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Newsline - July 29, 2003

Prosecutor-General's Office deputy spokeswoman Natalya Vishnyakova told reporters in Moscow on 28 July that recent comments by Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov concerning the Yukos investigations were "to say the least, incorrect," and other Russian media reported on 29 July. The comments "could be taken as an attempt to influence the courts," Vishnyakova was quoted as saying. "Every branch of government should mind its own business." Kasyanov said on 24 July that the investigation "does not enhance the country's image and is negatively influencing the mood of investors" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2003). Vishnyakova also told journalists that prosecutors are looking into "a number of appeals from [State Duma] deputies" regarding Yukos, reported. Meanwhile, the Antimonopoly Ministry on 28 July announced that it will postpone for two weeks considering the application to merge oil giants Yukos and Sibneft, reported. Previously, industry analysts had said that the ministry would not have any problems with the merger, which would create a company that would control about 29 percent of Russia's oil production, the website commented. RC

Vishnyakova also announced on 28 July that a tax-evasion charge has been filed against Menatep board Chairman and Yukos shareholder Platon Lebedev, and other Russian media reported. In all, Lebedev now faces four charges, including embezzlement. Vishnyakova also justified the prosecution's efforts to deny Lebedev -- who is reportedly in poor health -- release on bond, saying that Menatep maintains a number of aircraft that Lebedev could use to leave the country. RC

Yukos issued a press release on 28 July sharply criticizing a Prosecutor-General's Office decision to file tax-evasion charges against Platon Lebedev, and other Russian media reported on 29 July. The statement charged that prosecutors intend to continue to file new charges in the case because they are unable to build solid cases around the original charges. The press release also complains that prosecutors have handled the Yukos cases in extreme secrecy and refuted their claim that this is necessary to protect Yukos's commercial secrets. "The decriminalization of the law enforcement system is one of the most important tasks standing before Russian society on the path to constructing an effective and competitive...national economy," the Yukos press release states. RC

Speaking to a session of the government on 28 July, President Vladimir Putin urged the Defense Ministry to move more rapidly to create a unified military-supply system, "Vremya novostei" reported on 29 July. The so-called Interdepartmental Unified Supply System (MUSTO) was adopted by the government in February 2002, but implementation has only just begun. The new system will involve combined governmental tenders for standardized equipment to supply all defense, security, and law enforcement agencies. Such tenders will be coordinated by the Defense Ministry. As a first step, representatives and monitors of the Interior Ministry, the Emergency Situations Ministry, and other agencies will be removed from military-industrial enterprises where they duplicate the functions of Defense Ministry representatives, the daily reported. According to the paper, the Interior Ministry, the Emergency Situations Ministry, and the General Staff have been delaying the implementation of the reform. At the 28 July cabinet meeting, Putin said he has ordered Chief of the General Staff General Anatolii Kvashnin to accelerate implementation of MUSTO. "Vremya novostei" on 29 July published a long interview with Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Colonel General Vladislav Putilin, who oversees the military-industrial complex, detailing plans for the long-term reform of the military-supply system. RC

At the same government session on 28 July, President Putin said he will ask the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate a wave of bankruptcies sweeping the agriculture sector, especially in the southern regions of the country, "Vremya novostei" reported on 29 July. ORT broadcast a report on 28 July about how formerly prospering collective farms in Stavropol Krai are being sold off for a fraction of their value. According to the report, farmers from the Proletarskaya Volya collective farm appealed to Putin to investigate the dubious bankruptcy of their enterprise. "Vremya novostei" cited Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev as saying that there have been many cases in which agricultural managers have intentionally reduced their enterprises to bankruptcy in order to sell off assets cheaply to companies "for which such actions are a form of business." Gordeev said that, in April, bankruptcy proceedings were initiated involving 50 agricultural enterprises in Omsk Oblast, including many successful ones. He added that such bankruptcies often create social catastrophes in rural areas because workers have no other employment possibilities. RC

Interros holding, which is controlled by oligarch Vladimir Potanin, will purchase all the financial-sector businesses of Aleksandr Smolenskii for $200 million, "Kommersant-Daily" and other Russian media reported on 29 July. Smolenskii, who was a leading oligarch before the August 1998 financial crisis, was best known as the principle owner of the now-defunct SBS-Agro bank. Interros purchased OVK, a banking network with approximately 400 regional outlets that is SBS Agro's successor; the SBS banking-card system; and the Inkakhran clearinghouse. OVK was rated in April as the 72nd largest bank in Russia. "This is the beginning of a tendency for banks to merge," First Deputy Central Bank Chairman Andrei Kozlov told the daily. "This example...will lead to the rise of a large, ambitious group that will vie to play a significant role in Russian and international markets." "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 29 July that Interros intends to combine its new acquisitions with its current assets in the sector -- Rosbank, the Interros-Dostoinstvo pension fund, and the Soglasie insurance company -- to form major financial giant offering a full range of financial services. Interros has stated that it expects Rosbank to be one of Russia's five largest banks by 2007, the daily reported. RC

Authorities have now arrested two men in connection with the 18 October slaying of Magadan Oblast Governor Valentin Tsvetkov in Moscow and investigators consider the case virtually solved, and other Russian media reported on 28 July, citing Prosecutor-General's Office spokeswoman Vishnyakova. In April, prosecutors arrested 40-year-old Artur Anisimov, who ran a security firm whose clients reportedly included firms owned by Viktoriya Tikhacheva, an adviser to Tsvetkov who was herself arrested in March on suspicion of embezzling $16 million in fish products. On 24 July, investigators arrested a second man, identified as Sergei Filipenko. According to on 29 July, both men are charged with planning Tsvetkov's murder and police have identified five other suspects in the case who are still at large. Investigators believe they have fled abroad. Vishnyakova said, "This case can be considered solved," reported. RC

The State Duma will have to work hard this year in order to pass the 2004 budget before the 7 December legislative elections, reported on 28 July, citing Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov. "I hope the Federal Assembly can manage to do this," Mironov told journalists in Novosibirsk. Mironov said the Finance Ministry expects to submit its draft budget to the cabinet on 7 August, but it is uncertain how long it will take the government to discuss the draft and submit a version to the Duma. The Duma's fall session officially opens on 1 September, but many deputies will not arrive in Moscow until 7 September and the first plenary session will be held on 9 September. This means there will be less than three months for the entire process. Mironov said that, like last year, a special working group of government, Duma, and Federation Council representatives will be working throughout the summer and fall to ensure that the draft submitted to the Duma contains no surprises and has the best possible chances of being adopted quickly. However, he said, there are a number of other important economic bills on the Duma's fall agenda and deputies simply might not be physically capable of handling the work, especially during the election campaign. RC

