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Newsline - August 2, 2005

Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov said on 1 August that Uzbek officials made the correct decision by giving the United States six months to withdraw its troops from the Karshi-Khanabad air base (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005), MosNews reported. "The Uzbek authorities took an absolutely pragmatic and logical step," Mironov said before going on to suggest that the antiterrorist operation in neighboring Afghanistan is over and "it's time for the Americans to leave Uzbekistan." Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said last week that Russia set out no timetables regarding U.S. bases in Central Asia and that decisions on such issues are made by "the Central Asian governments alone," (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2005). China and Russia are pressing regional governments to end agreements allowing for a U.S. military presence, "Argumenty i fakty," No. 30, commented adding that China has pledged to compensate Central Asian countries for any related withdrawal of U.S. economic aid. VY

Former Prime Minister and current head of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Yevgenii Primakov, who is one of Russia's leading experts on the Arab world, predicted on 1 August that the policies of the new Saudi monarch, King Abdullah, will prove beneficial to Russia, TV-Tsentr reported. Primakov said Abdullah expressed to him his concerns about the misuse by extremist groups in many parts of the world -- and particularly in Russia -- of Wahhabism, the official form of Islam in Saudi Arabia. He quoted Abdullah as having once told him that Saudis "do not want Wahhabism to be used as a banner for extremism." Primakov said he does not expect a "democratization" in Saudi Arabia or a change of policy. VY

President Vladimir Putin began a two-day visit to Finland on 1 August with talks with Finnish President Tarja Halonen in the capital Helsinki, Russian and international media reported. The two leaders discussed bilateral relations and trade as well as cooperation in the energy sector, RTR and other Russian media reported. Putin and Halonen were expected to discuss a Baltic pipeline that Russia hopes will transport supplies to the West while bypassing Ukraine and the Baltic states, RTR reported. reported that Putin also hoped to discuss Russia's cooperation with the European Union; Russia's partnership and cooperation agreement with the EU comes up for extension in 2006, by which time Finland should have taken up the rotating EU Presidency. VY

The Russian Foreign Ministry has demanded an apology from Poland over the attack in a Warsaw park on 31 July on three children of Russian diplomats, ITAR-TASS and other Russian media reported. The teenagers said they were beaten by a group of young men who stole their cash and mobile phones and assailed them with anti-Russian slurs. The Russian Foreign Ministry summoned Polish Ambassador Stefan Meller and reportedly told him that Moscow expects Polish authorities to find and prosecute the attackers. Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov called the incident "outrageous" and said it "cannot be considered an accident." He implied that anti-Russian sentiments have been encouraged in Poland. VY

Polish Ambassador Meller countered Russian displeasure on 1 August by stressing that it was an attack by "skinheads against children, not Poles against Russians," according to Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleksander Checko said his country condemns the incident as a "deplorable act of banditry and hooliganism," while Warsaw police chief Ryszard Sewersi said he will personally supervise the investigation. President Putin said the "unfriendly act cannot be described as anything other than a crime" and urged Russia's Foreign Ministry and Kremlin officials "to watch what Poland does to investigate the incident," RTR reported. VY

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov reportedly opted to extend his summer holiday and, together with his family, left Russia for a vacation in the Mediterranean until late August, according to a press release from Kasyanov's MK-Analitika company cited by RTR on 1 August. Kasyanov returned from the United Kingdom on 25 July during an investigation into the dubious sale of a state-owned mansion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11, 12, and 19 July 2005), saying the accusations that he acted unlawfully are politically motivated. speculated on 1 August that prosecutors might have cut a deal with Kasyanov to allow him to remain abroad indefinitely while they refrain from reclassifying him from a "witness" to "the accused." VY

Writing under the pseudonym Platon Yelenin, former media mogul and self-exiled oligarch Boris Berezovskii purportedly said in a "Le Figaro" commentary that he believes that "an Orange Revolution in Russia is inevitable." Berezovskii holds a British passport under the name "Platon Yelenin." "The process of public debate in Russia has been emasculated, and the only avenue left to those who want to preserve democracy in Russia is regime change," the author said. The author went on to predict that the question of power in Russia will be decided not at polling stations but on the streets, as recently happened in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. VY

President Putin has revived the office of "state secretary" within federal ministries and agencies to improve coordination between those bodies and the federal parliament, "Vremya novostei" reported on 1 August. His decree of 29 July applies only to nine "power ministries" that answer directly to the president, including the Interior Ministry, Defense Ministry, Justice Ministry, and Federal Security Service (FSB). But "Vremya novostei" quoted the head of the government's apparatus, Sergei Naryshkin, as saying that Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov will sign a similar directive creating the office of state secretary in the other ministries. The state secretaries will have the rank of deputy minister. Putin abolished state secretaries as part of his federal government reorganization in March 2004, which also limited most ministries to two deputy ministers. However, in October 2004, Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref argued at a cabinet meeting that having just two deputy ministers made it difficult to work with members of parliament, who demanded to meet with more "senior representatives" from the ministries than department heads. Although Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin and Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov supported Gref, Fradkov declined to bring back the state secretaries at that time. LB

