5. At a protest in the town of Zvecan, the leaders declared a "state of emergency" in response to a series of shootings they blame on ethnic Albanians. They also demanded the return of the Serbian police. "If that does not happen, the municipalities of northern Kosovo will issue applications for 999 Serbian police officers," they wrote in their declaration. "Today a state of emergency is declared on the territory of the four northern municipalities, which are breaking off all contact with the interim Kosovo institutions, primarily the UN mission," the declaration continued. Many observers fear that there could be resistance in northern Kosova, which borders Serbia, if Kosova gains independence from Serbia. The UN reportedly has contingency plans to handle as many as 70,000 Serbian refugees who could flood into Serbia in the event of violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2006). BW

Radisav Ljubinac, a Bosnian Serb indicted on eight counts for crimes committed during the 1992-95 war, pled not guilty on June 5 before Bosnian-Herzegovina's State Court in Sarajevo, dpa reported the same day. The 48-year-old Ljubinac is charged with "participation in the persecution of Bosnian Muslims from the eastern area of Rogatica on political, national, ethnic, cultural, and religious grounds" between May and November 1992. Ljubinac, who was detained in December 2005, is also suspected of mistreating Muslim prisoners in the Bosnian Serb-run detention facility at Rasadnik, near Rogatica. BW

Forensic experts in Bosnia-Herzegovina on June 5 began excavating a newly discovered mass grave in the east of the country, dpa reported the same day. Officials with Bosnia's Commission on Missing Persons said they expect to find approximately 30 bodies in the grave, which is located inside a tunnel in the Buk Bijela hydroelectric power plant. The commission said the victims were most likely Bosnian Muslims executed in 1992 at a nearby Bosnian Serb prison, in the town of Foca. Bosnian Serb troops killed more than 400 non-Serbian civilians at Foca early in the 1992-95 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This is the second mass grave uncovered in as many weeks. Last week, forensic workers exhumed the bodies of nearly 30 victims of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre from a mass grave near the eastern Bosnian Serb town of Sekovici (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2006). BW

The Russian consumer-protection organization Rospotrebnadzor will check the quality of imported Moldovan wines as the first step toward ending a ban imposed by Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported on June 5. A group of Moldovan experts led by Andrei Gurin, chairman of the state alcohol inspectorate, will also participate. Russia banned the import of Moldovan and Georgian wines in late March, citing health and safety concerns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). Chisinau and Tbilisi denounced the move as politically motivated. However, in an effort to enable its wine to reenter Russia, Moldova has pledged to stop using certain pesticides and to guarantee that the quality of wine will be tested at three stages: during production, bottling, and transportation. BW

On May 11, the Georgian parliament passed a resolution expressing support for the country's aspirations to NATO membership. And three weeks later, on May 30, NATO's Parliamentary Assembly adopted a resolution noting Georgia's "significant progress" in implementing the goals set out in the Individual Partnership Action Plan endorsed in late 2004 and calling for the beginning of Intensive Dialogue -- the next stage in cooperation -- with Georgia. But Georgia's chances of joining NATO before President Mikheil Saakashvili's first presidential term expires in January 2009 are nonetheless slim, if not non-existent.

Accession first to NATO and then at some later date to the EU has been one of the cornerstones of Georgian foreign policy ever since the advent to power of a young and enthusiastically pro-Western leadership in the wake of the so-called Rose Revolution of November 2003. But Georgia's chances of joining NATO have been clouded over the past 18 months by significant inconsistencies in defense policy apparently dictated by the need to resolve the deadlocked conflicts with the breakaway unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and by growing misgivings over the new leadership's seemingly cavalier attitude to Western standards of democracy and human rights.

For example, the downsizing of the armed forces advocated in the late 1990s by the International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) of Western advisers has been reversed. The ISAB noted in its report for 2005 that plans to raise the number of brigades to four and increase the size of the reserve force "represent an increase of 25-30 percent on the figures enshrined in the original IPAP and "raise questions of affordability."

