GAP BETWEEN RICHEST AND POOREST GROWS...
The top 20 percent of income earners in Russia receive 46.6 percent of all income in the first six months of 2004 compared with 5.4 percent for the bottom 20 percent of wage earners, according to the State Statistics Service, "Novye izvestiya" reported on 4 August. At the same time, the income gap between these two groups has grown over the past year: The ratio was 8.6 to 1 in the first half of 2004 compared with 8.4 to 1 in the first half of 2003. According to the daily, the gap between the richest and the poorest is approaching that recorded in the United States, where the ratio ranges from 8 to 1 to 9 to 1. In Europe, this figure is 6 to 1; in Latin America it is 12 to 1. According to the daily, analysts who are "optimists" believe that a gap like that which exists in the United States spurs entrepreneurship. The logic being that people are more likely to engage in business activities when they have the ability to earn and keep more money, the daily reported. JAC
...AS ECONOMY'S STRUCTURE BLAMED FOR INEQUITY
According to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 4 August, Russia's income gap is a result of the structure of the economy: Exports and the financial sector contribute the largest part of Russia's revenues, and workers in these sectors make the most money. An oil-production worker, for example, earns 20,053 rubles ($687) per month compared to 6,370 rubles for a mechanical engineer or 4,343 rubles for an education-sector worker. When asked whether income inequality could lead to a "social explosion," VTsIOM Director Valerii Fedorov told "Novye izvestiya" on 4 August that his polling data show that two-thirds of respondents do not plan to demonstrate, regardless of the level of economic inequality. However, an unidentified government source told Interfax on 4 August that the government is concerned about the stratification of the population. JAC
YUKOS TO SELL ROSPAN STAKE TO PAY DOWN TAX DEBT
Justice Ministry bailiffs told Yukos on 4 August that the ministry will not prevent the company from using its current accounts to do business, Interfax and other Russian media reported. "The Justice Ministry said that from now no money will be removed and the company can use its accounts to finance current operations," an unnamed Yukos source said. Yukos announced the same day that it will sell its 56 percent stake in the Rospan natural-gas producer to TNK-BP, Prime-TASS and other media reported. Yukos intends to use the $357 million from the sale to pay part of its tax arrears. Interfax, however, reported the same day that the government so far has refused to confirm that the sale is legal, prompting concerns that the Justice Ministry will block it. According to Interfax, Yukos has thus far paid about 20 billion rubles ($667 million) of the 99.4 billion that it owes. RC
STATE SETS MINIMUM BID FOR LUKOIL STAKE
The government will start the bidding for its 7.59 percent stake in LUKoil at $1.26 billion, dpa reported on 4 August. Experts cited by the agency estimate that the stake is worth about $2 billion. U.S. oil major ConocoPhillips is regarded as a likely purchaser of the stake. President Vladimir Putin met with ConocoPhillips President and CEO James Mulva and LUKoil President Vagit Alekperov on 22 July, one day after the government authorized the sale of the LUKoil stake (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 July 2004). "The sale of this stake will show that Russia is still open for business, despite the so-called Yukos affair," UFG Asset Management executive Florian Fenner told "The Moscow Times" on 5 August. RC
WEEKLY ANALYZES SIGNIFICANCE OF SECHIN'S APPOINTMENT IN ROSNEFT
The recent selection of deputy presidential administration head Igor Sechin as board chairman of Rosneft is a clear sign that the Kremlin intends to take the assets of oil giant Yukos under its control, "Kommersant-Vlast," No. 30, suggested (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 4 August 2004). "The appearance of Sechin at Rosneft testifies to his intention to take on management rights over the de facto expropriated (judging from the prices at which bailiffs are prepared to sell [Yukos subsidiary] Yuganskneftegaz -- Western experts value the company's reserves at $30.4 billion but it will be put up for auction for $1.75 billion) assets of the deceased Yukos," the weekly commented. The magazine decried "the process of converting proximity to the president into proximity to property." "Kommersant-Vlast" also noted Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov's recent call for a "business-state partnership" in order to achieve rapid economic development. "Whether this system will be more like a partnership or state racketeering is an open question," the magazine commented. RC
LEGISLATORS HEAD EN MASSE TO OLYMPIC GAMES
About 50 Russian Duma and Federation Council members are expected to attend the Summer Olympic Games in Athens from 11-29 August, "Izvestiya" reported on 5 August. Four deputies -- Nikolai Kharitonov (Communist), Artur Chilingarov (Unified Russia), Sergei Popov (Unified Russia), and Valerii Kuzin (Unified Russia) -- will attend in their official capacity at state expense, the daily reported. Asked why no Federation Council members will be attending at state expense, an unnamed council member laughed and told the daily that members preferred to buy their own luxury tour packages. A spokeswoman for the MIBS travel agency -- the official Russian agent for the games -- told the daily that many deputies have purchased packages for the event, even though the agency's least expensive package starts at 3,500 euros ($4,200), not including airfare or tickets to events. MIBS packages for the entire period of the games range from 10,000 to 26,000 euros (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 April 2004). RC