The Economic Development and Trade Ministry is advocating that money from the state's Investment Fund be allocated only to large infrastructure projects that take at least five years to complete and require at least 5 billion rubles ($175 million) in state financing, reported on 1 August, citing RIA-Novosti. Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref outlined the main points of the proposal, which his ministry submitted to the government during President Putin's regular meeting with cabinet members the same day. RIA-Novosti reported that projects seeking assistance from the Investment Fund would have to raise 10 percent of the estimated cost in private capital. However, if private investors took out loans to meet that requirement, the state would guarantee those loans. A commission headed by Gref, to include cabinet ministers and representatives of both houses of parliament, would select projects to be financed. The draft policy plans for an Investment Fund budget of 69.7 billion rubles in 2006, 72.9 billion rubles in 2007, and 73.2 billion rubles in 2008. The Investment Fund itself will be financed from excess budget revenues stemming from high oil prices and from cost savings accrued by early repayment of Russia's external debt, which will reduce interest payments. LB

The Emergency Situations Ministry confirmed on 1 August that outbreaks of bird flu have occurred in Omsk Oblast and Altai Krai, Russian news agencies reported. Officials are working to determine whether the strain of the virus in Altai is the same as the H5N1 strain found in Novosibirsk Oblast in recent weeks. H5N1 can be lethal to humans, but Russia has not yet recorded any human cases of bird flu. Poultry farms and processing facilities in Omsk and Altai are restricting access, establishing disinfection points, and requiring that employees wear protective gear. Meanwhile, Novosibirsk Oblast Governor Viktor Tolokonskii announced on 1 August that the region has allocated 9 million rubles ($315,000) toward enforcing a quarantine, the "Moscow Times" reported the next day. All poultry in the affected areas are being slaughtered as part of the quarantine effort, Tolokonskii said. According to on 1 August, some ornithologists doubt that wild-duck migrations from Southeast Asia could have caused the outbreak of bird flu in Russia, as Chief Health Inspector Gennadii Onishchenko has maintained. Some believe that contraband poultry meat imported from China could have carried the virus to Siberia. LB

The Soldiers' Mothers' Party and several marginal political organizations have formed a League for Abolishing the Draft with the goal of calling a nationwide referendum to end conscription, "Gazeta" reported on 1 August. Leading members of the new alliance include Lev Ponomarev's For Human Rights movement, Valeriya Novodvorskaya's Democratic Union party, and the Russian Radicals organization, best known for advocating legalization of some drugs and bringing United Nations peacekeepers into Chechnya. The law on referendums states that a plebiscite cannot be initiated during the final year of a State Duma term, which means that the new league has until December 2006 to collect 2 million signatures and form initiative groups with at least 100 members in at least 45 regions of the Russian Federation. The alliance is currently setting up its organization and raising money; leaders estimate they will need at least $500,000. Members have not yet agreed on wording for a referendum question. "Gazeta" noted that although the Central Election Commission (TsIK) rejected Communist Party efforts to initiate a 17-question referendum earlier this year, the TsIK determined that the Communists' proposed question on maintaining draft deferrals was allowed by the law on referendums. LB

State Duma Deputy Gennadii Semigin's new political party, Patriots of Russia, received official notification of registration by the Federal Registration Service on 29 July, "Gazeta" reported on 1 August. In order to compete in parliamentary elections scheduled for December 2007, Patriots of Russia must satisfy the requirements of the new law on political parties: by 1 January 2006, it must register branches in at least half of the regions of the Russian Federation, and it must submit to the Federal Registration Service proof of at least 50,000 members. If Patriots of Russia fails to meet these terms, the party's registration will be annulled. Semigin, a one-time prominent member and financial supporter of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF), was expelled from that party in May 2004 over a long-running battle with KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov. He formed Patriots of Russia after his attempts to take over the KPRF leadership failed. Aleksei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies, told "Gazeta" that Semigin's party, which seeks to attract voters on the "left-patriotic" spectrum, will compete not primarily against the KPRF, which Makarkin said "does not pose a threat to the Kremlin," but against Dmitrii Rogozin's Motherland party. LB

