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Newsline - July 21, 2004


PUTIN SIGNS OFF ON INTERIOR MINISTRY'S REORGANIZATION
President Vladimir Putin on 20 July signed a decree that significantly slashes the number of departments and directorates in the Interior Ministry and sets limits on the number of administrative personnel, RIA-Novosti and other Russian media reported. Under the restructuring, the ministry will cut the number of directorates from 30 to 15, and will retain an Investigative Committee and a Main Command of the Internal Troops. The interior minister will have just three deputies, as opposed to the previous 11, one of whom will be first deputy minister. Putin also signed a degree on the restructuring of the Federal Migration Service (FMS), and appointed Andrei Chernenko as its head. VY

CHEKISTS SUPPORT PUTIN'S PURGING OF SECURITY AND DEFENSE PERSONNEL
Colonel Sergei Goncharov, head of the KGB-FSB Special Task Force Alfa Association, told pravda.ru on 20 July that President Putin's recent dismissal of top military officials "is the right response" to Russia's setbacks in the North Caucasus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004). "I am personally confident that purging the Interior Ministry of the people [appointed during the term of former Interior Minister] Vladimir Rushailo will normalize the situation in the North Caucasus," Goncharov said. Military Intelligence Colonel Viktor Imaledino told pravda.ru that the dismissal of Chief of the General Staff Army General Anatolii Kvashnin shows that Putin is "beginning to cleanse the upper echelon of the military of people who were not loyal to him." The dismissal of Interior Ministry generals, Imaledino said, is a new stage in fighting corruption in the ministry. He claimed that it is no secret that "some banks working as a front for the Interior Ministry were involved in the trade of weapons and the transferring of funds to Chechnya." VY

STATE TO SELL OFF YUKOS'S MOST VALUABLE ASSET
The Justice Ministry announced in a 20 July press release that Yukos's main production unit, Yuganskneftegaz, will be sold off to help cover the oil major's mounting tax debts, Russian and international news agencies reported. Yuganskneftegaz accounts for approximately 60 percent of all of Yukos's oil output, "The New York Times" reported on 20 July. Meanwhile, state prosecutor Dmitrii Shokhin on 20 July presented indictments to the defendants in the trial in Meshchanskii Raion Court of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, and Volna head Andrei Krainov. Khodorkovskii said in a statement issued by his lawyer that the "fate of Yukos completely depends on the goodwill of the state," newsru.com reported. "As for me personally," Khodorkovskii added, "I will fulfill the court's decision and will seek a compromise with the state that will allow the company to survive." VY

ARRESTS ANNOUNCED IN HIGH-PROFILE KILLING OF DEFENSE-CONTRACTOR HEAD
The Prosecutor-General's Office announced in a 20 July press release that the suspected perpetrator and organizer of the June 2003 killing of Almaz-Antei General Director Igor Klimov have been detained and arrested, newsru.com reported. The Prosecutor's Office said that Klimov's killing (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 23 June 2003) was related to the killings of two heads of Almaz-Antei subsidiaries in 2002. Ruben Narimanov, director of the Ruslan production company, and Shaumyan Zavod General Director Mikhail Ivanov were shot dead in February and July 2002, respectively," the press release stated. "All of these contract killings are linked by a sole mercenary motive -- the redistribution of Almaz-Antei's property." Many observers believe that President Putin had a personal interest in seeing Klimov's killing resolved, as Klimov had previously worked in Putin's presidential administration and was a former officer in the Foreign Intelligence Service. VY

FAMILY DENIES 'FORBES' EDITOR WAS WRITING BOOK ON SLAIN TV EXECUTIVE
Michael Klebnikov said on 20 July that reports that his brother Paul Klebnikov, the recently slain editor of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine, was writing a book about the unresolved killing of Russian television executive Vladislav Listiev are incorrect (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004), Interfax reported. "The rumors that Pavel [Paul] intended to write a book on the murder of Listiev are absolutely untrue," Michael Klebnikov said. Some observers and media have suggested that Paul Klebnikov's death on 9 July might have been related to his work on such a book. Listiev, a popular telejournalist was killed in March 1995, one month after he was appointed general director of ORT. VY

FOREIGN MINISTRY DENIES RUSSIA IS CONSIDERING SENDING TROOPS TO IRAQ...
Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko on 20 July refuted reports that Russia is involved in discussions with the United States on the possibility of sending Russian troops to Iraq, according to a statement posted on the ministry's official website (http://www.ln.mid.ru). "This information does not correspond to reality. There are no plans to send Russian servicemen to Iraq," Yakovenko said in response to a reporter's question. The private Texas-based intelligence firm Stratfor (http://www.stratfor.com) reported on 16 July that Russia "is considering a request by the Bush administration to send Russian troops to Iraq or Afghanistan this fall." The possibility of sending three Russian divisions and one airborne brigade, for a total of up to 40,000 personnel, is under consideration, "Izvestiya" reported on 20 July, citing stratfor.com. Defense Ministry press secretary Vyacheslav Sedov said on 20 July that "our previously formulated position remains invariable: Russian servicemen will be sent neither to Iraq, nor to Afghanistan," lenta.ru reported. Meanwhile, Federation Council Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ozerov noted that, by law, a presidential request to send troops abroad would have to be approved by a simple majority of the upper chamber of parliament, RIA-Novosti reported on 20 July. VY

