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Newsline - July 30, 2003


PUTIN, BERLUSCONI DISCUSS RUSSIA'S INTEGRATION WITH EUROPE...
President Vladimir Putin met in the Kremlin on 29 July with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose country currently holds the rotating EU Presidency, Russian and international media reported. The talks reportedly covered a broad range of bilateral and Russia-EU issues, concentrating particularly on ways of successfully launching the Russia-EU Partnership Council, which was agreed to at a Russia-EU summit in St. Petersburg in May. Speaking to journalists following the talks, Berlusconi said the specific question of a timetable for Russia's accession to the EU was not discussed, but that he personally supports Russia's eventual membership of the union, as well as those of Turkey and Israel. He advocated the intensification of Russian-EU relations in all spheres and praised Putin's "pragmatic and workable approach," ITAR-TASS reported. Berlusconi also held out hope that Putin will meet with Pope John Paul II when he visits Rome in November. The Russian and Italian governments are expending every effort, he said, to improve relations between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The latest talks were the fourth meeting between the two men in the last six months, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. RC

...AND REPORT SOME PROGRESS ON IMPLEMENTING VISA-FREE TRAVEL BETWEEN RUSSIA AND EU
Russia and the EU have reached agreement in principle on "radically" amending current visa regimes, President Putin told journalists on 29 July following his meetings with Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Visa-related talks centered on easing restrictions for young people and unspecified "special categories" of travelers. "This is about creating a homogeneous economic bloc and expanding trade, justice, and cultural relations," Putin was quoted as saying. "We cannot go into details presently and raise the expectations of those who would like to witness such an event tomorrow." RC

BERLUSCONI SAYS RUSSIA SHOULD JOIN WTO THIS YEAR
Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi told reporters in Moscow on 29 July that Russia could join the World Trade Organization (WTO) by the end of this year, ITAR-TASS reported. "We are confident that accession must take place and shall do all in our power for it to happen before the end of the year," Berlusconi said. In an interview with "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 July, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs Alan Larson was less committal. "The United States supports Russia," Larson said. "Significant progress has been made recently in Russian reforms and, the main thing, the direction of reform meets the demands of the WTO. However, additional steps are necessary in reforming the telecommunications, aviation-construction, and financial-services sectors, and in protecting intellectual-property rights." Larson was in Moscow to meet with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref to discuss plans for this fall's U.S.-Russian Energy Summit in St. Petersburg. RC

RUSSIA WILL NOT INSIST UPON NEW UN RESOLUTION ON IRAQ...
President Putin told journalists in Moscow on 29 July that Moscow "does not insist upon a new UN resolution on Iraq," although it continues to believe that one would be desirable, ITAR-TASS reported. "We are all interested in a settlement being achieved as soon as possible," he said. "Russia is prepared to make its contribution to this process and to take part in the restoration of [Iraq's] economy." Putin called for the "enhancement of the United Nations' role" in stabilizing Iraq. Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry on 29 July issued a statement saying the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq "does not influence the existence of Iraq as a state. Formally, its diplomatic relations with Russia continue." RC

...AS GOVERNMENT NEWSPAPER CASTS DOUBT ON REPORTS OF ROBBERY AT IRAQ'S MOSCOW EMBASSY
The government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 30 July published a long report calling into question whether the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow was actually robbed on 29 July. According to the earlier reports, three unknown people broke into the embassy at around 2 a.m. local time and forced a guard to open a safe containing more than $3 million in cash. "Rossiiskaya gazeta" notes that the Russian police officer guarding the embassy did not notice anything unusual and wonders why embassy staffers did not notify the police until around 6 a.m. that day. The paper also says no explanation has been offered as to how the security guard was able to open the safe. The paper quoted an unidentified Moscow police officer as speculating that the robbery might have been staged, as no outsider could have expected that such a large sum of cash would be kept in the embassy, which has been virtually inactive since its ambassador and senior staff members were recalled to Baghdad in June. RC

PRESIDENT MAKES AMBIGUOUS STATEMENTS ON YUKOS AFFAIR...
President Putin on 29 July sent more mixed signals concerning the Yukos investigations, Russian and Western media reported. RTR television showed Putin telling a senior Interior Ministry official to "take tough and consistent actions exclusively within the framework of the law, but [you should] not forget the legal rights and interest of citizens." He added that such work should be conducted "systematically, but not turned into a kind of campaign." As in his previous comments, Putin avoided directly mentioning Yukos or its head, oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovskii. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 21 July, presidential chief of staff Aleksandr Voloshin told a Kremlin meeting on 18 July that he had advised Putin to make a public statement that would send a signal to both sides to wind down the dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). RC

...AS COURT POSTPONES HEARING ON YUKOS APPEAL
A Moscow district court on 30 July postponed until 6 August hearing an appeal by Yukos arguing that the Prosecutor-General's Office illegally searched the company's Moscow headquarters on 11-12 July, newsru.com and Interfax reported. According to Yukos's complaint, prosecutors spent 16 hours searching the company's archives, during which numerous procedural violations occurred. For instance, prosecutors allegedly did not compile a list of materials seized, did not present a search warrant, and illegally conducted the search at night. A Yukos press release following the search described the incident as a "terror tactic." The hearing on the appeal was originally scheduled for 23 July, but was postponed until 30 July after prosecutors failed to present the required documents, including the search warrant. According to newsru.com, the latest postponement was caused by the failure of a witness to the search to appear in court. RC

ANALYSTS DENY CONNECTION BETWEEN COUP REPORT AND YUKOS PROBES
National Strategy Council General Director Stanislav Belkovskii and Deputy General Director Iosef Diskin told a press conference on 29 July that there is no connection between the report they published in May warning of a possible "oligarchic coup" and the current investigations into Yukos and one of its major shareholders, Platon Lebedev, "Izvestiya" reported on 30 July. In that report, the council argued that "the ruling oligarchic class" is preparing to consolidate its position by "privatizing the political-governmental system." The council further argued that "the search for alternatives to oligarchic modernization is a crucial element of national strategy." At the 29 July press conference, Belkovskii said the council believes President Putin has read the report, but he added that the president has not expressed any interest in discussing it with council members. He further noted that none of them have been invited to join a recently created presidential working group on economic development headed by presidential aide Igor Shuvalov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 15 July 2003). "Izvestiya" noted that the National Strategy Council was formed in June 2002, but that little had been heard from it until its report was issued in May. Diskin said media stories of a connection between the report and the Yukos affair were the work of Yukos public-relations officers and "mass-media outlets that have been bought by them." RC

WILL CONSTITUTIONAL COURT BE DRAWN INTO CONFLICT WITH YUKOS?
Analyst Diskin told reporters in Moscow on 29 July that the National Strategy Council is suggesting that an inquiry be sent to the Constitutional Court asking it to weigh in on the legality of deals made during the era of privatization, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Diskin argued that Russia should receive a clear and full answer to a series of questions. For example: Were the conditions that existed during privatization legal? Did those people who prepared the presidential decrees on privatization act legally? The goal of this inquiry would not be to punish anyone, but to give the country a legal evaluation of the results of privatization and therefore avoid any dubious political speculation that the attack against Yukos is a precursor to civil war and will lead to a general reversal of the previous results of privatization, according to RosBalt. JAC

WEEKLY TOUTS CONSTITUTIONAL COURT'S NEWFOUND INDEPENDENCE
"Moskovskie novosti," No. 29, commented that under Chairman Valerii Zorkin the Constitutional Court has recently emerged as an independent player on Russia's legal and political scene. As an example, the weekly cited the court's 18 July decision to make it more difficult for the Prosecutor-General's Office and the executive branch to carry out legislative reforms in the regions (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 23 July 2003). According to the weekly, Zorkin, unlike some public officials, has remained scrupulously honest, refusing to accept "any lucrative handouts." Zorkin was forced to resign as court chairman in October 1993, when he objected to then-President Boris Yeltsin's decree dissolving the Supreme Soviet, and was re-elected to the post in February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 February 2003). JAC

