|Saturday, 25 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 04-06-21
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 MINISTER SAYS YUKOS IN TALKS WITH TAX MINISTRYFinance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told a Moscow investment conference on 21 June that embattled oil giant Yukos is conducting talks with the Tax Ministry regarding its alleged tax arrears, lenta.ru reported. "As far as I know, Yukos has offered to cooperate with the Tax Ministry to resolve the [ministry's] claims," Kudrin said. "I believe that Yukos has sufficient assets to pay its obligations. Let the company sell some assets on the open market." Kudrin said the government does not wish to see Yukos bankrupted and added, "I think the tax organs in the United States would have acted far more forcefully in a similar situation." Yukos executives recently suggested they would be willing to exchange shares in a planned rights issue to pay off any residual tax debt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 18 June 2004). RC
 DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIAN FORCES READY FOR FAR EAST EXERCISESDefense Minister Sergei Ivanov told President Vladimir Putin during a meeting at the Kremlin on 19 June that Russian troops are prepared for the next phase of military exercises slated to begin in the Russian Far East on 21 June, ORT reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2004). Some 5,500 paratroopers from an elite Pskov-based airborne division and 600 units of heavy military hardware were airlifted from western Russia to Primorskii Krai for the exercises, according to Ivanov. VY
 PRESIDENT SIGNS NEW LAW ON PUBLIC DEMONSTRATIONSPresident Putin signed into law on 21 June a controversial bill on holding public demonstrations, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. The bill passed the Duma on 2 June and the Federation Council on 9 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 10 June 2004). Activists say the bill threatens the public's right to demonstrate despite revisions that were introduced following the bill's first reading in the Duma. Under the new law, organizers of demonstrations must inform local authorities of their plans at least 10 days in advance. RC
 RUSSIAN LEADERS HONOR CONTROVERSIAL STATE-SECURITY DIVISIONPresident Putin sent a congratulatory message on 19 June to the special-forces unit of the Interior Ministry -- formerly known as the Feliks Dzerzhinskii division after the Cheka's founder -- on the 80th anniversary of the unit's creation, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev presented Putin's message and honored the division's commander, Major General Sergei Melikov, at a ceremony in Moscow. Speaking at the same function, Audit Chamber Chairman and former Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin (who also served as a ministry political officer) urged that the unit be rechristened with "the decent name" of Dzerzhinskii, which was dropped under President Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov also congratulated the unit on its anniversary. Norilsk Nickel, which is part of the financial-industrial empire of Vladimir Potanin, announced a major financial contribution to the division. Created as an elite formation of Soviet state-security organs, the unit participated in operations against Islamic rebels known as "bashmachi" in Central Asia in the 1920s, Stalinist ethnic cleansing, and the suppression of anti-Soviet insurgents in Western Ukraine in the late 1940s. VY
 NATIONAL NETWORK BROADCASTS ANOTHER ANDROPOV DOCUMENTARYNTV, which is owned by state-controlled gas giant Gazprom, aired a new documentary on Yurii Andropov in a weekend prime-time slot on 19 June, just days after state broadcaster ORT screened another program on the former KGB chairman and Soviet leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 June 2004). The more recent film was produced by former NTV anchor and liberal journalist Yevgenii Kiselev. While Kiselev notes Andropov's disregard for human rights and his devotion to authoritarian government, he describes Andropov as a "victim of his era and environment" rather than an organizer of repression targeting Soviet dissidents. Kiselev, who taught at the KGB's Higher School from 1982-86, brings a considerable amount of new information from Andropov's private life into the public eye in the documentaries -- including that his mother was named Yevgeniya Favstein, although it is unclear whether she was Jewish by birth or was adopted by a Jewish family. VY
 DOCUMENTARY QUESTIONS CIRCUMSTANCES AROUND MARSHAL AKHROMEEV'S DEATHNational broadcaster RTR aired a documentary on 20 June revisiting the presumed suicide in August 1991 of former Soviet Chief of the General Staff Marshal Sergei Akhromeev following the failure of a putsch to unseat Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Akhromeev was found hanged in his Kremlin office. The official version of events suggested that Akhromeev, a special adviser to Gorbachev and a devoted communist, could not bear to witness the collapse of the Soviet Union and reportedly asked for Gorbachev's forgiveness in a suicide note over his links to the putschists. In the new documentary, however, former Soviet Foreign Minister Georgii Kornienko suggests that Akhromeev was killed because he "knew too much about the treacherous role of then Soviet Foreign Minister [sic] Eduard Shevardnadze." Renowned weapons designer Sergei Nepobedimyi echoes the claim in the program, adding that Akhromeev had access to closely held secrets because military intelligence reported to Akhromeev. The producers of the documentary note that none of the Russian leadership appeared at Akhromeev's funeral, while then U.S. President Ronald Reagan and other U.S. leaders sent their condolences. VY
 PRO-KREMLIN YOUTH GROUP ACCUSES MEDIA OF WIDESPREAD CORRUPTIONVasilii Yakimenko, the leader of pro-Putin youth organization Walking Together, announced in Moscow on 18 June that he has evidence to back recent allegations by his group of corruption in the media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2004), "Izvestiya" reported. Yakimenko said his organization made a proposal to nine major newspapers and Internet outlets whereby those media would republish Walking Together pieces but present them as their own. Yakimenko said the sting-like operation cost his group $100,000, although he did not say where the funding came from. He added that the published articles in question were written in such a way that they can be viewed with a "decoder" that effectively highlights a confession of guilt within the pieces. Yakimenko singled out "Novaya gazeta," "Komsomolskaya pravda," "Moskovskie novosti," "Nezavisimaya gazeta," "Moskovskii komsomolets," "Gazeta," and "Kommersant-Daily" for mention. VY
 ANTIMONOPOLY CHIEF CALLS FOR IMPROVED LEGISLATIONFederal Antimonopoly Service Director Igor Artemev told Radio Mayak on 19 June that monopolies in Russia are "very dangerous," adding that his "main dream" is to see the country's legislation bolstered so that citizens can effectively defend themselves against monopolies. He said his service recently filed several complaints in Stavropol Krai against companies allegedly fixing gasoline prices. In all, he said the service is currently involved in about 100 legal cases. RC