A man apprehended on 31 July in southern Chechnya has confessed to perpetrating the 19 July car bombing in the north Chechen town of Znamenskoye that killed 14 people, Chechen Interior Minister Ruslan Alkhanov told Interfax on 1 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2005). Two other men were detained earlier on suspicion of involvement in the blast, for which a hitherto unknown Chechen group has claimed responsibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2005). Alkhanov said the man detained on 31 July has identified those who planned and perpetrated the bombing, and has claimed that radical Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev financed it. LF

The Armenian Foreign Ministry made a formal complaint on 1 August to the Council of Europe over the disappearance of the Armenian flag from outside the council's Strasbourg headquarters late on 30 July, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The office of the Council of Europe secretary-general has apologized for the incident, and a new flag has been hoisted. LF

Andranik Markarian has instructed the head of the governmental Department of State Property Management to find alternative premises for the independent television station A1+, which faces eviction from the premises in central Yerevan it has occupied since 1996, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 1 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2005). A1+ Director Mesrop Movsesian appealed to Markarian after receiving from the Armenian Academy of Sciences, which owns the building in question, a demand to vacate the premises by 23 July. Movsesian has since reached agreement with Academy of Sciences President Fadey Sarkisian that A1+ may remain continue to occupy its current offices until new accommodations are found. LF

The third round of the dialogue launched in early May between the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) and other political parties took place on 29 July at YAP headquarters, Turan reported. The opposition Azadlyg bloc, which had sent representatives to the two earlier rounds in early May and early June, did not attend. One of Azadlyg's members, the Musavat party, was theoretically to have hosted the most recent talks, but it never set any date for them. Ambassador Maurizio Pavesi, who heads the OSCE Baku office, characterized the meeting as "useful" and expressed regret at Azadlyg's absence, Turan reported. The 29 July meeting focused on foreign financing of political parties, reported on 30 July. The next round of talks will be hosted by the Civic Solidarity Party (VHP), probably during the first 10 days in August, reported on 30 July quoting VHP Chairman Sabir Rustamkhanly. LF

Azerbaijan's Appeals Court annulled on 29 July the five-year prison sentence handed down in October 2004 to opposition Musavat party Deputy Chairman Arif Hadjily, Turan reported. Hadjily and six other prominent oppositionists were found guilty on charges arising from their purported role in the violent clashes in Baku in the wake of the disputed October 2003 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 October 2004). The charges against five of them have likewise been annulled (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 14 July 2005). LF

Representatives of the youth organizations Yokh! (No!), Myagam (It's time!), and Volna (Wave) announced on 29 July that the three organizations have merged to form a new structure named Ary (Bee), reported on 30 July. Ary's primary objectives are the struggle against corruption in higher education and campaigning for free and fair elections. It is unclear how many members Ary has; Yokh!,' which was founded early this year, has more than 1,000 members, according to on 16 July. LF

Loti Kobalia, commander of the National Guard under the late President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, forced his way into a theater in Zugdidi, western Georgia, where leading members of the opposition movement Forward, Georgia! (TsS) were meeting with voters on 1 August, Georgian media reported. Kobalia implored the audience not to listen to the TsS activists, whom he accused of orchestrating Gamsakhurdia's ouster in late 1991. The standoff degenerated into a brawl that TsS members later blamed on the present Georgian authorities. The Zugdidi meeting marked the beginning of a campaign by TsS to demand early parliamentary elections. LF

Wheat flour, construction materials, and other cargo impounded by the Georgian authorities from a Turkish merchant ship intercepted one month ago for illegally entering Georgian territorial waters were delivered to Abkhaz authorities on 1 August through the mediation of the UN Observer Mission in Georgi (UNOMIG), Caucasus Press reported. A court in the Georgian Black Sea town of Poti sentenced the ship's captain last week to four years' imprisonment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 July 2005). LF

A 20-year-old resident of a village in Kazakhstan's Pavlodar Oblast has been hospitalized in "serious and anomalous condition" amid an outbreak of avian flu (aka bird flu) that has killed 600 geese, Interfax reported on 1 August. The man, who has been in the hospital since 27 July, is currently in serious condition with a diagnosis of "double pneumonia." An Emergency Situations Ministry official told Interfax-Kazakhstan that the authorities have destroyed 2,350 geese and 450 ducks at the poultry farm where the avian flu outbreak was first reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). DK

