|Thursday, 5 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 05-05-02
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 INFLUENTIAL ANALYST PREDICTS REVOLUTION LOOMS IN RUSSIANational Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii said at a press conference in Moscow on 27 April that the Kremlin fears the prospect of "an orange revolution" in Russia, and fails to understand that opposition is growing internally and is not driven from abroad, lenta.ru, utro.ru and other Russian media reported on 28 April. He argued that because the Kremlin's power is waning and all of its policies prove to be counterproductive, a "colored" revolution in Russia in the near future is very likely. Belkovskii added that such a revolution in Russia would not be bloodless like those in Ukraine and Georgia. Belkovskii said he sees his role as helping to prevent bloodshed and "to prepare a constructive power takeover," which he said is possible if Putin voluntarily leaves office. Belkovskii said he has left his position to work jointly with National Bolshevik Party (NBP) head Eduard Limonov to prepare for the revolution. VY
 NATIONAL BOLSHEVIK PARTY PLEASED WITH ITS PROGRESSSpeaking at the same press conference, NBP head Limonov said that he considers it a great achievement that his party, which was relatively unknown a few years ago, has been characterized by presidential administration deputy head Vladislav Surkov as "one of the main enemies" of the Kremlin (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 13 October 2004). Limonov added that the number of NBP members being arrested for protesting publicly against Kremlin policies has risen rapidly, adding that they should be referred to as "political prisoners." VY
 RADICAL GROUP PROTESTS AGAINST PUTIN, BASHKIR LEADERA group of NBP members on 28 April stormed the Bashkortostan representative office in Moscow and hung banners on the balcony criticizing Bashkir President Murtasa Rakhimov and President Vladimir Putin, polit.ru reported. The banners read: "Bashkortostan without Rakhimov, Russia Without Putin," and "Free Bashkortostan In Free Russia." Participants also threw leaflets characterizing Rakhimov's administration as "shameful to Russia." "Violence against citizens, the physical suppression of the opposition, and arrogant corruption have become the norm in today's Bashkortostan," the leaflets read. The action was organized to support Bashkir opposition activists who have demanded Rakhimov's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 April 2005). Police arrested 10 participants of the NBP protest, polit.ru reported. VY
 PUTIN TELLS ISRAEL HE FORBADE SALE OF TACTICAL MISSILES TO SYRIAPresident Putin said in Jerusalem following his talks with Israeli President Moshe Katzav and with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on 29 April that he forbade the sale of Russian-made Iskander-E tactical missiles to Syria, RTR and other Russian mass media reported. The United States and Israel had voiced concerns about the possible sale of the 300-kilometer-range missiles to Syria. In January, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Washington that Russia had no plans to ship the missiles to Syria (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2005). Iskander is the Arabic name for Alexander, and refers to Alexander the Great. Earlier in the day, Putin and Sharon discussed the possibility of reaching an agreement on military/technical cooperation in the interests of third countries. The two leaders also discussed the possibility of exporting Russian liquefied gas to Israel. Putin also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and met with World War II veterans and expatriates from Russia, including his German-language teacher from St. Petersburg. VY
 U.S. SKEPTICAL OF PUTIN'S PROPOSAL FOR MIDEAST PEACE CONFERENCEU.S. State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said during the department's daily press briefing on 27 April that President Putin's proposal that the four co-sponsors of the "road map" for Middle East peace hold consultations this year in Russia "is a little bit premature" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005). Ereli said that for the United States, "the first priority is Gaza disengagement and a return to the road map," adding that there is "a lot to do between now and disengagement and we think it's important to focus on those immediate tasks." Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov telephoned U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from Israel on 28 April to discuss the Middle East peace process, RIA-Novosti and other media reported. Lavrov later told journalists that Putin's proposal was misunderstood by some media outlets that were reporting that he had called for a summit for the co-sponsors of the road map (the United States, Russia, European Union, and the United Nations). In fact, Lavrov said, Putin seeks consultations in Moscow that would include UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, U.S. Secretary of State Rice, European Union foreign policy head Javier Solana, and the coordinator for the resolution of the Middle East conflict, James Wolfensohn. VY
 RUSSIA, LATVIA RESUME DISPUTE OVER BORDER TREATY...The Foreign Ministry stated on 28 April that Russia will not sign a border treaty with Latvia, as scheduled on 10 May, if Riga does not renounce a declaration adopted by the Latvian parliament that demands that Russia provide financial compensation for the Soviet occupation. The declaration, which was passed on 27 April, is intended to be attached to the border treaty and includes territorial claims on Pskov Oblast's Pytalovskii Raion based on a 1920 agreement between Latvia and Soviet Russia, ITAR-TASS and RIA-Novosti reported. "Russia will be ready to sign the [border] agreement as soon as the Latvian side disavows its unacceptable declaration," the Foreign Ministry's statement read. VY
 ...AS RUSSIAN LAWYER SAYS FINANCIAL CLAIMS HAVE NO PROSPECTSMikhail Barshchevskii, presidential representative at the Supreme and Constitutional courts, told NTV on 28 April that Latvian requests for compensation regarding the Soviet occupation as well as similar claims advanced by the Lithuanian Sejm will not hold up in court. "It is, of course, very nasty that such claims are put forward on the eve of Victory Day celebrations, but legally speaking these claims are negligible," he said. In the same vein, they can request compensation from the Teutonic crusaders who occupied them in the Middle Ages, Barshchevskii said. "Komsomolskaya pravda" commented on 28 April that Latvia is basing its argument on the validity of a treaty it signed with the Bolsheviks in 1920 and does not want to consider that this treaty lost its force in 1940, as Russia maintains. The newspaper suggested that if Latvia maintains its stance, Russia should remind the country of the Nistadt Peace treaty that Russia signed with defeated Sweden, under which all Baltic lands fell under the control of Russia. VY
