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Newsline - June 7, 2007

On June 6, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Heiligendamm, Germany, on the margins of the Group of Eight (G8) summit that the United States should not use concerns about the state of Russian democracy as an excuse for meddling in Russian internal affairs, international media reported. Referring to recent remarks by President George W. Bush about Russian reforms being "derailed," Peskov said that "we would disagree with concerns regarding the so-called rollback of democracy. We wouldn't welcome any intention on the U.S. side to interfere in Russian elections. We consider it a domestic affair of Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2007). Russian media have been speculating for months about possible U.S. efforts to influence the 2007 parliamentary elections or the presidential vote slated for 2008. On June 6, Peskov added that "of course we are not a perfect country in everything, and our democracy is not perfect. We are ready to listen to criticism.... But at the same time we feel we have the right to expect our partners to listen to our concerns. There are also [many] concerns on our side." PM

President Bush said after an informal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Heiligendamm on June 6 that one should not overreact to Putin's recent harsh statements about possibly targeting missiles at Europe in response to the planned U.S. missile-defense system, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 4, 5, and 6, 2007). Bush argued that "Russia's not going to attack Europe. Russia is not an enemy. There needs to be no military response [to Putin's threat] because we're not at war with Russia." On June 7, Bush said that Russia is "not something that we ought to be hyperventilating about. What we ought to be doing is figure out ways to work together." An unnamed Russian official said on June 6 that Putin's comment about targeting Europe was a "purely hypothetical" response to a reporter's question. Kremlin spokesman Peskov appeared to tone down Russian rhetoric against missile defense by describing the U.S. explanations for the project simply as "insufficient." In addition to Bush, Putin spoke privately with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who told the French media that he wanted a "frank discussion" with the Russian leader in response to Putin's increasingly tough rhetoric in recent months. PM

Britain's "The Times" reported on June 7 that Prime Minister Tony Blair "is preparing to tell Russia that it faces an economic backlash in Europe unless it shows that it shares the West's democratic values of tolerating dissent and preventing abuses of human rights." Blair suggested that "people in Europe will want to minimize the business they do with Russia" if Moscow does not make a firmer commitment to shared values, including respect for business contracts. The daily noted that in Heiligendamm on June 6 "Putin appeared in no mood to take lectures," and that the "frank discussion" Blair wanted with him about missiles and the poison killing of Aleksandr Litvinenko apparently will not take place until the main business of the summit is over. The paper wrote that recent tensions between Putin and many of his colleagues overshadowed the opening of the summit on June 6. The daily added that unnamed "European diplomats [in Heiligendamm] could not disguise their anger at the Cold War-style invective that they accused Putin of using in an attempt to steal the show" by raising the missile issue at a time when German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to highlight other international concerns. One European diplomat said that "Putin's objective seems to be to divide the EU and the U.S. Is he trying to create a sense of crisis to justify his return as Russian president [when his current term runs out in 2008]?" Putin is constitutionally barred from seeking a third mandate in 2008 and says he opposes changing the constitution to enable him to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30, April 18, and May 29, 2007). Russia's on June 7 referred to Blair's planned message to Putin as "an ultimatum." PM

The Russian daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on June 7 that the G8 summit in Heiligendamm will be the most difficult one yet for President Putin because of the strong reaction in the West to his recent rhetoric (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 5, and 6, 2007). The paper dubbed the meeting "the summit of incomprehension." The Gazprom-owned daily "Izvestia" on June 7 also noted the tensions surrounding the opening of the summit, pointing out that among Chancellor Merkel's first words to Putin were "and now, let's get down to business." The daily "Kommersant" wrote on June 7 that the summit was likely to be a dialogue of the deaf because the participants have not only conflicting views on many issues, but also conflicting priorities. Putin, the paper suggested, seems more interested in discussing Kosova than other subjects. "Kommersant" noted on June 6 that Putin's Cold War-style rhetoric will be as much an issue in Heiligendamm as measures to combat global warming, which Merkel hoped to have at the center of the discussions. The daily "Vedomosti" wrote on June 6 that for Putin, "finding a common language with his counterparts will be much harder this time than it was at the start of his presidential career [in 2000]. The issues he is concerned about do not fit in with the summit agenda." The paper argued that he is likely to find himself "isolated" and suggested that the "Kremlin ought to stop and think about how Putin's successor will repair the damage done to relations now." PM

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said in Helsinki, Finland, on June 6 that his government wants help from Russia in identifying those behind the recent massive cyberattack on Estonia's Internet infrastructure, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, and June 5 and 6, 2007). "It is clear this is criminal activity. I hope Russia will cooperate in those cases with Estonia," he added. Ansip called the attack in early May, which involved a barrage of clicks on a given website, leading to overload, "a well-orchestrated attack against an independent country." Some sites were hit from around the world with as many as 5 million clicks per second, compared with a normal level of up to 1,500 clicks per day. Russia has denied any involvement in the affair, which coincided with a rapid deterioration in bilateral relations. Estonian officials say that some of the attacks can be traced back to the Kremlin itself. PM

An investigation into the May 24 methane-gas explosion at the Yubileynaya mine in Novokuznetsk in Kemerovo Oblast in western Siberia, which left 39 dead, concluded that management and miners took serious safety risks in the interests of increased production and higher pay, news agencies reported on June 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 17, and May 24 and 30, 2007). Officials of the Federal Service for Ecological, Technological, and Atomic Monitoring (Rostekhnadzor) said on June 6 that similar tampering with safety equipment led to an explosion at a nearby mine in March, which killed 110 people. PM