Kyrgyz Deputy Prosecutor-General Nurlanbek Jeenaliev told a news conference in Bishkek on 1 August that Kyrgyz prosecutors are insisting on the return to Uzbekistan of 15 Uzbek refugees and asylum seekers currently detained in Osh, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. While refusing to set a timetable for the handover, Jeenaliev stressed, "The stance of the Prosecutor-General's Office is that these 15 people should be deported to Uzbekistan." Uzbek authorities charge that the 15 have committed crimes, including the murder of a prosecutor in Andijon, and have given Kyrgyz officials materials allegedly proving their guilt. The UN, which has granted all but four of the 15 refugee status, opposes the extradition plan, Reuters reported. Carlos Zaccagnini, head of the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights mission in Kyrgyzstan, told the news agency, "They [11 of the 15] cannot be extradited unless Kyrgyzstan violates the refugees' convention." Zaccagnini added that the UNHCR may still grant refugee status to the remaining four Uzbek citizens. At a 1 August briefing, acting U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, "We certainly hope that the Kyrgyz Republic will not return the remaining 15 asylum seekers to Uzbekistan where their safety, we believe, would be in serious jeopardy," the State Department reported on its website ( DK

A group of 300 people from five villages in the Jeti-Oguz District of Kyrgyzstan's Issyk-Kul Province have been blocking the Barskoon-Kumtor highway for six days in an attempt to win compensation for a 1998 mining accident, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 1 August. The protesters want Canada's Centerra Gold, which owns the Kumtor gold mine in Kyrgyzstan, to compensate them for a 1998 cyanide spill that they say has killed more than 300 people over the last seven years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 and 24 May 1999). Mining-industry representatives say that they paid compensation in full at the time of the accident and that any objections now should be addressed to the Kyrgyz government. Protester Asankadyr Junushbaev told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service that if the demonstrators' demands are not met, they plan to march on the Kumtor mine. DK

Kyrgyz Deputy Prime Minister Adakhan Madumarov told a news conference in Bishkek on 1 August that no talks have taken place between China and Kyrgyzstan about the deployment of a Chinese military base on Kyrgyz territory, reported. Madumarov specifically denied reports by Kazakh and Kyrgyz media the previous day quoting him as saying that "high-level" Chinese-Kyrgyz talks had taken place on the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). Also on 1 August, China's ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Zhang Yannian, told that he has never discussed the issue of a Chinese base in Kyrgyzstan, adding, "I do not know where these rumors are coming from." DK

In an official statement on 1 August, Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry harshly criticized the recent evacuation of 339 Uzbek refugees from Kyrgyzstan to Romania as a "violation of all procedures and norms of international law and UN resolutions," official news agency UzA reported. The ministry said the evacuation was unnecessary because the "displaced citizens" posed no threat to security on the Kyrgyz-Uzbek border. Blaming "outside forces" for pressuring Kyrgyzstan, the statement concluded, "Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry views all of this as the unacceptable and crude interference of outside forces in an attempt to play the card of the so-called 'Uzbek refugees' and continue the undeclared information war, which was planned, like the 'Andijon operation' itself, long before the tragic events of 13 May in Andijon." DK

President Islam Karimov has signed a decree abolishing the death penalty in Uzbekistan as of 1 January 2008, Uzbek Television reported on 1 August. The report said that the death penalty will be replaced by life or long-term imprisonment, noting that a special complex will be constructed to house inmates serving such sentences. DK

Polish Sejm deputy speaker Donald Tusk, who is also a candidate in Poland's upcoming presidential election, visited Hrodna in northwestern Belarus on 1 August to support Anzhelika Borys and other leaders of the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB), who are not recognized by the Belarusian authorities, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Last week, police evicted Borys from the SPB offices in Hrodna and installed an SPB activist loyal to the authorities in her place. "You can be sure -- no one in Poland forgets about you even for a moment," Tusk told some 100 SPB members who picketed the SPB headquarters, which was guarded by police officers. Later the same day, Belarusian Television blasted Poland for "poking its nose into Belarus's affairs on Belarusian soil" and said that Tusk brought $15,000 for Borys and her followers. JM

Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau said in an interview with the Russian newspaper "Vremya novostei" on 1 August that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) needs "serious reform." According to Martynau, the OSCE is biased toward certain regions and issues. "Today almost all its activity boils down to actions in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as Central Asia and the Caucasus. Aren't there any problems in Western Europe? Surely, there are," he argued. According to him, the OSCE's election monitoring is also biased. "When elections are conducted in Belarus or Kazakhstan, thousands of observers are sent there, but when an election is held in the United States, 25 people go there. Are these conditions fair? And why are only representatives of countries located west of Vienna on observation missions?" Martynau asked. Russian officials have repeatedly expressed similar criticisms of the OSCE in recent months. JM

European Commission spokesman Stefaan De Rynck said in Brussels on 1 August that the commission has allocated more than 8 million euros ($9.8 million) to foster civil society in Belarus, adding that these funds may be used to back independent Belarusian media, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. "We are currently exploring possibilities to support independent media outlets -- radio, television, and other independent media outlets -- so that the Belarusian public opinion can have access to independent media reports," De Rynck said. JM