MEDIA ADVOCATE SAYS STATE POSES MAIN THREAT TO FREEDOM OF THE PRESS
Russian Union of Journalists Secretary-General Igor Yakovenko called into question on 4 August the motives behind a recent Duma initiative purportedly aimed at boosting the independence of the mass media, Ekho Moskvy reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2004). Yakovenko said that if the state is really concerned about media independence, it must "radically change its policy" because "the federal authorities pose the main threat to the media's independence." He noted that the practice of blaming journalists for problems has increased, citing accusations that the media provoked the recent banking crisis and that the media have unfairly covered the recent controversy over the government's plan to convert most in-kind social benefits to cash payments. If such practices continue, Yakovenko said, "then at some point one will be able to read about media independence only in alternative history textbooks." RC
BENEFITS-REFORM BILL PASSES THROUGH LOWER HOUSE
The Duma on 5 August approved in its third and final reading a controversial government-drafted bill that would convert most in-kind social benefits into cash payments, RIA-Novosti reported. The vote was 309 in favor and 118 against. The bill now goes to the Federation Council for consideration. RC
ANALYST: KREMLIN ERRING IN EXERCISE OF POWER
Commentator Yuliya Latynina wrote in "Novaya gazeta," No. 55, and "The Moscow Times" on 4 August, that the presidential administration has made at least three serious mistakes in the last six months. The first was firing former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and replacing him with Prime Minister Fradkov, who, she said, has no "political heft." Because of this, she continues, Fradkov cannot be turned into a scapegoat as easily as Kasyanov was. The second mistake was the bill converting most social benefits into cash payments. Latynina argues that the bill is necessary, but that not canceling benefits for state employees at the same time was a public-relations disaster, particularly when one of the architects of the measure, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, recently held a very lavish wedding (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 13 May and 28 July 2004). The third mistake, she added, was going after Yukos. Latynina points out that there were plenty of other "fruit ripe for the picking," such as Gazprom, Rosneft, and Alrosa. But Putin's entourage fixated on "bananas that had already been packed in crates and earmarked for foreign buyers." Latynina doesn't predict specifically what these mistakes will bring, but she notes that "mistakes, not acts of cruelty, bring down regimes." JAC
POLICE SEARCH OLIMPIISKII BANK IN FRAUD PROBE
The Interior Ministry has launched a fraud investigation of Olimpiiskii Bank on accusations that it bilked rival BIN Bank of 600 million rubles ($20 million) worth of shares in the state-controlled oil-pipeline network Transneft, Interfax and other Russian media reported on 4 August. The Association of Russian Banks reported that prosecutors searched Olimpiiskii Bank's Moscow offices on 4 August. Interfax cited an Olimpiiskii official as saying that the investigation involved alleged wrongdoing on the part of one bank manager and that the bank is doing everything to cooperate with the authorities. "Vremya novostei" on 5 August identified the manager under investigation as Sergei Drozdov. RC
COMMUNIST SPLINTER GROUP TO START NEW PARTY...
Following the Justice Ministry's rejection of their bid to control the Communist Party, the former Communist Party members who held an alternative party congress on 3 July are planning to form their own party with a new name, RosBalt reported on 4 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). Sergei Potapov, deputy chairman of the splinter group's Central Committee and a State Duma deputy, told reporters in Moscow that the new party will likely be called the Leninist Communist Party. According to Potapov, there are some 350,000 former members of the Communist Party who are opposed the Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov. State Duma Deputy Tatyana Astrakhina said that Zyuganov has turned the party into a bourgeois party. Potapov and Astrakhina also condemned plans by the Communist Party and Motherland factions in the State Duma to form a coordination council. Potapov charged that the Kremlin united the two groups so that it would control all leftist opposition movements by gathering them under one roof. JAC
...AS COMMUNIST, MOTHERLAND FACTIONS TO COORDINATE EFFORTS IN DUMA
Motherland faction leader Dmitrii Rogozin announced on 2 August a plan to form a coordination council with the Communist faction. According to "Kommersant-Daily" the next day, the Communist faction has reacted positively to the proposed alliance although it considers Motherland a "Kremlin creation." The daily speculated that it is not hard to imagine that Rogozin proposed the alliance with the Kremlin's knowledge. The two factions are not remotely big enough to counter the 300-plus members of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia faction, and Motherland will gain an opportunity to demonstrate that it can speak out against the authorities. The Kremlin, meanwhile, gains the possibility of creating a more manageable left-wing opposition group, the daily concluded. JAC
MURMANSK LEGISLATORS REWARDING THEMSELVES FOR A JOB WELL DONE?
