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Newsline - July 18, 2003


PRIME MINISTER SAYS PRIVATIZATION RESULTS 'UNCHANGEABLE'...
During a cabinet session on 17 July devoted to the topic of privatization, Mikhail Kasyanov said that "the results of privatization remain unchangeable and privatization will remain one of the basic elements of government policy," Russian media reported. Kasyanov did not mention the recent investigations into Yukos or any other major companies, but "Argumenty i fakty," No. 29, reported that former President Boris Yeltsin has "very persistently" lobbied the prime minister to defend the privatization process. According to the weekly, Yeltsin feels that any review of old privatizations could negatively affect the so-called Family of insiders that developed during his administration. Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) President Arkadii Volskii said that during his most recent meeting with President Vladimir Putin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003), Putin said he had nothing to do with the Yukos investigations, "as I do not put people into prison," gzt.ru and "Vedomosti" reported on 17 July. He also does not get them out of prison, "Vedomosti" commented. Volskii repeated his concerns that the Yukos affair could harm the business climate in Russia, and proposed that a statute of limitation of three years be imposed on privatization cases. VY

...BUT DEPUTY MINISTER SAYS SOME CASES WILL STILL BE INVESTIGATED...
First Deputy Property Relations Minister Aleksandr Braverman, who oversees privatization policy, said following the cabinet meeting that Prime Minister Kasyanov's statement means that there will be no political decision to revise privatization as a process, newsru.com and RTR reported on 17 July. He said that both Kasyanov and President Putin have repeatedly affirmed their commitment to privatization. However, this commitment does not mean that the government surrenders its right to look into and, if necessary, revise particular cases of privatization, Braverman added. At the same time, he emphasized that the government will only do so by methods that do not cause panic on the markets. VY

...AND OUTLINES PRIVATIZATION PROCESS THROUGH 2008
First Deputy Minister Braverman also said that the government will continue its privatization process until its scheduled completion in 2008, Russian media reported. According to the cabinet's plan, next year the government will sell its stakes in companies of which it currently owns 25 percent or less. There are 1,679 such companies, and the government is not able effectively to affect the way they are managed, Braverman said. Selling off these stakes will be an important anticorruption measure, he emphasized. In 2005, the government will sell its stakes in companies of which it owns 25 percent-50 percent. For the most part, these companies are in energy, machine building, and construction. The following year, the government will privatize its holding in civil aviation, the petrochemical industry, and the agriculture sector. In 2007-08, the government will divest itself of its remaining commercial properties, Braverman said. VY

YUKOS PROBES CONTINUE...
The Prosecutor-General's Office has received a new request from the office of Duma Deputy Vladimir Yudin (Russian Regions), asking for an investigation into the privatization of a company called Rospan International, which is currently co-owned by Yukos and the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK), izvestia.ru and other Russian media reported on 17 July. According to the request, Rospan was owned by the state-controlled natural-gas giant Gazprom until 1999. In that year, however, the company entered the bankruptcy process and in 2002 it was purchased by Yukos and TNK. Yudin has asked prosecutors to check the legality of the documentation connected with this deal. Meanwhile, Colonel General Valerii Manilov, who is deputy chairman of the Federation Council's Security Committee, has appealed to Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov to intervene in the Yukos affair and "to defend effectively the national interests and security of Russia," "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 17 July. Ella Pamfilova, chairwoman of the presidential Human Rights Commission, announced that her office and two small-business associations have formed a special crisis group to protect the interests of businesspeople, RIA-Novosti reported on 17 July. Pamfilova also said that she met earlier on 17 July with Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to discuss ways of resolving the Yukos investigations. VY

...AS PUBLIC SUPPORTS EFFORTS AGAINST THE OLIGARCHS
Seventy-seven percent of Russians believe that the results of the country's privatization process should be fully or partially revised, according to a survey by the ROMIR polling agency that was conducted on 6-14 July and reported in "Vedomosti" on 18 July. Just 18 percent of respondents are categorically opposed to such a step. The survey of 1,500 people found that 77 percent of businesspeople support such a revision, as do 88 percent of executives, and 87 percent of respondents with higher education. Seventy-seven percent of respondents also said that the oligarchs have played a negative role in Russian history. Fifty-three percent agree that the state would be justified in using force to deal with the oligarchs, while 31 percent said the state should do so only in "extreme situations." VY

PUTIN LAMENTS GROWTH OF BUREAUCRACY...
Visiting the town of Staraya Ladoga in Leningrad Oblast on 17 July, President Putin met with local mayors, school directors, doctors, and businessmen to discuss the problems of small-city development, Russian media reported. According to REN-TV, Putin agreed that new jobs should be created in the private sector. However, he added helplessly: "Every five to seven years we make drastic cuts in the staffs of budget-funded institutions. Yet they keep swelling relentlessly. You make the cuts, and three years later it is back to square one. Why? Because these jobs are the easiest to create." Putin also called for reducing bureaucratic barriers to new business development and "cutting bureaucracy wherever we can." JAC

...PENSIONERS COMMENT ON BATTLE AGAINST OLIGARCHS...
According to "Vremya novostei" on 18 July, President Putin spoke with local pensioners in Staraya Ladoga, who were primarily concerned with decaying pipes and broken down heating systems. However, one group of pensioners told "Kommersant-Daily" that they were there primarily to thank Putin for raising pensions by 8 percent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003). "Kommersant-Daily" correspondent Andrei Kolesnikov asked the pensioners if perhaps money should be taken from the oligarchs and given to them. One pensioner, Nikolai Uvarov, chairman of the council of veterans for Volkhovskii Raion, admitted that he had wanted to ask that question of Leningrad Oblast Governor Valerii Serdyukov during a recent visit to the town, but he was afraid to do so. Another commented with skepticism, "You will really take [money] from [Yukos head Mikhail] Khodorkovskii...." "We will see," Uvarov countered. When asked if things were better in their lives, Uvarov commented that the stores now have lots of sausage. JAC

...AND WEEKLY WARNS AGAINST STIRRING UP CLASS HATRED
Meanwhile, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 29, commented that during the run-up to State Duma elections in December and presidential elections in March 2004, President Putin is increasingly being "reminded of his public pledge to 'eliminate the oligarchs as a class.'" The weekly continued: "In Russia, embittered by poverty, that would mean letting out the genie of class hatred. Redistribution of property is a very dangerous game. It once took Russia out of the European mainstream for nearly a century." JAC

PART OF BLACK SEA FLEET TO BE REMOVED FROM SEVASTOPOL
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who is conducting an inspection tour of the North Caucasus Military District, said on 17 July that Russia is speeding up the pace of construction of a new naval base at Novorossiisk for some elements of the Black Sea Fleet, RTR reported. The entire Black Sea Fleet is currently based at the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, and Ivanov noted that it is always better to have several bases. He said that following completion of the Novorossiisk base, Russia will be able to save part of the $100 million a year that it currently pays Ukraine to lease the Sevastopol base. However, he emphasized that Russia will not be leaving Sevastopol completely, even after the Novorossiisk base is finished. VY

GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL CONFIRMS HIS DEPARTURE
Aleksei Volin, deputy head of the government apparatus, confirmed on 17 July that he will leave government service, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003). Volin has been responsible for the government's information policy. According to strana.ru, Volin's departure was not unexpected. Volin's boss and close associate, Igor Shuvalov, has already left, according to the website, because he dislikes "intrigue" and values stability in cadre policy. That, the website says Shuvalov thought, has been absent from the government for some time. In addition, according to strana.ru, Volin's views did not always coincide with those of the government. For example, he publicly expressed his disagreement with the increasing role of the state in the mass-media sector. JAC

