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Newsline - June 28, 2006

The State Duma passed a declaration on June 28 blaming coalition forces for the recent killing of one diplomat and three embassy staffers in Iraq by the Mujahedin Shura Council, which is an Iraqi-based group linked to Al-Qaeda, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26 and 27, 2006). The statement noted that "all responsibility for the situation in Iraq, including the security of its citizens and foreign specialists, continues to rest with the occupying countries. We believe they could have prevented the tragedy." The text added that the killings stemmed from "the crisis swelling in that country while the occupying powers are losing control of the situation and terror and violence have become a routine reality in postwar Iraq." It argued that the recent developments in Iraq serve to confirm Russia's prewar view that an occupation would only make matters worse and lead to more violence. "Russia assumed the only possible and correct position in relation to Iraq in the existing situation," the statement added. The declaration pointed out that Russia will not allow itself to be "dragged into the conflict," to which it wants a peaceful solution. The Duma called on the Iraqi government and "occupying countries" to investigate the killings fully, adding that "terrorists and extremists in Iraq should not cherish the illusion that such inhuman crimes will go unpunished." PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on June 27 that Russia wants the killers of the four Russians in Iraq to be put on an international wanted list, the Moscow daily "Kommersant" reported on June 28. The ministry also called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the tragedy. The daily commented that it is "strange" that Moscow has called for such a meeting only now and did not do so when there might have still been a chance to save the four men's lives. Meanwhile in New York on June 27, Russia's deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Konstantin Dolgov, told RFE/RL that Russia is "counting on support in the Security Council" for its proposal calling on the Iraqi government and the coalition forces to improve security to safeguard the lives of foreign diplomats in Iraq, and also to reaffirm their determination to fight terrorism. PM

In a June 27 statement posted on the website of the pro-Moscow Chechen administration (, Ramzan Kadyrov condemned the execution by the Mujahedin Shura Council of four Russian diplomats and embassy personnel abducted in Iraq earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26 and 27, 2006). Describing the killings as a manifestation of international terrorism, Kadyrov noted that the perpetrators "linked their crime to developments in the Chechen Republic," an allusion to the kidnappers' demand for the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. LF

President Vladimir Putin told Russia's ambassadors at their annual Moscow gathering on June 27 that Russia has worldwide interests but does not seek confrontation, Russian news agencies reported. "We are not dividing countries into those with whom we will cooperate and those whom we will confront. Our [economic] competitors are at the same time our key partners in solving crucial international problems." He added that "Russia does not need confrontation in any form" and does not want to take part in any clash of civilizations. As for relations with Washington, he noted that "we will have to change a great deal in our attitude to each other. But in order to make these changes positive, politicians in both countries need to accept it as an axiom that a partnership between global powers such as Russia and the [United States] can be built based exclusively on the principles of equality and mutual respect." Referring to nuclear proliferation, Putin said that Russia "does not intend to join all sorts of ultimatums," but rather relies on diplomacy and the rule of law. PM

President Putin said in Moscow on June 27 that Russia "does not question the right of [neighboring] states to decide their fate. But this means we also have the right to choose [our] friends," Russian news agencies reported. Alluding to the recent Ukrainian gas crisis, he argued that "it's difficult to understand why [Gazprom's] natural and transparent decision to put settlements for gas with some of our neighbors onto a market footing has caused such an outburst of emotions." Putin suggested that "some people look at us through a prism of past prejudices and see a growing threat in Russia's strength. Some are ready to accuse us of rekindling 'neo-imperial ambitions' or...'energy blackmail.'" He conceded, however, that Gazprom's move to raise gas prices "could and should have been explained in advance." Putin said that all of the criticism he has heard has been political and not economic in nature. He noted that he has "not heard any doubts from any one of our partners...over the economic justification of Russia's actions. All the criticism of a purely economic issue was exclusively political in nature.... We are ready to cooperate and compete, but based on honest, common rules of play. The principle [from classical mythology] of 'what is permitted to Jupiter is not permitted to an ox' is unacceptable for modern Russia." PM

President Putin told Russia's ambassadors in Moscow on June 27 that he wants to start talks with the United States for a new weapons treaty to replace the START nuclear-arms-reduction agreement that will expire in 2009, Reuters reported. He added that he is concerned about "stagnation in the field of disarmament." Putin said that he is "convinced we have reached a stage at which...the whole architecture of global security is being modernized. We need new ideas and approaches." PM