"Rodnaya gazeta," No. 29, reported that legislators and bureaucrats in Murmansk Oblast earn several times more per year than the average annual salary in the region. Local legislators gave themselves a substantial raise at the beginning of the current legislative season. The governor and the legislative chairman, who were earning 52,880 rubles ($1,812) a month, now get 128,003 rubles. The salaries for the first deputy governor and deputy legislative chairman were raised from 46,270 rubles to 111,359 rubles. Oblast legislature deputies' salaries went up from 33,000 rubles to 83,100 rubles. When asked to explain the raise, one legislator, Vasilii Kalaida, explained "I frequently don't leave my office until 2 a.m." According to the weekly, two deputies were outraged by the hikes, calling them immoral, and left the hall in protest, while another two voted against, but the measure passed with 14 in favor. The average wage for a state-sector worker in the oblast is 8,000 rubles a month, and pensioners receive 1,200 rubles. JAC
NEW DEPUTY SECURITY COUNCIL SECRETARY SELECTED
President Putin has appointed Lieutenant-General Anatolii Krivolapov as deputy secretary of the Security Council, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported on 4 August. Most recently, Krivolapov served as state secretary and deputy general director of the Federal Agency for Control Systems. He previously oversaw Russian peacekeepers in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Defense Ministry's office at NATO headquarters in Brussels. JAC
PRO-MOSCOW CHECHEN COMMANDER AWARDED
President Putin has conferred the prestigious Hero of Russia award on Ruslan Yamadaev, the pro-Russian Chechen commander elected to represent Chechnya in the State Duma last December, Interfax reported on 4 August quoting the presidential press service. The medal was awarded in recognition of Yamadaev's "courage and heroism and risking his life in the line of duty," according to the citation. In late May, a group of unnamed Chechen ministers and local officials reportedly intended to nominate Yamadaev as a candidate for the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 June 2004), but they failed to do so. LF
CRIME REPORTEDLY RISING IN ARMENIA
Crime in Armenia grew by 4.5 percent during the first six months of 2004 compared with the corresponding period the previous year, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 4 August citing statistics from Armenian Deputy Police Chief Ararat Mahtesian. Mahtesian said the increase can be partly attributed to the adoption of a new, more lenient criminal code. He also admitted that the mass deployment of police during and in the wake of opposition demonstrations between March and June left police with less time and fewer resources to prevent and punish criminal activity. LF
COUNCIL OF EUROPE OFFICIAL CRITICIZES PLANNED KARABAKH BALLOT
Walter Schwimmer, the outgoing secretary-general of the Council of Europe (COE), said the 8 August elections to local councils in the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic cannot be regarded as legitimate, RFE/RL's Armenian service reported on 4 August citing a COE statement issued in Strasbourg the same day. He said a legitimate ballot can be held only after an international agreement is reached through negotiations on the disputed enclave's status. LF
AZERBAIJANI AUTHORITIES REJECT CRITICISM OF MEDIA SITUATION
Two leading members of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) rejected on 4 August as lacking objectivity an 18-page report released earlier that day by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that details press-freedom violations in Azerbaijan, zerkalo.az reported on 5 August. In an accompanying press release, HRW affirmed that the political crackdown in the wake of the disputed October 2003 presidential election "has had a lasting, harmful effect on press freedom in Azerbaijan." It lists recommendations to the Azerbaijani authorities, including the decriminalization of libel and slander, allowing journalists free access to government information, and releasing opposition "Yeni Musavat" editor Rauf Arifoglu. Politologist Aydin Mirzazade rejected that latter recommendation as misplaced, noting that Arifoglu is currently on trial not for his journalistic activities but for his alleged role in the 16 October clashes between police and opposition demonstators in Baku. YAP Executive Secretary Ali Akhmedov claimed that the information contained in the HRW report does not accurately reflect reality, and attributed this perceived bias to the presence of an unnamed Armenian in HRW's senior management. LF
RUSSIAN STATE DUMA OFFICIAL'S CAR COMES UNDER FIRE IN SOUTH OSSETIA
Unidentified gunmen opened fire with small arms and mortars on 4 August on a car in which Andrei Kokoshin, chairman of the Russian State Duma CIS Affairs Committee, was traveling in South Ossetia, Russian and Georgian agencies reported. The car bore the markings of the Russian peacekeeping force deployed in South Ossetia. The vehicle was subsequently halted by Georgian police and ordered to return to Tskhinvali. Kokoshin implicitly blamed Georgian forces for the incident, in which no one was injured, while Georgian Deputy State Security Minister Gigi Ugulava branded it a "provocation" and claimed that eyewitnesses say the shots were fired from the Ossetian-populated village of Sarabuk. The Georgian Interior Ministry issued an official denial that the Georgian side was responsible for the attack, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned the incident, affirming that "those who seek to plunge Georgia into a fresh conflict must be halted." LF
RUSSIA DECRIES GEORGIAN THREAT TO BLACK SEA SHIPPING
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 4 August condemning Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's harsh warning the previous day that the Georgian navy will open fire on any vessels that attempt to enter the port at Sukhum, capital of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, without obtaining prior permission to do so from the Georgian authorities, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2004). Noting that the threat extends to boats bringing Russian tourists on excursions from Sochi to Sukhum, the Russian statement warned that any actions that pose a danger to the health or lives of Russian citizens will be "resolutely rebuffed." Russian Defense Minister Sergi Ivanov, for his part, condemned Saakashvili's statement as "piracy" and "inconsistent with international law," Interfax reported. The Georgian Foreign Ministry has responded by rejecting the Russian statement as "aggressive and inappropriate," Caucasus Press reported on 5 August. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Igor Akhba said Saakashvili's statement threatens peace throughout the region, Caucasus Press reported on 5 August. LF
KAZAKH OPPOSITION BLOC SEEKS OFFICIAL REGISTRATION FOR COMING ELECTION
Two main Kazakh opposition parties submitted a formal application on 4 August seeking to be registered by the Central Election Commission as a unified electoral bloc in the September parliamentary election, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) party and the Communist Party of Kazakhstan (CPK) united to form the opposition bloc on 27 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2004). After over 20 unsuccessful attempts, the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan party was finally registered by the Central Election Commission in May (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 11 May 2004). After its founding in 2001 by several former government officials, the leadership of the DVK party was in crisis, with two leaders being jailed -- former Energy Minister Mukhtar Abliyazov and former regional Governor Ghalymzhan Zhiqiyanov -- and a third, Uraz Jondosov, defecting to form the Ak Zhol party. RG
ALLEGED HIZB UT-TAHRIR ACTIVIST SENTENCED BY KAZAKH COURT
A court in southern Kazakhstan's Shymkent District sentenced an alleged follower of the banned extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir group to two-years in prison on 4 August, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. The 20-year-old defendant was arrested in November 2003 for distributing "extremist literature" at an "unauthorized rally" outside a Kazakh mosque. RG
