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Newsline - August 26, 2004

Russia observed an official day of mourning on 26 August for the 89 passengers and crewmembers killed during the 24 August crashes of two passenger jets, a Tu-154 and a Tu-134, within minutes of each other, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2004). Flags were flown at half-mast and all entertainment programming on radio and television was canceled. The country's airports were still open but operating under a heightened security regime. President Vladimir Putin returned to Moscow on 25 August from his working vacation in Sochi and held a televised meeting with the heads of the agencies conducting the investigation into the crashes. He called on them to "seek and provide absolutely full, objective, and accurate information about what happened," NTV reported. Putin instructed the government to immediately draft legislative amendments transferring security and control of the country's airports to the Interior Ministry. JAC/RC

Investigators from the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Prosecutor-General's Office continued to work at both crash sites on 26 August, Russian and international media reported. Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov told journalists on 25 August that the investigation is looking into terrorism, equipment failure, and human error as the most likely causes of the crashes, saying that none of these possibilities can yet be ruled out. An unidentified FSB expert said on 25 August that investigators are looking into the possibility that the crashes were caused by defective jet fuel or poor servicing of the planes in Moscow, "Vremya novostei" reported on 26 August. Investigators told RIA-Novosti on 26 August that the flight-data recorders aboard the planes have been recovered but that some of them are damaged and it will take "some time" to recover the data, depending on how extensive the damage is. Investigators said earlier that preliminary information from the recorders would be released on 26 August. More than 1,500 service personnel have been pressed into the search for debris and bodies, Interfax-AVN reported on 25 August. RC

FSB spokesman Nikolai Zakharov told Interfax on 25 August that investigators have uncovered no evidence that terrorism was involved in the crashes. The preliminary results of the investigation of the 24 August plane crashes will not be ready for at least 10 to 15 days, an unidentified representative of the Intergovernmental Aviation Committee told RBK on 25 August. Zakharov said the same day that none of the recovered bodies had burns, which would have been an indication of an on-board explosion, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 August. An earlier news report that the Sibir Airlines Tu-154 issued a hijack alert shortly before crashing -- a report that was initially confirmed by air-traffic controllers and Sibir -- turned out to be erroneous, as investigators now say the plane merely issued an SOS call. Sibir Airlines and officials at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport are rejecting the FSB's early findings, according to the daily. Sibir said its plane exploded in midair, and both Domodedovo and Sibir stressed that the Tu-154 was maintained in full compliance with the law. JAC

Top politicians and experts not connected with the investigation have been speculating on the cause of the tragedies, with most concluding that terrorists were behind the explosions, Russian media reported on 25 and 26 August. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovskii told Interfax that they believe the crashes were the result of terrorism. State Duma Security Committee member and former FSB officer Gennadii Gudkov agreed, claiming that "there is a well-organized terrorist underground acting in Russia that carried out this intricately planned operation." Former Duma Defense Committee Chairman Roman Popkovich told Ekho Moskvy that the fact that communication was lost with both airliners almost simultaneously suggests a terrorist attack. He said suicide bombers might have been involved. He added that he personally has observed the inside of the baggage section of Moscow's Domodedovo Airport, describing it as "chaos." "Anyone can enter it, pass through or go out, there are several entrances there," he said. "Thus, it was quite possible to smuggle a dangerous package in." JAC

Akhmed Zakaev, a personal envoy of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, told on 25 August that the two Russian passenger aircraft that crashed in Tula and Rostov oblasts the previous night were not downed as a result of terrorist attacks by Chechens, reported. Zakaev predicted that the Russian authorities would not blame the Chechens for the crashes, as to do so would call into question their repeated assertions that the war in Chechnya is over. But he said he is profoundly concerned that Russian intelligence services might announce the discovery of a "Georgian lead" that the Russian military would then adduce as the rationale for large-scale bombings of Georgian territory. LF

Under the latest draft budget that was submitted to the cabinet on 25 August, Russia's debt to the Paris Club of leading creditor countries will be reduced by $2.3 billion in 2005 to $44.4 billion, ITAR-TASS reported. Total state debt is expected to fall to 21.3 percent of GDP by the end of next year, compared to an expected 26.5 percent this year. Foreign debt will fall to 17.8 percent of GDP, the news agency reported. RC

The Moscow Appeals Court on 25 August ruled that embattled oil giant Yukos must pay Justice Ministry's bailiffs service a 7 percent fee for executing a court decision to collect 99.3 billion rubles ($3.4 billion) in back taxes and fees, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The decision overturned a lower-court ruling rejecting the 6.7 billion ruble fee. RC

In a long analysis of U.S. President George W. Bush's recent announcement of a major 10-year shift in U.S. military deployments abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004), professor and retired Major General Pavel Zolotarev, president of the Foundation for Military Reform, argues in "Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie" of 20 August that Russia and NATO should boost direct security cooperation. Zolotarev argues that "neither the United States nor Russia is in a position to cope with present-day threats on its own," especially in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Moreover, he expressed concern about the United States' "inevitable gravitation...toward hegemonism, toward independent actions based on its national interests and without any particular respect for the interests of its partners and allies." Therefore, he advocates tighter, concrete cooperation within the context of the NATO-Russia Council, including the development of joint military bases under its aegis. He said that most likely "the principal component at these bases will be American and Russian servicemen." Some such bases, especially those related to missile defense, could even be located in Russia, according to Zolotarev. RC

