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Newsline - July 9, 2003


NEW PROBE AGAINST YUKOS OPENED AT ROSNEFT'S URGING...
The Prosecutor-General's Office on 8 July ordered an investigation into allegations by Rosneft President Sergei Bogdanchikov regarding Yukos's alleged misappropriation of Rosneft's 19 percent stake in Yeniseineftegaz (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003), Interfax reported. A spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office said that it is possible that a criminal case could be launched as a result of the investigation. Four criminal cases involving Yukos have been launched in recent days. Yukos press spokesman Aleksandr Shadrin complained to Interfax that state-owned Rosneft went directly to the Prosecutor-General's Office with its complaint. He said the company's action leads him to two conclusions: first, that Rosneft prefers to use administrative resources to obtain unjustified competitive advantages, and second, that the promptness of the prosecutors' response suggests that Rosneft indeed has such resources in that office. Writing in "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 26, analyst Nikolai Vardul commented, "Class solidarity is not typical of the oligarchs." He also noted that Interros head Vladimir Potanin's mea culpa at the 28 June Unified Russia party forum illustrates that Potanin understood that the oligarchs are now fair game, and that he is now struggling to survive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003). JAC

...AS KREMLIN INSIDER SEES YUKOS AS A VICTIM OF INFIGHTING WITHIN THE PRESIDENTIAL APPARATUS...
Foundation for Effective Politics head and Kremlin insider Gleb Pavlovskii said on 8 July that the recent criminal investigations into the activities of senior Yukos managers are a manifestation of a conflict within the presidential administration, as various elements seek to secure their positions in anticipation that President Vladimir Putin will win a second term in the March 2004 presidential election, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. "It is a signal from one group of functionaries to another and to big business that [that group] is stronger and it is a specific invitation for cooperation," Pavlovskii said, according to utro.ru. Pavlovskii added that President Putin himself has nothing to do with the Yukos affair, although he was certainly informed in advance that it was in preparation. He added that as a result of the alleged campaign, Yukos will likely stop being a major sponsor of political parties, but he does not foresee other significant problems for the oil giant. Yukos is legally well protected, Pavlovskii said. He concluded that all political parties spend more on campaigns than is allowed by law, but they do not reveal their sponsors. But Yukos made its political activity public, and that is why it has become a victim of infighting within the Moscow bureaucracy. VY

...AND FORMER OLIGARCH PREDICTS YUKOS EXECUTIVES WILL SHARE HIS FATE
In lengthy interview published in the weekly "Russkii fokus," No. 24, self-exiled former oligarch Boris Berezovskii said the Kremlin is using the same methods against the executives of oil giant Yukos that it used against him and former oligarch Vladimir Gusinskii. "They took [Gusinskii's chief financial manager] Anton Titov as a hostage against Gusinskii and against me, they took Nikolai Glushkov [Berezovskii's main financial partner," Berezovskii said. "Now they have taken Leonid Nevzlin against [Yukos CEO] Mikhail Khodorkovskii." Berezovskii added that Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor and oligarch Roman Abramovich is "smarter," because he recently bought the British soccer club Chelsea as a "preemptive protection measure," rather than as a business or a hobby. In a 9 July interview with "Kommersant-Daily," which he owns, Berezovskii said the main goal of the alleged Kremlin campaign against Yukos is to prevent the consolidation of any political opposition with significant financial resources. Berezovskii noted that after he went into self-imposed exile as a result of Kremlin pressure on him, he predicted that other oligarchs would be subjected to similar measures. He now predicted that Nevzlin and, eventually, Khodorkovskii will also be forced to leave the country. VY

PREMIER STEPS INTO YUKOS AFFAIR...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov criticized on 8 July the recent actions of law enforcement officials against top officials at Yukos (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 2003), Russian media reported. Kasyanov said at a meeting in Yakutsk that he considers the arrest of Menatep manager Platon Lebedev on "suspicion of economic crimes" to be an "excessive measure." He added that any such crimes ought to be "thoroughly investigated," but that arrest is "an excessive measure for economic crimes." According to "Vremya novostei" on 9 July, before Kasyanov's statement, the only member of the government to comment publicly on the affair was Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, who expressed the hope that the legal situation will be clarified as soon as possible so that damage is not inflicted on the economy. An unidentified government source told the daily that the "the sensible part of the presidential administration and the government believes that the laudable struggle against corruption should not inflict damage on the Russian economy." The source added that "regardless of whether they demonstrate Lebedev's guilt, the negative consequences are already obvious." "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 July speculated that Kasyanov's comments might have resulted from a direct order from President Putin to rein in the overzealous "siloviki." JAC

...AND COMMENTS ON OTHER CONTROVERSIES AS WELL
Prime Minister Kasyanov also endorsed in Yakutsk on 8 July the idea that a parliamentary majority should form the next government, Russian media reported. Kasyanov also said that in September the government will review a proposed new law on mineral resources that contains controversial passages delimiting the respective powers of the federal, regional, and municipal governments in this field. Finally, Kasyanov also said at a meeting of the Council on the Far North and the Arctic held in the Sakha (Yakutia) Republic that the number of regions receiving benefits because they are classified as northern territories should be reduced. "There are now more than 40 such regions and this is more than is really the case," Kasyanov said. VY

MOSCOW BOOSTS ANTITERRORISM MEASURES...
For the second consecutive day, President Putin on 8 July met with his senior security officials in the Kremlin to discuss additional antiterrorism measures in the wake of the 5 July suicide bombing in Moscow that killed 16 and injured 59 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 2003), Russian media reported. Putin, Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, Federal Security Service (FSB) Chairman Nikolai Patrushev, and deputy administration head Dmitrii Kozak discussed various legislative changes that could enhance the government's ability to combat terrorism, RTR reported. The Moscow City Duma on 8 July began reviewing new municipal legislation that would create district-level public-security councils "to detect criminal elements," nns.ru reported, citing City Duma Security Committee Deputy Chairwoman Inna Svyatenko. The legislation would also boost the number of mounted-police patrols and the number of bomb-sniffing dogs. The Defense Ministry announced that it will deploy a dedicated battalion of airborne forces that could respond immediately to any acts of terrorism, strana.ru reported. VY

...AS DO OTHER REGIONS
Police in Vladivostok have introduced new security measures following the 5 June suicide bombing in Moscow, regions.ru reported on 8 June. The Highway Patrol Service will be checking cars on city streets for weapons and explosive devices. According to the Primorskii Krai administration's press service, police have been told to increase their readiness and to maintain special watch over places where large numbers of people gather, such as resorts, markets, and ports. Also on 8 July, police in Pskov Oblast moved to a heightened security regime in part to prevent similar terrorist acts during this summer's celebrations of the 1,100th anniversary of the city's founding, regions.ru reported. JAC

SHAKE-UP AT MOSCOW CRIMINAL POLICE CONTINUES
All 780 officers of the elite Moscow Criminal Investigations Department (MUR) are being interrogated in connection with a major anticorruption probe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003) and dozens have already been suspended after failing to respond adequately to questions, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 8 July. As a result, many officers will be transferred to provincial cities or dismissed from the Interior Ministry, the daily reported. According to the report, officers from the Interior Ministry's Internal Affairs Department searched MUR offices and found unspecified amounts of foreign currency, stock shares, and jewelry. Some MUR officers claimed that such items were their personal property being kept at the office for security reasons, but investigators have discounted such explanations and have initiated disciplinary measures. VY

RUSSIA, FRANCE CREATE JOINT ANTITERRORISM GROUP
Speaking after an 8 July meeting in Moscow of the joint Russia-France Security Council, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced that the two countries have agreed to create a permanent joint group of diplomats and intelligence officials to combat international terrorism, Russian media reported. The Russia-France Security Council was established last year and is modeled on a similar U.S.-Russia group headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage. Also on 8 July, President Putin met in the Kremlin with French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin and French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie and lauded bilateral political and security cooperation. "Russia is searching for a place in this changing world, and we need French support in this process," Putin said. He also noted that the first Russian-French naval exercises are currently under way in the Sea of Norway. "For our navy, this is the first experience of its kind, because so far we have not held any similar exercises with any NATO member states," Putin said, "especially with the participation of our submarine fleets." VY

