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Newsline - June 11, 2007

President Vladimir Putin said on June 10 that Russia's proposal that the radar base in Qabala (Gabala), Azerbaijan, which Russia leases, be used jointly as a European missile shield (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 2007), is "the best of all solutions" and that the United States needs to respond quickly. "They have to hurry up with their decision, I'm not giving them much time," quoted him as saying in an interview at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. On June 8, Putin told reporters at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, that missile defenses could be "placed in the south, in U.S. NATO allies such as Turkey, or even Iraq." "The Moscow Times" on June 9 quoted Putin as saying that missile defenses "could also be placed on sea platforms." According to the English-language daily, Putin urged the United States not to act on its plans to build a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic before concluding proposed talks over the alternative radar site in Azerbaijan. "Gabala completely covers the whole region that worries the Americans," Putin said in televised remarks. "We will not be late because Iran does not have these rockets. If Iran starts working on them we will know about it in good time, and if we do not, we will see the first test-launch." JB

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on June 9 that U.S. negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic to deploy elements of a U.S. missile-defense system should be frozen while Russia's proposal to use the Qabala radar base in Azerbaijan is being considered, reported. He also said that U.S. plans to deploy a missile-defense system in Europe could undermine international efforts to deal with Iran's nuclear program. "At this point, the information provided from the radar station in Azerbaijan is enough for the hypothetical threat; it is a reliable warning station that resolves all of its tasks and serves our interests," Lavrov told journalists in Moscow. "Therefore, the joint use of information from this station permits the United States to back off from deploying elements of an antimissile defense system in Europe and [from] plans for deploying space components." First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said the proposal to use the Qabala radar base remains on the table, despite U.S. plans to continue negotiations with Poland and the Czech Republic. "Of course [this Russian initiative] remains [on the table], since Russia's proposal to use the Gabala radar station, which belongs to Azerbaijan but is rented by the Russian Federation's space forces, is, in my view, the most effective from the point of view of controlling the launch of any rockets from the vast southern strategic direction," Ivanov told a news conference in St. Petersburg on June 9. Ivanov said using the Azerbaijan-based radar station would be more effective than operating radar in Central Europe because it could pick up hostile cruise missiles as well as intercontinental missiles, AP reported. According to Interfax, Ivanov also said that Russia asked NATO four years ago to cooperate in creating a joint, theater missile-defense system. "This would be a nonglobal, nonstrategic ABM [antiballistic-missile] network using existing missile defense elements, such as Patriot missiles and S-300 and S-400 systems," he said. "There has been a series of Russia-NATO computer drills, which confirmed that this project is feasible." JB

Addressing the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 10, President Putin called for "a new architecture of international economic relations." According to a transcript of the speech posted on the Kremlin's website,, Putin said that while 50 years ago, 60 percent of the world's gross domestic product came from the Group of Seven industrialized countries, today 60 percent of the world's gross domestic product comes from outside that group. "The developing counties are more actively occupying niches not only in trade in commodities, but also in services," he said. "Competition from new players is growing, including in the hi-tech and science-intensive fields. At the same time, the imbalance in the development of the global economy, increasing the gap between poor countries, is being keenly felt.... I am convinced that general words about the fair allocation of resources and investments will solve nothing. In the interests of stable development, it is necessary to form a new architecture of international economic relations -- relations built on trust and mutually beneficial integration. And therefore, not forgetting about healthy competition, we should nevertheless move toward the formation of common interdependent interests and ties." Putin added: "The new architecture of economic relations also implies a fundamentally different approach to the work of international organizations. More and more evidence has appeared lately that the existing organizations do not fully cope with regulating the global international market. Structures created with the expectations of a small number of active players at times look archaic, undemocratic, and unwieldy. They are far from recognizing the present-day apportionment of power." The "Financial Times" reported on June 10 that the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum was attended by 6,000 delegates, including scores of international chief executives, among them the heads of Deutsche Bank, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Nestle, Chevron, Siemens, and Coca-Cola. According to the British daily, business deals worth more than $4 billion were signed at the conference, including an order by Aeroflot for Boeing jets. JB

President Putin said on June 8 that it is possible he will run for president again in 2012, the daily "Kommersant" reported on June 9. Asked at a news conference at the end of the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, whether he would run again in 2012, Putin answered: "There is still a lot of time. Theoretically it is possible. The constitution does not forbid it. But it is a long way off, and I haven't even thought about this." Commenting on Putin's response, "Kommersant" wrote, "For the first time, Vladimir Putin publicly admitted the likelihood of such a course of events in Russia." On June 1, Putin said he will not seek to change the constitution to enable him to run for a third consecutive term when his current mandate runs out in 2008, but that the law should be changed after 2008 to extend presidential terms from four to up to seven years. He declined on that occasion to speculate about whether he might run again for president at some unspecified point in the future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). Putin also said during his June 8 news conference in Germany that his government "will not permit any attempts to interfere or support political forces inside Russia on the eve of elections, forces that someone wants to support to push their vision of Russia's development," Reuters reported. "Those who win in the presidential and parliamentary elections will be those who are trusted by the majority of the Russian citizens in a fair vote," he said. Putin made those comments about foreign interference after a young man who later identified himself as a member of the Other Russia opposition coalition stood up and, throwing leaflets in the air, accused Putin of suppressing democracy. Meanwhile, Russian opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and National Bolshevik Party founder Eduard Limonov led hundreds of protesters in an authorized opposition march in St. Petersburg on June 10 that passed without police violence or interference, AP reported. Another March of Dissent rally is scheduled to take place at Moscow's Pushkin Square on June 11, reported on June 9. JB

