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Newsline - August 11, 2003


GOVERNMENT FINALIZING DRAFT 2004 BUDGET
The Finance Ministry on 9 August presented its draft 2004 state budget to the government, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 August. The 1,500-page budget projects revenues of 2.7 trillion rubles ($88.8 billion) and expenditures of 2.6 trillion. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told "Kommersant-Daily" that he expects the government to adopt the budget and send it to the State Duma on 14 August. The draft budget foresees increased spending for the military, increased assistance to the regions to pay budget-sector workers, and reserve funding for possible government intervention on the country's grain markets. The proposed budget also includes the beginnings of a stabilization fund to help the country moderate the effects of fluctuations on world oil markets. "We have returned to levels of state spending comparable to [before the August 1998 financial crisis]," Kudrin said. The draft budget predicts that Russia's 2004 gross domestic product will be 15.3 trillion rubles, compared to a 2003 forecast of 13.25 trillion. RC

ANALYSTS SEE MOVE TO RESTRUCTURE POLLSTER AS ATTACK ON FREEDOM OF INFORMATION...
A number of leading experts on 11 August commented in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" about reported government efforts to establish a new management board for the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM), one of Russia's leading polling agencies (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2003). At a press conference on 5 August, VTsIOM Director Yurii Levada said forces within the Kremlin are pushing to name a new board for the center, which is a state enterprise despite its wide reputation for independent analysis. Center for Political Technologies Director Boris Makarenko told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that VTsIOM should have been privatized long ago. He noted that in recent years VTsIOM has enjoyed complete freedom in its research and has gained an international reputation for accuracy and responsibility. RC

...IN RUN-UP TO ELECTIONS
Center for Political Technologies Director Makarenko speculated in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 11 August that under a new management board comprising representatives of the executive branch, VTsIOM will become "just another element of 'managed democracy.'" Merkator Group head Dmitrii Oreshkin said that "a structure will be created that will be almost the same [as the old VTsIOM] but that will do what is necessary at the moment when it is necessary." Strategic Studies Center head Andrei Piontkovskii said the move "is an element of the purging of the entire information arena before the elections." RC

DEEP-DIVING SUBMARINE HEADS FOR THE SEAS
In the presence of Russian Navy commander Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov, a new, top-secret nuclear submarine has been launched for testing at the Sevmashpredpriyatiya shipyard in Severodvinsk, "Izvestiya" reported on 8 August. The new vessel, identified as Project 210, is reportedly the world's deepest-diving nuclear submarine, and it is designed for scientific-research purposes and to conduct emergency rescue missions. According to the report, the project is being treated with the greatest possible secrecy and even many shipyard officials were denied access to the launch ceremony. "Izvestiya" reported that construction on Project 210 began in 1988, and was delayed throughout the 1990s because of funding shortages. Efforts in the late 1990s to interest the United States in funding the project were reportedly rebuffed. The new submarine is also reportedly the quietest in the Russian fleet. RC

OFFICIAL: RUSSIA VULNERABLE TO AIR ATTACK
Roughly 50 percent of Russia's airspace is not covered by the country's radar and tracking systems, "Izvestiya" reported on 8 August, citing Defense Ministry air-defense officials. "Regular radar monitoring is carried out only on the western and southern borders of Russia," Air Force commander Colonel General Vladimir Mikhailov said. "In other regions, it is spotty. In the north, only one-third of the airspace is covered. In all, radar covers about 35 percent of the territory of the country." Defense Ministry air-defense official Mikhail Kizilov told the daily that President Vladimir Putin has ordered the complete overhaul and modernization of the country's air-defense system and that process is already under way. He said Russian aircraft have been equipped with recognition systems and that next year the country will begin deploying the new, advanced S-400 antiaircraft missile system. He added that the Air Force's fleet of interceptors is being upgraded, although money for new aircraft has not been allocated. RC

MINISTRY TO STUDY RADIOACTIVE-WASTE DUMPING IN FAR EAST
A special expedition from the Emergency Situations Ministry on 10 August began searching the northern part of the Sea of Japan for locations where radioactive waste and other toxins might have been dumped, "Izvestiya" reported. At least until the mid-1990s, the Pacific Fleet dumped such waste from barges in the region, although fleet officials insist that such dumping was conducted in accordance with international law. The current expedition, which is being conducted under strict secrecy, will last until 15 September, the daily reported. Water, soil, and wildlife samples will be taken and analyzed for radioactive contamination. Pacific Ocean Oceanographic Institute Director Viktor Akulichev told "Izvestiya" that the ministry approached his institute last year about participating in the expedition, but the institute declined the invitation. In December 2001, military journalist Grigorii Pasko was sentenced to four years' imprisonment for passing on information about the Pacific Fleet's dumping practices to Japanese journalists. RC

ENERGY COMPANY CUTS OFF BALTIC FLEET'S HOMETOWN
Yantarenergo, Unified Energy Systems' (EES) affiliate in Kaliningrad Oblast, has begun restricting electricity supplies to the city of Baltiisk, which is home to Russia's Baltic Fleet, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 August. According to the report, the company is owed some 42 million rubles ($1.4 million). The news agency quoted a fleet spokesman as saying that even though the cutoffs are targeted at civilian facilities, they could affect strategic naval installations. RC

ANOTHER LEADING PROFESSOR KILLED IN MOSCOW
Grigorii Bondarevskii, a distinguished professor and member of the Academy of Scientists, was killed in Moscow on 7 August, presumably the victim of a robbery, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and gazeta.ru reported on 11 August. Bondarevskii, 83 years old and a noted Islamist who was an adviser to the director of the Institute of Oriental Studies, was struck several times on the head with a blunt object in his Moscow apartment, which police say was then robbed. Bondarevskii often commented on events in Chechnya, the rest of the Caucasus, and Iraq. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported that Bondarevskii's desk had been searched and that his mobile phone was taken during the robbery, meaning that the attack could have been motivated by a desire for information. More than half a dozen leading scholars have been killed in Russia in the last two years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July and 22 November 2002), and no one has been arrested in any of those cases, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported. RC

COMMUNIST DREAM TEAM DOESN'T COME TOGETHER...
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told reporters in Moscow on 8 August that Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev has decided not to run for the State Duma on the Communist Party ticket in the 7 December elections, Interfax reported. Glazev, who is a member of the Communist faction in the Duma, will instead lead a nationalist-patriotic bloc together with State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy) and Airborne Forces commander General Georgii Shpak. Zyuganov commented that he believes the new bloc was formed "to divert attention from the broad patriotic coalition already formed by the Communist Party." On 7 August, "Novye izvestiya" reported that according to unnamed sources close to Glazev, the Kremlin has been putting pressure on Glazev to accept Rogozin for the No. 2 slot on his group's party list. JAC

...AS GLAZEV JOINS 'SPOILER' EFFORT...
The daily also argued that the bloc's main mission is not necessarily to win enough votes to enter the State Duma, but to take away 2 to 3 percent from the Communist Party. Such a result might enable the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party to form a majority in the next Duma. "Izvestiya" on 5 August was pessimistic about the chances of the Glazev-Rogozin effort. It noted that Rogozin's Congress of Russian Communities polled a modest 4.31 percent in 1995, despite the support of the then-popular General Aleksandr Lebed. The daily declared, "Rogozin and Glazev might pool their efforts, but it is going to be an 'alliance of two political zeroes,' to quote a prominent political scientist." JAC

