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Newsline - May 2, 2008

More than 2 million people nationwide participated in demonstrations to mark the May 1 holiday, RIA Novosti reported on May 2, citing Interior Ministry statistics. According to police, there were no significant incidents in connection with the rallies. In St. Petersburg, opposition groups held a march along Nevsky Prospekt. Organizers said about 1,000 people participated, while police put the figure at 600. The rally was addressed by United Civic Front leader Garry Kasparov, National Bolshevik Party of Russia leader Eduard Limonov, local Yabloko branch official Maksim Reznik, and former presidential economy adviser Andrei Illarionov, reported. In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service on May 2, Illarionov said, "I believe that in our country today there is no more important problem, no more important slogan, no more important demand than the release of political prisoners." "In a country in the 21st century, the presence [of political prisoners] is not simply a disgrace," he said. "The presence of political prisoners distinguishes a barbaric country from a civilized one." He added that Russia today is behind countries such as Venezuela, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe in terms of its political development. In an interview on April 30 with "Vremya novostei," Russian Federation of Independent Trade Unions Chairman Oleg Neterebsky complained that current legislation "practically does not leave workers any possibility to carry out a legal strike." RC

Former presidential adviser Illarionov published on the website "Yezhednevny zhurnal" on April 30 his conception of the so-called National Assembly, an opposition-created shadow legislature intended to promote public discussion of social and political issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 18, 2008). The assembly is expected to hold its first session on May 17-18. Illarionov called the body "a natural and unavoidable reaction of Russian citizens to the illegitimate actions of the current authorities." Illarionov summarized the "public's" grievances against the government, saying it has eliminated all legitimate means for citizens to influence officials, has "fundamentally restricted the basic rights of Russian citizens," is carrying out an unsupervised redistribution of state property and government resources, has created an "untouchable caste of bureaucrats," has eliminated free elections, and has undermined the legitimacy of institutions such as the State Duma and the presidency. Illarionov said the National Assembly is committed to "freedom, the law, and the interests of the citizens of Russia," and that the main task of the first assembly will be to organize the free and open election of delegates to the second assembly. National Bolshevik Party leader Limonov told that Illarionov's article represents only his personal views and not those of the opposition or the assembly as a whole. In a long online interview with readers, Illarionov further detailed his view of the current political situation in Russia ( RC

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will attend the next round of six-country talks on Iran's nuclear program in London on May 2, RIA Novosti reported. At the last round of talks in Berlin, the six countries -- the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia, and Germany -- agreed to work out "further positive incentives" for Iran to freeze uranium enrichment. "If our Western colleagues are ready to work on this, although they have not shown their readiness at the expert level, we are ready to discuss it," RIA Novosti quoted Lavrov as saying. Iran has so far defied three rounds of United Nations Security Council sanctions over its nuclear program, which it claims it needs for peaceful power generation. While in London on May 2, Lavrov will attend a ministerial meeting of the Middle East Quartet -- Russia, the U.S., the United Nations and the European Union. RIA Novosti, quoting Russia's Foreign Ministry, reported that the talks will focus on "fulfilling commitments on the road map, the situation in the Gaza Strip, and humanitarian aid for Palestinians and security issues," as well as a proposed Middle East peace conference in Moscow. JB

RIA Novosti on April 30 quoted the acting secretary of Russia's Security Council, Valentine Sobolev, as saying in Tehran that the Kremlin has conveyed a message to Iran's leadership stressing continuity in bilateral relations. "A verbal message from Russian President Vladimir Putin was conveyed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a meeting," said Sobolev. "The substance of it is that Russia confirms the principles of mutual relations [with Iran] and her policy will not depend on who is in power." Citing Iran's ISNA news agency, Reuters on April 30 quoted Sobolev as saying that the positions of Iran and Russia on different regional and international issues "are very close and compatible," and that Iran has a right to obtain peaceful nuclear technology. "Russia welcomes Iran's action in preparing and proposing a package of proposals which includes important international issues, such as nuclear technology," Sobolev said. ISNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying that joint cooperation between Iran and Russia "is to the advantage of the two nations and beyond the region," Reuters reported. Sobolev said in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki in Tehran on April 30 that Russia will fulfill all of its obligations related to the Bushehr nuclear power plant's "first criticality" -- a nuclear power plant commissioning stage that includes reactor fuelling. Sobolev also said that Russia will abide by its international obligations not to supply Iran with offensive weaponry, RIA Novosti reported on April 30. JB

