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Newsline - August 26, 2003


NAVY COMMANDER SAYS RUSSIA WILL NOT BUILD MORE MAJOR WARSHIPS...
Navy commander and Fleet Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov said on 25 August that Russia will not build any more huge Typhoon-class strategic nuclear submarines or other large submarines such as the "Kursk," which sank in August 2000 during a military exercise, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. Instead, the navy will emphasize the new Borei-class nuclear submarine, which is about one-quarter the displacement of the Typhoons. Although the new vessels will be smaller, they will be better-armed and more difficult to detect, both in the ocean and from space, Kuroedov said. Such submarines are best-suited for the new role of the Russian Navy and for the country's economic capabilities. In all, the navy should have 12-15 strategic nuclear submarines and about 50 conventionally armed, multifunctional nuclear submarines, Kuroedov said. For the same reasons, he added, Russia does not plan to build any new aircraft carriers. VY

...AS ANALYSTS OFFER MIXED REACTION
Fleet Admiral Kuroedov's statements seem to be at odds with the essential provisions of the Naval Doctrine that Russia adopted in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July 2001), Center for Strategy and Technology Analysis Deputy Director Konstantin Makienko told Ekho Moskvy on 25 August. Makienko noted that Indian, Chinese, and U.S. admirals continue to view aircraft carriers and huge strategic nuclear submarines as the heart of their navies. TV-Tsentr on 25 August commented that Kuroedov's statement, which must have been approved by President Vladimir Putin, was likely considered an "unpatriotic act" by many navy officers. However, this view is too simplistic, the station continued. The shift means that Russia is developing its own strategy and does not view the world's major navies as its adversaries, as the Soviet leadership did. The future navy will nevertheless be sufficient to protect the country's coastlines and to protect its interests overseas, TV-Tsentr concluded. VY

MEDIA SEE POLITICAL MOTIVE BEHIND FORMER OLIGARCH'S ARREST...
Most Russian media outlets agreed on 25 August that the arrest of former oligarch and media tycoon Vladimir Gusinskii in Athens on 21 August must be viewed in a political contest. "Vremya novostei" reported on 25 August that Gusinskii has visited Greece repeatedly since 2001 without any problems. The daily also noted that the term of the 2000 criminal case against him is due to expire this month, leaving the Prosecutor-General's Office with the choice of extending or closing it. Politcom.ru wrote on 25 August that although Gusinskii has curtailed his business and political activities in Russia, he has raised his profile in Moscow somewhat in the last few months. The Russian division of Gusinskii's Tel-Aviv-registered company Ekho recently hired two journalists who are known for their outspoken criticism of Kremlin policies -- Viktor Shenderovich and Vladimir Kara-Murza (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003). VY

...AS HIS EXTRADITION IS VIEWED AS LIKELY
"Vedomosti" noted that if Moscow insists on Gusinskii's extradition, Athens will likely comply, as it has many times in the past. In 1998, Greece extradited Andrei Kozlenok, who was accused of illegally exporting gems and precious metals to the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 1998), and the alleged leader of a Kurgan-based criminal group, Vladimir Selivestrov. Later, Athens extradited Vladimir Dryamov, who was then sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment for organizing the Tibet financial-pyramid scheme (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2001). In 2000, Greece extradited two accused criminal bosses, Vladimir Tatarenkov and Dmitrii Zhernov. VY

CRACKDOWN ON POLICE CORRUPTION CONTINUES
Interior Ministry Colonel Viktor Kostryukov, acting head of the Moscow Interior Ministry's Ecological Department, was arrested in his office on 25 August while allegedly accepting a $1,000 bribe from a businessman, ORT reported. Kostryukov reportedly came under the scrutiny of the ministry's Internal Affairs Department after the owner of a chain of Moscow gas stations complained that Kostryukov was charging $1,000 per month in exchange for not conducting ecological inspections of his stations. Internal Affairs Department head Lieutenant General Konstantin Romadanovskii said that the ministry's ecological and economic-crimes units are the most corruption-riddled departments, as their officers frequently extort bribes from businesspeople. VY

COURT CONVICTS SCIENTIST OF REVEALING STATE SECRETS, AMNESTIES HIM
The Primorskii Krai Court in Vladivostok on 25 August convicted scientist Yurii Shchurov of attempting to reveal state secrets to China (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2003), RTR and "Izvestiya" reported. The court sentenced Shchurov to two years' probation, but the sentence was immediately annulled under an amnesty. The 60-year-old scientist told journalists after the verdict that he is exhausted by the legal proceedings, which began in 1999, and will not appeal the conviction. "Although I am dissatisfied that the court found me guilty, I am happy...that I remain a free person without a criminal record," Shchurov said. VY

KUBAN ROCKED BY EXPLOSIONS
Three explosions occurred in Krasnodar on 25 August, leaving three people dead and 20 injured, Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev told RTR that day. Tkachev added that his administration will give local law enforcement organs 3 million rubles ($100,000) to investigate the crimes and find the bombers. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 26 August, the homemade bombs detonated during the morning rush hour. Residents appeared to take the explosions calmly, and no panic ensued, polit.ru reported on 25 August, citing local media. The website concluded that "Russians are clearly starting to take explosions as some part of everyday life" and that "such an attitude can hardly stimulate authorities to more vigorous action." According to polit.ru, the local newspaper "Burevestnik Kubani" had reported recently that local media had been warning for several days that a terrorist act was in the works, but krai authorities brushed these reports aside, saying they were false. JAC

REPLACEMENT FOR SAKHALIN GOVERNOR COULD BE FOUND IN DECEMBER
Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on 25 August that the 20 August crash of an Mi-8 helicopter that was carrying Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov and other oblast officials was caused because it deviated from its planned route by as much as 40 kilometers, "Izvestiya" reported. Shoigu added that the helicopter accident was identical to the one in which Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed was killed in April 2002 (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 29 April 2002). Also on 25 August, Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told reporters that "preliminary analysis of federal and oblast laws suggests that it is theoretically and legally possible to hold gubernatorial elections in Sakhalin [Oblast] at the same time as the [7 December] State Duma elections," RosBalt reported. However, a final decision will be made by the oblast legislature, he said. JAC

NEW LEFT PATRIOTIC BLOC WIDENS LIST OF PARTICIPANTS...
State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev and State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin, the leaders of a newly formed left patriotic bloc, announced on 25 August that a host of new members will be joining their coalition, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 August. According to Rogozin, about 20 State Duma deputies, most of whom are currently members of the People's Deputy faction in the Duma, have agreed to join the new group. Rogozin is also a member of People's Deputy faction, which is headed by Deputy Gennadii Raikov, but he is not a member of Raikov's People's Party. Raikov told the daily that none of his colleagues have informed him of such plans. Rogozin expressed the hope that the new bloc will be able to form its own faction in the next State Duma after surpassing the 5 percent barrier to qualify for party-list seats. Former Central Bank Chairman Viktor Gerashchenko and Airborne Troops Commander Colonel General Georgii Shpak both confirmed at a 25 August press conference their participation in the bloc, according to the daily (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). Shpak intends to retire from the military in September. JAC

...AS COMMUNISTS REBUFF ANOTHER OVERTURE
Izvestiya.ru reported on 25 August that Eurasia Party leader and philosopher Aleksandr Dugin will also be included on the party list of the new bloc. In a short interview published in "Kommersant-Daily" on 18 August, Dugin said that for a large number of people who "are sick to death of [Communist Party leader Gennadii] Zyuganov," Glazev represents the renewal of the Communist Party. "This group of people is broader than the KPRF's electorate," Dugan said. "And if Glazev now burns out, then a new political figure will appear." Izvestiya.ru also reported that the Communist Party has reacted swiftly to Glazev's suggestion that he would like to attend the Communist Party congress this fall. Central Committee Chairman Valentin Kuptsov said that the congress is "closed, and Glazev is not a member of the party." JAC

