Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - June 1, 2007

President Vladimir Putin said at a Kremlin news conference on May 31 that the United States is responsible for a "new round of the arms race" because of its planned development of a missile-defense system, Russian and international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 30, and 31, 2007). On May 30, the Russian military said it has successfully tested new missile systems, including an intercontinental ballistic missile with multiple warheads designed to penetrate any defense system. "There is no need to fear Russia's actions; they are not aggressive," Putin said on May 31. "They are a mere response to harsh and groundless unilateral actions by our partners and are aimed at maintaining the balance of forces in the world." He added that "Our partners are stuffing Eastern Europe with new weapons. What are we supposed to do? We cannot just sit by and watch all this." He said that "there is a clear desire by some international players to dictate their will to everyone without adhering to international law... [This behavior is] nothing different from diktat, nothing different from imperialism." Deutsche Welle said Putin's remarks amount to raising the level of rhetoric in his relations with the West. The atmosphere has been frosty since Putin delivered an aggressive speech in Munich on February 10, which many commentators described as the start of a new Cold War. Russian officials deny that they want a return to the confrontation of that era, but have not toned down harsh anti-American rhetoric, despite an informal pledge in May to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12 and May 16, 2007). "It's a rare day that the average Russian citizen doesn't hear warnings about another Cold War or World War III," the mass-circulation "Komsomolskaya pravda" wrote on May 31. "Citizens are informed of how the United States and NATO are establishing military bases all along Russia's perimeter." PM

U.S. President George W. Bush said in an interview scheduled to appear in Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on June 2 that Russia is "not an enemy regime but a friend," Deutsche Welle reported on June 1. Bush added, however, that bilateral relations are "complex" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2007). In Potsdam, Germany, on May 31, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: "I find Russia's recent missile diplomacy difficult to understand, and we regret Russia's reluctance to accept the partnership in missile defense that we have offered," international media reported. She called bilateral relations a "mix of cooperation and competition, friendship and friction." She stressed that "we want a 21st-century partnership with Russia, but at times, Russia seems to think and act in the zero-sum terms of another era." In Baltimore, David Kramer, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, said on May 31 that U.S. policy toward Russia can be described as "cooperate wherever we can, push back whenever we have to," "The New York Times" reported on June 1. In remarks that paper described as "approved by the White House," Kramer said Russia sometimes "bullies" its neighbors and engages in "ham-fisted behavior" in some aspects of its European policy. On missile defense, Kramer said that Moscow "prefers unhelpful rhetoric over actual collaboration." On May 31, U.S. Ambassador to NATO Victoria Nuland told RFE/RL by telephone that Russian charges that the Washington has started a new arms race are "ludicrous." She added that "Bush and...Putin presided over one of the deepest cuts in strategic weaponry for both history. That should be the legacy of these two guys." PM

Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek said in Prague on May 31 that he wants the parliament to approve Washington's request to set up a radar system in the Czech Republic as part of the missile-defense system, Czech media reported. "If we are not ready to accept, in the name of the protection of the Euro-Atlantic area, such a little thing as elements of missile defense, how will we face tougher challenges that may come?" he said. He warned that if Russia "manages to veto the base, if it brings chaos among allies with tough rhetoric, then it will strengthen its position and weaken the Euro-Atlantic alliance." Topolanek stressed that "we do not want to belong again to Russia's sphere of influence." President Bush will discuss the radar proposal and other issues with Czech leaders in Prague on June 4-5. Polls suggest that Czech popular opposition to the base is decreasing, although 61 percent of respondents remain against it. PM

President Putin said on May 30 at a Kremlin meeting of the Presidential Council for Culture and Art that Russia's youth risk being estranged from their "cultural roots" because of foreign influences and young people's preoccupations with electronic games and other computer-related pastimes, Interfax reported. He argued that unnamed experts say that many people, particularly the young, are losing the ability to express themselves effectively orally and in writing and have become ignorant of or even estranged from their country's cultural traditions. Putin stressed that the Internet and television have important roles to play in keeping young people in touch with Russian culture. He warned that television is filled with cheap imports from abroad and that much of the material available on the Internet is of dubious value. He called on the young to develop "immunity" from unhealthy influences from abroad while still learning the best things from other cultures, as Russians "have always done." PM

The Amur Oblast legislature voted 23-10 in a special session on June 1 to confirm as governor Nikolai Kolesov, a deputy to the Republic of Tatarstan parliament, whom President Putin recently nominated to that post, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29 and 30, 2007). Kamil Iskhakov, who is Putin's envoy for the Far East Federal District and a former long-time mayor of Kazan, presented Kolesov to the legislators in Blagoveshchensk, where he is little known. PM

