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Newsline - August 23, 2004


CABINET DISCUSSES DRAFT 2005 BUDGET
The Finance Ministry submitted its draft 2005 budget to the cabinet on 20 August, Russian media reported on 21 August. The cabinet discussed the draft on 23 August, Russian media reported, and the government is expected to send its draft to the Duma on 26 August. The draft foresees revenues of 3.3 trillion rubles ($110 billion) and expenses of 3 trillion. It is based on an estimated average global oil price of $28 per barrel and forecasts annual GDP growth of 6.3 percent. ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August that the draft includes a 28 percent increase in defense spending and a 38 percent increase in other state spending. State support for exports and small businesses would be boosted, the news agency reported. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov opened the 23 August session by saying that there will be no unfunded state mandates in the 2005 budget. He added that the stabilization fund "will cease to be a cumulative institution and will become an instrument of active budget policy." The fund is expected to contain 574 billion rubles by the end of the year, and about 100 billion rubles from the fund have been included to cover expenditures in the draft 2005 budget. RC

STATE-SECTOR WORKERS GET ANOTHER WAGE HIKE...
Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced during a televised meeting with President Vladimir Putin on 21 August that wages for state-sector workers will increase by 20 percent as of 1 January, RIA-Novosti and Interfax reported. According to Kudrin, the federal budget will cover state sectors at the federal level, and regional and municipal budgets will set the level and time period for raises for their workers. In Moscow, wages will go up as of 1 October, but some regions will start to raise wages only in the second quarter of 2005 in order not to complicate financing during the winter heating season, Kudrin added. RIA-Novosti reported the previous day that as of the end of July, Russia had 5,170,000 registered unemployed people, which is 577,000 less than at same time the previous year. The number of "economically active" people is estimated at 72.9 million, or about 50 percent of the population. JAC

...AS RETIREMENT-AGE SBERBANK DEPOSITORS GET UNEXPECTED PRESENT
Kudrin also told President Putin that some 30 billion rubles ($1 billion) have been set aside in the 2005 budget to compensate Sberbank depositors for their losses during the hyperinflation that accompanied market reforms in 1991, Interfax reported. Kudrin also reported that investors born before 1934 will be fully compensated for their losses. He added that in the future other age groups will receive compensation. JAC

PUTIN SAYS HE'LL LOOK INTO IDEA OF ROTATING MINISTERS
President Putin said during his meeting in Sochi with Finance Minister Kudrin that he will consider a recent proposal by Prime Minister Fradkov that ministers rotate their positions periodically in order to have a broader understanding of the situation Russia faces, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August. "Vremya novostei" and other Russian media reported on 20 August that during a 19 August cabinet meeting Fradkov was met with nervous laughter from ministers when he made the proposal. "I am dead serious and think that this will be the right thing to do," Fradkov said, according to ITAR-TASS on 21 August. When Kudrin reported to Putin that "the prime minister has already suggested that ministers should sometimes be made to swap between portfolios to help them adopt a more comprehensive approach to matters," Putin replied that he will discuss the idea with Fradkov, ITAR-TASS reported. RC

NEWSPAPER REPORTS MAJOR TAX BILL LOOMING FOR YUKOS SUBSIDIARY...
The tax authorities are considering presenting a $3 billion bill for back taxes to Yuganskneftegaz, the main production subsidiary of embattled oil giant Yukos, "The Financial Times" reported on 22 August. Yukos shares fell by 8.5 percent on Moscow markets during the first 20 minutes of trading on 23 August, Interfax reported. "The Financial Times" speculated that the threat of a new tax bill against Yuganskneftegaz might be a tactic to suppress the value of the company in preparation for its sell-off to a government-approved buyer. The Justice Ministry recently named Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein Bank as the assessor to value the company prior to its sale (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004). According to the daily, several potential Western buyers have said they most likely will not bid for Yuganskneftegaz for fear that they could become entangled in a legal battle over ownership of its assets. RC

...AS TALKS ON YUKOS SUSPENDED DURING VACATION SEASON
Discussions over the fate of Yukos have reached a dead end, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 August. Acting Menatep Chairman Tim Osborne told the daily that all contacts between the company and the government have broken down. Osborne said the company has received "no positive signals from the government." He noted, however, that August is the vacation season in Russia and that it is not realistic to expect decisions during this period. RC

SUSPENDED PROPERTY OFFICIAL FACES NEW CHARGE
The Prosecutor-General's Office has completed its investigation of suspended Federal Property Fund Chairman Vladimir Malin and has submitted the case materials to the defense team for study, "Gazeta" reported on 23 August. In addition to the earlier charge that Malin exceeded his authority by trying to cut off the investigation into the 1994 privatization of the Apatit fertilizer factory -- the deal which is at the heart of the charges against former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii and Menatep Chairman Platon Lebedev -- Malin was charged with commercial bribery stemming from 1999 when he served as chairman of an unnamed commercial structure. According to a defense lawyer, Malin is charged with "doing nothing to annul" a 1995 deal under which state shares in the company were transferred to private ownership. Malin's trial is expected to begin in about two months. RC

WITNESS-PROTECTION PROGRAM ESTABLISHED
President Putin on 20 August signed into law a bill on providing state protection to crime victims, witnesses, and others involved in criminal cases, Interfax reported. The bill was passed by the Duma on 31 July and the Federation Council on 8 August. The new law will provide endangered witnesses with new homes, jobs, and identities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 August 2004). RC

CENTRAL BANK HEAD EXPECTS NO BANKING CRISIS THIS YEAR
Central Bank Chairman Sergei Ignatev said on 19 August that there was no banking crisis this spring and that there will not be one this year, gazeta.ru reported. "I don't see any grounds to expect a systemic banking crisis by the end of the year," Ignatev told a 19 August cabinet meeting. He added, however, that the Central Bank will continue revoking the licenses of troubled banks. He declined to speculate about how many banks could lose their licenses this year. Banking-sector analysts interviewed by the website agreed that there are no economic reasons to expect a crisis. "Everything depends on the Central Bank itself," Tserikh Investment Company analyst Sergei Zakharov said, "because those problems that arose at the end of the spring and the beginning of the summer were provoked by the Central Bank itself." RC

