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Newsline - July 25, 2005

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said on his return to Moscow on 25 July that a "campaign of slander aimed at compromising [my political reputation] has been unleashed," adding that the tactic is part of a "general strategy of wiping the political arena clean," Russian and international media reported. Kasyanov spokeswoman Tatyana Rozbash said that Kasyanov declined to speak to journalists and reportedly went directly to the offices of his consulting company, MK Analitika. Rozbash said Kasyanov has no plans to communicate with journalists in the coming days, adding that she doesn't know whether he plans a visit anytime soon to the Prosecutor-General's Office, which launched an investigation earlier this month into a suspicious dacha deal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, 13, and 18 July 2005). Prosecutors suspect Kasyanov of "misuse of office and massive fraud" in the privatization of a state-owned dacha, but some observers have suggested that the criminal investigation might be linked to Kasyanov's purported desire to spearhead the opposition to President Vladimir Putin and run for the presidency in 2008. Georgii Saratov, president of the Indem Foundation and a member of opposition Committee-2008, said he does not expect any serious developments in the Kasyanov case until the new political season begins in the fall, reported on 25 July. VY

Yevgenii Yasin, the rector of the Higher Economics School and a leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), said of former Prime Minister Kasyanov that the "one should be prepared to fight if one is confident that one's hands are clean," "Izvestiya" reported on 23 July. "If I had some misdeeds behind me, I never would have gone into the political arena," Yasin added. Channel One pro-Kremlin journalist Mikhail Leontiev commented that it is "too late for Kasyanov to do anything" about the scandal. Leonid Gozman, a member of the SPS political council, said he thinks Kasyanov should publicly declare his case a "political one," adding that while he is not trying to advise Kasyanov, the ex-prime minister's "political career depends on his decisiveness now," "Izvestiya" reported. Aleksei Mitrofanov, a member of Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) faction in the Duma, said he thought Kasyanov should go to London, "where he could go see Chelsea play with [Chelsea owner] Roman Abramovich or talk with Boris Berezovskii." Aleksandr Shokhin, the head of investment firm Renaissance Kapital's board of trustees, said that Kasyanov can either emerge as a political fighter -- and likely share the fate of imprisoned former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii -- or seek a deal with the Kremlin. VY

Forty-seven percent of respondents in a nationwide poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) said they believe the Prosecutor-General's Office opened a criminal case against Kasyanov because the former prime minister actually broke the law and abused his authority, Interfax and reported on 22 July. Some 14 percent of respondents said they think the criminal charges against Kasyanov are politically motivated and connected to his ambition to run for president. Nearly one in three people (30 percent) had trouble answering the question. Motherland supporters view Kasyanov most negatively, with 69 percent suspecting wrongdoing, according to the study as cited by, followed Communist backers (50 percent) and Unified Russia (48 percent). Liberal Party voters are most likely among parliamentary parties to believe his case is a "purely political one," with one in five supporters expressing that sentiment. LB/VY

President Putin signed a bill on 22 July amending 13 federal laws related to the electoral system, Russian news agencies reported. The changes raise the threshold for winning seats in the State Duma from 5 percent to 7 percent, substantially increase state funding for political parties that receive Duma seats, eliminate single-mandate district elections for the Duma, and make it easier for political parties to be disqualified from the ballot because of invalid signatures on their nominating petitions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July and 14 July 2005). One amendment will allow Duma deputies to be stripped of their mandates if they leave the political party for which they campaigned. The amended legislation also establishes a single election day for regional and local legislative elections. The changes will go into effect on 7 December 2006, one year before new State Duma elections are scheduled to take place, according to Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov. However, Veshnyakov noted that "in the event of an early dissolution of the State Duma, [the new election rules] will go into effect immediately from the moment the dissolution and setting of early elections are announced," "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 23 July. LB

Putin also signed several other laws on 22 July, including a law on special economic zones, Russian news agencies reported. Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said the creation of special economic zones will make several regions more attractive to investors and will help diversify the Russian economy as a whole, according to RIA-Novosti. Putin also signed a decree creating a new federal agency to manage the special economic zones that will be subordinate to the Economic Development and Trade Ministry. Other laws signed by Putin on 22 July establish new regulations for alcohol production, new restrictions on gambling advertisements on television and radio, revised rules on privileges for recipients of state honors such as Hero of Russia and Hero of the Soviet Union, and amendments to the federal law on holidays. That last law establishes five "memorial days," including 7 November as 1917 October Revolution Day and 12 December as Russian Constitution Day; both were previously full-fledged state holidays but have been downgraded to the same status as Russian Students' Day (25 January), Cosmonautics Day (12 April), and the Day of Solidarity in the Battle Against Terrorism (3 September). LB