The British weekly "Sunday Times" reported on June 10 that the British government is drawing up a "compromise plan," according to which the prime suspect in the poisoning of Aleksandr Litvinenko, Andrei Lugovoi, would stand trial in a country other than Britain and Russia. While Russian authorities are officially "still considering" a request by Britain's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to send Lugovoi for trial in Britain on suspicion of poisoning Litvinenko with radioactive polonium-210 last year, the "Sunday Times" quoted Russian Ambassador to Britain Yury Fedotov as saying that Lugovoi's extradition is "prohibited by the constitution of the Russian Federation," and that changing the constitution is "impossible." According to the British newspaper, the proposal to try Lugovoi in a third country is described as being at an early stage, with no specific country under consideration, while the British government and the CPS are also considering trying Lugovoi in Britain in absentia. JB

Russian prosecutors said on June 8 that they will try former oligarch Boris Berezovsky in absentia, RFE/RL reported. The Prosecutor-General's Office said in a statement that Berezovsky, who is currently living in self-imposed exile in Britain, is charged with "large-scale theft" of funds from the Russian airline Aeroflot worth some $619,200 and could be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in jail if found guilty. British officials earlier said Berezovsky will not be extradited to Russia. JB

President Putin met on June 9 in St. Petersburg with his Georgian counterpart Mikheil Saakashvili, reported. Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili, who was present at the talks, which lasted about one hour, subsequently characterized them as "open," "frank," and "useful," and said that Saakashvili assured Putin that Georgia is ready to take Russia's interests into account to the extent that they do not impinge on its own. Bezhuashvili said the two presidents acknowledge the need to transform the current state of "frozen" bilateral relations into a more "normal" and "neighborly" relationship. RFE/RL's Georgian Service quoted Saakashvili as telling the Georgian community in St. Petersburg on June 10 that Russia has undertaken to remove gradually the economic and travel restrictions imposed on Georgia last year. LF

The Duma passed in the first reading on June 8 by 352 votes in favor and 52 against a draft amendment proposed by Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov introducing a residency requirement for persons proposed to represent federation subjects in the Federation Council, the daily "Kommersant" reported on June 9. The amendment, which would not apply to current senators, would require that nominees for the post of senator have lived for a minimum of 10 years since the age of 18 in the region they are to represent. Addressing the Duma, Mironov recalled that in his recent address to the Federation Council, President Putin approved the introduction of such a residency requirement. But Aleksei Ostrovsky (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) protested that the amendment violates the article of the Russian Constitution that affirms that any citizen has the right to be elected to any post. LF

The Committee for Antiwar Activities staged a demonstration in Moscow on June 9 to demand that the Russian authorities hand over the body of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov to his family for burial, and Ekho Moskvy reported. Maskhadov was killed two years ago and buried in an unmarked grave in accordance with Russian antiterrorism legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 9 and April 25, 2005). The demonstrators condemned that law, and branded the war in Chechnya a crime against humanity. In the course of the June 9 protest, some 800 people signed a petition in support of the demand to release Maskhadov's body to his family. Similar demonstrations took place on June 9 in Vienna, Paris, Berlin, and other cities, reported. LF

President Robert Kocharian signed a decree on June 8 naming members of the new government formed in the wake of the May 12 parliamentary elections, and reported. Most members of the previous cabinet, including Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and Defense Minister Mikael Harutiunian, retained their posts. The new ministers are Nerses Yeritsian (trade and economic development), and Aram Harutiunian (nature protection), both members of Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia; Arutiun Kushkian (health care), Vardan Vardanian (urban development), and Armen Grigorian (sport), all representing the pro-presidential Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party, which has the second-largest parliament faction; and former Deputy Prosecutor-General Gevorg Danielian (justice). LF

Armenia's Constitutional Court rejected on June 10 appeals by four opposition parties against the official results of the May 12 parliamentary elections, reported. The court conceded that some "violations took place" during the vote, but concluded that they were not of such magnitude as to determine the overall outcome. Representatives of three of the four parties that challenged the results -- Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State, OY), Hanrapetutiun, and Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) -- walked out of the courtroom on June 8 after making their concluding speeches to protest what OY's Artashes Avoyan termed "a farce...when political rather than constitutional justice is administered," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Nikol Pashinian of the Impeachment bloc left the courtroom on June 8 without having delivered a final speech. LF

President Kocharian met on June 9 in St. Petersburg with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev to continue discussion of the so-called basic principles for resolving the Karabakh conflict drafted by the OSCE Minsk Group, Russian and Azerbaijani media reported. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov was quoted by on June 10 as saying the two presidents met first one-one-one, and then continued their talks in the presence of the Minsk Group co-chairmen. The meeting lasted three hours in all. No further details are available. The two presidents last met six months ago, in Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 29 and 30, 2006, and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," December 1, 2006). LF

The Georgian Interior Ministry dismissed on June 9 as "absurd" a statement earlier the same day by the National Security Committee of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia alleging that Tbilisi plans to assassinate de facto South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, Caucasus Press and reported. The South Ossetian statement claimed that Tbilisi has deployed to the village of Kurta, near the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, a detachment of Interior Ministry special troops who are tasked with the purported murder. Also on June 9, Tskhinvali Mayor Alan Kotayev was quoted by as saying that the town is still receiving only limited drinking water because Georgia continues to refuse South Ossetian engineers access to the damaged water main to carry out the required repairs (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 6, 7 and 8, 2007). LF

