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RFE/RL Newsline, 05-05-05

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Newsline Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>


CONTENTS

  • [01] DEFENSE MINISTER HARDENS LINE ON TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM GEORGIA...
  • [02] ...AND REBUFFS TALK OF OVERALL TROOP REDUCTIONS, TOUTS SECRET 'NEW WEAPON'
  • [03] SWISS POLICE ARREST RUSSIAN EX-MINISTER FOR ALLEGED CORRUPTION
  • [04] WEB SOURCE SUGGESTS STATE OIL COMPANIES WANT NEW PIPELINE TO CHINA...
  • [05] ...AS RUSSIA IS SAID TO HAVE PICKED ROUTE FOR FAR EAST PIPELINE
  • [06] CHALLENGE MOUNTED AGAINST STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR TAX CRIMES
  • [07] JOINT POLL SUGGESTS TWO IN FIVE RUSSIANS HARBOR ILL WILL TOWARD LATVIANS
  • [08] FINANCE MINISTRY CRACKS DOWN ON ACCOUNTING FIRMS
  • [09] KAMCHATKA/KORYAK MERGER BACK ON TRACK
  • [10] DEMOCRATIC BLOC BARRED FROM MAGADAN ELECTIONS
  • [11] EFFORT TO RECALL CHELYABINSK SENATOR FALTERS
  • [12] TELEVISION ADVERTISING REACHES LARGEST AUDIENCE
  • [13] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, RULING PARTIES AT ODDS OVER DEMONSTRATION DISRUPTION
  • [14] ARMENIA SLAMS AZERBAIJANI REFUSAL TO ATTEND CIS SUMMIT
  • [15] AZERBAIJANI RULING PARTY INVITES OPPOSITION TO BEGIN DIALOGUE...
  • [16] ...AS SENIOR OFFICIAL RULES OUT AMENDMENTS TO ELECTION LAW
  • [17] AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST'S SUSPECTED MURDERER NAMED
  • [18] GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS BUSH VISIT TESTIFIES TO COUNTRY'S REGIONAL IMPORTANCE...
  • [19] ...PLANS CONFERENCE ON SOUTH OSSETIA
  • [20] ATTACKERS TARGET KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER
  • [21] KAZAKHSTAN TO HOLD PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN 2006, OFFICIAL SAYS
  • [22] KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES FORM SINGLE CAMPAIGN HEADQUARTERS
  • [23] KYRGYZ DEPUTY ALLEGES PASSPORT FRAUD
  • [24] TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTRY OBJECTS TO KYRGYZ COMMENTS
  • [25] TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY PRESSES CASE ON ABDUCTED LEADER
  • [26] RIGHTS GROUP ISSUES TURKMENISTAN REPORT
  • [27] UZBEK POLICE BREAK UP DEMONSTRATION
  • [28] BELARUSIAN COURT UPHOLDS JAIL SENTENCES FOR UKRAINIAN DEMONSTRATORS...
  • [29] ...AS BELARUSIAN ENVOY SAYS KYIV FAILED TO ASK FOR THEIR RELEASE
  • [30] MINSK COUNTERACTS 'COLOR REVOLUTIONS' WITH 'FLOWER REVOLUTION'
  • [31] UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT ON FORGING TRIPARTITE ELECTION COALITION
  • [32] UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS GROW FATTER BEFORE 2006 ELECTION
  • [33] GERMAN LEADER BACKS EU INTEGRATION FOR BOSNIA
  • [34] BOSNIAN CROATS PICK HISTORIAN FOR THE PRESIDENCY
  • [35] FREED SERBIAN COLONEL GOES HOME FROM BULGARIA
  • [36] MACEDONIA EXPECTS MEMBERSHIP INVITATION AT NEXT NATO SUMMIT
  • [37] COUNCIL OF EUROPE ADVISES MOLDOVA ON DEMOCRATIZATION
  • [38] FORMER TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER SPEAKS...
  • [39] ...AS NEO-TALIBAN REJECT THEIR FORMER COLLEAGUE'S STANCE
  • [40] AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTRY URGES WARLORDS TO SURRENDER AMMUNITION
  • [41] MEDIA WATCHDOGS CRITICAL OF IRAN
  • [42] IRANIAN NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER DEFENDS PRESS FREEDOM
  • [43] PROSPECTIVE IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE HAS MAJOR PLANS
  • [44] IRANIAN LEADER ANGERED BY VISIT TO EARTHQUAKE SITE
  • [45] TEHRAN BLAMES BRITISH FOR ARAB UNREST
  • [46] IRANIAN TRAINS KEEP A-ROLLING
  • [47] SENEGALESE DEFENSE OFFICIALS VISIT IRAN
  • [48] SUICIDE BOMBER TARGETS IRAQI POLICE RECRUITS IN IRBIL
  • [49] IRAQ SWEARS IN TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT
  • [50] IRAQI PRIME MINISTER EXPLAINS DELAY IN FORMING GOVERNMENT
  • [51] IRAQI GOVERNMENT ADVISER LISTS PRIORITIES
  • [52] FORMER IRAQI DICTATOR'S NEPHEW IN CUSTODY
  • [53] VERDICTS OVER MIGRANT KILLINGS POLARIZE MACEDONIA Wednesday, 4 May 2005 Volume 9 Number 84 Russia

  • [01] DEFENSE MINISTER HARDENS LINE ON TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM GEORGIA...

    Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of 4 May that the Russian Army needs at least four years to withdraw its troops from neighboring Georgia and decommission its military bases there, the paper reported. "The money for this purpose is not yet incorporated into the [military] budget, and additional funds cannot be allocated before 2006," Ivanov said. Georgian officials are pushing hard for an early departure of those forces and closure of two remaining bases, and have hinted at possible measures to disrupt operations at those facilities. In a reference to anticipated protests or other threats to the smooth operation of the bases, Ivanov stressed that the safety of the Russian troops "is the business of the Georgian side," according to "Rossiiskaya gazeta." If the troops' movement is blocked, he added, they will simply stay put. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after a meeting with his Georgian counterpart Salome Zourabichvili on 25 April that Moscow is prepared to begin a withdrawal by the end of this year "if an accord is reached" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). VY

    [02] ...AND REBUFFS TALK OF OVERALL TROOP REDUCTIONS, TOUTS SECRET 'NEW WEAPON'

    Defense Minister Ivanov said in the same "Rossiiskaya gazeta" interview of 4 May that a reduction in overall Russian troop levels from the current total of 1.2 million would pose a threat to national security, the paper reported. He accused those urging cuts in the Russian military to levels commensurate with European armies of being "demagogues." "Look on a map at the [amount of] territory that European states occupy and what [size] we are," Ivanov said. He said that events are much less predictable since the end of the Cold War. Ivanov also claimed that Russia has a "new weapon about which no one -- including our allies -- knows and will not know until it is tested." VY

    [03] SWISS POLICE ARREST RUSSIAN EX-MINISTER FOR ALLEGED CORRUPTION

    Swiss authorities arrested former Russian Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov (1998-2001) in Bern on 3 May on U.S. charges that he diverted aid for nuclear safety to bank accounts in the United States, Russian and international media reported. Adamov is suspected of having stolen "up to $9 million from the [U.S.] Department of Energy" and will be indicted soon in a Pittsburgh court on "multiple charges of fraud and money laundering," "The New York Times" reported. The Russian State Duma's anticorruption commission has accused Adamov of establishing companies in Russia and abroad -- including Pennsylvania -- to facilitate the bilking of funds, gazeta.ru reported. Commission documents accuse Adamov of having "tried to convert the state Atomic Ministry into his own private monopoly," "Trud" reported. A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Aleksandr Yakovenko, said on 4 May that Russia will provide legal assistance to Adamov, lenta.ru reported. VY

    [04] WEB SOURCE SUGGESTS STATE OIL COMPANIES WANT NEW PIPELINE TO CHINA...

    Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on 2 May, ej.ru editor and economist Mikhail Berger said Russian state oil company Rosneft is seeking to build an oil pipeline from Eastern Siberia to the Chinese city of Datsin. Rosneft, which recently acquired former Yukos subsidiary Yuganskneftegas, believes such a pipeline would provide a far cheaper solution than rail transport, he said. The jailed former head of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovskii, reportedly was lobbying for such a project before his arrest on fraud and other charges in October 2003 and Yukos's subsequent legal and financial woes. Now that Rosneft has an added incentive to see such an export pipeline, Berger said, it has dropped its opposition to such a project. VY

    [05] ...AS RUSSIA IS SAID TO HAVE PICKED ROUTE FOR FAR EAST PIPELINE

    Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko has signed a directive on the phased construction of a strategic pipeline to deliver oil from Eastern Siberia to Russia's Pacific Coast, opec.ru reported on 29 April. The website reported that the plan calls for an early section of the pipeline, with an annual output of 30 million tons (180 million barrels), to reach from Taishet in Irkutsk Oblast to Skovorodino in Amur Oblast, near the Chinese border; at the same time, an oil terminus with the same annual capacity will be constructed in Pervoznaya, near Nakhodka, on the Pacific Coast. Oil will be transported by rail from Skovorodina to Pervoznaya if it is intended for the Japanese market, or it will continue by rail to reach the Chinese market. Such a network will give Russia flexibility in supplying either of those major markets, opec.ru noted. VY

    [06] CHALLENGE MOUNTED AGAINST STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR TAX CRIMES

    The Constitutional Court will review a request by the Moscow Arbitration Court to abolish the current three-year statute of limitations for prosecution of tax evasion, strana.ru reported on 3 May. The government backs the request to help it maintain a lever over the business sector, strana.ru claimed, particularly since President Vladimir Putin's recently suggested that an effort be made to free entrepreneurs of "tax terror" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2005). The legal battles over alleged tax evasion at Yukos reportedly highlighted the three-year limit on prosecution for authorities. A Moscow appellate court last year rejected Yukos's defense in connection with the statute of limitations, stranu.ru reported, ruling that it "exists for fair taxpayers and does not apply to unfair ones." VY

    [07] JOINT POLL SUGGESTS TWO IN FIVE RUSSIANS HARBOR ILL WILL TOWARD LATVIANS

    Joint research by Russian and Latvian pollsters suggests that nearly twice as many Russians harbor negative feelings about Latvians than vice versa, regions.ru reported on 3 May. The poll was conducted among 1,600 Russians by the Public Opinion Fund (FOM) and 1,014 Latvians by Riga SKDS, the website reported. The pollsters found that 41 percent of Russians said they viewed Latvians in a negative light, while 16 percent said they view them positively. The figures among Latvians were just 20 percent of respondents confessing negative sentiments about Russians and 50 percent positive, regions.ru reported. VY

    [08] FINANCE MINISTRY CRACKS DOWN ON ACCOUNTING FIRMS

    The Finance Ministry announced on 3 May that it issued a directive on 27 April suspending the licenses of 627 accounting firms, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 May. There are some 6,100 accounting firms in Russia, and the directive affects the more than 10 percent of them that had failed to conform to licensing regulations requiring firms to have at least five certified accountants. Similar violations prompted the Finance Ministry to suspend the licenses in March 2004 of 57 accounting firms, none of whom have had their licenses restored. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the ministry's action is part of a larger drive to professionalize the Russian accounting sector. New accounting legislation currently being drafted in the Duma would replace existing licensing rules with a system of self-regulation that would likely eliminate many smaller firms. Experts predict that the number of accounting firms in Russia could be halved within two years. LB

    [09] KAMCHATKA/KORYAK MERGER BACK ON TRACK

    Legislators in Koryak Autonomous Okrug on 29 April narrowly approved a proposal to merge the okrug with Kamchatka Oblast, "Vedomosti" reported on 3 May. Koryak legislators had unanimously rejected the merger plans just two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 April 2005). Recently confirmed Koryak Governor Oleg Kozhemyako, a major player in the fishing industry, favors the merger with a view to becoming governor of the new Kamchatka Krai, according to "Vedomosti." Kozhemyako is the clear favorite for the job; hours after the Koryak legislators approved the merger, Kozhemyako was named secretary of the regional political council of Unified Russia. Meanwhile, Kamchatka Oblast Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev announced on 29 April that he does not plan to run for governor of the new region, Interfax reported. At the same news conference, Mashkovtsev said that a referendum on the merger could take place on 2 October. Members of the Koryak and Kamchatka legislatures were scheduled to leave for Perm Krai on 4 May to study the recent merger of Perm Oblast and Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, "Vedomosti" reported. LB

