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05/31/2005
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1) Thousands Dance to Mark Armenia's Independence Holiday
2) Empty Polling Stations in Beirut~Rs Armenian Districts Reflect Dissent
3) ANCA & Africa Action Call on Bush Administration to Take Decisive
Action on Darfur Genocide
4) Russia Agrees to Close Military Bases in Georgia
5) Turkey Adopts Penal Code Reforms

1) Thousands Dance to Mark Armenia's Independence Holiday

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)--Tens of thousands of people, among them President Robert
Kocharian, formed a human chain around Armenia's highest mountain on Saturday
in a dance that celebrated the 87th anniversary of the restoration of Armenian
statehood.
The traditional Armenian circle dance took place along the 163-kilometer
perimeter of the sprawling Mount Aragats and was meant to symbolize "national
unity" on one of the country's most important public holidays. Organizers
hailed it as a resounding success, saying that more than 160,000 people
participated in the unprecedented event.
"We will try to express the unity of our nation around Aragats," Kocharian
said before he joined hands with fellow participants in the area about 60
kilometers north of Yerevan. "Thank you all for coming," he added.
The dance began at 3 p.m. local time after a public "blessing" voiced by the
head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Karekin II, and lasted for 15 minutes,
with several Armenian fighter jets roaring overhead. Participants, each of
them
part of a group assigned to a particular section of the area, began
arriving at
the Aragats foot early in the morning.
The massive movement was overseen by the police that closed some of Armenia's
key highways for regular traffic. Thousands of buses and minibuses were
diverted from their service routes in Yerevan and other parts of the
country to
transport people to the scene. The operation left public transportation in the
capital effectively paralyzed throughout the day.


2) Empty Polling Stations in Beirut~Rs Armenian Districts Reflect Dissent

BEIRUT (Combined Sources)--Heeding the Armenian Revolutionary Federation's
(ARF) call to boycott the Beirut district elections, the majority of Armenians
stayed home in Sunday's first stage of the staggered election to the
128-member
assembly.
In heavily Armenian populated areas such as Ashrafieh, the effects of the
boycott were apparent with only 17 percent voter turnout.
Overall low voter turnout--only 28 percent of 420,000 eligible voters casting
ballots, seemed to indicate that many people in Beirut stayed away because
Saad
Al Hariri's victory seemed a foregone conclusion, with nine of the 19 seats
falling unopposed to his bloc even before the vote.
Hariri, the son and political heir of former slain Lebanese premier Rafik
Hariri, angered Armenians when he opted to exclude ARF candidates from his
electoral list for vacant Armenian seats in Beirut's three constituencies.
Hariri instead proposed Armenians who do not have the backing of the majority
Armenian population, namely ARF supporters. The party called for the boycott,
saying that Hariri's "list ignores those forces that hold actual political
weight in Beirut."
Low voter turnout was also felt in Christian districts, in protest of the
electoral law which they claim does not allow for true representation.
Hani Hammud, editor-in-chief of the Hariri-owned Al Mustaqbal daily, said,
"Working toward national unity after the elections would be achieved with the
drafting of a new electoral law to replace the current one which was
drafted by
the [Lebanese] authorities and the services, under Syria's tutelage."
"The electoral law has rightfully frustrated many Lebanese, mainly the
Christians," he acknowledged.
"The first mission of Saad Hariri and his allies [in the opposition] will be
to start dialogue for a new electoral law, following a compromise with all
parties," Hammud said.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, nevertheless, praised the "democratic
conduct" of the first round of voting.
"These elections constitute a major opportunity for the Lebanese people to
shape their own future, to strengthen their political institutions and to
restore their full sovereignty," he said in a statement.
Results announced by Interior Minister Hassan Sabei showed Hariri, a Sunni
Muslim, won 39,500 of 42,000 votes cast in his constituency, the highest
number
in any of the 10 contested seats in the mainly Sunni Lebanese capital.
A pro-Syrian Shiite Hezbollah candidate on Hariri's slate was the second
highest vote-getter with 32,000.
Beirut had a 34 percent turnout in 2000, when Hariri's father, then
cooperating with Syria, also swept the board.
For the first time, foreign observers monitored the polls, with a team of
more
than 100 led by the European Union, who announced the first round of elections
were "open and transparent."
Political analyst Ghassan Ezzeh said: "I do not think we can speak about free
and democratic elections because there was no real electoral battle."
But he said that "even if the new parliament will not have real popular
representation, world powers [the [US and France] have already given it
legitimacy, and this is enough."
As soon as Saad claimed victory late on Sunday, he called for national
reconciliation in a country still bearing the scars of the 15-year civil war
and extended an open hand to all factions who helped the campaign that led to
the Syrian pullout.