...LEAVING EXPERTS TO SPECULATE ABOUT POSSIBLE BENEFITS OF DOING SO
Council for Foreign and Defense Policy Chairman Sergei Karaganov said on 20 July that the United States would be very interested in seeing Russia deploying troops to Iraq or Afghanistan, and the possibility that this issue has come up in bilateral discussions cannot be excluded, TV-Tsentr reported. Karaganov went on to pose the question of whether Russia, "in its present situation," would be prepared to make such a military commitment, "although in the long term it would be beneficial." Military analyst Mikhail Yevstafiev told the station that Russia could gain "very great geopolitical and economic advantages" from becoming involved militarily in Iraq or Afghanistan. However, retired KGB Colonel Nikolai Tatov told pravda.ru on 19 July that President Putin would never embark on such a political adventure. "Although we got caught up in Chechnya, we are not going to get caught up in Iraq," Tatov said. And former Foreign Intelligence Service Colonel Vladimir Galkin told pravda.ru that the deployment of Russian troops in Iraq could serve to mobilize the entire Arab world in support of the Chechen separatist movement. VY

POLICE REPORT ON EFFORTS TO FIGHT ECONOMIC CRIME
Economic crimes cost Russia nearly 55 billion rubles ($1.8 billion) in the first six months of this year, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified Interior Ministry official. The ministry identified 120,000 economic crimes during the period, one-third of which were classified as "grave" or "extremely grave," the official said. More than 13,000 of the crimes involved state officials, bureaucrats, or local-government officials, including 4,729 cases of bribe taking. Some 9,235 tax-evasion cases were filed during the period, the official said. RC

COMMUNIST PARTY LEADER CLAIMS SUPPORT OF REGIONS IN INTRAPARTY CONFLICT...
The Communist Party has held 40 regional party plenums in the weeks since the party was split by two competing national congresses, one supporting party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and one that replaced him with Ivanovo Governor Vladimir Tikhonov, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other Russian media reported on 21 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). All those plenums voted to support Zyuganov, and a number of dissenting local party officials were compelled to leave their posts or were expelled from the party, Communist Party Central Committee Deputy Chairman Ivan Melnikov told reporters on 20 July. Melnikov said that he attended a plenum in Ivanovo Oblast, where the decisions of the pro-Zyuganov congress were endorsed and steps were initiated to expel Tikhonov from the party. "Izvestiya" reported on 21 July that the party intends to expel seven State Duma deputies from its faction in the Duma as soon as next week: Albert Makashov, Leonid Ivanchenko, Yelena Drapeko, Aleksandr Kuvaev, Nina Ostanina, Nikolai Benediktov, and Vladimir Kazakovtsev. RC

...AS DIVIDED PARTY AWAITS THE JUSTICE MINISTRY'S PRONOUNCEMENT
"Novaya gazeta," No. 51, gave details about the two rival Communist Party plenums and congresses held earlier this month. According to the newspaper, the pro-Zyuganov faction claims that 91 of the 156 members of the party's Central Committee attended its congress, while the pro-Tikhonov faction claims that 96 members attended its congress. According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 21 July, Melknikov said the pro-Zyuganov faction has submitted all the necessary documents from its congress to the Justice Ministry for confirmation, including affidavits from all the Central Committee members who participated in the congress affirming that they attended only that event. "Novaya gazeta" noted that the pattern of competing congresses was seen in the recent splits of the Liberal Russia party, the Party of Pensioners, and the Agrarian party, a phenomenon that is particularly useful for the government since it allows the courts and the Justice Ministry to decide which faction is legitimate. "The government now has the pleasant opportunity of choosing its own opposition," the newspaper commented. RC

MOSCOW CALLS FOR PROMPT RATIFICATION OF CFE TREATY
The Foreign Ministry on 20 July issued a statement urging all countries that have signed the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) to ratify the agreement, Interfax reported. "We expect that our partners will promptly carry out their national ratification procedures and thereby fulfill one of the key commitments made in Istanbul during the signing of the agreement in 1999," the statement said. Russia completed ratification of the agreement on 19 July, becoming the fourth of the 30 signatory countries to do so (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004). The statement also warned that "gray areas" in international arms-control conventions must be "eliminated." "In this context, we stress the intention of the Baltic countries and Slovenia -- as recorded within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council -- to join the adapted treaty after it enters force. We expect that those countries will comply with its goals and principles before their participation in the CFE treaty," the statement said. RC

MESKHETIANS BEGIN TO EMIGRATE TO THE UNITED STATES
The first 11 of the more than 5,000 Meskhetians living in southern Russia who have accepted an offer to emigrate to the United States left Russia on 21 July, Interfax reported. Another 49 are expected to leave on 26 July. Of the 12,000 Meshketians living in Krasnodar Krai, 4,943 have been granted Russian citizenship and another 744 have citizenship applications being processed. Almost all of the remainder have expressed their intention to emigrate to the United States, while a small number would like to return to Georgia's Meskheti region, from which they were deported during the regime of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. RC

POTANIN READY TO LEAVE THE MEDIA SECTOR?
Oligarch Vladimir Potanin's Interros group is holding talks to sell a majority stake in the influential daily "Izvestiya" to Gazprom-Media and its partner, Yevrofinans, "Gazeta" reported on 21 July. Both "Izvestiya" Editor in Chief Raf Shakirov and Gazprom-Media General Director Nikolai Senkevich said they know nothing of such talks. In June, it was reported that Interros will sell its 35 percent stake in the Prime-TASS news agency to Yevrofinans, the state-controlled investment bank that already owns 15 percent of the agency, "Gazeta" reported. The newspaper also reported that Potanin is interested in finding a buyer for the popular daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" because he considers the media sector to be time-consuming and unprofitable. RC

