AGENCY ASKS MINISTRY TO UNFREEZE YUKOS ASSETS...
Sergei Oganesyan, the director of the Federal Energy Agency, said at a 11 August press conference that his agency has asked the government to unblock frozen assets of the oil giant Yukos at least temporarily "to allow the company to continue normal work at least this month," polit.ru reported. Oganesyan said that his agency is afraid that Yukos might halt its oil exports due to a shortage of funds. According to NTV, Yukos announced on 11 August on its website (http://www.yukos.ru) that on 6 August it was informed by one of its creditors that the company had defaulted on a $1.6 billion export loan. On 11 August, Yukos shares fell by 14 percent on the Moscow stock market. VY
...AS ANALYST SAYS THAT YUKOS UNCERTAINTY IS BRINGING HUGE PROFITS FOR SPECULATORS...
Financial markets analyst Kirill Tremasov told TV-Tsentr on 11 August that the frequent alternation of "good" and "bad" news on Yukos (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004) is bringing enormous profits to speculators, some of whom might be benefiting from insider trading. "In all of my business experience, I can not remember such a flip-flop of information...with a few people earning hundreds of millions of dollars a day," he said. Tremasov added that in Russia there is no clear-cut law banning insider trading, as there is in the United States. Tremasov said that in particular it is government officials who are responsible for releasing information concerning Yukos's status. VY
...AND MINISTER SAYS YUKOS INCREASES OIL OUTPUT
Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko told President Vladimir Putin during a Kremlin meeting that Russian oil companies will increase their oil production this year by 30 million tons (210 million barrels), RTR and ORT reported. The Industry and Energy Ministry announced on 2 August that oil output reached a record post-Soviet high of 9.3 million barrels per day in July, "The Moscow Times" reported. Khristenko said that the companies that extract the most oil -- Yukos, LUKoil, Surgutneftegaz, and Rosneft -- will increase their production. Russia is also continuing to develop its pipeline infrastructure, in particular the Baltic Pipeline System as well as a planned pipeline from East Siberia to Russia's Far East port of Nakhodka, Khristenko said. VY
PUTIN URGES GOVERNMENT TO PUBLICIZE ITS ACHIEVEMENTS...
President Putin on 11 August met in the Kremlin with Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukhov and urged government ministers to publicize "objective figures" about their achievements over the last few years, RIA-Novosti reported. "I believe that this would be eye-opening for our citizens," Putin said. Zhukov reportedly concurred, saying that such information has not been released in recent years. "It is important to show everyone the dynamics of the indicators," Zhukov said. "People need to know how life has changed in recent years." "Such objective indicators have been formulated and they will be presented," Zhukov pledged. Putin also criticized the government's administrative reforms over the last few months, ITAR-TASS reported. "It is not quite clear to the people how important it is to dismiss 20 officials in one place and 30 in another, while increasing their number at another agency by 100," Putin said. RC
...AS MINISTERS DEBATE CONCEPT OF OBJECTIVE PERFORMANCE INDICATORS
"Vedomosti" reported on 6 August that Zhukov has developed a set of 58 indicators by which the performance of ministries can be tracked. The Health Ministry and the Economic Development and Trade Ministry, for example, would be jointly responsible for reducing the share of the population living below the poverty line to 12 percent by 2006. The daily reported, however, that several ministries have declined to accept responsibility for the indicators assigned to them. The Economic Development and Trade Ministry has refused to answer for GDP growth. "GDP growth and industrial production involve a huge number of factors, few of which we influence," Deputy Economic Development and Trade Minister Andrei Sharonov said. The ministry has also declined responsibility for reducing poverty. The Finance Ministry has reportedly refused to accept responsibility for how other ministries allocate their budgetary funds. Igor Nikolaev, an analyst with the FBK consulting firm who is following the work of Zhukov's commission, told the daily that the remuneration of ministers should be tied to the indicators of their ministries. RC
ZHIRINOVSKII TAUNTS TBILISI WITH TRIP TO ABKHAZIA
State Duma Deputy Speaker and Leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) Vladimir Zhirinovskii arrived in the port of Sukhum, capital of the unrecognized Georgian Republic of Abkhazia, on 11 August on board a Russian boat and accompanied by 40 Duma deputies and a group of Russian tourists, RTR, ORT, and NTV reported. He was met on the shore by Abkhaz Vice President Valerii Arshba, Prime Minister Raul Khadjimba, and local residents chanting pro-Russian slogans. Speaking to journalists, Zhirinovskii said that the trip is a warning to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who recently said that Russian tourists planning to vacation in Abkhazia are in a conflict zone and could be caught in crossfire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2004). Zhirinovskii added that he and his colleagues had arrived in Sukhum to spend their vacation and that Russia should think about the speedy "integration of Abkhazia." RTR commented that Zhirinovskii's political temperament and provocative manners were very similar to Saakashvili's. VY
FOUNDATION HEAD, NEWSPAPER ATTACK GEORGIAN PRESIDENT
Vyacheslav Nikonov, the head of the Politika foundation, told TV-Tsentr on 10 August that President Saakashvili is behaving like a revolutionary in the negative sense of the word and a man who is trying to change the existing order through violence. But Saakashvili should understand, Nikonov said, that eventually he might have to use force and that the "potential of the Russian Army is incomparable [in strength] with that [of the army] commanded by the Georgian president." If before the Russian public was indifferent to the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, now most Russians are ready to recognize the independence of Abkhazia or believe it should be incorporated into Russia, Nikonov said. Meanwhile, an article in "Komsomolskaya pravda" on 11 August commented that the claims of Georgian Conflict Resolution Minister Giorgi Khaindrava that the recent inflammatory statements of Saakashvili toward Russia were mistranslated are simply an attempt to save face (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2004). The problem was not in the Georgian language but in Saakashvili's vocabulary, "Komsomolskaya pravda" commented. "If he continues in this way, he will need a whole agency to interpret his speeches," the newspaper concluded. VY
STATE CONFIRMS CONTROL OVER ORT
President Putin has recently signed a decree according to which some 1,000 "strategic" enterprises, including the national television channel ORT, cannot be privatized without the president's consent, "Argumenty i fakty," No.32, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). The state owns 51 percent of ORT's shares. These shares are divided between the Property Ministry (38.9 percent), ITAR-TASS (9.1 percent), and the Television Technical Center (3 percent). The remaining 49 percent, including those formerly owned by the self-exiled magnate Boris Berezovskii, now belong to pro-Kremlin oligarch and Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich. Abramovich shares are managed in the state's interest by ORT General Director Konstantin Ernst. On 28 July, RIA-Novosti reported that Economic Development and Trade Ministry privatization official Yevgenii Ditrikh had said that the government has not included any state media outlets in its 2005 privatization plan and that "no decision has been made" regarding their privitazation in the future. VY
ELECTION COMMISSION TO PROPOSE RESTORING 5 PERCENT HURDLE FOR PARTY-LIST DUMA SEATS...