SARATOV RESIDENT LOOKS TO COURTS FOR SOLUTION TO FLAT'S WATER PROBLEM
Saratov resident Lev Volfman has filed a lawsuit seeking damages for routine disruptions in the supply of cold water to his apartment and won, "Novaya gazeta," No. 51, reported. Volfman filed the suit in April and on 11 July a raion-level court found in his favor and awarded him 3,000 rubles ($99). Volfman believes that this is one of the largest such compensation awards granted by the raion court. He also believes that if other consumers file similar lawsuits in every city, then residents will finally have their right to water assured. Currently, Volfman's apartment has no hot water, but a water heater costs around 3,000 rubles. In the fall, he plans to file another lawsuit. JAC

FSB SAYS ARABS ENTERING RUSSIA THROUGH KUDYMKAR
Citizens from Arabic countries have been entering Russia through Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, and then "disappearing somewhere inside Russia," ITAR-TASS reported on 17 July, citing Nikolai Piyukov, head of the Komi Republic's Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate. According to the agency, Piyukov suspects the foreign citizens might be heading for Chechnya. Criminal proceedings have been launched against several passport and visa-service employees. JAC

ROBBERS POSING AS POLICE MAKE OFF WITH MILLIONS
Five men dressed in Interior Ministry uniforms and led by a man posing as an Interior Ministry major on 17 July stopped a car belonging to a commercial firm in an eastern Moscow neighborhood, Russian media reported. The men reportedly handcuffed the people in the car and then stole several million rubles in cash that the vehicle was transporting. The Interior Ministry labeled the incident "unusually brazen" and launched a sweeping effort to find the perpetrators. No arrests have been made yet, RTR reported. VY

MORE JOURNALISTS ON TRIAL IN REGIONS
Newspaper workers in Perm picketed on 17 July outside a court room where two reporters from the local newspaper "Zvezda" -- Konstantin Bakharev and Konstantin Sterlyadev -- are being tried for divulging state secrets, regions.ru reported. Bakharev and Sterlyadev published a series of articles on the local drug trade that attracted the attention of local FSB officers. According to an earlier report, the journalists have not been told which state secrets they disclosed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2003). The reporters' colleagues at "Zvezda" fear that Bakharev and Sterlyadev face the real possibility of having to serve prison time. In Velikii Novgorod, a municipal-court trial began against "Russkoye veche" Editor in Chief Pavel Ivanov, who is facing charges of inciting interethnic hatred, Interfax reported. Ivanov published a series of articles last year allegedly "exposing a Jewish-Masonic conspiracy of Novgorod authorities against the people." JAC

PAMYAT MOVEMENT REMEMBERED
Founder and leader of the ultranationalist Pamyat movement Dmitrii Vasilev, 58, died on 17 July after a long illness, Russian media reported. As RFE/RL's Russian Service observed, 15 years ago every person who had even a passing interest in Russian politics knew Vasilev's name. During the early years of the rule of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Pamyat became one of the first opposition political parties in the Soviet Union, and it organized one of the first large, unsanctioned public demonstrations. According to polit.ru, Vasilev argued with a number of other well-known Russian nationalists, and it was already clear in the early 1990s that Pamyat was no longer a real political force. According to RFE/RL's Russian Service, one of Vasilev's last political acts was to send a letter to President Putin asking that a memorial to the victims of the "Jewish-Bolshevik genocide" be constructed in Moscow. Putin did not respond to Vasilev's proposal, the service noted. JAC

THREE KILLED BY BOMB IN DAGHESTAN
Three people, including a 5-year-old child, were killed and 38 wounded when a mine planted in a parked scooter exploded in the town of Khasavyurt on 17 July, Russian media reported. Interfax on 17 July quoted Interior Minister Adilgirey Magomedtagirov as blaming the bombing on militant Islamists intent on destabilizing the situation in Daghestan. Daghestan's Deputy Prosecutor-General Zaur Isaev told journalists in Makhachkala on 18 July that "the crime was committed by our neighbors from Chechnya," according to an RFE/RL correspondent. LF

FSB ASSESSES CHECHEN SITUATION
FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev flew to Chechnya on 17 July to chair a conference on the gradual handover of responsibility for the "antiterrorism operation" in Chechnya from his agency to the Interior Ministry, Russian media reported. That process began on 1 July and should be completed within three months. A Russian military spokesman told ITAR-TASS that Patrushev stressed the importance of improving cooperation among law enforcement agencies. Participants also focused on the planning and implementation of special operations to locate and apprehend Chechen fighters. LF

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION SEEKS TO PREVENT VOTE FRAUD
Shavarsh Kocharian of the opposition Artarutiun election bloc told journalists in Yerevan on 17 July that he will deploy additional proxies at polling stations on 20 July in the repeat election he is contesting in a Yerevan constituency, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Responding to an appeal by Kocharian, the Constitutional Court on 2 July annulled the results of the voting in that constituency in the 25 May parliamentary election on the grounds of fraud, and deprived independent candidate Vladimir Badalian of his mandate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). Badalian is one of six candidates contesting the repeat election, together with Ararat Zurabian, chairman of the board of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement -- which failed on 25 May to win a single parliamentary mandate -- and a candidate from the Democratic Party of Armenia. LF

DASHNAKTSUTIUN REAFFIRMS OPPOSITION TO ARMENIAN-TURKISH PARLIAMENTARY COOPERATION
Gegham Manukian, who is a spokesman for the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun (HHD), told RFE/RL on 17 July that his party opposes the creation of an Armenian-Turkish parliamentary friendship group. Parliament Speaker Artur Baghdasarian proposed last month establishing such a group to promote the normalization of relations between the two countries. He said the EU supports his proposal. But Deputy Parliament Speaker Vahan Hovannisian of the HHD rejected Baghdasarian's suggestion, reaffirming the HHD insistence that Turkish recognition of the 1915 genocide is a precondition for closer bilateral relations. Hovannisian has also argued against the rumored imminent opening of a border crossing between the two countries, which, he claims, would inflict serious damage on the Armenian economy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). LF

EMBATTLED ARMENIAN TV STATIONS LOSE TENDER BIDS
Armenia's National Television and Radio Commission rejected on 18 July bids by the A1+ and Noyan Tapan television stations for broadcasting licenses, Noyan Tapan reported. A1+ was deprived of its original frequency in April 2002 and lost a bid for an alternative frequency last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 June and 15 July 2003). In the most recent tender, it bid for three frequencies, but was not awarded any of them. Noyan Tapan bid for one frequency, which was awarded to EV TV, which rebroadcasts CNN programming in English. LF

AMBASSADOR SAYS AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT IN GOOD HEALTH, SPIRITS
Heidar Aliev continues to undergo medical treatment at the Gulhane military hospital in Ankara, but will return to Azerbaijan in the next few days, Turan quoted Azerbaijan's Ambassador to Turkey Mamed Aliev as telling Azerbaijan State Television on 17 July. Turan had reported 24 hours earlier that the president had left Gulhane for a nearby Turkish government residence. The ambassador said Heidar Aliev is in good health and good spirits. LF

FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SUBMITS ELECTION APPLICATION
An application by former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov to register as a candidate in the 15 October presidential election was submitted to the Central Election Commission (CEC) on 16 July, Turan reported. As of 16 July, the CEC had approved the applications of 19 candidates and rejected nine. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY LEADER'S BODYGUARDS RELEASED
Three bodyguards of Musavat party Chairman Isa Gambar who were sentenced on 16 July to 10 days' administrative imprisonment after being detained by traffic police in Baku were released from custody on 17 July, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003). Four other members of Gambar's entourage who were similarly sentenced to 15 days' administrative imprisonment on 14 July remain in detention. LF