Three unidentified people broke into the Iraqi Embassy compound in Moscow in the early morning of 29 July and stole nearly $3 million and 100,000 euros ($115,000) in cash, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. The intruders reportedly forced an embassy guard to open a safe containing the money. The embassy declined to comment on the incident, except to confirm that police are conducting an investigation. The Iraqi Embassy's activities have been virtually frozen since former Ambassador Abbas Halaf and his senior staff were recalled to Baghdad for consultations in June, reported. Interfax reported on 28 July that Halaf will retire from diplomatic service. An embassy spokesman told that new instructions from Baghdad are expected within the next few months. RC

The European Commission has approved a $6.15 billion merger plan concluded in February between British Petroleum, Alfa Group and Access/Renova (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 12 February 2003), RIA-Novosti and reported on 29 July, citing the European Commission's Moscow office. The new holding will combine the companies' energy-sector assets in Russia and Ukraine -- including, most notably, the Tyumen Oil Company (TNK). The new company will control oil reserves estimated at 5 billion barrels and will have a daily production capacity of 1 million barrels, making it the world's eighth-largest producer, reported on 29 July. The deal is yet to be approved by the Antimonopoly Ministry or the Ukrainian government. RC

The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party is continuing its campaign to remove from its ranks dissident party members and supporters, "The St. Petersburg Times" and "Vremya-MN" reported on 28 and 29 July, respectively. In St. Petersburg on 25 July, the party's General Council voted to eject local lawmaker Konstantin Sukhenko from the party. Sukhenko, who headed the party's faction in the city's Legislative Assembly, announced on 24 July that he will run in the city's 21 September gubernatorial election, "The St. Petersburg Times" reported. Unified Russia has announced that it will back the Kremlin's favored candidate in that race, presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko. RC

"Vremya-MN" reported on 29 July that Unified Russia is moving to cut ties with Tolyatti Mayor Nikolai Utkin, who is not a member of the party but has been one of its most active local supporters. Last week, Utkin signed a decree raising local communal-services fees to make up for an anticipated 200 million ruble ($67 million) shortfall in funding needed to prepare for the winter heating season. Unified Russia immediately filed a suit contesting the decree and the political council of the party's Samara branch appealed to the Moscow party office to sever ties with Utkin. "We are taking radical measures: we are surgically removing an unhealthy element from our healthy body," said Vladimir Kozhukhov, head of Unified Russia's Tolyatti office. On 10 July, Unified Russia purged Ivanovo Mayor Aleksandr Groshev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2003), and a few days later it excluded Kursk Mayor Sergei Maltsev, reported on 18 July. RC

President Putin has signed a decree officially changing the name of the Khanty-Mansiiskii Autonomous Okrug to Khanty-Mansiiskii Autonomous Okrug-Yugra, RIA-Novosti and reported on 29 July. The new name will be included in Article 65 of the Russian Constitution, which lists all the subjects of the Russian Federation. RC

In a 28 July interview with Interfax, Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov accused Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov of resorting to "psychological warfare" against the Chechen population because Maskhadov does not, according to Kadyrov, have the resources to launch a major military offensive against the occupying Russian troops. In an indirect reference to Moscow's rejection of his demand that the power-sharing treaty currently being formulated give Chechnya total control over the revenues from exploiting its oil reserves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003), Kadyrov said, "The people should be told frankly that it will not be possible to rebuild the republic, revive the economy, and win the battle against crime within a short period of time." LF

The Pskov branch of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) intends to form an initiative group that will nominate Colonel Yurii Budanov as a candidate for the 7 December State Duma elections, reported on 29 July. A military court sentenced Budanov on 25 July to 10 years' imprisonment for the March 2000 murder of a young Chechen woman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). Deputy Pavel Krasheninnikov (Union of Rightist Forces), who chairs the Duma's Legislation Committee, told on 29 July that the LDPR cannot yet nominate Budanov as a candidate because the Duma election campaign has not yet formally begun. Krasheninnikov added that unless the Supreme Court upholds an appeal from Budanov's lawyer and overturns the court verdict, Budanov will not be able to contest the ballot, as persons convicted of a crime are barred from doing so under the Russian Constitution. LF

Finnish diplomat Heikki Talvitie, who was named earlier this month as EU special representative to the South Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2003), met in Yerevan on 28 July with top Armenian officials and two opposition party leaders, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Topics discussed included the presidential and parliamentary elections held earlier this year, restrictions on media freedom, Armenian-Turkish relations, and the Karabakh conflict. Talvitie noted that the Armenian authorities "did not get very high marks" for their handling of the elections, both of which were marred by accusations of blatant falsification. President Robert Kocharian assured Talvitie, "We remain committed to [European integration] and are seeking to build a country based on European standards," according to the presidential press service. Opposition Artarutiun parliament faction head Stepan Demirchian likewise stressed the importance of expanding ties between Armenia and the EU, but added that in assessing Armenia's compliance with its commitments to the Council of Europe the issue of abolishing the death penalty should not eclipse the importance of holding free and fair elections, Noyan Tapan reported. Artarutiun unsuccessfully appealed the official results of both ballots to the Constitutional Court (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 April and 8 July 2003). LF

Ambassador Roy Reeve, the outgoing head of the OSCE office in Yerevan, told journalists in the Armenian capital on 28 July that Armenia has made mixed progress toward democratization since the office opened three years ago, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Reeve positively assessed the handing over of responsibility for the prison system to the Justice Ministry, but noted that much still needs to be done to bring the election process into compliance with democratic standards. LF

Ilham Aliev told Azerbaijan State Television on 28 July that his father, President Heidar Aliev, feels well, is monitoring developments in Azerbaijan, and will return to Baku "soon," Turan reported. Ilham Aliev denied a report aired last week by Turkey's Star TV that his father's medical treatment costs millions of dollars per month. He said the Turkish government is paying the costs of his father's treatment. President Aliev, who is 80, has been in the Gulhane military hospital in Ankara since 8 July. Ilham Aliev also made a number of derogatory comments about the Azerbaijani opposition, affirming that "we shall never allow the opposition to come to power," Turan and reported on 29 July. LF

Addressing a 28 July meeting of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), parliament deputy Musa Musaev claimed that many of his fellow deputies elected on the YAP ticket, together with an unspecified number of ministers and other senior officials, are betraying the party by conducting clandestine talks with opposition party representatives and forging contingency plans for the transition of power that will follow President Aliev's anticipated demise, reported on 29 July. Musaev did not name any of the individuals in question. The online newspaper also quoted parliament deputy Igbal Alizade of the opposition Umid party as confirming that he has contacts with some YAP members, whom he described as "people who once trusted Heidar Aliev, but are categorically against entrusting the destiny of Azerbaijan to his entourage. These people are devoted to their country." Alizade estimated the number of parliament deputies who have contacted him as over 50 percent of the total 120. LF

