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Newsline - August 12, 2005

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski issued a written appeal to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on 11 August to intervene hours after the third attack in four days on a Polish national on the streets of Moscow, RIA-Novosti and other media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 10 August 2005). Pawel Reszka, a Moscow correspondent for the popular Polish daily "Rzeczpospolita," received "light injuries" in the downtown attack by "five or six people," according to police sources quoted by ITAR-TASS. "I am deeply worried by the latest acts of violence against Polish citizens in Moscow, and I share the growing anger of the Polish public over such incidents," Kwasniewski said in a statement, according to ITAR-TASS. "The undesirable incidents of the past few days cause tensions in Polish-Russian relations and a harmful escalation of discord." Kwasniewski noted that "representatives of the Polish state and mass media accredited in Russia have become the victims of organized attacks," RIA-Novosti reported. Kwasniewski asks Putin to "take resolute action to track down and punish the organizers and perpetrators of the attacks," and to provide for the security of Poles working in Russia, according to RIA-Novosti. Polish officials expressed regret but highlighted the individual nature of the crime after three children of Russian diplomats were mugged in a Warsaw park in late July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005); Putin had demanded an official apology from Poland. VY

The Moscow Prosecutor-General's Office launched an investigation on 12 August into the assault on "Rzeczpospolita" reporter Reszka, citing "light health damage caused intentionally," Ekho Moskvy reported. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak expressed "deep regret" to the Polish ambassador to Moscow over the recent incidents and vowed that they will be "thoroughly investigated," the station reported. Ekho Moskvy and ITAR-TASS meanwhile quoted an unnamed Moscow police source as suggesting that the Polish victims of the attacks are not cooperating with police, "significantly complicating the investigation." VY

The leader of the radical National Bolshevik Party (NBP), Eduard Limonov, used an Ekho Moskvy interview on 11 August to urge a boycott of the country's parliamentary elections in 2007 and the presidential balloting slated for 2008. "To take part in balloting in today's Russia is to profane the idea of democratic elections," Limonov said. The opposition needs free and competitive elections, he said, but the current electoral system is organized so as to preserve or increase the dominance of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party and prevent opposition parties from reaching the State Duma. Leading opposition forces must unite in a joint boycott of the elections that might force the authorities to annul such balloting, Limonov said, adding that such a challenge would compel the Kremlin to start talking with the opposition. VY

Cabinet ministers agreed on 11 August to a package of proposed amendments to legislation that would allow for a so-called capital amnesty aimed at repatriating some of the capital taken out of Russia in recent years, RTR reported. Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov reportedly urged ministers to take into account recommendations that arose during recent public debate over the plan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 August 2005). Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin agreed to a suggestion by Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zhukov that the flat tax on such declared funds be lowered from 13 to 7 percent to make it economically feasible, RTR reported. Kudrin reportedly countered a recommendation by Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko that the amnesty include real estate and other assets by saying that is a "political and social choice." "If the public is prepared to forgive these people and allow a property amnesty, we will not oppose it," Kudrin said, according to RTR. Kudrin also rejected a suggestion to extend the amnesty from six to 18 months. Fradkov ordered the cabinet to have a final draft of the amnesty amendments ready within one month. VY

Culture and Mass Communications Minister Aleksandr Sokolov did not attend a cabinet meeting on 11 August at which the federal government's three-year plan for Russian culture was to be discussed, RIA-Novosti reported. Finance Minister Kudrin described Sokolov's absence as "impermissible" in light of the fact that the Culture and Communications Ministry's work from 2006 onward depends on the policy the government was considering. Meanwhile, a Moscow district court on 11 August held preliminary hearings in a defamation lawsuit against Sokolov filed by Mikhail Shvydkoi, director of the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June and 7 July 2005). Sokolov neither attended the session nor sent an attorney to represent him. The court will consider the lawsuit on 5 September. Some Russian media, including "Novye izvestiya" on 4 August, have speculated that Putin will soon replace Sokolov, possibly with presidential adviser Sergei Yastrzhembskii (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005). But on 8 August, the day before he left Moscow for a vacation in Sochi, Sokolov told NTV that he is confident he will still be the culture minister when he returns from his holiday on 27 August. LB

Former Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Adamov suffered a setback in his attempt to avoid trial on embezzlement charges on 11 August when a federal criminal court in Lausanne, Switzerland, affirmed the legality of his arrest, Interfax reported. A lower court had upheld Adamov's legal challenge to his arrest, but the high court rejected the argument that the criminal charges against Adamov are politically motivated. Adamov has been in Swiss custody since his arrest in Bern on 2 May. Both the United States and Russia have requested his extradition, and he will remain in custody until the Swiss Justice Ministry decides where to send him for trial. "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 August quoted Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Folco Galli as saying that the final decision will be made after Adamov's defense lawyers file papers stating their client's position on the extradition requests. Adamov has already refused to go voluntarily to either the United States or Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4, 5, 6, 13, 20, and 27 May 2005). LB