GEORGIAN POLITICAL PARTIES STILL AT ODDS OVER COMPOSITION OF TOP ELECTION BODY
Georgia's political parties have still not reached agreement on which of them should be represented on the new Central Election Commission under the model proposed by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker during his visit to Tbilisi two weeks ago (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). Baker proposed that the ruling authorities nominate five members of the CEC and the opposition nine, and a group of opposition parties reached consensus on 12 July that the Union of Traditionalists, the Labor Party, Ertoba (Unity), the New Rightists, the National Movement, the United Democrats, the Industrialists, the Revival Union, and one faction of the divided supporters of deceased President Zviad Gamsakhurdia should each have one seat. But Revival Union leader and Adjar Supreme Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze rejected that proposal on 14 July, arguing that as Revival polled the second largest number of votes in the November 1999 elections it is entitled to three seats. The Industrialists, who came third in that ballot, are demanding two seats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003). LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION CONTINUES TO PROTEST PENSION DELAY
Five parliament deputies from the opposition National Movement are continuing a hunger strike they began on 16 July on the premises of the Justice Ministry to protest that body's ruling suspending a court order that the pension backlog owed to pensioners in Samtredia Raion be paid immediately, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Justice Minister Roland Giligashvili told Caucasus Press on 16 July that the hunger strikers are breaking the law and impeding the work of ministry personnel. He suggested that they are motivated less by concern for the Samtredia pensioners than by the desire to embarrass the authorities in the run-up to the 2 November parliamentary election. On 18 July, parliament deputy Elgudja Medzmarishvili announced that payment of the pensions backlog has begun, and that President Eduard Shevardnadze has appealed to the hunger strikers to end their protest, Caucasus Press reported. LF

INVESTIGATION SHOWS GEORGIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS FALSIFIED
A committee established last year to investigate allegations of fraud during the 2 June local elections has passed to the Prosecutor General's office evidence that the outcome of that ballot was "totally falsified," committee chairman and parliament deputy Zakari Kutsnashvili told Caucasus Press on 14 July. LF

NO PROGRESS REGISTERED IN SOUTH OSSETIAN TALKS
Government delegations from Georgia, Russia, the Republic of North Ossetia, and the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia met, together with OSCE experts, in Tskhinvali on 15-17 July but failed to reduce the mutual suspicion and hostility between the Georgian and South Ossetian authorities, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian delegation blocked a request by South Ossetia for the dispatch of Russian police to help crack down on crime in South Ossetia, whose President Eduard Kokoyty recently fired his interior and security ministers for their imputed involvement in criminal activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 July 2003). A further round of talks has been scheduled for October. In related news, Caucasus Press on 18 July quoted South Ossetian official Teimuraz Kusov as warning that a formal request by Georgia to the UN to launch a peace-enforcement operation against the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia would only compound tensions in South Ossetia. The Georgian parliament voted on 16 July to ask the government to make such a formal request to the UN (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003). LF

KAZAKH REFORMIST PARTY'S CANDIDATES WILL RUN AS INDEPENDENTS
Candidates of the Kazakh reformist-opposition Ak Zhol Party will run in the September elections to local councils as independents instead of on a party list, party co-Chairman Alikhan Baimenov told a news conference in Almaty on 17 June, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Baimenov said the party leadership has decided on this measure because it would make it more difficult for local authorities to interfere with the nomination of Ak Zhol candidates. He added that 250 Ak Zhol members and supporters have already nominated themselves, and the party's leadership has received reports that in some cases local officials have violated the law when registering candidates. The party reportedly expects that 1,000 members and sympathizers will run, and that about half of them will be elected if, Baimenov commented, "the elections are held fairly," which in his view is problematic under existing electoral legislation. The revision of Kazakhstan's electoral laws is being discussed, but remains a long way from enactment. BB

KAZAKH DELEGATION DISCUSSES WTO MEMBERSHIP
A delegation of Kazakh government officials headed by Industry and Trade Minister Adilbek Dzhaksybekov held talks in Geneva on 9-15 July on joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), khabar.kz and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 17 July, citing a Foreign Ministry press release. During discussions with WTO Director-General Supachai Panitchpakdi, both sides reportedly agreed that Kazakhstan needs to make its economy more competitive before joining the organization. Panitchpakdi confirmed a WTO Secretariat offer to provide technical and organizational help to prepare Kazakhstan for membership. The WTO official reportedly praised Kazakhstan's progress in reforming its foreign-trade regime and for adopting WTO and internationally accepted accounting practices. The Kazakh delegation also met with representatives of a number of WTO member states to discuss conditions for increasing access to Kazakhstan's goods and services market. The Kazakh Foreign Ministry assessed the Geneva talks favorably, saying they cemented earlier progress toward eventual WTO membership. The only Central Asian state that is already a WTO member is Kyrgyzstan. BB

UZBEK BORDER GUARD SHOOTS KYRGYZ CITIZEN...
An Uzbek border guard shot dead a Kyrgyz citizen in the Kyrgyz border town of Karasuu in southern Kyrgyzstan's Osh Oblast on 16 July, kabar.kg and RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 17 July. The victim was identified as Adylzhan Urkunbaev, a resident of Karasuu. Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Bazarbai Mambetov confirmed reports of the killing. According to police reports, Urkunbaev had been among a group of Karasuu residents who crossed into Uzbekistan over a wooden bridge about half a kilometer from the official border crossing. According to a 16 July article on msn.kg, citizens of both countries frequently resort to such measures to get across the border. The Karasuu group was reported to have been stopped by Uzbek border guards, who argued with them and struck one of the Kyrgyz citizens in the face with a rifle. The group from Karasuu turned back into Kyrgyz territory when one of the guards, whom Kyrgyz authorities have been unable to identify, shot and killed Urkunbaev. BB

...AFTER UZBEK BORDER GUARDS ABDUCT A KYRGYZ CITIZEN TO UZBEKISTAN...
According to information provided to journalists after the 16 July shooting in Karasuu, a Kyrgyz citizen named Abdynabi Azhybaev was arrested on 14 July by Uzbek border guards on the frontier of the Uzbek exclave of Sokh in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. He was taken to the city of Ferghana, the nearest Uzbek administrative center, reportedly because he had no passport. The administration of Batken Oblast is reported to be drawing up a protest letter to the authorities in neighboring Ferghana Oblast demanding that such treatment be stopped and threatening to "take appropriate measures." In December 2002, Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry sent the Uzbek Foreign Ministry a draft memorandum on preventing incidents along the border between the two countries. However, the head of the Kyrgyz ministry's CIS section, Erkin Mamkulov, told journalists that there has been no response. BB

...AND UZBEK AUTHORITIES AGREE TO OPENING OF NEW BORDER CROSSINGS
The Uzbek authorities have agreed to a Kyrgyz request to open 13 more border-crossing points between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, uzreport.com reported on 18 July, citing Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Mambetov. According to the report, Mambetov said that additional crossing points will make possible increased trade between the two countries. He reportedly added that in order to improve cross-border trade in a meaningful way, at least 40 additional border-crossing points need to be created. BB

TURKMEN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS AMBASSADOR TO ARMENIA DID NOT DEFECT
Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 17 July asserting that former Turkmen Ambassador to Armenia Toily Gurbanov has not defected, but has resigned his post to pursue scientific activities, turkmenistan.ru reported on 18 July. Earlier media reports said that Gurbanob has been granted political asylum in the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003). The Foreign Ministry statement added that the story of Gurbanov's defection was "speculation" on the part of unnamed news agencies that had failed to check their facts. The statement added that former Turkmen Ambassador to Great Britain Chary Babaev, who asked for political asylum earlier this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 May 2003), has been fired because authorities believe he had an unspecified connection with the planners of the purported November 2002 coup attempt against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. No criminal charges had been filed against Babaev. BB