WESTERN BANK WANTS STOCK MARKET REGULATOR TO INVESTIGATE DUMA DEPUTY
In response to an inquiry by State Duma Deputy Yurii Savelev (Motherland) regarding the alleged illegal transfer of Gazprom shares to foreigners, the United Financial Group (UFG) has asked the Federal Financial Markets Service to investigate Savelev's activities, "Gazeta" reported on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2004). According to UFG, the incident has made Russia less attractive to foreign investors and "encourages the development of a favorable environment for elements pursuing mercenary ends." As a result of Savelev's inquiry, Gazprom shares fell 12.5 percent on 18 August and UFG claims that its clients lost $200 million. According to "Kommersant-Daily" on 21 August, Gazprom issued a press release on 19 August explaining to its investors why the stock had lost so much value in one day. In the release, the company said there is no objective reason for the decline and added that there is no danger that the state will lose its controlling interest in the company. JAC

SPLIT IN COMMUNIST RANKS TO HURT PARTY COFFERS
"Gazeta" reported on 20 August that Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov has acknowledged that his party faces serious financial problems and has posted an appeal to party members for money on the party's website. Zyuganov promises to use the money to campaign for a referendum to be held on the controversial social-benefits reforms; however, the daily alleges the money might instead be used to maintain the party's regional offices. According to "Gazeta," the party's lack of funds is linked with the departure of the "'so-called Red Oligarch' Gennadii Semigin," who is financing the breakaway group of former Communists led by Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov. That group plans to hold a party congress on 11 September, after which its members plan to take with them all party property, such as computers, desks, and furniture, from regional offices. They are reportedly entitled to do so because it has been the party's practice to register property in the name of individuals rather than the party. JAC

PUTIN 'BEHEADED' IN PSKOV...
Municipal workers in Pskov dismantled a bust of President Putin late in the evening of 20 August with the help of about 50 policemen, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004). The monument was erected in a city square without a permit just a day earlier by political opponents of Pskov Oblast Governor Yevgenii Mikhailov who are called Motherland Against Mikhailov. Mikhailov will run for reelection in November, and the Pskov Telegraf information agency alleged that the group is working for a likely candidate in this race, Sergei Belyaev, the former head of the State Property Committee. Belyaev, who will likely be supported by the Motherland party, denied any knowledge of the bust but said that he supports the anti-Mikhailov philosophy of the group Motherland Against Mikhailov. Belyaev ran for governor of St. Petersburg last September. JAC

...IN INCIDENT ATTRIBUTED TO UPCOMING CAMPAIGN
"Russkii kurer" reported on 20 August that other likely candidates are State Duma Deputy Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia), Airborne Forces General Nikolai Staskov, and Federation Council representative (Kalmykia) Igor Provkin. Political analysts in Pskov predicted in June that Unified Russia State Duma Deputy Aleksei Sigutkin and local businessman Mikhail Bryachak were also likely to participate, RFE/RL's Pskov correspondent reported on 17 June. JAC

DEFENSE MINISTRY ADMITS MONEY FOR DEFENSE PLANT WENT MISSING
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has assured Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov that money to pay wage arrears to striking workers at the Ulyanovsk Mechanical Factory will arrive in a few days, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 August. Hundreds of workers blocked traffic going into Ulyanovsk on 19 August to protest unpaid wages since March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004). Ivanov ordered a payment of 100 million rubles ($3.3 million) be transferred to the region. The money had been earmarked earlier but "for some unknown reason" had not reached the region's account, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 21 August that the Federal Construction, Housing, and Public Utilities Agency has appealed to the government to introduce external administration in Ulyanovsk Oblast. According to the daily, this is only the latest in a long series of such requests dating to 2002. It argues that a "catastrophe" is practically unavoidable in the region this winter. Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Shamanov is expected to run for reelection in December. JAC

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT VISITS CHECHNYA...
President Putin made a previously unannounced visit on the morning of 22 August to Chechnya, where he laid a wreath on the grave of slain pro-Moscow Chechen leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov in the latter's native village of Tsentoroi to mark the 53rd anniversary of Kadyrov's birth, Russian media reported. Putin lauded Kadyrov as an "honest, brave, talented, and decent man," whose sole objective was "to serve the Chechen people," Interfax reported. Putin then returned to Sochi, where he is vacationing, taking with him Kadyrov's son Ramzan, who is a deputy prime minister, and Major General Alu Alkhanov, widely regarded as the Kremlin's preferred candidate in the 29 August ballot to elect a successor to Kadyrov. Following talks in Sochi with the two Chechen officials, Putin announced his support for Alkhanov's request that all profits from the extraction of oil in Chechnya be channeled toward the region's economic rehabilitation. Moscow had consistently rejected similar requests by Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 23 August. LF

...IN A BID TO AVERT LEADERSHIP SPLIT?
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" also suggested that Putin's visit to Chechnya was intended to avert a split between Alkhanov and Kadyrov, who is seen as backing a rival candidate, Vakha Visaev, in the 29 August ballot (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004). Ziyad Sabsabi, who represents the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership in the Russian capital, told "Nezavisimaya gazeta" that "Just because election campaign posters show Ramzan with somebody, it does not mean that Ramzan supports that candidate." LF

CHECHEN RESISTANCE LAUNCHES ASSAULT ON GROZNY
Between 100 and 200 Chechen resistance fighters targeted police posts in Grozny's southern Oktyabrskii Raion and in Minutka Square in the center of the city on the evening of 21 August, killing between eight and 13 Chechen police officers and six Russian troops, chechenpress.com reported on 22 August. The website on 23 August rejected Russian military claims that 18 of the attackers were killed and 12 captured. LF

