|Monday, 27 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 05-05-23
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 RUSSIA MOVES TO PREVENT EXTRADITION OF EX-NUCLEAR MINISTER TO UNITED STATES...Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli confirmed on 19 May that his country has received a request from the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office to extradite former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2005), Russian media reported. Galli said that Adamov's arrest warrant was issued by Moscow's Basmannnyi Raion Court on 14 May, strana.ru reported on 19 May. He said that the decision on whether to extradite Adamov to Russia or the United States will be made after examining the case further. Meanwhile, RTR commented on 19 May that Adamov must be returned to Russia as that country filed an extradition request first. The United States has not yet filed a formal request. The Russian Embassy in Bern asked the Swiss Justice Ministry on 19 May to release Adamov on bail until the Swiss court decides his fate, NTV reported. VY
 ...AS EXPERT EXPLAINS WHYMany Russian experts have said that Moscow can avoid embarrassment in connection with the Adamov case if the Prosecutor-General's Office reacts to the numerous corruption scandals involving the Atomic Energy Ministry in the years 1997-2001, when Adamov headed the ministry. According to Duma Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin (Communist), Adamov used ministry funds for his and his business partners' private benefit, "Argumenty i fakty," No 20, reported. Ilyukhin is a member of the Duma Anticorruption Commission that investigated Adamov's activities during that period. According to the report, Adamov's ministry used the private Moscow-based MDM Bank, which belonged to Aleksandr Mamut, a lesser-known key player in former President Boris Yeltsin's "Family." Ilyukhin said that the anticorruption commission sent information concerning Adamov to the Prosecutor-General's Office, but the Kremlin ordered that Adamov be left alone. "It seems that in the case of Adamov, some influential people in Moscow are more afraid that he can reveal their private business dealings than Russia's nuclear secrets," commented RBK-TV on 19 May. VY
 FORMER PRIME MINISTER CRITICIZES 'RESTORATION OF SOVIET ORDER'Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 19 May, former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said that Russia is moving in the wrong direction at an increasing speed, gazeta.ru and other media reported. "We are witnessing attempts to restore the Soviet order with elements of state capitalism," he said. Kasyanov, whom analysts see as a potential consolidating figure for the anti-Kremlin opposition, said that he does not want to create his own political party, but to unite all democratic forces ahead of the 2008 presidential election. Meanwhile, the leader of the unregistered Our Choice party, Irina Khakamada, told "Kommersant-Daily" on 19 May that it is possible that the Kremlin will now organize a "powerful information campaign" against Kasyanov. INDEM foundation head Georgii Satarov told "Kommersant-Daily" that he cannot exclude the possibility that Kasyanov could play a role similar to that played by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko during Ukraine's Orange Revolution. VY
 ...AS NEWSPAPER ANALYSES HIS PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONSKasyanov has positioned himself as a possible presidential candidate in an attempt to seek protection from possible Kremlin attacks, "Moskovskii komsomolets-Germaniya" speculated on 18 May. According to the newspaper, in late 2004 presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev called Kasyanov and recommended that he "leave the country." Kasyanov refused and several days later his close business associate, Teimuraz Karchava, was arrested for unspecified economic crimes. Shortly after that, Kasyanov announced his presidential ambitions, the newspaper said. The organizer of Kasyanov's political return and manager of his public-relations campaign is financier Aleksandr Mamut. Meanwhile, Anton Surikov, an aide who worked in Kasyanov's government, said that the former prime minister's performance was much better than that of the present cabinet. "When Kasyanov headed the government he blocked stupidity. The merit of his government was that it did not make a single idiotic decision. But now, we have a lot of them," Surikov said. VY
 ARMY CHIEF SAYS RUSSIA CAN MOVE MILITARY EQUIPMENT FROM GEORGIA TO ARMENIASpeaking to journalists on 19 May, Chief of the Armed Forces General Staff Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii said that Russia could move equipment from its bases in Georgia to Armenia, RosBalt reported. "This is needed to reduce the time of our withdrawal to four years," Baluevskii said. "We have always said that the only precondition for our pullout is the readiness of infrastructure to accept troops and equipment. But in four years, such infrastructure in Russia will not be ready," Baluevskii explained. "As for the bases, they can be relocated only to Russian territory." VY
 PRESIDENT SIGNS NEW LAW ON FORMATION OF DUMAPresident Vladimir Putin on 19 May signed a new law on the formation of the State Duma that establishes a pure proportional-representation system, bans electoral blocs, and establishes the hurdle for party-list representation in the lower house at 7 percent of the vote, Channel One and other Russian media reported. Institute for Strategic Assessments President Aleksandr Konovalov told Channel One that the new system is more democratic than the old one and that if the 2003 elections had been held under the new system, Unified Russia would have won only 229 Duma seats. He said that eliminating the single-mandate districts and establishing proportional representation will bolster political parties, which he said is a necessary precondition for a developed democracy. RC
 COURT CONTINUES READING KHODORKOVSKII VERDICT...The reading of the verdict in the case of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and his fellow defendants continued for the fifth day in Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court on 20 May, Russian and international media reported. Again the court failed to issue any conclusions or final pronouncements. Only four of the 17 defense lawyers remained in the chamber to listen to the reading, gzt.ru reported, and Khodorkovskii's parents left the courtroom after the first recess, as did many journalists. European Parliament Deputy Milan Horacek, who is observing the proceedings, told the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" on 20 May that the trial does not meet European standards of jurisprudence. He said that Judge Irina Kolesnikova is reading the verdict "incredibly quickly" and "very quietly" so that it is impossible to follow what she is saying. Asked his overall impressions, Horacek said: "This was not Europe." Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, a defendant in the trial, issued a statement through his lawyer on 20 May alleging that some of the witnesses in the case are being misquoted in the court's findings as they are being read, gzt.ru reported. Interfax reported that nearly 400 police officers are providing security in and around the courtroom. RC
 ...AS DEFENSE TEAM PREDICTS READING WILL CONTINUE ALL MONTHThe judges of the Meshchanskii Raion Court are reading about 20-30 pages of the 1,000 page verdict each day, defense lawyers asserted on 20 May, Interfax and other Russian news agencies reported. Defense lawyer Yurii Shmidt was quoted by Regnum as saying that the defense team expects the reading of the verdict to last through the end of the month. RC
 MOSCOW COURT UPHOLDS RULING TO KEEP NEVZLIN CASE MATERIALS UNDER WRAPS...The Moscow Municipal Court on 16 May rejected an appeal by lawyers for Menatep shareholder Leonid Nevzlin, who lives in Israel and is wanted in Russia on charges of fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, and ordering murders and attempted murders, to review the materials related to the charges against him, RIA-Novosti reported on 19 May. Prosecutors have argued that they are not obligated to provide the case materials as long as Nevzlin remains a fugitive and Moscow's Basmannyi Raion Court on 6 April agreed with this argument. RC
 ...AND DECISION TO KEEP YUKOS LAWYER IN PRETRIAL DETENTIONThe Moscow Municipal Court on 19 May upheld a Basmannyi Raion Court ruling to extend the pretrial detention of Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina until 7 July, RIA-Novosti reported. Bakhmina was arrested in December 2004 on charges of participating in a criminal group organized by former Yukos CEO Khodorkovskii and of taking part in the allegedly illegal takeover by Yukos of subsidiaries of Tomskneft and the Vostochnaya neftyanaya kompaniya. RC
