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Newsline - August 25, 2004


TWO PLANES CRASH WITHIN MINUTES OF ONE ANOTHER...
Two Russian passenger airliners crashed in separate incidents late on 24 August killing all passengers and crewmembers on board, about 90 people in all, Russian and international media reported. The planes took off from Moscow's Domodedovo Airport within 20 minutes of one another and crashed less than three minutes apart, newsru.com reported on 25 August. One was a Sibir Airline Tu-154 bound for Sochi, which crashed near Rostov-na-Donu with a reported 46 people on board. The second plane was a Volga-Aviaekspress Tu-134 bound for Volgograd, which crashed near Tula with 44 passengers and crew. A spokesman for the Volgograd airport told ORT that the Tu-134 crash most likely was not caused by pilot error because the plane had reached full cruising altitude and the pilots did not report anything unusual. According to preliminary reports, the Sibir plane reported that it had been hijacked shortly before it went down. RC

...AS TERRORISM VIEWED AS POSSIBLE CAUSE...
President Vladimir Putin immediately ordered the Federal Security Service (FSB) to investigate the incidents amid suspicions that the crashes were the result of terrorism, Russian and international media reported. FSB spokesman Sergei Ignatchenko told RIA-Novosti on 25 August that investigators so far have found no evidence of terrorism or that either of the aircraft had been hijacked. However, Yevgenii Savostyanov, former head of the Moscow directorate of the FSB, told Ekho Moskvy on 25 August that he believes the 24 August plane crashes were the result of "a synchronized terrorist act carried out by a well-prepared group of terrorists, possibly with the participation of suicide bombers." He said there is evidence that the Tu-134 exploded before it crashed. An unidentified civil-aviation official told Interfax that the facts that both aircraft took off from the same airport and crashed virtually simultaneously seem to indicate that terrorism is to blame. He also said that the wreckage of the Tu-154 was widely scattered, indicating that it exploded before crashing. RTR reported that locals in Rostov Oblast reported hearing an explosion before the crash. RC

...AND SECURITY MEASURES BOLSTERED THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY
Security at Russian airports was stepped up following the 24 August plane crashes, Russian media reported on 25 August. Flights continued to operate according to normal schedules. Interfax reported intense security precautions at Moscow's Sheremetevo Airport and St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Airport. RIA-Novosti reported similar measures in Mineralnye Vody and Stavropol. Security was also stepped up throughout Moscow, both because of the plane crashes and because of a 24 August explosion at a Moscow bus stop that injured four people, newsru.com reported. That incident is being investigated as a case of hooliganism, but the possibility of terrorism has not been ruled out. A police spokesman told Interfax that the target of the blast might have been a small cluster of nearby kiosks. RC

RUSSIA TO PUSH FOR REFORM OF OSCE
President Putin on 24 August met in Sochi with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss a Russian initiative to reform the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Radio Mayak and other Russian media reported. "We are preparing a message to all interested states in the OSCE proposing through constructive changes to make the OSCE genuinely effective and responsive to the interests of all participants," Lavrov said, according to newsru.com. He added that reforming the OSCE will be discussed later this month during Putin's meetings in Sochi with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac. Lavrov said that France and Germany both responded "very seriously" to a 3 July call by CIS countries to reform the organization (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2004). "Vremya novostei" commented on 25 August that even if Chirac and Schroeder back Putin's call to reform the 55-member organization, doing so will be complicated and time-consuming. RC

LEGISLATORS ALREADY MULLING CHANGES TO LAW BANNING BEER ADS
President Putin has signed into law amendments to the law on advertising that restrict advertisements for beer in the media, Russian news agencies reported on 24 August. The law comes into force on 5 September, according to Radio Rossii. Under the new law, beer advertisements are prohibited on television and radio from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. and within close proximity to schools, sporting arenas, and cultural facilities. Television channels are in a quandary over what to do with sports broadcasts, which are often sponsored by beer companies, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 24 August. The daily reported that although the bill was only recently passed, State Duma deputies are already talking about new amendments to correct certain stipulations. Deputy Viktor Semenov (Unified Russia) told the newspaper that "the law is muddled and obviously politicized." JAC

OPPOSITION PARTIES HAVE FINANCIAL PROBLEMS
Almost all political parties except for Unified Russia, the party of power, are experiencing financial difficulties, "Vremya novostei" reported on 24 August. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov recently appealed to the party's rank and file to contribute money (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). Yabloko Deputy Chairman Sergei Mitrokhin told the daily that "our party is self-financing now" and relies on voluntary donations. He added that the Central Election Commission's proposal to make party financing completely transparent will hurt opposition parties because sponsors already seek the Kremlin's permission before making donations to parties. Boris Nadezhdin of the Union of Rightist Forces also admitted that his party is experiencing financial difficulties, "Vremya novostei" reported. Boris Makarenko of the Center for Political Technologies told the newspaper that "investments are usually made for the purpose of getting a party into the legislature but it's four years until the next election. So why bother?" JAC

SARATOV GOVERNOR STREAMLINES GOVERNMENT
Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov dismissed his government on 23 August, "Kommersant-Daily" and "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported the next day. According to an oblast administration press release, the dismissals were made in the framework of administrative reforms aimed at increasing effectiveness. The new administration will have 250 fewer people, and Ayataskov will have just four deputies instead of eight. According to "Kommersant-Daily," local experts believe the purge is related to the oblasts's March gubernatorial election. Last month, Ulyanovsk Oblast Governor Vladimir Shamanov dismissed his government, but local pollsters say the move did not deliver the expected boost in his approval rating, RosBalt reported on 12 August. JAC

