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Newsline - June 12, 2007

President George W. Bush on June 11 called on Russia to cooperate on missile defense, Agence France-Presse reported. Bush proposed setting up a panel of joint experts after President Vladimir Putin last week suggested the joint use of an antimissile base in Qabala (Gabala), Azerbaijan, which Russia currently leases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8 and 11, 2007). "There is a process where we can cooperate, share information in a very transparent way, which I think would be beneficial and I would hope that the Russians would see the meetings as beneficial," Bush told a press conference in Sofa, Bulgaria, after talks with Bulgarian leaders. Bush also said he made it clear to Putin during talks last week at the Group of Eight summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, that the United States does "not view Russia as an enemy," AFP reported. "Russia is a country with whom we should have and can have good relations to solve common problems," Bush said. "One such problem is Iran. Another problem is proliferation." JB

The disarmament chief in Russia's Foreign Ministry, Anatoly Antonov, said on June 11 that Russia is ready to suspend participation in the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) because the document limits troop movements on Russian territory and fails to recognize new security concerns such as U.S. bases on the Black Sea, reported. Calling the CFE Treaty "hopelessly outmoded," Antonov said that if it were "to continue in its present form, it would have a negative impact on our own security." The treaty's 30 signatory states are holding an emergency meeting in Vienna starting on June 12, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2007). Two months ago, President Putin announced a "moratorium" on Russian compliance with the treaty until it is signed by new NATO members Slovenia and the Baltic states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25 and 26, 2007). Antonov said that whether Russia suspends compliance with the treaty will largely depend on the outcome of the Vienna meeting, scheduled to last until June 15. JB

The Other Russia opposition coalition held a March of Dissent rally in central Moscow on June 11. The city authorities gave the group permission to hold a demonstration of no more than 500 people on Pushkin Square, but did not authorize it to hold a march. AP estimated that as many as 2,000 demonstrators attended the gathering. According to RFE/RL's Russian Service, the protesters planned to march down to Teatralnaya Square, but refrained from doing so after Garry Kasparov, the opposition leader and former world chess champion, told them: "We made a very difficult choice, but have decided to disperse since the Moscow authorities have yet again violated the law and actually prevented us from carrying out our plans. We are surrounded by police who will do everything to prevent us from leaving here." RIA Novosti estimated that the protesters were surrounded by 2,000 police, who otherwise did not interfere with the demonstration. National Bolshevik Party founder Eduard Limonov also addressed the rally, telling the participants, "If we do not put pressure on the government, it will further continue to violate the law [and] commit excesses." AP reported that protesters encountered "mild harassment" from a truck with loudspeakers that repeatedly drove by the square "blaring maniacal laughter" that sometimes drowned out those addressing the crowd, and from people on a nearby rooftop who threw leaflets and unfurled a banner labeling the protesters political "prostitutes." reported on June 11 that before the opposition gathering began, police stopped Kasparov to check his documents and took another opposition figure, Red Youth Vanguard leader Sergei Udaltsov, into custody, but released him in time for the start of the demonstration. An authorized opposition march led by Kasparov and Limonov in St. Petersburg on June 10 passed without police violence or interference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). AP estimated that 1,500 people participated in the March of Dissent in St. Petersburg. JB

A United Nations expert on racism, Doudou Diene, told a meeting of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council on June 11 that there is a "deep dynamic of racism and xenophobia in Russian society which articulates itself in the spread of racist crimes notably perpetrated by neo-Nazi groups," AFP reported. "The perpetuation of racist violence and xenophobia constitutes the most serious the democratic process in the Russian Federation," Diene said, adding that a "profound social and economic crisis" is feeding "the ideology of nationalism." AFP quoted Russia's delegate to the UN Human Rights Council, Valery Loshchinin, as calling Diene's report "partisan and politicized." Loshchinin added, "We don't claim to be perfect, but to speak of a social and economic crisis in Russia when the situation is stable is exaggerated." Aleksandr Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, told Interfax on June 5 that about 120 racially motivated attacks took place in Russia between January and May of this year, in which 31 people were killed and at least 120 injured. According to Brod, 21 people were killed and 42 injured in Moscow, three died and 19 were injured in St. Petersburg, and 22 were injured in Nizhegorod Oblast. Natives of Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, and African countries were the most frequent targets of such attacks. Brod said there has been a "sharp growth" in the number of racially motivated attacks in Russia over the last three years, with seven people killed and around 100 injured during the first half of 2004, 10 killed and 200 injured in the first half of 2005 and 17 killed and 130 injured in the first half of 2006. The daily "Vremya novostei" reported on May 28 that Artur Ryno, an 18-year-old student at an icon-painting school who was detained in mid-April on suspicion of murdering a 46-year-old Armenian, Karen Abramyan, in Moscow, told investigators that he and a friend -- Pavel Skachevsky, also 18 -- killed 37 people in racially motivated attacks since August 2006. JB

Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) leader Gennady Zyuganov told Interfax on June 11 that he will run for president in 2008. Zyuganov, who was on a working visit to the North Caucasus, told the news agency in a telephone interview that his candidacy was put forward by KPRF representatives from the Rostov and Volgograd oblasts, Daghestan, and other southern Russian regions during a meeting of party activists from the Southern Federal District held on June 10 in the city of Cherkessk. "For the leader of a political party, the will of the party masses is law," Zyuganov told Interfax. Similar meetings will take place in Siberia, the Urals, and the Far East this summer, Zyuganov said, adding that the final decision on his candidacy will be made at a KPRF congress in September. Zyuganov ran for president in 1996 and 2000. Speaking about President Putin's potential successor, Zyuganov said First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov made a "very serious" speech at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum on June 10 and is now stepping forward as "successor No. 1." JB

