|Thursday, 12 December 2019|
RFE/RL Newsline, 05-05-04
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 PRO-KREMLIN CONSULTANT WARNS THAT FINANCIAL AMNESTY IS NOT FOR OLIGARCHSEffective Politics Foundation head and political consultant Gleb Pavlovskii, who has close ties to the Kremlin, suggested to ORT on 2 May that the de facto amnesty for repatriated capital proposed recently by President Vladimir Putin would not be extended to Russia's oligarchs. Putin suggested that wealthy Russians could "repatriate" any assets from abroad if they pay a 13-percent tax and deposit funds in Russian banks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). Pavlovskii said the president's offer is aimed primarily at the "mass of small people" who have been reluctant to legitimize small amounts of capital since the 1998 ruble meltdown. "Most owners of large fortunes have already legalized their capital abroad," Pavlovskii said, "and the state has no intention of worrying about the fears of 10 to 20 super rich people who stole so much after 1991." VY
 RUSSIANS REPORTEDLY SEEK TO ACQUIRE TROUBLED U.K. CARMAKEREkho Moskvy reported on 2 May that at least two Russian entrepreneurs are among those seeking to purchase assets of the last major British-owned carmaker, MG Rover Group, which filed for bankruptcy on 8 April. One of the interested parties is reportedly Nikolai Smolenskii, the son of banker Aleksandr Smolenskii, who already owns U.K. sports-car maker TVR, which he purchased in 2004 but which recently saw significant cuts at its Lancashire factory, according to BBC. The other possible buyer is aluminum mogul Oleg Deripaska, who controls Basic Element and automotive holding RosPromAuto. VY
 INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER CALLS CHUBAIS ASSASSINATION PLOT 'UNBELIEVABLE'Investigative journalist Yuliya Latynina told Ekho Moskvy on 30 April that inconsistencies in the case of a retired intelligence officer's alleged attempt to assassinate Unified Energy Systems chief Anatolii Chubais make the story "unbelievable." Former military-intelligence officer Vladimir Kvachkov and two other men, Robert Yashin and Aleksandr Naidenov, were arrested on suspicion of involvement in a purported attempt on Chubais's life (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March and 21 and 22 April 2005). Latynina suggested that the incident and subsequent events might be an attempt to pit Russian liberals, represented by Chubais, against the Russian national-patriotic camp, exemplified by Kvachkov and his circle. Both of those groups have protested Kremlin policies, Latynina said, and the presidential administration might like to prevent any possible alliance against it. VY
 RUSSIA, JAPAN SAID TO BE EXPLORING A TUNNEL LINKA source within the Russian Transportation Ministry has claimed that Moscow and Tokyo are discussing a plan to construct a rail tunnel that would connect the Japanese island of Hokkaido with Russia's Sakhalin Island and the Russian mainland, Interfax reported on 28 April. The first leg, between Hokkaido and Sakhalin, would extend for 42 kilometers, while the Sakhalin-to-the-Russian Far East segment would span seven kilometers. The Transportation Ministry source claimed that Japanese and U.S. investors have expressed interest in the possible project. Planners say the tunnels would allow for some 20 million tons of goods to be transported via a new route from Japan to Europe, Interfax reported. Most cargo between Japan and Europe currently travels south by sea, eventually passing through the Suez Canal. The source added that while the project would be costly, "if we don't fill this space, the Chinese will, and they will transport the goods through their territory," according to Interfax. VY
 NATIONAL TV NETWORK'S EMPLOYEES REPORTEDLY TOLD TO ADOPT NEW LINE..."Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 29 April that employees at REN-TV, widely considered the most independent of Russia's national television channels, have already been instructed "as to how they should love the Motherland now" in anticipation of new ownership. Last month, Moscow-based newspapers reported that REN-TV will soon be sold to a consortium of Yevrofinans Mosnarbank and German media giant Bertelsmann (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 April 2005). According to "Komsomolskaya pravda," senior station executives are using the expression "the show is over." Unified Energy Systems currently owns a 70 percent stake in the network. According to pressattache.ru on 25 April, REN-TV has the largest private television network in Russia after TNT and STS. JAC
 ...AS NEW OPTION EXPLORED FOR SIBERIAN TVTomsk Governor Viktor Kress has decided to create a new public television station for the oblast, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 28 April. The oblast budget will provide the main financing for the new non-commercial company. According to RFE/RL's Tomsk correspondent, Tomsk officials are not seeking to create a Tomsk-style BBC, which "formally does not rely on the government or on ratings and survives on the tax revenue from the sale of televisions." Instead, they say public television should bring the authorities closer to the people and reduce residents' current dissatisfaction with existing television programs. JAC
 TWO FOREIGNERS BEATEN IN POSSIBLE SKINHEAD ATTACKTwo servicemen from Algeria were beaten up in Moscow on 1 May by young men with short haircuts and heavy army boots, Tsentr-TV and Interfax reported. The servicemen are cadets at the Russian General Staff Academy. The Interior Ministry allowed that the young assailants might have been skinheads. The attack occurred around 9:20 p.m. near a metro station. JAC