Vagif Huseinov, who headed the KGB in Azerbaijan from August 1989 until the advent to power of the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front in the summer of 1992, told Turan in a lengthy interview on 28 July that he doubts that democratic elections are possible in Azerbaijan as long as President Aliev remains in power. He criticized the Aliev leadership for its repression of the media and human rights. Huseinov positively assessed the authorities' strategy for exploiting Caspian oil, but deplored the failure to develop other sectors of the economy, especially agriculture, or to invest in maintaining the country's decaying infrastructure. He specifically criticized President Aliev for allegedly failing adequately to defend Azerbaijan's territorial claim to Nagorno-Karabakh. Huseinov denied playing any role in the January 1990 deployment of Soviet troops to Baku, during which some 130 Azerbaijanis were killed. Huseinov currently lives in Moscow, where he heads a think tank. LF

At his regular weekly press briefing, Eduard Shevardnadze rejected on 28 July a demand made earlier that day by parliament deputy speaker Vakhtang Kolbaya to suspend talks with Russia on implementing the agreements reached during talks in Sochi in March between Shevardnadze and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, Caucasus Press reported. Those agreements encompassed measures to expedite the return to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons and the resumption of transport and economic cooperation between Georgia and Abkhazia. Kolbaya argued that Georgia should suspend talks with Russia on implementing the agreements to protest the resumption on 26 July of ferry traffic between Sochi and the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). Also on 28 July, the daily "Mtavari gazeti" quoted Georgia's ambassador to the UN, Revaz Adamia, as predicting that the Georgian request for a UN peace-enforcement operation to restore Georgian hegemony over the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia is unlikely to be met. Meanwhile Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vladimir Chkhikvishvili said on 28 July that Russia will oppose Georgian demands for the replacement of the Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone by an international force, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Kazakhstan's National Security Committee has asserted on its website that the country is of "intense interest" to foreign intelligence services, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 28 July. The problems of military counterintelligence were raised at a meeting between the security agency and the Defense Ministry on protecting state secrets as contacts increase between the Kazakh and foreign militaries. According to the report, military counterintelligence staff have found a number of foreign intelligence agents operating in Kazakhstan. In the first half of 2003, a number of violations of the rules on protecting state secrets were discovered, including the loss of classified documents, but no incidents were reported involving the security of weapons or ammunition. BB

Discarded pesticides and containers used for toxic chemicals are posing a threat to North Kazakhstan Oblast, one of the country's major grain-growing areas, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 28 July, quoting Viktor Musienko, a physician in the oblast environmental health department. Musienko said that some 27 tons of pesticides and 135,000 chemical containers have accumulated on farms in the oblast, where they pose a threat to the environment. The oblast's only burial site for hazardous waste was reportedly closed some years ago and has not been replaced. BB

The poverty level in Kyrgyzstan has declined 10 percent in the last three years, Interfax reported on 28 July, quoting the Kyrgyz president's office. But 44.3 percent of the country's population remains below the poverty line, according to the same source. Worst affected is Batken Oblast in southern Kyrgyzstan, which was created in response to incursions into the region by Muslim militants in 1999 and 2000. At the time, the government promised that the establishment of the oblast would help overcome poverty in the remote area, but according to the president's office, improvement has been short-term and slight. BB

The fifth congress of Kyrgyzstan's Uighurs was held on 28 July, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the same day. A total of 350 delegates from around the country gathered in Bishkek to hear a report by the chairman of the Uighur Society, Ittipak Rozmukhambet Abdulbakiev, who was re-elected at the congress. Abdulbakiev noted that recent assertions in the Kyrgyz media that Uighurs have been involved in criminal activities connected with separatists who want to set up an independent Uighur state in China's Xinjiang Province have harmed the Uighur community in Kyrgyzstan. He said he has sent a letter to the authorities about this problem. Officially, the Uighur population of Kyrgyzstan is 50,000, but unofficial sources say the number is twice that. BB

The press service of Russian border troops stationed on the Tajik-Afghan frontier has announced the seizure of 2,700 kilograms of contraband drugs between January and July 2003, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 July. Heroin accounted for 1,600 kilos of that amount. In the same period in 2002, 1,780 kilos of drugs were seized, including 1,214 kilos of heroin. The frequent reports in the Tajik media of seizures of contraband drugs inside the country indicate that drug trafficking into and through Tajikistan from Afghanistan remains a major problem. BB

A delegation from the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the Tajik authorities to create a better environment for the media in Tajikistan, Asia-Plus Blitz and Deutsche Welle reported on 28 July. The delegation spent three days in the country assessing media conditions. After meetings with government officials and journalists, they called for the Tajik media to have greater access to information, and for more democratization and economic development. The delegation noted that President Imomali Rakhmonov and other high-level officials rarely meet with the media, and access to some government agencies is limited due to bureaucratic obstructionism. The CPJ group was also critical of the failure to bring to justice the killers of journalists during the 1992-1997 civil war. Tajik journalists reportedly said that the government's failure to apprehend the killers had limited press freedom in the country. BB

Uzbek journalists are concerned about the lack of objectivity being shown by the judge in a civil case against the Tashkent newspaper "Zerkalo" and its owners for having allegedly defamed a judge, the Moscow Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations reported on 27 July. The plaintiff asserts that an article that appeared in "Zerkalo" in March damaged her professional reputation and is demanding 10 million sums (about $10,270) in compensation. The article in question, which stated that the judge had improperly released a defendant, was based on information provided by a prosecutor. Uzbek law says that journalists are not responsible for the accuracy of information provided by prosecutors or the courts. The judge in the defamation case, which has been dragging on for several months, recently refused a request by the defense to call as a witness the prosecutor who gave the newspaper the information on which the offending article was based. Journalists are also concerned about the fact that the plaintiff is a judge in the district in which the case is being heard. BB

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on 23 July released its third annual "Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals" report, which ranks 39 countries based on their efforts from 1 April 2002 to 31 March 2003 in dealing with Holocaust perpetrators. Only the United States and Germany received the highest grades of "A" and "B," respectively. Among the seven countries in category "C" (minimal success that could have been greater; additional steps urgently required) are Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. Estonia is among the 14 countries in category "D" (insufficient and/or unsuccessful efforts), along with Croatia, Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia. Norway and Sweden are the only European states to receive an "F" for total failure. The former Soviet republics of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Czech Republic, and Yugoslavia, were placed in category "X," which is made up of the 13 states that failed to respond to the center's questionnaire and "show no activities to prosecute." SG