UZBEK DEFENSE MINISTRY AND UNAIDS LAUNCH JOINT PROJECT ON AIDS PREVENTION IN THE ARMED FORCES
The Uzbek Defense Ministry and UNAIDS are launching an educational project to prevent the spread of AIDS in the Uzbek armed forces, uza.uz reported on 17 July. The project is planned to last until December 2004. According to the report, the Defense Ministry approached UN agencies in Tashkent in 2002 seeking such a project, which is the first of its kind. Most of the funding for the $75 million effort is being provided by the UN. The focus of the project is training teachers at military-educational institutions and deputy commanders of military units about AIDS-prevention techniques, as well as teaching military medical staff about AIDS diagnosis and treatment. BB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SEEKS TIGHTER GRIP ON ENERGY SECTOR
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka demanded on 17 July that the Belarusian government create transparent plans for the supply of coal, electricity, oil, and gas, Belapan reported, quoting the president's press office. "Energy resources are strategic [and] socially important goods, and no one should be allowed to thrive on them and make super profits," Lukashenka said. The president urged the government to work with energy suppliers directly rather than through intermediaries. He also instructed the Energy Ministry and state-owned petrochemical concern Belneftekhim to seek a reduction in the price of energy imports, establish tight control over domestic energy prices, and prepare proposals for Belarusian participation in developing Russian oil fields. The government should increase its involvement in deliveries of energy resources, Lukashenka added, noting that it could earn $100 million-$120 million a year on such transactions. AM

UKRAINIAN NGOS TO RECEIVE USAID GRANTS ON CIVIL-SOCIETY PROJECTS
Thirteen Ukrainian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) carrying out projects to further civil society within the framework of the Ukrainian Community Action Network (UCAN) will receive grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Interfax reported on 17 July. The grants range from $10,000 to $50,000. The same day, grant agreements were signed between NGOs and UCAN in Kyiv, marking the end of the first year of the UCAN grant program. Some 250 Ukrainian NGOs competed for grants in late January under that program. USAID awarded grants to projects aimed at agricultural reform, the defense of women's and children's rights, transparency in the work of parliament, the improvement of regional economic policy, and housing and utilities reform. The USAID intends to provide 60 Ukrainian NGOs with grants totaling $1 million. AM

ESTONIAN PREMIER SATISFIED WITH FIRST 100 DAYS IN OFFICE
In interviews with the dailies "Postimees" and "Eesti Paevaleht" of 18 July, Juhan Parts said he is satisfied with his cabinet's achievements but pledged to present more specific proposals on promises he made, LETA reported. "We have an extremely strong road map and in 100 days we have started to face the challenges to which the people gave a very powerful 'yes' vote in the previous elections," the news agency quoted him as saying. Parts said his government's most important priorities are the EU referendum in September and preparing the 2004 state budget, as well as "preparing the process of transferring to a science-based economy." He also said a stable government is in the interests of Estonia and that he expects to stay in office at least until the next parliamentary elections, which are scheduled to take place in March 2007. SG

LATVIAN HEALTH MINISTRY TURNS DOWN WORLD BANK'S LOAN OFFER
The Health Ministry, on the recommendation of the Finance Ministry, has decided to turn down the World Bank's offer to lend $20 million to upgrade the structure of Latvia's health-care providers, LETA reported on 17 July. Health Minister Ingrida Circene said that in rejecting the loan offer the ministry is not rejecting the so-called master plan for upgrading the structure, which would involve 24 local hospitals and 10 multipurpose emergency-aid centers, but will seek loans from other sources that have fewer conditions. "The [World Bank] demands involvement of foreign experts in supervision, control, [and] analyses and, this costs a lot," she said. Circene also said some money from EU structural funds granted to Latvia could be used for the plan. SG

EFFORT TO OPEN CHECHEN WEBSITE IN LITHUANIA UNSUCCESSFUL
Parliament deputy Petras Grazulis efforts to begin running the Chechen pro-independence website Kavkaz-Tsentr from his apartment in the parliamentarians' residence failed on 16 July, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 18 July. Lithuanian telephone workers discovered that the phone lines leading to Grazulis's fifth-floor apartment had been cut on the third floor. Grazulis accused the State Security Department (VSD) of cutting the lines at Russia's request, which a VSD representative called "absolute nonsense." The parliament's chancellery had told Grazulis that he has no right to set up the website's server in his apartment, which is state-owned. Grazulis countered that he did not sign any agreement with the apartment building that would limit his activities and said he intends to file a complaint to the police. SG

POLISH PREMIER ANNOUNCES 'HARD TIMES' FOR FUEL COUNTERFEITERS
Signaling a crackdown on rampant fraud at filling stations and other fuel outlets, Premier Leszek Miller said on 17 July that "hard times are coming for fuel counterfeiters," PAP reported. Those who tamper with fuel will be given high fines in addition to prison sentences, Miller said while visiting Warsaw's Central Oil Laboratory. Miller also announced stricter inspections and regulations to combat the sale of low-quality fuel. Any fund request from the Office for the Protection of Competition and the Consumer (UOKiK) for inspections will be "favorably examined," Miller added. UOKiK inspected 600 fuel stations all over the country in June, concluding that 30 percent of them sold low-quality fuel and 60 percent showed other irregularities, including false readings at the pump. The government wants regulations on fuel monitoring to take effect on 1 October. Under the draft regulations, filling stations selling fuel that did not meet minimum standards would be fined $28,000 and assigned a yellow mark that must me made clearly visible to consumers. If the offense were repeated, the station would be fined $56,000 and receive a red mark. A third violation would result in the revocation of a filling station's license for trading in fuel. AM

MINISTER ASSURES COUNTRY THAT POLISH TROOPS WILL RETURN FROM IRAQ ON TIME
Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski vowed on 17 July that Polish troops serving in the Polish-led stabilization force in Iraq will return home on time, Polish state radio reported. Polish soldiers will be rotated every six months, Szmajdzinski stressed. A Polish contingent of 2,300 servicemen is expected to arrive to Iraq in mid-August. The Polish-led international division will be staffed by servicemen from nearly 20 countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 June 2003). "We are considering an air bridge that will have to be put into operation to supplement materials, equipment, spare parts, and to carry mail," Szmajdzinski added, noting that the weekly flight between Poland and Iraq might also stop over in Kyiv, Odesa, or Sofia. AM

CZECH PREMIER HAILS 'UNCOMMON' U.S. WELCOME
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said during a stopover in Texas on 18 July that Washington appears to have given his Czech delegation an unusually warm welcome, CTK reported. "It is not common for a delegation from a state like ours to be received this way," Spidla said. "In my opinion, it is clear that our relations are good and that Americans have tried to make that well evident." Many of the reported discussions between senior Czech and U.S. officials have focused on Iraqi reconstruction, defense procurements, and Czech military reform. Some Czech commentators have suggested that Spidla has outplayed President Vaclav Klaus with respect to the "trans-Atlantic card," wresting the initiative in setting the tone for Czech-EU and Czech-U.S. relations. The left-leaning "Pravo" daily's commentator Alexandr Mitrofanov wrote on 18 July that Social Democrat Spidla is meeting with considerable success during his U.S. visit, "where he is walking along red carpets, Rose Gardens, and White Houses, enjoying honors that are [normally] due only to the biggest American allies." Mitrofanov credited Spidla's pragmatism in foreign policy, suggesting that it derives from a desire to "maximally protect Czech national interests": "Spidla has been saying for years that to remain in isolation would be a disaster for a small country like the Czech Republic." AH