RUSSIAN AND TAJIK DEFENSE MINISTERS ARRIVE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and his Tajik counterpart Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev arrived in Bishkek on 4 August to observe the closing phase of military exercises in northern Kyrgyzstan, Akipress and Asia-Plus reported. The maneuvers, launched on 3 August, consist of counterinsurgency tactical training involving over 2,000 troops from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan that comprise the Collective Security Treaty Organization's (CSTO) Collective Rapid Deployment Forces. Known as Rubezh (Frontier) 2004, this is the second stage of a broader two-day exercise that began on 2 August with a command drill in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). The visiting Russian, Tajik, and Kazakh defense ministers are also scheduled to meet with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev. RG
BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION COMPLAINS ABOUT UNDER-REPRESENTATION ON ELECTION COMMISSIONS
The opposition Belarusian Popular Front (BNF) has said in a statement that the recently completed formation of district election commissions for the 17 October parliamentary elections "revealed the current Belarusian authorities' reluctance to abide by generally established democratic procedures in preparing and conducting elections," Belapan reported on 4 August. "[The authorities want] to escape from any control over the commissions' operation on the part of the politically active and democratic-minded social group," the BNF added. Central Election Commission Secretary Mikalay Lazavik revealed on 4 August that Belarusian political parties received slightly more than 7 percent of the 1,430 seats on the 110 district election commissions. In particular, the pro-government Communist Party of Belarus got 37 seats, the Liberal Democratic Party 27 seats, the opposition Belarusian Party of Communists 19 seats, the opposition United Civic Party five seats, and the BNF one seat. JM
FAMILY WANTS TO REOPEN CASE OF MISSING BELARUSIAN JOURNALIST
Volha Zavadskaya, the mother of journalist Dzmitry Zavadski, who disappeared in 2000, has petitioned the Belarusian Prosecutor-General's Office to resume the inquiry into her son's disappearance and question Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka as a witness, Belapan reported on 4 August. In her petition, Zavadskaya referred to Lukashenka's news conference on 20 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2004) when he claimed to possess evidence and documents that may help the investigation. "What surprises me is -- if the relatives [of the disappeared] are so worried -- why don't they come to me?" Lukashenka said on 20 July. "One came, a woman -- you know the reason I can't say her name. She came to me, I received her, she asked me about a certain man that I again will not name. That woman amazed me. She did so well. I talked to her for three hours. I showed her some documents. But if I make them public now, the Zavadski case will turn into an anti-case." And he added, "I would give a lot to know what happened to [Zavadski]." The disappeared journalist's wife, Svyatlana Zavadskaya, told Belapan that there is "zero chance" of having Lukashenka testify, but added that the petition could gain extra publicity for high-profile disappearances in the country. JM
'OUR UKRAINE' LEADER PROMOTES PRESIDENTIAL PROGRAM IN MOSCOW
Oleksandr Zinchenko, presidential campaign manager of Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko, was in Moscow on 4 August to challenge the Russian perception of Yushchenko as a radical nationalist, Ukraine's private ICTV television reported. Zinchenko met with Russia's Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov and members of the Russian Duma's commission for relations with Ukraine and held a news conference at the "Sobesednik" weekly's editorial office. Zinchenko's news conference at Interfax in Moscow was cancelled by the agency at short notice, a move blamed by Yushchenko on behind-the-scenes pressure by the Ukrainian presidential administration. "With Yushchenko as president, Ukraine will be a consistent partner, a pragmatic partner, a predictable partner," Zinchenko said in Moscow. "I guarantee that everything will be all right in this respect. You will not get more stable relations under any other regime." In the general perception of both Russian and Ukrainian observers, the Kremlin unofficially favors Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's presidential bid. JM
UKRAINIAN SOCIALIST PARTY LEADER URGES OFFICIAL REACTION TO GONGADZE CASE
Socialist Party leader and presidential candidate Oleksandr Moroz has called on the country's leaders to "immediately issue an official statement on the deliberate violation of the law on investigative activity" in connection with "the admission by the Prosecutor-General's Office that police officers were illegally shadowing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze," Interfax reported on 4 August. Moroz referred to leaked documents posted at delogongadze.org, which include records of the questioning of police officers who said they had been shadowing Gongadze ahead of his disappearance in September 2000. Earlier this week, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office admitted that the documents published at delogongadze.org are authentic. "All the new information about the circumstances of the crime and the complete inactivity of the authorities will be officially submitted to all the leading international organizations that follow developments in the Gongadze investigation," Moroz said in a letter to the president, prosecutor-general, and interior minister. JM
SERBIAN MINISTER DENIES REPORTS OF NEGOTIATIONS WITH TOP WAR CRIMES INDICTEE
Serbia and Montenegro's Minister for Human Rights and Minority Rights Rasim Ljajic, who also chairs the National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, told the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" of 5 August that the government is not negotiating directly or indirectly with former Bosnian Serb commander General Ratko Mladic, despite repeated but unconfirmed media reports that the government is trying to persuade him to turn himself in voluntarily to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, where he is one of the most wanted indictees (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 22, and 30 July 2004). Ljajic added that the government does not know where Mladic is. The minister noted nonetheless that his country faces intensified pressure -- which he termed "silent sanctions" -- unless it cooperates with the tribunal. PM
INVESTIGATION BEGINS OF ALLEGED FRAME-UP OF BOSNIAN CROAT GENERAL
Croatian officials launched an investigation on 4 August to determine whether there was a deliberate effort -- and, if so, by whom -- in the 1990s to hide from the Hague-based war crimes tribunal documents that would prove the innocence of former Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic in connection with charges stemming from the killing of about 100 Muslims in the central Bosnian village of Ahmici in 1993, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). Friends of Blaskic have long suspected that the leadership under late President Franjo Tudjman sought to frame Blaskic, who was not part of Croatian nationalist inner circles, in order to deflect the tribunal's attention from possible guilty parties in high places. Blaskic recently returned to Kiseljak in central Bosnia following his early release from the tribunal's prison. The Rijeka daily "Novi List" reported on 5 August, however, that the survivors in Ahmici want Blaskic to drop his plan to visit the village, calling the idea a provocation. PM
TRIBUNAL SHELVES PLANS TO FREE SIX HERZEGOVINIANS