"The Times" of London reported on May 2 that British soccer fans planning to attend the European Champions League final between Manchester United and Chelsea, which will be held in Moscow on May 21, may not need Russian visas. The British newspaper quoted the company responsible for issuing visas as saying that there was a "50-50 chance" that Russia will waive the visa requirement. The 42,000 supporters of Manchester United and Chelsea who are planning to travel to Moscow had been told they would need to apply for visas through a private agency in London licensed by the Russian Embassy at a 50 percent markup to cover handling costs. However, "The Times" quoted David Gill, the Manchester United chief executive, as saying he had been told that fans would not need visas. "If you are on an organized trip, your ticket will be your visa," Gill said. Meanwhile, "The Daily Telegraph" warned English fans planning to travel to Moscow that they will "find themselves on the front line of a dispute between the Kremlin and Whitehall," which are "barely on speaking terms following the murder of exiled secret services agent Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by suspected Russian agents in London in 2006." The paper reported that there are also "genuine fears that extremist groups and Russia's own brand of hooligans...could create ugly clashes" with the visiting English fans, adding that if the latter cause trouble, "the feared OMON riot police will be waiting for them, attack dogs and truncheons at the ready" and that unruly British fans "run the risk of being thrown into rat-infested Russian cells." Cells in Moscow's Butyrka and Matrosskaya Tishina prisons "are barely ventilated, and inmates risk contracting tuberculosis," "The Daily Telegraph" added. JB

The Russian Embassy in London claimed in a statement published on its website ( that Russian soccer fans wishing to travel to Britain face bureaucratic hurdles that are higher than those faced by British soccer fans wishing to attend European Champions League final in Moscow. "Regarding some allegations of 'red tape', we would like to point out that the arrangements that we will put in place will be substantially more favorable than those for Russian football team supporters who are planning to travel to the UK (for example, Zenit St. Petersburg supporters who have already been instructed to undergo a cumbersome personal application process, including a biometric test, online-only visa applications, and possible personal interviews with British consulate officials)," the statement read. "We are certain that the situation would have been far less complicated if the United Kingdom government had not chosen, in July 2007, to suspend negotiations on a bilateral visa-facilitation agreement with Russia and to impose a stricter approach to Russian nationals applying for U.K. visas. If we had an agreement similar to the one Russia has in place with the EU, most problems could have been avoided." JB

The Ingushetian authorities formally rejected on May 1 a report posted on the independent website the previous day alleging that Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov was beaten unconscious in a Moscow hotel two weeks earlier by former LUKoil Deputy Chairman Musa Keligov, reported. Keligov was reportedly angered by orders Zyazikov gave to acting Prosecutor Gelani Merzhuyev to have the Nazran Municipal Court issue a ruling designating "extremist" an interview with Keligov published on February 11 in the Moscow daily "Vremya novostei." The court reportedly complied with that illegal request on April 3. Keligov has been identified as one of several possible candidates to replace Zyazikov should the Kremlin decide he has become a liability, although his popularity is far eclipsed by that of Zyazikov's predecessor, Ruslan Aushev. The Ingush opposition has begun collecting signatures in support of Aushev's return, which almost 88 percent of respondents to its online poll launched on April 27 favor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 17, 2008). LF

Deputies approved on April 30 by 88 votes in favor and three against the government program presented two days earlier by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The program focuses on keeping inflation and the budget deficit to a minimum in order to maintain strong economic growth and implementing "second-generation reforms" that would strengthen the rule of law and make the business environment more attractive to outside investors. Sarkisian pledged that his cabinet will deliver on those promises: "You won't find any differences between our words and actions," he told parliamentarians. He said his cabinet is open to "constructive criticism," including from the media. Some opposition lawmakers, however, have dismissed the program as "utopian," reported on May 1. Armen Martirosian of the opposition Zharangutiun (Heritage) party parliament faction said it would be perfect for a country such as Denmark where there is no social and political crisis, and asked rhetorically how it is possible to guarantee development without the trust of the population at large. LF