FORMER YUKOS OFFICIAL ACCUSED OF SLANDER
A raion-level court in Krasnoyarsk Krai on 29 July accepted for consideration a lawsuit filed by a former raion administration head, Nikolai Supryag, and a former police major, Yevgenii Lakeev, against Evenk Autonomous Okrug Governor Boris Zolotarev, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 30 July. Before becoming governor in 2001, Zolotarev was an executive with Yukos. Zolotarev is being accused of slander for a statement he made at a press conference some nine months ago. Discussing a series of acts of arson that destroyed 24 residential buildings in the okrug capital of Tura, Zolotarev said the arson could have organized by people "who are dissatisfied by the positive changes in the okrug's territory." When asked by the journalists present to name the people he believed to be dissatisfied, he named a series of persons by their last names -- including Supryag and Lakeev -- which led Boris Zolotarev and Yevgenii Lakeev to file the lawsuit nearly two weeks ago. The daily noted that the complaint was filed just as a broader assault by law enforcement officials is being waged against Yukos and its affiliates. JAC

RUSSIA, PANAMA REACH AGREEMENT ON COMMERCIAL NAVIGATION
Panamanian Foreign Minister Harmodio Arias on 29 July completed talks in Moscow with Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and declared that he is satisfied with the bilateral agreement on commercial navigation that was agreed to during the meetings, ITAR-TASS reported. Arias described the agreement as "of key importance for the national economy of Panama." Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko was quoted as saying the agreement "provides the ships of both countries with most-favored-nation treatment in the ports of Russia and Panama, envisions periodic meetings of representatives of our maritime agencies, and regulates the access and movements of sailors in the countries." Yakovenko described the agreement as one that "further expands and diversifies...bilateral cooperation taking into account the unique geographical position of Panama." RC

RUSSIANS COMPLETE PULLOUT FROM KOSOVA, BOSNIA
The last group of Russian peacekeepers serving in Kosova has returned to Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 July, citing a spokesman for the Moscow Military District. The last 78 troops and their equipment returned to the Moscow Oblast town of Nara early on 30 July, completing a withdrawal from Kosova and Bosnia-Herzegovina that began on 17 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May and 24 July 2003). The government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 30 July published a long account of how Russian troops arrived unexpectedly at Prishtina airport on the night of 11-12 June 1999, much to the surprise of NATO. RC

NATIONALIST PARTY SEEKING ALLIANCE WITH GLAZEV
Eurasia Party leader Aleksandr Dugin told Ekho Moskvy on 29 July that his party intends to contest the December Duma elections in a bloc with State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev, cochairman of the People's Patriotic Union of Russia and member of the Communist Party faction. Dugin said a final decision has not been reached, but "we support this politician as the most promising one who meets our vision of a third way, the mobilization of the economy and national values." Last week, utro.ru speculated that Glazev seeks to head a party list rather than filling the No. 2 spot on the Communist Party list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003). JAC

LOW WATER LEADS TO FAR EAST STATE OF EMERGENCY
A state of emergency has been declared in Sakha (Yakutia) Republic because of a dangerous shortfall of oil products, newsru.com and other Russian media reported on 30 July, citing republican government spokesman Yegor Borisov. The problem has been caused by low water levels on the Lena River, which are blocking shipping. In recent weeks, only 240,000 tons of oil products have reached the republic out of an expected 980,000 tons, newsru.com reported. Under the terms of the state of emergency, the republican government has the authority to commandeer the resources of any organization regardless of form of ownership and to apply for federal assistance. On 29 July, the Transport Ministry announced a series of extraordinary measures to deepen the Lena riverbed in order to facilitate shipping, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministry will allocate 100 million rubles ($3.2 million) to dredge 308 kilometers of the river north of Ust-Kut and the work should be completed in August, according to a spokeswoman for Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yakovlev, who oversees housing and communal services. RC

TOP MUSLIM OFFICIAL COMPLAINS ABOUT WAVE OF REPRISALS AGAINST MUSLIM RUSSIANS
Nafigulla Ashirov, co-chairman of the Council of Muftis, has called on Russian authorities to put an end to the harassment of Muslims and incitement of ethnic hatred, Ekho Moskvy reported on 29 July. According to Ashirov, in the wake of the 5 July bombings at Tushino in Moscow -- which he said were allegedly carried out by "suicide bombers whom no one has identified" -- "a wave of reprisals has again swept over Muslims." "Police agencies view every Muslim female in religious attire as a "shahid terrorist," he said. "The country's leadership is responsible for letting this happen.... At present, everything is being done to turn the huge mass of the country's non-Russian population into Russia's foes," Ashirov concluded. Earlier this month, a woman wearing a Muslim headscarf was ejected from a cafe in central Moscow, REN-TV reported on 17 July. The woman, who was visiting from London, was told that people wearing "ethnic clothes are not served." After she called the police to insist that her right to be served be upheld, police officers reportedly arrived, took her documents, and escorted her to a police station. JAC

MORE COMPLAINTS ROLL IN ABOUT COMPULSORY AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE
Legislators in Ulyanovsk Oblast are appealing to President Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, the Federation Council, and the State Duma to reconsider the law requiring every driver to have auto insurance, polit.ru reported on 29 July. In a letter, the legislators charge the social consequences of adopting the law were inadequately considered. For example, there are pensioners who purchased their cars 20-30 years ago who will have to give up a large part of their pension for car insurance. The deputies suggest that a program requiring mandatory insurance first be introduced in a few regions on an experimental basis. The Ulyanovsk appeal was also supported by legislators in other regions such as the Chavash Republic and Astrakhan, Vladimir, Volgograd, and Saratov oblasts, according to the website. Earlier this month, protestors in the Russian Far East called for the cancellation of the law requiring insurance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 July 2003). JAC

SEVEN CANDIDATES VIE FOR TOP POST IN SVERDLOVSK...
Seven candidates have submitted their documents for registration in the 7 September gubernatorial campaign in Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russian media reported on 29 July. These candidates include incumbent Governor Eduard Rossel, Federation Council representative (Kurgan Oblast) Andrei Vikharev, Yabloko party branch leader Yurii Kuznetsov, Yekaterinburg businessman Anatolii Sukhov, first secretary of the Russian Communist Workers Party-Russian Communist Party Nyazip Servarov, oblast legislator Anton Bakov, and Afghan War Veterans Union branch leader Yevgenii Petrov. According to "Gazeta," while seven might run, local observers believe only two -- Rossel and Vikharev -- have a real chance of victory. Vikharev, however, might face troubles with his registration, according to "Vremya novostei." An oblast prosecutor recently presented in court evidence connecting Vikharev with a charitable fund named after him that began operating in the region before the official starting date for electioneering. "Kommersant-Daily" reported earlier that posters advertising the charity can be seen on all the major streets of the oblast capital (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2003). The local election commission might rule that charity's posters violate the Election Code and therefore refuse to register Vikhirev. JAC

...AS WELL-KNOWN RUSSIAN NATIONALIST TO CHALLENGE PRESIDENT OF BASHKORTOSTAN
State Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) announced on 29 July that he intends to participate in 7 December presidential elections in Bashkortostan, Russian media reported. Mitrofanov told Ekho Moskvy that he is "ready to stop the lawlessness prevailing in the political and economic life of Bashkortostan" and the only way to do this is "to overhaul the current system and fully reconstruct it." JAC

THE RIGHT TO LIFE, LIBERTY, AND FREE ACCESS TO PUBLIC TOILETS
Yekaterinburg-based student Sergei Smerdov has filed a lawsuit against the Moscow Directorate for Passenger Services for its failure to provide him with free toilet access during a stopover at the Yaroslavskii train station in Moscow, "Izvestiya" reported on 23 July. After downing two cups of tea, Smerdov discovered that all the toilets at the station were closed for two hours for cleaning. According to Smerdov, he couldn't wait and was forced to use a pay toilet -- in direct violation of the fifth paragraph of Article 80 of the Charter for Railway Transportation of the Russian Federation. Smerdov, who is a law student and works for the human rights organization Sutyazhnik in Yekaterinburg, seeks 510 rubles ($16.50) for moral damages and to cover the cost of using the pay toilet. Sutyazhnik once sued Yekaterinburg Mayor Arkadii Chernetskii because the city had too few public toilets. But the organization lost the case and was forced to pay Chernetskii compensation, which they did ceremoniously by bringing several baskets of coins to the mayor's office and pouring them out into a basin. JAC

