Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - April 24, 2008

"The Washington Times" reported on April 23 that Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas has withdrawn his recently expressed support for a Moscow Middle East conference, which means that the Russian-backed gathering "will likely be postponed or even canceled." Abbas endorsed the Russian plans during an April visit to Moscow (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 1 and 21, 2008). The daily "Kommersant" observed on April 18 that the Russian leadership feels that Washington has monopolized diplomatic activity in the Middle East and called Abbas to Moscow to warn him not to leave Russia out of the process. The paper argued that "Moscow is under the impression that it is being actively elbowed out of the Middle East settlement." "The Washington Times" on April 23 quoted an unnamed "Arab official" as saying that Abbas "is not that keen on a conference in Moscow anymore. It's not clear what exactly its focus will be and what results it will produce." The daily quoted other Arab diplomats as saying that Abbas will "reluctantly" attend a Moscow conference if one takes place. Israel and the United States are reportedly not enthusiastic about a Moscow meeting. PM

A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) urged the Russian authorities on April 23 to promote human rights through education and not merely seek to punish rights violators, news agencies reported. At the end of a two-day fact-finding trip, Luc Van den Brande and Theodoros Pangalos said Russia needs to adopt legislation that will enable independent rights groups to work effectively. During the visit, the delegation met with rights activists and members of the official Public Chamber, which is charged with overseeing the development of civil society. The daily "Kommersant" on April 24 quoted Public Chamber member Aleksandr Sokolov as saying that "the Europeans doubted that an organization, a third of whose members are appointed by the president, is democratic. The entire process of the formation of the Public Chamber had to be explained and, it seems, we convinced them." PM

The official RIA Novosti news agency reported on April 23 that a Russian "source close to the issue" said in Moscow that the recent decision by Azerbaijan to halt on the Azerbaijani-Iranian border a Russian shipment of unspecified materials for the Russian-built Iranian nuclear power plant at Bushehr was politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 22, 2008). "The unwillingness by the Azerbaijani authorities to allow through the border nonnuclear equipment, registered in strict accordance with international freight-transportation regulations, is a politically motivated decision by the republic's authorities," he argued. Russia's Atomstroieksport, which is building the plant, said in a statement on April 22 that "the shipping documents for the cargo...were prepared in accordance with international rules," Interfax reported. Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry spokesman Xazar Ibrahim said in Baku on April 21 that Azerbaijan wants more information about the shipment and whether it violates UN sanctions against Iran, news agencies reported. It is not clear why the Azerbaijani authorities allowed the cargo into their country and stopped it only as it was about to leave for Iran. On April 23, Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Nasir Hamidi Zare said that said that the delay in clearing the shipment is technical in nature and centers on customs procedures, reported. The news agency added that unnamed Iranian authorities believe that it is up to Atomstroieksport to resolve the matter. On April 23, the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" suggested that "Azerbaijan is trying to show loyalty to the United States, and to demonstrate its own strength in relations with Moscow." PM

Former Yukos security chief Aleksei Pichugin testified on April 23 that former Yukos shareholder Leonid Nevzlin never asked or ordered him to commit murders or any other crimes. Pichugin, who is serving a life sentence in Orenburg Oblast for two murders, including that of Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov, and an attempted murder, was transferred to Moscow earlier this week to testify at Nevzlin's trial in absentia. Nevzlin is facing multiple charges of murder and attempted murder, including those for which Pichugin was sentenced. "No one, including Mr. Nevzlin...ever made a request of or gave instructions to me for the execution of any unlawful actions," Pichugin told the Moscow City Court, Interfax reported on April 23. At the start of Nevzlin's trial last month, the victim of an attempted murder that Nevzlin is accused of planning, Viktor Kolesov, former chief of administration of the Yukos-controlled Rosprom, told the Moscow City Court he doubted Nevzlin was behind the 1998 attack on him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2008). Another witness, Israeli human rights activist Youli Nudelman, testified on April 7 that Nevzlin, who moved to Israel in 2003, received Israeli citizenship in one month and three days rather than the usual year or more by donating $1.5 million to a diaspora museum and promising an additional $20 million. Nudelman also said Nevzlin lied on his citizenship application by saying he was not facing criminal charges in Russia, RIA Novosti reported. JB

Testifying before the Moscow City Court on March 23 in the murder trial in absentia of former Yukos shareholder Nevzlin, former Yukos security chief Pichugin said that Prosecutor-General's Office investigators more than once urged him to agree to a "deal" under which he would give false testimony against top Yukos officials, including Nevzlin, reported on April 23. According to the website, Pichugin said one investigator told him that no one was interested in prosecuting him personally and that the case was political and targeted at Nevzlin, Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky and other co-owners of the oil company. Pichugin also repeated claims that he was given psychotropic drugs while being interrogated following his arrest in June 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 21, 2003). Pichugin said that all he remembers from an interrogation on July 14, 2003, which took place after his interrogators gave him a cup of coffee apparently spiked with psychotropic drugs, is that the questions concerned Khodorkovsky, then-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, and "financial flows between those persons and Yukos." JB