Members of four Armenian opposition parties that filed suit with the Constitutional Court challenging the official results of the May 12 parliamentary election criticized on June 11 as a "political" decision the court's rejection of those appeals the previous day, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 21 and June 11, 2007) Hanrapetutiun party leader and former Prime Minister Aram Sargsian said the court ruling was not unexpected in light of President Robert Kocharian's June 7 statement at the opening session of the new parliament that the election characterizing the May 12 vote as a decisive further step toward democratization. At the same time, Sargsian said he and other opposition parties presented to the court enough documentary evidence of fraud and malpractice "to invalidate 10 such elections." LF

Armenian and Azerbaijani media on June 11 cited further comments by diplomats present at the June 9 talks in St. Petersburg between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan on the so-called basic principles for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian told journalists on his return from St. Petersburg to Yerevan that the two presidents focused on those questions on which the co-chairs hoped progress could be achieved, but that "unfortunately no progress was made, and the existing differences still remain," according to Mediamax. A correspondent for RFE/RL's Armenian Service quoted an unnamed "reliable source" as saying that one of several points of disagreement is the proposed mention in any intermediate peace agreement of how the final status of the unrecognized republic of Nagorno-Karabakh should be determined: Armenia reportedly wants the intermediate agreement to stipulate that the status will be decided in a referendum, while Azerbaijan opposes any mention of status. The online daily on June 12 quoted Bernard Fassier, the French co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group that drafted the basic principles, as saying that the co-chairs propose "alternative variants" for reaching agreement on those disputed points, and the two presidents undertook to study those proposals and inform the co-chairs within two days of their response. LF

A planned march and meeting by Azerbaijani journalists to protest restrictions on media freedom and demand the release of journalists jailed for slander has been postponed, and reported on June 12. The protest was initially scheduled for June 12. The Baku municipal authorities granted permission for it, but only at a venue where extensive roadworks are currently in progress. The Union of Editors, which organized the protest, therefore agreed to the authorities' proposal to postpone the protest until June 23. LF

Nodar Grigalashvili, who chairs the Georgian parliament's committee for education, science, culture and sport, said on June 11 he plans to ask Azerbaijan's parliament for a formal explanation why local authorities confiscated from Georgian schoolchildren in Azerbaijan's Gakh region Georgian textbooks presented to them by Georgian Education Minister Aleksandre Lomaya during a visit to the region on June 8, Caucasus Press reported. Also on June 11, the opposition Labor Party called for the dispatch to Gakh of a Council of Europe monitoring group that would assess the conditions in which the region's Georgian minority live, Caucasus Press reported. The party alleged that the Azerbaijani authorities actively discriminate against Georgians, closing schools where Georgian is the language of instruction and compelling Georgians to change their surnames. LF

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Vyacheslav Sedov rejected on June 11 as untrue allegations made earlier that day by the Georgian parliament temporary commission on territorial integrity that Russia plans to build a new military base in the southernmost Gali Raion of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported quoting RIA Novosti and Interfax. The parliament commission claimed that seven Georgian families will be evicted from their homes in the settlement of Primorsk in connection with the planned construction. Gali Raion administrator Ruslan Kishmaria similarly denied the reports as being unfounded. LF

Leaders of the Kazakh opposition Naghyz AK Zhol group and the Social Democratic Party announced on June 11 that they are uniting in a new opposition alliance, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. In a joint statement, the parties pledged to unite in preparation for an expected early parliamentary election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 2007). Both the Social Democratic Party, led by Zharmakhan Tuyakbai, and the Naghyz AK Zhol group are relatively new opposition parties, formally registered in 2006 and in early 2007 respectively. Tuyakbai ran unsuccessfully against incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev in the 2005 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5, 2005). RG

John Rood, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, announced on June 11 that the United States supports a bilateral Kazakh-Russian initiative to create a new international center for uranium enrichment, Interfax reported. Speaking at a press conference in Astana, Rood welcomed the plan, which calls for the establishment of a facility in the Russian city of Angarsk, as "a very practical way of finding the balance between...reliable provision of fuel for nuclear power stations across the world and the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons." Rood is in Astana to participate in the third annual Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism conference. In a separate announcement at the conference, Kazakh Foreign Minister Marat Tazhin said on June 11 that Kazakhstan has "drawn up proposals to combat nuclear terrorism" that will serve "as an important element for strengthening the international community's interaction in preventing components of nuclear weapons from falling into terrorists' hands," ITAR-TASS reported. RG

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher on June 11 said the agreement on the U.S. military's use of an air base in Kyrgyzstan is not the concern of any third country, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. At a press conference in Bishkek at the end of a five-day visit to Kyrgyzstan, Boucher said, "the issue of the U.S. air base in Kyrgyzstan should not be discussed" at the upcoming Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, arguing that the base is a component of bilateral cooperation and "there is no need for a third side to intervene in the issue," according to AKIpress. Boucher added that "the base first and foremost ensures the security of Kyrgyzstan and the Central Asian region as a whole," and noted that "at the same time the air base has the aim of ensuring stability and security in Afghanistan." Before Boucher's visit, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently visited Kyrgyzstan to address military cooperation between the two countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 6, 2007). The U.S. military's use of the Manas air base, which serves as the primary support hub for operations in neighboring Afghanistan, has been subject to recent scrutiny by the Kyrgyz parliament. Lawmakers recently called on the government to "review" the U.S. military presence in the country, and demanded that U.S. personnel be stripped of their diplomatic immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24 and 25, and June 5, 2007). RG