The Russian government could decide to purchase a 50 percent stake in Gazprom if the results of an analysis currently under way suggest doing so, Arkadii Dvorkovich, director of the Expert Directorate of the presidential administration, said on 25 August, RBK reported. Dvorkovich added that the issue could be resolved in the near future. He also said that government has a plan for restructuring Gazprom that will be considered before the end of this year. Dvorkovich's comments follow a recent inquiry by State Duma Deputy Yurii Savelev (Motherland) regarding the alleged illegal transfer of Gazprom shares to foreigners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2004). Metropol investment company analyst Yevgenii Satskov told the news agency that "there is a danger that the deputy inquiry of Savelev can be used to engage in agiotage to lower the stock price, and as a result the government and its agents will be able to buy shares more easily." Currently, the state owns a 38.7 percent stake in Gazprom, according to RBK. JAC

The Appeals Collegium of the Supreme Court declined on 24 August to consider a case brought by a citizen, identified only as Lebedev, who is seeking to restore a monument to Soviet secret police founder Feliks Dzerzhinskii to its original location on Moscow's Lyubyanka Square, "Vremya novostei" reported on 25 August. The court ruled that the issue is political rather than legal. Lebedev has been pursuing the case since August 1991, when he challenged in a Moscow court a Moscow City Duma decision to dismantle the monument. The idea of reerecting the monument has been supported by former presidential candidate and State Duma Deputy Nikolai Kharitonov (Communist), but efforts to initiate the project have been blocked (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 July 2000 and 11 July 2001). JAC

Independent State Duma Deputy Viktor Cherepkov told reporters in Moscow on 25 August that his supporters are still seeking to overturn the results of the 18 July mayoral election in Vladivostok, "Vremya novostei" reported on 26 August. Cherepkov, a former mayor of the city, was disqualified just before the second round was held (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 July 2004). Cherepkov said that he has amassed around $5.5 million to spend on the effort and he also claimed that the Prosecutor-General's Office has launched a criminal case regarding the way in which the election was conducted. However, the newspaper reported that no official sources would confirm that such a case had been initiated. Meanwhile, local businessmen are bracing themselves for the next diktat from new Mayor Vladimir Nikolaev, according to the daily. The city administration has already announced that it has started work to improve vegetable markets and to eliminate all unsanctioned trading points. JAC

Musa Umarov, who represents Chechnya's pro-Moscow State Council in the Federation Council, told a press conference in Moscow on 25 August that the possibility of opening peace talks with President Maskahdov is currently being discussed at the very highest level of the Russian leadership, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 26 August. Arkadii Volskii, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, called earlier this month for such peace talks and offered to serve as an intermediary between Maskhadov and the Russian government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August 2004). Umarov argued that "Chechnya needs a strong hand, a strong man who will say a resolute 'No!' to terrorism, banditry, and abductions," affirming that Interior Minister Major General Alu Alkhanov is such a man and is capable of uniting all "healthy forces" in Chechnya. Umarov denied, as have other members of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, the emergence of a split between Alkhanov, widely regarded as the Kremlin's preferred candidate in the 29 August ballot to elect a new Chechen administration head, and Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of slain pro-Moscow leader Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 and 23 August 2004). LF

National Accord Party (AMK) Chairman Artashes Geghamian accused the Armenian authorities on 25 August of seeking to persuade AMK members who were not elected to parliament under the proportional system in the May 2003 ballot to take the place of the eight current AMK deputies who, Geghamian alleged, are to be stripped of their mandates for having boycotted sessions of the legislature over the past six months, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Geghamian added that the current deputies are "experienced and mature," and that he doubts they can be won over. LF

The Union of Journalists of Armenia and the Yerevan Press Club issued a joint statement on 25 August protesting the beating the previous day in the resort zone of Tsakhkadzor of a photojournalist who attempted to take photographs of luxury villas believed to belong to senior government personnel, Noyan Tapan reported. Journalists Mkhitar Khachatrian and Anna Israelian were warned to stop taking photographs by a guard at one of the villas in question. Khachatrian said the same man accosted him later at a cafe and summoned a group of colleagues who kicked and punched Khachatrian and threatened to kill him, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The Armenian authorities announced on 26 August that a man has been arrested in connection with the attack on Khachatrian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. LF

Ilham Aliev and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder discussed bilateral cooperation, German investment in Azerbaijan, and Azerbaijan's integration into European structures during talks in Berlin on 25 August, Turan and dpa reported. Schroeder affirmed his support for Azerbaijan's territorial integrity and stressed that a peaceful solution must be found to the Karabkah conflict. Aliev said that a Karabakh peace treaty could be signed after Armenian forces are withdrawn from territory they currently occupy. Two agreements were signed following the talks, one on the avoidance of dual taxation and the other on the purchase by Azerbaijan of four A-319 Airbus aircraft. LF

Three Czech journalists researching a story on the impact of construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline were detained for one hour on 25 August in Azerbaijan's Akhstafa district by security guards for BP, which is coordinating construction work, Turan and reported. They were released only on instructions from BP's Baku office. One of the three journalists was quoted by as saying he has come to the conclusion that the project has engendered numerous problems, of which corruption is one of the most serious. LF

