Accessibility links

Newsline - July 26, 2004

The Center for Development has forecast that the outflow of capital from Russia will rise sharply this year, reaching $17.2 billion, "Vedomosti" reported on 23 July. According to the daily, the figure would represent the first annual increase in capital flight since 2000. "Many Russian capital owners have evaluated the events surrounding Yukos as a threat to their own property and in such an environment the only form of defense for one's accumulated capital is removing it from Russia's jurisdiction," the Center for Development's report reads, according to the daily. The report also cites the recent banking crisis as a cause of the increase. Oleg Solntsev, an analyst with the Center for Macroeconomic Analysis and Short-Term Forecasting, predicted that capital flight will equal just $13 billion this year, saying that the Center for Development has exaggerated the impact of the banking crisis, "Vedomosti" reported. World Bank Vice President Peter Woicke told Munich's "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" on 26 July that "Russia remains a country attractive for investment," ITAR-TASS reported. He added, however, that it still needs to "strengthen its financial sector." RC

In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 52, Institute for Problems of Globalization head Mikhail Delyagin said that the Yukos affair not only "violated the previously effective rules of relations between [the state] and business," but failed "to elaborate new rules in any way." "And so the most frightening thing ensued -- uncertainty," Delyagin said. Asked whether the Yukos affair and the recent purchase of Guta Bank by state-owned Vneshtorgbank are signs of creeping renationalization, Delyagin said: "As far as we can understand, nationalization is being performed to instill fear, in order to frighten business, so as to turn it into a cash cow in someone's private interests." RC

The international financial-ratings firm Moody's on 23 July confirmed the ratings of 17 Russian banks and described the prognosis for the Russian banking sector as "stable," and other Russian media reported. But the agency did downgrade Alfa-Bank from D to D-. According to the report, most banks suffered no significant material losses during the crisis and all have completely resumed normal banking activity. Interfax reported on 23 July that Moody's stated that the crisis will not have any long-term impact on the sector. At the same time, it also noted that "effective reforms of the banking sector and an orderly rationalization of the number of banks in Russia is key to the stability of the sector." Earlier last week, both Alfa Group Chairman Mikhail Fridman and "Russkii fokus" argued that state-owned banks benefited from the recent banking-sector crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2004). Finally, RIA-Novosti reported on 23 July, citing a Guta Bank press release, that the bank has resumed all commercial-banking activities, many of which were suspended on 6 July, leading to the bank's takeover by state-owned Vneshtorgbank. RC/JAC

An international consortium of private investors headed by one-time Menatep ally Konstantin Kagalovskii sent a letter on 22 July to President Vladimir Putin offering to pay Yukos's tax arrears and to compensate the government for any harm the company has caused in exchange for a controlling stake in the firm, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported on 24 July. The daily described Kagalovskii as "the financial architect" of Yukos and quoted him as saying that he "actively participated in the privatization of the company." Therefore, the daily speculated, it is unlikely his offer will be accepted by the Kremlin. "Izvestiya" reported, however, that Kagalovskii is the only Russian in the consortium. "Kommersant-Daily" on 24 July commented that the offer "is not a business proposal but a notification to the Russian authorities of the beginning of a political campaign in the West against the Yukos affair." "I would not give any weight to this offer," Brunswick UBS analyst Paul Collision was quoted by "The Moscow Times" on 26 July as saying. reported on 26 July that the consortium has not yet received any response from the Kremlin. RC

Moscow's Meshchanskii Raion Court on 23 July rejected a motion by former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev, and Volna head Andrei Krainov asking that charges stemming from the 1994 privatization of the Apatit fertilizer plant be dropped because the 10-year statute of limitations has expired, Russian media reported. on 26 July reported that the court agreed to a prosecution request that the court complete its study of all the case materials before making a final decision on the statute-of-limitations question. RC

The problems facing embattled oil giant Yukos are threatening to halt work on a project to list the names of all the victims of political repression under the Soviet Union, Yan Rachinskii, a spokesman for the NGO Memorial, which is carrying out the project, told Ekho Moskvy on 24 July. Rachinskii said the project is being sponsored by the Yukos-funded Open Russia foundation, which has recently announced a strategic reorientation away from politically sensitive projects (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004). Memorial issued the first set of CD-ROMs in March with 1.3 million names of people killed or imprisoned for political reasons during the Soviet era. "I can give a rough idea of the figures by saying that in 12 years of work, about one-eighth of the project has been completed," Rachinskii said. He added that work on the project continues to be hampered by irregular access to state-controlled archives. Earlier in the week, the federal government submitted draft legislation to the Duma that would regulate the process by which Russian and foreign donors may finance NGO activities, such as human rights organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2004). RC/JAC

