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Newsline - August 24, 2004


PUTIN, LUKASHENKA SAY DRAFT UNION-STATE CONSTITUTION TO BE READY SOON...
President Vladimir Putin met on 23 August in Sochi with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to discuss bilateral issues, Russian and international media reported. In comments to reporters, Putin dismissed a call by U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) for international pressure to remove Lukashenka. "[Belarusians] should decide for themselves," Putin said, according to ITAR-TASS. "Parliamentary elections will be held in Belarus in October. Then we'll see the Belarusian people's choice." The presidents also said that work continues on a draft constitution for the Russia-Belarus Union. "With the effort we are putting in, we can reach a joint document in the very near future," Lukashenka was quoted by the news agency as saying. The presidents set 1 January 2006 as the target date for the adoption of the Russian ruble as the joint currency of the union state. "It is to be hoped that by that time all doubts will become history," Putin said. "If this happens, very good. If not, we will keep working." RC

...AND DISCUSS BILATERAL ECONOMIC COOPERATION
President Putin also said that Russia could resume exporting gas to Belarus at domestic rates if a joint venture between Russia's Gazprom and the Belarusian pipeline monopoly Beltranshaz is established, Prime-TASS reported. Talks on such a joint venture are under way, he said. Finally, Putin said that Moscow's recent decision to allow Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to collect value-added tax (VAT) on Russian gas transiting their territories will "have a positive effect on the development" of relations between Russia and Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2004). Lukashenka hailed the move as "a very powerful and timely step on Russia's part," Interfax reported. The news agency reported that the two presidents pledged to take steps to see that new customs barriers between the two countries are not established. RC

ANOTHER PUTIN AIDE JOINS THE BOARD OF AN OIL-SECTOR COMPANY
Presidential administration deputy head Vladislav Surkov was appointed on 20 August to the board of directors of the state-owned Transprodukt oil-transportation company, Interfax reported on 24 August. RosBalt reported on 24 August that Surkov replaces administration economics adviser Aleksandr Krasnov as the Kremlin's representative on the nine-member board and that Surkov is likely to be selected to replace former Energy Minister Igor Yusufov as the company's board chairman. All nine members of the board except Transprodukt President Sergei Maslov are government officials. Transprodukt's 2003 revenues were 11.1 billion rubles ($370 million). In July, deputy presidential administration head Igor Sechin was named board chairman of Rosneft (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July and 5 August 2004), and administration head Dmitrii Medvedev is board chairman of the state-controlled natural-gas monopoly Gazprom. Presidential aide Igor Shuvalov is on the board of Russian Railways, the state-owned company that controls oil exports via rail, "Gazeta" reported on 24 August. RC

YUKOS HAS PAID $1.5 BILLION IN BACK TAXES SO FAR
Embattled oil giant Yukos has so far paid about $1.5 billion of the $3.4 billion it owes in taxes and penalties from 2000, Interfax reported on 23 August, citing a company press release. Of that amount, $700 million was paid by the company and $800 million came from seized company assets. The press release said that all the taxes from 2000 will be paid by the end of this month, although $1.7 billion in penalties will remain outstanding. On 23 August, the Moscow Arbitration Court rejected a Yukos appeal against the government's seizure of the company's shares of four production subsidiaries -- Geofit, Tomskneftegeofizika, Khantymanskiisknefteprodukt, and Novosibirsknefteprodukt, Interfax reported. RC

PUTIN, BUSH HOLD TELEPHONE CONFERENCE
President Putin spoke by telephone with U.S. President George W. Bush on 23 August, Interfax reported, citing presidential foreign-policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko. The leaders discussed the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan and bilateral issues, including developing energy-sector cooperation. Prikhodko said the presidents also discussed possible future summit meetings. RC

MINISTRY TO RELEASE INFORMATION ABOUT COUNTRY'S GOLD RESERVES
Information about Russia's total estimated gold reserves will soon be declassified, "Vedomosti" reported on 19 August, citing the Natural Resources Ministry. Reserves of platinum-group metals will remain a state secret, the daily reported. A presidential order declassifying information about gold reserves was issued in 2001, but the ministry is only now preparing to enforce it. According to the daily, the decision will allow Norilsk Nickel to disclose the size of the reserves it controls in the major Olimpiadinskoe mineral deposit. Those reserves are estimated at 700-800 tons, and market analysts cited by the daily said they do not expect the official figures to differ significantly from the current estimates. "The fact that they have been secret up to now is not so important," Aton Capital industry analyst Timothy McCutcheon told the daily. RC

MINISTER REJECTS CHARGES THAT 2005 BUDGET IS 'MILITARIZED'
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov on 23 August rejected allegations that the 2005 draft budget approved that day by the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004) is "militarized," ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The government's draft foresees a 28 percent increase in defense and security spending, which represents about 17 percent of total expenditures, "The Moscow Times" reported on 24 August. Ivanov said that defense spending in 2005 will equal about 2.6-2.7 percent of GDP, as it has in recent years. Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry has announced that it will created an experimental division to test new types of military equipment and new battlefield tactics, "Vremya novostei" reported on 24 August. According to the report, the division will be based on a similar U.S. unit. RC

VOLGA-REGION GOVERNOR FACES CRIMINAL CHARGES...
Yaroslavl Oblast Governor Anatolii Lisitsyn has been charged with abuse of office, which allegedly incurred losses of more than 1.5 billion rubles ($51 million) to the oblast budget, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported on 23 August. Lisitsyn has agreed not to leave Yaroslavl while the charges are being investigated. Lisitsyn told reporters in Yaroslavl that he considers the charges to be unfounded. Among the accusations against him is that in 2000 he arranged for interest-free credits from the oblast budget to be granted to a number of local enterprises and federal structures, including the Yaroslavl State Medical Academy. Lisitsyn said that the credits to the academy were used to pay staff wages while money from the federal budget was being transferred. The money was then repaid a month later. According to Regnum, Lisitsyn is being investigated not only by the Prosecutor-General's Office but also by the Audit Chamber, whose investigation has been extended until 28 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 June 2004). Valerii Grashchenkov, head of the group of inspectors, told "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on 24 August that the Audit Chamber's investigation is not connected with that of the Prosecutor-General's Office. JAC