The Finance Ministry has altered the parameters of the draft 2006 federal budget in response to criticism by leaders of the Unified Russia Duma faction, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 23 July. Unified Russia leaders, including Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov, have complained that the government's draft budget severely underestimates revenues and does not provide enough spending on investment projects (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 July and 12 July 2005). Regarding the revenue portion of the budget, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin announced while addressing members of the Audit Chamber on 22 July that the Finance Ministry has raised its estimate for the average price of oil during 2006 from $35 to $40 per barrel (far below current prices). The ministry also revised its estimate for Russia's GDP growth in 2006 from 5.6 percent to 5.8 percent. However, regarding calls to increase budget spending, Kudrin warned against "populist decisions" that would worsen Russia's economy in the long term, "Kommersant-Daily" reported. Responding to Kudrin's comments, Gryzlov issued a statement calling for large increases in planned expenditures in many areas, including projects related to mortgage loans, health care, education, developing the Far East and Baikal regions, military housing, border protection, and road construction and repair. LB

Mikhail Grishankov, the Unified Russia deputy who heads the State Duma's Anticorruption Commission, suggested on 23 July that the Indem Foundation's recently published "Corruption 2005" report is politically motivated, biased, and misleading, reported. He questioned Indem's estimate of bribes paid, arguing that "the level of bribes cannot exceed the state budget twofold." He added, "No one can provide an exact figure [on the amount paid annually in bribes], and I advise them to be very cautious." Grishankov also accused Indem Foundation head Satarov, a Yeltsin-era presidential adviser, of harboring a desire to "show that it was better under [Boris] Yeltsin than under Putin," reported. No such reports were published under Yeltsin's administration, Grishankov said, noting that a number of major corruption cases have been investigated since Putin took office and some are ongoing. AIG Brunswick Capital Management's Ivan Rodionov called the report by Indem, which is a nongovernmental organization that monitors corruption in Russia, "no more than a PR activity," reported. VY

The website argued on 23 July that the U.K.-based newspapers "The Guardian," the "Financial Times," and "The Independent" were all victimized by the Indem Foundation report on corruption because they are eager to accept as true any negative information about Russia. wondered aloud how such a newspaper could fail to compare the $316 billion figure that Indem estimated would be paid in bribes by businesses this year with Russia's total market capitalization figure of $350 billion; no business community can afford to pay nearly its market capitalization in bribes, the website argued. The utro.ur website noted that whatever its critics say of Indem's report, the organization remains the only public body that monitors corruption in the country. Moreover, said, society can see the widespread corruption among Russian officials whose modest salaries are incompatible with their extravagant lifestyles. VY

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has inscribed the historical center of Yaroslavl on its World Heritage List, reported on 22 July, citing a press release from the Russian Foreign Ministry. UNESCO's World Heritage Committee voted to include 17 new sites around the world, including Yaroslavl, during a session in Durban, South Africa, earlier this month. A UNESCO press release of 15 July commented that Yaroslavl "is renowned for its numerous 17th-century churches and is an outstanding example of the urban planning reform Empress Catherine the Great ordered for the whole of Russia in 1763." In addition, the Spassky Monastery has retained some 16th-century features. The Russian Foreign Ministry's press release noted that all Russian architectural styles from the last five centuries can be found in the center of Yaroslavl. UNESCO's World Heritage List now includes 23 natural wonders and man-made sites in the Russian Federation (for the full list, see LB

Several dozen residents left the Chechen village of Borozdinovskaya on 21 and 22 July for the second time in two months and fled to the neighboring republic of Daghestan, Russian media reported. Hundreds of Avar families from Borozdinovskaya fled to Daghestan in June following the killing of one villager and the abduction of 11 others during a sweep operation by unidentified security forces. Those families returned home only after receiving security guarantees and a promise of compensation from pro-Moscow Chechen officials (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). AP on 22 July quoted Russian human rights officials as saying the second exodus was triggered by fears of reprisals by local security forces. Meanwhile, the fate of the 11 villagers abducted in June remains unclear, although the Russian website "Kavkazskii uzel" on 22 July cited unconfirmed reports that they have been sighted in a prison established by Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov in his home village of Tsentoroi. LF

Russian Deputy Prosecutor General Nikolai Shepel told Interfax on 24 July that radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev has been identified as the most likely mastermind behind the bombing in the northern town of Znamenskoye on 19 July that killed 14 people. Shepel said cartridge cases found at the scene are identical to those used by Basaev's men in an attack in Grozny last August. Shepel also suggested that Doku Umarov, who was named last month as Chechen vice president, might also have played a role in the Znamenskoe bombing, as "he is responsible for northern Chechnya." In fact, Umarov is commander of the southwestern front. Shepel told journalists on 22 July that the owner of the vehicle used in the Znamenskoe bombing has been detained as a possible suspect, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, a hitherto unknown group calling itself IbaduLLAKH and claiming to be subordinate to Basaev has claimed responsibility for the Znamenskoe bombing in a statement posted on on 23 July. LF

Unknown perpetrators opened fire late on 20 July on a police patrol car in Nalchik, capital of the Republic of Kavbardino-Balkaria, fatally wounding two policemen, ITAR-TASS reported. The local authorities reacted by imposing a ban on public rallies. Two more police patrolmen died in a similar shooting early on 23 July, reported. LF