NATIONALIST CRITICIZES PUTIN FOR FAILURE TO ADDRESS DEMOGRAPHIC PROBLEMS...
Participating in an 8 July roundtable to discuss this year's presidential address to the Federal Assembly, Sergei Baburin, head of the People's Will party and a former State Duma deputy, said that the "chief myth" presented in President Putin's speech concerned the alleged achievement of social stability in Russia, RosBalt reported. "There are fewer strikes and massive protests in Russia today than under [former President Boris] Yeltsin," Baburin said. "However, a potentially balanced society has not yet been created." "Infant mortality has dropped 21 percent in the last three years, but this result was achieved on account of a declining birthrate. Russia stands on the road to demographic catastrophe," he added. Baburin also noted that the Russia-Belarus Union was not mentioned in the speech, creating the impression that "in Putin's circle, things are being run by people who are not interested in the unification of our two countries." Putin delivered his speech on 16 May (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 23 May 2003). JAC

...AS ENVOYS CALLED 'QUASI-PRESIDENTS'
Speaking at the same conference, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov said that President Putin's speech failed to address the problem of Russia's territorial integrity, RosBalt reported. Mitrofanov argued that the break-up of the Russian state is under way, with the transformation of the seven federal districts into "quasi-governmental formations" and the presidential envoys to those districts into "quasi-presidents." District-level prosecutors, media outlets, and executive organs have been created. "Instead of just one Moscow, we have seven little capitals," Mitrofanov concluded. JAC

RUSSIAN TRAVELERS TO KALININGRAD TURN TO AIRPLANES DURING FIRST DAYS OF NEW TRANSIT RULES
The number of airplane passengers flying between Moscow and Kaliningrad rose 800 percent in the first week of July compared to the last week of June, Interfax reported on 8 July, citing a spokesman for the Civil Aviation Service. According to the service, the hike can be attributed to the perceived difficulty of traveling by train between the Kaliningrad exclave and the rest of Russia following the imposition of new transit rules on 1 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003) and to newly lowered airfares between the two cities. The cheapest round-trip air ticket between the two cities costs 990 rubles ($33), compared with about 2,200-2,600 rubles for flights between St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad. On the same day, ITAR-TASS reported that many truck drivers have been stuck at the border between Belarus and Lithuania because they lack the necessary transit documents from Lithuanian authorities. JAC

UNIFIED RUSSIA LINKED TO CRIME GROUP IN FAR NORTH?
The head of the Interior Ministry directorate in Murmansk Oblast, Major General Vitalii Fedotov, said on 8 July that local criminal structures are going nominate their own candidates for the upcoming Murmansk mayoral race using the names of the Unified Russia party and the public movement Kola Assembly, RosBalt reported. According to the agency, Fedotov did not mention the names of any specific candidates. However, it well-known that Andrei Gorshkov, head of security for Biznes-Servis, organized the Kola Assembly a few months ago and is also a member of the Murmansk branch of Unified Russia. Gorshkov announced on 7 July that he will run in the 7 September race. JAC

MORE RESHUFFLING AT ENERGY MINISTRY
Deputy Energy Minister Valentin Shelepov has been released from his position at his own request, grani.ru reported on 8 July, citing Interfax. Shelepov was a former deputy natural resources minister and a former deputy general director of LUKoil-Zapsib. Shelepov served in the Energy Ministry for more than two years (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 9 February 2001). JAC

EU NOMINATES SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR SOUTH CAUCASUS
The EU has appointed Finnish diplomat Heike Talvite as its special representative for the South Caucasus, according to a statement released in Brussels on 7 July and summarized by Armenpress the following day. Talvite, who was born in 1939, has served as undersecretary of state at the Finnish Foreign Ministry (1993-96) and as Finnish Ambassador to Belgrade (1984-88), Moscow (1988-92), and Stockholm (1996-2002). He was co-chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Minsk Group in 1995-96. His duties encompass assisting the countries of the South Caucasus in carrying out political and economic reforms; preventing and assisting in the resolution of conflicts; promoting the return of refugees and internally displaced persons; engaging constructively with neighboring regional states; supporting intraregional cooperation; and ensuring the coordination, consistency, and effectiveness of the EU's activities in the South Caucasus. LF

ARMENIAN, AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET
Serzh Sarkisian and Colonel General Safar Abiev met on 8 July on the border between their two countries to discuss how to prevent any recurrence of the recent cease-fire violations along the Line of Contact separating the Armenian and Azerbaijani armed forces, according to ITAR-TASS and Azerbaijan's Lider television, as cited by Groong. Also on 8 July, Defense Ministry officials in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic said Azerbaijan has "recently" attempted to advance its forces closer to Armenian positions, AFP reported. The statement demanded that Azerbaijan comply with the cease-fire agreement signed in 1994 and refrain from actions that could lead to an escalation of tensions on the front line, according to "Azad Artsakh," as cited by Groong. LF

AILING AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT FLIES TO TURKEY FOR TREATMENT
Heidar Aliev flew to Turkey late on 8 July to undergo further unspecified medical tests at the Gulhane military hospital in Ankara, Reuters and Turan reported. Aliev, who turned 80 on 10 May, was treated at Gulhane two months ago for injuries sustained during a fall in Baku on 21 April and for an unspecified kidney ailment. Since his return to Baku on 11 May he has appeared on television only rarely. He failed to attend both the 300th anniversary celebrations in St. Petersburg in late May and the GUUAM summit in Crimea on 3-4 July. LF

EU DELEGATION VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Prior to his departure for Ankara, President Aliev met on 8 July with an EU delegation headed by Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Margarita Boniver to discuss unresolved conflicts in the South Caucasus and the prospects for closer cooperation between Azerbaijan and the EU, Interfax and Turan reported. The three visiting EU officials also met with Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev, who stressed Azerbaijan's desire for more active cooperation with the EU, and with parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov, who criticized the OSCE Minsk Group for its failure to propose a solution to the Karabakh conflict acceptable to Azerbaijan. Both Alesqerov and Aliev assured the visitors that the 15 October presidential elections will be transparent and democratic. LF

OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES ACCUSE AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES OF DISCRIMINATION, HARASSMENT...
Seven opposition presidential candidates issued a statement on 8 July accusing the authorities of violating the commitments they have made to international organizations to ensure that the upcoming presidential ballot is democratic, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. The seven -- Ali Kerimov (Azerbaijan Popular Front Party-reformist wing), Isa Gambar (Musavat), Etibar Mamedov (Azerbaijan National Independence Party), Ilyas Ismailov (Adalet), Chingiz Demiroglu (Taraggi), and Lala Shovket Gadjieva (independent) -- specifically condemned the refusal by the Central Election Commission (CEC) to register former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev as a candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 7 July 2003). They noted that the CEC and lower-level election bodies are dominated by the authorities who, they added, are systematically hindering opposition candidates trying to collect the signatures needed to support their registration for the ballot. LF

...AND ARRESTING OPPOSITION ACTIVIST
Also on 8 July, Civic Solidarity Party (VHP) leader and presidential candidate Sabir Rustamkhanli told journalists how police in Baku seized and tore up lists of signatures and arrested and sentenced to 15 days' administrative detention a VHP activist who returned to Azerbaijan from Russia to participate in the election campaign, zerkalo.az reported on 9 July. LF