...THAT POSSIBLY STEM FROM HIS CRITICISM OF THE GOVERNMENT
When the Prosecutor-General's Office announced its investigation in June, Governor Lisitsyn told a local television station that the presidential administration was upset by his criticism of the government's plan to replace in-kind benefits with cash payments, implying that the investigation into his administration was motivated at least partly by political reasons. The last straw, Lisitsyn said at the time, was his appearance on the NTV program "Svoboda slova," ("RFE/RL Newsline," 1 July 2004). That program is no longer on the air. Lisitsyn was elected to a second term in December. JAC

SIBERIAN PRESIDENT SAYS CASE AGAINST HIM IS ELECTION PLOY
The preliminary hearing in the case against Altai Republic President Mikhail Lapshin has been rescheduled for 26 August, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 21 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004). Lapshin is accused of failing to provide enough assistance to residents affected by an earthquake last year. According to the daily, prosecutors blame Lapshin for the fact that not one home has been built for the families who were affected by the earthquake, even though federal funds were transferred for this purpose. Lapshin said that many homes are on the verge of being handed over, and others are in the final stages of completion. He described the entire legal process as a "pre-election intrigue." Lapshin is up for reelection in December. JAC

POPULAR DAILY ARGUES THAT BANKING CRISIS, SOCIAL-WELFARE REFORM UNDERMINING STABILITY...
"Trud" argued on 24 August that one of President Putin's most important accomplishments has been the establishment of stability following the never-ending twists, turns, and shocks that characterized the Yeltsin era. However, that accomplishment is being undermined, and in recent months, Russia has become shakier like a boat on choppy water, according to the daily. First, there was the "poorly prepared pension reform whose conditions were constantly changing." Then, an "even more serious cause for anxiety" emerged when legislation to change the system of social-benefits guarantees was proposed. Another "objective reason" for public unease, according to the paper, is that in the midst of advantageous economic conditions -- such as high oil prices -- Russia experienced a banking crisis despite the lack of an objective reason for the panicked reaction of depositors. JAC

...AS GOVERNMENT FAILS ON THE ON THE PUBLIC-RELATIONS FRONT
"Trud" then went on to quote Pilar Bonet, Moscow correspondent for "El Pais," who wrote that "in a situation when it is necessary for high-level bureaucrats to explain the most important policies, they prefer to remain silent." As a result, according to "Trud," the government's approval rating is falling quickly. In April 2004, the cabinet had an approval rating of 44 percent in monthly surveys conducted by the Levada Analytical Center. By June, the rating had fallen to 38 percent. JAC

GOVERNMENT TO LET MORE PETRODOLLARS TRICKLE DOWN TO POPULACE
Health and Social Development Minister Mikhail Zurabov announced on 23 August that the government has approved raising the minimum monthly wage index by 20 percent as of 1 January, RIA-Novosti and Prime-TASS reported. The new level for the index will be 720 rubles ($25). The same day, Zurabov announced that average pensions will also rise 12 percent to 2,467 rubles by 2005. Earlier, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced that wages for state-sector workers will be increased by 20 percent as of 1 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). JAC

NEO-NAZI LEADER ALLEGEDLY THREATENS HUMAN RIGHTS WORKERS WITH 'NIGHT OF LONG KNIVES'
Andrei Yurov, leader of the International Youth Human Rights Movement in Voronezh, Moscow Helsinki Group Chairwoman Ludmila Alekseeva, and other members of the Human Rights Commission claimed on 23 August that they have received a threatening letter from the leader of the national-socialist Slavic Union Dmitrii Demushkin, in which he warned that "the night of long knives is near," gazeta.ru reported. According to the website, the letter warned that Yurov and Alekseeva are "next in line" after Nikolai Girenko. Girenko, an expert in racism and xenophobia, was killed in June in St. Petersburg, and a nationalist extremist group called Russian Republic took credit for the slaying (see "RFE/RL UnCivil Societies," 11 August 2004). Reporters for RFE/RL's Russian Service investigating a story about Girenko discovered that the self-described "supreme commander" of Russian Republic, Vladimir Popov, has apparently never been questioned or investigated by police in connection with the killing, and his publication, registered nine years ago by the Media Ministry, is still being published. JAC

PRIME MINISTER CONTINUES TINKERING WITH GOVERNMENT POSTS
Mikhail Fradkov dismissed Sergei Sai as director of the Federal Land Cadastre Service in connection with the restructuring of the state apparatus, gazeta.ru reported on 23 August. ITAR-TASS reported the same day that Fradkov has appointed Evald Antipenko as deputy head of the Federal Atomic Energy Agency. JAC

RUSSIA NAMES NEW SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR CASPIAN
Igor Yusufov, who served as energy minister from June 2001 to March 2004, has been named the Foreign Ministry's special envoy for Caspian issues, Interfax reported on 20 August, citing Ambassador at Large Andrei Urnov. Yusufov replaces Viktor Kalyuzhnyi, who has been named Russian ambassador to Latvia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2004). LF

SPECIAL FORCES AGAIN TARGETED IN DAGHESTAN
Seven Interior Ministry OMON special forces officers were injured in Makhachkala on 23 August when the truck in which they were traveling was blown up by a radio-controlled explosive device, Interfax reported. No one was killed. It is the second attack on security forces in Daghestan within the past week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2004). LF

PREMIER DENIES ARMENIA SEEKS FURTHER RUSSIAN LOANS
Andranik Markarian denied on 23 August that Armenia is seeking further loans from Russia less than two years after sealing the "equities for debts" deal in which it ceded five enterprises to Moscow in payment of post-Soviet debts, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov was quoted last week as saying that Russia's draft budget for 2005 earmarks $31 million in loans to Armenia. But Markarian said on 23 August that there is no "urgent need" for Armenia to borrow such an amount from Russia and that doing so "makes no sense." He added that Armenia has access to loans on more favorable terms from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and also stands to receive several hundred million dollars in assistance from the United States under the new Millennium Challenge program. LF