That planned increase in manpower is difficult to reconcile with the pledge enshrined in Georgia's IPAP to seek a peaceful, not a military, solution to the conflicts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and with Saakashvili's argument, cited in a May 4 article in "Jane's Defense Weekly," that Georgia needs small, efficient armed forces that can interoperate with NATO troops. Nor is it clear, despite extensive U.S. financial assistance and training, whether the Georgian armed forces as a whole, rather than just one or two individual crack brigades, meet NATO standards.

Some skeptics have questioned the rationale for the intensive program of training reservists that got under way in late 2004. Military lawyer Shalva Tadumadze of the NGO Law and Freedom told Caucasus Press in February 2005 that the training program as then constituted was of no practical benefit, and a waste of money. But Giorgi Tavdgiridze, who was dismissed as rector of the Georgian Military Academy when that body was closed last year, made the point at a conference in Tbilisi in March 2006 that the reservist battalions are headed by members of President Saakashvili's United National Movement (GEM) and could theoretically be deployed to defend its hold on power. "What we are witnessing today is the formation of the ruling party's armed units on taxpayers' money," Caucasus Press on March 23 quoted him as saying. One month earlier, when a GEM member was named to head the National Guard, Tavdgiridze expressed similar fears that the guard could mutate into "the military wing of the National Movement."

In addition, while funding for the armed forces has been raised substantially since 2003, little information on how those funds were spent was made available until last month, when Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili provided a breakdown of expenditures for 2005. Okruashvili's detractors have accused him of spending millions of dollars at his own discretion, without subsequently accounting for how those funds were used.

Visiting Tbilisi in late May, Robert Simmons, who is the special representative of the NATO secretary-general for the South Caucasus and Central Asia, positively assessed Georgia's progress in recent months in implementing defense and security reform, but added that this process was a "difficult" one, Caucasus Press reported on May 25. Simmons also noted that other aspects of the IPAP still need to be addressed, specifically developing an inventory of both manpower and equipment and ensuring budget funds are spent effectively. Unnamed Western officials cited by "Jane's Defense Weekly" focused on those IPAP requirements that address domestic politics and human rights, and questioned "whether Georgia is really a democracy."

In his annual address to parliament in February of this year, President Saakashvili confidently predicted that Georgia will receive a formal invitation to join NATO this year and "has a very good chance" of being accepted into the alliance, along with Ukraine, in 2008. Ukraine has already embarked on the Intensified Dialogue that is intended as a preliminary to a Membership Action Plan (MAP). But NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Sofia in April that although the NATO summit in Riga in November 2006 will discuss enlargement, no "concrete decisions" will be made, although countries that aspire to membership will receive "a signal," the nature of which will depend on their performance up till then.

Moreover, in the two previous rounds of NATO enlargement there has been an interval of up to two years between the issuing of a formal invitation to begin accession talks (made to Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic at the NATO summit in Madrid in 1997, and to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Romania at the Prague summit in 2002) and those countries' formal acceptance into membership (in 1999 and 2004 respectively). And three more countries -- Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia -- are in the process of implementing their respective MAPs and are thus ahead of Georgia and Ukraine in the "queue"; they were identified in the final document adopted at the Istanbul summit on 2004, and again in Sofia in April, as the most likely next candidates for admission.

So, assuming that Georgia does not receive a formal invitation to begin accession talks in 2006, and that, as has been past practice, such invitations are formalized at a NATO summit, the soonest Georgia could expect to receive such an invitation would be 2008, with membership possibly following in 2010. Georgia may nonetheless be hoping to persuade Washington, and other NATO members, that its situation is unique, and that in light of the perceived threat Russia poses to Georgia, Georgia should be exempted from the normal procedure. But decisions within NATO are made by consensus, and it is debatable how many of its 26 members would be prepared to antagonize Russia by bending the rules in Georgia's case.

Both Simmons and the May 30 NATO Parliamentary Assembly resolution registered Georgia's desire to make the transition from IPAP to Intensified Dialogue and then to MAP. But while Simmons declined to specify any timeframe for doing so, the assembly resolution called for NATO governments to decide "as soon as possible, and preferably by summer 2006," on beginning an Intensified Dialogue. It did not, however, suggest when Georgia might make the transition from Intensified Dialogue to MAP. Whether the prospect of an imminent Intensified Dialogue will serve as an incentive to the Georgian authorities to take decisive action to curtail human rights violations, especially on the part of the Interior Ministry, and to step up efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts remains to be seen.