The Foreign Ministry on 24 July issued a statement protesting the reportedly impending closure of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) bureau in Minsk by the Belarusian authorities, Interfax and other Russian media reported. The ministry "is closely following reports about the Belarusian authorities' intention to close the VGTRK-RTR news office in Belarus," the statement said. "This could have a negative impact on the possibility for Russian citizens to have access to news from this country." According to Belarusian television on 22 July, the bureau will be closed down by the Belarusian Foreign Ministry because of a 21 July RTR report on a demonstration by the political opposition. RTR correspondent Dmitrii Petrov reported that between 2,000 to 5,000 people participated in the protest, while Belarusian police put the figure at not more than 200, reported on 24 July. "The [RTR] correspondent later admitted that the footage was blatantly exaggerated and the information aired in the report was false," Belarusian state television claimed on 22 July. "As a democratic country, Belarus cannot tolerate such actions." RIA-Novosti reported on 25 July that the VGTRK bureau has not yet received formal word of the closure and continues to work normally (see also "RFE/RL Newsline Part 2"). RC

Celebrating Navy Day on 25 July in Sevastopol, home port of Russia's Black Sea Fleet, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov emphasized that Russia does not intend to abandon its Sevastopol base -- which is on Ukrainian territory -- even after it completes construction of a new base for the fleet in Novorossiisk, RTR reported. The construction of the Novorossiisk base "absolutely does not mean that we intend to reduce our forces based in Sevastopol," Ivanov said. He said the Black Sea Fleet's command center will remain in Sevastopol. Meanwhile, Russia's only heavy aircraft carrier, the "Admiral Kuznetsov," rejoined the Northern Fleet on 25 July following extensive repairs. Pacific Fleet commander Admiral Viktor Fedorov told NTV on 25 July that his command "is constantly gaining ground despite a lack of funding." "We are building up our permanent-readiness forces and we are supporting really high-quality training for our crews," Fedorov said. RC

Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov, who was elected chairman of a breakaway faction of the Communist Party earlier this month, said on 23 July that he does not rule out reaching compromises with the presidential administration, Interfax and RosBalt reported (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 2 and 7 July 2004). Tikhonov said that "if something can be done [for the poor], then compromises should be sought." Tikhonov also revealed that President Putin phoned him after the 3 July party congress to discuss the situation within the Communist Party. According to RosBalt, Tikhonov said that no pressure was put on him during the conversation and that he did not speak with anyone from the Kremlin before his group's "alternative" party congress. Some sources have asserted that the Kremlin abetted the split within the Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). JAC

Meanwhile, supporters of Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov are not optimistic that the Justice Ministry will deem their congress and its decisions legitimate, First Deputy Party Chairman Ivan Melnikov told RFE/RL. "The authorities are trying to peel away everything now. They cleaned up the Federation Council, then the State Duma, then they [tamed] the governors using well known methods such as through the Audit Chamber and launching criminal investigations.... Now a cleansing of the political field is under way; they are trying to remove those political parties that actually oppose the current authorities." According to "Vremya novostei" on 26 July, the Justice Ministry is to reach a decision on the party's fate before 8 August. JAC

The Supreme Court suspended on 22 July an earlier decision by a Samara Oblast court setting the date for the next gubernatorial election on 19 September, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 July. The date of the election was originally set for the summer of 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July 2004). According to the daily, the Central Election Commission (TsIK) appealed the oblast-court decision because it allegedly violated certain legal requirements and because the decision put the commission in the awkward position of having to set up quickly a temporary election commission in the oblast. The daily reported without reference to sourcing that the Kremlin supports the reelection of Governor Konstantin Titov, but TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov needed to "show the Samara officials 'who's boss.'" However, "Vremya novostei" reported on 26 July that a significant number of Yukos enterprises are located in the oblast and the Kremlin needs a regional head who is an "absolutely reliable and loyal person." With the Supreme Court's decision, the Kremlin now has more time to identify its own candidate, the daily concluded. JAC

Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel told reporters in Yekaterinburg on 23 July that his administration has reached an agreement with the Council of Europe human rights commissioner, Alvaro Gil-Robles, to found a human-rights institute in the oblast, Interfax reported. Rossel pledged that the government will develop laws to defend human rights based on information from the institute. Gil-Robles's schedule includes visits to Irkutsk, Khabarovsk, Kazan, and Krasnodar in preparation for a report on human rights in Russia due in January, according to Regnum and JAC

Ingush police officer Mikail Lolokhoev killed himself on 24 July after being detained in Nazran on suspicion of collaborating with the militants who staged coordinated attacks on Interior Ministry targets across Ingushetia during the night of 21-22 June, the website reported. Lolokhoev was taken to republican Interior Ministry headquarters where he reportedly detonated a concealed hand grenade, killing himself and seriously wounding Deputy Interior Minister Isa Torshkhoev. The same website noted that "dozens" of instances have come to light in which local police assisted the attackers. LF

The Chechen Central Election Commission completed on 23 July the process of registering candidates for the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, Russian media reported. No further candidates were added on 23 July to the seven previously registered (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004). Also on 23 July, Russian TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov told ITAR-TASS that the process of establishing 430 district election commissions in Chechnya will be completed by the end of July. LF

