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Newsline - May 25, 2007

President Vladimir Putin said in Luxembourg on May 24 that "there are fewer and fewer ways to influence and pressure Russia," whose economic position is becoming ever stronger, news agencies reported. Seeking to play up differences between Western and Eastern Europe, he told his hosts that "unfortunately, some countries have transposed their bilateral problems with Russia on to the European level. Those in Central and Eastern Europe...should play according to common rules." He also attempted to drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies by saying regarding the planned U.S. missile-defense system, "We ask our American friends: 'have the Europeans asked you for this?' We get no response. It was not pretty" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 23, and 24, 2007). During his brief stay in the Grand Duchy, Putin also participated in the signing of a power-generation joint venture between Russian gas giant Gazprom and Soteg, Luxembourg's main gas and electricity supplier, and a Russian-Luxembourg banking cooperation pact. Luxembourg's banking and financial-service sector is becoming increasingly attractive to Russian business interests. Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker said that "we owe it to Europeans to conduct our relations [with Russia] rationally instead of indulging in the pleasure that some take in dramatizing them." On the subject of missile defense, Juncker said that "you have to take Russia seriously and not play with fire." The Russian daily "Kommersant" wrote on May 25 that Juncker is "practically the last European politician for whom Putin remains close." PM

The European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in Strasbourg on May 24 to express support and solidarity with Estonia in the face of Russian bullying, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 22, 23, and 24, 2007). The deputies "condemned Russia's belligerent rhetoric and its failure to protect Estonia's Embassy in Moscow, while also calling for reconciliation with the Russian-speaking minority in Estonia," the parliament's website added. The resolution noted that the parliament regards "attacks targeting one of the smallest EU member states as a test case for the European Union's solidarity." The legislators consider "inadmissible the various attempts to interfere in the internal affairs of Estonia by the Russian authorities," and reminded Russian authorities that their "indiscriminate and hostile rhetoric" will impact EU-Russian relations. The resolution condemned "Russia's use of economic pressure on Estonia as an instrument of foreign policy." The legislators also called on the European Commission and member states "to assist in the analyses of cyber-attacks on Estonian websites, and to present a study on how such attacks can be addressed at a European level." RFE/RL reported from Brussels on May 24 that Russian attempts to split the EU and intimidate some of its newer members are proving counterproductive for Moscow's interests and helping to bring all EU members closer to finding common political positions toward Russia. The report added, however, that EU-Russian economic ties will continue to grow. The Moscow daily "Kommersant" noted on May 25 that the European Parliament's vote follows recent moves by NATO to provide Estonia with expertise to help defend itself against recent massive cyber-attacks. Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said in Tallinn on May 22 that "it is clear that a lot of Russian addresses were used to attack Estonia," reported. He added that "some addresses belonged to the Kremlin." PM

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said in Washington on May 24 that President George W. Bush's offer to cooperate with Russia on missile defense still stands, despite Moscow's contention it will not drop its opposition to the project, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23 and 24, 2007). He told the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that the project is not directed at Russia but rather at "countries in the Middle East.... Since we believe we face a common threat, we want to work with Russia." PM

The German energy firm E.ON announced in Duesseldorf on May 24 that it has entered the Russian electricity business by setting up a joint venture with Russia's STS in Siberia's Tyumen Oblast, dpa reported. E.ON did not specify how much it will invest, but noted in its statement that "Russia's [electricity] market is growing 5 to 6 percent annually, making it one of the biggest and strongest growing markets in Europe." E.ON Ruhrgas, which is the German company's gas wholesaler, is the only foreign firm with a seat on Gazprom's board and is a major partner in the controversial Russo-German Nord Stream pipeline project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 12 and 26, April 12, and May 24, 2007). PM

The Federal Security Service (FSB) said in a statement on May 24 that its investigation indicates that Igor Reshetin, the general director of the TsNIIMASH-Eksport company, who has been under arrest since 2005, sold secret missile delivery-system technology to China, Interfax and Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 15, 2005). A spokesman for the FSB, which is the successor to the KGB, said that Reshetin is accused of "the illegal export and sale to the All-China Import-Export Company of Precision Machine Building controlled technology...which could be used in the creation of missile-delivery systems for weapons of mass destruction." He will also face charges of smuggling and embezzlement. Charges have been filed against Reshetin and three of his associates with Moscow's Lefortovo District Court. The hearing is slated to start on May 25. In recent years, China has spent extensively on developing its military and civilian space programs. In January, it attracted worldwide attention when it shot down one of its own satellites with a missile launched from earth. Britain's "Financial Times" reported on May 25 that "the United States is increasingly concerned about China's deployment of mobile land- and sea-based intercontinental ballistic nuclear missiles that have the range to hit the United States, according to people familiar with an imminent Pentagon report on China's military." PM

Kamil Iskhakov, who is President Putin's envoy for the Far East Federal District, announced on May 24 in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky the appointment of Aleksei Kuzmitsky as acting governor of Kamchatka Oblast, and ITAR-TASS reported. He replaces Mikhail Mashkovtsev, whose deputy he is and who resigned his post on May 23 after more than six years in office in accordance with the 2006 law on the merger of Kamchatka Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug to form Kamchatka Krai. That merger is to take effect on July 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8 and 30, 2006). Putin must propose several alternative candidates for governor of the new, merged region to the Kamchatka and Koryak legislatures by May 26; the most likely candidates, according to on May 24, are Kuzmitsky, former Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Oleg Budargin, and the current head of the Koryak Autonomous Okrug, Oleg Kozhemyako. PM/LF