In a special session on 28 July, legislators in the Council of the Republic unanimously elected former Premier Henadz Navitski to head the upper house, according to Belapan. Navitski replaces Alyaksandr Vaytovich, who was recalled after he reached age of 65 -- the maximum age for a civil servant, according to the Council of the Republic press office. The special session was convened by Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who appoints eight of the Council of the Republic's 64 members. AM

A district court in Minsk fined Dzmitry Zhamoydzik 14,000 rubles ($7) on 28 July for participating in an unauthorized street demonstration the previous day to mark the 13th anniversary of the adoption of Belarus's Declaration of State Sovereignty, Belapan reported. Zhamoydzik and two other members of a youth opposition group called Zubr, Pavel Yukhnevich and Mikhail Vouchak, were among those who unfolded a banner that read "Long Live Independent Belarus." Yukhnevich received an official warning, while Vouchak's trial was postponed after he demanded a lawyer. AM

The Simon Wiesenthal Center gave Lithuania and Latvia "C" grades in its annual "Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals" report (see above), while Estonia received a "D." Only two of the 39 countries listed in the report were given grades of "A" or "B." The center termed "encouraging" the opening of 24 new investigations of possible Nazi war criminals in Lithuania, second only to Italy for the period reviewed, but noted that "to this day...not a single Lithuanian Nazi war criminal has ever sat one day in jail." Latvia was criticized for its failure "to take legal action against a single Holocaust perpetrator" despite the "large number of Latvian Nazi war criminals and collaborators still alive all over the world." Estonia, meanwhile, exhibits a "total lack of political will" to prosecute war criminals, according to the report. The report noted the positive results of the center's "Operation: Last Chance," which was launched in the Baltic states in July 2002. The operation, which offers financial rewards for information leading to the investigation and conviction of Nazi war criminals, has led to the naming of 174 suspects in Lithuania, 37 in Latvia, and six in Estonia. MES/SG

A visiting International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission told Finance Minister Tonis Palts in Tallinn on 28 July that Estonia needs to toughen its budgetary policy, BNS reported. The mission, headed by Richard Haas, arrived in Estonia on 22 July and will depart on 1 August. Haas noted that Estonia's very high current account deficit over the past few quarters could hinder economic development. He recommended that budget expenditures be reduced to allow for a balanced or surplus 2004 budget. The mission will return to Estonia in September to look at the management of government expenses. SG

Prosecutor Juris Peda launched a case against former Health Minister Aris Auders on 28 July, charging him with fraud, LETA reported. Prime Minister Einars Repse dismissed Auders in March when the Corruption Prevention Bureau announced that Auders, while serving as director of spinal surgery at the Trauma and Orthopedic Hospital in fall 2002, had demanded that a patient pay him directly for surgery he performed, even though the procedure was covered by state health insurance funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2003). The pretrial investigation revealed that Auders had demanded double payment on a number of occasions. SG

The Statistics Department announced on 29 July that GDP amounted to 25.6 billion litas ($8.5 billion) in the first half of the year, a 7.7 percent increase over the same period last year, ELTA reported. While there were increases in all sectors of the national economy, the largest growth was in manufacturing, the electricity sector, gas and water supply, construction, and retail and wholesale trade. In the second quarter of 2003, per capita GDP was 3,873 litas, or 6.5 percent more than a year earlier. SG

Roughly 55 percent of respondents in a 4-7 July CBOS poll said they oppose Polish troop participation in Iraq, while 36 percent said they favor it, PAP reported on 28 July. Support is strongest among Civic Platform (66 percent) voters, followed by those of the governing Democratic Left Alliance (60 percent) and the right-wing Law and Justice (57 percent) party. More than two-thirds of respondents said they believe Polish participation might prompt terrorist attacks on Polish soil, up 15 percentage points from June, while 23 percent hold the opposite view. AM

President Vaclav Klaus has become embroiled in a dispute with the chairman of the Former Political Prisoners Association, Stanislav Stransky, over Klaus's dealings with the unreformed Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM), CTK reported on 29 July, citing the weekly "Tyden." Stransky sent a letter to Klaus objecting to his use of KSCM support to secure the presidency and to a recent article by Klaus that discourages fervent anticommunism, according to the weekly. Stransky, who spent 11 years in communist jails, specifically criticized Klaus's alleged invitation of KSCM Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek for consultations, including a discussion of the conflict in Iraq. Klaus countered by saying Stransky's attack on him was "politically motivated" and based on "clear untruths," the weekly wrote. Several days after having met with Grebenicek, according to the weekly, Klaus said, "I never held any political talks with the communists." "Tyden" cited Stransky as saying he had always voted for Klaus, but adding that the tone of the president's reply "insulted" him and was "unbecoming of a head of state." MS

Alois Grebenicek, a former communist secret-police (StB) investigator accused of brutally torturing prisoners, died on 28 July at the age of 81, CTK and other local media reported. Citing ill health, Grebenicek refused to turn up on 11 occasions over the past six years for trial on charges that he abused prisoners under the former regime, according to "Hospodarske noviny." The former StB investigator was the father of current KSCM Chairman Miroslav Grebenicek. MS

The first 19 of an expected 85 Slovak engineering troops left for Iraq on 28 July, TASR and CTK reported. The Slovak soldiers will serve in the Polish-administered stabilization zone between Baghdad and the southern city of Al-Basrah. Defense Minister Ivan Simko, who saw the soldiers off, said he expects the Slovak mission in Iraq to last for "more than one year." The Slovak parliament approved the deployment on 19 June. MS

The Finance Ministry has modified its 2003 budget targets and effectively conceded that the deficit will be larger than planned, Hungarian media reported on 29 July. Revenue figures were raised by 139 billion forints ($607 million) to 9.995 trillion forints, while expenditures were increased by 203 billion forints. The target for the budget deficit thus increases by 65 billion, to 905 billion forints, or 4.8 percent of GDP. The previous target represented 4.5 percent of GDP -- which is expected to total 18.7 trillion this year rather than the previously forecast 18.5 trillion. The government will not submit a supplementary budget to parliament because the modifications are relatively small, Finance Ministry spokesman Csongor Csak said. In related news, the Central Statistics Office said on 28 July that Hungary's unemployment rate in June was 5.8 percent, compared with 6.4 percent in March and 6 percent in May. MS