 SENIOR FSB OFFICIAL SEEKS NEW INTERNET, PHONE CONTROLS...Federal Security Service (FSB) Information Center representative Dmitrii Frolov told members of the Federation Council on 28 April that the FSB considers it necessary to widen its controls over telecommunications and the Internet, RIA-Novosti reported. One of the goals would be to prevent the spread of extremist ideas on the Internet, he said. Frolov also noted that various groups use the Internet to mobilize political forces against authorities, citing the examples of Yugoslavia, Georgia, and Ukraine. Frolov called for the mandatory registration of mobile phones with Internet access, according to the news agency. Gazeta.ru commented that the "siloviki" have called for tighter regulation of the Russian segment of the World Wide Web before, but on the basis of preventing the spread of pornography or instructions on how to create bombs. The FSB now appears to be seeking to broaden those goals to include searching for the political opposition on the Internet. JAC
 ...AS EXPERTS ARE CRITICAL, SKEPTICALAsked to comment on Frolov's remarks regarding increased FSB controls over the Internet and mobile telephony, a press secretary for Communication and Information Minister Leonid Reiman told gazeta.ru on 28 April that the ministry differs with Frolov and does not support controls over the Internet. He said Internet providers should be held responsible for content, as the existing law on the mass media already stipulates. Igor Ashmanov, general director of the Internet company Ashmanov and Partners, said that "the Chinese model is possible only in those countries where all spheres of communication are totally controlled." He speculated that Frolov's declaration is the FSB's reaction to recent "colored" revolutions. Ashmanov noted that a new department within the presidential administration, headed by Modest Kolerov, formerly of regnum.ru and polit.ru, was created around the time of these revolutions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 March 2005). Anton Nosik, editor in chief of mosnews.com, agreed. "It's all a question of the development of the bureaucracy," Nosik said. "They create a special department to increase the number of bureaucrats. The main thing is to give them responsibilities. And now they have got the Internet." JAC
 CULTURE MINISTER WANTS TO KEEP MEDIA LAWCulture and Mass Communications Minister Aleksandr Sokolov told reporters in Moscow on 28 April that he supports amending the current law on mass media, but is against adopting a new one, strana.ru reported on 28 April. "My position has not changed -- we have a very good basis and this basis is the existing law," he said. Sokolov also commented that the media community is not united in its opinion about the draft amendments to the law on advertising that already passed in the State Duma in their first reading. Last December, the State Duma rejected proposed changes to the law on mass media that would have restricted the dissemination of pornographic and violent material in the media, including the Internet, to between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 December 2004). JAC
 MOSCOW POLICE PICK UP TOP YABLOKO OFFICIAL AGAINMoscow police detained Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin and press secretary for the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) Denis Terekhov on 28 April for participating in an unsanctioned protest outside of the Belarusian Embassy, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. About 20 protestors carried signs reading "Freedom for Political Prisoners," "Lukashism Equals Fascism," and "Hands off Russians," "Gazeta" reported. Mitrokhin and others organized the action to protest the arrest of 14 Russian citizens in Belarus on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2005). Mitrokhin was released the same day he was arrested, but he was scheduled to reappear at a police station at 9:00 a.m. Moscow time on 29 April, utro.ru reported. Also detained in Moscow were activists from the youth branches of Yabloko and SPS and the youth movement Walking Without Putin. Mitrokhin was arrested last year and fined for participating in a protest outside the State Duma when a law restricting public demonstrations was being considered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2004). JAC
 SIBERIAN LEGISLATORS AGAIN TRY TO PUSH OUT GOVERNORLegislators in Altai Krai held on 28 April a vote of no confidence in the head of the region, Mikhail Yevdokimov, regions.ru reported. The vote was 43 in favor of the measure and four against. Deputies held a vote of no confidence last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005). According to RBK TV, Yevdokimov intends to ask President Putin to send representatives of the presidential administration's Control Department and from the Audit Chamber to carry out a comprehensive audit. Meanwhile, in Stavropol Krai, the deputy chairman of the local legislature, Andrei Razin, told RosBalt that legislators plan to introduce a vote of no confidence in Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov and several members of the krai government. JAC
 NEWSPAPER ALLEGES GOVERNOR HAS TIES WITH NEW YOUTH GROUP"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 28 April that the new Nashi youth movement has a very high level of activity in Tver Oblast, and therefore the presence of Tver Oblast Governor Dmitrii Zelenin at its recent inaugural congress was not accidental. According to the daily, Nashi has established camps in the oblast and some of its members patrol the streets of the city of Tver. In addition, this summer several thousand Nashi supporters from all over Russia will converge on Lake Seliger in the oblast for a gathering. Before becoming governor, Zelenin headed the Managers' Association of Russia (AMR). Sergei Litovchenko, executive director for AMR, told the daily that AMR "has nothing to do with Nashi and does not support the movement. Zelenin attended the congress in his capacity as Tver governor, that's all." Zelenin is also a former manager at Norilsk Nickel and was backed by Unified Russia during the oblast's December 2004 gubernatorial elections. JAC
 INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION CIRCULATES FALSE FLIERSLeaflets are being circulated in Ingushetia calling on the population, allegedly in the name of the Ingush chapter of the People's Party of Russia (NPR), to attend a protest meeting in Nazran on 30 April, ingushetiya.ru reported on 28 April. Part of the text of the counterfeit leaflets is taken verbatim from genuine fliers distributed by the NPR appealing to people to attend a demonstration at the same time and same place. But whereas the genuine fliers call for measures to improve socioeconomic conditions in Ingushetia and create new jobs, and express support for President Putin's calls for a crackdown on corruption and stress the peaceful nature of the planned protest, the false fliers, which the website claims were prepared by Ingushetian presidential administration head Alikhan Dudarov, say protesters will demand the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya, and calls for the overthrow by force of the Ingushetian leadership if they fail to meet the demonstrators' demands. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN LOCAL GOVERNMENT MINISTER PROMOTEDPresident Robert Kocharian issued a decree on 28 April naming Minister of Local Government Hovik Abrahamian to head a new government body comprising his old ministry together with the government departments for refugees and for emergency situations, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Speculation about Abrahamian's promotion to head a "super-ministry" first emerged two years ago; at that time he dismissed it as misplaced. He has since been identified as a possible successor to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003 and 23 and 24 February 2005). Meeting with Abrahamian later on 28 April, Kocharian called for cost-saving staff reductions in the new ministry. He also named Abrahamian to the National Security Council. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT PRESENTED WITH DIAMOND-ENCRUSTED AWARDAzerbaijan's parliament has voted to bestow on President Ilham Aliyev the Order of Heidar Aliyev, which was formally presented to him on 28 April by Constitutional Court Chairman Farhad Abdullaev, Turan reported. The medal, as depicted in a photograph posted on regnum.ru, is fashioned of gold, silver, and platinum with 299 diamonds. Abdullaev said at the presentation ceremony that the current president has been awarded the order in recognition of his accomplishments in continuing the policies adopted by his father and predecessor. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PUBLIC BROADCASTER HEAD GENERATES MORE CONTROVERSYIsmail Omarov, who to widespread consternation was named earlier this month to head Azerbaijan's new public broadcaster (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 April 2005), has announced that that new station will be unable to begin operations before August 2005, the online daily zerkalo.az reported on 28 April. Omarov said the delay is due to the need to acquire new broadcasting equipment to replace the obsolete technology of the two state television channels that are to form the base for creating the new public broadcaster. On 29 April, day.az quoted Omarov as claiming that he is capable of achieving three times more than any other applicant for his current post could have done. Also on 28 April, Turan reported that Azerbaijani state radio and television personnel have lodged a written protest against Omarov's earlier statement that the new broadcaster will take over the premises of Azerbaijani State Radio. LF
 SACKED AZERBAIJANI RAILWAY PERSONNEL ACCUSE MINISTER OF CORRUPTION, EMBEZZLEMENTA group of former railway workers presented journalists in Baku on 28 April with the findings of an investigation into embezzlement and mismanagement by Transport Minister Ziya Mamedov, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 28 and 29 April, respectively. Among other things, they accused Mamedov of selling rolling stock abroad for scrap metal and counterfeit train tickets, adding that reports that he connived in the shipping of goods via Azerbaijan to Armenia are still being verified. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT QUERIES STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT ON TERRORISMMikheil Saakashvili publicly refuted on 28 April the U.S. State Department's "Country Reports on Terrorism 2004," Caucasus Press reported. That U.S. assessment notes the Georgian government's "deep commitment" to combating domestic and international terrorism, adding that "Georgia is still used to a limited degree as a terrorist transit state, although much less so since the government crackdown on the Pankisi Gorge in 2002." Saakashvili affirmed that "there are no terrorists in Georgia and will not be any as long as I am president." Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili was more circumspect, commenting that no country in the world can categorically exclude the possibility that its territory has been used by terrorists, Caucasus Press reported. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze said the U.S. assessment should not be seen as "tragic," noting that it is difficult to control a mountainous region such as the Pankisi Gorge, and that the U.S. report acknowledges that "the infiltration [of Georgian territory] by terrorists has been reduced to a minimum." In Moscow, Akhmar Zavgaev, who is Chechnya's representative on the Federation Council, said on 28 April that militants, including foreign mercenaries, continue to enter Chechnya from Georgian and Azerbaijani territory, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, FOREIGN MINISTER SEEK TO REASSURE ARMENIAN MINORITYGeorgian Foreign Minister Zourabichvili has assured Armenians currently serving at the Russian military base in Akhalkalaki that the Georgian government will offer them alternative employment after that base is closed, Caucasus Press reported on 28 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). Meeting on 28 April with visiting Armenian parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, President Saakashvili likewise affirmed that the Georgian government will implement a development plan for the remote, impoverished, and mountainous region, including improving existing highways linking it with other parts of Georgia and with neighboring Armenia. LF
 RUSSIAN OFFICER ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH GALI DEATHA Georgian military official told Caucasus Press on 28 April that a Russian officer with the peacekeeping force deployed in the Abkhaz conflict zone has been detained in connection with the 20 April death of a young Georgian in Gali Raion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 25, and 26 April 2005). He said Russian, Georgian, Abkhaz, and UN officials are investigating the incident together with the North Caucasus Military Prosecutor's Office. Also on 28 April, a Russian officer from the North Caucasus Military District told Caucasus Press that the Russian peacekeeper accused of killing the young man acted correctly. He claimed the victim was drunk and tried to take possession of the Russian officer's gun. LF
 KAZAKH OPPOSITION BLOC APPLIES FOR REGISTRATIONThe opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan has applied for registration with the Justice Ministry, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 28 April, citing a ministry source. The bloc was formed on 20 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). DK
 KAZAKH COURT ORDERS ARREST OF OPPOSITION FIGUREA court in Almaty called on 28 April for the arrest of former Emergency Situations Agency head Zamanbek Nurkadilov, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Nurkadilov, a onetime supporter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev who joined the opposition in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 2004), faces defamation over his charges that unnamed officials were complicit in the 2004 death of journalist Askhat Sharipzhanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004 and "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 21 January 2005). The court, which has not yet ruled on the substance of the case, had ordered on 20 April that Nurkadilov be brought to court by force after he refused to appear, although he entered a "not guilty" plea in absentia. The latest ruling reinforces that decision. Mustakhim Tuleev, who is representing Nurkadilov, told "Kazakhstan Today" that his client plans to appeal the 28 April ruling, which comes into force in 10 days. Also on 28 April, the bloc For a Just Kazakhstan issued a statement condemning the ruling and calling it part of a series of repressive measures aimed at the opponents of President Nazarbaev, fergana.ru reported. DK