Zharangutiun party Chairman Raffi Hovannisian told a press conference in Yerevan on April 30 that he is ready to try again to bring about a dialogue between defeated presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian and President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation to the prime minister), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. "I think it important that those two important leaders meet face to face and tackle problems like real Armenian men," he explained. Hovannisian, who served in 1992-93 as foreign minister when Ter-Petrossian was president, admitted on April 28 that his initial bid to bring the two camps together failed due to the preconditions each side set (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 29, 2008). On April 29, quoted Gagik Tsarukian, leader of the Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia) party that is the second largest in parliament and a member of the four-party coalition government, as saying that he is ready to act as a mediator between government and opposition, but will "wait a little" in respect for his coalition partners before formally proposing his services. "It is necessary to hold a dialogue with the opposition...and discuss the tasks facing the country," Tsarukian said. LF

Meeting on April 30 with Iranian Ambassador to Armenia Seyed Ali Saghayian, President Sarkisian described ties between the two countries as "strategic," and "stable and developing," and pledged to continue promoting them, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. He specifically expressed appreciation of what he termed Iran's "balanced" position with regard to the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported. As defense minister in 2003-07, Sarkisian met regularly with Saghayian's predecessors Muhammad Fahrad Koleini and Ali Reza Haghighyan. LF

The Azerbaijani authorities on May 1 gave the green light for the export to Iran of a consignment of equipment intercepted in late March on the Azerbaijani-Iranian border, reported on May 2. Azerbaijan customs officials impounded the equipment, dispatched by Russia's Atomstroieksport and intended for the nuclear power plant under construction in Bushehr, on the grounds that the requisite export documentation was missing; the Russian Embassy in Baku provided that documentation to the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry on April 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 22, 24, 28, and 29, 2008). LF

During a conversation on May 1 in the course of a routine visit to several prisons, Elcin Behbutov, chairman of the Committee Against Torture, was informed by prisoner Cingiz Mirzoyev that several current and former highly placed officials were directly involved in the assassination three years ago of Elmar Huseinov, editor of the independent publication "Monitor," reported on May 2. Behbutov told the online daily he will pass that information to the National Security Ministry. Mirzoyev claimed last year to know the identity of Huseinov's killers, and was reportedly questioned at that time by investigators, according to on September 13. LF

Yusup Akhmetov was snatched on the street in Baku in the evening of April 27, reported on May 2. Fellow refugees who approached the Baku Office of the UNHCR for help in locating him were told the Azerbaijani authorities plan to extradite him to Russia. Akhmetov left Chechnya in 2002 after refusing to collaborate with the pro-Moscow Chechen administration. The former deputy head of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria representation in Baku, Imran Gaziyev, was shot dead late last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 19, 2007). LF

U.S. State Department and White House spokespersons both expressed concern on April 30 at Russia's stated intention to increase its peacekeeping troops in the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, some 80-90 percent of whose population hold Russian passports. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said "we have asked Russia to reconsider" some of its recent steps that he said risk destabilizing the situation in the conflict zone. In Brussels, NATO spokesman James Appathurai similarly said the decision to send more Russian peacekeepers to Abkhazia "does not contribute to stability, but undermines it," "The New York Times" reported on May 1. In telephone conversations on April 30 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, OSCE Chairman in Office and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb called on all parties to "refrain from unilateral measures and threats to use military force" and to "re-engage in negotiations aimed at a peaceful resolution" of the conflict, according to Council of Europe Secretary General Terry Davis warned on April 30 of the risk that tensions between Russia and Georgia over Abkhazia may "escalate out of control." He stressed the shared responsibility of both countries to restore a situation conducive to the resumption of peace talks, and called on Russia to ensure that its peacekeepers' presence "will have a positive influence on peace and stability in the region," according to a statement posted on LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on May 1 claiming that the deployment of additional Russian peacekeepers to Abkhazia constitutes a violation of the May 1994 UN-mediated cease-fire agreement, which stipulated that such a deployment requires prior approval by Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. In a May 1 interview with Reuters, President Saakashvili described the current standoff as "a moment of truth" for the international community, which he urged to "use all its diplomatic arsenal to deter the aggressive instincts " of unnamed Russian politicians. He also said President Vladimir Putin has told him that Russia's recent moves against Georgia are in retaliation for international recognition of Kosova's independence, and "a response to the perceived threat of NATO enlargement." Caucasus Press on May 2 quoted Georgian Deputy Prime Minister Giorgi Baramidze as saying Georgia has asked the UN to increase the strength of its observer mission (UNOMIG) in Abkhazia. Speaking in Tbilisi on May 1, Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Yakobashvili said that only 700 additional Russian troops have been deployed in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion, not "thousands" as some Georgian media outlets claimed, Caucasus Press reported. He stressed that "there is no need to worry," and that "there will be no war." LF