AUDIT CHAMBER HEAD ASSESSES CHECHEN RECONSTRUCTION
Audit Chamber Chairman Sergei Stepashin told a Chechen government conference in Grozny on 20 July that the most effective way to invest money allocated from the state budget for Chechen restoration is to create new jobs, ITAR-TASS reported. He advocated reconstruction of six or seven industrial plants in order to guarantee their work force a regular income. He singled out as further sectors for creating new jobs highway construction and processing agricultural produce. Stepashin further criticized chronic delays in paying compensation to Chechen families whose homes were destroyed during the past decade's fighting, noting that the process takes between four and six months rather than 18 days. He also slammed what he termed the erroneous decision to restore damaged residential buildings in Grozny, on which up to $2,000-$3,000 per square meter is being spent, rather than to build new housing, which he said is much cheaper. Stepashin pointed out that high-rise apartment blocks are inappropriate in Grozny given the likelihood of earthquakes. LF

ARMENIAN ECONOMIC UPSWING CONTINUES
Armenian gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 9.1 percent during the first six months of 2004 and amounted to 600 billion drams (about $1.12 billion), Noyan Tapan reported on 20 July. Industrial output increased by 45 percent year-on-year, while agricultural production grew by 6.8 percent, and real incomes rose by 19.2 percent. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS TO RENEGE ON PEACE AGREEMENT...
Addressing the first session of the Adjar parliament elected last month (see item below), Mikheil Saakashvili said in Batumi on 20 July that Georgia may renege on the agreement signed in July 1992 in Dagomys that put an end to the 1991-1992 hostilities in South Ossetia, Georgian and Russian media reported. Saakashvili pointed out that under that agreement the Georgian government undertook not to fly the national flag in the conflict zone. He said that if former Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze approved that prohibition, he is ready to withdraw from the agreement, to which Russia is a co-signatory. Saakashvili acknowledged that "war is a terrible thing," but implied that it is preferable to the territorial disintegration of Georgia, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported. "If a country or nation is unable to defend its own borders and territory, that nation is doomed to fall apart and be destroyed," Saakashvili said. LF

...SAYS RUSSIAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE BEHIND ABDUCTION OF GEORGIAN PEACEKEEPERS
Saakashvili also said in Batumi on 20 July that Georgia will not withdraw its Interior Ministry troops from the South Ossetian conflict zone and dismantle the additional checkpoints it has installed there, Caucasus Press reported. He accused Russian military intelligence of providing support to the South Ossetian authorities and said Georgia has evidence to support that allegation. Specifically, Saakashvili accused Russian military intelligence of masterminding the capture late on 7 July of some 40 Georgian Interior Ministry troops in the village of Vanati (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2004). Initial reports identified Ossetians as the abductors. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Vyacheslav Sedov rejected Saakashvili's allegations as unfounded and untrue, Interfax reported on 20 July. Sedov denied that any Russian military intelligence operatives are present in the conflict zone. LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN, RUSSIAN OFFICIALS WARN AGAINST NEW WAR
Speaking in Tskhinvali later on 20 July, Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, said that renunciation by Tbilisi of the 1992 Dagomys agreement "will lead to a war," Caucasus Press reported. He stressed that the government and people of South Ossetia have consistently favored a peaceful solution to the conflict with Georgia, but will "take appropriate steps" in the event of Georgian aggression. Kokoity's predecessor, former President Lyudvig Chibirov, has appealed for direct talks between Kokoity and Saakashvili to defuse tensions, Caucasus Press reported on 21 July. An unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official told Interfax on 20 July that while Georgia has the right to withdraw from the Dagomys agreement, doing so could precipitate a new conflict as the agreement stipulates the mechanism and framework for preventing a resumption of hostilities. LF

RUSSIA DENIES SENDING ADDITIONAL ARMOR TO SOUTH OSSETIA
Major General Givi Iukuridze, who is the Georgian Armed Forces chief of General Staff, told the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 20 July that Russia is deploying 20 armored personnel carriers from the Roki tunnel to South Ossetia's Djava Raion, Caucasus Press reported. Speaking after a meeting with Saakashvili, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze and Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, Iukuridze denied Russian assertions that agreement was reached on providing the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia with additional armor. Saakashvili alleged in Batumi earlier on 20 July that Moscow plans to give the additional vehicles to the South Ossetian authorities, according to Interfax. But Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Sedov said that the dispatch of the armored personnel carriers to South Ossetia is part of a rotation of equipment in which damaged equipment is replaced, Interfax reported. LF

ADJAR PARLIAMENT HOLDS FIRST SESSION
The first session of the Adjar Supreme Council elected on 20 June took place in Batumi on 20 July, six days later than originally scheduled, Georgian media reported. Deputies elected as parliament chairman Mikhail Makharadze, 57, a member of the Mikheil Saakashvili -- Victorious Adjara bloc. The two parliament deputies from the Republican Party pledged their support for Makharadze, Caucasus Press reported, but they failed to vote in favor of the nomination as chairman of the Adjar government of former Georgian Railways Director Levan Varshalomidze, who was the sole candidate for that post. Varshalomidze is a close associate of Saakashvili, who named him in May to head an interim Adjar administration (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 11 May 2004). Saakashvili described Makharadze as a model of moral probity, and Varshalomidze as competent and hard working, but a man of few words, ITAR-TASS reported. LF

