RUSSIA, SAUDIS SIGN OIL ACCORDS
Saudi Arabia and Russia signed an oil-industry cooperation agreement on 2 September during a visit to Moscow by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Russian and international media reported. After talks between Abdullah and President Vladimir Putin, the two countries' energy ministers signed a five-year gas-and-oil cooperation deal. The agreement calls for joint ventures in oil-and-gas exploration and research, according to a text released by the Russian government and cited by news agencies. Saudi Arabia and Russia are the world's two leading oil producers. Abdullah's visit is the first by a Saudi crown prince since 1932. Other items on the agenda for the talks include postwar Iraq, the Middle East peace process, and Moscow's allegations that Saudi charities are financially supporting Chechen militants. BW
U.S. LAWMAKER URGES END TO TRADE RESTRICTIONS
A senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives has urged U.S. President George W. Bush to remove remaining Cold War-era restrictions on trade with Russia, Reuters reported on 2 September. Representative Curt Weldon (Republican, Pennsylvania), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Bush should push to lift the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendments before he meets with President Putin this month at Camp David. Congress passed the amendment in 1974. It linked trade with the Soviet Union and other Eastern bloc countries to their allowing the free emigration of Jews and other religious minorities. "This is an extremely important political issue in Russia -- not because it will increase their trade relations [with the United States], but because of the symbolic nature of what this means," Weldon said, according to Reuters. BW
RIGHTS GROUP CALLS ON GREECE NOT TO EXTRADITE FORMER NTV OWNER
A group of Russian human rights activists -- including Yelena Bonner, the widow of physicist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Andrei Sakharov -- have called upon Greece not to extradite former Media-MOST owner Vladimir Gusinskii to Russia, Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 September. The group, called Common Action, says the charges against Gusinskii are politically motivated, and his extradition would make Greece responsible for participating in the repression of a Russian citizen. Gusinskii was arrested on an international warrant at the Athens airport on 21 August after arriving on a flight from Tel Aviv. Russian authorities have accused the former media tycoon of fraud. He was granted bail on 29 August pending the disposition of his case (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August and 2 September 2003). BW
COMMUTER TRAIN BOMBED IN SOUTHERN RUSSIA
At least five people were killed and more than 20 wounded in southern Russia when two bombs blew up under a commuter train on 3 September, Russian and international media reported. The explosion occurred near Kislovodsk in Stavropol Krai, which borders Chechnya. ITAR-TASS reported that the homemade explosive devices were planted under the rails. One suspect was caught fleeing the scene and has been detained, RIA-Novosti reported, citing Interior Ministry sources. The unidentified suspect is unconscious and being held in the Kislovodsk Central City Hospital. BW
YUKOS PIPELINE IN TROUBLE DUE TO ECOLOGICAL CONCERNS
Plans by Yukos to build an oil pipeline to transport oil from Siberia to China have run into opposition from the Natural Resources Ministry, Russian and international media reported on 3 September. The ministry has reportedly nixed the proposed pipeline route following a report by its the environmental-impact commission. The commission said Yukos' plans to build the pipeline either along the Lake Baikal coast or through the Tunkinskii National Park in eastern Siberia would present a potential environmental hazard, Interfax reported, citing Deputy Natural Resources Minister Kirill Yankov. BW
MOSCOW SEEKS TO CHANGE DATE FOR MAYORAL ELECTIONS
In a move officials are describing as an effort to save money, Moscow officials are seeking to move the date for mayoral elections forward to 7 December, Russian media reported on 3 September. The elections were originally scheduled for 14 December, but Moscow City Duma Chairman Vladimir Platonov said holding them concurrently with the 7 December State Duma elections would save the city budget 50 million-100 million rubles ($1.63 million-$3.27 million), RBK reported on 3 September. BW
PRESIDENT ASKS FOR TRANSPARENCY IN CAMPAIGN FINANCING...
President Putin signed a decree on 2 September formally designating 7 December as the date for State Duma elections, Russian media reported. Putin also met with Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov that day and called on him to ensure the legality of the campaign for the State Duma and the transparency of campaign financing, RIA-Novosti reported. Veshnyakov noted in response that the 2001 law on political parties establishes a mechanism for ensuring the transparency of campaign financing. However, last month TsIK member Yelena Dubrovina told a Russian newspaper the commission has no reliable information about the amount of money spent on campaigns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2003). JAC
...AS ELECTION TSAR PROMISES TO FOLLOW THE MONEY
According to TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov, some 3.5 billion rubles have been earmarked for the election -- an amount which is three times more than was allocated for the last election in 1999. He said the increase is partially explained by the new system for paying election-commission workers. Some 2.5 billion rubles will be sent directly to the regions, and Veshnyakov promised the commission will carefully track how the money is spent to ensure "that these resources are not directed for other ends." JAC
PUTIN STUMPS FOR ST. PETERSBURG CANDIDATE
President Putin added deeds to his verbal support of the candidacy of presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Valentina Matvienko in the 21 September gubernatorial election in St. Petersburg, "Vremya novostei" reported on 3 September. The previous day, in a meeting with Matvienko that was shown nationally on state-run RTR television, Putin said he supports her proposal to provide additional benefit payments for people who lived through the Leningrad blockade during World War II. Putin also said he "sincerely wishes [Matvienko] victory in the elections." They daily noted that "such open support for a particular candidate by Putin in an election is unprecedented" and suggested that it might have been necessary because Matvienko's position is not as strong as it appears. It reported that according to a "competent" and reliable pollster, Matvienko's recent rating was less than 40 percent, which would not be enough for her to win in the first round. Meanwhile, a lawyer for competing candidate Deputy Governor Anna Markova said Markova will complain to the TsIK and the Prosecutor-General's Office that Putin and Matvienko violated election rules when their meeting was shown on national television. JAC
SPS ALLEGEDLY IN TROUBLE...
Foundation for Effective Politics head Gleb Pavlovskii told reporters in Moscow on 2 September that in his opinion the election strategy of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) has been lagging, and therefore the party might not make it into next Duma, RosBalt reported. Pavlovskii is overseeing the campaign for Unified Russia, "Novaya gazeta," No. 64, reported. He added that the comments and activities of SPS leader Boris Nemtsov and other members of the party strongly contradict each other, and the inclusion of Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais in the No. 3 spot on SPS party list will not boost the party's chances. SPS's main competitor, Yabloko, has a somewhat different electorate and therefore has a chance of surpassing the 5 percent barrier to enter the lower legislative house (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 27 August 2003). JAC
...AS PROSECUTORS TO CHECK ON YABLOKO WITHOUT YAVLINSKII MOVEMENT
On 2 September the Yabloko Without Yavlinskii movement held a press conference in Moscow at which the movement's leader Igor Morozov chatted with other members of his movement in other cities via an Internet connection, utro.ru reported. Morozov said he has collected some 30,000 signatures calling for Yavlinskii's resignation as party leader. Meanwhile, the Prosecutor-General's Office has directed prosecutors in Moscow and St. Petersburg and in Rostov and Perm oblasts to investigate the Yabloko Without Yavlinskii movements in those areas in connection with a complaint filed by State Duma Deputy and Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin. JAC
LEFTIST LEADER MULLS ALLIANCE WITH ZHIRINOVSKII
Working Russia leader Viktor Anpilov said on 2 September that he is considering an offer from Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii to occupy one of the top three slots on LDPR's party list for the 7 December State Duma election, Interfax reported. Anpilov's party was denied registration by the Justice Ministry in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2003). Zhirinovskii told reporters that Anpilov would cooperate with LDPR only on a personal basis and that the LDPR is not contemplating a forming a bloc with Anpilov's party. JAC
HANDICAPPING FOR SAKHALIN RACE BEGINS...