    [10] DEMOCRATIC BLOC BARRED FROM MAGADAN ELECTIONS

    The Magadan Oblast Election Commission has barred the Our Motherland is Kolyma bloc from the party-list ballot for oblast Duma elections scheduled for 22 May, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 May. The Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), Yabloko, and the Democratic Party of Russia formed the Our Motherland is Kolyma bloc, which was struck off the ballot after eight of its 24 candidates withdrew from the party list. Russian law instructs election commissions to revoke the registration of party lists that lose more than 25 percent of their candidates during the campaign. Aleksandr Sechkin, leader of the SPS branch in Magadan, told "Kommersant-Daily" that the authorities used bribes and threats to pressure candidates to leave Our Motherland is Kolyma. Leaders of the Russian Pensioners' Party in Magadan made similar allegations after the Oblast Election Commission struck that party off the ballot on 18 April. The new Magadan Duma will contain 13 deputies elected from party lists and 12 elected in single-mandate districts. Just three parties remain on the party-list ballot: Unified Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, and the Communist Party. LB

    [11] EFFORT TO RECALL CHELYABINSK SENATOR FALTERS

    The Federation Council is not poised to recall Vladislav Zhiganov as a senator from Chelyabinsk Oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 May, quoting Oleg Panteleev, the first deputy chairman of the Federation Council's rules commission. Chelyabinsk Legislative Assembly Speaker Viktor Davydov has twice requested that Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov invoke his authority to strip Zhiganov of his mandate, most recently last month. Davydov's requests cited an oblast-level investigation that allegedly concluded that Zhiganov unlawfully claims to have received the Red Star medal. Both Zhiganov and Davydov are members of Unified Russia, and Zhiganov claims that Davydov is trying to discredit him before the Chelyabinsk branch of the "party of power" holds a conference in preparation for oblast legislative elections scheduled for December. Panteleev told "Kommersant-Daily" that amendments to the law on the status of Federation Council members adopted in December 2004 state that senators can be recalled only under the following circumstances: resignation, a change in place of work or citizenship, a court order, incapacitation, or death. LB

    [12] TELEVISION ADVERTISING REACHES LARGEST AUDIENCE

    Some 95 percent of Russians see advertisements on television, more than any other medium, lenta.ru reported on 3 May. According to the same nationwide survey, conducted by ROMIR Monitoring, 65 percent of respondents recently saw advertisements in newspapers, and the same percentage heard commercials on the radio. Magazine advertisements reached 38 percent of respondents, and just 8 percent said they had seen advertisements on the Internet. Respondents between the ages of 18 and 24 were much more likely to have encountered Internet advertising (23 percent) than were other age groups. Radio, magazine, and Internet advertising were all found to reach a higher proportion of residents of large cities than of respondents who live in small cities or rural areas. LB

    Transcaucasia And Central Asia

    [13] ARMENIAN PRESIDENT, RULING PARTIES AT ODDS OVER DEMONSTRATION DISRUPTION

    Representatives of the three governing parties told journalists on 3 May that they believe they acted correctly in signing, together with some 30 other political parties, a statement condemning the violence that erupted at a rally last month convened by Aram Karapetian's Nor Zhamanakner party, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 April 2005). Speaking on Armenian national television on 2 May, President Robert Kocharian said the three coalition members put themselves in "an awkward position" by endorsing a statement that blamed "criminal elements" for disrupting the protest. Kocharian implied that Karapetian himself was to blame for the violence. Kocharian also implied that the coalition parties should have consulted him before signing the statement, and he accused Karapetian of serving the interests of Armenia's "enemies" by convening a demonstration on the eve of the 90th anniversary of the mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Turks. LF

    [14] ARMENIA SLAMS AZERBAIJANI REFUSAL TO ATTEND CIS SUMMIT

    President Kocharian's office issued a statement on 3 May deploring the announcement the previous day that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will not attend the CIS summit in Moscow on 8 May because it coincides with the anniversary of the "seizure" by Karabakh Armenian forces of the Karabakh town of Shusha, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Kocharian was commander of the Karabakh armed forces in May 1992 when they succeeded in taking control of the strategically located town, from which Azerbaijani forces had systematically subjected the capital Stepanakert to artillery fire. Kocharian's press service noted that the town fell not on 8 May but on 9 May 1992. Aliyev assured his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin by telephone on 2 May that he will attend the ceremonies in Moscow on 9 May to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Interfax reported. LF

    [15] AZERBAIJANI RULING PARTY INVITES OPPOSITION TO BEGIN DIALOGUE...

    The Yeni Azerbaycan Party extended an invitation on 3 May to representatives of several Azerbaijani opposition parties to participate in a roundtable discussion on 4 May in the hope of defusing tensions and improving relations between the authorities and the opposition, Turan reported. The invitation was addressed to the leaders of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party progressive wing, Musavat, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijan National Independence Party, and the Civic Solidarity Party. The pro-government Ata-Veten and Social Welfare parties are also invited. YAP Deputy Executive Secretary Mubariz Gurbanly was quoted by the online daily zerkalo.az on 4 May as saying that it is unclear precisely what topics will be addressed, but he expressed the hope that the meeting -- the first of its kind -- will result in an agreement on a list of issues to be discussed at subsequent meetings. LF

    [16] ...AS SENIOR OFFICIAL RULES OUT AMENDMENTS TO ELECTION LAW

    Presidential-administration head Ramiz Mehtiev told journalists on 3 May that there is "no need" to change the composition of election commissions, on which opposition representatives are outnumbered by YAP members and loyalists, Turan reported. The opposition has for months been demanding equal representation on both the Central Election Commission and local election bodies. Mehtiev also explained on 3 May that since the opposition is "weak," it is appropriate that it should embark on a dialogue with YAP, rather than with members of the country's leadership, as some opposition politicians have suggested. LF

    [17] AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST'S SUSPECTED MURDERER NAMED

    In a joint statement released on 3 May, Azerbaijan's Interior and National Security ministries and the Prosecutor-General's Office named Tair Khubanov, 45, an Azerbaijani from neighboring Georgia, as the prime suspect in the 2 March killing of opposition journalist Elmar Huseinov, zerkalo.az and day.az reported on 4 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 March 2005). Khubanov is said to have arrived in Baku in January and to have monitored Huseinov's movements closely. He reportedly visited Huseinov's apartment on at least two occasions prior to the killing, giving a false name and seeking to arrange a meeting with his future victim. LF

    [18] GEORGIAN PRESIDENT SAYS BUSH VISIT TESTIFIES TO COUNTRY'S REGIONAL IMPORTANCE...

