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Newsline - June 19, 2007

The daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on June 18 that the recent statement by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates that Washington will go ahead with its planned missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic has "dashed Moscow's hopes of making an impact with its alternative missile-defense proposal" of a radar site in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15 and 18, 2007). The paper suggested "the question now is what will become of the dialogue at the next Russian-American summit, less than two weeks away." The daily noted that Gates was surprised by Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's failure to make a tough response to his remarks. The paper suggested that Serdyukov's options were limited at least partly because of an ongoing restructuring of the defense bureaucracy. "After all, only the Kremlin has the final say on missile defense," the daily wrote. "Or was Serdyukov simply afraid of saying anything he shouldn't?" PM

U.S. Representative Tom Lantos (Democrat, California), who is chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, told Reuters in Washington on June 18 that Russian President Vladimir Putin's verbal "muscle flexing" with the West in recent months derives from massive oil and gas revenues, much as the muscle flexing of the cartoon character Popeye is the result of eating spinach. Lantos suggested Russian leaders are "eating the spinach of petroleum revenues, and the billions are flowing into the Kremlin, and with every billion...Putin's muscles bulge more powerfully." Lantos, who is scheduled to meet with legislators from the State Duma on June 21, added Russia will probably become more cooperative when it becomes accustomed to its new-found wealth. "I am convinced that when this euphoria of energy revenues will be taken more routinely, the Kremlin leadership will understand that their future lies with cooperation with the United States and Europe in a mutually respectful and civilized fashion," he said. Lantos nonetheless referred to Putin's recent threat to target Europe with missiles as "incredibly stupid," and cautioned him against again publicly comparing the United States to the Third Reich (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22 and June 4, 8, and 14, 2007). The "Washington Post" suggested on June 18 that Moscow's recent, often militant rhetoric that portrays summits or other diplomatic developments as a victory for one side and a defeat for the other is the result of a mentality that understands world affairs as a zero-sum game. At least one Western observer suggested Putin's outlook was shaped not only by his KGB training, but perhaps more profoundly by his early years as a street tough, when he learned that the strong win and the weak lose. PM

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement on June 18 that Russia and the other members of the Middle East Quartet (the United States, the EU, and the UN) support the efforts of President Mahmud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority to form an emergency government and hope the new cabinet will "normalize" the situation throughout the Palestinian National Authority, and news agencies reported. The Russian statement also called on Abbas and the leadership of Hamas to seek a "wide-ranging dialogue," allow the resumption of humanitarian aid, and end the internecine conflict. The Foreign Ministry also posted on its website a statement on a June 18 telephone call between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Israeli counterpart, Tzipi Livni, and news agencies reported. The two discussed the latest regional developments and Russia's planned evacuation of its nationals from Gaza to Jordan via Israel. Most of the Russian nationals reportedly are women married to Palestinians; their numbers have been reported as being between 100 and 200. In addition, Russia plans to evacuate up to 100 CIS nationals, RIA Novosti reported on June 19. A Russian Embassy spokesman told the news agency the embassy is waiting for confirmation that the Israeli authorities will reopen the Erez border crossing to Gaza, which has been closed since June 14. When the crossing reopens, the evacuation could begin. PM

The daily "Kommersant" reported on June 19 that the delivery of five advanced MiG 31E fighter jets to Syria began recently. Israel and the United States strongly oppose the deal, which is said to be worth about $1 billion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 19 and 20, 2006). Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said in a statement on June 18 that Russian arms exports "comply with international law and Russia's obligations under various treaties and UN resolutions." State arms dealer Rosoboroneksport declined to comment on the press report. The daily suggested that the deal might be financed by Iran under a bilateral agreement with Syria, reported. PM

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution on June 18 calling on President Putin to step up efforts to investigate a string of unexplained murders of journalists in Russia, including 14 killings during the just over seven years that he has been in office, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). The resolution also calls on the U.S. authorities to offer help to their Russian counterparts to investigate the killings. PM

The office of the Military Prosecutor for the Joint Group of Forces deployed in the North Caucasus has issued a statement denying, on the basis of an extensive investigation, that the central market and other buildings in Grozny were subjected to missile attacks on October 21, 1999, reported on June 19 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, 1999). The statement claimed there is no evidence that the blasts were caused by an air or missile attack by federal forces. It said the blast at the market was caused by an explosion at the illegal arms market in the vicinity. The statement did not offer any explanation for three other blasts that targeted the city maternity hospital and the main post office. The multiple explosions killed some 140 people and injured more than 200 others. LF

The prosecutor for the Zaterechny Raion of Vladikavkaz has closed a criminal investigation with regard to former Minister for Youth Issues, Physical Culture, and Sport Rustem Kelekhsayev and informed him of his right to demand his reinstatement to his former post, reported on June 19. Kelekhsayev was arrested in March 2007 in connection with the abduction and suspected murder of the son of prominent businessman Kazbek Djibilov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 27, 2007). Meanwhile, North Ossetian Interior Minister Lieutenant General Sergei Arenin rejected on June 18 as unfounded rumors of his imminent resignation, reported. LF