AZERBAIJAN, TURKEY SIGN ANTITERRORISM PROTOCOL
Azerbaijan's Interior Minister Ramil Usubov and his visiting Turkish counterpart Abdulkadir Aksu signed a protocol in Baku on 8 July on cooperation in fighting organized crime and terrorism, Turan reported. It is not clear whether the protocol in question is that inked in Trabzon in April 2002 during a meeting between the presidents of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2002). Aksu also met with President Aliev. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION DISCUSS 'BAKER PRINCIPLES'
Eduard Shevardnadze met in Tbilisi on 8 July with opposition party leaders to discuss the proposal unveiled two days earlier by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker for the composition of the new Central Election Commission (CEC), Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. The Revival Union and the Labor Party did not send representatives to the meeting. Shevardnadze has stated his readiness to endorse the "Baker model," under which the authorities would nominate five commission members and opposition parties nine, while the OSCE would select the CEC chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). But opposition parties are already at loggerheads over how many candidates each would be entitled to nominate. The Revival Union and the Union of Industrialists -- which were the only two parties besides the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia to surpass the 7 percent threshold for parliamentary representation in the 1999 elections -- are demanding three and two seats, respectively. But Mikhail Saakashvili, head of the National Movement (EM), which currently tops opinion polls together with the Labor Party, told Caucasus Press on 8 July that all the strongest parties, including the EM, should have one seat each. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT CALLS FOR SPEEDING UP BORDER DELIMITATION
In a statement published on 8 July, the Georgian parliament calls on Georgia's neighbors to speed up the process of delimiting their borders with Georgia, noting that doing so is important to their national interests, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. Interfax quoted Zaza Kandelaki, who heads the Georgian State Commission on Border Issues, as saying that only Georgia's 295-kilometer border with Turkey has been delimited. Approximately one-third of the Georgian borders with Russia and Azerbaijan have still not been delimited, whereas the process of delimiting the border with Armenia has not yet begun. LF

ABKHAZIA ADOPTS LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
The Abkhaz parliament has adopted a controversial law on the procedures for amending the constitution that was repeatedly vetoed by President Vladislav Ardzinba, Caucasus Press reported on 9 July (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 July 2003). LF

RUSSIAN MUSLIM BOARD PLANS OFFICE IN ABKHAZIA
The Muslim Spiritual Board of the Russian Federation will open an office in Sukhum, capital of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported on 8 July. Agzan-Khazret Rahmatulin, who is an official of the Muslim Spiritual Board of Russia, met in Sukhum on 8 July with Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba and Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba. LF

KAZAKHSTAN CONFIRMS DELIMITATION OF ALL BORDERS EXCEPT RUSSIAN
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on 4 July signed a series of laws confirming the ratification of land-border delimitation agreements with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, thereby completing the process of defining the borders of Central Asia's largest state, except for its border with Russia, according to gazetasng.ru on 8 July. The delimitation agreement with Turkmenistan was based on Soviet-era administrative divisions. Kazakh-Turkmen negotiations are under way on delimiting the two countries' border in the Caspian Sea. Three parcels of land on the Uzbek-Kazakh border were the subject of long diplomatic discussions that ended in an exchange of territory that settled the disagreement between the two countries but angered villagers who suddenly found themselves residents of another country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2003). The delimitation of the 7,200-kilometer Kazakh-Russian border is being held up by a lack of funding on the Russian side to provide border guards, as Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly told his Kazakh counterpart in April. The article notes that given the volume of contraband drugs that have been intercepted in transit from Kazakhstan to Russia, apparently Kazakh border forces are also unable to adequately patrol the common border. BB

KYRGYZ OMBUDSMAN REPORTS CONTINUING HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Tursunbai Bakir-uulu told a session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly in Rotterdam on 8 July that Kyrgyzstan has had every opportunity to become a model of democracy in Central Asia, but there are still many instances of human rights violations, akipress.org reported. Bakir-uulu was reporting on the establishment of the Ombudsman's office in early 2003, and its subsequent development, including the problem of financing. In June, Bakir-uulu had warned that his office would have to curtail its activities if it did not receive budgeted funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2003). He also appealed to the OSCE to give more support to the democratic-reform process and to the implementation of human rights in Kyrgyzstan. In recent years, the organization has paid more attention to economic and environmental issues, as requested by Central Asian governments that were uncomfortable with earlier OSCE activism in the field of human rights. BB

SIX RAIONS ON KYRGYZ-UZBEK BORDER ASK FOR SIMPLIFIED CROSSING PROCEDURES
Inhabitants of six raions on both sides of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border have appealed to the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry, parliamentarians and Kyrgyz media to help simplify border crossing procedures, Deutsche Welle reported on 7 July, quoting the head of the nongovernmental Foundation for Peace in Central Asia, Japara Birimkulova. The foundation sponsored a meeting of inhabitants of the affected raions in Kyrgyzstan's Djalal-Abad and Uzbekistan's Namangan oblasts, at which the appeal was adopted. Many residents of the border areas have relatives on the other side of the border, but present visa requirements are making visits across the border difficult and costly. The appeal also asks for consular offices to be set up in the administrative centers of the oblasts in the Ferghana Valley, and touches on the issues of high customs fees, the use of irrigation water, and problems registering cross-border marriages. BB

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION FEARS OSCE POLICE PROJECT WILL LEAD TO INCREASED REPRESSION
Leaders of civil society in Kyrgyzstan told journalists on 8 July that they fear an OSCE program to provide modern equipment and technical training to the country's police will increase the ability of law enforcement to repress the opposition, Deutsche Welle reported the same day. OSCE police-training specialist Richard Monk met with journalists to describe the program, which was designed in response to a request by Kyrgyz Interior Minister Bakirdin Subanbekov for financial and technical help. The total cost of the 18-month program, comprising eight projects, is 3.6 million euros ($4.07 million). It includes providing radio equipment, video and audio equipment, digital cameras, vehicles, and equipment for coping with large-scale "disorder." Civil society activists say the term "disorder" applies to peaceful demonstrations and protests by citizens trying to assert their rights. The OSCE has reported considerable success with police training in the Balkans. Presumably the program in Kyrgyzstan, the only one of its kind in the former Soviet Union, is based on the Balkans experience. BB

DEATH SENTENCE HANDED DOWN IN TAJIKISTAN
A lieutenant in Tajikistan's presidential guard, Ibragim Kakhkhor, was sentenced to death on 8 July for murders committed in 1996 and 1997 at the end of the Tajik civil war, RIA-Novosti reported. Kakhkhor was also convicted of weapons theft. Earlier this month, the Tajik parliament, acting on a draft law submitted by President Imomali Rakhmonov, reduced the number of crimes for which the death penalty can be applied (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003). According to the Tajik Supreme Court, Kakhkhor is the 10th person to be sentenced to death in Tajikistan in 2003. BB

TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTRY ATTACKS RUSSIAN BROADCAST
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry has attacked the Russian media for seeking to sow distrust of a joint Russian-Turkmen commission that is trying to resolve the problems resulting from the revocation of dual citizenship, turkmenistan.ru reported on 8 July, quoting a ministry press release. The target of the ministry's wrath was a 6 July broadcast on Russia's RTR, that, according to the Turkmen Foreign Ministry, included gross misrepresentations of the situation in Turkmenistan. The ministry noted that it has repeatedly complained to Russian authorities about similar materials in the Russian media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 May 2003). The ministry claimed to have been particularly disturbed by the broadcast because it was shown just as the bilateral commission is beginning its work. BB

UZBEK PRESIDENT MEETS OSCE HEAD
Islam Karimov met with visiting OSCE Chairman-in-Office and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer on 8 July, uzreport.com and RIA-Novosti reported. Scheffer reportedly made a plea for a moratorium on use of the death penalty in Uzbekistan. Both sides agreed that security and stability in Central Asia depends on normalizing the situation in Afghanistan. Uzbekistan has expressed approval of a proposal that Afghanistan be accepted as an OSCE partner state. Both sides noted that the OSCE's work in Uzbekistan has become more "balanced" in recent years, with greater emphasis placed on traditional security concerns and economic development. Karimov has been one of the Central Asian presidents who has complained loudly about what he considered the OSCE's overemphasis on human rights issues. According to centrasia.ru, Scheffer also met with Uzbek human rights activists who picketed the OSCE Center in Tashkent. BB

BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES CLOSE RUSSIAN TELEVISION OFFICES
Belarusian government shut down the Minsk offices of Russia's NTV television following allegations that the broadcaster slandered the government in a report on writer Vasil Bykau's funeral on 25 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003), Belapan reported on 8 July. The NTV offices will be closed until the station apologizes, Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh told Belapan. Savinykh insisted the closure of the NTV office should not be regarded as a restriction on freedom of expression but rather in light of journalists' responsibility for the content of their reporting. "To our regret, such incidents are characteristic of states with a totalitarian form of governance," Russia's Media Ministry announced the same day. The Belarusian authorities' decision was slammed by representatives of most caucuses in Russia's State Duma, according to Belapan. "The decision to close the NTV office should prompt Russian authorities to rethink the regime with which we have decided to unite," said Russia's State Duma Deputy Speaker Irina Khakamada. AM

UKRAINIANS PROTEST HIKES IN FOOD PRICES
Around 4,000 picketers gathered near the building of the Verkhovna Rada on 9 July to protest hikes in food prices, utilities, and limits on social guarantees, Interfax reported. The demonstrators demanded the dismissal of Economy and European Integration Minister Valeriy Khoroshkovskyy along with a greater commitment to the agrarian sector in the government. They also demanded freezes on the prices of food, utilities, and housing, renewed state support for agriculture, and state controls on food prices. Representatives of the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, Our Ukraine, the Fatherland Party, the Sobor Party, the Ukrainian Popular Party, and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, among others, attended the protest. AM

BALTIC STATES GAIN IN UNDP HUMAN-DEVELOPMENT RANKING
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on 8 July issued its annual Human Development Report for 2003 with rankings of 175 countries, BNS reported. The rankings are calculated using data on individual countries' per capita GDP, level of adult literacy, average life expectancy, and quality of education. The Baltic states all posted improved rankings compared to last year in the report's Human Development Index: Estonia from 42nd to 41st, Lithuania from 49th to 45th, and Latvia from 53th to 50th. While the three states were all among the 55 countries listed as having "high human development," their rankings were below those of fellow EU invitees Cyprus (25th), Slovenia (29th), the Czech Republic (32nd), Malta (33), Poland (35th), Hungary (38th), and Slovakia (39th). SG

GOVERNMENT BACKS DIRECT ELECTION OF ESTONIAN PRESIDENT
The cabinet decided on 8 July to back the bill proposed by 71 deputies of the 101-member parliament in mid-June calling for amendments to the constitution to introduce the direct popular election of the country's president, BNS reported. The decision was expected as the council of the ruling coalition comprising Res Publica, the Reform Party, and the People's Union has supported this action (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 June 2003). The bill proposes that the term of the president be extended to six years without the possibility of re-election as opposed to the current system, under which the president is elected by parliament or a special electoral assembly for a term of five years with the possibility of serving a second term. Estonian citizens must approve the constitutional changes in a referendum, which was proposed to be held in June 2004 together with elections to the European Parliament. SG

LATVIAN PRESIDENT SWORN IN FOR SECOND TERM
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 9 July took her oath of office to serve a second four-year term as president during an extraordinary session of parliament, BNS reported. Parliament elected her to the post in June by a vote of 88-6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003). In a speech following her oath, the 65-year-old Vike-Freiberga compared Latvia to the Garden of Eden, which needed tending and love so it would bloom. "We are an open country and an open community" in which various ethnic groups can reside, she said, but "we all need one language to communicate between ourselves and one Mother Latvia." After the ceremonies, Vike-Freiberga placed a bouquet of flowers at the Freedom Monument, attended a special church service at the Dome Church, and hosted an inauguration ball at the Rundale Palace in southern Latvia. SG

LATVIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY OFFERS INSIGHT INTO DUMA DEPUTY'S TRAVEL BAN...
A press release issued by the Latvian Foreign Ministry on 7 July stated that a representative of the Russian Embassy was summoned to the ministry to hear an explanation for Latvia's recent decision to declare Russian State Duma Deputy Iosef Kobzon persona non grata. International media reported on 4 July that Interior Minister Maris Gulbis signed an order on 20 May blacklisting Kobzon because he poses a "threat to [Latvian] national security." News of the ban prompted the Russian Foreign Ministry to demand an explanation from Latvia, although the 7 July statement said Russian Ambassador Igor Studennikov was informed of the action in May. According to the statement, the Russian Embassy representative was told at the meeting that "Kobzon is not permitted to enter Latvia, this decision having been taken based on information available to the relevant Latvian institutions." In addition, the ministry called on Russia to take a "well-considered...approach to relations with Latvia over this issue" and to "avoid the unnecessary provocation of controversial situations." MES

...AS DEPUTY SAYS ACTION 'HUMILIATED' ALL OF RUSSIA
Kobzon told "Vesti segodnya" of 8 July that the ban humiliated "all of Russia and all Russian compatriots in Latvia" and will negatively affect Russian-Latvian relations. He told the Russian-language Latvian newspaper that the action came in response to his participation in a 9 May Victory Day performance organized by the Russian Embassy in Latvia and his criticism of Latvia's treatment of Russian veterans and plans to make Latvian the primary language of instruction in schools (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). Kobzon, dubbed Russia's Frank Sinatra by some for his singing abilities and reputed underworld ties, was shown by Latvia's TV.RUS on 7 July singing "I Love You, Russia" at his 9 May performance, which was largely attended by Russian veterans. Kobzon has been invited to participate in the New Wave music festival in Jurmala on 30 July-3 August. Kobzon has yet to submit an application to enter Latvia for the event, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Rets Plesums. MES

LITHUANIA'S UNEMPLOYMENT RATE FALLS TO FOUR-YEAR LOW
Social Security and Welfare Minister Vilija Blinkeviciute told a press conference on 8 July that the unemployment rate at the beginning of the month was 9.4 percent, BNS reported. This was a drop of 0.6 percentage points from June and 1.5 percentage points from the beginning of the year. She predicted that the unemployment rate will continue to fall in the second half of the year. Blinkeviciute also said she will propose at the next cabinet meeting on 9 July that the minimum monthly wage be increased to 450 litas ($150) from the current 430 litas, which has been the minimum wage since 1998. SG

POLISH 2004 BUDGET DEFICIT TO INCREASE, MINISTER ANNOUNCES
The budget deficit in 2004 will increase to 47.1 billion zlotys ($11.8 billion), from 38.7 billion projected for this year, PAP reported on 8 July, quoting Deputy Prime Minister Jerzy Hausner. Hausner announced measures to be taken along with the Finance Ministry to lower the deficit. Former Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko projected the 2004 budget deficit at 33.1 billion zlotys by including 9 billion zlotys from the central bank's foreign-exchange reserves as extra revenues and assuming that privatization will yield another 12 billion zlotys. Hausner believes that such forecasts are unrealistic, adding that privatization revenues will total just 7 billion zlotys. AM

NO MORE SPECIAL COMMISSIONS, POLISH RULING PARTY SAYS
There are "no merit-based reasons to set up a parliamentary commission" to probe allegations that Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) officials, including a deputy interior minister, leaked information about a pending police raid in Starachowice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July), PAP quoted SLD caucus leader Jerzy Jaskiernia as saying on 8 July. "The Sejm debate will certainly clarify whether something out of the ordinary happened and whether it is necessary to set up the commission," Jaskiernia added. The commission has been demanded by the opposition, which submitted a motion with amendments tacked on to it. Law and Justice (PiS), the Civic Platform (PO), and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) want to replace the approach of "the bigger the party, the more representatives" on the commission with a "one party, one member" rule. AM

CZECH LAWMAKERS REJECT DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS, NEW CURBS ON PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY
The center-left government of Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla suffered an embarrassing defeat in the lower house on 8 July when a draft constitutional amendment prescribing direct presidential elections and curbing parliamentary immunity was rejected by two votes. The amendments are among the tripartite government's declared goals. The proposal fell short after the parliamentary leadership of the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (CSSD) failed to secure a "pairing" agreement with the opposition, which would have offset the absence during the vote on official business of Spidla and Labor Minister Zdenek Skromach, according to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" on 9 July. The vote marked the second defeat in the Chamber of Deputies for the amendment. AH