KUBAN TO ERECT MONUMENT TO BREZHNEV
The mayoral administration of Novorossiisk is considering where to place a life-sized statue of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, "Izvestiya" and Interfax-South reported on 24 August. Mayoral spokesman Roman Shelest said that Brezhnev did a lot for the city during World War II and while he was general secretary of the Communist Party's Central Committee. The initiator of the monument was Krasnodar Krai legislator Dmitrii Shishov, who is also chief financial officer for the Novorossiisk Trading Port. According to "Izvestiya," Shishov and two other local entrepreneurs paid for the already completed bronze sculpture. Two years ago, legislators in the city council proposed erecting a monument to Brezhnev, but their bid was rejected, regions.ru reported on 5 April 2002. JAC

U.S. TEENAGERS PROJECTED TO HAVE AS MUCH MONEY AS RUSSIAN GDP
A new report from marketresearch.com called "The U.S. Teens Market" predicts that in 2006 Americans aged 12-19 will have buying power equal to or higher than the $182 billion gross domestic product (GDP) of Russia, the Center for Media Research reported on 24 August. The report concludes that U.S. teenagers' buying power will jump 27.7 percent from 2001 to 2006 due to higher earnings from jobs and a jump in family expenditures on teens. The Russian government approved on 23 August a draft 2005 budget that sets expenditures at 3.05 trillion rubles ($104 billion) and revenues at 3.33 trillion rubles (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). JAC

PREMIER MAKES MORE APPOINTMENTS
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov has appointed Eleonora Mitrofanova director of the Center for International Science and Cultural Cooperation at the Foreign Ministry, RIA-Novosti and ITAR-TASS reported on 24 August. Mitrofanova previously served as a first deputy foreign minister. He also appointed Andrei Chernyshev as Russian trade representative to India. JAC

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS ADMIT TO HIGHER DEATH TOLL IN GROZNY RAID
Officials in Grozny have admitted that the death toll during the Chechen resistance attack on police targets in Grozny late on 21 August was considerably higher than originally stated, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). That paper quoted a Chechen doctor as saying that 42 people died in the assault and a further 78 were wounded. It is unclear how many of the dead were civilians. Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman Ruslan Atsaev said that the assault was an attempted repeat of the 22 June attacks in Ingushetia, but that Chechen police had reacted better than Interior Ministry forces in Ingushetia. But Major General Nikolai Bezborodov, a member of the State Duma's Defense Committee, attributed what he termed the "relatively high losses" on 21 August to "inadequate vigilance" on the part of federal and Chechen security forces. Meanwhile, a commentary posted on 25 August on chechenpress.com stressed that Chechen resistance forces always warn the civilian population in advance of any major offensive, including the Ingush raids in mid-June and last weekend's attack on Grozny. LF

RUSSIA REAFFIRMS PLANS FOR PEACEKEEPING FORCE
The Russian Defense Ministry plans to create by the end of this year a 2,200-man peacekeeping force armed with advanced weaponry that is intended to participate in international peacekeeping operations under the aegis of the UN, Interfax reported on 24 August quoting an unidentified Defense Ministry source. LF

ARMENIA, RUSSIA LAUNCH ANNUAL WARGAMES
Hundreds of Armenian and Russian troops began a three-day military exercise near Yerevan on 24 August, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The object of the maneuvers, in which troops will deploy tanks and helicopter gunships and fire live ammunition, is to improve the interoperability of the two countries' armed forces. The Armenian armed forces chief of general staff, Colonel General Mikael Harutiunian, told RFE/RL that such exercises have been held on an annual basis over the past few years and are not directed against any third country. LF

SENIOR AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL IMPLICATED IN NEW DISPUTE
Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 23 August, Eldar Abbasov, director of the national Arthrology Center, accused presidential-administration head Ramiz Mekhtiev of seeking to have the center evicted from its current premises, Turan reported. On 24 August, Sattar Mehbaliev, head of the Confederation of Trade Unions of Azerbaijan which owns the building in question, confirmed that the confederation has initiated legal proceedings to have the center evicted from the building, but denied that Mekhtiev is in any way involved, Turan reported. Mehbaliev further accused former Baku Mayor Rafael Allkahverdiev of illegally signing over to the Arthrology Center in December 1999 a plot of land belonging to the trade unions. Allakhverdiev left Azerbaijan two weeks ago without making good on repeated threats to publicize documents proving Mekhtiev's involvement in corruption (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 5 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004). LF

OPPOSITION PARTIES DEMAND WITHDRAWAL OF AZERBAIJANI PEACEKEEPERS FROM IRAQ
The Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (SDPA) issued a statement in Baku on 23 August deploring the escalation of violence in Al-Najaf and arguing that the U.S. war on Iraq reflects Washington's "neocolonialist" policy towards the oil-rich countries of the Middle East, Turan reported. The statement called on the Azerbaijani government to withdraw its peacekeeping force from Iraq. That force, deployed one year ago, numbers 150 men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 August 2003). The tiny Vahdat Party, which like the SDPA is a member of the Union of Pro-Azerbaijani Forces, issued a similar statement on 24 August, as did the Union of Baku Villages. LF