 WOULD-BE ARSONIST TARGETS CONTROVERSIAL MOSCOW COURTAn unknown vandal in the early morning hours of 20 May threw a Molotov cocktail at the building of Moscow's Basmannyi Raion Court, Russian media reported. The building did not catch fire and the danger was quickly liquidated by security guards. Interfax reported that a criminal case has been opened in connection with the incident. The Basmannyi Raion Court is widely considered to be one of the most Kremlin-friendly courts in Russia and has given rise to the derogatory term "Basmannoye pravosudie," or "Basmannyi justice." RC
 MOSCOW DAILY NAMES DARK-HORSE CANDIDATE TO REPLACE FRADKOV...The Russian media on 19 and 20 May continued to report widespread rumors that Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov will resign at any moment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 May 2005). "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 19 May harshly criticized Fradkov's government as "beneath criticism." The daily reported rumors that Fradkov canceled a scheduled trip to Brazil because President Putin intends to dismiss the government during his 24 May meeting with Duma faction leaders. The paper speculated that among the candidates to replace Fradkov is Russian Railways Vice President Vladimir Yakunin, a member of the so-called Petersburg clan. According to the daily, Yakunin was given prominent coverage by state-controlled television during the recent celebration of Orthodox Easter, when he brought the "sacred fire" from Jerusalem and handed it to Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II. State television reportedly showed Yakunin standing slightly behind Putin during the Easter service. "Moskovskii komsomolets" also reported that Fradkov met separately with Yakunin and with Putin on 18 May. In the 1980s, Yakunin headed the foreign-relations department of the Ioffe Physico-Technical Institute and later he worked at the Soviet mission to the United Nations in New York, leading some analysts to speculate that he had ties with the Soviet secret services at that time. RC
 ...AS FEDERATION COUNCIL MEMBERS ATTEMPT TO QUELL THE RUMORSSeveral Federation Council members on 19 May told Interfax that it is "premature" to talk about dismissing the government. "Only a lazy person is not tempted to criticize [Prime Minister] Mikhail Fradkov's cabinet," council Deputy Chairwoman Svetlana Orlova said. "It goes without saying that its work leaves room for improvement, but at the same time they have done quite a lot of positive work." She praised the cabinet as being stocked with "professionals" in the economics and agriculture spheres and said the government had responded adequately to public criticism of its implementation of the reform to convert in-kind social benefits to cash payments. Federation Council Member Valentina Petrenko agreed that it is premature to consider firing the government, but added that it must do more to clarify its social policies. Fellow council member Yevgenii Bushmin criticized the government for hoarding the so-called stabilization fund. "We are frightened by the results of placing the fund's money lately," he said. "The only achievement was [partially] paying off the Paris Club debts." Nonetheless, he concluded that the cabinet "should be given another year to work and then its structure should be dealt with." RC
 CHURCH OFFICIAL LASHES OUT AT HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTSRoman Silantev, executive secretary of the Inter-Religious Council of Russia, on 19 May refuted charges by human rights activists that the Russian authorities favor some religions over others, Interfax reported. Earlier in the day, Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Lyudmila Alekseeva said that "all religions [in Russia] are suffering indignities except those that are becoming more and more entwined with the state." "It comes as no surprise at all that so-called human rights activists are again trying to defend the rights of religious minorities through insults aimed at the Russian Orthodox Church," Silantev said in response. He added that "thousands of Orthodox Christians have died at the hands of religiously motivated extremists, mainly adherents of Wahhabism and Satanism." "In this connection," he concluded, "I should like to ask the esteemed defenders of human rights whether or not they have any information about Protestant pastors, Roman Catholic priests, pagan shamans, or neo-Hindu gurus who have been killed in the name of the Orthodox faith? How many Scientologists or Salvationists have been forced to abandon their property and flee Russia because of the actions of Orthodox extremists?" RC
 LEADING JOURNALISTS COMMENT ON STATE OF PRESS FREEDOMTwo of Russia's most prominent television journalists have offered sharply differing views on the state of press freedom in Russia, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 19 May. Nikolai Svanidze, host of the RTR program "Zerkalo," said "in the full sense we do not have free speech on our television right now, of course." "In broad terms, no one is actually restricting free speech from above nowadays," he said. "Everything depends on the people involved. The lack of freedom, unfortunately, resides within the journalist. It is, in fact, the notorious 'internal editor.' In my view, the main problem is that Russia never had free speech; it is not part of our history. So the authorities simply have an obligation to tend and to cherish free speech, to water it like a tender blossom. Our government, of course, is not doing that." TV-Tsentr commentator Aleksei Pushkov told "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 19 May "I do believe we have free speech on television." "Everything is relative," Pushkov said, "and ideal freedoms do not exist. In the United States, for example, President [George W.] Bush is criticized to the same extent as President Putin in Russia." RC
 OLIGARCH BECOMES ADVISER TO PRESIDENTIAL ENVOYChukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich has been named a member of the advisory council of presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii, deita.ru reported on 20 May. Pulikovskii announced the appointment in Khabarovsk that day after a meeting of the executive-branch heads of the federation subjects in the district. The presidential-envoy advisory councils comprise regional and federal officials and their main function is to assist the envoy in coordinating the responsibilities and policies of federal and regional organs of government. RC
 CHECHEN LEADER PROPOSES NOVEMBER ELECTIONSPro-Moscow Chechen administration head Alu Alkhanov told journalists in Moscow on 19 May that he will propose to the Russian leadership that elections for a new two-chamber Chechen legislature be held at some point between 10-30 November, Russian media reported. In early March, Alkhanov had proposed scheduling the ballot for October, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 4 March. ITAR-TASS on 19 May quoted Alkhanov as saying the elections should not be delayed, as Chechnya "is entering a new stage" of development of the economic potential created by reconstruction in recent years. Alkhanov also said on 19 May that the long-awaited power-sharing treaty between Moscow and Chechnya is "virtually complete" and could be signed during the second half of June, ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 RUSSIAN MILITARY ACQUITTED OF MURDERING CHECHEN CIVILIANSAfter a four-month retrial, a military court in Rostov-na-Donu on 19 May acquitted four Russian military intelligence officers who shot six Chechen civilians after halting their vehicle in Chechnya's Shatoi Raion in January 2002, Russian media reported. The court, which acquitted the men on the same charges last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2004), ruled the officers, all of whom pleaded not guilty to murder, acted correctly in carrying out orders from a superior officer. Chechen Supreme Council Chairman Taus Dzhabrailov predicted that the families of the six victims will appeal the verdict to the Russian Supreme Court, Interfax reported. LF
 BESLAN TERRORIST LOSES CONSCIOUSNESS IN COURTNurpasha Kalaev, the only Beslan hostage-taker to have been captured alive, passed out in court on 19 May, the second day of his trial in Vladikavkaz on charges of murder, terrorism, and attacking a police officer, Russian agencies reported. Kalaev pleaded not guilty on all charges, claiming his brothers "forced" him to accompany them on their mission, gazeta.ru reported. LF