Speaking at a 22 July news conference in Vladikavkaz, acting North Ossetian Interior Minister Colonel Soslan Sikoev rejected as "an attempt to fuel interethnic conflict" speculation that residents of North Ossetia were behind the 15 July attack in which Kazbek Sultygov, chairman of the Ingushetian State Committee for Refugees, was injured together with his driver, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 July 2005). Sikoev said the attack might have been "hooliganism" or linked with Sultygov's business activities. LF

A young woman died early on 24 July when a bomb exploded under a local train traveling from Khasavyurt to Makhachkala, Russian media reported. Police have opened an investigation on charges of terrorism and illegal production of weapons. LF

The Council of Europe's Venice Commission approved on 22 July as "an undeniable improvement over previous drafts" the most recent revised version of amendments to the Armenian Constitution submitted for its approval earlier this month, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Venice Commission official Simona Granata-Menghini told RFE/RL that the revised version of the amendments "is a workable and viable constitution which is capable of allowing a democratic development of Armenia." The revised version has not yet been made public and it is not clear whether it meets three key opposition demands. The Armenian parliament must approve the amendments in the second reading on 29 August, after which they are to be subjected to a nationwide referendum in November. LF

Mikhail Mantrov, who is deputy director of Interenergo, a subsidiary of the Russian energy giant Unified Energy Systems (EES), confirmed at a news conference in Yerevan on 22 July that Interenergo has signed a 99-year agreement with Midland Resources Holding to administer Armenian Electricity Network (AEN), Noyan Tapan reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2005). Mantrov stressed that Midland Resource Holding retains ownership of AEN, and that the deal does not violate Armenian law. LF

Several smaller opposition parties held a demonstration in Baku on 23 July with the consent of the municipal authorities, Azerbaijani and Russian media reported. Organizers included the National Democratic Party (the former Grey Wolves) headed by Iskander Hamidov, the Civic Solidarity Party (VHP), Free Azerbaijan, Gurtulush (Salvation), Taraggi (Progress), the Liberal Democratic Party, the Great Creation party, and the election bloc Builders of Civic Society (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 May 2005). Participants demanded a settlement of the Karabakh conflict, guarantees of civil rights, creation of a truly independent public broadcaster, and the removal of legal obstacles to the participation of formerly jailed opposition leaders in the 6 November parliamentary elections. VHP Chairman Sabir Rustamkhanly appealed to "all national forces" to align and coordinate their selection of election candidates, reported. He said he excludes from that category "people and forces that have assumed responsibilities vis-a-vis other countries." ITAR-TASS estimated the number of participants at 400, Interfax at over 1,000, and at between 1,000 and 1,500. LF

Speaking at a press conference in Baku on 22 July, Miklos Haraszti, who is OSCE special representatives for the media, appealed to the Azerbaijani authorities to alleviate the problems besetting the country's media, Turan and reported on 22 and 23 July respectively. Haraszti expressed concern that the suspected killers of journalists Elmar Huseinov have not been apprehended even though their identity is known, and that the police officers responsible for beating journalists during the post-election unrest in October 2003 have not been brought to trial. He said the independent press in Azerbaijan remains weak, and he advocated the privatization of the remaining state-owned newspapers. Haraszti called into question the independence of the newly created public broadcaster and suggested that its general director be replaced by someone who enjoys public trust. LF

A Tbilisi court on 23 July sentenced Vladimir Arutiunian on 23 July to three months pre-trial detention on charges of the murder late on 20 July of one of the police officers who subsequently succeeded in arresting him, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 22 July 2005). Arutiunian has not yet been charged with throwing a hand grenade in the direction of U.S. President George W. Bush and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili at a public meeting in Tbilisi on 10 May. Meeting on 24 July with his Georgian counterpart Zurab Noghaideli in southern Georgia, Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian stressed that although Arutiunian is of Armenian origin, he has no links with the Republic of Armenia. Markarian likewise denied that the grenade Arutiunian threw was manufactured in Armenia. Meanwhile, two Georgian parliamentarians suggested in comments to the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 24 July that Arutiunian could be a Russian agent. LF

Representatives of the Georgian Association of Young Lawyers told a press conference in Tbilisi on 23 July that hundreds of thousands of laris from the presidential fund were spent last year in violation of existing legislation, Caucasus Press reported. Some 200,000 laris ($110,405) were paid to an Italian company for unspecified "consultations," while 33,000 laris were used to cover the travel costs of Georgian parliament deputies who accompanied President Mikheil Saakashvili on a visit to Italy. At the same time, only 4,000 laris from the fund was allocated in emergency aid to inhabitants of Dusheti whose homes were destroyed or damaged in flooding earlier this year. The independent daily "Rezonansi" similarly alleged on 22 July that 180,000 laris from the presidential fund was made available to Supreme Court Chairman Kote Kemularia to cover the cost of renovation of his office and the purchase of an automobile, Caucasus Press reported. LF

Meeting in Sukhum on 23 July with French Ambassador to Tbilisi Philippe Lefort, Republic of Abkhazia President Sergei Bagapsh warned that he has ordered Abkhaz warships, of which the unrecognized republic has several, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 July, to open fire on Georgian vessels that enter what he termed Abkhaz territorial waters, Russian media reported. But Georgian Minister for Conflict Resolution Giorgi Khaindrava dismissed that threat the same day as "unwise and incautious," as well as impossible to make good on, according to ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press. LF