The Central Election Commission (TsIK) has prepared a package of proposed election-law reforms for submission to the State Duma, TsIK Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told journalists on 11 August, newsru.com, "Rossiiskaya gazeta," and other Russian media reported. Veshnyakov said the TsIK is particularly concerned about regulating the formation of the Duma. The TsIK will propose that the barrier for parties entering into the Duma be lowered back to 5 percent from 7 percent. The barrier was 5 percent in Duma elections up to December 2003, but will be 7 percent for the December 2007 elections, according to the election law passed in December 2002. Veshnyakov said that with a 7 percent barrier it is possible that only Unified Russia will garner sufficient votes to gain seats in the legislature. Both the Communist Party and the Motherland bloc, which secured more than 7 percent of the vote in 2003, have undergone serious schisms since the last elections and might not be able to surpass the higher hurdle, the website reported. Moscow State University elections expert Dmitrii Badovskii told the website that the move to lower the barrier attests to the Kremlin's desire to make sure that Motherland makes it into the next Duma. RC
...AND CALLS FOR POSTPONING LEGISLATIVE ELECTIONS IN CHECHNYA
TsIK Chairman Veshnyakov also said on 11 August that he believes legislative elections in Chechnya should be held in March, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 12 August. The elections are currently scheduled for this fall, but because of the 9 May assassination of pro-Kremlin Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov and the need to hold an extraordinary election to replace him, the TsIK will ask President Putin to put off the legislative polls. RC
KREDITTRAST BANK DECLARED BANKRUPT
The Moscow Arbitration Court on 11 August declared Kredittrast bank bankrupt and appointed Valerii Torulev as its receiver, "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on 12 August. The daily reported that Kredittrast, which was one of Russia's 100 largest banks, was controlled by Moscow businessman Aleksandr Slesarev, who also controlled Sodbiznesbank. Sodbiznesbank had its license revoked in May on suspicion of money laundering (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 29 July 2004). Now that Kredittrast has been declared bankrupt, its individual depositors are eligible to receive up to 100,000 rubles ($3,300) from the Central Bank under the country's new deposit-insurance program, the daily reported. RC
FIRST CASE OF RACIALLY MOTIVATED MURDER GOES TO COURT
The first-ever trial in Russia on charges of ethnically motivated murder began in Voronezh on 12 August, Interfax reported, citing Voronezh Oblast Judge Nikolai Nikolaenko. Three local men aged 16 to 22 are charged with the 21 February murder of Amar Lima, an African student (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February and 7 April 2004). Two of the three are believed to be members of the nationalist organization Russian National Unity, which has long been particularly active in Voronezh Oblast. An unnamed source at the oblast prosecutor's office told the news agency that "racist literature" was found during searches of the residences of the three suspects. If convicted, the three men could be sentenced to life in prison. RC
POPULAR SINGER CONVICTED OF OFFENDING JOURNALIST...
A court in Rostov Oblast fined popular singer Filipp Kirkorov 60,000 rubles ($2,000) on 11 August for publicly offending Rostov-na-Donu journalist Irina Aroyan at a May press conference (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 18 June 2004), newsru.com and other Russian media reported on 12 August. Judge Irina Vladimirova said Kirkorov "intentionally and cynically offended" Aroyan and "exceeded the bounds of accepted and established rules of public behavior." At the press conference, which was broadcast on television and posted widely on the Internet, Kirkorov insulted Aroyan's professionalism, poked fun at her southern accent, mocked her pink sweater, and made sexually suggestive remarks. The incident set off a national wave of protest with many media outlets banning Kirkorov's work. "Izvestiya" wrote on 12 August that some local reporters showed their solidarity with Aroyan by attending the court hearing in pink sweaters. RC
...AND OFFENDS ANOTHER ON THE WAY OUT OF COURT
"Izvestiya" reported on 12 August that it will file suit against Kirkorov for allegedly offending its correspondent, Anton Pomeshchikov, immediately after the 11 August court hearing in Rostov-na-Donu. According to the daily, Pomeshchikov asked Kirkorov to comment on the court's ruling and the singer responded with a profanity. The daily intends to sue Kirkorov for insulting the honor and dignity of its correspondent. RC
ARMENIAN OFFICIALS RULES OUT ANY CHANGE TO CONSTITUTIONAL LIMITS ON PRESIDENTIAL TERM
Armenian parliamentary deputy speaker Tigran Torosian dismissed on 11 August any suggestion that the authorities might seek to extend President Robert Kocharian's tenure in office, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Torosian, a senior member of the ruling Republican Party (HHK), further explained that "there are no such plans" to amend the constitutional prohibition preventing a president from seeking a third five-year term. Kocharian's current, second term ends in 2008. A measure has been proposed recently to extend parliamentary electoral terms from four to five years, however. Torosian's statement followed the release of the government's new set of proposed constitutional amendments, revised after their initial defeat in a May 2003 national referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 May 2003). The proposals are to be submitted to the parliament for ratification and then voted on in another national referendum planned for July 2005. Prior to any referendum, the draft constitutional amendments will first be reviewed by the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, a body empowered to monitor legal reforms in Armenia. RG
TRIAL OF MILITANT AZERBAIJANI GROUP'S LEADERS OPENS IN BAKU
Azerbaijani Judge Famil Nasibov opened the trial of six senior members of the militant Karabakh Liberation Organization (QAT) in Baku on 11 August, Turan and Baku Today reported. The leader of the group, Akif Nagi, his deputy Firudin Mamedov, and four senior group members are charged with offenses stemming from an "illegal demonstration" on 22 June. That incident involved a demonstration by more than 100 QAT activists protesting the attendance of Armenian military officers at a NATO conference in Baku that culminated in the storming of the hotel hosting the conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). Nagi and four of his associates were previously convicted of other charges related to the incident and sentenced to a two-month prison sentence in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 June 2004). The QAT advocates a military solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and has repeatedly demanded a resumption of hostilities against Armenia. RG
DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS GEORGIA IS 'PLEASED' WITH TALKS IN MOSCOW...
Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze declared on 11 August that Georgian "is pleased" with recent talks with Russian officials in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported. Baramidze added that after two days of discussions, both sides have achieved "a great step forward...toward strengthening relations and predictability in relations between Moscow and Tbilisi." He added on 11 August that an agreement was reached calling for the withdrawal of all armed groups other than legitimate peacekeeping troops from the conflict area between South Ossetia and Georgia proper, Interfax reported. RG
...AND CITES NEW BILATERAL MILITARY-COOPERATION AGREEMENT
The Georgian and Russian defense ministers formally signed a new joint agreement on 11 August on technical military cooperation, according to ITAR TASS and Rustavi-2. According to Russian Armed Forces General Staff chief Colonel General Yurii Baluevskii, the agreement calls for the transfer of Russian military installations that "are of no interest to us and are not used to ensure the work of Russian military bases in Georgia," ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement also calls for the expansion of training offered to Georgian military personnel at Russian military academies and facilities. RG
TURKISH PRIME MINISTER ARRIVES IN TBILISI
A delegation of Turkish officials led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Georgia on 11 August for a two-day visit, the Caucasus Press and Imedi-TV reported. The Turkish delegation, which includes government ministers and more than 100 businessmen, is seeking to negotiate the expansion of border crossing points between the two countries and is reportedly interested in specific investment opportunities in Georgia, with a special focus on the planned construction of a network of high-voltage electrical transmission lines, the joint modernization of the Batumi airport and a highway through the port city of Batumi, according to Caucasus Press. Erdogan also met with Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili, and President Mikheil Saakashvili before formally opening a Georgian-Turkish business and investment forum in the Georgian capital. The Georgian president and Turkish prime minister also discussed the resumption of construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and the status of the ongoing project to develop the Kars-Tbilisi railway. The Turkish delegation was expected to visit Batumi on 12 August to review the Turkish-financed modernization of the port facilities and to inspect several local hotels that are about to be privatized. RG
SOUTH OSSETIAN AND GEORGIAN CAPITALS SUFFER ENERGY BLACKOUT
Despite the halt in clashes on 11 August between Georgian and South Ossetian forces that included a six-hour exchange of mortar and small-arms fire (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004), the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali suffered a complete energy blackout for 12 hours on 11 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The blackout, attributed to four high-voltage power lines that were damaged in the clashes, soon triggered an electrical-network failure that left the Georgian capital Tbilisi completely without power for most of the day. RG
KAZAKH COMMUNISTS AT ODDS OVER BLOC
The Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan announced at an 11 August news conference in Almaty that it is asking the Central Election Commission to cancel the registration of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan's (DVK) electoral bloc, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The Communist People's Party objects to the bloc's calling itself the "union of communists and the DVK." "Kazakhstan Today" quoted Communist People's Party spokesperson Tulesh Kenzhin as saying, "Two communist parties are active in Kazakhstan today. Despite this, the [Central] Election Commission has gone against common sense and registered an electoral bloc called the 'opposition people's union of communists and DVK.'" Kenzhin accused the union of "misleading voters" and called it a violation of an existing charter on fair electoral practices. The Communist People's Party, which received its official registration on 21 June, is a splinter party of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. DK
KYRGYZ SECURITY SERVICE BUSTS ILLEGAL MIGRATION NETWORK
The National Security Service (SNB) has broken up a ring that helped illegal migrants to make their way from Bangladesh to Europe via Kyrgyzstan, Kyrgyzinfo reported on 11 August citing the SNB press center. The SNB arrested 32 Bangladeshi citizens who arrived in Kyrgyzstan illegally. According to the SNB, the network is based in a travel agency in Bangladesh and operates in several Central Asian countries. Migrants paid $1,500-$2,000 for transit to Bishkek, and larger sums to continue through Kazakhstan and Russia to Europe, akipress.org reported. Deportation proceedings are underway for the Bangladeshi detainees. DK
CASE OF DRUG-AGENCY HEAD CONTINUES TO MAKE WAVES
There have been new developments in the case of Ghaffor Mirzoev, the former head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, who was arrested on 6 August on charges ranging from illegal weapons possession to murder. Mirzoev is alleged to have murdered an Interior Ministry official in 1998. But Asia Plus-Blitz reported on 11 August that an investigation by the Military Prosecutor's Office into the death concluded that it was a suicide. Also on the legal front, Russian lawyer Vladimir Golubev told Asia Plus on 11 August that he plans to defend Mirzoev. Golubev told the news agency that he has already met with the prosecutor-general, but has not yet been allowed to meet with his prospective client. Sulton Quvvatov, the leader of the unregistered Taraqqiyot opposition party, told Asia Plus that the weapons Mirzoev is accused of illegally stockpiling were originally gathered seven years ago to ward off a possible attack in Tajikistan's Kulob region by the Afghan Taliban. Finally, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting noted on 11 August, "In our story published on 10 August entitled "Tajikistan: 'Coup Plot' Arrest," we led on reports of a possible coup attempt, based on remarks attributed to the chief prosecutor of Tajikistan. We have since learned that the prosecutor was misquoted" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004). DK
TAJIK PRESIDENT CRITICIZES JUDGES
President Imomali Rakhmonov unleashed a broadside against incompetent judges in remarks broadcast on Tajik TV on 11 August. He said, "The quality of court decisions is low.... As a result, such decisions are considered inadequate by higher courts. In addition, judges are grossly violating the law when issuing rulings. Civil suits are being carried out without discussion." DK
TURKMEN PRESIDENT REMOVES DEPUTY PREMIER...
