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Newsline - August 12, 2003


PUTIN CALLS FOR DECISION ON COMMON RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN CURRENCY
Speaking at a cabinet meeting on 11 August, President Vladimir Putin said it is time to make a final decision on the proposed single Russian-Belarusian currency, which is scheduled to be introduced on 1 January 2005, Russian media reported. "We have come to the point at which we must decide to go one way or the other," Putin said. Moscow and Minsk have proposed different models for creating the single currency on the basis of the Russian ruble. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has called for financial parity and is demanding that the joint currency be issued both in Russia and in Belarus. Russian economists, meanwhile, insist that the Russian Central Bank should have sole responsibility for managing the currency. Putin has repeatedly backed that position in the past. Also on 11 August, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Ulukaev predicted that the joint working group on the issue will eventually adopt a draft based on Moscow's position, RTR and ORT reported. The working group will also establish a litigation procedure for use in the event that Lukashenka rejects the group's draft and decides to withdraw from the single-currency accord. VY

YUKOS CEO WORRIES THAT SECURITY FORCES COULD REVERSE DEMOCRATIC DEVELOPMENT...
Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii told German ARD television on 11 August that there is a group of people within President Putin's inner circle that is hindering Russia's democratic development. Commenting on recent actions by prosecutors and security agencies against the oil giant, Khodorkovskii said this is "a pivotal moment for Russia." Either the security forces will gain the upper hand and Russia will develop along the lines of some Latin American countries during the 20th century, or Russian civil society will prove that it can defend itself, showing that a return to totalitarianism would be impossible, Khodorkovskii said. VY

...AND PLANS TO BOOST SUPPORT FOR LIBERAL PARTIES...
Yukos's Khodorkovskii intends to increase his financial support for Russia's liberal parties -- primarily Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), the "Financial Times" reported on 11 August. The daily reported that Khodorkovskii plans to strengthen these parties' regional networks in order to increase their influence outside the major cities. He also plans to increase significantly Yukos's contributions to government social programs. By doing so, the oligarch hopes successfully to challenge the pro-Kremlin parties, which are building their election campaigns on popular anti-oligarch sentiment. Khodorkovskii believes that financing social programs might help him reach a compromise with the Kremlin, the "Financial Times" wrote. VY

...AS POPULAR ENTERTAINER ATTACKS HIM ON STATE TELEVISION
In an interview with RTR television on 9 August, popular comedian Mikhail Zadornov -- who is known for his close Kremlin ties and his acidic anti-Western rhetoric -- said that he and his fans are outraged by the behavior of Yukos's Khodorkovskii and other oligarchs during the recent confrontation with law enforcement agencies. Zadornov noted that Khodorkovskii and the others have complained that the investigations are costing them hundreds of millions of dollars. "To whom are they complaining? To the millions of Russians who do not have enough food to eat?" Zadornov asked. VY

GLAZEV CONFIRMS THAT NEW LEFT NATIONALIST-PATRIOTIC BLOC WILL BE FORMED...
State Duma Deputy and People's Patriotic Union of Russia co-Chairman Sergei Glazev announced on 11 August that he has invited the Communist Party (KPRF) and 19 other organizations and associations to join a bloc of left-patriotic parties, Russian media reported. Glazev told reporters in Moscow, "If we run on the Communist Party list, we will not get a majority" of votes in the December State Duma elections, Radio Mayak reported. According to Glazev, there are voters who wish to vote for left-patriotic parties, but who "do not want to vote for the KPRF." "That is why the KPRF should enter the bloc to break through the party's ceiling," he continued. At the same press conference, Glazev said that he never received an offer from the KRPF to occupy one of the top three spots on that party's party list (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). Glazev said he is awaiting the KPRF's response to his proposal to form the bloc. "If the KPRF decides to go it alone, then a number of our electoral groupings will find themselves having to react correspondingly to the situation," Glazev said. JAC

...WITH OR WITHOUT THE COMMUNIST PARTY
Andrei Andreev, press service director of the Communist faction in the State Duma, told RIA-Novosti that the KPRF does not intend to give an official answer to Glazev's proposal -- "at least not today." Glazev promised to present a preliminary list of the constituents of his bloc in 10 days, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 August. According to the daily, Glazev also confirmed that ORT Deputy General Director Marat Gelman is involved in the campaign effort for his bloc, and he dismissed reports that his bloc has any connection with the presidential administration. However, the daily pointed out that Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin (People's Deputy), who has been touted as likely to get one of the bloc's top three slots, is the presidential envoy for Kaliningrad affairs and chairman of the Duma's Foreign Relations Committee. At the same time, the daily pointed out that Gelman could hardly be cooperating with "the patriots without the knowledge of his boss, ORT Director Konstantin Ernst." JAC

SPACE AGENCY SAYS NO MORE COSMIC WEDDINGS
Rosaviakosmos, the Russian space agency, was caught off guard by an unprecedented wedding ceremony on 11 August uniting Russian cosmonaut Yurii Malechenko, who is currently aboard the International Space Station, and Yekaterina Dmitrieva, an American citizen of Russian origin who lives in Houston, Texas, gazeta.ru and other Russian and Western media reported. Rosaviakosmos spokesman Sergei Gorbunov said that the Russian command center had criticized Malechenko for using state resources for private purposes during the ceremony. He added that future contracts with cosmonauts will include a clause expressly banning weddings in space. Malechenko's Russian colleagues reportedly believe that the cosmonaut violated an unwritten code by turning his mission "into a Hollywood show," RTR commented on 11 August. VY

ANALYST CONSIDERS ENVOY RESPONSIBLE FOR MOZDOK
In "Rodnaya gazeta," No. 15, U.S.A.-Canada Institute Deputy Director Aleksei Bogaturov argues that presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Viktor Kazantsev should share the blame for the 1 August truck-bomb attack on a military hospital in Mozdok (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2003). According to Bogaturov, the military hospital was the government's major medical facility in a zone close to the Chechnya conflict and looking after it is a key responsibility for the envoy. Bogaturov argues that the creation of the presidential envoys for the seven federal districts was President Putin's "greatest administrative initiative," but the envoys have not been very successful at working closely with military authorities in the regions, despite the fact that almost all of them have military backgrounds. Bogaturov concludes that not enough has been done to entrench the institution of the envoys in the regions. He suggests that either the Duma adopts a law on the envoys before December, or that Putin bypasses the Duma and "expands the powers of the envoys by presidential decree." On 11 August, Putin met with Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev to discuss progress in reinforcing Russia's southern borders, Interfax reported. JAC