Yury Chaika, the former justice minister whom President Putin recently named prosecutor-general in a swap of jobs with Vladimir Ustinov, said in Moscow on June 27 that he will press Russia's demand with the United Kingdom for the extradition of oligarch Boris Berezovsky and Chechen separatist envoy Akhmed Zakayev, reported. Both men have received political asylum in London and argue that they would never get a fair trial in Russia. Chaika promised to take "whatever action is necessary" to bring to a successful conclusion "the criminal cases in which extradition has been denied," and he said that he has sent a delegation of experts to London for that purpose. Elsewhere, U.K. Embassy press official Anjoum Noorani told the Ekho Moskvy radio station that for London "extradition is not a political but a judicial question. So a decision entirely depends on evidence that our laws have been broken." Also on June 27, Interfax reported that all 13 deputy prosecutors-general resigned on Chaika's first day in office, citing unnamed sources in the Prosecutor-General's Office. Chaika apparently sought the resignations in order to give himself a free hand. The source told the news agency that he will accept about half of the resignations and turn down the rest. He previously promised a shake-up in the prosecutor's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 23 and 27, 2006). PM

Foreign Minister Lavrov told a Moscow conference on Afghan drug smuggling on June 28 that "Afghanistan is still on the verge of turning into a drug state," RIA Novosti reported. "We must come out against the drug threat as a single front," he stressed, adding that Russia will donate additional funds to the UN's antidrug efforts. In related news, the Prosecutor-General's Office announced on June 28 that it wants to shut down some popular magazines in Russia that "corrupt underage readers" by exploiting their interest in sex and drugs, reported. PM

Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, said in Moscow on June 28 that all Russian uranium-producing enterprises should be integrated into a single holding company, RIA Novosti reported. He added that the company could work with partners from former Soviet republics, such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and eventually have "global outreach." On June 27, Sergei Chemezov, who heads the state arms exporter Rosoboroneksport, said in Nizhny Novgorod that his company will seek to buy shares in or get seats on the boards of directors of all major industrial holdings now taking shape, Interfax reported. "If there is no possibility of monitoring the process of contract fulfillment from inside, it will be hard for us to control the quality of the end product," he added. "The Moscow Times" commented on June 28 that his "comments are the most explicit statement to date of [his company's] ambitions to be part of the Kremlin's drive to control strategic sectors of the economy." Kiriyenko's and Chemezov's approaches are in keeping with the trend under President Putin for key branches of the economy to be concentrated in large state-run corporations, which the "Financial Times" of June 19 described as a "corporate state." Speaking at an economic forum in St. Petersburg recently, Putin said that "the advantage of our country is natural resources.... The only question is the mechanism of control" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, and June 14 and 19, 2006). PM

Chechen President and resistance commander Doku Umarov named Shamil Basayev on June 27 as his vice president and as prime minister, simultaneously releasing Basayev from the post of first deputy prime minister to which he was named last year by Umarov's predecessor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 26, 2005). Both the United Nations and the U.S. government in 2003 designated Basayev's Riyadus-Salikhin battalion a terrorist organization in light of its participation in and his organization of mass hostage takings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11 and 18, 2003). LF

Journalists on the staff of the independent daily paper "Zhamanak Yerevan" staged a picket on June 27 outside the office of the Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office to protest the arrest the previous day of the paper's editor, Arman Babadjanian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2006). They condemned Babadjanian's detention on suspicion of evading military service as politically motivated and as retaliation by the authorities for the publication in "Zhamanak Yerevan" of materials criticizing the Armenian government. Three Armenian NGOs representing journalists have likewise condemned Babadjanian's detention. "Zhamanak Yerevan" began publication some six weeks ago, and appears in Yerevan in a print run of 1,500; it is also circulated in Los Angeles, which has a large Armenian community. Many of its staff were fired from the official daily "Hayastani Hanrapetutiun" following the resignation in February 1998 of President Levon Ter-Petrossian. LF