Nikolai Patrushev, who heads the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the National Counterterrorism Committee, said on June 5 that terrorists are targeting Russia's nuclear facilities, the daily "Gazeta" reported on June 6. He added that the committee "received reports, including some from our foreign partners, that terrorists are striving to gain access to weapons of mass destruction and technologies for producing them." He called for checking security arrangements at all nuclear facilities, which are generally located in officially closed areas. Patrushev noted the worldwide role of the Internet in providing information, ideological propaganda, and networking for terrorists, saying that "there are now around 5,000 websites used by extremist organizations and groups." PM

Senior religious figures, including Council of Muftis of Russia Chairman Ravil Gainutdin, and government officials including FSB Director Patrushev, Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, Prosecutor-General Yury Chayka, and presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak attended a conference in Makhachkala on June 6 that focused on combating religious and political extremism, reported. Patrushev said such trends are becoming increasingly dangerous and destabilize the internal political situation; he said they are "to a considerable degree" fuelled by foreign states intent on weakening Russia. Nurgaliyev claimed his ministry has registered "a certain success" in recent years, neutralizing "underground networks" in Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Daghestan, Interfax reported. Kozak for his part warned that adverse political and social conditions, including official corruption and the lack of employment opportunities, impel young men to join extremist groups. LF

The Federation Council approved on June 6 with only two votes against draft legislation that would empower a regional governor to dissolve the local legislature on the grounds of "inactivity" if deputies fail to convene for their first session within 30 days of its election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19, 2007), the daily "Kommersant" reported on June 7. The legislation was reportedly drafted in response to the boycott by legislators in Tyva of the parliament elected last October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2007), but Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, who voted against the bill, said he considers it too harsh a countermeasure to the Tyva situation. At the same time, he expressed doubts that any governor would avail himself of the right to dissolve parliament. LF

President Putin on June 6 proposed to the People's Khural (Council) of the Republic of Buryatia the candidature of Vyacheslav Nogovitsyn, who is currently deputy governor of Tomsk Oblast, to succeed Leonid Potapov as Buryatia's president, reported. Potapov is 71 and his presidential term expires early next month. Nogovitsyn was born in 1956 in the Udmurt ASSR and has university degrees in engineering and management. Tomsk Oblast Governor Viktor Kress characterized him as exceptionally well qualified for the post of president. Nogovitsyn appears to have been a compromise candidate selected because neither of the two candidates whom presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Anatoly Kvashnin initially proposed to Putin was acceptable to Buryatia's political elite (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 2007). LF

Larisa Dorogova, the lawyer representing the families of some of the 95 young men killed during multiple attacks by militants on police and security facilities in Nalchik on October 13, 2005, told relatives on June 6 that the Russian authorities have informed the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that the bodies were cremated on June 22, 2006, reported. Several families appealed to the ECHR to pressure the Russian authorities to release the bodies for burial; Moscow refused, adducing a law on terrorism that requires that "terrorists" be buried in unmarked graves. Islam requires that the dead be buried; cremation is considered an affront to the memory of the deceased. Relatives of the dead have met on several occasions with Kabardino-Balkaria Republic President Arsen Kanokov, who assured them in September 2006 that he did not have the authority to release the bodies for burial, otherwise he would already have done so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). The website on June 6 repeated that only 37 active militants were killed during the fighting in Nalchik, thereby again substantiating some relatives' claims that their sons or husbands were either killed in cross fire or gunned down on the street for no valid reason. Photographs taken in the Nalchik morgue of the 95 dead, together with identity papers of those who could be positively identified, are posted at LF

The three political parties that have the largest factions in the new parliament elected on May 12 signed two separate agreements on June 6 on forming a new government, Noyan Tapan,, and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which has 64 of the 131 seats, and the pro-presidential Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia, BH) party headed by wealthy businessman Gagik Tsarukian, which has 25 seats, signed a memorandum on creating a coalition government. According to the memorandum, the coalition's primary objective for the next four years is to form an efficient government that enjoys popular trust and will be able to ensure stable and continuous economic development, building on the achievements of the previous four years. The new HHK-BH coalition then signed a cooperation agreement with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), which has 16 parliament mandates and was the HHK's junior partner in the previous coalition government. The allocation of government portfolios remains unclear; Prosperous Armenia is likely to receive the urban development and health ministries, while the HHD hopes to retain three of the four portfolios it held in the previous cabinet (agriculture, education, and social security). Senior HHD member Armen Rustamian was quoted by Noyan Tapan on June 7 as explaining the reason his party decided against joining the new coalition is that it wants to retain its tactical freedom. LF

A court in Yerevan on June 6 found journalist Gagik Shamshian guilty of fraud and embezzlement, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He was given a 30-month suspended prison sentence with a two-year probation period. Shamshian, a photojournalist with the independent newspapers "Aravot" and "Chorrord ishkhanutiun," was accused in August 2006 -- shortly after he claimed to have been assaulted by associates of Mher Hovannisian, mayor of Yerevan's Nubarashen district -- of having extorted money in 1998-2004 from Nubarashen residents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 18, 2007). He denied the charges, but said on June 6 he is unlikely to appeal the verdict. LF

Five of the 16 persons apprehended in January this year on suspicion of plotting to seize power in Azerbaijan have been released, reported on June 6. The five allegedly belong to a "gang" led by Said Dadashbeyli, who remains in custody (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 18, 2007). LF

Former Economic Development Minister Farxad Aliyev testified on June 6 at his trial on corruption charges that he never had any contacts with exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev, reported. At the time of Aliyev's arrest in October 2005, he was accused of plotting with Quliyev to stage a coup d'etat (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 20, 2005). Aliyev also said that he discharged his ministerial duties honestly, regularly reported to the president on malpractice by various local officials, and sought single-handedly to dismantle the economic system under which individual powerful officials exercised a monopoly over the import of such basic goods as tea. He claimed his whistle-blowing activities incurred the wrath of unnamed "black forces" who sought to destroy him and informed President Ilham Aliyev (to whom he is not related) of his alleged ties with the opposition and his presidential aspirations. Farxad Aliyev subsequently refused to answer questions from the prosecution. LF

Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Merab Antadze was quoted as telling journalists in Tbilisi on June 6 that he hoped the meeting scheduled for June 7-8 of co-chairmen of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring developments in the South Ossetian conflict zone would yield a "constructive dialogue," Caucasus Press reported. But on June 7, his ministry released a statement saying there is "no point" in holding the meeting because resolutions adopted at previous sessions of the commission have not been implemented, and the water shortage in Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, which the co-chairmen were slated to discuss, has reportedly been ended, Caucasus Press reported. The resumption of water supplies is a result of the intervention of the pro-Tbilisi provisional administration of South Ossetia, according to on June 7. Yury Popov, the Russian co-chairman of the commission, who arrived in Tbilisi on June 6, is to meet with Antadze on June 7 before traveling to Tskhinvali for talks with the South Ossetian co-chairman, Boris Chochiyev. LF

The Georgian Interior Ministry formally arrested on June 6 three department heads from the Audit Chamber who are believed to have accepted bribes from a highway construction firm, Caucasus Press and reported. Levan Choladze, who was named Audit Chamber head in mid-May, greeted the arrests, but at the same time warned critics against trying to "politicize" the work of his agency. It is not clear whether the arrests were triggered by the findings, unveiled in late May, of a parliament commission tasked with reviewing the chamber's activities. LF

Police in Almaty on June 6 arrested the leader of an unregistered Kazakh political party after he read verses from the works of Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in front of a small crowd in the city's Central Square, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. In a gathering coinciding with Pushkin's birthday, Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, the leader of the unregistered Algha party, was accompanied by Kazakh poets Aysulu Kadyrbaeva and Amantay Akhmetov, who also read excerpts from their own poetry, and by Algha party member Naghashybay Esmurzaev. An unnamed local deputy district prosecutor said that Esmurzaev, Akhmetov, and Kozhakhmetov were forcibly removed from the square and detained by police. The gathering was reportedly organized to draw attention to the recent detentions of several people who publicly protested against recent changes to the Kazakh Constitution, including amendments allowing President Nursultan Nazarbaev to serve for an unlimited number of terms (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 29, 30, and 31, 2007). RG

The lower house of the Kazakh parliament voted on June 6 to revise the terms of a lease governing Russia's use of two military areas in the country, Khabar TV reported. According to the terms of the new lease, Russia will pay $25 million each year for use of the Saryshagan and Emba staging grounds. Russia previously provided Kazakhstan with an equivalent value in arms and military equipment in an agreement originally concluded in 1995. Deputies also stipulated that a part of the annual payment must be used for the financing of health care and development of the local areas around the two military areas. RG

The seventh meeting of the Tajik-Russian interparliamentary cooperation commission took place on June 6 in Dushanbe to discuss issues of bilateral trade, investment, and state debt, Avesta reported. The Russian delegation, led by commission co-chairman and Russian parliamentarian Boris Pastukhov, told reporters that bilateral trade increased by some 40 percent in 2006, and noted that the volume of trade surpassed $500 million last year. But Pastukhov said that "despite these positive aspects, we have not always been able to resolve problems hindering the implementation of the agreements signed as part of interstate bilateral cooperation," and noted the $49 million in arrears that Tajikistan owes Russia. Tajik Deputy Minister of Economic Development and Trade Larisa Kislyakova welcomed the increase in bilateral trade, and noted that Russian investment in Tajikistan has reached $30 million, driven largely by new investments by Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) in Tajikistan's Sangtuda-1 hydroelectric power station. The commission is also set to discuss problems involving the implementation of a bilateral accord on labor migration aimed at providing extended protection for the large number of Tajik migrant laborers working in Russia. RG

Activists of the Belarusian opposition group Youth Front (Malady Front) have applied to the justice department of the Minsk City Executive Committee to receive legal status for their organization, Belapan reported on June 6. "If we are denied registration once again, we will appeal in court," said Barys Haretski, the leader of the Youth Front. This is the sixth attempt to legally register the group, which has been operating without government recognition for a decade. In late May, a Minsk court fined four Youth Front members for participating in an unauthorized organization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2007). Another Youth Front leader, Zmitser Dashkevich, was sentenced in November 2006 to 18 months in jail on similar charges. AM

Belarus's gas-pipeline network Beltranshaz transferred a 12.5 percent stake to Russian gas monopoly Gazprom on June 6, Belapan reported, quoting Valery Kramar, an aide to the chairman of the State Property Committee. Gazprom paid $625 million for the stake a few days before the transfer. Beltranshaz is now set to hold a shareholders' meeting to agree on changing the company's executive board to include a Gazprom representative. Under an agreement signed in Moscow on December 31, 2006, Gazprom is to acquire a 50 percent stake worth $2.5 billion in Beltranshaz by June 1, 2010, to form a joint gas-transport company. The payment this month was the first of four 12.5 percent installments to be paid between 2007 and 2010. AM

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko told foreign diplomats on June 6 that the Verkhovna Rada has ceased to exist and has no authority, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website,, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). "From now on, people's deputies of the fifth convocation may fulfill only those functions which are not directly related to the Verkhovna Rada or any foreign agencies," Yushchenko said. He also said that his June 5 decree scheduling early parliamentary elections for September 30 was the result of an agreement between the ruling coalition and the opposition. "It is the fifth Verkhovna Rada which should bear responsibility if the agreement is broken. It seems that certain politicians want to draw the whole country into turmoil again in order to protect their posts. Ukrainian society and our international partners should know who is breaking agreements and impeding the peaceful resolution of the clash," he said. Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych said the same day that the Ukrainian parliament continues to be legitimate, and "will exist until there is a definitive decision or explanation from the Constitutional Court." AM