Some legislators in Kamchatka Oblast have objected to the possible selection of oil and aluminum magnate Viktor Vekselberg as governor of Kamchatka in 2007 because he is unfamiliar with the region and lives in Moscow and New York, RTR state television reported on 11 August. Presidential envoy to the Far East Federal District Konstantin Pulikovskii suggested recently that Vekselberg would be a good candidate for the job (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2005). Nikolai Tokmantsev, chairman of the Kamchatka Oblast Council of People's Deputies, vowed "to do everything I can" to ensure that the next governor is a local, "Izvestiya" reported on 11 August. In contrast, Koryak Governor Oleg Kozhemyako released a statement on 12 August saying he would welcome Vekselberg as governor if the businessman's corporate interests helped supplement the region's "meager budgets," RIA-Novosti reported. Meanwhile, Vekselberg issued a statement on 11 August saying the possible job in Kamchatka is "not on today's agenda" but that he will consider the matter seriously in two years if he is offered the post, Interfax reported. A presidential administration source characterized Pulikovskii's trial balloon as "premature," Ekho Moskvy reported on 11 August, citing ITAR-TASS. LB

The political council of the Irkutsk Oblast branch of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS) on 11 August asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to take action against President Putin over his failure to nominate a new governor, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. In a written request to Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, the SPS noted that the law outlining procedures for selecting governors requires that the president submit a candidate to the regional legislature no later than 35 days before the current governor's term expires. Irkutsk Governor Boris Govorin's term expires on 7 September, but Putin has not yet named a candidate. "Kommersant-Daily'" noted that Putin's envoy to the Siberian Federal District, Anatolii Kvashnin, sent a list of candidates to the presidential administration in late June, even though a presidential decree on that procedure calls for such a list to be submitted with at least 90 days left in a governor's term. Putin also missed deadlines for nominating gubernatorial candidates in Tula and Nizhnii Novgorod oblasts. In both cases, he eventually decided to replace the existing governor. According to "Kommersant-Daily," the Communist Party branch in Nizhnii Novgorod asked the Prosecutor-General's Office to address Putin's failure to meet the deadline imposed by law, but prosecutors did not act on that request. LB

The Promsvyazkapital company, which manages Promsvyazbank assets that are outside the banking sector, has acquired full ownership of the daily newspaper "Trud," according to "Gazeta" on 11 August and "Biznes," No. 146. Owners Aleksei and Dmitrii Ananev founded Promsvyazbank in 1995 but began investing in media assets only in 2002, when they acquired 75 percent of the "Argumenty i fakty" publishing house. Promsvyazkapital purchased a 50 percent stake in "Trud" in 2003, buying shares from Gazprom-Media and the newspaper's labor collective. The company recently paid the "Trud" labor collective an undisclosed sum for the remaining 50 percent stake. "Gazeta" noted that the deal gives Promsvyazbank not only full control of a daily with a relatively large circulation, but also complete ownership of a seven-story building in central Moscow, where the newspaper's editorial offices are located. Earlier this year, Gallup-Media estimated that some 300,000 people read each issue of "Trud." The weekly "Argumenty i fakty" has long been Russia's largest-circulation newspaper. In 2003, Gallup-Media estimated that each issue reaches an audience of 7.3 million. Promsvyazkapital also owns several newspaper-distribution companies and a controlling stake in the Moscow printing press Media-pressa. LB

Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman Ruslan Atsaev told Interfax on 11 August that reports of a recent meeting of field commanders in Chechnya are untrue. Atsaev claimed that Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev, named in March to succeed slain President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov, does not command sufficient authority with individual bands of militants to convene such a meeting. Sadullaev's envoy in Europe, Akhmed Zakaev, provided RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service with details of the Military Council meeting on 7-8 August that discussed plans for the coming winter (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2005). LF

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) believes Chechen militants may be planning to stage terrorist attacks simultaneously in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, and Vladivostok in the coming weeks, according to a Stratfor analysis on 11 August. While the resistance groups subordinate to Sadullaev pledged again at their 7-8 August meeting to abide by international conventions on warfare, radical field commander Shamil Basaev has said he considers terrorism a legitimate response to what he termed Russia's campaign of genocide against the Chechen people, and has threatened Russia with "a summer of fire." LF