Addressing a specially convened meeting in Vienna on May 23 of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Permanent Council and the OSCE Forum for Security Cooperation, Sergei Lavrov said Russia will lobby for the holding of an emergency conference of signatories to the 1990 Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), Interfax reported. Lavrov said that treaty is now "hopelessly outdated" and contradicts Russia's security interests, according to a press release posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry website ( President Putin announced a "moratorium" last month on Russian compliance with the treaty until the Baltic states and Slovenia sign it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25 and 26, 2007). The United States and other NATO members insist that those countries may not accede to the treaty until all existing signatories ratify it, which they will do only after Russia makes good on commitments it gave at the 1999 OSCE summit in Istanbul on withdrawing its forces from Transdniester and Georgia. Lavrov argued on May 23 that such linkage is "absurd" and has "transformed the arms control regime in Europe into a tool for achieving political objectives that have nothing to do with European security." LF

Economic Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev and Deputy Finance Minister Anton Siluanov reported on May 23 to the Russian State Duma on the implementation of the federal program launched in 2002 that was intended to reduce the large discrepancies in economic and social development between the various federation subjects, and the daily "Kommersant" reported on May 23 and 24, respectively. Yakovlev admitted that not only has no such reduction been achieved, but some discrepancies, including between average income of the populations of different regions, have increased. In 46 (unnamed) regions, gross regional product registered no increase between 2003 and 2006. The Finance Ministry has proposed abolishing the program entirely, but Yakovlev argued against doing so, as did both pro-Kremlin and opposition Duma factions. Vladimir Grishin (Unified Russia) said the program should be continued, but that additional legislation is required to render its implementation more effective. Valery Zubov (A Just Russia-Motherland) called on the government to make good on its plans to levy taxes on corporations in the regions where they operate, rather than where they are registered, and to introduce differentiated rates of profit tax for different sectors of the economy. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky for his part suggested that funds should be taken from Russia's 3 trillion-ruble ($115.8 billion) gold and foreign-currency reserves to finance the development of the regions. "Kommersant" quoted Igor Melamed, director of the International Fund for the Development of the Regions, as arguing that the program itself is not bad, but that bureaucrats undermined it by, among other things, introducing a requirement that funds should be allocated not for overall development at the discretion of the regional leadership but for specific projects. On May 25, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that the presidential administration is currently putting the final touches to a decree enumerating criteria for evaluating the activities of regional governors. LF

Sergei Stepashin visited Grozny on May 24 accompanied by Audit Chamber staffer Sergei Abramov, who served from March 2004 until February 2006 as Chechen prime minister, the official Chechen website reported. Stepashin toured several districts of Grozny and expressed admiration for what he termed the "colossal" amount of reconstruction work accomplished over the past year under Ramzan Kadyrov, the current republic head who succeeded Abramov as prime minister. Stepashin stressed that the aim of his visit was to "help" Kadyrov rather than to identify "mistakes" on the part of the local leadership. He said the federal center "has no queries or objections" concerning the expenditure by the Chechen leadership of funds allocated from the federal budget. But Oleg Orlov, one of the leaders of the human rights organization Memorial, told on May 24 that the use of budget funds in Chechnya is "totally untransparent" and that those funds are frequently used for purposes other than that for which they were earmarked. LF

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has informed the Russian human rights group Memorial that it has accepted an appeal by the family of a resident of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic who died in October 2004 after being abducted and tortured by Interior Ministry personnel, reported on May 24. Rasul Tsakoyev from the village of Khasanya on the southern outskirts of Nalchik was abducted on September 27 and released two days later; he died of his injuries on October 4. Gratuitous brutality by the republic's police is widely believed to have impelled many young Muslim men to join the resistance group that attacked police and security facilities in Nalchik on October 13, 2005. LF

Armenian's Court of Appeals upheld on May 24 a ruling by a lower court that former Foreign Minister Alexander Arzoumanian should remain in pretrial detention, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Arzoumanian was arrested on May 7 and remanded in pretrial detention three days later on charges arising from the alleged receipt of funds from a Russian-Armenian businessman to finance the Civil Resistance movement Arzoumanian founded last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 9, 11, and 18, 2007). LF

The French and Russian co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group that seeks to mediate a settlement of the Karabakh conflict told journalists in Yerevan on May 24 before their departure for Baku that Armenian President Robert Kocharian agreed the previous day to a proposed meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev on the sidelines of the CIS economic summit to be held in St. Petersburg on June 10, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. French co-Chairman Bernard Fassier said the co-chairs hope that a "breakthrough," but not a full peace accord, could be reached by the end of this year. His Russian colleague Yury Merzlyakov said that if Aliyev agrees to the St. Petersburg meeting, that meeting could yield agreement on the remaining three or four disputed points of the basic principles drafted by the co-chairs and made public one year ago (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," June 30, 2006). Also on May 24, the leaders of four small Azerbaijani opposition parties issued a statement condemning the authorities' failure to make any headway toward resolving the Karabakh conflict, reported. Noting that the president, defense minister, and foreign minister frequently make mutually contradictory statements, they advocated making public the guidelines for resolving the conflict currently under discussion. They also argued that Russia should contribute to the peace process by withdrawing its troops from Armenia. On May 25, quoted retired Major General Vladimir Timoshenko as saying the main objective of the national security concept that President Aliyev has just commissioned is to preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. LF

