|Monday, 27 January 2020|
RFE/RL Newsline, 07-05-09
From: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty <http://www.rferl.org>
 EU SETS CONDITIONS FOR SUPPORTING RUSSIA'S WTO BID...The European Commission on May 4 warned it will not support Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization before the end of the year unless Moscow shows it is ready to resolve outstanding issues, AFP reported. "We should make clear that the EU is ready to support early conclusion of Russia's WTO accession, but not at any price," said Peter Power, the commission's spokesman on trade affairs. "We need real political commitment," he said. Power said a "small number of issues" remain to be resolved, including export duties, railway fees, and the compatibility of Russian legislation on trade barriers. At the same time, he rejected as "totally inaccurate" and "wrong" a European press report that the EU plans to toughen its position toward Russia dramatically, "The Moscow Times" reported on May 7. President Vladimir Putin will host German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, and other EU officials at a summit to be held at a resort near Samara on May 17 and 18. The European Commission's warning about EU support for Russia's WTO entry came amid a row between Russia and Estonia over the removal of a Soviet war memorial from downtown Tallinn. In apparent retaliation for Estonia's relocation of the war memorial, Russia's state railway monopoly has begun repair work on rail links with Estonia, effectively reducing oil transit to Estonia and coal deliveries there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, May 2, 3 and 4, 2007). The European Commission said on May 4 that it wants Russian companies to honor their contracts with Estonia, RFE/RL reported. JB
 ...AS RUSSIA ACCUSES EU OF BEING SOFT ON ESTONIA AND LATVIAThe Russian Foreign Ministry on May 4 strongly criticized the EU for its stance on the Russian-Estonian row. In a statement posted on its website, mid.ru, the ministry said that during human rights consultations with the EU in Berlin on May 3, the Russian side emphasized that it is "extremely indignant" over the Estonian authorities' actions regarding the war memorial. "It was pointed out to the EU representative that what happened in Tallinn was the latest link in a policy carried out in Estonia and Latvia in recent years that encourages making heroes out of the Nazis and their accomplices and leads to a reconsideration of the results of the Second World War," the ministry statement read. "It is regrettable that in spite of our frequent appeals to EU structures, including in the context of human rights consultations, Brussels disregards the provocative line of Tallinn and Riga, which contradicts moral norms and common sense [and] insults the feelings not only of Russians, but of all who oppose fascism and extremism in Europe." The statement also accused Estonia and Latvia of discrimination against their Russian-speaking minorities and the Estonian police of using "disproportionate" force and "inhuman methods" in detaining demonstrators protesting the Soviet war memorial's removal. On May 2, the European Commission called on Russia to guarantee the safety of Estonian diplomats on its territory and "to deal with current issues with Estonia by means of dialogue" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). On May 4, hundreds of students carrying flags of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi held a protest outside the EU's representative office in Moscow, "The Moscow Times" reported on May 7. JB
 SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL DEFENDS ESTONIAThe White House announced on May 4 that Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves will visit Washington on June 25 and meet with President George W. Bush, while a senior U.S. official criticized Russia's actions toward Estonia during a May 4 ceremony honoring American diplomats. Among the diplomats honored was Henry Antheil, who was sent to Estonia in June 1940 to close down the U.S. mission in Tallinn and, as "The Moscow Times" reported on May 7, "probably was shot down ... by Soviet aircraft as he flew on the last flight from Tallinn after the Soviet invasion." The State Department's website, state.gov, quoted U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns as saying during the ceremony that it was particularly appropriate to remember Antheil "during a week when we've seen that Estonia has been harassed once again," and in which "our president and secretary of state and government have stood up to say Estonia is our friend and ally and that we honor the right of Estonia to make its own decisions ... and to live as an independent state and as a member of a NATO alliance, our ally." JB
 RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DRAFTS DECREE TO PROTECT BURIAL SITES ABROADThe Defense Ministry has drafted a presidential decree, set to be signed at the end of May, on protecting Russian military burial sites abroad, the daily "Kommersant" reported on May 7. According to the newspaper, Russia will spend roughly $1 million a year to open seven offices abroad that will account for and preserve burial sites, above all in "problem states" like Poland, Hungary, and the Baltics. "In the Defense Ministry, they do not hide that the appearance of the presidential decree was hastened by the scandal surrounding the Bronze Soldier in Tallinn," the newspaper wrote. "Experts are certain that the document is intended to demonstrate to the West that henceforth Russia does not intend to permit a repetition of such situations." Meanwhile, newsru.com on May 6 quoted Marek Kuchinski, parliamentary leader of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, as telling Radio Zet, a private Polish radio station, that the conflict between Russia and Estonia will not stop the process of "de-communization" in Poland. On April 30, Polish Culture Minister Kazimierz Ujazdowski announced that his ministry is developing a program that will allow local authorities destroy or relocate monuments erected in the "socialist era," and that "symbols of the communist dictatorship will disappear from the cities and streets of Poland as alien to Polish culture," "Kommersant" reported on May 1. Ujazdowski said it is not the purpose of the program "to disrespect or neglect the graves of soldiers of the Soviet Army" in Poland. JB
 POLL FINDS A THIRD OF RUSSIANS WANT PUTIN AS PRESIDENT-FOR-LIFEA poll by the Levada Center polling agency shows that 35 percent of Russians believe Vladimir Putin should remain Russia's president for the rest of his life. Newsru.com, citing the Ekho Moskvy radio station, reported on May 6 that 54 percent of those polled said they are against Putin becoming "president for life." The website quoted Valeriya Novodvorskaya, leader of the opposition Democratic Union, as saying it is precisely the 35 percent reflected in the Levada Center poll that will prevent democratic forces from coming to power and carrying out reforms. According to newsru.com, a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation found that 66 percent of Russians currently view Putin "positively, with trust" - the highest number since 2003. Only 7 percent of those polled said they do not trust Putin - the lowest number since 2003. Putin has repeatedly said he will not run for a third term as president after his second and final constitutionally mandated term expires in 2008. JB
 WHO WILL BECOME NEXT PRESIDENT OF BURYATIA?Neither of the prospective candidates proposed by President Putin to succeed incumbent Leonid Potapov as president of Buryatia is wholly acceptable to the republic's political elite, according to the daily kommersant.ru on May 7. Potapov is 71 and his presidential term expires in early July. Boris Zolotaryov, who served as head of the Evenk Autonomous Oblast until it was subsumed into Krasnoyarsk Krai (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 6, 2005), confirmed that he would accept the post, but the Buryat political elite are reportedly insisting that a member of the titular nationality be named president. Zolotaryov visited Ulan-Ude, the republican capital, on May 5 to discuss economic issues with Potapov in his current capacity as an aide to presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Anatoly Kvashnin, but did not meet with representatives of the political parties whose deputies will vote in the republican parliament on the choice of a new president. The second Putin nominee is Vladimir Bavlov, a deputy head of the Russian government agency for minerals and mining, who represented Buryatia on the Federation Council in 2000-01. Buryatia has a population of a little under 1 million, of whom two-thirds are Russians and only 27.8 percent Buryats. LF