A court in Vienna has set bail for former K&H Equities executive Attila Kulcsar at more than 88 million euros ($101 million), Hungarian media reported on 29 July. Kulcsar is in the custody of Austrian police, where he is awaiting possible extradition on embezzlement charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 10, 11, 15, 18, and 25 July 2003). "Magyar Hirlap" reported that prior to his hearing, Kulcsar sought bail of 50,000 euros, but the Austrian judge decided to base the final bail amount on the figure determined by Hungarian authorities to be the estimated maximum amount of damage resulting from Kulcsar's alleged crimes. MS

Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic told a press conference in Washington on 28 July that he has received "exceptionally strong" support from the U.S. government for his country's reform program and integration into European and Euro-Atlantic institutions, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 and 28 July 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 July 2003). Referring to U.S. concerns about indicted war criminals allegedly still at large in Serbia, Zivkovic said that former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic will be arrested and extradited to The Hague "by the end of the year" if he is indeed in Serbia. The prime minister added that his delegation discussed with Bechtel executives the unspecified plans of several Serbian companies to help in the reconstruction of Iraq, where many former Yugoslav firms have experience. Zivkovic is scheduled to discuss Kosova with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York on 29 July. The prime minister is expected to urge postponing any discussion on the province's final status for several years (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). PM

Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 28 July that unspecified personnel changes will take place in the Army General Staff in the coming months, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Tadic noted that he is dissatisfied with what he called "the way in which the military organization understands our place in the world," adding that a "mood of complacency" is prevalent in the army (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003). PM

The German WAZ media group announced on 28 July its purchase of majority stakes in the three leading Macedonian newspapers, "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and "Vest," Macedonian and international news agencies reported. The papers, which have a total of 350 employees and a combined circulation of some 120,000 copies, will be part of the newly founded company Media Print Macedonia, which will be headed by former Macedonian Foreign Minister and Ambassador to Germany Srgjan Kerim. Bodo Hombach, who previously headed the EU-led Balkan Stability Pact, is one of WAZ's four managing directors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). UB

The leadership of the Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which is the ethnic Albanian junior coalition partner in the Social Democratic-led government, recently sent a detailed questionnaire to each of its members in high positions in government institutions to see how well they have carried out party policies, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 28 July. The BDI wants to know in particular to what extent officials have taken steps to ensure that 23 percent of the posts in each ministry and department are held by ethnic Albanians, which corresponds approximately to their share of the total population. The party also wants to determine if its members have abused their positions by naming their relatives to government jobs. The BDI says it will publish the names of wrongdoers. PM

On 28 July in Washington, the U.S. government issued a list of 30 countries that have agreed to help in military or police operations in Iraq, Reuters reported. Albania and Macedonia, along with Bulgaria and Romania, are the Balkan countries included on the list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March, 2 May and 11 June 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 21 February, 28 March, and 27 June 2003). PM

Albanian Socialist Prime Minister Fatos Nano failed on 28 July to secure the support of a majority of legislative deputies for the candidacy of Marko Bello to succeed Socialist Ilir Meta as foreign minister, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 25 July 2003). An unspecified number of supporters of Meta, who recently resigned his post as part of a long-running feud with Nano, refused to vote for Bello in the Socialist-dominated parliament. But in a show of party unity in the run-up to the 12 October local elections, Meta's backers nonetheless voted for Ermelinda Meksi to become European integration minister in place of Sokol Nako, who resigned in support of Meta. Nano is now expected to propose a candidate for foreign minister who enjoys all-party support. It is not clear who such an individual might be, given the highly polarized nature of Albanian politics. PM

An estimated 10,000 retirees demonstrated in Sarajevo on 29 July to demand payment of their back pensions, which are up to three years in arrears, and improvements in various other social benefits, dpa reported. Additional pensioners were expected to arrive in the capital in the course of the day from other cities and towns in the Muslim-Croat federation. Pensions in the federation are about $110 per month. Elsewhere, organizations representing pensioners in the Republika Srpska have announced similar protests to secure payment of back pensions amounting to around $85 per month. PM

In a letter to Israeli President Moshe Katzav, President Ion Iliescu said on 28 July that in his interview with "Ha'aretz" last week he never intended to question the uniqueness of the Jewish Holocaust and only meant to emphasize the similarity of totalitarian regimes, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Iliescu also said that his statements in the interview were printed only partially, which led to distortions. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase is to write to his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon on the matter on 29 July, and Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana said in Washington that he will soon meet with his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom to clarify any lingering misunderstanding. Meanwhile, after handing a strongly worded protest to the Romanian Foreign Ministry, Israeli Ambassador to Romania Sandu Mazor said that he received assurances from President Iliescu in a telephone conversation that Romania intends to take a number of steps to increase awareness of the significance of the Holocaust. Mazor mentioned setting up an international commission to examine Romania's participation in the Holocaust, teaching about the Holocaust in high schools and universities, and instituting official observance of Holocaust Day. Mazor said that Israel will only respond to the proposed measures after they are implemented (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). MS

A meeting between visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Geoana and his U.S. counterpart Colin Powell was canceled on 28 July, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported. It is unclear whether the cancellation is due to the recent international scandal caused by President Iliescu's statements on the Holocaust (see above). Accompanied by Iliescu counselor Ioan Talpes, Geoana met on 28 July with National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice, according to a Foreign Ministry communique cited by Mediafax. The communique said that they discussed Romania's "strategic partnership" with the United States and that Rice praised Bucharest's consistent contribution to the struggle against international terrorism and to peacekeeping operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They also discussed ways to boost economic and political relations between the two countries. Earlier on 28 July, Geoana met in Washington with the World Bank director in charge of Romania, Andrew Vorking, and Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky. MS

Prime Minister Nastase said in a televised interview on 25 July that Romania has for too long been treated as if it had "some inferior status" when problems relating to the treatment of national minorities are discussed at the international level, Mediafax reported on 28 July. Nastase told the private channel Realitatea TV that Romania has no reason to feel inferior and that in many respects it is ahead of many of its neighbors regarding the treatment of national minorities. Alluding to the Hungarian Status Law, Nastase said, "We have learned from some neighbors who claim to have a population larger than that living within their borders" that one can raise demands about "respecting the rights of national minorities in other countries." The time has come, Nastase concluded, to base the treatment of national minorities on a principle of reciprocity. For instance, he added, the parliament in Budapest should be asked to include representatives of minorities living in that country, as is the case in Romania. MS

Colonel Anatolii Zverev, commander of the Russian peacekeeping contingent in Transdniester, said on 28 July that the present mechanism for peacekeeping operations is as good as it can be and there is no reason to change it, BASA-press reported. Zverev was alluding to the initiative attributed to the OSCE chairman in office, Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, which reportedly envisages the participation of EU forces under OSCE command in peacekeeping operations after a settlement is reached by Chisinau and Tiraspol on a federal state. Zverev, who spoke in Bendery-Tighina, said it is not necessary to augment the current team of peacekeepers with military forces from any other country. He spoke at a rally marking the 11th anniversary of the arrival of Russian peacekeepers in Transdniester in July 1992. MS

Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca said on 28 July that the "governing dogmatists" in Moldova are repeating the mistakes made by the "Soviet invaders" of Moldova after 1940, Flux reported. Reacting to President Vladimir Voronin's National Policy Concept, made public last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003), Rosca said that, like Soviet propaganda, Voronin's National Policy Concept is inventing such things as a "Moldovan people" and a "Moldovan language," which are allegedly different from the "general cultural Romanian space." Rosca said that while such forcibly imposed inventions could "function perfectly in a totalitarian system," they are bound to fail in what can be defined either as an "imperfect totalitarian" or a "deficient democratic" system like the one existing in Moldova currently. He said the purpose of the inventions is to keep Moldova under the control of the Russian Federation through Russification. MS

During the annual meeting of the Bulgarian Media Coalition (BMK) in Bansko on 28 July, U.S. Ambassador to Bulgaria James Pardew linked cases of violence against journalists to organized crime and a weak judiciary, reported. Pardew said that a number of journalists have been attacked as a result of their investigations into the underworld and that in hundreds of cases, the courts have been used to intimidate journalists. Rumen Georgiev, acting director of the National Investigation Service, admitted that more than 200 journalists are currently under investigation, while not a single attack on a journalist has resulted in a guilty verdict. UB

Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov said on 28 July that in recent months, cooperation has improved between his ministry, the Finance Ministry, and the Customs Agency in their efforts to fight smuggling, reported. In April, relations between the Finance Ministry and the Interior Ministry soured when an Interior Ministry report about alleged contacts between Finance Minister Milen Velchev and a businessman suspected of large-scale smuggling was leaked to the media (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2003, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April 2003). However, Yordan Bakalov, a lawmaker for the opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) and a member of the parliament's Home Security Committee, charged that under Petkanov's leadership, the Interior Ministry has halted all investigations into smuggling cases. UB


Bulgaria's conservatives are deeply divided. Little remains of what used to be the conservative coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS) that won the 1996 presidential and the 1997 parliamentary elections. Most coalition partners have left the alliance, and now, the party that once used to be strongest group within the coalition, the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), faces another rift.

It all began with a meeting on 10 July between SDS Deputy Chairman Plamen Oresharski and the chairman of the Business Club "Vazrazhdane" (Revival), Vasil Bozhkov. Normally, such meetings between business leaders and politicians are nothing unusual. But in this particular case, the meeting could have far-reaching consequences not only for the SDS but for Bulgarian politics as a whole.

Bozhkov, who is also known as "The Skull," owns not only the Nove Holding and the TsSKA Sofia soccer club, but also a number of casinos. Media therefore often portray the controversial businessman as a "gambling boss," and Oresharski thus came under criticism when, as the newly nominated SDS candidate for the October mayoral elections in Sofia, he met with Bozhkov.

Just one day after the meeting, on 11 July, the SDS's National Executive Council followed Chairwoman Nadezhda Mihailova's request to withdraw Oresharski's nomination as mayoral candidate. The Although nobody within the SDS openly addressed the real problem of the Oresharski-Bozhkov meeting, it is clear that Mihailova and some of her followers feared that the old specter of corruption, which had led to the party's disastrous defeat in the June 2001 parliamentary elections, might reemerge.

When Mihailova was elected party chairwoman in March 2002, she promised to "open the windows" to rid the party of the stench of graft and nepotism. So far, however, she has not taken any decisive steps in that direction. Instead of embarking on a deep internal reform, party leaders have engaged in political infighting, thus further paralyzing a political formation that regards itself as the country's only anticommunist vanguard, as well as the only legitimate representative of the Bulgarian conservatives.

Thus, Mihailova's 11 July decision to withdraw the SDS's support for Oresharski in the strategically important mayoral elections in Sofia -- the capital is widely regarded as a conservative, anticommunist stronghold -- prompted mixed reactions. Former SDS Prime Minister Filip Dimitrov published a short statement arguing that after Oresharski's withdrawal, the SDS should not nominate a "secondhand" candidate. Instead, Dimitrov argued, the party should consider supporting incumbent Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski, who was a former ally of the SDS, but now heads his own party, the Union of Free Democrats (SSD). But in the eyes of Mihailova's supporters, Dimitrov's statement dealt a blow to the party, because Sofiyanski is said to be closer to the governing National Movement Simeon II than to the opposition SDS. Other critics of the decision to strip Oresharski of his nomination, such as the leadership of the SDS's youth organization (MSDS), simply resigned in protest. Later, former MSDS Chairman Miroslav Borshosh proposed supporting Lyuben Dilov, who is the joint candidate of the Bulgarian National Agrarian Union--National Union (BZNS-NS), the Democratic Party, and the Gergyovden Movement. Both the Democratic Party and the BZNS-NS were former allies of the SDS.

Mihailova herself went one step further. In various statements after Oresharski was ditched as the party's mayoral candidate, she underscored her willingness to call an extraordinary national party congress to not only resolve the question of leadership within the SDS, but also adopt new guidelines for contacts among party members and business representatives. In a combative speech, Mihailova told the SDS's National Council on 22 July that the party and society as a whole do not expect a debate about the party's leadership, but a new policy. "And this is a policy of introducing and implementing rules for creating a clean state, in which the decision makers are not entangled in the interests of controversial entrepreneurs and financiers," Mihailova said. She also proposed that party members launch a debate, the results of which should be discussed in the coming weeks, before the new guidelines are approved by a forum on the national level in September.

In her efforts, Mihailova was supported by former President Petar Stoyanov, who lauded her call for a new moral code as unique. "Nadezhda Mihailova in practice applied a policy, with which so far nobody in Bulgaria has succeeded, and which nobody has even dared to say can be applied," he said. However, Stoyanov also warned that to implement such a policy, one needs a lot of courage. Mihailova might have "to swallow many bitter pills," Stoyanov said. One of the first such pills was the National Council's decision not to act on Mihailova's proposal to call an extraordinary party congress.

But there were numerous critical and skeptical voices as well. In an interview with the weekly "Kapital," No. 28, political scientist Ivan Krastev said the time has come to rethink the rules of party and campaign financing, which could also reverse the citizens' declining interest in politics and thus revive the political process that is experiencing a deep crisis in Bulgaria. In a comment for the daily "Sega" of 21 July, Petyo Tsekov slammed Mihailova's "new morality" as leftist rhetoric, saying, "Nadezhda now asks: 'Do you have moral standards?' What do you answer? 'No, I don't have moral standards!'?"