Visiting Batumi on 25 August, Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania told journalists that Armed Forces Chief of General Staff Major General Givi Iukuridze has been dismissed from his post because the country's leaders, including President Mikheil Saakashvili, are not particularly pleased with the work of the General Staff, Georgian media and ITAR-TASS reported. Zhvania said Iukuridze will be named defense attache to one of Georgia's embassies abroad. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" quoted Zhvania as saying that Iukuridze will be sent to Moscow. Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava said Iukuridze was replaced because of the losses Georgia incurred during the recent fighting in South Ossetia, according to ITAR-TASS, while Interfax quoted Saakashvili as telling the government that "we are creating a new army that must meet NATO standards," and for that reason officers who trained in the United States are being named to head the General Staff. Iukuridze, who is 48 and a veteran of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, graduated from Soviet military academies. His replacement as chief of the General Staff is his deputy, Vakhtang Kapanadze, who trained in Kyiv, Germany, and the United States. LF

Three Georgian servicemen have been arrested on suspicion of putting sand in cartridges and substituting stones for grenades to be transported to the Georgian forces fighting in South Ossetia, Georgian media reported on 25 August. LF

Kazakhstan's Republican Network of Independent Observers held a news conference on 25 August in Almaty to detail several violations of existing election legislation, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Murat Tungishbaev, who heads the group's election-observation projects, said that many local electoral commissions are closed to the public and sometimes deny observers access to working sessions. He also noted that the executive branch continues to interfere in the activities of commissions, especially since commissions are often located in the same administrative offices as executive branch authorities. Zhan Kunserkin, a lawyer for the group, said that existing legislation does not provide all candidates with equal opportunities to conduct election campaigns, allowing some candidates to exploit administrative resources to their benefit. The group, which plans to send 2,000 observers to 19 September parliamentary elections, based its analysis on monitoring conducted in 11 regions, including Astana and Almaty. DK

CIS Executive Secretary Vladimir Rushailo praised Kazakhstan's electronic-voting system on 25 August following a meeting with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev in Almaty, Khabar Television reported. Rushailo said that electronic voting will save time and ensure an honest election. Not everyone agreed. Serikbolsyn Abdildin, first secretary of the Communist Party, told a 25 August international congress in Almaty on the electoral system that the authorities are introducing electronic voting "to ensure falsified election results," "Kazakhstan Today" reported. State Secretary Oralbai Abdykarimov told the conference that the system should be used on an experimental basis in upcoming elections, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The planned introduction of electronic voting, which could be used by some 30 percent of voters, has received mixed reactions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2004). DK

Kurmanbek Kubatbekov, director of Kyrgyzstan's Drug Control Agency, and Viktor Cherkesov, head of Russia's State Committee on Drug Trafficking, signed a cooperation agreement in Bishkek on 25 August to coordinate their countries' antidrug efforts, reported. Cherkesov called the agreement an important step toward stemming the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan to the West via Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Cherkesov also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev and Prime Minister Nikolai Tanaev, Kabar news agency reported. President Akaev noted that Kyrgyz-Russian cooperation to fight drug trafficking is important because the narcotics trade funds terrorism. DK

Prime Minister Tanaev said on 25 August in Bishkek that objective factors are a greater obstacle to increased foreign investment in Kyrgyzstan than the widespread corruption cited by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Kabar news agency reported. Tapio Saavalainen, who headed an IMF delegation that visited Kyrgyzstan on 13-25 August, said the business situation has remained stagnant since 1999, with corruption preventing a larger inflow of investments. For his part, Tanaev cited rising rates of investment and described Kyrgyzstan's isolated location and related transportation difficulties as a more important limiting factor than corruption. DK

Representatives of the European Union and the U.S. Embassy in Dushanbe expressed concern on 25 August that several Tajik opposition newspapers have not appeared since the tax police closed a printing house on 18 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004), Asia Plus-Blitz and Avesta reported. "The heads of European Union representative offices intend to take steps to learn from Tajik authorities the aim of the measures taken against several newspapers," the German Embassy said in a statement quoted by Asia Plus-Blitz. Avesta quoted the U.S. Embassy statement as saying: "We support Tajikistan in its choice to develop a strong and independent press that speeds the process of democratization. Should such actions be lacking, Tajikistan risks harm to its international image, especially as a country preparing for elections." DK

The Interior Ministry has arrested 20 activists of the extremist organization Bayat in northern Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 August, citing an unidentified ministry official. Police claim that the activists hoped to destabilize the region and committed crimes including robbery and murder. "The extremists have claimed that Islam forbids secular wedding parties and other celebrations, and insisted that women wear veils to cover their faces, and that boys and girls should study separately in school," the official told the news agency. DK

Interior Ministry Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Tohir Normatov told a news conference in Dushanbe on 25 August that "not a single case of kidnapping children with the aim of transplanting their organs has been reported in Tajikistan," Avesta reported. There have been recent reports of children's bodies being discovered without internal organs. DK