A group of Georgian opposition activists, including defeated opposition presidential candidate Levan Gachechiladze, clashed with police in Tbilisi on the evening of May 1 outside the building of the Central Election Commission (CEC), reported. The opposition is lobbying for the dismissal of CEC Chairman Levan Tarkhnishvili, whom it suspects of preparing to rig the outcome of the May 21 parliamentary ballot in favor of the ruling United National Movement. Also on May 1, Gogi Topadze told journalists that the Industry Will Save Georgia party that he founded and heads may withdraw from the ballot unless what he termed "intimidation" of its candidates ceases, reported. The party aligned with the National Democratic Party and the Ertoba (Unity) party in a bloc named Rightist Alliance-Topadze Industrialists, and has nominated candidates in 28 of the 75 single-mandate constituencies. LF

At a press conference in Astana on April 30, Kazakh Minister of Finance Bolat Zhamishev commented on the recent downgrading of the country's economic credit rating from stable to negative by the Standard & Poor's group, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Zhamishev argued that "Kazakhstan's ratings will change significantly in the short-term period, as the macroeconomic situation is rather stable overall, and there are no grounds to say that the situation may have a deteriorating trend." He added that despite the negative rating, "we do not expect any emergency situations and serious difficulties," and asserted that the Kazakh banking sector remains sound. The Kazakh Ministry of Economy and Budget Planning issued a press release the same day saying that it "categorically disagrees" with the negative rating, stressing the country's "high fiscal discipline, stable monetary policy, and strengthening of the government's external balance." RG

In an interview with the "Kazakhstanskaya Pravda" newspaper on April 30, Kazakh Supreme Court chairman Kayrat Mami called for greater regional coordination on migration issues, and cited the need for cooperation among members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Mami pointed to the threat posed by illegal migration, which he said "encourages growth of the shadow economy, contributes to the inflow of cheap labor, corrupts employers, and stimulates a rise in crime," ultimately leading to "social tension and economic instability in the country." He also cited data from the Kazakh Prosecutor-General's Office showing that Kazakhstan detained 268,000 illegal migrants last year and deported 30,000 of them. Noting the lack of international coordination as "the key difficulty" regarding migration, Mami praised the SCO as an effective avenue toward fostering the cooperation necessary to manage migration in the region. He spoke just days before a summit of judges from the SCO member states' supreme courts is scheduled to convene in Astana. RG

In an address to the third party congress of the ruling Ak Jol Eldik (Best Path Popular) party in Bishkek, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev on April 29 named five main priorities for the government and the parliament, AKIpress reported. Bakiev cited the need to improve electricity distribution as his top priority, adding that the country needs "laws on energy conservation and renewable energy sources." He stated that the financial sector is his second priority, and called for the introduction of mandatory insurance and improvements to the pension system. Agriculture was the third priority, with an emphasis on agricultural reforms and food security, particularly in the face of dramatic price increases for foodstuffs. The final priorities were improvements to the business environment and updating the country's tax code, followed by the social sector with the specific goal of expanding the privatization of health care. His articulation of his main priorities followed recent orders to officials to ensure stricter controls over state spending (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 29, 2008). RG

Units of the Kyrgyz Air Force on April 20 staged an exercise with a simulated cross-border air incursion, Kyrgyz Television reported. The exercise at the Edelveys training ground involved the airborne incursion of an "enemy subversive reconnaissance group" backed by an air attack scenario on a convoy. The second stage of the exercise included a counter-offensive utilizing air defense units armed with mobile Zu-23 antiaircraft guns and a Mi-24 helicopter gunship, which successfully repelled the opposing force. Kyrgyz Air Force Deputy Commander Erin Osmonov called the exercise a success and praised the combined arms scenario that coordinated air forces with ground troops. RG

The chairman of the Kyrgyz State Committee for the Management of State Property, Tursun Turdumambetov, announced on April 30 that Russia is no longer interested in investing in Kyrgyzstan's Dastan naval weapons factory, AKIpress reported. Speaking after a meeting with Russian Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan Valentin Vlasov, Turdumambetov explained that the Russian decision means "a significant loss of a strategic investor." In October 2007, then-Prime Minister Almazbek Atambaev unveiled plans for a debt-swap deal with Russia under which Kyrgyzstan was to sell about 37 percent of the state's share in the Dastan weapons plant to Russia for about $30 million, in exchange for the write-off of some $150 million in debt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 15, 2007). Turdumambetov also said that he is working on new draft legislation on preparing state-owned enterprises for privatization. He said the new legislation will simplify the privatization process for several enterprises, including the Bishkek machine-building plant, the Uchkun printing company, and the Kyrgyzneftegaz oil and gas company. RG