Unidentified armed men abducted the sister of Chechen Vice President Doku Umarov from her home in Urus-Martan Raion, southwest of Grozny, late on 11 August, Interfax and RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service reported. In an interview last month, Umarov said his aunt, his wife's brother, and two other relatives disappeared last winter (see, "RFE/RL Interviews Chechen Field Commander Umarov"). LF

Central Election Commission Chairman Garegin Azarian admitted on 11 August that the published version of the amended electoral code recently sent to district election commissions differs from the version approved by parliament, as claimed two days earlier by commission member Feliks Khachatrian, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 August 2005). Azarian added that a corrected version will be made available and that he does not think the discrepancies will have any effect on the conduct of future elections. He pointed out that the most serious omission -- the requirement that final voter figures be released by midday on the day after the ballot -- applies only to the Central Election Commission and is irrelevant to the work of lower-level commissions. LF

Sarvan Sarkhanov, a member of the opposition youth group Yeni Fikir, whose leader Ruslan Bashirli has been charged with plotting to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership, was summoned on 11 August to the Prosecutor-General's Office, Turan reported. Investigators demanded that Sarkhanov provide testimony incriminating Azerbaijan Fopular Front Party Chairman Ali Kerimli, whom the authorities depict as Bashirli's mentor. Sarkhanov was beaten and threatened with arrest when he refused to comply with that demand but subsequently released. LF

Unidentified individuals systematically combed two Baku shopping centers on 10 August, demanding that shop owners voluntarily hand over all items of clothing and accessories colored orange or be required to report to local police, Turan reported. The confiscated goods were then burned on an adjacent lot. Customs officials are similarly demanding that importers hand over orange articles. In a mark of solidarity with the Orange Revolution in Ukraine last winter, numerous participants in recent opposition demonstrations in Azerbaijan have donned orange shirts. LF

The representative for human rights representatives to the president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia has asked for UN, OSCE, and nongovernmental groups' assistance to determine the local whereabouts of 15 men from South Ossetia who are being held in Georgian prisons, Caucasus Press and reported on 11 August. David Sanakoev made the request in a letter to UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Novak, to Roy Reeve, head of the OSCE office in Tbilisi, and to Amnesty International and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The detainees reportedly include two men suspected of involvement in the 1 February car bombing in Gori that killed three people. Also on 11 August, South Ossetian Foreign Minister Murad Djioev similarly asked Vladimir Chkhikvishvili, Russia's ambassador in Tbilisi, to try to secure the release of the two bombing suspects, Caucasus Press and reported. LF

Talgat Abulgazin, who heads the veterinary disease monitoring department in Kazakhstan's Agriculture Ministry, told Reuters on 11 August that tests have confirmed the presence of the H5N1 strain of avian flu in three Kazakh villages, two in Aqmola Province and one in Karaganda Province. The report comes in the wake of a bird-flu outbreak in Pavlodar Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 2005). Stressing that measures are being taken to control the outbreaks, Abulgazin told the news agency, "If all our agencies work together under a single command, we may be able to do something. I think we may be able to stop the spread of this disease." DK

President Nursultan Nazarbaev has removed Shalbai Kulmakhanov from the post of mayor of Almaty and appointed him head of the Emergency Situations Ministry, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 11 August. The same day, Nazarbaev relieved Serik Umbetov as agriculture minister and appointed him mayor of Almaty. According to biographical information provided by "Kazakhstan Today," Umbetov, who had been agriculture minister since 2004, served as mayor of Almaty in 1996-97. Kulmakhanov, who had served as Almaty mayor since 2001, had previously headed the Emergency Situations Agency (later reformed into the Emergency Situations Ministry) in 1999-2001. DK

According to statistics provided by the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Kyrgyzstan's industrial production was the lowest of any CIS state in the first half of 2005, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 11 August. Industrial production in Kyrgyzstan showed a 9.8-percent year-on-year drop for the period. By comparison, Azerbaijan claimed first place with 20 percent growth. In Central Asia, Tajikistan posted 8.9 percent growth, and Kazakhstan 7 percent. Kyrgyzstan also lagged in GDP growth, with a GDP increase of 2.4 percent in the first half of 2005. DK