In a formal statement released in Ashgabat, the Turkmen government announced on June 11 that it will reopen its embassy in Azerbaijan, according to and Turkmen TV. The announcement follows a meeting between Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Ilham Aliyev, on June 9 during the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit in St. Petersburg. Turkmenistan closed its embassy in Azerbaijan in 2001 amid a dispute between the two countries over the ownership of oil fields in the Caspian Sea. RG

Interfax quoted unnamed officials from the Uzbek general prosecutor's office as announcing on June 11 that all charges against three journalists working for Germany's Deutsche Welle radio have been dropped. The journalists -- Yury Chernogaev, Sayora Ruzykulova, and Obid Shabanov -- faced charges of tax evasion and working without accreditation. RG

Russian Ambassador to Belarus Aleksandr Surikov told journalists in Minsk on June 11 that Belarus needs to pay its gas debts to Russia by the end of this year, Belapan reported. Surikov said that under a deal on 2007 gas deliveries signed by Belarus and Russia's gas monopoly Gazprom on December 31, 2006, Minsk was required to pay just 55 percent of its gas bills in the first six months of 2007. At the same time, Surikov noted that Belarusian companies have paid the Belarusian Finance Ministry in full for gas supplies in 2007, and expressed confidence that the ministry has therefore "accumulated" funds to repay the debt to Russia. Last month Belarusian First Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Syamashka said that Belarus owes Russia some $400 million for gas supplies. JM

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on June 11 introduced newly appointed Minsk Oblast Governor Leanid Krupets to the regional administration staff, Belapan reported. Krupets replaces Mikalay Damashkevich, who served in the position for the past nine years. "The period when it was possible to govern the region using only administrative [mechanisms] is over. There is a need for new people who are serious-minded, level-headed, exacting, and competent," Lukashenka said while introducing Krupets. The Belarusian president noted that Damashkevich's "zigzagging from one idea to another without having successfully accomplished every undertaking" led to the regional government's failure to realize the region's potential. Lukashenka also blamed Damashkevich for being too severe with subordinates, exaggerating the performance of the region's agricultural sector, and exceeding his powers. However, despite these shortcomings, Lukashenka stressed that Damashkevich will continue to serve in the government. "If you think that the era of Damashkevich has ended, you are wrong.... Mikalay Damashkevich will not be thrown overboard. He will be given a serious job," Lukashenka said. JM

Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz announced the withdrawal of 50 legislators from the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) and one legislator from Our Ukraine during a session of the Verkhovna Rada on June 12, Ukrainian news agencies reported. The opposition BYuT and Our Ukraine held conventions on June 2 at which they approved the previous day's withdrawal of nearly 170 lawmakers from the Verkhovna Rada and invalidated their lists of candidates for the 2006 parliamentary elections. The withdrawal was part of last month's deal on early elections by President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and parliament speaker Moroz, who agreed that the Verkhovna Rada should be dissolved based on the resignation of more than 150 opposition lawmakers. However, Moroz subsequently claimed that the pullout of lawmakers could legally take place only if he formally confirmed it at a session of parliament. On June 12, Moroz also reiterated that the seats vacated by opposition lawmakers may be filled by candidates remaining on the election lists of BYut and Our Ukraine. According to Moroz, the June 2 decisions of the two parties to invalidate their complete election lists are not legitimate, since they have not been confirmed by the Central Election Commission. Meanwhile, Yushchenko, who has called early elections for September 30, maintains that the Verkhovna Rada has become an illegitimate body following the resignation of opposition legislators. JM

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica on June 11 slammed U.S. President George W. Bush's unequivocal backing for Kosova's independence, telling a television audience that "Serbia is justifiably disgusted at American policies on the issue of Kosovo." "America must find another way to show its affection and love for the Albanians than by offering them Serbian territories," Kostunica said. "The United States is entitled to support countries and nations in line with its own interests, but not by giving them something that is not its to give." Kostunica's statement was prompted by Bush's declaration on June 10 that "sooner rather than later, you've got to say enough's enough: Kosovo's independent" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). Kostunica directly countered Bush's assertion, saying, "For Serbia, there will never be an independent Kosovo." He said that "America made a mistake big enough for the last century and for this century" when NATO bombed Serbia to force the withdrawal of Serbian troops from Kosova in 1999. "A new mistake in the form of one-sided support for Kosovo independence would represent a fresh injustice, a further act of unjustified violence that the Serbian people would never forget." AG

According to Reuters and the Serbian broadcaster B92 on June 8, forensic experts have halted their search for human remains at the site of a suspected mass grave on Serbia's border with Kosova. Excavations began on June 5 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4 and June 6, 2007). However, Reuters quoted an unnamed senior police official as saying investigators may now turn their attention to other areas of the abandoned quarry. Before work started, Serbian and international investigators said they thought as many as 500 bodies might be at the site, which would have made it one of the three largest graves found since the 1998-99 war in Kosova. The International Committee of the Red Cross said in early April that the fate of 2,087 Kosovar Albanians remains unknown. Around 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians died in the conflict, while nearly 850,000 ethnic Albanians of the province's roughly 2 million people fled. Most returned, though the UN estimates that several hundred thousand Serbs subsequently left the province. AG

Serbian police say they plan to bring charges against the wife and son of the late Slobodan Milosevic, who they believe ran a highly lucrative cigarette-smuggling ring during the 1990s, AP and B92 reported on June 11. Both Marko Milosevic and his mother, Mira Markovic, are currently living in Russia. Prosecutors are now expected to ask for all bank accounts and property belonging to the two in Serbia to be frozen or impounded, AP reported. The money is generally assumed to be offshore. B92's sources said the Markovic-Milosevic smuggling ring may have earned tens of millions of dollars by illegally importing cigarettes between 1996 and 2001. Milosevic was ousted in October 2000 and died in March 2006 in the custody of the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague. Neither attended the former Serbian leader's funeral in Serbia, in Markovic's case because she faced charges of fraud and questioning over her possible involvement in the murder of a former Serbian president, Ivan Stambolic. AG