President Saparmurat Niyazov issued a decree on 11 August removing Gozel Nuralieva from the positions of deputy prime minister, minister of culture and information, and editor in chief of the Russian-language newspaper "Neitralnyi Turkmenistan," turkmenistan.ru reported. According to the decree, Nuralieva was relieved at her own request for health reasons. DK
...AND PLANS ICE PALACE
Niyazov said on 11 August that he plans to have an "ice palace" replete with a funicular railway constructed near the capital city of Ashgabat, Turkmen TV reported. The report quoted the president as saying, "It will have a capacity to serve some 1,000 persons simultaneously, so that they can skate and relax there." The BBC quoted Niyazov as saying, "Our children can learn to ski. We can build cafes there and restaurants." Though the president said that the project could be finished within 14 months, he did not address the difficulty of maintaining an ice palace in a desert country with a hot climate. DK
MINSK BARS U.S. SENATORS FROM VISITING BELARUS BEFORE ELECTIONS
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has refused to issue visas to four U.S. senators, including John McCain (Republican, Arizona), who planned to visit Belarus later this month, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 11 August. "The time of the visit proposed by the American side did not satisfy us," Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh told RFE/RL. "We have proposed to reschedule the visit for a later date, namely -- after the end of election campaigns in both Belarus and the United States." "I am disappointed -- but frankly not surprised -- by the latest antidemocratic action by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of Belarus," McCain said in a statement. "Because he feared that we might criticize his totalitarian rule, Mr. Lukashenka refused us visas, rejected our visit, and denied us entry into the country." McCain is one of the most vigorous advocates of Belarus's democratization in the U.S. Congress. JM
BELARUSIAN NGOS NOTE MOUNTING PRESSURE ON OPPOSITION ELECTION CANDIDATES
The Civic Initiative Partnership (Partnyorstva) -- a bloc of registered Belarusian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) -- intends to field some 3,500 monitors for the 17 October parliamentary elections in Belarus, thus covering one-fourth of all polling stations in the country's 110 election districts, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on 11 August. "Our first conclusion [regarding the ongoing election campaign] is that pressure on the persons and organizations that have declared their participation in the elections is increasing," Partnership coordinator Mikola Astreyka said. "Both court measures -- for example, the ban on a political party -- and illegal or even violent means -- the destruction of property or threats of physical violence -- are in use." The Vyasna human right groups recently noted that only 20 out of the 318 candidacies proposed by opposition parties were included in the 110 district election commissions. The figure accounts for 2.1 percent of the commissions' total membership of 1,430. JM
OUR UKRAINE LEADER ACCUSES PREMIER OF SPYING ON HIM
Presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who leads the opposition Our Ukraine bloc, said on 11 August that Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is responsible for Yushchenko being shadowed in Crimea earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004), UNIAN reported. "It is work of this government, Yanukovych's government, to which the Interior Ministry and Interior Minister Mykola Bilokon are directly subordinated," Yushchenko said. Yushchenko was referring to the detention of an Interior Ministry officer who was clandestinely filming Yushchenko's stay in Crimea on 10 August. Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Petro Opanasenko said on a national television channel on 11 August that the detained officer was there merely to ensure Yushchenko's own safety and protect him from possible "terrorist acts." Asked by the TV presenter why Yushchenko was not informed about this extra security measure, Opanasenko replied that Yushchenko did not have to know. JM
...AND VOWS TO RETURN TO CONTROVERSIAL PRIVATIZATION OF STEEL GIANT
Yushchenko said on the private Channel 5 television in Kherson on 12 August that the Our Ukraine parliamentary caucus deems the privatization of the Kryvorizhstal steel manufacturer illegal and will return to this issue in order to punish those who violated the law in the privatization process, UNIAN reported. "The privatization of Kryvorizhstal is theft that has nothing in common with the privatization that should have been held on the principles of honest competition," Yushchenko said, adding that Kryvorizhstal's real worth is $4 billion-$5 billion. A 93.02 percent stake in Kryvorizhstal was bought for $800 million in June by a corporation led by Viktor Pinchuk, President Leonid Kuchma's son-in-law, and Donetsk-based oligarch Rynat Akhmetov, despite much higher bids from foreign companies (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 15 June 2004). JM
UKRAINIAN AUTHORITIES BLOCK PUBLICATION OF OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER
The tax authorities on 11 August froze the bank accounts of the Mega-Plus publishing house, which printed "Vechirni visti," a newspaper linked to opposition leader Yuliya Tymoshenko, UNIAN reported. Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party said in a statement that the move was made "without any explanation." The party described "the illegal acts by the tax-collecting agencies as a repressive action aimed at depriving the Ukrainian people of an opposition newspaper and taking revenge on the independent publication for its articles on crimes committed by the authorities." JM
NAFTOHAZ, GAZPROM AGREE ON PAYMENT OF UKRAINIAN GAS DEBT FOR 1997-2000
Naftohaz Ukrayiny, Ukraine's national operator of oil and gas pipelines, and the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom have signed an accord setting Ukraine's debt for Russian gas supplied in 1997-2000 at $1.25 billion and establishing a debt-repayment mechanism, Interfax reported on 12 August. Naftohaz will pay the sum to Russia's Vneshekonombank, which has been previously empowered by Gazprom to claim the debt on Naftohaz's corporate bonds. Under the accord, Gazprom will make a onetime transfer of $1.25 billion to Naftohaz as an advance payment for the transit of 19.2 billion cubic meters of Russian gas across Ukraine in 2005-09, while Naftohaz will pay this money to Vneshekonombank. JM
MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS CONTROVERSIAL REDISTRICTING LAW
Late on 11 August, the Macedonian parliament approved the controversial Law on Territorial Organization, which will cut the number of administrative districts from 123 to 80 in 2005 and to 76 in 2008, MIA news agency reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 26 July, and 6 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July 2004). The law is the centerpiece of the government's plans to decentralize the state administration by granting the local administration greater powers in the spheres of regional and financial planning, education, and health care. The decentralization was agreed upon in the 2001 Ohrid peace accord, which ended the interethnic conflict between ethnic Albanian rebels of the National Liberation Army (UCK) and Macedonian security forces. Many ethnic Macedonians fear that the redistricting could lead to the federalization of the country along ethnic lines. They consider federalization tantamount to partition and hence totally unacceptable. The conservative opposition Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VMRO-DPMNE) and opposition Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH) boycotted the parliamentary vote, Makfax news agency reported. UB
OSCE DISAPPOINTED WITH SERBIAN COALITION IN KOSOVA
An Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) spokesman told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Prishtina on 11 August that his organization is disappointed with the recent decision of a three-member coalition representing Kosova's Serbian minority not to take part in the 23 October parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004). The spokesman regretted that the coalition did not heed the appeals of the international community and Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi to participate in the elections, noting that the decision to boycott the vote will limit the Serbs' range of political options in the future. The deadline for parties and coalitions to declare their intention to take part in the elections runs out on 12 August. PM
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO GO TO OLYMPICS WITHOUT NEW NATIONAL ANTHEM
The parliament of Serbia and Montenegro did not hold a planned debate on 11 August on an urgent proposal to adopt a new national anthem in time for the opening of the Athens Olympic Games on 13 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. There were not enough votes to put the urgent measure on the legislative agenda following the recent decision by the Montenegrin opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) to withdraw its support for the new anthem. The SNP acted in response to an open letter from Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle, who criticized the proposed anthem as a meaningless hybrid because it combines verses from both the Serbian patriotic song "Boze pravde" and the Montenegrin anthem "Oj, svijetla majska zoro" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July, and 5 and 6 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 14 February 2003). Pavle also questioned some possible political implications of the particular version of the Montenegrin text included in the new anthem. Several leaders of the Montenegrin governing coalition then advised Pavle not to meddle in politics. 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. PM
SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO IMPROVE COOPERATION WITH THE HAGUE?