Parliament deputies approved on June 8 an amendment to the state budget for 2007 that increases expenditures by some 600 million laris ($357.1 million) to 4.6 billion laris ($2.7 billion), Caucasus Press reported. The greater part of the additional funds (442 million laris) will go to the Defense Ministry, thereby increasing defense spending for the year to 955.3 million laris. An International Monetary Fund delegation that visited Georgia last month warned explicitly against increasing budget spending, in order to keep inflation at a minimum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). Davit Gamkrelidze, who heads the opposition Democratic Front parliament faction, insisted that parliament should be informed precisely how the Defense Ministry will spend the additional funds. He also questioned why the Interior Ministry should receive 114.2 million laris in additional funds, Caucasus Press reported. LF

The opposition Democratic Front parliament faction convened a press conference in Tbilisi on June 8 at which its members again argued that Education Minister Aleksandre Lomaya should be required to clarify discrepancies in reports of spending by his ministry in 2003-04 that leave 40 million laris unaccounted for, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 30, 2007). Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze said Lomaya will be asked to reply to questions from parliament deputies at some point later this month. LF

Sergei Bagapsh and Sergei Shamba, who are respectively de facto president and foreign minister of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, met in Sukhum(i) on June 8 with senior diplomats from the Tbilisi embassies of the five countries (France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) that comprise the so-called Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Abkhazia group, Caucasus Press and Bagapsh's website ( reported. Bagapsh said that the talks with Tbilisi on resolving the conflict could be resumed "in the very near future" provided that Georgia complies with Abkhazia's preconditions, which include releasing local official David Sigua, who was detained in Georgia four months ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 7, April 30, and May 4, 2007), and withdrawing the so-called Abkhaz government in exile from the Kodori Gorge, which straddles Abkhazia and Georgia proper. Shamba argued that the Kodori Gorge, where Tbilisi still has an unspecified number of Interior Ministry troops, should be completely demilitarized; Bagapsh suggested opening a UN Human Rights Commission office in the gorge. The Georgian side has for years called on the Abkhaz, without success, to permit the opening of such an office in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion. LF

In an address to an international business forum in St. Petersburg, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on June 10 proposed building a "navigable canal" between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea aimed at bolstering Central Asian energy trade with world markets, Interfax reported. According to Nazarbaev, the planned canal would be roughly 1,000 kilometers shorter than the existing westward trade route through Russia's Volga-Don canal network, and would become the best "corridor for access to the sea through Russia for the whole of Central Asia." The plan for a new route for gas and oil exports follows a recent agreement on the construction of a new pipeline along the Caspian Sea coast to transport Turkmen and Kazakh natural gas to European markets through Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14, 2007). Nazarbaev added that "another reason why it is important to use the transit potential is that Central Asian countries, unfortunately, do not have free trade access to the world's oceans, and Russia can ensure this for us." RG

Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov met in Astana on June 8 with visiting Kyrgyz parliament speaker Marat Sultanov to review plans to expand bilateral cooperation, according to Interfax. The officials discussed greater cooperation in the hydroelectric sector, border security, transport, and issues related to labor migration. Sultanov also expressed his country's interest "in the further strengthening of trade" with Kazakhstan, which increased to $406.6 million last year. On June 7, Kyrgyz parliamentarian Azimbek Beknazarov called for a "review" of an existing bilateral border delineation agreement with Kazakhstan, AKIpress reported. Beknazarov demanded that Kyrgyzstan seek a new agreement with Kazakhstan on certain border areas, arguing that the current border agreement, which was reached by former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev more than four years ago, is outdated and "does not take Kyrgyz interests into consideration." He demanded that "strategically important areas" such as the Karkyra pasture, an area near a bypass around Tokmak, and the area of Maymak in the Talas region "must be ceded to Kazakhstan." RG

On the second day of a visit to Kyrgyzstan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher met in Bishkek on June 8 with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev, Foreign Minister Ednan Karabaev, and Prime Minister Almaz Atambaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. During the meeting with Bakiev, Boucher discussed measures aimed at deepening bilateral cooperation in the areas of security, economy, and democratization, and stressed that the United States seeks to "expand opportunities" in its cooperation with Kyrgyzstan. Bakiev in turn briefed Boucher on progress in the implementation of the country's constitutional, judicial, and security reforms. In a separate meeting with Boucher earlier the same day, Prime Minister Atambaev noted that "very large economic plans have been drawn up to restore the economy in Afghanistan," and stressed that "we certainly want to take part in this process," adding that "our businessmen are seeking to work in Afghanistan." Atambaev said that "we want to count on the U.S. government's assistance in finding investors or international donors" to assist Kyrgyzstan in exporting "surplus electricity" to Afghanistan. He also called on the United States to consider Kyrgyzstan as a potential recipient of aid through the U.S. State Department's Millennium Challenge program. Atambaev promised that as "a leader among the countries in Central Asia in developing democracy," inclusion in the program would make it "much easier for us to move further along the path of democracy," Kabar reported. On the first day of his visit, Boucher met with representatives of several leading Kyrgyz nongovernmental organizations and announced a new $20 million aid package to assist reforms to the judicial system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 2007). RG

Speaking to cadets at a military academy in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Defense Minister Ismail Isakov announced on June 8 that the country will implement defense reforms without outside help, AKIpress reported. Isakov explained that "we have everything [necessary] today to reform the army," and noted that "we are capable of supporting ourselves without the help of others." Isakov noted that the first stage of defense reform, focusing on living conditions and "minimizing social problems" within the armed forces, is "coming to an end," and said that the second stage of reform, involving training, will get underway soon. He also stated that Kyrgyzstan intends to spend some $2.7 million on new military equipment in 2007. RG

