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Newsline - August 13, 2004


MOSCOW 'NOT INDIFFERENT' TO EVENTS IN ABKHAZIA, SOUTH OSSETIA...
Deputy Foreign Minister Valerii Loshchinin said on 12 August that Russia "will not remain indifferent to the fate of its citizens in [the Georgian regions of] Abkhazia and South Ossetia," "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 13 August. Moscow will "defend their interests and security," Loshchinin said. "Our main goal in South Ossetia is preventing a resurgence of military confrontation and returning the region to the peace and relative stability it has seen for the last 12 years, thanks to the joint peacekeeping forces there and particularly to the Russian component [of that force]," he added. VY

...AS RUSSIAN, U.S. DEFENSE MINISTERS SIT DOWN TO DISCUSS THE SITUATION
Sergei Ivanov met on 13 August in St. Petersburg with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to discuss the situation in Georgia, as well as other international and bilateral topics, RIA-Novosti and other Russian news agencies reported. The officials were also expected to discuss plans for bilateral military cooperation in 2005. Rumsfeld arrived in Russia following stops in Ukraine and Azerbaijan. VY

GOVERNMENT TO AUDIT OIL PRODUCTION AND OIL RESERVES
The Natural Resources Ministry announced on 12 August that, together with the FSB and the Interior Ministry, it will carry out probes of the oil production and the known oil reserves of major Russian oil companies, polit.ru, Interfax, and other Russian media reported. An unidentified ministry source told journalists that the ministry believes that the production figures reported by Russian companies are not reliable and that they are "rather underestimated." The ministry will begin by auditing oil shipped through the non-pipeline infrastructure, since oil for export is monitored closely by the state-controlled pipeline monopoly Transneft. The government, the source said, currently does not have accurate information about the amount of oil shipped by rail or by water. VY

KREMLIN-CONNECTED ANALYST LISTS FACTORS INFLUENCING YUKOS'S FATE
National Strategy Institute President Stanislav Belkovskii, who is reputed to have strong connections within the Kremlin, wrote on 12 August on the institute's website (http://www.apn.ru) that the predictions he made last month about the possible acquisition of Yukos's assets by state-owned Rosneft are coming true (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 July 2004). A group of Kremlin "siloviki" headed by deputy presidential administration head and Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin has made progress toward transforming key Yukos assets into federal property, but it has not yet devised a scheme for transferring them on to the new owners that they have designated, Belkovskii wrote. He also wrote that Yukos's minority shareholders in the United States are now in a position to influence the company's fate. To protect their material interests, they could demand Yukos's bankruptcy. Another factor is the Chinese government's concern about the possible cessation of Yukos oil supplies to China. Beijing is pressing Moscow to ensure stable oil supplies, which is possible only if Yukos's technical infrastructure remains intact, Belkovskii said. VY

DEFENSE AND ANTITERRORISM SPENDING TO INCREASE SHARPLY IN 2005...
Speaking during a 12 August meeting in the Kremlin with security and economics advisers, President Vladimir Putin announced that defense and security expenditures will be sharply increased with the 2005 federal budget, ITAR-TASS and RTR reported. Putin noted that salaries and benefits for service personnel will be raised considerably. State defense orders will be boosted by 40 percent, or 70 billion rubles ($2.3 billion), and remuneration for service personnel will be raised by 50-120 percent compared with 2004. Defense Minister Ivanov told the meeting that the number of volunteer servicemen will be increased by 25,000 in 2005 and will reach a total of 50,000. Deputy Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Klimashin said that the government next year will launch a new program called "Antiterror," using funds allocated to the FSB, the Federal Protection Service, and the Defense and Interior ministries. VY

...AS GOVERNMENT INFORMS BANKS OF SUSPECTED TERRORIST MONEY SOURCES
Federal Financial Monitoring Service Director Viktor Zubkov said on 11 August that his agency has compiled a list of organizations suspected of bankrolling terrorism and has sent this list to Russian banks, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 August. The service, which is responsible for financial intelligence and the investigation of possible money laundering, has a database of 2.5 million dubious or suspicious commercial transactions. He also said a list of individuals and organizations believed to be financially assisting terrorists has been posted on his service's website. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" noted that access to the list requires a password. VY

CENTRAL BANK YANKS ANOTHER BANKING LICENSE
The Central Bank revoked as of 13 August the operating license of Pavletskii Bank, Russian news agencies reported on 12 August. According to an official press released, "the license was recalled in connection with the violation of federal laws regulating banking activities and [Paveletskii Bank's] inability to satisfy the demands of its creditors," RIA-Novosti reported. According to specialists within the Central Bank, "serious mistakes in the bank's credit policy" prompted the revocation, ITAR-TASS reported. Paveletskii Bank, which was ranked 159th among Russian banks in terms of net assets, stopped paying out withdrawals in June (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 15 July 2004). According to unidentified sources at the Central Bank, "Vremya novostei" reported on 13 August that several other "moribund" banks remain, and the Central Bank is ready to revoke their licenses as well. JAC

DEPUTIES MIGHT LOSE NON-CASH BENEFITS...
At press conference on 12 August, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov told reporters that State Duma deputies might lose their in-kind social benefits and receive cash compensation instead, lenta.ru reported. According to Zhukov, the government commission for administrative reform that he heads has been studying the matter, and deputies are preparing a bill that would replace their benefits. According to "Vremya novostei" on 13 August, State Duma Regulations Committee Chairman Oleg Kovalev (Unified Russia) said that when State Duma deputies return from their summer break, a working group looking into which privileges legislators should retain will meet with the Finance Ministry to work on amending the necessary laws. Deputy Duma Speaker Georgii Boos (Unified Russia) favors revoking all deputies' privileges, while other deputies insist that they retain the right to free transportation within the district they represent. Last month President Putin signed into law a bill on the civil service that maintains in-kind benefits for the country's 2 million state bureaucrats (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 2004). Soon afterward, the State Duma approved in its third and final reading a controversial government-drafted bill that would convert most in-kind social benefits to the population into cash payments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2004). JAC