 BRITISH POLITICAL, CULTURAL ELITE SLAMS RUSSIAN ABUSES IN CHECHNYAMore than 100 British luminaries have appended their signatures to a letter, published on May 7 in "The Independent," deploring "persistent human rights abuses and war crimes" in Chechnya and calling on President Putin to "take whatever action he can to restore peace and the rule of law." The signatories implicitly rejected Putin's argument that the installation of Ramzan Kadyrov as pro-Moscow republic head will expedite a return to peace and stability, pointing out that, on the contrary, Kadyrov's administration represents for the majority of Chechens "little more than a regime of fear and oppression." The signatories include the present and former leaders of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy and Menzies Campbell, and former Conservative Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind. LF
Transcaucasia And Central Asia
 TWO FORMER ARMENIAN MINISTERS QUESTIONED OVER ALLEGED MONEY LAUNDERINGThe apartments of two former Armenian ministers were searched on May 5, and they have both subsequently been charged with money laundering, Arminfo reported on May, quoting opposition Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party Chairman Aram Karapetian. Alexander Arzoumanian, who served from 1992-98 as foreign minister, and former Territorial Administration Minister Vahan Shirkhanian are both connected with the opposition Impeachment bloc that together with Nor Zhamanakner and Hanrapetutiun convened a mass meeting in Yerevan on May 3 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2007). Former parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian, who was present when Arzoumanian's apartment was searched, said it is "obvious" that the authorities are resorting to political repressions on the eve of the May 12 parliamentary election. LF
 AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CLAIMS ARMENIA HAS MADE CONCESSIONS OVER KARABAKH SETTLEMENTSpeaking on May 4 at the ceremonial inauguration of a new settlement near Baku for displaced persons who fled their homes during the Karabakh conflict, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev claimed that Armenia has made key concessions regarding how that conflict is to be resolved. Specifically, Aliyev claimed that Yerevan has agreed to relinquish over a period of several years control of seven Azerbaijani districts bordering on Nagorno-Karabakh, after which a decision will be taken on the disputed region's status within Azerbaijan. But both Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian and Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian denied later on May 4 that Yerevan's negotiating position has changed in any way. Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian explained in June 2006 that Armenian forces will not be withdrawn from Lacin and Kelbacar until after a referendum is held to determine Karabakh's future status (see "Nagarno-Karabakh: Mediators Take The Process Public," rferl.org, June 30, 2006). LF
 TWO AZERBAIJANI JOURNALISTS SENTENCEDBaku's Sabayil district court passed sentence on May 4 on journalist Rafiq Tagi and editor Samir Sadatoglu in connection with an article published in November 2006 in Sadatoglu's newspaper "Sanat," Azerbaijani media reported. The court deemed the publication of Tagi's article "Europe and Us," which discussed relations between Islam and Christianity, an attempt to incite religious hatred, and sentenced Tagi to three and Sadatoglu to four years' imprisonment. The press watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) issued a statement on May 4 branding the sentences "disproportionate" and an indication of the extent to which free speech in Azerbaijan is threatened. Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov told day.az on May 7 that RSF is "biased" in its assessments, and for that reason the Azerbaijani authorities will no longer cooperate with it. LF
 GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS HE WAS MISQUOTEDA statement posted on the website of the Georgian Foreign Ministry on May 4 claimed that remarks attributed to Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili by the "Financial Times" did not accurately reflect what he said, Caucasus Press reported. The British daily on May 2 quoted Bezhuashvili as saying that Tbilisi would respond positively to any U.S. request to discuss the possibility of Georgia hosting part of a proposed U.S. missile-defense shield. He reportedly said there would not be any domestic opposition to Georgia doing so, but at the same time stressed that to date Washington has not raised the issue with Georgia, even informally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007) The Foreign Ministry statement again stressed that no consultations have taken place between Tbilisi and Washington on the deployment, and that any speculation on the issue is "counterproductive." LF
 GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER MEETS WITH PRO-TBILISI SOUTH OSSETIAN POLITICAL LEADERNino Burjanadze traveled on May 4 to the village of Kurta near Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, for talks with Dmitry Sanakoyev, leader of the region's Georgian minority, Caucasus Press reported. As members of the National Movement- Democrats parliament majority faction did the previous day, Burjanadze discussed with Sanakoyev President Mikheil Saakashvili's plans to create a temporary administration for South Ossetia, which Sanakoyev would presumably head, and that would conclude an agreement with the Georgian government on returning the region to Georgian control (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2007). LF
 ABKHAZ LEADER MEETS WITH FRENCH DIPLOMATSPhilippe Lefort, who is France's ambassador to Georgia, traveled on May 4 with several senior French Foreign Ministry officials to Sukhum(i) for talks with Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized republic of Abkhazia, apsny.ru reported. Lefort hailed the release the previous day in what Bagapsh subsequently termed a "goodwill gesture" of three Georgian students detained in Abkhazia in early March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2007), and he urged the Abkhaz side to resume talks with Georgia on a political solution of the conflict. Abkhazia suspended participation in those UN-mediated talks following the deployment last year of Georgian Interior Ministry troops to the upper Kodori Gorge and has said it will return to the negotiating table only after those forces leave. Bagapsh on May 4 also singled out as a further precondition for resuming talks the departure from Kodori of the so-called Abkhaz government in exile, which comprises Georgian members of the Abkhaz government who fled Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war. LF
 SWISS TO TRANSFER BLOCKED FUNDS TO KAZAKHSTANSwitzerland will transfer $84 million in previously blocked assets to Kazakhstan to benefit "needy children," AP reported on May 5, quoting a statement from Switzerland's Foreign Ministry. Paul Seger, the head of the ministry's international law department, said the funds will be transferred as part of a deal between U.S. authorities and an unidentified businessman. The statement apparently refers to more than $78 million in bribes U.S. businessman James Giffen is alleged to have made to senior Kazakh officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 2003). Giffen was indicted in 2003 and is currently awaiting trial in the United States. DK
