|Sunday, 8 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-06-04
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PUTIN SAYS NATO SHOULD PAY TO REBUILD SERBIA AND MONTENEGROPresident Vladimir Putin met in Sochi on 3 June with Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, RTR and other Russian media reported. Putin criticized NATO for not doing more to rebuild the infrastructure of Serbia following the 1999 bombing campaign there. "I personally think that the funds to rebuild the economy of Serbia should be allocated by those who destroyed the infrastructure facilities of Serbia and Montenegro. They destroyed it but they don't want to rebuild it," Putin said. Putin told Kostunica that Moscow is "not indifferent" to the situation in Kosova, despite having withdrawn its peacekeeping force from the region last July. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Putin said: "I am profoundly convinced that if the international community had had the courage and strength to prevent the bombing of Belgrade, we would not have had such a grave situation in the Iraq crisis. It would be of a completely different nature." RC
 PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR CONTINUED COOPERATION WITH WORLD BANK...Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov met in Moscow on 3 June with World Bank President James Wolfensohn and said that cooperation with the bank remains an important tool for Russia's political and socioeconomic development, Russian media reported. Fradkov told Wolfensohn that although Russia now has more financial resources for development available than it had in the past, the country still looks to the World Bank to share international experience in implementing reforms. He added that Russia intends to step up its role as a shareholder in the bank and to becoming more active in international development projects. ITAR-TASS also reported on 3 June that Moscow has approved a $161 million loan project with the World Bank to promote the economic development of St. Petersburg. The 17-year loan will be used to renovate many historic monuments in the city, including the Mariinskii Theater, the State Hermitage Museum, the Russian Museum, and the St. Petersburg Conservatory, Culture and Mass Communications Minister Aleksandr Sokolov told journalists. RC
 ...AS CABINET THINKS RUSSIA SHOULD DO LESS INTERNATIONAL BORROWINGAccording to "Izvestiya" on 4 June, the cabinet on 3 June had a lively debate of the Petersburg project and the idea of borrowing from international institutions in general. Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that borrowing from the bank was illogical and could worsen the economic situation. Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu suggested it would be better for the regions to finance such projects with loans from the federal government: "Why are we borrowing if the country has money? It is better to borrow from one's mother and father than to go to moneylenders." According to the daily, Prime Minister Fradkov ordered the Finance and Economic Development and Trade ministries to investigate possible mechanisms for federal funding of such projects, including the possible use of the stabilization fund. Interfax reported on 4 June that the stabilization fund will be worth 300 billion rubles ($10 billion) by the end of this year. RC
 DEPUTY PREMIER OFFERS ROSY SCENARIO OF SHORT-TERM ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTDeputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov told a Moscow conference on 4 June that Russia's economic growth during the first quarter of this year was 8 percent and that the rate for the first five months of the year will be even higher, Interfax reported. He added that President Putin's goal of reducing annual inflation to 3 percent "is not simple, but is quite realistic." "We will be able to meet this target by 2008," Zhukov said. The government is currently forecasting inflation of 8 percent in 2005, 6-7 percent in 2006, and 4-6 percent in 2007. Zhukov also told the conference that Russia could enter the World Trade Organization (WTO) as early as the end of 2005, although the government will insist that membership terms correspond with the interests of Russian companies. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told President Putin on 25 May that Russia will be able to join the WTO no earlier than 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2004). RC
 FORMER ARMS EXPORTER SOUGHT BY ITALIAN POLICEThe city prosecutor of the Italian city of Trento on 3 June issued an arrest warrant for former Rosvoorozhenie General Director Yevgenii Ananev, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Ananev and his 37-year-old girlfriend, Olga Beltsova, are suspected of laundering $18 million in bribes taken during a 1998 deal to sell three MiG-29 jet fighters to Peru. Beltsova is under house arrest in Italy, while "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 June that Ananev is in Russia. Italian police also arrested Ananev's Italian financial adviser. Ananev headed the state arms-export agency from August 1997 until November 1998, newsru.com reported. RC
 MOSCOW MAYOR LASHES OUT AT 'FOREIGN' JOURNALIST ON NTVYurii Luzhkov on 3 June responded to a recent NTV program analyzing Moscow's bid for the 2012 Olympic Games by wondering aloud how a "foreign citizen" can be allowed to host a regular national television show in Russia, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 June. Luzhkov was commenting on a 21 May broadcast of the NTV program "Svoboda slova," which is hosted by Savik Shuster. Shuster, who was born in Vilnius in 1952, holds dual Canadian and Italian citizenship, according to "Kommersant-Daily." "I cannot imagine that a citizen of Russia would be able to work as a regular host on one of the major national networks of a foreign country," Luzhkov was quoted as saying. Shuster told the daily that he "doesn't understand Luzhkov's xenophobia." During the 21 May broadcast, Shuster said, "We are discussing priorities: should we now be carrying out health-care and pension reform or should we be competing for the Olympics?" Shuster told the daily that merely raising such a question was apparently sufficient to enrage Luzhkov. RC
 NEW EFFORT TO REGULATE INTERNET EMERGES FROM FEDERATION COUNCIL, STATE DUMA...In an interview with "Novye izvestiya" on 3 June, Federation Council representative for Tuva Lyudmila Narusova called for increased state control over the Internet, which she said is turning into a cesspool. She said that she isn't sure what kind of control organ is necessary. "It should be neither bureaucrats nor people in the military.... It should be a professional council that will make collegial decisions in an absolutely open forum." Narusova is the widow of former St. Petersburg Mayor and mentor of President Putin Anatolii Sobchak. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 3 June, Fedor Kravchenko, an expert on legislation governing the media and Internet, commented that the purpose of the legislation most likely is to increase state control over the Internet. "Just as now not one television company can escape the Kremlin's grip, in the same way, most likely, they would like some instrument of control over information on the Internet. Today, this sphere is too uncontrolled." Anton Nosik, editor of lenta.ru, told a press conference in Moscow that Narusova's comments bear an eerie resemblance to those of Moscow Mayor Luzhkov about the need for greater control over the Internet, RosBalt reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2004). Nosik said that "this whole PR campaign is coinciding with the introduction in the Duma of a bill from Unified Russia Deputy Vladimir Tarychev about state regulation of the Internet." JAC