...AS THEIR RETENTION OF BENEFITS SPARKS MORE CRITICISM
In a commentary for "The Moscow Times" on 2 August, analyst Yevgeniya Albats wrote the "law on the federal bureaucracy ensures that 2.5 million federal employees will receive the very benefits that the poor stand to lose: free medical care (at the nation's best medical facilities), free use of public transportation, the use of free apartments and dachas, subsidized vacations, and more." "In short," she continued, "these are all the goodies once enjoyed by the Soviet bureaucracy, and which constitute a bonus worth thousands of dollars on top of already generous salaries that were increased by five to 12 times in May and June." JAC

ONE FORMER CHESS CHAMPION STANDS UP FOR ANOTHER
Former World Chess Champion and Grand Master Boris Spasskii has written to U.S. President George W. Bush asking him to show mercy to fellow former World Chess Champion Bobby Fischer, sport.ru and other Russian media reported on 11 August. Fischer, who was arrested in Japan on 13 July and who faces possible extradition to the United States, is wanted by Washington for allegedly violating economic sanctions against the regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. The U.S. authorities invalidated Fischer's passport in December in connection with his receipt of a $3 million prize for playing a chess match against Spasskii in Yugoslavia in 1992. Fischer captured the world chess championship by defeating Spasskii in Helsinki in 1972. In his letter to Bush, Spasskii wrote that he is not asking for a pardon for Fischer, since the law is applicable to everyone, but urges Bush to show mercy, since Fischer is "a very extraordinary person." "Otherwise, you should arrest me as well, put me in the same prison cell with Fischer, and just let us play chess," Spasskii wrote. VY

TOP REGIONAL OFFICIALS ARRESTED FOR ACCEPTING BRIBES
Police on 9 August arrested Kaliningrad Oblast Deputy Governor Savva Leonov on suspicion of accepting a $150,000 bribe from a local businessman for arranging a favorable automobile import quota, NTV and ITAR-TASS reported on 11 August. Leonov oversees periodic state auctions for such quotas, and the alleged briber, Valerii Nevenskii, won one of the quotas last week, according to NTV. If convicted, Leonov could be sentenced to up to 12 years in jail. Leonov has been suspended from his post pending the outcome of the investigation, according to "The Moscow Times." On 31 July, police in Ulan Ude arrested Andrei Kapustin, head of the press service of the presidential administration of Buryatia President Leonid Potapov, also on suspicion of accepting bribes. Kapustin is suspected of accepting 200,000 rubles ($6,700) for arranging support for a candidate in a raion-level election, Aist-TV reported on 3 August. A municipal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told "Gazeta" on 8 August that "Kapustin turned his official position into a revenue generator, essentially turning the press service into a public-relations agency. Kapustin participated in elections for raion heads and for the republic legislative assembly, providing various services for candidates." JAC

CONCERNS ABOUT SECURITY RAISED IN CONNECTION WITH CHECHEN PRESIDENTIAL RACE
For the second time this summer, officials in St. Petersburg are talking about a heightened threat of terrorism, this time in connection with the 29 August presidential election in Chechnya, fontanka.ru reported on 12 August. At a 12 August session of representatives of the FSB, the Interior and Emergency Situations ministries, and raion administration heads, local medical establishments were reproached for being insufficiently vigilant. A group of undercover police officers were reportedly able to wander around within hospitals without being challenged. Hospital administrators countered that everyone already knows who they are even without uniforms on. The administrators also complained that extra funding to beef up security has not been made available. JAC

AGRICULTURE A PRIORITY FOR ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT
Armenian Agriculture Ministry official Mamikon Gasparian announced on 12 August that the Armenian government has identified agriculture as the first priority for U.S. foreign assistance, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The targeting of the country's agricultural sector came in response to the need for the Armenian government to formulate specific proposals designed to align domestic needs with a newly restructured U.S. foreign assistance program. Under the terms of the new Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) program, eligible countries will merit U.S. aid based on their performance in a number of areas, including economic freedom and open markets, democratization, and poverty reduction. The Armenian proposal released on 12 August seeks to leverage U.S. aid to bolster the government's own $14 million project to "radically improve" the quality of 5,500 hectares of land mostly located in the Ararat Valley, the southern Armenian heartland for fruits and vegetables. Overall, Armenia is hoping for some $500 million in MCA funding in the next five years. To do that, the Armenian government must formulate a detailed strategy of programs and policies designed to meet specific socioeconomic goals. RG

ARMENIAN DEPUTY DEFENSE MINISTER MEETS WITH U.S. MILITARY OFFICIALS
Lieutenant General Artur Aghabekian participated in a meeting with U.S. military officials in Kansas on 2-7 August as part of the latest round of bilateral talks on Armenian-U.S. military cooperation, Arminfo reported on 11 August. The deputy defense minister -- accompanied by Armenian Ambassador to the United States Arman Kirakosian and Colonel Arman Sarkisian, the Armenian embassy's military attache -- discussed areas of future cooperation with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense James McDougal. The meeting was convened in Kansas due to an existing State Partnership Program between Armenia and the Kansas National Guard. The Armenian delegation also met with several state government officials and Major General Todd Bunting, the adjutant general of the Kansas National Guard, and his senior officers. Aghabekian is one of the main interlocutors for Armenia's military relations with the United States and NATO. RG

U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE VISITS AZERBAIJAN
Flying to Baku from Afghanistan for a one-day visit, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and his wife arrived late on 11 August and met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Defense Minister Safar Abiev on 12 August, Turan and Lider TV reported. In comments at a press conference following the meeting, Rumsfeld expressed Washington's appreciation for Azerbaijani assistance in the "war on terrorism" and for their deployment of troops to Kosova, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The Azerbaijani military currently receives U.S. military assistance and training focused on pipeline security, counternarcotics, and counterproliferation activities along its borders and in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan sent a contingent of troops to Afghanistan in November 2002 to serve as peacekeepers under Turkish command (see "RFE/RL Azerbaijan Report," 22 November 2002). The possible expansion of the 150-strong Azerbaijani peacekeeping force deployed in Iraq was also discussed during a recent visit by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Elizabeth Jones (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). RG

AZERBAIJAN SIGNS MILITARY COOPERATION ACCORD WITH BRITAIN
Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation with the United Kingdom on 12 August, Turan reported. The accord, formalizing cooperation between the two countries' Defense ministries, was signed after Abiev met in Baku with British Ambassador to Azerbaijan Laurie Bristow and British Military Attache Christopher Nan. The agreement is also related to the expansion of Azerbaijani ties with the NATO Partnership for Peace program.