Belarus's private bank Infobank on 25 August denied U.S. charges that it laundered funds for the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2004), Belarusian media reported. "Infobank has in all of its activities strictly followed the spirit and letter of international agreements relating to the fight against the legalization of illegal financial transactions," the bank said in a statement. "We believe that this [allegation] by the U.S. administration was made hastily and we hope that this upsetting incident will be sorted out." Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Savinykh said the same day that the Belarusian authorities had checked earlier U.S. concerns about Infobank's alleged money laundering but "found no violations," RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Infobank, which accounts for some 1 percent of the assets of the entire banking system in Belarus, is specializing in financial transactions involving Iraq, Libya, Iran, and other Middle Eastern countries. A Libyan bank owns a 35 percent stake in Infobank. JM

President Leonid Kuchma on 26 August officially inaugurated navigation on the newly built Bystraya Canal in the Danube River Delta, Interfax reported. "I give the command to restore navigation in the Ukrainian part of the Danube Delta," Kuchma said. "In the future, the estuary of Europe's longest river may transform into a large European transport intersection," he added. Since its start in May, Ukraine's Bystraya Canal project has been subject to international criticism, primarily because of fears that it may damage the Danube Delta's unique ecosystem (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2004). JM

The press service of Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko said on 25 August the leaflets distributed by unknown individuals in the city the previous day and signaling an intention of "certain destructive forces" to move the Ukrainian capital from Kyiv to Donetsk are fakes, Interfax reported. "The leaflet, allegedly signed by the Kyiv mayor, informed Kyiv residents about plans of certain destructive forces to move the capital from Kyiv to Donetsk and [included] an assurance that this [move] will be prevented," the press service said. "The falsified leaflet was apparently intended to inflame antagonism between the presidential candidates representing the above-mentioned regions and sow discord between Kyiv and Donetsk." Kyiv Mayor Omelchenko is one of the 26 candidates for the 31 October presidential ballot. Another presidential candidate, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, was Donetsk Oblast governor from 1997-2002 and is widely seen as the most important promoter of Donetsk's regional interests at the central-government level. JM

The Central Election Commission on 25 August approved 700,000 hryvnyas ($132,000) to finance the organization of the 31 October presidential ballot for Ukrainians abroad, Interfax reported. The commission is planning to open 118 polling stations abroad for an estimated 215,000 voters. JM

Philip Goldberg, who is Washington's new chief of mission in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 25 August that the United States will contribute $7.25 million to support the return of refugees and internally displaced persons in Kosova, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July and 20 August 2004). "[Refugee] returns and a multiethnic Kosovo are high priorities for the U.S. government," the diplomat said. He noted that "through this commitment of over $7 million, the United States is demonstrating to the people of Kosovo and everyone in the region that we believe in an individual's right to return to their home and community." PM

The German military has drawn conclusions from criticism of its "catastrophic" performance during the 17-18 March violence in Kosova, when many German peacekeepers stood by as ethnic Albanian crowds attacked Serbian homes and religious buildings, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 26 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July and 9 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 and 16 April, and 9 July 2004). The military has concluded that the 3,000 German KFOR troops need better training, equipment, and rules of engagement if they are not to be taken by surprise and rendered ineffective again. Particularly important is KFOR's recently announced new security system for settlements of Kosova's Serbian minority. KFOR will post signs outside those areas, saying that the settlement is protected. Should a tense situation arise, signs will go up announcing that the settlement is off-limits to outsiders. If anyone enters the area nonetheless, KFOR troops have the right to open fire. Under the rules in force in March, German troops were allowed to fire only if they were attacked. Some human rights groups have also criticized the performance of Italian and French peacekeepers during the riots. U.S. KFOR troops were more robust in their response to threats to Serbian lives and property. PM

German Lieutenant General Holger Kammerhoff, who commands KFOR, told visiting German Social Democratic Party (SPD) Chairman Franz Muentefering in Prishtina on 25 August that he has doubts about the future of Kosova because of the high unemployment rate and the activities of international criminal organizations, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported. The general added that one cannot exclude that the remaining 95,000 members of the Serbian minority will sooner or later leave the province. In related news, KFOR rejected recent charges by one of Serbia's intelligence agencies, BIA, that "Albanian extremists" are preparing new attacks against members of the international community and the Serbian minority, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2004). PM

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski told visiting Croatian Minister for European Integration Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in Skopje on 25 August that Croatia's experience in applying for EU membership could be helpful for Macedonia, too, MIA news agency reported. Macedonia expects the EU to send a questionnaire to prospective members in September that will help the EU assess whether a country is ready for membership talks. Grabar-Kitarovic said the most difficult questions are those that require coordinated answers from different ministries and those that involve statistical data. Crvenkovski said one of the key criteria for Macedonia's integration into the EU is implementing the 2001 Ohrid peace accord. He said the government's decentralization project is the final stage of implementation. He did not mention the problems stemming from a referendum drive against the redistricting plans, which are part of the decentralization plans (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23, 24, and 25 August 2004, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 13 February and 13 August 2004). UB

Opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) spokesman Eugen Nicolaescu accused Romanian Television of political subservience on 25 August and demanded the resignation of its management, Mediafax reported. Nicolaescu said news broadcasts between 16-22 August were saturated with reports on Prime Minister Adrian Nastase's visits to different towns and that between 16-18 August much air time was devoted to Nastase's announcement that he will run for president. Nicolaescu said this coverage is a "flagrant infringement" of the law and National Audiovisual Council (CNA) decisions. He said it is inadmissible for Romanian Television to be transformed into the prime minister's campaign instrument. Romanian Television's Communication Department said in reaction that the launching of Nastase's candidacy was an event of "public interest" and that it does not understand why "correct informing of public opinion disturbs the PNL spokesman to such an extent." MS

