DEFENSE MINISTER BLAMES PILOTS FOR MIDAIR HELICOPTER COLLISION...
Six airmen were killed and one severely wounded when two Mi-24 military helicopters collided on 26 August at an airfield near Ussuriisk in Primorskii Krai, Russian media reported. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, who was an eyewitness to the tragedy, said the incident occurred because the pilots made unnecessary maneuvers, adding that their commanding officers should be disciplined. "The reason for this incident was carelessness, bravado, and midair hooliganism," Ivanov was quoted as saying. General Vitalli Pavlov, however, was quoted as saying that flight crews are less well prepared now than previously because the number of training flights has been reduced, and this is the cause of the increasingly frequent accidents. TV-Tsentr commented on 26 August that the poor maintenance of the helicopter fleet is the main reason for the crashes. Of 6,000 helicopters in the country's service, fewer than half are fully flight-ready, the station reported. Even the usually reliable Mi-8, which is in use in 40 countries, has been involved in 38 crashes in Russia in the last five years, killing 160 people, the station said. VY
...AS EXPERT SAYS MINISTER SHOULD NOT BE SO QUICK TO JUDGE...
Aleksei Novikov, a pilot with 30 years' experience flying virtually every type of helicopter in service in Russia, told TV-Tsentr on 26 August that Defense Minister Ivanov's comments blaming the pilots for the Ussuriisk crash were inappropriate. "I can understand the emotions of a man who has just witnessed such a catastrophe, but a high-ranking official like Ivanov should not go public with such remarks before a state investigating commission can make its conclusions," Novikov said. He added that pilots are not so suicidally inclined as to do the kinds of things that Ivanov said they did. VY
...AND CRITICIZES EMERGENCY MINISTER AS WELL
Novikov, who is deputy chief of staff of the Federation Council's Security and Defense Committee, also sharply criticized Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu for his recent comments blaming the pilots for the crash of an Mi-8 helicopter in Kamchatka Oblast that killed 20 people, including Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). Initially, Shoigu said that the helicopter crashed from a high altitude and substantiated that argument by saying parts of the helicopter were dispersed over a wide area, Novikov said. Then Shoigu produced a completely different version of events, citing other evidence to indicate that pilot errors caused the crash. He even described the incident as if he had witnessed it, Novikov said. He added that the minister should await the results of an investigation and not confuse public opinion by presenting conflicting and partial information. VY
PRESIDENT OFFERS PRAISE AT FAR EAST GOVERNOR'S FUNERAL
Speaking at the funeral of Sakhalin Oblast Governor Farkhutdinov in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk on 27 August, President Vladimir Putin said the federal government will support the local administration in coping with any problems that arise from Farkhutdinov's death, RTR reported on 27 August. He added that Farkhutdinov had created a competent, professional team to manage the complicated region of Sakhalin. Although some members of that team were also killed in the 20 August helicopter accident that took Farkhutdinov's life, this should not negatively affect the region, which is particularly well organized, Putin said. Putin arrived in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk from Altai Krai, where he was vacationing with his family. He met with acting Governor Ivan Malakhov and presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii. VY
GOVERNMENT REHEARSES STATE OF EMERGENCY IN FAR EAST
On 27 August, the final day of a major military exercise in the Far East (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2003), the navy and other federal agencies were expected to rehearse the imposition of a state of emergency in Primorskii Krai, following a directive issued by President Putin, strana.ru reported on 26 August. By law, only the president can impose a state of emergency, and his order must be approved by the Duma. In the drill, Primorskii Krai Governor Sergei Darkin will head an emergency government, and a military commander will serve as his deputy. "Everything is real in the confrontation with foreign and domestic terrorism," Defense Minister Ivanov said. "We should be ready [to handle] the most unbelievable circumstances." In total, the exercises cost 250 million rubles ($8 million), Ivanov said, adding that the lack of preparedness fostered by not conducting them could cost the country much more dearly, RTR reported on 27 August. VY
RUSSIAN COMPANIES RESUME WORK IN IRAQ
Russian specialists have resumed construction work at the Al-Yusufiyah power plant, about 30 kilometers from Baghdad, which they began under the regime of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, ORT reported on 26 August. When completed, the plant will be the country's largest. Since the U.S.-led military action to depose Hussein this spring, Russian businesses have suffered about $40 million in direct losses and billions of dollars in indirect losses because of work stoppages on Iraqi projects. However, Russian diplomats successfully negotiated with the United States the return of Russian business, and now a number of companies are working on the postwar reconstruction of the Iraqi economy, ORT commented. VY
POLL: RUSSIANS BELIEVE OLIGARCHS, CRIMINALS RUNNING THE COUNTRY
Although President Putin's popularity rating remains high, only 15 percent of Russians believe that he has complete control of the country, according to a poll by the Agency of Regional and Political Research (ARPI), newsru.com reported on 26 August. The poll of 1,500 people was conducted in 32 Russian regions. Thirty-seven percent of respondents believe that "big business and the oligarchs" wield the real power in Russia, while 19 percent said that "organized crime" does so, 12 percent named the bureaucracy, and 4 percent said that power lies with the State Duma. Just 2 percent said that power is in the hands of regional leaders. VY
GOVERNMENT SUBMITS 2004 BUDGET TO DUMA
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 26 August authorized the government's draft 2004 budget for submission to the State Duma one day before the deadline mandated by the Budget Code, Russian media reported. The same day, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin held separate meetings with the Communist and Yabloko factions in the State Duma, strana.ru and RIA-Novosti reported. The Communists urged that more money be devoted to social programs, while members of Yabloko felt the budget in its current form has a number of pluses, including the creation of a stabilization fund to help the country overcome possible difficulties caused by price fluctuations on world energy markets. The first reading of the budget is scheduled for 19 September. According to "Izvestiya" on 26 August, the military is satisfied with the 2004 budget. An unidentified ministry source told the daily that "funding is undeniably better nowadays." "Compared to 2000, the sum per serviceman increased by a factor of 1.9," the source continued, "and the money to be spent on combat training per serviceman rose by a factor of 2.5." JAC
CANDIDATES FOR STATE DUMA TO BEGIN REGISTRATION PROCESS IN LESS THAN A MONTH
Would-be candidates for the 7 December State Duma elections can begin the registration process to get their names on the ballot as of 22 September, Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced at a meeting with heads of regional election commissions on 26 August, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. A total of 225 regional election commissions will be formed by 17 September to review applications. The election campaign itself, which new legislation mandates must last no longer than one month, will begin on 7 November and end on 6 December. "Someone joked that the election commission chairmen [should] get a bonus if the election turnout is not lower than last year," Veshnyakov was quoted as saying. "Yes, this is a joke, but if you think seriously about it, respected colleagues, in this [joke] there is a nugget of serious truth. What does voter turnout mean? It is an indicator of voters' trust in the electoral system, that is, in you, the leaders and election commissions of the federation subjects." JAC
AGRICULTURE MINISTER SEES GRAIN SILOS AS HALF FULL RATHER THAN HALF EMPTY
Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev told reporters in St. Petersburg on 25 August that Russia will export 5 million tons of grain this year as it has done for the past few years, Interfax reported. At the same time, the ministry is not planning to increase imports even though the ministry projects the 2003 crop will be 16.5 million tons less this year than last -- 70 million tons compared to 86.5 million. Gordeev's statement would appear to contradict President Putin, who said last week during a meeting with Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Surikov that Russia's domestic grain needs will be fully met, although exports might have to be reduced, Interfax reported on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 August 2003). As of 25 August, farmers had threshed about 30 million tons, compared to more than 64 million tons recorded at the same time last year. On the plus side, the State Grain Inspectorate estimated that a larger percentage of the food-wheat crop is the strong and valuable wheat -- 40 percent this year compared to 26 percent last year. JAC
IS RUSSIAN ELECTORATE MOVING TO THE LEFT?
