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Newsline - July 15, 2004

The Prosecutor-General's Office said on 12 July that its special department devoted to investigating particularly dangerous crimes has taken over the probe into the killing of Paul Klebnikov, the editor of the Russian-language version of "Forbes" magazine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 July 2004), RTR and reported. The prosecutor's office said it has no suspects and has not detained anyone in connection with the case. Police have searched Klebnikov's office and apartment in the presence of U.S. embassy officials. Meanwhile, RIA-Novosti on 13 July reported that the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has expressed willingness to provide support to investigators. Klebnikov's brother Michael said at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow on 14 July that "Forbes" will not conduct its own investigation, as it trusts the Russian authorities' ability to investigate the killing, Ekho Moskvy reported. He also said that solving the crime is very important for both Russia and the United States. Klebnikov, 41, is survived by a wife and three children and will be buried in New York on 16 July. VY

In his statement on Klebnikov's death posted on on 12 July, publisher Steve Forbes called the killing a "gangland-style execution." "Paul wrote extensively, incisively, and all-too-knowledgeably about post-Soviet Russia's crime-ridden, oft-murderous worlds of business and politics. Criminal capitalists and their political allies literally have looted billions of dollars of assets from this impoverished nation," Forbes wrote. He added that Klebnikov's two books are examples of "the dangerous digging and reporting in which [Klebnikov] engaged." The secretary of the Russian Union of Journalists, Mikhail Fedotov, told "Novye izvestiya" on 12 July that Klebnikov was killed for "telling the truth." VY

Continuing a major purge of its politically oriented programming, NTV announced on 14 July that it is canceling its parody show "Krasnaya strela," "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported. NTV informed the show's production company that it was canceling the contract immediately in a letter from NTV General Director Vladimir Kulisitkov that did not explain the reason for the decision. "Krasnaya strela" producer Vladimir Neklyudov, however, said the reason was obvious. "There is no such thing as soft satire, just like there is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant," he said. An NTV spokesperson told the paper that "the program had lost the satirical edge that viewers want," adding that the program's ratings were low and its production costs high. "Krasnaya strela" artistic director Aleksandr Tatarskii told the daily that he has no hope that another channel will pick up the program. "If the country had 50 channels, then I'd say the hell with them and go to another. But nowadays there are no choices. Russia has only 2 1/2 channels," Tatarskii said. RC

The Russian government on 15 July said that no decision has been made regarding the possible transfer of some government functions from Moscow to St. Petersburg, APN and other Russian media reported. The statement came in response to statements made on 14 July by St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matvienko. Speaking to the U.S.-Russia Chamber of Commerce in St. Petersburg, Matvienko said: "I don't have the right to announce such decisions without official permission. But I can say just that a decision has been made and it will be made public officially within a few days," reported. Matvienko added that the unspecified government offices to be transferred will be housed in the landmark Senate and Synod buildings on St. Petersburg's Palace Square. Both buildings are currently undergoing restoration. She also said that the Defense Ministry will soon vacate the prime downtown location known as New Holland and that the city will hold a competition among developers to build a major business center there. Matvienko has stated repeatedly both when she served as presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District and since becoming governor that some federal-government functions will be transferred to St. Petersburg. RC

A group of 15 deputies of the Primorskii Krai legislature announced on 15 July plans to send an appeal to President Putin, the State Duma, and the Central Election Commission (TsIK) outlining alleged election-law violations in the course of the controversial mayoral election in Vladivostok, Interfax and other Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2004). A committee has been formed to draft the letter, Deputy Yurii Privalov told the news agency. Meanwhile, Duma Deputy Nikolai Markovtsev -- who finished in fifth place in the first round of voting with just 3 percent of the vote but who nonetheless was promoted to the second round after the second-place finisher was removed from the ballot and the third- and fourth-place finishers withdrew from the race -- has called on voters to vote "against all" candidates in the 18 July second round, "Vremya novostei" reported on 15 July. The daily also reported that a complaint has been filed with the City Election Commission against entrepreneur Vladimir Nikolaev, who won the first round of voting. The complaint alleges that the city's Tourism Committee organized a meeting between Nikolaev and representatives of the local tourism industry and that Nikolaev's company, Turnif, has been running television advertisements featuring the same slogan that Nikolaev has been using in his campaign. RC

Lieutenant General Konstantin Romadanovskii, the chief of the Interior Ministry's (MVD) Internal Security Department, announced on 13 July that his agency and the Federal Security Service (FSB) have arrested several MVD officers who allegedly sold illegal travel documents to travel agencies. The agencies provided documents for illegal immigrants from China, Iran, and other countries who used Russia to transit to the West. Among those arrested was a woman officer who "penetrated the Interior Ministry from the ranks of organized crime," Romadanovskii said. The woman, who has a criminal record, used fake documents to gain employment in the MVD and was even promoted to captain. Romadanovskii added that the FSB took part in the operation because of links to counterterrorism. Among those reported using the bogus documents were alleged terrorists operating in the North Caucasus. VY

A man who has been described as one of the leading figures in the Russian underworld, Vyacheslav "Yaponchik" (Japanese) Ivanko, was extradited by the United States to Russia on 13 July, Russian news agencies reported. Ivanko was convicted in the United States in 1997 for extortion and other crimes and sentenced to 10 years in jail in a prison in Pennsylvania. Ivanko was sentenced in Russia in 1981 to 14 years in prison but emigrated to the United States in 1991 after being released prematurely. In Russia, he is awaiting a new trial for alleged involvement in the killing of two Turkish citizens. The United States and Russia have no extradition treaty and the handover of Ivanko to Moscow is a sign of increased cooperation between the two countries. NTV added that Ivanko was put in the Matrosskaya Tishina prison, where ex-Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii currently is being held. VY