COURT DISMISSES CHARGES AGAINST EXHIBITION VANDALS
A Moscow district court on 11 August threw out a criminal case filed against two Russian Orthodox believers who, with several other accomplices, vandalized an anti-clerical exhibition organized by the Andrei Sakharov Museum in Moscow in January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2003). Prosecutors had charged the men with hooliganism, but the court ruled that their actions were not illegal because their "religious sensibilities" had been offended by the exhibition. Sakharov Museum Director Yurii Samodurov said that one purpose of the exhibition was to draw attention to the commercial use of Russian Orthodox imagery and the church's state privileges in selling tobacco and alcohol. The court's ruling means that ideological and religious protest in Russia may now take the form of "pogroms," strana.ru commented on 11 August. VY

MOSCOW OFFICIALS WANT EMPLOYERS TO THINK OF NON-MUSCOVITES AS FOREIGN CITIZENS
Moscow municipal authorities have decided that employers must obtain special permits to hire non-Muscovite workers, NTV reported on 11 August. Any enterprise wishing to employ a person who is registered as a resident of another city will have to submit 12 application forms and documents, and a special commission will take up to a month to study the application. According to "Gazeta," lawyers say the decision violates the constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to work in any part of the country. If employers violate the new regulation, they face fines of 100-500 rubles ($3-$16) rubles per employee, according to NTV. Five years ago, a Constitutional Court judge warned Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov not to defy an earlier court ruling that prohibited authorities from using permits to deny some citizens permanent residence in their localities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 March 1998). However, Moscow and other cities have continued to ignore those rulings. JAC

ELECTION COMMISSION MEMBER ADMITS REAL DATA ON CAMPAIGN FINANCING NONEXISTENT
In an interview with "Vremya novostei" on 11 August, Central Election Commission (TsIK) member Yelena Dubrovina spoke in favor of developing a separate law on the status of the TsIK, noting that presently the commission is subordinate to none of the three branches of government. She also acknowledged that the commission has no reliable information about the amount of money spent on campaigns. However, she believes that once the spending limit on campaigns is raised, the circulation of "dirty money" will decline. Financing for "black public relations," or dirty campaign techniques, will continue, using money from shadowy sources, Dubrovina said. JAC

MOSCOW DISSATISFIED WITH ANOTHER BASHKIR OFFICIAL...
Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov has sent a warning to his subordinate in Bashkortostan, republican Interior Minister Lieutenant General Rafail Divaev, saying that Divaev is not performing his job satisfactorily, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 11 August, citing bashkir.ru and RosBalt. Gryzlov's letter complains about the "serious neglect of duties in organizing the management of ministry bodies and departments" and "the declining influence of the republican ministry in the republic's regions" that was revealed in a recent probe of the Bashkir ministry by the federal Interior Ministry. Gryzlov also charges that Divaev and his deputies "directed their activities at fulfilling orders from the republican authorities that often contradict federal legislation." As a result, the ministry became "involved in settling business and political disputes between regional and federal bodies." JAC

...AND GIVES HIM TWO MONTHS TO CLEAN UP HIS ACT
Bashkir Interior Minister Divaev, 52, has headed the ministry since February 1996. Gryzlov ordered him to address the problems with his ministry before October, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 11 August. In June, Tax Minister Gennadii Bukaev appointed a new tax minister for the republic, Aleksandr Veremeenko, who is one of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov's chief political opponents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2003). On 7 December, the republic will hold a presidential election simultaneously with the State Duma ballot. JAC

FAR NORTHERN CITY TO GIVE MAYORAL ELECTION ANOTHER TRY
The Norilsk Municipal Election Commission has decided to hold another mayoral election on 26 October, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 12 August. The previous election in the spring ended in scandal when the winner of the first round was disqualified before the second round, and all of his competitors refused to participate further (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003). Trade-union leader Valerii Melnikov, who came in first in the first round in April, has not announced whether he will run again. If he does, the daily reported, he might face serious competition from acting Mayor Lev Kuznetsov, who was appointed to his position on the recommendation of Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Khloponin. Kuznetsov is a former executive with Norilsk Nickel and worked with Khloponin at the metals giant and at MFK Bank. JAC

FORMER DUMA DEPUTY SLAIN IN DAGHESTAN
Nadirshakh Khachilaev was shot dead near his home in Makhachkala during the evening of 11 August, Russian media reported. His killer, who was masked, escaped in a car that was later found abandoned. One of the founding members of the Union of Muslims of Russia, Khachilaev was elected to the Duma in December 1996, but was stripped of his mandate two years later after his followers forcibly occupied the government building in Makhachkala in May 1998 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, 26, and 27 May and 1 June 1998). LF

COURT SEEKS TO SPEED UP ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMEN'S TRIAL
Samvel Uzunian, the presiding judge in the trial of the five men charged with shooting eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament in October 1999, ruled on 11 August that there is no need to cross-examine a further 101 eyewitnesses to the killings, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Uzunian's decision came in response to the prosecutor's argument that the 29 witnesses questioned since the trial began in February 2001 have provided enough evidence to substantiate the prosecution's case. Relatives of the eight victims protested the court's decision, claiming that it is an attempt by the authorities to "hide the truth" about who masterminded the killings. LF

SECOND SUSPECT ARRESTED IN MURDER OF ARMENIAN CONSCRIPTS
Investigators have detained a second suspect, who has reportedly confessed that he and a colleague killed three fellow conscripts at a military base in Giumri during the night of 5-6 August, Noyan Tapan reported on 11 August, quoting Chief Military Prosecutor Gagik Djahangirian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADERS PLAN FURTHER PROTESTS...
The leaders of the nine opposition parties aligned in the Opposition Coordinating Council (MKM) met in Baku on 11 August to discuss future protests against the 4 August appointment of President Heidar Aliev's son, Ilham, as prime minister, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 11 and 12 August, respectively. Democratic Party of Azerbaijan Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu told journalists after the meeting that the opposition will convene a protest in Baku on 16 August; pickets of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the Central Election Commission, and the government building on 12-13 August; and protests in 30 districts across the country on an unspecified date in the near future. On the insistence of Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, it was decided not to stage further protests outside the U.S. and Turkish embassies. LF

