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Newsline - July 30, 2004


LARGE PROTEST AGAINST SOCIAL-BENEFITS REFORM HELD IN CENTRAL MOSCOW
Around 2,000 people gathered in Moscow's Revolution Square on 29 July to protest against a government-sponsored bill that would replace in-kind social benefits with cash payments, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2004). Participating in the meeting were Chornobyl survivors and members of the Communist, Yabloko, Motherland, and Liberal Democratic parties under the slogan, "All for One," ITAR-TASS reported. Protesters carried signs reading "Hands off Benefits!" and "It's Easy to Cancel [Something], Harder to Resolve It." Traffic police prevented 16 buses carrying rally participants from entering Moscow, telling them that a police escort was on the way. However, a number of the protesters decided not to wait and took the subway instead, Ekho Moskvy reported. The bill altering benefits is scheduled for a second reading in the State Duma on 3 August. JAC

PARTY OF POWER'S BRANCHES REFUSE TO TOE THE LINE...
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 29 July that conflicts and scandals are flaring up in a number of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party's regional branches. Local activists have accused the party's central leadership of having an authoritarian style and ignoring local initiatives. In Krasnodar Krai, delegates to a local party conference ignored the opinion of its leaders, who agreed with the krai governor, and nominated another candidate for the mayor of Krasnodar. According to the daily, this "revolution" from below was quashed when the regional election commission canceled the registration of the candidate the conference had selected. A similar situation occurred in Kaliningrad, where party delegates also refused to accept a person selected by Moscow to head their local branch even as a member of their regional political council. In Volgograd, the daily predicts, the local Unified Russia branch appears poised to select an outsider, who is not even a member of the party, as its candidate in the December gubernatorial elections, if for no other reason than it might help the local soccer team. The outsider, Vladimir Goryunov, is president of the local soccer club, Rotor. Goryunov is a currently a member of Unified Russia's Duma faction, but he was elected to the Duma with the help of the local Communist Party (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 June 2004). JAC

...AS PARTY'S RATING SLIPS
Meanwhile, VTsIOM found in a recent poll that Unified Russia's monthly approval rating has been falling for four months in a row, "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal," No. 29-30, reported. It was 37 percent in April and 32 percent in June. Other parties in the Duma have fared even worse. Ratings for the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia reached 10 percent during the State Duma campaign but now hover at 5-6 percent. The Motherland party now has 3-4 percent. According to VTsIOM head Valerii Fedorov, the departure of State Duma Deputy Sergei Glazev from the party has tarnished its image, costing it around half of its supporters. The Communist Party, on the other hand, has not suffered greatly from the emergence of a breakaway faction. Two-thirds of respondents said that they were unaware of a split. FOM analyst Petr Bavin told the weekly that "most Communist Party supporters don't care whether [Gennadii] Zyuganov is leader or someone else" -- what matters is the brand. JAC

POLL FINDS SUPPORT FOR CHURCH INVOLVEMENT IN STATE ISSUES
Some 59 percent of respondents in a recent poll conducted by FOM favor the participation of the Russian Orthodox Church in the resolution of state problems, "Yezhenedelnyi zhurnal," No. 29-30, reported. Of that 59 percent, 43 percent were nonbelievers. According to the weekly, poll results show that the church has become noticeably more popular since 2001, when 35 percent opposed church involvement in politics compared with 26 percent today. Aleksandr Zhyrabskii, head of the Center for Ethno-Religious and Political Research of the Russian Academy of Science, told the weekly that the growth in the number of respondents who are ready to accept the involvement of church in politics is an expression of the current "paternalistic mood" in society. Grigorii Kertman, director of FOM's analytical department, commented that "unfortunately, people frequently do not remember what clericalization of the state can lead to. Our consciousness registers [only] very weakly the value of a secular government." A different poll conducted by ROMIR found that 75 percent of the those surveyed consider themselves religious believers, but only 3 percent regularly attend a religious service, According to "Novoe Vremya," No. 30. JAC

POLL SAYS RUSSIANS ADVOCATE NEUTRALITY IN CONFLICT OVER SOUTH OSSETIA
According to a poll conducted by VTsIOM in July among 1,500 respondents, approximately 50 percent of Russians think Russia should remain neutral in the conflict between Georgia and its breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, and should do everything in its power to prevent bloodshed between the two sides, strana.ru reported on 28 July. According to the same poll, about 14 percent of respondents want Russia to take South Ossetia's side and to protect the unrecognized republic from Georgia, while 10 percent agree that South Ossetia should be accepted into the Russian Federation. Finally, 5 percent want Moscow to support the Georgian authorities and help to protect Georgia's territorial integrity. A second poll conducted by the Analytical Levada-Center yielded similar data, according to "Argumenty I fakty," No. 30. The Levada-Center poll found that 51 percent of respondents do not want Russia to intervene in the conflict, 23 percent agreed that South Ossetia should be incorporated into the Russian Federation, and 6 percent proposed recognizing it as an independent state. At the same time, 6 percent of respondents want Moscow to help Tbilisi. "Argumenty I fakty" did not report the number of respondents in the Levada-Center poll. VY

UKRAINIAN EXPERT CALLS FOR GUUAM TO BE DISSOLVED
Kirill Frolov, head of the Ukraine department of the Institute for the CIS, has called on Moscow to try to secure the abolition of the GUUAM regional organization that comprises Georgia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova, strana.ru reported on 28 July. In an interview with that website, Frolov branded GUUAM a focus of anti-Russian intrigues and predicted that a victory by opposition Our Ukraine candidate Viktor Yushchenko in the 31 October Ukrainian presidential election would greatly strengthen it. Commenting on recent talks between President Vladimir Putin and Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov on military-technical cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2004), Frolov said that as a condition for military aid to the Karimov regime, Moscow should demand from Tashkent a commitment to quit GUUAM. "I do not understand why we do not do that. The reptile should be crushed," concluded Frolov. VY