ANOTHER MEMBER OF KASYANOV TEAM LEAVES WHITE HOUSE
In his first interview since leaving his position as economic adviser to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov last week, economist Mikhail Delyagin named one of the tasks that he completed during his almost 1 1/2-year tenure as helping postpone proposed reforms to the electricity sector, according to "Rodnaya gazeta," No. 17. According to Delyagin, the chief problem with the reform is that it serves the interests of Unified Energy Systems (EES) but not those of the country, and government officials "have been neglecting the interests of the people who have placed their trust in them." Delyagin denied that any intrigues were responsible for his departure and noted that he lost 18 kilograms during his stint at the White House. "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 18 August, citing unidentified sources, that Delyagin will head an independent research center funded by Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor and oligarch Roman Abramovich and aluminum titan Oleg Deripaska. JAC

JAPAN REACHING OUT TO REGIONS IN NORTHWEST
Japanese Ambassador to Russia Issei Nomura arrived in Arkhangelsk on 24 August to discuss cooperation in the timber and raw-materials sectors, pravda.ru reported on 25 August. Nomura met with oblast administration first deputy head Aleksandr Polikarpov. Nomura was scheduled to fly to Murmansk the next day. JAC

FIRST 'THE OLIGARCH,' NOW 'THE PATRIARCH'
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II held talks with Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi on 25 August to discuss film projects devoted to the history of the Russian Orthodox Church, RosBalt reported. Shvydkoi told Aleksii about the results of three documentary-film projects -- a 10-part television mini-series on the history of the church, a five-part television series on the Russian patriarch, and a film directed by Pavel Lungin called "Pilgrimage to the Eternal City." Lungin also directed "Oligarkh," a feature film loosely based on the life of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 13 August 2003). Aleksii told reporters that "the history of the Russian Orthodox Church is inextricably connected with the history of the Russian state" and that "young people in Russia currently are not sufficiently acquainted with the history of their fatherland and, even more, the history of the Russian Orthodox Church," newsru.com reported. JAC

OFFICIAL REQUESTS PROTECTION FOR CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov told journalists in Moscow on 25 August that the commission has asked the Federal Security Service (FSB) to provide protection for candidates in the 5 October Chechen presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported. Chechen Election Commission Chairman Abdul-Kerim Arsakhanov told Interfax on 18 August that once registered, presidential candidates will be provided with security guards and mobile phones. But three days later, Russian presidential aide Sergei Yastrzhembskii said in an interview with "Rossiiskaya gazeta" that Chechen presidential candidates would not be provided with security guards. "The Moscow Times" reported on 8 August that would-be presidential candidates soliciting support from voters were being subjected to harassment and intimidation by security guards loyal to Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 August 2003). LF

CONFLICTING REPORTS OF KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA SHOOTING
ITAR-TASS and Interfax issued conflicting reports on 25 August of a shooting incident earlier that day in which at least two people were killed. ITAR-TASS reported that unidentified gunmen opened fire on a column of cars in which Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia President Vladimir Semenov was traveling, killing three people and wounding two. Semenov was quoted as saying the attack was organized by his political opponents, presumably implying National Bank Chairman Mustafa Batdyev, whom Semenov faces in a runoff election on 31 August for the presidency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003). Interfax, however, quoted republican Interior Ministry officials as denying that Semenov's motorcade came under fire. Those officials claimed that two people were killed and two wounded when a car carrying alleged local crime barons came under fire from members of a rival criminal group. LF

SOLUTION SOUGHT TO ARMENIAN LIFERS' COMPLAINTS
Armenian parliament Legal Affairs Committee Chairman Rafik Petrosian and his deputy met on 23 August at the Nubarashen high-security prison near Yerevan with some of the 42 prisoners who have protested the commuting of their death sentences to life imprisonment, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported on 25 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 7 and 11 August 2003). Under the new Criminal Code signed into law on 1 August, prisoners serving life sentences are eligible for parole only after serving 20 years, rather than after 15 years as under the Soviet-era Criminal Code. Petrosian said after the talks that he might propose legal amendments that would make it possible for the men to be retried, as the punishments envisaged under the new Criminal Code are less stringent than under the previous one. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADERS APPEAL TO UNITED STATES...
Following their unsuccessful talks in London on 24 August on selecting a single opposition candidate to contest the 15 October presidential election, the leaders of Azerbaijan's four main opposition parties issued an appeal to U.S. President George W. Bush and to the international community to monitor the ongoing presidential campaign and to take steps to ensure that the ballot is free and fair, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 25 and 26 August, respectively. Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (reformist wing) Chairman Ali Kerimli told zerkalo.az that even though the London talks did not yield agreement on a single opposition candidate, the four leaders will close ranks behind an opposition candidate in the anticipated second round of the ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). But Interfax on 25 August quoted Siyavush Novruzov, deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, as saying he is "absolutely convinced" that the opposition is not strong enough to make a runoff ballot necessary. According to zerkalo.az, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar rejected during the London talks a proposal that the four leaders delay until late September a decision on backing a single candidate. LF

...AND STRESS IMPORTANCE OF FAIR ELECTION
In Washington, Azerbaijani Prime Minister and presidential candidate Ilham Aliev attended a luncheon on 25 August hosted by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Reuters reported. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told journalists the same day that Washington considers it "very important" that the Azerbaijani presidential election be conducted in accordance with the country's constitution, the new Election Code, and international standards. Meanwhile in Baku and other regions of Azerbaijan, police are systematically removing the campaign posters of opposition candidates Gambar and Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov and replacing them with posters for Prime Minister Aliev and his father, incumbent President Heidar Aliev, Turan reported on 25 August. LF

PROSECUTOR CALLS FOR 15-YEAR SENTENCE FOR FORMER AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER
Prosecutors on 25 August called for former Defense Minister Rahim Gaziev to be sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment on charges of abuse of power, illegal possession of weapons, and embezzlement, Turan reported. Those charges stem from Gaziev's role in the fall of the Karabakh stronghold of Shusha to Armenian forces in early 1993. Gaziev was arrested in November 1993 and sentenced to death after begin convicted on those charges in May 1995. That sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment. The Council of Europe designated Gaziev a political prisoner in January 2001 and demanded a retrial, which began in June 2002 in the Gobustan high-security prison where Gaziev is serving his sentence. LF

AZERBAIJANIS IN GEORGIA PROTEST CONFISCATION OF ALLEGEDLY SMUGGLED GOODS
Some 50 Azerbaijanis staged a protest on 25 August against the confiscation last week by Georgian customs officials of goods they had imported from Azerbaijan, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Georgian customs officials claim that customs duties had not been paid on the consignment of cosmetics and mobile phones, which the importers estimated was worth $100,000. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CASTIGATES PARLIAMENT
In his regular Monday radio interview, Eduard Shevardnadze accused parliament deputies on 25 August of ignoring national interests by absenting themselves from the ongoing emergency parliament session in order to campaign for reelection in the ballot scheduled for 2 November, Caucasus Press reported. He appealed to deputies to pass on 26 August the budget cuts and amendments to the Tax Code demanded by the International Monetary Fund (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 August 2003). Shevardnadze also deplored parliament's failure to pass a bill he proposed designating as a crime attempts to bribe voters. In addition, Shevardnadze charged that unnamed forces are trying to block economic development in Georgia. He rejected comparisons between the new measures introduced to eradicate smuggling and the methods resorted to by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1937. LF

GEORGIAN POLITICAL PARTIES PROPOSE CANDIDATES FOR ELECTION BODY
Shevardnadze's parliamentary press secretary Mariam Tsatsanashvili announced in Tbilisi on 26 August the names of the five members of the new Central Election Commission (CEC) proposed by the pro-presidential bloc, the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported. Opposition parties named their nine CEC representatives the previous day, according to Caucasus Press. The OSCE has submitted to President Shevardnadze five candidates for the post of CEC chairman, according to Rustavi-2. But on 25 August, the outgoing CEC proposed that its current chairman, Gia Zesashvili, be reappointed to that post. LF

