|Wednesday, 22 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 05-05-26
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 BLACKOUT CRIPPLES MOSCOW...A major power outage struck Moscow and parts of the surrounding region on 25 May, leaving thousands stranded in the subway system, tying up traffic, and cutting off cellular-phone communications, Russian and international media reported. According to newsru.com, power was also off in 25 Moscow Oblast towns and in parts of Tula, Podolsk, and Kaluga oblasts. RIA-Novosti reported that all city police officers had been called to active duty to assist in traffic control as most of the city's traffic signals were affected and numerous accidents reported. The news agency also reported that 15 Moscow hospitals were affected, but all were working normally on emergency power. ITAR-TASS reported that the Defense and Emergency Situations ministries were also working on back-up power supplies, as was the Federation Council building. The Moscow Stock Exchange was closed. Newsru.com reported that tens of thousands of subway passengers were being evacuated on foot through subway tunnels. Many were reportedly suffering from the heat, as the temperature in Moscow reached about 30 degrees Centigrade. RC
 ...AS OFFICIALS INVESTIGATE THE CAUSEUnified Energy Systems (EES) spokesman Valerii Trapeznikov told Ekho Moskvy on 25 May that the power outage was caused by a fire at Moscow's Chagino substation and that the fire had been put out. He added that the Chagino station is in extremely poor condition and that it is working on equipment that was installed in 1962-63. Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko told the Duma that there had been an explosion and fire at the substation, Interfax reported. Interfax also reported that the Moscow prosecutor's office has opened an investigation into the blackout. EES spokeswoman Margarita Nagoga told journalists that the company cannot yet exclude any possible causes of the incident, including possible terrorism. Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Pekhtin also told journalists that investigators have not ruled out terrorism, strana.ru reported. Newsru.com reported that in February and March 2004 there were a series of explosions along Moscow Oblast natural-gas supply lines, for which radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev claimed responsibility. RC
 PUTIN, KALAM PLEASED WITH DEVELOPMENT OF RUSSIA-INDIA RELATIONSPresident Vladimir Putin on 24 May met in Moscow with Indian President Abdul Kalam to discuss international issues and bilateral cooperation, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). "It is necessary to pool the efforts of all states in fighting global and regional threats," Putin said following the talks, according to ITAR-TASS. "To this end, India and Russia are ready to step up cooperation within the framework of the UN and other international organizations." Putin called the talks "trusting and productive," adding "I'm sure we've made yet another serious step in the development of our relations." Kalam on 25 May traveled to St. Petersburg for a meeting with St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko. RC
 PUTIN POINTS TO RISING INFLATION AS RUSSIA'S CHIEF ECONOMIC CONCERN...President Putin submitted his 2006 budget-policy address to the State Duma and the Federation Council on 24 May, Russian media reported. Putin declared that the key goal for the 2006 budget will be a gradual decrease in inflation. According to Radio Mayak, Putin considers the current level of inflation unacceptably high and believes it could slow economic growth. Putin also criticized the government for "unjustifiably understating" the initial estimate of spending on the recent social-benefits reform. On the plus side, he noted that Russia's foreign debt has decreased and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been repaid ahead of schedule. Included in the president's address was a proposal that starting in 2007 the federal budget be required to pass only three readings in the State Duma instead of the current four. According to "Vremya novostei" on 25 May, Putin's 2006 budget address does not differ markedly from the previous year's. As was the case last year, policy goals are completing tax reform, improving the mechanism for state orders, and shutting down ineffective federal programs. JAC
 ...AS EBRD PROJECTS LOWER ECONOMIC GROWTH FOR RUSSIA THIS YEARThe European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) published a forecast on 23 May that predicted Russian economic growth will not exceed 5.2 percent this year, compared with 7.1 percent last year, "Vremya novostei" reported on 24 May. The government has forecast a 6.5 percent growth rate, while the World Bank has predicted 6.2 percent, and the IMF, 5.5 percent. According to the EBRD, Ukraine and Belarus will face the sharpest slowdowns in growth, as their growth rates sink to 6.5 and 6 percent, respectively, compared with 12.1 and 11 percent last year. Contributing external factors are a worsening global economic outlook and higher U.S. interest rates. JAC
 SAMARA OFFICIALS WORRIED ABOUT IMPENDING COLLAPSE OF YUKOS SUBSIDIARYSamara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov on 23 May endorsed an appeal by the oblast legislature to President Putin and Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov asking them to prevent the destruction of Samaraneftegaz, the Yukos-owned production subsidiary that is the heart of the oblast's oil sector, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2005). Oblast legislator Viktor Tarkhov, who authored the appeal, said that possible production cuts at the company could lead to 4,000 to 7,000 lost jobs in the oblast. Tarkhov said the Natural Resources Ministry and the Federal Resource Development Agency have failed to respond to company requests to clarify the provisions of its production license. "There has not been a positive conclusion or a negative conclusion," Tarkhov said. "It is as if Samaraneftegaz does not exist." He added that the production cuts would cost the oblast about 3 billion rubles ($100 million), or 10 percent of its total revenues. Titov told the daily that federal agencies have ignored his appeals to resolve the matter for more than a month. RC
 LAWYER SWITCHES FROM HOMER SIMPSON TO KHODORKOVSKIIIgor Smykov, head of the Movement for Social Justice, has declared that he will launch a hunger strike if former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii is found guilty of fraud, embezzlement, and illegal shares acquisition, Interfax reported on 24 May. A judge in the Khodorkovskii case was scheduled to continue reading the 1,000-page verdict on 25 May. Smykov, a lawyer and concerned father, previously conducted a multi-year legal fight to move the animated television series "The Simpsons" and "The Family Guy" to a later time slot on REN-TV or to ban them outright (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005). Khodorkovskii issued a statement on 24 May thanking his supporters and expressed the view that "only a collective fight for one's own rights and the rights of other people will help us cope with the arbitrariness of the criminal bureaucracy and build a normal society." JAC