 ...AND IS LINKED WITH COMMERCIAL INTERESTSAccording to Nosik, Tarychev's Internet-regulation bill was developed in conditions of extreme secrecy, and the people behind it are not interested in censorship per se, but in a "redistribution of property in the virtual market, which they have finally noticed and want to get their hands on." The same day, Nosik told Ekho Moskvy that President Putin told him that Chinese-style controls over the Internet will not be imposed in Russia. "As far as I know, he does exert some influence on legislation in Russia," Nosik added. JAC
 REGIONAL GOVERNMENT RESISTING PLANNED FEDERAL REFORM?Karelian President Sergei Katanandov announced on 3 June that his government will not convert in-kind benefits, such as free public transportation, installation of phones, and free medicine, to monetary payments for pensioners and veterans if the recipients of these benefits do not want such a conversion, RIA-Novosti reported, citing the republican government's press service. "For those who want to [continue] receiving [such] benefits and not cash, the government will provide this opportunity. Payments for these benefits will come out of the republican budget. There is no reason to be afraid," Katanandov said. Pensioners have been protesting the announced change in their benefits, and on 27 May more than 600 of them gathered in central Moscow to protest a draft law that would replace their benefits with cash, Ekho Moskvy reported. According to ITAR-TASS, if the law is adopted, the changes would not come into effect until 2005. According to NTV on 1 June, economists believe that the government's plan to convert in-kind benefits to cash payments and reassign responsibility for these payments to the regions is not "realistic." The station concluded that while the draft bill is still undergoing changes, the general trend is clear: "The [federal] government has resolved that [in-kind] benefits in all their forms will be abolished." JAC
 DIFFERENCES EMERGE WITHIN UNIFIED RUSSIA FACTION OVER NATIONALIZATION LEGISLATIONIn an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 3 June, State Duma Deputy Speaker Oleg Morozov (Unified Russia) commented on recent reports about a draft bill on renationalization of former state assets (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2004). Morozov said the bill is not designed to expropriate private property but would instead serve as a "legal guarantee against improper de-privatization." However, he admitted that the draft bill would create a legal basis for determining the compensation for owners whose property the state has nationalized. According to "Gazeta," the government has drafted its own version of a bill that establishes under which conditions property can be nationalized, and Unified Russia decided to come up with its own alternative. However, the daily reported that even some of Morozov's own colleagues in the Unified Russia faction doubt that the faction's bill will ever be made public. State Duma Property Committee Chairman Viktor Pleskachevskii (Unified Russia) said that the committee has only the government's version in its possession. Morozov, for his part, told the radio station that the party's bill will probably be debated in the Duma's autumn session. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov (Unified Russia) denied to ITAR-TASS on 3 June that the party is working on such a bill. "We are not drafting any such bill now," Gryzlov said. "We do not have this aim now." JAC
 PARTY OF POWER BORROWS FROM SOVIET-ERA PARTY PLAYBOOKThe pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party opened on 3 June the first of several party schools in Moscow, Russian media reported. The goal of the school is to prepare party cadres to administer the country, according to RIA-Novosti. Valerii Bogomolov, secretary of the party's General Council, said that in contrast to the Soviet-era Communist Party's party schools, Unified Russia members will not be overloaded with ideology. "The less ideology, the better. The party is a part of society," he said. Speaking to reporters, Bogomolov also said that the party may introduce a test period for new members of the party, RosBalt reported, and the agency pointed out that such a test period also existed in the Soviet-era party schools. Unified Russia State Duma Deputy Valerii Dragonov also said at the party school's opening ceremony that the new school will have nothing in common with party schools of the Soviet era. Commenting on the new school, Democratic Union leader Valeriya Novodvorskaya told Ekho Moskvy, "As far as those who really govern the country are concerned, they will not be organizing a party school, because they already have a training college which used to be known as the KGB Higher School, but now, no doubt, has a somewhat different name." JAC
 CITY COURT OVERTURNS STATE DUMA ELECTION RESULT IN ST. PETERSBURGThe St. Petersburg Municipal Court ruled on 3 June that the results of the State Duma repeat election in the city's 207th single-mandate district held on 14 March are invalid because of many gross violations of election law, fontanka.ru reported. According to Interfax, one example of illegal campaigning was the distribution of food and cosmetics to voters by a charity founded by the victor in the race, Aleksandr Morozov. Repeat elections had to be held in the district because "against all" was the most popular choice during the first ballot held in December 2003. Morozov was declared the winner and has been serving in the State Duma as a member of the Unified Russia faction. The results of the election were challenged by Morozov's former competitors -- Anna Markova, Sergei Andreev, Elvira Sharova -- and a voter, Aleksandr Anikin. Morozov plans to appeal the municipal court's decision to the Supreme Court. JAC
 PUTIN PROMOTES ANOTHER OFFICIAL FROM ST. PETERSBURG...President Putin reshuffled posts at the Interior Ministry on 3 June, Russian media reported. Andrei Chernenko was named as director of the Federal Migration Service, replacing Aleksandr Chekalin, who will now continue to serve as deputy interior minister but without responsibility for the migration service. Chernenko most recently served as deputy presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District and as vice governor in the St. Petersburg government as of November 2003. Chernenko previously headed the Federal Migration Service in 2002, according to Interfax. Chernenko is the second official from the presidential envoy's office in St. Petersburg to be transferred to Moscow in recent weeks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May 2004). JAC
 ...AS PREMIER LETS GO MORE THAN A DOZEN DEPUTY MINISTERSPrime Minister Fradkov dismissed several deputy ministers on 3 June: Oleg Gordeev as deputy energy minister; Natalya Dementev as first deputy culture minister; Yekaterina Chukovskaya, Anatolii Rakhaev, and Pavel Khoroshilov as deputy culture ministers; and Sergei Shevchenko and Viktor Korbut as deputy health ministers, RIA-Novosti and gazeta.ru reported. On 2 June, Fradkov dismissed Svyatoslav Lychagin as deputy property relations minister and Sergei Antipov, Anton Badenkov, Vladimir Asmolov, and Mikhail Solonin as deputy atomic energy ministers, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 June. On 1 June, Fradkov appointed Valentin Stepankov as deputy natural resources minister, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 June. Stepankov is a former deputy presidential envoy for the Volga Federal District and deputy secretary of the Security Council. JAC