A TV advertisement produced and financed by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) covering the PSD's internal primaries amounts to illegal election campaigning, according to PNL Deputy Chairwoman Mona Musca, Mediafax reported on 25 August. The advertisement was produced by the PSD and broadcast earlier this week on radio and television stations. Musca said that under the pretext of covering its internal primaries, the PSD is indulging in campaigning before the campaign has officially started. She also said that as a presidential candidate, Nastase should "be the guarantor of respect for the law, rather than the first to encroach on it." The CNA ordered radio and television stations on 25 August to stop broadcasting the advertisement, saying it "exceeds" what the CNA has approved for broadcasting. The PSD said it will modify the spot to comply with CNA regulations. MS

In an unprecedented step, monks and priests serving in the Suceava Bishopric wrote to Prime Minister Nastase and his government on 25 August, criticizing their "electoral promises," Mediafax reported. The monks and priests said such electioneering by the cabinet is "without precedent in this country" and has no basis in reality, being aimed at gaining "electoral capital." They also demanded that the cabinet fulfill its earlier pledges to restitute to the Suceava Bishopric properties confiscated by the communists and to cover the costs of the renovation of the region's historical church monuments. MS

The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) launched on 25 August its electoral program for the November parliamentary elections, titled "Dialogue for Autonomy," Mediafax reported. UDMR Senator Gyorgy Frunda said his party views autonomy as being based on the European "principle of subsidiarity," and that its implementation in the next four years should lead to "territorial autonomy and genuine decentralization." MS

Miron Gagauz, director-general of the Moldovan National Railroad Company (CFM), sent a telegram on 25 August to his counterparts in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and in the Baltic countries, warning them that the CFM will stop railway traffic via Transdniester in September, if the situation created by the separatist authorities does not improve before then, Infotag reported. Gagauz said that under current circumstances, the CFM is unable to ensure traffic safety. He said that due to Transdniester's interference in traffic operations, the CFM has already been forced to cease traffic on the Rybnitsa-Slobodka and the Kuchurgan-Levada stretches linking Transdniester with Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 August 2004). Gagauz said that the Ukrainian authorities are "disregarding our ban, and with their direct connivance" traffic on these stretches is nonetheless operated by Transdniester. He said this might reflect "a decision at the top state level" in Ukraine. MS

The Moldavskaya power plant near Tiraspol announced on 25 August that it is unilaterally breaking as of 1 September a contract for electricity deliveries to the Moldova-based Union Fenosa electricity distributor, Infotag reported. The plant said this was due to Union Fenosa's refusal to pay higher prices for deliveries from the Transdniester plant, which was sold to a Russian-Belgian consortium in late 2003. The broken contract runs to August 2006. In early August, the Transdniester authorities cut electricity supplies to some 55 Moldovan villages in what observers regard as a countermeasure to Chisinau-imposed economic sanctions on Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 9 August 2004). MS

Two more journalists from Teleradio Moldova have joined a hunger strike declared by one of their colleagues earlier this week, Flux reported on 25 August. The journalists are protesting against perceived politicization of the company's hiring policies. The Moldovan Red Cross refused the journalists' request to provide standby aid to the hunger strikers, claiming this would amount to taking sides in a political issue. Meanwhile, on 22 August the Chisinau transportation company removed a bus that had been placed at the journalists' disposal to spend the night in, after they agreed to dismantle the tent they had originally set up for this purpose in front of the radio building (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 August 2004). MS

The Chechen conundrum was neatly encapsulated on 8 August, when Alu Alkhanov, Chechnya's top policeman, and the Kremlin's favored candidate in the 29 August election to choose a new Chechen leader, addressed Russia's Federation Council. The upper house had never before invited a report from a candidate for a elective post in one of its constituent members. Alkhanov took advantage of this unprecedented occasion to make one crucial point, but his speech ignored a second, closely related and equally critical point. The neglected point was, however, underscored by Alkhanov's very appearance before the Federation Council.

In his report, Alkhanov emphasized that security issues in Chechnya are closely connected to economic development. "Unemployment and poor living conditions are forcing people to join criminal groups," he said. He added that "as long as social problems remain unsolved, complete stabilization will be impossible." This is true not only in Chechnya but throughout the North Caucasus, where there are few employment opportunities outside of law enforcement, the narcotics trade, and war.

Indeed, much of the time law enforcement, the illegal-drug trade, terrorism, and war are essentially four branches of the same encompassing and self-sustaining enterprise. Some North Caucasians are turning to drugs to help them cope with anxiety, frustration, and despair. The drug trade is rapidly expanding in the North Caucasus through the growth of efficient, hierarchical, criminal organizations. The expansion of the drug trade not only feeds other forms of organized crime, but also creates employment opportunities in law enforcement. Additional law enforcement jobs are created when militants and Islamist extremists pay young men to attack police stations and targeted police officials. In Daghestan more than 20 of these officials have been murdered so far this year; more than 20 were killed in 2003. Police officials were primary targets in the 22 June attacks in Ingushetia.