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry on 1 August denied talking with Israel about a possible reversal of the controversial sale of cruise missiles to Iran, Ukrainian news agencies reported. According to the Israeli newspaper "Ha'aretz," the issue was discussed during the visit of Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko to Israel on 24-26 July. "All reports of alleged discussions by Anatoliy Hrytsenko in Israel of the issue of returning missiles from Iran are of a provocational character and are aimed at worsening relations between Ukraine and the countries of the Middle East," the ministry said in a press release. In March, Kyiv confirmed that 12 cruise missiles known as Kh-55s were smuggled from Ukraine to Iran in 2001 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 and 21 March 2005). The Kh-55s, with a range of 3,000 kilometers, mobility, and ability to carry nuclear warheads, could constitute a potential threat to Israel. JM

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry is planning to hold talks with the Russian Interior Ministry on the extradition from Russia of former Ukrainian officials who are suspected of committing crimes in Ukraine, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported on 1 August, citing Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko. "There is a [Ukrainian] government-in-exile staying in Russia today," Lutsenko told journalists. "There are many former Ukrainian governors and high-ranking officials there. They are hiding from accountability." Kyiv has recently asked Moscow to help find the whereabouts of former Central Election Commission head Serhiy Kivalov, former Interior Minister Mykola Bilokon, former Sumy Oblast Governor Volodymyr Shcherban, and former Odesa Mayor Ruslan Bodelan. JM

State Tax Administration deputy head Mykola Katerynchuk has told Ukrainian media that Andriy Yushchenko, President Viktor Yushchenko's son, owns the copyrights to symbols and logos of the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 2 August. "I passed [these copyrights] to [Andriy Yushchenko] personally, after the [Yushchenko] victory in the third round," Katerynchuk said in an interview with "Kommersant-Ukrayina" on 2 August. "During an election campaign our symbols should be protected from being misused by someone else," he added. Katerynchuk was Viktor Yushchenko's representative in the Central Election Commission in the presidential campaign. According to experts quoted by "Kommersant-Ukrayina," the symbols and logos associated with the Orange Revolution could be worth "millions of dollars." Katerynchuk's statement came in the wake of reports alleging that Andriy Yushchenko, a university student in Kyiv, lives a lavish lifestyle on funds of unknown origin (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 2 August 2005). JM

Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic said in Banja Luka on 1 August that leading war crimes indictee and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic must surrender to the Hague-based war crimes tribunal in the interests of the Republika Srpska, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 July 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 29 July 2005). Cavic stressed that "Karadzic must turn himself in. If he doesn't do so, he must be arrested.... There is no third way." Cavic noted that the Bosnian Serb police have been working for months to find and arrest indictees. He acknowledged that many Bosnian Serbs regard arresting indictees unfair because they consider the tribunal biased against Serbs. The president added, however, that failure to arrest indictees poses "a serious political problem that might grow and create additional problems for the Republika Srpska." PM

Following a three-day visit to Montenegro, Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric, the head of Bosnia-Herzegovina's Islamic Community, told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service on 1 August that he was "pleased" by the interest shown by Muslims there in organizing their own Islamic Community. He added, however, that relations between various religious groups in Montenegro are often strained and require more dialogue. He noted in particular the tensions between the Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox churches there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005, and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 23 April and 15 October 2004). Asked whether Bosnia's Islamic Community is assuming the role of "patron" towards its co-religionists in Montenegro, Ceric replied that today's Europe is characterized by integration and no entity is "sovereign" any more. He drew attention to the historical links between Sarajevo and Islamic groups elsewhere in former Yugoslavia. Ceric called for "dialogue" as the best way to solve differences, including those between the Muslims in the Montenegrin half of the Sandzak region, who tend to support Montenegrin independence, and those Muslims in Serbian Sandzak, who generally favor maintaining the joint state of Serbia and Montenegro. Ceric warned unnamed people in the Balkans and elsewhere against equating Islam and terror, adding that most Muslims are peaceful and those who try to "pressure us...are making a big mistake that might come back at them like a boomerang." PM

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski said in Skopje on 1 August that Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica recently blocked the annual visit by Macedonian leaders to a monastery on the Serbian side of their joint border in order to pressure Macedonia to free jailed Serbian Orthodox Bishop Jovan, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). Macedonia claims that the bishop's sentence is a matter for the courts, and Serbia argues that the question of the visit is for the Serbian Orthodox Church to decide. In related news, Hamdija Jusufspahic, who heads Serbia's Islamic Community, and his Roman Catholic counterpart Archbishop Stanislav Hocevar criticized the jailing of Jovan. Hocevar stressed that the arrest of high-ranking clerics "should not be allowed to happen" because such things "belong to the distant past." PM