 PRO-KREMLIN PARTY UNDER PRESSURE IN INGUSHETIAOn orders from Ingushetia's President Murat Zyazikov, members of the People's Party of Russia (NPR) who are employed by republican or local government agencies are being pressured to quit that party, ingushetiya.ru reported on 18 May. Meanwhile, Ingushetia's Prosecutor-General Makhmud-Ali Kalimbetov (who is married to Zyazikov's wife's sister) has ordered his office to investigate the alleged distribution of "leaflets of extremist content" by the NPR, ingushetiya.ru reported on 20 May. The Ingushetian branch of the NPR is headed by parliament deputy and opposition leader Musa Ozdoev. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS ELECTION LAWDeputies passed on 19 May in the second and third (final) reading amendments to the election law that change the proportion of parliamentary mandates distributed under the proportional and majoritarian systems respectively from 75:56 to 90:41, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Presenting the amendments, Mher Shahgeldian (Orinats Yerkir) said they have been endorsed by the Council of Europe and will help to minimize election fraud. Other changes reduce from three to one the number of members whom President Robert Kocharian is empowered to name to election commissions, and transfer from local authorities to the police responsibility for maintaining accurate voter lists. LF
 ARMENIAN CURRENCY TRADERS STAGE PROTESTCurrency traders in Yerevan staged a brief strike on 19 May to protest the closure the previous day of 17 currency exchanges that the Central Bank has blamed for illegal trading, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Illegal trading was the purported reason for recent major fluctuations in the exchange rate of the Armenian dram against the U.S. dollar (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 12 May 2005). LF
 AZERBAIJANI YOUTH MOVEMENT LEADER ARRESTEDRazi Nurullaev, leader of the Azerbaijani youth movement Yokh! (No!), was arrested at his home in Baku on 19 May and sentenced to five days' administrative detention, day.az reported on 20 May. On 19 May, a Baku city police official denied that 29 opposition activists have been arrested in the run-up to the planned opposition march and rally in Baku on 21 May, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2005). The police spokesmen said 15 people have been arrested for unspecified violations of public order. Meanwhile, the OSCE's Baku office issued a statement on 19 May branding the municipal authorities' refusal to grant permission for the 21 May rally a violation of the constitution of the Azerbaijani Republic (which guarantees freedom of assembly) and an infringement of President Ilham Aliyev's 11 May decree on preparations for the November parliamentary elections, which among other things instructed the city authorities to allow such mass gatherings, echo-az.com reported on 20 May. Turan on 19 May quoted Democratic Party of Azerbaijan First Deputy Chairman Sardar Djalaloglu as saying that the opposition will not under any circumstances cancel the planned rally. On 20 May, Turan quoted the daily "Baki habar" as reporting that Interior Ministry troops were deployed on 19 May from Nakhichevan to Baku and will be used to disperse the rally participants on 21 May. LF
 SECOND SUSPECT IDENTIFIED IN AZERBAIJANI JOURNALIST'S MURDERAn international arrest warrant has been issued for Georgian citizen Teimuraz Aliev in connection with the 2 March murder in Baku of Elmar Huseinov, editor of the opposition journal "Monitor," zerkalo.az reported on 20 May. Azerbaijan's Interior and National Security Ministries identified another Georgian citizen, Tair Khubanov, earlier this month as a suspect in the killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005). LF
 ABKHAZ BANK HEAD DENIES ACCUSATIONS OF MONEY LAUNDERINGEmma Tania, who is acting head of the National Bank of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, denied on 18 May that Russian banks operating in Abkhazia engage in money laundering, Caucasus Press reported. She said no Russian banks operate in the unrecognized republic as the Russian Central Bank has not given them permission to do so. Mikhail Chalmaz, chairman of the Abkhaz commercial bank Garant-Bank, similarly rejected those accusations on 18 May as "a provocation." Two days earlier in Tbilisi, Georgian National Bank President Roman Gotsiridze presented a visiting delegation from the Association of Russian Banks with what he claimed is a list of 50 Russian banks that operate illegally in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Gotsiridze told journalists he has written to Russian Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatiev to protest illicit Russian banking operations in Abkhazia which, Gotsiridze argued, constitute a violation of Russia's formal commitments to crack down on money laundering. LF
 GEORGIA PROTESTS BELARUSIAN VISIT TO ABKHAZIAGeorgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze on 19 May deplored a 15 May visit to Abkhazia by a delegation of some 70 Belarusian parliamentarians, Caucasus Press reported. It was decided during that visit that a delegation from the Abkhaz parliament will pay a return visit to Minsk with the aim of establishing closer economic relations with Belarus. LF
 NEW AGREEMENT ON KAZAKH-CHINESE POLICE COOPERATION SIGNEDKazakh Interior Minister Zautbek Turisbekov met in Astana on 19 May with visiting Chinese State Public Security Minister Zhou Yongkang to sign a new agreement on bilateral police and law enforcement cooperation, Khabar TV reported. The Chinese minister, on an official three-day visit to Kazakhstan, also concluded several related accords calling for cooperation in border security and establishing a joint training program focusing on measures to counter terrorism and combat drugs trafficking. RG
 FORMER KYRGYZ INTERIOR MINISTER NOMINATED AS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...Former Kyrgyz Interior Minister and leader of the Akyyat (Justice) Party Keneshbek Dushebaev was nominated on 19 May as the party's presidential candidate, the Kabar news agency reported. The Akyyat Party was founded by Dushebaev and former Emergency Situations Minister Temirbek Akmataliev in late March 2005. Both men were strong supporters of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and, in the wake of his flight from the country, denounced the change of government in Kyrgyzstan as an "anti-constitutional regime change" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 March 2005). To date, the Central Election Commission (CEC) has formally registered 10 candidates for the 26 June presidential election. RG
 ...AND NEW EIGHT-PARTY ELECTORAL BLOC REGISTEREDOfficials of the Kyrgyz CEC met in Bishkek on 19 May and formally registered a new "People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan" electoral bloc, according to the Kabar news agency. The new bloc comprises eight political parties, including the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, the Dzhany (New) Kyrgyzstan, the Republican Party of Kyrgyzstan, the Erkindik (Freedom) Party, the Economic Revival Party of Kyrgyzstan, and the Socio-Political Farmers' Party of Kyrgyzstan. RG
 VISITING NATO OFFICIAL MEETS WITH KYRGYZ OFFICIALSSpeaking at a press conference on 18 May in Bishkek, NATO Special Representative for the Caucasus and Central Asia Robert Simmons stated that NATO intends to "deepen and expand cooperation" with Kyrgyzstan, the Kabar news agency reported. In comments following a series of meetings with senior Kyrgyz officials, Simmons explained that Kyrgyz cooperation with NATO will include expanded efforts in the "military planning process" and the training of Kyrgyz military officers. RG
 KYRGYZ STUDENTS STAGE PROTEST AT UZBEK EMBASSY IN BISHKEKA group of Kyrgyz university students staged a demonstration on 19 May in front of the Uzbek Embassy in Bishkek to protest the recent violent events in Uzbekistan, akipress.org reported. Student leaders called on the Uzbek government to "observe human rights and freedoms" and expressed their support for the Uzbek population. RG