...WHICH MANY CONSIDER SHOULD BE MORE RADICAL
Zerkalo.az noted on 12 August that some participants in the protest in Baku on 9 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003) urged the organizers to deviate from the planned route and march to the center of the city. But opposition leaders, the paper commented, are reluctant to seize the initiative and are simply reacting to government moves, which, the website infers, is a tacit admission of their weakness. The same online publication reported on 12 August that members of two local branches of the parties aligned in the MKM have appealed to those parties' leaders to agree on a single opposition candidate to run against President Aliev and his son in the 15 October presidential election. The local party activists warn that if opposition leaders fail to close ranks behind a single presidential candidate, they will forfeit the right to head their respective parties. LF

AZERBAIJANI PREMIER INSISTS HIS APPOINTMENT WAS CONSTITUTIONAL
Prime Minister Aliev told journalists in Baku on 11 August that opposition complaints that his appointment as prime minister violates the country's constitution are without foundation, Turan and Interfax reported. "Everything was done within the framework of the constitution," Aliev said, adding that his experience as first deputy president of the state oil company SOCAR qualifies him for the post of premier. Aliev also said that his father's health is "improving," Turan reported. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO PRO-WESTERN ORIENTATION...
In his regular Monday radio interview, Eduard Shevardnadze rejected on 11 August opposition accusations that the government's acquiescence to the sale by the U.S. owner to Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) of a 75 percent stake in the major Georgian energy distribution network TELASI reflects a major reorientation of Georgia's foreign policy toward Moscow, Caucasus Press reported. "These people don't know what foreign policy means," Shevardnadze said, stressing that "we have always tried to preserve a balance in our foreign policy between all those forces which have influence over Georgia." He further denied any intention of building a totalitarian state. LF

...DENIES REPORTS OF 'SECRET PROTOCOL' ON ENERGY DISTRIBUTOR...
Later on 11 August, President Shevardnadze told journalists at his regular Monday press briefing that the 1998 agreement under which the U.S. company AES acquired its stake in TELASI did not include a secret clause forbidding the sale of TELASI to a Russian company, Caucasus Press reported. On 9 August, former State Property Management Minister Mikhail Ukleba told journalists that the original contract included an appendix under which AES was barred from selling its stake to any of Georgia's neighbors. On 12 August, Caucasus Press quoted an unnamed official at Georgia's Economy, Industry, and Trade Ministry as saying that one paragraph of the original contract banned the sale of the packet of shares within a five-year period. LF

...URGES PARLIAMENT TO PASS ELECTION CODE
Shevardnadze also called on parliament deputies during his 11 August radio interview not to delay any longer passing amendments to the Election Code, Caucasus Press reported. He rejected opposition criticism of the so-called Baker model for the distribution of seats on the new Central Election Commission, pointing out that it merely allocated the opposition nine seats, which opposition parties were subsequently unable to distribute equitably among themselves. Shevardnadze also proposed passing a law banning attempts to bribe voters, a practice that he reluctantly acknowledged is not unknown in Georgia. LF

ANOTHER GEORGIAN OFFICIAL DENIES ANY CHECHEN FIGHTERS REMAIN IN PANKISI
Ministry of State Security spokesman Colonel Nika Laliashvili denied on 11 August that any Chechen fighters are still based in Georgia's Pankisi Gorge, Caucasus Press reported. Echoing a denial last week by a senior Georgian border-guard official (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003), Laliashvili said no Chechens have succeeded in returning to the gorge since they were expelled in a large-scale operation late last summer. LF

ABKHAZ POLICE FREE FOUR GEORGIAN HOSTAGES
Abkhaz police have succeeded in securing the release of four Georgians taken hostage on 7 August in the village of Chuburkhindji, the web page of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported on 12 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). Meanwhile, two further Georgians were abducted in Chuburkhindji on 10 August, Caucasus Press reported the following day. LF

KYRGYZSTAN READY TO APPROVE RUSSIAN AIR BASE
Kyrgyzstan is ready to sign an agreement with Russia on opening a Russian air base in the town of Kant, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 August, quoting Kyrgyz Defense Ministry spokesman Mirbek Koilubaev. Koilubaev added that the actual date of signing the accord now depends on the Russian side. The base, which is intended to be part of the CIS Collective Security Organization's rapid-reaction force, is scheduled to open in October. The Russian Air Force plans to station an unspecified number of jet fighters at Kant, along with 400-500 troops. Questions have been raised in Kyrgyzstan about the advisability of having the Russian base just 30 kilometers from the U.S.-led antiterrorism coalition's base on the outskirts of Bishkek. BB

PRO-GOVERNMENT KYRGYZ DAILY DEFENDS OSCE POLICE PROGRAM
The pro-government daily "Vechernii Bishkek" on 8 August published a defense of an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) police-training program for Kyrgyzstan, part of which has roused strong opposition among Kyrgyz human rights activists. The program was launched with the signing of a memorandum of understanding on 7 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003). "Vechernii Bishkek" notes that the program is to be overseen by a European specialist and that foreign experts on police interaction with the public will be included as necessary. The new riot-control units, to which the human rights activists most strenuously object, will include psychologists as well as police troops. The Interior Ministry reportedly intends to develop competence in recognizing potential conflict situations. BB

TAJIK PROBE OF LABOR-RECRUITMENT FIRMS RESULTS IN CRIMINAL CHARGE
A probe of Tajik firms recruiting labor for work abroad has resulted in a criminal case against a firm in Sughd Oblast in northern Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 August, quoting the Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office. The firm, identified as Soghdkhorijakor, sent more than 300 Tajiks to purported jobs in Russia in June without proper documents or invitations from employers. The job seekers were sent back to Tajikistan after two weeks of official unpleasantness. The government investigation of labor-recruitment firms was launched at the end of July by Deputy Prime Minister Saidamir Zuhurov, who oversees the country's law enforcement agencies. As many as 800,000 Tajik citizens leave the country every summer in search of work. BB