Three independent Tajik weeklies have reappeared in print after publication hiatuses of varying lengths, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported on 11 August. The newspaper "Ruzi Nav," which has been missing from Tajik newsstands since its printing house was shut down in August 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 August 2004), printed a special edition with a print run of 99 copies, Avesta reported. "Odamu Olam" Editor in Chief Mirahmad Amirsho told Avesta that the weekly has reached an agreement with the Humo printing house after an 11-month hiatus. And "Adolat," a publication of Tajikistan's Democratic Party, published a special edition on 11 August in honor of the party's 15th anniversary. The edition carried the headline "Democracy In Jail," a reference to the trial of Democratic Party head Mahmadruzi Iskandarov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 10 August 2005). Media watchdog organizations and Western governments have voiced repeated concerns over the difficulties that have beset Tajikistan's independent press over the past year. DK

Igor Rotar, the Central Asia correspondent for the Norway-based religious-freedom organization Forum 18, was detained by Uzbek authorities at Tashkent Airport on 11 August, Forum 18 reported the same day. Rotar had just arrived from Kyrgyzstan. The report quoted "reliable sources" as saying that Rotar's detention was ordered "for political reasons at the highest levels" with the complicity of the National Security Service. Rotar, who is a Russian citizen, has covered religious-freedom issues extensively for Forum 18. He is also a contributor to the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation's "Eurasia Daily Monitor." Jamestown President Glen E. Howard said in an 11 August statement, "Igor Rotar is an independent journalist covering conflict and instability in Central Asia. He poses no threat, and we urge the Uzbek government to release him immediately." DK

Swedish career diplomat Ake Peterson will head the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office in Minsk, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported on 11 July, citing the Belarusian Foreign Ministry. Peterson was appointed to his position earlier this month by the OSCE chairman in office, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel. Peterson, who is expected in Minsk in late August, will replace Eberhard Heyken of Germany, whose term expired last month. JM

Andrzej Pisalnik, spokesman for the Union of Belarusian Poles (SPB), was released from a detention center in Lida, Hrodna Oblast, on 11 August, Belapan reported. Pisalnik, who is also editor in chief of the SPB newspaper "Glos znad Niemna," had served a 10-day sentence on charges of organizing an unauthorized demonstration in the city of Shchuchyn in July and disobeying police orders. Also on 11 August, SPB magazine "Magazyn Polski" Editor Andrzej Poczobut was released from the Lida detention center. Poczobut served a 15-day sentence on charges of organizing the same demonstration for which the authorities punished Pisalnik. Meanwhile, Belarusian border guards on 10 August confiscated video and audio tapes from Mikolaj Wawrzeniuk, a journalist for Polish Television, who was returning from Hrodna in Belarus to Bialystok in Poland and possessed the required accreditation for working in Belarus. The seized recordings reportedly included interviews with SPB activists. JM

Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko on 11 August slammed regional governors for what she termed their tardiness in canceling or simplifying a host of regulatory documents that impede the development of entrepreneurship in the regions, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Tymoshenko said that out of a total of 3,607 documents that the government wants to cancel or adjust, just 2,558 have been addressed thus far. She instructed the governors to tackle the remaining regulatory acts within the next two weeks. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko has instructed National Bank Chairman Volodymyr Stelmakh and State Tax Administration Chairman Oleksandr Kireyev to set up a consultative group of experts to facilitate the adoption of effective economic measures, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 11 August, citing the presidential press service. The group, chaired by the president, is to include representatives of international organizations and government institutions as well as economists and financiers. JM

Former Bosnian Serb paramilitary leader Milan Lukic told a court in Buenos Aires on 11 August that he fears for his life if he is extradited to Serbia, where he has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for war crimes, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9, 10, and 11 August 2005). He wants to be sent instead to The Hague, where the war crimes tribunal has indicted him for atrocities committed against Muslims in Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1992-95 conflict there. Lukic has suggested that unnamed Serbian former colleagues of his might kill him to prevent him from making wartime secrets public. Some observers have pointed out that Lukic, like many of the people he fought with, has apparently long been involved with the criminal underworld, where he might also have enemies. PM

Serbian Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic told RFE/RL in Belgrade on 11 August that his government will file an extradition request in Buenos Aires for Lukic. Rasim Ljajic, who chairs Serbia and Montenegro's National Council for Cooperation with the Hague Tribunal, said in Belgrade on 12 August that Lukic will most likely be sent to The Hague from Argentina because the tribunal has legal precedence over a Serbian court, the private Beta news agency reported. Ljajic noted that neither The Hague nor Belgrade has submitted the necessary papers to Buenos Aires, adding that they have 30 days following Lukic's arrest to do so. The minister said that Serbia will file its extradition documents purely for its own legalistic reasons and that Serbia's request will not delay significantly the extradition of Lukic to the tribunal. An Argentinian legal expert told Reuters in Buenos Aires on 11 August that the process of extraditing Lukic to The Hague could be delayed because of the extradition request from Serbia and could take from three months to one year. In The Hague, a spokesman for the tribunal said: "We expect [Lukic] to be transferred to The Hague once all the logistical, transportation, and other issues have been resolved." PM