GEORGIAN POLICE DISPERSE ANTIPRIVATIZATION PROTEST
"Dozens" of special purpose police surrounded and forcibly dispersed some 150 supporters of deceased former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who for the past week have been picketing the Economy Ministry to demand the resignation of Economic Development Minister Kakha Bendukidze, Georgian media reported. The protesters object to Bendukidze's stated intention of privatizing over 300 state-owned enterprises and buildings. On 20 July, Bendukidze's car injured two of the protesters who tried to block its passage. The extraparliamentary National Independence Party of Georgia aligned on 20 July with Gamsakhurdia's Round Table -- Free Georgia to fight the government's privatization plans, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT TELLS GOVERNORS TO ENSURE FREE ELECTIONS
Nursultan Nazarbaev held a meeting with regional governors in Almaty on 20 July, Kazinform reported. Nazarbaev told governors that they must "take all possible measures to ensure democratic, transparent, and fair" elections to parliament on 19 September. The president also lauded economic growth figures for the first half of 2004, citing a 9 percent rise in GDP, 9.4 percent rise in industrial production, and a 14 percent rise in real wages. The meeting also touched on the implementation of the state's program to construct housing, as well as rural development issues, and preparations for the fall-winter heating season, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER THREATENS HUNGER STRIKE
Feliks Kulov, who heads the Ar-Namys party, vowed in a 18 July letter to Prosecutor-General Myktybek Abdyldaev that he will begin a hunger strike on 22 July to protest obstructions to his conditional release, akipress.org reported on 20 July. In the letter that Ar-Namys posted on its website (http://www.ar-namys.org), Kulov charged that penal colony authorities have prevented him from filing a petition to obtain conditional release. Kulov threatened a "political hunger strike...to draw attention to this lawlessness and wanton disregard." In a 20 July appeal on the same site, Ar-Namys alleged that the authorities are acting out of "fear that they will be called to account for illegal enrichment and planned destruction and chaos throughout the country." The party promised a number of "political actions in support of the [party] chairman's lawful demands." Kulov is currently serving a 10-year sentence for embezzlement on charges that his supporters say are politically motivated. DK

TAJIK ELECTION LAW FUROR CONTINUES
Rahmatullo Valiev, executive secretary of the Democratic Party, criticized Paul Jones, U.S. deputy representative to the OSCE, on 20 July for the latter's recent comments about changes to Tajikistan's election law, Avesta reported. Speaking at a 15 July meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna, Jones said that the amended election law represents "a step forward for democracy" but still "does not fully meet OSCE standards," according to the U.S. State Department's web site (http://usinfo.state.gov). Valiev said, "Without familiarizing oneself with the election law, it is inappropriate to describe it as a step forward for Tajik democracy." He went on to note that all political parties, with the exception of the ruling People's Democratic Party and the communists, have spoken out against the law. A 20 July statement by the Islamic Renaissance Party kept up the criticism. It stated, "If the payment of a security deposit equal to 200 minimum wage units (about $450) prevents 80 percent of citizens from advancing their candidacy in elections, the impossibility of political parties' participating in electoral commissions completely eliminates the transparency of this important political process." DK

UZBEK ELECTION COMMISSION ANNOUNCES PREPARATIONS
Uzbekistan's Central Election Commission has approved a three-stage program to prepare for 26 December parliamentary elections, Uzbekistan's "Pravda Vostoka" reported on 20 July. The newspaper printed a 17 July commission resolution endorsing the program along with a brief description. The first stage, which is already underway, involves pre-election campaign training seminars for political parties, the media, and neighborhood committees. The second stage will begin when the commission announces the start of the election campaign; it will continue until election day. It will involve checks of voter rolls, local election commissions, and polling stations. The third stage will last from the 26 December elections until 26 February 2005, covering the announcement of results and the first sessions of parliament. DK

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO SEE PRO-GOVERNMENT MAJORITY IN NEW LEGISLATURE...
Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 20 July said he hopes that pro-government candidates will have a majority in the Chamber of Representatives of the Belarusian National Assembly after October's parliamentary elections, Belapan reported. "I strongly hope that the people will make the right choice," Lukashenka said, adding that "the people will take a close look at traitors, black sheep...wolves in sheep's clothing, and we will help them if they don't." Lukashenka also announced that he intends to hold a government conference regarding the financing of the election campaign, the judiciary's readiness to resolve quickly disputes, and the employment of the current lawmakers who are not reelected. AM

...REMAINS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT REFERENDUM ON HIS THIRD TERM...
Lukashenka said on 20 July that he will remain in power for a third term only if the people give him their consent, Belapan reported. "This requires a referendum at which people should say: 'Yes, Lukashenka, we allow you to take part in the next presidential elections,'" the president said adding that "if I pose this question, what grounds are there to bar me, a man who has devoted all his life to the people, from participation in the elections?" Lukashenka said he believes it does not take much time to formulate a question and make a decision on the referendum. "As soon as I make a decision on the referendum I will announce it immediately," he said. AM

...AND BLASTS OPPOSITION FOR 'ABSURD' ACTIONS
Lukashenka on 20 July called some Belarusian opposition protests "absurd," adding that instead of making constructive proposals, the opposition is guided by the principle "the worse the better," Belapan reported. Lukashenka mentioned the recent hunger strike by three Respublika caucus members and asked how such "absurd protests" could be explained where "200-kilogram people decide to hunger strike with political demands." According to Lukashenka, "[one of the hunger strikers] was fasting to improve his health, but cried that he was oppressed." AM

BELARUS, RUSSIA TO RESPOND TO INCREASED NATO PRESENCE IN NEW MEMBER STATES
President Lukashenka said on 20 July that talks between the United States and new NATO members -- the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland -- on the possible deployment of its missile defense system in one of these countries will not go unnoticed by the leadership of Belarus and Russia, Belapan reported. "We held and are holding confidential talks with Russia and other countries within the framework of the CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] and not only the CSTO on these matters," Lukashenka said. "I suggested deploying S-300 [antiaircraft] systems in certain locations in Belarus to increase the defense capability of Belarus and Russia." AM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SEES NO NEED FOR FAIR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ACCORD
Leonid Kuchma has said he is skeptical about the need for presidential candidates to sign a declaration agreeing to a fair election proposed by Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 14 July 2004), Interfax reported. "[The Yushchenko-signed] text mostly speaks about the need to obey the law, write the truth about oneself, and so on," Kuchma told "Den" newspaper on 20 July. "How can this be understood?... What about those not signing this declaration? Do they have the right not to obey the law?" Kuchma stressed that compliance with the Ukrainian Constitution and the law on presidential elections is sufficient to hold a fair presidential ballot in Ukraine. AM