TURKMEN EMBASSY IN MOSCOW DENIES OPPOSITION LEADER'S CHARGES
The Turkmen Embassy in Moscow has denied as "absurd and absolutely lacking in logic" assertions by exiled Turkmen opposition leader Avdy Kuliev and his wife that Turkmen security services were involved in the beatings he received in the Moscow suburb of Khimki on 6 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003), turkmenistan.ru reported on 11 August, quoting Interfax. Kuliev, a former Turkmen foreign minister, has lived in Khimki for almost 10 years. An unidentified source at the Turkmen Embassy was quoted as pointing out that Kuliev did not report the assaults to the local police. The source suggested that the attacks might have been carried out by another faction of the divided Turkmen opposition in exile or that Kuliev might have been injured in a domestic accident. He added that Kuliev was taking advantage of the incident to draw attention to himself. BB

UZBEK ACTIVIST SAYS HE IS READY TO PLEAD GUILTY TO HOMOSEXUALITY CHARGE
Uzbek journalist and human rights activist Ruslan Sharipov, on trial in Tashkent on charges of homosexuality and corruption of minors, has stated that he is ready to plead guilty, centrasia.ru reported on 12 August. According to the report, Sharipov has fired his lawyer and asked that no outsiders be present in the courtroom. Sharipov does not deny his sexual orientation and has written in defense of homosexuals. An unnamed human rights activist who was assisting in Sharipov's defense was quoted as saying that Sharipov has said he will plead guilty because he fears for the safety of his mother and his lawyer. Human rights activists in Uzbekistan and abroad assert that the case is politically motivated. BB

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES POSITION FOR 2004 PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION
Five Belarusian opposition parties -- the United Civic Party (AHP), the Belarusian Communist Party, the Party of the Belarusian Popular Front, the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly, and the Party of Labor -- have proposed more than 300 people as potential candidates for elections to the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives in 2004, Belapan reported on 12 August. AHP leader Anatol Lyabedzka told the agency that the parties are now facing the difficult task of selecting 110 candidates who will actually seek registration for the ballot. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES 17 PERCENT VAT, OTHER BILLS
President Leonid Kuchma has vetoed a bill passed by the Verkhovna Rada in July intended to reduce value-added tax (VAT) from the current 20 percent to 17 percent in January, Interfax reported on 11 August. The Ukrainian president also rejected bills on the licensing of entrepreneurial activities in the telecommunications sector and on state regulatory policies in business endeavors. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT CREATES COMMISSION ON CIS
The Ukrainian cabinet has set up a commission to deal with issues related to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that will be headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, UNIAN reported on 11 August. The commission's general task will be to coordinate Ukraine's policies toward economic cooperation with the CIS, of which Ukraine is a member. JM

ESTONIAN ECONOMY MINISTRY OFFICIAL DISPUTES CENTRISTS' CLAIMS ABOUT EU
Economy Ministry Deputy Chancellor Signe Ratso has said many of the arguments outlined in a statement criticizing the EU adopted by a recent Center Party congress are inaccurate, BNS reported on 11 August. She disputed the statement's claim that the prices of goods in Estonia will rise to the level in Nordic countries without a corresponding increase in incomes. Ratso stressed that the EU has a market economy in which prices are determined by supply and demand and the population's purchasing power. Food prices in Estonia are half those of Finland, but its average wage is only one-fifth, Ratso said. Thus, it is likely that wages will rise at a faster pace than food prices when Estonia enters the EU. She also rejected the assertion that Estonia would only lose advantages in trade with non-EU countries by having to adhere to EU customs regulations, noting that Russia will not be able to continue placing double duties on imports from Estonia after it joins the EU. SG

LATVIA LAUNCHES AD CAMPAIGN FOR EU REFERENDUM
The government task force Latvija Eiropa (Latvia in Europe) on 12 August launched a five-week campaign called "Nepaliec mala!" (Don't Stand Aside!) to promote participation in the country's 20 September EU referendum, LETA reported. The campaign, which will include television, radio, print-media, and billboard advertisements, will cost about 212,000 lats ($372,000). The three main target audiences of the campaign are farmers, employees, and pensioners. SG

GAZPROM RAISES ITS BID FOR STAKE IN LITHUANIAN GAS
Russia's state-owned gas monopoly Gazprom on 11 August submitted to the State Property Fund a revised bid for a 34 percent stake in the Lithuanian natural-gas utility Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas), BNS reported. Gazprom's new bid would pay 91 million litas ($29.8 million) with an additional 9 million-litas premium if Lithuania does not introduce any restrictions on gas prices for large industrial users before the privatization agreement is completed. Gazprom previously offered to pay 80 million litas, although German energy companies Ruhrgas and E.ON Energie jointly paid 116 million litas for a similar stake in June 2002. Meanwhile, Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov said the price of gas exported to Lithuania will be calculated using the same methods as those for EU states; i.e., Gazprom will set a price that will be subsequently modified by taking changes in prices of alternative fuels into account. SG

POLISH ROLLING-STOCK WORKERS STAGE SIT-IN OVER UNPAID WAGES
Workers at the Wagon SA rolling-stock plant in Ostrow Wielkopolski launched a sit-in on 11 August to demand unpaid wags for June and July, PAP reported. The protesters also want a recovery program to save the plant from bankruptcy. Wagon SA, a major industrial enterprise in western Poland, is saddled with 200 million zlotys ($52 million) in debt and has attributed its trouble paying wages to freezes on its bank accounts. JM

CZECH AUDIT OFFICE FINDS IRREGULARITIES IN GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTS
The Supreme Audit Office (NKU) said on 11 August that the Government Office misspent millions of crowns in public funds in 2001-02 and mismanaged government property, CTK reported. The NKU said flats earmarked for the use of civil servants were instead sublet to a private firm and that the Government Office artificially parceled up sizable purchases to avoid announcing public tenders. The NKU also found mistakes in the accounting. According to NKU estimates, the Government Office misspent at least 3.6 million crowns ($127,000) in 2000 and 3.4 million crowns in 2001. The announcement came shortly after the NKU announced irregularities in the management of former President Vaclav Havel's office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). MS