AUTHORITIES IN INGUSHETIA CLOSE DOWN INTERNET CAFES
Acting on a decree from Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov, local authorities began closing down Internet cafes in Ingushetia on 21 August, the independent website www.ingushetiya.ru reported on 23 August. Owners of Internet cafes, almost all of which have already ceased to function, were asked to produce a license, although republican legislation does not stipulate that a license is required to open such a cafe. The website attributed the authorities' "illegal" action to plans to establish a new youth movement in Ingushetia. LF

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT DEPLORES DECLINE IN TRADE WITH ARMENIA
Meeting in Sochi on 20 August with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian, Russian President Vladimir Putin contrasted what he termed "very good progress in the political and other areas" with a decline in bilateral trade, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Putin attributed that decline to the temporary closure of the giant Armenal aluminum plant in Yerevan, which is owned by Russia's Rusal, while Kocharian blamed it on a decline in Russian exports of uncut diamonds to Armenia. Putin reaffirmed Russia's readiness to provide training in Russia to some 140-150 Armenian military officers, Interfax reported. He also stressed Moscow's willingness "to play the role of mediator and guarantor" of an eventual peace agreement in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. He stressed the importance of mutual willingness to compromise, adding that "it seems to me the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents are predisposed to do this," according to Interfax. Putin announced that at Kocharian's invitation, he will visit Armenia next year "with pleasure," ITAR-TASS reported. LF

PROSECUTOR DEMANDS JAIL TERMS FOR AZERBAIJANI RADICALS
The public prosecutor on 20 August demanded prison terms of four to six years for six members of the Karabakh Liberation Organization (QAT) who in June stormed a Baku hotel to protest the participation of two Armenian army officers at a conference to prepare for NATO-sponsored maneuvers in Azerbaijan this fall, Turan and zerkalo.az reported on 20 and 21 August, respectively (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 June 2004). The prosecutor demanded a six-year jail term for QAT Chairman Akif Nagi on charges of hooliganism, violating public order, and resisting official representatives, five years' imprisonment for Nagi's deputy, Firidun Mamedov, a war invalid, and four years for four other QAT members. LF

CEASE-FIRE HOLDS IN SOUTH OSSETIA AFTER GEORGIAN UNITS WITHDRAW
No clashes were reported from the conflict zone in South Ossetia over the past four nights, Georgian media reported. Georgian Defense Minister Giorgi Baramidze, who oversaw the withdrawal of all Georgian units in excess of the 500 peacekeepers Tbilisi is permitted to deploy in the conflict zone, was quoted by Interfax on 21 August as saying that the withdrawal has been completed. On 21 August, the joint Russian-Georgian-Ossetian peacekeeping force along with OSCE observers began monitoring Ossetian villages in the vicinity of Tskhinvali in a search for rogue elements, ITAR-TASS reported. A spokesman for the joint peacekeeping force said that search is complicated by the fact that the withdrawing Georgian forces laid mines as they retreated, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August. LF

U.S., OSCE CALLS FOR RESUMPTION OF DIALOGUE BETWEEN GEORGIA, SOUTH OSSETIA
U.S. State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli hailed on 20 August the Georgian withdrawal from South Ossetia but at the same time called on both sides and the OSCE to begin negotiations on a political settlement that would preserve South Ossetia's autonomous status within Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 20 August, Bulgarian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman in Office Solomon Pasi wrote separately to Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity expressing concern over the previous day's fighting and calling for "an absolute cessation of hostilities as a precondition for reinvigorating dialogue on a political settlement," according to an OSCE press release. Pasi said the OSCE is ready to help mediate such a dialogue. LF

CHECHEN OFFICIAL OFFERS PEACEKEEPERS FOR SOUTH OSSETIA
In a 20 August interview with the independent Georgian television station Mze, Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Kadyrov offered to send 5,000 armed Chechens to Tskhinvali as peacekeepers to "prevent mass bloodshed" in the region, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 23 August. Kadyrov invited President Saakashvili to visit Chechnya, noting that "Saakashvili simply doesn't know what war is like." But South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloeva denied that any such offer from Kadyrov had been received and hinted that it would be rejected. In Tbilisi, Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava warned Kadyrov on 22 August "not to stick his nose" into the conflict in South Ossetia, according to the Russian daily. Georgia's charge d'affaires in Moscow, Teimuraz Gamtsemlidze, told Ekho Moskvy that Tbilisi would consider any Chechen deployment to South Ossetia as Russian interference in Georgia's internal affairs, according to Caucasus Press on 21 August. Also on 21 August, Georgian opposition parliament deputy Koba Davitashvili told journalists in Tbilisi that Georgia should resume its historic mission of uniting the peoples of the Caucasus and to that end should begin talks with Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov, whom he termed the legitimate Chechen president, Caucasus Press reported. LF

KAZAKH PARTIES HOLD FIRST TV DEBATE
Kazakhstan's 12 officially registered political parties held their first televised debate on 20 August on Khabar TV in preparation for 19 September parliamentary elections, Khabar TV reported. The debate consisted of opening statements, a question and answer session, and final statements. In their opening statements, most parties stressed the need to combat poverty by redistributing profits from the country's oil industry, with opposition parties emphasizing the importance of fighting corruption. Serikbolsyn Abdildin, the leader of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan, stated in response to a question from the pro-presidential Asar party that President Nursultan Nazarbaev's Otan party and the current leadership should give up power. Meanwhile, a poll by the National Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists indicated that nearly 60 percent of voters plan to go to the polls in September, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 20 August. As of the second week of August, 57.4 percent of 2,497 respondents said that they plan to vote. DK