TWO MORE CANDIDATES JOIN PRESIDENTIAL RACE IN UKRAINE
The Central Election Commission on 20 July registered Roman Kozak and Dmytro Korchynskyy as candidates for the 31 October presidential election, Interfax reported. Kozak is leader of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists in Ukraine and Korchynskyy heads the nationalist Brotherhood association. The number of registered presidential candidates now stands at 12. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko has invited monitors from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to observe the fall presidential election in Ukraine, Interfax reported on 20 July. Hryshchenko pledged to create favorable conditions for the monitoring mission and said that Ukraine will do its utmost to ensure the vote meets international standards. AM

BLAST KILLS 31 IN UKRAINIAN MINE
A methane explosion on 19 July killed at least 31 Ukrainian miners in a coal mine in Rodynske, a town in the Donetsk Oblast, Interfax reported on 20 July, quoting Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Kluyev. Five miners are still missing. The Fuel and Energy Ministry said 69 miners have died in employment-related accidents in Ukraine in the first half of 2004. AM

BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT CALLS ON FORMER LEADER TO SURRENDER...
The Republika Srpska's parliament passed a resolution on 20 July urging all indicted war criminals, including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, to turn themselves in or face arrest, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 January and 28 May 2004). Bosnian Serb President Dragan Cavic warned legislators that the Republika Srpska risks being named by the international community as the primary obstacle to Bosnia-Herzegovina's Euro-Atlantic integration unless the Bosnian Serbs act against people indicted for war crimes by the Hague-based tribunal. In Sarajevo, a spokesman for High Representative Paddy Ashdown said that it remains to be seen whether the parliament's resolution will be put into practice, stressing that actions speak louder than words, Reuters reported. PM

...AND FILLS SOME VACANCIES
The Bosnian Serb parliament voted on 20 July to fill several vacant legislative seats resulting from High Representative Ashdown's recent decision to bar 59 Bosnian Serbs from public life because of their alleged involvement with Karadzic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2004). The legislators approved Dusan Stojicic of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) to succeed the sacked Dragan Kalinic (SDS) as speaker, Stojicic having been the only candidate for the job. He was formerly a spokesman for the SDS, which Karadzic founded in 1990. PM

FORMER BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL REPORTEDLY UNWILLING TO GO TO THE HAGUE
Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source close to the Serbian government told the independent mass-circulation Belgrade daily "Blic" on 20 July that the government is conducting negotiations with mediators representing former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic about his possible surrender to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, which has indicted him. The source said that Mladic's unnamed representatives in the talks are from among his "friends and relatives." The general is unwilling to surrender, even though the government has offered financial assistance for his family and his legal defense, the source added. There has been much speculation in the Serbian and some foreign media in recent weeks that Serbian President Boris Tadic is working to cut a deal with Mladic to enable him to go to The Hague and thereby remove a major obstacle to Serbia's Euro-Atlantic integration (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004). U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told Tadic in Washington on 20 July that the United States is prepared to assist Serbia in attaining Euro-Atlantic integration provided Belgrade cooperates with the tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER DEFENDS CONTROVERSIAL ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM
Ali Ahmeti, who is the chairman of the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) and former leader of the National Liberation Army (UCK), said in an open letter published by the major Macedonian media on 21 July that the government's decentralization and redistricting plans do not seek to divide the country but will improve its chances for EU and NATO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 and 19 July 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 July 2004). "If dividing [the country] were my aim, we would have undoubtedly done it [during the interethnic conflict] in 2001," Ahmeti said, adding that those people who wanted to split Macedonia in 2001 still seek to divide it today -- a clear allusion to the 2001 partition plan promoted by the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts (MANU). This plan was later openly supported by leading ethnic Macedonian politicians such as then-Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, who opposes the current government's decentralization plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May 2001 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 June 2001 and 4 April 2003). UB

INTERNATIONAL CONTACT GROUP INSISTS ON IMPLEMENTING STANDARDS IN KOSOVA
Diplomatic representatives of the Contact Group countries (the United States, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United Kingdom) discussed the situation in Kosova in Prishtina on 20 July with officials of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), KFOR, and Kosova's elected officials, dpa reported. Such meetings take place every six weeks, being known as Contact Group Plus. The diplomats stressed the importance of implementing standards, especially those dealing with democracy, security, and the rule of law. The Contact Group representatives also called for a resumption of talks on technical issues between Prishtina and Belgrade, and for the return of representatives of Kosova's Serbian minority to the province's elected institutions. The international community insists that a package of standards announced in 2002 and clarified in 2003 be implemented before discussions can begin on Kosova's final status, which for the ethnic Albanian majority only means independence. Several ethnic Albanian leaders have called for the standards to be implemented at the same time as progress is made toward a negotiated independence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2003 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 16 April, and 9 July 2004). PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER CHAIRS UN SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase presided over a meeting of the United Nations Security Council in New York on 20 July that debated cooperation between the UN and regional organizations on conflict resolution, Mediafax reported. Romania holds the Security Council's rotating chairmanship in July. On 19 July, Nastase met in New York with U.S. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and urged U.S. support for a project to construct a pipeline between the Black Sea port of Constanta and the Adriatic port of Trieste in Italy. Also on 19 July, Nastase addressed the Business Council for International Understanding, telling that forum that Romania offers excellent conditions for investment. Nastase was expected to meet with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington on 21 July. In a 20 July statement, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called Romania "a stalwart NATO ally of the United States and a key contributor to the international effort to help the people of Iraq," AP reported. McClellan said Bush and Nastase will discuss the international war on terrorism, events in Afghanistan and Iraq, NATO's agenda following the Istanbul summit, and "international efforts to support reform in the broader Middle East." They will also "review Romania's continuing political and economic reforms," McClellan said. MS