Deputy parliament speaker Vahan Hovannisian, who is a leading member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), told journalists on June 18 his party plans to nominate its own candidate in the presidential election due in early 2008, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He explained that although safeguards exist in Armenia against a "slide into dictatorship," those safeguards are not strong, and he believes an HHD candidate "will be best placed to strengthen them." The HHD, which was a junior partner in the coalition government from 2003-07, has distanced itself from Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia. Under the power-sharing agreement signed on June 6, the HHD will bear responsibility only for the policies and actions of its three cabinet ministers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2007). LF

Jalal Bashirli has written to Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis and to Andres Herkel, the Estonian parliamentarian who serves as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's rapporteur for Azerbaijan, to solicit their help in securing the release of his son, Ruslan, and reported on June 18 and 19, respectively. Ruslan Bashirli, a leading member of the youth organization Yeni Fikir (New Idea), was arrested in August 2005 and sentenced 11 months later to seven years' imprisonment on charges, which he denies, of accepting money from Armenian intelligence to try to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership in the run-up to the November 2005 parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," August 15, 2005, and "RFE/RL Newsline," July 13, 2006). Jalal Bashirli claimed his son is being subjected to mental and physical abuse in jail. LF

The parliament of Georgia's breakaway unrecognized republic of South Ossetia adopted a formal appeal on June 18 to the Russian State Duma to take unspecified "effective measures to preserve stability in the region," to allay tensions, and to persuade the Georgian leadership to rejoin "the search for mutually acceptable decisions" on how to resolve the conflict between the breakaway republic and the Georgian central government, Interfax reported. They further accused the Georgian leadership of deliberately fuelling tensions by condoning the abduction and murder of Ossetians, blocking highways, and disrupting water supplies. In Tbilisi, Georgian parliamentarians construed that appeal as evidence that the regime of de facto South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity "is in its death throes," Caucasus Press reported on June 18. LF

The Kazakh parliament on June 18 approved a package of judicial amendments, including a measure banning political parties from forming electoral blocs, according to RFE/RL's Kazakh Service. The package of reforms was first submitted to parliament by President Nursultan Nazarbaev and their passage follows the recent formation of an opposition electoral bloc by the Naghyz AK Zhol and the Social Democratic parties in preparation for the country's parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 12, 2007). The adoption of the reforms is also seen as part of an effort to dissolve the current parliament and replace it with a new one, set up under the reforms, even though the Kazakh Constitutional Council ruled on June 18 that only the country's president may dissolve parliament, according to constitutional amendments adopted in May, Interfax reported. RG

In an announcement at a June 18 press conference in Astana, Kazakh Interior Ministry spokesman Bagdat Kozhakhmetov said five people have been arrested in connection with a kidnapping case allegedly involving Rakhat Aliev, a former son-in-law of President Nazarbaev, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax reported. Three of those arrested were directly linked to the alleged abduction and assault of two senior officials of Nurbank, a bank Aliev controls, which was reportedly intended to force them to sell their interests in a building in Almaty (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 6, and 13, 2007). Aliev, until recently the Kazakh ambassador to Austria, is now in Austria awaiting an Austrian decision on his possible extradition to Kazakhstan to face criminal charges stemming from the kidnapping case. Nazarbaev's eldest daughter, Darigha Nazarbaeva, confirmed on June 12 that she has formally divorced Aliev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007), though he says he never signed any divorce papers. RG

In a press release issued from Vienna, Rakhat Aliev charged on June 18 that an interview published in the Kazakh "Vremya" newspaper on June 16 was a fake, Kazakhstan Today reported. In that interview, comments attributed to Aliev said he was "prepared to answer personally to the president" for his recent "political statements" and offered "apologies" to Nazarbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). Aliev's June 18 statement further added that "the forged interview was fabricated by the newspaper's editor in chief, [Igor] Meltser, on the instructions of the newspaper's owners," who are reportedly close to the president. For his part, Meltser denied the interview was "fabricated" and insisted that the published interview is accurate, Interfax reported. RG

Alyaksandr Milinkevich has filed a request with the Justice Ministry to register the Movement for Freedom, Belapan reported on June 18. "We have set five priorities for our activities, including the protection of human rights, the building of civil society, the protection of independence and sovereignty, free and democratic elections, and the pro-European development of our society," Milinkevich's press office quoted him as saying. Milinkevich also argued that the ministry's decision on the movement's registration will indicate whether the Belarusian government has turned toward democratization. "The situation regarding freedom of association has considerably deteriorated lately," he said. "More than 200 nongovernmental organizations have been liquidated in the last three years. Not a single NGO has been registered unless it is directly or indirectly connected with the government." Milinkevich advocated forming a broad popular movement for freedom shortly after Belarus's March 2006 presidential election, in which he unsuccessfully challenged President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The founding conference for the Movement for Freedom took place in Hrodna on May 20 this year. Later that month, Milinkevich resigned from the participation in the Political Council of Pro-Democratic Forces, which is an umbrella organization for major opposition parties in Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). JM

The Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council on June 18 voted to eliminate the positions of its rapporteurs on human-rights observance in Belarus and Cuba in a move opposed by the United States, international news agencies reported. Russia reportedly led demands for an end to the mandate of the human-rights rapporteur for Belarus. The decision came as a compromise necessary for setting out new rules and procedures for the UN body, which was formed a year ago to replace the UN Human Rights Commission. The compromise allows the council to censure human-rights abusers with a simple majority of member states. The council kept nine countries on the list for continued scrutiny of human rights, including North Korea, Cambodia, and Sudan. "Given the poor human rights conditions in Belarus and Cuba, the council's decision to reduce its focus on those countries is impossible to justify," Peggy Hicks, a director at Human Rights Watch, commented later the same day. "The UN General Assembly has condemned Belarus's shameful record, and rejected its candidacy for the council. Why is the council itself applying a different standard?" JM

The Verkhovna Rada voted on June 19 to end the ongoing session on June 27, Ukrainian media reported. The resolution was supported by 258 of the 272 ruling-coalition lawmakers registered for the debate. The resolution simultaneously obliges speaker Oleksandr Moroz to hold an extraordinary session of parliament ahead of the regular session in the fall, but does not set any specific dates. President Viktor Yushchenko and legislators from the opposition Our Ukraine and Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc deem the current Verkhovna Rada illegitimate, arguing the legislature has less than the 300 deputies constitutionally required for its legal functioning. However, Moroz maintains that as long as the withdrawal of opposition lawmakers has not been confirmed by the Central Election Commission (TsVK), parliament remains legitimate and operational. Meanwhile, the TsVK, whose renewed composition was approved by parliament on June 1, has so far failed to gather for a legitimate sitting because of the lack of a quorum. TsVK Chairman Volodymyr Shapoval and six other members appointed by President Yushchenko reportedly block such a sitting by failing to come to work. JM

Ukraine and the EU on June 18 signed an agreement facilitating the issue of visas for Ukrainian citizens who plan stays in the EU for up to 90 days, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who participated in the signing ceremony in Luxembourg, told the agency the accord allows Ukrainian journalists, entrepreneurs, members of official delegations, and relatives of Ukrainian citizens who have the right to live in the EU member countries to receive five-year EU visas. These categories of Ukrainians are also eligible to receive multi-entry visas for up to five years. Moreover, multi-entry visas for up to one year can be issued to drivers engaged in international cargo and passenger transportation; crew members of international trains; people who participate in scientific and cultural activities, including university or other exchange programs; and participants in international sporting events. The visa agreement does not extend to the United Kingdom, Ireland, Denmark, Iceland, or Norway. On the same day, Ukraine and the EU also signed an accord on readmission of illegal migrants. According to Yatsenyuk, both documents must be ratified by Ukraine as soon as November. JM

Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the UN's war crimes tribunal, called on June 18 for the UN to delay a decision on the final status of Kosova, international media reported the same day. Del Ponte said she fears a decision to grant independence to Kosova could jeopardize the chances of finding the last -- and most important -- figures suspected of war crimes in the Balkans. The search has gained a new dynamic since the formation of a new Serbian government in mid-May and, with the help of the Serbian authorities, two of the six remaining war-crimes fugitives have been captured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). The most recent arrest, of Vlastimir Djordjevic on June 17, confirmed the optimism expressed by Del Ponte on June 6 that "other positive results" of Serbia's cooperation could be seen before her report to the UN (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2007). Speaking to journalists in New York after giving her appraisal of Serbia's cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) to the UN Security Council, Del Ponte said she believes the remaining fugitives "are currently in Serbia or within Serbia's reach" or within the reach of other states in the region. Del Ponte gave the UN her first-ever positive assessment of Belgrade's cooperation, adducing as one of a number of examples a sharp reduction in "the backlog of outstanding and partially responded requests," from 250 to fewer than 50 in the space of three months. However, time is running short, with Del Ponte set to step down in September and the ICTY due to begin hearing its last cases in 2008. AG

Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin added to the time pressure on the ICTY on June 18, telling journalists "the fact that the tribunal does not have several of the accused before it cannot serve as a justification for the extension of this body" beyond 2008, international media reported the same day. The ICTY is due to close its doors in 2010, when the last appeals will be heard, but in her report to the UN Security Council chief prosecutor Del Ponte urged the UN to keep the tribunal open beyond that date if Mladic and Karadzic are not apprehended by then. Churkin added that Del Ponte is not "infallible," citing the example of Vlastimir Djordjevic, who the Swiss prosecutor had claimed was in Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 2 and 9, March 1, and June 6, 2007). Djordjevic was arrested on June 17 in Montenegro, where Serbian and Montenegrin media reports suggested he had been for some time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). However, media in Montenegro also report speculation that Djordjevic was captured in Russia, a suspicion fuelled by a recent visit by the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service to Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). AG