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT REAFFIRMS READINESS FOR TALKS WITH RUSSIA
Mikheil Saakashvili told a press briefing in Tbilisi on 24 August that Georgia recognizes Russia's territorial integrity and hopes for reciprocal assurances from Moscow, Russian and Georgian media reported. Saakashvili reaffirmed his readiness for a dialogue with Russia, which he described as a party to the conflict, concerning South Ossetia. He made his comments prior to the withdrawal of Georgian units from South Ossetia on 20 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 August 2004), Russsia was amassing troops at the Russian entrance to the Roki tunnel linking Russia and South Ossetia. Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze said in Tbilisi on 24 August that Moscow should provide an official explanation for that buildup, while parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Givi Targamadze demonstrated video footage of the Russian troops in question and accused Russia of planning a military intervention, according to rustavi2.com. In Moscow, the Russian Defense Ministry issued a statement on 24 August denying Georgian reports of a Russian troop buildup as "inventions" and "unfounded," Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. LF

EU URGES THREE-WAY TALKS BETWEEN GEORGIA, RUSSIA, SOUTH OSSETIA
EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Heikki Talvitie traveled on 24 August to Tskhinvali where he met with South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity, Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS reported. Talvitie hailed the planned meeting between Kokoity and Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania (for which no date has yet been set). At the same time, Talvitie stressed that Georgia must explore ways to resolve the South Ossetian conflict not only with the leadership of that breakaway republic but also with Moscow. LF

GEORGIAN DISPLACED PERSONS PRESSURED TO VACATE HOTEL
Over the past three weeks the Tbilisi municipal authorities have begun negotiations with a group of foreign investors eager to purchase the high-rise Iveria hotel in the city center, which they plan to demolish in order to build a new luxury hotel. To expedite that process, the Tbilisi city council has signed agreements with nearly all of the more than 300 families who have lived in the Iveria, one family per room, for the past 12 years since fleeing Abkhazia during the 1992-93 civil war. Under those agreements, each family was to receive $7,000, paid by the prospective investors, towards the purchase of an apartment in the Tbilisi suburbs. The city authorities also offered to transport the displaced persons' belongings to their new homes. The displaced persons were initially reluctant to agree to that offer, arguing that their presence (as evidenced by the drying laundry on balconies) serves as a reminder of their involuntary exile and that "if we are resettled, people will forget our very existence," the Caucasus Press reported on 6 August. On 23 and 24 August, some 50 families who had earlier agreed to move staged protests to demand that the 31 August deadline to vacate the hotel be extended, Caucasus Press reported. They further demanded that telephone lines and water and power supplies to the hotel be reconnected. LF

KAZAKH PRIME MINISTER, CIS EXECUTIVE SECRETARY MEET
Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov met on 24 August in Astana with CIS Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. They discussed the further development of the CIS and, in particular, preparations for the 15-16 September CIS summit in Astana. Akhmetov noted that the integration process within the CIS has become more effective, citing as an example Russian-Kazakh coordination in preparing for accession to the World Trade Organization, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. For his part, Rushailo suggested a number of initiatives to make the CIS Executive Committee more productive. DK

KAZAKH INFORMATION MINISTER STEPS ASIDE FOR ELECTIONS
Information Minister Altynbek Sarsenbaev, who is also the co-chairman of the moderate opposition party Ak Zhol, announced on 24 August that he is temporarily stepping aside from his ministerial post in the lead up to the 19 September parliamentary elections, Kazinform reported. Deputy Minister Oleg Ryabchenko will take over Sarsenbaev's duties as minister for the duration. DK

TAJIK PROSECUTORS DETAIL INVESTIGATION INTO FORMER DRUG CZAR
The Prosecutor-General's Office released an official statement on 24 August detailing the status of its investigation into crimes allegedly committed by Ghaffor Mirzoev, former head of Tajikistan's Drug Control Agency, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. The statement notes that prosecutors have gathered evidence that Mirzoev shot an Interior Ministry official in 1998 and had his underlings murder a local politician, also in 1998. The investigation has also revealed that Mirzoev received $660,000 for leasing a Russian-made MI-8 helicopter to a company in Afghanistan identified as Prago International Inc. The helicopter has since been returned to Tajikistan's National Guard. The statement stressed that this evidence will be integrated into formal charges when the investigation is complete. DK

TAJIKISTAN TO RECEIVE MILLIONS IN U.S. MEDICAL AID
Barbi Moore, senior vice president of international programs at the Heart to Heart relief agency, told Avesta on 24 August that a 50-strong delegation of U.S. doctors will bring $10 million-$15 million of medical supplies to Tajikistan in October 2005. The agreement to deliver the aid was reached on 14 August in Dushanbe by Tajik Health Minister Nusratullo Fayzulloev and a U.S. State Department representative. Moore told the news agency that the medical supplies will include suture materials, syringes, medical gloves, and various medicines. Moore also said, "Additionally, Heart to Heart intends to carry out as soon as possible a special project for homeless teenagers and orphans in the capital." DK

TAJIK OPPOSITION PAPERS SEEK NEW PRINTERS
The newspapers "Ruzi Nav" and "Najot," the print organ of the Islamic Renaissance Party, continue to experience difficulties finding a printer after the closure of the Jiyonkhon printing house on 18 August, Avesta reported on 24 August. Tax police sealed Jiyonkhon in the course of a dispute over the print run of independent newspaper "Nerui Sukhan" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004). "Najot" editor in chief Abduqahhor Davlatov told the news agency that the newspaper is looking for a private printer after the state-owned Sharqi Ozod printing house turned them away. As for "Ruzi Nav," a correspondent at the newspaper told Avesta, "The newspaper is not going to come out this week either, since we haven't found a printing house yet that's willing to print it." DK