Oleksandr Chalyy, the deputy head of the Ukrainian Presidential Secretariat, on June 6 challenged Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that Russia supplies Ukraine with subsidized gas, Interfax reported. Chalyy said that from 1992 to 2000, Russia sold Ukraine some 30 billion cubic meters of gas annually at $80 per 1,000 cubic meters. Thus, Chalyy argued, Russia charged Ukraine more than it charged European countries, which bought Russian gas in the same period at $67.5-$80 per 1,000 cubic meters on average. At the same time, Ukraine has been providing its gas transit and storage services at rates are far lower than those in Europe, Chalyy added. Putin recently told Western media that Russia's supply of cheap energy resources to Ukraine for the past 15 years has amounted to a subsidy of $3 billion-$5 billion each year. AM

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Carla Del Ponte, on June 6 hailed Serbia's new "positive" attitude to cooperation with the UN tribunal and said she would be "grateful" if the EU were to restart talks with Belgrade "as soon as possible," the BBC reported the same day. This was Del Ponte's last scheduled visit to Serbia before she steps down, her first at Serbia's invitation, and by far her most positive assessment of Serbia's efforts to capture suspected war criminals. The EU promised to resume talks with Serbia ahead of Del Ponte's visit following the capture of a Bosnian Serb general, Zdravko Tolimir, but said that the timing would hinge on Del Ponte's appraisal of Serbia's cooperation with the ICTY (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 2007). According to Reuters, the report will be filed on June 18. The Swiss prosecutor said Serbia is now showing the political will needed to capture war crimes suspects and told the BBC that Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has indicated Serbia expects to seize three of the five suspects who remain on the run (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 2007). Most critically, she said Kostunica expects police to apprehend the Bosnian Serbs' wartime commander, Ratko Mladic, whose evasion of justice resulted in the EU suspending talks with Serbia in May 2006. In her interview with the BBC, Del Ponte said she believes Mladic is currently hiding in the suburbs of Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 16, 2007). According to the BBC, Del Ponte believes some arrests could be made before she leaves office in September, while Reuters quoted Del Ponte as saying, "we may have other positive results" even before her June 18 report. The Serbian broadcaster B92 aired comments in which, switching into Serbian for emphasis, Del Ponte said: "I want results. The question is when. The answer is now." Del Ponte's comments came at the end of a four-day trip that included meetings with the president, a range of ministers, and a covey of senior intelligence-service officials. Del Ponte's previous visits to Belgrade have been brief and tense affairs, but even her accommodation -- in a presidential villa rather than a hotel -- indicated an improvement in relations between Belgrade and The Hague tribunal. AG

At their joint press conference on June 6, Carla Del Ponte and Serbian President Boris Tadic were terse in their responses to questions about the capture of Zdravko Tolimir, local and international media reported. The Bosnian Serb general's transfer to the ICTY has roused controversy in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina amid allegations that he was not captured, as reported, in Bosnia-Herzegovina but in Serbia, and that key Serbian officials were not informed about the joint operation by Serbian and Bosnian Serb forces. Reuters quoted Del Ponte as saying she does not care where Tolimir was arrested, only that he is now in The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, June 1 and 4, 2007). According to B92, Tadic said that "all those who were supposed to know about [the operation] knew about it. That, naturally, includes me." The Bosnian daily "Dnevni avaz" on June 6 claimed, citing unnamed "sources close to The Hague tribunal," that Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica ordered the operation and did not inform Tadic or other officials, prompting Serbia's war crimes prosecutor, an intelligence chief, and the chief Serbian official liaising with the ICTY to tender their resignations on June 4. All three remain in office. Tadic has consistently called cooperation with the ICTY a top national priority, a stance only recently unequivocally adopted by Kostunica. The Bosnian daily "Oslobodenje" on June 2 quoted Bosnia's state-level intelligence sources as saying that the operation was staged and that, while Tolimir's arrest was portrayed as a joint police operation, Tolimir surrendered voluntarily to Serbian police and was then handed over to police in the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated autonomous region in Bosnia. The head of Bosnia's border police, Vinko Dumancic, told "Oslobodjenje" that his forces took no part in the arrest and received no field reports of any operation in the border area where Tolimir was supposedly arrested. The Serbian Radical Party, Serbia's largest party, is bringing a vote of no confidence against the Serbian government over the Tolimir affair. AG

The foreign ministers of Serbia and Russia, Vuk Jeremic and Sergei Lavrov, respectively, reiterated the strength of their opposition to independence for Kosova and the staunchness of their solidarity after meeting in Moscow on June 6, the same day that Russian President Vladimir Putin joined leaders of the world's seven wealthiest democracies at a Group of Eight (G8) summit in Germany. Jeremic said he was "very pleased" with the meeting and described Russia's position as "practically identical" with Serbia's, Radio-Television Serbia reported the same day. The ministers' press conference indicated no change in either country's position, suggesting that talks between Putin and U.S. President George W. Bush, the chief proponent of a swift, imposed resolution of Kosova, will be testy and possibly inconclusive. Russia has indicated in recent weeks that it is prepared to veto a UN plan for the UN-administered region unless the UN returns the responsibility for finding a solution to Serbian and Kosovar Albanian leaders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14 and 31, and June 1, 2007). Interfax news agency reported that during their meeting, Jeremic and Lavrov agreed on their response should the United States submit a resolution to the UN Security Council in the days following the G8 summit, as the U.S. ambassador to the UN has suggested will happen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2007). Putin is due to meet Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica in St. Petersburg on June 9, a day after the G8 summit ends. Russia's support for Serbia has taken the relationship to levels that are unprecedented and, as RIA Novosti quoted Jeremic as saying, to "a quite enviable level." In an interview published by the state-run Russian daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on June 6, Jeremic said, "the quality and intensity of our [Serbian-Russian] relations are higher than ever," and emphasized that "my trip to Moscow is my first official foreign visit." Jeremic visited Bosnia-Herzegovina on May 28 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). AG