ROMANIA PUTS MIG-29S UP FOR SALE
The Romanian Air Force is putting the last 18 of its Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters up for sale, AFP reported on 20 July. Air Force Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gheorghe Catrina said the Defense Ministry decided it would be more profitable to sell the planes, which went out of service in 2002, than to modernize them. Catrina said Romania is considering the gradual replacement of 100 recently modernized MiG-21 fighter jets. "We are in the process of evaluating the best offers in order to be able to buy 48 aircraft between 2008 and 2012 to replace the MiG-21s," he said. MS

ROMANIA SENDS SUSPECTED NEO-NAZI TO COURT FOR SECOND TIME
Andrei Molnar, who holds dual French and Romanian citizenship, has been charged with disseminating nationalist-chauvinist propaganda and infringing on legislation prohibiting the dissemination of fascist and xenophobic symbols, Mediafax reported on 20 July. Molnar, whose name suggests Hungarian ethnicity, was sentenced by a Sibiu tribunal in December to six months in prison on similar charges. Three ethnic Romanians are also being charged for similar offenses. The indictment says Molnar succeeded in "transforming them into instruments for achieving his criminal plans." Prosecutors allege that Molnar purchased, in Romania or abroad, materials that incite to racial and national hatred and spread the ideas of the Romanian Legionary movement or the Nazi party in Germany. He also edited a publication called "W.O.T.A.N," five issues of which were published, which allegedly argued the need to safeguard the white race and denied the Holocaust. The prosecution also claims Molnar and his accomplices set up a paramilitary organization called Gebeleizis, which they described as "the only force capable of opposing Judeo-Christianity in Romania." MS

RUSSIA URGES TIRASPOL TO TAKE 'CONSTRUCTIVE' POSITION ON SCHOOL CLOSURES...
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 20 July urging the separatist authorities in Tiraspol to take a "balanced and constructive approach" toward Moldovan schools in the region and "refrain from any administrative action...until the future status and curriculums of the schools are agreed by negotiations," Infotag reported. Tiraspol recently ordered that all schools teaching Moldovan (Romanian) in the Latin script be closed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 19 and 20 July 2004). The statement said the dispute is "obviously" a result of the lingering Transdniester conflict. "Russia, which participates in the process of conflict settlement as a mediator, is seriously concerned over this situation and persuaded that it is necessary to resume as soon as possible negotiations at expert level," it said. The statement added that the resumption of negotiations would facilitate "finding a compromise that would secure conditions for the normal functioning of all schools in the region, including those teaching in Moldovan with Latin script." MS

...WHILE OSCE MISSION HEAD DEMANDS THAT TIRASPOL REVERSE DECISION
William Hill, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) mission to Moldova, on 20 July called on the separatist authorities in Tiraspol to reverse their decision on closing down Moldovan schools teaching in the Latin script, Infotag reported. Hill said the decision is "unjustifiable" and "a breach of good faith in the ongoing negotiations" that might have "destabilizing consequences, should such actions continue." According to Infotag, a new round of negotiations on the Transdniester conflict was scheduled for 21 July in Tiraspol and the situation of the schools is on the meeting's agenda. MS

MACEDONIA'S ECONOMY IN THE DOLDRUMS
In his keynote speech to the second annual meeting of the National Entrepreneurship and Competitiveness Council (NSPK) on 10 July, Macedonian Prime Minister Hari Kostov told the audience of mainly businessmen an unpleasant truth. Acknowledging that the state administration is slow, ineffective, and corrupt, Kostov complained that many businessmen prefer to bribe officials rather than to contact the relevant anticorruption bodies.

When Kostov's predecessor, Branko Crvenkovski, took office in late 2002, he tasked his Social Democrat-led government with fighting corruption. As a first step, a special body -- the state Anticorruption Commission -- was set up.

It seems, however, that Crvenkovski's administration concentrated on hunting down corrupt high-ranking officials of the previous government led by Ljubco Georgievski of the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). Within several months of Crvenkovski's accession to power, a number of high-profile cases were made public. The government's focus on the now-opposition VMRO-DPMNE further weakened that party and ultimately contributed to a reshuffle in the VMRO-DPMNE's leadership.

But apparently the government did not manage to reduce the widespread, everyday corruption in the state administration and the education system, which affects ordinary citizens and the business climate alike.

Alluding to alarming reports that Macedonian industrial production fell by some 30 percent in the first months of 2004 (compared to the same period in 2003), Kostov, a former banker, said he wished he had more time to concentrate on economic issues. "Yet, however much the government is concerned about falling industrial production, [the government] does not produce anything. It is the enterprises that have to find out the reasons for the decrease...and identify measures to [revive] production," "Utrinski vesnik" on 12 July quoted Kostov as saying.

Kostov said the government will help improve conditions for businessmen and entrepreneurs, adding that this includes cutting red tape to improve the business and investment climate.

In an 11 July interview with RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters, economist Vanco Uzunov drew a rather pessimistic picture of the economic situation. Uzunov agreed that statistics show a fall in industrial production. He cautioned, however, that the data are not consistent in that exports have risen at the same time. "This means that there is an apparent inconsistency in the data which...distorts the [overall] picture," Uzunov said, adding that there can be no therapy when there is no diagnosis.

He said he believes that Macedonia's major problem is the lack of structural changes in the economy. Asked whether the reason for the problems is that Macedonia is still in a period of transition, Uzunov said the transition is over in legal terms but not in fact. "The reality is that we have been in a transition period for 13 years. We changed some things but did not complete the changes," he argued. He suggested that it will now be necessary to make the best of a continuing transition period in which the changes still might not be readily apparent.

