ANTIMONOPOLY MINISTRY APPROVES YUKOS-SIBNEFT MERGER...
The Antimonopoly Ministry on 14 August approved the merger of Russian oil majors Yukos and Sibneft, which would be the largest merger in Russian corporate history and create the world's fourth-largest oil producer, Russian and international media reported. There was speculation that the merger, which was announced in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 April 2003), would fall through as a result of the recent investigations into Yukos. Under the deal, Yukos could get 100 percent of Sibneft, paying $3 billion for an initial 20 percent stake while Sibneft shareholders could exchange the remaining shares for shares in the new company, YukosSibneft Oil Co. The new company would have a daily oil output of approximately 2.06 million barrels and total reserves of some 19.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent, according to AP. VY
...WITH SOME CONDITIONS
The ministry said in a 14 August press release announcing its decision that the merger must be completed by the end of the year and that it has established "rules of conduct" for the merger to proceed, Interfax reported. First, YukosSibneft Oil must not hinder independent oil traders' access to markets in which the new company is dominant; second, the new company must guarantee current and future suppliers unfettered access to its oil refineries; and third, that other companies will be allowed to participate in funding new pipeline projects under the condition that they contribute funds proportional to the amount of oil they intend to pump through those pipelines. The latter requirement, according to an unidentified Antimonopoly Ministry spokesman, relates to a strategic oil pipeline from Siberia to the countries of Asian Pacific regions that Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii has been lobbying. Yukos spokesman Aleksandr Shchadrin expressed his satisfaction with the ministry's decision, and said it will have a positive effect on the company's situation, RTR and gazeta.ru reported. VY
FINANCE MINISTER WARNS AGAINST TURNING YUKOS AFFAIR INTO RUSSIA'S ENRON
Deputy Prime Minster and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin told NTV on 14 August that the authorities will find a just solution to the legal assault on Yukos and that the public can expect a proper "court decision." He added that any violations of the law that are uncovered during the investigations should be made public. However, Kudrin also questioned the wisdom of scrutinizing the company's operations to such an extent that it affects the country's economy. Comparing the Yukos affair to the Enron scandal in the United States, he noted that as Enron was investigated the U.S. financial markets suffered. He asked rhetorically, "Should one so scrutinize Enron's abuses to get such [economic] results?" VY
PUTIN DISCUSSES RUSSIA'S PROSPECTS OF JOINING ORGANIZATION OF THE ISLAMIC CONFERENCE
Speaking in the Kremlin on 14 July with Russia's ambassador for Islamic issues, Veniamin Popov, President Vladimir Putin expressed Russia's commitment to joining the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Russian and international media reported. "The nearly 20 million Muslims who live in Russia have every right to feel they are part of the Muslim world," Putin said, Interfax reported. However, he noted that Russia's Muslims "see Russia as the only homeland they have." Putin pledged that Russia will assume all financial obligations necessary to join the organization, which unites 57 Muslim countries, although he added that the process should not be rushed. Putin first announced Russia's desire to join the OIC during his visit to Malaysia earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2003). Popov told Putin that there has been a positive response in the Islamic world to his announcement, including from the six CIS countries that are currently members of the OIC. VY
PILOTS INDICTED IN CONNECTION WITH GENERAL LEBED'S DEATH
A Krasnoyarsk Krai court has indicted two men for violating safety procedures while piloting the helicopter in which Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor and former presidential candidate General Aleksandr Lebed and seven other passengers were killed on 28 April 2002 when it crashed in heavy fog, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). Pilots Takhir Akhmetov and Aleksei Kurilovich face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of the charges. Republic of Khakasia President Aleksei Lebed, whose republic his brother Aleksandr was visiting when the crash occurred, told the court that he does not believe the pilots are guilty of any wrongdoing and suggested that the company that operated the helicopter be indicted. Meanwhile, some believe that Aleksandr Lebed himself is responsible for the crash, as he reportedly ordered the pilots to fly despite bad weather conditions, according to "Vremya novostei." Moreover, there is a rumor that the general was at the controls of the helicopter when it crashed, added the newspaper. VY
GOVERNMENT APPROVES 2004 BUDGET WITH INCREASED MILITARY, LAW ENFORCEMENT SPENDING...
At a cabinet meeting on 14 August, the government approved a draft 2004 budget with revenue projections of 2.74 trillion rubles ($90 billion) and expenditures of 2.66 trillion rubles, Russian media reported. In the current draft, 15.5 percent -- 411.6 billion rubles -- of spending is earmarked for the development of the Russian armed forces, according to ITAR-TASS. An additional 7.2 billion rubles (.02 percent) is set aside for military reform. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 15 August, last year 14.5 percent of budget spending was designated for national defense. The share of budget spending on law enforcement is also slated to rise from 10.5 percent this year to 11.7 percent next year. This year, some 6.1 percent (162.3 billion rubles) is designated for social programs, while spending for public education will amount to 117.8 billion rubles, or 4.4 percent. Financial aid for the regions is set at 306.8 billion rubles, or 11.5 percent of total spending. JAC
...AS DEPUTIES REPORTEDLY MAKE DEMANDS
"Vremya novostei" reported on 14 August that State Duma deputies recently reminded the government on the eve of the government's consideration of the budget that "this year is an election year." The legislators reportedly tried to insist on the inclusion of certain spending items in the draft budget, threatening that they would not support the budget bill on the floor of the legislature. However, the government resisted, according to the daily, and "part of the deputies' demands will not be satisfied." The newspaper concluded that the threat of the pro-presidential factions in the Duma not to vote for the budget is simply for show: "Neither the government nor the legislative authorities dare pull down the Kremlin's complex political construction [designed for their] cooperation." JAC
LEFT, RIGHT TRY TO RESPOND TO VOTER DISSATISFACTION WITH MANDATORY CAR INSURANCE
New legislation was introduced to the State Duma on 14 August that would abolish all previous legislation that makes car insurance mandatory, izvestiya.ru reported. Such legislation was passed only this year, and has sparked a series of protests across the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 3 July 2003). The new bill was drafted by State Duma Deputy Viktor Pokhmelkin (independent), who is also the head of Movement for Russian Motorists and the Liberal Russia party. The cost of a base policy is 1,980 rubles ($65) for an individual and 2,375 for a legal entity. This amount varies according to a series of coefficients, such as where the owner resides. According to RosBalt, another bill canceling mandatory auto insurance was introduced earlier by Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, a member of the Communist faction. Approximately 30,000-35,000 people a year are killed in road accidents in Russia, while 130,000-150,000 sustain serious injuries, ITAR-TASS reported. JAC
POLITICAL PARTIES, SPIN DOCTORS PROMISE TO BEHAVE THIS POLITICAL SEASON
Some 28 of the 43 political parties that currently have the right to participate in elections are ready to sign a "gentlemen's agreement" to conduct themselves "correctly" during the campaign for the 7 December State Duma elections, strana.ru reported on 14 August. In addition to the parties, four professional media associations and two organizations for political consultants have said they will sign the social contract. According to ITAR-TASS, such agreements have been signed by major political parties during previous elections, but this year a special observer council will be created to monitor compliance. The council will begin its work no later than 10 days after President Putin officially sets the election date in a special decree. In addition to monitoring, the council will also inform the public and electorate about any violations. JAC
EXTREMIST ACTIVISTS AND/OR DIRTY TRICKS MAR RUN-UP TO ST. PETERSBURG BALLOT
St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Anna Markova, a candidate in the city's 17 September gubernatorial election, told RosBalt on 14 August that reports she recently participated in a local meeting of skinheads are "acts of black PR directed against her." She said she only learned of the meeting through reporters and that she has no connection to the gathering. Also on 14 August, two young men armed with hammers broke into the St. Petersburg headquarters of the human rights organization Memorial, Ekho Moskvy reported. The young men reportedly identified themselves members of a society in support of Colonel Yurii Budanov, the Russian army officer who was convicted of murdering a young Chechen woman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003). They beat up three Memorial activists and stole several computers. Meanwhile, "The Moscow Times" reported the same day that the Federal Security Service has stymied the St. Petersburg group's efforts to prove that during the Stalin terror campaign security services dumped the bodies of up to 30,000 victims at a site in Leningrad Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 October 2002). JAC
COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF BEREZOVKSII-FINANCED PUBLICATION IN BATTLE AGAINST DERIPASKA
A Moscow arbitration court on 14 August rejected a lawsuit filed by Oleg Deripaska's holding company Base Element against the weekly "Novaya gazeta" and journalist Nadezhda Sukhoparovaya, RBK reported. In an article published in the weekly's 4 February 2002 issue, Sukhoparovaya wrote about the "forced takeover of Bratskkomplekskholding." Base Element, which claims it holds a controlling stake in the company, argued that this characterization did not correspond to the facts and sought damages for defamation. The suit was first filed in 2002, and Base Element at first won but then lost on appeal, and the suit was sent back to the court of first instance. JAC
TWO MILITARY OFFICERS KILLED WHEN CARELESS SMOKER ATTEMPTS TO SIPHON GASOLINE
Two officers were killed and three other servicemen injured when a military truck loaded with some 800 artillery shells exploded at a military base in Primorskii Krai, RTR and other Russian media. The blast in the village of Babstvo, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, was reportedly sparked when a private at the base lit a cigarette while attempting to siphon gasoline from the truck. The private was arrested and the Military Prosecutor's Office has opened a criminal case against him. VY
FIRST RUSSIAN BRIDES OFFERED, NOW RUSSIAN HUSBANDS?
A firm in Moscow is offering a new type of service -- "Husband for an Hour" -- that offers its clients a man "to take out the garbage, repair the toilet, and hammer nails into the wall," "Izvestiya" reported on 14 August. General Director Nina Rakhmanina had tried to start a computer-repair business at her new firm's present location two months ago, but found she had many competitors and few customers. On a trip to Perm, she came across a clever advertisement for a placement firm -- "Man for an Hour" -- and came up with a new business. According to Rakhmanina, the most common orders are for hanging pictures and lighting fixtures and replacing toilets. A minimum two-hour house call costs 500 rubles ($16). JAC
KHASBULATOV QUITS CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL RACE...
Former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov told RFE/RL's Russian Service on 14 August he is withdrawing his candidacy for the presidential elections scheduled for 5 October, as he is convinced that it is impossible to hold democratic elections in Chechnya as long as hostilities continue. Khasbulatov announced his intention to contest the ballot on 31 July, affirming his confidence that he would win in the first round, and confirmed on 8 August that he would participate in the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 11 August 2003). Chechenpress.com, which serves as Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's website, on 2 August condemned Khasbulatov's decision to participate in what it termed "a cynical Kremlin-organized farce," noting that Khasbulatov earlier won the Chechen people's respect for his "brilliant analytical articles" on Moscow's brutal tactics in Chechnya. LF
...WHICH PREMIER VOWS WILL BE 'FAIREST IN RUSSIA'
Chechen Prime Minister Anatolii Popov, who has also assumed the duties of Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov for the duration of the presidential campaign, told journalists in Moscow on 14 August that the Chechen presidential ballot will be "the fairest...out of all regions of the Russian Federation because we are inviting a large number of observers," Russian news agencies reported. Popov said all candidates will have equal access to the media, and that Interior Ministry forces will be available to provide security for them on request. LF
CHECHEN PRESIDENT'S REPRESENTATIVE STEPS DOWN
Salambek Maigov, who for the past six months has functioned as President Maskhadov's representative in the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 February 2003), told Interfax on 14 August he has resigned from that post following criticism from Maskhadov. Maigov quoted Maskhadov as saying that the hopes he had placed in Maigov have not come to fruition. Maigov attributed Maskhadov's dissatisfaction to unnamed members of Maskhadov's government. Maigov traveled last month to the United States, where he reportedly met in Washington with State Department and Pentagon officials. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 15 August quoted him as saying that it is impossible to achieve any progress toward a settlement of the Chechen conflict when the Kremlin has no desire whatsoever to do so. LF
KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA PREPARES TO ELECT A KARACHAI PRESIDENT
Five candidates will participate in the 17 August presidential election in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, according to "Izvestiya" on 12 August. They are incumbent President Vladimir Semenov; National Bank head Mustafa Batdyev; Supreme Court Chairman Islam Burlakov; Security Council Secretary Boris Batchaev; and Magomet Tekeev, who represents the republic in the Russian State Duma. Observers predict a runoff between Semenov and Batdyev, who heads the moderate opposition to Semenov and whose program, according to "Moskovskie novosti" on 12 August, focuses primarily on reviving the republic's economy, which depends almost wholly on subsidies from the federal center. In contrast to 1999, when Cherkess Stanislav Derev lost in a second-round runoff to Semenov, all five candidates in the 17 August ballot are ethnic Karachais. LF
MURDERED ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER'S FAMILY BOYCOTTS KILLERS' TRIAL
The widow and two sons of Karen Demirchian have decided not to attend any further sessions of the trial of the five gunmen who killed Demirchian and seven other senior officials in the Armenian parliament in October 1999, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported, quoting the family's lawyer, Ashot Sargsian. Sargsian said he agrees with his clients' conviction that the decision earlier this week by presiding Judge Samvel Uzunian not to cross-examine a further 101 eyewitnesses of the killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003) has turned the trial into a "farce" and created "insurmountable obstacles" to discovering whether, as Demirchian's family suspect, senior Armenian officials were behind the five gunmen's actions. A lawyer for the family of another victim, Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian, said he will not join the boycott. LF
FOUR MORE PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS REFUSED REGISTRATION IN AZERBAIJAN
At its 14 August session, Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (CEC) voted against formally approving four applications for registration to contest the presidential election scheduled for 15 October on the grounds that the candidates concerned failed to submit the required minimum 45,000 valid signatures in their support, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 14 and 15 August, respectively. The four are Civic Solidarity Party Chairman Sabir Rustamkhanli; Modern Musavat Party leader Hafiz Hadjiev; Social-Democratic Party co-Chairman Araz Alizade; and National Congress Party Chairman Ikhtiyar Shirin. The CEC did, however, finally approve the registration of Lala Shovket Gadjieva, who was found to have submitted fewer than 45,000 valid signatures, after she agreed to forfeit her 165 million manat ($33,725) deposit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003). LF
IRAN CONCERNED BY U.S.-AZERBAIJANI CASPIAN NAVAL EXERCISES
A spokesman for the Iranian Embassy in Baku, Ezatollah Jalali, expressed concern on 14 August over the U.S.-Azerbaijani naval exercises in the Caspian Sea that began the previous day, Interfax reported. Azerbaijan's Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiev told journalists on 13 August the objective of the exercises "is the protection of our oil fields against terrorist attacks and other emergencies." The Iranian spokesman, however, argued that the participation of other countries in such exercises is unnecessary as the five Caspian littoral states (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, and Russia) have agreed to resolve all regional issues without soliciting the input of other countries. He said Tehran will issue a formal statement as soon as it receives official confirmation of reports on the maneuvers. Azerbaijani Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Ramiz Melikov told Interfax the same day that Iran's concern is misplaced, as "the training is in no way directed against a third country." Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev also said on 14 August that Tehran need not worry, ANS TV reported. Guliev added that the exercises are being held in Azerbaijani waters. LF/BS
BANDITS SEIZE HOSTAGES IN NORTHERN AZERBAIJAN
Seven shepherds were taken hostage in the mountainous Balakany Raion of northern Azerbaijan during the night of 13-14 August, six of whom were released later on 14 August, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. The kidnappers have demanded a $20,000 ransom for the release of the seventh man, who is a Georgian citizen. LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT FINALLY PASSES ELECTION LAW AMENDMENTS...