Members of the Councils of Elders of Abkhazia, Daghestan, Adygeya, Chechnya, Kalmykia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachayevo-Cherkessia ,and from Rostov, Astrakhan, and Volgograd oblasts convened on May 24 in Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, to discuss how to preserve "peace and stability" across the Caucasus, reported. The participants adopted a declaration condemning what participants termed the policy of genocide implemented by the Georgian leadership in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. They argued that a peaceful solution of the two conflicts is possible only if past crimes are punished and Georgia admits to human rights violations. The declaration honors as "participants in the antifascist struggle" those who defended South Ossetia and Abkhazia against incursions by Georgian armed groups; calls on Georgia to admit responsibility for the "crimes against humanity" it committed in the two regions and to offer compensation; requests that the Council of Europe and European parliaments take Georgia's past actions into consideration when assessing "justified" political demands by the two republics; and advocates the creation of an international commission to assess the "crimes committed by the totalitarian national-chauvinist Georgian regime." The same elders also adopted an appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that similarly condemned the incorporation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia into Georgia during the early years of the USSR and what it termed Georgia's "genocidal policies" towards the Abkhaz and Ossetians. The elders claimed that since the advent to power in Georgia of President Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia has adopted "an even more revanchist policy" towards the two regions and has repeatedly refused to sign protocols abjuring the use of military force against them. The elders appealed to Putin to recognize the republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent and to establish "associated relations" with them. Speaking in Tbilisi on May 24 at a conference on the "Dialogue between Globalization and Civilization," President Saakashvili pledged to "defend" Georgia's national minorities, but did not say against what specific threats, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Kazakh prosecutors on May 24 ordered the commercial television channel KTK and newspaper "Karavan" to halt operations for three months for alleged violations of the language laws, Interfax-Kazakhstan and ITAR-TASS reported. Both media outlets are partially co-owned by Rakhat Aliev, Kazakhstan's ambassador to Austria, and his wife, Darigha, the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Aliev currently faces charges for the alleged kidnapping of two managers at Nurbank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2007). Svetlana Shamychkova, senior legal counsel to the publishing house Alma-Media, told "Kazakhstan Today" that "Karavan" received an order to halt operations from an Almaty business court. Shamychkova said the order gives no reason for the suspension, and she stressed that the newspaper will appeal. As of May 24, the newspaper's website ( was still in operation. DK

In an interview with the BBC on May 24, Aliev said that he is "open to any aspects of the investigation" into the disappearance of two top managers at Nurbank (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 7, 12, and 20, and May 14, 2007). One of the managers is still missing. Aliev said, "I consider the opening of a criminal case against me to be illogical, since I am personally interested in having this banker found." Asked whether he is considering not returning to Kazakhstan from Austria, Aliev said only that he is continuing to carry out his duties as ambassador. He added that he is "disturbed" by what he called the "illegal actions of the police [in Kazakhstan]" and the disappearances of witnesses in the Nurbank case. DK

The opposition Social Democratic Party and Naghyz Ak Zhol party anticipate early parliamentary elections in the wake of recent constitutional amendments, and plan to revive the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan, reported on May 24 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 2007). For a Just Kazakhstan was an umbrella opposition group created by the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party, the Communist Party, and Ak Zhol in 2005 to nominate a candidate for the presidential election in December of that year. Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, leader of the Social Democratic Party, told a press conference in Almaty on May 23 that the opposition is prepared to boycott the elections if they are conducted in the same fashion as previous elections. Tuyakbai ran unsuccessfully against incumbent President Nazarbaev in the 2005 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2005). Constitutional amendments recently signed by Nazarbaev removed term limits for the country's first president, allowing Nazarbaev to serve indefinitely. DK

Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev told journalists in Bishkek on May 24 that Kyrgyzstan's agreement with the United States on the U.S. air base outside Bishkek is "a very tricky agreement, and it is next to impossible to terminate it," Interfax reported. Atambaev's comments came a day after Kyrgyz parliamentary committees recommended a review of the U.S. military presence there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2007). Also on May 24, Ronald Neumann, a U.S. special representative who was until recently the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, told reporters in Bishkek that the termination of Kyrgyzstan's agreement with the United States could lead to a decline in cooperation between the two countries, reported. In a further reflection of the tensions surrounding the air base, Kyrgyzstan's Environmental Protection Agency announced on May 24 that the United States owes Kyrgyzstan $545,000 for environmental damage caused by the base, the official Kabar news agency reported. DK

President Emomali Rahmon told a public meeting in Dushanbe on May 24 that Tajik citizens should hold less extravagant weddings and funerals, Tajik television reported. Rahmon charged that "many national traditions and religious rituals, which should be held for family members and relatives, have become lavish and extravagant ceremonies." Rahmon added, "I would like to note that today we have gathered not to fully eliminate or abolish national traditions, ceremonies, and rituals. The main purpose is to give a good start to rescuing people from showing off, religious fanaticism, and superstition, and to determine the procedures [for holding ceremonies]." DK

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov told a National Security Council meeting in Ashgabat on May 23 that Turkmenistan must reform its armed forces, reported the next day. "We must resolve the crucially important strategic task of reforming our armed forces, strengthening their material and technical support, and ensuring appropriate training for the nation's military personnel," he said. On May 24, the National Security Council resolved to create a state service for emergency situations, reported. DK

Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou told journalists on May 24 that the early release of opposition leaders Mikalay Statkevich and Pavel Sevyarynets from prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 2007) was not intended to persuade the European Union to preserve trade benefits to Belarus, Belapan reported. "We have never haggled with anyone.... We proceed from the assumption that Belarus is a law-governed state, and what happens in the country is in accordance with regulations currently in force," Papou said. Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Holzapfel, the first counselor at the European Commission's Kyiv-based delegation to Ukraine and Belarus, told Belapan that the prisoners' release on parole will not influence the EU's decision on whether to suspend Belarus's trade benefits under the bloc's Generalized System of Preferences (GSP). Statkevich and Sevyarynets in May 2005 were each sentenced to three years in prison for staging a series of unauthorized demonstrations in Minsk in the fall of 2004 against the official results of the 2004 parliamentary elections and referendum. Both Statkevich and Sevyarynets linked their early release to an upcoming EU decision on whether to deny GSP benefits to Belarus. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko on May 24 dismissed Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, just one month after reinstating him in office (see End Note), Ukrainian media reported. At a news conference later the same day, Yushchenko said he sacked Piskun because the latter failed to give up his parliamentary seat within 20 days after his appointment, as stipulated by law. "It has been 28 days since Svyatoslav Piskun was appointed prosecutor-general on April 24. The issue [of Piskun's resignation from parliament] has not been resolved. Political activities continue at the prosecutor's office," Yushchenko said. He continued: "Why hasn't the presidential decree on early elections been carried out? Because the cabinet is not carrying it out. Why isn't the cabinet carrying out the presidential decree? Because the Prosecutor-General's Office is not working." Piskun called his dismissal illegal and pledged to defy it. "I wrote a request asking to resign as a member of parliament and sent it to the Verkhovna Rada within the term prescribed by the law," Piskun told journalists. "You understand that [the dismissal] is absolutely illegitimate and even absurd. Everybody knows that I wrote the request, all staff members know that," he said. JM

Prosecutor-General Piskun was informed of his dismissal by Valeriy Heletey, head of the State Protection Directorate (UDO), who came to Piskun's office on May 24 with a group of UDO officers, Ukrainian media reported. Piskun initially left his office, but then changed his mind and, accompanied by a group of ruling coalition lawmakers, forced his way back amid scuffles between his bodyguards and UDO officers. More altercations followed when Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko arrived at the Prosecutor-General's Office with a riot-police unit. Tsushko compared Yushchenko's decision to remove Piskun from office to a "coup d'etat." Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, the acting head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), which is believed to be loyal to the president, said later the same day that he rules out the use of force in dealing with Piskun's dismissal. "There will be no violent solution to the problem. Alpha [SBU special forces] will not be called in. The problem will be resolved within the legal framework," Interfax-Ukraine quoted Nalyvaychenko as saying. The Prosecutor-General's Office is now cordoned off by Interior Ministry servicemen. On May 25, some 3,000 activists of the ruling Party of Regions and the Communist Party held an anti-Yushchenko rally in front of the Prosecutor-General's Office. JM

A former foreign minister of Macedonia, Srgjan Kerim, was on May 24 elected to head the UN's General Assembly, local and international media reported the same day. Kerim served as a minister in the former Yugoslavia, as well as Macedonia's foreign minister in 2000-01. However, he has spent most of the past 13 years as an ambassador, in Germany, Switzerland, and at the UN from 2001 to 2003. Since then, he has chiefly headed the Southeastern Europe operations of the WAZ Media Group, one of Germany's largest publishing companies. Kerim said he will use his one year in the post to push for more effective multilateralism, arguing that "the major challenges of our times transcend borders. Globalization, climate change, terrorism, immigration, and sustainable development cannot be entirely solved within national borders, or at the regional level." The last president from a postcommunist country was a Czech, Jan Kavan, who took up the post in 2002. Since 1989, the presidency has also been occupied by a Bulgarian, Stoyan Ganev (1992), and a Ukrainian, Hennadiy Udovenko (1997). AG

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Rosemary DiCarlo on May 24 told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service that there is "broad support" for a UN plan granting Kosova supervised independence and that the United States still hopes to win the UN Security Council's support for the plan this month. The United States holds the council's chair until the end of May. DiCarlo declined to discuss a possible U.S. response to a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosova should Russia exercise its veto. In mid-April, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington would back Kosova if it declared independence without UN support, but since then another senior U.S. official has said Washington would not back a unilateral move. A number of European allies have warned against such a step (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18 and 30, and May 11, 15, and 17, 2007). The possibility of independence for Kosova has stoked talk of Serbs in the north of Kosova seceding. DiCarlo ruled out that possibility, saying, "we do not think that partition is a viable option or that partition would lead to a more stable Balkan region." She refused to speculate on the U.S. response if ethnic Serbs acted unilaterally to partition Kosova. DiCarlo reiterated Washington's view that further talks would lead nowhere and stressed the importance of clarity. "Clarity is needed for Kosovo to be stable, clarity is needed for the people of Kosovo to plan their futures, and, obviously, clarity is absolutely needed for prosperity and for the economy to improve," DiCarlo said. AG