After a meeting in Dushanbe with Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, the head of a visiting IMF delegation, Carlos Pinerua, on April 30 pledged to recommend to the IMF executive board renewed support for a new aid program for Tajikistan, Asia-Plus and the Avesta website reported. Pinerua hailed a new agreement reached by the IMF and the National Bank of Tajikistan. In early March 2008, the IMF executive board reprimanded Tajikistan for violating the terms of its poverty reduction agreement, accusing Tajikistan of engaging in several questionable "disbursements of funds" in 2004-05 and "breaching its obligations," reportedly "based on inaccurate financial information provided by Tajik authorities" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 7, 2008). RG

Jonathan Moore, the deputy mission chief at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, said on April 30 that the Belarusian Foreign Ministry presented him that day with a list of 10 diplomats who have been declared persona non grata and must leave the country within 72 hours, Belapan reported. "We will do everything possible so that the U.S. diplomats leave the country within the required time limit," Moore said. He added that the continued imprisonment of three known political prisoners in Belarus is a more important issue than the number of U.S. diplomats present in the country. Moore identified the political prisoners as youth activist Andrey Kim, who was recently sentenced to 18 months in prison; businessman Syarhey Parsyukevich, sentenced to 2 1/2 years; and former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin, who is serving a 5 1/2-year term. U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on April 30 described Minsk's demand to reduce embassy staff to five as "unjustified and unwarranted." Washington has already cut its embassy staff from 32 to 15 people at the Belarusian government's demands, but the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on April 23 required Moore to provide a list of five diplomats who will stay in Belarus. The ministry justified the demand by saying that the United States is still continuing economic sanctions against Belarus's state petrochemical conglomerate Belnaftakhim, and preventing a "mutually acceptable settlement of the situation." AM

The United States has warned Belarus that it is considering forcing Minsk to withdraw all its diplomats from the United States in retaliation for Belarus's expulsion of 10 U.S. diplomatic personnel, Reuters reported on May 1, quoting a U.S. official who requested anonymity. "We made it quite clear both here and in Minsk that one of the options being considered was simply to pull our remaining staff out and then require them to do the same," the official said. U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the same day that Washington is still considering how to respond to Minsk's demand. "We have told them that we are considering the full range of options in terms of our respective diplomatic presences," Casey said. "At this point we have not made a decision to formally ask them, or informally ask them, to reduce staff further," he added. AM

At least 30 activists were detained while holding a counterprotest near a May Day rally in Minsk held by the progovernment Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus on May 1, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Riot police and plainclothes officers arrested a group of youth activists, led by opposition politician Mikalay Statkevich, who marched with European Union flags to meet the progovernment demonstrators. After several hours at the police station, all of the detainees were released except Statkevich. Youth activists Artur Finkevich, Zmitser Dashkevich, Zmitser Fedaruk, Pavel Yukhnevich, and Yauhen Afnahel were released after signing a pledge to appear in court when summoned. Statkevich is to be detained until the start of his trial for staging an unsanctioned rally. AM

Around 3,000 supporters of the Communist Party and progressive socialists marched on May 1 in Kyiv to observe May Day, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Communist leader Petro Symonenko said he proposed that the Socialist Party join the rally to show the public that "progressive forces are uniting," but the Socialist Party instead held a separate rally, which drew around 500 supporters. "We will return to the structures of Ukraine's supreme authorities in order to defend the interests of the people," Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz told the gathering. He called for the unification of all leftist forces in Ukraine. Moroz was formerly a speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, but the Socialists did not manage to reach the 3 percent threshold to win seats in the current parliament when early polls were held on September 30, 2007. The Communist Party has 27 seats in the Verkhovna Rada. AM