The Kazakh opposition party Alga (Onward) held its founding conference in Almaty with 1,100 delegates on 23 July, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The new party had originally been called Alga, DVK! -- taking its name from DVK, or Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan, an opposition party that was dissolved by court order in January 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 January 2005). The new party will simply be called Alga because amendments to the law on political parties prevent a new party from acting as the legal inheritor of a banned organization, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on 25 July. Asylbek Kozhakhmetov, who heads the group that is setting up the new party, said that Alga will continue its predecessor's efforts to democratize Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. He said that Alga supporters have collected 30,000 of the 50,000 signatures needed to register the party with the Justice Ministry. DK

Valentina Sivryukova, president of the Confederation of Nongovernmental Organizations of Kazakhstan (KNOK), told journalists at a 22 July news conference in Astana that several provisions of two draft laws on NGOs violate the country's constitution, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Specialists from KNOK analyzed the laws at the request of Kazakhstan's Constitutional Council, and they have made their conclusions available to the council. The independent Internet newspaper Navigator ( published KNOK's complete findings and recommendations on 22 July. Parliament has already passed the two bills, which have drawn criticism from civil-society activists for provisions that would tighten state control over NGOs; the bills now await the president's signature to become law. DK

Health officials in the Suzak District of Kyrgyzstan's Jalalabad Province have temporarily quarantined a camp for more than 400 Uzbek asylum seekers, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 22 July. Officials set up the quarantine, which imposes limits on the import of foodstuffs into the camp, after eight asylum seekers became ill. Doctors, who tested 101 asylum seekers for salmonella and dysentery on 22 July, said that the epidemiological situation in the camp is currently under control. The asylum seekers have been in Kyrgyzstan since fleeing violence in Uzbekistan on 13 May. DK

A senior official in Tajikistan's Defense Ministry told AFP on 22 July that U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will visit Tajikistan on 26 July. Tajik Defense Ministry spokesman Major Maruf Khasanov told AFP that Rumsfeld will meet with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev. In an early July declaration, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan) asked the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan to set a timetable for withdrawal from military facilities it is using in Central Asia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005), most notably air bases in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, and Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan. The United States does not have a military presence in Tajikistan, which hosts a permanent Russian military base. A small detachment of French forces is stationed in Dushanbe to support operations in Afghanistan. At a 21 July meeting with President Rakhmonov, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie stated, "I would like to thank [President Rakhmonov] for allowing us to deploy at Dushanbe airport a detachment of the French armed forces, which will make it possible to support the elections in Afghanistan," Tajik Television reported. DK

Citing unnamed sources in the Turkmen Prosecutor-General's Office, the Turkmen opposition website Gundogar ( reported on 22 July that former Deputy Prime Minister Yolly Gurbanmuradov has been sentenced to a 25-year prison term after a closed trial. Gurbanmuradov, who had been a close ally of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov for years and played a key role in the country's lucrative energy sector, was arrested in late May on corruption charges (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 May 2005). The report of his sentencing could not be independently confirmed. DK

Police officers in the city of Babruysk, in the Mahilyow region of Belarus, attempted to disrupt a national congress of opposition members who had gathered on 24 July to elect a joint candidate to compete in the 2006 presidential election. Anatol Lyabedzka, the leader of the United Civic Party and a participant in the meeting, told Belapan that 60 attendees decided to change venues after police attempted to interfere during a vote. Those delegates moved their meeting to a private home but were followed by police, who attempted to enter the building but were not allowed in. Afterwards, Lyabedzka, a member of the local city council was taken to the police apparently for questioning. There were no reports suggesting the opposition was able to select its joint candidate at either meeting. RK

Belarusian police arrested a 35-year-old man in Minsk on 23 July on suspicion of having made an unspecified number of false bomb threats. The threats reportedly included a warning that a bomb had been planted on a Moscow-to-Brussels train with a senior Belarusian Interior Ministry official aboard. The suspect is also believed to have called in a false warning that a bomb had been placed in the city's main airport. Belapan reported that the man has been sent for psychiatric evaluation. The Committee for State Security has suggested the suspect might have ties to a little-known group that calls itself the Belarusian People's Liberation Army, which claimed to have placed bombs on rail lines and administrative buildings in Minsk in mid-July. RK

Boris Nemtsov, an informal economic adviser to Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, told journalists attending the Yalta European Seminar that while he supports Ukraine's aspirations for European integration, he is critical of the country's economic policies, Interfax reported on 23 July. "The majority of citizens from eastern, central, and western Ukraine support the idea of a pro-European policy, and I think this support will continue to grow," Nemtsov reportedly said. Nemtsov also suggested that actions taken by the government have brought Ukraine no closer to Europe but, on the contrary, are moving them apart. Nemtsov has been critical in the past of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko's views on re-privatization and her handling of price increases by Russian oil companies that operate in Ukraine. Nemtsov is a former leader of the Union of Rightist Forces in Russia, a post he resigned after the party failed to reach the 5 percent electoral threshold in the 2003 Duma elections. RK