On June 1, legislators in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug voted 7-0 with four abstentions on the second ballot in a special session to approve Aleksei Kuzmitsky, who is acting governor of Kamchatka Oblast, as governor of Kamchatka Krai, which will come into being on July 1 in accordance with the 2006 law on the merger of Kamchatka Oblast and Koryak Autonomous Okrug, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). Some Communist deputies, four of whom abstained in the vote, noted that Kuzmitsky is a young functionary from St. Petersburg about whom little is known the Far East. The Kamchatka Oblast legislators approved the appointment on May 30. After the Koryak legislature's vote, Kuzmitsky said in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky that the past few days were not easy for him, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that he understands the concerns in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug regarding the area's future status. He promised to act quickly on legislation to define that status once he has consulted with "all interested parties, including small indigenous peoples." PM

Following a meeting on May 31 with Federation Council deputy speaker Aleksandr Torshin, the Ingush displaced persons who traveled to Moscow last month in the hope of persuading the Russian authorities to expedite their return to their homes in North Ossetia's disputed Prigorodny Raion abandoned the hunger strike they embarked upon several days earlier, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21, 29, and 31, 2007). Vasily Likhachev, who represents Ingushetia in the Federation Council, said he planned to submit to the Prosecutor-General's Office later on May 31 formal complaints by the displaced persons about the Russian authorities' failure to implement earlier resolutions intended to remove the bureaucratic obstacles to their return to Prigorodny Raion. Between 30,000-60,000 Ingush fled the region in October-November 1992 to escape violent reprisals by the Ossetians (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," August 11, 1997 and September 5, 1997). LF

One year after the Kremlin abandoned plans for subsuming the Adygeya Republic into Krasnodar Krai, within which it constitutes an enclave (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," March 10 and April 13, 2006 and "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3 and December 11, 2006), the heads of those two federation subjects, Aslan Tkhakushinov and Aleksandr Tkachev, signed a friendship and cooperation agreement in Krasnodar on May 28, reported the following day. Addressing the Adygeya Republic parliament on May 29, Tkhakushinov said the agreement opens "fabulous perspectives" for raising living standards in both regions, reported. He said no obstacles exist to cooperation in all spheres of economic activity. LF

The Center for Regional Development, which is an Armenian affiliate of the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International, unveiled data in Yerevan in May 31 that substantiate allegations by opposition parties that the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and the Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia, BH) party headed by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian spent far more on their campaigns for the May 12 parliamentary elections than the Election Law permits, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That law sets a limit of 60 million drams ($170,000) on election-related spending, but Center for Regional Development head Amalia Kostanian said her organization's "conservative estimates" of those parties' campaign spending in the cities of Yerevan, Giumri, and Vanadzor alone amount to 79 million drams and 129.6 million drams respectively. Both parties immediately rejected those findings. HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov explicitly denied that his party surpassed the 60 million dram limit, while his BH counterpart Baghdasar Mherian commented that he "does not know what methodology" was used to arrive at those figures. LF

Russian and Georgian government delegations met in Tbilisi on May 31 to resume talks on Russia's application for membership of the World Trade Organization, but made no progress towards resolving their differences, Caucasus Press reported. The two countries initially reached agreement in early 2004, but Georgia announced in 2006 it would veto Russia's accession to the organization unless Russia closes what Tbilisi terms illegal customs posts on the border between the Russian Federation and the breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28, 2005, and February 22, 2006 and January 19 and 26, 2007). Russia has repeatedly rejected that demand as politically motivated, rather than economic. LF

Georgian police deployed in the South Ossetian conflict zone detained on June 1 Ambassador Roy Reeve, who heads the OSCE Mission in Tbilisi, and Boris Chochiyev, the South Ossetian co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission that monitors the situation in the conflict zone, but released them after Reeve called Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported. The two men were on their way to check reports that a local water main that supplies both Ossetian and Georgian-populated villages has been deliberately sabotaged; each side has blamed the other for the damage. Reeve met in Tskhinvali on May 31 with the region's de facto president, Eduard Kokoity, to discuss the rising tensions between the two sides, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili predicted that Kokoity will prove powerless to make good on his threat of May 11 to expel pro-Georgian local leader Dmitry Sanakoyev from his headquarters in the village of Kurta unless he leaves the area voluntarily by May 31. Sanakoyev's office issued a similar statement on May 31 saying he has no intention of complying with Kokoity's ultimatum, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Twenty members of a Georgian Defense Ministry special purpose regiment deserted from the Kojori military base on May 31, Caucasus Press and reported the following day. Seven of them have since returned to barracks. Armed Forces Chief of Joint Staff Colonel Zaza Gogava told journalists that the conscripts' term of service was due to expire within days and they therefore had no valid reason to go absent without leave. Servicemen in Georgia have deserted en masse on at least three previous occasions to protest appalling conditions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 14, 2000, May 25 and 29, 2001, and December 21 and 22, 2004). LF