"Kommersant" reported on April 24 that a group of Russian human rights activists has complained to the Prosecutor-General's Office about the appearance on a Russian nationalist website of a "list of enemies" that includes independent experts and law enforcement personnel involved in combating xenophobia and interethnic intolerance, along with their photographs, addresses, telephone numbers, and other personal information. According to the paper, the website also said that those on the list should "fear for their health." The list, which was published by the website and remains accessible, includes Aleksandr Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights; Lyudmila Alekseyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Alekasandr Verkhovsky, director of the independent NGO Sova, which monitors ethnic relations and hate crimes; Alla Gerber, who heads Russia's Holocaust Foundation; the journalist Mark Deitch; and Valeriya Novodvorskaya, leader of the opposition Democratic Union. The list also includes the members of the Russian Supreme Court's military collegium who overturned the acquittal of Eduard Ulman, the Interior Ministry captain who along with three fellow servicemen shot dead five Chechen civilians in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 14, 2007). "Kommersant" noted that the ultranationalist Russian National Unity distributed similar lists in the 1990s and that Vladimir Zhirninovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia compiled a list of "enemies of the Russian people" in March 2006 that included Boris Yeltsin, former Prime Minister Kasyanov, then-Health Minister Mikhail Zurabov and Economic Development Minister German Gref, and opposition leaders Garry Kasparov and Nikita Belykh, among others. "In that case, the law enforcement organs never brought anyone to justice," Brod told the paper. JB

Police in Kirov Oblast blocked access to the website of the weekly newspaper "Vyatsky nablyudatel" in response to a posting on the website's forum that included comments that law enforcement officials deemed offensive to a member of the oblast government, Interfax reported on April 22. "Novye izvestia" reported on April 24 that police viewed the comments posted on the "Vyatsky nablyudatel" forum as "extremist." "Novye izvestia" quoted the chief editor of "Vyatsky nablyudatel," Sergei Bachinin, as saying that access to the paper's website was blocked because of insulting comments about an oblast government minister that were made by a reader on a website forum. Bachinin said he was willing remove the comments from the website but that it was possible the website would now have to reregister "in another oblast or even another country." In January, "Vyatsky nablyudatel" reported that officials in Kirov Oblast were told to ensure an 80 percent vote for Dmitry Medvedev in the March 2 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 29, 2008). Meanwhile, "Novye izvestia" also quoted Moscow Bureau for Human Rights director Brod, who said that when he demanded that police block access to a nationalist website that published an enemies list with the names of human rights activists -- including his own -- along with their addresses and other personal information, he was told by the police that they did not have the equipment to do so. JB

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg has toured Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan in recent days, meeting with senior officials, Russian media reported. In Chechnya, Hammarberg assured human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhadjiyev that the Council of Europe will finance the opening of a laboratory to identify the remains of war victims; he also visited the mountainous southern district of Shatoi. Nukhadjiyev denied on April 24 that Hammarberg was prevented from visiting the headquarters in Gudermes of the controversial Vostok battalion, some of whose members were involved in a standoff 10 days ago with Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov's bodyguards. Meeting with Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov in Magas on April 23, Hammarberg expressed appreciation for the shelter and assistance Ingushetia offered fugitives from Chechnya during the fighting that began in 1999, reported. On April 23, Hammarberg traveled together with Daghestan's President Mukhu Aliyev to Botlikh Raion, but reportedly did not meet with local residents who resolutely oppose the construction of a major Russian military base there, reported. Hammarberg told journalists upon his arrival in Makhachkala that his talks with Aliyev focused on abductions and the murder of journalists. LF

Two Ingush, Amirkhan Khidriyev and Salanbek Dzakhkiyev, who were arrested last fall on suspicion of involvement in the August 13 bombing of the Neva Express train in which 26 people were injured, have been released from custody in Novgorod on expiry of their six-month pretrial detention after pledging not to leave the country, Russian media reported. Of a total of six men taken into custody as suspects, the only one still in detention is Khidriyev's brother Maksharip. The two brothers were arrested in October; they claim to have cast-iron alibis, which prosecutors initially refused to verify (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 25, November 2 and 26, and December 6, 2007). LF