Around 5,000 Bosnian Muslims who survived the Srebrenica massacre gathered in Sarajevo on June 11 to demand that the town be given special administrative status, local and international media reported the same day. They argue that authorities in the Republika Srpska, a Bosnian Serb-dominated region that emerged during the war and whose commanders are believed to have masterminded the massacre, have contributed to making it extremely difficult to return to the city, where they believe discrimination and the continued freedom of perpetrators of the massacre have compounded problems posed by a lack of jobs and infrastructure. BH Radio 1 quoted Munira Subasic, a member of the Mothers of Srebrenica Association, as saying: "In Srebrenica...everything is Serbian. Water is Serbian, forests are Serbian, rain is Serbian, Fata [a name typical for Bosnian Muslim women] is Serbian, a cow is Serbian." Srebrenica's chief imam, Damir efendija Pestalic, on June 8 told the news agency Fena that he believes the Muslim community in Srebrenica is, in fact, under increasing attack. Promises of large-scale investment by the Republika Srpska authorities and the formation this April of a special commission to address the concerns of Bosnian Muslim returnees have yet to have any impact on their demands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 10, and 23, 2007). The demands that Srebrenica be granted special status come in the midst of a broader dispute about the future the Republika Srpska, which the most senior Muslim leader, Haris Silajdzic, has called a product of genocide. The dismantling of the Republika Srpska would spell the end of administrative divisions along ethnic lines. AG

Silajdzic, the Bosnian Muslims' representative in Bosnia's three-member Presidency, took part in the June 11 rally by Srebrenica survivors, local and international media reported, a decision that reflects his role as the chief critic of the Republika Srpska's continued existence. Longstanding tensions between Silajdzic and Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik have flared again over the past week. Recent exchanges were triggered by comments in London in which Silajdzic reportedly blamed the Republika Srpska for the Srebrenica massacre and argued that it should therefore not be recognized by the international community. Silajdzic has made similar comments repeatedly within Bosnia; Dodik has repeatedly rejected the notion of collective guilt and called for the two people he holds chiefly responsible for the massacre, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, to give themselves up (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2007). "There can be no agreement with politicians in Sarajevo as long as they do not accept the Republika Srpska," Dodik told journalists on June 6. "Otherwise, Bosnia-Herzegovina will not move forward on the road to the EU for 100 years." The news agency SRNA on June 6 quoted Dodik as warning Silajdzic he could face a lawsuit for "lies and slander against the Republika Srpska made in important places in the world" unless he cools his rhetoric. AG

The United Nations announced on June 8 that it enjoys legal immunity from a lawsuit brought by relatives of victims of the Srebrenica massacre, Reuters reported the same day. The suit argues that UN and Dutch peacekeepers were culpable because they did not act to prevent Bosnian Serbs overrunning Srebrenica, which was a UN-designated "safe area" protected by around 450 Dutch troops. Within days, around 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys had been killed in what the UN's war crimes tribunal and its highest court, the International Court of Justice, have described as an "act of genocide" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and 28, 2007). The UN argues that it is immune from prosecution under an international convention dating from 1946 that states the UN "shall enjoy immunity from every form of legal process except insofar as in any particular case it has expressly waived its immunity." Relatives of the victims lodged their case in the Netherlands on June 4, and the UN said on June 11 that it too received legal documents relating to the case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). AG

Bosnian Muslim representatives in the Republika Srpska parliament on June 11 vetoed a resolution passed on May 31 that the region's anthem should be the Serbian national anthem, the Fena news agency reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2007). That vote angered Bosnian Muslims, who said it ran counter to a ruling made in March by the Constitutional Court that symbols of state should not be ethnically divisive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2007). The May 31 vote made a concession to the ruling by saying the anthem should be played but not sung. The lyrics of the anthem extol the "golden fruits of union" between Serbs, call for God to "save and nourish Serbian lands and Serbian people," pray for God to "defend the Serbian future," and refer to the "Serbian homeland...five centuries a battlefield." Republika Srpska politicians, who have adopted an inclusive flag and coat of arms, have criticized the Muslim-Croat Federation for "temporarily" adopting the national flag as its regional flag (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 1, 2007). AG

Croatia's two most senior politicians, President Stjepan Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, have expressed differing views on a proposal that Bosnian Croats should be stripped of their right to vote in Croatian national elections. According to reports the same day in the Bosnian and Croatian media, Sanader said on June 9 that "all Croatian citizens are equal in the eyes of the constitution and have the same rights and responsibilities. We cannot have first- and second-class citizens." The issue was raised in an interview published in the Bosnian daily "Dnevni avaz" on June 9 in which Zoran Milanovic, leader of the Social Democrats (SDP), said Croats have lived in Bosnia-Herzegovina for over 1,000 years and cannot therefore be considered a diaspora. That view was echoed on June 11 by Mesic, who said that "Croats are a constituent people in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as are the other two peoples in that country, and they are not Croatia's diaspora. It is also a fact that the existing [election] law defines them as the diaspora even though they are not," he said, adding that he believes the election law should be amended. According to the news agency Hina on June 11, Mesic also added, however, that Croatia's politicians should bear in mind the political situation faced by Croats in Bosnia. Sanader said Milanovic is sending "destructive messages to a smaller, but definitely no less important part of the Croatian people." Milanovic was recently elected as leader of the SDP to replace the party's founder and longtime leader, Ivica Racan, who died on April 29 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, 2007). Milanovic did not question the right to hold two passports. AG