 COURT UPHOLDS REQUIREMENT THAT REGIONS DO THEIR BANKING AT CENTRAL BANKThe Constitutional Court on 17 June upheld the constitutionality of the part of the Budget Code that prohibits regional governments from using commercial banks to service their budgetary accounts, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 June. The case was filed by the administrations of St. Petersburg, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Khakasia. Under the Budget Code, all regional-administration accounts must be serviced by the Central Bank. That provision was introduced in 2000 following repeated cases of commercial banks delaying payments for social benefits and for state-sector workers. The court ruled that the requirement that administrations use the Central Bank ensures maximal transparency in the budget system. RC
 EXPERT ON RACISM, XENOPHOBIA KILLEDNikolai Girenko, a leading researcher of the Academy of Science's Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography and one of Russia's foremost experts on xenophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism, was shot dead in his St. Petersburg apartment on 19 June, Russian media reported. For the past several years, Girenko has chaired the Petersburg Academics Union's Minority Rights Committee and has appeared as an expert witness in numerous trials involving alleged skinheads and neo-Nazis, strana.ru reported on 21 June. Activists believe that his testimony "played a decisive role" in securing many convictions, according to a statement by the Moscow Human Rights Bureau that was posted on strana.ru. The statement asked Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to take control of the investigation of the case. RC
 FAR EASTERN MINERS BEGIN HUNGER STRIKEEighty-three coalminers at the Rakovskii mine in Primorskii Krai have announced a hunger strike, newsru.com and Interfax reported on 21 June. The strikers are seeking back wages for August-November 2003 and April-May 2004. RC
 POP STAR BLAMES JOURNALIST FOR ROSTOV NEWS-CONFERENCE SCANDALRussian Union of Journalists General Secretary Igor Yakovenko urged journalists on 18 June to implement "an absolute, 100 percent" boycott of pop star Filipp Kirkorov, strana.ru reported. Kirkorov has been widely criticized for swearing at and belittling a journalist at a 20 May news conference in Rostov-na-Donu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 18 June 2004). Yakovenko described Kirkorov's behavior as "pathological boorishness." Kirkorov, who is currently performing in the United States, told the New York radio station Narodnaya volna on 20 June that "since the Rostov-na-Donu scandal, sales of my albums have increased by a factor of five," newsru.com reported on 21 June. "The person who asked the question was so clearly unprofessional in her phrasing and motivation that I immediately put her in her place," Kirkorov said. He claimed that the journalist "provoked" him into swearing at her and making sexually suggestive comments. RTR television executive Dmitrii Konnov told strana.ru on 21 June that his station will not join the growing boycott against Kirkorov. STS television told the website that it will continue to broadcast its regular program "Utro s Kirkorovym," and Russkoye radio and Mayak declined to comment. RC
 DAGHESTAN TELEVISION CHIEF WOUNDED IN ATTEMPT ON HIS LIFEAn unidentified gunman in Makhachkala shot and seriously wounded the head of the Daghestan radio and television Tagib Abdusalamov on 18 June, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 19 June. Abdusalamov was shot in the chest and remains hospitalized in serious condition. Police suspect that the assailant used a sniper's rifle with a silencer to carry out the attack. Daghestan television, which is part of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK), has by far the most extensive broadcast area in the republic and is considered an important tool of federal influence over the republican administration. RC
 INGUSHETIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN AGAIN PROTESTS TO PUTINIngushetian parliament deputy Musa Ozdoev has written a second time to President Putin to protest corruption and embezzlement within the republic's top leadership, ingushetiya.ru reported on 18 June. Ozdoev wrote to Putin two months ago detailing the alleged falsification in Ingushetia of the outcome of the 7 December State Duma elections and warning that as a result of the policies pursued by Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, the situation in the republic is "explosive" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2004). In his most recent letter, Ozdoev deplored the Ingushetian Supreme Court's rejection of appeals to invalidate the election results (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2004). He also decried what he termed President Zyazikov's systematic repression of all media outlets that criticize him and his policies. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER DENIES RUMORS OF NEW U.S. PEACE PLAN ON KARABAKHVartan Oskanian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 18 June that there is no truth to claims by opposition politicians and media outlets that during his visit to Yerevan earlier this month, the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Steven Mann, presented a new interim peace plan for Karabakh that would entail the withdrawal of Armenian forces from three occupied Azerbaijani districts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2004). Speaking in Yerevan on 17 June, U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John Ordway similarly denied that a new proposal was unveiled during the co-chairs' most recent visit to the region, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Azerbaijani independent daily "Ekho" nonetheless reported on 19 June that the Armenian government is in "panic" after U.S. officials allegedly pressured Oskanian during his visit to Washington last week to agree to the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Djebrail, Fizuli, and Zangelan. Oskanian was scheduled to meet in Prague on 20 and 21 June with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov and the Minsk Group co-chairs for further talks on resolving the Karabakh conflict. LF
 JUDGE ORDERS AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS TO BE BROUGHT TO COURT BY FORCEMansur Ibaev, the presiding judge in the trial of seven Azerbaijani oppositionists charged in connection with the 15-16 October clashes in Baku following the disputed presidential election, ruled on 18 June that the seven accused should be brought to the courtroom by force on 22 June, the date of the next session, Turan reported. The seven men have been boycotting the proceedings since they began on 10 June to protest alleged bias and procedural violations during the investigation and preliminary hearing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 May and 1 and 11 June 2004). On 19 June, an umbrella group uniting Azerbaijani human rights organizations issued an appeal to the seven men to abandon their boycott and participate in the trial in order to provide concrete evidence of their innocence to international human rights organizations that are monitoring the trial, Turan reported. LF