    President Mikheil Saakashvili told students in Tbilisi on 3 May that U.S. President George W. Bush's planned 10 May visit to Georgia is an acknowledgement of the country's leading role in the South Caucasus and that Georgia constitutes "an example of democracy and freedom in the region," Caucasus Press reported. Bush will visit neither Armenia nor Azerbaijan. Comparing Georgia in the aftermath of the November 1993 Rose Revolution to "an old car stuck in the mud and out of fuel," Saakashvili urged his audience to work together to extract the country from the problems in which it is mired. Also on 3 May, Manana Archvadze-Gamsakhurdia, the widow of ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, staged a rally of some 100 of his supporters outside the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, ITAR-TASS reported. The participants hoped to enlighten the U.S. administration about what they termed the true situation in Georgia, including the fact that "the lawful president [i.e., Gamsakhurdia] was overthrown in 1992." LF

    [19] ...PLANS CONFERENCE ON SOUTH OSSETIA

    President Saakashvili also said on 3 May that he plans to hold an international conference in Tbilisi next month devoted to the proposals he unveiled in January for resolving the conflict with South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 January 2005). Noting that the Georgian authorities have dismantled fortifications and closed a reservists' camp in the conflict zone, Saakashvili reaffirmed Tbilisi's readiness for peaceful dialogue. He also offered Georgian passports to the residents of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia and repeated his offer of emergency aid in the wake of the floods that hit the region last week. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity rejected the latter offer on 28 April, Interfax reported. On 3 May, Kokoity challenged Saakashvili to a televised debate, telling the independent television channel Rustavi-2 that Georgian media are spreading disinformation about the situation in South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. LF

    [20] ATTACKERS TARGET KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER

    A group of about 50 young men attacked Kazakh opposition leader Zharmakhan Tuyakbai in Shymkent on 2 May, Deutsche Welle reported. As Tuyakbai and other opposition leaders were holding a meeting, the young men burst in shouting, "Where's this single opposition candidate; we're going to kill him now for [Kazakh President Nursultan] Nazarbaev!" A fight ensued. Tuyakbai's guards were able to escort him out of the building, but some of his companions suffered minor injuries. Local police were on hand but did nothing to stop the violence, Tuyakbai's companions charged. In a 3 May statement published by Navigator, the bloc For a Just Kazakhstan provided a detailed account of the assault, charging that "the cowardly authorities have moved from abuse, blackmail, and blockade of their opponents to violent pressure and terror." The statement called for a thorough investigation into the incident and asked the international community to "condemn the actions of the authorities and demand Kazakhstan's unconditional observance of the obligations it has undertaken in providing its citizens with political rights and freedoms." A gathering of Kazakh opposition forces recently selected Tuyakbai as their joint candidate in the upcoming presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2005). DK

    [21] KAZAKHSTAN TO HOLD PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN 2006, OFFICIAL SAYS

    Onalsyn Zhumabekov, the head of Kazakhstan's Central Election Commission, announced at a conference in Almaty on 3 May that, according to Kazakhstan's constitution, the country's next presidential election ought to be held on the first Sunday in December 2006, Kazinform reported. Zhumabekov noted, however, that "the exclusive right to set the election date is in the competence of the lower house of parliament," ITAR-TASS reported. Zhumabekov also confirmed that President Nazarbaev's term in office expires on 20 January 2006. DK

    [22] KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES FORM SINGLE CAMPAIGN HEADQUARTERS

    Kyrgyz presidential candidates Feliks Kulov, head of the Ar-Namys Party, and Almaz Atambaev, head of the Social Democratic Party, have set up a joint campaign headquarters, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 3 May. Atambaev, who has said that he will withdraw his candidacy and support Kulov if the latter succeeds in passing a Kyrgyz language test required for participation in the race, will be in charge of the campaign headquarters. Kulov told RFE/RL that all of the candidates in the 10 July presidential election should sign a gentlemen's agreement to ensure honest competition and preclude any attempts to destabilize the situation. DK

    [23] KYRGYZ DEPUTY ALLEGES PASSPORT FRAUD

    Parliamentary deputy Kubanychbek Isabekov told a news conference in Bishkek on 3 May that officials from former President Askar Akaev's administration attempted to use the introduction of new passports for personal gain, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Isabekov said the cost of manufacturing 41,800 new passports was "initially 7 million euros ($9 million), but the sum was raised to 51 million euros. The entire difference went to an offshore zone." Isabekov charged that former Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev signed the "unconstitutional resolutions" that underpinned the alleged fraud. Isabekov said the new passports were originally to have been made in Moldova, then England, but were actually manufactured in Kenya, where they remain. DK

    [24] TAJIK FOREIGN MINISTRY OBJECTS TO KYRGYZ COMMENTS

    Igor Sattorov, a spokesman for Tajikistan's Foreign Ministry, announced on 3 May that the ministry has sent a note to the Kyrgyz Embassy in Dushanbe to protest comments by certain Kyrgyz politicians that a "Tajik scenario" will not take place in Kyrgyzstan, Avesta reported. "Such gross insinuations and political speculations by certain politicians and officials in a neighboring country are not only impeding the constructive resolution of internal problems in Kyrgyzstan, but they are also considered politically incorrect in relation to a neighboring sovereign state," Sattorov said. He stressed that in recent years Tajikistan has been "on the path of peace and construction," adding, "Tajikistan cannot be a destabilizing factor for neighboring countries." DK

    [25] TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY PRESSES CASE ON ABDUCTED LEADER