In an interview with the RFE/RL Moscow bureau on 25 August, ORT Deputy General Director Marat Gelman denied that he is working for the left-patriotic bloc led by State Duma deputies Sergei Glazev and Dmitrii Rogozin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). However, he acknowledged that he consults with Glazev on a friendly basis. Gelman also said that he doesn't consider the bloc's prospects in this election to be very promising, but the bloc is working to establish itself for the next election. According to Gelman, Russia "is moving toward the left," and the only question is who will be the "New Left." JAC
NOVGOROD CHALLENGERS PIN LAST HOPES ON TSIK
Five of the seven candidates in the 7 September gubernatorial race in Novgorod Oblast are asking the TsIK to annul the registration of the incumbent Governor Mikhail Prusak, "Vedomosti" reported on 27 August. The petitioners allege that only Prusak has so far been able to avail himself of the free campaign-advertising space allotted to all candidates by law. However, neither the petitioners nor local political observers expect their effort to be successful, the daily reported. Prusak has long been favored to win a third term in office. He has the support of the local branches of Yabloko and the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS). An unidentified source reportedly close to the office of presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko told the daily that the envoy's office "does not consider it necessary to support Prusak, because he get himself elected very well." According to the daily, Moscow-based political analysts agree with that assessment. Running against Prusak are Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) regional branch leader Yurii Yakovlev, private businessman Nikolai Zakharov, head of the Union of Russian Entrepreneurs and Industrialists' St. Petersburg branch Vladimir Dugentsev, National Power Party co-Chairman Aleksandr Sevastyanov, Rosa commercial enterprise Director Yurii Dannik, and Novgorod Oblast legislative staffer Olga Yefimova. JAC
CHECHEN FIGHTERS TARGET OIL TERMINAL
Chechen fighters opened fire with flamethrowers on 25 August at an oil-storage tank in Shelkovskii Raion in northern Chechnya, ITAR-TASS and chechenpress.com reported the following day. The attack took place in broad daylight. According to chechenpress.com, the resulting fire was extinguished only late that night, while ITAR-TASS reported that it was "quickly localized." LF
CHECHEN PREMIER DENIES RUSSIAN TROOPS PARTICIPATED IN AVTURY FIGHTING
Anatolii Popov told visiting foreign journalists in Grozny on 26 August that only Chechen security police loyal to Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and his son, Ramzan, -- but not Russian forces -- participated in last week's fighting in Avtury, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 August 2003). Members of Kadyrov's administration told Russian agencies that Russian forces were participating in the clash with Chechen fighters loyal to field commander Abu-Walid, which reportedly involved the use of military aviation and heavy artillery that the Chechen security police do not possess. LF
ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER TAKES ISSUE WITH COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Council of Europe should focus its attention on the need for free and fair elections in Armenia, rather than continue to pressure the Armenian leadership to abolish capital punishment totally, Stepan Demirchian, who is chairman of the opposition People's Party of Armenia and one of the leaders of the Artarutiun bloc, told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 26 August. Demirchian, who refuses to accept as fair his defeat in the February presidential runoff and the official results that show Artarutiun polled only 13.6 percent of the vote in the May parliamentary election, argued that "in order to integrate into European structures Armenia first of all needs to have a legitimate government." Demirchian further argued that the death penalty should be retained in the case of exceptional murders, such as the October 1999 parliament shootings, of which his father, Karen, was one of the eight victims. LF
ARMENIA TO EXPEDITE DRAFTING OF ANTICORRUPTION PROGRAM
The comprehensive anticorruption program on which Armenian officials have been working for more than two years should be finalized and unveiled within two or three months, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau on 26 August. Adoption of that program is one of the key conditions upon which release of further IMF and World Bank loan tranches is contingent. A government task force comprising representatives from Torosian's Republican Party of Armenia and its junior coalition partners -- the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun and Orinats Yerkir, which is to propose its own suggestions for tackling widespread corruption -- held its first meeting on 25 August. Torosian said that in addition to drafting such proposals, the group should also take some responsibility for the implementation of the final program. LF
CIS SECURITY OFFICIAL MEETS WITH ARMENIAN LEADERSHIP
Nikolai Bordyuzha, who is secretary of the CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization, met in Yerevan on 25 August with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and the following day with President Robert Kocharian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, Noyan Tapan reported. Topics discussed included expanding military-technical cooperation among signatories of the CIS Collective Security Treaty, unspecified aspects of regional security, and the situation in Central Asia and Afghanistan. LF
ARMENIAN MINISTER HOPES FOR STABILITY IN AZERBAIJAN
Armenian Foreign Minister Oskanian told Armnews TV on 26 August that while the Armenian leadership is prepared for all possible scenarios in neighboring Azerbaijan, it hopes that the situation there will remain stable, as that is in Armenia's best interest, and instability would delay a solution to the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported on 27 August. Oskanian added that the most favorable option for Armenia would probably be for Azerbaijani Prime Minister Ilham Aliev to succeed his father, Heidar Aliev, as president, because Prime Minister Aliev is familiar with the talks his father has conducted on resolving the Karabakh conflict, and also -- no matter how strongly he denies having seen it -- with the draft document agreed upon at Key West in April 2001. In August 2001, President Aliev denied that any agreement was reached at Key West; in June 2002 he said he and Kocharian reached agreement in Paris in March 2001 on the main conditions for resolving the conflict, but that Kocharian retreated from that agreement at Key West (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2001 and 17 June 2002). Oskanian said the advent to power in Azerbaijan of someone unfamiliar with the Karabakh negotiating process "would complicate the situation" and throw the negotiating process back to late 1996. LF
AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT SAID TO BE RECOVERING
Interfax-Azerbaijan on 26 August quoted a counselor at Azerbaijan's Washington embassy as saying that the condition of President Aliev, who is undergoing treatment for heart and kidney ailments at the Cleveland Clinic, is stable and continues to improve. On 27 August, Caucasus Press quoted Prime Minister Aliev as saying his father's doctors say he will be able to return to Azerbaijan in the very near future. He said his father "is a very strong person" and "never gives up." LF
DETAILS DIVULGED OF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ACCORDS...
Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 26 August, opposition Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov listed the objectives of the Union for Democratic Stability agreed on during talks in London on 23-24 August between himself and three other opposition party leaders, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 26 and 27 August, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). They are to hold legal and democratic elections in Azerbaijan, to organize a national resistance movement based on the constitutional right of the population to protest, to make the existing Election Code democratic in order to restore popular trust in the ongoing presidential-election campaign, and to preclude "separatist tendencies" or compromises on issues that touch on national interests. LF
...AND ON ADDITIONAL PROTOCOLS
Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Mamedov also said that the four opposition leaders signed two additional protocols. The first affirms their joint support for whichever of the three leaders registered as candidates in the 15 October presidential election advances to a putative second round, and the second constitutes a framework program of measures to be implemented in the event that one of the three is elected president. The measures include the democratization of Azerbaijan's constitution and laws, economic and social reforms, and the formation of a broad-based government. LF
AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER RULES OUT MAKING RUSSIAN A STATE LANGUAGE
Vilayat Guliev has excluded designating Russian a second state language in Azerbaijan, according to ITAR-TASS on 26 August. Guliev said that "we are not against the use of the Russian language in our country," but to grant it state status is out of the question. According to the Law on the State Language that took effect in April 2003, all citizens of Azerbaijan are required to know Azerbaijani. Russian State Duma deputies recently called for the drafting of legislation that would designate Russian an official language in all CIS states (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 June 2003). LF
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT FAILS TO ENDORSE BUDGET CUTS
Deputies on 26 August again ignored a plea by Minister of State Avtandil Djorbenadze to approve the budget sequester on which disbursement of further tranches of an IMF loan is contingent, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 22 August 2003). Opposition deputies have said they will approve the proposed cuts only if the government acknowledges responsibility for the budget shortfall and resigns. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze rejected President Eduard Shevardnadze's 25 August criticism of the legislature's failure to approve the cuts, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). LF
TWENTY CANDIDATES PROPOSED TO HEAD GEORGIAN ELECTION BODY
A total of 20 nominations for candidates to chair the new Central Election Commission have been submitted to the OSCE Mission in Tbilisi, Caucasus Press reported on 26 August. OSCE and Council of Europe representatives are to select a candidate for that post whom they will then propose to President Shevardnadze for his approval. The nominations include National Security Council Deputy Secretary Rusudan Beridze, former Constitutional Court Chairman Avtandil Demetrashvili, and parliament deputy Vakhtang Khmaladze, an expert on election procedures who has advised on every election law Georgia has drafted since 1990. LF
DRAFT LAW ON MASS MEDIA SUBMITTED TO KAZAKH GOVERNMENT
Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov on 26 August accepted for government consideration a draft law on the mass media, Kazinform reported, quoting Kazakhstan's Ministry of Culture, Information, and Public Harmony. The draft was prepared by a working group headed by Culture Minister Mukhtar Kul-Mukhammed. Members of three journalism associations -- the Kazakhstan Journalists' Congress, the Journalists' Association, and the Association of Independent Television and Radio Broadcasters of Kazakhstan -- were included in the working group, according to the report. If the government approves the draft, it will then be submitted to parliament. BB
KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER STARTS PR CAMPAIGN ON REMOVAL OF LENIN STATUE
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev's press office has begun a campaign to demonstrate that the public supports the removal of Bishkek's most imposing statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin from the city's main square to a spot in front of the parliament building, akipress.org reported on 26 August. The campaign so far consists of reporting on the letters and telegrams received from approving citizens throughout the country. Tanaev has signed an order to move statue, for which his government has been sharply criticized by both of Kyrgyzstan's Communist parties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). According to akipress.org, an Internet poll found that more than half of the respondents do not approve of moving the statue, and only 36 percent approve the government's decision. The public-relations campaign is reportedly motivated by fears the government will lose the support of older Kyrgyz citizens, who make up the most active part of the electorate. BB
TAJIK PYRAMID-SCHEME FIRM BEING FORCED TO REIMBURSE INVESTORS
The Dushanbe firm Jamal and Co, which according to Tajikistan's Prosecutor-General's Office fleeced thousands of citizens with a bead-stringing business set up as a pyramid scheme, has been forced by the authorities to return to more than 1,000 investors sums of up to $1,000, Asia Plus-Blitz and Deutsche Welle reported on 26 August. Deputy Prosecutor-General Azizmat Imomov was quoted as saying the funds were found in the company's office when it was shut down by the authorities on 15 August and the firm's top managers were detained. Those managers have subsequently been charged with obtaining money under false pretenses and tax evasion. BB
TURKMEN PRESIDENT WANTS MORE U.S. TECHNOLOGY
While accepting the credentials of the new U.S. Ambassador to Turkmenistan Tracey Ann Jacobson, Turkmen President Saparmurat Nizayov said that among the areas in which the United States and Turkmenistan could cooperate is the provision of U.S. high technology to the Turkmen economy, turkmenistan.ru reported on 26 August. Niyazov mentioned particularly technological help developing Turkmenistan's energy and other natural resources. The report did not mention the issue of the Turkmen Foreign Ministry's recent order evicting the public affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat from its premises. That action, which the U.S. side believes contravenes the Vienna Convention on treatment of diplomats, has been the subject of two protest notes from the U.S. Embassy on 19 and 22 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). BB
MAJOR SECURITY EXERCISES BEING HELD IN TASHKENT
Large-scale counterterrorism exercises began in Tashkent on 26 August, involving the armed forces and Interior Ministry troops, as well as special-forces units and the Emergency Situations Ministry, Deutsche Welle reported on 27 August. The exercises are being directed by the Interior Ministry, which was quoted as saying plans for the exercises are a state secret, but the objective is to practice liberating a structure seized by terrorists with a minimal loss of life. Reportedly, the exercises are the largest held in the Uzbek capital since the country became independent. Similar exercises are reportedly being held throughout the country in preparation for the celebration of Independence Day on 1 September. Participants in the exercises in Tashkent indicated there is particular concern that terrorists might try to seize the stadium where the most important ceremonies are to be held. BB
PRIVATE BUSINESSMEN IN UZBEKISTAN WARN OF EFFECTS OF GOVERNMENT INTERFERENCE
Private producers of consumer goods in Uzbekistan have warned that in the last year their volumes of output and sales have shrunk dramatically, and they blame their problems on government decrees issued in 2002 regulating private business and entrepreneurial activities, Deutsche Welle reported on 26 August. In addition, high taxes have sharply reduced the profits of private businesses, a group of entrepreneurs engaged in small and medium-sized business told representatives of the Justice Ministry and the Tax and Customs committees. According to the report, the meeting was part of a government effort to support the private production of consumer goods. The entrepreneurs were quoted as saying they intend to appeal to the government coordinating committee on small and medium-sized business to re-examine the decrees that are interfering with the development of such businesses. BB
BELARUS SIGNS COOPERATION ACCORD WITH INGUSHETIA
Belarusian Acting Prime Minister Syarhey Sidorski and Murat Zyazikov, president of the Russian Federation's Republic of Ingushetia, signed in Minsk on 26 August an agreement on trade, economic, technical, scientific, and cultural cooperation, Belapan reported. "We are currently in need of road construction machinery, agricultural equipment, buses and tractors," Zyazikov said following his meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. "I believe you are interested in petrochemical products we have." According to official data, trade between Belarus and Ingushetia amounted to $1.6 million in the first half of this year. JM
OSCE OFFICIAL DENIED BELARUSIAN VISA
OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Freimut Duve has canceled his planned visit to Belarus on 1-2 September after the Belarusian Foreign Ministry refused on 25 August to issue entry visas to him and his adviser, Belapan reported on 26 August, quoting an OSCE press statement. Duve, whose term of office expires at the end of this year, received an invitation from OSCE office in Belarus head Eberhard Heyken and was expected to hold a farewell meeting in Minsk with journalists. "I greatly regret that I will not be allowed to come to Belarus on 1 September to say farewell to the many courageous Belarusian journalists whom I have had the honor frequently and publicly to support in my capacity as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media," the OSCE statement quoted Duve as saying. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the visa denial. JM
CONSORTIUM PONDERS BUILDING NEW GAS PIPELINE ACROSS UKRAINE
The international consortium for developing and managing Ukraine's gas transportation system, which was registered in Kyiv by Ukraine's Naftohaz and Russia's Gazprom (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 April 2003), is planning to build a new gas pipeline linking Novopskov in Luhansk Oblast with Uzhhorod in Transcarpathia, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 26 August. That plan was discussed at a meeting in Kyiv of the consortium's leadership the same day. The meeting was attended by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko, Gazprom deputy heads Aleksander Ryazanov and Yurii Komarov, Ukrainian Deputy Premier Vitaliy Hayduk, and Naftohaz Ukrayiny head Yuriy Boyko. Khristenko told journalists that the new, 1,500-kilometer pipeline will be built within two years and will cost $2 billion-$2.5 billion. The pipeline is expected to increase gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine from the current 110 billion cubic meters to 131 billion cubic meters. JM
KYIV WILL NOT COORDINATE WTO ENTRY WITH MOSCOW
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko said in Kyiv on 26 August that Ukraine will not coordinate its entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) with Russia, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. "This issue has been removed from the agenda," Zlenko noted. He said Ukraine's affiliation to the common economic space of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, will not hamper talks on Ukraine's admission to the WTO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). Zlenko said the common economic space idea is "in evolution," adding that the four involved states are no longer considering a common currency or a common customs union. JM
ESTONIA, TURKEY SIGN ACCORD ON AVOIDING DOUBLE TAXATION
Visiting Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland and Turkey's Finance Minister Kemal Unakitan signed in Ankara on 25 August an agreement on the avoidance of double taxation, BNS reported. The agreement should help boost trade and business ties. Ojuland also held meetings that day with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul during which bilateral political, defense, economic, and cultural cooperation, as well as activities in the EU and NATO, were discussed. On 26 August, Ojuland traveled to Izmir to open Estonia's third honorary consulate in Turkey and attended an international trade fair. SG
LATVIA PREPARED TO ASSIST SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO WITH EURO-INTEGRATION
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic made a working visit to Riga on 26 August, LETA reported. Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete told him that Latvia is willing to share its experiences seeking membership in the EU and NATO. The foreign ministers agreed that relations between their countries are good, but noted that cooperation should be increased. The countries are preparing agreements on trade and economic relations; on cooperation in education, culture, and sports; on international trucking; and a tax convention. Svilanovic invited Kalniete to visit Serbia and Montenegro. He also met that day with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga. SG
NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR PRESENTS CREDENTIALS TO LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT
Ambassador Stephen Mull officially presented his credentials to President Rolandas Paksas on 26 August, BNS reported. The 45-year-old diplomat joined the U.S. diplomatic service in 1982 and, after serving in South Africa, Poland, and the Bahamas, most recently worked as deputy ambassador to Indonesia. Mull handed Paksas a personal letter from U.S. President George W. Bush saying that he would welcome a visit by the Lithuanian leader to the United States. Mull said that among his main goals in Vilnius will be the development of mutual economic-trade relations and attracting more U.S. investments to Lithuania. Paksas thanked the United States for its assistance in promoting Lithuania's impending NATO membership and noted that by sending troops to the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Lithuania has shown that it does not plan to be just a "recipient of security." SG
POLAND SIGNS VISA ACCORD WITH BELARUS
Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Andrzej Zalucki and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Herasimenka, signed an intergovernmental agreement in Warsaw on 26 August that abolishes mutual visa-free travel as of 1 October 2003, Polish and Belarusian media reported. The agreement provides for both single- and multiple-entry visas, as well as for free visas for children under 10 and for people over 65. A single-entry visa will cost 10 euros ($10.80). JM
POLISH POLICE DETAIN UKRAINIAN AMBASSADOR FOR DRUNK DRIVING
Police in Warsaw have detained Ukraine's ambassador to Poland, Oleksandr Nykonenko, for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol, Polish Radio reported on 26 August. Chief Commander of the Police Antoni Kowalczyk said he has passed the case on to the Interior Ministry and the Foreign Ministry. "This is outside my competence," Kowalczyk noted. "They [the ministries] will take further steps." JM
POLISH MINERS THREATEN TO ESCALATE PROTESTS AGAINST MINE CLOSURES
Leaders of 10 mining trade union confederations established a coordinating group in Katowice on 26 August to launch protest actions, including an all-out strike, against the recently announced decision to phase out four mines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003), Polish Radio reported. Protests in defense of jobs are already under way at the four mines earmarked for closure. Meanwhile, workers of the Wagon SA rolling stock plant in Ostrow Wielkopolski have continued their sit-in, demanding unpaid wages and a recovery program to save their enterprise from bankruptcy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). Eight days ago the protest escalated when several workers went on a hunger strike. JM
GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN PRAGUE
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said in Prague on 26 August that relations between his country and the Czech Republic are better than ever, despite a few minor stumbles, CTK reported. He said both countries have seized the opportunities offered by the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 to improve relations. Fischer met with Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla and with Czech Foreign Minister Cyril Svoboda, and he addressed a forum of Czech ambassadors. Addressing that forum, Fischer said that for the EU, "trans-Atlantic ties are a pillar of peace and stability" and that "the U.S. is our most important partner." But in an allusion to disputes within the EU caused by the Iraq war, he added: "This trans-Atlantic bridge will only be firm if the European pillar is strong and able to cooperate with its trans-Atlantic partner," RFE/RL reported. Fischer also cautioned against reopening too many issues in the draft European Constitution when the document is finalized at an Intergovernmental Conference slated for October. He said that at that conference, "the basic principle must be: whoever opens the consensus [to further debate] is responsible for finding a new consensus." Svoboda, however, challenged that view, saying, "if it is not possible to open anything, there would be no point in holding the conference at all." MS
CZECH DEPUTY COMPLAINS ABOUT WIRETAPPING
Parliamentary deputy Josef Hojdar, who resigned from the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) parliamentary group on 22 July, claimed on 26 August that his telephone has been wiretapped for more than a year, CTK reported. Hojdar said he informed Prime Minister Spidla and Interior Minister Stanislav Gross of the alleged eavesdropping a long time ago, and he added that he suspects that he knows the eavesdropper's identity but cannot be 100 percent certain until an investigation is completed. Gross said it is possible that someone has been eavesdropping on Hojdar by using the services of a private agency, but Hojdar said he rules out this possibility. Hojdar also said he does not believe the eavesdropping is in any way connected with his decision to leave the CSSD parliamentary group to protest planned budgetary reforms. "This has been a prolonged affair, and I have known about it for more than a year," he said (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2002). MS
SLOVAK PREMIER REFUSES TO DISMISS ANO MINISTERS
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said on 26 August that he will not comply with the request of the Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) to dismiss Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics and Transportation Minister State Secretary Branislav Opaterny, TASR and CTK reported. Dzurinda said he can see "no constitutional reasons" why the two rebel ANO representatives in the cabinet should be dismissed. Dzurinda added that Nemcsics is a very successful minister who has managed to attract to Slovakia many foreign investors. Dzurinda said he has informed ANO Chairman Pavol Rusko of his decision. Dzurinda added that he believes the four-party, center-right coalition he heads will not suffer as a result. Rusko, who demanded the two politicians be fired following a decision of ANO's National Executive the previous day, said the party will consider further steps, adding that Dzurinda's decision will not be beneficial to relations within the coalition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). MS