The leader of a small ethnic-Serbian party in Croatia, Rade Leskovac, has sent a letter to the U.S. and European ambassadors calling on them to urge Zagreb to issue a public list of suspected war criminals, the news agency Hina reported on June 8. Leskovac, who heads the Party of the Danube Region Serbs, said such a move would go some way to allaying Serbs' fear that "arrests are made and indictments issued for the purposes of day-to-day politics." Leskovac told journalists in Vukovar that Serbs viewed the arrest of six Serbs on June 5 as an attempt to intimidate Serbs and prevent their return (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 8, 2007). A recent survey for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees found that, of around 300,000 Croatian Serbs thought to have left Croatia during the war, 120,000 registered refugees have officially returned to Croatia since the end of the war, though fewer than half have settled in the country again (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 17, 2007). Leskovac claimed that "there is a conspicuous pattern where the issuing of an indictment against a Croat is always followed by new arrests of Serbs and new war crimes charges." A judge in Vukovar on June 8 ordered the release of three of the six men, Hina reported. The others were ordered to remain in custody for 30 days. In another case, prosecutors in the eastern town of Osijek on June 11 indicted three unnamed Croatian Serbs for running a labor camp during the war, Hina reported the same day. Two are already in custody; the third has yet to be apprehended. AG

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on June 10 discussed the future of the breakaway region of Transdniester with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, the news agency Basa reported on June 11. The two presidents, who met at a summit of leaders from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in St. Petersburg, also discussed the export of Moldovan wine to Russia. Putin in November 2006 promised to lift a ban on Moldovan wine, but exports have yet to resume (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 30, 2006). Wine is Moldova's largest export item. No details were disclosed about discussions on either topic. The meeting was preceded by rumors in the Moldovan press that the two would sign a bilateral agreement on Transdniester. Fears of a deal that would circumvent the official multilateral format were roused in April when the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation revealed details of an alleged agreement between Moscow and Chisinau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23 and 27, and May 7, 19, and 25, 2007). Russia and Moldova in November 2003 came near to striking a deal, known as the Kozak Memorandum. In an interview for the June 9-15 edition of the Ukrainian weekly "Zerkalo nedeli," Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan dismissed the rumors, saying that there would be no new Kozak Memorandum or bilateral deal. Eighteen Moldovan political analysts, journalists, diplomats, and politicians on June 7 published an open letter calling for the Moldovan government to inform the public about the progress of talks with Russia about Transdniester, to return to multilateral talks, and to reassure the electorate that it remains committed to a cross-party declaration made in March 2005 stating Moldova's desire to join the EU. The letter's signatories said they were concerned about the nontransparent nature of talks with Russia, about a recent statement in which Voronin appeared to place relations with the EU and the CIS on an equal footing, and about a possible weakening of the government's commitment to the departure of Russian troops from Transdniester. AG

Boris Nemtsov is a member of the Political Council of the Union of Rightist Forces and a co-chairman of the Committee-2008 opposition umbrella group. Nemtsov, who served as first deputy prime minister in 1997-98, spoke with RFE/RL about the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia and his view of what strategy the opposition should adopt.

RFE/RL: If public-opinion polls are reliable, a major percentage of the population supports President Vladimir Putin. What developments are necessary for the democratic opposition to achieve any kind of success?

Boris Nemtsov: Putin has 75-80 percent popular support. Under these conditions, the opposition's only chance is if it advances a common presidential candidate. I am a strong advocate for this strategy. They must not choose separate candidates independently, even on the level of the Other Russia.

As you can see, they've got [former Prime Minister Mikhail] Kasyanov, [Yabloko St. Petersburg head] Sergei Gulyayev, [former Central Bank head Viktor] Gerashchenko, and also [Yabloko leader Grigory] Yavlinsky. Maybe the Union of Rightist Forces will promote someone else. The result would be an absolute travesty of common sense, on citizens and on our supporters.

So my suggestion is essentially that all potential presidential candidates sign a memorandum that at the final stage of the preelection campaigns, one candidate will emerge. This will be the most popular candidate, and the others will be obligated to support him by pooling all the resources available to them, for instance, organizations, structures, and so forth. If this happens, in the case of the fragmentation of the bureaucratic elite -- and it is obviously fragmented, some are for [First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei] Ivanov, others are for [First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev -- then there is really a chance for the opposition to reach the second stage of the electoral process.

That is the situation as I see it. Putin is popular, but his appointed successors aren't. If Putin were in the running, nobody else would have a chance. But since only his chosen successors are running, the opposition has a window of opportunity. But the opportunity is finite. If there's more than one candidate, then just forget it -- nobody's got a chance. It's a shame, political infantilism, and it means that the opposition is good for nothing.

RFE/RL: How do you determine which candidate is the most popular? Do you have primaries, like in the U.S. system?

Nemtsov: We can't have primaries because Putin will arrange it so that there are none, that's obvious. The only thing we can do is conduct a survey, since he can't outlaw those. For example, a survey of 50,000 people, or just residents of large cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhniy Novgorod. The survey must be conducted by an independent agency that everyone trusts. Also, the census must be jointly financed. Each candidate must give the same amount of money to the organization conducting the survey, so that no one can say that the agency is working for the benefit of its biggest benefactor. Primaries, I think, are virtually impossible. Primaries are speeches in front of large auditoriums. What auditoriums have we got? We have doors nailed shut, broken-down chandeliers, psychopaths walking around. So unfortunately we can only dismiss the idea of a primary, and it becomes essential for us to pick the most popular and thus the last remaining candidate.