Anton Drel, a lawyer for jailed former Yukos head Khodorkovskii, told journalists on 14 July that his client has asked Yukos shareholders to call for the resignation of the chairman of the board of directors, former Central Bank Director Viktor Gerashchenko, who was appointed last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2004), RTR and other Russian media reported. Khodorkovskii believes that his hopes of establishing a dialogue with the authorities with Gerashchenko's help have proven illusory. Moreover, Khordorkovskii thinks Gerashchenko's continued presence on the board will hinder such dialogue. Meanwhile, "Vedomosti" and RosBalt reported on 14 July that President Vladimir Putin's administration is also upset with Gerashchenko's position. In a related development, Yukos management announced that it will begin this week to pay tax debts for 2000 amounting to $1.3 billion, RIA-Novosti reported. The Justice Ministry announced on 14 July that it has sent bailiffs to seize the assets of Yukos's two largest subsidiaries, Yuganskneftegas and Samaraneftegas, ITAR-TASS reported. VY

President Putin signed a decree reducing the number of deputy directors in the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russian media reported on 14 July. Instead of the current 12 deputy directors, FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev will have just four, two of whom will be first deputies. The number of FSB departments will be reduced, and they will also be reclassified as directorates, as in the Soviet-era KGB. Colonel General Yevgenii Lovarev, the head of the FSB's personnel department, said the reorganization will help streamline decision-making and simplify the agency's work, reported. He also said that speculation in the media about a merger of the FSB and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) or an extension of the FSB's functions is unfounded. A similar reduction in the number of departments and deputies at the Emergency Situations Ministry was also announced, RIA-Novosti reported. VY

Sergei Ivanov said in London on 13 July that he is satisfied with the level of cooperation between Russia and Western countries within the antiterrorism coalition and between Russia and NATO, as well as with bilateral Russian-British military ties, "Izvestiya" and "Komsomolskaya pravda" reported on 14 July. Ivanov, who was speaking at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies, suggested that NATO further evolve into an antiterrorism organization and proposed a new name for it: the New Antiterrorism Organization. Ivanov also talked about the transformation of the Russian Army into a professional one, but warned that Moscow "cannot endlessly reduce its army." "We have 10 time zones and we will continue to allot considerable means to developing our nuclear forces." Answering a question about media reports that he was expelled as a KGB agent from Britain in the 1980s, Ivanov said: "After I heard this story, I carefully read all our records and I found out that it was not me. In Russia there are as many Sergei Ivanovs as John Smiths in Britain." While in the KGB, Ivanov is known to have been stationed in Finland and Kenya. VY

A group of members of the youth movement of the left-patriotic Motherland party rallied in London near the office of self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii and demanded his extradition to Russia, RTR reported on 15 July. The protesters told journalists that they came to "give Berezovskii a discount plane ticket from London to Kolyma [place of internal exile in Russia] and a uniform worn by Russian [prison] inmates." Police did not allow the protesters to enter Berezovskii's office. VY

The Federation Council on 15 July approved the resignation of Deputy Prosecutor-General Vladimir Zubrin, and other Russian media reported. Zubrin requested to be relieved of his post after he was appointed deputy director of the Federal Antinarcotics Agency. Zubrin had been in charge of the Prosecutor-General's Office in the Northwest Federal District. "Kommersant-Daily" on 9 July reported that Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov told officials in his office on 8 July that more than 50 percent of all criminal investigations in the Northwest Federal District involve violations by law enforcement officials. The paper reported that both Ustinov and the presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District, Ilya Klebanov, were dissatisfied with Zubrin's work. "Kommersant-Daily" also reported that Zubrin was the driving force behind numerous criminal probes into the administration of former St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, investigations that played a role in prompting Yakovlev not to seek a third term as the city's governor. The Federal Antinarcotics Agency is headed by former presidential envoy to the Northwest Federal District Viktor Cherkesov. RC

Banking-sector experts anticipate another banking crisis in the second half of August when banks release their financial-performance reports, "Izvestiya" reported on 15 July. "It is fairly certain that in the second half of August and the beginning of September we will face the second wave of the banking crisis," FBK auditing firm Vice President Aleksei Terekhov told the daily. In addition to the financial reports, it is expected that the Central Bank will make public the findings of a study of commercial banks that it is currently conducting in connection with its proposed deposit-insurance program. Several experts predicted that the reports will drive many corporate clients to move their accounts from commercial banks to the Russian branches of foreign banks and to state-controlled credit institutions. Standard & Poor's banking analyst Irina Penkina told the daily that the Central Bank's deposit-insurance plan will only cover individual depositors, and corporate clients will "be forced to make decisions based exclusively on risk and fear." RC

The Natural Resources Ministry is preparing a list of houses on the outskirts of Moscow that could be demolished for violating various regulations designed to protect the environment, reported on 15 July. Most of the houses have allegedly been built closer than 30 meters from the shorelines of various protected bodies of water. The ministry is also responding to numerous complaints of construction and tree cutting in protected forests. According to the report, the ministry has determined that at least 1,400 hectares of state land have been taken over by illegally-built homes. "Most of the violations involve the taking over of protected forests in Moscow Oblast and, until now, violators have been merely given tiny fines," Federal Environmental Monitoring Agency Deputy Director Oleg Mitvol told Ekho Moskvy on 15 July. Mitvol said the oblast prosecutor is preparing to submit to the courts a list of houses to be demolished. The list includes approximately 2,000 properties, mostly elite mansions. Mitvol said that 20-70 percent of the shorelines of the oblast's three most important reservoirs has been occupied by illegal buildings. Last summer, demolition orders were prepared for properties belonging to self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovskii, United Energy Systems (EES) CEO Anatolii Chubais, Interros head Vladimir Potanin, and entertainer Alla Pugacheva, although those orders apparently have not been executed. RC