The Krstas Society of Montenegrins in Serbia issued an appeal on 11 August to the government of Serbia and Montenegro to call on Serbia's Ministry of Religion to stop what Krstas called discrimination against the Montenegrin Orthodox Church (CPC), which is a rival of the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC). The appeal came in response to a ruling by Serbian Religion Minister Milan Radulovic, who effectively dismissed a request by Krstas and the CPC to build a church in Vojvodina. Radulovic said that religious buildings cannot be constructed without the permission of the SPC and that it is the duty of the authorities to implement its decisions in such matters. The generally bad relations between the SPC and CPC have become even worse in recent weeks over moves by the SPC to increase its visibility and role in Montenegro (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 2005 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 12 August 2005). PM

Mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe met in Tiraspol on 11 August with Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova and Transdniestrian Foreign Minister Valerii Litskai to discuss the resumption of talks on the settlement of the Transdniester conflict, Interfax and Infotag reported. The sides reportedly agreed to meet in the second half of September in order to work toward resuming the negotiations on the Transdniester settlement that were suspended last year after Moldova walked out in protest against the closure of two Transdniester-based Moldovan-language schools that used the Latin alphabet. JM

After two rounds of reciprocal diplomatic expulsions and the recalling of Polish Ambassador to Belarus Tadeusz Pawlak last month, the conflict between Warsaw and Minsk over the Union of Poles in Belarus (SPB) appears to be entering a calmer stage. Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister Alyaksandr Mikhnevitch said last week that Minsk is ready to start talks with Warsaw on solving the present crisis in bilateral relations. Polish Sejm speaker and leading presidential candidate Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who earlier did not rule out closing the Polish Embassy in Minsk, responded immediately that Poland should not reject the possibility of discussing the ongoing standoff.

The conflict erupted in May after the Belarusian Justice Ministry refused to recognize the SPB's new leadership elected at a congress in March. The ministry quoted irregularities in both the nomination of delegates and the congress itself and demanded a repeat convention to hold a more "democratic" vote. However, the new SPB leadership headed by 32-year-old Andzhelika Borys asserts that the true motive behind the ministry's decision is to reinstall Tadeusz Kruczkowski, SPB head in 2000-05, as a more compliant leader from the authorities' viewpoint.

This view is shared by most Polish and Belarusian commentators who see the conflict as primarily an attempt by autocratic Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to get full control of the country's largest NGO before the 2006 presidential election. The SPB claims an official membership of some 25,000 out of the 400,000-strong Polish minority in Belarus, but SPB leaders admit that the organization's active membership is much lower.

In May and June the authorities prevented the SPB's new leadership from printing their weekly "Glos znad Niemna" (Voice From Over the Niemen) and even produced several fake issues of the publication with the collaboration of Kruczkowski. And on 27 July, Belarusian police drove Borys and a dozen of her supporters out of the SPB headquarters in Hrodna and reinstalled Kruczkowski there. In the meantime, Kruczkowski managed to gather a part of the SPB's old board and, with the blessing of the authorities, scheduled a new SPB congress for 27 August.

Warsaw's official position in the conflict was formulated by Polish Foreign Minister Adam Rotfeld in June and boils down to the requirement that Borys and her adherents be installed as a democratically elected SPB leadership. Does this mean that Warsaw will refuse to recognize the decisions made by the upcoming SPB congress, which is obviously being orchestrated by the Lukashenka regime? Borys said earlier this week in an online interview moderated by RFE/RL's Belarus Service that she and her followers are not going to participate in the SPB congress later this month. She also asserted that the Polish government, which finances the SPB, will not recognize the results of this convention, whatever they may be.

However, Warsaw now appears to be looking at the situation from a much more practical point of view. Warsaw seems to realize that Lukashenka has actually won the battle over the SPB and by the end of August he will have a politically submissive SPB leadership that won't make any trouble in the 2006 election campaign. Borys would hardly be allowed to register a competing organization of ethnic Poles in Belarus, and this could certainly be a serious setback for Warsaw, which needs to have a legally recognized receiver of its assistance to the Polish minority in Belarus. For Warsaw, cutting financial aid to the SPB would mean losing too much in Belarus.

