|Thursday, 6 August 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 03-05-13
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 FOREIGN MINISTER OUTLINES MOSCOW'S CONCEPTION OF WORLD ORDER...Speaking at a prestigious conference in Moscow on 12 May, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that a new system of international relations should be based on the principles of "multi-polarity" and "multilateral global cooperation," Russian media reported. "Multi-polarity" recognizes the existence of multiple power centers around the world, Ivanov said, while Moscow views "multilateral cooperation" as a kind of pyramid with the United Nations Security Council at the peak of a structure supported by regional organizations and bilateral ties among countries, all standing upon a foundation of international law. Ivanov said Moscow might agree to a reorganization of the UN based on a mutual understanding of its proper role in global affairs, but the Kremlin will never agree to further diminishing the UN's role. Commenting on U.S.-Russian relations, Ivanov said that the bilateral dialogue continued unabated even during the peak of the disagreements over the handling of the Iraq crisis. "We did not act against one another, but defended differing approaches to the same problem," Ivanov said. He added that it is in the interests of both countries to find solutions to current global challenges, and this common interest will lead to a further strengthening of U.S.-Russian relations. VY
 ...AS U.S. AMBASSADOR CALLS FOR MORE EFFICIENT UNITED NATIONS...Addressing the same Moscow conference on 12 May, U.S. Ambassador to Russia Alexander Vershbow said that the UN Security Council split over Iraq proved that the council -- and the entire UN -- should be transformed, Russian and international media reported. Vershbow said that the UN must work in the 21st century, and therefore it needs fresh thinking and new attitudes toward emerging threats, as well as new tools to cope with them. VY
 ...AND URGES RUSSIA TO DISCONTINUE NUCLEAR COOPERATION WITH IRANDuring the same 12 May speech, Ambassador Vershbow said that Washington does not think Moscow should assist Iran in completing the Bushehr nuclear-power station because it could potentially be used for military purposes, RosBalt reported. Although it has been agreed that Iran will return all spent nuclear fuel to Russia, Vershbow alleged that Tehran intends instead to use it to produce weapons-grade plutonium. "We have now learned that Iran has secretly been developing its own uranium-enrichment capability with technology from sources other than Russia, which suggests a determined quest to acquire nuclear weapons," Vershbow said. The United States is concerned about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, Vershbow said, and believes that Iran and North Korea should comply fully with the existing international nonproliferation regime. In addition, Vershbow called on the international community to adopt a new and stricter agreement on the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction. "We need to consider what new tools, what new forms of leverage, we can bring to bear to stop [Iran and North Korea] from acquiring nuclear weapons," Vershbow said. VY
 RUSSIA, NATO STEP UP CONTACTSNATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson arrived in Moscow on 12 May for a session of the NATO-Russia Council and for talks with Foreign Minister Ivanov, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and leading Russian parliamentarians, Russian and international media reported. In a 12 May interview with "Kommersant-Daily," Robertson said the council will discuss combating terrorist threats in the Euro-Atlantic region, the possibility of conducting joint peacekeeping operations, and an agreement on mutual assistance to endangered submarine crews. Russian Army Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin flew to Brussels on 12 May to attend a NATO meeting on European security, Interfax reported. Kvashnin is expected to brief his NATO colleagues on Russia's decision to withdraw its peacekeepers from the Balkans by 1 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). He told Interfax on 12 May that Russia is spending $26 million per year on peacekeeping operations in Kosova and Bosnia even though there is no longer any military justification for them. He added, however, that Russia will assist the region's police forces. VY
 MOSCOW DENIES CHANNELING FUNDS TO TALIBANInterfax on 12 May quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as dismissing as "absurd" an article published the previous day in the "Scotsman on Sunday" alleging that Russian secret services are providing clandestine financial support to the Taliban. The official suggested such reports are intended to discredit Moscow. LF
 RUSSIANS HOLDING MORE SAVINGS IN RUBLESFor the first time in recent years, the rate of growth of personal savings held in rubles in Russia exceeds the rate of growth of dollar-denominated savings, "Vedomosti" reported on 12 May, citing statistics for February released by the Central Bank. In February, ruble deposits grew by 5.4 percent, while dollar deposits fell by 0.6 percent. In January, by contrast, ruble deposits grew at a rate of 2.4 percent and dollar deposits increased by 7.8 percent. Banking experts see the February figures as an indication that the public is breaking the habit of holding its savings in dollars, a practice that was given a strong boost by the August 1998 default and de facto ruble devaluation. VY
 SARS COSTS ADDING UPRussian airlines and tour operators are feeling the effects of travel restrictions imposed on China and Southeast Asia in order to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), "Vedomosti" reported on 12 May. Aeroflot Deputy Director Lev Koshlyakov said his company has cut its flights to China by half and is losing about $1 million per week. Anatolii Kondratev, president of the Association of Cargo Transporters, said members of his association are losing about $5 million per week because of the prophylactic measures. Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for the Russian Union of Tourism Operators, said the SARS scare has hit her industry harder than the Iraq war did. Since the emergence of SARS, travel to Southeast Asia has declined by 80 percent, she said, and many tour operators have indefinitely suspended some staff. VY
 COMMENTATORS PREDICT GOVERNMENT SHAKE-UPSeveral Russian newspapers are predicting that personnel changes in the government will follow President Vladimir Putin's annual address to parliament on 16 May. "Kommersant-Daily" speculated on 12 May that Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref will be a casualty, since it is "time to find a culprit" for the failure of economic and administrative reforms. Gref recently took three weeks leave to recover from an unspecified illness amid press rumors that he will step down (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003), and he did not return to work on 11 May as expected. "Komsomolskaya pravda," "Moskovskii komsomolets," and "Izvestiya" on 12 May all suggested that Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's job might be at risk. "Izvestiya" predicted that a representative of big business will become prime minister -- perhaps Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii -- but possibly not until after this December's parliamentary elections. "Moskovskii komsomolets" speculated that Putin might tap "the most inconspicuous" of the current deputy prime ministers, Viktor Khristenko. LB
 PREMIER PUTS FINANCE MINISTER IN CHARGE OF DRAFTING BUDGETPrime Minister Kasyanov on 12 May put Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin in charge of the first-ever interdepartmental commission on preparing the federal budget, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 May. All the major ministries will be represented on the commission. "Kommersant-Daily" said Kudrin expects the commission to help him "fend off the onslaught of...lobbyists." The commission plans to have the draft 2004 budget ready by 1 September. Meanwhile, Kudrin made an unscheduled visit to the State Duma on 12 May to meet with the coordinating council of four centrist factions -- Unity, Fatherland-All Russia, Russian Regions, and People's Deputy. He urged them to pass the government's proposed changes to the Tax Code quickly during the parliament's spring session, so that they can be taken into account when the 2004 budget is drafted. "Vedomosti" reported on 12 May that Duma Deputy Nikolai Gonchar (independent) has introduced draft legislation on tax reform that is quite different from the government's proposals. LB
 ANOTHER PRE-ELECTION RAISE FOR PUBLIC-SECTOR WORKERSElection campaigns in post-Soviet Russia have often been accompanied by extra pay for budget-sector workers, and this year will be no exception, Interfax reported on 12 May. All workers in the public sector -- which includes teachers and doctors -- will receive 33 percent raises as of 1 October, Interfax, Regnum, "Izvestiya," and other Russian media reported on 12 May, citing Unity Duma faction leader Vladimir Pekhtin. He said Galina Karelova, deputy prime minister for social policy, announced the decision at a 12 May meeting of the Duma centrists' coordinating council. During parliamentary and presidential campaigns of the 1990s, Russian governments allocated extra funds to budget-funded workers, but usually those payments took the form of settling wage arrears rather than raising salaries. LB