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal "suspended" on 4 August its recent decision to allow six prominent Herzegovinian Croat indictees to return home until their trial begins, following objections from the prosecution, the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 August 2004). The tribunal will reconsider its original decision in September, after summer recess. PM
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO GET NEW NATIONAL ANTHEM -- IN TIME FOR OLYMPICS
The parliament of Serbia and Montenegro agreed on 4 August to hold a special session on 11 August to adopt a new national anthem, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The new hymn will contain verses from both the Serbian patriotic song "Boze pravde" and the Montenegrin anthem "Oj, svijetla majska zoro" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 February 2003). Because of repeated failures in recent years to agree on a new anthem, Serbia and Montenegro continues to use the former Yugoslav national hymn "Hej, Sloveni," which is regularly greeted by boos and catcalls from fans, who consider it anachronistic. The legislators agreed to take quick action on the new national anthem to avoid the potentially embarrassing spectacle of fans booing their own country's anthem at the upcoming Athens Olympic Games. PM
LABOR TENSIONS EASE IN MONTENEGRO
Workers from the Radoje Dakic factory in Podgorica agreed on 4 August to end their street-blocking protests, which had recently led to a violent incident with police, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2004). The workers will resume negotiations with the government over back pay. PM
INEFFECTIVE COURTS AND CORRUPTION REMAIN PROBLEMS IN MACEDONIA
Summing up the EU's Proxima police mission to Macedonia's first six months of work, Proxima head Bart D'Hooge said in Skopje on 4 August that "ineffective courts" remain a stumbling block for Macedonia's development, "Dnevnik" reported. D'Hooge said the courts' inefficiency has led to morale problems for the police, who stand by helplessly as known criminals walk away free after a brief detention because the courts fail to convict them. D'Hooge also said that corruption is still a problem within the police force, but added that a new anticorruption unit within the Interior Ministry has started working successfully. In related news, Slagjana Taseva, who heads the Macedonian section of the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International, has announced that her organization has set up regional offices in several Macedonian towns where people can report instances of corruption, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported on 4 August. UB
ROMANIA READY TO HELP MOLDOVA IF TRANSDNIESTER CUTS OFF ENERGY
Romanian Ambassador to Moldova Filip Teodorescu told Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova on 4 August that his country is ready to supply Moldova with electricity and natural gas in case Transdniester cuts off those supplies, Flux reported. Teodorescu also said Bucharest would cut any commercial ties with Transdniester-based enterprises that do not abide by Moldovan legislation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). He also said Romania would agree to extend "humanitarian aid" to the students of the schools teaching Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script that were closed down by the separatist regime. Mediafax cited Moldovan Energy Ministry sources who said there is a risk that Transdniester could cut electricity supplies to six localities on the left bank of the River Dniester that are under Moldovan jurisdiction. The sources also said the Energy Ministry is looking for alternative energy supplies after Transdniester threatened to cut off the Russian gas pipeline transiting the separatist territory. MS
MOLDOVA DENIES INTENTION TO USE FORCE AGAINST TRANSDNIESTER
The Moldovan Defense Ministry on 4 August categorically denied any possibility of using military force against Transdniester, and the Interior Ministry issued a similar statement, Infotag reported. The Defense Ministry said it is surprised by reports in foreign media of movements of Moldovan troops in the vicinity of the security zone dividing the sides since the 1993 armistice and called those reports "clear misinformation." "The ministry is hereby presenting assurances that this information is false, and this may be easily confirmed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the observers of the peacekeeping forces deployed in the region," the statement said, adding, "On the other hand, one can easily note a military hysteria on the Transdniester side, supplemented by efforts of the Transdniester administration to recreate in the region an atmosphere of instability and confrontation." MS
TRANSDNIESTRIAN WOMEN ACTIVISTS BLOCK RAILWAY IN BENDERY-TIGHINA WITH THEIR BODIES
Hundreds of ethnic Russian women activists on 4 August created live rail blocks in Bendery-Tighina, calling their action a "desperate move" against the economic sanctions imposed on Transdniester by Moldova, Infotag reported. Transdniestrian militiamen earlier blocked rail traffic between the town and Chisinau by putting concrete blocks on the tracks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2004). The women activists said they apologize for the inconvenience created to passengers, but added that they had blocked the rail link in 1992 and "we can do it again." Meanwhile, Moldovan Railways Director-General Miron Gagauz told journalists on 4 August in Tiraspol that he has failed to convince separatist officials to remove the concrete blocks from the rails, ITAR-TASS reported. MS
UKRAINIAN PREMIER CRITICIZES MOLDOVAN ECONOMIC SANCTIONS
Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said in a letter to his Moldovan counterpart Vasile Tarlev on 4 August that Moldova's decision to suspend customs certificates for Transdniestrian enterprises that are not legally registered in Moldova would make the implementation of the customs agreement between Ukraine and Moldova difficult, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. "The buildup of a large number of vehicles at border crossing points will disrupt traffic across the Transdniester territory and is fraught with unpredictable social and economic consequences," Infotag quoted Yanukovych as saying. The Ukrainian prime minister also said that while the "acts of the Transdniester administration violate European human rights and freedoms," retaliation by economic measures would result in the "further accumulation of problems and a snowballing effect," Infotag reported. He also said Ukraine cannot remain indifferent to the fate of the 200,000 ethnic Ukrainians living in Transdniester who would be affected by the Moldovan sanctions. Transdniestrian leader Igor Smirnov told Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova Petro Chalyy on 4 August that Moldova's recent economic sanctions on Transdniester are tantamount to a "total economic siege," ITAR-TASS reported. MS
INTERNATIONAL MEDIA WATCHDOG CONCERNED OVER TELERADIO MOLDOVA DEVELOPMENTS
The Vienna-based South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO), in a statement issued on 4 August, expressed its "concern" over the recent developments at Teleradio Moldova. SEEMO said it "shares the concerns of Moldovan journalists" that the banning by Teleradio Moldova's management of journalists protesting rehiring procedures, their suspension from duty, and the use of police force against peaceful protesters represent just "a further step in the government's attempt to seize control of the mass media in Moldova, after temporarily suspending the activity of several independent media outlets in Chisinau and reestablishing state newspapers." SEEMO said it "condemns" the measures taken against Teleradio Moldova employees and the use of police force and urges the Moldovan authorities "to do everything in their power to ensure transparent and nondiscriminatory staff selection procedures" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, and 4 August 2004). MS
THE MAS'UD LEGACY IN AFGHANISTAN
On 26 July, the deadline for candidates to register for Afghanistan's October presidential election, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai officially joined a field of 23 presidential hopefuls.