3) ANCA & Africa Action Call on Bush Administration to Take Decisive Action on
Darfur Genocide

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) Draws Parallels between Darfur and Armenian
Genocides at White House Vigil

WASHINGTON, DC--Armenian Americans from the Greater Washington, DC area
joined
with local student leaders and community activists this week to protest the
ongoing Genocide in Darfur, Sudan. Congressional Armenian Caucus Co-Chair
Frank
Pallone (D-NJ) was among speakers at the May 25 White House vigil,
organized by
the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).
Rep. Pallone thanked attendees for calling attention to the situation in
Darfur, Sudan, and went on to draw parallels between the Armenian and Darfur
genocides. "It's very reminiscent of what happened in the case of the Armenian
Genocide," stated Rep. Pallone. "There were people that were speaking out that
were not listened to. In the case of the Turks, they were out there in the
fields, constantly killing people and moving people into the desert. While
there were those who were speaking out [about the Armenian Genocide], the
Western powers really weren't doing anything about it. We don't want to be in
that situation again here in the United States."
Rep. Pallone praised the leadership of fellow New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine
(D-NJ) and Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ) in spearheading the Darfur Accountability
Act (S.495/H.R. 1424) in the Senate and House. The ANCA has joined with Africa
Action and other groups in nationwide ANCA WebFax campaigns calling for the
passage of the legislation. ANCA Government Affairs Director Kate Nahapetian
updated attendees about the status of each bill and called on activists to
urge
House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) to work for
final adoption of the measure.
During the vigil, representatives of the ANCA, Africa Action, the Armenian
Youth Federation, Genocide Education Project, and Armenian American activists
and supporters gave impassioned remarks about the importance of continued
activism to press for decisive action by the Bush Administration to end the
violence in Darfur. Among the speakers joining Rep. Pallone and Nahapetian
were
ANCA Executive Director Aram Hamparian; Communications Director Elizabeth
Chouldjian; Africa Action Executive Director Salih Booker, Director for Public
Education and Mobilization Marie Clarke Brill, and Program Associate Akenji
Ndumu; Genocide Education Project Education Director Sara Cohen; Armenian
American activist Sylvia Parsons; and AYF member Megan Young.
Hamparian expressed concern about the US Government's inaction following a
September 2004, statement properly characterizing the killings and rapes in
Darfur as "genocide." "By using the term genocide--and not acting on our legal
and moral obligations, our invocation of the term genocide is hollowed of
meaning. Our commitment to the Genocide Convention is undermined. Those whose
lives it was within our power to save are abandoned," explained Hamparian.
Booker concurred and noted, "President Bush's senior advisors have been
asked,
'Is the President still engaged on the issue of genocide in Darfur?' And the
Presidential aides, the White House aides have said: yes, the President
remains
engaged on the subject of genocide, but there are other more important matters
requiring his attention. We are here on the lawn of the White House to ask:
What is more important than stopping genocide?"
Booker thanked the ANCA for providing the leadership for the vigil, and for
providing leadership "not just today, not just over the weeks, not just being
an ally, but providing leadership in this country to get people to understand
what the crime of genocide is and why it's unacceptable anywhere that it
occurs
on this earth."
The ANCA has participated in previous Darfur vigils, protested outside the
Sudanese Embassy, spoken at genocide prevention conferences, and generated
support--both at the grassroots level and in Washington, DC--for Congressional
legislation aimed at ending the slaughter in the Darfur region.
Up to 400,000 people have already died and more than 2,000,000 dislocated in
Darfur over the past two years. Recent reports confirm that the situation on
the ground is deteriorating, and the humanitarian crisis is reaching desperate
proportions.
For more information about Darfur: www.africaaction.org. To send a free ANCA
WebFax protesting the Darfur Genocide: www.anca.org.