 REGIONS LAGGING ON ELECTORAL REFORMThe majority of Russian regions are resisting changes required by the new law on basic guarantees of electoral rights, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 May, citing presidential envoy to the Central Federal District Georgii Poltavchenko. That law requires that at least half of the seats in all regional legislatures be filled from party lists according to proportional representation and stipulates that the new system must be in place by 14 July 2003. President Putin recently instructed his envoys to the seven federal districts to monitor regional compliance with federal legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003), and Poltavchenko said Putin specifically mentioned the problems arising from introducing a mixed electoral system in the regions. Of the 18 regions in the Central Federal District, only Belgorod, Tver, and Vladimir oblasts have altered their electoral laws to introduce proportional representation, Poltavchenko said. He asserted that the rate of compliance is even worse in the other federal districts. LB
 MOSCOW MAYOR, CULTURE MINISTRY CLASH OVER HOTELThe Culture Ministry intends to scuttle Yurii Luzhkov's next big building project by including the Hotel Moskva on the national register of historical and cultural landmarks, lenta.ru reported on 12 May, citing the newspaper "Vremya novostei." Luzhkov supports a plan to build a luxury hotel on the site of the 1935 building, which, in the view of the Moscow authorities, is deteriorating and is not luxurious enough to justify its prime location in the city center. On 8 May, Luzhkov signed an order under which the Hotel Moskva will be demolished no later than September. Construction of a five-star hotel to replace it is scheduled to take three years and to cost $200 million-$350 million. LB
 OFFICIAL PROMISES PROBE INTO POSSIBLE SECURITY LAPSES CONTRIBUTING TO CHECHNYA BOMBING...First deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Yurii Korobeinikov said on 12 May that Moscow will identify and punish those responsible for organizing the 12 May car-bomb explosion on the local-administration building in the Cossack settlement of Znamenskoe in northern Chechnya that left more than 50 people dead, ORT and other Russian media reported. Korobeinikov also said that any officials found responsible for security lapses will also be punished. Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev told journalists that a Russian military truck loaded with about 1 ton of explosives and driven by three unidentified men exploded near a checkpoint at the entrance to the local FSB compound. As of mid day on 13 May, the official death toll in the incident stood at 56, Reuters reported, and as many as 300 people were reported injured. VY
 ...AS CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL REPRESENTATIVE DISCLAIMS RESPONSIBILITYSalambek Maigov, who is Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative in Russia, told Ekho Moskvy on 12 May that neither Maskhadov nor the Chechen resistance forces under his command played any role in the Znamenskoe car-bomb attack earlier that day, chechenpress.com reported. Maigov also denied that radical field commander Shamil Basaev, who in February claimed responsibility for a similar car-bomb attack in late December on the Chechen government building in Grozny (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 December 2002 and 26 February 2003), currently holds any official position within the Chechen resistance. Last summer Maskhadov named Basaev to head a Defense Committee that was to coordinate the activities of the various sub-formations of the Chechen armed forces and appointed him deputy commander in chief (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2002), but Basaev resigned those positions in the wake of the Moscow theater hostage taking last October. LF
 COURT ORDERS NEW PSYCHIATRIC EXAMINATION OF BUDANOVThe North Caucasus Military Court in Rostov-na-Donu on 12 May ordered that Colonel Yurii Budanov, who is on trial for the second time on charges of murdering a young Chechen woman, must undergo a new psychiatric examination, Interfax reported. In late December 2002, the same court absolved Budanov of responsibility for the killing on the grounds that he was clinically insane at the time. In February, however, the Supreme Court overturned that verdict and ordered a retrial, which opened last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January, 3 March, and 22 April 2003). LF
 PUTIN SUBMITS CHECHEN AMNESTY BILL TO DUMAPresident Putin submitted to the Duma's Committee on Legislation on 12 May the draft bill on an amnesty for Chechen fighters who voluntarily lay down their arms, RosBalt reported the same day. The amnesty does not extend to those Chechen militants who have perpetrated terrorist acts or committed other serious crimes (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 April 2003). The fate of an alternative amnesty bill drafted by Aslanbek Aslakhanov, Chechnya's deputy to the Duma, remains unclear. LF
TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA
 ARMENIAN AUTHORITIES YIELD TO PRESSURE OVER BALLOT BOXESThe Armenian Central Election Commission (CEC) reversed on 12 May its refusal to use transparent ballot boxes for the parliamentary elections and referendum on constitutional amendments to be held on 25 May, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. CEC Chairman Artak Sahradian said on 30 April that the transparent ballot boxes provided by the OSCE for use during the February-March presidential ballot would not be used for the parliamentary elections as they are "too small" to hold the three separate ballot papers that each voter must mark. He rejected an OSCE offer to provide additional transparent boxes. Ambassador Robert Barry, the U.S. diplomat who heads the OSCE mission to monitor the parliamentary election, urged the Armenian leadership on 2 May to reconsider that refusal, saying that to revert to the old, wooden ballot boxes would be "a step backwards" on the road to democracy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 5 May 2003). No explanation was given for the CEC's volte face. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS ON PRESIDENT TO RESIGNOpposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, who has been nominated by the Democratic Congress as its candidate for the presidential elections due in mid-October, on 12 May called on President Heidar Aliev to step down in the light of his failing health, Turan reported. Aliev returned to Azerbaijan the previous day after spending a week undergoing hospital treatment in Turkey for a kidney ailment and other undisclosed medical problems (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"12 May 2003). No new date has yet been set for the official celebration of his 80th birthday, which was 10 May. LF
 ON EVE OF VISIT TO AZERBAIJAN, NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL URGES REGIONAL COOPERATIONIn an article written for the Azerbaijani publications "Zerkalo," "525-gazeti," and "Caspian Business News," Lord George Robertson outlined the shifts in NATO's priorities formalized during the alliance's November 2002 summit in Prague. He said that the proposed Individual Partnership Action Plans provide for tailor-made cooperation to suit the needs of individual states, and that such a plan could help Azerbaijan identify more clearly the reforms it should implement in order to qualify for NATO membership. Robertson advocated closer cooperation among the states of the South Caucasus, while at the same time acknowledging that unresolved regional conflicts are an obstacle to such cooperation. He stressed that NATO cannot and will not assume a leading role in trying to mediate solutions to such conflicts, and that the onus of doing so lies with the countries involved. He further noted that Russia cannot be excluded from the process of conflict resolution. Robertson is to visit Baku on 15-16 May. LF
 AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS PROTEST RESTRICTIONS ON SALE OF OPPOSITION PUBLICATIONSMeeting in Baku on 12 May, the Council of Editors expressed its support for the planned picket of the Baku municipal administration to protest restrictions on the sale in the city of opposition publications, Turan reported. The Committee for the Rights of Journalists had adopted a statement on 6 May calling on the authorities to revoke the ban imposed on 5 May on the sale of opposition newspapers at metro stations and the total ban on sales of "Yeni Musavat," "Azadlig" and "Hurriyet." According to the Council of Editors, that ban was ordered by presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev. LF