 TAJIK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH KYRGYZ COUNTERPARTTajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 18 May with visiting Kyrgyz acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev, Asia-Plus reported. The two presidents discussed the recent violence in Uzbekistan, with Rakhmonov noting that the events are "internal" and stressing that "no country in the Central Asian region is interested in destabilization of the situation in Uzbekistan." Bakiev stressed that his government is providing support and aid for a number of Uzbek refugees, adding that "we have done all in our power for them and we will continue providing assistance" to them. The two leaders also discussed plans to expand cooperation in the management of water resources and in the energy sector. RG
 UZBEK PRESIDENT REJECTS CALLS FOR INTERNATIONAL INVESTIGATION INTO RECENT VIOLENCE...United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Louise Arbour announced on 19 May that Uzbek President Islam Karimov has rejected recent calls for an international inquiry into the violence in the Uzbek town of Andijon, the BBC reported. Arbour added that President Karimov told the UN that the recent tour of the region organized by the Uzbek authorities for foreign diplomats and journalists was "sufficient." With the Uzbek authorities imposing a limited itinerary with no interaction with local residents, the tour did little to allay concerns that several hundred people may have died in the recent violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2005). RG
 ...SPARKING STRONG UN REACTIONHuman Rights Commissioner Arbour responded to Karimov's rejection of an international inquiry by stating on 19 May that the recent Uzbek-guided tour of the region by foreign officials was no "substitute for a professional international fact-finding mission which can proceed with some independence," the BBC reported. She went on to say that she hopes that Karimov "can be persuaded that it is in the interests of his people, and of the international community, to let in a credible and transparent process." Arbour also noted that a recent report has charged that up to 1,000 civilians may have been killed in the recent violence in Andijon. That report was jointly issued on 19 May by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan. RG
 WIDESPREAD ARRESTS FOLLOW RECAPTURE OF UZBEK BORDER TOWNFollowing the successful 19 May recapture of the eastern border town of Karasu by Uzbek security forces, dozens of local residents were arrested on 20 May in a security sweep of the area, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. Security forces arrested the purported leader of the demonstrators, Bakhtiyor Rakhimov, along with a number of his aides and relatives, including his 14-year-old son, fergana.ru reported. Eyewitness reports stated that as many as 60 residents were arrested, according to RFE/RL's Uzbek Service. The border town of Karasu was seized by protesters on 14 May as government troops were violently reasserting control over Andijon, some 35 kilometers farther west. Demonstrators seized the town's administration building, forcing the mayor to publicly criticize President Karimov, and hastily repaired a bridge connecting the Uzbek and Kyrgyz sides of the town that was destroyed by the Uzbek government some two years ago to prevent cross-border trade. RG
 UZBEK FOREIGN MINISTRY CALLS ON KYRGYZSTAN TO TIGHTEN BORDER SECURITYThe Uzbek Foreign Ministry issued a statement in Tashkent on 19 May calling on Kyrgyzstan to impose measures to tighten border security, Interfax reported. The Uzbek statement expressed concern over "serious disturbances and rallies by unorganized religious groups" and noted that "the situation is not being controlled by the local authorities in Kyrgyzstan." The Uzbek Foreign Ministry further called on the Kyrgyz authorities "to reinforce border posts to avoid unpredictable consequences." RG
 UZBEK HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS DEMONSTRATE OUTSIDE RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN TASHKENTA small group of largely female activists of the Uzbek "Ozod Ael" (Free Women) human rights group staged a demonstration on 19 May in front of the Russian Embassy in Tashkent to protest "the biased coverage" of the recent disturbances in Andijon by Russian television, fergana.ru reported. The leader of the human rights group, Gavkhar Aripova, criticized the Russian media for inaccurately portraying Uzbek citizens who demonstrate against the government of President Karimov as "Islamists and terrorists" and argued that "we only want our human rights." The demonstrators called on Russian journalists to honestly report on events in Uzbekistan and blamed the "biased coverage" on Russian support for the Uzbek government. RG
 BELARUS UNENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT LATEST BUSH PROPOSALBelarus's Foreign Ministry blasted U.S. President George W. Bush's 18 May proposal to create an Active Response Corps within the State Department to assist foreign governments in crisis. Foreign Ministry spokesman Ruslan Yesin said on 19 May that "it is evident that the U.S. is continuing its policy of actions that are beyond the bounds of international law and is openly preparing for interference in the internal affairs of foreign states," Belapan and Interfax reported. Yesin continued that "such initiatives should receive an uncompromising assessment from the international community and should be fended off resolutely." Mikalay Cherhinets, chairman of the Belarusian Parliament Commission for International Affairs and National Security, told Interfax the same day that officials in the new department "will try to enter Belarus under the disguise of representatives of various charity foundations and educational institutions during the run-up to the presidential campaign in Belarus in 2006." Cherhinets explained that he could speak with confidence on the matter since "we know how it is done, taking the experience of the Soros Foundation's activities in Belarus into consideration." JAC
 POLISH PRESIDENT COMPLAINS TO EU ABOUT TREATMENT OF POLES IN BELARUSPolish President Aleksander Kwasniewski appealed on 19 May to the European Union for help in protecting the Polish minority in Belarus, PAP reported. Kwasniewski made the statement after a meeting in France with French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Also on 19 May, the Belarusian Embassy in Warsaw stated that Belarus's recent decision to ask Polish diplomat Marek Bucko to leave Minsk was in response to the expulsion of a Belarusian diplomat a few weeks earlier. Poland subsequently announced that it has expelled an unnamed Belarusian diplomat from Warsaw, the second Belarusian diplomat asked to leave Poland within a month, Belapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2005). JAC
 UKRAINIAN PREMIER, FIRST DEPUTY ENJOYS SLIGHT EDGE OVER PRESIDENT IN POPULARITY"Zerkalo nedeli," no. 18, discussed the results of an opinion survey conducted with 2024 respondents by the Kyiv International Sociology Institute about President Viktor Yushchenko's first 100 days in office. According to the weekly, the results show that the new government has maintained "a solid reserve of sympathy and hope." Across Ukraine, 51.6 percent of respondents said they viewed the policies of the new administration "basically positive." In the east, this percentage fell to 22.7 percent and rose to 73.1 percent in the West. Among respondents, Yuliya Tymoshenko's performance enjoyed slightly higher support than did that of President Yushchenko, 55.3 percent versus 50.2 percent. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatoliy Kinakh also enjoys a high rating of 52.3 percent. On 19 May, Kinakh told reporters that he does not plan to resign voluntarily because this would be an attempt to evade "his responsibilities to the people," Interfax and "Ukrayinski Novini" reported. JAC
 UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION TRIES TO DISRUPT WORK OF PARLIAMENTAbout 2,000 people gathered outside the Verkhovna Rada on 19 May to protest the criminal case against Donetsk Oblast council head Borys Kolesnykov, RFE/RL's Kyiv bureau and UNIAN reported. Demonstrators were carrying placards of the United Social Democratic Party (SPDU-o) saying "Freedom to Borys Kolesnykov!" According to proUA.com, the parliament closed its session early because members of the SPDU-o, the Party of Regions, and the Communist Party of Ukraine were blocking the rostrum. SPDU-o and Regions of Ukraine demanded the release of Kolesnykov and former Transcarpathian Oblast Governor Ivan Rizak. Former Prime Minister and head of the Party of Regions Viktor Yanukovych charged that more than 18,000 people have been fired for their political opinion since the new government took power, Interfax reported. JAC