U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION CRITICIZES AZERBAIJANI DECISION ON BAKU MOSQUE
United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ) has criticized the 11 August ruling by the Azerbaijani Supreme Court upholding the eviction of worshippers from the Djuma Mosque, Turan reported on 12 August. The U.S. official expressed concern over the continuing harassment of mosque members by the authorities and added that "the actions of the Azerbaijani government are shameful and demonstrate real contempt for international human rights norms and OSCE commitments." Smith called on the Azerbaijani government to "end this embarrassment, return full control of the mosque to the community, and allow them to operate freely." He further denounced "Soviet-like actions by the authorities -- harassing and detaining community members and imposing a state-appointed imam at the mosque." The 100-year-old Djuma Mosque is seen by the Azerbaijani authorities as a center for Islamic extremists and closed it down last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004). Members of the mosque have filed an appeal to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights protesting their eviction. RG

CLASHES ERUPT BETWEEN GEORGIAN AND SOUTH OSSETIAN FORCES...
Renewed clashes between Georgian and South Ossetian forces erupted during the night of 11 August and continued into the early morning of 12 August, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. The clashes reportedly involved an exchange of artillery, mortar, and antiaircraft fire. At least three ethnic Georgians were killed in the shelling and more than two dozen people were wounded on both sides. Convening an emergency meeting of his National Security Council, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili blamed South Ossetian forces for triggering the fighting after attempting to seize control of a key road connecting Georgian villages. RG

...AND U.S. RESPONDS BY URGING GEORGIA AND RUSSIA TO COOPERATE TO END FIGHTING
Reacting to the renewed hostilities between Georgian and South Ossetian forces, U.S. State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli called on Georgia to "stop the fighting" on 12 August, AFP reported. The State Department spokesman also urged Russia to cooperate in ending the tension. Ereli also stated that Washington supports the Russian call for an emergency meeting of the Joint Control Commission, which includes representatives of Russia, Georgia, South Ossetia, and North Ossetia. The commission meets on 13 August in Tskhinvali. RG

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER CRITICIZES RUSSIA
Prior to an emergency meeting of the Georgian National Security Council late on 12 August, parliament speaker Nino Burjanadze said that Russia bears some responsibility for the South Ossetia crisis, adding that "Russia should decide once and for all that it is indeed a peacekeeper," Rustavi-2 reported. In an attempt to end the fighting, Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Valeri Loshchinin demanded an immediate ceasefire on 12 August and called for the convening of "an emergency meeting of the co-chairmen of the Joint Control Commission" to be held in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, ITAR-TASS reported. Loshchinin also warned that the clashes have put "Russian citizens" at risk, referring to the fact that about 90 percent of the South Ossetian population has acquired Russian citizenship over the past two years. RG

GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES RUSSIAN DIPLOMACY OVER SOUTH OSSETIAN CRISIS
Georgian Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili expressed frustration on 12 August at the Russian diplomatic response to the recent clashes along the border between South Ossetia and Georgia proper, Interfax reported. Commenting on Moscow's dispatch of special envoy Lev Mironov to the region, Zourabichvili stated that the appointment "is not of the political rank we were expecting," and dismissed negotiations within the Joint Control Commission as being unable to "yield any result." Mironov arrived in Tbilisi on 12 August and, according to RIA-Novosti, is meeting with South Ossetian officials in Tskhinvali on 13 August. Zourabichvili also stated that she has submitted a formal appeal to all European Union diplomatic representatives in Tbilisi seeking their support for an expansion of the mandate of the OSCE in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict area, Interfax reported. The foreign minister added that Georgia intends to raise the possibility of internationalizing the peacekeeping operation in South Ossetia in order to prevent an escalation of the conflict. RG

GEORGIAN PREMIER ARTICULATES TBILISI'S STRATEGY TO END CONFLICT
Georgian Prime Minster Zurab Zhvania spelled out on 12 August the Georgian position on the recent outbreak of clashes in South Ossetia in preparation for the 13 August emergency meeting of Georgian, Russian, and Ossetian representatives of the Joint Control Commission, RIA-Novosti reported. According to Zhvania, Georgia is pursuing a three-pronged strategy to diffuse the situation, consisting of a call for direct talks, a full demilitarization of South Ossetia, and a significant expansion of the mandate and presence of the OSCE Monitoring Group in the region. Zhvania spoke following a crisis meeting of Georgia's National Security Council and added that President Saakashvili plans to "get in touch with his American counterpart and leaders of European states," urging them to "take maximum effort and use all levers to force the South Ossetian side and parties to the process to hold direct talks." Zhvania said that recent events show that there are "attempts to involve Georgia in a large-scale confrontation," but stressed that the Georgian leadership is doing everything it can not to give in "to provocations and to prevent the country from being involved in a large-scale armed conflict." RG

GEORGIA SEIZES TURKISH SHIP OFF ABKHAZ COAST
Georgian border guards detained a Turkish cargo ship on 12 August in Georgian territorial waters, ITAR-TASS reported. The ship was seized after it approached a quarantined area along the Abkhaz coast. The ship's crew was not detained, although the ship's captain incurred a $27,000 fine for the violation of shipping regulations. The ship's captain was reportedly the skipper of another Turkish vessel that was detained for illegally crossing the Georgian sea border in a 2002 incident. The fine for that violation was not paid and Georgian officials later auctioned the vessel. RG

VOICE OF RUSSIA STARTS BROADCASTS IN KYRGYZSTAN, TAJIKISTAN
Voice of Russia radio has begun broadcasting in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Interfax reported on 12 August. Four hours of daily Russian-language broadcasts can now be heard in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, and 12 hours can be heard in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, as well as Tashrabad and Leninabad, akipress.org reported. The music and news programming is a joint project by Voice of Russia, Russian Radio, and Sodruzhestvo (Commonwealth), Kabar news agency reported. According to akipress.org, Voice of Russia has been on the air since April in Lithuania, as well as Crimea and, more recently, Armenia and Georgia. DK