 ALL-RUSSIAN WOMEN'S FINAL AT FRENCH OPENElena Dementieva and Anastasia Myskina beat their Argentinian and U.S. opponents, respectively, in the semifinals of the French Open tennis championships in Paris on 3 June to set up an all-Russian final on 5 June, international media reported. No Russian woman has played in a Grand Slam tennis final, one of the four major tournaments, since Olga Morozova lost to Chris Evert at Wimbledon in 1974. Morozova is Dementieva's coach. Dementieva and Myskina, both 22 years old, are good friends and first played against each other at Moscow's Spartak club when they were 7 years old. Former President Boris Yeltsin, an avid tennis enthusiast, is credited with increasing the popularity of tennis in Russia. Five of the current top 13 women's professionals are Russian, espn.com reported. PB
 MAN GETS ONE-YEAR SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR DISRESPECTING RUSSIAN FLAGMoscow's Tverskoi Raion Court on 4 June gave Armen Beniaminov a one-year suspended sentence for insulting the Russian flag, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Beniaminov was arrested on 7 November 2003 on the roof of the State Duma building after he replaced the Russian flag with the Soviet flag to mark the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2003). The court found that Beniaminov, who was an aide to a Duma deputy at the time, spent the night of 6-7 November on the roof of the Duma and that he had prepared in advance a cloth painted to look like the Russian tricolor flag. Although he reportedly treated the actual Russian flag that had been flying over the Duma respectfully, he threw the mock flag off the roof into the snow after raising the Soviet flag, and prosecutors argued that this was disrespectful. RC
 THREE SENTENCED FOR GROZNY BOMBINGThe Chechen Supreme Court sentenced three men on 3 June to life imprisonment for masterminding the car-bomb attack on the Chechen government building in Grozny in December 2002, Russian media reported. A total of 71 people died in the bombing, many of them police or government officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 December 2002). In February 2003, radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev claimed responsibility for planning the attack, but Russian officials questioned that claim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 February 2003). LF
 PACE DELEGATION NOTES INSTABILITY, POLITICAL PROBLEMS IN CHECHNYAParliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) deputies Rudolf Bindig and Andreas Gross visited Grozny on 3 June, dpa reported. Bindig characterized the situation in Chechnya following the 9 May assassination of pro-Moscow leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as unstable, and noted that "there are still considerable problems in the political sphere." He stressed that "all forces," including Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and excluding only groups that espouse terrorism, should participate in efforts to reach a political solution to the conflict. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN OPPOSITION VOWS TO DEFY DEMONSTRATION BANLeading members of the Artarutiun opposition alliance said in Yerevan on 3 June that they will proceed with the planned demonstration in the city on the evening of 4 June even though city officials have refused permission for it on the grounds that the protest could turn violent, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Artarutiun member Albert Bazeyan, himself a former Yerevan mayor, claimed that the "illegal" decision to ban the protest originated in the presidential administration. Bazeyan refused to say whether the protesters would march to the presidential palace to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian. In a separate statement made public on 3 June, Artarutiun and its opposition allies, the National Accord Party and the Communist Party, accused the authorities of continuing to detain opposition sympathizers, and pledged to continue the "wave of popular struggle" against the incumbent leadership. LF
 ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DOWNPLAYS DANGER OF COUNCIL OF EUROPE SANCTIONSVartan Oskanian said on 3 June during a meeting with students at Yerevan State University that he thinks it is unlikely that the Council of Europe will follow its criticism of the official crackdown on participants in antigovernment protests in April with political sanctions, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. At the same time, he admitted that the imposition of such sanctions would have a negative effect on Armenia's foreign policy and its international reputation. A resolution passed in late April at the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe gave the Armenian authorities until late June to comply with a series of recommendations, including lifting "unjustified restrictions" on peaceful antigovernment protests and releasing those arrested for participating in such protests. LF
 U.S. KARABAKH ENVOY VISITS ARMENIA, AZERBAIJANAmbassador Steven Mann, who was named two months ago as the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2004), met in Yerevan on 3 June with Oskanian and with President Kocharian to discuss the status of international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Mann declined to divulge any details of those talks, but the presidential press office said Mann briefed Kocharian on his talks with senior Azerbaijani leaders the previous day in Baku. Oskanian told students at Yerevan State University on 3 June that the negotiating process "is not on a bad track." He predicted that it will become clear in the next two months whether there is a chance of building on the progress reached to date. Oskanian is to meet in Prague on 2 June for the second time within two months with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov to discuss the negotiating process. LF
 GEORGIAN MINISTER DENIES ARMOR DEPLOYED TO SOUTH OSSETIAGeorgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava denied on 3 June that tanks, armored cars, and artillery systems were being sent to the internal border with the breakaway, unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, ITAR-TASS reported. He explained that military hardware displayed during the 26 May parade to mark Independence Day was being returned to base. Interfax quoted Chief of Staff Major General Givi Iukuridze as saying that the armor was being sent to a training center for noncommissioned officers near Gori. Khaindrava also announced on 3 June that Major General Svyatoslav Nabdzorov, the commander of the Russian-Georgian-Ossetian tripartite peacekeeping force, is to be replaced, according to the independent Georgian television station Rustavi-2. Also on 3 June, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili reaffirmed that Georgia will continue to pursue a "consistent, prudent, and tolerant policy" with regard to South Ossetia, Georgian media reported. Saakashvili also invited South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity to accept a Georgian government post, Caucasus Press reported on 4 June. LF
 GEORGIAN OPPOSITION CALLS FOR NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN GOVERNMENTThe New Right Wing-Industrialists parliament faction called on 3 June for a no-confidence vote in the Georgian government, which it accused of seeking to deceive the legislature by submitting imprecise and misleading information concerning the fulfillment of the 2003 state budget, Georgian agencies reported. The parliament reviewed that report on 1 June but failed to endorse it. The majority National-Movement-Democrats faction argues that the failure to meet last year's budget targets was the fault of the previous leadership, and that the present government cannot be held in any way responsible. LF