FOUR GEORGIAN PEACEKEEPERS INJURED IN IRAQ
Four sappers from the Georgian contingent serving with the international stabilization force in Iraq were hospitalized with burns on 25 August after explosives they were transporting detonated for reasons that remain unclear, Caucasus Press and Russian agencies reported. The Georgian contingent of some 70 men arrived in Iraq on 3 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2003). LF

KAZAKH OPPOSITION LEADER'S PARDON REQUEST REFUSED
The Kazakh authorities have refused opposition leader Ghalymzhan Zhaqiyanov's request for a presidential pardon, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 25 August, citing the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) coalition, of which Zhaqiyanov was a co-founder. Zhaqiyanov was sentenced in 2002 to a seven-year prison term after being convicted of abuse of office when he was governor of Pavlodar Oblast. He submitted a request for a pardon on 6 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). The authorities are demanding that Zhaqiyanov admit his guilt -- which he refuses to do -- and that he promise to have no further involvement in politics, the daily reported. The Kazakh opposition believes that another DVK co-founder, former Energy Minister Mukhtar Ablyazov, who was jailed on charges similar to those of which Zhaqiyanov was convicted, was forced to promise he would leave politics as a condition of his pardon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 2003). BB

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION WANTS TO HAVE COMMON BLOC OF CANDIDATES...
Most of the delegates to the 23-24 August opposition kurultai (congress) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003) called for the formation of a common opposition bloc of candidates for parliamentary and presidential elections scheduled for 2005, Interfax reported on 25 August. Many opposition activists are convinced the elections will be held earlier, possibly before the end of this year. Opposition sources said the congress was attended by more than 1,500 representatives of opposition parties and parliamentary factions, while official sources said there were 300 participants. Participants agreed to send 20 delegates to the World Congress of Kyrgyz on 28-29 August, at which a Democratic Code for Kyrgyzstan is to be adopted. BB

...WHILE KYRGYZ GOVERNMENT SAYS MAJOR OPPOSITION MOVEMENT IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL
The government of Kyrgyzstan has declared that the Movement for the Resignation of [President Askar] Akaev and Reforms for the People is unconstitutional, akipress.org reported on 22 August. The movement, which organized the 23-24 August opposition kurultai, is one of the most vocal and influential groups in the Kyrgyz opposition. The government declaration asserted that the executive branch is doing all it can to foster stability in the country by building consensus among Kyrgyzstan's political and human rights forces, but this is not enough for the opposition. In the government's view, the leaders of the movement ought to act within the framework of the constitution, which specifies the grounds for compelling a president to step down. "Uncivilized" methods of seeking power constitute a threat to the state, according to the government. BB

HEAD OF KYRGYZ HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE REPLACED
The controversial head of the Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee (KHRC), Ramazan Dyryldaev, was replaced on 25 August at a special committee conference in Bishkek, akipress.org, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, and Deutsche Welle reported. Dyryldaev, who is known for his uncompromising criticism of the government, was replaced by Bolot Tynaliev, former KHRC coordinator for Issyk-Kul Oblast, whom Dyryldaev considers to be unduly influenced by the government. Some KHRC members have accused Dyryldaev of misusing foreign grant funding, particularly some from the Dutch group Hivos. Dyryldaev rejects the charges and says they are part of a government plot against him. He is presently living in Vienna, where he has close ties to the International Helsinki Federation. BB

TAJIK LABOR MINISTER SAYS MEDIA REPORTS ON TAJIKS IN RUSSIAN JAILS ARE EXAGGERATED
Tajik Minister of Labor Mamadsho Ilolov told a news conference that domestic and foreign media reports on the number of Tajik labor migrants in Russian jails -- usually given as around 40,000 -- are exaggerated, "Tojikiston" reported on 21 August. Ilolov said that Tajik citizens find themselves in jail in Russia because they do not know the Russian laws that are applicable to them. He admitted that there are Tajiks in jails throughout Russia, but added that the number is probably half the 40,000 often given by the media. Because Tajiks do not need visas to travel to Russia, they cannot be deported from there, despite media reports to the contrary. However, they can be subject to administrative expulsion, as were 300 Tajik labor migrants who were recently expelled from Kemerovo. The newspaper quoted Tajik legal authority Hojimuhammad Umarov as saying that the Tajik labor authorities should develop a program to inform labor migrants about the laws of the countries in which they intend to seek work. BB

ALLEGED ASSASSINATION PLOTTER DIES IN TURKMEN PRISON
Amanmukhammed Yklymov, imprisoned for his alleged role in the purported assassination attempt against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov on 25 November 2002, died in prison in March 2003 as a result of torture, his brother Parakhat Yklymov said, Deutsche Welle and former Kyrgyz Human Rights Committee Chairman Dyryldaev (see above) reported on 25 August. Several members of the Yklymov family were arrested in the wake of the purported assassination attempt. Many international human rights organizations have protested to the Turkmen authorities about the practice of arresting relatives of people accused of crimes. BB

RUSSIAN POLITICAL ELITE SAID TO BE CHANGING STANCE ON BELARUS
Valyantsin Holubeu, a member of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), told journalists in Minsk on 25 August that the position of Russia's political elite regarding Belarus "is obviously changing," Belapan reported. Holubeu was commenting on last week's roundtable in Moscow, which brought together Russian political scientists and lawmakers as well as representatives of the BNF and another Belarusian opposition organization, the United Civic Party. "Russian politicians in fact acknowledged that they had underestimated the right-wing forces in Belarus," BNF Deputy Chairman Yury Khadyka noted. Belarusian political commentator Valery Karbalevich, who also took part in the Moscow roundtable, said the Kremlin seeks to establish contacts with "alternative forces" in Belarus. "This might serve as a kind of pressure on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka with a view toward getting concessions from him regarding some matters concerning the Russian ruble and privatization [in Belarus]," Karbalevich added. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SUPPORTS POTENTIAL ELECTION OF PRESIDENT BY PARLIAMENT
Leonid Kuchma said on 26 August that he is ready, "if need be," to support proposals that Ukraine's president be elected by parliament, Interfax reported. Last week, Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz disclosed that the Socialists and the Communists are discussing a new political-reform draft with the presidential administration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 August 2003). A key element of the draft, Moroz added, is the presidential administration's proposal that the Verkhovna Rada elect the president. Kuchma mentioned a new constitutional-reform plan, albeit without divulging details, in his Independence Day speech on 23 August (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 August 2003). JM

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT DISCUSSES EU MEMBERSHIP
An extraordinary session of parliament on 25 August discussed a special report prepared by deputies of all factions on the anticipated consequences of Estonia joining the EU, BNS reported. Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Marko Mihkelson noted that EU membership should reduce strains in Estonian-Russian relations and end the doubled customs duties that Russia has imposed on imports from Estonia for more than eight years. There was little debate among the 94 deputies attending the session, as almost all agreed that EU membership is the best way for Estonia to protect its national interests and guarantee stable development. The deputies mentioned farmers and fishermen as clear winners as the EU will give them greater aid, while likely losers will be pensioners and the unemployed who will have to cope with increased costs of living after admission. Even though a Center Party congress recently expressed opposition to EU membership, an unofficial poll of its 28 faction members indicated that 17 support joining the EU. SG

LATVIA'S RULING COALITION AGREES ON DISTRIBUTION OF ADDITIONAL FUNDS IN 2004
The parties in the ruling coalition agreed after lengthy debate on 25 August on how to distribute the additional 25 million lats ($43 million) that the Finance Ministry recently added to the revenue projections in the 2004 budget, LETA reported the next day. The funds will not be restricted to several projects, but will be broadly distributed. The largest amount, 3.9 million lats, will go to increase pensions, with 3.2 million lats being allotted for transportation subsidies, 2.5 million lats for the alimony fund, 2.3 million for farmers, and 2.2 million lats for health care. Additional money will also be allocated for internal security, the justice system, promoting tourism, maintaining embassies, and programs to assist children and the disabled. SG