OPPOSITION DEPUTY CHIDES SLOVAK CABINET FOR SUMMER RECESS
Monika Benova, an opposition Smer party deputy who heads parliament's Integration Committee, has criticized the cabinet for adjourning when there is so much to do before Slovakia is ready for EU entry, TASR reported on 17 July. Ministers should have kept working throughout the summer, she said. Benova's remarks follow the publication of a European Commission (EC) report on 16 July that said Slovakia is ill prepared to receive EU funds. In the report, Slovakia was warned that "enormous effort should be taken" to prepare for receiving EU funds in time for accession to the union in May 2004. "There is a whole package of measures ahead of us that we simply must take, and I think that the government should have not taken holidays this year, at least until 30 September," Benova said after a meeting with Luis Riera-Figueras, the director of the EC's Directorate-General for Regional Policy for pre-accession measures. By the end of September, the government must submit information to the EU ahead of a final readiness report to be published on 5 November. Meanwhile, Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda defended the government's performance and said late on 16 July that some of the shortcomings cited by the EC were solved between the drafting of the report and its publication. He said the government approved a law on public procurement -- one of the shortcomings mentioned in the report -- on 16 July, according to TASR. That law must still be debated in parliament. LA

SLOVAK PRESIDENT SAYS HE WILL NOT BE SWAYED ON ABORTION LAW
Speaking to the "Pravda" daily on 17 July, Slovak President Rudolf Schuster declined to say whether he will sign the contentious abortion-act amendment that has prompted a crisis within the four-party ruling coalition, TASR reported the same day. Schuster said he will make his decision by 23 July and emphasized that it will not be influenced by political parties or the Roman Catholic Church. The bill was approved by parliament in early July in a vote that divided the coalition, but it ran into a procedural hurdle when parliamentary speaker Pavol Hrusovsky refused to approve it, sparking fears of a constitutional crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 July 2003). 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. The liberal coalition partner Alliance of a New Citizen (ANO) pushed the bill through with opposition support, eliciting accusations from the Christian Democratic Movement that ANO broke the coalition agreement. According to TASR, Schuster told the daily that he thinks the dispute could conceivably bring down the ruling coalition, but said this will not affect his decision. LA

KEY SUSPECT IN HUNGARIAN EMBEZZLEMENT CASE DETAINED IN AUSTRIA
Austrian police arrested a key suspect in Hungary's K&H Equities financial scandal in Vienna on 17 July, MTI news agency reported. Attila Kulcsar, a chief investment consultant at K&H Equities who issued and then retracted a statement accepting responsibility for any wrongdoing, now awaits likely extradition to Hungary for trial for embezzlement (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 10, 11, and 15 July 2003). A spokesman for Budapest prosecutors, Zoltan Borbely, said Kulcsar faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years if found guilty. Earlier in the day, Kulcsar's lawyer delivered a short statement to police in which Kulcsar says he changed his mind and will not cooperate with police in the case. In related news, the State Highway Management Company (AAK) announced on 17 July that it will file a formal complaint against the unauthorized use of its funds at the brokerage. ZsM

BUSH PICKS NEW AMBASSADOR TO HUNGARY
U.S. President George W. Bush has nominated his father's cousin, George H. Walker, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Hungary, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 17 July. The appointment still requires U.S. Senate approval. The 72-year-old businessman is honorary chairman of Stifel Financial Corporation and Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc., where he previously served as president and chief executive officer. Walker participated in the election campaigns of former U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Walker would succeed Nancy Goodman Brinker, who is expected to play a part in President Bush's re-election campaign. ZsM

SERBIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS REJECT CORRUPTION CHARGES
Nemanja Kolesar, who heads the Serbian bank-privatization agency, and Zoran Janjusevic, who is Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic's security adviser, said in Belgrade on 17 July that charges by Serbian National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic that they are involved in money laundering are politically motivated, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May 2003). Kolesar and Janjusevic added that they will file separate lawsuits against Dinkic, whom the parliament is expected to replace soon as head of the National Bank. Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic, whose resignation Dinkic had demanded, accused Dinkic of manipulating incomplete evidence for political purposes, "which only shows what a panic he is in." Serbian Finance Minister Bozidar Djelic, who recently debated Dinkic before a television audience estimated at 2 million, said that "there is a political reason [for seeking to oust the bank chief], but only because he became a politician and tried to make trouble for other politicians." PM

NATO REMINDS SERBIA OF TERMS FOR CLOSER TIES
George Katsirdakis, who is acting director for Defense Partnership and Cooperation at NATO headquarters in Brussels, said in Belgrade on 17 July that Serbia and Montenegro must drop its lawsuit against NATO dating from the era of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and arrest former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic if it hopes to join the alliance's Partnership for Peace program, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June and 15 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). Belgrade recently applied to join the program but must institute transparent civilian control over the military and deal with possible war criminals in the officer corps before it can meet NATO standards. PM

OUSTED KOSOVAR SERB DEPUTIES RETURNED TO COALITION
Meeting in Belgrade on 17 July, the governing body of the Kosova Serb Povratak (Return) coalition ruled that the recent expulsion of Rada Trajkovic and Randjel Nojkic from the Povratak parliamentary faction was a violation of the rules governing the coalition, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). Kosovar Serb political life has long been characterized by public infighting, which involves Belgrade political rivalries as well as clashes of strong local personalities. PM

NON-SERBS PROTEST SERBIAN GOVERNMENT'S PROPERTY PURCHASES IN NORTHERN KOSOVA
Several political parties and NGOs representing ethnic Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Turks, and other non-Serbs said in an open letter from Prishtina on 17 July that the Serbian government has bought the property of an unspecified number of non-Serbs in the Mitrovica area in an effort "to recolonize this part of Kosova," Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. The signatories noted that official Belgrade is "applying pressure" at a time when elected Kosovar officials have called on Serbian refugees to return to their homes throughout the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 11, and 16 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13, 20, and 27 June 2003). PM

BOSNIAN SERB GOVERNMENT APPEALS TO INDICTED WAR CRIMINALS
In Banja Luka on 17 July, the Republika Srpska government announced a package of measures designed to encourage people indicted for war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal to give themselves up voluntarily, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported. Those who surrender will receive a support payment of $225 per month plus an additional $250 monthly payment to their family, whose travel expenses to The Hague will be paid for three visits per year. The government is seeking to improve its relations with the tribunal on the eve of a visit by Carla Del Ponte, who is the chief prosecutor. PM

MORE CHARGES AGAINST FORMER CROATIAN GENERAL?
On 18 July, the Croatian government announced that representatives of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal want to question former General Mirko Norac, who has already been sentenced to 12 years in jail by a Croatian court for the killing of at least 50 Serbian civilians in the Gospic area in 1991, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 March 2003). The tribunal is interested in Norac's role in the 1993 Medak Pocket operation and in Operation Storm in 1995. The news agency quoted an unnamed Croatian government source as saying that Norac theoretically could refuse to talk to the tribunal but that a refusal would almost certainly lead to his being indicted. The source added that if the tribunal issues a new indictment against Norac, it will most likely insist that he be tried in The Hague this time and not in Croatia. Hard-line war veterans and many conservatives have rallied around Norac and fellow former General Ante Gotovina, whom they consider heroes of the 1991-95 war of independence. PM

CROATIAN OIL FIRM GETS A HUNGARIAN PARTNER
The Croatian parliament voted on 17 July to approve a bid by Hungary's MOL oil company for just over 25 percent of the shares in Croatian oil company INA despite conservative opposition, regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). Following the vote, Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan and his Hungarian counterpart Peter Medgyessy signed an agreement finalizing the deal. PM

