|Saturday, 25 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 05-05-10
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 WORLD GATHERS IN MOSCOW TO MARK ANNIVERSARY OF END OF WWII IN EUROPEMore than 50 world leaders, including U.S. President George W. Bush, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and Israeli President Moshe Katsav, attended ceremonies in Moscow on 9 May to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, Russian and international media reported. The guests observed an hour-long military parade through Red Square in the company of President Vladimir Putin and his wife, Lyudmila. "History teaches us that states and peoples must do everything possible to make sure that no new fatal doctrines, from which new threats can emerge, are born," Putin said during the ceremony. "In the face of the very real threat of terrorism today, we must remain faithful to the memory of our fathers." After the parade, many of the guests laid wreaths at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin wall. French President Jacques Chirac unveiled a monument to wartime French leader Charles de Gaulle on Moscow's Prospekt Mira. RC
 BUSH, PUTIN HOLD MOSCOW SUMMIT...U.S. President George W. Bush met near Moscow with President Putin on 8 May, the day before the two men were to join 50 other world leaders to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, Russian and international media reported. RIA-Novosti reported that the presidents discussed possible U.S. access to Russian nuclear-weapons facilities, Russia's cooperation with Iran's nuclear-energy program, and the proposed Russian sale of mobile antiaircraft missiles to Syria. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also participated in the talks. RC
 ...AFTER BUSH CONDEMNS SOVIET OCCUPATION WHILE VISITING RIGAPresident Bush arrived in Moscow after a one-day stop in Riga, Latvia, where he met with the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian presidents, international media reported. All four made strong statements about the occupation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union following World War II. Bush said: "For much of Eastern and Central Europe, victory brought the iron rule of another empire. The V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable." He added: "The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history." PB/RC
 NATIONALIST DUMA FACTION BOYCOTTS THE CEREMONIESThe State Duma's Motherland faction on 9 May boycotted official ceremonies in Moscow marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, Interfax reported. Instead, party leader Dmitrii Rogozin attended celebrations in Tula. Rogozin told the news agency that the boycott was provoked by an instruction from Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov saying that all Duma deputies are "obliged" to attend the Red Square ceremonies and a theatrical performance on the evening of 9 May. Rogozin said that it was wrong to compel deputies to attend the events in the light of "improper and sometimes plain rude" statements by unnamed members of the U.S. administration and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga about the end of the war. "We did not deem it right to be on 9 May on the same tribune with those who allow themselves such attacks against a country that defeated fascism," an unnamed Motherland spokesman told Interfax. The news agency reported on 9 May that 30 activists of Motherland's youth organization who had been protesting Vike-Freiberga's statements outside the Latvian Embassy in Moscow were detained. RC
 WAR COMMEMORATION CONTINUES TO STRAIN RELATIONS BETWEEN RUSSIA AND BALTICS...Latvian President Vike-Freiberga was the only Baltic state leader to attend the 9 May ceremonies in Moscow, as relations between Moscow and those countries continued to be strained by disputes over the Soviet Union's postwar occupation of the three Baltic countries, Russian and international media reported. Vike-Freiberga on 8 May called on Russia to denounce the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that led to the Soviet takeover of the Baltic states, "just as the Soviet Union" denounced it. She said that "all European countries are looking back at their pasts, learning from them, evaluating them," and Russia should as well, RIA-Novosti reported. Vike-Freiberga said that World War II ended for Latvia "only in 1990 when it separated from the Soviet Union," ITAR-TASS reported. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko sharply denounced Vike-Freiberga's statements. "The peculiar ideas of the Latvian president about the history of World War II are well known in Europe," Yakovenko said on 9 May. "The Latvian idea of an equal responsibility of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany for the global tragedy of 1941-45 and for war victims cannot be described other than as an absurdity." Yakovenko claimed that none of the Baltic states sent delegations to the 1995 commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. RC
 ...AS ESTONIAN PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIA BLOCKS BETTER RELATIONS...Arnold Ruutel told the "Tallinn Postimees" on 7 May that the war ended for his country "when the last Russian soldier left the country." "One of [the results of the war] that we must come to terms with, whether we like it or not, is the fact that the territory of Estonia is smaller than it was before the war," Ruutel said. He added that he is ready for improved relations with Russia, but "we have to admit that Russia in its words and deeds does not seem to want this." RC
 ...AND LATVIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR HIGH-LEVEL RUSSIAN VISITVike-Freiberga noted that over the last six years, relations between Russia and Latvia "could have been better" and that she is ready to see relations develop further, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. "The fact that in the 10-15 years not a single Russian prime minister or foreign minister has visited the Latvian Republic makes it an exception among European countries," Vike-Freiberga said. "We have long been looking forward to a visit by Russian representatives and we have been inviting them all the time." She also expressed disappointment that an intergovernmental commission on bilateral cooperation is not functioning, saying "the signing of a whole range of specific agreements is being delayed because of this." RC
 PUTIN, BUSH URGE PROGRESS ON NORTH KOREA, MIDDLE EAST TALKSJapan's Kyodo news agency on 9 May cited national security adviser Hadley as saying that Putin and Bush agreed to continue working through the six-nation format to resolve the dispute over North Korea's nuclear-weapons program. Hadley also told Kyodo that the presidents discussed possible reform of the United Nations. Lavrov told journalists following the talks that Bush and Putin also authorized a meeting of the so-called quartet on the Middle East conflict later that day. The 8 May meeting proved "that there are no closed subjects for [Bush and Putin], that they are willing to discuss any issues in a spirit of partnership and friendship," Lavrov said, according to Interfax. RC
 BUSH MEETS WITH RUSSIAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS...U.S. President Bush and Secretary of State Rice met in Moscow on 9 May with representatives of 18 Russian human rights organizations, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported. Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva told RFE/RL that the main topic of discussion was the continuation of Western financial support for Russian human rights and environmental work. President Putin on 8 May told the American television network CBS that Russia is not violating the principles of democracy or freedom of the press. He said that only about 10 percent of the more than 3,000 Russian broadcasting companies are controlled by the state and compared the indirect election of Russian governors to the institution of the Electoral College in U.S. presidential elections. RC