In a terse statement issued on May 24, the U.S. State Department said that three days of closed-door meetings with Bosnia-Herzegovina's leading Muslim and Serbian politicians have left Washington "disappointed." The talks, brokered by U.S. Undersecretary of State Burns, centered on reform of the country's police bodies and constitution. Burns highlighted the need to halt "nationalist rhetoric," which he said has "characterized the political environment for the past year." The international community's high representative in Bosnia made similar statements to the UN Security Council in mid-May, prompting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on May 22 to call for national reconciliation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 17 and 24, 2007). The State Department warned that "by failing to overcome their differences," Haris Silajdzic, the Bosnian Muslim representative in the country's presidency, and Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the autonomous Republika Srpska region, are making it "impossible" for Bosnia to integrate fully "into Euro-Atlantic structures." The EU has made police reform in Bosnia a prerequisite for membership and views constitutional reform as essential. Burns also stressed that solutions should be found within the framework of the Dayton accords, which ended the 1992-95 war and created two ethnically based autonomous regions. Silajdzic argues that it is time to reunify Bosnia and its various police forces. Dodik contends, however, that a Bosnia with strong central institutions "doesn't work and it won't work in the future," and that the Republika Srpska needs a separate police force, in part to counter an alleged rise in Islamist threats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 2007). In comments aired by Bosnian Serb Television on May 23, Dodik attacked what he called "Silajdzic's pathological attempt to challenge any idea of the Republika Srpska," and warned that ethnic Serbs would leave if they were to lose some of their political autonomy. That would, he argued, result in "the establishment of an Islamic country, albeit with some slight delay." AG

Almost 2,000 Bosnians imprisoned by Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-95 war filed lawsuits on May 23 against the Republika Srpska, Bosnia-Herzegovina Radio 1 reported the same day. The head of the Association of Camp Inmates, Murat Tahirovic, said 1,928 cases were filed on May 23 in Banja Luka, the capital of the Bosnian Serb-dominated region of Republika Srpska, and added that tens of thousands more will be filed in the coming months. In all, he expects a total of 45,000 suits to be submitted, most of them in Banja Luka. Some 17,000 of the total will be lodged in the capital, Sarajevo, and others in Bihac, a predominantly Muslim town, and Mostar, a Croat-Muslim town. A lawyer representing the former inmates, Josip Sladic, said on May 23 that they are demanding 600 Bosnian marks ($413) for each day of their internment, while those who suffered permanent disabilities will demand more. Tahirovic said the Banja Luka cases relate chiefly to camps in Prijedor, Sanski Most, and Manjaca, which the former inmates believe were controlled by the Republika Srpska police. The cases come in the midst of heated debates about the reform of police institutions, the role of police in the Srebrenica massacre, and the continued existence of the Republika Srpska, which some Bosnian Muslims argue is the product of genocide. The UN's top court, the International Court of Justice, in February supported the contention of the UN war crimes tribunal that the Srebrenica massacre was an "act of genocide" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and 28, 2007). AG

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on May 23 met Yury Zubakov, the deputy leader of the Russian National Security Council, to discuss the possibility of reopening talks aimed at settling Moldova's conflict with its separatist region of Transdniester. Moldova and Russia have been engaged in sporadic bilateral talks for the past 15 months, but there is increasing pressure for a return to multilateral talks brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Ahead of the meeting, Voronin told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that "the keys to a settlement in Transdniester are in Moscow." Voronin blamed criminal gangs for delays in finding a solution, saying they want to keep Transdniester a "black hole" for smuggling. Voronin called on Russia to show the political will to face down the criminals and unblock talks. "If Russia were to say 'no,' in two weeks [the criminal gangs] would be out of the region," Voronin said. He said he hopes a resolution can be reached by 2009. A document leaked to the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation in April suggested that Voronin and Zubakov were on the verge of signing a bilateral agreement that would reunite Transdniester with Moldova but would also give Transdniester both very substantial autonomy and a substantial say over events in the rest of Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2007). It would also compel Moldova to maintain its neutral status. A subsequent flurry of activity by Western diplomats has yielded reiterations of Moldova's Western orientation, renewed commitments to multilateral talks, and -- according to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia David Kramer -- "clear assurances from the Moldovan authorities that no plan on settling the Transdniestrian dispute was presented to them" by Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23 and 27, and May 7, 2007). However, Voronin's interview with RIA Novosti may fuel suspicions that a plan is in the works. Voronin commented that "it is a paradox that just as we are managing to come to a solution, a provocation intervenes, whether local or Western, or there is a leak of information, or something else." AG

The leader of the separatist region of Transdniester, Igor Smirnov, said on May 24 that neither Transdniester nor the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia view the resolution of Kosova's status as a precedent. The Russian news agency Interfax quoted Smirnov as adding that he believes the three post-Soviet regions have greater claims to independence than Kosova. This is not the first time Smirnov has dismissed Kosova as a precedent. In November 2006, he said likening the two cases was "academic talk.... Recognition or nonrecognition of Kosovo bears no relation to our state." Smirnov has previously argued, without elaborating, that Transdniester has a stronger legal claim to statehood than Kosova and stated, as he told the English-language paper "The Tiraspol Times" on March 6, that independence for Kosova would add "more arrows to the quiver of our diplomats." Smirnov was in Moscow this week to attend Transdniester Days, a three-day festival at which he also presented his book "Together with Russia." Russia opposes independence for Kosova and, in bilateral talks with Moldova, has represented the interests of Transdniester, which wants independence from Moldova. Russia continues to maintain a peacekeeping presence in the region, despite promising in 1993 and 1999 to withdraw its troops. AG

Guards on Transdniester's de facto border with Moldova on May 23 prevented three U.S. diplomats from reaching Tiraspol, where they planned to attend an OSCE meeting. The news agency Basa reported on May 23 that the incident is the fifth time this month that U.S. officials have been barred from entering the breakaway region. The guards reportedly gave no reason. The United States has no formal role in the resolution of the Transdniester conflict, though, like the EU, it is an observer in five-way talks between Transdniester, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. Multilateral talks were last held in February 2006, at which point Transdniester withdrew. AG