Twelve of the 19 people who expressed their intention to register for the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov submitted the required documentation to the Chechen Central Election Commission in Grozny by the deadline of 6 p.m. local time on 14 July, Russian agencies reported. Candidates were required to produce the signatures of 5,850 registered voters in support of their candidacy or, alternatively, pay a deposit of 4,850,000 rubles ($166,752). One candidate, Abdul-Aziz Arsanov, announced on 14 July his decision to withdraw his candidacy in favor of Chechen Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov, who is widely regarded as the Kremlin's preferred choice. LF

Some 30 members of the elite guard loyal to Kadyrov's son Ramzan fought a major gunbattle in Avtury, south of Grozny, with 60-70 Chechen militants that lasted through the night of 12-13 July, Russian media reported. Five security personnel were killed in that clash and a further 12 were taken prisoner, Chechen Prosecutor-General Vladimir Kravchenko told journalists in Grozny on 14 July, ITAR-TASS reported. Kadyrov had claimed the previous day that 24 Chechen fighters were killed together with 18 of his men, and that those losses were the heaviest incurred so far this year. LF

Speaking to journalists in Yerevan on 13 July, Artur Baghdasarian again said he hopes that the opposition will abandon its boycott of parliamentary proceedings, Noyan Tapan reported on 14 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004). Baghdasarian also dismissed as exaggerated persistent rumors of serious friction between his Orinats Yerkir party and its coalition partners, the Republican Party of Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun. He admitted that "serious problems and mutual complaints" have arisen, but said they have been easily resolved. LF

The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group held a press conference in Yerevan on 14 July on their return from talks the previous day in Stepanakert, Armenian and Russian news agencies reported. ITAR-TASS quoted U.S. co-Chairman Steven Mann as saying that it is up to the conflict sides to decide whether representatives of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic should join the ongoing talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan on approaches to resolving the conflict. His Russian counterpart Yurii Merzlyakov, however, said that all parties that were signatories to the 1994 Karabakh cease-fire agreement should participate in the peace talks, but did not specify at what juncture the NKR, which cosigned the cease-fire agreement, should join those talks, according to Interfax and to on 15 July. Mann further dismissed as "stupid" suggestions that the peace process is deadlocked, Noyan Tapan reported. LF

The trial of seven Azerbaijani oppositionists charged with their role in the clashes in Baku on 15-16 October between police and opposition supporters protesting the outcome of the 15 October presidential ballot was adjourned on 14 July after the seven defendants began a three-day hunger strike the previous day to protest the "intolerable" conditions under which they are being held in detention, Turan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2004). LF

Following a 14 July meeting in Moscow of the Joint Control Commission tasked with monitoring the situation in the South Ossetian conflict zone, Georgian National Security Council Secretary Gela Bezhuashvili and Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava both told journalists that Georgia will insist on the total demilitarization of South Ossetia, ITAR-TASS reported. Interfax quoted Bezhuashvili as referring to the region as "an enclave of bandit groups, stuffed with weaponry" which, he added, poses a threat to Russia as well as to Georgia. First Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin, who represented Russia at the meeting, voiced support for the proposed demilitarization, but made clear that it must apply equally to South Ossetian and Georgian illegal armed groups, ITAR-TASS reported. South Ossetian officials alleged last week that Tbilisi has deployed to South Ossetia members of the guerrilla organizations that previously operated in southern Abkhazia. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov claimed on 11 July that Georgia has up to 3,000 armed men in South Ossetia, rather than the 500 peacekeepers it is formally entitled to deploy there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004). LF

Labor Party Chairman Shalva Natelashvili denounced on 14 July an unsuccessful attempt by bailiffs to seal the party's Tbilisi headquarters after it failed to pay some 3,400 laris ($1,800) incurred in legal costs, Georgian and Russian news agencies reported. Natelashvili alleged that the bailiffs were acting on direct orders from the Georgian leadership who, he claimed, want to "liquidate" his party, Caucasus Press reported. The Labor Party has lost a dozen law suits against the Georgian authorities, including one appealing the official results of the 28 March parliamentary ballot that gave the Labor Party only 6 percent of the vote, less than the minimum 7 percent required to win parliamentary representation. LF

On the basis of a court action brought on 6 July by the prosecutor of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, a Batumi court ruled on 14 July that property belonging to former Adjaran leader Aslan Abashidze be impounded, ITAR-TASS and Georgian media reported. The ruling extends to two four-story homes owned by Abashidze in the resort of Makhindjauri, tennis courts in Batumi owned by Abashidze's daughter Diana, 15 registered companies, and accounts in the name of Abashidze and his two children with the Batumi Maritime Bank that together contain more than $1 million, according to Interfax. ITAR-TASS on 14 July quoted an unidentified Russian Foreign Ministry official as saying that the confiscation of Abashidze's property is in direct violation of a pledge given by the Georgian leadership shortly before he stepped down in May and left Georgia for Russia. LF

Abkhazia's National Assembly during a 14 July meeting scheduled for 3 October the presidential election due this fall, Caucasus Press and Interfax reported. President Vladislav Ardzinba, who was first elected to that post in 1994, is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term. LF

Newly appointed Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev told a news conference in Almaty on 14 July that he plans to draft a new media law that will ease conditions for journalists, Kazinform reported. The minister promised a law that will incorporate "the basic principles of the constitution." He also pledged that the Information Ministry will work with the Central Electoral Commission to develop regulations that ensure equal media coverage for candidates. Sarsenbaev said that the Information Ministry will take steps to de-monopolize the media market, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The minister expressed his support for exempting media outlets from the value-added tax. In closing, he looked forward to the obsolescence of his position, saying: "I hope that I will be the last Kazakh information minister. After adopting the new law [on the media] and establishing correct relations with the media, there will be no need to have the Information Ministry." Sarsenbaev was appointed to his post on 12 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2004). DK