The office of Croatian President Stipe Mesic said in a statement on 1 August that recent statements by Serbian President Tadic placing "excesses" committed during Croatia's 1995 Operation Storm against Serbian rebels on the same level as Serbian forces' planned massacre of up to 8,000 mainly Muslim males at Srebrenica "are not in the spirit" of improving bilateral relations in the region, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). The statement added that Tadic's remarks are not in keeping with what the two presidents recently discussed in Belgrade (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 12 July 2005). The statement argued that one cannot justify the Srebrenica massacre or attempt to play it down by placing it in the same context as Storm. In related news, Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader said that Tadic's remarks on Storm were motivated by Serbian domestic political concerns and that Croatia should ignore them. Sanader stressed that Croatia is "proud" of Storm and will go ahead with plans to celebrate its 10th anniversary shortly. PM

The authorities of Moldova's separatist region of Transdniester have called on mediators in the settlement of the Tiraspol-Chisinau conflict -- Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- to send monitors to the parliamentary elections in December, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 August. A plan put forward by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko in April proposed that Tiraspol hold democratic elections under international monitoring this year. However, Chisinau wants the elections to be held only after the withdrawal of Russian troops from Transdniester and under Moldova's legislation, a demand which is opposed by Tiraspol. Council of Europe Secretary-General Terry Davis said in Chisinau last month that free and democratic elections in Transdniester are unlikely to be held this year. JM

Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke out strongly against the foreign funding of Russian nongovernmental organizations that engage in political activities. The presidential press service has not issued any follow-up statements explaining what Putin meant by "political activities," nor has Vladimir Lukin, the presidential ombudsman for human rights, offered an explanation.

In the absence of any official clarifications, Russian NGOs have been left to parse the president's words for deeper meaning. During a call-in show with RFE/RL's St. Petersburg bureau, Pavel Slapak of the Ivanovo Oblast branch of Memorial suggested that what really matters is not what Putin said but how his loyal followers will interpret his words. Yurii Vdovin of Citizens' Control agreed, saying that he is "afraid that the bureaucrats will want to be more Catholic than the pope in their efforts to fulfill Putin's orders."

If Putin's followers are looking for a model of what to do, they need look no further than Kazakhstan. In what has widely been interpreted as a reaction to the "colored revolutions" in countries in the former Soviet Union, Kazakh legislators loyal to President Nursultan Nazarbaev drafted legislation that would, if enacted, severely hobble the work of the republic's tiny NGO community.

One of the authors of the bills, lower-house member Valerii Kotovich, told his colleagues that he was suggesting increasing control over the finances of NGOs in the interest of strengthening national security, "Ekspress K" reported on 9 June.

In his remarks on the legislation, Communist lawmaker Yarosyl Abylkasymov sounded a similar theme: "We do not hide the fact that these bills are being adopted for the upcoming [presidential] election and for the defense [of Kazakhstan] against pseudo-revolutions," according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 10 June.

One opponent of the legislation, Senator Svetlana Dzhalmagambetova, asked Kotovich whether he had any data showing how many foreign NGOs over a certain period engaged in activities directed at overthrowing constitutional order and weakening the defense of the country, "Ekspress K" reported on 29 June. Kotovich admitted that he and his fellow authors didn't have any statistics; however, he said that they know various examples of how this or that international organization operates.

The bills passed Kazakhstan's upper chamber in June with some modification of its harsher features. Originally the bills called for NGOs to report at least 10 days in advance to local executive organs about any new measures that they were preparing. NGOs were also originally required to send a detailed report to local executive organs about any financial transaction with a foreign donor; under the current version they only need to alert local authorities about the direction of the financial flows, "Ekspress K" reported on 29 June. An additional requirement that the NGOs publish information in official sources about their financing was kept despite one senator's objection that this stipulation "would cost an NGO more than a $1,000, the cost of two wheelchairs for handicapped people."

The NGOs themselves have been watching the bills' progress through Kazakhstan's lower and upper chamber with great concern. Zhemis Turmagambetova, deputy director for the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Observance of the Law, told "Ekspress K" on 9 June that the lawmakers "are trying to regulate everything. They [want to] put NGOs [in the situation] of justifying everything in advance, they want to make us guilty in advance. What about the presumption of innocence? We should report every time that we are planning on doing something. This is so that they can find out what we are doing, but the government [already] has many resources, specialized agencies, which can uncover crimes, in particular the Committee for National Security [KNB] and law-enforcement agencies." Turmagambetova predicted that if the laws are adopted in their present form, international foundations will no longer consider applications from Kazakhstan.