 ...AS ACTIVISTS CALL ON WORLD COMMUNITY TO SUPPORT HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIAIn an open letter published in Britain's "Financial Times" on 9 May, a group of 71 international activists including Yelena Bonner, former Lithuanian President Vytautas Landsbergis, and former Czech President Vaclav Havel called on world leaders to press Moscow on the issues of human rights and democracy in Russia. The letter states that principles of human rights are extremely weak in Russia, and that it is ironic that the world is marking the anniversary of the liberation of Europe in "one of the least democratic countries in Europe." RC
 CIS LEADERS SIGN DECLARATION ON HUMANITARIAN COOPERATION...President Putin on 8 May attended a two-hour informal summit of CIS leaders at which a declaration on humanitarian cooperation was signed, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The declaration acknowledged the special role played by the peoples of the CIS in the defeat of Nazi Germany and pledged cooperation "in the humanitarian sphere, including issues of culture, national traditions, languages, science, education, archives, tourism, and youth movements." The declaration also committed member states to discussions about the possible creation of an international humanitarian foundation modeled on UNESCO to work in the region and to "encourage the holding of forums of the creative intelligentsias of commonwealth member states." RC
 ...AND PAY TRIBUTE TO ROLE OF CIS PEOPLES DURING WORLD WAR IIDuring the CIS summit, President Putin said that the peoples of the CIS "made the main, decisive contribution" to the victory 60 years ago over Nazi Germany, ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the CIS, "as one of the largest regional organizations in the world," is capable of playing a leading role in combating "the ideological successor to Nazism -- terrorism, as well as ideological doctrines based on racism and xenophobia." RTR noted on 8 May that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's father was reportedly killed during the war, Putin's father was wounded, and the father of Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko was a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Putin also met privately with Yushchenko, acting Kyrgyzstan President and Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev, and Niyazov. RC
 OFFICIALS THWART ATTEMPT TO EXPORT TORPEDO TECHNOLOGY TO CHINACustoms officials in the Russian Far East have blocked an attempt to export restricted military technology to China, NTV reported on 8 May. According to the report, a private business had contracted to export to China two decommissioned diesel-powered submarines, but inspectors found that each of the vessels contained six torpedo tubes containing systems that should have been dismantled. The submarines are being held in Kamchatka Oblast and a case on charges of filing a false export declaration has been opened. RC
 FAR EAST LEGISLATORS SEEK HOLIDAY TO MARK VICTORY OVER JAPAN...Members of the Sakhalin Oblast legislature have appealed to the Federal Assembly to declare 3 September a national holiday commemorating "victory over militaristic Japan," Interfax reported on 8 May. "If the Sakhalin Duma is supported by the higher executive and legislative powers, this will disarm the supporters of the transfer of a number of the Kurile Islands to Japan and will demonstrate national unity," the legislature's appeal states. "We have the impression that the state is ashamed of the liberation by Soviet forces of Korea and part of China from militaristic Japan." A spokesman for the State Duma told the news agency that Sakhalin legislators have issued similar appeals in the past but they have always been rejected by Moscow. RC
 ...AS SIBERIAN CITY UNVEILS MONUMENT TO STALINA 1.5 meter bronze bust of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was unveiled in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) town of Mirnyi on 8 May, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Sakha President Vyacheslav Shtyrov attended the unveiling ceremony. "We are unveiling a monument to a great son of Russia who gave everything to his people -- his talent, his managerial skills, toughness and demanding character, love and devotion -- and took nothing in return," Mirnyi Mayor Anatolii Popov said at the ceremony, according to Ekho Moskvy. "He died without a ruble in his pocket, without bank accounts and property." An unnamed source in the town's administration told ITAR-TASS that the monument had been erected at the insistence of local World War II veterans. RC
 RELATIVE OF NEMTSOV MURDERED IN NIZHNII NOVGORODKlara Eidman, a 71-year-old aunt of former Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, was found murdered in Nizhnii Novgorod on 7 May, the victim of an apparent mugging, RIA-Novosti reported. Police have arrested an unemployed resident of Volgograd named Albert Shapoval in connection with the incident. RC
 INGUSHETIAN POLICE PRESSURE OPPOSITIONISTPolice officers intercepted parliament Deputy Musa Ozdoev on his return on 6 May from Moscow to his home in Nazran and asked him to surrender his hunting rifle, for which he has a permit, ingushetiya.ru reported. The police officials explained it was necessary to check whether the gun has been used to commit a crime. Ozdoev refused to surrender the weapon despite repeated requests over a period of some 24 hours, and the police finally abandoned the attempt. On 7 May, Ozdoev met with leading members of the Youth Movement of Ingushetia (MDI) to discuss scheduling further demonstrations to protest corruption and demand the resignation of Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, ingushetiya.ru reported. MDI leader Boris Archakov said the organization will in future take its orders from Ozdoev. LF
 NO SUSPECTS IDENTIFIED IN MURDER OF PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN LEADERInterfax on 7 May quoted Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Nikolai Shepel as denying that any suspects have been identified in the 9 May 2004 terrorist bombing that killed six people in Grozny, including pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. Kadyrov's son, Ramzan, told journalists on 27 April that he launched his own probe into the murder when the official investigation failed to yield results, and he established the identity of those who planned and carried out the bombing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2005). He said all those responsible have since been killed, except for radical field commander Shamil Basaev and one unnamed person who planted the bomb. Also on 7 May, Interfax quoted an unidentified official as saying that Ramzan Kadyrov was himself recently questioned in connection with the investigation of his father's murder. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 U.S. EXPERTS INSPECT ARMENIAN ARMED FORCESMeeting on 6 May in Yerevan with Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian after a three-day inspection of Armenia's armed forces, U.S. military officials and civilian experts lauded the standards attained by Armenia's army, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported, quoting a Defense Ministry press release. That statement quoted the head of the U.S. team as specifically praising "care shown towards soldiers and the maintenance of military hardware," and thanking the Armenian military for its "sincerity and transparency." Also on 6 May, a U.S. official said the U.S. government agency that allocates funds under the Millennium Challenge program needs more time to evaluate the merits of Yerevan's claims for additional funding under that program, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Armenia has requested some $175 million, $118 million to renovate Soviet-era irrigation systems and $57 million to rebuild highways in rural areas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 31 March 2005). Armenian officials say those measures will help boost agricultural output and thereby reduce poverty in rural areas. LF