 AZERBAIJANI POLITICIANS PROTEST PRIMAKOV VISIT TO BAKUOpposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mammedov and Hudrat Hasanquliyev, head of the so-called "Three Gs" group (Gruppa Gudrata Gasankulieva), issued separate statements on 18 June protesting the visit to Baku by Yevgenii Primakov, chairman of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Turan reported. The two men pointed to Primakov's alleged role in the dispatch to Baku in January 1990 of Soviet army troops who killed at least 120 civilians. At that time Primakov was a senior official of the USSR Supreme Soviet. During Primakov's 18 June meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, both men positively assessed the expansion in recent years of bilateral economic and cultural ties. On 19 June, Primakov and the chairman of Azerbaijan's Chamber of Commerce, Suleiman Tatliev (who served in the 1980s as chairman of the Azerbaijan SSR Supreme Soviet) signed a cooperation agreement between their respective organizations, Turan reported. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENTIAL PARTY SET TO WIN ADJARAN ELECTIONSThe Mikheil Saakashvili-Victorious Adjara party appears to have won an overwhelming majority of the seats in the new Adjaran parliament, Russian and Georgian media reported on 21 June. Some 125,000 voters, or more than half the estimated total, cast their ballot in elections the previous day, the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Eight political parties and one bloc were contesting the 30 seats in the new parliament; the only other party likely to win representation is the Republican Party, for most of the past decade the only opposition force in Adjara. On 21 June, the senior police official in the Adjaran district of Khelvachauri was dismissed for failing to prevent a brawl between supporters of Georgian President and members of the Republican Party and the Young Lawyers Association who were monitoring the vote in a bid to prevent fraud, Rustavi-2 reported. Russian media on 20 June quoted members of the Adjaran Supreme Election Commission as denying that any "serious" procedural violations took place. But Republican Party leader David Berdzenishvili accused Saakashvili's supporters of "crude vote-rigging," and warned that he might withdraw his support for the president, Reuters reported. LF
 GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT DEPUTY CRITICIZES ADJARAN ELECTION OFFICIALKoba Davitashvili told journalists in Batumi on 20 June that he plans to sue Adjaran Supreme Election Commission acting Chairman Irakli Paghava for branding as illegal and warning voters not to participate in an unofficial initiative conducted by Davitashvili's Georgian Unity NGO on 20 June, Caucasus Press reported. Davitashvili was collecting signatures under a petition calling for the abolition of Adjara's status as an autonomous republic within Georgia. President Saakashvili has said repeatedly that Adjara's autonomy will be preserved. LF
 FORMER ADJARAN LEADER'S BODYGUARDS DETAINEDTwelve members of the personal guard of deposed Adjaran leader Aslan Abashidze were detained on the morning of 21 June in Batumi, where they were patrolling the home of Abashidze's daughter Diana, who arrived in the Adjaran capital the previous day to mark the first anniversary of her mother's death, Georgian media reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Koba Kharrazi, a member of the Adjaran interim administration, as saying the men are members of an armed group that was planning "illegal actions" against the region's new government. In Tbilisi, Georgian Interior Minister Irakli Okruashvili told journalists on 21 June that his men will question Diana Abashidze, as she is identified as the legal owner of assets allegedly stolen by her father, Caucasus Press reported. LF
 GEORGIA DENIES OFFER TO HOST NATO BASESThe Georgian Defense Ministry issued a statement on 18 June denying Russian media reports that Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze said in Brussels the previous day after meeting with senior NATO officials that Tbilisi is prepared to host a U.S. or NATO military presence, Caucasus Press reported. The ministry quoted Baramidze as saying that Georgia will send a contingent of military medical personnel to serve with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, and is prepared to permit NATO antiterrorism forces to use Georgian territory for training purposes prior to their deployment to Afghanistan. LF
 HAS ABKHAZIA RECRUITED A RUSSIAN GENERAL?Harri Kupalba, a deputy defense minister of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, has dismissed as "absurd" Russian press reports of 17 June claiming that retired Lieutenant General Anatolii Zaitsev has been named a deputy defense minister, Caucasus Press reported on 18 June. "Kommersant-Daily" on 17 June claimed that after issuing several denials the previous day, the Abkhaz government finally confirmed Zaitsev's appointment. LF
 KAZAKHSTAN HOSTS EURASIAN ECONOMIC SUMMIT...A presidential session of the Eurasian Economic Community's (EEC) Interstate Council took place in Astana on 18 June, Kazinform reported. The participants signed a treaty on legislative harmonization and an agreement for cooperation on securities markets. They also discussed numerous issues related to the EEC's overall agenda of economic integration. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced at the session's closing news conference that the session approved a plan for cooperation on banking regulation and supervision, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Nazarbaev also suggested that member states coordinate positions on accession to the World Trade Organization. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov cautioned that integration efforts have not yet "put in place conditions for the free movement of capital, freight, workers, and services," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Rakhmonov also stressed the importance of a common energy market, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Finally, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the EEC the "locomotive of integrationist processes in the CIS." The EEC comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. DK
 ...AND COLLECTIVE-SECURITY TALKSThe CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) held a presidential session of its Collective Security Council in Astana on 18 June, Kazinform reported. The session's main results were the passage of a document establishing ways and means of cooperation between the CSTO and NATO, as well as a decision to form a mechanism for collective peacekeeping operations under a UN mandate. Armenian President Robert Kocharian told journalists at a post-session press conference that the CSTO can work together with NATO to fight terrorism, drug trafficking, and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For his part, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev called collective peacekeeping operations under a UN mandate a "new and promising area of cooperation," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said that CSTO rapid-reaction forces in Central Asia will hold joint exercises in late July-early August, adding that Russia will soon begin arms shipments to its CSTO partners, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 June. The CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan. DK
 KAZAKH AIR-DEFENSE SCANDAL CONTINUESKazakh Defense Ministry sources may have leaked rumors of a deal with Britain's BAE Systems in order to speed up talks with Russia on the modernization of Kazakhstan's air-defense systems, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 June. The newspaper reported on 15 June that Kazakhstan concluded a $1 billion deal with BAE Systems to upgrade its air defenses (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2004). A source in the Russian Air Force told "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 June that Kazakh sources intentionally leaked the information to "spur on officials" in sluggish Russian-Kazakh talks. An official at Russian arms exporter Rosoboroneksport told the newspaper that, in fact, the Kazakh leadership has decided that foreign firms will not take part in the impending modernization. Meanwhile, Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev told RIA-Novosti on 18 June that while talks are under way with BAE Systems, "It would hardly be appropriate to say that an agreement is going to be signed in the near future." A BAE Systems spokesman confirmed to "Kommersant-Daily" that talks are in progress, adding that no contract has been signed. DK
 KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN HINTS AT PRESIDENTIAL RUNOmbudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu said on 18 June that he may consider running for parliament, or even for president, akipress.org reported. Bakir-uulu was commenting on a lawsuit brought by former employees of the ombudsman's office, who allege that they were the victims of unjustified disciplinary action and that Bakir-uulu improperly spent budgetary funds. Calling the charges baseless and threatening a countersuit, Bakir-uulu said that he will only consider a run for parliament, or perhaps the presidency, if what he called the "dirty games" against him begin to affect his work as ombudsman. DK
 UZBEK LEADER HOLDS TALKS WITH AFGHAN, KYRGYZ PRESIDENTSPresident Islam Karimov held bilateral talks on 18 June in Tashkent with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, Uzbek TV reported. Karzai thanked Karimov for inviting him to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. The two leaders then discussed Afghan reconstruction and the problem of narcotics trafficking. The talks between the Uzbek president and his Kyrgyz counterpart focused on the rational use of water resources, Uzbekistan's UzA news agency reported. DK
 U.S. SENATOR, LITHUANIAN DEPUTIES SUPPORT BELARUSIAN HUNGER STRIKERS...U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) and a group of Lithuanian lawmakers have expressed their support for three Belarusian lawmakers who have been conducting a hunger strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 June 2004), Belapan reported on 18 June, citing the press office of the United Civic Party (AHP). Valery Fralou, Uladzimir Parfyanovich, and Syarhey Skrabets, members of the Respublica caucus in the Chamber of Representatives, went on the hunger strike on 3 June, demanding democratic changes to the country's Election Code. In a letter to the AHP, McCain characterized the striking lawmakers as models of moral bravery and resolve, according to the AHP press office. Meanwhile, a group of Lithuanian parliamentary deputies have called on the Belarusian lawmakers to end their strike. "The future democratic Belarus needs your expertise and energy," they wrote in a statement. "You have already fulfilled your duty by drawing the international community's attention to the political situation in Belarus." AM
 ...AS ONE PARTICIPANT ENDS PROTESTMaryna Bahdanovich, who heads the Minsk regional organization of AHP and who joined the hunger-striking lawmakers on 5 June, ended her participation in the protest for health reasons on 19 June, Belapan reported. Earlier that day, Bahdanovich was hospitalized after she lost consciousness during a flower-laying ceremony at the gravesite of Belarusian writer and dissident Vasil Bykau. The remaining eight participants in the hunger strike will not consider ending the protest until 21 June, Fralou said. "In a normal country, some bureaucrats would take interest or at least pretend to," Fralou said. AM
 ALL-UKRAINE PARTY OF WORKING PEOPLE BACKS YANUKOVYCH'S CANDIDACYThe All-Ukraine Party of Working People (VPT) during its 19 June congress in Kyiv decided to endorse Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's candidacy in the October presidential ballot, Interfax reported. The congress was attended by 79 delegates from Ukraine's 23 regions, Kyiv, Sevastopol, and Crimea. Delegates appealed to all political parties, trade unions, and organizations to create a broad coalition in support of Yanukovych. The second session of the VPT congress will be held on 10 July, during which it is expected to adopt a decision on creating such a coalition. The VPT boasts some 28,000 members. AM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT INCREASES DEFENSE MINISTRY FUNDINGThe Verkhovna Rada has increased funding to the Defense Ministry by 286 million hryvnyas ($537,000), Interfax reported on 19 June. Funding to the ministry allocated from the state budget will now total 4.4 billion hryvnyas. Parliament on 17 June passed amendments to the 2004 state budget increasing estimated revenues and spending (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2004). The additional defense funding is to be used to provide for routine expenditures and for Ukraine's involvement in international peacekeeping missions. AM
 BUSINESS TYCOON BACKS REFORMER IN SERBIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACEWealthy businessman Bogoljub Karic, who made an impressive third-place showing in the recent first round of the Serbian presidential race, said in Belgrade on 20 June that he backs the Democratic Party's Boris Tadic in the 27 June second round, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 18 June 2004). Karic argued that he hopes to realize the objectives he campaigned for under a Tadic presidency, adding that he asked Tadic to make him prime minister. It is not clear what Tadic replied. Current Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) heads a minority government with the parliamentary support of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). The Democratic Party is currently in the opposition. Karic's newly founded Snaga Srbije movement -- a name that is the Serbian equivalent of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia -- is not itself represented in the parliament, but it is an open secret that many legislators are under Karic's influence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2004). Elsewhere, Kostunica said that he expects that Tadic, whom Kostunica has grudgingly endorsed, will win, adding that a victory for ultranationalist candidate Tomislav Nikolic would lead to Serbia's "soft isolation," Reuters reported. PM
 REPUTED MOB BOSS ARRESTED IN MACEDONIAMacedonian police arrested Vulnet Makelara "Carlito Brigante" at Skopje airport on 20 June after he returned to Macedonia following completion of a 15-month jail sentence in Italy, dpa reported. He is one of Macedonia's most-wanted criminals and the reputed leader of a human-trafficking ring. Makelara will face several criminal charges, including robbery, violent conduct, and the abduction of two police officers in Debar in 2003. Police previously arrested Dilaver Bojku, whom U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Lawrence Butler once described as the "king of the western Macedonian underworld." PM
 NATO OFFERS FORMER BOSNIAN SERB LEADER A BIRTHDAY PRESENTNATO peacekeepers put up posters in Pale during the night of 18-19 June to mark the 59th birthday of indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The posters read "we have not forgotten you" and displayed a picture of a one-way airline ticket to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January 2004). Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, has said that she expects Karadzic will be in The Hague by 29 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2004). Perhaps the most momentous date in Serbian history is 28 June, which is known as Vidovdan, or St. Vitus's Day. Vidovdan 1389 witnessed the battle of Kosovo Polje, which ended Serbia's independence for nearly five centuries. In 1914 on that date, Serbian student Gavrilo Princip assassinated Habsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, setting off the chain of events that led to World War I. The Yugoslav kingdom got its first constitution on 28 June 1921, which was subsequently known as the Vidovdan Constitution. In 1948, Stalin expelled Yugoslavia from the Soviet bloc on Vidovdan. On that date in 2001, the Serbian government of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic extradited former President Milosevic to The Hague (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 July 2001). PM