4) Russia Agrees to Close Military Bases in Georgia

--NATO, EU Hail Russian Pledge

MOSCOW (AFP/Reuters)--Moscow and Tbilisi have completed an agreement on the
pullout by the end of 2008 of Russia's last two Soviet-era military bases in
Georgia, a deal that could allow the establishment of other foreign bases
there.
"The final pullout will be finished during 2008," Russian Foreign Minister
Sergei Lavrov said after talks Monday in Moscow with his Georgian counterpart
Salome Zurabishvili.
"We have taken an important and constructive step. We have achieved our
goal,"
Zurabishvili told journalists.
The government in Tbilisi is left free to bring in US or other foreign
troops,
but Zurabishvili said her government had no intention of doing so.
The agreement marked a breakthrough after years of rancorous negotiations
over
the two bases, formerly part of Soviet defenses on the southwestern flank with
NATO, but more recently a bargaining chip in Moscow's fight to retain
influence
in the Caucasus.
Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili hailed the agreement as "historic."
"This is a very important political event, it is a historic moment for our
country, as it puts an end to Russia's 200-year military presence in Georgia,"
Saakashvili said late Monday following the signing of the deal in Moscow.
"We want friendly, neighborly relations, we will never create any problems
for
Russia," the Georgian leader added.
Under the accord, the approximately 3,000 servicemen on the two bases--one in
Akhalkalak, near the Georgian-Armenian border, the other in Batumi, on the
Black Sea coast--are now on 'withdrawal' status.
It was unclear whether Georgia had made any major concessions in the deal,
but
a mention in the agreement of a possible joint "anti-terrorist" centre seemed
to leave the door open for some sort of Russian military presence in the
country.
Under the accord signed by both foreign ministers, withdrawal of heavy
weapons
will begin later this year, with September 1 the deadline for removing the
first hardware, including up to 20 tanks, the agreement said.
The last heavy weaponry must be gone from Akhalkalak by the end of next year,
and from all Russian installations by the end of 2007, with the final pullout
of the last men and materiel by the end of the following year.
The agreement also says that "part of the personnel and technical means and
infrastructure" from the Batumi base will be used to set up a Georgian-Russian
anti-terrorist center.
Russia's refusal to make a speedy withdrawal from the two bases has
contributed to tense relations with its neighbor since the collapse of the
Soviet Union, especially since Georgia's pro-Western president Mikhail
Saakashvili came to power in the "rose revolution" of November 2003.
Russia has hoped to stem an erosion of its influence in the Caucasus, where
the United States has become an increasingly important player.
Georgia has applied for membership in NATO and hosts a small contingent of US
military trainers.
NATO and the European Union welcomed Russia's pledge to pull its troops.
"In taking steps to resolve this longstanding dispute, the two sides have
..advanced security in the Caucasus region," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de.
Hoop Scheffer said.
De Hoop Scheffer also called in a statement for an early solution to a
separate dispute with Moldova over 1,200 Russian peacekeeping troops in the
Russian-speaking Dnestr region, which fought a brief war with newly
independent
Moldova in 1992.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also issued a statement welcoming the
Georgia accord.
Some diplomats have suggested the presence of Russian troops in Georgia is an
obstacle to Tbilisi's ambition to join NATO, though the alliance insists there
is no formal link.
In another sign of a possible thaw in relations, Lavrov said there had also
been a decision to agree before the end of the year on delimitation of the
Georgian-Russian border, which runs along the Caucasus Mountains range.
"We will do everything" to contribute to peaceful resolutions of Georgia's
separatist conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Lavrov added.
Moscow-backed separatist forces control both regions, which are on the
Georgian side of the rugged border.
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently cleared the way for an end to the
row over the bases, saying that Moscow could not drag its feet.
"Foreign bases of all countries in the world--if they are not occupying
troops--are there with the agreement of their partners. If there is no such
desire among our partners, then we have no choice. We have to take this step.
For better or worse, we are leaving there," he said.
Georgia is impoverished and has a population of less than five million.
But it
has gained in strategic importance with the building of an oil export pipeline
that stretches from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean, with a section
passing through Georgia.
Its troubled border with Russia includes a section shared with Chechnya,
where tens of thousands of Russian troops are tied down in the second
guerrilla
war in a decade.


5) Turkey Adopts Penal Code Reforms

ISTANBUL (BBC News)--The Turkish parliament has approved changes to a new
penal
code--a key condition for the start of European Union membership talks. The
code will come into effect at the beginning of June.
The last-minute changes came after journalists said that some clauses were
highly restrictive of media freedom.
Turkey is due to start entry talks with the EU in October, but is not
expected
to be allowed to join the bloc for at least another nine years. Few pieces of
reform legislation have been as difficult to get through parliament as the new
penal code.
Late last year, Turkey's entire EU membership project appeared to be under
threat when the government insisted on including a clause criminalizing
adultery in its reformed code.
After some heavy hints from Brussels, the clause was dropped.
A couple of months ago, just as the code was supposed to come into force,
journalists protested at clauses covering what could or could not be
published.
They said that some were as bad as those in the old code.
Some of those clauses have been changed, but there are still restrictions
that
will raise eyebrows in western Europe: criticizing some state institutions is
still a criminal offence, as is publishing material deemed "contrary to
fundamental national interests"--such as suggesting that the killings of
Armenians in World War I was a genocide.
But the code as a whole has been welcomed by EU officials and human rights
activists as a giant step forward for the Turkish penal system.


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