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Newsline - July 24, 2003


FORMER OLIGARCH CALLS FOR VELVET REVOLUTION TO AVOID CIVIL WAR...
"Kommersant-Daily" on 24 July published a long open letter by self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, who owns the newspaper, attacking President Vladimir Putin. In the letter, Berezovskii accuses Putin of launching in the spring of 2000 a "creeping anticonstitutional coup," which has involved a series of efforts to redistribute property -- the latest being the investigations into oil giant Yukos. These efforts, Berezovskii warns, could spark a civil war, just as occurred after the 1917 Bolshevik coup and the nationalization of private property. Berezovskii argues that Putin is supported largely by the state bureaucracy. He argues that the security agencies are divided about supporting Putin, with many powerful elements within them critical of the government for "giving too much to the United States and the West in general." He outlines the main political actors in the country -- including regional governors and regional political elites, the oligarchs, the military, journalists, and the intelligentsia -- and claims that support for Putin among them is weak. He calls for the organization of mass protests, recalling the examples of the anti-Vietnam War movement in the United States and the anticommunist protests that swept Central Europe in the late 1980s. JB/RC

...AND LAMBASTES PUTIN
In the same letter to "Kommersant-Daily," Berezovskii also revisits various corruption allegations against Putin, including the case of SPAG, a company that the German authorities have accused of money laundering and on whose advisory board Putin sat in the late 1990s. Berezovskii also outlines various questionable deals in St. Petersburg stemming from 1992-96, when Putin was a deputy to St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. According to Berezovskii, Putin was involved, among other things, in the questionable privatizations of the Baltic Sea Steamship Company and the Astoria Hotel, as well the sale of a submarine overseas through the Leningrad Admiralty Association, whose director was murdered. In all, Berezovskii lays out nine separate points against Putin. He also lists 18 high-profile assassinations, attempted assassinations, terrorist incidents, and other still-unsolved crimes that occurred during Putin's 1998-99 tenure as director of the Federal Security Service (FSB). Interestingly, the editors of "Kommersant-Daily" included a note at the end of Berezovskii's letter, seemingly disassociating themselves from it. "This article was published at the request of the owner of the Kommersant Publishing House, Boris Berezovskii. The arguments, orthography, and punctuation of the original text have been preserved," the editorial note reads. JB/RC

COURT REJECTS YUKOS SHAREHOLDER'S APPEAL FOR BAIL
The Moscow Municipal Court on 23 July rejected an appeal by lawyers for Platon Lebedev, chairman of the board of directors of Menatep, the Yukos oil company's financial arm, asking that he be released on bail because of health problems, Russian media reported. Lebedev, who was arrested on 2 July on charges that he embezzled a 20 percent stake in the Apatit fertilizer company back in 1994, will remain in Moscow's Lefortovo prison. Following the court's decision, Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii declared once again that Lebedev is innocent and that the situation with regard to Menatep and Yukos will be normalized. He added that Lebedev's health is the most important issue. One of Lebedev's lawyers, Yevgenii Baru, told reporters that his client looks "very bad" and is experiencing constant dizziness, Interfax reported. Menatep, meanwhile, issued as statement accusing the Prosecutor-General's Office of taking Lebedev "hostage" and "starting to blackmail private business," gazeta.ru reported. The court decision sparked a 1.31 percent drop in Russia's stock market -- representing a loss of nearly $2 billion -- and a 3.8 percent drop in the price of Yukos shares, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 24 July. Russia's stock market has lost almost $20 billion in value since Lebedev's arrest, "The Moscow Times" reported 24 July. JB

INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS TERROR SUSPECTS HAVE BEEN NABBED
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov said on 23 July that an unspecified number of people suspected of possible involvement in terrorism have been arrested in a number of Russia's major cities, Interfax reported. "We have discovered individuals who were in these cities for reasons they could not substantiate, and we suspect them of involvement in terrorist groups," Gryzlov said, speaking to journalists in the Moscow suburb of Lyubertsy. Several "ethnically based organized-crime groups" with Chechen members have been uncovered in the suburban Moscow districts of Domodedovo and Pavlov Posad, Gryzlov said, adding that the groups were suspected of involvement in terrorist activities because members were found in possession of large quantities of weapons. He also said that "a number of terrorist acts" have been thwarted as a result of a decree he signed following the 5 July suicide bombing at a rock concert in Moscow. JB

POLITICOS REACT TO THE KILLING OF FORMER IRAQI PRESIDENT'S SONS
The killing of Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, will not improve the situation in Iraq, Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov said on 23 July. "The fact that Hussein's sons were not turned over to a court, but were killed during military actions shows that the country remains a long way from a genuine political process," Margelov told Interfax. The longer the fighting continues, he added, the more likely it is that Iraqi resistance will increase. Deputy Konstantin Kosachev (Fatherland-All Russia), deputy chairman of the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee, said the killings were a morale boost for U.S. and British "occupation forces" that demonstrated the U.S.-led coalition's "toughness, consistency, and effectiveness" to the Iraqis. But the killing of Hussein's sons was also "outside the bounds of international law, like all of the Americans' actions in Iraq," Kosachev told Interfax. Meanwhile, political scientist Vladimir Maksimenko told Voice of Russia radio on 23 July that he believes the U.S. military command in Iraq has been ordered to "physically destroy" Hussein's family members to prevent them from talking. The U.S. military thus acted according to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin's principle of "no person, no problem," kmnews.ru quoted Maksimenko as saying. JB

FOREIGN MINISTRY URGES POLITICAL SETTLEMENT FOR KOREAN PENINSULA...
Deputy Foreign Minister Yurii Fedotov warned on 23 July that an escalation of the tension surrounding North Korea's nuclear program could have "very negative" consequences, Interfax reported. "It is a very serious problem," Fedotov told journalists in Moscow. "All of this is taking place in the immediate vicinity of our borders and the consequences of a possible worsening of the situation, an escalation of tension, could be very negative," Interfax quoted Fedotov as saying. For that reason, he added, Moscow supports diplomatic efforts to resolve the problem. Another Russian deputy foreign minister, Aleksandr Losyukov, said in an interview published on 23 July in "Vremya novostei" that the situation on the Korean Peninsula has been deteriorating and there is the "hypothetical possibility" of a war. Losyukov tacitly criticized the United States for failing to back a Russian plan to resolve the crisis that would include Washington giving Pyongyang a "non-aggression" guarantee. JB

...WHILE PRIMORSKII KRAI BATTENS DOWN THE HATCHES
Primorskii Krai, which borders North Korea, has been secretly training civil-defense personnel and checking bomb shelters, NTV reported on 23 July. The television channel quoted the region's governor, Sergei Darkin, as saying it could accommodate more than 200,000 refugees from North Korea. "We have a reasonably good system of civil defense in the territory," Darkin said. "It will allow us to control the situation in the event of any conflict. We know what is going on in North Korea, and we are ready for any possible developments. Thus, there is absolutely no need to excite passions on the issue." On 18 July, "Izvestiya" quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Losyukov as saying that Russia has taken precautionary measures to deal with any possible military conflict in the region, including one involving the use of nuclear weapons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). JB