The latest poll by Serbia's "Medijum Galup" agency found a small majority supports the nationalist parties in the May 11 elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on May 2. The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) -- already the country's largest party -- is running neck and neck with the Democratic Party (DS) of President Boris Tadic, but could form a coalition government with the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) of caretaker Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and with the support of the Serbian Socialist Party (SPS). According to the poll, 35.1 percent intend to vote for the SRS, 34.2 percent for the DS, and 11.6 percent for the DSS and an associated party. The SPS trails with 7 percent and the Liberal Democrats (LDS) with 6 percent. Political analyst Vladimir Goati told RFE/RL that it is difficult to predict which block will prevail on May 11, when Serbs elect a new parliament as well as local assemblies, but that the likelier scenario is a coalition of the SRS and DSS supported by the Socialists. However, a poll conducted the day before the EU signed a pre-membership Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, 2008) found that 66 percent of respondents favor closer ties with the EU. The signing of the SAA could further boost the pro-European parties. TV

Bosnia-Herzegovina's Communications Regulatory Agency on April 29 said that the country's public broadcaster should be free from political influence, local media reported. Prime Minister Milorad Dodik of the Republika Srpska, one of the two entities that make up Bosnia-Herzegovina, told reporters on April 24 that the state broadcaster BHRT should go into receivership. Dodik made his comments following a parliamentary debate on an audit report for 2005-06 which found serious shortcomings at BHRT. He also reiterated demands that Bosnian Croats should have their own public TV channel. Bosnia's international overseer, Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajcak, said on April 25: "Rest assured that not a single attack on media freedom will go unnoticed in the European Union." Lajcak is also the EU's top envoy to the country, which is expected to sign a pre-membership Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the EU on May 26. A consolidation plan drawn up by BHRT's management asks for some $47 million from the state budget. The reform of Bosnia's Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is one of the EU's preconditions for closer ties, but implementation has been lagging and not all legal issues have been resolved. In 2006, BHRT was able to collect only 63 percent of its license fees; it estimates that 85 percent of the fees must be collected to ensure financial viability. Both Bosnian entities -- the Republika Srpska and the Federation, which is mostly Bosnian Muslim and Croat -- have their own TV channels, in addition to the state-wide program. TV


Hundreds of security personnel on April 30 raided the hideout of militants suspected of having links with the assassination attempt on President Hamid Karzai, AP reported. The raid sparked clashes that killed seven people: a woman and a child who were in the house that was destroyed during the raid, three intelligence agents, and two suspected insurgents. Intelligence chief Amrullah Saleh told reporters that the raid in a heavily populated neighborhood of western Kabul was part of a wider operation in which six other insurgent suspects have been detained elsewhere in the capital. Saleh said that the militants involved in the April 27 assassination attempt on Karzai had exchanged cell phone text messages with collaborators in Pakistan's Bajur and North Waziristan regions and the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. He said that the Afghan security services "have no evidence whether the operation has had any mercy or go-ahead from the government of Pakistan," but added that "there is very, very strong evidence suggesting that Pakistan's soil once again has been used to inflict pain on our nation." Pakistan army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas called the allegation "baseless," AP reported. "Anybody can say that militants [in the tribal areas] have done this or that," he said. "How can one validate such claims?" Meanwhile, Saeed Ansari, a spokesman for the Afghan intelligence service, said on May 1 that the assassination attempt on President Karzai was masterminded by militants with links to Al-Qaeda members living in Pakistan's tribal regions, AP reported. Ansari also stated that one of those killed during the April 30 raid on a militant Kabul had ties to militant leader Siraj Haqqani, who is believed to have been behind a deadly suicide attack on Kabul's Serena Hotel in January. The U.S. military has a $200,000 bounty out on Haqqani, who is thought to be based in Pakistan's tribal regions. AT

Six adults and two children were killed in two consecutive roadside bombings in southern Afghanistan on May 1, AFP reported. A roadside bomb struck a civilian car in Spin Boldak, near the Pakistani border, and a second bomb damaged a minivan whose driver had stopped to help the victims of the first attack, Kandahar police chief Sayed Aqa Saqib told AFP. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the bombings. Kandahar Province and Spin Boldak in particular have been targeted heavily by Taliban extremists. AT

Azerbaijan has released equipment destined for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant after delaying the shipment's delivery for a month while apparently investigating its purpose, international media reported on May 1. The shipment of heat-isolating parts was sent by Russia, which has built the Bushehr plant on the Persian Gulf coast, but it was held up at the border on March 29. Azerbaijan has said it was concerned the cargo might contravene UN sanctions, and was seeking more information, AP reported on May 1. Iran is facing UN sanctions intended to curb its nuclear program. The Russian contractor building the Bushehr plant, OAO Atomstroieksport, has accused Azerbaijan of deliberately obstructing the shipment, AP reported. VS