 GEORGIA, TRANSNEFT MULL BLACK SEA-TURKEY PIPELINEThe Georgian International Oil Corporation and Russia's Transneft have agreed on setting up a working group to conduct a feasibility study for an oil pipeline that would transport Russian and Kazakh crude from Novorossiisk via Georgia's Black Sea coast to the terminal at Ceyhan on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported on 3 June. The estimated cost of the pipeline, which would have an annual throughput capacity of 50 million tons, would be $3.5 billion, but according to Interfax it would save the Russian side some $500 million to $700 million annually in transport costs. It would also obviate the need to transport yet more oil through the congested Turkish straits at the mouth of the Black Sea. Most important, the transit tariffs could prove an incentive to reach a mutually acceptable compromise to the conflict between the central Georgian leadership and Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 March 1998). LF
 PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION DISPUTES 'FAKE NEWSPAPER' CHARGEThe administration of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev requested formal apologies on 3 June from opposition newspapers "Assandi-Times" and "Navigator" in connection with the scandal over a bogus edition of "Assandi-Times," KazInform reported the same day. "Assandi-Times" charged in a 2 June press release that "the [Kazakh] presidential administration or structures close to it" was responsible for a faked issue of the newspaper (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2004). As quoted by Interfax-Kazakhstan, the statement from the presidential administration charged, "This information is inaccurate and defames the reputation of the administration of Kazakhstan's president." The statement went on to note that the administration reserves the right to sue for damages. DK
 KAZAKH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. SECRETARY OF STATEForeign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev met with Secretary of State Colin Powell on 2 June in Washington, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported the next day. The news agency quoted a Kazakh Foreign Ministry statement saying that the two discussed "bilateral relations, regional politics, and prospects for postwar Iraq stabilization." Powell hailed Kazakhstan's efforts to strengthen democracy and singled out for praise President Nursultan Nazarbaev's recent decision to veto a media law that had drawn criticism from free-speech advocates, KazInform reported. Powell also thanked Kazakhstan for "the important work Kazakh military engineers are doing in Iraq." According to Interfax-Kazakhstan, Toqaev briefed his U.S. counterpart on a recent meeting of the Central Asian Cooperation Organization. DK
 KAZAKHSTAN, UZBEKISTAN DIFFER ON BORDER INCIDENTKazakh and Uzbek officials advanced differing versions on 3 June of a fatal shooting incident on the Kazakh-Uzbek border on 1 June even as a Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman stressed that the event will not harm relations between the two countries, KazInform reported on 3 June. The news agency quoted a press release from Uzbekistan's National Security Service (SNB) as saying that "weapons were used lawfully against a violator of the border." The SNB noted that a crowd of 15 Kazakh nationals gathered at the border crossing after a car attempted to enter Uzbekistan illegally. In the ensuing confrontation, Nurzhigit Padanov, a Kazakh national, was shot and killed. For his part, Valikhan Konurbaev, director of the Kazakh Foreign Ministry's consular department, stated that Uzbek border guards wrongfully fired on civilians who were putting up no resistance, Khabar news agency reported. Konurbaev went on to note that the actions of individual border guards should not harm bilateral relations and that investigations by both countries will resolve the matter. DK
 KYRGYZ PRESIDENT REFORMS ADMINISTRATIONPresident Askar Akaev signed two decrees on 3 June to reshape his presidential administration and reduce staff by 10 percent, akipress.org reported the same day. Presidential-administration head Toichubek Kasymov told Kabar news agency that the changes will cut costs and improve efficiency. According to Kasymov, the revamped administration will include a group for contacts with the Legislative Assembly, a public-relations service, and a sector for local self-government and agrarian policy. DK
 RUSSIAN-TAJIK MILITARY EXERCISE IN DUSHANBERussian and Tajik forces in Dushanbe successfully warded off a mock chemical attack in exercises on 3 June, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Russian border troops, units from Russia's 201st Motorized Infantry Division, Tajik Defense Ministry forces, and Tajik rescuers took part in the training. Major General Aleksandr Baranov, the commander of Russian border troops in Tajikistan, told the news agency, "Since there are international terrorist forces, including Al-Qaeda, in Afghanistan, there is a real potential threat that they could break through into Tajikistan." DK
 TAJIKISTAN INTRODUCES DEATH PENALTY MORATORIUMThe lower chamber of Tajikistan's parliament unanimously passed a moratorium on capital punishment on 2 June, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Speaker Saydullo Hayrulloev told the news agency that the moratorium is retroactive to 30 April 2004, no matter when the upper chamber passes it and the president signs it into law. The draft law not only stays all death sentences handed down after 30 April, but replaces the death penalty with a 25-year prison term. Abdumannon Holikov, deputy chairman of the committee on constitutionality, told Deutsche Welle on 3 June that the moratorium is indefinite; legislators will monitor the moratorium's effects and, if circumstances warrant, may eventually abolish capital punishment altogether. The moratorium fulfills a pledge President Imomali Rakhmonov made in his 30 April address to the nation. DK
 OPPOSITION SITE SAYS TURKMEN GAS HEAD FLEESTurkmen opposition site watan.ru reported on 2 June that Guichnazar Tachnazarov, chairman of state gas company Turkmengaz, has fled Turkmenistan for Great Britain. According to the report, which was attributed to the German-based Zentralasiatische Pressagentur, Tachnazarov left the country to avoid imminent arrest. On 17 May, Kakajan Chariyev, the director of the Seydi oil refinery, was sacked for failing to stop smuggling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2004) and Tachnazarov apparently felt that he would be next. Watan.ru reported that charges have been filed against both men and that Turkmen authorities are making efforts to return Tachnazarov to Turkmenistan. DK
 RUSSIA 'CONCERNED' AT TURKMEN DIPLOMA POLICYRussia's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 3 June expressing concern at a new Turkmen policy on recognizing foreign diplomas, RIA-Novosti reported the same day. According to numerous reports, on 1 June Turkmenistan stopped recognizing foreign diplomas earned after 1993; Turkmen officials have said recently that they are merely "verifying" the validity of foreign degrees, however. The Foreign Ministry statement charges that Turkmenistan has mothballed a 2001 Russian proposal to conclude a joint diploma-recognition accord. The statement goes on to note that the new diploma policy unfairly targets Turkmenistan's Russian-speaking population and "will only increase Turkmenistan's self-isolation." Turkmen Embassy officials in Moscow told the news agency that the new rules are intended to verify existing degrees and weed out "illegally obtained" diplomas. DK