ARMENIAN RULING PARTY PROPOSES REDUCING PRESIDENTIAL INFLUENCE ON ELECTION PROCESS
Prime Minister Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) has drafted amendments to Armenia's Electoral Code that would reduce the number of representatives President Robert Kocharian is empowered to appoint to the Central Election Commission (CEC) and its regional counterparts, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. At present Kocharian names three members of the nine-person CEC; the HHK proposes reducing that figure to one. The HHK and its coalition partners, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun and Orinats Yerkir, have not, however, reached agreement on the optimum composition of election commissions at all levels, which comprise only those parties represented in the legislature. The HHK backs reducing the number of commission members to seven, of whom only two would represent opposition parties. LF

OPPOSITION CANDIDATE ELECTED MAYOR OF KARABAKH CAPITAL
Opposition challenger Eduard Aghabekian, the head of the social affairs committee of the parliament of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), was elected mayor of Stepanakert in a runoff ballot on 22 August, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Aghabekian garnered 58.6 percent of the vote, defeating Pavel Nadjarian, who is a member of the Democratic Artsakh Union, NKR President Arkadii Ghukasian's main support base. In the first round of voting on 8 August, Nadjarian placed first of five candidates with 43 percent, compared with 35 percent for Aghabekian. Armenian observers quoted in the 23 August edition of "Armenia This Week" assessed the voting as free and fair. Aghabekian said the vote serves to demonstrate to the international community that "elections in unrecognized republics can be a success," and that "a process of democratization is under way" in the NKR. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS CHARGES OF 'DEFEATISM' IN SOUTH OSSETIA
ITAR-TASS on 23 August quoted Mikheil Saakashvili as telling the independent television station Rustavi-2 that the Georgian leadership will persist with its efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the conflict in South Ossetia. "We are against drawing Georgia into a new armed conflict," Caucasus Press on 24 August quoted him as saying. "Georgia needs stability and to become stronger." Caucasus Press on 24 August further quoted Saakashvili as stressing that the withdrawal on 20 August of Georgian forces from the conflict zone should not be regarded as defeatism but as "the reinforcement of our positions." Meanwhile, Interior Minister Giorgi Baramidze told Interfax that Saakashvili has issued a decree bestowing posthumous awards on Georgian servicemen who died in fighting in South Ossetia over the past two weeks. Baramidze did not reveal the number of combat deaths, but Interfax on 23 August quoted an unidentified Interior Ministry source as saying that 20 Georgian Interior Ministry and army troops died and a further 54 were wounded. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DISCUSSES SOUTH OSSETIA WITH OSCE OFFICIAL
Nino Burdjanadze asked Lamberto Zanieri, visiting head of the OSCE Center for Conflict Prevention, on 23 August to expand the OSCE presence in South Ossetia to enable its members to monitor the transport of cargo through the Roki tunnel to prevent shipments of arms to the South Ossetian leadership, Caucasus Press reported. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 19 August quoted Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava as saying that Tbilisi wants the number of OSCE personnel expanded from six to 50-60. Caucasus Press quoted Zanieri as stressing the importance of continuing a dialogue between the conflicting sides in order to reach a political settlement. LF

EU ENVOY CALLS FOR PEACEFUL SOLUTION TO SOUTH OSSETIAN CONFLICT
Heikki Talvitie, the EU's special envoy for the South Caucasus, met in Tbilisi on 23 August with Burdjanadze, Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, Russian Ambassador Vladimir Chkhikvishvili, and U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles to discuss the situation in South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. He also discussed with the two ambassadors Saakashvili's proposal to convene an international conference on the South Ossetian crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004). Talvitie stressed the importance of building mutual trust between the two sides. He also said the EU is ready to provide funding for postconflict reconstruction in South Ossetia. Talvitie was scheduled to travel on 24 August to Tskhinvali for talks with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, and then to Moscow for talks with the Russian leadership. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION ANNOUNCES REFERENDUM PLANS
Shalva Natelashvili, chairman of the opposition Labor Party, told journalists in Tbilisi on 23 August that his party will begin next month collecting signatures in support of its demand to hold a referendum on whether the Georgian leadership should resign, Georgian media reported. Natelashvili accused the Georgian government of "criminal military activity, economic shortsightedness, and geopolitical blindness." He deplored in particular President Saakashvili's decision to launch a military offensive in South Ossetia despite calls for restraint by the United States, Russia, and the EU. The Labor Party has three deputies in the Georgian parliament, all elected from single-mandate constituencies; it lost an appeal to the Constitutional Court to annul as fabricated the official results of the 28 March parliamentary ballot according to which it polled 6.1 percent of the vote, less than the minimum 7 percent required to win parliamentary representation under the proportional system. LF

KAZAKH E-VOTING SYSTEM PASSES FINAL TEST
Kazakhstan's Central Electoral Commission announced on 23 August that the Saylau electronic-voting system has passed its final test and proved itself technically reliable before its expected debut in the 19 September parliamentary elections, Khabar TV reported. The final test involved a mock vote with 30 voters and the transfer of data between Almaty and Astana. Commission Chairwoman Zagipa Balieva said that the system, which still requires the final approval of a state commission, will continue to function in test mode until 15 September. After that date, stringent security measures will begin and operations will be encoded. DK

JAILED KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER ELIGIBLE FOR PAROLE IN LATE 2005
Vladimir Nosov, head of Kyrgyzstan's penal system, told a news conference on 23 August in Bishkek that imprisoned opposition leader Feliks Kulov will be eligible for parole on 12 November 2005, Kabar news agency reported. Nosov said that the news conference was necessitated by erroneous reports that Kulov might be eligible for early release this summer. Nosov explained that Kulov initially received a seven-year sentence on 22 January 2001. On 8 May 2002, Kulov received an additional nine-year sentence. The two sentences were eventually aggregated into a single 10-year sentence with time served calculated from 26 July 2001. That sentence was later reduced by one-third, or two years, seven months, and 28 days. Thus, Kulov will have served two-thirds of his sentence, making him eligible for parole, after 12 November 2005. DK