Following the appointment earlier this week of two parliamentarians from former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir party as ministers in Tigran Sarkisian's new cabinet, Gegham Gasparian, one of the candidates on Orinats Yerkir's proportional representation list for the May 2007 ballot, has claimed his signature on a renunciation of any claim on a parliament mandate was forged, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on April 23. Eight Orinats Yerkir candidates were elected at that time; the ninth on the list inherited one of the vacant mandates but the second went to Artsruni Aghadjanian, who was 16th on the original list, on the grounds that the interim candidates had allegedly renounced any claim. LF

Meeting on April 23, the UN Security Council deplored any unauthorized military activity in the Abkhaz conflict zone, but failed explicitly to condemn the shooting down, apparently by a Russian MiG fighter, of an unmanned Georgian reconnaissance aircraft over Abkhazia on April 20, Caucasus Press reported. In a separate statement, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which together with Russia are members of the so-called Group of Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia, reaffirmed their shared support for Georgia's territorial integrity and expressed concern at the implications of the most recent Russian initiative to strengthen ties with the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, calling on Russia to revoke or at least not implement its stated plans. Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin said Russia will not do so, as its actions are entirely legal. The Group of Friends acknowledged the need for economic rehabilitation of both regions, which Moscow has adduced as the rationale for expanding economic cooperation, but stressed that any such measures should be implemented with the agreement of, and in coordination with Georgia. They further expressed the hope that the Georgian and Abkhaz sides will agree to discuss the "many useful ideas" on the table for resolving the conflict, including President Mikheil Saakashvili's most recent peace proposal for Abkhazia and their own proposed confidence-building measures, and that as a first step they will exchange declarations concerning the nonresumption of hostilities and the return to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons. Also on April 23, despite having submitted his resignation in order to run in the May 21 parliamentary ballot, Georgian Foreign Minister David Bakradze met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who similarly affirmed support for Georgia's territorial integrity and expressed concern over the recent Russian moves, Georgian media reported. Speaking in Moscow on April 23, Aleksandr Torshin said the Federation Council, of which he is deputy speaker, has postponed its discussion, scheduled for April 25, of the formal appeals for recognition by the parliaments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

In a televised address on April 23, President Saakashvili proposed to opposition party leaders to meet regularly to formulate a unified position "on fundamental issues of national security and territorial integrity" in response to increasing pressure from Russia, reported. But Giorgi Gugava and Giorgi Targamadze, leading members of the Labor Party and the Christian Democratic Movement, respectively, rejected that offer on April 24, Caucasus Press reported. Targamadze denounced it as a "stunt" in the run-up to the May 21 parliamentary ballot. New Rightists leader David Gamkrelidze and Zviad Dzidziguri of the Conservative party similarly rejected Saakashvili's offer, saying that they have no interest in talking to an "illegitimate" president, Caucasus Press reported on April 24, while the Republican Party said it is ready to discuss Abkhazia and other national security issues with Prime Minister Lado Gurgenidze. Earlier on April 23, police in Tbilisi arrested five members of the NGO Equality Institute for staging a protest outside the state chancellery during which they branded Georgia "a police state," Caucasus Press reported. LF

The French authorities have acceded to a request by former Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili for political asylum, Okruashvili's lawyer Eka Basilia told journalists in Tbilisi on April 23, reported. Okruashvili left Georgia for Germany last October following his televised retraction of damaging allegations against President Saakashvili. Germany declined to extradite him to Georgia but allowed him to travel to France, where he requested asylum. A Tbilisi court sentenced him in absentia last month to 11 years' imprisonment on charges, which he claims were fabricated, of large-scale extortion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 10 and March 31, 2008). LF

Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Sauat Mynbaev promised on April 22 to contain rising fuel prices by increasing crude oil supplies to Kazakh refineries, Kazakh Television reported. Mynbaev explained that the measure will help to boost the domestic supply of energy products and lubricants in order to ease the impact of rising gasoline prices. Despite Kazakhstan's energy wealth, the country still imports one-quarter of its oil products from Russia. RG

Kazakh police officials confirmed on April 23 that police in Almaty arrested an Uzbek citizen on April 20, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Police said the unidentified man faces outstanding criminal charges in his native Uzbekistan for "active participation in terrorist acts and mass disorders" related to the deadly clashes between Uzbek security forces and demonstrators in the eastern town of Andijon in May 2005. The head of a Kazakh police investigative unit admitted that the man was arrested after police learned of his whereabouts following his appeal to the local UN representative office seeking political asylum for himself and his family. The arrest was made only days before the official state visit of Uzbek President Islam Karimov to Kazakhstan and met a long-standing demand by the Uzbek authorities for countries of the region to round up the many Uzbeks who were forced to flee the country following the Andijon violence, in which hundreds of unarmed protesters are thought to have been gunned down by government troops. RG