QATARI COURT REJECTS CONVICTED RUSSIANS' APPEALS IN ASSASSINATION CASE
The Qatari Appeal Court has rejected the appellation of the lawyers of two Russian secret service agents sentenced in June in Doha to life imprisonment for the assassination in February 2004 of former acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, strana.ru and other Russian media reported on 29 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2004). Also on 29 July, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that Russia "will not cease its efforts aimed [at securing] the release of the two Russian citizens," RIA-Novostei reported. Meanwhile in a 29 July interview with strana.ru, Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the vice president of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems, accused the CIA of "helping to frame" the two Russian agents. We should take a tougher stance with the United States, with which we shared intelligence information on Iraq, and compel them to help in releasing the two Russians, Ivashov said. He added that Moscow should also draw on the potential of the Arab League to secure its agents' release. VY

RUSSIAN ANTITERRORISM UNIT CELEBRATES ANNIVERSARY
The special antiterror force Alfa celebrated its 30th anniversary on 29 July, ORT and other Russian media reported. Festivities marking the anniversary of the force, which was created by KGB Chairman Yurii Andropov in the Soviet era and which is now incorporated into the Federal Security Service, were held at an undisclosed location due to security reasons. A former Alfa commander, Mikhail Golovatov, told journalists that in its 30 years of existence Alfa force took part in more than 1,000 operations, and lost 19 servicemen. RTR reported that Alfa was created as a unit of the political-police branch KGB, and was responsible in 1976 for a swap of Soviet-era political prisoner and dissident Vladimir Bukovskii, who was being held in a Soviet prison, for Chilean communist leader Luis Corvalan, who was imprisoned in Santiago. VY

TELL-ALL BOOK ON YELTSIN PUBLISHED
Lieutenant General Aleksandr Korzhakov, former chief of President Boris Yeltsin' Presidential Security Service, unveiled his new book during a Moscow press conference on 28 July, newsru.com and other Russian media reported. "Yeltsin From Sunup To Sundown -- Afterward" is a book of memoirs that reportedly contains many scandalous revelations about Yeltsin. It is a sequel to Korzhakov's first book, "Yeltsin From Sunup to Sundown." Korzhakov said he released the new 550-page book because of the wealth of material that was not included in the first book. "I was in a hurry to release the first volume as I afraid that Yeltsin might not live to see it," Korzhakov said. VY

'BABY OLIGARCH' PURCHASES BRITISH SPORTS-CAR MANUFACTURER
Nikolai Smolenskii -- the son of Russian tycoon and founder of the failed SBS Agro Bank, Aleksandr Smolenskii -- has purchased a 100 percent stake in the British sports-car manufacturer TVR, Russian and Western media reported on 28 July. The sale price was not disclosed, but some reports have estimated that it was around $27 million. TVR produces about 1,000 high-end sports cars a year. Little is known about the 23-year-old Nikolai Smolenskii, dubbed by "The Moscow Times" on 28 July as a "baby oligarch," other than that he was educated in Britain and Austria. VY

PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE ACCUSED OF DRAGGING ITS FEET ON BASHKORTOSTAN PRIVATIZATION CASE
National Anti-Corruption Committee Chairman Kirill Kabanov has appealed to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov to launch criminal proceedings against his own spokesperson, Natalya Vishnyakova, head of the prosecutor's office for information and public relations, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 29 July. Kabanov has accused Vishnyakova of disseminating false information when she responded to his commission's query asking about the progress of a criminal investigation into legal violations that occurred during the privatization of the oil sector in Bashkortostan. Vishnyakova sent a letter to Kabanov saying that investigative materials collected by the Audit Chamber regarding the case had not been sent to the Prosecutor-General's Office. According to the daily, Deputy Prosecutor-General Vasilii Kolmogorov acknowledged receipt of the materials in a letter to the Audit Chamber in June 2003. In the past year, the daily noted, no broad audit of the sector or punishment of those responsible for the affair has taken place. JAC

SIBERIAN CHILDREN HIT BY DISEASES
Altai Krai is experiencing an epidemic of tuberculosis, while Novosibirsk Oblast has witnessed an upsurge in serious cases of meningitis, ITAR-TASS and newsru.com reported on 29 July. The krai's legislature held a special session on tuberculosis, at which it was reported that some 3,000 cases are discovered annually and that hospitals need to be upgraded to accommodate at least 500 additional patients. The clinics currently treating TB patients also need to be repaired. Meanwhile, in Novosibirsk, as of 29 July more than 200 persons have been registered with cases of serious meningitis, up from 110 cases on 26 July. The majority of the cases -- 158 -- are children, many of whom were infected while at summer camps. Drinking water is believed to be the source of the infections. Some 30 children in Irkutsk were hospitalized with a preliminary diagnosis of pseudo-tuberculosis after staying at a summer camp, RTR reported on 26 July. JAC

LOCAL ADMINISTRATOR GUNNED DOWN IN DAGHESTAN
Arsen Khaidakov, head of Daghestan's Novolak Raion, was shot dead at the gates to his Makhachkala residence late on 28 July, Interfax reported the following day. An official from the republican prosecutor's office said Khaidakov received a telephone call shortly before he was killed and went to the gate of his house, where he was gunned down from an automobile. LF