Deputies approved the bill on amendments to the election code in the third and final reading on 14 August by 155 votes in favor, Caucasus Press reported. The amendments include the "Baker model" for selecting members of the Central Election Commission, under which pro-presidential parliament factions will nominate five candidates and opposition parties nine, with the chairman being proposed by the OSCE and approved by President Eduard Shevardnadze (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 August 2003). The amendments also provide for posting comprehensive lists of eligible voters on the Internet, for ensuring that all candidates and parties have equal access to state-controlled media, and for the parallel counting of votes. As of 1 January 2005, all presidential and parliamentary candidates must speak fluent Georgian, a requirement that may exclude many Armenians living in southern Georgia. LF
...APPROVES NEW ENERGY MINISTER
Deputies also voted on 14 August to approve Mamuka Nikoleishvili as energy minister, Caucasus Press reported. President Shevardnadze proposed Nikoleishvili two days earlier to succeed David Mirtskhulava (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003). Nikoleishvili, who is 40 and was trained as an irrigation engineer, told deputies on 14 August he has drafted a three-year program to attract investment into the country's energy system and pay off its debts. LF
GEORGIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY REJECTS PROPOSED ELECTRICITY PRICE HIKE
The Justice Ministry rejected on 14 August the National Energy Regulation Commission's proposal to raise energy tariffs, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). Deputy Justice Minister Zurab Ezugbaya told journalists that the proposal contravenes a Constitutional Court ruling in response to an appeal the opposition Labor Party lodged last year. Also on 14 August, Caucasus Press reported that the original 1998 agreement on the sale of a 75-percent stake in the state-owned energy distribution network Telasi to the U.S. company AES cannot be found. Some officials claimed AES violated that agreement when it sold the stake earlier this month to a subsidiary of Russia's Unified Energy Systems. LF
GEORGIA DENIES RUSSIAN REPORTS OF FIGHTING IN PANKISI
Georgian State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania told journalists in Tbilisi on 14 August that reports of fighting in the Pankisi Gorge between local residents and Chechen guerrillas were exaggerated, Caucasus Press reported. He admitted that a fistfight over "social problems" took place recently, but denied reports of an exchange of gunfire. The Georgian newspaper "24 saati" reported on 14 August that local residents set upon Salman Gelaev, who is the brother of a Chechen field commander who reportedly used Pankisi as his base in 2000-2001. LF
GEORGIANS ACCUSE ABKHAZ OF MURDERING TWO HOSTAGES
At the regular Thursday meeting between representatives of the Georgian and Abkhaz governments, the UN Observer Mission in Georgia, and the Russian peacekeeping force deployed under the CIS aegis in the Abkhaz conflict zone, Georgian representatives on 14 August accused Abkhaz guerrillas of killing two Georgians taken hostage in the village of Chuburkhindji in southern Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. The two men were found dead on 11 August, and the Georgians accused the Abkhaz guerrillas of killing them in revenge for the deaths of four Abkhaz customs officials killed one week earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2003). The Abkhaz representatives walked out of the meeting to protest the Georgian accusation. LF
TAJIKISTAN ASKS RUSSIA TO EXTRADITE COUP PARTICIPANT
The Tajik Prosecutor-General's Office has asked Russian authorities to extradite Habib Nasrulloev, former head of Tajikistan's Union of Consumer Societies, who fled abroad after taking part in Colonel Mahmud Khudoiberdiev's failed antigovernment uprising in 1998, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 August. Nasrulloev, who was arrested in Moscow Oblast, faces prosecution for murder, illegal possession of firearms, and setting up an armed criminal band, according to Deputy Prosecutor-General Azizmat Imomov. Tajikistan also has requested the extradition of former Interior Minister Yakub Salimov, who was arrested in Moscow at the end of June at the request of Tajik authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003). Salimov allegedly was involved in a plot to overthrow President Imomali Rakhmonov. A decision on the extradition request is being deferred until the end of August while Salimov's application for political asylum is being considered. BB
TAJIK DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES STORIES OF U.S. PAYOFF
Tajikistan Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khairulloev has denied reports in the Russian and Central Asian media that the United States has offered Tajikistan a credit of $1 billion if the country will reject a Russian plan to establish a full-scale military base there, Asia-Plus Blitz reported on 14 August, quoting the Defense Ministry's press service. The U.S. ambassador to Tajikistan, Franklin Huddle, denied the story in a published letter to a Russian military journal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). Khairulloev also denied published allegations that the reason for the slow progress in setting up the Russian base was an alleged Tajik demand that Russia write off Tajikistan's debt in return for permission to establish the base and retain control of an important military communications link in Nurek. Khairulloev earlier told journalists that Tajikistan is eager for Russia to set up the base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2003), and that the slow progress is the fault of the Russian side. BB
ANNUAL PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY SESSION OPENS IN TURKMENISTAN
The annual session of Turkmenistan's Halk Maslahaty (People's Assembly) -- according to the constitution the country's highest body of power -- opened in the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi on 14 August with a lengthy report by President Saparmurat Niyazov, turkmenistan.ru and all Turkmen and numerous Russian media reported the same day. A main point on the agenda of the session is the approval of Niyazov's program for the socioeconomic development of the country up to 2020. As part of the program, the president called for participants in the session to pass into law his practice since 1993 of supplying free gas, electricity, and water to the country's citizens. Niyazov promised that, beginning in 2005, salaries will double every five years. He also said that when the transformation envisioned in his program is completed, the exchange rate of the national currency, the manat, will be 10 to $1. Currently, the official rate of the nonconvertible manat is 5,200 to $1; the unofficial rate usually is about four times higher. BB
TURKMEN PRESIDENT ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF PEOPLE'S ASSEMBLY...