ANALYST FORESEES DECLINE IN PUTIN'S POPULARITY...
In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 July, Georgii Satarov, political analyst and an official in the administration of former President Boris Yeltsin, makes a number of predictions about the likely course of current Russian political developments. He concludes that for President Putin, "declining popularity is inevitable" and that "Putin will have to walk the same path as [former Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev and Yeltsin." Meanwhile, the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTIOM) found that 78 percent of respondents queried in July for its monthly poll approve of Putin, lenta.ru reported. This figure represents an increase over the June rating of 77 percent and May's 70 percent. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov's rating also increased to 42 percent from 40 percent in June and 34 percent in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2003). JAC

...SAYS NO NEED FOR YUKOS HEAD TO FIND SECOND HOME...
On the topic of the oligarchs, Satarov, in the same "Nezavisimaya gazeta" interview, rules out any repetition of what happened to exiled tycoons Vladimir Gusinskii and Boris Berezovskii, because he believes that both sides will start "negotiating." In addition, Yukos head Khodorkovskii has displayed caution so far and is not inclined to burn his bridges, Satarov argued. Satarov also discounted speculation that President Putin's second term might be "extended" into a third. "There's the impression that the clans around Putin aren't very happy with him and want something different," Satarov said. According to Satarov, new political figures will be tried out on the public. "The public's responses to them will be monitored, and concern about Putin's approval rating will fade," Satarov concluded. JAC

...AS ANOTHER PREDICTS INEVITABLE VICTORY FOR THE 'CHEKISTY'
Writing in "The Moscow Times" on 23 July, commentator Yulia Latynina reached a very different conclusion. She argued that the so-called siloviki will inevitably win in the battle against the oligarchs, since they have already gotten away with the debacle of the Moscow-theater hostage crisis last October. "Putin is loyal to his friends," Latynina continued. "That's why he was chosen to succeed Boris Yeltsin in the first place." She wrote that the campaign against the oligarchs will go further because "the prosecutors, driven by their thirst for other people's property, will continue their onslaught." JAC

LEFTISTS FORM BLOC TO FACE OFF IN ELECTIONS
Communist State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev has formed a "left-patriotic movement" called Tovarishch (Comrade) to participate in the 7 December State Duma elections, utro.ru reported on 23 July. According to the website, Glazev will have the top spot on the bloc's party list, followed by Viktor Tikhonov, 73, who coached three Soviet and Russian hockey teams to Olympic gold medals and was recently chosen to return to coach the national team. Tovarishch's campaign is reportedly being managed by Marat Gelman, the art gallery owner/political consultant who is also a deputy general director of state-controlled ORT television. The site commented that one indicator of the seriousness of the new formation's electoral potential is that it is not selling spaces on its party list. The website did not report on whether Glazev's new bloc will cooperate with the Communist Party. JAC

ST. PETERSBURG PRESS CENTER TELLS FORMER EMPLOYEES TO TAKE A SEAT...
A liquidation commission in charge of settling the debts of the St. Petersburg-based International Press Center has decided that the center will cover back wages to its former employees with chairs, IMA Press reported on 17 July. The center was created to accommodate Russian and international journalists covering the city's tercentennial, which was celebrated in May. At the press center's opening ceremony last year, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said, "There isn't another press center in Russia that compares with this one with regard to the level of technology, telecommunications equipment, and of available resources," "The St. Petersburg Times" reported on 24 May 2002. "I think this center will play an active role in developing the image of St. Petersburg." JAC

...AS SOME TVS JOURNALISTS FIND REFUGE AT REN-TV
TVS Deputy Editor for Information Programming Marianna Maksimovskaya will now work at REN-TV, Interfax reported on 23 July. Maskimovskaya commented that REN-TV is now the only large television channel that is not under control of the government. In addition, another TVS employee, commentator Yulia Latynina will start working at REN-TV in August, according to the channel's information service. JAC

MINISTRY OF HEALTH REVISES DRUNK-DRIVING RULES
Health Minister Yurii Shevchenko has signed an order increasing the legal limit for alcohol in a driver's bloodstream from 50 milliliters to 100 milliliters, Russian media reported on 23 July. According to the ministry's press service, the order will allow drivers to drink one bottle of beer before getting behind the wheel. This level is still lower than in France, according to newsru.com, which has a legal maximum of 160 milliliters. According to ITAR-TASS, the previous limit had been in place since 1988. In the mid-to-late 1980s, Soviet leader Gorbachev waged an unpopular campaign against drinking. JAC

RUSSIAN POPULATION SET TO PLUNGE AS NEIGHBORS' READY TO SOAR
The population of Russia will decline by 18 percent to 119.1 million people by 2050 from its current level of 145.5 million, grani.ru reported on 23 July, citing the U.S.-based Population Reference Bureau. The populations of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are expected to decrease by 20 percent, 14 percent, and 10 percent, respectively. Those of most other CIS countries are projected to swell. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan will see jumps of more than 35 percent. Moldova and Armenia will see jumps of 8 percent and 4 percent, respectively. JAC

MOSCOW MAYOR: ABOVE AVERAGE HEADQUARTERS
Yurii Luzhkov has donated one of his trademark caps to a local charitable organization for auction, "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 23 July. The starting bid for the hat is $500, according to the daily. Luzhkov's hat size of 62 (U.S. size 7 3/4) is slightly above the average of 58, according to hatsite.com, the website of the hat and headwear industry. JAC

DUMA DEPUTY CHALLENGES CLAIM THAT NGOS IN CHECHNYA HAVE LINKS TO 'TERRORISTS'
In a commentary to grani.ru reposted on chechenpress.com, Duma Deputy and human rights activist Sergei Kovalev (Yabloko) took issue with the allegation by presidential envoy for human rights in Chechnya Abdul-Khakim Sultygov that unnamed human rights NGOs operating in Chechnya might have links with "international terrorism" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). Kovalev argued that Sultygov should either specify which organizations he suspects of maintaining such contacts, or issue a public apology. He characterized Sultygov as a man who changes his views in accordance with those of his employer at any given time, noting that as a member of former Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev's staff, Sultygov supported introducing sharia law in Chechnya and granting Chechnya state sovereignty. LF

INTERIOR MINISTER COMMENDS CHECHEN POLICE FORCE
Speaking to journalists in Lyubertsy on 23 July (see above), Interior Minister Gryzlov said the work of the Chechen police force has become more effective and demonstrates that it is capable of protecting the civilian population, Russian media reported. He said that since the beginning of July, a special squad of 30 officers has killed 32 gunmen and arrested a further 58 suspects. In Grozny, Chechen Prime Minister Anatolii Popov told journalists on 23 July that crime levels in Chechnya have decreased, Interfax reported. He added that comprehensive preparations are already under way to maintain public order during the run-up to the 5 October presidential ballot scheduled. LF

SPS LEADER DISTANCES PARTY FROM CHECHEN LEADER
The Chechen branch of Boris Nemtsov's Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) has nominated Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov as its candidate for the 5 October Chechen presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 July, quoting the head of the party's Chechen branch, Musa Doshukaev. But "Gazeta" on 24 July quoted Nemtsov as saying his party will never nominate Kadyrov and questioning the legitimacy of the nomination. Nemtsov said any such decision on nominating a candidate must be made by the party's central leadership. He added that very few people in Chechnya trust Kadyrov, and that "relying on Kadyrov is one of the worst mistakes" the Russian government has made. Kadyrov, for his part, told Interfax on 23 July that he has received offers from several parties to nominate him, but is still consulting with his staff over which offer to accept. "Gazeta" on 24 July quoted Unified Russia General Council member Frants Klintsevich as saying that Kadyrov has already written to Interior Minister and Unified Russia head Gryzlov requesting to be nominated as that party's Chechen presidential candidate, and that the party will consider Kadyrov's request at the next General Council meeting. LF