 UNIFIED RUSSIA ACCUSES LIBERAL DEMOCRATS OF CORRUPTIONDuring a meeting of Unified Russia Duma deputies with Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov on 24 May, Duma First Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska charged that a slot in the top five on the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) party list in the 2003 Duma elections cost "7 million," although she did not specify whether she meant dollars or rubles ($233,000), "Izvestiya" reported on 25 May. According to the daily, the statement marks the first time that Unified Russia has publicly accused another political party of corruption. LDPR deputy leader Aleksei Mitrofanov denied the accusation, saying that most of the people on the 2003 LDPR party list have been party members since 1993. Sliska also said that she has compiled a list of 93 Duma deputies who have not appeared in the legislature's chambers in more than a year, adding that in general they are "very rich people who think they don't have to show up in the Duma." The daily reported that the Duma intends to draw up new regulations to combat absenteeism. RC
 LEADING YABLOKO MEMBER QUITS PARTY, LAMBASTES YAVLINSKIIFormer State Duma Deputy and Yabloko party federal council member Aleksei Zakharov announced on 20 May that he is quitting Yabloko to join the Republican Party, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 May. Zakharov was a founder of the Yavlinskii-Boldyrev-Lukin bloc in 1993 and has been a Yabloko member since the party was created. Following the party's poor showing in the December 2003 Duma elections, Zakharov began openly to oppose party leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. According to the daily, Zakharov wrote in his letter of resignation that Yavlinskii has usurped power within the party, noting that no one has run against him for the party leadership in the last decade. "You criticize Vladimir Putin for stifling the opposition, but you brutally drive anyone who disagrees with you out of the party," Zakharov wrote. "It is no coincidence that Sergei Stepashin, Mikhail Zadornov, Nikolai Travkin, Yelena Mizulina, and a whole galaxy of other brilliant politicians chose to leave our party." He also blamed Yavlinskii for giving the party a reputation for being uncompromising and unwilling to join forces with other organizations. Zakharov reportedly met last week with Republican Party political council members Zadornov and independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and agreed that the party would exercise collective leadership. He told the daily that many Yabloko members believe "the party has no future" and are therefore likely to follow him to the Republican Party. RC
 SCIENTISTS RALLY AGAINST PRIVATIZATION OF RESEARCH INSTITUTESScientists held rallies in major cities including Novosibirsk and Moscow on 24 May to protest reforms planned by the Education and Science Ministry, RFE/RL's Russian service reported. Scientists in Moscow were joined by speakers from Yabloko and the Communist Party, "Vremya novostei" reported on 25 May. The reforms are designed to privatize many research establishments, and scientists fear the measures could destroy the country's already weakened research sector. At a meeting of scientists of the Far Eastern branch of the Academy of Sciences in Vladivostok, members called for the ministry's plan to be reconceptualized with the participation of scientists themselves, RFE/RL's Vladivostok correspondent reported. The scientists adopted a resolution that calls for federal-budget support for science of up to 3 percent of GDP and raising salaries of research-establishment employees to 30,000 rubles a month by 2008 without reducing overall staff numbers. In 2004, around 19 billion rubles ($678 million) were earmarked in the federal budget for institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences system, which employs about 110,000 people, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 March 2005. JAC
 MILITARY PROSECUTOR SAYS CRIME RISING AMONG SENIOR OFFICERSChief Military Prosecutor Aleksandr Savenkov told reporters in Moscow on 24 May that crime in the armed forces rose last year, Russian media reported. In 2004 the number of crimes per 100,000 members of the armed forces was 141.9, while the rate for civilians was 200.2, and the difference between the two used to be "about 100" rather than 58.3, ITAR-TASS reported. According to another indicator, the military prosecutor's office registered more than 15,000 criminal cases in 2004, compared with 12,000 in 2002. According to Savenkov, senior officers committed about 46.9 percent of criminal offenses, according to RosBalt. The number of hazing-related offenses grew by 25 percent over the past two years, according to Savenkov, Interfax reported. Savenkov attributed the rise in crime to a general lack of discipline. JAC
 FAR EASTERN OKRUG LEGISLATORS PUT A PRICE ON UNIFICATIONLegislators in the Koryak Autonomous Okrug voted on 23 May to conduct a referendum on 23 October on the proposed merger of the okrug with Kamchatka Oblast, "Izvestiya" reported on 24 May. Earlier, okrug legislators agreed to appeal to President Putin for the right to form an initiative group to collect signatures for the referendum. According to the daily, the okrug's leadership has already determined what the region should receive in exchange for its autonomous status. The okrug is asking the Putin for a federal-government pledge to finance a program to develop the region's fuel-and-energy complex, its transportation infrastructure, and its social programs. The exact cost of these expenditures for the federal budget was expected to be discussed with Koryak officials on 24 May, according to the daily. The newspaper also reported that Koryak Autonomous Okrug Governor Oleg Kozhemyako is considered the most likely candidate to head the new enlarged entity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 May 2005). JAC
 PUTIN BACKS CENTRAL GOVERNOR FOR THIRD TERMPresident Putin on 24 May submitted the name of incumbent Lipetsk Oblast Governor Oleg Korolev to the oblast legislative assembly for confirmation for a third term, Interfax reported on 24 May, citing the presidential press service. Korolev was elected to a second term in April 2002 with more than 73 percent of the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2002). JAC