Meanwhile, Mihailova has yet to explain how her call for a clean state can be reconciled with her latest move -- mentioning former Prime Minister Ivan Kostov as a possible mayoral candidate for Sofia. According to some critics, it was under Kostov's leadership that the party and the government sank into the mire of corruption and nepotism from which Mihailova has pledged to lead the party.

General Atiqollah Barialay has said that Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan will not be allowed to retain his own militia because doing so would violate an agreement between local commanders and the Afghan military, the Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" reported on 28 July. Major General Gholam Mohammad Masun, a spokesman for Ismail Khan, on 23 July stated that the province's military structure, i.e., the governor's militia, will continue to function even after disarmament as a "resistance force" alongside the Afghan National Army (ANA) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2003). Barialay said all militia forces, including those loyal to Ismail Khan, must be disarmed. AT

Major General Masun told Radio Afghanistan on 27 July that Herat Province Governor Ismail Khan does not intend to maintain his militia as a force separate from the ANA. Masun said that Ismail Khan, whom he referred to as "Amir" (ruler), has announced that "disarmament has taken place in Herat." "This means we registered everyone's arms and deposited them in arms warehouses," Masun said. "We wanted to let people know this good news, and we want this process to take place in other provinces as well." He added that Barialay's apprehensions are misplaced because Ismail Khan has always been loyal to Kabul and the force he commands belongs to the central government. Warlordism is one of the most challenging tasks faced by Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai as he attempts to unite the country. The nascent ANA has no more than 5,000 soldiers, while some have estimated that Ismail Khan's forces could number as many as 100,000 troops. AT

Many soldiers are reportedly deserting the ANA because of low salaries, "The Kabul Times" reported on 27 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 25 July 2003). Soldier Jan Mohammad said he has been in the ANA for four months and was "promised" a salary of $100 per month, but has thus far received just $40 per month. Jan Mohammad said there were 700 recruits when he began his training, but today there are only about 460. He claimed that if the salary situation "remains like this, everyone will leave the army." A spokesman for the coalition forces in Afghanistan said the problem of underpayment "will be solved very soon." He said the extra cash might be culled from a $1 billion aid package the U.S. administration reportedly will propose for Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). AT

One person was killed on 28 July as fighting flared up in Samangan Province's Dara-ye District, RFE/RL reported the next day. Forces loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum, special adviser on security and military affairs to Chairman Karzai, have been battling Army Corps No. 7 commander General Ata Mohammad's forces for control of areas of the province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003). General Mohammad Sabur, a senior lieutenant loyal to Ata Mohammad, said the area was quiet on 29 July. Eleven people were killed on 3 July in the factional fighting in Dara-ye Suf. AT

Mulla Mohammad Omar has appointed Mulla Saber to replace Mulla Abdul Rahman as his new deputy, Hindukosh news agency reported on 28 July. Mohammad Omar also appointed Mulla Abdul Jabar to serve as the neo-Taliban's "governor" of Zabul Province. The news agency commented that the appointments are "said to be a mere show" to demonstrate that the ousted Taliban regime still has a disciplined and orderly structure. Authorities in Zabul have appealed for help in coping with forces loyal to the former Taliban regime that are active in the province, and there have been reports that a neo-Taliban "governor" is active in Zabul Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). AT

A plane belonging to Afghanistan's national Ariana Airlines was hit by gunfire on 26 July as it took off from Mazar-e Sharif airport in northern Afghanistan, RFE/RL reported on 28 July. The plane was hit twice, apparently by small-arms fire, but it landed safely and no passengers were hurt. The attack has forced Ariana to temporarily suspend flights on its Kabul-Mazar-e Sharif route. AT

Reza Mansuri, governor of the Khorasan Province city of Taiabad, said on 28 July that the construction of several police stations along the Iran-Afghanistan border is a positive development, IRNA reported. Khorasan Province Deputy Governor-General Hussein Zare-Sefat, an Iranian security official referred to as "General Akbia," and the deputy governor of Afghanistan's Herat Province attended a 21 July ceremony setting the corner stones of 25 buildings at one of the new border checkpoints, Herat television reported the same day. The Afghanistan-Iran border is 936 kilometers long and is a major transshipment point for narcotics traffickers and Afghan refugees. Legitimate trade between the two sides has increased greatly since the elimination of Taliban rule. BS

Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan met on 28 July with a delegation of Iranian visitors, Herat television reported. The delegation from the Afghanistan-Iran Friendship Society was headed by parliamentarian Gholam-Heidar Ebrahim-Bay-Salami and included three other parliamentarians. The visitors donated some books, and Ismail Khan thanked Iran for its help during the anti-Soviet Jihad and for not forgetting Afghanistan during its post-Taliban reconstruction era. Foreign Minister Abdullah told the Iranians in a 27 July meeting in Kabul about the importance of constructing a rail line to his landlocked country, Radio Afghanistan reported. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai discussed the constantly improving relations between the Afghan and Iranian people when he met with the visitors on 27 July, Radio Afghanistan reported. BS

Tehran parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Majid Ansari, a leader of the pro-reform Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez), denied that his associates met with their counterparts in the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mubarez-i Tehran) to discuss the spring 2004 parliamentary election, "Etemad" reported on 28 July. Ansari said his faction is negotiating with all the groups in the reformist 2nd of Khordad coalition, and added that he hopes to form a coalition like the one they had for the sixth parliamentary election in 2001. BS

Parliament speaker Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi said on 27 July that the standoff between the legislature and Guardians Council over a piece of legislation introduced by President Mohammad Khatami last September will be resolved soon, IRNA reported. The bill, which aims to modify the Guardians Council's ability to vet candidates for elected office (known as approbatory supervision), was rejected by the Guardians Council in April for failure to comply with the constitution and with religious law, and the two sides have been trying to resolve their dispute since June. Karrubi said on 22 July that some Guardians Council members are biased, IRNA reported, and on 20 July reformist parliamentarians said in a letter to President Khatami that the Guardians Council is being inflexible, IRNA reported. BS

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander Major General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told the first meeting of model Basij Resistance Force commanders on 28 July that Iran's enemies are trying to make the Basij look bad, ISNA reported. "The enemies intend to depict a ruthless picture for the Basij forces in Iran, but these forces must be vigilant so as to make certain that the society maintains its respect for them as the forces of compassion, kindness, and commitment," Rahim-Safavi said. He added that the United States is trying to impose a global dictatorship and it is trampling on the UN through its aggressive activities in Iraq. The world is unstable, Rahim-Safavi said, "thanks to America's new strategy of trying to take control of the world's energy resources and dominate the global economy." The IRGC chief reiterated the long-standing call for a 20-million man army. He said the strategy of defending the borders has been expanded to defending every region of the country, so "no urban or rural region shall remain safe for our enemies." BS