 CRIME HOT LINE A SUCCESS IN BOSNIAThe European Union Police Mission announced in Sarajevo recently that its telephone number that enables citizens to provide information about crimes anonymously has proven successful, Hina reported on 20 June. The British-financed project has attracted over 1,700 phone calls, of which 675 provided leads for police. Tips provided by callers have led to the cracking of several crimes, including some involving auto theft, narcotics smuggling, or criminal activity by police. PM
 MYSTERIOUS EXPLOSION RIPS SUSPENDED BOSNIAN SERB POLICE OFFICIAL'S CARA bomb exploded early on 20 June beneath the car of Sasa Micic in Banja Luka, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. No one was injured. Micic is currently suspended as a police official as a result of the discovery in his station of 16 boxes of Bosnian Serb police records from 1992-98 that were supposed to have been sent to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. PM
 MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT PARTIES SLAM OPPOSITION APPEAL FOR FOREIGNERS NOT TO INVESTSeveral officials of the Montenegrin government and the political parties in the governing coalition sharply criticized on 18 June the recent appeal by the opposition Serbian People's Party (SNS) to foreign investors not to put their money into Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) said that the SNS declaration reveals that that party is "not serious," while the Social Democratic Party (SDP) stated that the SNS appeal "crosses the border of sanity." PM
 ROMANIAN ELECTORAL RUNOFF CONFIRMS RULING PARTY'S DEFEAT...Official results from the 20 June local election runoffs confirmed the trend evident after the first round, producing a resounding defeat for the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) in urban areas, Mediafax reported. In Bucharest, the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance won four out of the five sector mayoralties undecided after the 6 June first round, while the PSD won just one mayoralty. Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu, who co-chairs the opposition alliance, won a second term on 6 June. In Cluj, alliance candidate Emil Boc garnered 56.25 percent of the vote, defeating the PSD candidate, former Interior Minister Ioan Rus, who received 43.75 percent. The opposition alliance also made headway into the heartland of PSD support, winning the Moldavian mayoralties of Suceava, Piatra-Neamt, Falticeni, and Botosani. The PSD carried the Moldavian capital of Iasi, as well as the town of Galati, but was surprisingly defeated in Bacau, where Humanist Party candidate Romeo Stavarache crushed outgoing PSD Mayor Dumitru Sechelariu, garnering 63.69 percent of the vote. Just as in the first round, the PSD gained the most mayoral posts, but the PNL-Democratic Party alliance got more votes nationwide (43.60 percent) than did the PSD, with 40.55 percent. The results are based on 86.9 percent of votes counted thus far. MS
 ...PROMPTING REACTIONS FROM POLITICAL LEADERSPrime Minister Adrian Nastase said on 20 June that the PSD has "understood the voters' message" both where it won and where it lost, Mediafax reported. Nastase said that the PSD will closely analyze the election results and identify measures that need to be taken. "In all our future activity, we must listen more attentively to the people's wishes and expectations," Nastase said. Bucharest Mayor Basescu said that "for the first time ever, Romania has an alternative to the PSD." He said that after scoring an important electoral victory, the opposition alliance must display responsibility in order for this first victory to be confirmed in the autumn parliamentary and presidential elections. PNL-Democratic Party alliance co-Chairman Theodor Stolojan said that the election results demonstrate that the PSD "cannot manipulate the Romanians anymore." The electorate, he said, has "understood that the PSD means corruption and 'local barons.'" MS
 CROSS-BORDER HUNGARIAN AUTONOMY COUNCIL ESTABLISHED IN TRANSYLVANIAReformed Bishop Laszlo Tokes was elected on 16 June as the first chairman-in-office of the newly formed Council for the Autonomy of Carpathian Region Magyars, Mediafax reported on 18 June. The council was set up in the Transylvanian town of Oradea and includes three ethnic Hungarian organizations from Romania, and one each from Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, Slovenia, and Ukraine. The new body intends to promote the autonomy of ethnic Hungarians living in the Carpathian region. Its chairmanship is to rotate every six months. The council intends to establish official representations at international organizations such as the UN, the OSCE, the European Commission, the European Parliament, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In a statement, the council said the "autochthonous Magyar communities, which wish to preserve their national identity and to continue living on native lands..., reiterate their objective of achieving personal territorial autonomy and a special status in those public administration bodies [that function] in places where the Magyar community is majoritarian." MS
 WOULD-BE FOREIGN ADOPTIVE PARENTS ASK ROMANIAN PRESIDENT NOT TO SIGN BILLProspective foreign adoptive parents on 18 June appealed to President Ion Iliescu to refrain from signing into law the recently approved bill restricting international adoptions, AFP and Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2004). Belinda Caster of the U.S.-based Association for Children called on Iliescu to refuse to sign the bill at a press conference held jointly with families from Italy and France who have adopted Romanian children. The petition against the law was signed by 4,000 families from the United States, Italy, France, and Switzerland, and a copy has also been sent to the European Commission, which had urged Romania to pass the bill. MS
 MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS ACTION PLAN FOR MOLDOVA TO START IN SEPTEMBER...Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan told journalists on 18 June that the action plan for Moldova will start being implemented in September, Infotag and Flux reported. The plan was recently agreed on by the EU and Chisinau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2004). Stratan said that Moldova is the first EU neighbor with which the EU has worked out such a plan. He said he believes the plan's successful implementation would enable Moldova to start negotiations with the EU on achieving associate status as early as 2007. Stratan also pointed out that the plan includes measures for securing Moldova's borders, especially in Transdniester where Moldova borders Ukraine; that the EU undertakes to help resolve the Transdniester conflict in cooperation with the Organization for Security and Corporation in Europe (OSCE) and within its capabilities; and that the EU would help Moldova bring its legislation in line with EU standards. He also said that the EU is ready to "asymmetrically" open its markets to Moldovan products. MS