 KAZAKH OPPOSITION PARTY EXPELS FOUNDERS OF SPLINTER PARTYLyudmila Zhulanova, deputy chairwoman of the opposition party Ak Zhol, told a news conference in Astana on 28 April that the party has expelled former chairmen Bulat Abilov, Altynbek Sarsenbaev, and Oraz Zhandosov, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Zhulanova said that the former chairmen, who have since formed a splinter party called True Ak Zhol (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005), were expelled for violating the party's charter. Zhulanova expressed "indignation" and "perplexity" at the "situation with regard to Ak Zhol." DK
 ACTING KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS KAZAKHSTANActing Kyrgyz Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva met with Kazakh Foreign Minister Qasymzhomart Toqaev and Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov in Astana on 28 April for talks focusing on bilateral relations, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service and Kazakh Service reported. Toqaev said that his discussion with Otunbaeva revealed "no differences of opinion," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. "We think that Kazakhstan's dynamic economic growth will be a stabilizing factor [in the region]," RFE/RL's Kazakh Service quoted Otunbaeva as saying. Toqaev reiterated his government's decision to send Kyrgyzstan 1,000 tons of wheat and 10,000 tons of fuel in humanitarian aid. Addressing the significance of recent events in Kyrgyzstan for Kazakhstan, Toqaev said, "In Kazakhstan, the repetition of such events is practically impossible. The weakness of the previous [Kyrgyz] regime was its [penchant for] giving promises [and] signing agreements and treaties without carrying them out." DK
 KYRGYZ CONSTITUTIONAL COUNCIL BEGINS WORK...Kyrgyzstan's constitutional council held its first session on 28 April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The council, which consists of 114 representatives of government and civil society, is charged with developing constitutional reform proposals in the run-up to the 10 July presidential elections. At the first session, delegates passed a charter to frame the council's subsequent work, Kabar reported. DK
 ...AS ACTING PRESIDENT ADDRESSES REFORMSIn an address to the council, acting President Bakiev stressed that constitutional reforms are needed, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Bakiev had earlier counseled against haste in changing the country's basic law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005). The acting president also addressed a number of other issues, akipress.org reported. Bakiev expressed support for increasing the prime minister's power and making parliament the chief organ for setting social and economic policy. He also spoke out in favor of electing parliament on the basis of party slates, replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment, and introducing dual Kyrgyz-Russian citizenship. DK
 KYRGYZ SUPREME COURT PROTESTS CONTINUEDemonstrators demanding the removal of Supreme Court head Kurmanbek Osmonov and the review of several rulings on election-related disputes continued to paralyze the high court on 28 April, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Although Osmonov has submitted his resignation, acting President Bakiev has yet to accept it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 April 2005). Previous protests had taken place in and around the Supreme Court building (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2005); the demonstration on 28 April was held on the square before parliament. Deputy parliament speaker Bolotbek Sherniyaz met with protestors, promising that the parliament will review their demands. DK
 TAJIK COTTON GROWERS SECURE EXTENSION ON DEBTSMurodali Alimardonov, the head of Tajikistan's National Bank, announced at a news conference in Dushanbe on 28 April that Tajikistan's cotton farmers will be given an additional five years to repay loans, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Alimardonov said that as a result of falling harvests in recent years, Tajik cotton farmers now owe $218 million to domestic and foreign creditors. DK
 UZBEK WORKERS ON HUNGER STRIKEMore than 400 workers at Uzbekistan's Shorsuv Metalworks were on the third day of a hunger strike on 27 April, fergana.ru reported the next day. The workers began their hunger strike as a protest against the plant's managers, who they say cheated them out of shares in the enterprise. Ferghana Province Governor Shermat Nurmatov had told the hunger strikers on 26 April that only a court could resolve the conflict, but the protestors replied that they have sought justice through the courts for eight months without result. The workers said that they will await word from President Islam Karimov, whom they addressed in a 25 April telegram demanding the resignation of the government and threatening continued protest actions if their demands are not met. DK
 BELARUS UNLIKELY TO ADOPT RUSSIAN RUBLE IN 2006Belarusian National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich told journalists in Minsk on 28 April that Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin did not agree on the introduction of the Russian ruble in Belarus as of 1 January 2006 during their meeting on 22 April, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. According to Prakapovich, Minsk believes that its switchover to the Russian ruble should close both countries' integration, whereas Moscow thinks that Belarus might adopt the Russian ruble at the current stage of integration without any negative consequences for its economy. Prakapovich said it is "technically" impossible to make the Russian ruble Belarus's currency as of next year. "We need half a year as a minimum following the agreement [on Belarus's switchover to the Russian ruble]," Prakapovich said. "Taking into account that the agreement may be adopted no sooner than November, unfortunately, we cannot introduce the single currency as of 1 January 2006 due to objective reasons." In 2004, Lukashenka and Putin planned that Belarus would switch to the Russian ruble in 2005, thus enabling both countries to adopt a single, unspecified currency in 2006. JM
 JAILED BELARUSIAN, UKRAINIAN DEMONSTRATORS IN MINSK GO ON HUNGER STRIKEZmitser Dashkevich, Kiryl Shymanovich, and Syarzhuk Vysitski from Belarus jointly with Ihor Huz, Andrey Bokach, Oleksandr Hrymalyuk, Oleksiy Panasyuk, and Oleksandr Mashlay from Ukraine went on a hunger strike on 28 April in the detention center on Akrestsina Street in Minsk, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The group was detained during an antipresidential demonstration in Minsk on 26 April and sentenced to jail terms the following day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 April 2005). Kyiv has officially accused Minsk of violating the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by denying opportunities for proper legal defense to the Ukrainian detainees. Ukrainian Consul in Minsk Vasyl Serdeha met with the jailed Ukrainians on 28 April. Activists of Ukraine's National Alliance youth movement picketed the Belarusian Embassy in Kyiv on 28 April and reportedly presented the mission with a textbook on human rights and a basket of oranges, symbolic of last year's Orange Revolution in Ukraine. JM