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, said in Belgrade on 11 August that the council agreed to allow the Hague-based war crimes tribunal to have access to a greater number of the documents it wants in connection with its investigations into alleged war crimes committed during the 1991-95 and 1998-99 conflicts in former Yugoslavia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He added that the council has released 11 witnesses summoned by the tribunal from their obligation to protect state secrets. Ljajic said that he expects the tribunal to indict an additional, unspecified number of citizens of Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovar Albanians in particular. It is not clear if the council's decisions will satisfy the tribunal and the international community, which insist on full cooperation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July and 5 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 December 2003 and 2 July 2004). PM
HAGUE TRIBUNAL DROPS PLANS TO RELEASE SIX HERZEGOVINIAN CROATS AHEAD OF THEIR TRIAL
The Hague-based war crimes tribunal decided on 11 August to reverse its earlier decision to allow six prominent Herzegovinian Croat indictees to return home until their trial begins, following objections from the prosecution, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The tribunal ruled that to release the former officials of the para-state known as Herceg-Bosna would undermine the work of the prosecution. Former Generals Slobodan Praljak and Milivoj Petkovic, former Prime Minister Jadranko Prlic, former Defense Minister Bruno Stojic, former military police chief Valentin Coric, and Berislav Pusic, who was in charge of prisoners, all maintain their innocence (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 5 August 2004). PM
WORK ENDS AT BOSNIAN MASS GRAVE SITE
On 11 August, forensics experts from Bosnia-Herzegovina's Croat-Muslim Federation's Commission for Missing Persons ended 45 days of work on exhuming a mass grave at Krecava near Bratunac, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 10 August 2004). The experts recovered the remains of over 200 people, believed to be Muslims killed by Serbian forces in the region in 1992. The commission will now begin to identify those victims and notify their families. Exhumations are continuing at several sites in the Prijedor region and at an abandoned coal mine at Miljevina near Foca. PM
ROMANIAN RULING PARTY TO WAGE 'NEGATIVE' ELECTION CAMPAIGN...
Senate speaker and former Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu told journalists on 11 August that the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) would wage a "negative [election] campaign" against its adversaries ahead of the November parliamentary elections, Mediafax reported. Vacaroiu said the PSD had conducted a "positive campaign" for the June local elections, and did not respond to the opposition's attacks on it. Implying that this was a mistake on the part of the PSD, Vacaroiu said that the party would now respond in kind to its critics. "We have no choice, we must launch a negative campaign, targeting those who pose as great democrats and forget how they plundered the country when they governed" in 1996-2000, the former prime minister (1992-96) said. He also said the PSD is conducting negotiations with the Humanist Party to form an electoral alliance ahead of the November ballot and does not rule out a postelectoral coalition with the National Liberal Party (PNL). MS
...AND IS REBUKED BY OPPOSITION ALLIANCE
Reacting to Vacaroiu's statement, opposition PNL-Democratic Party alliance spokesman Calin Popescu-Tariceanu said the PSD is preparing an election campaign "exclusively based on slandering the opposition," Mediafax reported. Popescu-Tariceanu said the June local elections demonstrated that the PSD is ready to use any means to discredit its political competitors. He also said that what Vacaroiu "euphemistically calls a negative campaign" is aimed at hiding the fact that the PSD has no consistent political program to offer. Popescu-Tariceanu also said that "any alliance with the PSD is out of the question" for the opposition alliance. He added that he is not surprised that Vacaroiu believes "anything is possible" after the elections, since the ruling party has amply displayed its inconsistency and immorality. MS
ROMANIAN SENATE SPEAKER PROMISES FUNDS FOR ARAD RECONCILIATION PARK
Senate speaker Vacaroiu said on 11 March in Targu-Mures that the government intends to allocate in September the funds needed for completion of the Reconciliation Park in Arad, Mediafax reported. On 9 August, Arad Mayor Gheorghe Falca said the city cannot complete the park due to a lack of funds (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2004). The high-profile Reconciliation Park project is aimed at overcoming some of the darkest chapters of Romanian-Hungarian animosity in the region's past. It was officially inaugurated in the presence of Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy in April. MS
TRANSDNIESTER PULLS 'ROMANIAN RABBIT' FROM SCHOOL-CONFLICT HAT...