RFE/RL: Certain people in the Russian opposition say the electoral system is so corrupt and under the control of the Kremlin that it is impossible to win elections and that it would be more useful to not participate in them and instead to apply one's efforts to civil society, as in Belarus. Do you agree?

Nemtsov: We can learn from Belarus's sad experience. When in 2000 they boycotted elections, what good came out of it? Did [Belarusian President Alyaksandr] Lukashenka become better? Unfortunately, a boycott is ineffective because elections will happen anyway. There will be several candidates -- [Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir] Zhirinovsky, [Communist Party leader Gennady] Zyuganov, and so forth. In the eyes of the people, they will be typical elections regardless.

A boycott can only be organized when one candidate remains. But they will definitely make sure that there are several candidates, so a boycott is a dumb idea. It can be supported emotionally and there could even be legitimate political reasons for it, for example repressive electoral legislation. A candidate could be removed; signatures could be unregistered; election results could be rigged. But a boycott won't be noticed; it won't help to ensure the legitimacy of the elected government; and it will only weaken the opposition. So it's not a good strategy to boycott any kinds of elections, whether parliamentary or presidential. I think it would be total foolishness to boycott parliamentary elections and participate in presidential ones. If you're boycotting, you may as well boycott everything. If you're participating, participate in everything. Otherwise you appear wishy-washy. For example, if the Other Russia doesn't participate in parliamentary elections, they can't participate, but boycotting them would be foolish. It's much more sensible to publicly support a specific political campaign.

RFE/RL: In a recent interview with RFE/RL, Garry Kasparov said that one of the best opportunities for the opposition would be to work with certain sections of the elite. Do you agree?

Nemtsov: It looks like I'm a more dogged person. I think that under no circumstances should one collaborate with Ivanov. He led our army to total ruin, limitless corruption, and banditism. He is an advocate for a kind of corporate, Chekist capitalism. So why should we collaborate? I don't view him as a potential colleague.Also, I think that there is a clan, a fraternity that people don't leave so easily, even if they are alienated. Another place is always found for them. For example, [Aleksandr] Veshnyakov. He was fired from the [Central] Election Commission, but he didn't run to a different party. He's waiting for Putin to appoint him somewhere else. I think that even if one of these candidates loses, he'll be put somewhere else. Do you really think he'll be abandoned? He won't go and collaborate with anyone else, that's clear as day. It's a kind of mythical picture.

In any case, from Putin's point of view, the ideal alternative is to put two endorsed successors into the elections. Let them both run. Look, what's important for Putin? He wants a loyal president and a weak one. He already picked two of these -- Ivanov and Medvedev. They satisfy both these criteria. They'll both run and advance to the second stage.

A whole campaign is planned -- [Central Election Commission Chairman Vladimir] Churov is appointed, whose only guiding principle is that Putin is always right. These two candidates will advance to the second stage, both loyal and weak, and these will compete. But in any case, everything depends on Putin. He won't be a lame duck; he'll continue to exert influence; his will be the decisive voice; he'll remain president until the very end. Whoever supports them is in his debt, which is good for him. And whoever loses will also be found a place. Maybe he'll be appointed prime minister. Why would there be a schism within this Chekist, St. Petersburg fraternity? There won't be any schism.

RFE/RL: So it's impossible to collaborate with Ivanov, but what about Medvedev?

Nemtsov: Medvedev differs from this whole gang in that he never served in the KGB or FSB [Federal Security Service]. I think that this is, of course, his surprising and fantastic advantage over the others. The question with Medvedev is different: Is he capable of governing such a huge country? Is he prepared to govern the country? Not to move along PR projects, in which publicity trumps actual business, but is he actually skilled enough? Does he have enough charisma, force of will, energy, even experience to do this, or not? This is a very big question. Of course, when forced to choose between these two people, many liberal-minded individuals prefer Medvedev, that's true. But is he fit to be president? Therein lies the question.

RFE/RL: One of the problems of Russian politics is the absence of a reliable system of democratic presidential succession. During presidential transitions, everyone panics. The elite fights it out and chooses a candidate and elections merely become coronations. Why is this the case, and what must be done to establish a legitimate system of succession?

Nemtsov: In Russian history, there was one instance of elections without dynastic succession. That was the presidential election of 1991. These were honest elections. They ended well. But then everything returned to its usual state of affairs, and I think that it is important to consider the long history of autocracy.

Dynastic succession is in the nation's blood. The Romanov dynasty lasted for 300 years. Then there were bequeathed successions among the communists, that is, Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, and the rest. This is all genetically saturated, next to [one's] mother's milk. To just knock it out of people's heads, that there should be honest elections, that someone has to win the popular vote, it's a difficult task.

Putin put an end to this tradition entirely. When people started to get accustomed to democracy, when there were gubernatorial elections and bequeathed succession was practically nonexistent -- mayoral elections and elections of federal-level deputies also didn't have bequeathed succession. Russia was basically headed in the right direction in the 1990s. It was a difficult journey, a painful one, but it was correct. Putin put an end to it and autocracy was restored. Some call it white autocracy, others Chekist autocracy, but it's autocracy.

On the one hand, there was a historical precedent. On the other hand, he interrupted healthy development in the right direction. This was his huge mistake, and many people can't forgive him for it. You see, democracy is a new phenomenon for Russia. That sounds absurd, but it's true. To engrain something new, there needs to be will. Putin had no will whatsoever when it came to this issue. He thought, for 100 years there was a dynasty, so now there'll be a Chekist dynasty. That's all there is to it.