MORE HUMAN RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS SLAM ARMENIAN TV TENDER
In a statement released in Strasbourg on 23 July, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer expressed his "disappointment and concern" that two independent Armenian television stations -- A1+ and Noyan Tapan -- were not awarded broadcast frequencies in a tender, the results of which were made public last week, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 July 2003). Schwimmer characterized the tender outcome as "another example of insufficient respect for pluralism in Armenia," noting that Armenian government officials have repeatedly assured the Council of Europe that independent broadcasters will be given "serious opportunities to become part of the audiovisual landscape." Reporters Without Borders also issued a statement on 23 July, in which it said the ongoing failure to award broadcasting frequencies to A1+ and Noyan Tapan raises "serious doubts" about the impartiality of the Armenian government commission tasked with allocating broadcast frequencies, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

AZERBAIJAN COMPLAINS TO TURKEY OVER TV REPORT ON PRESIDENT'S HEALTH
The Azerbaijani Embassy in Ankara has filed a formal complaint with the state Turkish Radio and Television Organization over a news report broadcast on 22 July by the private television station Star, Interfax reported on 23 July. Star's correspondent alleged that Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, who is undergoing medical treatment in Ankara's Gulhane military hospital, is suffering from several incurable diseases and that he is being treated with state-of-the art drugs that cost millions of dollars per month. Azerbaijani Ambassador to Turkey Mamed Aliev (no relation to President Aliev) dismissed that report as "false and slanderous." He said the president will remain at Gulhane for "several more days," according to zerkalo.az on 24 July. The ambassador is scheduled to convene a press conference on 24 July to comment on ongoing media speculation about the seriousness of Aliev's illness. LF

AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL REJECTS ACCUSATIONS OF MEDIA CRACKDOWN
Claims by Ambassador Peter Burkhard, who heads the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Baku office, that there has been a recent upsurge in intimidation of and violence against journalists are untrue, presidential administration official Ali Gasanov told Interfax on 22 July. Nor do the police resort to violence against journalists observing unauthorized demonstrations, provided they do not participate in those demonstrations, Gasanov said. In a statement released earlier on 22 July and posted on the OSCE website (http://www.osce.org/news/show_news.php?id=3438), Burkhard expressed concern that Azerbaijani journalists are being increasingly subjected to violence, especially during unsanctioned meetings and demonstrations. He said the role of the media is all the more important in the run-up to the October presidential elections. "In the absence of free media it is not possible to conduct democratic elections," Burkhard said. "Having free and fair elections is not only about casting votes in proper conditions, but also about having adequate information about parties, policies, candidates, and the election process itself so that voters can make an informed choice." LF

AZERBAIJAN, GEORGIA, TURKEY SIGN PROTOCOL ON GUARDING PIPELINES
Representatives of the Azerbaijani and Turkish governments and the president of the Georgian state oil company signed a protocol in Baku on 23 July on ensuring the safety of the so-called East-West energy corridor, meaning the pipelines under construction to transport oil and gas from the Caspian to Turkey, Turan and Caspian Press reported. Azerbaijan's Deputy Prime Minister Abid Sharifov said the protocol establishes the procedures for interaction among the three countries' agencies to protect the pipelines. The Georgian and Azerbaijani state security ministers signed an agreement earlier this month on cooperation in safeguarding the two pipelines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS NEW ELECTION CODE IN FIRST READING
After a seven-hour debate, all 123 parliament deputies present at the session voted in the small hours of 24 July to adopt the new Election Code in its first reading, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. They also endorsed former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker's proposal for the allocation of seats on the new Central Election Commission. Elgudja Medzmariashvili of the former majority Union of Citizens of Georgia (SMK) that supports President Eduard Shevardnadze, admitted that some pro-government deputies were reluctant to endorse the "Baker model" and did so only under pressure from the president, Caucasus Press reported. Deputies from the Revival Union and Industrialists factions walked out of the session earlier after deputies voted down their alternative proposal for a 17-seat CEC, on which those two parties and the SMK would each have three seats. Revival and the Industrialists have threatened to boycott the 2 November parliamentary election if the CEC is formed on the model Baker suggested. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT LAMBASTES GOVERNMENT
President Shevardnadze criticized the government's performance as "very bad" at a government session on 23 July, the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. He specifically singled out the customs and tax departments as lacking professionalism. LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION CONSOLIDATES FOR SEPTEMBER LOCAL ELECTIONS
Several major opposition groups in Kazakhstan are consolidating their efforts in order to take part in local elections scheduled for 20 September, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The groups -- including Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK), the Communist Party, the Pokolenie pensioners' movement, some other public associations, and electoral blocs in particular oblasts -- opened a national election headquarters in Almaty on 23 July. A coalition council of parliamentarians and members of various parties and public organizations has been set up at the headquarters. Election headquarters chief Asylbek Kozhakhmetov told visitors at the opening that 470 candidates for oblast, city, and raion councils have signed commitments to the coalition if they are elected. Kozhakhmetov was quoted as saying that more than half of the coalition's candidates are DVK members. Although its headquarters just opened, the coalition has already been conducting seminars for candidates, campaign workers, and election observers. The coalition's objective is to increase the influence of local councils and to reduce that of local executive bodies. BB

PRESIDENT REJECTS PARDON APPEAL FROM WIFE OF JAILED KAZAKH OPPOSITION FIGURE
The legal department of the Kazakh president's office has rejected an appeal by Karlygash Zhaqiyanova, wife of imprisoned former Pavlodar Oblast governor and co-founder of the DVK movement Galymzhan Zhaqiyanov, for a presidential pardon for her husband, Interfax-Kazakhstan and Deutsche Welle reported on 23 July, quoting a statement from the DVK leadership. The legal department rejected the appeal on the grounds that a convict must request a pardon himself, although Article 168 of the Kazakh Criminal Code says that an appeal for pardon may be made by a convict's relatives. Zhaqiyanov, who was imprisoned in 2002 after being convicted on charges of abuse of office that the Kazakh opposition considers politically motivated, has refused to ask for pardon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May 2003). According to the DVK statement, Zhaqiyanov's health is deteriorating and he shows signs of having contracted tuberculosis, which was one of the reasons for his wife's appeal for pardon. BB

GOVERNMENT ASSESSES KYRGYZ ROUNDTABLE
The head of the department for defense and security in the Kyrgyz presidential administration, Bolot Dzhanukov, summed up the 19 July roundtable that brought together government officials, political-party leaders, and the media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003), telling journalists that dialogue during the event was positive, akipress.org reported on 23 July. Dzhanukov noted that what he called the "demonstration-and-picket syndrome" has subsided since the roundtable, which in his view has helped to stabilize the country. He also denied that some media have been targeted for repression through the judicial system, asserting that all publications, including pro-government ones, find themselves in court in Kyrgyzstan. He disagreed with international criticisms of the human rights situation in the country. During the meeting with journalists, Dzhanukov also accused Ar-Namys Party official Emil Aliev, a participant in the roundtable, of having embezzled $80,000 six years earlier. BB