OSCE SETS UP ELECTION OBSERVER MISSION IN KAZAKHSTAN
The OSCE announced in an 11 August press release that it has set up an election observer mission to monitor 19 September parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan. OSCE Ambassador Robert L. Barry of the United States will head the mission, which includes a 12-member team based in Astana and Almaty, as well as 16 long-term international observers throughout the country. Four-hundred short-term observers have been requested for election-day monitoring. Observers "will assess the election process against international standards agreed to by all OSCE participating states, as well as against national legislation." The mission will issue preliminary findings the day after the elections, and a comprehensive report one month after the election process is complete. DK

FITCH CANCELS BISHKEK CREDIT RATING
International credit-rating agency Fitch Ratings has decided that it no longer has sufficient information to assess the creditworthiness of the city of Bishkek, akipress.org reported on 12 August citing Fitch Ratings' Moscow office. Before its decision to stop rating the Kyrgyz capital, Fitch Ratings had given the city a long-term rating of CCC and a short-term rating of C, both indicating a high likelihood of default. DK

TAJIK PROSECUTOR DENIES SHOOT-OUT REPORT
The Prosecutor-General's Office and Interior Ministry issued a 12 August statement denying reports that two people were killed in a shoot-out during the arrest of former Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoev, Tajik TV reported. Asia Plus had reported that at least two people -- one of Mirzoev's bodyguards and a police officer -- were killed during the 6 August arrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2004). Officials described the report as sensationalist and stressed that no one was injured or killed in the course of Mirzoev's apprehension. DK

TURKMEN PRESIDENT REFORMS MINISTRY...
Saparmurat Niyazov signed a number of decrees on 12 August dismissing and appointing top officials and reforming a ministry, the country's official TDH news agency reported. Niyazov dismissed Interior Minister Ashir Ataev, who asked to be relieved for health reasons, and replaced him with Geldimuhammet Ashirmuhammedov. At a 12 August cabinet meeting, Niyazov criticized Ataev for excessive caution in his crime-fighting efforts. The president also unified the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Main Broadcasting Administration into a newly formed Ministry of Culture and Television and Radio Broadcasting, with Maral Bashimova as minister. Finally, President Niyazov set 23-24 October as the date for the 15th Halk Maslihat, or People's Council. DK

...AND BANS TOBACCO CHEWING, DECRIES MAKE-UP
A 12 August presidential decree banned the sale and use of chewing tobacco in all public places and official buildings in Turkmenistan, the official TDH news agency reported. Henceforth, chewing tobacco will only be sold at a few specifically designated locations. Violators will be subject to fines. President Niyazov also spoke out on 11 August against women's propensity for excessive make-up, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reported. Niyazov said, "Girls wear such light-colored make-up. It looks very pale. What do you need it for? The color of Turkmen [women's skin] is white. That is the natural look. Therefore, don't use so much make-up. You should be careful in that." DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT MEETS WITH U.S. GENERAL
Islam Karimov met with General Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Army Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Tashkent on 12 August, UzA news agency reported. Their talks focused on bilateral relations, military and technical cooperation, regional security, the fight against terrorism, and the problem of narcotics trafficking. UzA quoted Karimov as saying, "We greatly value our relations with the United States. It is in the interests of both countries to strengthen relations and develop them on all levels." In the course of his visit, General Myers also met with the Uzbek Foreign and Defense ministers. Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov told a 12 August briefing that the United States plans to increase financial assistance to Uzbekistan under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program from $39 million to $60 million, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. The funds will go toward demilitarizing biological weapons facilities and preventing the spread of bioweapons technology. The BBC's Uzbek Service noted, however, that no information was forthcoming from the U.S. side on the matter. DK

BELARUS INVITES OSCE MONITORS FOR PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
The Belarusian government on 12 August sent a letter to the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) inviting its representatives to monitor Belarus's parliamentary elections scheduled for 17 October, Belapan reported, citing Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh. Savinykh said the decision to invite ODIHR observers shows Belarus's "firm determination to hold open, free, and democratic elections." Heidi Smith, spokeswoman for the OSCE's office in Minsk, told Belapan that ODIHR observers will start monitoring the election campaign on 1 September. JM

RUSSIA RESUMES ELECTRICITY EXPORTS TO BELARUS
Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) resumed electricity exports to Belarus on 12 August, Belapan reported. Under a contract signed by the state energy concern Belenerha and a subsidiary of EES, Inter RAO EES, Belarus will import 2.5 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity from Russia up to the end of the year. The price Belarus will pay for Russian electricity under the current deal has not been made public. Belarus stopped buying electricity from Russia in February, refusing to accept a higher price of 2.15 U.S. cents per kilowatt-hour (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004). JM

OUR UKRAINE REPORTS ROAD INCIDENT INVOLVING PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE...
A KamAZ truck on a road from Kherson to Novooleksiyivka in southern Ukraine on 12 August tried three times to push presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko's car off the road as Yushchenko, who was driving, wanted to overtake the truck, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 13 August, citing the Our Ukraine press service. Yushchenko's associates, who were traveling with him in a column of cars, detained the truck and called the traffic police. According to the Our Ukraine press service, the police released the truck driver in the morning of 13 August "without obtaining any explanations from him" with regard to the incident. "Despite the [police] report about the quick release of the driver, police officers were 'working' on him all night long, and there are reasons to fear that this incident will be used as a provocation against Yushchenko," the Our Ukraine press service added. JM

...AS POLICE TELL A DIFFERENT STORY
The Interior Ministry press service told Interfax on 13 August that, according to what the KamAZ truck driver told the police, he was detained on 12 August by people traveling in a column of three cars, wrongly accused by them of creating a near accident on the road, and beaten. After the column drove further, the driver reported the incident to the police. Police officers have established that the people involved in beating the driver were presidential candidate Yushchenko's associates. "The cars of Yushchenko and his assistants, while overtaking and blocking the truck, grossly violated road traffic regulations and created an emergency situation," the Interior Ministry press service said. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SAYS KYIV CONTINUES TO SEEK EUROPEAN, EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma assured U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in Crimea on 13 August that Ukraine's course toward European and Euro-Atlantic integration remains invariable, Interfax reported, citing the presidential press service. Kuchma also affirmed that Ukraine remains a strategic partner of the United States. Both politicians confirmed their readiness to develop the Ukrainian-U.S. partnership in the sphere of security and the struggle against terrorism. Rumsfeld praised the role of Ukrainian peacekeepers in Iraq and Kosova, saying that "the Ukrainians are doing their job wonderfully." Ukrainian Defense Minister Yevhen Marchus said after a meeting with Rumsfeld that the duration of the stay of the Ukrainian contingent in Iraq is a "subject of negotiations" and depends on the situation in that country. JM