Less than a week after local legislators confirmed 7 December as the date for an election to replace the late Sakhalin Oblast Governor Igor Farkhutdinov, the media are already speculating about the likely candidates in that race. According to "Vremya novostei" on 3 September, from the local elite, acting Governor Ivan Malakhov and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Mayor Fedor Sidorenko are considered probable candidates. An unidentified source within oil giant Rosneft and Rosneft-Sakhalin told the daily the company will definitely back someone in the election, but they have not yet picked a candidate. JAC
...AS OIL COMPANY INTERESTS LIKELY TO PROMOTE ITS OWN CANDIDATE
On 2 September, "Izvestiya" also reported that unidentified sources within Rosneft confirm that a candidate representing the interests of the company -- either directly or indirectly -- will participate in the election. One example of an "indirect" supporter, according to the newspaper, could be the oblast legislature chairman Vladimir Yefremov. Citing another unidentified source, "Izvestiya" reported that Federation Council First Deputy Chairman Valerii Goreglyad, who represents Sakhalin, is not planning to run. "Vremya novostei" suggested that Goreglyad would prefer to hold onto his Moscow post and will support Malakhov to head the island. According to Regnum, State Duma Deputy Artur Chilingarov (Unified Russia-Fatherland) has already declared his intention to run. JAC
ANOTHER CANDIDATE QUITS CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Moscow-based Chechen businessman Khusein Dhzbrailov announced on 2 September that he is withdrawing his candidacy for the 5 October presidential election, Interfax reported. Dzhabrailov said he is convinced that in the present circumstances he can do more for the Chechen people by directing his social and economic resources toward furthering dialogue among the various Chechen factions and helping to create a civil society in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus. LF
ARMENIAN MURDER SUSPECT REAFFIRMS WITHDRAWAL OF TESTIMONY
John Harutiunian, a Karabakh Armenian on trial for the December 2002 killing of Armenian National Television and Radio head Tigran Naghdalian, again distanced himself on 2 September from his pretrial testimony, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Harutiunian said he signed the testimony, which he claimed was written by prosecutors, under fear of torture. According to that testimony, Harutiunian said he believed that businessman Armen Sargsian, brother of former Prime Minister and opposition Hanrapetutiun party leader Aram Sargsian, commissioned Naghdalian's murder (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2003). Harutiunian said the sole reliable record of his pretrial testimony is a video recording of his interrogation. On that recording, which was played to the court on 2 September, Harutiunian is shown answering questions about the Sargsian brothers' role in the murder but does not incriminate either of them. A second suspect, Felix Arustamian, told the court on 2 September that neither he nor Harutiunian played any role in the shooting, but they were pressured to admit to having done so. Arustamian said Harutiunian pleaded guilty after receiving promises that he and Arustamian would be paid $250,000 and receive only an eight-year prison sentence. LF
ARMENIAN NGOS CALL FOR AMENDMENTS TO BILL ON OMBUDSMAN
More than a dozen Armenian NGOs urged parliament on 2 September not to pass in its current version a government-backed bill creating the post of ombudsman responsible for human rights, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The NGOs objected that the bill, approved by parliament in the first reading earlier this year, empowers the president to name the ombudsman. They argued that parliament should do so. The Armenian constitution, however, does not grant the parliament that prerogative. But parliament deputy speaker Tigran Torosian proposed on 2 September that under a new version of the bill the ombudsman named by the president would be required to resign, after which the legislature would select a replacement. Creation of the ombudsman's post was one of the commitments Armenia made on acceptance in January 2001 into full membership of the Council of Europe. LF
AZERBAIJANI RULING PARTY CALLS FOR DISCIPLINARY ACTION AGAINST OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
At its 2 September session, Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (CEC) discussed a demand by the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) for disciplinary action against Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (progressive wing) leader Ali Kerimli and Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mamedov, Turan and zerkalo.az reported. According to YAP, both men insulted President Heidar Aliev during presidential-campaign broadcasts. The CEC referred the YAP complaint to the Justice Ministry. It also rejected a similar complaint by the five opposition CEC members that presidential candidate Hafiz Hadjiev, chairman of the propresidential Modern Musavat Party, insulted opposition candidates during a similar campaign broadcast. LF
FORMER AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT CONSULTS WITH OPPOSITION PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
In a 2 September telephone conversation, Ayaz Mutalibov, who has lived in Moscow since fleeing Azerbaijan in May 1992 after an abortive comeback attempt, discussed with Musavat Party Chairman and presidential candidate Isa Gambar possible approaches to cooperation during the ongoing presidential-election campaign, Turan reported. Mutalibov held similar consultations in Moscow last week with former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev. Both Guliev and Mutalibov have been denied registration to contest the 15 October presidential ballot. LF
AZERBAIJANIS IN GEORGIA CONTINUE PROTEST
Some 300 Azerbaijanis, including several parliament deputies, staged a protest on 2 September outside the state chancellery to demand a meeting with President Eduard Shevardnadze and the return of several hundred mobile telephones confiscated by Georgian customs agents on the border with Azerbaijan last month, Caucasus Press and the website of the independent television station Rustavi-2 reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2003). The Georgian officials claim the mobile phones, worth some $100,000, were imported illegally from Azerbaijan. LF
GEORGIAN INTERIOR MINISTER DOWNPLAYS SVANETI CRIME THREAT
Koba Narchemashvili told journalists on 3 September that reports that the crime situation in the mountain region of Svaneti is out of control are exaggerated, Rustavi-2 reported. The situation in Svaneti was discussed at a National Security Council session on 22 August, and three days later President Shevardnadze appealed to the region's population to support a police operation to round up violent criminals who have taken refuge there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2003). Residents of Mestia, the only sizeable town in Svaneti, began a protest last week to demand the dispatch to the region of special troops to restore law and order. LF
KAZAKH PRESIDENT SAYS OIL CONTRACTS WILL NOT BE REVISED
Nursultan Nazarbaev told parliament in Astana on 2 September that Kazakhstan will not revise existing oil-production-sharing contracts with foreign investors, but it will change its tax policy on new oil projects, khabar.kz reported. Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov made a similar assertion to parliament on 30 June when asking the legislature to approve his government's action plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2003). Nazarbaev said the government should revise its tax policies for entities engaged in scientific and innovative work and in oil operations in order to implement his Strategy for Kazakhstan's Industrial-Innovative Development in 2003-15. He added that new tax standards will be applied to new onshore oil fields, as well as to those in the Caspian Sea. BB
KYRGYZSTAN APPARENTLY ACCEPTS LOSS OF ANTITERRORISM CENTER
Kyrgyzstan has apparently accepted Tashkent as the site of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization's (SCO) Regional Antiterrorism Structure, according to a report by the official news agency kabar.kg of 2 September. As the report notes, SCO member states agreed earlier this year that the antiterrorism center would be located in Bishkek, and the Kyrgyz authorities had already selected a building to house it. As late as 12 August, Kyrgyz officials were denying Uzbek assertions that the center would definitely be located in Tashkent (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2003). The Kyrgyz acceptance removes a possible area of contention between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan at the 4-5 September meeting of SCO national coordinators, during which the antiterrorism center is to be inaugurated. BB