The Foreign Ministry of the Azerbaijan Republic issued a statement on June 27 in response to what it termed continuing attempts by Armenia to distort the essence of the ongoing Karabakh peace talks, and reported on June 27 and 28 respectively. In a statement on June 26, the Armenian Foreign Ministry said that the co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group have expressed their support for a referendum on the future status of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and that the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to such a referendum. It also said that the sticking point in the ongoing peace talks relates to the timetable for the removal of the consequences of the military conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2006). The Azerbaijani statement said that the status of the NKR cannot be determined until the territories currently occupied by Armenian forces are liberated and the entire conflict zone demilitarized. It also affirms Baku's willingness to grant the NKR the highest degree of autonomy within Azerbaijan envisaged by the current constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic. That constitution defines the Azerbaijan Republic as a unitary state (Section II, Article 7); Section VIII, Articles 134--141 define the status and competencies of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic. The constitution does not provide for a federal structure, calling into question the logic of Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov's recent offer to grant the NKR the same degree of self-rule as Tatarstan enjoys within the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2006). LF

President Ilham Aliyev has dismissed Nizami Hudiyev, a veteran member of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, from the post of director of the State Radio and Television company that he has occupied for the past decade, reported on June 27. Aliyev has also dismissed Rafik Aliyev (no relation), chairman of the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations, reported on June 27. For the past several months, Rafik Aliyev has been engaged in a heated polemic with Azerbaijan's senior Muslim clergyman, Sheikh-ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade. He also made headlines recently by accusing unnamed government officials of maintaining links with "radical groups" under the pretext of participating in religious rites. LF

Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze rejected on June 26 a draft bill on the relocation, announced by President Mikheil Saakashvili on June 25, of the Constitutional Court from Tbilisi to Batumi, capital of the Adjar Republic, Caucasus Press reported. Burdjanadze asked for detailed estimates of the cost of that relocation. On June 27 the NGO Liberty Institute similarly expressed objections to the planned move, arguing that it would make it more difficult for citizens to appeal to the Constitutional Court, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Speaking during a June 27 debate on how to allocate an additional 77 million laris ($42.2 million) in budget funds, Kote Gabashvili, chairman of the Georgian parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, asked the Finance Ministry for more money to cover the cost of foreign travel by legislators, Caucasus Press reported. During the debate last December on the 2006 budget, parliamentarians voted themselves a handsome salary increase; in February 2006 the parliament's Tender Commission declared a tender for the purchase of 21 foreign automobiles, either limousines or SUVs, for deputies' use (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 17, 2006). LF

Timur Kulibaev, son-in-law of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, has been named chairman of the state oil and gas company KazMunaiGaz, Kazinform reported on June 27. A new board of directors was selected on the order of the Samruk holding company, which manages state-owned assets. Kulibaev is also the deputy chairman of Samruk. Dos Koshim, chairman of the nongovernmental Network of Independent Observers, told RFE/RL that Kulibaev's appointment could mean that his influence is growing in comparison to that of Darigha Nazarbaeva, the president's daughter, and her husband, Rakhat Aliev. Koshim said that the move "looks like Nazarbaev's attempt to base his powers not on Darigha and Rakhat, but on his second son-in-law." Bolatkhan Taizhan, a political analyst and former Kazakh ambassador to Malaysia, told RFE/RL the Nazarbaev family in general is strengthening its control. "Of course, even before [Kulibaev's] appointment, all the sectors were under President Nazarbaev's control. But now -- and I have to repeat this -- the appointment of his son-in-law to that position means direct control of the sector for Nazarbaev," Taizhan said. DK

Osh province Governor Jantoro Satybaldiev said on June 27 that everyone responsible for unrest at the Tuzbel polling station on June 25 should face legal consequences, Kabar reported. Satybaldiev called on the Central Election Commission, Supreme Court, and parliament to investigate the disturbances during the June 25 by-election in Kurshab district (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2006). According to Satybaldiev, 17 people were injured in the course of clashes between supporters of parliamentary candidates Sanjar Kadyraliev and Mamat Orozbaev. reported on June 27 that law enforcement agencies in Osh have opened 12 criminal cases in connection with the disturbances. DK

State Secretary Adakhan Madumarov has ordered officials to hold news conferences at the Kabar news agency at least once a month, reported on June 27. The directive, which was sent to ministries, state committees, and other agencies, is intended to keep the population informed of official actions. In 2005, Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov decreed a similar practice, ordering ministers and regional officials to hold quarterly news conferences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, 2005). DK