The Croat and Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim) representatives on Bosnia's three-member Presidency have urged United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to undertake all efforts "to eliminate the results of genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina," local and international media reported on June 18. In a letter to Ban, Haris Silajdzic and Zeljko Komsic called on the UN to implement a February ruling by the International Court of Justice that found genocide was committed by the Bosnian Serbs when they overran the UN "safe area" of Srebrenica in July 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 27 and 28, 2007). The letter pointed out that today's nearly "ethnically clean" Republika Srpska, one of the two autonomous entities that make up Bosnia, was a product of war crimes. "Today, almost 12 years since the end of the war, the future of Bosnia-Herzegovina remains a hostage of these ethno-territorial divisions," the letter said, although it did not spell out what the two Presidency members expect from the UN. Bosnia is in the midst of a constitutional crisis, with leaders such as Silajdzic calling for the entity system to be abolished, a move that is anathema to Bosnian Serb politicians. The Serb member of Bosnia's Presidency, Nebojsa Radmanovic, did not sign the letter. TV

European Union foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on June 18 ahead of an EU summit later this week officially appointed Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak as the EU's special representative (EUSR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina, international and local media reported the same day. The EUSR is at the same time the international community's high representative, an office to which Lajcak was appointed in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14, 16, and 17, 2007). Lajcak will take over from Christian Schwarz-Schilling of Germany, whose term expires on June 30. The EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, welcomed the appointment, saying, "Ambassador Lajcak is a senior diplomat with broad experience in European and Balkan issues." He is widely expected to take a more activist line than his predecessor, an issue that is being discussed by the Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council, which oversees peace building in Bosnia and is currently meeting in Sarajevo. TV

Clint Williamson, the United States' top diplomat for war-crimes issues, told the Bosnian daily "Dnevni avaz" on June 14 that, according to some estimates, up to 12,000 people could face war-crimes charges before local courts for crimes allegedly committed during the Bosnian war of 1992-95. "It is a huge caseload and prosecutors must decide who will be prosecuted and who, unfortunately, will not," Williamson told the Sarajevo daily. Williamson, who worked for many years as a trial attorney at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague, made his remarks in connection with the transfer of cases from the ICTY to domestic courts, which is intended to enable the ICTY to phase out by 2010. Williamson also said flexibility is needed should the court's top indictee, Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, be apprehended shortly before the ICTY's planned closure. TV

The wartime mayor of the northeastern Bosnian city of Tuzla, Selim Beslagic, and two other former top officials were briefly detained on an international arrest warrant initiated by the Belgrade district court, Bosnian public broadcaster BHT-1 reported on June 15. The three officials are accused of being responsible for an attack on a retreating column of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) at the beginning of the Bosnian war. After questioning by Bosnia's State Court, all three were released since Bosnia does not extradite its nationals to other countries. Beslagic, who is a prominent member of the Bosnian parliament, denied that war crimes happened as the Yugoslav army withdrew from Tuzla. "I am deeply convinced that we have not done anything, although I have to express my condolences for each life lost regardless of who it was," he told BHT-1. The ICTY earlier investigated the incident but did not find sufficient evidence for an indictment. Western reporters estimated that up to 200 Yugoslav soldiers were killed when mainly Muslim militias ambushed a convoy of JNA troops leaving the city on May 15, 1992. Another member of Tuzla's wartime leadership was arrested at Belgrade's airport on May 11 and is still in detention there on an arrest warrant first issued in the 1990s. In a separate case, the State Court's war-crimes chamber on June 18 sentenced two Bosnian Serb brothers to 12 and 10 1/2 years' imprisonment, respectively, for atrocities against Muslim civilians, AFP reported the same day. The two were convicted of taking part in the beatings of captured non-Serbs outside Sarajevo at the beginning of the war. TV

The State Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina halved the sentences of three terrorism convicts in an appeals ruling, according to a court statement released on June 18. A Swede of Bosnian origin, a Turkish resident of Denmark, and a Bosnian had their jail terms reduced to between four years and eight years and four months, international and local media reported. A fourth accomplice had his sentence reduced from 2 1/2 years to six months by the appeals chamber, which cited their ages and lack of criminal records as the main reason for the reduced sentences. The four were convicted in January of planning to blow up an unidentified target somewhere in Europe and were in possession of arms and explosives, including a suicide belt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 11, 2007). The case -- among the first of its kind in the Balkans -- reverberated around Europe. Police in Denmark arrested a teenager of Palestinian descent on a tip-off from Bosnian investigators; he was sentenced to seven years in prison in February, while his co-defendants were acquitted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2007). TV

Carla Del Ponte, whose latest report to the UN was the last she will give, said the level of cooperation offered over the years by Bosnia and Croatia was "generally satisfactory, " AP reported on June 18. Del Ponte said 91 war crimes suspects have been transferred to The Hague for trial, with the result that the ICTY has achieved an "important degree of justice." However, failure to capture Mladic or Karadzic would leave "a permanent stain" on the tribunal, and Del Ponte urged Serbia's neighbors to cooperate in the search for them. Del Ponte highlighted Karadzic's case as one in which other countries could help. The former Bosnian Serb political leader "has disappeared from the radar screens of the relevant services, and it seems that no one is actively searching for him," she said, adding she is convinced that "relevant states in the region have the means to locate and arrest him." Del Ponte was also critical of the broader international community, saying it "missed clear opportunities in 1995-98 to arrest Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic." Del Ponte expressed some concerns about the justice meted out by courts across the Balkans, which are receiving an increasing number of cases from The Hague as the ICTY winds up its operations. "The temptation of the respective governments to interfere in these processes is still very present," she said, adding, according to Reuters, that this is particularly the case in Croatia. AG