 UN REPORTEDLY SET TO GIVE GREEN LIGHT FOR KOSOVA STATUS TALKSReuters reported from Prishtina on 20 May that its correspondents have seen a copy of the report that Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), will present in New York on 27 May, arguing that Kosova has made "major progress" in meeting the international community's standards for the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2005). The study reportedly acknowledges that Kosova has made "significant progress" over the past three months on all eight "benchmarks" set down by the international community. "A significant proportion of these [goals] has been achieved or, if both effort and pace of delivery are maintained, are on track for achievement during 2005," the study reportedly notes. The fields in which progress has been made are said to include promoting freedom of movement for ethnic minorities and reducing interethnic crime. PM
 RARE SHOW OF UNITY AMONG SERBIAN PARTIES OVER BRIBERY SCANDALLeaders of several of Serbia's governing and opposition parties said in the parliament on 19 May that controversial businessman Bogoljub Karic has recently expanded his influence in the legislature by bribing deputies to defect to his Snaga Srbije party (named after Italy's Forza Italia), dpa reported. Reports of Karic allegedly trying to influence legislators with financial and other incentives are nothing new, but the recent decision by Zivadin Lekic of the Serbian Radical Party to join Snaga Srbije and thereby give it parliamentary status has set off a fresh controversy (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 December 2004). Aleksandar Vucic of the SRS told the parliament that "we have to protect Serbia and agree that principles of theft cannot hold sway." Ivica Dacic of the Socialist Party of Serbia slammed what he called "this practice of cheating the voters." Milos Aligrudic of the Democratic Party of Serbia charged Lekic with making a "financial deal" with Karic. Aligrudic added that "Karic tried to coax some of our people [to defect].... He offered them large amounts of money...and other incentives." Current election legislation -- adopted in 2004 on the recommendation of the OSCE -- permits legislators to retain their mandate if they switch parties. PM
 HAGUE PROSECUTOR SAYS SERBIAN POLICY HAS 'REACHED ITS LIMIT'Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, said in Vienna on 19 May that the Serbian authorities lack the political will to arrest indictees like former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 April 2005). "The reason why [the remaining indictees] are still at large is very simple. The relevant authorities [in former Yugoslavia] are not making sufficient efforts to locate and apprehend them," Reuters quoted Del Ponte as saying. She stressed that "the Serbian authorities have said repeatedly that they favor the voluntary surrender of indictees, and that they are not ready to carry out arrest operations. We may have reached the limits of this policy" of voluntary surrender. In other remarks, she said that she opposes the release of former Kosovar Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj pending his trial lest it "hamper the investigation." She also cast doubts on recent reports that leading war crimes fugitive indictee Radovan Karadzic openly ate with his wife in a Bosnian restaurant, saying that his wife was elsewhere at the time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 May 2005). PM
 POLICE AND BROADCASTING ISSUES BLOCK BOSNIA'S PATH TO EUROPEAN INTEGRATIONReinhard Priebe, who heads the European Commission's Western Balkans Enlargement Directorate, said in Sarajevo on 19 May that the EU will not start talks with Bosnia-Herzegovina on a Stabilization and Association Agreement until that country's leaders agree on new broadcasting laws and police reform, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. He stressed that the EU insists on concrete action and not just promises or words. Passing new broadcasting legislation and reforming the police on a nonethnic basis are prerequisites for starting talks with the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 17 May 2005). The EU and NATO have repeatedly told the countries of the western Balkans that Euro-Atlantic integration requires meeting concrete preconditions and is not a political reward or something subject to bargaining or stonewalling tactics. The German broadcaster concluded that "it is anyone's guess" as to when Bosnia will make progress toward European integration. The Bosnian Serb authorities are blocking police reform, while some Croatian politicians are holding up passage of broadcasting legislation. PM
 EU TO END MACEDONIAN POLICE MISSION IN DECEMBERMichael Sahlin, who is the EU's special envoy to Macedonia, told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 19 May that there are no plans to prolong the mandate of the EU's Proxima police mission when the current mandate ends in December 2005. Proxima head Brigadier General Juergen Scholz said that there are encouraging developments for the police on the local level, referring to the mission's role in providing assistance to the Macedonian police. The Proxima police mission replaced the EU military mission Concordia in December 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 December 2003 and 12 December 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003). UB
 MOLDOVA GOVERNMENT PULLS SUPPORT FOR RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPERMoldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev announced on 18 May that the government has decided to liquidate the state company producing the Russian-language newspaper "Nezavisimaya Moldova," Infotag and AP reported on 19 May. Tarlev said the move is "the first step aimed at democratizing the media on the way to Moldova's integration into Europe. This decision was taken so that the government media should no longer be financed from the budget, unlike other publications." The newspaper itself will not be closed, according to Infotag; only the government will no longer be among its financial backers. Also on 19 May, the Chisinau municipal council decided to withdraw its financial support for the city's Info-Prim news agency. Members of the council from the Communist and Christian Democratic Popular party supported the decision, saying that it was too expensive for the city to maintain the news agency. They called instead for developing the municipal radio station Antena C and EuroTV television channel. Info-Prim Director Valeriu Vasilica said that the council's decision was an act of reprisal by the two political parties. JAC
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 FORMER TALIBAN FOREIGN MINISTER INTENDS TO RUN FOR PARLIAMENTARY SEATWakil Ahmad Mutawakkil has informed the Afghan Election Commission that he intends to run for a seat in the lower house of the Afghan Parliament in the southern Kandahar Province, the BBC reported on 18 May. "The Taliban are also Afghans," Mutawakkil said, adding that the "public must decide who they want as their leader, whether it's the Taliban or someone else." Mutawakkil is the highest-ranking former Taliban member captured by U.S.-led forces and was released in October 2003 from U.S. custody. He was reportedly at the center of the Afghan government's reconciliation program aimed at offering amnesty to most members of the former regime and the current neo-Taliban (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003, 28 April, 25 October, 8 and 17 December 2004, and 11 March 2005). Close to 3,000 candidates have thus far registered as candidates for the 249 seats which will be decided in September elections. AT
 SECURITY COMMANDER OF EASTERN PROVINCE STEPS DOWN TO RUN IN ELECTIONSCommander Hazrat Ali announced on 19 May that he has stepped down from his post as the chief of security of Nangarhar Province to run for a seat in the Afghan Parliament, the Pajhwak News Agency reported on 20 March. "Over the next two days, I will welcome public complaints against the police," he said. Hazrat Ali and Nangarhar Province Governor Hajji Din Mohammad have been criticized for their handling of the student-led riots which became violent (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 May 2005). Rumors of Hazrat Ali and Din Mohammad's dismissal have been circulating since the 11 May demonstrations, but the security commander said he discussed his plans to run for a parliamentary seat with Afghan President Hamid Karzai "at a meeting two months ago." According to a report in the Kabul daily "Erada" on 18 May, Din Mohammad will be replaced by Mohammad Harun Asefi, the current commander of gendarmerie in Kabul. Interior Ministry spokesman Lotfullah Mashal said that he could "neither confirm nor [deny]" the report about Din Mohammad's dismissal. AT