 MINISTER SAYS KAZAKHSTAN SUPPORTS TURKMENISTAN-CHINA PIPELINE PROJECTKazakh Energy Minister Baktykozha Izmukhambetov told Interfax on May 4 that Kazakhstan supports the construction of a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China through Kazakhstan. Izmukhambetov said that Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov "specifically discussed the issue of the route of the future gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China" on a recent visit to Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 3, 2007). Izmukhambetov added, "We have various proposals and options. If the option [of building the gas pipeline] through Uzbekistan directly through southern Kazakhstan and on to China is passed, we also have some of our own proposals." Turkmenistan and China signed a framework agreement in 2006 to build a pipeline to export Turkmen gas to China by 2009 with an annual capacity of 30 billion cubic meters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 4, 2006). DK
 DAUGHTER OF KYRGYZ EX-PRESIDENT FACES CHARGESProsecutors in Chuy Province on May 5 charged Bermet Akaeva, daughter of former Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev, with obstruction of justice, contempt of court, and the destruction of documents, ferghana.ru and news agency 24.kg reported. Prosecutor Jumadyl Makeshov said the charges stemmed from the actions of Akaeva's supporters in Kemin during her disputed bid to run in an April 29 parliamentary by-election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 26 and 30, 2007). Akaeva signed a statement agreeing not to leave Bishkek and to remain home at night. In a statement to 24.kg on May 5, ex-president Akaev said, "I am sure that these charges have no legal grounds. It is painful for me to see that she has been subjected to unprecedented moral and physical torture since 28 April." DK
 TAJIK PRESIDENT VISITS QATARTajik President Emomali Rahmon met with Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in Qatar on May 6 to discuss bilateral relations, the "Gulf Times" reported the next day. The two leaders' talks focused on attracting Qatari and Arab investment in Tajikistan, and in particular the country's hydroelectric power sector, Tajik television reported. The countries' foreign ministers and chambers of commerce signed memoranda of cooperation during the visit. DK
 TURKMENISTAN HOPES FOR COOPERATION WITH U.S. OIL COMPANYTurkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov told managers from U.S.-based Chevron on May 3 that he would like Chevron to take part in exploration, oil refining, and development projects in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea, turkmenistan.ru reported. The meeting in Ashgabat was attended by Guy Hollingsworth, managing director of Chevron Eurasia, and Ian MacDonald, who heads Chevron's Russian operations, "The Moscow Times" reported. No further details were provided in the official Turkmen report, but a Chevron spokesman said in a statement, "We believe Turkmenistan has all the opportunities for becoming one of the world's oil majors and hope Chevron will be capable of rendering support to the development of the Turkmen oil and gas sector." DK
 TURKMENISTAN HOLDS 'DEFENSIVE' WAR GAMESTurkmenistan's armed forces held tactical exercises known as Galkan-2007 (Shield-2007) near Ashgabat on May 4, Turkmen television reported. Berdymukhammedov, who attended the exercises, described the country's military doctrine as "defensive." Official Turkmen reports did not provide details on the number of troops involved in the war games. DK
 EU VOICES CONCERN AT UZBEK VERDICTSIn a statement on May 4, the German-held Presidency of the European Union voiced "great concern" at the recent sentencing of rights activists Gulbahor Turaeva and Umida Niyazova in Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25 and May 2, 2007). The statement condemned the Uzbek authorities' refusal to allow international observers to attend the trials and urged a review of the sentences. The statement concluded, "The two sentences send a worrying signal by Uzbekistan [with regard to] an EU decision on whether to renew specific sanctions adopted in 2005 in relation to the Andijon tragedy, and while Uzbekistan has agreed to hold a dialogue with the EU on human rights." DK
 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER FINED FOR UNSANCTIONED MARCHA district court in Minsk on May 4 found Anatol Lyaukovich, acting chairman of the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), guilty of participation in an unauthorized march on May 1, Belapan reported. The court imposed a fine of 620,000 rubles ($290). According to the court, the opposition was authorized to hold a Labor Day rally in Peoples' Friendship Park in Minsk, but the march to the park was held without permission. JM
 BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER MEETS WITH POLISH PRESIDENTAlyaksandr Milinkevich, chairman of the Belarusian opposition's Political Council of Pro-democratic Forces, met with Polish President Lech Kaczynski in Warsaw on May 4, Belapan reported. "We discussed the role that Poland could play in the democratization of Belarus... I emphasized the need for the Polish ambassador to return to Belarus, as, in my opinion, this would improve our bilateral relations," Milinkevich said after the meeting. Henryk Litwin, who was appointed Poland's ambassador to Belarus in February 2006, has not yet taken up his duties because of strained diplomatic relations between the two countries. Kaczynski reportedly assured to Milinkevich that Poland will continue its programs providing assistance to Belarusian students expelled from universities and Belarusians expelled from jobs for political reasons. JM
 UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER AGREE ON EARLY PARLIAMENTARY POLLS...President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych told journalists in Kyiv on May 4 that they have agreed to hold early parliamentary elections, Ukrainian media reported. "In order to hold [elections] in a democratic and fair way, we have to go through all pre-election procedures," Yushchenko said. "The whole technological process has to be considered, which includes holding party conventions, registering party lists, setting up district commissions, printing campaign materials, and taking other steps necessary for the preparation of democratic elections. This may take up to 60 days," Yushchenko noted. Yanukovych said, "The main goal of our joint decision is to hold fair and democratic elections. What should be done for that? We will now give instructions to the working group, which will work out an algorithm of actions for members of parliament, actions that will help stabilize the situation in the country." An anticrisis working group established to prepare a "political compromise package" between the president, the prime minister, and parliament is expected to deliver the results of its work on May 7. Yushchenko suggested he may suspend his April 26 decree dissolving the Verkhovna Rada for a short time in order to give lawmakers the opportunity to pass legislation needed to start the election campaign. JM
 ...AND PREMIER CALLS ON PARLIAMENT TO SANCTION EARLY ELECTIONS...Prime Minister Yanukovych said in Kyiv on May 7 that the decision to hold early elections should be approved by the Verkhovna Rada, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "It is a political issue, it should be subject to a vote in parliament... It should be approved by all participants in the political process, primarily by political parties," Yanukovych noted. Yanukovych reiterated his earlier stance that President Yushchenko was not justified in dissolving the Verkhovna Rada. The prime minister emphasized that parliament should work "continuously" if early elections are to be held "within the legal framework." Yanukovych said the "algorithm" he proposed to Yushchenko on May 4 to solve the institutional crisis included the preparation of "all necessary laws" for holding new elections and a vote in parliament on the expediency of early polls. JM
 ...WHILE UKRAINIAN SPEAKER PROPOSES NEW COALITION INSTEAD OF SNAP VOTEParliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz said in Kyiv on May 7 that instead of organizing new elections, Prime Minister Yanukovych's Party of Regions and the Our Ukraine party of President Yushchenko could create a new coalition government, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, pravda.com.ua, reported. According to Moroz, fresh elections will produce "almost the same" Verkhovna Rada as those in March 2006. Moroz said his Socialist Party could quit the current ruling coalition with the Party of Regions and the Communist Party to make such a solution to the political standoff possible. In an apparently sarcastic comment, Moroz asserted that a "blue-orange" coalition could be "cheaper" as well as "more honest and comprehensible to voters" than early polls. "If [the Party of Regions and Our Ukraine] fail to agree straight away, one month after the termination of the [current] coalition the president will obtain the [legal] foundation for holding early elections in accordance with the constitution, without cheating. The head of state will have no need...to say things that are inconsistent with the constitution and rights," Moroz added. JM