Kurmanbek Bakiev announced on May 31 the details of a new "development strategy" for economic reform including a determined effort to reduce poverty, ITAR-TASS and Kyrgyz TV reported. Bakiev added that while his government will seek to reduce the overall level of poverty from 41 percent to 30 percent over a three-year period, it "can be achieved only if 8 or 9 percent annual economic growth is ensured." He added that "macroeconomic stability" has been attained and noted that "the volume of investment in the Kyrgyz economy is growing and the country's export potential is increasing." Bakiev presented his plans at an international business forum in Bishkek attended by officials from leading international organizations and donor countries. He also specifically identified the energy and transportation sectors as priorities for efforts to seek greater foreign investment, according to the Kabar news agency. RG

In a presentation to a business development forum in Bishkek on May 31, International Monetary Fund (IMF) official Paulo Neuhaus praised Kyrgyzstan's economic growth and vowed that if the country maintains a level of 9-10 percent annual growth, it may "become the tiger of Central Asia," AKIpress reported. He compared the course of reform in Kyrgyzstan with that of the successful economic development of several East Asian economies, adding that the role of the IMF is to support the reform efforts of the Bakiev government. Neuhaus also said that the IMF "regularly reviews" Kyrgyz macroeconomic indicators under its poverty reduction program and praised its implementation for maintaining "discipline" and for meeting "all target indicators." He did express concern over the "slow reduction" of Kyrgyzstan's public external debt, which he defined as "still a heavy burden." RG

Topchubek Turgunaliev, the leader of the pro-presidential Erkindik (Freedom) party, announced on May 31 that he opposes any effort to seek the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the Manas Air Base outside of Bishkek, AKIpress reported. Turgunaliev explained that "Kyrgyzstan must maintain strategically good relations with all countries in the world" and that the presence of both an American and Russian base in the country only serves to bolster "Kyrgyz national interests." U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is set to visit Kyrgyzstan in early June for "high-level consultations on strengthening security and bilateral relations between the United States and Kyrgyzstan," according to the website. That visit will include a tour of Manas Air Base, home to roughly 1,200 U.S. military personnel and the primary support base for operations in neighboring Afghanistan. The high level visit is also seen as a response to recent recommendations by several key Kyrgyz parliamentary committees calling on the Kyrgyz government to "review" the U.S. military presence in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24 and 25, 2007). As the most obvious symbol of the Kyrgyz-U.S. military relationship, the base has sparked resentment among the Kyrgyz public following a fatal shooting at the base in December that killed a Kyrgyz citizen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2006), a collision that damaged a Kyrgyz plane, and allegations that operations at the air base are damaging the environment. RG

Following an agreement with Russia earlier this year to unify duties on oil and oil products, the Belarusian government raised the crude oil export duty from $156.40 to $200.60 per ton as of June 1, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported on May 31. The export duties on a number of petroleum products also went up by some 25 percent. Russia revises the export duties on oil and petroleum products every two months depending on fluctuations in world oil prices. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on May 31 failed to pass a package of bills needed to hold early parliamentary polls on September 30, Ukrainian media reported. Lawmakers therefore missed the second deadline set for them by President Viktor Yushchenko, who suspended his April 27 decree on the dissolution of parliament for May 29-30 and subsequently prolonged the suspension for one more day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2007). Instead, the Verkhovna Rada resolved to consider the election-related bills again on June 1. However, lawmakers on May 31 managed to pass 11 bills that were needed to meet the World Trade Organization's admission requirements. The adoption of this legislation was also covered by the deal on early elections that President Yushchenko struck with Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz on May 27. JM

President Yushchenko said during his official visit to Croatia on May 31 that if the Verkhovna Rada fails to adopt all the bills necessary for early polls before the midnight deadline, he will call for early elections 60 days after deputies from Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) give up their parliamentary mandates, international and Ukrainian news agencies reported. The same day, 168 legislators from these two pro-presidential groups submitted their resignations to the Verkhovna Rada. To legalize this move, which will make the functioning of the Verkhovna Rada illegitimate, Our Ukraine and BYuT will need to hold conventions in order to formally approve the withdrawal of their lawmakers from parliament. Lawmakers of the ruling coalition gathered for a morning sitting on June 1, but did not start a debate since the opposition was absent. The presidential website ( on June 1 published Yushchenko's decree prolonging the suspension of his dissolution decree for June 1. JM