Ramazan Esergepov, editor in chief of opposition newspaper "Nachnem s ponedelnika," announced on 14 July that he has filed suit against two former ministers for taking "illegal actions" against the newspaper, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Esergepov is asking for $58 million in damages from Mukhtar Kul-Mukhammed, former culture minister and current presidential press secretary, and Sautbek Abdrakhmanov, who was information minister until 12 July. In his first official action, new Information Minister Sarsenbaev announced that charges against the newspaper are being dropped (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2004). Yesergepov said he will end his suit if the two former ministers offer a public apology. DK

Canada has agreed to accept 525 Afghan refugees from Kyrgyzstan by the end of 2004, the BBC reported on 14 July. "This will largely bring to an end a humanitarian problem that has defied solutions for many years," Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, told AP. The refugees arrived at various times, fleeing the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, as well as instability and the Taliban regime in the 1990s. According to Colville, they failed to find permanent housing in Kyrgyzstan. "This is part of a much wider attempt to find solutions for most of the refugees in Central Asia, not just Kyrgyzstan," Colville said. DK

Under an 11 July agreement between the two parties, Tajikistan's Social-Democratic Party (SDPT) will give the unregistered Taraqqiyot opposition party eight places on its party slate in 2005 parliamentary elections, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 14 July. Regional and municipal SDPT organizations will make individual decisions about candidates in single-mandate districts. Taraqqiyot Deputy Chairman Rustam Fayziev called the deal a "gentlemen's agreement," Avesta reported. The agreement stresses that the two parties are not merging, they are merely partners. The agreement will remain in force until Taraqqiyot obtains official registration, or for at least one year. According to Fayziev, Taraqqiyot has also approached the Democratic Party and the Socialist Party, but it has not yet received replies from those organizations. DK

Tajikistan's state-owned Sharqi Ozod publishing house has refused to print the latest issue of independent social and political weekly "Odam va Olam," Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 14 July. Editor in chief Mirahmad Amirsho told the news agency that Sharqi Ozod stopped the print run because the publication fell behind on payments and because printing the weekly's small circulation of 2,000 copies caused equipment to deteriorate. Amirsho disputed the claims. A Sharqi Ozod representative confirmed the stoppage, and when queried about the reasons referred Asia Plus back to Amirsho. The independent newspapers "Ruzi Nav" and "Nerui Shukhan" experienced similar difficulties with Sharqi Ozod in late 2003, prompting some observers to charge that the state was using its virtual monopoly on printing services to exert control over independent media outlets. DK

The Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a press release on 14 July to explain why Russia's Mayak radio station is no longer on the air in Turkmenistan, reported. Mayak went off the air on 10 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2004). According to the press release, broadcasts stopped because Turkmenistan is modernizing its radio broadcast facilities and replacing outmoded equipment. The refurbishing will require "a certain amount of time and significant financial outlays," according to the Foreign Ministry. Mayak representatives cast doubt on the official Turkmen explanation, however. Sergei Kurokhtin, head of the station's news service, told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 13 July that Turkmen authorities may have been unhappy with Mayak's coverage of discrimination against the country's Russian minority. "We are considering what course of action we should take and we will consult with our embassy in Turkmenistan," Mayak Chairman Andrei Bystrytskii told the newspaper. DK

The U.S. State Department's 13 July decision to deny Uzbekistan certification for $18 million in 2004 aid drew praise from the global human rights community despite some anxiety over possible ramifications. A press release issued by the State Department on 13 July expressed disappointment at a "lack of progress on democratic reform," but stressed that the decision "does not mean that...our desire for continued cooperation with Uzbekistan has changed." An Uzbek Foreign Ministry spokesman voiced regret on 14 July, but called the decision "completely up to the donor" and said that the two countries' partnership remains intact, Interfax reported. During a meeting in Tashkent on 14 July with Assistant Secretary of State A. Elizabeth Jones, Uzbek President Islam Karimov expressed support for "the all-around development of relations with the United States," UzA reported. Human Rights Watch in a 14 July press release called the U.S. decision "a welcome show of principled leadership." However, Uzbek political analyst Alisher Taksanov told AP that Uzbekistan will likely move closer to Russia and China as a result. DK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has issued a decree scheduling elections to the 110-seat Chamber of Representatives, Belarus's lower house, for 17 October, Belarusian media reported on 14 July. Candidates for the election may be proposed from 8 August to 6 September, while their registration with district election commissions will take place from 6-16 September. After the registration, candidates will be able to begin their campaigns, which must be financed exclusively from the state budget and a special election fund created by the Central Election Commission for voluntary donors. Each registered candidate may obtain up to 950,000 Belarusian rubles ($440) from the state budget for covering his/her campaigning expenses. If a candidate exceeds the sum allocated to him/her from the state budget and the special election fund, his/her registration may be canceled. JM

The opposition United Civic Party (AHP) intends to field 55 candidates in the 17 October parliamentary election, Belapan reported on 14 July, quoting AHP leader Anatol Lyabedzka. The Belarusian Popular Front plans to propose 60 candidates, while the Belarusian Party of Communists will reportedly nominate 39 hopefuls. The three parties are in an election coalition called Popular Coalition Five Plus. Meanwhile, another opposition group, the Conservative Christian Party (KKhP), is calling on Belarusians to boycott the 17 October ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2004). "The 17 October election is a show organized by Belarus's enemies," KKhP spokesman Valery Buyval told Belapan. "In our country, it matters not how people vote, but who counts the votes," Buyval said. JM