...AND STATE ENERGY COMPANIES BACK THE ALTERNATIVE PRESIDENTIAL PARTIES
"Vremya-MN" reported on 8 August that deputy head of the presidential administration Viktor Ivanov has been raising money for the campaign coffers of the alternative [pro-]presidential parties, Sergei Mironov's Party of Life and Gennadii Raikov's People's Party. Ivanov has reportedly obtained donations from Gazprom, Rosneft, Severstal, St. Petersburg Sea Port, and other companies. As a result, the daily reported, some political-consulting firms that were close to Ivanov's rival, deputy presidential administration head Vladislav Surkov, such as Nikollo M and Propaganda, are now promoting the interests of the People's Party and the Party of Life. Surkov oversaw the creation and development of Unified Russia. Some political analysts have argued that Ivanov is one of the "St. Petersburg chekists" within the presidential administration who initiated the recent legal assault against Yukos (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 1 August 2003). JAC

ELECTION TSAR EXPLAINS THAT TYCOON WOULD LIKELY HAVE TO CAMPAIGN FOR DUMA FROM JAIL
In an interview with REN-TV on 7 August, Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov acknowledged that self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii has the right to participate in the 7 December State Duma elections. However, he -- like any other candidate -- must present his registration papers in person, and he would likely be arrested at this point. However, Veshnyakov pointed out that "there have been examples in the past of citizens held on remand either participating in voting, voting for various candidates, or nominating themselves as candidates." Earlier, when Berezovskii first acknowledged his intention to run, he said he would return to Russia as soon as the prosecutor-general stopped inviting him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 2003). JAC

20 CANDIDATES IN RACE SO FAR FOR LENINGRAD SEAT
The Leningrad Oblast Election Commission announced on 9 August that 20 candidates have either submitted signatures supporting their candidacy or paid the election fee, "Vremya-MN" reported the next day. In addition to incumbent Governor Valerii Serdyukov, former Governor Vadim Gustov, now a representative in the Federation Council, is also running. According to the daily, Gustov is the only political "heavyweight" competing against Serdyukov. However, local oil magnates in the oblast appear to favor Serdyukov, which will give him an advantage. Earlier in the month, Andrei Nelidov, an oblast legislator and leader of the local branch of Unified Russia, was expelled from the party for supporting Gustov. He heads Gustov's campaign headquarters. According to one of RFE/RL's St. Petersburg correspondents on 5 August, a split in the local branch of the Unified Russia party has occurred over the incident. Other potential candidates are St. Petersburg legislator Vladimir Belozerskii, "Ekspress-khronika" General Director Yurii Belyaev, and Shlisselburg Mayor Dmitrii Vasilenko. JAC

ANOTHER CHANGE ON KASYANOV'S TEAM
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov has relieved Yevgenii Arefev from his position as deputy director of the government apparatus because he has reached retirement age, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 August. Arefev was appointed first deputy head of the apparatus in June 1999 by then-Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, according to gazeta.ru on 23 June 1999. According to "Moskovskie novosti," No. 9, Arefev was responsible for economic and science policies. JAC

NOTED JOURNALIST SAYS HE'S QUITTING TV
Well-known television journalist and former editor in chief of NTV, TV-6, and TVS Yevgenii Kiselev told Ekho Moskvy on 10 August that he will no longer be involved in covering politics as a journalist. "Working as a political analyst after the amendments to the election legislation have been adopted is senseless," he said. He also denied rumors that he plans to run in the 7 December State Duma elections. Instead, Kiselev said he will make documentary films. JAC

MORE MOZDOK BOMBING SUSPECTS APPREHENDED
A total of seven people have now been taken into custody on suspicion of involvement in the 1 August suicide bombing of a military hospital in Mozdok, Interfax on 8 August quoted North Ossetian Interior Minister Kazbek Dzantiev as telling journalists. He added that the seven were not the perpetrators or organizers of the blast, for which no one has yet claimed responsibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 6 August 2003). LF

U.S. FREEZES CHECHEN RENEGADE'S FUNDS
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell ordered a freeze on 8 August of all financial assets belonging to renegade Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev, dpa reported. The United States and Russia have both designated Basaev's Riyadus-Salikhin Reconnaissance and Sabotage Battalion a terrorist organization. Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 8 August welcomed the U.S. decision as "good news," according to Interfax, as did Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. LF

KHASBULATOV CONFIRMS HE WILL RUN FOR CHECHEN PRESIDENT
Former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov told Interfax on 8 August that he "has made a firm decision" to contest the Chechen presidential election scheduled for 5 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003). He said he will travel to Grozny "soon" to submit the required documentation to the Central Election Commission. Presidential candidates must also collect and submit by 20 August the signatures of at least 10,800 voters who support their candidacy. LF

ARMENIAN PRISONERS REGRET COMMUTED DEATH SENTENCES
The 42 prisoners whose death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment on 1 August have requested a meeting with parliament leaders to discuss possible alternatives, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 8 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 7 August 2003). One of the prisoners told RFE/RL he would prefer execution to life imprisonment; a second pointed out that while under Armenia's Soviet-era criminal code the maximum sentence was 15 years, the new code stipulates that persons formally sentenced to death must serve a minimum of 20 years before they can be considered for parole. Six of the 42 have never asked the authorities to commute their death sentences as they believe their trials were unfair, or claim they are innocent. LF

ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES ANTIPOVERTY PROGRAM
The Armenian government approved on 8 August a Poverty Reduction Strategy that aims to cut the number of people living in poverty from 50 percent to 19 percent of the population by 2015 by creating new jobs, improved tax collection, and increased public spending, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Social benefits will be increased by 400 percent over the next 12 years to reach the official threshold for poverty -- a monthly per capita income of 12,600 drams ($21). Implementation of the program is contingent on the receipt of some $1.2 billion in external loans and grants, according to Deputy Finance and Economy Minister Tigran Khachatrian. LF

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT DIAGNOSED WITH CARDIAC, KIDNEY PROBLEMS...
Heidar Aliev is being treated for congestive heart failure and kidney problems, according to a medical bulletin released on 8 August by the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, where Aliev arrived two days earlier from the Gulhane military clinic in Ankara. The bulletin, which was summarized by Turan and several Western agencies, added that Aliev does not suffer from neurological problems and that he is responding well to treatment. In Baku, presidential administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev told journalists on 9 August that Aliev "is feeling better every day," Russian news agencies reported. LF

...AS OPPOSITION CLAIMS HE SUFFERED CARDIAC ARREST
Lawyer Ilgar Altay, who traveled to Ankara at the behest of Amal, an opposition organization representing the Azerbaijani intelligentsia, told journalists in Baku on 11 August he was informed by medical personnel at the Gulhane military clinic that President Aliev suffered cardiac arrest several times in late July. Altay said Aliev's relatives consented to a heart transplant despite the very slim chances that he will survive that surgery, and he was flown to Cleveland for that operation because no donor heart was available in Turkey. Altay said Aliev's Turkish physicians say he also suffers from diabetes. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PROTESTS IMPOSITION OF 'MONARCHY'
Opposition parties convened a mass protest in Baku on 9 August against the appointment of President Aliev's son Ilham as prime minister, Turan reported. Estimates of the number of participants ranged from 3,000, according to Baku police; to 10,000, according to dpa; or even 20,000, according to the organizers. Opposition party leaders condemned Ilham Aliev's appointment as a reversion to the Middle Ages or to ancient Rome, according to Turan. Participants adopted a resolution appealing to the United States and international organizations to stand by their pledges to ensure that the upcoming presidential election is free and fair, and to Turkey and the United States to structure their relations with Azerbaijan on respect for "democratic principles." They also demanded that all opposition candidates who wish to contest the 15 October presidential election be permitted to do so, and that Ilham Aliev's registration as a presidential candidate be annulled as unconstitutional. On 8 August, police forcibly broke up an attempt by opposition activists to picket the Constitutional Court to protest Ilham Aliev's appointment, but did not prevent a similar protest the same day outside the Turkish Embassy, Turan reported. LF