Karzai's candidacy was a given. Moreover, many have already suggested that he is certain to win. What surprised many Afghanistan watchers and even politicians inside Karzai's own camp was his choice for the post of first vice president.
Most observers predicted that Karzai would name the powerful United Front (aka Northern Alliance) military leader and his current first deputy, Defense Minister Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim. Fahim was not necessarily regarded as the most capable person for the job or the best representative of ethnic Tajiks, Afghanistan's second-largest ethnic group, but rather as a powerful military man who, if not included on the ticket, could create trouble for Karzai. In a conversation with RFE/RL on 20 July in Kabul, Labor and Social Affairs Minister Nur Mohammad Qarqin, who now heads Karzai's campaign, suggested that Fahim had originally been slated for the ticket out of security concerns.
But Karzai instead opted for another Tajik with a more celebrated name. He named Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, Afghanistan's ambassador to Moscow and a younger brother of slain United Front leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, as his choice for first vice president.
Ahmad Shah Mas'ud, among the most celebrated resistance leaders during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (1979-89), gained extraordinary international recognition during the Taliban rule (1994-2001) as the leader of the only military group that was not crushed. Inside Afghanistan -- and especially among Tajiks -- Ahmad Shah Mas'ud's status as an unsung hero reached its zenith when Al-Qaeda terrorists assassinated him on 9 September 2001. Today in Kabul, Ahmad Shah Mas'ud's portraits adorn not only many government buildings but also the windshields of taxis, carpets, and Afghan stamps. And Mas'ud is perhaps the only Afghan whose likeness has been put on a foreign country's stamp: France has issued a Mas'ud stamp.
By running with Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, Karzai is hoping that the glory of the Mas'ud name will win him more popular appeal -- and keep ethnic Tajiks content. However, there is another factor that the younger Mas'ud brings to Karzai's campaign that Fahim, by allying himself with Karzai in recent months, has lost: the support of the powerful leaders ("jihadi") of the former Afghan mujahedin parties. Ahmad Zia Mas'ud is a son-in-law of the former Afghan president and leader of Jami'at-e Islami-ye Afghanistan, Burhanuddin Rabbani.
The jihadi leaders, while losing some of their influence during the Taliban era and being somewhat sidelined during the last two years of the Afghan transitional period, still garner respect among the more traditional segments of Afghan society -- that is, the vast majority of the population. Moreover, jihadi leaders such as Rabbani could create problems if they are excluded from the Afghan political process.
During the resistance against the Soviets, Ahmad Shah Mas'ud was one of the commanders of Jami'at-e Islami. However, with the ouster of Rabbani's government from Kabul by the Taliban in 1996, Mas'ud became the leader of his own faction, known as Shura'-ye Nezar. People such as Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, and current presidential candidate Mohammad Yunos Qanuni are all considered to be unofficial members of Shura'-ye Nezar. These individuals, however, cannot be viewed as representing the more conservative and traditional mujahedin leadership, which Rabbani does.
Ahmad Zia Mas'ud continues the Mas'ud legacy not only in that he shares the name, but because he fought alongside his older brother. And he has the added advantage of enjoying the full support of his father-in-law.
According to some sources, Rabbani suggested that Karzai either include his son-in-law on the ticket or the younger Mas'ud would announce his own candidacy with the full support of Jami'at-e Islami and its allied jihadi parties.
With the removal of Fahim from the scene, Karzai has gained not only a better-known running mate but also the backing of a major mujahedin party. He has also given himself the chance to rid Kabul of military units loyal to Fahim in due time. Furthermore, Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik, can now rally Tajiks' support behind Karzai.
Presidential hopeful Qanuni is also banking on the Mas'ud name for success in the campaign. Qanuni reportedly enjoys the support of Fahim, Foreign Minister Abdullah, and Ahmad Zia Mas'ud's younger brother, Ahmad Wali Mas'ud, currently Afghanistan's ambassador to London.
The test lies in whether Mas'ud's legacy can withstand two brothers competing for the same recognition.
DEFENSE MINISTER TO BACK QANUNI...