In a move that has fueled a longstanding dispute with the Macedonian Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church on June 17 invested another bishop in Macedonia, the news agency Makfax reported the same day. Unlike the Macedonian Orthodox Church in Serbia, the Serbian Orthodox Church is allowed to operate in Macedonia. However, the new bishop will serve in a diocese unrecognized by the Macedonian authorities under an archbishop, Jovan Vraniskovski, whom the Macedonian authorities once accused of embezzlement. The ceremony was also attended by a bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church, which, like its Serbian counterpart, refuses to accept the Macedonian Orthodox Church as a member of the Orthodox community. Greece is also involved in a bitter and protracted dispute with Macedonia over Macedonia's official name (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18 and 23, and June 6 and 13, 2007). The service was not attended by a representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, which, while it too does not recognize the Macedonian Orthodox Church, has offered to mediate in the dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23 and May 23, 2007). Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski on June 10 underlined the state's support for the Macedonian Orthodox Church by awarding its head, Archbishop Stefan, the country's highest decoration. According to a MIA news agency report from June 10, Crvenkovski called the Church "a pillar of national and spiritual survival, one of the main guardians of Macedonian national identity, a defender of the national spiritual and cultural heritage." AG

Just a week after hosting U.S. President George W. Bush, the Albanian government has invited Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, to visit Tirana, the regional news service Balkan Insight reported on June 18. It cited a statement from the office of Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who met with Clinton during a recent visit to New York. Clinton has reportedly accepted the invitation, though no date for a visit was mentioned. Bush received an almost rapturous welcome during his June 10 visit to Albania, which regards the United States as a champion of its emergence from the Ottoman Empire, of its bid for NATO membership, and of neighboring Kosova's bid for independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 11, 2007). In Kosova, Clinton is particularly revered, as it was during his presidency that NATO forces intervened to halt the fighting between Serbian troops and Kosovar Albanian separatists, which had triggered an exodus of more than 800,000 civilians. Authorities in Prishtina have named the central boulevard in the Kosovar capital in his honor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24, 2007). AG

Reports from Moldova suggest that, with some votes still uncounted, the second round of local elections on June 17 confirmed a drift away from the Communist Party. After run-offs in 474 of the 898 mayoral elections, it appears a total of 328 Communists will serve as mayor, down from the 368 elected in 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). The largest opposition party, the Our Moldova alliance, added 94 to the 61 mandates it won outright in the first poll, but this still leaves it short of the 191 mayoral seats it won in 2003. The move toward smaller parties was also apparent in the single most important individual battle, in the capital, Chisinau. There, Dorin Chirtoaca, a 28-year-old human-rights activist and member of the Liberal Party, turned a four-point deficit from the first round into 23-point victory, raising his first-round share of the vote from 24.3 percent to over 61 percent. His Communist rival, Veaceslav Iordan, finished with 38.8 percent, just 11 percentage points more than he garnered in the first round. The Communist Party has failed to win in Chisinau in seven local elections since 1991. Simultaneously held elections reduced the number of Communists in Chisinau's 51-seat City Council from 25 to 16. The turnout in Chisinau was 35 percent, roughly the same as the 37 percent achieved in the first round but significantly less than the 60 percent or more reported in some other areas. AG

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the conduct of the second round of polling as "slightly" better than the first, but added that "serious shortcomings remained," according to a June 18 OSCE statement. The OSCE said its monitors found that "key problems identified during the pre-electoral period persisted, particularly media bias and intimidation of candidates" and that the Moldovan authorities "failed to take remedial action prior to the second round." Election monitors found that the standard of the administration of the elections varied considerably from polling station to polling station. The June 17 polls included reruns of elections in nine areas where the results of the first round were declared invalid or null. The Council of Europe, which contributed to the international monitoring effort, said in a statement that, as in the first round, it heard "allegations of pressure on, and intimidation of, candidates and voters." It criticized the Central Election Committee (CEC) for delaying publication of the first-round results, for releasing incomplete data, and for failing to take adequate steps to clarify inaccuracies and to iron out "inconsistent practices." It also found that the state media continued to provide the ruling Communist Party with undue coverage, and criticized negative campaigning in Chisinau. The council concluded, though, that the actual vote was "slightly more positive" than the first round. The biggest problems were in Corjova, a local community on the border separating Moldova from the breakaway region of Transdniester, where Transdniestrian militia prevented villagers from voting. AG

Meeting on June 16 in Tiraspol, the foreign ministers of the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transdniester signed a joint Declaration on the Principles for the Peaceful and Just Resolution of the conflicts between their respective entities and the states from which they seek to break away, reported on June 18. The four men affirmed that the conflicts in question should be resolved peacefully, on the basis of unified principles that all sides would undertake to observe and respect. Those principles include resolving conflicts peacefully in line with the acknowledged rights of peoples to self-determination; the unacceptability of military, political, economic or any other form of pressure on the negotiating procedure; respect for the will of the population of the four entities as evinced in referendums; guarantees that security human rights will be observed; and the precise and unconditional compliance by all conflict sides with any formal agreement signed. Speaking at a joint press conference the same day, the four ministers expressed their shared conviction that the international community will recognize Kosova as an independent state, reported. They argued that such recognition would set an important precedent, even though they do not consider the plan for Kosova drafted by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari an acceptable model for resolving their own conflicts. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba warned that any attempt to argue that Kosova is a unique case, and that other ethnic groups do not have the same right to independence as the Kosova Albanians, will "only lead to new instability." LF