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev dismissed Namik Abbasov on 23 July as National Security Minister, a post which he has held since 1994, Turan reported. No reason for his dismissal was specified; Eldar Akhmed-oglu Makhmudov, who is 47 and head of the Interior Ministry's anti-drugs squad, was named to succeed Abbasov. In its 24 July issue, the online daily quoted analysts as pointing out that while National Security Ministry personnel have frequently been transferred to the Interior Ministry to improve its performance, this is the first time an Interior Ministry official has been named to a senior post in the Security Ministry. The same online daily also noted that Abbasov is unequivocally pro-Western, and often criticized both Russia and Iran. He was also more balanced in his criticism of opposition parties than many other members of the ruling regime. LF

Alikram Aliev, chairman of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, has stepped down on health grounds, Turan reported on 24 July. He is almost blind and was hospitalized earlier this year for diabetes. Aliev was arrested in June 2002 in connection with the clashes between police and angry villagers in Nardaran, and sentenced to nine years in jail; that sentence was later suspended (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 April, 9 June, and 18 November 2003). LF

Some 200 missiles confiscated from a Russian convoy in South Ossetia on 7 July and transported for safekeeping to Tbilisi were handed back to Russian military representatives in Tbilisi on 24 July for transportation back to Russia, Caucasus Press and Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7, 8, 12, and 13 July 2004). In separate statements on 25 July, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Russian Ambassador to Georgia Vladimir Chkhikvishvili hinted that Major General Svyatoslav Nabdzorov, the commander of the Russian peacekeeping force in South Ossetia, may be replaced but failed to stipulate the time frame for doing so, Interfax reported. Georgian officials have repeatedly accused Nabdzorov of tacitly abetting the South Ossetian armed forces and demanded his dismissal. LF

Georgian police detained Vyacheslav Kuznetsov in the South Ossetian conflict zone on 22 July and took him to Tbilisi where a district court subsequently sentenced him to three months' pretrial detention for entering Georgia without a valid visa, Caucasus Press reported. He is suspected of intending to join the South Ossetian armed forces as a mercenary. Kuznetsov, whom Georgian media identified as deputy ataman of the Kuban Cossacks, claimed he entered Georgia on a sightseeing tour. The South Ossetian government issued a statement on 23 July protesting Kuznetsov's arrest, Interfax reported, while a Kuban official said that the Kuban Cossack army has no record of an officer named Vyacheslav Kuznetsov. LF

An Abkhaz Interior Ministry spokesman told journalists in Sukhum on 23 July that weapons and other objects found on the bodies of two Georgians shot the previous day for ignoring an order to halt suggest the two men were intelligence operatives, Interfax and Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004). LF

Three people, including a 16-year-old boy, detained on 21 July in Tbilisi for allegedly insulting Economy Minister Kakha Bendukidze were remanded on 23 July to pretrial detention for three months, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 July 2004). A Georgian human-rights organizations has threatened to convene mass protests unless the boy is released. LF

The Georgian government has reached agreement with the Paris Club of creditor countries on rescheduling Georgia's $200 million foreign debt, Georgian media reported on 22 and 23 July. The agreement envisages a 20-year deferment on repaying part of that debt and an annual interest rate of 3-4 percent. As a result, debt repayment over the period 2004-2005 will fall from $169 million to $46 million. Parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze hailed the agreement on 22 July as a "great achievement" on the part of the Finance Ministry, the Caucasus Press reported. She said the money saved will be used for social needs. LF

Speaking to a gathering of leading representatives of the Kazakh media on 23 July, Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev called for all candidates in the 19 September parliamentary election to be granted equal access to the media, and Kazinform reported the same day. Political parties taking part in the election should also have equal media access, Sarsenbaev added. He noted his recent statement to a similar media group in which he said that the main task of the media in the elections is to ensure the legitimacy of the voting process. He warned his audience on 23 July that their coverage of the elections would either make or break the reputation of the Kazakh media. The gathering also discussed a series of proposals by the Central Election Commission concerning media coverage of the elections; Sarsenbaev complained that they need to be reworked since, among other things, they fail to address the issue of political parties' use of the media in their campaigning. BB

OSCE representative for media freedom Miklos Haraszti issued a press release expressing concern that the closure by a court of the prominent Kazakh opposition newspaper "Assandi-Times" on the eve of parliamentary elections could leave the country without independent media at a crucial time, Reuters reported on 23 July. The publication's bank account and property were confiscated by order of the Medeu (Almaty) Raion Court on 15 July in accordance with a judgement in a suit brought by President Nursultan Nazarbaev against the paper for damaging his administration's reputation. The suit was the president's response to the "Assandi-Times" allegation that members of Nazarbaev's administration may have been involved in the production of a fake issue of the newspaper that was intended to discredit the popular publication. According to Kazakh website, the newspaper's lawyers are preparing to appeal the court decision and are seeking a way for publication to continue to appear during the appeal. BB