The Kyrgyz parliament on April 22 opened a series of committee hearings on draft legislation dealing with terrorism financing and money laundering, according to AKIpress. The hearings, convened with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), were organized by the parliamentary committee on economy, budget and finance; the committee on defense, security, legal and judicial reform; and the committee on constitutional legislation, law and human rights. In addition to reviewing draft legislation, the hearings were also convened to provide an "independent public expert analysis" aimed at improving the public policy process. The proposed amendments were formally presented by the head of the Financial Intelligence Service, Maksatbek Sadyrov. Advocating the passage of the legislation, Sadyrov asserted that the draft laws meet international counterterrorism and money-laundering standards. RG

Speaking at a press conference in Dushanbe, Tajik Justice Ministry official Davlat Sulaimonov reported on April 22 that since the introduction in February of a new, more restrictive registration law on international and nongovernmental organizations and public associations, no new group has been approved by the ministry, Asia-Plus reported. Sulaimonov added that although the ministry only rejected one application, submitted by an unidentified international organization, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of registration applications since the new laws took effect. According to statistics, 27 international organizations failed to meet the new requirements of the reregistration process and the total number of reregistered public associations declined by two-thirds, from 3,130 to 1,400. RG

At a cabinet meeting in Ashgabat, President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on April 23 ordered the reversal of his predecessor's official changes to the calendar, Turkmen Television. The order effectively restores the previous names of the months and days of the calendar, reverting to the traditional Turkmen-language translation of the months and days used prior to late President Saparmurat Niyazov's decision to rename days and months after himself and his family members. Berdymukhammedov explained that the order was related to his recent announcement of a new special commission to draft a "new edition" of the constitution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 21, 2008), which he said will be ready by September. RG

A district court in Minsk on April 23 sentenced small-business activist Syarhey Parsyukevich to 2 1/2 years in a minimum-security correctional institution for allegedly beating up a police officer, Belapan reported. The court also ordered Parsyukevich to pay 1.1 million rubles ($513) to the police officer in "moral damages." Parsyukevich has been in jail since March 4 in connection with an incident that occurred when he was serving a 15-day jail term over his participation in an unsanctioned protest of small-business owners in Minsk on January 10. Parsyukevich insisted that he was beaten on January 21 by a police officer in the detention center. However, the officer, Alyaksandr Dulub, alleged at the trial that it was he who had been beaten up by Parsyukevich, and he produced a medical certificate of light bodily injuries. According to Dulub, when Parsyukevich did not follow an order, he took him from his cell to an interrogation room, where Parsyukevich punched him in the face. Alyaksandr Taustyka, who was Parsyukevich's cellmate, testified in court that Dulub burst into the cell, rudely ordered Parsyukevich to stand up, kicked him in the legs, and took him away. Taustyka said that about 10 minutes later he and other people in the cell heard Parsyukevich cry: "Help! They are killing me!" Taustyka added that Dulub falsely accused Parsyukevich in order to escape punishment for his violence. AM

A court in Novyya Darohi, Minsk Oblast, on April 23 sentenced opposition politician Vyachaslau Siuchyk to 15 days in jail for "participation in an unsanctioned rally," Belapan reported. Siuchyk on April 19 attended the ceremony of the raising of a commemorative cross at the site where residents of the Drazhna village near Staryya Darohi were massacred by Soviet anti-Nazi guerillas during World War II. The same day, a district court in Homel sentenced activist Uladzimir Nyapomnyashchy to 15 days in jail for violating regulations governing demonstrations. Nyapomnyashchy on March 23 took part in an event called a "historical excursion," which was aimed at marking the 90th anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic. On April 22, the same court sentenced activists Alyaksandr Pratsko and Svyataslau Shapavalau on similar charges to seven and 10 days in jail, respectively. Three other participants in the event -- Ivan Adamenka, Tatsyana Bublikava, and Dzmitry Kutasau -- were fined from $245 to $326. AM

U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said on April 22 that Washington calls "for the immediate and unconditional release of [Andrey] Kim as well as all political prisoners in Belarus," according to the department's website. Kim was sentenced earlier that day to 18 months in prison for participating in an unsanctioned rally on January 10 that was held in support of the rights of small-business owners. The court also found Kim guilty of "violence or threats of violence against a police officer" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2008). "It is another example of the Belarusian government working to silence political opposition and silence civil society," Casey said. In a statement released on April 23, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner condemned the conviction of Kim and nine other youths, Belapan reported. "I call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those arrested whilst demonstrating peacefully, as well as all other political prisoners," Ferrero-Waldner said. Jonathan Moore, the deputy mission chief at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, said on April 22 that the United States currently recognizes two people as political prisoners in Belarus: Kim and former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin. AM