CZECH COURT REDUCES SENTENCE OF 'MEIN KAMPF' PUBLISHER
A Prague district court mitigated a previous sentence handed down against the publisher of a Czech translation of Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf" on 11 August, CTK and dpa reported. The publisher, Michal Zitko, was given a 22-month suspended sentence and three-year probation for defaming the Jewish people. The court also threw out a 2 million-crown ($71,000) fine Zitko had been ordered to pay. The same court had imposed a longer suspended sentence and the fine in 2001, but that decision was quashed by the Supreme Court, which also overturned his conviction for propagating fascism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2001 and 10 October 2002). Zitko vowed to appeal the new sentence, while the prosecution said it is also considering an appeal. MS

PROMINENT SLOVAK POLITICIAN SEES 'BEGINNING OF END' OF RULING COALITION
Hungarian Slovak Coalition (SMK) Chairman Bela Bugar said on 11 August that the current four-party coalition might be facing "the beginning of its end," TASR reported. Bugar was responding to reports that deputies from the opposition People's Union might join the governing Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) and that ANO and the People's Union are discussing mutual support of draft laws in parliament. Bugar, whose SMK is also a member of the coalition, said ANO cannot be part of the coalition and at the same time negotiate with opposition groups. MS

SLOVAK INTELLIGENCE SERVICE ASKS FOR MEDIATION IN DISPUTE WITH MEMORY INSTITUTE
The Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) asked the National Security Office on 11 August to mediate its dispute with the Institute of National Memory (UNP) in the conflict over the handling of the former communist secret-police archives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2003). NBU Director Jan Mojzis has agreed to the request. The SIS said its intentions are being misinterpreted by the UNP and that it is merely seeking to abide by legislation regarding the protection of classified information and by NBU directives. The service also complained that it is subjected by the UNP to excessive pressure to circumvent relevant legislation. MS

CONTROVERSIAL SLOVAK BISHOP'S REMAINS TO BE EXAMINED FOR TRACES OF POISON
The Slovak Catholic Church has requested a forensic examination of communist-era Bishop Jan Vojtassak's body to determine whether he was poisoned, TASR reported. Vojtassak was arrested in 1945 and was sentenced to 24 years of hard labor in 1951. He was released under an amnesty in 1963 and died two years later. The examination of the body is being carried out in Martin, near Zilina. Vojtassak's grave was opened on 30 June in the presence of bishops, canon-court judges, doctors, and church officials. The church is also preparing to beatify Vojtassak, and exhumation is thus required by Canon Law. During the Nazi puppet regime in Slovakia of Jozef Tiso, Vojtassak was deputy chairman of the State Council. According to some historians, he participated in decisions on the deportation of Slovak Jews to concentration camps. MS

HUNGARY'S CURRENT-ACCOUNT DEFICIT SOARS
Hungary's current-account deficit reached 2.3 billion euros ($2.6 billion) in the first half of the year, nearly double the figure of one year ago, the Hungarian National Bank announced on 11 August. The June deficit rose at an unexpected pace to hit 567 million euros, while the cumulative deficit of the past 12 months represents 5.3 percent of GDP, "Magyar Hirlap" reported. Analysts say the figure suggests that the foreign owners of Hungarian companies are repatriating profits -- a sign of pessimism in the short term. The current-account deficit will not show signs of improvement before the beginning of next year, observers warn, due to global economic trends. MSZ

HEAD OF HUNGARY'S FINANCIAL WATCHDOG REPORTS NEW THREATS
The chairman of Hungary's Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF) informed police and Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 11 August that he recently received a letter threatening him and his family, "Nepszabadsag" reported. Karoly Szasz was brutally attacked on 16 June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 18 June 2003), and the letter apparently arrived just as police protection granted to Szasz after that assault was to expire. Police have extended the protection to Szasz's family and are investigating the threat. MSZ

U.S. CONGRESSMAN HONORED BY HUNGARY
Prime Minister Medgyessy awarded the Order of Merit of the Republic of Hungary to Hungarian-born U.S. Congressman Tom Lantos on 11 August for furthering Hungarian-U.S. relations, local media reported. In his speech, Medgyessy noted that Lantos supported the democratic opposition before the fall of the communist regime in Hungary and has helped improve bilateral relations for over 20 years, the MTI news agency reported. MSZ

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO PREPARES FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACEKEEPING
Serbia and Montenegro's Council of Ministers agreed in Belgrade on 11 August that its army may take part in UN-sponsored international peacekeeping missions, Reuters reported. The cabinet said in a statement that it hopes for a positive international reaction to its decision, especially from the EU and NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 7, and 8 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May, 25 July, and 8 August 2003). Meanwhile, former Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, who is also head of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), said that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic had no legal right to discuss the possibility of sending peacekeepers abroad during his recent visit to the United States, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Kostunica also questioned the legality of the shakeup in the officer corps that began recently with the removal of 16 top-ranking officers. Critics charge that Kostunica often manipulates legal arguments for political purposes. PM

MACEDONIAN ARMY CHIEF VISITS BULGARIA
Macedonian General Metodi Stamboliski, who is chief of the General Staff, discussed Macedonia's bid for NATO membership and military cooperation between the two countries with his Bulgarian counterpart General Nikola Kolev in Sofia on 11 August, MIA reported. Asked about potential threats posed to peace and stability by the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH), Stamboliski answered that he is sure there will be no war in Macedonia. Macedonian police confirmed in early August that a new armed group under commander Jakub Avdili "Jackal" is active in northern Macedonia, but said that group poses no serious threat to peace, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May and 13 June 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 June 2003). UB

UN POLICE SEEK TWO MEN IN KOSOVA SHOOTING
Unnamed UN police officials told dpa in Prishtina on 12 August that police are looking for two unidentified ethnic Albanians in conjunction with the shooting near Lipjan in central Kosova the previous evening of a Serbian man, who was fishing at the time of the incident. The unidentified 44-year-old Serb is in critical condition. The UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) attaches high priority to creating adequate security conditions for the Serbian minority so that refugees and displaced people can return to their homes across the province (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June and 1 August 2003). PM