Russia on May 31 rejected a draft resolution presented by Britain to the UN Security Council earlier in the day, international media reported the same day. When asked if that meant Russia will veto a resolution supporting independence for Kosova, Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, replied, "I don't like this word until I receive final instructions, but you're guessing well what is in my mind." The British UN ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, responded by telling journalists that "the Russians don't necessarily have any intention to veto... There's no point in having a veto unless now and again you flash it around to threaten people with." Russia is one of five veto-carrying states in the 15-member council. The latest developments are the culmination of a busy 48 hours of diplomatic activity. On May 30, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated, after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that the Russian and U.S. "positions are diametrically opposed and I don't see any chance of the positions moving any closer together." But the United States and EU members of the Security Council nonetheless chose to press ahead with the submission of a new draft resolution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2007), just hours before the end of the United States' month-long tenure of the chairmanship of the Security Council. The new draft differs in a number of ways from one submitted on May 11 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14, 2007). To reflect some of Russia's concerns, the new resolution says the UN would "support" rather than "endorse" a UN-commissioned plan that calls for independence for Kosova, would appoint a special envoy responsible for overseeing the return of Serb refugees, and would "demand" rather than "underscore the importance" of compliance with UN-established democratic standards. However, Churkin said "the introduction of this updated version of the draft has not changed anything as far as we are concerned." Russia is chiefly demanding the resumption of direct talks between Belgrade and Prishtina and a solution satisfactory to both Serbia and Kosova's Albanians. Kosova has been under UN administration since 1999. AG

Serbian President Boris Tadic on May 30 said that he is "absolutely certain" that if Serbia captures war crimes suspects wanted by the ICTY, "our capacity to defend the country's integrity in Kosovo will be far greater." In an interview aired by Radio-Television Serbia, Tadic also said that cooperation with the Hague tribunal "is good for Serbia, for its citizens, but it is also good for our European future." He added: "It would be great if we could conclude cooperation with the Hague tribunal within the next month or two. That would provide Serbia with a new impetus, that would strengthen our country's credibility in the international realm, and especially when it comes to Kosovo-Metohija," the Serbian name for Kosova. Tadic claimed there is a "fissure" within the EU over the question of independence for Kosova and that "we are working on" that fissure, adding that "every state has a small Kosovo of its own" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). However, he stressed that "we must not isolate ourselves when defending our interests in Kosovo. We must not wage a war and we must not drift away from our European aim." Tadic said that armed intervention in Kosova would lead to a "catastrophe" and would be "the shortest possible way to Kosovo's independence, because we can never defend Kosovo without allies." AG

Bosnian Serb security services on May 31 captured General Zdravko Tolimir, one of the six remaining war crimes suspects wanted by the UN tribunal in The Hague, local and international media reported the same day. Tolimir was the third-most-wanted fugitive indictee, behind only Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, the leaders of the Bosnian Serbs during the 1992-95 war. During the conflict, Tolimir was one of seven deputy military commanders directly answerable to Mladic, the Bosnian Serbs' military commander. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) believes Tolimir was a key figure in the attack on Srebrenica and the subsequent massacre of civilians there. The UN's top court has called the slaughter an "act of genocide." Tolimir, 58, is charged with genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide, extermination, murder, persecution, forcible transfer and deportation, as well as murder in connection with the Srebrenica massacre. He was arrested near the town of Ljubovija, which borders Serbia and is close to Srebrenica. Officials from the Republika Srpska, a Bosnian Serb-dominated autonomous region of Bosnia, said Serbian police were involved in the operation. Officials of the ICTY said on May 31 that preparations are under way for Tolimir's transfer to The Hague, but if his health permits. "Tolimir was considered the mastermind of the actions to shelter Mladic for a long time," Rasim Ljajic, the Serbian government minister charged with overseeing cooperation with the ICTY, told Serbian television on May 31. Ljajic hailed Tolimir's capture, saying "this is the first time that not a single fugitive from the ICTY can sleep peacefully, because our civilian and military intelligence will work simultaneously on locating them." AG

Earlier on May 31, security forces working for the Republika Srpska's Interior Ministry raided a home in the town of Banja Luka searching for clues to the whereabouts of another war crimes suspect, Stojan Zupljanin, local media reported the same day. This is the third reported raid this year in connection with the hunt for Zupljanin, whom the ICTY accuses of crimes against both Muslims and Croats in western Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13 and March 8, 2007). The capture of General Tolimir and the raid on the suspected Zupljanin supporter come two days after one of the most prominent Bosnian Serbs convicted of war crimes, Radovan Stankovic, escaped from a prison in the Republika Srpska (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). The Republika Srpska's justice minister, Dzerard Selman, dismissed the head of the Foca prison on May 30 as a result, local media reported the same day, while Milorad Dodik, the prime minister of the Republika Srpska, on May 30 backed Selman, telling journalists that the minister "has been doing his job well." In all, the ICTY has indicted 161 people. Stankovic was ranked as one of the two dozen most-wanted war criminals. In addition to Karadzic, Mladic, and Zupljanin, there are two other war crimes indictees still on the run. The ICTY believes one, Goran Hadzic, is in Serbia and that the other, Vlastimir Djordjevic, is in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2 and 9, and March 1, 2007). The ICTY said in mid-May that Tolimir, Mladic, and Karadzic were all in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2007). Serbian President Tadic told the Czech daily "Lidove noviny" on May 29 that, though he has been in overall command of efforts to locate war crimes suspects since mid-May, "I am still unable to say whether or not Mladic and Karadzic are in Serbia." AG