The Albanian daily "Gazeta Shqiptare" on May 23 carried a report that suggests U.S. President George W. Bush is unlikely to meet ordinary Albanians when he pays a one-day visit to the country, the first by a U.S. leader. Without citing its sources, "Gazeta Shqiptare" wrote that U.S. and Albanian security experts are considering three possible itineraries. In one, Bush would be taken from the airport by helicopter to Tirana, possibly to a relatively secluded and easily secured site in the capital. The second is that the helicopter would take Bush to the presidential palace. The third possibility is that Bush would not set foot in Tirana at all. Instead, he would be taken to the Durres coast, where he would stay in a resort hotel and hold meetings in nearby NATO offices. During his stopover in Albania, Bush will also meet with the presidents of Croatia and Macedonia, countries which, like Albania, hope to be invited in 2008 to join NATO. Albanian politicians and commentators have greeted Bush's planned visit, scheduled for June 10, with statements verging on euphoria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, and May 17, 2007). The only apparent note of opposition has been struck by the Albanian Communist Party, which, in a rare reemergence from obscurity, in late April distributed leaflets in the town of Fier criticizing Bush's visit. AG

On May 24, President Viktor Yushchenko fired Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun. Piskun initially left his office, but then changed his mind and forced his way back in, amid scuffles pitting his bodyguards against officers of the State Protection Directorate. More scuffles followed when Interior Minister Vasyl Tsushko arrived at the Prosecutor-General's Office with a riot-police unit. Tsushko was later quoted as saying that a "coup d'etat" has been initiated in Ukraine by the president.

The appointment of Piskun to the post of prosecutor-general by Yushchenko on April 24 came as a surprise to many in Ukraine. Piskun held the post twice already, in 2002-03 and 2004-05. In 2005, he was fired by none other than Yushchenko, who was reportedly displeased with Piskun's handling of major criminal cases.

Why, then, did Yushchenko appoint Piskun once again? Some say it was because Piskun protested his 2005 dismissal in court and won a protracted case against presidential lawyers. According to this line of reasoning, in reinstating Piskun Yushchenko simply obeyed the law.

But since Piskun's return to the Prosecutor-General's Office took place amid a bitter political standoff between the president on one side and the prime minister and parliament on the other, it seems that Yushchenko wanted Piskun to help him enforce his decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada and calling for new elections.

Yushchenko indirectly confirmed that this version of Piskun's comeback was more likely when he accused Piskun of pursuing "political activities" instead of "working."

"Political activities continue at the prosecutor's office," Yushchenko said at a news conference on May 24, where he explained his reason for sacking Piskun. "Why isn't the presidential decree on early elections being carried out? Because the cabinet is not carrying it out. Why isn't the cabinet carrying out the presidential decree? Because the Prosecutor-General's Office is not working." Thus, Piskun seems to have disappointed Yushchenko to a great extent.

The formal reason for the dismissal was Piskun's failure to give up his parliamentary seat within 20 days after his appointment, as stipulated by law. Piskun said his sacking was illegal, explaining that he filed his resignation from parliament earlier this month. But since Piskun formally remains a lawmaker, it appears that Yushchenko's move is legally defensible.

Piskun's forcible reentry into his office, during which officers of the pro-presidential State Protection Directorate and the pro-government Interior Ministry scuffled with each other, has obviously exacerbated the political crisis in Ukraine.

Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous political bloc and a Yushchenko ally, revealed to journalists on May 24 that the previous day, President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych reached an agreement on the date of early parliamentary elections. She suggested that the incident at the Prosecutor-General's Office was intended to derail this agreement.

Later the same day, Yushchenko also confirmed this news, but he suggested that the agreement was blocked in the anticrisis working group, which was set up by him and Yanukovych in early May to prepare necessary bills and documents for launching snap elections.

After the May 24 incident in the Prosecutor-General's Office, reaching an agreement on early polls seems to have become an even more difficult task than it was before.

On May 25, Yushchenko issued a decree canceling the subordination of the riot police to the Interior Ministry and resubordinating them to the president.

The same day, Viktor Shemchuk, whom Yushchenko appointed as acting prosecutor-general to replace Piskun, said he has opened a criminal case against Interior Minister Tsushko for exceeding his authority. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office remains cordoned off by Interior Ministry forces, while Piskun claims he is still in charge there.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), which is believed to be loyal to the president, also opened an investigation on May 25 into Tsushko's intervention in the Prosecutor-General's Office. Additionally, the SBU summoned for interrogation Judge Valeriy Pshenichnyy. Yushchenko dismissed Pshenichnyy along with two other judges from the Constitutional Court nearly a month ago, accusing them of violating their oaths of office. But the three judges have reportedly had their dismissals revoked by court decisions and still participate in sessions of the Constitutional Court, which is examining the constitutionality of Yushchenko's decree of April 26 to dismiss parliament and call for new elections.

However, despite these developments, which have evidently worsened the political climate in Ukraine, optimists assert that the conflict will be resolved very soon. Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko expressed his conviction on May 24 that the scenes of riot policemen breaking into Piskun's office, which were filmed and subsequently broadcast nationally, will have a sobering effect on both warring politicians and ordinary Ukrainians.

Former SBU head Yevhen Marchuk said on May 25 that the lack of agreement between Yushchenko and Yanukovych is primarily due to "radicals" who, Marchuk added, are in both the Yushchenko and Yanukovych camps and want "more radical" methods for resolving the crisis. Marchuk did not mention any names.