SLOVAK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES COALITION RIFTS
President Rudolf Schuster said on 26 August that the ruling coalition is focusing more on its own internal rifts than on the impact of the reforms it promotes, TASR reported. Schuster said the reforms are negatively affecting living standards and that the coalition should realize that and parcel out the reforms to make sure that "all social groups can survive in a dignified way." Premier Dzurinda responded that the government is aware that the reforms should benefit the people and added: "I do not feel we deserve to be admonished." Dzurinda also said the current tension in the ruling coalition is not impeding the government's performance. He also said he will "do everything to ensure that the current ruling coalition stays in office." Both Schuster and Dzurinda spoke at a ceremony marking the Slovak president's promulgation of the EU Accession Treaty, which parliament ratified on 1 July. MS
HUNGARIAN PREMIER SHRUGS OFF INVOLVEMENT IN K&H EQUITIES SCANDAL
Peter Medgyessy said in a radio interview on 26 August that "most of the cash withdrawals made by two Syrian men from accounts with Inter-Europa bank took place after I resigned as chairman of the bank," Hungarian media reported the next day. Medgyessy was referring to the claim by Karoly Szasz, who heads the Financial Supervisory Authority (PSZAF), that two Syrian citizens involved in Attila Kulcsar's alleged scam at K&H Equities, withdrew cash from Inter-Europa Bank, OTP Bank, and Volksbank. Medgyessy added "at any rate, Inter-Europa Bank was acting in good faith and paid the men cash from a bank account to which they had access." The premier went on to say that he finds it strange that Szasz chose to refer to him specifically when mentioning the Inter-Europa Bank in the PSZAF report on the affair. When asked about the government's reported intention to replace Szasz as head of PSZAF, Medgyessy responded: "A man acceptable to all, who is absolutely respected and objective, should lead PSZAF. We will find this person, if it is necessary." MS
NATO CONDUCTS OPERATIONS NEAR THE BOSNIAN CAPITAL...
An unspecified number of U.S. and Italian SFOR troops conducted an operation in the Pale area near Sarajevo on 26 August, apparently aimed at sealing off access to the home of Sonja Karadzic, the daughter of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, Reuters reported. Peacekeepers set up checkpoints near her house, her mother's medical practice, a police station, an office building, and a bank. SFOR said in a statement that "these sorts of operations are conducted in order to disrupt the efforts of persons performing activities that impede the progress and development of Bosnia." A spokesman for SFOR told dpa on 27 August that the operation is continuing but would not say when it would end. PM
...AND NEAR THE MONTENEGRIN BORDER
A Bosnian Serb Interior Ministry spokesman said on 26 August that SFOR set up a checkpoint near Gacko in the Southeast, where Karadzic has reportedly been seen in the past, Reuters reported. Karadzic is widely believed to move about in Serb-held areas of eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he enjoys the support of many local people. He also reportedly crosses into neighboring Montenegro, where he was born. Although the Dayton peace agreement was signed at the end of 1995, and peacekeepers took up duties shortly thereafter, NATO has failed to catch Karadzic and his fellow indicted war criminal, former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic. Many non-Serbs say NATO's failure to catch the two men is probably deliberate and the result of political considerations. PM
BOSNIAN CROATS ACCEPT INTEGRATED EDUCATION
A spokeswoman for the OSCE in Sarajevo told Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service on 26 August that the officials of Centralnobosanski Canton have agreed to accept a reform aimed at ending ethnic segregation in Bosnia's schools (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 26 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 4 April and 6 June 2003). High Representative Paddy Ashdown threatened to fine the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) $22,127 per day as long as it refused to accept the reform, which takes effect on 1 September. PM
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE OPENS BOSNIAN PLUM FAIR
High Representative Ashdown opened the annual fair of the agriculture and food industry, better known as the Plum Fair, in Gradacac on 27 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He said that Bosnia still has much to do to revive its agricultural sector, which has the potential to generate thousands of new jobs and a better standard of living. PM
NOVA MAKEDONIJA PUBLISHING HOUSE FACES LIQUIDATION
The bankrupt state-owned Nova Makedonija publishing house -- which puts out the dailies "Nova Makedonija," "Vecer," "Birlik," and "Flaka" -- is facing liquidation, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 27 August. The company's employees most likely will be laid off soon. The creditors -- mainly state-owned companies and the private Stopanska Banka -- must decide how to sell off parts of the country's oldest and largest publishing house. In 2002, the government cancelled an agreement to privatize the company, charging that there had been irregularities in the privatization process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 December 2002 and 23 April 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 December 2002). UB
UN REPRESENTATIVE SAYS KOSOVA'S STATUS WILL BE DETERMINED BY THE UN ALONE
Following a second day of meetings to mark his formal assumption of duties as head of the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), Harri Holkeri said in Prishtina on 26 August that the final status of the province will be decided by the UN Security Council and not in Belgrade or Prishtina, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that recent statements made in Belgrade regarding Kosova will not affect his work or that of UNMIK (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 15, and 22 August 2003). Meanwhile, Kosova's prime minister, Bajram Rexhepi, told RFE/RL that officials in Belgrade and Prishtina have not had any formal contact about possible talks, adding that the Serbian government's recent declaration on Kosova only draws the two sides farther apart. PM
SERBIAN LEADERS VISIT TENSE SOUTHERN REGION
Natasa Micic, speaker of the Serbian parliament and acting president; General Branko Krga, who heads the Army's General Staff; Rasim Ljajic, who is Serbia and Montenegro's minister for human rights and minority rights; and several other leaders from Belgrade discussed the tense situation in southern Serbia with local civilian and military officials in Bujanovac on 26 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14, 20, and 25 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 8, 15, and 22 August 2003). Local ethnic Albanian leaders have blamed "the Serbian side" for stirring up tensions in advance of the general elections that are widely expected within 12 months. PM
FORMER SERBIAN BANK CHIEF MAKES NEW CORRUPTION CHARGES
Former Serbian National Bank Governor Mladjan Dinkic -- a leader of the G-17 Plus political party, and a vocal critic of alleged government corruption -- said in Belgrade on 26 August that Deputy Prime Minister Cedomir Jovanovic and Transportation and Telecommunications Minister Marija Raseta Vukosavljevic have helped members of the Zemun Clan and other organized crime groups launder money and cash in on the privatization process, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 July 2003). Dinkic added that the Interior Ministry illegally used privately owned bugging equipment following the 12 March assassination of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The ministry and the two top officials denied the charges. PM
FORMER SERBIAN LEADERS' BACKERS CELEBRATE RETURN TO POWER
Backers of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and his wife Mira Markovic's United Yugoslav Left (JUL) celebrated their recent return to power in the municipality of Pozarevac with a street party in front of the former Madona Disco, which was owned by the couple's son, Marko, "Vesti" reported on 27 August. Some supporters of Pozarevac's best-known local family marked the occasion by assaulting Sasa Ristic, an activist with the opposition Otpor movement. Several Otpor members were beaten up by some of Marko's friends in a now famous incident in May 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 4, and 9 May 2000). Marko is on the run from an international arrest warrant and believed to be in Russia or elsewhere in the former USSR, as is his mother. The Madona Disco is seeking a buyer. PM
CROATIAN OIL COMPANY TO CHALLENGE SERBIAN PRIVATIZATION SALE
Officials of Croatia's INA oil company said in Zagreb on 26 August that the recent Serbian decision to sell off Beopetrol's assets to Russia's LUKoil is illegal because those assets belong to INA, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). INA representatives said they will take unspecified legal steps to ensure the return of its property. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ENDS CHINA VISIT...