OUR UKRAINE LEADER'S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION STAFF STARTS 'LEGAL WAR'
The election staff of presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who heads the opposition Our Ukraine bloc, has filed 73 complaints with the Central Election Commission about violations of the law in the ongoing presidential election campaign, Interfax reported on 12 August. If the Central Election Commission fails to pay attention to these complaints, Yushchenko's staff has pledged to submit them to the Supreme Court. "We are starting a legal war," Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Katerynchuk told journalists. According to Yushchenko's election staff, the most frequent violations concern the use of government officials to campaign for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and officials and managers of enterprises applying pressure on voters to support Yanukovych. Yushchenko's campaigners also demanded that Yanukovych either resign from his post of prime minister or withdraw from the presidential race, charging that he is unfairly taking advantage of the large media attention he receives as the head of government. JM

PLANS MOVE AHEAD FOR KOSOVA'S PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS...
Kosova's Central Election Commission determined by lot on 12 August the order in which various parties and coalitions will appear on the ballot for the 23 October parliamentary elections, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 August 2004). Charles Brayshaw, who is acting chief of the UN civilian administration (UNMIK), said in Prishtina that UNMIK will do all that it legally can to enable any Serbian parties or coalitions that decide in the coming weeks to take part to do so. He warned, however, that any Serbian boycott will not effect the legitimacy of the elections. PM

...AND FOR ITS OVERALL FUTURE
Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide's 70-paragraph report on Kosova to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan became available to the media on 13 August, almost one month after its submission, RFE/RL reported. Eide calls for streamlining the role of UNMIK and transferring more of the international community's role to the EU, which, he feels, should appoint its own high representative for Kosova. At the same time, Eide stresses that NATO peacekeepers and all members of the international community will continue to play an important role and should not plan on reducing their presence. Referring to the violence in March, he notes that the international community failed to understand the depth of the ethnic Albanian majority's frustration with a lack of a clear perspective for the future. Eide concludes that the UN's present "standards before status" policy needs revising to give the majority a clearer road map according to explicit priorities, while providing for decentralization and other measures of concern to the Serbian and other minorities. In an effort to meet a key Albanian demand for more self-government, the diplomat suggests that "powers and competences that are not attributes of sovereignty" be increasingly transferred to Kosova's elected officials. It is not clear to what extent his recommendations will be implemented or whether they go far enough to ease the impatience and frustration that led to the March unrest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004, and "Balkan Report," 9 and 29 July, and 6 and 13 August 2004). PM

INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY LAUDS ADOPTION OF MACEDONIAN REDISTRICTING LAW
Spokesmen for both the EU and the OSCE welcomed the adoption of the controversial new Macedonian Law on Territorial Organization by the parliament on 12 August, RFE/RL's Macedonian broadcasters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July, and 13 August 2004). An OSCE spokesman said the adoption was an important signal that the government is set to implement the decentralization program as stipulated by the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement. He added that the OSCE considers the law to be a stabilizing factor in Macedonia. A spokesman for EU Special Representative in Macedonia Michael Sahlin said the government's decentralization efforts are a precondition for Macedonia's EU integration. UB

GERMAN CHANCELLOR VISITS FATHER'S GRAVE IN TRANSYLVANIAN VILLAGE...
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on 12 August began a one-day official trip to Romania with a visit to the grave of his father, Corporal Fritz Schroeder, whom he never met, international news agencies reported. Fritz Schroeder was killed in October 1944, as the German Army was retreating from a Romanian Army offensive. He is buried in a common grave with eight fellow soldiers in the Transylvanian village of Ceaunu-Mare. The burial place was traced in 2001 by Schroeder's sister with the help of the Red Cross (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2001). Schroeder insisted that the visit to the grave be private and was accompanied only by the local priest. MS

...SAYS ROMANIA HAS VERY GOOD CHANCE OF FINALIZING EU ACCESSION TALKS THIS YEAR...
After talks in Bucharest with Prime Minister Nastase on 12 August, Chancellor Schroeder told journalists that if Romania presses on with reforms, it has a very good chance of closing EU accession negotiations by the end of 2004, Mediafax and Reuters reported. "The fact that 70 percent of Romanian GDP is created by the private sector means that [Romania] is a market economy. It will become a functioning market economy if privatization continues at the pace seen recently," Reuters cited Schroeder as saying. During the visit, Romanian and German officials signed contracts worth 800 million euros ($977.5 million) for projects ranging from improving border surveillance to upgrading infrastructure. In the largest project, worth 650 million euros, the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADAS) will provide Romania's border zones with administration centers, surveillance systems, command-control software, communications and information technology infrastructure, as well as technical-training centers, according to AFP and Reuters. The project is aimed at easing Romania's entry into the Schengen Treaty. MS

...AND SAYS UKRAINE'S DANUBE DELTA CANAL CONSTRUCTION MUST STOP FOR REASSESSMENT
Schroeder also said in Bucharest on 12 August that Ukraine should stop building the controversial Bystraya Canal in the Danube River delta until experts have assessed its impact on the environment, Reuters reported. The subject was raised during the talks between Schroeder and Nastase. Schroeder said the German government has made its views known to Kyiv. However, he added, his cabinet is not in a position to stop German companies from working for the Ukrainian project, according to Mediafax. Last month, the EU asked Ukraine to halt the construction of the canal amid fears that the waterway could affect the Danube delta's unique ecosystem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 14, and 15 July 2004). MS