It seems that one such "radical" may be the Socialist Party, which is clearly not interested in having preterm elections. According to all sociological surveys, the Socialists currently have no chance of overcoming the 3 percent voting threshold that qualifies for parliamentary representation. In other words, early elections might mean the Socialist Party's political demise.

Additionally, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, who is also parliament speaker, may feel offended by the fact that Yushchenko publicly ignores him and discusses the crisis only with Yanukovych. Therefore, it can be argued that the May 24 action in the Prosecutor-General's Office by Interior Minister Tsushko, who belongs to the Socialist Party, was motivated not only by his sense of official duty but also by party politics.

However, regardless of whether the fight between security officers in the Prosecutor-General's Office was purely accidental or intentionally orchestrated, it seems that the Ukrainian political class has now approached a line that cannot be crossed without plunging the country into political turmoil with unpredictable consequences. President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yanukovych now face the toughest test of their political careers.

An explosion on May 24 destroyed a vehicle carrying Sahar Gol, the head of Yahyakhel district in Paktika Province, killing him, his driver, and four police officers, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. "The explosion took place when the district chief was on his way to inspect a weapons cache" in the area, Paktika Governor Mohammad Akram Khpalwak told AIP. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on May 24 that a mine placed by the "mujahedin of the Islamic Emirate" killed Sahar Gol and six others. According to the website, the security chief of the district and eight soldiers sustained injuries. AT

A statement released on May 23 on the website of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) corrected an earlier report on the casualties and the cause of an explosion in Faryab Province on May 23. Initial reports indicated that an improvised explosive device (IED) killed a Finnish soldier and injured two Norwegians. ISAF initially said the explosion was a suicide attack that injured two soldiers, but it later revised its statement to confirm the reports that the blast was caused by an IED, which killed one soldier and injured five (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2007). ISAF does not release the nationality of its casualties. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack. AT

Hundreds of protesters rallied in Badghis Province to demand the ouster of Governor Mohammad Nasim Tokhi, Pajhwak Afghan News reported on May 24. The protesters claimed that Tokhi is involved in corruption and abuse of his office's authority. Tokhi has allegedly been the subject of an investigation by the Afghan Attorney General's Office for corruption, and his case has been referred to Kabul, Pajhwak reported. "We support the government and we want them to accept our just and valid demands," Fazel Akbar, a resident of Qala-e Naw, the provincial capital of Badghis, told the news agency. Azita Rafat, a lawmaker from Badghis in the Wolesi Jirga (People's Council) of the Afghan National Assembly, expressed support for the protesters, saying that "unfortunately, the governor is involved in abuse of authority," Pajhwak reported. AT

The "Kabul Weekly" on May 23 reported that a new "terrorist group" backed by Iran has begun operating in western Afghanistan, particularly in Farah Province. According to an unnamed official at the Afghan National Security Department, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps supports the Mohammad Rasulullah group. Farah Governor Mawlawi Mohayuddin Baluch has said he is not aware of the Mohammad Rasulullah group, but indicated that he knows of a number of entities involved in terrorism in his province. Khaled Pashtun, a member of the Wolesi Jirga from the southern Kandahar Province, told the weekly that eyewitnesses have informed him that Iran is supplying weapons to terrorist groups inside Afghanistan. By trying to destabilize Afghanistan, "Iran wants to give its response to the international community's opposition to its uranium-enrichment program," Pashtun said. Iran's ambassador to Afghanistan, Mohammad Reza Bahrami, has rejected the reports, saying they "are aimed at changing public opinion on Iran in Afghanistan." AT

U.S. President George W. Bush told a White House press conference on May 24 that the United States will consult with EU allies, Russia, and China on tightening sanctions on Iran for its continued refusal to stop uranium enrichment activities in line with UN Security Council demands. Bush said Iran "continues to be defiant as to the demands of the free world" to curb its contested nuclear program. "The world has spoken and said no nuclear weapons programs" in Iran, Bush said in comments broadcast on CNN. "My view is that we need to strengthen our sanction regime...we will work with our European partners to develop further sanctions," he said. He added that Russia and China -- which have been reluctant to penalize Iran, often seen as their political and business partner -- must understand it is in their interests to "isolate that regime." Bush said he is "sorry" Iranians live under a government that denies them economic opportunities and "insists on measures that lead to further isolation." VS

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Isfahan, central Iran, on May 24 that Iran's nuclear technology is expanding, and claimed that Iran is one of the few countries with an "industrial fuel-production cycle," IRNA reported. He said foreign powers cannot deter Iran from its course even if they use all their "malice" and influence in international bodies. Iran, he said, will "set aside" the obstructions imposed by the great powers and "move toward the peaks of progress." The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Muhammad el-Baradei, said in Luxembourg the same day that the IAEA is not in a position "to verify the nature or the scope" of Iran's program as Iran develops its atomic "capacity and knowledge," AFP reported. He told a nonproliferation conference that Iran could develop an atomic bomb in three to eight years. Referring to questions of how to stop Iran's nuclear program, el-Baradei said, "We cannot bomb our way to security." He urged the nuclear powers to reduce their own arsenals in support of the principle of nonproliferation. VS