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT MOVES TO LEGALIZE TETOVO UNIVERSITY
On 17 July, with the votes of the governing the Social Democratic Union (SDSM) and its ethnic Albanian coalition partner, the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), the Macedonian parliament passed amendments to a law on higher education that are necessary to legalize the private Albanian university in Tetovo, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. During the debate preceding the vote, the opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) opposed the legal changes and the legalization of the underground Tetovo university as running counter to the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement. Instead, the VMRO demanded, the government should financially support the OSCE-sponsored South East European University in Tetovo (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 11 and 18 July 2003). UB

NATO CALLS ON ALBANIA TO REFORM
Led by NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, a delegation of ambassadors from the North Atlantic Council told Albanian President Alfred Moisiu, Prime Minister Fatos Nano, and Defense Minister Pandeli Majko in Tirana on 17 July that NATO's doors remain open to new members, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2003). The visitors also stressed, however, that Albania must do more to fight organized crime and human trafficking. PM

U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE WRAPS UP THREE-DAY VISIT TO ROMANIA
U.S. Deputy Commerce Secretary Samuel Bodman on 16 July wrapped up a visit to Romania aimed at boosting bilateral economic relations, RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service reported. Bodman told a press conference at the end of his three-day trip that it would be bad if Romania failed to ratify its bilateral extradition-immunity agreement with the United States exempting each other's citizens from extradition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2002). However, he added that bilateral economic relations should not depend on the approval of a law in the Romanian parliament. Bodman, who headed a delegation comprising representatives of 12 U.S. companies, said foreign businesses have the general perception that the Romanian government frequently imposes economic regulations that often contradict existing laws and come into effect very rapidly. "People...want to know that the rules that are in place when they start an arrangement will be in place...five years later," AP quoted Bodman as saying. During his visit Bodman met with President Ion Iliescu and Premier Adrian Nastase. ZsM

FORMER ROMANIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER TO BE INVESTIGATED
President Iliescu has given his approval to an investigation into Ioan Avram Muresan's actions while serving as agriculture minister between 1998 and 2000, Mediafax reported. Muresan was charged in February with abuse of office for allegedly transferring 5,000 tons of cooking oil from the state reserve to a private company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 December 2001 and 12 February 2002). Iliescu asked Justice Minister Rodica Stanoiu to investigate Muresan based on the report of a special committee tasked with investigating accusations against ministers. The state's Anticorruption Prosecution Office last February asked the committee to investigate Muresan. ZsM

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT NAMES IASI PREFECT
Romanian government spokeswoman Despina Neagoe on 17 July announced that Ioan Avarvarei, rector of the Iasi Agricultural and Veterinary University, has been chosen to serve as prefect of Iasi County, Mediafax reported. Former Prefect Neculai Apostol resigned on 8 July due to health reasons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2002 and 9 July 2003). He later explained he actually resigned due to "lack of communication" with the local branch of the ruling Social Democratic Party. ZsM

COUNCIL OF FOREIGN INVESTORS ASKS FOR REVISION OF ROMANIAN LABOR CODE
The Council of Foreign Investors in Romania has issued a press release requesting that the recently adopted Labor Code be revised, Mediafax reported on 17 July. During their 16 July meeting with Marian Sarbu, a minister tasked with overseeing relations with social partners, representatives of the council argued that several of the code's provisions are restrictive and incompatible with a functioning market economy. Sarbu said later at a press conference that the code will remain as adopted, noting that negotiations on the code lasted five years. ZsM

EU APPROVES TACIS PROGRAM FOR MOLDOVA
The European Commission approved the TACIS action program for Moldova, the BBC reported on 17 July. The program aims at developing the country's judiciary, human rights, economy, and health care and social systems. The commission earmarked a total of 25 million euros ($22.2 million) for the program. ZsM

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CABINET CHANGES
Parliament on 17 July approved Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's proposed changes to his government by a vote of 119-107 with seven abstentions, mediapool.bg reported. The lawmakers of Saxecoburggotski's junior coalition partners, the National Renewal Movement "Oborishte" and the Party of Bulgarian Women, did not support the reshuffle because the premier ignored their demands for greater influence in the government. The vote was preceded by sharp accusations from opposition lawmakers, who called the changes "cosmetic" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 17 July 2003). UB

IMF OFFICIAL CALLS ON BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT TO REMAIN FISCALLY PRUDENT
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Resident Representative in Bulgaria Piritta Sorsa on 17 July called on the government to stick to prudent fiscal policies without forgetting to address social issues such as unemployment and low wages, bnn reported. Sorsa praised the country's macroeconomic performance, while suggesting that the government could consider spending more on social programs and cutting taxes, but warned that the budget deficit must remain low. UB

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL IS INAUGURATED
The long-awaited U.S.-backed Iraqi Governing Council held its inaugural meeting in Baghdad on 13 July to much media fanfare and Iraqi anticipation of a democratic future.

The council, which will wield executive and legislative powers in the interim phase before a new government is formed, is seen as the first step toward democratic Iraqi self-rule in the wake of the U.S.-led operation to oust former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "The establishment of this council is an expression of the national Iraqi will in the wake of the collapse of the former oppressive and dictatorial regime, thanks to the struggle and brave sacrifices of our people and the intervention of the international coalition forces," Al-Jazeera quoted a 13 July statement by council members as saying. "The building of Iraq shall remain among the first priorities of the good Iraqi people. It will require the participation of all Iraqis from all political and social trends who are willing to help accomplish this historic task."

The Governing Council issued its first resolution at its 13 July meeting, canceling all official holidays associated with the deposed leadership and the defunct Ba'ath Party, and named 9 April as an official holiday marking the fall of the Hussein regime.

Council members include 13 Shi'ite Muslims, five Sunni Muslims, five Kurds, one Assyrian Christian, and one Turkoman representative. There are three women on the council. Sixteen of the 25 members are Iraqis from the diaspora and autonomous Kurdish areas. Of the major opposition groups based outside Iraq that returned following the downfall of the Hussein regime, only the Constitutional Monarchy Movement (CMM) refused to join the council.

The council's members tried to dispel doubts as to the potency of the fledgling body as they met with reporters following their inaugural meeting on 13 July. Jalal Talabani of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) scoffed at a reporter's suggestion that the council's role will be limited, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. "The council enjoys a relatively good number of powers," he said. "These include appointing ministers, supervising ministries, [approving] the budget, security, reestablishing the armed forces, and appointing heads of diplomatic missions abroad. Except for one or two things, the council almost enjoys all government powers." Regarding U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer's power to veto council decisions, former Iraqi Foreign Minister Adnan Pachachi told the press: "We do not expect vetoes because the administration...stressed that it will fulfill all the demands of the Governing Council. If there is going to be any differences of opinion...such differences can be settled through discussion."

Moreover, council members openly criticized the Arab League, Arab states, and their satellite networks for their apparent support for the deposed Hussein regime. Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum told reporters that Arab satellite channels "betrayed [Iraqis] and did not stand by us," adding, "These channels are awaiting Saddam's return." Nasir al-Chadirji, secretary-general of the Movement of National Democrats, added: "I have an appeal for Al-Jazeera and other Arab satellite channels. I tell them: Enough incitement for the Iraqi people to carry out acts of violence against the coalition troops." Al-Jazeera broadcast the criticisms of council members.