 ...CALLS ON NATO SUMMIT TO PLACE TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT ON ITS AGENDAForeign Minister Stratan also called on 18 June for the NATO summit set to take place at the end of June in Istanbul to place the Transdniester conflict on its agenda, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Stratan told journalists that President Vladimir Voronin will address the summit, presenting Moldova's position on settling the conflict with the separatist region. He also said Chisinau will insist at the summit that Russia withdraw its troops from Transdniester, in line with the obligations it assumed at the November 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit. MS
 OSCE OFFICIAL PESSIMISTIC AFTER MOLDOVA VISITKimmo Kiljunen, deputy speaker of the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE, said in Chisinau on 18 June at the end of a visit to Moldova that he is less optimistic than after a similar visit last year about the chances of quickly settling the Transdniester conflict, Infotag reported. He said that although negotiations have been resumed, they are ineffective and negotiators do little else than present their unchanged positions rather than making mutual concessions. Kiljunen said that his meetings in Chisinau and Tiraspol led him to the conclusion that the chief obstacle to reaching a settlement is mutual distrust. MS
 REERECTION OF LENIN MONUMENT STIRS UP MOLDOVAN TOWNThe decision of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PRM)-dominated Balti municipal council to reerect a monument to Soviet founding father Vladimir Lenin has met with protests from Balti and Chisinau opposition parties and from members of civil society, Infotag and Flux reported on 18 June. The decision was made a year ago, but work to reinstall the statue in Moldova's second-largest town's central square began only last week. Balti Helsinki Committee co-Chairman George Briceag threatened to set himself on fire if the statue is reerected and jumped into the monument's 1.5-meter deep foundation in an attempt to prevent continuation of the work, which has nonetheless continued and the site has been encircled by a fence. The leaders of several opposition parties wrote a protest letter to President Voronin and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) said it will organize protest marches on Balti. MS
 WORLD BANK GRANTS CREDIT TO MOLDOVADeputy Prime Minister Valerian Cristea signed an agreement with the World Bank in Washington on 18 June for a $20 million loan aimed at helping Moldova improve services in education, environment, water supply, and road construction in impoverished rural communities, The loan is to be disbursed over 40 years and carries no interest rate. It also includes a 10-year grace period. MS
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES SITUATION IN WEST-CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN...The Afghan National Security Council (NSC) on 20 June discussed the situation in Ghor Province and issued a statement, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. The NSC heard statements from Mohammad Alam Rasekh, a state minister adviser and chairman of a delegation from Ghor, and from ousted Ghor Province Governor Ebrahim Malikzadah. The NSC decided to send Minister Adviser for Tribal Affairs Taj Mohammad Wardak to Ghor to help "improve security [and to] take measures to restore administrative order" in the province. Moreover, the NSC decided that Ghor's Division No. 41 is dissolved and that a disarmament program will be implemented in the province. Finally, the NSC asked the Defense Ministry to dispatch a battalion of the Afghan National Army to Ghor to establish security. Renegade Commander Mawlawi Abdul Salam on 17 June captured most of Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor Province, as Malikzadah escaped to neighboring Herat Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2004). AT
 ...AS KABUL DAILY CHIDES GOVERNMENT ON REBELLION"Anis" in a commentary on 20 June wrote that the capture of the Ghor Province capital by Abdul Salam is "not the first time that commanders have destabilized different provinces of Afghanistan," however, the "collapse of a province at the hands of one rebel commander is unprecedented since the establishment" of the Afghan Transitional Administration in late 2001. The fact that Abdul Salam was able to overrun Chaghcharan shows that arms still pose a threat to the Afghan people, and that "guns are available in any place and [at] any time," "Anis" added. The "defeat" of the central government in Ghor "coincides with the approach of general elections" scheduled for September. But if Kabul is keen on holding the elections on time and making sure that people are able to vote for their chosen candidates, then "why is there a delay in the process of disarmament and the strengthening of the central government?" "Anis" asks. The tensions in Ghor are apparently related to the refusal by Abdul Salam to disarm his militia under the UN-sponsored Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration program unless he was offered a government post. AT
 NATO CHIEF PLEADS AFGHAN CASE...Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in London on 19 June that it was "simply intolerable" that he was forced to beg for resources in NATO's mission in Afghanistan, the BBC reported. "What is wrong with our system that we cannot generate small amounts of badly needed resources for missions that we have committed to politically?" de Hoop Scheffer asked. He expressed his concern that leaders of the alliance are already thinking about Iraq while forgetting their commitments to the mission in Afghanistan. AT
 ...AS CANADA REFUSES TO DELAY TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM AFGHANISTANOttawa has turned down a request from the United States to delay the withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan this summer, the Canadian Press reported on 18 June. What the United States is looking for "is not exactly" what the Canadian troops are trained to do, Canadian Defense Ministry spokesman Darren Gibb said. Ottawa has decided to "rotate" its 2,000 troops in Afghanistan with 700 armored reconnaissance-squad troops and 200 soldiers for air support. The Canadian troops currently serving with the NATO-led ISAF will leave Kabul between July and mid-August and are expected to be replaced by Eurocorps troops, led by France and Germany. Eurocorps is expected to take over command of the ISAF from Canada in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January, 27 April, and 14 May 2004). AT
 IRAN CONTENDS WITH LABOR UNRESTSeveral 19 June reports from the Iranian Labor News Agency (ILNA) note that workers throughout the country continue to face difficulties. More than 200 salt factories are on the brink of closure and thousands of people could lose their jobs, salt-factories representative Hassan Ebrahimi-Sarcheshmeh said. He ascribed this situation to a doubling of salt prices by the federation of salt-mining cooperatives that disregarded the Commerce Ministry's opposition. Luristan Province railway workers who have not been paid have held another sit-in to protest nonpayment of wages. A Kurdistan Province textile factory's closure has left 300 people without jobs. Iraj Bahram-Nejad, a provincial House of Labor official, said that demand for the textiles is high but there is inadequate supply due to a lack of cash and raw materials, as well as mismanagement. The factory's machinery is not running on the grounds that it will be replaced with new machinery, he said, but it was on the same pretext that other factories were closed. Kerman Province House of Labor official Abbas Kar-Bakhsh said the Asia Textile Factory has closed because of mismanagement and a dispute between managers and shareholders, ILNA reported. This has put 110 people out of work. BS