COUNCIL OF EUROPE CONDEMNS ARMENIAN POLICE BRUTALITY
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, which is subordinate to the Council of Europe, has compiled a report that deplores the widespread use of physical violence against detainees by Armenian police, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 29 July. The report acknowledged that conditions in Armenian prisons have improved in recent years, but said they still do not meet European standards. It called on the Armenian government to take "vigorous" action to end such abuses. The report was compiled on the basis of a fact-finding mission to Armenia in 2002 and submitted to Armenia's representation at the Council of Europe in April 2003. The text of the report was published in Yerevan on 28 July, together with a written response by the Armenian government. That response claims that the Armenian authorities have already taken "adequate measures" to rectify the situation. LF

ARMENIA, GEORGIA SEEK TO TRACE MISSING LOAN PAYMENT
The governments of Armenia and Georgia have agreed to work together to discover the whereabouts of $4 million Tbilisi claims to have transferred to an unnamed Russian company in payment of its energy debt to Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service quoted Finance and Economy Minister Vartan Khachatrian as saying on 29 July. The payment, which covers Tbilisi's debt for energy supplies from Armenia, was discussed during Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's 25-26 July visit to Tbilisi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2004). LF

FOUR INJURED BY ARTILLERY FIRE IN SOUTH OSSETIA
Georgian and South Ossetian troops exchanged small-arms and heavy-artillery fire over a period of several hours late on 29 July and early on 30 July, Georgian and Russian media reported. South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, who is currently in Moscow, claimed that the Georgian side fired first, Caucasus Press reported on 30 July, while ITAR-TASS quoted the commander of the Georgian peacekeeping contingent, Givi Gugutsidze, as saying the Georgians opened fire in retaliation after the South Ossetian side targeted the Georgian-populated village of Tamarasheni. South Ossetian government official Inal Pliev told ITAR-TASS that four residents of Tskhinvali were injured during the Georgian bombardment. Reuters on 30 July quoted Kokoity as saying that after the shelling subsided, Georgian troops tried to enter Tskhinvali but were prevented from doing so. LF

GEORGIAN MINISTER REAFFIRMS COMMITMENT TO PEACEFUL SOLUTION
In an interview published on 30 July in "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Giorgi Khaindrava, who is Georgian minister for conflict resolution, again denied that Tbilisi intends to use force to restore its control over the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia. He explained that resorting to force would be damaging to Georgia insofar as it would negate all hopes of integration with the EU and jeopardize the "colossal" aid the country hopes to receive. Khaindrava again called for the demilitarization of the region, alleging that there are over 1,000 mercenaries in the northern, Djava Raion of South Ossetia, including Arabs who previously fought in Chechnya. Speaking at a press conference on 28 July at Interfax's head office in Moscow, President Kokoity similarly claimed that radio conversations in Arabic and English have been intercepted (he didn't specify by which government agency) and that Georgian intelligence refused observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe access to the districts where those radio exchanges originated, Interfax reported. LF

GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN TALKS POSTPONED
A further round of bilateral talks on the time frame for closing Russian military bases in Georgia, scheduled for late July, has been postponed until late August or early September, ITAR-TASS quoted Georgian charge d'affaires in Moscow Teimuraz Gamtsemlidze as telling journalists on 29 July. Interfax, however, quoted an unnamed Georgian Foreign Ministry source as saying that the talks have been postponed indefinitely. LF

TEENAGE GEORGIAN DETAINEE RELEASED
Lasha Katsanashvili, one of three people detained by Georgian police last week in connection with a protest outside the Economy Ministry during which Minister Kakha Bendukidze was insulted and spat upon, was released from detention on 29 July, Caucasus Press reported. All three were remanded in pretrial detention for three months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, and 26 July 2004). LF

NEW ABKHAZ FOREIGN MINISTER APPOINTED
Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba appointed Igor Akhba on 29 July to the post of foreign minister, Caucasus Press reported. Akhba, who was born in 1949, graduated from the law faculty of Moscow State University and has served for years as Abkhazia's permanent representative in Moscow. He replaces Sergei Shamba, who resigned in June following the murder of a prominent oppositionist (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 June 2004). LF

LAWSUITS AGAINST KAZAKH MEDIA RAISE EYEBROWS
The Congress of Journalists of Kazakhstan released a statement on 29 July expressing concern over lawsuits against independent media outlets, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The statement noted that Rika TV faces five lawsuits claiming more than $4 million in damages for broadcasting uncut footage of a news conference. As a result, the station could be forced to stop broadcasting. According to the statement, "The colossal size of the claims, the swift sequestration of the channel's property, and the lack of a demand for a retraction suggest that this is a planned action to bankrupt the station." Also on 29 July, the newspaper "Soz" published an editorial decrying President Nursultan Nazarbaev's recent warning that the presidential administration will not hesitate to sue media for slander. Noting that the opposition newspaper "Assandi-Times" was recently hit with a $370,000 judgment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004), the editorial asked, "If it is possible to sue and ruin 'Assandi-Times,' why not sue the 'Financial Times'?" The article then asked rhetorically whether the Kazakh Embassy in the United States plans to sue all media outlets that write about the Kazakhgate scandal. DK