Iran has formally lodged a complaint with the United Nations over recent remarks by U.S. presidential candidate and New York Senator Hillary Clinton, in which she said the United States would obliterate Iran if it attacked Israel during her potential presidency, agencies reported on May 1 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2008). Iran refuses to recognize Israel as a legitimate state. Iran's letter of protest was delivered by its deputy ambassador to the UN, Mehdi Danesh-Yazdi, the "New York Times" reported. The letter states that Clinton's comments were "provocative, unwarranted, and irresponsible," and a violation of the UN charter. It notes that Iran "has no intention to attack any other nation," but would not hesitate to defend itself against an attack. VS

Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi met with judiciary officials dealing with economic disputes in Tehran on April 30, and called for measures including updated banking procedures to help prevent financial malfeasance, ISNA reported. He praised the judiciary for implementing guidelines given out by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the state's efforts against "economic vices," and said no state body has done as much as the judiciary to implement them. But he noted that the judiciary has been criticized by unspecified politicians and writers. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and some of his allies have in the past criticized the judiciary for its alleged ineptitude in dealing with corruption, while Ahmadinejad has several times denounced "cronies" and unspecified "mafia" groups which he says have infiltrated the state sector (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 22, 2008). Hashemi-Shahrudi said "every economic system has its problems. Some issues are just economic problems, not corruption," which he said consists of specific offenses such as bribery or misuse of a public position. But, he said, "the state-owned economy is the mother of all vices. In these cases, it is about changing policies, not [seeking] prosecution." VS

The Iran media are speculating on which of the newly elected lawmakers will run for the seat of parliamentary speaker, and have identified the current speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel and Qom representative and former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani as the leading contenders. Larijani told a gathering in Qom, south of Tehran, on May 1 that the media and officials should instead focus on resolving problems such as persistent inflation in Iran, rather than speculating on his candidacy for the position of parliamentary speaker, Fars reported. He thus evaded a reporter's question on whether or not he is interested in the post, and he said he has not expressed interest in running. Larijani is considered a conservative with a more critical attitude toward President Ahmadinejad, while Haddad-Adel, in spite of having debated with the president over certain legislation, is seen as a reliable presidential ally in parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2008). Conservative parliamentarian Salman Khodadadi said in Tehran on April 29 that Larijani said the day before that he would run for the speaker's seat. "There is nobody lobbying openly or semi-openly aside from Larijani and Haddad-Adel, but I think the competition will become more serious," the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" quoted Khodadadi as saying on April 30. VS

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki dispatched a delegation to Tehran on April 30 to discuss Iranian support for Iraqi militias, Iraqi media reported. The delegation was slated to meet officials in Tehran, as well as clergymen, including Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, in the holy city of Qom. Media reports indicated the delegation will also meet Iranian Brigadier General Qasim Suleimani of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, a paramilitary group that is allegedly funding and training militiamen in Iraq. The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, told the BBC on May 1 that large quantities of Iranian-made weapons were found last month in Al-Basrah. Petraeus called the find "very, very significant," saying "they could have been the source of enormous loss had they not been picked up in these various operations down there." "The number [of weapons] in Baghdad area is even greater, so there is a huge concern," Petraeus said. The Iraqi delegation comprises Deputy Parliament Speaker Khalid al-Atiyah; parliamentarian and Islamic Al-Da'wah Party member Ali al-Adib; Hadi al-Amiri, a parliamentarian and the head of the Badr Organization, the former armed wing of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq; and Tariq Abdullah, an aide to al-Maliki. "Iranian officials will be holding talks with the delegation with a view to helping resolve the differences and the clashes in Iraq," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said on May 1, Reuters reported. KR

Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr refused to meet with an Iraqi delegation in Qom, Iran, on May 1, Iraqi media reported. Al-Sadr's official spokesman, Salih al-Ubaydi, told Al-Sharqiyah television in a May 1 interview that the delegation of Shi'ite politicians from the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) was "fishing in troubled waters." Al-Ubaydi said the Sadrists were reluctant to divulge al-Sadr's whereabouts for political and security reasons. Al-Sadr is rumored to be studying in Qom. Al-Ubaydi further cited recent statements by government officials, including Prime Minister al-Maliki, that the government will not negotiate with al-Sadr. He confirmed, however, that al-Sadr's representatives have met with President Jalal Talabani and Parliament Speaker Mahmud al-Mashhadani in recent days, and added that the dialogue with those officials continues. "We reject any interference by the [United Iraqi Alliance] in this crisis except when such interference is carried out within the context of the national parliamentary initiative," al-Ubaydi said. "This is because we have found that the [alliance] is lacking in credibility, especially following al-Maliki's renunciation of the points on which we agreed with it" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2008). Al-Ubaydi added: "There should be a guarantor of what could be agreed upon to resolve the crisis," an apparent reference to the involvement of al-Mashhadani or Talabani. He said the Sadrists have been very cooperative and supportive of government initiatives, and their positions have been misconstrued by the UIA. KR

Prime Minister al-Maliki issued a statement on May 1 saying the government has prioritized security and reconstruction in Al-Sadr City, arguably the poorest area in the capital. "We realize the magnitude of the suffering of Al-Sadr City's residents. Thus, we have drawn up the necessary plans to address the issues of housing, rehabilitation of youth and the creation of proper job opportunities for them, and the construction of more schools and heath centers," al-Maliki said. "We regret to say that what aggravates the suffering of citizens and harms them is that Al-Sadr City is controlled by criminal gangs and outlaws who obstruct construction and reconstruction projects and implement agendas that clash with national interests. This makes it imperative for us to confront those groups firmly and strongly. Entrenching security and enforcing the law are the responsibilities of the government," al-Maliki said. He called on tribal leaders and clerics to fulfill their national duty "and not to allow the use of civilians as human shields," nor to allow houses, mosques, marketplaces, or schools to be used as storehouses for weapons to be used against the army, police, state institutions, or civilians. "We reiterate that those [militiamen] have no option other than laying down their weapons and stopping their tampering with citizens' security," al-Maliki added. KR

Turkish warplanes targeted Turkish-Kurdish separatists from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq on May 1 and 2, Turkish and Iraqi media reported. The May 1 bombing campaign lasted about three hours. A Turkish delegation was in Baghdad on May 1 to meet with Iraqi President Talabani and Kurdistan regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani. The delegation headed by adviser to the Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu and Turkey's special envoy to Iraq Murat Ozcelik addressed the need to strengthen ties between the two countries. Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan told reporters in Ankara on April 30 that Turkey is "eager to improve its cooperation with Iraq, especially in the area of energy." He said the delegation would address the establishment of a "strategic dialogue mechanism" with Baghdad during the May 1 talks. Meanwhile, Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi met with Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Ankara on May 1. Gul said after the meeting that a new era in Turkish-Iraqi relations has begun. He added that the territorial integrity and security of Iraq is important to regional stability. "Energy is an important dimension to these relations," the Anatolia news agency quoted Gul as saying. "Turkey takes part in projects in Iraq to explore and ship oil and natural gas. We want Turkey to be included in the new list of countries that would join oil exploration activities in Iraq." KR

Scores of Iraqi Christians lined up to join the Iraqi police during a recruitment drive in Tal Kayf, some 15 kilometers north of Mosul, on April 28, according to a May 1 press release posted to the Multinational Force - Iraq website. "The goal of the three-day event was to recruit up to 700 Christians to join the police force to help protect their respective communities in Mosul," the press release noted. Colonel Michael Bills, commander of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, was quoted as stating that the recruitment drive will also bolster the economy by creating new jobs. KR

A former detainee of the Guantanamo Bay detention center has reportedly carried out a suicide bomb attack in Mosul, Al-Arabiyah television reported on May 1. Kuwaiti national Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi was released from the Guantanamo Bay center in late 2005, and recently carried out a suicide attack along with fellow Kuwaiti national Nasir al-Dawasari, Al-Arabiyah reported. It did not say when the attack took place. Al-Ajmi's cousin Salim al-Ajmi told Al-Arabiyah in an interview that his family was surprised when Iraq sources notified them that Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi was in Iraq. He said Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi disappeared two weeks ago. "His recent behavior was normal; we never expected him to go back to his past behavior. We noticed that he would disappear every now and then. He would not return home or socialize as he used to do in the past after his return" from Guantanamo, Salim al-Ajmi said. He added that the Kuwaiti government "did not fail to give those young men [in Guantanamo] the chance to return to society," saying Abdallah and others "were offered assistance." He added that Abdallah had an excellent financial situation and got married after his release from Guantanamo. He had one child and his wife is expecting a second. KR