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov issued a presidential decree on June 8 dismissing the minister of culture, radio, and television, Enebai Atayeva, according to Turkmen television. Atayeva was dismissed for "grave shortcomings in her work and for failing to carry out her official duties." She was sharply criticized for "poor control" over the ministry and its departments and for the "low quality of TV and radio programs." A former leader of Turkmenistan's trade unions, she was appointed to the post in late April 2006 by late president Saparmurat Niyazov, replacing Maral Bashimova, but her initial appointment was limited to serving for a six-month "probation period." Atayeva was also relieved of her duties as the chair of the Women's Association of Turkmenistan. RG

Leanid Kozik, chairman of the pro-government Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB), has denied accusations that he forged foreign labor union leaders' signatures on a petition against the suspension of Belarus's benefits under the EU's Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), Belapan reported on June 9. Guy Ryder, secretary-general of the International Trade Union Confederation, and John Monks, secretary-general of the European Trade Union Confederation, said in a letter to EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson that the Belarusian government ordered the FPB to win international support for its drive against the suspension of the GSP benefits, scheduled to take effect on June 21. The FPB claimed last month that its petition was signed by trade union organizations representing 16 countries, including the Moscow-headquartered International Association of Metal Workers' Trade Unions (MOP), an affiliation of Belarusian, Ukrainian, Kazakh, Moldovan, Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian labor unions. However, MOP Chairman Nikolai Shatokhin subsequently denied this claim, saying that neither he nor other representatives of the organization signed the appeal. "Several of those union leaders whose signatures were included at the end of the statement have now stated categorically that they did not sign the statement and do not agree with it. Their apparent signatures were in fact scanned from other documents they had signed -- such as participants' lists from meetings held in Belarus -- and copied into the FPB statement," Ryder and Monks said in their letter. The GSP benefits for Belarus are due to be suspended as punishment for the government's failure to implement the International Labor Organization's recommendations regarding the trade union movement in Belarus. JM

Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, the acting head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), said in an interview with the "Financial Times" published on June 11 that Russian political interference and the lack of transparency surrounding energy imports from Russia threaten Ukraine as it strives to overcome the current political crisis. "We are a young country. For any country it is dangerous when domestic politics are interfered with by foreign sources," Nalyvaychenko said. The SBU chief promised that Russia and Ukraine will provide greater clarity about the natural-gas trade in the coming months. "Ukraine and Russia should make this situation more transparent. [We need to show] what the real prices are and what the real financial sources are here, the flow of money, and the risks of dirty money and money laundering. To know the real situation, the real operators, the real deal, is crucial," Nalyvaychenko added. JM

The leaders of the world's leading industrialized states, the Group of Eight (G8), failed at their summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, to agree on how to proceed in efforts to resolve the final status of Kosova, international media reported on June 8, at the end of the three-day summit. The closing communique said that there were "different views on substance and on the way forward" regarding Kosova's future, while the summit's host, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said at the closing conference that talks on Kosova were "constructive" but not "easy," adding that while "time is pressing." the G8 leaders want a "consensus-based solution." Russia appears to have reiterated in private, as it has in public in recent weeks, that it is prepared to veto a UN Security Council resolution that imposes a solution on Serbia. Asked on June 8 if Russia threatened to use a veto, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said, "I think one could say it like that." The outcome of the meeting disproved claims carried by Reuters on June 7 that the G8 leaders had agreed to a proposal by Sarkozy that Belgrade and Prishtina should return to the negotiating table for six months, at the end of which, in the absence of any agreement, the UN would adopt the Ahtisaari plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 2007). The summit communique gave no indication of the course of discussions, but Sarkozy's late attempt to broker an agreement -- which broke with the previous French position that there is no reason to delay a decision -- not only dominated reports on the summit, but also appeared to be the focal point of diplomatic efforts, with Sarkozy saying that "sherpas" -- diplomats -- and the "political directors" of the eight countries' foreign ministries "worked for several hours overnight on Kosovo." Sarkozy's own comments raise doubts about the prospect of Russia accepting his proposal. "We cannot have a delay to let Belgrade and Pristina hold talks unless all the actors, notably the Russians, consider that the independence of Kosovo is an inevitable outcome," he said. Russia has given no indication that it is prepared to accept independence for Kosova. AG

Kosovar Albanian politicians responded to the apparent lack of progress at the G8 summit with a chorus of calls for Kosova to be granted independence immediately, according to reports in the Kosovar and international media. "We cannot wait forever," Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku told AP on June 8. "Give us clarity, give us freedom, and let us go." According to AP on June 8, Veton Surroi, a key member of Prishtina's negotiating team, said, "Kosova cannot be kept hostage by a veto threat," while the region's main opposition figure, Hashim Thaci, said that "the time for independence is now. Every day that is wasted is bad, it could cause new dilemmas." The head of the UN Mission in Kosova (UNMIK), Joachim Ruecker, told local journalists after meeting with Kosovar Albanian leaders on June 8 that they responded very calmly to Sarkozy's proposal, the news service KosovaLive reported the same day. In Serbia, comments by political leaders focused on French President Sarkozy's suggestion of a time-limited return to the negotiating table. The speaker of Serbia's parliament, Oliver Dulic, said a delay would be good because it would present "an attempt to move forward the negotiating process," AP reported on June 8. That upbeat assessment was not shared by Slobodan Samardzic, the minister for Kosovo-Metohija, as Serbs call the province. Samardzic told Radio-Television Serbia on June 8 that the Kosovar Albanian leaders would simply slow down talks if the Sarkozy process were adopted. "Why should the Albanian delegation negotiate with Belgrade at all, if it seems that, should an agreement not be reached within six months, it would gain independence for Kosovo-Metohija?" he asked. AG

