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Newsline - July 27, 2005

Federal Property Management Agency Director Valerii Nazarov told journalists on 26 July that officials from the Prosecutor-General's Office came to his agency and removed all documents concerning the sale of the state-owned mansion Sosnovka-1 to former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, NTV reported. "We didn't even have time to look into them and study them," he said. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" and reported on 26 July that the Prosecutor-General's Office has already found evidence that one of the legal requirements in the sale of the mansion to Kasyanov was not met, in that no public announcement of the sale tender appeared in the media. For Kasyanov, this means that at the very least he can be asked to return the mansion to the state, "Kommersant-Daily" noted. VY

National Strategy Institute Director Stanislav Belkovskii said on 26 July that President Vladimir Putin believes Kasyanov has broken an unwritten agreement the two made in February 2004 when Putin removed Kasyanov as head of his cabinet, reported. The well-connected Belkovskii said in an interview with the Marketing i konsulting (IAMIK) news agency that Putin sent Kasyanov into retirement four months before the end of his term, but that they agreed that Kasyanov would get a $300 million exit package as compensation, part of which was the Sosnovka-1 mansion worth $100 million. Then the Alfa-group bought Sosnovka-1 for the full price and resold it to Kasyanov for $400,000, which also eventually went to the state treasury. Putin thought that with this deal he was buying Kasyanov's loyalty after his resignation, and is really going after Kasyanov now that he sees that he betrayed his expectations, Belkovskii commented. VY

First Deputy Duma Speaker Lyubov Sliska (Unified Russia) said on 26 July that she dislikes the speculation and "unhealthy situation" surrounding the Kasyanov case, reported. "First of all, the appropriate investigation should be carried out and only a court can decide whether Kasyanov is guilty and whether he used his office for personal gain," she added. Sliska also said that some law-enforcement officials are responsible for escalating the situation surrounding Kasyanov. VY

Seven men from President Putin's close circle control several vital state-owned companies with total assets of $222 billion, which constitutes 40 percent of gross domestic product, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" and RIA-Novosti reported on 26 July. Presidential-administration head Dmitrii Medvedev is chairman of the Gazprom gas monopoly; presidential-administration deputy chief Igor Sechin controls the only state oil company, Rosneft; and another deputy head, Vladislav Surkov, chairs the state company for oil transportation, Transnefteprodukt. Presidential aide Viktor Ivanov chairs national air carrier Aeroflot, as well as the main air defense contractor, Almaz-Antei. And Medvedev's adviser and predecessor, Aleksandr Voloshin, is chairman of the Unified Energy Systems national power monopoly. Finally, Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin chairs two supervisory councils: the Alrosa diamond monopoly and the second-largest bank, Vneshtorgbank. RIA-Novosti cited Kristel Richard, an analyst with Standard & Poor, as saying that Russia's successes in moving toward a market economy are being weakened by the government's return to less transparent and more traditional approaches to political and economic activity. VY

The August issue of the Russian edition of "Forbes" magazine complied a list of the 50 most prominent Russian entertainment, art, and sport stars who made their names and millions thanks to the advent of capitalism, Ekho Moskvy reported. The list was compiled based on their income and the number of references to them in the media and the Internet. In first place is tennis player Maria Sharapova, who last year made $18.2 million. The second most successful woman is singer Alla Pugacheva, at $3.1 million. Among the men, first place belongs to Pugacheva's husband, singer Filip Kirkorov, who made $2.2 million. The list also includes model Yevgeniya Volodina, comedian Vyacheslav Pollunin, writer Boris Akunin, opera singer Anna Netrebko, and showman Maksim Galkin. VY

Speaking to Ekho Moskvy on 26 July, retired Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, the vice president of the Academy for Geopolitical Problems, said that Russia's own inconsistent foreign policy is the main threat to its national security. "Russian foreign policy, policy in the area of security, does not meet the criteria of the category of policy. We have some kind of uncoordinated actions, we seem to dart about like firemen to one situation or another -- I mean the Kremlin, the Kremlin administration," he said. Russia lacks coherency in foreign policy and this leads to confusion between different agencies responsible for foreign policy and between decision makers and public opinion. Asked whether U.S. military bases in Central Asia pose a threat to Russia, Ivashov, known for his anti-American stance, said, "Russia's own inconsistent policy" increases the danger of terrorist attacks much more. VY

President Putin met on 26 July with members of the Nashi youth movement at his Tver Oblast residence, ORT and Russian news agencies reported. Fifty-six members of the group along with Nashi leaders Vasilii Yakemenko and Sergei Kuzmenko attended, according to Putin discussed themes such as education and Russian entry into the World Trade Organization. According to TV-Tsentr, Putin suggested that the youths could help in the struggle against drug addiction and alcoholism and ethnic and religious tensions. Putin also commented on the Union of Belarus and Russia. He said that Russia and Belarus are "one nation geopolitically and, which is most important, one nation essentially, on the whole." He continued that he doesn't want to offend people who put a high value on the unique character of the Belarusian culture and language, but if the two countries unite, then "there will be nothing but gains for us." He also concluded that the disintegration of the Soviet Union contributed to the growth of nationalism. JAC