MOSCOW TO RESUME COOPERATION WITH OSCE IN CHECHNYA
During recent consultations between OSCE and Russian Foreign Ministry officials, the Russian side acknowledged the expediency of resuming cooperation with the OSCE to implement jointly the federal program for reconstruction in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 July. The OSCE Office in Chechnya closed earlier this year after Russia declined to extend its mandate. LF

ARMENIAN MURDER TRIAL OPENS, ADJOURNS
The trial opened in Yerevan on 29 July of 13 men accused of the murder of Tigran Naghdalian, chairman of Armenian National Television and Radio, but adjourned immediately until 5 August due to the absence of one defense lawyer, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Naghdalian was gunned down on 28 December leaving his parents' apartment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 December 2002). The defendants include businessman Armen Sargsian, whose brother Aram, a former prime minister, heads the opposition Hanrapetutiun party. Prosecutors allege that the two men who actually committed the killing were hired by Hovannes Harutiunian, a distant relative of the Sargsian family, who has admitted to receiving $75,000 from Armen Sargsian. The latter claims that he paid the money because he was being blackmailed by Harutiunian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17, 19 and 31 March 2003). Aram Sargsian told RFE/RL on 29 July he believes the case is politically motivated. He said the investigation was conducted sloppily and in haste. LF

ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS DENIAL OF FREQUENCY TO INDEPENDENT TV STATION
A spokesman for Robert Kocharian said on 29 July the president is surprised that the decision by the commission in charge of allocating broadcasting frequencies to reject bids for frequencies by the television stations Noyan Tapan and A1+ has been "politicized to such an extent," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The OSCE and the Council of Europe have both expressed concern that the two television stations have for more than a year been deprived of the possibility of broadcasting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22, 24, and 28 July 2003). Kocharian said the commission is an independent body and that he therefore has no right to interfere in its decisions. Anyone who disagrees with those decisions is free to take the commission to court, Kocharian added. On 30 July, the independent daily "Aravot" quoted Aleksan Karapetian, a close aide to opposition National Unity Party Chairman Artashes Geghamian, as saying Kocharian personally blocked the resumption of A1+ broadcasts. LF

ARMENIAN BORDER-GUARD CHIEF FIRED
Major-General Levon Stepanian was dismissed on 29 July from the post of commander of Armenia's border-guard troops, one day after his deputy, Colonel Vahan Mkhitarian, was arrested on charges of large-scale bribery, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Stepanian had headed the border guard force since its creation in 1992. LF

SPOKESMAN DENIES CLANDESTINE TALKS BETWEEN AZERBAIJANI RULING PARTY, OPPOSITION
Ali Akhmedov, who is executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), affirmed on 29 July that every member of the party is participating actively in President Heidar Aliev's re-election campaign, Turan reported. Akhmedov rejected as untrue the claim made the previous day by YAP member Musa Musaev that some members of the party, including government ministers and parliament deputies, are discussing with opposition politicians possible cooperation following Aliev's anticipated demise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2003). LF

CONCERN EXPRESSED OVER REPRISALS AGAINST AZERBAIJANI MEDIA
Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Robert Menard has written to Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov expressing "shock" at the increasing legal and physical pressure being brought to bear on opposition journalists in Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 29 July. Also on 29 July, Ambassador Peter Burkhard, who heads the OSCE Office in Baku, similarly expressed concern over the confrontation between opposition and government media, Turan reported. Azerbaijan's Press Council issued an appeal the same day to both government-controlled and opposition media to desist from mutual accusations and insults. LF

TOP AZERBAIJANI MUSLIM CLERIC RE-ELECTED FOR LIFE
The more than 340 delegates who attended the 11th congress of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the Caucasus in Baku on 29 July re-elected board Chairman Sheikh ul-Islam Allakhshukur Pashazade to that position for life, Turan reported. Representatives of Azerbaijan's Christian and Jewish communities expressed support for his re-election. Pashazade was first elected to that post in 1980 at the age of 31. The Russian-language daily "Ekho" on 30 July quoted Pashazade as saying he will vote for incumbent President Aliev in the presidential ballot scheduled for 15 October. "Those who are against Aliev are against Allah," the paper quoted him as saying. One year ago, Pashazade similarly called on believers to vote in favor of proposed constitutional changes in a nationwide referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2002). LF

GEORGIA LOBBIES FOR ABKHAZ OIL PIPELINE
The first stage of a feasibility study has proved that a pipeline to export Russian crude from Novorossiisk via Supsa to Ceyhan would be very cost-effective, Georgian International Oil Corporation head Giorgi Chanturia told Caucasus Press on 30 July. Chanturia said the planned pipeline would have a throughput capacity of 120 million tons and cost some $600 million to build. Construction would take 2 1/2 years. Chanturia added that he will discuss the proposal with representatives of the Russian Energy Ministry and Transneft next month. It is not clear what relation the Georgian proposal has to ongoing efforts to resolve Georgia's long-running conflict with Abkhazia, the territory of which the pipeline would cross (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 March 1988 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 June 2001 and 28 May 2002). An Azerbaijan state oil company (SOCAR) official dismissed the proposal in March 2002 as absolutely unviable. LF

GEORGIA, ABKHAZIA BOTH CLAIM TO CONTROL ABKHAZ TERRITORIAL WATERS
Valeri Chkheidze, director of Georgia's State Border Guard Service, told Caucasus Press on 29 July that his men fully control the territorial waters of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia. But Abkhaz Defense Minister Vyacheslav Eshba told journalists in Sukhum the same day that Abkhaz frontier guards control Abkhazia's territorial waters, Caucasus Press reported. Also on 29 July, the Georgian Foreign Ministry delivered a formal protest note to the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi in connection with the resumption of a ferry service between the Russian Black Sea port of Sochi and the Abkhaz capital, Sukhum, Caucasus Press reported. The note called for "drastic measures to prevent illegal marine communication" between the two ports (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). On 30 July, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili termed the resumption of ferry communication "an act of piracy," Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKHSTAN TO HAVE NAVY IN 10 YEARS
Rear Admiral Ratmir Komratov, head of Kazakhstan's West regional command, which encompasses the country's share of the Caspian Sea, has said he expects Kazakhstan's Navy to be functional in 10 years if adequate funding is available, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 29 July, quoting an interview with Komratov that appeared in the Kazakh supplement to "Izvestiya" the same day. The Kazakh Navy has been tasked with protecting the country's Caspian oil fields and preventing terrorism and extremism on Kazakhstan's sea frontier. Komratov was quoted as saying the navy will need at least 50 vessels to do its job, but he was critical of the quality of the ships being turned out by Kazakh firms. He was also critical of the attitude of bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry, whom he claimed are not giving proper priority to the needs of the country's military. Komratov noted that basic documents necessary to start building the navy, including necessary infrastructure on the Caspian coast, have yet to be finalized. In Komratov's view, Kazakhstan needs a merchant marine as well as a navy, because the country has access via canals to both the Black and the Baltic Seas. BB

PLAGUE DIAGNOSIS CONFIRMED IN MANGYSTAU
Three cases of plague were confirmed on 30 July in western Kazakhstan's Mangystau Oblast, Kazinform reported the same day. The three are residents of the village of Zhangyldy who slaughtered a camel and shared the meat not only with fellow villagers who are now under observation for plague symptoms but also with residents of a neighboring village. Both villages are now under quarantine, according to khabar.kz and Russian media on 29 July. This is reported to be the first outbreak of plague in Kazakhstan, where the disease is endemic, since 2001. There has already been one plague fatality in Kazakhstan in 2003, when a victim of pneumonic plague died in Aktyubinsk on 10 July, according to "Ekspress-K" on 30 July. BB