But in order for there to be democracy in Russia, the chief himself has to believe in it. Does Putin believe in it? Of course not. [Former President Boris] Yeltsin did, and for a time that was how it was. But even Yeltsin, a democrat, finally appointed a successor. Even Yeltsin. So what can we expect from Putin? He's not Yeltsin.

RFE/RL: Your party supported Putin in 1999. It wasn't clear then that this is how things would turn out. What happened?

Nemtsov: You know, there are really two Putins. There is an early Putin who lowered taxes, gave people land, supported America on September 11[, 2001], first expressed his sympathies to President [George W.] Bush, and everything was somehow very touching.And then there is the later Putin. He took office on October 25, 2003, when he imprisoned [jailed oil tycoon Mikhail] Khodorkovsky. This is a man who treats everyone as an enemy. This is a man who completely destroyed the opposition, and so forth. The earlier Putin was steeped in paradox. He continued progressive reforms in the economic sphere, but politically he started pulling strings. First slowly, then faster and faster.But it was clear to me from the very beginning that he should not be supported because of his background. People with a Chekist history cannot believe in freedom. They hate criticism; they don't consider the triumph of justice a main priority. They're used to living by notions. So for me, the dilemma of whether he should be supported then or later never existed. I never supported him.

(Brian Whitmore is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

NATO's top general in Afghanistan, U.S. Army General Dan McNeill, said on June 11 that Iran has given political and material aid to the government of Afghanistan, but suggested that Tehran may also have aided the Taliban insurgency in an attempt to hedge its bets should the Western-backed government fail, AP reported. McNeill said that there is "ample evidence" Iran is helping Afghan President Hamid Karzai with development efforts such as road construction and electricity. But he added that Taliban fighters are also showing signs of better training through the use of combat techniques comparable to "an advanced Western military." Iranian Ambassador to Afghanistan Mohammad R. Bahrami denied the accusations, and said that the United States and Britain made such claims to "justify their failures" in Afghanistan. JC

At least five people were wounded on June 11 when a suicide attacker detonated an explosives-laden car at a police checkpoint in southeastern Afghanistan, AFP reported. The attacker drove the vehicle into the police post in the Gurbuz district of Khost Province, provincial criminal police chief Mohammad Ayob said. The province's health director, Gul Mohammadin Mohammadi, told AFP that three police officers and two civilians were brought to the hospital for treatement. Police cordoned off the blast site and kept reporters from entering the scene. The incident is the first suicide attack reported in Afghanistan in two weeks, although insurgents carried out several earlier this year. JC

NATO soldiers opened fire on a civilian vehicle when it failed to stop as ordered at a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan on June 11, AFP reported. An International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) statement said the soldiers directed the vehicle to stop using hand motions, flashing lights, and by firing warning shots into the ground, but the vehicle still failed to come to a halt. When the vehicle continued toward the ISAF soldiers, they fired at the vehicle, killing three passengers and wounding a 10-year-old boy, the statement said. Area residents told AFP that the other casualties included students aged 14 to 16. ISAF has launched a joint investigation with Afghan police and local leaders. The exact location of the incident was not given. The rising number of civilian casualities from military operations in Afghanistan is a growing concern for the Afghan government and the NATO- and U.S.-led forces there. JC

Afghan officials arrested seven suspects on June 11 in connection with an apparent assassination attempt against President Karzai, AP reported the same day. Several rockets were fired near the site where Karzai was giving a speech to elders and residents on June 10 in central Afghanistan's Ghazni Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 10, 2007). No one was harmed in the attack, for which the Taliban later claimed responsibility. Interior Ministry officials launched a search operation in the area and arrested seven people from nearby villages, according to ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary. UN official Tom Koenigs condemned the rocket attack on June 10 at a news conference in Ghazni. "Those who are responsible clearly do not respect the views of the millions of Afghans who elected President Karzai," he said. This was the third attempt on Karzai's life since he took over the presidency following the removal of the Taliban regime in 2001. JC

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega arrived in Iran on June 10 for a two-day visit, during which he was scheduled to hold bilateral talks with officials including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and to discuss agreements made during earlier visits to Nicaragua by Iranian officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 18 and April 25, 2007), Radio Farda reported on June 10, citing agencies. Iran enjoys cordial relations with some of Latin America's leftist governments, including those of Nicaragua and Venezuela. Ortega and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad held a joint press conference on June 11 after their final set of talks, IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad said a technical team is due to visit Nicaragua soon to closely assess the implementation of "proposed projects" in the economic and agricultural sectors, after which a joint committee will be formed. He also referred to debts Nicaragua owes to Iran, but he said this will not prevent the development of bilateral ties. Ortega said Nicaragua would like to expand cooperation with Iran in energy generation, and particularly in hydroelectricity, IRNA reported. VS

Iran is to help build five refineries with the total capacity to refine 1.1 million barrels of crude oil a day, to be located in Syria, China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, its oil minister said in Singapore on June 11, Radio Farda reported, citing agencies. Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh told the press on the sidelines of the Asian Oil and Gas Conference that Iran has finalized studies for the joint construction projects, which he said are aimed at consolidating cooperation with those countries, Radio Farda reported. He said talks on some of the refineries have reached their final stages, and that ongoing talks will define the scope of Iran's participation and share of investment, adding that Iran will provide the crude oil for the refineries. Vaziri-Hamaneh separately told the conference that Iran and OPEC favor "supply security and fair prices" for crude oil, AFP reported. Vaziri said tensions between Iran and the West have pushed oil prices up in recent months, and that this has not been due to a supply shortage. He said oil demand worldwide is expected to rise from the current 34 million barrels a day to 117 million barrels by 2030. VS