 DISPATCH OF AZERBAIJANI PEACEKEEPERS TO IRAQ POSTPONEDThe deployment to Iraq of a contingent of some 150 Azerbaijani troops to serve as peacekeepers in Iraq under U.S. command has been postponed indefinitely for "organizational reasons," Interfax on 12 May quoted an Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman as saying (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003). LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT OUTLINES CONDITIONS FOR SIGNING MILITARY-COOPERATION PACT WITH RUSSIAEduard Shevardnadze told journalists in Tbilisi on 12 May that the Georgian authorities will consider signing a bilateral agreement on military cooperation with Russia only after the signing of the framework treaty on Georgian-Russian relations, Caucasus Press reported. He added that the final version of that latter treaty could be agreed on following his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi at the end of this month. Russian Duma deputies last month protested the agreement Georgia signed in December with the United States on military cooperation, and some Russian politicians subsequently proposed that Georgia should sign an analogous treaty with Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 14, 16, and 17 April 2003). LF
 NEW ABKHAZ DEFENSE, INTERIOR MINISTERS NAMEDVyacheslav Eshba has been named Abkhaz defense minister, replacing Raul Khadjima, who is the unrecognized republic's new prime minister, Caucasus Press reported on 6 May. Eshba was born in 1949 and is a trained pilot who graduated from institutes in Kremenchug and Leningrad. He commanded the embryonic Abkhaz Air Force during the 1992-93 war. On 10 May, Khadjimba introduced new Interior Minister Abesalom Bey to ministry staff, Caucasus Press reported on 12 May. Bey replaces Amazbey Kchach, who held the post for seven years. In February, Abkhaz parliament deputies warned of a sharp rise in the crime rate. LF
 IS GEORGE SOROS FUNDING GEORGIAN OPPOSITION?Two articles published by the Georgian newspaper "Tribuna" on 5 and 12 May claim that U.S. philanthropist George Soros is financing the Georgian opposition youth movement Kmara ("Enough!"), Caucasus Press reported. The paper quotes Kakha Lomaya, who heads the Tbilisi office of the Soros Foundation, as acknowledging that Kmara receives funding from Soros. An NGO head similarly told the paper that Soros has provided $500,000 to Kmara, branches of which have been founded in towns across Georgia. LF
 KAZAKH SENATE DISCUSSES LAND CODEThe Kazakh Senate discussed the highly controversial draft Land Code on 12 May and heard testimony from a number of foreign experts, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reported. The most important element of the code as drafted by the government introduces private ownership of agricultural land. It has been sharply criticized by opposition politicians and others who say it is designed to benefit the wealthy. The Mazhilis (lower house) adopted it, but with so many amendments that the government claims its draft has been gutted and the prime minister has threatened to call for a vote of confidence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2003). Rolf Knigger, a German land-reform expert, told the Senate the code violates some articles of the Kazakh Constitution and the law on mortgage loans. BB
 JAILED KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER WON'T SEEK PARDONElena Rebenchuk, a lawyer for Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov, co-founder and leader of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement and a former governor of Pavlodar Oblast, told a news conference in Almaty on 12 May that her client has no intention of asking for a presidential pardon, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Zhaqiyanov was sentenced last year to seven years' imprisonment on charges of abuse of office and financial mismanagement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2002). The Kazakh opposition is convinced the charges were politically motivated. DVK co-founder Mukhtar Abliyazov, a former government minister who was jailed on charges similar to Zhaqiyanov's, has requested a pardon from President Nursultan Nazarbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003). Rebenchuk said she had advised her client to do likewise, but he had refused even to discuss the issue. She was quoted as saying that on 5 May she asked the Supreme Court to review the lower-court verdicts against Zhaqiyanov. The court has 15 days in which to decide whether to hear the appeal. BB
 EXCHANGE AND MARKET BLASTS REPORTEDLY TRACED TO IMUKyrgyz Deputy Interior Minister Rasulberdi Raimberdiev told a news conference in Osh on 12 May that the same people carried out both the bombing of an Osh currency-exchange office on 8 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003) and of Bishkek's Dordoy market on 27 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003), akipress.org and Interfax reported. One exchange-office employee was killed in the Osh attack, while seven people were killed in the market bombing. According to Raimberdiev, investigators looking into the two incidents have found evidence that the two men who were detained in connection with the blasts are members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which was responsible for armed incursions into southern Kyrgyzstan in 1999 and 2000 and has been internationally designated a terrorist organization because of its ties to the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan. Interfax reported that an unidentified source in Kyrgyzstan's law enforcement agencies said the two suspects might also have been involved in the killings of 19 Chinese citizens near the Torugart Pass border crossing in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 March 2003). In addition to the two alleged IMU members, police in Osh reportedly arrested six members of the banned extremist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir on 12 May. BB
 LAND-MINES WARNINGS POSTED ON KYRGYZ-UZBEK BORDERSigns warning of the presence of land mines are being posted by the Kyrgyz Red Crescent Society on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast, khabar.kz and Deutsche Welle reported on 12 May. The society announced the measure as part of a publicity campaign intended to prevent accidents involving the land mines laid by Uzbekistan to stop armed incursions into the country by the IMU. A number of Kyrgyz and Tajik citizens have been killed or injured by the Uzbek mines, most recently a Kyrgyz citizen who died in February. Authorities in Batken Oblast have tried unsuccessfully to obtain compensation from Uzbekistan for the material damage caused by the land mines. Attempts by the Kyrgyz government to obtain maps of the minefields so far have been unsuccessful as well. BB
 TAJIKISTAN TAKES MEASURES AGAINST SARSTajikistan has not only suspended flights by its national airline to China and Southeast Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2003), but has also closed border checkpoints on the Tajik-Chinese and Tajik-Kyrgyz frontiers in order to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), ITAR-TASS reported on 12 May, citing the Tajik Health Ministry. All airline passengers arriving in Dushanbe from Almaty are required to undergo medical examination. So far, no cases of SARS have been registered in Tajikistan, and the Health Ministry has said that medical personnel throughout the country are on the alert. BB
 IMF OFFERS HELP TO CENTRAL ASIA TO COMBAT MONEY LAUNDERING AND FINANCING OF TERRORISMThe International Monetary Fund (IMF) is willing to assist the Central Asian countries to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorism, IMF Deputy Managing Director Eduardo Aninat told Interfax on 12 May. Aninat said the IMF considers these crimes serious geopolitical problems in Central Asia, adding that they are made more severe by poor governance in the countries of the region. The IMF is offering technical assistance in developing financial-intelligence agencies, strengthening banking oversight, developing appropriate legislation, and helping customs and tax agencies forestall these crimes. Interfax noted that an IMF expert on these issues is already working at Kyrgyzstan's National Bank. BB
CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE
 BELARUSIAN ENVIRONMENTALIST SAYS AUTHORITIES SPOILING ANCIENT FORESTThe head of a Belarusian environmental group has charged that authorities are engaged in an effort to cover up mismanagement of the Belavezha Forest, Belapan reported on 12 May. Valery Dranchuk heads the nongovernmental Terra-Kanventsyya organization, which sent letters to various government agencies in April to express concern over the alleged massive felling of trees in the ancient forest, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 18 February 2003). Terra-Kanventsyya also sent letters to the UNESCO office in Moscow, the UN and OSCE offices in Minsk, and most Western embassies in Belarus. Dranchuk said he has so far received replies from the Justice Ministry and the Council of Ministers, which insist that only blighted or wind-damaged trees are being felled. According to Dranchuk, the Justice Ministry and the Council of Ministers might be unaware of the true situation in the forest, where economic activities are fully controlled by the presidential administration. JM