BALTIC, NORDIC PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMEN MEET IN LITHUANIA
In his opening address to the two-day meeting in Palanga of the chairmen of the Baltic and Nordic country parliaments, Lithuanian speaker Arturas Paulauskas said on 25 August that environmental problems might arise as a result of Russian oil giant LUKoil's plans to extract oil from the Baltic Sea near the Curonian Spit, BNS reported. He asked for support in convincing Russia to cooperate more closely with Lithuania, UNESCO, and other Baltic states on ecological matters. He received only verbal backing, however, as no joint statement on the matter is likely. Paulauskas also called on Estonia and Latvia to back Lithuania's proposal to foster multilateral cooperation with Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. Estonian and Latvian speakers Ene Ergma and Ingrida Udre, however, stated that the enormous differences between the Caucasian states make such cooperation difficult and direct bilateral cooperation would be more feasible. SG

POLISH MINERS PROTEST PLANNED CLOSURE OF MINE
Following their night shift, 33 miners have remained in the Bytom II coal mine to protest its closing, planned for 2004, PAP reported on 26 August. The news about phasing out Bytom II and three other coal mines was announced on 25 July. JM

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS PRAGUE COULD MEDIATE BETWEEN WASHINGTON, EUROPE...
Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda told a forum of Czech ambassadors in Prague on 25 August that his country could attempt to mediate and search for compromises to safeguard the trans-Atlantic partnership, CTK reported. Svoboda was alluding to the dispute between the United States, on one hand, and France and Germany, on the other, prior to the military operations in Iraq. "It is in the interest of the Czech Republic as a member of the North Atlantic [Treaty] Organization that NATO remain a key element in trans-Atlantic security cooperation, including regions outside Europe," Svoboda said. He also said the Czech Republic must make adjustments in its strategy and be ready for the likely possibility that NATO will intervene more often outside alliance territory to strengthen international stability. Svoboda said the Czech Republic's foreign-policy priorities are the strengthening of European ties with the United States, the struggle against terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and support of human rights and democracy. MS

...WHILE PREMIER IS CONTENT WITH CZECH FOREIGN PROFILE
Addressing the Czech ambassadors' forum in Prague on 25 August, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla called relations with the United States "outstandingly good," CTK reported. Spidla said Prague took a "balanced" position during the Iraq crisis, though he admitted that some controversial or ambiguous statements by Czech representatives had found their way into the media during that time. Spidla also said relations with Russia have considerably improved, as have relations with neighboring countries. "It is clear that there has been no deterioration in relations with any country," he said. "We have lost no allies, and we strengthened some allied links." Spidla said the Czech Republic must focus its attentions on crisis areas such as the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Korean Peninsula. He said Prague can play a greater role in East Asia and that both South Korean Prime Minister Goh Kun and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi have asked for Czech support in trying to resolve the problems with North Korea. MS

CZECH SECURITY INFORMATION SERVICE SEES GROWING THREAT FROM ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS
In its annual report covering 2002, the Czech Security Information Service (BIS) said the country is facing a growing danger from Islamic extremists and from organized-crime gangs with close Russian connections, CTK and dpa reported. The report said the Czech Republic has ceased to be merely a transit country for Islamic extremists. Posing as refugees, the BIS said, those extremists move freely into the country. It also said Iran's government representatives in the Czech Republic "are mainly interested in military, political, cultural, and business issues and in monitoring the Persian community in our country," according to dpa. The report also said the Czech extreme right is attempting to establish a foothold in the Czech political scene. It also warned that foreign mafias, particularly Russian and Ukrainian, operate in the Czech Republic and are involved in business and "protection" activities. Crime gangs with Chinese and Albanian connections, as well as gangs from Chechnya and Daghestan operate in the Czech Republic, according to the report. MS

SLOVAK GOVERNMENT ASKS CZECH AUTHORITIES TO INVESTIGATE JOURNALIST
The Slovak government has asked Czech authorities to investigate Czech journalist Jiri Kominek, who authored a series of articles critical of the Slovak Information Service (SIS) in the British "Jane's Intelligence Digest," CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 January and 4 and 8 August 2003). Jan Bernat, director of the Czech Special Prosecution in the Prosecutor-General's Office, confirmed to CTK that the request has been received and said Kominek has agreed to be questioned. Bernat also said a mutual agreement between the two countries' prosecution authorities makes such investigations possible. Kominek claimed in his articles that the SIS cooperates with Russian and other former communist secret services, that it employs former communist secret police members, and is involved in suspicious arms deals. MS

SLOVAK ANO PARTY LEADERSHIP APPROVES DISMISSAL OF LEADER'S CRITICS...
The National Executive of the junior coalition Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) approved on 25 August the dismissal from the government of critics of ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko: Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics and Transportation Ministry State Secretary Branislav Opaterny, TASR and CTK reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). The executive empowered Rusko to ask Premier Mikulas Dzurinda to dismiss them. Before approving the resolution, the executive called on Nemcsics and Opaterny to resign, which they refused to do. If the premier approves the request, he must forward it to President Rudolf Schuster, who has the constitutional prerogative to appoint and dismiss members of the government. MS

...AGREES TO POSTPONE DEBATE ON CONTROVERSIAL ABORTION AMENDMENT
Rusko also announced on 25 August that ANO has agreed to postpone from September to October the debate in parliament on the controversial amendment to the abortion law, Reuters reported. He said that by then the Constitutional Court will have ruled on the matter, and this will increase the probability that parliament will override President Rudolf Schuster's veto of the amendment. The ANO-submitted amendment was approved in July thanks to support from that party and the opposition, thereby creating a row that threatened the four-party, center-right coalition's stability (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 24 July and 20 August 2003). MS

SLOVAK PREMIER SUES OPPOSITION DEPUTY FOR DEFAMATION
The Slovak Democratic Christian Union (SDKU) has sued Smer (Direction) party parliamentary deputy Robert Kalinak for defamation, TASR reported on 25 August. Shortly after Prime Minister Dzurinda testified before a prosecutor on 18 August regarding his allegations about a "group" working to discredit the SDKU and the SIS, Kalinak, who is also chairman of the parliament's Defense Committee, told the daily "Sme" that the group includes five people, naming among them "Sme" Editor in Chief Martin Simecka. Kalinak said he received the information from "circles close to the SDKU" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). Speaking on Slovak Television on 24 August, Dzurinda, who is chairman of SDKU, said the party intends to sue Kalinak to force him to expose his alleged sources. Unless Kalinak does so willingly, "I shall make it possible for him to do so" by suing him, Dzurinda said. The prime minister refused to comment on the accuracy of Kalinak's allegations. MS

FORMER SLOVAK SIS DIRECTOR WINS SUIT AGAINST DAILY
A Bratislava district court ruled on 25 August that Ecopress Company, publisher of the daily "Hospodarske noviny," must pay 1 million crowns ($25,910) in damages to former SIS director Ivan Lexa, TASR reported. Lexa filed a defamation suit against the publisher after "Hospodarske noviny" published on 22 July 2002 an article by lawyer Michal Berko describing Lexa as a "small scoundrel from the communist family." The court said Berko did not provide any evidence that Lexa had belonged to the so-called communist "golden youth." In his article, Berko also alleged that Lexa was responsible for Berko's dismissal from Slovak Radio in 1995, but the judge said this allegation also was not proven. Berko was fired after broadcasting a report from foreign press sources saying the SIS was behind the abduction that year of the son of former President Michal Kovac. Lexa is currently on trial for abuse of office, but former Premier Vladimir Meciar amnestied him for his role in the Kovac abduction and other offenses. MS