For another commentator, Nina Nineska-Fidanoska of "Utrinski vesnik," it is up to the government to take the necessary measures to revive the economy as quickly as possible. Nineska-Fidanoska accused the government of having failed to recognize the seriousness of the ongoing economic crisis. Instead, it has either claimed that the statistics are "distorted" (and even sacked the head of the state Statistics Agency) or, as can be seen in Kostov's statement above, blamed the entrepreneurs and businessmen.

Nineska-Fidanoska noted that the politicians do not have to reinvent the wheel to make the economy work, but to look at foreign experience and to apply it. "If our complacent ministers cannot do this, then they should call in foreign experts and pay them as much as they demand to help us out of the crisis," Nineska-Fidanoska wrote.

She said she believes that there are enough possibilities for the government to intervene in the economy, proposing that the government should focus on loss-making state-run companies that have found no buyers; at the tax rates and customs tariffs; at the strict monetary policy; and at the slow and ineffective judiciary. Nineska-Fidanoska stressed that the government has no time to lose and will have no grounds for excuses if it fails.

AFGHAN LEADER SHUFFLES MILITIA LEADERS
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai began a restructuring of the government cabinet on 20 July by giving several powerful militia leaders new responsibilities, AP and the Afghan Hindokush news agency reported the same day. The move is part of an ongoing effort to improve security ahead of the planned elections, a spokesman said. Karzai assigned at least three regional leaders to civilian and police posts in an effort to involve them in the national reconstruction process. Militia leader Ata Mohammad was designated to become the new governor of the northern Balkh Province, according to administration spokesman Jawed Ludin; that northern province includes the city of Mazar-e Sharif, where Ata Mohammad's rival General Abdul Rashid Dostum resides and commands his own militia. Hazrat Ali will meanwhile become police chief in the eastern Nangarhar Province, and Khan Mohammed Khan will take over leadership of the police in the southern Kandahar Province. KM

UN BODY ORGANIZES ABSENTEE VOTING PROCEDURES FOR AFGHANISTAN
Representatives of Afghanistan and neighboring Iran and Pakistan signed memorandums of understanding in July with the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), providing for absentee voting for Afghans over the age of 18 living in both those countries, UNAMA reported on 20 July. The memorandum between the UN, Afghanistan, and Pakistan was signed on 20 July, and that with Iran on 12 July. Elections in Afghanistan are slated to begin with the presidential vote in October. The International Organization of Migration "will organize and implement the electoral processes in both countries," following the regulations of the Joint Electoral Management Body, UNAMA said. "The process itself will be a challenge, particularly from the organizational side, but the United Nations will do its utmost to help guarantee its integrity," said Filippo Grandi, a deputy special representative of the UN secretary-general. KM

INSURGENTS ATTACK GOVERNMENT FORCES IN AFGHAN SOUTH...
A group of about 20 armed fighters clashed with Afghan government forces in the Nesh district of Kandahar Province on 19 July, Afghanistan Television reported on 20 July. Insurgents reportedly emerged from four vehicles and battled with local government forces for approximately 30 minutes. One suspected neo-Taliban fighter was injured and arrested by Afghan forces in the incident, the broadcaster reported, while the other attackers escaped. KM

...AND DRIVER IS REPORTEDLY SLAIN OVER VOTING CARD
An Afghan driver was allegedly killed by suspected neo-Taliban insurgents on the morning of 20 July for possessing an Afghan voter-registration card, according to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP), based in Peshawar, Pakistan. Two people traveling in the same vehicle between Kandahar and Kabul reported to AIP in Kandahar that they witnessed the slaying. According to the witnesses, the driver was killed in the Qarabagh district of Ghazni Province after armed men stopped and searched the vehicle in which they were traveling. "The Taliban shot and killed the driver with a Kalashnikov rifle and warned the passengers that anyone who obtains an election card will meet with the same fate," the witnesses were quoted as saying. The incident was not confirmed by other news reports. KM

U.S., AFGHAN OFFENSIVE TARGETS NEO-TALIBAN
One insurgent was killed and four others were arrested when U.S. and Afghan troops targeted a neo-Taliban stronghold in the southeastern Nawbahar district of Zabul Province on 20 July, AP reported. The clash occurred after a U.S. soldier was wounded by gunfire while patrolling the area, according to statements by Afghan officials on 20 July. Zabul Province Governor Khial Mohammad told AP that "hundreds of Afghan and U.S. troops" remain involved in operations in the province to capture neo-Taliban suspects. U.S. officials did not comment on the reported incident. KM

TEHRAN SCOFFS AT SUGGESTION OF IRANIAN LINKS TO 9/11
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said in Tehran on 20 July that "any claim of Iran's direct or indirect links with the 11 September [2001] terrorist events is fabrication and fantasy," IRNA reported the same day. U.S. President George W. Bush had said on 19 July that his country is investigating the possibility of such links (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004), one day after acting CIA chief John Maclaughlin suggested there is no evidence of formal complicity between Tehran and the 9/11 terrorists, even if "about eight" of them traveled through Iran before the 2001 attacks, according to an latimes.com report on 20 July. "It is not extraordinary that amid countless movements through frontiers, a few people should illegally cross the borders of countries," Assefi said, according to IRNA. But he said "it seems ridiculous" that the United States should make such claims when it has "itself given these people visas, residency permits, and training to become pilots and saboteurs." U.S. intelligence weaknesses are now "entirely clear," he asserted, adding that its claims against Iran are "populist" in nature. VS

