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Newsline - August 4, 2003

A lone suicide bomber detonated a truckload of more than 1 ton of explosives in front of a Russian military hospital in Mozdok in the evening of 1 August, destroying the building and killing at least 50 people, including hospital workers, and injuring more than 100, Russian and international media reported. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov inspected the wreckage of the building on 2 August and suspended the hospital director, an ethnic Armenian, for his alleged failure to take adequate security precautions. LF

President Vladimir Putin sent condolences to the families of those killed in the Mozdok bombing, which he characterized as "further confirmation of the inhumanity and cruelty of the bandits who seek to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus," Interfax reported on 2 August. Putin added that such "evil deeds" will not derail the process of seeking a political settlement of the conflict in Chechnya. Russian Deputy Prosecutor-General Sergei Fridinskii told Interfax late on 3 August that two suspects who sold the truck used in the bombing have been detained. Also on 3 August, Interfax quoted an unidentified source close to the North Ossetian Interior Ministry as saying that radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev is believed to have masterminded the attack. Basaev claimed responsibility for the car bombing of the Chechen government building in Grozny in December and two further suicide bombings in Chechnya in May. He has not claimed responsibility for the Mozdok attack. In Moscow, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's official envoy to the Russian Federation, Salambek Maigov, denounced the attack and disclaimed responsibility for it, according to "The Washington Post" on 3 August. Maskhadov has issued strict orders to his fighters not to target civilians or to launch any offensives outside Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 June 2003). LF

Law enforcement officials in Moscow moved the city on 2 August to a heightened security regime following the hospital bombing in Mozdok, Interfax reported. According to the head of public relations for the Interior Ministry's Moscow directorate, Kirill Mazurin, the transition to heightened regime was necessary because of the difficulty of operating in the country. Mazurin said special controls will be imposed at children's and medical facilities, places where crowds gather, and at objects of special religious significance. The special security alert will last until at least 7 August, he added. Ekho Moskvy reported on 1 August that, according to Moscow police officials, Red Square has been closed to tourists and pedestrian traffic since 11 July for special repairs -- not because of threats of terrorist attacks, as some foreign media have reported. JAC

Kemerovo Oblast Governor Aman Tuleev told Interfax on 2 August that Russia should introduce capital punishment for people convicted of terrorism or drug trafficking. Tuleev added that he is unconcerned with how the Council of Europe or other international structures might view such a move. In an interview the same day with Ekho Moskvy, State Duma Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) said he finds it hard to disagree with Tuleev's proposal. "Russia should make up its mind [about] which is more important: international commitments and participation in the activities of the Council of Europe, for which the abolition of the death penalty is a sacred cow, or [Russia's] own public opinion and the search for a way to combat suicide bombings, terrorism, and drug abuse," Rogozin said. JAC

President Putin began a state visit to Malaysia on 4 August during which he is expected to discuss bilateral military and high-technology cooperation, Russian media reported. "A number of contracts are taking shape, and not only those concerning military technologies [and] combat planes," Putin told the Malaysian daily "New Straits Times" on the eve of his departure from Moscow. "We seek to take the first steps in the sphere of helicopter technologies, too." Putin is expected to finalize a $900 million deal to sell 18 Su-30 MKM multipurpose fighter jets to Kuala Lumpur that was signed in May during a visit to Malaysia by Defense Minister Ivanov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003). That contract makes Malaysia the third-largest customer for Russian military goods after China and India, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin also told the "New Straits Times" that he will be discussing a proposal to send a Malaysian astronaut into space. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that Putin's trip to Malaysia was originally scheduled for the beginning of July, but was postponed following a terrorist bombing at a Moscow rock concert on 5 July. Putin on 3 August met with Ivanov, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev, and Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, at which it was decided not to postpone the trip again in the wake of the 1 August Mozdok bombing. RC

Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov arrived in China on 4 August for a two-day visit to discuss, among other topics, the crisis over North Korea's nuclear-weapons program, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Mironov is also expected to discuss a proposed oil pipeline from Angarsk to the Chinese city of Datsin. Chinese President Hu Jintao discussed the project with representatives of oil giant Yukos during his visit to Russia in May (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 May 2003). Mironov is expected to meet with Hu and with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. RC

Shares of oil major Sibneft on the Moscow Interbank Hard-Currency Exchange (MMVB) fell by 11 percent on 1 August on rumors that the Prosecutor-General's Office intends to investigate the company and its owner, oligarch and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and "Izvestiya" reported on 4 August. Interfax issued the original report of the impending investigation just after the markets closed on 31 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2001), and Sibneft shares opened down 10 percent on 1 August. Late in the day on 1 August, the Prosecutor-General's Office denied the Interfax report, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 2 August. The daily speculated that the rumors might have been started because people within the government are upset by Abramovich's recent decision to purchase the British soccer club Chelsea, a deal Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin on 7 July denounced as "an arrogant and demonstrative challenge to Russia" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2003). Also, officials are reportedly upset by Sibneft's recent decision to pay a total of $1 billion in dividends, roughly one-half of which is expected to go to Abramovich. on 1 August speculated that such rumors could become a new tactic used by "government agents, journalists, and many others with access to the mass media...for the sake of their own games on the securities markets." RC

Britain's "Sunday Times" reported on 3 August that U.S. oil giant ChevronTexaco is in talks to purchase a 25 percent stake in embattled Russian oil major Yukos, Russian media reported on 4 August. An unidentified source within ChevronTexaco told the newspaper that his company is offering about $6.4 billion for the stake and that the talks were undertaken because "Yukos's plan to merge with Sibneft...was looking shaky." "Vremya novostei" on 4 August reported that Yukos refused to comment on the "Sunday Times" report. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office announced on 3 August that it has opened an eighth investigation into Yukos, this one centering on the firm's nearly 20 percent stake in Yeniseineftegaz, which holds the license to develop Western Siberia's Vankor oil fields. RC

Tomsk Oblast Governor Viktor Kress told reporters on 1 August that criminal investigations into oil giant Yukos could negatively affect his current campaign for re-election on 21 September, Regnum reported. Kress predicted that his leftist opponents will try to use the Yukos affair against him in the political struggle. He said he has kept copies of every document that involves his dealings with Yukos and is willing to share these with the media and courts. Kress added that Yukos has not contributed any funds to his re-election effort. JAC

Russia's Airborne Forces on 2 August celebrated their professional holiday, Russian media reported. In Moscow, a group of 30-40 drunken paratroopers reportedly attempted to break into the Danilovskii Market, where many of the traders are from the Caucasus, and seven people were injured before police dispersed the men, Ekho Moskvy and other Russian media reported. Another group of drunken men reportedly stopped a car carrying four Caucasians and overturned it, the radio station reported. No one was injured. "Kommersant-Daily" on 4 August reported minor incidents in which paratroopers attacked watermelon vendors from the Caucasus in at least four Moscow locations. According to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 4 August, 50 former servicemen were arrested during the day, 34 for public drunkenness and 16 for hooliganism. "Compared to previous years," a Moscow police spokesman told the daily, "the holiday passed fairly peacefully." RC