 GERMANY PLEDGES TO CONTINUE ASSISTANCE TO CHORNOBYL VICTIMS IN BELARUSThe German Embassy in Minsk said in a statement on 28 April that Germans are determined to continue assistance to victims of the Chornobyl nuclear accident "regardless of multiple bureaucratic obstacles," Belapan reported. The embassy noted that since the disaster occurred in 1986, German state and private organizations and people have provided 360 million euros ($466 million) in assistance to Chornobyl victims, adding that this sum does not include Germany's contribution to the UN, EU, and other international Chornobyl-related programs. In 2004, Germany's Chornobyl aid to Belarus amounted to $20 million. About 11,000 children from the Chornobyl-affected areas visited Germany for recuperation or treatment. The statement came two days after President Lukashenka claimed that the West has not provided any humanitarian aid to Chornobyl victims in Belarus, Ukraine, or Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 April 2005). JM
 UKRAINIAN PROSECUTORS PROBE FORMER REGIONAL OFFICIAL FOR VOTE RIGGING...The Prosecutor-General's Office opened a criminal case against Viktor Dyadchenko, former deputy chief of the Zakarpatska Oblast administration, who is charged with vote rigging and theft of documents during local elections in Mukacheve in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 28 April 2004), Interfax reported on 29 April. Dyadchenko was arrested earlier this week. "It has been established that during the mayoral elections in Mukacheve on 18-19 April 2004, Dyadchenko, as an official acting with an organized group, deliberately entered inaccurate information in documents of district election commissions. In abusing his powers, he pressured the heads of election commissions to make changes in completed ballot-counting documents," the Prosecutor-General's Office press service said. JM
 ...AND ANOTHER FOR EXTORTIONThe Ukrainian Interior Ministry directorate for Sumy Oblast has initiated a criminal case against Volodymyr Shcherban, former head of the Sumy Oblast administration, on charges of extortion, Interfax reported on 29 April, quoting Interior Ministry spokeswoman Inna Kysil. According to Kysil, Shcherban in his administrative capacity "forced the managers of a number of enterprises to conduct transactions involving property" and demanded that controlling stakes in these businesses be sold to companies controlled by him. Shcherban's current whereabouts are unknown, Kysil added. JM
 HIV INFECTION RATE ACCELERATES IN UKRAINEThe Health Ministry announced on 28 April that the registered number of new infections with the HIV virus in Ukraine in 2004 amounted to 12,500, which is 25 percent more than the previous year, Interfax reported. From 1987 to 1 March 2005 Ukraine officially registered 76,900 HIV-positive Ukrainians and 314 HIV-positive foreigners. More than 9,000 people subsequently developed AIDS and 5,500 died of it. The ministry estimated that the number of HIV-infected Ukrainians could rise to as many as 479,000 by 2014 at present infection rates. JM
 BULGARIA FREES DETAINED SERBIAN OFFICERA court in Sofia ruled on 28 April that Serbian Colonel Cedomir Brankovic enjoys diplomatic immunity because he is a member of a visiting official delegation and must be freed from detention, where he was briefly held on the basis of a Croatian Interpol arrest warrant, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2005). A spokesman for the Bulgarian Interior Ministry said, however, that its prosecutors will appeal the decision, which will take three days. It is not clear what Brankovic will do in the interim. Croatia has reportedly asked Bulgaria to extradite him, but Belgrade has appealed to Zagreb to let him return to Serbia, promising that he will go to Croatia if a court there formally indicts him. PM
 BOSNIAN POLITICAL PARTIES AGREE ON POLICE REFORMMeeting on Mt. Vlasic near Travnik on 28 April, High Representative Paddy Ashdown agreed with the representatives of 11 political parties on a police reform for Bosnia-Herzegovina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 April 2005). The police will be subordinated to a central ministry -- not to the entities or cantons -- which will work together with a special committee consisting of two representatives of the Republika Srpska and three from the Croat-Muslim federation. Ashdown stressed that Bosnia will have one single police structure in place of the present 13. He said that there is nothing in the Mt. Vlasic agreement that requires the abolition of the two existing entity Interior ministries, but added that those ministries will no longer control the police. RFE/RL's broadcasters noted that many potentially complex details remain to be worked out, and that several politicians came away from the talks with differing interpretations of the agreement. Police reform has been one of Bosnia's major stumbling blocks on the road to Euro-Atlantic integration. PM
 MACEDONIA, KOSOVA NOT TO REQUIRE VISAS OF EACH OTHER'S CITIZENSIn response to the recent proposal by Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski to introduce a visa requirement for citizens of neighboring Kosova, Macedonian government spokesman Saso Colakovski said on 28 April that such a move would only be one of last resort and should be avoided, MIA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2005). "We should not make a move that would endanger our good economic cooperation with Kosovo. We should not close the doors to Kosovo," Colakovski argued. Crvenkovski had said that the Macedonian government should introduce visas for Kosovars in response to a new regulation by the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), which was interpreted by the Macedonian media as the introduction of a visa regime. However, Larry Rossin, who is the deputy head of UNMIK, said in Prishtina on 28 April that UNMIK has not introduced a visa requirement for foreigners, MIA reported. Rossin added that the document is simply aimed at monitoring and controlling the movement of foreigners in and out of Kosova (http://www.unmikonline.org/regulations/2005/RE200516.pdf). Also on 28 April, a UNMIK spokeswoman said the coming into force of this regulation has been postponed by two months from 1 May to 1 July, according to unmikonline.org. UB
 SMUGGLING ARRESTS RISE IN TRANSDNIESTER-UKRAINE BORDERArrests and confiscations of contraband have more than doubled on the Transdniester portion of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border, dpa reported on 28 April. According to a statement released by the Ukrainian government, smuggling-related detentions and confiscations in the first four months of 2005 have risen 160 percent over the same period the year before. Moldovan officials had repeatedly accused Kyiv of turning a blind eye to smuggling through Transdniester. But since his election last year, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has pledged to tighten up the border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 26 April 2005). BW
 POLAND TO HELP MOLDOVA WITH EU ON TRANSDNIESTERPolish First Deputy Foreign Minister Jan Truszczynski said Warsaw will use its influence within the European Union to push Brussels toward deeper engagement on the Transdniester issue, Infotag and BASA reported on 28 April. Truszczynski made the pledge at a meeting with Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova, adding that the EU could get involved in resolving the dispute over the separatist area under the auspices of the Action Plan recently signed by Brussels and Chisinau (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005). Truszczynski also said deploying international monitors on the Transdniestrian part of the Moldova-Ukraine border could pave the way toward a lasting settlement of the conflict in the breakaway region. BW