KYRGYZ-RUSSIAN ACCORD TO FINISH BUILDING POWER STATIONS
Kyrgyz Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev and Anatolii Chubais, head of Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES), signed a memorandum of understanding on 20 August to finish the construction of Kyrgyzstan's two Kambar-Ata hydroelectric power stations, Kabar news agency reported. Chubais estimated that the project will cost about $2 billion. "It's clear today that the project will be financed through a combination of loans and investments in internationally accepted proportions," Chubais said according to RIA-Novosti. Chubais said that the current memorandum sets out the basic obligations of the two sides, with a more comprehensive agreement to be signed on 30 November. "The work we've begun with EES will eventually lead to serious development for the Kyrgyz economy in terms of exporting electrical energy and managing water resources," Prime Minister Tanaev said. Russia's "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 August that work on Kambar-Ata No. 1 and No. 2 began in the 1980s, but was halted because of a shortage of funds with the two hydroelectric power stations half finished. Sagynbek Dordoev, the chairman of Kyrgyzstan's Electric Power Stations, told the newspaper that the first Kambar-Ata station could come on-line by fall 2007. DK

HIZB UT-TAHRIR TRIAL OPENS IN TAJIKISTAN
The trial of 20 alleged activists of the banned extremist organization Hizb ut-Tahrir began on 20 August in Kulob, Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported. Aslam Kholov, deputy chairman of the regional court, told the news agency that the defendants face charges ranging from calls for the violent overthrow of the government to failure to report a crime. More than 70 people have been arrested in Tajikistan this year for their alleged involvement with Hizb ut-Tahrir. DK

PROSECUTOR ESCHEWS DEATH PENALTY IN UZBEK TERROR TRIAL
Uzbek Prosecutor Murod Solihov on 20 August asked for sentences ranging from nine to 20 years for 15 defendants charged with involvement in late March-early April violence in Tashkent and Bukhara that left nearly 50 people dead, the BBC's Uzbek Service reported. Noting that the accused admitted their guilt and cooperated with the investigation, Solihov said that he would not ask for the death penalty. Instead, he said that four defendants should spend 20 years in jail, nine defendants should spend 16-18 years, and two female defendants should spend nine and 13 years behind bars. Defense lawyers also pointed to the defendants' confessions and cooperation, asking the judge to hand down lenient sentences, Uzbek TV reported. DK

REPORT CLAIMS UZBEK DETECTIVE IS MURDERED IN KAZAKHSTAN
The murder of an Uzbek citizen whose body was discovered in Shymkent, Kazakhstan may be linked to terrorism attacks in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan's Channel 31 reported on 20 August. The report quotes unidentified "first-hand" sources as saying that an Uzbek citizen found dead in a Shymkent sauna was an Uzbek detective who arrived to investigate reports that some of the defendants in the Hizb ut-Tahrir trial trained in southern Kazakhstan. In a bizarre twist, the Channel 31 report claimed that Kazakh police found near the body of the murdered Uzbek citizen "an ordinary shoe into the sole of which a gun in the form of a ballpoint pen had been installed." Uzbek authorities recently stated that one of the three suicide bombers in 30 July attacks in Tashkent was Avaz Shoyusupov, a Kazakh citizen (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004). Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry and National Security Committee both stated on 20 August that they are working with the Uzbek authorities to investigate terror attacks in Tashkent, Khabar TV reported. DK

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION UNITES BEFORE PARLIAMENTARY BALLOT, BUT NOT ENTIRELY...
The European Coalition Free Belarus, the Young Belarus group, and the Respublika caucus of several dissenting lawmakers in the Chamber of Representatives on 20 August agreed to draw up a common slate for the 17 October legislative elections, Belapan reported. Mikalay Statkevich, chairman of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Popular Assembly) and a coordinator of Free Belarus, told the agency that the three groups will also coordinate their actions while monitoring the elections. Statkevich expressed regret that the opposition Popular Coalition Five Plus has not entered into the deal. "We have long tried to agree [with Five Plus] on a merger [and] held consultations. We have been waiting for Five Plus to respond for five months. Now we cannot waste time waiting, the campaign is already underway," Statkevich said. Meanwhile, Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party from Five Plus, welcomed the election deal concluded by Free Belarus, Young Belarus, and Respublika. "Naturally, it will be easier for us to find common grounds with one united alliance than with three different blocks," Lyabedzka said. "Probably, they will now name their parliamentary candidates and the pro-democracy forces will eventually manage to draw up a really common slate." JM

...AS ONE MORE PARTY NOMINATES CANDIDATES FOR LEGISLATIVE, PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS...
A convention of the Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party (LDPB) on 21 August selected its nominees for the 17 October legislative ballot in all of the country's 110 constituencies, Belapan reported. LDPB leader Syarhey Haydukevich criticized the opposition Popular Coalition Five Plus as an "antipopular" alliance with which, he added, his party will not make "any compromise." The convention also voted to "recommend" Haydukevich to run in Belarus's presidential election in 2006. JM

...AND NGO SAYS MORE THAN 70 NOMINATION GROUPS DENIED REGISTRATION UNLAWFULLY
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHK) has said that the authorities illegally denied registration for 74 nomination groups set up to collect signatures for candidates in the 17 October parliamentary elections, Belapan reported on 20 August. BHK spokesman Dzmitry Markusheuski told the agency that district election commissions have refused to register the groups on the grounds that some of their members have no voting rights or had been coerced -- in violation of what he called the principle of "voluntary participation in elections." The BHK insists that, under electoral regulations, the presence of a person not eligible to collect voter signatures should not lead to a registration denial but to the exclusion of that person from the group. According to the BHK, in many cases members of nomination groups have not complained that they were enlisted against their will, and such evidence was "dug up" by government officials who served as members of election commissions. JM

BELARUS HOSTS MEETING ON CIS SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE
On 20 August in Minsk, representatives of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine adopted a list of 29 agreements that the four countries are to draft and sign in order to develop a Single Economic Space (SES), Belapan reported. Kazakh Deputy Prime Minister Sauat Mynbaev told journalists that these accords are to be drafted by the end of the year. "We hope that the sides will manage to sign the first package of agreements by mid-2005," he added. According to Mynbayev, the agreements will provide for a uniform approach to the appraisal of goods, standard rules concerning the origin of goods, uniform principles of policy regarding competition, and the removal of trade quotas. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko expressed hope that the next summit of the four countries, scheduled for 15 September, might result in an agreement on the universal use of the country-of-destination principle in trade among all SES participants starting 1 January 2005. "It would be a good step, the first stage of which has already been implemented by Russia and Ukraine," he said. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT VOWS TO INCREASE LOWEST PENSION, SUBSISTENCE MINIMUM IN 2005
Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said on 21 August that the government in 2005 will increase the current minimum monthly pension of 137 hryvnyas ($26) to the subsistence minimum for disabled persons, which now stands at 285 hryvnyas, Interfax reported. The average subsistence minimum in Ukraine was established by the government in May and equals 362 hryvnyas. The government is planning to increase this minimum to 382 hryvnyas in 2005. JM