On 15 August, the second day of the Halk Maslahaty session, the assembly adopted President Niyazov's proposed change in the status of the body itself, according to turkmenistan.ru. In future the Halk Maslahaty is to remain in permanent session. Previously it met only once a year. Niyazov was elected chairman of the assembly. The chairman of parliament, Ovezgeldi Ataev, was elected Niyazov's deputy. BB
...AND SUGGESTS HE MIGHT LEAVE OFFICE BEFORE 2010
President Niyazov, whom the Halk Maslahaty guaranteed in 1999 could remain in office as long as he wanted, created a sensation in 2001 when he stated that a presidential election would be held in 2010, the year he turns 70. In 2002, he suggested an election might be held in 2008. On 14 August, Niyazov told the current session of the rubberstamp assembly that it should start thinking at its 2005 and 2006 sessions about a presidential election in 2006 or 2007. He noted, however, that some Turkmen historical figures continued as leaders past the age of 70. BB
UZBEK PRESIDENT MEETS HEAD OF U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND
Uzbek President Islam Karimov met with the new chief of the U.S. Central Command, General John Abizaid, on 13 August, uzreport.com and Interfax reported the following day. In addition to a discussion on bilateral military cooperation, their talks focused on regional security and the situations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Karimov reportedly expressed concern that terrorists in Afghanistan might not only undermine stability in that country but also could threaten security elsewhere in Central Asia. During his brief stay in Uzbekistan, which included meetings with Defense Minister Kadyr Gulyomov and Foreign Minister Sodyk Safaev, Abizaid visited the Khanabad military base, where U.S. troops involved in antiterrorism operations in Afghanistan are stationed. BB
UZBEK JOURNALIST SENTENCED FOR HOMOSEXUALITY
Uzbek journalist and homosexual-rights activist Ruslan Sharipov was given a 5 1/2-year prison sentence by a Tashkent criminal court on 13 August after he pleaded guilty to charges of homosexuality and corruption of minors, centrasia.ru reported the following day. His trial was held behind closed doors. Human rights activists reported that Sharipov had fired his lawyer, changed his plea, and offered to retract his writings critical of the Uzbek government because he feared for the safety of his mother (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). BB
BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES BAN ADDITIONAL ENROLLMENT OF STUDENTS BY TUITION-BASED UNIVERSITIES
The State Monitoring Committee has banned the further enrollment of students by tuition-based universities in Belarus in August, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 14 August. According to the committee's directive, only those school graduates who failed to pass their entrance examinations in July may seek a place in tuition-based universities in August, while those who did not apply in July are now banned from doing so. According to estimates, the directive prevents some 3,000 graduates from starting university education in Minsk alone, despite the fact that such students are prepared to pay for it. The measure is also likely to reduce the revenues of tuition-based universities by an estimated 10 percent. JM
PRESIDENTIAL AMNESTY EXTENDS TO MORE THAN 30,000 UKRAINIANS
Some 30,000 Ukrainians, including 10,000 prisoners, will be absolved from their punishments within the next three months under an amnesty law that President Kuchma signed on his 65th birthday last week, Interfax reported on 14 August, quoting Volodymyr Lyovochkin, head of the State Department for Execution of Sentences. Lyovochkin said some 20,000 people covered by the amnesty law are serving "alternative punishment" sentences outside prison. Ukraine's last amnesty, in 2001, was timed to coincide with the 10th anniversary of independence and freed 37,000 people. Lyovochkin said 198,000 people are currently behind bars in Ukraine. Since 1991, a total of 146,000 people have been freed under amnesties. JM
FARM SUBSIDIES CREATE TENSION IN ESTONIA'S COALITION
Res Publica is resisting the demands by the People's Union for higher direct subsidies to farmers in the 2004 budget and has discussed the possibility of forming a new coalition with the Pro Patria Union replacing the People's Union, LETA reported on 15 August, citing the daily "Eesti Paevaleht." Under such a scenario, the new coalition would have 54 instead of the current 60 deputies in the 101-member parliament. Agriculture Minister Tiit Tammsaar of the People's Union is adamantly requesting that an additional 200 million kroons ($14.5 million) be given to farmers so that their subsidies would represent 55 percent of those in the EU, BNS reported on 11 August. Tammsaar is insisting on the higher subsidies, which were mentioned in the coalition agreement, because future EU subsidies depend on the level of subsidies paid in Estonia. The budget that the Finance Ministry proposed would provide only 40 percent of the EU subsidies. SG
LATVIAN PRESIDENT, PREMIER URGE CITIZENS TO VOTE FOR EU MEMBERSHIP
At their regular weekly meeting on 14 August, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Premier Einars Repse decided they should cooperate more closely in urging citizens to vote for EU membership in the referendum scheduled for 20 September, BNS reported. They expressed the need to make it clear to the people that there should be no connection between the EU referendum and current discussions on the draft of the 2004 budget or the popularity of the government. Vike-Freiberga said she is ready to attend a cabinet meeting to urge ministers to take a more active role in explaining the need for EU membership to the general public. Repse said the upcoming referendum will be a decision of major importance, "whether Latvia is in the family of modern, developed Western European countries, or remains in the group of backward states oriented toward the east." SG
LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES GREATER RESTRICTIONS ON CIGARETTES
The cabinet approved a number of amendments to a law on tobacco that will place greater restrictions on cigarettes from 1 May 2004, when Lithuania expects to join the EU, BNS reported on 14 August. The amendments, which still must be passed by parliament, prohibit the sale, manufacture, or import of cigarettes with a tar content greater than 10 milligrams from May 2004 or with nicotine and carbon monoxide content greater than 1 milligram and 10 milligrams per cigarette, respectively, from 2007. The amendments prohibit marking cigarette packages with the words "low tar," "light," "super light," "mild" or any other implications that a particular tobacco product is less harmful than other products. They also ban the sale of packages with fewer than 20 cigarettes, the purchase of tobacco products by persons under the age of 18, the trade and use of tobacco products at Internet cafes and clubs, or the sale of tobacco products in cultural establishments. SG
UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DECORATED IN POLAND
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski decorated Ukrainian Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk with the Commander's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Polish Republic in Warsaw on 14 August, PAP reported. "In Ukraine, we have not only good politicians but also real friends," Kwasniewski said during the ceremony, stressing that Marchuk is "one of the advocates and architects of Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation." Earlier the same day, Marchuk met with his Polish counterpart Jerzy Szmajdzinski and discussed the joint mission of Polish and Ukrainian soldiers in the Polish-led stabilization sector in Iraq. Interfax reported on 14 August that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma awarded Polish National Security Bureau head Marek Siwiec with an Order of Yaroslav the Wise of the third class on 12 August for Siwiec's "valuable personal contribution to the development of Ukrainian-Polish relations." JM
CZECH PREMIER CALLS FOR DIALOGUE WITH UNIONS OVER PROPOSED FISCAL REFORMS...
Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla called for "constant dialogue" with the country's trade unions to relieve mounting tension over his cabinet's proposed fiscal reforms in an interview with the daily "Pravo" of 14 August. The Czech-Moravian Chamber of Trade Unions (CMKOS) has publicly opposed the proposed reforms, which include government layoffs and pension cuts. CMKOS has pledged to bring hundreds of thousands of workers to Prague in mid-September to protest the government's plan. Teachers are also planning to strike for several days once the school year begins in September. Spidla has insisted that the reforms are essential to control government spending and to prepare for EU access in May 2004 and the adoption of the euro at the end of the decade. The state treasury is currently weighing a record deficit that could top 112 billion crowns ($4 billion) by the end of 2003. Spidla said his "minimum program is to create in this electoral term [to mid-2006] firm stability of a social state by managing the reform of public finances...[and] the effective accession to the European Union such that we are not second-tier members," according to the daily. MS/AH
...AND REVEALS PLANS FOR CABINET CHANGES
Premier Spidla told the BBC's Czech service on 14 August that he will appoint a new justice minister in September, but he added that his possible appointment of a new deputy premier will depend on whether parliament approves the draft 2004 budget -- and thus also support his planned fiscal reforms -- CTK reported. Former Justice Minister and Deputy Premier Pavel Rychetsky recently left the government to become chairman of the Constitutional Court, and Spidla subsequently announced that Rychetsky's replacement as deputy premier will be put in charge of the economy. Spidla told the BBC that he might wait as long as the end of 2003 to pick a suitable candidate for the deputy premier's position. MS
HUNGARIAN PARTY IN SLOVAKIA SEEKS CONCESSION OVER NATIVE LANGUAGES
The Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) has submitted a draft law to the cabinet that would allow broader use of native languages in official contacts with the authorities in areas where minorities make up at least 10 percent of the population, CTK and TASR reported on 14 August. The current legislation allows the use of mother tongues in such contacts in towns and villages where minorities make up 20 percent of the population. The draft was prepared by Deputy Premier Pal Csaky and encountered opposition from the SMK's partners in the four-party, center-right coalition, who view the provisions of the current legislation as sufficient to safeguard minority rights. MS
PRIVATE SLOVAK TELEVISION STATION ANNOUNCES EXPANSION PLANS
Slovak Joj TV Director Milan Knazko told CTK on 14 August that the station will receive some 129 million crowns ($3.5 million) this year from its owners in an effort to increase its broadcast penetration. He added that the station -- whose management and owners have close ties to embattled TV Nova (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003) in the Czech Republic -- hopes to unseat TV Markiza as Slovakia's most-watched channel within three years. MS
HUNGARY TO GET BY WITH SMALL AIR FORCE
Hungary will have one of the smallest air forces among NATO member states by 2009, as its MiG-29 fighter jets will be withdrawn from service by then, "Magyar Hirlap" reported on 15 August. Just 12 of the existing 36 combat helicopters will be kept in service, and the number of transport helicopters also will be significantly reduced. Fourteen Gripen fighter jets, leased from Sweden, are expected to arrive in 2006 and 2007, bringing major changes in the makeup of the air force. General Imre Balogh, commander of the air force, told the daily that according to a recent review of the defense system, Hungary can protect its airspace and meet its NATO requirements with fewer jets and fewer funds. MSZ
UN POLICE INVESTIGATE KOSOVA KILLINGS...
UN police officials said in Prishtina on 14 August that they are investigating the recent killings of two Serbian youths near Gorazdevac in the Peja region, but they have no suspects and have not determined the motive for the attack, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 and 20 June, and 1 and 15 August 2003). Jean-Christian Cady, a senior UN official in Kosova, told Reuters that the killings are "an act of barbarism...[aimed at] killing the future of Kosovo." UN spokesman Farhan Haq told RFE/RL in New York that it is not "a failing of the United Nations that this happened. It's ultimately a failing of the parties on the ground to live together, and we are trying to bring the communities closer together so you can have a united Kosovo. Obviously, this kind of violence is a sign that we're not there yet and need to do more." PM
...AS THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY REACTS...
In response to the killings, the U.S. State Department said in a statement on 14 August that the shootings are an attack on Kosova's future, the BBC reported. In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the attack was most likely intended to "aggravate the situation in Kosovo and complicate interethnic relations," ITAR-TASS reported. In Rome, the Italian EU Presidency condemned the "outrageous incident, [which] shows how much remains to be done" in the province, Reuters reported. PM
...WHILE LOCAL SERBS AND ALBANIANS PROTEST...
A crowd of Serbs blocked an important road in western Kosova on 14 August to protest the killings, international and regional media reported. Meanwhile, in Serbian-controlled northern Mitrovica, unidentified individuals threw a grenade into the home of an ethnic Albanian. About 3,000 Serbs demonstrated in that town, carrying signs reading "Serbia, wake up!" and "Europe, open your eyes!" Local Serb leader Milan Ivanovic called for the capture of what he called "Albanian criminals" and their extradition to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. He demanded the return of Serbian security forces to Kosova, as did another local Serb leader, Marko Jaksic, adding, "Everyone can now see with what monsters the Serbs of Kosovo...have to live with." UN officials previously ruled out the return of Serbian forces, fearing that they would serve as a magnet for attacks by ethnic Albanian extremists. In Prishtina, all leading Kosovar Albanian political leaders and daily newspapers condemned the killings, which "Koha Ditore" called "simply a terrorist act." Hajredin Kuci, who is a member of the Kosova parliament, told RFE/RL that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic and other Serbian politicians should not exploit the incident for political purposes. In Tirana, the Albanian Foreign Ministry condemned the shootings as a "serious crime." PM
...AND SERBIAN POLITICIANS SPEAK OUT
The Serbian government declared 15 August a day of national mourning for the two slain Serbian youths, international and regional media reported. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic called the killings "an act of terrorism...[with the message that] Serbs should be driven out of Kosovo." Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic said the killings are "something more than a crime, something the entire world is horrified at." Speaking after a meeting of the Supreme Defense Council, he stressed, "We are not here to make war cries but to try to influence the United Nations and the European Union to make concrete decisions." He did not elaborate. Defense Minister Boris Tadic made similar remarks. Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic argued that the killings are a "tragic confirmation of the failure" of NATO and the UN in the province. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Nebojsa Covic said that "fascism has arrived" in Kosova. General elections are widely expected in Serbia within the next 12 months, and many politicians have been seeking to woo nationalist voters recently with tough talk about Kosova (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, and 15 August 2003). PM
MACEDONIAN GOVERNMENT PRESENTS INVESTMENT-PROMOTION PROGRAM
Economy Minister Ilija Filipovski presented a program on 14 August to encourage desperately needed investments in the country's weak economy, MIA news agency reported. A key element of the program will be the formation of a one-stop investment agency, which is to replace the Agency for Development and Investments, the Privatization Agency, and the Bureau for Free-Trade Zones. The program also envisions the removal of bureaucratic and judicial barriers by passing new investment legislation. UB
ROMANIA'S DEMOCRATIC PARTY WANTS CHAIRMAN TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT...
Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Sorin Frunzaverde told journalists on 14 August that many in the party want Democratic Party Chairman Traian Basescu, also the mayor of Bucharest, to run for president in the elections slated for 2004, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Frunzaverde also said the Democrats and the National Liberal Party (PNL) have agreed that if they form an alliance, the joint presidential candidate would be that person who is best placed in opinion polls. Frunzaverde said he does not rule out that Basescu would be better placed in the polls than the PNL candidate. PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan said last month that if his party designates him as a candidate for the presidential elections, he will accept the nomination (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2003). MS
...WHILE LIBERAL LEADERSHIP CLEARS FIRST HURDLE ON RUNWAY TO ALLIANCE WITH DEMOCRATS
Despite criticism voiced the previous day by prominent PNL politicians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003), the party's Executive Bureau unanimously decided the next day that an alliance between the PNL and the Democratic Party has the potential to win the elections, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. PNL Chairman Theodor Stolojan told journalists after the meeting that the decision reflects the conclusions of discussions between PNL leaders and Sebastian Lazaroiu, director of the CURS polling institute. Stolojan said Lazaroiu is convinced that a PNL-Democratic Party alliance could garner some 40 percent in the parliamentary elections slated for late 2004 or early 2005, and that Lazaroiu expects support for the ruling Social Democratic Party to continue declining and be as low as 30-35 percent by the election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003). Stolojan also said two additional hurdles must be overcome before the PNL agrees to set up such an alliance: creating a governing program on which both parties agree, and coming to an agreement on how to solve possible conflicts between the parties. Stolojan also said that in a recent discussion with Basescu, they agreed that if an alliance is set up, its joint leadership will designate a presidential candidate. MS
ISRAEL'S AMBASSADOR TO ROMANIA WITHDRAWS CITIZENSHIP REQUEST
Israeli Ambassador to Romania, Sandu Mazor, asked Romanian authorities on 14 August to nullify his earlier request for Romanian citizenship, Mediafax reported. Mazor, who ends his mission on 17 August, has been harshly criticized at home for requesting the restoration of his Romanian citizenship. He explained that the request stemmed from wanting to do away with the need to obtain a Romanian visa each time he would enter the country, where he is slated to become manager of an Israeli investment company (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003). Romanian-born Rodica Gordon Radian will replace Mazor. MS
AUSTRIA THREATENS TO RENEW VISA REQUIREMENT FOR ROMANIANS
Austrian Interior Minister Ernst Strasser, in an interview with the daily "Die Presse" on 13 August, said his country is considering reintroducing visa requirement for Romanian citizens. The requirement for Romanians who enter the Schengen zone was lifted in early 2002. Strasser said Austria had then been opposed to lifting it, but was alone in this among Schengen zone members and did not wish to veto the decision. He said that while Austria is generally considered to be Europe's safest state, bands of Romanian and Bulgarian thieves and pickpockets have been threatening that reputation as of late and are endangering general security. Strasser did not mention the possibility of reintroducing visa requirement for Bulgarians. But he said both countries must improve their internal security checkups if they wish to become EU members and that Austria has worked out a 10-point plan to be discussed with Romanian and Bulgarian authorities. Vienna's vote on the two countries' EU accession, planned for 2007, will depend on the implementation of this plan, Strasser said. MS
MOLDOVAN OPPOSITION PARTY THREATENS TO RESUME STREET PROTESTS
Stefan Secareanu, deputy chairman of the opposition Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD), said on 14 August that the January-April street protests against the country's communist government might be soon resumed, Infotag reported. Secareanu said reasons for resuming the protests have been "accumulating" in the last months, naming among them as "first and foremost the stubbornness with which the communist authorities are promoting the idea of Moldova's federalization." He also said that the authorities have launched an "offensive against private property" and are putting pressure on businessmen to make donations in support of the ruling party's future electoral campaigns. Secareanu said that if the protests are resumed, they should not take place again under the banner of the PPCD alone, as it will be important to demonstrate that they have mass support. For this purpose, he said, consultations should be held with other political parties and non-governmental organizations. MS
MOLDOVAN NGOS CRITICIZE U.S. AMBASSADOR'S DEFENSE OF FEDERALIZATION PLAN...
Fifteen Moldovan non-governmental organizations on 11 August criticized the recent defense of Moldova's federalization plan, published by three U.S. ambassadors in "Wall Street Journal Europe" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). In an official communique received by "RFE/RL Newsline," the organizations state that though they are "severely critical" of the different Moldovan governments' Transdniester policy over the last decade and consider that those cabinets "bear a considerable share of responsibility for the gravity of the situation," it is nonetheless "obvious that Transdniester separatism serves the geopolitical agenda of Russia." It is Russia, they recall, that in May 1997 "imposed the existing 'pentagonal' negotiating format, in which the secessionists enjoy an equal footing with the Moldovan state, alongside with the 'trilateral' Russia-Ukraine-OSCE 'mediating' and 'guaranteeing' formats, both clearly dominated by Russia." Therefore, the 15 NGOs write, "We don't understand how these ambassadors can possibly expect to reunite Moldova by imposing on it a power-sharing deal on all levels of government with Transdniester's leadership -- this instrument of Russia's strategic interests in our part of Europe." They also say that the Transdniester authorities "and Moscow behind them" are "using the 'federalization' project for turning Moldova into a Russian protectorate." MS
...AND THE OSCE POSITION TOWARDS THE PLAN
The 15 Moldovan non-governmental organizations also said in their press release (see above) that "unlike the three U.S. ambassadors" who expressed "full confidence in the OSCE," they themselves are "quite skeptical about this international organization." They said "for 10 years, the powerless OSCE was an onlooker to Russia's neo-imperial games in Moldova" and recently the organization's mission in Chisinau "became involved in polemics with a considerable part of civil society." They also accused the OSCE of making "no attempt at encouraging a democratic opening in Transdniester." The organizations said they also disagreed with the three U.S. ambassadors' assertion that the only alternative to federalization is to wait for years -- perhaps forever -- to solve the conflict in different terms than those proposed. "Our terms are completely normal: democracy, state independence, and [a] European orientation in deeds, not words." The Western countries, they said, have "both the interest and the means to promote those aims in Moldova" as they "promoted them under far more difficult circumstances in the Western Balkans. Why, then, would anyone turn Moldova into an exception by placing it under Russian influence?" they asked. MS
MOLDOVA, TRANSDNIESTER BEGIN WITHDRAWING VEHICLES FROM DEMILITARIZED ZONE
Moldovan and Transdniester military forces on 14 August began withdrawing their armored vehicles from the demilitarized zone, according to an official OSCE press release. Moldova withdrew 17 vehicles and Transdniester 20. A further 23 Moldovan and 11 Transdniestrian armored vehicles will be evacuated from the zone on 21 and 22 August. The agreement on the withdrawal was reached on 1 August following the mediation of OSCE Mission Chief William Hill, after a dispute between the two sides over the implementation of an earlier agreement on the vehicles' removal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 and 30 July and 5 August 2003). MS
DISCUSSION STARTED ABOUT NATO BASES IN BULGARIA
Reacting to recent proposals by Foreign Minister Solomon Pasi and Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov to offer military bases on the Black Sea coast to NATO, Presidential Military Adviser Mikho Mikhov, a former Chief of Staff general, said on 14 August, that decisions about the stationing of NATO forces should be taken at the presidential level, not by the government, mediapool.bg reported. According to Mikhov, such decisions should be discussed by a body in which all major political forces are represented -- for instance the president's council on national security -- and not by the government. Asked by journalists whether such NATO bases could pose a problem for the country's relationship with Russia, Mikhov said: "Of course there will be problems." He added, however, that as a sovereign state, Bulgaria is obliged to make its own decisions regarding security. UB
A PANDORA'S BOX FOR RUSSIA
The world has grown accustomed to hearing about the new era of stability in Russia that was ushered in when the popular President Vladimir Putin took over from his largely discredited predecessor, former President Boris Yeltsin, at the beginning of 2000. Therefore, it was particularly surprising when, as the Prosecutor-General's Office's investigations into oil giant Yukos unfolded over the last few weeks, senior government officials and leading members of the political elite began warning of the looming danger of a descent into civil war.