AZERBAIJANI PREMIER READY TO SUCCEED FATHER AS PRESIDENT
Ilham Aliev told journalists in Baku on 9 August that, "in principle," he is prepared to take over the presidency five years from now after his father completes a third presidential term, Russian news agencies reported. He said there is "no alternative" to his father's policies, and criticized the opposition for its failure to make any progress over the past decade either in terms of modifying its outlook or of winning "significant public support," Interfax reported. He also confirmed that he will pay an official visit to Turkey after the 15 October presidential elections at the invitation of his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. On 7 August, Ilham Aliev told Lider TV, as cited by Groong, that "Turkish-Azerbaijani relations are built on the basis of friendship and fraternity. We are one nation and two states." LF

TWO MORE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES APPROVED IN AZERBAIJAN
Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission formally registered two further presidential candidates on 8 August, raising the total number to seven, Turan reported on 9 August (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 8 August 2003). The two most recent candidates to be registered are Adolet party Chairman and former Prosecutor-General Ilyas Ismailov and National Unity Party Chairman Yunus Oghuz. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER UNVEILS POLITICAL PLATFORM
Nino Burdjanadze outlined the main tenets of her political platform in Tbilisi on 8 August, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 11 July 2003). She advocated the creation of a "united strong state" with a foreign policy oriented toward integration into Euro-Atlantic structures and the EU. She said she favors a peaceful solution to the Abkhaz conflict, but that Georgia should reserve the right to resort to military means if efforts to resolve the conflict peacefully fail. She further called for constitutional reforms and the restoration of the post of prime minister, which was abolished several years ago, according to ITAR-TASS. She criticized the current leadership for corruption and its inability to improve the population's economic situation. Burdjanadze's presentation was attended by most Western ambassadors in Tbilisi and by opposition party leaders, with the exception of Mikhail Saakashvili (National Movement) and Zurab Zhvania (United Democrats). LF

GEORGIAN INTELLIGENTSIA PROTESTS U.S. 'INTERFERENCE'
In an open letter to U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles dated 7 August, representatives of the Georgian intelligentsia expressed their resentment at recent statements he has made that they claimed constitute interference into Georgia's internal affairs, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported on 8 August. Miles had expressed reservations about the 25-year deal the Georgian government signed with Gazprom to purchase Russian natural gas, and urged political parties to endorse a model for staffing the Central Election Commission proposed by former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker. The signatories to the open letter said they appreciate U.S. assistance to Georgia in the process of building an independent state, but added that two centuries of Russian and Soviet hegemony have left the Georgian people acutely sensitive to any effort by a foreign country to impose solutions to internal problems. Opposition parties, including the United Democrats, the National Movement, and the New Rightists accused President Eduard Shevardnadze of initiating the protest, according to Interfax on 8 August. LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER OPPOSES CALLS FOR RENATIONALIZATION
Economy, Industry, and Trade Minister Giorgi Gachechiladze told journalists in Tbilisi on 8 August he considers inadmissible the call by National Movement leader Saakashvili for the renationalization of some privatized enterprises, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2003). Gachechiladze pointed out that renationalization would jeopardize economic growth and deter potential investors. LF

LABOR PARTY PROTESTS PROPOSED INCREASE IN ELECTRICITY TARIFFS
Opposition Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili filed suit on 9 August with a Tbilisi district court against a decision made the previous day by the National Energy Regulating Commission to raise electricity tariffs from 12.4 tetris ($0.058) to 13.5 tetris per kilowatt hour beginning 1 November, Caucasus Press reported. Natelashvili appealed to Justice Minister Roland Giligashvili not to endorse the price hike pending the Tbilisi court's decision. The Labor Party thwarted a proposed electricity price hike last year by appealing to the Constitutional Court. LF

U.S. GENERAL, NATO OFFICIAL VISIT GEORGIA
On a one-day visit to Tbilisi on 10 August, U.S. Supreme Allied Commander Europe General James Jones and NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alessandro Minuto Rizzo met with Georgian Defense Minister Lieutenant General David Tevzadze and visited the Krtsanisi training base near Tbilisi to assess the progress of the U.S.-funded Train-and-Equip Program launched in the spring of 2002, Russian news agencies reported. Caucasus Press reported on 11 August that Jones and Tevzadze discussed the possibility of dispatching some of the Georgian commandos who have graduated from the program to serve as part of the peacekeeping operation in Afghanistan of which NATO took command on 11 August. LF

GEORGIA ACCUSES RUSSIA OVER REPAIRS TO ABKHAZ RAILWAY
In an 8 August statement, the Georgian Foreign Ministry accused Moscow of sabotaging implementation of the agreements reached in Sochi in March during talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Georgian counterpart Shevardnadze, Caucasus Press reported. Specifically, the statement criticized a Russian Foreign Ministry statement on 7 August saying that Russian engineers will assess the state of the Psou-Inguri railway and conduct the necessary repairs. The Georgian statement noted that at an earlier meeting on 26 July it was agreed that any such work must be approved jointly by a working group on which Abkhazia and Georgia are represented. LF

ABKHAZ DENY TAKING GEORGIAN HOSTAGES
Abkhaz National Security Service Chairman Givi Agrba denied that Abkhaz were responsible for the abduction of four Georgians early on 7 August from the village of Chuburkhindji in Gali Raion, Caucasus Press reported on 9 August. Officials of the Tbilisi-based Abkhaz government in exile had accused the Abkhaz of snatching the four men in retaliation for the 4 August shooting of four Abkhaz customs officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5, 6, and 8 August 2003). On 8 August, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Sergei Shamba told journalists in Sukhum that the Georgian authorities turn a blind eye to acts of terrorism committed by Georgians in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. Shamba said such terrorist acts hinder the repatriation to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons. LF

SHANGHAI COOPERATION ORGANIZATION EXERCISES CONTINUE IN CHINA
The first stage of military exercises conducted by the member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization ended in Kazakhstan's Semipalatinsk Oblast on 9 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003), with the second stage starting in China's Xinjiang Province the following day, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and centrasia.ru reported on 10 August. Both stages of the exercises are focused on developing the capacity to deal with terrorist activities. According to centrasia.ru, units from all the Shanghai organization's member states except Uzbekistan (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia, and China) took part in the first stage, which involved forcing down an aircraft seized by terrorists and freeing hostages. Uzbekistan reportedly claimed its units were not adequately prepared. The second stage, involving Chinese and Kyrgyz troops, involves attacking a terrorist camp and freeing hostages. The exercises are planned to last two days. BB

NOW ALL KYRGYZ EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS MUST BE LICENSED
As of the beginning of August, state as well as private institutions of higher education must be licensed by the Kyrgyz Education and Culture Ministry, akipress.org reported on 8 August, quoting the State Commission on Entrepreneurship. Previously only private institutions were required to obtain licenses. The objective of the new requirement is to raise teaching standards within the framework of ongoing reform of the country's educational system. The new rule specifically exempts private tutors from the licensing requirement. BB

U.S. AMBASSADOR SEEKS TO SQUELCH STORY OF BILLION-DOLLAR CREDIT TO TAJIKISTAN
U.S. Ambassador to Tajikistan Franklin Huddle has officially denied a story published in "Nezavisimoe Voennoe Obozrenie" that the United States has offered a $1 billion credit to Tajikistan if that country ends the Russian military presence there. The journal published Huddle's letter on 8 August. The rumor itself has been in circulation for several months, both in Tajikistan and in Russia. It seems to have gained new life due to the slow progress in transforming the Russian 201st Motorized Rifle Division -- which was in the country before it obtained its independence and remained throughout the 1992-97 civil war at Tajik request -- into a full-scale military base. Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Kormiltsev told ITAR-TASS on 8 August that the reason for the slow progress on the base was the unacceptable demands by the Tajik leadership, in particular that Russia write off Tajikistan's multimillion-dollar debt in return for permission to set up the base. BB