At a press briefing held in Kabul on June 5, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Afghanistan Tom Koenigs described the deadly May 29 riots in Kabul as "a tragedy" that "caused immense damage to the reputation of Afghanistan," according to the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan website ( Koenigs said the riots -- which followed a fatal traffic accident involving a U.S. military truck and several civilian vehicles -- were "criminal" and added that the situation was worsened "by the disappointing response from the Afghan National Police" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30 and 31 and June 1 and 2, 2006). Koenigs suggested the riots were an expression of anti-foreigner resentment, but "anti-rich resentments" in particular. The destruction was a blow to the optimism of businesspeople, particularly in Kabul, Koenigs added. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has replaced the police chief of Kabul, apparently in response to his department's handling of the riots (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). AT

At least five Afghan policemen were killed and four others are missing after an assault by Taliban fighters on a police checkpoint near Qalat, provincial capital of Zabul, on June 5, Pajhwak Afghan News reported, quoting an official at provincial police headquarter wishing to remain anonymous. A spokesman for the Taliban, Qari Mohammad Yusof, claimed responsibility for the attack. Yusov said six policemen were killed and three others surrendered to the Taliban. AT

The former spiritual leader of the Taliban regime, Mullah Mohammad Omar, has issued a call for Afghan refugees living in camps in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) to return to their homeland, according to a report in Lahore's "Daily Times" on June 5. The report is based on posters inscribed with a message purporting to be from Mullah Omar posted in refugee camps in NWFP. AT

Mohammad Hanif, purporting to speak for the Taliban, said in a June 5 telephone interview that he is not aware of any call by Mullah Omar for Afghan refugees to return home, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. "It is now clear to the Afghan people -- wherever they may be -- that their land is occupied by foreigners," Mohammad Hanif told AIP, adding that there is thus "no need to call" on Afghans to join the "jihad" in Afghanistan. It is unclear whether the elusive Mullah Omar is playing an active and central role in the insurgency and terrorist efforts of the neo-Taliban. Apart from a few written statements attributed to him, the former Taliban leader has been largely silent regarding the neo-Taliban. AT

European Union High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana arrived in Tehran on June 5 bearing an international proposal intended to address the more contentious aspects of the Iranian nuclear program, news agencies reported. The package of incentives was drawn up by the so-called 5+1 group (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany) when its foreign ministers met in Vienna the previous week. Among the demands, according to AFP, is that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities. Iranian officials have repeatedly stated that Iran will not forego its right to enrich uranium. Solana will have "meetings" in Tehran on June 6, spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said, Reuters reported, but she did not specify with whom. An anonymous EU diplomat, however, said the proposal would be submitted to Supreme National Security Council chief Ali Larijani. BS

Crude oil prices reached $73.15/barrel on June 5 and oil futures are at $73.84/barrel, Bloomberg reported, one day after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei threatened regional energy routes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice downplayed Khamenei's statement, noting that Iran is heavily dependent on oil revenues. Khamenei's statement and fears over the threat to oil supplies also affected stock markets, AP reported on June 5. Major stock indicators fell, including the Dow Jones industrial average, Standard & Poor's 500 index, and the NASDAQ composite index. The prices of oil stocks Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil fell as well. BS

A new report from the Central Bank of Iran states that the national unemployment rate was 12.1 percent as of March 20, 2006, Fars News Agency reported on June 5. The overall population was 68.6 million and the working population was 22.3 million. BS

Prompted by late May ethnic unrest in the country, 777 Iranian writers and other activists have signed an open letter calling for respect for minorities' constitutional rights, ILNA reported on June 5. The letter referred to the constitution's Article 15 (Persian is the official language, but regional and tribal languages can be used in the press and mass media, and they can be used for teaching literature in schools), Article 19 (there should be no discrimination, regardless of ethnic group or tribe), and Article 48 (provinces must not be discriminated against in terms of natural-resource exploitation, public-revenue utilization, and economic activities, so they can all grow at an equitable rate). The signatories also urged authors, artists, historians, journalists, politicians, and public speakers to avoid chauvinism when expressing themselves. They wrote: "We demand laws that strictly ban any insult against the language, culture, and religion of Iranian ethnic groups such as Azeris, Kurds, Baluchis, and Turkmen; and to consider sanctions against those who insult them regardless of the offenders' position." BS