In an interview with the "Ekonomichni Visti" newspaper published on 25 July, Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) director Oleksander Turchinov said that eight foreign agents found to have been operating under diplomatic cover were declared persona non grata and forced to leave Ukraine in the first six months of this year. Another 41 people who failed to report their links to foreign intelligence agencies were barred entry to the country, and one of 56 Ukrainian citizens with ties to foreign intelligence agents has been convicted while criminal cases have been launched against three others, Turchinov said. RK

In response to some recent media reports, Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, told the Belgrade daily "Blic" of 25 July that the government is not negotiating with fugitive war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic and does not know where he is. Ljajic, who is an ethnic Muslim from the Sandzak region, added that he "has never worked more intensively on tracking down Mladic, and cooperation with the prosecutor's office of the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on that issue has never been better." Ljajic said that he cannot exclude that some individuals in the military shield Mladic but stressed that "there are no organized structures in the army that protect him." PM

Goran Petrovic, who is a retired chief of Serbia's state security service, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service in Belgrade on 21 July that he stands by his earlier statements to the media that Army Colonel Dragomir Krstovic was the military's liaison man to former General Mladic as late as the end of 2002 and took care of Mladic's security arrangements. Petrovic added that Mladic was hiding in the Valjevo area even though Serbia and Montenegro was under legal obligation to arrest him and extradite him to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Petrovic said that one should ask Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic why the police did not arrest the fugitive indictee, noting that there is a "conflict of two currents, personified by two individuals" in official Belgrade. He suggested that one of the two individuals was the late Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic but did not identify the other or explain what he suggested might be the political motives behind the killing of Djindjic in March 2003. Petrovic stopped short of saying that Krstic or the army are still protecting Mladic but suggested that "it is logical that those who used to protect him have stayed in some sort of communication with him." Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic told RFE/RL that Krstovic is still employed by the General Staff, and he promised a "complete and full" investigation of Petrovic's charges. Davinic stressed, however, that he strongly doubts that anyone in the army is assisting Mladic. PM

Humanitarian Law Fund (FHP) lawyer Tatomir Lekovic, who was beaten up by an unknown person in Kragujevac on 21 July, was released from the hospital the following day and returned home, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005). He told RFE/RL that he is convinced that he was attacked by someone linked to security structures of the regime of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic because of an interview he gave to RFE/RL earlier in 2005. Lekovic stressed that the attack on him was "an attack on all people committed to freedom of thought, who love their country and want to see their country as part of the community of civilized peoples and not in the company of barbarians and criminals." Police have arrested the attacker, identified as Selimir Milosavljevic, and have charged him with attempted murder. PM

Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), announced in Prishtina on 22 July the start of a pilot project in five municipalities for the government's decentralization program, Reuters and dpa reported. The program is aimed at gaining the confidence of the Serbian and other minorities by giving them a degree of self-rule. Two of the municipalities are largely Serbian and one is mainly Turkish. Jessen-Petersen called the municipalities "test cases for good governance at the local level and outreach to the...communities concerned." The international community, which is expected to begin talks on Kosova's future status later in 2005, is watching the decentralization project closely as a test of how seriously the 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority is willing to share power with the minorities (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 20 May 2005). Problems remain because the boundaries of the municipalities have yet to be settled or the local officials named. Many Serbs are skeptical of the project, and some Albanian politicians are angry because UNMIK accepted none of their amendments to the plan. PM

Police in Prizren on 23 July arrested at least 13 activists belonging to the pro-independence group called Self-determination, which is led by former student leader and political prisoner Albin Kurti and seeks immediate independence for Kosova without negotiations, RFE/RL's Albanian language broadcasters reported. Kurti told RFE/RL that at least 75 of his supporters have been arrested since early June, including 17 who face charges for pelting Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic with eggs during his recent visit to Prishtina (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 June 2005). PM

The Moldovan parliament has voted to reduce the electoral threshold for parties and "social political organizations" from 6 percent to 4 percent and for electoral blocs of two or more parties to 8 percent, Basa news agency reported on 23 July. At the same session, legislators voted to modify the procedure for appointing members of the Central Electoral Commission. As a result, the head of state and cabinet of ministers will each appoint one member, while parliament will appoint seven others, including five from among the opposition. The term of office for election-commission members was reduced from six to five years. RK

Although he appeared before a U.S. congressional committee just 10 days ago, Leonid Borisovich Nevzlin's political and personal fortunes have been steadily declining ever since the October arrest of his closest business partner, former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii. In 2003, Nevzlin appeared on "Forbes'" list of the world's richest people with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion. This year, his name disappeared from the list.

After his 1996 election victory, then President Boris Yeltsin thanked Nevzlin for his role in helping him get reelected. In the 2004 presidential election, Nevzlin, from exile in Israel, underwrote opposition candidate Irina Khakamada, who finished with less than 4 percent of the vote.