CROATIAN PRESIDENT PROMOTES BUSINESS IN LIBYA
Croatian President Stipe Mesic held two rounds of talks with Libyan President Muammar Ghadaffi in Sirt on 11 August, Hina reported. Mesic is on a five-day official visit at the head of a 40-member delegation, consisting mainly of business people. At a formal dinner in Mesic's honor, Ghadaffi said he supports European unification and Croatia's role within a united Europe, adding that he is "working on" African unification. For his part, Mesic stressed the need for the two countries to develop "very specific economic interests and projects," adding that the business people from both delegations have much to discuss. The Croatian leader noted that Libya was the first non-European country to recognize Croatian independence in 1991. PM

POLL SHOWS ROMANIAN RULING PARTY CONTINUES TO LOSE SUPPORT, BUT STILL LEADS
A public-opinion poll conducted in the first week of August by the Center for Urban and Rural Research (CURS) shows the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) would win the elections if the ballot took place today, Mediafax reported. The PSD would enlist the support of 43 percent of the electorate -- two percentage points fewer than in a poll conducted this spring. A trend of falling support for the PSD was shown in all similar polls conducted by CURS last year, and according to CURS Director Sebastian Lazaroiu the ruling party is particularly losing support in urban areas. The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) slightly improved its support since the poll conducted this spring and is now placed second, with 18 percent backing. It is followed by the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party (16 percent), the Democratic Party (10 percent), and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (6 percent). More than one-third of the poll's respondents (35 percent) said they are undecided about whom to support. MS

ROMANIA'S LIBERALS ACCUSE RULING PARTY OF ELECTIONEERING
PNL Deputy Chairman Teodor Melescanu said on 11 August that Prime Minister Adrian Nastase and his PSD are showing an "all too sudden preoccupation" with the fate of the Romanian diaspora, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Melescanu said the fact that this preoccupation surfaced only in the third year of PSD rule and one year ahead of the next elections shows that the ruling party is engaging in "electoral games." Melescanu was reacting to Premier Nastase's 9 August speech to a diaspora forum in Mangalia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). Melescanu said the PSD never cared about the Romanian diaspora before, but is now hoping to mobilize support among absentee voters for the next elections. A spokesman for the Department for Romanians from Everywhere denied the allegation, saying the government's interest in the fate of Romanians living outside the country is a long-term policy that has nothing to do with "electioneering." MS

ARMS-SCRAPPING EQUIPMENT FOR TRANSDNIESTER TO BE SENT TO IRAQ?
Sophisticated ammunition-destruction equipment donated to Moldova by the OSCE in 2002 might be redirected to Iraq, Infotag and dpa reported on 11 August, citing Transdniester government sources. The separatist authorities refused to allow the equipment to be deployed on the territory they control, and the expensive machinery sat unpacked in a Chisinau warehouse for 16 months. The equipment was to be used to scrap some 10,000 tons of arms and ammunition left in the region by Russia's 14th Army that were considered too unstable to transport back to Russia. According to Transdniester sources, the quantity of materiel unsuitable for transport turned out to be much smaller and it was destroyed in 2001 and 2002. OSCE mission sources in Chisinau did not confirm the intention to redirect the ammunition-destruction equipment to Iraq. The separatists have recently again suspended the evacuation of the Russian arsenal, claiming that Russia has not met its commitment to write off $100 million of Transdniester's gas debt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2003). MS

GAGAUZ-YERI DEPUTIES DEMAND FULL PARTICIPATION IN FEDERALIZATION NEGOTIATIONS
Eighteen out of the 29 deputies who are members of the Gagauz-Yeri Popular Assembly last week signed a declaration demanding that Gagauz-Yeri be granted the status of "equal subject" in the envisaged Moldova-Transdniester Federation, Flux reported. The deputies also demanded that Gagauz-Yeri participate as an equal partner in current negotiations on drafting the federal constitution. President Vladimir Voronin has in the past rejected such demands by the Gagauz-Yeri politicians, saying the framework of the negotiations cannot be "endlessly extended" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February and 12 March 2003). MS

BULGARIAN MUNICIPALITIES SUPPORT RESIGNED FINANCE MINISTER
The National Association of Municipalities stated in an 11 August press release that Finance Minister Milen Velchev's resignation, if approved, would jeopardize the country's decentralization efforts, mediapool.bg reported. Despite ongoing differences over the financial problems of the municipalities, a constructive dialogue between Velchev and the association had been established, the statement said. Velchev agreed on 7 August to cover parts of the municipalities' budget deficits. The same day, he announced his resignation, which awaits Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski's approval. Meanwhile, the "Financial Times" reported on 11 August that Transport Minister Nikolay Vasilev is also planning to quit. He was recently demoted from his post as economy minister to head the Transport Ministry. UB

BULGARIAN DUTY-FREE SHOPS TO CHALLENGE CLOSURE
Three companies that own duty-free shops announced on 11 August that they will challenge an 8 August decision by the Finance Ministry to freeze licenses they had been granted by the same ministry only days before, mediapool.bg reported. The ministry said the issuance of licenses has been halted until parliament decides on amendments to the law on duties, which will affect duty-free shops. Finance Minister Velchev has said differences between the governing National Movement Simeon II and its coalition partner, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, over the future of the duty-free shops was one of the reasons for his resignation. Velchev wanted to close down some of the duty-free shops in order to curb cigarette and alcohol smuggling (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). UB

BULGARIA'S SOCIALISTS PREPARE FOR LOCAL ELECTIONS
The preparations for Bulgaria's 26 October local elections are slowly gaining momentum. After the conservative opposition Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) dominated the media coverage for some time, it was the turn of the Socialist Party (BSP), the successor to the Communist Party that ruled Bulgaria until 1990.

The BSP has every chance of emerging as the big winner of these elections. Its main opponent, the governing National Movement Simeon II, has been struggling with declining public support for months. The BSP's longtime rival, the SDS, is deeply divided to the point that it can hardly be a match for the Socialists.

No wonder, then, that the BSP is doing everything to avoid the impression of internal rifts, ideological disagreements, or lack of vision. This desire to present a united stance was clearly evident during the party's 45th congress in the central Bulgarian town of Gabrovo on 1 August and the traditional party meeting on Mount Buzludzha the following day. Observers of both events later commented that something has changed within the BSP. But what?