TURKMEN RELIGIOUS BOARD REMOVES CHIEF MUFTI...
Turkmenistan's Religious Board has removed chief mufti Kakageldi Vepaev, Turkmen TV reported on 24 August. The report said that Vepaev was relieved "for serious shortcomings in carrying out religious work and for mistakes made in life." Vepaev was named mufti in January 2003 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 January 2003). The board unanimously elected Rovshen Allaberdiyev to replace him. DK

...AS VOLUME TWO OF 'RUKHNAMA' DEBUTS
The second volume of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov's spiritual guide, the "Rukhnama," debuted on 23 August with public readings in the country's parliament, Turkmen TV reported. Official site turkmenistan.ru reported on 24 August that those present "held their breath, hearkening to every word of a book that yet further broadens our understanding of the unbounded spiritual world of the Turkmen, their moral precepts, and traditions of worldly wisdom." Completed in 2001, the first volume of Niyazov's "Rukhnama," or "book of the soul," is a compulsory part of school curriculums and a fixture of Turkmen life under the mercurial president. DK

UZBEK COURT HANDS DOWN SENTENCES IN TERROR TRIAL
Uzbekistan's Supreme Court handed down lengthy prison terms to 15 people convicted of involvement in late March-early April violence that claimed nearly 50 lives, Uzbek TV reported. Ringleaders Furqat Yusupov and Farhod Qozoqboev each received a 16-year sentence. (Russia's Vesti and Kazakhstan's Khabar TV reported that the two received 18-year sentences.) The two women in the group received sentences of 10 and six years. Other sentences ranged from 11 to 16 years. The court also ordered the defendants to pay $20,000 compensation for the property they damaged. DK

BELARUSIAN SUPREME COURT CONFIRMS CLOSURE OF PRIVATE UNIVERSITY
The Supreme Court of Belarus on 23 August rejected a lawsuit by the administration of the European Humanities University (EHU) against the Education Ministry, which annulled the university's license in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July and 18 August 2004), Belapan reported. Acting EHU Rector Tatsyana Halko told the agency that the court effectively confirmed the legality of the ministry's move closing the EHU on the grounds that the school didn't have large enough premises to hold classes. The same day, EHU representatives met with officials from the Belarusian State University (BDU) to discuss details of EHU students' transfer to BDU. JM

WASHINGTON ACCUSES BELARUSIAN BANK OF MONEY LAUNDERING
The U.S. Treasury Department said in a press release on 24 August that two private banks, Infobank of Belarus and First Merchant Bank of the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, have been involved in money laundering (http://www.treas.gov/press/releases/js1874.htm). According to the U.S. administration, Infobank laundered funds from fraudulent transactions involving Iraq. "Infobank laundered funds for the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein that were derived from schemes to circumvent the United Nations Oil-for-Food (OFF) program, including illegal surcharges and inflated contracts," the press release reads. "Proceeds from the illegal surcharges and inflated contracts either were returned to the Iraqi government -- in violation of OFF program conditions -- or were used to purchase weapons or finance military training through Infobank and its subsidiary." The Treasury Department is authorized to require U.S. financial institutions to take "special measures" against the two designated banks, which may include the termination of the banks' corresponding accounts in the United States. JM

UKRAINE MARKS INDEPENDENCE DAY WITH MILITARY PARADE
Some 5,000 troops, without military hardware, took part in a military parade in Kyiv on 24 August to celebrate Ukraine's 13th anniversary of independence, Ukrainian media reported. Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk, who opened the parade with a speech, praised the contribution of Ukrainian troops to peacekeeping all over the world. "Our country is convincingly demonstrating its aspiration to be an influential participant in the global system of collective security," Marchuk said. "Over 22,000 Ukrainian servicemen have taken part in peacekeeping operations since independence. More than 3,000 servicemen are serving with dignity on peacekeeping missions in five countries of the world." JM

POLL SAYS YUSHCHENKO, YANUKOVYCH CONTINUE TO LEAD UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE
According to a poll held by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KMIS) from 7-15 August, 30 percent of respondents intend to vote for Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko and 25 percent for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych in the 31 October presidential elections, Interfax reported on 25 August. A similar KMIS poll one month earlier recorded the same level of support for Yushchenko and Yanukovych. JM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN PARTY PREDICTS 'END OF MACEDONIA'
Ethnic Albanian opposition Party for Democratic Prosperity (PPD) spokesman Kenan Aliu said on 24 August that his party will call on its members to boycott the referendum against the government's redistricting plans, "Utrinski vesnik" reported. Aliu said the PPD opposes the referendum because it is directed against the country's Albanian minority and expresses the Macedonians' phobia of the Albanians (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 2, 23, and 30 July and 13 August 2004). Aliu predicted that a successful referendum could mean the "end of Macedonia." He did not elaborate, but said his party would consider supporting a possible referendum on the Albanian minority's political autonomy. The Justice Ministry is currently counting the signatures on a petition that ended on 23 August to call a referendum against the redistricting plans. The referendum drive was initiated by the nationalist World Macedonian Congress in February and later supported by all ethnic Macedonian opposition parties (see http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2004/08/482e8c00-f4c8-4719-84ad-64ece95c111c.html). UB