Defense Minster Marshall Mohammad Qasim Fahim announced on 4 August that he would back the candidacy of former education minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni in the 9 October presidential elections, the BBC reported (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). "The announcement to back Mr. Qanuni is my personal one and support is also coming from a number of cabinet ministers," Fahim added, according to Reuters on 4 August. Fahim named Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah as one of the cabinet ministers expected to back Qanuni. According to Fahim, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai does not enjoy the support of former mujahedin groups. On 26 July, Karzai unexpectedly dropped Fahim as his choice for first vice presidential candidate in favor of Ahmad Zia Mas'ud, brother of slain United Front (aka Northern Alliance) leader Ahmad Shah Mas'ud. The younger Mas'ud is a son-in-law of former Afghan president and leader of the powerful Jami'at-e Islami, a former mujahedin party (for more on Mas'ud, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). AT
...BUT PROMISES TO KEEP THE ELECTIONS PEACEFUL
Fahim said that he "shall not allow anybody to resort to the gun" to harm the election process, Reuters reported on 4 August. Fahim controls his own militia in Kabul and Panjsher Province, north of the capital, and was expected to have been Karzai's first running mate nominee because of his potential to disrupt the electoral process. When asked whether Karzai skipped over him in favor of Mas'ud because of pressure from the United States, the EU, and the UN, Fahim replied that the "question relates to Karzai," but he added that he has "serious respect" for the Afghan leader. AT
EMPLOYEES OF GERMAN AID GROUP KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Unidentified gunmen on 3 August shot dead two Afghan employees of a German nongovernmental organization in Paktiya Province, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. The two aid workers are identified as a field officer and the driver of the Malteser charity group working in partnership with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Reuters reported on 4 August. "We are extremely concerned about this security incident," UNHCR spokesman Mohammad Nader Farhad said, adding that Malteser had suspended its operations in the southeast of the country as a result. Malteser works with the UNHCR with some 20,000 Afghan refugees who have returned to Paktiya from neighboring Pakistan. Malteser is a German Catholic relief agency of the Order of Malta, but there is no indication that the attack was for religious reasons. AT
KABUL DAILY CALLS FOR REFORM OF THE ELECTION BODY
The Kabul daily "Arman-e Melli" called in a 4 August commentary for reform in the UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB). The commentary's main criticism is that the JEMB's leadership was selected by Karzai and the body "acts directly according to the instructions of the central government." The foreign employees of the JEMB were selected by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan which, according to "Arman-e Melli," "is not expected to act impartially," as judged by its involvement in Afghan affairs. Since Karzai is a candidate for the presidency and he also has formed the "election office and runs all government facilities for his election campaign," the commentary argues, the "elections will, by no means, be free and fair." "Arman-e Melli" recommends that "the JEMB should be fundamentally reformed as soon as possible, and the head of state should resign from his post and run his electoral campaign without benefiting from his official power and privileges." AT
RSF CONCERNED OVER INTERNET RESTRICTIONS IN IRAN
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expressed concern on 4 August at Iran's recently increased efforts to "gag the Internet," and a draft bill the group says will restrict freedom of expression on the Internet if it becomes law. RSF did not say whether the government or the conservative-led judiciary have proposed the bill. The bill threatens imprisonment for the dissemination of information deemed threatening to Iran's "internal and external security," up to 15 years if that information is sent to "foreign states [or] organizations," according to rsf.org. The bill would also punish the spread of "false information" on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and let police search Internet users' homes for incriminating evidence, without need of a court order, rsf.org added. RSF is also concerned for the well-being of Mujataba Lutfi, a theologian and former journalist detained in Qom, south of Tehran, and prosecuted last May for "spying and spreading false information." Lutfi posted an article about civic rights on naqshineh.com, a site now closed and facing prosecution for other critical content, rsf.org reported. VS
OFFICIAL SAYS IRAN HAS 'DIVERSE,' NOT NUCLEAR DEFENSE
Iranian Deputy Defense Minister Mohammad Shafi'i-Rudsari told ISNA in Tehran on 3 August that Iran has a "diverse" defense strategy without a nuclear deterrent, to meet threats from foreign powers "such as America," and "our defense capacity and power are entirely adequate for regional...threats." He did not specify how that strategy is diverse, but "nuclear weapons are basically not on our agenda in terms of deterrence, and we even consider them an obstacle to deterrence, which is why we pursue...other capabilities." Iran's strategy of diversity, he said, makes up for any inferiority in "classical" military power, and while he said it is unlikely that nuclear powers will strike Iran, "our diversified defensive capabilities will also respond to these threats," ISNA reported. Iran, he added, was once a importer, but now exports military hardware. "Arab states look upon this progress in disbelief, and...Turkey and Pakistan want our defense products, and are [interested in] participating and collaborating in production." VS
FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS IRAN INSISTS ON RIGHT TO ENRICH URANIUM
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on 4 August that Iran made "absolutely no agreement" with French, British, and German diplomats in Paris in late July on abandoning its right to enrich uranium to fuel the nuclear reactor it is building, "Aftab-i Yazd" reported on 5 August. The two sides held closed meetings on 29 and 30 July to discuss Iran's recent moves, of concern to Western powers, to renew uranium-enrichment-related activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 and 3 August 2004). "Talks in this regard will continue with European states, the [International Atomic Energy] Agency [IAEA] and nonaligned states," he said, but "we will not allow certain people to violate our rights," "Aftab-i Yazd" reported. The United States suspects Iran wants to make nuclear bombs and has threatened to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed. Kharrazi said Iran must "wait and see what will happen at the September meeting" of the IAEA, but "not permit...the dossier to be sent to the Security Council," the daily reported. VS