LAWYER SAYS FORMER TAJIK DRUG CZAR COMMITTED NO CRIMES IN RUSSIA
Abduqayum Yusufov, a lawyer for former Tajik Drug Control Agency head Ghaffor Mirzoev, told Asia Plus-Blitz in a 22 August interview that his client committed no crimes in Russia, the news agency reported the next day. "Some local media have suggested that criminal actions by Mirzoev on Russian territory explain the participation of Russian lawyer Vladimir Golubev in this trial," Yusufov said. "Mirzoev, like any other Tajik citizen, has the right to engage a lawyer from abroad." Mirzoev was arrested on 6 August on charges ranging from abuse of office to weapons stockpiling. He has admitted partial guilt (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 August 2004). DK

PASSPORT REQUIREMENT COULD AFFECT TAJIK MIGRANT LABORERS
Muzaffar Zaripov, director of the International Organization of Migration's (IOM) information resource center in Dushanbe, told Asia Plus-Blitz in a 23 August interview that the impending introduction of a passport requirement for travel to Russia will create serious difficulties for Tajik migrant laborers. (Beginning on 1 July 2005, Tajik citizens will need to have a valid international passport to travel to the Eurasian Economic Community, which consists of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.) "On the technical level, this will create tremendous difficulties for the Interior Ministry, which issues these documents," Zaripov said. "These difficulties will affect those of our countrymen who are already working in Russia, since they will need to come home to obtain this document." Tajik consular offices abroad lack the authority to issue passports. According to the IOM, the number of Tajiks who travel abroad in search of higher wages each year now exceeds 600,000, and only 10 percent of them have foreign passports. DK

TURKMENISTAN OPENS NEW POWER LINE TO IRAN
Turkmenistan has opened a new high-voltage power line for exporting electricity to Iran, turkmenistan.ru reported on 23 August. The 200-kilovolt line can carry 100 megawatts per hour between Sarahs, Turkmenistan and Sarahs, Iran. The resulting export of 375 million kilowatt hours of electricity per year will be worth $7.5 million. DK

MINSK BLASTS U.S. SENATOR'S STATEMENT AS 'PROVOCATIVE'
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh on 23 August condemned the statement made by U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) in Riga on 21 August, following a meeting with Belarusian opposition leaders and Latvian politicians, Belapan reported. McCain reportedly said in Riga that U.S. congressmen will help the Belarusian opposition to "free Belarus from tyranny," and that the deposition of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka will take place with the help of "international pressure." "[Lukashenka] runs Belarus as if it was the Soviet Union, instilling a climate of fear, repression, and arbitrary rule," McCain said. "The provocative and insulting language of [McCain's] statements cannot be considered as an invitation for a constructive dialogue," Savinykh said. "Don't worry -- either in Russia or Belarus -- about some senators deposing Lukashenka," Lukashenka said in Sochi on 23 August, during a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "It was not they who put me in this post, it is not for them to oust me," Lukashenka added. JM

BELARUSIAN OLYMPIC CHAMPION PROMOTED TO LIEUTENANT
Alyaksandr Paulouski, chief of Belarus's State Committee for Border Troops, has promoted warrant officer Yuliya Nestsyarenka to the rank of lieutenant, Belapan reported on 23 August. A 25-year-old contract officer with the Belarusian Border Troops, Nestsyarenka won a surprise victory in the women's 100-meter final in Athens on 22 August. She was the first non-U.S. citizen since 1980 to win the Olympic 100-meter title. As of 23 August, Belarus has won two gold medals, three silvers, and six bronzes in Athens. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT URGES CONTINUITY IN POLITICAL COURSE...
Leonid Kuchma said on 23 August that Ukraine's next president needs to continue the current political course in order to complete the process of political and economic transformations in the country, the Ukrainian media reported. Kuchma was delivering a speech to mark Ukraine's 13th anniversary of independence on 24 August. "The next decade must be -- and I am convinced that it will be -- a continuation and not a change, nor a rejection of the decade that is ending," Kuchma said. The Ukrainian president asserted that "Europeization" has become a "national idea" in Ukraine and credited himself with laying "reliable" foundations for Ukraine's integration into the European and global communities. JM

...AS OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS FOR CHANGE
In an article published in the international edition of "The Wall Street Journal" on 24 August, Our Ukraine leader and presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko wrote that Ukraine is facing a historic choice in the 31 October presidential election, which may bring "real change" to Ukrainian society. "On the one hand, my vision for Ukraine proposes a system founded on democratic European values, which will enable each citizen to realize their socioeconomic potential in a country governed by the rule of law," Yushchenko wrote. "On the other hand, those from the ruling regime propose preserving the current autocracy, which rules over competing financial-industrial groups." JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION DENIES OFFICIAL ALLEGATION OF PREPARING 'PROVOCATIONS'
The Force of the People coalition, an election alliance backing Yushchenko's presidential candidacy, on 23 August refuted the government's statement that the opposition is preparing "various dangerous provocations" in the ongoing presidential-election campaign, Interfax reported. Last week, the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Security Service of Ukraine, and the Interior Ministry issued a joint statement warning against such provocations and pledged to take preventive measures against them (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). "Having no hope for a victory of the pro-government candidate [Prime Minister Viktor] Yanukovych in a fair struggle, the authorities are preparing the ground for provocations and heating up the atmosphere of confrontation in society," the Force of the People coalition said in a statement. JM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN LEADER WARNS OF DEEP POLITICAL CRISIS
Ali Ahmeti, who heads the governing ethnic Albanian Democratic Union for Integration (BDI), recently told the Prishtina daily "Bota Sot" that the country could face a deep political crisis if the upcoming referendum against the government's redistricting plans succeeds, "Utrinski vesnik" reported on 24 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July, and 13 August 2004). Ahmeti said the opposition parties support the referendum drive not because they oppose the redistricting plans, as they claim, but because they oppose the 2001 Ohrid peace agreement. The peace deal ended hostilities between ethnic Albanian insurgents of the National Liberation Army (UCK), who were then led by Ahmeti, and government forces. Ahmeti said a successful referendum would mean that the peace deal is dead and that Macedonia will lose any possibility of NATO and EU membership. He added that the only way to avert a civil war would be for the governing parties to defeat the referendum proposal. UB