MORE ARRESTS IN TAJIKISTAN LINKED TO RAPE CASE
The 13 July arrest of Qosim Rahimov, a senior member of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (IRPT), on a charge of raping a minor (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003) has been linked by the Dushanbe Prosecutor's Office to the arrests of 13 other prominent persons, primarily law enforcement officers, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 8 August, quoting Dushanbe Prosecutor Habibullo Vohidov. Others in the group of 14 arrested on rape charges include entrepreneurs and foreigners, Vohidov said. He added that the victims were 11 girls, mostly under 14 years of age. The policemen are reportedly also facing charges of abusing their authority, corruption, and concealing crimes. BB

TURKMENISTAN REPORTED TO BE THREATENED WITH RESTORATION OF JACKSON-VANIK
According to Russian media, U.S. President George W. Bush has informed Congress that Turkmenistan is no longer implementing international standards concerning freedom of emigration and should not therefore be exempted from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment of 1974 that denies most-favored-nation trade status to countries with nonmarket economies that restrict emigration, ITAR-TASS and "Vremya novostei" reported on 10 and 11 August, respectively. Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan were described as meeting international standards and therefore worthy of continued exemption. "Vremya novostei" interpreted Bush's action as a gesture to help Russian citizens in Turkmenistan who have had difficulty leaving the country since the revocation of dual Russian-Turkmen citizenship. Turkmenistan had been exempted from the Jackson-Vanik Amendment since December 1997. BB

UZBEKISTAN AGREES TO STATIONING OF MORE GERMAN TROOPS
German Defense Minister Peter Struck told a news conference in Tashkent on 10 August that the Uzbek government has agreed to the stationing of additional German troops at an airfield in the southern Uzbek city of Termez, Deutsche Welle, ITAR-TASS, and other Russian news agencies reported the same day. A contingent of German troops in Termez is conducting peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and delivering humanitarian aid. Struck visited Tashkent on his way to Afghanistan. He met with his Uzbek counterpart Qodir Ghulomov for a discussion of ways to strengthen security in the Central Asian region and to fight terrorism and drug trafficking. Germany has offered to provide training for Uzbek mountain infantry troops and for military pilots. Struck was quoted as saying that Uzbekistan's cooperation has made German operations in Afghanistan possible, and he handed over a letter from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to Uzbek President Islam Karimov containing thanks for Uzbekistan's help. BB

SLOW PACE OF COMPUTERIZATION CRITICIZED IN UZBEKISTAN
Criticism of the slow pace of computerization and Internet use in Uzbek government agencies was heard at a session of the Uzbek government's Coordination Council on Computerization and Information-Communication Technologies, centrasia.ru reported on 11 August, quoting UzA. The date of the council session was not given. According to the report, government agencies were scolded for not developing their own websites and for not making their websites attractive or interesting or informing website visitors what services the agency provides. In addition, the level of computer literacy was described as unsatisfactory in some agencies. UzA noted that as of 1 August, the estimated number of Internet users in Uzbekistan had risen to 353,100, up from 275,000 at the beginning of 2003 and 137,000 in 2001. There are reported to be 186 Internet providers in Uzbekistan, up from 130 at the beginning of the year, but most are located in Tashkent. BB

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT TAKES ON TIPSY FARMERS...
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ordered greater labor discipline among farmers, Belapan reported on 8 August, quoting the presidential press service. "Drunkards whose actions endanger the lives of others will face particularly harsh punishment," Lukashenka reportedly told a government conference on harvesting the same day. Lukashenka ordered that the government reopen detoxification centers and facilities for treating alcohol abuse, adding that such facilities should be financed by their inmates rather than from the state budget. "Boozers will work off their stays in such institutions," he said. JM

...AND SEEKS INCREASED CONTROL OVER HARVEST
President Lukashenka appointed 21 top government officials on 8 August as his representatives to the six regions and the city of Minsk, Belapan reported. Each region and the Belarusian capital will have three presidential representatives who, together with governors, will be responsible for the regions' socioeconomic performance and will supervise the ongoing harvest and other farming activities. The Belarusian president this year abandoned his traditional televised conference on harvesting. At such conferences in previous years, he personally set harvesting goals for governors and farm directors. JM

KYIV PROBING UKRAINIAN INVOLVEMENT IN ALLEGED SMUGGLING EPISODE IN PERSIAN GULF
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry is looking into the circumstances under which the "Navstar-1" tanker and its crew were apprehended in the Persian Gulf on 9 August by a British naval ship, Interfax reported, quoting ministry spokesman Markiyan Lubkivskyy. Some reports have claimed the "Navstar-1" had a Ukrainian crew aboard when it was caught with some 1,000 tons of Iraqi diesel fuel and taken to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. The ship reportedly sails under a Panamanian flag and is owned by a company from the United Arab Emirates. U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq L. Paul Bremer said the crew will be handed over to Iraqi authorities for trial. JM

ESTONIA'S CENTER PARTY VOTES AGAINST EU MEMBERSHIP
At the congress of the Center Party in Tartu on 9 August, delegates voted to oppose Estonia's membership in the European Union, LETA reported on 11 August. The votes for platforms favoring and opposing EU membership or merely urging voters to participate in the country's 14 September referendum were 235, 341, and 227, respectively. Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar noted: "As a politician, I advised the congress to leave how to vote on the EU referendum up to each voter's conscience. But obviously the delegates did not want to behave like politicians." The leader of the pro-EU wing of the party, Peeter Kreitzberg, said that the vote at the congress did not surprise him, but he believes that the people will vote in favor of EU membership. The congress also re-elected Savisaar as party chairman. SG

LATVIAN UNIT DEPARTS FOR PEACEKEEPING MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN
A unit of nine Latvian soldiers, eight medics, and a liaison officer departed for pre-mission training in Germany on 8 August, LETA reported. They are scheduled to travel to Afghanistan on 20 August to replace the Latvian medics who have been serving at a German military hospital since February. During the farewell ceremony at the Military Medical Center in Riga, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis noted that Latvia is one of the many states making a positive contribution to countries where a democratic society is being established. Acting armed forces commander Colonel Karlis Kreslins told the medics that people in Muslim countries view soldiers from the United States differently than those from other countries, and that they should explain that they are from Latvia. SG

LITHUANIAN ARMY COMMANDER VISITS TROOPS IN IRAQ
Major-General Jonas Kronkaitis returned to Lithuania from Denmark on 10 August after a three-day visit to Iraq, "Lietuvos zinios" reported on 11 August. He had traveled to Iraq on 7-9 August with Denmark's chief of defense, General Hans Jesper Helso, to meet with the 43 soldiers from the Grand Duke Algirdas infantry battalion serving with Danish troops in the British-controlled area of southern Iraq. Kronkaitis said that both Danish and British army leaders spoke very favorably about the performance of the Lithuanian troops in Iraq. At the request of the Danes, no advance information about the visit to Iraq had been provided. SG

POLISH-LANGUAGE RADIO TO START BROADCASTING IN UKRAINE
Polish-Ukrainian Radio MAN is to launch broadcasting in Lviv in western Ukraine in the fall, PAP reported on 8 August. The program, prepared by Polish and Ukrainian journalists, will be broadcast half in Polish and half in Ukrainian. Radio MAN plans to broadcast music, political journalism, and news. The station's format includes programs on culture, history, problems faced by the Polish minority in Ukraine and the Ukrainian minority in Poland, but it will earn revenues from advertising. State radio's Polish Radio Katowice, which is currently training 10 journalists for MAN, has for years backed an initiative on launching the station. The broadcasts will initially cover a radius of 50 kilometers, but its founders are reportedly thinking of expanding its range. JM