The Kaliningrad Oblast prosecutor's office has launched criminal proceedings against former Governor Leonid Gorbenko, Russian media reported on 1 August. Gorbenko is suspected of abuse of office and illegal receipt of a Dresdner Bank credit of $10 million, RosBalt reported. The German bank lent the money to a Kaliningrad bank in February 1998 for a period of five years against a guarantee from the oblast administration. The money was intended mainly for the modernization of a Baltptitsprom poultry-processing plant. The oblast now owes $15.5 million, but the current administration has refused to repay the loan, saying the money was misdirected illegally, according to RosBalt. Baltptitsprom has since gone bankrupt and been transferred to private hands, while the Kaliningrad bank that received the credit is also not considered a solvent debtor. JAC

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told reporters in Moscow on 1 August that the number of airlines in Russia could be reduced from the current 300 to 20, ITAR-TASS reported. Gref added that major decisions concerning the airline industry will be made in the first quarter of next year. JAC

The Railways Ministry will be absorbed into the Transportation Ministry by the end of this year, according to Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Yakovlev, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 4 August. The reorganization should occur after the Russian Railways joint-stock company has been established, which is expected to happen in September, Yakovlev said. The daily noted that the liquidation of the ministry was suggested in an administrative-reform project previously outlined by the Russian Union for Industrialists and Entrepreneurs. JAC

"Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 2 August that a number of regions in Russia are coping with an outbreak of burglaries of dachas. In Novosibirsk Raion outside of Novosibirsk, local police recently detained three young people who had been operating a burglary ring and almost cleaned out an entire settlement of dachas. They took not only television sets but furniture and, in one case, a refrigerator. According to the daily, investigating such crimes can be difficult because dachas are often empty from October to May and thus few clues remain once the owner returns and discovers what is missing. Police in Novosibirsk Raion say another problem is that they need the approval of a prosecutor before they may launch a criminal case under the new Criminal Procedural Code, but the prosecutor is located 70 kilometers away in the center of Novosibirsk. In Stavropol, Vasilii Fedorov, chairman of the city council for gardening associations, estimated that nine out of 10 dachas are visited by "vandals." The perpetrators of dacha crimes in Stavropol, according to the daily, are "many refugees and antisocial elements, who live exclusively through theft and robbery of cooperative property." JAC

Aleksei Dulimov, who represents Colonel Yurii Budanov, told journalists in Rostov-na-Donu on 1 August he will appeal to Russia's Supreme Court the 10-year prison sentence handed down to his client by a Russian Military Court for the murder in March 2000 of a young Chechen woman, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). Dulimov said the court's finding that Budanov was sane at the time of the killing is illegal and ignored the findings of psychiatrists. In an earlier trial, Budanov was acquitted on the grounds that experts ruled he was "temporarily insane" at the time of the murder. LF

Robert Kocharian signed a decree on 1 August formally commuting to life imprisonment all 42 death sentences handed down since Armenia became independent in late 1991, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The decree coincided with the entry into force of the new Criminal Code, which effectively abolishes capital punishment. In a statement issued in Strasbourg on 2 August, the Council of Europe welcomed the commuting of the 42 death sentences as "a clear sign that Armenia is determined to honor its commitments to the Council of Europe." LF

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights released on 1 August its final report on the conduct of the 25 May Armenian parliamentary elections. The report said the ballot "marked an improvement" over the presidential elections earlier this year, but that the ballot "fell short of international standards for democratic elections in a number of key respects, in particular the counting and tabulation of votes." It further acknowledged that "the political leadership...made efforts to discourage violations, but perpetrators were again not held accountable." It concluded that the authorities "must end this atmosphere of impunity to give a clear sign of determination to meet their international commitments for democratic elections." LF

Armenia appears headed for a second consecutive year of double-digit GDP growth, according to statistics released on 1 August, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. During the first six months of 2003, GDP increased by 14.8 percent compared with the same period for 2002, with industrial output growing by 18.6 percent and construction by 54.4 percent. Economic Development and Trade Minister Karen Chshmaritian attributed the rapid growth primarily to the development of the private sector and improvements in the business environment. Armenia registered 9.6 percent GDP growth in 2001 and 12.9 percent last year. LF

Also on 1 August, Economic Development and Trade Minister Chshmaritian said opening Armenia's border with Turkey would contribute to regional stability, open up a large new market for Armenian products, and lower disproportionately high transportation costs, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. He rejected the argument adduced by leading members of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun that opening the border would flood the Armenian market with cheap Turkish good and thus ruin many domestic manufacturers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2003). Chshmaritian pointed out that Armenia could at any time impose antidumping duties on Turkish goods to avert that danger. LF

Meeting in emergency session on 4 August, the Azerbaijani parliament voted by 102 to one to confirm Ilham Aliev as prime minister, Turan reported. Opposition deputies abstained from voting, Reuters reported. Ilham's candidacy was proposed by his 80-year-old father, incumbent President Heidar Aliev, who remains hospitalized in Turkey. Ilham Aliev, who is a parliament deputy and deputy chairman of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, resigned the same day from his positions as first deputy president of the state oil company SOCAR and as head of Azerbaijan's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Ilham Aliev was born in Baku in December 1961 and graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO). He went into business in Turkey in 1992, returning to Azerbaijan in late 1993 after his father was elected president. Under amendments to the Azerbaijani Constitution approved in August 2002, as prime minister he would become acting president should his father die or prove unable to discharge his duties. In an interview published in "Izvestiya" on 25 April 2002, Ilham Aliev characterized himself as hardworking and a pragmatist. "Zerkalo" in April 2000 described Ilham Aliev as very intelligent, but lacking ruthlessness and not a natural-born leader. LF

Speaking to journalists after the 4 August parliament session, Ilham Aliev pledged that the economic policies launched by his father will be continued, Turan reported. He defined his main objective as "preserving economic stability" and building on the successes already achieved, and he ruled out major cabinet changes, noting that such appointments are the prerogative of the president. In recent years, Ilham Aliev has consistently praised his father's policies and vowed that the current leadership will never permit the opposition to come to power (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2001 and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 August 2003). LF

In a 3 August interview with a Russian television station, Ilham Aliev said he had just returned to Baku after visiting his father at the Gulhane military clinic in Ankara, Turan reported on 4 August. Ilham Aliev said his father broke seven ribs when he collapsed in April, and that such an injury was "very serious" for a man of the president's age. Earlier official medical bulletins said that Heidar Aliev had cracked one rib (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003). Ilham Aliev said his father will return to Baku by 6 August. On 1 and 2 August, Azerbaijani officials continued to reject as untrue persistent rumors of Aliev's death. Ambassador to Turkey Mamed Aliev dismissed such reports on 2 August as deliberate defamation, Turan and Interfax reported. He said President Aliev feels fine and is preparing to meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The ambassador said the president is discussing with his doctors the optimal date for his return to Azerbaijan. LF

Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission on 1 August confirmed Ilham Aliev's registration as a candidate for the 15 October presidential election, Turan reported. Two days later, the commission likewise confirmed the registration of opposition Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar; pro-presidential Alliance for Azerbaijan Chairman Abutalib Samedov; and Gudrat Gasankuliev, who heads a pro-presidential splinter group that broke away from the opposition Azerbaijan Popular Front Party. Five of a total of 19 registered candidates have now been confirmed. The first to be formally confirmed was President Aliev. On 2 August, some 25,000 people participated in a demonstration in Baku convened by the Opposition Coordinating Council, Turan reported. Participants demanded that the authorities release information on the president's health and his ability to discharge his official functions. They also demanded an end to the harassment of opposition politicians and the registration as presidential candidates of Democratic Party Chairman Rasul Guliev, former President Ayaz Mutalibov, and former presidential adviser Eldar Namazov, all of whose applications to register for the ballot were refused (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 25 July 2003). LF