The Polish minority in Belarus receives funds through the Polish upper house, the Senate, and its specialized body for contacts with the Polish diaspora, Stowarzyszenie Wspolnota Polska (Polish Community Association). Borys recently told Polish media that the annual costs of running the SPB amount to some $200,000. She also said that the SPB has non-state sponsors but did not disclose their contributions. In the past, the Polish government financed the construction of 16 Polish cultural centers and two Polish-language schools in Belarus -- most of these facilities were built during Lukashenka's rule. Some 22,000 children in Belarus study Polish. It is hardly conceivable that Warsaw could now decide to put all this educational and cultural infrastructure of the Belarusian Poles at risk only because the SPB is run by people not palatable to Poland.

There is also one important aspect of the conflict over the SPB that either escapes the attention of media in Poland and the West or is intentionally omitted by them. The point is that the bulk of the Polish ethnic community in Belarus is located in rural areas in Hrodna Oblast. Collective-farm Poles in Belarus, just like collective-farm Belarusians, are highly supportive of Lukashenka and his policies. Besides, a majority of Belarus's Poles are either unaware of what is actually going on with the SPB leadership, or indifferent to the conflict, or take the authorities' side in the spat. Thus, what in Warsaw or elsewhere in Europe may be seen as a conflict between democracy and dictatorship is merely a quarrel within their elites for those concerned most closely. And this means that Borys cannot expect that any significant number of fellow Poles in Belarus will stand to support her cause. She is decidedly not in a winning position.

If so, why has Warsaw miscalculated so gravely and taken such an inflexible stance in the conflict? Did the Polish government -- as suggested by official Belarusian media -- really believe that it could influence the political situation in Belarus through the ethnic Polish organization and thus contribute to the export of a "colored revolution" to "Europe's last dictatorship"? These questions have no easy or unambiguous answers.

Russian political analyst Stanislav Belkovskii told RFE/RL's Belarus Service earlier this month that the Warsaw-Minsk conflict reflects Poland's increasingly assertive drive to regain its historical influence in the east -- on the territory of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania, that is, primarily in Belarus and Ukraine -- after Russia lost its global superpower status, while Poland secured its rear in the EU from encroachments of its another historical rival, Germany.

In accordance with this line of argument, Warsaw, encouraged by its role in brokering a political compromise in the Orange Revolution in Kyiv last year, is now trying to influence developments in Belarus by using the organization of ethnic Poles. In other words, the conflict over the SPB is no less than part of a geopolitical game (involving Washington and Brussels) over supremacy in the former Soviet republics. An ongoing diplomatic spat between Russia and Poland over the beating of Russian diplomats' children in Warsaw and of Polish diplomats in Moscow seems to confirm the theory that the Russian and Belarusian presidents work hand-in-hand to ward off the Polish political offensive to the east.

But others, including this author, look for the main reason behind the conflict over the SPB in much more mundane circumstances. Warsaw, which did not object to Kruczkowski's chairmanship of the SPB in previous years, might have simply become fed up with him by the end of 2004, when it emerged in Belarus that Kruczkowski was possibly a target for brazen manipulation by the KGB. "Kruczkowski does not belong to himself any longer -- he is simply an object of manipulation," Tadeusz Gawin, SPB's founder and chairman from 1988-2000, commented on the conflict to a Polish regional newspaper in June. Gawin explained that the authorities "have a hold" on Kruczkowski because of his supposed involvement in bribery, fraud, and rape. "He had a great chance to become a major figure in the Polish renaissance movement in Belarus but he has lost everything," Gawin concluded.

Consequently, when the SPB congress in March replaced Kruczkowski with Borys, an intellectually unassuming but apparently free-from-manipulation schoolteacher, Warsaw decided to stand behind her to make its democratic credentials in Belarus look stronger. Because Kruczkowski is known in Belarus not only as a loyalist of the Lukashenka regime and a potential object of KGB manipulation, but also as a staunch opponent of the democratic opposition and a hater of the Belarusian language and non-Sovietized Belarusian culture. Which, incidentally, explains why Lukashenka had taken so much trouble to reinstall him in the SPB leadership.

Now it seems that the Polish government has decided not to aggravate its relations with Lukashenka any further and is looking for a compromise solution. Such a solution, as suggested by Belarusian Ambassador to Poland Pavel Latushka, could be found in denying any major role in the SPB to Kruczkowski and Borys and electing someone else to lead the organization. Cimoszewicz told journalists this week that Poland should formulate "clear-cut conditions" for talks with Minsk on the SPB, adding that these conditions should include "cessation of all unfriendly actions towards Polish diplomats [and] cessation of illegal interference in the internal affairs of the SPB." Compared to what Polish politicians and media said about the conflict over the past few months, these words sound like an implicit offer of surrender.