 KOREANS IN FAR EAST TO SEEK REPARATIONS FROM JAPAN FOR WWII ACTIONSA foundation for ethnic Koreans in Sakhalin Oblast called For the Restoration of Justice has decided to launch a legal appeal to Japan's Supreme Court to seek financial compensation for the repatriation of ethnic Koreans from Sakhalin to their historic homeland, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 May. The group is asking that Japan acknowledge its responsibility for forcing around 40,000 ethnic Koreans to work in labor camps in Sakhalin from 1939 to 1945. There are some 6,000 ethnic Koreans still in Sakhalin, 4,000 of whom have expressed a desire to move to South Korea, according to the agency. The South Korean government has in the past provided funds for ethnic Koreans to resettle in their country (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 3 May 2001). JAC
 ZHUKOV REMEMBERED WITH IRKUTSK MONUMENTThe raising of a monument of Soviet military commander Marshall Georgii Zhukov has begun in Irkutsk to prepare for its unveiling on 8 May, the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, RTR reported on 2 May. Sculptor Aleksandr Mironov designed the bronze figure, which is nine meters tall. City authorities plan to create a museum devoted to Zhukov. JAC
 APRIL SNOW SHOWERS BRING MAY FLOWERS?Parts of the Russian Far East are experiencing anomalous weather for this time of year, RIA-Novosti reported on 2 May. A snowstorm fell on the northern part of Khabarovsk Krai, exceeding the two-month norm for precipitation that area. RTR reported that electricity supplies were cut off in several regions. The region was prepared for nature's surprise, according to RTR; the city's main airport managed to keep its flight schedule on time with the exception of only a few local flights. Typically, weather in the krai this time of year is warm and gardens are blooming. Flights were canceled in the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii in Kamchatka Oblast on the night of 1 May due to high winds. JAC
 INGUSHETIAN OPPOSITION LEADER RELEASEDThe Nazran District Court ordered the early release on 2 May of parliamentary deputy Musa Ozdoev, who was sentenced late on 30 April to 72 hours of administrative detention on charges of petty hooliganism, ingushetiya.ru reported. Ozdoev had appealed his detention as illegal. Ozdoev told ingushetiya.ru after his release that he plans to continue his opposition activities and will convene further peaceful meetings to demand the resignation of President Murat Zyazikov. Ozdoev was detained by armed men on 30 April as he addressed a protest meeting in Nazran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN CENTRAL BANK OFFICIAL DOWNPLAYS IMPACT OF DRAM'S APPRECIATIONSpeaking in Yerevan on 2 May at a joint news conference with James McHugh, head of the IMF's Yerevan office, Armenian Central Bank board member Vache Gabrielian said the rise since 2004 in the value of the Armenian natural currency vis-a-vis the U.S. dollar is beneficial for the Armenian population and does not negatively impact the budget, Noyan Tapan reported. Affirming that "we do not share the view that the country is on the brink of [economic] collapse," Gabrielian said the Central Bank will continue to allow the dram to float and will intervene only if fluctuations in the exchange rate become "very drastic." Also on 2 May, an official from the Russian-owned International Energy Corporation, which buys electricity from Armenia for drams and sells it to Georgia for U.S. dollars, announced that the company suspended power supplies to Georgia the previous day and will resume them only when Georgia's Telasi power utility agrees to pay a higher price, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENT RATIFIES OIL CONTRACTS...Azerbaijan's parliament on 29 April ratified three oil contracts worth almost $1 billion that were signed last year to develop three on-shore oil fields, Turan and AFP reported. Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR has a stake in all three contracts. Its partners are Caspian Energy group (U.K.), Noble Sky (PRC/UAE), and the Turkish-Azerbaijani Azen Oil Company. LF
 ...WITH SOME DISSENTING VOICESTwo parliamentary deputies objected during the 29 April debate that the terms of the three oil contracts under discussion constitute a violation of the rights of Azerbaijan's oil-sector workers, Turan reported. Mais Safarli argued that Azerbaijan has numerous skilled oil workers and there is therefore no need for foreign companies developing Azerbaijani oil deposits to bring workers from abroad. He added that it is unfair to pay foreign personnel more than their Azerbaijani co-workers. Djalil Hasanli urged parliamentary speaker Murtuz Alesqerov to stop delaying debate of a draft law on the oil sector. LF
 AZERBAIJANI, U.S. FOREIGN MINISTERS MEETAzerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov met with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the sidelines of the Organization of American States foreign ministers' conference in Chile, Azerbaijani media reported on 30 April. Mammadyarov said they discussed bilateral relations and U.S. participation in the official ceremony on 25 May when the first Azerbaijani Caspian oil is pumped into the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline. LF