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry on April 23 told deputy mission chief Moore that the U.S. Embassy in Minsk should provide it with a list of five diplomats who will stay in Belarus, Belapan reported, quoting a source at the embassy. "Moore expressed a protest against the new demand and noted that this unprecedented and unjustified move by the Belarusian authorities would lead to serious consequences," the source said. Moore assured the ministry that he will promptly inform the U.S. State Department and give a reply in due time. In a statement issued the same day, the Foreign Ministry justified the demand by saying that the United States is still continuing economic sanctions against Belarusian economic entities and preventing a "mutually acceptable settlement of the situation." In late March, Washington yielded to the ministry's "recommendation" to reduce its embassy staff in Minsk to 17 people. Deputy Foreign Minister Viktar Haysyonak said on April 2 that the ministry considers it "expedient" to reduce the staff of the Belarusian Embassy in the United States and the U.S. Embassy in Belarus to seven people. State Department spokesman Casey responded on April 5 that such a demand is unwarranted and unjustified. AM

President Viktor Yushchenko on April 23 postponed to an unspecified later date the meeting of the National Constitutional Council, whose working group completed the previous day the draft outline of a new version of the Ukrainian Constitution, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. The formal reason for the delay was a request by parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who asked Yushchenko to reschedule the meeting due to health problems. However, representatives of the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc (BYuT) described this as an "artificial reason," and accused Yushchenko of disrupting the constitutional process. The BYuT pledged to initiate the formation of an ad hoc parliamentary commission to introduce changes to the constitution. Yushchenko created the Constitutional Council in late December 2007. According to Heorhiy Kryuchkov, a member of the council's working group, the new version of the constitution provides for a mixed form of government and some limitations on the president's authority, which, in particular, deprive the president of the power to nominate the foreign and defense ministers. AM

Serge Brammertz, who succeeded Carla Del Ponte in January as chief prosecutor of The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY), said in an interview with the French daily "Le Monde" on April 23 that searching for war crimes indictees "is not the top priority" for Serbian officials. Brammertz recently visited Belgrade, where he stressed that "there must be full and total cooperation in all areas." He said that unnamed Serbian officials told him that "the political situation" in the run-up to the May 11 general elections makes it politically inexpedient for officials to be seen publicly cooperating with the ICTY, which many Serbs consider anti-Serbian. Brammertz is from Belgium's German-speaking minority in Eupen. Belgium and the Netherlands argue that the EU should not offer Serbia a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) until it improves its cooperation with the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 9 and 22, 2008, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," February 13, 2008). In a study released on April 23, the Brussels-based nongovernmental organization International Crisis Group (ICG) cautioned the EU and the United States against what it called "counterproductive intervention" in Serbia in the run-up to the May 11 vote. The ICG argued that Serbian "public anger over Western support for Kosovo's independence is such that any attempt to pressure or even induce Belgrade into more cooperation risks strengthening the nationalist vote." The ICG too argued against offering Serbia an SAA unless it fully cooperates with the ICTY, and it called for more Western support for what it called "civil society" in Serbia. PM

Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic said at a meeting with his Croatian and Albanian counterparts in Shkoder, Albania, on April 22 that his country hopes to become a full member of the Adriatic Charter group soon, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Meeting the criteria incumbent on Adriatic Charter members was an important factor in NATO's recent decision to extend to Croatia and Albania formal invitations to join NATO. Although Macedonia too is an Adriatic Charter group member, Greece vetoed inviting Macedonia to join the alliance because of the two countries' long-standing dispute regarding Macedonia's official designation. The United States has called for Macedonia to be admitted to NATO as soon as possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 7, 2008). PM

Can communism be compared to Nazism? Does communism's record deserve as unequivocal a condemnation as that of Nazism? And should communism's modern-day adherents and apologists be rejected as firmly by Europe's political mainstream as those of Nazism?

The debate over the historical record of communism simmers on in the European Union. Forced onto the bloc's agenda by its new ex-communist member states, the issue was most recently broached at a European Parliament debate in Strasbourg on April 21.

Reflecting deep-seated divisions among member states and political camps, the parliament ultimately failed to agree on a common declaration. Some argued that charging communism -- at least, in its Stalinist incarnation -- with crimes against humanity would provide long-overdue historical justice. Others, however, saw it as an attempt to rewrite history for populist gain.

These questions go to the heart of the divisions which still linger in Europe between the EU's old and new member states. Most of the "old" countries tend to see no need for a new historical reckoning. The Soviet Union is seen as an ally in defeating Nazi Germany, and communist parties still exist.

The new member states, however, tend to view the issue as a critical part of reuniting the continent. Throughout the Soviet bloc, communist oppression cost the lives of millions of people, deprived the rest of freedom, and placed their countries behind the Iron Curtain for half a century.

This line of argument also has more than a whiff of antagonism toward Russia, whose outgoing president, Vladimir Putin, has called the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest political catastrophe of the 20th century."