HUNGARIAN COALITION MENDING DISPUTE OVER TAX CUTS
Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs, Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, and Alliance of Free Democrats Party Chairman Gabor Kuncze told journalists after a meeting on 25 August that they are committed to reducing taxes next year, Hungarian media reported. A coalition row was triggered last month when senior Socialist Party members said the plan to have taxes cut in 2004 is no longer feasible and will have to be postponed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 25 July and 25 August 2003). The three leaders announced that they have agreed to set up a working group comprising Finance Ministry State Secretary Janos Veres, Socialist parliamentary deputy Lajos Szabo, and Free Democrat deputy Ferenc Wekler to work out ways to cut 150 billion forints ($636 million), the cost of the envisaged tax cuts, from next year's budget. MS

HUNGARIAN FINANCIAL SUPERVISORY AUTHORITY HEAD MEETS PRESIDENT
Beleaguered Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF) head Karoly Szasz was received on 25 August at his own request by President Ferenc Madl, "Magyar Hirlap" and "Magyar Nemzet" reported the next day. Szasz briefed the president on PSZAF's work and on attempts to discredit Szasz. According to "Magyar Hirlap," the government plans to call for Szasz's resignation soon after the autumn parliamentary session begins. There have been a number of attempts to remove Szasz from his office since the change of government in May 2002. Premier Medgyessy told journalists on 25 August that the PSZAF head must "assume responsibility if depositors in this country can no longer feel safe." Asked to respond to PSZAF allegations that money laundering occurred at Inter-Europa Bank while Medgyessy was its chief executive officer, the premier said: "Naturally, it is not the CEO's job to concern himself with such issues." MS

OFFICIALS AMBIVALENT ABOUT HAVING IRAQI POLICE TRAINED IN HUNGARY
Foreign Ministry spokesman Tamas Toth said on 25 August that the Hungarian government has not yet received a request from the United States to train Iraqi military police at the southern Hungarian base of Taszar, AP and Hungarian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). Toth said there have just been initial informal inquiries about the possibility. He added that Hungary would be willing to discuss the training program, but only if security in and around the base could be "arranged jointly" by Hungary and the United States. FIDESZ parliamentary deputy Karoly Szita, who is mayor of Kaposvar, in the vicinity of Taszar, told journalists he should not have learned about the plan from the media. He said the case reminded him of the Taszar "game" earlier this year, during which "nobody knew anything." Szita explained that, at first, government officials discussed training interpreters, and later it turned out that those undergoing training were in uniform, undergoing military instruction and were using arms. MS

RUSSIAN FIRM WINS SERBIAN OIL TENDER
The Serbian Privatization Agency announced in Belgrade on 25 August that the Russian Lukoil company has acquired a 79.5 percent share of the Beopetrol firm for approximately $128 million, "Danas" reported. Lukoil will also invest about $93 million in Beopetrol over a five-year period and provide a social-benefits package worth $8.8 million. The Russian firm outbid Hungary's MOL, which offered approximately $111 million for the shares. Beopetrol controls about 17 percent of the Serbian market for gasoline and oil products. Its property belonged to the Croatian INA company before 1990, which has prompted INA to seek compensation in the courts. Serbian Privatization Minister Aleksandar Vlahovic said, however, that he does not expect Lukoil to have any legal problems with its new acquisition because the property in question is not involved in the lawsuits, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

ORTHODOX CHURCH TENSIONS MOUNT IN MONTENEGRO
The Serbian Orthodox Church announced in Belgrade on 25 August that Patriarch Pavle will visit Montenegro on 28 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Cetinje, the smaller Montenegrin Orthodox Church protested the trip as an attempt to influence believers in advance of the next census. The pro-Belgrade People's Party (NS) said it will launch a campaign to persuade Montenegrins to declare themselves as Serbs in the census. This controversy is but the latest chapter in the more than a century-long dispute among Montenegrins as to whether they are a distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 January 2001). PM

SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO'S DEFENSE MINISTER DOUBTS RETURN OF TROOPS TO KOSOVA
In apparent contradiction to recent remarks by General Branko Krga, who heads Serbia and Montenegro's General Staff, Defense Minister Boris Tadic said in Belgrade on 25 August that the 1999 Kumanovo agreement between Belgrade and NATO, and UN Security Council Resolution 1244, do not provide for the return of Serbian forces to Kosova to protect Serbian enclaves, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, 15, and 22 August 2003). Tadic noted that Serbian forces may at some point legally return to Kosova only to provide border security, protect religious monuments, maintain contact with KFOR, and clear minefields. He also noted that unspecified war crimes charges are being prepared against General Vladimir Lazarevic, who was recently sacked as deputy head of the army's General Staff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003). PM

KOSOVAR LEADERS CALL FOR BETTER PROTECTION OF CHILDREN
Nexhat Daci, who is speaker of Kosova's parliament, said in Prishtina on 22 August that young people are Kosova's future and that more must be done to protect them and their rights, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. He stressed that there must not be a repetition of the recent violence that took the lives of two Serbian teenagers in Gorazhdevc (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 August 2003). Mitat Bytyqi, who leads a nongovernmental organization dealing with children's rights in the province, said that children's rights are often neglected or violated in Kosova, especially in the villages. PM

NATO EXERCISE BEGINS IN KOSOVA AND BOSNIA
NATO maneuvers code-named Dynamic Response began in Kosova and Bosnia on 26 August, involving some 3,000 troops, KFOR's website reported (http://www.nato.int/kfor/press/pr/pr/2003/08/05.htm). The exercise will last until 24 September, demonstrating NATO's ability to bring in emergency reinforcements quickly. PM

CROATIAN PARTY FACES FINANCIAL PRESSURE OVER BOSNIAN EDUCATION REFORM
High Representative Paddy Ashdown announced in Sarajevo on 25 August that a fine of $22,127 has been levied on the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) because of its alleged obstruction of a recent education reform in Centralnobosanski Canton, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Ashdown warned that he will levy a similar fine on the HDZ each day until it agrees to implement the reform aimed at ending ethnic segregation in Bosnia's schools (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 April and 6 June 2003). PM

BOSNIA DETERMINED TO PRESS GENOCIDE CASE AGAINST SERBIA
Sakib Softic, who represents Bosnia at the Hague-based International Court of Justice, told RFE/RL on 25 August that Bosnia will continue its genocide case against Serbia despite recent comments by Serbian Justice Minister Vladan Batic that an out-of-court settlement is in the offing. Softic said that for Bosnia to drop its case would amount to a betrayal of its interests and an insult to the memory of those killed by Serbian forces in the 1992-95 conflict. Batic's remarks are likely part of frantic efforts by many Serbian politicians in recent weeks to court the nationalist vote in advance of elections, which are widely expected within the next 12 months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8, 15, and 22 August 2003). PM

ROMANIA TO OPEN CONSULATE IN HONG KONG
President Ion Iliescu announced after talks in Hong Kong with Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa that Bucharest will open a consulate in Hong Kong to tap into growing trade between China and Romania, dpa reported. Romanian Radio cited Iliescu as saying that Hong Kong represents one-quarter of his country's more than $750 million annual trade with China. MS

FORMER MINERS' LEADER THREATENS MASSIVE PROTESTS IN ROMANIA
Former miners' leader Romeo Beja said on 25 August that Romania's miners are preparing "unimaginable protests" going as far as "civil disobedience," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. "We are ready to either work with dignity or die with dignity," Beja said. The government recently announced further pit closures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003). Beja is a former deputy to Miron Cozma, who is serving an 18-year sentence for leading the miners' rampages of Bucharest in 1990-91 and the failed attempt to descend on the capital in 1999. Beja came to Bucharest on 25 August to congratulate Cozma on his birthday, but Cozma refused to receive him. Observers said Cozma might have done so because he fears Beja's threats might hurt his chances of receiving a presidential pardon (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 23 July 2003). MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS ISRAELI DAILY COMMITTED 'FRAUD'...
In a communique released by President Iliescu's office precisely one month after the publication of his controversial interview with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz," Iliescu on 25 August accused the daily of committing "a fraud," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 July and 25 August 2003). Iliescu said the reporter who interviewed him did not submit questions in advance as is usual in such cases. Nonetheless, "out of politeness" the president agreed to respond to questions, provided the text of the interview would be submitted to his office ahead of publication. He said "Ha'aretz" failed to respect that pledge, "responding to goodwill with ill will." Iliescu accused the daily of indulging in a "deplorable political provocation" and added that this behavior is "unlikely to contribute to the traditional friendship between the Romanian and the Israeli people." Quite the contrary, the behavior of the daily is likely to "boost suspicion and encourage anti-Semitic sentiments," he said. The communique added that, as a result of the scandal, he received many letters of support, including some "whose [anti-Semitic] demeanor he does not share." He said he was "trapped into the pitfall of a provocation stemming from obscure interests." MS