Moscow has focused on the security situation in the North Caucasus without seeming to grasp the extent to which it is connected with problems of economic development. Along with its big stick, Moscow has also offered carrots, in the form of budget subsidies for the North Caucasian governments. Apart from Chechnya, Daghestan has received the greatest federal support, regularly accounting for more than 80 percent of the republic's budget. In Ingushetia, smaller federal subsidies provide 85 percent of the budget. But when this money is funneled into the upper echelons of local government, little trickles down. This was part of Alkhanov's argument in his address to the Federation Council. He told representatives that "large federal resources...are simply being mishandled," noting that of the 67 billion rubles ($2.3 billion) allocated for Chechnya's reconstruction since 2002, only 10 billion ($344 million) has reached Chechnya. More is lost to corruption within the republic. That embezzlement is one of the reasons why of the 88,000 applications made for cash compensation for destroyed housing, only 8,000 have been accommodated.

But it is not just economic problems that are fuelling discontent and alienation across the North Caucasus. Over the last five years all of the North Caucasian republics have seen a contraction in the circles of economic and political elites that has narrowed both financial access and democratic participation. While this contraction has local causes, it has also been exacerbated, since the spring of 2000, by the recentralization of the federal government, which has strengthened its influence throughout this region. Whereas regional elites were previously bound by their need for a local political base, Moscow's expanded influence has now become the basis for their power and has tended to insulate local elites from local accountability. This has alienated regional and village leaders and other activists who previously constituted the core of local political bases, but who are now finding their roles to be increasingly redundant.

Historically, democratic traditions were more developed in the Caucasus than in some parts of Russia, and electoral fraud and arbitrariness on the part of officials has on occasion triggered larger-scale protests in the North Caucasus than in other parts of the federation. Hence, there is something deeply corrosive in Moscow's support for those North Caucasian leaders who display few virtues beyond their loyalty. In an effort to reduce the spirited proclivities of North Caucasian honor cultures to something more compatible with its own cultural traditions, Moscow tries to construct local hierarchies of power and obedience. These efforts only multiply local frustrations.

Yet these efforts were also the reason for Alkhanov's unprecedented appearance before the Federation Council earlier this month. Alkhanov has emerged as the Kremlin's anointed successor to Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, the pro-Moscow Chechen leader who was assassinated on 9 May. Alkhanov is almost certain to win following the elimination from the race on the basis of an absurd technicality of Moscow-based businessman Malik Saidullaev, who would have attracted some support on the basis of his proven entrepreneurial skills and his philanthropic work in support of Chechens refugees. Yet even in a fair election, a Saidullaev victory would have been far from certain, since it is by no means clear whether he could provide the one commodity that is of primary concern for many Chechens -- physical security.

Hence, Saidullaev's elimination from the race has two results. First, it has ensured that Saidullaev will not acquire the political influence that he might have won through a strong showing. This is unfortunate, for while Saidullaev knows little about security issues, he might have contributed to programs for reconstruction and economic development. Second, it has deprived Alkhanov of the political legitimacy that he would have won through an open election. Since the people of Chechnya and the Russian leadership need a legitimate government in Chechnya far more than Alkhanov does, they are the real losers.

Alkhanov was correct when he told the Federation Council that economic development is closely linked to security in Chechnya. What he neglected to mention is that democracy is also closely linked to security, not only in Chechnya but throughout the North Caucasus. Perhaps he did not need to dwell on that point since his very presence before the Federation Council was ample proof of democracy's failure. The point that should be taken from Alkhanov's unprecedented appearance is that democracy, economic development, and security are inextricably linked in the North Caucasus, and so long as Moscow neglects the first two of these it will never be able to guarantee the third.

Robert Bruce Ware is an associate professor at Southern Illinois University who studies the Caucasus.

Abdul Karim Afghan, a spokesman for Amanullah Khan, a local warlord in Herat Province, accused Iran on 25 August of providing military aid to Herat Governor Mohammad Ismail Khan, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. Discussing the recent fighting between militias loyal to Amanullah Khan and Ismail Khan, the spokesman said that the governor has "established an Afghanistan inside Afghanistan," while maintaining "a private army" (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 18 and 26 August 2004). Afghan alleged that Ata Mohammad Nur, governor of Balkh Province in northern Afghanistan, has dispatched 2,000 fighters to Herat, disguised as civilians. "Iran has provided Mohammad Ismail Khan with 6,000 weapons in order to arm these forces, and these troops have been integrated" into the governor's militia, Afghan claimed. Both Nur and Ismail Khan are supporters of the Jami'at-e Islami party and while officially holding governor posts, command their own militias independent of the Afghan National Army. AT

Former Planning Minister and Afghan presidential candidate Mohammad Mohaqeq said on 25 August that he will not quit the race, the official Bakhtar News Agency reported. U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad "asked me to withdraw my candidacy in favor of [Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid] Karzai. However, I was informed later that Mr. Karzai regretted what he had said to Khalilzad. Therefore, we could not reach an agreement," Mohaqeq told a news conference in Kabul. Mohaqeq, who until March served in Karzai's administration (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 March 2004), said that the October election will be "the first experience of democracy with the peaceful of handover of power on a popular vote." AT