The first big change was certainly the fact that the party congress took place in the provincial town of Gabrovo and not, as usual, in Sofia. There were no polemics among the different wings of the party, nor did delegates indulge in nostalgia. They concentrated instead on drafting a platform for the upcoming elections. In his address to the congress, BSP Chairman Sergey Stanishev focused on negative trends in economic development. "These results are enough to describe the depressing everyday life of a large part of the country's citizens," Stanishev said. "The citizens of one state live in different Bulgarias. The people of Ruen [a small town in eastern Bulgaria] do not know how everyday life is in Kardzhali [in southeastern Bulgaria].... Slowly but surely the feeling [of belonging to] one and the same national organism is getting lost."

For this reason, the party proposes to set up a regional-development fund worth $170 million, which would be used for cofinancing projects funded by the EU. Stanishev charged that previous governments failed to use all money available from the EU because they were unable to secure the necessary cofinancing of regional development projects. The party's mayoral candidates participated in the discussion of the development program, but not always with the expected results. Stoyan Aleksandrov, who is the party's mayoral candidate for the capital Sofia, said the program is a good basis for the party's future work. But he also told the congress he does not believe the program can be realized. In his opinion, the program lacks a time frame and the means to implement it.

The BSP leadership thus managed to avoid the political infighting that was typical of previous congresses. With the presentation of the regional-development program it also broke with the tradition of nostalgic reminiscences of the communist era. In his address, Stanishev underscored that the program is an important step to raise voter confidence in the party. "Some people may charge: 'They did not gain power yet, but already start presenting recipes for good governance,'" Stanishev said. "But we do not understand opposition work as simply criticizing [the government]. We acknowledge that we will not gain the people's trust as long as we do not present them with our clear, feasible, concrete, and understandable alternative for the country's development."

Apart from the mayoral candidates, the congress was also attended by Dobromir Gushterov, who heads the Vazrazhdane Union of Private Entrepreneurs. Only a few days after the congress, the BSP and Gushterov agreed to cooperate in the local elections. Gushterov told journalists that his union will participate in the elections by nominating its own mayoral candidates in a number of places, as the problems of the entrepreneurs can best be solved at the local level. This is remarkable because the BSP's rival, the conservative SDS, withdrew its support for Plamen Oresharski's candidacy for Sofia mayor because of his so-called "unregulated" contacts with the chairman of the Business Club Vazrazhdane (which has no direct connection to the Vazrazhdane Union of Private Entrepreneurs). This decision was apparently prompted by the SDS leadership's fear that the SDS might be accused of political corruption during the upcoming election campaign. Some media reports suggested that Oresharski asked the business club for financial support immediately after his candidacy was withdrawn. Such fears do not seem to bother the BSP leadership.

After the congress and the Buzludzha meeting was over, there were mixed comments. The daily "Sega," which leans toward the BSP, described it as a breakthrough for the Socialists on their way to becoming a West European-style social-democratic party. The paper also noted that at Mount Buzludzha -- for the first time since 1989 -- there were more younger BSP followers than members of the older generation. In addition, the typical anti-NATO slogans were notably absent from the Buzludzha gathering.

However, the skeptics among the analysts seem to remain in the majority. For them, the party congress remained a mere show for the internally divided party membership. As Vasil Vladimirov put it in his comment for "Dnevnik" of 4 August, the new program is hypothetical as long as the country's more important issues -- Euro-Atlantic integration and economic transformation -- remain untouched. And Ilia Iliev of the daily "Monitor" charged that the BSP propagated an unrealizable regional-development program to hide the fact that it lacks a program for the national level.

U.S. TROOPS REPORTEDLY KILL PAKISTANI SOLDIERS NEAR AFGHAN BORDER...
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) issued a statement on 11 August in which it confirmed an "unfortunate and unintended engagement" by U.S. troops with Pakistani security forces near the Afghan-Pakistani border the same day. The incident resulted in two deaths and the serious injury of a third individual, according to CENTCOM. Pakistani officials identified the casualties as two Pakistani Army soldiers and a junior officer in the Pakistani paramilitary, and "lodged a strong protest with the U.S. authorities over the incident," according to pakistandaily.com and international news agencies. U.S. troops patrolling Paktika Province in western Afghanistan for remnants of Al-Qaeda and Taliban forces fired on Pakistani security forces as they pursued "enemy forces that were identified and fleeing toward the Pakistani border," CENTCOM said in a statement the same day. It added that the incident is being investigated. Unnamed Pakistani officials cited by Reuters said the U.S. forces had fired on a border patrol in the Waziristan region about 260 kilometers west of Islamabad. AH

...IN FIRST SUCH INCIDENT SINCE U.S. FORCES ARRIVED IN AFGHANISTAN
The fatal engagement was the first such occurrence since the U.S.-led coalition toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001, Reuters and pakistandaily.com reported. "It was due to some misunderstanding," Reuters quoted an unidentified senior Pakistani official as saying. Pakistani accounts describe the clash as occurring when U.S. forces fired on soldiers of the 69th Baloch Regiment and Shawal Scouts near the Lawara border demarcation, which was established just four days prior to the incident, pakistandaily.com reported. It quotes "officials and local reporters" as saying the firing lasted more than two hours. Pakistan and Afghanistan are currently trying to settle lingering disputes over their mutual border, with the United States mediating, Reuters noted. AH

TALIBAN REPORTEDLY EYEING TARGETS IN NORTHERN AFGHANISTAN
The Pakistani daily "The News" quoted Taliban spokesman Mohammad Amin as saying that guerrilla fighters from the toppled regime will soon target coalition forces and Afghan soldiers in northern Afghanistan, Reuters reported on 10 August. Amin reportedly said Mullah Mohammad Asim Muttaqi and two deputies have been appointed to spearhead the neo-Taliban operation and have set up a base in Faryab Province near Turkmenistan with the intention of organizing strikes on northern commander General Abdul Rashid Dostum, who is special adviser on security affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and commander of 10,000 troops in northern Afghanistan. Strikes conducted by remnants of the Taliban have been mainly concentrated in southern and eastern Afghanistan. AFP reports that another Taliban spokesman, Mohammad Mokhtar Mojahed, told the Pakistani daily that news of strikes carried out by neo-Taliban forces beyond the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region has been suppressed by U.S. and Afghan authorities in order to implicate Pakistan in anti-coalition activities. IL