KYRGYZ AUTHORITIES FILE CHARGES AGAINST BOMBING SUSPECTS
The spokesperson for the Kyrgyz National Security Service, Chinara Asanova, told journalists on 29 July that criminal charges including terrorism have been filed against five men suspected of organizing bombings in Bishkek and Osh, Interfax reported the same day. Seven people were killed in the attack on a Bishkek market in December 2002 and one died in the bombing of a currency-exchange office in Osh in May 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003). Only two of the five suspects are in custody, the rest are still being sought by law enforcement officials. Three of the five are Uzbek citizens, one is Kyrgyz, and one is a citizen of China, according to Asanova, who said the five might have links to Al-Qaeda. The Kyrgyz security service is convinced that the bombings in Bishkek and Osh were financed by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which a number of countries including the United States have declared an international terrorist organization. BB

TAJIK SUPREME COURT SENTENCES TWO FOR INVOLVEMENT IN DEATHS OF JOURNALISTS
The Tajik Supreme Court has sentenced two men charged with involvement in the killing of two journalists during the 1992-97 Tajik civil war to long prison terms, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 July. The two, Ahtam Tohirov and Nazirbek Davlatov, were tried as accomplices in the murders of BBC Farsi Service journalist Muhiddin Olimpur in 1995 and Russian ORT journalist Viktor Nikulin in 1996. Tohirov received a sentence of 22 years in prison while Davlatov received 15 years. ITAR-TASS quoted Supreme Court First Deputy Chairman Mahmadali Vatanov as saying the slayings were ordered by opposition field commander Eshon Namozov, who died fighting government forces. According to ITAR-TASS, the actual killer of Olimpur, named as Nasrullo Sharipov, is in a Russian prison, serving a seven-year sentence for robbery. The name of Nikulin's killer is known -- Khurshed Shoev -- but Vatanov was quoted as saying he has disappeared and might be dead. BB

TURKMEN SECURITY MINISTRY VETTING UNIVERSITY APPLICANTS...
Persons applying for admission to institutions of higher learning in Turkmenistan are having their documents checked by the Ministry of National Security (MNB), Turkmenistan.ru and Interfax reported on 29 July. The check is to ensure that applicants have worked for at least two years before seeking admission to higher education, in accord with a decree issued by President Saparmurat Niyazov in early July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2003) requiring prospective students to have worked for at least two years in their chosen field and to present a recommendation from their place of work as well as a Soviet-style work record proving that they actually worked somewhere. BB

...AND FINDING FALSIFIED DOCUMENTS
In the process of checking the documents of applicants for higher education, the Turkmen MNB has turned up a number of cases in which school administrators have falsified the work records needed for admission to higher educational institutions, Turkmenistan.ru and RIA-Novosti reported on 29 July. As a result of the discoveries, three heads of raion education departments, four school directors, and the director of a kindergarten have been fired. According to turkmenistan.ru, quoting reports in the state-run Turkmen media, falsifications have been particularly numerous in the Serakhs Etrap (raion) of Ahal Welayat (oblast) and the Koitendag Etrap of Lebap Welayat -- areas near and very far, respectively, from the capital. However, they reportedly have been detected throughout the country, in most cases benefiting children or other relatives of the officials who falsified the documents. Reportedly each case is being investigated by the security ministry, and the beneficiaries of the falsifications are being blacklisted. BB

UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION CRITICIZES UZBEKISTAN FOR EXECUTIONS
The UN Commission on Human Rights has sharply criticized Uzbekistan for executing six young men who had appealed to international organizations, saying their sentences for murder were the result of improperly conducted investigations and trials, vremyamn.ru reported on 29 July. One of the men had asserted that his confession was extracted under torture, the standard procedure by which Uzbek law enforcement produces high rates of crime solution. When the young man told the judge he had been tortured, the judge dismissed it as an invention, also a standard response in Uzbek criminal cases. The UN commission had previously asked that the death sentences not be carried out because the guilt of the condemned men -- their names were given in the report as M. Mirzaev, Sh. Andashbaev, U. Eshev, I. Babadzhanov, M. Ismailov, and A. Utaev -- had not been conclusively proven, and the commission had called on Uzbekistan to observe international human rights standards. BB

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION AND RESPUBLIKA CAUCUS TO COORDINATE ACTIVITIES
Five Belarusian opposition parties and the Respublika caucus in the Chamber of Representatives signed an agreement on 29 July on coordinating their activities, Belapan reported. The document was signed by the leaders of the United Civic Party, the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly), the Belarusian Party of Labor, the Belarusian Popular Front, the Belarusian Party of Communists, and Respublika leader Syarhey Skrabets. The agreement provides for efforts to democratize electoral regulations, prevent a possible referendum on extending Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's tenure, and propose candidates in parliamentary and local elections. AM

BELARUSIAN STUDENTS, FAMILIES PROTEST SCHOOL'S CLOSURE
Around 60 former students of the National Humanities Lyceum, which was closed by authorities in late June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003), and their parents gathered outside Minsk's education department on 29 July to protest the closure, Belapan reported. The protesters formed a "living corridor" at the entrance to the building, forcing officials to pass through it. Education officials refused to accept a petition requesting that the children be allowed to attend the school again, according to organizers. A similar document was sent to Premier Syarhey Sidorski. The students threatened not to attend school in September if the government does not reinstate the lyceum and restore its staff, classes, syllabuses, guiding principles, and traditions. AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS TWO GOVERNORS
President Leonid Kuchma signed decrees on 29 July dismissing the governors of Poltava and Chernivtsi oblasts -- Yevhen Tomin and Teofil Bauer respectively -- Interfax reported, quoting president's press office. The Ukrainian government last week recommended that the president dismiss the Dnipropetrovsk, Chernivtsi, and Poltava oblasts governors based on its analysis of the agricultural and economic sectors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003). The government also decided to sack the heads of the State Foodstuffs Department, the government's Pricing Department, and the deputy heads of several regional administrations responsible for the agricultural sector. AM

ESTONIA AND CZECH REPUBLIC SIGN CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION PROTECTION AGREEMENT
Herman Simm, head of the Defense Ministry's Department of State Secrets Protection, and Czech Ambassador to Estonia Vladislav Labudek signed an agreement on the mutual protection of classified information in Tallinn on 29 July, BNS reported. The agreement lays down the conditions for the exchange and protection of information between the two countries and should enable more effective defense cooperation. Estonia has signed similar agreements with a number of countries, including the United States, Germany, and Israel. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES 2004 NATIONAL BUDGET EXPENSES
The cabinet agreed to reduce the planned national budget expenditures for 2004 to 2.02 billion lats ($3.54 billion), 50.78 million lats less than in the previous proposal, LETA reported on 29 July. Welfare Minister Dagnija Stake voted against the measure and Interior Minister Maris Gulbis abstained. Prime Minister Einars Repse was the main backer of the reductions, arguing that the budget deficit in 2004 should not exceed 2 percent of GDP. The budgets of the Health and Welfare ministries were cut the most, by 14.9 million lats and 6.2 million lats, respectively. The only state institutions whose expenses were not cut were the Defense and Culture ministries, the parliament, and the courts. The government also raised planned revenues by 18.7 million lats, taking into account the effects of raising the minimum monthly wage from 70 to 80 lats next year. SG

NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TO LITHUANIA SWORN IN
Steve Mull was sworn into office as new U.S. ambassador to Lithuania on 29 July at the State Department in Washington, BNS reported. At the ceremony, Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke about President George W. Bush's visit to Lithuania last November, noting that the country deserves the best representatives and "Steve Mull is such a person." Mull joined the diplomatic service in 1982 and, after serving in South Africa, Poland, and the Bahamas, worked as deputy chief of the mission in Jakarta, Indonesia, receiving the Baker-Wilkins award for outstanding service in 2002. He is expected to arrive in Vilnius with his family in mid-August, replacing outgoing ambassador John Tefft. SG