ALLEGED AFGHAN DRUG TRAFFICKERS KILL ONE POLICE OFFICER, TAKE ANOTHER HOSTAGE IN TAJIKISTAN
Alleged Afghan drug traffickers clashed with police in the Shurabod Raion of southern Tajikistan's Khatlon Oblast on 1 September, killing one officer, wounding another, and taking a third hostage, Asia Plus-Blitz and Interfax reported on 2 September. An official of the raion police department told Asia Plus-Blitz that the captured officer is believed to have been taken to Afghanistan. The gun battle in the village of Navobod near the Afghan border follows several recent large hauls of narcotics by Russian border guards and Tajik law enforcement officials. Tajik leaders have appealed for international help in fighting drug trafficking from Afghanistan, particularly in view of the large crop of opium poppies produced in Afghanistan this year. BB
TAJIKISTAN HOPES TO SELL ELECTRICITY TO EUROPE, SAYS PRIME MINISTER
Tajik Prime Minister Oqil Oqilov told a news conference in Dushanbe that Tajikistan wants to sell electricity to Europe cheaply when a series of new hydroelectric plants is completed, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 September. The Tajik power exports would use the Russian electricity grid. Oqilov noted that Tajikistan signed an agreement in June to supply 5 million kilowatts to Russia daily, thereby demonstrating that Tajik electricity can find a market. On 21 June, the Nurek hydroelectric plant, built in the Soviet era as the first in a series of power stations, began supplying electricity to Russia after a 13-year interruption, due largely to the Tajik civil war (1992-97) and reconstruction. Tajikistan is seeking investors to complete the entire project. BB
CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS TAJIKISTAN
Li Zhaoxing arrived in Dushanbe on 1 September on an official visit, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 2 September. Tajik presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov was quoted as reporting that Li held a wide-ranging discussion with President Rakhmonov, focusing particularly on closer bilateral economic ties. Rakhmonov was quoted as saying that opening direct overland access between Tajikistan and China via the Kulma Pass will facilitate contacts. The talk also covered the struggle against terrorism, extremism, and separatism, Saidov said. BB
TURKMEN JUSTICE MINISTRY RENAMED
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov announced at a 1 September cabinet meeting that he is renaming the Justice Ministry and appointing a new minister, turkmenistan.ru and Interfax reported on 2 September. The new name, Adalat ministrligy, using the Turkic word for justice instead of the international term, is meant to convey fairness, honor, and order, in addition to strict justice, Niyazov said. He said the renamed ministry will be given additional responsibilities, including carrying out an inventory of all property -- both state-owned and private -- in the country and checking on how it is being used. It is also supposed to assume responsibility for lawyers, notaries, and civil-registration offices. Taganmyrat Gochyev was appointed minister. He has been running the Justice Ministry for the last six months as first deputy minister. The post of justice minister has been vacant for more than three years. BB
UZBEKISTAN JOINS ISLAMIC DEVELOPMENT BANK
The annual session of the Islamic Development Bank's (IDB) board of governors opened in Almaty on 1 September with the acceptance of Uzbekistan as the 55th member of the institution, Interfax reported on 2 September. Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are already members. According to the report, the bank has funded $450 million worth of projects in the Central Asian states. According to gazeta.kz, IDB Chairman Ahmad Mohhamed Ali announced at the meeting that the bank will give special consideration to funding projects to develop transportation in the Central Asian region in order to connect the Central Asian countries with world markets. BB
BELARUSIAN JUSTICE MINISTRY WARNS NGO, PARTY
The Justice Ministry on 2 September issued an official warning to the Leu Sapeha Foundation for what it said was "activity that is not provided for by the organization's charter and runs counter to regulations of the Republic of Belarus currently in force," Belapan reported. The ministry charged that the foundation organized a number of political seminars in the provinces for Belarusian youths, "including representatives of unregistered nongovernmental organizations whose activities are banned on the territory of the Republic of Belarus." Jan Busch -- a member of Germany's Young Socialists who was expelled from Belarus on 16 August for what the authorities called "interference in internal affairs" -- was a lecturer at four seminars organized by the Leu Sapieha Foundation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 August 2003). On 1 September, the Justice Ministry warned the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (National Assembly) that its headquarters is located in a residential building, which contradicts the law. The Justice Ministry may instigate court proceedings to ban an organization if it has received two official warnings within one year. JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT FORMS STATE PROPAGANDA TEAMS
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has decreed the formation of "informational-propagandistic groups" that will inform people in the provinces on the state's current policies, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 2 September. The groups include more than 100 government officials and representatives of state-controlled media who are obliged to hold meetings in the provinces at least once a month. In particular, the explanation of state policies to voters was imposed on State Monitoring Committee head Anatol Tozik, National Bank Chairman Pyotr Prakapovich, Prosecutor-General Viktar Sheyman, and Belarusian Trade Union Federation boss Leanid Kozik. JM
UKRAINE GETS NEW FOREIGN MINISTER...
President Leonid Kuchma on 2 September dismissed Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko and appointed Kostyantyn Hryshchenko to that post, Ukrainian media reported. According to the presidential press service, Kuchma released Zlenko under a law on state service that stipulates obligatory retirement for government officials over age 65. Zlenko served as foreign minister twice, from 1991-94 and from 2000-03. Hryshchenko, 49, has been Ukraine's ambassador to the United States since January 2000. Prior to that, he was ambassador to the Benelux countries and headed Kyiv's mission at NATO. The appointment of Hryshchenko, "whom many see as a pro-Western politician, may be a sort of compensation...to Europe and Washington for...Ukraine's surrender of its positions in talks with Russia, both bilateral and within the framework of the 'four' [CIS countries: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan]," Anatoliy Hrytsenko, head of the Kyiv-based think tank Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies, told Interfax. JM
...AND NATIONAL SECURITY AND DEFENSE COUNCIL CHIEF
Also on 2 September, President Kuchma appointed Volodymyr Radchenko as secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO), simultaneously releasing him from his post as chief of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Ukrainian media reported. The post of RNBO secretary has been vacant since the appointment of Yevhen Marchuk as defense minister in June. Radchenko, 54, served as SBU chief from 1995-98 and from 2001-03. JM
SUPPORT IN ESTONIA FOR EU ENTRY RISES TO 70 PERCENT
A poll of 1,000 people conducted by the EMOR research company in the second half of August indicated that 71 percent of voting-age citizens intended to participate in the 14 September referendum on European Union membership, BNS reported on 2 September. Of them, 70 percent said they will vote in favor of EU membership, and 30 percent were against membership. This was an increase from the poll in July in which comparable numbers were 62 and 38 percent. Compared with July, there was a significant growth in the pro-EU views of supporters of the main political parties, rising from 62 to 77 percent for the Moderates, from 64 to 76 percent for the Pro Patria Union, from 71 to 78 percent for the Reform Party, from 63 to 68 percent for Res Publica, and from 47 to 57 percent for the People's Union. The lone exception was the Center Party; the pro-EU views of its supporters rose only from 47 to 48 percent. SG
LATVIA GOES TO COURT TO END DIGITAL TV CONTRACT