A serious struggle is reportedly under way in Irkutsk Oblast for candidates to replace incumbent Governor Boris Govorin, whose current term expires on 7 September, "Moskovskii komsomolets" reported on 26 July. According to the daily, it is "well-known" that presidential envoy to the Siberian Federal District Anatolii Kvashnin has already presented a list of four candidates to the presidential administration. Included on the list are Govorin, Irkutsk Mayor Vladimir Yakubovskii, State Duma Deputy Vitalii Shuba (Unified Russia), and oblast legislature Chairman Viktor Kruglov. Recently, a new name has appeared on the Kremlin list, Irkutskenergo Director Vladimir Kolmogorov. Although previously not particularly politically active, Kolmogorov was recently elected to the political council of the Unified Russia party. The daily reports that, according to unnamed observers, Kolmogorov represents the interests of aluminum magnates Oleg Deripaska of Rusal and Viktor Vekselberg of SUAL, who both own stakes in Irkutskenergo. Last month, "Nezavisimaya gazeta's" respected local correspondent Sergei Kez reported that it is "quite likely" that Govorin will secure a third term. JAC

Typhoid fever and hepatitis-A cases have increased in Russia during the first half of the year, chief health inspector Gennadii Onishchenko told reporters on 26 July, Interfax reported. Typhoid fever cases rose 20 percent in the first half of 2005 compared with the same period in 2004. Areas particularly hard-hit were Moscow, St. Petersburg, Irkutsk, and Perm oblasts, and Daghestan. Hepatitis-A also jumped by 20 percent, with the most cases reported in Tver, Kaliningrad, and Pskov oblasts, St. Petersburg, the republics of Karachaevo-Cherkessiya and Tuva, and the Komi-Permyak and Evenk autonomous okrugs. Meanwhile, Valerii Mikheev, chief health inspector for Novosibirsk Oblast, reported that there have been practically no new cases of avian flu, noting that in two raions no more than 10 cases were registered over the last 24 hours and in one raion there are none, reported. Onishchenko commented at his news conference that the chickens in Novosibirsk likely caught the flu from wild ducks. JAC

State Duma Deputy Igor Morozov has rescinded his appeal to Russia's Supreme Court challenging the result of the 2004 gubernatorial election in Ryazan Oblast, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 26 July. According to the daily, Morozov, in a conversation with the daily, did not hide the fact that the presidential administration encouraged him to reconcile with the winner of the ballot, Governor Georgii Shpak. An unidentified source told the daily on the condition of anonymity that Morozov still has a huge unpaid debt for his unsuccessful campaign; however, one of his sponsors reached an agreement with Shpak and in exchange for Morozov recalling his lawsuit, the sponsor will cancel the debt. Meanwhile, a hearing in the case of Ryazan entrepreneur Natalya Suchkova against Shpak will open on 2 August. She alleges that she contributed 48 million rubles ($1.6 million) to Shpak's campaign in exchange for appointing her deputy governor, which he failed to do (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 July 2005). JAC

President Putin has signed a decree naming Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov as Russia's envoy to the EU, "Vremya novostei" reported on 26 July. The post had previously been filled by Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov but had remained empty since he took over the premiership in March 2004. Chizhov, 51, as deputy foreign minister had concentrated on Russian policies with Europe. JAC

Parliamentarian Shavarsh Kocharian, a leading member of the Artarutiun opposition bloc, told journalists in Yerevan on 26 July that the most recent version of draft amendments to the constitution only partly meets the opposition's demands, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. That draft, which the Council of Europe's Venice Commission endorsed last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2005), has not been made public, but it apparently does not address three key opposition demands: augmenting the powers of the parliament, curtailing the president's power to appoint Constitutional Court judges, and introducing direct elections for the post of Yerevan mayor. The nine parties aligned in Artarutiun are to met on 18 August to decide whether they will support the proposed amendments as urged to do by the Venice Commission. LF

Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Kirakosian confirmed on 26 July that Yerevan and Ankara have held talks at ministerial and deputy-ministerial level in recent months, but he said those talks failed to make any progress on the opening by Turkey of its border with Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 July 2005). Kirakosian said that in line with President Robert Kocharian's April letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Armenia continues to advocate the creation of an intergovernmental commission that would address various issues in bilateral relations. LF

The dialogue that began in early May between representatives of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP), two other pro-government parties and four opposition parties appears to be in danger of collapse, and reported on 27 July. To date, two meetings have taken place, in early May and early June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 5 May and 2 June 2005). The opposition Musavat party, which was to host the third meeting, has not yet announced arrangements for doing so, prompting YAP to announce a third session for 29 July. Leading members of Musavat and of the opposition Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA) have said they will not attend the 29 July meeting and have rejected as irrelevant the issue of foreign funding of political parties, which YAP proposed discussing. Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) Deputy Chairman Fuad Mustafaev dismissed the purported "dialogue" as an attempt to deceive both domestic and international public opinion, reported. Mustafaev stressed that the YAP functionaries are not empowered to make any concessions to the opposition. DPA Chairman Serdar Djalaloglu similarly termed the discussions "a waste of time," and said his party will not participate in any such meetings that do not include high-level representatives of the government or the presidential administration. LF

Members of the opposition AHCP in the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic (where the party's two wings reunited two weeks ago, acknowledging Ali Kerimli as the party's chairman, according to Turan on 13 July) staged a demonstration in the city of Nakhichevan on 26 July, Turan and reported. It was the first time in 12 years that the authorities of the Nakhichevan Autonomous Republic granted permission for such a demonstration, but police nonetheless tried to prevent people traveling to the city to participate, cordoned off the square where the meeting was to take place, and detained several meeting participants who were subsequently released. Some 150 AHCP members, some of them sporting orange shirts, and an unspecified number of supporters of other opposition parties took part in the protest, demanding free and fair parliamentary elections, an end to official harassment, and the release of lawyer Elman Calilov, who was jailed last month for five years on charges the opposition considers politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2005). LF