OUR UKRAINE HEAD TOURS DNIPROPETROVSK REGION WITH ANOTHER OPPOSITION LEADER
Presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, who heads the opposition Our Ukraine bloc, arrived in Dnipropetrovsk on 22 August for a two-day presidential-campaign tour of the region, Ukrainian news agencies reported. In Dnipropetrovsk, Yushchenko was met by Yuliya Tymoshenko, leader of the eponymous opposition bloc and his election ally. In Yushchenko's presidential campaign, Tymoshenko and her bloc are responsible for preparing his meetings with voters in Ukraine's eastern regions (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 10 August 2004). Tymoshenko told the 21-27 August issue of "Zerkalo nedeli" that her bloc is ready to lead a "real revolt" in the event of "large-scale falsifications" in the 31 October elections. JM

UKRAINIAN LAW ENFORCERS WARN AGAINST OPPOSITION'S 'PROVOCATIONS'
The Prosecutor-General's Office, the Security Service of Ukraine, and the Interior Ministry have not issued a joint statement pledging to apply timely "preventive measures" against what they call possible "various dangerous provocations" on the part of the opposition, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported on 22 August. "Some representatives of the opposition have announced that if they lose the presidential elections, they will call on Ukraine's population to express protest in the most extreme forms -- a revolt," the statement read. "We deem it our duty to state that Ukraine's constitutional authorities will in no way yield to provocations and blackmail. We are fully resolute to prevent the hazardous ventures that are being organized by opposition staffs." JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER URGES MARGINAL CANDIDATES TO QUIT PRESIDENTIAL RACE
Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko, head of the parliamentary Committee for the Freedom of Expression and Information, on 21 August called on presidential candidates with low popularity ratings to quit the presidential race voluntarily, Interfax reported. Tomenko said that, according to surveys, support for 18 out of the 26 presidential candidates does not exceed 1 percent. Furthermore, he specified that these 18 candidates include 10 hopefuls with zero backing. "I request that these 10 unpopular candidates make the Ukrainian people happy and withdraw their presidential bids," Tomenko told journalists. According to Tomenko, such a large number of candidates in the presidential campaign makes it very difficult for the media to observe the principle of equality in reporting on presidential-campaign developments. JM

MACEDONIA'S GOVERNING SOCIAL DEMOCRATS ACCEPT REFERENDUM
Macedonian Defense Minister and Social Democratic Union (SDSM) Deputy Chairman Vlado Buckovski said on 22 August that his party accepts the results of the petition drive for a referendum on the government's controversial redistricting plans, "Utrinski vesnik" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July, and 13 August 2004). Buckovski added, however, that his party will try to convince people that the referendum is divisive and a waste of effort and money. In the meantime, the SDSM's junior coalition partner, the ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), which opposes the referendum, demanded that parliament approves the referendum only with a "double majority" as stipulated by the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement -- a majority of all members of parliament and of all ethnic Albanian legislators, "Dnevnik" reported on 21 August. UB

BOSNIAN PRIME MINISTER RELUCTANTLY AGREES TO SENDING DEMINING UNIT TO IRAQ
Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic told "Oslobodjenje" of 22 August that he voted against sending a Bosnian demining unit to Iraq at a recent meeting of the governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2004). Terzic noted that the majority of SDA leaders approved the mission, and that he accepts their decision. He also stressed that his opposition to the measure has not affected his relations with Sulejman Tihic, who is the Muslim member, chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a supporter of sending the unit to Iraq. PM

MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT DEFENDS ITSELF AGAINST ENVIRONMENTALISTS' CRITICISM
Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Jusuf Kalamperovic told the Podgorica daily "Vijesti" of 23 August that the government has made no decision to build the Buk Bijela hydroelectric plant on the Drina River, which would flood the Tara River Canyon, the private Beta news agency reported. He noted that Montenegro and the Republika Srpska have only formed a commission to collect bids for the proposed project. Environmentalists have collected more than 8,600 signatures against damming the Tara River Canyon, which is the deepest in Europe and the second deepest in the world, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Parliamentary speaker Ranko Krivokapic, who has signed the petition, has promised to put the measure before the legislature. PM

ALBANIAN GOVERNING PARTY SET TO SPLIT?
Former Prime Minister Ilir Meta said in Tirana on 20 August that he and his supporters plan to leave the governing Socialist Party soon and form a rival organization in time for the parliamentary elections expected in 2005, Reuters reported. Referring to the political landscape polarized between the Socialists and the Democratic Party, Meta stressed that time has come to end the "14-year-long situation of two rigid blocks that have not only exhausted themselves but produced personal vendettas, not politics." The news agency reported that analysts are divided as to whether Meta and his supporters will be able to undermine seriously the power of Prime Minister Fatos Nano, who controls a vast patronage and business network. Nano and Meta have been feuding for some time (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February and 15 December 2003, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 27 June 2003). PM

KOSOVA'S PRIME MINISTER TELLS SERBIA TO STAY OUT OF ELECTION PROCESS
Kosova's Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi said in Prishtina on 20 August that "Belgrade...should change its attitude and not interfere" with the 23 October parliamentary elections by encouraging the Serbian minority to boycott the vote, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 August 2004). PM