Among the first to use this term -- which has particular potency in a country that was wrenched by a bloody and pitiless civil war less than a century ago -- was presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov. "If we begin now to review privatization, it will not be easy to stop that process, and it is possible that such actions could lead to a new civil war," Illarionov said on Ekho Moskvy on 14 July. "It is easy to open Pandora's box, but very difficult to close it." Later in the same interview, he repeated that reviewing privatization would "certainly lead to a second civil war."
Others offered similar prognoses. Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov said on 1 August that reviewing privatization would "return Russia to a totalitarian system and, possibly, spark a civil war on its territory." Presidential Human Rights Commission Chairwoman Ella Pamfilova told "Moskovskie novosti" that doing so would "start a chain reaction." Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 5 August that he believes the country is facing a crisis of mistrust. "Today we live in a fragmented society. I have the feeling that we still have not returned from the barricades, from the front lines of the [1918-20] Civil War," Tkachev said. "The atmosphere of enmity, of mistrust of one another, in which we are living is destructive. It is ruining the country and ruining people's souls."
The civil-war theme received its lengthiest development in a much-discussed open letter published by self-exiled former oligarch Boris Berezovskii in "Kommersant-Daily" -- which he owns -- on 24 July. In that letter, Berezovskii said that revising privatization and nationalizing or redistributing private property would lead to a civil war, just as it did following the 1917 Bolshevik coup. The danger of sparking a civil war "comes from the president personally," Berezovskii charged.
In a long rebuttal to Berezovskii's letter published in the government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 6 August, Vitalii Tretyakov -- who formerly worked closely with Berezovskii when he was the editor of the tycoon's "Nezavisimaya gazeta" -- wrote intriguingly that Berezovskii is wrong in saying that there was no civil war following the 1990s redistribution of property via privatization. "There was a [civil] war," Tretyakov wrote. "And it is still not finished today. It is just that unlike the Civil War of 1918-20, this war is a cold war that, for many reasons, has not broken out into national fighting." Tretyakov does not object to Berezovskii's assertion that there is a real danger of civil war, but argues that the danger stems not from Putin but from "the irresponsible Russian elite that has taken everything and left the people nothing."
Playing the civil-war card seems to be becoming something of a pre-election tradition in post-Soviet Russia. In April 1996, a group of leading financiers -- including Berezovskii, Vladimir Gusinskii, Vladimir Potanin, Mikhail Fridman, Leonid Nevzlin, and Mikhail Khodorkovskii -- issued an open letter warning that the looming presidential contest between Yeltsin and Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov could spark a civil war and undo "the achievements, won through sufferings, of the last decade." "The acrimony of opposing political forces is so great that either of them can rule only by embarking on the road toward civil war and the disintegration of Russia," the oligarchs warned. Their decidedly undemocratic solution was for Yeltsin and Zyuganov to come to some compromise settlement behind closed doors so that election day would not become "the day of the beginning of the Russian civil war." Reading this letter today really makes one wonder just how far Russia has come in the intervening years.
In the days before the second round of voting, moreover, Russia was blanketed by posters and leaflets warning that a Communist victory would mean a return to totalitarianism, hunger, and civil war.
The reemergence of this potentially dangerous tactic now in the run-up to the December Duma elections and next spring's presidential election raises the question of whether the country's post-Soviet political system has put down any roots at all. In her "Moskovskie novosti" interview, Pamfilova placed blame directly on the so-called oligarchs. "They thought they were untouchable, so they didn't need to pay attention to developing social institutions, to social development and the well-being of the entire society, to human rights," Pamfilova said. "All these years they tried to build a system of power that served only their interests. And now they are horrified to find out that that system is rotten to the core and incapable of defending even them."
There does indeed seem to be a strong current of latent hostility among the Russian population toward those who have benefited most from the post-Soviet reforms. A ROMIR polling agency survey released on 28 July found that 77 percent of respondents have a negative view of the role the oligarchs are playing in Russia today. RBK commented on 6 August, "The average Russian, it seems, is convinced that privatization was so unjust that he is ready to do anything to correct that injustice." Manipulating that hostility -- or threatening to manipulate it -- as part of an election or business strategy is certainly a dangerous game. Yukos head Khodorkovskii seemed to be walking a very fine line last month when he hinted that his company could leave up to 50 Russian regions without heat this winter, just as a reputedly Kremlin-connected political analyst was playing with fire when he announced on 29 July that he will ask the Constitutional Court to rule on the legality of the 1990s privatizations.
Echoing Pamfilova, a group of leading political analysts wrote in "Moskovskie novosti," No. 30, that the Yukos investigations have plainly revealed "the absence of legal and structural mechanisms for defending the market and political liberty from encroachments on the part of the traditionalist parts of the executive branch." "Our system contains no mechanisms to protect Russia from moving backward and simultaneously to facilitate the settlement of dramatic social problems...through the formation of new relations among the authorities, business, and society."
The combination of widespread disenchantment and a system that offers no mechanisms for alleviating them means that Russia will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis for some time to come. And the worst of these crises will be elections. The less democratic the country's election process is, the more real the danger of other avenues of political expression will become.