ANOTHER MASS GRAVE FOUND IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA
Experts have begun excavating a mass grave in the center of Foca in the Republika Srpska, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 24 August. The experts hope to find the bodies of up to 30 inmates of the Foca municipal prison who were killed in 1992. They presume that the bodies are buried at a site close to the prison, which was later used as a garbage dump. So far, the digging has revealed only the remains of a mosque that was destroyed during the civil war in Bosnia. Three more mass graves have been found in the town of Foca so far, and another three in a coal mine nearby (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 10, and 12 August 2004). UB

HIGH REPRESENTATIVE IN BOSNIA ANNOUNCES TRANSFORMATION OF ADMINISTRATION...
High Representative Paddy Ashdown announced on 24 August that, "the organization [of his office] is going to be restructured and downsized to reflect the progress that [Bosnia] has made towards full statehood and normalization in recent years," according to a press release by Ashdown's office (http://www.ohr.int). The plan involves a 25 percent reduction in staff and a reorganization of the Office of the High Representative headquarters and field offices. Ashdown said it has always been the OHR's aim to put Bosnia irreversibly on the road to Europe and then leave. "There is still a way to go, but increasingly it will be the EU that helps you get there," Ashdown said. "That is why my own role as EU special representative [EUSR] is growing. That is why this office is increasingly becoming the Office of the EUSR as well as the Office of the High Representative. And that is why the EU are providing a military force to take over many of SFOR's Dayton tasks later this year" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 15 July 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 16 and 23 July 2004). UB

...AS CORRUPTION WATCHDOG'S REPORT CASTS DOUBT ON OPTIMISM
A new report by Transparency International says that corruption is widespread on all levels of the state administration in Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 24 August. The study also found that most state institutions are functioning only due to the constant pressure exerted by the international community. UB

UNMIK HEAD SIGNS INTERNATIONAL CONVENTIONS
Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), and visiting Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer signed two human rights conventions in Prishtina on 23 August, the "Southeast European Times" reported. The two conventions were the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Schwimmer said signing the two conventions is of a high symbolic value and shows the people of Kosova that they have the same rights as all European citizens and that Kosova's future lies in Europe, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 24 August. UB

U.S. 'CONCERNED' ABOUT UKRAINIAN CANAL IN DANUBE DELTA
U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said on 24 August that the United States expressed concern over the Bystraya Canal project in May and remains concerned "about the environmental impact" of the Danube Delta canal "and by the lack of action by the government of Ukraine to be responsive to its treaty obligations and to the positions stated by other countries and the international organizations," AFP and AP reported. Ereli said that the United States "continue[s] to urge" Ukraine "to ensure that this...ecologically sensitive resource be fully protected and preserved." On 23 August, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana asked the UN to appoint an international commission to investigate the canal's environmental impact, Mediafax reported. On 24 August, over 200 demonstrators picketed the Ukrainian Embassy in Bucharest protesting the construction of the canal. The same day, Ukraine sent Bucharest a report on the project's likely environmental impact, but the Romanian Environment Ministry said the report was incomplete and did not refer to effects on the Danube Delta's fauna. MS

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY PLEDGES RESTRAINT IN ELECTION CAMPAIGN...
Social Democratic Party (PSD) spokesman Titus Corlatean said on 24 August that the PSD will no longer respond to the "dirty campaign" launched against the party by the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance, Mediafax reported. Earlier on 24 August, both President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the PSD was not the first to launch a "negative campaign" against its chief rival in the November parliamentary elections. They said the PSD had been forced to respond to the campaign. MS

...HOLDS MEETING WITH UDMR
PSD and Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) leaders met on 24 August, discussing the cooperation between the two parties and the likelihood of continuing it after the November elections, Mediafax reported. Prime Minister Nastase said after the talks that the cooperation between the two parties has brought about political stability in Romania, intensive economic development, and a credible foreign policy. He said the two parties agreed to refrain from mutual criticism during the election campaign and to help one another if their interests are not affected. "After the elections, we are ready to continue cooperation with the UDMR, but this will be decided by the outcome of the vote," Nastase said. UDMR Chairman Bela Marko said cooperation with the PSD between 2000-04 has been "useful." He also said the UDMR will designate a candidate of its own for the presidential elections and that consequently the two parties have not discussed cooperation in a possible December presidential runoff. MS

UDMR SAYS DECENTRALIZATION MUST CONTINUE IN ROMANIA
UDMR Chairman Marko told journalists on 24 August that decentralization in Romania must continue in the next few years, Mediafax reported. Marko named the spheres of education, culture, health care, and economy as needing further decentralization. He said this would help the Hungarian minority in Romania achieve the administrative autonomy it seeks. He said minorities must be granted more rights to administer their own education and cultural institutions. MS

ROMANIAN PREMIER EXPLAINS LACK OF TRANSPARENCY IN AWARDING CONTRACT FOR BORDER SECURITY
Responding to media criticism, Prime Minister Nastase admitted on 24 August that the government has awarded a large contract for improving Romania's border security without a tender, Mediafax reported. Nastase said that the contract signed with the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADAS) earlier this month involves "elements of national security" and that this type of contract is not subject to rules otherwise respected by Romania in awarding international contracts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 2004). He said subcontracting that does not involve security elements will be awarded by regular tender procedure. MS

MONTENEGRO WANTS TALKS ON DISSOLVING JOINT STATE WITH SERBIA
Montenegro's government is about to take a big step towards dissolving the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro and moving toward independence. Where matters will end is nonetheless anybody's guess.

The union of Serbia and Montenegro has never been truly popular in either of those republics. EU foreign- and security-policy chief Javier Solana is the man chiefly responsible for its creation in 2002, so much so that some Balkan wags dubbed the new state "Solania." Following years of ineffective policy initiatives in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, Brussels was determined not to allow any more small states to emerge from the wreck of Josip Broz Tito's onetime federation.