 ARMENIAN FINANCE MINISTER COMMENTS ON EXCHANGE RATESVardan Khachatrian attributed on 6 May the previous day's sharp rise in the value of the U.S. dollar vis-a-vis the Armenian dram to an increase in demand for the dollar, Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). Echoing statements by Central Bank officials, Khachatrian rejected as untrue the speculation that Armenian government officials have connived in the marked rise in the value of the dram since early 2004. LF
 AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITIONISTS CALL FOR GENUINE DIALOGUEThe election bloc comprising the opposition Musavat party, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, and the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party has dismissed the 5 May roundtable discussion between opposition and pro-government parties as an "imitation" of the genuine dialogue between the opposition and the Azerbaijani leadership which the bloc's members have been demanding for 18 months, according to Turan on 6 May and echo-az.com on 7 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). Musavat party Chairman Isa Qambar said that he considers the holding of further such roundtable discussions expedient only if they focus on key issues such as amending the composition of election commissions and the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. LF
 AZERBAIJANI NGOS TO APPEAL TO PRESIDENT OVER ELECTION MONITORINGAt a press conference in Baku on 6 May convened by the election bloc Public Leaders, the heads of several NGOs decided to appeal to President Ilham Aliyev to use his right of legislative initiative to propose abolishing the article of the election law that prohibits those NGOs that receive funding from abroad from participating in election monitoring, zerkalo.az reported on 7 May. Also on 6 May, Finance Minister Avaz Alekperov told parliament that the government will allocate 46 billion manats (some $9.5 million) to finance the parliamentary ballot due in November, Turan reported. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT EXEMPTS LOW INCOME FAMILIES FROM ELECTRICITY FEESMeeting on 7 May with the heads of the country's gas and electricity boards, President Aliyev announced that low income families will no longer have to pay for electricity, Turan reported. It is not clear what criterion will be used to determine who qualifies for that benefit: on 1 February, Caucasus Press quoted Azerbaijani Economic Development Minister Farkhad Aliyev as saying that 42.5 percent of the country's population live below the poverty line. Turan dismissed Aliyev's announcement as populism in the run-up to the November ballot. Many rural districts of Azerbaijan receive electricity only intermittently. LF
 GEORGIA, RUSSIA FAIL TO REACH AGREEMENT ON BASES CLOSUREDuring talks in Moscow on 6 May, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Georgian counterpart Salome Zourabichvili failed to finalize the timetable for the closure of the two remaining Russian military bases in Georgia, Russian and Georgian media reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Zourabichvili as telling the independent Georgian television station Rustavi2 on 6 May that she and Lavrov agreed on measures for beginning the withdrawal in 2005-2006, but failed to agree on a deadline for its completion, which Tbilisi wants no later than early 2008. Zourabichvili added that Russia has agreed to permit international monitoring of the former Russian base in Gudauta, Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS reported. Tbilisi has repeatedly questioned Russian claims to have withdrawn all personnel and materiel from that base by July 2001 in line with a 1999 pledge. LF
 GEORGIAN PRESIDENT DECLINES TO ATTEND MOSCOW SUMMIT, WWII ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONSZourabichvili also told journalists in Moscow on 6 May that in light of the failure to set a firm deadline for the closure of the Russian military bases in Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili would not travel to Moscow to attend the informal CIS summit on 8 May and the celebrations the following day to mark the 60th anniversary of Russia's defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II, Georgian media reported. Saakashvili said earlier he would travel to Moscow only if it would be possible to sign a formal agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin finalizing the Russian withdrawal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 April 2005). Saakashvili had a telephone conversation on 7 May with Putin, but did not discuss the closure of the Russian bases, Interfax reported. On 8 May, Saakashvili reaffirmed Georgia's readiness to continue discussing "a dignified withdrawal [by the Russian troops] and a sensible timeframe," Reuters reported. LF
 U.S. PRESIDENT VOICES HOPES FOR GEORGIA-RUSSIAN WITHDRAWAL AGREEMENTU.S. President George W. Bush told journalists on 6 May that at Saakashvili's request he will raise the issue of the Russian military withdrawal from Georgia with President Putin during his visit to Moscow. In an 8 May interview with Rustavi-2, Bush said he hopes it will prove possible to resolve that problem peacefully. Bush, who will travel to Tbilisi on 10 May for a one-day visit, also expressed the hope that Georgia will find a way to cooperate with Russia in ridding the Pankisi Gorge of any remaining international terrorists. At the same time, he warned that Georgia and Ukraine should not expect to be admitted to NATO "overnight." Speaking in Ukraine's Cherkassy Oblast on 7 May, Georgian Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili said Tbilisi will formally apply next year for NATO membership, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, U.S. Ambassador to Moscow Alexander Vershbow told Interfax on 7 May that Washington's implementation of the amended Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe is contingent on the closure of the Russian bases in Georgia in line with Moscow's commitments of 1999. LF
 ADJARA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF AUTHORITARIAN LEADER'S OUSTERPresident Saakashvili traveled to Batumi on 6 May to participate in a government session to mark the first anniversary of the peaceful ouster of Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 6 May 2004). Saakashvili praised the progress made by the republic's new leadership in eradicating corruption and improving socioeconomic conditions. The celebrations were marred by the arrest of Labor Party member David Robakidze after he publicly called on Saakashvili to resign, and by a mass altercation between two groups of young men, one of whom was stabbed to death and 10 were hospitalized, Caucasus Press reported. Meanwhile, Interfax reported that portraits of Abashidze and demands for his return were displayed in hundreds of homes in Batumi early on 6 May, and that city authorities had to scramble to remove them before Saakashvili's arrival. LF