A mass rally in support of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's presidential candidacy took place in the evening of 14 July in Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, Interfax reported. According to police estimates, some 100,000 people attended the gathering. According to representatives of the opposition Our Ukraine bloc, the crowd numbered no more than 50,000. Our Ukraine also charged that the local administration resorted to press-ganging people into attending the pro-Yanukovych demonstration. "It isn't the first time that Kharkiv residents have been herded together to a rally," the agency quoted a local Our Ukraine activist as saying. "Many are threatened with the loss of their jobs [for non-attendance]." JM

Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, leader of the Our Ukraine bloc, said on 14 July that he wants the moratorium on land sales to be prolonged until 1 January 2007, Interfax reported, quoting the Our Ukraine press service. "If we don't prolong the moratorium on the sale of farmland now, we'll make the same mistake as we did with voucher privatization, when several families bought up everything for a song," Yushchenko said. President Leonid Kuchma recently vetoed a bill prolonging the moratorium on land trading from 1 January 2005 to 1 January 2007 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2004). JM

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Brussels on 14 July that NATO will retain a presence in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Balkans even after the EU takes over Bosnian peacekeeping at the end of 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March 2004). He stressed that he wants Bosnia to join NATO's Partnership for Peace program but that Bosnia's "full cooperation with the [war crimes] tribunal in The Hague is an essential condition for that." De Hoop Scheffer argued that "there are a few people, perhaps more than a few, in the Republika Srpska, who don't understand that collaborating with [former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan] Karadzic and covering for him means that Bosnia and Herzegovina is paying a high price" that keeps it from membership in NATO's program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28, 29, and 30 June 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 May 2004). De Hoop Scheffer stressed that NATO's SFOR peacekeeping mission is now "doing everything it can" to catch Karadzic and other indicted war criminals. In response to a question by RFE/RL, the secretary-general said that NATO has a plan for intervening in Bosnia should violence flare up but did not elaborate. PM

The governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM), Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) agreed on 14 July on a package of laws regulating a cut in the number of administrative districts and the decentralization of the state administration, MIA news agency reported. The final stumbling block was the ethnic composition of the Skopje, Kicevo, and Struga districts. The compromise was hammered out in what Macedonian media described as a tense atmosphere among the coalition partners, with representatives of the international community warning that the local elections slated for mid-October should not be postponed on account of failure to agree on the package now. After the meeting, the leaderships of the governing parties held separate meetings to discuss the deal. Parliamentary speaker Ljupco Jordanovski said parliament will discuss the package as soon as the government approves it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8, 9, and 13 July 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July 2004). UB

Following a meeting at the U.S. diplomatic mission in Prishtina on 14 July, Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi and several leaders of the ethnic Albanian and Serbian communities issued a rare joint statement calling for the establishment of a new Kosovar ministry to deal with refugee and human-rights affairs, Reuters reported. Oliver Ivanovic, who is a leader of the Serbian minority, said that it is now up the UN to decide whether it will transfer authority for these matters from its own civilian administration (UNMIK) to local people. "It's obvious that we all expected too much from the international community," Ivanovic said, adding that "basic issues must be resolved between the ethnic communities" themselves. PM

A Tirana court sentenced Idajet Beqiri to 18 months in prison on 14 July for his alleged role in promoting ethnic hatred as one of the leaders of the political wing of the shadowy Albanian National Army (AKSH), Reuters reported. He was recently extradited from Germany to Albania on an Albanian arrest warrant. PM

Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleksandr Motsyk said at a Bucharest meeting of the Danube Cooperation Process that the Bystraya canal project currently being implemented in a Danube Delta estuary is merely the reopening of a project abandoned during the Soviet era, Reuters reported. He said the canal would provide improved access to the Black Sea, thus helping develop a socially and economically poor region of Ukraine. Motsyk added that there are three deep waterways in the Danube Delta, none of which is in Ukraine. "We have the right to reopen a deep waterway in the Ukrainian part of the Danube," he said, adding that Kyiv will do all it can to avoid any negative impact on the environment. Catherine Day, who is the European Commission's director general for the environment, told the meeting that the EU has asked Ukraine to halt construction work on the canal "until a full environmental-impact study is carried out." Addressing the forum, Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said any Danube River development project must take into account the need to protect the river's unique environment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2004). MS

President Ion Iliescu said on 14 July that he hopes internal reforms announced by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) translate into "more efficient" leadership, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2004). Iliescu said that keeping party posts separate from positions in the government will ensure that incumbents are "less burdened." Iliescu was speaking ahead of a consultative meeting with the PSD leadership. One day earlier, the president met with leaders of the Humanist Party and of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania for similar consultations. The main opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance announced a boycott of the presidential consultations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2004). MS

Greater Romania Party (PRM) Chairman Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who attended Iliescu's consultations with parliamentary parties on 14 July, told the president that he came "to visit my future work place" at the Cotroceni presidential palace, Mediafax reported. Tudor said he is confident he will win the fall presidential elections "if there is no fraud." He also said the PRM is seeking an extraordinary session of parliament for a confidence vote on a cabinet that is much-changed since the government received a vote of confidence in 2000. Tudor said just four ministers remain from that period. "This is a government of anonymous people, of whom no one has ever heard," Tudor said. Meanwhile, President Iliescu swore in five new cabinet members on 14 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004). MS

Unidentified "official sources" were quoted by Mediafax on 14 July saying that there will be "ample celebrations" this year to mark the 60th anniversary of the palace coup that ended the country's alliance with Nazi Germany on 23 August 1944. Under the communist regime, that date marked the country's national day. The date of young King Michael I's coup, which included the arrest of wartime dictator and Nazi ally Ion Antonescu, was effectively hijacked by the communists, who claimed it marked a "national liberation revolution" that they inspired and spearheaded. Mediafax's anonymous sources suggested the former monarch will take part in this year's celebrations. MS