...BUT ROMANIAN DAILY SAYS PRESIDENT 'IS LYING'
The daily "Evenimentul zilei" on 26 August printed a transcript of the controversial parts of Iliescu's interview with "Ha'aretz" and published them under the headline, "At the age of 73, Iliescu is lying!" The daily said it received the tapes from Israeli correspondent Grig Davidovici, who interviewed the president. Davidovici also told "Evenimentul zilei" that he and the daily are "strictly abiding by the rules of professional journalism." Davidovici also said there was never any agreement to have the interview cleared prior to publication. He said Iliescu made the request after the interview ended, and that Davidovici tried to no avail to reach presidential spokeswoman Corina Cretu in order to satisfy the president's request. The transcript published by "Evenimentul zilei" shows the journalist in fact softened the president's controversial statements, rather than exacerbating them or taking them out of context. MS

MOLDOVAN JOURNALISTS JOIN PROTEST AGAINST PLANNED FEDERALIZATION
Journalists representing 29 Moldovan publications on 25 August expressed "solidarity" with the contents of the letter of protest signed earlier this month by 15 Moldovan nongovernmental organizations against the OSCE plan for Moldova's federalization, Flux reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003, and End Note below). In a statement released by the group, the signatories said "the so-called federalization project launched by Moscow on 3 July 2002 via the OSCE is in fact an attempt to transform our country into a Russian protectorate." Moldovan society cannot agree to the federalization plan "as long as a part of the state's territory is under occupation," they said. Any referendum organized in an Igor Smirnov-ruled Transdniester, which has Russia's political and military backing, is "an insult to any [Moldovan] citizens who suffer daily because of the terror and the pressure exercised by that criminal group," they said. The signatories express full support for the so-called "three D conditions" formulated by the 15 NGOs, namely that Transdniester must undergo demilitarization, decriminalization, and democratization before a referendum on a federation can be considered. MS

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTRY POSTPONES DISCUSSION ON EU INTEGRATION PLAN
The Foreign Ministry failed to meet the 25 August deadline for presenting to the government the Strategic Concept for Moldova's EU Integration, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau told RFE/RL that Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev received a copy of the document at the end of last week and will submit it for the approval of the National Commission for European Integration before discussing it with cabinet members. Tarlev said the document will be published in Moldova only after its approval by the European Commission. MS

ROW OVER DUTIES OF BULGARIAN CONTINGENT IN IRAQ...
A report in "The Wall Street Journal" on 22 August about the handover of powers from U.S. troops to the Bulgarian military contingent in the Iraqi city of Kerbala suggested that the Bulgarian troops are not prepared to take the lead in the civilian administration of the area. The 455-strong Bulgarian contingent, which is under Polish command, replaces about 1,000 U.S. troops. Government spokesman Dimitar Tsonev said on 25 August that Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov has signaled that Bulgaria might deploy some 15-20 civilians to Iraq, who would handle civilian administration, Focus news agency reported. Tsonev added that the Bulgarian contingent cannot take over administrative duties, because it is tasked with police functions. UB

...LEADS TO DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SOFIA AND WARSAW
Speaking after a meeting with his visiting Polish counterpart Aleksander Kwasniewski, President Georgi Parvanov said in Sofia on 25 August that Bulgarian troops cannot take over functions of the emerging civilian leadership in Iraq, the president's official website (http://www.president.bg) reported. Parvanov stated that the Bulgarian contingent is in charge of local security and that the reconstruction of Iraq can only be carried out with the active cooperation of the local population. "We cannot imagine that our units can take over functions in the civilian leadership that is emerging in these regions," Parvanov said. Kwasniewski, for his part, stressed that the Polish contingent will help build a civilian administration in Iraq as much as possible. "It is clear that this is a difficult task demanding contacts and negotiations with the local population. This cannot be resolved either in Sofia or in Warsaw or in Washington," Kwasniewski said. UB

IN MOLDOVA-TRANSDNIESTER DISPUTE, MANY PLANS BUT FEW SOLUTIONS
Negotiations between Moldova's communist government and pro-Russian separatists in the breakaway region of Transdniester have been under way for several months, despite interruptions and occasional disputes between negotiators. The talks are being held within the framework of a proposal presented by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that was put forward last year during a meeting in Kyiv between the two sides and international mediators from the OSCE, Russia, and Ukraine.

But the OSCE proposal -- which envisages turning Moldova into a federation in which Transdniester would have special status -- has triggered a wave of opposition from several Moldovan NGOs. They say the plan is meant to bring Moldova back under Moscow's control with the blessing of the OSCE.

That position was recently echoed in a series of articles and editorials in "The Wall Street Journal-Europe," which argued that the OSCE plan is "a recipe for instability which gives international imprimatur to Russian military meddling there [in Moldova]."

But the OSCE disagrees. William Hill, the head of the OSCE mission to Moldova, said the proposal, which enjoys the support of other international bodies, is meant to support Moldova's sovereignty and territorial integrity. "The OSCE mission, along with the other mediators and OSCE participating states and a number of major international actors -- international organizations such as the European Union and the Council of Europe -- have assisted in this process and have expressed support for the basic lines of the Kyiv proposal," Hill said. "That is, a federal-type resolution to the conflict that involves a special status for the Transdniestrian region, but which respects Moldova's unity, independence and territorial integrity."

Details about the plan are sketchy. But according to a draft released to the media in February, Transdniester would become a subject in the new Moldovan federation but retain its own governing and legislative bodies, as well as its own budget and fiscal authorities. Transdniester would be entitled to its own language policy on its territory, while Moldovan would remain the state language.

Hill says a constitutional commission was formed in April and began working on a new constitution last month. A referendum to approve the new constitution is eventually due to be held in both Moldova proper and Transdniester. But Hill says that basic disagreements remain over the exact form the federation would take.

The plan also has its critics. Last week, a group of some 15 Moldovan NGOs issued a public statement warning that any referendum held in Transdniester would make "a mockery of democracy." The statement blames the OSCE's Moldova mission for failing to address adequately the crisis during the past decade and for kowtowing to what it calls Russia's "neo-imperial games."

Igor Munteanu heads Viitorul, one of the groups to sign the statement criticizing the OSCE plan. He said that no lasting federation can be established until democracy takes root in Transdniester, and crime and armed gangs are eradicated.

"The reaction and the motive for this [opposition] statement are questioning not the federalization principle itself, but the subject with which Moldova is supposed to federalize itself," Munteanu said. "Three elements were very clearly highlighted in the statement as being the conditions for a successful negotiation process: demilitarization, ensuring the conditions for the democratization of the [Transdniester] region, and the disarming of the troops in this region. One should not forget that even if Russia fulfills its obligation [to withdraw arms and troops from Transdniester] according to the 1999 Istanbul summit, a considerable amount of military equipment will be left in the hands of the unconstitutional Transdniestrian forces."