Valerii Litskay, who holds the foreign-affairs portfolio in the Transdniestrian separatist government, told a visiting delegation of EU diplomats on 10 August that the schools in Transdniester teaching Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script are in fact Romanian schools and that Tiraspol might discuss with Bucharest ways to overcome the crisis over the schools' closure, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau and Infotag reported. Litskay also told the EU delegation that the current crisis has been over-politicized by Moldova, which "speaks the language of ultimatums" and raises demands that have nothing in common with the crisis, accompanying them with economic sanctions. Litskay said Transdniester will present counterproposals to those put forward by the three mediators (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE), and that the essence of these counterproposals will rest on basing school licensing and registration in Transdniester on European standards. MS
...SAYS CRISIS IS PRETEXT FOR MOLDOVA TO TARNISH ITS INTERNATIONAL IMAGE...
Separatist leader Igor Smirnov told the visiting EU delegation on 10 August that Chisinau is using the conflict over the closed schools as "a pretext" for tarnishing Tiraspol's international image, Infotag reported. Smirnov said the campaign for the 2005 parliamentary elections is under way in Moldova and "if there was not the school pretext, the Moldovan Communist gentlemen would have found another pretext." He also told the EU delegation: "When you [the EU] speak about possible sanctions directed at those who cause destabilization, you should apply those sanctions on the country that really violates agreements signed earlier" -- Moldova. MS
...AND SAYS UKRAINE SHOULD DISPATCH PEACEKEEPERS
Transdniestrian "Foreign Minister" Litskay told Ukrainian journalists in Tiraspol on 10 August that Ukraine should dispatch peacekeepers to Transdniester, Infotag and Flux reported. Litskay said that the 1998 Odesa accords stipulate that Kyiv has the right to send to Transdniester a contingent of peacekeepers as large as the contingent sent by Russia. However, he said, until now Ukraine has only dispatched military observers who are stationed in the demilitarized zone between the two former belligerents. Litskay said Tiraspol is curious why Ukrainian peacekeepers could be sent to places as far away as Iraq, but not to neighboring Transdniester, where events might take a turn unfavorable to Kyiv's interests. MS
YUSHCHENKO VOWS 'PEOPLE'S ELECTION CAMPAIGN' IN UKRAINE
Speaking on Radio Liberty on 3 August, Oleksandr Zinchenko, the manager of Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko's presidential campaign, said this campaign will be different from that of his main rival, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. "The people's president will have a people's election campaign," Zinchenko asserted.
Unfortunately, Zinchenko provided few enlightening details regarding this type of campaigning. He claimed, however, that Yushchenko has "hundreds of prepared campaigners in every town and village."
The presidential campaign for Yushchenko formally began on 4 July when the Central Election Commission registered him as a presidential hopeful. It is apparent to virtually everybody in Ukraine that Yushchenko cannot count on the propagandistic resources of much of the electronic media in the country. Indeed, the only television channel sympathetic to Yushchenko's presidential bid -- Channel 5, owned by Yushchenko political ally Petro Symonenko -- has recently reported that its programs were removed from several cable-distribution networks in eastern and southern Ukraine. Other television channels -- whether state-owned or private -- remain generally biased in favor of Yanukovych's presidential bid.
Under such circumstances it appears that the only efficient way for Yushchenko to promote his presidential platform is to hold as many face-to-face meetings with voters in the regions as possible. Therefore, on 3 August, Yushchenko started his campaign tour of Ukraine in Odesa Oblast. Yushchenko's campaign staff, judging by press reports, has been prepared for such an eventuality. But some aspects of the mechanics of his campaign provoke anxieties on the part of his sympathizers, who fear that this campaign might lack the impetus and energy it needs to be fully efficient.
Yushchenko started his presidential campaign with an impressive rally of some 50,000 people, who saw him off submitting registration documents to the Central Election Commission in Kyiv on 4 August. Credits for such a remarkable start were generally given to Zinchenko, whom Yushchenko appointed as his campaign manager in mid-June. Yushchenko was generally praised for this nomination, which he reportedly made under pressure from some Our Ukraine activists who have became dissatisfied with the performance of Roman Bezsmertnyy, head of the Our Ukraine staff.
However, further developments -- primarily an inconspicuous start to Yushchenko's regional tour of Ukraine -- have somewhat diminished faith in Zinchenko's capabilities to sufficiently organize Yushchenko's election campaign. First of all, some observers maintain that Zinchenko and Bezsmertnyy have not shared their responsibilities within the Our Ukraine bloc as smoothly as was expected.
According to the Kyiv-based weekly "Zerkalo nedeli," there is a multilayered system of responsibilities in Our Ukraine as regards its leader's presidential bid. The highest "legislative authority" in the bloc is a Coordinating Committee, which consists of Yushchenko (chairman), Yuliya Tymoshenko (first deputy), Zinchenko (campaign manager), Bezsmertnyy (head of the bloc's staff), as well as prominent Our Ukraine leaders and activists: Yuriy Kostenko, Mykola Martynenko, Anatoliy Matviyenko, Petro Poroshenko, Viktor Pynzenyk, Ivan Plyushch, Borys Tarasyuk, and Oleksandr Turchynov. Every member of this committee is simultaneously a coordinator of Yushchenko's campaign in specific regions.
It is noteworthy that the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- a staunch political ally of Our Ukraine in the presidential campaign -- has to take care of the most populous Ukrainian regions.
Turchynov coordinates Yushchenko's campaign in Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk, Luhansk, Kyrovohrad, Sumy, and Volhynia Oblast, while Matviyenko is responsible for Khmelnytskyy and Kharkiv oblasts.
Zinchenko personally leads the "executive" arm of Yushchenko's presidential campaign: press services, speechwriters, election experts, and the administrative apparatus of the bloc. He is also responsible for working out a campaign strategy, negotiating with potential political allies, and maintaining relations with the media. Zinchenko and Bezsmertnyy reportedly share equal responsibility for staging rallies, advertising Yushchenko's presidential bid, coordinating Yushchenko's representatives in regional election commissions, and solving legal problems in the campaign. Yushchenko is the only one allowed to directly comment on the political campaign or, following a prior agreement with him, Tymoshenko, Zinchenko, Poroshenko, Martynenko, Kostenko, Pynzenyk, and Tarasyuk can as well.