CZECH FINANCE MINISTRY UNVEILS PLANNED CUTS
The Finance Ministry released a long-awaited list of anticipated cuts in the 2004 budget on 8 July that suggests the defense, education, health-care, and culture sectors face the greatest budget battles, the daily "Lidove noviny" reported on 9 July. The government is currently seeking parliamentary backing for a sweeping reform of public finances that has attracted criticism from opponents on both the left and the right. Former Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik cited the planned cuts when he resigned in late May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 June 2003). Deputy Premier for Science and Research Petr Mares said on 8 July that he hopes the Finance Ministry's proposal will undergo further changes, the daily reported. AH

CZECH KFOR SOLDIERS FACE PROSECUTION
Two paratroopers are being prosecuted for alleged disorderly conduct while on leave in Greece from the Czech Republic's peacekeeping contingent in Kosova, battalion commander Oldrich Napravnik said on 8 July, according to CTK. "We are not a battalion of ruffians and drunks," Napravnik said. "Our soldiers have mainly gained respect in Kosova." However, he declined to detail the nature of the charges pending the Czech court's verdict. Napravnik stressed that the Czech contingent in Kosova has detained and handed over hundreds of criminals to police, in addition to confiscating hundreds of weapons, CTK reported. AH

BELOVED CZECH GOALIE ANNOUNCES RETURN TO NHL
One of the Czech Republic's most celebrated professional athletes, hockey goalie Dominik Hasek, announced on 8 July his return to the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings after just one year of retirement, Czech and international media reported. Arguably the best NHL goalie of all time, the "Dominator" secured a place in Czech hearts when he and Jaromir Jagr led the country's hockey squad to an improbable gold medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics. Hasek's retirement has not been without controversy. He faces up to two years in prison if convicted of charges stemming from an altercation during an in-line hockey match in his hometown of Pardubice in May, according to the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." "I'm hungry to play again, to fight for the Stanley Cup. I'm looking forward to being with my teammates again," Hasek said. AH

SLOVAK PRESIDENT TO CONSIDER ABORTION-LAW AMENDMENT...
A contentious amendment to Slovakia's abortion law approved by parliament last week will be submitted to President Rudolf Schuster on 9 July despite a procedural hurdle erected by parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky, TASR reported on 8 July. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and parliamentary deputy speaker Viliam Veteska signed the bill on 8 July after Hrusovsky refused to sign it a day earlier, sparking fears of a constitutional crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003). In Slovakia, a bill may become law only after the approval of the prime minister, a representative of the legislature (the parliamentary speaker or a deputy speaker), and the president, according to TASR. The amendment extends the permissible period for an abortion in cases when the fetus has genetic defects from the 12th to the 24th week of pregnancy. Hrusovsky's Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), a member of the four-party ruling coalition, has staunchly opposed the legislation. The liberal coalition partner Alliance of a New Citizen (ANO) pushed through the bill with opposition support, eliciting KDH accusations that it broke the coalition agreement. LA

...AS DAILY CALLS FOR PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER TO RESIGN
Hrusovsky is the first parliamentary speaker in Slovak history to refuse to sign a law approved by parliament and should step down, the "Narodna Obroda" daily argues in a 9 July commentary. By refusing to approve the law, Hrusovsky has disqualified himself in political terms, since he has obstructed parliament's will, the daily contends. It adds that the role of the parliamentary speaker is simply to verify the wording of the law. LA

HUNGARIAN PREMIER FORESEES NO EARLY TAX CUTS
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy said in a lengthy interview with "Napi Gazdasag" of 9 July that substantial tax cuts are unlikely in the coming years. Medgyessy admitted that such cuts would boost competitiveness but added, "If we want to keep the budget deficit within limits, we can't have a substantial easing of taxes." The premier dismissed opposition talk of a looming economic crisis in the country, saying annualized economic growth in the first quarter was 2.7 percent -- down only slightly from last year's 2.9 percent growth in the same period. He added that analysts are predicting 3.5 growth for 2003. Medgyessy said Hungary might attract $2.5 billion-$3 billion this year in foreign investment. While acknowledging that the present investment situation in Hungary is not satisfactory, he said international trends must be kept in mind, particularly the amount of investment that now goes to China. ZSM

HUNGARY SIGNS NEW SAPARD AGREEMENT
Speaking at an 8 July press conference, Agriculture Minister Imre Nemeth announced that an agreement on the distribution of Special Accession Program for Agriculture and Rural Development (SAPARD) funds earmarked in 2002 has been signed by both Hungary and EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler, Hungarian media reported. Nemeth said the agreement brings an additional 12 billion-13 billion forints ($52 million-$56 million) to Hungary. He added the Star Committee in Brussels has recently approved Hungarian proposals for easing the application process and making it more effective, thereby expanding the range of potential beneficiaries. ZsM

U.S. DIPLOMAT TAKES TEMPORARY CHARGE IN KOSOVA...
In New York on 8 July, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan thanked Michael Steiner for his work as head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), international and regional media reported. Annan said he will soon appoint a successor to Steiner, adding that U.S. diplomat Charles Brayshaw, who is Steiner's deputy, will hold the post in the meantime. The German diplomat moves on to head his country's mission to the UN in Geneva amid speculation that he ultimately wants a prominent role in determining German foreign policy. PM

...AS SPECULATION CONTINUES OVER THE PERMANENT JOB
The EU's nominees to head UNMIK are said to be Swedish Ambassador to the UN Pierre Schori and veteran Italian diplomat Antonio Armellini, international and regional media reported on 8 July. The EU has the right to nominate the head of UNMIK because it is by far the largest donor of aid to Kosova. Brussels recently put forward two names instead of the usual one because of U.S. objections to Schori, who has been an outspoken critic of U.S. policies toward Iraq. The Milan daily "Corriere della Sera" reported recently that Annan wants someone with a more prominent political profile than Armellini has for the post. Veteran Balkan U.S. diplomat Jacques Klein, who had been considered a dark-horse candidate for the post, has just been named UN special representative in Liberia. PM

OIL FOR KOSOVA -- FOR SALE IN MONTENEGRO?
The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" reported on 9 July that some of the oil transiting Montenegro to Kosova from Albania and Bosnia is finding its way onto the Montenegrin market. The illegal sales are allegedly highly lucrative because the transit shipments are not charged Montenegrin customs duty or taxes. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN VILLAGERS THWART OPENING OF BORDER CROSSING
On 8 July, inhabitants of the village of Tanusevci protested the planned opening of a temporary border checkpoint with neighboring Kosova, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported. The protesters complained that the checkpoint is too far away from their village and that the government and UNMIK ignored previous agreements to open the checkpoint on the outskirts of Tanusevci. Commenting on the protests, an UNMIK spokesman said in Prishtina that nobody can be forced to use the new checkpoint, which is intended to improve cross-border economic activities in the region, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. He denied claims by some locals that the opening of the checkpoint is the beginning of a new border demarcation between Kosova and Macedonia. UB

BOSNIAN MUSLIM VICTIMS EXHUMED IN YUGOSLAV ARMY BAGS
Bosnian forensics officials told Reuters on 8 July in Zvornik that they recently exhumed from several nearby mass graves about 100 bodies of Muslims, most of which were sealed in black plastic bags identified as belonging to the former Yugoslav People's Army (JNA). Some of the mostly naked bodies had bullet holes in the head or evidence of the head being smashed with a rifle butt or other blunt object. About 1,300 Muslims from the formerly mainly Muslim Zvornik area "went missing" following the seizure of the area in early 1992 by the JNA, local Serbian forces, and Serbian paramilitaries led by Vojislav Seselj and Zeljko Raznatovic "Arkan." PM

CROATIA SEEKS ITALIAN SUPPORT IN QUEST TO JOIN EU
Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino told Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan in Zagreb on 8 July that Italy considers Croatia a "natural candidate for the EU" and will support its bid for membership, dpa reported. Martino stressed that stability in the Balkans is in the interest of Italy, which recently took over the rotating EU Presidency. Croatia seeks to catch up with Romania and Bulgaria and join the Brussels-based bloc in 2007. The EU, however, recently told Croatia and the other western Balkan countries that they have much work to do before they receive concrete dates for their admission (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). European Commission President Romano Prodi is expected in Zagreb shortly with a list of "4,000 questions" that Croatia must clarify before it completes requirements for membership. In related news, Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic and his Macedonian counterpart Branko Crvenkovski pledged in Sarajevo to work together in pursuit of EU membership, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