Visiting Romanian Chief of Staff Major General Mihail Popescu and his Moldovan counterpart Brigadier General Ion Corobcean discussed military cooperation during a meeting in Chisinau on 14 July, Infotag and Flux reported. At a news conference after the talks, Popescu said the possibility of deploying Romanian peacekeepers to Transdniester will be discussed at the governmental level. Popescu said Bucharest is ready to assist Chisinau in training military personnel and share its peacekeeping expertise. Popescu also said Romania's experience in military reforms is not necessarily relevant for Moldova. "We are a NATO army, and therefore our principles and standards differ from those adopted in Moldova," he said, adding that Moldova's decision to slash troop levels is likely to produce an army whose personnel are "better trained for its job" than a large force. MS

Meeting in Moscow on 14 July, visiting Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov said the Transdniester conflict must be settled quickly, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Lavrov said a solution should be found within a framework capable both of guaranteeing Moldova's territorial integrity and of offering Transdniester guarantees of its special status. These conditions are best provided by the current, five-party framework, Lavrov said. He also said Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin's Stability and Security Pact for Moldova (SSPM) initiative "fits well into the ongoing process of conflict settlement." The two ministers also drafted a plan for cooperation between their ministries in 2004-05. MS

In mid-June, Bulgaria successfully closed its accession negotiations with the EU. Sofia now awaits an EU summit in December to officially endorse Bulgaria's EU membership. "If all goes to plan, an Accession Treaty could be signed in the first part of 2005, and Bulgaria would join the EU on 1 January 2007," the EU's official "Enlargement Weekly" noted on 21 June. Although the publication noted that the closure of the last chapters of the EU's acquis communautaire was "provisional," it is extremely unlikely that any of the chapters could be renegotiated.

But this is exactly what Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov, a former chairman of the opposition Socialist Party (BSP), and other leading politicians want to make the public believe. For Parvanov, incumbent BSP Chairman Sergey Stanishev, and Energy Minister Milko Kovachev, the current arrangement with the EU is flawed in one particular area -- the energy sector. What Parvanov, Kovachev, and others criticize is that the Bulgarian government has finally given in to the EU's pressure to decommission the four older reactor blocks of the nuclear-power plant near Kozloduy in northern Bulgaria. The Kozloduy facility consists of six Soviet-designed reactors-- four VVR-440s and two newer units. The two oldest VVR-440 reactors at the Kozloduy facility were shut down at the end of 2002 under EU pressure. Under a 1999 bilateral agreement, the Bulgarian government has also agreed to decommission the remaining two reactors of this type by the end of 2006.

The bilateral agreement between Bulgaria and the EU is part of the EU's strategy to urge countries throughout Central and Eastern Europe to decommission Soviet-era nuclear-power plants (for an overview of the EU strategy see The EU argues that the construction of the VVR-440 reactors is basically unsafe and cannot be improved to the extent that they meet Western security standards. The main problem, however, is that many transition countries, including Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Lithuania, are heavily dependant on the electricity produced by these reactors.

This is also true for Armenia. Its only nuclear power plant in Metsamor outside Yerevan produces up to 40 percent of the country's electricity. The plant consists of two VVR-440 reactors, only one of which is currently operating. In the wake of a devastating 1988 earthquake in Armenia, Metsamor was shut down altogether for safety concerns. These concerns were mainly due to the combination of the construction and the fact that Metsamor is located in a seismically active area. But in the mid-1990s, the government decided to put one reactor back into operation to alleviate crippling power shortages.

Although both the older reactors in Kozloduy and the plant in Metsamor have been continuously upgraded since the mid-1990s with the help of the United States and the EU, the EU still insists that the VVR-440-type reactors be decommissioned on safety grounds. This strategy was successful in Slovakia (now an EU member) and EU-candidate states such as Bulgaria, not least because of the EU's financial support for the decommissioning process and the prospect that accession negotiations would otherwise drag on far longer. Earlier this year, the EU decided to allocate an additional 350 million euros ($434 million) over and above the 200 million euros already granted since 2000 to help cover the costs of decommissioning the older blocks of the Kozloduy nuclear plant.

In a similar approach, the EU also offered in 2002 to support the Armenian government with 100 million euros ($124 million), if it decided to decommission Metsamor. Yerevan initially agreed in 1999 to close Metsamor by 2004, but has since gone back on that pledge, arguing that the plant could continue to operate without posing any risk. "The European side wants Armenia to set a date [for Metsamor's closure]," Industry Minister Karen Chshmaritian told a news conference on 8 June after he returned from Brussels. "However, Armenia cannot set a date without having financing resources [to replace the facility] and clarifying the entire procedure for the closure."

Chshmaritian reiterated Yerevan's position, saying that as much as $1 billion is needed for decommissioning Metsamor safely and finding alternative sources of inexpensive energy. "The Energy Ministry presented its calculations [to the EU], according to which the total cost of the work would be worth that much," Chshmaritian said.

Both the Armenian government and the Bulgarian defenders of the Kozloduy plant argue that experts both from Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agree that the lifespan of the upgraded VVR-440 reactors can be extended by at least one more decade beyond the envisioned closure dates. However, a recent special report on Kozloduy prepared by the Bulgarian news agency (see clearly shows that the information provided by government officials is often manipulated.