The Transportation Ministry officially confirmed on 2 September that it filed a suit with the Stockholm Court of Arbitration on 29 August asking that last November's agreement between Latvia's Digital Radio and Television Center (DLRTC) and the British company Kempmayer Media Limited and its Latvian branch, Kempmayer Media Latvia, be declared null and void, LETA reported. On 1 September, the Corruption Prevention Bureau launched a criminal case against DLRTC officials for signing the agreement, which officials allege contains terms that are disadvantageous for Latvia, without notifying the government in advance. According to the agreement, DLRTC was to pay a 4 million lats ($6.9 million) advance and supply a bank guarantee for the project by 1 September. The penalties for noncompliance are about $5,300 a day. SG
GERMAN PARLIAMENTARY DELEGATION VISITING LITHUANIA
A delegation of German parliamentarians headed by Bundestag Vice President Susanne Kastner began a four-day visit to Lithuania on 1 September, ELTA reported. On 2 September, the delegation visited the Lithuanian parliament where its chairman, Arturas Paulauskas, thanked Germany for ratifying the agreements for Lithuania's membership of the EU and NATO. Parliamentary deputies of both countries discussed health care, measures to combat unemployment, methods to prevent human trafficking, and other issues. On 3 September, the delegation is scheduled to travel to the resort town of Druskininkai in southern Lithuania and to the Lazdijai-Ogrodniki border checkpoint on the Lithuanian-Polish frontier. SG
POLISH COAL MINERS PROTEST MINE CLOSURE PLANS
Some 10,000 coal miners demonstrated in Katowice on 2 September to protest the planned closure of four mines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 August 2003), PAP reported. Protesters lit firecrackers and threw stones at the headquarters of the state-owned mining group Kompania Weglowa, demanding that the government reverse course and not close the mines. "If today we agree to the liquidation of more than 10,000 jobs, nobody will give them back to us," trade-union activist Henryk Moskwa said at the demonstration. "Let's remember that the point is not only the [four] mines, but also other companies whose operation is dependent on the coal-mining sector," he added. The four mines that are to be shut down employ 8,654 people. "If the government doesn't change its mind and start talks, then next week we will escalate the protests," another trade-union activist, Henryk Nakonieczny, told Reuters. JM
CZECH OFFICIALS JOIN CRITICISM OF GERMAN CENTER AGAINST EXPULSIONS
Czech politicians are criticizing a proposal of the organization representing expelled German refugees to set up in Berlin a Center Against Expulsion as a memorial to those expelled from Central and Eastern Europe after World War II, dpa and CTK reported on 2 September. In an interview with the German daily "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 1 September, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla said he opposes the plan, and will support instead the establishment of a center for war research. Like Spidla in his 1 September interview, lower house speaker Lubomir Zaoralek told visiting Council of Europe Secretary Walter Schwimmer on 2 September that he opposes the Expellees' Association's plans because the memorial would "take an historic event out of context." Zaoralek said that Schwimmer shares his "skeptical and disapproving opinion" of the plan, according to dpa. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also opposes the proposal, as do Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Premier Leszek Miller (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003). MS
TENSION IN SLOVAK COALITION ABATING?
Transportation Minister Pavol Prokopovic reached an agreement on 2 September with Alliance for a New Citizen (ANO) Chairman Pavol Rusko to dismiss Branislav Opaterny as state secretary at the ministry he heads, TASR and CTK reported. Unlike Economy Minister Robert Nemcsics, who recently announced he will soon tender his resignation, Opaterny refused to leave the government. Both Nemcsics and Opaterny were asked by the ANO National Executive to resign following their criticism of Rusko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26, 27, and 28 August 2003). Prokopovic, a member of the major coalition Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), said Opaterny's firing is due to the provisions of the coalition agreement and not to Opaterny's performance as an expert at the ministry, with which he was satisfied. Observers are not convinced that the latest movements will calm the tense atmosphere in the ruling coalition, as the conflict between ANO and the Christian Democratic Movement over the abortion law amendment and mutual accusations of corruption persists. MS
SLOVAK LABOR MINISTRY REACHES AGREEMENT WITH UNIONS ON WAGE HIKES
The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family reached a tentative agreement with unions on 2 September to increase wages next year by 7 percent, instead of 5 percent as originally planned, TASR reported. This will lead to an additional 300 million crowns ($7.1 million) in budget expenditures. The government is conditioning the agreement on the unions' acceptance of its reform plans. MS
HUNGARY'S GDP GROWTH AT SIX-YEAR LOW
Hungarian economic growth hit a six-year low in the second quarter of 2003, rising just 2.4 percent year-on-year and 0.6 percent since the first quarter, the Central Statistics Office reported on 2 September. The daily "Nepszabadsag" wrote that the economic growth based in recent years on the housing-construction boom, household consumption, and state spending has come to an end, and these factors will have to be replaced by production and exports as driving forces. Financial analyst Zita Maria Petschnig told the daily the data could indicate that consumption is falling, even as production investments are growing. According to former Finance Minister Mihaly Varga of the opposition FIDESZ party, the economy "is drifting toward a crisis," Hungarian television reported. Varga commented that the country is in the clutches of a "twin deficit" of the budget and of current accounts, and the government must now turn to "an active economic policy" to rescue the economy. MSZ
HUNGARIAN SOCIALIST LEADERS HOLD CRISIS MEETING
Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy on 2 September met with senior Socialist Party (MSZP) leaders as the popularity of both the party and the cabinet is slipping and internal disputes are surfacing in public, local media reported. According to the "Nepszava" daily, Health Minister Judit Csehak, Finance Minister Csaba Laszlo, and Sports Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany could be on the way out by the end of the week. The minister at the heart of the party's current problems is Gyurcsany, who has been repeatedly accused by the opposition of benefiting from his Socialist Party connections in real estate dealings dating back to 1994. MSZP Deputy Chairwoman Katalin Szili's comments on 31 August that the party must get rid of the "old nomenklatura" if it is to free itself of accusations of scandal, have been taken as support for attacks on Gyurcsany. Several unnamed Socialists were quoted as saying that although Gyurcsany's property deals are legal, they are nevertheless a burden for both the cabinet and the party. MSZ
HUNGARIAN HEALTH MINISTER TO RESIGN
Judit Csehak has submitted her resignation, and the prime minister will most likely accept it, "Nepszabadsag" reported on 3 September, citing anonymous sources. The reason for Csehak's departure is reportedly that she sees no chance of obtaining funds from the state budget for transforming the country's health-care system and for social measures. MSZ
MACEDONIAN POLICE BEGIN WITHDRAWAL FROM TENSE REGION...
The shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH) announced on 2 September that it has "frozen" its ultimatum, according to which the Macedonian government had to withdraw by that afternoon its police forces from the Lipkovo region near the Macedonian-Serbian border, where they were conducting a large-scale operation to arrest members of "armed groups," RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August and 2 September 2003). The AKSH's announcement came after several ethnic Albanian lawmakers from the governing Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), the opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD), and the National Democratic Party (PDK) visited the village of Vaksince to hold talks with the villagers and representatives of the rebels. The deputies called on police to remove their recently established checkpoints in the area "as soon as possible," Reuters reported. On 3 September, the police began to dismantle the checkpoints after local people assured them that the armed men are not in Vaksince. Police said that they are moving on to unspecified "other strategic locations." UB/PM
...AS ALBANIA AND KOSOVA SUPPORT THE GOVERNMENT...