IRAQ, IRAN TRADE DEMANDS AND CHARGES
Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Sha'lan al-Khuza'i has urged Iran to return "right now" 130 planes he said Iraq's former regime sent to Iran for safekeeping before the 1991 Gulf War, AFP reported on 4 August, citing an interview with Kuwait's "Al-Anbaa." Iraqi officials had previously said 145 planes were left in Iran, and Iran says it has 22, which it will hand over if asked by the United Nations, AFP added. Al-Khuza'i has already accused Iran of meddling in Iraqi affairs, though other Iraqi officials have distanced their government from his comments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July, 2 and 4 August 2004). Separately, "elements supervised by" the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an Iraq-based Iranian opposition group, are reportedly smuggling arms into Iran, "with the support of" al-Khuza'i, Fars news agency reported on 4 August, citing a report by Al-Alam, Iran's Arabic-language television. The evidence, farsnews.com added, is that Iranian border guards confiscated a "container" full of weapons on 30 July in the Hur al-Huwaiza district by the Iraqi frontier, adding that former members of Iraq's Ba'ath Party are involved in the smuggling. VS
CAR BOMB DETONATES OUTSIDE IRAQI POLICE STATION
A car bomb detonated on 5 August outside an Iraqi police station in Mahawil, located approximately 75 kilometers south of Baghdad, international media reported. The attack killed at least five people, and wounded 21, Reuters reported, citing a Health Ministry official. Meanwhile, Iraqi police and national guardsmen battled militants loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Al-Najaf on 5 August. Reuters reported that U.S. Marines fighting alongside Iraqi forces had called in helicopters for support. The fighting reportedly erupted after the militants attacked an Iraqi police station overnight. Al-Najaf Governor Adnan al-Zurufi told Al-Jazeera on 4 August that the situation in the holy city had stabilized after militants kidnapped six policemen in recent days. Five of them were released on 4 August, with a sixth still held by al-Sadr militiamen. The governor vowed to take action against the militants unless they released the policeman, saying: "We will take legal measures. We are a state and we have law and police...there will be legal measures against whoever kidnaps a policeman." KR
IRAQI POLICE BATTLE MILITANTS IN MOSUL
Fierce fighting erupted on the streets of Mosul on 4 August, with Iraqi police battling militants for several hours in neighborhoods across the city, international media reported. The fighting apparently broke out spontaneously. An Al-Arabiyah correspondent said that masked gunmen were seen on the streets of the city with rocket-propelled-grenade launchers and light weapons. Ninawah Governor Durayd Muhammad Kashmula told Al-Jazeera that the militants' identity was not known. He added that Iraqi police imposed a curfew on the city and sealed off the entrances to five bridges that span the Tigris River in order to prevent the militants from escaping. Iraqi National Guard troops assisted the Iraqi police in the fighting, but U.S. troops remained at their positions on the outskirts of Mosul, Kashmula said. It is unclear whether Kashmula is related to the previous Ninawah governor, Usama Yousif Kashmula, who was killed by militants on 14 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004). Al-Arabiyah reported 12 civilian deaths, and 38 injured. The satellite news channel further reported that Khalid Krekar, the brother of Ansar Al-Islam leader Mullah Krekar, was killed during the clashes. Krekar's death has not been independently verified. KR
U.S. ANNOUNCES POLICY STATEMENT ON TERRORISM...
U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a 4 August press briefing that Iraq coalition members have agreed to make no concessions to terrorists or succumb to terrorist threats (see http://www.state.gov). Boucher said the statement is a response to the surge in kidnappings by militant groups across Iraq, and threats against coalition countries (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 30 July 2004). "We understand that conceding to terrorists will only endanger all members of the multinational force, as well as other countries, who are contributing to Iraq reconstruction and humanitarian assistance," Boucher said. He told the media to expect similar policy statements by coalition member states in the coming days. Asked if there was a general consensus among nations operating in Iraq that they would "stay the course," Boucher alluded that to be the case, but added, "As we've explained before, there's always rotations within the coalition and rotations of forces and things like that we work out together." KR
...BUT ARE ALL COALITION STATES ON BOARD?
When pressed on whether all 32 coalition member states are committed to not conceding to kidnappers' demands, State Department spokesman Boucher said: "In general terms, this is the policy.... The multinational force in Iraq is not a formal organization like NATO or the OSCE. It doesn't issue joint communiques and things like that. So many will adopt this language, many will express it in their own ways. But the fundamental policy of making concessions to terrorists and maintaining their resolve I think is something that all members agree upon." Asked which coalition members had thus far voiced its support for the policy, Boucher named Kazakhstan. He added that the policy announcement came at the suggestion of the Bulgarians. Asked about the safety of noncoalition nationals, like Indians and Pakistanis who work in Iraq, Boucher said that their safety cannot be guaranteed, just as the coalition cannot offer protection to all Iraqi citizens. He said that much can be done, however, to create a more secure environment in Iraq. KR
WEEKLY REPORTS 14,000 KURDISH FAMILIES HAVE RETURNED TO KIRKUK
The Kurdish weekly "Hawlati" reported on 4 August that 14,000 Kurdish families have returned to the city of Kirkuk and the surrounding areas since the fall of the Hussein regime in April 2003. The weekly also reported that some 3,400 Arab families have left the city and returned to southern Iraq. The governor's deputy for settlement and compensation matters, Hasib Rozhbayani, told "Hawlati" that 3,332 Arab families left Kirkuk, many of them selling their houses. He claimed that many Kurds displaced from the city under the Hussein regime's Arabization program have been able to reclaim their land in the city. KR