President Ion Iliescu returned to Bucharest on 26 August after a weeklong visit to China geared primarily at boosting trade relations, Romanian Radio reported. Iliescu said upon arrival that he believes the visit provided "a powerful political signal for renewing Romanian-Chinese relations in multiple areas." In a joint statement carried by the official Chinese Xinhua News Agency and cited by AP, China and Romania pledged to cooperate in fighting terrorism, organized crime, and drug trafficking. MS
...REFUSES TO COMMENT ON 'HA'ARETZ' REBUTTAL
In response to a journalist's question, President Iliescu said at Bucharest Airport on 26 August that he will not make any further comment on either his controversial interview with the Israeli daily "Ha'aretz" last month or on the daily's response to his recent statement about that interview (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). "I said what I had to say, and I am not interested in the impertinent statements and distortions that some utter," he said. Earlier on 26 August, the Israeli daily wrote that Iliescu's claims that the published interview was "fabricated" and "a fraud" are "ridiculous and baseless." The daily also wrote: "It is mystifying that the [Romanian] president chose to wait a full month after the interview was published in 'Ha'aretz' before issuing a statement refuting it. We have published his exact words...and we have the tapes to prove it." MS
ROMANIAN SENATE STARTS DEBATING AMENDMENTS TO CONSTITUTION
The Senate on 26 August began debating constitutional amendments proposed by the ad-hoc parliamentary all-party commission tasked with formulating them, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Of 32 proposed amendments, the Senate on 26 August approved 30. It overwhelmingly rejected a separate amendment proposed by the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania to eliminate from the basic document Romania's definition as a "national state." The upper house also set the minimum age for senators at 35. This contradicts the amendment approved by the Chamber of Deputies, which established that minimum age at 30. Debates on amending the basic document continue. MS
MOLDOVAN WRITERS SET UP ALTERNATIVE UNION
Fifty Moldovan writers announced on 26 August that they have set up an alternative organization to the Moldovan Writers' Union, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The new organization calls itself the Nistru (Dniester) Writers Union. Nikolai Savostin, a Russian-language writer, was appointed chairman of the new union. He said the union's aims are "the reinvigoration of literary and cultural creation" and "expressing the statehood of the Moldovan Republic as a modern state." ITAR-TASS cited writer Constantin Munteanu, also a member of the new union, as saying the Moldovan Writers' Union has "turned into an opposition political party" whose essence is "monopolistic." He said the new union will strive to achieve "interethnic accord" and added that its publication, "Nistru," will be issued in both Romanian and Russian. MS
BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS CRITICIZE GOVERNMENT OVER IRAQ
Following reports about possible additional tasks for the Bulgarian military contingent in Iraq, the opposition Socialist Party (BSP) on 26 August accused the government of not having done its work during the negotiations over Bulgarian participation in the stabilization of Iraq, "Dnevnik" reported. BSP Chairman Sergey Stanishev charged that there is no clear definition of the tasks for the Bulgarian contingent. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Nikolay Svinarov said the civilian administration of the city of Kerbala, where the Bulgarian contingent is stationed, should have been taken over by the Polish military, but this has not happened yet. The Bulgarian contingent officially took over responsibility for security in Kerbala from U.S. troops on 26 August, Bulgarian and international agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). UB
BULGARIA PREPARED TO SELL IRAQI DEBTS
Deputy Finance Minister Krasimir Katev told "Standart" of 26 August that the government is prepared to sell its Iraqi debts during the coming months. Iraq owes some $1.4 billion-$1.5 billion to the Bulgarian state and $200 million-$300 million to Bulgarian companies. Katev stressed that it might be difficult to get a good price for the Iraqi debt once the Paris Club starts negotiations about Iraqi foreign debt this fall. UB
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT OFFERS NEW POLITICAL-REFORM PLAN
Speaking to the country on 23 August, the eve of Ukraine's Independence Day, President Leonid Kuchma said he is ready to support a new constitutional-reform plan that was agreed upon with the opposition during consultations earlier this month. "Despite certain drawbacks, I believe this draft law has to be approved by the Verkhovna Rada, as I think it will almost certainly be supported by a constitutional majority [300 votes in the 450-seat legislature]." The previous day, Ukrainian media reported that Kuchma withdrew the political-reform bill that he submitted to parliament in June.
Kuchma did not divulge any details regarding the new plan for overhauling Ukraine's constitutional system. He only asserted that "a parliamentary-presidential form of rule is best suited to the political psychology and the political archetype of our people." And he noted that future presidents should "guarantee civil rights and represent the state in the international arena." But some details were supplied last week by Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, who reportedly held several meetings with presidential administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk in August to discuss the new political-reform draft.
Moroz said the new plan envisages that parliament confirm the prime minister and all cabinet ministers. The prime minister will nominate all cabinet members, except for the defense minister and the foreign minister, both of whom are to be nominated by the president. The president is to appoint the prosecutor-general, who must subsequently be approved by the Verkhovna Rada. The president and the parliament are to appoint the Constitutional Court and the National Council for Broadcasting on a parity basis. The president is to have the right to veto parliamentary bills.
Moroz also divulged that a key innovation is the presidential administration's proposal that the Verkhovna Rada elect the president. He added, however, that he opposes this scheme and favors a direct, popular presidential ballot. Meanwhile, Symonenko said the Communists want the current election law to apply to the 2004 presidential election, but are in favor of reducing the president's mandate from five years to two. Symonenko added that a new parliament, if elected under a fully proportional system, could elect a new president for a full term in 2006.