Javad Vaidi, a vice secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, was in Vienna on June 11, where he discussed the negotiating process on Iran's contested nuclear program with Robert Cooper, a deputy to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, Mehr and Western agencies reported. This was a follow-up meeting agreed on in Madrid on May 31 by Solana and Iran's top negotiator, Ali Larijani (see ("RFE/RL Newsline," June 4 and 6, 2007). Reuters reported, however, that Vaidi did not hold an anticipated meeting with Solana, because Vaidi was reportedly disinclined to discuss issues of "substance" ahead of Solana's next planned meeting with Larijani, set in principle for next week. Reuters added that Larijani promised at the Madrid meeting that Iran will do more to answer some of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) outstanding questions on Iran's nuclear program -- currently a sticking point in negotiations with Iran for both the IAEA and the UN Security Council. But scheduled meetings between Vaidi and IAEA chief Muhammad el-Baradei and his deputy, Olli Heinonen, were canceled on June 11, when a meeting of the IAEA governing board was starting in Vienna. News agencies quoted unnamed Western diplomats in Vienna as saying the cancellations were due to Vaidi's refusal or inability to fully answer the IAEA's questions. VS

The Mehr new agency quoted an "informed" but unnamed member of Iran's representative team at the current IAEA governing board meeting in Vienna as saying on June 11 that there was no scheduled meeting between Iranian negotiator Vaidi and the IAEA's Heinonen. Mehr added that Western agencies reported that a scheduled meeting was canceled only to depict "a perturbed atmosphere" surrounding talks on Iran's nuclear program. The source told Mehr that Solana and Larijani will meet again after their deputies conclude preliminary discussions, but did not elaborate. VS

The lawyer representing Radio Farda reporter Parnaz Azima, who is currently prevented from leaving Iran, told Radio Farda on June 10 that the state interrogator involved with Azima's case says she will be charged with "engaging in propaganda against the Islamic Republic system." Azima's lawyer, Mohammad Hossein Aqasi, said the interrogator and Iran's Intelligence Ministry reached a "negative" conclusion during their consultations on Azima's case, and said the ministry has refused to allow Azima's passport to be returned to her. Aqasi told Radio Farda that Azima had to post bail far in excess of what laws ordinarily require in such cases. "The scope of decisions being taken in this case exceed" standard norms, he said, adding that "this does not look anything like ordinary dossiers" of this kind. He said the ministry and the judiciary apparently intend to keep Azima in Iran for now, rather than prosecute and convict her. VS

The Sunni-led Iraqi Accordance Front has pledged to nominate one of its parliamentarians to replace ousted speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani within one week, international media reported on June 11. Al-Mashhadani was voted out by 113 of 168 parliament members at the June 11 session after a series of incidents in which he or his bodyguards physically attacked fellow lawmakers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). According to media reports, the names of several Sunni Arab leaders have already been floated, though no formal nominations have been made. Al-Sharqiyah television reported on June 11 that the Iraqi Islamic Party, the leading party in the Accordance Front, has nominated parliamentarian Zafir al-Ani to replace al-Mashhadani. Accordance Front member Salim al-Juburi later told the news channel that a final decision on a nominee has not been made. Meanwhile, "The New York Times" reported on June 12 that Iraqi Islamic Party representatives Iyad al-Samarra'i and Usama al-Tikriti are also being considered for the position. KR

Salah Al-Din Governor Hamad Hammud al-Qaysi told Al-Arabiyah television on June 11 that tribal chiefs in the governorate have met with U.S., Iraqi Army, and local security forces to discuss ways of improving security in the governorate. Al-Qaysi said some tribal leaders remain opposed to the formation of a council similar to the one formed in Al-Anbar Governorate. The chiefs may seek an alternative mechanism to boost security, he added. "We in Salah Al-Din on the prime minister to support the Iraqi security forces with all equipment they need and to recruit more forces, because there are several vital economic installations in this governorate and we have highways, high-tension electricity networks, and oil pipelines that need protection," the governor said. The chief of the Al-Anbar Awakening Conference, Abd al-Sattar Abu Rishah, told Al-Arabiyah in a separate interview on June 11 that his council is coordinating with several tribal leaders in Salah Al-Din. The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq said in a June 10 press release that 130 tribal leaders met in Tikrit on June 6 to discuss the formation of a council similar to the Al-Anbar Awakening Conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2007). KR

British Prime Minister-designate Gordon Brown met with Iraqi officials in Baghdad on June 11, Iraqi media reported. Brown, who led a delegation that included Defense Secretary Des Browne, met with members of the Presidency Council, as well as Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who said Brown "expressed his full readiness to cooperate with the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people in various security and economic areas," state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported. Al-Maliki added that Brown "demonstrated a great understanding of the principle of seeing Iraqi security troops engage in acts of confrontation, while the British troops' role will be that of providing backup and support, and not that of engaging in confrontations, as happened in the past." Al-Maliki added that Brown "has a good approach" to Iraq, and he believes Brown will follow the policies set in place by outgoing Prime Minister Tony Blair. KR

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, in a June 5 report to the Security Council on the status of the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI), published on June 11, that there is a possibility of the UN expanding its role in Iraq. Ban said that certain conditions will need to be met before the UN can take a more active role, including establishing adequate protection and security arrangements, air support, and the construction of secure facilities. Ban told reporters at the UN on June 11, "Our mobility as well as presence have been largely dictated by the situation on the ground," the UN News Center reported. "As we see the development of the situation, we will try to expand the role of political facilitation [and the] constitutional review process, and there will be many areas where the United Nations can still contribute," he added. The secretary-general's special tepresentative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, is slated to brief the Security Council on developments in the country on June 12. KR