Council member Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i went a step further in the press conference, lashing out at the Arab League for not supporting the Iraqi people, saying: "We wished that the Arab League had taken a stand towards the crimes of the Hussein regime. The Arab League's stand toward the Iraqi people should demonstrate more sympathy and understanding." He called on the Arab League to recognize the Governing Council. Regarding Arab states, Ahmad Chalabi from the Iraqi National Congress (INC) told reporters: "We ask them to understand that the Saddam regime is finished, and that they should deal with the Iraqi people...Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Assyrians, Shi'a, and Sunnis.... They should help us in all fields."

As the council assembled to conduct its first full day of meetings on 14 July, a blast destroyed a car parked outside the Baghdad compound that houses the new Iraqi Governing Council. The origin of the blast was not initially determined, although some international media reported a grenade as the cause. The car bore diplomatic license plates, according to Reuters. The council did not let the blast prevent them from carrying out their mission, however. Instead, it voted to send a delegation to the United Nations on 22 July, when UN Special Envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello is slated to brief the Security Council on the UN role in postwar Iraq. A three-member delegation is expected to lobby the Security Council "to assert and emphasize the role of the Governing Council as a legitimate Iraqi body during this transitional period," "The Washington Post" reported on 15 July. The delegation may also request a seat on the UN General Assembly during that meeting, international media reported. Vieira de Mello hailed the formation of the council and pledged full UN support when he addressed the council on 13 July.

One item on the first day's agenda was postponed indefinitely: the election of a council president. Iraqi National Accord (INA) head Iyad Allawi told Al-Jazeera a day later that the council was working on an internal by-law. "We have to discuss this before deciding on the form of presidency or who is going to be the president," he noted. He added that the council was working on more pressing issues, such as establishing a police force. The council is pushing for a police force with a ratio of one policeman for every 300-350 Iraqis, Allawi said. That ratio is half of the world ratio. Allawi also said that the selection of ministers would not be based on any kind of ethnic or religious formula.

In its second day of official business, the governing body announced that it will establish a judicial commission to try members of the ousted regime who are charged with war crimes against the Iraqi people, Reuters reported on 15 July. Defendants from among the U.S.-led coalition's 55 most-wanted Iraqis will apparently be among the first to be tried by that commission. "The Governing Council will take it upon itself to try [senior members of the deposed Hussein regime] and to punish them according to law," Iraqi National Congress (INC) spokesman Entifadh Qanbar told reporters. He did not say whether deposed Hussein would be tried in absentia, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, international rights groups were cautious in their praise of the decision. Human Rights Watch (HRW) welcomed the establishment of a judicial commission as "a positive step" in a press release dated 15 July, but the group called for international jurists to serve on the commission. "The Iraqi judiciary, weakened and compromised by decades of Ba'ath Party rule, lacks the capacity, experience, and independence to provide fair trials for the abuses of the past," the press release stated. "Few judges in Iraq, including those who fled into exile, have participated in trials of the complexity that they would face when prosecuting leadership figures for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes."

HRW said in its 15 July press release that "bringing about accountability for the crimes of the past two decades in Iraq will be a massive undertaking for the Iraqi people." According to HRW, the most heinous crimes to be investigated and prosecuted include: the 1988 Anfal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds, in which some 100,000 civilians were reportedly killed and 4,000 villages destroyed; the "disappearance" and execution of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis; the purported use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians and Iranian troops; the decimation and repression of the Marsh Arabs; and the forced expulsion of ethnic minorities in northern Iraq during Hussein's Arabization campaign.

Amnesty International echoed Human Rights Watch, saying trials "must be fair and seen to be fair, conducted by an impartial and independent court fully in accordance with international human rights standards," in a statement issued on 15 July. The organization recommended that Iraqi judicial experts work alongside international experts to assess the Iraqi judicial system "including its capacity to ensure fair trials in the short term," and to "explore options for bringing perpetrators to justice," including the possible participation of non-Iraqi judges and courts.

BRITISH PREMIER CALLS FOR MORE TROOPS FOR AFGHANISTAN...
British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his 17 July address to the U.S. Congress said the responsibility of the countries fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq "does not end with military victory. Finishing the fighting is not finishing the job," the "Financial Times" reported on 18 July. "If Afghanistan needs more troops from the international community to police outside Kabul, our duty is to get them," Blair said, in an apparent allusion to the fact that the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) area of responsibility is confined to Kabul and its immediate surroundings. Blair also noted that the country's opium cultivation causes problems not only in Afghanistan, but in Great Britain as well, and urged the congressmen to "let us help them eradicate their dependency on the poppy." AT

...AS GERMANY IS REPORTEDLY CONCERNED ABOUT EUROPEAN TROOP REDUCTION IN AFGHANISTAN
An unidentified high-ranking German official described as "very familiar with [Foreign Minister Joschka] Fischer's thinking" said in Washington on 16 July that Germany has "no intention to reduce" the number of its forces in Afghanistan, "The Washington Times," reported on 17 July. He said the ISAF faces problems because some European countries are pulling their forces out of Afghanistan as they deploy forces in Iraq. "We should carefully examine [the status of the NATO forces] in Afghanistan before we start calling NATO to different places," the official said in an apparent reference to Iraq. The daily noted that the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all of which have troops in Afghanistan, have already sent troops to Iraq or have made commitments to do so. Command of the ISAF is scheduled to be handed over to NATO on 11 August, with Canada taking the lead role (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003). AT

FOUR AFGHANS ARRESTED IN CONNECTION WITH STORMING OF PAKISTAN'S EMBASSY...
Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali announced on 17 July that four men have been arrested in connection with the 8 July storming of the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2003), Hindukosh news agency reported. Jalali said the four men, who were among some 2,000 protestors who reportedly stormed the embassy, admitted causing damage to the embassy. Jalali described the action as enmity toward Afghanistan, not Pakistan. Jalali did not provide the identities of the suspects, but said they "came [to the embassy] with violent intentions," and noted that the demonstration was held without the permission of his ministry or security forces, the BBC reported on 17 July. Afghan authorities on 9 July claimed the mob that stormed the embassy was primarily composed of students from a local nursing school and that the director of the school had been arrested. Pakistan's Ambassador to Afghanistan Rostam Shah Mohmand responded that the arrest of only one person was "totally unacceptable" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2003). AT

...AND AFGHANISTAN PAYS COMPENSATION
The Afghan Transitional Administration on 17 July paid 2.8 million afganis ($56,000) to the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul to compensate for damages to the embassy building and equipment resulting from the 8 July incident, Radio Afghanistan reported. The Afghan Foreign Ministry said the country fulfilled its responsibility in paying for the damages, for which Pakistan had demanded compensation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 July 2003). AT

AFGHAN BANKING SYSTEM TO ALLOW MORE FOREIGN PARTICIPATION
Anwar al-Haq Ahadi, governor of Afghanistan's central bank (Da Afghanistan Bank), said on 16 July that under a new banking system that he will introduce in the near future, all foreign banks will be allowed to operate in Afghanistan, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported. Ahadi said that under the new system the National Bank and Habib Bank of Pakistan and the U.K.'s Standard Chartered Bank will begin working in Afghanistan under agreements that have already been signed. He expressed hope that the presence of these three foreign banks will trigger competition in Afghanistan's banking system. AT

IRAN FAILS TO EXTRADITE AL-QAEDA MEMBER TO KUWAIT...
Kuwaiti Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Shaykh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Jabir al-Sabah said on 17 July that his government rejected an Iranian offer to extradite Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu-Ghayth, Kuwait's Kuna news agency reported. The Kuwaiti official said Abu-Ghayth is no longer a Kuwaiti citizen. An anonymous "senior reformist official close to Iran's president" said on 12-13 July that Abu-Ghayth is just one of several high-ranking Al-Qaeda members in Iranian custody, the "Los Angeles Times" reported on 15 July. It was reported in early June that Iran's Supreme National Security Council decided to expel Abu-Ghayth and other terrorists who are being sheltered by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps because their presence was harming Tehran's relationship with regional governments (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 June 2003). BS