 UKRAINIAN OFFICIAL SAYS COUNTRY NEEDS 'INTERNAL CONSOLIDATION' AHEAD OF NATO MEMBERSHIPYevhen Marchuk, secretary of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, told television interviewers on 12 May that his country must travel "a rather complicated path to internal consolidation" before entering NATO, Interfax reported. "This must not be only a presidential or a government decision; it must be one backed by parliament and, most important, it must be backed by at least half of the Ukrainian population," Marchuk said, suggesting that NATO currently perceives Ukraine as an "unpredictable partner" because of weak support for NATO membership among Ukrainians. Marchuk also reiterated that Ukraine should deploy stabilization forces to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). JM
 UKRAINIAN AVIATION IN A SHAMBLESA Ukrainian airline-industry publication reported recently that the industry is in "a catastrophic state," plagued by a shortage of new pilots, and utterly distrusted internationally, Reuters reported on 12 May. "After a long string of accidents, any trust in Ukrainian aviation is almost destroyed," "Transpress" commented. "It is no secret that Ukrainian civil and military aviation is in a catastrophic state." The publication added: "For the last two years not a single military pilot has graduated. The best schools training pilots and aviation engineers have been destroyed." According to unidentified analysts cited by the agency, last week's air disaster in Congo only added to growing international distrust in Ukrainian aviation. On 8 May, the doors of a Ukrainian-owned Ilyushin Il-76 cargo plane with a Ukrainian crew opened in midair, leading to the deaths of an unconfirmed number of passengers. Initial reports claimed that as many as 120 people were sucked out of the aircraft and killed, while Congolese Information Minister Kikaya bin Karubi said the death toll would probably rise above 14. In December, a Ukrainian An-140 aircraft crashed in Iran, killing all 46 Ukrainian aviation engineers and experts on board. In July 2002, 83 people were killed in Lviv in the world's worst air-show disaster, when an Su-27 fighter jet crashed into the crowd. JM
 PORTUGUESE PRESIDENT BEGINS BALTIC TOUR IN ESTONIAJorge Sampaio and a large delegation of Portuguese businesspeople began a six-day tour of the Baltic states with a visit to Tallinn on 11 May, BNS and LETA reported. At a meeting the next day with his Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel in which they discussed EU and NATO enlargement, Sampaio said Portugal's identity has become stronger since it joined the EU in 1986. They noted that their countries have similar positions on almost all topics pertaining to NATO and the EU Convention on the Future of Europe. The presidents mentioned successful cooperation in the culture sphere and expressed the hope that the 70-member business delegation accompanying Sampaio will establish contacts that will lead to greater bilateral economic ties. Prime Minister Juhan Parts discussed bilateral relations with Sampaio and presented an invitation for the Portuguese prime minister to visit Estonia. Sampaio departed for Riga on 13 May. SG
 LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER CRITICIZES WORK OF ANTICORRUPTION BUREAUPrime Minister Einars Repse in a meeting on 12 May with Corruption Prevention Bureau Director Guntis Rutkis, who returned to work that day following a lengthy absence due to serious illness, expressed his dissatisfaction with the bureau's work, LETA reported. Repse demanded that the bureau step up its activities in fighting corruption. Rutkis, who is still undergoing treatment for his illness, indicated that his poor health could prevent him from fulfilling Repse's demands and said he will consider retiring. If Rutkis decides to retire, selecting a replacement would likely be difficult, as parliament rejected three other candidates before finally accepting Rutkis in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2002). SG
 LITHUANIA, RUSSIA SIGN READMISSION AGREEMENTForeign Ministry Secretary Darius Jurgelevicius and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Razov signed a readmission agreement in Vilnius on 12 May, BNS reported. The bilateral agreement provides for the return to Russia or Lithuania of illegal aliens in either country. The agreements are needed to allow Lithuania to comply with Schengen requirements after the introduction of new transit rules on 1 July. Razov said that the readmission agreement, the first signed by Russia, will serve as a model for similar agreements with other countries. The agreement must still be ratified by Russia's State Duma and Federation Council, which have not yet ratified the Lithuanian-Russian border agreement signed in October 1997. SG
 NEW LITHUANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER APPOINTEDPresident Rolandas Paksas on 12 May signed a decree appointing Interior Ministry Secretary Virgilijus Bulovas interior minister, BNS reported. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas nominated the 63-year-old Bulovas for the post in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003), but Paksas was clearly not happy with the choice. Paksas held two subsequent meetings with Bulovas, who was unable to present his plans for the ministry's work at the first meeting. After the second meeting on 7 May, Paksas said he wanted to have more than one candidate to choose from. However, Brazauskas said he would seek another candidate only after the first was rejected. SG
 POLAND ASKS NATO FOR HELP RUNNING MILITARY ZONE IN IRAQPolish Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski announced on 12 May that the Polish stabilization force in Iraq will be deployed in a sector between Baghdad and Al-Basrah, that is, between a British-administered sector in the south and a U.S.-administered sector in the north, Polish media reported. Szmajdzinski said Warsaw has requested that NATO provide support for its mission in Iraq. "It is a normal and a natural thing for Poland to request the allied countries to have informal talks about the possibility of making use of instruments that the alliance has -- to provide help with the shaping of the operational plans for setting up communications systems and sharing the intelligence of the allied states," Szmajdzinski told journalists. Poland is expected to assume command of a 6,000-7,000-strong multinational stabilization force in its sector in Iraq. Szmajdzinski said negotiations on which countries will participate in the Polish sector will continue until 22-23 May, when a conference on the issue is to be held in Warsaw (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 7 and 13 May 2003). JM
 CZECH PRESIDENT DISCUSSES EU FUTURE WITH ITALIAN POLITICIANSPresident Vaclav Klaus discussed the future of European integration, EU reforms, and European-U.S. relations on 12 May with Italian Deputy Premier Gianfranco Fini and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, both of whom were received by Klaus at Prague Castle, CTK reported. The presidential office said afterward that both sides were "pleased to note that their opinions on the future of European integration are highly similar" and that they both favor an EU "in which member states retain their own identity." The agency commented that while Klaus is regarded as an opponent of any federalization trends within the EU, the Italian position tends to support enhanced cooperation within the EU and the creation of an elected presidential post rather than the current six-month rotating EU Presidency -- which the Czech government opposes. Fini and Frattini also met with Czech Premier Vladimir Spidla and promised to consider foregoing the agreed five-year transition period for the free movement of Czech labor in Italy after EU accession in May 2004. They also discussed Iraq's reconstruction and trans-Atlantic cooperation. MS
 VISITING PORTUGUESE PREMIER PROMOTES EU MEMBERSHIP IN SLOVAKIAVisiting Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Durao Barroso told journalists on 12 May that economic indicators in his country improved after Portugal joined the EU, TASR and AP reported. He said that while Portugal still has some economic problems, "joining the EU was very positive" for the country. Durao Barroso said he hopes Slovakia's future experience as an EU member will be similar. He added that EU accession has in no way "damaged [Portugal's] national identity." "[Saying that] 'I am a Slovak and a European' is not contradictory," TASR quoted Durao Barroso as saying. Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda told journalists after talks with Barroso that although the results of the 16-17 May referendum on EU accession are not legally binding on the cabinet, accession would be "politically unacceptable" if Slovak voters rejected membership. Durao Barroso also met with President Rudolf Schuster, who told him he expects turnout in the referendum to exceed 50 percent. Also on 12 May, President Schuster distributed leaflets in downtown Bratislava urging a "yes" vote in the referendum, while leaders of the country's two largest religious groups, the Roman Catholic and the Protestant churches, called on their adherents to take part in the plebiscite. MS