 KAZAKH PARLIAMENT PASSES BUDGET AMENDMENTSA joint session of Kazakhstan's parliament voted on 6 May to approve amendments to the country's 2005 budget, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Economics Minister Kairat Kelimbetov explained that the changes reduce both revenues and expenditures by 3.7 billion tenges ($28.2 million). The resulting 2005 budget has revenues of 1.245 trillion tenges (or 18.9 percent of adjusted GDP), expenditures of 1.359 trillion tenges (20.7 percent of GDP), and a deficit of 113.8 billion tenges (1.7 percent of GDP), Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The amendments now await President Nursultan Nazarbaev's signature to become law. DK
 TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS KYRGYZSTANAbdullah Gul met with Kyrgyz acting President and Prime Minister Kurmanbek Bakiev and Foreign Minister Roza Otunbaeva in Bishkek on 6 May, Anatolia and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. At his meeting with President Bakiev, Gul said that he hopes the post-24 March period in Kyrgyzstan "will bring a bright future to Kyrgyzstan," Anatolia reported. At a meeting with Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov, Gul stressed the importance of economic stability for Kyrgyzstan's future. Gul also met with a number of Turkish businessmen, some of whose businesses suffered from the 24-25 March looting in Bishkek. They said that they do not plan to leave Kyrgyzstan, but told Gul that they need $9 million-$10 million in assistance to recoup losses, Anatolia reported. Gul also met with Feliks Kulov, head of Kyrgyzstan's Ar-Namys party, Kabar reported. DK
 RIVAL SAYS KYRGYZ ELECTION COMMISSION EXAMINING CASE AGAINST AKAEV'S DAUGHTER...Former parliamentary candidate Bolot Maripov told akipress.org on 6 May that the Central Election Commission (CEC) is examining allegations of election violations against Bermet Akaeva, daughter of ousted Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev. Maripov lost to Akaeva in recent parliamentary elections, but has alleged fraud. Maripov also claimed that the Prosecutor-General's Office has confirmed the allegations contained in his complaint against Akaeva. DK
 ...AS KYRGYZ PROSECUTOR GIVES TOUR OF AKAEV PROPERTIESActing Prosecutor-General Azimbek Beknazarov led journalists on 7 May on a tour of construction projects linked to former President Akaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The tour included the presidential library, a presidential residence in Bishkek, and another residence in the resort area Ala-Archa. Beknazarov explained that Akaev and his associates diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state budget to build luxurious residences for themselves. Beknazarov also noted that illegally privatized construction projects have been returned to the state from such former officials as First Deputy Prime Minister Kubanychbek Jumaliev, Ambassador to Turkey Amanbek Karypkulov, and State Secretary Osmonakun Ibraimov. DK
 LANGUAGE TEST POSTPONED FOR KYRGYZ PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULSKyrgyzstan's CEC announced in Bishkek on 7 May that the Kyrgyz language exam for three presidential candidates scheduled for that date has been postponed for one week for technical reasons, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The three candidates for 10 July presidential elections who were to have taken the exam on 7 May are doctor Jenishbek Nazaraliev, Democratic Movement head Jypar Jeksheev, and industrialist Akbaraly Aitikeev. DK
 KYRGYZ ACTING PRESIDENT PROPOSES DEBT SWAP WITH RUSSIAIn the course of a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on 8 May, acting Kyrgyz President Bakiev offered currently idle enterprises to Russia in exchange for debt forgiveness, Regnum reported. "If you agree, I'll prepare a list of these enterprises," RIA-Novosti reported Bakiev as telling Putin. Bakiev suggested that a debt swap with subsequent Russian ownership could reactivate factories in Kyrgyzstan and thus reduce unemployment. Putin noted that Russia has already completed a similar swap with Armenia. DK
 TURKMEN MINISTER KILLED IN CAMEL CRASHBashimklych Kalandarov, Turkmenistan's minister of water resources, was killed in a car accident on 4 May, Turkmenistan.ru reported on 6 May. The accident occurred when Kalandarov's car struck a herd of camels crossing the road near the city of Tejen. Kalandarov had occupied the position of water minister since November 2003. DK
 U.S. PRESIDENT, IN RIGA, URGES FAIR ELECTIONS IN BELARUS...Speaking at a news conference in Riga on 7 May, U.S. President George W. Bush denied a suggestion from a journalist that Washington and Moscow may be seeking a deal to oust President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Belarus, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service and Belapan reported. "The only deal that I think is a necessary deal for people is the deal of freedom. They should be allowed to express themselves in free and open and fair elections in Belarus," Bush said. "All of us are committed to the advance of freedom in Belarus," Bush went on to say. "The people of that country live under Europe's last dictatorship, and they deserve better. The governments of Latvia and Lithuania have worked to build support for democracy in Belarus, and to deliver truthful information by radio and newspapers. Together we have set a firm and confident standard: Repression has no place on this continent. The people of Minsk deserve the same freedom you have in Tallinn, and Vilnius, and Riga." JM
 ...AND IS MET WITH LUKASHENKA'S BLUNT RESPONSEPresident Lukashenka on 7 May warned the Baltic states against what he called interfering in Belarusian affairs, Belapan reported. Lukashenka was referring to talks between Bush and the three Baltic presidents in Riga earlier the same day, which touched upon the situation in Belarus. "I believe the Baltic states have enough problems of their own that could be discussed with their [American] boss," Lukashenka said at a meeting with veterans in Minsk. "It's good that they talk about us. We're glad if someone of them has studied a map and showed their overseas boss where Belarus is located. We welcome such discussions, but I fear any other sort of talk will end badly for the leaders of the Baltic states." JM
 MINSK FREES FOUR JAILED UKRAINIAN DEMONSTRATORSAuthorities on 6 May released the final four Ukrainian anti-Lukashenka protesters who were arrested during a demonstration in Minsk on 26 April, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. In addition to Oleksandr Hrymalyuk, Oleksandr Mishlay, and Ihor Huz, the leader of Ukraine's National Alliance youth organization -- who were all expected to be released on that date, which completed their 10-day jail terms -- the Belarusian authorities freed Andrey Bokach, who had been sentenced to 15 days and was to be released on 11 May. Along with the four Ukrainians, five Belarusian opposition activists sentenced for the same demonstration were released on 6 May, while two others are continuing to serve their 15-day terms. JM
 BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT RENAMES STREETS IN MINSK TO MARK 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF V-DAYPresident Lukashenka has decreed that Frantsishak Skaryna Avenue, Minsk's main thoroughfare, be renamed Independence Avenue, and that Pyotr Masherau Avenue, another major street in the capital, take the name of Victors' Avenue, Belapan reported on 7 May. The presidential press service said the decree was issued "in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the victory of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War and in connection with numerous requests from veterans and residents of the capital." Lukashenka simultaneously decreed that the names of Frantsishak Skaryna Avenue and Pyotr Masherau Avenue be ascribed to other streets in Minsk. Stanislau Shushkevich, Belarus' head of state from 1991-1994, told Belapan that Lukashenka's decree is "stupid and shortsighted." "There is no name more sacred for Belarusians than the name of Frantsishak Skaryna," Shushkevich noted. Skaryna (1485?-1540?) was the first Belarusian printer and Bible translator. JM
 UKRAINIAN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENTS FORM BILATERAL COMMISSION, SET GOALSRussian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yushchenko, signed a statement in Moscow on 8 May, setting up a Putin-Yushchenko commission and outlining 15 points of cooperation, Ukrainian media reported. Yushchenko told journalists that the Single Economic Space and a free-trade zone are priorities in the countries' bilateral cooperation. Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko said on UT-1 television on 8 May that the other aspects of Russian-Ukrainian interaction relate to problems connected with the deployment of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol and border cooperation, including a simplified procedure for crossing the border and an agreement on readmission. Poroshenko also said Yushchenko asked Putin to facilitate the creation of national Russian television and radio stations in the Ukrainian language and a national newspaper in Ukrainian. Putin reportedly supported this initiative. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR RECONCILIATION OF SOVIET, NATIONALIST VETERANS...President Yushchenko appealed to Ukrainian veterans of the Soviet Army and the nationalist Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) on the 1+1 television channel on 8 May to find mutual understanding and reconciliation on the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005), RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. "We have forgiven the Japanese, the Germans, the Poles," Yushchenko said. "We only have not forgiven each other.... For the glory of your children and grandchildren -- shake hands with each other! The Ukrainian people will appreciate your step." According to a recent poll by the Razumkov Center in Kyiv, possible reconciliation between German and Soviet veterans is assessed positively by 37 percent of Ukrainians and negatively by 29 percent; possible reconciliation between Soviet and UPA veterans is backed by 33 percent and opposed by 33 percent of Ukrainian respondents. JM
 ...AND SUGGESTS 'ALIBI' FOR CANCELING POLITICAL REFORMPresident Yushchenko also said on the 1+1 television channel on 8 May that he does not rule out holding a referendum on the constitutional reform adopted by parliament in December 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004), the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (http://www2.pravda.com.ua) reported. According to Yushchenko, such a plebiscite would provide "an alibi that could be used by political forces as the guiding argument." Yushchenko added that he will not be surprised if "some political forces" appeal to the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the constitutional reform, which was adopted as a compromise to overcome the political crisis during last year's presidential election campaign in Ukraine. JM
 WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL REPORTEDLY GIVES SERBIA SENSITIVE INFORMATION ON INDICTEE...London's "The Guardian" on 9 May quoted unnamed "senior sources" at the Hague-based war crimes tribunal as saying that leading Bosnian Serb war crimes indictee Radovan Karadzic has been sighted twice in public in recent weeks, apparently preparing for the imminent death and funeral of his mother, Jovanka Karadzic, who lived in Niksic, Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). He was reportedly seen on 14 April in a restaurant in southeastern Bosnia with his wife, Ljiljana Zelen-Karadzic, and one week later in Belgrade with his brother, Luka. The daily cited the anonymous sources as describing the sightings as "unusually solid." "The Guardian" added that "the information was so sensitive that it could not be passed to Western intelligence or to security services operating in the Balkans because of past experiences when 'actionable intelligence' given to NATO officers in Bosnia was either leaked or not acted upon. The investigators have concluded that the Serbian government, which has recently started turning over high-level suspects to...The Hague, now offers the best chance of arresting...Karadzic." The daily quoted an unnamed source as saying: "We can't go near [Ms. Karadzic's] house. We'd be killed. But they [Serbs and Montenegrins] have to have it all under surveillance. This is a very good chance for them to deliver. If they do not, we know they are not serious. It's a big test." PM
 ...AS A FUNERAL TAKES PLACE WITHOUT INCIDENTSeveral hundred people attended the 7 May funeral of Jovanka Karadzic, the mother of Radovan, in Niksic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service and "The Guardian" reported. Some of those present wore T-shirts bearing Radovan Karadzic's picture with the caption "Serbian hero." Karadzic himself did not attend. No incidents were reported, and police were not visibly present. Metropolitan Amfilohije, who is the highest Serbian Orthodox clergyman in Montenegro, officiated. In his eulogy, he compared Jovanka Karadzic to Mother Jugovic, a noble figure from Serbian epic folk poems, who is said to have lost nine sons at the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389. Radovan's brother, Luka, said at the ceremony that his mother's "greatest grief" was that her eldest son, Radovan, could not be present at the funeral to deliver a final farewell. PM
 HAGUE TRIBUNAL FREES BOSNIAN MUSLIM GENERAL PENDING HIS TRIALThe former commander of the Army of Bosnia-Herzegovina, General Rasim Delic, returned on 7 May from The Hague to Sarajevo, where he will remain until his trial begins, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 March 2005). Delic surrendered to the war crimes tribunal voluntarily on 28 February. Prosecutors accuse him of not having prevented or punished war crimes committed by foreign fighters under his command, including the killing of 24 Bosnian Croats in June 1993 and the killing of Bosnian Serb soldiers in the Kamenica prison camp (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February and 1 and 4 March 2005). PM
 BOSNIAN MUSLIM LEADER PREPARES NEW CONSTITUTIONAL PLANSulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member of the Bosnian Presidency, said in Sarajevo on 7 May that his Party of Democratic Action (SDA) will soon launch a plan for redefining Bosnia-Herzegovina as a single decentralized state with local, regional, and state governments, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The plan also calls for dividing Bosnia into five "economic regions." The constitution set down by the 1995 Dayton peace agreements is seen in many quarters as unworkable or having outlived its usefulness (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 October 2004, and 25 March and 1 April 2005). But Bosnian Serbs tend to be wary of any reforms that weaken the position of the Republika Srpska, and many Croats would like to set up a Croatian entity equal to the Serbian and Muslim ones. The international community is seeking to move toward civic-based solutions rather than ethnic ones, but Bosnian political life is dominated by nationalist parties. PM