CROATIAN UNEMPLOYMENT DROPS
The government's Employment Bureau announced in Zagreb on 8 July that unemployment in June was down 17 percent over the same period in 2002, "Jutarnji List" reported. In absolute terms, the number of those without work fell from 385,000 to 319,000, continuing a trend that began in April 2002. New jobs have emerged primarily in the hotel and restaurant sector, reflecting a revival in the important tourist industry. Elections are due by early 2004, and the government is at pains to make good on its long-standing promises to cut joblessness. PM

PSD'S BUCHAREST BRANCH PROPOSES PREFECT, PREPARES FOR ROMANIAN ELECTIONS
A meeting of the ruling Social Democratic Party's (PSD) Bucharest Council proposed General Petre Botezatu Enescu as its candidate to be the city's prefect, Mediafax reported. The post became free after former Prefect Gabriel Oprea was named minister for public administration last month. Bucharest branches of various other political parties also presented their candidates for district-council seats and mayor for next year's local elections. PSD Bucharest Council Chairman and Economy Minister Dan Ioan Popescu said the branch has already decided on its candidate for the mayoral elections, but will wait until next year to make an announcement. ZsM

IASI COUNTY PREFECT RESIGNS
Iasi County Prefect Neculai Apostol resigned on 8 July from his post due to health reasons, Romanian media reported. Senator Ion Solcanu, the chairman of the PSD's Iasi County branch, said the organization was surprised by Apostol's decision, as it was uniformed of his intentions. PSD Deputy Paul Neamtu added that Apostol is in good health. Apostol was named prefect last August after Corneliu Rusu Banu resigned over his involvement in a phone-tapping scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, 7, and 20 August 2002). Deputy Prefect Rusu Banu will likely serve as prefect until a replacement is named. ZsM

ROMANIA FALLS NINE PLACES IN UNDP HUMAN-DEVELOPMENT RANKING
In the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) annual Human Development Report released on 8 July, Romania fell nine places to 72nd in the report's Human Development Index (see Baltic item above). That ranking placed Romania among countries listed as having "medium human development." Of all the European countries, only Ukraine (75), Albania (95), Turkey (96), and Moldova (108) fared worse in the index of 175 countries. Bulgaria was ranked 57th and Russia 63rd. The rankings are calculated using data on individual countries' per capita GDP, level of adult literacy, average life expectancy, and quality of education. ZsM

MOLDOVA MULLS OSCE PROPOSAL ON PEACEKEEPING FORCES
Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova said on 8 July it is too early to react to Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's statement that an OSCE peacekeeping force should be sent to Moldova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003), the BBC reported. Sova said the proposal must be analyzed. Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told Romanian Radio the same day that the issue remains to be discussed, but for Romania it is "very important" that such forces be deployed with European sponsorship. He added that Romania is also concerned about the composition of such forces. The same day, visiting Russian presidential administration head Aleksandr Voloshin said in Chisinau that Russia is interested in facilitating a conclusive resolution to the Transdniester conflict, according to a Moldovan presidential office release. ZsM

BULGARIAN ARMY SEEKS VOLUNTEERS FOR PEACEKEEPING CONTINGENT IN IRAQ
In what could be interpreted as problems in forming a Bulgarian contingent comprising volunteers that is slated to participate in peacekeeping operations in Iraq, Chief of General Staff General Nikola Kolev said on 8 July that some 60 positions remain open -- about 40 for military personnel and 20 for auxiliary personnel (legal advisers, interpreters, medical personnel, etc.), bnn reported. Kolev said reactivated army reservists will be used to fill out the contingent of military personnel. The army chief also criticized the government's decision to form a new volunteer battalion instead of deploying an existing professional one that was ready to leave. The contingent is to leave for Kuwait at the beginning of August, while its mission in Iraq under Polish command will begin on 1 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003). UB

BULGARIAN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS MINISTER URGES LAWMAKERS TO SPEED UP CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
European Affairs Minister Meglena Kuneva on 8 July accused the legislators of foot-dragging in drafting constitutional amendments pertaining to the judicial system, bnn reported. "It will be an ugly disappointment if you fail to produce a draft by the end of this month," Kuneva warned the temporary parliamentary commission tasked with drafting the amendments. "The European Union carefully watches and judges the legal-system reforms and you should do your best to introduce real constitutional changes by autumn." The delay in drafting the amendments is mainly due to the fact that proposals must receive the support of a three-fourths majority in parliament. UB

BULGARIA'S GOVERNING PARTY REPLACES LEADERSHIP OF PARLIAMENTARY GROUP
The parliamentary group of the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) on 8 July elected a new leadership, mediapool.bg reported. Stanimir Ilchev, who chairs the parliamentary Foreign, Defense, and Security Affairs Committee, replaces the group's controversial leader Plamen Panayotov, who was offered a cabinet position by NDSV Chairman and Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski. The new leadership includes representatives of the major rival factions within the NDSV. Observers note that the replacement of Panayotov could be aimed at luring back the 12 lawmakers who have left the parliamentary group over the past two years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). UB

BULGARIA STEPS UP SECURITY MEASURES FOR HIGHWAY TRANSIT
As the summer travel season begins, authorities have stepped up security measures to protect highway travelers, bnn reported on 8 July. The move is primarily intended to protect members of Western Europe's Turkish diaspora, who have been frequent targets of highway attacks and thefts in past summers as they traveled across Bulgaria on their way to Turkey. Following a request from Turkish travel agencies, Bulgarian police will escort travel buses as they transit the country. In addition, the Interior Ministry has printed about 100,000 Turkish-language brochures with safety instructions that are to be circulated at border crossings. The brochure lists important telephone numbers and features photographs of original police uniforms and automobiles, as many highway robberies have been carried out by people posing as police officers. UB

VASIL BYKAU: BELARUSIAN WRITER AND PATRIOT
"His life is like a potted history of Belarus." So said Judith Vidal-Hall, editor of "Index on Censorship," on hearing of the death of Vasil Bykau, the most eminent Belarusian novelist of our time. Her comment was well founded, as a brief resume of his biography shows.

Bykau was born on 19 June 1924 in the village of Bychki in Vitsebsk Oblast of the Belarusian SSR. After an education interrupted by poverty, he served in the Soviet Army during World War II and for about a year afterward. That service provided themes for his writing for decades to come. The "Great Patriotic War" was a popular theme for novelists throughout the Soviet Union. Most of their work, however, was thematically crude, focusing on grandiose plots and stereotyped characters: valiant Soviet soldiers and partisans, treacherous collaborators, evil Nazis. Bykau, however, probed the psychology of "ordinary" soldiers caught up in the horror of an extraordinary situation, and did not shrink from revealing the grim realism of war and the brutality and horror of the Stalinist regime.

His stories immediately won wide popularity in Belarus and were soon translated into Russian. His literary reputation throughout the Soviet Union was established with "The Third Flare" (1962), and consolidated with subsequent works such as "The Dead Feel No Pain" (1965), "Alpine Ballad" (1966), "The Accursed Hill" (1968), "The Kruhlanski Bridge" (1969), "Sotnikau" (1970), "Obelisk" (1971), and "Pack of Wolves" (1981).

Yet this "union-wide" reputation was not without its snags. The early Russian translations were, in Bykau's opinion, inadequate, so that eventually he felt obliged to produce his own Russian versions of his works, after their initial publication in Belarusian. These Russian versions were then translated into a number of Western languages. Again, the literary quality of these versions was not always satisfactory. Moreover, the author's name was given on these works not as Vasil Bykau, but by the Russian form "Vasilii Bykov." As a result, "Bykov" was widely assumed abroad to be a Russian author writing in Russian -- a particularly galling fate for a Belarusian patriot like Bykau.

The popularity of Bykau's work with its readers did not, however, save him from the attentions of the Soviet censors and guardians of political correctness. Often the censorship forced him to make pettifogging changes, while critics accused him of "defaming the Soviet system." At the same time, the literary establishment could not ignore the quality of his work, and, as time went by, he was awarded a number of top Soviet prizes and honors.