CZECH COMMERCIAL-TELEVISION DISPUTE ENTERS NEW PHASE...
U.S. tycoon Ronald Lauder's Central European Media Enterprises (CME) has launched a new and potentially devastating arbitration claim against Czech broadcaster TV Nova, "The New York Times" reported on 9 August. CME chief executive Fred Klinkhammer told "The New York Times" that his company is seeking lost profits related to its 1999 ouster, when then-Director Vladimir Zelezny effectively discarded the station's foreign investors in 1999. "The New York Times" reported that the new claim totals $275 million; but Czech dailies "Mlada fronta Dnes" and "Pravo" of 9-10 August reported that the claim totals 31 billion-35 billion crowns ($1 billion-$1.23 billion), including expected revenues until TV Nova's broadcast license expires in 2017. CME already won a $355 million judgment in May over Czech authorities' failure to prevent Zelezny from pulling the plug on CME and its associated service provider, CNTS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 May 2003). MS/AH

...AS U.S. INVESTOR HOPES TO WIN BACK CZECH HEARTS
Klinkhammer told "The New York Times" on 8 August that if CME wins the new arbitration case before a Vienna panel, it will keep only the $72 million that he argues TV Nova still owes it and will return the remaining $203 million (that figure was subsequently disputed by Czech media reports) to the Czech treasury. "Czech citizens are entitled to a significant lowering of the burden brought upon them" by the actions of the previous Czech Radio and Television Broadcasting Council, Klinkhammer said. A spokesman for TV Nova called the lawsuit an attempt to "bribe" the Czech state into "killing" TV Nova. CME's Prague director, Jan Vavra, said that his company "would welcome" a "clear opportunity to get a new [Czech] television license," according to "Mlada fronta Dnes" of 9 August. TV Nova's owners have pledged to fight the claim, the paper added, conceding that a loss in this case would likely bankrupt the company and cost it its license. MS/AH

CZECH AUDIT OFFICE REVEALS IRREGULARITIES IN PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE UNDER HAVEL
The Supreme Audit Office (NKU) has discovered financial irregularities stemming from Vaclav Havel's tenure as Czech president, CTK reported on 9 August, citing the daily "Pravo." The NKU said purchases by the office were wrongly charged, electronic equipment worth roughly 1 million crowns ($35,000) disappeared, and the Presidential Office employed freelancers for work that could have been done by regular staff, according to "Pravo" and the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes." Havel requested the NKU audit in October 2002, several months before his final term expired in February. MS

SLOVAK DEPUTY PREMIER COULD FACE NEW DISMISSAL ATTEMPT
Smer (Direction) Chairman Robert Fico said on 8 August that his party believes it now has enough support for a new attempt to oust Deputy Premier Pal Csaky in a parliamentary vote, TASR and CTK reported. He said the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) -- a member of the ruling four-party, center-right coalition -- might now support the motion. A no-confidence motion against Csaky failed in June, when ANO lawmakers abstained from the vote (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2003). Fico said Smer will resubmit the motion by 19 August on the grounds that Csaky has proven unable to manage EU funds, if the coalition has not itself dismissed Csaky by that date. In related news, TASR on 9 August cited People's Union parliamentary deputy Ladislav Polka as saying that five members of the People's Union might join ANO in the near future. The People's Union was formed by deputies who left the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 March 2003). MS

HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION WARY OF NATO CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT
The opposition FIDESZ party will not automatically accept a coalition-backed motion to amend the Hungarian Constitution to allow the cabinet to authorize troop movements related to Hungary's NATO commitments, Laszlo Kover, head of the party's national council, said in an interview on Hir Television on 9 August. Kover said U.S. officials raised the issue last month during the visit by a FIDESZ delegation to the United States, "Nepszabadsag" quoted Kover as saying in that interview. Kover recalled that the Socialists and the Free Democrats once rejected a similar motion put forward by the previous, FIDESZ-led government. MSZ

HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO REQUEST FOR DUAL CITIZENSHIP
President Ferenc Madl said in a statement on 9 August that the introduction of dual citizenship is extremely important to Hungarians, adding that the political elite and social scientists might eventually reach consensus, the MTI news agency reported. Madl was responding to a letter from five ethnic Hungarian parties and movements in Vojvodina, sent to himself, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, and parliamentary speaker Katalin Szili. In it, those groups call for the law to be changed to entitle ethnic Hungarians in Serbia and other countries to possess Hungarian passports. For his part, Foreign Ministry Political State Secretary Andras Barsony said negotiations on the issue will have to be held with ethnic Hungarians abroad and with the European Union, Hungarian radio reported on 10 August. The current debate is premature, Barsony added, because Hungary must first join the EU. MSZ

'SUMMER THEATER' IN RELATIONS BETWEEN SERBIA AND ALBANIA
Albanian Defense Minister Pandeli Majko said in Tirana on 9 August that he will boycott an upcoming Balkan security conference in Montenegro to protest the draft Serbian constitution that refers to Kosova as part of Serbia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Majko added that under the circumstances he is not willing to sit down at the same table as his counterpart from Serbia and Montenegro, Boris Tadic. In Prishtina, Kosovar Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi called the reference to Kosova in the constitution a "provocation." Meanwhile in Belgrade, Tadic said he does not plan on attending the conference and that Majko's protest is thus "unnecessary." Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova, said Rexhepi's remarks "prove" that some Kosovar politicians do not want a dialogue with Serbia and are looking for "excuses" to avoid one (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June and 1 August 2003). The Constitutional Charter of Serbia and Montenegro, which came into effect in February, also refers to Kosova as part of Serbia and met with strong protests from Prishtina at the time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 11 February 2003). PM

KOSOVAR ROMANY REFUGEES LEAVE MACEDONIAN-GREEK BORDER
After almost three months of protests, some 500 Romany refugees from Kosova began leaving the Macedonian-Greek border checkpoint of Medjitlija on 9 August, AP reported. The Roma left Kosova during the 1999 conflict and subsequently lived in a camp outside Skopje. They left their temporary shelter in May, when the UN decided to shut down the camp, and demanded political asylum in an EU country. After lengthy negotiations, the Roma accepted the UNHCR's offer of financial aid and will find accommodations in Macedonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 6 June 2003). UB

BOSNIAN SERBS HOLD HUGE ARMS SALE
An SFOR spokesman told AFP in Banja Luka on 9 August that peacekeepers will closely monitor the Army of the Republika Srpska's (VRS) upcoming auction of military equipment, which the Defense Ministry announced the previous day. Licensed arms dealers from countries not under international embargo will be allowed to bid on 105 tanks, 98 artillery pieces, 42,048 smaller weapons, 68 antiaircraft weapons, 21 surface-to-air missiles, 13 million pieces of ammunition, and 1 million land-mine components. The VRS must sell its surplus arms by the end of 2003, otherwise they will be destroyed. PM

BOSNIA TO HAVE A UNIFIED EDUCATION SYSTEM?
Education officials of the Croat-Muslim federation, the Republika Srpska, the cantonal governments, and the Brcko district government signed an OSCE-sponsored agreement in Sarajevo on 8 August to replace the present three ethnically-based education systems with a unified one, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 April and 6 June 2003). Reuters reported from Stolac, however, that many pupils and teachers doubt that the agreement will be fully put into practice. Many observers have compared the present arrangement to the former apartheid system in South Africa because of the thoroughness with which it separates the Serbs, Muslims, and Croats from each other. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER SAYS 2004 WILL BE DECISIVE YEAR...
In the Black Sea resort of Mangalia on 9 August, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase told a forum of the Romanian diaspora that the year 2004 will be decisive for Romania's efforts to join NATO and the EU, Romanian Radio and Mediafax reported. Nastase said Romania must finalize all necessary reforms in 2004, lest the EU change its mind about possibly admitting Romania as a member of the organization in 2007. Nastase said Romania could see its target date for EU accession pushed back if the union encounters problems following the accession of 10 new members next year or if additional countries, particularly those of the former Yugoslavia, apply for EU membership. MS