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica both expressed satisfaction at the course of the G8's discussions about Kosova when they met on June 9 in St. Petersburg. According to the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, Putin said that "the impression I had was that our G8 colleagues were receptive to our arguments." He offered no details. Kostunica was fulsome in his appreciation of Russia's support, saying that "it was only thanks to Russia's principled position that the intention of the Security Council to pass a resolution, which would have been a direct negation of the UN Charter, was thwarted," Radio-Television Serbia reported. Kostunica argued that Russia's stance "has preserved the most basic principles on which the whole, contemporary international order is based." Before the meeting, Serbian media said Kostunica would discuss new ideas intended to lead to a compromise solution, but neither leader revealed how that the summit had affected their views. Instead, they repeated their joint stance that the future of Kosova should be decided by Serbs and Kosovar Albanians alone in open-ended talks mediated by a new UN envoy. According to the Serbian broadcaster B92, Serbian President Boris Tadic said on June 9 that no one he has met in his "innumerable international meetings" has been able "to predict what might happen in the UN Security Council with respect to Kosovo." AG

During his meeting with the Russian president, which took place on the sidelines of an international business forum in St. Petersburg, Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica urged Russian businesses to invest in Serbia, with Reuters quoting him as saying Serbia will offer them "opportunities much bigger" than at present. Kostunica appears to have offered no explanation, but a slew of recent articles in the Serbian media have highlighted the growing interest of Russian business in Serbia. Since the formation of a new government in mid-May, Belgrade has invited Russian investment in the energy, metallurgical, and financial industries. Belgrade rebuffed previous Russian efforts to enter those sectors. The Russian carrier Aeroflot is currently in pretender talks to buy the Serbian national carrier JAT, and the owners of Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport have expressed an interest in buying Belgrade airport, the Russian daily "Kommersant" reported on June 4. According to Reuters on May 30, Deputy Prime Minister Bozidar Djelic promised the same day that Russian investors would receive "special attention," specifically linking this to Russia's stance on Kosova. Djelic stressed, however, that this would be special assistance in preparing tenders rather than special consideration in the decision-making process. A recent report indicated that in at least one arms deal, Serbia has based its decisions on Russia's stance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). A separate aspect of economic cooperation relates to Russia's Soviet-era debt to the former Yugoslavia, which Russia has been settling in recent months. In Serbia's case, the agreement includes a Russian commitment to modernize a Serbian power plant and write off part of Serbia's gas bill (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). The daily "Danas" wrote on June 5 that the "doors have started to open" to Russian investors "only of late." It cited official figures that indicate that Russian businesses invested a little over $40 million in Serbia since 2000 and spent another $257 million in four privatization deals. This compares with foreign investment totaling $4.1 billion in 2006 alone. AG

Albanians gave an enthusiastic reception to George W. Bush, who on June 10 became the first U.S. president to visit Albania, local and international media reported the same day. Local media say that 15,000 law-enforcement officers were involved in security efforts, but Bush appeared to throw security concerns aside during a walkabout in the small town of Fushe Kruje, during which he was kissed numerous times. Commentators and politicians alike have described Albania as the most pro-American state in the world (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, and May 17, 25, and 30, and June 1, 2007). Reports indicate an influx of visitors from the countryside and other towns into Tirana, and the daily "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on June 10 that some 2,000 Kosovar Albanians crossed the border to greet Bush. At a press conference, Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha touched on three factors that commentators typically give to explain Albanians' enthusiasm: the United States as a symbol of democracy for a country seeking to distance itself from its communist past; an appreciation of the U.S. role in neighboring Kosova; and the United States' recognition of Albanian statehood 85 years ago and its efforts to quell claims on its territory. Berisha hailed the United States as "a great friend of my nation," the trip as a "beautiful...historic day," and Bush as "the greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times." In one of many demonstrations of public and political enthusiasm for the visit, Tirana's city council renamed a street near parliament after Bush. In a poll released on June 4 and cited by the newspaper "Tema" on June 7, 61 percent described the United States as the best defender of Albanian interests in the world and two-thirds said they believe Washington will soon recognize Kosova as an independent state. Commentaries were not all positive: Washington's stringent security demands met with some resentment, while the government's welcome of the U.S. president was seen by some as an appropriation of the visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2007). A commentator in "Gazeta Shqiptare" on June 8 said ministers are no longer just "incompetents" and "morons," but also "sycophants," adding that the government decked Tirana out with as many flags as the communist regime had for a visit by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. AG

In his most important public comments, Bush said that, in Washington's policy on Kosova, "independence is the goal. That's what the people of Kosovo need to know." The U.S. president told a news conference that EU leaders "hope that there is some way that we can reach an accommodation with a variety of interests, so that the transition to independence will be as smooth and easy as possible. But if it's apparent that that's not going to happen in a relatively quick period of time, in my judgment, we need to put forward the resolution. Hence, deadline." Bush added that "sooner rather than later, you've got to say enough's enough: Kosovo's independent." He continued: "There just cannot be continued drift, because I'm worried about expectations not being met in Kosovo.... And, therefore, we'll push the process," which he said should end "now." In an interview given to Albanian television on May 31, Bush said the visit was intended to show Albanians that "America knows that you exist," and that he views Albania as an example of a "Muslim people who can live in peace." Bush reiterated the message during his trip, calling Albania "a model of religious tolerance," and Albania sought to underscore his view by presenting him with an 18th-century Orthodox icon featuring the Madonna and the baby Jesus flanked by two mosques. The size of Albania's Christian communities is unclear, but is thought to be a little over 30 percent. A recent claim by the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church that Albania "is no longer a typically Muslim nation" was angrily dismissed by some politicians as "an expression of ignorance" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). AG