Others are also skeptical about the validity of a referendum in Transdniester, where there is no democratically elected government. Reuters correspondent Dmitri Chubashenko, a Russian-speaking Moldovan, said that Transdniester remains under the control of an oppressive, Soviet-style regime, in which people are afraid to express their opinions. "Transdniester is a kind of Soviet-style oppressive regime," he said. "And many refugees from the left bank [of the Dniester River -- i.e., from Transdniester] -- Moldovans who supported Moldovan independence -- they came to the right bank [the part of Moldova controlled by the legitimate Moldovan government]. And those who remained don't have the possibility of expressing their political opinions there [in Transdniester], because the political police are following all the dissidents. They are afraid to express their opinions."

Responding to the statement of opposition issued by the 15 NGOs, OSCE mission head Hall strongly denied that his organization is biased in favor of Russia or Transdniester. "I totally reject the charge, or such allegations, that the OSCE has been working to support some sort of neo-imperialism or Russian national aims in Moldova," Hill said. "This is sheer demagoguery that's used by political figures in Moldova for their own private political aims. The basic policy of the OSCE and the OSCE mission in Moldova is to support Moldova's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to achieve a peaceful political settlement to the Transdniestrian conflict."

Hill said the NGOs speak for only a part of Moldovan society, and that there are other civil organizations and political leaders who support the OSCE's efforts. "The Wall Street Journal-Europe" also reported that the European Union might soon decide to deploy a peace-consolidation force to Moldova.

But Christina Gallach, spokeswoman for the EU's foreign and security affairs chief, Javier Solana, said the 15-member bloc has no immediate plans to deploy peacekeepers to the region. Gallach also expressed the EU's support for the OSCE-backed federalization plan.

"At this moment, there is no specific plan on a EU military deployment in Moldova," Gallach said. "The European Union is supporting the efforts of the OSCE in order to help the political process overcome the crisis in the country. And the European Union is ready to help it in the process of the constitutional reform, the process of federalization and in whatever means are needed. And the eventual deployment of a EU peacekeeping force at this moment is just an eventuality, it is not a plan. And we have to look at this process later on, depending on the political evolution and the circumstances."

But some analysts are urging the EU to take a more active role in resolving the Moldova crisis. German political scientist Claus Neukirch works with the International Crisis Group (ICG), an international NGO dedicated to resolving conflicts worldwide. He said the EU stands to benefit from a democratic and prosperous Moldovan state.

"Moldova is outside the EU border, but it is going to be a new EU neighbor, and in 2007, when Romania becomes an EU member, there will be a direct border between Moldova and the EU," Neukirch said. "And then, if Moldova will be a volatile region, Transdniester will still have the problems it has today -- contraband, criminality and so on. I don't think Brussels wants to have something like that so close to the EU. And if we judge by all the signals that the EU has given lately, Brussels is interested in having a stable and prosperous neighbor. But Moldova will not be stable and prosperous unless the Transdniester conflict is solved."

Neukirch recently authored an ICG report on the issued titled "Moldova: No Quick Fix." In it, he reports that the "quick fix" envisioned by the OSCE's Dutch chairmanship is undesirable and unlikely to be realized this year.

While he, too, favors a federalization of Moldova rather than a large degree of autonomy for Transdniester, Neukirch calls for comprehensive, step-by step approach to the adaptation. Only in this way, he says, will the settlement be sustainable.

Neukirch, who is due to become the OSCE's new spokesman in Moldova next month, makes a series of recommendations to the OSCE, the EU, and the United States on how gradually to resolve the crisis. They include a systematic and synchronized democratization of both Moldova proper and Transdniester; a reconstruction program for a unified Moldova; the presence of an EU-led peacekeeping force under an OSCE mandate; and a sanctions regime to be imposed on the Transdniestrian leadership if it continues to block the negotiation process.

Eugen Tomiuc is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.

U.S., AFGHAN FORCES LAUNCH OFFENSIVE AGAINST NEO-TALIBAN...
Between 14 and 50 supporters of the ousted Taliban regime were killed on 25 August during joint assaults in Daichopan District of Zabul Province by pro-government Afghan troops supported by U.S. forces, international news agencies reported. The commander of the operation in Zabul, Brigadier General Haji Grani, said that 20 neo-Taliban fighters where killed and two of their bases in the Dawzi area of Daichopan were captured, Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported on 25 August. Grani said that U.S. warplanes bombed Taliban positions, adding that the few U.S. soldiers on the ground "took part in infantry combat but [their main mission was] to tell the pilots the exact location of" neo-Taliban force concentrations. A spokesman for Zabul Province Governor Hafizullah Khan said that up to 50 neo-Taliban fighters were killed, but the U.S. military estimated the number at 14, the BBC reported on 25 August. AT

...AS MOP-UP OPERATIONS CONTINUE...
A small number of U.S. Special Forces supporting 450 pro-government Afghan soldiers searched the Daichopan District on 26 August, one day after large-scale fighting in the region left many neo-Taliban fighters dead, Reuters reported. According to Daichopan police chief Juma Khan, the "fighting has come to an end," and his forces "are conducting house-to-house, village-to-village, and cave-to-cave searches" for neo-Taliban forces. Juma Khan believes that most of the remaining neo-Taliban forces have escaped to neighboring districts. According to some reports, more than 600 neo-Taliban fighters had gathered in Daichopan in recent weeks and were responsible for killing up to five pro-government soldiers on 23 August. In April, five people, including two pro-government soldiers, were killed in an attack attributed to the neo-Taliban in Daichopan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 April and 25 August 2003). AT

...AND NEO-TALIBAN REMAIN DEFIANT, CITE MUCH LOWER CASUALTY FIGURES
Mulla Abdul Jabar, who has been appointed as the governor of Zabul Province by former Taliban regime leader Mulla Mohammad Omar, said on 25 August that only four of their fighters were killed in the operation, Reuters reported on 26 August. He also said that more than 25 pro-government soldiers were killed. Abdul Jabar said 1,000 neo-Taliban fighters took part in the operation, which was led by Mulla Abdul Razzaq Nafis. Nafis is a member of the recently formed leadership council of the neo-Taliban. Abdul Jabar added that he considers himself "the real governor of Zabul because Mulla Omar is the real ruler of Afghanistan" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2003). AT

FORMER ZABUL GOVERNOR ASSUMES NEW POST
Former Zabul Province Governor Hamidullah Tokhi on 24 August assumed his new post as the governor of Wardak Province, Afghanistan Television reported. Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai transferred Tokhi earlier this month from his position in Zabul, a province under constant threat of attack by the neo-Taliban (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 August 2003). AT

NEW POLITICAL PARTY BANNED FOR CONNECTIONS WITH FORMER COMMUNIST PARTY
After a discussion on 25 August under the leadership of Chief Justice Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, the Afghan Supreme Court unanimously decided to ban the activities of the newly formed United National Party (UNP), Radio Afghanistan reported. The new party was established by supporters of the former Afghan communist party, the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). The Supreme Court justified its decision by saying that members of the PDPA committed grave crimes against the people of Afghanistan and caused widespread suffering after the party came to power in 1978. The Supreme Court further recommended that PDPA members should be put on trial. It is not clear from the report if members of the UNP should also be tried. The decision of the Supreme Court was based on a recent verdict issued by the Ulama Council of Afghanistan, which stipulated that any political party that has a history of anti-Islamic activities or that adopts anti-Islamic policies should not be allowed to function in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2003). AT

TEHRAN WARNS LONDON ABOUT FORMER DIPLOMAT'S ARREST...
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a 25 August telephone conversation with his British counterpart, Jack Straw, that the arrest of former ambassador to Buenos Aires Hadi Suleimanpur "will have a very negative effect on the two countries' relations," state radio reported. Suleimanpur was arrested in England on an international arrest warrant issued by Argentina for his suspected role in the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center, an act that killed 85 people and wounded more than 200 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). Kharrazi said that Suleimanpur is innocent and called for his immediate release. Kharrazi added that "the decision of the Argentinian judge was politically motivated and lacked any legal basis." BS