 SERBIAN COALITION TALKS DEADLOCKED...Following last-minute negotiations and with only one week left before early elections become necessary, talks on a new Western-looking government for Serbia appear to have broken down, local media reported May 3, 4, and 6. Talks about a possible three-party coalition appear to have floundered on the division of key security posts between President Boris Tadic's Democrats (DS), Serbia's second-largest party and the largest party in the potential coalition, and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). The divisions appear to have been sharp, with a May 4 report in the daily "Blic" indicating that Tadic walked out of one set of talks, on May 3, after just 20 minutes. Subsequent meetings on May 4 and May 6 produced no change. Tadic indicated on May 3 that he sees little prospect of sucess, telling the news agency FoNet: "I was prepared to invite the current prime minister to continue to be premier. In the past few days I was prepared to compromise even further, in order for us to form a government and to move forward. But that wasn't enough." Tadic called the offer of the premier's seat to Kostunica "a huge compromise," but said he could not countenance a demand by the DSS-NS that it should control the country's defense ministry, the police, and the security services, FoNet reported on May 4. That argument was sharply rejected by Kostunica, "Blic" reported on May 4. "Carla Del Ponte is not going to arrange things in the state," Kostunica said, referring to the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), who has been sharply critical of Serbia's perceived lack of cooperation with the UN court. Kostunica has also taken a more hawkish position than Tadic during talks about the future of the UN-administered Serbian province of Kosova. Tadic warned on May 4 that failure to form a coalition between the DS and the DSS-NS would endanger Serbs and Serbia's "capacity to defend" Kosova, FoNet reported. AG
 ...RAISING SPECTER OF NATIONALIST GOVERNMENT...The deadlock may open the way to a nationalist government, Serbian political analysts believe. The DSS's coalition partner, New Serbia (NS), on May 5 said it is prepared to support a minority government by the country's largest party, the Serbian Radical Party (SRS), a possibility it raised in late April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 27, 2007). Serbian television on May 5 quoted New Serbia's leader, Velimir Ilic, as saying that he would support the acting leader of the SRS, Tomislav Nikolic, for the premiership. A government led by the fiercely nationalist SRS, whose leader, Vojislav Seselj, is currently on trial at the ICTY, would set back Serbia's relationship with the EU, which has effectively been on ice for a year. However, the SRS has on a number of occasions in the past week denied reports that it will enter government. Under the constitution, a government must by formed by May 14. If not, new elections must be called. The consensus view among analysts is that nationalists and extremists would be most likely to gain if new elections were held. AG
 ...WHILE EU PUSHES FOR 'DEMOCRATIC' GOVERNMENTGerman Chancellor Angela Merkel called on May 4 for Serbia to form a democratic government that reflects the wishes expressed by Serbs in January's elections, the news agency dpa reported the same day. Merkel, the holder of the EU's rotating Presidency, is currently the most senior leader in the EU. "The chancellor believes the European future [of Serbia] is linked to the creation of a democratic government and cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in the Hague," the dpa quoted Merkel's spokesman, Ulrich Wilhelm, as saying. In Serbia, a "democratic" government is generally understood as a government that excludes the SRS and the Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) founded by the late Slobodan Milosevic. Two of the bones of contention in coalition talks in Belgrade -- the DSS-NS's insistence that the Interior Ministry remain under the control of Dragan Jocic and the security services under the leadership of Rade Bulatovic -- are directly relevant to the EU's insistence on greater cooperation with the ICTY. Serbian President Tadic told the news agency FoNet on May 4 that "my attitude is very clear: one party, the DSS in this case, cannot control the BIA [Security Information Agency] and police at the same time, above all because we have not implemented enough reforms in that sector, and we have not had talks on the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU over the past year due to a lack of cooperation with the Hague tribunal," the ICTY. The EU froze talks with Serbia in May 2006 because of Belgrade's failure to hand over the wartime military commander of the Bosnian Serbs, Ratko Mladic. The DS has indicated that, under its control, the Interior Ministry and the secret services would make a quick and concerted effort to arrest Mladic. The growing possibility of a nationalist government would also add to concerns about Belgrade's response if Kosova were granted independence by the UN or unilaterally declared its independence. AG
 SERBIAN POLICE ARREST MILITIASerbian police on May 5 arrested 27 nationalists who had gathered to volunteer to prevent Kosova gaining independence from Serbia, local and international media reported the same day. They were arrested for wearing T-shirts with symbols of the Red Berets, a now-disbanded special police unit implicated in the murder in 2000 of former President Ivan Stambolic and formed by the late President Slobodan Milosevic from paramilitary groups that fought in Bosnia and Croatia. Reports indicate that uniforms and symbols reminiscent of those worn by paramilitary groups during the Balkan wars were common among the group of around 200 nationalists who converged on the town of Krusevac on May 5. At a ceremony held outside an Orthodox church, the men officially formed the Guard of St. Tsar Lazar. The purpose of the militia is indicated by its name -- Lazar led Serbian troops in the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 -- and the subsequent beatification of "Tsar" Lazar is indicative of his place in Serbian cultural memory. The militia appears to have been formed in part at the instigation of a minor parliamentary party, the Movement of Serbian Veterans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, 2007). The daily "Dnevnik" on May 4 quoted one of the group's founders, Zeljko Vasiljevic, a Movement of Serbian Veterans member of parliament, as saying that "after any form of independence of Kosovo is declared, this Christian militia will become operational and send its fighters to Serbia's southern province, Kosova -- where they would not fight the Albanian people but the Albanian 'Al-Qaeda.'" The group says that it has registered 5,000 volunteers around the country. AG
 GERMANY WARNS KOSOVA AGAINST UNILATERAL DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE...German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung on May 4 expressed confidence that the UN Security Council will back a proposal granting Kosova independence from Serbia, Radio-Television Kosova reported the same day. However, the AP also quoted Jung as saying that "a unilateral declaration of independence would be a mistake for the moment," and as urging Kosovars to be patient in their pursuit of independence. "Our goal is to finish discussions [on a UN resolution] by the end of May," Jung said. Germany itself is not a member of the Security Council, but it is nonetheless a key player in international efforts to resolve the status of Kosova. Germany is one of the six members of the Contact Group leading diplomatic efforts, currently holds the EU's Presidency, and German diplomats head the international community's missions in Kosova and in Bosnia. Jung was in Kosova to visit German troops in the roughly 16,000-strong NATO-led force in the region. Of the 35 states that have sent troop contingents to Kosova, Germany has one of the largest. The current number -- which changes each week -- is roughly 2,300. A number of European states have warned against a unilateral declaration of independence, but the United States has made clear it would support such a move if the Security Council were to veto the UN blueprint (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 18, 27, and 30, 2007). AG