 BOSNIAN MUSLIM CEMETERY REPORTED DESECRATEDThe Banja Luka daily "Nezavisne novine" reported on 8 May that unknown people recently turned over 26 Muslim tombstones, some of which are over 200 years old, in a cemetery in Prnjavor in the northern Republika Srpska. Local Islamic Community leader Husein Vukovic said that the vandalism appeared timed to deliberately coincide with 7 May, which is Mosque Day in Bosnia-Herzegovina. The cemetery is on the national heritage list. The centers of many Bosnian cities, towns, and villages often include historical mosques, which have both older and more recent graves on their grounds. PM
 MACEDONIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY TAKES OVER RESPONSIBILITY FOR NORTHERN BORDERThe Macedonian Interior Ministry's Border Police took control of the northern frontier -- bordering Kosova and Serbia -- in an official ceremony at the Dolno Blace border checkpoint on 7 May, MIA news agency reported. The move was part of a broader plan for the civilian-controlled Border Police to take over responsibility from the army on the frontiers. Until now, the Border Police were in charge of only the frontiers with Greece and Bulgaria. In a next and final step, the Border Police will take control of the frontier with Albania. Zoran Jovanovski, who is the undersecretary of Macedonia's Border Police, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 7 May that experience has shown that civilian control of the borders is more effective than the military when it comes to thwarting illegal border crossings, arms smuggling, and drug trafficking. UB
 MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT ASSURES RUSSIANS ON STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPVladimir Voronin said on Radio Mayak in Moscow on 8 May that Russia remains one of Moldova's strategic partners, ITAR-TASS reported. "There is only one problem that is still to be settled in our bilateral relations, and that is the Transdniester region," Voronin said. "We simply cannot find points in common in that matter, and we want to unite the country." Voronin also assured Russian listeners that there are no problems with the use of Russian in Moldova. "Russian is an official language, and is being used in governmental agencies and educational establishments throughout the republic," he noted, adding that Moldova has 630 Russian-language schools, and that their number is growing. JM
 ROMANIANS IN MOLDOVA FORM 'DEMOCRATIC FORUM'Several major public organizations in Moldova, including the Union of Writers, the Union of Journalists, the Union of Cinematographers, and the Union of Artists -- as well as a number of prominent academicians, writers, and journalists -- have founded a civil movement called the Democratic Forum of the Romanians of Moldova, Infotag reported on 6 May. The forum's stated goals are "to cultivate national dignity and self-respect among people, to combat falsification and Stalinism in the sciences, culture, and history, and to defend and promote the scientific truth with respect to the Romanian language and the history of the Romanians." The new organization believes that Moldova's current Communist leadership and "the Soviet authorities of Tiraspol" are jointly pursuing a policy aimed at undercutting the nation's Romanian roots, and it wants to stop this trend. JM
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN ASSEMBLY BACKS 'STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP' WITH WASHINGTONMore than a thousand representatives gathering in a Loya Jirga (grand assembly) held in Kabul on 8 May backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's plans for a "strategic partnership" with the United States, Afghan government spokesman Jawed Ludin said, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported. Ludin said that the representatives were "on the whole...very positive" with Karzai's proposed partnership with the United States. Karzai is expected to discuss the issue of strategic partnership with the U.S. during his visit to Washington later in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2005). Ludin said that Kabul has not asked Washington to establish permanent military bases in Afghanistan, as the "strategic partnership" proposal had been widely understood to suggest. Instead, he said, the "people of Afghanistan consider it necessary to have a long-term presence of foreign troops in the country until Afghan security forces are able to stand on their own feet," dpa reported on 8 May. Ludin did not elaborated on the expected duration of this presence. AT
 ...AS KABUL DAILY SAYS PARLIAMENT SHOULD DISCUSS THE ISSUEIn a commentary on 7 May, "Arman-e Melli" suggested that while foreign troops have "played a significant role" in maintaining peace and security in Afghanistan since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001, it "would be better" for Karzai to "raise the question of whether is it in the national interest" of Afghanistan to allow the United States to establish permanent military bases in the country, with "elected representatives of the people in the parliament" scheduled to be elected in September. Members of the Loya Jirga that adopted the country's constitution in January 2004 are not the appropriate people to discuss such a vital issue, "Arman-e Melli" argues (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 8 January 2004). "If there is no vote-rigging in the parliamentary elections," that body will "reflect the views of the people," and therefore should be the forum to adopt a decision on this issue, the commentary concludes. AT
 BLAST IN DOWNTOWN KABUL LEAVES THREE DEAD...A blast in an Internet cafe on 7 May in Kabul's busy central Shahr-e Naw district left a foreign employee of the United Nations and two Afghans dead and five others were injured, international news organizations reported. Kabul security commander Brigadier General Mohammad Akarm Khakrezwal said that the UN employee was from Myanmar, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 8 May. "In my opinion," the blast "was not a suicide attack," but rather the result of explosives placed in a "handbag," Khakrezwal said. According to the security commander, five employees of the Internet cafe have been arrested and are being interrogated, although the investigation has yet to point to a suspect. Also quoting Khakrezwal, Tolu Television on 8 May reported that the blast was the work of a suicide bomber. AT
 ...AS THE NEO-TALIBAN DENY ANY RESPONSIBILITYNeo-Taliban spokesman Latifullah Hakimi told AIP on 7 May that the militia was not involved in the blast at an Internet cafe in Kabul. Hakimi said that he contacted an unnamed neo-Taliban commander in Kabul who told him that the neo-Taliban "had nothing to do with this explosion." Thus far no one has claimed responsibility for the blast. It is unusual for the neo-Taliban to quickly deny responsibility for such actions, especially those involving foreign victims. Traditionally, the neo-Taliban has claimed responsibility for actions that later were proven not to have been their work. AT