MAJOR ALBANIAN DAILY RECEIVES BOMB THREATS
The Tirana daily "Gazeta Shqiptare" announced on 23 August that several of its staff members recently received anonymous telephone calls warning them to stop writing about marijuana cultivation in the village of Lazarat near Vlora "or you will all be blown up," dpa reported. The daily noted that the threats began one week ago, after Democratic Party leader Sali Berisha criticized "Gazeta Shqiptare's" articles about the village, which strongly supports him. A Lazarat villager recently fired on an Italian police helicopter as cameramen on board filmed reputed marijuana fields (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2004). Lazarat was founded in Ottoman times as Vlora's leper colony and has long maintained its own distinct identity. Since the collapse of communism, it has functioned as a law unto itself, generally off limits to most outsiders, including police and foreigners. In recent years, it has reportedly gone into the cannabis-growing business. PM

KFOR AND SERBIA AND MONTENEGRO TO FORM JOINT BORDER PATROLS?
German Lieutenant General Holger Kammerhoff, who commands KFOR, and Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic agreed at the Merdare border crossing on 23 August that the security situation in Kosova has improved recently, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. Kammerhoff stressed that the number of violent incidents has decreased sharply since the 17-18 March violence. He called on members of the Serbian minority to take part in the 23 October Kosova parliamentary elections, adding that KFOR will have special units on hand to provide security (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 9 and 29 July, and 6, 13, and 20 August 2004). Davinic said that he will take back to Belgrade a KFOR proposal to set up joint border patrols. In related news, Dragomir Asanin, who is one of Serbia's top intelligence officials, told the parliament's committee on Kosova that "Albanian extremists" are arming themselves and that there is "serious evidence" that they are planning to incite unrest among the ethnic Albanian majority there in September. PM

MONTENEGRIN ALBANIAN LEADER CALLS FOR TWO REFERENDUMS
Ferhat Dinosha, the head of the Democratic Union of Albanians, a political party in Montenegro, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Podgorica on 23 August that "the most democratic solution to the stabilization of the situation in the Balkans would be parallel referendums in Montenegro and Kosova." He noted that the situation in both places reflects the fact that the dissolution of former Yugoslavia is not yet complete. PM

GREECE AGREES TO EXTRADITE IMPORTANT SERBIAN CRIME SUSPECT
A court in Thessaloniki approved on 23 August a request by Serbia and Montenegro for the extradition of Dejan Milenkovic (aka Bugsy), dpa reported. He is one of the key suspects in the 12 March 2003 slaying of Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic and a reputed member of the underworld "Zemun clan" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 28 March and 9 May 2003). He is expected to arrive in Serbia and Montenegro by 25 August. PM

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION ALLIANCE MIGHT SUE RULING PARTY
The opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance said in a statement on 23 August that it is considering suing those members of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) who have made "libelous statements," Mediafax reported. The alliance was reacting to the government's declaration of 22 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2003). The alliance said that if the PSD has proof that leaders of the opposition have been involved in corruption and illicit deals, it should make such information public and bring those guilty to justice. Having failed to do so, the alliance said, the government was guilty of a "breach of trust" before those who elected it. The PNL-Democratic Party further said that the PSD is "displaying more and more signs of desperation" and that "the small differences still existing between the PSD and the [extremist] Greater Romania Party (PRM) have almost disappeared," according to the opposition press release. "The joint discourse of the PSD-PRM heralds a [postelection] coalition of the de facto duo Adrian Nastase and Corneliu Vadim Tudor," the statement said. MS

ROMANIA MARKS ANNIVERSARY OF WARTIME DICTATOR'S OVERTHROW
At various ceremonies attended by President Ion Iliescu, former King Mihai I, and other officials, Romania marked on 23 August the 60th anniversary of the palace coup that overthrew the dictatorial regime of Marshal Ion Antonescu and led to Romania joining the Allies in August 1944, Mediafax reported. In his speech at the main ceremony at the Cotroceni presidential palace, the former monarch said he was proud of the decision he took then and was sure that history would approve of it. Discussing the Communist Party later taking credit for that act, Mihai said that 23 August is "far from being the only historical event to be falsified in Romania, but is surely the most falsified of them all." Mihai rejected criticism from Antonescu's supporters for having ordered the marshal's arrest, which some observers say led to the country's Sovietization. At that time, he said, no one knew that the Western allies had already decided to "abandon us." Had the war on the Axis side continued as Antonescu wanted, Romania would have been "monstrously destroyed," the former monarch said. President Iliescu said he is "grateful" to Mihai for the decision he then took and that the day of 23 August 1944 amounted to an "act of national salvation" that was later distorted by communism. MS

JEWISH CEMETERY DESECRATED IN ROMANIA
In his speech at the Cotroceni palace, former King Mihai I also said he "bows his head in respect" for the memory of Romanian Jews who perished in the Holocaust. On 19 August, the Jewish Martyrs' Cemetery at Camarasu, near Cluj, was found desecrated, Mediafax and AP reported. Graffiti painted on the tombstones in German read "Jews out" and "Heil Hitler" and had swastikas scrawled with the Star of David. The cemetery contains the graves of 126 Jews killed by the Hungarian authorities at Sarmas, as the Hungarian Army was retreating from Transylvania in 1944. The victims were buried in a common grave at Sarmas and were later reburied in the Camarasu cemetery. MS