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) announced in a June 2 press release that six journalists in northern Iran have been detained in connection with the recent unrest in the area. Individuals detained on May 27 are the weekly "Ava-yi Ardabil" editor, Vahid Daragahi, and the weekly "Araz" editor, Ali Nazari, and its managing editor, Reza Kazemi. Ali Hamed Iman, who has been writing for local publications and was managing editor of the now-banned "Shams-i Tabriz" newspaper, was arrested on May 28. The other two -- Orouj Amiri and Amin Movahedi -- were arrested on May 25 and 26, RSF added. BS

The defense team representing former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and seven co-defendants said on June 5 that 10 Shi'a said to have been executed on Hussein's orders are in fact alive. The defendants are on trial for the execution in 1982 of 148 Shi'a from the town of Al-Dujayl after an assassination attempt on Hussein. The defense team also criticized the arrest of four defense witnesses accused of giving false statements before the court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, and June 1, 2006). The session, the 32nd in the trial, was again marred by interruptions, prompting Chief Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman to warn the defense. He said their aim is "to disrupt and challenge the court." In response Saddam Hussein said that the court should not make haste. Calls for faster, more streamlined proceedings have increased. Dr. Hashim Hasan, the head of the journalism department at Baghdad University, told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on June 5 that the court has turned into "a political platform...planned through the defense of the old regime and against the new government." The trial is scheduled to resume on June 12. BAW

The Geneva-based International Organization for Migration (IOM) declared in a June 2 statement that it urgently needs $20 million to "help the rapidly growing numbers of vulnerable internally displaced people (IDPs) in Iraq in need of emergency humanitarian assistance," the news website Voices of Iraq reported on June 5. According to the IOM statement, "nearly 100,000 people have been displaced in Iraq's central and southern governorates since the [February] bombing of the shrine at Samarra" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2006). Iraq's displacement and migration minister, Abd al-Samad Rahman Sultan, blamed "terrorist elements" for the migration of 17,000 families in the past three months, according to Voices of Iraq. The IOM report quoted its chief of mission in Iraq, Rafiq Tschannen, as saying: "We don't see an end to these displacements in the near future. Conditions are extremely difficult for many of those displaced.... We are working hard to get aid to the people, but we need to have much more in resources to match the scale of the problem." BAW

A member of the Iraqi National Assembly, Haydar al-Abadi, told the newspaper "Al-Sabah" that parliament has given Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki 48 hours to nominate two acceptable candidates for the Interior and Defense ministries, the newspaper reported on June 5. The Iraqi parliament was to have voted on candidates for these and another key security post on June 4, but the session was postponed after al-Maliki failed to win backing for his nominees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2006). The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the largest bloc in parliament, is reportedly divided about whom to support for the post of interior minister. Three names are cited: Jawad al-Bulani, Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, and Nasir al-Amri. "Al-Sabah" reported that al-Maliki has been shuttling between meetings with the UIA, the Iraqi Accordance Front, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad. The Iraqi National List of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has been excluded from the talks. BAW

The deputy speaker of the Kurdistan National Assembly, Kamal Kirkuki, told the Peyamner news agency that a delegation from the Kurdish parliament has held talks with the Badr Brigades in Kirkuk, the agency reported on June 5. The talks followed reports that scores of Badr Brigades members had entered the city. The Badr Brigades are the armed wing of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, and participated in elections in 2005 as part of the UIA. Hundreds of militiamen belonging to the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, which is loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, entered Kirkuk in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2006). Kurdish groups have been concerned at the rising number of Shi'ite militiamen in Kirkuk. Kirkuki said the Badr Brigades told the Kurdish delegation that "they are not enemies of Kurdistan or Kurdish armed forces (peshmarga)," Peyamner reported. BAW