KYRGYZSTAN REJECTS UZBEK VERSION OF BORDER INCIDENT...
The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry has sent a note to its Uzbek counterpart rejecting the Uzbek version of a 16 July border incident at Karasuu in southern Kyrgyzstan, in which a Kyrgyz citizen was killed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2003), the official Kyrgyz news agency khabar.kz reported on 23 July. The Kyrgyz authorities insist that Uzbek border guards are responsible for the shooting and assert that a protocol on the incident sent by the Uzbek Foreign Ministry is incorrect. The Kyrgyz note states that the use of firearms cannot be justified in this case and that Uzbekistan should take measures against the border guard who killed the Kyrgyz citizen, as the Kyrgyz ministry demanded in its 21 July protest note. The ministry said the Uzbek authorities should ensure that border personnel behave in accordance with the standards of the civilized world. BB

...WHILE UZBEKS IGNORE KYRGYZ NOTE ON MINES
The head of the Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry's CIS Department, Erkin Mamkulov, told journalists on 23 July that the ministry has received no response to an 18 July Kyrgyz note demanding that Uzbekistan remove its minefields along the border between the two countries and provide Kyrgyzstan with maps of the locations of the land mines, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry sent the note two days after the border incident at Karasuu. Although land mines played no role in that incident, the Kyrgyz side took advantage of the focus on border problems to again raise the issue of the land mines, which has been brought up repeatedly in intergovernmental meetings. BB

SENIOR MEMBER OF TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY ARRESTED ON RAPE CHARGE
Qosim Rahimov, a senior member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT) has been arrested on a charge of raping a minor, Dushanbe Prosecutor Habibullo Vohidov told Asia Plus-Blitz on 23 July. According to Vohidov, Rahimov was arrested on 13 July and is presently being held in an investigation facility in Dushanbe. Interfax reported on 22 July, citing Vohidov, that there is no political motive behind the charge. The 60-year-old Rahimov faces a prison sentence of 15 to 20 years if convicted. Earlier this year, IRPT official Shamsiddin Shamsiddinov was arrested on criminal charges, including murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, and 9 June 2003). On several occasions prior to the 22 June constitutional referendum, IRPT leader Said Abdullo Nuri accused President Imomali Rakhmonov of harassing the party. BB

UZBEK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH GAZPROM CHIEF
Islam Karimov met with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller on 22 July to discuss current cooperation and possible future joint projects in the natural-gas sector, RIA-Novosti reported on 23 July. The Uzbek government is expanding the country's gas-export opportunities, most recently by planning construction of a pipeline that will enable Uzbekistan to export gas without crossing Turkmenistan. Gazprom signed an agreement with the Uzbek state holding firm Uzbekneftegaz in December 2002 on the export of 5 billion cubic meters of Uzbek gas over 12 months. Shipment of the gas began in May. Uzbekistan intends to export up to 10 billion cubic meters of gas by 2005 with the technical assistance of Gazprom. The Uzbek and Russian firms are already projecting joint efforts in exploring and developing gas wells in the Ust-Yurt area of western Karakalpakstan. Gazprom is also providing training for Uzbek gas and oil specialists. BB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT INSTRUCTS NEWLY APPOINTED CABINET MEMBERS...
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka instructed recently appointed cabinet officials on 23 July that the government should find domestic resources to revitalize the food-processing sector rather than count on foreign investment, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press office. Lukashenka recently appointed acting Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski, Deputy Prime Minister Raman Unuchka, Agriculture Minister Zyanon Lomats, and State Concern for the Food Industry head Uladzimir Dauzhankou to replace individuals sacked over what he deemed was "overreporting" and failure to ensure prompt payments for milk and meat to farmers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003). Lukashenka told the new cabinet members to consider doubling the controlled prices at which meat- and milk-processing plants purchase animals for slaughter and milk from farmers. "Farmers should be supported, even at the cost of revenue," he said. According to official data, more than 40 percent of state-run farms in Belarus operate at a loss. JM

...AND DENIES ULTERIOR MOTIVE IN CABINET RESHUFFLE
Lukashenka on 23 July denied that the recent dismissal of Prime Minister Henadz Navitski, Deputy Prime Minister Alyaksandr Papkou, and Agriculture Minister Mikhail Rusy was motivated by a desire to position himself for a referendum that would enable him to remain president for at least one more five-year term, Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press office. "These are downright lies!... It was a change of those who had broken away from the common people and forgotten the simple truth that hard-earned pay must be given on time," he said. Lukashenka added that the cabinet proved unable to gain "sufficient momentum" for meeting its economic targets. JM

SUSPENDED BELARUSIAN PUBLICATION'S APPEAL FAILS
Belarus's Higher Economic Court rejected an appeal on 23 July by the satirical periodical "Navinki" to cancel an official warning by the Information Ministry that served as grounds for a three-month suspension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May and 9 June 2003), Belapan reported. CTK reported that 10 Czech anarchists demonstrated later the same day on Wenceslas Square in Prague to express their solidarity with the suspended Belarusian periodical. JM

CABINET HEADS MIGHT ROLL OVER UKRAINE'S FOOD-MARKET CRISIS
Premier Viktor Yanukovych on 23 July blamed recent rises in food prices (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 9 July 2003) on cabinet officials responsible for agrarian and economic policies, Interfax reported. "I see personal responsibility primarily on the part of the government's agrarian bloc, the Agriculture Ministry, the Economy Ministry, and the Antimonopoly Committee," Yanukovych said. He said a recent run on the food market was created "artificially." The premier claimed he knows which companies have profited from the crisis and who stands behind them, adding that the thread is leading to local bureaucrats, law enforcement agencies, and sometimes to "the offices of top government officials." Yanukovych proposed to President Leonid Kuchma that he should start by dismissing the governors of Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, and Chernivtsi oblasts. JM

ESTONIA, FINLAND TEAM UP TO FIGHT BLACK MARKET
Visiting Finnish Interior Minister Kari Rajamaki held talks on 22 July with his Estonian counterpart Margus Leivo, BNS reported. They decided to empower the countries' joint police group FinEsto, which mainly combats drug-related crime, to also deal with the shadow economy beginning next year. The visit, Rajamaki's first to Estonia, was held in Narva at his request because he expressed interest in seeing how the country's eastern border with Russia is guarded. The ministers agreed that Russia is not yet ready for visa-free travel with the EU and Leivo said he sees no opportunity for Russia to achieve this in the next few years. Rajamaki iterated his request that Estonian criminals sentenced for crimes in Finland be allowed to serve their sentences in Estonia, as this could help reduce the establishment of future cross-border contacts among criminals. SG

LATVIA TO RAISE MINIMUM WAGE
The government has decided to increase the minimum monthly wage from 70 lats ($123) to 80 lats effective 1 January, BNS reported on 23 July. The minimum wage was raised at the beginning of this year from 60 to 70 lats per month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2003). The Welfare Ministry noted that after taxes the monthly wage was only 59.85 lats, or only 65 percent of the country's minimum subsistence level of 91.75 lats per month. The wage increase is expected to be very beneficial to the state, as state and municipal stand to increase tax revenues by 9.82 million lats per year while expenditures will be just 4.17 million lats higher. SG

LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER AGAIN RAISES ISSUE OF RUSSIAN OIL-EXTRACTION PLANS
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis held a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov on 23 July and expressed his concern about Russian oil major LUKoil's plans to begin extracting oil this year from the D-6 field in the Baltic Sea, BNS reported. Valionis complained that Lithuania's repeated requests to see the results of a Russian environmental-impact assessment have not been fulfilled. The ministers agreed that their countries' environment ministries should hold consultations on the project. Parliament speaker Arturas Paulauskas and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas have also recently addressed similar requests to their Russian counterparts. In their 23 July phone conversation, Valionis and Ivanov noted the success of the new facilitated travel-document procedure for transit travel from Russia to Kaliningrad Oblast, as some 32,000 Russians traveled to the exclave by train from 1-18 July this year in comparison to 39,000 for the entire month of July last year. SG

POLISH PRESIDENT RATIFIES EU-ACCESSION TREATY
President Aleksander Kwasniewski ratified the EU Treaty of Accession on 23 July, Polish Radio reported. "[The treaty] has to be studied by the politicians, officials, parliamentarians, entrepreneurs, lawyers, in fact by all of us," Kwasniewski said. "The quality of our membership in the European Union is going to depend on the knowledge of the provisions and their skillful application." The document, which was signed by representatives of EU member and candidate states in mid-April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April 2003), fills 6,000 pages and weighs 20 kilograms. JM

CZECH ASYLUM GRANTED MOST FREQUENTLY TO ROMANIANS
Deputy Interior Minister Miloslav Koudelny said on 23 July that Romanians are the largest single group among foreign nationals that have been granted asylum in the Czech Republic in the past 13 years, CTK reported. Some 474 Romanians have won asylum since the 1993 partition of Czechoslovakia, followed by Russians and other citizens from the former Soviet Union. Koudelny noted that no Slovak citizen has been granted asylum during the same period, despite an increasing trend in Slovak applications that began in 2000. He said 581 Slovak citizens have applied for asylum in the Czech Republic so far in 2003, compared with 843 in all of 2002. Koudelny said most Slovak applications cite economic considerations. MS

SLOVAK PRESIDENT VETOES CONTENTIOUS AMENDMENT TO ABORTION LAW
President Rudolf Schuster vetoed a recently approved abortion-law amendment on 23 July, sending the hotly debated legislation back to a divided parliament, TASR, CTK, and Reuters reported. Schuster said that if parliament overrides his veto, legislators should indicate that the law may come into effect only after the Constitutional Court rules on its constitutionality. Schuster also said that he personally supports the amendment, which extends the term for a legal abortion in cases where the fetus has a genetic disease from the 12th to the 24th week of pregnancy. Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky called Schuster's move "two-faced" and added that the KDH maintains that approval of the amendment would amount to a breach of the coalition agreement. Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko, whose party proposed the amendment and allied with opposition parties to secure its initial approval, said he expected the veto but that his party will back passage again in September. ANO Deputy Chairman Lubomir Lintner called Schuster's decision "Solomonic." An absolute majority in the 150-seat parliament is needed to override a presidential veto. MS

SLOVAK NATIONAL MEMORY INSTITUTE REQUESTS ACCESS TO CZECH ARCHIVES
The government's recently established Slovak Institute for National Memory (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 March 2003) asked the Czech Republic on 23 July to provide it with archival material on Slovak citizens who served Czechoslovakia's communist-era secret police, the StB, CTK reported. Marian Gula, a member of the institute's board, told the Czech news agency that Slovak StB records are incomplete and some of that material is still in the Czech Republic. MS

HUNGARY DISMISSES ROMANIAN ALLEGATION ON EU-ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS
Hungarian Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Toth denied on 23 July that EU Integration Minister Endre Juhasz intimated to the Romanian delegation in Brussels earlier this week that the Hungarian parliament might veto Romania's accession to the EU unless Hungary is involved in that country's accession talks, "Magyar Hirlap" and "Nepszabadsag" reported. The allegation appeared in the Romanian daily "Adevarul" on 22 July. Toth insisted that it is in Hungary's interest to see Romania gain EU membership. He also noted that it is impossible for the parliament of one EU member to single out one candidate and veto its accession. He said that as an active state with EU observer status, Hungary wants to take part in the Romanian accession negotiations in good faith. He added that participation is justified by a number of common interests shared by Hungary and the EU, such as border-crossing procedures, regional cooperation, and transportation (see also Romanian item below). MS

NATO TO FUND NEW HUNGARIAN MILITARY RADAR
NATO has agreed to finance most of the cost of setting up a three-dimensional radar system along Hungary's border, "Vilaggazdasag" reported on 24 July. Three radar sites are to be installed at Bekescsaba, Zengovarkony, and Bankut. Related costs are estimated at 23 billion forints ($99 million), and the project should be completed within 18-24 months. Hungary will assume the construction and infrastructure costs, while NATO will pay for the technology, which accounts for some 80 percent of the total outlay. MS

DROUGHT HITS HUNGARY HARD
Agricultural Ministry State Secretary Tibor Szanyi told AFP on 23 July that the drought gripping large parts of Europe has caused unprecedented damage to Hungary's agricultural sector. Szanyi said the lack of rainfall, combined with extreme heat, has already caused at least 30 billion forints ($130 million) in damage to crops, and that losses will be much higher if the heat wave continues. AFP cited the Association of Hungarian Agriculture Producers (MAGOSZ) as saying losses could reach 120 billion forints. Szanyi said Hungary will ask the EU for financial assistance to offset the effects of the drought. He noted that the drought has affected land where farmers will plant crops for next summer's harvest, by which time Hungary is expected to be an EU member. MS

LAST RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS LEAVE THE BALKANS
The last Russian military transport, carrying 50 servicemen and equipment, left Prishtina's airport on 24 July, completing the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Kosova following an earlier departure from Bosnia, ITAR-TASS reported. Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi told the news agency that the province's ethnic Albanian majority was skeptical of the Russians' claim at the start of their mission in 1999 that they would be impartial. He added, however, that "during their stay here, the Russian peacekeepers reaffirmed their professionalism and treated everyone equally, regardless of nationality." The prime minister said that Kosovars "do not request direct [Russian] support for our efforts [aimed at] independence. But we hope that Russia's stand will be a principled one in matters that have yet to be resolved." Russian officials have said repeatedly that Moscow still seeks to play a role in the Balkans but feels that armed peacekeepers are no longer needed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April, 28 May, and 5 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 31 July 2001). PM

WILL A FINNISH CANDIDATE HEAD THE UN MISSION IN KOSOVA?
Citing unnamed diplomatic sources, Reuters reported from the UN headquarters in New York on 23 July that former Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri is the leading candidate to replace Germany's Michael Steiner to head the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) in Kosova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2003). Holkeri has no experience in the Balkans. The news agency added that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is looking for a politically experienced person acceptable to both the EU and the United States for the UNMIK post, which many consider to be a thankless job. PM

WEAPONS HANDOVER IN MACEDONIA TO START IN NOVEMBER
The coordinating body for disarming Macedonia's civilian population decided on 23 July that the weapons handover originally slated to begin on 1 October will be postponed by one month, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. The internationally community had demanded that the process begin as late as March 2004 so that it might be better prepared. "1 November is a solid date [for beginning disarmament]," Interior Minister Hari Kostov said. "It gives us enough time for an intensive media campaign.... And its end [on 15 December] coincides with the end of the EU military mission's mandate." The UN Development Program that should finance the disarmament has warned that winter conditions might seriously impede the operation. UB