Militia commander Qari Ahmadullah was killed on 9 August during heavy fighting near the city of Wazikwa, Paktika Province, American Forces Press Service reported on 11 August, citing U.S. military sources. Ahmadullah was believed to have been in command of up to 50 neo-Taliban militias. "Killing this individual will significantly disrupt Taliban operations in the region," said U.S. Brigadier General James Champion. Champion expressed the hope that Ahmadullah's men will "find the courage" to reconcile with the Afghan government. Five other militiamen were reportedly killed in the fighting, while three U.S. servicemen sustained injuries. The neo-Taliban usually operates in small groups; thus, someone in command of 50 militia groups is considered significant. AT

A U.S. military engineer was killed and another was wounded on 11 August in Paktika Province, the Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported, citing a report issued by the U.S.-led coalition forces. Neo-Taliban spokesman Mufti Latifullah Hakimi told AIP on 11 August that the militia attacked an Afghan government military vehicle in Paktika, killing five soldiers, without mentioning any U.S. casualties. Hakimi's claims have not been substantiated by the Afghan government. The death of the U.S. soldier was the sixth in a one-week period, CNN reported on 12 August. AT

Two men, identified as Mullah Lalai and Mullah Bashir, have been named as the suspected perpetrators of the killing of pro-government cleric Mawlawi Abdullah Fayyaz, Afghan Pajhwak News Agency reported on 11 August, citing "knowledgeable sources" from southern Kandahar Province. The report alleged that the two carried out the killing in return for 30,000 Pakistani rupees ($500) and then fled the country for Pakistan. While both of the alleged assailants have been identified as having links with the neo-Taliban, it has not been determined who might have contracted the killing. Fayyaz, who headed the Ulema Council in Kandahar, was gunned down in May. During his funeral a suicide bomber killed more than 20 people, including Kabul's chief of security, General Akram Khakraizwal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 May and 1 June 2005). The neo-Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Fayyaz. AT

Deputy Interior Minister Lieutenant General Mohammad Daud Daud in an 11 August statement asked "Turkmenistan and other neighboring countries to close their doors to illegal drug dealers." The request came after two drug smugglers, along with 349 kilograms of opium, were seized by the Afghan National Police in the northern Badghis Province on 10 August. Daud noted that Badghis "borders Turkmenistan" and is "along one of the major drug routes" to other countries. Daud also said that Afghanistan's narcotics problem is not a domestic issue and requires international assistance. AT

The International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors adopted a resolution on 11 August that calls on Iran to suspend all activities relating to nuclear fuel. The resolution, which can be found in full on, asks that IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei "provide a comprehensive report on the implementation of Iran's NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] Safeguards Agreement and this resolution by 3 September 2005." Following the passage of the resolution, el-Baradei said in Vienna that "I was very encouraged in fact by the statements both by Iran and by the [EU-3] that they are ready to continue negotiations." He added, "I think we still have a window of opportunity between now and my next report to regulate, [and] rectify the situation within a broader context of negotiations." Iran's representative to the IAEA, Cyrus Nasseri, said in Vienna that the resolution "does a disservice to the agency and the safeguards system as a whole.... That, we regret. The operation in Isfahan will continue under full-scope safeguards." BS

The Iranian Students News Agency cited anonymous "informed sources" as saying on 11 August that Ali Larijani was leaving for Vienna to participate in Iran's negotiations with the IAEA. Larijani is already a supreme leader's representative to the Supreme National Security Council, and his alleged trip is reportedly in the context of his being named as successor to council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani. Larijani, however, told Fars News Agency the same day that he has not begun any activities at the council's secretariat. He denied that he is going to Vienna, saying that the negotiators are doing their jobs and that the rest of council is going about its normal duties. BS

The conservative Iranian daily "Siyasat-i Ruz" reported on 7 August that the United States has announced it cannot confront Iran's "martyrdom-seeking forces," and quoted British parliamentarian George Galloway as saying that this is the reason the United States will not attack Iran. The Iranian daily said the creation of "martyr-seeking divisions" has frightened American, British, and Israeli military personnel and that they are trying to resign as a result. With President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's assumption of the presidency, Radio Farda reported on 4 August, there is a renewed emphasis in Iran on "martyrdom-seeking operations." Nowadays this refers to suicide bombings, but in a broader context it refers to the willingness to sacrifice one's life. Such operations contributed to the defeat of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's army in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, Radio Farda reported, and Ahmadinejad reportedly is an advocate of such activities. BS