Finnish diplomat Heikki Talvitie, who last month was named the EU's special representative for the South Caucasus, completed a tour of that region on 1 August with talks in Baku, Azerbaijani and Russian media reported. Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev told Talvitie on 31 July that the EU should play a more active role in trying to resolve the Karabakh conflict, Interfax reported. Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Alesqerov told Talvitie on 1 August that Baku will never agree to Nagorno-Karabakh becoming an independent state, Interfax reported. Talvitie, for his part, replied that his mission is to define the level of cooperation between the EU and the OSCE's Minsk Group, of which he is a former co-chairman. LF

Opposition parties and some members of the Georgian government expressed concern on 1 August at the implications of the announced sale to a subsidiary of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) of a controlling packet of shares in Tbilisi power-distribution company TELASI, Georgian media reported. Antimonopoly Service head Armaz Tavadze said he believes the sale is illegal, as the Georgian government was not informed in advance. Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze and Justice Minister Roland Giligashvili questioned whether TELASI's former owner, the U.S. company AES, was legally entitled to sell the shares. Parliament on 1 August summoned Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava to explain the background of the sale, but he failed to appear, Caucasus Press reported. Earlier on 1 August, Mirtskhulava told journalists that the Georgian government had done all in its power to prevent the sale, but without success. LF

National Movement leader Mikhail Saakashvili told a press conference in Tbilisi on 2 August that his party's lawyers are preparing a draft bill on the nationalization of key industrial enterprises that have been privatized, including TELASI, the Zestafon Ferrous Alloys Plant (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2003), and the Poti port, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. He said that nationalization does not mean the forced confiscation of such facilities, but "giving back to the people the property they created with their own hands." Saakashvili added that if parliament votes down his party's bill, "we will dismiss the parliament and make a new parliament adopt the law." LF

The Labor Party faction within the Tbilisi City Council has accused Mayor Vano Zodelava and Municipal Council Chairman Saakashvili of misappropriating 1 million laris ($467,728) allocated from the municipal budget for repairing the roofs of buildings in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported on 2 August. A Labor council member claimed that Saakashvili and Zodelava announced the cost of repair work at 10 laris per square meter but paid only 5-6 laris and pocketed the balance. LF

Russian and Georgian government working groups met in Tbilisi on 31 July to discuss measures to expedite the return of Georgian displaced persons to Abkhazia in line with an agreement reached during talks in Sochi in March between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Georgian counterpart Eduard Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian delegation again called for the creation of a temporary international administration under UN auspices in Gali Raion, the pre-war population of which was predominantly Georgian. In Sukhum, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba proposed on 1 August compiling a precise register of the Georgians eligible for repatriation, rejecting as "fantasy" Georgian claims that the displaced persons number 300,000, Caucasus Pres reported. Shamba also argued that in order to stabilize the situation in Gali, Tbilisi should take action to neutralize Georgian guerrilla formations operating in the district who, Shamba argued, pose a threat to the safety of Georgians who wish to return there. LF

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev told journalists on 1 August that the reappearance of Iraqi oil supplies on the world market is unlikely to affect Kazakhstan's oil and gas exports, because the projected rate of development of the global economy over the next 25 years indicates there will be a 25 percent increase in the consumption of hydrocarbons, Interfax reported. This will enable Kazakhstan to increase its exports, using not only existing pipelines but also the planned pipeline to western China, he added. Nazarbaev made his comments during a ceremony to launch a refining complex at the giant Karachaganak oil-and-gas field in western Kazakhstan. The ceremony also marked the formal beginning of oil exports from Karachaganak. BB

During the 1 August ceremony to open the Karachaganak refining complex, President Nazarbaev also called for the third phase in the development of the Karachaganak field -- the phase involving development of the field's gas resources -- to begin as soon as possible, and linked the future of the entire field to the success of the gas project, Interfax Kazakhstan reported. John Morrow, general director of Karachaganak Petroleum Operating (KPO), the international consortium developing the oil-and-gas field, had already told journalists that the third phase will not begin until issues concerning the gas project are worked out. He mentioned specifically finding buyers for the gas, setting a price, and organizing transport. BB

Kazakhstan's Health Ministry has denied that imprisoned opposition leader and former Pavlodar Oblast Governor Galymzhan Zhaqiyanov has contracted tuberculosis in prison, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 1 August. Zhaqiyanov's lawyer and his wife have told journalists that he has exhibited symptoms of the lung disease (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003), and the story has spread through the international human rights community. A Health Ministry official identified as Dusenbai Dzhanabaev was quoted as telling a news briefing in Astana that Zhaqiyanov's most recent chest X-ray, taken on 30 June, showed no sign of tuberculosis. Zhaqiyanov was sentenced in 2002 to seven years in prison for alleged abuse of office in Pavlodar. He was a co-founder of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan movement in 2001. BB

During his visit to Western Kazakhstan Oblast in connection with the ceremony at Karachaganak, President Nazarbaev told farmers that the country's agricultural sector needs to improve the quality of its products to compete successfully with foreign products, RIA-Novosti reported on 3 August. The competitiveness of Kazakh farm products has to be achieved before the country enters the World Trade Association (WTO), he added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 May 2003). The government has devised a wide-ranging three-year program (2003-05) to improve agriculture and rural living conditions in the country. One hundred fifty billion tenges (about $1 billion) have already been designated for the program. According to Nazarbaev, 15 billion tenges more are needed for rural health, education, and social-security programs, and also for road construction and repair, reducing the cost of mineral fertilizer, and improving breeding stock. BB

During a recent discussion on the future of the unified economic space that Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine are in the process of setting up (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2003), Grigorii Marchenko, chairman of Kazakhstan's National Bank, asserted that Kazakhstan is a European country because the European part of Kazakhstan is larger than Ukraine, reported on 1 August. Marchenko, a strong opponent of using the Russian ruble as the common currency of the unified economic space, added that it will not be possible to have a common currency in the free-trade zone before 2011 or 2012, and creation of a free-trade zone encompassing the European Union and the unified economic space will not happen before 2014, but that remains the ultimate objective of the participating countries. BB

Kyrgyz Ombudsman Tursunbai Bakir-uulu gave a report on 1 August on the work of his office in June and July, a period of severe financial crisis for the office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June and 25 July 2003). According to an report posted the same day, Bakir-uulu said that in the two-month period his office received 2,246 complaints from citizens, 1,244 of which were accepted for investigation. Five hundred ninety-three persons visited the office and 353 had had oral consultations with the staff. The ombudsman also said he launched an investigation of the Djalal-Abad Oblast hospital, in which the authorities tried to interfere, and said he discovered that a private automobile repair shop had been set up at the Osh Oblast psychiatric hospital. Scandalous conditions at underfunded Kyrgyz mental hospitals have been the subject of several media reports in recent weeks, some of which have been picked up by the Russian press. But opposition political leader Emil Aliev commented to Deutsche Welle immediately prior to the release of Bakir-uulu's report that the ombusdman's office still lacks the clout, particularly with government bureaucrats and the courts, to be as effective as it needs to be. Aliev's comment was broadcast on 31 July 2003. BB

Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov has accepted the resignation of his adviser of legal issues, Rahmatullo Zoirov, who also heads the opposition Social Democratic Party, the newspaper "Tojikiston" reported on 31 July. Zoirov was quoted on 26 June as saying he had submitted his resignation from the presidential advisory post in protest against the 22 June referendum on constitutional amendments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 June 2003). The Social Democrats had proposed that the referendum be postponed, but were ignored by the authorities, and Zoirov called on party members to vote against the constitutional changes. After resigning as presidential adviser, Zoirov announced that his party will be a constructive opposition. At present, the Social Democrats are the only official opposition party in the country. The Islamic Renaissance Party holds posts in the government and the Democratic Party membership has voted to cooperate with the government. BB

In a step toward legal registration, the founding congress of the Agrarian Party was held on 2 August in a suburb of Tashkent, reported the next day. If the group succeeds in registering as a political party, it will be the only one in the country that has not been set up by the authorities. However, Uzbek human rights activists might question how independent the new organization will be, as it is the brainchild of Soviet-era parliamentarian and post-independence human rights activist Marat Zahidov, who is considered by many in the Uzbek opposition as a pawn of the government. Zahidov succeeded in registering a human rights group, the Committee for Protection of Individuals, after the original Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan, of which Zahidov had been a member, split in the mid-1990s. He has been working on setting up an Agrarian Party since 1998. BB

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced on 1 August he will consider extending his tenure if the opposition creates a threat of instability, Belapan reported. Lukashenka made the comment during a visit by about 70 journalists from 30 regions of Russia. Lukashenka described the Belarusian opposition as "dangerous people" who "are sharpening an axe" and deciding who among the current authorities "should be axed, who should be hanged, who should be caged." "Can I take it easy and be indifferent to the fates of the people that are with me [in power]?" he asked. The opposition has long argued that Lukashenka is paving the way to extending his tenure in office, despite a constitutional limit of two terms for presidents. Lukashenka said last year that he will consider a third term if Belarusians back him in a referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 September 2002). "If I think it possible to run in the next elections, [a referendum] will be an absolutely constitutional way," he stressed. Under the 1996 constitution adopted in a referendum that is widely believed to have been fraudulent, the country is ruled almost exclusively by presidential decree. AM

A $3.5 million shipment of medicines, medical equipment, and supplies from the United States arrived at Minsk's international airport on 31 July, Belapan reported the next day. The aid is the result of joint efforts by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, and the nongovernmental group CitiHope International. Outgoing Ambassador to Belarus Michael Kozak said the shipment represents a fraction of what the United States is doing to help build a healthier and more prosperous Belarus. The medicine and equipment will be distributed among 40 hospitals and medical institutions. The United States has delivered more than $200 million in humanitarian aid to Belarus since 1992, including some $28 million in 2002. AM

Russian grain supplies to Ukraine are expected to total 1 million tons in 2003-04, according to the terms of an agreement reached during Ukrainian Premier Viktor Yanukovych's visit to Moscow on 1 August, Interfax reported, quoting Russian Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev. Ukraine originally planned to import 200,000 tons of Russian grain, which will be supplied to the country's major industrial centers in August. The contingency supplies -- up to 1 million tons total -- are to start in September and hinge on how Ukraine's grain market develops, Gordeev said. Gordeev said the Russian Finance Ministry is still considering the price of the additional grain exports. Ukraine is expected to import 2.8 million tons of grain to compensate for a poor harvest this year. AM

Richard Haas, head of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) Baltic division, said on 1 August at the end of a 10-day mission to Estonia that the fund is satisfied with Estonia's economic development and fiscal policies, but has recommended reducing the country's current-accounts deficit, BNS reported. Haas noted that the good state of the Estonian economy reflects the success of conservative fiscal policies, and suggested that the danger of the economy's overheating could be resolved by having a balanced budget or even one with a slight surplus. He was critical of Estonian government plans to reduce the personal income-tax level from 26 percent to 20 percent over the next three years. SG

Latvian Radiation Safety Center Director Andris Salmins told BNS on 2 August that the removal of the nuclear-fuel waste from the experimental nuclear reactor at Salaspils could be partially financed by the United States. The reactor was built in 1961 for scientific purposes and has never been used for energy production. It was shut down in the summer of 1998, with its decommissioning scheduled to be completed by 2008. Salmins noted that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), along with Russia and the United States, organized a project for the return of Russian-produced nuclear fuel to Russia. U.S. experts visited Latvia, Romania, and the Czech Republic in February and March to assess the situation in each country and their possible participation in the project. Latvia would be expected to pay about 20 percent-30 percent of total cost of removing the Salaspils fuel, mostly for safety arrangements. If the removal of the waste is started soon, it would cost about 2 million lats ($3.5 million), but delays could result in higher costs due to the need to put the spent fuel into special containers before removing it. SG

Polish privatization should yield around 9.2 billion zlotys ($2.4 billion) in 2004, according to a copy of a report circulating within the government and obtained by PAP, the news agency reported on 1 August. In the report, "Privatization Directions in 2004," around 7 billion zlotys in privatization revenues are earmarked to finance the budget deficit, PAP reported. The Treasury Ministry intends to sell around 100 companies in 2004, according to a government source who is also quoted as saying the government has not yet determined which enterprises' shares will be put on the selling block. "It may be [state-run insurance company] PZU, [savings bank] PKO BP, or the power sector," the same source said. Treasury Minister Piotr Czyzewski has already announced that a 20 percent-25 percent stake in PKO BP will be sold in a public tender. AM

Civic Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Miroslav Topolanek told the daily "Lidove noviny" of 2 August that he now believes that Vladimir Spidla's three-party coalition government will serve until 2006, CTK reported. One week earlier, Topolanek told a television audience that the ODS will move a vote of no confidence against Spidla's cabinet in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). Topolanek reiterated his intention to initiate a no-confidence vote, although he added that he would prefer that the cabinet request a new vote of confidence itself from the lower house. He said this would be justified, since several ministries from the original cabinet have changed hands. The government's slim one-vote majority in the lower house was recently lost when Social Democratic Party deputy Josef Hojdar announced he is leaving that party's parliamentary group (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). MS

More than 50 refugees, most of them Chechens who had applied for asylum in the Czech Republic, were detained in a night raid by Czech police on 2 August in Ceske Velenice, a south Bohemian crossing point into Austria, CTK reported, citing Czech Television. One day earlier, the Austrian authorities said that around 600 refugees, mostly from Russian-speaking countries, crossed the border illegally from the Czech Republic in July. Austrian authorities said the number of illegal crossings has risen considerably due to Chechens who request asylum in the Czech Republic but use that country as a transit point to reach Western Europe. Once in Austria, Chechens often report to police again and request asylum, they said. Austrian authorities do not return such applicants, because the Czech Republic is not classified in Austria as a safe country for asylum applicants. MS