ROMANIAN PEASANT PARTY TO HAVE ROYAL SENATOR?
The leadership of the Cluj branch of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) is proposing that Princess Margareta run for the Senate on the party's ticket in the parliamentary elections due in late 2004 or early 2005, Mediafax reported. The princess is the designated heir of former King Michael I. If Margareta were to accept the offer and be elected, she would have to take an oath of allegiance to the country's republican constitution. In neighboring Bulgaria, former monarch Simeon Saxecoburggotski is the country's prime minister. MS

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REITERATES REJECTION OF HUNGARIAN DEMAND...
Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana told journalists on 23 July that he has asked the Romanian Embassy in Budapest to take up the issue of recent statements attributed to Hungarian EU Integration Minister Endre Juhasz, "RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see Hungarian item above and "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, and 23 July 2003). Geoana also said he will telephone his Hungarian counterpart Laszlo Kovacs to discuss the statement. He reiterated Bucharest's position that Romania is negotiating its EU accession only with the current 15 EU members. He also said chapters that have been closed in those negotiations will definitely not be reopened, regardless of Hungary's opinion of the terms of those closed chapters. Geoana said Romania does not object to Hungary wanting to be informed of the results of the negotiations, but it will not agree to Hungarian participation in those negotiations before Hungary becomes a full-fledged EU member, which will most likely occur in May 2004. Observers stress that Romania hopes to have completed it negotiations with the EU by that time. MS

...AND WELCOMES POSSIBLE PARTICIPATION OF EU FORCES IN SETTLEMENT OF TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT
Geoana also told journalists at the 23 July press conference that Romania would welcome the participation of EU peacekeepers in the process of settling the Transdniester conflict. He said the search for a resolution to the conflict has been going on for more than 10 years and that Bucharest considers such a settlement to be one of Romania's "strategic objectives." He also expressed the hope that the withdrawal of Russian forces from the separatist region will continue at a fast pace despite attempts by Tiraspol to hinder the process by demanding financial compensation for the military hardware being removed by Moscow. Geoana confirmed that President Ion Iliescu and Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin will meet on 1 August. The meeting is to be held in Stinca-Costesti, close to the border between their countries, marking 25 years since the construction of a power station in the area. Geoana said the two presidents are not likely to discuss the pending basic treaty between their countries, as the treaty is subject to negotiations by experts. MS

MOLDOVA WELCOMES EU INVOLVEMENT IN SEARCH FOR PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO TRANSDNIESTER CONFLICT...
A statement signed on 11 July by the joint chairmen of the Moldova-EU Parliamentary Cooperation Commission, Jan Marinus Wiersma and Victor Stepaniuc, says that the commission "welcomes the readiness of the EU to play a more active role in the search of a peaceful solution to the Transdniester conflict," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. It also says that the commission "deplores" the fact that Russia has failed to abide by the initial deadline of 31 December 2002 for withdrawing its forces from the separatist region and asked that the deadline be extended by a year. The EU said in the statement that it is ready to facilitate the elaboration of a federal constitution that is acceptable to both Chisinau and Tiraspol, in line with the proposals of the OSCE and fully respecting the principles of Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity. MS

...WHILE CONTINUING TO AVOID COMMENTS ON OSCE CHAIRMAN'S ALLEGED INITIATIVE
Andrei Neguta, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Moldovan parliament, told BASA-press on 23 July that Moldova will abstain from commenting on the initiative attributed to OSCE Chairman in Office and Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer as long as the OSCE does not clearly embrace and approve it. Neguta said the commission he heads has discussed the initiative, which reportedly envisages the possible participation of OSCE forces in peacekeeping operations in Transdniester, and decided it would be "premature" to comment on it. "At this stage, there is no clear information that the EU would be ready to participate with troops [in an international force under the auspices of the OSCE] and all we have are some comments by journalists and politicians," Neguta said. MS

TIRASPOL THREATENS TO WITHDRAW FROM JOINT CONTROL COMMISSION
The Tiraspol representative on the Joint Control Commission (JCC) that oversees the 1992 truce that established a security zone separating Moldovan and Transdniestrian forces, on 23 July threatened to withdraw from the commission, Infotag and BASA-press reported. Vladimir Botnar said the reason is "Moldova's failure to adhere to the JCC resolution of 27 May 2003." That resolution provided for the withdrawal of both sides' armored vehicles from the zone. Chisinau representative on the JCC, Ion Leahu, rejected the allegations. Leahu said Moldova is fully supportive of the resolution, but the withdrawal of the vehicles requires special organizational and controlling mechanisms. It must be kept in mind, he said, that Tiraspol has refused to allow JCC inspectors to verify where on its territory the withdrawn vehicles will be stationed after the withdrawal is completed. He also emphasized that forces that are "not interested in the maintenance of peace" remain in the zone. Chisinau has often accused Tiraspol of tolerating the presence of paramilitary units under its influence in the security zone. MS

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON LOCAL ELECTIONS...
Parliament on 22 July passed a number of amendments to the law on local elections, mediapool.bg reported. One amendment will allow citizens to use driver's licenses as documentation when voting and others pertain to the distribution of state television and radio airtime granted to political parties during the election campaign. In addition, the financial framework for election campaigns will be based on the population of individual municipalities. UB

...WHICH COULD LEAD TO NEW SPLIT IN RULING COALITION
The leaders of the Party of Bulgarian Women (PBZh) and the National Renewal Movement "Oborishte", Vesela Draganova and Tosho Peykov, respectively, will challenge a passage in the amended law before the Constitutional Court, "Standart" reported on 24 July. The passage stipulates that political parties must have a minimum of 10 parliamentarians to officially be considered a "party represented in parliament." Parties with this status are granted more airtime on state radio and television and are eligible for other election-campaign privileges. Both "Oborishte" and the PBZh, the junior coalition partners of the governing National Movement Simeon II, have fewer than 10 lawmakers in parliament (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2003). UB

THE SERBIAN QUAGMIRE
Several developments indicate that caution was as much in order in assessing the recent Serbian claims of success against crime and corruption as it was in dealing with the euphoria that followed the ouster of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. The question now is what this state of affairs means for Serbia's medium- and long-term future.

Omer Karabeg, who heads RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, once remarked that the main difference between politics in Croatia and Slovenia on the one hand and Serbia on the other is that serious political warfare in the first two countries takes place behind closed doors whereas the Serbs fight their battles in public.

This observation has certainly seemed true in recent days, when outgoing Serbian National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic of the G-17 Plus political party and his fellow party leader Miroljub Labus traded charges of corruption with Nemanja Kolesar, who heads Serbia's bank privatization agency, and Zoran Janjusevic, who is Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic's security adviser.

Whatever may eventually be proved or disproved regarding the specific charges on either side, the point seems to be that the political and social cleanup known as Operation Saber that followed the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic has not led to the forces of darkness being replaced by those of light. On the contrary, skeptics who suggested that one corrupt and possibly criminal faction had simply been ousted by another might not be far from the truth.

A recently released report on Serbia by the nongovernmental International Crisis Group (ICG) suggests that something is indeed very wrong in the former Yugoslavia's largest and most populous republic.

The report argues that "the reformist zeal displayed by the Serbian government following the [Djindjic] assassination...appears to have dissipated.... Genuine reformers are again being hampered by strong obstructionist forces within the army, police, and security services, and the government itself. Should they challenge these forces too openly, the reformers risk suffering the same fate as Zoran Djindjic."