 NAKHICHEVAN POLICE TARGET INDEPENDENT LAWYERThe Supreme Court of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic has rejected an appeal by lawyer Elman Calilov against the 15-day administrative arrest imposed upon him on 24 April, Turan reported on 2 May. Calilov was preparing a documentary film on corruption in Azerbaijan from 1969-82, when Heidar Aliyev headed the Communist Party of Azerbaijan, and on the circumstances surrounding Aliyev's return to power in 1993. Police have confiscated the script and the source materials on which it was based. Calilov has since been charged with systematic embezzlement and with resisting arrest, his lawyer Telman Novruzade told Turan on 2 May. LF
 GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER THREATENS DJAVAKHETI ARMENIANSIrakli Okruashvili told journalists on 2 May that the Georgian government will take decisive steps to crush any protests by the largely Armenian population of Djavakheti in southern Georgia against the closure of the Russian military base that is the region's largest employer, Caucasus Press reported. Okruashvili warned that the government will not tolerate the emergence of a new hotbed of separatism, and he repeated recent pledges by other top Georgian officials that all Armenians currently employed at the Russian base will be offered alternative employment. LF
 GEORGIAN PRISON DIRECTOR INJURED IN SHOOTINGBadri Deisadze, who has for several years been director of the Geguti prison colony, was seriously injured on 2 May when a gunman opened fire on his car as he entered the driveway of his Kutaisi home, Caucasus Press reported. The gunman escaped, but police subsequently detained two suspects. Relatives of the two men, who are brothers, provided them with an alibi, however, Caucasus Press reported on 3 May. LF
 KAZAKH POLICE FREE AUSTRIAN HOSTAGEKazakh police have freed Ronald Erwin Walner, an Austrian businessman who had been held hostage in Karaganda since 26 February, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 2 May. A police spokesman told the news agency that several individuals were detained in the operation, adding that Walner had fallen victim to an organized crime group. DK
 FAMILIES OF SLAIN KYRGYZ DEMONSTRATORS TO RECEIVE COMPENSATIONActing Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service on 2 May that the families of six demonstrators shot dead in Aksy Province in March 2002 will receive compensation. Noting that the Supreme Court had previously refused to hear the relatives' grievances, Beknazarov said, "[The court] recently reviewed their complaint and ruled to give one million soms ($24,400) to each of the six families whose relatives perished during these events. This decision has been conveyed to the government to carry out." Beknazarov also noted that the events are under renewed investigation and that the guilty parties will be brought to justice. DK
 KYRGYZ PARTY NOMINATES ACTING PROSECUTOR-GENERAL FOR PRESIDENTThe political council of the Asaba Party reached a decision on 2 May to nominate party head and acting Prosecutor-General Beknazarov for president, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Beknazarov told RFE/RL that while the party has the right to nominate whomever it sees fit, he does not plan to comment publicly on the issue until after 10 May. DK
 TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY DEMANDS DETAILS OF LEADER'S 'EXTRADITION'Tajikistan's Democratic Party has sent a written appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, and Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov asking them to clarify the details of party head Muhammadruzi Iskandarov's transfer from Russia to Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 2 May. Iskandarov, who was released from detention in Russia in early April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 12 April 2005), had told his lawyers he was subsequently abducted in Russia and brought to Tajikistan by unknown individuals (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). Russian and Tajik authorities have not commented on the circumstances of Iskandarov's return to Tajikistan. Rahmatullo Valiev, deputy head of the Democratic Party, said that the party has also sent its appeal to the United Nations, the OSCE, and the British, French, German, and U.S. embassies. If the party does not receive an answer from Tajik authorities, Valiev said, it will withdraw from the country's Public Council. DK
 UZBEK WORKERS END HUNGER STRIKEMore than 400 workers at the Shorsuv Metal Works ended a weeklong hunger strike on 2 May after their demands were partially satisfied, Uznews.net reported. The workers began the hunger strike on 25 April to protest the actions of managers who, they alleged, defrauded them out of shares in the plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 2 May 2005). Authorities in Ferghana Province removed enterprise director Agzam Abdurahmonov and Uzbekistan District Governor Hashimjon Haydarov, agreed to earmark 50 million sums ($50,000) for the partial repayment of the enterprise's debt to workers, and promised to review individual compensation cases. A court will review charges against the former director. Hunger striker Begmat Batyrov told Uznews.net, "We fought so that our director would be an honest man, and we got what we wanted. Moreover, they promised us that the court will ensure that justice is done." DK