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSSES MILITARY, SECURITY, AND DISARMAMENTSpeaking at a military parade on 28 April commemorating the 13th anniversary of the fall of the communist regime in Kabul, General Abdul Rahim Wardak said that the deployment of the Afghan National Army ground forces will be completed in 2006, Afghanistan Television reported. In regard to regional and international threats, Afghanistan has decided to "establish and strengthen long-term strategic relations with the international community," Wardak said, without specifying what he meant by the international community. Wardak added that the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process is 80 percent complete and it will be finished in June. According to Wardak, 95 percent of all heavy weapons have been collected from local militias. The DDR process is only being applied to officially recognized militia forces, not the multitude of armed groups that fall outside the scope of the process (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 27 April 2005). AT
 U.S. SOLDIER KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTANA U.S. Army soldier was killed in action on 26 April in Khanaqin, Oruzgan Province, the U.S. Defense Department announced on 28 April (http://www.defenselink.mil). The soldier died when "enemy forces" attacked his patrol with small-arms fire. The statement did not identify the enemy. The neo-Taliban have recently escalated their activities in the area in and around Oruzgan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 19 and 27 April 2005). AT
 CIVILIANS INJURED IN FIREFIGHT IN EASTERN AFGHANISTANThree civilians were injured when coalition forces and Afghan soldiers clashed with "opponents of the government" in Nangarhar Province, official Afghanistan Television reported on 28 April. The clash followed a mine explosion and it "is said that the government's opponents used a passenger vehicle to defend themselves," leading to the injury of the passengers in the vehicle. According to a 26 April report by the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), one Afghan civilian was killed and two others were injured when U.S. soldiers fired on their vehicle after a U.S. military vehicle hit a mine in Nangarhar's Khogiani District. The deputy security commander of Nangarhar, Amir Khan Lewal, told AIP that according to his reports "one civilian has been killed and three wounded." "We have no further details," he added. AT
 TEMPORARY AFGHAN RADIO AND TV COMMISSION ESTABLISHEDBased on a decree by President Hamid Karzai, and in accordance with Article 20 of the law on mass media, a temporary commission for Afghan national radio and television broadcasting has been established, Radio Afghanistan reported on 27 April. The five-member commission is headed by Mohammad Musa Marufi and its remaining members are Mawlawi Mostafa Farahi Barakzai, Sajeda Milad, Hashem Esmat Elahi, and Jailani Shams. The media law stipulates that the commission "shall be established for better regulating of audio and visual media." According to the law, the commission can issue licenses and allocate frequencies to radio and television stations, issue "professional guidance to political parties" for using the airwaves, issue guidance to "owners of the electronic media; and monitor the "observation of the provisions" of the media law by the media (for more on the Afghan media law, see "RFE/RL Media Matters," 2 July 2004). AT
 IRAN-EU NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN PREDICTEDIran-EU nuclear negotiations are scheduled to resume on 29 April in London, and the previous day Supreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi told state radio that the negotiations will continue if the Iranian side believes there is a chance of progress. Unidentified European diplomats in Vienna said on 27 April that Iran is increasing pressure on France, Germany, and the United Kingdom ahead of the talks, Reuters reported. One diplomat said to expect angry comments from the Iranians because they will not receive a definitive response from the Europeans. European efforts to play for time will displease Tehran, one diplomat said. In The Hague, meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi stressed what he perceives as Iran's right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes during an address at the Dutch Society for International Affairs, state television reported. Kharrazi said Iran is committed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and he called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor Israeli nuclear activities. Kharrazi complained that countries with nuclear weapons are discriminating against those that want to use nuclear energy peacefully. He said Iran's suspension of uranium enrichment is temporary. BS
 TEHRAN REJECTS U.S. TERRORIST LABELIranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 28 April rejected the U.S. State Department's "Country Reports on Terrorism 2004," which identifies Iran as the most active state sponsor of terrorism, state radio reported. Assefi attributed the report to "America's disappointment at the failure of its illegitimate policies in the Middle East." Assefi said Iran fights terrorism and has been in "the forefront of the war against terror." In what is presumably a reference to Israel, Assefi said, "We must remember that as the supporter of the most notorious terrorist regime America is not in a position to speak about the war on terror." Assefi added that the United States has a "dismal human rights record." BS
 LEBANESE SHI'ITE LEADER CONTINUES IRANIAN VISITExpediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani met with Sheikh Abd al-Amir Qabalan, deputy head of the Supreme Islamic Council of the Shi'a Community in Lebanon, on the evening of 27 April in Tehran, IRNA reported. Hashemi-Rafsanjani advised his guest, "The Americans are after the implementation of their colonialist plans aimed at securing their full hegemony in the region and looting its resources." He noted that developments in Iraq will have a regional impact, and expressed the Iranian government's concern about events in Lebanon. Qabalan said Islamic unity would prevent the United States, Israel, or any other country from challenging the Muslim community. "Today," Qabalan told his host, "Iran is the source of hope for the regional nations and the world's Muslims." BS
 TEHRAN DAILY'S REPORTERS LAID OFFMore than 50 employees of the "Iranshahr" section of "Hamshahri" daily newspaper have been dismissed from their jobs, Radio Farda reported on 27 April. "Hamshahri" is affiliated with the Tehran municipality and has become more conservative under Mayor Mahmud Ahmadi-Nejad. Reporter Shahram Farhangi told Radio Farda that the layoff is illegal because the employees are entitled to one month notice, and he speculated that there is a desire for more conservative correspondents. However, Farhangi said, "Iranshahr" has never done political work. The reporters plan to demonstrate outside the "Hamshahri" headquarters on 30 April, Radio Farda reported. BS