The British defense publication "Jane's Intelligence Digest" renewed its criticism of the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) on 1 August, asserting that the SIS continues to act without any democratic accountability, TASR reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January 2003). The journal's Central European correspondent wrote that the SIS's alleged involvement in recent wiretapping scandals casts doubt on Slovakia's suitability as a future NATO member. The SIS has recently been recruiting communist-era secret agents and individuals who served the government of controversial former Premier Vladimir Meciar, the correspondent added. Citing unidentified sources within the SIS, "Jane's" said new SIS Director Ladislav Pittner met in June with a group of former high-ranking communist-era secret-service (StB) agents in eastern Slovakia to recruit them into the SIS. "Jane's" said some of those agents maintain ties with foreign secret services, namely those of Russia and Ukraine. The SIS responded by calling the story part of a "Jane's" campaign to discredit the SIS, adding that it "sees no point in responding to all the lies published." The SIS also said that for reasons of confidentiality, it cannot discuss the allegations in public. MS

Jan Langos, head of the recently established Institute for National Memory (UNP), said on 1 August that the SIS still has not heeded a law requiring it to hand over communist-era StB files, CTK and TASR reported. Langos said the SIS leadership is constantly setting new conditions for delivery of the files. "We do not have a single document or even access to the documents," Langos was cited by CTK as telling journalists. He said that since the SIS is not the legal successor to the StB, it cannot prescribe conditions for access to the documents. The SIS is quoted as denying the allegation, saying it received no response to an agreement it sent the UNP on the delivery of the documents. The SIS also insisted that UNP staff must be vetted before being granted access to the documents. Langos countered that the law clearly stipulates that those files must be declassified, according to TASR. MS

Health Minister Rudolf Zajac wants to prevent people from paying bribes to doctors by introducing supplementary insurance to cover side payments that patients make to doctors for their treatment, CTK reported on 2 August, citing the daily "Pravda." The daily wrote that Slovaks pay an average of 2,200 crowns ($59) a year to medical staff for preferential treatment, and that eight out of 10 Slovaks surveyed believe it is impossible to receive health care without a bribe. The system that Zajac wants introduced would allow patients to pay for improved service, including selecting their physician or surgeon, getting surgery sooner, or staying in a more luxurious hospital room. MS

Defense Minister Ferenc Juhasz said on Hungarian Television on 1 August that his country would consider withdrawing its soldiers from Iraq if they faced a "war-like" situation, Hungarian media reported. The statement was prompted by an attack on Polish soldiers in Iraq the previous day. Hungarian peacekeepers are to be stationed in the Iraqi sector that is under Polish command. "We regard the decision to withdraw as [within] our national sphere of competence, regardless of what other countries [would] decide in such a situation," AP cited Juhasz as saying. "We are not going there to fight a war, and we do not want to send heroes." An advanced team of Hungarian troops is currently in Iraq, while the full contingent of 300 soldiers is to arrive in late August. The opposition FIDESZ party's deputy leader in parliament, Istvan Simicsko, said the fact that Hungarian Army uniforms are similar to those of the United States creates a danger that potential attackers will confuse the two nationalities, according to dpa. MS

The daily "Magyar Nemzet" reported on 2 August that a former executive of K&H Equities suspected of embezzlement, Attila Kulcsar, was issued a pass granting him access the prime minister's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 10, 11, 15, 18, 25 and 29 July). The paper reported that the pass was issued in 2002 and was valid through 2006. Government spokesman Zoltan Gal said the leadership of the office was unaware that Kulcsar had a pass, adding that it was issued by Laszlo Kodela, a former state secretary in charge of personnel. Kodela said Kulcsar had represented parent company K&H Bank several times in negotiations in which representatives of governmental bodies were present. His pass was issued as a representative of that bank, Kodela said, and not in his capacity as a broker for K&H Equities. According to "Magyar Hirlap," Kodela was among Kulcsar's VIP clients. MS

Contradicting an earlier statement by his own ministry's spokesman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2003), Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said on 3 August that Hungary is ready to engage in expert-level negotiations on the possible extension of dual citizenship with representatives of ethnic Hungarian organizations abroad, Hungarian media reported the next day. Kovacs stressed that the EU forbids the granting of dual citizenship on collective grounds. Kovacs was responding to Serbian Premier Zoran Zivkovic's recent remark that Serbia and Montenegro would not rule out granting dual citizenship to ethnic Hungarians. Ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina have recently called for dual citizenship (see Serbia and Montenegro item below and "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 30 July 2003). MS

Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said in Krusevo on 2 August that the Ilinden (St. Elijah's Day) Uprising, which took place exactly 100 years earlier, marked a watershed in Macedonia's history, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 August 2002). Meanwhile near the Prohor Pcinjski monastery in southern Serbia, where a socialist Macedonian government was proclaimed in 1944, the parliamentary speakers of Serbia and Montenegro and Macedonia -- Dragoljub Micunovic and Nikola Popovski, respectively -- laid a wreath to commemorate Ilinden. Micunovic stressed that relations between the two governments are developing well despite long-standing tensions between the Macedonian authorities and the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC). Serbian Orthodox monks refused to allow their monastery building to be used for the Ilinden celebration because of ongoing disputes with Skopje over freedom of movement for SPC clerics on Macedonian territory. The Macedonian government supports the Macedonian Orthodox Church, which the SPC does not recognize. PM

Bodo Hombach, who is one of the directors of the German WAZ media group, has said his company will "provide space" to journalists who seek to cover politics critically, "Utrinski vesnik" and "Dnevnik" reported on 4 August, summing up an interview Hombach gave for Deutsche Welle's Macedonian service. Hombach added that his company is the better alternative for journalists who want to work freely without economic and political pressures. The WAZ media group recently purchased a majority stake in the major Macedonian newspapers "Dnevnik," "Utrinski vesnik," and "Vest" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April and 29 July 2003). The media group also owns newspapers in Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Romania. UB

On 1 August in Novi Sad, Jozef Kasza, who heads the League of Vojvodina Hungarians, said that Hungary "apparently" has no interest in the Vojvodina Hungarians because Budapest refuses to allow them to receive dual citizenship, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2003). He stressed that the Vojvodina Hungarians made their request for dual citizenship after carefully studying the issues involved and regard the matter as extremely important. The Hungarian Foreign Ministry recently rejected the request, saying the EU would not approve, although Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs subsequently signaled a willingness to discuss the matter (see Hungary item above and "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2003). The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 25 July that the Vojvodina Hungarians fear that Brussels will not approve current Hungarian legislation aiding ethnic Hungarians in neighboring countries and sought dual citizenship as a safeguard. PM

Aleksa Djilas, who is one of Serbia's best-known publicists and historians, recently told the Gracanica daily "Glas juga" that Serbia should take a bold approach toward Kosova reminiscent of the one that former French President Charles de Gaulle took in recognizing Algerian independence, "Vesti" reported on 3 August. Djilas added that, like de Gaulle, the Serbian leader who makes such a move must be someone from the right of the political spectrum, such as former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. Djilas envisions a partition of Kosova that would enable Serbia to save face by still holding part of the province while leaving the ethnic Albanian majority with most of the land. He called on unnamed Serbian politicians to shed their notions of "romantic nationalism" and look for a realistic solution to the Kosova question based on partition. Most Kosovar Albanian leaders reject any idea of partition, although some privately accept the loss of a small amount of Serbian-inhabited territory in the north in exchange for southern Serbian territories with a large ethnic Albanian population (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June 2003). Most of the important Serbian historical sites are in or surrounded by predominantly Albanian areas. PM