Iraqi journalists have been targeted for kidnappings and assassinations at an alarming rate in recent weeks. Though journalists have been targeted routinely since 2003, attacks and threats by insurgents are on the rise. At least 18 journalists have been gunned down since January, and 10 relatives of journalists have been killed -- in one case, seven members of one family.

While Western journalists in Iraq often operate with the support of a security team, Iraqi journalists usually operate on their own, primarily because they work for media outlets unable to sustain the high costs of a security detail. While journalists who live and work within their communities may also be relatively safe operating in familiar terrain, it is becoming more apparent that the opposite is also true.

Family members of slain journalists often report that the victim had received threats prior to their killing. Some journalists try to address threats by changing their residence, residing with friends or relatives, or relocating their families outside Iraq.

Sahar Hussein Ali al-Haydari, a correspondent for Aswat Al-Iraq (Voices of Iraq), received several death threats prior to her June 7 killing in Mosul. In 2006, she was targeted twice for abduction, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). One attempt failed, while she was rescued the second time. She was shot and wounded in March 2006, and in August gunmen killed her daughter's fiance. In 2005, al-Haydari moved her family to Damascus due to death threats.

Al-Haydari told the CPJ in a March 22 e-mail that her name was fourth on a "death list" of journalists and police officers compiled by the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq. The group circulated the list around Mosul and posted the list on the door of her home. Gunmen answered her mobile telephone after her death, telling a Mosul police captain, "She went to hell."

"The constant threats and abductions she endured, and her eventual murder, are stark reminders of the sacrifice she made to tell the Iraqi story to the world," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said.

The Ansar Al-Sunnah Army, an insurgent group with ties to the Islamic State of Iraq, claimed responsibility for al-Haydari's killing in an Internet statement dated June 8 but posted on June 11.

"We had received information that this journalist worked for the Kurdistan media and she was aided by the apostate police force," the Ansar statement said. " We already knew, prior to receiving this information, that her work was aimed at ruining the mujahedin's reputation."

The statement continued: "When she walked into the trap set for her, the mujahedin brothers pounced on her and showered her with a torrent of bullets from their machine guns, killing her instantly. The brothers then took her cell phone and found numbers and pictures in it that belonged to police officers. This assured us that her work was for the benefit of both the police and the apostate [Prime Minister Nuri] al-Maliki government."

Al-Fallujah-based journalist Abd al-Rahman al-Isawi was shot dead along with seven of his relatives on May 30. Al-Isawi was killed in his home along with his wife, son, parents, and three other relatives. Al-Isawi worked for the online NINA news agency, and he was also the media representative of the Al-Anbar Salvation Council, a gathering of Sunni Arab tribal leaders from the governorate who have committed to fighting Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Nazar Abd al-Wahid al-Radhi, a correspondent working for RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI), was gunned down outside a hotel in Al-Amarah on May 30. He was the second RFI correspondent killed in Iraq in as many months.

According to witnesses, armed men in a pickup truck opened fire on al-Radhi and four other journalists as they left a workshop at the hotel. Al-Radhi was the only journalist killed in the attack. Al-Radhi was a well-known journalist in Iraq, and also worked for the Internet news agency Aswat al-Iraq and the daily "Al-Sabah al-Jadid." RFE/RL President Jeff Gedmin said that RFE/RL "mourns his loss and honors his memory."

RFI correspondent Khamail Muhsin Khalaf was abducted in Baghdad on her way home from work on April 3. Her body was found two days later. Following her abduction, an unidentified caller telephoned her family using her mobile phone, but no further communication was made. Khamail had received several threats after joining RFI in 2004, where she reported on social and cultural life in Iraq. She was a highly regarded former Iraqi television journalist and newscaster.

According to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, at least 182 journalists and media assistants have been killed, and another 77 kidnapped in Iraq since 2003. Of those kidnapped, 23 have been murdered, 40 have been released, and 14 are still being held by their abductors.

The targeting of journalists serves the insurgent cause and its attempt to influence and direct public perceptions of the security situation in Iraq and the work of the Iraqi government toward reining in the insurgency. Should insurgents succeed in their campaign to intimidate journalists into leaving their profession, the loss, in terms of civil-society development will be devastating.