POLISH INTERIOR MINISTRY OFFICIAL RESIGNS
Janusz Ocipka, chief of staff for Interior Minister Krzysztof Janik, resigned his post on 29 July after members of the Law and Justice (PiS) party publicly accused him of corruption, PAP reported. The allegations were filed against Ocipka following reports in the daily "Rzeczpospolita" chronicling his participation on company boards. Polish law forbids senior government officials from pursuing commercial activities. Ocipka was on the boards of several coal-mining companies that owe the state over 1 million zlotys ($260,000), according to "Rzeczpospolita." The daily also speculated that Minister Janik must have known about Ocipka's activities, since Janik was himself had been on the board of one of the same companies prior to his appointment. Janik said Ocipka was carefully screened for his post. AM

U.S. TO COVER TRANSPORT, SUPPORT COST OF POLISH-LED DIVISION IN IRAQ
The Pentagon has agreed to pay more than $200 million to cover transport and support costs for the Polish-led international division headed to Iraq, "The Washington Post" reported on 29 July. The Pentagon, in accordance with an agreement signed with the Polish government last week, will pay $30 million-40 million to transport 9,000 troops to Iraq and about $200 million for food, medical care, and other support costs, said Dov Zakheim, the Pentagon comptroller. The Polish government agreed to pay one-third, or about $30 million, in support costs in addition to transport costs for their own 2,400 troops, Zakheim added. AM

SELF-EXILED CZECH TYCOON VOWS TO AVOID EXTRADITION
Czech-born financier Viktor Kozeny has vowed to fight recent efforts by Czech officials to secure his extradition to that country for trial on charges that he cheated investors of some $400 million and stripped the assets of an industrial holding, dpa reported on 30 July. In an e-mail statement to the media from his home in the Bahamas, Kozeny accused Premier Vladimir Spidla's government of politically motivated "persecution," the agency said. Czech investigators were quoted earlier in the week as saying they are seeking an international arrest warrant for Kozeny and a former partner who has since moved to Belize, Boris Vostry, in connection with the Harvard investment empire that emerged from mass privatization in the early 1990s. Kozeny became an Irish citizen several years ago and has avoided being served Czech indictment papers. Kozeny's Harvard investment funds and his subsequent management of assets are seen by many as emblematic of the widespread abuse of minority shareholders and "tunneling" of companies that plagued the Czech market in the wake of coupon privatization. AH

U.S. AMBASSADOR BACKS JET OFFER FOR CZECH REPUBLIC
U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic Craig Stapleton said on 29 July that U.S. authorities will do their utmost to convince the Czech government to opt for leasing U.S.-made fighter aircraft, CTK reported. Czech officials are considering a number of options for defending the country's airspace, including replacing an aging fleet of Soviet-made MiGs through the lease or eventual purchase of Western supersonic jets. Stapleton said the United States can offer either the F-16 or F/A-18 Hornet aircraft. He also stressed that if the Czech government accepts a better offer, Washington will not be offended by the choice. U.S. officials backed out of a 2001 tender for new aircraft amid suspicions that specifications were designed to favor the British-Swedish consortium that makes the Gripen fighters. After devastating floods in 2002, the Czech government nullified that tender because it said it could not afford new fighters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 November 2003). Czech officials are currently discussing possible lease options with Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States, and a senior Czech diplomatic mission explored the topic during a visit to the United States in mid-July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 18 July 2003). Stapleton also said the United States is prepared to help Czech aircraft maker Aero Vodochody -- which is partly owned by Boeing -- sell its subsonic L-159 to third countries. MS

U.S. BUSINESS MAGAZINE HAILS SLOVAK 'PARADISE'
"Forbes" writes in its latest issue that Slovakia is "a paradise for investors," TASR reported. The magazine applauds Slovakia's plans to impose flat income, corporate, and value-added taxes of 19 percent and to abolish tax on dividends. (The magazine's American publisher, Steve Forbes, was a two-time presidential contender who frequently called for a flat tax in the United States.) It also praises reforms in social security, including proposals for a partial privatization of the system. Slovakia is described as having a stable, efficient and highly educated labor force. The magazine also says Slovakia is strategically located and is likely to become a bridge between the EU and the emerging markets of the former Soviet Union. "Forbes" also notes that Slovakia has attracted major investors such as IBM, Volkswagen and, more recently, PSA Peugeot Citroen. MS

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT PROPOSES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
The government submitted to parliament on 29 July a constitutional amendment proposal under which the cabinet would be empowered to authorize the deployment of military forces for peacekeeping and humanitarian missions under the aegis of NATO, the UN, and the EU, the daily "Magyar Hirlap" reported. A similar proposal was submitted by the previous FIDESZ-led government but voted down by the Socialists and the Free Democrats, who are now proposing the same constitutional change. In related news, parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili said on 29 July that next year would be an opportune time to draft a new constitution, "Nepszabadsag" and "Nepszava" reported. Szili said 2004 will mark 15 years since the declaration of the Hungarian Republic and 55 years under the current constitution. Speaking on Hungarian Television, Szili said the current constitution spans several political systems and has been patched up so many times that the Constitutional Court has to be called on every time there is a major legal battle. MS

HUNGARIAN JUDICIARY PANEL UNVEILS COMMUNIST INFORMER
A special Hungarian panel of judges tasked with screening officials who were informers under the communist regime revealed on 29 July that Hungarian state radio Editor Deszo Istvan Erdely acted as an informer, AP reported. Judge Zoltan Hodaszi, who heads the panel, said Erdely's name was made public because the journalist did not willingly resign after the panel informed him of its findings. In line with a 1994 law, if alleged informers do not resign within 30 days of being told that they have been uncovered by the panel, their identity is made public. This is the first time that a journalist working for a major Hungarian state news organization has been identified as an agent and asked to step down. The judicial panel has no power to enforce resignations. MS

FOREIGN MINISTRY RULES OUT DUAL CITIZENSHIP FOR ETHNIC HUNGARIANS
Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Toth said on 29 July that Hungarian diplomacy "does not concern itself with the issue of dual citizenship, on account of European realities, the country's imminent accession to the EU, and the experience garnered in connection with the [Hungarian] Status Law," "Nepszabadsag" reported. Toth said the issue of dual citizenship would not meet with a favorable response from the EU. "It could generate problems, and Hungarian foreign policy is focused on achieving stability in the region, not on generating problems," Toth said. Ethnic Hungarians in Serbia have begun collecting signatures to persuade Budapest to grant dual citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). MS

NATO AND EU MAP JOINT BALKAN STRATEGY
NATO and the EU released a joint statement in Brussels on 29 July calling for improved stability in the Balkans and warning the countries in that region that they must work hard if they want to join those two organizations, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 27 June 2003, and www.nato.int). NATO and the EU's "common vision" for the Balkans includes "self-sustaining stability based on democratic and effective government structures and a viable market economy, leading to further rapprochement towards European and Euro-Atlantic structures." The statement notes that "the western Balkans are still characterized by inter-ethnic tensions,... [regional] economies are only slowly recovering, and the pace of reform needs to be accelerated." NATO and the EU called on western Balkan countries to improve cooperation with the Hague-based war crimes tribunal and make further efforts to combat organized crime and corruption. The statement pointed to the smooth transition from NATO's peacekeeping mission in Macedonia to the EU's Concordia mission as an example of the "closeness" in cooperation between the two Brussels-based organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 July 2003). PM

MACEDONIA TO RECEIVE MONEY FROM JAPAN, WORLD BANK
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi told her visiting Macedonian counterpart Ilinka Mitreva in Tokyo on 28 July that Japan will issue an $80 million credit for the construction of a dam on the Zletovica River, MIA news agency reported. Kawaguchi also said Japan is interested in improving cooperation with Macedonia in trade and tourism. In other news, Macedonia received a $20 million credit from the World Bank on 29 July under the FESAL 2 arrangement, which is to be used for reforms in the country's banking sector, dpa reported. The total value of the FESAL 2 package is expected to reach some $50 million. UB