On 2 August, the Zagreb daily "Vjesnik" published its 20,000th issue since its founding in 1940, dpa reported. The paper has always been "close" to the government of the day and has been unable to shake the image of being a stodgy government mouthpiece. "Vjesnik" alone among the major Croatian dailies rejects a tabloid format and sensationalist reporting. Its circulation is just 6,000-8,000 despite several changes in management and redesigns over the years aimed at expanding its readership. "Vjesnik" keeps its broadsheet format and stresses that every country in the world needs a least one truly serious newspaper. It is one of several surviving former Yugoslav dailies founded during World War II, including Sarajevo's "Oslobodjenje," Skopje's "Nova Makedonija," Podgorica's "Pobjeda," and Ljubljana's "Delo." PM

High Representative Paddy Ashdown announced in Sarajevo on 4 August that former U.S. President Bill Clinton will open the 1995 Srebrenica-massacre memorial center in Potocari near Srebrenica on 20 September, dpa reported. Ashdown added that survivors of the massacre wanted Clinton head the ceremony. "This was their choice because of the personal contribution that they regarded he made to the final successful effort to end the war here.... It is fitting that the man who did so much to end war should open the memorial that will ensure that the victims of this massacre -- indeed all the victims of this terrible war -- are not forgotten," Ashdown said. Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric -- who heads Bosnia's Islamic Community -- praised Clinton's work in ending the 1992-95 Bosnian conflict, adding that Clinton now has a role to play in ensuring that the "lessons from Srebrenica are learned across the world for the sake of peace in the world." PM

Ending a visit to Bucharest on 1 August, International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief negotiator Neven Mates urged the government to control wages, tighten lending in the banking sector, and rein in losses at energy companies before it can receive the last two installments of a $147 million loan, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and AP reported. Mates said the government needs to meet these requirements before the IMF board discusses disbursement in October. Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said that Romania is close -- for the first time in the history of a postcommunist government -- to securing all payments of an IMF loan. Finance Minister Mihai Tanasescu disclosed that an agreement has been reached with Mates and his team of IMF experts to lay off employees in the energy, rail, and state-owned companies by the end of 2003. Those made redundant are to receive severance pay, Tanasescu said. According to Mediafax, it was agreed to close down some of the communist-era "white elephants" if they cannot be privatized by September 2003. Among these are Tractorul Brasov, Roman Brasov, and Aro Campulung. Meanwhile, the World Bank announced on 1 August that it has granted Romania a $80 million loan to restore irrigation and improve water management in farming communities, AP reported. In turn, the EU said it will provide Romania 162.2 million euros ($182.5 million) in aid for rural development and for modernizing its agricultural sector, AFP reported on 1 August. MS

Visiting Finance Minister Hans Eichel said on 1 August at the end of his one-day visit to Romania that Germany will back Romania's effort to join the EU by 2007 and encourage German investors to explore the possibility of investing in that country. Eichel and Premier Nastase announced that a joint German-Romanian savings bank has been established by the German LSB Bank and the Romanian main savings company CEC to encourage private housing construction. The new EBS Romania society will grant low-interest loans for a period of 15-20 years, covering up to 60 percent of the construction costs. Eichel also met with European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak, National Bank Governor Mugur Isarescu, and his Romanian counterpart Tanasescu. MS

The Romanian-Iraqi chamber of commerce on 1 August renewed its activities, which were interrupted by the war in Iraq, Romanian Radio reported. The station said Romania thus became the first country to have a chamber of commerce in Iraq after the war. The Iraqi president of the chamber, Imad Ahmad, was cited by Mediafax as saying that, for now, his country is in no position to pay its $1.7 billion debt to Romania, and that the debt will be paid after Romanian companies win tenders for Iraq's reconstruction. MS

The National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) indicted Bucharest Mayor Traian Basescu on 1 August on charges of abuse of power related to the sale of 16 state-owned ships when he was transportation minister in 1992, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Basescu has denied any wrongdoing and continues to call the charges "politically motivated." He said the indictment is an attempt to conceal the illegalities committed between 1993-96 by the ruling Social Democratic Party itself. Mediafax cited Basescu as saying it is "regrettable" that President Ion Iliescu and Premier Nastase are using the PNA as an instrument to wage a political struggle against their adversaries. Two other former transportation ministers, Aurel Novac and Paul Teodoru, are also being investigating on suspicion of illegally selling Romania's state-owned maritime fleet. MS

Titus Corlatean, head of the governmental department for all expatriate Romanians, told Mediafax on 3 August that Romania will insist that neighboring countries grant their ethnic Romanian minorities the same rights granted to minorities in Romania. Corlatean also said the authorities will examine the possibility of initiating legislation on the protection of the Romanian diaspora, in keeping with European standards. He said that when passing such legislation, Romania wants to avoid creating animosities similar to those created by Hungary's Status Law, but that the time is ripe for adopting a "more offensive posture" in the defense of the rights of Romanian minorities abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2003). MS

Meeting on the Moldovan-Romanian border at Stanca-Costesti on 1 August, Vladimir Voronin and Romanian President Iliescu noted with satisfaction that relations between their countries have overcome last year's difficulties and pledged to focus their efforts on pragmatic economic ties, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. When journalists asked the presidents in what language they conducted their talks, Voronin replied that he spoke "in Moldovan," but had no difficulty comprehending Iliescu's Romanian. Iliescu said the talks were held in Romanian. The two presidents signed a fishing agreement, but clearly had different interpretations of their encounter. The Moldovan side said the pending basic treaty between the two countries was discussed. However, upon his return to Bucharest, Iliescu said the Moldovan side has radically altered the treaty that was initialed in 2000, and under these circumstances it makes no sense to continue working on it. Instead, Iliescu said, the countries have agreed to work on a joint declaration by the two presidents that would clarify all the outstanding issues. MS

Defense Minister General Victor Gaiciuc said on 1 August that Moldova is prepared to send a contingent of 50 peacekeepers to participate in "humanitarian operations" in Iraq, ITAR-TASS reported. Gaiciuc said the contingent includes five sappers, 10 doctors, and 35 soldiers. He said the United States has pledged to cover parts of the cost of the mission and to ensure the Moldovan soldiers' security. "Our mission in Iraq is peaceful, but in case the need for self-defense arises, they will have the right to use weapons," Gaiciuc said. MS

Speaking at the Socialist Party's (BSP) 45th congress on 1 August, party Chairman Sergey Stanishev said the country deserves a better government, adding that municipalities are hungry for left-wing alternatives, reported. During his speech on Mount Buzludzha, central Bulgaria, Stanishev presented the party's new program. A key element of the program is a proposal to establish a fund to develop regions' economies, "Dnevnik" reported. The $170 million needed for the fund could come from the EU and the state budget, Stanishev said. Stoyan Aleksandrov, the BSP's mayoral candidate for Sofia, said the program presents a good basis for the party's future work, but added that it cannot be realized now as it lacks a time frame and the means to implement it. UB

Deputy Finance Minister Krasimir Katev announced on 3 August that he will leave his post by the end of this year, "Dnevnik" reported. The 34-year-old Katev, who took office in the summer of 2001, said there is little else he can achieve in his current position. He said he has already achieved 90 percent of what he planned for his entire four-year term, such as the restructuring of Bulgaria's foreign debt and improving the foreign debt-to-GDP ratio. UB

On 28 June, a prestigious jury chose a design for a new second stage for St. Petersburg's Mariinskii Theater, which is sometimes still referred to in the West by its Soviet-era name, the Kirov Theater. From a pool of 11 finalists submitted by leading architects from the United States, Japan, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and other countries, as well as Russia, that ranged in styles from the ultramodern to the traditional, the jury selected a fairly radical modernist design by leading French architect Dominique Perrault.