 IRAN TO RESTART SENSITIVE NUCLEAR WORK...Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in Tehran on 8 May that Iran will restart the sensitive nuclear work that Western states would like to see permanently halted, news agencies reported the same day. Asefi added, however, that Iran will also take steps to formally ratify the protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which will allow close checks of its nuclear program. Iran had suspended work on the nuclear fuel production cycle while discussing its controversial program with Germany, France and Britain. The United States has accused Tehran of pursuing a nuclear weapons program. Addressing Tehran's decision to resume its nuclear work, Asefi said: "The point is that these activities will begin, and it will be announced when and in which sectors," ISNA reported. The activities are due to begin at a conversion plant in Isfahan, central Iran. Asefi said his "understanding" is that "the activities may" lead to the production of uranium hexafluoride, a gas enriched in centrifuges for either civilian energy purposes or possible use in bombs. The Foreign Ministry has submitted a bill to the government, which will then be sent for ratification to parliament, formalizing Iran's acceptance of the NPT additional protocol, AFP cited Asefi as saying. VS
 ...AS MINISTER CONFIRMS THREAT NOT IN VAINForeign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on 8 May that the threat to renew enrichment-related activities is "not unfeasible," but "these are decisions that will be taken, and we are waiting...to see how we must act on them," ISNA reported the same day. "We have reached the stage where we would like to start the early stages of...enrichment. That shows we will not wait, so it all depends on when and where we will begin, so as not to waste time," he said. Iran wants to enrich uranium "to 3.5 percent," he said, adding that this is for civilian fuel production. The "objective guarantees" that Western states want proving that Iran's program is in fact civilian in nature could "never" take the form of a "full cessation of enrichment," he said. Iran, he added, proposes instead the ratification and implementation of the additional protocol in Iran, Iranian laws banning nuclear weapons production, cooperation with Europe, and a definition of "the limits of enrichment...because enrichment to 3.5 percent is only used for fuel," ISNA quoted him as saying. VS
 IRANIAN AGENTS STOP WRITERS' MEETING; WORKER DISAPPEARSIran's Intelligence Ministry stopped members of the Iran Writers Association (Kanun-e Nevisandegan-e Iran) from meeting at a private Tehran residence on 3 May to prepare for the group's general assembly, Radio Farda reported on 8 May. "They sent someone from the Intelligence Ministry" to the home of Simin Behbahani, the writer who was to host the meeting, member Ali Ashraf Darvishian told Radio Farda. "The reason [they gave] was, 'Your lives are in danger and we cannot assure the security of the meeting,'" he said. Separately, a worker at a state car-manufacturing plant has been arrested, apparently for protesting against work conditions, and is being held in an unknown location, Radio Farda reported on 8 May, citing a colleague. Parviz Salarvand, a worker at Iran Khodro, was arrested on 12 April after joining protests against temporary work contracts. He was not formally charged, and friends and family do not where he is, Majid Tamjidi, a labor activist, told Radio Farda. VS
 MINISTER HOPES FOR LEGAL, PEACEFUL ELECTIONS IN IRANInterior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said in Tehran on 8 May that his ministry will help "every Iranian" who meets basic requirements for becoming a candidate to register for the 17 June presidential elections, but said it could do little if electoral supervisors reject them, ISNA reported the same day. The Guardians Council, the top electoral oversight body, banned thousands from running in the 2004 parliamentary elections, but Musavi-Lari said he hopes the presidential elections will be different, as "those taking part...are familiar figures." But "when the matter is directly in [the Council's] power," it has the right to check that candidates "conform" to "legal stipulations," and Musavi-Lari thinks the Interior Ministry "has no more power than ordinary people" in that respect, he said. He said he has asked the police to act against violent individuals who have recently disrupted electoral meetings. On 6 May, an unspecified group sought to attack Mehdi Karrubi, a prospective candidate speaking in a mosque in Zanjan, northeastern Iran, before he was led out of the building, "Sharq" reported on 8 May. The group, which apparently numbered about 100, had arrived in two buses, the daily cited witnesses as saying. VS
 RECKLESS DRIVING, DRUGS, HEART DISEASE MAIN KILLERS IN IRANMore than 40,000 Iranians died from narcotics abuse between 20 March 2004 and 20 March 2005, with just over 26,000 dying in car crashes, Radio Farda reported on 8 May, citing a report issued by the Iranian state coroner. The report categorized drug-related deaths as "suspect," while automobile-related deaths were the leading cause of "unnatural" deaths, and caused serious injury to an additional 250,000 Iranians. Most "natural" deaths were due to cardiac and cardiovascular conditions, with heart attacks the leading cause of death in that category, the report stated. Medical centers run by the state coroner's office also treated 1.5 million Iranians injured in fights, while just over 1,400 Iranians drowned that year, the report stated. VS
 U.S. MARINES LAUNCH MAJOR OPERATION IN WESTERN IRAQI PROVINCE...U.S. Marines announced on 9 May that they launched a major operation in the western Al-Anbar Governorate on 8 May, Reuters reported. Some 75 insurgents have reportedly been killed in the first 24 hours of the operation. Coalition and Marine aircraft are taking part in the offensive, Reuters reported. AFP reported on 9 May that the offensive is targeting insurgents loyal to Al-Qaeda's Iraq leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. The statement called the area of operations, close to the Syrian border, "a known smuggling route and sanctuary for foreign fighters," AFP reported. One Marine was killed and seven wounded in the fighting, said Colonel Stephen Davis, washingtonpost.com reported on 9 May. Heavy fighting has taken place between U.S. forces and insurgents in and around the western border town of Al-Qa'im for a week. Al-Arabiyah television reported on 8 May that the nearby villages of Al-Karadilah and Al-Rummanah came under heavy bombing on that day. A bridge linking the two villages was reportedly bombed in an effort to cut off movement between the villages, the satellite news channel reported. KR
 ...AS KEY AL-ZARQAWI AIDE CAPTUREDU.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced in a 7 May press release (http://www.centcom.mil) that a key aide to al-Zarqawi was captured in western Iraq on 26 April. Ghassan Muhammad Amin Husayn al-Rawi served as a coordinator for senior members of al-Zarqawi's Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, facilitating al-Zarqawi's movement and meetings in western Iraq, and the movement of foreign fighters, the statement said. Amin was captured following three consecutive raids by multinational forces in late April, the first of which uncovered a car bomb factory linked to Amin. The second raid led to the capture of two of Amin's associates, and the third raid to the capture of Amin himself. Local residents said that Amin and his network terrorized locals by stealing cars to convert into car bombs, and by kidnapping Iraqis for profit, CENTCOM reported. Amin has admitted to meeting al-Zarqawi once in January, and said that he allowed the Al-Qaeda leader to live with one of his relatives for some five days. KR