Also important, the new constitutional-reform draft reportedly drops Kuchma's previous proposal that presidential, parliamentary, and local elections be held in the same year. This proposal was widely seen by the opposition and political analysts as a legalistic ruse intended to prolong Kuchma's term in power by two or three years.
The new plan seemingly does not provide for any political role for Kuchma after the end of his second presidential term in November 2004. But some Ukrainian analysts suggest that if Kuchma rejects the future of a political pensioner, he could try to seek the post of prime minister, whom the new plan makes the central political figure in the country. And some speculate that he might even seek the post of president in 2006, following a two-year break. The Ukrainian Constitution in its current wording prohibits anyone from serving more than two consecutive presidential terms, but it does not restrict the total number of possible presidential terms.
It is apparent that the new political-reform plan -- at least in the intention of the presidential administration -- aims at preventing Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, the country's most popular politician, from becoming president in 2004. Jointly, the pro-presidential majority, the Socialists, and the Communists can muster the 300 votes required to push the reform through parliament. If the Verkhovna Rada approves the plan with the stipulation that the president be elected by parliament, Yushchenko seems to have no chance of being elected. On the other hand, if the "Symonenko option" -- electing the president in a direct ballot in 2004 for two years -- prevails, Yushchenko might become an "interim" president, but with essentially curtailed prerogatives compared with those Kuchma currently enjoys.
Even if this new plan eventually collapses, as have several previous attempts by Kuchma to revamp the constitutional system, its launching nonetheless seems to be a political masterstroke on the part of the authorities. Some Ukrainian commentators suggest that Medvedchuk is the originator of this plan and the main driving force behind it.
The plan placed Medvedchuk in the same "working team" with Moroz and Symonenko, both of whom not so long ago were involved in a fierce campaign intended to oust Kuchma. The presidential administration seems to have managed to drive a significant wedge between Yushchenko, on one side, and Moroz and Symonenko, on the other, thus creating additional obstacles to any future alliance of these three.
Also, the unexpected alliance of the pro-presidential centrists with the not-so-long-ago antipresidential leftists creates brighter prospects for Kuchma himself to avoid political and/or legal responsibility for his deeds after the end of his political career.
Finally, the plan seems to play into the hands of Medvedchuk, who stands no real chance of being elected president either by direct ballot of by parliament, but might well apply after the end of Kuchma's tenure for other important political jobs -- for instance, as leader of a parliamentary majority or as parliament speaker.
No doubt, this new plan also presents a serious dilemma for Yushchenko about what to do now. Yushchenko said last week that a presidential model of government for today's Ukraine is more efficient that a parliamentary-presidential one. This is no surprise, given his presidential ambitions. The real problem, however, is whether he will now be able to convince other important political players that he is right. One such player is Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych who, according to Ukrainian observers, harbors strong presidential ambitions and, therefore, is not likely to seek the post of a figurehead in 2004.
On top of everything else, Kuchma's latest constitutional-reform proposal is set to dominate the political agenda in Ukraine after the summer vacation, involving both the pro-presidential and opposition forces in the Verkhovna Rada in a what is likely to be a fierce battle over the redistribution of political power. "Almost half of [Ukraine's] GDP is produced in the shadows," Kuchma lamented in his Independence Day speech last week. But his political-reform plan will hardly contribute to improving this lamentable situation. As many times in the past, during the upcoming political season the problem of socioeconomic power in Ukraine will almost certainly be left in the shadows.
SEVEN KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN'S ORUZGAN PROVINCE...
Five neo-Taliban and two pro-government soldiers were killed on 24 August in a clash in the Hashmatkala area of Oruzgan Province, Radio Afghanistan reported on 25 August. According to Oruzgan Governor Jan Mohammad, the neo-Taliban elements had disguised themselves as government officials in order to plan future attacks. AT
...AND THREE IN BADAKHSHAN
Three people were killed on 25 August in Badakhshan Province in a clash between forces loyal to two unidentified rival commanders, AFP reported on 26 August, quoting Bakhtar news agency. According to General Sayyed Akbar, the security commander of Badakhshan, "the reason for this fighting [was] the previous enmity between two commanders." Badakhshan is generally peaceful, but the province is "a major opium-growing region," AFP commented. It is not clear from the report if the killings were drug-related or not. AT
DOZENS OF SUSPECTED TALIBAN REGIME SUPPORTERS ARRESTED
In the mop-up operations that were conducted on 26 August by U.S. Special Forces and pro-government Afghan soldiers in Daichopan District of Zabul Province, 80 people suspected of loyalty to the ousted Taliban regime were arrested, Iranian state radio's Mashhad-based Dari service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). Kandahar Province Governor Yusof Pashtun said on 26 August that the house-to-house searches might continue for weeks, Radio Afghanistan reported. Pashtun added that the operations were conducted in Daichopan, Ata Ghar, and Mianashin districts of Zabul Province. The searches began after a 25 August joint U.S.-Afghan attack on neo-Taliban forces in Daichopan. AT
EIGHT TROUBLESOME COMMANDERS DISARM IN BALKH
Commanders loyal to General Abdul Rashid Dostum, special adviser on security and military affairs to Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, and those of General Ata Mohammad, commander of the 7th Army Corps, were disarmed in Sholgara District of Balkh Province on 26 August, Hindukosh news agency reported. Forces loyal to Ata Mohammad, who represents the Jamiyat-e Islami party in northern Afghanistan, have clashed sporadically over the past year with armed supporters of Dostum's Junbish-e Melli party. According to a 24 August briefing by UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva, the Sholgara disarmament plan is "organized and conceived by the Security Commission of the North and is not really a part of the national disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration program (DDR), which is yet to begin." AT
AFGHAN CHIEF JUSTICE SAYS TALIBAN CAN REJOIN POLITICAL LIFE
Fazl Hadi Shinwari said on 26 August that he sees no reason to prevent former members of the ousted Taliban regime reentering political life in Afghanistan, Al-Jazeera TV reported. Shinwari added that if the Taliban movement is to be revived, it ought to change its name and continue to adhere to the principals of Islam as the basic condition for the establishment of political parties in Afghanistan. Shinwari said that the "door will remain open" to anyone who adheres to Islam, including the Taliban, to enter Afghan politics, adding that "[Transitional Administration head] Karzai has already announced this." As for former communists, Shinwari said, "the [Afghan] people will never allow these communist murderers," who he said are "responsible for the past 23 years of destruction and ruin, to resume political activities" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 August, and "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 3 July 2003). Afghanistan still has no constitution or laws to regulate political parties. AT
IAEA EXPRESSES CONTINUING CONCERN ABOUT IRANIAN NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES...