 SLOVAK PRESIDENT SAYS HE WOULD NOT OPPOSE U.S. TROOPS IN HIS COUNTRYPresident Schuster said on 12 May after a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Ron Weiser that he would have no reservations about the deployment of U.S. troops on Slovak territory, CTK reported the next day, citing the Czech daily "Pravo." "I believe that consent to the deployment of American units on our territory would pose no problems for other constitutional authorities -- the government or the parliament either," Schuster said. But he added that speculation about the deployment is premature, as the United States has not requested that Slovakia host U.S. bases. MS
 SLOVAK PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER APPOINTS INSTITUTE OF MEMORY CHAIRMANParliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky formally presented Jan Langos with a letter of appointment as chairman of the board of the Institute for the Memory of the Nation on 12 May, TASR reported. The institute began operating on 1 May and has already received hundreds of applications from Slovaks who wish to view their communist-era state security files, according to the news agency. The files, which are currently housed by the Slovak Intelligence Service, will be made available on the Internet in September. Langos said the institute will also try to gain access to some archives in the Czech Republic, which is blocked under an agreement between Premier Dzurinda and his former Czech counterpart Milos Zeman. MS
 JEWISH CEMETERY DESECRATED IN SLOVAKIAVandals damaged three gravestones at a Jewish cemetery in Michalovce, some 440 kilometers northeast of Bratislava, CTK and AP reported on 12 May. A police spokeswoman said the damage occurred sometime after 20 April, but was discovered only last week. It was the second time since 1989 that the 1,200-grave cemetery has been targeted by vandals, who in 1991 destroyed 40 gravesites. The cemetery has existed since 1850. MS
 FINGER-POINTING IN WAKE OF NUCLEAR MALFUNCTION IN HUNGARYIstvan Kocsis, who is in charge of Hungary's Paks nuclear-power plant, told reporters on 12 May that the French-German company Framatome ANP has acknowledged in writing its responsibility for a 10 April malfunction at the plant, the MTI news agency reported. The cooling and control mechanism of the Framatome equipment was not functioning properly when fuel rods in the second reactor block were being cleaned, and as a result the cooling water overheated and radioactive gases were created, Kocsis claimed. However, Framatome spokesman Alexander Machowetz denied that any written acknowledgement of responsibility exists, adding that an inquiry into the incident has not been completed. He said the malfunction might have been caused by overheating due to inappropriate cooling and added that it is too early to draw any conclusions. Kocsis said the Paks power plant will seek to settle the matter out of court. MSZ
 MONTENEGRIN PRESIDENT-ELECT BACKS INDEPENDENCEThe authorities announced in Podgorica on 13 May that Filip Vujanovic won the recent presidential election with 64.5 percent of the vote, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). "We'll give a chance to the union [of Serbia and Montenegro], ...but we'll then give...the people [the opportunity] to say [in a referendum] what they want -- the union or an independent state," Vujanovic told Reuters on 12 May. He stressed that both Serbia and Montenegro "would function more effectively and cheaply if independent." Vujanovic is a close ally of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, who has made no secret of his plans to call a referendum on independence in 2006. Vujanovic's inauguration will take place in the historical capital of Cetinje, but the date has not been set, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Both the United States and EU expressed satisfaction with the conduct of the election. The EU said in its statement that Vujanovic has a strong mandate to bring Montenegro closer to the Brussels-based bloc. PM
 LABOR TENSIONS MOUNT IN SERBIA AND MONTENEGROStrikes and other forms of industrial action took place on 12 May in at least four areas of Serbia and Montenegro as workers demanded payment of overdue wages, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Sugar-beet producers blocked three highways in Vojvodina. Workers from Zajecar's porcelain factory and Kotor's Jugooceanija company sought wages dating back to 2001. Workers at the Kragujevac Zastava automobile plant also demanded back pay. PM
 SERBIAN ROCK STAR OFFERS $1 MILLION IN BAILSvetlana Raznatovic "Ceca," whom the authorities arrested and imprisoned for illegal possession of weapons in Belgrade on 17 March, offered her house worth more than $1 million as a bail deposit until her trial, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 10 May. It is unclear when she will stand trial. Ceca is the widow of Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan," who was one of Serbia's top underworld figures until he was killed on 17 January 2000 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). PM
 ROLLING STONES TO STAY AWAY FROM SERBIASerbian organizers of a planned Rolling Stones concert confirmed in Belgrade on 13 May that the band will not be coming to Serbia anytime soon, dpa reported. The rock group canceled a planned tour following the 11 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The promoters said they have since failed to convince lawyers for the Rolling Stones to reconsider their decision (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). PM
 FORMER YUGOSLAV MILITARY PILOT GOES ON TRIAL IN ITALYFormer Major Emir Sisic of the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) and Yugoslav Army went on trial in Rome on 12 May for shooting down an EC monitoring helicopter over Croatia in 1992, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Five EC diplomats, most of whom were Italians, lost their lives in the incident. Hungarian officials arrested Sisic on the basis of an Interpol arrest warrant in May 2001 and subsequently extradited him to Italy despite Yugoslav protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2001). PM
 MUSLIM OFFICIAL SLAMS BOSNIAN SERB MILITARYRepublika Srpska Vice President Adil Osmanovic, who is an ethnic Muslim, told the Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" of 10 May that the Bosnian Serb Army is simply a "branch" of the former Yugoslav Army and funded in part by local business interests. He added that some unspecified units of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) and police continue to help protect indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic from arrest. PM
 BOSNIAN SERB DOCTOR FEARS TB RISEDusko Ivic, who heads the Prijedor General Hospital, said on 10 May that hospital staff have been unable to vaccinate newborn babies against tuberculosis (TB) for more than one month because the Republika Srpska's supplier in Serbia is temporarily unable to produce the vaccine, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He fears that an already serious problem with TB in the Prijedor area could become worse. Long a scourge in much of former Yugoslavia, TB has spread in recent years amid conditions of war, displacement, and poverty. PM
 TENSIONS CONTINUE BETWEEN UN AND SERBIAMichael Steiner, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), announced in Prishtina on 12 May that what the communists previously called "socially owned enterprises" may use as guarantees for loans the land that they have long utilized, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said in Belgrade that Steiner's decision is tantamount to a "confiscation of socially owned property." In recent days, Steiner has said that, under international law, Kosova is no longer a Serbian province, while Covic has called him a "source of instability," Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 12 May. PM
 CROATIAN PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN SLOVENIAStipe Mesic arrived in Ljubljana on 13 May for talks with his counterpart Janez Drnovsek, dpa reported. The agenda is expected to be topped by the package of issues that has bedeviled relations between Slovenia and Croatia since they left former Yugoslavia in 1991. Among the most important problems are delineating their joint frontier in Piran Bay and compensating Croats for their lost deposits in Ljubljanska Banka (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 and 30 August 2002). Mesic also plans to meet with former President Milan Kucan in Brdo pri Kranju, Hina reported. In related news, Kucan's spokesman said on 12 May that the former president will testify in The Hague on 21 May as a prosecution witness in the war crimes trial of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, "Delo" reported. PM
 CROATIA POSTS REWARD FOR FORMER GENERALInterior Minister Sime Lucin announced on 10 May a reward of almost $54,000 for information leading to the capture and arrest of former General Ante Gotovina, whom the Hague-based war crimes tribunal has indicted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February, 4 March, and 18 April 2003). Ivo Sanader, who heads the opposition Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), said it is "degrading" to post a reward for the arrest of a man whom he called a hero of the 1991-95 war of independence, Hina reported. PM