RUSSIAN ENVOY SAYS MOLDOVAN SANCTIONS AGAINST TIRASPOL ARE 'UNACCEPTABLE'...
Special Russian envoy for the Transdniester conflict, ambassador at large Igor Savolskii, said on 12 August that the "economic blockade" imposed by Moldova on Transdniester is "an unacceptable method for achieving the country's reunification," Infotag reported. Savolskii returned the same day to Moscow from a visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol that failed to narrow the gap between the two sides' positions over the schools recently closed down by Transdniester. Savolskii said that Russia rejects pressure from either Chisinau or Tiraspol. According to ITAR-TASS, Savolskii said that the so-called Kozak plan (which he called a "general settlement plan") that Moldova refused to sign in November 2003 remains the "most precise and balanced of all documents" related to the search for an equitable solution to the Transdniester conflict. MS

...WHILE OSCE MISSION SPOKESMAN CALLS TRANSDNIESTER'S BEHAVIOR 'INHUMANE'
Claus Neukirch, spokesman for the OSCE mission in Chisinau, on 12 August said the way the separatist authorities have acted at the Bendery-Tighina boarding school is "inadmissible," Flux reported. He said that it is unacceptable that children be cut off from water and electricity. Transdniestrian militiamen who have surrounded the school refused to allow members of the OSCE mission to bring the besieged children water and food, which Neukirch said was "simply inhumane." MS

MOLDOVAN RAILWAY OFFICIAL SAYS TRAFFIC VIA TRANSDNIESTER MIGHT BE STOPPED
Miron Gagauz, head of the Moldovan state rail company, said on 11 August that his company might stop rail traffic via Transdniester and use a rail by-pass instead, Infotag and ITAR-TASS reported. Gagauz said that according to information received in Chisinau, the separatist authorities intend to set up a company called Transdniester Railways. If that turns out to be accurate, Gagauz said, it would amount to a infringement on earlier accords, stipulating that all rail traffic in Moldova is coordinated by the National Railroad Company (CFM), which includes a Transdniester regional division. This, he said, would force CFM to "take the toughest possible measures to prevent Transdniester from interfering with cargo and passenger rail traffic," including cutting rail links to and via Transdniester. MS

RFE/RL INTERVIEWS AFGHAN AMBASSADOR TO U.K.
In the midst of the controversy surrounding his brother's 11th-hour appointment as Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai's running mate in the upcoming elections, Ahmed Wali Mas'ud, Afghanistan's ambassador to the United Kingdom, told RFE/RL in an exclusive interview on 11 August in Kabul that it is no longer viable for Afghans to support a candidate on charisma alone; it is necessary to consider the candidate's political platform.

"Throughout history in Afghanistan, whenever we've backed leaders on the basis of their charisma or personality, it has often backfired," said Mas'ud, who is the youngest brother of slain Commander Ahmed Shah Mas'ud, and head of the Nahzat-e-Melli Afghanistan party. "We are entering a new era in Afghanistan. We are entering the 21st century -- it is a new world. What's most important is the program of the leader and the competence of his team -- not who he is."

These remarks come at a critical time. Observers are keen to know whether Mas'ud will back his older brother, Ahmed Zia Mas'ud, who serves as Afghanistan's ambassador to Russia, or whether he will side with Education Minister Younes Qanuni, who announced his candidacy soon after Karzai dropped Defense Minister Marshall Mohammed Qasim Fahim from the ticket in favor of Ahmed Zia Mas'ud.

"Personalities are not important, although I know that in Afghanistan this has usually been significant. But I am interested in backing the candidate who shows me a program for Afghanistan that would best serve the interests of the Afghan people," Mas'ud said.

Does he intend to back his brother? Without giving a specific answer, Mas'ud pointed out that his brother is a founding member of Nahzat-e-Melli Afghanistan, along with Qanuni, and this clearly puts him in a precarious position.

"My immediate job is to bridge the gap," he said, and he seems to have adopted a "wait and see" approach.

"I am responsible for Nahzat-e-Melli," he continued. "I am not acting alone. I must act through the collective decision-making process of Nahzat-e-Melli. In making the decision, we must be very careful to stick to the principles and charter of Nahzat. It is very important for me and the party because, on one side we have Ahmed Zia who is a prominent member of Nahzat, and on the other side we have Qanuni who is also a key member of Nahzat. My position -- and the position of the party -- is critical."

Observers believe that the situation may lead to a rift in the Panjsheri faction, which has played a dominant role in Afghan politics since the fall of the Taliban (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 5 August 2004). As the brother of a slain national hero, 47-year-old Ahmed Zia is likely to eat up a chunk of national support; but Qanuni is a respected politician who was a close associate of the late commander Ahmed Shah Mas'ud during the resistance. Mas'ud's decision is bound to tip the balance one way or the other.

"No, I don't think there will be a rift," he said. "It's not a question of Panjsheri and non-Panjsheri. This is a question of Afghanistan. We are all working for Afghanistan. Ahmed Zia is here to work for Afghanistan and so is Qanuni. So this is not about Panjsher [Province, situated north of Kabul]."

Mas'ud believes that the confusion is a result of inadequate consultation and hasty actions. He rejects the suggestion that the scenario was entirely prearranged as a plot to strengthen the Panjsheri hand in determining the make-up of the postelection government.

"Both of these candidates were nominated in a hasty situation. Nothing was prearranged," he insisted, adding that he did not know why Karzai suddenly dropped Fahim from the ticket at the 11th hour, and why he chose Ahmed Zia as his running mate (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 31 July 2004).

"One thing is very clear," he said. "Ahmed Zia has the name of Mas'ud, and this name is very popular in Afghanistan. Apart from that, why he chose my brother, this is a question for Karzai himself."

Mas'ud describes his brother's character as "calm, discrete, honest, and nonconfrontational." "He is a good Muslim, but moderate in his views. He believes in democracy and social justice. He reads voraciously, all sorts of books from politics to social history," he said. "He was active in the jihad against the Soviets, and he worked very closely with our older brother, [Ahmad Shah] Mas'ud. In fact, he was probably the most important representative of Mas'ud during the time of jihad," he said.

Karzai's nomination of Ahmed Zia was ostensibly meant to win over the mujahedin, whose confidence in the president has waned in recent months. As vice president, Ahmed Zia would be contributing his illustrious brother's name to Karzai's campaign. It is worth noting that Ahmed Zia is also the son-in-law of former Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani, whose full backing he enjoys.