According to "Zerkalo nedeli," Bezsmertnyy's sole responsibility is financing all campaign actions and measures, which he does in cooperation with Our Ukraine's "cashier," lawmaker and businessman Davyd Zhvaniya.
Because of this complicated distribution of political and organizational responsibilities in Yushchenko's bloc, his presidential campaign has not yet settled into a smooth rhythm or acquired a satisfying scope. "Zerkalo nedeli" suggests that many local leaders of Yushchenko's campaign treat working on it only as a convenient opportunity to spend campaign money. At the same time, the weekly emphasizes that Yushchenko's people have not yet been able to tap his main asset in the campaign -- the enthusiasm of ordinary citizens who are ready to work for him without any expectation of payment or other compensation.
U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY VISITS AFGHANISTAN
Donald Rumsfeld paid a one-day visit to Afghanistan on 11 August, Radio Afghanistan reported. In a meeting with Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, Rumsfeld expressed satisfaction over public participation in Afghanistan's voter-registration process and the two discussed ways to combat terrorism. Rumsfeld met separately with his Afghan counterpart Marshal Mohammad Qasim Fahim to discuss security issues, including the formation and development of the Afghan National Army and the disarmament process, Afghanistan Television reported. Rumsfeld said his discussions with Fahim, who offered his support to former Education Minister Mohammad Yunos Qanuni after being dropped from the ticket by presidential candidate Karzai, did not stray from military issues, "The New York Times" reported on 12 August (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). Rumsfeld also made an unannounced trip to the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad to visit a U.S.-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). AT
AFGHAN LEADER 'NOT BOTHERED' BY MULTIPLE VOTER REGISTRATIONS
Chairman Karzai said on 11 August that Afghans might be registering to vote more than once for the October presidential election but he is not worried that such fraud will affect the outcome, RFE/RL reported. "As a matter of fact, it doesn't bother me," Karzai said. "If Afghans have two registration cards and if they would like to vote twice, well, welcome. This is an exercise in democracy. Let them exercise it twice. But it will not have an impact on the elections. If somebody gives me three cards, I will take it and will go and vote. But my choice in voting will be the same. We are beginning an exercise. We cannot be perfect." When a reporter at the news conference in Kabul countered to Karzai that he was describing "a farce" election, the Afghan leader shrugged off such concerns. Karzai said the Afghan people are enthusiastic and simply want to have the cards. Karzai corrected himself at a news conference later the same day, saying voters' fingers will be marked with indelible ink after they vote so that they cannot vote a second time. (For more on the problem of multiple registrations, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2004.) AT
AFGHAN ELECTORAL BODY IDENTIFIES FIVE DISMISSED PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFULS
The UN-backed Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) finalized the list of candidates for the Afghan presidential election scheduled for 9 October on which five of the 23 applicants are not included, RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 10 August. (For a complete list of all 23 applicants, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004). Contradicting earlier reports suggesting that three candidates were disqualified and two dropped out (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004), the JEMB identified three candidates who reportedly dropped out -- Mir Abu Taleb Kazemi, Abdul Hakim Zazai, and Safdar Sideqi Yakawalangi -- while two others -- Mohammad Halim Tanwir and Khoshhal Yasini -- have been disqualified, Radio Free Afghanistan reported on 11 August. AT
NATO GETS FREER HAND ON USE OF FORCE IN AFGHANISTAN
Governments contributing NATO peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan have decided to give them a freer hand in the use of force, RFE/RL reported on 11 August. The change in policy comes as NATO increases the number of troops in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan to 8,500 from 6,500 to provide extra security for the October presidential election (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 June and 1 July 2004). NATO Supreme Allied Commander U.S. General James Jones told a news conference in Kabul on 11 August that NATO members now realize that restricting those forces hinders their effectiveness, Reuters reported on 11 August. "Nations are starting to understand that overly restricting forces has the opposite effect of safeguarding forces. In fact, I honestly believe it puts forces at risk, because the opposition knows full well what the forces are capable of -- [what they are] able to do or not able to do. And so if they wish to attack us, they will attack the forces that have the most caveats," Jones said. Previously, "national caveats" barred peacekeepers from engaging in combat or other life-threatening situations. But Jones said French Lieutenant General Jean-Louis Py, who took control of the ISAF on 9 August, will have a much freer hand to use force (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). AT
IRAN TESTS BALLISTIC MISSILE...
Iran test-fired the Shihab-3 missile on 11 August, Mehr News Agency reported. According to the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics, this was a test of the latest modifications to the missile, although it did not disclose the nature of those modifications. Defense Minister Admiral Ali Shamkhani said on 7 August that there would be upgrades to the missile's range, ISNA reported. The Shihab-3 reportedly has a range of 1,300 kilometers. Shamkhani said this step is in response to Israeli efforts to increase the range of their missiles. Shamkhani also denied that Iran is developing a longer-range Shihab-4 missile, saying, "Israel is scared of Iran's defense capability and, therefore, alleges that Iran's defense capability is a threat to Europe; however, I announce explicitly that we threaten no European country and that the Islamic Republic of Iran poses no threat to Europe." BS
...AND THREATENS ISRAEL
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander General Yahya Rahim-Safavi told commanders of IRGC ground forces' divisions and battalions on 11 August that Iran will retaliate if Israel attacks it, ISNA reported. He said, "If Israel is mad enough to attack Iran's national interests, we will come down on them like a hammer and crush their bones." Rahim-Safavi accused the United States and Israel of spreading "sedition, evil, and Muslim-killing" across the region. He described his view of the U.S. aim in attacking Iraq: "Gaining mastery over the energy resources of the Persian Gulf, Caucasus, and Central Asia, assisting the Zionist regime's security, changing the region's political systems and creating a Greater Middle East are among America's aims in the region." BS
IRANIAN PARLIAMENT WANTS NUCLEAR PURSUITS TO CONTINUE
The parliamentary presiding board has received a draft plan addressing Iranian nuclear activities from 238 out of 290 members of the legislature, IRNA reported. The draft plan obliges Iran to pursue all possible means to gain access to nuclear technology. The draft plan also obliges the government to comply with its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty commitments. The legislators were dissatisfied with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi's earlier answers to their questions about the nuclear issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004). Ali Akbar Velayati, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's adviser on scientific affairs, said in the 10 August issue of "Kayhan" newspaper that Iran has a right to use nuclear technology, not least because of its many scientific applications. BS
IRANIAN SUPREME LEADER CRITICIZES U.S. ACTIONS IN AL-NAJAF
Iranian officials continue to voice concern over military activities in the holy city of Al-Najaf (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 August 2004). Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei said in an 11 August speech to officials from the Islamic Culture and Communications Organization, "The crime committed by America in Iraq today, in Najaf in particular, which is one of the most holy sites of the Shi'a or perhaps one of the holiest centers all Muslims, is a black dot and a blot which arrogant America can never erase from its face; never," state television reported. BS
TEHRAN SAYS IRAQI POLICE HOLDING CORRESPONDENTS AND BUSINESSMEN
Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, the Iranian charge d'affaires in Baghdad, confirmed on 11 August that two days earlier Iraqi police arrested the head of the local Islamic Republic News Agency office, Mustafa Darban, and several Iraqi reporters, ISNA reported. Mohammad-Reza Ramezani, chairman of the Iranian Chamber of Cooperatives, said on 11 August that U.S. troops arrested four Iranian businessmen on 18 July and handed them over to Iraqi police on 27 July, IRNA reported. The four were identified as Mohammad-Mehdi Teimouri, Masoud Zareh, Yusef Muhseni, and Qasem Salehi. Ramezani said the four were taken to an undisclosed location. BS
IRAQI, U.S. FORCES LAUNCH MAJOR OFFENSIVE ON AL-NAJAF...