Vladimir Arutiunian, 27, a resident of Tbilisi, has been charged with terrorism for having thrown a live hand grenade in the direction of U.S. President George W. Bush and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in Tbilisi on 10 May, Caucasus Press reported on 26 July. Arutiunian was remanded in pre-trial custody on 23 July for shooting one of the police officers who sought to arrest him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2005). quoted Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili as telling Georgia's Imedi television station late on 26 July that there is no evidence so far to suggest that Arutiunian was acting in conjunction with, or at the behest of, anyone else. LF

The Tbilisi city prosecutor's office has brought charges of terrorism against three residents of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia accused of having perpetrated the car bombing in Gori on 1 February that killed three people and injured a further 20, Caucasus Press reported on 26 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2005). Also on 26 July, the Georgian Interior Ministry made public video footage in which one of the suspects said that a training center for terrorists was established in Tskhinvali, a group of whom was sent to Russia in August 2004 for training in the use of firearms and explosives, reported. Meanwhile, Yurii Dzitstsoity, who is deputy chairman of the parliament of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, told on 26 July that the struggle of the people of South Ossetia for independence differs radically from that of Chechnya in that the Ossetians have never resorted to terrorism. Caucasus Press on 27 July quoted Georgian Interior Minister Merabishvili as having told the Imedi television station the previous evening that most members of the South Ossetian leadership were unaware of the involvement of some of the region's residents in terrorist activities. LF

Sergei Shamba, who is the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia's foreign minister, has written to UN Security Council Chairman Adamantios Vassilakis to request that an Abkhaz representative be permitted to attend the upcoming session of the council that is to discuss the situation in the region, Caucasus Press reported. Shamba said that the interception by Georgia of merchant vessels transporting humanitarian aid to Abkhazia exacerbates the financial hardship the Abkhaz already suffer as a result of the blockade imposed in 1996. He also argued that the UN is acting unfairly in lobbying for the right of Georgians who fled Abkhazia in 1992-1993 to return, while denying that right to the descendents of the Abkhaz who emigrated to Ottoman Turkey in the 19th century. Shamba appealed to the UN to act "fairly and impartially" to ensure compliance by all sides with the four-party agreement signed in Moscow in April 1994 on measures to resolve the conflict. LF

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity met on 25 and 26 July in Gagra, where he is vacationing, with his Abkhaz counterpart Sergei Bagapsh, Caucasus Press reported. The two leaders subsequently issued a joint statement affirming their mutual support and readiness to expand cooperation. Bagapsh called on Tbilisi to try to reach agreement by means of negotiations, warning that efforts to intimidate Abkhazia by "banditry" and "piracy," meaning the interception earlier this month of a Turkish merchant ship, are counterproductive. A Poti court sentenced the captain of that vessel on 26 July to four years' imprisonment for trespassing in Georgia's territorial waters, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 22 July 2005). Kokoity told journalists after his 26 July talks with Bagapsh that "we advocate the peaceful solution of conflicts, a negotiation process, and normal relations, but Georgia's fascist policies must be condemned," reported. LF

Following a cabinet meeting on 26 July, Kazakh Prime Minister Daniyal Akhmetov announced that Kazakhstan will purchase seven British aircraft to patrol the country's borders, according to Khabar TV. Akhmetov added that the government plans on acquiring the British Britten-Norman Homeland Defender twin turboprop surveillance aircraft by mid-August. The cabinet meeting examined several issues related to improving border security, including measures to combat "drugs smuggling, illegal migration, and poaching." RG

Kazakh security forces seized leaflets and flyers of the banned Islamic extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir group on 26 July in a southern Kazakh region, Interfax and the Kazakhstan Today website reported. The radical Islamist literature was distributed in several residential areas and police detained three local teenagers found to be in possession of the material. RG

President-elect Kurmanbek Bakiev issued orders on 26 July to his ministers to prepare a new draft reform plan to restructure the government, Kabar news agency reported. The orders were issued during a cabinet meeting in Bishkek and followed a new presidential directive strictly limiting spending by state ministries and agencies. Bakiev also called on the officials to ensure that state television and radio broadcasts are reaching the country's more remote border areas and warned that he "would mercilessly sack all officials responsible for the distortion" of economic statistics, AKIpress reported. The measures are part of a larger effort by the president-elect to combat systemic corruption in Kyrgyzstan. RG

Following the issuing of a set of directives related to government reform, President-elect Bakiev announced on 26 July that the powers of the Kyrgyz economic-crimes police will be enhanced to allow for the full investigation of economic crimes, Kyrgyz Radio reported. According to the new order, the Kyrgyz Finance Police Directorate is to be the sole law enforcement body overseeing economic crimes, superseding the activities of the National Security Service, the Interior Ministry, and the State Customs Service. Acting First Deputy Prime Minister Feliks Kulov was tasked with directing the implementation of the order and is to head a new special commission assigned to formulate a package of relevant legal and commercial legislation. RG

The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry dispatched a formal diplomatic note to Uzbekistan calling for an "impartial investigation" and "legal assistance" for jailed Kyrgyz journalist Erkin Yakubdzhanov, the Kabar news agency reported on 26 July. The Kyrgyz journalist was detained by Uzbek border guards on 18 July, although the circumstances of his arrest are unclear. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry press service was quoted as expressing "the hope that the Uzbek authorities will handle the situation with understanding and resolve the matter positively." Relations between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan remain strained over Uzbek allegations that Kyrgyz citizens were involved in the unrest in Uzbekistan's Andijon Province in mid-May and by the presence of about 400 Uzbek asylum seekers currently sheltering in temporary camps in southern Kyrgyzstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 16 May 2005 and "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 21 July 2005). RG