EBRD REFINANCES KAZAKH-CHINESE PIPELINE
The EBRD announced in a 29 July press release that it has issued a 10-year $81.6 million loan to MunaiTas to refinance debt incurred during the construction of the Kenkiyak-Atyrau pipeline. Completed in 2002, the 448-kilometer pipeline connects oilfields in central Kazakhstan with the Atyrau-Samara export pipeline. MunaiTas is a Chinese-Kazakh joint venture owned by Kazakhstan's KazTransOil (51 percent) and a subsidiary of the Chinese National Petroleum Company (49 percent). The Kenkiyak-Atyrau pipeline is expected to transport 6 million tons of oil in 2004, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. According to the newspaper, MunaiTas reported a $15 million profit in 2003. DK

U.S. CENTCOM HEAD MEETS WITH TAJIK PRESIDENT
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met on 29 July in Dushanbe with General John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command, Avesta reported. Bilateral military cooperation topped the list of topics discussed. Other issues included the fight against international terrorism, drug trafficking, and upcoming elections in Afghanistan. The news agency quoted Abizaid as saying that the United States welcomes Tajikistan's efforts to increase cooperation with Russia, as well as with countries from the European Union and NATO. Abizaid praised the Tajik-Russian plan to return the Tajik-Afghan border to Tajik control, adding that the international community will have to help strengthen the border after the transfer, ITAR-TASS reported. Abizaid also stressed that he has not raised the issue of sending Central Asian troops to Iraq during talks in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan, Avesta reported.

MINISTER REPORTS RISING INVESTMENT IN TAJIK ECONOMY
Economy and Trade Minister Hakim Soliev told Asia Plus-Blitz on 29 July that Tajikistan experienced solid economic growth in the first half of 2004. Overall, the economy grew by 11.1 percent. Although total investment soared 143 percent to $312 million, Soliev said, "We didn't manage to do as well as we could have." Industrial production jumped 11.7 percent and agricultural production rose 10.3 percent. DK

FREEDOM HOUSE HEAD MEETS WITH UZBEK INTERIOR MINISTER
Mjusa Sever, the head of U.S.-based Freedom House's office in Uzbekistan, has met with Interior Minister Zohirjon Almatov, Uzbek newspaper "Na postu" reported on 29 July. The report quoted the minister as praising the NGO for its role in improving the human rights situation through constructive dialogue and cooperation. For her part, Sever hailed increased contacts on human rights issues between Freedom House and Uzbek law-enforcement authorities. She also made several suggestions for building trust between the sides in order to ensure attention to human rights concerns and improve crime fighting. DK

UZBEK, RUSSIAN JUSTICE MINISTERS SIGN ACCORD
Uzbek and Russian justice ministers, Abdusamad Polvonzoda and Yurii Chaika, respectively, have signed a cooperation agreement between their respective ministries, Uzbekistan's "Narodnoe slovo" reported on 29 July. The report described the agreement as a continuation of "the expansion and deepening of Uzbek-Russian relations" under the strategic partnership agreement Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed in June. DK

OSCE WARNS MINSK OF 'TENSION' IN BELARUSIAN-EU RELATIONS
Uta Zapf, the head of the working group on Belarus in the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, said in a statement on 29 July that the closure of the European Humanities University (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2004) may cause "tough tension" in Minsk's relations with Germany and the EU, Belapan reported. The university, established in 1992, is the only private higher-educational institution in Belarus and is financed by Germany, France, the EU, and other private funds, Zapf said. The closure is the result of "politically-motivated pressure," she said, and urged the Belarusian government to stop repressive measures and allow normal conditions for the university. The same day Eberhard Heyken, head of the OSCE Office in Minsk, said that the closure "contradicts the basic principles of the OSCE, which is committed to international cooperation, academic freedom, and tolerance." AM

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION GROUP ACCUSES GOVERNMENT OF 'PLOT AGAINST VOTERS'
Leaders of the oppostion Popular Coalition Five Plus issued a statement on 29 July saying that Belarusian authorities do not intend to hold fair parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 October, Belapan reported. The statement followed a conference at which Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka suggested that his supporters would fill all of the National Assembly's seats in the first round (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2004). Belarusian authorities "aim to preserve the National Assembly as a department of Lukashenka's administration," Five Plus said, noting that the government's objectives and measures of achievement show "the existence of the government's plot against voters." Five Plus accused the government of planning to do whatever is necessary to fill all 110 seats in the Belarusian Chamber of Representatives with its loyal supporters. AM

UKRAINE TO REDUCE ITS ARMED FORCES TO 100,000 BY 2015
Ukrainian Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk said on 29 July that Ukrainian armed forces will be reduced to 100,000 troops by 2015, UNIAN reported. Marchuk presented the Strategic Defense Bulletin at a press conference in Kyiv the document outlining threats to Ukraine's national security and the duties of the state and the armed forces in countering these threats. The bulletin also provides a two-stage process of reform for the military. In the first stage, to be finished by 2009, the Ukrainian army would be reduced to 200,000 troops. The second step, to be completed by 2015, is the reduction to 100,000, and foresees outfitting the army with the most modern equipment. Defense spending, according to the bulletin, will increase from the current 5.6 billion hryvnyas ($1.06 billion) to 17.2 billion hrynyas in 2015. Ukraine currently has some 350,000 troops in its military. AM

TWO NEW CANDIDATES JOIN PRESIDENTIAL RACE IN UKRAINE
The Central Election Commission on 29 July officially registered Vitaliy Kononov, the leader of the Green Party, and Volodymyr Nechyporuk, the head of the newly created People's Power party, as candidates for the 31 October presidential election, Interfax reported. Nechyporuk was registered after correcting and resubmitting his documents which had included provisions, as the Supreme Court noted, inconsistent with the Ukrainian Constitution. The number of registered candidates stands at 22. AM