Then came the era of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Under the relaxations permitted in the name of glasnost and perestroika, Bykau was soon at the forefront of the Belarusian patriotic and cultural revival, becoming a prominent member of the pro-democracy, pro-independence Belarusian Popular Front, and of Martyraloh, the organization established to honor the victims of Stalin's purges in Belarus.

When Belarus became independent, these activities intensified: Bykau became founder and president of the new Belarusian PEN Center, and also president of Batskaushchyna (Land of Our Fathers), the cultural organization uniting the Belarusian diaspora with the homeland.

But the election of Alyaksandr Lukashenka as president of Belarus in 1994 meant that such pro-Belarusian initiatives no longer had the approval of the ruling powers. Official policy now emphasized the "indebtedness" of Belarusian culture and traditions to Russia, the Belarusian language was de-emphasized and the more "cultured" Russian promoted. Belarus was politically committed to "integration" with Russia in a "union state" that to patriots like Bykau threatened a loss of not only political independence for Belarus but also its national and cultural identity.

Government controls intensified and freedom of expression came increasingly under threat. Under Bykau's leadership, the Belarusian PEN Center fought these trends, issuing formal protests against the harassment of writers and editors and, in September 1995, hosting an international conference on freedom of expression. The government retaliated with various forms of bureaucratic harassment, and eventually evicted the PEN Center from its office in Minsk's Writers' House.

The government's pressure increased, however, and at the end of 1998, Bykau left Belarus under the auspices of the "Cities of Refuge" scheme, which provides refuge abroad for writers for whom the political situation in their own country is suffocating their creativity. He went first to Finland, then to Germany, and finally to the Czech Republic at the personal invitation of then-Czech President Vaclav Havel. What was to prove Bykau's last work, "The Long Way Home," appeared while he was already abroad.

Meanwhile, in Belarus, Lukashenka put in his own appointees as editors of the leading literary journals and issued them with a list of writers whose works they must not publish -- with Bykau's name at the top. Bykau constantly stressed, however, that he was abroad only "temporarily" and was not seeking political asylum. However, his health was declining, and in March he was operated on for cancer. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered, he returned to Belarus.

Soon, though, he had to be hospitalized again. He died on 22 June, the anniversary of the outbreak of the German-Soviet war that played such an important role in his literary work. His death posed a problem to the regime. Lukashenka found it necessary to express his condolences, but his message bore a subtext of political disapproval. The minister of culture attended the funeral ceremony but left when Bykau's family insisted on removing the Soviet-style "official" Belarusian flag from the memorial hall. Bykau's coffin was borne to its final resting place under the traditional -- and currently outlawed -- white-red-white flag of Belarus.

Vera Rich is a London-based freelance researcher.

AFGHAN LEADER STRONGLY CONDEMNS ATTACK ON PAKISTANI EMBASSY...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai condemned the 8 July attack on the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003), saying that those who carried out this act are "not the enemies of Pakistan -- they are, in fact, the enemies of Afghanistan," Radio Afghanistan reported on 8 July. Karzai described the perpetrators of the attack, in which approximately 2,000 protestors stormed the embassy, broke into the compound, and burned a Pakistani flag, as "enemies of Afghan-Pakistani friendship [and] of the peace and prosperity of the Afghan people." Karzai said he "strongly, strongly, and strongly condemns such actions." AT

...AND OFFERS PERSONAL APOLOGY TO PAKISTAN'S PRESIDENT...
Karzai spoke with Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf on 8 July for 25 minutes and personally apologized for the attack on the Pakistani Embassy, Pakistan's English-language daily "Dawn" reported on 9 July. He assured Musharraf that such incidents will not happen again. Karzai also expressed the value Afghanistan places on its relations with Pakistan, and said he ordered that immediate action be taken against those who carried out the attack and that some suspects have already been arrested. Karzai told a news conference in Kabul on 8 July he was awaiting an explanation from Musharraf regarding remarks Pakistan's leader made about Afghanistan during his recent tour of Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003), but after the embassy attack he decided to call Musharraf himself to "apologize for the incident," Radio Afghanistan reported on 8 July. AT

...AND ASSURANCES TO PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR
Chairman Karzai met with Pakistan's Ambassador to Afghanistan Rostam Shah Mohmand just hours after the embassy attack on 8 July, "Dawn" reported the next day. Mohmand said the Afghan leader "apologized for the incident" and offered to pay compensation for any damages as well as "full protection and guarantees against any future attacks." Mohmand, who closed the embassy following the attack and said it would not be reopened until Afghanistan paid compensation for the damage, apologized, and guaranteed the security of the mission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003), said that "the assurance has come from the head of the state. Naturally, I am satisfied." Mohmand added that while the embassy is currently unusable, its staff is "not going to go anywhere" and will remain in Kabul. AT

AFGHAN LEADER MAINTAINS STANCE ON BORDER INCURSION
During his news conference following the 8 July attack on the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul, Chairman Karzai said in reference to reported incursions by Pakistani forces inside Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 July 2003) that "the people of Afghanistan will defend their independence, territorial integrity, and their honor at the border," Radio Afghanistan reported. Without mentioning the Pakistani Embassy by name, Karzai said Afghans will also "defend their foreign guests and diplomats with dignity and honor in the capital of Kabul." According to Radio Afghanistan, Pakistan's government has confirmed that its military forces recently entered Afghan territory. Afghan government spokesman Ahmad Jawayed Lodin said on 7 July that unless Pakistan halts its operations inside Afghanistan, the Transitional Administration will strongly respond to the incursions. AT

ANTI-PAKISTAN RALLY ORGANIZED BY AFGHAN POLITICAL PARTY IN KABUL...
Apart from the violent demonstration that targeted the Pakistani Embassy on 8 July, a larger anti-Pakistan rally was organized the same day in Kabul by the Afghan Mellat (Afghan Nation) party led by Anwar al-Haq Ahadi, president of Afghanistan's central bank, the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Afghan Mellat is a nationalist party that in the past has backed the self-determination of Pashtuns living in Pakistan. "We want good relations with Pakistan but we will not tolerate anybody's interference," the BBC quoted Ahadi as saying. A representative of the Nohzat-e Melli (National Movement) party also spoke at the rally. Demonstrators protested what they called Pakistan's violation of Afghan territory in the Mohmand tribal areas, and symbolically stopped at a square named Pashtunistan -- the name used by Afghans for Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province. This demonstration might have been staged by Pashtun-based political parties in an effort to differentiate themselves from the Taliban, which was mostly composed of Pashtuns but was supported by Islamabad. AT

...AS SIMILAR MARCH TAKES PLACE IN MAZAR-E SHARIF
Hundreds of students from Balkh University in Mazar-e Sharif staged an anti-Pakistan demonstration on 8 July to criticize Pakistan's incursion into Afghan territory, Hindukosh news agency reported. The demonstrators burned an effigy of Pakistan's President Musharraf and later attacked the offices of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, demanding the unconditional withdrawal of Pakistani forces from the "occupied areas" of Afghanistan. The demonstrators also hailed Chairman Karzai's 6 July speech in which he criticized comments Musharraf made about Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003), chanting, "Long live Afghanistan and Hamid Karzai," Balkh Radio reported on 8 July. AT

TEHRAN BANS '18 TIR' EVENTS
The Tehran Governorate-General's director-general for political-security affairs, Ali Talai, announced on 8 July that "unauthorized demonstrations on 18 Tir [9 July] will be prevented," ISNA reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003). He added that no permits for any sort of demonstration have been issued. Talai said the police are "determined" to prevent any illegal events. BS

MAINSTREAM IRANIAN STUDENT ORGANIZATION CANCELS SIT-IN...
Reza Ameri-Nasab of the majority Allameh wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization said on 9 July that it has cancelled its planned sit-in at the UN office in Tehran, ISNA reported. "We will hold a news conference later to explain our reasons for canceling the sit-in," he said. Ameri-Nasab had said on 5 July that all 30 members of the Allameh wing's central council would participate in the sit-in, and in June he declared his group's determination to act on 9 July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July 2003). BS