 MINSK, KYIV TRADE ACERBIC REMARKS OVER JAILED UKRAINIANSBelarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin said on 2 May that Belarus harbors no "special attitude" toward Ukraine, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Yesin was referring to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk's statement the previous day that Belarusian authorities have refused to release five Ukrainians arrested during a demonstration in Minsk on 26 April because of their "special attitude" toward Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). "The Republic of Belarus has always rejected the language of pressure, including media pressure," Yesin said. "We hope the Ukrainian side will not copy pseudo-democratic methods and forms of building interstate relations imposed by certain countries and international organizations." Ukrainian commentators suggested that Minsk granted early release to 14 Russians detained during the same demonstration while leaving the five Ukrainians in jail because of its prejudice against Kyiv, which backed a recent UN resolution condemning Belarus' human rights record (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2005). Meanwhile, a Minsk court that was reportedly scheduled to review the Ukrainians' jail sentences on 2 May postponed its hearing to 3 May. JM
 MEDIA WATCHDOG NOTES DIMINISHED PRESS FREEDOM IN BELARUS...The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said in a press release on 3 May that the regime of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka continued to tighten its grip on Belarusian media in 2004, while the Information Ministry used "bogus bureaucratic reasons" to suspend a dozen independent newspapers in the runup to the country's 17 October 2004 constitutional referendum and parliamentary election. "The independent press is fighting to survive and is overshadowed by government media that mostly spouts propaganda," the media watchdog concluded. According to Reporters Without Borders, in Belarus in 2004 nine journalists were arrested, seven were physically attacked or threatened, and one was expelled, while 26 media outlets were censored by the authorities. JM
 ...AND 'MEDIA REVOLUTION' IN UKRAINEReporters Without Borders said in a press release on 3 May that the 2004 presidential election campaign in Ukraine was marred by numerous attacks on media freedom. In total, 20 journalists were arrested, 32 physically attacked, and five threatened, and 30 media outlets censured by the authorities. Simultaneously, the media watchdog said the presidential campaign gave rise to an "unprecedented rebellion against censorship." "The Orange Revolution of presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko was accompanied by a media revolution that may or may not be sustained," Reporters Without Borders noted. JM
 PUNDITS SEE UPS, DOWNS IN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT'S FIRST 100 DAYSAccording to a number of political and economic experts, the first 100 days of Viktor Yushchenko's presidency of Ukraine marked on 3 May have brought him not only success on the international stage and high popularity at home but also serious problems. "Yushchenko managed to keep society's morale and hope for a better life high," AFP quoted Ukrainian political analyst Andriy Yermolayev as saying on 2 May. But Yermolayev added that while a new budget adopted in March boosted incomes by 25 percent in the first three months of 2005, it also led to 4.4 percent inflation in the same period. At the same time, economic growth slowed to 5.4 percent between January and March, compared to 10.8 percent for the same period in 2004. Yushchenko's economic adviser, Boris Nemtsov of Russia, believes the Ukrainian government's intent to re-evaluate dozens of privatizations has "scared away" potential investors. According to Yuliya Tyshchenko from the Ukrainian Independent Center of Political Studies quoted by RIA Novosti on 2 May, Yushchenko has made a number of controversial regional appointments that are seen primarily as rewards to supporters of his election bid and who are not necessarily those whom local elites and the general public would really want to have as their leaders. Tyshchenko opined that Yushchenko's first 100 days have not brought any major changes to Ukraine. JM
 SERBIAN MINISTER WANTS TO JOIN NATO PROGRAM 'IMMEDIATELY...'Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic told his Dutch counterpart, Ben Bot, in The Hague on 2 May that he wants "full membership" for his country in NATO's Partnership for Peace (PfP) program "immediately and without preconditions," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Draskovic stressed that membership in PfP would enable his country to revamp its security services and be in a better position to catch former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and other war crimes indictees. NATO has called on PfP applicants to apprehend indictees before being admitted. It is not clear if the sometimes mercurial Draskovic is speaking for himself or for his government. Some Serbian politicians have made statements in recent weeks calling for a "fast track" for their country in joining the EU, which suggests that they consider membership in Euro-Atlantic institutions a sort of political prize rather than the result of meeting a specific set of requirements (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). PM
 ...BUT NATO RECALLS PRECONDITIONSA NATO spokesman told Reuters in The Hague on 2 May that Serbia and Montenegro must catch Mladic if it wants integration with the EU and NATO. "Serbia [and] Montenegro already has a program of cooperation, which offers quite a lot of what PfP offers to partner nations. To join PfP fully, however, would require full cooperation with the [Hague-based war crimes] tribunal, and this would include General Mladic facing the charges against him." Meanwhile, in Tirana, representatives of Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia marked the second anniversary of the U.S.-backed Adriatic Charter aimed at preparing the three states for NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). Officials of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro also attended the meeting because those two countries are expected to be invited to join the Adriatic Charter once they have qualified for PfP. PM