In Skopje, the government announced on 2 September that it will not pay any attention to the AKSH's ultimatum, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Meanwhile, Albanian President Alfred Moisiu and Kosova Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi told Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski in separate telephone conversations that they fully support the Macedonian authorities in their fight against "extremist groups in northern Macedonia." Moisiu and Rexhepi called the extremists a threat to peace in the region (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 22 November 2002 and 27 June 2003). Kosova's President Ibrahim Rugova on 3 September called on NATO and the EU to do everything possible to prevent a new conflict in northern Macedonia. PM
...AND NATO PLAYS DOWN THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE PROBLEM
NATO spokesman Mark Laity told RFE/RL's South-Slavic Language Service by phone from Brussels on 2 September that the AKSH is not as serious a threat as they would like people to believe. "They are trying to give the impression certainly that they are something they are not. They want to give the impression that they are some large substantial group with lots of public support. They are not large, they are not substantial, they have no support, they are certainly not an army," Laity said. He added that "these are people who have shown in the past their propensity for violence and willingness to do dreadful things. But frankly, nobody takes seriously this idea of them being some substantial group. The local people don't support them, they are afraid of them, they are afraid of their propensity for violence. So [the armed men] have nobody backing them, their ability to start something big is incredibly limited." Other observers suggested that the AKSH's aims are more likely criminal rather than political. An unnamed western diplomat told Reuters that he does not "believe there will be a replay of [the ethnic conflict of] 2001." PM
SERBIAN MINISTER SLAMS ALBANIAN PARLIAMENTARY DECLARATION
Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Goran Svilanovic said in Belgrade on 2 September that the Albanian parliament "crudely interfered in the internal affairs of a sovereign state" by criticizing the recent declaration on Kosova adopted by the Serbian parliament, which Tirana called a "dangerous return...to nationalist policies," RFE/RL's South-Slavic Language Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 August and 2 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1, 8, 15, and 22 August 2003). Svilanovic added that the two governments should "soon open talks...not only about the resolution of the Albanian parliament, but also on how to jointly contribute to security in the region," dpa reported. The foreign minister is one of several Serbian politicians who have used strong rhetoric regarding Kosova and other neighboring states recently in advance of the elections that are widely expected within the next 12 months. A session of the parliament of Serbia and Montenegro to discuss Kosova is slated for 4 September. PM
ECONOMY STAGNATES AS SERBIAN POLITICIANS TALK ABOUT KOSOVA
Stojan Stamenkovic, an economist with the Institute of Economic Sciences, said in Belgrade on 2 September that the expected GDP growth of 2 percent or 3 percent in 2003 will not be sufficient to service the foreign debt or enable Serbia to catch up to other postcommunist countries, dpa reported. "Investments are dropping although they should grow...to reach the target of generating 20 percent of the GDP in 2005 and 24 per cent in 2010," he added. Stamenkovic dismissed the importance of the successful privatizations of some companies as "subsidy-based growth." Many observers in Serbia and abroad note that the politicians have increasingly devoted their energies to fighting among themselves and promoting nationalist agendas rather than dealing with Serbia's pressing problems of poverty, crime, and corruption (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 May, 25 July, and 8, 15, and 22 August 2003). PM
FORMER SERBIAN LEADER WANTS A BREAK
Former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic said in The Hague on 2 September that he wants a break of "at least two years" in his trial to prepare his defense in a place of his choosing, RFE/RL's South-Slavic Language Service reported. PM
SLOVENIAN MINISTER SAYS THERE IS NO 'CRISIS' IN RELATIONS WITH CROATIA...
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel said in Ljubljana on 2 September that his country and Croatia "have normal relations. What has happened may go away in a few days if both sides show good will," Hina reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 and 22 August 2003). He was referring to Slovenia's recent recall of its ambassador to Croatia and an exchange of words over Zagreb's plans to declare an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Adriatic that would cut Slovenia off from international waters. The Slovenian parliament is scheduled to discuss the matter on 3 September, and the government will announce an official position in the course of the day. Elsewhere, the Slovenian authorities have called a meeting of the joint Slovenian-Croatian commission on the nuclear power plant at Krsko to discuss Croatia's demand for compensation for $54 million worth of electricity that it paid for but did not receive between July 2002 and April 2003, RFE/RL's South-Slavic Language Service reported. PM
...BUT CROATIA IS CONCERNED
Speaking in Rijeka on 2 September, Croatian Prime Minister Ivica Racan expressed shock and anger over recent remarks by Slovenian Foreign Minister Rupel that Ljubljana may have to reconsider its support for Zagreb's bids to join NATO and the EU, RFE/RL's South-Slavic Language Service reported. Racan added that he hopes that Rupel's remarks do not reflect official policy. In Zagreb, Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Simonovic said Slovenia has no business in calling for a joint zone with Croatia in the Adriatic because Slovenia does not have legal access to the open sea, Hina reported. He added "Slovenia should not sever lines of communication or insist on talks being held at lower diplomatic levels." In the Croatian parliament, the opposition Croatian Party of [Historical] Rights (HSP) put the question of the EEZ on the legislative agenda. Ivo Sanader, who heads the opposition Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), blamed the Racan government for having encouraged Slovenian hopes about access to the Adriatic by reaching an agreement with Ljubljana on the matter in 2002 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 September 2002). The agreement has remained a dead letter because of strong opposition to it in Croatia, where elections are due by the spring of 2004. PM
DEBT GROUNDS BOSNIAN AIRLINES
Air Bosna has stopped flights as of 3 September because it has lost its legal right to participate in international air traffic on account of $640,000 in debts, RFE/RL's South-Slavic Language Service reported. PM
EU TO INVESTIGATE ALLEGED MISUSE OF FUNDS BY ROMANIAN MINISTER
An audit team from the European Commission's Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) is due to arrive in Bucharest this week to investigate allegations of misuse of EU funds by European Integration Minister Hildegard Puwak, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau and international news agencies reported. EU Ambassador to Romania Jonathan Scheele said the European Commission "is examining the case with the greatest attention" and added: "It is clear that if irregularities are observed, the necessary steps will be taken," according to AP. Puwak welcomed the EU investigation, hoping it will clear her name. She earlier called on the National Anticorruption Prosecution (PNA) to investigate the allegations (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," 2 September 2003). Also on 2 September, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the cabinet has full confidence in Puwak, Mediafax reported. MS
VERHEUGEN URGES FURTHER REFORMS IN ROMANIA
Guenter Verheugen, the European Union commissioner for enlargement, on 2 September called on the Romanian government to implement further economic, judicial, and administrative reforms and to combat corruption, dpa reported, citing Mediafax. In a videotaped statement shown during the last day of an annual meeting in Bucharest of Romanian ambassadors, Verheugen said the EU will help Romania conclude its accession negotiations by the end of 2004, with a view toward joining the union in 2007. But he added that concluding the negotiations within that time frame depends, above all, on Romania. He said the EU enlargement process cannot be considered concluded as long as Romania is not involved and that, as the most stable country in southeastern Europe, Romania is important to the EU. Bucharest's good relations with the United States do not pose a problem to the EU, Verheugen said, and could be useful in improving the union's trans-Atlantic contacts. MS
NASTASE SAYS BUCHAREST 'UNINTERESTED' IN BASIC TREATY WITH MOLDOVA
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, addressing an annual ambassadorial forum in Bucharest on 2 September, said Romania is no longer interested in signing a basic treaty with Moldova, Mediafax reported. Nastase said it makes "little sense" to sign a treaty "that would reiterate the stereotypes of before [the] 1989 [fall of communism]." He said that if Moldova had accepted turning such a treaty into one of "fraternity" or "partnership" -- as Bucharest proposed in 1991 and in 1992 -- a basic treaty would have had some meaning. The premier said Romania will resume efforts to improve relations with Moldova when Chisinau displays a "greater inclination" to do so. A basic treaty between the two countries was initialed in Chisinau in April 2000 by their former foreign ministers, but neither side ever ratified it. MS
MOLDOVAN WOMEN'S ORGANIZATIONS JOIN PROTEST AGAINST PLANNED FEDERALIZATION
On 2 September in Chisinau, 13 representatives of nongovernmental women's organizations signed a declaration supporting a statement issued on 11 August by nongovernmental Moldovan organizations against plans to bring about the country's federalization, Flux reported. The women's organizations say they fully support the "three D conditions" formulated by the opponents of the plan, making agreement to federalization dependent upon Transdniester's "demilitarization, decriminalization, and democratization." They also say they want EU forces to participate in peacekeeping operations after an agreement with the separatists is reached, and warned against "attempts to transform our country into a Russian protectorate" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 and 26 August 2003). MS
MILITARY PARADE MARKS TRANSDNIESTER 'INDEPENDENCE' IN TIRASPOL...