Members of the official Kazakh Commission on Border Delimitation and Demarcation told a press conference in Shymkent on 23 July that Kazakhstan has already installed 270 markers on its common border with Uzbekistan, while the Uzbek side has installed only nine, Kazinform and reported the same day. The process of marking the border has been under way for several months; the course of the Kazakh-Uzbek border was determined through many years of negotiations. Kazakh border officials said that after they had complained to their Uzbek counterparts about the slow pace, Uzbek officials said they lacked both money and equipment to work faster, though they did not respond to a Kazakh offer of concrete posts. The Kazakh officials added that some people in villages on the border are still having trouble accepting the new border. Incidents in which Kazakh citizens who strayed across the border were shot by Uzbek border guards have caused tensions between the two countries in the last year. BB

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has signed changes to Kyrgyzstan's law on military service, slicing the term of compulsory service from one year to six months, Kyrgyz-Press reported on 23 July. Military officials have said the reduction is the first step in the creation of professional armed forces, a goal being pursued in many Central Asian states. The same officials were cited as saying the reduction would harm neither the military preparedness of Kyrgyzstan's armed forces nor the speed of mobilization. Akaev, in signing the legislation, emphasized his country's "peaceful" nature. BB

Authorities in the Tajik capital Dushanbe had not resolved the city's problem of unclean drinking water by 25 July, Deutsche Welle reported the same day. The city's water supply was polluted with mud and sand as a result of landslides caused by heavy rains two weeks earlier. Dushanbe officials warned residents that they would have to get drinking water from water and fire trucks at least until 10 August. Representatives of the UN Development Program and other international organizations working in Dushanbe warned city officials that despite clean-up efforts undertaken since the mudslides, the city's water remains unfit to drink. Dushanbe's water-supply system is generally agreed to be in desperate need of an upgrade. No major work on the system has been done since 1990, before the country's independence. BB

The latest joint sessions of the Kyrgyz and Uzbek working commissions on the delimitation and demarcation of borders, held from 19 to 23 July, failed to resolve any of the disagreements over disputed sections of the border, reported on 23 July. Most of the disputed sections are located in the Ferghana Valley, which is shared by the two countries and Tajikistan. Some 169 kilometers of the 375-kilometer border between Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast and Uzbekistan's Ferghana Oblast are in dispute. The sessions of the working groups were followed on 24 July by a meeting of the Kyrgyz-Uzbek Intergovernmental Commission in Bishkek, which discussed expanding trade relations and cooperation on water, energy, and environmental issues but apparently not the border disputes, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported the same day. BB

Belarusian authorities have closed the Minsk office of Russian state-television network Rossiya after alleging biased reporting on a protest by the Belarusian opposition in the Belarusian capital on 21 July to mark President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decade in power, Belapan reported on 24 July. The official grounds for the closure were the alleged dissemination by Rossiya journalists of "knowingly false information that insulted the dignity of Belarusian citizens and had a negative effect on the image of the Republic of Belarus," according to Belarusian Television. Rossiya correspondent Dzmitry Pyatrou reported the number of demonstrators at between 2,000 and 5,000, while the police maintained that just 150 people took part in the protest. Pyatrou "flagrantly violated the standards of journalistic ethics by giving obviously wrong information in his report," the Belarusian Foreign Ministry charged. AM

Twenty-five Ukrainian political parties signed an agreement in Kyiv on 24 July on the creation of an electoral bloc called Together for the Future to support Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's candidacy in the presidential election scheduled for 31 October, Interfax reported. The agreement was signed by the Popular Democratic Party, the Party of Regions, the Labor Ukraine Party, the Social Democratic Party-united, and the Popular Agrarian Party, among others. The main aim is to mobilize an effective parliamentary coalition that "will act on the principles of transparency, tolerance, and political consensus," the agreement reads. AM

Presidential hopeful and Prime Minister Yanukovych signed a social contract with the Ukrainian Trade Union Federation (FPU) on 23 July, Interfax reported. The contract sets out Yanukovych's goals and commitments if he is elected president for the development of domestic production; wage reform; adherence to constitutional rights in the education, science, culture, medicine, and labor spheres; guidelines for the setting of pension levels; and the prevention of official interference into the activities of self-governing social-insurance and trade-union funds. The FPU committed itself to canvassing for Yanukovych among trade-union members. AM

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said on 24 July that he believes opposition elements will find it impossible to unify their efforts ahead of the 31 October presidential election, Interfax reported. "These are absolutely different people, absolutely different politicians, absolutely different ideologies," Kuchma said. "They are united by one thing: greed for power." Kuchma added that the country's opposition is also united by the "tape scandal" -- presumably a reference to the audiotapes secretly recorded by a presidential bodyguard that appear to implicate Kuchma in the unsolved killing of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and other wrongdoing -- and the scandal connected with reports that Ukraine sold a sophisticated Kolchuga radar system to Iraq. "Many would like to replay the Yugoslav variant; however, Ukraine is not Yugoslavia," Kuchma said. AM

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) of Great Britain has launched a website dealing with the Gongadze slaying, Interfax reported on 24 July. The site ( includes 180 scans of interrogation protocols of witnesses in the case. The NUJ said the documents are identical to those made available recently by the British daily "The Independent" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 July 2004). AM