 MACEDONIAN PRESIDENT AGAIN CALLS FOR VISAS FOR KOSOVARSMacedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said again on 29 April that Macedonia should immediately introduce a visa requirement for citizens of Kosova, the BBC's Macedonian Service reported. Crvenkovski noted that he recently spoke with Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), who told him that UNMIK has not introduced a visa requirement for Macedonian citizens (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 April 2005). However, Crvenkovski said UNMIK's new policy requiring foreigners to fill in forms and announce the reason for their stay in Kosova, as well as the fact that Kosovar border police can deny entry to foreigners, amounts in practice to the introduction of a visa requirement. "Kosovo is not in a position to blackmail Macedonia, and we must not be in a subordinate position in regards to Kosovo," Crvenkovski said. The president added that the introduction of a visa requirement for Kosovars could also strengthen Macedonia's position in upcoming talks about Kosovar proposals to change the bilateral free trade agreement. Jessen-Petersen announced that his deputy will go to Skopje on 4 May to discuss the matter with the Macedonian leadership, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. UB
 BOSNIAN MASSACRE SURVIVORS WANT A MEETING WITH GERMAN LEADERA group of 50 Bosnian Muslim women -- whose husbands, sons, and brothers were among the 8,000 mainly Muslim males killed by Serbian forces in Srebrenica in July 1995 -- said in a statement in Sarajevo on 3 May that they want to meet with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is on a one-day visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, dpa reported. The Srebrenica Mothers organization called on the German leader "to use his influence and urge the apprehension of some 890 [Bosnian Serbs] suspected of alleged involvement in the Srebrenica massacre." They also appealed to Schroeder not to meet with Borislav Paravac, who heads the rotating Bosnian presidency, because the women link him to Serbian ethnic cleansing campaigns during the 1992-95 conflict. PM
 CROATIAN PREMIER TAKES NEW TACK IN DEALING WITH WAR CRIMES CASECroatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said in Zagreb on 2 May that "if you want something to succeed, don't make it public," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He thereby indicated that he hopes to catch war crimes indictee and former General Ante Gotovina -- and thereby remove the major obstacle to starting EU membership talks -- by saying as little as possible about the case in public and by plugging leaks to the media. He declined to provide reporters with any information about media reports that the government has known for the past year the false name under which Gotovina is allegedly hiding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April and 2 May 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 24 September 2004). Sanader nonetheless noted that "the government has drafted an action plan, and what we are doing now is part of that plan. Understandably, I cannot say more in public, but [actions are already in progress], and I remain confident the [EU] talks will start in June." PM
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 28 AFGHANS KILLED WHEN HIDDEN ARMS DUMP EXPLODESTwenty-eight Afghans died and more than 70 others were injured when an arms dump exploded in northern Afghanistan, AFP reported on 2 May. The blast, which erupted from a secret underground bunker, ripped apart an entire neighborhood in Bachgah, a village some 180 kilometers (112 miles) north of Kabul. An area warlord had apparently hidden the arms to avoid having them confiscated as part of an ongoing disarmament campaign backed by the United Nations. "It was a dreadful, massive explosion," said Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal. "Lots of houses around the explosion site have been destroyed. The casualty toll from the explosion is 28 killed and more than 70 wounded." It was unclear whether the local warlord who controlled the weapons, Jalal-e-Bachgah, was killed in the explosion. MR
 AFGHAN FORCES ARREST SIX SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN FIGHTERSAfghan security forces have detained six suspected neo-Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan, Xinhua News Agency reported on 3 May. Afghan National Police (ANP) made the arrests while patrolling with U.S. Army forces near a village on the outskirts of Kandahar, the former Taliban stronghold. "Today's incident is a perfect example of the ANP taking the lead in the fight for their nation's freedom and stability," said U.S. Army Brigadier General James G. Champion, deputy commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force-76. "What happened clearly shows that Afghan forces and the Afghan people are sending a clear message to the insurgents that violence and oppression will not be tolerated," said deputy commander U.S. Army Brigadier General James G. Champion. Suspected neo-Taliban insurgents reportedly fired on the joint U.S.-Afghan patrol, which returned fire and captured six of the apparent attackers. MR