President-elect Bakiev said on 26 July that his government will pursue closer ties to Russia, with a priority on expanding economic relations, ITAR-TASS reported. Pledging that "Kyrgyzstan sees the further development of diversified relations with Russia as a long-term policy," Bakiev promised to "create the most favorable conditions for Russian capital and business." To date, Russian investment in Kyrgyzstan has largely been strategically concentrated in large projects targeting the country's energy and mining sectors. RG

Arriving in Dushanbe on a one-day official visit, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld met on 26 July with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Defense Minister Colonel General Sherali Khayrulloev, Avesta and Tajik TV reported. Rumsfeld expressed Washington's appreciation for overflight rights granted by Tajikistan and pledged greater U.S. assistance to Tajikistan to fight terrorism and to combat the proliferation of weapons and drugs. The United States has no official military presence in Tajikistan. Rumsfeld is visiting the region in the wake of a recent declaration by the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (consisting of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan) calling for the setting of a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces from military air bases in Manas, Kyrgyzstan, and Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 July 2005). Rumsfeld arrived in Tajikistan from neighboring Kyrgyzstan, where he was able to secure Kyrgyz approval for the continued presence of U.S. military bases (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2005). Tajikistan hosts both a Russian military base and a small French detachment in Dushanbe that supports coalition operations in nearby Afghanistan. RG

In a statement released by the Uzbek presidential press service in Tashkent on 26 July, Vyacheslav Golyshev was named as the new Uzbek minister of economics, investments, and trade, and Interfax reported. Formerly a presidential adviser for economic issues, Golyshev was also named deputy prime minister. He replaces outgoing Economy Minister Rustam Azimov, who on 25 July was named the head of the new Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, Investment, and Trade, which was created by presidential decree on 21 July. RG

The head of the Uzbek Prosecutor-General's Financial Crimes Directorate, Ramazon Polatov, announced on 26 July that 14 former officials of the National Bank of Uzbekistan for Foreign Economic Relations have been sentenced in absentia to prison terms for corruption, embezzlement of state property, and bribery, Interfax and reported. Among those sentenced was the former first deputy head of the National Bank of Uzbekistan for Foreign Economic Relations, Svetlana Tishenko, and a number of associates, including two Italian citizens. Polatov added that the Uzbek authorities "are taking prompt measures to find the criminals" and noted that the 14 suspects have been placed on an international most-wanted list. The case involved a string of fraudulent loans extended to "members of a criminal group," including loans of $4 million and almost $2.5 million to Italian criminal enterprises, in return for payments to the bank officials, Interfax reported. RG

Polish Sejm speaker Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz has called Belarusian accusations of espionage by Polish diplomats "absurd" and said that Poland may close its embassy in Belarus, Belapan reported on 26 July. "If we wanted to engage in spying in Belarus, we would use absolutely different methods," he told Radio Polonia on 26 July. The threat to close the embassy follows a bitter escalation of rhetoric between the two neighbors over the past two months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July 2005 and "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 27 May and 22 June 2005). Cimoszewicz added that the Belarusian authorities have used the diplomatic row to divert public attention from the country's domestic problems. RK

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka denied on 26 July that Russia is looking for a candidate to replace him in the 2006 presidential elections. "If I had been aware of that, I would not have met with the Russian president," official sources quoted him as saying at a government meeting, Belapan reported. Lukashenka said he does not plan to seek Russian assistance in domestic political processes. Lukashenka also said he told President Vladimir Putin that he will not look for any help from Russia. "We are satisfied with the current level of the Belarusian-Russian relationship," he said. RK

Viktor Yushchenko has signed into law a bill passed by parliament on 5 July suspending the privatization of the Ukrainian telecommunications giant Ukrtelekom, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 26 July. The president's press office announced that the suspension will continue until the government comes up with a new privatization plan. The original law allowing for Ukrtelekom's privatization was passed on 13 July 2000 and allowed for the sale of a 42.86 percent stake, with 50 percent plus one share remaining with the state. The additional 7.14 percent of shares was to be sold to Ukrtelekom employees. A tender was to have taken place in August 2004 but was suspended by former President Leonid Kuchma, who said that the sale would fuel pre-election speculation about potential buyers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 20 August 2004). RK

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko said that an announced three-year renovation project at the Odesa oil refinery will not create fuel shortages or a price increase in Ukraine, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 26 July. "This [repair] cannot possibly cause and will not cause any deficit of fuel on the Ukrainian market," he told a press conference in Kyiv. The Odesa refinery is owned by Russia's LUKoil, the management of which announced recently that it would undertake a $320 million, three-year project to upgrade it. RK

Serbia and Montenegro's Defense Minister Prvoslav Davinic told the Belgrade daily "Vecernje novosti" of 26 July that the agreement recently signed by Foreign Minster Vuk Draskovic and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to allow NATO and KFOR troops to transit Serbian territory is in Serbia's own interest, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005). Davinic added that the agreement will promote the security of Serbs and others in Kosova. Also on 26 July, the daily "Danas" reported that Draskovic signed the text without taking into account the changes called for by Serbia's Justice, Finance, and Interior ministries. The agreement has been the subject of much debate in Serbia and Montenegro, where many still associate NATO with the 1999 bombing campaign even though the military wants to join the Partnership for Peace program. PM