 IRANIAN RETIREES DON'T GET BENEFITSRadio Farda reported from Tehran on 20 June that three months into the Iranian year, which began on 21 March, not only have retirees not received the bonuses the government promised them, but in some cases they have not received their regular payments. These developments come as the country deals with a 10-15 percent annual inflation rate. The government normally provides retirees with tokens worth 600,000 rials (about $75) for the purchase of goods such as oil, rice, and butter, but this year it has provided only 480,000 rials (about $60) worth of tokens. As a result, Radio Farda reported, retirees' living standards are deteriorating. Ali Akbar Khabazha, director of the association of retirees and civil servants, said that responsible officials are not providing any information on this situation. Laborers are entitled to retirement benefits after 30 years, but because of financial difficulties many retirees must continue to work. BS
 CONTINUING REPORTS ABOUT IRANIAN MILITARY ACTIVITIES NEAR IRAQI BORDERAn anonymous Iraqi military official in Baghdad reiterated in the 19 June "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that Iranian military forces are massing near the two countries' border. He said that Baghdad has sent "direct and indirect" messages to Tehran that say, "We know about the movement of your forces and what they are thinking." The official noted the futility of such messages, adding, "But unfortunately, the Iranian leadership is not a single institution but political, religious, and military institutions and whenever we talk to one of them, it says it does not know and blames another institution." The Iraqi official also described the capture of a Lebanese Hizballah member who confessed to throwing a grenade that wounded Spanish troops. "He confessed that it was the Iranian authorities that facilitated his entry into Iraq through Iran and that many others like him had entered Iraq in this way." BS
 AN UNHAPPY TEHRAN DOWNPLAYS IAEA RESOLUTIONSupreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani dismissed during a 19 June press conference the significance of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution that criticizes the extent of Iranian cooperation with the nuclear watchdog, ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2004). He went on to say that Iran has no plans to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is willing to continue its cooperation with the IAEA within the framework of the Safeguards Agreement, and will continue its nuclear activities within the framework of the NPT Additional Protocol and the Safeguards Agreement. Rohani also expressed disappointment in the European countries that backed the resolution but suggested that there will be no repercussions, ILNA reported. Rohani said, "The behavior of the three European countries during the [IAEA] meeting was contrary to what we had expected but I stress that Iran needs its ties with the European Union and a good relationship is in the interests of both Iran and the European Union." BS
 IRAQI MILITANT GROUP THREATENS TO BEHEAD SOUTH KOREAN HOSTAGEA militant group identified as the Monotheism and Jihad group has threatened to behead a South Korean hostage if his country does not withdraw its troops from Iraq, international media reported on 21 June. The hostage, Kim Sun-il was seen in a videotaped message released by the group on 20 June, begging for his life and asking his government to reverse a decision to send additional troops to Iraq, Yonhap news agency reported. Militants on 20 June gave South Korea 24 hours to cancel the deployment of 3,600 troops that is scheduled to take place in August (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 June 2004). South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Choi Young-jin told reporters in Seoul on 21 June that his country will not change its position on the deployment, RFE/RL reported. "I am telling you that there will be no change of our government's basic spirit and position -- our plan to send troops to Iraq is for the support and reconstruction of Iraq," Choi said. The government's deployment plans have been hotly contested by South Koreans (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 13 May 2004). KR
 PRIME MINISTER OUTLINES NEW SECURITY STRUCTURE IN IRAQIyad Allawi announced on 20 June that he has restructured the Iraqi military in order to confront terrorism and security lapses in Iraq, according to the transcript of his announcement, issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority the same day. "Our strategy is simple. We will use all our forces and resources with high resolve to ensure that that the Iraqi people enjoy security, stability, prosperity, and democracy," Allawi said. "The Iraqi security forces, the police forces, and the army units will participate in the battles to confront the enemies of God and the people. The heroic Iraqi police forces will be in the front line in this battle." The prime minister also said that the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps will now be known as the Iraqi National Guard, and will be expanded to include a minimum of six new local divisions, as well as 18 brigades and 50 regiments. "The army would focus on defending the borders and security of the homeland," Allawi said. "The reserve forces of the army will also assist in dealing with the domestic threats to our national security." KR
 IRAQI HEALTH MINISTER ESCAPES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTAla al-Din Abd al-Sahib al-Alwan escaped an assassination attempt on 19 June when a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle in central Baghdad, Al-Jazeera television reported on 20 June. Police arriving at the scene to investigate the incident were fired on by unidentified assailants. Seven policemen were wounded in the incident, as well as 10 civilians. Meanwhile, Sheikh Majid Hamid al-Yusuf, the head of the central Baghdad Municipal Council, was shot and killed by gunmen in Baghdad on 20 June, the television network reported. Three Iraqis were killed and seven wounded when a bomb detonated outside the Iraqi Central Bank in Baghdad on 20 June, Al-Arabiyah television reported. KR
 AL-SADR TO PARTICIPATE IN NATIONAL CONFERENCEIraqi Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has reportedly been invited to attend a national conference that will form a provisional national council comprising 100 members, Beirut's Al-Manar television reported on 21 June. The national conference will be held in July and will be attended by some 1,000 leading political figures. Fu'ad Ma'sum, a political-bureau member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and head of the preparatory committee for the drafting of the Iraqi constitution, confirmed the invitation to Al-Manar. Ma'sum said that al-Sadr's decision to transform his militia into a political organization (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 19 June 2004) is "a positive step." KR
 RUSSIA'S OMBUDSMAN SPEAKS OUTBy Robert Coalson
When Vladimir Lukin was confirmed as Russia's human rights ombudsman in February, activists were cautiously optimistic. As a co-founder and co-leader of the oppositionist Yabloko party, Lukin's liberal credentials were clearly satisfactory, but as a former ambassador to the United States, Lukin had a reputation for diplomatic finesse that was somewhat less encouraging.