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO BEGINS MILITARY SHAKE-UP
Members of Serbia and Montenegro's Supreme Defense Council agreed in Meljine near Herceg Novi on 29 July to accept Defense Ministry proposals to sack an unspecified number of officers, whose names will be made public "in 10 days' time," RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2003). Belgrade media suggest that one man on the list is military intelligence chief General Radoslav Skoric, who was allegedly sacked for keeping "too close" ties to the Bosnian Serb military. In related news, Defense Minister Boris Tadic and Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic signed an agreement providing for Montenegrin police to take over control of Montenegro's borders from the military. Tadic went on to Jerusalem, where he began a three-day visit to discuss military cooperation with Israeli government officials. PM

BIG HEROIN HAUL IN KOSOVA
A UN police spokesman said in Prishtina on 29 July that police seized 18 kilograms of heroin worth about $920,000 in the village of Komoglava two days earlier, Reuters reported. He added that this "is more heroin than we confiscated during the entire last year" and the biggest single drug haul since the UN civilian authority (UNMIK) took control of Kosova in 1999. The drugs were intended for shipment to Western Europe. Police are holding three ethnic Albanian suspects and looking for a fourth man. PM

IRREGULARITIES ALLEGED IN ROMANIAN MINISTER'S HANDLING OF EU FUNDS
The daily "Adevarul" alleged on 29 July that European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak has been involved in the mishandling of EU funds. "Adevarul" accused Puwak of facilitating access for her husband's and her son's companies to some 150,000 euros ($171,660) through the "Leonardo da Vinci" program. Puwak denied the accusations, saying in a press release that the applications for the two companies were submitted before she came into her current office, at a time when she was an opposition parliamentary deputy. She also said that the applications were processed according to EU criteria by independent experts and denied that she is still the administrator of her husband's company. Also on 29 July, Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Emil Boc demanded that Puwak resign from the cabinet, saying she "has proved her ability to attract EU funds, particularly to her own pockets," Mediafax reported. MS

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ROMANIA SPEAKS UP ON HOLOCAUST DISPUTE
Referring to the recent uproar caused by President Ion Iliescu's declarations about the Holocaust in an interview with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 July 2003), U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest said on 29 July that he will ask for "public clarification" of the president's statements by the Romanian government. Alluding to Iliescu's statement in the interview that "the Romanian people can by no means be accused" of participation in the perpetration of the Holocaust, Guest said that one must draw a clear distinction between "guilt and responsibility." Here, he said, the problem "is not one of guilt, but one of responsibility." He added that "a country that is not aware of its past can hardly look into the future." In related news, the daily "Evenimentul zilei" reported on 30 July that a new Iron Guardist publication went on sale in Romania recently. The publication is called "Obiectiv legionar" (Legionary Focus) and its editor in chief is Legionary Movement leader Serban Suru. Since 1990, several Iron Guardist publications have gone on sale in Romania, and earlier this month a contributor to one of those (the Timisoara-based "Gazeta de vest") was sentenced to 30 months in prison for the dissemination of nationalist-chauvinist, negationist propaganda and fascist symbols (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). MS

NATO OFFICIAL RULES OUT PARTICIPATION IN TRANSDNIESTER PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Gunter Altenburg ruled out on 29 July possible NATO participation in Transdniester peacekeeping operations, Flux reported. The possibility had been mentioned in reports about the initiative attributed to OSCE Chairman in Office Jaap de Hoop Scheffer. The reports also mentioned the possible participation of EU forces. Altenburg said that before Moldova and Transdniester reach an agreement on the creation of a federation, no one can establish with precision which international organization (NATO, the EU, or the CIS) would be best suited to participate in the peacekeeping operations. He also said that a solution to the conflict does not necessarily depend on peacekeeping operations. The presence in the region of military observers or monitoring forces could also be considered as an alternative, he said. MS

TRANSDNIESTER DELEGATION LEAVES JOINT CONTROL COMMISSION
The Transdniester delegation to the Joint Control Commission overseeing the 1992 truce in the zone partitioning Moldovan and Transdniester forces announced on 29 July that it has stopped participating in the commission, Infotag reported. Delegation head Vladimir Botnar reiterated as the reason for the move the allegation that Chisinau is violating the commission's 27 May resolution on the withdrawal of armored vehicles from the zone (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003). MS

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY SAYS MOLDOVAN TROOPS DID NOT CROSS BORDER
Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Horkov said on 29 July that Moldovan border troops did not cross the border into Ukraine during last week's incident at a power plant situated on the Dniester River, on the border between the two countries, Infotag reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). Horkov confirmed that observation points established by Moldovan border guards near the power station are on Moldovan territory. He nonetheless added that Moldova should have notified the Ukrainian side in advance of its intention to establish such posts. MS

CONSULTATIONS CONTINUE OVER ELECTION-LAW AMENDMENTS IN BULGARIA
Consultations continued on 29 July over the controversial amendments to the law on local elections, which would strip some smaller political parties of their legal status as "parties represented in parliament," mediapool.bg reported. Following protests by the "Oborishte" Movement and the Party of Bulgarian Women, which are the junior coalition partners of the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV), it is likely that the parliament will pass some kind of decision that would define the parties' status. Under the recently passed amendments, a minimum of 10 lawmakers is required for a political party to be recognized as one "represented in parliament." For the smaller parties, this is a clear discrimination, as the status is connected with financial benefits and the distribution of seats on the Central Election Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 28 July 2003). UB

SUPREME COURT RETURNS BULGARIAN TELECOM PRIVATIZATION TO EARLIER STAGE...
The last instance of the Supreme Administrative Court ruled on 29 July that the state Privatization Agency Supervisory Board's decision to cancel the sale of a 65 percent stake of the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK) to the Vienna-based Viva Ventures breached privatization regulations, novinite.com reported. Earlier this month, the Privatization Agency had challenged a similar decision of a lower instance of the same court. Citing "legal inconsistencies" in the documentation submitted by Viva Ventures, the Privatization Agency reopened negotiations with the Turkish consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom, which initially finished second in the tender. On 18 July, the agency and the Turkish consortium signed a letter of intent on the sale (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June and 21 July 2003). UB

...AND PROMPTS MIXED REACTIONS FROM POLITICIANS
Following the Supreme Administrative Court's decision, opposition lawmakers of the Socialist Party (BSP) and the conservative coalition United Democratic Forces (ODS) on 29 July demanded that the BTK privatization be interrupted, mediapool.bg reported. The BSP asked the governing National Movement Simeon II (NDSV) for consultations over the future of BTK. ODS legislator Ivan Ivanov said independent of the court decision, the sale of BTK to Viva Ventures would be in Bulgaria's best interests. NDSV legislator Valeri Dimitrov, who heads the parliament's Economy Committee, said the Privatization Agency's Supervisory Council could nevertheless cancel the deal with Viva Ventures, albeit on other grounds. Unal Tasim of the governing ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) said that with its ruling, the Supreme Administrative Court has taken sides in the privatization deal. UB

IS LUKASHENKA POSITIONING TO PROLONG HIS RULE?


There seemed to be no evident need for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to sack Prime Minister Henadz Navitski, as he did on 10 July. The Statistics and Analysis Ministry reported in early July that the country's GDP in January-June 2003 increased by a robust 5.1 percent, compared with the same period last year. However, Lukashenka cast doubt on official statistics by charging that the government has falsified reports on the economic situation.

As on some previous occasions when he reshuffled the cabinet, Lukashenka on 10 July assumed a telegenically furious expression and performed a lengthy verbal whipping of some 40 cabinet members and regional executive officials in front of television viewers. This time Lukashenka's ire was focused on the government's failure to pay on time for milk and meat delivered by state-run farms to state-run milk- and meat-processing plants. As a result, overdue wages in the agricultural sector have amounted to some $10 million. According to official data, the average monthly wage in the sector is $56, slightly more than half the national average.

Aside from Premier Navitski, Lukashenka dismissed Deputy Premier for Agriculture Alyaksandr Papkou, Agriculture Minister Mikhail Rusy, and State Concern for Food Industry head Anatol Kuzma. First Deputy Premier Syarhey Sidorski became acting prime minister, other people stepped into the other dismissed officials' shoes. However, the country's agricultural policy will hardly change following this reshuffle. In Belarus, ministers just come and go. It is Lukashenka himself who determines the economic course. And this course, for purely political reasons, entails financial support for Belarusian state-run farms -- sovkhozes and kolkhozes -- of which an estimated 50 percent are loss-making and live at the expense of the other 50 percent that somehow manage to make ends meet.