 KABUL DAILY ACCUSES IRAN OF FOMENTING UNREST IN AFGHANISTANIn a commentary on 17 May, the pro-government "Anis" wrote that while it was natural for Afghans to feel angry about a report that the Koran was desecrated in the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, "Afghan people sometimes unconsciously make emotional decisions in favor of their enemies." According to "Anis," there is "concrete" evident to suggest that since 2002, "Iran has been trying very hard to undermine security and stability" in Afghanistan and has spent "large sums of money and hired scores of mercenaries" to achieve this goal. "Anis" alleges the existence of a link between the recent deadly demonstrations in Afghanistan and "secret meetings between officials of the Iranian Embassy in Kabul and some reckless individuals." According to the daily, since the United States is engaged in "a psychological battle" against Iran, Tehran is trying to arouse anti-U.S. sentiments among the Afghans to drive U.S. troops out of Afghanistan. Karzai has also blamed foreign hands for the recent demonstrations, but has not named a specific country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). AT
 AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTER SEES POSSIBLE NEO-TALIBAN CONNECTION TO UZBEK VIOLENCEAbdullah Abdullah said that it is possible that some elements of the neo-Taliban were involved in the recent violence in Andijon, Uzbekistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 19 May. Abdullah did not provide any evidence for his claim, which echoes statements by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Uzbek authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005). AT
 FEMALE TV PRESENTER'S DEATH SHROUDED IN CONFUSIONThe family of the former Tolu Television presenter, Shayma Rezai, who was found shot dead in her home in Kabul on 18 May, say that her death was a suicide, Sada-ye Jawan radio reported on 18 May. Earlier reports had indicated that Rezai's body bore signs of beating (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2005). According to earlier reports, the 22-year old woman was a DJ for Tolu's music program "Hop," but left her job for unknown reasons earlier this year. However, Sada-ye Jawan reports that Tolu dismissed her because "people were critical of the immodest way in which she presented her programs." The victim's sister, Fariba Rezai, claimed that a vehicle had been following her and her sister. The cause of death has been reported as a bullet to the head at close range. Two of Rezai's brothers are still in police custody but have not been charged with any wrongdoing. AT
 SELF IMMOLATION BY YOUNG WOMEN CONTINUES IN WESTERN AFGHANISTANThe Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said it has registered 151 cases of self immolation in the country since the commission was set up in 2002, most of which have occurred in Herat Province, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported on 19 May. The most recent of three cases of this was reported in Herat Province by Bakhtar on 19 May, when a 20-year old woman set herself alight and burned to death. AT
 IRAN DETERMINED TO RESUME NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES BEFORE TALKSGholamreza Aqazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said in Tehran on 19 May that Iranians "will pay the price" of UN sanctions but "will not give up" a nuclear program Iran says is peaceful and that will resume soon, AP reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 May 2005). Western states have threatened to refer Iran to UN bodies if it resumes fuel production activities they fear could one day be used for bombs. The Security Council could impose economic sanctions if Iran violates the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Aghazadeh said the decision to resume uranium conversion activities at a plant in central Iran is "irreversible," AP reported, citing remarks made on state television. Iranian and EU negotiators are to resume talks in Europe on 23 May. But Hussein Musavian, an Iranian diplomat, said in Tehran on 19 May that Iranian and EU "experts" must first meet on 23 May in Europe to find a "mutually acceptable" basis for further talks before EU foreign ministers and Iran's top negotiator can meet on 24 May, AFP reported on 19 May. VS
 OFFICIAL SPELLS OUT U.S. CONCERNS WITH IRANU.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on 19 May that the United States continues to be concerned by "the Iranian regime's threatening and often irresponsible behavior," including its quest for nuclear bombs, support for terrorists, an "abysmal" rights record, and meddling in Iraq and Afghanistan, Reuters and the State Department website reported the same day. He said Iranian government policies "directly threaten U.S. interests in the region and beyond," the State Department website reported. Iranian elections, he said, constitute "a veneer" to cover a "perverted process" of restricted voting under the "oppressive oversight" of supervisory bodies. More importantly, he said, Iran's "desire to acquire" nuclear bombs threatens U.S. "peace and security." The litany of unreported activities by Iran "goes on and on," he said, indicating "the...pillars of a clandestine...weapons...program." He added "we see no sign" that Iran might forego its "active" bomb program, and it has shown this by "repeated brinkmanship" during talks with the EU. "Let there be no misunderstanding in Tehran. The international community stands united: Iran must not be permitted to develop the capacity to build or deliver a nuclear weapon," he said. VS
 IRAN SAYS U.S. MEDDLING IN ITS AFFAIRSSupreme National Security Council spokesman Ali Aqamohammadi said in Tehran on 19 May that the controversy over Iran's nuclear program is part of ongoing U.S. efforts to "interfere in our country's affairs," ISNA reported the same day. "Intervention and sowing discord in Iran are nothing new," he said, and "Western leaders have been considering such plots for years." The U.S. has "done everything" to thwart Iranian interests, "tie [its] hands down" and ensure Iran "could do nothing," but it has "fortunately failed." Afghanistan and Iraq are outside U.S. "control," and Al-Qaeda activities "have multiplied" in spite of U.S. efforts, showing its "weakness," he said. Iran's nuclear program "can be even more important than" the 17 June presidential elections, and "our nuclear dossier will not come down so easily," he said. Separately, State Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who will likely run in the elections, told Reuters in Tehran on 19 May that Iran's nuclear program is a "legitimate right" it cherishes as it would its territory. He said he would help better Iran-U.S. ties, if elected president, but the U.S. must take the first steps. VS
 REFORMIST HOPEFUL DEPLORES EX-PRESIDENT'S RECORDThe reformist presidential hopeful Mehdi Karrubi has written an open letter to State Expediency Council Chairman Rafsanjani, challenging his foreign policy record and reminding him that "not a single European country had an ambassador in Iran" when Rafsanjani's second presidential term ended in 1997, Radio Farda and the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 May. Karrubi advised him to recognize the relative success of President Mohammad Khatami in "removing enmities and creating opportunities" in Iran's foreign relations, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. Karrubi said people must be reassured a future government "will not once more see a reduction of ties with other countries," or a curtailment of civil liberties and freedom of speech, which Karrubi said happened under Rafsanjani. Separately, Alinaqi Khamushi, the head of Iran's Chamber of Commerce, Industry, and Mines, said in Isfahan, central Iran on 18 May that the private sector and "economic elites" favor a Rafsanjani presidency. He said the next president must have "personal power" to extricate Iran from political turmoil at home and tensions abroad, Radio Farda reported. Khamushi has headed the privately-run, but state-affiliated trade chamber since the 1979 revolution, Radio Farda stated. VS