 ...WHILE KOSOVA SECURES FRESH SUPPORT IN UNAnother member of the 15-strong UN Security Council has said it will back a UN proposal granting Kosova independence from Serbia, Kosovar media reported on May 3. Radio-Television Kosovo reported that an unnamed Panamanian official has assured Veton Surroi, a member of the team negotiating Kosova's future, that Panama supports the plan drawn up by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari and believes that a decision should be made now instead of reopening talks. Surroi also indicated after meeting with Panama's deputy foreign minister, Ricardo Duran, that this is Panama's official position. To pass, the plan requires Russia and China not to veto the plan, and a total of nine votes. The extent of support for the proposal is unclear. The United States and the EU have both backed the proposal for supervised independence for Kosova. Together, Washington and EU member states have six votes. However, Slovakia's political elite has sent mixed signals, and Kosovar Albanian media recently reported with concern a May 3 commentary in the German newspaper "Frankfurter Rundschau" that claimed, without providing sources, that Slovakia -- along with Russia -- will "definitely" oppose such a proposal. If Slovakia votes with its EU peers and Panama backs the proposal, a resolution would require two additional votes from among China, Congo, Ghana, Indonesia, Peru, Qatar, Russia, and South Africa. AG
 FRACTURES EMERGE IN ALBANIAN GOVERNMENTSigns that Albania's government is increasingly shaky were compounded on May 4 when a junior member of the coalition suspended its support for Prime Minister Sali Berisha's Democratic Party. Local media reported that the Christian Democrats decided to freeze all contact with the Democrats because the latter have breached an agreement not to put up a candidate in one district in February's local elections. Though a member of the coalition government, the Christian Democrats hold no portfolios in the government, and control just two seats in the 140-member parliament. However, the rift within the coalition comes at a particularly inopportune moment for Berisha. The Democrats have in recent days also suffered from the resignation of the foreign minister and, on May 3, from the defection of one of their members of parliament, Gillman Bakalli, who is now widely expected to join the Christian Democrats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2007). Meanwhile, Berisha is seeking to win support from the opposition for his candidate for the presidency, but members of the leading opposition party, the Socialists, are calling increasingly loudly for early parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2007). Berisha told local media on May 3 that early general elections are "a last option." Albanians last voted in parliamentary elections in July 2005. Parliament is scheduled to elect a new president in June. U.S. President George Bush is due to arrive in Albania on June 10, putting extra pressure on Albania's politicians to reach a consensus on their choice of president. AG
 SLOVAK TOUTED AS BOSNIA'S NEXT HIGH REPRESENTATIVEThe Bosnian daily "Dnevni avaz" reported on May 7 that diplomatic sources have indicated the international community's next high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina is expected to be a Slovak, Miroslav Lajcak. The current high representative, German diplomat Christian Schwarz-Schilling, is due to leave office in June. Lajcak, currently the political head of Slovakia's Foreign Ministry, served as the EU's envoy to Montenegro in the run-up to its referendum supporting independence from Serbia, and has been Slovakia's ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). AG
 UN REOPENS DOOR FOR SACKED BOSNIAN POLICEHigh Representative Schwarz-Schilling has welcomed as "the best solution possible" a May 2 UN Security Council ruling that hundreds of Bosnian police officers sacked in 2002 may apply to rejoin the police force, "Dnevni avaz" reported on May 4. The men were removed from their posts at the initiative of the UN's International Police Task Force (IPTF), which was mandated to reform and develop the country's police forces. Schwarz-Schilling had originally called for a review by the Venice Commission, a body that advises the Council of Europe on constitutional law. The IPTF, which oversaw policing in the country from 1996 to 2002, had fired 700 officers. The legal case against the sacking was brought by 265 officers, who are now free to reapply. The Bosnian government established a commission to review the cases in 2006. Bosnia's politicians are currently embroiled in protracted discussions about reforming and unifying the country's various independent police forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 15 and 22, 2007). However, there have been signs of cooperation in efforts to ensure that law-enforcement agencies do not employ people implicated in the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslim civilians at Srebrenica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 25, 2007). Those efforts moved forward recently with the creation of a special unit in the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) to investigate the Srebrenica massacre, "Dnevni avaz" reported on May 4. AG
 POLICE DENY BOSNIAN MUSLIM PRESIDENT UNDER INVESTIGATIONBosnia-Herzegovina's Interior Ministry on May 6 dismissed a newspaper report claiming that the Bosnian Muslim representative in the country's three-member presidency, Haris Silajdzic, is under investigation for involvement in arms smuggling, Croatian news service javno.hr reported the same day. An article published on May 5 in the Bosnian Serb daily "Nezavisne novine" quoted unnamed police sources as saying Silajdzic had taken a percentage from millions of dollars' worth of arms supposedly smuggled into the former Soviet Union and Africa. The period in which the alleged deals were struck is unclear. Silajdzic was Bosnia's foreign minister during the country's 1992-95 civil war, and won a seat in the Bosnian Presidency following elections last October. AG
 RUSSIA DECORATES TRANSDNIESTER'S LEADERRussia on May 3 made Igor Smirnov, the leader of the separatist government of Transdniester, a member of its Order of Honor, the Moldovan press agency Basa and the Transdniestrian website tiraspol.info reported. Basa said Smirnov has become the sixth person to be awarded the distinction of an Order of Honor, Grade I. Smirnov received the decoration "for strengthening friendship among nations, developing democracy, strengthening the position of Transdniester on the international level, and strengthening ties between Transdniester and Russia." The award is another sign of Russia's support for Smirnov's administration, whose bloody fight for independence from Moldova was ended in 1992 by the arrival of Russian peacekeepers. Russian forces have remained in the area ever since, despite promising in 1993 and 1999 to withdraw. A recent report by the Jamestown Foundation suggested that Russia and Moldova in mid-April were on the brink of signing a bilateral deal that would reintegrate Transdniester into Moldova, but with very extensive autonomy and with a guarantee of Moldovan neutrality (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 23, 2007). However, during a trip to Chisinau on April 27, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia David Kramer said he has "received clear assurances from the Moldovan authorities that no plan on settling the Transdniestrian dispute was presented to them" by Russia, according to a report by the news agency IPN from the same day. Countering commonly held perceptions, a columnist for Moldovan newspaper "Vremea" argued on May 3 that Smirnov is "in disgrace" with Moscow, which is allegedly angry at the misuse of financial support and wishes to convince Transdniester to form a single state with Moldova. AG