Were there grounds for this cabinet shake-up? The immediate answer is that Lukashenka, as many times in the past, this time too resorted to his usual trick of whipping his ministers for what he should have been whipped himself.

Despite official reports about the constantly improving economic situation in the country, the financial situation of an average Belarusian family has not improved for the past several years. An estimated 42 percent of Belarusians live below the poverty line. According to a survey by the Independent Institute of Socioeconomic and Political Studies, in a free presidential ballot Lukashenka can now count on support of only 26 percent of the electorate, which is his all-time low since he came to power in 1994. Therefore, the persistent wage arrears in the agricultural sector threaten to erode the remaining core of his political support, which is believed to be among both managers and workers of state-run farms. "The scenario [of Lukashenka's fits of anger] is clear: The tsar is good, but the boyars are bad and are to blame," opposition politician Mikalay Statkevich commented on the reshuffle.

But there is also another explanation. According to Belarusian commentators, Lukashenka's political behavior should now be perceived in the context of an upcoming referendum on introducing constitutional amendments allowing him to run for the post of president for a third time. Lukashenka's second presidential term ends in 2006, but some Belarusian commentators and opposition politicians assert that he might hold such a referendum even this fall. The timing, they argue, seems to be very convenient for Lukashenka, since the Kremlin, which could potentially prevent the Belarusian ruler from prolonging his rule, will be busy working on a parliamentary election in Russia this year and a presidential election next year and will have no time for Belarus.

If this is the case, then Lukashenka's cabinet shake-up was a quite logical move intended to intimidate those executive officials who could potentially dislike his intention to stay in power beyond 2006 and become uncooperative in organizing the referendum campaign and counting the votes. "There is no forgiveness for betrayal, deception, and hard drinking," Lukashenka told his ministers on 10 July, thus giving a rather clear hint that only absolute loyalty to the president can guarantee their remaining in the government.

An indirect sign confirming the supposition that Lukashenka might be planning some major political campaign is the recent clampdown on independent periodicals and nongovernmental organizations in Belarus. Belarusian authorities have suspended or blocked the publication of eight independent periodicals as well as closed several important nongovernmental organizations in the country in the past two months.

Lukashenka subsequently denied that the cabinet reshuffle on 10 July was motivated by some ulterior motive, including a desire to position himself for a constitutional referendum. But the Belarusian opposition remains skeptical. The leaders of five major opposition parties held a meeting last week to plan countermeasures against Lukashenka's potential move to prolong his rule. According to the survey cited above, only 17 percent of respondents said they would approve in a referendum a constitutional amendment allowing Lukashenka to run for a third term. Good for the opposition. But, as in the past seven years, the opposition still has to find a way how to check the ballots people cast into ballot boxes when they go to the polls.

INDIA ACCUSED OF INCITING AFGHAN-PAKISTANI TENSIONS
Citing unidentified sources, Pakistan's official Associated Press of Pakistan claimed in a 29 July report that since the reopening of the Indian Consulate in Jalalabad, Nangarhar Province, in December 2002, tensions between Afghanistan and Pakistan have escalated. According to the report, Indian officials in Jalalabad have "established links with local [Afghan] warlords and are using them to vitiate Pakistani-Afghan ties." Since the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Islamabad has regarded ties between Kabul and New Delhi as a danger to its security. When the Pakistan-backed Taliban regime took control of Kabul in 1996, it closed the Indian consulate. AT

TWO AFGHAN GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES KILLED ON SOUTHERN ROAD
Unidentified gunmen killed two occupants of a vehicle belonging to the Afghan Health and Development Services on the Kandahar-Oruzgan road in the Spin Kotal region on 29 July, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. The two were reportedly employees of the Afghan Transitional Administration. A security official in Kandahar, General Mohammad Salem, while confirming that two people were killed, said that his side is "still awaiting further information," but added that the "the attackers could not be anyone but the Taliban." An eyewitness reported that the gunmen took some money from the vehicle, shot the two government workers and let the other passengers go after questioning them, Hindukosh news agency reported on 29 July. AT

CLASHES BETWEEN RIVAL WINGS OF AFGHAN PARTY CLAIM CASUALTIES
One person was killed and two were injured in clashes between rival wings of Hizb-e Wahdat-e Islami, the largest Shi'ite political party in Afghanistan, Radio Afghanistan reported on 29 July. The fighting occurred in the Gawak and Balkhab districts of Sar-e Pol Province. According to the report, clashes between the rival groups, represented by Mohammad Karim Khalili and Mohammad Akbari, have been ongoing in the two districts for over a month. Khalili serves as a deputy to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai. AT

PLANNED ASSASSINATION OF KANDAHAR SECURITY COMMANDER FOILED
A number of people armed with explosives and guns were arrested on 28 July in Kandahar on charges of plotting to assassinate General Akram Khakrezwal, security commander of Kandahar, Hindukosh news agency reported on 29 July. The report did not provide the number of people arrested or on whose orders they were attempting to kill Khakrezwal. Hindukosh commented that differences between Khakrezwal and Kandahar Province Governor Gul Agha Sherzai "have continued for a long time, and both sides have always made efforts to weaken each other," but did not overtly suggest that Sherzai may have had a hand in the plot. AT

AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN TO MONITOR BORDER USING GPS
To ensure that Afghan and Pakistani forces do not cross the poorly defined border between the two countries during anti-terrorist military activities, Kabul and Islamabad have agreed to use the Global Positioning System (GPS) under the aegis of the United States, the Pakistani daily "Dawn" reported on 30 July. The agreement came at a 29 July meeting of the tripartite commission of Afghan, Pakistani, and U.S. representatives that was established on 15 July to investigate claims by Afghanistan that Pakistani forces had violated its territory (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 17 July 2003). An unidentified Pakistani official said, "The Afghans brought Russian maps of the Pakistani-Afghan border, the Americans had their own maps, and we gave them ours," adding that GPS technology is being used to "see if there has been any [Pakistani] intrusion as alleged" by Kabul. The official maintained Islamabad's position that its forces have never crossed into Afghan territory, adding that they were positioned "minus one kilometer from the zero-line." He said that the border was quiet despite skirmishes on 26 July (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 and 24 July 2003). AT

MINISTER SAYS IRANIAN ECONOMY FACES CHALLENGING FUTURE
Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri said at a 29 July investment seminar that the Iranian economy will face significant challenges in the next two decades, IRNA reported. Jahangiri said the government and public should be prepared and should "opt for appropriate solutions." He added that unemployment and the young population are two of those challenges and that there should be more opportunities for women. Jahangiri criticized the oil-dependent economy, pointing out that oil has not guaranteed socioeconomic development elsewhere. According to "The Wall Street Journal" on 30 June, "Norway is one of the few major oil producers to have made enduring economic gains since the 1970s." The newspaper points out that income per person actually declined among Middle Eastern oil producers after accounting for inflation. Middle Eastern states wasted their money on inefficient state businesses, wars, and corruption, and they did not invest enough in education. Norway, on the other hand, is a stable democracy with honest officials, "The Wall Street Journal" reported. There were hiccups, but Norway rebounded in the 1990s by segregating the energy industry from the rest of the economy and by diversifying its private sector. BS

TOKYO, WASHINGTON DISCUSS IRANIAN OIL DEAL
The U.S. government expressed its concern during a 29 July meeting with Japanese officials in Washington about the Iranian nuclear program and a Japanese consortium's plans to participate in an oil-field development project in Iran, Kyodo World Service reported on 30 July. Anonymous "Japanese government sources" told the Japanese news agency that the U.S. officials said Tehran should sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol. The "Asahi Shimbun" daily newspaper reported on 30 July that this is the first official Tehran-Washington discussion about the plan to develop the Azadegan oil field. According to anonymous Japanese "government sources," their side will argue that participation in the Azadegan project will not affect Tokyo's caution toward Iranian nuclear activities. If Washington tries to link the Azadegan project with the distribution of Iraqi oil, according to "Asahi Shimbun," the talks could expand to cover Japanese and U.S. energy interests in the Middle East. BS