On June 27, Tajikistan marked the ninth anniversary of the peace accord that officially ended the country's 1992-97 civil war, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. President Imomali Rakhmonov took part in the main ceremony, which was held in the country's Gharm region. DK

Uzbek authorities have extradited Huseynincan Celil, a Canadian citizen, to China, where he faces the death penalty, CBC News reported on June 27. Celil, who was arrested in Tashkent in March, was sentenced in absentia in China for founding an Uyghur political party in China's Xinjiang Province, the "Toronto Star" reported. Canadian Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Kim Girtel said that the Canadian government is trying to confirm that Celil is being held in China in the hope of obtaining permission for a consular official to visit him in prison. DK

Uzbek President Islam Karimov has signed into law legislation tightening penalties for inciting ethnic, racial, or religious hatred, reported on June 26. Aziz Abilov, spokesman for the Religion Committee in Uzbekistan's cabinet, told the news agency that the new legislation is intended to combat an influx of "printed, audio, and video materials with radical religious and missionary content." The law now provides for punishment of up to and above five years in prison. For example, a conspiracy to incite religious or ethnic hatred could carry a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, reported. DK

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is planning to visit Minsk in late July, Belapan reported on June 27, quoting a Venezuelan lawmaker staying in the Belarusian capital on an official visit. Venezuelan Ambassador to Cuba Adan Chavez Frias, the Venezuelan president's elder brother, who is also on the visit to Belarus, said that President Chavez might visit Minsk on July 23-24. Chavez Frias urged Belarus to pool efforts with his country in resisting what he called the United States' unchallenged dominance. "We have a common enemy who prevents us from achieving our goals," Chavez Frias reportedly told Belarusian lawmaker Mikalay Charhinets in Minsk on June 27. JM

The Party of Regions on June 28 blocked the parliamentary session hall for a second day, protesting what it sees as the ruling coalition's violations of parliamentary procedures in appointing the parliamentary leadership, Ukrainian media reported. In particular, the Party of Regions objects to the plan of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, Our Ukraine, and the Socialist Party to appoint the prime minister and parliamentary speaker via a single, open ballot. "It is an absurdity -- to unite the two different braches of power in a single package," Mykola Azarov of the Party of Regions told UNIAN. The Party of Regions also protests the coalition's alleged intention to head the overwhelming majority of parliamentary committees. "These 'democrats' are going to deprive the opposition of any possibility of influencing the activity of parliament and monitoring the work (or idleness) of the authorities," the Party of Regions said in a statement on June 27. The newly recreated Orange coalition in the Verkhovna Rada intends to hold a vote on the approval of the nominees for prime minister and parliament speaker -- Yuliya Tymoshenko and Petro Poroshenko, respectively -- on June 29. JM

In a report released on June 27, a prominent international think tank, the International Crisis Group (ICG), warned of potential retaliatory violence against ethnic Albanians in the Presevo Valley of southern Serbia if Kosova is granted independence. "The good news is that ethnic Albanians in the Presevo Valley appear increasingly intent on developing their own political identity inside Serbia and finding a way to cohabit with Serbs -- that should only be encouraged and supported," James Lyon, a senior adviser with the ICG, said in remarks posted on the group's website. "The Presevo Valley does not exist in a political vacuum, however," Lyon added. An ethnic Albanian rebellion that sought to separate the region from Serbia ended with a Western-brokered peace in 2001. In the report, the ICG urges the international community to make it clear that Kosova will not be partitioned and that the Presevo Valley will remain in Serbia. It also called on Belgrade to take steps to prevent attacks on minority communities. BW

In a speech in London on June 27, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica appealed to the West not to rush a decision on Kosova's independence, Reuters reported the same day. "We need time," Kostunica said at Britain's Royal United Services Institute think tank, where he spoke following a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair. Instead of independence, Kostunica proposed a transition period of several years during which Kosova could be given wide autonomy before its final status is set. "One can test this idea of substantial autonomy. Let's try it," he said. Kostunica also warned that granting independence to Kosova would fuel support for the ultranationalist Radical Party. "In the is essential not to reopen the Pandora's box of changing borders," he said. "Granting independence to Kosovo would mean the acceptance of a mass violation of human rights and ethnic cleansing as legitimate means of seeking independence." BW