 THREE BELARUSIAN LAWMAKERS GO ON HUNGER STRIKE...Three deputies of the Chamber of Representatives, Uladzimir Parfyanovich, Syarhey Skrabets, and Valery Fralou, went on a hunger strike in the parliamentary building in Minsk on 3 June to protest the blockade by the parliamentary leadership of their initiative to put on the agenda a draft bill providing for changes to the Election Code, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. Earlier the same day parliamentary speaker Vadzim Papou switched off the microphone in the session hall when Fralou was trying to persuade other deputies to put the issue on the agenda. "We are planning to stand firm to the last, until we are not taken to a reanimation ward or some other place," Fralou told journalists. "I think a normal man needs to manifest his civic position. Our country is not going in the right direction." European election watchdogs and Belarusian opposition activists say some provisions of Belarus's Election Code -- particularly those pertaining to election observers and early voting -- are undemocratic and allow the authorities to easily manipulate and rig election results. JM
 ...AND WARN AGAINST LUKASHENKA'S 'CONSTITUTIONAL COUP D'ETAT'...Deputy Valery Fralou on 3 June publicized a statement in which he and his colleagues warn against the threat of a "constitutional coup d'etat" from the side of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. "Mr. President and people surrounding you, we are well aware of your plans to organize another constitutional coup d'etat," the statement reads. "But this is not 1996 and you won't get away with a referendum. Alyaksandr Lukashenka is the president only as long as he carries out his functions in accordance with the current constitution. If he attempts to break it once again, if he only thinks about it, even through a referendum, he will instantly lose his legitimacy and become a common citizen of our country who can face criminal proceedings." Lukashenka, whose second and last presidential term ends in 2006, has announced on several previous occasions that if he chooses to remain in power beyond 2006, he will "consult" this move "with the people." JM
 ...WHILE STATE TV VILIFIES THEM AS PUBLICITY SEEKERS IN THE PAY OF THE WESTBelarusian Television on 3 June reported on the hunger strike of Parfyanovich, Skrabets, and Fralou, but did not mention either their demand to change the Election Code or the statement warning against the possible prolongation of presidential powers by Lukashenka. Instead, the network commented that the deputies' action is an example of "political self-advertisement." "This is sheer window dressing," the network quoted Chamber of Representatives deputy speaker Uladzimir Kanaplyou as saying. "All the parliament knows that they -- be it Parfyanovich or Fralou -- are going to run for the presidency in the future.... And, of course, there is another motive. Certain Western circles have announced that a lot of money has been dumped in Belarus, and the boys are simply working off this money." The network added that the hunger strike has been planned by the three deputies jointly with Russia's NTV channel. JM
 CONVICTED BELARUSIAN SCIENTIST CHANGES PENITENTIARIESYury Bandazheuski, a prominent Belarusian researcher who was sentenced to eight years in prison on corruption charges in 2001, has been transferred from a prison in Minsk to an open-type correctional facility in Hrodna Oblast, Belapan reported on 3 June. Bandazheuski was convicted of taking bribes in exchange for admission while serving in the post of rector at the Homel State Medical Institute. He flatly denied the corruption charge, saying the authorities were taking revenge on him for highlighting the disastrous effects of the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster. Under amnesty laws enacted in 2002 and 2004, his sentence was shortened by two years. Bandazheuski has been declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International. JM
 GERMAN ENVOY URGES MINSK TO RATIFY ACCORD ON WAR GRAVESGerman Ambassador to Belarus Helmut Frick has expressed hope that Belarus's National Assembly will soon ratify an interstate agreement on caring for war graves signed in 1996, Belapan reported on 3 June. The agreement, submitted for ratification in 1997, has not yet been endorsed by lawmakers, allegedly because of strong opposition from World War II veterans. It is estimated that at least 86,000 Germans fallen during World War II are buried in Belarus. Germany wants to rebury their remains at specially designated cemeteries on Belarusian soil. Frick said his meetings with Belarusian veterans has convinced him that they are not opposed to the ratification. "It is our strong hope that the atmosphere in the government and parliament on the eve of the liberation anniversary will be right for ratification, of which we have been assured so many times," Frick said. Belarus will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the liberation from Nazi occupation on 3 July. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PUNISHES ARMY OFFICIALS OVER AMMUNITION-DEPOT BLASTPresident Leonid Kuchma has sacked General Staff chief Oleksandr Zatynayko and Land Troops commander Petro Shulyak, finding them guilty of official negligence that could have led to the recent explosion at an ammunition depot in Zaporizhzhya Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 May 2004), Interfax reported, quoting presidential spokeswoman Olena Hromnytska. Kuchma also reprimanded Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk over the blast. JM
 KYIV SAYS SEIZED UKRAINIAN ARMS SHIPMENT IS 'NORMAL CARGO'Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy told journalists on 3 June that an arms shipment halted earlier this week by Turkish authorities in the Bosphorus Strait was "normal cargo," dpa reported. Lubkivskyy said the ship, sailing under a Maltese flag with six Ukrainian crew, was carrying a consignment of small arms and other weaponry from Ukraine to Egypt. The Turkish detention of the vessel earlier this week resulted from "improper seals on some of the shipped containers," rather than from indications that the shipment was in any way illegitimate, Lubkivskyy added. He declined to provide details of the arms deal or comment on the statement of Ukrspetseksport, Ukraine's principal arms exporter, that it has no connection to the shipment. Some Turkish media have speculated that the seized shipment -- which reportedly included grenade launchers, antitank rockets, artillery shells, automatic rifles, and other ammunition -- was intended for use in a possible terrorist attack against participants in a NATO summit scheduled in Istanbul for 28-29 June. JM
 HAGUE PROSECUTOR SAYS CROATIA COOPERATES FULLY...Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Zagreb on 3 June that Croatia cooperates fully with that body, Reuters reported. "Finally, I have come to a Balkan state that is fully cooperating," she added. She suggested that the tribunal will shortly allow Croatia to take over some war crimes investigations and try some indictees, including perhaps former Generals Mirko Norac and Rahim Ademi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003). Del Ponte said that the case of fugitive former General Ante Gotovina is the only "open issue" between Zagreb and the tribunal, adding, however, that she expects it will be resolved "soon." Gotovina is one of the most wanted war crimes indictees in former Yugoslavia. The Croatian authorities maintain that he is not in Croatia, suggesting that the former member of the French Foreign Legion has a French passport that enables him to travel easily. The EU expects Croatia to resolve the Gotovina case before Croatia can be admitted to the bloc (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2004). PM
 ...AND PROMISES BOSNIAN INDICTMENTSDel Ponte said in Sarajevo on 3 June that investigations are proceeding in The Hague regarding three Bosnian Muslim leaders during the 1992-95 conflict, namely former Bosnian Presidency member Ejup Ganic, and former Generals Rasim Delic and Sakib Mahmuljina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. She said that the investigations will be completed and possible indictments issued by the end of 2004. PM