Colonel Ebrahim Azizi, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps commander for the Shiraz Basij resistance zone, said in a speech at the 28 July cultural-political session of the Basij members of Shiraz's state-controlled offices and factories that under current circumstances the most important duty of the Basij is to identify the enemy, ISNA reported. If the Basij succeeds in "controlling the bedrock of unrest," he said, incidents such as the unrest of July 1999 will not occur again. Azizi also discussed political affairs, calling for unity over factionalism and stressing the need for the Guardians Council to prevent incompetents from running for parliament in the spring 2004 elections. Azizi warned that the enemy is trying to exploit the country's economic problems; thus, the removal of these problems should be a priority for the executive branch. BS

Hamid Farzam and Mohammad-Reza Zahrian-Esfahani, described as members of the Iranian national rowing team, are seeking asylum in Germany, Baztab website reported on 28 July, citing the exile newspaper "Peyk-i Iran." The defections allegedly took place in Augsburg, but the only competitive aquatic event this week in Augsburg is the World Senior Canoe/Kayak Championship (22-27 July). A number of Iranian oarsmen sought asylum in Germany in September 2001. ISNA reported on 29 July that in light of the relatively frequent defections by Iranian oarsmen, there is a distinct possibility that the country's "Boating Federation" will be dissolved. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during a 28 July meeting in Tehran with new German Ambassador to Iran Baron Paul Maltzahn that he is happy with the improvement of relations between the two countries, IRNA reported. BS

U.S. forces captured a bodyguard of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and two regime loyalists in a predawn raid in Hussein's hometown of Tikrit on 29 July, international media reported. AP identified the bodyguard as Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Muslit. Tikrit security chief Daher Ziana, and Rafa Idham Ibrahim al-Hassan, a leader in the Saddam Fedayeen paramilitary group, were also detained. "We got our prime target," Lieutenant Colonel Steve Russell told AP. He described al-Muslit has having close ties to the deposed president's half brother, Watban Ibrahim Hasan, already in coalition custody. Reuters quoted an unidentified U.S. spokesman as saying that a fourth man was detained in the raid. U.S. forces captured between five and 10 people believed to be Hussein's bodyguards in a 25 July raid in the northern Iraqi city of Tikrit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). On 28 July, soldiers excavated recently buried weapons outside a building belonging to the Saddam Fedayeen, including 40 antitank mines, dozens of mortar rounds, and considerable amounts of gunpowder, AP reported. KR

Iraqi militants continued to attack coalition forces in Iraq on 28 July, leaving one soldier dead and three wounded, according to a press release posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website ( Militants reportedly dropped an improvised explosive device from an overpass onto a convoy carrying soldiers from the 1st Armored Division in Baghdad. The attack brings to 50 the number of U.S. soldiers killed by hostile fire in Iraq since major combat ended on 1 May, Reuters reported on 28 July. Meanwhile, soldiers from Task Force 20 on the trail of deposed President Hussein opened fire on two civilian vehicles in Baghdad on 28 July, killing at least five Iraqis, including a young boy, Reuters reported on 29 July; there were conflicting reports of how the shooting took place. In a separate incident, militants floated a bomb on a palm log down the Diala River, a tributary of the Tigris River, detonating it under a bridge linking the cities of Tikrit and Ba'qubah, AP reported on 29 July. KR

Al-Arabiyah Television aired video footage on 28 July issued by the Salafist Mujahid Group, which claims that it will fight U.S. forces until they are expelled from Iraq. The group describes itself as carrying Islamic, Salafist, and Sunni banners. "Our shaykhs and our imams in the prisons of the renegade oppressors who are slaves of the slaves, we will avenge you, will take revenge on your captors and those who are holding you prisoner," the group announced. The group also addressed its "[mujahedin] brothers who believe in the oneness of God in the detention camps of infidelity and their prison cells in all parts of the earth, as in Guantanamo, Egypt, Morocco, Bilad al-Sham [Greater Syria], the Arabian Peninsula, India, the Philippines, and Pakistan," saying, "May God set you free. We will avenge you and we will take revenge on...those who hold you prisoner." KR

The Salafist Mujahid Group also threatens U.S. administration officials in the video aired by Al-Arabiyah Television on 28 July, saying, "Let it be known to you that we have young men who love death for the sake of God," adding, "You will not enjoy security, peace of mind, [or] safety so long as you remain infidel and continue your war against Islam and Muslims." The speaker goes on to claim, "America, you have declared war on God and the soldiers of God." The group then singles out senior U.S. officials, saying, "As for you, [U.S. President George W.] Bush and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, decision makers in the 'Black House' and the Pentagon, and your lackeys and slaves,... we will turn the ground under you into a blazing fire.... You will see death coming at your from every direction." KR

Ambassador Ole Woehlers Olsen, the Danish coordinator for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in southern Iraq, resigned from his post on 28 July, international media reported the same day. Olsen told a press conference in Copenhagen that although he was slated for a six-month tour, his decision to leave early coincides with the CPA's restructuring plans, Danish radio reported. "It is convenient now, when troops are being replaced and other countries are taking over military tasks involving security and law and order, and when the administration in Iraq is being reorganized," he said. Olsen reportedly complained that the CPA has not provided him with the resources necessary to carry out his mission, Reuters reported on 28 July. "The attrition of south Iraq was far worse than I had expected," he told reporters. "My people in the administration office have no security guards with them as they move around either -- and I'm not happy about that." British diplomat Sir Hillary Synnott will replace Olsen, who held the position for less than two months, Danish Foreign Ministry officials told Reuters. KR

The International Criminal Court (ICC) will review a dossier recounting alleged human-rights abuses by British soldiers in Iraq, the court announced on 28 July, according to Reuters. The investigation follows a call by members of the Athens Bar Association for ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to investigate 22 alleged incidents involving British troops in the war, an ICC statement read. "Experts of the Athens Bar Association prepared 22 charges referring to specific incidents and requested the Office of the Prosecutor to exercise the jurisdiction of the Court in crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide," the statement noted. Both Britain and Greece recognize the ICC, while the United States and Iraq do not. The ICC has jurisdiction only in cases where crimes were committed by nationals of a state that is party to the court, or on such a state's territory, according to Reuters. More than 100 complaints have been filed with the ICC regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom, most of those against the war itself. KR