 RIGHTS BODY REPORTS ON RIGHTS VIOLATIONS BY IRANIAN REBELSNew York-based Human Rights Watch has issued a report including personal testimonies on the torments an Iranian rebel group has visited for years on its own members, Radio Farda reported on 19 May, citing a same-day statement by Human Rights Watch on its website. The Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), which wants to topple Iran's government but is termed a terrorist group by the United States and the EU, beat, tortured, and confined members to solitary confinement for years, even simply for criticizing the movement or wanting to leave, hrw.org stated. "Members who try to leave...pay a very heavy price," hrw.org quoted one of its directors, Joe Stork, as saying. The MKO, which moved to Iraq in 1986 and enjoyed support from President Saddam Hussein, held one member in solitary confinement from 1992 to 2001, hrw.org stated. A front organization, the National Council of Resistance, promotes the MKO in Western countries and lobbies for its removal from EU and U.S. terrorist lists. Iran has a "dreadful" rights record, Stork said, "but it would be a huge mistake" to promote an opposition group "responsible for serious...abuses." VS
 IRAN COURT RECONSIDERS 1999 STUDENT KILLINGA Tehran court reopened on 18 May the case of a student killed in July 1999, apparently during a police raid on a Tehran University campus, the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the same day, citing ISNA. The raid unleashed protests in Tehran and other cities. Nemat Ahmadi, the attorney for the family of Ezzat Ebrahimnezhad, the student who was killed, told ISNA on 17 May that this was a "criminal case" that had to be "clarified." The "murderer must be found...or it must be clarified if the killing was accidental, intentional, or semi-intentional," the daily added. The court, he said, must indicate whether or not it can find the killer, and the case cannot simply remain in limbo. Separately, prison authorities have allowed prisoner Abbas Amir-Entezam, a former deputy foreign minister turned dissident, to prolong his current prison leave until late August, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 19 May, citing ILNA. Amir-Entezam says this is to let him continue treatment for his "illnesses," the daily added. Amir-Entezam has spent most of his time since the 1979 revolution in prison (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 5 May 2003, "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2005). VS
 IRAQ ACKNOWLEDGES RESPONSIBILITY FOR WAR WITH IRANPrime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari publicly acknowledged that Iraq was responsible for instigating an eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s, international media reported on 20 May. His comments came in a joint statement issued at the end of a three-day visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi to Baghdad. The statement called for former President Saddam Hussein to be tried for carrying out "military aggression against the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kuwait," as well as crimes against humanity and war crimes, nytimes.com reported on 20 May. Foreign Ministry official Labid Abbawi told the website that the admission was not intended as an acknowledgement of guilt on the part of the Iraqi state or people, but rather was meant to lay responsibility for the war on Hussein and members of his regime. "The file of the war, we want to put it behind us," he said, adding: "We want to open a new path of cooperation" with Iran. KR
 IRAQ'S SUNNIS CLOSE MOSQUES FOR THREE DAYS...Sunni Iraqi imams supported a call by Muslim Scholars Association head Harith al-Dari to close Sunni mosques for three days following Friday noon prayers in protest of the recent assassinations of Sunni clerics and in protest of the recent arrests of some Sunni leaders, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 19 May. Adnan Muhammad Salman al-Dulaymi, president of the Sunni Al-Waqf Council, made the announcement following a meeting with Sunni clerics at the Nida Al-Islam Mosque in Baghdad. The Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party has also supported the closure. Al-Dulaymi said in his announcement, broadcast by RFI, that he believes the use of dialogue and nonviolent protest will draw support to the issues. "We address a call to all Iraqis to preserve calmness and unity, and to abstain from violence, killing, and shedding blood," he said. Shi'ite Political Council Secretary-General Husayn al-Musawi responded to al-Dari's allegations by accusing the Muslim Scholars Association on 19 May of attempting to incite sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'a, RFI reported. KR
 ...AS NATIONAL ASSEMBLY MEMBER WARNS OF PROVOCATIONIn a 19 May interview with RFI, parliamentarian Jawad al-Bulani called Harith al-Dari's comments "irresponsible accusations that are not supported with evidence and proof." "This escalation and provocation [made] in such a direct way, aims to continue [the Muslim Scholars Association's] previous plans and draw the country into a new crisis," he said. Al-Bulani noted that the interim and transitional governments have passed a number of hurdles on the road to democratic development and are now on the verge of drafting a permanent constitution. "Anyone who protests [that process] should get engaged in building the country rather than provoking people with such issues," he said. KR
 BOMB DETONATED OUTSIDE SHI'ITE MOSQUE IN BAGHDADInsurgents detonated a booby-trapped car outside the Imam Al-Mahdi Mosque in Baghdad on 19 May, international media reported. Al-Jazeera television reported that two civilians were killed in the attack and seven civilians wounded. The bomb damaged several vehicles and set fire to a nearby residential building. Residents told the news channel that the man who had built the mosque had received numerous threats from armed groups but had not taken the threats seriously. Meanwhile, seven people were killed in an attack on the home of National Assembly member Fawwaz al-Jarba in Mosul on 19 May, Al-Jazeera reported. Al-Jarba was hosting a meeting at the time of the attack. He told the news channel that terrorists opened fire on his home, and his security detail returned fire. "Directly after that, U.S. snipers intervened and started to shoot intensive gunfire. The planes attacked the house with rockets...they killed six people inside the house." KR
 PRIME MINISTER AL-JA'FARI VOWS TO TAKE STEPS ON SECURITY...Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters in Baghdad during a joint press conference with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick on 19 May that he intends to take new steps to confront terrorism and provide security in Iraq, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. "We are fully aware that some non-Iraqi elements infiltrate into Iraq through the borders and carry out acts of sabotage in Iraq. There are [security] measures under way to confront all acts of terrorism and sabotage with courage and seriousness," he said, adding, "Iraq's neighboring countries have a role to play in this matter." Regarding Sunni complaints over the arrest and detention of clerics, he said: "There are many measures that we are about to take regarding security and the file of detainees, a number of whom will be released soon and another number that has already been released. We coordinated with the multinational forces and we will deal with the detainees' file to release the largest possible number of them soon. As for some detainees, including Sunni religious scholars and preachers, they will also be released." KR
 ...BEFORE HEADING TO ANKARA FOR TALKSAl-Ja'fari traveled to Ankara on 19 May for meetings with Turkish officials on security and trade issues, international media reported. Iraq's finance, industry, oil, water, and electricity ministers are accompanying al-Ja'fari on his first trip abroad since he assumed his post in the transitional government, bbc.co.uk reported on 20 May. Anatolia news agency reported on 20 May that Turkish officials will press al-Ja'fari to take action against the Turkish-Kurdish resistance organization Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Turkish officials recently gave Iraq a list of the most-wanted PKK militants. Turkey is also expected to express its uneasiness over the situation of Turkomans in the oil rich city of Kirkuk, Anatolia reported. KR
 WILL VIOLENCE PUNCTUATE IRAN'S ELECTIONS?By Vahid Sepehri
Large-scale electoral violence is not a defining trait of Iranian elections, but violent incidents do occur, and they have chiefly targeted reformers. The culprits are usually rowdy men who disrupt electoral gatherings. Sometimes they beat attendees -- and the speaker, if they are sufficiently determined -- in incidents that spread fear and cause injuries rather than deaths. And, despite threats from officials to take action, the perpetrators often go unpunished, strengthening an impression that the political thugs enjoy discreet support from elements within the political establishment.