DEVELOPMENTS IN INDIA-IRAN ENERGY DEALS
India on 29 July ruled out importing Iranian natural gas via Pakistan, the "New Delhi Business Standard" reported on 30 July. "Keeping in view the present state of bilateral relations with Pakistan, the government is not considering any proposal for on-land natural gas pipeline transiting through Pakistan," Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Sumitra Mahajan explained in a written reply to the parliament, or Rajya Sabha. Mahajan also wrote that Indian public-sector firms signed a contract for 5 million tons of crude oil from Iran, the "New Delhi Business Standard" reported. BS

IRANIAN MINISTER'S RESIGNATION MIGHT NOT BE ACCEPTED
Science, Research, and Technology Minister Mustafa Moin-Najafabadi submitted his resignation to President Mohammad Khatami on 24 July, news agencies reported four days later. The ministry's director-general for public relations, Mahdokht Borujerdi, told Fars News Agency that Moin wanted to resign mainly because the Guardians Council refused to approve the bill for restructuring the ministry, even though the government and the legislature had approved the bill. Moin also found that there were too many decision-making centers in the Science, Research, and Technology Ministry. A member of the parliament's Education and Research Committee, Rafsanjan representative Ali Mohammad Namazi, also said in an interview with ILNA that Moin wanted to quit because his plan for the ministry was rejected. Namazi hinted that Moin did not have adequate resources to do his job, and he speculated that President Khatami would not accept Moin's resignation because he is successful and efficient. Moin tried to resign in June because of the campus unrest, "Iran News" reported on 17 June, citing "Siyasat-i Ruz." BS

IRANIAN REFORMIST COALITION MIGHT SURVIVE UNTIL PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
A sharp verbal exchange on 27 July between Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karrubi and two reformist parliamentarians -- Mohammad Naimipur and Ali Shakuri-Rad, both of whom represent Tehran, Rey, Shemiranat, and Islamshahr -- is indicative of the widening rift in the 2nd of Khordad coalition, "Iran News" reported on 28 July. The pro-reform Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mubarez [MRM]), of which Karrubi is a member, was essentially dead before the sixth parliamentary election, and according to "Iran News" many reformists believe it was only its alliance with the pro-Khatami Islamic Iran Participation Party (IIPP) and the subsequent appointment of Karrubi as speaker that revived the MRM. Nevertheless, anonymous "experts" believe the MRM-IIPP differences will be overcome through the struggle against a common foe, "at least until the next parliamentary elections," which are scheduled for spring 2004. BS

HUMAN TRAFFICKERS DETAINED IN TEHRAN
The Tehran Prosecutor's Office has broken up four gangs that trafficked Iranian girls to the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Turkey, Pakistan, and Europe, ISNA reported on 29 July. According to intelligence secured by the police force's Department for Combating Social Vices, the gangs were operating as travel agencies and identified girls aged 14-16 through five hairdressers and a company that filmed parties and played music. The Tehran Prosecutor's Office warned families that they should be careful when registering their children for music and acting classes, and urged them to report suspicious cases immediately. BS

U.S. FORCES CONFIRM HOLDING TWO IRANIAN NATIONALS IN IRAQ
U.S. officials confirmed on 29 July that U.S. forces have detained two "Iranian nationals" in Iraq, Reuters reported the same day. A spokesman is quoted as saying that the U.S.-led authority in Iraq is investigating two individuals who were arrested nearly one month ago for alleged security violations and that their reason for being in Iraq remains unclear. "They claim to be journalists, but they were certainly not acting in a journalistic capacity when they were arrested," the spokesman is quoted as saying. He said the two are being held in a high-security jail and that Iranian authorities have been officially informed of their detainment. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reportedly voiced concern about the filmmakers' detention in a letter to U.S. officials and called for the accusations against them to be made public. Tehran says documentary filmmakers Said Abutaleb and Soheil Karimi, who work for state broadcasting company IRIB, were arrested on 2 July and demands their release. LN

PURPORTED NEW SADDAM TAPE MOURNS DEATH OF DEPOSED LEADER'S SONS
A new audiotape purportedly from ousted Iraqi President Saddam Hussein vows to avenge the deaths of his two sons, according to international news agencies. In the tape, aired by the Dubai-based Al-Arabiyah Television on 29 July, the speaker mourns Uday and Qusay, calling them "martyrs...who died in the name of jihad [holy war]" and vows that "America will be defeated." Three tapes attributed to Hussein have been broadcast in recent weeks, but this is the first acknowledging the deaths of Uday and Qusay, who died during a fierce firefight with U.S. troops in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul on 22 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). CIA analysts said the last purported Saddam tape -- released on 23 July and said to have been recorded on 20 July -- was "likely" authentic, according to Reuters (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003). However, an unidentified intelligence official was quoted as saying, "The exact date of the recording cannot be determined." Intelligence officials reportedly said another recording, claimed to have been made on 14 July, was probably also authentic, adding to evidence that Hussein survived the war. LN

PENTAGON SAYS HUSSEIN'S FATE IS IN HIS OWN HANDS
A senior Pentagon official said on 29 July that the question of whether Hussein is taken alive or killed if found by U.S. troops is a "tactical issue" involving the "character of the target," "the circumstances," and "the kind of defensive measures taken," Reuters reported. Lieutenant General Norton Schartz was fielding a question on whether the Pentagon has a preference for capturing Hussein alive or dead. Lawrence Di Rita, special assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, told the same briefing that Hussein's sons determined their fate when they opened fire on U.S. troops in Mosul on 22 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). "In the case of Uday and Qusay [Hussein], they made the decision not to come out alive because they decided to fight back," Di Rita said. Di Rita also noted that the huge majority of the most-wanted Iraqis who have been found by U.S. forces were captured alive. LN

IRAQ'S GOVERNING COUNCIL ELECTS ROTATING PANEL INSTEAD OF CHAIRMAN
Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council agreed in a 29 July meeting to create a nine-member rotating leadership to steer the body, international news agencies reported. Selecting a leader was one of the first tasks put to the Governing Council after it was announced by L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, on 13 July. Members, however, have reportedly been unable to agree on a single leader. "We discussed a number of proposals in a civilized and free way, and we all agreed on this compromise formula," Hoshyar Zebari, political adviser to Kurdish Democratic Party leader and Governing Council member Mas'ud Barzani, told Reuters. The members of the rotating presidency are: Barzani, Ahmad Chalabi, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, Jalal Talabani, Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, Iyad Allawi, Muhsin Abd al-Hamid, Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum, and Adnan Pachachi. Al-Ja'fari was selected to be the first chairman. The Governing Council has the power to appoint cabinet ministers and formulate economic policies, and it is charged with writing a new constitution to pave the way for a general election. Bremer, however, maintains final control of key decisions in Iraq. LN

FIRST GROUP OF IRAQI REFUGEES ARRIVES HOME
More than 200 Iraqi refugees have returned to Iraq from Saudi Arabia -- the first such group to return since the fall of the Hussein regime -- AP reported. The refugees left for Iraq from Saudi Arabia by bus on the evening of 29 July, Kris Janowski, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a 29 July press briefing in Geneva. "Some refugees are desperate to go back to Iraq and rejoin their families," Janowski added. The refugees have been at the remote desert site of Rafha in Saudi Arabia since the 1991 Gulf War, Janowski said. Most are army deserters or prisoners taken by U.S.-led forces that ended Iraq's invasion of Kuwait 12 years ago. Rafha, which once held 33,000 Iraqis, now reportedly holds 5,200. Janowski said 25,000 of those refugees have been resettled to other countries, while 3,500 returned to Iraq while Hussein was still in power, according to AP. The spokesman said that, because of security problems, the UNHCR is not encouraging Iraqis to return but is willing to help them if they want to be repatriated. LN

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