 HAGUE TRIBUNAL TO RELEASE FORMER YUGOSLAV OFFICER FOR PSYCHIATRIC TREATMENTOfficials at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal decided on 3 June to release former Yugoslav Army Captain Vladimir Kovacevic "Rambo" for six months of psychiatric treatment at Belgrade's Medical Academy, Reuters reported. Kovacevic is charged with six counts of violations of the laws and customs of war, including murder and cruel treatment, during the 1991 shelling of Dubrovnik. Doctors told the tribunal that he is suffering from a "serious mental disorder which [currently] renders him unfit to enter a plea or stand trial" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2003). PM
 CROATIA MOVES TO EASE FISHING-ZONE DISPUTEThe Croatian parliament voted on 3 June to exempt EU members from its self-proclaimed "exclusive fishing and ecological zone" in the Adriatic, Reuters reported. The move is aimed at easing tensions with EU members Italy and Slovenia, which objected to the creation of the zone (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 October 2004). The Croatian government's main foreign policy goal is to join the EU by 2007. The creation of the zone in 2003 was widely seen as an attempt to influence the final delineation of the Croatian-Slovenian maritime border. PM
 MONTENEGRIN POLICE CHIEF SAYS SOLVING MURDER CASE IS HIS TOP PRIORITYMontenegrin Interior Minister Dragan Djurovic said in Podgorica on 3 June that his ministry's top priority is solving the murder case of leading opposition journalist Dusko Jovanovic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 June 2004). Elsewhere, investigating Judge Radomir Ivanovic said that police have arrested at least three men in connection with the case, namely karate expert Damir Mandic, nightclub owner Leon Dresaj, and one Dejan Djukic. PM
 KOSOVA AUTHORITIES LAUNCH RECONSTRUCTION OF SERBIAN VILLAGEOn 2 June, the government of Kosova began the reconstruction of the Serb-inhabited village of Svinjare as part of an $11 million package to repair damage stemming from the 17-18 March unrest, "Southeast European Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March, and 2 and 16 April 2004). PM
 BOSNIAN SERB FARMERS PROTEST AGAINST GOVERNMENTAbout 500 farmers blocked roads and government buildings in Banja Luka on 3 June to protest what they said is government indifference to their problems, dpa reported. They want the Bosnian Serb and Serbian legislatures to pass laws to protect domestic agriculture against imports. Several farmers passed out free chicken and pork to passers-by, saying the meat is available from domestic production at a time when the authorities continue to import foreign products. PM
 FORMER NATO COMMANDER SAYS MEMBERSHIP WILL RADICALLY TRANSFORM ROMANIARetired General Wesley Clark, the former NATO supreme commander Europe, said in Bucharest on 3 June that membership in the Atlantic alliance will bring about Romania's economic, military, and cultural transformation, Mediafax reported. Clark said that "billions and billions of U.S. dollars" would be invested in Romania, which would bring education to thousands and create jobs for tens of thousands. He said Western businessmen are now confident that their investments in Romania are protected. MS
 ROMANIAN PREMIER WRITES TO UKRAINIAN COUNTERPART ON CANAL PROJECTAdrian Nastase sent a letter last week about the planned Bystraya Canal to his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych, according to an official communique released on 3 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2004). Nastase warned in his letter that the construction of the canal, which started last month, might bring about irreparable ecological damage to the environmentally sensitive Danube delta. He said Romania's earlier warnings to Ukraine have been ignored. Nastase also said that the two countries should settle any dispute in bilateral discussions by "open and constructive dialogue," as agreed by Presidents Ion Iliescu and Leonid Kuchma during the recent summit at the Black Sea resort of Mamaia. MS
 ROMANIAN LIBERAL LEADER DEMANDS PREMIER'S RESIGNATIONNational Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan said on 3 June that Prime Minister Nastase and Education Minister Alexandru Athanasiu ought to resign, Mediafax reported. Stolojan said Nastase and Athanasiu are personally responsible for a governmental decision approved in early May that allocated 30 billion lei ($925,212) to the private Nicolae Titulescu University. The university's rector is ruling Social Democratic Party parliamentary Deputy Ion Neagu. The decision was rescinded in the wake of protests by the opposition and the independent media. MS
 ROMANIA SIGNALS REFUSAL TO ALLOW ENTRY OF U.S.-EXPELLED NAZIThe Romanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement issued on 3 June that foreigners or stateless citizens suspected of having participated in crimes in Nazi concentration camps are legally not allowed access to Romanian territory. The ministry said the prohibition stems from a governmental emergency ordinance approved in 2002. The statement follows the decision of a St. Louis tribunal earlier this week, which ruled that the U.S. government can expel Romania-born Michael Negele, who served as an SS guard in the Nazi concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Teresienstadt. Negele entered the U.S. in 1950 on the basis of a visa he received in Germany, according to an AP report dated 2 June (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2002). MS
 MOLDOVAN PPCD DEMANDS GOVERNMENTAL REACTION ON SMIRNOV'S SOUTH OSSETIA STATEMENTOpposition Popular Party Christian Democratic Chairman Iurie Rosca on 3 June demanded that Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev reply in parliament to a statement made the previous day by separatist leader Igor Smirnov, Flux reported. According to both Flux and Infotag, Smirnov said that if hostilities break out between Georgia and South Ossetia, Transdniester "will render military help" to the Ossetian separatists. Smirnov said that extending such aid is an obligation Transdniester undertook when it signed a treaty of mutual help with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. On 3 June, Infotag cited Georgian State Minister for Conflicts George Haindrava as saying that "people who make such statements should clearly think of the consequences that might derive from them." The agency also cited Georgian Ambassador to Ukraine Grigol Katamadze as telling journalists in Kyiv that "Georgia is equipped with everything necessary to curb any attempt at interfering in its domestic affairs and will not allow any armed forces onto its territory." MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AID ORGANIZATION HALTS OPERATIONS IN AFGHANISTAN AFTER KILLINGS...Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has suspended all of its operations in Afghanistan as of 3 June after five of its staff were killed in the northern Afghan province of Badghis a day earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2004), "The Guardian" reported on 4 June. "For the time being our activities will be suspended nationwide," MSF acting head of mission in Afghanistan, Samuel Hauenstein, said in Kabul. MSF staff in Afghanistan are being moved to safer areas of the country. MSF has been working in Afghanistan since 1979. The organization is currently working in 12 provinces with around 80 expat and 1,400 local staff giving primary health care and support to provincial and regional hospitals. AT