REPORT SAYS NEO-TALIBAN CONTROL MOST OF ZABUL PROVINCE
The geopolitical analysis firm Stratfor says neo-Taliban forces have retaken most of Zabul Province, marking the ousted regime's first significant recovery of territory since being driven from power in 2001, India's Sify News reported on 11 August. According to the Washington-based Stratfor, the Taliban redoubled its efforts to reestablish strongholds in Zabul, Oruzgan, Kandahar, Helmand, Nimruz, and Farah provinces starting in late March or early April as it perceived the United States' attention shifting to Iraq. Sify reported that according to Stratfor's analysis, Zabul is a strategically important position from which the Taliban could conceivably isolate U.S. forces in Kandahar and eventually retake that province as well. Sify reports the neo-Taliban's efforts in Kabul have benefited from a sense of "disaffection" among southern Afghans due in part to the slow pace of reconstruction. IL

UN REPORT DETAILS DRUG USE IN KABUL
The first assessment of drug use in the Afghan capital has found that nearly one-third of the city's opium and prescription-drug users are women, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks reported on 11 August. The report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) found the city of more than 1 million people is home to 24,000 hashish users, more than 14,000 pharmaceuticals users, almost 11,000 opium users, and 7,000 heroin users. Undertaken in early 2003 by surveying 200 drug users and 100 health care and law enforcement workers, the study also found that 34 percent of opium users and 45 percent of heroin users interviewed said they began their drug habits as refugees in Pakistan and Iran. UNODC's David Macdonald attributed the high incidence of drug use to availability coupled with demand. The psychological pressures of two decades of conflict, he said, prompted people to self-medicate. IL

TEHRAN: ARMS DEALER'S MEETING WITH U.S. OFFICIALS UNAUTHORIZED
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 11 August that Iranian arms dealer Manuchehr Ghorbanifar is not authorized by Tehran to negotiate and meet with U.S. officials, state television reported. Western news agencies reported on 8 August that two officials from the Pentagon working for Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith have held "several" meetings with Ghorbanifar, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld confirmed that the meetings occurred but said this happened more than one year ago (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003). Rumsfeld said a purpose of the meetings was to gather information about Iran. Assefi said on 11 August: "There is clear evidence that American officials are confused about Iran. This new scenario is also proof of this fact." BS

IRANIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN URGES AL-QAEDA EXTRADITIONS
Tuiserkan representative Mohsen Tarkashvand, a member of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, said on 11 August that Iran should extradite any Al-Qaeda members it arrests or hand them over to an international court, Fars News Agency reported. State officials' opaque remarks about the Al-Qaeda detainees, furthermore, contribute to allegations of Iranian support for terrorism, he said. An anonymous "Saudi counterterrorism official" said in the 12 August "The Washington Post" that up to 15 Al-Qaeda members -- including Saad bin Laden, Sayf al-Adel, Suleiman Abu Ghayth, and Abu Musab Zarqawi -- are in Iran. Tehran is "dragging its feet" on Arab governments' requests for extradition and for months has denied knowing these individuals' identities. The Saudi official added that it is not clear if the Al-Qaeda members are detainees or guests. Tehran reportedly hopes to exchange the Al-Qaeda members for members of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 11 August 2003). BS

KUWAIT TEMPORARILY CLOSES BORDER CROSSING WITH IRAQ AFTER RIOTS
Kuwait temporarily closed its Al-Abdali border crossing with Iraq on 10 and 11 August following riots in southern Iraq, Reuters reported on 11 August. Three days of sporadic rioting that broke out on 9 August in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah and the surrounding area was blamed largely on a lack of electricity and fuel in the region. Many Iraqi protesters blamed the lack of fuel on Kuwaiti smugglers. "We closed down the border for several hours on both days. People coming in from Iraq or fleeing the situation were allowed in, but those wanting to go out of Kuwait were stopped from doing so in order to protect them," an unidentified Kuwaiti official told Reuters in Kuwait City. The source also sought to explain the shortage of oil in Iraq, claiming that Iran, not Kuwait is to blame for the lack of fuel. "A lot of fuel is being sent from Jordan and Kuwait to Iraq, and it is supposed to be given to the Iraqis; but most of it is being stolen and smuggled to Iran instead. That's the main problem behind the riots," the source said. KR

IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL NAMES CONSTITUTIONAL COMMITTEE
The Iraqi Governing Council named a constitutional committee on 11 August to guide the process of drafting an Iraqi constitution, Reuters reported the same day. "A committee of 25 members was formed to define [the] best ways to work out a draft constitution to be approved later on," Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, chairman of the council's leadership committee, told a Baghdad press conference. He told reporters that the constitutional committee comprises university professors and legal experts. The committee will not draft the actual constitution but "will be concerned with discussing [the] best mechanism that will lead to an Iraqi constitution chosen and respected by Iraqis," al-Ja'fari added. He also said he expects a constitution to be drafted within a year. Meanwhile, the U.S.-led administration on 11 August reappointed eight Iraqi Supreme Court justices fired by Saddam Hussein 10 years ago, Reuters reported. KR

U.S. LAUNCHES OPERATION IVY LIGHTNING IN IRAQ
U.S. forces launched Operation Ivy Lightning on 11 August to hunt militant opponents of the occupying coalition, including those loyal to deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Reuters reported the same day. The 4th Infantry Division is carrying out the mission, which will scour isolated villages east of Hussein's hometown of Tikrit. "Ivy Lightning is a surgical strike in remote towns...to isolate and capture noncompliant forces and former regime loyalists who are planning attacks against coalition forces," Lieutenant Colonel William MacDonald told reporters in Tikrit. He added that the operation is concentrating on the area of Qara Tappa, some 128 kilometers north of Baghdad. KR

ARAB STATES WILL WORK WITH IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL BUT NOT RECOGNIZE IT
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher said on 11 August that Arab governments have decided that they will work with Iraq's Governing Council but will not officially recognize it as a legitimate government, AP reported the same day. Maher's comments followed a last-minute meeting between the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Tensions in the region have increased in recent days after a bombing of the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad on 7 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003) and an escalation in the conflict between Israel and Lebanese Hizballah forces on 10 August. Israel holds both Lebanon and Syria responsible for the actions of the Hizballah. The Arab League, to which the three states belong, welcomed the formation of the governing council but declined to officially recognize it in a meeting on 5 August. KR

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