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on May 30 that Brussels will decide "in the coming weeks" whether to resume the preaccession process with Serbia, Serbian media reported on May 30 and 31. Rehn said, however, that a decision could depend on a pending assessment of Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY by the court's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, who is due in Serbia on June 4. Del Ponte was highly critical of the previous government, but the new government, though again led by Vojislav Kostunica, has repeatedly stressed its commitment to capturing Ratko Mladic, the fugitive wartime commander of the Bosnian Serbs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). The EU suspended talks with Belgrade on a Stabilization and Association Agreement in May 2006 because of Serbia's failure to capture Mladic. Serbia's involvement in the May 31 capture of General Tolimir, a senior aide to Mladic, improves Serbia's chances of a positive appraisal during Del Ponte's visit. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic told Serbian journalists on May 30 that he believes negotiations could resume in two or three weeks. In May, Rehn dashed Serbian hopes that the formation of a new government would be enough for Brussels to resume talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14 and 17, 2007). In an interview published in the Czech daily "Lidove noviny" on May 29, Serbian President Tadic said he believes talks could open "in a matter of days" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). AG

Serbia's new deputy prime minister, Bozidar Djelic, said on May 29 that he hopes Serbia will become a candidate for EU membership in the second half of 2008, the news agency FoNet reported the same day. Djelic, who was speaking at a gathering of economists in Belgrade, said closer ties with the EU are crucial to Serbia's economic revival, along with cooperation with the ICTY, stronger links to international financial organizations, and efforts to disentangle questions about the future of Kosova from other issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 17, 2007). "We have had a good start, but we should not think we have succeeded, because there are certain circles who want to link [these issues], and that could cause great problems," Djelic said. Djelic stressed the importance of capturing fugitives from the ICTY. "Serbia has not ended up having [economic] problems because the inflation rate was 6 percent or 8 percent last year, but because General Mladic has not been extradited," Djelic said. In an interview with the Czech daily "Lidove noviny" on May 29, Serbian President Tadic said he believes 2012 is a "realistic" date for Serbia to join the EU. AG

The parliament of the predominantly Serb-populated Republika Srpska voted on May 31 to keep the Serbian national anthem as the autonomous region's anthem, Bosnia-Herzegovina's national radio reported the same day. However, it voted to remove the lyrics of the anthem. The decision is part of a broader reassessment of symbols used in the country following a ruling by the Constitutional Court in March that both the Republika Srpska and the country's other self-governing region, the Muslim-Croat Federation, must ensure their flags and emblems are not ethnically exclusive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2007). The speaker of the Republika Srpska assembly, Igor Radojcic, has criticized the Muslim-Croat Federation's decision to temporarily use the Bosnian national flag as the regional flag, telling Banja Luka Radio on May 18 that the move was an attempt to suggest that the two entities should not have their own symbols. Bosnian Muslim politicians this year have heightened calls for the country to be reunified and for the Republika Srpska to be dissolved. They argue that the Republika Srpska, which did not exist before the 1992-95 war, is the product of the wartime genocide against Bosnian Muslims (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and 28, 2007). AG

The Albanian parliament on May 30 agreed to a series of measures intended to boost security during a visit by U.S. President George Bush, including one that forbids the Republican Guard, the formal escort given to visiting dignitaries, from carrying guns. According to reports in local and international media on May 30 and 31, other elements of the resolution allow 500 U.S. troops to move freely around the country and to use "force proportionate to any possible threat." While Bush's exact itinerary remains unclear, he is expected to be in the country for five to seven hours on June 10 and to pass through the streets of Tirana in a motorcade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25 and 30, 2007). Bush's decision to become the first U.S. president to visit Albania was initially greeted with widespread elation in that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, and May 17 and 25, 2007). However, Reuters reported on May 31 that the decision to allow only U.S. troops to carry arms is being seen as an insult. "I see no reason for American forces to come and guarantee security," Reuters quoted a former prime minister, Bashkim Fino, as saying. The daily "Korrieri" on May 31 ran a report under the headline "Please Occupy Us," and said the decision suggests Albanians are "unworthy of being masters of their own house." The vote in parliament on the security measures was unanimous, though 53 of the 140 members did not attend. In other news reported by local media, Albanian police on May 30 found two bags containing a few grams of explosives in central Tirana, one near the U.S. Embassy and another near the offices of President Alfred Moisiu. AG

Almost three weeks after the May 12 parliamentary elections from which Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) emerged the clear winner with 64 of the total 131 mandates, it remains unclear which other parties will be represented in the next government.

Participants say the ongoing talks between the HHK and its junior partner in government since 2003, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), focus not on the number of ministerial portfolios the HHD would receive, but on increasing its input into the formulation of government policy.