 ...AS RIGHTS GROUP SAYS 32 AID WORKERS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN LAST YEARIn a statement released on 4 June, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that at least 32 aid workers have been killed in Afghanistan since March 2003 and the neo-Taliban have been implicated in many of these attacks. Commenting on the five workers killed on 2 June, John Sifton, an Afghanistan researcher for HRW, said, "These were people who had devoted themselves to helping and healing Afghans," adding that attacks against "relief workers directly harms the millions of Afghans who rely on humanitarian aid for their food and health." HRW called on the neo-Taliban to cease attacks on civilians and humanitarian staff and denounced neo-Taliban leaders for suggesting that such attacks were justified. AT
 NEO-TALIBAN REPORTEDLY CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR KILLING POLICE CHIEFThe neo-Taliban have indicated they killed Haji Ajab Shah, the security commander of Jalalabad, the provincial capital of Nangarhar Province in eastern Afghanistan on 1 June, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 June. Ajab Shah was killed when an explosive device detonated under his desk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 June 2004). The report does not give any more details about the identity of the source. AT
 FORMER AFGHAN PRESIDENT ENDORSES KARZAISebghatullah Mojaddedi endorsed Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's candidacy for the presidency in the upcoming September elections, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 3 June. Mojaddedi served briefly as the first president of the Islamic State of Afghanistan in 1992 following the fall of the communist regime in that country. During the struggle against Soviet forces in Afghanistan, Karzai worked for Mojaddedi's Peshawar-based National Liberation Front of Afghanistan. AT
 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE CALLS SONGS BY WOMEN UNCONSTITUTIONALAhmad Shah Ahmadzai told a gathering of the Ulama Council of Afghanistan that the broadcasting policy of Afghan radio and television stations is contradictory to the country's constitution, Hindukosh News Agency reported on 3 June. Ahmadzai specifically cited the airing of songs by women artists as being un-Islamic. The new Afghan Constitution gives equal rights to men and women and does not specifically ban songs by female singers. However, Article 3 of the document stipulates that "no law can be contrary to the sacred religion of Islam" -- a clause that can easily be used by conservative religious forces to block legislation that they deem to be un-Islamic (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 6 and 13 November 2003). Ahmadzai was a member of the conservative Islamic Unity Party Of Afghanistan led by Abdul Rabb al-Rasul Sayyaf and was a high-ranking member of the mujahedin administration in the early 1990s. AT
 U.S. ENVOY ACCUSES IRAN OF DECEIT OVER NUCLEAR ACTIVITIESThe U.S. envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Kenneth Brill, said on 2 June that the 1 June IAEA report on Iran's nuclear activities confirms U.S. suspicions that Iran has a secret program to make nuclear bombs, news agencies reported. He said Iran's persistent refusal to cooperate fully with IAEA inspectors "fits a long-term pattern of denial and deception...designed to mask Iran's military nuclear program," Reuters reported the same day. Iran insists its nuclear program is strictly designed to meet its civilian energy needs and wants the IAEA to confirm this at a scheduled mid-June meeting of its governing board. The IAEA report observed that a number of questions need to be answered before it can confirm Iran's claim. "Unanswered questions continued to be the hallmark of Iranian cooperation with" the IAEA, Reuters quoted Brill as saying. The U.S. envoy added that the "more the IAEA digs, the more problems it finds" and "its list of outstanding issues is larger than...in March," when the IAEA last issued a report on Iran. VS
 REPORT SAYS NO COMPENSATION FOR TEHRAN AIRPORT CLOSUREThe Iranian government has reportedly decided not to restore the running of Tehran's new Imam Khomeini Airport to a Turkish-led consortium, IRNA reported on 2 June, citing the Turkish-based "Vatan." The consortium, Tepe-Akfen-Vie (TAV), built the airport and had an agreement to run the operations. On 8 May, the airport's first day of operation, Iranian troops blocked the runway, citing the presence of foreign TAV staff as a security risk (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 May 2004). Iran reportedly informed Turkey "early this week" that it will pay TAV some $15 million, which TAV spent on staff training and equipment for the airport's first terminal, IRNA reported. But the government may not compensate the consortium for the loss of future profits because Iran and TAV have no contract, only a less formal agreement on the airport's construction, expansion, and operation, IRNA added, citing "Vatan." Turkey has warned the closure may damage business ties with Iran and discourage Turkish investment in Iran. VS
 IRANIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER IN TURKEYIranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohsen Aminzadeh met with the Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in Ankara on 3 June, during a visit to discuss bilateral, economic, and political ties, iribnews.ir and IRNA reported the same day. According to IRNA, Gul said that Iran and Turkey are continuing negotiations over the TAV airport agreement. "These are matters that must be discussed and examined in a peaceful environment," IRNA quoted him as saying. Gul added that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit Tehran in late June, IRNA reported. VS
 IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER WANTS IRAQIS TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN GOVERNMENTIran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Tehran on 3 June, a day after Iranian officials gave a cautious welcome to the new Iraqi interim government, that "the occupiers...have no right to appoint a single official" in Iraq, IRNA and ISNA reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2004). He said that the votes of [Iraqis] must determine Iraq's fate and insisted "Iran does not interfere in Iraq's affairs," IRNA reported. Coalition forces, he said, "must abandon Iraq without delaying so much as another day." Khamenei ridiculed U.S. President George W. Bush's stated goal of democratising the Middle East and said the world can "clearly see the American version of democracy and human rights in the crimes of [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, the humiliation of the peoples of Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and the...torture of prisoners in Abu Ghurayb and Guantanamo." Iran has often condemned U.S. support for Israel, which Iran accuses of violating Palestinian rights. VS
 IRAQI FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS IRAQ STILL NEEDS FOREIGN FORCES...Hoshyar Zebari, the newly appointed foreign minister in the interim Iraqi government, told the UN Security Council on 3 June that Iraq requires the "continued assistance and partnership" of foreign troops, RFE/RL reported. However, he added that "we also need this presence to be regulated under arrangements that neither compromise the sovereignty of the interim government nor the right of the multinational force to defend itself." Zebari addressed the UN Security Council as was considering a revised draft resolution on Iraq proposed by the United States and the U.K. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 June 2004). While Security Council members France and Germany have called for a resolution on Iraq to include a fixed date for the end of the international force's mandate, Zebari said that "a call for the immediate withdrawal or a fixed deadline or timetable would be very, very unhelpful." He said that such a deadline could be used by enemies of the new government "to complicate the problems even further," and that "as we are ready to assume responsibility [for security]" a withdrawal "can be done as soon as possible." MES