 MILLIONS OF AFGHANS REMAIN IN PAKISTANA new joint census by the UN and the Pakistani government concluded that more than 3 million Afghan refugees have settled in Afghanistan since 1979, Xinhua News Agency reported on 3 May. The research was conducted by the Pakistani government in cooperation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The census covered all of Pakistan and found that 1,861,412 Afghans are in the North-West Frontier Province bordering northeast Afghanistan, while another 783,545 are in Balochistan Province along Afghanistan's southern border with Pakistan. The census counted 136,780 Afghans in Sindh Province, 207,754 in Punjab Province, 44,637 in Islamabad, and 13,097 in Pakistan-controlled Kashmir. The data represents the most accurate tally of Afghans in Pakistan who have fled successive wars in Afghanistan that began with the Soviet invasion in 1979. Guebre-Christos, the head of UNHCR in Pakistan, said the data will be vital in determining what role the UN refugee agency will play in providing aid to Afghans remaining in Pakistan despite ongoing repatriation efforts. MR
 AFGHANISTAN TO AUCTION OFF MOBILE-PHONE LICENSESThe Afghan government plans to auction off mobile-phone licenses in a bid to spur development, the "London Times" reported on 2 May. The daily reported that Afghanistan plans to sell mobile-phone licenses based on the global system standard in Europe for prices expected to reach millions of dollars over the next two months. The government hopes to yield up to $200 million in foreign investment through the sales, according to the London paper. Government planners in Kabul said they hope the initiative will create thousands of jobs in Afghanistan, bolstering the country's efforts at economic recovery following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. A similar auction in Pakistan last year generated revenues of $291 million. Industry analysts say likely bidders in the coming Afghanistan auction include Orascom, a telecommunications company owned largely by Egyptian tycoon Naguib Sawiris, and Norwegian telecom company Telenor, which is already operating in Pakistan. Whatever company wins in the bidding should begin operations in January 2006. MR
 PROSPECTIVE CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE WITHDRAWS FROM IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACEConservative Tehran parliamentary representative Ahmad Tavakoli said on 1 May that he will not be a candidate in the June presidential election, Radio Farda reported. He said the decision is meant to preserve unity within the conservative faction. Tavakoli said in December he intended to be a candidate. He ran for president in 2001 and in 1993. BS
 LEADING CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE IN IRAN WORRIES ABOUT U.S.Ali Larijani, presidential candidate of the conservative Coordination Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, said on 2 May that the U.S. is trying to control Iran by threatening it, Mehr News Agency reported. He also told his audience at the women's Al-Zahra Seminary that women's legal rights should be recognized and women should be given job opportunities on the basis of their capabilities. BS
 IRANIANS STILL FEEL IMPACT OF IRAQI CHEMICAL WEAPONSKurdistan journalist Masud Kurdpur told Radio Farda on 2 May that the international court at The Hague will soon begin to investigate complaints against former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein made by victims of chemical weapons. Iraq used mustard agents, the nerve agent tabun, VX, sarin, and cyanide in the war with Iran (on complaints against Saddam Hussein see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 19 July 2004). The residents of Sardasht were bombed in June 1987, before the bombing at Halabja in Iraq in March 1988. An estimated 4,500 people were exposed to the toxins, and a significant proportion remains chronically ill. Kurdpur said a nongovernmental organization recently interviewed 30 residents of Oshnavieh and Sardasht in connection with a Dutch company's provision of chemicals to the Iraqi regime. The NGO pledged that their complaints will be dealt with by the end of the year. Kurdpur said the individuals responsible for providing these chemicals have been identified. Kurdpur said the Iranian government has cooperated with the investigation, and it has pledged to provide help to the victims and to build a hospital in the area. BS
 ALLEGED RINGLEADER OF SOUTHWESTERN UNREST IN IRAN IDENTIFIEDMinister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani on 2 May criticized the alleged ringleader of recent unrest in southwestern Iran, state television reported. Shamkhani said a man known as "al-Ahwazi" and his family were members of the Rastakhiz Party under the monarchy. Shamkhani claimed this meant they were agents of SAVAK, the monarchy's intelligence and security organization. During the Iran-Iraq War, al-Ahwazi was connected with Iraq's Baathist regime, Shamkhani added. The minister dismissed al-Ahwazi's importance and concluded, "To review the problems of Khuzestan, if we manage to abolish poverty, discrimination, humiliation and provocation, we will not have any problems in Khuzestan. Khuzestan is the production factory for revolutionary soldiers." BS