...AND ITS LEADERS ARE KIDNAPPED
Armed vigilantes seized three members of the Office for Strengthening Unity after their press conference, Reuters reported. As police stood by, the vigilantes pushed the three into waiting cars and sped away. Other students took shelter and said that they would not come out until parliamentarians arrived to guarantee their safety. Witnesses cited by Reuters said security forces posted outside the UN headquarters prevented photographers and camera crews from filming the scene. BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATORS ASK STUDENTS NOT TO PROTEST
In a letter to the Office for Strengthening Unity, parliamentarians Fatemeh Haqiqatju, Meisam Saidi, Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeni, Reza Yusefian, and Ali Tajernia asked the students to refrain from demonstrating or staging a sit-in on 9 July so the students' demands can be addressed in a calm atmosphere, ISNA reported. The letter sought to reassure the students by telling them that their parliamentary representatives will do everything in their power to follow up on issues such as securing the release of detained students. BS

MORE THAN 300 IRANIAN STUDENT ASSOCIATIONS CALL FOR TRANSPARENT TRIALS
Three hundred and six student associations from Iranian universities issued a statement on the eve of the 18 Tir anniversary, ISNA reported on 8 July. The statement noted that in addition to the police, the "principal masterminds" responsible for the 9 July 1999 attack on the Tehran University campus are "a group of [foreign] affiliated graduates and students from a certain student association." The statement charged that these individuals played on public anger over the sham trial of the individuals who attacked the university dormitory to get themselves elected to parliament (for more on the trial, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 6 March, 5 June, and 17 July 2000). The statement went on to criticize the politicization of the campus: "Unfortunately, a number of political currents affiliated to America and certain politicized elements see the university as a place for political games and students as a ladder up to power." To avoid the repetition of this pattern, the statement urged the judiciary to deal with the results of the June 2003 unrest in a transparent manner and with a public trial. BS

IRANIAN CONSERVATIVES CRITICAL OF ECONOMY...
Iranian conservatives have attempted to shift the focus from disquiet over political and legislative issues to public dissatisfaction with the Iranian economy, and this trend was attacked in an 8 July report in the "Yas-i No" newspaper. The reformist daily opened by saying that complaints about recent hikes in the prices of bread, sugar, railway tickets, potatoes, milk, chicken, etc., ignore the fact that "most of those price rises were within the framework of the five-year [development] plan that had been approved by all the leading figures of the system, and not only by Khatami's government." The report stated that the right-wing press brought up the issue in late May, and this trend continued through June in publications such as "Entekhab," "Jam-i Jam," "Jomhuri-yi Islami," "Kayhan," "Resalat," and "Siyasat-i Ruz." False rumors about the "privatization" of the universities led to clashes and unrest. President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami has been trying to defend his administration's economic record (see below). BS

...AND GOVERNMENT DEFENDS IT
President Khatami said in a 7 July speech that his political rivals are portraying the economic situation in Iran inaccurately and the level of foreign investment indicates economic development, IRNA reported. "Some dignitaries are taking the tribune of sacred Friday prayers to voice bitter criticism against the government. They speak in the name of religion to accuse the government system in the worst possible manner." Khatami was referring to Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi's pre-sermon speech on 4 July. Mesbah-Yazdi said in that speech that the economy is unhealthy and the state is usurious, ILNA reported. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh addressed the accusation of usury during his 6 July press conference, ISNA reported. "The Islamic banking law was approved during the era of the Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini], may his noble soul be sanctified in paradise. All the Guardian Council jurisconsults approved it as well." BS

IAEA CHIEF BEGINS IRANIAN VISIT...
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohammad el-Baradei arrived in Iran on 9 July, Iranian state radio reported. Prior to his takeoff from Frankfurt Airport, el-Baradei said he intends to encourage Tehran to sign the Addition Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Additional Protocol permits more intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities. Akbar Alami, a parliamentary representative from Tabriz who serves on the National Security and Foreign Relations Committee, said on 8 July that signing the Additional Protocol would serve countries such as Israel and deprive Iran of its right to self-defense, Fars News Agency reported. Alami said Iran should not sign the agreement if it does not stand to gain anything. Iran should sign only if other countries do so and if a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East is created, he said. "Those countries that possess nuclear weapons must provide the necessary technology for the construction of nuclear reactors to us so that we can use such technology for peaceful purposes," Alami added. BS

...AND ENCOURAGES IRANIAN TRANSPARENCY
El-Baradei met with Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and afterward described their talks as "positive and constructive," IRNA reported. "We believe it is only through this framework that Iran has a right to use nuclear energy and related technology for peaceful purposes," he said. Kharrazi also commented positively on the discussion and told reporters that el-Baradei's visit promoted Iranian cooperation with the IAEA. Kharrazi wondered aloud why Israel is not being pressured to sign the NPT, whereas Iran, which already is an NPT signatory, is being pressured to sign the Additional Protocol. BS

TWO FORMER IRAQI REGIME MEMBERS IN CUSTODY
Two more former members of the deposed regime of Saddam Hussein have been taken into coalition custody, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) announced in a 9 July statement posted on the its website (http://www.centcom.mil). Mizban Khadr al-Hadi, identified as a high-ranking member of the Ba'ath Party's regional command and the Revolutionary Command Council, was 23rd on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis. He reportedly turned himself in to coalition forces in Baghdad. Coalition forces reportedly also captured Former Iraqi Interior Minister Mahmud Dhiyab al-Ahmad, although CENTCOM did not offer details of his detention. He was 29th on the CENTCOM list. KR

COALITION OFFERS REWARD FOR INFORMATION ON ATTACKS
The U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) announced on 8 July a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone connected with attacks on coalition troops or Iraqi policemen, AP reported on 9 July. "I urge the Iraqi people to come forward to take these people off the streets of the country," former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik, who is now a CPA adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry, said when announcing the reward. The reward campaign appears to coincide with other recent offers by the CPA. A press release posted on the CPA's website (http://cpa-iraq.org) dated 3 July offered up to $25 million for information leading to Saddam Hussein's capture or confirmation of his death. Rewards of up to $15 million each are offered for information leading to the capture or confirmation of the death of Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein. KR

U.S. HOLDING FORMER IRAQI DIPLOMAT WHO ALLEGEDLY MET WITH 11 SEPTEMBER HIJACKER
The U.S. military has reportedly detained an Iraqi intelligence officer who allegedly met with the lead 11 September hijacker months before the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, an unnamed U.S. official told Reuters on 8 July. The official reportedly said that Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani was taken into custody at an undisclosed location in early July. Some officials in the Czech Republic had alleged that al-Ani met with suspected hijacker Muhammad Atta in Prague in April 2001, but those allegations have been disputed by other Czech sources and were never confirmed by the FBI or CIA. In addition, U.S. officials have long contended that a link existed between deposed Iraqi leader Hussein and Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda terrorist network, but that link remains unproven. KR

ANOTHER PURPORTED HUSSEIN AUDIOTAPE IS AIRED
A second audiotape purporting to carry the voice of deposed President Hussein aired on two Arabic-language satellite channels -- Lebanese broadcaster LBC and Qatar-based Al-Jazeera -- on 8 July. The speaker says he has made several appeals to the Iraqi people, but alleges that some have not reached the international press due to a U.S.-controlled media blackout. "Therefore we have sent several letters to the Iraqis in some governorates and districts as alternatives to audio messages through external media agencies," the voice says. The speaker addresses Iraqi ethnic and religious groups, saying, "It is your duty to expel the invaders" from Iraq. He also instructs Iraqis to "unify your ranks and act as one hand," adding, "[You should also] boycott them by not selling or buying from them and carry out peaceful demonstrations and civil disobedience in addition to opening fire on the occupation forces with rifles, artillery, and [rocket] launchers." The voice has not been confirmed as belonging to Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile, the CIA announced on 7 July that an earlier message by Hussein recorded on 14 June and aired by Al-Jazeera on 4 July appears to be authentic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). KR

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