Iranian lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi told CNN in a May 24 interview that conditions are harsh in Tehran's Evin prison, where Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari is being held, and she urged continued international attention on Esfandiari's case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 22, and 24, 2007). Ebadi said that during her own period of detention at Evin, she was deprived of basic amenities such as pillows and even reading glasses. She said continued international pressure could help bring Esfandiari's release. Esfandiari has reportedly asked to have Ebadi as her attorney, but Iranian authorities have refused, the daily "Etemad" reported on May 23. U.S. President Bush told the press in Washington on May 24 that the recent arrests of Esfandiari and other writers and scholars in Iran are "unacceptable," adding that their activities have been "beneficial" to Iran. VS

Iranian Intelligence Minister Gholamhussein Mohseni-Ejei told parliamentarians in Tehran on May 22 that Hussein Musavian, a former diplomat suspected of espionage, is being charged with "leaking information to a foreign embassy," Radio Farda reported, citing parliamentarian Kazem Jalali (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 9, 2007). According to Jalali, Mohseni-Ejei told the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee that Musavian's case is a security matter, and that he leaked information to foreign powers, "specifically" to an unnamed embassy, though it was unclear if this was in Tehran or abroad. Musavian traveled frequently while serving as a member of Iran's nuclear negotiating team. Radio Farda observed that some in Iran believe the arrest and charges are intended as a blow against Musavian's political allies and patrons in the political center and moderate right. VS

Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi on May 24 said that "Islamic Iran is today in the most sensitive conditions since" the 1979 revolution, and called for "sensible measures" to overcome its present predicament, IRNA reported. Speaking in Ardebil, northwestern Iran, Purmohammadi made a veiled reference to the United States, saying that conditions are "also sensitive and special for our enemies, and they know that if they do not survive the whirlwind in which they are caught, they will lose their arrogant power for years." He urged people to be vigilant before "enemy plots," and said all of Iran's armed forces are ready "to confront the enemies of Islamic Iran." Separately, Iranian Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh told a gathering in Tehran the same day that UN sanctions will help Iran develop its domestic industry, IRNA reported. He told an oil-sector employers' seminar that "the president and all cabinet members insist especially on making maximum use of internal capabilities," including engineering and technical equipment. He said Iran has never before had so many trained workers and specialists as now. VS

Nuri al-Maliki announced on May 24 his nominations for six cabinet positions vacated by supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in March, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported the same day. Al-Maliki said he strove to choose technocrats who have clean track records, untarnished by corruption. Regarding pledges to further reshuffle the cabinet, al-Maliki said he is unprepared to do so because "some other members of parliamentary blocs did not provide us with the names of their representatives in government whom they want to have replaced." Al-Maliki also expressed his appreciation for al-Sadr's decision to allow him to choose the new ministers. The nominees are: Sabah Rasul Sadiq as health minister; Ali al-Bahadili, agriculture minister; Amir Abd al-Jabbar, transportation minister; Thamir Ja'far Muhammad al-Zubaydi, minister of state for civil society affairs; Khulud Sami Azarah al-Ma'jun, minister of state for governorate affairs; and Zuhayr Muhammad Rida, minister of state for tourism and antiquities. Al-Ma'jun is the only woman nominated. The cabinet will vote on the nominations on May 27. KR

Muqtada al-Sadr has returned to Al-Najaf from Lebanon, according to May 24 Iraqi media reports. The Al-Najaf news network said al-Sadr was in Iran and Lebanon while outside Iraq. Al-Sadr was in hiding for months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2007) U.S. officials have also confirmed that al-Sadr is back in Iraq. "He's been very quiet since he's come back," said Major General Joseph Fil, commander of the U.S. Army's 1st Calvary Division, "The Washington Post" reported on May 25. Al-Sadr has taken steps in recent weeks to cleanse his militia, the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, of rogue members, and has made gestures of reconciliation to Sunni Arab Iraqis (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," May 24, 2007). KR

Tribal leaders in Salah Al-Din Governorate, northwest of Baghdad, announced they will mobilize the tribes to fight Al-Qaeda in the governorate, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported on May 24. The Salah Al-Din Awakening Conference is modeled on the Al-Anbar Awakening Conference that was formed last year for the same purpose (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 4, 2007). Tribal leader Hamad al-Juburi, a representative of the Salah Al-Din conference, announced the mobilization, saying: "The launch of the awakening [conference] a continuation of the efforts of our brothers in Al-Anbar, represented [there] by Chieftain Abd al-Sattar Abu Rishah, who has salvaged Al-Anbar from the deviant terrorist gangs. We will follow in his footsteps in enforcing the law." Fellow Salah Al-Din tribal leader Sabah Mitsir Hasan al-Shammari also spoke at the announcement, saying the governorate's tribes "will join forces with all tribes [in Iraq] against terrorism and anybody who seeks to disrupt the security of this country." KR

Tribal leaders in the eastern Diyala Governorate met with governorate-council representatives on May 23 to discuss ways to overcome outstanding grievances and unite against terrorism, according to a May 24 coalition press release. Present at the meeting were Diyala Governor Ra'd Rashid al-Mullah Jawad al-Tamimi and representatives from governorate police, as well as Iraqi and U.S. military officers. Jawad stressed the need to forge reconciliation from the ground up, and said he plans to meet with leaders across the governorate to discuss the need to present a unified stance against terrorism, the press release stated. KR

Jaysh Al-Fatihin said in a May 24 Internet statement that it defused a bomb planted near a school in Samarra in an effort to protect students and passersby. The Iraqi insurgent group said the bomb was planted by "unknown men," which is likely a reference to Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq. Several Iraqi insurgent groups have criticized Islamic State in recent months for its indiscriminate killing of civilians across the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 17, 2007). KR