...AND REITERATES INTENTION TO APPLY 'HUNGARIAN EXPERIENCE' TO PROTECT ROMANIAN MINORITIES
Nastase also told the forum on 9 June that Romania is determined to apply Hungary's experience in promoting its Status Law in order to defend the rights of Romanian minorities abroad. He said Romania's appeal to "international referees" in its dispute with Hungary over the Status Law has generated the creation of new European standards produced by rulings of the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, and the EU. Romania, he said, can now apply those standards in elaborating legislation of its own in defending the rights of Romanian minorities abroad. "Whether we like it or not," Nastase observed, "the most efficient, the most advanced, and the most dynamic model is the Hungarian one. Why should we start inventing models of our own?" he added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July, 4 August 2003). MS

ROMANIA'S DEMOCRATS APPEAL TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE OVER CHAIRMAN'S INDICTMENT
Several hundred members of the Democratic Party's Bucharest branch on 10 August signed an appeal asking for the intervention of the Council of Europe in the case of Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu's indictment, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 August 2003). The signatories said Basescu's indictment for having allegedly illegally sold ships of the maritime fleet in 1994 when he was transportation minister is a "show trial" inspired by President Ion Iliescu and "his pupil," Premier Nastase. They also said that by launching the trial, Nastase is trying to blackmail Basescu into agreeing to the merger of the Democrats with the ruling Social Democratic Party. MS

5,500 MOLDOVANS APPLY FOR ROMANIAN CITIZENSHIP
Some 5,500 Moldovans who previously held Romanian citizenship or descendants of those who held Romanian citizenship applied thus far for dual Moldovan-Romanian citizenship, Flux reported on 9 August, citing Romanian Consul in Chisinau Angelo Neagoe. Moldova recently amended its constitution to allow dual citizenship, while Romania has recently amended its legislation on granting citizenship to former nationals and their descendants (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 November 2002, and 24 January, 23 and 30 May 2003). Neagoe said that according to the new Romanian legislation, those who are granted dual citizenship can benefit from the right to visa-free travel in Schengen-zone countries after four years. One of the reasons for Romania's decision to amend its legislation was to stem the large number of Moldovans who hoped to freely travel and seek work in the EU after Romania joins that organization. MS

CORRECTION:
The agreement reportedly reached by Moldova and Transdniester on a federal constitution is not an agreement, but the proposal submitted by the separatist side for the text of the constitution, according to Flux on 8 August. The agency earlier reported that the text, which was published by the separatist Olivia-press agency, represented the agreement reached by the sides and "RFE/RL Newsline" on 8 August reported that version. MS

BULGARIAN CABINET WANTS BIDDER IN TELECOM SALE TO IMPROVE OFFER
The government on 8 August called on the supervisory council of the state Privatization Agency to ask the Vienna-based Viva Ventures to improve its offer for a 65 percent stake in the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company (BTK), mediapool.bg reported. Viva Ventures had initially won the tender for BTK, but for political reasons, the Privatization Agency signed a letter of intent with the Turkish consortium Koc Holding/Turk Telecom. However, the Supreme Administrative Court brought Viva Ventures back into the game. In the meantime, Viva Ventures had improved its offer for BTK from an initial $210 million to $230 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 30, and 31 July and 6 August 2003). UB

BULGARIAN TROOPS LEAVE FOR IRAQ
Bulgarian troops are leaving for Iraq on 11, 12, and 13 August from Krumovo airport in Plovdiv, Focus news agency reported, and security measures have been stepped up. The Bulgarian troops will be put under Polish command in central Iraq. Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said that the mission is dangerous, but added that "the region of Kerbala, where our forces will be based, is relatively calm as compared with the rest of Iraq," "Duma" reported on 11 August. According to "Trud," Svinarov also confirmed that the head of the Procurement Administration has been sacked due to problems in securing the contingent's equipment. The minister added that the mission will cost some $54 million, part of which will be covered by the United States. UB

PUTIN IN SAMARKAND: THE 'OLD FRIEND' RETURNS
Russian President Vladimir Putin paid a one-day working visit on 6 August to Uzbekistan's second city of Samarkand, where he held three-hour talks with President Islam Karimov. The presidents' discussions ranged from economic relations -- notably the need to reverse a slump in bilateral trade -- to the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terrorism. However, boosting cooperation between the Uzbek and Russian hydrocarbon industries topped the agenda, including the prospects for Russian companies to participate in the exploitation of Uzbek oil and gas fields and the modernization of the country's energy system.

Commentators noted Russia's interest to reassert its economic influence in Uzbekistan, which many linked to a general strategy to increase Russian influence in the Central Asian region as a whole, and to counter what the Kremlin perceives as U.S.-backed efforts to construct pipelines in the Caspian region that bypass Russia. In this context, it is significant that the meeting was Putin's first visit to Uzbekistan since Karimov contracted a strategic partnership with Washington in the fall of 2001.

At a joint press conference, Karimov stressed that Uzbekistan and Russian have "no differences" on oil and gas issues, while Putin said their talks on the topic produced tangible results, VOA reported on 6 August. "We are interested in using the pipelines running through Central Asia in the most effective way, and to maximum capacity," the Russian leader said, as quoted by russiajournal.com. He added that this effort is fully supported by the Russian gas giant Gazprom, and that the Russian government, in turn, is ready to back Gazprom's activities in Uzbekistan. Karimov also stressed to journalists that his country welcomes the company's participation in developing its natural-gas deposits.

Gazprom -- whose chief, Aleksei Miller, was in Tashkent on 22 July to discuss joint gas projects with Karimov -- both buys gas from Uzbekistan and has a partnership agreement on the transit of Uzbek gas. The company signed a contract last December with the Uzbek state holding firm Uzbekneftegaz on the export of 5 billion cubic meters of gas over a 12-month period. Shipment of the gas commenced in May 2003. By 2005, Uzbekistan has ambitions to export as much as 10 billion cubic meters of gas with the technical assistance of Gazprom. The government has been signaling for months that it plans to sell more of its gas. Prime Minister Utkir Sultonov warned the Russian gas firm Itera on 15 July that it will be unable to use the Uzbek pipeline system to ship the amount of gas it requested to transit through the country, because Tashkent will be giving precedence to shipments of its own gas. Uzbekistan is also exporting gas under a 2003 contract with the Russian firm Gazeksport that envisages increasing exports in the coming years.

Russia's share in Uzbekistan's foreign trade has fallen from 25 percent to 16 percent in the past 10 years, a drop that Putin in Samarkand described as a cause for "concern." Last year alone saw a 20 percent decline in bilateral trade. Considering ways to halt this trend, Putin suggested that Russian enterprises could play a greater role in processing Uzbek cotton. "At the moment, our textile industry buys cotton from third-party countries," Putin said. The two sides consequently were looking to eliminate such intermediaries, according to uzreport.com.

The presidents also discussed collaborating in the fields of aircraft construction, machine engineering, water management, and military-technical matters. Moreover, they agreed to revive an intergovernmental commission on economic cooperation, which last met in 2001, to work on developing joint business projects and harmonizing legislation, uzreport.com reported. The reactivated commission will meet in September. Meanwhile, Russia's Ambassador to Uzbekistan Farit Muhamedshin said that representatives of Russian business circles will soon be arriving to explore opportunities.