...AS IRANIAN REACTION TO ARREST SURPRISES ARGENTINA
Argentinian Interior Minister Anibal Fernandez said on 25 August that her government will inform Tehran that the decision to issue arrest warrants against Iranian citizens was made by a court, Buenos Aires' Canal 13 Television reported. She added that it was not a political decision. Tehran announced on 24 August that it is suspending all economic and cultural ties with Argentina after former Iranian Ambassador to Buenos Aires Suleimanpur was arrested in England. The Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires also regretted the Iranian decision, saying on 25 August, "It is hard to understand the attitude adopted by the government of Iran to stop economic and cultural relations between the two countries," Reuters reported. BS

IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE PERSONNEL BLAMED FOR CANADIAN'S DEATH...
According to the official investigation into the death in custody of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, two of her interrogators, who are Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) employees, are responsible for her death, ISNA reported on 25 August. The investigators visited all the locations where Kazemi was held, spoke with all the individuals who were in contact with her, and examined her medical records. Inquiries were also made at the MOIS, the police, the prosecutor's office at Evin prison, and at the prison itself. The Tehran Criminal Court has five days in which to express its view on these findings. BS

...BUT INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY DENIES RESPONSIBILITY
An MOIS official identified only as "Shafei," which is presumably a cover name, on 25 August rejected as "sheer lies" the assertion that two members of his organization are responsible for photojournalist Kazemi's death, IRNA reported. "The [MOIS] has discovered the truth of the matter on the case related to the death of Zahra Kazemi, and intends to publish it for public information in very near future," he said. BS

LEGISLATURE LOOKS INTO REPORT ON KAZEMI'S DEATH
Nasser Qavami, who heads the legislature's Judicial and Legal Affairs Committee, complained on 25 August that the report on photojournalist Kazemi's death does not explain why she was killed, ISNA reported. Nor does the report, Qavami said, explain how it was determined that the two individuals are guilty -- did they confess, were there witnesses, or was it the judge's deduction on the basis of evidence? "Zahra Kazemi's case will suffer the same fate as the serial murders case [the 1998 murders of dissidents, writers and intellectuals]," Qavami said, "because the reason for their guilt has not been made clear in the report." The Article 90 Committee, which deals with complaints about the government, will meet with MOIS officials on 26 August to discuss the report, ISNA reported. Committee Chairman Hussein Ansari-Rad said, "The Article 90 Committee has not at all reached a definitive conclusion as to who or which organization is guilty." BS

IRANIAN JUDICIARY RECEIVES REPORTS ON PROVINCIAL UNREST
The State Inspectorate and the State Prosecutor's Office presented their reports on the mid-August unrest in Isfahan Province at a 25 August meeting of senior Judiciary officials, state radio reported. No details were provided. The unrest started with a protest against the amalgamation of Semirom's Vardasht village with the neighboring town of Shahreza into the newly created administrative region of Dehaqan, but it expanded and grew violent, with eight people being killed and 150 wounded. Security personnel were among the dead. Qorban-Ali Dori-Najafabadi, who heads the Administrative Justice Organization, presented a third report at the 25 August meeting. He said that those who were unhappy about plans for the towns could have asked the Administrative Justice Organization to help. "The Administrative Justice Organization is the institution that is responsible for dealing with the issue of injustice or the complaints the people make about officials or institutions or the regulations drawn up by the government," Dori-Najafabadi explained. "It is responsible for the restoration of the rights of the people." BS

KHATAMI ENCOURAGES APPRAISAL OF SUCCESSES, FAILURES
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said in a 26 August speech marking Government Week that his government has tried its best to fulfill its promises to the voters, but as his presidency nears its end people must judge for themselves where and why it sometimes failed to achieve its objectives, ISNA reported. "This government has always defended freedom and people's rights," he said. "Of course, their realization is another matter." Khatami urged his audience to assess the government's successes and failures "so that we can decide what factors inside or outside the government have caused them." BS

U.S. FORCES LAUNCH RAID IN SEARCH OF GANG MEMBERS IN IRAQ
U.S. forces launched a raid on 26 August in search of a gang of organized criminals suspected of attacking coalition forces in the Iraqi town of Khalis, some 70 kilometers north of Baghdad, AP reported. U.S. Colonel David Hogg, commander of the 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, told AP that the raid resulted in the capture of 24 suspected gang members. The gang's alleged leader, Latif Hamid al-Kubayshat -- identified by U.S. forces as "Latif" -- remains at large. The gang's "primary focus is probably criminal activity, but they have attacked coalition forces through direct and indirect means," Hogg told AP. "As long as [al-Kubayshat] is in place, we will not be able to establish the conditions for the Iraqi police to establish law and order in the area." KR

GANG'S LEADER REPORTEDLY A KNOWN KILLER
Al-Kubayshat's gang reportedly claimed responsibility for a bomb explosion outside the Baquba police station on 10 August that killed one U.S. soldier. Al-Kubayshat is also suspected of burning down the Baquba courthouse, selling illegal weapons, and of killing a prostitute he said had serviced U.S. soldiers. "We know he's setting up illegal checkpoints to attack, rob, and kill Iraqis," Hogg said. Al-Kubayshat was serving multiple life sentences for murder, but was released under a general amnesty granted by deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in October 2002 (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 25 October 2002), AP reported on 26 August. KR

JOINT PUK-SCIRI DELEGATION HEADS TO KIRKUK AFTER KURDISH-TURKOMANS CLASH
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) have sent a joint delegation to the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk to meet with local leaders in an effort to ease tensions there after two days of clashes between Kurds and Turkomans on 23-24 August that left at least 12 people dead, London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 25 August. A bitter power struggle erupted between Kurds and Turkomans in the oil-rich city following the downfall of the Hussein regime, and speculation over who might be responsible for the weekend clashes has compounded tensions. A SCIRI source reportedly told "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that a foreign element -- possibly Turkey -- was to blame, while a PUK source told the daily that "terrorists" sparked the clashes. Meanwhile, a Kirkuk City Council source blamed the radical group Ansar Al-Islam. Reuters reported on 25 August that the Iraqi Turkoman Front has accused the U.S. of failing to protect the Turkomans in Iraq, and has called on Turkey to send troops to do so. The news agency also reported that thousands of Shi'ites marched in Baghdad on 25 August in support of Turkomans, who are also Shi'ites. KR

SHI'ITES MARCH IN AL-NAJAF TO PROTEST ATTACK ON SCIRI
Thousands of Shi'ites protested in the holy city of Al-Najaf on 25 August following the funerals of three bodyguards of SCIRI member Ayatollah Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim, Reuters reported on 25 August. The bodyguards were killed in a bomb attack on al-Hakim's office on 24 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). According to Reuters, protesters reportedly blamed Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr for the attack on al-Hakim's office. Al-Sadr's followers have denied any involvement in the attack, but they have been linked to another high profile attack in Al-Najaf -- the 10 April killing of Ayatollah Abd al-Majid al-Khoi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2003). SCIRI has reportedly blamed Ba'athist loyalists for the 24 August attack. KR

ISRAELI NEWSPAPER REPORTS THAT U.S.-ISRAEL MIGHT PUSH FOR KIRKUK-HAIFA PIPELINE
The Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" reported on 25 August that a senior Pentagon official sent an official telegram to the Israeli Foreign Ministry regarding the possible construction of a pipeline from the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk to a refinery in Haifa, Israel. The telegram reportedly requested a cost estimate for rebuilding the Mosul-Haifa pipeline, which was originally constructed by the British and closed in 1948. Oil would be transported from Kirkuk via Mosul and through Jordan, "Ha'aretz" reported. Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritzky said that he will raise the issue in meetings with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham in Washington next month. Rumors about the possible pipeline have circulated for months, and the issue is expected to be highly contentious, both inside Iraq and among antiwar pundits who claimed the primary U.S. objective in Iraq was to gain access to the country's oil. Turkey is also likely to oppose the pipeline, since northern Iraqi oil currently flows to ports in that country. KR

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