The district court in Nis sentenced eight people on 26 July to jail sentences ranging from three to five months for their alleged roles in the burning of an 18th-century mosque there on 17 March 2004, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2004). At the time of the incidents, crowds torched mosques in Nis and Belgrade in retribution for attacks on Serbs across Kosova earlier that day. Following the sentencing of the eight accused, Imam Hamdija Jusufspahic, who heads Serbia's Islamic Community, told RFE/RL that the sentences "were too light considering that the mosque was completely destroyed." But the defense lawyer said that the charges against his clients were not proven, and the mother of one of the accused argued that that the trial was a frame-up. The mosques were two of the very few remaining intact in Serbia from Ottoman times. The one in Nis was the only Ottoman one still standing there, having been built in 1720, restored in 1870, and declared a protected historical property in 1954, the private Beta news agency reported. PM

On 26 July, a new board of directors was named for the Belgrade daily "Politika," which is half-owned by Germany's WAZ group and half by Politika AD, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. The appointees include writer Matija Beckovic, film director Emir Kusturica, and Aleksandar Simic, who is an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. The new board then sacked Darko Ribnikar as general director of the Politika Newspaper and Magazine Company, replacing him with businessman Srdjan Janicijevic, who has been general manager of Coca Cola and is Beckovic's brother-in-law. Ribnikar told RFE/RL that he was sacked for political reasons because he and Milan Misic, who is "Politika's" responsible editor, have become a nuisance to the government. "Politika" was founded in 1904 and has been one of the most respected institutions in the Serbian political landscape. Even during communist times, it was considered Belgrade's most important paper and maintained an extensive network of foreign correspondents. Under former Serbian and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, it was turned into one of several mouthpieces of his regime. Following Milosevic's ouster in October 2000, "Politika" drew close to Kostunica. PM

Members of a pro-independence group called Self-determination (Vetevendosja), which is led by former student leader and political prisoner Albin Kurti and seeks immediate independence for Kosova without negotiations, distributed leaflets in Prishtina on 26 July calling for independence on the basis of the UN's decolonization program, Prishtina dailies reported. The leaflet included the text of a 1960 UN resolution on the need to grant independence to colonies and colonized peoples all over the world. Kurti told reporters that Serbia has no role to play in determining Kosova's future and that the UN civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK) has departed from the principles of the 1960 resolution. He demanded a referendum in Kosova on independence, adding that referendums are held in many countries on matters of even relatively small importance (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 19 December 2003 and 20 May 2005). PM

Representatives of two key Serbian parties in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) and the Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) -- did not show up for all-party talks in Sarajevo on 26 July on the future of police reform, which High Representative Paddy Ashdown said reveals a "lack of seriousness" on their part, his website reported (see He noted nonetheless that "the parties present at the meeting agreed to support the establishment of a working group at the government level that will draw up a proposal on which to base further negotiations among political parties. Provided this succeeds, there will be a meeting at the beginning of September in order to reach a political agreement on police restructuring to be put to the parliaments." Nobody from the SNSD showed up for the meeting at all, and SDS leader Borislav Paravac arrived only after it was over, "Nezavisne novine" reported. Failure to reform the police along nonethnic administrative lines is the main obstacle to Bosnia's integration into the EU. The Bosnian Serbs consider the proposed police reform unconstitutional and a threat to the sovereignty of the Republika Srpska because the proposed police administrative boundaries will cross entity lines and deny each entity control of its own security forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 1, 22, and 30 June 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 3 June 2005). PM

Solidaritaetea Confederation of Unions Chairman Leonid Manea told a news conference on 26 July that the shadow economy in Moldova makes up more than 40 percent of the national economy, BASA news agency reported. Manea said that entrepreneurs do not want to sign contracts with employees, as this forces them to pay for workers' social insurance. "A lot of employers in Moldova use forced labor," Manea noted, adding that salary arrears in the open economy totaled 140 million leis ($47.3 million) by early June. RK

RFE/RL's Romania/Moldova Service spoke with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin on 26 July about some of the biggest issues facing his country. Voronin addressed the roots of the Transdniester problem and his preferred path for solving the conflict, enlisting EU and U.S. help in persuading Moscow to remove Russian troops from Transdniester, and his vision of ideal relations with neighboring Romania.

RFE/RL: Now that the legislature in [the Moldovan capital] Chisinau has adopted a law on the principles that will guide the future status of the regions east of the Dniester River, is there a risk of losing this territory [Transdniester] and of an irreversible consolidation of this area under the Ukrainian umbrella? There seemed to be an acceleration in the adoption of this law immediately after [Transdniestrian leader] Igor Smirnov's visit to Kyiv.

Voronin: No, by no means. There has been talk for a long time about the possibility that this territory of Moldova could be taken away from Moldova. If we recall some of the causes of the Transdniestrian conflict, perhaps this separation was at the heart of this conflict. But there is the 1975 Helsinki declaration about the integrity of countries, of borders; and we and the entire international community are guided by this Helsinki declaration. There is no reason why we should be afraid that after the adoption of this law, the disintegration process could develop further. [Ukrainian President Viktor] Yushchenko coordinated Smirnov's visit to Kyiv with me personally; the visit was organized to familiarize Smirnov with some of the elements of our joint Moldovan-Ukrainian declaration, which is based on the Yushchenko plan. On our request -- mine and Mr. Yushchenko's -- the European Union will soon start monitoring the Moldovan-Ukrainian border. These were the points discussed in Kyiv.