U.S. President Bush also met with the prime ministers of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia, whose countries all hope to receive invitations to join NATO in April 2008. Bush gave no public promises about an admission date, saying in his press conference with Albanian Prime Minister Berisha that "I look forward to welcoming you someday into NATO." However, he reiterated Washington's support for their bids. The Macedonian news agency MIA on June 10 quoted Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski as saying Bush was "very positive" and strongly supportive of the three countries' bids, while, according to the Croatian news agency Hina, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said, "NATO membership is in the offing." Albania has contributed troops to international missions in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Iraq, and "The New York Times" on June 9 quoted Albanian President Alfred Moisiu as saying that "they will continue to be deployed [in Iraq] as long as the Americans are there." Bush acknowledged Albania's contribution to those missions by decorating some of its servicemen. Albania's cooperation with Washington has also extended to the offer of asylum, currently being processed, for five Uyghurs detained for years at Guantanamo Bay, and its decision not to sign an agreement with the International Criminal Court to extradite suspected war criminals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 8 and May 21, 2007). "The New York Times" reported on June 10 that China has been seeking the Uyghurs' expulsion from Albania. Tirana refused, but has also refused to accept more Uyghur detainees from Guantanamo Bay. AG

Sixteen weeks after Albanians first went to the polls, Albania's Central Election Commission on June 8 issued the final results of local elections, local media reported the same day. Prime Minister Berisha initially hailed the February 18 elections as "the best ever held in Albania," even though election day had been set back by a month because, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) final election report, the electoral process was "frequently stalled and seemed to be close to the point of collapse on repeated occasions" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 21, 2007). Berisha's assessment was swiftly cooled by OSCE monitors, who found that, despite some "measurable improvement," the elections fell short of international standards, with 23 percent of the vote counts being classified as "bad" or "very bad." The Central Election Commission was obliged to sift through numerous complaints, some of them caused by provisions in the deal that saved the elections from collapse in January. After the vote, some members of the opposition Socialist Party called for early parliamentary elections, and in late April threatened to form a "human barricade" to prevent a fresh poll in one particularly contentious constituency, Elbasan. In one contested area, in a district of Tirana, the winner was decided by a lottery. More commonly, in 20 of Albania's 384 electoral constituencies, elections were reheld on May 6 and -- in two cases -- on June 3. The reruns, which involved over 100,000 of the country's roughly 2.9 million voters, did not affect the overall result, with the Socialists winning most of the seats for councilors and mayors in the largest urban areas. Albania's parliament is due to elect the country's president soon. The run-up to those elections has also been contentious, with some members of the opposition calling for early parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, and May 4, 7, and 11, 2007). AG

The Macedonian government on June 7 survived a vote of no confidence brought against it by the country's leading opposition party, local media reported the same day. The Social Democratic Union (SDSM) argued that, since winning power in July 2006, the government has lost the country's confidence for reasons that include its alleged failure to keep promises relating to foreign investments, its handling of Macedonia's bids for membership of the EU and NATO, its tax policy, its reform of the judiciary, and a deal struck with the largest ethnic-Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which in late May ended a boycott of parliament after securing major concessions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2007). The motion mustered 43 votes out of 120, well below the 65 cast for the government. According to the news agency Makfax, supporters of the government called the motion a "stab in the back" and an "antistate project" as it came ahead of a June 10 meeting with U.S. President Bush in neighboring Albania, a meeting that could be a crucial moment in Macedonia's bid for NATO membership. AG

Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on June 8 refused to accept the resignation of his interior minister, Refet Elmazi, the MIA news agency reported the same day. Elmazi tendered his resignation amid a controversy over a police raid on an ethnic-Albanian border village in which a search for illegal arms yielded just two rifles and scores of bullets. Villagers accused the police of physically abusing members of one family. The raid, which was conducted on May 23, aggravated tensions between ethnic-Albanian political parties and the government, which had just expanded to include a second ethnic-Albanian party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 2007). Elmazi himself said the raid "cast a shadow on the exceptional successes" of his party, the Democratic Party of Albanians (PDSh), and accused elements in the Interior Ministry that "do not want the PDSh to take the credit for establishing order and peace in areas where ethnic Albanians live" of setting up "a number of obstacles and traps." On June 6, Gruevski said that his party, the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE), and the PDSh have largely cleared up past "misunderstandings," MIA reported the same day. Makfax reported on June 7 that the Tanusevci raid was also cited by the deputy head of the SDSM, Igor Ivanovski, as a factor in the vote of no confidence brought against the government, which was also accused of politicizing the Interior Ministry. AG