ROMANIAN PRIME MINISTER REVEALS PLANS FOR PRESIDENT'S POLITICAL FUTURE
In an interview with the private Antena 1 television channel on 19 August, Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party (PSD) Chairman Adrian Nastase said his party intends to offer President Ion Iliescu a place on its lists for the November parliamentary elections, Mediafax reported. Iliescu's term expires at the end of 2004. Nastase said he is convinced Iliescu will accept the offer. Regarding the widespread speculation that Iliescu intends to return to head the PSD, Nastase said he does not believe Iliescu wants to have "an executive position" in the party, but the decision is "for him and PSD members to take." Nastase also said that the PSD might select a candidate for the post of prime minister ahead of the parliamentary elections. Answering whether that candidate might be Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, Nastase said that Geoana "is a colleague I value very much." MS

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT REJECTS 'CLIENTIST' LABEL
In a 22 August statement, the government said it rejects "allegations" made on 20 August by National Liberal Party (PNL) Chairman Theodor Stolojan that it promotes political "clientism," Mediafax reported. The cabinet countered by saying that Stolojan has apparently forgotten the "notorious clientism practiced by governments formed by his current PNL and Democratic Party supporters." The cabinet called Stolojan's statements "libelous and immoral and accused the PNL-Democratic Party presidential candidate of "arrogance." According to the statement, Stolojan heads a "gang of traffickers in children" who, in 1997-2000 sold them abroad, applying methods identical to those used by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu when he "sold Jews and Germans abroad " for money. The statement further said that "the greediness of the PNL oligarchy is boundless" and that the PNL-Democratic Party leaders want to govern Romania using "Al-Qaeda methods of threats, blackmail, blows, and fire-starting." On 20 August, Stolojan said he will not respond to the "bucketful of hogwash" thrown at him by the PSD. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY BEGINS SELECTION OF PARLIAMENTARY CANDIDATES
Over 1,000 PSD members are competing in internal primaries for slots on the party's lists of candidates for the November parliamentary elections, the "Jurnalul national" daily reported. The primaries -- the first ever in Romania -- started on 21 August and will continue for 18 days. Seven hundred and twenty-two politicians are running for slots on the Chamber of Deputies' lists and 287 for the Senate lists. The PSD currently has 170 deputies and 69 senators. MS

TIRASPOL AUTHORITIES PLAY 'REGISTRATION' GAMES...
Separatist "Education Minister" Elena Bomeshko announced on 21 August that the Alexandru cel Bun Lyceum in Bendery-Tighina has been registered for one year as an educational institution with nongovernmental status, BASA-press reported. Bomeshenko said the lyceum's name has been changed to a "theoretical lyceum." She added that the registration is conditioned by the management's agreement to introduce a number of "amendments" to the school's charter. Flux reported on 21 August that the "amendments" refer to eight out of nine points in the charter, and extend to teaching in Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script and to following a Chisinau-approved curriculum. On 20 August, Flux cited Maria Roibu, director of the lyceum, as saying she has refused to accept the "registration certificate" under these conditions. Flux and Infotag reported on 20 August that the local authorities in Rybnitsa are refusing to register the Eureka Lyceum under the pretext that the building is now occupied by another educational institution, as well as refusing to register the school in Tiraspol, on the grounds that the building is unsafe. MS

...LIFT ENTRY BAN ON OSCE OFFICIALS
The separatist authorities announced on 20 August that they have lifted the ban imposed last week on two OSCE officials who brought water and food to the besieged orphanage in Bendery-Tighina, Infotag and BASA-Press reported. They also announced that the militiamen have been removed from around the school building. One day earlier, the Transdniestrian "Foreign Ministry" issued a protest against what it called the "insulting" behavior of the two OSCE officials, saying that their behavior was incompatible with their diplomatic status and amounted to "interfering into the internal affairs of the country where they serve" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 and 20 August 2004). MS

PROSECUTORS INVESTIGATE DETERIORATION OF SITUATION IN TRANSDNIESTER
The Moldovan Prosecutor-General's Office on 20 August launched an official investigation into the closing by Transdniestrian separatists of schools teaching in Moldovan (Romanian) with Latin script, BASA-Press reported. The office said the measure amounted to a "violation of equal rights" stipulated in the Moldovan Constitution. The office is also investigating the blockade of rail traffic in Bendery-Tighina and the smuggling of goods to Ukraine on the Slobodka-Rybnitsa railway, which links Ukraine with Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 4, and 19 August 2004).

LINKING THE PAST TO THE FUTURE IN THE BALTICS
Fifteen years ago today more than one million Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians formed a human chain for more than 600 kilometers across the three Baltic countries. They did so both to mark the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact -- whose secret protocols had allowed the Soviet Union to occupy their countries -- and to generate domestic and international support for the recovery of their independence.

That event and, even more, the national movements it energized have proved remarkably and unexpectedly successful. Within two years, the three Baltic countries had regained their independence. Within five, they saw the departure of the last Soviet/Russian troops. And now they are firmly anchored in the West as full members of NATO and the European Union.

As a result, the commemorations of the "Baltic Chain" of 1989 have become ever smaller and less well-publicized as ever more citizens of the Baltic countries look to the future rather than the past. On the 10th anniversary of the Baltic Chain there were small demonstrations, academic meetings, official pronouncements, and the issuance of commemorative stamps. This year -- the next "round" anniversary -- there are likely to be even fewer events.

On the one hand, this is entirely natural. The most immediate issues the three Baltic countries face are very different than those they had to confront at the time of the Baltic Chain. Worrying about tax policies or adapting to EU requirements is something fundamentally removed from seeking to recover an independence illegitimately taken from them.

But, on the other hand, it is unfortunate because the events of August 1989 still have much to say to the people of the Baltic countries and indeed to the people of the world. For the people of the Baltic countries the Baltic Chain still highlights three important realities, realities from which none of these three countries can escape. First, the Baltic Chain serves as a reminder that there is no possible "end of history" in that region. Yes, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are in a better position now than they have ever been in the last century, but more than almost any other group of people in the world, they have been forced to recognize that history is not, as so many politicians like to say, "irreversible."