 ADYGEYA PRESIDENT REVOKES CONTROVERSIAL DECREEFollowing two hours of talks in Maikop on 24 May with presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, Republic of Adygeya President Khazret Sovmen agreed to revoke his 18 May decree dissolving the republic's parliament, adygeanatpress.net reported. Kozak, who met behind closed doors with Sovmen and parliament deputies, urged both sides to "try to find a political compromise," yufo.ru reported. He rejected as "hooliganism" a telegram of support sent to Sovmen by LDPR Chairman and Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii. At Sovmen's suggestion, by the end of next month the parliament will adopt legislation on its voluntary dissolution and reform, on the holding of municipal elections, and on amending the 2005 budget. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 ARMENIAN NGOS CONDEMN ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTSThe Partnership for an Open Society, which comprises several dozen Armenian NGOs, issued a statement on 24 May calling on the Armenian authorities to reconsider the amendments to the election law approved by the parliament last week and bring the law "into full conformity with international standards for free and fair elections," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2005). The statement said the amendments do not provide for impartial election commissions and consequently will not prevent vote rigging. It further criticized the Council of Europe for approving the amendments and called on that organization to "reconsider" that approval. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS WITH GEORGIAN, KAZAKH COUNTERPARTSIlham Aliyev and Mikheil Saakashvili held talks in Baku on 24 May on the eve of the ceremony to mark the pumping of the first Caspian oil into the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) export pipeline, Georgian and Western agencies reported. Saakashvili said during those talks that the BTC pipeline, together with the gas pipeline from Baku via Tbilisi to Erzerum that will export natural gas from Azerbaijan's offshore Shah Deniz field, is "very important for our independence and development," and will put an end to the dependence of the entire South Caucasus, including Georgia, on external energy supplies, ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev also met on 24 May with Kazakhstan's President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who again affirmed his country's commitment to export part of its Caspian oil via the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, Turan reported. Representatives of the two countries did not, however, sign the anticipated agreement on transporting crude from Kazakhstan via the Baku-Ceyhan route, Turan reported. Azerbaijani presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev told journalists that experts "continue to work" to resolve unspecified problems connected with that agreement. The two sides did sign an Agreement on Strategic Partnership together with several other bilateral agreements on inter-governmental cooperation. LF
 OFFICIAL DENIES U.S. ROLE IN GUARDING AZERBAIJAN-GEORGIA OIL PIPELINEU.S. State Department official Steven Mann described the BTC pipeline in Baku on 24 May as an important component of both the East-West Transport Corridor and of Washington's international energy strategy, echo-az.com reported on 25 May. U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan Reno Harnish stressed that responsibility for the security of the pipeline lies with the three countries (Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey) whose territory it crosses, and that the United States will not send troops to guard it, Turan reported. Mann added that Washington will provide "technical support" in the form of advice and training. LF
 GEORGIA, RUSSIA EDGE CLOSER TO COMPROMISE ON BASES CLOSURE...Russian and Georgian government delegations reached "almost complete agreement" in Tbilisi on 24 May on the wording of a joint statement to be signed by the two countries' presidents on bilateral relations and the withdrawal from Georgian territory of the two remaining Russian military bases there, Igor Savolskii, who headed the Russian delegation, told journalists after the two-day round of talks ended, Caucasus Press reported. He predicted that it will be possible to reach agreement also on the outstanding points of dispute. Interfax on 24 May quoted Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Goga Khaindrava as hinting that Tbilisi will not insist on Russia complying with the 1 January 2008 deadline. Khaindrava also said that neither side raised the issue of financial compensation. Meanwhile Caucasus Press on 24 May quoted an unnamed Russian officer at the military base in Batumi as saying that Russia has already begun removing weaponry and other equipment from that base. LF
 ...AS NGOS APPEAL TO GEORGIA'S ARMENIANS TO END PROTESTSNGOs in the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Djavakheti, which hosts the second Russian military base in Georgia, have published an appeal to the region's Armenian population to end their protests against the closure of the base where many of them are employed, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 24 May. LF
 BROTHER AGAIN CLAIMS GEORGIAN PREMIER WAS MURDEREDGiorgi Zhvania told Georgia's private 202 television station on 23 May that his brother Zurab, the former prime minister who was found dead in a Tbilisi apartment with a friend early on 3 February, was murdered, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported on 24 May. Zhvania again said his family is convinced that the Georgian authorities misrepresented the conclusions of a team of investigators from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who purportedly confirmed the original verdict that the two men died accidentally of carbon monoxide poisoning (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 April 2005). He said he intends to ask the EU to launch an independent probe of the circumstances surrounding his brother's death. LF
 GEORGIAN PEACEKEEPER INJURED IN IRAQOne of the approximately 900 Georgian service personnel participating in the international security operation in Iraq was injured on 24 May and three U.S. servicemen were killed when their vehicle hit a mine on the Baghdad-Baquba highway, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian sustained eye injuries and lost one hand; he is to be flown to Germany on 25 May for further medical treatment. LF
 SUPPORTERS DEMAND RETURN OF DISGRACED GEORGIAN SECURITY CHIEFSome 1,500 delegates to the first congress of the youth wing of the Samartlianoba (Justice) party headed by former State Security Minister Igor Giorgadze called on the Georgian authorities on 24 May to drop the criminal charges against Giorgadze and allow him to return to Georgia, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Giorgadze has been in hiding since leaving Georgia in the fall of 1995 after he was accused of masterminding the assassination attempt in August of that year against then Georgian parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze. Delegates to the congress also called on the Georgian leadership to "stop persecuting the opposition, ensure democratic freedoms, and improve living standards," ITAR-TASS reported. LF