 ...BUT CALLS FOR SOME INPUT INTO THEIR DEPLOYMENTForeign Minister Zebari on 3 June said that the international forces and the Iraqi authorities must find common ground in their relationship after the 30 June transfer of power that would give the new government some say in U.S. military operations in Iraq, RFE/RL reported. "If there are some major offensive military operations that will have political and security implications on the country as a whole, definitely the views of the Iraqi interim government should be taken into consideration and we should have a say in endorsing this kind of operation," Zebari told reporters after addressing the UN Security Council. The same day, U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Negroponte told the council that the transfer of sovereignty to the interim government "will be a true partnership, founded on shared goals and tangible cooperation at all levels -- from the soldiers on foot patrols to the highest levels of two sovereign governments." MES
 U.S. SKIRMISHES WITH IRAQI MILITIA AS ATTEMPTS TO SHORE UP TRUCE CONTINUEFollowing fighting between U.S. troops and militiamen loyal to radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Al-Najaf and Al-Kufah on 2 June, al-Sadr met Shi'a political leaders on 3 June to attempt to shore up a truce made last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2004), international media reported. Al-Sadr reportedly agreed to withdraw his Imam Al-Mahdi Army from the two Shi'a holy cities within two days as long as U.S. forces also withdraw. Fighting erupted in Al-Najaf briefly on 2 June, while at least five Iraqis were killed in fighting in Al-Kufah the same day, according to hospital officials, and the U.S. military said three soldiers were wounded. On 3 June, insurgents fired mortars and rocket-propelled grenades at a police station housing U.S. troops in Baghdad's Shi'a district of Al-Sadr City, starting fighting in which three Iraqis were killed, AP reported. Also, four U.S. soldiers were reported killed and five wounded on 3 June when their convoy was attacked near the edge of Al-Sadr City. DW
 BELARUSIAN DEPUTIES HOPEFUL HUNGER STRIKE WILL FORCE CHANGEBy Jan Maksymiuk and Alex Znatkevich
Three deputies of Belarus's 110-seat Chamber of Representatives, Uladzimir Parfyanovich, Syarhey Skrabets, and Valery Fralou, went on a hunger strike in the parliamentary building in Minsk on 3 June to protest the blockade by the parliamentary leadership of their initiative to put on the agenda a draft bill providing for changes to the Election Code. Their move followed the parliamentary session earlier the same day where parliamentary speaker Vadzim Papou switched off the microphone in the session hall when Fralou was trying to persuade other deputies to put the issue on the agenda.
The three deputies believe -- and this belief is shared by European election watchdogs and much of the Belarusian opposition -- that the country's current Election Code is undemocratic, particularly in its provisions limiting the rights of political parties and nongovernmental organizations to be chosen for election commissions as well as the rights of election observers in monitoring the election process. The Election Code also provides for early voting five days ahead of the election day, which is widely regarded to be a convenient opportunity for the authorities to manipulate and/or rig elections.
In the statement Parfyanovich, Skrabets, and Fralou publicized shortly before launching their protest, they also warn against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's possible attempt to stage a "constitutional coup d'etat" in order to remain in power beyond 2006, when his second and last presidential term ends. "Mr. President and people surrounding you, we are well aware of your plans to organize another constitutional coup d'etat," the statement said. "But this is not 1996 and you won't get away with a referendum. Alyaksandr Lukashenka is the president only as long as he carries out his functions in accordance with the current constitution. If he attempts to break it once again, if he only thinks about it, even through a referendum, he will instantly lose his legitimacy and become a common citizen of our country who can face criminal proceedings."
RFE/RL's Belarusian Service conducted telephone interviews with Valery Fralou and Syarhey Skrabets late in the evening of 3 June. Below are translated excerpts:
RFE/RL: Where are you right now?
Syarhey Skrabets: I am in the parliamentary building, along with my colleague, General Fralou.
RFE/RL: Are you going to stay overnight there, all three of you?
Skrabets: Yes, sure. We are going to stay here for the night.
RFE/RL: Do you expect the authorities to meet you halfway as regards your demands?
Skrabets: I think we can expect some steps. We even can expect that our bill proposing changes to the election legislation will be put on the agenda of the Chamber of Representatives.
RFE/RL: Do you think that your bill will be passed?
Skrabets: We cannot count on this now, but in my view the deputies will be split equally over the bill -- one half will vote for it, the other will not take part in the voting.
RFE/RL: Have there been any attempts by parliamentary guards to remove you? Or have you made some deal with them?
Skrabets: We have not made any deal with them. Right now we are in the parliament. The guards have not requested or demanded that we do something. But the parliament was cordoned off all day long by the presidential protection service. They did not let anybody in. We left the parliament three times to talk with different correspondents and those people who came to support us.
RFE/RL: How have your friends and families reacted to this radical step of yours?
Skrabets: Not everybody approves of this step, but we need to do something. Our political allies think that we are unprepared for this struggle. And when will we be prepared for it, I ask? When we were in the session hall and Fralou was prevented from speaking in the microphone, and the speaker decided to halt the session, we were forced to take this measure.
RFE/RL: Was the protest an improvisation, not a planned step?
Skrabets: Yes, it was. And later we disseminated our statement. We have been trying to put our bill on the parliamentary agenda for more than a year, but were always blocked.
RFE/RL: What was the reaction of other deputies to your protest?
Valery Fralou: It seems to me that they have not yet understood what happened. When they read newspapers tomorrow, I think many of them will look at this situation differently. Particularly since there were many people in front of the parliament today [when we were reading our statement]. Unfortunately, many deputies have not realized who they were during these 3 1/2 years [after they were elected to the legislature]. They have not realized that they are people's deputies.
RFE/RL: Radio Liberty has been informed that you may move your protest to a private apartment. Do you think that by doing so you will be able to remain in the public spotlight?
Fralou: What does a hunger strike mean? It is when a man ceases to eat. Now we need to continue doing our work, which does not boil down to a hunger strike. We have a lot of work to do. We will be making trips instead of sitting here covered with some quilts. When we'll get tired, when it'll become really difficult for us, we will lay down. But as long as we keep our strength, we will be working.