Second, the Baltic Chain serves to emphasize the importance of continuity in the lives of the three Baltic Countries. The conviction that Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian statehood was not extinguished by Soviet occupation, the belief that each of these countries had something to restore rather than create anew was the basis of the Baltic miracle in recovering de facto independence in 1991. More significantly, it has served as the foundation of the equally impressive Baltic miracle in their emergence as among the most successful of the post-Soviet states.

And third, the Baltic Chain also underscores the importance of three linkages: between the Baltic people and their governments, among the Baltic countries, and between the Baltic states and the West. Precisely because so many people took part in the Baltic Chain -- nearly one in seven of the residents of the three republics -- the Baltic drive for independence became a mass movement, a development that set the stage for the democratic arrangements in the Baltic countries since 1991.

A remembrance of the Baltic Chain also serves as a reminder of the importance of the linkage among the three Baltic countries today. In 1989, the three had a common enemy and a common goal. Now, they have increasingly diverse interests and attachments. But the commonalities of 1989 are not to be neglected if the three countries are to continue and extend the miracle they began 15 years ago today.

At the same time, the Baltic Chain also reaffirmed the attachment between the Baltic independence movements and the West. Not only did the Baltic Chain appeal to Western governments following the U.S.-led policy of not recognizing the forcible incorporation of the three Baltic states by the Soviet Union, but it also appealed to the people of the West. And the links between the Baltic peoples and the citizens of the Western democracies reaffirmed by the Baltic Chain have continued to work to the benefit of the Baltic countries.

For all these reasons, the Baltic Chain should not be forgotten or downplayed in the Baltic countries. But there is another, equally compelling reason that the chain should not be forgotten by the rest of the world. Not only has it served as a model for other national movements -- most recently in Taiwan where more than 2 million people joined hands in a chain last spring -- but it serves as a reminder of something far more important, especially in this time of renewed concern about state effectiveness.

And that is this: No government, no matter how powerful its instruments of coercion may appear, can survive when the people it rules turn against it on matters of principle. As the events in Vilnius and Riga showed less than two years after the Baltic Chain, there simply aren't enough bullets to block forever the aspirations of an entire people who seek independence -- just as there is no concrete walk, no matter how thick, that a flower will not ultimately break through.

That is why the lessons of the Baltic Chain remain important now -- and will do so for a very long time to come.

Paul Goble is the senior adviser to the director at the International Broadcasting Bureau.

AFGHAN LEADER DUE IN PAKISTAN
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai is due to arrive to Pakistan on 23 August for a two-day official visit, the Lahore paper "Daily Times" reported on 22 August. The visit was originally planned for July but was delayed because of deadlines for candidate registration for the 9 October Afghan presidential elections, the Kabul weekly "Cheragh" reported on 22 August. Karzai is expected to meet Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shujaat Hussain, and other Pakistani officials, the "Daily Times" added. The two main themes in talks between Afghan and Pakistani leaders is expected to be the ongoing fight against remnants of Al-Qaeda and the resurgent neo-Taliban militia and the fate of hundreds of Pakistanis who fought with the Taliban and are still in Afghan jails, the BBC reported on 22 August. AT

U.S. FORCES KILL THREE AT CHECKPOINT...
U.S. forces on 21 August killed three people after firing upon a vehicle that reportedly failed to stop at a checkpoint in the Dehro area of south-central Ghazni Province, Radio Afghanistan reported the next day. The U.S. troops are part of a joint unit with the Afghan National Army. Two of the victims were female and all three were from the same family. U.S. forces searched the vehicle but found nothing suspicious. A spokesman for the U.S. coalition forces blamed the driver of the vehicle, who apparently ignored instructions from U.S. troops to stop. Ghazni Province Governor Asadullah Khaled said one of those killed was a child, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. AT

...AS U.S. ENVOY EXPRESSES HIS CONDOLENCES
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad expressed in a 22 August press release his "condolences to the families of the victims of the tragic incident in Ghazni." According to Khalilzad the Combined Forces Command has launched an investigation into the incident. AT

UN STAFF UNION CALLS FOR PULLOUT FROM AFGHANISTAN
Fearing that UN staff members may become targets of violence in the run-up to Afghanistan's presidential elections, the UN staff union has called for the withdrawal of all of its members from the country, the BBC reported on 21 August. Guy Candusso, vice president of the union said, "as we approach election time, more than likely attacks will intensify." AT

NATIONAL ARMY SECURES THE RELEASE OF MILITIA IN WESTERN AFGHANISTAN
The National Army sent to prevent further clashes between forces loyal to local warlord Amanullah Khan and the militia of Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan has secured the release of 15 militiamen loyal to the Herat governor, Afghanistan Television reported on 22 August. Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zaher Azimi, discussing the security situation in Herat, said more than 6,000 people have voluntarily joined the National Army since April. The full force of the National Army is estimated at 13,000 (for more on hostilities in Herat that began on 13 August, see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16-20 August 2004). AT

REFORMIST LEGISLATOR APPEARS IN TEHRAN COURT
Former Tehran parliamentarian Mohsen Mirdamadi, who is a member of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Party, appeared in the court for state employees and the media on 21 August in response to a complaint from Islamic Revolution Guards Corps deputy commander Mohammad Baqer Zolqadr, "Sharq" reported on 22 August. Mirdamadi allegedly said in an interview that military personnel's interference in political affairs weakens the armed forces. BS

IRANIAN COURT FINES JOURNALIST
The Tehran public court has fined reformist journalist Emadedin Baqi 1 million rials ($115) for insulting the Guardians Council and other officials, "Iran News" reported on 21 August. Baqi's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, said his client was initially charged with publishing lies that were intended to disturb public opinion, but the charge was changed to insulting the Guardians Council and officials (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 August 2004). BS

IRAN GETS ANOTHER NEWS AGENCY
The Shabestan News Agency (http://www.shabestannews.com) was launched on 21 August, "Tehran Times" reported on 22 August. The agency was described in the report as the country's first mosque news agency and it receives support from the Supreme Headquarters of Cultural Centers of Mosques. Shabestan will report on religious news in Iran and the rest of the world. (On the recent proliferation of news agencies in Iran, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 29 March 2004.) BS