RFE/RL: How do you see, in practical terms, the dismantlement of the machinery called "Transdniester," which is controlled today by the Tiraspol KGB?

Voronin: I am relying very much on the support of European organizations, mainly the EU, on assistance from the United States; in a joint effort, we should persuade the Russian Federation to pull both its troops and munitions out of Transdniester, because the presence of the Russian military there is a political umbrella and a form of support for the separatist regime in Transdniester, even though it is not acknowledged openly. I am also relying heavily on the notions included in this new law concerning the democratization and demilitarization of the Transdniestrian regime. The fear that this KGB-style regime instills every day in the citizens of our country living in Transdniester is the biggest obstacle to resolving the Transdniestrian conflict. People there cannot openly express their opinions; they cannot participate openly in elections; nor can they participate openly in any political, cultural, social, or other activities.

As soon as we started discussing very seriously, and I would even say firmly, the issues of the Russian troop withdrawal, the weapons withdrawal, the resolution of the Transdniestrian conflict, closing the borders, identifying the smuggling and trafficking in human beings, and so forth, our relationship with the Russian Federation started to deteriorate.

RFE/RL: Several years ago, you were ready to pay for the reunification of Moldova by resigning from your post as president on condition that Smirnov resigned too. If today Moscow, in agreement with Washington, put forward such a tough condition, would you accept it?

Voronin: Any condition has to be based on something. If Smirnov and I are placed on the same level, then I want to see some arguments why I -- a president elected by the people of Moldova in free and democratic elections -- must be placed on the same scale as these carpetbaggers and criminals from Transdniester. I think that what happened four years ago, when we didn't know what fed this separatist regime, could not happen today. Today it is no longer the case that we could be regarded as equal -- no matter who the president is, it is not about specifically Voronin -- with a separatist, criminal regime in Transdniester.

RFE/RL: There has been a lot of speculation in the media that some officials in Chisinau could be vulnerable to blackmail -- and even have been blackmailed -- after files disappeared from the security-services offices. Have you tried to find out whether there is such evidence, which could allow Tiraspol to influence the decisions taken in Chisinau through such methods?

Voronin: Today the Information and Security Service of Moldova has no record of such files. There was no such record here in the times of the Socialist Moldova either, because files of this kind were kept at the KGB in Moscow. Therefore, neither the Information and Security Service of Moldova nor myself has any information on such files or on who they might concern. But I have to say that I don't exclude the possibility that somebody could be blackmailed. In any event, nothing has been proven so far, and we are watching the situation closely. We don't have evidence to this effect so far, but I don't exclude that such cases might exist.

RFE/RL: How could [Moldova's] relationship with Russia be improved in practical terms? Some analysts have said that since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow has always interpreted the expression of friendship and good-neighborly feelings toward Moscow as an expression of vassality and submissiveness. I could say the same of the change in such feelings toward you after your visits --during your first years in office, you were very much welcome in Moscow, and you went there with a certain type of feelings that Moscow probably interpreted as a bowed head; but more recently you have become a sort of persona non grata in Moscow. Can Russia overcome this attitude toward the former Soviet republics, and especially toward the Republic of Moldova?

Voronin: This question has several components. Until we raised to the appropriate level and stated firmly the Transdniestrian issue, our relations were very clear, very serene. But as soon as we started discussing very seriously, and I would even say firmly, the issues of the Russian troop withdrawal, the weapons withdrawal, the resolution of the Transdniestrian conflict, closing the borders, identifying the smuggling and trafficking in human beings, and so forth, our relationship with the Russian Federation started to deteriorate. The Russian Federation has to give up -- not only in its relations with Moldova but with all the other former Soviet republics, too -- its imperial fixation, which it still brings to the present day into all forms of interaction with our countries. If they fail to overcome this imperial fixation, there will always be problems. We are not a big brother and little brother; we are an independent country, a sovereign country, and we ought to be treated by the Russian Federation as any other independent, sovereign state.

RFE/RL: Was Romania really ready to go to war in 1992, as the Transdniestrian leaders claim today, with reference to some [historical] files? Their most recent declarations in this respect were made by the leader of the Transdniestrian Supreme Soviet, Grigori Marakutsa.

Voronin: I have never heard this -- either in '92 or since then -- and I am not aware of such files. In the Moldovan archives, there are no documents that could confirm Romania's intention to become involved in the Transdniestrian conflict. On the contrary, all these years -- especially recently, since Traian Basescu was elected president -- Romania has been showing a very clear attitude toward the reintegration of Moldova and toward the issues linked to the Transdniestrian conflict, and Romania is supporting us in various international and European forums when it comes to this issue.

RFE/RL: How does Chisinau envisage a good relationship with Romania? What components should this relationship have? I personally witnessed you promise to develop much better relations with Romania than the previous presidents did.

Voronin: Romania and Ukraine are the two neighbors that Moldova has, and traditionally relations with neighbors have to be good; and our intention is to keep them good in the future, as well. We are ready, on our side, to take all the necessary steps to improve these relations. Moreover, we have no territorial problems with Romania; we don't face other problems that have appeared in other countries after the collapse of empires. In terms of the economy, cultural and social issues, aspects related to our European orientation and in many other areas -- whether it concerns the government or the fact of us being neighbors, or whether it concerns institutions operating in both countries in various areas -- we are ready to do everything it takes to develop further our relations with Romania. Romania and Moldova ought to be the most important partners in various areas of activity and development of our countries.