 PROSPECTIVE IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES SPEAK OUTExpediency Council Chairman Hashemi-Rafsanjani reiterated on 28 April that he will be a candidate in the 17 June presidential election if a better candidate does not throw his hat in the ring, IRNA reported. "If I see the thing I had expected is not going to happen, I will put myself forward as a candidate for the presidential election," he said. Tehran Mayor Ahmadi-Nejad said on 28 April he will announce his decision on whether to be a candidate in 10-15 days, IRNA reported. He refused to comment on other prospective candidates or the parties, but he did say that the platform is more important than the individual. BS
 IRAN CONSIDERS MAYORAL ELECTIONSPresident Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami proposed in Tehran on 28 April that every municipality with a population in excess of 1 million should hold mayoral elections, state radio reported. Currently, the Interior Ministry appoints mayors. Khatami explained, "This move will strengthen city management and will encourage greater involvement by the people in the affairs of the cities." Iran's first municipal-council elections, in 1999, were supposed to have the same effect. Ill-defined powers limited their effectiveness. BS
 SIX BOMBS TARGET IRAQI SECURITY IN CAPITAL...Insurgents launched six bomb attacks in Baghdad on 29 April, international media reported. Four coordinated suicide-bomb attacks targeted Iraqi security forces in the Al-Azamiyah district of the capital with initial reports indicating that at least 13 were killed and 50 wounded, Reuters reported. One bomb targeted a restaurant where police and Iraqi National Guardsmen were eating breakfast, killing seven guardsmen, two police officers, and four civilians. Thirty-five civilians, 13 guardsmen, and two policemen were wounded in the attack. A fifth car bomb elsewhere in the capital targeted a National Guard convoy. A sixth bomb detonated as medical teams arrived at the scene; two Iraqis were killed in the incident, Reuters reported. KR
 ...AS FIVE BOMBS EXPLODE OUTSIDE BAGHDADElsewhere in Iraq, three car bombs detonated in Mada'in, located some 40 kilometers southeast of Baghdad, targeting a checkpoint, post office, and hospital, the BBC reported. Iraqi security forces stormed the town last week on suspicions that dozens of Shi'a were being held hostage by Sunni insurgents following the discovery of some 55 bodies floating in the Tigris River in and around Mada'in (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 April 2005). Sunni leaders claimed the raid, which turned up no hostages, was based on a fabricated story and likened it to last year's incursion by multinational forces into Al-Fallujah. Meanwhile, insurgents in Irbil detonated a roadside bomb as a bomb-disposal expert and a civilian were trying to defuse it, police told Reuters. A roadside bomb attack on an Iraqi border-guard patrol west of Al-Basrah killed one soldier and wounded two, Iraqi Lieutenant Colonel Abd al-Hadi al-Najar told AP. In all, officials estimate some 24 dead and 89 wounded in the 11 attacks, Reuters reported. KR
 SUNNIS OBJECT TO IRAQI CABINET LIST...Transitional Vice President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir said on 28 April that the composition of the transitional cabinet did not meet the expectations of the Sunnis, who had demanded nine cabinet posts, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. Al-Ja'fari appointed four Sunni ministers; he is expected to name a fifth Sunni as defense minister. Salih al-Mutlaq of the National Dialogue Council and Mish'an al-Juburi of the Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc both criticized Shi'a for backtracking on an agreement to meet with Sunnis prior to the announcement of the cabinet. Shi'a were to sign off at the meeting on a political statement calling for the revision of the de-Ba'athification law, the dissolution of the Iraqi Army, and justice for those recently isolated by the political process. In a speech to parliament broadcast on Al-Sharqiyah television after the cabinet vote, Al-Juburi criticized assembly speaker Hajim al-Hassani for not allowing parliamentarians to speak until after the vote of confidence was taken, saying, "The political annihilation and exclusion of an important and basic group of the Iraqi people was exercised today." KR
 ...AS AL-JUBURI MAKES ACCUSATIONS AGAINST SUNNI APPOINTEESIn his statement to the parliament, Mish'an al-Juburi claimed that some members of the newly appointed government tried to kill him 14 years ago "in the name of Iraqi intelligence." He said that he raised the issue with Shi'a but was not allowed to express his opinion before the entire assembly ahead of the vote. Al-Juburi later told Al-Jazeera: "We feel that we have been let down and that our arms have been twisted. Our existence in this country has not been respected and a process of serious sectarian isolation has been exercised against us." Al-Juburi claimed that Shi'a conspired against the Sunnis in the government formation, and criticized Vice President al-Yawir for not vetoing the cabinet list in the Presidency Council's vote. "Now we believe that those who think that they represent the Sunni Arabs should withdraw from the government," al-Juburi said. KR
 IRAQI SUNNI OPPOSITION LEADER ACCUSES SHI'A OF PLAYING DIRTYSheikh Jawad al-Khalisi, secretary-general of the Iraqi Constituent Conference, told "Al-Hayat" that Shi'a have attempted to conspire against the boycott movement by courting Sunnis to participate in the cabinet, the daily reported on 28 April. Al-Khalisi criticized the use of quotas in the appointment of the cabinet. He called for an end to "the dirty play" of sectarian identity that he said was carried out in the cabinet appointments. He called the inclusion of the Sunni parties that boycotted the elections in the transitional government "a political ploy to conspire against Iraq and the Sunnis in particular by convincing them that they made big and disastrous mistakes by boycotting the general elections," al-Khalisi said. He also accused the United States of interfering in the formation of the government. KR
 MUSLIM SCHOLARS' HEAD APPEALS FOR RELEASE OF ROMANIAN HOSTAGES IN IRAQMuslim Scholars Association head Harith al-Dari issued an appeal on 28 April for the release of three Romanian journalists held captive in Iraq, following a request by the Romanian government for intervention, Al-Jazeera television reported the same day. Al-Dari told the satellite news channel that the Muslim Scholars Association is opposed to kidnapping. "I call on [the kidnappers] to treat the hostages well and to release them in honor of the friendly Romanian people and the very large Arab and Iraqi community in Romania," he said. Meanwhile, the Romanian government asked for the release of journalist Marie Jeanne Ion as a gesture of good will, Bucharest's Pro TV reported on 28 April. KR
 PRESS FREEDOM IN THE FORMER SOVIET UNION: A REPORT CARDBy Christopher Walker
World Press Freedom Day, marked on 3 May, offers an opportunity to take stock of the challenges individual journalists and news organizations face in fulfilling their professional duties. Dramatically different stories have emerged in countries of the former Soviet Union (FSU) and the wider geographic swath to the west and south that represented the communist world during the Cold War.