In a strongly worded interview published by the Bosnian daily "Dnevni avaz" on June 7, Egypt's ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ahmad al-Sayed Khattab, criticized the Bosnian government for doing too little to nurture ties with the Muslim world. He welcomed Bosnia's bids for EU and NATO membership, but added, "Please do not forget your ties with Islamic and Arab countries." He blamed Sarajevo for the lack of contact, saying that "it cannot be good...if you abandon other friends who helped Bosnia-Herzegovina during the war." Bosnian officials have made "almost no trips to the Arab world" over the past four years, he said, adding, "What kind of friendly relationship is that?" He was also critical of the "low" level of trade, which he estimated at $30 million a year. "No offense meant, but an Egyptian businessman spends that much money in a year on maintaining and using just one of his planes," he said. He singled out visas as a key problem, saying that "terrible things happen," such as the recent refusal of visas to Egyptian government officials and a leading Egyptian businessman. Contacts between Egypt and Bosnia in the past two months have included a counterterrorism agreement. Bosnia has also recently hosted a large annual gathering of European Muslim scholars, welcomed the Pakistani leader, and given the go-ahead for the construction of an ethanol plant by businessmen from another non-Arab Muslim country, Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11 and 30, 2007). AG


Afghanistan's Counternarcotics Ministry on June 9 declared Balkh Province free of opium-poppy crops, but residents complain that the government has failed to provide locals with alternative opportunities to earn an income, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. According to Balkh Governor Ata Mohammad Nur, the government achieved its goal of halting poppy cultivation in the northern province within three years, during which more than 30,000 acres of poppy crops in Balkh were destroyed. Ata regretted, however, that the central government has failed to adequately compensate the cooperating farmers under the Alternative Livelihood Program, intended to encourage Afghans to grow crops other than poppies. One participating farmer, Sardar Wali from the Char Bolak district, told Pajhwak that he owns 100 acres of land, but is unable to maintain a steady income since he stopped harvesting the illegal crop. The deputy minister for counternarcotics affairs, General Khuda-i-Dad, has promised to consider Balkh residents' concerns. JC

In what authorities are calling a failed assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Taliban militants fired rockets near the site where the president was giving a speech on June 10, AP reported. Witnesses said they heard between four and six rockets whizzing overhead and exploding during Karzai's speech to elders and residents of Andar district in Ghazni Province, provincial police chief Ali Shah Ahmadzai said. Karzai briefly interrupted his speech to tell the audience to remain calm and not to worry. The program continued as scheduled, according to an unidentified government official, and Karzai returned to Kabul afterward. Purported Taliban spokesman Qari Yusef Ahmadi, speaking to AP from an undisclosed location, claimed the attack was the work of Taliban militants. JC

Two separate battles between police and Taliban militants in Afghanistan on June 9 left 49 people dead, AP reported the next day. The militants attacked three police posts in the Murghab district of Badghis Province, initiating a six-hour battle between police reinforcements and insurgents in which 20 suspected militants and two police officers were killed, provincial police chief General Mohammad Ayub Naizyar said. In the Shinkay district of southern Zabul Province, NATO and Afghan troops called in air strikes after a clash with militants, leaving 27 suspected insurgents dead, Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said. There were no reports of civilian causalities, Azimi added. According to AP, approximately 2,200 people have died in insurgency-related violence in 2007. JC

Abdul Jabar Sabet said on June 8 that he was beaten up and fired upon in an apparent failed kidnapping attempt by men loyal to a former Interior Ministry general, AFP reported that day. The attorney general said he was confronted by former General Din Mohammad Jora'at and approximately 40 of his men when he exited his car at a roadblock while traveling to a picnic outside of Kabul. According to Sabet, the men beat him with rifle butts before police arrived and exchanged fire with Jora'at's militia. Senior police officials added that Sabet's bulletproof vehicle was struck by nine bullets. The attorney general was treated in the hospital and had no serious injuries. Sabet has made powerful enemies since he launched a "jihad" against corruption in government that led to the dismissal of several officials. Jora'at was not immediately available to respond to the attorney general's allegations. JC

Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, Iran's deputy interior minister for police and security affairs, said in Tehran on June 9 that the United States' interests "throughout the world and the region will be in danger" if it attacks Iran, ISNA reported. Speaking after a visit to a police department, Zolqadr said that Iran has "mocked" the United States' power and prestige during the past 28 years, and "today all America's bases in the region are within range of our standard weapons." He said the "slightest interruption" in the security of the Persian Gulf would send crude oil prices to $250 a barrel, and "this would lead to economic and security death" for the EU and United States. He said the United States may start some "banditry" against Iran, but "its continuation and conclusion would not be in its hands." Separately, the head of the presidential office's Strategic Investigations Center, Alireza Zaker-Isfahani, told the Fars news agency on June 9 that the United States is likely to adopt a "soft and intelligent" approach to attempting to change Iran's regime. He said this is partly due to its regional situation. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told the press in Tehran on June 10 that the ministry delivered a note asking the United States for an explanation of reports that it has earmarked a budget intended to fund the peaceful overthrow of Iran's government, IRNA reported. The note was presented to the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which handles U.S. interests in Iran in the absence of formal ties. Hosseini said that if these reports are not accurate, the United States should publicly negate them. He said Washington is using academic and cultural ties with Iranians to forward "its goals," but he is confident that Iranian academics are discerning enough to recognize such motives. He said the ministry has also informed the Swiss Embassy that Iran has no information so far on Robert Lewinson, a former FBI employee thought to have disappeared in Iran, IRNA reported. VS