The NGO community is hoping that President Nazarbaev will veto the legislation, "Ekspert-Kazakhstan" reported on 18 July, commenting that Nazarbaev has sent the bills to the Constitutional Council. Some observers hope that the legislation will experience the same fate as similarly controversial draft media law did last year. In April 2004, the council ruled that draft media law unconstitutional and, since then, no new media bills have been put forward.

In the meantime, Russian NGOs like Memorial's Ivanovo branch are left to ponder their next move. Slapak reported that Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov announced on television on 20 July that all local government organs should not under any circumstances criticize the activities of federal government organs. "If we speak out against this, will this be considered political activity?" he asked. "All this is leading to a situation where only [the pro-Kremlin youth group] Nashi will remain."

Last week, President Putin met with Nashi members in his Tver Oblast residence. During a televised meeting with several dozen well-groomed Nashi youth clad in white short-sleeved shirts on 27 June, Putin was asked what he thought about the crisis in education and the problem of "more and more less-educated" people appearing in Russian universities. He replied that "the problem is in you thinking that you are smarter than those people." He smiled indulgently, patting the knee of the young woman who asked the question as the youths, all paying rapt attention, laughed and applauded.

The parliamentary and provincial elections in Afghanistan scheduled for 18 September face a $31 million shortfall, UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) spokesman Adrian Edwards said in a statement posted on 1 August on UNAMA's website ( If the required funds are not received, "the consequences could include a postponement" of the elections and the "loss of a huge investment" made in preparation for the polls in 2005, Edwards warned. He further urged donor governments to "reaffirm their commitment" to the upcoming elections in Afghanistan. According to UNAMA, the total cost of holding the elections in September is approximately $149 million. AT

Major General Jason Kamiya, a senior U.S. military officer in Afghanistan, warned on 1 August that the neo-Taliban could escalate their disruptive activities as the date of the Afghan elections draws closer, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. "They are targeting [Afghan] government officials and religious scholars. We are seeing an increased threat of the rebels using suicide bombers and child soldiers," Kamiya said of the neo-Taliban. Enemies of Afghanistan's government know that the elections are a crucial step in establishing a stable future for the country and therefore are expected to put up a fight to disrupt the polls. Prior to the October presidential elections, similar expectations were voiced by Afghan and foreign observers. However, the neo-Taliban did not, or were unable to launch any large-scale attacks on election day. AT

Sayyed Solayman Ashna, a presenter and producer at the private Kabul-based Tolu television station, claims that his life has been threatened for interviewing a former Taliban official, Pajhwak reported on 31 July. According to Ashna, soon after he interviewed Mawlawi Arsalan Rahmani in June, a caller speaking in the accent of the southern Kandahar Province threatened him. Later, another caller accused Ashna of being a "trained American puppet." Ashna told Pajhwak that since the telephone calls, he has not ventured outside his home and is considering leaving Afghanistan. Another Tolu presenter, Sakib Isar, has already left Afghanistan fearing for his life. Isar was a presenter on a popular music show. AT

Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) Chairwoman Sima Samar has been appointed the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Sudan, UNAMA's website reported on 1 August. The position is honorary, part-time, and unpaid and Samar is expected to continue in her current position at the AIHRC. AT

Following Tehran's announcement that it intends to resume operations at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, the European Union has urged it to reconsider, Reuters reported on 1 August. A letter from Tehran to the International Atomic Energy Agency announced intentions to remove the seals on the facility. Speaking on behalf of the EU, Germany said it, France, and Great Britain will submit a list of proposals on cooperation in nuclear, economic, and political arenas. There is speculation that the EU proposal will not meet Iranian expectations, EU diplomats told Reuters, and Tehran is using resumption of activities at the Isfahan facility in order to exert pressure. In Washington, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "We've repeatedly said that if they're not going to abide by their agreements and obligations, then we would have to look to the Security Council," dpa reported. BS

Former Prime Minister Mir-Hussein Musavi said on 30 July that current Iranian achievements in the nuclear field are as significant as the nationalization of oil in the early 1950s, Mehr News Agency reported. Musavi praised outgoing President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami's role in this area, as well as the efforts of Iran's scientists. Musavi is not known to have a role in nuclear decision making, yet he participated in a recent meeting on the issue that included Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Khatami, and President-elect Ahmadinejad, Supreme National Security Council official Ali Aqamohammadi said in the 27 July "Sharq." At that meeting, Aqamohammadi said, "a decision was adopted that Iran would wait until 10 Mordad [1 August] and then will arrive at a final decision on the issue." BS