HAGUE TRIBUNAL ORDERS BOSNIAN CROAT GENERAL FREED EARLY
On 29 July, Theodor Meron, who heads the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, ordered the release on 2 August of former Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Hours earlier, the tribunal's appeals panel cut Blaskic's sentence from 45 to nine years in prison, against which will be applied the time he has already served since he turned himself in to the tribunal on 1 April 1996 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2004). The appeals panel ruled that a lower court had failed to prove that Blaskic was responsible for the crimes mentioned in 16 of the 19 charges on which he was convicted. In Ahmici in central Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Blaskic's reportedly troops killed more than 100 Muslims in April 1993, residents gathered to express their opposition to the reduction of Blaskic's sentence, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. The daily added that the appeals panel's decision "is a major defeat for prosecutors and could affect their case against two other Bosnian Croats, Dario Kordic and Mario Cerkez." In Zagreb, Croatian President Stipe Mesic said that the panel's decision proves that the tribunal is not a "political court" working against Croatian interests. PM

SERBIAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: TALKS WITH WAR CRIMES INDICTEE INDICATE SERBIA IS LYING
Vesna Pesic, who was one of Serbia's most prominent human-rights activists during the rule of President Slobodan Milosevic and is now Serbia and Montenegro's ambassador to Mexico, told the Belgrade daily "Glas javnosti" of 28 July that frequent but unconfirmed reports of government negotiations with indicted war criminal and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic give lie to repeated government claims that Mladic is not in Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 July 2004). She said it is unlikely that Mladic is anywhere but in Serbia if the government is able to talk to him in an effort to persuade him to go to The Hague voluntarily. Pesic added that she is ashamed of those Serbs who still regard Mladic and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic as heroes. PM

MACEDONIA APPEALS TO SERBIAN GOVERNMENT AND CHURCH OVER NATIONAL HOLIDAY
Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski has written Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, asking them to open the southern Serbian Prohor Pcinjski Monastery to a Macedonian state delegation that wants to mark the 60th anniversary of the World War II Antifascist Council for the National Liberation of Macedonia (ASNOM) there on 2 August, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 30 July. This date is widely accepted as the founding date of the modern Macedonian state because ASNOM hammered out the political and legal framework for the People's (later Socialist) Republic of Macedonia within communist Yugoslavia. In 2003, the Serbian Orthodox Church denied the government delegation access to the monastery against the background of an ongoing dispute between the Serbian and the Macedonian Orthodox Churches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July and 1 August 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 August 2002). As a result of the ongoing problems with the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Macedonian government has built a new memorial center in the village of Pelince, not far from the monastery but on Macedonian territory. The new center will be opened on 2 August, "Dnevnik" reported. UB

UN REJECTS SERBIAN CHARGES OVER ELECTIONS IN KOSOVA
A spokeswoman for the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) said in Prishtina on 29 July that the leaders of the Serbian minority, who recently decided after talks with Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica to boycott the October parliamentary elections, should reconsider, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2004). The spokeswoman stressed that the necessary conditions are in place for Serbian participation, adding that any Serbian boycott will be to the detriment of the Serbs and not affect the legitimacy of the elections. Elsewhere, the spokeswoman for Kosova's government called the Serbian leaders' decision "unacceptable," noting that the Serbs had found nothing wrong with voting conditions when they cast their ballots in the recent Serbian presidential vote. Dragisa Krstovic, who heads the Serbian Povratak (Return) faction in Kosova's parliament, told RFE/RL that the final decision on a boycott has not been taken, adding that Belgrade will have the final say in the matter. PM

ROMANIAN PREMIER 'SADDENED' BY RECENT ORBAN SPEECH
Prime Minister Adrian Nastase on 29 July wrote to Viktor Orban, former Hungarian premier and chairman of the opposition FIDESZ, that Orban's recent speech at Balvanyos has "profoundly saddened" him, Mediafax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2004). Nastase said Orban's "radicalism" and his "negation of normalcy and ethnic harmony" in Romania are out of place. "I do not want Romania to be lauded at any price, but I cannot allow that efforts we made thus far be ignored or, worse, that it be claimed there is no democracy in Romania," Nastase said. He added that he appreciates Orban for his creativity, energy, and passion and understands that he wants to do more for Hungarian minorities living in neighboring countries. However, he said, there is no need for "mass movements" to achieve that purpose, as Orban claimed in his speech at Balvanyos, nor are "ultimatum-like, extremist demands" helpful. It is unacceptable, he said, that Hungarian minorities be turned into instruments for "politicking ambitions" and the political capital gained doing this will, sooner or later, backfire, he said. MS

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT SAYS TRANSDNIESTER REGIME 'TOTALITARIAN-LIKE...'
Romanian President Ion Iliescu said in a statement released on 29 July that in closing down schools that teach Moldovan (Romanian) in the Latin script "the rulers of the self-proclaimed Transdniester region are...acting like a totalitarian regime," Mediafax and Reuters reported. Iliescu said in the statement that the authorities in Tiraspol "ignore the rightful requests of European and international bodies" to have the schools reopen and thereby infringe on "the most elementary civic rights and freedoms" as well as on international treaties on minority rights. Romania, the statement said, would "use all available diplomatic channels and political instruments to ensure that students in Transdniester are able to continue studying in Romanian." Bucharest would also "support any initiative that would end the Transdniester crisis, allowing Moldova to exercise its sovereign rights in this area, which is part of its national territory." Iliescu later told journalists that Romania has asked Russia to intervene on behalf of the closed schools in Tiraspol. MS