In the same June 27 speech, Kostunica continued his ongoing criticism of the EU over its treatment of Serbia, Reuters reported the same day. He criticized Brussels for a decision to suspend premembership talks with Serbia in May over Belgrade's failure to arrest the war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). Kostunica said Serbia is working to track down Mladic, and called it "absurd" that "the survival of an entire European democracy directly depends on bringing to justice just one single indictee." Brussels' treatment of Serbia, he said, will embolden Euroskeptics in the country. "As long as [EU accession talks] are called off, all those who are skeptical -- not just the Radicals but all those who have some Euroskepticism in Serbia -- they will win," he said. Kostunica's remarks echoed earlier criticisms, in which he called Brussels' policy toward Serbia "deeply wrong" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 19, 2006). BW

Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku on June 27 appealed to ethnic Albanians in neighboring Macedonia to refrain from violence as parliamentary elections approach, AP reported the same day. He also called on Kosovar Albanians not to become involved in Macedonia's internal affairs. More than two dozen violent incidents have been reported in Macedonia since the election campaign officially began on June 15. Most have been clashes between supporters of rival ethnic Albanian parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 27, 2006). Macedonia's parliamentary elections, widely seen as a test of the country's readiness to join the EU and NATO, are scheduled for July 5. Ceku said violence in the past week threatened to "deeply damage not only the good image that Macedonia has built, but also the legitimacy of the [ethnic] Albanian political class in the country." He added that those perpetrating the violence risk becoming "an obstacle in the country's path to integration" into the European Union and NATO. BW

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) issued an arrest warrant for a former Bosnian Serb prime minister, Branko Deric, on June 27 for failing to testify in a trial to which he was subpoenaed, AFP reported the same day. The ICTY directed authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina "to detain and transfer Deric to the tribunal's seat in The Hague to face charges of contempt of court." Deric had been subpoenaed to testify in the trial of Momcilo Krajisnik, a close wartime ally of war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic, but he failed to appear in court. If convicted on the contempt charge, Deric could face up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to 100,000 euros ($126,000). BW

During a visit to Chisinau on June 26, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk said Kyiv will not recognize the results of a proposed independence referendum in Transdniester, Interfax reported the same day. "If we imagine the hypothetical results of a referendum in Transdniester, these will not be recognized either by the OSCE, the Ukrainian government, or the European Union," Tarasyuk said at a press conference following a meeting with Moldovan political leaders. "There was no legal basis to raise the issue of a referendum," he said, adding that "there is no basis at all to try to project this situation onto that concerning Kosovo or Montenegro." Transdniestrian President Igor Smirnov announced on June 25 that Transdniester and the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia plan to hold referendums in the fall on their respective foreign policies, a statement that has led to speculation that they will seek to vote on independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 26, 2006). BW.

One truism of postcommunist Europe is that all the countries of Eastern Europe and the Balkans will sooner or later join the EU and NATO. It seems, however, that the countries of the western Balkans might find themselves in a "black hole" outside the EU for the foreseeable future even if they are surrounded by member states.

Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosova, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia face uncertainty in their hopes to join the EU. The Brussels-based bloc has a particular attraction for the countries of the region for three reasons.

First, membership means a seat at the table where decisions affecting all of Europe are made. The small Balkan states might not wield much influence, but it is better to be inside looking out than outside looking in, or so the argument has run.

Second, joining the EU symbolizes the end of the continent's division and the inclusion of former communist countries -- including war-torn states -- in the "rich man's club." For former Yugoslavs, whose passport was once the only one in Europe with which one could travel freely to the East or West without a visa, it means a return to a normal situation. It also means an end to the inconvenience and humiliation of having to go through often long procedures for something that was once simple, such as a visit to relatives working in Germany. The importance of visa-free travel for ordinary people in the western Balkans should not be underestimated.

And third, as poorer members of a wealthy organization, the western Balkan states would be able to look forward to a cornucopia of subsidies, as well as opportunities for more or less unrestricted study and work abroad. In short, even if NATO membership will someday provide for these countries' security requirements, joining the EU is still regarded in the region as an essential stage in its rite of passage into the modern, prosperous, and democratic world.

For Brussels, integrating the western Balkans has long meant that there will be no "black hole" in the middle of the EU -- especially after Bulgaria and Romania join in 2008 or so -- in which organized crime could flourish. More recently, some Western governments have come to see EU membership for the western Balkans as a way of keeping out of that region unwelcome but well-funded political, criminal, or religious influences from Russia or the Middle East.