The competition, which was the first of its kind in Russia since Soviet dictator Josef Stalin held one in 1931 to design the never-built Palace of Soviets, sparked considerable controversy and highlighted many of the problems inherent in developing the country's northern capital. From its somewhat radical beginnings as a wholly planned city founded on a swamp by Peter the Great in 1703 -- the city is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year -- St. Petersburg has settled into a striking architectural conservatism. There haven't been any major buildings constructed there since the beginning of the last century, and most of the city's central ensembles date back to the mid-19th century or earlier. Moreover, a tsarist-era tradition largely banning buildings taller than the Winter Palace (now, the State Hermitage Museum) did much to determine the course of the city's development.

As a result, St. Petersburg remains a remarkably well-integrated city that in many respects seems locked in time. Until he died in 1999 at the age of 92, local intellectual and historian Dmitrii Likhachev largely successfully spearheaded a movement to limit development in the city's historic center, preventing the construction of numerous tall buildings that would have violated St. Petersburg's dominant horizontal perspective. One of the few exceptions was the nine-story Leningrad (now, St. Petersburg) Hotel, which was built on the Neva River embankment in 1970. In 1991, the top two floors of the hotel caught fire in a catastrophe that killed 17 people, including 10 firefighters. Many took the tragic decapitation of the hotel as an omen, and the blank windows of the upper floors loom above the river to this day.

The problems of bringing tradition-laden St. Petersburg into the modern realm were brought into stark relief by the Mariinskii competition, and the way the project is carried out will have a tremendous impact on the future of Russia's second city. The new theater will sit immediately adjacent to the opulent old Mariinskii building, which was built by architect Albert Kavos in 1860, and will be largely surrounded by buildings two and three centuries old. The old building will be restored and eventually the two stages will work in tandem as the home of the country's most prestigious opera and ballet company.

From the beginning, about the only thing everyone could agree on was that a new building is urgently needed. The old theater only has about 40 percent of the space required by law for the number of workers the theater employs, and Mariinskii Artistic Director Valerii Gergiev has long complained that it often takes several days to install the sets for some of the theater's more ambitious productions, such as its recent rendition of Sergei Prokoviev's "War and Peace."

When the competition for a new design was announced, Gergiev compellingly argued that a striking, modern design was essential if the theater is to maintain its reputation for innovation and creativity and -- to get to the bottom line -- if it is to attract the kind of patronage and sponsorship that a contemporary world-class theater demands. Gergiev struggled to push the city to modernize. "A a living organism," he told "Izvestiya." "In order to live it must change." He further argued that the architectural unity of Theater Square, where the Mariinskii is located, has already been destroyed by communist-era construction.

Initially, Gergiev expressed support for a radically modern -- the RosBalt news agency called it "super-radical" -- design by U.S. architect Owen Moss. Russian architects and St. Petersburg residents immediately and passionately spoke out against this irregular glass-covered project, which was frequently compared to a haphazard pile of glass garbage bags. The irregular lines of Moss's design had the disturbing effect of symbolically destroying the old theater building by creating a distorted and fragmented reflection.

Perrault's winning design is certainly less daring than Moss's proposal, but it will also be by far the most modern building in downtown St. Petersburg when it is finished. It is a subdued black-marble structure that is encased in a cocoon of gold-tinted glass. The cocoon is slightly larger than the silhouette of the old Marinskii Theater building and, when viewed from the southern side, it is intended to form a sort of golden halo around it. Perrault has said the cocoon -- which will be accessible to the public -- is also intended to open up the theater to all citizens of the city, to invite them to come in and experience the building.

In interviews following the announcement of his victory. Perrault said that the gold is meant to echo "St. Petersburg's golden cupolas" -- although the largely neo-classical city actually has relatively few cupolas. He said the new building "is supposed to enter into a dialog with the classical architectural heritage of the city." "The new theater must not cancel out, but continue the aesthetic history of Petersburg," Perrault told "Izvestiya" on 29 June.

However, Perrault admitted in the same interview that he spent just three days in St. Petersburg, which he described "as a sort of mixture of many European cities -- Venice, Florence, Amsterdam."

Critics of the design have been quick to accuse Perrault of ignoring local conditions. They say that St. Petersburg's notoriously dirty air and savage northern climate will make maintaining the building virtually impossible and that most of the year the cocoon will likely resemble the black marble structure it encloses.

Next June, the old Mariinskii will close for restoration, to reopen in December 2006. Construction of the new building is scheduled to be completed in 2008. "As long as there is no default in the country, we'll maintain our restoration plan," Gergiev told RosBalt on 1 July.

It could turn out to be the boldest initiative yet by Gergiev, who has been among the country's leading innovators since he took over the theater in 1988. "People should not be scared about how [the new building] will fit in," Gergiev told the "Financial Times" on 8 July. "We will make it work."

Wrapping up a two-day conference in Kabul on defense reform, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai told reporters on 31 July that "in a few days' time you will see the announcement with regard to the new appointments and the new structure" of the defense ministry, AFP reported. Karzai gave no details about what the reforms might entail, nor did he say when the particulars would emerge. Much discussion on the topic has focused on the need for broad ethnic representation within the ministry, said to be dominated by Tajiks appointed by Defense Minister Mohammad Qasim Fahim. Karzai said the provincial governors, military leaders, and government officials who attended the symposium also discussed police and judicial reform. Xinhua News Agency reported on 31 July that final recommendations from the conference were presented to National Security Adviser Zalmay Rassoul and UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. IL

Top members of the United Front (Northern Alliance) met in Kabul on 1 August to discuss the formation of a new party ahead of national elections next year, Reuters reported on 2 August. The meeting, attended by Defense Minister Fahim, Transitional Administration Deputy Chairman Abdul Karim Khalili, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Education Minister Yunis Qanuni, and former mujahedin commander Abdul Rabb al-Rasoul Sayyaf, was intended to smooth over disputes within the alliance and respond to moves to minimize the alliance's influence, according to sources cited by Reuters. The meeting followed a conference on defense reforms, which one United Front official described as a U.S.-led effort to undercut the power of the alliance. Reuters quoted one source as saying that "there are efforts at home and abroad to exclude the mujahedin one after another." IL

General Abdul Rashid Dostum, special adviser on security affairs to Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai and commander of 10,000 troops in northern Afghanistan, has begun his own disarmament campaign despite the postponement of a government-sponsored program, a spokesman for Dostum told Xinhua News Agency on 3 August. According to the spokesman, the process began in five districts of Jowzjan Province on 3 August with the collection from 3,000 soldiers of more than 1,000 rifles and ammunition. Dostum's rival, General Ata Mohammad, recently dismissed as "nonsense" Dostum's proposal to disarm regional militias before a national army is in place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003). IL

Transitional Administration Chairman Karzai told the BBC that a resurgence of Taliban attacks is "not a serious concern" but that with Pakistan's help Afghanistan could be rid of the rebel elements for good, AFP reported on 2 August. Karzai said that "what is important for us in this region, especially for Afghanistan and Pakistan, is to fight terrorism together...and to finish this menace." Meanwhile, AFP reported that after weeks of strained relations between Islamabad and Kabul over border tensions, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri will visit Afghanistan later this month. The Associated Press of Pakistan reportedly quoted Kasuri as saying the two countries had "close and brotherly relations" but that "forces averse to the growing Pakistan-Afghanistan ties are trying to reverse" them. IL