Activists have expressed concern over the welfare of eight students of Amir Kabir University who have been arrested in recent weeks over the allegedly impious contents of some student journals, Radio Farda reported on June 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2007). Ali Nikunesbati, a member of the Office to Consolidate Unity, a student grouping, told Radio Farda on June 9 that some of the students have been abused or beaten in prison. One of the detainees, Abbas Hakimzadeh, who was arrested in Mashhad in northeastern Iran on June 6, is reportedly in "grave" condition. He and another detainee, Ali Saberi, have not been formally charged and officials have not formally confirmed their detention, Nikunesbati said. The arrests were made ostensibly because of the publication of indecent articles that provoked scuffles and unrest in late April at Amir Kabir University -- also known by its former name, Tehran Polytechnic. But Nikunesbati told the broadcaster that he believes these arrests and other incidents of repression at the university are a response to students' heckling the president during a visit late last year (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," January 3, 2007). VS

An unnamed student activist told ISNA on June 9 that students of Amir Kabir University have protested against the arrest of two fellow students during the past week. The report did not give the exact date of the protest. The activist said students are calling for the detainees' release "because university examinations are approaching," ISNA reported. Separately, Hasan Haddad, a deputy head of the Tehran Public and Revolutionary Court prosecutor's office, said on June 6 that students from Amir Kabir University are being kept in Section 209 of Tehran's Evin prison. The section is usually reserved for political prisoners or those who allegedly present a security threat. He said nine people have been arrested in connection with the indecent publications at Amir Kabir, of whom four have been released, but he said these were not students. Haddad described them as friends or collaborators of the student journals' editors, and said investigations disproved students' claims that the indecent publications were forgeries of campus publications intended to discredit them, ISNA reported. VS

Mohammad Hossein Saffar-Herandi said in Tehran on June 9 that the government welcomes criticism, and "thanks" media that help the government see "some of its errors," the "Iran" newspaper reported on June 10. He said those dailies that claim that the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has done no good should "really go and doubt their criteria." How is it, he asked, that "the government that has done nothing daily becoming more popular with the public? If it has really done nothing, are people so sick that they should support it?" He said the government will admonish dailies that criticize it out of "party and political grudges," but will not "make a sharp response." He said publications stepping beyond the "declared norms" of the Press Law will face "friendly" and "at most, written" admonishments, "Iran" reported. VS

A Tehran court has acquitted the reformist daily "Vaqaye-i Ettefaqieh" and its editor of publishing articles favorable to opposition groups, and lifted the ban on the daily, ISNA reported on June 9. Branch 76 of the Tehran Province Penal Court and an attendant press jury on May 27 examined the charges against the daily and its editor, whose name was given only as Khanzadi, ISNA reported, without stating who had pressed the charges. VS

Iraqi parliamentarians have voted in a closed session to remove Mahmud al-Mashhadani as speaker after he ordered his bodyguards to beat up another lawmaker following an argument outside the parliament chamber on June 10, Iraqi media reported on June 11. The incident took place when al-Mashhadani's guards tried to stop Shi'ite lawmaker Fariyad Muhammad and search him as he entered the parliament building. Al-Sharqiyah television reported on June 10 that al-Mashhadani ordered his guards to attack Muhammad, while other media outlets reported that al-Mashhadani watched as his guards dragged Muhammad away. United Iraqi Alliance parliamentarian Abd al-Karim al-Anzi proposed putting al-Mashhadani on compulsory leave following the incident, but other parliamentarians called for his immediate replacement. Al-Mashhadani and his bodyguards have been accused of attacking parliamentarians on three separate occasions in recent months. In May, the speaker slapped another lawmaker during an argument. Deputy speaker Khalid al-Attiyah will oversee parliamentary sessions until a new speaker is appointed. KR

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told the BBC on June 9 that Iraq is ready to hold talks with Turkey on how to deal with the issue of Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants holed up in northern Iraq. "We are against any military interventions or violations of [Iraq's] borders or regional security, and all issues are negotiable and can be resolved through dialogue," Zebari said. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) reported on its website on June 7 and 8 that Turkey has shelled several Iraqi villages in the northern Irbil and Dahuk governorates in strikes targeting militants of the PKK. KR

A representative of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) has denied reports that President Jalal Talabani agreed to delay implementation of Article 140 of the constitution, which refers to normalization measures in Kirkuk, the PUK reported in a statement posted to its website on June 9. Azad Jundiyani said the media reports are "completely untrue" and aimed at "distorting facts," adding, "The only reality is that the Kurdistan leadership [of Talabani and regional president Mas'ud Barzani] is passionately committed to the implementation of Article 140 in its present form." Talabani told reporters at a June 7 news conference in Salah Al-Din that Barzani will head a newly formed commission on Article 140 to oversee implementation of the article, which calls for a three-step process of normalization, a census, and finally a referendum to determine whether Kirkuk is to be integrated into the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. KR

The Iraqi High Tribunal announced on June 10 that the verdict in the Al-Anfal trial will be handed down on June 24, Iraqi media reported. A verdict had been anticipated on June 11. Prosecutor Munqith al-Farun asked the court to sentence the defendants to death for their crimes during the 1988 Anfal operation, which prosecutors say killed 180,000 Kurds under the leadership of Saddam Hussein. Defendants have said they acted on Hussein's orders. Among the defendants in the case are Ali Hasan al-Majid, also known as Chemical Ali, who carried out orders to use chemical weapons against Kurdish villages in northern Iraq; former Defense Minister Sultan Hashim Ahmad; former Lieutenant General and head of military intelligence Sabir Abd al-Aziz al-Duri; Husayn Rashid al-Tikriti, former army chief of staff and secretary-general of the General Command of the Armed Forces; former Industry Minister Tahir Tawfiq al-Ani; and Farhan Mutlaq al-Juburi, a former major general and director of military intelligence in Kurdistan. KR