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SAYS NEGOTIATIONS POSSIBLE ONLY AFTER TRANSDNIESTER 'GETS RID OF JUNTA'
President Vladimir Voronin, who returned from his vacation in the Czech Republic last week, on 21 August told a meeting of top officials that the resumption of negotiations with Transdniester would be possible only after the separatist region undergoes democratization and its residents "are liberated from the junta that has stolen the right to speak for the region," Infotag reported on 23 August. Voronin said Tiraspol is now ruled by a "fascist-like totalitarian regime" led by "a handful of [Russian] carpetbaggers and oligarchs" who are denying "to 700,000 people the right to live in the 21st century." He said he is surprised that some of the mediators in the conflict have turned into defenders of that regime, but failed to mention which of the three mediators -- Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE -- he has in mind. MS

TELERADIO MOLDOVA JOURNALIST GOES ON HUNGER STRIKE
Teleradio Moldova journalist Anastasia Cotruta began a hunger strike on 23 August because of what she said was the company management's refusal to meet even one demand of the protesters, whose action began four weeks earlier, BASA-Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2, 3, 4, 5, 9, 10, and 11 August 2004). According to Moldovan news agencies, several other journalists are ready to join the hunger strike. Meanwhile, Flux reported on 23 August that Moldovan Radio Director Sergiu Batog canceled his participation in a roundtable slated for 19 August with the protesting journalists and members of Moldovan civil society organizations, where a solution to the dispute was to be negotiated. Batog said on 20 August that the roundtable was a "political farce" and its decisions have no judicial value. The journalists are protesting the perceived politicization of employment policies. MS

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS COUNTRY TO MAINTAIN ITS COURSE


Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma delivered an important speech at a gala meeting in Kyiv on 23 August, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of Ukraine's independence. Taking into account that Ukraine is expected to see a new president in the next three months, this was probably the last major occasion for the incumbent to sum up the decade of his rule. Kuchma took full advantage of this opportunity to highlight what he considers to be the most important achievements of his two-term presidency. Simultaneously, he made a sort of political bequest, speculating on how "Ukraine without Kuchma" should develop over the next 10 years.

Kuchma stressed at the beginning of his speech that after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine's historic challenge was the "most unique" among all post-Soviet and Eastern European countries. According to him, Ukraine's transformations in the early years of independence resembled a "wandering in the wilderness." Consequently, Kuchma credited himself with originating the determined course, after his first election in 1994, to build Ukrainian statehood, introduce a market economy, form a democratic civil society, and make the Ukrainians a "self-contained political nation."

Kuchma noted that Ukraine will need a "few decades more" to reach these four ambitious goals. Therefore, he called on his successor to continue the same political course. "The length of the process of Ukraine's transformation objectively requires that we ensure continuity in the political course," Kuchma said. "The next decade must be -- and I am convinced that it will be -- a continuation and not a change, not a rejection of the decade that is ending. I repeat, not a rejection and not a change, but a continuation."

It is no secret that Kuchma sees such a continuation in a Viktor Yanukovych presidency, rather than in that of opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko or any other hopeful challenging Prime Minister Yanukovych's presidential bid. Indeed, Kuchma denigrated the Ukrainian opposition in his speech as "political Pygmies," jeering that it is striving to come to power under the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" slogan, which was adopted by the opposition for a string of anti-Kuchma rallies in 2000-02. "They expose themselves to ridicule, as a minimum because the incumbent president is not participating in the elections," Kuchma said. "But I can assure all of my compatriots on one point -- there will never be Kuchma without Ukraine."

As on many earlier occasions, Kuchma credited himself with laying a basis for Ukraine's European integration. "Europeization has already become a national idea [in Ukraine]," he emphasized. He upbraided the EU for proposing the European Neighborhood Policy rather than associate membership for Ukraine. "The status of a geographical neighbor of unified Europe -- which is persistently proposed to us by some Europeans -- contradicts our interests," Kuchma said. "I am deeply convinced that the development of our relations under the principles of association [with the EU] will meet both Ukrainian and EU interests."

In this European context, Kuchma defended his policy of developing a strategic partnership with Russia. "The stable relations with our strategic partner Russia, which are built on friendly, partner-like principles, are not a minus in our relations with Europe, as we are reproached by our opposition from the right wing, but a fat plus, and its real meaning -- I am convinced -- will soon be realized by politicians not only in Kyiv, but also in Brussels and Washington," Kuchma said.

Traditionally, Kuchma has praised his government for achieving and maintaining impressive economic growth. Kuchma said the country's GDP increased by 13.5 percent in the first seven months of 2004 compared with the same period in 2003, which entailed a 15 percent increase in the real incomes of the population. According to Kuchma, the average monthly wage in Ukraine stands now at 600 hryvnyas ($113) versus 181 hryvnyas in 2000, while the average monthly pension is equal to 220 hryvnyas (66 hryvnyas in 2000).

Many, if not all, of Kuchma's self-gratulatory assertions in his 23 August address have been or are being questioned by the Ukrainian opposition and independent Ukrainian observers as well as ordinary Ukrainians.

As regards the country's economic boom, it is necessary to mention here the opinion of Yushchenko, former prime minister and head of the National Bank. According to Yushchenko, the 13.5 percent growth in 2004 has not translated into rising living standards in Ukraine -- during the first seven months budget revenues rose only by 1.8 percent. Yushchenko admits that Ukrainians are now experiencing some improvement in their financial situation, but adds that this has been achieved primarily owing to the 2003 budget's "hidden revenues" that are now being spent by the government as a "bribe" to voters for their support for Yanukovych's presidential bid.

Yushchenko also questions Kuchma's claim that Ukraine has already laid a basis for a viable democratic system. "The choice facing voters this fall is very clear," Yushchenko wrote in an international edition of "The Wall Street Journal" on 24 August. "On the one hand, my vision for Ukraine proposes a system founded on democratic European values, which will enable each citizen to realize their socioeconomic potential in a country governed by the rule of law. On the other hand, those from the ruling regime propose preserving the current autocracy, which rules over competing financial-industrial groups. Their corrupt government bureaucrats implement unpopular policies with no respect for individual liberties and basic human rights."