This certainly helps Parvanov adopt a populist approach when he defends the older blocks in Kozloduy. On 2 June, he told the participants of an international conference in Sofia that he could easily have accepted the closure of the older blocks at the facility if they had been recommended by experts. "The paradox is that the demand to close the four small blocks of the nuclear power plant Kozloduy does not come from experts nor from the national regulatory body," Parvanov said. Arguing that the closure of the energy chapter in Bulgaria's EU accession talks was a "tactical mistake" by the incumbent government, he asked whether the current EU members could not show understanding toward a future member and refrain from punishing the citizens for the government's mistakes. In other words, he suggested (as he had done before), reopening the negotiations on the energy chapter and finding an arrangement which would make it possible to extend the lifespan of the old Kozloduy reactors.

As things stand, this is unlikely to happen. Jean-Christophe Filori, spokesman for EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, told "RFE/RL Newsline" in an e-mail on 9 July that "before considering such a situation, the Bulgarian government should officially request the reopening of the negotiation chapter -- which it does not intend to do, as Mr. Verheugen was told during his last visit to Bulgaria in early June. Therefore the question does not arise.

"Any change in the terms of the negotiation requires the unanimous approval of all 25 EU member states. There is little chance -- to say the least! -- that all 25 member states will agree to change their position on Kozloduy.... Bulgaria made a firm commitment in 1999 to close down the four reactors concerned. We are confident that Bulgaria will stick to its commitment," Filori wrote.

Since the Armenian government has not yet agreed to the decommissioning of Metsamor, it remains to be seen whether the EU will make the degree of funding Armenia is to receive within the framework of the Wider Europe-New Neighborhood Policy program contingent on the plant's closure.

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai vowed on 14 July to crack down on private militias, issuing a decree that prescribes severe punishment for those who fail to disarm. "Those who act against...or endanger the security of the country are rebels," the decree states, according to a 14 July AP report. "According to the law, they are condemned to heavy punishment." The decree focuses on warlord armies operating beyond the control of the Defense Ministry. Militia leaders Hazrat Ali and Mohammad Ata promised to support Karzai's government and the disarmament efforts during a meeting with Karzai on 14 July, Afghan television reported. To date, 10,000 of the estimated 100,000 militia fighters have handed over weapons. The slow process and persistent security concerns have prompted authorities to reschedule nationwide presidential elections several times, with the latest date set for 9 October. MR

U.S.-led peacekeepers said three American vigilantes led by a former U.S. soldier tricked them into helping illegal counterterrorism activities, AP reported on 14 July. "Their credibility was such that with their uniforms, their approach, our people believed they were what they said they were," said commander Chris Henderson, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). "It was a mistake." An ISAF spokesman said the men, reportedly led by former U.S. soldier Jonathan K. Idema, dressed in military garb and passed themselves off as troops from a special task force that in fact did not exist. The men were arrested on 5 July in Kabul, and Afghan officials say they could face 20 years in jail for the kidnapping and assault of Afghans the men had taken prisoner and allegedly hung upside down in their makeshift jail. The men remain in the custody of Afghan security forces, who arrested the Americans along with four Afghans after a tip from international peacekeepers. The Americans are set to be tried in an Afghan court. MR

Afghanistan and Pakistan pledged to set up a hot line linking their Interior ministries in an effort to improve cooperation on drug interdiction and counterterrorism, dpa reported on 14 July. "The hot line will enable officials of the Crisis Management Cells in [the] Pakistani and Afghan Interior ministries to forge a close rapport and coordinate with each other on issues of mutual concern," Pakistani Interior Minister Daisal Saleh Hayat told reporters after wrapping up several days of talks with senior Afghan officials in Afghanistan. "It was agreed that the interior ministers of the two countries will meet at least once every six months to discuss important issues of concern to Afghanistan and Pakistan," Hayat said. "Coping with terrorism is the biggest challenge for the Afghan government, which is preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections in October and spring next year respectively." Hayat also said that leadership in Kabul agreed that "big and notorious" drug lords will eventually need to be confronted in addition to neo-Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters operating in the region. MR

Afghanistan promised to free up to 500 alleged Pakistani Taliban fighters held since 2001, AFP reported on 14 July. "The government of Afghanistan has agreed to release some 500-600 Pakistanis from its jails and a batch of 100 prisoners will be repatriated very soon," Pakistani Interior Ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said. The agreement followed Pakistani Interior Minister Faisal Saleh Hayat's visit to Afghanistan this week, Cheema said. Thousands of young Pakistani men crossed into Afghanistan to aid the Taliban as it came under attack from an international coalition after terrorist strikes on the United States on 11 September 2001. Hundreds of Pakistanis were captured and jailed in Afghanistan as Taliban forces were forced from their strongholds across the country. Afghanistan freed more than 500 over the past year. Pakistan has agreed to free Afghan prisoners, thought to number several hundred, who were captured after fleeing to Pakistan as the Taliban regime collapsed. MR

President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami told reporters on 14 July that there is no point in discussing nuclear-related issues with the United States, state radio and ISNA reported. "Talks must get results and must be beneficial," he said. "Unfortunately, American behavior and methods have not been correct. It has acted on the basis of its ulterior motives. There is no point in holding talks under such conditions. If we feel that there has been a major change in American policy, then that will create a new situation. We have not felt that way so far." Khatami added that Iran has the right to exploit nuclear energy peacefully. "We are prepared to hold talks, even with the Europeans, within the framework provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency," he said. Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani expressed similar sentiments in the previous days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2004). BS

"Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported on 14 July that in an incident in June, British naval vessels intentionally entered Iranian waters despite London's claims to the contrary. Tehran seized three British patrol boats and held their crews for several days after they allegedly entered Iranian territorial waters along the Shatt Al-Arab. After the crew's release, U.K. officials said the vessels were forcibly escorted into Iranian waters before being seized (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 June and 5 July 2004). The British vessels and all the equipment aboard them are still in Iranian hands. The commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' third naval district said an examination of the British global-positioning-system (GPS) registered the details of the vessels' location, "Jomhuri-yi Islami" reported. The United Kingdom is demanding the return of the boats and equipment, according to "Jomhuri-yi Islami," only to prevent revelation of other secrets. BS