For those seeking to condemn communism for crimes against humanity, it's been an uphill battle. The strongest resistance comes from the EU's political left. Jan Marinus Wiersma, a Dutch socialist and a leading figure in the EU's socialist group, attacked what he described as "party-political interpretations of history."

"All too often, differing interpretations can lead to different visions, different ways of understanding things, and sometimes xenophobia [and nationalism]," he said. "This is extraordinarily dangerous in a Europe which is characterized by diversity, that includes ethnic diversity. There are no simple answers to difficult historical questions. Let's not overlook this, because quite often, people have a populist interpretation of history."

Wiersma attacked attempts at drawing "facile or glib comparisons" between totalitarian regimes -- without once, however, identifying either by name. He said such debates have no place on the EU's agenda.

The leader of the smaller European United Left, French politician Francis Wurtz, was more outspoken. He rejected the idea of a "Nuremberg of ideologies" and said putting Soviet-era crimes on a par with those of Nazism "relativizes" the Holocaust and other Nazi atrocities. Even if lawmakers could find a common stance on the issue, the best the body could do formally is pass a moral judgment on communism. The real powers on such matters lie with the member states.

In April 2007, EU justice ministers passed a law making it a criminal offense to publicly condone, deny, or trivialize "genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes" -- provided such crimes were recognized as such by the Nuremberg Tribunal of 1945 or the statute of the International Criminal Court of 2002. Neither makes any reference to communist crimes. The EU's executive, the European Commission, has been instructed to study whether the need exists to augment the list of crimes.

On April 21, Vice President Jacques Barrot told the parliament additional measures are for individual member states to decide. "During the hearing, a group of participants suggested in a document a great number of measures," Barrot said. "The [European] Commission has noted this call for a greater European involvement, but it must be stressed that each member state itself must find its own way of addressing this issue. The European Union cannot substitute itself for these national processes. The European Union does not have much competence to act in this area."

The EU's role, Barrot says, should be restricted to "facilitating dialogue and the exchange of views." In his two statements, Barrot never once invoked either Nazism or communism by name.

During the debate, deputies from Poland, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Estonia, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe angrily recounted atrocities from their countries' communist pasts. They argued that the mass executions of political opponents and deportations of civilians that took place under the Soviet yoke must be recognized as an integral part of Europe's troubled history.

Estonia's Tunne Kelam, a conservative deputy, spoke for most when he argued for a "moral and political assessment" of the legacy of communist regimes equivalent to the judgment passed on that of Nazism. "I am a bit disappointed with the commission's statement, because [its] main theme is that the assessment of communist totalitarianism will be an internal affair of every relevant country," he said. "I'm afraid that's going to deepen [a feeling of] double standards, because clearly, fascism and Nazism are not considered to be an 'internal' matter [for] any of the EU member states. Every emergence of neo-Nazism, or racism, is viewed as a direct threat to the common values of Europe."

Communism, Kelam noted, is by implication not seen as a threat to Europe. Its victims therefore, remain "second- or third-class victims," he said.

The new member states have received a generally sympathetic hearing among the EU's political right.

(Ahto Lobjakas is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Brussels.)

Afghan Foreign Ministry officials said on April 23 that the governments of Denmark and the Netherlands have ordered their diplomatic staff to leave their embassies in Kabul and move to secret safe locations for security reasons, news agencies reported. Earlier this week, Denmark also withdrew its embassy staff in Algeria, while the Dutch government moved its diplomats in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, from the embassy to a hotel. "There was a change in the security situation and we decided that it was necessary," Danish Foreign Ministry spokesman Erik Laursen said. The Danish staff in Kabul continue to work from their new locations; it is unclear how long they will remain there. Both countries were reacting to an apparently elevated risk of terrorist attacks in response to media events at home that have provoked anger in the Islamic world. The Danish Security and Intelligence Service warned earlier this month of an increase in terror threats against Danish interests in North Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan after two Danish newspapers in March reprinted a cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The Netherlands, meanwhile, has raised its terror alerts following the release of a film critical of the Koran by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders. AT

Ten police officers and three civilians died in a series of attacks blamed on the Taliban across Afghanistan on April 23, Reuters reported. In the eastern province of Kunar, Taliban fighters stormed a police post, sparking a clash in which five officers and 13 militants were killed, according to local security officials. In Badghis Province, three more policemen died in a roadside bombing, Reuters reported, while in Helmand Province, a suicide bomber attacked a police compound, killing two officers, according to Girishk district police chief Khan Mohammad Shuja. In the southern town of Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border in Kandahar Province, police pursued another suicide bomber, but could not prevent him from detonating his explosives in a bazaar, killing three civilians and wounding at least 14 more, officials said. A purported Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attacks in a phone call to Reuters. AT