 PROCESS OF REVISING ROMANIAN CONSTITUTION ON COURSEThe ad hoc parliamentary commission tasked with examining proposals for constitutional amendments on 12 May submitted its recommendations to the Chamber of Deputies' Bureau, Romanian Radio reported. Deputies have 10 days to propose additional amendments, after which the bureau has 14 days to decide which of these proposals will be included on the list of amendments that will be debated by the chamber. Parliament is expected to finish the process of amending the constitution in the fall of 2003, according to Romanian Radio, and the revised document will then be submitted for a referendum. MS
 PPCD DEPUTY CHAIRMAN ACCUSES AUTHORITIES OF DELIBERATELY STALLING INQUIRY INTO HIS ABDUCTIONPopular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov on 12 May accused the authorities in Chisinau of deliberately holding up the investigation into his abduction, Flux reported. Cubreacov, who is currently running for the post of Chisinau mayor, was abducted on 21 March 2002 and released on 25 May. At a press conference in Chisinau, Cubreacov made public a letter addressed to Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu complaining about the stalled investigation. He said he initially agreed not to disclose details about his abductors because he believed it would facilitate the investigation, but that he is now making those details public because of the authorities' unwillingness to proceed with the inquiry. He described his three abductors as Russian-speakers and said he was detained in Transdniester. He also said the abductors intended to intimidate those taking part in the then-ongoing protests organized by the PPCD and that his release is not owed to action taken by the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists but to international pressure. MS
 MOLDOVA IMPOSES ENTRANCE CONTROLS IN EFFORT TO HALT SPREAD OF SARSBorder officials in Moldova have introduced a medical questionnaire for people entering the country in an effort to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), dpa and Infotag reported. Moldovans and foreign nationals crossing the country's border must fill in a form posing questions on the state of their health. Respondents are quizzed as to whether they have a high temperature, difficulty breathing, or muscular pain -- all possible symptoms of SARS. They must also state whether or not they were in contact with people exhibiting such symptoms. Moldova has not recorded any SARS cases. MS
 BULGARIAN PRESIDENT HINTS AT OPPOSITION TO AGREEMENT WITH U.S. ON ICCPresident Georgi Parvanov said in Lovech on 11 May that "Bulgaria should keep its European perspective," BTA reported. Parvanov was asked by journalists to comment on the possibility that Bulgaria will follow Romania's example by signing an agreement with the United States pledging not to extradite U.S. citizens to the International Criminal Court (ICC). He said that, for Bulgaria, it is more important to ensure that its actions are in line with the European understanding of international law. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to raise the issue of the ICC during his planned visit to Bulgaria on 15 May. Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi said in Russe on 11 May that Bulgaria will not adopt a position on the ICC that runs counter to the principles of the European Union. MS
 BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SEES NO REASON TO FORGIVE IRAQI DEBTForeign Minister Pasi also said in Russe on 11 May that no country has approached Bulgaria asking it to write off the debt it is owed by Iraq, BTA reported. Pasi said Bulgaria has been in a situation similar to that of Iraq when it made the transition from dictatorship to democracy, and noted that Bulgaria did not ask for, nor was it offered, the forgiveness of its debt. MS
 BULGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER, IMF OFFICIAL DISCUSS IMPLEMENTATION OF BUDGETFinance Minister Milen Velchev and Jerald Schiff, head of the IMF delegation currently visiting Bulgaria, on 12 May discussed the implementation of Bulgaria's 2003 budget under the obligations assumed by Sofia in December 2002 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003), BTA reported. Velchev told journalists after the meeting that the delegation praised Bulgaria's financial stability and its "reasonable" fiscal policy. He also said it would be premature to plan additional budgetary expenses before ensuring that the current provisions are fully implemented. Schiff said Bulgaria's macroeconomic development is on the right path. Revenue collection has been better than expected, he said, but he expressed the IMF's concern at overspending and budgetary arrears. Schiff also said that completing the privatization of Bulgarian Telecom and Bulgartabak is not critical to the government's financial needs, but is important for enhancing the efficiency of the economy. MS
 BULGARIAN ELECTRONIC-MEDIA COUNCIL BANS ADVERTISING IN SPONSORSHIP SPOTSThe Council for Electronic Media decided on 12 May that the presentation of sponsored television and radio programs can no longer include invitations to purchase the sponsor's products or use its services, BTA reported. The sponsored programs are not to mention in any way the qualities of the sponsor's services, nor to cite the sponsor's address, telephone number, or other contact information that could facilitate the acquisition of the sponsor's products or use of its services. MS
SOUTHWESTERN ASIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST
 MORE OF TOPPLED IRAQI REGIME'S SENIOR MEMBERS IN COALITION CUSTODYTwo more members of deposed President Saddam Hussein's regime are in the custody of the U.S.-led coalition, according to international media reports of 12 May. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced in a press release the same day that Rihab Rashid Taha al-Azzawi al-Tikriti, the former director of the Iraqi Bacterial and Biological Program, is in custody. Although not on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the Hussein regime, Taha, a U.K.-educated microbiologist also known as "Dr. Germ," could likely provide valuable information on Iraq's alleged weapons-of-mass-destruction (WMD) programs. Taha holds a doctorate from the University of East Anglia, Reuters reported on 12 May. She is the wife of a former Iraqi oil minister, Amir Rashid Muhammad al-Ubaydi, who surrendered to coalition forces in late April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2003). According to the same report, coalition forces have also captured Ibrahim Ahmad Abd al-Sattar Muhammad al-Tikriti, who served as the Iraqi Armed Forces' chief of staff under the Hussein regime. He was 11th on CENTCOM's most-wanted list. He is best known for his role in regaining Iraqi control over the Al-Faw Peninsula during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Reuters reported. KR
 BRITISH FOREIGN SECRETARY SAYS PROGRESS IN IRAQ SLOWBritish Foreign Secretary Jack Straw indicated on 12 May that progress has been slow in restoring Iraq's civil administration, Reuters reported the same day. "Increasing numbers of Iraqi public servants are now returning to their jobs," Straw told parliamentarians, adding, "However, results in the early weeks have not been as good as we hoped." Straw also called the security situation in Baghdad unsatisfactory and said, "We [United Kingdom] fully understand our responsibility, as does the United States, to ensure it becomes satisfactory very quickly," Reuters reported. KR
 DID U.S. FORCES FIND MOBILE LAB IN IRAQ?U.S. forces have found a trailer in northern Iraq that might be a mobile biological-weapons laboratory, AP quoted unnamed Pentagon officials as stating on 12 May. The trailer, discovered outside Mosul in northern Iraq, is similar to one discovered in April and might have been used as a germ-weapons workshop, AP reported the officials as saying. The trailer is being examined in Mosul and will eventually be transported to Baghdad International Airport, where the first trailer is being scrutinized. According to AP, the first trailer was camouflaged and mounted on a transporter that is normally used for tanks. It contained fermentation equipment and a system to capture exhaust gases that result from the fermentation process, AP reported U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone as saying. Meanwhile, U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Reuters on 12 May that a new team of weapons inspectors from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia will try to follow the paper trail left behind by the Hussein regime in an effort to uncover Iraq's WMD program. "The team that will be going in will be larger [and] will have people who are more expert in document exploitation and intelligence and all of the pieces that we need," Rice said. KR
 COALITION RELEASES BAGHDAD'S SELF-STYLED MAYORCoalition forces have released Muhammad Muhsin al-Zubaydi from custody, CENTCOM announced in an 11 May press release. Al-Zubaydi purported to be the coalition-appointed mayor of Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003) before he was arrested by coalition troops on 27 April. According to the press release, al-Zubaydi admitted "that he had overstepped his authority and that his actions were contrary to [U.S.-led] coalition efforts to secure and stabilize Baghdad." Al-Zubaydi has issued a public statement and vowed to work within the coalition authority, according to CENTCOM, which quoted him as stating, "I now realize that a number of my statements and actions have actually served to hinder the progress in the very areas in which I was working to improve. I am not the mayor of Baghdad, nor am I interested in working independently of the coalition to achieve...peace and prosperity for all Iraqis." KR
 FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER COMMENTS ON IRAQ REBUILDING EFFORTFrench Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin told France's RTL Radio on 12 May that the international community must take swift action to restore a sense of normality to Iraq. "The whole international community must be mobilized, and there is a know-how on the United Nations' part [and] there is a legitimacy on the United Nations' part which are essential for reconstruction," Villepin said. He added that the UN experience in Kosova and Afghanistan might be put to "good use" in Iraq, "whereas in the phase of establishing security...the coalition forces present on the ground have particular prerogatives -- it can be seen moreover, in the draft [UN Security Council] resolution -- because they assume and claim the status of an occupying power." Villepin also said the international community must be mobilized vis-a-vis Iraq on a financial level, in addition to a political level. KR
 SCIRI LEADER PRAISES KHOMEINI, CRITICIZES UNITED STATESSupreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) leader Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim, who was an exile during the 10 years that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ruled Iran (1979-89), said in a 12 May speech in Iraq that Khomeini and Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr are "role models," Iranian state radio reported. "Those who relied upon real Islam became prosperous, but those who accepted American Islam ended up in the same position as the Taliban," he said in the holy city Al-Najaf, which he was unable to visit for 23 years until the fall of deposed President Saddam Hussein's regime. Al-Hakim told a crowd of some 30,000 supporters that the Howzeh-yi Elmieh theological institution should be the source of authority for all Iraqi Shi'a Muslims, according to Al-Jazeera television. Al-Hakim added that he will not participate in any opposition meeting, whether Iraqis or Americans run it. Al-Hakim is scheduled to meet soon with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, according to Al-Jazeera. Sistani is revered in Al-Najaf and is considered the senior cleric in the country. BS
 SEARCH FOR MISSING IRANIAN CLERIC CONTINUESLebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri told reporters after a 12 May meeting with visiting Iranian President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami that there have been some developments in the case of missing cleric Imam Musa Sadr, Tele-Liban television reported. The Iranian-born Musa Sadr came to Lebanon in 1959 and through perseverance turned the Shi'a community, which was the country's most dispossessed and downtrodden group, into a viable political force. Musa Sadr managed to make many enemies in the process, and during a 1978 trip to Libya he disappeared. Berri told the reporters that he and Khatami, who is related to Sadr by marriage, discussed the subject and agreed to continue efforts to find him. "There are some developments regarding this issue," Berri said. "This is the only thing I can say." BS
 IRANIAN PRESIDENT'S VISIT STRENGTHENS HIZBALLAH RESOLVELebanese Hizballah's Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qasim on 12 May described President Khatami's visit to Lebanon as historic, Al-Manar television reported. Qasim said the timing of the visit is important in light of the pressure being applied to Lebanon, and that Hizballah will continue to support Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine regardless. "We will not succumb to threats no matter how dear the sacrifices," he said. Khatami said in a meeting with Emil Lahud, his Lebanese counterpart, that Iran supports Lebanon's efforts to liberate "the remaining parts of its occupied territories in southern Lebanon," Tele-Liban reported. This is a reference to the disputed Shabaa Farms. BS
 IRANIAN PRESIDENT, LEBANESE HOSTS CRITICIZE UNITED STATESPresident Khatami said during his meeting with Lebanese parliament speaker Berri that Islamic countries must maintain their vigilance against efforts to spread discord among them, IRNA reported. "We should resist attempts to drive a wedge among Muslim nations, especially in Lebanon," Khatami said. Berri warned that "the main purpose of the American military occupation of Iraq is to ensure the security of the Zionist regime," Tehran radio reported. "That country is trying to create discord among Tehran, Damascus, and Beirut," Berri said. BS
 IRAN WILL NOT BACK DOWN ON NUCLEAR EFFORTSSupreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was asked about U.S. plans for Iran during a 12 May question-and-answer session at Shahid Beheshti University, Iranian state radio reported. Using U.S. concern about Iran's nuclear activities as an example, he pointed out that some Iranians believe the United States should make concessions to Iran on this topic. Khamenei said the United States makes Iran's nuclear activities an issue in an effort to weaken the country and if there is a favorable environment, "it will launch an attack even without a pretext." The United States will not attack if it does not think the environment is suitable, he added. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 8 May that the United States has "serious concerns" about Iran's active pursuit of nuclear weapons, according to the State Department's International Information Programs' website (http://www.usinfo.state.gov). Washington rejects Tehran's claim that its pursuit of a complete nuclear fuel cycle is for peaceful purposes," Boucher said. "Our concern is about the potential acquisition of nuclear weapons by a state that's a known supporter of terrorism." Boucher questioned a resource-rich country's need for nuclear power (see also Russian item in today's "RFE/RL Newsline Part I." BS
 SUPREME LEADER RULES OUT RESTORING IRAN-U.S. RELATIONS...Supreme Leader Khamenei, addressing students at Shahid Beheshti University on 12 May, said that restoring relations with Washington would be "a surrender to the enemy," IRNA reported. Iran's oil wealth and geopolitical situation placed it high on the "agenda of U.S. greed," he explained, warning that Washington is on an anti-Iran propaganda campaign to "prepare world public opinion for a military or semi-military action against Iran." While "USA Today" and other Western media on 12 May reported ongoing debate within Iran's Islamic government over reestablishing relations, it is clear that it is still too soon for ties to be advocated openly. The hard-line daily "Jomhuri-yi Islami" on 12 May criticized Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi for his "gaffe and botched comments," made during a European trip last week, that Western media interpreted as being receptive to relations with Washington. The foreign minister, the paper pointed out, does not make foreign policy. SF
 ...AS WASHINGTON CONFIRMS IRAN TALKS IN GENEVAU.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice on 12 May confirmed that U.S. officials, led by White House representative Zalmay Khalilzad, met as recently as 3 May with unidentified Iranian officials in Geneva to discuss Afghanistan and Iraq. Both Powell and Rice said the restoration of formal relations with Iran is not on the horizon. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi at a 12 May press conference in Tehran stressed that the Geneva talks did not touch on mutual relations, IRNA reported. SF
 U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT LAUNCHES NEW WEBSITE IN PERSIANU.S. Secretary of State Powell on 12 May unveiled a new Persian-language State Department website aimed at educating Iranians on U.S. policy toward Iran, according to international news agencies. In an open letter posted on the website (http://Persian.usinfo.state.gov), Powell explained that the United States' differences are not with the Iranian people. Rather, he said, "It is the Iranian government's decisions to support terrorism, to pursue weapons of mass destruction, and to deny human rights to the people of Iran that are the obstacles to improved relations between our two countries." SF
 AFGHANS PROTEST CHAIRMAN'S AMNESTY OFFER TO TALIBAN MEMBERSSeveral hundred Afghans staged a demonstration in Kabul on 11 May to protest Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's offer of amnesty to some members of the ousted Taliban regime, the Bahrain-based "Gulf Daily News" reported. The protesters called the offer, made during a meeting with the clergy last month, a "national betrayal." Karzai said the move was aimed at uniting Afghanistan after 23 years of conflict and extended "only to those Taliban members whose hands are not stained with Afghans' blood." A spokesman for Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan told the daily that more than 60 Taliban suspects who had been held captive since the fundamentalist regime fell in late 2001 were freed on 10 May. The governor ordered their release "as a goodwill gesture and to consolidate national unity," according to spokesman Ghulam Mohammad Masoon. "The Taliban were and still are the enemies of Afghanistan," an unidentified protester was quoted as saying by the daily. "Karzai's decision calls into question his role as president." TG