 NEWSPAPER REPORTS TALKS ON EXPANDING RUSSIAN PRESENCE IN KYRGYZSTAN"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 May that Russian officials have confirmed that Kyrgyz acting President Kurmanbek Bakiev recently raised the issue of expanding Russia's military presence in Kyrgyzstan. The report came only a day after a Kyrgyz spokesman denied such talks took place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2005). The Russian newspaper quoted Modest Kolerov, head of a new structure for foreign ties within the Russian presidential administration, and Duma Deputy Andrei Kokoshin (Unified Russia), chairman of the Duma's CIS Affairs Committee, as confirming that the Kyrgyz side raised the issue in recent discussions with Russian legislators in Bishkek. Kolerov stressed that Bakiev brought up the idea. The article noted that the format for a possible expanded Russian presence remains unclear and could take the form of a new military base or an antiterrorism center under the aegis of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. DK
 MEMBERS OF 'EXTREMIST' GROUP JAILED IN TAJIKISTANA court in Tajikistan's Sughd Province has sentenced seven members of the group Bayat to long jail terms for murder, assault, and robbery, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 24 May. Saydullo Madyorov received a 25-year sentence, Hodi Fattoev a 14-year sentence, and five other members of the group sentences ranging from six to 20 years. Sughd Prosecutor Abdughaffor Qalandarov noted that a long investigation showed that Bayat, which was originally thought to be a religious extremist organization, was instead an organized-crime group. DK
 FORMER TAJIK DRUG CZAR FACES CHARGES AS CASE POSTPONED FOR SIXTH TIMETajik prosecutors have brought a number of charges against Ghaffor Mirzoev, former head of the Drug Control Agency and the presidential guard, while extending the investigation period for the sixth time, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 24 May. The investigation period will now last at least until 6 July. Mirzoev faces 73 charges under 33 articles of the Criminal Code, including murder and terrorism, Avesta reported. If convicted, Mirzoev, who was arrested in August 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004), could face 25 years to life in prison. DK
 TURKMEN LEADER AIRS PRICE CONCERNS WITH UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTDuring a 23 May telephone conversation with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov drew his counterpart's attention to "unfounded overpricing of the goods that the Ukrainian side provides" as payment for Turkmen natural gas, turkmenistan.ru reported the next day. According to the report, Yushchenko promised Niyazov to review and resolve the issue within two days. Ukraine is set to buy 36 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Turkmenistan in 2005 at a price of $58 per 1,000 cubic meters, paid half in cash and half in kind. DK
 NATO WARNS UZBEKISTAN ON ANDIJON EVENTS...In a 24 May statement, NATO's North Atlantic Council pronounced itself "deeply disturbed by the recent violence in Uzbekistan" and warned that the crackdown could affect Uzbekistan's relations with the 26-member bloc, NATO's website (http://www.nato.int) reported. "We condemn the reported use of excessive and disproportionate force by the Uzbek security forces," the statement said. "We will keep our relationship with Uzbekistan under close review, and call for transparency, co-operation with international organizations and domestic reform to strengthen democracy and the protection of human rights." The statement also called for an independent inquiry into the violence in Andijon. DK
 ...AS CHINA VOICES SUPPORT ON EVE OF UZBEK PRESIDENT'S VISIT...Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan expressed support on 24 May for recent actions by Uzbekistan's government in Andijon, Xinhua reported. described the recent unrest in Andijon as Uzbekistan's "internal affair," but noted that China supports Uzbekistan's efforts to crack down on the "three evil forces" of terrorism, separatism, and extremism. Uzbek President Islam Karimov set to begin a visit to China on 25 May, where he will hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. DK
 ...AND UZBEK PARLIAMENT FORMS INVESTIGATIVE COMMISSIONThe lower chamber of Uzbekistan's parliament resolved on 23 May to form a commission to investigate the events in Andijon on 13 May, UzA reported. The newspaper "Pravda vostoka" published a list of 16 commission members from both houses of parliament on 24 May. The European Union, the United States, and the UN have called for an independent inquiry into events in Andijon, but President Karimov has thus far resisted the calls. Uzbekistan's government has blamed the violence on religious extremists, saying 169 people died; independent estimates run to 500 deaths and above, with many eyewitness accounts claiming that government troops fired on unarmed protestors. DK
 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITIONIST JAILED FOR CONTEMPT OF COURTOpposition politician Mikalay Statkevich on 24 May was sentenced to 10 days in jail for refusing to reply to questions during his trial and to stand up when the judge entered the courtroom, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Statkevich and another opposition activist, Pavel Sevyarynets, are accused of organizing unauthorized protests in October 2004, in a trial that opened in Minsk on 23 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2005). "I don't recognize this court [as fair]," Statkevich told RFE/RL, adding that the real motive behind his persecution is the presidential administration's intention to have him sentenced in order to prevent his participation as a candidate in the 2006 presidential election. JM
 BELARUSIAN KGB TO CONDUCT HOUSE SEARCHES WITHOUT WARRANTSLast week a law came into effect in Belarus allowing the State Security Committee to conduct searches in private apartments and offices of public organizations, including foreign ones, without search warrants from prosecutors, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 24 May. The law obliges KGB officers to notify a relevant prosecutor about a search within 24 hours after it took place. Another novelty in the law is the provision allowing the KGB to plant secret agents in any organization in Belarus. Those exposing such agents to the public will face imprisonment of up to five years. JM
 UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT CANCELS PRICE CAPS ON FUELThe Economy Ministry has canceled its decree of 14 April setting the price limits on high-octane gasoline in Ukraine at 3 hryvnyas ($0.6) per liter, Ukrainian media reported on 24 May. At that time Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko accused Russian oil traders, who control three-fourths of the fuel market in Ukraine, of deliberately provoking a fuel crisis in the country. President Viktor Yushchenko on 18 May ordered the government to lift the decreed curbs on fuel prices. New prices have now been fixed at 3.2 hryvnyas, 3 hryvnyas, and 2.85 hryvnyas per liter of A-95 gasoline, A-92 gasoline, and diesel fuel, respectively. "I declare that there has been no Russian hand behind these processes [fuel crisis in Ukraine]," Yushchenko said on 24 May. "When [the price of] a market item is regulated administratively, sooner or later one has to make decisions that will be painful to both buyers and the authorities." JM
 UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SAID TO BE UNREADY FOR REFORMING SELF-GOVERNMENTParliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said on 24 May that there is no "political will" in the Verkhovna Rada to pass a bill on reforming local self-government, which was initially approved on 8 December 2004 in a package of bills intended to resolve the then presidential-election standoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004), Interfax reported. Under the political compromise achieved in December, a constitutional reform shifting powers from the president to the parliament and the prime minister would occur on 1 September 2005 if the Verkhovna Rada approved the self-government bill in the second reading prior to that date. Failing such passage, the constitutional reform is to automatically go into effect on 1 January 2006. JM
 BELGRADE WILL INFORM UN SECURITY COUNCIL ABOUT 'REAL SITUATION' OF KOSOVAR SERBSThe Serbian government unanimously decided on 25 May that Serbia and Montenegro's representative at the UN will inform the UN Security Council about the "real situation" of the Serb and non-Albanian population in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The Serbian government insists that the Kosovar Serbs and non-Albanians have no basic rights in the UN-administered province. According to the government, Serbs cannot move freely in Kosova and are still subject to violence. The UN Security Council will discuss the situation in Kosova on 27 May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 December 2004 and 20 May 2005). UB
 BOSNIAN PREMIER ANNOUNCES MINOR GOVERNMENT RESHUFFLEBosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said in Sarajevo on 24 May that Transport and Telecommunications Minister Branko Dokic, who is facing trial on unspecified charges, will resign on 26 May, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 December 2004). Terzic also said that he will possibly carry out a government reshuffle since the current cabinet is unable to take important decisions. Terzic said he will try to resolve ongoing differences between Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic and Interior Minister Barisa Colak over the nomination of a new head of Bosnia-Herzegovina's criminal-investigation agency (SIPA). Terzic said if he fails to reconcile the two ministers, he will urge Ivanic to resign. SIPA's mandate corresponds approximately to that of the FBI in the United States, and it is Bosnia's first nationwide state police agency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004). UB
 ANOTHER MASS GRAVE FOUND IN EASTERN BOSNIAA mass grave was found near the eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad on 23 May, "Dnevni avaz" reported. Forensic experts believe that the grave contains the bodies of about 40 Bosnian Muslims. UB
 MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER POSITIVE ABOUT DEFENSE REFORMJovan Manasievski told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 22 May that the reform of the army is proceeding well and that he is optimistic that the annual report on the changes, which will be presented at a meeting of NATO's foreign and defense ministers in Brussels on 27 May, will be positive for Macedonia. Manasievski said the transformation of the army into a professional fighting force will be finalized by 2007, adding that the Defense Ministry staff will be cut by about 50 percent by the end of 2005. Asked about the proportional representation of ethnic minorities in the army, Manasievski said the targets set by the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement will be met for the lower ranks by 2007, and for the higher ranks by 2013. Manasievski added, however, that it could be difficult to achieve full proportional representation since members of the ethnic minorities have shown little interest in an army career. UB
 MOLDOVAN PARTIES WANT UKRAINE TO BE MORE 'POSITIVE' IN TRANSDNIESTER SETTLEMENTLeaders of major Moldovan parties -- the Communist Party, the Christian Democratic Popular Party, the Democratic Party, the Moldova Noastra Alliance, the Social Liberal Party, and the Social Democratic Party -- held a joint conference in Chisinau on 24 May to discuss a recently unveiled Ukrainian plan for resolving the Transdniester conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005), Moldovan news agencies reported. "We like Ukraine playing an increasingly active role in the Transdniester problem settlement, but we think that this role should be more positive," Infotag quoted Social Liberal Party Chairman Oleg Serebrean as saying. Deputy parliamentary speaker Iurie Rosca, leader of the Christian Democratic Popular Party, specified that Ukraine's plan does not mention the pullout of Russian troops from Transdniester or Moldovan-Ukrainian cooperation in establishing joint border checkpoints. "We have been waiting for years for concrete actions from Kyiv [to set up] joint customs checkpoints on the eastern portion of the Moldovan-Ukrainian frontier," Rosca said. "The withdrawal of Russian troops and armaments [from Transdniester] and the establishment of the said customs checkpoints jointly with Ukraine are two major issues for the Republic of Moldova. All the remaining problems can be resolved with our own forces." JM
 MOLDOVA'S AVERAGE MONTHLY SALARY EXCEEDS $100According to Moldova's National Bureau of Statistics, the average monthly salary in the country in April amounted to 1,279 lei ($102), 75 lei more than the previous month, Infotag reported on 24 May. The highest average monthly salary in April was in the banking and finance sector (4,305 lei), while Moldovan peasants remained the lowest-paid group with a monthly average of 607 lei. JM