On the security front, the leaders discussed counterterrorism measures being developed under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). "We welcome an initiative by Uzbekistan to host the SCO antiterrorism center in Tashkent and today Islam Karimov reported what is being done to implement it," Putin told journalists on 6 August. Significantly, he was speaking on the day that military units from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia launched the first stage of SCO exercises at a Kazakh air base, involving training in intercepting aircraft, dropping airborne troops, and encircling and eliminating a terrorist group. SCO members originally planned to establish the antiterrorism center in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. Karimov's successful effort to get it moved to Tashkent is one of the signs that his regime -- having spurned most regional security initiatives, and generally shunned Russia, especially after throwing in its lot with the United States in the wake of 11 September 2001 -- is reexamining the wisdom of putting too many eggs in one basket and seeking a more balanced policy.

As Karimov said himself on 6 August: "We understand unambiguously the significant role that Russia is playing not only in our bilateral relations, and not only in multilateral relations within the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]. We are convinced, and the rest of the world recognizes it too, that Russia is rising again and regaining its leading positions that rightfully belong to it."

Yet this statement flies in the face of countless speeches the Uzbek leader has made over the last decade, demeaning Russia and proclaiming that its days as regional hegemon were finished. Thus, Karimov was not merely laying on compliments and flattery for his guest's enjoyment. He was engaged in the more humiliating exercise of eating his words -- almost making a public recantation in the Russian president's presence.

Karimov even cast a tiny shadow over the Uzbek cult of mustaqillik (independence) touted by his ideologues as the ultimate good. As reported by bbcrussian.com, he admitted that Uzbekistan, "just like other CIS countries," experienced "definite euphoria" after the collapse of the USSR, but now understands the need to establish firm bilateral relations with Russia.

Perhaps the toughest moment for Karimov was when he acknowledged that Uzbekistan and Russia had made mistakes in the past regarding their relationship. But an old friend is always better than a new one, he went on to say, according to VOA -- and one imagines he gritted his teeth while doing so. Presumably this was as unpleasant for him to say as it was for Washington, Uzbekistan's "new friend," to hear. After years of harassing Russia for trying to dominate, undermine, or meddle in the region, Karimov's words welcoming it back to Central Asia came close to eating crow.

NATO TAKES COMMAND OF ISAF...
NATO on 11 August assumed the helm of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, marking the first time in the alliance's 54-year history that it has embarked on a mission outside Europe, AP reported. At a ceremony at Amani High School, NATO Lieutenant General Goetz Gliemeroth of Germany accepted the handover of the green ISAF flag from Lieutenant General Norbert van Heyst of Germany, who has led the force on behalf of Germany and the Netherlands for the past six months. Attending the ceremony were Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, German Defense Minister Peter Struck, and top NATO officials. IL

...EMPHASIZING THAT MANDATE REMAINS THE SAME
At the 11 August ceremony, NATO Deputy Secretary-General Alessandro Minuto Rizzo declared that ISAF's "name and mission will not change," but said "what will change as of today is the level of commitment and capability NATO provides," AP reported. Afghan authorities, UN officials, world leaders, scholars, and nongovernmental organizations have pressed for NATO to deploy ISAF throughout the country when it takes command of peacekeeping operations to quell rising insecurity in the provinces. German Defense Minister Struck, who is among those calling for better security in Afghanistan, said at the ceremony the country must not "lapse back into anarchy and chaos and must not again become the home of global terror." General Jack Deverell, command chief of the regional NATO headquarters tasked with overseeing the Afghanistan mission, said there would be no change to the mandate "unless the nations and the North Atlantic Council decide that there will be changes...in agreement with the United Nations," RFE/RL reported. Deverell said that while Karzai's chances of success are slim without the ability to extend his influence throughout the country -- a key argument cited for expanding ISAF -- the players will "have to be imaginative," and that it is "not just a matter of drawing bigger and bigger lines around Kabul and filling them with soldiers." IL

AFGHAN FOREIGN MINISTRY WELCOMES NATO, URGES ISAF EXPANSION
On the eve of NATO's scheduled assumption of command of the ISAF, the Afghan government urged the alliance to start "serious and meaningful discussions" about expanding the 4,600-strong ISAF beyond Kabul, and to do so "at the earliest opportune time," AFP reported on 10 August. The statement from the Foreign Ministry welcomed the command change, which will eliminate the need to search for a new commander every six months, and said the Transitional Administration is "confident" NATO's leadership will improve ISAF's effectiveness. IL

AFGHAN WOMEN CALL FOR ISAF EXPANSION...
Approximately 1,000 women rallied in Kabul on 9 August for the expansion of the ISAF to the restive provinces and the establishment and maintenance of "peace and security" throughout the country, AFP reported. The women, representing about 30 groups, gathered at the Kabul Women's Garden to present an 11-point declaration demanding the extension of peacekeeping forces outside of Kabul, the disarming of warlord militias, swifter reconstruction, and the positioning of new national army troops and police across the country. In an apparent reference to a widely reported incident in which coalition forces mistakenly bombed a wedding party in December 2001, the declaration specifically mentioned the need for training for ISAF "'to enable them to better distinguish between civilian and enemy forces" and spare civilians needless grief. IL

...AS NATO SAYS IT WILL BE 'MONTHS' BEFORE THAT TOPIC IS ADDRESSED
A NATO spokesman told reporters in Kabul on 10 August that the subject of expanding ISAF will "have to be discussed, because people will force us to discuss it," Reuters reported, but indicated any talks will take place later rather than sooner. Mark Laity, special representative of NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, said the alliance will need "some months, at least, to make sure we are doing our current job as well and as efficiently as our predecessors" before addressing any new mandate, but offered assurances that NATO is well aware of the calls for it to broaden ISAF's mandate. On 6 August, outgoing ISAF commander Lieutenant General van Heyst of Germany said an expansion of the force is less likely than a ramped-up operation based on Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which consist of 50-100 soldiers and civilian workers dispatched to key provincial centers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003). IL

UN SUSPENDS ROAD TRAVEL IN SOUTH FOLLOWING KILLINGS, BEATINGS
Following a string of attacks that killed seven and injured 15, the UN has again suspended travel throughout much of southern Afghanistan, AFP reported. UN spokesman David Singh told reporters on 10 August that missions to Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, and Zabul provinces have temporarily been halted after six soldiers and an aid worker with Mercy Corps died in a strike carried out by some 40 neo-Taliban fighters in Helmand Province on 7 August (see "'RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003). In Kandahar Province, 10 Afghan aid workers with Coordination Humanitarian Assistance were tied up and beaten on 5 August when they refused to relinquish the keys to their new vehicles, Singh said. AP reported on 10 August that Singh also cited two attacks on deminers last week as reasons for the suspension. IL

AFGHAN ROYALISTS CALL FOR RETURN TO CONSTITUTIONAL MONARCHY
As 88-year-old former monarch Mohammad Zaher Shah returned to Afghanistan this weekend after spending 1 1/2 months in France, nearly 2,000 of his supporters gathered in Kabul to inaugurate a new party, the National Unity Movement, and call for Afghanistan's return to a constitutional monarchy, AP reported on 10 August. Under the leadership of Mohammad Zaher's cousin, Sultan Mahmoud Ghazi, the group is urging Mohammad Zaher -- affectionately called the "'father of the nation" and considered a symbol of unity for the fractious country since his return from 29 years of exile in April 2002 -- to take a leadership role in the government whose final form will be decided at the Constitutional Loya Jirga scheduled for October. Mohammad Zaher is reportedly not part of the movement, and a spokesman for the party said it would be inappropriate for him to join a particular party. According to Reuters, Mohammad Zaher was in France recovering from a broken femur, which he fractured while on a visit there for a medical checkup. IL

IRANIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ORDERS CLOSURE OF PROVINCIAL SCREENING OFFICES
Interior Minister Abdol-Vahed Musavi-Lari has instructed provincial governors to close provincial supervisory offices created by the Guardians Council, AP reported on 10 August, citing the "Iran" newspaper. Musavi-Lari said those offices' activities are illegal because they have not been approved by the legislature or the Supreme Administrative Council. The controversy over the offices began in early July (for arguments for and against these offices, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 July 2003). The issue is particularly relevant because the supervisory offices reflect the Guardians Council's effort to expand its powers at the same time that the executive branch and legislature are trying to curtail those powers. BS