 MOLDOVA REOPENS CASE OF JAILED DEFENSE MINISTERMoldova's Supreme Court ruled on May 3 that an appeals court should again hear the case against Valeriu Pasat, a jailed former defense minister, the news agency Basa reported the same day. Pasat was sentenced to 10 years in jail in January 2006 after being found guilty chiefly of selling 21 fighter planes to the United States at a price more than $50 million below their market value (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 19, 2006). An appeals court overturned that charge in October, but found him guilty of negligence for selling grenade launchers to Slovakia at a discount of $1.8 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18, 2006). Both the prosecution and defense objected to that ruling, and turned to the Supreme Court. Pasat, who served as defense minister from 1997 to 1999 and head of the intelligence services from 1999 to 2002, was also indicted in February 2006 for plotting both a coup and the murder of a senior politician (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 16, 2006. AG
Southwestern Asia And The Middle East
 AFGHAN SPEAKER SAYS MUJAHEDIN TARGETED FOR ASSASSINATIONMohammad Yunos Qanuni, the speaker of the Afghan National Assembly's Wolesi Jirga (People's Council), has charged that in the past five years, public figures belonging to mujahedin parties have been targeted for assassination, Kabul-based Ariana TV reported on May 5. Pointing to the recent murder of Hajji Abdul Sabur Farid, a member of the upper house of the National Assembly and a former prime minister during mujahedin rule, Qanuni said that a "specific political program to murder jihadi figures in Afghanistan is being implemented" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2007). Qanuni also claimed that 31 jihadists have been killed in Herat Province in western Afghanistan in the last month alone. Officials in Herat, however, rejected Qanuni's claim, Herat-based Radio Sahar reported on May 6. Herat police chief Sayyed Shafiq Fazli denied Qanuni's statements, asserting that any such claim should be based on evidence. Fazli said that 15 murders have occurred in Herat in the last six months, of which six were "jihadi commanders and former jihadi fighters," but he said that the motives behind those murders were personal. AT
 AFGHAN NATIONAL ASSEMBLY CONDEMNS CIVILIAN CASUALTIESIn a general meeting on May 5 in Kabul, the Wolesi Jirga condemned recent civilian deaths in operations carried out by U.S.-led coalition forces, state-run National Afghanistan Television reported. Wolesi Jirga speaker Qanuni condemned the bombardments and shootings by U.S. troops in eastern and western Afghanistan, saying the strikes led to the "martyrdom and injury of defenseless people." Qanuni prayed for the departed and asked their relatives for patience (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 30, May 2 and 3, 2007). AT
 THIRTEEN AFGHAN POLICE KILLED IN AMBUSH AND SUICIDE BOMBINGEight police officers were killed in a gun battle with suspected Taliban fighters in Bakwa district of the western Farah Province on May 5, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Farah police chief Sayyed Agha Saqeb told the news agency that the fighting broke out when around 100 Taliban fighters attacked the police officers. A purported Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusof Ahmadi, told Pazhwak that 15 police officers and three Taliban fighters were killed in the battle. Meanwhile, a website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- reported on May 6 that in a "sacrifice" operation, a "mujahedin" of the Islamic Emirate killed five police officers in Farah Province. According to the website, the attacker, a Farah resident named Sa'id Ahmad, rammed his bomb-laden vehicle into a police car on the road between the Farahrod district and the provincial capital. AT
 ROGUE AFGHAN SOLDIER KILLS TWO U.S. SERVICEMENA man wearing an Afghan National Army (ANA) uniform killed two U.S. servicemen and wounded two others on the outskirts of Kabul on May 6, AP reported. U.S. Major Sheldon Smith said all "indications are that the shooter was an ANA soldier." The incident occurred outside the top-security Pol-e Charkhi prison, which is being refurbished to house Afghans currently held at the U.S. detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The U.S. service personnel were working as mentors to ANA forces who provide security to the prison. Other ANA troops killed the attacker. AT
 IRAN DISSATISFIED WITH NUCLEAR TREATY TALKSIran has effectively blocked an ongoing round of multilateral talks designed to boost the legal framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), Reuters reported on May 6. The news agency said Iran accused Western powers of formulating an agenda for discussion specifically biased against its nuclear program, and refused to vote for the agenda, which is to be the basis for future annual discussions by NPT signatories. Iranian officials objected to part of the wording of the UN-organized meeting's present agenda, specifically the phrase "reaffirming the need for full compliance," which its representative said is a bid by Western powers to highlight its alleged noncompliance with nonproliferation rules. South Africa has reworded the disputed section to meet Iran's demand for an equal emphasis on the Western powers' disarmament, proposing "reaffirming the need for full compliance with all provisions" of the treaty. Iran is to consider the new wording, Reuters reported. The NPT seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and seeks to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to bring about the disarmament of current nuclear powers. The NPT meeting, which runs from April 30 to May 11, is to determine topics for more detailed annual discussions in the run-up to the NPT Review Conference in 2010. VS
 IRANIAN FINANCE BODY WOULD WELCOME FOREIGN BANKSIran's Money and Credit Council is to present parliament with a proposal to allow the opening of foreign banks in Iran, the formation of banks with joint Iranian-foreign ownership, and the purchase of Iranian bank shares by foreign investors, "Etemad" reported on May 7. The initiative, which the council approved at a May 5 meeting, is seen as part of privatization and economic liberalization plans in line with Article 44 of Iran's constitution. The deputy head of the Central Bank for economic affairs, Akbar Komeijani, said in Tehran on May 6 that the bill is to be sent by the Central Bank to the government, then to parliament for ratification. It would then have to be approved by the Guardians Council, a body of senior jurists that must approve all legislation. Komeijani said foreign banking activity in Iran would be a historic first. He said that while the law does not specifically forbid foreign banks to operate in Iran, the nationalization of banks following the 1979 revolution and several years of economic uncertainty resulted in a legal "silence" on the position of foreign banks in Iran, "Etemad" reported. VS
 MINISTRY REPORTEDLY INTERROGATES FORMER DIPLOMATIran's Intelligence Ministry is interrogating Hussein Musavian, the former diplomat and nuclear negotiator arrested on May 1 and suspected of passing secret information to foreign entities, Radio Farda reported on May 5, citing Iranian reports and the Tehran chief prosecutor, Said Mortazavi. Mortazavi told ISNA that the Intelligence Ministry was the body currently dealing with his case. Radio Farda cited the Fars news agency as saying that Musavian is in the security wing of the Evin prison in Tehran. Kazem Jalali, a member of parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said in Tehran on May 6 that the committee discussed the arrest extensively that day and invited Intelligence Minister Gholahussein Mohseni-Ejei to attend the committee on May 7 to provide explanations, "Iran" reported on May 7. VS