Presidential candidate Abdul Hasib Aryan told a news conference in Kabul on 24 August that he does not agree with the proposal that Karzai should step down before the elections, Afghanistan Television reported. Aryan said that he and his vice-presidential running mates did not take part in a meeting led by candidate Abdul Sattar Sirat in which a call was made for Karzai's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline" 19 August 2004). While not backing the call for Karzai's resignation, Aryan said that he urges Karzai and members of his cabinet not to use their official positions to gain support for the Afghan leader. Karzai has rejected the call for his resignation, calling it unconstitutional. AT

During his visit to Pakistan on 24 August, Chairman Karzai said that he looks forward to an open border between his country and Pakistan, Lahore daily "The Nation," reported on 25 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 and 24 August 2004). Responding to a question on his stance regarding the disputed border between the two neighboring countries, Karzai said that he favors movement across it "without visas." No Afghan government has officially recognized the border with Pakistan, known as the Durand Line (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 7 August 2003). Karzai's suggestion may be one way to solve the long-standing problem between Afghanistan and Pakistan by making the border more transparent and thus less important. AT

During a Government Week meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on 25 August, President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami reported on the country's unemployment rate. Khatami said the government created 590,000 jobs and the unemployment rate fell from 15 percent to 13 percent, IRNA reported. Government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said in Tabriz on 24 August that under the Third Five-Year Development Plan (March 2000-05), the government created 650,000 jobs, IRNA reported. Ramezanzadeh noted that this is about 100,000 fewer jobs than the government wanted to create, and he hopes the number will reach 1 million. BS

Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel said on 25 August that the legislature is considering ways to reduce the economic pressures on low-income families, IRNA reported. He said the cost of government services will be reviewed. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on 24 August that a failure to control generous public spending could contribute to economic instability and low growth in Iran, Reuters reported (for the IMF consultation mission's preliminary conclusions, see The IMF noted the extensive provision of subsidies. The IMF said Iran should phase out fuel subsidies, for which it spends 10 percent of its gross domestic product -- gasoline costs 800 rials (about $.10) per liter in Iran. Cheap gasoline is used to excess and Iran must import the shortfall. National Iranian Oil Company official Hojatollah Ghanimifard said on 25 August that Iran has already spent $1.5 billion on gasoline imports and it must ask parliament for another $1.1 billion, AFP reported, citing IRNA. Ghanimifard blamed increases in oil prices. The Petroleum Ministry has called for the gasoline subsidy's elimination, IRNA reported on 28 July, but the legislature is reluctant to do so. BS

One of Shi'a Islam's senior clerics and an opponent of Iran's theocratic system (Vilayat-i Faqih; rule of the supreme jurisconsult), the 84-year old Ayatollah Seyyed Ismail Marashi, died last week in Tehran, Radio Farda reported on 25 August. The cleric's passing went unnoticed in the Iranian media, and the security forces prevented his interment at the Hazrat-i Masumeh Mosque in Qom, the cleric's relatives told Radio Farda (for a similar example of state interference with the funeral of a dissident religious figure, see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 31 December 2001). Ayatollah Seyyed Abolqasem Dibachi told Radio Farda that many in Iran are saddened by Marashi's death, and Dibachi said he wonders why the cleric's death went unreported. BS

East Azerbaijan Province Governor Mohammad Ali Sobhanollahi said on 25 August that an Azerbaijani consulate will open in the city of Tabriz soon, IRNA reported. Subsequent to that, efforts will be made to have direct Baku-Tabriz flights, he said. The opening of the consulate, to which Iran agreed in the mid-1990s, is one of the issues resolved during President Khatami's visit to Baku earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 August 2004). BS

Sohrab Suleimani, director-general of Tehran Province prisons, said on 7 August that the so-called hunger strike of a veteran student activist is not very serious, ISNA reported. He explained that 43-year-old Heshmatollah Tabarzadi is not eating prison food, but he is drinking water and tea and he is eating his own canned food. Therefore, said Suleimani, "his action is not considered to be a hunger strike, although that is what he is calling it." Tabarzadi was jailed in June 2003 and was supposed to be released on bail in late July 2004, "Etemad" reported on 4 August. Tabarzadi began his hunger strike on 28 July to protest the handling of his case and the delay in his release. In June 2003 Tabarzadi made an unsuccessful call for millions to protest against the regime (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 7 July 2003). BS

Responding to allegations that an Iranian official in Iraq was kidnapped by the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MKO), Minister of Intelligence and Security Hojatoleslam Ali Yunesi said on 23 August, "The people who have detained him are not Iranian hypocrites [monafeqin, a pejorative term for the MKO]; they are other hypocrites," ILNA reported. Iranian consular official Fereidun Jahani disappeared on the highway from Baghdad to Karbala on 8 August, and the Islamic Army in Iraq claimed it was holding him (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 17 August 2004). Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said on 21 August that a delegation has been sent to Baghdad to pursue the release of Jahani, as well as that of several IRNA correspondents who were arrested by Iraqi police on 9 August, ILNA reported. The delegation, which included personnel from the Foreign Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, left Tehran for Baghdad on 17 August, IRNA reported. BS