But many Serbian leaders were reluctant to grant political equality to Montenegro, which has roughly 1/10th of the larger republic's population. The Montenegrin leadership, for its part, grudgingly yielded to EU pressure for a joint state but refused to give up its ultimate goal of independence. Consequently, the agreement setting up the union permits a referendum on independence but not until 2005 at the earliest.

The state is a curious hybrid, which lacks not only a unified economic policy but even a common currency: Serbia uses the dinar, while Montenegro has the euro. Foreign and defense policies are among those conducted by joint ministries, but Montenegro also has its own foreign minister and tries to conduct external relations of its own. There is a common army, but Montenegrin soldiers are expected to serve only in that republic. And although the basic principles for the union were agreed in early 2002, it took roughly one year of haggling before the legal basis was set for the joint state to come into being in 2003.

Polls in Montenegro have often shown a roughly even split on the issue of independence, perhaps with a slight majority now favoring independence. The root of the problem is that Montenegrins have never achieved a consensus as to whether they are a distinct people or a special branch of the Serbian nation. Many Montenegrins live and work in Serbia, and they and their families would suffer were the joint state to split up.

On the other hand, Serbian public opinion has tended to favor ending the union, but few politicians have been willing to embrace independence in defiance of the EU. Exceptions are the G-17 Plus party, which is a smaller member of the governing coalition, and Vladan Batic's Christian Democrats (DHSS), which fared badly in the December parliamentary elections. Batic once sponsored a petition drive on a referendum on independence, much to the embarrassment of some of his coalition partners in the previous government. In recent months, the G-17 Plus has stressed that the two republics' economies are incompatible under one roof and that European integration can best be achieved by each republic going its own way.

The EU does not see things that way. Brussels has made it clear that it would be very unhappy were its creation to be dissolved, and that any new republics would have to relaunch their stabilization and association talks with the EU from the start again.

Against this background, Montenegro's governing Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) has sought to end the summer political doldrums by making a concrete proposal aimed at dissolving the joint state. Miodrag Vukovic, who is a DPS leader, said in Podgorica on 18 August that the Montenegrin authorities will formally propose to Serbia in September that the two sides start talks on ending the union.

Vukovic suggested that Belgrade and Podgorica might review three options, starting with total independence for each republic. A second possibility might be to link two internationally recognized, independent states in an association on the model of the Commonwealth of Independent States that exists among some successor states to the former Soviet Union. A third option might be to remain in the joint state until 2005, when a referendum on independence will automatically take place.

Initial reactions to his proposal were guarded, to say the least. The Montenegrin Social Democrats (SDP), who are coalition partners of the DPS and outspoken advocates of independence, declined to comment. The opposition Socialist People's Party (SNP) said that the DPS is unlikely to find many people in Belgrade who are willing to talk with them about their proposal.

In the Serbian capital, only G-17 Plus leader and Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said that talks could start in the fall. He stressed that the current situation is untenable because economic differences between the two republics are so great that no further progress in stabilization and association talks with the EU is possible (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May and 23 June 2004).

In response to a statement by a Serbian government official that the cabinet is not legally competent to discuss separation, Vukovic told the pro-opposition daily "Dan" of 20 August that such an attitude reflects "political stupidity." He stressed that dissolution is the best way to avoid what he called an impending "debacle" if matters continue as they are. Dragan Kujovic, who is deputy speaker of the Montenegrin parliament, said on 20 August that the government will launch a campaign for a referendum on independence if the Belgrade authorities refuse to talk.

Brussels did not comment on Vukovic's initial statement immediately, but in Strasbourg, Roman Jakic, who is chair of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly's Political Affairs Committee, told RFE/RL on 19 August that "the international community" would prefer that Serbia and Montenegro continues as a joint state. Jakic, who is from Slovenia, added, however, that one must respect any democratically expressed wish of the citizens of the two republics.

In Podgorica, the pro-government daily "Pobjeda" reported on Jakic's interview with RFE/RL, saying in the headline that he believes that "separation is a matter for Serbia and Montenegro" alone.

AFGHANISTAN AND PAKISTAN AGREE ON PRISONER-RELEASE DEAL
Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai and his host, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, have agreed on a prisoner-release program, the Associate Press of Pakistan news agency reported on 24 August. According to the agreement, Afghanistan is to release 400 Pakistanis while Pakistan will release 250 Afghans who have been arrested "for minor consular offences," the report added. Most of the Pakistani prisoners in Afghanistan were volunteers who fought alongside the former Taliban regime. The agreement between Karzai and Musharraf came at the conclusion of Karzai's two-day trip to Pakistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 August 2004).