Pakistan's Foreign Ministry on 1 August alleged that India's Research and Analysis Wing is running espionage and terrorist operations aimed at Pakistan from India's consulates in Jalalabad and Kandahar, AP reported on 2 August. A statement by the ministry reportedly provided no evidence to support the accusation. The Press Trust of India news agency reported on 2 August that India has denied such activities and that on 29 July Pakistan's high commissioner in New Delhi, Munawar Saeed Bhatti, was told by Indian External Affairs Ministry officials that "even Afghan officials and ministers, including their interior minister," have publicly rejected "these preposterous allegations leveled by Pakistan." IL

Mohammad Javad Larijani, the judiciary's foreign affairs adviser, has said Iran should sign the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) only after Western governments build four nuclear power stations in Iran, "Resalat" daily newspaper reported on 3 August. Not only is joining the Additional Protocol not to Iran's benefit, Larijani said, but if Iran is subjected to more pressure it will withdraw from the NPT as well. BS

Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh said in Vienna on 2 August that Tokyo-Tehran discussions on the development of the Azadegan oil field by a Japanese consortium are continuing, IRNA reported. Namdar-Zanganeh did not say where these discussions stand, but he described them as a "priority." Tokyo has indicated that it will not sign a contract to develop the oil field if Tehran fails to address international concern about its nuclear activities (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 and 21 July 2003). Seiji Murata, administrative vice minister of Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, said on 1 August that the Azadegan negotiations will resume soon, the "Sankei Shimbun" newspaper reported on 2 August. He indicated that his ministry is in no hurry to close the deal, saying, "There is a certain gap between the two sides on such questions as future profitability. We are in the process of reviewing the details." Murata also noted that nonproliferation, oil supplies, and Japan-U.S. relations are of equal importance to Tokyo. BS

Some 4,000 people were detained during the June unrest in Iran, and not all of them have been released yet. Qazvin parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Mohammad Hassan Abu-Torabi met with some of the detained students on 30 July, ISNA reported on 2 August. He said he provided Tehran Prosecutor-General Said Mortazavi with a list of 69 people who were detained recently and was told that many had been released already. In all, Abu-Torabi and his colleague, Mohsen Safai-Farahani, met 20 detainees. In this group were 12 students and a member of the dormitory staff, and only one of them complained of maltreatment. (The two parliamentarians visited detainees previously; see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July 2003.) BS

Abu-Torabi and Safai-Farahani during their 30 July visit to Evin prison also met with Ansar-i Hizbullah leader Said Asqar and four of his colleagues, ISNA reported on 2 August. Asqar told the visitors that he turned himself in when he heard that Prosecutor-General Mortazavi wanted to have him arrested, and Mortazavi confirmed this. According to Abu-Torabi, Asqar said he has spent some 33 days in solitary confinement and in "the worst possible conditions" and that "he was really annoyed and he complained a lot." The other Ansar-i Hizbullah members complained about the conditions, too, with some saying that police personnel have beaten them up and all saying they have been kept in solitary confinement. BS

Grand Ayatollah Hussein Nuri-Hamedani issued a statement on 2 August about the legislature's recent ratification of a bill on Iranian membership of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July 2003), ISNA reported. The ayatollah described the convention as calamitous and tragic, as well as a Western and U.S. ploy to harm Islam. He said that when the convention was brought to Qom, all the religious authorities opposed it because it was contrary to Islamic teachings. The statement expressed confidence that the Guardians Council, which must vet all legislation's compatibility with Islam and with the constitution, will reject it. It concluded by cautioning that the religious authorities, clerics, and seminaries "will never remain silent in the face of moves of this kind that contravene Islam and will perform their Islamic duty and cry out: 'Where is the sixth [parliament] headed?'" BS

Deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's eldest daughter told Al-Arabiyah Television in an interview broadcast on 1 August that Baghdad fell because Iraqis betrayed the regime. "The people in whom [Saddam Hussein] placed his full trust and whom he considered his right-hand men were the main sources of treason," Raghad Hussein said. She accused Saddam Hussein's half-brothers -- Sab'awi, Watban, and Barzan -- of "overburdening" the family by "hatching plots" against her brothers Uday and Qusay Hussein, and even herself. "The factor of deadly jealousy was the source of the [Al-Bayjat] tribe's tragedy," she said. "It is as if God distributed jealousy among humanity in two parts; he gave half to the world and the other half to the Al-Bayjat" tribe. Raghdad said that Shaykh Jamal Kamil al-Majid, the brother of her dead husband, facilitated her asylum to Jordan. She and her younger sister Rana arrived in Jordan with their nine children on 31 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003). Raghdad Hussein also described to Al-Arabiyah how she fled Iraq amid the bombing of Baghdad and met with her mother, sisters, and Qusay Hussein's wife outside Baghdad, before her mother advised them all to disperse. KR

Asked by Al-Arabiyah Television in the 1 August interview about the 1996 assassination of her husband Husayn Kamil al-Majid and his brother Saddam, who was married to Rana, Raghad Hussein blamed her father's cousin Ali Hasan al-Majid. She said her father, ousted President Hussein, had pardoned the men after they fled Iraq, but al-Majid insisted that their tribe would not pardon the men and had them killed along with several other family members. She did not address the details of Husayn and Saddam Kamil al-Majid's defections, but maintained that the men were loyal to Saddam Hussein until their deaths. "I can swear by God that these two people were, to the last minute, totally loyal to my father, and they loved him so much," Raghad said. Coalition forces initially reported that they believed they killed Ali Hasan al-Majid when his Al-Basrah home was bombed in early April, but officials later withdrew that claim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 April and 6 June 2003). KR

The bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein -- accused by the West of heinous crimes under their father's regime and killed in a firefight with U.S. troops on 22 July -- were buried near Tikrit on 2 August, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). Tribesmen buried the brothers, along with Qusay's son Mustafa, in Saddam Hussein's birthplace of Al-Awjah, AP reported on 2 August. Some 40 tribesmen attended the service. Tribal leaders had requested permission to bury the men, as had Izz al-Din Hasan al-Majid, a cousin of the deposed leader (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 1 August 2003). KR

U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has issued retouched pictures of deposed President Hussein, according to a 1 August announcement on the CENTCOM website ( The photographs were issued to coalition forces in an effort to help soldiers identify Hussein, who is the object of a massive U.S.-led manhunt and may have changed his appearance in recent months. The five altered photographs can be viewed on the CENTCOM website. KR

The head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, encouraged Iraqis on 2 August to help coalition forces find Saddam Hussein, Reuters reported the same day. "Someone told us where to find his sons Uday and Qusay, and less than two weeks later we have paid him $30 million and relocated him and his family safely outside Iraq," Bremer told a Baghdad press conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003). "We're going to get Saddam too. The only question is who is going to get the $25 million and move to another country." The informant in the case of Uday and Qusay was also granted asylum in an undisclosed country. Bremer said that locating Saddam Hussein will help Iraqis put the past behind them. "It seems to me that bringing [Hussein] to justice either by death or by capturing him will really draw down a curtain on this terrible period," he told reporters. KR