RFE/RL: Can we say, then, that the old page we remember -- when the former minister of justice, Mr. [Ion] Morei, was speaking in Strasbourg about the interference of neighbors into Moldova's internal affairs -- has been turned? Is this a change of attitude only in Bucharest, or in Chisinau, too?

Voronin: I can state with full responsibility that there has been a change both in Bucharest and in Chisinau, and it can already be seen and felt by both Moldovan and Romanian citizens.

RFE/RL: President Basescu recently launched the notion of "two countries, one nation." Do you accept this formula, or have you simply not rejected it officially? Or has the discussion around it merely been postponed for another time?

Voronin: Anyone in such a position has the right to express their personal opinion. This is why I don't think I should rush to respond to this opinion. This is Mr. Basescu's opinion, while I see things differently -- we have always been and will always be Moldovans, and our country is the Republic of Moldova. But I agree with what Mr. Basescu said further down the road -- that is, we are going to meet and be together in the community of European countries. This is a clear statement of truth, for which both Romania and Moldova are preparing.

RFE/RL: Could it be said that, in the context of the European integration of Romania and Moldova, the issue of unification has disappeared? This has always been a political scarecrow, and purportedly because of it the Communists and the left in general didn't accept the notions of "Romanian language" or "Romanian nation."

Voronin: I do believe that our European integration will solve a host of problems, some of which we are not even aware of today or don't see emerging in the near future. Concerning the issues of language and national identity, they will stay, because each country has its own nation, language, history, culture, and everything else that characterizes a country. The same is true of the Moldovan nation. As two years ago we declared that Moldova was a multiethnic state, we have nothing against any nation living in Moldova, no matter what it might be -- Romanians, Russians, Bulgarians, or Gagauz. This is why these issues should not be brought into a discussion today. Moreover, when we started interacting with the new Romanian president, Traian Basescu, we talked about exactly this. Such issues are up to linguists, historians, or any other specialists -- but not up to politicians. And they should not be the basis of any sort of relations.

U.S. and Afghan forces have killed some 50 suspected neo-Taliban fighters, AP reported on 26 July. The fighting occurred when U.S. and Afghan forces attacked a neo-Taliban camp in Uruzgan Province's Dihrawud district, according to the province's governor, Jan Mohammed Khan. Roughly 25 suspected neo-Taliban fighters were captured. A U.S. military statement said one American solider died in the fighting. The statement added that U.S. fighter jets and attack helicopters hit insurgent positions after a U.S. patrol came under attack. In recent statements, U.S. military officials have said neo-Taliban forces are weakening in Afghanistan. But guerilla activity has spiked in the country since March, raising concerns about the Afghan government's ability to stage parliamentary elections slated for 18 September. MR

Afghan demonstrators, throwing rocks and chanting "Die America," protested on 26 July at the gates of the main U.S. military base in Bagram, north of Kabul, AP reported. The protesters, reportedly numbering up to 1,000, were protesting the jailing at the base of eight Afghan villagers thought to be involved in neo-Taliban activities. "We have supported the Americans for years. We should be treated with dignity," said Shah Aghar, a 35-year-old Afghan. "They are arresting our people without the permission of the government. They are breaking into our houses and offending the people. We are very angry." Protesters threw rocks at a convoy of six military vehicles, shattering some windows. U.S. troops responded by firing handguns in the air and telling the demonstrators to leave. Eventually the mob dispersed. MR

Afghan security forces arrested 12 suspected neo-Taliban fighters in Zabol Province on 24 July, Afghan Islamic Press reported on 26 July. According to Golabshah Alikhel, a spokesman for the Zabol governor, "security forces arrested 10 Taliban fighters who entered Shinkai District from across the border in Pakistan on 10 motorcycles." Alikhel added that another two Taliban fighters were arrested, both of them in possession of arms. MR

A district police chief in the Kandahar area died in a shoot-out with suspected neo-Taliban gunmen on 24 July, dpa reported. A neo-Taliban fighter was also killed in the same fighting, which erupted in the Arighistan district of Kandahar Province. According to local security officials, one policeman was also injured in the fighting. In recent months, neo-Taliban fighters have stepped up attacks on U.S.-led forces in the country. MR

Parliamentary representative Hamid Reza Haji-Babai said on 25 July that German Interior Minister Otto Schilly should apologize publicly for insulting Iran and its president-elect, Mehr News Agency reported. In a magazine interview the previous week, Schilly referred to Iran's connections with international terrorism. Afterwards, the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman accused Schilly of being influenced by Zionists, prompting an angry reaction from Berlin. Haji-Babai accused Schilly of interfering in Iranian internal affairs. BS

An international expert participating in the 3rd International AIDS Society Conference on HIV Pathogenesis and Treatment in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has warned that the AIDS epidemic is worsening due to the trafficking of opium and heroin from Afghanistan, Radio Farda reported on 26 July. The rise is particularly noticeable in countries along traditional smuggling routes, such as Iran. Christopher Beyrer, an associate professor of epidemiology and international health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said only some 10 percent of addicts in these countries have access to clean needles or drug substitution programs. The four-day conference is scheduled to end on 27 July. Participants have called for a dynamic response to the AIDS epidemic, and participants in the recent G-8 summit in Scotland called for universal access to antiviral treatments by the end of the decade. BS