 MOSCOW DENIES CHANNELING FUNDS TO TALIBANInterfax on 12 May quoted an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official as dismissing as "absurd" an article published the previous day in the "Scotsman on Sunday" alleging that Russian special services are providing clandestine financial support to the Taliban. The official suggested such reports are intended to discredit Moscow. LF
 CHURCH WORLD SERVICE RECEIVES GRANT FOR AFGHAN QUILT PROJECTThe U.S. State Department has granted the Church World Service (CWS) $1.24 million for the CWS's Kabul-based Women's Livelihood Project, according to a press release issued by the organization on 12 May. The CWS is a nongovernmental organization that serves as the relief, development, and refugee-assistance ministry of 36 Protestant, Orthodox, and Anglican denominations in the United States. The CWS project provides 1,874 women in the Afghan capital with the materials to make quilts, enabling them to earn a small income. CWS also provides 1,500 families in the Shomali Valley with materials to rebuild their homes, and some 50,000 children in central Afghanistan with school desks, chairs, and "Gift of the Heart" school kits that are donated to the organization. TG
 UN STRESSES NEED TO REBUILD AFGHAN ROADSManoel de Almeida e Silva, spokesman for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), on 11 May stressed the need to rebuild Afghanistan's roads, according to a UNAMA press release. "More than two decades of conflict combined with a prolonged lack of maintenance has resulted in damage to long sections of roads, critical structures, bridges and the snow galleries on the approach to the Salang Pass tunnel," he said. "More than 50 percent of the main road network is in poor condition while large sections of the roads in the south and east have been lost." He said the Afghan road network comprises about 6,000 kilometers of roads, of which 3,300 kilometers are primary routes, he said, citing World Bank figures. TG
 UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES AGAIN TARGETING OPPOSITION LEADERS?By Taras Kuzio
In late 2001, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma issued a lengthy decree outlining measures to ensure that the March 2002 parliamentary elections would be free and fair. In his state-of-the-nation address to parliament last month, Kuchma likewise promised that the October 2004 presidential elections will be conducted in a "civilized, democratic manner in full compliance with current legislation."
But as is so often the case in Ukraine and other CIS states, reality diverges from official rhetoric. During the 2002 campaign, the presidential administration abused its administration resources to favor the For a United Ukraine bloc, and the media failed to ensure a level playing field for all candidates. A secret document from the presidential administration that outlined detailed measures against the opposition was leaked to the opposition and the OSCE election-monitoring mission.
It is therefore hardly surprising that the electorate is skeptical of Kuchma's latest claim that next year's presidential election will be democratic. A March Razumkov Center poll found that as many as 51 percent of Ukrainians believe the 2004 elections will be not free and fair, while only 20 percent think they will be. Kuchma's claim that he will guarantee a free and fair election is unconvincing in the light of the activities of the presidential administration, especially since Viktor Medvedchuk was named to head that body in May 2002.
Medvedchuk is the long time head of the Union of Ukrainian Lawyers (as well as the Social Democratic Party-united, or SDPU-o). Even though censorship is banned by the Ukrainian Constitution and parliament recently amended the law on the media to criminalize censorship, last summer the presidential administration began sending secret instructions ("temnyky") to television stations advising them which political issues they should cover and which should be ignored.
Public skepticism has been reinforced by the government's seemingly selective use of corruption charges against former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko and aides to former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. Both Tymoshenko and Yushchenko now head opposition political blocs. The corruption charges against Volodymyr Bondar, former deputy head of the National Bank, are widely perceived as aimed at discrediting Yushchenko, who headed the National Bank in the 1990s. High-ranking Our Ukraine member Oleh Rybachuk accused the SDPU-o of being behind the Bondar case, which has dragged on for five years and is, Rybachuk claims, "completely political." Four of the five banking "experts" who testified in the case have never worked in the banking system.
Oleksandr Yelyashkevych, a former deputy head of the parliamentary Committee on Finances and Banking who was granted asylum in the United States last year, has evidence that Kuchma and Medvedchuk -- who was then first deputy parliamentary speaker -- made the decision to relaunch the Bondar case in February 2000, only three months into the Yushchenko government.
Tymoshenko has also been targeted by the authorities since 2001. In a May Sotsiopolis poll that asked which parties are the most influential in Ukraine, Tymoshenko's eponymous bloc ranked first with 31 percent. Polls for the 2004 elections give Yushchenko and Tymoshenko a combined rating of approximately 35 percent. This is far higher than the very low preelection ratings for potential pro-presidential candidates such as Medvechuk or current Prime Minister Viktor Yanukevych.
Tymoshenko's husband, Oleksandr, was arrested in August 2000 as a way of pressuring Tymoshenko, who was then deputy prime minister for energy issues, to halt her energy-sector reforms. Those reforms returned billions of dollars from the oligarchs to the state budget, where the money was used by the Yushchenko government to repay wage and pension arrears. In June 2002, four former executives of Unified Energy Systems (EES), which Tymoshenko headed under Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko (who fled to the United States in 1999), were extradited from Turkey. The Ukrainian authorities also sought Russia's assistance in the Tymoshenko case, and a criminal case was launched against Colonel General Georgii Oleinik, former chief financier of the Russian Defense Ministry, on charges of accepting bribes from Tymoshenko when she headed EES.
The authorities first attempted to pin a corruption charge on Tymoshenko in mid February 2001 when she was arrested and spent several weeks in prison. She was released in late March 2001 under a court ruling that the Supreme Court upheld. In April 2002, a Kyiv district court ruled that four counts brought against her be dropped, as well as three of the counts brought against her husband.
In March, the same district court ruled the Prosecutor-General's Office had acted unlawfully, and on 9 April the Kyiv Municipal Appeals Court dismissed all the charges against both Tymoshenko and her husband. The Prosecutor-General's Office has appealed these decisions and continues to ask parliament to strip Tymoshenko of her immunity as a parliament deputy.
The driving force behind Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun's campaign against Tymoshenko is the presidential administration. Since becoming prosecutor-general in July 2002, Piskun has issued 100 appeals on the Tymoshenko case, and since January 2003, he has held 12 briefings. Even though the case has repeatedly been thrown out of court, the Prosecutor-General's Office has itself -- in pro-presidential media outlets -- pronounced both Tymoshenkos guilty as charged.
A vote to lift Tymoshenko's immunity is unlikely to obtain the necessary 227 votes. The only time this has happened was in early 1999 in the case of Lazarenko. Even pro-presidential oligarch Oleksandr Volkov, whose oil-importing business was destroyed by the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko government, opposes the removal of her immunity. Although Volkov uses legalistic arguments, he -- like some of his allies -- is aware that if deputies were to lift Tymoshenko's immunity, they might act the same way with regard to other prominent officials.
The authorities have, according to Tymoshenko, offered on many occasions to drop the case against her and her family completely if she agrees not to contest the 2004 elections in an alliance with Yushchenko. In that event, the authorities would provide her with access to the media, thereby dividing the opposition and enabling a pro-presidential candidate to break through to the second round. At present, opinion polls show that it is more likely that Yushchenko would face Communist leader Petro Symonenko in a presidential runoff.
Taras Kuzio is a resident fellow in the Centre for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Toronto.