PLANNERS SAY IRAN'S ECONOMIC FUTURE LOOKS GRIM
According to a report from the Management and Planning Organization, economic conditions in Iran will deteriorate in the coming decade if current trends continue, "Iran Daily" reported on 11 August. Some 5.3 million people will be jobless in 2015, the report says, translating into an unemployment rate of 17.5 percent. It adds that inflation will hit 22 percent, and there will be a 19.8 percent negative trade balance. GDP will grow by 3.9 percent annually, it predicts, and the amount of non-oil exports will increase. The ratio of non-oil-to-oil exports is expected to remain the same, however. BS

CONTROVERSIAL IRANIAN CLERIC RELEASED FROM JAIL
Mohammad Madah, who heads the office of former Isfahan Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Jalal Taheri, was released from jail on 9 August, ISNA and ILNA reported the next day. Madah was arrested on 19 July on the basis of a warrant issued by the Special Court for the Clergy (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 4 August 2003). He told ISNA that he is charged with acting against the country's internal security. Madah said he was released after paying 250 million rials in bail (about $31,250), and a trial date will be announced later. BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN: SIGNING ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL IS IN IRAN'S INTEREST
Shiraz parliamentary representative Seyyed Ahmad Azimi said on 9 August that Iran wants concessions for signing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and added that signing is in Iran's interest, Mehr News Agency reported. He noted that Iran has acted within the framework of International Atomic Energy Agency regulations and advocates the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and, at the same time, Iran believes it has the right to use nuclear energy. Azimi said European countries broke the sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran's oil industry, but European countries will not support Iran now. BS

IRAN COMMEMORATES JOURNALISTS' DAY
Iran marked Journalists' Day on 8 August this year, and on that day members of Iran's Journalists Association held a sit-in to protest their plight, IRNA reported on 9 August. Rajab-Ali Mazrui, who heads the journalists' guild, announced the same day that his organization has sent a letter to Iran's judiciary asking to meet with imprisoned reporters. Azam Taleqani, secretary of the Islamic Revolution Women's Society, announced on 9 August that she will hold a sit-in near Tehran's Evin prison on 12 August to protest government officials' failure to provide answers in the case of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, ISNA reported on 9 August. Kazemi died under mysterious circumstances after being held at Evin prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 14 July 2003). Islamic Culture and Guidance Minister Ahmad Masjid-Jamei said on 9 August that his ministry is drawing up a draft document on the professional security of journalists, IRNA reported. BS

IRAN TO ESTABLISH THREE CONSULATES IN IRAQ
The Iranian cabinet has approved the Foreign Ministry's request to open three consulates in Iraq, "Farhang-i Ashti" reported on 10 August. Scheduled to open after 21 March 2004, the consulate will be located in Al-Basrah, Karbala, and Al-Sulaymaniyah. BS

RIOTS SUBSIDE IN SOUTHERN IRAQI CITY OF AL-BASRAH...
Calm has reportedly returned to Al-Basrah after two days of rioting on 9 and 10 August, international media reported. Iraqis told Reuters that the rioters were protesting a lack of electricity and fuel shortages in the city, as well as the presence of Kuwaiti nationals, whom they accuse of smuggling cheap oil out of Iraq, the news agency reported the same day. British armored vehicles patrolled the city on 10 August as crowds threw stones at their vehicles and barricaded roads with burning tires. "There is a larger presence just to be sure that people understand that we take security very seriously," Major Charlie Mayo told Reuters. One Iraqi was reportedly killed and two others wounded by gunfire in Al-Basrah on 9 August. British forces came under fire on that day, while Czech troops patrolling the city fired warning shots and witnessed an Iraqi fall to his death while trying to mount a coalition truck. Rioters also set fire to a Kuwaiti tanker truck and Kuwait-registered cars. Reuters reported. "It's not political," Iraqi taxi driver Fadel Salman said, adding, "We don't have fuel, electricity, or salaries." KR

...AS U.S. TROOPS ARE STILL UNDER FIRE IN IRAQ
U.S. troops were fired on in a number of incidents across Iraq on 9-10 August, international media reported. Two U.S. soldiers and a journalist were injured in a grenade attack at Baghdad University on 10 August when a grenade was thrown at a U.S. patrol from an upper story of the Islamic Sciences building, Reuters reported the same day. Two other soldiers were wounded on a road near Tikrit when the vehicle they were traveling in struck a land mine in the road, a U.S. military spokesman told Reuters. U.S. forces also reportedly killed two Iraqis on 9 August in Hit, located northwest of Al-Ramadi. U.S. soldiers were conducting raids in Hit at the time that resulted in the arrest of a number of individuals. According to a 9 August Al-Jazeera report, U.S. troops later imposed a curfew on the city, after armed civilians took to the streets claiming that they were seeking to protect the city. KR

FBI INVESTIGATING JORDANIAN EMBASSY BLAST
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has taken over the investigation into an attack on the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003), Kurdistan Satellite (KurdSat) Television reported on 9 August. KurdSat reported that investigators are looking into the possibility that Jordanian national Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, a suspected Al-Qaeda officer, was the mastermind behind the bombing. Al-Zarqawi is also reportedly linked to the October killing of U.S. diplomat Lawrence Foley, London's "Sunday Times" reported on 10 August. Al-Zarqawi also reportedly has ties to the terrorist group Ansar Al-Islam (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 March 2003). Meanwhile, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq issued a press release on 8 August quoting CPA head L. Paul Bremer as saying, "A joint investigation between the coalition and the Iraqi Police Service is already under way.... At the request of the [Iraqi] Ministry of the Interior, the FBI will give additional assistance by leading this investigation." The press release can be viewed on the State Department website (http://usinfo.state.gov). According to a 9 August AP report, the bombing killed 19 people and injured 50. KR

FORMER IRAQI REGIME OFFICIAL IN COALITION CUSTODY
Former Iraqi Interior Minister Mahmud Dhiyab al-Ahmad has surrendered to coalition forces, according to a 9 August press release posted on the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) website (http://www.centcom.mil). Al-Ahmad gave himself up on 8 August. The details of his surrender were not released. KR

DAILY REPORTS U.S. USE OF NAPALM IN IRAQ...
U.S. military personnel have revealed that they used an upgraded version of the controversial incendiary agent napalm on Iraqi forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom, London's "The Independent" reported on 10 August. Napalm, which contains a mixture of jet fuel and polystyrene, sticks to the skin as it burns. It also explodes into massive fireballs when unleashed, and is widely seen as an effective psychological weapon. The upgraded version uses kerosene instead of jet fuel. KR

...AS U.S. OFFICIALS DESCRIBE NAPALM BOMBINGS
U.S. forces reportedly dropped napalm near bridges over the Saddam Canal and the Tigris River, south of Baghdad in March and April. "We napalmed both those [bridge] approaches," Colonel James Alles, commander of Marine Air Group 11, told "The Independent." "Unfortunately there were people there.... You could see them in the [cockpit] video. They were Iraqi soldiers. It's no great way to die. The generals love napalm. It has a big psychological effect." Pentagon officials reportedly denied in March that the U.S.-led forces had used napalm in Iraq. Officials recently told "The Independent," however, that they did not try to deceive anyone concerning the use of the new "Mark 77 firebombs" -- arguing that they are different from traditional napalm. Unnamed officials reportedly responded that had they been asked, the Pentagon would have confirmed its use of the agent. One Pentagon spokesman told the daily that the firebombs are "remarkably similar" to napalm, except they cause less environmental damage. KR

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