These are sobering words. And the report has more: "The government has almost completely destroyed the independence of Serbia's already dysfunctional judiciary, is imposing media censorship, and has given the police sweeping powers of extrajudicial detention."The NGO argues that the government is "unable to pursue reforms energetically, since it remains excessively dependent on a Milosevic-era financial oligarchy and faces strong obstruction from a largely unreformed state security (BIA) and army sector."The ICG also believes that "the BIA remains a bastion of individuals tainted by war crimes and connected to organized crime. Both it and the financial oligarchy are actively, and largely successfully, obstructing military reform, democratization, the rule of law, institution-building, cooperation with The Hague[-based] war crimes [tribunal], and the fight against organized crime and corruption."

This is not the sort of state that easily lends itself to EU or NATO membership, despite the Serbian leadership's claims that it is indeed ready for both. The ICG calls for a freeze on progress toward Serbia's membership of NATO's Partnership for Peace program until Belgrade arrests and extradites to The Hague the 16 indicted war criminals whom the tribunal believes are in Serbia. One might add that official Belgrade would also do well to concentrate on its own very serious problems, and admit to itself and the voters that Milosevic definitively lost Kosova, which must now go its own way based primarily on the principles of self-determination and majority rule.

The EU will certainly have more questions to ask Serbia and Montenegro in preparation for eventual membership than the 4,000 it recently submitted to Croatia. Calls have been heard from Washington, moreover, for the United States to toughen its policies on Belgrade's recidivist leaders until they become more serious about cooperating with The Hague.

The question arises where matters will indeed go from here. Brussels, Washington -- and most importantly Serbia's neighbors -- have little choice but to try to engage Belgrade, crooks and all. Serbia is too large and too strategically located to be ignored by anyone interested in the security and stability of the Balkans and of Europe as a whole.

But some observers have raised the possibility that Serbia might not be able to qualify for any serious Euro-Atlantic integration, at least not for the foreseeable future. If, moreover, Bosnia remains an exercise in what might be called the politics of artificiality, functioning as an international protectorate with no end to that status in sight, then the possibility arises of Serbia and Bosnia forming a kind of geopolitical black hole in Southeastern Europe.

It does not take much imagination to guess what effect such a situation could have on neighboring countries, particularly where smuggling, human trafficking and other crimes are concerned. Terrorism also flourishes in failed states. The question remains as to what, if anything, the international community is prepared and able to do to prevent such a situation from arising.

UN REPRESENTATIVE BACKS AWAY FROM CALLS FOR ISAF EXPANSION
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary-general's special representative for Afghanistan, told representatives of NATO member states in Brussels on 23 July that while "there is a need for international support to security outside Kabul," if it "can be provided in any other way than the extension of the ISAF that is quite alright," Reuters reported. Brahimi, who has been warning the international community that violence in the regions could escalate if the International Security Assistance Force's (ISAF) mandate is not expanded beyond Kabul, seems to have given up on the plan in the face of opposition from NATO, which will assume command of the peacekeeping force in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003). An unidentified NATO diplomat said that "Brahimi did not come to bang us on the head about expanding the ISAF mandate," adding that "no one is going to push us" into thinking about such a possibility until NATO is in Afghanistan. "After that, we'll see," the diplomat said. AT

JOINT ANA-COALITION OPERATIONS AIMED AT CAPTURING SENIOR FORMER TALIBAN OFFICIAL...
Operation Warrior Sweep, the recently launched military operation in Paktiya Province that is being conducted jointly by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and coalition forces, is reportedly aimed at capturing former Taliban official Mawlawi Jalauddin Haqqani, Pakistan's Afghan Islamic Press reported on 23 July. The mission marks the ANA's combat debut (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). According to a spokesman of Pacha Khan Zadran, a warlord in the region, sweeps are being carried out in villages in the province's Zormat District that are under Haqqani's influence. Haqqani was a powerful commander of the Mujahedin during the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. He later joined the Taliban movement and eventually became its tribal affairs minister. U.S. forces in Afghanistan conducted a large-scale military campaign in the same area in early June, ostensibly to defeat Haqqani's loyalists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 June 2003). AT

...AS AFGHAN NATIONAL ARMY EXPERIENCES DISSENTION IN THE RANKS
While little is known about the exact role the ANA is playing in the sweeps, the BBC reported on 23 July that "there are already reports of some desertions because of the poor salary structure." Approximately 1,000 of the ANA's 5,000 soldiers are reportedly participating in the mission. The BBC reported that, in addition to its military role, the ANA is expected to serve as a sort of a police force and protect civilian officials in Zormat. A spokesman for the coalition forces said the ANA is expected to play "a key role in Afghanistan's security from now on." However, the BBC commented that "that may not happen until the dozens of powerful provincial warlords in Afghanistan decide to disband their private armies." The Transitional Administration hopes to have a 70,000-strong ANA force by 2009, buttressing the central government's authority while drawing recruits away from warlords and political parties. AT

AFGHAN MINISTER PROMISES TO ADDRESS PAKISTAN'S CONCERNS
Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali met Pakistan's Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat on 23 July during his two-day visit to Islamabad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003) and assured him that Afghanistan will address security concerns expressed by Pakistan, Associated Press of Pakistan reported. Jalali made a commitment "to strengthen all security mechanisms whereby Pakistan's genuine security apprehensions can be adequately addressed." Hayat said Islamabad is committed to its fight against terrorism, adding, "Any party involved in any cross-border activity on either the eastern or western borders of Pakistan has no place in Pakistan." Jalali's visit comes in the wake of tensions between the two countries that began when Afghanistan accused Pakistan of violating its territorial sovereignty, which led to an attack on the Pakistani Embassy in Kabul on 8 July (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 and 17 July 2003). Jalali said those who attacked the embassy were "a small minority" and do not represent the feeling of the majority of Afghans. AT

IRANIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES BILL AGAINST GENDER DISCRIMINATION
The Iranian legislature on 23 July ratified a bill on Iranian membership of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, IRNA reported. The bill states that Iranian membership is conditional on the convention not contradicting Islam, and Iran does not have to abide by the convention's article on the settlement of disputes through an international court. Iranian parliamentarian Elahe Kulyai said 168 countries are members of the convention -- including Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia -- and Iran could benefit from the experience of Islamic members, IRNA reported. According to the UN's Division for the Advancement of Women, the convention "defines what constitutes discrimination against women and sets up an agenda for national action to end such discrimination" (http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw). Isfahan parliamentary representative Akram Mosavari-Manesh said recently that there is a lot of opposition to the legislation (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 21 July 2003). The Guardians Council must approve the bill on Islamic and constitutional grounds. BS

OFFICIAL SAYS IRANIAN GUARDIANS COUNCIL'S PROVINCIAL OFFICES ARE ILLEGAL
Hadi Pazhuhesh, Khorasan Province's deputy governor-general for security affairs, said that the Guardians Council's effort to establish provincial supervisory offices is not legally justified, according to an interview in the "Iran" newspaper on 23 July. He said the creation or expansion of an administrative body requires a permit from the Management and Planning Organization (MPO), and the MPO has not issued such a permit. Comparing these offices to the permanent ones of the Interior Ministry is not reasonable, he added, because supervising elections is not a permanent function. The Guardians Council is trying to prepare dossiers on potential candidates for elected office, and the establishment of these offices is likely to discourage people from running for office or from voting. BS