Some 1,500 soldiers marched on 2 September in Tiraspol in a military parade marking 13 years since the proclamation of the separatist region's "independence," the RFE/RL Chisinau bureau reported. Stanislav Hajeev, who holds the portfolio of defense minister in the separatist executive, said in his speech that Transdniester opposes EU participation in peacekeeping operations in the region and would only accept Russian and Ukrainian troops. Hajeev said Western Europe and the United States have a strategic interest in Transdniester and are therefore attempting to force Russia to evacuate its troops and armaments. He demanded that Moscow stop the withdrawal of its forces. MS
...AS SMIRNOV REGRETS PARDONING ILASCU
In his speech delivered on the 13th anniversary of the "independence" proclamation, separatist leader Igor Smirnov said he will never pardon the three members of the "Ilascu group" who are in detention in Tiraspol, Romanian Radio reported the next day. The three -- Alexandru Lesenco, Andrei Ivantoc, and Tudor Petrov-Popa -- were convicted in 1993 of planning to carry out terrorist attacks and sentenced to terms of 12-15 years imprisonment. The leader of the group, Ilie Ilascu, was sentenced to death but pardoned by Smirnov in 2000. Ilascu is now a Romanian senator representing the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party. Smirnov said he "feels guilty before the Transdniester people" for having pardoned Ilascu and will therefore never grant a pardon to his still-imprisoned associates. MS
BULGARIAN MINISTER ANNOUNCES PENAL CODE AMENDMENTS...
Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov on 2 September announced a number of draft amendments to the Penal Code designed to support the fight against crime, vsekiden.com reported. Unregulated access and distribution of classified information will be punished with prison terms between two and 15 years, while government officials leaking classified information may face up to 20 years behind bars. Other amendments provide for more severe punishment for theft of explosives, arms, and military equipment. They also strengthen the penalties for crimes such as racketeering, trafficking, money laundering, and "car-napping" -- the theft and subsequent demand for ransom for the stolen car. Petkanov added there will also be new regulations in the Penal Code for the use of so-called Special Intelligence Devices used for wire-tapping in connection with computer-related crimes or trade in dual-use goods. He stressed, however, that a new law on these devices still must be prepared. UB
...REBUFFS PROPOSAL TO LIMIT CIVIL RIGHTS
Commenting on a recent proposal by Prosecutor-General Nikola Filchev to limit civil rights in order to fight organized crime more effectively, Interior Minister Petkanov said, "I am not a follower of the idea that one has to limit human rights in order to achieve some other aim," vsekiden.com reported. Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski also opposed limitations of civil rights, saying he cannot support Filchev's comparison of the situation in Bulgaria with the situation in the United States after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, mediapool.bg reported. While most legal experts ruled out any limitations to citizens' rights, the former head of the country's counter-intelligence service, General Brigo Asparuhov, now a lawmaker for the Socialist-led opposition Coalition for Bulgaria, said he supported Filchev's ideas "without reserve," according to mediapool.bg (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003). UB
NATO CONDUCTS EXERCISE IN BULGARIA
On 2 September, NATO began a 10-day exercise named Cooperative Key 2003 near Plovdiv, "Sofia Morning News" reported. Troops and aircraft from nine NATO member states, six NATO invitees, and seven countries from the Partnership for Peace program are participating in the exercise (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 August 2003). UB
WHO KILLED MUHAMMAD BAQIR AL-HAKIM?
A symbolic funeral was held in the holy city of Al-Najaf in Iraq on 2 September in memory of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim. The ayatollah was killed in a car bombing on 29 August as he left the Imam Ali Mosque in Al-Najaf following a noon Friday prayers sermon. Some 80 Iraqis were killed and more than 100 injured in the incident. Al-Hakim's body has yet to be identified, and mourners carried a casket containing only his wristwatch, ring, and pieces of his turban in a three-day procession from Baghdad to Al-Najaf.
The tension in the holy city is a reflection of the environment of turmoil seen in other Iraqi towns, where acts of sabotage and terrorism occur far too often in the post-Saddam Hussein era. Just one week before al-Hakim's killing, his nephew Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim was targeted when his office in Al-Najaf was bombed. He escaped uninjured. While Iraqi police claim they already have suspects for 29 August car bombing in custody, there would be no shortage of non-Iraqi suspects. Al-Hakim was indeed a target for Hussein loyalists, but he also could have died at the hands of Iranians, rival Shi'a groups, or Islamist militants.
Al-Hakim came from a prominent Iraqi Shi'a family, and like many of his relatives, he was a leading opponent of the Ba'athist regime. He was jailed in 1972, 1977, and 1979. Upon his release in 1980, he sought refuge in Iran and in 1982 founded the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), which became the most prominent Iraqi Shi'a group. SCIRI enjoyed Iranian political and financial support, and used Tehran as a base for operations for its armed wing, the Badr Brigades. Prior to the U.S.-led war in Iraq this year, SCIRI claimed to have some 10,000-armed men inside Iraq.
The group had contacts with the United States and participated in the pre-war meetings of Iraqi opposition groups. After the downfall of the Hussein regime, many Badr fighters returned to Iraq and established a presence there. The armed wing was reportedly disarmed by the United States in early June, although a small number of men remained armed to provide security for high-ranking SCIRI members. Al-Hakim returned to Iraq in May and reinstated himself as a leading ayatollah at the Al-Hawzah al-Ilmiyah Shi'ite seminary in Al-Najaf. He told reporters that month that he would not seek a political role in Iraq, but would remain the spiritual leader of SCIRI.
But in the holy city of Al-Najaf, things were not peaceful. A fierce power struggle erupted between the older, established clerics and the younger generation of clerics, none more vocal than Muqtada al-Sadr, the young son of slain Grand Ayatollah Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, who was gunned down along with Muqtada's two older brothers reportedly by Hussein's men in 1999. Muqtada's followers, the Sadriyun, are thought to be responsible for the 10 April killing of U.S.-supported cleric Abd al-Majid al-Khoi, who was killed in a bloody attack just steps from where al-Hakim was assassinated at the Imam Ali Mosque. Accounts vary, but it is believed that al-Khoi was killed when assailants attacked him and the mosque's custodian, an Iraqi Sunni cleric who might have been collaborating with the Hussein regime, as the two men emerged following a meeting of reconciliation. It is unknown whether al-Khoi or the Sunni cleric was the target of the attack.
Muqtada al-Sadr denied that the Sadriyun had any role in the attack. He has since become increasingly critical of the U.S.-led occupation, and has established the Imam al-Mahdi Army, a volunteer movement that he claims will protect the Shi'ite seminary in Al-Najaf and spur a nonviolent movement to rid Iraq of coalition forces. Al-Sadr has also clashed with more prominent Shi'a clerics in Al-Najaf, largely because of doctrinal differences, and has openly criticized clerics who were on good terms with the United States. A cleric of little standing, al-Sadr attached himself to Qom-based cleric Ayatollah Kazim al-Ha'iri and relies on the elder cleric to issue fatwas, or religious edicts, that support his agenda. Soon after al-Khoi's death, al-Sadr criticized Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for meeting with U.S. officials, which might have prompted the ayatollah to announce that he would have no relations with the U.S.-led coalition. Al-Sistani promptly took refuge inside the Al-Hawzah, refusing visitors and interviews.