An anonymous "high-ranking IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] commander" was quoted as saying in "The Jerusalem Post" on 1 August that because Iran is no longer running separate and independent military and civilian nuclear programs, the estimated date by which the country could develop a nuclear weapon has been moved back. If there was still a secret military program, the source said, a bomb could be ready by 2007, but because the military program now depends on the civilian one the earliest possible date is 2008. A more likely date is 2012, according to the source. BS

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, secretary-general of Lebanon's Hizballah organization, arrived in Tehran on 31 August, Radio Farda and other news agencies reported. Nasrallah met with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi on the first day of his visit, and on 1 August he met with Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, President-elect Ahmadinejad, and President Khatami. "Success, victories, and progress of this popular and faithful force in political, cultural, social, and military domains of Lebanon are results of purity and reliance on God's will that should be preserved and institutionalized as the main factor in the fight against enemies of Islam," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. Khatami denounced calls for Hizballah's disarmament, IRNA reported. Middle East expert Alireza Nurizadeh told Radio Farda that aside from the longstanding military and security contacts between Iran and Hizballah, Nasrallah and Khatami have developed a close relationship in recent years. This trip is an opportunity for the Lebanese official to bid farewell to outgoing friends in government, and it is an opportunity for Nasrallah to establish contacts with the newly elected leadership. BS

"Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, America redoubled its efforts to use political, economic, and cultural instruments within the framework of a new order, based on its militarism, to enter the strategic zones of the newly independent republics, particularly in Central Asia," an Iranian state television commentary announced on 31 July. The commentary went on to say that the Central Asians know a U.S. presence will not contribute to stability or security in their countries, and it has actually contributed to political instability and even changes in state structures. The commentary follows reports that Uzbekistan has given the United States six months to vacate the Karshi-Khanabad air base in that country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). The Shanghai Cooperation Organization -- of which Uzbekistan is a member and which recently granted Iran observer status -- called for the withdrawal of foreign forces in early July (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 14 June and 13 July 2005). BS

The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, told reporters at his first press briefing in Baghdad that he and Iraqi leaders have agreed upon a seven-point plan to help move the country forward, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported on 1 August. The plan calls for a national compact enshrined in the constitution; the isolation and defeat of terrorists and hard-core Ba'athists; encouraging the region's leaders to address problems in a new cooperative spirit and to pressure those who continue to foment instability; improving the capacity of Iraqi ministries; increasing economic opportunities; carrying out successful elections; and mobilizing greater international support. Khalilzad told reporters that the United States remains committed to Iraq's development, adding, "Failure is not an option." KR

RFI asked Khalilzad at the 1 August press briefing about U.S. plans to transfer security responsibility in some Iraqi towns to Iraqi forces. "We are working to build up Iraqi capabilities so that the security that is needed to be provided, is provided by the Iraqi forces as soon as possible. But we know that that takes time. Therefore we're working through this joint committee that I talked about as to how this transition from the coalition...could take place, that Iraqis take more and more responsibility for security in those areas. And we're going to develop an integrated, agreed-upon, prudent plan of action on how to move forward and this is the work of this joint committee that I talked about." He declined to identify what cities and towns will be handed over first. Meanwhile, Iraqi Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubay'i told reporters in Baghdad on 1 August that Al-Diwaniyah, Karbala, Al-Najaf, Al-Nasiriyah, and Al-Samawah will likely be among the first cities in southern Iraq to be handed over. Al-Rubay'i added that he and Defense Minister Sa'dun al-Dulaymi will represent Iraq in joint committee meetings with the United States. KR

The National Assembly's constitution-drafting committee declined to seek a six-month extension to draft the permanent constitution, indicating that it will meet its 15 August deadline to complete the draft, RFI reported on 1 August. National Assembly speaker Hajim al-Hasani made the announcement to reporters in Baghdad following that day's parliamentary session. Meanwhile, Humam Hammudi, head of the drafting committee, announced that political leaders will meet on 5 August to "settle some significant issues," in response to a call for such a meeting by President Jalal Talabani (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005). Hammudi added that there will be around-the-clock discussions to settle outstanding issues in the draft such as federalism, provincial authority, and "the administrative shape that the new Iraq will take." KR

Police in Baghdad announced the discovery of 20 unidentified bodies in the capital on 1 August, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. A police source cited eyewitnesses as saying they saw a truck dropping the bodies near a school in the Umm al-Ma'alif area. Reuters reported on 1 August that the victims had either been shot or beheaded, and many had long beards like the ones grown by Muslim insurgents. But reported on 2 August that all of the victims -- 22 total -- had been shot and most were believed to be Shi'ite Muslims. The website said two of the victims were beheaded. One police official told the website that on the evening of 31 July, men dressed in Iraqi National Guard uniforms raided the neighborhood and led several other residents away, including two members of the Iraqi security forces. Those men were thought to be among the victims discovered on 1 August. KR