In the wake of the violent street protests in Struga on 22-23 July against the government's redistricting plans, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski accused the protesters of having attempted to kill him and other members of the governing Social Democratic Union (SDSM), Macedonian media reported on 24 and 26 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2 and 23 July 2004). Buckovski added that the demonstration, during which about 40 protesters and police were injured, was organized by the conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE). Special police had to evacuate Buckovski from the SDSM headquarters in Struga. Police officials subsequently filed charges against 52 people in connection with the disturbances. Ganka Samoilovska-Cvetanova, who is the deputy chairwoman of the VMRO-DPMNE, said Buckovski provoked the incidents by coming to Struga, denying that her party stood behind the protests. A broad coalition opposing the government's redistricting and decentralization plans has announced large-scale protests outside the parliamentary building in Skopje on 26 July. UB

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said in Brussels on 25 July that he is confident that the parliament will approve the redistricting proposals despite recent opposition protests in several cities and towns and the violent incidents in Struga, Reuters reported. He argued that the changes, which are linked to the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement, will bring Macedonia "closer to the EU," adding that the protests are nothing more than "the last battle" waged by his opponents. He made the remarks after meeting with EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana. PM

The citizens of Mostar, which is Herzegovina's main city, and thousands of visitors from near and far celebrated the opening on 23 July of the reconstructed Old Bridge, which was originally built by the Ottomans in 1566 and destroyed by Croatian gunners in 1993, international and regional media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004). Several speakers, including High Representative Paddy Ashdown, stressed that the restored bridge symbolized bridging the differences between Bosnia-Herzegovina's still estranged ethnic communities. Sulejman Tihic, who heads the Bosnian Presidency, led his country's delegation. President Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivo Sanader represented Croatia, while Serbia and Montenegro's delegation was headed by President Svetozar Marovic and Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic. Other guests from about 50 countries included Britain's Prince Charles, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, his Italian counterpart Franco Frattini, and EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten. PM

"American military intelligence and the CIA have deployed hundreds of officers in Bosnia to track suspected Islamic militants amid concern that the country has become a refuge, recruiting ground, and cash conduit for international terrorism," London's "Daily Telegraph" reported on 26 July. The paper added that "Bosnia has become a 'one-stop shop' for Islamic militants heading from terrorist battlegrounds in Chechnya and Afghanistan to Iraq, according to [unnamed] European intelligence officials." Unnamed "local sources" told the daily that "about 300 [U.S.] intelligence personnel" will monitor suspected militants even after NATO turns command of peacekeeping activities over to the EU at the end of 2004 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5 March and 16 July 2004). According to the paper, the U.S. activities in Bosnia constitute "one of the biggest deployments by U.S. intelligence anywhere in the world." A representative of the nongovernmental International Crisis Group (ICG) told the daily that the U.S. forces are conducting what amounts to a "witch hunt" against suspected Islamic militants instead of concentrating on arresting indicted war criminals. PM

Former Hungarian Prime Minister and current FIDESZ party Chairman Viktor Orban said on 24 July that "the right time is now " for Transylvanian Hungarians to demand autonomy, Mediafax reported. Orban was speaking at the closing session of the annual Balvanyos Summer University at a spa near Tusnad. He said the demand for autonomy must be raised before Romania joins the EU, for no other auspicious opportunity will arise in the next 15-20 years. Orban said Transylvanian Hungarians will never win autonomy through agreements with Romanian parties but rather by having "the backing of the masses" and organizing themselves. He advised that they back Hungarian political parties in Romania that are prepared to articulate the demand. Orban reiterated his criticism of the "state of democracy" in Romania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 July 2004), saying the Hungarian Civic Union (UCM) was unfairly prevented from running in the June local elections. "There is no democracy where people are denied the right to participate in elections," he said. Orban said autonomy represents the "litmus test of democracy" in Romania, stressing that a country where the aspirations of a large ethnic minority are obstructed does not yet merit EU membership. MS

Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 24 July rejected opposition claims that he engaged in electioneering during foreign trips (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004), Mediafax reported. He also denied that he announced his candidacy for Romania's November presidential election soon after meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush in Washington, according to the same news agency. Nastase said his statement in Washington was not an official announcement but "an evaluation of chances" that he would run for the post, which he estimated at 95 percent. He added he knows "the rules of the game" and said an official announcement will be made at his Social Democratic Party's extraordinary congress on 27 August. MS

Austria's OMV on 23 July acquired a 33.4 percent stake in Romanian Petrom state oil and gas company, which is the country's largest employer with 57,000 employees, Mediafax, AP, and dpa reported. OMV paid 669 million euros ($809 million) for the stake but is obliged to acquire a total of 51 percent by the end of 2004 at a price of $1.66 billion-$1.85 billion, depending on how many OMV minority shareholders subscribe to a capital increase. The Austrian company will assume Petrom debts of 293 million euros and pledged to maintain Petrom as an integrated oil company producing at least 29.4 million barrels of crude oil and 4.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas per year for the next five years. Prime Minister Nastase said the price was "higher than expected" and that the sale demonstrates his government's commitment to economic reforms. "This is not just the selling of some state assets," he added, noting that OMV now becomes a "powerful [player] in the region, which is important for the economies of the countries" situated there. MS