...AND ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT CALLS SEPARATISTS 'IRRESPONSIBLE'
Government spokeswoman Despina Neagoe told journalists on 29 July that the Romanian government "resolutely condemns" the use of violence by Tiraspol in imposing the closure of the schools in Bendery-Tighina and Ribnita (see below). "This irresponsible attitude of the separatist authorities does nothing but reconfirm the bad faith displayed by them during the entire course of the negotiations process for the conflict's settlement," the official statement states. MS

TRANSDNIESTER MILITIA FORCE THEIR WAY INTO ONE MORE SCHOOL
Separatist militia forces on 29 July forced their way into one more Moldovan school and arrested six teachers staging a sit-in to prevent the school's closure, Mediafax, Infotag and AP reported. The militia men broke into the Eureka Lyceum in Ribnita and AP said television footage showed the authorities taking down a sign identifying the school as a Moldovan-language school and replacing it with one that said it is a Russian school. On 27 July, the Transdniester authorities evicted students from an orphanage in Bendery-Tighina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2004). MS

U.S., EU PREPARED TO CONSIDER SANCTIONS AGAINST TRANSDNIESTER
Stephen Minikes, the U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, said in Vienna on 29 July that the United States and its EU partners are prepared to consider appropriate measures against the separatist Transdniester authorities to force them to cooperate in the school-closure crisis, Infotag reported. Minikes, addressing a meeting of the Permanent Council of the OSCE, welcomed the Russian Foreign Ministry's statement of 19 July calling on Transdniester to refrain from taking further administrative action against the Moldovan (Romanian) schools and called on the Russian government to use its influence to halt the provocations and allow for negotiations to take place. The EU on 28 July threatened to take "appropriate measures against those in the self-proclaimed Transdniester administration responsible for the repressive measures taken against Moldovan schools," according to a communique of the Dutch EU presidency cited by Reuters. MS

HILL SAYS TRANSDNIESTER ATTEMPTING TO FORCE STATE RECOGNITION THROUGH SCHOOL CRISIS
William Hill, head of the OSCE mission in Moldova, said in Chisinau on 29 July that by provoking the crisis over the teaching in schools of Moldovan (Romanian) with the Latin script, the Transdniester authorities are trying to bring about the recognition of the region's separate statehood, Flux reported. Hill said the authorities in Tiraspol should realize that political problems can only be solved at the negotiation table. Hill also said that the three mediators in the conflict (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) have drafted a plan aimed at lessening tension in the region and that Moldova has already accepted the plan, which "pertains to the schools' problem and the negotiations process." MS

SEPARATIST 'FOREIGN MINISTER' SAYS TRANSDNIESTER MAY JOIN RUSSIAN FEDERATION
Valerii Litskay, who holds the foreign affairs portfolio in the Transdniester administration, said in Moscow on 28 July that the region might hold a referendum on joining the Russian Federation, Infotag reported. Litskay also told journalists that there is no Russian equipment on the territory administered by Tiraspol. "In 2001 Russia met its obligations undertaken at the 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit" and withdrew all heavy equipment falling under the Agreement on Conventional Forces in Europe, he claimed. "All that is left are 15 armored personnel carriers belonging to the peacekeeping forces. There is some problem with the Russian ammunition, but its withdrawal was not stipulated under the CFE agreement," Litskay claimed. According to the 2002 Porto OSCE summit, Russia has failed to abide by 1999 summit obligations. MS

TIME TO ACT ON KOSOVA?
There is no shortage of ideas these days regarding the future of Kosova. It remains to be seen what, if anything, the discussions, reports, and papers will lead to.

Following the violence that swept Kosova on 17-18 March, numerous papers, studies, and recommendations have emerged like the proverbial mushrooms after a spring rain (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 26 March, 2 and 16 April, and 9 July 2004). Most of the authors are nongovernmental organizations, individual experts or pundits, or, in some cases, people involved in government.

Broadly speaking, most of the evaluations fall into one of two basic categories. Some studies stress the failings of the ethnic Albanian majority and its institutions, generally calling for a delay in the clarification of the province's final status and for strengthening or prolonging the authority of the foreigners currently in charge there. The underlying assumption of many such analyses is that the Albanians misbehaved and must not be rewarded.

The second school of thought interprets the disturbances as a wake-up call, and stresses that time is rapidly running out to end colonial rule in Kosova and transfer power to elected representatives on the basis of self-determination and majority rule, however imperfect it is shaping up to be. Reports taking this position note that until the province's ethnic Albanian majority sees a clear route toward independence, there is likely to be further violence stemming from fears of a Serbian-sponsored partition or continued involvement by Serbia in Kosova's affairs. This view assumes that today's Kosova is part of the worldwide decolonization process and the ongoing dissolution of former Yugoslavia.

In addition, two major recent NGO reports faulted the international community, particularly for its failure to protect Serbs and other minorities. In a report released on 26 July, Human Rights Watch argued that "while international actors have been universally and accurately critical of Kosovo Albanian leadership during and after the crisis, the dismal performance of the international community has escaped similar critical scrutiny." A report by Amnesty International came to similar conclusions a few weeks earlier.

But what of people in government? Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner hosted a conference on the future of Kosova near Vienna in mid-July, putting forward a plan "based on the Belgian federal model" that would transfer additional powers from the UN civilian administration (UNMIK) to Kosova's elected officials while offering a large measure of home rule to the Serbs and other minorities.

Some ethnic Albanian officials said that the project is not very appealing because it delays a decision on Kosova's final status, which all Albanian political leaders understand as meaning independence. Other Albanians objected on the grounds that a federal structure is not realistic because most of the ethnic-minority population lives scattered in relatively small communities.