But the real bone of contention may be whether the HHD is prepared to support Sarkisian's candidacy in the presidential election due early next year.

In his first public comments after the release of the preliminary election returns, Sarkisian told journalists in Yerevan on May 16 that "the more political forces are included in the government, the more trusted that government will be."

He added, without elaboration, "we are ready to cooperate with any political force, with any individual."

Meeting with election observers one week later, he repeated that the HHK is ready "to draw capable parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forces into the government," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. But at least one senior HHK member has said the new government will not be a coalition in the classic sense of the word.

Tentative talks on the composition of the new cabinet took place on May 18, according to the opposition newspaper "Hayk" that has ties to former President Levon Ter-Petrossian's Armenian Pan-National Movement. How many subsequent rounds of talks have taken place is unclear.

Sarkisian told journalists on May 28 that "negotiations are still going on" with the HHD, which has 16 parliament mandates, and the Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia, BH) party headed by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian, which is the second-largest parliament faction with 25 mandates.

Two top HHD members, Armen Rustamian and Hrant Markarian, similarly told journalists after a two-hour meeting on May 30 with President Robert Kocharian that negotiations on forming a new government are continuing. Rustamian confirmed that "we have not yet reached agreement on a number of issues."

Media reports have generally attributed the delay in reaching agreement on the new cabinet on imputed disagreements over which party should obtain how many, and which, ministerial portfolios, with some analysts suggesting that the sticking point is the HHD's desire to increase the number of ministerial posts it controls, possibly by acquiring the defense portfolio.

In the outgoing government, the HHD headed the ministries of Agriculture, Education, Health Care, and Social Welfare. Under the Armenian Constitution, however, it is the prerogative of the president, not the prime minister, to name the ministers of defense and foreign affairs. And some observers have pointed out that Russia is likely to object to the appointment as defense minister of anyone whose pro-Moscow credentials are perceived to be less than impeccable.

Outgoing Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, who has served in that post since April 1998, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service on May 28 that he has not yet received an invitation to join the new government.

On May 23, Rustamian said the HHD received "various kinds of offers" of ministerial posts, but declined to be more specific. He said a decision would be made "very soon." One week later, on May 30, Rustamian denied that the disagreements between the HHK and the HHD center on specific ministerial posts. What is at issue, he said, is the HHD's "new proposals and approaches" to the functioning of the new government.

In an interview the previous day with RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Markarian similarly denied the HHD has already accepted an offer of three ministerial portfolios, and explained that the "negotiations center on more important issues."

He said the HHD cannot be "bribed by a few portfolios to join a government as an appendage," but will agree to enter a putative coalition only after "ascertaining policies, rights, and responsibilities." Markarian further denied explicitly that the HHD is insisting on naming the new defense minister.

But the most likely explanation for the protracted delay in forming a new government is Sarkisian's recent public confirmation that he intends to run for president in the ballot due in early 2008. The Armenian Constitution bars incumbent President Kocharian from seeking a third consecutive term. On May 29, Markarian said the HHD is reluctant to commit its members to supporting Sarkisian's candidacy, but he declined to say whether the party plans to field its own candidate.

On May 30, Rustamian said that he and Markarian did not discuss the 2008 presidential ballot during their meeting with Kocharian, and that the HHD will nominate its own presidential candidate.

"That also means retaining our political independence," he said. "That is the most important thing for any political force."

But Sarkisian, for his part, may be reluctant to include the HHD in the new government without a binding pledge of support for his presidential bid.

BH has not yet made any public statement about joining the new government, while a member of the Zharangutiun (Heritage) party headed by U.S.-born former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian told Noyan Tapan on May 22 that the party has not yet been invited to join talks on forming a new cabinet.

Some 16 Afghan policemen were killed and at least five were injured in an attack attributed to the Taliban in the southern Zabul Province on May 31, AFP reported, citing Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zmaray Bashari in Kabul. The Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported that 19 were killed. AT

A U.S. CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in Kajaki district of Helmand Province on May 30 while flying on a NATO-led International Security Assistance Mission (ISAF) military operation, killing the crew of five and two military passengers, according to a statement on the ISAF website. The five crew were U.S. military while the passengers were from Canada and United Kingdom, international news agencies reported. According to ISAF, the helicopter had dropped off some 40 ISAF troops before it was shot down. An ISAF unit was ambushed by enemy fighters and a battle ensured. ISAF called in an air strike and reported later that dozens of insurgents were killed. The cause of the crash is being investigated. In a message posted on a website allegedly representing the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- Qari Yusof claimed that the "mujahedin of the Islamic Emirate" used a new air defense weapon to shoot down the helicopter. According to Yusof, 60 "enemy soldiers" were killed in the incident, which ISAF denies. Yusof called the downing of the helicopter a "great accomplishment" in Operation Ambush, which the Taliban launched on May 27. Earlier, the Taliban announced that in their operation against U.S.-led coalition, NATO, and Afghan government forces they will use all types of attacks and weapons. AT