 SUNNI POLITICIAN SAYS DEAL REACHED WITH IRAQI GOVERNMENT OVER DEFENSE POSTMish'an al-Juburi of the Reconciliation and Liberation Bloc told Al-Jazeera television in a 2 May interview that a deal has been reached between Sunni politicians and Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari's government for the defense minister post. The post will reportedly go to Major General Ahmad Rakan Abd al-Aziz al-Shammari. Al-Juburi claimed that although Sunnis did not get the desired number of posts in the transitional government, they achieved success. He said: "We have been able to realize our viewpoint...It is we who decide who represents the Sunni Arabs and it is not the others who dictate on us who should represent us. As you know, there have been attempts by several parties to appoint representatives for the Sunni Arabs in the government based on their standards and choices. But in the end, our viewpoint triumphed." Al-Juburi claimed last week that "serious sectarian isolation has been exercised against us" by the Shi'ite parties (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 2 May 2005). The transitional cabinet is expected to be sworn in on 3 May. KR
 U.S. FORCES KILL 12 SUSPECTED INSURGENTS NEAR IRAQI BORDER TOWN...U.S. forces killed 12 suspected insurgents and wounded two other Iraqis, including a 6-year-old girl on 2 May, Reuters reported the next day. Six U.S. soldiers were wounded in the battle. The incident occurred when U.S. forces monitored a truck that drove to a suspected insurgent camp outside Al-Qa'im. The suspected insurgents loaded the truck with unidentified materials and began heading back toward the border town, but opened fire on U.S. forces after the vehicle was stopped for inspection. "A firefight ensured with nine enemy adult males killed," Reuters cited a U.S. military statement as saying. Three others were killed in an air strike on the camp. The military reportedly uncovered foreign currency, fake identification cards, and other unspecified items that link the individuals in the truck and camp to fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, who heads Iraq's Al-Qaeda wing, Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn. KR
 ...AS U.S. PILOT GOES MISSINGU.S. Central Command said in a 2 May statement posted to its website (http://www.centcom.mil) that it lost contact with two U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18 Hornet aircraft from the U.S.S. Carl Vinson "flying in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom." The military said there was no indication of hostile fire in the area at the time contact was lost. A U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad reported on 3 May that the body of one of the Marine pilots has been recovered, Reuters reported. The second pilot remains missing. The spokesman added: "The planes were flying too high to be shot down." Reuters reported that a heavy sandstorm and lightning plagued central Iraq at the time the planes went missing, but the U.S. military has yet to confirm the location of the aircraft at the time that contact was lost. KR
 ITALY WEIGHS IN ON AGENT'S DEATH AT U.S. HANDS IN IRAQThe Italian government has issued a 52-page report criticizing the U.S. military for failing to establish checkpoint rules and saying that nervous U.S. soldiers were to blame for the shooting incident that left Italian secret service agent Nicola Calipari dead, Reuters reported on 2 May. Calipari was killed on 4 March when U.S. soldiers fired on a vehicle transporting him and freed journalist Giuliana Sgrena to the Baghdad airport. Sgrena and a second Italian secret service agent were wounded in the attack. An earlier U.S. investigation called the incident a "tragic accident," saying U.S. forces followed procedures when they fired on the vehicle. The Italian investigation denied there was a breakdown in communication between the Italians and U.S. forces prior to the incident. U.S. forces had said they were unaware that the vehicle was en route to the airport; Italian officials had claimed that the U.S. military was informed of the vehicle's destination. The Italian report concluded that the checkpoint was carelessly organized, adding: "It is likely that tension...inexperience and stress led some of the U.S. troops to react instinctively and with little control" during the incident. KR
 MEDIA GROUP SAYS IRAQ WAR MOST DEADLY FOR JOURNALISTS SINCE VIETNAMReporters Without Borders (http://www.rsf.org) announced in a 3 May press release that the war in Iraq has proven to be the most deadly interstate war for journalists since the Vietnam War. Fifty-six journalists and media assistants have been killed and 29 kidnapped since March 2003, the organization said. "The Iraq conflict is the deadliest interstate war for journalists since the one in Vietnam, when 63 were killed, but over a period of 20 years (1955-1975). During the fighting in the former Yugoslavia (1991-1995), 49 journalists were killed doing the job," the organization reported. Fifty-seven journalists were killed in Algeria between 1993 and 1996, during that country's civil war. In a report released on 3 May, Reporters Without Borders says that 66 percent of the journalists killed were Iraqi, 13 percent European, while 11 percent came from other Arab states. KR
 UKRAINIAN TELEVISION DISPUTE CASTS GLARE ON BROADER PROBLEMBy Jan Maksymiuk
The Ukrainian Supreme Economic Court on 28 April rejected a complaint by the Prosecutor-General's Office against an earlier decision of the Kyiv Appellate Economic Court to approve the expansion of the broadcasting license of the NTN television channel to a nationwide network. Vitaliy Shevchenko, head of the National Council for Television and Radio Broadcasting (NRPTR), an eight-member constitutional body empowered to issue broadcasting licenses in Ukraine, said the same day that the broadcast council will appeal against the Supreme Economic Court decision.