Iraqi and U.S. military forces overnight launched a major offensive on the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf in an attempt to root out militants from the Imam Al-Mahdi Army loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, international media reported on 12 August. Intense fighting has been reported in and around the vast cemetery in the city, where many fighters are holed up. Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Sabah Kadhim announced on 12 August that it has been agreed that only Iraqi forces will enter the holy places, including the Imam Ali Mosque, which al-Sadr has made his main base in the city, Reuters reported. The Health Ministry said that 165 Iraqis have been killed and 600 wounded in fighting across the country in the last 24 hours of fighting, Al-Arabiyah reported. The operation is by far the greatest challenge to the short administration of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, since any incursion on the mosque by either U.S. or Iraqi forces is likely to provoke outrage among Muslims throughout Iraq. KR
...AS RESIDENTS VACATE CITY
Al-Najaf residents reportedly began vacating the city after U.S.-led forces began their incursion into the city, Al-Arabiyah reported. CNN reported that the city streets were deserted, adding that those civilians who chose to stay in the city are locked in their homes. The U.S. military said that al-Sadr loyalists launched a massive mortar strike on U.S. and Iraqi forces from the Imam Ali Mosque. U.S. Marines said that they had taken control of the city center and had blocked roads to the mosque, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, al-Sadr spokesman Ahmad al-Shaybani told Reuters that al-Sadr is overseeing the military and political operations. "The morale of the fighters is very high," he said. "We have been fighting U.S. forces for eight days. We are going to continue fighting them for another eight days. We are fully prepared to repulse any attacks on our positions," al-Shaybani added. KR
IRAQIS PROTEST ALLAWI ADMINISTRATION
Thousands of Iraqis demonstrated in the Al-Kadhimiyah area of Baghdad on 12 August, calling Prime Minister Allawi "little Saddam," CNN reported. Thousands reportedly demonstrated in Al-Nasiriyah on 11 August in support of Muqtada al-Sadr. The protesters marched to the headquarters of Allawi's Iraqi National Accord movement, setting fire to the building for the second time in two days, Al-Jazeera reported. Demonstrators called on Allawi to resign. Jawat al-Qurayshi, the second deputy head of the Al-Najaf Governorate's council, resigned on 12 August in protest of the U.S.-led attacks on Al-Najaf, which he referred to as "terrorist acts" in a statement announcing his resignation. Al-Jazeera also reported on 11 August that Iraqis in Baghdad's Al-Sadr City launched a food and medical drive to collect supplies for the Al-Mahdi Army in Al-Najaf. Militants also launched attacks on Al-Kut's city hall on 11 August. The Health Ministry said on 12 August that at least 72 people were killed and 148 injured in the subsequent fighting there. Intense fighting was also reported in Al-Amarah on 11 August. KR
OFFICIALS FROM THREE GOVERNORATES THREATEN TO SECEDE FROM BAGHDAD
Officials from three Iraqi governorates this week threatened to form a federal union and secede from Baghdad if the fighting in Al-Najaf is not halted, Arab news agencies reported. Salim al-Maliki, deputy governor of Al-Basrah, issued an order on 9 August to close Al-Basrah's ports to prevent the export of oil from terminals there, KUNA reported. Al-Maliki then threatened to announce separation from Baghdad and to declare an all-out rebellion if the fighting in Al-Najaf does not stop. Meanwhile, the Dhi Qar Governorate Council issued a statement on 9 August saying it would join Al-Basrah and the Maysan Governorate in separating from Iraq on the same grounds, Al-Jazeera reported. Maysan Governorate Council Chairman Ali Hammud al-Musawi told Al-Jazeera on 10 August that the governorate will interrupt oil supplies flowing through Maysan and block all intercity highways until Baghdad changes its stance. "Iyad Allawi and his government...must know that we expect from them justice, liberty, and democracy; we expect from them peaceful negotiations with our sons and brothers" in Al-Najaf, he said. Any attempts by the governorates to secede could provoke a civil war in Iraq; 90 percent of Iraq's oil reserves are located in the south. KR
MILITANT GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR ASSASSINATION OF SCIRI OFFICIAL
The Jama'at Al-Tawhid wa Al-Jihad group affiliated with fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi claimed in an 11 August statement posted to the Minbar Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jama'ah website (http://www.Islamic-minbar.com) that it was behind the assassination of a leading Iraqi political figure. Ali al-Khalisi of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) was gunned down on 11 August in Al-Mahmudiyah (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004). The group said in its statement that it intended to "publish" a videotape depicting the attack "soon." KR