NATO-LED PRT BEGINS WORK IN NORTHEASTERN AFGHANISTAN
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) on 24 August established a new Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Pol-e Khomri, the provincial capital of Baghlan Province, Radio Afghanistan reported. Baghlan Governor Faqir Mohammad Mamozai asked the new PRT to help in rebuilding the sugar and cement factories in the province. Soldiers from the Netherlands will be stationed in Baghlan as part of the PRT (for more on NATO's expanded role in Afghanistan, see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 16 June and 1 July 2004). AT

UN UPDATES NUMBER OF AFGHAN VOTERS AS REGISTRATION CLOSES
As of 21 August the number of registered voters in Afghanistan stood at 10,353,380, of whom 58.6 percent are men and 41.4 percent are women, a 23 August press release by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) indicated. While the main voter-registration process ended on 15 August, the UN-led Joint Electoral Management Body continued to register voters until 20 August in seven provinces in the troubled south and southeastern parts of the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 11 August 2004). The current tally is not final as data continues to come in and is being verified in Kabul, the statement added. AT

UNAMA DOES NOT EXPECT WITHDRAWAL FROM AFGHANISTAN
UNAMA spokesman Manoel de Almeida e Silva said on 22 August that he does not expect the UN to withdraw its staff from Afghanistan, according to UNAMA's website (http://www.unama-afg.org). De Almeida e Silva said that the suggestion by an official from the UN staff union in New York that the organization should withdraw all of its members from Afghanistan as they may become targets of violence in the run-up to the country's presidential elections did not come from the UN in Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). According to the UNAMA spokesman, while security remains a "matter of great concern" to the UN in Afghanistan, different parts of the country present different risks and the organization continues to work based on evaluating such an approach. AT

KABUL DAILY ASKS FOR U.S. IMPARTIALITY IN ELECTIONS
In a commentary on 22 August, "Arman-e Melli" asked the United States to respect the "principle of impartiality" during the upcoming presidential elections and not to "impose [Afghan leader] Karzai as president at all costs." The paper said that it expects that the United States will "support the practical aspirations and will of the people of Afghanistan." AT

IRAN CLAIMS TO PRODUCE NUCLEAR DEFENSE EQUIPMENT
Minister of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics Admiral Ali Shamkhani said on 24 August that Iran is producing equipment to protect Iranian citizens in case of an attack on the country's nuclear facilities in Bushehr, Radio Farda reported, citing the official "Iran" newspaper and AP (http://www.radiofarda.com/iran_article/2004/8/21bb388a-9cfb-4799-b279-cb4cdbfefaa4.html). Shamkhani added that some of Iran's neighbors have nuclear facilities and Iran must be ready in case accidents take place. India and Pakistan have tested nuclear weapons, and Israel is believed to have a nuclear-weapon stockpile. Shamkhani did not specify the type of protective equipment Iran has made, but he said this development reflects Iran's being forced to achieve self-sufficiency due to international sanctions. BS

IRANIANS TOP ASYLUM SEEKERS IN GREAT BRITAIN
The U.K. Home Office announced in its most recent report on asylum applications that Iran has surpassed Somalia as the top application nationality (http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Politics/documents/2004/08/24/asylumq204.pdf). 685 Iranians applied for asylum in the second quarter of 2004 (April, May, and June). In the same period, 95 unsuccessful Iranian asylum seekers were removed from the United Kingdom. 820 Iranians applied for accommodation and subsistence support, according to the Home Office. BS

IRAN-KUWAIT WATER-TRANSFER AGREEMENT'S AMBIGUITIES CONSIDERED
Reza Talai, a member of the legislature's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on 24 August that a number of issues must be clarified before the legislature ratifies an agreement to transfer fresh water from Iran to Kuwait, IRNA reported. Under the agreement, Talai said, 900,000 cubic meters of water will be transferred to Kuwait every day over a 30-year period. He said there is no proof that Kuwait has finalized the agreement. Kuwait's ambassador to Iran, Majid Zafiri, met with the head of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Alaedin Borujerdi, on 11 July, and said the project should be sped up, IRNA reported. Iran and Kuwait signed the water-transfer agreement, worth a reported $1.5 billion, on 13 December 2003, according to IRNA. The water will be transferred to Kuwait via a 540-kilometer pipeline -- 330 kilometers overland from the Karkheh Dam in southwestern Khuzestan Province to the Arvand River in Abadan, then 210 kilometers undersea to the Kuwaiti coast. The agreement was signed when Kuwaiti Energy Minister Sheikh Ahmad Fahd al-Sabah visited Tehran. Iranian Energy Minister Habibullah Bitaraf said at the time that the money earned through this project will be used for development projects in Khuzestan Province. BS

IRAQI VICE PRESIDENT VISITS IRAN
Iraqi Vice President Ibrahim al-Ja'fari met with President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami and other officials in the northeastern city of Mashhad on 24 August, Iranian state television and AFP reported. Al-Ja'fari said afterwards that the two sides hold similar views on many issues. He added, "The two sides stress the importance of establishing peace and stability in Iraq and expanding relations between the two countries." Al-Ja'fari said he and his hosts want to see the crisis in Al-Najaf settled peacefully through diplomatic means, and they agree that after Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army is disarmed, it can become active in the Iraqi political arena. BS

IRANIAN LEGISLATORS MAKE CONTRADICTORY STATEMENTS ON AL-SADR
A reformist parliamentarian from Ardakan, Mohammad Reza Tabesh, said in the 24 August "Aftab-i Yazd," "The policy of the country's senior officials is by no means support for Muqtada al-Sadr." Tabesh said Iran's senior officials opposed al-Sadr's visiting Iran. In fact, al-Sadr visited Iran in June 2003 and met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 9 June 2003). Mahmud Mohammadi, a conservative parliamentarian from Abadeh, said in the 23 August "Aftab-i Yazd," "The Islamic Republic of Iran must support Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a figure against the forces of occupation." Mohammadi said Iran has the ability and the right to wield influence in Iraq. He added: "Iran must have a more active presence in the Iraqi crisis. We must not be afraid of the fact that our actions may be regarded as interference." BS