    Rahmatullo Valiev, deputy head of Tajikistan's Democratic Party, announced on 3 May that the party is suspending its membership in the Public Council after the arrest of party head Muhammadruzi Iskandarov and falsifications in recent parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. "The Democratic Party of Tajikistan temporarily suspends its activities in this council because the council's decisions are usually not executed, the latest elections were conducted undemocratically, and Muhammadruzi Iskandarov was arrested in Moscow and illegally transferred to Dushanbe," Valiev said. He added that the suspension "will last until a full and impartial investigation" of Iskandarov's transfer from Moscow to Dushanbe, which his lawyers have described as an abduction (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2005), ITAR-TASS reported. Valiev also said that Anna Stavitskaya, Iskandarov's lawyer in Russia, will attempt to initiate criminal charges in Russia over Iskandarov's alleged abduction, Avesta reported. DK

    [26] RIGHTS GROUP ISSUES TURKMENISTAN REPORT

    Amnesty International released a new report on Turkmenistan on 3 May titled "Turkmenistan: the clampdown on dissent and religious freedom continues." The report details the continuing curtailment of rights and freedoms in Turkmenistan, concluding with recommendations for the international community to take action through the United Nations. The report is available on Amnesty International's website (http://www.amnesty.org). DK

    [27] UZBEK POLICE BREAK UP DEMONSTRATION

    Uzbek police forcibly ended a demonstration in Tashkent on 3 May, moving in at 11 p.m. and removing protestors on buses, fergana.ru reported the next day. Earlier in the day, some 100 demonstrators had gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Tashkent on 3 May to protest rising poverty, unemployment, and rights violations in Uzbekistan, fergana.ru reported. The protesters, many of whom hailed from rural parts of Kashkadarya Province, had threatened to set up a tent city in the Uzbek capital for a long-term demonstration. A clash with police took place during the day, but no serious violence or arrests ensued at that time. A woman who witnessed the break-up of the demonstration later in the evening told fergana.ru that riot police herded adults into one bus and children into another. Protesters had previously told fergana.ru that they chose to demonstrate outside the U.S. Embassy because they have lost faith in local authorities and want to draw the U.S. State Department's attention to deteriorating conditions in Uzbekistan. "Having trusted [Uzbek President Islam] Karimov's promises, we were left with nothing," a protestor told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. "We can't study. We have no food to eat. We were left on the street with nothing." DK

    Eastern Europe

    [28] BELARUSIAN COURT UPHOLDS JAIL SENTENCES FOR UKRAINIAN DEMONSTRATORS...

    The Minsk City Court on 3 May rejected appeals by five Ukrainians of jail sentences handed down for their participation in an anti-presidential demonstration in Minsk on 26 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2005), RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The same court on 30 April released 14 Russians who were detained and sentenced to jail time for participating in the same demonstration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). The five Ukrainians, all members of the National Alliance youth association -- Ihor Huz, Andrey Bokach, Oleksandr Hrymalyuk, Oleksiy Panasyuk, and Oleksandr Mashlay -- were sentenced to jail terms varying from nine to 15 days on 27 April and went on a hunger strike on 28 April. The National Alliance picketed the Belarusian Embassy in Kyiv on 3 May, demanding that the Belarusian authorities free their colleagues in Minsk. JM

    [29] ...AS BELARUSIAN ENVOY SAYS KYIV FAILED TO ASK FOR THEIR RELEASE

    Belarusian Ambassador to Ukraine Valyantsin Vyalichka told journalists in Kyiv on 3 April that Ukrainian Ambassador to Belarus Petro Shapoval, in contrast to Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Blokhin, has not asked Belarusian authorities to release his compatriots detained during the 26 April demonstration in Minsk, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. Vyalichka also claimed that Ukraine, unlike Russia, did not demand permission to see the Ukrainian detainees immediately after their arrests. "I have no words to comment on such statements!" Ukrainian consul in Minsk Vasil Serdeha told RFE/RL. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on 3 May that it is "disappointed" with Minsk's reluctance to shorten the five Ukrainians' jail sentences, and added that it is considering an appeal to the Belarusian Supreme Court against the ruling of the Minsk City Court. JM

    [30] MINSK COUNTERACTS 'COLOR REVOLUTIONS' WITH 'FLOWER REVOLUTION'

    Belarusian Television's main newscast Panarama on 3 May reported on an initiative of the state-controlled Belarusian National Youth Union (BRSM) called "The Belarusian-Style Flower Revolution." The report ran as follows: "Through the efforts of the BRSM grassroots organizations, flower beds in front of the Moskva and Kyiv cinemas [in Minsk] were adorned with violets and wild pansies. Flowers were also planted in front of the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. According to the project's coordinators, the youth group exemplified the peaceful and creative aspirations of the Belarusian people. 'We don't need color revolutions. We only accept flower ones,' the project's participants chanted." JM

    [31] UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT UPBEAT ON FORGING TRIPARTITE ELECTION COALITION

    President Viktor Yushchenko said in an interview with the UT-1 television channel on 3 May that he is sure that the Our Ukraine People's Union, which was created earlier this year to support him (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2005), will form a coalition for the 2006 parliamentary elections with the eponymous bloc led by Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko and the People's Party of Ukraine headed by parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. In a separate interview with the 1+1 television channel on 3 May, Yushchenko expressed confidence that such a coalition could be created as early as this month. "I see this as an optimal development," Yushchenko said. "It seems to me that today these three forces enjoy a critical level of trust among the population. In my opinion, this level will easily allow [us] to form the core of a future parliament." Yushchenko also positively assessed his first 100 days in power. "We have not betrayed any slogan voiced on the Maydan [Independence Square in Kyiv during the 2004 Orange Revolution]," Yushchenko told UT-1. "Today I can address any segment of society -- be it veterans, children or whoever else -- and say that we have worked for them." JM

    [32] UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS GROW FATTER BEFORE 2006 ELECTION

    Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz on 3 March signed an accord with Vasyl Volha, head of the All-Ukrainian Union Public Control, on a merger of the two organizations, Interfax and the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. Under the agreement, Public Control will be dissolved and its members absorbed by the Socialist Party. The two sides said the merger was necessary in order to strengthen "the influence of democratic and socialist forces" in society ahead of the 2006 parliamentary elections, which are to take place under a fully proportional, party-list system. Public Control claims a membership of 74,000. JM