By offering the prospect of membership, the EU has, moreover, a powerful lever to influence precisely the kind of changes -- called "reforms" -- that it wants to see implemented. Progress has been slow in some countries, but the view from Brussels for years was that it is better to have slow progress than to isolate a potentially volatile region that is indisputably part of Europe and right on the doorstep of several member states.

But then on May 29, 2005, French voters rejected the proposed EU constitution by a clear majority, and Dutch voters did the same by an even larger margin three days later. In both cases, objections to further enlargement of the EU after the admission of 10 new members in 2004 played at least some role in the vote.

One year after those two votes, the EU is none the clearer as to its goals and how to achieve them. In June 2006, a summit took place in Vienna, but there was no agreement on any of the key issues, including the fate of the constitution. The only consensus seemed to be in putting off any possible movement on thorny questions until the German presidency in the first half of 2007, or maybe to the French presidency in the second half of 2008.

It was perhaps telling for the newer members -- and those who would like to join -- that a joint declaration by the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia was "slapped down," as the "Financial Times" put it on June 17, by Luxembourg, Germany, and other, unnamed EU founder states. The five Central European countries had called into question what they regard as their second-class status within the bloc and demonstrated their willingness to work together. Some observers recalled French President Jacques Chirac's remark about a 2003 declaration by a similar group of countries, which backed the United States over Iraq. The French leader said at that time that they had missed an opportunity to "shut up."

Before and during the summit, several leaders of older member states made it clear that one cannot speak of enlargement, at least beyond Romania and Bulgaria, before the growing EU has decided at least on how it will manage its internal affairs. That would mean 2009 at the very earliest. Consequently, many people in countries hoping to join that body began to fear that their chances of obtaining membership within a reasonable time frame have become much slimmer as a result.

This was true for Croatia, which has long sought to convince itself that its membership on the heels of Romania and Bulgaria was a foregone conclusion. Many people in the western Balkans suspected that the EU was keeping them at arm's length as a pretext for dodging the larger and more controversial question of Turkish membership. After all, the reasoning in the Balkans went, had not the West Europeans told them for years that integrating such small states would not require much money and effort on Brussels' part?

Meanwhile, antireform forces in the Balkans took heart, blocking police and constitutional reform in Bosnia. In Serbia, they continue to thwart the arrest and extradition to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal of former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, with the result that relations between Belgrade and Brussels are on hold.

The question then arises: if Brussels is unlikely to offer the western Balkans a serious "European perspective" within a clear time frame, and if some people in those countries are becoming less enamored of a EU that does not seem to want them, might it not be time for the people in the western Balkans to reexamine old beliefs about the necessary postcommunist rite of passage and look for alternatives? Has not the obsession with EU membership become something of a white elephant, like the EU-sponsored bridge over the Prut River from Romania to Moldova that stood unused for several years for want of a road on the Moldovan side?

How else might the countries of the region modernize their economies and expand their markets than with top-down efforts at nation building and seemingly endless rules imposed from abroad? Might it not be to their advantage to concentrate first on developing straightforward free-trade and travel arrangements that would not involve compromising what for most of them is newly won sovereignty in favor of a distant and unelected bureaucracy?

Some Euroskeptics have long argued that the EU is cumbersome, inflexible, nontransparent, and dominated by Paris and Berlin. Might some other parts of Europe now find themselves faced with an opportunity to develop alternative ideas to the EU model that are simpler, more democratic, and hence more likely to produce clear results and win popular support? After all, there is no better incentive for learning to think outside the box than being denied permission to enter the box.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a one-day visit to Kabul on June 28 that "the very fact that Afghanistan is where it is today is testimony to the fact that we have...won massively in Afghanistan," RFE/RL reported. Rice said Afghanistan, Pakistan, and United States have common interests in the fight against terrorism. "The same people who destroyed Afghanistan and then harbored the terrorists who attacked New York are the same people who have tried to kill [Pakistani] President [Pervez] Musharraf, [and are] the same people who are still attacking innocent Afghans," Rice said. She also praised Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom she described as among the world's most respected leaders. "I don't know anyone who is more admired and respected in the international community than President Karzai, for his strength, for his wisdom, and for his courage to lead this country, first in defeat of the Taliban and now [in creating] a democratic and unified Afghanistan," Rice said, according to Reuters. She reiterated the United States' long-term commitment to Afghanistan, saying, "We are not going to tire, we are not going to leave," according to AP. AH