The Afghan government has initiated legislation calling for a ban on smoking in government buildings, stadiums, airports, hotels, restaurants, schools and on public transport, the Pajhwak Afghan News reported on May 31. "Let's create a smoking-free environment," said Afghan Public Health Minister Mohammad Amin Fatemi in announcing the government's decision in Kabul. The ban would take effect if it is passed by the Afghan National Assembly. AT

Javier Solana, the EU high representative for common foreign and security policy, suggested that progress was achieved in talks on the Iranian nuclear issue with Iran's Ali Larijani in Madrid on May 31, EFE reported. Solana told reporters after his meeting in La Quinta del Pardo, a Madrid palace, that there was progress "on some important issues" and that further talks are envisaged in the next two weeks, EFE reported. Larijani said there is "common ground" for more talks. The meeting was intended to agree on conditions for the resumption of formal negotiations on Iran's dossier. Iranian officials have reiterated Iran's right to enrich uranium and make nuclear fuel, a cycle that critics in the international community want halted due to its potential bomb-making applications. Solana said the two sides will "intensify" talks, Europa Press reported. He spoke of a planned meeting next week between unnamed "deputies," with another meeting between himself and Larijani scheduled for the following week, EFE reported. VS

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki was in Damascus on May 31 on a visit he said was aimed at fortifying bilateral ties and discussing regional politics, Mehr reported, citing Syrian news agency SANA. Mottaki met there with Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, with the two reportedly discussing economic cooperation and the situation in Lebanon. Mottaki told a news conference that "the strategy of America and the Zionist regime in Lebanon is for tensions to continue, and to prevent unity" in Lebanon, ISNA reported. He congratulated President al-Asad on his recent reelection. Al-Asad was reconfirmed as president in a referendum on May 29 in which he was the only candidate, AP reported. ISNA quoted al-Asad as telling Mottaki that the vote for him signified the Syrians' approval of "our policies," and especially policies toward the United States. Mottaki was due to meet with Syrian Prime Minister Muhammad Naji al-Atri and Vice President Faruq al-Shara, Mehr reported. He was also to oversee with Iran's Industries Minister Alireza Tahmasbi the launch of assembly in Syria of the Samand, an Iranian model of car. VS

Iran's energy minister, Parviz Fattah, was in Turkey on May 31 for what he described afterward as "very positive and constructive" talks with Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Hilmi Guler that included "agreements in principle" on energy cooperation and hydroelectricity projects, IRNA reported. Guler said the two sides discussed the construction of gas-fired electricity plants in Iran and dams in Turkey, IRNA reported. Fattah said they discussed ways to more than double supplies of electricity transferred along power lines to Turkey. Energy Minister Fattah on May 31 dismissed as "mischief" the reported discovery of suspected Iranian arms on an Iran-to-Syria train recently derailed in Turkey. Turkish authorities discovered the arms amid other material on a train derailed by guerrillas in southeastern Turkey on May 25, AP reported on May 30. Iran's embassy in Turkey immediately issued a statement denying that the weapons belonged to Iran, AP added. Fattah told a reporter on May 31 that Iranian-Turkish relations are improving and "it is natural that opponents of the two countries...would wish to obstruct these developing relations," IRNA reported. VS

Troops from the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) battled and reportedly killed 10 suspected Kurdish guerrillas in northwestern Iran on May 30, after gunmen ambushed IRGC personnel on May 28, Radio Farda reported on May 31, citing agency reports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2007). The IRGC issued a statement on May 30 to say that operations against the guerrillas or paramilitaries will continue. It also revealed in a May 31 statement the identities of some of its personnel killed on May 28. They include Alireza Talei, a brigadier-general, and an unnamed intelligence chief for Talei's brigade, Radio Farda reported, citing IRNA. VS

Specialists and mid-ranking officials in Tehran from May 27-30 discussed the legal and financial details of a planned pipeline to export gas from Iran to Pakistan and India, and are to prepare within 12 days the texts of two relevant agreements, Iran's representative in the project said in Tehran late on May 30, ISNA reported. Hojjatollah Ghanimifard said two texts are to be drafted -- one of an agreement on the project to be signed by the three states, and the other identifying the companies that would sign the deal and presumably build and operate the pipeline, though he did not specify. The pipeline is to export Iranian gas over a 25-year period. The United States has voiced opposition to the project, saying it will increase revenues that Iran might devote to developing weapons of mass destruction. Ghanimifard said the three states will continue discussing legal details until June 30, when he said an agreement will be signed. It was not immediately clear if that reference was to the definitive three-state agreement. Indian Oil and Gas Minister Murli Deora told Reuters in Paris on May 31 that "a deal is coming" with the pipeline. VS