IRANIAN COURT SENTENCES ACADEMIC-CUM-DISSIDENT FOR INSULTING CLERGY
Hashem Aghajari, an academic sentenced to death in 2002 for apostasy but reprieved in May, has been given a three-year jail sentence and further limits on his freedoms for insulting Iran's ruling clergy but might be released on bail on 22 July, his lawyer Saleh Nikbakht told IRNA on 20 July. Aghajari rejected in the recent retrial the charge that he insulted the clergy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004). The Tehran court dealing with the case might release Aghajari in exchange for posting the equivalent of about $117,000, Reuters quoted Nikbakht as saying. The court gave Aghajari a three-year prison sentence, a two-year suspended prison sentence, and "deprivation of social rights for five years" following his incarceration, IRNA and Radio Farda reported on 20 July. Aghajari has spent roughly two years in jail, and Nikbakht said that with Aghajari's "provisional release, I shall be working to prevent his return for the remaining year of his sentence, and hope the sentence will be overturned by higher authorities," IRNA reported. VS

IRANIAN CLERIC SAYS U.S. HAS BEEN HUMILIATED IN IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN
Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said in Rafsanjan in southeastern Iran on 20 July that the United States, "which considers itself the unrivaled superpower in the world, is now humiliated in Iraq and Afghanistan, and its soldiers, armed to the teeth, dare not leave their barracks for fear of [Iraqis]," IRNA reported the same day. Rafsanjani, who heads Iran's top political-arbitration body, told a gathering of relatives of Iranian servicemen killed in the 1980-88 war with Iraq that the United States "is defeated in Iraq and 140,000 American soldiers have become the prisoners of a bunch of people resisting them." U.S. forces "are now in the worst possible conditions," he said, asking, "What greater punishment for them than to be stuck in a murderous quagmire?" Iran's Islamic revolution, he added, is "more lively than before" and has an army of "eight to 10 million" Iranians ready to defend it, IRNA reported. VS

IRANIAN MINISTER ACCUSES ISRAEL OF SEEKING IRAQ'S DISMEMBERMENT
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi warned in Tehran on 20 July of unspecified "separatist efforts" by Israel in Iraq and stressed that Iraq must maintain its territorial integrity, IRNA reported the same day. "Iraq's present situation is the product of America's unilateral action, and normal conditions must be restored...through elections and by giving [Iraqis] control over their affairs," he said in a meeting with Italian Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs Alfredo Mantica. Kharrazi said Iran wants to "help create stability and calm" in Iraq, IRNA reported. Mantica also met with Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani the same day, IRNA reported. Rohani said Iran welcomes "the formation of an interim government in Iraq and we are determined to cooperate with [it]." Iraq's defense and interior ministers have accused Iran of involvement in the unrest in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004). Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Hamid al-Bayati told Radio Farda on 20 July that the Iraqi and Iranian Foreign Ministries will "soon" discuss frontiers and terrorism within the auspices of a joint committee, adding, "Terrorism is not just in Iraq." VS

IRAQ REQUESTS RETURN OF IAEA INSPECTORS
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar al-Zebari has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to send its weapons inspectors back to Iraq to verify the status of Iraq's nuclear materials, international media reported on 20 July [this sentence is a corrected version of the original text published in RFE/RL Newsline]. IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei has said that he will meet the request, noting that inspectors will work on preparing the final report on the absence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, which would pave the way for the lifting of sanctions. Inspectors were forced to withdraw from Iraq on the eve of the March 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom. IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said on 20 July that inspectors will head to Iraq in a matter of days, AP reported on 21 July. Meanwhile, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the new inspection is unrelated to the 2002-2003 inspections, and instead is a routine requirement for countries that have safeguard agreements with the IAEA, AP reported. KR

FOREIGN MINISTERS GATHER IN CAIRO FOR MEETING ON IRAQ
The foreign ministers of Iraq's neighboring countries are gathering in Cairo on 21 July for the sixth meeting on Iraq, MENA reports. Iraqi Foreign Minister al-Zebari said on 20 July that he hopes the meeting will help establish security and stability in Iraq. The meeting is the first since the coalition transferred power to the Iraqi interim government on 28 June. "We expect some of our neighbors to stand by the Iraqi people, to help us in deeds and not words, and to support the effort of the new Iraqi sovereign government to establish a peaceful, responsible Iraq friendly to its neighbors," AP quoted al-Zebari as saying on 21 July. UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana are attending the meeting, in addition to representatives from Turkey, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt. KR

TERRORIST GROUP DENIES THREATENING JAPAN, ARAB AND MUSLIM STATES
The Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad terrorist group posted a statement on the Al-Anbar website (http://www.anbaar.net) on 20 July denying any connection to an earlier statement posted by the Khalid bin al-Walid Brigade, which claimed to be the military wing of the former group. The Khalid bin al-Walid Brigade statement threatened Japanese troops and told them to withdraw from Iraq as the Philippines did. To Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Iran, the Arab states, Indonesia, Malaysia, and "all" Islamic nations, the statement said: "This is our last warning. We will hit with an iron fist all those who support [Prime Minister Iyad] Allawi and his gang." In response, Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad said in its 20 July statement that it was "surprised and amazed" by the Khalid bin al-Walid Brigade's statement. "We would like our brothers to verify and seek the truth everywhere and distance themselves from lies," the statement said. The group said it will launch its own website soon to educate all Muslims on the group's doctrine and mission. KR

DAILY REPORTS IRAQI PRESIDENT, U.S. AMBASSADOR AT ODDS OVER AMNESTY
Amman's "Al-Arab al-Yawm" reported on 19 July that Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte are at odds over the Iraqi government's plan to offer amnesty to militants in Iraq. Sources close to al-Yawir said that Negroponte has objected to the plan, thus delaying a formal announcement of the amnesty offer. The source also accused Negroponte of trying to interfere in the work of the president. KR

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