UN ENVOY PRESSES SECURITY COUNCIL FOR MORE TROOPS FOR AFGHANISTAN
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN secretary-general's special representative to Afghanistan, told reporters after a closed-door briefing to the Security Council on 13 August that an increased international troop presence is "necessary" and "doable" in order to guarantee the success of Afghan general elections next year, UN News Center reported. Emphasizing that he is not seeking a deployment on the order of the 40,000 troops the Security Council sent to Kosova, Brahimi said he does not have a specific number in mind; but he said that once the council has agreed to it, "then we can decide whether we need 8,000, or 9,000, or 13,000." Brahimi stressed the importance of sufficient security to guarantee "a credible, free and fair election" and said better security is a good investment for the international community. Brahimi appears to have reverted to his original position on the matter after an apparent reversal; in a 23 July address to NATO, he appeared to back away from a call for expanding the peacekeeping force, which currently numbers fewer than 5,000 and is confined to Kabul (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 24 July 2003). IL
AFGHAN AID WORKERS KILLED IN GHAZNI PROVINCE
Two Afghan aid workers died and three others were wounded on 13 August when gunmen fired on a Red Crescent convoy passing through the southeastern province of Ghazni en route to Kabul, AP reported. The five attackers reportedly fled on two motorcycles. The killings boosted the death toll of 13 August to 64, according to AP, and took on particular significance in light of a message sent earlier in the week, purportedly from Taliban supreme commander Mullah Omar, declaring Western charities to be enemies of Islam (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003). The aid convoy was returning from Paktika Province, where workers had been delivering rice, blankets, and other aid items to victims of flooding. IL
AFGHAN INTERIOR MINISTER CONDEMNS BUS BOMBING
Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali called the 12 August bombing of a bus in Helmand Province a "terrorist attack," adding that whereas the neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants blamed for the blast had previously restricted attacks to military personnel, "now they are targeting civilians -- innocent people," AP reported on 14 August. In addition to the 15 people killed by the explosion, Jamali said, 18 were injured; six children and a woman were among the dead. Jalali told reporters on 14 August that the previous day's bloodshed was due to the fact that Afghanistan's national security capacity is not equal to the insecurity problems the country faces, AFP reported. Jalali said the government is attempting to speed up police training but that, "in the meantime, we need international support." IL
KHALILZAD TO BECOME U.S. AMBASSADOR IN KABUL
The U.S.-based "Newsweek" reported on 12 August that the White House has chosen Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. President George W. Bush's special envoy to Iraq and Afghanistan, to serve as the U.S. ambassador in Kabul. The magazine contended that the move, coupled with the recent announcement of a $1 billion aid package to Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2003), signals Washington's increased commitment to Afghanistan. Khalilzad is reportedly a highly respected White House insider who enjoys access to the president that his predecessor, Robert Finn, did not. The magazine also said the move highlights the degree to which Afghanistan has been neglected, as Khalilzad reportedly told Afghan officials his duties in Iraq left him no time to spend on Afghan issues. IL
UN AGENCIES SAY AFGHAN CEREAL CROP LARGEST ON RECORD
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program said on 14 August that Afghanistan's cereal crop this year will break records and exceed last year's crop by half. The crop forecast predicts 4.36 million tons of wheat, 410,000 tons of barley, 310,000 tons of maize and 291,000 tons of milled rice in a bumper harvest attributed to good rainfall and farmers' improved access to seeds and fertilizer. As a result, the country's cereal-import requirement this year will shrink to 400,000 metric tons -- one-quarter of last year's. A report by the two agencies cautions, however, that many of Afghanistan's poorest households will continue to face food shortages this year. WFP Country Director Susana Rico said years of conflict have worn on the country's poorest people, "and the improved economic and agricultural situation will simply not filter down to them." IL
IRAN'S MARKAZI PROVINCE GETS NEW GOVERNOR-GENERAL
Abdol Mohammad Zahedi was introduced as the new governor of Markazi (Central) Province on 13 August, ISNA reported. Zahedi replaced Ali Jabbarian-Hamedani in a ceremony that was held in Arak and attended by Interior Minister Abdol-Vahed Musavi-Lari. BS
SEVERAL PRIVATE INSPECTORATES OPERATING IN IRAN
Seyyed Ali Seyyed-Abrishami, chief of the bureau of quantitative measurements and industrial research, told a gathering of industrialists in East Azerbaijan Province that some 250 unofficial inspectorates were created in the previous year, "Entekhab" daily reported on 14 August. Seyyed-Abrishami said their activities are helpful to his organization. For example, Abrishami added, these companies inspect firms that do piecework on automobiles, build boilers, and work on elevators. BS
BREAD PRICES IN IRAN APPEAR STABLE
State bakeries are paying 40 rials (1/2 cents, or $0.005) for 1 kilogram of flour, "Entekhab" reported on 14 August. "Entekhab" reported that the government decided that bakeshops will keep their prices at the same level as in the previous year (1381). State radio reported on 13 August that the bakeries will get electricity, water, and gas at the previous year's prices, too. According to "Iran" newspaper on 9 August, several meetings were held recently at the Commerce Ministry to discuss this issue and even a minimal increase in the bread price was rejected. Some of the possible price increase would have offset a rise in employees' wages, but even this was rejected. Bread is a major staple for Iranians, and the government subsidizes bread prices. BS
COST OF A CHICKEN IN EVERY POT FALLS IN IRAN
Mohammad Fayaz, director of the Tehran municipal organization of fresh fruit and vegetable merchants (Sazeman-i Miyadin Miveh va Tarehbar-i Shahrdari-i Tehran), said the price of chicken will be reduced from 18,000 rials ($2.25) to 12,750 rials ($1.60) per kilogram, "Entekhab" reported on 14 August. BS
DEPOSED IRAQI PRESIDENT PURPORTEDLY SENDS LETTER TO ARABIC BROADCASTER
Al-Jazeera claimed on 13 August that deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein answered an unidentified reporter's questions in a two-page, handwritten statement to the satellite channel. It said Hussein praises Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in the statement for his purported criticism of the Iraqi Governing Council's plans to draft a new constitution -- one that might not be based on Islamic law. All of the questions in the "interview" appeared to be based on the presumption that Hussein will return to power and revolve around whether Hussein would be willing to share power with the Al-Najaf Hawzah, to which Hussein purportedly responds that he might work with the Hawzah "in a manner...whereby no single party would interfere in the other's affairs." The writer also called on al-Sistani to issue a fatwa (religious edict) calling for jihad against U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. Al-Jazeera showed viewers a copy of the handwritten statement, which has not been verified by any outside sources. KR
IRAQI SHI'ITES DEMAND THAT U.S. FORCES LEAVE BAGHDAD NEIGHBORHOOD
Iraqi Shi'ites in the Baghdad neighborhood of Al-Sadr City have called on U.S. forces to withdraw from the area after a 13 August incident in which they say a U.S. helicopter tore a Shi'ite banner from a tower in the neighborhood, prompting a protest by some 3,000 Shi'ites that ended in violence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Hoffman apologized for the incident in a letter distributed in Al-Sadr city on 14 August, promising an investigation into the incident. "We deeply regret what has happened.... What occurred was a mistake and was not directed against the people of Al-Sadr City," Reuters quoted Hoffman as writing. Local Shaykh Qays Hadi Khazali told Reuters that an apology is insufficient and that U.S. forces must leave the area. "If the soldiers care first of all about their own welfare, and secondly about the welfare of Iraq, they must leave Al-Sadr City." Meanwhile, AP reported on 14 August that Khazali issued a handwritten statement giving U.S. forces 24 hours to leave the area. The statement also called on Iraqis in the area to remain peaceful until instructed otherwise. KR
GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER INTERVIEWED ON PROGRESS IN IRAQ
Iraqi Governing Council member Nasir Chadirchi told Al-Jazeera in a 13 August interview that council members are working to revise parts of Iraq's penal code that relate to the current security problem. "Today, we began work on...some articles of the Iraqi Penal Code with regard to car theft, rape, sabotage of public services, and other issues," Chadirchi said. "Many articles will be changed and penalties will be made stricter." Asked about the legitimacy of the council, he replied: "The legitimacy...is derived from the Iraqi people and UN Security Council Resolution 1483. We enjoy this legitimacy and we want to exercise it." Chadirchi also said the Arab League's failure to recognize the council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003) is not a reflection of those states' opinions of the council. Rather it reflects an Arab League regulation requiring unanimous approval of the council. He said the majority of Arab states support the Governing Council. KR