For the next election, Nevzlin has already offered to bankroll a union of former chess champion Garri Kasparov and independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov. However, Kasparov rejected the overture, saying that he would not take any money from Nevzlin. Similarly, the Russian State Humanitarian University (RGGU) announced in April that it no longer wants any money from Yukos, which had pledged $10 million to the institution over a 10-year period. University officials also decided to revise the authority of its board of trustees, of which Nevzlin is a member.

More damaging to Nevzlin's reputation than spurned offers of largesse have been the criminal charges that have been accumulating since he left Russia for Israel. In January 2004, less than two weeks after Nevzlin announced plans to help organize Khakamada's presidential campaign, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office issued an international arrest warrant for Nevzlin. He was wanted on suspicion of evading 26.7 million rubles ($930,000 at the current exchange rate) in taxes in 1999-2000 and allegedly appropriating shares in two Eastern Oil Company (VNK) subsidiaries, oil producer Tomskneft and the Achinsk refinery.

In July 2004, the Prosecutor-General's Office issued a second international arrest warrant for Nevzlin on charges including murder and attempted murder. Russian prosecutors accuse Nevzlin of ordering former Yukos security official Aleksei Pichugin to organize and commit numerous murders, including that of businessman Sergei Gorin and his wife. Nevzlin is also charged with organizing two attempts on the life of East Petroleum President Yevgenii Rybin. Nevzlin for his part accused Rybin of attempting to blackmail him and asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate the matter.

In an interview with "The New York Times" on 21 March, Nevzlin said that the cases against him were fabricated by the Federal Security Service (FSB) "from beginning to end." On 20 July, the prosecutor's office resubmited a new request for extradition to Israeli authorities, according to "Ha'aretz."

Nevzlin, 45, climbed to the peak of Russia's business elite from fairly humble origins. His father, an engineer from Leningrad Oblast, and his mother, a schoolteacher from Chita, raised Leonid Borisovich on their modest incomes in an apartment off of one of Moscow's main thoroughfares.

In 1981, Nevzlin graduated from the Moscow Institute for Oil and Gas Industry at the age of 21. In his first job, he worked as a computer programmer for the external trade association, Zarubezhgeologiya, of the Ministry of Geology.

Then one day at the end of 1987, he answered a newspaper ad seeking workers and ideas. At the Youth Center for Scientific-Technical Creations (MNTP), he met Khodorkovskii. Together, they turned MNTP into Menatep bank, the corporate ancestor of today's Yukos. Nevzlin started out as a computer programmer but quickly evolved into the bank's chief specialist for public relations and lobbying.

According to "Profil," No. 32 (2002), Nevzlin was a "superprofessional piarshchhik," who enjoyed access to all branches of power. He had particularly close informal relations with then Finance Minister Boris Fedorov, but his access to the Finance Ministry didn't end when Fedorov left in 1994. Prior to that, Nevzlin and Khodorkovskii were advisers to Russia's first post-Soviet Prime Minister Ivan Silaev.

Although he remained business partners with Khodorkovskii throughout the 1990s and today possesses Khodorkovskii's 59.5 percent stake in Menatep, Nevzlin has engaged in a peripatetic pursuit of a variety of different sideline interests in recent years. He spent a year as first deputy chairman of ITAR-TASS news agency, nine months as head of the Russian Jewish Congress, some 15 months as Mordovia's representative to the Federation Council, and concluded with less than five months as rector of the Russian State Humanitarian University. The last position raised eyebrows, since Nevzlin wasn't a scholar and has no doctorate.

Has Nevzlin been trying to reinvent himself in much the same way as Khodorkovskii? Yaroslav Kuzminov, rector of the Higher School for Economics, told on 24 June 2003 that he didn't think Yukos's philanthropic efforts were purely public relations. "I am almost certain that for Khodorkovskii and Nevzlin this is a spiritual need. In this sense, they are going along the path of [financier George] Soros," he said.

Analyst Stanislav Belkovskii told on 14 July that Nevzlin is a clever person, but he has one major deficiency: He doesn't understand politics. Nevzlin believes that the country is run by KGB-FSB officers, but in fact it is under the control of the people who came to power in the 1990s. "Nevzlin behaved the same way toward his competitors as the team of [presidential aide] Igor Sechin is behaving now toward Yukos shareholders," he concluded.

While Nevzlin may not be clever enough by Belkovskii's yardstick, he has managed to do what some of his fellow oligarchs have not: Avoid jail. He has also apparently managed to preserve at least some of his financial assets. Nevzlin told on 11 March 2004 that Russian prosecutors greatly exaggerated the assets he and other Yukos shareholders held in Swiss banks. He said the real sum is not more than $5 million, adding that "nobody keeps such huge amounts in cash in personal accounts."

Nevzlin also revealed that his Swiss bank warned him six months ago about the possibility of accounts being frozen, and so he left just $100,000 in his accounts for his family's current expenses. Of course, $100,000 may not go very far now, as Nevzlin and his second wife currently live in one of Tel Aviv's tonier suburbs. He must also keep up with mounting legal fees.

Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz paid a one-day official visit to Kabul on 24 July, the official Associated Press of Pakistan news agency reported. In a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Aziz said that both Islamabad and Kabul "strive" to fight "terrorism and extremism," Islamabad-based PTV reported on 24 July. Pakistan believes that a "strong, stable, vibrant, prosperous Afghanistan" is good for Pakistan and the region, Aziz added. The Pakistani prime minister also announced a $100 million aid package to Afghanistan. "The only way to go forward" for Afghanistan and Pakistan is in "friendship and cooperation," Karzai told his Pakistani guest. According to a report by the Afghan Voice Agency on 24 July, Aziz said that his country is ready to contribute up to 80,000 security personnel to Afghanistan. Relations between Kabul and Islamabad have been tense recently as Afghan officials have accused Pakistan of not doing enough to stop the infiltration of subversive elements into Afghanistan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 11 July 2005). AT

Michele Alliot-Marie, met with President Karzai during an official visit to Afghanistan on 23 July, the official National Radio of Afghanistan reported. Alliot-Marie is on a two-day visit to meet with Afghan officials and visit with French troops stationed in Kabul and the southern Kandahar Province. According to the French Defense Minister, six Mirage jets will soon arrive to Afghanistan to help ensure security during Afghanistan's upcoming parliamentary and provincial council elections, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 24 July. AT

A U.S. soldier was killed in a firefight with suspected neo-Taliban in Helmand Province on 23 July, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on 24 July. The district chief of Gereshk told AIP that an Afghan translator working with U.S. forces was wounded in the attack while one neo-Taliban militia was killed and two were wounded. AT

Three neo-Taliban commanders were captured in a joint operation by the Afghan National Army (ANA) and U.S.-led coalition forces in Oruzgan Province on 22 July, Afghan Voice Agency reported on 23 July. The commander of Military Corps 208 of ANA, Major General Mohammad Moslem Hamid, named the three as Mullah Daud, Mullah Jalil, and Mullah Sa'dullah. According to Hamid, "500 propaganda leaflets" and some ammunition was also captured during the raid. No details are available on the standing of the captured neo-Taliban in the militia's hierarchy. AT

Unidentified gunmen killed a judge in Panjwai District of Kandahar on 23 July, AIP reported. Panjwai district chief Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi told AIP that Ne'matullah, who was appointed in early July, was killed by "three or four armed people who were riding motorcycles" while he was walking to a mosque. While the identity of the assailants is not known, Sarhadi attributed the attack to "personal animosity." However, in a separate report on 23 July, AIP quoted neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, who claimed that the militia killed Qazi Ne'matullah. In the past, the neo-Taliban has claimed responsibility for attacks they did not carry out. AT

Neo-Taliban spokesman Hakimi claimed that the militia on 23 July killed an election official and a government administrator in two separate attacks in Kandahar Province, AIP reported. According to Hakimi, the head of the election affairs office in Mahmand village in Daman District as well as the administrator of Shah Wali Kot District were killed. Afghan government officials have not confirmed Hakimi's claims, AIP noted. AT

The government of Afghanistan bestowed the highest law enforcement medal in the country to John O'Rourke, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's envoy to Afghanistan, a 24 July press statement from the Afghan Interior Ministry reported. O'Rourke's tour of duty in Afghanistan, which began in January, has ended. O'Rourke's "remarkable work is recognized and appreciated by all Afghans," Afghan Deputy Interior Minister General Mohammad Daud Daud said during the awarding ceremonies. O'Rourke is the first U.S. citizen to be awarded the Medal of the First Order. AT

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 23 July in Tehran, "I need to repeat my previous comments once again and suggest that the German Foreign Ministry and the German Foreign Ministry spokesman respect the democratic rules," state television reported. This was the latest in an exchange of accusations that began when German Interior Minister Otto Schilly referred to Iran's involvement with international terrorism in an interview with "Der Spiegel" magazine. Assefi reacted on 19 July, saying, "I advise this German official not to be influenced by Zionist circles" and "the German Interior Minister should respect the principles of democracy and think more before expressing his views," ISNA reported. Schilly's unnamed spokesman described Assefi's admonishment as "incredible impudence," "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on 21 July. "The impudence of such a voice from a country that continually violates human rights, where women are whipped on the basis of dubious verdicts, where dissidents are kept in solitary confinement for months without any possibility for legal support and an objective review by the court, can hardly be surpassed." BS

An Iranian judiciary report referred to by state broadcast and print media on 24 July details abusive human rights practices in the country's prisons, AP reported. "Blindfolding and beating defendants, jailing a 13-year-old boy for stealing a hen in the worst detention center, holding a 73-year-old woman in prison for lack of financial ability, and taking a woman to prison because her husband is on the run are clear examples of human rights violations discovered by the judiciary in months of investigations," the report stated. One man has been in prison since 1988 although he had not been convicted. According to the report, there have been incidents of torture and cases in which suspects were held in unknown prisons. The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps does not permit access to its detention facilities. BS