Moreover, a recent poll by the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies found that nearly half of Ukrainians -- 48.7 percent -- believe that their country is not independent, while only 38.1 percent think it is otherwise. Further casting doubts on Kuchma's picture of Ukraine under his rule, 50 percent of respondents said the country's level of economic development has declined since 1991. An even larger number of respondents, 61.5 percent, admitted that living standards in Ukraine have worsened during the 13 years of independence.

In other words, a majority of Ukrainians may not desire the political continuity Kuchma spoke of in his Independence Day speech. But it is anybody's guess whether they will identify Yanukovych as an agent of such continuity and Yushchenko as a new, better start for Ukraine on 31 October, when they go to the polls.

AFGHAN AND PAKISTANI LEADERS MEET IN ISLAMABAD...
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf held a joint news conference in Islamabad on 23 August, PTV reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). Musharraf assured Karzai, referring to him as his brother, that Pakistan would act against "Al-Qaeda, or Taliban, or anyone...trying to use arms, go from Pakistan into Afghanistan, carry out terrorist activity, disrupt the election process [in Afghanistan], [and] cause law and order problems." The Pakistani leader expressed his satisfaction that trade and economic activities between the two countries are developing, adding that he looks forward to enhancing the existing relationship and extending it so that the "Central Asian republics, Afghanistan, [and] Pakistan can jointly benefit through trade and commercial activities." Karzai said that he sees Afghanistan's "security in the security of Pakistan...[and] Pakistan's security in the security of Afghanistan," and hopes that trade between the two countries will increase. According to Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, in 2001-2002 trade between the two countries was worth around $20 million and so far in 2004 stands at nearly $700 million, Radio Pakistan reported on 23 August. AT

RIVAL NORTHERN AFGHAN MILITIAS CLASH
Forces loyal to the newly appointed Balkh Province Governor Ata Mohammad Nur clashed with militia loyal to the Junbish-e Melli party in the Sholgara District of Balkh, Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran reported on 23 August. A joint commission comprising Nur's Jami'at-e Islami party and Junbish has been established in Mazar-e Sharif, the provincial capital of Balkh, to investigate the causes of the clash. There have been frequent clashes between Military Corps No. 8, which is loyal to Junbish leader General Abdul Rashid Dostum, and Military Corps No. 7, led by Nur. The two corps "pledged to merge" but "have not yet done so," Balkh Television reported on 21 August. According to the report, Nur met with Jowzjan Province Governor Raz Mohammad Nur and Military Corps No. 8 commander Lieutenant General Joma Khan Hamdard. The report from Balkh Television, however, did not elaborate on the reported clash between the two rival militias. In 2003, Sholgara was the scene of factional fighting between Jamiat and Junbish loyalists. The fighting again erupted there in early 2004 (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 May 2003 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July and 20 October 2003 and 24 February 2004). AT

AFGHAN INTERIOR MINISTER SAYS MILITIAS NEED TO BE DISSOLVED
Pointing to the recent clashes between forces loyal to local warlord Amanullah Khan and the militia of Herat Province Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan in western Afghanistan, Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali said on 22 August that the situation underlines the need to dissolve the militias, Afghanistan Television reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, and 23 August 2004). The Afghan government "is determined to do everything in its power to prevent activities of the militias who want to bring the law under their own control...[and] have their own private and special agendas," Jalali said. The interior minister blamed "militarism" and the slow progress in the disarmament program. According to Jalali, "all the militias, including Amanullah's militias, are illegal," and he added that "the question is how to remove them." Jalali did not elaborate on whether Ismail Khan's military forces are regarded by Kabul as militias or as part of the government forces. AT

RIGHTS WATCHDOG PROTESTS EXECUTION OF TEENAGE GIRL IN NORTHERN IRAN
Radio Farda reported on 24 August that Amnesty International is protesting the execution of a teenage girl in the town of Neka in Mazandaran Province. Ateqeh Rajabi reportedly was hanged in public on 15 August for "acts incompatible with chastity" (amal-i manafe-yi ofat). According to Amnesty International, Rajabi was not mentally competent and she never had access to a lawyer. Amnesty International asserts that this is the tenth execution of a child offender in Iran since 1990, and the human rights organization urged the Iranian judiciary to cease executing people younger than 18. The Mazandaran judiciary said at the time of execution that Rajabi's age was 22, but her national identification card listed her age as 16. Amnesty International cited a report in "Peyk-i Iran" that said that the death sentence was imposed about three months ago, and during the trial the judge severely criticized Rajabi's dress (http://web.amnesty.org/library/index/engmde130362004). Rajabi's codefendant, an unnamed man, received 100 lashes and was released. BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATURE TO QUESTION EDUCATION MINISTER
Hamedan parliamentary representative Hamid-Reza Haji-Babai said on 23 August that more than 100 members of the legislature have signed a motion to give a no-confidence vote to Education and Training Minister Morteza Haji-Qaem, IRNA reported. One reason for the motion is the minister's alleged failure to fulfill Article 30 of the constitution, which states that the government must provide all citizens with a free education through high school. Other reasons, Haji-Babai said, are the discrepancy between the teachers' salaries and those of other state employees. The salary issue has been the cause of frequent teacher protests (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 26 January, 22 March, 21 June, and 19 July 2004). An editorial in the 12 August "Resalat" about the problems of the education sector mentioned the salary issue. The editorial added that principals are demanding fees from parents when students are registered, and that these demands are coordinated with district and regional managers. BS