Kosova's international prosecutor decided on June 5 that Albin Kurti, the organizer of a protest in February that ended in the deaths of two demonstrators, should stand trial for, in the Justice Ministry's words, "leading a group committing a criminal offense," Kosovar and Serbian media reported on June 5-6. Kurti's Self-Determination (Vetevendosja) movement has been particularly vociferous in its opposition to the UN's plan for the region, has referred to the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) as a "terrorist regime," and has vandalized UN targets. Kurti was detained shortly after the February 10 demonstration, released from prison, and placed under house arrest on May 10, but was then rearrested on May 11 after breaching the terms of his parole by, among other things, speaking to the media. A UN commission concluded in April that the Romanian police contingent that fired on the demonstrators in February was armed with outdated bullets and that "there is a reasonable suspicion" that the shootings were "crimes under Kosovo law" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19, 2007). It did not rule on what triggered the violence, though police commanders have previously said it began when protesters tried to enter government buildings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 12, 2007). AG

Serbian migrants remit around $3 billion annually, the governor of Serbia's National Bank, Radovan Jelasic, told an international conference held in Belgrade on June 5. Jelasic welcomed the figure, saying in comments reported by the website Balkan Insight that "remittances are improving the living standard of our people, [and] they are also a major boost to the development of small and medium[-sized] businesses." Official figures suggest that more than 1 million of Serbia's 10.6 million people are working abroad. Most are in the European Union. AG

In an annual report released on June 4 and summarized on June 5 by the daily "Vijesti," Montenegro's human rights ombudsman, Sefko Crnovrsanin, said that the country's human rights record in 2006 remains unsatisfactory. Crnovrsanin noted improvements over the year, but said there were violations at every level and in most areas of life. Over the course of the year, the public filed 495 complaints with the ombudsman. An Amnesty International report issued in May 2007 was critical of a terrorist case brought against ethnic Albanians, the legal treatment of Romany and ethnic-Serbian refugees from Kosova, and noted three suspected political killings or attacks committed in recent years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 13 and 22, March 20, and May 15, 2007). AG

Macedonia's parliament on June 5 adopted a bill that creates a legal framework for cooperation with the ICTY, local media reported the same day. Macedonia is reportedly the last country in the region to pass such a law. The bill's passage through parliament was delayed by a year by the country's two largest ethnic-Albanian parties, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) and the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh). Both parties supported the bill on June 5. The dispute centered on the ICTY's plans to transfer four cases back to Macedonia. The tribunal shelved those plans in early May, reportedly on the grounds that Macedonia's courts are not yet ready to hear such cases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). The ICTY in April began the trial of a former Macedonian interior minister, Ljube Boskovski, and a former senior police official for their role in the murder of seven ethnic Albanians in August 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 17, 2007). If the other cases are eventually returned to Skopje, the Boskovski case will be the only case linked to the 2001 conflict that the ICTY will itself have prosecuted. AG

Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who led street protests in Belarus after the October 2006 presidential election, was recently voted out of his post as the head of the Belarusian opposition coalition. RFE/RL spoke to Milinkevich on the sidelines of the Democracy and Security Conference in Prague on June 6.

RFE/RL: Do you think that, looking at the newly worsening relationship between Russia and Belarus, the opposition in Belarus has opportunities it didn't have before? Also, do you think that, because of the schisms in internal Belarusian opposition, it could lose those opportunities?

Alyaksandr Milinkevich: I think that in Russia, the attitude towards our country is unambiguous. For most Russian politicians, it's very important to keep Belarus in the Russian political and economic spheres of influence. This is why Russia behaves the way it does. It turns off the gas to remind Belarus that it's dependent, then turns it on again when Belarus starts borrowing from Russia and paying it back with the help of its own resources. Of course, Russia can be an ally in the fight against dictatorship because evidently Russian politicians are tired of [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka. But I think that Russia's goals differ somewhat from those of our democratic opposition. Our goal is a free Belarus, a democratic Belarus whose main strategic goal is integration into Europe. In the strategic sphere, these goals are, of course, different. I want to reiterate that Belarus must have a good-natured and fair relationship with Russia, but we insist on principle that our nation must remain an independent state.

RFE/RL: Given the state of relations between Russia and Belarus, are there now both opportunities and dangers for the Belarusian opposition?

Milinkevich: First of all, Russia is a less predictable country today because democracy is on the decline. Reliable, stable, and nonthreatening countries are democratic ones. I want very much for Russia to return to a democratic path of development. This is very important: they are our neighbor. Nevertheless, I think that the main force that will change the situation in our country is us. Support from Western democracies is very important. It's very important for Russia to realize that, as a regime, it can never have good relations. But it is upon us to bring freedom to Belarus.

RFE/RL: Do you think that as a result of the schisms in internal opposition that were evident in your latest congress in Minsk, you will lose your opportunities? What are the consequences of this?