President Khatami introduced Mohammad-Hussein Sharifzadegan to the legislature on 14 July as his nominee for the post of welfare and social-security minister, state radio and IRNA reported. State radio reported that 132 of the 259 legislators voted in favor of Sharifzadegan. Creation of the ministry is a recent development, and Sharifzadegan was an official of the Social Security Organization (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 8 December 2003 and 12 July 2004). BS

President Khatami said in his 14 July comments to lawmakers that in democratic societies the legislature is the most powerful body, IRNA reported. "Sharq" on 27 June, however, asked why the current legislature is focusing on "irrelevant issues." The representatives chant slogans about saving money by limiting the items on their cafeteria's menu and by not accepting housing assistance, automobiles, or cellular telephones. In fact, according to "Sharq," the amount of money allocated for their housing will increase -- it is currently $3,750 for a down payment and $438 for rent, and reportedly these figures will increase to $8,750 and $500. The other factors, such as meals and cars, are no different than they were with the previous legislature. "Sharq" also noted that in the first month of its existence, the new legislature had one-fifth the number of open sessions that the previous one had. Moreover, the current, seventh parliament held three incomplete open sessions. BS

A 14 July report in London's Arabic-language "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" newspaper quoted an anonymous source in the Iranian presidency as saying that Tehran handed suspected Al-Qaeda associate Khalid bin Ouda bin Muhammad al-Harbi (aka Abu Suleiman al-Makki) over to Riyadh, Reuters reported. Al-Harbi claimed that he was returning to Saudi Arabia in response to a 30-day amnesty offer from the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2004). According to "Al-Sharq al-Awsat," al-Harbi was being held at an Islamic Revolution Guards Corps safehouse and was informed about two weeks ago that he would be sent home. The extradition, the daily reported, was in response to a Saudi request to President Khatami. Khatami, however, denied receiving such a request, Reuters reported. Late on 13 July, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said al-Harbi was extradited at his own request, IRNA reported. Assefi claimed al-Harbi crossed the Iranian border illegally just so he could ask to be sent to Saudi Arabia. BS

Ninawah Governor Usama Yousif Kashmula was assassinated on 14 July when militants attacked his vehicle with automatic weapons and hand grenades, Al-Jazeera reported. "[Kashmula] was on his way to Baghdad with a security escort of four cars when the attackers in another car pulled up beside his vehicle and threw a grenade, and then shot at his car," an unidentified source told Al-Jazeera. Two individuals accompanying Kashmula were also killed in the attack. Ninawah Governorate spokesman Hazim Jalawi said that the attack took place in the region of T'lul Al-Baj, 110 kilometers south of Mosul. Meanwhile, in Baghdad on 13 July, militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a convoy transporting the head of the Iraqi Olympic Committee. Ahmad al-Hijiya escaped injury, but one of his bodyguards was injured. "I am surprised at this attack because the Olympic Committee has nothing to do with politics," AP quoted al-Hijiya as saying. "This committee belongs to all Iraqis, regardless of their political, religious, or ethnic origins." Iraq plans to send athletes to next month's 2004 Olympic Games in Athens to compete in weightlifting and soccer. KR

At least six people were killed and 25 wounded in an apparent car bombing in the city of Hadithah on 15 July, Al-Jazeera television reported. The explosion occurred when a booby-trapped car detonated near a police station in the city, located in the Al-Anbar Governorate, northwest of Baghdad. Sources told Al-Jazeera that the explosion destroyed a nearby government building, as well as a bank and a number of shops. Al-Arabiyah reported that three policemen were killed in the explosion. According to Reuters, the Health Ministry has put the number of dead at 10 with 30 wounded. The news agency also reported on 15 July that four members of the same family, including three children, were killed in a rocket strike in Kirkuk on the night of 14-15 July. The family of six was reportedly sleeping on the roof of their home when it was hit. KR

Zakiyah Isma'il Haqqi, inspector-general for the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, has accused a Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) adviser of stealing some 1 billion dinars ($704,000) through false contracts, Baghdad's "Al-Furat" reported on 12 July. Haqqi said CPA adviser Bob Cross concluded false deals, including the purchase of three automobiles -- which were purchased with the stipulation that the vehicles would be turned over to the ministry after the transfer of power. One year after the purchase, the automobiles have yet to arrive in Iraq, according to Haqqi, although the ministry paid for the vehicles. Haqqi further accused Cross of exerting pressure on the ministry's accounting bureau by threatening employees with dismissal if procurement documents were not signed. Haqqi has also accused Cross of signing a deal with a person identified as Giztiers Jean for an undisclosed amount and unidentified purchase. Haqqi claims the stolen funds were given to an American adviser identified by Haqqi as Martha Boyd, who reportedly continues to work for the ministry. Haqqi said that she has detailed the alleged violations in a letter to CPA head L. Paul Bremer and the Iraqi Governing Council, which she said has yet to follow up on the matter. KR

At least seven alcohol shops have been shot at or bombed in Baghdad this week, Reuters reported on 15 July. Shop owners said that at least four shops were bombed overnight between 14-15 July in eastern Baghdad. Three shops were attacked in the early morning hours of 14 July. "[The attackers] called me and ordered me to shut down my shop," proprietor Manhal Boulos said. "So I closed my shop and went home and people called me to tell me my shop was attacked." Alcohol shops across the country have been targeted in attacks apparently perpetrated by Muslim extremists who want alcoholic beverages banned in Iraq. The shops are run by Christians, who see their livelihood threatened by the violence. KR