ISRAEL CLAIMS IRAN IN A PANIC
An anonymous senior source in the Israeli government said that Tehran is panicking, "Yediot Aharonot" reported on 22 August. The Iranian government is trying to tone down recent aggressive statements from military officers because it fears either a U.S. or an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities. Simultaneously, it has accelerated work on its nuclear project and the Shihab-3 missile. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 21 August that Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani's comments were distorted, IRNA reported. According to Assefi, Shamkhani was only saying that Iran will defend its territorial integrity, and furthermore, Shamkhani actually said, "Tehran does not let anyone invade the country. If anyone tries to attack Iran, we will decisively respond and will defend the country's interests." Shamkhani's comments were made during an 18 August interview on Al-Jazeera satellite television. BS

IRANIAN NUCLEAR PLANT HAS COST MORE THAN $1 BILLION
Iranian Atomic Energy Organization official Assadollah Saburi said on 22 August that to date Iran has spent more than $1 billion on the Bushehr nuclear power plant, IRNA reported, and it will spend another $3 billion or $4 billion to bring the facility on-line. He said Iran will receive all the equipment by March 2005 and installation could take another year. Saburi predicted that the facility will become operational in October 2006. This is a year later than scheduled, and Saburi ascribed the delay to the continuing disagreement with Russia over the financial aspect of the transfer of spent fuel back to Russia. He said the transfer will take place eight or nine years from now, so it is difficult to figure out the costs. Saburi added that delays are also caused by Iranian insistence that the nuclear power plant meets strict security and environmental safety standards. BS

STANDOFF CONTINUES IN IRAQI HOLY CITY
The standoff between radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and U.S. and Iraqi forces continued on 23 August after a night of heavy fighting, international media reported. Al-Sadr was to hand over the keys to Al-Najaf's Imam Ali Shrine to representatives of Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on 21 August, but that handover has not taken place. IRNA reported on that day that al-Sistani's representatives said it was not possible to form a delegation that would take charge of the key to the shrine. The ayatollah remains in London where he is receiving medical attention. Al-Sadr spokesman Ahmad al-Shaybani reportedly told Al-Arabiyah television on 23 August that the handover will take place, but did not say when. Meanwhile, State Minister Qasim Dawud demanded during a 22 August press briefing that al-Sadr appear in person and pledge that he accepts the conditions outlined by the Iraqi National Conference delegation to lay down his arms and abandon the Imam Ali Mosque. Dawud said that al-Sadr's representatives have made a number of conflicting statements since 20 August. Prime Minister Iyad Allawi accused foreign elements of being behind the ongoing crisis in Al-Najaf, Voice of the Mujahidin Radio reported on 22 August. KR

DIYALA PROVINCE DEPUTY GOVERNOR ESCAPES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
Two Iraqis were killed and four injured in an assassination attempt targeting the deputy governor of Diyala Province, Ghassan al-Khadran, on 22 August, Al-Jazeera reported. A number of officials from the province have been targeted by militants in recent months. KurdSat reported on 22 August that Al-Khadran was injured in the attack, while two police officers working as his bodyguards were killed and seven injured in the attack. Meanwhile, unidentified militants have reportedly abducted the son of Ayatollah Muhammad Sa'id al-Hakim, Baghdad's Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 22 August. Mahdi al-Hakim was taken hostage on 21 August during a visit to the home of Mahdi al-Kharasani, who was reportedly beaten during the incident. Al-Sharqiyah also reported on 22 August that four gunmen kidnapped Isma'il Sami, the director of the Al-Musayyib power station after chasing him in his vehicle. The news channel did not say where the abduction took place. KUNA reported on 22 August that Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib survived an assassination attempt in Baghdad on the same day. Ministry officials, however, denied that such an incident took place. KR

JOURNALIST RELEASED FROM CAPTIVITY IN IRAQ
U.S.-French journalist Micah Garen was released from captivity on 22 August after representatives of Shi'ite cleric al-Sadr intervened, Al-Jazeera reported. Garen and his translator were kidnapped on 13 August. Al-Sadr aide Aws al-Khafaji told Al-Jazeera in an interview on 22 August that, "It became clear that this U.S. journalist Micah Garen has contributed to revealing the truth" in incidents that have taken place between U.S. forces and Iraqi militiamen in southern Iraq. Garen told Al-Jazeera in the same interview that he was abducted while taking photographs in an Al-Nasiriyah marketplace, saying, "I think they considered me as a suspicious person and, therefore, there was a misunderstanding." Garen thanked the al-Sadr office and all those who helped secure his release in the interview. Garen's translator, Amir Dushi, was also released on 22 August. The two men were working on a story about the looting of archaeological sites in Iraq when they were abducted, AP reported on 22 August. KR

U.S. MILITARY COURT BEGINS PRETRIAL HEARINGS OF FOUR ABU GHURAYB GUARDS
A U.S. military court in Mannheim, Germany, will begin pretrial hearings on 23 August for four U.S. soldiers suspected of abusing detainees at Baghdad's Abu Ghurayb prison, international media reported. Specialists Charles Graner and Megan Ambuhl, Staff Sergeant Ivan Frederick, and Sergeant Javal Davis will appear during two days of hearings. Their court appearances were moved to Germany in order to provide easier access to their attorneys, Reuters reported. Graner faces charges that include sexually humiliating and beating detainees. According to Reuters, he is accused of photographing a detainee being dragged on a leash and posing for a picture next to a pile of naked detainees. He is also charged with forcing prisoners to strip naked and masturbate in front of each other, and with forcing one detainee to simulate oral sex on another detainee. Graner also faces charges of adultery. Graner and his colleagues have claimed that they committed the offenses at the instruction of their superiors. Graner's lawyer has said that U.S. President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should testify at the trials, Reuters reported. KR

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