During a visit to Islamabad on June 27, Secretary Rice described Pakistan and Afghanistan as "two good friends and two fierce fighters in the war on terror" and expressed sympathy for both countries, which she said are going through a "very difficult time," RFE/RL reported. "There are attacks by these terrorists against both of these countries, and I think [Pakistan and Afghanistan] are united in wanting to defeat them," Rice said. She reportedly went on to urge Pakistani authorities to ensure increased cooperation with Afghanistan to find and eliminate suspected Taliban bases in Pakistan's tribal region on their joint border. "We, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are going to unify all our efforts, as we have done over the last several years, towards the goal of eliminating the threat of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban," Rice said, according to Reuters. AH

Intense fighting in southern Afghanistan on June 27 left at least 40 dead, including two British soldiers, AFP reported. The two British soldiers were killed in Helmand Province, where coalition forces clashed with neo-Taliban militants. "We can confirm that U.K. forces have been involved in an incident in the Sangin Valley, during which we regret to confirm that two members of the U.K. armed forces have been killed in action," British military spokesman Captain Drew Gibson said. Including the most recent causalities, 10 coalition soldiers have died in combat across Afghanistan during the past week. Meanwhile, Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces said that 30 neo-Taliban rebels and four Afghan soldiers were killed in multiple clashes on June 26. MR

Two Afghans died when an apparent suicide bomber blew up a car near a German convoy in the northern Afghan province of Konduz on June 27, AFP reported. Eight other Afghans were wounded in the blast, though no coalition troops were wounded, said Sayed Ahmad Samah, the local police chief. Coalition authorities confirmed that information. "As far as we know, there were no [NATO-led International Security Assistance force] ISAF casualties, but the vehicle was damaged," Lieutenant Euan Bownie said. The northern parts of Afghanistan have largely escaped the insurgent violence wracking the southern parts of the country. But Konduz occasionally experiences some insurgent activity. MR

Many Afghan parliament deputies have curbed their visits to constituents outside of Kabul because of the deteriorating security situation in some parts of the country, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on June 27. Afghan parliamentarians are currently on a 45-day break, which is supposed to allow them to meet with constituents. But many legislators have been too fearful of violence in their areas to venture outside of their homes. Feriba Ahmadi, a female deputy from Kandahar, returned there but has remained shuttered in her home. "I fear death at every moment while living here," Ahmadi said. She added that militants have distributed leaflets offering $50,000 to anyone who hands over a parliamentarian to neo-Taliban forces. Nurzia Atmar, a female legislator from the eastern Nangarhar Province, said she was unable to travel outside Jalalabad to meet people in the rural communities that surround the provincial capital. Another deputy from northern Afghanistan, Fawzia Raufi, also said she had problems meeting with constituents. MR

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a Moscow conference on Afghan drug smuggling on June 28 that "Afghanistan is still on the verge of turning into a drug state," RIA-Novosti reported. "We must come out against the drug threat as a single front," he stressed, adding that Russia will donate additional funds to the UN's antidrug efforts. PM

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a June 27 meeting with Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade that talks with the United States would be of no benefit to Iran, state television reported. However, Khamenei did not appear to rule out the suspension of some aspects of Iran's controversial nuclear program. "We shall not negotiate with anyone over our absolute right to acquire nuclear technology and to benefit from this technology," Khamenei was quoted as saying. "However, if they were to recognize this right of ours, we are ready to talk about controls, supervision, and international guarantees. And grounds have been paved for such talks, too." Khamenei ascribed Iran's technical and scientific accomplishments to necessity that resulted from "resistance in the face of the arrogant powers' conspiracies and excessive demands." Khamenei added that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will participate in the upcoming Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting as an observer. The OAU should meet in Banjul, Gambia, in early July, according to the organization's website. Khamenei discussed Islamic unity and claimed that the United States and the "Zionist regime" oppose the emergence of a powerful global Muslim community. BS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on June 27 that the United States cannot credibly criticize any other country's human rights record, Fars News Agency reported. Assefi was reacting to Washington's critical comments about the Iranian delegation at the previous week's United Nations Human Rights Council meeting. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on June 23, "We join the government of Canada in deploring the presence of Tehran general prosecutor Said Mortazavi at the inaugural meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva," AFP reported the next day. Assefi referred to the military prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and added, "America is the main culprit for violating human rights in the world." U.S. support for Israel is another example of the lack of U.S. respect for human rights, Assefi claimed. BS