BAGHDAD REJECTS IRAN'S CALL FOR OIC INVOLVEMENT IN AL-NAJAF
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari rejected on 24 August the idea of neighboring countries meeting to discuss the crisis in the holy city of Al-Najaf, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on 24 August. He described the conflict there as an internal issue between the government and illegal groups that challenge the state and threaten security. "Therefore, we will not support any attempt to internationalize the issue by participating in a meeting for the countries neighboring Iraq or tolerating the interference of regional organizations, such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference[ OIC], or the international organizations." President Khatami said in a phone call to OIC Secretary-General Abdullah Ahmad Badawi that the OIC should hold a special meeting on Iraq, Radio Farda reported on 20 August, citing IRNA. Khatami repeated this sentiment on 23 August, state television reported. "I believe that, apart from the Shi'a aspect, apart from the Islamic aspect, in terms of the humanitarian aspect and in view of the destiny of Iraq itself, there must be greater activity. Islamic countries and other countries have not been as active as appropriate." BS

SENIOR IRAQI CLERIC SAYS U.S. TROOPS SHOULD NOT BE INVOLVED IN AL-NAJAF STANDOFF
Muhammad al-Musawi, an aide to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has said that U.S. forces should not be involved in the standoff with radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in the holy city of Al-Najaf, Reuters reported on 25 August. In an interview with the BBC, al-Musawi reiterated a demand that al-Sadr vacate the Imam Ali shrine. He also called for a peaceful resolution to the standoff, adding: "Americans interfering in this will not help the situation at all. We always say that the Americans should be very far from the holy places. They should not involve themselves in this problem." Al-Sistani, who has spent two weeks in London receiving medical treatment, returned to Iraq on 25 August. He has reportedly called on Shi'ites to head to Al-Najaf to help bring an end to the fighting there. International media reported on 25 August that Iraqis are mobilizing in Baghdad and Karbala to answer al-Sistani's call. KR

FIGHTING ESCALATES IN AL-AMARAH
Iraqi and multinational forces continued to battle militiamen loyal to al-Sadr in the southern Iraqi town of Al-Amarah on 24-25 August, international media reported. The Health Ministry said on 25 August that at least 12 people were killed and 50 wounded in the previous 24 hours of fighting, Reuters reported. A commander for the Imam Al-Mahdi Army, Sheikh Majid al-Shami, told Al-Jazeera in a 24 August interview that his forces shelled a British camp in the city with Katyusha rockets, adding, "This created a state of chaos and panic in the camp." Al-Shami also issued a warning to U.S. forces regarding Al-Najaf. "We tell the Americans and the government of [interim Prime Minister Iyad ] Allawi that if they destroyed the resistance in Al-Najaf or attempted to enter the holy shrine of the commander of the faithful [Imam Ali], Iraq will be set on fire from north to south.... I am sure that we will tighten the noose around them until death by cutting off all entrances [to the south] and announcing a state of disobedience," he said. KR

ITALIAN JOURNALIST ABDUCTED...
A militant group identifying itself as the Islamic Army in Iraq has reportedly claimed responsibility for the abduction of an Italian journalist, Al-Jazeera reported on 24 August. The group said in a videotaped statement obtained by the satellite news channel that it will kill the journalist within 48 hours unless Italy vows to withdraw its forces from Iraq. The hostage, Inzo Baldoni, claimed in the video that he traveled to Iraq to research the Iraqi resistance for a book he is writing. The Italian government issued a statement on 24 August saying it will not meet the hostage takers' ultimatum, AFP reported the same day. Meanwhile, the Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Shyamanand Suman, confirmed on 24 August the identities of 12 nationals taken hostage in Iraq, kantipuronline.com reported. The nationals were abducted a day earlier in Al-Ramadi while they were en route to Baghdad. They were reportedly taken hostage by militants disguised as policemen. KR

...AS LEBANESE HOSTAGE RELEASED
A Lebanese hostage held captive in Iraq for more than a week was released from captivity on 24 August, Al-Arabiyah reported. Muhammad Ra'd was released following an intervention by the Sunni Muslim Scholars Association. He had been held captive by a group identifying itself as the Islamic Movement for the Mujahedin of Iraq -- Sword of Islam Brigades. The group had accused Ra'd of working for occupation forces in Iraq. Meanwhile, the Iraq Martyrs' Brigade has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of a Jordanian and a Kenyan national. In a statement posted to the islamic-minbar.com website, the group said that the men were kidnapped "in an ambush set for them while they were headed for a U.S. base to deliver food to the U.S. invasion troops." The group did not release the names of the hostages. KR

IRAQI OLYMPIC SOCCER TEAM LOSES TO PARAGUAY
The Iraqi soccer team lost its bid for a gold medal in Athens on 24 August when it fell to Paraguay 3-1, international media reported. Few observers predicted that the team would make it to the semifinals. "We want to make the people back home happy, and please them, because the Americans have destroyed them," midfielder Qusay Munir told "The Boston Globe" before the match, the newspaper's website (http://www.boston.com) reported on 25 August. Players refuted statements by U.S. President George W. Bush this week, who said the team "wouldn't have been free if the United States had not acted," the website reported. "I have a message for George Bush: Calm down a little bit," Munir said. "We want to live. Stop killing civilians. Help rebuild Iraq instead of destroying it." The team is still in the running for a bronze medal in Athens, where it will face Italy on 27 August. Coach Adnan Hamad told reporters: "As Iraqis we love all the people in the world. They are all human beings, even in America. We have nothing against American people, even though our country now is almost destroyed." KR

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