During a meeting with President Khatami and his cabinet, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei thanked the executive branch for its hard work, state television reported. Khamenei then turned to events in Iraq, and accused the United States of using force and suppression there. Khamenei warned that in the long run this will backfire. "The surprising thing is that the immature, intoxicated, and mindless policy-makers of America and their supporters today don't realize the great mistake that they are making," he said. "They continue to pursue a wrong policy that will not only bring crushing blows on the American system, it will create a deep valley of hate between the Americans, the occupiers, and the Islamic world, and this will last for decades." BS

Two mortar shells landed inside the Al-Kufah Mosque on 26 August, killing at least 25 people and wounding 60, Interior Ministry officials said, according to international media reports. A third mortar shell landed outside the mosque, where about a thousand Iraqis had gathered in response to a call by Shi'a Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for demonstrators to gather in preparation for a peaceful march to Al-Najaf, located some 10 kilometers from Al-Kufah. The march is part of a planned attempt by al-Sistani to bring an end to the crisis in Al-Najaf. The ayatollah has instructed Iraqis to wait for his arrival before entering the holy city, his spokesman Hamid al-Khaffaf told Al-Jazeera on 25 August. The satellite news channel reported on 26 August that supporters of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr blamed U.S. forces for the Al-Kufah mortar attack. The U.S. military said in a statement that its forces were not involved in the incident. KR

Thousands of Shi'ites are expected to meet al-Sistani's appeal to gather for a peaceful demonstration in Al-Najaf on 26 August, international media reported. The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) issued directives to its offices and branches across the country on 25 August advising members of the Shi'ite political party to immediately head to Al-Najaf, SCIRI spokesman Rida Jawad Taqiy told Al-Jazeera the same day. Taqiy said that al-Sistani's goal is to engage the Iraqi people and "involve them in the political and security crises and not to leave the government, the multinational troops, or Al-Mahdi Army militias to be the only part to deal with the Al-Najaf crisis." SCIRI posted a statement on its website ( on 25 August that announced an "unequivocal favorable response" to al-Sistani's appeal. Iraqi officials including State Ministers Qasim Dawud and Wa'il Abd al-Latif and Iraqi National Conference negotiator Husayn al-Sadr arrived in Al-Najaf on 25 August, Al-Arabiyah reported. KR

Al-Sistani spokesman Hamid al-Khaffaf told Al-Jazeera on 25 August that the ayatollah will announce a five-point initiative to bring an end to the standoff in Al-Najaf. The initiative will call for Al-Najaf and Al-Kufah to be declared cities clear of weapons and militias. Iraqi police should be placed in charge of security for the cities and foreign troops should withdraw. The initiative also calls for the Iraqi interim government to compensate individuals and businesses harmed by the three-week standoff. The ayatollah will also call on all intellectual, social, and political forces to contribute to the creation of an atmosphere conducive to the conducting of a national census and elections, al-Khaffaf said. Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi reportedly met with Ayatollah al-Sistani in Al-Basrah on 25 August to discuss the situation in Al-Najaf, Arab media reported. The details of the discussion were not disclosed. KR

Iraqi police reportedly arrested Sheikh Ali al-Sumaysim, a senior aide to Muqtada al-Sadr, on 25 August, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Family members told a Denmark-based website ( that al-Sumaysim was tricked, and was arrested after he was asked to meet with officials in Al-Najaf in his capacity as al-Sadr's representative. Media reports indicated that the aide was allegedly in possession of stolen artifacts taken from the Imam Ali shrine. Iraqi Brigadier General Amir al-Da'mi told Al-Arabiyah television on 25 August that a group of people affiliated with the al-Sadr office was arrested on charges of possession of artifacts stolen from the shrine. Al-Da'mi said an Iraqi judge reviewed information provided by sources and issued search warrants for a number of undisclosed "hideouts." "We managed to arrest an influential group belonging to Muqtada al-Sadr's office. The group was in possessions of this artifact, which is the oldest artifact belonging to the treasure of the shrine of Imam Ali," al-Da'mi said, while displaying the artifact. He added that the group was also in possession of dollars, identity cards, and forged official documents, including Iranian documents. KR

Militants representing a group called the Divine Wrath Brigades have reportedly claimed responsibility for the abduction of Defense Minister Hazim al-Sha'lan al-Khuza'i's son-in-law, Al-Jazeera reported on 25 August. Major General Salah Hasan Zaydan al-Lami was abducted along with the director of military personnel at the Defense Ministry. A relative of the second official was also taken hostage. Al-Jazeera did not report the details of the abductions, but said that the kidnappers demanded a halt to military operations in Al-Najaf and the release of al-Sadr aide al-Sumaysim. KR

Eight oil pipelines connecting the Al-Rumaylah oil field to a pumping station in Al-Basrah have been attacked by militants, according to an unidentified oil official who spoke with Al-Arabiyah television on 26 August. The official said that there is a back-up support system in place, but he could not say whether the export supply was affected by the attacks. Meanwhile, AP reported on 26 August that some 20 pipelines were attacked. KUNA cited National Guard Captain Firas al-Tamimi as saying on 26 August that fires north of Al-Basrah were raging out of control on a pipeline that supplies gas to several Iraqi governorates. A spokesman from the Al-Hillah Oil Company told Al-Sharqiyah television on 25 August that the pipeline transports gas for local consumption and is unrelated to export operations. KR