Speaking in advance of the expected release of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) report on Iran, agency spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said, "There are still a number of outstanding issues, particularly with regard to Iran's enrichment program, which require urgent resolution," AFP reported on 26 August. Gwozdecky called for increased Iranian cooperation in order to resolve these issues, and he said, "The only way to build high confidence in the peaceful nature of their nuclear program is for Iran to sign and bring into force an additional protocol to their safeguards agreement with the IAEA." The spokesman also said that Iran has agreed to begin negotiations relating to signing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. An anonymous diplomat who saw the IAEA report on Iran told AFP that Tehran provided new information on its uranium enrichment program. BS
...AND NOTES PRESENCE OF ENRICHED URANIUM AND FOREIGN HELP
The IAEA confidential report on Iran, as described in "The New York Times" on 27 August, notes that international inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium at the Iranian nuclear facility at Natanz. The report added, "Additional work is also required to enable the agency to arrive at conclusions about Iran's statements that there have been no uranium enrichment activities in Iran involving nuclear material." Tehran claims that the equipment, which was bought second-hand, already had trace particles of enriched uranium on it. Iran also acknowledges for the first time, according to a portion of the report described in "The Washington Post" on 27 August, that it received considerable foreign help in building the Natanz facility. The source of that help is not identified, but according to anonymous sources IAEA information indicates that Pakistani firms supplied technology and parts. "The notion that Pakistan wasn't involved is getting less and less tenable," Henry Sokolski, executive-director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Washington, DC, told "The Washington Post." BS
IRANIAN INTELLIGENCE MINISTRY DENIES RESPONSIBILITY FOR CANADIAN JOURNALIST'S DEATH...
An official investigation found that two interrogators from the Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) are responsible for the death in custody of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003), but parliamentarians who looked into the case on 26 August absolved the MOIS of blame, according to interviews published by ISNA on 26 August. The legislature's Article 90 committee, which looks into complaints about the government, met with an MOIS representative, and afterward Tehran representative Jamileh Kadivar said it became clear that MOIS personnel did not hit Kazemi. MOIS officials believe the fatal blow was inflicted in the first two or three hours of her detention, Kadivar said, and the MOIS knows the name of the assailant and has related evidence. The assailant was arrested and then released after about three days, she said. The presiding judge forced the MOIS to stop its investigation, and now a committee is adjudicating the MOIS-Judiciary dispute. BS
...AS PARLIAMENTARIAN VOICES SUPPORT...
Another parliamentarian, Mohammad Kianush-Rad also said that the MOIS is not involved in Kazemi's death and expressed concern that this case will be a repetition of the 1998 serial murders case. In that case, so-called rogue MOIS agents allegedly murdered dissidents and intellectuals, but the primary suspect reportedly killed himself while in custody. The sentences of the others involved in the case have been reduced repeatedly since the trial ended in January 2001 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 and 29 January 2001). BS
...AND TEHRAN FEELS NO OBLIGATION TO KEEP OTTAWA INFORMED
Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said during his 26 August press conference that the MOIS will release information on the case of Canadian photojournalist Kazemi when it is appropriate, IRNA reported. Tehran is not obliged to share any information on the case with the Canadian government, he said. Ramezanzadeh explained that from the Iranian point of view, Kazemi was an Iranian citizen with dual nationality and her death occurred on Iranian territory, so Iranian officials will therefore deal with the case. BS
TEHRAN THREATENS TO EXPEL BRITISH AMBASSADOR
Anonymous "diplomats in Tehran" said on 26 August that Iran might expel British Ambassador Richard Dalton and downgrade diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom in retaliation for the arrest of a former Iranian diplomat in London last week, the "Financial Times" reported on 27 August. According to the British daily, this would be "a setback for Britain's policy of 'constructive engagement' with Iran." Dalton took up the post on 1 December 2002, succeeding Nick Brown, who had left the country one year earlier. David Reddaway was the original nominee, but Tehran refused to accept his credentials even though he had served at the Tehran embassy previously. BS
PUK, TURKOMAN FRONT REACH AGREEMENT AFTER UNREST IN NORTHERN IRAQ
The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Iraqi Turkoman Front reached a settlement after violent clashes erupted in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk and surrounding areas on 23-24 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003), Kurdsat reported on 26 August. The two sides agreed to establish a joint committee to investigate the incidents and to prosecute those responsible for the clashes. The families of those killed in the clashes will receive material and moral support, and a joint committee will be established to prevent such incidents in the future. Both sides also agreed to meet regularly to discuss political, economic, and social issues, and to instruct their members to work towards peaceful coexistence in the city, Istanbul's NTV reported. KR
IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL MEMBER COMMENTS ON ARAB TOUR, CONSTITUTION
Iraqi Governing Council member Raja Habib al-Khaza'i told Cairo's Voice of the Arabs radio on 26 August that a Governing Council delegation currently touring the Arab states is making progress in its meetings with regional leaders, adding that the council is "keen on establishing contacts with all Arab countries." "We are relieved at the outcome of this tour and the reception accorded to the members of the Governing Council," she said. Asked about the work of the constitutional committee, she said that the committee of 25 members began their work on 25 August and will have 30 days to "complete their task." The committee will meet daily and will send delegations to each of the 18 governorates to consult with local officials. KR
TWO IRAQI POLICEMEN, TWO CIVILIANS KILLED IN BAGHDAD ROBBERY
Two Iraqi police officers and two civilians were killed during a gunfight in Baghdad on 27 August after thieves reportedly tried to rob a money changer, Reuters reported. The shooting broke out near the Sheraton and Palestine hotels, an area much frequented by foreign journalists and businesspeople. The thieves reportedly escaped capture. KR
UN SECURITY COUNCIL ADOPTS RESOLUTION FOR PROTECTION OF INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN WORKERS
The United Nations Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 1502 on 26 August, urging member states to treat violence against humanitarian workers as a war crime, according to international press reports. The Mexican-drafted resolution was first proposed in April, and resurfaced following the 19 August bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003), which killed 23 people and injured many others, Reuters reported on 26 August. Bulgaria, France, Germany, Russia, and Syria co-sponsored the draft. The United States supported the resolution after a reference to the International Criminal Court, which the United States opposes, was dropped. At the UN, Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Security Council members: "Impunity for those who commit such unpardonable crimes cannot stand. There must be action." The text of the resolution is posted on the UN website (http://www.un.org). KR
IRAQI ASSETS SEIZED BY U.S. NEARLY DEPLETED
U.S. administrators in Iraq have nearly depleted the confiscated Iraqi assets they used to pay Iraqi civil servants and will need more cash quickly, Reuters reported on 26 August. U.S. Treasury Department Spokesman Tony Fratto has said that a cash shipment of $419 million will be made in the next week from a New York Federal Reserve account that once held $1.7 billion, adding that the shipment will "nearly exhaust the available vested funds." According to Reuters, the White House may seek some $2 billion-$3 billion in extra funding for Iraq to meet short-term needs before the 24 October international donors conference in Madrid. The White House had not been expected to seek additional funding for Iraq until at least November. A senior congressional aide told the news agency that the situation is "a mess." "Seized assets are down to almost nothing," the aide added. "Oil money is a mirage in the near term." But U.S. Representative James Kolbe (Republican, Arizona), chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Aid Subcommittee, told Reuters, "Yes, the seized assets are nearly exhausted, but there are some other sources of funds to pay salaries to Iraqis." KR