However, in recent weeks, after three months on the job, the new ombudsman has taken on some of the country's most powerful interests -- the Interior Ministry, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Kremlin, and even President Vladimir Putin -- in an energetic and aggressive manner.
The skeptics seemed to be vindicated in April when Lukin held a cozy meeting with Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliev, after which Lukin took pains to minimize the significance of the fact that nearly half of all complaints to his office are directed against the police. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Lukin as saying that Nurgaliev is aware of the figures and that during the meeting he "justly noted that the ministry must not be judged just by scandalous facts and phenomena." Lukin emphasized that the ministry had had "both negative and positive results" and lauded Nurgaliev's willingness to cooperate with the ombudsman's office. "Law-enforcement organs must precisely know and observe human rights, but citizens must know and observe the rights and obligations of the law-enforcement organs," Lukin said, seeming to justify some of the ministry's alleged human rights violations.
On 16 June, however, Lukin returned with a vengeance to the theme of human rights violations allegedly committed by police. At a press conference called to present the results of his first three months in office, Lukin repeated that "the most important and urgent questions are the state of human rights in the law enforcement agencies," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 June in an article titled "Lukin Becomes A Dissident." He offered a laundry list of complaints, including allegations of torture, beatings, unlawful detentions, planting evidence, and illegal searches. "The most impermissible means of influence are used in temporary holding cells and police offices," he said.
He described a woman in the Leningrad Oblast town of Gatchina who alleged that she was tortured by being forced to don a gas mask that had been sealed off with tape. Another woman in Moscow Oblast said that she had been subjected to electric shock, and a resident of Vladimir Oblast was tied to a bench and beaten until he bled from his ears, Lukin said, according to "Novye izvestiya."
Lukin followed a similar pattern in his dealings with the Justice Ministry's Main Corrections Department regarding prison conditions. In the spring, a wave of hunger strikes rolled through the penal system, and were particularly widespread in Leningrad Oblast, where more than 5,000 prisoners were striking at one point. Lukin investigated and found a "well-developed system of extortion to get food, money, and valuables from prisoners and their families," "Novye izvestiya" reported on 6 April. He said some prisoners, with the knowledge and support of the guards, were extorting other prisoners using threats of beatings. Although Lukin charged local penal authorities with trying to cover up the reasons for the hunger strike and with denying prisoners access to human rights organizations, his accusations were low-key and barely attracted the notice of the national media.
However, Lukin went public in a forceful way in May when it appeared that the Main Corrections Department was continuing the cover-up and even going after the NGOs that were making more and more allegations. In May, a group of activists in Adygeya Republic was detained while trying to verify reports of prisoner abuse, and the Justice Department accused them of accepting money from criminal groups and working on their behalf. A few days earlier, Main Corrections Department Deputy Director Vladimir Kraev made similar unsubstantiated allegations. Lukin responded boldly in both cases, stating publicly that he will personally monitor the case of the Adygeya activists. On 24 May, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that Lukin said that Kraev's comments were an inappropriate response to allegations of poor prison conditions and that "his job is not to make declarations but to keep his own house in order." Lukin discussed the matter with Justice Minister Yurii Chaika.
In recent days, Lukin has also been in the press constantly with his opposition to the controversial government-backed bills on conducting referendums and on public demonstrations. Lukin participated in several demonstrations against the referendums bill and told activists in St. Petersburg on 12 June that he had submitted several amendments to the bill, fontanka.ru reported. However, the Duma adopted the bill after rejecting all 173 amendments proposed. As ombudsman, Lukin could present his objections to Putin in a bid to persuade him not to sign the bill into law.
Lukin also recently promised to look into charges that the FSB prevented scholars from entering the closed Chelyabinsk Oblast city of Ozersk, polit.ru reported on 10 June. The scholars had been invited to conduct sociological research, and the NGO that sponsored them reported that an FSB official had informed them that they would be arrested if they attempted to enter the city and possibly charged with espionage. The FSB official was aware that the NGO received grant funding from a U.S. foundation and mentioned the case of researcher Igor Sutyagin, who was convicted in April of spying in connection with research he did for a U.S. organization. Lukin reportedly said that he would travel to Ozersk himself to look into the matter.
Lukin also recently helped organize a group of Moscow residents who are concerned about uncontrolled construction in the capital and compelled Moscow Mayor Luzhkov to meet with them. Lukin's involvement in this matter was also widely reported in the national media, and marked the ombudsman's first open collaboration with his old Yabloko colleagues.
It is possible that Lukin has earned the right to pursue these matters aggressively by carrying water for the Kremlin in the international arena. Lukin has routinely responded diplomatically to periodic Western accusations of human rights abuses in Chechnya. "I cannot concentrate all of my attention exclusively on Chechnya," Lukin told the Spanish daily "La Vanguardia" on 2 June. In the same interview, he responded to a U.S. State Department report on human rights in Russia by sarcastically saying, "Washington's statements on the failure to observe human rights in any country look simply comical these days." Lukin has also spoken out repeatedly in defense of Russian speakers in Turkmenistan and other parts of the former Soviet Union, a subject that is close to the heart of the presidential administration.
In the "La Vanguardia" interview, Lukin also described the meeting with Putin at which they first discussed his candidacy as ombudsman. "[Putin] told me that his experience in the area of human rights was limited, since he had worked where he worked for so many years," apparently a reference to Putin's KGB and FSB background. The mounting evidence from Lukin's recent performance as ombudsman seems to indicate that the president has chosen the right person to make up for this shortcoming. As Lukin said in an interview with RFE/RL in March, shortly after his confirmation: "Two things are capable of influencing the situation in this country: force and authority. It is true that the human rights ombudsman has practically no force at his disposal. But if he has authority, then he can achieve a lot."