Al-Sadr was equally critical of al-Hakim and SCIRI, particularly when the ayatollah's brother, Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim, assumed a seat on the Iraqi Governing Council, which al-Sadr refused to recognize. Furthermore, al-Sadr, while of little religious standing, reportedly claims thousands more followers than SCIRI, and is particularly popular with the young, the poor, and the disenfranchised. But, while al-Sadr and his Sadriyun have a motive, it is unlikely he would sanction a terrorist attack of this kind just steps from the holiest mosque to Shi'ites in Iraq.
Another possibility is that elements within the Iranian regime targeted al-Hakim. While al-Hakim and his men lived under the patronage of Iranian clerics for more than 20 years, his return to Iraq was reportedly viewed in Tehran as a loss for the clerics in Qom, both in standing and in financial terms, since Qom had become the center of Shi'ite theology over the past two decades. Furthermore, the decision of the Al-Najaf clerics to welcome Hossein Khomeini, the grandson of Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini -- who moved from the Qom-based Al-Hawzah al-Ilmiyah in Iran to the Al-Najaf Hawzah in early August -- might also have ruffled the feathers of some clerics in Qom. Khomeini, who said that he moved to Al-Najaf to continue his religious training and to teach, quickly made a name for himself by criticizing the Iranian clerics. International press reported that the move reflected a growing division in Iran between some Qom-based clerics and the Iranian religious authorities. Moreover, Khomeini praised the U.S.-led war in Iraq, and claimed that Iranians were ready to topple their regime, and might even welcome the assistance of the United States in doing so.
Arab militants have also been suspected in the attack on al-Hakim. While the number of foreign militants inside Iraq is unclear, U.S. government officials continue to claim that foreign fighters -- particularly from Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia -- infiltrate Iraq on a daily basis. A leading Saudi cleric told AP on 31 August that the militants, once shielded and supported by the Saudi regime, are now under fire at home due to U.S. pressure on Saudi Arabia to crack down on terrorist cells. "Most youths think the only safe road is to go to Iraq," Muhsin al-Awajy told AP. "They are trapped between the international campaign against terrorism and this campaign at home."
Kuwait's alwatan.com.kw reported on 27 August that Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan sources claim that some 1,200 foreign fighters linked to Al-Qaeda had made their way into northern Iraq from Afghanistan via Iran in recent days. A senior Iraqi police official told AP that there were nine key suspects in the bombing in custody, including two Saudis and one Palestinian carrying a Jordanian passport. The official said all nine, the remainder being Iraqis, admitted ties to Al-Qaeda, the news agency reported on 2 August.
Muhammad Husayn al-Hakim, the son of Muhammad Sa'id, may have unwittingly foretold the attack on Muhammad Baqir when he was quoted in the same article as saying, "We ask the American forces to set up numerous border posts," alluding to the possible involvement of foreigners in terrorist attacks on the UN and Jordanian Embassy. "If they managed to reach and attack UN headquarters, they can carry out assaults in Karbala and [Al-Najaf]," he said.
Hussein loyalists have been blamed for the assassination of al-Hakim, and, as noted earlier, there was no love lost between the ayatollah and deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The governor of the Al-Najaf province has said that the number of Iraqis being held after the bombing is fewer than five and that all are Iraqis tied to the former regime. It is also possible that Al-Qaeda fighters have teamed up with Hussein loyalists to launch attacks to sow discord and chaos in Iraq.
Hussein has purportedly denied any involvement in the incident in an audiotape released to Arab satellite channels on 1 September. However, the type and amount of explosives used indicate the involvement of regime forces. Moreover, nearly every leading Shi'ite figure blamed Hussein loyalists for the attack, with many expressing disbelief that any rival faction -- be it Shi'ite or Sunni -- could carry out such a deadly attack on a site revered by both sects. Shi'ite leaders -- in fact all Iraqi leaders -- agree that the loyalists' motive is to stir up discord among Iraqis in the hope of sparking a civil war in the country. The United States has yet to comment, but the FBI is assisting in the investigation.
In his final sermon on 29 August, the slain cleric denounced Hussein loyalists. "The Ba'athist regime targeted the Marjiya [the leading Shi'ite religious leaders] and carried out acts of aggression against the Marjiya. It killed...[Grand Ayatollah Ali] al-Gharawi, and Muhammad Sadiq al-Sadr, and targeted al-Sistani and Bachir al-Najafi [leading Marjiya]," AFP quoted al-Hakim as saying. "The men of the ousted regime are those who are now targeting the Marjiya," he said. He might have been right.
KARZAI DENIES TALKS UNDER WAY WITH TALIBAN
A spokesman for Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai denied on 2 September a report by the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press that the government is negotiating with Taliban officials in Zabul, AFP reported. "There are absolutely no negotiations going on with anyone," presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said. Zabul governor Hafizullah Hashim also denied that any negotiations are under way and said the militants are surrounded. "The Taliban are totally surrounded in Daychopan, and we will capture the whole area in one or two days," Hashim told AFP by satellite phone. Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press claimed on 1 September that Karzai's government had started negotiations with Taliban officials in several parts of the troubled southeastern province of Zabul. TG
U.S., AFGHAN TROOPS ATTACK TALIBAN
Afghan and U.S. troops overran three suspected Taliban positions in the mountains of southern Afghanistan on 2 September, while U.S. bombing hit the Sairo Gar mountain region, where hundreds of Taliban holdouts have been resisting fiercely for a week, AP reported on 3 September. General Haji Saifullah Khan, the Afghan commander in the battle area in the Dai Chupan district of Zabul Province, said U.S. warplanes and helicopter gunships kept up their barrage until shortly before dawn on 2 September. Khan said the Taliban were pushed back from three hideouts -- Kafir Shaila, Kabai, and Ragh --that day but are continuing to hunker down, using the rough terrain as their shield. TG
AFGHAN MINISTRY TO AID WOMEN
A new department has been established within the Afghan Commerce Ministry to help women set up businesses, the BBC reported on 1 September. "Nearly two years after the fall of the Taliban, most Afghan women, who faced draconian restrictions on their every move, have seen little or no improvement in their lives," according to the report. "While some girls are attending schools and some women have been able to go back to work, most still face discrimination in their everyday lives." The new government department aims to encourage women to enter the world of commerce. It will offer women small loans, teach them basic business skills, and help them to exhibit their handicrafts. But while many countries have expressed support, so far the department has received very little funding. TG
IRANIAN LEGISLATURE BEGINS DEBATE ON NPT ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL...