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 U.S.-AFGHAN STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP MADE PUBLIC...The full text of the "Joint Declaration of the United States-Afghanistan Strategic Partnership" (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/05/20050523-2.html) signed by U.S. President George W. Bush and his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai on 23 May in Washington has been made public by the White House (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 May 2005). In the declaration, the two countries commit to ensure that "Afghanistan will never again" become a safe heaven for terrorists. The primary goal of the strategic partnership is described as strengthening U.S.-Afghan ties in order to help Afghanistan's "long-term security, democracy, and prosperity." While the declaration specifically states that it is not "directed against any third country," it does encourage the "advancement of freedom and democracy in the wider region." The declaration encourages cooperation "between Afghanistan and its neighbors," while deterring them from "meddling" in Afghanistan's internal affairs. In case Afghanistan perceives that its "territorial integrity, independence, or security is threatened" or is at risk, the declaration calls for consultation "with respect to taking appropriate measures" to alleviate such threats. AT
 ...ALTHOUGH IT SAYS LITTLE ABOUT POSSIBLE U.S. BASESThe joint declaration remains somewhat vague on the issue most debated among Afghans, namely the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan. The partnership allows the United States to "continue to have access" to Bagram Air Base north of Kabul and to "other locations as may be mutually determined." U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan will continue to have freedom of action in their activities "based on consultations and pre-agreed procedures." AT
 AFGHAN-BASED U.S. FORCES REPORTEDLY KILL FIVE PAKISTANIS ACROSS BORDERFive Pakistanis were reportedly killed in a U.S. aerial attack in the Lawara Mandai area of North Waziristan on 21 May, the Karachi-based daily "Dawn" reported on 23 May. Pakistan's Inter Service Public Relations Director Major General Shaukat Sultan, while confirming that shells and rockets fired by U.S.-led forces had landed inside Pakistani territory, said that he was unaware of any casualties. AT
 POLICE ARREST ARMED PAKISTANI NATIONAL IN EASTERN AFGHANISTANAfghan police have arrested a Pakistani citizen in Khost Province, Tolu Television reported on 24 May. The man, who has been described as a resident of the Mir Ali area of the Koram region, has not been identified. According to the report, the man is one of several armed Pakistani citizens who have been arrested by the Afghan authorities in recent days. AT
 CANADA ADDS AFGHAN PARTY TO LIST OF BANNED TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONSCanadian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Anne McLellan on 24 May announced that her country has added Hizb-e Islami, headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, to a list of banned terrorist groups, AFP reported. Hekmatyar's party is seeking the overthrow of the Afghan administration headed by President Karzai, McLellan said in a press release. Hekmatyar, a former Afghan prime minister, is already recognized as a terrorist by the U.S. State Department. AT
 AFGHANISTAN SIGNS $1 BILLION OIL DEAL WITH AUSTRIAN FIRMKhalil Firuzi, head of the Afghan Logistical Oil Company, on 24 May signed a deal with the Austrian-based ILF (Ingenieurgemeinschaft Lasser-Feizlmayr) engineering consulting firm for delivery of 3 million tons of oil, Afghanistan Television reported. The $1 billion deal involves the delivery to Afghanistan of diesel, kerosene, petrol, and heating oil for five years. The report added that this deal will "undoubtedly have positive effects" on the lives of Afghans and the country's transport system. It is not known from where the oil products are being imported from. AT
 ANALYST SAYS IRAN-EU NUCLEAR TALKS LIKELY TO FAILInternational Institute for Strategic Studies (http://www.iiss.org) Director John Chipman said on 24 May that the current discussions between Iran and the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) are unlikely to produce a "lasting resolution," AP reported. Chipman was speaking at a book launch for the London-based organization's annual "Strategic Survey." Gary Samore, director of studies at IISS, speculated that Iran wants a nuclear-weapons capability for defensive purposes and also so it can dominate the region. He noted that some of the smaller states are "quite vulnerable." Samore predicted that some neighboring states will seek U.S. protection, and there could be a regional arms race. BS
 AMNESTY SAYS IRAN-EU HUMAN RIGHTS DIALOGUE HAS FEW BENEFITS"The ongoing Human Rights Dialogue process between the EU and Iran led to few lasting benefits," Amnesty International's most recent report on human rights, which is being released on 25 May, notes (http://web.amnesty.org/report2005/index-eng). The report notes that the parliament elected in February 2004 has rejected gender equality legislation. The increasingly hard-line atmosphere has encouraged the judiciary and the security agencies to stifle dissent through arbitrary arrests and detaining individuals at hidden facilities. "Discriminatory laws and practices" are the source of "social and political unrest and human rights violations." The report notes discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities in seeking state employment and in education. A flawed legal system has led to limitations on freedom of expression and association. BS
 IRANIAN CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATES MAKE ELECTION PACTTwo conservative candidates in the 17 June presidential election race have entered a pact, "Iran" newspaper reported on 23 May. Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani have agreed to keep campaigning until 31 May, at which point an opinion poll will be taken to determine who is the more popular candidate. The individual who has a poorer showing will step out of the race and back his rival. BS
 POLICE THWART STUDENT DEMONSTRATION IN TEHRANSome 300 Tehran University students demonstrating against the disqualification of prospective presidential candidate Mustafa Moin on 24 May tried to conduct a protest march but were stopped by police, IRNA and Radio Farda reported. The police herded them back to the campus without incident and blocked roads in and out of the site. At a 23 May meeting at the University of Tehran, speakers questioned the ineligibility of Moin, a man who has served in three different cabinets and has served in the legislature for three terms. Islamic Society of Students secretary Hesamedin Allameh asked, "How low have we descended that we cannot even tolerate Dr. Moin?" He also questioned the ineligibility of Ebrahim Yazdi, who was foreign minister in the first postrevolutionary cabinet. Thirty-five of the country's Islamic student associations have issued a statement about the dangerous authoritarian trend in Iran, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 23 May. The statement warned that this will challenge the country's "national interests and territorial integrity," and will ultimately lead to a "social explosion." The statement invited members of society to "resist and participate in an informed manner on deciding [Iranian society's] fate." BS
 IRANIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ASPIRANT COMPLAINS ABOUT DISQUALIFICATIONTabriz parliamentary representative Akbar Alami, whose application to be a presidential candidate was disallowed by the Guardians Council, complained on 24 May that the speaker of parliament did not speak out on his behalf, Mehr News Agency reported. Alami noted that he has served in the legislature twice, has held a number of other responsible positions, and has written 500 political essays. He criticized the Guardians Council for not recognizing his qualifications. BS
 U.S. MILITARY LAUNCHES NEW OPERATION IN IRAQ'S AL-ANBAR GOVERNORATEU.S. troops launched a sweep operation into the western Iraqi town of Hadithah, located approximately halfway between Al-Ramadi and Al-Qa'im, on 25 May, Reuters reported. The town has been a hotspot for militant activity and the scene of numerous attacks on multinational forces in recent months, the news agency said. A U.S. military spokesman told Reuters that he had no details about the operation, which reportedly includes house-to-house searches. Operation Squeeze Play launched in western Baghdad has led to the detention of 285 suspected terrorists, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a 23 May statement. KR
 U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ DETAIN SUSPECTED MILITANT DISGUISED AS WOMANA website for multinational forces (http://www.mnf-iraq.com) said in a 24 May statement that Battery Alpha soldiers south of Camp Taji arrested a suspected militant dressed as a woman during a search of a home in the village of Al-Haddi on 23 May. "Tests showed the terrorist dressed as a woman had recently handled explosives and the soldiers detained him for questioning," the statement said. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Pappal said the disguise was "not uncommon." However, he added that "this man learned dressing like a woman was a particularly poor choice for him." KR
 IRAQI MUSLIM SCHOLARS ASSOCIATION PROPOSES 'CHARTER OF HONOR'...Muslim Scholars Association member Harith al-Ubaydi has said that his organization has proposed a so-called charter of honor, which includes a provision calling for raids to be carried out by the security apparatus without the participation of the militias that have been working with it, "Al-Hayat" reported on 24 May. The charter aims at restricting what the association says is the policing activities and targeting of Sunni Arabs by Shi'ite militiamen from the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq's (SCIRI) Badr forces. Al-Ubaydi said that the charter will soon be presented to SCIRI in an effort to diffuse tensions between Sunni and Shi'ite Iraqis. KR
 ...AS SUNNI LEADER DISCUSSES TERRORISMIsam al-Rawi, a member of the association's Shura Council, told "Al-Hayat" that the Muslim scholars have forbidden the targeting of civilians, international aid workers, and journalists in Iraq, the daily reported on 24 May. "The American soldier and anyone who supports him directly" are excluded from this edict, he added. Al-Rawi criticized the transitional government for purportedly depicting Sunni leaders "as if they do not condemn terrorism." Transitional Interior Minister Bayan Jabr met on 24 May with a delegation of Sunnis, including Waqf Director Adnan al-Dulaymi, just days after they demanded his resignation from office, Al-Arabiyah reported. KR
 JIHADIST WEBSITE REQUESTS PRAYERS FOR WOUNDED TERRORIST LEADER IN IRAQA jihadist website (http://www.montada.com) carried a statement on 24 May claiming that fugitive Jordanian terrorist and Al-Qaeda-affiliated leader Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi was wounded in Iraq, and requested prayers for al-Zarqawi's recovery. "Nation of Islam, brothers in monotheism, we ask you to pray for our sheikh Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi to recover from a wound he has suffered for the sake of God," the statement said. It called al-Zarqawi's injury "an honor and a call to tighten the grip on the enemy of God, and a cause to increase the attacks on them." The authenticity of the posting has not been confirmed. It nonetheless has prompted numerous postings and prayers for al-Zarqawi to jihadist websites, Reuters reported on 25 May. Meanwhile, an unauthenticated posting on another jihadist site (http://22lajnah22.co.uk) on 24 May claims that al-Zarqawi was suffering from a gunshot wound to the right lung, which caused him to suffer "breathing difficulties." The statement further claimed that two mujahedin doctors helped smuggle al-Zarqawi to a neighboring country, where he remains in a stable condition. KR
 NEW SURVEY LESS THAN OPTIMISTIC ABOUT IRAQ'S PROSPECTSThe International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) gave a less than optimistic outlook on strategic conditions in Iraq in its 2004-2005 "Strategic Survey" released on 24 May (http://www.iiss.org). The survey said that while elections were a relative success in Iraq, the three-month lag in the formation of a transitional government "gave the insurgency the strategic and political space to regroup and strike back." The lag also "demobilized the Iraqi population and encouraged a return to the alienation and cynicism that marked popular attitudes towards the Iraqi Governing Council." The report said that the composition of the transitional government "has not matched the hopes and aspirations brought about by the elections results themselves." "Ministerial posts have gone to the same figures who dominated the Iraqi Governing Council, with the distinct danger that they will continue to use their ministerial positions as vehicles for personal and political patronage and not to build the administrational capacity desperately needed across the country," the report continued. Regarding the increased violence in April and May, the report said: "Neither the U.S. military nor the nascent Iraqi security forces have managed to increase their capacity to control the country." The entire report can be downloaded on the IISS website. KR
 PRE-CAMPAIGN CAMPAIGNING UNDER WAY IN IRANBy Bill Samii
The big issue in Iranian politics this week is the vetting of candidates for the 17 June presidential election by the Guardians Council -- an unelected body of six clerics and six lawyers. The council announced on 22 May that only six out of the 1,014 prospective candidates were eligible to compete in the election. That is less than 1 percent -- an impressively small figure.