'LARGE NUMBER' OF AL-QAEDA SUSPECTS HELD IN IRAN
Intelligence and Security Minister Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said at a 23 July news conference after the day's cabinet meeting that Iran has detained some Al-Qaeda members, ISNA reported. "We have so far arrested a large number of these individuals," he said. "We have also deported some of them, and are holding a number of them in custody." White House spokesman Scott McClellan responded to this report at the White House news briefing later the same day, RFE/RL reported. "The statements [from Iran] would appear to confirm what we and others believe to be a significant Al-Qaeda presence in Iran, to include members of its senior leadership," McClellan said. "These terrorists, we've made very clear, must be brought to justice." According to an ABC News report cited by Reuters, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has confirmed that Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghayth and Al-Qaeda security chief Saif al-Adel are in Iran. Iranian officials acknowledged in late June that they are holding Al-Qaeda members (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 30 June 2003). BS

CANADA CONSIDERS SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN
Ottawa said on 23 July that it is considering imposing trade sanctions and travel restrictions on Iranians who want to visit Canada as a protest against the Iranian regime's burial of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, "The Globe and Mail" reported on 24 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). Trade between the two countries was worth more than $500 million in 2002, with Iran exporting oil and petroleum products and buying Canadian wheat. Canadian credit assistance to Iran was worth some $156 million. Foreign Minister Bill Graham said Canada is encouraging its European allies to impose sanctions. "I am very unhappy that they would take a journalist and kill a journalist," Prime Minister Jean Chretien told reporters after a cabinet meeting. "It is unacceptable and I protested very strongly, but there is nothing I can do to bring her back to life." Chretien and Graham will press for Kazemi's exhumation and return to Canada. Ottawa has recalled Canadian Ambassador Philip MacKinnon. BS

TEHRAN OBJECTS TO CANADIAN MEASURES
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 23 July that Canada's reaction to the death of photojournalist Zahra Kazemi is not justified, ISNA and IRNA reported, and he expressed the hope that Canada refrain from saying anything "hasty and irrational" about death of Kazemi, who was a Canadian citizen and died while in Iranian custody. BS

RAFSANJANI REPORTEDLY IN SECRET TALKS WITH U.S.
"Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 23 July that Iranian and U.S. officials met on the sidelines of a recent conference in London. Representing the Iranian side were Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Tahmasb Mazaheri, Islamic Revolution Guards Corps founder Javad Mansuri, and Petroleum Ministry adviser Hussein Kazempur-Ardabili (a former ambassador to Japan who was accused by Japanese police of illegal weapons exports; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 27 March 2000). These individuals were acting as envoys of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami only learned about the meeting a week later. The topics of discussion were Iranian nuclear activities, Iranian support for terrorist groups, Iranian activities in Iraq, and the Iranian human rights record, according to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." The Iranian envoys tried to convey the impression that only Hashemi-Rafsanjani can secure acceptance of Washington's demands, and this would be done in exchange for U.S. backing of Rafsanjani's bid for the 2005 presidential election. The U.S. side was unenthusiastic about the offer and about such secret dialogues. BS

ANOTHER FORMER IRAQI REGIME MEMBER REPORTEDLY IN COALITION CUSTODY
U.S. forces captured a former senior member of the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad on 23 July, according to an announcement posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website the same day (http://www.centcom.mil). Barzan Abd al-Ghafur Sulayman Majid al-Tikrit was 11th on CENTCOM's list of the 55 most-wanted Iraqis from the Hussein regime. He served as a Special Republican Guard commander. KR

THREE U.S. SOLDIERS KILLED IN AMBUSH IN IRAQ
Three U.S. soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division were killed in Mosul in the early morning hours of 24 July, according to a CENTCOM press release the same day. Militants attacked the soldiers' convoy with small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), CENTCOM reported. The press release did not mention whether the assailants were captured, but it said two RPGs and an AK-47 were found at the site. The 101st Airborne Division was involved in a gunfight that led to the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein in Mosul on 22 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). Forty-four U.S. soldiers have been killed in attacks by militants in Iraq since Washington declared an end to major combat on 1 May, Reuters reported on 24 July. KR

U.S. SAYS IT WILL RELEASE PHOTOS OF HUSSEINS' BODIES
U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters on 23 July that the United States will release photographs of the bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein, Reuters reported on 24 July. Rumsfeld said pictures of the two men will be made public "soon" but did not specify a date. An unnamed U.S. official who reportedly has seen photographs of the dead men told Reuters that the men were recognizable but suggested that the pictures were not for the faint of heart, saying, "They are pretty bad." Some Iraqis have voiced skepticism at the U.S. claim that Uday and Qusay are dead, which has leading the international media to question whether concrete evidence, such as photographs, will be provided. "We are going to make sure the Iraqi people believe us at the end of the day," Reuters quoted Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz as telling a press conference in Washington. In March, the U.S. administration was highly critical of Arab networks that broadcast pictures of dead U.S. soldiers killed in battle in Iraq. KR

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL OUTLINES POLITICAL PROGRAM
The Iraqi Governing Council has issued a statement detailing its political program and identifying nine major tasks facing the council, Al-Arabiyah Television reported on 23 July. The most pressing tasks include providing security and stability for citizens, protecting property, rebuilding Iraqi police and military structures, and quelling terrorist attacks by militants loyal to the deposed Hussein regime. The statement reportedly said the council will take legal action against former regime members and provide compensation to the victims of ethnic and sectarian persecution, including those whose family members were victims of mass executions. The Governing Council will also address issues related to the unlawful confiscation of property. The governing body also intends to launch a national-reconciliation initiative in Iraq, Al-Arabiyah reported. KR

NEW PURPORTED HUSSEIN AUDIOTAPE AIRED
An audiotape purportedly recorded by Saddam Hussein was aired on Al-Arabiyah Television on 23 July. The speaker calls on Iraqis to "continue the jihad" and to work to reestablish the Iraqi Army to fight coalition forces. "If you rise according to the level of your merit, real ability, and genuine values, the enemy will be defeated," the speaker says. The voice calls on the armed forces and national-security personnel to organize. "I urge everyone to join the ranks of the mujahedin in his area, or to join any group in any area.... [One] should not make the fact that others have not contacted him a pretext to hesitate,... he should take the initiative...by contacting others and stirring them." The speaker stresses that "action, and not rank, is the basic element in leadership and command in the liberation army." The speaker claims to be recording the tape on 20 July. No mention is made in the tape of the deaths on 22 July of Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay. KR

FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES COALITION FORCES IN IRAQ
French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin criticized the structure of coalition forces in Iraq on 24 July, telling France Inter radio that a peace force "cobbled together" cannot adequately address the security problem in Iraq, dpa reported. "To cobble together a system on top of what already exists, to add foreign troops to the forces of the coalition, does not appear to us to be the best way to guarantee security in Iraq," Villepin said. He called for greater UN involvement in Iraq, saying, "Only the United Nations can provide the guarantees for the needed reconstruction that would enable the entire [international] community to work together." In his 22 July address to the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte asked Security Council members to abide by their "commitment under UN Security Council Resolution 1483, and contribute to conditions of stability and security in Iraq," saying the United States "strongly encourages member states to contribute stability forces under this resolution." It is unclear whether France will do so. KR

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