The Afghan government announced on April 23 that President Hamid Karzai has appointed a commission to find the bodies of former President Mohammad Daud Khan and his relatives, who were killed in a 1978 military coup, AFP reported. Khan, one of his daughters, and several women and children were shot dead in the presidential palace during a Soviet-backed coup on April 27 and 28, 1978. Their remains have never been recovered. Karzai's office said that national intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh is heading the commission, which includes representatives of the interior, defense and culture ministries, as well as a relative of Khan's, Nadir Naeemi. The commission is also tasked with drawing up a proposal for the construction of a mausoleum for Daud and his family. Khan came to power in a coup when he overthrew his cousin Zahir Shah -- the last king of Afghanistan -- abolished the monarchy, and established a republic. AT

Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta on April 23 held talks with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, President Pervez Musharraf, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to discuss security and other regional subjects, IRNA and AFP reported. In a joint statement, the two sides agreed on a "new beginning" in bilateral relations based on mutual trust, and reaffirmed their commitment to coordinate efforts in fighting terrorism and the drug trade. An Afghan Embassy spokesman said that Spanta also met the head of Pakistan's Awami National Party (ANP), Asfandyar Wali Khan, to discuss the two countries' policies on dealing with militants based in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province. The ANP, which governs the province, has started talks with the militants and has freed a radical leader, Sufi Muhammad, after seven years in prison. AT

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei said in Sarajevo on April 23 that Iran and the IAEA have reached a "milestone" with Iran's agreement to provide explanations on evidence indicating it has sought to develop nuclear weapons, news agencies reported. The agreement followed two days of talks in Tehran between Iranian officials and the IAEA deputy chief, Olli Heinonen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2008). El-Baradei said he hopes that Iran will provide "clarification" on Western intelligence reports on the "weaponization" of its nuclear program by the end of May, when he is to present a quarterly report on Iran, Reuters reported. Iran has previously rejected the validity of the reports, obtained from laptop computers, defectors, and various intelligence sources, but which remain unverified. An unnamed diplomat told Reuters in Vienna on April 23 that he or she hopes Iran will quickly answer the questions and also halt nuclear-fuel production, in line with UN Security Council demands, "to allow negotiations [and] reach a long-term settlement" on its nuclear program. VS

Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in Hamedan, west of Tehran, on April 23 that Iran is willing to discuss its nuclear program -- perhaps with Western powers -- but not to forego its "right" to nuclear power, news agencies reported. Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium in line with the provisions of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), though Western states fear this will help Iran to someday produce nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad said Iranians are reasonable and willing to talk, and "if you are interested in talking" to Iran on the basis of "justice" and "respect for the rights of nations," Iran would talk "to any of you, it makes no difference," Radio Farda reported, citing Iranian media. Iranian officials often cite fuel production as a "red line" from which Iran will not retreat. Ahmadinejad stressed in March that Iran will only discuss its program with the IAEA (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 10, 2008). He told the Hamedan crowd that Iran is not only "the first regional power" but the "most influential power in all the world's relations, and no power will...dare threaten the people of Iran or violate" its rights, Radio Farda reported. VS

Vice President for Executive Affairs Ali Saidlu confirmed on April 23 that the head of the state auditing court, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, is to become acting interior minister after April 26, replacing Mostafa Purmohammadi, Radio Farda reported. Purmohammadi is the eighth minister of the Ahmadinejad government to be replaced since he came to power in mid-2005. Purmohammadi's last act as minister will be to oversee a second round of parliamentary elections on April 25. Rahimi is 60 years old, a law graduate from Tehran University, and was governor of Kurdistan Province from 1993 to 1997. He was then dismissed by the incoming reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, for allegedly rigging the vote in the 1997 elections in favor of the conservative candidate, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri, Radio Farda noted. He became head of the state auditing court after elections for the present conservative-dominated parliament in 2004, and remained in his post after the 2005 presidential election, though he apparently supported Ahmadinejad's rival, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani. VS

A branch of the Tehran Revolutionary Court gave women's rights activist Nahid Jafari a six-month suspended jail sentence and ordered her whipped 10 times, for taking part in a Tehran demonstration on March 4, 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 5, 2007), Radio Farda reported on April 22, citing Tehran-based observers and websites. She was convicted of disturbing the public peace. Another activist, Nasrin Afzali, was recently given a similar sentence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 22, 2008). Jafari told Radio Farda the women's movement in Iran and its campaign to gather a million signatures to help end discriminatory laws are "entirely peaceful. This is no criminal offense." She said the Iranian state should thank, not imprison, activists trying to improve women's rights, Radio Farda reported. VS