Milinkevich: Of course, one has to fight dictatorship together, with a common fist. Not everyone thinks so. Certain party leaders say that the time to unite will be the presidential election, but in everyday life one can work for the benefit of one's own party rather than for a common cause. I think that this is a mistake because under dictatorship, one cannot just work for one's own party. Isolated parties and civil organizations will be destroyed. But I wouldn't say that we have a schism, we just have different perspectives on strategy. I am for an active strategy. I am for a strategy in which we approach people. I am not prepared to wait for another election, which are useless anyway. Our votes aren't counted. Elections for us are merely another informational campaign, a mobilizing campaign. But they are in no way a means of acquiring power. In our country, we cannot change the government through elections. How can we change it? Through street action, through acts of civil disobedience. This was the case in many countries, as I said today. It was the case in Poland during Solidarity, it was the case in Czechoslovakia, and many other countries. If they don't want to listen to us at elections, they must listen to us in the streets. That's my position. But certain party leaders say: "Europe is offering a dialogue with the regime. Let's participate in this dialogue." I'm for the dialogue, but I think it will happen later, when we prove that we are a worthy partner. The regime doesn't want to sit with us at the negotiating table. We are not a political subject from the point of view of the regime. We have to prove that we're a force.

RFE/RL: Do you think that there are elements of the regime with which you can negotiate and collaborate? The authorities are not a singular entity, and looking at other revolutions, there were always situations in which the opposition collaborated with some elements. Is this possible in Belarus or not?

Milinkevich: Of course the authorities are not homogeneous. There are people there who don't like the current situation. There are people who understand that the country is approaching a dead end. There are dissenting sentiments even in the police, even in the special services. There are many intelligent, educated people there. But I think that the fear in the bureaucratic elite is so great, much greater than in society, that the bureaucratic elite itself will not come to an agreement. The bureaucratic elite itself will not create a turnover. And also let's remember that our bureaucratic elite is entirely appointed, not elected. When the mayor of Kyiv supported the Orange Revolution, he did so because he was elected by the people. He wasn't afraid of the prime minister. We don't have people like that. Our authorities are desperately afraid of their leader, even though many don't like him. We must demonstrate this force, we must start to overcome, and then many of them will be able to take the risk and cross over to our side. But we are the ones who must begin this process.

RFE/RL: What really stands behind the schism in the opposition? Is it just different views, or is there some intrigue?

Milinkevich: Of course, it's a different view, as I said, on strategy. It's different with different leaders. Additionally, in Belarus there is a battle not only for freedom but also a battle for the preservation of independence. And different political leaders have a different view on the geopolitical decision of our country. Some look to the east, and some look to the west. Some say that independence isn't the greatest value, but for me it's sacred. Of course, we're different, and when we were united during presidential elections, we said, "Now we're not arguing about platforms, about the geopolitical decision. We're not talking about what Belarus will be like later. We're only saying that now we must change the situation, we must destroy the dictatorial regime." And it's normal that such wide coalitions like the one we had, in the period between administrations, shatter to pieces. But we'll continue to collaborate regardless. We're not enemies, and I don't see a tragedy in this. It is natural because such a wide coalition is artificial, it's an imitation of solidarity. I think that today it's natural to be in groups with differing views that collaborate with each other.

RFE/RL: When you look at the former Soviet Union, there have been differing directions of development, some towards democracy, others away from it. In the Baltics, it's clear. In Russia, it became clear that it is no longer a democratic government. Georgia is more positive, as is Ukraine. What explains this difference?

Milinkevich: When I am asked: "Why do you have a dictatorship? The Baltics and Ukraine don't have one, but you do," I see the biggest problem in Belarus today is that, in our country, the nation isn't fully formed. In the time of the Russian Empire, then in the time of the Soviet Union, we turned out to be the most denationalized people, a people that was deprived of the knowledge of its roots, a people that was deprived of a language, a knowledge of its history. Belarusians have a very beautiful history, but most of them don't know this history, they think that it began with the great October Socialist Revolution. And when the nation isn't fully formed because it was deprived of historical memory, of a culture, it becomes very difficult for this nation to go through reforms. There are Lithuanians who were with us in a common state for 1,000 years. We were in the same empire, then in a different state, then in one common state. A very similar history, but Lithuanians had 20 years of independence between World War I and World War II, and during that time they formed a national spirit. Lithuanians feel that they are a family, but not all Belarusians do.

RFE/RL: This is the major factor?

Milinkevich: This is a very important point, this feeling of family, when trials come, when it's necessary to get through a difficult juncture, when it's necessary to overcome hunger and cold to achieve a worthy goal. And in these situations, the feeling of nation, the feeling of a people plays a major role.

RFE/RL: What can you and other opposition leaders in Belarus do to create these feelings of family?

Milinkevich: It is not surprising that even under conditions of dictatorship, when everything Belarusian is suppressed, nevertheless the feeling of nation grows. However, it comes not through culture, history, and language, but through a feeling of statehood. We have our own state, it defends us, it benefits us, and people start to have a civil patriotism. When we are in power, we will add to this patriotism national, historical, and cultural patriotisms. I think that the nation will endure this difficult journey. Sovietization in the Belorussian Soviet [Socialist] Republic in the USSR was the most beastly. They tried to make Russians from Belarusians, and this was the tragedy of our nation. So I think that the current process is a very difficult one, but there is no alternative.

RFE/RL: I noticed on June 5 that you spoke at length with opposition politician Garry Kasparov. What connections are there between the Russian and Belarusian opposition at the moment?