Afghan officials said on June 18 that more than 100 people have been killed in three days of fighting between NATO troops and Taliban militants in southern Afghanistan, AP reported the same day. According to the head of Oruzgan's provincial council, Mullah Ahmidullah Khan, the battles in the Chora district left 60 civilians, 16 Afghan police, and 70 suspected Taliban fighters dead. Lieutenant Colonel Maria Carl, a spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), verified that a "large engagement" has been taking place in Oruzgan, but could not confirm casualty figures, as the battle is still ongoing. One Dutch soldier was confirmed dead, the Netherlands defense chief, General Dick Berlijn, told reporters in the Netherlands. According to Berlijn, the town of Chora is considered of strategic importance by the Taliban. JC

The deadly suicide blast on June 17 that killed 35 people and wounded some 52 others has rekindled concerns about the spread of of terrorist tactics from Iraq to Afghanistan, "U.S. News and World Report" reported on June 18. General Dan McNeill, U.S. commander of ISAF, said the Taliban has improved its use of "asymmetric" warfare tactics, such as suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The bus bombing, for which the Taliban claimed responsibility shortly afterward (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007), demonstrated a potential for more lethal suicide bombings in the future. Coalition forces are also on the lookout for explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), a sophisticated roadside IED common in Iraq but most recently found in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007), indicating that such tactics are spreading. U.S. forces are investigating the possibility that the weapons are coming from Iran. JC

U.S.-led coalition aircraft bombed a suspected Al-Qaeda housing compound in eastern Afghanistan on June 17, killing seven Afghan boys and "several" insurgents, AP reported on June 18. Backed by Afghan troops, the military jets struck a compound in the Zarghun Shah district of Paktika Province that contained a mosque and a madrasah. Typically there is strong coordination between the local government and coalition forces, said Paktika Governor Akram Akhpelwak. However, Akhpelwak said he was not informed of the air strike on the madrasah in advance and consequently seven boys, ages 10 to 16, were killed in the attack. Coalition spokesman Major Chris Belcher said the military had conducted surveillance on the compound the previous day and saw no signs of children. Some children who survived the bombing reported that they and the children who were killed were kept in the compound against their will by the insurgents. The U.S. has accused Al-Qaeda of using civilians as "human shields." JC

One-quarter of Afghan children between the ages of 7 and 14 are working, according to the United Nations on June 18, the "Middle East Times" reported the same day. The international organization also expressed concern about the toll on children of insurgency-driven unrest, one day after seven boys were killed in a coalition air strike. According to statistics provided to reporters in Kabul by the UN children's fund, UNICEF, more Afghan girls (25.1 percent) of the same age are employed in some capacity than boys (23.5 percent). Child labor is also more common in rural areas than in urban areas, said UNICEF's child protection chief in Afghanistan, Noriko Izumi. She also said Afghanistan's children are "very vulnerable" to clashes between the military and insurgent groups, some of which allegedly recruit child soldiers. The data is based on the UN's most recent data collected in 2003. JC

An Iranian foundation called the Headquarters of the Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement on June 17 raised its reward for anyone killing the British author Salman Rushdie, who is reviled by many Muslims who believe he insulted the Prophet Muhammad in his 1988 novel "Satanic Verses," Radio Farda reported, citing Fars news agency. Rushdie was knighted on June 16 in Britain for his services to literature, prompting a formal objection from Iran's Foreign Ministry. Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini termed Rushdie one of the "most detested people" in the Muslim world, AP reported. Rushdie was sentenced to death in a 1989 edict issued by Iran's late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Headquarters of the Tribute to Martyrs has raised to $150,000 the $100,000 bounty it offered in 2004 to anyone implementing Khomeini's death edict. Its secretary-general, Foruz Rajaifar, told Fars many Muslims have been keen to implement Khomeini's fatwa, and Rushdie has been living "in a nightmare" for 19 years since the edict was issued, Radio Farda reported. VS

Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, told ISNA in Tehran on June 18 that more talks between Iran and the United States about Iraqi security "have turned into a national wish," and "everyone appreciates" the impact such talks would have in improving Iraqi security. He admitted, however, that it is difficult to say whether earlier talks have had "practical and palpable effects." He said U.S. forces should hand over "command and security operations" to Iraqi forces. "We believe security should be assured by the Iraqis themselves," with backing from coalition troops, he said. VS

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran on June 18 that Iran has examined "word for word" the first set of Iran-U.S. talks -- held in Baghdad on May 28 -- and could not see any "clear plan that would lead to the Americans coming out of present conditions," ISNA reported, citing Mottaki's interview with Iran's Al-Aalam network. Iran has urged the United States to change its security policies and leave Iraq. Mottaki said Iran has clear positions on various regional political issues, and its differences with the United States can be resolved through diplomacy. He said Iran does not believe the United States can "impose another crisis on American taxpayers," referring perhaps to talk of possible U.S. military strikes on Iran in connection with its nuclear program. The issue of Iran-U.S. ties, he said, is a "thick dossier" going back decades, formed "because of the actions of the American government." Iraq, Mottaki stressed, is presently the only matter for discussion between the two states. "When we mention the issue of Iran and America, we are dealing with a specific subject, and that subject is Iraq," he said. He added that Iran may need another "week or two" to examine the request of Iraqi officials for talks with the United States to resume. VS