    Southeastern Europe

    [33] GERMAN LEADER BACKS EU INTEGRATION FOR BOSNIA

    German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said in Sarajevo on 3 May that it would be "justified" if the European Commission announces on 19 May that it wants to start talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina leading to a Stabilization and Association Agreement, regional and German media reported. He noted that Bosnia has made progress in the key areas of police reform and cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. The chancellor offered to send German experts to Bosnia to help draft a "modern, European constitution" and prepare economic reforms. Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service noted, however, that Schroeder did not meet Bosnian hopes for a major liberalization of German visa policy for Bosnian citizens. Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic nonetheless called Schroeder's comments "the strongest support for what we have done so far and an enormous stimulus for the remaining reforms." Terzic added, however, that Bosnia still has to do much to make itself attractive to German investors. Schroeder also met with a group of women who survived the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and with some of the 1,100 German troops based at Rajlovac near Sarajevo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April and 3 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 March 2004 and 15 April 2005). PM

    [34] BOSNIAN CROATS PICK HISTORIAN FOR THE PRESIDENCY

    Officials of the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) selected Ivo Miro Jovic in Sarajevo on 3 May to succeed Dragan Covic as the Croatian representative on the presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, dpa reported. The news agency noted that Jovic is a historian and member of the lower house of the parliament but is little known in political circles. If his nomination is approved by both houses of the legislature, he will fill the vacancy created in late March when High Representative Paddy Ashdown sacked Covic, who was indicted on corruption charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 and 31 March, and 1 April 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 April 2005). PM

    [35] FREED SERBIAN COLONEL GOES HOME FROM BULGARIA

    Serbian Colonel Cedomir Brankovic returned to Belgrade on 3 May after a Sofia court ruled that he enjoys diplomatic immunity and cannot be detained, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Bulgarian police recently detained Brankovic on the basis of a Croatian Interpol arrest warrant while he was visiting Sofia as part of an official delegation. He was subsequently released and stayed in his country's Sofia embassy awaiting the final Bulgarian ruling as to whether he enjoyed immunity from arrest and extradition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 April, and 2 May 2005). PM

    [36] MACEDONIA EXPECTS MEMBERSHIP INVITATION AT NEXT NATO SUMMIT

    Macedonian Foreign Minister Ilinka Mitreva said in Tirana on 2 May that she expects Macedonia to be invited to join NATO at the next summit of the alliance, MIA news agency reported. Mitreva spoke at a meeting marking the second anniversary of the signing of the U.S.-Adriatic Charter by Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2004 and 3 May 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002). Mitreva said Macedonia is ready to continue social and political reforms to prove it can carry out all responsibilities as a future NATO member. U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Kathleen Stephens, who also attended the meeting, said the United States will continue cooperating with Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia until they join the alliance. UB

    [37] COUNCIL OF EUROPE ADVISES MOLDOVA ON DEMOCRATIZATION

    Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis has sent a letter to Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin containing proposals on the further democratization of Moldovan society, Infotag reported on 3 May. In particular, Davis suggested a reform of parliamentary procedures; further improvement of public television and radio according to Council of Europe recommendations; judicial reforms; the urgent adoption of a national anti-corruption strategy and action plan; and the continuation of a constructive dialogue with civic society. Davies reportedly emphasized that he wrote the letter to highlight Voronin's personal contribution to what he described as the emergence of a "new political culture" in Moldova. JM

    Southwestern Asia And The Middle East

    [38] FORMER TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER SPEAKS...

    In his first interview since his reported release from detention, Mullah Wakil Ahmad Mutawakkil said on 2 May that he does not have "full relations" with the current militant Taliban elements or the neo-Taliban, Tolu Television reported. Mutawakkil was the most senior former Taliban leader in U.S. custody and was reportedly released in October 2003. He is now playing a key role in a reconciliation program launched by the Afghan government to give amnesty to most of the Taliban leaders (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 9, 16, 23 and 30 October 2003 and 4 March and 10 June 2004). Regarding the reconciliation offer to the former Taliban, Mutawakkil told Tolu that the issue is "at a very early stage" and that a "commission has been formed which might work in this regard." According to Mutawakkil, the Taliban regime had certain positive points, such as its policy on narcotics. "There was security and less administrative corruption," Mutawakkil added. He also said he hopes the Afghan parliament, which is scheduled to be elected in September, will be representative and functional. AT

    [39] ...AS NEO-TALIBAN REJECT THEIR FORMER COLLEAGUE'S STANCE

    Neo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi said that while Mutawakkil is entitled to his views, he has no authority to speak for the neo-Taliban, the Islamabad daily "The News" reported on 4 May. "We also feel that Mutawakkil is not a free man. I'm not saying that he is still a prisoner, but the fact remains that he cannot express himself openly while living in Kabul," Hakimi added. According to Hakimi, rather than urging his former colleagues to hold talks with the Afghan government, Mutawakkil should advise the United States to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. AT

    [40] AFGHAN DEFENSE MINISTRY URGES WARLORDS TO SURRENDER AMMUNITION

    In a press released issued on 3 May, the Afghan Defense Ministry urged all regional commanders to surrender their ammunition to the Afghan National Army, Radio Afghanistan reported. The press release cited the 2 May explosion in the northern Baghlan Province, in which more than 20 people were killed, as justification for the request (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 May 2005). There are an estimated 850 armed groups with a total of 65,000 members throughout Afghanistan. AT

    [41] MEDIA WATCHDOGS CRITICAL OF IRAN

    Radio Farda reported on 3 May that, according to the annual report just released by Reporters Without Borders, Iran in 2004 jailed more journalists than anywhere else in the Middle East, and overall was one of the world's 10 most repressive countries for the media. Iranian authorities are particularly sensitive to stories about religion, dissidents, clerics, Iran-U.S. relations, and the nuclear issue. Very few independent publications exist any more. Foreign correspondents must detail their travel plans and story ideas before receiving entry visas, and at least one, Dan DeLuce of "The Guardian," was expelled from the country. According to an annual report from Freedom House released on 28 April, furthermore, Iran is classified as "Not Free," Radio Farda reported last week. That report notes a crackdown that increasingly concentrates on Internet-based media. The Freedom House report notes that the press laws are worded vaguely, and the related penalties are harsh -- floggings, high fines, lengthy prison sentences. (The reports are available at http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?idarticle=13306, and http://www.freedomhouse.org/research/pressurvey.htm.) BS