Reacting to a recent British report on human rights in Iran, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in Tehran on 24 July that such reports are "irrelevant," IRNA reported. "Islam-bashing is in the rise in European states and attacks on mosques are token of human right violations in Europe which should be paid attention to." Kharrazi said Iran plans to report on human rights in other countries. He did not speculate on the reaction such a report would receive. The "Annual Report on Human Rights 2005" from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ( was released on 21 July. "There has been no significant progress in Iran since our last Annual Report; human rights have deteriorated further in many areas." The report notes increased censorship, particularly of the Internet. It also refers to arrests of human rights defenders, restrictions on workers, abuses in prisons, and discrimination against women. The report notes the lack of progress in the EU-Iran human rights dialogue. BS

Prosecutors in South Korea have detained a 28-year-old Iranian male and his 40-year-old Korean girlfriend for smuggling 2.5 kilograms of opium from Southwest Asia's Golden Crescent (Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan), "Chosun Ilbo" reported on 22 July. In connection with this case, a 22-year-old Iranian male was booked but not detained and five other Iranians are wanted. In what appears to be a separate case, police in the German city of Cologne have broken up a gang of international traffickers responsible for smuggling 225 kilograms of opium worth 900,000 euros ($1.1 million), ddp news agency reported on 20 July. The Iranian head of the gang imported the narcotics from Iran via Istanbul, Italy, and Austria. The profits were transferred back to Iran. BS

A suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle outside the Al-Sudayr Hotel in central Baghdad on 25 July, killing six and wounding 10 others, most of whom were hotel guards, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported. A second bomber detonated his vehicle in front of an Interior Ministry patrol in Al-Nusur Square in western Baghdad, killing three and wounding seven others, according to initial reports. Some 40 Iraqi civilians were killed in a 24 July car bombing that targeted a police station in Baghdad; 30 people were wounded in the blast, RFI reported. A U.S. military statement estimated that the bomber used 227 kilograms of explosives, reported on 25 July. The bomber could have inflicted greater damage, but was forced to detonate his vehicle 3 meters from sand barriers outside the station due to traffic congestion. A police officer identified as Abud Radhi told the website that no police officers were killed in the blast. KR

National Assembly speaker Hajim al-Hassani said in a 25 July statement that the parliament has met all of the demands laid out by Sunni members of the constitution-drafting committee to rejoin the process, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Sunnis withdrew from the committee last week after the 19 July assassination of one Sunni committee member and two others associated with the committee. Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari told reporters at a 23 July press briefing in Baghdad that the decision was made on 22 July to "furnish the members of the constitution-drafting committee with the same full protection" that members of the National Assembly receive. Muslim Scholars Association official Sheikh Dhiya al-Din Abdullah told on 23 July that the association will not discourage Sunnis from voting on the draft constitution in an October referendum, nor will it discourage Sunnis from casting their ballots in December's national elections, the website reported on 24 July. KR

Fugitive Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn claimed responsibility in a 23 July Internet posting ( for the 21 July kidnapping of Algerian diplomats Izz al-Din bin Qadi and Ali bin Arusi (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005). The group called Algeria "another country seeking to satisfy the Crusaders," and accused Algeria of "showing loyalty to Jews and Christians," which it called "a transgression of God's law." "Despite our previous warning, the truth of which was proved by the killing of the Egyptian ambassador and the assassination attempt against the Bahraini ambassador, Algeria sent its envoy" to Iraq. The statement claimed that Iraq is now "under the control of the mujahedin," adding, "victory is a promise from God to his worshippers." The statement mocked Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari and Interior Minister Bayan Jabr for making excuses over the kidnappings. The Iraqi officials said that the diplomats were responsible for their own security, and blamed them for not taking necessary precautions when leaving their embassies. The statement did not give details on the fate of the Algerians, saying more information will be provided "later." KR

Lieutenant General David Petraeus has completed a one-year tour of duty in Iraq where he was charged with heading the training of Iraqi security forces, reported on 23 July. Petraeus previously led the 101st Airborne Division in Iraq until the division ended its tour of duty in Spring 2004. Under Petraeus, the division trained nearly 20,000 Iraqi civil-defense-corps units, facility-protection forces, and police. It also carried out more than 5,000 reconstruction projects, including the refurbishment of some 500 schools, in addition to combating enemy insurgents and seeking out weapons caches. The division was responsible for the killing of Uday and Qusay Hussein, the sons of the former dictator, in Mosul. Petraeus will be replaced by Major General Martin E. Dempsey, according to a Pentagon statement cited by Petraeus will become commander of the Army Combined Arms Center located at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he will be in charge of the Command and General Staff College, where army officers receive advanced training. KR

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski announced on 25 July that the United States has accepted Polish plans to withdraw most of its 1,700 troops from Iraq at the beginning of 2006, Reuters reported on the same day. "The current [six-month troop] rotation in Iraq will be the last one. By the end of January, we would like to pull [out] the troops and replace them with smaller groups, which could for example help train the Iraqi Army," the news agency quoted Kwasniewski as telling public radio. Kwasniewski said that the plan was accepted during a 19 July meeting between Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski and U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The exact withdrawal date will be left to the next Polish government, due to be elected this fall. KR