Al-Sharqiyah television reported on June 1 that the Interior Ministry has recorded 1,951 civilians killed in Iraq during the month of May. The news channel said the figures were "announced" by the Health, Interior, and Defense ministries. Citing sources from the three ministries, the news channel reported that the figure includes 746 unidentified bodies found in Baghdad, including 29 bodies found on May 31. It also cited the Interior Ministry as reporting 2,023 civilians wounded, 127 police officers and 47 soldiers killed, 297 insurgents killed, and 2,356 suspected insurgents arrested in May. According to Al-Sharqiyah, 1,689 civilians were killed in April. AP reported on May 1 that it calculated 2,077 Iraqis killed between May 1 and May 30, including 237 Iraqi security forces. KR

Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), has returned to Iraq after a brief stay in Iran for cancer treatment, Al-Iraqiyah television reported on June 1. SIIC leader Hamid al-Ma'lah told the online "Free Bab" newspaper that discussions are under way within the SIIC to choose a successor to al-Hakim. The cleric was discharged from a Tehran hospital last week and has spent the last few days at his home in the capital. KR

Iraqi tribal leaders have told London-based "Al-Hayat" that they expect the U.S. and Iraqi militaries to launch a major operation aimed at driving the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq from Diyala Governorate, the newspaper reported on May 31. "Major preparations are under way in the provincial joint-operations room that is manned by senior Iraqi army and police commanders in cooperation with multinational forces to launch a major battle against the armed groups," said Sheikh Dari Thu'ban al-Khuyun. The tribal leader said the majority of the fighters hail from the governorate, adding: "We have accurate information on the locations of these groups." Sheikh Ali al-Burhan, leader of the Al-Izzah tribes, told "Al-Hayat" that the "military capabilities of the armed groups are bigger than those of the tribes and the army" in the governorate, and reinforcements have not yet arrived. "It would be better to arm the largest number of tribes, which can cleanse all the regions of Diyala where more than 80 percent of the armed men and the insurgents in Iraq are found," Al-Burhan contended. He stressed that any large-scale military operation could destroy "the good things" in Diyala while trying to drive out insurgents. KR

The Islamic Army in Iraq fought insurgents from the Islamic State of Iraq in the Al-Amiriyah neighborhood of Baghdad on May 31, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Residents in Al-Amiriyah said the fighting began when members of the Islamic Army in Iraq entered the Al-Muluki Mosque, which was occupied by militants from the Islamic State, to discuss recent killings carried out by the Islamic State. The Islamic Army left after an argument ensued and shortly thereafter a person announced through the mosque's loudspeaker that Islamic State leader Abu Taybah had been assassinated. The announcement prompted the Islamic State to capture and kill six Islamic Army fighters, and the armed confrontation erupted. Sheikh Hamid al-Hayis told AFP that the Al-Anbar Salvation Council "dispatched around 50 of our secret police" to Al-Amiriyah to assist the Islamic Army, the news agency reported on June 1. A local resident told AFP that the 1920 Revolution Brigades was also involved in the fighting. Meanwhile, U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Dale Kuehl told AP that U.S. forces backed by helicopter gun ships joined the fight against Al-Qaeda in Al-Amiriyah on May 30 and 31. KR

Former Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan was sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison for administrative and financial corruption on May 31, Al-Iraqiyah television reported. The Iraqi Criminal Court handed down the sentence, and ordered the same sentence for former Electricity Minister Ayham al-Samarra'i, who was convicted on similar charges. The court also sentenced self-exiled parliamentarian Mish'an al-Juburi and his son, Yazin, to 15 years in jail; both men are in Syria. Al-Juburi runs a pro-Ba'athist, pro-insurgent television channel, Al-Zawra (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 6, 2006). Meanwhile, "Al-Bayyinah" reported on May 31 that the Inspector-General's Office at the Communication Ministry has referred four administrative corruption cases to the Integrity Commission for investigation. Iraqi dailies reported in April that the Interior Ministry fired 14,000 employees over the past year on charges of corruption and human rights violations. KR

Jalal Talabani told U.S. President George W. Bush at a May 31 meeting at the White House that he is committed to meeting the benchmarks set by the United States for Iraq. Talabani said Iraqi leaders will "do [their] best to achieve some progress forward for national reconciliation, for passing the law -- oil law, de-Ba'athification, and investment, and other laws which are now under discussion." Talabani added that Iraq is working toward building its army and assuming responsibility for security in the country. "We are very grateful to the American people. And I present my condolences to the sacrifice which these glorious people, America has always presented for liberating peoples all over the world," Talabani said. The Iraqi president noted several social and economic achievements carried out by the Iraqi government, adding that the press only focuses on the negative aspects of Iraq. "We have problems," said Talabani, adding that "there are good achievements also." KR