The parliament began a closed-door debate on 3 September on signing the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, IRNA reported. Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and Vice President for Atomic Energy Gholamreza Aqazadeh-Khoi attended the session. During the session, Ardabil parliamentary representative Nureddin Pirmoazen cited Article 177 of the constitution and five articles of the legislature's standing orders to the effect that such agreements and accords must be approved by the parliament, ISNA reported. BS
...WHICH COULD BE A DONE DEAL
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed ElBaradei suggested during a 2 September news conference in Berlin that Tehran has already decided to sign the Additional Protocol, RFE/RL reported. "They told me last week that they have taken the decision to conclude the protocol. The protocol is a standard agreement; it has been signed by 80 countries. Once a decision has been taken by a state to conclude the protocol, I hope that this should not take a very long time to conclude," ElBaradei said. "I would also hope that Iran, until they sign and ratify the protocol, will act as if the protocol is in force, because the more transparency we see in Iran, the more confidence we can create that their program is dedicated to peaceful purposes." BS
TEHRAN REPORTEDLY REFUSES TO EXTRADITE ALLEGED JORDANIAN AL-QAEDA MEMBER
Tehran has refused to extradite an alleged Jordanian member of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi (a.k.a. Ahmad Fadil Nazzal al-Khalayilah), "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" reported on 2 September. An anonymous Jordanian "informed source" said the Iranian officials refused to extradite him because al-Zarqawi holds a forged Syrian passport. BS
JORDANIAN MONARCH ENDS VISIT TO IRAN
King Abdullah II of Jordan finished his visit to Iran on 3 September, having met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kharrazi, IRNA reported. Also present at the meeting with Khatami were Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi, and Minister of Industry and Mines Ishaq Jahangiri, ISNA reported on 2 September. During this meeting Khatami expressed Iran's readiness to invest in Jordan's dam-building, gas, irrigation, and petrochemical sectors. Abdullah said his country wants to increase contacts in all areas. BS
IRANIAN DELEGATION VISITS BUENOS AIRES
Four Iranian officials -- Foreign Ministry Legal Affairs Department Deputy Director Mohsen Baharvand, attorney for litigious affairs Hussein Mohammad Nabi, Legal Affairs Department expert Hussein Gharibi, and translator Morteza Tafrashi -- arrived in Buenos Aires on 30 August and on 1 September to begin discussions relating to the July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in the Argentinean capital, the "Clarin" daily newspaper reported on 2 September. In their 90-minute meeting at the Foreign Ministry, the Iranians said they intend to examine the case closely and learn in detail the charges against former ambassador Hadi Suleimanpur and other officials for whom Judge Juan Jose Galeano has issued warrants. The visitors were informed that the judge is willing to receive them, but Argentinean law requires that they hire an attorney registered in the city of Buenos Aires in order to get access to the case. BS
IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER REASSURES DETAINED FORMER AMBASSADOR...
Foreign Minister Kharrazi told detained former ambassador Suleimanpur in a 2 September telephone conversation that the case against him is politically motivated and he is innocent, IRNA reported. Kharrazi said that Tehran has taken legal action to secure the former diplomat's release. BS
...AS OTHER DIPLOMATS RETURN TO TEHRAN
Ambassador to London Morteza Sarmadi has returned to Tehran, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 2 September, according to IRNA. Assefi denied, however, that Tehran has recalled 400 of its diplomats as a reaction to Suleimanpur's arrest. An anonymous "informed source" in the Iranian legislature also denied the reported recall of 400 diplomats, ILNA reported on 2 September. "Only a few diplomats who were suspected by an Argentinean court of involvement in the case of Hadi Suleimanpur have returned to Iran," the source said. An anonymous "informed source at the Foreign Ministry" said on 2 September that the ministry has prevented two of its officials from traveling to the United Kingdom, ILNA reported. The source explained, "The Foreign Ministry, in view of the possible dangers and threats to Iranian diplomats abroad, has prevented these two people from traveling to London." Alireza Nurizadeh reported in the 1 September "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" that a directive from Iran's Supreme National Security Council has banned foreign travel by 40 senior officials and military commanders, the Middle East Newsline news agency reported. BS
UN ORDERS INDEPENDENT INQUIRY INTO IRAQ BOMBING
The United Nations has ordered an independent inquiry into the 19 August bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad, Reuters reported on 2 September. The decision came after critics charged that the world body should not investigate itself. "An independent inquiry will be conducted to investigate our security arrangements in the run-up to the bombing," Undersecretary-General for Management Catherine Bertini told UN staff through a 2 September e-mail message. Bertini did not provide details of the composition of the independent body, and the UN will still conduct its own investigation. According to Reuters, UN Security Coordinator Tun Myat has recently returned from Iraq and is expected to report to the UN in the coming days. That report might not be made public, however. Questions remain over whether the United States failed to provide security to the UN, and whether the world body had refused security assistance from the United States. "We were never able to confirm that on any occasion the UN refused an offer of security," UN Spokesman Fred Eckhard has said. "We did say that we did not want to live in an armed camp, and we are currently reassessing security since we became vulnerable to this violent attack." KR
POLISH-LED FORCE TAKES CONTROL OF CENTRAL IRAQ
U.S. Marines have transferred control of an area of central Iraq to Polish-led forces, international press reported on 3 September. "I have absolute faith and confidence in the 21 nations that will assume their responsibilities today," U.S. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, told a ceremony marking the transfer in Babylon, Reuters reported. U.S. Marines will remain stationed in the holy city of Al-Najaf for at least two more weeks before ultimately transferring power. The city has been rocked by two terrorist bombings in the past two weeks, one of which killed Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Hakim (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 September 2003). Some 400,000 Iraqis gathered in Al-Najaf on 2 September to honor the slain cleric in a symbolic funeral. His remains have not been identified. KR
FIRST POST-HUSSEIN CABINET SWORN IN
Iraq's first post-Saddam Hussein cabinet took office on 3 September after being sworn in by Iraqi Governing Council members Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, Jalal Talabani, and Ahmad Chalabi, the Governing Council's president for the month of September, international press reported. The composition of the 25-member cabinet was announced on 1 September. Ministers will report to the Iraqi Governing Council, and according to AFP, a coalition-appointed advisor will remain on staff in each ministry. U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer retains ultimate authority over all decision-making in Iraq. KR
U.S. TO SEEK UN RESOLUTION FOR MULTINATIONAL FORCE
U.S. President George W. Bush has reportedly agreed to seek a UN Security Council resolution calling for a multinational force for Iraq, nytimes.com reported on 3 September. That request marks a change in strategy for the United States in Iraq, although it is expected that Bush will seek to retain overall U.S. command of the multinational force. The decision came as a study was released by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office stating that if the Pentagon follows through with a plan to rotate active-duty U.S. Army troops out of Iraq after a year, it will only be able to maintain a force of 67,000-106,000 active duty and reserve Army and Marine forces, since anything larger will compromise U.S. military operations elsewhere in the world, nytimes.com reported. Meanwhile, a U.S. State Department official spoke to Reuters about the upcoming resolution. "We've got language," the official said. "It enhances; it elaborates; it talks about how countries can contribute. It's on how to define further the vital role of the UN in political, military and economic areas and how to provide ways for the UN members to support efforts by the Iraqi people." KR
CPA HEAD COMMENTS ON SECURITY SITUATION IN IRAQ
The head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq, Bremer, commented on the security situation during a 2 September press conference in Baghdad, the CPA website reported (http://www.cpa-iraq.org). Bremer said: The United States "completely agrees with the argument that we should find ways quickly to give Iraq and Iraqis more responsibility for security, and indeed that is exactly what we are doing. We have almost 40,000 Iraqis now in the Iraqi police around the country. We have recruited at least three battalions -- full battalions of Iraqi civil defense corps, all in the last four weeks. We hope to reach the goal of 65,000 to 75,000 police officers by the end of 2004." He added that 49 of Iraq's 151 prisons have been reopened and 300 of the country's 400 courts are functioning. Bremer noted that security will remain a challenge, as police work to catch the estimated 100,000 criminals released from jail by deposed President Hussein prior to the war. Many of those criminals are responsible for the murders, kidnappings, thefts, and other crimes that are common in Iraq today. Bremer said that while international standards call for a three-month training period for police, Iraqi police are being trained in eight weeks in an effort to get them on the streets faster. KR