The overall picture for independent media in the 12 countries of the non-Baltic FSU is grim. Journalists face enormous obstacles in settings where authorities have denied an enabling environment for independent journalism and the free flow of information. Despite the considerable attention and resources devoted to the issue of press freedom, the overall trend in recent years in the FSU has been toward even tighter control by the authorities. Ten of the 12 non-Baltic FSU countries are ranked "Not Free" in the 2005 edition of Freedom House's "Freedom of the Press" survey.
On the most repressive end of the continuum is Turkmenistan, where the government controls all radio and television broadcasts and the print media. An Orwellian-like domination of the information sector leaves a gaping information vacuum that is filled only by the bizarre musings of President Saparmurat Niyazov.
The Turkmen authorities seem determined to demolish any remaining vestiges of contact with the outside world from a country that is already severely isolated. A recently issued Niyazov decree forbids foreign postal services from delivering to Turkmenistan. This measure means, among other things, that foreign newspapers and magazines are effectively barred from entering the country.
Just ahead of Turkmenistan are Belarus and Uzbekistan, both of which feature dreadful environments for independent media and have intensified restrictions in light of recent political developments in other parts of the FSU. These highly repressive regimes maintain near total control over the news media, using a mix of intimidation and control of state resources. The judiciary, which operates at the whim of the executive in both of these countries, is a favored tool for selectively applying laws against reporters and news organizations that stray from these regimes' strict line.
The next group of countries -- Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan (judged by conditions in 2004 under the rule of recently ousted President Askar Akaev) -- allowed slightly more pluralism than the worst performers but nonetheless were extremely unfriendly environments for independent journalism in 2004. Apart from Kyrgyzstan -- which has enabled some modest openings for a free press since Akaev left office on 24 March -- these countries have also tightened the screws recently, at least in part due to the political changes that emerged in Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.
Russia, which joined the ranks of "Not Free" countries in 2003, enjoys a print media that can express a diversity of viewpoints. The Kremlin, however, has worked diligently to bring the country's most influential media, the main national television networks -- Channel 1 (ORT), NTV, and RTR -- under its control. The extent of television news convergence came into full view during the presidential election campaign in March 2004, when coverage was steeply slanted toward President Vladimir Putin.
The picture in the FSU stands in stark contrast to the new EU member states, where a basic consolidation of press independence has been established. The Baltic states, which were involuntary members of the Soviet Union but nonetheless have had to overcome the legacy and pathologies of Soviet-era media, have managed to establish both the framework and practice supporting press freedom. Estonia has distinguished itself with a widely recognized effort to boost Internet access, making it one of the most cyber-oriented countries in Europe.
The media in Southeastern Europe are a mixed picture. Although media are active and diverse in much of the region, many countries still confront difficult challenges in anchoring unfettered and independent news media. Intimidation and violence against journalists who report on corruption remains an issue. A lack of transparency of ownership in the postprivatization phase is another major challenge confronting the countries of Southeastern Europe.
The degree to which each country permits the free flow of information determines the classification of its media as "Free," "Partly Free," or "Not Free." In the wider regional context, over the last five years the ranks of "Not Free" countries have grown from seven in 2001 to 10 in 2005 (Armenia, Moldova, and Russia moved to the "Not Free" column). Ukraine this year moved from the "Not Free" category to "Partly Free." In 2001, 11 countries were ranked "Partly Free;" today, there are nine countries in this category. Nine countries were categorized as "Free" five years ago. The eight new EU member states are the only countries in this category in 2005, as Bulgaria slipped from "Free" to "Partly Free" in 2004.
The countries that have enjoyed recent political change are worthy of attention over the coming cycle. While Ukraine and Georgia remain in the early stages of their political transition, the rotation of power in those countries brought with them changes in the media landscape. As a result of this opening, Ukraine moved from the "Not Free" to "Partly Free" category. These two countries -- as well as Kyrgyzstan -- have an opportunity to build on the nascent changes to create the sort of enabling environment for independent media that could be a model for others in the region, whose press freedom performance is so woefully deficient.Christopher Walker is director of studies at Freedom House. 2005 is the 25th year in which Freedom House has issued its annual publication, "Freedom of the Press: A Global Survey of Media Independence," which assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and Internet freedom in every country in the world (http://www.freedomhouse.org)