"What is ironic in this scenario is that both of these candidates, Ahmed Zia and Qanuni, belong to Nahzat," Mas'ud stressed. "Except, Nahzat itself was officially registered on 27 July, one day after the nominations."

Asked how he felt about the popular perception that the outcome of the elections is predetermined, Mas'ud replied: "Holding elections in Afghanistan for the first time in our history is significant, and it can be regarded as one step toward democracy, but this alone is not enough. It doesn't prove much to the people of Afghanistan, despite its significance outside the country and to the media. What really makes a difference is a clear political platform, a national agenda, and a good team."

He added: "Words are not enough, we need people who will practice what they preach. Only if there is a commitment to a political platform and a national agenda would these elections be worth the money spent on it, and the effort invested by the international community."

U.S. HELICOPTER CRASHES IN AFGHANISTAN
A U.S. Black Hawk helicopter crashed in Afghanistan on 12 August, killing a crew member and injuring 12 other soldiers aboard, AP reported. U.S. military authorities refused to disclose the location of the crash, though the injured were rushed to a U.S. base near Khost, about 145 kilometers south of Kabul. "We move people around Afghanistan with helicopters routinely. They were not on a combat mission," said U.S. military spokesman Major Rick Peat, addressing questions about the crash. A U.S. military statement ruled out enemy fire. "The helicopter was destroyed in the crash, but did not burn," the statement said. More than 130 U.S. soldiers have died since U.S. forces entered Afghanistan in 2001 to unseat the Taliban regime. Many of the deaths have been the result of accidents, including several helicopter crashes. MR

U.S.-AFGHAN FORCES KILL SUSPECTED TALIBAN GUNMAN
Afghan and U.S. troops killed a suspected neo-Taliban gunman during a 10 August firefight in eastern Afghanistan, AP reported on 12 August. Jafar Tyar, the deputy governor of Laghman Province, where the skirmish took place, said two children were also injured in fighting that involved a U.S. air strike. Tyar said the fighting began when U.S.-led coalition soldiers and Afghan Army troops searched the home of a suspected neo-Taliban commander known as Pashtun in a village called Dar-e Mil, about 100 kilometers east of Kabul. "The commander had taken to the mountains with his men and they opened fire. The coalition fired back and Pashtun's cousin, Janan, was killed," Tyar said. A one-time Taliban commander, Pashtun is thought to be involved in attacks on coalition convoys, Tyar said. AP reported that U.S. military authorities have not commented on the incident. MR

SKIN DISEASE RAVAGES KABUL
A debilitating skin disease called cutaneous leishmaniasis is plaguing the Afghan capital of Kabul, UN officials said on 12 August, according to a dpa report. UN spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said that in Kabul there are 67,000 cases of the disease, which is spread by sand flies. The figure reportedly makes Kabul the city with the most cases of this condition in the world. Afghanistan as a whole is home to 200,000 cases, according to the UN. The disease often leads to severe facial disfigurement. "This is a unique opportunity to stop a debilitating disease in its tracks, and make gains in a country where people so deserve to see improvement to their health," said Doctor Philippe Desjeux, head of the World Health Organization's (WHO) leishmaniasis control program. "We must act now if we are going to have any chance of controlling the situation." The WHO plans to distribute bed nets treated with insecticide to more than 30,000 people to stem the spread of the disease, de Almeida e Silva said. MR

UN OFFICIAL SAYS AFGHAN VOTING TALLIES WILL BE SLOW
Afghans may have to wait until November to learn the results of the first-ever presidential election slated for October, a UN official said on 12 August according to AP. Julian Type, an adviser working with UN and Afghan election organizers, said collecting and counting ballots from the first round of voting scheduled for 9 October could take up to three weeks. "There will be figures becoming available, and if the result of the election is reasonably clear, a clear picture [will] emerge of the likely eventual winner before that period," said Type. If the race leads to a runoff, however, weeks more would be needed to establish a winner. "Given those logistical constraints, you will probably be looking at around five or six weeks in that general order for the runoff election," Type said. Type said 30,000 ballot boxes are due to arrive next week in Afghanistan, where election organizers plan to set up 5,000 polling centers across the country. MR

IRANIAN PRESIDENT EMPHASIZES TEHRAN'S NUCLEAR RIGHTS
President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami said on 11 August that Iran has the right to develop and use nuclear technology, state television reported. "Yes to the peaceful use of nuclear technology! This is our national interest. This is our national honor. Our future development depends on it," he said. "We are not going to ask for anyone's permission," he added. "This is allowed by the international covenants to which we are a signatory." Khatami went on to say that Iran voluntarily suspended enrichment of uranium but this does not mean it will abandon the enrichment process. His comments come as the legislature and the leadership stress Iran's perceived right to a nuclear capacity, and as the international community watches developments with concern. BS

NEW IRANIAN PROVINCE GETS NEW GOVERNOR
Ebrahim Rezai-Babadi, formerly the Tehran governor-general's assistant for political-security affairs, was sworn in on 12 August as the governor-general of Southern Khorasan Province, IRNA reported. The creation of Southern Khorasan, as well as the Razavi Khorasan and Northern Khorasan provinces, came about through the division of the northwestern Khorasan Province in 2004 (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May and 14 June 2004). BS

TEHRAN ENCOURAGES NORWEGIAN INVESTMENT IN ENERGY SECTOR
Iranian Industries and Mines Minister Ishaq Jahangiri said during his visit to Oslo that Statoil, the Norwegian oil company, is active in the South Pars oil field, "Aftenposten" reported on 11 August. "We have also asked the company to play a part in other regions and envisage Statoil being an active cooperation partner in the future," he continued. Jahangiri said that a recent scandal in which Statoil officials were dismissed and fined for the payment of money to win influence in Iran would not undermine Statoil's involvement there (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 22 and 29 September, 6, 13, and 27 October, 10 November 2003, 5 July 2004). Jahangiri did warn the Norwegians against corruption and influence-buying, however. "There is always a danger that some people could abuse their positions in connection with major projects. The companies which become involved in Iran must not make such abuses possible," he said. In Tehran, meanwhile, Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh told the legislature that there is no proof connecting Statoil with any Iranian official in the aforementioned scandal, and he promised that his ministry will continue to monitor developments, IRNA reported on 11 August. BS