TEHRAN REASSERTS COMMITMENT TO COOPERATION WITH IAEA
Iranian Ambassador to Japan Ali Majidi told Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi on 23 August that Iran remains committed to cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), IRNA reported. Meanwhile, in Wellington, New Zealand, on 23 August, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told reporters that the peaceful use of nuclear technology is a matter of a "national pride" for Iran, IRNA and ISNA reported. Kharrazi said that the United States is using pretexts to pressure Iran but, in fact, IAEA inspections "show our activity is peaceful." Israel is adding pressure, too, he said. He described remaining questions about the Iranian nuclear program as "peripheral." In Iran, Brigadier General Shamshiri, deputy chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Joint Chiefs of Staff, discussed alleged Israeli threats against Iran's nuclear facilities, "Kayhan" reported on 23 August. "The country's officials examine such threats expertly and analyze them with full awareness before making the appropriate decisions," he said. "Therefore, we are certain that the country is ready to respond to any kind of threat -- no matter how serious it may be." BS

ISRAEL QUESTIONS DELAY IN BUSHEHR CONSTRUCTION
Israel's "Yediot Aharonot" newspaper reported on 23 August that Israeli officials are skeptical about Iranian claims that the completion of the Bushehr nuclear reactor will be delayed by one year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). Israeli and U.S. satellite imagery, according to the Israeli daily, shows that the water pipes needed to cool the reactor were installed in 2002, and "according to Israeli experts, that is proof that the reactor has reached the point where it is being prepared for operation." An anonymous "Israeli expert" claimed that the "Iranians are conducting a massive cover-up about the reactor." BS

TWO IRAQI MINISTERS TARGETED IN ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS
The Iraqi education and environment ministers were targeted in separate assassination attempts in Baghdad on 24 August, international media reported. An explosive charge was set off near a car transporting Education Minister Sami al-Muzaffar, killing two people and wounding three others, Al-Jazeera reported. The minister escaped unhurt. Environment Minister Mishkat al-Mu'min was reportedly targeted when a car detonated near her convoy. Four of her bodyguards were killed in the explosion, but al-Mu'min, according to Al-Jazeera, was not hurt in the incident. Al-Arabiyah reported on 23 August that gunmen assassinated Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) official Shirzad Husayn al-Jabadi in Kirkuk the same day. The PUK official, according to Al-Sharqiyah, was Caesar Husayn al-Jabari. The news channel cited Kirkuk Police Colonel Sarhad Qadir as saying that the official was killed while driving home after visiting his parents in the city. KR

U.S. WARPLANES CONTINUE TO ATTACK MILITIAMEN IN AL-NAJAF...
U.S. forces launched overnight raids on militiamen from the Imam Al-Mahdi Army loyal to Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Al-Najaf on 23-24 August, Reuters reported. Several mortar bombs reportedly landed near the Imam Ali Mosque and heavy gunfire could be heard, the news agency reported. Iraqi Interior Minister Falah al-Naqib told Al-Arabiyah television in a 23 August interview that "the window of opportunity is narrowing" for al-Sadr to meet the conditions set by the Iraqi National Conference delegation last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 19 August 2004). Meanwhile, MENA cited Al-Najaf Governor Adnan al-Zurufi on 23 August as saying that al-Sadr and his "commanders" had fled the holy city for the northern Iraqi city of Al-Sulaymaniyah. Al-Jazeera also reported that al-Sadr had fled, citing Al-Najaf Brigadier General Ghalib al-Jaza'iri as saying that documents found by police indicated the cleric was in Al-Sulaymaniyah. Al-Sadr spokesman Aws al-Khafaji denied the claim from his base in Al-Nasiriyah, telling Al-Jazeera on the same day that the Iraqi police and multinational forces continually lie about the situation in the holy city. KR

...AS RADICAL CLERIC'S SPOKESMAN SAYS U.S. USED 'BIOLOGICAL BOMBS' IN AL-NAJAF
Al-Sadr spokesman Aws al-Khafaji said in a 23 August interview with Al-Jazeera that the U.S. military used "internationally banned biological weapons" against Al-Mahdi militiamen on 23 August. "I have appealed to the humanitarian organizations to come to examine the bodies of those who died as a result of these biological bombs," he said. Al-Sadr aide Abd al-Hadi al-Darraji made similar claims in an interview from Baghdad with Al-Arabiyah on 23 August, saying: "Some brothers [from Al-Najaf] contacted me and told me that the occupation forces are using poisonous gas bombs to kill innocent people and annihilate the...brother fighters and resistance men there." "Some witnesses have called us from holy Al-Najaf by phone. They told us that holy Al-Najaf is now being bombed by gas bombs; there are eyewitnesses who confirmed this story," he further claimed. The U.S. military has not responded to the allegations. KR

SOUTH OIL COMPANY RESUMES PUMPING IN IRAQ
South Oil Company officials said on 23 August that crude oil production operations have resumed in Iraq after last week's closure (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 21 August 2004) under threat from al-Sadr militiamen, KUNA reported on 23 August. The export rate was halved in recent days and at one point completely halted after militiamen set fire to the company's offices and threatened to bomb a major pipeline. Before the closure, production hit a high of 2 million barrels per day. The losses incurred amounted to some $30 million per day in revenues. An unnamed South Oil official said that 2 million barrels per day were again flowing into Gulf terminals since the resumption of production, Reuters reported on 23 August. The news agency also cited a shipping agent at the Al-Basrah terminal as saying that loadings at the port city's terminals rose to 1.44 million barrels per day compared with 960,000 on 22 August. Meanwhile, a spokesman for cleric al-Sadr in Al-Basrah reportedly told Al-Manar television that militiamen were being deployed to the city on 24 August to set up checkpoints and impose a curfew throughout the city. The unidentified spokesman warned citizens not to wander the streets. KR

PUK HEAD ANNOUNCES 'PURGING CAMPAIGN'
Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) head Jalal Talabani told a 23 August press briefing in Qalachwalan that the Kurdistan Regional Government will conduct a campaign to purge and reform its government departments, KurdSat reported. "Purging is the elimination of corruption, bribery, and illegal practices in the government and the party," Talabani said. "Hence, we set up a higher committee to that effect, under the auspices of the acting head of the government [Umar Fattah]." Talabani said that those government employees charged with corruption will be prosecuted. He stressed that his goal is to place "suitable" persons in government positions, whether or not they are party members. "This is not a PUK government, this is a government administered by the PUK," he said. KR

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