Female suicide bombers are referred to in Iran as "Olive Girls," and a ceremony to honor them was held in Tabriz in mid July, the hard-line "Ya Lisarat al-Hussein" reported on 3 August. This event was organized by the Headquarters for Tribute to the Martyrs of the Global Islamic Movement, local members of the Basij Resistance Forces, and a local husseinieh (prayer hall). The event began with a video of a suicide bombing in Israel, followed by speeches from Tabriz parliamentary representative Hojatoleslam Seyyed Mohammad Reza Mir-Tajedini, who said Israel only understands violence. Other speakers were Khajeh Nasr-i Din Tusi University Professor Mohammad Sadeq Kushki and Tabriz University Professor Hojatoleslam Nazari. "There were days when we exported martyrdom to the world, but today we should learn martyrdom from the Palestinian youths," Kushki said. Nazari said that the "tactic of sacrifice" is the only way to confront Israel. He also criticized Al-Qaeda's suicide bombings as religiously improper. Afterward, volunteers signed up. In late July, the "Parto Sokhan" weekly published forms that suicide-bombing volunteers could complete. BS

A crowd of 100 (according to Fars News Agency) to 250 people (according to IRNA) gathered on 11 August in front of the Milad Hospital in Tehran to protest the continuing detention of journalist Akbar Ganji. Ganji has been on hunger strike for approximately 60 days. The event was organized by the Allameh wing of the Office for Strengthening Unity student organization, and student leader Ali Afshari called for Ganji's immediate release. At the end of the event a statement was read out that called on the authorities to allow Ganji access to his lawyers and family. Poet Simin Behbehani told Radio Farda that the authorities refused to comply with the demonstrators' demands. She added that a hospital representative said Ganji's life is in danger, his blood pressure has fallen, his stomach is bleeding, and his muscles have swollen. BS

Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's group, Tanzim Qa'idat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Rafidayn, issued a statement on the Internet on 11 August vowing to fight those who are writing and promoting the constitution and to attack referendum centers ( The statement said the group advocates "killing anyone who inaugurates himself as a partner to the Lord of the Heavens and Earth and formulates a false constitution." The statement described those drafting the constitution as "blasphemous apostates," and likened them to Genghis Khan, saying Genghis Khan "charted a constitution for his people and called it 'Al-Yasiq' where Islam was a source for legislation among other sources like Christianity, Judaism, and his [own] perverted views until 'Al-Yasiq' became the people's legal reference." For al-Zarqawi, the comparison of the Iraqi drafting committee to Genghis Khan seeks to drive home the point that all those who do not strictly follow Islamic law but seek instead to follow laws set by men are kafirs, or infidels. KR

An Apache helicopter crashed near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk on 12 August, wounding two U.S. soldiers, international media reported. Police told dpa that there were no signs that the helicopter had been fired on and said the crash could be due to a technical malfunction. The U.S. military has released little information on the crash. Meanwhile, five Iraqis were killed in two separate attacks in Samarra on 12 August, Al-Arabiyah television reported. Four people, including an Iraqi soldier, were killed when they were caught in fighting between a U.S.-Iraqi patrol and insurgents. A separate incident killed one civilian and wounded two others when an explosive charge went off near their automobile at the entrance to the city. KR

Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's deputy prime minister who is currently in coalition custody, was allowed to take a 10-minute telephone call from his family on 11 August, Reuters reported. It was reportedly the first such contact he has had with his family since the fall of the regime. The call is be followed by a visit on 21 August, according to Aziz's lawyer, Badia Arif. "I will not betray my honor and my conscience and testify against Saddam Hussein," Aziz said this week in a statement through his lawyer, AP reported on 9 August. Tribunal Judge Munir Haddad told Al-Arabiyah television in an 8 August interview that the first trial against former regime members, including Hussein, is slated to get under way in about 45 days (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 August 2005). KR

Salah Al-Din University carried out a poll in the Irbil, Dahuk, Al-Sulaymaniyah, and Kirkuk governorates asking 1,744 citizens how they will vote should the constitution include certain provisions, "Khabat" reported on 11 August. A vast majority of 92.6 percent of respondents said they will not ratify the constitution if it guarantees federalism but does not return Kirkuk and "Arabized" regions to the Kurds; 4.4 percent said they will approve it anyway; and 2.92 percent said they are undecided. Should the constitution not call for a separation between religion and politics, 54.6 percent said they will reject it, while 28.05 percent said they will approve it; 7.33 percent said they are undecided. Asked how they will vote if the constitution fails to recognize self-determination for the Kurds, 88.25 percent said they will reject it; 7.29 percent said they will approve it anyway; and 4.3 percent said they are undecided. If the constitution calls for a dissolution of the Kurdish peshmerga forces, 81 percent said they will reject it; 13.31 percent said they will approve it anyway; and 5.68 percent are undecided. KR