Some Serbs noted approvingly that the home rule provisions are close to Belgrade's plan to "cantonize" Kosova -- a proposal that the UN has already rejected -- while other Serbs argued that the Austrian project moves Kosova unacceptably close to independence.

The Vienna daily "Die Presse" wrote on 23 July that Ferrero-Waldner then tried so hard to reach a common understanding on Kosova with representatives of Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia that her final proposal seemed devoid of any hard substance. The daily suggested this was the result of trying to please countries whose stands on Kosova were sometimes difficult to reconcile.

Some political figures whose parties are not in government seem to have an easier time making bold proposals than Ferrero-Waldner did. Germany's opposition Free Democratic Party (FDP) recently suggested placing Kosova under a EU protectorate. This idea met with a very mixed reaction from Albanians and Serbs on 17 and 18 June at an off-the-record conference in Berlin sponsored by the German Foreign Ministry, the Bertelsmann Foundation, and the Munich-based Center for Applied Policy Research, titled "Rethinking the Balkans" (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 25 June and 9 July 2004).

From the other side of the Atlantic, Senator Joseph R. Biden of Delaware, who is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in "The Washington Times" of 25 July that it is rather the United States that should take the lead.

He suggested that the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) "has done a poor job and lost credibility in the province," adding that "KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force, also showed grave weaknesses in the March riots, with the U.S. troops providing the only major example of professionalism."

As a remedy, Biden believes that "the international community should give the Kosovo Provincial Assembly the maximum authority possible, so it can prove to the world the ethnic Albanian leadership is capable of governing and can guarantee basic human rights for all ethnic groups."

The senator also calls for the United States to take the lead in resolving the impasse in Kosova by appointing a special envoy to the region. He believes there are good reasons for Washington and not Brussels to make the first move. "The [United States] is in a unique position to facilitate negotiations. Bolstered by the image of American troops who protected Kosovo Serbs in the March riots, U.S. credibility has never been higher in Belgrade, which for the first time has a democratic president [i.e. Serbian President Boris Tadic] with cordial ties to Washington. The Kosovar Albanians remain deeply suspicious of other Europeans but still trust the [United States], whom they thank for overthrowing [former Yugoslav President] Slobodan Milosevic's tyranny."

Biden also believes that "instead of ceding the leadership of Balkan affairs to the European Union, as we are about to do in Bosnia...[the United States should name] a special envoy to the Balkans, a position that proved effective in the 1990s. The special envoy, working with Serbs and Kosovars, with our European allies, and with the United Nations, could make a full-court press to resolve Europe's most volatile dispute."

He also suggests that time is of the essence. The next move, however, is likely to come from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is expected to issue his own report on Kosova soon.

TWO PEOPLE REPORTEDLY KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN FOR HOLDING REGISTRATION CARDS
Two people were reportedly killed on 27 July in Zabul Province for possessing voter-registration cards, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 28 July. Zabul security commander Gholam Jailani told AIP that "the Taliban dragged two people out of their homes in Arghandab District...and brutally killed them." Jailani claimed that the assailants were "sent from Pakistan to Afghanistan to carry out such crimes" in an effort to undermine security in Afghanistan. The neo-Taliban have vowed to disrupt the upcoming Afghan presidential election. However, no group has come forth to claim responsibility for the killings in Zabul Province. AT

TWO U.S., FOUR AFGHAN SOLDIERS INJURED IN WEST-CENTRAL AFGHANISTAN
Six U.S. and Afghan military personnel were injured in skirmishes with local militia forces in Ghor Province on 29 July, AFP reported. According to Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi, "six people were injured, two or three of them American soldiers." However, an unidentified U.S. military spokesperson said that he was "unable to confirm the reports at this stage." Ghor Governor Mohammad Ebrahim Malikzadah said that one U.S. soldier and five Afghans were injured in the attack, AIP reported on 30 July. Malikzadah refused to comment on reports that two U.S. and three Afghan soldiers were killed in the attack. The military team was participating in a local disarmament program in Ghor when they were surrounded by unidentified assailants. The disarmament program, a crucial element of the Afghanistan's move toward normalcy, has lagged behind schedule as most of the powerful militia forces have opted to keep their weapons. AT

AFGHAN SECURITY FORCES REPEL ATTACK ON VOTER-REGISTRATION CENTER IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Security forces repelled an armed attack on 28 July carried out by about 30 suspected neo-Taliban militants against a voter-registration center in Kandahar Province's Panjwai District, the Kabul daily "Erada" reported. According to the report, several militants were injured in the attack. AT

EU DECIDES TO CONTRIBUTE MORE TO AFGHANISTAN'S ELECTION FUND
The EU's European Commission on 29 July approved an extra 9 million euros to help fund Afghanistan's elections, AFP reported. The contribution pledged by the EU to the fund totals 80 million euros, making it the largest single contributor. AT

IRAN, TURKEY AGREE TO COOPERATE AGAINST KURDISH REBELS
Iran and Turkey signed a security agreement in Tehran on 30 July at the close of a visit by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, agreeing to place rebels opposed to Tehran and Ankara on each other's terrorist lists, AFP reported the same day. Iran has agreed to put Kongra-Gel, the former Kurdistan People's Party (PKK) -- which wants a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey -- on its terrorist list, and Turkey agreed to do the same with the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an Iranian rebel group in Iraq. Iranian Deputy Interior Minister Ali Asghar Ahmadi told the agency that Tehran and Ankara will cooperate against the two groups whatever names they may adopt in the future. Iran and Turkey, he added, will pursue other unspecified "security issues," AFP added. Iran has recently fought the Kongra-Gel near its frontier with Turkey to prevent the group from using Iranian territory in its war against Turkey (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 13 July 2004). VS