There is to be no formal campaigning for the 17 June presidential polls until 27 May, when hopefuls approved by the Guardians Council -- the electoral supervisory body -- can officially campaign as candidates. But some possible candidates have already been speaking to crowds around the country, and incidents have occurred at some of those gatherings. The two main incidents have affected Mehdi Karrubi, a leading reformist hopeful. On 7 May, a group of some 100 people disrupted his speech at a mosque in Zanjan, in northwestern Iran, and sought to attack Karrubi himself, "Sharq" reported on 8 May. Witnesses said the group arrived "in two buses" and sat in the front row "near Karrubi's position." When Karrubi spoke about a promise he made earlier to pay adult Iranians a minimum monthly stipend if he is elected president, "they rose together" and shouted that he was lying, before attacking the podium, "Sharq" added. Karrubi was led out with the help of aides and attendants, the daily reported.
On 6 May, as Karrubi addressed a crowd in Qom, south of Tehran, 20 to 30 people reportedly "acting in an organized way," pushed their way to the front and began shouting and chanting, the daily "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 7 May. Karrubi let them onto the podium "so they could speak, if they had something to say." A verbal exchange ensued, though the meeting later continued. As Karrubi left the rally, "they chanted provocative slogans...and kicked and hit the bus carrying Karrubi's supporters," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. There have been other similar incidents.
On 11 May, Ebrahim Yazdi, the head of a liberal group often targeted for harassment, had to abandon a meeting with members of the public at a press fair in Tehran after an unspecified disruption by "some of his opponents," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported the next day.
On 22 April, presidential hopeful Akbar Alami reportedly abandoned his speech at the Muhaqqiq Ardebili University in northwestern Iran when some audience members began to fight, though an aide later denied the report, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 25 April, citing ILNA.
On 18 April, students protested outside the provincial governor's office in the western town of Shahr-i Kurd because a student was earlier beaten "by non-students," at a gathering addressed by conservative candidate Ali Larijani, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 20 April, citing ILNA. Unknown assailants struck the student when he queried Larijani about his record as the former head of state television and radio, the daily stated.
On 7 March, students interrupted a speech at Isfahan University by the reformist candidate Mustafa Moin, objecting to some of his earlier decisions as higher education minister, IRNA reported that day. Some of these incidents are protests by Iranians not used to finding themselves so physically close to those they see and hear about and who claim to speak on their behalf. Appearances by such people provide the public with a chance to give them a piece of their mind. Others incidents, like the one that happened with Karrubi, are planned acts of intimidation.
Mindful of the past, reformers are concerned about a repetition of threatening tactics when campaigning starts. Mohammad Reza Khatami of the reformist Participation Party warned on 13 May that "the agents of authoritarianism" have "plans for the disruption of Moin and Karrubi's programs, and this...has occurred in several places," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 14 May. Rasul Montajabnia, a Karrubi ally, told ILNA on 14 May that disruptions of Karrubi's meetings illustrate a "feeling of fear" among "authoritarians." Former legislator Fazel Amir-Jahani told the Fars news agency on 10 May that "Karrubi's victory in the elections means an end to the activities of rogue groups, which is why these groups are already concerned and trying to disrupt" his gatherings. "They know Karrubi will prevent underground groups...[from] coming to power," he said.
Aside from violence, Mohammad Reza Khatami was concerned on 13 May about the future "conduct" of the Guardians Council, whose strict vetting of hopefuls barred thousands, including allies of reformist President Mohammad Khatami, from running in the 2004 parliamentary polls. Reformers might argue that the vetting process is the first line of conservative defense in elections: those the Guardians Council cannot reasonably bar may then have to be reminded -- with some pushing and shoving if need be -- that they are not welcome in the corridors of power. Conservatives generally fail to mention electoral violence as a problem, if they acknowledge its existence at all, unlike Khatami-appointed Interior Minister Abdulvahed Musavi-Lari. He said in Tehran on 13 May that "people who disrupt electoral meetings will be dealt with as rioters," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 14 May. "We shall deal with these people," and "those who do not tolerate other people's ideas," he said. The police, he said, have "primary responsibility" for assuring electoral security. He clearly hopes that the police, who sometimes hesitate to act forcefully with people thought to have friends in high places, will implement the letter of the law.
Police chief Ali Abdullahi said on 24 April that "we shall have no problems assuring the security of elections," ILNA reported that day. The judiciary, which some consider a conservative-dominated body, has not specifically mentioned violence as one of the "electoral offenses" it has vowed to combat. It seems more concerned with vote-counting, a task performed by the Interior Ministry. Deputy Judiciary Chief Amir Abbas Sohrab-Beig said in Tehran on 13 May that the judiciary has opened offices nationwide to "swiftly" deal with unspecified offenses and "safeguard...the accuracy and health" of votes, ILNA reported the same day. On 17 May, he said that the judiciary is "impartial," and obligated to "guard the people's vote," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 18 May. When campaigning starts, the scope of violence may depend on who will run for the presidency and whether or not voters will be galvanized -- as they were in 1997 -- into going out and supporting their candidate. If they do, and if some conservatives feel threatened by the prospect of a reformist president who might become an institutional headache for four years, then the rowdy men may return to play their part.