The Romanian Foreign Ministry said in a statement released on 23 July that it is "determined to extend all necessary help" to European organizations that monitor human rights in order to force authorities in Tiraspol to rescind their decision to shut down schools that teach in Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script, Mediafax and Flux reported. The statement said the ministry "salutes" the decision of the 22 June Vienna meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) Permanent Council, which criticized Transdniestrian separatist authorities over the decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004). MS

Speaking on state television on 24 July, Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev called a decision by Moldova's Supreme Security Council to present an ultimatum to separatist authorities over the threat of school closures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2004) "not quite sufficient" and said further steps might be considered, Flux reported. Tarlev said Moldova has appealed to international organizations and has conducted talks within the framework of five-party negotiations but "thus far" nothing has been achieved beyond "statements of concern and appeals" to Tiraspol to reverse its decision. MS

Several dozen members of the unregistered National Bolshevik Party launched a three-day protest in front of the parliament in Chisinau on 23 July, demanding that two of their colleagues be set free and charges against them be dropped, Infotag reported. The two were detained after throwing kefir at OSCE ambassadors at a news conference in Chisinau in June. The protesters said the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) is "oppressing and persecuting political opponents" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2004). MS


After six weeks of intensive talks behind closed doors, the coalition partners in the Macedonian government -- the Social Democratic Union (SDSM), the Liberal Democrats (LDP), and the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI) -- reached a deal on 14 July on the government's plans to cut the number of administrative districts and increase the powers of the local administrations in the fields of primary school education, health care, and financial planning. Representatives of the international community welcomed the move as an important step towards the implementation of the 2001 Ohrid peace accord, which ended the interethnic conflict between the ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and the Macedonian security forces.

However, the major opposition party -- the conservative Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) -- and many ethnic Macedonians fear that the redistricting could ultimately lead to a division of the country along ethnic lines.

The opponents of the redistricting plans argue that merging some districts with an overwhelming ethnic Albanian majority with districts mainly inhabited by Macedonians could result in Albanian domination of those districts. Other critics charge that the local administrations are ill prepared for the greater powers they will gain.

Under the draft plans, which have yet to be approved by the parliament, the country's 123 administrative districts will be reduced to 80 in 2004, as Local Self-Government Minister Aleksandar Gestakovski explained on 15 July. In a second step envisioned for 2008, four rural districts will merge with the urban district of Kicevo, thus further cutting the overall number of districts to 76.

"The average size of the [districts] will be 25,000 inhabitants. The biggest district will be Kumanovo with 105,484 inhabitants, the smallest Vranestica with 1,322," Gestakovski said.

The new administrative borders of the capital Skopje, and of Struga and Kicevo in western Macedonia were the sticking points in the deadlocked talks on the redistricting plans.

The district of Struga, which was previously overwhelmingly Macedonian, will get an Albanian majority. Struga Mayor Romeo Dereban told RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters on 15 July that the citizens of that town will protest the government plans by not paying electricity bills, by not showing up for military service, and by not obeying court rulings. In January, Struga was among the first towns to hold a referendum against the redistricting plans.

The VMRO-DPMNE announced that it will resume its protests by setting up road blocks. Earlier protests led to clashes between demonstrators and police.

The Albanian-language daily "Fakti" on 11 July also reported a distinct anti-American sentiment during these protests, the United States being widely seen by some ethnic Macedonians as the main force behind the Ohrid agreements, which increased the rights of the ethnic Albanian minority.

Some politicians, like former VMRO-DPMNE Chairman and former Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski, called on the population to support a referendum against the redistricting plans. However, some pundits recall that it was Georgievski who promoted a plan to partition the country outright along ethnic lines in 2003.

What especially enrages not only the VMRO-DPMNE, but other nationalist commentators as well is the fact that the redistricting plans also affect the ethnic composition of Skopje.

By adding two rural districts with an Albanian majority -- Saraj and Kondovo -- to the existing urban districts of Skopje, the Albanian share of Skopje's population will rise from about 15 percent to more than 21 percent. Under the constitution as amended under the terms of the Ohrid agreement, districts where a minority makes up more than 20 percent of the population must introduce the language spoken by that minority as second official language. This means that not only the city administration of Skopje will be bilingual, but also road signs and signs marking official buildings.

In response to the protests, President Branko Crvenkovski tried to calm tempers. Lauding the government decision as a "courageous move," he warned that "what worries me is...rhetoric...[involving] expressions like 'giving and taking,' 'ours and theirs,' 'treason' or 'high treason' if we have not learned anything from what happened [to us] in the past."

Prime Minister Hari Kostov will nonetheless have a hard time explaining the decentralization plans to its opponents. Passing the decentralization legislation in the next few weeks may be necessary if the government does not want to jeopardize the timing of local elections slated for mid-October. But it is even more important that the government ensure the thorough preparation of the local administrations for their new tasks and duties if it is to avoid chaos.

The UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) stressed on 25 July that all presidential candidates for the October election must submit their respective candidacy credentials by the 26 July deadline, Radio Afghanistan reported. Sayyed Mohammad Azam, head of the JEMB's press section, said that each presidential candidate must: submit copies of 10,000 voter-registration cards from eligible voters supporting his or her candidacy. He added that no candidate may control or be a member of militia forces, each presidential hopeful must post a 50,000 afghanis ($1,075) deposit, and no candidate may receive foreign financial backing. According to the JEMB's timeline for the presidential election, a copy of which was obtained by RFE/RL, candidates who are "judges, attorneys, or officials" must resign by 26 July upon officially joining the race. AT

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai postponed a planned trip to Pakistan at the last moment on 25 July, reportedly to ease tensions with one of his prospective running mates, current Afghan Defense Minister Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim, international news agencies reported. If Karzai nominates Fahim as one of his running mates, the defense minister has to resign from his post -- something that Fahim has been reluctant to do, "The New York Times" reported on 26 July. Fahim is the only Afghan factional leader to have armed forces under his command in Kabul, which is a breach of the 2001 Bonn agreement that established the current political system in Afghanistan. While Fahim has allied himself with Karzai, he appears unwilling to give up the military power that has made him a key powerbroker in Afghanistan. AT

A Tehran court on 24 July acquitted an Iranian state security agent accused of the "semi-intentional" killing in 2003 of a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist, citing insufficient evidence, local and international news agencies reported on 25 July. Mohammad Reza Aqdam Ahmadi was the only man charged in the killing of Zahra Kazemi, who died after her detention and interrogation by authorities in Tehran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 2003 and 19 and 20 July 2004). The judiciary now says it has no idea who killed Kazemi, but it ordered the Iranian state to pay her family around $13,700 in blood money, AFP reported on 25 July. Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and attorney for Kazemi's family, told Radio Farda on 25 July that this was a murder, not a "semi-intentional" killing, investigations were incomplete, and that the court refused to summon specific witnesses her legal team had identified. Had it summoned them, Ebadi said, the killers would have been caught, Reuters reported on 25 July. Ebadi said her team will exhaust legal channels in Iran to win justice, adding, "If using [those], the truth is not clarified nor justice done, we shall [take our case to] international authorities and the United Nations," ISNA reported on 25 July. VS

The Iranian government has approved a Health Ministry proposal to ban the sale of cigarettes to individuals under the age of 18, Radio Farda reported on 25 July. The decision is aimed at preventing teenage addiction to tobacco and curbing the rising number of young smokers in Iran, Radio Farda quoted Tehran-based journalist Arash Qavidel as saying on 25 July. The Health Ministry directive also bans smoking in all public-administration buildings and cigarette advertising, according to Radio Farda. "One rarely sees people smoking in public places like a subway station or administrative buildings, but every day there are more youngsters smoking," Radio Farda quoted Qavidel as saying. He added that the number of women and girls smoking is approaching figures for male smokers "when only five years ago, the number of women smokers was less than half that of men," he added, although he did not source the data. VS

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi on 25 July dismissed recent reports of reported moves by the U.S. Congress to support opponents of the Iranian government and said proponents of such initiatives "are living in their dreams," ISNA reported the same day. "They know neither Iran nor the position of opponents sitting [abroad]," he added. Two Republican senators have introduced the Iran Freedom and Support Act of 2004, authorizing the U.S. president to give $10 million to Iranian pro-democracy groups and thus promote regime change in Tehran, Reuters reported on 25 July. Assefi said such plans "show that [their proponents] are behind the times and secondly do not understand America's position.... They know that America is isolated in world opinion, and propose plans that are clearly doomed to failure," ISNA reported. Iran's government, Assefi said, will "stand up to America's oppressive relying on its people and the good relations between [Iranians] and officials," ISNA reported. VS

Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi said in the northeastern city of Gorgan on 25 July that there is a "weak" possibility that archfoe Israel will attack Iran, Fars News Agency reported the same day. "Still, Iran has thought of the measures needed to repulse all attacks," he said. Officials from Israel and the United States have suggested that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons with which it could strike Israel, a state Iran execrates. Yunesi also accused Washington of seeking "to dismember Iraq and [Saudi] Arabia," and warned that ethnic and religious discord in Iraq "pave the way for [U.S.] goals," reported. Separately, the head of the Iranian regular army's land forces, Brigadier General Nasir Mohammadifar, said in Mashhad in northeastern Iran on 25 July, "America would have attacked Iran by now if it were sure it could defeat us," ISNA reported the same day. Mohammadifar told a gathering of army inspectors that the United States is "intensely aware" of its "absolute" inability to attack Iran. Should Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei order Iran's armed forces to go to war, Mohammadifar said, "we would consider martyrdom an immense blessing," ISNA added. VS