Milinkevich: We know each other reasonably well, although I only met Kasparov here. We have a good relationship with the Union of Rightist Forces and with Yabloko. The Russian democratic opposition is going through the same path that we went through. We call this process in Russia the "Belarusization" of internal Russian politics. Everything that our authoritarian regime came up with in its time is repeated in Russia, with a five- or seven-year delay. And yes, unfortunately today [the opposition parties] are not in power. They usually aren't even allowed into local government. Nevertheless, they have influence, though today's Russian government marginalizes democratic forces. And more and more they resemble us. They often talk about the street. If you can't affect change through democratic elections, then you have nothing left to do but to go out onto the street. The only thing is that I am a firm proponent of peace street [demonstrations]. I don't want blood, I don't want violence because if there is violence, we won't attract more people, they'll become scared. We need to show that if you go out on the street despite your fear, people don't die there. Someone might get hit with a club, but not many people land themselves in jail. As a result, the less fear there is in the street, the more possibilities there are. So I'm for peaceful street [demonstrations]. Russian democrats have to collaborate with us because we have a lot of experience, they even say so themselves. And, of course, we also depend on their support. Two neighboring countries with a long history of cooperation have to live as friends, have to live with respect for each other. I hope that in Russia it will become quickly understood that nothing will be gained by mistreating Belarus. One needs to respect the right of every nation to have an autonomous state and build relations -- economic, cultural, and otherwise -- but one needs to start with economic not with slogans, propaganda, and myths.

Three gunmen fatally shot radio station owner Zakia Zaki in the presence of her 8-year-old son on June 6, AP reported the same day. The three gunmen shot Zaki seven times with a pistol and automatic rifle inside her house in the town of Jabalussaraj, according to Abdul Jabar Takwa, the governor of Parwan Province. Takwa said that the people in the area loved Zaki's radio station and that the motive for the shooting is unknown. Zakia Zaki had owned and managed Peace Radio in Parwan since the fall of the Taliban in October 2001. Another female journalist, Shakiba Sanga Amaj, was shot dead inside her home in Kabul by two male relatives less than a week earlier. Women have become active in the Afghan media since the fall of the fundamentalist Taliban regime, but remain greatly underrepresented among journalists. JC

Two NATO soldiers died on June 5 during clashes with Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan, while coalition troops killed two militants and detained nine others in a separate incident, AP reported on June 6. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) did not release the deceased soldiers' nationalities or identify where the combat took place, but said in a statement that the two died in "separate engagements with enemy fighters." U.S.-led troops and Afghan forces struck back at militants in the Khas Oruzgan district of Oruzgan Province in central Afghanistan, also on June 5, the statement said. The insurgents withdrew into a compound which was then bombed by coalition aircraft, killing two militants. Troops detained nine others and recovered weapons and ammunition from the compound. JC

France wants to shift its role in Afghanistan from military operations to training and development efforts, French Defense Minister Herve Morin indicated on June 5, AFP reported. "Our desire is not to remain forever in Afghanistan," said Morin after meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Gates has continuously pressed European states to make good on commitments to send some 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, primarily to train the army and the police. Morin made it clear that Paris is increasingly pursuing a noncombat role, citing army and police training and strengthening government institutions as France's primary missions in Afghanistan. However, Morin did not state specifically whether France plans to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, although French President Nicolas Sarkozy pledged before his election victory in May to bring home approximately 1,000 troops serving in there. Approximately 37,000 troops from 37 countries currently make up the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force. JC

Afghan and Pakistani leaders on June 5 expressed satisfaction with the joint grand jirga process to rectify misunderstandings between the two countries, and reiterated their agreement to hold a first meeting in Kabul in August, APP reported. Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke to reporters following a meeting in Kabul on bilateral issues between the two countries, and described the talks as positive. Karzai called the jirga process fruitful, and Aziz added it "will open many doors of interaction and understanding." Aziz, however, rejected the idea of third-party mediation, stating that both countries are sovereign and "do not require any external umpire." Other issues discussed at the meeting included terrorism, development, and a shared desire to increase the level of interaction and trust between the two countries. Karzai thanked the government of Pakistan for its support for Afghanistan. JC

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told the press in Tehran on June 6 that his recent talks in Madrid have led him to believe there are grounds for a resolution to the impasse over Iran's nuclear program, ISNA reported. Larijani said he held "very transparent and clear" talks with the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and that Solana proposed ideas that will be studied by mid-ranking officials in the next two weeks, ahead of the next planned meeting between the two top negotiators. He said the two sides also discussed how to make good use of the more "rational and reasonable" atmosphere that Larijani said now surrounds Iran's nuclear program. Asked if his negotiations will include the West's request that Iran stop uranium enrichment and related activities, Larijani said, "The direction of our discussions is essentially of a different kind." He said Iran's ability to clarify certain outstanding questions for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) could contribute to a solution, and might help preclude further sanctions on Iran. He criticized what he called the "political" move to transfer Iran's dossier from the IAEA to the UN Security Council, which, he said, has discredited the IAEA. VS

Mohammad Hosseini, Iran's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, told ISNA on June 6 that ties between Tehran and Riyadh have improved in recent months, and he urged more consultations between the two states for the sake of better relations in the region. ISNA did not specify where he was speaking. Hosseini said that "we are all in the same boat" in the Middle East, referring to a collective need for stability and security. He said Iranian-Saudi ties benefit not just the two "influential" states, but the whole region, while discord between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims is not "relevant," but a plan "the Israelis are pursuing." He suggested that greater unity between Iran and Saudi Arabia would bring calm to the region, and observed that a good "process of confidence-building" has been taking place. He dismissed unconfirmed reports that Saudi Arabia expelled Iranian pilgrims in 2006 or 2007, and said officials on both sides are determined to improve ties. Iranian pilgrims sometimes run afoul of Saudi officials on pilgrimages, and face accusations of engaging in political activities. VS