POWELL: IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM MAY BE REFERRED TO UN
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said in Kuwait on 29 July that Iran's recent renewal of uranium-enrichment related activities are making it "more and more likely" that the country's nuclear program will be referred to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions, AFP reported the same day. The United States suspects Iran's nuclear program is a cover for making nuclear bombs, a charge Iran rejects. Powell called Iran's recent moves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 and 29 July 2004) "troubling" and said he hopes that "this is a matter of concern" for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which intermittently inspects Iranian installations to ensure that they serve a strictly civilian nuclear program. Meanwhile, French, British, and German diplomats met with Iranian officials in Paris on 29 July to discuss Iran's nuclear program and create "trust," AFP reported, citing the French Foreign Ministry. VS

LAYWERS WANT REVIEW OF VERDICT IN IRANIAN PRISON-MURDER TRIAL
Lawyers representing the family of Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who died while in state custody in Tehran in 2003, have published an open letter urging Iran's judiciary chief, Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, to order a review of her case and appoint an independent inspector to look into her death, Radio Farda reported on 29 July. The affair has led observers to suspect a cover-up after one defendant in the case was acquitted and the judiciary said the death must have occurred after an accidental fall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 29 July 2004). Lawyers for Kazemi's family reject the conclusion and say she was in an enclosed space in the care of the state, Radio Farda reported on 29 July. Muhammad Ali Dadkhah, one of the lawyers, believes "a review would clarify" the case. "We keep telling the court there are witnesses. Bring in the witnesses to reveal the truth," Radio Farda reported. Separately, Reporters Without Borders also urged an independent investigation on 29 July, according to AFP, and dismissed as "ridiculous" and an "affront" the judiciary's statement that Kazemi died accidentally. VS

CLASHES IN AL-FALLUJAH LEAVE AT LEAST NINE DEAD
Clashes erupted between U.S. forces and Iraqi gunmen overnight in the volatile city of Al-Fallujah, Reuters reported on 30 July. At least nine Iraqis were killed in the fighting and 16 others injured. Ahmad Abdallah, a doctor at Al-Fallujah General Hospital, said that some of the wounded were in a serious condition. The fighting reportedly lasted several hours and left homes and factories destroyed in the eastern part of the city, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, interim Interior Minister Falah Hassan al-Naqib said on 29 July that Iraqi police have arrested 270 militants during recent raids; most of the militants are from neighboring states, including Syria and Iran, AP reported citing "Al-Sharq al-Awsat." "I can confirm that 90 percent of those who carried out suicide operations are not Iraqis," al-Naqib said. Asked about the role of fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi and his Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad terrorist group in the recent bombings in Iraq (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 July 2004), al-Naqib said: "Al-Zarqawi is behind a number of major operations, especially suicide [attacks], but his presence in Iraq is doubtful," AP reported. KR

IRAQI NATIONAL CONFERENCE DELAYED TWO WEEKS
Iraq postponed the start of a National Conference that would elect an interim National Assembly for the second time this week, international media reported on 30 July. The conference, first delayed until 31 July, has now been postponed for two weeks. Media reports on 30 July first indicated that the delay was related to the recent surge in violence -- suicide car bombers struck four times this week -- but conference organizers told Reuters that the delay came after the United Nations threatened to withdraw its support for the event unless it was postponed. "The UN said more time was needed and that it had to be delayed," committee member Sadiq al-Musawi said. "They said that awareness of the conference was weak, that 60 percent of Iraqis didn't know it was going on, and argued that too many groups were outside the process," he added. A number of political parties issued complaints about the nomination process taking place in the governorates to select delegates to attend the conference (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 31 July 2004). KR

BUSH FORMALLY ENDS IRAQ SANCTIONS
U.S. President George W. Bush issued an order to end sanctions on Iraq on 29 July, according to a press release posted on the White House website (http://www.whitehouse.gov). The order, which takes effect on 30 July, ends 14 years of sanctions on Iraq. "I...have determined that the situation that gave rise to the declaration of a national emergency with respect to Iraq in Executive Order 12722 of 2 August 1990 has been significantly altered by the removal of the regime of Saddam Hussein and other developments," Bush said in the order. KR

FRENCH OBJECTIONS STALLING NATO DECISION ON IRAQ
France refused on 29 July to accept a plan that would place a NATO training mission in Iraq under the command of a U.S. commander, AP reported on the same day. An unnamed French diplomat called the objection the "last hitch" holding up an agreement among NATO member states, which have been meeting in Brussels this week to hammer out an agreement. NATO officials told AP that they were optimistic that a consensus could be reached by 30 July on how the NATO training -- which will take place inside and outside Iraq -- will proceed. "We are very close," one official said. KR

POWELL MAKES SURPRISE VISIT TO BAGHDAD
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell made an unannounced visit to Baghdad on 30 July, international media reported. He is the most senior U.S. official to visit Iraq since the 28 June transfer of power to the Iraqi interim government. Powell held meetings with Prime Minister Allawi and Saudi officials in Jeddah on 29 July to discuss a Saudi proposal to send troops from Muslim countries to Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2004). Speaking to reporters in Baghdad about the ongoing violence inside Iraq, Powell said: "These kinds of violent actions (in Iraq) certainly do have a deterring effect with respect to nations providing troops or to progress with the reconstruction effort, but we have to keep them very much in perspective. These are criminals, these are murderers, these are terrorists who are killing innocent people who have come to Iraq to help the Iraqi people to a better life." KR

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