Former reformist Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref said in Tehran on April 23 that he would be willing to run in the next presidential election, likely in 2009, if former reformist President Khatami does not, Fars news agency reported. He stressed, however, that Khatami is the best person to be president. Aref registered as a candidate in recent parliamentary elections, but withdrew before the race in protest at the disqualification of many reformists by electoral officials. He said the country has problems and changes are needed; he called for the proper implementation of set medium- and long-term development plans, including privatization policies, which critics of Ahmadinejad say he has failed to follow. Aref said reformists are not dogmatic, and a reformist president could work well with the incoming, conservative-dominated parliament, Fars reported. VS

Ja'far al-Musawi, the chief prosecutor at the Iraqi High Tribunal, announced on April 24 that Saddam Hussein's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, will stand trial next week for the 1992 execution of 42 merchants. Aziz has been in U.S. custody since 2003. "Tariq Aziz will be presented for trial at the special tribunal over the execution of around 40 merchants in 1992," al-Musawi told Reuters. He declined to identify the charges against Aziz, and only said, "It's believed he was involved in the case." Watban Ibrahim al-Hasan, Hussein's half-brother who served as interior minister at the time of the executions, will also stand trial, along with six other defendants, according to Iraqi media reports. The other defendants are: Hussein's other half-brother, Sab'awi Ibrahim al-Hasan, the former head of Iraqi intelligence; former Defense Minister Ali Hasan al-Majid; Mizban Khadir Hadi, a former member of the Revolutionary Command Council; Ahmad Husayn Khudayyir, chief of Hussein's presidential office; Abd Hamid Mahmud, Hussein's personal secretary; and former Central Bank Governor Isam Rashid Huwaysh. Hussein ordered the merchants executed and their movable and immovable property confiscated due to their alleged contribution to an increase in the prices of basic commodities and for sabotaging the national economy at a time when Iraq was under international sanctions. The defendants were charged in March 2006. KR

Al-Arabiyah television reported on April 23 that Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, vice president under Saddam Hussein's regime and former deputy chairman of the Ba'ath Party's Revolutionary Command Council, has been arrested by Iraqi forces in an area between the governorates of Salah Al-Din and Kirkuk. Al-Duri has long been reported to be based in Mosul, or alternatively, in Damascus. This is not the first time he has been reported captured. Al-Arabiyah reported that security forces took pictures of al-Duri on their mobile phones before handing him over to U.S. forces for transport to Baghdad and DNA testing to confirm his identity. Meanwhile, al-Duri's representative in Damascus, a man who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad, told Al-Arabiyah by telephone that the reports of al-Duri's arrest are false. Asked where al-Duri is, Abu Muhammad said, "Since al-Duri is leading the resistance and jihad in all the Iraqi governorates, his movement is not restricted to one place, and nobody knows his whereabouts." He said that al-Duri stays in contact with the Ba'ath Party leadership through secret mechanisms. The U.S. military said it has no information on the alleged raid or capture of al-Duri, and confirmed he is not in U.S. custody, Western media reported on April 24. Iraqi national security adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i also said he could not confirm that al-Duri has been captured. Al-Duri is the most senior member of Hussein's regime to still be at large. The Iraqi government has a $10 million bounty on his head. KR

Kurdistan regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani told reporters in Irbil on April 23 that his visit to Baghdad this week was successful, Kurdistan Satellite TV reported the same day. Barzani said he was reassured of Baghdad's commitment to resolving several outstanding issues with the Kurdish region. He said discussions on the draft oil law continue, adding the text that the parties agreed to in February should be the basis of continued discussions. "The laws of oil -- distribution of oil revenues -- as well as the [draft] Oil Ministry law must all go to the Iraqi parliament and [be] discussed as one package," Barzani insisted. Regarding the issue of the Kurdish peshmerga forces, he said: "We agreed to establish two Iraqi Army divisions in Kurdistan [comprised] of people from our region. A special budget would be allocated to the rest of the peshmerga force; this will be done in consultation with the Iraqi prime minister and other officials." Barzani also noted support from Baghdad for the implementation of Article 140 of the constitution, which applies to the resolution of disputed areas including Kirkuk. "The officials in Baghdad showed full support for the issue; we were reassured through our discussions that there were no political obstacles facing the implementation of Article 140," he said. "Nevertheless, we need to understand that this issue is not an easy one." KR

The Turkish military launched a 45-minute air strike on the Hakurk region in northern Iraq on April 23 targeting fighters of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the Firat news agency reported. Firat reported that the PKK "retaliated" against the air strike, but provided no details. The Turkish General Staff confirmed the strikes on April 24, saying they targeted PKK forces that were trying to infiltrate Turkish territory. "The group was rendered ineffective after it came under fire by the Turkish Air Force planes," the statement said. Ahmed Danees, a PKK spokesman in northern Iraq, told Reuters on April 23 that no PKK rebels were hurt in the attack, the news agency reported the same day. KR