Iranian prisons hold 132,564 inmates, Iranian Judiciary spokesman Jamal Karimirad said on 26 July, IRNA reported. Karimirad said the figure is for the period ending 21 June and represents a 2.64 percent decrease compared to one year earlier. Six years ago, Iranian prisons held 185,000 people, Karimirad said. Most of the incoming convicts are imprisoned for drug offenses. There are 4,707 females inmates, he added, and 5,330 foreign ones. BS

According to so-called "secret documents" -- the source of which is not disclosed -- Iran continues to purchase nuclear weapons parts, "Der Spiegel" magazine reported on 25 July. One such deal is between Iran's Partoris company and South Korea's Kung-Do Enterprises and was concluded on 24 December 2004. According to the report, $98,720 was paid for 300 units of nickel-63, which is reportedly used in the ignition of nuclear bombs and which also can be used in smoke detectors. Partoris reportedly used the cover name Parto Namje Tolua. In the second deal, the South Korean firm reportedly bought tritium targets from France's EADS Sodern firm worth $33,000. Tritium targets reportedly are used in neutron emitters, which can trigger the chain reaction in a nuclear bomb. BS

Iran and Ukraine have signed a memorandum of understanding to study the possibility of transporting Iranian natural gas via a pipeline to Europe, "The Moscow Times" reported on 26 July. According to a statement from the Ukrainian state-owned natural gas company, Naftohaz Ukrayiny, the agreement followed a 24 July meeting between Naftohaz CEO Oleksiy Ivchenko and Iranian Deputy Petroleum Minister Hadi Nejad-Husseinian. Naftohaz is reportedly seeking the participation of Gaz de France, and the project would require a minimum $8 billion investment. Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported on 25 July that Ivchenko proposed two possible pipeline routes: Iran-Armenia-Georgia-Ukraine-Europe or Iran-Armenia-Georgia-Black Sea-Ukraine-Europe. Specific details of the project will be considered at a meeting scheduled to take place by the end of September. Ivchenko met with Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar-Zanganeh as well, Interfax-Ukraine news agency reported. BS

Islamabad has begun a search for investment banks that could serve as a "financial advisor/consultant" for the natural gas pipeline from Iran, the Pakistani-based financial daily "Business Recorder" reported on 27 July. Pakistan wants to hasten completion of the paperwork for the project and is aiming for a December 2005 deadline. Despite recent cautionary statements from Indian officials, the Pakistanis believe India's energy requirements will force the issue. Pakistan is also willing to pursue the issue bilaterally. BS

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made a surprise visit to Baghdad on 27 July to urge the transitional government to be more proactive on a number of issues, international media reported. "Now's the time to get on with it," Rumsfeld told reporters traveling with him from Tajikistan to Iraq. He added that any delay "would be very harmful to the momentum that is necessary" to meet deadlines set under the Transitional Administrative Law, AFP reported. Iraq's drafting committee for the constitution has until 1 August to request a six-month extension to draft the constitution, but lawmakers say that an extension will not be needed. The draft constitution needs to be debated and approved by parliament by 15 August. He told reporters that he will also speak with transitional leaders about speeding up the preparations for Iraqi forces to take greater control over the country's security. Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i, who chairs a new transitional task force charged with determining when Iraqi forces will be capable of assuming full responsibility for security, told AFP that the transitional government hopes to transfer 10 major cities to Iraqi control by 15 December, also the date set for national elections, the news agency reported on 27 July. KR

Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Al-Qaeda-affiliated Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn announced in a 25 July Internet statement that its Shari'a court has decided to execute two Algerian diplomats kidnapped in Baghdad last week, Al-Arabiyah television reported on the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 July 2005). The statement said that the diplomats will be killed because of the apostasy of despotic governments that have put their laws above God's law, have fought and killed honest mujahedin, and have aligned themselves with Christians and Jews. The statement said any foreign envoys sent to Iraq will face the same fate, adding: "There can be no destiny for them except killing." KR

An unofficial copy of the draft constitution that has been circulating in Baghdad for days has raised concerns among women's groups and minorities, international media reported on 27 July. At issue are key phrases in the text, including the statement that "Islam is the official religion of the state. It is the basic source for legislation. It is forbidden to pass a law that contradicts its fixed rulings," reported on 27 July. The wording is much stronger than that of the Transitional Administrative Law, Iraq's interim constitution, which cites Islam as a source of legislation. Another provision grants a special status to clerics, granting them the authority to offer guidance "as religious and patriotic symbols." Regarding women's rights, the draft states: "the state provides all rights for women to make them equal to men in all fields according to Islamic Shari'a laws and to help women make a balance between their family and societal duties." The intention is to relegate all personal status issues that currently fall under the jurisdiction of a civil court system to Shari'a courts, Raja Habib al-Khaza'i told KR

RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) asked constitution-drafting committee member Jawad al-Maliki on 25 July about complaints from women activists regarding provisions in the draft that they found "degrading" to women. "We have laid down a formulation that women have equal rights and duties as men in official and political affairs," al-Maliki told RFI. "Yes, there may be some affairs related to personal status where men have a different position to women. There is, however, equality in political affairs." Al-Maliki said that a provision in the draft document that calls for an election quota for women for eight years is "an implementation of the rights of women." Asked why the quota will only remain in effect for eight years, he said: "We think that eight years is sufficient for women to get ready for an equal competition with men. But if they build on [the supposition that] they will not be ready for the competition, then it is some deficiency for which only women are responsible. The quota must not be taken for granted. It is no gift or pittance that men give to women." KR