The legal clash between the authorities and NTN over its license expansion has struck a raw nerve in the media sector in Ukraine, where many broadcasters are widely regarded to have obtained licenses under dubious circumstances. Since NTN is partly owned by Donetsk-based oligarch Eduard Prutnyk, who was once an adviser to then-Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the case also has political undertones.
"The NTN channel considers that the actions of the Prosecutor-General's Office [against NTN] show signs of the witch hunt in the Ukrainian media sector," NTN said in a statement in early April. NTN journalist Volodymyr Kartashkov openly accused President Viktor Yushchenko's administration -- which came to power following the country's recent Orange Revolution -- of resorting to "politically motivated retribution" against his political opponents. NTN journalists organized a series of pickets in front of the presidential administration and the Prosecutor-General's Office in Kyiv in April to protest what they perceived as an official intention to close down their channel.
A closer look at the controversy over the NTN license suggests that NTN's allegations of "politically motivated retribution" by the authorities are difficult to substantiate. On the other hand, the authorities' actions with respect to the channel also appear to be motivated by more than simply an intention to restore justice and lawfulness in the media sector.
NTN began its broadcasting on 1 November 2004 under a license issued in April of the same year. In early 2004, NTN -- then known under the name Telestudio Information Service and authorized to broadcast only in Kyiv and Simferopol -- applied to the broadcast council for an expanded license under the new name to beam its programs over 24 frequencies throughout Ukraine.
Under Ukraine's law on broadcasting, new frequencies are allotted to broadcasters by the council under a bidding procedure. NTN, which was eager to begin broadcasting before the 2004 presidential election (presumably to support Yanukovych's presidential bid), did not wait until the broadcast council had launched such a tender but turned to courts to get its license expanded. The Kyiv Economic Court and subsequently the Kyiv Appellate Economic Court ordered the broadcast council to amend NTN's license to allow for its expansion. The broadcast watchdog refused to do so, but NTN began nevertheless to broadcast on the basis of the court rulings. In the meantime, it turned out that the courts had ruled that NTN be allowed to broadcast over 75 frequencies in a number of Ukrainian cities.
The broadcast council, whose composition was recently changed to include four Yushchenko nominees (the other four are appointed by the Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian legislature), believes that it is the sole authority for allotting new frequencies and that NTN's license expansion was not an amendment of the old license but rather a totally new license. Therefore, the broadcast council argues, NTN must undergo a standard bidding procedure if it wants to broadcast legally on a nationwide scale.
However, the problem is that NTN is not the only broadcaster in Ukraine whose license has effectively been issued by court. Such broadcasters include the TET and KRT television channels as well as, according to the "Zerkalo nedeli" weekly, the pro-Yushchenko Channel 5, which was generally credited for its substantial contribution to the victory of the opposition-fueled Orange Revolution.
If that is the case, some say, then why has the Prosecutor-General's Office singled out NTN in its attempt to restore justice in the media sector and failed to take into account other broadcasters with similarly questionable licenses? Because, NTN answers, the current authorities want a redistribution of broadcasting frequencies to award broadcasters who are sympathetic to the current government.
Whatever the outcome of the current dispute between NTN on one side, and the Prosecutor-General's Office and the broadcast council on the other, one thing is of great importance for the Yushchenko government's image, both at home and abroad: Yushchenko, who claimed to be on the media's side in the battle for freedom during the Orange Revolution, must avoid even the impression that such freedom does not extend to media outlets run by his opponents now that he is in power.
So there are two credible paths to a resolution of the licensing issue. As some Ukrainian observers have suggested, if certain broadcasting licenses are to be questioned, the authorities must apply similar criteria to all potential transgressors and avoid focusing only on those that are uncomfortable to the government. Or, as others have proposed, the revamped broadcast council should simply forget what happened with broadcasting licenses in the past and launch a completely new chapter in their allocation.