Foreign Minister Mottaki also said "certain analyses" of existing information indicate "the very considerable possibility" of another attack on Lebanon by Israel, and he asked regional states to bear this in mind, ISNA reported. "Some people are speaking of a hot summer in the region and are harboring ideas and pursuing plans," he said. He added that if Israel makes another "strategic mistake," it will "certainly suffer another defeat in the region." Mottaki warned against any strikes on Iran, and said the "heads of the Zionist regime know what will happen in case of any measures against us." He said the June 13 murder in Beirut of legislator Walid Eido, a member of the pro-Western coalition led by Saad Hariri and Fuad Siniora, has complicated the situation in Lebanon, and Iran is concerned by the "problems" that are leading Lebanon toward violence. Iran's Foreign Ministry has formally condemned the car-bomb killing of Eido, one of his sons, and eight others. VS

According to informed sources, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki fired Al-Basrah police chief Major General Ali Hammadi al-Musawi on June 18 over the failure of his forces to end attacks on Sunni mosques in the city, international media reported the same day. An official in the office of Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, speaking on the condition of anonymity, confirmed the firing, but declined to elaborate, saying only that replacing al-Musawi is part of the restructuring of the Iraqi police force. However, an unnamed police source said al-Musawi was "seen as incompetent, because he couldn't stop attacks by Shi'ite extremists against two Sunni mosques [in Al-Basrah] in the wake of the Samarra attacks." On June 15, gunmen wearing Interior Ministry commando uniforms blew up the Talhah bin Ubaydallah shrine and on June 16, a car bomb destroyed the Al-Ashrah Al-Mubashra Mosque (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 18, 2007). The wave of attacks against Sunni mosques is widely believed to be in response to the June 13 attack on the Al-Askari Mosque in Samarra, a revered Shi'ite shrine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 2007). SS

The Fund for Peace, an independent research organization that focuses on conflict prevention, labeled Iraq the second worst failed state in the world in the organization's 2007 failed state report and index, published in the July/August edition of "Foreign Policy" magazine. Iraq, with a total index score of 111.4 was behind Sudan (113.7) and just ahead of Somalia (111.1). The organization ranked 177 states, using 12 social, economic, political, and military indicators, in order of their vulnerability to violent internal conflict and social deterioration. The index scores are based on data from more than 12,000 publicly available sources collected from May to December 2006. The report noted that Iraq and Afghanistan, "the two main fronts in the global war on terror, both suffered over the past year." "Their experiences show that billions of dollars in development and security aid may be futile unless accompanied by a functioning government, trustworthy leaders, and realistic plans to keep the peace and develop the economy," the report concluded. SS

Al-Maliki announced during a June 18 press conference that Iraq will not accept a timetable imposed on it to achieve national reconciliation, KUNA reported the same day. Al-Maliki's statements were seen as a response to comments from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on June 16, in which he said Washington is disappointed with the Iraqi government's efforts at fostering national reconciliation. Al-Maliki stressed that only his government can impose any sort of timetable on the reconciliation process. "We set timetables based on humanitarian and national considerations," al-Maliki said. "Our priority comes in sensing the suffering of citizens, which forces us to set time tables and executable solutions for citizens." SS

In an interview with "The Guardian" published on June 18, Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK) commander Cemil Bayik warned that Turkey would face a "military disaster" if it sent troops into northern Iraq. Bayik said the PKK is not seeking a confrontation, but insisted that it will defend itself if attacked. "We are not a terrorist movement. We condemn attacks on civilians. We are freedom fighters," Bayik said. "We are open to dialogue and we welcome it." Tensions between Turkey and Iraq's Kurdish leadership have been rising steadily over the past several months as thousands of Turkish troops have amassed along Turkey's border with northern Iraq. On June 14, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul accused Iraq of not doing enough to move against the estimated 3,500-3,800 PKK fighters in northern Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 15, 2007). Since 2004, Ankara has repeatedly threatened unilateral military action against PKK rebels in northern Iraq. On June 6, reports surfaced that the Turkish military had carried out "limited operations" against PKK elements in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 7, 2007). SS

The Prosecutor's Office in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir has launched an investigation into charges that Mas'ud Barzani, president of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous regional government, is supporting PKK fighters, international media reported on June 18. A Turkish nationalist organization, the Kemalist Thought Association (ADD), called for a probe and the seizure of any assets Barzani and his family may have in Turkey. On April 7, Barzani said Iraqi Kurds could intervene in Kurdish-majority cities in Turkey if Ankara continues to oppose Iraqi-Kurdish ambitions to annex oil-rich Kirkuk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 10, 2007). Many in Turkey believed that he meant giving support to the PKK. His comments generated outrage in Turkey, where more than 37,000 people have been killed since 1984 in fighting between Turkish security forces and PKK fighters. SS

The U.S. military announced on June 18 that two raids by coalition forces netted 11 alleged members of an Al-Qaeda in Iraq cell that was part of network in Baghdad that produced vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIED). The first raid was carried out on June 17. Coalition forces detained six suspected terrorists, whose network allegedly supports Syria-based extremists and provides suicide bombers, vehicles, and explosives for the terrorist cell. On June 18, five suspected terrorists linked to the same cell were captured south of the Iraqi capital. "Disrupting the bombing network in Baghdad is a high priority for us, and we will continue to target the cells' leaders and members," said U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver. SS