...AMID DISCUSSIONS WITH CAIRO ABOUT EXTRADITIONS
Iranian and Egyptian security officials are negotiating the extradition of Al-Qaeda members who are in Iran, the Baztab website reported on 8 July, citing the United Arab Emirates' "Al-Bayan" newspaper. The discussions focus on the Egyptian-born Ayman Al-Zawahiri (Al-Qaeda's second-in-command) and Mohammad Eslamboli (the brother of former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's assassin, Khalid Eslamboli). Anonymous "well-informed sources" cited by "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on 1 July said the discussions are about a list of more than 10 people, including members of Al-Qaeda and Egyptian Islamic Jihad. "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported that these discussions will pave the way for the resumption of diplomatic ties between Cairo and Tehran after a break of more than two decades. The Iranian Foreign Ministry in late June denied that Al-Zawahiri is in Iran, while Doha's Al-Jazeera television reported at the same time that Tehran and Cairo were discussing the extradition of some eight Egyptians who were arrested in Iran recently. In addition, Dubai's Al-Jazeera television has reported that several Al-Qaeda members are under arrest in Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 June 2003). BS

WOMEN'S RIGHTS SEEN AS PLOT IN IRAN
Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi-Kermani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, said in a 17 July message to a ceremony commemorating female martyrs from Qom Province that campaigns in support of women's rights are part of the plot hatched by Iran's enemies, ISNA reported. "Islam has ensured that women will attain a lofty status," he added. "It has prepared the ground for this by defining its values and principles." Meanwhile, Isfahan parliamentary representative Akram Mosavari-Manesh said in the daily "Etemad" of 13 July that there is "serious opposition" to a bill regarding the adoption of legislation that would eliminate all forms of discrimination against women. She said the parliamentary women's faction and the presidential cabinet do not think that the bill contradicts religious law, but it is being delayed until there is a more settled atmosphere in parliament. BS

IRANIAN HOUSING MINISTER DESCRIBES RECENT DEVELOPMENTS
Housing and Urban Development Minister Ali Abdol-Alizadeh said during a 17 July visit to Shahr-i Kurd, Chahar Mahal va Bakhtiari Province, that for every 113 families in Iran there are 100 housing units, IRNA reported. There are approximately 12 million housing units inhabited by about 13.5 million families, he said, and around 3 million families share 1.5 million housing units. Abdol-Alizadeh said 140,000 rental and shared housing units are under construction. The minister did not make clear what he means by a "housing unit," but if each housing unit is meant for one family, then the figures he cited on 17 July appear to contradict his 24 June claim, also cited by IRNA, that housing construction is outpacing demand. He made this claim during the inauguration of a housing development in Hamedan, at which time he also said 656,000 houses were built in the March 2002-March 2003 year. Abdol-Alizadeh described the provision of housing for young, married couples as an important issue. BS

IRANIAN JOURNALIST RELEASED FROM JAIL
Issa Saharkhiz, the managing director of "Aftab" monthly, was released on bail late on 17 July, ISNA reported. Saharkhiz was imprisoned on 15 July after appearing before a court in Tehran to face a complaint about a text published in August-September 2002; bail was set at 150 million rials (about $18,750) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). BS

DEPOSED IRAQI PRESIDENT PURPORTEDLY ISSUES STATEMENT...
An audiotape purporting to carry a 14 July message from deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was issued to Arab satellite channels Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyah on 17 July -- the 35th anniversary of the coup that brought the Ba'ath Party to power in Iraq. In the message, the speaker makes references to the July 1968 "revolution" and lashes out at coalition forces, saying, "The administration of occupation and evil had issued its orders according to the instructions of Washington, Tel Aviv, and London. It appointed some of those who follow its orders in line with a despicable division of great Iraq. By so doing, the occupiers have revealed part of their intentions and schemes to divide Iraq." The speaker praised regime loyalists, citing resistance fighters in the Al-Anbar Governate, particularly in Al-Fallujah, claiming, "Those who are loyal to their nation and people have been shown." But the speaker added, "The same holds true for the slaves of the foreigners, the treasonous and petty people who are conspiring against the nation, peoples, and humanity." KR

...LASHING OUT AT IRAQ'S INTERIM GOVERNING BODY
The speaker in the purported Hussein audiotape broadcast on Al-Arabiyah Television on 17 July criticizes Iraqis who work with coalition forces, particularly Iraqi "notables," clergymen, and Iraqi participants in Iraq's interim governing authority. The U.S.-led administration in Iraq appointed a Governing Council on 13 July to assume some legislative and executive powers in postwar Iraq. He calls on Iraqis to reject the "administration of occupation," saying: "None of our people should be preoccupied with it, as this would weaken their concentration on occupation and action against it. What could the poor or rich people gain from employees whom the foreign occupier appointed, whether the majority among them were Sunnis [or] Shi'ites?" The speaker contends that coalition forces seek to weaken Iraq and called Iraqis to jihad against coalition troops. KR

AL-SADR DENOUNCES IRAQ'S GOVERNING COUNCIL
Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr told Al-Jazeera that he rejects the formation of the Iraqi Governing Council and is instead calling for a general referendum and national elections, the satellite channel reported on 17 July. Al-Sadr claimed that his group was not excluded from participating in the council, saying, "We stayed out so as not to give this council any legitimacy or legal authority." He added that other factions' participation "is not right because it supports the occupation, something that we do not want." Al-Sadr claimed that he is willing to coordinate with other groups that did not join the council. Al-Sadr claims to head the "Vocal Shi'ite Seminary," according to Al-Jazeera. Meanwhile, Haqqi Isma'il, director of the Awqaf Department in Al-Basrah, told the news channel that a group affiliated with al-Sadr attacked the department, kicking out its employees and seizing "old Sunni documents." Al-Sadr's followers, the Sadriyun, have been linked to other hostile acts since the downfall of the Hussein regime, most notably the assassination of Abd al-Majid al-Khoi on 10 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 14 April 2003). KR

OPERATION SODA MOUNTAIN CONTINUES
The U.S. 4th Infantry Division continues to seize large weapons caches as part of its operations under Operation Soda Mountain, according to a 17 July press release on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). "In the last 24 hours, the 4th Infantry Division conducted 14 raids which resulted in [the confiscation of] 282 AK-47s, 501 grenades, 10 pistols, 20 mortar rounds, 54 crates of C4 explosives, 250,000 blasting caps, and a large amount of small arms ammunition," the statement announced. Thirty individuals were also detained in those raids. The 4th Infantry Division has conducted 85 raids since the operation was launched on 12 July and detained 482 individuals, including 48 "regime loyalist leaders," according to the press release. KR

UN RELEASES $190 MILLION IN COMPENSATION ARISING FROM 1990-91 GULF WAR
The United Nations released $190 million in compensation claims to victims of Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and subsequent 1991 Gulf War on 17 July, AP reported the same day. The UN Compensation Commission distributed the payments from funds taken from the oil-for-food program. The majority of the 1,069 claimants came from Kuwait, where $113 million will go to individuals, corporations, and the government itself, AP reported. Some $47 million will go to satisfy claims in Jordan, and $5 million to Syria. Some $17.8 billion has been paid out thus far by the commission to individuals, corporations, and governments for losses incurred as a result of the invasion and ensuing war. The UN Security Council voted to phase out the oil-for-food program in May. However, the Compensation Commission will continue to receive 5 percent of all export sales of oil and gas from Iraq to address claims, pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1483. KR

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