 AL-JAZEERA ANGERS IRANIAN LEGISLATORSIranian legislators responded angrily on May 6 to a talk show -- broadcast by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera network -- that was seen as insulting to top Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Hussein Ali al-Sistani, who is also respected in Iran, AFP and IRNA reported. The news agencies quoted parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel as saying the network would be banned from the Tehran legislature until it apologized for the unnamed program. Six members of parliament on May 6 asked for the broadcaster's expulsion from Iran for what they termed disrespect for Shi'ite religious authorities and bias in favor of "takfiri terrorists," a reference to some Iraqi insurgents, the "Etemad" daily reported on May 7. This is not the first time the network has angered Iranian authorities, AFP reported. In April 2005, the Iranian authorities closed Al-Jazeera's offices in the country for 14 months amid accusations that its reports were fanning discontent among the Arab population in southwest Iran. VS
 IRANIAN MINISTER MEETS WITH KURDISH OFFICIALInterior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi met in Tehran on May 6 with the Kurdistan regional prime minister, Nechirvan Barzani, and discussed bilateral cooperation between their administrations, IRNA reported. Purmohammadi said after the meeting that the two sides agreed to increase cooperation on security, cross-border trade, pilgrimages, and tourism, and on unspecified areas in education and science. Purmohammadi said he does not presently recommend that Iranians visit Iraq on pilgrimages to Shi'ite shrines. Barzani separately said that his administration has done all it can so far to help release five Iranian agents arrested by U.S. forces in Irbil in Iraq's Kurdish region in January. He also said that Iranian consulates will soon open and begin work in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah, IRNA reported. VS
 AL-QAEDA LEADER MOCKS U.S. 'FAILURE' IN IRAQ...A video posted on the Internet on May 5 shows deputy Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri deriding the United States and saying the recent congressional bill calling for a troop pullout from Iraq was proof of an imminent U.S. defeat, international media reported the same day. "This bill would deprive us of the opportunity to destroy the American forces that we have caught in a historic trap," al-Zawahiri said. "We ask Allah that they [U.S. troops] only get out after losing 200,000 to 300,000 killed, so that we give the spillers of blood in Washington and Europe an unforgettable lesson," he said. Al-Zawahiri also mocked the ongoing Baghdad security operation, saying that the April 12 suicide attack in the Iraqi parliament cafeteria that killed a Sunni lawmaker was an indication that the plan was not succeeding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2007). "And lest Bush worry, I congratulate him on the success of his security plan, and I invite him on the occasion for a glass of juice, but in the cafeteria of the Iraqi parliament in the middle of the Green Zone," he said. SS
 ...AS RECORDING OF 'SLAIN' AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ LEADER APPEARS ONLINEAn audio recording purportedly made by Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir, who was reported to have been killed in factional fighting earlier this month, was posted on a jihadist website on May 5, international media reported. On the recording, a speaker identified as al-Muhajir -- also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri -- denied that a rift exists between Sunni militant groups. "What you hear in the news on satellite channels about fighting between us and jihadist groups or with our blessed tribes is just lies and fabrication. It is a desperate attempt to divide the jihadist ranks," the speaker said. On May 1, the Iraqi government announced that al-Muhajir and several other Al-Qaeda militants were killed by tribesmen from Al-Anbar Governorate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 2, 2007). The speaker also calls Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi, the leader of the Iraqi Islamic Party, a "criminal" for calling on U.S. forces to remain in Iraq. "The leaders of the Islamic Party are traitors; we say it frankly and openly before God that we will not be pushed to fight them in side battles that serve only the occupiers." The authenticity of the recording and the date it was made could not be verified. SS
 SURVEY FINDS MANY U.S. FORCES IN IRAQ CONDONE USE OF TORTUREA U.S. military survey focusing on ethics among U.S. troops in Iraq found widespread tolerance for the use of torture, the BBC reported on May 4. The survey, which was conducted by an army mental health advisory team, questioned more than 1,700 soldiers between August and October 2006, and examined their views toward torture and the Iraqi civilian population. The team found that nearly one-third of U.S. troops condoned the use of torture if it would help save the life of a fellow soldier or yield information about insurgent activities. Approximately 10 percent acknowledged they had mistreated Iraqi civilians by hitting or kicking them, or had damaged their property when it was not necessary to do. The survey also discovered that soldiers who suffered from anxiety, depression, or stress were more likely to engage in unethical behavior, together with those who had had a compatriot in their unit wounded or killed. SS
 ROADSIDE BOMB KILLS SIX U.S. SOLDIERS IN IRAQThe U.S. military announced that six U.S. soldiers and a journalist were killed when a roadside bomb destroyed their vehicle in Diyala Governorate on May 6. The U.S. military said the journalist was European and worked for a news organization that did not have a permanent presence in Baghdad. The deaths raised the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 to 3,376. Meanwhile, on the same day, a car bombing near a crowded market in the Baghdad neighborhood of Bayya killed 33 people and wounded more than 80, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported. In the town of Yathrib in the Salah Al-Din Governorate, Iraqi and U.S. forces were conducting searches after police commander Jabr al-Tamimi was assassinated on May 5, Al-Jazeera.net reported on May 6. "Al-Tamimi was visiting a water purification project in the al-Bujaili district in Yathrib when he was attacked by gunmen and riddled with bullets," an unidentified police official said. SS
 COALITION FORCES DISCOVER 'TORTURE ROOM' IN AL-SADR CITYThe U.S. military announced in a statement on May 6 that coalition forces discovered a room used to torture captives and destroyed a large weapons cache while searching for terrorists in Al-Sadr City. The statement said the predawn raid targeted suspected members of a terrorist cell known for smuggling sophisticated bombs from Iran into Iraq. Troops found 150 mortar rounds, ammunition, and material used to make improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the same building as the torture room. The forces later destroyed the explosives and material in a controlled blast. "Coalition forces continue to target terrorists who use torture, improvised explosives devices, and facilitate the training of those who would use the same methods," said U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Garver. "We continue to strike at the networks around Iraq that disregard the safety of all Iraqis." SS
 IRAQ ASKS QATAR TO MUZZLE AL-JAZEERAIraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari called on the Qatari government to intervene and stop what he described as "the Al-Jazeera news channel's campaign against the government and people of Iraq," Voices of Iraq reported on May 6. A statement by Zebari accused the satellite television channel of hosting "terrorist leaders" and "insulting the national Iraqi symbols in its programs and news bulletins." Al-Jazeera has been banned from Iraq and its offices in the country have been closed for nearly two years, but it continues to anger government officials. "The majority of Iraqis believe that the material televised by Al-Jazeera TV about Iraq is interference in the country's internal affairs, and nourishes, to a great extent, incitation of terrorism," Zebari said. SS
 DID ANKARA DECLARATION MARK A GENUINE BREAKTHROUGH?By Amin Tarzi
The Afghan and Pakistani presidents accepted an invitation recently from their Turkish counterpart to visit Ankara in an effort to smooth rocky relations between Kabul and Islamabad.