Interior Minister Mustafa Pur-Mohammadi said in Tehran on June 27 that authorities so far have identified 10 gangs responsible for kidnappings, smuggling, terrorism, and vandalism in the eastern part of the country, IRNA reported. Not all of the gangs have links to foreigners, he added. General Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, chief of the national police force, said the previous week that domestic security issues are a priority this year, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on June 22. Seven of those responsible for killings along the Kerman-Bam highway have been arrested and six others were killed, he said. Pur-Mohammadi said that security in the eastern part of Iran, as well as southwestern Khuzestan Province, has increased due to a strengthening of military bases in those regions, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. Pur-Mohammadi said violent crime has decreased by 30 percent, although he did not say over what period. BS

Deputy Health Minister Seyyed Muayyed Alavian said on June 27 that the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Iran exceeds earlier estimates and ascribed the trend to intravenous drug use, AFP reported. "About 40,000 of the total number of intravenous drug addicts are infected with HIV," Alavian said. He warned that the number could rise to 100,000 by March 2008. Alavian said the rate of drug addiction is rising by 8 percent annually. BS

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) said in a June 27 press release that the past four months of violence in Iraq have left 150,000 people displaced throughout the country. The mission said that 5 percent of the population, or an estimated 1.3 million people, are displaced inside Iraq, some of them since the 1980s. Over the past two weeks, 3,200 families have fled fighting in Al-Ramadi, UNAMI said. The mission said all ethnic and sectarian groups are affected by the displacement, and that the UN and its partner organizations have distributed assistance to over 12,500 of the most vulnerable families displaced recently. Earlier this week, the Ministry of Displacement and Migration put the figure of registered internal refugees at 130,386, Reuters reported on June 27. Neither figure takes into account the number of Iraqis displaced outside the country. Thousands of Iraqis are thought to have fled the violence for neighboring states over the past two years. KR

The Iraqi government freed another 450 detainees from Iraqi and U.S.-run prisons on June 27 as part of the government's national-reconciliation plan, international media reported. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki announced earlier this month that he intends to release 2,500 detainees who were not found to have committed violent crimes against civilians. National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i addressed inmates being released from Baghdad's Abu Ghraib Prison on June 27, telling them that their release is part of the reconciliation plan, and that "this is not a political game, it is a sincere attempt of reconciliation and to unite Iraq," AFP reported. Some 13,000 detainees remain in U.S. custody in Iraq. The Council of Ministers announced on June 27 that government employees who were detained and released will be reinstated in their jobs. Students released from detention will not be failed for the academic year despite missing classes, and will be allowed to take final exams. KR

Ahmad Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i, head of the Sunni Waqf [Endowments] Office, announced his support for Prime Minister al-Maliki's national-reconciliation plan at a June 27 press briefing in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Al-Samarra'i called on Iraqis to forget the past and look to the future. "Recalling the past should only be done to take lessons and not revenge.... Internal fighting does not bring good to anybody regardless of the pretexts cited. Those who are wise should eventually hold talks to agree on stemming sedition," he said, and called for the disbanding of militias as a first step to a broader settlement. KR

Saddam Hussein and six members of his regime will be tried for their roles in the alleged genocide of some 100,000 Kurds in 1987-88, the Iraqi Special Tribunal announced on June 27, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Also on trial are: Ali Hassan al-Majid, a cousin of Saddam Hussein and former secretary-general of the northern bureau of Iraq's Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party, who has been accused of using chemical weapons against the Kurds; former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad; former intelligence chief Sabir Abd al-Aziz al-Duri; former Republican Guard commander Husayn Rashid al-Tikriti; former Ninawah Governor and member of the Ba'ath Party Regional Command Tahir Tawfiq al-Ani; and former top military commander Farhan Mutlaq al-Juburi. The trial is slated to begin on August 21. Tribunal spokesman Ra'id al-Juhi said the Anfal trial will not include the regime's 1988 chemical attack on the Kurdish town of Halabjah, which killed 5,000 Kurds. KR