 INSURGENT LEADER LINKED TO HUSSEIN CAPTURED IN BAGHDADU.S. forces have also reportedly arrested Amr Adnan Muhammad Hamzah al-Zubaydi in a 5 May raid on his home, washingtonpost.com reported on 9 May. Al-Zubaydi is reportedly the nephew of Muhammad Hamzah al-Zubaydi, a top official in the Saddam Hussein regime who was captured in April 2003. The younger al-Zubaydi worked as a Ba'ath Party official in charge of security in central Iraq, and participated in the quelling of a Shi'ite uprising in 1991. Following the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom, al-Zubaydi fled to Syria, but later returned as a self-described religious fighter, a former Iraqi army officer told the website. Al-Zubaydi was arrested on charges that he is the alleged mastermind of the April attack on Abu Ghurayb Prison. KR
 AL-JA'FARI COMPLETES IRAQI CABINET; PARLIAMENT APPROVES NOMINATIONSThe transitional National Assembly approved on 8 May by a vote of confidence the remaining nominations for cabinet positions in the transitional government, international media reported on 8 May. Abd Mutlaq al-Juburi (Sunni) will serve as deputy prime minister, Sa'dun al-Dulaymi (Sunni) as defense minister, Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum (Shi'ite) as oil minister, Muhsin Shalash (Shi'ite) as electricity minister, and Usamah al-Najafi (Sunni) as industry minister. Sunni Arab Hashim al-Shibli was appointed human rights minister, but stepped down hours after the appointment, saying he was not consulted beforehand and learned of his appointment through a television report. Al-Shibli told Al-Jazeera television in an 8 May interview: "I was appointed on the basis that I represent Ahl al-Sunnah [Sunni followers], a basis which contradicts with my beliefs and principles, because I am a member of the National Democratic Party, which believes in democracy, liberalism, and citizenship rights, far from sectarianism and denominationalism." He added that he is not affiliated with any particular group. KR
 IN BALTICS, ANNIVERSARY OF WAR'S END IS LITTLE CAUSE TO CELEBRATEBy Jeremy Bransten
Latvians young and old danced in the streets of Riga this week at a festive outdoor concert.
But they weren't remembering 1945. Rather, it was the 15th anniversary of the return to independence that brought people out in their national costumes, waving their country's crimson and white flag.
Yesterday many Latvians -- according to Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks -- were not be attending concerts or popping champagne corks. They were pondering the trauma that befell their nation, starting in 1940 and ending five decades later.
"It was a tragedy for our nation -- [World War II]," Pabriks said. "Basically there was not a family which did not lose a person, either to the Nazis or to the communists. We will [commemorate] this in the cemeteries on 8 May, because this is the day when the Nazi regime collapsed. Unfortunately, 8 May did not bring freedom to us and that is of course a problem which makes this celebration not only a happy event but also, let's say, an event which asks us to remember the other victims which died over the next 50 years."
It is all documented at the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia in the center of Riga. The first exhibit on display is a copy of the secret protocols attached to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which spelled the end of Latvian independence. Curator Ojars Stepens shows visitors around the complex.
"Here is a very interesting exhibit, I think," Stepens said. "It is a copy of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, where the division of spheres of influence in Eastern Europe is mentioned. This is what Russia does not want to admit, that this was an illegal agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany. And here's another interesting exhibit. This is a map -- a copy from the German federal archive -- where the borders of the spheres of influence are marked, with the signatures of Stalin and Ribbentrop."
What Soviet occupation meant for Latvia's people -- especially in the early Stalinist years -- was repression on a scale only equaled by Adolf Hitler's rule. Tens of thousands of people were shipped off in cattle cars to perish in Siberia's Gulags. All forms of dissent were crushed. All aspects of society -- from culture to the economy -- were turned upside down.
It is not a message today's Russian leaders are prepared to hear -- especially as Moscow prepares to mark an anniversary of what many Russians consider their finest hour.
Latvian President Vaire Vike-Freiberga is in Moscow today, but she has made it clear that in addition to paying homage to the millions of Soviet soldiers who laid down their lives to defeat the Nazis, she intends to remind Russians of their past sins. The leaders of Estonia and Lithuania have turned down the Kremlin's invitation.
This week, European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen urged Moscow to acknowledge the damage caused by the 50-year Soviet occupation of the Baltics. U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley made a similar statement.
In response, Russian officials have issued a series of condemnations, questioning whether the West has forgotten the magnitude of the Soviet sacrifice in World War II. Russia's Foreign Ministry issued an official statement on 4 May denying that the Soviet Union had ever occupied the Baltics, saying the Red Army had been invited in by those countries' governments.
Presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii expounded on that statement in Moscow last week: "The troop deployment, I repeat, was carried out on the basis of mutual consent, a clearly expressed political will and, most importantly, agreements signed by the existing authorities legitimately elected by the populations of those three Baltic states."
Now that the Baltic states are NATO and EU members, concerns are being expressed that the discord could cast a shadow over next week's commemorations and the planned EU-Russia summit in Moscow.
To curator Stepens, the fact that Western states are willing to finally confront Moscow over the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact means the former captive nations of Eastern Europe are finally being heard at the heart of European institutions. And he is glad.
"I believe the fact that Europe has begun to speak out [on this issue] is thanks to the efforts of the Baltic countries and the countries of Eastern Europe, which were also under Soviet power -- although not to the degree of the Baltic states," Stepens said. "They have done their work and they have explained their history to their Western partners. And these partners have begun to understand."
High-school history teacher Dzintra Liepina agrees. But she also worries that the deteriorating tone of the discussion -- which she says is fueled by the Russian-language media both in Russia and in Latvia that sometimes portray Latvians as fascist sympathizers -- threatens to poison already strained relations. She also worries it could also drive a further wedge between Latvia's majority ethnic Latvians and the country's large Russian-speaking minority.
"What I think is that the mass media have a very strong effect on people in Russia and lately, one can feel that people have begun to believe [these distortions.] Every day they are told that Latvians are fascists, that they are a bad lot. This has become so politicized that maybe these people already are starting to think that Hitler and [Nazi] Germany did not exist, that the biggest evil was Latvia," Liepina said.
This year, in his state-of-the-nation address, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the breakup of the Soviet Union the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century." Latvian President Vike-Freiberga called it the greatest event in 20th-century European history. The two statements illustrate the gulf in understanding between the two sides.