    [42] IRANIAN NOBEL PEACE PRIZE WINNER DEFENDS PRESS FREEDOM

    Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi said on 1 May in Tehran that harsh press restrictions have robbed journalists of their freedom of expression and creativity, IRNA reported. Ebadi said press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed, but without real freedom of expression there is no democracy. Ebadi said members of the international community are entitled to express their views about human rights issues in other countries. If it is normal for Iran to defend the rights of Palestinians, she implied, then other countries should be able to express concern about human rights violations in Iran. Expressing such opinions, she said, does not constitute interference or meddling. When a reporter in any country is arrested, she said, the whole world is entitled to object. BS

    [43] PROSPECTIVE IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE HAS MAJOR PLANS

    Expediency Council Chairman and prospective presidential candidate Ayatollah al-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani has a plan for restoring relations with the United States, "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat" reported on 3 May, citing an anonymous source close to Hashemi-Rafsanjani. He also plans to support the Arab-Israeli peace plan proposed by Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdallah bin Abd al-Aziz. Hashemi-Rafsanjani reportedly intends to pursue President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's reforms, which encountered opposition from entrenched conservative elements, and he reportedly wants to eliminate the system of Vilayat-i Faqih (Rule of the Supreme Jurisprudent). According to "Al-Sharq Al-Awsat," Hashemi-Rafsanjani wants to cooperate with the heretofore-shunned nationalist-religious forces in an effort to counter "an internal coup by some [Islamic Revolution Guards Corps] generals, radical commanders in the intelligence apparatus, and the religious seminary in Qom." Hashemi-Rafsanjani allegedly was prompted to act when he learned of a plan to destroy the centrist Executives of Construction Party -- which has voiced support for his presidential bid -- as well as reformist leaders, and his extended family. BS

    [44] IRANIAN LEADER ANGERED BY VISIT TO EARTHQUAKE SITE

    Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said during a 3 May visit to the Kerman Province city of Bam, which was devastated by an earthquake in December 2003, that reconstruction efforts in the region are inadequate, Mehr News Agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 and 30 December 2003 and 9 January 2004). He said the construction of commercial and residential areas is unsatisfactory. Khamenei said the country needs a crisis management organization, and he called on officials to learn from what happened in Bam and build earthquake-resistant buildings throughout the country. Khamenei prayed for those who lost their lives in the earthquake, IRNA reported. BS

    [45] TEHRAN BLAMES BRITISH FOR ARAB UNREST

    Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said on 3 May in Tehran that the Ministry of Intelligence and Security denies that domestic political groups were involved in the mid-April ethnic unrest in southwestern Khuzestan Province, IRNA reported. Some Iranian conservatives have blamed the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party. Parliamentarian Kazem Jalali on 3 May claimed that British Foreign Minister Jack Straw met with an ethnic Arab separatist, Mehr News Agency reported. Jalali said it is inappropriate for British officials to meet with groups that want to overthrow the Iranian government, since Tehran and London have diplomatic relations. Although Straw has denied that such a meeting took place, Jalali said, the legislature knows better. Such accusations should be seen within the context of Great Britain's historical influence among the Arabs of southern Iran. BS

    [46] IRANIAN TRAINS KEEP A-ROLLING

    Iranian railways chief Mohammad Sayed Nejad and his Russian and Azerbaijani counterparts Gennadii Fadeev and Arif Askerov signed an agreement on 3 May in Tehran for the construction of a railway line linking Qazvin, Rasht, and Astara, ITAR-TASS and day.az reported. In the northeastern city of Mashhad on the same day, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami inaugurated a 1,000-kilometer railway that goes to the central city of Bafq, IRNA reported. BS

    [47] SENEGALESE DEFENSE OFFICIALS VISIT IRAN

    Senegalese Armed Forces Minister Becaye Diop and a delegation of his officers visited Iranian military facilities on 3 May, IRNA reported. They learned about Iranian-manufactured air-defense systems, ammunition, armored vehicles, electronics, and missiles. Diop met with Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Ali Shamkhani on 2 May. BS

    [48] SUICIDE BOMBER TARGETS IRAQI POLICE RECRUITS IN IRBIL

    A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to a police recruitment center in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil on 4 May, killing at least 45 men and wounding more than 100, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. The bomber joined the line of more than 200 Iraqis applying for police positions, and detonated himself as security guards were checking applicants entering the building. Irbil Governor Nowzad Hadi told reporters at a press briefing that the victims were dispersed to three main hospitals in the city, RFI reported. Hadi called on citizens to donate blood to help save the injured. RFI reported that thousands of Iraqi families arrived at the three hospitals looking for loved ones despite calls by police to stay away for security reasons. Rizgari (Liberation) Hospital has released the names of the dead, who ranged in age from 18 to 25 years old, RFI reported. The suicide bomb attack is the second assault on Kurds this week. Twenty Iraqis were killed and more than 30 wounded when a suicide car bomber struck the funeral of a Kurdish official in Tel Afar on 1 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). KR

    [49] IRAQ SWEARS IN TRANSITIONAL GOVERNMENT

    Iraq's transitional cabinet ministers took their oaths of office in a 3 May ceremony before the National Assembly, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Several ministerial portfolios remain open, including defense, electricity, oil, and human rights. In a speech at the opening ceremony broadcast on Al-Sharqiyah television, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari said he hopes to complete the cabinet appointments in the coming days. Assembly speaker Hajim al-Hasani also addressed the ceremony, saying: "No state, law, or institution can continue without accord or unity among the various sectors of Iraqi society and agreement on the important and basic common denominations in establishing the new state. The common factors increase through the language of dialogue and understanding and through reuniting the people, healing the rift, and eliminating all elements of disagreement and discord, which are fed by the enemies of the people, inside and outside." KR