After a tete-a-tete and a public meeting that included their Turkish host, Presidents Hamid Karzai and Pervez Musharraf issued guidelines to improve Afghan-Pakistani relations in the so-called Ankara Declaration.
Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer's initiative to bring together Karzai and Musharraf followed months of feuding between Kabul and Islamabad. The Afghan side had accused Pakistan of doing too little to stop cross-border infiltrations by insurgents and terrorists, or even aiding antigovernment forces in Afghanistan. Pakistani officials had countered that Afghanistan's own shortcomings have provided a foothold and allowed militants to transform their momentum into a populist movement.
According to the Ankara Declaration, the Afghan and Pakistani leaders agreed to build on a joint press statement that was issued in September 2006, when Musharraf visited Kabul. They agreed that terrorism is a "common threat" and vowed to "deny sanctuary, training, and financing to terrorists and to elements involved in subversive and anti-state activities" in either country. They also pledged to "initiate... specific intelligence exchanges in this regard."
Musharraf and Karzai committed themselves to enhancing confidence-building measures by establishing a "Joint Working Group" with high-level participation from both countries and from Turkey.
In the Ankara Declaration, Karzai and Musharraf also "expressed concern at the alarming increase in poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and underlined the connection between terrorism, drug-trafficking, and organized crime in the region."
Taken at face value, the Ankara Declaration addresses Kabul's most pressing charge -- that Pakistan is providing sanctuary and training facilities for what Afghan officials describe as "enemies of Afghanistan" or "enemies of peace and security."
Notably, the text avoids Islamabad's recent insistence that Kabul put an end to finger-pointing. But the reference to the September statement indirectly highlights Pakistan's concern. At the end of his visit to Kabul at the time, Musharraf appealed to his Afghan hosts to stop blaming Pakistan for all that was taking place in Afghanistan. He said such accusations affect the Pakistani and Afghan peoples' "brotherly relations."
In the face of increasing international awareness that some opponents of the Karzai administration and its foreign backers are supported by elements within the Pakistani military-intelligence establishment, Islamabad appears to be seeking an end to the blame game as a primary strategy to quiet critics.
Pakistan's strategy is to suggest that the Taliban resurgence is not the main cause of Afghanistan's problems, but is a symptom of a lack of governance and a sense of hopelessness. Musharraf angered Afghan authorities when -- less than a week after his trip to Kabul in September -- he told the European Parliament in Brussels that the "the real danger... lies in the emergence and further strengthening of the Taliban, because they have the seeds of converting and drawing the population to them and converting this into a national war by the Pashtuns against maybe all foreign forces."
In the Ankara Declaration, Pakistan was unable to include allusions to the weakness of the Afghan state as such. But it was able to link the widespread production of narcotics in Afghanistan -- a sign of weakness on Afghanistan's part -- to terrorism.
Turkish efforts to encourage Musharraf and Karzai to resolve their differences come after more than a year of high-level mudslinging.
The mutual good will expressed in Kabul in September was short-lived. It ended promptly with Musharraf's speech in Brussels. Later, during the UN General Assembly in New York, both men identified the other's country as the main focal point of terrorist activities. Karzai insisted that the hubs of terrorism were located outside Afghanistan's borders, while Musharraf accused his counterpart of unfamiliarity with the "environment" in which terrorism flourishes in Afghanistan.
By the end of September 2006, both presidents found themselves in Washington as guests of U.S. President George W. Bush. That meeting -- in many ways similar to the gathering in Ankara -- had all the hallmarks of the peacemaking efforts involving Israeli and Palestinian leaders. In Washington, as in Ankara, while Karzai and Musharraf dined and talked, their body language reflected the ongoing war of words. It is significant that the leaders of two key states in the global counterterrorism effort neither shook hands nor spoke with each other in public.
In Ankara, Sezer lifted the Afghan and Pakistani presidents' arms in a gesture of victory. But what followed was more equivocal.
On his way home from Turkey, the Pakistani president described the Ankara Declaration as very positive. And he expressed hope that it would bring an end to the blame game.
The Afghan president's office issued a statement that borrowed directly from the Ankara Declaration but left out the section on narcotics -- Pakistan's main argument that Afghanistan should look beyond Pakistan to understand its troubles.
By viewing the Ankara Declaration through their respective prisms and leaving any discussion on the sensitive yet crucial issue of their disputed border out of the document, both Musharraf and Karzai left the Turkish capital feeling that they had won.
But unless Karzai and Musharraf heed their own words in the Ankara Declaration as a starting point to a meaningful dialogue -- leading to genuine bilateral cooperation -- they ultimately risk handing victory to terrorists, drug dealers, and their allies.