It can be argued with some justification that not all applicants are eligible. Indeed, Guardians Council spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on 13 May that among the applicants were 81 unemployed people, 19 teenagers, and 250 people without a secondary-school diploma, Radio Farda reported. During the 15 May legislative session, furthermore, Tabriz parliamentary representative Seyyed Mohammad Reza Mir-Tajedini called on the Interior Ministry to prevent the registration of people who do not meet the minimum qualifications, "Resalat" reported on 16 May.
The Guardians Council's vetting of candidates for elected office has been a controversial issue since the parliamentary elections of 1988. This is part of the council's constitutionally mandated responsibility to supervise elections -- termed approbatory supervision or "nizarat-i estisvabi." Yet the controversy over the council's actions does not end with its disapproval of candidates that it does not care for. The council has taken its powers up a notch by overturning results after election day, which it did after parliamentary elections in February 2000 and in February 2004. There is no question that, as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in September 2000, the council is "a major obstacle to the further development of democracy" in Iran.
Nobody reasonably expected approval of all 1,014 applicants this time, but the mass rejection that included individuals who have previously served in government elicited an outraged reaction from Iranian political elites. Following intervention by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 23 May, two more applicants -- former Minister of Education and Training Mustafa Moin and Vice President for Physical Training Mohsen Mehralizadeh -- were reinstated.
They join Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad, former state broadcasting chief Ali Ardeshir-Larijani, Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezai, former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former Speaker of Parliament Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi, and Expediency Council chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani.
Officially, these candidates can campaign from 27 May until 24 hours before election day. In fact they began campaigning months earlier, by paying visits to the provinces, meeting their supporters, and trying to gain new ones by making vague promises. After prospective candidates registered, the campaigning took on a new tone, and Hashemi-Rafsanjani became a lightening rod. This is probably because other candidates see the two-time former president as the frontrunner and their main rival.
One day after Hashemi-Rafsanjani registered, on 11 May, a commentary in the hard-line "Ya-Lisarat al-Hussein" weekly said the growing gap between rich and poor, injustice, and economic discrimination, as well as the resulting cultural and social difficulties, can be traced to his administration. His registration, the commentary continued, obstructs the circulation of elites and is indicative of an excessive desire for power. It is an insult to the nation to suggest that nobody else is qualified to be president 25 years after the revolution. The commentary suggested that a Hashemi-Rafsanjani presidency would open the way to foreign interference in the country's affairs, it would allow members of the reformist 2nd of Khordad Front to remain unaccountable, and it would allow them to retain power.
Hashemi-Rafsanjani's rival, Karrubi, criticized the candidate in a letter that was published in the 19 May "Aftab-i Yazd." Karrubi noted that Hashemi-Rafsanjani previously said he would only compete in the election if there is no acceptable or competent candidate. If that is the case, Karrubi wrote, the seeds for such a situation were sown during Hashemi-Rafsanjani's presidency.
As for the alienation and isolation of revolutionary forces that Hashemi-Rafsanjani referred to when he announced his candidacy, that can be traced to the fourth parliamentary election in 1992, when the Guardians Council disqualified many dedicated public servants. Karrubi also wrote of the abuses committed by the Ministry of Intelligence and Security and the police during Hashemi-Rafsanjani's presidency, as well as the Intelligence Ministry's extensive involvement in economic activities.
Karrubi concluded his letter with a threat, referring to "unsaid points that I will have no choice but to disclose if the former methods and the humiliation of other candidates should continue."
Supreme Leader Khamenei said in a 24 May speech in Tehran that candidates should avoid creating a "tense and antagonistic climate," state radio reported. He also criticized those who create tension in the print and broadcast media.
The trading of insults and accusations is an increasingly common, albeit unfortunate, aspect of political campaigns throughout the world. Resulting tensions are therefore unavoidable. In Iran, the interference of the Guardians Council is responsible for much greater problems. That body answers only to the supreme leader, who is ultimately responsible for much of the current political strain in Iran.