    [50] IRAQI PRIME MINISTER EXPLAINS DELAY IN FORMING GOVERNMENT

    Speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister al-Ja'fari addressed the Iraqi people on Al-Sharqiyah television, explaining the delay in forming the government. "The United Iraqi Alliance spent a large amount of time and effort to reach an agreement with our Kurdish brothers from the Kurdistan Coalition List so that both parliamentary blocs would be strong in form - along with the rest of the Iraqi blocs - a wide foundation for the aspired-for Iraqi political edifice, which would have room for Iraqis as a whole, without being limited to sectarian or racial margins." He added that given the circumstances of the Sunnis after their limited participation in the 30 January elections, "we would find it natural for this issue to take some time and effort to bridge the gap between the Sunnis' demographic reality and their parliamentary one." Al-Ja'fari addressed former Ba'athists, saying: "Our people is large and has room for you, providing you have not spilled blood, violated sanctities, or participated politically in establishing that buried regime. Return to our people in repentance and apology to participate in the process of construction and development." KR

    [51] IRAQI GOVERNMENT ADVISER LISTS PRIORITIES

    Al-Ja'fari adviser Laith Kubba told Al-Jazeera television in a 3 May interview that the top priorities of the government are the drafting of a permanent constitution, security, and the delivery of public services. He blamed administrative corruption as one of the contributing factors to the decline in public services. Kubba discussed the difficulties in settling on Sunni posts, and intimated that the lack of a unified Sunni bloc made the government's task of finding representatives "very arduous." "The biggest lesson the Iraqi Sunnis and all other Iraqis have learned is that none should fail to participate in the next elections," Kubba said. He reminded Al-Jazeera that the transitional government's term will only last about 35 weeks. KR

    [52] FORMER IRAQI DICTATOR'S NEPHEW IN CUSTODY

    Ayman Sabawi, the nephew of deposed President Saddam Hussein, was reportedly captured recently in Tikrit, Reuters reported on 4 May. Sabawi is the son of Sabawi Ibrahim al-Hasan al-Tikriti, also in coalition custody. "Ayman Sabawi, together with his brothers, played a particularly active role in sustaining terrorism by providing financial support, weapons, and explosives to terrorist groups," a government statement said. KR

    End Note

    [53] VERDICTS OVER MIGRANT KILLINGS POLARIZE MACEDONIA

    By Ulrich Buechsenschuetz

    A Macedonian court recently acquitted three former senior police officials over the slaying of six Pakistani migrants. The killings were part of an apparent attempt to convince the public that the police had intercepted dangerous terrorists. The case reflects both internal power politics and the ramifications of regional officials trying to show that they are playing a serious role in the war on terrorism.

    The court, in Skopje, acquitted the three former policemen and a fourth defendant on 22 April of the killing of seven Asian migrants in all -- six from Pakistan and one who is thought have been from India -- outside the capital in March 2002. The court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove charges that the defendants killed the migrants in a shootout staged so that the Interior Ministry could claim that police killed Al-Qaeda members planning to attack Western embassies in Skopje.

    Macedonian press reports suggested that the acquittals were due to poorly prepared charges, inconclusive testimony by prosecution witnesses, and effective work by the defense attorneys. Prosecutor Sterjo Zikov announced that he will challenge the acquittal as soon as he receives the reasons for the verdict. "We believe that the verdict does not take into account all the circumstances in the case," Zikov said.

    Domestic and international reactions to the verdicts showed how politically and publicly charged the trial had become. In Macedonia, conservative and nationalist opposition parties, such as the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and its offshoots, as well as the Liberal Party, welcomed the acquittals. For the opposition, the acquittals dealt a serious blow to the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and its coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI).

    The opposition parties had claimed from the beginning that the SDSM-led government set up the trial in order to discredit a special police unit known as the Lions and former Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski of the previous VMRO-DPMNE-led government. Boskovski had also been charged in the case but managed to flee to Croatia. However, Croatian authorities subsequently arrested Boskovski and charged him with murder. In March, Croatia sent Boskovski to the Hague-based international war crimes tribunal, where he faces charges in a separate case.

    VMRO-DPMNE Chairman Nikola Gruevski congratulated the court for what he called its resistance to political pressure from the government. Vesna Janevska, who is acting chairwoman of the opposition splinter party VMRO-People's Party, said the acquittals were truly a landmark. "We were right when we said that the judges are solid," Janevska said.

    The governing SDSM refrained from commenting on the verdicts, denying that it tried to influence the trial. "We of the SDSM were very careful from the beginning and called [on the political parties] not to politicize the judicial process," SDSM spokesman Boris Kondarko said.

    The verdict could nonetheless have negative repercussions for the governing coalition.

    The Liberal Democrats, whose chairman, Risto Penov, lost his position as Skopje mayor in the recent local elections, demanded that "someone" take responsibility for the political damage caused by mistakes made during the trial. Penov told "Utrinski vesnik" on 29 April that he will ask SDSM Chairman and Prime Minister Vlado Buckovski for precise answers to some questions, including whether prosecutors failed to prepare the trial properly, or whether allegations that some witnesses were bribed are true.

    So far, the SDSM's ethnic Albanian coalition partners from the BDI have not commented on the trial. That does not mean, however, that Macedonian Albanians were indifferent to the verdicts. Muhamed Halili, who is a diplomat, and Daut Dauti, a journalist, both called attention to the potential international repercussions of the trial. In his comment for "Dnevnik" of 30 April, Halili suggested that the international community is not so much interested in the names of the perpetrators. "The most important thing is that [the perpetrators] were controlled by the state," Halili said. "If the state fails to find the real perpetrators, a dark cloud will hang over the affair forever."

    Dauti wrote in "Dnevnik" that it is dangerous to call the trial a victory for the independence of the judiciary. Dauti did not rule out that there were irregularities, but he also pointed to the fact that the main question remains unanswered: "Why were the Pakistanis killed? What will Pakistan say to this verdict?"

    The Pakistani response was clear. A spokesman for the Pakistani Foreign Ministry has announced that Islamabad will challenge the verdicts, the Islamabad-based "News International" reported on 30 April. "Not only do we have a lawyer to represent the murdered Pakistanis, but the government of Macedonia has approached us and asked us for more details," the spokesman said.


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