A car bomb detonated near a bridge in Baghdad on 26 July, while militants shelled the former Higher Education Ministry building, leaving three people injured, international media reported. Meanwhile, two apparent suicide car bombs also detonated outside a U.S. military base at Mosul Airport in that northern Iraqi city, killing two Iraqi guards and one U.S. soldier and wounding several others, Al-Jazeera reported. Reuters reported that a civilian woman and her child were killed in the Mosul blast along with an Iraqi security officer, and cited a U.S. military spokeswoman as saying three U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi security staff were wounded. In the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah, gunmen attacked five women who work as cleaners for U.S. contractor Bechtel as they waited at a bus stop, killing two and wounding two others, Reuters reported. KR

Militants assassinated Mus'ab al-Awadi, a senior Interior Ministry official, and killed two of his bodyguards as the group left al-Awadi's Baghdad home on 26 July, Reuters reported. Al-Awadi was in charge of tribal affairs at the ministry. KR

Iraqi security forces with support from U.S. troops killed 15 militants in the farming town of Buhriz, located about 56 kilometers northeast of Baghdad, on 25 July, AP reported the next day. The fighting broke out as Iraqi and U.S. forces launched a sweep in palm groves in the town. Militants reportedly attacked Iraqi and U.S. forces with small arms and mortars during the five-hour battle. AP reported that militants roam the streets dressed in black clothing and ski masks and armed with rifles and rocket-propelled-grenade launchers. The U.S. military battled militants in this predominantly Sunni town on 16-17 June, killing 13 Iraqis and injuring 53, reported. The website contended that fighting has transformed the impoverished farming community into an anticoalition stronghold. KR

A member of the Iraqi National Conference's higher preparatory committee, Aziz al-Yasiri, claimed on 25 July that the conference might be postponed due to what he called "violations" committed in governorate conferences held to elect delegates, Al-Jazeera reported the same day. The conference, which was required to take place in July under UN Security Council Resolution 1546, was slated to get under way this week. Meanwhile, AP reported on 26 July that the delegate-selection process in Baghdad is under way for the three-day conference, which is expected to elect 80 of 100 interim National Assembly members to serve alongside the interim government until national elections are held in January. The interim Iraqi government has revealed little information about the location or date of the conference due to security concerns. Al-Jazeera reported on 25 July that Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr declined to participate in the 25 July Al-Najaf meeting to nominate delegates to the conference. KR

A group calling itself the Black Banners Brigade of the Islamic Secret Army has reportedly extended a deadline to allow for negotiations concerning the possible release of seven foreigners it is said to be holding captive in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004), Reuters reported on 26 July. It is unclear how long the deadline has been extended. The group reportedly said in a videotaped statement released to the media on 26 July that it offered an extension based on an appeal from Iraqi Sheikh Hisham al-Dulaymi, who heads the National Society of Iraqi Chieftains. Al-Arabiyah television reported on 25 July that the Black Banners authorized al-Dulaymi to negotiate on behalf of the concerned countries of the hostages and their employers. The Black Banners has demanded that compensation be paid to the "martyrs" of Al-Fallujah, as well as to women it claims were raped in the U.S.-run Abu Ghurayb prison and to the families of detainees held in Iraq. It has also demanded the release of all Iraqis held in Kuwait, Al-Arabiyah reported. KR

The Iraqi Interior Ministry continues to work to free an Egyptian diplomat held captive in Iraq, MENA reported on 25 July. Mohammad Mamduh Qutb was abducted on 23 July by a group calling itself Asad Allah, or Lions of God. Qutb is the third-most senior official within the Egyptian Embassy in Baghdad. The group has demanded that Egypt renege on a pledge to help train Iraqi security forces. KR

General Amir Bakr al-Hashimi, the chief of staff of the Iraqi Army, and five of his aides have been dismissed from their posts over allegations that they leaked sensitive intelligence information to militant groups in Iraq, Arab media reported on 24 July. Unidentified "sources" told KUNA that the dismissals came after "intelligence information [was] leaked from the headquarters of the Iraqi Defense Ministry through ranking officers to active armed groups in Iraq." The sources added, "The ministry took strict measures after discovering what it described as a serious security failure, something which led to reconsidering many security measures." KUNA further reported that Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan said last week that an employee at the ministry -- Muhammad Majid -- was arrested for leaking information. That arrest came after Majid's son Humam was arrested in a raid on militants by national-guard forces. Humam reportedly admitted under interrogation that his father had leaked information about the ministry and its employees to militants. Both Majid and al-Hashimi are also members of Baghdad's city council. KR

A Sunni cleric and spokesman for the Muslim Ulama Council told a 25 July news conference in Baghdad that the Islamic faith forbids the killing of policemen who "do not collaborate with multinational forces," Al-Jazeera reported the same day. Sheikh Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi said: "We believe that jihad is a duty. We also believe that providing security to people is a duty, that hospital work is a duty, and that ensuring market activity to make people earn a living is a duty. Everybody knows that this can only be achieved through the police agencies, which, by tradition, are the party responsible for this kind of work. Therefore, when policemen abide by these duties and do not go beyond that to work as agents and spies for the occupation troops, then it is forbidden to kill them." Al-Faydi did not say which standards dictate whether policemen are collaborators or not. KR