HARD-LINE NEWSPAPER CALLS IRANIANS TO ARMS
"Jomhuri-yi Islami," one of Iran's more hard-line newspapers, is calling for Iranians to act in defense of the holy sites in Al-Najaf. An editorial in its 8 August issue said that occupying Iraq and establishing a "servile government" there is not enough for the United States, but the country wants "to own Iraq for good and forever." It accused the United States of waging "vicious and extensive psychological warfare against [radical Shi'ite cleric] Muqtada al-Sadr," and it described the interim government as "a cast of hand-picked actors." The editorial said people are waiting for their leaders to embark on "real action." "Everything now indicates that the time for such a decision and call is fast approaching," it concluded. The next day, another editorial referred to a "premeditated conspiracy to eliminate the forces of resistance" in Iraq. It said that only the action of Shi'a religious leaders and the masses could save the holy shrines. Cooperation between the sources of emulation and officials in Iran to "end the crisis the Americans have fomented" is important. Iraq has been turned over to "foreign agents and alien lackeys," and this is dangerous for Iran and Islam. "Has the time come for us to get up and go after the crown of Islam, the very existence of the Shi'a, and the national interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran?" the editorial concluded. BS

RADICAL SHI'ITE CLERIC REPORTEDLY NEGOTIATING WITH INTERIM IRAQI GOVERNMENT
Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib said on 13 August that radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has reportedly entered into negotiations with the interim government to end the standoff in Al-Najaf, Reuters reported. "Sayyid Muqtada [al-Sadr] will not be touched if he leaves the shrine peacefully. A truce has been in force since last night," al-Naqib told the news agency. "We will go after the criminal elements which have penetrated the al-Sadr movement, but not Muqtada," he added. International media reported on 13 August that al-Sadr suffered shrapnel wounds to the chest, legs, and arms in the overnight fighting. Al-Naqib told Reuters that the cleric was unhurt. A U.S. military spokeswoman told CNN on 13 August that 80 percent of Al-Najaf was "stable," adding that Iraqi forces had stormed a mosque in nearby Al-Kufah in the past 24 hours. Eight militiamen were arrested in the raid. KR

GRAND AYATOLLAH'S OFFICE URGES ALL SIDES TO END CRISIS IN AL-NAJAF
The office of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a statement on 12 August urging all parties involved to end the current conflict in Al-Najaf. The statement, posted on the ayatollah's website (http://www.rafed.net/maktab), said al-Sistani is closely following events from his hospital bed in London (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004). "His Eminence calls on all parties concerned to seriously work toward putting an end to this crisis as soon as possible and laying down the correct bases to guarantee that such a crisis would not happen again in the future," the statement said. Al-Sistani representative Hamid al-Khaffaf told Al-Jazeera in a 12 August interview that the ayatollah had sent representatives to negotiate with al-Sadr on that day. Asked why the ayatollah has not condemned the operations by U.S. forces in Al-Najaf, al-Khaffaf said: Al-Najaf "is a 1000 year old city. The city of scholars and men of letters is burning. We are not in a situation of bargaining to say that we are condemning or denouncing." Al-Sistani is reportedly to undergo angioplasty surgery on 13 August, international media reported. KR

MILITANTS KIDNAP BRITISH JOURNALIST IN AL-BASRAH
Iraqi militants stormed the hotel room of a British journalist working in Al-Basrah and took the man hostage, international media reported on 13 August. The militants have released a videotape showing a hooded man standing alongside the journalist, who identified himself as James Brandon from the "Sunday Telegraph" newspaper. The man threatened to kill Brandon within 24 hours if U.S. forces did not withdraw from Al-Najaf, Reuters reported. A spokeswoman for the weekly confirmed that Brandon was in Al-Basrah. KR

INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS NO INTENTION TO ARREST IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS HEAD
Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib reportedly said on 12 August that the interim government has "no intention" of following through on an arrest warrant for Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmad Chalabi, Al-Arabiyah reported. Chalabi is wanted on forgery charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2004). INC spokesman Mithal al-Alusi told Al-Jazeera on 12 August that the government has decided to postpone the charges against Chalabi. "We were told via official channels in the Council of Ministers by telephone that a decision by the council...recommends that they [the government] wait and not level charges against the Iraqi symbol Ahmad Chalabi and other Iraqi symbols," al-Alusi said. Chalabi returned to Iraq from Iran on 11 August. KR

MUSLIM SCHOLARS' ASSOCIATION ISSUES FATWA AGAINST ASSISTING U.S. IN AL-NAJAF
The Muslim Scholars' Association has issued a fatwa banning Iraqis from assisting U.S. forces in Al-Najaf, Al-Arabiyah reported on 12 August. In an interview with the satellite news channel on the same day, association leader Abd al-Ghafur al-Samarra'i accused U.S. forces of initiating the latest crisis in Al-Najaf, claiming that the United States attacked the city. "U.S. forces are occupation forces and it is prohibited to support them," he said. "The Iraqi government had said that the Iraqi Army will enter [Al-Najaf] supported by warplanes. But the reality is that the U.S. occupation forces are the ones that enter and the ones that attack," al-Samarra'i added. KR

UN SECURITY COUNCIL RENEWS IRAQI MISSION FOR ANOTHER YEAR
The United Nations Security Council unanimously renewed the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) on 12 August, the UN News Center reported (http://www.un.org/news). UNAMI is responsible for coordinating international humanitarian operations and helping Iraq prepare for nationwide elections in January 2005 and draft a permanent constitution. The mission was established by UN Security Council Resolution 1500 on 14 August 2003. On 12 July, Annan named Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Ashraf Jehangir Qazi as special representative to Iraq, replacing Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in the 22 August 2003 bombing of UN headquarters in Baghdad. The UN subsequently withdrew its international staff from Iraq, relocating many staff members to Jordan. Annan told the Security Council in a 6 August report that security remained a constraint in Iraq. The activities of UNAMI and UN agencies will remain limited to essential tasks as long as the risk to UN personnel in the country is categorized as "high to critical," Annan said in the report. KR

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