Some 5,000 workers of the Haft-Tapeh sugar cane factory in the southwestern province of Khuzestan were reportedly on strike for the sixth consecutive day on June 3 over two months of unpaid wages, Radio Farda reported. A local journalist, Mojtaba Gahestuni, told Radio Farda that day that the workforce of the Haft-Tapeh factory has been reduced from 7,000 to 5,000 as part of readjustment policies. He said there are some 2,000 factories, workshops, or manufacturing units in the province, "most of which are either not profitable or are bankrupt." Gahestuni said workers are protesting over unpaid wages and over Iran's "senseless" imports of sugar and "the rule of the sugar mafia" in the country, who he identified as the children or close relatives of senior officials and clerics. He said workers believe the government of Mahmud Ahmadinejad has not honored its promises to bring social justice to workers, Radio Farda reported. VS

An Iranian court official told ISNA on June 6 that Haleh Esfandiari, a detained Iranian-American scholar accused of spying, was arrested on "the basis of solid evidence," and said the Intelligence Ministry is following up her case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2007). The official -- Hasan Haddad, a deputy head of the Tehran Public and Revolutionary Court prosecutor's office -- said Esfandiari is an Iranian in spite of her "extra nationality," and her offenses will be dealt with in Iran, since that is where she is alleged to have committed them. He said Esfandiari and another detained Iranian, Kian Tajbakhsh, admitted during interrogations to carrying out "measures" related to their charges, "but they say they were trying to help." He added that "some people have been identified in Tehran in relation with this case." Referring to the case of a third Iranian suspect, Radio Farda reporter Parnaz Azima, Haddad said she is accused of "cooperating with the counterrevolutionary Radio Farda and other counterrevolutionary radio stations," and that she continued to work with these radio stations in spite of "earlier pledges." Haddad said her case is ready to be sent to court, ISNA reported. VS

A Turkish military source told Reuters that Turkish troops carried out a limited operation in northern Iraq against Turkish-Kurdish fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on June 6, the news agency reported the same day. "This cannot be called a cross-border operation, it is a limited operation," the source said. In Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters that "there is no incursion into any other country at the moment." PKK military commander Bahouz Ardal told Reuters that the reports of an incursion were fabricated to test public reaction. "These reports are a test balloon from the Turkish calm internal Turkish opinion, which is expecting a move against the PKK, and to test the reaction of the United States, Iraq, Kurdish parties, and the PKK," Ardal said. Turkey has threatened unilateral military action against the PKK since 2004, but has yet to launch a major attack across the border into Iraq. Meanwhile, the Turkish General Staff has announced a ban on all traffic across Turkey's borders into and out of Iraq, Istanbul-based "Hurriyet" reported on June 7. The daily said the ban was announced on June 6, and applies to land and air travel. The army will reportedly enforce the ban through September 9. KR

Jabar Yawir, the deputy minister for peshmerga affairs for the Kurdistan regional government, told Reuters on June 6 that 10 Turkish helicopters carrying around 150 Turkish special forces landed in Mazouri, located in Iraq around 3 kilometers from the Turkish border. He said the helicopters left two hours later, adding, "There were no confrontations with the PKK." Yawir said Mazouri is in a PKK-controlled area. Meanwhile, the northern Iraq-based Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) released a similar report in a post on its website, saying the 10 helicopters landed and took off again after troops inspected the area. The PUK said the aircraft were carrying the general commander of the Turkish infantry forces and the military commander of the Van region of southeastern Turkey. The PUK statement quoted eyewitnesses as saying the border area between Silopi, Turkey, and Iraq is "crammed with thousands of Turkish troops." KR

Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi said that Iraq's Arab identity is in danger, in a statement following a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on June 6, KUNA reported the same day. Hashimi called on Arab leaders in the region to help protect Arab identity by opening embassies in Baghdad. He said Mubarak gave a "favorable response" to his request. Al-Hashimi's discussion of Arab identity is apparently a reference to Sunni Arab identity. Al-Hashimi and other Sunni Arab leaders in Iraq claim the country's Shi'ite Arabs are increasingly falling under Iran's influence. KR

Vice President Al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party posted a statement on its website on June 6 saying it will continue to push for the constitutional amendments promised by Shi'ite and Kurdish leaders in 2005. "The [Iraqi] Accordance Front and the Iraqi Islamic Party have exerted arduous efforts in order to amend the constitution, which was written hastily and in unnatural conditions. We will keep struggling until...the amendments to the constitution come into force," the statement said. It continued, "We will not make any concessions on [amending] the articles that harm Iraqis or make Iraq captive in the hands of the foreigner for long decades." The party is opposed to federalism and special privileges for regional governments, including the establishment of regional representative offices in embassies abroad. Al-Hashimi and his party supported the constitutional referendum in October 2005 after receiving guarantees from Kurdish and Shi'ite leaders that some articles would be reviewed and amended by mid-2006. To date, the document has not been revised, and remains a source of contention for the Sunnis. KR

In a speech broadcast on Al-Iraqiyah television on June 6, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told a meeting of military commanders in Iraq that Arab states in the region are supporting terrorists and trying to destabilize Iraq. He called on the military to strike with an iron fist against such influences, adding, "There will never be any room for plots that are hatched in this or that Arab capital." Al-Maliki contended that the states that back terrorists in Iraq believe a weak Iraq "is an opportunity for their survival in the region, an opportunity that allows certain states to emerge on the regional scene." He added that some of Iraq's neighbors "want to create among us an ethnic struggle, but we must reject such a struggle, although we are all proud of our religious, denominational, and ethnic affiliations. Iraq will remain above all these affiliations.... There is no difference between an Arab, a Kurd, and a Turkoman, between a Christian and a Muslim, between a Sunni and a Shi'a." Al-Maliki called on Iraqis to reject sectarianism and urged them to move toward unity and equality. He also criticized Iraqi politicians who support Arab interference in Iraq, without identifying the parties by name. KR